Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘protests’

Forced arbitration silences sexual harassment victims. After protests, Google finally got rid of it.

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

One week after 20,000-plus Google employees around the world staged a mass walkout to protest the company’s discrimination and its abysmal handling of sexual misconduct complaints against top-level executives — as the New York Times reported, multiple senior executives were granted multimillion-dollar severance packages or promotions after being accused of sexual violence — the company has announced revisions to its sexual harassment policy. Top of the list: An end to forced arbitration clauses.

In a memo to all employees, Google CEO Sundar Pichai detailed the changes employees could expect, and though the first bullet point about arbitration came with some defensive caveats (“Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons”), the change is a meaningful one that appears to be catching on among tech giants.

Chances are, you’ve signed a policy just like this one without even realizing it. As of 2017, more than half of American workers were bound by arbitration clauses, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

And if you didn’t sign one at work, you may have signed one elsewhere: In May, Uber announced it would be eliminating forced arbitration agreements for employees, riders, and drivers who make sexual assault or harassment claims against the rideshare company. Which means, until May, if you were an Uber rider, buried in the Terms & Conditions that virtually no one reads was language that forbade you from taking a sexual misconduct claim against Uber to the courts.

As the New York Times reported, Uber already allowed drivers and employees to get out of those agreements as long as they opted out within the first 30 days of signing their Uber contracts — but no such provision was in place for the riders.

Last December, Microsoft announced that it was eliminating forced arbitration agreements with employees who make sexual harassment claims. The company also declared its support for a proposed federal law that would essentially ban these still-commonplace agreements. “The silencing of people’s voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, told the New York Times.

And it was a forced arbitration clause that Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes lorded over Gretchen Carlson, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2016. He fought back by pointing to the language in her Fox contract that barred her from bringing those claims to court and requesting that the court compel Carlson to engage in arbitration instead.

Carlson’s contract didn’t just stop her from bringing her claims to the justice system; it stipulated that “all filings, evidence and testimony connected with the arbitration, and all relevant allegations and events leading up to the arbitration, shall be held in strict confidence.” At least a dozen women reported similar experiences, with parallels not just to the initial harassment but with Ailes’ weaponizing of legal language in their employment contracts.

Other changes to Google’s sexual harassment policy, according to Pichai’s memo, include: “more granularity” around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes; an “overhaul” and consolidation of the means by which employees can report misconduct; “extra care and resources” for Google employees throughout the reporting process, with “extended counseling and career support”; and updated and expanded mandatory sexual harassment training, with failure to comply resulting in negative performance reviews.

Left unaddressed are workers’ demands that the internal harassment report be made public and that an employee representative be added to Google’s board. Only full-time employees are covered by the changes Pichai describes; contractors, vendors, and temporary workers are not.

Google Walkout For Change, the organizers behind last week’s mass demonstration, issued a statement that “commend[ed] this progress, and the rapid action which brought it about,” but called out what the workers’ perceive as the memo’s shortcomings. Mainly, “The company must address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone.”

Last year, Senators Lindsey Graham (R – SC) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) introduced legislation that would void arbitration agreements that prevent sexual harassment victims from seeking justice through the courts. It also allows victims to file EEOC complaints in addition to pursuing legal action in court, and it prevents employers from compelling arbitration, even in cases where the employee already signed an agreement with a forced arbitration clause.

A bill similar to the one introduced in the Senate, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017, was introduced in the House by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL). It
has bipartisan support and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. In 2019, with a Democratic majority in place, the House might actually pass it.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress.

Why Defending Workers’ Rights Means Fighting ICE’s Deportation Machine

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Last month, California Labor Commissioner Julie Su distributed a memo instructing her staff to turn away any Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who show up at labor offices without a federal warrant. This action came in response to three recent cases in which ICE sought workers’ information shortly after they filed claims against their employers. Su told The Los Angeles Times that, in two of these cases, ICE officials showed up at the employees’ labor hearing. In case ICE continues to show up at such hearings, Su provided suggested scripts to guide the interaction. “Would you please leave our office? The Labor Commissioner does not consent to your entry or search of any part of our office,” reads one portion of the text.

ICE’s targeting of labor hearings falls into a much broader pattern of workplace immigration raids. The second term of the George W. Bush administration saw a boom in such policies, with authorities carrying out hundreds of sweeps targeting workers. In May of 2008, hundreds of Homeland Security agents swooped into Postville, Iowa and arrested 389 employees at a kosher meatpacking plant. Nearly 300 of those workers spent five months in jail before being deported. In a town with a population of just 2,300 people, this meant that more than 10 percent of all residents were incarcerated as the result of one raid. “They don’t go after employers. They don’t put CEOs in jail,” said Postville Community Schools superintendent David Strudthoff at the time. “[This] is like a natural disaster—only this one is man-made. In the end, it is the greater population that will suffer and the workforce that will be held accountable.”

While Barack Obama deported more people than any other president, the tactic of targeting workers fluctuated on his watch. Data from ICE indicates that workplace immigration arrests peaked for Obama in 2011—but never reached the levels seen under Bush. The National Employment Law Project’s (NELP) Haeyoung Yoon told In These Times that, while we haven’t seen widespread examples of workplace raids under the Trump administration, this doesn’t mean they’re not coming eventually. “These efforts take a lot of time to plan,” said Yoon.

Underscoring Yoon’s point, 55 undocumented workers were detained in February in a series of Mississippi restaurant raids. After the arrests, ICE public affairs officer Thomas Byrd said that the federal search warrants were part of a year-long investigation.

State organizations like the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition are training employers to prepare for the possibility of such sweeps. NELP and the National Immigration Law Center have created a helpful guide for businesses concerned about ICE raids, which includes details on how to keep agents out, what to do if they enter and what actions can be taken after they leave. “Employers and their employees have rights when it comes to immigration enforcement in the workplace,” wrote NELP staff attorney Laura Huizar shortly after the guide was published. “Employers can and should take steps now to protect those rights and do what’s best for their business and their teams.”

In California, where almost half of the state’s farmworkers are undocumented, there have been recent legislative efforts to combat workplace raids. The SEIU-sponsored Immigrant Worker Protection Act (AB 450) is a bill, introduced this March, that would require all employers to demand a federal warrant if ICE shows up. The legislation, which was introduced by San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu, would also prevent businesses from handing over personal employee information unless they were subpoenaed.

But what is to be done about employers who willingly collude with ICE? While explaining her memo, Julie Su told the Los Angeles Times that she suspected businesses of tipping agents off to labor hearings, events where only the employer and employee would be aware of the scheduled time. Earlier this year, Jose Flores, a 37-year-old Massachusetts man, was arrested by ICE shortly after a workers’ compensation meeting. Flores’ lawyers believe that the arrest might have been retaliation from Flores’ employer, Tara Construction, looking for a way to get out of paying out the claim. Stephen Murray, a lawyer for Tara Construction, insists that his client made no contact with ICE and had no reason to believe Flores’ was undocumented.

A recent investigation by ProPublica and NPR reveals that this is hardly an isolated case. Their review focuses on Florida, where a 2003 law made it illegal to for workers to file compensation claims using false identification. In the 14 years since, at least 130 injured workers were arrested under the law. At least one in four of those workers was detained by ICE or deported. “State fraud investigators have arrested injured workers at doctor’s appointments and at depositions in their workers’ comp cases,” reads the report. “Some were taken into custody with their arms still in slings.”

The report also points out that the Florida model could be a preview of widespread things to come under the Trump administration. If this is true, then the labor movement could end up taking a closer look at Tom Cat Bakery in Queens, where a Homeland Security inquiry and promise of subsequent firings sparked radical protests. Employers who openly collude with Trump’s deportation machine might soon be targets of the same resistance.

 This article was originally published at In These Times on August 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

The List of the Fight for $15’s Victories—Tangible and Intangible—Is Getting Longer

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

 

David MobergFast food workers and their allies in New York City, supported by protestors elsewhere around the country, flooded public hearings in New York today with the message that they deserve at least $15 an hour. They testified before a wage board appointed at the behest of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to determine standards for fast food workers in the state.

The board’s work is taking place as a widening movement to raise minimum wages for the growing share of Americans in ill-paid jobs is both raising expectations and winning concrete victories. But the Fight for $15 campaign has also spurred action by many groups of low-wage workers, from home care aides to university adjunct teachers. And it is generating a complex new current within the broader labor movement that goes far beyond even their ambitious wage goals.

The Los Angeles city council’s vote last month to raise the minimum wage in the nation’s second largest city to $15 an hour by 2010 was the latest—but almost certainly not the last—in a series of major local victories by low-wage workers and their advocates that started last year in SeaTac, Washington. The movement then won victories in Seattle, San Francisco and other local jurisdictions. Popular movements in other cities, such as St. Louis and Kansas City, are close to pressuring local legislators to set a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Some employers, most recently Chipotle, are apparently reading the writing on the wall and improving pay, benefits and work rules (though generally offering much less than workers want).

In Los Angeles, more than 40 percent of its workforce, which has a high proportion of service workers, earn near California’s current state minimum wage of $9 an hour (or less for some tipped employees and for victims of employers’ wage theft, estimated in Los Angeles as afflicting nearly one-fifth of the low-wage workforce).

They also rely heavily on public assistance programs to survive. Such aid effectively amounts to taxpayer subsidies of nearly $7 billion a year across the country to companies like McDonald’s to support the substandard wages of non-managerial fast food workers in the U.S., according to the University of California at Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

The contemporary movement to “raise the wage” has roots that are often run deep and wide—for example, in Los Angeles, traditional unions, worker centers and other non-union worker organizations, non-profit research and advocacy groups, faith organizations, immigrant and civil rights groups and dozens of other allies are participating in the movement. Last year, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti advocated raising the minimum to $13.25, but he missed the wave of public opinion that swept away his by then passé proposal. In a poll of Los Angeles residents, 69 percent favored a strong package of workplace improvements, including a minimum of $15.25 an hour.

In Los Angeles, more than 100 groups formed the Raise the Wage coalition. Many of them had been involved in living wage battles or other campaigns to raise wages for specific groups of workers, such as hotel employees or people working at the publicly-subsidized LAX airport, or to raise awareness of how many employers cheated their employees.  As a result of their work, the new law covers every worker and establishes an enforcement agency for the first time.

The coalition drew on studies of the economics of raising the minimum from the Berkeley Center, the Economic Policy Institute and the non-governmental think tank the Economic Roundtable (collaborating with two UCLA research institutes) that promised little or no loss of jobs, an economic shot in the arm (especially in poor areas) and a boost in economic well-being for more than 40 percent of Angelenos.

The minimum wage campaign even drew support from a few small business people. Kevin Litwin, chief operating officer of Joe’s Auto Parks (with 20,000 parking spaces in downtown Los Angeles), was told by his CEO not to fight the wage increase but instead investigate what happened to the company’s branch in Seattle after the local minimum wage rose to $15 an hour. Litwin discovered that revenue increased, workers were more productive, turnover declined, and, he said, “the whole thing seemed to work for us in Seattle. Why not LA? We think this is just good to do, and it was also good for our industry.”

The final legislation rejected requests for exemptions from some businesses, such as the restaurant industry’s standard plea for sub-minimum wages for tipped employees, as well as a labor movement proposal that workers under collective bargaining agreements not be covered.  Business critics pounced on what they claimed was labor hypocrisy and an effort to entice employers to accept unions in order to benefit from the exemption.

But Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, said, “The concern of labor is for unionized employees’ varying benefits—sick pay, pensions—with an overall package significantly higher than the minimum wage. It was an attempt to respect existing collective bargaining agreements.” The proposed revision may be taken up later, but many council members seemed unsympathetic to the union argument, even though such exemptions are common in local minimum wage laws.

Even if the Fight for $15 was only one Raise the Wage member among many, the broader movement owes much to the fast food fighters. Starting with a one-day strike action two and one-half year ago by several hundred fast food workers in New York City, the organization has spread throughout the country and to other occupations, though the fast food industry is its priority.

Fight for $15 has contributed to the low-wage worker movement its goals—which at first, seemed to be a far stretch—of at least $15 an hour and the right to join a union without harassment. Its grassroots dynamism and direct action tactics have inspired a variety of ill-paid workers but posed a formidable  threat to its foes, most immediately McDonald’s Corporation, the world’s third largest private employer.

“Once you cut the head off the snake, it all falls in place,” says New York City McDonald’s worker and volunteer organizer Jorel Ware. “McDonald’s is the snake.”

Last weekend more than 1,300 Fight for $15 representatives gathered in Detroit for their second annual convention, and judging from their major resolution—and from the keynote speech by Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, their financial and organizational backer—the organization is counting on the New York wage board determination to be good enough to become the standard for the industry.

“We believe New Yorkers are leading the way to a new standard for fast-food workers and our families across the country,” the resolution reads (and Henry said that “New York is on the verge of setting a new standard that will change how we think about wages in this country”).

Despite the overwhelming emphasis on higher pay, the Fight for $15 has always been a fight for a union as well. Yet increasingly leaders at all levels are focusing on the need for a union as well as for a minimum wage raise. But Kendall Fells, national organizing director of Fight for $15, acknowledges that the union cannot organize store by store, but it can keep pressure on the company as a whole until there’s an agreement about how to proceed with  recognition.

“The problem is the process of organizing is too small and Fight for $15 is too big,” he says, but there’s the possibility of organizing all of the stores at once, adding community pressure from clergy, allies and other unions to the pressure, including additional legal action on the company’s labor law abuse.

Meanwhile, even without official recognition of their status, the workers can bring some changes by a variety of challenges at work, in the courts, and before the National Labor Relations Board.  “In these workers’ minds, they already have a union because they’re sticking together and bringing change,” Fells says.

Many workers are not only fighting for the $15 an hour and a union that first drew them to the campaign. They’re fighting for a better world. They see their actions as re-directing the course of history, as building a future for their children and grandchildren, and as helping workers not only in other fast food outlets but also in many other jobs and industries. They are exercising newly discovered rights as citizens of the United States and even enjoy a sense of being linked to workers in other countries. In these ways, they have already taken steps beyond developing a simple trade union mentality towards a consciousness of class that is as much ethical and political as economic.

“Our goal is a living wage when we say $15 and a union,” says Ware, an early supporter of Fight for $15. “That’s why we say $15 and a union. It looks like we’ve got the $15 but it may be a long fight for a union.”

But he notes that next year is an election year, which may open possibilities. Indeed, Hillary Clinton called into the convention saying that she wanted to be the “champion” of the organization and its members. Her move may have been simply political positioning, but it at least indicates that some Democrats may feel momentarily comfortable supporting a labor struggle.

Ware sees their demands as “good for the economy,” since their victories will likely encourage other companies to pay a living wage. And the campaign is good for him, helping him do something he had always wanted but did not know how to do.  “I never thought I’d be doing this,” he said. “I always wanted to help people, but I didn’t know how.”

At his second Fight for $15 convention, Antione Hearon, 22, was impressed by how much the movement had grown in a year, spreading across the country and even around the world. Although he hopes to be able to afford to return to community college, he wants to know that McDonald’s will pay a living wage if he has to rely on it.  But he’s in it for more than himself.

“My family [of 14 children] has been without lights, gas, water. At times we didn’t eat,” he said. “I need the money for myself and my family. I’m doing this not just for myself but for the whole country. I didn’t know anything about unions [before joining the campaign]. I didn’t think fast food workers could have a union. … It shocked me: this is a real thing. … Then there’s the unity aspect of this: there are people who I could go to personally, who have my back. I like that unity.”

At the convention, Connie Bennett, 57, an eight-year veteran at McDonald’s, found herself swapping ideas with other workers about how to recruit people—especially young workers—to the Fight for $15, as well as setting up “pen pal” ties with workers in other cities. She realizes some of them feel they need the job badly and are afraid of losing it, but she explains to them that organizing, even striking, “that’s our freedom, and that’s our right as citizens. I tell them that this is not only their fight but a fight for their children and grandchildren.”

She talks up the union at her bus stop and when she stops by the mid-morning daily coffee club of elderly customers. That paid off when workers at her Chicago McDonald’s went out on strike. The coffee club members joined in. “I can’t put into words how that support made me feel,” she said.

Fifteen dollars an hour might mean that she could take a bus to work all the time, not just half the time. More important, she might be able to visit four grandchildren she has never seen. But the experience of solidarity, of being part of a union, is a reward in itself.

“I believe very much in unions,” she said. “If this is a sign of what a union means, I believe a union will bring the $15 to us. I explain to the members that a union is a big part of what they need. A union will give them freedom of speech, and you’re the ones who make the decisions.”

Even without a formal union or a pay raise, the fighting fast food workers have become winners. They’ve won a new sense of their rights and power and a new view of how they fit in the world. And that’s worth at least as much in its own way as the pay raise they need and deserve.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on June 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is David Moberg. David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

Despite Violence, Cambodian Workers Vow To Continue Their Fight

Sunday, January 19th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Snappy Comebacks for Those Lame Anti- 'Occupy' Talking Points

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Richard EskowLame, pat, pre-packaged putdowns of Occupy Wall Street: We all deal with ’em, whether we’re arguing with a neighbor, appearing on Fox, or answering the jeers of relatives who’ve just received a chain email that “really puts the protesters in their place.”

Here are a few easy comebacks for your next argument. They cover everything from the supposed “hypocrisy” of demonstrators who buy cardboard (really!) to snarky comments about scruffy-looking anticapitalists with beards.

1. They say “Oh, look. The demonstrators buy stuff from corporations!” You say “Whaddya expect? Corporate lackeys in government have forced everybody else out of business!”

I don’t know who came up with this lame picture, but it’s making the rounds on Wall Street – and with all the other Americans co-opted by its propaganda:

2011-10-11-lameputdownofprotestors

Hey, bankers! Is that the best you’ve got? Really? Because this picture is so lame that it actually gave us several of our talking points. We’ll start with this one:

Corporations get generous tax breaks for not hiring people and shipping jobs overseas instead. They make money from those free trade agreements pushed through by their functionaries in the government. And Wall Street’s making billions for not lending to smaller businesses that might compete with some of those mega-corporations.

Now you’re calling the demonstrators hypocrites for buying stuff from corporations. Who else are they going to buy it from? Everyone else was driven out of business!

In a very real sense, that’s why they’re protesting.

2. They say “They hate businesses!” You say “No, they hate parasiticalbusinesses.”

Want to know something ironic? If the demonstrators had their way, most businesses in this country would actually do better. Why? Because the banks aren’t lending to anybody but the mega-corporations who are already sitting on a ton of cash.

If the system was reformed, banks would lend to those smaller and medium-sized businesses that actually hire people. What’s more, debt relief for the American consumer would unleash a buying wave that would spur widespread economic growth.

These “anti-business” protesters would be great for businesses – all, that is, except for the dishonest and socially useless ones. You know, like the ones that underwrite politicians, think tanks, and television networks – who then proceed to make fun of demonstrations, as they’re paid to do.

And you wonder why they’re protesting?

3. They say “But it’s hypocritical to buy corporate products and then protest corporations!” You say “You sound like a Communist.”

That’s right – like a Communist. I spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe as protests very much like these were overthrowing the Soviet empire. You know what the old-timers in those countries said back then? They said “These people are protesting the State, but they’re wearing clothes made at state-run factories and waving signs made with state resources! What hypocrites!”

(Well, they said it in Hungarian, or Czech, or Polish. But the meaning was the same.)

Tell your debate opponents they sound just like old Commies as they defend the uncompetitive, inflexible, and totalitariansystem the corporations now run. Don’t blame the demonstrators. They can’t operate within the new system until we’ve reformed the old one.

That’s why they’re protesting.

4. They say “Did you know they paid all the TARP money back? They weren’t bailed out.” You say “Fine! Give every consumer in the country an interest-free loan!”

This is one of the inept moves that CNN’s Erin Burnett tried on a protester. She, and everybody else using this line, must be either confused or financially illiterate.

Here’s how the real world works: If you (we, actually) lend the banks a trillion dollars at 3% below the usual rates, that’s the same as giving them a cash gift of $30 billion — even if they pay all the money back!

And when you count the Federal Reserve’s actions, like purchasing the banks’ toxic assets through the “Maiden Lane” dummy corporation, the bankers have gotten billions more in additional bailout money. The demonstrators are right:A few mega-banks destroyed the economy, and we bailed them out.

This argument’s as hollow as a mega-bank’s promise. And that’s why they’re protesting.

5. They say “But still, they buy corporate stuff!” You say “They’re called Occupy Wall Street, not Occupy Main Street. Anybody in that picture using an ATM?”

They keep coming back to this one, for some reason. That’s why the picture says things like “hat by J. Crew.” Oh, snap! Oh, wait — what’s your point again?

They’re protesting banks, for crying out loud, not hat companies!

As we were saying: Lame.

6. They say “These protesters don’t understand the free market.” You say “What free market?”

Economic theory says that one of the basic elements of a free market is transparency. Yet as of this writing Wall Street’s fighting tooth and nail against a process that would allow more transparency in the derivatives market. They don’t want transparency – and that means they don’t want a free market.

We haven’t had a free market for decades. We’ve had a lootocracy that makes money through deception, confusion, and obfuscation.

People should conduct their business in the light of day – and gambling with other people’s money should be illegal. The words “free market” and the phrase “Wall Street” don’t belong in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence.

That’s why they’re protesting.

7. They say “Ha ha! Look at that bearded guy in the sandals!” You say “Hmmm … A bearded guy in sandals protesting the moneylenders. Where have we seen that before?”

They love making fun of the demonstrators’ looks, but it’s pretty difficult to step outside the system and live outdoors without looking a little rough in the eyes of the moneyed classes. Jesus and his disciples probably looked pretty rough to some people, too. I’m sure the rich people looked down their noses at Him after He overturned those tables. That’s not done in polite company.

Think about it: A guy rides into town on a donkey. Then he says the moneyed interests are exerting too much influence on the government – and on some of the religious elite, too. And what was that about the wealthy? Oh, yeah – “It’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.”

3,000 years of moral law condemns people who make excess profits from money without contributing to society. Every single prophet to make those arguments – which is to say, all of them – was condemned by the plutocracy of the day.

No matter what you believe or don’t believe spiritually, it’s clear that oligarchic wealth has corrupted our politics, polluted our culture, and debased our basic sense of morality.

And that’s why they’re we’re protesting. I’ve been to New York’s demonstration, and Washington’s. Next stop is LA. But they’re all over the country.

IIf you haven’t been to one yet, why not stop by? ‘m not an organizer, just an admirer, but consider this an official invitation: Your presence is requested as democracy – and history – unfold before us.

Dress is casual. If you’re part of the 99%, come as your are. (Sandals optional.)

This post originally appeared on OurFuture.org on October 10, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician.Richard had senior executive positions at several Forture 500 firms and was CEO of two medical management companies before forming HKS. He also served as a senior consultant to the World Bank, the U.S. State Dept/USAID, and government and private entities in over 20 foreign countries. Areas of expertise included health policy, healthcare investment, operations, marketing, and strategic planning

Bus Drivers Forced to Transport Arrested Wall Street Protesters; Union Going to Court to Stop It

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Laura Clawson

The Transport Workers Union, among the first unions to support the Occupy Wall Street protesters, is going to court to prevent the city from forcing its members to drive buses carrying arrested protesters. Several empty buses were commandeered Saturday during the mass arrests at the Brooklyn Bridge and MTA supervisors ordered drivers to drive them:

But that violates the contract between Local 100 and the MTA, Samuelsen said.

“Our mission is to provide transit service to the riding public, not transport people who were arrested,” he said.

David Waldman puts this into perspective:

if pharmacists then TWU

But as we know, depriving women of medical care is different and pharmacists have a God-given right to refuse to fill some of the most common prescriptions there are. Whereas union bus drivers should certainly expect to have to transport people lured into law-breaking by the police and then arrested while engaged in a protest said bus drivers support.

How the TWU fares in court will presumably depend on the exact language of its contract, but this has to be likely to boost attendance at Wednesday’s rally as incensed transit workers show their support.

This post originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on October 3, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Grocery Store Cleaners Enter Day 7 of Hunger Strike

Friday, May 27th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaMore than 200 people—many of them janitorial workers—marched, rallied and protested in front of Cub Foods grocery store this week in Minneapolis, Minn., to urge the chain to treat their workers better.

They’ve been waiting for a year for Cub Foods to come to the table. They’ve petitioned the chain, sent letters to Cub Foods representatives and sent a petition with hundreds of names, organized delegations to store headquarters. But the chain refuses to waiver.

Ten people have taken up a hunger strike and are now entering Day 7. They’ve pitched their tents near the store in what is called “Camp Hunger.” They say they’ll continue to fast until Cub Foods responds to their demands for fair wages and improved conditions for the workers who clean their stores. On Monday, the workers and their allies delivered letters nationwide to Supervalu stores, which is the parent company of Cub Foods, demanding a Code of Conduct that would ensure fair treatment.

“Workers across the country are concerned about the extreme deterioration of working conditions in the retail cleaning industry nationwide and want to ensure justice not only for retail cleaning workers in the Twin Cities but to ensure that retail cleaning workers across the country don’t continue to see their wages drop and their workloads increase,” said Veronica Mendez of the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), an affiliate of the national organization Interfaith Worker Justice.

Last year, I reported on the efforts of janitors at Safeway stores in Northern California to improve working conditions at that chain. Just as Safeway did, Cub Foods says it’s not responsible for the poor treatment of workers because they are subcontracted out to a cleaning company.

That company is Carlson Building Maintenance, whom Cub says is responsible for their workers. (Janitors in the Safeway fight, by the way, eventually ratified a collective bargaining agreement with Safeway’s janitorial services contractor, waging the base wages and strengthening health standards).

Cub Foods and Carlson are using a common loophole to wash their hands of any responsibility to the worker. The retail companies contract out to professional maintenance companies. Then they take the lowest bid, pitting the maintenance companies against each other.

While workers used to earn $10 an hour and work with a cleaning crew of four people, their pay has now dropped to $7.50 and the crew has shrunk to two, according to Mendez.

One of the worker-organizers, Mario Colloly Torres, was a cleaner at the store. He told In These Times, “Many who have worked ten years in the industry know there were four workers to a shift and today there are two workers doing the same work. In some stores workers don’t even have time to take a break because the workload is so big.”

Colloly Torres says he worked at the company for several years “without one problem.” Then he started organizing the workers, and says he was abruptly fired. “They make money off the community. And make money cheating the workers,” he said. Charges have been filed with the National Labor Relations Board stating that Cub Foods and Carlson unfairly fired Colloly Torres for organizing coworkers to demand fair wages and working conditions.

“I held two jobs because of the low wages. We work in a place filled with food and yet we can barely feed our families,” says Colloly Torres, adding, “They look for a cleaning company that is going to give the lowest price for the work. The result for us: lower wages and increased workloads.”

Last year, when the campaign for Justice in Retail Cleaning began, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said, “No corporation can escape its responsibility to workers by simply outsourcing their work to some other company that doesn’t observe the rights of those workers.”

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on May 27, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog