Triangle Shirtwaist and Rana Plaza- Same Struggle

 by Brian Finnegan

What-the-Triangle-Shirtwaist-Factory-Has-to-Do-with-the-Protest-Outside-the-Ralph-Lauren-Shareholders-Meeting-Today_blog_post_fullWidth

 

Protesters gathered today in front of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City to call on Ralph Lauren to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh to improve workplace safety for garment workers. The protest preceded Ralph Lauren’s annual shareholders meeting where the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund (its investments) had a proposal on the ballot related to human rights reporting.

At today’s shareholder meeting, Nazma Akter, president of the Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation, representing 70,000 workers, spoke to the protesters and called on Ralph Lauren join with more than 180 brands that have agreed to participate in the Accord.  The Accord is a binding and enforceable agreement that represents a new model in supply chain accountability and risk management. Other programs to audit and monitor for workers’ safety follow the same model that has failed the hundreds of workers who have died in preventable garment factory fires and building collapses over the past 20 years.

Akter spoke in the name of “women like me, who produce goods for Ralph Lauren in Bangladesh.”  Young women are 80% of the garment workforce in Bangladesh. Most of the more than 3,600 workers killed and seriously injured in the April 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse were young women. Hundreds of children were orphaned when their parents were killed in the collapse.  But Rana is only the most notorious of recent deadly workplace disasters in factories along the global supply chains of major U.S. and European brands and retailers.

Rana Plaza reminded many of the Triangle factory fire in New York more than 100 years ago that killed more than 100 workers yet eventually led to improved workplace safety laws and enforcement and innovative collective bargaining agreements. The changes after the Triangle factory fire helped make what was once sweatshop labor into good jobs and a way into the middle class.

Following the protest, Akter participated in the Ralph Lauren shareholders meeting where she presented the AFL-CIO Reserve Fund’s shareholder proposal, urging the company to report to stockholders about how it assesses human rights risks. The AFL-CIO Reserve Fund submitted the proposal after the company failed to acknowledge or respond to written requests to sign onto the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh.

Ralph Lauren has bought thousands of tons of goods from at least 15 locations in Bangladesh since 2007.

At the shareholders meeting, Akter asked: “So why has a company that has always stood for the highest quality not joined the accord?” She also pointed out that workers in factories that have signed the accord are in a better position to exercise other workers’ rights. “There are over 4,000 garment factories in Bangladesh. So far, 1,600 are covered by the accord and workers in these are better protected. Workers have a union at only 160 of those thousands of factories. Workers at factories covered by the Accord and those who have a union could have refused to enter Rana Plaza when they saw cracks. Workers must have Freedom of Association to protect themselves and claim their full human rights.” Unfortunately, workers who organize unions in Bangladesh are often fired, harassed or violently attacked.

Rana Plaza should help major corporations realize that the current model of cheap goods at any price through vast and unaccountable global supply chains is often inhumane and unsustainable.  Brands that want to act responsibly must take concrete measures to improve respect for human rights in the workplace.

This has been reposted from the AFL-CIO Now Blog, an indispensable source of information for worker activists.

Obama Acts to Deny Federal Contracts to Labor Law Violators

by Mike Hall

Obama signing contractorsPresident Barack Obama on Thursday signed an executive order that will make it harder for companies with a history of labor law violations such as wage and hour and workplace safety to win federal contracts. Said Obama:

We expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely on these contracts. Our tax dollars shouldn’t go to companies that violate workplace laws, they shouldn’t go to companies that violate workers’ rights.

From raising wages to workplace protections, said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, “President Obama is showing strong leadership where it’s needed most.”
Continue reading

The truth about how tipped workers get paid

Economic Policy Institute analyst and former tipped worker David Cooper explains how tipped workers get paid. The minimum wage for most tipped workers is only $2.13 an hour. That means the customer is on the hook for paying the bulk of these workers’ wages.

For other videos, from the Economic Policy Institute on tipped wages here and here.

McDonald’s is responsible for working conditions in franchise restaurants, labor board says

by Laura Clawson

(Photo: Wikipedia)

(Photo: Wikipedia)

In a move that could have far-reaching implications for franchised businesses and low-wage workers, the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel said Tuesday that McDonald’s would be treated as a joint employer along with franchisees in 43 unfair labor practices cases. Setting this precedent would make it harder for the company to deny responsibility for wage theft and other abuses—like the cases that raised this question in the first place, with workers alleging they were fired in retaliation for participating in legally protected strikes. McDonald’s, like other franchise businesses, has traditionally claimed that it has nothing to do with labor practices in its restaurants, but the tight control the company exerts over every aspect of management of its franchisee-owned restaurants points to a different conclusion:

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

A LEGACY OF INJUSTICE AND INEQUALITY

by Briosha Sanders

Bri-Sanders1-585x280I’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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,217 other followers