Working In These Times

Friday, Sep 15, 2017, 5:31 pm  ·  By Marilyn Katz

Low Wages in Illinois: When Corporations Don’t Pay, the Public Does

An employee moves Black Friday sales merchandise into a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. location in Chicago, Illinois on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015. (Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)   Illinois

Anti-tax fever seems to be on the rise in Illinois, most recently in editorial and public comments about the Cook County Board of Commissioners’ levy on sugary drinks. But those who’ve fretted about the penny-an-ounce tax—and all of us who didn’t—might want to turn their attention and ire to a far-greater burden on Illinois taxpayers: Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years.

What does that have to do with taxes? Plenty. Roughly 33 percent of people in Illinois live in or near poverty. Contrary to popular belief, people who make low wages are not the young or the so-called low-skilled. As of 2011, 94 percent of low-wage earners in the Chicago region were over 20 years old, and 57.4 percent were over 30, with one in six holding a college degree. Many work in the growing sectors of hospitality, healthcare, food service and retail.

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Friday, Sep 15, 2017, 12:41 pm  ·  By Shaun Richman

The Right Wing Has a Vast, Secret Plot to Destroy Unions for Good. Here’s How to Fight Back.

We need to greatly increase members’ democratic involvement in their unions. (Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)  

The vast right-wing network of Koch brother-funded “think tanks” is now plotting to finish off the public sector labor movement once and for all.

In a series of fundraising documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy of Madison, Wis., and published in the Guardian, the CEO of a cartel of 66 well-funded arch-conservative state capitol lobbying outfits promises funders a “once-in-a-lifetime chance to reverse the failed policies of the American left.”

Tracie Sharp, the leader of the States Policy Network (SPN), goes on to explain that the pathway to permanent right-wing victory is to “defund and defang” unions that rely on the legal protections of state labor law.

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Thursday, Sep 14, 2017, 5:07 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

In D.C.’s Wealthiest Suburbs, It’s Round 2 in the Fight for $15

SEIU local 32BJ workers are leading the charge to win a $15 minimum wage in the D.C. suburbs of Montgomery County, Md. (SEIU 32BJ)  

Undeterred by a stinging defeat earlier this year, a union-backed push for a $15-an-hour wage is back on in the Washington, D.C. suburbs—home to many of the senior civil servants, lobbyists and office workers that run key federal agencies.

Maryland’s Montgomery County Council will begin considering a revised bill later this month to raise the minimum hourly wage from $11.50 to $15, and the outlook is hopeful, says Democratic Councilman Marc Elrich, the chief sponsor. “We are almost there,” Elrich says. “I’m confident we’ll make it this time.”

Supporters have already lined up enough votes to pass it, Elrich says. The most powerful obstacle remains opposition from Democratic County Executive Ike Leggett, who vetoed a similar measure in January but has so far made no public decision on the new version of the bill introduced in July.

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Thursday, Sep 14, 2017, 11:32 am  ·  By Rafael Soriano and Débora Nunes

Transforming Society as Capitalism Crumbles: Lessons from Brazil’s Peasant Movement

Débora Nunes, member of the National Directory of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, addresses a crowd. (Gustavo Marinho/Landless Workers Movement)  

Brazil is facing a profound political and economic crisis since a coup d’etat overturned Dilma Roussef’s government in March of 2016. The new government is unrolling austerity policies that are eroding working families’ political gains by dismantling labor protections and social services and unleashing human rights abuses, including escalating assassinations of peasants and indigenous people. This political context—which shares characteristics with the U.S. climate under Donald Trump—is defined by a crisis of capitalism that resurfaced with the economic meltdown in the Global North that was initiated in 2008. 

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Monday, Sep 11, 2017, 11:50 am  ·  By David Bacon

Don’t Punish the Dreamers—Punish the Corporations Driving Forced Migration

On September 5, 2,000 people demonstrated in front of San Francisco's Federal Building, blocking intersections and marching through the streets, to protest the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the Trump administration will repeal the DACA order protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation. (David Bacon)  

The "dreamers," young recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—are the true children of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). More than anyone, they have paid the price for the agreement. Yet they are the ones punished by the administration of President Donald Trump, as it takes away their legal status, ability to work and right to live in this country without fear of arrest or deportation. At the same time, those responsible for the fact they grew up in the United States walk away unpunished—and even better off.

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Monday, Sep 11, 2017, 11:42 am  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

8,000 Airport Workers in Chicago Just Won a Wage Raise and the Right to a Union

The two-year "Poverty Don't Fly" campaign ended with a major victory for airport workers. (SEIU Local 1 Facebook)  

CHICAGO—Eight thousand workers at Chicago’s two airports have scored a major victory in their two-year campaign for higher wages and a union.

On Wednesday, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance requiring private contractors—who employ O’Hare and Midway’s baggage handlers, cabin cleaners, wheelchair attendants, janitors, security officers, ticket collectors and de-icers—to abide by new labor standards in order to be licensed by the city. Most employees of airport contractors make low wages, receive few benefits and lack job security.

The ordinance will require contractors to pay a minimum wage of $13.45 starting July 1, 2018, well above Chicago’s current minimum of $11 an hour. Though the Illinois General Assembly recently passed a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed it last month.

“I’m a single mom with three kids and two grandkids. This raise will help contribute to supporting my family,” Darlene Navarro Montañez, an O’Hare janitor employed by the contractor Scrubs, told In These Times through an interpreter. “Eleven dollars an hour is just not enough.”

“With the raise, besides helping my family more, I could put bigger payments into paying back my student debt,” said Danny Rodriguez, a 24-year-old wheelchair attendant, security officer and shift lead at O’Hare.

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Friday, Sep 8, 2017, 4:49 pm  ·  By Sarah Conway

After Trump’s DACA Reversal, Prognosis Uncertain for Loyola Medical Students

Students and faculty show support for their DACA status peers at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill., on September 6. (Sarah Conway)  

MAYWOOD, Ill..—Eleven miles west of downtown Chicago more than 300 medical school students and staff gathered at Loyola University Medical Center’s suburban campus. Some in attendance held white banners with slogans that said “#DreamAct” and “#HereToStay.”

Student organizers say they held the event to show solidarity and make a unified call for long lasting legislation to help their fellow students at the Stritch School of Medicine, which has about 32 medical students who entered the program with DACA status this year, says Mark G. Kuczewski, the chair of the Department of Medical Education at Stritch.

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Thursday, Sep 7, 2017, 1:53 pm  ·  By Michael Arria

With All Eyes on DACA, the Trump Administration Is Quietly Killing Overtime Protections

U.S. President Donald Trump awaits the arrival of Amir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah of Kuwait to the White House September 7, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)  

On September 5, the administration of Donald Trump formally announced that they won’t try to save Obama’s overtime rule, effectively killing a potential raise for millions of Americans. This disturbing development has largely slipped under the radar during a busy news week, marked by Trump’s scrapping of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Twenty-one states and a number of business groups sued the Obama administration last September, after the Department of Labor (DOL) announced the new rule, accusing the former president of overreach.

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Wednesday, Sep 6, 2017, 6:36 pm  ·  By Brooke Anderson

Meet the L.A. Household Worker Taking On the Toxic Cleaning Industry

María is one of many house workers on the front lines of the fight for environmental justice. (Brooke Anderson)  

In 2016, after more than a decade of intense struggle, a statewide coalition of domestic workers won a landmark Domestic Worker Bill of Rights in California. The legislation establishes overtime pay for some of the lowest paid and most exploited workers in California’s massive economy.

Now this scrappy but increasingly influential coalition of mostly first-generation Latina and Filipina immigrant women is taking on the powerful consumer cleaning product industry that is poisoning their bodies, children, air, water and soil.

Like many of the women who mop floors and scrub toilets in other people’s homes, when María first started cleaning, she developed a nasty rash and cough, among other ailments. Now she’s one of the leading organizers behind an effort to require that the consumer cleaning product industry include ingredient lists so housecleaners can identify health risks.

While people have made and cleaned homes for tens of thousands of years using natural cleansers and disinfectants—from vinegar and citrus fruit peels to rosemary and thyme—the production of synthetic chemicals skyrocketed after World War II. Of the at least 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States today, tens of thousands have never been tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. Studies show that our bodies—including our breastmilk—are awash in these chemicals, leading to a host of health issues like asthma and cancer. Now, women like María are fighting back.

While in Los Angeles, Calif., I sat down with María, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, in light of recent immigration attacks and the many reprisals workers face for speaking out.

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Wednesday, Sep 6, 2017, 4:34 pm  ·  By Chris Brooks

Following the Nissan Loss, What Will It Take for Labor to Organize the South?

On November 16, 2016, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 members voted to ratify new union contracts, which included agreements for higher starting pay, more frequent wage progression increases and a plan that moves towards pension security. (UFCW Local 400 Facebook Page)  

This article was first posted by Labor Notes.

It's a truism that for unions to preserve their gains they must organize the South—but as the recent failures at VolkswagenBoeing, and Nissan made clear, this is easier said than done.

“Southern” conditions are fast becoming the new normal; right-to-work is the law in more than half the states, including those in labor's Midwest heartland.

The South's low union density, “right-to-work” laws, government hostility to unions, and severe limits on rights for public workers are a magnet for companies, who can either browbeat Northern union members into concessions or make good on their threats to pack up and leave.

After the United Auto Workers garnered only 37 percent support in last month's vote at Nissan in Mississippi, Labor Notes hosted a discussion about what labor in the South is up against—and some useful counter-examples.

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