Working In These Times

Friday, Jul 24, 2015, 11:40 am  ·  By Yana Kunichoff

Did ICE Violate Its Own Deportation Guidelines in Arresting Chicago-Area Unionized Meatpackers?

(Garrett Wilber/ Flickr)  

On Friday, June 26, workers from the Ruprecht Company’s meatpacking factory in Mundelein, Illinois, walked off the job in a spontaneous strike against a pending immigration audit. Several weeks later, eight Ruprecht workers, three of whom are members of UNITE HERE Local 1, have been apprehended by immigration authorities.

In a statement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the eight workers were picked up after the department discovered the workers had records that fall within its priorities for arrest during a routine immigration audit. ICE claims the workers’ past charges include drunk driving, theft and felony fraud. But organizers argue that the audit and subsequent arrests, which took place while a group of Ruprecht workers were in union negotiations and followed the filing of two unfair labor practices (ULPs) could violate ICE’s own rules against interfering in workplaces that are in the midst of labor disputes.  

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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2015, 5:01 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Grocery Chain A&P’s Financial Meltdown Could Leave Thousands of Union Workers Jobless

A&P intends to close as many as 25 stores around the northeast immediately.   (baristanet.com)

Plans to dismember the A&P supermarket chain were revealed in a federal bankruptcy court in New York this week, with dire results predicted for more than 15,000 members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. 

The historic grocery retailer—the original Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. was formed back in 1859—intends to sell or close all of its 300 stores spread across six Mid-Atlantic states, according to documents filed Monday in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. The plan will affect every one of an estimated 30,000 UFCW members currently employed with the company, with more than half of those in real danger of losing their jobs soon, union officials say. 

The bad news for the union was partially tempered with the announcement that A&P had already lined up the sale of 120 of its stores to other regional grocery chains that also have UFCW contracts. If those sales go forward as planned, most of the 12,500 union members at those 120 stores would be expected to retain their jobs under the new owners. The prospective buyers—ACME Markets, Ahold USA (operator of Stop & Shop) and Key Food—already have UFCW collective bargaining agreements covering the 120 stores in Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey (A&P stores are also located in Connecticut, Delaware and Maryland).

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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2015, 3:25 pm  ·  By Alexandra Bradbury

Can the UAW Ditch Its Two-Tier Wage System in This Year’s Contract Negotiations?

Two-tier has been a thorn in the union's side for years.   (Ford Motor Co/Wikimedia Commons)

This post first appeared at Labor Notes.

Eight years after accepting a drastic two-tier system of wages and benefits—and nearly a decade since the first tier got a raise—the United Auto Workers are bargaining with the Big 3 automakers.

Talks began July 13 with a ceremonial handshake. It’s the first contract expiration since Michigan’s “right to work” law went into effect, which means disgruntled members in the union’s most populous state could jump ship.

The Big 3 bargain at separate tables. Traditionally, as talks develop, the union will zero in on one to settle with first. The others generally fall in line. Separate local bargaining, already begun, covers non-economic issues like work schedules.

Together the contracts cover about 137,000 workers—including a lower-wage second tier that makes up 45 percent of the workforce at Chrysler, 25 percent at Ford, and 20 percent at General Motors, according to the Center for Automotive Research.

Tier 1 production workers, hired before the 2007 deal, have been frozen at $28.69 ever since. Gone is the cost-of-living raise (COLA) that used to link wages to inflation. They’ve also been hit by concessions on holiday pay and overtime.

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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2015, 11:33 am  ·  By David Moberg

DOL Decision Could Mean the End of Wage Theft Through “Independent Contractor” Misclassification

Companies like Federal Express and Uber might soon feel the heat over independent contractor regulations that were recently released by the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division. (Thomas Hawk / Flickr)  

Are you an employee?

It seems like a simple question that must have a simple answer for most people. But definitions in different laws and rulings enforcing the laws vary. And that variation provides an opening for a growing number of employers to cheat governments of taxes and workers of income, benefits and protections by misclassifying their employees, especially as “independent contractors.”

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Wednesday, Jul 22, 2015, 11:15 am  ·  By Martha Sanchez

Spreading a Minimum Wage Increase from Los Angeles to the Whole Country

The fight in LA and around the country is about determining what kind of country we want to live in. (Fight For $15 / Facebook)  

Our economy has long been out of balance. Workers’ efforts across the country create wealth, but the profits don’t get to the working people who produce them. Correcting that so that workers are paid enough to sustain their families and make ends meet, is not easy. It requires changing rules that unfairly favor the rich and are written by politicians beholden to the wealthy. That’s why the recent move by Los Angeles to raise the minimum wage to $15 is so meaningful. 

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Tuesday, Jul 21, 2015, 4:12 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

Thousands of Garment Factory Workers Across Cambodia Are Fainting on the Job

(International Labor Organization)  

At the end of June, nearly 350 workers fainted in garment factories across Cambodia, with more than 100 collapsing on one day alone. These developments are part of a much wider pattern in the country: In 2011, there were 2,071 incidents of workers fainting, in 2012 there were 2,100. Last spring, nearly 120 workers fainted at two textile factories that make products for Puma and Adidas. From July of last year on, there were 733 fainting incidents across 14 different factories, almost all by women, who make up the vast majority of Cambodia’s garment workforce.

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Tuesday, Jul 21, 2015, 2:00 pm  ·  By Fred Klonsky

Why I Introduced a Motion Against the Confederate Flag at the NEA Convention

A view of the assembly from Illinois delegation, from which the author proposed a new business item to remove the Confederate flag. (Fred Klonsky)  

I was recently in Orlando, Florida, a few weeks after the brutal murder of nine African-American members of the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, for the annual Representative Assembly of the National Education Association (NEA), the union I am a retiree member of. Just 12 months earlier, the NEA, the nation’s largest labor union, made headlines when it elected three women of color to its executive leadership: President Lily Eskelsen Garcia, Vice President Becky Pringle and Treasurer Princess Moss. No other labor union in the United States could make that claim. 

This year, a conversation about the issue of race and racism took center stage at our NEA annual meeting, and that seemed to be a big deal to me. I thought it was odd, though, that following this year’s Representative Assembly, which took place from June 26 to July 6, there was barely a word in the national mainstream press or the progressive media about what had happened in Orlando.

I was there as a delegate from Illinois. Before arriving I read that an African-American activist, Bree Newsome, had been arrested for bravely climbing a flag pole and taking down the Confederate flag that still waved in front of the South Carolina capitol. I went on social media and suggested that it might be a good idea for the NEA to take some action in support of removing all Confederate flags, symbols, names and memorials from schools and public spaces.

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Monday, Jul 20, 2015, 1:03 pm  ·  By Doug Henwood

In the Information Economy, Workers Are Far From Obsolete

In a recent op-ed, Paul Mason argues that IT will liberate us from capitalism—but empirical data paints a different picture.   (Bob Mical / Flickr)

First posted at Left Business Observer.

Paul Mason has a breathless piece in The Guardian making grand New Economy claims that sound like recycled propaganda from the late-1990s—though he gives them a left spin: postmateriality is already liberating us. I wrote a book that was in large part about all that ideological froth, published in 2003, and so far I’ve been struck by the nonrevival of that discourse despite a new tech bubble. Uber and Snapchat don’t excite the same Utopian passions that the initial massification of the web did.

I’ll pass on refuting Mason’s article, because I already did that twelve years ago. But I do want to comment on one point that Mason makes—one that’s ubiquitous in a lot of economic commentary today: capitalists don’t need workers anymore. As he puts it:

Postcapitalism is possible because of three major changes information technology has brought about in the past 25 years. First, it has reduced the need for work, blurred the edges between work and free time and loosened the relationship between work and wages. The coming wave of automation, currently stalled because our social infrastructure cannot bear the consequences, will hugely diminish the amount of work needed – not just to subsist but to provide a decent life for all.

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Monday, Jul 20, 2015, 11:30 am  ·  By Joseph Sorrentino

N.M. Field and Dairy Laborers Win Right To Workers’ Comp—Court Calls Exemption ‘Absurd’

New Mexico dairy farm work can be hazardous.   (Joseph Sorrentino)

The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled in June that excluding field and ranch workers from workers’ comp protection is unconstitutional. It was the second victory for New Mexico’s farmworkers in less than a year—and that’s big news in a low-wage sector made up primarily of immigrant workers, where victories tend to be few and far between.

The first victory came last August when farmworkers finally started getting paid the correct minimum wage. Farmworkers were routinely, and incorrectly, paid the federal minimum when they were entitled to the New Mexican minimum wage, which is 25 cents per hour higher. It only amounts to $8 or $10 a week, but it is significant for these workers, who are among the poorest in the United States.

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Thursday, Jul 16, 2015, 5:10 pm  ·  By s.e.smith

The ‘Nightmarish’ Boston Hotel Where Workers Have To Deal with Vomit, Blood-Soaked Carpets, Needles

“In 30 years of dealing with the hotel industry, I have never heard of such atrocious conditions,” union president Brian Lang says.   (UNITE HERE Local 26)

On June 25, workers at Boston’s Wyndham Beacon Hill took to the streets to protest unsafe working conditions, the culmination of an escalating fight over biohazards at the hotel. They charge that they’re routinely exposed to medical waste that endangers them, while the hotel insists this is not the case. The fight over working conditions at the Wyndham highlights the myriad dangers hotel workers say they face on the job—some of which could be seriously detrimental to their health.

The hotel is located in the city’s West End district, a short walk from the historic city’s downtown and in the heart of Boston’s cluster of famous medical research and treatment facilities. That proximity is one of the hotel’s advertising points, as it invites guests to stay while they or family members are seeking treatment and recovering from medical procedures, even offering them a discount. It’s also the very thing that employees say may be endangering them. Workers filed an OSHA complaint in May alleging that the hotel exposes them to biohazards on a daily basis with inadequate protective equipment and an utter lack of protocols for handling such materials.

Workers report abysmal conditions that expose them to used sharps and other medical waste along with urine, vomit, blood and feces. The alleged ongoing problem and lack of response from hotel management led the non-union workers to begin organizing around the issue in 2014, reaching out to UNITE HERE Local 26, which represents hotel and other service workers, for assistance. While workers say they are considering unionization in the long term, their priority in the short term was getting safe working conditions and justice in the workplace.

Staffers at Local 26 were horrified by what workers told them. “In 30 years of dealing with the hotel industry,” President Brian Lang of Local 26 told In These Times, “I have never heard of such atrocious conditions as have been described by the workers who work there.”

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