America’s Top Role Model

As a 14-year-old, Sara Ziff faced situations most adults find difficult to manage. But as a model barely out of middle school, sexual harassment and fighting for wages owed to her were all too common. She found out she wasn’t alone. Other models faced the same challenges, and many were pressured to drop out of high school to make the most of a short-lived career.

They banded together to address these concerns collectively, to establish fair and ethical standards in the workplace. In 2012, Ziff formed the Model Alliance to bring dramatic and lasting change in the fashion industry. We spoke with Ziff this month about the fashion industry and the initiatives at The Model Alliance. 

AL: You started modeling as a 14-year-old. Do most models start at a young age?

SZ: Most models start their careers before the age of 16. I think what most people probably don’t appreciate is that it is often children—models under 18—[who] are modeling clothing that is marketed to adults, specifically women. A lot of the models who appear on the runway are actually 14-, 15-, 16-year-old kids. Some are as young as 12 and dressed up as women and [they] have to deal with all of the adult pressures of the industry. For example, nudity is common.

AL: What are some of the Model Alliance’s achievements?

SZ: When we looked at the laws on the books, we found that models were not actually covered under labor law in New York, the hub of the modeling and fashion industry. So we championed a bill that basically includes child models—models under 18—and child performance regulations so that children working as fashion models would have a set number of working hours, provisions for rest and meal breaks, provisions for chaperones. In November of last year, Governor Cuomo signed our bill into law. So that was a real coup for us. And we have already seen significant changes as a result of the law. For example, this past fashion week in February, we found that the vast majority of models on the runway were 18 and older. I think designers didn’t want to go through all the paperwork in hiring a 14-year-old instead of an 18-year-old.

A common criticism of the fashion industry is that it promotes an unhealthy ideal and the models are too skinny. Another thing that people do not realize is that it is really a symptom of designers and editors casting girls whose bodies are not fully developed rather than women. So when you cast a 14-year-old to represent the ideal of female beauty, of course she is going to have a very different body type than a woman who is in her twenties and thirties. So in short, the lack of labor protections in the modeling industry has a far-reaching effect on the images that are presented to women.

AL: Are there different labor laws globally for models or are there any laws at all?

SZ: Most states have labor protections for models, but it varies from state to state. For example, Alabama has stronger labor laws for models than New York. This is an international business and it’s pretty common for a model to be working in New York one day and a few days later working in Paris. In Paris, models are actually considered employees. So it is a whole different world depending on where you go in regard to labor laws. Generally, people in our industry say that models are independent contractors and so obviously that limits our ability to unionize and that’s why we chose this nontraditional organizing structure.

AL: Does the Model Alliance plan on bringing any other people in similar industries into the fold who may not have similar protections because they are considered independent contractors?

SZ: Pretty much everyone in our business is treated as an independent contractor—makeup artists, hairdressers, photographers—and since we formed the Model Alliance, a lot of other industry stakeholders have said, “Hey, we have trouble getting paid, too.” We have all of these concerns as individuals that are difficult to address and these are systemic problems. We have people on our advisory board that are makeup artists and photographers. We have tried to be inclusive and not adversarial. I would love one day to see the Model Alliance expand its efforts to help other workers in fields in this industry.

AL: We often have this stereotypical image of models and the fashion industry. Are there any stereotypes you want to challenge or something you want to demystify from a model’s perspective?

SZ: The modeling industry seems like a glamorous industry, because it is a superficial business where your job is to project beauty and glamour. The reality can often fall short of the image. I can say for the most part it is a fun, creative and wonderful business, but at the same time the vast majority of working models do not command large sums. Many of them are working in debt to their agencies. Models, like anyone else who is in a union, are trying to assert and establish their rights in a hostile labor environment. What makes this issue more compelling is that models begin their career when they are minors, so it is that much harder to stand up for yourself as a kid.

AL: Where do you see the Model Alliance five years from now?

SZ: Well, I’m certainly committed to these issues and developing the Model Alliance and expanding our efforts. It might seem idealistic or perhaps impossible, but I’m very interested in helping workers across the fashion supply chain. I just got back from Bangladesh, where I met with Kalpona Akter, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, and survivors of the Rana Plaza building collapse. I really feel that as faces of these companies and the fashion industry, models are in a unique and powerful position to not only improve working conditions for themselves, but for other workers, particularly women. I don’t want to be the face of a brand that exploits their workers. While I think that we have a ways to go to develop that work, which at this point is a personal project of mine, I think that would be a really worthwhile direction for us to go. So that is my wild dream.

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6 Reasons Why Unions Are Essential to Creating Broadly Based Prosperity

At the end of March, the Roosevelt Institute launched a new project, the Future of Work, which takes a look at the changing landscape in the area of workers’ rights and representation in the political and economic system that affects their lives. Author Richard Kirsch does a great job of explaining the economy and discussing potential policy solutions in a report titled The Future of Work in America: Policies to Empower American Workers and Secure Prosperity for All.

Kirsch said:

The Future of Work is bringing together thought and action leaders from multiple fields to re-imagine a 21st century social contract that expands workers’ rights and increases the number of living wage jobs. The Future of Work is focusing on three areas: Promoting new and innovative strategies for worker organizing and representation; raising the floor of labor market standards and strengthening enforcement of labor laws and standards; and assuring access to good jobs for women and workers of color.

In the report, Kirsch breaks down the issues and solutions into several categories. Read more about each:

1. The New Deal Launched Unions as Key to Building Middle Class

2. The Challenges to Organizing Workers in Today’s Economy

3. National Labor Law in the United States: Scanty Protections for Organizing Leave Out Many Workers

4. How the Weakening of American Labor Led to the Shrinking of America’s Middle Class

5. Labor Law That Would Support Organizing in Today’s Economy

6. Labor Law for All Workers: Empowering Workers to Challenge Corporate Decision Making

You also can read Kirsch’s full report, which goes into more detail on each of these points.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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How You Can Pretend the Gender Pay Gap Doesn’t Exist: Punching In

Raising the wage coast to coast

After successful minimum wage increases in New Mexico’s Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties, Las Cruces is up next.

Republicans in Alaska maneuvering to subvert the minimum wage ballot initiative.

Meanwhile, Republican gubernatorial candidates in Minnesota say they have the power to cancel the minimum wage increase.

The right wing at work

Super-lobbyist Grover Norquist is still trying to ram through “right to work” in Missouri.

Speaker Boehner punts on unemployment insurance extension, says it’s White House’s fault.

How the right-wing uses statistics to pretend the gender pay gap doesn’t exist.

Automotive drama

GM auto workers vote to allow strike in Kentucky.

Gov. Haslam and Sen. Corker subpoenaed by UAW lawyers.

Key Quote: “The subpoenas call for them to testify before an NLRB hearing later this month, where the UAW is challenging a vote that it narrowly lost at the VW plant. It asks those officials to bring all documents relating to economic incentives offered to Volkswagen.”

Finally: Let’s make this switch

Why we need fewer unpaid internships and more paid apprenticeships.

You Know What Doesn’t Work So Well? Private Prisons

The myth put forth by private prison corporations like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group that private prisons are cheaper than public prisons is shattered by a new report from In the Public Interest, thus undercutting the primary rationale for prison privatization efforts across the country. When pushing for contracts with the many states that use private prisons, these corporations claim they are the better option because they can run prisons more cheaply than the government can. But this report not only dispels that idea, it highlights some of the less-than-savory activities the corporations engage in because of the perverse incentives created by these contracts.

The report details several methods through which private prison companies mislead governments and the public about their supposed cost savings, particularly hiding costs of private prisons, inflating public prison costs, benefiting from mandated occupancy minimums and delaying cost increases until after contracts are signed.

Numerous studies have shown that private prisons are more expensive than their publicly run counterparts. The report details a series of meta-analyses of individual studies conducted on the comparative costs between public and private prisons, and all of them found that cost savings, at best, were minimal for private prisons—in many cases, private prisons were more expensive. One of the few studies that showed private prisons to be more cost-effective was funded by the prison companies and is currently the subject of an ethics inquiry at Temple University. A close examination of many of the states that have invested heavily in prison privatization has shown the failure of the “private prisons are cheaper” idea:

  • Arizona: The state found private prisons can cost up to $1,600 per prisoner per year, despite private prisons often only housing the healthiest prisoners.
  • Florida: Three separate multiyear studies found the majority of the private prisons in the state failed to meet the legally mandated 7% cost savings, while half of the private prisons failed to save any money at all.
  • Georgia: In 2011, private prisons cost the state $45.81 per prisoner per day, compared with $44.51 per prisoner per day in publicly run prisons.
  • Hawaii: The state found the projected savings of using private prison contractors were based on bed capacity rather than the actual number of people incarcerated and that indirect administration costs were not included.
  • New Mexico: Over a five-year period, the state saw its annual spending on private prisons increase by 57% while the prisoner population only increased 21%. A significant portion of the increase was because of automatic price increases included in contracts with the private prison corporations.
  • Ohio: The state expected the private operation of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution would save the state $2.4 million a year, but it has turned out to instead cost the state $380,000 to $700,000 a year.

As the report notes:

To maximize returns for their investors, for-profit prison companies have perverse incentives to cut costs in vital areas such as security personnel, medical care and programming, threatening the health and safety of prisoners and staff.

There are several different reasons that savings fail to materialize. CCA and other companies explicitly seek to increase their profits by changing the details of previously signed contracts. They do this by raising the per diem rates the state pays for each prisoner or by requiring occupancy rates of 90% or higher or the state pays for the empty cells in order to reach the required level. Private prison companies cherry pick their inmates and refuse to house more expensive prisoners. Many contracts exclude those higher-cost prisoners, such as those in maximum security, on death row, female prisoners or prisoners that have serious medical or mental health conditions. Companies also make their costs look lower by inflating the cost of public incarceration when making their sales pitch. They can do this by leaving out overhead costs in their prisons, not including costs the state has to pay in either public or private scenarios in the private prison cost but keeping them in the public prison cost calculation, and leaving out the additional costs of overseeing and monitoring private prisons that the state must engage in if it properly oversees its contractors.

At its national convention last year, the AFL-CIO came out in opposition to the privatization of prisons and the profit motive being used to increase incarceration.

Read the full report.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working America Members Help Hotel Workers Get Fair Pay

new mexico

An Albuquerque-based hotel has been found in violation of wage theft of at least one employee, due in part to the valiant organizing of Working America members.

Back in August, a group of Working America members approached member coordinators regarding their pay. At the time, hotel employees were tasked with cleaning rooms and were being paid $3.25 per room.

After careful research, Working America took charge and partnered with the Center for Law and Poverty (CLP) to contact the Department of Labor (DOL) and arrange a meeting with the afflicted workers.

During interviews with the DOL, workers indicated that they were forced to clock out early and they weren’t being paid the city’s minimum wage of $8.50 an hour.

From there the DOL launched a formal investigation, and on March 18th it was found that an employee in the hotel’s housekeeping department was making less than the Federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Although the organization wasn’t able to address the workers’ municipal minimum wage issues, it seems that the DOL investigation has prompted the hotel to take a more ethical approach to its wage policies.

“’I have seen a lot of changes since the investigation,” says one Working America member. “I would work so many hours and I would see a very small paycheck but now it’s a higher amount, and it seems fair,” she said.

For information on how you can help fight unfair labor practices like this one, visit:

Photo courtesy of Center on Policy Initiatives via Flickr.

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Tell Lionsgate It Has the Score Wrong. Stop Sending Musicians’ Jobs Overseas

Tell Lionsgate It Has the Score Wrong. Stop Sending Musicians’ Jobs Overseas

One of the most iconic American symbols is the National Football League. This week Lionsgate Entertainment is releasing a movie about what is probably the second most popular day for football fans after the Super Bowl—“Draft Day.” But Lionsgate did something decidedly un-American for this film. It shipped American musicians’ jobs overseas—to Macedonia.

It’s not the first time Lionsgate has ignored movie industry standards by shutting out American musicians and recording scores overseas. “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” are two more recent examples. In fact, over the last two years, only two of the dozens of films the company’s produced were scored to industry standards domestically.

Professional musicians are standing up with their union, the American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM), by launching a campaign to tell Lionsgate to “Listen Up!” and uphold industry standards, and guarantee proper wages and working conditions on all of its productions.

AFM President Ray Hair said:

Music can make or break a movie. Imagine “Indiana Jones” without its iconic theme music or the tension created by the music in “Jaws.” It’s the soul of any film. But some film production companies, like Lionsgate Entertainment, are putting that in danger (by) making it a practice to offshore musicians’ jobs to increase its already massive profits and, in the process, undermine industry standards that have created some of the most famous movie musical scores.

Hair points out that Lionsgate is getting millions in tax credits every year from states across the country, then sending jobs overseas. For “Draft Day,” Lionsgate took $5 million from Ohio taxpayers for the film, then offshored all of the film’s musical score to a Macedonian company—and pocketed anything that was left over. Said Hair:

Lionsgate is squeezing every dollar out of the music community and undermining local musicians’ economic ability to teach and develop the next generation of domestic professional musicians.

Sign the petition to tell the company to stop sending musicians’ jobs overseas, to uphold accepted industry standards, and guarantee proper wages and working conditions for musicians on all of its productions.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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9 Reasons Why We’re Giving a ‘Thumbs Down’ to the Ryan Budget

Liz Lemon, 30 Rock

House Republican leaders passed Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget this week by a vote of 219 to 205, with no Democrats voting in favor. The Ryan budget is chock full of so many terrible ideas that it’s hard to single out the biggest stinkers, but here goes.

1. Raising the Medicare Eligibility Age from 65 to 67.  Not only would raising the eligibility age shift costs to 65- and 66-year-olds and to seniors who still qualify for Medicare benefits, but it would actually *increase* overall costs throughout the health care system. Worst. Idea. Ever.

2. Giving Corporations More Tax Breaks for Outsourcing Jobs. The Ryan budget calls for a “territorial tax system,” which would eliminate U.S. taxes on the offshore profits of companies that send jobs overseas. Second worst idea ever.

3. Costing 4 Million Jobs. And that’s only in two years! According to the Economic Policy Institute, the Ryan budget would cost 1.1 million jobs in 2015 and 3 million jobs in 2016. Millions more jobs would be lost in subsequent years.

4. Giving Millionaires a $200,000 Tax Cut. The Ryan budget would cut the top marginal income tax rate from 39.6% to 25%, giving people who make more than $1 million per year tax cuts averaging between $200,000 and $330,000.

5. Turning Medicare into a Voucher Program. The Ryan budget once again proposes to end the Medicare guarantee, which would raise premiums for seniors who choose traditional Medicare and leave traditional Medicare to “wither on the vine” as private plans capture the healthiest seniors.

6. Gutting Education. The Ryan budget would slash funding for kindergarten to 12th grade education by$89 billion and higher education by $260 billion over 10 years, making college less affordable and increasingstudent indebtedness by $47 billion.

7. Gutting Investment in Transportation. The Ryan budget would slash transportation investments by$52 billion in 2015, costing jobs and making America less competitive.

8. Gutting Medicaid. The Ryan budget would cut Medicaid funding by $732 billion over 10 years by turning Medicaid into a block grant program. It would further cut Medicaid funding by repealing the Affordable Care Act, for a total cut to Medicaid of some $1.5 trillion.

9. Slashing Tax Rates for Profitable Corporations. The Ryan budget would slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 25%, squandering $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in tax revenue over 10 years.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Failure to Expand Medicaid Could Mean Defeat for GOP Governors in 2014: Punching In

Changing of the guard at Health and Human Services

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will step down.

Her legacy: one troubled website, millions of newly insured Americans.

And her biggest achievement, says Igor Volsky, is getting some GOP govs to expand Medicaid.

The new HHS Secretary is former OMB Director Sylvia Matthews Burwell. Here’s what she has ahead of her.

The more they know, the less they like the Ryan Budget

House Republicans pass Ryan budget, but 12 Republicans vote against it.

Justice for Detroit retirees

New deal reached on pensions for Detroit municipal retirees.

But an editorial asks: is it good enough?

This just in! 2014 election to be determined by number of voters

Why voting rights is Democrats’ most important project in 2014.

Key Quote: “The idea that you’d purposely try to prevent people from voting? Un-American,” [President Obama] told the potential donors. “How is it that we’re putting up with that? We don’t have to.”

Senate map giving Democrats incentive to heavily organize black voters in the South.

Medicaid expansion shaping up to be a crucial issue in 2014 governors’ races.

Finally: What. Have. You. Done.

Republicans in Michigan may have inadvertently triggered a constitutional convention.

LePage Leaves Thousands of Maine Residents in the Cold, Vetoes Medicaid Expansion – Again

gop medicaid cartoon

On Wednesday, Governor Paul LePage vetoed a bill to expand Medicaid, a move that could leave around 70,000 residents uninsured.

In a letter explaining his decision, LePage maintained that expansion would have a ‘‘disastrous impact on Maine’s budget’’.

In reality, Medicaid expansion would be cost-free for the first three years, and only 10% of the cost after that. The Federal government would cover the other 90%.

The bill goes back to the legislature where it will need a two-thirds vote to overturn the governor’s decision.

Currently, 27 states and the District of Columbia have accepted the expansion in full. 22 states, all with Republican governors or Republican-controlled legislatures, have formally rejected Medicaid expansion.

This is LePage’s third time rejecting the expansion, despite democratic attempts to get him to do otherwise.

In addition to rejecting Medicaid expansion, LePage attempted to drop 37,000 low income Medicaid recipients from the program in 2012. Luckily, he was stopped by the federal government.

Photo courtesy of DonkeyHotey via Flickr. 

Finally! Minnesota Raises its Minimum Wage to $9.50 an Hour


After months of back and forth and debates over indexing, Minnesota will raise its minimum wage from $6.15 to $9.50 an hour by 2016. The decision will give 357,000 Minnesota workers a much needed raise.

The bill was passed in the Senate yesterday, and today it passed by a vote of 71-60 in the House. It will now to go to Gov. Mark Dayton for his much-anticipated signature.

Workers can expect to see an increase of $8 an hour beginning in August and an increase of $9 an hour in 2015. Workers who are employed by small businesses will be paid $7.25 an hour beginning in 2015.

Working America members have collectively petitioned, called, emailed, and challenged politicianstoday is the proof of our hard work.

Congratulations Minnesota workers, you’re getting a raise!

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Graph courtesy of Minnesota 2020 via Twitter.