Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘hispanic’

National Hispanic Heritage Month Pathway to Progress: The San Antonio Pecan Strike

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

History has long been portrayed as a series of “great men” taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history “from the bottom up,” studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our new series, Pathway to Progress, we’ll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, today’s topic is the San Antonio pecan shellers strike.

In the 1930s, pecans grown in Texas accounted for half of all of the nation’s production. San Antonio was the center of the industry in Texas, as half the state’s commercial crop grew within 250 miles of the city. The dominant company was the Southern Pecan Shelling Co., which produced as much as one-third of the nation’s entire crop, depending on the year.

Working people in the industry faced low wages (averaging between $2 to $3 a week) and terrible working conditions. Shelling factories suffered from inadequate ventilation, poor illumination and a lack of indoor running water or toilets. The pecans produced a fine brown dust that contributed to diseases like tuberculosis. San Antonio had one of the highest rates of TB in the country as a result.

Owners had little or no regard for workers. One owner said: “The Mexicans don’t want much money. Compared to those shanties they live in, the pecan shelleries are fine. They are glad to have a warm place to sit in the winter. They can be warm while they’re shelling pecans, they can talk to their friends while they’re working…. If they get hungry they can eat pecans.”

Pecan shellers soon joined the International Pecan Shellers Union No. 172, a chapter of the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing, and Allied Workers of America, which belonged to the newly formed Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). On Jan. 31, 1938, the workforce of shellers, mostly Hispanic women, walked off the job. The 12,000 workers engaged in a three-month strike. The strike began after the Southern Pecan demanded pay cuts for the workers. Shellers, who had previously earned 6 or 7 cents a pound, saw their wages cut to 5 or 6 cents a pound. Crackers went from 50 cents per 100 pounds to 40 cents.

The strike was originally led by Emma Tenayuca, who was active in various efforts to combat discrimination against Mexican Americans. She joined the women’s auxiliary of the League of United Latin American Citizens in high school and was first arrested for protesting when she was 16. After high school, she worked several jobs, but her true calling was organizing. She began to organize with the Workers Alliance before later helping the pecan shellers.

Local officials were not happy about the strike. Police Chief Owen Kilday believed that the strike was part of a Communist plot to gain control of the west side of San Antonio. Tenayuca was arrested as soon as the strike started. Kilday said of her: “The Tenayuca woman is a paid agitator sent here to stir up trouble among the ignorant Mexican workers.” She was neither, her family had deep roots in San Antonio and her strike efforts were unpaid.

Other leaders feared that Mexican American laborers would become aware of their own power and would become more active. Protesters picketed over 400 local factories, but Kilday cracked down, eventually making more than 700 arrests. Gov. James Allred urged the Texas Industrial Commission to investigate the strike and the industry’s reaction and found that police interference with lawful assembly was unjustified.

In the end, both sides agreed to arbitration and the initial settlement was for a 7- to 8-cent wage. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was passed soon after that would establish a minimum wage of 25 cents an hour. The CIO was afraid that the big jump in wages would lead to massive layoffs, and they joined with employers to lobby Congress to give the pecan industry an exemption.The exemption was denied, however, and over the next three years, 10,000 shellers were replaced by machines. While the pecan strikers ultimately failed to sustain the industry, their efforts were pivotal in expanding both labor rights and justice for Hispanic working people, in Texas and beyond.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on October 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell 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.

Black Women's Equal Pay Day shows how far from equality we are and how slow progress is

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

July 31 is Black Women’s Equal Pay Day. That means that this is the day in 2017 when black women have finally caught up with what white men were paid in 2016. Thanks, wage gap! While we often hear the (accurate as far as it goes) statistic that women are paid 80 cents on the dollar compared with white men, the gap gets a lot worse when you break it out by race, and black women are paid just 63 cents on the white man’s dollar.

Here are a few more facts from the National Women’s Law Center. Education doesn’t make it go away:

  • Pursuing higher education does little close to the wage gap. Black women with a bachelor’s degree are typically paid $46,694—just under what white, non-Hispanic men with only a high school degree are paid ($46,729).
  • Black women have to earn a Master’s degree to make slightly more ($56,072) than white, non-Hispanic men with just an Associate’s degree ($54,620).

High wage jobs, low wage jobs … the gap persists.

  • Among workers in low wage jobs, Black women make just 60 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men. Black women who work full time, year round in these occupations are typically paid about $21,700 annually, compared to the $36,000 typically paid to white, non-Hispanic men in these occupations. This gap translates to a loss of $14,300 each year to the wage gap—more than enough to pay for an entire year’s worth of rent or more than a year and a half of childcare costs.
  • Among workers in high wage occupations—such as lawyers, engineers, and physicians or surgeons—Black women are paid 64 cents for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic men in the same occupations. Black women who work full time, year round in these occupations are typically paid about $70,000, compared to the $110,000 typically paid to white, non-Hispanic men in these same jobs. This amounts to a staggering annual loss of $40,000 each year, or $1.6 million dollars over a 40-year career.

Over 48 years, the entire time for which data is available, the situation has only improved by 20 cents, from black women making 43 cents for every dollar a white man made to making 63 cents in 2015, and “In Louisiana, the worst state for Black women’s wage equality, Black women typically are paid slightly less than half of what white, non-Hispanic men are paid.”

 This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 31, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos. 
Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog