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.

Why Harris and Hobby Lobby Spell Disaster for Working Women

by Sarah Jaffe

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby Monday, allowing "closely held" businesses to claim religious rights and avoid federal healthcare regulations that require employers to include birth control in insurance plans.   (Nate Grigg / Flickr / Creative Commons)

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby Monday, allowing “closely held” businesses to claim religious rights and avoid federal healthcare regulations that require employers to include birth control in insurance plans. (Nate Grigg / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Retail sales and home healthcare work are two of the three fastest-growing jobs in this country. That’s an important consideration when looking at the decisions the Supreme Court handed down today in Harris v. Quinn and Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby Stores: If you are not affected by these rulings yet, you well could be in the future.

Both 5 – 4 decisions were written by Justice Samuel Alito, a conservative Catholic from New Jersey appointed by George W. Bush, and both rested on narrowly tailored legal arguments that just happen to cut wide enough to impact groups of workers who are almost exclusively female. Harris creates the special designation of “partial public employees” for publicly-funded home healthcare aides who work both for the client and for the state—who are 90 percent female, most of them poor, immigrants, and of color. Hobby Lobby, meanwhile, in deciding whether an employer with religious beliefs can be required to provide health insurance that covers contraception, singles out women by targeting its arguments towards workers who use birth control—but not any other form of healthcare.

As Sheila Bapat, author of Part of the Family? Nannies, Housekeepers, Caregivers and the Battle for Domestic Workers’ Rights, tweeted, “These decisions speak squarely to the value of women’s labor.”

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2014 Midwest School for Women Workers

MidwestschoolwomenThis year’s Midwest School for Women Workers will be held at the Illini Union on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign from Sunday, June 22 to Thursday, June 26, 2014. The school provides high-quality education in key leadership and representation skills along with opportunities for women workers to learn from one another and build solidarity. The theme this year is: Growing Our Power: Learning, Inspiring, and Transforming Together. Karen Lewis, President, Chicago Teacher’s Union will be the banquet keynote speaker.

The deadline for registration is May 22.  There is an e-brochure and registration form here.  The MSWW also has a Facebook page. Please “like” it and share it! There a limited number of scholarships available for the school.

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Report: Women’s Committees Still Valuable to Unions

by Kenneth Quinnell

Report: Women's Committees Still Valuable to Unions

A new report, Women’s Committees in Worker Organizations: Still Making a Difference, by Lois S. Gray and Maria Figueroa, concludes that labor organizations still have a need for women-centered programs and committees. Female union members and the labor unions themselves still gain significant benefits from maintaining internal organizations and programs for women. Gray and Figueroa collected data from both national and local unions, as well as alt labor groups.  They found that such programs, even in female-dominant unions or those headed by women, increase women’s union activism, develop leaders, expand collective bargaining and help address issues like sexual harassment and pay inequality.

Gray said:

In the evolution of women’s departments and committees, there has been a continuing tension between the organizational imperatives by mostly male officials to build the union and secure support of the members (including women) and the women’s drive to gain attention for their agenda of equality and recognition.

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The Paycheck Fairness Act Would Have Helped All Workers, Not Just Women

by Moshe Marvit

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) calls on the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act at an April 1 press conference. If enacted, the law would have protected all workers from being fired for discussing wages with each other. (Senate Democrats / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) calls on the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act at an April 1 press conference. If enacted, the law would have protected all workers from being fired for discussing wages with each other. (Senate Democrats / Flickr / Creative Commons)

(April 10) Despite being a part of the U.S. workforce for decades, American women are still earning 77 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. In an effort to close that persistent gap, Democrats in Congress have tried three times since 2009 to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. And all three times—most recently on Wednesday morning—Republicans in Congress have blocked the bill from proceeding to debate and a full vote.

Though the act was framed as a way to fight the enduring discrepancy in wages among genders, in reality, it would have helped work toward better conditions for all workers. On Tuesday, President Obama signed executive orders that acted as a parallel Paycheck Fairness Act for federal contractors and publicly urged Congress to pass the bill.

Predictably, Republicans responded by calling the act a job-killer and a non-starter in the current economy. If passed, the bill would have made several amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, it would have mandated that factors used to justify wage differences were not based on gender divisions and were consistent with business necessity; it would have required the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to collect data from employers regarding the sex, race, and national origin of employees, thus discouraging discriminatory compensation decisions; and it would have prohibited employer retaliation against employees who disclose their wages to each other.

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No more words – it’s time for action: ITUC International Women’s Day Statement

International Trade Union Confederation

stopGBVOn the occasion of International Women’s Day 2014, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is calling time on gender-based violence in the world of work. Violence against women at work, whether at their actual place of work or on the way to and from work, can take on multiple forms, including:

  •  Physical assault
  • Verbal abuse and threats of violence
  • Bullying
  • Psychological abuse
  • Sexual harassment
  • Economic violence Continue reading

Unfinished Business of Family Leave in SF on February 12 & LA on February 13

unfinsihed

UB_bokkIn their new book, Unfinished Business, Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman document the history and impact of California’s paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which began in 2004. A February 12 meeting in the Bay Area , will hear from the authors and also from Bay Area community members who are working locally and statewide to expand awareness and our rights to take paid family leave. A February 13 meeting will be held in Los Angeles ((details on both events below after the fold).
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World Women’s Assembly to focus on organizing women

2nd ITUC World Women’s Conference will examine trade union actions to improve women’s job security and conditions, and to organize more women

ITUC OnLine

2wwc_poster_en300 women trade union delegates from 100 countries are gathering in Dakar, Senegal, this week to analyze the impacts of the global jobs crisis on women, find ways to organize more  women and map out international trade union action to improve women’s job security, pay and conditions as the global economy remains highly unstable.

A major focus of the program  will be on reaching out to the most vulnerable and exploited women such as domestic or home-based workers and map out different ways of organiing them all around the world. The Conference will also focus on promoting women in leadership, the Count Us In! Campaign, and mentorship programs to support younger women.

Women have been hardest hit by the crisis as their employment and income levels steadily deteriorate. The ITUC (2013) Global Poll shows that 65 % of women think the economic situation intheir country is bad.

The Conference discussion guide provides extensive and detailed coverage of priority issues for women at work. It points out to the steady rise of precarious and informal work in recent years in which women are overrepresented. The event is expected to end with strong commitments of the unions to organising women workers around their issues, and to campaigning for unpaid care work to be recognised, valued and more equally shared. Continue reading

Delegates Commit AFL-CIO to Grow Labor Movement Through Diversity, Inclusion

On the heels of last week’s groundbreaking young worker and diversity conference, delegates to the AFL-CIO 2013 Convention reaffirmed the federation’s commitment to grow an inclusive labor movement dedicated to issues that will build strength for and share prosperity with women, young workers, people of color and LGBT workers.

The trio of first-day resolutions addressing inclusion in the labor movement focused on the need for the AFL-CIO itself to continue and increase its efforts to ensure that the face of the union movement and its decision-making bodies at all levels—national, state and local—reflect the face of today’s diverse workforce.

The AFL-CIO Women’s Initiative Convention resolution says women’s equality is a “shared struggle” and despite a half a century of major gains, “women still don’t have equality.”

From the resolution:

We stand with women and insist on: Equality in pay and opportunity for all; the right of women to control their own bodies and be free from violence; and the right of every woman to meet her fullest potential and the opportunity to serve—and lead—her community. Nothing less.

It also commits the AFL-CIO to work “toward shared leadership to represent the makeup of our membership.” About 45% of union members are women. The resolution outlines four vital strategies to “grow the labor movement, revitalize democracy, respond to the global economic crisis and build durable community partnerships.” Continue reading

Plus Ça Change: Triangle Shirtwaist and Rana Plaza

by Joe White
triangle building

The horrible deaths of over 1,100 clothing workers in Bangladesh bear more than a passing resemblance to the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of l9ll in which l46 garment workers perished. In certain key respects nothing has changed over the last l00 years. In both New York l9ll and Bangladesh 2013 the distinguishing characteristics of garment manufacturing were low capital entry levels, cut-throat competition, utterly atrocious wages and working conditions, and bosses who ranked with coal mine owners when it came to respect for human life. Both then and now, these catastrophes were completely avoidable as well as being completely predictable.

Yet another parallel is that there were unheeded warnings. Fires in the shirtwaist sector of the New York City garment trade were nothing new; smaller building collapses had already occurred in South Asia’s 21st century version of 7th Avenue. The sheer magnitude of the catastrophe raises an alarming question: Can it be that things are actually worse for working people throughout the world than they were l00 years ago? Twenty-five years ago such a conclusion would have been implausible if not downright unthinkable. For people on the left, (though of course polls don’t get taken on things like this), the consensus seems to have been that world history had entered a period of transition from capitalism to socialism—however long and messy that transition might turn out to be. But who’s going to bet the price of a six-pack on that in 2013?
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