Interfaith Worker Justice

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The Reluctant Regulator

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Some North Carolina companies took in tens of millions from Medicaid but didn't pay workers' wages last year. The News & Observer in North Carolina investigates wage theft with a new series, "The Reluctant Regulator," coming Sunday, Oct. 11.

FiveThirtyEight: It’s Getting Harder To Move Beyond A Minimum-Wage Job

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From FiveThirtyEight:

by Ben Casselman

Minimum-wage jobs are meant to be the first rung on a career ladder, a chance for entry-level workers to prove themselves before earning a promotion or moving on to other, better-paying jobs. But a growing number of Americans are getting stuck on that first rung for years, if they ever move up at all.

Anthony Kemp is one of them. In 2006, he took a job as a cook at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Oak Park, Illinois. The job paid the state minimum wage, $6.50 an hour at the time, but Kemp figured he could work his way up.

“Normally, a good cook would make $14, $15, $17 an hour,” Kemp said. “I thought that of course I’d make a better wage.”

He never did; nine years later, the only raises Kemp, 44, has seen have been the ones required by state law. He earns $8.25, the state’s current minimum wage.

Stories like Kemp’s are becoming more common. During the strong labor market of the mid-1990s, only 1 in 5 minimum-wage workers was still earning minimum wage a year later.1 Today, that number is nearly 1 in 3, according to my analysis of government survey data.2 There has been a similar rise in the number of people staying in minimum-wage jobs for three years or longer. (For a more detailed explanation of how I conducted this analysis, see the footnote below.)3






Even those who do get a raise often don’t get much of one: Two-thirds of minimum-wage workers in 2013 were still earning within 10 percent of the minimum wage a year later, up from about half in the 1990s. And two-fifths of Americans earning the minimum wage in 2008 were still in near-minimum-wage jobs five years later, despite the economy steadily improving during much of that time.4






The trend partly reflects the recession and slow recovery, which has broughtweak wage growth for nearly all workers. But it also likely reflects longer-run shifts in the economy that have eroded workers’ bargaining power, particularly for the less-educated. That sense of stagnation may be part of what is fueling the nationwide push for a higher minimum wage, which hasgained significant momentum in recent years. Voters in five states, including Illinois, approved minimum-wage increases last November,5 and several cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have passed significant wage hikes. Kemp has joined fast-food workers across the country in demonstrations demanding higher pay as part of the union-backed “Fight for $15” movement.6

Read the full article from FiveThirtyEight

Business Insider: Urban Outfitters is asking employees to work for free

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From Business Insider:

by Mallory Schlossberg

As the holiday season approaches, Urban Outfitters is hoping that its employees are in the giving spirit.

Gawker published an email asking the full-time employees at URBN, Urban Outfitters' parent company based in Philadelphia, to work without pay during five weekend days in October.

The email explains that October is the busiest month of the year for URBN (which houses Urban Outfitters, Free People, and Anthropologie), and therefore, URBN needs its employees' help.

According to the email, URBN wants these salaried employees to "volunteer" to "pick, pack, and prepare packages for shipment."

The most bizarre part? URBN calls this a "team-building activity." 

Here's the email in full, per Gawker:

From: URBNcommunity

Sent: Tuesday, October 06, 2015 12:01 PM

Subject: A Call For URBN Volunteers!

A Call for URBN Volunteers!

URBN is seeking weekend volunteers to help out at our fulfillment center in Gap, PA. October will be the busiest month yet for the center, and we need additional helping hands to ensure the timely shipment of orders. As a volunteer, you will work side by side with your GFC colleagues to help pick, pack and ship orders for our wholesale and direct customers.

In addition to servicing the needs of our customers, it’s a great way to experience our fulfillment operations first hand. Get your co-workers together for a team building activity!

The Details:

Who: Home Office URBN salaried employees

Where: URBN’s Fulfilment Center - 766 Brackbill Road, Gap, Pennsylvania 17527

What You’ll Be Doing: Pick, pack and prepare packages for shipment (please wear sneakers and comfortable clothing)

When: October 17, 18, 24, 25, and 31 Lunch will be provided

Two shifts each day: 9:00 AM – 3:00PM or 12:00 PM – 6:00 PM

(you can volunteer for one or multiple days)

Transportation: If needed, URBN will provide transportation to and from GFC (details provided after sign up)

Read the full article from Business Insider.

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SF Weekly: Airbnb and Uber Executives Sued for Sexual Harassment and Wage Theft by Former Live-In Domestic Worker

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Photo courtesy of SF Weekly

From SF Weekly:

by Julia Carrie Wong

A former live-in domestic worker for two San Francisco tech executives filed suit against her former employers today, alleging sexual harassment and wage theft. 

A complaint filed in San Francisco Superior Court alleges that Cameron Poetzscher, the head of corporate development for Uber, and Varsha Rao, the head of global operations for Airbnb, subjected Julieta Yang to a "sexually hostile work and home environment" and failed to pay her the minimum wage and overtime. 

A 45-year-old mother of three from the Phillipines who worked for Rao and Poetzscher, a married couple, for seven years, Yang announced her lawsuit at a press conference at the Bayanihan Community Center this morning. 

"God will help me in this fight," she said. "I know there are many others like me in this city." 

Yang began working for Poetzscher and Rao — San Francisco residents who have two children — in March 2008 in Singapore. On Yang's first night of work, Poetzscher, who worked for Goldman Sachs before he joined Uber in March 2014, "walked into the kitchen naked and watched [Yang] cook," according to the suit. 

Rao "traveled frequently for work" and when she was absent, Poetzscher routinely sexually harassed Yang,  subjecting his live-in domestic worker to "nudity, comments of a sexual nature, unwanted sexual advances, and unwanted touching," according to the complaint. In one alleged incident, Poetzscher "purposefully bumped into her and rubbed his groin against her."

When Yang complained of his behavior to Poetzscher, Poetzscher would tell her not to say anything to Rao "because she would get angry," Yang's lawsuit alleges.  

In July 2013, Poetzscher and Rao moved from Singapore to San Francisco and offered to triple Yang's wages if she accompanied them. Yang lived with the couple in their home in the Marina until April 15, 2015, when she quit her job, she says,

Yang alleges that she was paid a "fixed weekly rate of $450" throughout her time in San Francisco, "regardless of how many hours she worked." She says she frequently worked nine hours per day, six days a week, and was not provided with legally mandated meal and rest breaks. 

Further, Yang alleges she was required to sign "employment contracts" that stated she worked 30 hours per week for $12.50 an hour, despite the fact that she was working much longer hours.

Read the full article from SF Weekly.

The Huffington Post: How Interfaith Activists Will Counter This Week's Anti-Muslim Rallies

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From The Huffington Post:

by Carol Kuruvilla

Even though statistics show that domestic terrorism and white supremacists are a much bigger threat to Americans than radical Islam, anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes have swelled in America in recent years. 

Now, a disturbing string of nationally coordinated rallies -- some that may draw angry andarmed protestors -- is being planned for October 9 and October 10 at roughly 20 mosques or Islamic centers across the country. The Council on American-Islamic Relations haswarned mosques to take extra security measures during the so-called "Global Rally for Humanity" events. Muslim leaders are advising the community to take the "moral high ground" and avoid direct confrontation with protestors who bring messages of hate onto sacred ground. 

But American Muslim communities are not being left to face these protestors alone. Interfaith groups are stepping in, offering to organize counter protests, build peace circles and engage in long-term community building.

That's what happened in Phoenix earlier this year, after a group of bikers organized an anti-Muslim rally outside a mosque. Religious leaders in the area organized an interfaith prayer vigil inside the targeted mosque, bringing about 200 community members of many different faiths together in a powerful show of solidarity.

Rev. Erin Tamayo, Executive Director of the Arizona Faith Network and one of the organizers of the vigil, said that the hate rally has actually strengthened interfaith networks in Phoenix. Her organization has developed close ties with two mosques in the area, setting the groundwork for their response this week. 

"I'm sure the hate groups weren't hoping for that [positive outcome]," Tamayo told The Huffington Post. "But that's really what's happening here." 

Catherine Orsborn, director of the Shoulder to Shoulder interfaith campaign, which aims to end anti-Muslim bigotry, said that after the Phoenix vigil, the interfaith community is more willing to be "out there and out front" for their Muslim brothers and sisters. But an important first step is to reach out to mosque leadership and ask whether a public action is what they really want. 

"Muslim communities may not want to exacerbate the situation by drawing attention to [the rallies] and feeding the hype," Orsborn told HuffPost. "We're really examining what it looks like to be a good interfaith ally in this situation." 

1.  Organize An Interfaith Community Dinner 

The Spokane Interfaith Council, based in Washington, is organizing a community potluck dinner at Spokane's Islamic Center on October 10. 

"We would be remiss if we didn't take this opportunity to learn more about our neighbors in Spokane, for, we know that if we are not celebrating and sharing in the joys of our Muslim neighbors, our Jewish neighbors, our Sikh neighbors, we aren't creating community," the organizers wrote. 

2. Screen The Film "American Muslims: Facts vs. Fiction" 

Read more about how you can be a helpful ally from The Huffington Post.

MPR News: Minnesota organizers to speak at White House labor summit

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Fast-food worker and Fight for 15 organizer Terrence Wise introduces President Obama to kickoff Worker Voices Summit.

From MPR News:

by Jon Collins

Two Minnesota labor organizers have been invited to speak at a White House summit on the labor movement. Both lead groups of low-wage workers including fast food employees and janitors, people who typically haven't been represented by organized labor.

"The economy has changed, and large corporations especially are further and further distancing themselves from the responsibility for the wages and working conditions of the workers who produce their wealth," said Veronica Mendez Moore, co-director of the Twin Cities-based workers center Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, or CTUL.

Workers represented by her organization, she said, are often immigrants or contractors who can be harder for traditional unions to reach — "a lot of subcontracting, temp work, part time isolated work, independent contracting all of that."

CTUL has used protests and pressure campaigns to advocate for subcontractors who cleaned at companies like Target. They managed to extract some concessions that encourage contractors to negotiate with union janitors. They've also helped organize fast-food workers in the region and pushed for new worker protections now being considered in Minneapolis.

"These new models of organizing are springing up, out of necessity," she added. "Folks are saying, we have to do something, we just can't continue."


Read the full article from MPR News.

Watch Live: White House Worker Voices Summit

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You can also follow the conversation on Twitter:

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin: Fired Ontario hotel workers file unfair labor charges against DoubleTree

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From the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

by Neil Nisperos

In an unprecedented move, four subcontracted housekeepers who were fired have filed unfair labor practice allegations against the DoubleTree by Hilton Ontario Airport, owned by the Blackstone Group.

It is the first effort by California temporary agency workers in the hospitality industry to hold a joint employer accountable under a new ruling from the National Labor Relations Board.

“We wear the same uniforms, have the same supervisors, and eat in the same cafeteria. We also suffer under harsh working conditions,” said Maria Sanchez, one of the subcontracted housekeepers fired from the DoubleTree by Hilton. “I’m proud that I filed these charges today and am standing up for my rights under federal law.”

The four housekeepers filed the charges on Monday with Region 21 of the NLRB, alleging that the DoubleTree by Hilton Ontario Airport violated federal labor law by firing them for engaging in protected organizing activities.

Complaints arose a year ago from workers over increased room-cleaning quotas, according to Manuel Roman, organizing director for Unite Here! Local 11, a hospitality workers union serving the Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange county region.

“I think that companies like Hilton for many years have gotten around not taking responsibility for their working conditions by using temp agencies, of which the Inland Empire has many,” Roman said. “What this does now is it says Hilton, you cannot hide behind third-party contractors. You must take responsibility for working conditions in your hotels.”

Roman said the workers had sought help from the 20,000 member-strong union and then were fired by their employer, an Inglewood-based staffing agency called Pro Clean.

The staffing agency could not be immediately contacted. In response to a call for comment, Bassam Shahin, general manager of the hotel, said, “The Doubletree Ontario Airport Hotel complies with all local and federal labor laws and is an equal opportunity employer. The hotel is committed to providing a positive and supportive environment for all of its employees.”

Roman said the filing is historic. The union and the workers, he said, hope the hotel company does “the right thing in bringing these workers back and stop the abuses that are being committed by their staffing agencies.”

Read the full article from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin.

In These Times: SCOTUS’s ‘Friedrichs’ Case Won’t Mean the End of the American Labor Movement

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From In These Times:

by David Moberg

While most liberals were celebrating the Supreme Court’s June rulings affirming both marriage equality and Obamacare, many labor leaders were already worrying about next year. They feared that the court might hear a case that many of them saw as potentially delivering a crippling blow to the union movement: Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. And at the last minute, the court announced it would.

If a majority of the Supreme Court justices back the plaintiff in the Friedrichs case, promoted by a variety of right-wing, anti-union organizations, they will likely overturn the 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education court decision. The Supreme Court ruled in Abood that when a public employee union provided benefits, such as collective bargaining or grievance processing, to both members and non-members alike, the non-members could be charged a “fair share” or “agency shop” fee to cover an appropriate share of union expenses. Critics of the Friedrichs petition say that if justices agreed with its complaint, the Supreme Court’s action would have the effect of passing a national right-to-work law for all public employees (even though public employed collective bargaining rights are primarily matters of state law).

The two big teachers unions (American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association) and the two biggest unions of other public employees (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees [AFSCME] and the Service Employees International Union [SEIU]), responded with alarm to the court’s announcement:

“We are disappointed that at a time when big corporations and the wealthy few are rewriting the rules in their favor, knocking American families and our entire economy off-balance, the Supreme Court has chosen to take a case that threatens the fundamental promise of America—that if you work hard and play by the rules you should be able to provide for your family and live a decent life.

“The Supreme Court is revisiting decisions that have made it possible for people to stick together for a voice at work and in their communities—decisions that have stood for more than 35 years—and that have allowed people to work together for better public services and vibrant communities."

Whether celebrating from the Right or mourning from the Left, many observers saw the Supreme Court’s decision to take the case as another nail in the coffin of the labor movement.

There are good reasons to be concerned. A ruling in favor of Friedrichs would legally and morally permit some workers to be “free riders”—individuals who take advantage of what the union by law must provide them without paying for it. Perhaps more important, it would disregard the fundamental reasoning behind the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)-protected “union security clauses.” The law was intended to encourage collective bargaining, and if some workers could opt out of supporting collective bargaining, legislators reasoned, they would weaken the institution. 

From a practical point of view, unions would lose income that they could be using to improve conditions for all workers, including organizing the unorganized (although only voluntary political contributions, not dues money, can be used for union political advocacy). And a ruling in favor of the plaintiff would be a symbolic blow, a legal slap in the face, to a movement which has endured many such blows in the past.

But there are many other reasons to think that, win or lose on this case, the labor movement may not be as seriously damaged as many now fear.

First, there is a chance that even with this very conservative court (whose conservative bloc split enough times to give the liberal bloc some unexpected victories this past term), a majority might vote against the Friedrichs plaintiffs. The Supreme Court has narrowed interpretations of Abood in recent related cases, such as Harris v. Quinn. In that case, the court ruled that home care workers paid by the state are not state employees and thus are exempt from fair share requirements. Conservatives typically argue that agency fee payers are forced to financially support speech with which they disagree, thus violating the First Amendment. They have even argued that collective bargaining constitutes political speech for public employees.

But surprisingly, as the union lawyers noted in their response to the Friedrichs petition, normally arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia has offered strong arguments in defense of the agency fee, going beyond the usual “free-rider” critique of people getting benefits without paying their cost.

“What is distinctive, however, about the ‘free riders’ who are nonunion members of the union’s own bargaining unit is that in some respects they are free riders whom the law requires the union to carry—indeed, requires the union to go out of its way to benefit, even at the expense of its other interests,” Scalia wrote in the case of Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association. Scalia would have to perform some pretty spectacular legal acrobatic maneuvers to move from that position to rejection of a “fair share” fee.

Read the full article from In These Times.

Rudy López statement on the conclusion of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations

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The White House announced early Monday that the United States and eleven Pacific-rim nations have reached a final agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

In response, IWJ’s Executive Director Rudy López released the following statement:

After years of secret negotiations, the American public will finally have a chance to examine the contents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and see for themselves what leaked documents have already exposed.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership will ship more American jobs overseas while lowering wages at home, weaken labor and environmental protections, and turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in certain participating nations.

“Last month, Pope Francis reminded lawmakers of their duty to ‘protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.’ Congressional debate regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be a crucial test for our elected leaders to condemn a throwaway economy that values profit over people. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will only further entrench this backward set of values.

“As the full text of the agreement is made public, IWJ will mobilize its network to urge Congress to engage in a vigorous, transparent, and honest debate with a constant eye towards what is best for American workers, not the huge corporate interests who have crafted this agreement.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not a “free-trade” agreement. It is a trade-off that sacrifices the rights of American workers for the sake of enriching the most powerful corporations on the planet.”

The full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership will be available for review on as soon as it is made public.