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Posts Tagged ‘worker’s rights’

State of the Union: Don’t Let the TPP Sink Our Wages

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

CD speaking at UCSD FairTrade RallyThe president will give his final State of the Union address tonight. Traditionally, this annual speech reviews the accomplishments of years past and sets out a “to-do” list for the year ahead. Although the White House has indicated that this year’s speech will be “nontraditional,” it has made clear the economy will be a major focus.

I hope the president will talk about the importance of the proposed overtime rule, which could raise wages for some 15 million of America’s working people. I also hope he talks about how the auto manufacturing industry has soared back to life since the so-called bailout, which saved 1.5 million jobs in its first year alone.

While the economy isn’t perfect, and most of us are still feeling the pinch of student loans, too-smallpaychecks, threats to retirement security and not enough voice in our workplaces, there are a lot of successes the president can look back on with pride in his speech.

On the other hand, there is also a new trade and economic deal on the horizon—the Trans-Pacific Partnership—that could poke a hole in the progress our economy has made since the president came in to office in 2009.

The thing that’s dangerous about the TPP, and the reason we should worry about it shrinking our paychecks, is not the idea of trade. Trade is good—but we shouldn’t confuse “trade” with so-called “trade agreements,” which set down rules not just for “trade,” but for food safety, Wall Street regulations, prescription medicines and investor rights. These are the kind of rules that should be made in public, in democratic fashion, not in a secretly negotiated agreement that can’t be amended. The TPP’s corporate giveaways are dangerous.

Existing trade rules (including those in the North American Free Trade Agreement and the U.S.–Korea trade deal) already cost the average U.S. worker $1,800 a year, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and preliminary studies on the TPP by Center for Economic and Policy Research and Tufts indicate that we can expect that figure to get worse.

Working people are deeply disappointed that the opportunities to put workers’ interests first and eliminate corporate entitlements in the TPP were largely ignored.  And more importantly, working people are disappointed because we know that all of these things mean fewer good jobs in our communities and fewer opportunities for our children.

The TPP is the latest example of the failed U.S. approach to trade that started with NAFTA, which drives down wages and creates special rights for corporations.  The TPP could have been different, but instead it is a collection of minor tweaks designed to get congressional votes rather than ensure workers’ wages rise.

The AFL-CIO wants trade agreements that grow our economy, create good jobs in America and give working people in all countries the chance to succeed when they work hard. Instead, passage of the TPP will mean lost jobs and lower wages.

Compared to eight years ago, the U.S. economy is afloat and heading toward improvement. The TPP will undermine that progress and give us rocky sailing ahead. There is simply no good argument for trading away our right to control our economy in exchange for more corporate power.

I hope the TPP doesn’t come up at all in the State of the Union speech. We’d be better off without it. But if it does—let’s be clear about what it really means for America’s working families.

Let’s raise our voices against this corporate giveaway and make it clear the TPP must go down to defeat!

This blog appeared on aflico.org on January 12, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Celeste Drake is a Trade & Globalization Policy Specialist at AFL-CIO.  Her experience with the labor movement was as a UFCW member while bagging groceries during college.  She also served as the Legislative Director for Representative Linda Sanches (D-CA).

Joy to the Workers

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Leo GerardThe spirit of the season is generosity. Eight toys for Hanukkah. A partridge in a pear tree and 11 other quirky presents. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday.

It’s the thought that counts. And the thought is good-hearted. That’s why the season works so well.

To keep it all rolling happily along, however, workers need to earn enough money so that they can afford gifts and charitable donations. With wages stagnant for decades, that’s increasingly difficult.

In keeping with the figgy-pudding and potato latke traditions of the holidays, here’s a recipe for delivering joy to workers so that they can spread holiday merriment:

Ingredients

1 measure outlawing scabs
1 measure banning lockouts
1 measure raising minimum wage to $15 an hour
Knead in trade law enforcement
Filter out currency manipulation
Top it all with campaign finance reform

Directions

Start by combining legislation forbidding both scabs and lockouts. These are two weapons corporations use to ratchet down wages, ruining workers’ holidays.

Right now, for example, Sherwin Alumina and ATI have locked out their loyal workers and replaced them with scabs. That’s thousands of workers forced to walk picket lines and depend on USW lockout assistance and food pantries for holiday meals rather than donating to them.

Prohibiting lockouts and scabs would slightly shift the balance of power toward workers. That’s completely justified considering corporate profits are at record levels while wages are walking backward, lower now than in 2007.

Next, add to the mix a raise to the minimum wage. No one who works full-time should live in poverty. The current $7.25 minimum, moribund for six years, is a Dickensian disgrace, a Bob Cratchit-level degradation.

Increasing the wages of workers at the bottom to $15 an hour will force up the pay of everyone else as well. All workers benefit. Happier holidays for all.

Trade law enforcement must be blended in next. Failure to immediately punish trade law violators has pummeled commodity producers – like aluminum and steel.  Mills are closed. Thousands of workers are laid off. No merry holiday for them. Or their communities.

Several foreign countries, but particularly China, illegally prop up their exporting manufacturers. Not only that, they’re also overproducing, flooding the world market and crashing prices.

Workers need laws enabling the government to impose punitive tariffs before American mills close and families suffer. In addition, the government must file and prosecute trade cases to defend American industry, not force labor unions and manufacturers to do it.

The next step in this recipe is pulling currency manipulation out of the international market. Ending this underhanded trade cheat is crucial

Countries including Japan and China deliberately devalue their currency in order to automatically discount the price of their exports, so every day is Black Friday for their international customers. Making matters worse, this scheme simultaneously marks up the cost of products that U.S. manufacturers try to sell in currency-manipulating countries.

This makes for very bad holidays in places like Ashland, Ky., where AK Steel shut down its blast furnace earlier this month and laid off hundreds of workers. They join about 4,000 Steelworkers at plants in Illinois and Alabama threatened with holiday layoffs.

The last ingredient, campaign finance reform, makes the whole recipe possible. Nothing will happen without it.

In a democracy, each citizen should have equal influence over lawmakers. The wealthy and fat-cat corporations shouldn’t get special access and treatment because they’ve given millions to candidates. The only way to stop that is to outlaw massive political bribes.

Gifts should be to loved ones and charities, not to politicians. If gargantuan campaign “presents” aren’t stopped, workers won’t be able to afford Christmas gifts because politicians will continue to ignore their needs and, as a result, their wages will continue to atrophy. Then the holiday season will not work well for anyone.

Workers need to make this holiday recipe happen. It would bring joy to their world.

About the Author: The author’s name is Leo Gerard. Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on December 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Why the Sharing Economy is Hurting the Economy - and What Must Be Done

Sunday, November 29th, 2015

Robert ReichIn this holiday season it’s especially appropriate to acknowledge how many Americans don’t have steady work.

The so-called “share economy” includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will be in such uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.

Already two-thirds of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.

It eliminates labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime.

And it ends employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

No wonder, according to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.

Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.

What to do?

Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.

We should aim instead for simplicity: Whoever pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.

In addition, to restore some certainty to people’s lives, we need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.

Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you’ve received from all the jobs you’ve taken over the preceding five years. With income insurance, you’d automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.

It’s possible to have a flexible economy and also provide workers some minimal level of security.

A decent society requires no less.

This blog was posted at RobertReich.org at November 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

Kohls Worker Details Her Insane Schedule Through Black Friday

Friday, November 27th, 2015

Bryce CovertConnie Miller isn’t really sure when she’s going to be able to get some sleep over the next three days.

She’ll be working at Kohl’s the day before Thanksgiving, on the holiday itself, and on Black Friday. Her shift on Wednesday ends at 12:30 a.m., and with her half-hour commute, she’ll be home by 1 a.m. Then she’ll have to wake up early so she can get an entire Thanksgiving meal for 15 family members cooked and ready to eat by the time they start to arrive at her house from all over the country at noon. She’ll leave that celebration at 5, arriving at work by 5:30 and working until just after midnight. Then she’ll have to be back at work on Black Friday by 6 in the morning for another eight-and-a-half hour shift. “They don’t even give you time to come home and actually go to sleep before you’re due back,” she said.

“It’s tough, it’s just really tough being open on Thanksgiving,” she added. “I just plan on doing a lot of Red Bull.”

The experience has cast a pallor over her holidays. She knows what it’s going to be like having done nearly the same thing last year. “You hate the holidays. It’s exhausting,” she said. “It’s not a fun time. It’s a time to be dreaded. Because I can’t be with my family.”

Kohl’s did not respond to a request for comment. But it’s not the only employer making its employees jump through hoops to be able to have a Thanksgiving dinner. Eleven brands will be open on the holiday this year, and employees at Kmart, for example, say they weren’t given the option to volunteer or sign up for shifts that fit their schedules and can even risk being fired if they call out for a scheduled holiday shift.

Miller wasn’t given any option to pick her holiday schedule. She says she and her coworkers have been told that they’re not allowed to ask for any time off during the week of Thanksgiving or the week of Christmas. She fears that if she were to call out on Thanksgiving Day, she would be all but dropped from future schedules, losing her income. She’s not sure she would do it anyway. “I’d kind of like to call off, we’d all like to call off. But all it’s going to is make the people I work with in jewelry, their night even harder,” she said. “They’re going to have to hustle even more because I’m not there.”

While she’s technically a part-time employee, she will be scheduled for far more than the typical 25-26 hours a week during these times. But it’s not like she’s given much heads up. She only found out her Thanksgiving schedule ten days ago — leaving little time to adjust holiday plans — and still doesn’t know when she’ll have to work during the Christmas season. “They disrespect us so incredibly by not even telling us the most basic thing,” she said. All without any promise of extra holiday pay.

She finds the whole ordeal particularly ironic at her store. It plays a promo on its overhead speakers telling shoppers that it values family, she said. “We’re working on Thanksgiving… If you valued family, we’d be at home.”

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on November 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

IKEA Workers in Massachusetts Walk Out on One Day Strike Amidst Drive to Unionize

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

 

in these times

Yesterday morning in Stoughton, Massachusetts, 14 IKEA workers walked out on a one-day strike—the first ever in the furniture giant’s U.S. stores.

“I’m fighting for my rights,” said striker Veronica Cabral, a 36-year-old single mother and immigrant from Cape Verde. “I want better for me, my family, and my co-workers.”

The union would consist of the 32 people who work in the “Goods Flow In” department, where workers receive shipments and stock the store. Last week they delivered a petition demanding union recognition, signed by 75 percent of the department.

They would form a so-called “micro-bargaining unit,” affiliated with the Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)—following in the footsteps of retail workers at Target and Macy’s who have formed small bargaining units since a 2011 National Labor Relations Board decision, Specialty Healthcare, opened the door.

“It’s been a long fight. Three years ago we started with the Teamsters and we had 70 percent since then,” said Chris DeAngelo, 45, who’s worked at the store for eight years. “What changed is that we can have a micro-unit now.”

Ultimately, DeAngelo said, “our plan is to unionize the whole store. But it is difficult with the different shifts and different parts of the store. We are working up to getting everyone else.”

Fears and reprisals

The same day the workers delivered their petition, Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders sent letters to IKEA U.S. President Lars Peterson, urging the company to recognize the union.

Sanders castigated the company for “blatant intimidation coupled with subtle yet effective psychological warfare against workers who wish to unionize.”

“We had a ‘code of conduct’ training that seemed routine until we were asked to go around the room and talk about our union sympathies,” said machine operator Shawn Morrison, 28. “That was routine, just a part of the training, until someone called it out. Another time the store manager called us up to the H.R. office. He dropped union literature on the table and asked us how we felt about it.”

“IKEA has team leaders on the floor trying to scare everyone about what will happen if there is a union,” Cabral said. “They tell us we will be fired.” She’s been urging her co-workers not to get scared off.

But managers have begun targeting pro-union employees for arbitrary discipline—which made the petition and strike urgent, workers said.

“We couldn’t wait any longer. We had to make some sort of decision,” DeAngelo said. “We know that we all have targets painted on us, especially those of us who have been there longer and are making more than the new recruits.

“This store has been open 10 years and I have been there eight, and there has been no improvement. There is all this tension, all this instability, all this insecurity. You never know when the other shoe is about to drop.”

At the end of their shift November 14, workers in the Goods Flow In department were called together to hear the store manager and head of H.R. give the company’s official response to their petition.

The letter from IKEA management said that “by recognizing the UFCW as the representative, we would be taking away the chance for each individual co-worker to make a choice” and that a secret-ballot election supervised by the Labor Board would be “more consistent with the approach we have taken in our U.S. distribution centers.”

Workers were livid. “Their excuse for denying the petition is ridiculous and disrespectful to the 75 percent of people who signed their names,” DeAngelo said. “That is why we are going on strike. It is a slap in the face. It is absolutely disgusting.”

The American model

IKEA, a Swedish company headquartered in the Netherlands, touts its commitment to social responsibility and worker rights. In Europe its retail workers are overwhelmingly unionized.

But like pro-union workers in Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tennessee, plant, the Stoughton IKEA workers are realizing that their employer is not so much a socially responsible European company doing business in the U.S. as an American-style company that just happens to be headquartered in Europe.

“The American Model—that is what they are calling it,” said DeAngelo. He points to IKEA’s hiring of the notorious anti-union law firm Jackson Lewis to bust the organizing campaign. “A truly socially responsible company wouldn’t do that.”

Morrison traveled to Milan, Italy, last month to attend the IKEA Global Alliance meeting, which brings together unions representing the company’s retail and warehouse workers from all over the world.

“One of the things that our European co-workers felt was that the company was shifting more and more towards the American model and that their labor unions would be in danger,” he said.

“In Europe they kind of believe that the United States does not want unions,” Morrison said. “Europe has gone such a long time thinking that the U.S. is just a barren wasteland of union activity, but we are showing them that that is not true.”

This article was originally printed on InTheseTimes.org on November 17, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Chris Brooks is a graduate student in the Labor Studies program at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and an organizer living in Chattanooga.

The Hellish Conditions Facing Workers At Chicken Processing Plants

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Bryce CovertPedro started getting worried when his hands were so swollen he needed a larger size of plastic gloves.

Pedro (which is not his real name) would arrive at the chicken processing plant for Tyson in North Carolina at 5 p.m. to clock in for the second shift. For the next three hours, he says he wouldn’t get a single break from breaking down slaughtered and defeathered chickens, cutting the shoulders and pulling out the tenders, until he was allowed to take a half-hour lunch at 8 p.m. Then it was back to the line until all of the chickens were processed, sometimes at 5 or 6 in the morning.

He says the line moved so quickly that he was processing 45-50 chickens every minute, or nearly one each second. The fast, repetitive motions soon started affecting his hands, which swelled up painfully. They got so large he had to wear 3XL sized plastic gloves. But when he was sent to the plant’s infirmary, he says the nurse simply told him to take ibuprofen and soak his hands in epsom salts and hot water. “The infirmary nurse told me it was nothing to worry about, just your body getting used to it, like when you lift weights and your muscles swell up,” he said on a call with media.

But he didn’t adjust and his hands kept getting worse. He eventually sought out medical treatment from a doctor, who told him he’d never seen injuries as bad as Pedro’s and gave him work restrictions. Yet Pedro says his supervisor ignored the doctor’s orders and put him back to work on the line. “They do not care about the safety of the person, they just care about putting the chickens out,” he said.

He’s worked lots of jobs, many of which — such as construction — were physically demanding. But nothing was quite like the job processing chickens. “Of all the jobs I’ve had in my life, working at the processing plant was the worst job ever,” he said.

In a report released on Tuesday, Oxfam America is launching a new campaign to address what it says are rampant health and safety issues, as well as low pay and few benefits, that face the people who process chicken in the country’s plants. Consumer demand has been growing such that the average American who consumed about 20 pounds of chicken a year in 1950 eats 89 pounds today, and today the industry sells 8.5 billion chickens a year, earning $50 billion.

That demand has come with increased pressure on processing line speeds, which are twice as fast today as they were in 1979, with an upper level of 140 birds per minute today versus 91 back then. But the report claims that speeds can go even higher than that, given that each line is run by a supervisor with the capacity to slow it down or speed it up at any time. In interviews it conducted with current and former workers in Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina, they reported averaged between 35 and 45 birds per minute, or processing more than 2,000 chickens an hour and 14,000 a day.

Workers have to hang, cut, trim, bread, freeze, and package chickens, actions that require multiple motions on each bird. That means that the average worker has to repeat the same motion — cutting, pulling, hacking, twisting, and hanging — 20,000 times a day with force, although some reach as many as 100,000 of the same motion each shift.

This speed, coupled with repeated motions, is a recipe for injury. Workers report pain in their hands, fingers, arms, shoulders, and backs, plus swelling, numbness, tingling, twitching, stiffness, and loss of grip. Some workers say the pain is so intense that it wakes them up at night. Sharp knives and even chicken bones lead to cuts, which can also expose workers to pathogens. The conditions can be long-lasting if not permanent.

They end up with high rates of injuries, although Oxfam warns that even the official numbers can be an undercount. They have ten times the rate of repetitive strain from microtasks than the rest of the workforce, seven times the rate of carpal tunnel syndrome, and five times the rate of musculoskeletal disorders generally. Human Rights Watch has found that poultry workers are 14 times more likely to have injuries such as “claw hand,” where their fingers get locked in a curled position, or ganglionic cysts where fluid is deposited under the skin. In a 2013 survey from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 86 percent of workers reported hand and wrist pain, swelling, or numbness or the inability to close their hands.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.32.50 PM

Credit: OXFAM

They also report being exposed to harsh chemicals, often used to clean up the blood, offal, and grease that flows from the birds. One survey found that every single worker reported being exposed to chemicals on the job, with half exposed to chlorine and 21 percent to ammonia.

“Despite industry claims that conditions are improving and injury rates are dropping, we don’t believe that they’re true,” Oliver Gottfried, senior advocacy and collaborations advisor at Oxfam, said on the media call.

In a statement, Tyson said, “we believe in fair compensation, a safe and healthy work environment and in providing workers with a voice.” It said it has the highest entry-level pay in many poultry communities, provides health and dental benefits, provides health and safety trainings, requires workers to report injuries and illnesses, allows them to leave the line to use the bathroom, and employs 500 health and safety professionals. Perdue said in a statement that it provides “competitive wages” above minimum wage, comprehensive benefits, and paid time off. It also pointed to its lost-time rate as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 0.17 per 100 workers compared to .8 for all industries, and its incident rate as recorded by OSHA of 2.23 compared to 4.5 for the industry. Pilgrim’s and Sanderson representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The industry also says the injury rate has steadily fallen over the last 20 years. But that data is often based on self-reported rates. Meanwhile, sending a worker to the company infirmary and instructing him to take Advil rather than to a regular doctor, as Pedro says he experienced, means a company doesn’t have to official record an injury in its log.

“Employers have been going to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for these injuries,” said Celeste Monforton, professional lecturer at George Washington University and a former legislative analyst for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Then there’s the problem of breaks. The bathroom is particularly challenging, as workers say they have to get a supervisor to find another employee to fill their spots to keep the line running while they relieve themselves. Workers report that they have to wait an hour or more to get a break. Some say that to cope, they severely cut back on drinking liquids or even wear diapers. Pedro has seen people urinate on themselves while working on the line out of fear of losing their jobs if they leave to use the bathroom.

Tyson specifically refutes this issue in its plants, saying in a statement, “we make it very clear to our production supervisors that they are to allow Team Members to leave the production line if they need to use the restroom. Not permitting them to do so is simply not tolerated.”

All of this is undertaken for low wages. Oxfam reports that they average about $11 an hour, or between $20,000 and $25,000 a year. For every dollar spent on a chicken product, a worker sees just two cents. That kind of pay qualifies a poultry worker with two children for food stamps and free school lunches.

And they still might not see all of their promised pay. Workers report often working more than 40 hours a week — they’re required to stay at most plants until all chickens are processed — but rarely get overtime pay. There have also been investigations and lawsuits finding that plants fail to pay workers for time spent putting on and taking off all of their safety gear or for their lunch breaks. SPLC found that nearly 60 percent have to pay for some or all of their protective equipment, eating into their wages.

On top of all of that, Oxfam did not find a single worker who got paid time off for illness, vacation, or personal leave.

Yet the industry is profitable. The top four companies — Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson — control about 60 percent of the market. Tyson made $856 million in profit last year, Pilgrim’s made $711 million, and Sanderson made $249 million.

Oxfam is hoping that by drawing attention to the issue of safety, consumers will be inspired to push back. Its reforms include lower line speeds and higher staffing numbers, stronger training, more frequent breaks, and dealing with and reporting workers’ injuries. “They need to have respect for workers,” Minor Sinclair, Oxfam America’s regional director, said. It’s targeting the four largest because, he said, “They’re the ones that have the lion’s share of employees and the lion’s share of the market. They influence the market for other poultry companies.”

Pedro will miss out on any improvements, as he was fired, he says because he had been raising awareness about rights among his coworkers at the Tyson plant. He noted people used to ask him why he would put up with those conditions at work, but there are few other jobs on offer in his area.

“I’m trying to pay my bills, pay my rent, feed my family,” he said. “I have to do what I have to do to survive.”

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on October 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

Papa John's stores to pay $500,000 wage theft settlement

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

LauraClawsonNew York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman keeps cracking down on wage theft, and around 250 workers will be sharing in a nearly $500,000 settlement from four current and former Papa John’s franchisees.

“Once again, we’ve found Papa John’s franchises in New York that are ripping off their workers and violating critical state and federal laws,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Once again, I call on Papa John’s and other fast food companies to step up and stop the widespread lawlessness plaguing your businesses and harming the workers who make and deliver your food.”

Though it often isn’t treated this way, it actually is illegal to fail to pay minimum wage or overtime, to make people work off the clock, to force workers being paid at the tipped worker subminimum wage to do non-tipped work, and a disturbing list of other ways businesses have found to keep money that workers have earned. And about that “once again”:

In July, the attorney general’s office arrested Abdul Jamil Khokhar, owner of nine Papa John’s stores in New York, accusing him of breaking minimum wage and overtime laws. According to his plea agreement, Khokhar could serve up to 60 days in jail. In another case, the attorney general’s office secured a judgment of nearly $3 million against two other Papa John’s franchisees.

So while the workers were technically employed by—and cheated by—the franchisees, at a certain point you see a pattern and start to think maybe the parent company has something to do with it. That’s one of the reasons the National Labor Relations Board pushed to treat some fast food chains as joint employers responsible for working conditions in franchise restaurants.

In 2013, a report from Fast Food Forward found 84 percent of New York City fast food workers reporting that they’d been victims of wage theft. Fully 100 percent of fast food delivery workers said the same. Schneiderman’s efforts to crack down have also led to settlements at franchises of other chains, including Domino’s and McDonald’s.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.

GameStop Employees Will Be Able To Spend Thanksgiving With Family, Friends, And PlayStations

Monday, October 12th, 2015

Bryce CovertGameStop and all of its brands will keep their doors closed on Thanksgiving Day this year so that its workers can stay home and celebrate the holiday.

All GameStop, Spring Mobile, Simply Mac, Cricket Wireless, and ThinkGeek stores will stay closed on November 26. They’ll re-open at 5 a.m. local time on Black Friday.

“We believe strongly that our customers and associates should have the opportunity to spend the Thanksgiving holiday relaxing with family and friends,” said Mike Buskey, executive vice president and president of U.S. stores, said in a press release announcing the decision. “We know this is in stark contrast to what many other retailers are doing, but we are taking a stance to protect family time during this important holiday.”

It’s the second brand to make the announcement that it won’t open on the holiday and require workers to come in so far this year: last week Staples said it would also close, reversing its decision for the past two years to be open. (GameStop closed last year as well.)

But it’s likely that many stores will once again be open for shopping on the national holiday, as 12 decided to do last year. While companies often say that their stores are only staffed by volunteers who want the extra hours, workers have reported a different story. Those at Target and Kmart said they weren’t allowed to request the day off and risked termination for refusing to come to work if they were scheduled on that day.

Others were outspoken about deciding to stay closed. Beyond GameStop, 17 shut their doors, many of them citing the fact that they wanted to respect their employees’ ability to celebrate a holiday with friends and family.

They may also have made a financial calculation. Last year’s holiday sales numbers showed that while more people shopped on Thanksgiving Day, fewer shopped on Black Friday, meaning no net increase for stores that opened on the holiday. There was also a strong consumer backlash against the idea of being open, as well as a legislative one.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on October 8, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

Sanders’ Workplace Democracy Act And The White House Worker Summit

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

Dave JohnsonSetting the stage for The White House Summit on Worker Voice, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) today introduced The Workplace Democracy Act. According to Sanders’ office, this legislation “would make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.”

The Workplace Democracy Act allows the National Labor Relations Board to certify a union if a simple majority of eligible workers sign valid authorization cards, also called “card check.” Companies must begin negotiating within 10 days after certification. If no first contract is reached after 90 days, either party can request compulsory mediation. After 30 days of mediation, the parties will submit the remaining issues to binding arbitration.

From the Workplace Democracy Act summary:

According to data released in early 2015 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers’ wages are 27 percent higher than for nonunion workers. 79 percent of unionized workers receive health insurance from their employers, compared to only 49 percent of nonunion workers. 76 percent of union workers have guaranteed defined-benefit pension plans, compared to only 16 percent of nonunion workers, and 83 percent of union workers receive paid with sick leave compared to only 62 percent of nonunion workers.

The Workplace Democracy Act is similar to the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that had majority support but was filibustered by Republicans in 2007. It was dropped in 2009 after “centrist” Democrats would not support it, thereby ensuring the success of another Republican filibuster, again despite majority support.

The White House Summit on Worker Voice

With labor under increased attack from the corporate right, the White House convened an all-day “summit” Wednesday, called “The White House Summit on Worker Voice.” (Note the choice of “voice,” not “power.”)

For the summit, the Council of Economic Advisors released an issue brief titled” Worker Voice in a Time of Rising Inequality,” that begins:

The rise of wage and income inequality in the United States over the last 40 years has been well-established. However, the factors that may have contributed to the fall of earnings at the bottom of the wage distribution relative to the top continue to be the subject of research and debate.

Research suggests that one important factor may be institutional changes in labor markets, perhaps the most notable being declining union density. … in the middle of the 20th century, as union membership rose and remained high, lower-wage workers earned a larger share of total income. However, in recent years this trend has reversed, with union membership falling and the share of income going to the top 10 percent increasing at the expense of lower- and middle-income groups. In the 21st century, the decline in the number of unionized workers has coincided with overall rising inequality.

The brief cites research showing that union members get higher pay, have better working conditions, job training and higher safety standards, are much more likely to get benefits like health insurance and that these gains spill over to nonunion workers in the same workplaces.

The summit continues through the day and can be viewed online here.

In honor of today’s White House summit, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka penned an op-ed, “No PR campaign will save Walmart from being ‘exhibit A’ of bad worker policies“:

Americans are increasingly fed up with an economy that rewards wealth over work, a message that’s made it all the way to the top. That’s why when the White House hosts a Summit on Worker Voice on Wednesday to highlight the power of working people standing together to demand better jobs and better lives, one notable corporation has been excluded – Walmart.

Walmart is the embodiment of our broken economic system. The company pays poverty wages, has discriminated against women and minorities, harms our environment, wreaks havoc on the global supply chain and continues to lead a race to the bottom where workers are treated like numbers on a balance sheet instead of human beings with families to sustain. Walmart’s motto: “Save Money. Live Better” seems only to apply to its heirs, who haveamassed more wealth than 42 percent of the poorest American families combined.

Trumka listed some of the things Walmart is still doing to suppress worker rights, including closing stores for “plumbing issues” when workers in those stores begin organizing. Trumka called this just “the latest in a long line of incidents to silence the voices of workers.”

Time For Everyone To Get On Board For Labor

Labor is under attack by the corporations and the conservatives and Republican party they fund. It is important for all Democrats and progressives to get behind the Workplace Democracy Act, and not let it disappear without the public at least being fully informed of its benefits and who is blocking it.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on October 7, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal comput

Demand Paid Sick Leave for All Employees to Ensure a Healthier and More Productive Workplace

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

grace baehrenIt’s a familiar situation: being sick and at work—or having a sick family member who requires care. While most of us would prefer to stay home and get well or provide care, for the majority of American workers taking a sick day means taking a pay-cut. Not only is the idea of losing pay unappealing, but many American workers simply cannot afford the loss. For some, taking an unexpected day off may even mean risking termination.

Up until now, the push for paid sick leave has been limited to the state and city levels of government. Progress was made with 4 states and Washington, D.C. mandating a paid sick leave accrual system for all employees, and multiple localities passing similar city ordinances (see our state and local paid sick leave laws page).

But now, change is happening at the federal level. On Labor Day, September 7, 2015, President Obama announced an executive order establishing paid sick leave for federal contractors. The order requires federal contractors to provide their employees with up to 7 days of paid sick leave per year beginning in 2017.

Additionally, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or “FAMILY” Act (House, Senate), is proposed legislation that aims to extend paid sick and family leave to all employees in the United States. These standards would provide all employees with at least some partial income, based on a monthly income benefit standard and subject to a capped amount, when such periods of leave are necessary.

If the foreseeable public health benefits aren’t enough to convince you that paid sick leave is beneficial for the workplace, take a look at this letter to Congress signed by over 200 business professors from universities throughout the United States. Among the benefits of paid sick leave discussed in this letter are more productive and engaged employees, as well as long term cost-saving for businesses who offer paid leave.

We need employers and employees everywhere to urge Congress to make legislative changes that support workers, families, employers, and our nation’s economy. Tell your members of Congress to support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act and make paid leave a reality for all!

About the Author: The author’s name is Grace Baehren. Grace Baehren is a student at The University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.

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