Interfaith Worker Justice

This is what religion looks like.

Search

Archive

October 2016 Archive:

The Justice Department closed this troubled private prison. Immigration authorities are reopening it.

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From The Washington Post:

by Matt Zapotosky

When the Justice Department announced two months ago that it wanted to end the use of private prisons, Cibola County Correctional Center was exactly the kind of facility that officials desired to shut down. After a history of questionable deaths and substandard medical care, the New Mexico facility lost its contract. In recent weeks, it was emptied of inmates.

But the vacancies won’t last for long.

As soon as this week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — which is separate from the Justice Department — is going to begin moving immigrant detainees into the facility under a new set of agreements with Corrections Corporation of America, a county official said.

The country’s immigration enforcement agency is expanding its use of for-profit prisons, even while another government agency says the facilities are less safe and effective than government-run prisons. The move illustrates the difficulties of ending the government’s reliance on private prisons and jails, especially as immigration authorities deal with an influx of detainees.

In addition to inking a new contract for up to 1,116 beds at Cibola County, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, recently extended a contract with Corrections Corporation of America for a 2,400-bed facility in Texas. The agency also seems to be eyeing jail space in Youngstown, Ohio, where Corrections Corporation of America has posted advertisements for several job openings, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Justice Department’s announcement in August that it would eventually stop using private prisons was a significant critique of the industry. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates wrote that for-profit facilities “do not maintain the same level of safety and security” as government-run prisons.

Yates referred to an inspector general report that found private facilities had higher rates of assaults and eight times as many contraband cellphones confiscated each year on average. The report listed many examples of mayhem at private facilities, including a May 2012 riot at the Adams County Correctional Center in Mississippi in which 20 people were injured and a correctional officer was killed. That incident, according to the report, involved 250 inmates who were upset about low-quality food and medical care.

Jennifer D. Elzea, an ICE spokeswoman, said in a statement the agency was “committed to providing a safe and humane environment for all those in its custody.” She said the agency used various contractors and other arrangements to house inmates “to meet the agency’s detention needs while achieving the highest possible cost savings for the taxpayer.”

The Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part, said soon after the Justice Department’s announcement that it would consider whether to follow suit. The department has created a subcommittee to study the issue, and its evaluation is due Nov. 30. If DHS ultimately decides to end its use of private prisons, the long-term future of a facility such as Cibola would be unclear.

Gang- and drug-related violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras has been driving a surge of asylum seekers from Central America, who are winding up in the detention centers. Until two years ago, such asylum seekers were generally not held in detention.

For the first years of the Obama administration, the United States kept fewer than 100 beds for family detention, but — under pressure to show border security was of concern — had plans to expand to more than 3,000 beds by the end of 2014.

As of August, ICE had an average daily population of 33,957 across the facilities it uses, according to data provided by the agency.

On Wednesday, the ACLU sent a letter to that subcommittee blasting Immigration and Customs Enforcement for moving forward with private prison contracts while the advisory council’s review was ongoing.

Singling out the Cibola facility in particular, the advocacy organization wrote that the case “illustrates how CCA is literally operating a revolving door — shuttling out prisoners one month, shuttling in immigration detainees the next month.”

“It’s astonishing that a prison that was found unfit and unsuitable for federal prisoners is now going to be used to lock up immigration detainees,” said Joanne Lin, legislative counsel with the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

Read more from The Washington Post

Council to Pass First-Ever 'Gig Economy' Wage Theft Bill

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

graphic portraying keywords associated with a gig economy.

Mark Warner/Flickr

From the Village Voice:

by Stephen Miller

New York City is about to approve first-of-its-kind legislation protecting freelancers and "gig economy" workers against wage theft.

Nearly three-quarters of independent contractors have struggled to collect payment during their career, according to the Freelancers Union. "There are inherent risks in freelancing, but getting paid should not be one of them," said graphic designer Melissa Thornton at a City Hall rally on Thursday morning. She’s trying to collect $2,400 from four clients who either didn’t pay or are trying to get out of paying the full bill.

Until now, stiffed freelancers had to go to small-claims court, which caps judgments at $5,000 and offers a Pyrrhic victory at best. “Often, the cost of hiring that lawyer is more than the claim itself," Councilmember Brad Lander told the Voice. "It makes it hard to go to court." It also makes it easy for companies to avoid paying.

To fix this problem, Lander introduced the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, taking inspiration from existing state-level protections for workers classified as employees. It sets standards for freelance contracts, allows the city to handle complaints of non-payment, and makes it worthwhile for independent contractors to go to court, allowing judges to award them double damages and attorney’s fees.

"It will become really attractive for private lawyers to take this on," said Freelancers Union founder and executive director Sara Horowitz.

Under the bill, freelance work worth at least $800, including multiple smaller projects over a four-month period, must have a written contract. If terms aren’t outlined in the agreement, which could be as simple as an email, payment must be made within thirty days after work is completed. The Office of Labor Policy and Standards, a unit of the Department of Consumer Affairs, must provide model contracts, information on when a worker should be considered an independent contractor or employee, and court resources.

If a worker files a complaint with the city, the Office of Labor Policy and Standards will send a notice to the company accused of skipping its bills. If the company doesn’t respond, it would create a "rebuttable presumption" in court that the company violated its contract. As Lander explains it, that means the burden is not on the freelancer to prove her case; it’s on the hiring party to prove they shouldn’t have to pay — a significant change from the current legal standard.

The city would also be required to report on the complaints it receives from independent contractors. If there’s a company that regularly fails to pay its freelancers, the city could file suit and receive an award, a provision Lander says is modeled on how the city enforces its Human Rights Law.

Lawmakers in other cities, including Seattle and Chicago, are interested in the bill, Lander said, calling it "the first legislation of its kind."

An earlier version of the bill had a hearing in February, but progress stalled until the summer, Lander says. In August, Liz Vladeck was named commissioner of the Office of Labor and Policy and Standards. The office, created after de Blasio signed a Council bill late last year, also administers city requirements for paid sick leave, transit benefits, and paid caregivers.

Read more from the Village Voice.

Primanti Bros. Is Being Sued for Paying Below Minimum Wage

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Pittsburgh Strip District Primanti Bros

From The Incline:

by Sarah Anne Hughes 

Primanti Bros. — the sandwich shop chain synonymous with Pittsburgh — is being sued by a former employee.

Chelsea Koenig filed a class action suit in District Court last month, alleging that Primanti Bros. didn’t pay its tipped employees the minimum wage. Koenig is identified in the suit as a Pennsylvania resident who worked as a bartender at the Mt. Lebanon location, one of 23 in the state. There are also several Primanti Bros. outside of Pennsylvania.

At question is a section of the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows employers to take what’s called a tip credit. That means an employer can pay a lower minimum wage — $2.83 an hour in Pennsylvania — as long as they ensure that an employee’s tips bring the hourly wage to the higher minimum, $7.25.

But there are strict standards that employers have to follow in order to legally use the tip credit. The biggest of all: ensuring that employees actually make the minimum wage for every hour they work.

According to the suit, first reported by The Pennsylvania Record, Koenig’s hourly wage from Primanti Bros. was $2.83.

“Plaintiff does not ever recall her hourly wage being raised above $2.83 for any day she worked for Primanti Bros., irrespective of how little tips she earned or the type of work she performed,” the suit states.

Under the FLSA, an employer is required to make up the difference if tips fall short. So if a tipped employee in Pennsylvania doesn’t make $4.42 in tips per hour, the employer has to raise their hourly wage to make up the difference.

“Defendants took the maximum tip credit permissible for every hour worked by its tipped employees,” the suit states of Primanti Bros., “irrespective of whether its tipped employees actually earned sufficient tips to substantiate the tip credit claimed or whether the employees were engaged in tip generating work.”

In the suit, Koenig also alleges that Primanti Bros. did not inform employees that it was taking the tip credit.

According to the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, an employer must tell employees either orally or in writing that it plans to take the tip credit and inform them of what exactly that means.

Then there’s the issue of side work, like prepping a work station and cleaning after a shift. The suit claims that Primanti Bros. required its tipped employees to perform this type of work. In Koenig’s case, she states that she spent 30 percent of her shifts doing these tasks and not getting tips.

Courts have found that if side work exceeds 20 percent of an employee’s shift, then an employer cannot use the tip credit and instead needs to pay employees the full, $7.25 minimum wage.

Attorneys for Koenig did not respond to requests for comment, and a message left with a Primanti Bros. marketing employee was not returned.

A report by Temple University released last year found that “wage theft … is a pervasive problem hurting hundreds of thousands of low-wage workers across the state each week.”

They estimated that nearly 400,000 workers in Pennsylvania experience a minimum wage violation during a given week, while 300,000 experience an overtime violation. That adds up to between $19 million and $32 million in lost wages a week.

In the Pittsburgh region, the report estimated that 3,322 waiters, cafeteria workers and bartenders experience minimum wage violations. An additional 7,611 are subjected to overtime violations — like getting paid the minimum wage instead of time-and-a-half — and 5,855 aren’t paid for off-the-clock work.

Read more from The Incline

California Port Workers Walk Off

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Overhead view of a Long Beach Port.

From Go By Truck News:

Just two weeks before America chooses our nation’s next president, capping an election year battle that has centered around rebuilding the middle class and fixing our free trade agreements, port truck drivers and warehouse workers at two of America’s leading logistics companies, the California Cartage family of companies and Chinese government-owned Intermodal Bridge Transport, are going on strike to protest alleged misclassification, wage theft, abusive treatment and unlawful working conditions in an industry that has been allowed to operate outside of the United States labor laws that protect American workers from exploitation and dangerous working conditions and benefits big box and luxury retailers like Target and Michael Kors, as well as the U.S. Department of Defense.

Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016, port truck drivers and warehouse workers from two leading logistics companies went on strike for the 14th time in three years to protest violations of U.S. labor laws, violation of their employee rights under the National Labor Relations Act and unsafe working conditions.

The alleged violations include:

  • Misclassification as independent contractors.
  • Persistent wage theft.
  • Harassment, retaliation and intimidation for concerted union activity.
  • Wrongful termination.
  • Unsafe working conditions.

Wednesday morning, drivers from Container Freight/California Cartage, the largest of the companies in the Cal Cartage family of companies, walked off the job and joined the picket lines at the company yard, which is located on property owned by the Port of Los Angeles.

Additionally, on Monday, three K&R Transportation/California Cartage drivers filed claims before the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. The three claims combined allege over $500,000 for business expense reimbursements and wages that were due in the form of illegal deductions, unpaid minimum wages, and meal and rest break premiums on the theory that they were misclassified as independent contractors. The drivers named K&R Transportation LLC and Robert A. Curry Sr. as defendants.

Read more from Go By Truck News

This Is Why You Can't Survive on the Minimum Wage

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

 

A flyer calling for a raise to the minimum wage.

Paul Sableman/Flickr

From MarketWatch:

by Jillian Berman 

In every state in the country, it’s impossible to get by on the minimum wage and that’s particularly true if you have student debt.

A single adult needs to earn $17.28 an hour on average, or nearly $36,000 a year, to make ends meet, according to a report released Tuesday by People’s Action Institute, a network of state, local and national groups looking to address inequality. When factoring in student loan payments that figure rises to $18.67 an hour.

This so-called living wage is what it takes for workers to afford basic necessities like food, housing, transportation and health care, without using public assistance and while still having some room to save for emergencies. In 42 states and Washington, D.C., it’s higher than $15 an hour — the rallying cry for recent movements to raise the minimum wage.

“We know that workers who are making the minimum wage or even a little bit over the minimum wage are not making enough to make ends meet,” said Allyson Fredericksen, the deputy director of research at the People’s Action Institute, and the author of the report. “Those workers who are also repaying student debt need to be paid even higher wages to make ends meet.”

And that’s likely a lot of workers. Nearly 70% of bachelor’s degree recipients leave college with student debt, averaging roughly $30,100, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. In fact, Fredericksen said her organization decided to include student debt calculations in their annual living wage report for the first time this year in part because it’s become such a ubiquitous expense for workers. “We know that student debt has grown and is just so consuming,” she said.

The report also highlights the varying ways student loans may affect different types of borrowers. Borrowers of color and women often don’t reap the same benefit from their student debt as their white, male counterparts in part because they’re more likely to land in low paying jobs or low paying fields, other research shows. 

Borrowers who don’t finish college also face particular challenges paying back their student loans. That’s because they typically struggle more to land jobs with wages high enough to support their student loan payments.

Read more from MarketWatch

Concord Considers Rent-Hike Caps to Help Hard-Pressed Residents

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Salvio Pacheco Square facing Todos Santos Plaza in Concord.

From the San Francisco Chronicle:

by Filipa A. Ioannou

William and Argelia Brown lived in rented apartments in Concord for more than 30 years, raising three children. But about four years ago, when William lost his job, he and his wife were evicted and found themselves homeless.

Now they bounce between shelters, motels and their car, says their daughter, Avelina Brown-Nuñez.

“Social Security disability allows them to stay in motels, but it’s not enough for them to afford getting housing,” said 36-year-old Brown-Nuñez, who now lives in Oakland.

It’s an increasingly common story in Concord, Contra Costa County’s largest city, which is the latest Bay Area city to consider placing a moratorium on rent increases. A City Council committee this week forwarded a plan to the full council to ban rent increases above 3 percent for a 45-day period. The moratorium could be extended for up to two years by a subsequent council vote.

“I think it communicates to the general public, ‘We hear what you’re saying, and we want to do what we can,’” said Councilman Dan Helix. He said a moratorium is a reasonable temporary measure while the council studies the scope of the problem and the merits of rent control.

Concord was for many years an enclave where rents remained within reach of middle-class families and single-income households. But the ripple effects of the regional housing crisis have changed that, with rents rising by 60 percent the past six years.

Concord grew more slowly than its neighbors in the wake of the recession, adding only 82 new housing units from 2010 to 2015. Walnut Creek added 802 units in that same period. Pittsburg added 913. Antioch added 1,172.

That sluggish growth in housing stock and subsequent rent spike has hurt middle-class families and seniors on fixed incomes — many of whom thought that in Concord, they had finally found a place they could afford.

“I wanted to retire here, because it’s supposed to be one of the best cities for seniors,” said Theresa Brophy, who has lived in Concord since 1986. With rents in her complex increasing 10 percent each year, she’s not sure she can stay.

“I hope that the increases will be limited, but I’d like to know when, because I’m getting up there in years and I’d like to know where I can live,” she said.

The Browns found that most shelters serve women and children, families with young children, or single older adults, not older married couples whose children are grown.

“When they were staying in shelters, they had to be separated,” said Brown-Nuñez.

Support resources are straining to deal with the needs of the displaced. There are about 400 shelter beds in Contra Costa County. 

“We fully understand this is a regional crisis,” said Kristi Laughlin, an organizer with East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy. “But it’s the responsibility of cities in the region to take action.”

On Monday night, a crowd of about 50 people gathered outside the Concord Senior Center before the meeting of the City Council’s housing committee, which sent the moratorium to the full council.

Read more from the San Francisco Chronicle

In 583-1 vote, Harvard dining hall workers OK labor contract

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From The Boston Globe:

by Adam Vaccaro

Harvard University dining hall workers will return to work for Thursday morning’s breakfast shift, ending the school’s first strike in more than three decades, after they voted 583 to 1 Wednesday to approve a five-year labor contract.

Under terms of the deal, about 750 employees will receive wages of about $35,000 annually and won’t have to pay more for health insurance, according to their union, Unite Here Local 26, satisfying the major demands that led to a three-week work stoppage.

About 100 workers celebrated in Harvard Square Wednesday, chanting “Victory!” and “We love the students!” as union officials detailed the agreement.

“We achieved every goal, without exception, with no concessions to Harvard,” said union president Brian Lang. He added that the outcome means minimum annual pay of $35,000 is “the new standard for food-service workers, and we’re going to bring them out of poverty.” Local 26 represents food-service employees at several Boston-area schools.

Harvard spokeswoman Tania deLuzuriaga said in a statement that the university was pleased the workers’ new health care plan would now be consistent with the policy for other union workers on campus. She added that the workers will need to work full-time hours during the school year to make $35,000.

“The agreement addresses the wage and health insurance concerns raised by Local 26, while also achieving the affordable wages and health insurance plan design changes sought by the University at a time of constrained resources,” deLuzuriaga said.

The Harvard employees walked out Oct. 5, calling for the $35,000 annual wage floor and demanding that Harvard not go ahead with proposed changes in their existing health care coverage, which they said would increase out-of-pocket expenses.

Early Tuesday, the two sides agreed to a tentative agreement after a 12-hour bargaining session.

Throughout the dispute, Harvard said health care costs are rising everywhere and that the university’s average hourly wage of $22 for dining hall workers was generous, compared with pay at other area schools.

The workers focused on annual income, since most employees aren’t given hours during summer months. They also argued that health insurance increases would further cut into their take-home pay.

The contract gives workers who are laid off between school years seasonal pay of $2,400 — a figure that will increase to $3,000 by 2020, according to the union.

Employees whose hours are reduced during the summer will receive prorated pay to make up for the lost income. Between the summer pay and an hourly wage raise, all of the Harvard workers will earn a minimum of $35,000, Lang said.

The dining hall employees will be moved into a new health care plan, but the union says the school will pay the increased costs.

As part of the agreement, a committee will be formed to address workers’ concerns about diversity and racial issues, a measure the union had also demanded.

On Tuesday, Harvard executive vice president Katie Lapp said the pact would provide “superior compensation for our dining workers” while recognizing “the importance of carefully stewarding university finances.”

Read more from The Boston Globe

For Some Low-Income Workers, Retirement Is Only a Dream

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

An old couple, retired, sit on a park bench.

From AP News:

by Maria Ines Zamudio 

CHICAGO (AP) — It was a striking image. A photo of an 89-year-old man hunched over, struggling to push his cart with frozen treats. Fidencio Sanchez works long hours every day selling the treats because he couldn't afford to retire. The photo and his story went viral and thousands of people donated more than $384,000 for his retirement.

His story is a window into a dark reality: Many low-wage workers say they can't afford to retire.

With no money saved for retirement, home care worker Gwen Strowbridge, 71, of Deerfield, Florida, plans to stay on the job until she can't physically work anymore.

"I can't see it in the future. I'll stop working if my health won't allow me to keep working," said Strowbridge. Now 71, she works six days per week caring for a 100-year-old woman in Florida.

Studies have found that about one-third of low wage workers like Strowbridge say they'll never be able to afford retirement. The problem is particularly acute among minority women.

A 2016 study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that one-quarter of workers 50 and older say they won't retire. Among low wage workers, earning less than $50,000 a year, it was 33 percent.

Strowbridge's first job, in the 1960s, paid 98 cents an hour, setting her out on a path of low-wage jobs that stretched across five decades. She raised three sons with her husband, Roy, a dock attendant who unloaded cargo from boats. The couple was forced to use the little money they had saved for retirement on family medical issues.

Strowbridge stopped working briefly after she turned 63 to care for her husband, who had quadruple bypass heart surgery. Their Social Security benefits weren't enough to cover medical expenses, rent, utilities and food. When he died, she went back to work.

Jacquelyn B. James, co-director of Boston College's Center on Aging and Work, said it is common for low-wage workers to stay on the job, with no plans for retirement.

"It is really easy for them to say 'I'm going to work forever' but things happen," said James. Among those things: health issues.

A 2016 report by the nonpartisan research nonprofit National Institute on Retirement Security shows that many black, Latina and Asian women have to work past retirement age to be able to afford basic expenses. Women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished.

The research showed that for men between 70 and 74, about 19 percent of their income comes from wages. For women, it's about 15 percent.

"You couldn't put nothing in the bank because I was always underpaid," Strowbridge said. "I just didn't make enough to save."

Januario Salgado's financial situation mirrors Strowbridge's. He never saved for retirement. He is 64 years old and doesn't plan to retire. He works 10 hours, six days per week in a grocery store in a suburb outside Chicago.

"I couldn't save," Salgado said in Spanish. "I worked a lot to help my family. I used to send money to my parents in Mexico."

While caring for elderly parents is a norm in Mexican culture, many of the children don't think it's their responsibility, said Salgado, who came to the United States 40 years ago. His sons are among them.

Salgado plans to start collecting Social Security benefits when he turns 65 but he will continue to work as long as he is physically able. He doesn't want to become a burden to his children.

Read more from AP News.

Wells Fargo Workers Describe Mental Health Nightmares

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

A Wells Fargo location dimly lit at night.

From CNN Money:

by Matt Egan

For Janis Barinsky, a former Wells Fargo banker, it started with stress-induced migraines and severe anxiety.

She says trying to balance the bank's aggressive sales goals without doing something illegal and sacrificing her morals pushed her into deep depression.

Barinsky worked for Wells Fargo (WFC) from 2002 to 2013 as a personal banker and a business specialist at several locations in Northern California and Idaho. She told CNNMoney she "internalized this constant pressure -- and it manifested itself in physical, emotional and psychological problems in my life."

The bank last month admitted to creating as many as 2 million unauthorized bank and credit card accounts. Almost immediately after the revelations, CNNMoney was inundated with dozens of emails from Wells Fargo workers, both current and former, who described the high-pressure work environment. Many of these workers said they suffered mental health issues as a result.

It was an environment where unethical behavior was rewarded, many former employees say. Barinsky says she watched colleagues get lucrative bonuses and even promotions after hitting unrealistic goals by using unethical practices. 

The mental health issues forced Barinsky to go on medical leave and she sought treatment from psychologists. Eventually, she was forced to retire.

Barinsky, who today is 63 years old, said efforts to speak up by calling the Wells Fargo ethics line, an internal hotline for confidentially flagging bad behavior, repeatedly didn't work. That echoes claims made by other former employees.

"I am not alone," said Barinsky. "I am positive many former employees have experienced and are experiencing these lasting and devastating effects of the abuse we suffered as Wells Fargo employees." 

Jeremy Mohr of Pennsylvania said he too felt "ridiculous" pressure to hit "unreasonable" sales goals after Wells Fargo took over his Wachovia branch in 2009. He described getting "hounded" about his performance by "obsessive compulsive, controlling management."

Mohr recalled being constantly observed by managers, who would critique his interactions with customers. The observations were recorded and Mohr had to sign off on the documents. One time, Mohr was told to sign a document indicating he had just been observed on a customer interaction, even though that hadn't happened. He signed the form, and three months later, Mohr was fired in early 2011 for "willful misconduct" tied to this incident.

Mohr found it extremely difficult to find another job and it ultimately led to a personal bankruptcy. The experience left him humiliated.

"I went into depression, I contemplated suicide...from losing my job," said Mohr.

In June 2011, he used exhaust fumes from his father's car to attempt suicide. Mohr said he was hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning after his ex-wife discovered him.

"The catalyst was the s--- that Wells Fargo did to me," Mohr said. Today, Mohr, 40, is happily employed, working as a bartender at Houlihan's in Hershey, and has plans to buy a home. "I have fun at work. It's a great environment," he said. 

The experiences recounted by these employees underscore the human toll inflicted by a work culture that many former Wells Fargo employees said forced them to cheat and even break the law. Some described migraines and severe anxiety. Several complained of stomach ailments because they were denied bathroom breaks, a problem one banker described recently to a Wells Fargo executive at a California State Assembly hearing.

In a statement to CNNMoney, Wells Fargo acknowledged that "we have let down our customers and our team members." The bank said it is "making fundamental changes to help ensure our team members are supported in upholding our customer-focused culture." That includes the recent decision to scrap the controversial sales goals.

Tim Sloan, who was hastily elevated to CEO earlier this month after John Stumpf suddenly resigned, admitted that Wells Fargo "had serious problems" at its retail bank. Sloan recently told analysts it would be an "understatement" to say Wells Fargo employees have been "put through the wringer" as a result of the scandal.

Extreme stress at work can lead to severe mental health problems, like depression and psychosis, which can be worsened when there is a component of illegal activity, according to Paul Gionfriddo, CEO of Mental Health America, a nonprofit focused on advocacy and support. 

The culture was not easy on even the managers. Susan Fischer, a former Wells Fargo branch manager in Arizona, said she suffered "severe depression and anxiety" after being pushed to instruct employees to open unauthorized accounts in 2007. Fischer had to take medical leave and ultimately resigned in 2008 due to the stress. "It was an extremely dark period for me," she said. 

The nightmares extended to the bankers who handled home mortgages too. Lisa Skipton said her managers inside Wells Fargo's mortgage division made her feel like a "worthless human being" while she worked as a loan document specialist in 2012 and 2013.

Read more from CNN Money

Gender Pay Gap Could Take 170 Years to Close

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Imagery showing pay gap based on gender,

Mike Licht/Flickr

From the Guardian:

by Jill Treanor

The authors of a new report forecasting that it could take 170 years to eradicate the disparity in pay and employment opportunities for men and women have called for urgent action to close the gender equality gap.

The report by the World Economic Forum – best known for its high-profile gathering each year in Davos, Switzerland – found that economic disparity between women and men around the world was rising even though the gap was closing on other measures, such as education.

When measured in terms of income and employment, the gender gap has widened in the past four years; at 59%, it is now at a similar level to that seen in the depths of the financial crisis in 2008. 

Last year, the WEF predicted it would take 118 years for economic parity to be achieved. This year, the Geneva-based institution has calculated the gap would take until 2186 – 170 years – to close.

Now in its 11th year, the report measures the relative discrepancies between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.

The report says: “More than a decade of data has revealed that progress is still too slow for realising the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes.”

The authors, Richard Samans and Saadia Zahidi, said they hoped the report “will serve as a call to action for governments to accelerate gender equality through bolder policymaking, to business to prioritise gender equality as a critical talent and moral imperative, and to all of us to become deeply conscious of the choices we make every day that impact gender equality globally”.

The economic gap is caused by a number of factors, including women being paid almost half of what men receive, working on average 50 minutes a day longer and having a much slimmer chance of reaching senior roles.

Zahidi blamed slower economic growth for keeping women out of the workforce and added that, after making some progress, “we’re now hitting a bit of a wall” in terms of policy changes to help women in the workplace. Automation is affecting jobs in sales and administration – sectors with relatively high levels of female employment.

On an overall scale, including health, education and politics, the gender gap could be closed in 83 years across the 107 countries included in the report since it was originally published in 2006 – which is “just within the statistical lifetime of the baby girls born today”.

Within that overall measure, the education gap could be closed in 10 years, while the inequality in politics – which has the widest gap, despite having closed by 23% – should end in 82 years because of the fast pace of improvement since 2006, when it stood at 14%.

Read more from the Guardian

Harvard and Dining Workers Reach 'Tentative Agreement'

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From The Harvard Crimson:

by Brandon J. Dixon, Hannah Natanson, and Leah S. Yared

Harvard and its dining workers reached a “tentative agreement” around 1:05 a.m. Tuesday morning—the closest the two parties have come to a contract settlement during months of tense negotiations.

Brian Lang, president of UNITE HERE Local 26—the Boston-based union that represents Harvard’s dining workers—said the accord “accomplished all of our goals.” The deal is yet to be ratified; it must first be sent to a 30-member bargaining subcommittee Tuesday, Lang added, before the full membership of dining workers in the union vote on the deal Wednesday.

Though he declined to provide specific details on the agreement, Lang said HUDS employees could return to work as early as Thursday. According to an email sent last week by College Dean for Finance and Administration Sheila C. Thimba, it will take at most two days from the official end of the strike before the University’s dining halls can resume “normal operations.”

University spokesperson Tania deLuzuriaga wrote in an email that further details about the agreement would be forthcoming Tuesday morning.

Protesters greeted news of the tentative deal with cheers and jubilation outside 124 Mt. Auburn St., the Harvard office building where Monday’s negotiations took place.

“I’m feeling great about it, everything feels good,” dining services worker William H. Sawyer, who participated in the negotiation process, said at around 1:30 a.m. as he prepared to bike home. “The students and everyone behind us [have] been really inspirational… they kept us up, up, up, up and alive about this.”

“Even right now, they still here,” he added, pointing to the handful of students—all members of the Student Labor Action Movement—who remained outside the building, shouting and jumping up and down in celebration in the wee hours of the morning. “Everybody else gone home.”

In early October, HUDS workers launched an unprecedented strike—their first to take place during the academic year—calling on the University to increase wages and to maintain the current health benefits package it offers to dining hall employees. The last HUDS strike occurred more than 30 years ago.

The tentative agreement came after a day of intense picketing and rallying by both HUDS workers and student supporters. More than 500 students walked out of class—the second walkout of the strike—before marching to 124 Mt. Auburn St. for a sit-in that lasted late into the night, wrapping up around 10:30 p.m. at the urging of police officers.

By the time Harvard affiliates and union negotiators announced their tentative agreement, only a small cohort of students remained outside the building, along with a few HUDS workers. At one point during the night, students and strikers joined hands and marched in a circle, singing “We Shall Overcome.”

Abhinav Reddy, a School of Public Health student and graduate student union organizer, described the final moments of the night. Local 26’s bargaining team joined the demonstrators remaining outside, he said, and “everyone gathered back up and started chanting.”

“You could just see it on their faces before they even said anything,” Reddy said. “And everybody was like screaming and yelling, and then they said ‘we won, we got it.’”

SLAM member Grace F. Evans ’19, also present at the negotiations’ conclusion, said workers came out of the building visibly emotional before Lang announced to the assembled crowd of supporters that the union had “won.”

“It was a really emotional moment,” she said. “The workers were crying but Brian Lang was smiling, so we knew it was good news.”

Reflecting on the day’s events, Evans said she felt students had been important to HUDS workers’ success, a sentiment some workers echoed.

“It was definitely powerful that we were here,” Evans said, referring to the earlier lobby sit-in. “The negotiators looked down and they saw that.”

The nearly three-week long strike shook Harvard’s campus, led to multiple dining hall closures, and spurred waves of student activism and nation-wide support. At the largest strike event Saturday, more than 1,000 HUDS workers and supporters marched to Cambridge City Hall.

Read more from The Harvard Crimson.

Hispanics protest immigration policy

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From St. Cloud Times:

by David Unze and Kirsti Marohn

A group of Latino residents and supporters participated in a sit-in Monday morning at the Stearns County Sheriff's Office to protest what they called unfair actions by local and federal law enforcement toward undocumented immigrants.

About two dozen people entered the Law Enforcement Center just after 9 a.m. chanting and telling stories about what has happened to loved ones. A smaller group later met with Sheriff John Sanner in his office.

The rally was organized by Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, a faith-based nonprofit that lobbies for immigration reform.

Protesters talked about family members being followed, arrested and questioned and of having U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contacted. They expressed concerns about families being broken up and family members taken to jail or deported.

Group members argued that local law enforcement are racially profiling Latinos and pulling them over for minor offenses or no reason at all, then contacting ICE.

Sanner said that he understood that immigration is a difficult situation and that he supports immigration reform. But there are laws he has to follow, he said.

He said before the meeting that Hispanics in Stearns County are treated the same as any other group of people. The county doesn't contact ICE unless they encounter someone who has committed a crime and either is in the country illegally or their identity can't be verified.

Two years ago, several Minnesota counties announced they would stop detaining people at ICE's request after the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups protested the practice. Stearns County doesn't do so-called courtesy holds, Sanner told the group.

If someone commits a crime for which they would normally be taken to jail, the jail will try to verify their identity. If they verify the person is in the country illegally, jail staff will call ICE and follow what ICE asks them to do, Sanner told the Times. That could mean that ICE will seek a court order to detain the person until ICE can come pick them up.

It could mean the jail will do what it does with any other person arrested — book and hold for court or book and release them. If there is no court order or warrant to hold that person, they will be released. If ICE asks for a notification when that person is released, the county will send ICE that notification.

One woman, a pregnant mother with two children, told about being followed on her way home from work by a sheriff's deputy, who pulled her over. She gave him the ID she uses for work and was arrested for providing false information. She was taken to jail, fingerprinted and held for three hours. The next day, ICE officers were knocking on doors in her neighborhood.

Group members felt that she was targeted for being Latino and wondered why ICE was contacted. Capt. Jon Lentz told the group he has advised deputies not to contact ICE, but would prefer all immigration issues be handled by the jail.

Sanner noted that some of the group's concerns were broad based and involved federal, state and local authorities, not just Stearns County.

The protesters asked Sanner for a meeting to sit down and review the department's policies in dealing with immigrants. They also asked to provide the department with training to educate deputies on immigration and improve relations with the Latino community.

Read more from St. Cloud Times.

Women in Unions Are Closer to Equal Pay Than Women Who Aren’t

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From NY Mag:

by Dayna Evans

This morning, a new study was released by the Economic Policy Institute that detailed new findings about the gender pay gap. The research was done in an effort to disprove the surprising number of people who don’t actually believe that the gender pay gap is real. (It’s real.) The authors of the report write that a “typical, or median” woman working full-time gets 80 cents for every dollar that a man makes. This is why they say there can be variables to that number:

However, the adjusted gender wage gap really only narrows the analysis to the potential role of gender discrimination along one dimension: to differential pay for equivalent work. But this simple adjustment misses all of the potential differences in opportunities for men and women that affect and constrain the choices they make before they ever bargain with an employer over a wage.

Those differences between men and women’s opportunities can be affected by race, education, motherhood, and more. But one particularly interesting finding from the research is that women in unions actually fare better than non-unionized women: “Working women in unions are paid 89 cents for every dollar paid to unionized working men; nonunionized working women are paid 82 cents for every dollar paid to nonunionized working men,” the authors write. Elise Gould, one of the reports authors, told Rewire that it could be because union contracts offer “more transparency on how wages are set, less inequality.”

Read more from NY Mag

Presidential Debate Fails to Address Diversity in Immigration Issues

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

:Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton during United States presidential election 2016.

From NBC News:

by Melissa Noel

Immigration reform in America has been a major issue during the 2016 presidential election, yet the final presidential debate on Wednesday covered no new ground.

Donald Trump reaffirmed his stance on building a border wall and support for the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, asserting that one of his first acts as president will be to get the "bad hombres" out of the country.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton promised to institute comprehensive immigration reform that would "bring undocumented immigrants out of the shadows" and provide a path to citizenship during her first 100 days in office. 

However, neither candidate moved the conversation beyond immigrant law enforcement, again failing to tackle both the intricate complexities and diversity of the issue with further specifics.

"The immigration debate focuses largely on immigration enforcement, who to let in, who not to let in, but there are other issues facing immigrants. This was a missed opportunity to highlight those," Carl Lipscombe, Policy and Legal Manager at Black Alliance For Just Immigration (BAJI), told NBCBLK. 

"I think there could have been a real opportunity to try and target, in particular African and Caribbean immigrants, but they have just lumped them together as Black people and ignored a lot of their issues," Dr. Christina Greer, Associate Professor of Political Science, Fordham University said.

In addition, Lipscombe says that the lack of either candidate affirming programs and policies that would benefit immigrants is proof of the lack of recognition that immigration is a diverse issue. Not all immigrants are of one ethnic background and not all are undocumented or criminals. 

"Definitely this year, but in general immigration is framed solely as a Latino issue when it isn't. Immigration is an issue faced by people in the U.S. from all ethnicities, but many are invisible in the conversation, " he said.

A new report co-authored by BAJI and New York University Law School's Immigrant Rights Clinic highlights the many challenges faced by Black immigrants — who at a population of 3.7 million living in the United States, now account for nearly 10 percent of the nation's Black population overall.

The State of Black Immigrants report found that Black immigrants in the U.S. — a population comprised mainly of Black people from African and Caribbean countries—are more likely to be detained for criminal convictions than the immigrant population overall. Black immigrants are also three times as likely to be detained while their cases are pending, according to the report. The report on Black immigrants also examines data, showing that although Black immigrants have similar educational levels of White and Asian immigrants, they have the highest levels of unemployment, and one in five live below the poverty line. 

Read more from NBC News.

U.C. Workers Are Skipping Meals to Make Ends Meet

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Sather Gate marks the original southern entrance to the U.C. campus.

From The New York Times

by 

If you work for the University of California, don’t count on having enough to eat.

That’s according to a study released this week that found that 45 percent of the university system’s full-time administrative workers sometimes go hungry.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Peter Dreier, an author and politics professor at Occidental College.

The survey, which drew responses from nearly 2,900 workers across a system that includes 10 campuses, was done in coordination with the Teamsters union that represents the clerical workers.

There are nearly 14,000 of the workers — who hold jobs such as administrative assistants, library assistants and collections representatives — in the U.C. system.

Dianne Klein, a university spokeswoman, said in a statement that she had not examined the specifics of the report. But she and other officials noted the timing of its release as the university system is holding contract negotiations with the union.

“I’m not surprised to see these kinds of things sort of planted, if you will, to affect the collective bargaining process,” said George Kieffer, a university regent.

Still, university officials have acknowledged that reports of hunger among parts of the campus population were troubling.

In July, after conducting its own survey, the system discovered that roughly one in five students sometimes went hungry because of financial difficulties. In response, it dedicated $3.3 million to fight campus malnutrition.

Harvard has faced problems of its own, with cafeteria workers picketing over what they say are unfair wages.

Dr. Dreier strongly defended the U.C. study, calling the union’s motives irrelevant to his team’s findings.

The Times reviewed a sample of the written accounts from the workers, which were kept anonymous. Even with wages that averaged a little under $23 an hour, well above the state minimum of $10, many said they skipped meals or visited food banks. One described eating mayonnaise packets. Many cited the soaring cost of housing around the campuses, in locations like Irvine, Santa Barbara and San Francisco.

Read more from The New York Times. 

Jim Beam workers go on strike in Kentucky

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From The Hill:

by Rafael Bernal

Jim Beam workers walked off the production line at two distilleries in Kentucky after their union rejected a deal from the company on Friday.
 
The world's largest bourbon producer said the strike would not affect availability of its products to consumers, the Associated Press reported.
 
"Given our inventories and contingency plans, we currently do not anticipate shortages of Jim Beam or any other products made at these facilities," said David Hunter, chief supply chain officer for Beam Suntory.
 
Workers said they were striking to protest long work hours, often 60 to 80-hour weeks needed to keep up with high demand for the company's products. The company has hired temporary workers to help, but union workers say seniority is not being respected when assigning tasks and shifts.
 
The popularity of bourbon and whiskey has led to an upsurge in production of the spirits statewide. The Kentucky Distiller's Association said 1.9 million barrels were produced in 2015, the most since 1967.
 
Workers at the Japanese-owned company said they wanted quick resolution to the strike, but were in it "for the long haul" if necessary.
 
Bourbon historian Fred Minnick told the AP the workers would not be easily replaceable if the strike dragged on. 
 
"You can't just get Johnny off the street to come in to do this," Minnick said. "If you don't know how to roll a barrel in a rickhouse, you're going to lose a thumb."

Read more from The Hill.

Will raises for many home care workers help senior citizens?

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From PBS Newshour:

by Jane Gottlieb

In recent months, health aides who care for elderly Americans at home appeared at scores of rallies calling for better pay and workplace conditions. President Barack Obama and some of the presidential candidates have pledged to improve the lives of these workers, who often struggle on the poverty-level wages they are paid.

Now, thanks to the “Fight for $15” movement hundreds of thousands of home care workers in at least five states will gradually receive significant hourly raises. And as result of a large organizing campaign, tens of thousands who have joined unions can negotiate for paid sick time, health and retirement benefits.

“The Fight for $15 and the simultaneous benefits is an amazing, unprecedented thing that I don’t think anyone five years ago would have expected, given our hyper-polarized political environment,” said Laura Dresser, a labor economist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who studies the impact of low wages. “This is a workforce that’s coming out of the shadows.”

People with a deep understanding of eldercare policy say that without improving conditions and raising pay, which hovers at $10 an hour, it will be impossible to meet skyrocketing demand for skilled and devoted workers.

But they also argue that bigger paychecks and benefits will not have a significant impact on senior citizens unless their aides and assistants are also better screened, trained and organized.

“I think it’s going to take time and a different mindset to professionalize this job and improve outcomes,” said Carol Rodat, New York policy director for the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI), which researches ways to transform eldercare. “Achieving better wages is a first step, but there are others that have to follow or you don’t get to the end point — improved outcomes for the clients.”

As it stands, the soaring number of Americans who choose home care over nursing homes have no organized national system to count on that guides the hiring, education or oversight of their caregivers. There is little or no data that tracks how well the home care is delivered. And yet, these workers, like those in a hospital, provide a lifeline, not only dressing, feeding, bathing and shopping for clients, but working with their health care providers and noticing when their illnesses progress or relapse.

“It’s been a growth industry people can get into with little to no experience and few barriers,” said Rodat, whose organization wants better state and federal oversight. “We have to totally re-engineer home care. It will take a massive change.”

In the past 20 years, the Service Employees International Union, which organized nurses, has focused on home care workers, a largely non-white, female workforce that earns as little as $8 an hour and is often unable to piece together a full day’s work. And earlier this year, these workers landed in the national spotlight when they joined the “Fight for $15” minimum wage campaign.

As a result, 500,000 home caregivers in 12 states have joined SEIU and can bargain for paid sick time and retirement benefits. And Massachusetts, California, New York, Washington and Oregon, and cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C., passed laws phasing in a $15 minimum wage or an equivalent indexed to inflation. An estimated 640,000 of the more than 2 million aides hired through agencies or hired privately will see raises.

Also, starting this year the federal Fair Labor Standards Act guarantees them minimum wage and overtime.

The raises and union protections are concentrated in Northeastern and Western states. And they do not even cover the largest share of workers, the unpaid family members who care for a loved one. Nonetheless, many people who have worked closely on these issues see the changes as an important step in stabilizing what has been a marginal workforce.

With an annual turnover of around 50 percent, home care workers now have among the lowest retention of any industry. Labor organizers say even those who wish to stay often leave for better pay and hours. Advocates note that a trusted caregiver can be pivotal to a person’s health and well-being.

“When you keep the same worker that individual is going to see changes in the client’s quality of life. They are more likely to say ‘Mrs. Smith usually doesn’t confuse her children,’” said Caitlin Connolly, the Home Care Fair Pay campaign coordinator with the National Employment Law Project.

But many people who work in eldercare or study it also say that paying workers more and keeping them on the job will not assure senior citizens a standard of care because of the large gaps in regulation. Currently, not all home care agencies even check applicants’ criminal histories, something not every state requires.

In a widely-cited study, researchers at Northwestern University’s medical school found that just 55 percent of the 180 agencies conducted a national background check. Only a third tested applicants for drug use, even though the job can mean frequent contact with medications.

The study, led by geriatrician Lee Lindquist, showed that many agencies hire unskilled workers off Craigslist and place them in homes of elderly people with physical and cognitive impairments.

Lindquist found aides, some of them illiterate, who mixed up medications or neglected to feed or move clients. Supervisors rarely checked in. And training was lax.

Federal law requires home health aides, who perform skilled nursing functions such as wound care, to have 75 hours of training. There is no mandated training for the largest, fastest-growing segment, the personal aides who assist with housekeeping and grooming. No continuing education is required.

“We see a huge prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia and depression and pulmonary disease and cardiac disease,” noted Rodat of PHI. “You’d think we’d want to give people extra training since they are on the front line.”

Read more from PBS Newshour.

Can Teachers Unions Bargain for Better -- or Fewer -- Charter Schools?

0 Comment(s) | Posted |



From The American Prospect:

by Rachel M. Cohen

In cities across the country, teachers unions have been strategizing ways to broaden the demands they bring to the negotiating table. Organizing under the banner of “bargaining for the common good,” educators and their community allies have started to challenge a legal regime that for too many years left unions solely focused on wages and benefits.

One window of opportunity that teacher unions are exploring is charter authorizing—the process of opening, closing, and monitoring charter schools. Though laws vary from state to state, 90 percent of the nation’s roughly 1,000 charter authorizers are local school districts. (The other 10 percent include statewide boards, independent boards, and nonprofit organizations.) Someone looking to open a charter school would in most cases have to apply to a local school district for permission. If their application were approved, the school district would then be tasked with ensuring that the charter meets academic standards and all other relevant laws and regulations.

In recent years, more charter teachers have started to form unions at their schools. But since most are at-will employees who work on year-to-year contracts, the threat of retaliation presents a serious hurdle to unionization efforts, particularly since the charter sector is generally known for its union animus.

As a result, teachers unions representing educators at traditional public schools have started to explore how they might use their leverage at the bargaining table to make union organizing easier for their charter brethren.

“You can see a pathway when school districts are the authorizers, because the union bargains with school districts as employers, and could put proposals on the table around rules for charter authorization,” says Shaun Richman, a labor writer who directed the American Federation of Teacher’s charter organizing program from 2010 to 2015.

The first local to do this was the Cleveland Teachers Union. By the middle of the last decade, the Cleveland School District had sponsored several non-union charter schools. With a new round of contract negotiations coming up, the local teachers union wanted to figure out how they might insert their voice into their employer’s charter authorizing process. When bargaining began, the union sought the right to talk freely about organizing with teachers in any charter school authorized by their district. Though ultimately unsuccessful in winning this demand, the union did win language in its 2010 contract requiring their school district to remain neutral if teachers at any charter school it authorizes sought to unionize.  

This neutrality language has proven useful, according to David Quolke, the Cleveland Teachers Union president. He says that when three Cleveland charter schools organized unions this past year, their anti-union charter operator, I Can, wanted the school district to intervene. “The employer was trying hard to stop the union, but the school district had to stay out of it,” Quolke says.

While his union did not get everything it wanted in 2010, Quolke says its “foot is now in the door” and he can envision pushing for more authorizing concessions in the future.

The Chicago Teachers Union took Cleveland’s efforts one step further in its recent round of collective bargaining. Rather than push for a commitment that their employer—the Chicago Public Schools—remain neutral, the union demanded that the school district require all charter schools it authorizes to remain neutral if their teachers decide to organize.  

Chris Baehrend, acting president of ChiACTS, the union representing Chicago charter teachers, says that neutrality agreements make a profound difference for workers. “The main reason that teachers don’t form unions is because they’re afraid—they’re afraid they’ll get fired, or they won’t succeed,” he says. ChiACTS currently represents 32 schools, and roughly 1,000 teachers.

Stephen Lerner, a veteran labor organizer, likens these types of efforts to the Justice for Janitors campaign that he helped lead in the early 1990s. “The whole idea of that campaign was to use our existing base to bargain for neutrality for other folks,” he says. “A major part of the organizing strategy was negotiating where the union was strong for neutrality in other parts of the contract, and for other divisions [of the employer’s company] that were non-union.”

While the Chicago teachers did not win their demand for citywide charter neutrality when they reached an accord with the district last week, they actually won something even more surprising: an agreement to halt charter growth. In the new contract, the Chicago Public Schools agreed to not increase the net number of charter schools or charter school students through 2019, an unprecedented concession.

The United Teachers Los Angeles has gone even further with these contract efforts—bargaining not just for labor rights for charter teachers, but also for greater overall accountability for charter schools. During its last round of contract negotiations in 2014, the Los Angeles teachers union, in partnership with local community groups, called on the Los Angeles Unified School District to ensure that all schools under its purview—district and charter—be held to the same set of transparency, equity, and accountability standards. The union also proposed requiring that before the district opens up any new school, it first must assess what the economic, educational, and communal impact would be on existing schools. (Under California state law, however, school districts are prohibited from considering such factors when reviewing new charter school applications.)

Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the Los Angeles teachers union, says that although it wasn’t successful in getting these demands codified in their contract (not surprising, in light of the state law), raising the issues catalyzed new and important conversations with their employer. “Our efforts also had an impact on other affiliates across the state,” Caputo-Pearl says. “They read our proposals and are now really thinking about how to introduce similar types of demands.”

It should be noted that not all teacher unions are yet ready to think creatively about their contract negotiations. In an interview with the Prospect, George Jackson, the communications director of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, said, “there’s really no advocacy [the union] could do at the bargaining table” around charter authorizing since charter teachers are not directly part of their union.

And not every instance of unions inserting themselves into the charter authorizing process has been so positive. In 2011, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers actually created the nation’s first and only union-backed charter authorizer. The goal was to open innovative charters that elevate teacher voice, and to secure unions a seat at the education reform table. But five years into the experiment, the authorizer, the Minnesota Guild of Public Charter Schools, oversees mostly low-performing schools, and only one is unionized. Many rank-and-file public school teachers have also protested their union’s decision to fund charter authorizing.

In addition to bargaining with school districts, unions are also beginning to flex their legislative and lobbying muscles to try and influence the charter authorizing process.

In New Jersey, it’s the state department of education that authorizes charter schools, not local school districts. Marguerite Schroeder, a staffer with the New Jersey Education Association, says her union closely monitors the entire process from start to finish. “We navigate, we scrutinize, we legally request every application for new charter schools that the department of education considers,” she says, adding that her union is prepared to work through all legislative and legal channels to ensure that New Jersey is held accountable for any charter it authorizes. It also works to monitor how and where public funds are spent within the charter sector.

In 2014, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University released a set of national policy recommendations to promote increased charter accountability, transparency, and equity. The recommendations called on charter governing boards to file financial disclosure reports, and to prohibit charters from using registration procedures that directly or indirectly discourage certain students from enrolling. The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers came out in strong support of the Annenberg proposals, and have since been advocating for school boards and state legislators to adopt them.

In California, the local unions have lobbied the state legislature for a number of bills inspired by the Annenberg standards, including bills that would require charters to be more financially transparent, and to establish more equitable discipline policies. Though many of these bills have failed to make it through the legislature or have been vetoed by California Governor Jerry Brown, they’ve sparked a larger political discussion in the state around charter regulation. And such efforts haven’t been confined to blue states. In 2015, after a campaign led by parents and the local teachers union, the school board governing the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools voted in favor of adopting all of the Annenberg standards.

Ultimately there may be legal limits to what unions can bargain over with their school district in matters of charter authorization. Advocates hope, however, that opening up the conversation on the local level through contract negotiations can help to create broader political momentum for legislative change.

Read more from The American Prospect.

What Are the Chances of a National Law for Paid Leave?

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Sick adult about to sneeze.

Tina Franklin/Flickr

From CNN:

by Kelly Wallace

For the first time in a presidential campaign, both the Democratic and Republican nominees have put forward plans calling for mandated paid leave.

While Donald Trump's proposal covers only mothers and is not as expansive as Hillary Clinton's plan, it still represents the first time a Republican presidential nominee has spoken

out in favor of paid leave, something that only Democratic presidential nominees have done in recent years.

The United States is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate leave for women after they give birth, and it seems the American public has had enough of that designation. One poll this year found that three out of four Americans support a law calling for 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for workers. 

With the majority of the public behind the concept, what are the chances it will happen?

I posed that question during a recent panel I moderated on paid parental leave at the 2016 Concordia Summit. The summit is sponsored by Concordia, a nonprofit organization bringing together public and private sector leaders to collaborate on solutions to some of the biggest problems impacting our world. 

Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from New York who was elected to her first term in 2015, said she couldn't imagine this issue getting "walked back" when there is such public support for it.

"The big obstacle is the hyperpartisan situation that we have in Washington," said Rice, who provides 16 weeks of paid leave for her sta. "My hope is that after this presidential election, the fact that we have had this kind of presidential election in our lifetime will be a wake-up call to me and my colleagues to actually put aside all of our ideological intransigence and actually try to get something done." 

The private sector leading the way

Getting members of Congress to hear the first-hand accounts from businesses that have decided to provide paid leave to their employees and continue to be successful would definitely help, said Rice.

"We should be looking to our partners in the private sector, watching how they do it and (how) they're still profitable," she said. 

The panel included representatives from Etsy, Foursquare and Hilton, which all started oering generous paid leave policies this year: Etsy provides 26 weeks of fully paid leave to both female and male employees who become parents through birth or adoption; Foursquare oers 12 weeks of fully paid leave for primary caregivers, who assume the principal role of providing care after birth or adoption, and eight weeks for secondary caregivers; and Hilton oers 10 weeks of full pay for birth mothers and two weeks fully paid for all new parents, including fathers and adoptive parents. 

"As we launched, we had a lot of our peers and competitors and other folks in the service industry ask us, 'Well, how could you do it? How can you aord this?' " said Laura Fuentes, senior vice president of talent, rewards and people analytics for Hilton Worldwide.

More than 500 hundred people are either currently on leave or have already used the new policy at Hilton, said Fuentes. "It doesn't break the bank. It doesn't drive you into bankruptcy, and in fact, I hope that over time, we'll also be able to demonstrate the retention and engagement play," she said.

The more companies that oer paid leave and the more they see the economic benefits from retention, the more pressure there will be on the government to actually roll out a mandatory nationwide policy, said Nitzia Logothetis, founder and interim CEO of the Seleni Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the reproductive and maternal mental health care needs of women. Seleni helped program and co-hosted the panel on paid leave at the Concordia Summit. 

Read more from CNN.

9 striking Harvard workers arrested after a sit-in on Cambridge’s streets

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

An overhead view of Harvard Square. Where the sit-in took place.

From Boston Globe:

by Adam Vaccaro 

Nine of Harvard University’s striking dining hall workers were arrested Friday afternoon, along with two union officials, after holding a sit-in on the streets of Harvard Square.

The act of civil disobedience came on the 10th day of Harvard’s first strike in 33 years. The 750 workers and university officials are at odds over wages and health care costs.

The sit-in occurred after a worker rally that focused on health care costs for women workers and their families. The nine arrested workers were all female, according to union spokeswoman Tiffany Ten Eyck.

Brian Lang, president of UNITE HERE Local 26, and lead negotiator Michael Kramer were also arrested, Ten Eyck said.

Cambridge Police Deputy Superintendent Jack Albert said Friday’s demonstration was “pretty well-scripted,” and police had been notified in advance. He said the sit-in lasted about 15 minutes near the intersection of John F. Kennedy Street and Massachusetts Avenue. A traffic diversion was put in place ahead of the event, he said.

The act was meant as “a more dramatic action to get the attention of decision makers,” such as Harvard President Drew Faust, Ten Eyck said.

It marked the second straight day of more boisterous action from the union. On Thursday, the union sought the attention of the 12 fellows that sit on Harvard’s governing board by deploying national UNITE HERE representatives to the fellows’ offices in New York and other cities. The fellows have all either declined to comment or not responded to requests for interviews.

Read more from Boston Globe.

Why Are Workers At Our Richest Universities Going Hungry?

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Harvard Food Service Workers on Strike/Photo credit: UniteHere Local 26

From Deadspin:

by Hamilton Nolan

This month, Harvard University received a $10 million donation earmarked to study residents in poor neighborhoods in Boston. The same week, Harvard’s dining workers had to go on strike in search of a living wage.

(Thanks to the mega-vi tweet that pointed out this study in contrasts.)

The richest universities in America have financial reserves comparable large publicly traded corporations. Harvard, the richest of all, has an endowment of $35 billion. There are no common sense arguments for educational institutions with billions of dollars in reserve not to pay their employees a living wage. Yet it seems to be the norm. Outside of a relatively small class of administrators, middle managers, and tenured professors, most workers in higher education are distinctly not secure. A newly released survey of clerical and support staff at the University of California system finds that 45% of them “went hungry at times,” and another 25% were forced to reduce the quality of their diet for economic reasons.

These full-time workers are quite literally starving while working for an institution with an endowment worth more than $9 billion.

Private companies abuse and impoverish their workers in many ways. But most of us would expect more from the world’s most prominent centers of higher education, which spend their time instructing students on ethics and morality—or conducting studies of poverty—when they are not causing their employees to go hungry.

Earlier this year, Gawker ran an entire series of stories from adjunct professorsdetailing their low pay, lack of job security, and the disposable way that they are treated by colleges and universities. It’s clear that the people doing the actual work of educating students are not immune from being poor. Less prominent, though, are those dining hall employees and janitors and secretaries and all of the other workers who make these shining universities functional and able to charge annual tuitions greater than the price of luxury cars. There is no reason that a top American university with a rich endowment should have full time employees who cannot pay their own bills. It makes a mockery of the endless do-good rhetoric that emerges from the halls of academia.

Dozens of schools have financial reserves worth more than $1 billion. If you are a non-academic worker at one of them, I would like to hear your story. Email me at Hamilton@Gawker.com.

Where do you work? How much are you paid? Is it enough? What are your working conditions and job security like? How are you treated by the university? How are you treated by the students? Are you in a union? What changes would you like to see in your workplace?

All respondents will be kept anonymous unless you tell me otherwise.

Read more from Deadspin.

Koch Brothers’ Latest Target: Pope Francis

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From The American Prospect:

by John Gehring

On a spring night in downtown Washington earlier this year, hedge fund managers and CEOs mingled with religious scholars and priests at a cigar reception on the 11th floor of the Renaissance Hotel. The occasion was a $1,700-a-person conference, hosted by The Catholic University of America, focused on integrating Catholic social teaching and business.

Among the well-heeled guests was a lobbyist from Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a $130 million trade group aligned with the powerful industrialists Charles and David Koch. As the cocktail chatter turned to complaints about government regulations and the power of markets to help the poor, the scene felt more fitting to a conservative political fundraiser than a conference at the nation’s only Vatican-chartered university.

But free market orthodoxy is becoming a familiar staple at Catholic University’s business school, which has accepted nearly $13 million from the Charles Koch Foundation over the last three years. The money has gone to the Busch School of Business & Economics and has been a source of consternation and controversy among some Catholic scholars. The billionaire brothers aren’t known for making public statements about faith, but rather for their defining creed of “economic liberty,” which they promote with missionary zeal by spending millions to lower corporate taxes, chip away at environmental safeguards, and erode worker’s rights.

It’s a libertarian agenda that stands in stark contrast with the communitarian tradition of Catholicism, and that is also hard to square with the priorities of Pope Francis. The first Jesuit pope and the first from Latin America, Francis has used his pulpit to challenge the moral failings of contemporary global capitalism. He has described inequality as the “root of social evil,” and has called climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

By contrast, the Kochs champion a far-right ideology that scoffs at climate change and workers’ rights. After the business school at Catholic University announced its first $1 million donation from the Koch Foundation three years ago, 50 Catholic theologians and scholars raised alarms. The Kochs help “advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship,” the scholars stated in an open letter to the university. Another letter fromCatholic Scholars for Worker Justice criticized the university’s “potentially misleading message” regarding the church’s commitment to unions and workers’ rights.

University officials fired back that critics had set out to “manufacture controversy and score political points.” (Full disclosure: I work for Faith in Public Life, which helped promote the Catholic scholars’ letter.) In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, the university’s president, John Garvey, and the business school’s founding dean, Andrew Abela, declared that they would not “cave to demands made by the liberal social justice movement,” and wrote that it would be a “mistake to stifle debate by pretending that genuinely controversial positions are official church teaching.”

Catholic is not the only university to take money from the Koch Foundation, which is efficiently building a free-market “talent pipeline” in the nation’s colleges and universities. According to an investigation last year by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, the foundation gave $19.3 million to 210 colleges in 2013 alone. More than two dozen Catholic universities receive funding from the Koch Foundation. Compared with the nearly $13 million Catholic University has hauled in over the past three years, most are relatively small grants.Creighton University, a Catholic, Jesuit institution in Nebraska, has brought in more than $4 million from the Koch Foundation and from the family of an Omaha entrepreneur named C.L. Werner. The money funds the university’s Institute for Economic Inquiry, which cranks out research that advocates for the privatization of state services and touts an economic philosophy more in line with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce than traditional Catholic teaching.

But the influence of the Kochs merits special scrutiny at Catholic University, founded by the U.S. bishops in 1887 with the support of Pope Leo XIII to be the national university of the Catholic Church in America. As one of the wealthiest men in the world, Charles Koch is promoting an agenda that is on a collision course with Pope Francis’s teachings about Catholic stewardship. Francis has sharply challenged what he describes as the “dictatorship of an impersonal economy” and calls for “a legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state.”

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world,” the pope wrote in his first major teaching document, The Joy of the Gospel, released in 2013. “This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.”

Francis directly links what he calls “an economy of exclusion” to the global climate crisis, saying that the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” are inseparable. In an encyclical last June—the first-ever devoted entirely to ecology—Francis assailed climate deniers and called for a transition away from oil dependency. Koch Industries, meanwhile, is notorious for its abysmal record of covering up toxic spills, and for underwriting well-funded lobbying and disinformation campaigns to cast doubt on the overwhelming scientific consensus about the severe risks of human-induced climate change.The Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which has received Koch funding over the years, spearheaded a press conference before the pope’s first visit to the U.S. last fall to disseminate the message that “Pope Francis’ views on global warming are scientifically in error, and his views on capitalism are outdated and wrong.”

IN “LITTLE ROME,” THE Brookland neighborhood of northeast Washington that houses the university’s campus, a theological college for Dominican friars and headquarters of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Kochs have some influential fans. The university’s business school is named for Tim Busch, a Catholic CEO and Orange County, California, attorney who specializes in estate planning for wealthy clients. Busch, a philanthropist who owns several luxury hotels and founded the Napa-based winery Trinitas Cellars, sits on the university’s board of trustees, and recently gave the university $15 million, its largest-ever donation.

“I’ve learned a lot from the Koch family,” Buschacknowledged in an interview with The Catholic World Report. “Koch shouldn’t be attacked, but applauded.”

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Busch explainedwhy the university accepted the Koch funding and gushed about the “compatibility of capitalism and Catholicism.” His own economic views—like those of the Kochs— are often in tension with Catholic tradition. One bedrock principle of Catholic social teaching is that workers should receive a living wage. It’s a position that the Catholic Church has officially supported since at least 1891, when Pope Leo XIII affirmed that right and also the right of workers to organize. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explicitly supports raising the federal minimum wage. Busch, in contrast, has called the minimum wage “an anti-market regulation that leads to unemployment” and claims it does “great harm” to workers.

He’s not the only prominent Catholic in the university’s circles philosophically allied with the Kochs. Abela, the founding dean of the business school, struck a less than Francis-like note when he told a Catholic news outlet that while Catholic teaching requires respect for the environment, “it doesn't say if you question global warming or climate change that’s a sin.” In fact, just last month, the pope’s message for the “World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation” specifically noted that 2015 was the warmest year on record. He quoted Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the Eastern Orthodox Church, saying that environmental degradation and the impact of climate change are “a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”  

The glaring contrast between the Kochs’ ideology and both Pope Francis’s priorities and traditional Catholic social teaching is apparently lost on some wealthy conservative Catholics. A year after controversy first erupted around the Koch donations at Catholic University in 2013, two financial contributors to the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce wrote a Washington Post op-ed that unconvincingly attempted to link the Kochs with the pope. “For us, promoting limited government alongside the Kochs is an important part of heeding Pope Francis’ call to love and serve the poor,” they wrote in a column that went on to parrot a litany of Republican talking points about the “insatiable growth” of government.

If some conservatives have tried to identify themselves with a popular pope even as they undermine his message, others have directly attacked Francis. Among the speakers to address Creighton University’s Koch-backed Institute for Economic Inquiry is Stephen Moore, an economist at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., and a campaign adviser to Donald Trump. Moore, a Catholic, last year blasted Pope Francis in Forbesmagazine as “a complete disaster when it comes to his policy pronouncements.” The pope, Moorewrote, “has allied himself with the far left and has embraced an ideology that would make people poorer and less free.” On environmental issues, he accuses the pope of aligning himself with a “radical green movement that at its core is anti-Christian, anti-people and anti-progress.” Creighton’s institute invited Moore last fall to give an address about economic issues in the 2016 election.

Some scholars say the Kochs’ ideology can’t be justified in Catholic terms. Stephen Schneck, a professor at Catholic University who organized a conference two years ago at the campus, which highlighted the incompatibility of Catholic teachings and economic libertarianism, says efforts to demonize government and sanctify markets are antithetical to the Catholic moral tradition.

“Radical market ideologies really are heretical,” Schneck, the director of the university’s Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies, told the Prospect.“To yoke human freedom to the same market competition that has given rise to consumerism, materialism, value relativism, and the commodification of labor can’t be squared with the Catholic ideal of human dignity.”

THE KOCHS ARE ONLY TWO of the players in a broader movement spreading a free-market gospel at Catholic institutions. A well-financed network of conservative clergy and Catholic intellectuals on the right churns out research and books, and hosts conferences that often send a decidedly different message than Pope Francis does when it comes to the economy and climate change. One influential figure in this effort is the Reverend Robert Sirico, a Catholic priest who founded the Koch-linked Acton Institute. Based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the institute has a Rome office near the Vatican, and also has ties to Catholic University’s business and economics school.

Abela is one of several faculty members who have won Acton’s $10,000 top award for studying the “relationship between religion and economic liberty.” The author of Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for A Free Economy, Sirico is a Brooklyn native with a sharp wit who is as comfortable dishing commentary on Fox News as he is waxing philosophical about Saint Augustine. A onetime activist on the left in the 1960s, Sirico has built a formidable base of operations with the help of the Koch Foundation and the Christian conservative DeVos family, the billionaire heirs to the Amway fortune who are well known for bankrolling Republican candidates, and anti-tax and anti-union campaigns.

When adjunct professors at a Catholic university in Pittsburgh, who make near-poverty wages and often lack health insurance, launched an organizing drive, Sirico argued in The New York Times that the church’s historic support for unions was conditional. “In the industrial revolution, the church was concerned about communism and not just capitalism but savage capitalism,” he told The Times. “People were being brutalized. That’s just not the case in Pittsburgh today.”

At a four-day Acton conference in Grand Rapids in June—an annual gathering dubbed “Acton University” that attracts more than a thousand participants from 50 countries—one of the featured lecturers was Jay Richards, a research professor in Catholic University’s business school.

Richards, who goes by “Free Market Jay” on Twitter and is the executive editor of the right-wing news outlet The Stream, delivered an environmental message that went over well with the business leaders, libertarian-leaning college students and aspiring entrepreneurs in the room. “Because God told us to be good stewards, that doesn’t mean we have to drive a Prius or support the Paris climate accords,” Richards quipped. He went on to argue that carbon dioxide has “very positive effects” on the atmosphere, and that many scientists and research organizations are misguided alarmists on climate change.

“The nature of Big Science leads to groupthink,” Richards told the group. “There are no global policies to date that make any sense at all.” He warned of the “expensive public policies” promoted by organizations that have been “co-opted” by radical leftists. Richards finished his lecture by touting the Cornwall Alliance, a Christian evangelical coalition that makes a “moral case” for fossil fuels. As people left, Cornwall pamphlets bearing the message “Forget ‘Climate Change’—Energy Empowers the Poor” were handed out at the door.

From The American Prospect

Guards Sympathize With Striking Prisoners: “We See It As A Moral Issue”

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Photo credit: Twitter/wheretheriverfrowns

From Buzzfeed:

by Cora Lewis

The US Department of Justice has opened an investigation into prison conditions in Alabama, weeks after inmates there joined a nationwide prisoner strike in protest of forced labor and living conditions.

“The investigation will focus on whether prisoners are adequately protected from physical harm and sexual abuse at the hands of other prisoners; whether prisoners are adequately protected from use of excessive force and staff sexual abuse by correctional officers; and whether the prisons provide sanitary, secure and safe living conditions,” the DOJ said in a statement.

The department declined to comment on what prompted the statewide probe. But Pastor Kenneth Glasgow, a leader of the Free Alabama Movement, an advocacy group that helped support the strike, credited the actions of prisoners and corrections officers of Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama.

“I do believe the prison strike that was initiated led and organized by those on the inside of Holman prison is the reason for the DOJ launching the investigation,” he said. “And I think when they saw that even the officers admitted that the administration was allowing a hostile environment to be created, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

As the prisoner strike continued in late September, corrections officers at Holman prison did not show up to scheduled work shifts and spoke out about dangerous conditions. And in Michigan, unionized corrections officers have expressed sympathy for the prisoners’ cause.

“We see it as a moral issue,” said Andy Potter, chief of staff and executive vice president of the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), which represents 10,000 corrections staffers. Hundreds of inmates in Michigan took part in the national strike with a peaceful prison-yard march in early September, leading to a purge by prison authorities, who identified 250 organizers of the strike and relocated them to other facilities.

“The officers basically understand the prisoners’ plight,” Potter told BuzzFeed News. “They don’t outright support the work-stoppage, they haven’t taken a position like that, but almost everyone that I’ve talked to — and I represent them — understand why the inmates would do it.”

On the evening of Sunday, Sept. 24, more than two weeks after the national strike began, nine corrections officers at Holman did not show up to work their scheduled shift. Officers from nearby prisons were brought in to fill the posts, with higher-ranking officers handing out meals and handling security, according to reports from prisoners in the facility.

The following Sunday, six of the nine again did not appear for work, according to the Alabama Department of Corrections (ADOC).

While corrections officers have not officially endorsed the strike or shared specific grievances with the DOC, it was “not routine” for officers to fail to come to work in those numbers, ADOC Public Information Officer Robert Horton told BuzzFeed News.

At the heart of the prison strike is the contention that forced labor is a violation of basic rights. Approximately 900,000 of America’s 2.4 million prisoners today work for little or no pay, both running their facilities and producing goods like license plates and furniture for the state and private companies.

This is made possible by a loophole in the US Constitution itself. The 13th Amendment reads, in full: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

In protest of being forced to work, as well as documented patterns of overcrowding, spoiled food, and the abuse of solitary confinement, prisoners across the country began working on plans for a national prison strike more than a year ago.

Using smuggled cell phones, social media, and the help of outside groups such as the Free Alabama Movement (FAM) and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC), prisoners were able to organize weeks of action beginning Sept. 9, the 45th anniversary of the Attica prison uprising in upstate New York.

But a broad view of the national action can be hard to come by. Prisoners have limited opportunities to communicate with the outside world, and information on the strike has been sporadic and difficult to obtain. Some organizers have been placed in solitary confinement.

So far, actions have been reported at facilities in Alabama, Michigan, Washington state,South Carolina, Ohio, and California over the past four weeks.

Accounts from Washington state and Michigan in particular illustrate the potential consequences for prisoners who take part in the strike, and the difficulty of maintaining momentum when any form of protest is met with swift retaliation.

At the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, Washington, on Sept. 9, three prisoners did not report to their jobs in the prison library, in solidarity with the nationwide strike.

All three were placed in solitary confinement, pending disciplinary hearings, according to Jeremy Barclay, communications director of the Washington Department of Corrections. At the hearings, they were found guilty of not having appeared for work.

The women were required to spend 20 days in solitary confinement for participating in the strike, and they lost their job details working the library. As a result of their actions, the prison library remained closed from Sept. 9 to Oct. 1, Barclay said. According to the WDOC, the women were the only prisoners in the state to take part in the strike.

At Kinross Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, on Sept. 9, 400 prisoners marched in the yard peacefully in violation of prison rules, according to Michigan DOC Public Information Officer Chris Goutz.

“After a few hours, we had our deputy wardens come out and talk to the prisoners and convince them to go back to their bunks, which they did,” he said. “We appreciated that.”

A crackdown followed. First, a “warden’s forum” was convened, during which some prisoners spoke with the prison management about their grievances. They also shared information about which prisoners had helped to organized the strike, which corrections officers had been tracking independently as well. Later that afternoon, the prison dispatched an emergency response team, who went in and “extricated those who were responsible for leading the protest,” according to Goutz.

“During the time it took to remove all of those who were involved — 150 in 8 housing units — some of the prisoners who could see this was happening took that time to break things in their housing units,” he said.

Eventually, the officers placed all prisoners in the yard, with their wrists zip-tied for several hours, Goutz said, confirming an account from IWOC spokesperson Azzurra Crispino.

In the following days, corrections officers removed the 150 prisoners identified as strike leaders from Kinross and relocated them to other facilities in the state. The prisoners were placed in solitary confinement until they could have a disciplinary hearing, after which, if found guilty, they will have sanctions placed on them in the form of lost privileges or increased security, restricting their freedom of movement, according to Goutz.

During the march, the prisoners “weren’t attacking each other, attacking staff, or calling out threats to my knowledge,” Goutz said. “They were just marching. But in a prison setting, any demonstration like that, where prisoners are gathering together and acting as one, is a dangerous situation. So it’s not allowed, and the prisoners know that.”

After the removal of the initial 150 prisoners who had been involved in the strike, corrections officers identified roughly another 100 prisoners involved in the labor action, who were also removed, Goutz said. In total, 250 prisoners were moved out of the facility. No individual who could be linked to organizing the strike remains at Kinross.

One of the main reasons prisoners participated in the strike in Michigan, according to the MCO’s Potter, was the low quality and quantity of food in their facilities, which corrections officers have long protested.

“We’ve been in the media for the past two or three years arguing the food portions are terrible,” Potter said. “Both the quantity and the quality. It’s not right.”

According to prisoners and officers, the food is often spoiled and contains maggots. Also prior to the strike, wages for prisoners’ work were decreased, while commissary prices for packaged food were increased, Potter said. This was one of the main contributing reasons for the strike at Kinross.

“Prisoners should be paid a good wage when they work,” said Potter. “They should be allowed to buy store goods. When they repress that, they create a pressure cooker situation. This didn’t just pop up out of nowhere.”

Read more from Buzzfeed.

Twin Cities janitors declare victory in union fight after 44-month campaign

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

Photo credit: Union Advocate

From The Guardian:

by Steven Greenhouse

Maricela Flores, a 43-year-old immigrant from Mexico, was so unhappy at her job as a janitor at a Target store just outside Minneapolis – unhappy about having to work seven days a week, about being paid $8 an hour, about not having health coverage or paid sick days – that she did something unusually risky. She went on strike even though she was not part of a labor union.

When Flores, a mother of five, walked out in February 2013, she was one of just eight janitors from stores in the Twin Cities to go on strike that day to demand better conditions. Flores was relieved not to get fired.

Now, 44 months later and after a highly unorthodox organizing drive that included six more one-day strikes, Flores and other janitors who clean Target, Macy’s and Best Buy stores in the Twin Cities are declaring victory. On Thursday, they will announce that 600 janitors have won union recognition and will soon start collective bargaining in the hope of winning higher pay, health coverage and other improvements.

“I could have done nothing, but I chose to fight,” Flores said. “This has been a long fight, but now I feel overjoyed. All the hard work has paid off.”

Flores hopes that her new union, Local 26 of the Service Employees International Union, will bring important gains when it bargains with the retailers’ cleaning contractors. “We want fair work scheduling, health insurance, higher wages,” Flores said in Spanish. “All these things would allow me to be more involved in the daily lives of my children and to have a better quality of life.”

This fight began seven years ago when an immigrant workers’ center in Minneapolis – Centro Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (United Workers Center in Struggle) – contacted janitors at retail stores in the Twin Cities area. That workers’ center, known as CTUL, formed an organizing committee, led a three-mile protest march, held a 12-day hunger strike and sponsored a series of steadily expanding one-day strikes, which aimed to pressure retail powerhouses such as Target and Best Buy, both based in the Twin Cities, to give the janitors a voice at work.

The effort grew more ambitious, with its focus turning towards getting Target to adopt a Responsible Contractor Policy. Target adopted such a policy in 2014, requiring its contractors to comply with labor and wage laws, and the janitors’ focus then changed to forming a labor union, convinced that this was the best way to win better conditions.

Labor experts say this is probably the most successful effort to unionize retail store janitors in the US. “The retail janitorial industry has been overwhelmingly non-union – it was viewed by most people as ‘unorganizable’,” said Stephen Lerner, the former head of the SEIU’s Justice for Janitors Campaign, which unionized tens of thousands of office building janitors nationwide.

Javier Morillo, the president of Local 26, noted a disconnect in the way Target’s janitors are treated. A unionized janitor “who cleans Target’s corporate headquarters makes over $15 an hour and has health benefits”, he said. “But if you clean inside a store, you make close to the minimum wage and have no health coverage or other benefits. It’s strange. It’s the same work.”

The campaign faced some major hurdles, among them that few janitors spoke English; that they were from many countries, from El Salvador to Somalia; and that many were undocumented. Veronica Mendez Moore, CTUL’s co-director, said the effort faced two other big obstacles: employee isolation and the complex structure of the industry.

Her group sought to contact janitors at 300 stores in the Twin Cities area, with many stores having just one or two janitors, who often worked after midnight.

“It’s a complicated industry structure with all these retailers and contractors so it was hard to figure out strategy,” Mendez said. “And these workers felt very isolated. It’s hard for them to feel there are other workers standing up with them. We did a lot of work to find ways to connect workers.” Organizers arranged conference calls that connected dozens of janitors, who for the first time could hear other janitors speaking out. Often, individual organizers drove to stores after midnight and used their mobile phones to connect one or two janitors to a conference call.

“It doesn’t seem revolutionary, but workers haven’t done anything like this,” Mendez said. “It was very intense to connect workers this way. They’re scattered all over the suburbs.”

The increasingly connected janitors grew more emboldened, holding several protests outside Target stores in Minneapolis. For Target these strikes became a headache. After the second strike, Target executives sat down with several CTUL leaders and janitors. Ultimately Target agreed to a Responsible Contractor Policy, which requires contractors not to break the law in fighting against unionization. The janitors also protested at a Best Buy shareholders meeting, helping to persuade that company to hire a new cleaning contractor that CTUL viewed as “responsible”.

“These strikes really helped, they really pressured the companies to do the right thing,” said Pascual Tapia, a janitor at a Target in downtown Minneapolis. He told of a cleaning contractor who cheated him and his coworkers out of overtime by forcing them – when working more than 40 hours a week – to punch in under the name of a “ghost” employee.

CTUL and the janitors brought several lawsuits against such wage theft, winning settlements that totaled more than $1m in back pay and damages. As a result of the campaign, the area’s retailers jettisoned some law-breaking contractors and hired better ones to replace them, helping to shrink the number of major contractors to four, from 20.

The janitors are winning recognition from three cleaning contractors: IFS, Carlson Building Maintenance and Prestige Maintenance. The companies agreed to begin bargaining under a trigger mechanism – only once the janitors gained recognition from contractors that clean 60% of the area’s roughly 300 big box stores. Officials from IFS, Carlson and Prestige did not respond to phone messages.

“The trigger means the contractors aren’t sticking out their necks too much,” Mendez said. In other words, they won’t have to increase costs because of a union agreement unless their competitors are doing the same thing.

Molly Snyder, a Target spokeswoman, said the retailer has a “strong commitment to maintaining high standards” for its cleaners and encouraged its contractors and CTUL “to have an honest and open dialogue that is focused on finding mutually agreement solutions”.

“We are very pleased by the progress that our vendors have made in that effort,” she said.

The Twin Cities campaign is unusual in that a workers’ center has worked so closely with a labor union. Morillo, Local 26’s president, noted that some labor leaders criticize worker centers for doing little to unionize workers.

“The importance of this is that five years ago, this market looked unorganizable, in the way that many low-wage and contingent workers seem unorganizable for traditional collective bargaining,” Morillo said. “That’s the big innovation here.”

Read more from The Guardian

LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS VICTORY FROM CTUL >>

Going local in the fight against inequality

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

95th Annual New York City Veterans Day Parade

Photo from Flickr / Matthew Stroup

From The American Prospect

By James Parrott

It has been five years since the Occupy movement focused attention on the gap in income between the top 1 percent and other Americans. During Barack Obama’s first term, Democrats made federal taxes more progressive and expanded health insurance for low- and middle-income people. But since those changes were adopted, conservative forces in Washington have stifled further progress toward greater income equality.

Many liberals have therefore focused on local measures, despite some clear limitations to going local. Legally, cities and counties are creatures of their respective states and often face strict statutory limits on what they can do, including laws preempting local initiatives (see Abby Rapoport, “Blue Cities, Red States,” The American Prospect, Summer 2016).

Cities and counties also face competition from other localities that offer tax abatements and other incentives for business, which make it difficult to raise enough revenue to carry out progressive policies in fighting inequality.

The constraints on local governments, however, are often exaggerated. Localities can do a great deal to improve incomes and living standards in low-income communities. And contrary to the conservative insistence that progressive taxation will drive away the wealthiest taxpayers, recent research on “millionaire taxes” by Charles Varner and Cristobal Young of Stanford shows that the rich are generally so tied in to local economic and social networks that they have not moved out of the states that have imposed higher taxes on them.

Today, some cities enjoying strong economies have more leeway for progressive policies than they did in leaner times. With an economic output greater than that of 46 states, New York City has been in a singular position. It has also had a political leadership committed to reducing inequality since the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor in 2013. But considering all the obstacles to local progressive policies and the difficulties of doing anything about inequality, is de Blasio having a meaningful impact?

 

NEW YORK CITY IS the most economically polarized of the 25 largest U.S. cities. As the nation’s largest financial center, it is home to bankers and hedge fund and private-equity managers, who enjoy sky-high levels of compensation. From 2009 to 2013, as the economy recovered from the Great Recession, the wealthiest 1 percent took nearly half of all New York City income growth, according to an analysis of income tax data by the Fiscal Policy Institute. The top 1 percent’s share of total income rose to 40 percent in 2014, nearly twice the share of the 1 percent nationally. While New York City workers have seen some wage gains in the past two years, median family income in 2014 was still nearly 6 percent below pre-recession levels.

Poverty was also higher in 2014 than in 2008. Especially telling is the estimate by University of Washington researchers that 42 percent of all New York City households lack sufficient income to meet minimum basic family needs such as shelter, food, child care, and health care. Among black and Asian households, nearly half don’t make enough to meet that standard, and the incomes of three out of every five Latino households fall short of sufficiency.

If the dividends of economic growth had been more equally shared, the difference would have been enormous. Median family income in 2014 would have been $97,000, two-thirds higher than it actually was, if median incomes had grown since 1990 as fast as the city’s economy (as measured by the increase in per capita gross product).

Running for mayor in 2013, de Blasio highlighted New York’s “tale of two cities,” the city of the rich and the city of the struggling. Since taking office, he has acted in concert with a progressive city council led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito to lift low wages, expand benefits for low-wage workers, institute universal pre-kindergarten, increase affordable housing, and bolster funding for programs serving the poor. In several areas, such as taxes, state law circumscribes local autonomy, and Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Republican-controlled state senate have blocked de Blasio’s initiatives. Most notably, they prevented the city from instituting an income tax surcharge on the 1 percent to pay for universal pre-K.

Even with those constraints, New York City hasn’t had such a progressive government in a long time. In his first year in office, de Blasio mandated five paid sick days for all workers at businesses with five or more employees. He increased the living-wage level required for workers at companies receiving city subsidies and expanded coverage to the employees of business tenants in subsidized developments. He also pushed aggressively for an increase in the state minimum wage, or the authority from the state to set a higher wage floor in New York City.

At first, Governor Cuomo chided de Blasio for proposing a higher wage level for the city. But as the Fight for 15 campaign built momentum, Cuomo changed course, using his executive authority to establish a wage board that recommended a $15 floor for all fast-food workers in the state, with a faster phase-in for New York City. By early 2016, the governor proposed and aggressively pushed for the enactment of a minimum-wage increase for all workers that would reach $15 by 2019 in New York City and later in the rest of the state. Since de Blasio has been mayor, Cuomo has alternated between thwarting de Blasio’s proposals and seeking to outdo them. In one area, the mayor still occupies the high ground. Unlike Cuomo, de Blasio has included funding in his latest budget for nonprofit agencies under city contract to enable them to keep up with rising minimum wages.

While public-sector workers have met hostility from elected officials elsewhere in the country, de Blasio has resolved almost all of the city’s contracts with its own workforce. Michael Bloomberg had left office after 12 years as mayor without having settled contracts affecting all 340,000 city employees. In contrast, de Blasio reaffirmed the principle of collective bargaining for public employees and was able to fully cover the cost of labor contracts containing modest wage increases and significant health insurance savings

To date, de Blasio’s crowning achievement as mayor has been the expansion of universal pre-K to serve all 4-year-olds, mainly from low-income families. More than 68,000 children have been enrolled, more students than in the entire public school systems in Boston or San Francisco.

In addition to substantially increasing funding of a range of human services such as homelessness prevention and immigrant, youth, and senior programs, de Blasio and his social services commissioner, Steve Banks, reversed two decades of punitive welfare policies. Banks had been a Legal Aid attorney who frequently sued the city to compel better treatment for vulnerable populations.

The city’s economy and its private-sector jobs have continued to grow faster than the nation’s under de Blasio, business confidence and investment evidently undiminished by a progressive in City Hall. Construction activity and private employment are at record levels and thriving tech, professional services, cultural, and tourism industries have helped make the current economic expansion the first in New York since the 1960s that has not been driven mainly by Wall Street. Strong revenue growth has certainly aided de Blasio in enacting much of his agenda, but he has also built up budget reserves to cushion any eventual slowdown.

De Blasio’s most ambitious policy is his plan to preserve and create 200,000 units of affordable housing. Rents have risen much faster than wages in New York since 2000. Two-thirds of city households are renters and one-third of all renters pay more than half of their income in rent, including nearly half of all low-income renters.

In its first two years, the de Blasio administration financed the preservation and construction of more than 40,000 affordable apartments and put nearly $7.5 billion in the city’s ten-year capital plan for affordable housing. Many of the new units already built or under construction have benefited from a long-standing lucrative tax break known as “421-a,” which also subsidized a lot of high-priced condo units and padded the profits of developers. The tax break expired earlier this year and it’s not clear whether or in what form it might continue.

De Blasio is relying heavily on a new regime of mandatory inclusionary housing passed by the city council. Developers building housing in areas rezoned for denser development will be required to set aside a portion of units for low- or moderate-income families. (One option would be to require 30 percent of units be affordable for families with incomes at 80 percent of area median income, or about $62,000 for a three-person family. Set-aside requirements are lower for lower-income families.) The plan relies on rezoning low-income neighborhoods such as East New York and East Harlem and has triggered concerns about displacement and gentrification.

Rezoning areas for greater density enables developers to make a lot more money; mandatory inclusion of affordable housing enables the city to require that some of that additional value go to low-income families. Housing advocates argue that the city can increase affordability requirements even further. Some would like to see the city buy up land in advance of rezoning so that it can directly capture more of the city-induced wealth creation, or use a community land trust to permanently insulate housing from market pressures. De Blasio’s efforts to limit displacement of existing tenants and encourage greater community participation in planning may help ensure that the program genuinely advances its equity goals.

De Blasio has also provided funds for long overdue repairs at the city’s public housing projects, and his appointments to the Rent Guidelines Board permitted rent increases of just 1 percent in three years for more than 1.1 million rent-stabilized housing units—the smallest three-year increase in the city’s history of rent stabilization.

DE BLASIO'S POLICIES stand out when compared with those of his immediate predecessors and Governor Cuomo. While they helped make New York one of the safest large cities in the country and contributed to the city’s economic growth, Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg were not concerned about social and economic inequalities. Giuliani initiated and Bloomberg continued punitive welfare policies that denied or revoked benefits for many poor families and prevented recipients from pursuing a college education. De Blasio has ended those practices, overhauled employment policies to foster skill development, and used temporary assistance to keep people in their homes and prevent evictions and greater homelessness.

While unrelenting in his drive to shrink welfare rolls, Giuliani’s generosity in handing out sizable tax breaks to Wall Street firms and other large corporations cost the city an average of $125 million each year he was in office. He also agreed to give the New York Stock Exchange nearly $1 billion to build a new trading floor, though the deal fell through after the September 11 attacks. (The stock exchange never tried to revive the deal, since computerization soon dramatically shrank the need for trading space.) Bloomberg raised regressive property and sales tax rates in the city while instituting multibillion-dollar property tax breaks for the Hudson Yards district, even though Senator Charles Schumer, among others, argued that such tax breaks were unnecessary because the city was already subsidizing the district through a subway line extension. In contrast, de Blasio firmly rebuffed JPMorgan Chase when the mega-bank sought $1 billion in subsidies to build a new headquarters in Hudson Yards. That would have been on top of $600 million in reduced taxes from the discount scheme Bloomberg had put in place.

The contrast between de Blasio and his predecessors is especially evident on issues affecting low-wage workers. Bloomberg steadfastly opposed the expansion of living-wage requirements, and he severely undermined union labor standards for thousands of low-paid child-care workers and school-bus drivers. Through his housing development and rezoning agenda, Bloomberg enriched developers without putting much priority on affordable housing.

While Cuomo’s support for the $15 minimum wage and paid family leave is to his credit, his budget and tax policies appear to have been inspired by anti-tax conservatives. The governor’s cap on local property tax increases (the lesser of 2 percent or inflation) and his cap of 2 percent on state spending growth have limited the potential for progressive policies. Revenues have been growing—at about the same 4 percent to 5 percent annual rate for both the city and state—but de Blasio and Cuomo have responded differently. De Blasio has increased municipal spending by 5.1 percent annually, while Cuomo has adhered to his self-imposed 2 percent spending cap and used the projected revenue growth exceeding 2 percent to cut taxes.  The beneficiaries of those reduced taxes include Wall Street giants and buyers of yachts and private jets. Cuomo also plans to let New York’s “millionaire tax” expire at the end of 2017 to provide a $3.7 billion windfall to the richest 1 percent.

New York City’s experience under de Blasio affirms that progressive mayors can reduce inequality, especially by helping low-income people. The city could do more with a supportive state government, not to mention changes in national policy affecting unions, financial market regulation, and other issues. But New York City under de Blasio ought to be a model for progressive leaders in other cities.

Read the full article from The American Prospect.