Pair of NLRB Cases Could Land Temps, Low-Wage Workers the Protections They’ve Long Desired

by Chaz Bolte

Photo by Chris Dilts Flickr

Photo by Chris Dilts Flickr

Two cases currently before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will determine what it officially means to be an employer, and the ramifications for management in industries ranging from fast food to waste collection could be serious.

Given the complicated nature of modern American labor the two decisions seek to determine who employs whom and therefore who can enter into collective bargaining agreements.  The cases aim to undress the chain of command hidden by layers of temporary staffing and franchising laws many companies exploit to lower labor costs.

The first case is a consolidated case that will determine the future of fast food franchises. At question is whether McDonalds qualifies as a ‘joint employer’ along with the franchise owners.  It is one of the byproducts of a growing campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 which has swept the nation.

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A LEGACY OF INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY

by Briosha Sanders

Bri-Sanders1-585x280

I’d be lying if I told you that it never occurred to me to question the beauty of the countryside that I loved to explore as a young person of color in the South. Many people, like me, can’t help but admire stretches of crisp green plants that interchange with golden fields and eventually give way to pristine farm homes with freshly trimmed lawns. However, there is a deeply entrenched legacy of injustice and inequality that no amount of romanticizing or denial could remove from the reality of life in the country.  But people like to forget and forgetting is costly.

I’d seen third world poverty before when I worked with a nonprofit organization in Honduras in the summer of 2012, but I still felt shocked when I went out to the camps of the trabajadores with whom FLOC organizers work to build community power. It was shocking, I think, because for the first time I was faced with the harsh realization that there is a widespread human trafficking operation of cheap labor thriving in my back yard.

One of the ugliest things I’ve seen in the fields confronted me this past Tuesday night when my companeros y yo visited a worker camp in North Carolina that was surrounded by barbwire fence. For me, it looked like a prison.  It made me think of a cage where the workers are contained until they are needed to work in the fields. There were approximately 60 people living in 5-6 trailers with worn out mattresses backed into a small space, allowing hardly enough room for people to move around.

I realized that the poverty I witnessed in Honduras and the exploitation that the workers here in North Carolina experience are connected. Although, abstractly, I understood that they stem from the same roots of capitalism, imperialism, and racism, it was another thing altogether to witness the blatant disregard for even the most basic human rights that farmworkers are forced to endure every day. Wage theft, physical and verbal abuse, scorching heat, and denial of water and/or lunch breaks, and on and on.

FLOC is an organization of activists and advocates, some of whom have experienced these very same violations themselves, fighting to expose the ugliness of the conditions that farmworkers often feel they have to “put up with” in order to feed their families and care for their loved ones. The fact is that the plantation was never abolished in the South and there is nothing beautiful or endearing about the struggles that farmworkers are forced to experience for fear of losing their jobs or even being deported. As an intern for FLOC, I am even more motivated by and have an ever growing appreciation for la lucha to unionize and demand the Respect, the Recognition, and the Raises that farmworkers deserve.

Briosha Sanders is working for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (FLOC) as an intern.  This post originally appeared on FLOC’s blog, and is reposted here with the permission of FLOC and of Briosha Sanders.

 

 

 

Watch: Farm Owner Rep Punches Labor Union Organizer in the Face (Video)

punchA representative from the North Carolina Growers Association, an organization representing farm owners in North Carolina, attacked union organizer Oscar Sanchez last week during an outdoor meeting.

Oscar Sanchez, who is the “Respect, Recognition, and Raise!” campaign leader and organizer for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, had earlier met with farm workers who were exploring their options for coping with the after effects of a slow season. Following his meeting, FLOC  had filed a request to help the workers.

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San Francisco Workers Aim High Nation’s Top Minimum Wage

by Carl Finamore

On the steps of City Hall (photo: Carl Finamore)

On the steps of City Hall (photo: Carl Finamore)

In a very unusual political combination seldom seen nowadays, San Francisco’s mayor, city officials, business, community and labor leaders have jointly agreed to place a proposition on the November ballot that will give a big raise to virtually all low-wage full time, part time, sub contract and temporary workers of big and small businesses alike.

San Francisco already has the country’s highest minimum wage which currently stands at $10.74.

But, if this proposal gets approved this Fall as expected, an estimated 100,000 workers will get an extra boost after six months to $12.25 an hour with additional annual increases until the minimum wage finally jumps to $15 an hour in July 2018.
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Hospital Union Claims Victory in Johns Hopkins Contract Fight

by Bruce Vail

1199SEIU President George Gresham (right) protests low wages with fellow union members in a three-day picket line outside Johns Hopkins Hospital in April.   (Jim McNeill/1199SEIU)

1199SEIU President George Gresham (right) protests low wages with fellow union members in a three-day picket line outside Johns Hopkins Hospital in April. (Jim McNeill/1199SEIU)

(July 11) A bruising four-month fight between healthcare workers’ union 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East and Johns Hopkins Hospital is coming to an end: Members voted on Thursday and Friday to ratify a new agreement covering about 2,000 medical center employees.

The battle has been unusually intense compared with negotiations in the past, featuring a three-day strike in April and a voracious media campaign shaming the wealthy hospital for abandoning its lowest-paid workers. And though the new contract falls short of initial demands that would have more widely boosted wages among staff, local 1199SEIU leaders still view its ratification as a welcome victory after months of struggle.
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What’s wrong with America’s tipping system?

The Economic Policy Institute has produced a series of informative videos on tipped wage workers. We will continue to share them haring them over the coming week or so. In this video, Economic analyst and former tipped worker David Cooper explains that, even though there are laws protecting tipped workers, the system doesn’t work well. Laws are hard to enforce and frequently violated.

what life is like on $2.13

The Economic Policy Institute has produced a series of informative videos on tipped wage workers. We will be sharing them over the coming week or so. In the first video, Economic analyst and former tipped worker David Cooper explains that nation widethe poverty rate for tipped workers is nearly double the poverty rate overall. But in states with higher tipped minimum wages (or no separate tipped minimum wage), tipped workers are much better off.

For more information, click here.

Port truck drivers’ strike continues

by Laura Clawson

Port truck drivers on strike in California.

More than 120 truck drivers continue their strike at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The drivers are targeting three companies that they say misclassify them as independent contractors when they are effectively employees, denying them minimum wage and overtime protections, Social Security and workers’ compensation, and other benefits. Additionally, workers say they’ve faced retaliation and intimidation over their activism. So far, the strike’s impact on the two massive ports remains small, though Tuesday:

In a brief escalation of the day-old strike, dockworkers walked off the job at the Evergreen, APL and Yusen terminals in Los Angeles around 9 a.m., and at the Long Beach Container Terminal an hour later, port officials said.But an arbitrator quickly ruled that the dockworkers’ contract didn’t allow them to leave the job in sympathy with the drivers strike. A similar ruling was issued during a 48-hour trucker strike in April.

Los Angeles port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said the port was operating “near normal” despite minor disruptions from the protests.

 

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Leveling the Playing Field for Worker Cooperatives

by Abby Scher

NYCworkercoop_reportA quiet revolution is rumbling through New York’s municipal offices as they retool to support the creation of worker cooperatives as a way to fight poverty. Spurred by the powerful example of immigrant-owned cleaning cooperatives and the longstanding example of Cooperative Home Care Associates in the Bronx – the largest worker cooperative in the country – progressive city council members are allying with a new network of worker cooperatives, community based organizations that incubated immigrant-owned co-ops and the influential Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies to figure out how the city can encourage this still-tiny economic sector. Once fully in place, New York City will be a national leader in providing municipal support for these democratic enterprises.

The pace of change is dizzying. In January, the federation released a short report arguing that worker co-ops help improve traditionally low-wage jobs by channeling the enterprises’ profits directly to their worker members, improving their lives in tangible ways. Then in February, Councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo, chairwoman of the Committee on Community Development, held a hearing which put staff from the city’s Small Business Services and Economic Development Agency in the hot seat about how they were promoting worker cooperatives. In their final budget agreement on June 19th, the mayor agreed to the City Council’s request for $1.2 million for training programs with the aim of incubating a minimum of 234 new jobs, 28 new worker co-ops and help another 20 existing worker cooperatives to grow.

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The Limitations and Possibilities of Student-Labor Coalitions

by Sarah Jaffe

Workers from the SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East protest cuts to healthcare in New York state outside of the Albany State House.   (Tommy Miles / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Workers from the SEIU 1199 United Healthcare Workers East protest cuts to healthcare in New York state outside of the Albany State House. (Tommy Miles / Flickr / Creative Commons)

In April, New York University found itself the subject of uncomfortable scrutiny when Michael Powell reported in the New York Times that Daniel E. Straus, owner of the HealthBridge and CareOne nursing home companies in New Jersey and Connecticut and a board member at NYU law school, had subpoenaed the emails, text messages and personal writings of two NYU law students, Luke Herrine and Leo Gertner. The two students were part of a growing movement of NYU undergraduates and law students calling attention to working conditions at Straus’s facilities, and they had been helping to circulate a petition to the law school dean asking for a meeting to discuss Straus’s presence on the board.

The next day, with somewhat less fanfare, a one-line memo was sent to NYU law students by their dean, informing them that Straus would no longer be on the school’s board. The Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice, which Straus has funded since 2009, will close at the end of the year. (Although the timeline of the closure decision is unclear, Herrine, one of the subpoenaed students, believes it was due to the controversy.)
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