August 2012 Archive:

Delegation to Republic Airways: Fairness in Flight

When you hear ‘poverty wages’ you immediately think of dishwashers, janitors and farm hands—down and dirty jobs on the ground. We do not think of jobs in the airline industry, but increasingly the jobs that are up in the air are crash-landing in today’s economy—mechanics, pilots and airline attendants at Republic Airways for example.

Fairness in Flight reportRepublic is a leader among the second-tier carriers. They are also a leader in the union-avoidance philosophy keeping worker’s wages and rights from rising.

Republic mechanics have been hammered by an overtime wage system that prevents them from being compensated at the same rates as their fellow mechanics in other airlines. Under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), airline mechanics are compensated differently from the normal worker’s 40-hour a week standard. Without a union contract to iron out the inherent problems with the RLA, these mechanics must work long hours and travel long distances in order to make a wage at the expense of their rest.

Weary mechanics under the pressure of management to get planes in the air run the risk of making mistakes, which may jeopardize safety. Because of the pressure of the Teamsters and the organizing campaign, they have corrected some of the overtime problems, but not all of them. The good safety record of Republic Airways is the result of mechanics taking pride in their work.

The mechanics are seeking to join the Teamsters, but Republic’s management has grounded them with anti-union tactics. The juvenile anti-union tactics we have seen in other industries is happening in the hangers: union supporters are harassed and intimidated for wearing their Teamster t-shirts and posting union messages, all practices that are legally supported by the RLA.

The pilots and flight attendants, working with the Teamsters, continue fighting because Republic Airways is not willing to pay the pilots and flight attendants a living wage. The pilots have been at the bargaining table since 2007 in an attempt to update their 2003 contract. The attendants have faced the same stall tactics for the last two years.

The wages do not even get off the run way. One co-pilot shared with me that he makes only $32,000 a year after several years with the company. Starting salaries for flight attendants qualify them for food stamps, in many cases. A mechanic who used to work for Northwest makes less than half as much with Republic.

For those of us on the ground, the airline industry has always been a place where mechanics and attendants could make a good wage, and pilots had a reputation for high salaries. But at Republic, their wages and standards are stuck on the tarmac.

Learn more about IWJ's fact-finding delegation and report from Republic Airways.

The Rev. Darren Cushman Wood is senior pastor of North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, after eleven years at Speedway United Methodist Church and is president of IWJ's Board of Directors.

Arkansas moves closer to preventing wage theft

The Northwest Arkansas Worker Justice Center and their allies scored a big win for wage theft prevention last week!

ArkansasThe NAWJC is leading the campaign against wage theft in Arkansas, and helped craft the language of the wage theft prevention law. After research and revisions to HB1881, the worker center as well as other allies of the statewide coalition presented a tremendous case to legislators. The chair to decide to create a special committee to review the legislation and introduce the bill in the next session this spring. 

If passed, the law would:

  • require employers to pay all employees by the next regular payday following termination or departure
  • require the employers pay a civil penalty to the former employee if wages are not paid
  • limit the wage deductions an employer can make to required taxes or other court ordered payments unless there is written authorization from the employee.

Members of the subcommittee responded to worker, Department of Labor, and other expert testimonies with overwhelming compassion and strong desire to end a terrible epidemic they had no idea was occurring in their very districts. Even members who do not favor pro-worker legislation could not deny that wage theft is hurting everyone and seemed to show no opposition for the advancement of the bill.

NAWJC is one of several IWJ affiliated organizations working on wage theft campaigns at the local or state leve. Learn more about wage theft.

For more information on the Arkansas Wage Theft Prevention bill, call the NAWJC at (479) 750-8015 or check out their website and facebook page.

Dianne Enriquez is the National Coordinator of IWJ's worker center network, and coordinating IWJ's national campaign against wage theft. She testified before the Arkansas sub-committee with our hark-working friends from NAWJC last week. 
Photo courtesy John Lyon, Arkansas News.

Connecting faith and work this Labor Day weekend

LIPWow we have been busy at IWJ these last few weeks. Folks on staff and some of our affiliates, allies and supporters are finishing up preparations for Labor in the Pulpits/on the Bimah/in the Minbar programs at local congregations and faith communities all across the country.

Do you have any plans for Labor Day weekend?

Join the thousands of people of faith across the country and honor workers with your faith communities this Labor Day weekend. Together we can honor the Sacredness of Work and reflect, pray and lift up the issues affecting struggling workers in this economy.

It's not easy working these days! Immoral employers are cutting corners and stealing wages from hard-working employees. Nationally, minimum wage workers are working for an immorally low wage (if the Federal minimum wage just kept up with inflation it would be around $10.50 and hour). Some workers are pushing their employers for safer conditions. Lately, we've seen the institutionalized degradation of unions and collective bargaining rights in both public and private sectors. Together we must remember to honor the Sacredness of Work.

Every year for 15 years, IWJ and our affiliates and allies connect faith and work in a special way for Labor Day weekend. Programs include workers in the pulpits, discussion groups after service and special resources in bulletins and newsletters. Join us as we honor the struggle for respect and dignity for all workers, economic justice and fair treatment at work.

Find or register a Labor in the Pulpit event in your community

Worker Center fundraising and development important work

By Gloria Delgadillo

I recently read a story in the Austin Chronicle about the humble beginning of Workers Defense Project—it was as inspirational as unbelievable. It is truly incredible how far WDP has gotten in ten years. We—and I say we because I feel deeply connected to the WDP family—have made a strong presence in the community of Austin, Texas and now we are also heading to Dallas.

Learn more about the Workers Defense Project.

I have experienced a fair amount of frustration interning at WDP. The people are great, the work is rewarding, the cause is worthwhile, but it has been challenging to make people outside the WDP network to understand why this work is worthwhile to our communities. Working in organizational development and fundraising, I didn’t have a very friendly start. I dealt with rejection after rejection to the point that I now jump up with joy when I finally get a ‘yes.’ Nonetheless, my faith in justice is stronger than ever before.

Going back to the story on the WDP’s roots, it has finally clicked in that WDP started out with two volunteers out on the streets educating workers on their rights. Now almost 10 years later WDP is a powerful voice in the Austin community, and we are going nowhere else but forward.

‘Development’ was a non-existent program in WDP, but now with how far we have gotten, we are able to fund it. It is hard to picture development as the activist, but development is important as is organizing. Our calls and planning reaches out to far places, and one thing I have learned as the development intern is that ‘No means hello."

Gloria's post is part of our summer series "Reflections from the Field." Gloria is a  student intern at Workers Defense Project in Austin this summer as part of IWJ's Summer Internship program.

Religious denominations vow to support worker justice

This is what religion looks like!

Last month, people of faith in two major Protestant denominations confirmed a commitment to workers and the struggle of working people in today’s economy at their national governing conferences.

Delegates from the Presbyterian Church (USA) met for the General Assembly in Pittsburg. The General Convention of the Episcopal Church convened in Indianapolis.

Representatives voted on resolutions urging each denomination to commit support for working people and work towards a more fair and just economy.  This is what the resolutions outlined:

The Presbyterian General Assembly

  • Approved a resolution recognizing its support for just compensation, pension and benefits for people and will "speak loudly on their behalf."

  • Vowed to renew commitment to a living wage for all workers and offered support to minimum wage campaigns.
  • Recognized its historic support of collective bargaining rights for wages, benefits and unemployment and commissioned a pastoral letter calling congregations to advocate for collective bargaining rights and directed the Office of Public Witness in the Church to advocate for those rights.

The Episcopal General Convention

  • Agreed upon a resolution a resolution condemning Wage Theft and encouraging congregations to learn more about wage theft in their local communities.
  • Encouraged Episcopalians to support efforts to stop wage theft by being responsible consumers.
  • Vowed to support educational programs like IWJ's Labor in the Pulpits.
  • Resolved to build networks in the labor movement and work with those in the labor movement to strengthen for a more just society
  • Opposed legislative attempts that eliminate or reduce collective bargaining rights.
  • Consider union rights when making purchasing and contracting decisions

Both denominations approved all worker justice related resolutions, recognizing the Church's role in advocating against economic oppression and injustice and to work to alleviate poverty in the world. That's pretty great, right?!? 

Join IWJ in thanksgiving for these resolutions, and tell officials of both congregations Thank You!

Veterans who protected freedom receive wage theft back home

Ron Stone and Francisco Berrios put their lives on the line for their country. When both men, who are veterans with service-connected disabilities, tried to make a living they were treated like slaves and their wages were stolen by their billionaire employers.

Wage theft—the illegal underpayment or non-payment of workers' wages—is a national epidemic.  Workers like Stone and Berrios toil for long hours and some unethical employers pocket the money that should go to the employees who create the company’s profit.

Both Stone and Berrios were placed to work at the Sandman Motel in Phoenix by the U.S. Vets Initiative (a federally funded organization that provides housing, counseling and services to veterans) at the end of 2008.

Stone served in the Air Force and Berrios spent three tours in Vietnam and has a Purple Heart medal. Instead of honoring these vets’ service, the motel’s billionaire owners, Morar and Ushaban Ahir, treated them like slaves, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the workers. The owners promised each man an apartment on the property (supposed value: $500) and $75-$100 per week in exchange for working six 12-hour shifts per week and being on-call and on property 24/7. The “apartment” turned out to be a 10x10 rat-infested room with no access to a kitchen. The men were not allowed visitors and could not leave the property without permission.

In addition to hiring vets from the U.S. Veterans Initiative, the hotel owner also hires unemployed homeless people willing to work for housing, Stone says. Diane Vasquez agreed to work for the hotel for free room and was not paid for her work. The only maid on the property, she was responsible for cleaning all the rooms, and maintaining the yard. She was forced to live off of food stamps, Stone says.

“They would pull people out of the homeless shelters and veterans’ shelters,” Stone says, “and if we complained they would say that they had 100 other people lined up for these jobs if we didn’t want them. We were treated like slaves.”

Stone was fired in 2010 in retaliation for filing complaints with the Department of Employee Services (DES) and Berrios was fired in 2011 in retaliation for suing his employer for back wages, according to the suit. 

In February 2011, Stone sought out the Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice, an affiliate of the Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) for help after he had been turned down by the state DES, the Veterans Administration and the U.S. Department of Labor. “They told me the case was either too small or that there was no wrongdoing. Private attorneys refused to take the case without pay upfront,” Stone says. “But I was determined to get justice,” he says. 

With the support of the Interfaith Alliance and the IWJ-affiliated Arizona Worker Rights Center, Stone,  Berrios and Valesquez documented the abuses they suffered and worked together to build a legal case and find a lawyer. Their attorney calculated that the three workers were owed more than $300,000 in back wages. “I don’t know what we would have done without the Worker Rights Center,” Stone says.

More than 16,000 workers like Stone come to IWJ worker centers for help each year. Eighty percent are victims of wage theft. Wage theft happens in every industry, victimizing millions of workers.

In April 2011, Stone, Berrios and Valesquez filed a federal lawsuit for back wages. The lawsuit was settled in a pre-trial conference last November for $100,000 for minimum wage and overtime violations. The workers received their last payment on March 31 this year.

Although they did not receive all the back pay they deserved, Stone says the fight was worth it. “We got some semblance of justice. It’s hard to understand why people just don’t do the right thing,” he says.

Interfaith worker advocates, ethical businesses and community leaders are getting tough laws against wage theft passed. But more needs to be done. In 2008, the National Employment Law Project and a team of advocates, policy groups, and academic research centers, including IWJ, undertook a survey of workers in three large cities to docu­ment the extent of wage theft. What they found was shocking:

  • 64% of low-wage workers experience wage theft each week
  •  26% are paid under the legal minimum wage
  • 76% of workers owed overtime go unpaid or underpaid

Low-wage workers lose $51 per week to wage theft, or $2,634 per year, according to the report.