Posts Tagged ‘Immigrant Workers’
Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the economy gained 235,000 payroll slots in February and upped its estimates for December and January by another 9,000 jobs. Over the three-month period, that means an average job growth of 209,000 jobs a month. Including the ups and downs, over the past 30 years, the U.S. economy has averaged job growth of about 126,000 jobs a month. So this current rate of growth would suggest a strong labor market. Further, workers who transitioned from being out of the labor force into active job search were 2.3 times more likely to land a job than to be stuck unemployed and looking. And unemployed workers were 1.3 times more likely to find a job than if they were to quit and drop out of the labor force discouraged. Over the year, average wages (not adjusting for inflation) rose 2.8%.
Watchers of the Federal Open Market Committee, the policymaking body of the Federal Reserve Board, are sure the FOMC will stick to its forward guidance and act to raise the fed funds rate; which is their tool for setting the tightness of monetary policy. Raising the rate signals faith in the strength of the recovery by the Fed; a strong sense the economy is nearing both its target for inflation and employment. And, it is likely, given recent statements from several Fed officials that these numbers may convince them that “normal” is just around the corner. But they are wrong.
Raising interest rates is a way to slow the growth of the economy. It is useful to prevent an economy from over-heating and setting price increases on a pace that would be difficult to reign in. If done properly, the Fed can guide the economy to a soft-landing, where it will sit growing at a rate just fast enough to stay at full employment.
Well, the problem is that is where the economy is now. Despite solid job growth over the past year, the unemployment rate has remained flat and annual nominal wage growth has remained steady at around 2.6%. As a simple arithmetic, if the number of jobs created slows, then the unemployment rate will have to rise, and wage growth will slow.
If the near term had great economic certainty, then it might be possible to agree that labor market might show more signs of tightening; rather than its present “goldilocks” state of flat unemployment and wages. But the near term has great economic uncertainty.
First, while wages are beginning to show growth, the share of people employed is still a significant distance from the share employed at the peak of 2007, which was below the peak of 1999. This means that household incomes have not caught up. A large share of the workforce is employed part-time, and while the recovery has seen mostly growth of full-time jobs, household incomes have not gotten back to full employment levels.
Second, a major driver of the real economy is the automobile industry sector. After over-correcting during the depths of the Great Recession and the historic collapse in demand, it has used the financial helping hand then-President Barack Obama lent, to recover and now reach record sales and a growth in employment and investment. But a substantial and rising share of auto loans have been made to African American and Latino communities using subprime lending tools. During the initial stages of the recovery, delinquencies on auto loans declined. But, beginning in 2016, they started to rise. And they continue to rise.
The purchase of new cars has increased the supply of used cars, so the gap between new car prices and used car prices has been rising as the price of used cars is falling. Delinquencies on auto loans began when the Fed began moving from zero interest rates, since the loan rate on automobiles is tied to short-term interest rates. Higher short-term rates will further increase consumers’ costs of buying a new car, increasing the wedge between new and used car prices.
The threat is that if job growth slows, it will first affect the African American and Latino communities, already showing struggles with the onerous terms of the subprime loans. Those communities need more time for the labor market to recover. The best solution for the economy is for their income to pick up pace and out run the debt. Income-led buying leads to healthy sustainable recoveries. Raising interest rates when incomes lead the recovery simply slow the pace of buying and encourage savings rather than spending. The worse solution is to have the debt out run their income. If delinquencies increase more, the auto market will get a greater flood of used cars, driving the price of used cars down further and increasing the gap in price between used and new cars.
Over the past six months, in fact, lending activity has become more stringent for new borrowers in the auto sector and for small business. Such a credit tightening is normally associated with an economic downturn; not a healthy growing recovery about to overheat. Higher short-term rates will only exacerbate that problem.
The problem is clear, at some point the new car market will go into recession; which means the auto industry will be in recession; which means the economy will be in recession.
Third, compounding the near term uncertainty, is the war that President Donald Trump has declared on the immigrant community. Fear and uncertainty are high in communities where many workers and family members are undocumented. These workers are fully integrated into our communities. They are wives, husbands and parents of legal residents and American citizens. These households live under a cloud. Fearing deportation, or legal fees to protect loved ones, millions of households are unlikely to buy new cars, or may be deciding to horde cash and stop making payments on cars that have been purchased. This is an uncertainty with a magnitude we have never faced, and therefore is too great a threat to ignore.
Fourth, the increase in people with health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act has meant job growth in the health sector at a faster rate than the rest of the economy. The current proposals of the Republican Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act all will lead to a decrease in the number of Americans with health insurance. For this reason, the major hospital associations and the American Medical Association oppose the Republican plan. The threat to this market will have real repercussions on job growth in the one high-wage sector with fast job growth. And the wind down of federal Medicaid support to those states that extended health coverage using Medicaid will cause huge ripple effects on state budgets, which have not fully recovered from the drastic loss of revenues during the Great Recession. This will mean further pressures on recovering state investment in public colleges and universities.
Finally, the proposed budget cuts put forth by the Trump administration would gut public investment in education, housing and the environment. The austerity that has been proposed will cut federal jobs. And, just when the Medicaid cuts are going to hurt state budgets and so put more pressure to raise tuition at public two- and four-year colleges, the Trump administration is proposing cuts to Pell Grants and returning the student loan market to the more expansive private sector.
Thoughts that huge tax cuts to high-income households will offset a downturn in automobile sales, further disruption in the rising costs of college tuition or a dismantling of the health sector are irrational. We have lived through big tax cuts to the wealthy under former President George W. Bush. They were insufficient to pull the economy out of the 2001 downturn in any timely fashion; and, he had the help of low interest rates, a federal deficit swelled by tax cuts and war time expansion of military budgets, as well as a relatively healthy state unemployed insurance system. The current unemployment insurance system is greatly weakened and cannot provide the automatic stabilizer so vital to dampening a recession.
These all point to a real danger that the Fed may be a great threat to what is a more fragile economy than appears at the moment. The drive to be “normal” in a world that is clearly not normal, may put us in danger of a downturn that will be difficult to recover from given the instability shown in the White House.
Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016
The United States holds sacrosanct the principle that regardless of who you are, or where you come from, your hard work will be rewarded.
For day laborers in America, at least half of whom report experiencing wage theft, this ideal rings hollow. In a country so expansive and so diverse as America, there must be mechanisms in place to ensure the principle of getting paid for the work you do is a reality for everyone.
Take my story, for example. After a hard day’s work, when I asked for my earned wages, my employer refused to pay me. He went on to call the police and falsely accused me of attempting to rob him with a knife. After a police investigation, it was clear I was a victim of extortion and false charges. However, since I didn’t have the proper documentation, I was placed in deportation proceedings, which I am still fighting to this day.
Immigrant workers like me are struggling to provide for our family, yet have to work extra to organize with other workers, and to get informed about our rights to make sure we are not being exploited or robbed of our wages. Many of us who search for work on the street corners face very difficult situations on a daily basis. Not only do we receive insults by passerby, but employers themselves often try to undercut us simply because they think that we are not organized and have no support. As we continue to organize, we have developed power as working people and have had significant victories as well.
I know firsthand the confusion, humiliation and helplessness felt by those who have been robbed or shortchanged by their employers. This can happen to anyone. Only a few months ago, we learned cafeteria staff for the U.S. Senate faced issues of wage theft, too. Their fight was very important because they are helping to create a just workplace for all of us. Such a significant victory has waves of impact that reach other parts of the country and inspire many of us to continue to struggle for justice.
The U.S. Senate cafeteria workers’ encounter with wage theft is very typical of what occurs to other working people across the country, but for day laborers and immigrants like myself, our encounters with wage theft go beyond the denial of earned wages. Because of the inherent isolation of our work, and the irregularity of our schedules and employers—with the added issue of growing xenophobia and racism directed at Latino immigrants—we are seen as easy targets for bad employers, and often experience threats of deportation or get falsely accused of wrongdoing.
Many of us have to battle every day to stop employers who want to undercut us. Most of the time we have to work and struggle to get our employers to even pay us for the hours we’ve worked. The institutional protections that we have are often limited, and sometimes it feels like they are nonexistent.
Most workplaces are not the Senate cafeteria. Day laborers throughout the country are experiencing wage theft every day. The Department of Labor and national politicians must recognize our plight and devote the necessary resources to stop this epidemic of wage theft. Though we will continue to organize and fight for justice, it is necessary for the institutions created to hold up the labor protections to benefit all workers.
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on November 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Jose Ucelo is a day laborer and immigrant worker.
Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association, says a new United Nations report, “are essential to human dignity, economic empowerment, sustainable development and democracy. They are the gateway to all other rights; without them, all other human and civil rights are in jeopardy.” But these rights, says the report, are being jeopardized by the recent dramatic rise in the power of large multinational corporations and their dependence on global supply chains and the growing informal and migrant workforce. While these rights are most imperiled in the world’s poorest countries, workers in the United States are also facing these problems.
Undertaken by the special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the U.N. report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. In fact, worldwide, most workers are now without formal employment arrangements. According to the report, an estimated 60.7 percent of the world’s workers “labor in the informal economy, where employment relationships are not legally regulated or socially protected.” In some countries this workforce rises to 90 percent. The report also notes that while such employment has always existed, the rise of global supply chains has “exponentially expanded its growth.” As a result, some 1.5 billion people or 46 percent of the world’s workers, now experience what the report calls “precarious employment.” More than 70 percent of people in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa work this way.
This workforce includes self-employed, contract and part-time workers, and day laborers—and often those working in special economic zones where, as the report describes, “worker protections are sharply reduced or eliminated in order to attract foreign investment.” It encompasses professions of all skill levels, from teachers, to taxi drivers, call-center and agricultural workers. These arrangements often involve on-call schedules, short-term contracts and multi-layered subcontracts—all of which add to workers’ difficulties in asserting rights and difficulties in enforcing labor laws. Women, because they make up the majority of the world’s agricultural and domestic workers, are especially burdened by the lack of labor protections.
As anyone working in this world knows, such jobs do not have typical employment benefits like health and unemployment insurance, sick leave, overtime pay and other wage protections. Workers have little opportunity to organize, form unions or bargain for higher wages and better working conditions. This situation, says the U.N. report, is contributing to wealth inequality worldwide.
But it’s not just globalization that’s swelling the ranks of workers whose right to organize is in jeopardy. Conflict, war and climate change are also contributing to the world’s growing migrant population that’s now its largest since World War II, notes Roger-Mark De Souza, director of population, environmental security and resilience at the Wilson Center. These people “have become a major low-wage workforce that is excluded from opportunities to bargain collectively for improved wages and working conditions,” says De Souza. And, he explains, these workers are now woven into the fabric of world economics—sending to their home countries an estimated $580 billion in 2014.
The report singles out the plight of migrant, women and domestic workers, many of whom lack formal employment. (ILO in Asia and the Pacific/ Flickr)
The United States is no exception
While the impact of working without the freedom to organize is most dire in the world’s poorest countries, “the U.S. is no exception to the types of labor rights abuses the report lays out,” Oxfam America regional director Minor Sinclair tells In These Times. “The abuses of labor and the changes in the economy, and how that disadvantages labor and labor rights—the U.S. is as much caught up in that as any other country,” says Sinclair.
The economy’s structure is changing “in a way that disadvantages even more workers,” Sinclair explains. Whether through layers of subcontractors that ultimately employ factory workers in Bangladesh, U.S. meat processing workers or college graduates working the “gig economy,” the report reflects the fact that “increasingly, people don’t have employers that are responsible for workers’ rights,” says Sinclair. And this makes it “harder for workers to advocate for (these rights) and protections.”
The impacts of this situation are, of course, most acute at the low-wage end of the employment spectrum, a workforce that often includes immigrant workers. In the United States, as elsewhere, farmworkers and food processing workers are especially vulnerable and lacking in protected labor rights, as are domestic workers. The report says that in the United States, immigrant workers “who attempt to exercise their rights are often blacklisted by employers, who use the threat of denied future work opportunities to silence workers.”
Sinclair also notes the impact and rise of right-to-work laws across the United States, which are now in place in 26 states. “Basic labor rights, the right to unionize and right to strike, are severely compromised by right-to-work laws,” he says. The report describes what’s happened to workers in states in the U.S. South where these laws are in place—and how corporations have taken advantage of the lack of unionization.
When it comes to solutions, the U.N. report sees little progress in support of workers’ freedom to assemble and organize coming from voluntary corporate social responsibility and auditing programs. Such programs, says the report, “are not a substitute for legally binding, robust enforcement of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.” It calls on businesses to refrain from anti-union policies and practices and to support labor rights throughout their supply chains, especially for workers in “vulnerable situations,” including migrant and minority group workers.
Despite this trend, Oxfam’s Sinclair says he sees “some real signs of hope in the legislative work around the right to $15 per hour and the new federal overtime regulation.” He also notes that, albeit slowly, corporations are beginning to realize that “rights erosion is not a sustainable business model.” That said, he also fears that we’re moving towards “a bipolar work situation,” where “some people have workers’ rights and some people don’t.” But because this situation now affects everyone from university teachers to auto manufacturing and farm workers, he also holds out hope the issue of workers’ rights will finally get substantive attention.
“We welcome the U.N. report and the opportunity it provides to raise awareness and highlight the many challenges workers still face globally in exercising this fundamental right to freedom of association,” Carol Pier, deputy undersecretary for international labor affairs at the U.S. Department of Labor, said in a statement. “Working to protect and promote workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively is a priority for the Department, at home and abroad.”
Currently on the U.N. agenda: a legally-binding human rights agreement for corporations and businesses.
This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on October 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.
Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
The vast majority of undocumented immigrants who have been given the temporary ability to legally work in the United States are currently employed or attending school—helping them make “significant contributions” to various labor markets—according to a national survey released Tuesday by immigrant advocacy groups.
The survey took a look at 1,308 people who received legal work authorization and deportation relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, an 2012 executive action from the Obama administration aimed at assisting undocumented immigrants who grew up here in the United States.
According to the report, 95 percent of survey respondents are currently employed or enrolled in school. And nearly two-thirds of them reported receiving better pay under DACA, with almost half saying they found a job that “better fits my education and training.” Others said they now have a job with better working conditions.
The report also found that DACA recipients have gone into industries like educational and health services, nonprofit work, wholesale and retail trade, and professional and business services. Close to 6 percent of respondents started their own businesses—twice as high as the entrepreneur rate among the general American public.
The impact of DACA recipients on the U.S. economy has been enormous. Average hourly wages for DACA recipients have gone up by 42 percent, roughly an increase from $9.83 per hour to $13.96 per hour, according to the survey. More than half of all respondents said they recently purchased their first car, while 12 percent purchased their first home.
Sigifredo Pizana Hernandez, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, attends the “Rally for Citizenship” on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, where tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters are expected to rally for immigration reform. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
“These large purchases [of vehicles] matter for state revenue, as most states collect between 3 percent and 6 percent of the purchase price in sales tax, along with additional registration and title fees,” study authors wrote. “The added revenue for states comes in addition to the safety benefits of having more licensed and insured drivers on the roads.”
The survey was conducted by UC San Diego Professor Tom Wong, the advocacy group National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the immigrant rights group United We Dream, and the think tank Center for American Progress. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent website housed within the Center for American Progress.)
This survey echoes findings from a similar report conducted last year, which found that DACA recipients were able to get jobs that better matched their skills and that paid them better wages.
This research helps present a clearer understanding about the impact of the DACA initiative, which from its inception has received sharp criticism from Republicans who say the policy is a show of President Obama’s “executive amnesty overreach.” In fact, Obama’s actions are legal and based on a decades-old legal precedent for the executive branch to exercise prosecutorial discretion for some immigrants who have “non-priority enforcement status.”
About 741,546 undocumented immigrants have benefited under DACA as of mid-September, according to the latest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.
However, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump—who typically refers to immigrants in disparaging terms and has promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico—has indicated that he would dismantle the DACA initiative altogether if he becomes president.
This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on October 18, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Esther Yu-Hsi Lee is the Immigration Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle East and Islamic Studies and a M.A. in Psychology from New York University. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Esther is passionate about immigration issues from all sides of the debate. She is also a White House Champion of Change recipient. Esther is originally from Los Angeles, CA.
Monday, April 28th, 2014
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka visited hunger strikers last week outside the White House who are protesting deportations that rip families apart from each other. We asked our mobile supporters to send messages of solidarity and encouragement to the hunger strikers. Here are some highlights from what you said:
- Keep up the fight. Hasta la Victoria.
- Carry on one day longer for justice.
- We all do better when we all do better—Paul Wellstone. Stay strong!
- New York teacher and child of immigrant supports you!
- No more breaking up families. America supports family values.
- You are fighting a good fight, I stand behind your cause! CWA Local 7901 Portland, Ore., is there in spirit.
- Hang in there…no person is illegal…the tide is turning.
- Hermanos y hermanas, stay strong. As we say in the Steelworkers, one day longer, one day stronger!!!
- If companies can move from country to country for labor, workers should be able to cross borders, too.
- Most Americans are on your side. Together, we can break the Republican blockage. We’re with you all the way! Si, se puede!
- Your work is so important. Thank you for putting your personal welfare on the line. I wish Congress could do the same. Solidarity!
- Courage! You are recognized, respected and cared about.
- This country needs you. Please do not give up your courageous fight. Many Americans are with you.
- God bless your soul. I am fasting tomorrow in solidarity.
- They can never deport our spirit to fight injustice.
- This is America. Anybody who follows the rules should get ahead.
- Stay strong! We’re linking arms and standing with you every step of the way. We shall not be moved.
- Your pain is our hope.
- !THANK YOU, HUNGER STRIKERS. YOU ARE HEROES!
- Onward & forward in solidarity.
If you want to send your own message to the hunger strikers, text HUNGER to 235246 (standard data and message rates may apply).
This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 28, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.
Thursday, October 11th, 2012
As two critical bills waited quietly on California Governor Jerry Brown’s desk last weekend, immigrants across the state held their breath, hoping that the progressive legislation could affect the national immirgation debate. By Sunday night, the anticipation gave way to disillusionment with two stunning vetoes.
The highly anticipated Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would have enacted major protections for tens of thousands of housekeepers, nannies and other caregivers and closed loopholes ignored by federal labor law. It would have extended California’s policies for overtime pay and workers’ compensation, and helped ease in-house workers’ arduous, sometimes-abusive work routines by providing for a set amount of sleep and the ability to cook one’s own food.
Above all, the Bill of Rights would place California alongside New York (where similar legislation has already passed) in formally recognizing the rights and unique needs of this burgeoning, cross-cutting sector. The bill won support from a huge array of groups, from labor unions to celebrities, precisely because of the myriad social issues that domestic work braids together: the changing demographics of the workforce, the challenges of securing affordable childcare or elder care for families, and the struggles of immigrant workers, particularly women of color, in a largely unregulated industry.
But Brown scrapped the bill (sadly following an earlier veto by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) and aligned himself with the business lobby, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, which had complained that the provisions of the bill would be unworkable and overly burdensome for employers.
The California Domestic Workers Coalition will continue its campaign (with plans to deploy sponge bombs to help Brown “clean up his act”) by building on its growing network of allies, including women’s rights, labor and faith groups. Looking ahead, Katie Joaquin, a Filipino community activist with the California Domestic Workers Coalition, tells Working In These Times, “We’re going to continue to build upon those relationships. And the first step is to hold Governor Brown accountable for what we view as a blatant lack of leadership.”
Inspired by the New York example, Joaquin says, the California bill is part of a movement for what the National Domestic Workers Alliance calls “an alternative vision of care,” which is based on sustainable working conditions and better training in the care industries, in order to meet the growing need for caregivers as the population ages. “We need to have a vision for training and caring for caregivers at the same time that we’re making care accessible for families,” Joaquin says.
Immigration policy complicates the labor struggle. Brown delivered a one-two punch to California’s migrant communities by also vetoing the Trust Act, which would have restrained the power of local police to route arrestees suspected of immigration violations into the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That means that the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, including domestic caregivers and other low-wage workers, will continue.
Immigrant rights activists had pushed the Trust Act to counter the Obama administration’s enforcement regime, particularly the Secure Communities program, which encourages federal and local police to collaborate to nab undocumented immigrants. The program mirrors Arizona’s infamous SB1070 law and other state initiatives that threaten to expand racial profiling of Latinos and feed the federal deportation machine (which hasn’t significantly eased up in spite of the administration’s slippery claims of refraining from deportating “low priority” cases, such as students with clean records).
Still, aside from the painful vetoes, Brown managed to approve more modest pro-immigrant measures, such as allowing driver’s licenses for some undocumented immigrants (a move apparently aimed at the youth who would qualify for temporary immigration relief and work permits under the White House’s new “deferred action” policy).
The problem is that making it easier for undocumented workers to drive isn’t going to prevent them from being pulled over and ensnared in deportation proceedings. A young man named Juan Santiago told the Associated Press:
he was pleased he would be able to get from his home in Madera to his college classes 30 miles away once his work permit application is approved. But he said the measure does little for his mother, who brought him across the Arizona desert into the U.S. when he was 11.
“It was a happy and a sad day for us,” Santiago said. “The fact that the governor vetoed the TRUST Act, it means there’s nothing to protect the rest of my family members.”
The legislative changes that immigrants most need now are those that protect the whole neighborhood–at work, in school and at home. In an email to Working In These Times, Chris Newman, legal director of California-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), one of the leading advocates for the Trust Act, says:
Equality demands that all Californians have faith in law enforcement, and the vetoes send a message that whether it’s civil rights, labor rights, or public safety, Jerry Brown does not respect the interests of immigrant workers in California.
While the vetoes were a blow to the movement, passing pro-immigrant policies is not an end in itself. Even in New York, where a hard-fought Domestic Workers Bill of Rights is already on the books, workers have faced difficulty in using the law to directly challenge employers over workplace violations.
Building political savvy and leverage on the street level is critical, with or without supportive legislation. As NDLON activist Pablo Alvarado wrote on the group’s blog, the governor “can veto a bill but he cannot veto a movement.” Ultimately, it’s the community’s power, not the letter of the law, that defines justice.
This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on October 3, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Michelle Chen work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.
Thursday, February 23rd, 2012
Immigrant “carwasheros,” who often earn below minimum wage with no benefits, scored an historic victory this week by unionizing two Los Angeles car washes, Vermont Car Wash and Nava’s Car Wash. They were the first in the city limits to unionize. The workers are now members of the United Steelworkers, with the move likely gaining them significantly improved wages, protections and benefits while also scoring a symbolic and tactical win for organized labor as a whole.
Last summer, three car washes in Santa Monica recognized unions and then in October Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica became the first in the country to sign a union contract, as Akito Yoshikane and Michelle Chen reported for Working In These Times.
The California car wash campaign begun in 2008 has been a major focus of the national labor movement, with AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka joining L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in person to cheer the achievement on Tuesday. The Carwash Organizing Campaign, affiliated with the United Steelworkers, has rallied much community support and called for boycotts of local car washes, formerly including Vermont, and also including ones with the names Celebrity, Hollywood, Five Star and Magic Wand.
In January, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced a settlement for more than $1 million among eight northern and southern California car wash owners that “underpaid workers, denied rest and meal breaks, and created false records of time worked,” according to a press release. The office had filed a lawsuit against the car washes in 2010. In December 2010, workers from Marina Car Wash who lost their jobs right before Christmas performed a play about their plight at a celebrity-heavy restaurant whose owners have family ties to the car wash owners.
In Chicago a campaign by some car wash workers and labor rights activists has been underway for close to a year, with organizers and workers in close contact with their L.A. counterparts. Workers at Little Village Car Wash gained citywide attention with a campaign supported by the group Arise Chicago to get back pay due a number of workers who had worked for years for little more than tips. Workers and supporters bearing squeegees took over the car wash in November.
Car wash workers are emblematic of a significant and stable or even growing sector of the labor economy – people who obviously work in a fixed location, for a given employer, but are often treated as independent contractors, frequently working only for tips with no job stability or benefits. Dish washers, night club dancers, graphic designers and IT professionals are among the diverse range of occupations wherein people often find themselves in similar situations. These workers have traditionally had difficulty unionizing, since they are treated as independent contractors and/or their economic and potentially immigration status make them vulnerable and afraid to anger the employer.
A study by the Community Labor Environmental Action Network (CLEAN) found that while California car washes brought in $872 million in revenue in 2002, workers often earned well below the state minimum wage of $8 an hour.
In addition to paying wages that are illegally low, Los Angeles carwash owners often deny their workers the most basic workplace rights and protections required by law.?Analysis of case files of the California Occupational Health and Safety Administration (Cal/OSHA) reveal numerous citations of carwash owners in Los Angeles.
Working at a carwash can be difficult and even dangerous, especially during the hot summer months when temperatures in Los Angeles approach 100 degrees.
Workers are frequently forced to work without safety equipment, training on how to deal with hazards and chemical exposures in their workplaces, clean drinking water, breaks for rest and meals, minimum wages, overtime pay, health insurance, or respect and dignity on the job.
A study by the University of Illinois at Chicago regarding working conditions at Chicago area car washes is also in the works.
The CLEAN campaign also points out that car washes can be serious local polluters, allowing chemicals to run off into storm sewers that often lead directly to rivers or in California the ocean, while also potentially exposing members of the public to toxics.
As Michelle Chen noted, the car wash bears important cultural symbolism, especially in Southern California:
The car wash is the quintessential symbol of American exuberance. Nothing speaks to our freewheeling consumer culture like our obsession with shampooing, waxing and pimping our rides for the world to see. But in the gleaming car capital of the world, Los Angeles, carwash workers are driving a movement to expose rampant abuses in one of the city’s dirtiest jobs.
A press release from Harris’s office about the lawsuit against car washes notes that:
The car washes required employees to report to work several hours in advance and be available, unpaid, until business picked up. When workers were paid, many received paychecks that could not be cashed because of insufficient company funds. Additionally, the car washes operated for years without licenses from the Labor Commissioner, which are required under California law.
The two-year contract signed by workers at Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica addresses many of the problems with the industry, as Yokishane summarized:
Workers at Bonus Car Wash will see a 2-percent wage increase. In addition to health and safety measures, the contract prohibits the employer from firing workers without just cause or discharging those who voice safety hazard concerns. There is also a grievance and arbitration procedure to settle disputes.
On Tuesday, Mayor Villaraigosa was quoted saying:
What these contracts represent are a good paying job, a better standard of living, and a voice on the job for some of our City’s most exploited workers…In an industry rampant with wage theft and abusive conditions, these businesses have stepped up to do the right thing.
This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on February 22, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book isRevolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached email@example.com.
Wednesday, January 18th, 2012
While neighboring Arizona keeps its notorious anti-immigrant law on the books, New Mexico may be taking another path. State Sen. Steve Fischmann (D) is proposing a guest worker plan to let undocumented immigrants work legally in the state. If immigrants can prove they have lived in New Mexico for the past year and pass a background check, they could get a worker’s permit and legal status.
Fischmann told a local TV station that he is pushing the guest worker plan because current immigration policy is not working:
“The feds are failing us,” said Fischmann. “We make lawbreakers out of everybody with our current immigration policy whether you’re an employer or someone trying to get a job.”
Fischmann said about six percent of New Mexico’s workforce is undocumented, working mainly agricultural jobs.
“It really strives to keep immigrant families together,” said Fischmann. […]
But the idea seems to be going nowhere fast.
“To try to set up a state guest worker program is doomed to failure,” said Rep. Dennis Kintigh, R-Roswell.
Kintigh said a guest worker program would be giving amnesty to thousands of immigrants who have broken federal laws.
The federal government would have to approve Fischmann’s plan, and before that could happen, the New Mexico legislature would have to pass the bill. The legislative agenda is set by the governor, and Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has not commented on the proposal except to say that she thinks immigration reform is a federal issue.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed into law a guest worker plan that allows undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to have a state-issued permit to work in Utah. And California may consider its own version of the Utah law. Given the important role immigrants play in the U.S. economy and military, these state guest worker plans are helpful measures to let more people actively participate in the workforce.
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on January 18, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Amanda Peterson Beadle is an editorial assistant at ThinkProgress.org. She received her B.A. in journalism and Spanish from the University of Alabama, where she was editor-in-chief of the campus newspaper The Crimson White and graduated with honors. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked as a legislative aide in the Maryland House of Delegates. In college, she interned at the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire, the Press-Register (Mobile, Alabama), and the Ludington Daily News. She is from Birmingham, Alabama.
Thursday, January 12th, 2012
Eight California car washes agreed to an historic $1 million settlement with the state’s attorney general for routinely failing to pay minimum wage or overtime, creating false records of work hours and not paying money owed to employees who quit, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris.
Workers at these car washes were taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who illegally denied them the pay and benefits they earned. I am pleased that the resolution of this case will allow workers to receive the pay they are owed.
At least $800,000 of the settlement will go to workers who were underpaid, according to court records. Other parts of the settlement will pay taxes and penalties. Click here for a copy of the settlement agreement.
Two of the of the car washes in the agreement are Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica and Marina Car Washin Venice, where workers fought and won recognition with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 last year. Says Local 75?s Dave Campbell:
We are glad that the Attorney General is taking seriously the issue of wage theft among car wash workers. Workers have been waiting to be made whole for past violations for years.
The workers there and at other Southern California carwashes came together in the CLEAN Carwash Campaign to fight for their rights. The CLEAN Carwash Campaign is a coalition supported by the USW, the AFL-CIO and more than 100 community, faith and labor organizations in Los Angeles. For more information, click here.
More good news from the Clean Carwash Campaign: the owner of Navas Car Wash in Marina Del Ray, the successor company to BJ Car Wash, agreed to respect and sign the union contract agreed to by the previous owner and ratified in early November.
This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now blog on January 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and 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. “When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.”
Wednesday, December 7th, 2011
ThinkProgress has been reporting on the catastrophic economic consequences of Alabama’s harshest-in-the-nation immigration law. Undocumented workers are the backbone of Alabama’s agriculture industry, and their exodus has already created a labor shortage in the state. Farmers say crops are rotting in the field and they are in danger of losing their farms by next season.
GOP politicians have crowed that driving immigrants out of the state will reduce unemployment by letting native citizens fill those jobs. But they’ve quickly discovered that Americans are simply unwilling to do the back-breaking labor of harvesting crops.
To stave off the disastrous collapse of state agriculture, Alabama officials are seriously considering replacing immigrant workers with prison laborers who they could perhaps pay even less than immigrants. Earlier this year, the head of Alabama’s agriculture department floated this idea. Now, the department is actively promoting it to the state’s farmers:
Alabama agriculture officials are considering whether prisoners can fill a labor shortage the agency blames on the new state law against illegal immigration.
The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries is meeting with south Alabama farmers and businesses in Mobile on Tuesday. Deputy commissioner Brett Hall says the agenda includes a presentation on whether work-release inmates could help fill jobs once held by immigrants.
Georgia implemented a similar scheme to deal with its post-immigration-law exodus, but the program had mixed results, with many inmates walking off the job early. In fact, some in Georgia were amazed Alabama did not learn from their mistakes before implementing an immigration law that jeopardized agricultural and construction industries. “It was like, ‘Good Lord, you people can’t be helped. Have you all not been paying attention?’” said Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.
Replacing skilled workers with virtually free (and sometimes actually free) prison laborers has become a trend in Republican-led states. Under Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-WI) anti-collective bargaining law, at least one Wisconsin county replaced some union workers with prison labor. And Georgia is considering replacing firefighters with prisoners to save money.
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on December 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Marie Diamond is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org. She hails from the great metropolis of Temple, TX. She holds a B.A. in political science from Yale and was a Yale Journalism Scholar. Before joining ThinkProgress, she worked at West Wing Writers, a speechwriting and communications firm. She has also interned for The American Prospect and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and has done development work in South Africa and Kazakhstan.