Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘US Social Forum’

A Day in the Life of a Warehouse Warrior

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

kari-lydersenIt’s a stifling hot day in June, and Tory Moore, 37, is pounding the pavement outside a currency exchange in Bolingbrook, a Chicago suburb. Wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words Warehouse Workers for Justice, sweating but full of energy, he paces back and forth while mopping his face with a yellow washcloth, looking for the tell-tale signs of warehouse workers.

After years working in warehouses himself, he knows what to look for: t-shirt, shorts, steel-toed boots or tennis shoes, safety goggles. When he sees a likely warehouse worker, he goes up with a friendly greeting and starts asking questions. He often chimes in with his own story – he was a temp for six years, even though he was working at the same warehouse – Del Monte Foods in Kankakee – the whole time.

Moore is one of the driving forces behind the study “Bad Jobs in Goods Movement,“ released by Warehouse Workers for Justice and the University of Illinois at Chicago last month. The campaign hired Moore through a program for low-income workers to help conduct the hundreds of surveys that form the basis for ongoing research into this booming but little-examined industry.

“Some people need two jobs just to make ends meet,” explains Moore. He asks one worker outside the currency exchange: “Are you doing anything else to make ends meet, cutting grass, cutting hair, tattooing?”

Since becoming involved with Warehouse Workers for Justice, Moore has developed his apparently natural talents as an organizer. He spoke to workers, organizers and academics involved with goods movement issues nationwide at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit in June.

Outside the currency exchange, he goes through the questions on the four-page blue survey earnestly and methodically, making sure he gets the spelling of people’s names right and reading off all the different types of discrimination they may have faced. When he gets to the question about whether someone prefers temporary or permanent work, his voice becomes more animated and he jumps in to answer for them, “Permanent right?”

Most quickly agree.

“You don’t get any justice if you’re a temp!” he says.

He  takes a quick break to check his messages – the only one is from a temp agency  asking if he can work tomorrow. On principle, he’s not going to take a one-day job, even though he needs the money. But he doesn’t want a refusal to prevent them from calling him with future longer-term offers. So he returns the phone call – politely saying, “I’ll be going out of town so I won’t be able to do it.”

“Well I lied to them, I’m not going to disqualify myself in case something else comes up. I’m not trying to be lazy, but, one day only! I’m not the one.”

Moore is acutely aware of the injustice in the industry, which relies heavily on temporary workers who labor for low wages with few or no benefits, paid sick days or chance for advancement. But in a desperate job market, some see this as normal, and are grateful for any work they can get.

One man, who doesn’t want his name used, is happy to have just gotten a new albeit temporary job.

“I thought that was the game! I didn’t know that was a problem. I thought that’s just the way it was. You work three months somewhere then they move you somewhere else,” the man says.

“That’s right, you’re getting $9.50, then they move you somewhere else where you’re making $8,” says Moore. “I never thought of it that way…”

Moore examines the man’s pay stub, and is enraged to see there’s no company name on it.

“There’s no damn name on here! That’s a problem! Say you need to sue them, you show this to a judge, there’s no name.”

The man rubs his face and looks worried. Moore asks what his new position is.

“I really don’t know, they don’t tell me anything, they just say, ‘See how many of these seasoning packets you can put in a box,’” says the man, who works 2 a.m. to noon. “I was just so happy to get the job.”

Moore tells his story about being a temp for six years, and being denied a loan and apartment rentals. ” Seriously?” says the man, looking crestfallen.  “So when I go look for an apartment I can’t go in and say this is the place I work?”

“A lot of people lost their cribs because the 89 days came and they got laid off instead of hired on. This is a million-dollar company and you’re working your ass off for 9.50,” Moore says.

The man stands absorbing it all for a few moments, asks a few more questions and receives impassioned answers from Moore. The man basically tells Moore that he has ruined his day, but he’s glad to know what he needs to watch out for. He agrees to answer Moore’s survey questions.

“I had to give my Martin Luther King speech,” Moore says, laughing and shaking his head. He wipes his brow again, then starts scanning the parking lot for more warehouse workers.

This article was originally posted on Working In These Times Blog.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island.

Social Forum Focuses on Workers’ Issues

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Image: James ParksWorkers’ issues were the focus of  five days of  marches, rallies and workshops at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, which ended over the weekend. Grassroots activists and progressives from across the country came together to build new alliances, create new strategies and put new energy into the movement to turn around the American economy.

Writing in Workday Minnesota, Howard Kling quotes a UAW leader who says the forum was an opportunity for labor to build relationships with other movements and encourage a “strong, fight-back attitude toward the intense corporate agenda that is blocking change on health care, labor rights, fair trade policies and a host of issues that we believe in.”

Throughout the forum, union members were hard at work making sure working peoples’ voices were heard. In a brainstorming session at the start of the forum, the hundreds of union members attending the five-day event listed the changes most needed to improve conditions for workers in the United States. The list included passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, immigration reform, a public blacklist of employers who mistreat workers, enforcement of existing labor laws, a federal jobs bill and the criminalizing of labor law violations.

On the first full day of the forum, newly elected UAW President Bob King joined Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO President Saundra Williams; Al Garrett, president of AFSCME District Council 25; and Armando Robles, UE Local 1110 president, in leading a march and rally through the streets of Detroit. Chanting “Full and Fair Employment Now!” and “Money for Jobs, Not for Banks!” participants demanded Congress address the pressing jobs emergency.

One of the forum highlights was a joint meeting of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) to develop strategies to better protect the rights of some of the nation’s most vulnerable workers.

Domestic workers often are afraid to join unions for fear of losing their jobs. There is little job security and some have no employer-provided health care, and most toil in isolation, said Ai-Jen Poo, director of NDWA.

They are completely vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Some have good employers but some work in homes where they earn 50 cents an hour and work around the clock.

At the global and local levels, officials are beginning to recognize the need to protect domestic workers. Earlier this month, the New York State Senate passed the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, guaranteeing better working conditions for domestic workers. In California, a Bill of Rights resolution for domestic employees has been introduced in the state legislature.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) this month took a giant step forward in the fight to create workplace justice for the millions of housekeepers, nannies and other domestic workers around the world. At its International Labor Conference the ILO began the process to establish a first-ever international standard (“convention”) to protect the rights of domestic workers.

Nadia Marin-Molina with the NDLON said the most common problem for day laborers is wage theft.

The employer will say, “We’ll pay you tomorrow,” and then the employer never  shows up. Sometimes we have to go to court to get their money.

NDLON and Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) are working to stop wage theft among mostly immigrant low-wage workers. The nation’s economy suffers when millions of workers are denied their just pay, IWJ Executive Director Kim Bobo said in a workshop on faith and labor. It is also a moral issue, she added, since every major faith group has some variation of the commandment that “Thou shalt not steal.”

On June 25, faith activists at the forum led a protest against JPMorgan Chase & Co., calling on the Wall Street financial institution to declare a moratorium on foreclosures in Michigan and sever its ties with R.J. Reynolds. The tobacco giant refuses to meet with the Farm Labor Organization Committee (FLOC) to discuss the slave-labor working conditions of contract growers in North Carolina.

Throughout the week, workers and union staff took the lead in discussions on building communities by rebuilding U.S. manufacturing and on the fights for justice for domestic workers, Immokalee farm workers, immigrant workers and sweatshop workers. Activists talked about strategies for gaining full employment in a new economy, changing our trade policies and creating safe workplaces.

The forum followed the Great Labor Arts Exchange, which was held in Detroit, the first time in three decades that it was produced on the road.

This article was first published by AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris.

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