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From the Guardian:
By Jonathan Watts
Thousands of miles from the supermarkets in the west that they supply with cantaloupes, a community of Honduran melon plantation labourers say they are threatened with dismissal and destitution because they have tried to form a union at their Irish-owned company.
The workers – the vast majority of whom are women – are now appealing to US and European consumers to boycott products sold by the fruit multinational Fyffes until it improves working conditions and allows collective bargaining.
Their home is Choluteca, a municipality close to the border with Nicaragua that is one of the country’s poorest regions. For decades, it has also been an area where plantation owners have been able to hire, fire and violate labour regulations with impunity, thanks to support from local politicians and the absence of unions.
The level of economic development is apparent on a visit to the fields. We drive along a rutted dirt road in a car so rusted that the ground can be seen through holes in the floor. Most of the crops by the roadside are sugarcane until we reach Finca Santa Rosa, where the pale brown earth is striped with dozens of 100m-long plastic sheets that cover the muskmelons.
This is the property of one of three Fyffes subsidiaries – Melon Export, Soled and Suragro – in Choluteca. Together, they employ about 2,700 local people to clear the soil, plant seeds, spray herbicides and pesticides, turn over the melons to prevent sun scorching, and then harvest them.
Workers say they are usually paid less than the minimum wage of about $10 (£8) a day for long shifts under a burning sun. Choluteca is notorious as the hottest region of Honduras. But, they complain, the company provides no water, no toilets and no medical provision if they feel unwell.
"We have to work even if we are sick,” says 65-year-old Maria Gómez, who has been with Melon Export for 28 years. “The conditions haven’t improved since I started.”
Fyffes says that the Choluteca operation is certified by Primus Labs, a food safety consultancy. “They check on the provision of toilets and water, etc. Medical provision is provided by an on-site medical team and if the problem is bad the worker is treated in a private clinic, such as the union member who is currently on long-term sick leave due to his diabetes and also the workers that were accidentally exposed to ground treatment chemicals.”
The work is seasonal, lasting only four to six months. Gómez’s situation is typical of many workers in developing countries trapped in poverty – with no pension or benefits on offer, the 65-year-old has no chance of retiring soon. She leaves home at 5am and returns at 6pm, and she has to bring her own equipment. “The company gives us nothing. If we don’t bring our own, they won’t let us work,” she says.
The costs are significant for these workers: a hoe (about 100 lempiras, or $4), machete (30), sombrero (100), shoes (300), backpack (300), long-sleeved shirt (100) and towels (50) to ensure the neck is not exposed to the sun. That can amount to an entire week’s income. One union member shows her payslip for the previous week – 882 lempiras for a seven-day period. Others say they get about 4,400 lempiras each month, 30% less than the minimum wage.
Concerns about health come from the workers’ use of agrochemicals, including Gramoxone, which was banned by the EU in 2007 but is unrestricted in Honduras. Workers say they are given no protective clothing to wear when using the chemical, which has well-documented health risks. “They don’t even give us face masks,” Gomez claims.
In response to this allegation, the company told the Guardian that all necessary safety equipment is provided. “Primus Labs check that PPE, Personal Protective Equipment, is provided to workers. The problem with PPE is that workers are trained to use it but in the tropics it becomes uncomfortable and so the worker frequently does not wear it.”
Nevertheless, there are accidents. Seventeen female workers were hospitalised last December, after being poisoned by agrochemicals, according to the UK trade union GMB. Fyffes said this was not because the workers were handling pesticides or chemicals, but because they were accidentally dropped off downwind of a treatment programme. The company said it had paid for treatment at a local clinic and had since reviewed procedures to prevent a repeat of the accident.
Workers have been trying to get more say in the way they are treated. To improve conditions, two years ago employees set up a branch of the agriculture workers’ union Stas. They say they faced opposition from the company and threats from the government, but despite this the union now has 107 members.
Among the first to join was Baltazar Cruz, who said he turned down a company incentive of 10,000 lempiras to quit the union’s board of directors. He is glad he persisted. Soon after joining, he lost several toes in a work-related accident. When he asked the company for support, they initially did nothing, he said, but the union helped him to secure medical treatment and a stipend.
“The union was very important for me. It’s difficult now, but without them, it would be worse,” he says.
Six workers say their employers were putting pressure on them not to join.
“They threaten not to hire union workers. It’s very cruel and oppressive,” says the general secretary, Moisés Sanchez Gómez. He says he was sacked this year because of his union role. “People here have given their life to the company and they get nothing back. I’ve worked for them for 20 years and all I have is the shirt on my back.”
Fyffes says it is happy to engage with a union, as it does in other countries, but acknowledges difficulties in Honduras, saying that the union in Choluteca has not been properly constituted or confirmed by the ministry of labour. But the company denies it has fired union members.
“All seasonal workers are let go at the end of the season as is typical in seasonal agricultural businesses all over the world. These people will include union and non-union workers, men and women. It is not the case that the workers are sacked – they are on temporary contracts that expire. No permanent worker who is a union member has been sacked,” said a company spokesman.
Fyffes insists it provides all necessary safety equipment and refutes claims that it fails to pay workers the minimum wage, noting that an inspection of the 2013-15 payrolls by the Honduran labour ministry found all wages and supplements were in line with national laws. Workers argue that the authorities are anxious to please the company, and that officials who take their side are punished.
The agriculture minister has voiced concern that Fyffes may leave Honduras if the workers persist with the union; press reports have also suggested that financial reasons might drive the company to neighbouring Guatemala.
Fyffes insists that it has no plans to leave the region, but the government’s concerns have left locals in a state of uncertainty. About 90% of the workers are women, many are single mothers, and others are elderly. If work for Fyffes dried up, Gómez estimates that 700 locals could become destitute. “The people here would be left with nothing,” he says.
It would take very little to push people here into abject poverty. One worker, Juan Antonio Ramirez, says he needs to pay his property tax or the interest on the penalty payment would increase and he would be pushed further into debt. Gómez says she would be unable to buy food – the job is essential because blight has ruined her small crop of corn.
She supports a boycott of Fyffes unless it stays and accepts the union. “I don’t think consumers realise what is going on here. I wish they could come and see our situation for themselves. People should not buy these products,” she says.
The workers are also fighting on other fronts. Union members have filed lawsuits to seek compensation for what they say is underpayment of their wages. But the odds are against them. Despite Fyffes’ assurances that it is not leaving the region, the town mayor has provoked further anxiety among the workers by saying that union organisers will be to blame if the company does leave. Patricia Riera, the union’s go-between with the national Festagro confederation, says the presidential delegate to the region has warned her that she should “stop messing around”.
This is a dangerous place to upset powerful people. Honduras is among the top three most murderous nations in the world. Human rights activists, environmentalists, journalists and union organisers are frequently targets for speaking out. Some cases cause an international uproar, such as the killing this year of Goldman Prize-winning anti-dam campaigner Berta Cáceres. Many others killings go largely unreported. Last year, a university activist, Hector Martinez Motiño, was gunned down in Choluteca.
Union members show a threatening note they say was put in their post box last month. “Desist from putting together unions or face the consequences … I warn you,” the note reads.
While there is no suggestion that Fyffes is behind any threats, the climate of fear in Honduras, and the well-documented dangers for activists of all kinds of speaking out, mean that Riera says she feels under great pressure and fears for her personal safety. She has asked for help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but turned down a government offer to provide her with a soldier as a guard, because she does not trust the army. When the Guardian visited the melon fields, she waited elsewhere in case she was seen by company guards.
With tension mounting, she has decided to move to another city for three months. It is the first time she has felt forced from her home. “I have to leave because of the situation,” she says. “It’s getting too dangerous so I need to keep a low profile for a while.”
On its website, Fyffes – which is also the world’s biggest banana producer – claims “good community relations are part of the work ethic”. It has previously come under a critical spotlight for labour violations on its pineapple farms in Costa Rica. But the company said it has a policy “to dialogue and engage with any properly constituted union and is working happily with union members in many parts of our business”.
Bert Schouwenburg, GMB international officer, said the concerns raised by the government that Fyffes will leave Honduras have created one of the worst situations he has seen in his many years in Latin America. “In an area of high unemployment where entire communities are blacklisted, this is tantamount to threatening them and their families with starvation,” he said. “Fyffes is an appalling employer that cares nothing for its workers who toil in boiling heat to produce the fruit that makes the company’s profits. They have no respect for domestic or international law governing workers’ rights and must be brought to book.”
Read more from the Guardian.
From Eater New York:
By Ryan Sutton
New York restaurant workers are about to get paid more. Less than two weeks after a federal judge blocked President Barack Obama’s plan to expand overtime eligibility to millions, New York is on the cusp of issuing its own, even more ambitious overtime law. It's a move that will increase compensation for hospitality industry employees and other salaried workers putting in long nights at the office or in the kitchen, and it's yet another case of New York championing worker’s rights when the U.S. government has been unable or unwilling to act.
Here’s the TL;DR: Salaried fast food supervisors, restaurant managers, food writers, and sous chefs could start earning overtime or see their legally-mandated base pay rise by 66 percent over the coming years, an increase that goes beyond Obama's stymied plan. Restaurant owners, in turn, will see their sky-high labor costs go up even further, and consumers will likely start paying more, too.
This is a big, big deal, and it comes during a year when Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law both a $15 minimum wage and a groundbreaking paid family leave plan.
New York’s Department of Labor quietly unveiled the overtime proposals in October — perhaps too quietly. Eater couldn’t find a single press release, tweet, or significant public mention of the amendments by Cuomo or the by the DOL. No mainstream media outlets appear to have covered the development, though the National Law Review, as well as the blogs of major law firms like Fox Rothschild and Sheppard Mullin, have reported on the amendments.
Precisely why overtime is being overhauled is a bit complicated, but here it goes: For over a decade, employers across the country have been able to withhold overtime for certain salaried workers earning over $23,660. That means a manager at a burger chain earning $25,000 might not see an extra cent for putting in an extra 15 hours every week, effectively bringing her wage down from $12 an hour to $9.
Obama tried to solve this problem by doubling the overtime limit to $47,476, ensuring that everyone earning less than that would qualify for time-and-a-half pay for 40-plus hour work weeks. But a Texas judge essentially declared that proposal illegal about a week before it was set to go into effect, leaving the president’s most sweeping plan to address middle class wage stagnation (and one of its most burdensome regulations for businesses), temporarily dead in the water — nationally, at least.
None of this deters the New York Department of Labor, nor should it. It’s pushing forward with a plan that would raise wages for employees by thousands of dollars.
If the draft proposals are adopted as they stand, restaurants in New York City that don’t want to pay overtime to salaried employees like sous chefs or floor managers would have to raise their yearly pay to $42,900 on December 31, up from the current threshold of $35,100. Yes, that’s a little bit lower Obama’s blocked proposal, but New York will continue to lift the city threshold every year until it hits $58,500 in 2018, which is a heck of a lot higher than the nationwide plan.
The state will raise the overtime cap at different rates based on geography and employer-size. NYC restaurants with 10 or fewer workers won’t have to reach the $58,500 mark until 2019, while establishments in Long Island and Westchester will have until 2021. Restaurants that don’t want to raise wages can also comply by paying employees like managers overtime, or by capping their hours to 40 per week. The full text of the proposal is published in a 93-page, hard-to-Google PDF, located in the legal counsel section of the Department of Labor website.
The public comment period for the overtime rules will end on December 3, and the regulations, if signed into law by Cuomo, are expected to go into effect on December 31. It's the same day that New York’s minimum wage hops up to $11. That is reasonably short notice for restaurants to deal with a major policy overhaul. "It gives restaurants almost no time to budget," says Carolyn Richmond, a Fox Rothschild partner who counsels the hospitality industry on labor compliance, in a phone interview.
Read more from Eater New York.
David McNew/Getty Images
By Camila Domonoske
Uber drivers, fast food workers, health aides and airport employees are striking or demonstrating in several cities across America on Tuesday, in what organizers are describing as a "day of disruption" calling for a higher minimum wage.
For years, several groups have held protests in support of a $15 minimum wage. But the "Fight for $15" organizers planning Tuesday's event say this is the first time Uber drivers are joining in the demonstrations.
Dozens of people have been arrested across the country in connection to the protests. In New York, about two dozen chanting protesters were detained after linking arms and sitting on a street in Manhattan, The Associated Press reports. About 350 people total were at that protest, according to the news service.
"Detroit police say they arrested about 40 protesters who blocked traffic," the AP writes. "And nearly three dozen protesters have been arrested in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the San Francisco Bay Area, ride-hailing drivers, fast-food employees, airport workers and others shut down an Oakland intersection."
In Minnesota, a group of activists, including home care workers and fast food workers, were arrested after sitting in the road.
Among them was Sumer Spika, a home care worker and vice president of a Minnesota health care union. She says two of her home care clients were also at the protest in support of the cause and were arrested, too.
"They see that their home care workers are struggling to provide for their families, they're having to work hours unpaid because there's just not enough money in our state's budget to pay for overtime," Spika told NPR. "People aren't getting the care that they need."
Other demonstrations, including some strikes, are planned at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago and at Boston's Logan Airport, and fast food workers in more than 300 cities plan to walk off their jobs, protest organizers say.
Hospital workers, home care and health aides, and university employees are also participating in the demonstrations, according to the "Fight for $15" group.
McDonald's has been highlighted in many of the protests, with fast-food workers and others gathering in front of restaurants in the fast food chain.
The company responded to the protests with a statement, saying McDonald's helps employees develop "the valuable skills and work ethic" necessary for successful careers, in or outside the restaurant.
"Every year, we and our franchisees separately employ hundreds of thousands of people, providing many with their very first job," Lisa McComb, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said in the statement. "Last July, we raised wages for all employees at our company-owned restaurants to $1 above the local minimum wage and gave them the ability to earn paid time off."
And then there are the Uber drivers, joining in to push for a higher minimum wage in general, and for greater protections for Uber drivers in particular.
The battle over how Uber drivers are classified — as contractors versus employees — has been waged in localities across the country. And it's not just an issue in the U.S. Last month, a court in the U.K. ruled that at least some Uber drivers are employees who need to be guaranteed the minimum wage and get paid breaks.
But it will be difficult to evaluate how many Uber drivers are taking action on Tuesday. While organizers say some will be carrying signs or swapping out their Uber decals for protest images, others are protesting silently.
Read more from NPR.
From the Washington Post:
By Aaron C. Davis
The District may soon require employers to provide 11 weeks of paid family leave for parents to bond with newborn or adopted children and eight weeks to care for an ailing parent or grandparent — among the most generous paid-leave laws in the nation.
The proposal, released Monday by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), is expected to draw support from a majority of the council, which has been discussing paid leave for more than a year.
Under the plan, full-time and part-time employees would be able to draw from a government account to receive up to 90 percent of their pay. The benefit would be limited to $1,000 a week.
It would be funded by an increase in payroll taxes on businesses of every size, an idea opposed by the city’s largest private employers.
The legislation would not allow employees to take paid leave to deal with their health problems, except in cases related to childbirth.
Advocates say paid family leave fills a crucial need in a country where 59 percent of mothers with infants are in the workforce and just 12 percent of workers in the private sector get paid leave through their employers. Studies show that when a parent can care for a child after birth or adoption, it results in improved health for both.
The United States is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave law of any kind; only a handful of states have paid leave laws.
“This is a win for society,” said council member David Grosso (I-At Large), a supporter of the plan. “People will be able to do what matters most to them in life and that is be close to the people they care about during great moments of transition in their lives.”
But Jim Dinegar, president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, was noncommittal. He said the business community would need time to review the proposal, and the council should not rush to pass a law by year’s end.
Coming at the outset of a new Republican-controlled term in Congress and the arrival in Washington of President-elect Donald Trump, the measure could open a new front between Democrats who control the District’s local government and the city’s federal overseers.
Trump was the first Republican presidential nominee to offer a plan for paid family leave. But he advocated for a shorter period, six weeks, and said the benefit should be “self-financing” by cutting waste elsewhere. He also said it should not create a burden on employers.
The D.C. plan, by contrast, would put the cost directly onto employers and would be the first in the country to require businesses to fully fund employees’ family leave benefit, much the way European governments use broad-based taxes to fund parental leave for up to a year.
In two-parent households, each spouse would be able to take off 11 weeks within a year of a child’s birth or adoption or the placement of a foster child. Each employee would be limited to one leave claim per year.
Up to eight weeks of family leave could be used to care for an ailing spouse, child or legal dependent, including a stepson or stepdaughter, the child of a domestic partner, or a legal ward.
Lauren Kunis, who works at a D.C. nonprofit and has an 18-month-old daughter, said she was thrilled by the proposed legislation. But “of course it would have been a little better 18 months ago,” she said. Kunis recalled how her husband had to return to work within five days of the birth of Emmeline.
“Looking back, we didn’t understand at the time what an intense and scary and vulnerable time that was,” said Kunis, 34, who saved up five years’ worth of sick leave and vacation days in order to stay home during the first few months. “It forced us into gender roles we never believed in — he went to work and I stayed home.”
If there’s a next child, she hopes they both can stay home longer under the legislation. “Those first couple months are so important to have both parents be there to respond to the child,” she said.
Grosso and council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) had introduced a version of the bill more than a year ago that called for 16 weeks of paid family leave. Grosso, who pledged to business leaders last year to keep costs of a leave program manageable, said the proposal released Monday showed the city was “getting close.”
“If a business has a million dollars in payroll taxes, we’re talking about $6,200 to make sure their employees have this incredible benefit,” Grosso said. “That’s a pretty good deal.”
To cover the cost, the District would have to increase employer-paid payroll taxes by 0.62 percent, or about $250 million annually. That’s in addition to the city’s corporate franchise tax rate of 9.4 percent, among the highest in the region.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has questioned whether a family leave benefit would be the best use of a new business tax. In a statement on Monday, she remained cool to the idea: “This is about fairness, and if we are going to raise a quarter of a billion dollars in new taxes each year, then D.C. families should be the primary beneficiaries.”
The legislation is structured to be “very progressive,” with low-wage workers reaping the greatest benefit, Mendelson said. An employee’s first $46,000 in wages would be replaced at a rate of 90 percent. After that, wages would be replaced at 50 percent. Workers making about $76,000 would receive the maximum payout of $1,000 per week, but the benefits would be taxed.
In an interview, the council chairman cast the proposal as a compromise between a larger tax increase — of about 1 percent of payroll — sought by advocates and feared by businesses.
“The business community is very opposed to a 1 percent tax, and we wanted to come in, I wanted to come in, substantially lower. And that’s the reason why this has been so confidential, because I want them to be surprised,” Mendelson said.
To set the tax at less than 1 percent, Mendelson jettisoned a costly part of the legislation that would have allowed paid personal leave for workers’ medical issues.
Dinegar said Mendelson’s decision to disallow leave for personal medical care was a “big changer,” reducing the burden to employers.
Federal law requires private employers with at least 50 workers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid medical or family leave.
Joanna Blotner, who led a campaign of social justice groups, unions and some business owners advocating for family leave, said the group was celebrating the proposal for parents but “heartbroken” over the loss of personal medical leave.
“We have people who go get chemotherapy on their lunch break. because they don’t have leave. I find that pretty morally reprehensible,” Blotner said.
She added that her group would push for an amendment to reinstate some medical leave but acknowledged the odds were low.
Mendelson said he has received an initial review of the plan from Jeffrey DeWitt, the city’s chief financial officer. DeWitt has been publicly skeptical about whether the District could afford to offer the benefits — or whether a model could be built to accurately predict how many employees would avail themselves of the benefits.
That’s because the District’s family leave would dwarf the most generous paid benefits provided in California and New Jersey. Those states require up to six weeks, reimbursed at 60 percent of an employee’s wage.
Read more from the Washington Post.
by Margot Roosevelt
Beating drums and waving hand-lettered signs, 40 garment workers marched in front of a Los Angeles Ross Dress For Less outlet chanting “Ross Stores, you can’t hide! We can see your greedy side!”
Among the protestors on a sunny Saturday before Thanksgiving, Maribelia Quiroz, 46, mother of three, said she stitches blouses for Ross at a downtown contractor, earning $300 a week for up to 60 hours of work, with no overtime.
That’s less than half California’s legal minimum wage. “The bosses fire anyone who asks for more,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Ross said the retailer complies with labor laws. Butfederal officials say Quiroz’ wages are typical of Southern California’s underground garment industry, a vast web of factories which employs immigrants from Latin America and Asia, many of them undocumented, in Los Angeles and Orange counties and the Inland Empire.
Usually paid by the piece—8 cents to attach a sleeve, for instance, or 14 cents to affix a label—workers are crowded onto shop floors, often dusty and unventilated, stitching the “Made in USA” fast fashion clothes that consumers want to buy cheap.
Earlier this month, U.S. Labor Departmentofficials cited three multi-billion dollar retailers, with thousands of stores nationwide, as the worst offenders in setting prices that drive illegal wage theft: Ross, T.J. Maxx and Forever 21.
“Enough is enough,” said Ruben Rosalez, a U.S. labor department regional administrator, in unveiling a supply chain analysis before a phalanx of television cameras at a Los Angeles news conference.
“I’m sad to say that in 2016, we have sweatshops in America. In the past three decades, the abuses have gotten worse.”
In recent years, American apparel makers moved much of their work to low-wage countries such as Mexico, China, Vietnam and Bangladesh.
In Southern California, the nation’s largest garment manufacturing center, jobs dropped from more than 100,000 in the mid-1990s to 46,200 last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Still, apparel remains the region’s second biggest manufacturing employer after the transportation equipment sector, which includes aerospace.
That’s because consumers often want the latest styles, ripped off runways and rushed to retailers in weeks, rather than in the months involved in foreign supply chains.
The hunger for bargains comes at a social cost. Retailers set prices they believe consumers want, but their U.S. suppliers can’t begin to manufacture garments at those prices if they pay legal wages, according to government and industry experts.
Officials say federal and state laws only allow them to penalize direct employers. That means local subcontractors—small businesses mostly owned by Korean immigrants in Los Angeles and by Vietnamese refugees in Orange County-- are the ones hit with back wages and damages.
The manufacturers—middlemen who engage the contractors--are mostly insulated. The retailers who employ the manufacturers escape liability.
But this year, in an effort to hold department stores and major brands accountable, U.S. labor department launched a new strategy—analyzing supply chain pricing to trace wage theft back to the stores that sell the clothes.
“We’ve been beating our heads against the wall,” Rosalez said. “Retailers have the power to have a quality monitoring program. We need them to come to the table.”
In April, officials undertook a complex analysis at 77 randomly-selected contractors: 65 in Los Angeles County, 10 in Orange County and one each in San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
They interviewed workers to learn what they were paid for piecework and then timed each task—whether stitching a zipper or snipping threads off a finished garment.
Were the factories keeping accurate records of employee hours? Did workers’ piecework earnings amount to the minimum wage plus overtime?
Not even close.
Eighty-five percent of the shops were found to be cheating, paying as little as $4 an hour, and an average of $7 an hour—far below California’s $10 minimum wage.
The contractors were forced to cough up $1.3 million in back wages and damages to 865 workers, covering a period of three months work.
Many were small operators with little power to negotiate higher prices for their garments. The San Bernardino shop had only four employees. Orange County’s largest, Dld Express in Santa Ana, had seven, records show.
Eleven contractors were making garments for Ross, a Dublin, California-based chain with $11.9 billion in revenue last year.
Clothing for T.J. Maxx, a subsidiary of Massachusetts-based TJX Companies, the nation’s largest discount powerhouse with $31 billion in annual revenue, was found at seven of the offending factories.
Items destined for Forever 21, a Los Angeles-based chain with $4.4 billion in revenue last year, famous for religious-themed T-shirts and for featuring a Bible verse on its shopping bags, were produced at another seven of the contractors that underpaid workers.
Other labels were found in smaller quantities: Macy’s, Nordstrom, Burlington, Dillards, Charlotte Russe, CornerStone, Bealls, Windsor, Fashion Nova and A'gaci.
The results hardly surprised investigators. Garments from the same retailers have repeatedly turned up in wage theft cases over the past 15 years.
In the past two years, federal officials investigated 668 garment factories in Southern California, finding an 85 percent violation rate and assessing $8.1 million in unpaid wages owed to 5,158 workers.
Many factories falsify time cards. Employee checks list fewer hours than they actually work. Many are paid in cash or, Rosalez said, with vouchers they can only redeem for a fee at a check cashing outlet “in cahoots with the contractor.”
Long hours on single-needle machines lead to repetitive stress injuries, but workers are often denied legally-required breaks, investigators find.
Spokeswomen for Ross and T.J. Maxx declined to discuss the investigations. Emailed statements asserted they comply with the law, and they make sure their vendors do too.
Forever 21 did not return calls.
The pre-Thanksgiving protest against Ross was the fourth since the Los Angeles-based Garment Worker Center, a small non-profit, launched a campaign against the retailer in May.
“Consumers should think twice before supporting these brands for their holiday shopping,” said organizer Mariela Martinez, adding that the center targeted Ross because so many local workers sew for the retailer.
In February, a Ross manufacturer, Vernon-based YN Apparel, was ordered to pay $212,000 in back wages for 270 employees who earned as little as $5 an hour with no overtime.
Federal investigators found Ross paid YN about half the amount sufficient for garment workers to earn the minimum wage, and YN paid its 13 contractors in Los Angeles and Garden Grove a third of the amount needed.
“Southern California is the wage theft capital of the country,” said Jessie Kornberg, President and CEO of Bet Tzedek, a Los Angeles public interest law firm.
Over 15 years, the firm has filed claims with the California Labor Commissioner on behalf of 5400 workers, many of them in the garment industry, recovering $36 million in back wages—efforts separate from federal enforcement.
“Retailers sell clothing priced at rates they know must result in contractors breaking the law,” she said, adding that the firm is working on a legal case to reclassify retailers as “joint employers” of garment workers.
At the Ross protest, Maria Ramirez, 47, marched with a hand-painted sign reading “Every mother is a working mother.” She said she had worked for Sam’s Fashion in Los Angeles, a large YN contractor, earning $260 for 55-hour weeks stitching clothes for Ross, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls and Charlotte Russe.
Within days of the federal inspection, the factory, owned by Korean immigrants, fired all the workers, closed, and reopened in another location under a different name--a common tactic to intimidate workers and dodge liability, according to labor officials.
Ramirez she often took piecework home at night, asking her husband, a valet parking attendant, to help. Even so, with four children, “You can’t survive,” she said.
Read more from The Orange County Register.
From The Guardian:
by the Associated Press
Walmart intentionally failed to pay hundreds of truck drivers in California the minimum wage, a federal jury decided on Wednesday, awarding the drivers $54m in damages and opening up the retail giant to penalties.
The seven jurors returned the verdict in a lawsuit accusing the company of not properly paying drivers in accordance with California law for activities that included inspecting and washing their trucks and for layovers. Civil penalties will be determined by a judge.
The company argued that the drivers were paid for activities that include those tasks and that they were not working during layovers. A lawyer for Walmart did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the verdict.
Attorneys for the more than 800 drivers who worked for Walmart between October 2005 and October 2015 were seeking $72m in damages, the bulk of it for layovers. They said during the trial that additional damages and penalties could push the total amount Walmart owed to more than $150m.
Arkansas-based Walmart Stores Inc, the nation’s largest private employer, has faced other criticism over its pay and treatment of US employees.
The company announced last year that it was giving a raise to about a half-million US workers. The raises were part of a $1bn investment that the retailer said was also intended to give workers more opportunities to advance and more consistent schedules.
Walmart drivers are not paid by the hour. Wages are based on mileage and specified activities.
The drivers’ attorneys pointed to a ruling in their favor from US district judge Susan Illston, who said last year that Walmart would be in violation of California law if it enforced its driver pay manuals because they say no pay is earned for certain tasks.
“There’s nothing in any of those three manuals that covered 10 years of time that show the drivers were paid for any of these tasks that are on your verdict form,” attorney Butch Wagner said during closing arguments.
Drivers were also not paid minimum wage for layovers even though Walmart controlled their time by requiring them to stay with their trucks, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said.
Read more from The Guardian.
by Jorge Rivas
A new study has found it could cost the U.S. economy hundreds of billions of dollars if President-elect Donald Trump follows through with his promise to kill DACA, an Obama program that allows some young undocumented immigrants to temporarily live and work here.
If Trump ends the program, some 645,145 workers would lose their work permits, costing the U.S. economy $433.4 billion in lost growth over a decade, according to analysis by the Center for American Progress.
“At a time when the U.S. economy is finally emerging from the Great Recession, a loss of this magnitude is something the nation cannot afford,” Philip E. Wolgin, managing director for the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress, wrote in his report.
Wolgin calculated his estimates based on extrapolations from a previous study by the Center for American Progress, which found that deporting 11 million unauthorized immigrants would cost the U.S. economy slightly more than $4.7 trillion over a decade.
More than 741,000 young undocumented immigrants have benefited from Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides renewable two-year visas to qualifying immigrants.
Read more from Fusion.
From The Nation:
by David Madland
s this election made clear, a lot of Americans are angry. They feel left behind by the economy, and isolated and unheard in our democracy. Some of this frustration is understandable—wages have hardly budged in decades, inequality is near record levels, and money dominates our political system (and those who don’t have much of it are usually ignored by politicians). That’s a recipe for frustration and alienation, and President-elect Donald Trump seized on it.
Trump promised economic security in part by scapegoating people of color and immigrants, and his supporters took the bait. Now we’re facing an administration that will make it exceedingly difficult to protect Americans’ basic rights—especially as its policy prescriptions “to rebuild the working class” prove hollow.
The long-term solution to current political and economic dissatisfaction is to give workers a productive way to advocate for themselves, not reassert race-based class structures. That means it’s time to rebuild unions.
Unions—more than any other organization—give people a real say in the economy and in politics. They help raise wages, reduce inequality, and boost economic mobility. But even more importantly, unions help people feel their own agency. They provide workers—particularly those with less education and lower incomes—with the means and opportunity to stand up for themselves and participate more fully in our democracy. Union members are much more likely to vote, take political action, join other groups, and be more charitable.
Unions serve as an alternative source of power that workers control—not the government, and not the wealthy. That’s why they’re one of the first things that authoritarian leaders go after.
President-elect Trump has proclaimed that he “loves” so-called “right to work” measures, which weaken unions by cutting their funding and membership. Trump’s victory will likely embolden right-wing opponents of organized labor who see a chance to weaken unions nationwide, just as they recently did in Wisconsin and Michigan. These reactionary measures will need to be fought with unified progressive support.
democratic path strengthen their labor movements. It was true in the aftermath of fascism and World War II in Germany and much of Europe, and more recently in South Africa in the aftermath of apartheid.Typically, countries seeking to stay on a
But in the United States, the union membership rate is at its lowest point since 1935. Polls show that a majority of workers would like to join a union, but our labor protections are so weak that it carries real risk. For example, if an employer fires a worker for supporting a union (which is still illegal) they aren’t even required to pay fines. The only punishment employers face is back pay for the worker—and even that doesn’t include earnings from other jobs after the worker was fired. It’s such a mild repercussion that it’s a joke among business owners—they refer to it as the cost of their “hunting license.”
Read more from The Nation.
by Gabriel Thompson
On the debone line, the birds come at you fast. That was Lisandro Vega’s first lesson. The former prison guard in Puerto Rico had moved to the town of Huntsville, Arkansas, in 2013, following relatives who found work at a Butterball turkey plant. There, he was given a knife and gloves and told to stand at a station, where 47 dead and defeathered turkeys rushed past each minute. He was responsible for every second bird. Sometimes he cut out the hip joints; other times the breasts and livers. The pace was relentless: 1,410 birds an hour, more than 11,000 a shift.
And sometimes they come at you faster. Beginning in October, Butterball requires plant employees to work approximately 50 days straight to meet the Thanksgiving rush. In Huntsville, people call this period “fresh”—in Spanish, la fresca—because that’s when birds are sold fresh, not frozen. During this time, the line speed increases; Vega recalls it reaching, according to his supervisor, 51 birds a minute. (Butterball declined to comment on its line speed.) A debone worker like Vega can slice up more than half a million turkeys before receiving a single day off.
“In training, they tell you that if you can’t get to the turkey, just let it go by, because you can injure yourself with the knife,” he says. “But once you are in debone, if you miss a turkey, you’re going to immediately hear: ‘What happened? You can’t let them go by!’ ”
It is early evening, and we are standing in front of Lolo’s Mexican Grill in Huntsville, about a mile south of the plant. Vega, 46, is short and trim, with a shaved head that reflects the glow of a gorgeous October moon. It wasn’t that Vega harbored illusions about turkey plant work. His son-in-law had quit shortly before he arrived, after a supervisor refused to allow him to take a bathroom break—a frequent complaint among poultry workers. The man had peed himself right there on the line. “His pants were wet, yet he finished his shift. Then he walked out and didn’t come back,” Vega says.
But the pain in Vega’s hands took some getting used to. He began submerging them in a container of hot bleached water, perched nearby to disinfect dropped knives. During brief moments between birds, he’d stretch out his fingers, which tended to harden, clawlike, around his knife. And though he knew that many of his co-workers went to the nurse’s station to ice their hands and others had surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome, he found his own ways to cope. In Puerto Rico, he had dealt with inmate uprisings. He was accustomed to soldiering through.
During his third “fresh” in October 2015, the ache in Vega’s hands was superseded by shooting pains in his back. While moving a heavy container of turkey carcasses with a pallet jack, he slipped and fell, throwing out his back. He struggled to get up and hobbled over to the nurse’s station. For several days, he returned to the station during breaks, where his back was iced and rubbed down with Icy Hot by a nurse. (Butterball would not comment on whether its plant nurses are highly trained RNs or minimally trained LPNs; the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no requirements as long as the nurses only operate within their scope of practice.) Within a week, the pain had become tolerable, though he still walked tentatively.
Then, in February, while moving another carton of turkey, he slipped on ice in the plant’s freezer, landing hard on his tender back. He returned to the nurse’s station for more ice and pain-relieving cream. Soon he was a regular, visiting twice a day for treatments. Yet he wasn’t getting better. Vega asked about seeing a doctor but says that his supervisor told him that if he did, he would be suspended.
One day, while signing in at the nurse’s station, he noticed a posting on the wall. It listed an impressive number of hours that workers had gone without suffering injuries causing them to miss shifts. According to Butterball, the plant was one of the safest worksites in the country; in 2013, the company announced that Huntsville employees had worked 8 million hours without what is called a lost-time injury. That’s a remarkable figure—the equivalent of a single person working full-time for 3,835 consecutive years.
Vega looked around the nurse’s station. He saw three people whose swollen hands were being iced. Another man had his shoulder wrapped in ice. On the walk over from the debone line, sharp pains had shot through Vega’s back with each step. If none of us are hurt, he asked himself, then what are we all doing in the nurse’s station?
* * *
The Butterball plant is set back on a quiet road that meanders through rolling hills, just inside the limits of Huntsville (population: 2,346), whose motto is “Crossroads of the Ozarks.” The sprawling white structure, whose doors opened in 1974, is surrounded by a barbed-wire fence and employs more than 650 people. Each year, leading up to Thanksgiving, it cranks out 45,000 turkeys a day.
On a cloudy day, a few minutes after 5 o’clock, employees are emerging through a vertical metal turnstile to walk slowly to their cars. It is day 13 of “fresh.” I take a seat on a bench near the turnstile and talk to a Latina woman who looks to be in her 40s as she waits for her ride. She wears a purple sweater and is gingerly opening and closing her hands.
“Of course they hurt,” she tells me. “But I can handle it.” She suggests, however, that I probably shouldn’t apply for a job inside, then declines to say more after I identify myself as a journalist.
As in most poultry plants in Northwest Arkansas, the workforce is a mix of whites, blacks, Latino immigrants, and Marshallese—immigrants from the Marshall Islands, in the South Pacific, attracted to the region by poultry work. (The Marshallese have special permission to work in this country, a result of U.S. nuclear testing in the 1940s and ’50s that rendered many of their islands uninhabitable.)
Turkey is big business in Arkansas. Last year, the state produced 561 million pounds of turkey meat, fifth in the nation behind North Carolina, Minnesota, Indiana, and Missouri. Butterball, the nation’s largest turkey company, has two other plants in the state. Thirty miles east of Huntsville is the city of Springdale, which the Arkansas state legislature recently declared the “poultry capital of the world.” It’s hard to argue with the title. The city is home to another hulking turkey plant, this one owned by Cargill, and is the corporate headquarters of Tyson Foods. On the short drive from my Springfield motel to the Cargill plant, I pass three chicken plants, two hatcheries, and a dead turkey on the side of the road.
In the middle of all these plants is a one-story brick complex that contains the offices of the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center. With a staff of four, the group has launched a campaign to improve the working conditions and wages of the nearly 28,000 poultry processing workers in Arkansas. Earlier this year, they marched on the Tyson headquarters, holding signs that read “WE ARE NOT MACHINES, WE ARE HUMANS.” The group is underfunded, understaffed, and feisty.
I meet Nelson Escobar in the parking lot. Originally from El Salvador, he worked briefly at a poultry plant in Springdale but balked at what he felt were inhumane working conditions. “Out here, if you get hurt, they fire you,” he tells me. “If you complain, they fire you. I didn’t like any of that.” He started volunteering at the center several years ago and is now the group’s director of organizing.
Escobar ushers me into a room where a woman with brown hair is seated at a long table. Vilma Asencio began working at the Cargill turkey plant in 2001; her first job involved pushing around racks of turkeys, which she says can weigh up to 2,000 pounds. At one point, she was moved to the shackle line, where she spent her shifts lifting dead birds up onto hooks. “These were big turkeys,” she says. In 1960, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average turkey weighed less than 17 pounds. Today the average weight is more than 30 pounds, with some of the largest males reaching more than twice that. Such sizes make natural breeding impossible, which is why there is an occupation called an artificial turkey inseminator.
After a year on the shackle line, Asencio says her right hand began to feel like it was permanently asleep. “I had lost all my strength,” she says. “Even a water bottle was too hard to open.” She went to the company nurse, who offered her little more than ice. Asencio says she had a private insurance plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield, for which she paid $89 a week. “I knew that the company only wanted to put Band-Aids on everything. I didn’t trust them.” As the weakness in her hand worsened and the nurse continued to refuse to refer her for an outside exam, Asencio scheduled her own appointment with a doctor. He ordered a nerve conduction study, which confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome, and scheduled a surgery. Asencio took the report back to the plant nurse and filed a workers’ compensation claim. The company’s insurer denied the claim, she recalls, determining that the carpal tunnel was unrelated to the repetitive motions she made on the job. “I didn’t even try to fight it,” she says, lifting up her arm to reveal a scar on her wrist. “I just wanted the strength in my hand to return.” After the surgery, she was out of work for three months.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said by email that although the company does not discuss individual cases, Cargill complies with all regulations related to workplace health and safety and considers the safety of its workers “paramount.”
“It’s crazy,” says Evelyn Brooks, an attorney in Arkansas who specializes in workers’ compensation cases and estimates that half her caseload involves poultry companies. “A worker like Asencio did the same fast production line work since 2001. But then insurance companies will ask questions like, ‘Do you whittle in your spare time?’ They’ll try to blame the injury on anything else. It’s the insurance company that makes the decision, but a place like Cargill—which is like a workers’ comp machine—is heavily involved.” A company with a high number of workers’ compensation cases, she notes, will end up paying more for its premiums.
In 2014 Asencio had a second surgery to resolve what her doctor originally believed was tendinitis in her right shoulder, also caused by the repetitive lifting of turkeys. This time, the insurance company didn’t question that her pain was work-related. But three weeks before her surgery, Asencio was called into the plant’s office. Her mother had recently died, and a manager handed her a condolence card. Then she fired her.
According to Asencio, she said she had been late too many times, a charge she disputes. (Martin declined to comment on the alleged firing but said Cargill “complies with all employment laws.”) When she had the surgery, doctors discovered that her tendon was not simply inflamed; it had actually snapped. Two years later, her shoulder still causes significant pain, but her doctor has not recommended further treatment. Brooks is now representing Asencio in a case in front of the Arkansas Workers’ Compensation Commission; she has requested that Asencio be assigned a new doctor. “I just want some of the pain to go away,” says Asencio, who is studying counseling at the University of Phoenix. Her hope is to someday land a job where she doesn’t need to use her arms or hands.
* * *
This February, the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center published a lengthy report about poultry workers in Arkansas, which included data drawn from surveys of 500 turkey and chicken plant workers. About 60 percent of these workers reported having suffered an injury or illness on the job. One of the chief complaints was the dizzying line speed. Several workers reported that the lines go so fast that they often don’t even realize they have cut themselves until later.
During my interviews with a dozen turkey plant workers in Arkansas, line speed was identified as the major concern. The speed is regulated not by the Department of Labor but by the Department of Agriculture, whose sole criterion in setting maximum speeds is food safety. In 2012, under a proposed new poultry inspection system, the agency sought to increase the maximum line speed of turkeys from 51 to 55 birds per minutes and from 140 to 175 birds for chickens. The speed-up was supported by the National Turkey Federation, whose members include Butterball and Cargill; in its formal comments on the proposed regulation, the NTF cited the poultry industry’s “constantly improving” injury rates. (The NTF also heralded the proposed system as a step forward for food safety. But Food and Water Watch, an advocacy group, obtained 2011 inspection reports for three turkey plants that, as part of a USDA pilot project, were already running their lines at the higher speed. The group found inspection error rates—the rate at which employees missed items like bits of beak, bile, or fecal matter on turkey carcasses—of between 87 and 100 percent.)
After an outcry among worker safety advocates and unions, along with food safety groups, the USDA backed off the increase in chicken speeds but let the turkey increase go through as planned. Vega told me that he couldn’t imagine working on a line going any faster than 51 birds a minute—the top speed he’d faced during “fresh”—but now workers might have to.
“I think because there are fewer turkey plants, they got less focus,” says Deborah Berkowitz of the National Employment Law Project. “But the hazards are the exact same. The only difference is that turkeys are bigger, so you’ll see more cumulative trauma disorders, because it takes more effort to cut through the meat.”
Berkowitz, a former chief of staff for OSHA under the Obama administration, first stepped inside a Virginia turkey plant in 1982, when she was with the AFL-CIO. The shock has stayed with her. “I had never seen people work so hard in my life,” she recalls. “And they were getting something called carpal tunnel syndrome. That’s where we really saw it first, in the turkeys. We brought someone in who told the company they could change the knife that workers used, and they wouldn’t get hurt as much. The company said F-you. I’ve been at war with the industry ever since.”
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, an arm of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researches workplace injuries and ways to prevent them. The last time NIOSH looked at repetitive cutting motions in turkey plants was 1987, nearly 30 years ago. The agency visited a plant in Colorado, where it videotaped workers on the job and reviewed company paperwork. Its team, which included several doctors and an industrial engineer, discovered that employees performed up to 28,800 cuts in a single shift. The investigation also revealed what it called “considerable underreporting of injuries.” The company, it found, kept two books. The first tracked injuries for the plant’s medical log; the other listed injuries reported to OSHA. In one month, 160 injuries were noted in the medical log. Only six were reported to the government.
Failing to record injuries is one strategy to create the illusion of a safe workplace. Another is to fail to refer workers to doctors for proper tests and diagnoses. Each time an injury causes an employee to miss a day of work or to receive medical treatment beyond first aid, the company is required to record it in an OSHA log book. This data is reported each year to the Department of Labor and is used to identify industries with high injury rates—whose facilities will then face increased inspections. An industry that reports low injury rates is less likely to receive scrutiny from OSHA’s overstretched investigators.
In the summer of 2014, executives of the nation’s largest poultry companies—including Cargill and Butterball—gathered at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort, a 2,400-acre retreat on the Florida coast. They were in town for an industry-sponsored safety conference that focused on “ergonomics and reducing cumulative trauma disorders.” The conference concluded with an awards ceremony, honoring poultry plants with better-than-average injury rates for three consecutive years. Wayne Farms, a Georgia-based company, took home 13 awards, including an “Award of Honor” for its processing plant in the unincorporated community of Jack, Alabama.
Several weeks earlier, OSHA had concluded an inspection of the same Jack plant. Inspectors found that Wayne Farms had a “standard practice of returning injured workers to regular duty.” One employee was seen by the nurse 94 times before finally being referred to a physician.
“Perhaps more than any other industry, the poultry industry has focused its energies on the prevention of workplace injuries,” read a joint press release put out earlier this year, on behalf of the National Turkey Federation, the National Chicken Council, and the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association. It is true that the official injury rate for poultry workers has decreased: From 2004 to 2013, it dropped by 42 percent, from 9.8 to 5.7 injuries per 100 full-time workers. Yet as the Wayne Farms plant demonstrates, a low injury rate may simply mean that companies have found new ways of discouraging workers from receiving needed medical treatment or taking time off.
It’s difficult to know the true injury rates among poultry workers—though they certainly are much greater than official figures suggest. Part of the problem is that OSHA is a severely underfunded agency. OSHA inspectors, according to the Wall Street Journal, only have the capacity to visit each U.S. workplace once every 99 years. Inspectors haven’t set foot inside Huntsville’s Butterball plant since 1995, back when Bill Clinton was in his first term. Many workers, after being injured, simply quit. In the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center study, more than 1 in 5 injured workers reported that they were subsequently fired.
There have been two recent investigations by NIOSH of repetitive stress injuries at chicken plants that give a more reliable indication of injury rates. In March of 2014, NIOSH found that 42 percent of workers at a chicken plant in South Carolina showed evidence of carpal tunnel syndrome. A year later, it published another study, this time of a Maryland chicken plant; 34 percent of the workers exhibited evidence of carpal tunnel.
In Maryland, NIOSH also reviewed the company’s OSHA injury logs. Over a period of four years, from 2010 to 2013, it found only four entries for workers who had suffered work-related carpal tunnel syndrome.
Read more from Slate.
From The Atlantic:
by Alexia Fernández Campbell
In the days since the election, few positions in the incoming Trump administration have been finalized. But a look at early appointments, campaign advisors, and favored administration hopefuls makes one thing clear: Trump is building a pro-business cabinet intent on scaling back government regulations meant to protect workers, consumers, and the environment.
Figuring out what that means for America’s workforce will largely depend on whom Trump names as the secretary of labor, a position tasked with enforcing rules meant to protect American workers, through mechanisms such as safety regulations, overtime-pay requirements, and workers’-compensation benefits. Media outlets have been floating a handful of names that Trump might be considering, among them Victoria Lipnic, Andrew Puzder, and Scott Walker. They have vastly different professional backgrounds, but all seem to share a philosophical view that the government’s role is to protect employers more than workers.
A potential frontrunner for the job, according to Politico and The New York Times, is Victoria Lipnic, one of two Republican commissioners on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces civil-rights laws in the workplace. Lipnic served as the assistant secretary of labor under George W. Bush before Obama appointed her to the EEOC in 2010. She, in some ways, represents a more moderate choice for labor secretary than the other two potential picks, and has experience in both the private sector (as an attorney) and public sector. Her voting record as an EEOC commissioner sometimes crosses party lines, but is largely indicative of a preference for less regulation. This year, Lipnic was one of two Republican commissioners who voted against the proposalto require employers to submit detailed pay data for employees, which many viewed as an opportunity to make companies more transparent about the pay gaps that exist for women and workers of color. She was quoted as saying that the proposal “should be relegated to the heap of bad policy ideas once and for all.”
A few years earlier, Lipnic suggested that the struggling economy was a reason not to push for paid leave for employees seeking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act. And while she does agree that it is illegal to discriminate against workers based on their transgender identity, she does not believe it’s illegal to prohibit a transgender worker from using the bathroom of his or her chosen identity. However, Lipnic has taken what could be seen as more liberal stances as well, such as arguing that employers should make accommodations for pregnant workers just as they do for injured or disabled employees.
Politico has also mentioned the names of two other contenders to head the Department of Labor, and one of them is more in line with the Washington outsiders that Trump vowed to bring with him to the nation’s capital. That’s Andrew Puzder, the CEO of CKE Restaurants, which owns the fast-food chains Carl’s Jr. and Hardees. Puzder, who advised Trump and fundraised for him during the campaign, has been a vocal defender of Trump’s economic policies, such as his opposition to Obamacare and business regulations like a higher minimum wage, and his support for lowering the corporate-tax rate. Puzder has written about how raising the minimum wage, and offering paid leave and health insurance to employees hurts the restaurant industry. Efforts to increase the minimum wage, he argues, are bad for everyone because “businesses will have to figure out the best way to deal with the high labor costs, which will lead to price increases, more efficient labor management and automation...drastic increases will unfortunately hurt low-skilled workers who need entry-level jobs the most.”
The third person rumored to be on the shortlist for labor secretary is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. His appointment would be a big blow to labor unions. During his tenure as governor, he launched an aggressive campaign against unionization, trying to limit collective-bargaining rights for public employees and narrowly surviving a recall effort. In 2015, he succeeded in weakening labor unions by making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, which lets workers opt out of joining a union and paying dues, even though unions still represent their interests in negotiations. The likelihood that Walker will take over the Department of Labor is slim, as he recently announced his intention to oversee the Republican Governors’ Association, which works to increase the number of Republican governors across the United States.
If Trump appoints any of these individuals to lead the Department of Labor, they will likely try to undo many of the rules and executive orders introduced during Obama’s tenure. For example, Obama raised the minimum wage for employees hired by federal contractors and granted them paid sick days. Tom Perez, the current labor secretary, recently enacted a new rule that gives financial advisors a fiduciary responsibility to their clients, which means that beginning in April, when the rule goes into effect, advisors will be legally required to invest money in their clients’ best interest, instead of investing in ways that give them the best commission. Some financial advisers argued that this will make it harder for them to provide services to lower-income clients. In May, Perez announced the expansion of the eligibility for overtime pay to anyone making less than $47,476, up from its previous threshold of only those making less than $23,660 a year—a move that was opposed by business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Read more from The Atlantic.
From the Washington Post:
by Dana Hedgpeth
Workers at Reagan National Airport staged a “sleep-in” Tuesday night to protest low wages as part of their ongoing campaign to pressure the authority that oversees the facility. Flights and operations at the airport were not disrupted.
According to a statement from 32BJ Service Employees International Union, which represents many of the workers, roughly 100 workers have contracts at Dulles International and Reagan National airports but “can’t afford rent or transportation to and from work.” The union also said other workers “lack the time to go home between shifts and other jobs,” the statement said.
One of the airport workers, Fikreselassie Gonfa, is a father of three who works as a baggage handler from 4 a.m. to midnight; he is employed by two different contractors, working two jobs at the airport to try to make ends meet. But because of a two-hour commute, he doesn’t have enough time to sleep at home so he often sleeps in his car, according to union organizers.
Another worker — Paul Fordjour — works as a dispatcher and a wheelchair attendant at Reagan National. He sometimes sleeps inside the airport to get to work on time for his 4 a.m. shift, and he doesn’t have any paid vacation so he was unable to go home to Ghana when his father died.
The union is pushing for $15 an hour pay for contracted service workers; some workers now make as little as $6.75 an hour. Their jobs range from wheelchair attendants to baggage carriers and cleaners for terminals and planes.
Read more from the Washington Post.
by Valentina Zarya
Tech’s gender problem is as bad as ever.
Not only does Silicon Valley have a notable lack of women, but many of the women who do have job titles like computer programmer and software architect make far less than the men with those jobs, according to a new analysis by career review site Glassdoor.
The analysis, which was based on 505,000 salaries shared by full-time U.S. employees on the site, reveals that the adjusted pay gap for women in tech can range as high as 28.3%, far larger than the average adjusted gender pay gap for all workers, which Glassdoor found to be 5.9%.
The adjusted pay gap is what’s left over after controlling for statistical variables other than gender—including age, education, experience, occupation, industry, location, company, and job title. In other words, even when a woman and a man are pretty much identical in every way except gender, the male worker makes 5.9% more.
This gap is due to “things we don’t see,” explains Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain, such as “whether workers have families at home, how many hours they spend at the office, performance evaluations.” The pay gap could be due to some of those factors—or it could be due to unconscious bias.
For some women in tech, these hidden factors play a much greater role. Female computer programmers, for example, make 28.3% less than their male counterparts. The pay gap among game artists is 15.8%. Information security specialists: 14.7%.
One potential explanation for the wide disparity in pay in these particular fields is that they are dominated by men. “Fields where the proportion [of employees] is tilted towards men see wider gaps,” Chamberlain says. “The process of pay setting and promotion tends to be more biased.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics‘ 2012 Current Population Survey, women comprise 34% of web developers; 23% of programmers; 37% of database administrators; 20% of software developers; and 15% of information security analysts.
On the other hand, in fields that are newer (and tend to have younger employees), the pay gap is smaller—though it still exists: female mobile developers and hardware engineers, for example, make 2.9% and 1.9% less than their male counterparts, respectively. Chamberlain’s hypothesis is that demand for these roles is driving down the gender gap. Indeed, both hardware and software engineers were on Glassdoor’s 2015 list of most in-demand jobs.
Read more from Fortune.
From MSN Money:
Hundreds of O'Hare International Airport workers have voted to go on strike ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday.
Service Employees International Union Local 1 officials said Thursday that about 500 workers have committed to strike. Union spokeswoman Izabela Miltko-Ivkovich said the strike "will definitely take place in the coming days," though she didn't specify which day it will start.
The workers involved have been trying to organize with the union's help. They work mainly for private contractors at the airport.
"They don't expect to shut the airport down," SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times (http://bit.ly/2g0mq1X ). "That's not what they're trying to do. Oh, there will be disruption."
Balanoff said a walk out could slow but not shut down airport operations. He said what workers are trying to do "is get the powers that be to hear their voice."
The workers who plan to strike include baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, janitors and wheelchair attendants. They are seeking a $15 per hour wage.
It wasn't immediately clear how such a strike would affect operations at O'Hare, which is one of the nation's busiest airports.
The Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement that it doesn't anticipate any disruption in service.
Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst and former airline executive, said much depends on what types of jobs are affected, whether airlines or the private contractors can assign other employees to fill in and on how many workers will be willing to cross a picket line.
Workers have taken similar actions at other airports, including LaGuardia and John F. Kennedy International Airports in New York, creating disruptions that "ranged from noticeable to marginal," he said.
Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert and economics professor at DePaul University in Chicago, noted the city has a few days to try to come up with a "plan B."
Read more from MSN Money.
by Oliver Staley
This was supposed to the moment when the stars finally aligned for a paid family leave bill for American parents. But the odds for it suddenly look a lot longer with the election of Donald Trump.
The Democrat-sponsored Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act—which would require US employers to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new mothers and fathers, funded by a payroll deduction—has been gaining traction in Congress and was expected to have its best chance yet of passing during a Hillary Clinton administration. Clinton had pitched her own paid-leave proposal, with a different funding mechanism, but it was otherwise fairly similar to the proposed legislation
But with Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, the bill faces a tougher road than it did when it was first introduced last year. The results of the US presidential election have the bill’s supporters scrambling for new strategies, which include identifying Republican allies, pressuring businesses to expand their coverage, and trying to work with Trump.
Trump introduced his own plan this summer, which calls for six weeks of maternity leave through an expansion of unemployment insurance. While parental leave supporters have serious issues with a plan for mothers only, and have doubts about his plan’s funding, they’re heartened that Trump is at least willing to discuss the issue.
“It is the first time that a Republican talked about paid leave in a general election, and put forward a plan, even if it was a flawed plan,” says Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which has lobbied for paid leave.
Republicans have traditionally viewed any paid-leave mandate as an unwanted intrusion into the rights of employers to run their business as they wish. But Shabo notes that another Republican presidential candidate this year, Florida senator Marco Rubio, also proposed a parental-leave plan, based on tax credits for employers. Shabo hopes other Republican officials might get behind paid leave when they understand how popular it is with voters.
“In polling, this is not a partisan issue,” she said. “These are winning issues and these policies will have a practical impact on people’s lives.”
In a Roosevelt Institute poll last year, 83% of respondents, including 67% of Republicans, supported paid leave.
Paid-leave advocates intend to turn up the pressure on politicians who oppose the idea. PL+US, a newly established nonprofit devoted to the issue, is considering forming a political action committee targeting members of Congress, said Katie Bethell, the group’s founder and executive director. “Right now, there is no cost for opposing paid family leave,” she said.
PL+US is also launching a campaign to highlight companies with generous family leave policies, and to identify the ones that are lagging. In a report released on Nov. 16, the group attempted to document the parental leave provisions of the 60 biggest US employers, while noting that many refused to discuss their policies. (Only about half of the companies publicly disclose their policies or were willing to confirm them, leaving PL+US to rely on other means to gather the data.) “We definitely want companies to be transparent about their policies,” Bethell said. “It matters for employees, prospective employees, and policy makers.”
According to PL+US, the companies with the most expansive policies are Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Bank of America, all of which provide 16 weeks of fully paid leave for mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. Others, such as Starbucks and General Motors, offer shorter policies of six to eight weeks off. A number of employers, like Hilton and Procter & Gamble, offer birth mothers substantially longer leave than fathers, while a significant number give fathers no paid time off at all.
Read more from Quartz.
From the Los Angeles Times:
by Natalie Kitroeff
It can be hard to ignore the lure of Forever 21, where fall jackets go for $18 and a halter dress can be had for $9.
But U.S. Labor Department investigators contend that those deals are costly for people like Pedro Montiel, who said he makes $4.50 an hour putting the labels and other finishing touches on blouses for one of the retailer’s suppliers.
Montiel is not in a Mexican factory, or in China – he works at a company in the basement of a building in downtown Los Angeles.
“You can’t buy anything you need. Between rent and food, everything is gone, no money is left,” said Montiel, who lives with two roommates in Boyle Heights.
Forever 21 is one of several companies that have been supplied by independent Southern California factories that pay workers much less than the state minimum wage, the Labor Department announced Wednesday.
The department said that from April to July, it investigated 77 local garment companies that were supplying some of the biggest clothing stores in the nation.
Investigators uncovered labor violations in 85% of the cases, the department said, and found that the companies cheated workers out of $1.1 million. The retailers with ties to companies that had the most offenses were Ross Dress for Less, Forever 21 and TJ Maxx.
Workers were paid as little as $4 an hour, and they got $7 an hour on average — $3 less than the state minimum wage, according to the Labor Department.
The department said it has penalized the garment companies and some manufacturers that act as intermediaries between the factories and the retailers. Those companies were ordered to pay $1.3 million in lost wages and damages to workers .
But the retailers will avoid any repercussions for hiring factories that violate labor laws.
The Labor Department can only penalize companies that directly employ workers. Retailers keep their distance from the factory floors by working with several layers of suppliers, lawyers for the government and worker advocates said.
“This business model has shielded them from any legal responsibility,” said Ruben Rosalez, a regional administrator with the Labor Department. The problem, he said, is that retailers have not increased the rates they pay manufacturers in years.
“The retailers are setting the prices. They’re saying, ‘Make this shirt for this amount,’ but it’s the workers at the end of the chain that are getting screwed,” Rosalez said.
National department stores such as Macy’s and Nordstrom had ties to garment makers that did not pay minimum wage, the department said.
But the company that surfaced most often in the investigation was Ross Dress for Less, a Dublin, Calif., retailer with a deep presence in the region’s strip malls.
Labor Department officials said they met with executives of Ross and Forever 21 and asked the companies to step up monitoring and to pay their contractors more, so that the contractors in turn could pay legal wages.
Connie Wong, a spokeswoman for Ross, said in an email that the company is working with the Labor Department to make sure that suppliers understand the law.
“Ross Stores takes labor issues very seriously, and we require our suppliers to uphold our ethical standards,” Wong said.
In an email, a Forever 21 spokeswoman confirmed the company met with the Labor Department and said it is cooperating with the agency.
“Forever 21 takes these issues very seriously, and requires all of its vendors to comply with these laws,” she wrote.
Representatives of TJ Maxx did not immediately return a request for comment.
It is not clear whether the retailers are still doing business with clothes makers that underpay workers.
Rosalez said the retailers hire monitors to make sure their suppliers abroad are following the law but don’t do the same level of inspection in the U.S.
That has fueled more wage theft in Southern California over the last decade, as retailers try to put a lid on their prices while the minimum wage rises across the state, he said.
The stores “want to be able to meet demand on a quick basis. It’s cheaper to do it here as long as no one is looking,” he said.
Jose Garcia, 35, said he spends about 55 hours every week stitching the hems of blouses, dresses and women’s pants for a factory that supplies Ross. For each blouse he sews up, he earns about 22 cents, he said.
At the end of every week, he leaves his sewing machine, on third floor of a ramshackle building in downtown Los Angeles, with a check for about $320.
That means Garcia makes about $6 an hour, after subtracting 30 minutes a day for lunch.
Read more from the Los Angeles Times.
From Philly Inquirer:
by Jane M. Von Bergen
Are Sleepy's mattress-delivery drivers eligible for overtime? A decision by a federal judge in a closely watched New Jersey case has paved the way for an answer in a lawsuit filed six years ago.
In March 2010, a handful of drivers who delivered mattresses in New Jersey filed a lawsuit in federal court saying they were not paid overtime because they were wrongfully classified as independent contractors.
U.S. District Judge Peter G. Sheridan in Trenton determined on Oct. 25 that the plaintiffs were actually employees, but his ruling came after the case had bounced up and down the appellate chain, with a foray into state court.
In 2012, Sheridan originally determined that the drivers were independent contractors, in part because they had signed documents saying they were contractors, not employees. Their lawyer, Anthony L. Marchetti Jr. of Cherry Hill, appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which kicked it to the New Jersey Supreme Court to figure out how to determine whether the drivers were employees or independent contractors.
In a period when misclassification cases were filed regularly and were a hot topic in employment law, the Sleepy's case was closely watched, with organizations such as the National Federation of Independent Businesses writing briefs in support of Sleepy's position that the drivers owned their own trucking businesses and merely delivered for the company.
The New Jersey Supreme Court told the Third Circuit, which told Sheridan, that the "ABC test," derived from New Jersey's Unemployment Compensation Act, had to be used to determine employment status. If the company substantially controlled the daily work of the individuals, if their work was essential to the company, and, finally, if they realistically would not be able to handle business from other clients, the workers had to be considered employees, not independent contractors.
Read more from Philly Inquirer.
From The Atlantic:
by Derek Thompson
In the last eight years, President Barack Obama oversaw the largest growth in federal spending to reduce inequality since the Great Society of the 1960s. In the next four years, President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives will probably try to undo almost all of it.
President Obama’s anti-inequality crusade has had three main pillars. First, the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, brought the percentage of uninsured down from 16 percent in 2010 to 9 percent, the lowest in U.S. history. Second, tax benefits passed in the 2009 stimulus, and extended throughout the last seven years, raised the overall income of millions of poor Americans. Third, the administration went beyond the tax code to increase anti-poverty spending, like food stamps and long-term unemployment benefits, and to support the national movement for a higher minimum wage. Together, these measures helped to reduce after-tax inequality more than any administration on record, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
How will Republicans roll back these measures? Trump’s boldest proposals and most radical promises—to build a border wall and establish a police force to deport 10 million undocumented workers, while instigating a trade war, cutting taxes, trying to balance the budget, and hinting that the U.S. won’t pay back its debt—are together a recipe for financial panic and a possible recession. But even if the U.S. gets a more moderate version of Trump that dovetails with the wishes of his Republican Congress, there is another clear conclusion to draw. Quite simply, his administration would make it much harder to be poor in America.
First, Obamacare may be toast. By rolling back the Medicaid expansion and ending private subsidies, Republicans would almost certainly send the uninsured rate back up to Bush-era levels. In the last six years, the number of uninsured families living around the poverty line fell by almost 50 percent. Those gains would be reversed, and more than 20 million people, many of them just above the poverty line, could suddenly lose access to health care.
Second, Trump’s proposed tax cut will be one of the largest ever, possibly reducing federal revenues by more than $6 trillion in the next decade. His plan is in line with tax cuts envisioned by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Although taxes would be cut at every level, “the highest-income taxpayers would receive the biggest cuts, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income,” according tothe Tax Policy Center. The richest 0.1 percent of the country would save, on average, more than $1 million.
What does that have to do with the poor? Well, the massive size of the proposed Trump tax is significant, because House Republicans are also calling for a balanced budget. Mathematically that means that the GOP will be on the lookout for $6 trillion in spending cuts over the next decade. And Trump has essentially declared more than half the budget off-limits for cuts, since he wants to grow the military and preserve Social Security and Medicare.
With protective collars around defense and spending on the elderly, the rest of government spending would have to be bulldozed. This remainder is dominated by assistance for the young and poor. Medicaid would shrink, as might the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Food stamps would be cut. Federal unemployment insurance spending would fall, as would housing and energy assistance for the poor. The Department of Education would have to be gutted, taking federal student loans with it.
It’s not clear which of Obama’s economic policies would actually face elimination, because Trump has been so vague about his own plans, beyond Mexican walls and Chinese trade wars. In the absence of more details, one document that gives a sense of where things could go is Ryan’s grand plan “A Better Way.” This document is more thoughtful and potentially less draconian than Ryan’s previous budgets, which concentrated massive pain on the poor and the sick. But even this relatively kinder and gentler approach would still make it harder to be poor in America, by cutting welfare and health insurance payments to the poor in order to balance the budget while financing a historic tax cut for the wealthy. If President Obama was a throwback to the programs of the 1960s, this could be a throwback to the 1950s.
I once wrote that the U.S. president’s relationship with the economy is more like the captain of a ship sailing through turbulent waters rather than the bow-to-stern engineer. Presidents cannot slide the economy to 4 percent growth, as if GDP were a thermostat bar. But the government has great control over how growth is shared. For the last eight years, the Obama doctrine has put sharing at the heart of economic policy with a progressive plan to redistribute the country’s prodigious wealth to help low-income Americans of all ethnicities stay afloat in a period of severe inequality. Tuesday’s vote represents the repudiation of that economic policy, and the inauguration of a very different strategy. America is about to find out just how much a president matters to the lives of its citizens. For the poor, the stakes could not be any higher.
Read more from The Atlantic.
From Business Insider:
by Lynn Parramore, Reuters
Life for the medieval peasant was certainly no picnic. His life was shadowed by fear of famine, disease and bursts of warfare. His diet and personal hygiene left much to be desired.
But despite his reputation as a miserable wretch, you might envy him one thing: his vacations.
Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off.
The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes, and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too.
In fact, economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year. As for the modern American worker? After a year on the job, she gets an average of eight vacation days annually.
It wasn't supposed to turn out this way: John Maynard Keynes, one of the founders of modern economics, made a famous prediction that by 2030, advanced societies would be wealthy enough that leisure time, rather than work, would characterize national lifestyles. So far, that forecast is not looking good.
What happened? Some cite the victory of the modern eight-hour a day, 40-hour workweek over the punishing 70 or 80 hours a 19th century worker spent toiling as proof that we're moving in the right direction.
But Americans have long since kissed the 40-hour workweek goodbye, and Shor's examination of work patterns reveals that the 19th century was an aberration in the history of human labor. When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren't trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric light bulb came on the scene.
Go back 200, 300, or 400 years and you find that most people did not work very long hours at all. In addition to relaxing during long holidays, the medieval peasant took his sweet time eating meals, and the day often included time for an afternoon snooze.
"The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed," notes Shor. "Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure."
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and the US is the only advanced country with no national vacation policy whatsoever.
Many American workers must keep on working through public holidays, and vacation days often go unused. Even when we finally carve out a holiday, many of us answer emails and "check in" whether we're camping with the kids or trying to kick back on the beach
Some blame the American worker for not taking what is her due. But in a period of consistently high unemployment, job insecurity and weak labor unions, employees may feel no choice but to accept the conditions set by the culture and the individual employer.
In a world of "at will" employment, where the work contract can be terminated at any time, it's not easy to raise objections.
It's true that the New Deal brought back some of the conditions that farm workers and artisans from the Middle Ages took for granted, but since the 1980s things have gone steadily downhill. With secure long-term employment slipping away, people jump from job to job, so seniority no longer offers the benefits of additional days off. The rising trend of hourly and part-time work, stoked by the Great Recession, means that for many, the idea of a guaranteed vacation is a dim memory.
Some blame the American worker for not taking what is her due. But in a period of consistently high unemployment, job insecurity and weak labor unions, employees may feel no choice but to accept the conditions set by the culture and the individual employer.
In a world of "at will" employment, where the work contract can be terminated at any time, it's not easy to raise objections.
It's true that the New Deal brought back some of the conditions that farm workers and artisans from the Middle Ages took for granted, but since the 1980s things have gone steadily downhill. With secure long-term employment slipping away, people jump from job to job, so seniority no longer offers the benefits of additional days off. The rising trend of hourly and part-time work, stoked by the Great Recession, means that for many, the idea of a guaranteed vacation is a dim memory.
Read more from Business Insider.
by David Robb
The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) president Matt Loeb is predicting “severe consequences” for unions and working people in the wake of Tuesday’s election results. The union, which is one of the few in the industry that endorses political candidates, backed Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump.
“The election for president of the United States is over,” Loeb said in a statement issued today. “While we did not achieve the result we desired, I am extremely proud of the work of our political department, local union officers, international officers and representatives and members for the significant efforts made to protect the interests of IATSE members and workers in general. Now we must move on."
“While I am skeptical for obvious reasons, it is my sincere hope that there can be some healing in our starkly divided nation. And while hope may seem an optimistic wish, it is clear that the country is unsatisfied with status quo in our political system. Unfortunately, that widespread feeling has manifested itself in a result that will likely compound the problem. The middle class and working people are in jeopardy of experiencing severe consequences based on the positions and proposed policies espoused by President-elect Trump. Moreover, his anti-union statements virtually guarantee a rough road ahead for unions and the members they represent."
“The tendency to be discouraged and lie injured licking our wounds must be resisted. Now is not the time to let defeat discourage us from facing head-on the tremendous challenges ahead. We must pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and stand strong. We must demonstrate solidarity in an unprecedented way by locking arms as Brothers and Sisters for the betterment of all IATSE members. We must continue to strengthen our bonds with other unions and the AFL-CIO to consolidate our voice and power. And we must identify and align with people and organizations that are likeminded in sharing our values."
Read more from Deadline.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
From the Huffington Post:
by Dave Jamieson
In a bit of good news for labor unions, Virginians voted down a ballot initiative Tuesday that would have enshrined the state’s right-to-work status in the state constitution.
Unions in Virginia campaigned hard against the proposal, which was supported by business groups and Republican lawmakers. Virginia has had a right-to-work law on the books for decades, but the ballot measure would have effectively made it permanent.
Right-to-work laws forbid contracts between unions and employers that require all employees in a workplace to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf. Under U.S. labor law, unions have to represent all employees in a particular bargaining unit, even those who want nothing to do with a union. Unions say it’s only fair that everyone chip in to cover the costs of representation.
In states with right-to-work laws, employees in unionized workplaces aren’t obligated to pay any fees to the union, allowing them to opt out completely. Conservatives refer to this as “workplace freedom,” but unions call it “free riding.” Whatever you want to call it, it’s been the reality in Virginia since 1947, when changes in federal law first allowed states to pursue right-to-work laws. It’s one reason union membership is so low in Virginia when compared with other states.
But the prevailing state of affairs in Virginia wasn’t sufficient for backers of what was called Constitutional Amendment Question 1 on the ballot. If approved, the measure would have amended the state constitution so that Virginia could never not be a right-to-work state, save for another change to the constitution. Terry McAuliffe, the state’s Democratic governor, would not be able to veto it.
Those who pushed the amendment claimed it would make Virginia more attractive to employers, who wouldn’t have to worry about the state repealing its right-to-work law (if they ever worried about that in the first place). Typifying this argument, the head of the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce claimed that cementing right-to-work in the constitution would make Virginia a more “competitive and attractive place for business and job creation.”
Backers of the amendment may have feared that, as Virginia creeps bluer and bluer, a Democratic-controlled statehouse could one day repeal its right-to-work status. But that seems unlikely. When he was Virginia’s Democratic governor, even Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate, said the state’s right-to-work law was something he “strongly supports.” And once a state goes right-to-work, it tends to stay that way ― especially when it’s the long-standing tradition in a place like Virginia. Besides, right-to-work laws are now more popular than ever, to the great detriment of unions.
It used to be that right-to-work laws were confined to the South and parts of the West. But in the past four and a half years, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and West Virginia have all gone right-to-work. After West Virginia passed its law in February, a majority of states ― 26 ― were right-to-work for the first time ever, making it the norm in the U.S.
Read more from the Huffington Post.
by Lisa Rabasca Roepe
Kami Reep of Sonoma County, California was let go from work twice last year—not because she wasn’t able to perform her duties as a bookkeeper or because she did her job poorly, but because she needed to take time off when her ex-husband and abuser took two of their three young children from an afterschool program and fled the state.
Reep took three days off from work without pay when her children first went missing. Before she returned to the office, Reep was notified by email that she was being fired because of the situation with her ex-husband and the “added stress.”
“I felt like no one else would hire me,” Reep says.
A few weeks later Reep did find a new job, but she was let go just two weeks later. Reep told a manager that she might have to take time off from work to testify in criminal proceedings against her ex-husband. The manager recognized her name from news reports about an Amber Alert being sent out to locals’ phones and told their boss about the incident. Reep’s new boss sent her a text message telling her not to come back to work due to “what is going on with you,” alluding to the situation with her ex-husband. Her termination notice said she was fired for “personal reasons that were not disclosed to employer at the time of hire.”
“I felt like I was being punished for something I didn’t do,” Reep says.
Reep’s story is not uncommon. According to research from the Joint Center for Poverty Research at Northwestern University, between 25% and 50% of domestic violence survivors report job loss. And, as Reep found, once you lose one job, it can be hard to recover.
Although California passed a law in September 2014 requiring employers to provide paid “safe days” for domestic violence survivors like Reep, employees in California didn’t begin to accrue days until July 1, 2015. Further, workers need to have worked for their current employee for 90 days to be eligible for the protection. Reep was terminated in May 2015 from the first job and from the second job on July 7—six days after employees could start accruing safe time.
“At the time Kami was fired, she was not yet able to use paid safe days, but state law did entitle her to take unpaid, job-protected leave for domestic-violence-related reasons,” says Sharon Terman, senior staff attorney of Legal Aid Society—Employment Law Center in San Francisco. “Now that California’s paid safe days law is in effect, Kami will be able to take time off without losing pay or risking her job.”
California is among five states (the others are Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont) and a dozen localities (including Chicago, Santa Monica, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC) that have passed “safe time” laws. This chart created by A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy organization that advocates for family-friendly laws and workplace policies, compares state and local laws offering paid sick and safe time.
On Election Day, voters in Arizona and Washington will have the option of supporting ballot initiatives that would allow victims of domestic violence to take paid time off from work, too. If Arizona’s Prop 206 passes, domestic violence survivors “wouldn’t have to miss a paycheck or make a decision between going to court or going to work, or fear losing their jobs,” says Kellie MacDonald-Evoy, public policy advocate for the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence. The Coalition estimates that about 804,000 women and 454,000 men in Arizona will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.
Like the law in California, the ballot measures in Arizona and Washington will also provide for paid sick days. Currently, neither state mandates that employers pay their workers for sick days. “The initiative is not just a way to give workers a choice when they are sick but to help as many of our vulnerable community members as possible,” says Tomas Robles, chair of Arizona Healthy Working Families, one of the groups advocating for the measure.
Going a step further, both Prop 206 and Initiative 1433 in Washington would also increase the minimum wage in each state. In Arizona, the minimum wage would be raised from $8.05 to $10 in 2017, $10.50 in 2018, $11.00 in 2019, and $12 in 2020. In Washington, the minimum wage would increase from $9.55 per to $11.00 in 2017, $11.50 in 2018, $12.00 in 2019, and $13.50 in 2020.
The move to combine the two issues—paid leave and an increase in minimum wage —is becoming more common and, in many cases, giving a boost to efforts to increase the minimum wage. “People thought those two issues were competing, but now people see the connection,” says Ellen Bravo, director of Family Values @ Work, an organization that advocates for paid family leave and sick leave. While many people are affected by minimum wage, not everyone sees the value of increasing the minimum wage, she says. But almost everyone understands the value of paid sick days. “You don’t want the person making your lunch or driving your kid’s school bus to be sick.”
Importantly, there’s a huge difference between offering time off, and offering to pay for that time. Even though some states, like Washington, offer unpaid sick and safe time, most workers can’t take advantage of it, says Traci Underwood, economic justice program coordinator at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Many have to make the choice between paying rent or the utility bill or going to court to get a protection order,” Underwood says. For instance, she says, a waitress who chooses to go to court, instead of work, gives up a day’s pay, plus tips. It is not unusual for the abuser not to show up in court on the appointed day, Underwood says, which pushes the hearing to another day. This forces the victim to decide again whether to go to court and give up income or go to work and compromise their safety. In fact, a recent report by McKinsey and Company, The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in the United States, identifies violence against women as one of the six factors impacting pay equity in the United States.
Read more from Quartz.
by Jennifer Ludden
In Greensboro, N.C., Eyeisha Holt spends her days as a full-time child care worker at Head Start. But after a decade's work in early education she still earns only $11.50 an hour — barely enough, she says, to cover the basics as a single mom of two. So every weekday evening she heads to her second job, as a babysitter.
"Are you ready to go to bed?" she asks, as she oversees bath time for her 3-year-old daughter and another of her charges. For 25 hours a week, Holt cares for toddler twins, in addition to her daughter and teenage son.
"Some days I'm really strong," she says. "Some days it's like, 'OK, give me seven cups of coffee.' "
Nationwide, average pay for child care workers like Holt is less than $10 an hour. Nearly half of these workers receive some kind of public assistance.
Holt gets food stamps and her children are on Medicaid. "And I just feel like it's kind of messed up," she says. "You would think, being in a profession such as teaching, I should be making enough money where I didn't qualify at all."
"We're seeing a high turnover of [child care] teachers," says Michele Rivest, executive director of the North Carolina Child Care Coalition. "We're seeing the lowest enrollment in our community college programs for early education. And I think it's all attributable to low wages."
Research shows the turnover among child care workers nationally is about 30 percent.
The North Carolina coalition plans to lobby state lawmakers this coming session to budget $10 million for bonuses for these workers, hoping to persuade more early educators to stay put. They would get an extra $2,000 to $4,000 from the state a year, depending on their education, if that proposal is adopted.
"We're talking about a modest supplement," Rivest says, "that will get early education teachers closer to our public school kindergarten teachers," who generally earn more.
Rivest says more stability in the work force is better for babies and toddlers, who thrive and learn through interactions with experienced, loving caregivers.
She says this kind of public investment would pay off for years to come. Decades of research shows that children who had quality early education are more likely to graduate from high school, have better jobs with more pay and be less reliant on public support.
But paying child care workers through a state-approved bonus is tricky. What lawmakers give, they can also take away when times are tight.
In another push, child care workers are part of the national campaign for a $15 minimum wage.
"Raising the floor is a good thing," says Marcy Whitebook, director of the Center for the Study of Child Care Employment, at the University of California, Berkeley. "But we also want to raise the ceiling."
A higher minimum wage won't necessarily keep workers from leaving the field, Whitebook says. So a lot of states, and the federal Head Start program, are trying to boost overall pay by requiring child care workers to have more education. The idea is that if they're better qualified, higher wages will follow.
"That might work in a well-functioning market," Whitebook says, "but the market we have for early childhood does not function that way."
In New Bedford, Mass., Jennie Antunes has been with the North Star Learning Center for 30 years. The state recently started requiring lead teachers like her to have a four-year degree, and it even gave Antunes a full scholarship to finish her studies. Afterward, Antunes says, she got a raise of $1 an hour, bringing her wage after an entire career in child care to $13.75 an hour.
Read more from NPR.
From BuzzFeed News:
by Cora Lewis
A courier in New York has sued Uber claiming he and other delivery people, who work for the company’s on-demand delivery services UberRush and UberEats, are owed unpaid tips and wages.
Uber declined to comment on the litigation.
Uber’s Rush and Eats platforms, which launched in October 2015 and March of this year, turn the company’s on-demand ride-hailing platform into on-demand delivery services for packages and food, adding bike messengers to their network of drivers.
The Rush and Eats services operate slightly differently: The majority of UberRush food deliveries are made from restaurants that use the platform GrubHub, which has a field for customers to add a tip while making an order. UberEats, like Uber’s popular car service that aimed to take tipping out of the equation for the user, does not allow for in-app tips.
The suit, filed in federal court in Manhattan on Tuesday, alleges that nearly all GrubHub deliveries for UberRush included “an on-line gratuity – none of which were passed onto the Couriers.”
The suit also claims that UberEats “charges a $3.99 ‘Service Fee’ in lieu of a gratuity” (the app recently renamed the “Delivery Fee” a “Booking Fee”). It argues that because a user would never know this fee was not a tip, it should therefore be passed on to courier, under existing wage law.
Rather than earning a set minimum hourly wage, Uber couriers are paid per trip. In New York, for instance, UberRush messengers receive $3 for the handoff of the delivery item and then $4 per mile (rates vary by market).
A disclaimer added to the New York UberEats checkout page this sumner now reads, “Tips are not included in the cost of your order. Tips are neither expected nor required.”
Under the Hospitality Wage Order in New York, in order for a Service Charge (that is not a gratuity) to be legal, the company must “adequately notify the customer” that the fee is not a tip intended for a worker. “The statement must also be in ordinary language readily understood” and in a size “no smaller than 12-point font” (much like high school term papers for the smart teachers).
According to the suit, Uber provided “no notification what-so-ever that the $3.99 Service Fee is not a gratuity,” and so the fees should have been passed on to couriers as tips.
In October, Uber couriers formed an alliance with delivery people from other apps, including Postmates and Instacart, to gain bargaining leverage over wages, hours, tipping practices, and safety concerns.
Members of the Messenger Alliance interviewed by BuzzFeed News said that they, too sometimes do not receive tips from GrubHub orders, as the plaintiff in the suit alleges. They say they know when a customer included a tip via GrubHub because they can see the tip on the order receipt when they deliver the food. UberEats does not provide such receipts.
Sadio Ballo, an UberRush courier and member of the alliance, told BuzzFeed News that when some messengers complained to Uber, the company “told them it was the restaurants that were keeping the tips.” Worker efforts to deal directly with the restaurants fell flat.
“You take it up with the restaurants, they ignore you,” Bello said. “Or the next time restaurant chooses someone to make the pickup, and that guy [who complained] shows up, they would cancel them.”
In the world of digital orders, which involves a long chain of middlemen, tips make a complicated journey from the customer to the courier.
In the case of UberRush, a tip has to travel from the customer, to GrubHub, to restaurant owner, to UberRush, and then finally to the courier. It seems it’s the space between GrubHub and UberRush — when the restaurant owner manually transfers the tip from one platform to another — is where the gratuity is most likely falling through the cracks.
Uber told BuzzFeed News that it is the responsibility of individual restaurants to tell Uber when a GrubHub customer has added a tip so that it can be passed along to the courier. Uber also said that they have made it easier for restaurants to make sure they’re passing along tips to Uber (and thus, to the couriers), with a revamped UberRush dashboard design. The company said it has reminded restaurants that they must pass on any tips intended for couriers — including for orders submitted through GrubHub — so that Uber can pass them on to the couriers in their payouts.
A spokesperson for GrubHub said that “restaurateurs are legally required to disperse the full tip amount to delivery workers.”
Critics of tipping argue this kind of increasingly tenuous transaction chain is one more reason to reform or abolish tipping altogether, and replace it with living wages.
In recent months, Instacart similarly changed its tipping model to a default 10% “Service Charge,” which does not go directly to the shopper, with an option for an additional tip. Instacart workers interviewed by BuzzFeed News said the new tipping option is difficult to find, and the “Service Charge” system is misleading to consumers who think it is a tip.
Read more from BuzzFeed News.
Photo courtesy of Estelle Liebow Schultz
by Ai-jen Poo
The last time I saw Gloria Steinem, she said something that stayed with me: “The voting booth is the one place in America where everyone is equal.”
No matter who you are, where you come from, what you look like, once you vote, your vote counts. And no one vote counts more than another.
That simple truth got me out of bed Thursday morning at 3:45 a.m. and onto a 6 a.m. flight to Reno, Nevada, where I begin a five-state trip leading up to election day. My goal is to get every single person I meet in those states to show up to the polls on Election Day.
This year, I was part of an effort called “We Won’t Wait”. We engaged women — from the kitchen table to the voting booth — on the issues they care about and what’s at stake for them in this election. The “We Won’t Wait” collaboration held more than 2 million kitchen-table conversations with women around the country. And we heard about everything from the challenges of elder care and lack of paid leave to mass incarceration and the need for immigration reform.
It turns out women, particularly women of color and low-income women, are not single-issue voters. It makes sense. As workers, women, leaders, friends and family members, including mothers and daughters, we don’t live single-issue lives. We live three-dimensional lives. And while we may be equal in the voting booth, the rest of the country hasn’t gotten that message. In order to change this, we need to ensure that every single one of us gets to the polls on Election Day, and continues to work for full equality in our democracy every day after.
As the countdown to Election Day begins, I can already anticipate what happens after. Much will be written about the women’s vote, the gender gap in voter turnout and all the ways in which gender defined the outcome of this election. Over the next few days, I plan to talk to as many women as possible in Reno, Nevada; Aurora, Colorado; Manchester, New Hampshire; Miami, Florida, and my new hometown of Chicago, Illinois. I will encourage and energize them to get to the polls on Election Day, and I’m excited to hear and share their stories.
My hope for us is to see this moment in American political life through the eyes of the women we may never see on TV, but who are at the heart of what it means to be American in 2016. My prediction is that we’ll see a picture that’s full of hope and hardship — heroines’ journeys and silver linings. But let’s see how it goes.
I hope you’ll follow my journey on Instagram @aijen_georgegotv16 and on social media using the hashtag #BestOfUs2016.
Read more from OurFuture.org.
Earl Dotter/Oxfam America
by Deborah Berkowitz
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released employer-reported data on workplace injuries and illnesses for 2015 that substantially understate the injury rate in the poultry processing industry and obscure the harsh and hazardous conditions faced by America’s 250,000 poultry workers.
Workers in the poultry industry continue to suffer injury and illness rates well above the national average. In fact, for certain illnesses, e.g., musculoskeletal injuries, the rates are multiple times the national average.
A 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office found that workers in the meat and poultry industry are facing the same hazardous conditions previously cited by the GAO in 2005—including traumatic injuries from machines and tools, from exposure to chemicals and pathogens, and from fast-paced repetitive tasks associated with musculoskeletal disorders. The GAO did not note any significant safety improvements in the industry.
According to the GAO report, workers continue to have their arms mangled in machines, their hands gouged by a neighbor’s hook because they work so fast and stand so close together, and their fingers crushed in equipment lacking safeguards. They continue to suffer from musculoskeletal disorders due to repetitive, forceful exertions, and awkward postures. They continue to get sick from the widespread use of caustic disinfectants.
The 2015 BLS statistics are employer-reported, and that’s the precisely the problem. Three government agencies—the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the GAO (in the report cited above)—found that the poultry processing industry is underreporting the serious injuries that occur.
Both OSHA and the GAO found that poultry workers who suffer serious injuries at work are being denied medical treatment. We believe that suggests an effort by poultry plant operators to avoid reporting injuries to the government so as to keep reported rates artificially low.
The BLS employer-reported injury and illness data clearly are a drastic undercount of the injuries and illnesses in the poultry industry. Just look at the facts: Tyson Foods, the largest poultry company, has the fourth-highest number of amputations and hospitalization reported to OSHA of all companies nationwide that come under OSHA’s jurisdiction. Fifty-four workers, in a 15-month period, in just the Tyson Foods plants in federal OSHA states (half of the country), suffered an amputation or other injuries, such as fractures or concussions, that required them to be admitted to a hospital for treatment.
The government has well documented that companies are failing to report injuries that are occurring. Further, the government has found (and they have found this to be widespread in the poultry industry) that the companies are denying injured workers adequate medical care—a tactic that relieves them of the responsibility to report an injury to BLS. That’s because the regulations require that only those injuries that receive “medical treatment” are to be reported.
Conditions are so deplorable in the poultry industry that just four months ago, OSHA issued the first- ever citation to a big poultry company—Pilgrim’s Pride—for delaying adequate medical treatment to injured workers. OSHA had also found this same problem in Allen Harim Foods in Delaware and Wayne Farms. In fact, at Allen Harim Foods, OSHA found that the processing plant had turned its first-aid station into a place “to prevent workers from reporting injuries.”
Major employers within the industry continue to deny workers the right to use the bathroom, deny seriously injured workers adequate medical treatment, and continue to expose workers to the most hazardous conditions. The meat and poultry industry report the eight-highest numbers of amputations and hospitalizations to OSHA of any industry in the nation. This is an industry with record-breaking profits. These companies should be complying with the law and providing safe conditions and treating their workers humanely, instead of hiding behind phony self-reported statistics.
Read more from NELP.