Pittsburgh Workers Oppose Theft of Wages from Immigrant Roofers

 

by Mike Elk

pgh wage theft
O’HARA, PENNSYLVANIA  – Popping out of the luscious greenery along the banks of the Allegheny River emerges the head of a giant 15-foot tall brown rat in a red tank sitting on top of a 4-foot high chunk of cheese.

“For us, the rat represents Stapleton Homes,” says Guillermo Perez, president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA). “The rat represents a business model that exploits workers.”
The workers here have gathered to protest Stapleton Homes, owners of the Chapel Harbor luxury condos on the banks of the Allegheny, only 15 minutes from the heart of booming Downtown Pittsburgh.

Last summer, a family team of five roofers from Guatemala spent ten days in 100-degree heat roofing the condos as they were preparing to go on the market. When the team completed the job, the immigrant workers building the project were never paid the $5,000 they were owed.

“It’s just wrong,” says 27-year-old Guatemalan immigrant “Gladys” as her young toddler runs around playing in the grass. “We have kids, I have family. I have more family in Guatemala…It’s not fair that we didn’t get paid.”

On Saturday, the Latino workers, members of organized labor and concerned community members gathered near the entrance of Chapel Harbor to protest what they see as wage theft.
“We love our community along the Allegheny, but the one thing we don’t love is taking from workers,” says Chapel Harbor homeowner Kevan Yenerall, whose wife is an immigrant from Thailand.
“[The workers] need to know that the people who live in Chapel Harbor are wonderful people, they work in the neighborhood, they pay taxes in the neighborhood, they aren’t in favor of what’s happening here,” says Yarnell. “My neighbors are wonderful folks, we love our homes, but this is awful.”

Stapleton Homes did not return a request for comment about the incident.

The story of Gladys and her crew is one that’s becoming increasingly common as Latino immigrants show up to take advantage of the massive building boom set off by Pittsburgh’s tech and natural gas boom.

Building contractors and construction unions in the area are struggling to find new workers.  And contractors regularly approach Latino labor leaders, desperately seeking new workers to fill these jobs.

Many immigrants say they prefer construction work to other types of work available to them.

“I used to work in the restaurant industry, I didn’t like it, and so I decided to try this,” says Gladys. “There is more independence.”

However, Latino workers in Pittsburgh often experience wage theft and are chronically underpaid compared to their unionized counterparts. Gladys says members of her crew on average make only $800 a week while working 12-15 hour days often in the heat on top of roofs.

Now, the areas’ unions are trying hard to organize workers regardless of immigration status and documentation.

“If we don’t step up and keep the pressure on [these contractors], they are just going to keep doing it,” says Joseph Hughes, a union representative with Painters’ Union District Council 57.

“I see this every day, thousands of contractors around the state of Pennsylvania do this everyday. This isn’t an isolated problem” Hughes tells the crowd.
Among the crowd, that day on the side of the highway in O’Hara Township, Gladys and her crew of a half-dozen roofers were some of the few Latino faces in the crowd of 50.
As a result of the economic downturn in Pittsburgh in the 1980s and 90s, which saw half the population of Pittsburgh leave, there was never as large of an influx of Latinos as in other areas of the country. In Pittsburgh, Latinos make up only 1.7 percent, while 17.6 percent of the U.S. population is Latino.
The crowd of supporters at the protest was mainly white, but numerous speakers in the crowd said they feel a sense of solidarity as their parents and grandparents worked similar jobs when they came to Pittsburgh from Southern and Eastern Europe in the early 1920s.
“This is such an important issue because it hits home to me. Both of my parents were immigrants that came [from Italy] after World War Two and they meet learning English at Allderdice High School,” says Anita Prizio, a 54-year-old DSA member who was recently elected to County Council to represent the region around Chapel Harbor.”
“My parents built the house that I still live in and they also created a company [that I run], but the one thing they told me and I learned this is that to be a good business owner, you have to be an ethical business owner, you have to have integrity and you have to pay your workers,” says Prizio. “There were times that it was hard for my parents to make payroll, but the first thing they did was to pay the workers before they actually paid themselves.”

“I stand in solidarity with Gladys and her workers because it’s the right thing to do and business should do the right thing,” says Prizio.

The campaign marks the beginning of new efforts by the area’s construction unions and community groups to combat the growing trend of wage theft facing workers. Recently, the Painters Union even donated a new sign to Casa San Jose, a Latino Resource and Welcome Center founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in the growing Latino community of Beechview.

Unlike other cities with large Latino populations, Pittsburgh currently doesn’t have a workers’ center for non-union workers, where low wage workers win claims against employers that fail to pay them on time.

While groups are pushing for the establishment of a worker center, the task has fallen to an ad hoc coalition of activists associated with the LCLAA, building trade unions, area labor lawyers and the Thomas Merton Center community group. Gladys says support from these groups has been uplifting as a new member of the Pittsburgh community.

“I feel very welcomed by the community,” says Gladys. “We appreciate the support.”

The embrace by organized labor is part of a larger shift occurring nationally as building trade unions begin to embrace immigrant labor as opposed to keeping them off out of workplaces.

While activists associated with the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement say they would like to see unions and other groups step up to fund a workers’ center, they say that the protests have been a learning experience for the Pittsburgh community.

As the protest ends, Perez takes the microphone and taught the yinzer crowd a few words of Spanish.

“El pueblo que lucha, triunfa.”

When we fight, we win.

Reposted from the Payday Report. 

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Will ICE Agents be able to live with what they are doing to migrant children? Will you and I?

Pages from im_uac-educators-guide_2016

Update. By a vote of 3-2, Sacramento County Supervisors today voted to end the contract between the county and ICE to hold immigrants in detention for ICE.

Ed. Note.  Some 7,500 ICE Agents are represented by ICE Council, part of the American Federation of Government Employees.  The union has taken a position to oppose the smuggling of children.  It has not taken a position on the deliberate separation of families as a deterrent strategy.

Sasha Abramsky,

Over the last few months, officials on the U.S.-Mexico border have begun implementing a deliberate policy of the hostage taking of children, ripping kids as young as one year old from their parents at the border and removing them into the byzantine world of detention, foster care, and miscellaneous other systems. Women report their children screaming in terror as strangers forcibly removed and dragged them into vans and then onto places unknown.

The manifest unconcern with the well-being of the children is summed up by John Kelly’s response as to what would happen next. He told an interviewer the kids would be placed in foster care “or whatever,” and explained that the seizing of children was intended as a “tough deterrent” against those trying to cross the border without papers.

Trump has raged against a growing slew of immigrant groups in recent months and has, over the past week, publicly mused about removing would-be-immigrants’ rights to a trial and simply throwing them back over the border. He labels some immigrants as “animals,” and talks about chain migration “breeders,” a language not so far from Hitler’s description of Jews as “bacillus;” long before there was genocide, there was a language of systematic dehumanization and a progressive erosion of basic civil rights for Jews and other minorities.

Last week Trump said that desperate young kids trying to cross the border are “not innocent.” His administration, which has long made it a policy to separate husband from wife at the border, has now begun incarcerating asylum seekers en masse – the poor and huddled masses of our troubled age, people with nothing, who walk hundreds of miles, braving rape, robbery and kidnapping in order to reach a land they have been told is generous and kind and empathetic and law-abiding, only to find that that land’s officers now seize their young children as if they were ill-begotten property forfeit in a drug raid.

LAST MONTH, THE NEW YORK TIMES REPORTED THAT MORE THAN 700 CHILDREN HAVE BEEN TAKEN IN THIS WAY, AND THE ROUNDUP IS INTENSIFYING. IMMIGRANT-RIGHTS ATTORNEYS I SPOKE WITH BELIEVE ANOTHER 658 CHILDREN WERE TAKEN IN THIS WAY IN ONE THIRTEEN DAY PERIOD IN MAY ALONE.

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Building Global Labor Solidarity: A Review

by Paul Garver

 

scipes book

Building Global Labor Solidarity in a Time of Accelerating Globalization.  Edited by Kim Scipes. Haymarket Books, 2016.

I do not have any good reason for taking so long to review this valuable book.  I picked it up only at the recent Labor Notes Conference after discussing it with Scipes there.  Did I arrogantly believe think that after decades as a global labor activist that I had nothing new to learn?  This collection of essays proves me wrong.

I have been acquainted with Kim Scipes since I invited him to join a mini-conference on international labor at the Blue Mountain Center in 1988.   Once a US Marine, he became a sociologist and an activist in teachers’ and writers’ unions.  Scipes was then, and remains, a tireless critic of the AFL-CIO’s international policies, writing numerous books and articles on the topic

Thirty years ago, I fully agreed with Scipes that the AFL-CIO’s international policy was unambiguously nefarious in its intentions and consequences of workers around the world.  Under the strongly anti-Communist presidents George Meany and Lane Kirkland, the AFL-CIO turned over its field operations in its regional institutes mostly to members of the Social Democrats USA, a smallish sect stemming from the pro Vietnam War wing of the former Socialist Party.  While paying verbal obeisance to free and democratic trade unionism, operatives of the AFL-CIO’S government-funded regional institutes tried to build pro-US union federations and from time to time supported right-wing coups and US military and political interventions.

In the 1980s my SEIU local leadership supported my involvement in union solidarity missions to Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.  At the SEIU convention in Toronto in 1988, I helped organize a large group of local delegates that successfully put forth and negotiated a composite resolution on SEIU’s international policy that effectively replaced adherence to U.S. imperial policies with an emphasis on pragmatic solidarity with all global workers based on mutual interests in the globalized economy.  Both the then SEIU President John Sweeney and the Left bloc of delegates asked me to introduce the report from the convention resolutions committee which had negotiated agreement on the new language, which following seconding speeches from both reformers and administration loyalists, was unanimously adopted by the Convention delegates.

A convention resolution does not immediately change union policy, and in any event international labor solidarity has never been high on SEIU’s list of priorities.  But when John Sweeney became president of the AFL-CIO (following a contest with his former mentor AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Tom Donahue who shared Lane Kirkland’s Cold War views), he allowed a slow evolution of the Federation’s policies towards pragmatic support for more autonomous and even militant labor movements overseas.   The former regional groups that had promoted political anti-Communism were abolished in 1997, to be replaced by the American Center for International Labor Solidarity [“Solidarity Center”].  While still dependent on U.S. government funding, the Solidarity Center has developed credible programs to encourage independent union-building in several countries, ranging from Bangladesh and Cambodia through Haiti and the Dominican Republic to Egypt and Tunisia.

Thus the AFL-CIO followed the approach of long-standing union development agencies controlled by national union federations like those of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany, which made use of government funding to establish enduring partnerships with autonomous unions in developing countries.  The International Union of Food Workers (IUF), a global union federation for which I worked from 1990-2006, accepted well vetted project funding controlled by its affiliated unions in European countries, while remaining very reluctant to accept any funding from the USA, except for dues-based direct funding from affiliated American unions.  This was based upon very negative experiences that IUF affiliates had in the 1970s and 1980s with covert interference from AIFLD [American Institute for Free Labor Development] and other US regional labor institutes. However, this reluctance is slowly receding in recent years as experiences overseas unions have had with Solidarity Center programs have become generally positive.   Most staffers of the Solidarity Center both in Washington and in its numerous field programs throughout the world now are recruited for their pragmatic skills in union building and appear ideologically committed to working towards a solidaristic global labor movement.

Organizing at the global level with the IUF convinced me that it was necessary and possible to organize workers from all parts of the world into effective networks within specific global corporations (I worked on this task with the IUF on Coca-Cola, Nestle and other global food and drinks corporations).  This work is neither spectacular nor immediately effective, but in the long run lasting connections among workers based on mutual interests forged in face-to-face encounters do provide a counter-power to global capitalism.

The essays collected in this volume by Kim Scipes partially reflect this evolution.  Scipes himself remains very skeptical that the AFL-CIO has actually changed its spots in any consistent or persistent direction.  He cites both in this volume and in other writings, that the Solidarity Center in Venezuela supported a union whose leader briefly supported a coup against Hugo Chavez.   He also cites the 2013 AFL-CIO convention at which resolutions against imperialist wars were blocked from the chair.   His own conceptualization of global labor solidarity seems strongly rooted in an enduring belief that U.S. imperialism is by far the major obstacle to establishing global worker solidarity.  He argues consistently that its almost exclusive reliance on U.S. government funding compromises the Solidarity Center.  While he refers to the need to build global union and worker alliances against transnational capitalism and in specific global corporations and sectors, he does not feature it much in his own analysis.

In his essay “Building Global Solidarity Today: Learning from the KMU in the Philippines” Scipes presents what he considers to be a leading instance of a national union center (Kilusang Mayo Uno – May First Movement) practicing genuine trade unionism at home and abroad.  Scipes attended “International Solidarity Affairs” programs conducted by the KMU in 1988 and 2015, also conducting some field research in the Philippines.  I agree with Scipes that the KMU’s international efforts are commendable, but fear that in isolation such isolated efforts are insufficient to challenge capital at the global level.

To his credit, Scipes includes several superb essays by contributors who have fresh and compelling insights into major global labor issues that they elaborate in considerable detail.

Timothy Ryan has been Asia regional director of the Solidarity Center since 2001, after serving as a field representative in Sri Lanka and Indonesia.  His essay, “It Takes More than a Village” is a comprehensive analysis of how technical training in organizing and collective bargaining [assisted by the Solidarity Center field office] combined with external leverage through links with consumer organizations in Europe and North America over a long stretch of time enabled the beginnings of union organization among garment workers in Bangladesh, following the Rani Plaza building collapse and factory fires that killed so many workers.   Ryan’s essay exemplifies how global campaigns that actually empower rank-and-file workers can be built against tremendous political and economic opposition.  Scipes shows admirable generosity in including this essay by a key officer of an organization that he in principle disapproves.

Mike Zweig’s “Working for Global Justice in the New US Labor Movement” draws upon his own active involvement in US Labor against the War [USLAW] both to describe some new and tentative steps US unions have taken to oppose wars and support unionists in Iraq.  He favorably cites the reform of the Solidarity Center.  Where Scipes sees a glass mostly empty at the AFL-CIO, Zweig sees it as partially full.  However Zweig at the same time calling for a new culture of independent labor politics that would provide a more secure foundation for deep reform of the US labor movement.

David Bacon’s “Building a Culture of Solidarity across the US-Mexican Border” is based on his own extensive knowledge as a journalist and photographer working on both sides of the border.  He develops a convincing case that the most organic and powerful link between the progressive movements of Mexico and the United States consists in the Mexican workers and families who live and work in both countries.    Bacon cites the solidarity work of the United Steelworkers (USW) with the Mexican unions SME and ‘los Mineros”, which is based both on actions against common multinational employers, and on the community and family ties among workers.  [Ben Davis, first at the Solidarity Center in Mexico and later at the USW International Department, has facilitated this ongoing connection].

Finally for a fresh perspective I recommend Jenny Jungehülsing’s “Building Bridges Between the Labor Movement and Transnational Migration Research”, which draws out the potential for international solidarity based on ties among migrants.  Her case studies include the USW-Los Mineros relationship as well as the ongoing relationship between the Salvadoran members of the LA-based SEIU Service Workers West local and the FMLN in El Salvador.

In conclusion, if you have any interest in building global labor solidarity, buy and read this book.  It is currently available from Haymarket Books for $9.50 (PB plus e-book) or $5.00 (e-book only).

 

Support the California U.C. Strike

DSAI’m sending this urgent alert from our Democratic Socialist Labor Commission. This strike is happening RIGHT NOW — read on to see how you can help. In solidarity,  Maria Svart  DSA National Director

This week, 53,000 workers at ten University of California (UC) campuses and five UC medical centers across California will strike. The DSLC stands in solidarity with them.

The State of California is the fifth largest economy in the world, and The University of California is the largest employer in the state, so UC negotiations will have a ripple effect, setting standards for workers’ wages and working conditions across California.

This is a historic strike with three unions participating: AFSCME, CNA, and UPTE. The Democratic Socialist Labor Commission supports UC worker militancy and encourages all DSA and YDSA members to support this strike. If you are in California, join the picket lines! If you can’t, share your photos and messages of support on social media.

The UC Regents — a board that includes wealth managers, financiers, and real estate investors — have been imposing a regime of austerity on California’s public higher-ed system for years, raising tuition and privatizing services while the state cuts taxes on billionaires. Now they are going full tilt against workers in the hopes that the forthcoming Janus decision will allow them to attack contracts at every level. The Regents are targeting workers’ retirement, healthcare, wages, and layoff protections. Meanwhile, the Regents are ignoring workers’ demands for sexual harassment protections, ban the box, and protection from ICE raids at work.

Many of the strikers are entry-level service workers (custodians, security guards, groundskeepers) represented by AFSCME 3299, and are disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants. This strike is historic because workers in higher paid jobs in the UC system, such as nurses represented by CNA, are not allowing their workplaces to be divided and conquered — they are striking in solidarity with some of the lowest paid. Continue reading

Celebrating the Life and Work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

MLK
California Labor Federation

Many chapters in the story of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. are well-known to Americans. The I Have a Dream speech. The Nobel Peace Prize. The Mountaintop speech. His Letter from a Birmingham Jail. His commitment to nonviolence. All the incredible accomplishments of a visionary.

Our series on Martin Luther King Jr., to mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, covers some of the lesser known parts of his history. Follow the links below to discover more about this civil rights icon.

1. Jay Smith, United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Health Care Professionals’ (UNAC/UHCP’s) counsel, who shared a story his mentor, Jerome A. “Buddy” Cooper, told about King’s Birmingham campaign.

2. King is perhaps best known for his iconic 1963 I Have a Dream speech. Less is known about predecessors to that speech, like the one King gave to the AFL-CIO in 1961.

3. King began with prepared remarks, the most famous part of the speech containing the theme ‘I Have a Dream’ was created on Aug. 23, 1963, as King addressed the crowd of more than 250,000 on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

4. King accepts the Nobel Peace Prize and then joins workers on strike in Atlanta to publicize their campaign during 10 days in December 1964.

5. International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 made King an honorary longshoreman in 1967. When King was assassinated, the ILWU showed they truly regarded him as one of their own.

6. Jerry Wurf, AFSCME’s president in 1968, was a strong and consistent supporter of King, as well as the civil rights movement in general.

This post originally appeared at UNAC-UHCP.

Me Too + Labor Unions

http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/20793/me-too-workers-women-unions-sexual-harassment-labor-movement-lessons

UFW- Please Support DACA & TPS

Join today’s national call in day to support the Dream Act,operation

Today, December 19th, is a national day of phone action to support the Dream Act and we are asking you to help flood your representative’s phone lines to demand that Congress pass a Clean Dream Act  and protect the 800,000 young lives that were left in limbo when President Trump rescind DACA. This is the only home most of these young people have ever known.
More than 11,000 young people have already lost their DACA protections and 122 young people lose their DACA status every day! We need to get Congress to pass a Dream Act before they go home in December!
The farm worker movement has stood by Dreamers time and time again in the fight for a clean Dream Act. UFW President Arturo Rodriguez got arrested supporting Dreamers in a massive demonstration earlier this month. In addition to countless delegations led by our farm worker movement, we have taken the lead in the San Joaquin Valley showing up at the doors of Congressman David Valadao’s offices in Hanford CA, Bakersfield CA  and Washington D.C. only to find his doors closed. Most recently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the farm worker movement organized to dedicate national masses for Dreamers on the day of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
We will continue to be persistent and do all we can to ensure Congress acts and passes a clean Dream Act before the year ends. 
Here’s how to join in the national day of action phone campaign:
1. Dial 1-888-778-6856 and wait for the “Welcome” message.
2. Get connected to the switchboard.
3. Enter your zip code.
4. Wait for your call to be connected to your Representative or Senator and demand a #DreamActNow!
Below please find a sample script you can use to make your call:
Hi, my name is ____________ and I live in ___________ (city in district). I’m calling to urge you Congressperson/Senator ____________ to pass a clean Dream Act before you go home for the holidays. Every day that Congress fails to act, 122 Dreamers lose their DACA status and become deportable. Not taking action on the Dream Act is a vote to deport Dreamers. Please pass a clean Dream Act this December. Thank you for your time.

If you are on Twitter, join us in participating in a Twitterstorm today at 3PM EST/ 12 PM PST. Let’s join together and raise our voices in support for a #DreamActNow!
To make it easy, here is a sample tweet to send or you can just click below at 3 pm EST/12 pm pst: 

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