Workers' Defense Project (WDP) was highlighted on Up Late with Alec Baldwin for their work.
In Texas, WDP was founded in 2002 and since has been working on the front lines to help low-wages and immigrant workers receive stolen wages from their employers, help pass ordinances for workers to get rest breaks in construction and create safer working conditions. One of the major job sectors in Texas is the construction industry, with an estimated worth of $6 billion dollars, and half of the workforce in the construction is undocumented workers.
Interviewed by Alec Baldwin on Up Late with Alec Baldwin, Cristina Tzitzun, executive director, discussed the work of WDP and share stories of workers. When asked by Alec Baldwin if immigration policy is her greatest concern, Tztizun said:
They are both interconnected. I think immigrant rights and worker rights are almost the same issue at this point for me. I saw workers' right as the place I could make the greatest impact, where it is the place where undocumented immigrants have the same protections or should have the same protection as a U.S citizen. I think that a lot of people don't know that. Every worker in this country regardless of their immigration status has the right to be paid for their work, has the right to a safe work site.
WDP has been featured by a number of national news outlets highlighting the unique work and accomplishment. Using effective tools like liens, which allow construction workers to tie the debt that is owned to them to the property, adds pressure to all parties from contractor to the owner to pay workers wages. Recently, WDP helped the city to create an agreement with Apple to ensure workers earn a living wage, workers' compensation and safety training for Apple's mega-complex building.
Damayan Migrants Workers Association has taken on labor trafficking and modern-day slavery.
In late September, Damayan Migrants Workers Association and their allies held a rally and interfaith vigil to demand an end to modern-day slavery and labor trafficking. The rally and interfaith vigil, which occurred in front of the Philippine consulate, called for legal reform to punish individuals who engage in labor trafficking and abuse domestic workers.
A labor trafficking survivor spoke about earning only $400 a month for working an average of 20 hours a day from her diplomat employer. Because of diplomatic immunity, the diplomat was never charged. Since foreign diplomats hold this immunity, they cannot be prosecuted on U.S. soil, according to the U.S. State Department. Other stories from the rally and vigil included inhumane working conditions and working for little to no pay.
Damayan Migrants are calling for U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, to hold diplomatic traffickers accountable for their behavior. In its efforts to seek out justice for women affected by labor trafficking, Damayan Migrants helped four women get immigration relief and are in the process of reunifying them to their children.
In the end year celebration, Damayan Migrants Workers Association will hold its first annual benefit event later this month.
Photo Courtesy of Damayan Migrants Workers Association
The Arizona Worker Rights Center celebrated its five year anniversary on Sept. 2.
The Arizona Interfaith Alliance for Worker Justice (AIAWJ) established in 2006 joined collectively, with local faith leaders and the national office of IWJ to collaboratively address the issues facing workers in the state. During its first year, the AIAWJ led a state-wide coalition to "Raise the Minimum Wage for Working Arizonans," engaged in a ballot initiative and partnered alongside low-wage workers in residential construction, hotel and worker campaigns. AIAWJ also aided in resourcing low-income communities of faith to civic engagement activities.
Seeking to expand, the AIAWJ decided to open a worker center in 2008 to help with trainings workers be better self-advocate and strategically plan ways to address workplace injustice. Under the AIAWJ, the Arizona Worker Rights Center was formed. The center has already helped recover $450,00 in stolen wages and help to document $1.8 million dollars with workers.
Serving the general public, it has served close to 400 underrepresented Spanish-speaking workers from the construction, landscape, and cleaning industries. The community of workers at the center has assisted in preparing intake interviews with the EEOC, and successfully contest denied unemployment benefits while represent themselves in small claims and civil court.
In the next five years, Ileana Salines, Director of Operations said:
In the next five years, AIAWJ plans on moving to a stable and permanent location in a vibrant neighborhood within Phoenix, Ariz., to continue offering case management services community garden, know-your-rights and health and safety trainings and leadership development classes. With a more permanent location, it is in the hopes of AIAWJ board, staff and volunteers to be able to open a Day Labor center, expand and win the anti-wage theft campaign; and empower more workers to fight...
The Arizona Worker planned an evening of celebration "Siembra y Cosecha" for a night of dinner, art and music to commemorate its five years, yet planting the seeds for future growth.
IWJ congratulates our affiliated Arizona worker rights center for its 5 years and are excited to see the future development of the organization!
Photo Courtesy of Arizona Worker Rights Center
Houston is America's forth largest city with a population a little more than two million people. Some of Houston residents are taking their concerns about unscrupulous employers in the city who stealing wages from workers to the city council. The Down with Wage Theft campaign driven by coalition of different community member from faith to labor and businesses are working together to stand up against wage theft.
The IWJ affiliated worker center in Houston, Fe y Justicia, is spear-heading the Wage Theft Campaign. Fe y Justicia created community support through rallies, collecting petition signatures, visiting council members around issues of wage theft and workers' rights to forefront of the conversation in city. The measure has gone to the city council committee hearing to help create and build a zero tolerance for wage theft. The campaign is working to urge the Houston City Council to pass an ordinace at the city-level for employers caught committing wage theft to be ineligible for city contracts.
The anti-wage theft ordinance is expected to come up for a vote on Nov. 13. In a radio report, Laurie Johnson, the Houston host for All Things on KUHF NPR on Houston said this about the anti-wage ordinance:
Any employer convicted or, or assessed an administrative penalty for, wage theft would be ineligible for city contracts. Furthermore, the city could refuse to grant any necessary permits and operating licenses to that company for two years following that conviction.
Fe y Justicia is hoping to continue to get widespread support for the ordinance. In a recent report about Wage Theft in Houston estimated that $753.2 million dollars are lost every year due to wage theft among low-wage workers. The resounding affects hurts local communities, families and other businesses when workers are short-changed. Some of the short-changed has left families unable to pay rent, utilities or to fulfill their basic necessities.
If the anti-wage theft ordinance passes, Houston would be the first city in Texas and the 2nd major metropolis in the U.S. South that would create consequences for employers who legally failed to pay their employees what they are legally owed to them.
Photo Courtesy of Fe y Justicia Worker Center
Have you ever had to check a tiny box on a job application form, disclosing any criminal record or history? Have you ever wondered if and how that tiny box impacts your prospect of finding work?
Every year, hundreds of thousands of individuals are released from incarceration, ready for a fresh start. However, disclosing one's criminal history on a job application often ends with the candidate screened out of the hiring process, regardless of qualifications. As a result, many fall into the cycle of poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity.
Chicago-based worker center, the Center for Racial Justice (CRJ), is pushing to eliminate "the box" from appearing on job application in the states of Illinois. CRJ's efforts are part of national campaign, "Ban the Box," to remove the criminal history check box that often results in employers discriminating against persons with criminal backgrounds.
By "banning the box," formerly incarcerated individuals will not be forced to disclose their history on application forms. These candidates will be placed on equal footing as other applicants. Without "the box," their application is more likely to be judged based on professional merit rather than personal history.
CRJ, a new addition to the IWJ worker center network, committed to helping unemployed and formerly incarcerated black workers get good jobs. They understand devastating effects "the box" on the employment of African-American. CRJ members and volunteers held a phone bank on Oct. 15 to raise up support for a petition asking Illinois legislators to introduce a bill that would remove the criminal convictions question from all job applications.
CRJ recently celeberated a victory in the "Ban the Box" campaign when Gov. Quinn agreed to issue an administrative order to "ban the box," from application forms for state jobs. CRJ is pushing to see similiar moves in the private sector and all public jobs.
To learn more about the "Ban the Box" campaign and to get involved, email DeAngelo Bester, the Executive Director of CRJ
CRJ hosted a special screening of "Slavery by Another Name," a documentary on mass incarceration and its impact on black communities this month.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY), a worker center organizing restaurant workers New York City, launched their “Hungry for Justice” fundraising campaign last month. ROC-NY hopes the campaign will raise $25,000 by Sept. 21, to support the center's work to raise wages and improve working conditions for restaurant workers in the Big Apple.
Worker leaders with ROC-NY are hungry for justice. Hunger among workers is a constant reminder than seven of the 10 lowest paying jobs are in the restaurant industry. But the that hunger also inspires and drives the ROC-NY community to continue their struggle for healthy and safe work environments, equal opportunities, job security and dignity.
“ROC-NY has been an accessory, supporter, organizer, and above all, an aid in our struggle to get the changes we want in the industry. They’ve helped us form a strong group as unity is what gives us strength,” said Ignacio Viellgas, a pantry cook at the Capital Grille in one of the videos on Hungry for Justice Campaign.
In the last 10 years, ROC-NY reported significant economic, race and gender inequality in the city’s restaurant industry. Surveys indicated 60 percent of restaurant workers are earning poverty wages, and more than 80 percent of workers feel they’re at risk of injury in the workplace. Women are paid more than 20 percent less than their male counterparts with the same qualifications. Women of color are paid nearly 30 percent less than their male counterparts, according to one report.
ROCY-NY has organized around the Paid Sick Days bill in NYC since 2009, and just recently a version of the bill became law (though it did exclude some workers from the coverage, and ROC-NY plans to continue to organize for paid sick days that apply to all workers).
ROC-NY is a member of the growing IWJ network of worker centers. It is also part of ROC-United, a national network of worker centers organizing to improve wages and working conditions for the nation's restaurant workers in cities all across the U.S. ROC-NY was the first worker center of its kind in the ROC network.
The financial contributions from this campaign will help ROC-NY continue to support campaigns like Capital Grille workers’ organizing efforts.
On August 26, the Workers’ Center of Central New York rallied outside the New York State Fair calling out the workplace injustices dairy workers in the industry face every day. Often these workers suffer from wage theft, frequent workplace injuries, no access to healthcare, and crowded and substandard housing.
The Workers’ Center of Central New York hopes the really will help support legislation similar to Farm Worker Fair Labor Practices Act, even though the bill was blacked for a vote in the New York state. The bill provides overtime pay, unemployment insurance, and collective bargaining rights for farm workers.
New York is largest producer of Greek yogurt in the country, but the dairy workers who help produce the raw materials lack basic workers rights. Not covered by under the Federal Labor Standards Act, farm workers average 12 hour day with no paid overtime, no day of rest, and no right to form a union.
“All of the other workers, in the 1930s, got those rights. The farm workers were excluded and also domestic workers. If you see the conditions under which the dairy workers and farm workers live today, you can see it’s like they were frozen in time. So that tells us that labor protections are very, very important, “ said Worker Center Organizer Rebecca Fuentes in a local news report.
Photo Courtesy of Central New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO
Early this February, el Centro de Trabajadores Unidoes en Lucha (CTUL) launched the premiere of their mobile museum to highlight the exploitation at Target stores. The retail giant contracts their cleaning services with retail cleaning companies like Diversified Maintenance. The museum was publically displayed on Feb. 7 in front of the Target Corporation Headquarters. CTUL held a press conference to report the evidence of workplace violations in the cleaning of Target stores.
Cleaning services fight for the contracts at big box retail stores like Target. Contractors try to offer the lowest bid to the store, and workers end up bearing the burdens of those low bids. The mobile museum featured facts about federal lawsuits, health and safety violations and the lack of proper safety training that Diversified Maintenance Systems have been cited for by Department of Labor, OSHA, and the employees working for Diversified Maintenance. Some workers alleged working 56-60 hours per week at Diversified Maintenance without receiving their full overtime pay. Diversified Maintenance Systems is one of Target's largest contractors. Based on these violations and worker claims, the company's labor practices are not inline with Target's principles that they stated in their Target's 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report.
We will not knowingly work with any company that does not comply with our ethical standards…
Standards of Vendor Engagement
5) We seek business partners who do not require a work week that exceeds local laws or business customs and who do not require a week of more than 48 hours, plus a maximum of 12 hours overtime, on a regularly scheduled basis. Workers shall have at least one in seven days off.
6) Fair wages and benefits must be provided in compliance with local laws; in addition, we encourage our partners to improve wages and benefits to address the basic needs of workers and their families.
The mobile museum also highlights the stories and faces of the retail cleaning workers, striving for justice in their workplace with the help CTUL.
After a sub-contractor at University of Wisconsin — Whitewater cheated workers by stealing their wages. Two workers went to the Workers' rights Center in Madison for help claiming the wages that had been stolen. The Workers' Rights Center in Madison after hearing the two of the workers stories contacted the employer to ask him to voluntarily pay the employees their due earned wages.
In spite of WRC attempt to reach out to the employer, the workers had to file a formal complaint with the Wisconsin Department of Workplace Development. They did so after the employer refused to the settle with the two men. The company was being contracted to paint the UW Whitewater campus, which is classified as a state government agency. Investigators discovered the two workers were supposed to be payed a prevailing wage. Under federal and state law, governmental agencies must pay trades workers, at minimum, the prevailing wage of similar jobs pay in a given area. This practice is to discourage outside contractors who provide lower wages from taking jobs from local workers unless they seek to provide a prevailing wage.
The non-unionized subcontractor (working under a unionized contractor) is expected to pay prevailing wages according to the contract, but did not and paid below the contract. The investigation lead to the discovery of the discrepincy.
After a lengthy battle, the two employees received prevailing wage settlement checks, totaling $17,000-the amount the contractor should have paid them in the first place. The two men came to pick up their checks from the Workers' Rights Center in Madison shortly before Christmas, 2012.
Low-wage workers can cheer today! On Thursday, Jan. 17, the City Council in Chicago unanimously passed an anti-wage theft ordinance. Recognized as one of strongest wage theft ordinances in the country, and the second of its kind nationally, the new ordinance could revoke business licenses for businesses found guilty of wage theft. Worker advocates attest that this new ordinance will protect vulnerable and defend ethical business.
As a collaboration between Arise Chicago and Alderman Ameya Pawar of the 47th ward, the new ordinance provides a much needed tool to crack down on wage theft in Chicago and ensure employers are obeying labor laws on behalf of their employees or face the consequences. It is estimated that $7.3 million of workers' wages are stolen by employers every week in Cook County alone according to the University of Illinois-Chicago's Center for Urban Economic Development.
"When workers receive their full paycheck, they spend more in their local communities, the government collects more taxes, and law-abiding businesses do not suffer from unfair competition," said Adam Kader, worker center director, in a press release this week.
This passed anti-wage theft ordinance was endorsed by the National Employment Law Project and approved by the Committee on License and Consumer Protection earlier this week and it makes Chicago the largest city in the country with an anti-wage theft legislation. Mayor Rahm Emanuel who helped co-sponsored the ordinance has pledged to sign it.
Check out ARISE Chicago's website for more information, and be sure to send them a "thank you" on social media!