Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘worker’s rights’

“Bezos, Our Backs Are Tired”: Amazon Workers Strike on Prime Day

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

On Monday afternoon, in the blistering heat of a 95-degree day, approximately 50 Amazon workers and community supporters rallied outside of a suburban Minnesota Amazon warehouse chanting, “We work, We sweat, Amazon workers need a rest!” That chant was followed by, “Hey Jeff Bezos! Our backs are tired and our funds are low!”

The crowd was picketing to support workers at the Shakopee, Minnesota warehouse (or “fulfillment center”) who timed their strike to coincide with “Prime Day,” one of the company’s key online sales events. Prime Day is being promoted on Amazon’s website as a “two-day parade of epic deals,” when monthly subscribers to the company’s Prime service can shop for discounted items and expect fast home delivery.

Workers say these deals are taking a toll on those tasked with fulfilling customer orders at a breakneck pace. From 2:00 p.m. to at least 8:00 p.m. on July 15, approximately 100 warehouse employees at the Amazon facility in Minnesota are expected to walk off the job in hopes of calling attention to what they say are unfair working conditions, as well as the company’s reliance on temporary employees.

They are joined by workers at Amazon facilities across Europe who are also be walking off the job, according to Mike Murphy of Quartz, to call attention to labor issues such as stagnant pay and unrealistic work quotas.

The majority of workers at the warehouse are East African immigrants, according to an event announcement for the July 15 strike. There are more than 100 such centers in the United States, but this is the only known facility participating in the walkout. These workers are being assisted by a Minneapolis-based labor rights group called the Awood Center, whose stated mission is to “build economic and political power amongst workers in the East African community of Minnesota.”

Meg Brady has worked at the Shakopee fulfillment center for nearly 18 months, although she says she is currently off the job due to a workplace injury. She joined coworkers and local labor activists on the picket line outside the Amazon facility. As a hot, blustery wind took hold, Brady described the stress fracture in her foot that is keeping her from her work as a “rebinner,” or someone tasked with grabbing items off a conveyor belt and putting them in a cubbyhole.

“I group items for orders,” she said, noting that she has to pull 600 products off the conveyor belt per hour. A big screen mounted in front of her keeps tabs of her work speed. There is pressure to keep up, Brady insisted, as she has seen fellow warehouse workers get written up and sometimes fired for being unable to meet Amazon’s requirements. All of this has led to a repetitive stress injury—one she says she had to fight to get recognized as job-related.

She joined the walkout in solidarity, hoping the workers’ actions will lead to reduced work rates, as well as an investment from Amazon in ergonomics. “Right now, we have poorly designed workstations,” Brady said.

Bryan Menegus of Gizmodo notes that workers at this “infamous” Amazon facility have spent the past year engaging in walk-outs and other actions on behalf of religious freedom and other labor concerns. Thus far, workers have won some concessions, including the right, in 2018, to honor the Muslim holiday of Ramadan during that year’s Prime Day event.

William Stolz also works in the Shakopee fulfillment center and helped organize the strike. In a July 9 interview with National Public Radio, Stolz described his work as a “picker”—someone who works in tandem with robots to put customer orders together, at a rapid pace dictated by Amazon.

Workers want to be treated like “human beings, not machines,” Stolz told NPR, before citing other labor concerns—such as Amazon’s use of temporary workers—as reasons for the planned walk-out. Currently, around 1,500 employees work at the Shakopee facility.

As the strike got underway at 2:00 p.m., a small but growing group of workers and labor activists began to hold picket signs demanding workplace concessions from Amazon, including reduced work rates and allowing more temporary employees to become permanent workers with access to benefits. In response to news of the planned action, Amazon has insisted that it provides competitive wages and benefits in Minnesota.

Still, the July 15 strike comes amid a year of increasing pressure on Amazon to alter its business practices and put labor, climate and human rights first. In 2018, thousands of Amazon workers in Europe mounted their own Prime Day strike, citing such concerns as unfair labor practices and union-busting. Similarly, the company backed off plans for a proposed second headquarters in New York City, thanks in part to union-led pressure.

Amazon began doing business in 1994 and has grown to become a global company with billions in annual earnings. In 2018, the company raked in over $232 billion in revenue and paid zero dollars in federal income taxes, according to sources such as CNBC. First-quarter earnings for 2019 have come in at close to $60 billion, putting Amazon on track to surpass last year’s revenue totals.

One of the company’s central income-boosting strategies has been increasing speed of its product-delivery rate, especially through its fee-based Prime service. The company recently announced plans to pour $800 million into making one-day delivery the standard for Prime members, who pay a monthly fee in exchange for free shipping on millions of products.

Amazon has said that its quick order-turnaround system is accomplished not just by human labor but also by technological advances, including its own Amazon Robotics design.

While Amazon’s earnings continue to grow, however, workers charged with filling orders at faster speeds are working under “endlessly brutal and punishing conditions,” as reporter Ravie Lakshmanan put itThe Guardianhas described warehouse workers being injured on the job and then denied benefits or help. In another case, a former Amazon employee said he was fired for supporting unionization efforts.

These conditions led Amazon workers across Europe to go on strike on Prime Day in 2018. This year, Amazon workers at the Shakopee fulfillment center will take up the mantle and engage in a six-hour work stoppage.

So far, this is the only known action planned by Amazon employees in the United States. The striking Minnesota workers were joined, however, by a handful of engineers from Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, who  reportedly flew to Minnesota to join the protest and pressure the retail behemoth to take a more active role in addressing climate justice concerns.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Lahm is a Minneapolis-based writer and former English Instructor. She is a 2015 Progressive magazine Education Fellow and blogs about education at brightlightsmallcity.com.

Minnesota Amazon workers plan Prime Day strike, this week in the war on workers

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Consider there to be a digital picket line around Amazon’s upcoming Prime Day. Workers in a Shakopee, Minnesota, warehouse are staging a walkout for six hours of Prime Day to protest harsh working conditions.

Amazon’s answer to the workers’ protest is that it raised wages to a $15 minimum. Which is good. But it’s not what they’re talking about here. The workers are talking about the strict quotas they have to meet to keep their jobs, quotas that lead to physically punishing work. They’re talking about warehouse temperatures and broken sprinkler systems. And they want to push Amazon to turn more temp jobs into permanent jobs.

This will be the first U.S. work stoppage for Amazon, though the company’s European warehouse workers have held strikes. Minnesota Amazon warehouses, though, have been the site of successful organizing by Muslim workers seeking accommodations during Ramadan, when they’re fasting. Pilots who fly for Amazon—and have their own issues with the company—are sending a representative to the strike and said in a statement that “We hope that Amazon takes seriously these striking workers’ calls for change.

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

 

Trump administration attacks unions for fast-growing occupation, this week in the war on workers

Monday, July 8th, 2019

A new part of the Trump administration’s ongoing quest to weaken worker power goes into effect this Friday, in the form of a new regulation banning automatic union dues deduction for home health workers paid directly by Medicaid. That means that the workers, many of whom have only recently become union members—and have gotten significant raises as a result—would have to individually pay their union dues.

That means a new hassle in the lives of workers who are still paid low wages and in many cases work long hours at multiple jobs. And it means major administrative hassles for the unions that represent them.

Adarra Benjamin, an Illinois home health worker, told ThinkProgress what this attack on her union membership means to her, saying, “We are the union—the workers in general are the union—and understanding that if we don’t come together, we don’t have a voice. If we don’t have a voice, no one understands where the hard work and the dedication is coming from… no one understands what it takes to take care of yourself and other people.”

Home health work is one of the fastest-growing occupations in recent years. Workers are overwhelmingly women and people of color; immigrants are also a significant part of this workforce.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

After letter from former undocumented employees, Trump feigns ignorance

Monday, July 8th, 2019
Amid the ongoing immigration crisis in the U.S., President Donald Trump claimed this week that he “didn’t know” that his own properties had hired numerous undocumented migrants as long-time employees.

Asked specifically about undocumented employees at Trump’s numerous golf clubs, Trump pleaded ignorance to The New York Times on Friday.

“I don’t know because I don’t run it,” Trump said when asked about the immigration status of workers at his golf resorts. “But I would say this: Probably every club in the United States has that because it seems to be — from what I understand — a way that people did business.”

Trump’s claim comes amid revelations about a humanitarian crisis within America’s sprawling detentions centers. It also comes shortly after the Trump Organization announced it had fired nearly two dozen undocumented employees from golf courses in both New York and New Jersey. (The Trump Organization also announced it would now be using E-Verify, a governmental system providing information on employees’ legal status.)

Despite Trump’s claims, many of the fired employees, who included maids and groundskeepers, claimed the Trump Organization knew for years about their legal status, but only fired them within the past several months.

One former employee, an undocumented migrant from Guatemala, told CBS News that her bosses at the Trump National Gold Club in New Jersey “knew she was not authorized to live in the U.S. but hired her anyway.”

Now, some of those fired are requesting a sit-down meeting with Trump himself — a meeting the White House apparently has little interest in entertaining.

In a two-page letter addressed directly to Trump, some 21 former employees — all of whom are undocumented — called on the president to meet with them directly to discuss their situation.

We are writing to respectfully request a meeting with you. We are modest people who represent the dreams of the 11 million undocumented men, women and children who live and work in this country. We love America and want to talk to you about helping to give us a chance to become legal.

We know you and your family; we worked very hard to make your clubs a success and to keep your members and visitors happy. You know many of us and will recall how hard we worked for you, your family and your golf clubs. We all took great pride in our hard work and years of service to make your clubs successful.

You know we are hard workers and that we are not criminals or seeking a free ride in America. We all pay our taxes, love our faith and our family, and simply want to find a place for ourselves to make America even better.

But the White House is in no rush to welcome the former employees to a meeting with the president. The signatories received a letter from the White House on Wednesday, noting that they were “reviewing” the letter.

The letter, and Trump’s denials, come amid escalating showdowns between the federal government and undocumented migrants trying to remain in the U.S.

As ThinkProgress reported earlier this week, some undocumented migrants have begun receiving letters ordering the migrants to pay fines for staying in the country. Those letters parallel Trump’s recent threats to work around a Supreme Court ruling and directly impose questions about citizenship on the upcoming 2020 census — and as conditions at detention centers continue to deteriorate.

As ThinkProgress’s Joshua Eaton wrote on Friday:

[C]onditions on the nation’s southwest border boiled over this week, after the Associated Press revealed squalid conditions at a shelter for migrant children near El Paso, Texas; a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general found that Customs and Border Protection is holding immigrants in cells that are nearly double their capacity, and that children at some CBP facilities lack access to showers and laundry; and ProPublica revealed a secret Facebook group for Border Patrol agents that included sexist memes about members of Congress and jokes about migrant children dying in CBP custody.

Meanwhile, the threat of deportation hangs over the former Trump employees’ heads.

“We believe you have a heart and will do the right thing to find a home for us here in America,” they wrote in their letter, “so that we can step out of the shadows and not deport us and our friends and family.”

 

This article was originally published in ThinkProgress on July 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Michel is an investigative reporter at ThinkProgress. He is a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Kazakhstan, and received his master’s degree from Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. His writing has appeared in Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, POLITICO Magazine, and The Atlantic, among others. Reach him at cmichel.tp@thinkprogress.org.

Kavanaugh Is Terrible on Workers’ Rights—And That’s Anti-Woman, Too

Monday, October 8th, 2018

On October 6, the Senate voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, the Republican federal appellate judge accused by multiple women of sexual assault, to the Supreme Court.

In light of the allegations—which include attempted rape—the opposition to Kavanaugh has been dominated by concerns about the impact he will have on the lives of women. In addition to his alleged history of physical and sexual violence, protesters fear what Kavanaugh’s “radical” conservatism may augur for reproductive-rights victories, namely Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that expanded the legal right to abortion in the United States. Yet these don’t constitute the only perils of the judge’s appointment: Kavanaugh bears a pattern of anti-worker adjudication—a stance that inordinately harms women.

Kavanaugh’s catalog of judicial decisions indicates a clear predilection for the capitalist class. In 2008’s Agri Processor Co. Inc. v. National Labor Relations Board, Kavanaugh argued that a kosher-meat wholesaler, Agri Processor Co., wasn’t required to bargain with an employee union. Before the suit, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) after Agri Processor Co. refused to bargain. Kavanaugh upheld the company’s claim that the workers who had voted in the union election were undocumented workers and therefore didn’t qualify as “employees” protected by the National Labor Relations Act—and thus were prevented from unionizing, so their votes in the union election were invalid.

There are numerous other examples of Kavanaugh issuing anti-worker rulings. In 2015, Kavanaugh ruled in favor of a Las Vegas casino that requested that police officers issue criminal citations against demonstrators protesting the lack of collective-bargaining rights of casino employees. And in 2013, he argued that a Black woman, LaTaunya Howard, couldn’t pursue a race discrimination suit after being fired from her position at the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives for “insubordination.” Howard alleged that her termination was both racially motivated and in response to complaints she’d made about racial pay disparities at her place of work. What’s more, Kavanaugh helped thwart an NLRB order that would have required the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino to bargain with the United Auto Workers.

This anti-labor positioning is particularly injurious to women, who benefit disproportionately from union membership. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women covered by a union contract earn an average of 30.9 percent more per week that women with non-union jobs, compared to men’s increase of 20.6 percent. Correspondingly, the wage gap between men and women workers is more narrow among those with union representation than those without it. The Economic Policy Institute reported last year that female union workers earn 94 cents for every dollar their male peers earn, versus 74 cents on the dollar without union safeguards.

Kavanaugh also has a history of jeopardizing the work benefits that inform earnings. Workers with union representation enjoy greater access to family, medical and maternity leave—an advantage for women, who are more often tasked with child and elder care than men, and often lose wages as a result. Unionized women are much more likely to have at least partially paid health insurance than those who aren’t unionized: Notably, 73.1 percent of women in union jobs have employer- or union-provided health insurance, an advantage only 49.1 percent of their non-union counterparts receive. It’s virtually the same case for retirement: The ratio of unionized to non-unionized women with employer-sponsored plans is 74.4 percent to 41.8 percent.

If unions and earnings among women are to be examined, it’s necessary to consider the huge impact a figure like Kavanaugh could have on Black women. Though the unionized workforce has decreased precipitously over the last several decades, Black women have traditionally had a higher rate of unionization, particularly in public-sector jobs, than women of other racial and ethnic groups. As of 2013, Black women outnumbered white, Latinx and Asian-American women in terms of unionization. And by 2015, unionized Black women outnumbered unionized Black men.

This is essential for a demographic that, research shows, would have to work an additional seven months to receive the same pay as white men, despite working more hours than white women. (Black women are also paid less than white men for the same job, independent of education level.)

The same urgency for protections applies to Latinx women, who are now the least likely of all women to have union representation. Statistics show that they’re in the most dire need of the boons of organized labor: Latinx women, for example, make 54 cents for every dollar earned by white men. As Esther López of United Food and Commercial Workers urges, “There exists a sure-fire way for Latina women to earn the better wages they deserve: joining a union in their industry. Latina women who have joined a union earn more than their non-union counterparts—$242 more per week, in fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Another concern arising from Kavanaugh’s anti-labor record—and one particularly pointed in the wake of the allegations levied against him—is women’s vulnerability to workplace sexual harassment. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that “25 percent to 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” Echoing López, writer Michelle Chen contends that collective bargaining is a viable means of combating this. “Union agreements,” she writes, “protect equality at work, provide everyday organizational support for workers, and promote public accountability by establishing legally binding conditions of employment,” and can pursue such measures as municipal anti-harassment ordinances.

Heeding Kavanaugh’s roster of rulings, the AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of AmericaNational Nurses United and other unions have formally opposed the now-Supreme Court associate justice. NNU has cited specific concerns for women, stating his assaults on collective bargaining rights and workers’ healthcare render him “unfit to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States.” The subtext is that women will pay the greatest price.

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 8, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Julianne Tveten writes about the intersection of the technology industry and socioeconomic issues. Her work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Outline, Motherboard, and Hazlitt, among others.

Trump's war on workers is flying under the radar, but it's relentless

Thursday, August 23rd, 2018

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is not exactly out serving as the champion of workers he suggested he’d be during the 2016 campaign. But the scope of the attack he’s mounted on working people is staggering … and mostly under the radar.

Steven Hill rounds up some of the damage at Working In These Times: The Trump administration killed the Obama-era rule requiring federal contractors to disclose violations of labor law when they bid for contracts. They stopped the Obama administration’s effort to expand overtime eligibility so that millions more people would get overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week.

Then there’s the string of damaging National Labor Relations Board decisions, including a ruling against small unions within larger workplaces, the decision that got McDonald’s off the hook for workers in its franchise restaurants, and:

— Reversing a 2004 decision bolstering workers’ rights to organize free from employer interference.

— Reversing a 2016 decision safeguarding unionized workers’ rights to bargain over changes in employment terms.

— Overturning a 2016 decision that required settlements between employers and employees to provide a “full remedy” to aggrieved workers, instead of partial settlements.

Over at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, meanwhile, they’ve delayed three important workplace safety rules. And, of course, the Supreme Court has said that employers can force workers into mandatory arbitration, denying them their day in court, and has also attacked public unions in the Janus decision.

These haven’t been high-profile issues, for the most part—they haven’t gotten the attention of the Muslim ban or family separation or Trump’s hostility to allies—but they stand to affect tens of millions of workers’ lives, and even to end some of those lives.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on August 25, 2018. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Could Spell a Fresh Hell for Workers’ Rights

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

On Monday, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of conservative Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Chief Justice John Roberts, a fellow conservative, will become the ideological and political center of the Supreme Court, and protections for women, minorities, voting rights, civil liberties and more could come under threat. Workers and labor unions should be particularly concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s history of siding with businesses against workers and for pushing a deregulatory agenda.

In his 13 years on the Court, Chief Justice Roberts has helped to unleash unlimited corporate money into politics, open the door to mass voter disenfranchisement and lay the groundwork to strengthen the power of corporations over consumers and employees. He has also, in the words of Justice Elena Kagan, led the conservative project of “weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.” This is who will now be the swing vote on the Supreme Court if Kavanaugh is confirmed.

Kavanaugh, who is 53 years old, once clerked for Judge Alex Kozinski, who abruptly retired last year after a long history of sexual harassment was revealed. Previously, Kavanaugh worked with Kenneth Starr to investigate President Clinton and draft the report that lead to Clinton’s impeachment. Over his last 12 years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,  Kavanaugh has shown himself to be an extraordinarily conservative judge. An analysis by Axios determined that Kavanaugh is just slightly less conservative than the most conservative member of the Court, Clarence Thomas.

A review of Judge Kavanaugh’s decisions regarding workers’ rights shows a disturbing trend of siding with employers on a range of issues.

In Southern New England Telephone Co. v. NLRB (2015), Kavanaugh overruled the NLRB’s decision that the employer committed an unfair labor practice when it barred workers from wearing T-shirts that said, “Inmate” on the front and “Prisoner of AT$T” on the back. Under the law, employees are permitted to wear union apparel to work, and the NLRB found that these shirts were protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The Board rejected the argument that “special circumstances” warranted limiting workers’ rights, because no reasonable person would conclude that the worker was a prison convict.

Kavanaugh rejected the Board’s legal analysis, writing, “Common sense sometimes matters in resolving legal disputes. … No company, at least one that is interested in keeping its customers, presumably wants its employees walking into people’s homes wearing shirts that say ‘Inmate’ and ‘Prisoner.’” Kavanaugh was undoubtedly correct in his understanding of the company’s desire not to have workers wear such shirts, which is precisely why the workers did so. What the unions did in wearing the shirts was apply pressure in a labor dispute in a manner that the law has long allowed. However, Kavanaugh criticized the Board’s analysis, writing that “the appropriate test for ‘special circumstances’ is not whether AT&T’s customers would confuse the ‘Inmate/Prisoner’ shirt with actual prison garb, but whether AT&T could reasonably believe that the message may harm its relationship with its customers or its public image.” By shifting the focus to the employer’s public image, Kavanaugh undercut the right of workers to publicly protest and dissent.

In Verizon New England Inc. v. NLRB (2016), Kavanaugh overturned the NLRB’s ruling that workers could display pro-union signs in their cars parked in the company parking lot after the union waived its members’ right to picket. In his decision, Kavanaugh held that “No hard-and-fast definition of the term ‘picketing’ excludes the visible display of pro-union signs in employees’ cars rather than in employees’ hands, especially when the cars are lined up in the employer’s parking lot and thus visible to passers-by in the same way as a picket line.” Therefore, according to Kavanaugh, the union’s waiver of the right to picket also applied to signs left in cars.

Judge Kavanaugh again overruled a pro-worker NLRB decision in Venetian Casino Resort, L.L.C. v. NLRB (2015). The NLRB had determined that the casino committed an unfair labor practice when, in response to a peaceful demonstration by employees (for which they had a permit), the casino called the police on the workers. Citing the First Amendment, Kavanaugh held that “When a person petitions the government in good faith, the First Amendment prohibits any sanction on that action.” Calling the police to enforce state trespassing laws, Kavanaugh concluded, deserved such protection.

In UFCW AFL CIO 540 v. NLRB (2014), Judge Kavanaugh issued an anti-worker decision involving Wal-Mart’s “meat wars.” After 10 meat cutters in Jacksonville, Texas, voted to form the first union at a Wal-Mart, the company closed its meat operations in 180 stores and switched to pre-packaged meats. (The notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart denied that its decision had anything to do with the union vote.) After the switch, Wal-Mart refused to bargain with the meat cutters, arguing that they no longer constituted an appropriate bargaining unit. Judge Kavanaugh agreed with Wal-Mart’s argument, but did write that Wal-Mart must bargain with the union over the effects of the conversion of the employees.

Judge Kavanaugh has consistently sided with employers in labor law cases, to the detriment of workers’ labor rights. He also has argued that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established in 2011, is unconstitutional, and Aaron Klein, director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institution, has said that his nomination “could reverse over a century of American financial regulation.”

Labor advocates should be extremely concerned about this ideological bent if Kavanaugh becomes a justice on an already very business friendly—and conservative—Supreme Court.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

Fight for $15 Just Scored a Big Win in Maryland. We Have Unions to Thank.

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

A law establishing a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Maryland’s Montgomery County was signed into law Monday, representing a comeback win after a similar measure was defeated by pro-business Democrats just ten months ago.

It’s a meaningful victory for the Fight for $15, the union-inspired campaign to raise wages nationally. Montgomery is the most populous county in the state, with a larger population than the nearby cities of Washington, D.C., or Baltimore. It’s also a bellwether for Maryland politics, where organizing has begun already ahead of the 2018 statewide elections, including organizing aimed at improving Maryland’s wage laws.

“The difference that $15 an hour will make for so many working families cannot be underestimated. And the entire county will benefit as more workers will be able to move off publicly funded programs and spend more on local businesses,” Jaime Contreras, vice president of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ, told In These Times over email.

Contreras and SEIU have been prominent in the labor coalition that has been supporting a higher minimum wage, along with the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, the Laborers’ International Union of North America and others. “We are really proud of what we have accomplished. As with any compromise, we are not totally pleased, but this is a real step forward,” Jonathan Williams, spokesperson for UFCW Local 400, told In These Times.

“The $15 minimum wage win in Montgomery County comes on the heels of last week’s 11 victories of Fight for $15 supporters Ralph Northam in Virginia and Phil Murphy in New Jersey. It shows the continued power of this movement and builds momentum for state-wide action next year in Maryland and other states,” Christine Owens, executive director of the workers’ advocacy group National Employment Law Project, told In These Times over email.

Satisfaction with the victory notwithstanding, some worker advocates grumbled that the political compromises necessary to solidify support came at a high price for some workers. The compromises had been hammered out over the last several months in response the Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett’s veto of similar legislation approved by the County Council in January.

One of these compromises was an exemption from the law for workers under age 20, a concession to Leggett’s concern that the increase would hurt job opportunities for minority youth. Another compromise extended the phase-in schedule of higher wages so that the $15 minimum does not take effect for small employers until 2023 (50 workers or fewer) or 2024 (10 workers or fewer). For large employers, the new minimum will be phased in through 2021.

Owens said Montgomery “residents should be concerned that county leaders excluded from the full $15 wage younger workers—many of whom are from low-income families or are struggling to work their way through two or four-year colleges—and tipped workers. We urge the county council to revisit and remove these harmful carve-outs.”

Williams added that the UFCW is among those advocating for a state-wide $15 minimum wage bill that could address the problems in some of the carve-outs. Political efforts are initially focusing on selecting a Democratic Party candidate for governor who will be a reliable supporter of $15. Currently, there are numerous candidates in the race, and Democrats are debating who would be the strongest candidate against incumbent Republican Larry Hogan, Williams says.

Hogan is not a supporter of a higher minimum wage and provoked the anger of many workers’ rights advocates in Maryland earlier this year when he vetoed a bill to provide guaranteed sick leave to workers in the state.

UFCW has not endorsed any candidate yet, but SEIU issued an early endorsement of Benjamin Jealous, the former head of the NAACP who is running for governor on a Bernie Sanders-inspired progressive platform, including the $15 minimum wage.

Aside from positive signs in local political races, Fight for $15 recently got a boost from one of the largest private-sector retailers in the country, Target stores. Following worker organizing, Target officials announced in September it would raise the minimum wage for Target employees to $11 an hour this year, with the goal of reaching $15 by the end of 2020. Target currently employs more than 300,000 workers nationwide.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on November 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Workplace Fairness Applauds the Withdrawal of Andrew Puzder’s Nomination for Labor Secretary

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Along with hundreds of workers rights organizations and millions of workers (whether they realized it or not!) Workplace Fairness is applauding the withdrawal this afternoon of Andrew Puzder’s nomination as Secretary of Labor. Puzder announced the following this afternoon (February 15):

“After careful consideration and discussions with my family, I am withdrawing my nomination for Secretary of Labor. I am honored to have been considered by President Donald Trump to lead the Department of Labor and put America’s workers and businesses back on a path to sustainable prosperity. I want thank President Trump for his nomination. I also thank my family and my many supporters—employees, businesses, friends and people who have voiced their praise and hopeful optimism for the policies and new thinking I would have brought to America as Secretary of Labor. While I won’t be serving in the administration, I fully support the President and his highly qualified team.”

Puzder could not have been a worse fit for the position he aspired to hold, as throughout his career, he has made his hostility to pro-worker policies abundantly clear. We can all (at least temporarily, until we see the next nominee) breathe a sigh of relief that Puzder will not be making policy decisions at the Department of Labor which will roll back workplace protections and risk workers’ lives. This stunning defeat would not have been possible but for all the working people around the country who banded together and said NO! to someone who was clearly unfit for the job.

Puzder’s withdrawal comes on the eve of his planned February 15 confirmation hearing before the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee – the first step toward confirmation that any Labor Secretary nominee will have to face. Once Puzder was nominated, groups familiar with his anti-worker views began assembling a record of his appalling views towards and treatment of his own employees at CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast food restaurants. It wasn’t that hard to do.

Even in an industry known for its low pay, overtime violations, sexual harassment, and health and safety concerns, CKE stood out from the rest, with about 60 percent of the U.S. Department of Labor’s investigations into CKE restaurants turned up at least one violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Female CKE employees reported sexual harassment at a rate 150% higher than other fast food establishments.

Puzder’s response was to blame his franchisees, yet the amount of control CKE exercised over its franchisees in virtually every respect but employment policies was clearly an effort to avoid legal liability. CKE’s official response:  “We’d like to offer a reminder that CKE Restaurants is nearly 95 percent franchised. Each of these 2,769 franchise stores are run independently and solely responsible for their employees, management and adherence to regulations and labor practices.” It’s very convenient for CKE to disavow all liability when it comes to adhering to employment laws, when it exerts control over virtually every other aspect of its operations.

Puzder has also been very vocal about his contempt for his own workforce and active in an industry group that lobbied hard against legal protection for workers. In 2011, he was quoted, when speaking about the Hardee’s workforce, as saying “you’re hiring the best of the worst. You know, it’s kind of the bottom of the pool. And at Hardee’s it was so bad, we were hiring the worst of the worst and hoping they would stay.” He also once mused about replacing his workers with robots, in a March 2016 interview with Business Insider. Of automated replacements to real live workers, he said “They’re always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there’s never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case.”

A place I frequent – which employs only real live humans – has a sign with this statement. This seems appropriate for the CKE workforce as well, except that some of these things are very predictable when you violate the law and mistreat workers.

If all that Puzder had working against him was his anti-worker hostility, in all honesty, he probably would have been easily confirmed. After all, Betsy DeVos was just approved as Secretary of Education despite her documented history of hostility to public education and lack of any experience working in the education field. At least Puzder had some experience with labor and employment laws, if only to violate them and constantly decry their enforcement. But between ethics concerns over how he would divest his CKE Restaurant holdings, his recent admission that he had hired an undocumented worker and not paid her payroll taxes while claiming he thought she had a legal working status, and allegations of domestic violence raised by his ex-wife during their divorce and custody proceedings, Puzder’s nomination was ultimately doomed.

Workplace Fairness was part of a coalition of over 100 groups nationwide in opposition to the Puzder nomination. The coalition, led by the National Employment Law Project and Jobs with Justice, ensured that Puzder’s record of extreme hostility to the rights of workers it would be his job to protect came to light and that workers who would be most impacted by Puzder’s views were equipped with the ability to speak out in response.  A rally planned in opposition to Puzder before his planned February 15 hearing is now a victory celebration.

We will have to wait and see who the next Labor Secretary nominee will be. Will it be someone with views as extreme as Puzder’s, but without such a paper trail? Or will an Administration that has claimed to support the rights of working people actually nominate someone who believes in those rights? Time will tell, but today we celebrate a hard-fought victory by workers’ advocates to prevent the #AntiLaborSecretary from taking office.

Paula Brantner recently stepped down as Executive Director of Workplace Fairness after serving in that position since 2008. She served as the Workplace Program Director from 2003 to 2007, writing legal content for the Webby-nominated site www.workplacefairness.org. Paula was the Program Director for Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the Working America Education Fund, from 2007-2008. From 1997-2001, she was the senior staff attorney at the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), heading NELA’s amicus, legislative/policy, and judicial nominations programs. An employment lawyer for over 23 years, Brantner has degrees from UC-Hastings College of the Law and Michigan State University’s James Madison College. She continues to advise the organization on website strategy and content and oversee WF’s 0.1.2.3 Content Licensing for Legal Websites program through her business PB Work Solutions, LLC.

U.N. Special Report: U.S. Workers Restricted in Exercising Basic Union Rights

Friday, October 21st, 2016

12189524_10154256555228098_5790056854214410429_nA new report finds that the United States fails to uphold the most basic rights of workers, particularly in the South, where some states “support or collude with employers to infringe upon workers’ rights to peaceful assembly and association.” The report cited examples such as Tennessee officials’ opposition to unionization at a Volkswagen plant and the “government of Mississippi [which] touts the lack of unionization as a great benefit when courting potential employers.”

Maina Kiai, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and author of the report, stated that while governments are “obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill workers’ rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,” many fail to enable, protect or enforce these fundamental rights, “disenfranchising millions of workers.”

u-n-special-report-u-s-workers-restricted-in-exercising-basic-union-rights_blog_post_fullwidthKiai, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist, spent more than two weeks in several U.S. cities researching workers’ rights. He met with Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi; United Steelworkers (USW) members at Novelis in New York, and Asarco in Arizona; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)-member carwash workers in New York City; UNITE HERE hotel workers in New York and Arizona; and AFT-member teachers in Louisiana.

Kiai experienced firsthand the many obstacles our nation’s workers need to overcome to organize and bargain for a better life. He made clear that the United States needs to do more, both domestically and in the global supply chains of our companies, “where some of the worst abuses of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are found—and where migrant workers are often concentrated.”

As the report found: “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are…key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.” Unfortunately, the United States is a long way from meeting this standard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on October 21, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Aaron Chappell writes for AFL-CIO about the right to unionize and collective bargaining.

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