Archive for June, 2014
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
My job as a family child care provider for the past 21 years is the lowest paying job I have ever had. I put my earnings right back into my business and what is left is not a lot. But the best part of this job is working with children. It is extremely rewarding to see all of your work reciprocated back to you instantly.
Being a part of the SEIU Local 99 Family Child Care Providers Union is one of the best moves I could have made. It helped me see that we are stronger together. Together, we can fight injustice and win.
Over the years, I have shared conversations with state and federal lawmakers that have led to bills, and finally to laws that have made life easier for people in my community and parents of the children in my care. I have stood in solidarity with other providers and shared stories about the wonderful work we do with legislators and even with our governor.
Women make up nearly two-thirds of all low wage workers in this country. When we come together and bargain collectively, we can raise wages and gain valuable benefits that can improve our lives and the lives of our families. For example, child care and home care workers in states across the nation have come together as members of SEIU to secure raises that lift themselves and their families out of poverty.
I have seen doors that were once bolted shut, slowly crack open and are now opening a bit wider. Together, women in a seemingly “common” position such as child care provider can do uncommonly great things that make life better for all of us and our families.
About The Author: Tonia McMillian is a California child care provider and working mom.
This blog post first appeared on SEIU.org on Wednesday, June 18, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Uber, the fast-growing ride-sharing service based in San Francisco, has a reputation for not caring much about its reputation, glibly dismissing protests by cab drivers, scrutiny from regulators and complaints from customers as its annual revenues have soared to over $200 million.
But Uber’s cavalier attitude towards critics may now be getting the company in trouble with its own drivers, dozens of whom protested outside Uber’s corporate headquarters this week after CEO Travis Kalanick made public comments in which hemused about replacing human drivers with robots:
The reason Uber could be expensive is because you’re not just paying for the car—you’re paying for the other dude in the car. When there’s no other dude in the car, the cost of taking an Uber anywhere becomes cheaper than owning a vehicle. So the magic there is, you basically bring the cost below the cost of ownership for everybody, and then car ownership goes away.
This isn’t the first time Uber has had trouble with “the other dude in the car.” In May, nearly 100 drivers protested the high commission rates Uber collects, claiming that Uber’s pursuit of higher profit margins leaves many drivers working for less than minimum wage. And in April, nearly 250 drivers in Seattle signed “Show of Interest” cards distributed by Teamsters Local 117, announcing their intention to form a union or join the Teamsters-affiliated taxi drivers’ union.
These organizing efforts pose a serious threat to Uber’s bottom line: Critics argue that the company has based much of its success on undercutting unionized and regulated taxi services in major American cities. If its drivers demand higher wages, that model could be put in jeopardy.
This blog originally appeared in In These Times on June 18, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
At Uber, ‘The Other Dude in The Car Demands Some Respect
About the Author: Ethan Corey is an In These Times Summer 2014 editorial intern.
Thursday, June 19th, 2014
The labor federation Change to Win
is urging President Barack Obama to do more to help low-wage workers employed by private contractors at federal installations.
Yesterday, some 50 workers and supporters involved with Change to Win’s Good Jobs Nationcampaign rallied at the entrance to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air & Space Museum. Chanting “$10.10 is not enough,” the group called on Obama to issue a new executive order that would require private businesses with government contracts to negotiate union agreements with their workers.
Earlier this year, Obama issued a similar order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contractors, following agitation by Good Jobs Nation. Now, the campaign is hoping that Obama will go further; according to Good Job Nation organizer Paco Fabian, an executive order encouraging union organizing has long been a goal of some labor activists, who point to cases where some anti-union government contractors have suppressed union organizing campaigns using public funds.
ABOUT THIS 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.
More information about Bruce Vail
This article originally appeared in In These Times on June 13, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Next week, people from all over the country will convene in Washington, D.C.—and many more will log in to participate virtually—at a White House Summit on Working Families. Under the banner of “creating a 21st century workplace that works for all Americans,” we’ll hear from businesses, economists, advocates, workers and, yes, labor leaders to discuss policy solutions that can make a difference in the lives of working families. It’s an important conversation and I look forward to seeing great examples of companies that give their employees meaningful benefits, fathers who take family leave when a new baby arrives and communities coming together to support workers struggling to get by.
But when the speeches are done, the focus of national news wanes and the participants all go home, it won’t have been enough to have had a successful discussion about important topics. We have to be ready to build on the momentum of the important discussion and turn these from exceptional examples into real, everyday practices. It’s crucial that we help working families who are quickly falling further and further behind. This is a challenge that is personal to me, because it wasn’t that long ago when I was piecing together part-time jobs, struggling to find my way into work that would lead to a career. And in my early years of working to help clerical workers organize to gain better wages and benefits, I saw firsthand how intimidating it can be for workers to even ask for a better deal, much less demand one.
To help working families thrive, three areas stand out as critical. And while I look forward to talking about them next week, I’m also looking forward to acting on a robust agenda to strengthen women and working families in the weeks and months that follow.
Support working families by creating equal opportunity for women. It’s almost a cliché, but the stubborn reality is that women are the sole or primary breadwinners for a record 40% of all U.S. households. If we brought women’s earnings in line with what men earn, working women below the poverty line would see a bump in average yearly wages of about $11,600, enough to make a huge difference in their lives, according to the National Women’s Law Center. Moreover, women face pregnancy discrimination, and also hold a majority of the jobs that do not offer paid leave or paid sick leave. Basic paid leave laws would ensure workers don’t have to choose between staying home to recover and having their pay reduced.
Lift working families out of poverty by demanding a fair deal for low-wage workers. Over the past few years, low-wage workers have been among the fastest growing segments of the job market, and until we get them a better deal, the United States will continue to swell the ranks of the working poor. This means getting Walmart workers enough working hours and predictable schedules to earn better than $25,000 a year, with basic benefits. It means helping to raise the hourly wage for tipped workers—three-quarters of whom are women. The wage—$2.13—has remained the same for more than two decades. It means raising the minimum wage high enough so that workers do not have to rely on government assistance to raise their families.
Create better economic opportunity for all though collective action. Unions have been a frequent and convenient target for Big Business, politicians and others in the recent past, but the reality is that collective action and joining a union have resulted in higher wages and better conditions for workers across the board. In fact, union membership is one way women in the workforce are moving toward achieving wage parity with men.
And our impact extends beyond the ranks of our members: Through collective advocacy, we’ve helped enact policies that give all workers a fairer shake as well, whether it has been raising local and state minimum wages or increasing access to health care and family friendly policies like the Family Medical Leave Act. I applaud the companies that are paving the way to a better future for their employees, but let’s be clear: History shows us that massive changes that benefit workers are achieved when workers organize, speak up and demand it.
So when the summit convenes next week, I will be honored to be at the table because millions of women and men who are working incredibly hard to provide for their families deserve to be heard.
They also deserve our active, collective support. And that’s exactly what the labor movement is prepared to do. We will continue to stand up for all workers so that everyone has a voice on the job to improve conditions for working families.
This blog originally appeared on AFL-CIO on June 18, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Beyond Summit, Sustained Focus Needed For Working Women and Families
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
A $15 minimum wage for Seattle has been in the works for a while, and now the City Council has made it official:
The unanimous vote of the nine-member Council, after months of discussion by a committee of business and labor leaders convened by Mayor Ed Murray, will give low-wage workers here — in incremental stages, with different tracks for different sizes of business — the highest big-city minimum in the nation.“Even before the Great Recession a lot of us have started to have doubt and concern about the basic economic promise that underpins economic life in the United States,” said Sally J. Clark, a Council member. “Today Seattle answers that challenge,” she added. “We go into uncharted, unevaluated territory.”
Even socialist Council member Kshama Sawant voted for the increase despite having pushed to eliminate some exceptions and speed the path to $15; under the plan that passed Monday, $15 an hour won’t be fully phased in until 2021, though workers at large employers that don’t provide health coverage will get there by 2017. A strong majority of Seattle voters support the raise.
This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on June 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
Yes. Yes to a union. Yes to a collective voice for adjunct faculty. Yes to a better education for students. Yes to forming the biggest adjunct union in Boston.
That’s what happened on May 15 in a small room filled with a lot of excitement at the National Labor Relations Board in Boston, as adjunct faculty from Northeastern University (NU) and representatives from the National Labor Relations board gathered to count the votes for Northeastern adjuncts’ union election. And the adjuncts won, a huge victory in the ongoing adjunct organizing campaigns in Boston and across the country.
After applause and hugs, Ted Murphy, an adjunct faculty member for 8 years at Northeastern, had one word to describe his feelings about the victory: “Ecstatic.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Murphy added.
The adjuncts at Northeastern are now part of a group of more than 21,000 adjunct and contingent faculty who have organized under the banner of Adjunct Action/SEIU. Today’s vote count for Northeastern University, one of the largest private universities in the U.S., is the fourth time in a month adjuncts across the nation have voted to join SEIU and to improve conditions and draw attention to higher education’s increasing reliance on contingent faculty.
Adjunct Organizing Demonstrates Democracy In Action
On May 14, adjuncts at Mills College in Oakland, California voted to form a union with SEIU/Adjunct Action. In late April, adjuncts at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD, and Howard University in Washington, D.C. voted to form a union and join SEIU Local 500.
It was a focused democracy in action as ballots were counted at the NLRB after a strong campaign by the adjunct faculty at NU, who worked tirelessly over the past several months to fight for some basic, but important changes: job security, more equitable pay, professional development opportunities, and the chance to give their students the best education they can.
The ballots are checked, the numbered ballots read off the names list. Ballots 451, 477, 146. “Is the ballot in the blue envelope?” “We’re still 45 minutes from the ballots being counted.” Quiet chatter, focused counting. Democracy in action. A group gathered around the table as the green ballots were counted in batches of 50. Yes. Yes. More yes votes.
Cal Ramsdell, an adjunct faculty member in School of Business who has taught for 15 years, watched closely as the count progressed. “I got involved because Northeastern University’s mission is student-centered education, and adjuncts are a major part of this mission,” said Ramsdell, who served on the organizing committee. “Adjuncts are a major part of the day in day out of the university; we’re working with students, and are devoted to our work, but at the same time make a lower salary and have higher course load than full-time faculty.”
And so it went. Months of passionate conversations, meetings, emails, and advocacy distilled into piles of simple paper ballots. And in the end, the yeas had it.
Ramsdell hugged her fellow adjunct faculty when victory was announced, tears in her eyes. “At first I was afraid, and then there was just one day when I decided this was a good fight,” she said. “Sometimes there are times in life when it’s just a good fight to fight. And I put my name out there, and that was the turning point.”
Bill Shimer, an adjunct in the School of Business said the campaign started as a series of individual stories and experiences that once strung together formed a powerful narrative and a force of change.
Talking to fellow adjuncts throughout the campaign Shimer said he began to realize “that my story is their story. My concerns were their concerns, and there was a sense of a solidarity building. We grew from a nucleus into an entire community.”
Troy Neves a sophomore at NU and the campus worker justice co-chair of the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) came to the vote count to show his support for the adjunct faculty. The PSA and other students showed strong support for NU adjuncts throughout the campaign. “It’s been amazing to see this from the beginning of the year,” Neves said. “It has been truly inspiring, and I’m really excited to continue to working with our adjuncts.”
Many of the adjuncts emphasized how the union would benefit their students and the larger educational community at Northeastern. “The better adjunct faculty are treated, the better we can serve the students,” said Abby Machson-Carter, a contingent faculty who teaches writing at NU.
“I work at a couple of different schools, and this effort is going to raise standards for adjuncts all over the city. Instructors like me are going to work with dignity and feel like we’re part of the university and that our voice matters,” Machson-Carter added.
Part-time faculty at dozens of schools are working to unite with their colleagues in SEIU, and many are scheduled to vote soon or have filed for union elections, including adjuncts at the University of the District of Columbia (DC), the San Francisco Art Institute in the Bay Area, Laguna College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, Seattle University in Washington State, Marist College in New York State and Hamline University and Macalester College in Minnesota. The Northeastern adjunct faculty join their colleagues at Tufts University and Lesley University in forming a group of 2,000 adjuncts in Boston who are unionized with SEIU/Adjunct Action.
Ramsdell emphasized the sense of community the experience of forming a union has created, for the entire university. “A stable Northeastern adjunct faculty can only strengthen Northeastern, and benefit the entire community,” she said “It’s a win-win all around.”
Join the Adjunct Action Network
The Adjunct Action Network is an online platform and community for all adjuncts — union members or not — to organize and fight for improvements on campus and advocate for policies that raise standards in higher education.
Sign up here to join and help build a movement for educational justice across America.
Keep up with the Adjunct Action campaign by following them on Facebook and Twitter.
This article was originally printed on SEIU on May 27, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
Author: Mariah Quinn, Adjunct Action
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
More than 1,000 United Steelworkers (USW) members, their families, allies, lawmakers and U.S. Steel Corp. officials rallied Monday outside the company’s Lone Star, Texas, plant to spotlight the dumping by foreign manufacturers of specialty steel products vital to energy production and to urge the U.S. Commerce Department to enforce the nation’s anti-dumping trade laws.
Failing to fully enforce our trade laws puts more than 500,000 American jobs on the line and risks outsourcing the benefits of America’s energy boom.
One USW member urged Washington to create a level playing field for the nation’s steel industry:
We cannot compete in an unfair market. We need our trade laws enforced. We make the best steel in the world. As long as Washington enforces the rules, we can compete with anyone.
The products are Oil Country Tubular Goods (OCTG), and the U.S. industry is being squeezed by dumped imports from South Korea and other nations.
There is overwhelming evidence that these foreign OCTG products are being illegally dumped in the U.S. market—at prices below fair value and in deceptive ways designed to circumvent international trade laws.
Last year, the USW and U.S. steel manufacturers filed a case with the Commerce Department and a ruling is expected later this month or early July.
Click here and tell your elected officials you’re counting on them to stick up for America’s workers when the Commerce Department makes its critical ruling in the OCTG trade case.
Hat tip to the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) blog. Learn more about the OCTG crisis from the AAM and from the USW.
Rallies are scheduled for June 16 in Fairfield, Ala., and June 23 in sites to be determined in Minnesota and Virginia.
This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO on June 3, 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.
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
In 2008, political commentators made a lot of fuss about “Walmart Moms,” a demographic that was supposedly key to the election. The Walmart Mom was an updated, service-economy version of the blue-collar worker: Someone without a college degree, working and raising a family, usually white, possibly religious. She was courted heavily by both parties and perceived, at least in recent decades, to be swinging right.
Six years later, the real-life Walmart Moms are going on strike. According to a Thursday conference call hosted by theOrganization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), hundreds of mothers who work at Walmart stores throughout the country will begin walking off the job on Friday, a week before the company’s shareholders meet in Bentonville, Arkansas. The action will culminate in a nationwide strike on Wednesday, June 4.
Linda Haluska and Lashanda Myrick are two of those mothers, both tired of struggling to support their children on what Walmart pays. “We are Walmart moms; we’re not some political category,” said Haluska, who’s worked at the Glenwood, Illinois store for 8 years, on the call. “We’re real people who are struggling to create happy stable homes for our kids.” Walmart moms, in other words, want politicians and pundits to listen to what they really need, not pander to their perceived political biases.
Bethany Moreton, author of To Serve God and Wal-Mart, noted in a 2010 piece that Walmart itself worked to create and maintain the “Walmart Mom” identity. In her book, Moreton points out that the company’s supposed commitment to “family values,” which it expresses in both its marketing and its internal messaging, came directly from its early employees, many of them wives and mothers who’d never worked outside the home before. These early “Walmart Moms” accepted low wages for service work that they understood as part of a Christian service ethic. Caring for customers, caring for coworkers, and caring for one’s family all went together. Yet in 2014 America, the company’s faced repeated charges that it discriminates against the women it employs and retaliates against workers who dare to speak out about their treatment on the job.
Myrick, who plans on striking in addition to traveling from her home in Denver, Colorado to Bentonville to deliver her message at the shareholders’ meeting, has had enough of the company’s pretense of caring. She has two children—an 18-year-old son who graduates from high school next Tuesday, and a 12-year-old daughter—and, she tells In These Times, her meager paycheck forces her to make impossible decisions about priorities.
“A parent shouldn’t have to make a choice of who’s going to be able to get shoes this week and who’s not going to be able to get shoes this week,” she says. “I teach my kids to stand up for what they believe in, so I don’t want to show them that I’m a hypocrite by not standing up for something that I believe in. [I’m] showing them that I believe in this and I’m not worried about retaliation, I’m not worried about anything to come my way.”
The tipping point for her came this November, when one of her coworkers sent her an email showing pictures of the food drive at a Canton, Ohio Walmart. Bins were set out at the store asking for workers to “Please donate food … so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.” Myrick says, “My thought was, ‘Why would we hold a food drive for our employees when clearly [Walmart has] enough money to make sure all its employees will have a decent Thanksgiving?’ That right there really touched my heart and made me say, ‘I need to stand up, because this doesn’t make sense for us to be working for a billion-dollar company and we can’t even feed our families.'”
Liza Featherstone, author of Selling Women Short: The Landmark Battle for Workers’ Rights at Wal-Mart, noted to me in a recent interview that Walmart’s caring culture has, in the past, helped to insulate its workers from its low-wage regime, as they helped to support each other when money became tight. In recent years, however, that protection has slowly eroded. When the company began, after all, many of its workers were married to someone working full-time; the old norms of gendered work meant that women were not expected to be breadwinners, and jobs that were done by women paid less overall. Those jobs also tend to require skills, emotional and interpersonal, which women are usually socialized to possess but are not considered “hard skills” warranting better wages. Now, though, the company is not only the nation’s largest employer of women but its largest private employer, period. That means a whole lot more people are depending on those low-wage jobs to support their families—while, Ellen Bravo of Family Values at Work noted on Thursday’s call, our work-family policies are still “set in a Mad Men era.”
That means more and more workers are starting to doubt that Walmart shares their values, after all. Featherstone said that during interviews for her book, which documents the Dukes v. Wal-Mart sex discrimination suit, plaintiff Edith Arana told her that “Walmart is like a bad boyfriend. They tell you exactly what you want to hear and that’s how you get caught up, and you just keep coming back.” Just the willingness of women to file a lawsuit against the company for sex discrimination, Featherstone said, was a huge step forward—and the strikes, which began in 2012, surprised the country.
The company made a few changes in the past year, as strikes and protests have continued to buffet it. After worker-shareholders introduced a proposal to change the company’s policy toward pregnant workers, Walmart issued a new one this March, saying that pregnant employees “may be eligible for reasonable accommodation” if they have a temporary disability caused by their pregnancy. Women’s groups and workers said that the company’s earlier policy, which did not allow for such accommodation, violated federal law. The corporation also recently determined that workers can search for available shifts in order to pick up more hours.
But, Haluska says, those changes aren’t enough. She and the other members of OUR Walmart are demanding that the company pay its workers at least $25,000 a year, create full-time jobs and stop its retaliation against employees who go on strike or speak up at work. In addition, activists are building a campaign asking shareholders to vote against Rob Walton, scion of the billionaire family that founded the company, as chairman of the board. Instead, their resolution, which will be introduced and backed by union funds, calls for an independent chair.
It’s going to take a lot of people standing up to fight, but Myrick does believe that Walmart will eventually change when they realize OUR Walmart is not going to back down.
When asked what she would say if, on her trip to Bentonville, she got a chance to sit down with new Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, famously a former hourly associate himself, Myrick responds, “I would ask him where his morals are.”
This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on May 29, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is a staff writer at In These Times and the co-host of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast. Her writings on labor, social movements, gender, media, and student debt have been published in The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Prospect, AlterNet, and many other publications, and she is a regular commentator for radio and television.
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
A new report from Demos details how America’s retail businesses keep millions of working women and their families in poverty. The report, Retail’s Choice: How Raising Wages and Improving Schedules for Women in the Retail Industry Would Benefit America, shows how low pay, erratic scheduling and weak benefits have a disproportionate affect on women, who make up the bulk of the retail workforce. One of the purposes of the report, according to Demos, is to shift the debate about gender inequity away from female executives to the lowest-paid positions in the most common occupation in America. Demos estimates that retail industry practices lead to more than $40 billion in lost wages annually.
The report’s author, Amy Traub, directly challenges the retail industry to address the problem:
The nation’s large retailers are in a position to improve the lives of millions of America’s working women and their families—boosting the national economy and creating jobs while also advancing their own outlook for sales growth. Our research shows how improving scheduling, giving workers the hours they need and raising pay to the modest level of $25,000 a year for full-time work can help women succeed.
The report notes that more than 1.3 million women in the retail industry face poverty despite having jobs and that establishing a wage floor of $25,000 for full-time, year-round workers would raise most of those women and their families out of poverty. Additionally, such an increase would benefit many male workers, would boost GDP between $6.9 billion and $8.9 billion and create more than 100,000 new jobs.
Read the full report.
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on June 3, 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.
Wednesday, June 4th, 2014
Chances are looking good that Arkansas voters will have the chance to vote on a minimum wage increase come November, Greg Sargent reports:
Dems organizing the initiative tell me they have now amassed at least 10,000 more signatures than the approximately 62,000 required — which, if true, suggests they have a shot at getting them certified, though this is far from a done deal.“We’re in the 72,000 range, and we still have some volunteer efforts going on in the state, so we’re going to add more on top of that,” Robert McLarty, petition director for the Arkansas Interfaith Alliance, a lead group organizing the effort, tells me. “There could be a challenge from somebody, but we are confident we will get this on the ballot.”
The increase in question, taking the Arkansas minimum wage to $8.50 by 2017, is pretty puny by the standards of recent increases like Seattle’s $15 or the $10.10 passed in a growing number of states, but it’s also substantially better than the state’s current minimum wage of $6.25 an hour, which applies to workers at some small businesses, or the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
Having the minimum wage on the ballot could also have electoral implications. Conservative Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor is facing a tough challenge, and he has endorsed the $8.50 minimum wage (though raising the federal minimum to $10.10 is just too much for him). Getting people out to vote for above-poverty wages could help Pryor defeat Rep. Tom Cotton.
This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on Jume 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.