Labor Leader Cesar Chavez

Cesar Chavez Today, March 31 is Cesar Chavez’ birthday. On this day throughout the nation there are many observances honoring Cesar’s work. We are grateful for all these recognitions, which continue to grow 23 years after Cesar’s passing in 1993. But Cesar said that if the union he helped build didn’t survive his death, then his life’s work would have been in vain. The UFW takes this responsibility seriously and carries on Cesar’s work of making the lives of farm workers better by aggressively helping farm workers organize, negotiate union contracts and win new legal protections.

A big focus of the UFW right now is helping farm workers get the same overtime pay as almost every other worker. Workers plan to commemorate Cesar Chavez month (the time between Cesar’s March 31 birthday and April 23 passing) by marching for fair overtime pay in support of the bill we told you about, AB 2757 “The Phase-In Overtime for Agricultural Workers Act of 2016.” The bill would phase in paying California’s farm workers overtime if they work more than eight hours a day or 40 hours a week by the year 2020.

Starting this Sunday, April 3, more than 10,000 farm workers up and down the west coast will take to the streets and march in 5 key agricultural areas. To do this is very expensive, but it’s time for worker’s voices to be heard. As Cesar told us, “I’m not going to ask for anything unless the workers want it. If they want it, they’ll ask for it.” Well, the workers are asking now. Will you help? Continue reading

Temporary Workers Not Allowed to Form Unions

Seth Sandronsky
Self-employed independent contractors in California can neither form unions nor negotiate collective bargaining pacts, but part of those conditions could soon change, according to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego). Gonzalez, Chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Women in the Workplace, introduced Assembly Bill 1727 on January 28 as an amendment to the state’s Labor Code. Gonzalez’s bill, which will be updated today, is called the California 1099 Self-Organizing Act. It would allow independent contractors to form employee associations that could negotiate working conditions and pay, though not to form labor unions.
“All workers should have the right to organize and collectively bargain,” Gonzalez said in an email to Capital & Main. “Our laws need to catch up to the innovation happening in our economy to ensure independent contractors have a pathway to these workplace rights as well.”

Assembly Bill 1727 would not compel employers to classify independent contractors as employees.

AB 1727 would not, however, compel employers to classify independent contractors as employees — nor would it allow these workers to form a traditional labor union or to join an existing union. That rubs Steve Smith, director of communications for the California Labor Federation, the wrong way.
“We agree with Assemblywoman Gonzalez that self-employed workers should have every right to bargain collectively, but have concerns about the approach,” Smith told Capital & Main by phone, “The problem with AB 1727 is that it basically enshrines an unfair business model that companies like Uber use to misclassify their workforce as independent contractors instead of employees.”

Nonunion workers without the right to bargain collectively get the short end of the stick, say critics of the gig economy. “Unionized workers have on average 20 percent higher wages than their nonunion peers,” wrote Evan Butcher for the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, last September.
Uber, the app-based, ride-hailing firm, is one of the best-known businesses that rely on independent contractors. The company sells labor services by arranging for individuals to drive their own cars as personal taxis to earn income. And in early 2016, Amazon.com, the popular online retail giant, began to expand its delivery of goods with independent contractor drivers through Amazon Flex. Continue reading

The End of China’s Labor Regime?

by Kevin Lin

Workers at the First Affiliated Hospital of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine on a 2013 strike for higher pay.

Ed. note:  The New York Times Business Day section (10 March 2016) included a feature article entitled “Not the Chinese Dream” by Owen Guo, that highlighted the inability or unwillingness of China’s 257 million [internal] migrant workers to occupy the thousands of vacant urban apartments that are weighing down the Chinese economy.  Kevin Lin’s article poses the structural causes that underlie this socio-economic crisis.

A key ingredient of China’s Post-Mao economic “miracle” is a labour regime entrenched in the export-oriented consumer manufacturing sector and premised on despotic exploitation, institutional discrimination and political exclusion of labour. It is built on the back of massive rural-to-urban migration in the context of a stagnant agricultural sector and rising disparity in rural-urban incomes from the 1990s. The rural migrants are not only placed under exploitative labour relations under the Party-state’s market liberalisation, but also institutionally discriminated against by the urban household registration system that denies them of permanent urban residency and entrenches the transient nature of their labour migration, and politically excludes  them from organising autonomous labour unions and asserting as an organised social force. This combination, by no means unique in the history of capitalist development, produces an abundant and seemingly endless supply of not only cheap and disposable but disciplined, fragmented and atomised labour. However, having help propel China into a global economic power, the reproduction of this labour regime is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

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Young Workers

A new video, produced by a collaboration from UCLA’s Department of History and the UCLA Labor Center, combines the experiences of young workers and research to tell the story of young workers in the United States. Titled “I Am A #YOUNGWORKER,” the animated video is a powerful dive into the world of work for young Americans.

South Carolina Raising Wages Summit

by Rick Patelunas

south carolina

The last of four Raising Wages summits sponsored by the AFL-CIO was held at the International Longshoreman’s Hall in Charleston, South Carolina on February 6th.  Previous summits were held in Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire, but South Carolina might present the environment most hostile to raising wages.  South Carolina is one of only five states without a minimum wage; it is a right-to-work state and Governor Nikki Haley said:

“We discourage any company that has unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water . . .[W]e educate different companies coming in from outside to understand that’s not what we want to do in South Carolina; and if they’re interested in that, we’re not where they need to come.”

That’s the same Governor Haley who delivered the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address in January.  She is also responsible for the infamous “It’s a great day in South Carolina” phase that state workers are forced to say when they answer the phone.  Speakers at the Raising Wages summit tell a different story.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenberg explained how his office is wrestling with the falling wages in the city at the same time housing costs continue to climb.  Using the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator, the Mayor found that $11.60 an hour was needed for a living wage in Charleston.  With no state minimum wage, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 prevails.

On the legislative front, State Senator Marlon Kimpson talked about two bills he sponsored in the state legislature:  one to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour and one to provide paid sick leave to workers.  It’s an uphill battle with the Koch brothers behind some of the opposition in the state, but workers need to be respected with a livable wage and paid sick leave.

At the federal level, Congressman Jim Clyburn spoke of his support for a livable wage of $15 per hour.  He also recognized that everyone should do what they can at the local level and if $10.50 is all that’s possible in South Carolina, South Carolina needs to work for that.

Chris Kromm, Executive Director of the Institute for Southern Studies provided examples of South Carolina’s “low road” approach to economic development.  For instance, the $1,020 Billion incentive package the state put together to attract Boeing to North Charleston.  A handout from Mr. Kromm reports that the State newspaper “estimated that the price tag for incentive deals for just four companies – BMW, Boeing, Bridgestone and Michelin – totaled $800 million, or about $100,000 for each of the 8,000 jobs created.”

It’s interesting to find BMW in the list of incentives given Governor Haley’s anti-union polemics and policies.  From the BMW website:  “In accordance with the regulations contained in the German co-determination Act, BMW AG’s Supervisory Board shall comprise ten shareholder representatives . . . and ten employee representatives.”  Those ten employee representatives are the union.  That’s the law in Germany and it’s not simply for show — the Supervisory Board has final veto power of whether plants open or close.

Eight hundred million dollars is more than a price tag.  It’s $800 of taxpayer money that is not used elsewhere.  Politicians made a decision to use that money for business incentives rather than investing in the people of South Carolina.  Consider the plight of two Raising Wages panelists.   After ten years as a fast food worker, Rachel Nelson toils for $9.00 an hour with shifts lasting twelve hours with no breaks.  That’s above the minimum wage, but it is not a livable wage.  Likewise, Amy Reece is a child care worker who considers leaving the job she loves because her pay may be above the minimum wage, but it is not a livable wage.  Both are fighting for $15 an hour and the chance to unionize.

At a time when South Carolina’s education system, health and quality of life rankings are routinely at the bottom of the country, incentives to lure businesses to low wage, no union “havens” have another cost.  It’s corporate welfare.  Corporations keep the profits from paying low wages and leave taxpayers the responsibility of helping the underpaid.  Days before the Raising Wages summit, the Economic Policy Institute released a report showing how raising the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour would save billions of taxpayer dollars by 2020.

  • Among workers in the bottom three wage deciles, every $1 increase in hourly wages reduces the likelihood of receiving means-tested public assistance by 3.1 percentage points. This means that the number of workers receiving public assistance could be reduced by 1 million people with a wage increase of just $1.17 an hour, on average, among the lowest-paid 30 percent of workers. These workers would see higher incomes, even as they no longer received public assistance.
  • For every $1 that wages rise among workers in the bottom three wage deciles, spending on government assistance programs falls by roughly $5.2 billion. This estimate is conservative, as it does not include the value of Medicaid benefits.
  • Raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020 would reduce means-tested public assistance spending by $17 billion annually. These savings could fund a variety of improvements to government anti-poverty tools, such as expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) to childless adults, or provide funding for new education initiatives, such as improving access to preschool for children from low- and moderate-income families.

Governor Haley’s anti-worker, anti-union, anti-minimum wage, anti-government policies are not particular to her or South Carolina.  At the Republican forum on poverty in South Carolina three weeks before the Raising Wages summit, six Republican Presidential candidates shared their remedies for poverty.  Governor Christie called teachers unions the single most destructive force in education.  Ben Carson called the US progressive tax system socialism that doesn’t work in America.  Senator Rubio dismissed raising the minimum wage because it would make people more expensive than machines.

On the Democratic side, both Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders favor raising the minimum wage, support unions and advocate raising taxes on the wealthy.  Their plans are different, but understanding the problems and the way towards solving them stands in stark contrast to Republican policies.

Our economic situation did not just happen.  It is not the working of some free market.  It is the result of government decisions and policies that have rigged the system against workers for forty years.  A number of the speakers called for the need to change the rules and the upcoming primaries and elections are an opportunity to begin the change.  Hold politicians accountable.  Ask them what they’ve done, what they’re doing and what they will do.

The Raising Wages summit provided a road map listing policies that can begin to turn things around for workers:

  • Restore Freedom of Association
  • Restore and Strengthen Labor Standards
  • Ensure Full Employment
  • Reform the Global Economy
  • Reform Wall Street
  • Increase Productivity Growth to Allow for Higher Wage Growth.

Minimum Wage Battle Goes to the Ballot in Sacramento

By Seth Sandronsky
Sacto-Card2

On December 21, 2015, Organize Sacramento and Raise the Wage Sacramento filed documents with the city clerk to gather 21,503 valid voter signatures necessary to place a minimum-wage measure on this year’s November ballot. The measure would boost the city’s minimum wage to $15 by 2020, peg it to the Consumer Price Index and let workers earn paid sick leave. [Ed: the California Minimum Wage is $10 per hour].

Two months earlier the city council, on a 6-3 vote, had approved a minimum-wage ordinance bump to $12.50 by 2020. For Organize Sacramento and Raise the Wage Sacramento, though, that was too low and slow, spurring the current ballot drive for a $15 minimum wage. The Democratic Party of Sacramento County, Restaurant Opportunities Center United, Capital Region Organizing Project and Center for Workers’ Rights also back the measure. Continue reading

U.S. Labor Activist Reports on China Crackdown

Interview with Ellen David Friedman

Ellen Friedman articleEllen David Friedman, a long-time organizer with the National Education Association in Vermont, founding member of the state’s Progressive Party and member of the Labor Notes Policy Committee, has been working for the last decade with labor and union activists in Hong Kong and the mainland. When she was in China recently, she was briefly detained and interrogated by the government. She spoke with Ashley Smith of Socialist Worker about the crackdown, its causes and what activists can do to help the Chinese activists win freedom and justice.

During your recent trip, you were detained amid the crackdown on labor NGOs. Can you tell us what happened?

I’ve been working in China for about 10 years, teaching labor studies and participating in various parts of the labor movement. I’d received many warnings before, but they had always been indirect, and passed along through colleagues. This was the first time that police came to question me directly.

They came to my hotel and interrogated me for about two hours–quite politely–but warned me to stop “meeting people” or risk legal consequences. They said I was violating the terms of my visa.

It’s hard to know if I was detained as part of the crackdown on activists. It happened in the same period of time, but one never knows the reason that things happen in China. Certainly when I was detained, they didn’t give me any explanation for it. So I think at best we can guess.

The context for this is that, since the start of the Xi Jinping administration in China three years ago, the state has taken a very definitive turn away from tolerance of any kind of activism and organizing in civil society. In the previous administration of Hu Jintao, there seemed to be a good deal more space for the development of NGOs and critical discourse and research. All of this under the Xi Jinping government has been very severely curtailed.

Since Xi came to power, the state has harassed labor NGOs, criminalized labor resistance, and detained and charged worker activists. The government has also conducted an “anti-foreign influence” campaign. And so, since I’ve been active in the labor movement in China during this period of time, and since I’m a foreigner, we can only say it’s consistent with their policy.

What’s the scale of the crackdown? Who is being targeted?

The most recent event was a high-profile detention of about 20 activists on December 3, all in Guangzhou, which is one of the largest cities in China. It’s on the southeast coast across from Hong Kong. It’s the capital city of Guangdong province, which was the birthplace of capital and labor markets beginning in the 1980s.

Since then, it’s undergone a vast amount of development. Tens of millions of migrant workers have moved there to get jobs. The area has also experienced an explosion of labor resistance. Around a dozen or so labor NGOs have been operating amid this worker activism.

The government targeted the activists associated with four of these labor NGOs. Some of these NGOs are pretty benign service organizations that do things like assisting injured workers to file worker’s compensation claims. Some of them are more actively involved in helping workers to develop skills for leadership and collective bargaining among those who have taken the lead in strikes and so on.

Most of the people were questioned and released within a day, but seven people are still detained and facing criminal charges. The most prominent person who was caught in the sweep is named Zeng Feiyang. He’s the founder and director of the oldest and best-known labor NGO in China, Panyu Workers’ Center.

The government has accused most of the detainees of disrupting public order, which is the usual allegation made against labor activists. They have charged one person with embezzlement. Solidarity activists have arranged for them to have attorneys–in fact, there is a now a 60-member attorney team that has volunteered to represent them–but so far, they haven’t been able to contact the detained activists. So we still don’t know the specific charges against them.

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