Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for January, 2014

How 'Do What You Love' Does Us Wrong

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Laura Clawson“Do what you love” sounds like a great mantra. But, in an important essay, Miya Tokumitsu argues that the problems with “do what you love” extend beyond the privilege embedded in the idea that it’s possible for everyone to do that or the erasure of people for whom survival requires doing things they don’t love:

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace. […]Ironically, DWYL reinforces exploitation even within the so-called lovable professions where off-the-clock, underpaid, or unpaid labor is the new norm: reporters required to do the work of their laid-off photographers, publicists expected to Pin and Tweet on weekends, the 46 ?percent of the workforce expected to check their work email on sick days. Nothing makes exploitation go down easier than convincing workers that they are doing what they love.

The whole thing is worth a read—even if, like me, you do love what you do.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on January 25, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

Retired Medical Technologist Gets a $600/Month Subsidy Thanks to New Healthcare Law

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

seiu-org-logoLarry Daniels, a 62-year-old medical technologist from Paintsville, Ky., was a few years away from qualifying for Medicare, so each month he paid $732 to keep his health insurance from his past employer through COBRA.

Read the previous blog post on Daniels from October HERE

It was hard coming up with that money every month, so Daniels was thrilled when he found out that he might be eligible for subsidies that would reduce the amount he paid for his plan from Kentucky’s health insurance exchange. “It’s nice not to worry about pinching pennies in order to be able to afford that monthly premium,” he said.

He ended up qualifying for a $600/month subsidy, which covers the cost of his platinum plan entirely. “And its better insurance than I had before,” said Daniels. “My deductible used to be $1,500, and now it’s only $500.”

Last fall, Daniels helped set up an information booth on the new healthcare law at the well-attended Kentucky Apple Festival. “It make me feel proud that I might have helped hundreds or even thousands of people at the festival sign up for health insurance,” he said.

For millions of American’s, the day has finally arrived when they can visit a doctor without worrying about the costs. And for many others like Daniels, their quality of life will be vastly improved by not having to pay outrageous premiums for the plans they desperately need.

“When I got that card in the mail, it was the greatest thing I’ve felt in a long time,” Daniels said. “I’ve always said that from the moment we get out of bed in the morning, our lives are deeply affected by politics. And this is one of the instances where I feel proud of both the state of Kentucky and the lawmakers who passed the healthcare law.”

This article was originally printed on SEIU on January 17, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: SEIU Communications

Gelernter on In re Wal-Mart Wage and Hour Litigation FAA Case

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Paul SecundaThanks to Lise Gelernter (Teaching Faculty and Director, Externship Programs at SUNY Buffalo Law School) for bringing to my attention this interesting arbitration case decided by the Ninth Circuit on December 17th of last year and providing some commentary.

The case is In Re Wal-Mart Wage and Hour Litigation or Carolyn Burton v. Class Counsel.  The Ninth Circuit’s summarizes the case thusly:

[T]he panel held that a non-appealability clause in an arbitration agreement that eliminates all federal court review of arbitration awards, including review under § 10 of the Federal Arbitration Act, is not enforceable.

Here is Lise’s commentary:

The court reasoned that if the grounds for vacatur of an award cannot be expanded by contract beyond what is permitted by the FAA §§10-11 (per Hall Street), a contract cannot eliminate the federal judicial review of arbitration awards that is available under the FAA.  The Ninth Circuit cited to a Second Circuit case that had a similar holding:

Since federal courts are not rubber stamps, parties may not, by private agreement, relieve them of their obligation to review arbitration awards for compliance with § 10(a)” of the FAA.  Hoeft v. MVL Grp., Inc., 343 F.3d 57, 63–64 (2d Cir.2003), overruled on other grounds by Hall St. Assocs., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 128 S.Ct. 1396, 170 L.Ed.2d 254 (2008).

This creates some tension with the United States Supreme Court’s strong push for honoring almost any term of an arbitration agreement, but since these holdings are grounded in the specific terms of the FAA, perhaps they are a bit more safe from reversal or even disagreement among other circuits.

Lise points out that you can obtain this Ninth Circuit case by using the following link and selecting the Carolyn Burton case.

This article was originally printed on Workplace Prof Blog on January 20, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Paul Secunda is a professor of law at Marquette University Law School.  Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He co-authored the treatise Understanding Employment Law and the case book Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law.  Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media.  He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country.

Public Employees Are Leading the Way on Making Government Work Better

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallDespite being one of the most frequently cited boogeymen of right-wing extremists and the target of bipartisan policies that cut their pay and benefits, government employees are very frequently part of the solution and are leading the way in innovating on new and better ways to work with management and improve services and costs. A new report released by the Jobs With Justice Education Fund, Improving Government Through Labor-Management Collaboration and Employee Ingenuity, written by Erin Johansson, research director at Jobs With Justice, provides plenty of examples of this very phenomenon.

The report focuses on examples of government employees at the federal, state and local level who have found innovative ways to find efficiencies, improve or maintain customer service in the face of fiscal woes, reduce health care costs, train a quality workforce and proactively address major policy shifts. Several of the examples detailed in the report include:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration and National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) working together to successfully roll out new technology at 17 of 20 air traffic control centers, saving millions of dollars in software development costs.
  • The Naval Sea Systems Command and AFL-CIO Metal Trades Department implementing a system for improving productivity that proved successful enough at reducing inefficiencies that it was expanded to all four shipyards.
  • Charlotte County Public Schools partnering with its unions to tackle rising health care costs by creating a self-funded health plan with a free clinic for employees and their families.
  • The state of Michigan and the UAW employing “lean techniques” to reduce lobby wait times for social services clients from three hours to 30 minutes.
  • The Ohio State University partnering with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) to encourage employee participation in a wellness program, which led to a quadrupling of union member participation.

The report’s authors conclude:

“All of these cases give us hope that we are entering a new era in which labor-management relations lead the way to both improved public services and improved work-life experiences for public servants. The status quo is no longer sustainable for workers, employers and taxpayers. We urge all government officials and union leaders to read these cases and catch the wave.”

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on January 23, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Maryland Unions Hit Jobs Jackpot with New Casinos

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Bruce VailLabor unions in the Washington, D.C. area got an early Christmas present December 20, when Maryland state officials announced their approval of a plan to build a massive MGM Resorts International casino complex just a few miles from the nation’s Capitol building.

The news comes as a welcome sign of organized labor’s vitality in Maryland, which has seen falling union membership during the last decade. As of 2012, unions represented just 12.3 percent of Maryland jobholders—a decrease of 23,000 workers from the previous year.

One of Maryland labor’s responses to this challenge has been to lobby on behalf of expanded gambling long before casino construction ever takes place, usually in return for a mutually beneficial “labor peace agreement.” In the case of MGM Resorts, the gambling powerhouse received its approval from the Maryland Video Lottery Facility Location Commission with the help of an ad-hoc coalition of local labor unions, says John Boardman, an officer of D.C.-based Unite Here Local 25. He estimates that the $925 million project will generate about 2,000 temporary construction jobs and 4,000 permanent ones.

“We have a labor peace agreement with MGM, so I expect we will be moving pretty quickly to organize wall-to-wall,” Boardman tells Working In These Times. About 2,000 of the permanent casino workers are likely to be represented by Local 25, he says, with the remainder spread out among Teamsters Local 639, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 99 and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 22. Similarly, the 2,000 temporary construction jobs are expected to be filled by union members linked to the Washington, D.C. Building Trades Council (AFL-CIO), a regional alliance of 15 union locals of electricians, ironworkers, painters, plumbers and others.

As the sixth major gambling site in the state, MGM’s construction signifies the emergence of casinos in Maryland as “a billion-dollar industry,” notes James Karmel, a historian, author and gambling industry analyst. This growth has been aided in large part by the lobbying efforts of local labor, particularly where casino-friendly legislation is concerned. Unions supported a 2008 state constitutional referendum that legalized slot machine parlors; its passage prompted the opening of four such establishments throughout Maryland. And after another 2012 statewide referendum—also strongly supported by unions—granted slot machine operators the right to expand into other types of gambling and to commence 24-hour operation, an expanded Caesars Entertainment Horseshoe site began construction in Baltimore.

All this has added up to a regional gambling boom, Karmel says, with the creation of more than 9,000 permanent jobs in addition to thousands of temporary construction ones. But allying with labor is nothing new for casino companies, who have successfully negotiated deals with labor unions in other locations around the country.

“It’s logical that the big casino companies like MGM and Caesars would bring unions with them when they expand into Maryland,” because these same companies are also heavily unionized in Las Vegas and elsewhere, says Karmel. “They are used to having unions … there is a long tradition of unionization in gambling.”

Indeed, in April 2013, Working In These Times reported that Caesars had struck a deal to unionize most of its estimated 1,700 permanent casino jobs in Baltimore, paralleling its existing agreements in other cities. And Boardman expects the yet-to-be-negotiated labor contracts at MGM’s Maryland location to mirror the “middle class wages and benefits” established by the company’s labor pacts with Unite Here locals at its branches in Las Vegas. He says many MGM entry-level jobs will likely pay about $17 an hour and come with fully paid health benefits.

The opportunity for organizing is so great, in fact, that it may be causing dissension among various unions when it comes to employee coverage. For example, the November 2013 issue of The Seafarers Log, the official publication of the Seafarers International Union (SIU), reported that a joint effort between the SIU-affiliated Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Union (SEATU) and United Food & Commercial Workers Local 27 had succeeded in signing up about 2,500 new union members working at the expanded slot parlors. Sources indicate that some local unions regard SEATU as an intruder into their own jurisdictions. (Representatives from SIU and UFCW declined to comment for this story.)

For the most part, however, with labor peace agreements now in place for Maryland’s two large new casinos, leaders are counting the boom as a success. Fred Mason, President of the Maryland State and District of Columbia AFL-CIO, says the growth is a good example of the kind of gains that can be made when unions engage politicians and the public in job-creation initiatives.

“It’s creating jobs and pumping money into the economy generally,” he says. “And, of course, it is important that these are good-paying union jobs.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on January 8, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Charter Cheerleaders Reject Accountability

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Laura ClawsonA couple new entries in the charter school hall of horrors. In New York City:

A whopping 80% of special-needs kids who enroll as kindergartners in city charter schools leave by the time they reach third grade, a report by the Independent Budget Office released Thursday shows.

In Columbus, Ohio, 17 charter schools closed in 2013:

Nine of the 17 schools that closed in 2013 lasted only a few months this past fall. When they closed, more than 250 students had to find new schools. The state spent more than $1.6 million in taxpayer money to keep the nine schools open only from August through October or November.But while 2013 was unusual, closings are not rare. A Dispatch analysis of state data found that 29 percent of Ohio’s charter schools have shut, dating to 1997 when the publicly funded but often privately run schools became legal in Ohio. Nearly 400 currently are operating, about 75 of them in Columbus.

Meanwhile, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst once again released its education report card, which measures states not on their educational outcomes but on whether they have corporate education policies in place. That means you get gems like Louisiana getting a B- while Connecticut got a D+, even though Connecticut’s educational outcomes are substantially better than Louisiana’s. Hilarious, isn’t it, how the people who scream the most loudly about accountability when it comes to teachers tasked with educating the most challenged students absolutely reject accountability when it comes to their own policies?

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on January 18, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

A New Dream for Memphis Sanitation Workers

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

seiu-org-logoOn the eve of his death, Martin Luther King Jr. told a group of striking Memphis sanitation workers: “We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through.”

And that’s what Cleo Smith and other veteran Memphis sanitation workers who participated in the 1968 strike have done. After nearly 50 years, they’re closer to realizing their dreams of a dignified retirement.

Last month, Memphis City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the creation of a supplemental retirement benefit for current and future sanitation workers. Before the action, the workers only had access to Social Security upon retirement; leaving some working into their 80s because they can’t afford to retire in one of the poorest large cities in the country

The supplement retirement benefit is part of an agreement labor leaders reached recently with the mayor of Memphis. This agreement also includes a series of cost-saving measures for the sanitation department which will help fund the supplement.

It will take some time before Smith and other veteran sanitation workers receive their retirement benefits but they’re excited to have the opportunity to retire with dignity as well as honor MLK’s sacrifice.

“We’ve committed the majority of our working lives to making sure Memphis’ waste is taken care of,” Smith said. “We’ve suffered on the job injuries but pushed through year after year. Now, we’re finally getting the respect we deserve.”

This article was originally printed on SEIU on January 17, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

Author: Keiana Greene-Page

Tragic Environmental Disaster in West Virginia Should Spur TSCA Reform, Including Stronger Whistleblower Protections

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

jason zuckermanThree hundred thousand residents of Charleston, West Virginia are unable to use tap water because a chemical storage facility spilled 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MSHM), a chemical used to “clean” coal, into the Elk River.  This tragic incident highlights the need to update the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), including the TSCA’s whistleblower protection provisions.

Incredibly, the EPA and the company that contaminated Charleston’s water supply have very limited data on the health risks posed by MCHM.   And the site of the chemical spill has not been inspected since 1991.   According to theEnvironmental Defense Fund, TSCA has fundamentally failed to protect the public against harmful chemicals.  Due to a nearly impossible burden on the EPA to prove actual harm in order to control a dangerous chemical, the EPA has required testing of approximately 200 of 30,000 chemicals and has succeeded in mandating restrictions on the production or use of only five substances.  In addition, TSCA enables chemical companies to conceal safety and health data from the public  by designating all submissions to the EPA as confidential business information.

Hopefully, the chemical spill in Charleston will spur Congress to act on pending legislation that would strengthen chemical testing and regulation.  But the proposed TSCA reform legislation is missing a critical element – a much-needed update of TSCA’s weak whistleblower protection provision.

TSCA’s whistleblower protection provision ostensibly protects whistleblowers from retaliation for reporting violations relating to violations of TSCA or for assisting or participating in a proceeding to carry out the purposes of TSCA .  But the statute of limitations is just 30 days and the burden of proof for the whistleblower is higher than the burden of proof imposed on whistleblowers in most analogous whistleblower protections laws administered by the Department of Labor.

In reforming TSCA, Congress should update TSCA’s whistleblower protection provision to include the following features that have become standard in most of the whistleblower protection laws that Congress has enacted in the past decade:

  • The causation standard should be contributing factor, i.e., the whistleblower prevails by proving that protected activity was a contributing factor in the unfavorable action. A contributing factor is any factor which, alone or in connection with other factors, tends to affect in any way the outcome of the decision.
  • Once the whistleblower proves that protected conduct was a contributing factor in the adverse action, the employer can avoid liability only if it proves by clear and convincing evidence that it would have taken the same action in the absence of the employee’s protected conduct.
  • Extend the statute of limitations to at least 180 days.
  • Authorize preliminary reinstatement, i.e., the employer would be required to reinstate the whistleblower at the conclusion of an OSHA investigation finding that the employer violated the TSCA whistleblower protection provision.
  • Offer whistleblowers the option to remove their claims from the Department of Labor to federal court to try their claims before a jury.
  • Eliminate the “duty speech” loophole to ensure that employees who blow the whistle in the ordinary course of their job duties are protected.

When an independent investigation was performed of the explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia that killed 29 workers, the investigators found that a culture of fear and intimidation contributed to the explosion.  Miners were discouraged from reporting safety violations and miners who disclosed safety issues were fired or ostracized.   In order for TSCA reform to be effective, whistleblowers in the chemical industry must be protected against retaliation.

This article was originally printed on Whistleblower Protection Law Blog on January 15, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jason Zuckerman is Principal at Zuckerman Law (www.zuckermanlaw.com)  and represents whistleblowers nationwide.  He is the author of the Whistleblower Protection Law Blog (www.whistleblower-protection-law.com).

Memphis MLK Day Actions to Support Locked-Out Kellogg’s Workers

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Image: Mike HallMore than 220 workers who have been locked out of their jobs at a Kellogg’s Memphis, Tenn., plant since October will be honored and supported as part of Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day actions in Memphis.

Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) President David Durkee will march in the morning parade with a large group of locked-out BCTGM Kellogg workers from Memphis. Durkee also will be a featured speaker at an afternoon ceremony sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to commemorate King’s leadership, vision and beliefs.

Find the day’s schedule and more information here and if you’re going to be in Memphis, click here to RSVP to this event on Facebook.

The BCTGM Local 252G members who make Frosted Flakes®, Froot Loops® and other breakfast favorites were locked out as part of the drive by the $14 billion company to replace steady, middle-class, full-time jobs with casual part-time employees who would make significantly lower wages and substandard benefits.

The workers have received support from unions around the nation and the world.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on January 17, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Despite Violence, Cambodian Workers Vow To Continue Their Fight

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

Michelle ChenThough Cambodia’s days of colonialization, war and genocide may be over, the country is still wrestling with political turmoil. At the start of the new year, when workers massed in Phnom Penh to demand a fair minimum wage, the government responded with a spray of bullets.

A major garment worker strike in December capped a recent groundswell of protest in the country’s capital. After deeming insufficient the government’s proposed hike of the minimum wage to $95, labor leaders aligned with the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to shutter factories and bring large crowds into the streets, concluding a year of labor agitation that saw more than 130 strikes.

Newly reelected Prime Minister Hun Sen—a former Khmer Rouge official whose legitimacy has been questioned amid accusations of rigging last summer’s election—took the protests as an opportunity to suppress both the pro-democracy and labor movements with one fierce blow. On January 3, police responded to protesters’ bottles and petrol bombs with live ammunition, killing five and injuring dozens. More than twenty were detained, and some are reportedly still being held incommunicado.

On January 4, the government then forcibly cleared a major protest encampment in the city center; many workers have since returned to their jobs. Factories have also started to reopen after temporarily shutting down out of safety concerns. In the wake of the unrest, a coalition of rights groups, including Clean Clothes Campaign and International Labor Rights Forum, has called for an “immediate end to all violence and intimidation against workers and their representatives,” release of detained protesters and no charges against the strikers. Meanwhile, activists are continuing to push for the minimum wage to be raised to $160 a month.

Cambodian garment and shoe producers employ roughly 600,000 people in about 800 factories, and their business is eased by neoliberal trade policies with Western nations, particularly the United States. Yet these fashion powerhouses pay workers a pittance—generally as low as about $80 a month—compared to the profits they reap.

David Welsh, a Phnom Penh-based organizer with AFL-CIO’s international arm, the Solidarity Center, says the $160 minimum wage demand is the very least the garment industry could offer, especially considering some advocacy groups estimate that a living wage would be more than triple workers’ current pay. The Solidarity Center has been facilitating talks with the Labor Ministry and campaigning with local civil society groups for the detained activists. Along with other labor groups, the Solidarity Center has also raised concerns about a trend toward placing workers on so-called fixed-duration or short-term contracts, which tend to restrict job security for workers who came to factories seeking steady livelihoods.

According to Welsh, big retail brands foster a common media narrative that claims labor costs must be kept low to meet market demand. He explains that companies use the threat of pulling out of Cambodia if unions demand too much as a way to “discourage workers, to sort of say, ‘Do this or you’ll be out of the job.'”

Realistically, though, Welsh says, “The amount of work that is being put into creating an incredible supply chain internationally … with foreign investors that are getting off like bandits, frankly, off the backs of impoverished Cambodian workers—the dynamic cannot continue.”

In addition to low wages and precarious employment, activists have also recently highlighted the Cambodian garment sector’s abysmal working conditions. A recent report by the U.K.-based Labour Behind the Label campaign revealed that many garment workers are clinically malnourished from being unable to afford adequate food (which costs roughly US $2.50 per day). Labour Behind the Label also reported a mysterious phenomenon of workers fainting en masse on the job—perhaps due to chemical fumes at workplaces, perhaps due to overall poor health or psychological distress. One worker quoted in the report explained, “We are constantly at the point of fainting. We are tired and we are weak. It takes only a few small things to make us faint.”

After tragedies like the Rana Plaza factory collapse last year, the public has started heavily urging companies to advocate for workers in their overseas supply chains. In Cambodia, the suppression of protesters has heightened that pressure even further. Joining the global chorus of condemnation from unions and the UN, several Western brands, including Gap and Adidas, have publicly criticized the government crackdown and expressed support for minimum-wage reforms “based on international good practices.” H&M also recently announced a plan to negotiate a “fair living wage” for Cambodian and Bangladeshi workers—but with the caveat that the company would first pilot the pay system in just three “model factories” and work toward full implementation by 2018.

Such progress would not be unprecedented. As we reported last year, workers at the Kingsland factory in Phnom Penh revolted after their factory was suddenly shut down without paying owed back wages. Workers partnered with the Solidarity Center and local activists to broker a $200,000 settlement with the owners and their multinational clients—demonstrating that there is a labor infrastructure in place that could serve as an model for organizing and collective bargaining in Asia’s garment workforce.

Ultimately, however, labor advocates argue that piecemeal reforms will not satisfy demands for justice across a global manufacturing chain: All foreign investors must stop chasing profit margins in places with low wages and few safety regulations. Instead of this “race to the bottom”, Welsh says, brands should commit to “remaining in an industry where trade unions are allowed to operate … without reprisal, without legal suits, without detention.”

Today, he says, modern international investment still clusters in countries “where the rule of law is incredibly weak, and where people are in such dire economic straits that they find themselves forced to work under [almost] any conditions.”

This oppressive environment doesn’t just erode labor rights; it also dissolves civil society as a whole. Although December’s protests were focused on the exploitation of garment workers, Cambodians were simultaneously revolting against the multiple social injustices they have endured under authoritarian rule. Consequently, the protest rallies brought out activists representing various social sectors: trade unionists, factory laborers, sex workers, various pro-democracy demonstrators, housing rights advocates and even radical monks. Using social media to spread messages via mobile networks, these activists stirred public support for the emerging populist movement.

As Kun Sothary of the Messenger Band, a collective of women garment workers representing workers across many industries, told Asian Correspondent, “We learned of the common problems of garment workers, sex workers and farmers through our field visits … poverty, exploitation and human right violations … We are all the same victims of a free trade system and development that is not ethical.”

Overall, reorienting the ethics of Cambodia’s economy will be key to ensuring the liberty of its citizens. Though Cambodia’s strikes may be subdued for now, the turnout in the streets has shown that the driving force behind the country’s industry is people power—not brand names.

This article was originally printed in Working In These Times on January 14, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times, a contributor to Working In These Times, and an editor at CultureStrike. She is also a co-producer of Asia Pacific Forum on Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has appeared on Alternet, Colorlines.com, Ms., and The Nation, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

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