Working In These Times

Thursday, May 11, 2017, 3:33 pm  ·  By Eli Horowitz

Wage Theft Is Costing Workers $50 Billion a Year in Stolen Pay

Even when workers win judgments in court, owners often claim they lack the assets to pay. (Photo credit: Eli Horowitz)  

At the intersection of West 100th Street and Broadway, in a fenced-in area spanning six storefronts and flanked by a NYPD vehicle, workers were getting ready to protest outside of an Indian restaurant called Manhattan Valley. Efren Caballero De Jesus, a former worker there, smiled as volunteers passed out fliers and signs to restaurant and delivery workers, nail salon employees, home attendants and organizers. Even New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal braved the December cold to stand in solidarity with former employees of Indus Valley, now called Manhattan Valley.

“What do we want? Enforcement of the labor law! When do we want it? Now!” the group chanted. “Phuman and Lakhvir Singh! Sweat Shop Bosses!”

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 11:38 am  ·  By Samantha Winslow

Immigrant Nurses Demand Equal Pay—And Win

Management’s argument was that foreign experience was not comparable to U.S. experience. But the underpaid nurses coming forward had something else in common: they were primarily people of color, mainly from India. (Godong/UIG via Getty Images)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

It started when a few nurses at Temple University Hospital told stewards that they weren’t being paid for their experience.

One of the first to speak up was Jessy Palathinkal, who had become a nurse in India in 1990. She got her U.S. nursing license when she moved here in 1995. But when she started working at Temple, her placement on the pay scale was as though those five years of nursing never happened.

She asked why. Human Resources told her the hospital didn’t count years of experience in foreign countries.

“I was feeling a little bit upset. I had all the certification,” Palathinkal said. “I thought, ‘Well, that’s not right, but what can I do?’”

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Monday, May 8, 2017, 5:38 pm  ·  By Liza Featherstone

Reviving Manufacturing Would Help All of Us—Not Just White Men

In his crisp, persuasive and deeply reported book, Louis Uchitelle argues that domestic manufacturing is crucial to the welfare of the U.S. working class and that the federal government should intervene decisively to ensure the sector’s health. (ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)  

Manufacturing, once nearly a third of U.S. gross domestic product, has dwindled to around 12 percent, a punch to the gut for the American working class. Indeed, the sufferings of that sector’s former workers—and of those who live in once-thriving factory towns—may be responsible for Donald Trump’s extraordinary and catastrophic victory over Hillary Clinton in November.

A billionaire fixing to wage a horrific war on the working class now that he is president—by gutting its healthcare and labor rights—Trump nonetheless seemed to be listening to these forgotten people during his campaign. He went to their towns. He spoke with compassion about opioid addiction. He promised to “Make America Great Again,” a racist slogan, to be sure, but also a seductive one, implying that under Trump, American workers would enjoy the prosperity of bygone manufacturing days. We would make things again and feel proud of ourselves. 

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Friday, May 5, 2017, 12:48 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

What the Big May Day Strike in a Small Pennsylvania City Teaches Us About Organizing

Our greatest power is still the work we do and our occasional refusal to do it. (Make the Road Pennsylvania/ Facebook)  

The first May Day of the Trump era saw scores of major actions in cities across the United States, but perhaps the most impressive demonstration of worker power took place in the small city of Reading, Pennsylvania. There, 127 stores—about three-quarters of the businesses in the city—shut down in protest, and an additional 500 mostly agricultural and construction workers participated in the general strike, according to organizers. The protest even spread to nearby Allentown, where two dozen more stores closed for the day.

Spearheaded by Make the Road Pennsylvania, a community group that organizes working-class Latinos, the strike was a protest of the county sheriff’s plan to authorize his deputies to act as immigration agents, in cooperation with the Trump administration’s assault on immigrants. While Berks County is one of the economically depressed areas that carried Trump to a win in Pennsylvania, the people of Reading are as unlikely to support his vision for “making America great again” as they are to agree that “America is already great.”

Although the majority of Reading’s residents are Latino, and another significant percentage of the population is African-American, Reading’s mayor and city council are almost entirely white, thanks to a combination of gerrymandering and the political donor class. That’s where the idea of hitting decision-makers in the wallet developed.

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Thursday, May 4, 2017, 1:55 pm  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: “Money for Our Streets—Not for Wall Street”

Leaders of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) talk about their new organization and its work around racial and economic justice. (Grassroots Collaborative)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, what’s changed and what is still the same.

Maurice Weeks: My name is Maurice BP-Weeks. I am the co-executive director of the Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE) and I am based in Detroit, Michigan.

Saqib Bhatti: I am Saqib Bhatti. I am the other co-executive director of ACRE and I am based in Chicago.

Sarah Jaffe: Your organization is just getting off the ground. Tell us about the idea behind it and why you're launching now?

Maurice: The idea behind the Action Center on Race and the Economy is that there is lots of really great economic justice work being done looking at the role that Wall Street plays in everyday people’s lives. What we do here at the Action Center on Race and the Economy is do that work that goes after Wall Street and corporations who we all know are extracting wealth from communities, with an explicitly racial justice lens.

Basically, the way that we have talked about economic justice work in the past on the left has been, when we bring race into the conversation, it is often through the lens of disparate impact. We say, “Bad guys do stuff at the top and it disproportionately affects people at the bottom.” What we do here at the Action Center on Race and the Economy is look at campaigns with a slightly different lens, saying that the actual function of how these companies operate is built on the extraction of wealth from people of color. It is not an afterthought. It is actually core to their business model. All the campaigns that we do live at this intersection of corporate accountability, Wall Street accountability, economic justice, and race with that particular lens. 

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 6:07 pm  ·  By Elizabeth Grossman

The GOP Just Got One Step Closer to Taking Away Your Overtime Pay

A bill Republicans have been pushing for years that undermines overtime pay just passed the House. (Jacob Resor/ Flickr)  

Republicans have passed yet another bill that erodes protections for working families.

A bill Republicans have been pushing for years that undermines overtime pay just cleared the House. Called the “Working Families Flexibility Act” (H.R. 1180), it would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act to allow private companies to offer employees “comp” time instead of overtime pay for hours worked beyond a 40-hour work week.

The bill is being sold by Republicans as family friendly and “pro-worker,” allowing workers to take time off to attend to family needs. But Democrats and scores of labor and worker advocacy groups oppose the bill, saying it offers employees a false choice between pay and time off, effectively depriving workers of earned overtime without providing guarantees of family leave or stable work schedules.

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017, 1:43 pm  ·  By Sharan Burrow

Why Inequality in the Workforce Is Bad for Your Health

In a virtuous circle, unions make workplaces fairer, which makes the union voice stronger, which makes workplaces safer and healthier. (Photo by Mohammad Asad/Corbis via Getty Images).  

This article was first posted by Hazards magazine.

When Babul Khan lost two of his four sons in an inferno at Gadani shipbreaking yard on November 1, 2016, it was a tragedy but it wasn’t a surprise. Like all the 26 workers who were killed when an oil tanker was blasted apart at Pakistan’s largest shipbreaking yard, 18-year-old Ghulam Hyder and 32-year-old Alam Khan were insecure workers. Disposable workers. 

The yard was shut in the immediate wake of the deaths. Soon, though, it was business as usual—and that meant, inevitably, more deaths. At least five workers died in a fire on a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) container ship at the shipbreaking yard on January 9, 2017. The yard was making money; a steady stream of horrific fatalities was just collateral damage.

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Monday, May 1, 2017, 6:51 pm  ·  By Theo Anderson

May Day Protesters Demonstrate in Cities Across the Country in Defiant Show of Force

Disunity and limited ambition are no longer options. (Photo credit: Theo Anderson)  

The resistance to Donald Trump took to the streets, parks and other public spaces May Day with a display of unity, diversity and urgency that reflected the depth of the threats to social justice posed by the president’s administration.

In Chicago, for example, hundreds of people took part in the Resist Reimagine Rebuild Chicago (R3) coalition rally Monday morning. R3 consists of a wide range of organizations, including the local chapters of Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, the Arab American Action Network and Jewish Voices for Peace.

“Our first meeting was pulled together right after the election of Donald Trump,” says Adom Getachew, a member of the Black Youth Project 100, also a part of the R3 coalition. “There was a deep sense of crisis in our communities, and a sense that we’ve been fighting on parallel tracks for a long time, and that the way we’re going to make a difference was by really thinking intersectionally.”

About 10 organizations showed up at that first meeting. There are now more than 30. On the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the group had a public teach-in and “this is our follow-up to take that message into the streets,” according to Getachew. 

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Monday, May 1, 2017, 12:05 pm  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Interviews for Resistance: May Day Isn’t Just About One Day—It’s About a Movement

Gloribell Mota is an organizer with Neighbors United for a Better East Boston and serving as the Boston coordinator for Cosecha’s May Day event. (Movimiento Cosecha/ Twitter)  

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. Since election night 2016, the streets of the United States have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this series, we'll be talking with experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fighting for a long time. They'll be sharing their insights on what works, what doesn't, what’s changed and what is still the same.

Gloribell Mota: My name is Gloribell Mota. I am an organizer with Neighbors United for a Better East Boston and serving as the Boston coordinator for Cosecha’s May Day event.

Sarah Jaffe: You had a pretty dramatic action last Monday in Boston. Can you tell us about it?

Gloribell: Yes, on Monday we had an action at the Suffolk County corrections facility that is also held as a detention center. The detention had about 200 detainees at the time and we have seen a wave of kind of targeted, but it is just kind of a continuation of detaining immigrants for one reason or another where it was this time around were activists that were speaking out. Young activists that are part of organizing in Vermont, and Sully and Alex and Enrique who had been fighting for immigrant rights were detained. Two have been released, but one is still being detained.

This is part of a larger thing, that we just no longer can settle for more detainees and deportations in this manner at all and we want permanent protections for all. This action where 20 people got arrested, there were over 100 folks there over two hours just really wanting to send a message but even more, hoping that we could shut down the detention center and stop deportation and really do permanent protections and immigration reform for all. 

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Friday, Apr 28, 2017, 12:02 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Food Workers Take On Fowl Play at Tyson—And Win Better Conditions

The campaign, led by the famed hunger-fighting group Oxfam America, is challenging Tyson and three other large chicken producers to improve on their collective record of chronic worker safety problems, poverty-level wages and anti-union attitudes. (Oxfam)  

A consumer pressure campaign against labor abuses in the chicken-processing industry has produced some initial results, with a detailed pledge this week from Tyson Foods to build a better workplace for its 95,000 employees.

The campaign, led by the famed hunger-fighting group Oxfam America, is challenging Tyson and three other large chicken producers to improve on their collective record of chronic worker safety problems, poverty-level wages and anti-union attitudes. It was launched in late 2015 with the help of a coalition of like-minded groups, including the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union. Tyson’s pledge is the campaign’s first visible success.

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