Working In These Times

Thursday, Sep 12, 2013, 1:34 pm  ·  By Michelle Chen

Mexico City Erupts Over Neoliberal Education Bill

Teachers have gathered en masse in Mexico City to protest President Nieto's new education reform legislation. (Viral MediaNews/Youtube)  

In Mexico City, school teachers are meting out some serious discipline to a government gone awry.

For the past several weeks, the metropolis has pulsed with a labor insurrection. There have been fierce union-led rallies, clashes with police, and mass demonstrations that have paralyzed the city, climaxing with an estimated 12,000 teachers storming the streets on Wednesday. The catalyst is Mexico’s new education reform legislation, championed by President Enrique Peña Nieto and his PRI party, which teachers union activists blast as a thinly veiled attack on organized labor.

After lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to implement the reforms last week, demonstrations flared across the capital, blocking traffic and drawing crowds around the French, Spanish and U.S. embassies. The National Education Workers Coordinating Committee (CNTE), a radical union faction representing a third of Mexico’s public school teachers, has mobilized tens of thousands of protesters. The conflict is now widely seen as as a principle test of Peña Nieto’s political strength, symbolizing the class and ideological tensions between Nieto's center-right PRI party and Mexico’s embattled leftist movements.


Wednesday, Sep 11, 2013, 12:20 pm  ·  By Michelle Chen

Carwash Workers and Capitol Hill: Immigration in Limbo

In an interview with Fox 10 in Phoenix, former Danny's Car Wash employee Hortencia Jaimes says management fired and rehired undocumented employees under a 'new' identity. (Fox 10)  

After months of partisan squabbling over immigration reform on Capitol Hill, the legislative discussion may again be sidelined as lawmakers take on debates on war and the deficit. But for many immigrant workers, the clock is ticking.

For one group of workers in Phoenix, each new day in the U.S. feels like it might be the last. Federal agents raided their employer, Danny’s Family Car Wash, in Phoenix last month, rounding up more than 200 workers. Some remain in detention, and all were left jobless and deeply shaken, fearing that at any minute they might be swept up into the Obama administration’s record surge of deportations, now approaching two million “removals" during his tenure.


Tuesday, Sep 10, 2013, 11:37 am  ·  By Mike Elk

Lessons From the Tomb of Frank Little

Frank Little, who came to Butte in 1917, was brutally murdered for his efforts to organize mine workers against the Anaconda Copper Company.   (KUED / Creative Commons)

In June of 1917, 168 workers died in the Speculator mine disaster in Butte, Montana—many from asphyxiation. That July, legendary Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) union organizer Frank Little arrived in Butte to help organize a recognized union and lead a strike against the owner of the mine, Anaconda Copper Company. A month later, Little was found lynched above Butte’s train tracks with a note on his chest that said, “First and last warning.”

Little was buried later that month in Butte in a ceremony attended by more than 2,000 copper miners. His tombstone read, “Slain by Capitalist Interests for Organizing and Inspiring His Fellow Men.”

Over the years Little's tombstone fell into disrepair—until 2008, when Mike Boysza, then a member of the now-defunct of Butte Area Carpenters Local 112, and a number of local union activists decided to repair the tomb site. They wanted to create a permanent reminder for all trade unionists of the tough fights of the past.

“I think it is important to know where your struggles came from,” says Boysza. “The reason you get the wages you get, the reason you get the benefits you get, is because somebody else struggled.”


Monday, Sep 9, 2013, 4:49 pm  ·  By Jeff Schuhrke

New Englanders Gather To Back Wal-Mart Worker

A crowd gathered on Friday outside Wal-Mart in Chicopee, Mass. to protest alleged retaliation against worker Aubretia "Windy" Edick (R) for striking. Former Wal-Mart worker Lucas Handy (L) was among those arrested in NYC on Thursday, Sept. 5 protesting outside the office of Wal-Mart board member Christopher Williams.   (Jeff Schuhrke)

Late last week, OUR Walmart—a union-backed organization of store associates calling for improved working conditions, health benefits, and a minimum $13-an-hour wage—staged its largest protests since Black Friday. Demonstrations in 15 cities drew several thousand people, and about 100 were arrested.

In addition to OUR Walmart’s core demands, the protesters turned out to insist that Wal-Mart rescind the verbal and written warnings issued to some 60 OUR Walmart members who were part of a prolonged strike this June and reinstate 20 strikers who were fired.

Among the striking workers who were disciplined—or “coached,” as Wal-Mart euphemistically calls it—was 63-year-old Aubretia “Windy” Edick, a cashier at a Wal-Mart Supercenter in the Western Massachusetts town of Chicopee. “They gave me a verbal warning. They told me that the strike wasn’t legal. They told me if I was absent again I would be fired,” Edick says. Outside the Chicopee  Wal-Mart last Friday, approximately 100 people assembled to protest the store’s alleged retaliation against Edick.


Monday, Sep 9, 2013, 2:14 pm  ·  By Bruce Vail

Machinists Union Launches Ambitious New Campaign

Downtown Klamath Falls, Ore., where the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers is organizing employees of the local Jeld-Wen factory as part of a farther-reaching campaign.   (Llywrch / Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most ambitious new union drives in the country is gathering momentum from its starting point in the Pacific Northwest. The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM) has launched a campaign to organize thousands of industrial workers employed by a leading multinational manufacturer of doors, windows and wood millwork.

IAM is embarking a long-term effort to unionize some 5,600 workers at 23 North American plants run by Jeld-Wen, an international company with additional factories in Europe and Asia. The union's interest was raised after being approached by pro-union workers anxious to establish higher wages and safer working conditions, particularly at plants in Chiloquin and Klamath Falls, Ore., says Bill Street of IAM.

The campaign kicked off in February when union organizers began leafleting at five widely separated plants in Oregon, Washington and California. Organizing outposts were established at about the same time in 13 other states and two Canadian provinces, says Street.

The effort is unusual in its size and scope. Organizing new members at IAM typically involves much smaller bargaining units on a single site, or small number of sites.  It's an ambitous undertaking for the 720,000-member union, which is risking significant resources in a environment where many organizing drives fail.


Sunday, Sep 8, 2013, 6:35 pm  ·  By Rose Arrieta

Wal-Mart Workers Take Demands for Change to Marissa Mayer’s Penthouse

On Sept. 5, 2013, Walmart workers rallied for better pay and the right to organize in outside the San Francisco Four Seasons, home of board member Marissa Mayer. (Photo by R.M. Arrieta)  

SAN FRANCISCO—With Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up For Your Rights” blasting in the background, about 150 loud and raucous Wal-Mart workers and local union supporters marched down Market Street in downtown San Francisco on Thursday toward the Four Seasons hotel, where Wal-Mart board of director member and Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer lives in a penthouse apartment. When they arrived, they held a dance party with a message: Raise the wages and improve conditions for some of the nations lowest paid workers.

In addition to their own action, workers joined another earlier in the day at SF City Hall where immigrant-rights groups were rallying in support of a Due Process Ordinance to stop police collaboration with Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

“I think that we’re all in the same boat,” former Wal-Mart worker Jeanette Pendleton told ITT. “Once we start unifying and getting the solidarity going then things can happen. We can’t stay separate and expect things to happen for each individual. We’ve got to come together.”


Wednesday, Sep 4, 2013, 6:00 pm  ·  By Sarah Jaffe

Tipping Is Bad, But ‘No Tips’ Might Be Worse

The owners of Chez Panisse in the San Francisco Bay Area have added an automatic surcharge to bills in lieu of tips. (Ulterior Epicure / Flickr / Creative Commons)  

Tipping is falling out of fashion—at least if you believe a new article in the New York Times. According to Pete Wells of the paper's Dining and Wine section, the practice is “irrational, outdated, ineffective, confusing, prone to abuse and sometimes discriminatory.” And some fancy restaurants, it seems, are looking to get rid of it.

We've covered the many, many problems with tipping here at Working In These Times, from the ease (and creativity) of wage theft to the low pay rates it enables. Recently, I wrote about the fight launched by the Restaurant Opportunities Center-New York (ROC-NY) to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to the same level as the regular state minimum wage, which would allow tipped employees to be able to rely on at least a guaranteed income when they go into work. But those of us who support workers in the restaurant industry face a complicated conundrum: Though we universally acknowledge tipping to be problematic, the odds of restaurants paying servers a comparable wage if tips are eliminated seem pretty slim without some major changes in law and practice.


Tuesday, Sep 3, 2013, 6:15 pm  ·  By Mike Elk

For Union Members, Defeat at Crystal Sugar Anything But Sweet

For 22 months, workers were locked out of employment at American Crystal Sugar plants like this one in East Grand Forks, Minn. (GFPeck / Flickr / Creative Commons)  

When workers in a labor struggle are forced to agree to major concessions, labor leaders and allies often find ways to recast the defeat as a long-term victory. Often, they say that losing a tough fight opened up workers’ eyes to the lengths they must go to in order to win the next one.

In 2011, for instance, labor circles widely celebrated the massive Wisconsin protests of Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union bill, which stripped public employees of collective bargaining rights and forced unions to give massive concessions in terms of wages and benefits. Still, many felt that Wisconsin was a turning point because it inspired unions to fight back in ways previously thought unimaginable—the crowds of protesters, numbering nearly 100,000, continuously occupied the Capitol for three weeks. Even after labor lost its bid to recall Walker, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka declared, “We wanted a different outcome, but Wisconsin forced the governor to answer for his efforts to divide the state and punish hardworking people. Their resolve has inspired a nation to follow their lead and stand up for the values of hard work, unity and decency that we believe in.”

No matter what was given up at the bargaining table—even if the bargaining table was thrown out the window—rarely will a labor leader come out and say that a loss was a bad one, or that mistakes were made. Labor leaders, after all, are subject to the same fear of mistakes jeopardizing their next campaign as other elected officials. And for the workers, there’s basic human psychology at hand: People like to see that their struggles weren't for nothing.

But while spinning defeat into quasi-victory may make activists feel better, do massive losses really inspire future efforts? After one such setback in the Red River Valley, which spans the border between North Dakota and Minnesota, union activists are wrestling with this question. 


Tuesday, Sep 3, 2013, 3:00 pm  ·  By Andrew Elrod

Underwire Under Fire: Victoria’s Secret Employees Win $2 Raise

At Victoria's Secret flagship location in Herald Square, workers have been campaigning against low pay and unreliable scheduling. (Julie Blaustein / Flickr / Creative Commons)  

At the Victoria’s Secret flagship location in Manhattan’s Herald Square, where all three floors are frequently packed with customers, a single bra can sell for $58 and customers often drop hundreds of dollars in a single spree. Yet wages for the company’s New York City retail workers can start at less than $10 an hour, and employees say unreliable scheduling means that a consistent paycheck is never a guarantee.

After an employee-led campaign against the location’s district manager, however, Victoria’s Secret employees are beginning to see improvements. Workers at the Herald Square store recently received raises of as much as two dollars an hour.


Monday, Sep 2, 2013, 7:00 am  ·  By David Moberg

Labor Day 2013: Things Have Never Looked Worse for Workers—Or Brighter

On Thursday, August 29 in Chicago, fast-food workers rally for higher wages and union rights under the banner 'Fight for 15.' (Photo by Shelly Ruzicka, AriseChicago)  

Four young men breakdancing on the Federal Plaza last week in downtown Chicago say a lot about why this Labor Day provides occasion for both celebration and protest.

The dancers—black, white, Latino, all of them putting on a spectacular show—were fast food and retail workers on strike for the day for $15 an hour pay and the right to form a union without retaliation. They were among about 400 low-wage workers from more than 60 stores convening for a celebration after a day of delivering their key demands—with specific additional grievances tailored to each workplace—to their employers, who, from McDonald’s to Sears, make up a  Who’s Who of brand-name fast-food and retail companies.