Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘working conditions’

UFCW Canada and Mexico's Farm Workers Sign Historic Agreement

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Jackie TortoraThe National Farm Workers’ Confederation (CNC) and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada signed a historic agreement to ensure the rights of migrant agriculture workers are protected and defended in Mexico, Canada and the United States, reports UFCW Canada.

The agreement, which was signed last week, will result in better conditions for migrant Mexican agriculture workers in North America.

Labor rights training and proactive monitoring and advocacy also are integral to the agreement. UFCW Canada and the CNC plan to develop a comprehensive database and reports on the conditions facing migrant agriculture workers in Mexico, United States and Canada.

This research and analysis will be used also to develop programs to improve access to social programs and benefits such as health, housing and educational subsidies for the workers and members of their families.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 16, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is an blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Apple and Foxconn to Improve Working Conditions and Hours

Friday, March 30th, 2012

Laura ClawsonFollowing lots and lots of terrible publicity around the wages, working conditions and hours faced by Chinese workers manufacturing its iPhones and iPads, Apple asked the Fair Labor Association, an organization widely described as independent although it is funded by the corporations it oversees, to look into working conditions in the factories of its Chinese contractors. The FLA has now looked into Foxconn, the largest and most (in)famous Apple contractor, and:

Foxconn – which makes Apple devices from the iPhone to the iPad – will hire tens of thousands of new workers, clamp down on illegal overtime, improve safety protocols and upgrade worker housing and other amenities. [...]

Foxconn said it would reduce working hours to 49 hours per week, including overtime, while keeping total compensation for workers at its current level. The FLA audit had found that during peak production times, workers in the three factories put in more than 60 hours per week on average.

To compensate for the reduced hours, Foxconn will hire tens of thousands of additional workers. It also said it would build more housing and canteens to accommodate that influx.

Foxconn’s changes will also affect other brands with products manufactured by the contractor, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sony. It will also have an effect on competing contract manufacturers. Consumers, of course, can expect to pay slightly higher prices, although labor costs are a small fraction of the price of the devices, and if you’re going to complain that you’re paying a little more because Chinese workers are only working 49 instead of 60 hours per week, I don’t want to hear from you anyway.

Continuing oversight will be crucial, as it would be altogether typical for the improvements for workers to be rolled back once the spotlight was off Apple’s manufacturing process.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on March 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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

Getting on the BRT Bus: U.S. Cities Eye Mexico Program That Benefits Workers

Friday, March 16th, 2012

kari-lydersenMEXICO CITY—Almost any time of day on Avenida de los Insurgentes, one of Mexico City’s busiest streets, people crowd onto the constant parade of shiny red buses that pull up to platforms every few seconds, whisking passengers to different neighborhoods in the city of 22 million.

This is the Metrobus system, one of the bus rapid transit or BRT projects that have been instituted in the past decade or two in Bogota, Johannesburg, Guangzhou and other Latin American, Asian and African cities. They’ve been proposed for an increasing number of U.S. cities.

The system is meant to enhance public transportation, help revitalize marginalized neighborhoods and reduce air pollution, with less expense and construction than new light rail lines. On a tour this week paid for by The Rockefeller Foundation and run by the international Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), Metrobus official Gonzalo Garcia Miaja told me and other journalists that the system also means a major improvement in working conditions for bus drivers. And it makes the workday easier for hundreds of thousands of regular residents, who now have a much quicker, healthier and safer commute to work.

Intracity transport has a complicated and dramatic history in Mexico City. In the 1980s and 1990s the powerful bus drivers union fought bitterly with the administrations of presidents Carlos Salinas de Gortari and Ernesto Zedillo over plans to privatize the public bus system. Union leaders were jailed and massive protests rocked the city, as In These Times contributor David Bacon explained in this 1996 article. Unlike many unions of the time, Mexico City’s SUTAUR-100 bus union was not affiliated with the then-ruling PRI party, and they supported the Zapatistas during their 1994 uprising.

The labor clashes changed the face of standard public bus transport in Mexico City, with use of these “high capacity” buses dropping dramatically between 1990 and 2000. Standard public buses were largely replaced by a chaotic and allegedly corrupt system of private small microbuses, or “combis,” with a mosaic of small fleets run by extended families and syndicates, with relatively little oversight from the government. According to the ITDP, the percent of trips by microbus increased from 36 percent in 1989 to 54 percent in 2000 as the use of high-capacity public buses plummeted.

As in many other cities in the “developing world,” Mexico City microbuses are infamous for driving wildly through crowded and perilous streets, motivated to pick up as many passengers and reach their destinations as quickly as possible—for more profit. The operators also typically delay repairs and maintenance and run the vehicles for as long as possible, meaning many archaic, heavily-polluting and dangerous microbuses on the street.

Enter the BRT system starting in 2005, wherein city and private officials with the new agency Metrobus essentially convinced seven of the city’s main private microbus operators to become partners in the new public-private Metrobus organization in exchange for removing their microbuses from key routes.

The Metrobuses have their own dedicated lanes, and people pay fares on platforms as at light rail stations, so the buses can move very rapidly. The city government oversees the Metrobus program, while the collectives of private operators pay the costs and reap the profits.

Many microbus drivers lost their jobs because of the conversion, since a total of 1,077 microbuses (with at least that many drivers) were removed from the streets, while currently about 800 drivers now operate the city’s fleet of almost 300 Metrobuses.

Garcia noted that many of the microbuses were family operations “where the father drives in the morning, the brother in the afternoon and the son in the evening,” and the whole family profits; so the streamlining of operations into the Metrobus system wouldn’t necessarily mean devastating layoffs for drivers’ families.

But Garcia said working conditions are much better for the drivers who now pilot Metrobuses instead of microbuses. They now have health insurance and pensions, he said, and work 8-hour days, compared to workdays that could last 20 hours in the past. And they are paid based on numbers of kilometers driven on established uniform routes rather than by the number of passengers they pick up—so the actual driving is much safer and more relaxed.

“Previously their income was directly proportional to the number of passengers they were carrying, so they were literally killing themselves to get more passengers,” Garcia said.

Additionally drivers and passengers in the old microbuses were exposed to high levels of benzene, particulate and other air pollution extremely harmful to health. Tests have shown the air emissions from Metrobuses are much lower—about 35 percent less benzene exposure and 54 percent less exposure to carbon monoxide for riders and drivers, and of course less pollution for the city as a whole.

The Metrobus drivers are not unionized and they are employed directly by the private operators. Garcia said the city government closely regulates the private operators to make sure working conditions are decent and drivers are safe and qualified, undergoing mandatory training and testing related to alcohol use and other factors.

Official policy and reality regarding working conditions, customer protection and civil rights are often far apart in Mexico, so U.S. advocates and analysts usually take official statements with a large grain of salt. However, Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard of the center-left PRD, whose six-year term expires this fall, has generally been supported and praised by people across the political and economic spectrum for his populist policies and his efforts in revitalizing and securing the city.

Bus rapid transit has been proposed for an increasing number of U.S. cities including Chicago and Detroit. In Latin America the systems are typically run by private operators, with the contracts bid out or, as in Mexico City, run by the operators of previously existing microbus systems. In the U.S. such bus rapid transit would typically co-exist with current light rail and regular public bus systems, in most cases replacing some regular bus routes. Bus rapid transit could be incorporated into the existing public systems or privatized or some hybrid of the two approaches. It is not clear how it will play out exactly in different U.S. cities, whether workers will be unionized or whether there will be opposition from public transit unions.

On March 12 a fleet of 17 new Metrobuses including prized “bi-articulated” (three-car) ones lined up in formation in front of Mexico City’s Plaza de la Republica, a monument to the 1910 Revolution. The grand structure was under construction as the country’s new Congress building at the time of the Revolution; it was left unfinished and later revamped as an homage to revolutionary leaders including Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa and Ricardo Flores Magon. Nearby is an historic massive jai alai stadium where workers have been on strike since 1994. An occupation continues inside and faded red and black flags cover the entrances.

(Protests and strikes are a constant presence in Mexico City. For example, during our tour, one Metrobus line was blocked by a public protest, and a separate protest of union pensioners against the government of Tabasco state blocked one of the separated bike lanes that are also part of the current administration’s sustainable transportation initiative.)

Facing the Revolution monument with the buses lined up expectantly behind him, Mayor Ebrard described the Metrobus system as part of a larger effort to make Mexico City more livable, sustainable and healthy. Ebrard, an ally of famous former Mexico City Mayor and presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), has won international attention for his “green” initiatives in Mexico City and his outreach to poor and working people.

“It’s dramatically changed the culture of the city,” he told a crowd at the unveiling of the new Metrobuses.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on March 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book isRevolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached atkari.lydersen@gmail.com.

Whaddya Gonna Do?

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Okay, I have a confession to make. I’m still a big Soprano’s fan. So this week’s blog is going to combine the number one question that everyone in business needs to ask themselves with a short homage to my favorite Jersey family. Capiche?

“Whaddya Gonna Do?”

This question is the closest thing to a mantra on the Sopranos. Business turns south, someone goes after an important customer or suddenly the feds are wreaking havoc. Inevitably one of the characters shrugs, grabs a drink and blurts out, whaddya gonna do?

Unlike a certain organized crime family on TV, most of us do have plenty that we can do. But we are so mired in the fog of our jobs that we fail to see it.

Take a lousy boss. Whaddya gonna do? Well you can go boss shopping. Start looking inside and outside your company for a boss that you can trust. Yep, trust. Get creative with using conference rooms for taking calls to potential employers, using fake doctor’s visits to go for interviews and using letters from clients for references. Serve on committees that will increase your visibility, find excuses to meet with potential new bosses (example, by serving on a United Way committee) or just hang out in the executive bathroom until your top executive prospect hears nature’s call.

Take a crummy paycheck. Whaddya gonna do? Ask to meet with your boss to discuss a raise. After they give you a ton of reasons why it won’t happen, smile and ask for specific performance targets you’d need to hit to get a raise. Specific is the key. Find out what it will take, document the conversation then put all of your creativity to work to hit the target. But don’t just play inside your company. Start shopping your resume outside of it. That is the quickest way to getting a bump in pay, because your company will never pay you what you’re worth until you have a firm outside offer from another company. Never.

Take not having enough hours in a day. Whaddya gonna do? For most of us, the key to getting more done isn’t about squeezing more stuff into your already full eight or nine hour day. The key is to ensure that you’re focusing your best efforts into the areas of greatest opportunity for both you and your company. I’m a big believe in the 80-20 rule. I try to always put 80% of my best effort into my most important projects. It’s tough to do because the urgent always has a way of trumping the important, but you’ve got to resist that temptation and keep your eyes on the prize.

Take being scared of being laid off. Whaddya gonna do? People write to me all the time describing a lay off that came out of nowhere. And yes, that can happen. But more often than not there were subtle clues about what was going to happen. The company suddenly started cutting the budget, sending important projects to other departments and transferring the starts to other departments at your company. We all have to be careful about getting too comfortable and keep our eyes on what is next for our industry, our company but most of all ourselves.

Whaddya gonna do? Plenty. Because you don’t have to be stuck with the mob, you can chart your own course of action.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, award-winning journalist and popular speaker. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com .

Worst Jobs, Part 2

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Having written a column entitled Workplace911 and Working Wounded for fourteen years, as you can imagine, I hear from a lot of people with terrible jobs. Last time I addressed a few of my favorites, this week the worsts continue:

  • Worst Interview (some worst jobs start even before you get the job)
  • Worst Coworkers
  • Worst Boss
  • Worst of the Worst

WORST INTERVIEW
 
“I applied for a job as a researcher. I was informed before the interview that the director was chemically sensitive. She said I shouldn’t wear any scented products or even wash my hair before the interview. I complied, but when I arrived at the office, the director pointed at me from across the room and said, ‘She’s here, Bill. Could you sniff her?’ At which point, this big, hairy guy proceeded to do so—very up close and personal. Having passed the sniff test, I was allowed to approach the director and begin the interview. I later got a call saying I got the job, which, of course, I didn’t take.”
 
I’ve heard references to the “sniff test” at work, who knew that some people took it so literally?
 
WORST COWORKER
 
“The last straw for me was the guy in the next cube who would have long, loud conversations with his wife, totally in baby talk.”
 
Okay, admit it. The dumpster cleaning gig isn’t sounding so bad right now, is it?
 
WORST BOSS
 
For many years I included a worst boss contest in my speeches. I asked over ten thousand audience members for their stories. I heard some whoppers. But by far the worst all time boss story was told to me by a guy in Los Angeles.
 
“The worst boss I ever worked for? He asked his assistant to type her own termination letter.”
 
Ouch, you’ve got to be really tough to survive today’s workplace.
 
WORST OF THE WORST
 
“I had an office mate who muttered to himself and constantly interrupted me. I complained to our boss, but he wasn’t moved. His desk was directly under an old ceiling fan. One morning I left an oily machine nut on his desk. During the day I caught him glancing up at the fan. The next day I put a rusty bolt on his desk. The next, another nut and a screw. That afternoon, HE went to our boss and asked to be moved.”
 
This email gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase just dropping a hint at work.
 
Wait a minute, you’re probably saying to yourself. This guy used creativity and guile to get what he needed. How does this qualify as a worst job story?
 
Should someone really have to work that hard just to put themselves in a position to do their job? And that sums up the insanity of today’s workplace. And this guy’s not alone. Watson Wyatt, a management consulting firm, did a study that found that 62% of us report that we don’t have the information that we need to do our jobs. And another 57% report that we’re not given the skills to do our jobs. 
 
The most important lesson we can take away from Worst Jobs is not from the few really awful jobs out there, but that so many of us aren’t given the simple things we need to make ours a great job.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Worst Jobs, Part 1

Monday, June 1st, 2009

Let’s start with my qualifications to discuss “Worst Jobs.” For the last decade I’ve written an internationally syndicated work advice column called Workplace911 (formerly Working Wounded). With a name like that, you can imagine the emails I receive on a daily basis. One example, “I decided to put a photo of my family on the wall of my cube. I got out a pin to attach it and suddenly I heard screams from the other side of the wall. Turns out my neighbor was bleeding and quite displeased.”
 
Let’s face it. We all get “stuck” once and a while at work. It’s inevitable. But this blog is about the very worst jobs out there, at least according to my email. I broke them down into the following categories and include an example for each:

  • Worst Working Conditions
  • Worst Assignment
  • Worst Employee (yes, bad employees can create a nightmarish job, too)

DISCLAIMER: A construction worker once emailed, “I’m just happy to come home each night with all my body parts intact.” The truly worst jobs are those that present a clear and present danger to your health and safety. Each year, according to the government, fishing and mining are usually at the top of the list of most dangerous jobs. We chose to not include dangerous jobs in this article because they’re just not that funny.
 
Worst WORKING CONDITIONS
 
“I once had a job steam cleaning dumpsters.  It was even worse than you imagine. I had to climb inside of these dirty dumpsters with nothing but me and my steam gun. This was before the days of protective clothing. As an aside, many of your readers have no doubt seen corner reflectors hung on sailboats, designed to reflect radar energy back to the source so that the boat will be easily seen. It turns out that directing steam into the interior corners of a dumpster works pretty much the same way. Everything that was once stuck in the corner of the dumpster gets blasted out and comes directly back to you—covering you from head to toe in an instant. A sort of putrid tsunami.”
 
This email sums up the real value of reading about someone else’s truly terrible job. It makes each of us feel so much better about our 9-5.
 
WORST ASSIGNMENT
 
“My job was to sort through used men’s and women’s undergarments after lingerie shows across Europe (instead of discarding the unmentionables once the shows were over, the undergarments were shipped back to Winston-Salem, presumably for tax purposes). The problem was that each was different, so they needed someone to type up a description for each pair of panties, briefs, and thongs, which numbered in the hundreds. I was put into a cubicle with a computer and Hefty sacks full of the ‘inventory.’ I was assured that the garments had been washed. Scraps of paper were pinned onto each piece written with names like ‘Jean-Pierre’ and ‘Bridgette.’ I soon found out both by sight and smell that the laundry had NOT been done. I became intimately familiar with both Bridgette and Jean-Pierre and gained much unnecessary insight into French toileting habits. Because no one in the office could find me a pair of rubber gloves, I continued my task by pinching each undergarment by the least offensive part I could find and learned how to inhale through the mouth.”
 
Finally, an explanation for the question we’ve all pondered—what was Victoria’s Secret?

WORST EMPLOYEE
 
“I once asked one of my people to stop reading a People Magazine at her desk and to get back to work. She began to cry and went on disability for two days.”
 
That’s what I’d call people who really need people!
 
Next time I’ll return with more worsts:

  • Worst Interview (some worst jobs start even before you get the job)
  • Worst Coworkers
  • Worst Boss
  • Worst of the Worst

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.


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