Councilman Corey O’Connor, author of a new bill that would mandate paid sick days for all workers in the city, held nothing back at a gathering held outside of the Pittsburgh City Council chambers today in support of the legislation. More than 150 people from more than 15 allied groups packed the lobby to champion the bill’s introduction, and I was proud to be there representing Working America and our members who overwhelmingly support this legislation.
“No worker should have to make the choice between going to work sick or staying home without badly needed pay, and right now there are 50,000 Pittsburgh workers without paid sick time,” said Barney Oursler of Pittsburgh United, underlining why so many diverse groups have come together to support paid sick days.
Councilwomen Deborah Gross and Natalia Rudiak, who co-sponsored the bill and garnered support from all four women on the City Council, highlighted the disproportionate impact lack of paid sick days has on women in the workforce, many of whom are often the primary caregivers for their families and struggle to care for sick family members.
Several workers shared personal stories at the event, detailing the difficulties they face on their jobs when they get sick. I was struck by how similar their stories were to stories I often hear from Working America members when I canvass neighborhoods around Pittsburgh.
One worker—a waitress named Taylor—shared testimony that echoed Rachel’s story, another server I met recently. Like 77 percent of all service workers, she currently has no paid sick time. Too often, she has had to choose between serving food to the public while sick or staying home and losing wages that she needs to pay her rent. Lack of paid sick leave is particularly challenging for service workers, many of whom currently are only compensated at the hourly tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour.
Lack of access doesn’t just affect workers; it’s a public health concern with implications for the entire community. One parent in Greenfield told me how her child became ill because another child’s parent did not have paid sick days and was forced to send their child to school with the flu. The new proposed law would stipulate that paid sick days can be used to care for an ill family member, as well.
The proposed bill would also protect workers who already have paid sick leave from retaliation. Theresa, a career nurse, spoke during the event about a time she got sick and needed to take paid time off to protect ill patients with compromised immune systems in her unit. Even though she had accumulated the time, her employer tried to discipline her for missing too many consecutive days of work. Though Theresa fought back and was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, the message she received from her employer was clear: Don’t get sick when you’re scheduled to work. Her story is not unique. One of our members in the Brookline area once told me how her company had written her up for not giving at least 24 hours’ notice before using a paid sick day. That’s why the current bill before the Council would set the right tone and allow workers to use their earned sick time without fear of reprisal.
Today’s rally reminded me that, in the end, it’s the stories of people like Theresa and Taylor and Rachel—who face these difficult choices far too often—that drive home why we need to pass paid sick days in Pittsburgh. Everybody gets sick, and it’s not easy to simply lose a day or two of pay and still come out ahead at the end of the month. This bill is an important step in the right direction for Pittsburgh, and our members will continue to mobilize to make sure the City Council does the right thing by Pittsburgh’s working people.
Tags: Paid Sick Days, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh
Members of more than 15 local organizations came together on the steps of City Hall today and called on the Pittsburgh City Council to pass a law granting all Pittsburgh workers the chance to earn paid sick days.
While labor groups that fight year-round for workers’ rights were well represented at today’s event, it wasn’t just the usual suspects calling on the City Council to take action. Groups as diverse as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and the Women and Girls Foundation showed up to remind everyone this isn’t just a worker’s issue, it’s a public health issue.
Nearly 50,000 of our neighbors, friends and family members currently lack any paid sick time in Pittsburgh. That’s around 40 percent of our total workforce—50,000 people forced to make a choice between going to work sick or staying home and losing badly needed pay.
That’s a situation that definitely needs to change, according to Rachel, one of the attendees I met today. Rachel has worked in the service industry 22 years, the last 13 in Pittsburgh and the last eight at the same establishment. She is a member of the Restaurant Opportunity Coalition, an organization that is also supporting the paid sick days legislation.
No one wants to think about sick people handling their food. Food service workers don’t want to show up at work sick, either. In fact, it’s actually the rule at her restaurant that employees aren’t allowed to come to work sick. It says so right in the manual. But Rachel had this to say about her workplace: “Probably not a day goes by without at least one person showing up to work sick.”
So if no one wants it to happen and it’s even against the rules, why is it the case that people are showing up to work sick anyway?
Sadly, the answer is really simple. If you don’t have paid sick days, you can’t afford to take a day off work. So even though Rachel says her own boss is generally OK with people taking time off when they are sick, it doesn’t matter all that much when you have bills to pay at the end of the month.
Rachel related a time when she had an injured foot that required stitches. She was thankful her boss was OK with her taking some time off, but she went back to work a week earlier than she should have because she couldn’t afford not to.
No one should have to hobble around at a job that requires people to be on their feet for the entire shift because she has no other choice. No one should be required to stay home due to illness but left with no way to make up the lost pay. “It’s makes us feel like second class citizens who don’t matter. It’s like we’re expendable,” Rachel told me. Management has access to paid sick days. So do 60% of workers in Pittsburgh. So why shouldn’t everyone?
But even those who aren’t compelled by the moral argument to do the right thing to help someone else should take note of the fact that they’d really be helping themselves.
“I’d think everyone would like the peace of mind to go out to eat without being afraid of catching something,” Rachel says. She related instances where after one person came to work with the norovirus, a common stomach flu, almost every employee had gotten sick within a week. What are the odds that some customers got sick as well? At one past job, she even saw a sick line cook having to take regular breaks to run to the restroom due to illness, and being asked by the manager to stay and keep cooking despite the fact she was throwing up.
“Everyone deserves paid sick time,” Rachel says. “It’s even more critical for those working with food.”
Sadly, those working in the food service industry are among the least likely to have it. The same can be said for custodial workers, grocery workers and even home health care workers. These are the industries in which you least want someone showing up at work with a contagious illness. But the pressures of low wages and lack of paid sick time mean that these are the same industries in which you’re more likely to find it taking place.
And as Rachel told me, it’s time for all of that to change.
All Pittsburgh workers deserve the chance to earn paid sick time. We all stand to be happier and healthier as a result.
Tags: earned sick days, Paid Sick Days, Pittsburgh
Immigration reform is the kind of issue that brings people together from all walks of life. Although immigrants stand to benefit the most from a path to citizenship, we are all affected by the multilateral tangents connected to our broken immigration system.
Last Saturday, our North Carolina Community Action Team met so that we could raise awareness about the immigration fight and use our strength in numbers to pressure elected officials to act. The U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that establishes a path to citizenship, but the U.S. House has yet to take it up.
Our members came to the meeting eager to discuss what they wanted to happen with immigration reform, and to take action. We decided to target Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee and ask him to vote in favor of bringing the Senate bill to the House Floor for a vote.
Our members wrote postcards to their friends, family members, and neighbors residing in the 6th District, asking them to call Rep. Coble and to urge him to move this bill forward. We were able to generate 66 postcards in the time that we met, and several folks took some home to send out later as well.
On Wednesday, I went with our member Erin West, to a lobby meeting with Rep. Coble organized by SEANC (State Employees Association of North Carolina) and the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. Erin told Congressman Coble about her experience as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher in the district, and how her students would be affected by immigration reform. “Of over 100 students that I taught, all were eager to learn, and came from loving, hard-working families. Some are now entering high school, and on top of dealing with normal high-schooler problems, they worry every day about losing their parents, or being taken away from the only country they know as home,” Erin explained. “We can’t afford to lose these promising students, and it would be nothing short of a tragedy to see them separated from their families.”
Rep. Coble responded positively, but in a noncommittal manner, that he too believes it is time to do something about immigration reform, but that he doesn’t know what that is going to look like when he goes back to Washington, DC.
It’s moments like these, when members of the faith community, labor, and concerned citizens like Erin come together, that our politicians begin to listen. While we are still unsure about how Rep. Coble will vote and what the ultimate fate of the bill will be, but we will continue to make our voices heard until the House takes action.
To get involved with the North Carolina Community Action Team, email me at [email protected].
Photo by @AFLCIO on Twitter
Tags: Education, Howard Coble, immigration, Jobs, North Carolina
“You are asking minimum wage workers to bring litigation?” That was Israel Chavez’s question to the Albuquerque City Council after they said they could refer workers who aren’t receiving the current minimum wage to private attorneys.
Chavez and other Working America members attended the City Council meeting on Monday, August 5 asking councilmembers to enforce the minimum wage increase of $8.50 per hour and $3.83 for tipped workers that went into effect on January 1, 2013. Two thirds of Albuquerque voters voted in favor of this initiative.
Mr. Chairman, over the past six years I have witnessed and experienced business taking advantage of low-wage workers. We are waiting for you to enforce our mandate. By not enforcing the current minimum wage, democracy by definition is being subverted and favors business interest over voters.
Enforce this minimum wage on behalf those who need it the most. Include enforcement language just like Bernalillo County Commissioners have done. There are people right outside this building not being paid the current the minimum wage. It is right and it is what will help the people of Albuquerque.
The current response from the city attorney is to refer people to private attorneys. However, this is not a feasible option for many minimum wage earners.
“This is a public issue, not a private issue. They should not be forced to take on private attorneys,” said Chavez, who has been a server for six years in Albuquerque. City Councilor Rey Garduño agrees with Israel Chavez “I think it is the city’s job to enforce this.”
Working America members in Albuquerque will continue to hold the City Council accountable to enforcing the current minimum wage.
To become involved in the “Got Your Raise Yet?” campaign in Albuquerque and Bernalillo County, contact Brenda Rodriguez at [email protected].
Tags: Albuquerque, Corporate Accountability, minimum wage, New Mexico, Richard Berry, Rights At Work
A Las Cruces-based lobbying group has filed a petition in Albuquerque that could drastically affect the thousands of tipped employees who fought for and won a raise in their minimum wage. Effective since January 1, 2013, tipped workers have been making $3.83 an hour, up from the original $2.13. Under this deceptive new proposal, workers will be penalized when their tips raise their take-home pay higher than $9.50 an hour. When that happens they will see their non-tip wage lowered to $2.13 an hour.
This new bill punishes employees who, by providing excellent service to their customers, earn more in tips. Under this lobbyist-driven proposal, customers could inadvertently trigger a pay cut if they tip their waitress well for good service. This idea penalizes great service, forces customers to worry if their tips are helping or hurting, and undermines the voters who passed the original wage increase in overwhelming numbers. It’s legalizing wage theft and it’s wrong for Albuquerque.
Israel Chavez, who works as a server in Albuquerque, responded by saying, “It’s terrible to see people actively working to subvert a minimum wage increase that Albuquerque citizens overwhelmingly support. These tactics would effectively steal the wages of many citizens who are already below the poverty line. The citizens of Albuquerque voted for a minimum wage increase and it’s the municipal government’s duty to enforce that.”
Last November 66 percent of Albuquerqueans voted to have the minimum wage increased. Working America will continue talking to people at their homes and in their communities about why this is a setback for tipped employees and for the Albuquerqueans who spoke with their votes on what the city needs.
Photo by Raise the Wage on Facebook
Tags: Albuquerque, Corporate Accountability, las cruces, minimum wage, New Mexico, restaurant, Rights At Work
In the beautiful small city of Las Vegas, New Mexico, Reel Working America members are ready to improve the local film industry.
When Reel Working America members in Las Vegas first started meeting as a Community Action Team back in May, they had a lot of unanswered questions about the film industry. Nancy Upthegrove-Jaramillo wondered if there was a local film directory and if it was up-to-date. “Where can we look for this film directory? Can we create our own?” asked Jaramillo, a long-time educator and background performer.
Another member, Diego Romero, an independent filmmaker and actor, wondered where independent filmmakers could seek resources to make low-budget films in his hometown.
Kerry Loewen, currently a professor at New Mexico Highlands University, said he’d like to get the word out about Las Vegas as a reliable workforce of background performers and crew members to attract more films and TV series.
Collectively, they decided they needed answers to these questions. This past Tuesday, Reel Working America members and the Las Vegas Film Commission met to discuss current projects and priorities. During this meet-and-greet, our members prepared a set of questions they wanted to ask the commission, including how Reel Working America can support the commission’s work. This question sparked a dialogue about potential projects like the creation of a local film directory, background etiquette workshops, film opportunities and training.
“One of our priorities is to get the community more involved in helping film grow in Las Vegas,” said film liaison Lindsey Hill. Reel Working America members in Las Vegas embrace this invitation enthusiastically. They are eager, talented, and ready to make Las Vegas the best place for film and TV productions.
If you are currently in New Mexico and you are interested in learning more about Reel Working America, contact Member Coordinator Brenda Rodriguez at [email protected]
Tags: economy, entertainment, film, Jobs, New Mexico
Working America members will be launching the “Rep. MikeCoffman: Who Do You Work For?” campaign to educate their fellow Coloradans about the representative’s radical legislative agenda to privatize programs like Social Security and Medicaid, and most recently, his efforts to privatize the work of the Department of Defense.
“Rep. Coffman seems to feel that it’s more important to give tax breaks to corporations and focus on unnecessary privatization than try to bring jobs to his district,” said Working America State Director Kevin Pape. “He’s not looking out for Coloradans, and it’s time we let constituents know who he really works for.”
During the campaign, members will be collecting petition signatures fromCoffman’s constituents telling him that they do not support his privatization efforts and will hold a public event for petition delivery. They will also be hosting media events and submitting letters to the editor educating Coloradans about Coffman’s attempts to sell off public assets and shift tax dollars to the huge corporations that funded his campaign.
Working America has more than 125,000 members in the state of Colorado.
For updates, follow @WorkingAmerica on Twitter.
Tags: Colorado, Corporate Accountability, Jobs, Mike Coffman, outsourcing
Katie Gregg reports from North Carolina.
Amid a flurry of last minute activity in the North Carolina General Assembly, including a truly awful voter-suppression bill, our members are thinking ahead to the August recess. We’re looking forward to the return of the folks who represent us in the U.S. House of Representatives, so we can tell them, face-to-face, that now is the time to pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Christin, a Working America member from Greensboro, NC, is all too familiar with the urgency of immigration reform. Her parents were immigrants to the US Virgin Islands from St. Lucia decades ago. She and her five siblings were in their teens by the time their parents had finally completed the United States’ lengthy immigration process—one that had begun more than two decades earlier. “The process to get legal status in the US or become an American citizen should not take decades. We need to allow those who are here to get their documents sooner, so that they can start paying taxes and contributing towards building a better economy,” said Christin.
By most estimates, North Carolina has roughly 300,000 undocumented workers. Large corporations take advantage of the status of these workers and pay them under the table, often in very poor conditions and for desperately low pay. As a result, they have little incentive to hire more workers or pay much above minimum wage. Christin has friends who have applied for work only to be told they would be hired at $7.25 per hour. She and so many others know that’s not nearly enough on which to raise a family. Clearly the only winners here are these corporations, which continue to make record profits and hold record power while we suffer the effects of record unemployment.
Christin says her parents came to the US because they wanted to make sure their kids had better opportunities in life than they themselves had. Passing comprehensive immigration reform in Congress is one thing we can do to make sure all workers are able to provide that same opportunity for their children, and we know the only way this will work is if we stand together and let our elected officials know with a unified voice, “The time is now.”
Lobby meetings, petitions, phone calls, and letters are just some of the ways you can get involved with pressuring our politicians to support a pathway to citizenship. If you’re in North Carolina, email me at [email protected] to find out how you can help.
Tags: economy, immigrants, immigration, Jobs, minimum wage, North Carolina, wages
Alavaro Rodriguez, Jr., reports from Texas.
Yesterday, a group of volunteers including my father (Alvaro Rodriguez Sr.) and I got together at the Harris County AFL-CIO for a phone bank party. We called fellow Working America members to invite them to a rally to raise the minimum wage this week and tell them about what Working America is working on in Texas.
This morning, some of us are heading to Houston City Hall to speak in support of an ordinance that would punish those that commit wage theft. Workers deserve their hard-earned wages. We’ve been collecting letters of support from Houstonians like me who support the ordinance. It feels great to get work with others on these important issues.
After calling through our lists, we agreed to meet monthly for phone bank parties. Next time, we’re going to turn it into a potluck with everyone bringing a dish. If you’re in the Lone Star State anytime soon, join us!
Tags: economy, Jobs, minimum wage, Texas, wage theft, wages
Since the end of April, Moral Monday protests have occurred every Monday in front of the state legislature in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Moral Monday rallies have gathered thousands of supporters, and over 900 have been arrested through civil disobedience actions. These massive protests have been centered on issues of economic justice and basic fairness—cuts unemployment benefits, the failure to extending Medicaid for 500,000 uninsured people, cuts to public school funding, voter suppression, and other issues.
This Moral Monday protests have begun to spread across our state. This past Monday, in conjunction with the Raleigh protest, a Moral Monday march was organized in Greensboro. Since many people couldn’t travel to Raleigh to voice their support, activists organized a Greensboro Moral Monday rally to focus on voter ID laws and looming cuts to early voting.
Over 200 people marched and chanted, toted signs saying “Save Early Voting,” “Voter ID = Voter Suppression,” and “Keep Sunday Voting”.
“I thought it was wonderful,” said Working America member Carol Tweede, who attended. “Turnout was more than I ever expected. I feel very happy at these demonstrations, because everyone pulls together. It’s one great big body of people trying to help each other. It is so inclusive and nice to be around people who believe the same way you do, the right way.”
Across North Carolina, folks are standing up against the right-wing state legislature, not just in Raleigh.
Tags: Education, Health Care, Jobs, moral monday, North Carolina, unemployment, voter suppression, voting