Wage Theft Confidential

Do Laws Work?

By Seth Sandronsky

California has roughly a dozen labor codes governing wage-theft on the books, with more proposed each year in the state legislature. Are these laws proving effective? Fausto Hernandez is one worker who doesn’t think they are. The 55-year-old native of Oaxaca, Mexico, has labored in the carwash business for a decade.

“For several years I worked at Slauson Carwash in South L.A. — 10 to 11 hours a day,” he told Capital & Main. “The employer would only pay me for three hours, never for all the hours I worked.”

According to Hernandez, he sought relief by contacting the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, a community coalition led by the United Steelworkers union. The campaign helped him file a claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), an office of the state’s Labor Commissioner.

Workers who take such action face employer retaliation. Hernandez’s employer fired him, he said. Hernandez was eventually hired at another carwash that later closed. “Recently I received a letter saying that the [Slauson Carwash] owner didn’t pay me correctly and that I’m owed tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “I am still waiting to see the actual money.”

Continue reading

Seeds of a New Labor Movement ?

Harold Meyerson.

Mother Jones, American labor activist.

Mother Jones, American labor activist. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sit down and read. Prepare yourself for the coming battles.  Mother Jones.

 

DSA Honorary Chair Harold Meyerson has written the following important long form piece on the US. Labor Movement for the American Prospect. This piece merits discussion.

Excerpts:

“The path to collective bargaining has been shut down in the United States,” says Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and head of the AFL-CIO’s Organizing Committee. Where Rolf differs from most of his colleagues is in his belief that collective bargaining—at least, as the nation has known it for the past 80 years—is not coming back. In a paper he distributed to his colleagues in 2012 and in commentaries he wrote for several magazines (including this one), he argued that unions should acknowledge their impending demise—at least in the form that dates to the Wagner Act—and focus their energies and resources on incubating new institutions that can better address workers’ concerns. “The once powerful industrial labor unions that built the mid-century American middle class are in a deep crisis and are no longer able to protect the interests of American workers with the scale and power necessary to reverse contemporary economic trends,” he wrote in his paper. “The strategy and tactics that we’ve pursued since the 1947 Taft-Hartley Amendments [which narrowed the ground rules under which unions may operate] are out of date and have demonstrably failed to produce lasting economic power for workers. We must look to the future and invest our resources in new organizational models that respond to our contemporary economy and the needs of today’s workers.”

This October, with funding from his local, from the national SEIU, and from several liberal foundations, Rolf will unveil The Workers Lab, housed at the Roosevelt Institute in New York. The center will study and, in time, invest in organizations that, in Rolf’s words, “have the potential to build economic power for workers, at scale, and to sustain themselves financially.” Whatever those organizations may be, they won’t be unions—at least, not unions as they currently exist… Continue reading

Bay Area Victories for Living Wage

by Seth Sandronsky

sf-living-wage

On Tuesday San Francisco voters approved by a 77 to 23 percent margin Proposition J, which will increase the city’s minimum wage from the current $10.74 per hour to $12.25 per hour by May 1, 2015. The city’s minimum wage would climb to $13 per hour by July 2016; to $14 per hour by July 2017 and $15 per hour by July 2018.

“Prop. J will provide a much needed raise to $15 per hour for 140,000 of the lowest paid workers in our city,” Gordon Mar, executive director of Jobs with Justice, San Francisco, told Capital & Main. “Prop. J will also raise the bar nationally for minimum wage policies.”

The “Fight for $15” to gain a higher minimum wage for workers began in Seattle, Washington. Voters there, with Socialist Alternative city council member Kshama Sawant spearheading a grassroots movement, approved phased-in hikes to the minimum wage, eventually reaching $15 per hour, this year. That momentum in no small way encouraged people in U.S. cities such as San Francisco and Oakland to vote for increasing the pay of low-wage service workers to $15 per hour in this year’s midterm elections. Continue reading

Walmart to Cut off 30,000 Workers from Health Insurance

Amid Soaring Profits, Walmart to Cut Off 30,000 Workers From Health Insurance

Largest private employer in U.S. announces elimination of insurance for part-time workers and across-the-board hikes in premium costs

by  Sarah Lazare, staff writer, Common Dreams

English: Walmart Supercenter front end in Hage...

Walmart, the largest retailer in the world and the biggest private employer in the United States, announced Tuesday it is eliminating health insurance for 30,000 of its workers and hiking the costs of premiums across the board.

The cutbacks to coverage, which many charge was insufficient to begin with, were met with immediate criticism.

“Our schedules and hours are all over the place, and I often find less than I expected and less than my family needs when I see my paycheck,” said Nancy Reynolds, a member of OUR Walmart and worker at a Merrit Island, Florida Walmart store. “Taking away access to healthcare, even though many of my co-workers couldn’t afford it anyway, is just another example of Walmart manipulating the system to keep workers like me in a state of financial crisis.” Continue reading

The Umbrella Movement in its Second Week

by Paul Garver

28 year old man brings daughter to occupation

28 year old man brings daughter to occupation

“I am bringing my daughter here so she can see what we are doing for her future.”

I have been following the excellent hour-by-hour live coverage of the events in Hong Kong through the superb international English-language blog edition of the South China Morning Post.

Update (October 9): The Hong Kong Government cancelled Friday’s scheduled talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students, denouncing the Federation’s call for a mass rally at Harcourt Road (“Umbrella Square”) while the talks were taking place. Protest leaders said that the government’s cancellation of the talks demonstrated the government’s lack of sincerity, and are planning for new non-cooperation actions.

Admiralty rally 1010

Update (October 10): It is Friday evening in Hong Kong, and over 10,000 citizens turned out for a mass rally to demand that the Hong Kong government negotiate with the Federation of Students over political reforms. Others rejoined the smaller occupation sites at Causeway Bay and Mong Kok to reinforce their numbers and show that support for the protests remained strong.

What strikes me as an outsider most about the movement in Hong Kong is the extraordinary patience and long-term perspective of the mainly young protesters. Even as their barricades and banners are slowly coming down, and as the leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students are preparing for the formal opening of discussions with the government over political reforms, the protesters are maintaining a creative and self-disciplined stance.

Some examples stand out. On Monday, as government workers left for the day, protesters handed them flowers and soup. Disruptive counter-demonstrators were surrounded by nonviolent protesters singing Happy Birthday! And protest art is blossoming – see the collection at

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1607587/illustrate-your-opinion-artists-draw-support-hong-kong-protesters

Each evening the remaining occupation sites are flooded with students who were resuming classes and adult supporters returning from work. The smaller number of protesters who remain behind the barricades day and night are becoming exhausted, but have vowed to maintain their protest until the talks with the government yield at least some kind of progress.

The university student leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students will be the direct spokespeople for the movement, but they are consulting with the high school students of Scholarism and the democratic politicians and leaders of Occupy Central. No one expects many of the core political and economic demands of the umbrella movement to be met, since the Hong Kong government and the corporate elite, staunchly based by the Chinese Communist Party and the mainland Chinese government, remain adamantly opposed to any real concessions.

Nonetheless I believe that the Hong Kong movement can be provisionally regarded as successful. It has been perhaps the first global Occupy movement to formulate a clear set of demands and to rally behind spokespeople for those demands. It has dramatically called attention to the failure of the central government to honor its promises to move towards fuller democracy, while simultaneously asserting the need to reverse growing economic inequality in Hong Kong. Its mixture of audacity and pragmatic commonsense has helped build the institutions of civil society in the city-state and reinforced the popular sentiment of the Hong Kong population that they have something precious to preserve and to contribute eventually to China as a whole.

This video captures the spirit of the Umbrella Movement in song and images.

For a century, student movements have played key roles in signalling major changes in Chinese society. Hopefully this generation of Hong Kong students, with its key leaders ranging from 17 to 24 years old now, will be able to survive and gain more traction with other societal classes. From the comments of protesters that I have read in the press and social media this week, increasingly focused on inequality and economic injustice, I believe that a next positive step could involve greater and deeper interaction with young workers and with the independent unions of Hong Kong.

Ai-jen Poo National Domestic Workers Alliance wins McArthur Genius Award for 2014.

Ai-Jen Poo

Ai-jen Poo is a labor organizer whose compelling vision of the value of home-based care work is transforming the landscape of working conditions and labor standards for domestic or private-household workers. The estimated 1–2 million domestic workers—housekeepers, nannies, caregivers for the elderly or disabled—in the United States today are excluded from most federal and state labor laws, including collective bargaining; occupational safety and health protections; sick and vacation pay; and protection from discrimination and sexual harassment.

Combining a deep understanding of the complex tangle of human relations around domestic work with keen strategic skills, Poo has created a vibrant, worker-led labor movement and spearheaded successful legislative campaigns at the national and international levels. As lead organizer of the New York City–based Domestic Workers United (2000–2009), she spent countless hours in parks, buses, and other gathering places for domestic workers, creating opportunities for these largely isolated women to share their experiences, guiding mistreated workers to appropriate legal channels, articulating the vital economic role of domestic workers, and developing with workers a framework of legal standards for the industry. In 2010, New York enacted the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights—which entitles workers to overtime pay, one day of rest per week, protection from discrimination, and three days paid leave per year—after a hard-fought seven-year legislative campaign led by Poo and a dedicated group of workers and advocates. The bill also drew support from an unlikely coalition of domestic workers, their employers, and other unions forged by Poo’s ability to leverage common interests across diverse groups. Continue reading

Egyptian Union Organizes with Global Support

by Paul Garver

Mondelez

Update:

Following the reinstatement of all 5 executive members of the Cadbury Alexandria Union under their former conditions, elections were held on August 29 for the executive council of the union.

The leaders were once again elected as the principal officers of the union and supporters of the leadership fill all 9 positions on the executive.

160 members attended the meeting where the elections took place including 48 members from the other Mondelez factory in Alexandria at Burj el Arab. 3 of the elected executive members work at this factory where membership continues to grow.

Background
In July 2012, more than two years ago, the Egyptian division of Mondelez International (previously Kraft Foods International) suspended five members of the executive committee of a union in Alexandria that dared to declare itself independent. The same American-owned and managed global food company also disciplined union activists at Mondelez plants in Tunisia and Pakistan for similar reasons.

In response the IUF (Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers Worldwide) organized a global “Screamdelez” campaign joined by its member unions on every continent. From Pakistan and Tunisia, through North America and Western Europe to Eastern Europe, Mondelez workers and their unions demonstrated to support their Egyptian counterparts. Hundreds of supporters around the world sent protest messages through the LabourStart international website to Irene Rosenthal, Mondelez CEO.

As a result of this campaign, Mondelez agreed to negotiate with the IUF, and following a meeting in Alexandria on July 9th the five executive board members were reinstated to their jobs with full retroactive back pay and benefits. Elections for the new term of the union executive committee at the plant will take place shortly. All five former union executive committee members will be entitled to stand.

In a last effort to avoid reinstating the union officers, local management argued:”But we don’t know how to reinstate them since no company has ever had to do that in Egypt before!” But the Egyptian result may become a precedent for Mondelez workers in other countries. The IUF and Mondelez International jointly stated that:

“This brings the long-running labour conflict in Alexandria to an end. Both local parties have committed to seek to resolve future challenges in a good-faith and constructive manner and, beyond Egypt, Mondelez International and the IUF have agreed “to discuss the lessons learnt from this conflict.”

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One lesson for all trade unionists is the power of global worker solidarity, in winning campaigns that can even transcend sharp national conflicts.  During the Screamdelez campaign delegates at the IUF EECA regional meeting, held in Kyiv {Kiev} on November 4-5, 2013 concluded their discussion on trade union development by a symbolic action in support of the struggling Mondelez workers in Egypt, Pakistan and world-wide. The participants included union leaders and activists from Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, Armenia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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