Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Alleging Labor Abuses, U.S. and Mexican Workers Call for Boycott of Driscoll’s Berries

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

in these timesDriscoll’s may be the U.S.’s most recognizable brand name on strawberry, raspberry, blueberry and blackberry cartons. Its conventional and organic berries can be found year-round everywhere from Sam’s Club to Whole Foods. To keep its berries stocked far and wide, the company uses a vast supplier network stretching from Canada to Argentina.

But some of those suppliers are coming under fire for allegedly abusing workers, in the U.S. and Mexico. One Driscoll’s grower has spent weeks embroiled in a major farmworker protest, while a nearly two-year boycott against another grower recently intensified. Workers in both disputes have called for a boycott against the company.

Poverty wages in Baja

While Driscoll’s is a family-owned company, it’s no mom-and-pop operation. According to its website, over 40,000 people are involved in its berry production worldwide. The company has a code of conduct for its suppliers, called the “Promise for Workforce Welfare,” which includes obeying minimum legal requirements and avoiding egregious labor violations like human trafficking and conditions “posing immediate risk to life or limb.” Driscoll’s says it is committed to hiring suppliers that “show a sincere commitment” to such principles.

But Bonifacio Martinez questions whether those requirements are enough. Martinez picked strawberries and blackberries destined for Driscoll’s boxes for 10 years. Now he’s a leader in the farmworker movement that erupted last month in the fields of San Quintin, in the Mexican state of Baja California. Thousands of farm laborers picking multiple crops stopped work for nearly two weeks, demanding higher wages and legally required benefits, among other protections.

“The principal demand is for [growers] to actually respect the workers’ rights,” says Martinez. He wants them to honor labor laws that are, at the moment, he says, just “dead words.” Those include health benefits and freedom from sexual harassment.

Many of the San Quintin protesters are indigenous people from some of Mexico’s poorest states, like Oaxaca and Guerrero. Indigenous people make up more than half of Mexico’s agricultural workers.

The striking pickers initially wanted wages increased to 300 pesos a day, then lowered the demand to 200 pesos, about $13. Most of them earned $7 to $8 a day before the strike.

Protests turned acrimonious when demonstrators threw rocks at government vehicles and police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets, reported the Los Angeles Times. Workers also blocked 56 miles of the Trans-Peninsular Highway. By April, the strike had effectively ended after growers signed agreements raising wages 15 percent—far less than the pickers demanded.

The leaders of the movement rejected the meager increase, saying the unions that signed those agreements, which are affiliated with the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which held power for nearly three-quarters of the 20th century and has strong connections to many unions throughout the country, do not represent workers. The workers continue protesting even as many have returned to the fields.

Although the dispute involved various crops and growers, a primary target of the strike was BerryMex, one of Driscoll’s largest suppliers in the region. Last week, on the anniversary of the death of agrarian revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, the farmworkers called for a boycott against Driscoll’s and “all the companies that make a profit by exploiting our labor.”

According to statements by Driscoll’s and BerryMex, following the strike BerryMex increased the “earning opportunity” for its more than 4,000 workers to $5 to $9 an hour—well above the strikers’ demands and the growers’ concessions. “This pay increase means that each individual now has an average earning potential of six to 10 times of Mexico’s minimum Federal wage and as much as 16 times for higher performing workers,” the statements read.

“This is a terrible lie,” says Martinez. He says BerryMex has raised its wages more than some of its peer growers, but only to 180 pesos a day, about $12. That’s a far cry from $5 to $9 dollars an hour. Others familiar with the protests expressed skepticism of the calculation as well. Pickers are paid based on how much they pick, not by hour. That means hourly rates for fast pickers under optimum conditions can far exceed average rates. In that case, the “earning opportunity” will not be the earning reality for most laborers.

BerryMex is not just any Driscoll’s supplier. It is part of Reiter Affiliated Companies (RAC), which says it is “the largest fresh, multi-berry producer in the world.” Driscoll’s is RAC’s only customer. And RAC’s CEO, Garland Reiter, is the brother of Driscoll’s CEO Miles Reiter.

From San Quintin to Skagit County

Driscoll’s responded swiftly to the BerryMex fracas. But it was not as quick to act to resolve a dispute that escalated while the San Quintin protests raged: a bitter labor fight in Burlington, Washington.

Familias Unidas por la Justicia (FUJ), which says it represents over 400 berry pickers, has been locked in a labor struggle with Driscoll’s supplier Sakuma Brothers Farms since 2013. FUJ has long held a boycott against Sakuma berries and its largest customers, Driscoll’s and Häagen-Dazs. On March 24, it doubled down on the boycott when the fair trade advocacy organization Fair World Project sent a letter to Driscoll’s, signed by nearly 10,000 consumers, asking it to suspend buying from Sakuma Brothers until the dispute is resolved. The signatories pledged not to buy Driscoll’s berries until then.

FUJ’s list of complaints is long: poor wages, squalid labor camps, firing and retaliating against workers for organizing and hiring guestworkers from Mexico to replace FUJ’s members. The H-2A guestworker program Sakuma Brothers participated in is meant to be used only when there aren’t enough workers domestically. FUJ says it had plenty of willing workers, but that Sakuma Brothers used guestworkers to avoid hiring back FUJ’s members.

“The only thing we want is a fair contract for both of us,” says FUJ president Ramon Torres.

Sakuma Brothers denies that FUJ represents the berry pickers, calling them “outside agitators” who “have attempted to fabricate the impression that this is a worker movement.” Danny Weeden began his tenure as the company’s CEO just this year and says FUJ’s campaign is hard to understand.

“We’re really doing everything and more than what they’re asking, but they just continue to misrepresent the facts,” he says.

Weeden says that starting this season, the company will pay workers $10 an hour plus a generous bonus for each pound of berries picked. He says the housing is continually upgraded and that the company does suffer from a labor shortage.

After nearly two years of deadlock, the Fair World Project and its nearly 10,000 consumer signatures finally prompted Driscoll’s to respond. In a statement, the company said it had hired “an independent, leading worker welfare organization” to audit Sakuma Brothers, and that the final audit showed that the company had “properly addressed any potential claims” of worker mistreatment.

Felimon Pineda, FUJ’s vice president, doubts the audit’s accuracy. “If it’s true that people from Driscoll’s came to check Sakuma farms, the first thing they should have done was ask the farmworkers,” he says. “Because they’re the ones who feel the pain. They’re the ones who know the working conditions.

Pineda, who is from Oaxaca, is a link between San Quintin and Burlington. For him, the connection between them runs deeper than boycotting Driscoll’s. He got his start picking strawberries at the age of 13 in a town in Baja California right next to the current protests. “I’m in solidarity with these people because they’re my people,” he says.

Like many of the Baja workers, Pineda is indigenous. “The valley of San Quintin is full of people from Oaxaca and Guerrero who speak Mixteco like me,” he says, referring to an indigenous language spoken in the region. He says his own brother is part of the protests in Mexico. “I remember my people because I also suffer from the company. … It didn’t seem right that the folks in San Quintin would be on strike and I would just be quiet.”

The connection makes sense, says Gaspar Rivera, a binational advisor to the Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales and researcher at the UCLA Labor Center. Indigenous people have a history of picking berries, one of the hardest and least desirable farm jobs. Once they acquired berry-picking know-how in Mexico, many migrated all the way up to Washington to do the same work.

“They’re working on both sides of the border for this international company,” Rivera says. “Driscoll’s has managed to develop a production system that extends from Baja California all the way to Washington to be able to supply the U.S. market, and other markets, with strawberries all year round.”

Workers on both sides of the border are now leading boycotts against Driscoll’s, but it’s unclear whether the company’s actions will go beyond issuing statements. Although Driscoll’s requires its suppliers to commit to the Promise for Workforce Welfare, it says it will not intervene in labor negotiations.

“Driscoll’s does not have a role in any labor negotiations between farmers and farmworkers,” the company says. “Our focus and responsibility is on worker welfare and ensuring legal compliance is adhered to by all our independent growers.” The company says it has never terminated a supplier for labor violations.

Rivera thinks Driscoll’s hands-off approach is disingenuous.  “It’s more like the Walmart model of shifting the risk to these growers,” he says. “This has been Driscoll’s line, [that it is] not responsible about the working conditions. Which is partially true but partially false. Ultimately they have a lot of power over these growers because they can say, Hey, if you don’t shape up and employ workers in a fair way, we’re going to stop buying.”

This article originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rachel Luban is a writer living in Maryland. She contributes to Full Stop and her work has appeared on Jezebel, The Rumpus, and In Our Words. Follow her on Twitter: @rachelcluban.

Adjunct Faculty Around the Country Join Fight for 15 Protests

Thursday, April 16th, 2015

Rebecca BurnsAfter speaking to an adjunct instructor participating in yesterday’s massive low-wage worker protests, I thanked her for her time and walked away. Another adjunct, who had been listening on the sidelines as my interviewee talked about her 12 years piecing together part-time work at five different Chicago colleges, approached and introduced herself. “I just wanted to make sure we connected today,” she said to my interviewee before adding knowingly, “It sounds like we have a lot in common!”

A key component of any union drive is workers’ recognition that their problems on the job are shared rather than unique ones, and that they therefore must be solved by collective action. Organizers involved in the growing effort to unionize contingent faculty say that this is often an especially difficult realization for highly educated, low-wage workers who are trained to pursue individual success by putting their noses ever harder to the Ivory Tower’s grindstone.

But that appears to have changed as of yesterday’s walkouts and rallies in more than 200 cities nationwide, in which adjuncts joined fast-food, homecare and other low-wage workers in what organizers say was the largest such protest in history. The day’s actions marked a new phase of the “Fight for 15,” which will head to colleges as contingent faculty press for union representation, a wage bump and greater job security.

Earlier this year, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which backs both adjunct and fast-food worker organizing, announced a new campaign called “Faculty Forward,” which will demand a minimum compensation of $15,000 per college course taught, plus benefits. That would be a staggering increase over adjuncts’ current median pay of just $2,700 per course nationwide, but it complements the bold demand of a $15 minimum wage that fast-food workers have been advancing since 2012.

“This is the time to be heard for all low-wage workers,” said Alyson Paige Warren, an adjunct who has worked at Loyola University Chicago and other Chicago-area schools for 12 years, sometimes making as little as $100 per weekly class.

Chicago is one of the most recent cities where SEIU is hoping to organize adjuncts citywide, following considerable success in the Boston, San Francisco and Washington, DC metro areas. While the city’s major public school and several community colleges already have active faculty unions, there are approximately 8,000 part-time and contingent faculty members across the city that remain non-unionized, including at private universities such as Loyola and DePaul.

Ahead of yesterday’s main Fight for 15 protest in Chicago, a group of about 50 adjuncts, students and full-time faculty supporters rallied at Loyola on the city’s far North Side. Carrying signs that read, “Invest in instruction, fight for $15K” and “No more profs in poverty,” the group marched across campus before boarding buses to join an estimated 6,000 demonstrators calling for a living wage.

The group of adjuncts also delivered a petition with 500 signatures to Loyola administrators, urging them to live up to the school’s Jesuit values of social justice by granting instructors fair benefits, fair wages and the right to unionize. Adjuncts at Loyola are not formally demanding $15,000 a course, but they say their current rate of between $4,000 and $4,500 isn’t enough to make ends meet.

They’re not alone. A study released this week by the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education finds that a full 25 percent of part-time college professors rely on some form of public assistance to supplement their wages. That’s not as high at the 48 percent of homecare workers who received assistance from programs including Medicaid, food stamps, welfare payments or the Earned Income Tax Credit, or the 52 percent of fast-food workers who do so. But it’s a stunning statistic that flies in the face of the assumption that higher education is a path to prosperity.

Paige Warren believes that it’s also a basis for solidarity with other workers, something that adjuncts are increasingly attuned to. “If someone who serves my coffee before I go to teach my students is struggling to make ends meet,” she said, “it’s my job to be concerned about his plight, just as he should be about mine.”

This article originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 16, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Rebecca Burns is an In These Times assistant editor based in Chicago, where she also covers labor, housing and higher education. Her writing has also appeared in Al Jazeera America, Jacobin, Truthout, AlterNet and Waging Nonviolence. She can be reached at rebecca[at]inthesetimes.com. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns

"The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd”

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

jonathan-tasiniPearls of wisdom. Not the economics–because it is absurd, the reality not of “free market” competition but the reality of cronyism, corruption and greed. But, Dan Price saw the immorality of paying people shit and did something about it: he cut his pay and is raising everyone’s wages.

A caveat: I am naturally hesitant to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly, especially someone who gets some uncritical free media without too much inquiry. But, until I see otherwise, Price gets a free ride and a tip of the cap for this:

The idea began percolating, said Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, after he read an article on happiness. It showed that, for people who earn less than about $70,000, extra money makes a big difference in their lives.His idea bubbled into reality on Monday afternoon, when Mr. Price surprised his 120-person staff by announcing that he planned over the next three years to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk, customer service representative and salesman to a minimum of $70,000.

“Is anyone else freaking out right now?” Mr. Price asked after the clapping and whooping died down into a few moments of stunned silence. “I’m kind of freaking out.”

If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s a costly one. Mr. Price, who started the Seattle-based credit-card payment processing firm in 2004 at the age of 19, said he would pay for the wage increases by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 to 80 percent of the company’s anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year.

The paychecks of about 70 employees will grow, with 30 ultimately doubling their salaries, according to Ryan Pirkle, a company spokesman. The average salary at Gravity is $48,000 year.[emphasis added]

What he came to understand:

“The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd,” said Mr. Price, who said his main extravagances were snowboarding and picking up the bar bill. He drives a 12-year-old Audi, which he received in a barter for service from the local dealer.[emphasis added]

The reaction from his workers:

Hayley Vogt, a 24-year-old communications coordinator at Gravity who earns $45,000, said, “I’m completely blown away right now.” She said she has worried about covering rent increases and a recent emergency room bill.

And:

Phillip Akhavan, 29, earns $43,000 working on the company’s merchant relations team. “My jaw just dropped,” he said. “This is going to make a difference to everyone around me.”

A note: to be sure, Price is going to still be a very wealthy man–he has a company which is still making a lot of money.But…he did this. And as far as I can tell it comes from an honest place, an honest morality.

The fact that this even gets some buzz is a sign of how corrupt CEOs truly are, grabbing millions of dollars for themselves and leaving most of their workers to pick up crumbs. The only slight disagreement I’d have with Price is on his view of the “market” for CEO pay.

There is no “market” in the sense that normal people would understand. It’s a corrupt, closed system of cronyism. I’ve written about this many times over the years and had the good fortune, when writing my book“The Audacity of Greed” back in 2009, to talk with Graef “Bud” Crystal who was once one of the country’s premier compensation consultants—the guy who would be hired by CEOs to come up with compensation packages. He told me back then:

“In 1970, one CEO hired me and said, ‘we don’t have a bonus plan and do we need one?’” recalls Crystal. “I did the study and I went back to the CEO and said ‘yes you do need a bonus plan. But we have a problem area. You are making $150,000-a year and the problem is that the $150,000 is equal to the salary and the bonus to what your competitors are paying so we have to cut your pay to $100,000-a-year and then we can put in a bonus.’” Crystal laughs. “It was like a scene from The Exorcist where ice formed on the windows…he started arguing about the findings and he finally said ‘let me say this to you this way: who do you think is paying your bills anyway?’ I replied, ‘If I recall correctly the checks were drawn on the corporate account, not your personal account so the shareholders are paying me, not you.’ The meeting ended quite quickly.

The point is the whole game is fixed. The CEO stacks his board with cronies, pays them $20,000-per-meeting board fees and, then, makes sure his cronies approve pay packages though the real money is in the pensions and deferred pay. It’s a scam.It is interesting that Price’s decision comes on the eve what will be huge national demonstrations to raise wages to a minimum of $15-an-hour.

This article originally appeared in workinglife.org on April  14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author:  Jonathan Tasini on any given day, I think like a political-union organizer or a writer — or both. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays, with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995).

On Equal Pay Day, Mind the Gap, All $431,000 of It

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Image: Mike HallToday, Equal Pay Day, marks the day when women workers close the 2014 pay gap, and that wage gap is huge. Women, on average, earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men’s wages and that adds up to more than $10,800 a year and more than $400,000 over a career.

A new report finds that wage gap is even wider for mothers, especially single mothers and mothers of color, most of whom are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families.

The report, An Unlevel Playing Field: America’s Gender-Based Wage Gap, Binds of Discrimination and a Path Forward, by the National Partnership for Women & Families, finds mothers who work full-time, year-round in the United States are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers who work full-time, year-round. Single mothers are paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. And African American and Latina mothers suffer the biggest disparities, being paid just 54 cents and 49 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.

National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said:

“At a time when women’s wages are essential to families and our economy, the persistence of the gender-based wage gap is doing real and lasting damage to women, families, communities and to our nation. It defies common sense that lawmakers are not doing more to stop gender discrimination in wages.”

In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied many pay discrimination victims their day in court. But since then, Republican lawmakers have blocked votes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

That legislation would strengthen penalties that courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers’ wage practices. The bill also would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender.

The bill was reintroduced last month by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who said:

“Equal pay is not just a problem for women, but for families, who are trying to pay their bills, trying to get ahead, trying to achieve the American Dream and are getting a smaller paycheck than they have earned for their hard work.”

Last April, President Obama signed two executive orders on equal pay, one that banned retaliation against employees of federal contractors for discussing their wages and another that instructed the U.S. Department of Labor to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation. While these actions will help federal contractor employees, congressional action is needed to end gender-based pay discrimination for all workers.

Here are some other facts on unequal pay and the wage gap between men and women.

  • If the pay trends of the past five decades remain the same, it will take nearly another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity with men.
  • If women and men received equal pay, the poverty rate for all working women and their families would be cut in half from 8.1% to 3.9%.
  • The gender wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among nonunion workers.
  • Union women working full-time earn, on average, 90.6% of what their male peers earn.
  • The wage gap for union members fell 2.6 cents between 2012 and 2013 but was virtually unchanged for nonunion workers.
  • Paying women the same wage as their male peers would have added an additional $448 billion to the economy in 2012 or roughly 3% of the country’s GDP.
  • 62% of women who work in the private sector report that discussing pay at work is strongly discouraged or prohibited, making it harder for women to discover if they are missing out on wages they deserve.
  • Requiring employers to disclose employee pay rankings would allow women to know if they are being paid the same wage as comparable workers.

On-Equal-Pay-Day-Mind-the-Gap-All-431-000-of-It_blog_post_fullWidth

 

 

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 14, 2015.  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.

The High Cost of Fighting for $15

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Leo GerardThis is no plea for pity for corporate kingpins like Walmart and McDonald’s inundated by workers’ demands for living wages.

Raises would, of course, cost these billion-dollar corporations something. More costly, though, is the price paid by minimum-wage workers who have not received a raise in six years.  Even more dear is what these workers have paid for their campaign to get raises. Managers have harassed, threatened and fired them.

Despite all that, low-wage workers will return to picket lines and demonstrations Wednesday in a National Day of Action in the fight for $15 an hour. The date is 4 – 15. These are workers who live paycheck to paycheck, barely able to pay their bills, and certainly unable to cope with an emergency. They know the risk they’re taking by participating in strikes for pay hikes. They’ve seen bosses punish co-workers for demonstrating for raises. To lose a job, even one that pays poverty wages, during a time of high unemployment is terrifying. Still, thousands will participate Wednesday. That is valor.

0-Fight-for-15-graphic

Kip Hedges exhibited that courage. He’s a 61-year-old with 26 years of service as a baggage handler for Delta at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. He wanted better wages for young workers and a union. He said so in a video, noting that “probably close to half make under $15 an hour.”

Delta fired him. The airline said he’d disparaged the company. Apparently Delta believes it has been disparaged if the flying public learns the truth about the way Delta treats workers.

Clearly, Delta planned to shut Hedges up and intimidate other workers. The message to his co-workers was clear: “You wanna talk about the paltry wages you get? Well, let’s talk about this pink slip.”

But when Delta messed with Hedges, it messed up big time. The firing failed to silence him. Hecontinued to protest low wages. His co-workers rallied round him. The media covered his firing and his appeal. He looked like a low-wage worker hero. Delta looked like a vindictive heel.

Unlike Hedges, Shanna Tippen was no activist before she got fired from her minimum-wage job in Pine Bluff, Ark. She was just trying to get by, and falling short by about $200 a month. Her boss at the Days Inn where she worked as a night shift jack-of-all-trades asked her to talk to a Washington Post reporter who had dropped by the hotel to discuss the state’s newly instituted 25-cent increase to the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Tippen told the reporter, Chico Harlan, that she hoped the little bit of extra money would help her pay for her grandson’s diapers.

After the Post published the story, the manager of the Days Inn, Herry Patel, telephoned Harlan to complain about being quoted in it. Then he fired Tippen. She recounted it to Harlan:

“He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post].”  Even though, of course, Patel had told Tippen to talk to the reporter. Tippen continued: “He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’”

Patel told Harlan that Arkansas voters, who approved the pay increase in a referendum by 66 percent, should not have done it. “Everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff,” Harlan quoted him as saying.

Patel apparently did not understand that Tippen performed work that kept the hotel running every night, which means she earned the money. The truth is that Patel, like so many other employers, believes that employees should work for free.

The Post and other papers wrote about Tippen’s firing, making her an icon for ill-treated, low-wage workers and Patel the personification of miserly bosses.

Worker-exploiting employers like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Walmart have shown themselves to be craven in the face of courageous workers’ wage protests as well.

Over the past few months, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed charges against McDonald’s and Walmart alleging they violated workers’ rights, including threatening retribution against those who participated in strikes.

In December, the NLRB in California ruled that Walmart illegally punished workers for striking and seeking to unionize. The judge determined that Walmart managers illegally intimidated workers by, for example, telling one, who had tied a rope around his waist to pull a heavy load, “If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck.”

In the Chipotle case, the NLRB ruled that a manager in St. Louis illegally fired worker Patrick Leeper for participating in Fight for $15 demonstrations and for talking about wages at work. After the decision, a company spokesperson told the news website Think Progress: “Generally speaking, it is always a top priority for us to remain compliant with all local and federal labor laws.”

“Generally,” Chipotle tries. Generally. Not in this particular case involving low-wage workers demonstrating for better pay. But, you know, generally Chipotle tries to obey the law.

In the original Washington Post story about the tiny increase in the minimum wage in Arkansas, Dominic Flis, whose company owns 18 Burger Kings in central Arkansas, said raising the minimum wage pushes up pay for other workers too. Here’s what he said:

“If somebody was already making $7.50, and minimum wage goes to $7.50, they’ll have some expectation of a raise as well,” Flis said. “And I have to maintain my workforce.”

The Brookings Institute calls this the ripple effect. The pay increase at the bottom ripples all the way up the pay scale.

Hedges, the fired Delta worker, put it another way: “a lot of the better paid workers also understand that the bottom has to be raised otherwise the top is going to fall as well.”

If for no other reason than self-interest, join the gutsy minimum-wage workers at a Fight for $15 event Wednesday.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Workers Sue Walmart For Manipulating Employee Classification To Deny Them Overtime Pay

Friday, April 10th, 2015

Bryce CovertWalmart is facing a potential class action lawsuit over alleged wage theft in Alameda County Superior Court from an employee who claims the company illegally denied managers overtime pay.

Bonnie Cardoza, who worked at the company as an assistant manager for about five years, says she and other assistant mangers were made to do the same tasks as hourly workers for more than eight hours a day. The extra duties included greeting customers, operating checkout areas, and taking inventory.

But because they are labeled managers, they are exempt from federal overtime laws that require employers to pay workers time and a half for more than 40 hours of work a week. The lawsuit alleges that they “were ‘managers’ in name only because they did not have the managerial duties or authority,” but that Walmart purposefully classified them as managers to avoid overtime pay and cut costs. The suit claims they should have been paid that extra wage for more than eight hours of work a day.

The lawsuit also says the company deprived Cardoza and other assistant managers of rest and meal breaks.

She is suing for back wages to make up for the lack of overtime pay and compensation for the missed breaks on behalf of any Walmart assistant manager who has worked there since January 2011, although her lawyers say it’s too early to know whether it will achieve class action status.

In response, a Walmart spokesperson said, “It is our policy to pay associates according to federal and state laws. We take this matter seriously. We are investigating the allegations and will respond appropriately with the court.”

It’s not the first time the company has been accused of denying its workers pay. At the end of last year, the company was ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to pay $151 million in back wages to 187,000 current and former employees who accused it of making them work off the clock during their breaks.

A big Walmart supplier also had to pay out over wage theft in 2013 over allegations that it forced workers to forgo meal breaks. While Walmart doesn’t own the operations, it effectively runs facilities for the company and the company has been accused of squeezing its suppliers so hard that they have to crack down on labor costs.

Wage theft is rampant beyond Walmart, however. In 2012, nearly $1 billion was recovered in back wages for the victims of wage theft, but even that undercounts the breadth of the problem since most workers don’t report the problem. It’s estimated that employers deny workers $50 billion that they’re owed every year by making them work off the clock, shave hours off of their paychecks, pay for work-related expenses out of their own paychecks, or other practices that dock wages. That figure dwarfs the $14 billion taken from all victims of robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts together.

The problem is particularly rampant in fast food, where recent suits have been filed against TGI Friday’s, McDonald’s, Subway, and Chipotle.

The issue of overtime misclassification has also gotten attention recently. Last year, President Obama issued an executive order that would update overtime laws so that fewer employees could be classified as managers and therefore exempted from time and a half. It would also raise the salary cutoff for getting overtime pay, which currently means anyone who makes more than $23,660 is exempt, a threshold that hasn’t been significantly updated since 1975. These changes could also aid employees like Cardoza, who would likely qualify for overtime pay even if they are assistant managers.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Workers and Wages Aren’t a ‘Cost,’ We’re an Investment

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallReading today’s Politico Morning Shift column, this sentence stood out in a short piece on Wisconsin Republicans’ efforts to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law: “That’s an 80-year law requiring that workers on construction jobs for local and state governments be paid a wage that the state determines to represent the prevailing norm—a calculation that tends to raise labor costs.” The bias in that construction is pretty simple, and it’s one that is often repeated by journalists despite it being a very clear anti-worker frame: Workers are a “cost” and not an investment and not the part of a business that does the work that creates the company’s profits. In other words, this common construction says workers are a pesky obstacle instead of the source of revenue a company needs to survive and grow.

When was the last time you heard a reporter refer to CEO pay as a “labor cost,” despite the fact that for many companies these massive payouts are much bigger than the amount any prevailing wage law might increase worker pay? When was the last time you heard other common costs such as buying machines to build products or raising investment capital, as a similar type of burden? When was the last time we talked about worker compensation as an investment that grows a business? When was the last time you heard about how hiring workers and compensating them well increased profits for a company, when the evidence is pretty clear that such a thing happens all the time?

Those questions are rhetorical, but this one isn’t: Why is there an insistence on repeating extreme right-wing anti-worker talking points as if they were facts? Reporters, who represent objectivity and balance, have a responsibility to not favor business interests over those of workers.

This insistence on focusing on workers as secondary to the interests of business owners shows that there is a need to pivot the debate in America. Reporters aren’t making up this language; they’re reporting what anti-worker politicians, pundits and business owners are saying. But the conversation is starting to change, and working families are the ones forcing the change. They expect us to stay silent and allow them to get away with whatever they want, but we’d rather talk about raising wages, expanding the middle class and making the American dream more real for more working families. When the national conversation only includes one side of the story, it not only leaves most Americans out of the conversation, it helps keep wages stagnant and creates an obstacle to giving people a raise.

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on April 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

The War Against Women Getting Paid Family Leave

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Meghan-Byrd_avatar_1422562197-140x140[1]A mother with a newborn baby in Canada has the right to receive paid family leave. So do mothers in France, Brazil, Australia, Pakistan, Venezuela – even Russia. But not those in the United States. Our country is one of only five in the world, and the only developed nation, that does not require paid family leave.

One would think paid family leave would have bipartisan support, given the economic benefits, overwhelming public support and fundamental right of caring for your own child at hand. Yet somehow Republicans in Congress have consistently fallen on the wrong side of the matter, just one battle in their endless war they have continued to wage against women.

The good news is that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her colleague in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) recently reintroduced the FAMILY Act. The bill would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off for health reasons, including pregnancy, childbirth recovery and adoption. Additionally, it would allow workers to earn up to 66 percent of their monthly wages, and would apply to workers at companies large and small. The law would be funded by small employee and employer payroll contributions (two-tenths of one percent each).

Thanks to states such as New Jersey and California, which have already implemented similar programs, we can see positive economic benefits of requiring paid family leave that refute claims by critics that such a policy would be too expensive and be bad for business.

In these states, paid family leave costs less than $1 per week for each employee using payroll deductions, and the benefits are outstanding. In California, 91 percent of employers said the law had either a positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, and 99 percent said it increased or had a non-noticeable effect on employee morale, according to one survey. The policy has also led to more women joining the labor force, which in turn boosts the economy.

Mothers are far more likely to be employed up to 16 years after the birth of their first child if they received paid maternity leave, according to a Center for American Progress study. Additionally, theInstitute for Women’s Policy Research found that paid family leave increases consumer spending and generates a larger tax base, and could boost the country’s gross domestic product by 5 percent.

Current Law Is Not Enough

Current federal law requires employers give employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for caring for a newborn child or a sick family member. Critics argue that this policy should be enough job security for new parents. However, when it is a single parent or a household living in near-poverty trying to make ends meet, 12 weeks without a paycheck simply isn’t possible. This is especially true when considering the costs associated with having a new baby.

What if we left it up to businesses? So far, that strategy hasn’t worked out, seeing as only 11 percent of workers in the U.S. get paid family leave through their employer or their state.

Rebecca Traister, writing in The New Republic, recently detailed what paid family leave would mean for her. As a pregnant woman, she was left with little choice – she had to keep her job even if she might have wanted to pursue other options. “My body and its condition defined my professional situation,” she wrote. She was thrilled when the new management announced a policy of paid maternal and fraternal leave for up to 16 weeks. She asks the question, “Is it such a bad thing to attract workers by offering them more equitable conditions..?”

In his most recent State of the Union speech, President Obama highlighted why paid family leave is so important and pledged to make it one of his top priorities: “It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue…Today we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.”

The women’s economic agenda, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” includes policies such as mandatory paid family leave, and is being promoted by the White House and Democrats. The President has set an example for Congress – giving six weeks paid leave to all federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child through executive action.

And not only is it the sensible thing to do – but voters agree. In a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 81% of respondents agreed that “paid time off to care for family members and affordable child care is good for our nation.” Poll after poll show Democrats, Independents and Republicans overwhelmingly supporting paid family leave policies.

Recently, Minnesota state Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R) called women who seek equality and fundamental rights in the workforce ‘whiners’. She opposed a set of bills aimed at raising the minimum wage, shrinking the gender pay gap and introducing paid family leave, saying that the bills were “putting us backwards in time.” She said that “we [women] are losing the respect we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up these special bills for women.” This is in a state where women earn 80 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts. Instead of addressing the reality of women in the workplace, Rep. Kieffer prefers to antagonize those who want to improve the situation. This is just one example of conservative lawmakers trying to hold back much needed progress in the workplace. We can’t let this mentality poison the conversation.

President Obama and the American public want paid family leave. Requiring it is good for the economy, good for people and good for the country. Now, the important issue is in the hands of our legislature. Due to the Republican Congress’ misguided agenda, the chance of this important bill getting through committee is relatively slim. If you agree that paid family leave should not just be a luxury, but a right, call your congressional member and urge them to support sending the FAMILY Act to the floors and once it arrives, voting ‘aye’.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Meghan Byrd is a student at Bucknell University studying political science and Spanish. In 2015 she spent a semester at American University. She is originally from Palo Alto, California in the San Francisco Bay Area and center of Silicon Valley. She is interested in public policy and the intersection between government and technology.

After Ellen Pao’s Loss, More Women In Tech Bring Gender Discrimination Lawsuits

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Bryce CovertAfter Ellen Pao, a former partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and currently interim CEO of Reddit, lost her discrimination lawsuit against her former employer two weeks ago, some worried that the outcome would discourage other women from bringing lawsuits against the industry.

That fear doesn’t seem to be panning out. Last week, two different women brought lawsuits against technology companies for gender discrimination.

In one, Heather McCloskey charged Paymentwall Inc., an online payment company, for allowing harassment and a misogynist environment. She alleges that her supervisor, executive Benoit Boisset, made disparaging remarks about her appearance and called her a “big bitch.” She says he also grabbed her by the waist and said, “You’re a very bad girl, you need to be spanked up real good.” He also allegedly made disparaging remarks about women as employees in general. When she complained, she says she was told to simply tell him no and “thick skin up and deal with it” because he “makes a whole lot of money for this company.” The lawsuit claims that the company has no handbook, harassment policies, or human resources department. She says she was fired after making her complaints.

In another, Elisabeth Sussex filed a complaint against AliphCom, which makes Jawbone fitness devices, alleging that she was fired for complaining about how an executive treated women. According to the suit, Chief Technology Officer Michael Luna treated female employees in a demeaning and abusive way, leading one to “quit in disgust.” After Sussex says she complained to management, she was demoted and eventually fired despite her previously good performance track record.

Those suits are the first to be filed after Pao’s case was decided, but even while the trial was still taking place one was filed against Facebook and another against Twitter. Former Facebook employee Chia Hong alleges that she was asked why she didn’t spend more time at home with her children and punished when she used company-provided time off to visit her children’s school, made to organize office parties while men were asked to do so, and eventually fired after complaining and replaced with a less qualified man. Tina Huang hascharged Twitter for using a promotions process that is allegedly secretive and subjective and ends up helping me get ahead while holding women back.

Those lawsuits also followed others in the industry before Pao’s trial began: One against Tinder from a former female executive alleges that her cofounders downplayed her role and harassed her until she resigned, and another against Zillow says that management sent a former female employee pictures of genitals and asked her for sexual favors.

All of the lawsuits bring up the fact that the technology industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men, even after some companies have said they want to change the picture. Women make up just 11 percent of executives at the largest Silicon Valley companies. Some firms have released their diversity data, and it doesn’t look much better. At Facebook and Twitter, for example, the executive teams are 77 percent and 79 percent male, respectively. Even further down the chain, Facebook’s tech team is 85 percent male while Twitter’s is 90 percent.

The fate of all the gender discrimination lawsuits against technology companies is uncertain. The suit against Tinder has reportedly been settled without the company admitting wrongdoing, and others may not make it to a court room. As Pao’s case shows, even if they do end up in court the women may not win. But they are at least sparking a conversation about the bias women face in the industry and in today’s workplaces in general. As Pao herself recently said, “Women who felt like they were uncomfortable before, that there was something that jus wasn’t right, are hopefully now more comfortable pointing it out.” And at least some women in Silicon Valley are grateful for Ellen Pao’s efforts to expose that bias.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Over 40 Former UNITE HERE Staff, Volunteers Rebuke Union for Endorsing Rahm Emanuel

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

photo_9514A group of former UNITE HERE staffers and volunteers from around the country released an open letter to the union today, rebuking Chicago’s UNITE HERE Local 1 for its endorsement of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and questioning the union’s commitment to progressive unionism.

“Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago … is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy,” the letter reads. As of Friday morning, the letter was signed by 41 people, almost all of whom listed the local or locals where they worked with the union.

The letter was released this morning at a web site entitled “No Rahm Love,” a reference to the union’s “Rahm Love” ad campaign that praises the mayor’s record on workers’ issues, despite his widespread reputation as a strongly anti-labor mayor, most notably in his dealings with the Chicago Teachers Union. Members of UNITE HERE Local 1 stood prominently behind Emanuel as he gave his speech on election night February 24. (Full disclosure: I was briefly a member of Local 1 in 2010.)

“Local 1’s campaign, ‘Rahm Love,’ claims that the mayor ‘loves’ workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the letter continues. “Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago.” Almost all of those who signed the letter are former staffers or activists.

The letter’s signatories say the endorsement of Emanuel has made them question what they formerly considered to be the progressivism of the union.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

UNITE HERE has positioned itself as strong part of the progressive wing of the American labor movement. In addition to its role in the immigrant rights movement, the union has taken strong public stances on LGBTQ rights and other issues. And at a time when many unions have all but given up on militant action like strikes and strong development of rank-and-file workers as activists, the union has made both a key part of their program at many union locals around the country, including Chicago.

That made the union’s endorsement of Emanuel puzzling to many observers and former UNITE HERE activists and organizers like those quoted in the letter.

The union’s endorsement of Emanuel goes “against everything I was ever taught” at the union: that “you could have all the money in the world, but organizing outdid money,” says Jill Landrith, a former server at a restaurant inside the Westin Hotel in Chicago and member of Local 1. Landrith, who signed the open letter, left her server position to work for the union as an internal organizer from 2009 to 2014.

Local 1 has members who are food service workers in Chicago Public Schools; when Mayor Emanuel closed down 49 public schools in 2013, those workers lost their jobs. “We have members who were personally hurt by this man. When he closed the schools, our members got fired,” she says.

During a staff meeting when the union was discussing its potential endorsement in late 2013, Landrith says she remembers a staffer commenting, “This is how the trades do it”—referring to the building trades unions, the vast majority of which endorsed Emanuel—”so if we want a seat at the table, this is how we have to do it, too.” Another former Local 1 staffer present at the meeting confirmed hearing the statement.

Landrith says she was particularly upset by the “Rahm Love” ad campaign, in which workers listed off how much Emanuel has done for them. One ad included Roushaunda Williams, a Palmer House Hotel worker Landrith organized with during a strike there, who says, ““Rahm love. It’s how the mayor fights so that hotel workers earn a decent living. We have health insurance, pensions and sick days off. We have Rahm love.”

“We won [the strike] because of Roushaunda,” she says, “because of all the workers there who went out on strike and fought. So to see them in that video giving Rahm credit for what they’ve done—it killed me. Roushaunda deserved the credit, not Rahm.”

Landrith, her voice choking, says, “It hurts me, it just hurts,” before ending the interview.

Multiple requests for comment from a UNITE HERE Local 1 spokesperson went unanswered.

The full text of the letter can be read below:

Dear UNITE HERE Local 1,

We the undersigned are allies and supporters of UNITE HERE, in Chicago and elsewhere. We have all, at some point, committed our hearts, souls, and hours, as volunteer interns, boycott and research volunteers, and staff in the belief that UNITE HERE was a powerful force for justice for hospitality workers and workers everywhere. Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago is the exact opposite, however: it is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy.

Local 1’s campaign, “Rahm Love,” claims that the mayor “loves” workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago, from his attempt to destroy the standards of the Chicago Teachers Union, closing half the mental health clinics in the city, presiding over a higher unemployment rate among African Americans than other cities, and continuing to use TIFs as a city slush fund to benefit corporate wealth and the rich.

American cities are facing pitched battles. On one side, progressive candidates are advancing across the country and socialist electoral candidates are winning elections in major cities like Jackson, Miss., and Seattle, Wash., and marchers are blocking freeways and shutting down public spaces in protest of police violence; on the other side, gentrification displaces communities into desolate ring suburbs, and politicians race to give the biggest tax breaks to corporations. This is no different in Chicago, and there is a crucial question of all unions to be asked: which side are you on?

Taking the choice of struggle is dangerous and uncertain, but one an increasing number of unions, like the CTU, have taken. Local 1’s choice was clearly not made out of stupidity or ignorance. It is a calculated choice to prioritize opportunistic gains and favor in the halls of power over the road of struggle. This is an old strategy, and one that time and again has proved a failure in the long run. It is just like an organizing drive at a workplace: to some workers the boss offers raises, promotions and even some power while others are subject to firings, surveillance, and intimidation. Those the boss tries to buy off have a choice: do they stand with their coworkers for real power, or take the pittance they’re offered? UNITE HERE Local 1 has chosen the table scraps, and thrown their fellow workers into the fire.

How could this choice have been made? It is telling that this letter does not include many current activists for the union. It is not that staff and volunteers throughout the union are not disgusted by Local 1’s behavior. Quite the contrary, there are many who agree with us, but they are afraid. They are afraid of losing their jobs, of being squeezed out of work they’ve poured themselves into, or getting cornered into uncomfortable conversations ensuring at least their silence. What’s more, some think of themselves as committed to the broader movement but have bought into the destructive idea that no matter what, building their union is identical with building the movement and thus deny the destructive impacts of this opportunism. This anti-political and anti-democratic atmosphere is a dangerous omen for the state of rank-and-file democracy in UNITE HERE, and leads us to wonder what Local 1’s membership thinks of Rahm, their union’s behavior, and whether the union represents their interests.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

We hope this letter is heard by UNITE HERE Local 1 leadership, but more importantly we hope it is heard by union militants everywhere and the UNITE HERE rank and file. Do not stand cynically by as Local 1’s leadership follows the old losing playbook and betrays the entire movement. We can and must have a fighting, progressive labor movement, and we can and must beat Rahm.

This blog original appeared in Inthesetimes.com on April 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Micah Uetricht is the web editor of In These Times. He is a contributing editor at Jacobin and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. He has written for The Nation, Al Jazeera America,Dissent, and the Chicago Reader

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog