Labor in the Fields of California

Immigrant Farm Workers Pull Leaves off Vines in a Coachella Valley Grape Vineyardby David Bacon
When hundreds of people marched to the Los Angeles City Council last October, urging it to pass a resolution supporting a farm worker union fight taking place in California’s San Joaquin Valley, hardly anyone had ever heard the name of the company involved. That may not be the case much longer. Gerawan Farming, one of the country’s largest growers, with 5,000 people picking its grapes and peaches, is challenging the California law that makes farm workers’ union rights enforceable. Lining up behind Gerawan are national anti-union think tanks. What began as a local struggle by one grower family to avoid a union contract is getting bigger, and the stakes are getting much higher.

The Gerawan workers got the City Council’s support and, on February 10, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education passed a resolution that went beyond just an encouraging statement. The LAUSD purchases Gerawan’s Prima label peaches and grapes through suppliers for 1,270 schools and 907,000 students. The LAUSD’s resolution, proposed by board member Steve Zimmer, requires the district to verify that Gerawan Farming is abiding by state labor laws, “and to immediately implement the agreement issued by the neutral mediator and the state of California.”

Verifying compliance, however, may not be easy.  In mid-March a hearing on Gerawan’s violations of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA) ended after 104 days of testimony by 130 witnesses.  Continue reading

Revolving Doors and Education Entrepreneurs

The Selling of Public Services.  By Seth Sandronsky

CCSF2Do failed policy proposals from public education officials enjoy an afterlife when their creators depart Washington for the private sector? This is no academic question. In fact, the career arcs of two former federal policymakers may well have foreshadowed the life-or-death clash over the accreditation of San Francisco City College (CCSF), one of California’s 112 community colleges. The state is home to about 10 percent of America’s 1,100 two-year colleges.

As San Francisco Superior Court Judge Curtis Karnow’s ruling on the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior College’s bid to decertify CCSF draws near, the story of Margaret Spellings becomes instructive. Spellings, who was George W. Bush’s second-term Secretary of Education, commissioned a controversial 2006 report called “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education.”

The report’s language was very much in tune with the pro-business Bush zeitgeist. The commission’s chairman was Charles Miller, a private investor who was joined by Nicholas Donofrio, the executive vice president of IBM Corp., and by James J. Duderstadt, the corporate vice president for Microsoft Corp. Their report predicted disaster unless colleges began protecting their “market share” by preparing  students for the “global marketplace.” Continue reading

Immigration information for workers

image (14)Thanks to the President’s  announcement that he will take administrative action on immigration, I have real hope. The president’s action will provide millions of working people and families with the opportunity to come out of the shadows and into the light of our economy and society without fear.

Those who can benefit from this administrative action should use iAmerica.org – a new resource offering informational tools and interactive opportunities to become full participants of our nation’s democracy.

Visit iAmerica and share it with a friend now ➞ iAmerica.org. (There’s no application process that exists yet, but once there is, this will be a trusted resource to receive accurate information).

Go to www.iAmerica.org

Wage Theft Confidential

Do Laws Work?

By Seth Sandronsky

California has roughly a dozen labor codes governing wage-theft on the books, with more proposed each year in the state legislature. Are these laws proving effective? Fausto Hernandez is one worker who doesn’t think they are. The 55-year-old native of Oaxaca, Mexico, has labored in the carwash business for a decade.

“For several years I worked at Slauson Carwash in South L.A. — 10 to 11 hours a day,” he told Capital & Main. “The employer would only pay me for three hours, never for all the hours I worked.”

According to Hernandez, he sought relief by contacting the CLEAN Carwash Campaign, a community coalition led by the United Steelworkers union. The campaign helped him file a claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), an office of the state’s Labor Commissioner.

Workers who take such action face employer retaliation. Hernandez’s employer fired him, he said. Hernandez was eventually hired at another carwash that later closed. “Recently I received a letter saying that the [Slauson Carwash] owner didn’t pay me correctly and that I’m owed tens of thousands of dollars,” he said. “I am still waiting to see the actual money.”

Continue reading

California Truckers Strike for Worker Rights

by Peter Dreier

Truckers Go To Court Over LA Port's Clean Trucks Program

More than 40 percent of the goods that come into the United States from overseas come through the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. That fact alone gives thousands of truck drivers who haul those goods from the ports to warehouses considerable leverage with big companies (like Walmart, Cosco, and Home Depot) whose goods are mostly made in Asia as well as with the shipping companies, the municipal Harbor Commission which oversees the port, and the trucking companies who employ the drivers.

If the truckers shut down the port, they can disrupt a huge part of the U.S. economy that depends on global trade. That’s particularly true during this time of year, when more cargo arrives at the ports in anticipation of the gift-buying holidays.

The trucking companies routinely put profits over people. For example, the Harbor Trucking Association (HTA), which represent the companies, is asking the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to relax the safety rules that dictate the amount of sleep truckers must have. The HTA wants to lift the requirements so that employers can extend drivers’ hours to accommodate the increased shipping loads prior to the holidays.

No worker wants to go on strike, but several major trucking companies at these L.A. and Long Beach ports have made working conditions so miserable that many drivers believe they have no choice. So the drivers will be out of their trucks and onto the picket lines this week.

In July, drivers went on strike to protest the companies’ chronic unfair labor practices. After five days of picketing that dramatically impacted port operations and garnered international media attention, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti brokered a “cooling off” period that included an agreement by three trucking firms — Total Transportation Services (TTSI), Pacific 9 Transportation (Pac 9), and Green Fleet Systems — to accept all drivers back to work without retaliation. But the trucking companies went back on their pledge to Garcetti. They continued retaliating against drivers who have complained about unfair conditions and who want a stronger voice in their workplaces. They even fired several of the most outspoken truckers.

So now the drivers are ready to go back on the picket lines and to shift their protests from the offices of the trucking companies to the dockside terminals where longshore workers move containers from ships to trucks. Their actions could be compounded if, the dock workers also withhold their labor. About 20,000 longshoreman at 29 West Coast ports, who have been working without a union contract since July 1, are poised to go on strike in a dispute with the shipping companies.

The drivers claim that the trucking companies have been misclassifying them as “independent contractors” in order to make it impossible, under federal labor laws, to unionize. The companies routinely deduct huge amounts from drivers’ paychecks for fuel, parking, insurance and other expenses, a practice that the drivers say is wage theft. After drivers pay for the cost of renting and maintaining their trucks, their pay is often below the minimum wage.

“The companies treat us like regular employees but compensate us like independent contractors,” drivers said in a joint statement.

Several times in the past year the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE) sided with the drivers, finding that they are actually employees rather than independent contractors because the trucking companies establish all the conditions of their work. Since February 2013, DLSE has ruled against one of the firms, TTSI, in 17 cases awarding the drivers over $1.2 million in the form of unpaid wages and reimbursements for expenses paid by workers. DLSE admonished the trucking firms to stop retaliating against drivers who raise these issues, but the retaliations have continued.

Last summer, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a consolidated complaint alleging that GFS has committed more than 50 egregious labor law violations. And last month, a Federal Judge issued an injunction against Green Fleet Systems (GFS), ordered the company to immediately re-hire two drivers who were fired illegally, and stop other illegal labor activities or face contempt of court. The court found that in January 2014 that GFS misclassified drivers Mateo Mares and Amilcar Cardona as independent contractors and then fired them for openly supporting GFS’ drivers’ efforts to unionize with the Teamsters and for refusing to withdraw their wage and hour claims for illegal deductions.

“This is a great victory not just for me and Mateo,” said Amilcar Cardona. “It is a great victory for all drivers serving the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and across the country. The majority of U.S. port drivers are misclassified as “independent contractors” and with this decision, we are beginning to see that the law is on our side and that we all have rights as employees to form our union.”

But despite these rulings by the DLSE, the NLRB, and a federal court, the trucking companies have continued to break the law and try to intimidate the drivers, leading to the latest showdown on the docks.

The drivers have appealed to the Harbor Commission, a municipal agency that oversees port operations, to take steps to reign in the rogue companies. If the dockers walk off their jobs in solidarity with the truckers, port activity would come to a halt, but the truckers alone have sufficient clout to have a significant economic impact if they strike.

According to Harbor Commissioner Patricia Castellanos, “these trucking companies’ behavior is outrageous. After all these deductions, some drivers are barely getting paid anything.”

Castellanos expressed sympathy for the drivers’ plight and their decision to resume their strike.

“It is very clear that the actions that their employers are taking is what’s causing them to take even further action,” she said.

Peter Dreier teaches Politics and chairs the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College. His most recent book is The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame(Nation Books, 2012)

This article is reposted from the blog of the Huffington Post.

California Nurses Begin Strike on Tues

NATIONAL ACTIONS BEGIN WITH CALIFORNIA STRIKES TUESDAY

talks-stall-as-strike-nears-for-18000-kaiser-rnsRegistered nurses from California to Maine will hold strikes, picketing, and other actions Wednesday, November 12 in 16 U.S. states and the District of Columbia – with possible support actions globally – as National Nurses United, the largest U.S. organization of nurses steps up the demand for tougher Ebola safety precautions in the nation’s hospitals.

One centerpiece of the actions will be a two-day strike by 18,000 RNs and nurse practitioners at 86 Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics who have been protesting the erosion of patient care standards in Kaiser facilities for months, and see Kaiser’s failure to adopt the optimal safeguards for Ebola as symbolic of its overall dismissal of nurses’ concerns about patient care.

Strikes will also affect some 600 RNs at two other California hospitals, Sutter Tracy and Watsonville General Hospital, and 400 RNs at Providence Hospital in Washington D.C.

The two-day California strikes begin Tuesday morning. The Providence walkout is Wednesday. Continue reading

Longshore Workers Walk off the job

ILWU logo.

ILWU logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ILWU members walk out in Oakland

 West Coast Longshore workers have been without a union contract since July. Now management is complaining that the workers are slowing down on the job.

Dockworkers at Los Angeles-Long Beach and Seattle-Tacoma picked up their productivity a bit this weekend, but the situation turned bad in Oakland when members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union walked off their jobs for three consecutive shifts.

U.S. retailers appealed to President Barack Obama [1] to intervene in contract negotiations between West Coast dockworkers and maritime companies after a work slowdown spread to the nation’s largest container hub ahead of the holiday shopping season [2]. Continue reading

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