Raising Wages From the Bottom Up

Three ways city and state governments can make the difference.

Harold Meyerson

This article appears in the Spring 2015 issue of The American Prospect magazine. I

In 1999, while he was working at a local immigrant service center in Los Angeles, Victor Narro began encountering a particularly aggrieved group of workers. They were the men who worked at carwashes, and their complaint was that they were paid solely in tips—the carwashes themselves paid them nothing at all.

At first, the workers came by in a trickle, but soon enough, in a flood. Narro, whose soft voice and shy manner belie a keen strategic sensibility, consulted with legal services attorneys and discovered that while every now and then a carwash was penalized for cheating its workers, such instances were few and far between. “There were no regulations overseeing the industry,” Narro says. The state’s labor department conducted no sweeps of the carwashes to investigate what looked to be an industry-wide pattern of violations of basic wage and hour laws. When Narro took a new job at UCLA’s Labor Center, he had researchers survey L.A. carwashes. They reported that roughly one-fourth of the industry’s 10,000 workers were paid only in tips.

“She wouldn’t pay us on time, but she demanded the rent on time,” Sanchez says.

The workers who did get a paycheck weren’t raking it in, either. Wage theft was the norm in the industry, and the carwasheros (as the workers, almost entirely Mexican and Central American immigrants, have come to be called) had little recourse—especially since so many were undocumented. Oscar Sanchez, a tall, sober-faced carwashero who came to Los Angeles from Guatemala in 2000, recalls working a 10-hour day and routinely getting paid for five hours. Workers at his carwash, in South Central L.A., got no lunch breaks; the owner would “bring us burgers and we’d have to wash cars and eat at the same time.” The owner also had a mini-mart on the property, and rented the two rooms upstairs as living quarters for four of the workers—one of them Sanchez. “She wouldn’t pay us on time, but she demanded the rent on time,” Sanchez says. “When we fell behind, she said she couldn’t pay us because we owed her rent.” Continue reading

California passes card check bill for farm workers on Chavez holiday

by Duane Campbell

Photo from Wikipedia

On March 31,2011, California and 10 other states honored  Cesar Chavez and his legacy.  Today in California the state Senate passed again SB 104 to allow card check for workers  as a route to secret ballot elections in the fields.

The bill passed on a party line vote.  All 24 Democrats voted for it, the 14 Republicans voted against it.  SB 104 will  allow workers to have a union by submitting petition cards to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board.  The ALRB was established in 1976 the first time Jerry Brown was governor after years of effort by  Cesar Chavez and the UFW. California is perhaps the only state that that has a reasonable law permitting  farm workers to organize into  a union.  Agricultural workers were excluded from the National Labor Relations Act when it was passed.  Today’s bill was sponsored by the United Farmworkers Union.  Such legislation  has long been a major goal of the UFW. The bill also includes enhanced penalties for growers who seek to block workers from unionizing. Continue reading

Farmworkers seek overtime protection

Most working-class people enjoy the benefits of overtime pay after eight hours in a day. The exception? Farmworkers who toil in the fields in blistering triple-digit heat.

California State Senator Dean Florez (D-Shafter) has had enough of that exclusion, which was established nearly 70 years ago. He’s introduced California  Senate Bill 1121,  that would grant standard overtime pay to the hundreds of thousands of farmworker men, women and teens. Currently, farmworkers are eligible for overtime after 10 hours a day or 60 hours a week under state law.

“I think it is wrong that we have laws that discriminate against the people who pick and pull crops in the fields by treating them different in terms of pay,” said the Senate Majority Leader whose grandparents worked in the fields.

Continue reading