My latest, on New York’s new standardized testing regime.
As New York’s CitiBike program launches, the company that runs to program is accused of wage theft by its Washington, D.C. workers.
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (I’ve covered their work before, here) hit NYC on Saturday ahead of Wendy’s shareholder meeting to protest the fast food chain’s refusal to sign their fair food agreement. The agreement requires that companies pay a penny more per pound of tomatoes purchased, to be paid back to the workers. It’s certainly not enough to lift them out of poverty, but it helps.
The CIW’s actions are always raucous, joyful and full of music and great art. This one was no exception. Check it:
I wrote about Savannah’s port truck drivers, who are classified as “independent contractors” by their bosses but don’t get to make their own schedules or control the work that they do. What they DO get is the “right” to pay for their own trucks and equipment, charged for the cell phones the companies require them to use and other miscellaneous “repairs” to their trucks that they’re never sure were actually performed.
But they control a very important part of the supply chain, and they’re getting organized. So much for those who say we can’t organize the South.
When politicians won’t lead and instead blame public workers for state budget troubles, what do we do?
OK, it doesn’t make a great chant, but it does make an interesting story.
But there’s another option: Go after the big banks to get back the money the state lost through financial chicanery.
This is the proposal representatives for the 48,000 members of Local 503 currently in collective-bargaining talks are making. Last Friday, they unveiled their plan to demand the banks in their negotiations with the state at a press conference, with the support of the state AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the other major public-sector union, the Oregon Students Association, the Working Families Party, and other community allies.
“Traditionally, unions’ argument has been ‘We need to raise taxes.’ But if you think about the bank deals as an unfair tax on the public, then the union is simultaneously saying, ‘We need to stop banks from taxing the public,’” says Stephen Lerner, a longtime union organizer and adviser to Local 503’s campaign.
The local’s demands include that the governor and state treasurer sue the banks over illegal activities on behalf of Oregon’s public employees—they’ve calculated $110 million in losses to LIBOR rigging alone. They also want to see a task force established that would include workers struggling with debt and foreclosure to investigate the ways the state has been ripped off by Wall Street. “We do intend to go to the mat on these issues, we think that they’re vital in terms of putting the state on the right track for the future,” Heather Conroy, executive director of Local 503, says.
And a bit of a follow-up.
Cha explains to Working in These Times that women who have care-giving responsibilities at home are less likely to be able to work all day long, and care work is still seen as a woman’s job—in her paper, Cha cites a 2012 study that found that even women who make more money than their spouses spend 30 percent more time with their children. Yet male-dominated occupations—which still, Cha notes, pay more than female-dominated ones—demand long hours of workers. Fields like law or medicine expect total commitment, and even skilled blue-collar jobs tend to require longer work hours and lots of overtime. The expectation that workers will be able to stay on the job longer, combined with the expectation that women will do most of the care-giving, leads to more women leaving those male-dominated fields, either exiting the labor force entirely or finding a job that doesn’t have the same kinds of demands.
In fields dominated by men, Cha notes, women are less likely to have social support in the workplace. “Basically, women’s experiences are not reflected in workplace policy, workplace practices and norms. This makes it more difficult to combine family responsibilities and at the same time meet workplace expectations,” she says.
Working time, care work, gender, and strikes.
“Not only wages — I am thinking here of the ‘female wage’ and the ‘family wage’ — but hours, too, were constructed historically with reference to the family,” Weeks notes. The eight-hour day and five-day week presumed that the worker was a man supported by a woman in the home, and it shaped expectations that his work was important and should be decently paid, while women’s work was not really work at all (even though, as Weeks notes, the gender division of labor was supported by some paid domestic work, done largely by women of color). The postwar labor movement focused on overtime pay and wages, leaving the women’s issue of shorter hours mostly forgotten.
But the power of the eight-hour-day movement was that it didn’t require the worker to love her job, to identify with it for life, and to take pride in it in order to organize for better conditions. The industrial union movement rose up to organize those left out of the craft unions, the so-called “unskilled” workers who recognized that they were not defined by their work and that they wanted to be liberated from it as much as possible. That, in their minds, was what made them worthy of respect, not their skill level or some intrinsic identity.
The fight for shorter hours unified workers across gender and race, class and nationality, skill and ability. It did not require the valorization of “man’s work” or the idealization of women’s natural goodness.
At least three fast food restaurants couldn’t open today because a majority of their workers were out on strike. Minimum wage increase is coming for NY, but the fast food workers aren’t waiting.
Edwin Guzman already lost his job once for union-organizing. But today, he and several hundred fast food workers across New York City are on strike anyway.
A few weeks ago, an organizer with the Fast Food Forward campaign, begun by New York Communities for Change (NYCC) and supported by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and other labor and community groups walked into the Burger King in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where Guzman works. He had a petition with him, calling for a raise to $15-an-hour and union recognition for the workers. Guzman and some of his colleagues signed.
Not long afterward, he had to take a couple of days off for a court date—he was being evicted from his apartment, in part because of his steadily decreasing hours and low pay at his job. Like most of the city’s fast food workers, he makes just $7.25 an hour and struggles with irregular scheduling. When he returned to work, his supervisor called him in to talk.
“He told me he had to let me go,” Guzman explained. “He felt like I disrespected him. He felt violated that I signed the petition.”
When Guzman told the organizers what had happened, they explained to him that firing workers for union activity is illegal, and that they’d support him if he wanted to fight back. With the help of City Councilman Brad Lander, after a meeting with the boss, Guzman and one of his other coworkers were reinstated. That cemented his commitment to the union campaign.
Today is the second citywide day of strikes in New York’s fast food industry. On November 29, 2012, some 200 workers at McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, and Domino’s Pizza locations across multiple boroughs struck in what Jonathan Westin, executive director of NYCC, called “their coming out party.” Before that, Westin explained, the workers had been organizing behind the scenes, keeping their plans quiet. Now, he said, even in the face of intimidation from their bosses, the workers have been able to grow their movement.
“We’ll have double the number of strikers, four or five hundred workers on strike, and double the locations too,” Westin said. “We will have several stores where it will not just be minority strikes like it was last time, we will have the majority of workers at several stores out on strikes, making it hard for them to do business on this day.”