Posted on December 7, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
by Gregory Heires
(Photo Flickr/Eric Gravengaard)
Occupy Wall Street struck a deep chord with its notion that the fundamental divide in our country is between the “1 percent” and the rest of us.
That facile rhetorical device brilliantly captured the sharpening of the gross economic inequality in the United States and how the economy is leaving so many of us behind.
But we all know—and OWS activists would be the first to acknowledge—that our social stratification is in fact more complicated than the 1 percent versus 99 percent division suggests, with cleavages not only within class lines but also differences among racial, ethnic and gender groups and based on immigrant status.
Occupy Wall Street focused attention on the young educated work force.
At the height of the OWS revolt, the media paid less attention to the working poor, a group that encompasses tens of millions of Americans who live above the federal poverty line but are only a paycheck away from economic calamity. They have little hope of seeing their living standards improve unless the federal government and state governments adopt more progressive economic policies, unions become stronger and more inclusive, and political pressure leads to higher wages. The retail workers movement has helped raised greater awareness of the working poor, and it is building on Occupy Wall Street’s success in moving the country’s political discourse to the left. (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers | Tagged: Great Recession, occupy Wall Street, Working poor | Leave a Comment »
Posted on December 6, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
By Sarah Jaffe
The Committee for Better Banks protests outsourcing of teller jobs at a rally outside Bank of America on November 21. (photo: Sarah Jaffe)
We’ve talked a lot about the finance industry since it nearly destroyed the economy back in 2008. (By “we” here I mean the American public, though it’s just as true of progressive communities and the world at large.)
We’ve discussed pay for those who work at the top echelons of finance: Bonuses, salaries and stock compensation have all been up for debate. Anger tends to flare at the news of another round of bonuses at a bailed-out bank, or when, after a new misdeed is uncovered, we learn the perpetrators will keep their outsized salaries.
But we’ve talked very little about the wages and working conditions for the lower tier of bank workers: the tellers, customer service representatives, technicians and others who, as Bank of America teller Alex Shalom told me recently, often face the wrath of customers who’ve been hit with another $5 fee or heard about the latest rigging of rates or foreclosure fraud.
The New-York-based Committee for Better Banks is aiming to change all that. As I reported in November, the coalition of community and labor groups has set out to improve the finance industry by improving conditions for its frontline workers. The hope is that empowered tellers and customer service representatives, who live in the communities where they work and know the customers they regularly serve, will help create more community-friendly banks.
They’re now out with a report billed as the first on working conditions in banks since the 2008 financial crisis. Beginning in March of this year, organizers interviewed about 5,000 bank workers, most in New York City, and this fall they performed a more rigorous survey of 200 current and former workers to provide quantifiable data on industry trends. (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers | Tagged: bank workers, Committee for Better Banks | Leave a Comment »
Posted on December 5, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
Wal-Mart touts a caring culture. Now, its workers are caring for each other by speaking out.
by Sarah Jaffe
Colby Harris, a Texas Wal-Mart worker fired after striking, traveled to New Jersey to inspire other Wal-Mart workers at a November 29 ‘Black Friday’ action. (Sarah Jaffe)
‘When I saw the food bins in Ohio, it made me think, “Employees are not just hungry on Thanksgiving, they’re hungry every day because they’re getting paid low wages,” ‘ says Tiffany Beroid, a worker at a Wal-Mart in Laurel, Md.
“I’ve come today to represent all the silent Wal-Mart workers that are afraid to stand up for their rights,” Elaine Rozier, a Wal-Mart employee of eight years, told a crowd of about 150 labor activists and community supporters—accompanied by raucous musicians with Occupy Guitarmy and the Rude Mechanical Orchestra—on Friday in Secaucus, N.J., across the street from a well-guarded Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club (the wholesale club owned by Wal-Mart and named for the company’s celebrated founder, Sam Walton). “I’m standing up for my rights, my kids, my grandkids, and their kids,” Rozier said.
Perhaps because of the fear she mentioned, Rozier, who comes from Miami, was one of the only identified Wal-Mart employees in the crowd. Along with Mark Bowers and Colby Harris, two Wal-Mart workers from Texas, Rozier traveled to New Jersey for Black Friday, Wal-Mart’s biggest retail sales day, to demonstrate to the workers inside the Secaucus store that they, too, could stand up for their rights.
Accompanied by ten supporters, the three workers blocked traffic on the street alongside the Wal-Mart, chanting, singing and clapping until police took them away in handcuffs.
The protest was one of hundreds of Black Friday actions organized by OUR Walmart, a United Food and Commercial Workers-backed group of Wal-Mart workers—including Rozier, Bowers and Harris—that has been putting on strikes, protests, and direct actions at Wal-Mart for over a year in support of better wages, benefits and conditions. The first wave of strikes hit in October of 2012, and on Black Friday of that year, some 400 workers reportedly went on strike at stores around the country.
“Stand up, live better” has become the rallying cry of the movement, a twist on the retail giant’s own slogan, “Save money, live better.” On Friday, workers in Secaucus repeatedly echoed the “stand up” line. (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers, Organizing, Strikes and work action | Tagged: Black Firday, Our Walmart, Walmart, Walmart strikes | 1 Comment »
Posted on December 3, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
by Laura Clawson
Less than a week after more than 110
Walmart workers and supporters were arrested at Black Friday protests and strikes, fast food workers are escalating their fight for fair wages, fair treatment, and the right to organize. One-day strikes are planned for Thursday at fast food restaurants in 100 cities
, Steven Greenhouse reports, including cities like Providence, Rhode Island, and Charleston, South Carolina, that have not been among the dozens in which fast food workers have staged walkouts to date.
“There’s been pretty huge growth in one year,” said Kendall Fells, one of the movement’s main organizers. “People understand that a one-day strike is not going to get them there. They understand that this needs to continue to grow.” (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers, Strikes and work action | Tagged: fast food, fast food strikes | 1 Comment »
Posted on December 2, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
by Barbara Garson
Walmart’s neo-Pinkertons monitoring a
Black Friday protest
I took part in one of the 1500 Walmart protests this past Black Friday. It gave me a new perspective on NSA Surveillance.
Well before noon my husband and I were sitting on a sunny bench in front of the Secaucus, NJ, Walmart. To the Walmart security agents, conferring with groups of Hudson County Sheriff’s officers, we must have looked like the silver haired elderly couple that we are. They didn’t seem to realize that we, like they, were waiting for the demonstrators.
“Some of these demonstrators want to get hit by a cop,” a young security man said. Perhaps he was only currying favor with the “real” cops when he assured them that if such a thing occurred that day, no one would later find those pictures on any Walmart surveillance camera. [At the risk of ruining the suspense, nothing remotely like that happened.] (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers, Organizing, Strikes and work action | Tagged: Barbara Garson, BlackFriday, neo-PInkertons, Our Walmart, Walmart | Leave a Comment »
Posted on November 28, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
By Bruce Vail
A proposed poultry inspection privatization plan isn’t good for workers or consumers, advocates say. (USDAgov / Flickr / Creative Commons)
With Thanksgiving Day nearly upon us, government officials are moving forward with plans to privatize some poultry inspections at chicken and turkey slaughter plants in a manner that could compromise worker and consumer safety.
The poultry privatization plan would eliminate some 800 government food safety inspectors and replace them with employees hired directly by the poultry companies, says Ken Ward, a retired veteran of the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It would also speed up inspections, he says, allowing slaughter line speeds to be increased from 32 turkeys per minute to 55 birds per minute, with similar increases for other poultry. That’s too fast to do proper inspections for signs of disease or other health problems in the birds, he suggests, and could lead to unsafe food being shipped out to local supermarkets and butcher shops.
With those consumer safety concerns in mind, representatives from the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Food and Water Watch analyzed USDA data at plants where the proposal was tested as part of a pilot project. They say they found potentially concerning results, including birds whose meat had been contaminated by fecal content and that had already died of other disease before slaughter. “The data is disturbing,” says senior lobbyist Tony Corbo. “USDA has minimized the importance of catching defects” in the birds, and the pilot program seems rigged to provide financial benefits to the producing companies while putting food safety at a lower priority, he says. In order to correct the problems with the USDA proposal, he continues, “New regulations or new legislation is required.” (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers, Organizing | Tagged: Food Safety Inspection Services, National Council of La Raza, Occupational Health & Safety, poultry workers, Southern Poverty Law Center, USDA | 1 Comment »
Posted on November 28, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
by Laura Clawson
The number of Walmart workers striking on Black Friday will be small compared with the number of allies who come out to support them at an expected 1,500 protests across the country. But workers are making themselves heard ahead of the big day with small strikes across the country this week, making sure that Walmart’s PR department can’t pretend they don’t exist.Tuesday, workers in Columbia and Laurel, Maryland, bringing letters to managers calling for $25,000 a year wages and an end to retaliation against activists. Tuesday’s actions continued a string of strikes: Workers in a Miami and Minnesota Walmart walked off the job Monday, the Minnesota workers joined by Rep. Keith Ellison. Those followed strikes in Tampa, Florida, and Sacramento, California, in the previous days.
The continuing worker activism gains added momentum from recent stories detailing just how badly Walmart does by its workers, like asking workers to donate food to other Walmart workers or the news that the chain could give workers a big raise without raising prices. <a name=”laura”
Laura Clawson writes for Daily Kos Labor where this post first appeared
Filed under: Low wage workers, Solidarity, Strikes and work action | Tagged: #walmartstrikers, Black Friday protests, Walmart, Walmart workers | 1 Comment »
Posted on November 25, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
by Lawrence S. Wittner
Some 47 million Americans live in poverty, and a key reason is the decline of the minimum wage.
First established under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, the nationwide minimum wage was designed to lift millions of American workers out of poverty and to stimulate the economy. Unfortunately, however, it was not indexed to inflation, and big businesses — hostile from the start — fought, often successfully, to prevent congressional action to raise it. As a result, over the past forty years, the purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen sharply. If Congress had kept the minimum wage in pace with inflation over this period, it would today be $10.74. But, in fact, it is $7.25 — about two-thirds of its previous purchasing power.
A major consequence is that increasing numbers of workers and their families live in poverty. The annual salary of a full-time American worker employed at $7.25 per hour is $15,080 — less than the official federal government poverty level for a family of two. The poverty level for a family of four is $23,550 — considerably beyond what a minimum-wage worker earns.
At the same time, the rich have grown far richer. Between 1968 and 2012, as the minimum wage declined in value, the top 1 percent of households doubled their share of the nation’s income. The typical CEO of a big business received a 16 percent raise in 2012 — to $15.1 million. That year, the pay of Wal-Mart’s CEO, Mike Duke, rose 14 percent, to $20.7 million. By contrast, Walmart — the largest employer in the United States — pays its sales associates an average wage of $8.81 an hour. It is much the same story at McDonald’s, which employs large numbers of the nation’s low wage workers. In 2012, the CEO of McDonald’s was paid $27.7 million. Although his income roughly tripled in 2012, the income of McDonald’s fast food workers remained abysmal. Thanks to this pattern, the United States now has the most unequal distribution of income in the industrialized world.
Another consequence of keeping the minimum wage low is that, by under-paying workers, corporations are shifting the real costs of doing business to the general public. According to a study released this October by the University of California and the University of Illinois, 52 percent of America’s fast food workers receive assistance from public programs like food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and Medicaid thanks to their poverty-level wages. As a result, taxpayers are contributing $7 billion per year to pick up the cost of supporting these fast-food workers. The study estimates that public assistance to McDonald’s workers alone amounts to $1.2 billion a year — the equivalent of one-fifth of that corporation’s annual profits. Taxpayers are also paying enormous amounts to support the impoverished employees of Walmart and other giant companies. (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers | Tagged: Fair Labor Standards Act, McDonald, minimum wage, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families | 1 Comment »
Posted on November 24, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
by Laura Clawson
Walmart’s been caught trying to make a top-down social media strategy look like a grassroots action by hundreds of hourly workers—the retail giant is astroturfing, in other words. See, a social media “Thunderclap” lets hundreds of people post to Twitter or Facebook at the same time, increasing the likelihood that a topic will trend or at least start to break through the noise. A Thunderclap touting Black Friday as Walmart’s Super Bowl was identified as being from “a proud associate.” But it turns out that proud associate was Umang Shah, Walmart’s director of social strategy. (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers, Organizing, Strikes and work action, The enemy | Tagged: #blackfridayprotests, astroturfing, Black Friday, Walmart | Leave a Comment »
Posted on November 21, 2013 by dsalaborblogmoderator
By Sarah Jaffe
On Nov. 18,. 2013, striking Los Angeles port truckers try to deliver a letter to management.
“We are on strike today to have respect and dignity at work,” says Walter Melendez, one of approximately 40 Los Angeles port truck drivers who walked off the job at 5a.m. morning in protest of alleged unfair labor practices. The strikes featured the rolling “ambulatory pickets” that the truckers have excelled at—chasing down trucks as they leave the port and setting up picket lines in front of them.
Melendez works for California’s Green Fleet Systems, a company that moves freight from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to nearby distribution hubs. The drivers have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the company retaliated against them for pushing forward with a drive to join the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The push continues even as, according to Melendez, the company does its best to intimidate workers: pulling them into one-on-one meetings to dissuade them from unionizing, and even following and photographing them engaging in organizing activities outside work. Melendez believes that more Green Fleet drivers would have joined the strike this morning, had they not been deterred by these tactics. (more…)
Filed under: Low wage workers, Organizing, Strikes and work action | Tagged: National Labor Relations Board, Port of Los Angeles, Port of Oakland, port truckers, Teamsters | 1 Comment »