Up Late with Alec Baldwin and the Workers Defense Project

MSNBC’s new Friday late night show “Up Late with Alec Baldwin” recently featured an in-depth interview with Cristina Tzintzún, executive director of the Workers Defense Project (WDP). She explained the hardships and abuses immigrant workers face, especially undocumented construction workers in Texas, and some of the successes—such as the recent wage and job safety protections approved last month by the Austin City Council—WDP has seen.

Baldwin told viewers that while the battle over comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship “plays out in Washington, out in the rest of the country, out of the spotlight,” immigrant workers are “fighting real battles to feed their families.”

Why? Because without the protection of citizenship, they’re vulnerable to exploitation like wage theft—people hiring them to do work and then not paying them—unsafe and deadly work conditions like denying water breaks to people working outside in the summer heat. The Workers Defense Project in Texas is leading the fight to change this.

Watch part one of the interview above and part two below.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Austin Passes Some Pretty Cool Laws for Construction Workers

Several hundred construction workers in Austin, Texas—mostly immigrants—and their supporters from faith, union and community groups saw their months-long fight for respect and fair wages come to a successful conclusion when the Austin City Council last week passed an ordinance requiring employers on construction projects that receive city economic incentives pay prevailing wages, provide safety training and other worker protections.

In a statement following the 6–1 City Council vote, the Workers Defense Project (WDP) thanked the lawmakers and their allies—including Austin Interfaith and the Texas State Building and Construction Trades Council—for their support and said:

In the end, the construction workers of this city got this ambitious bill started, and they got it across the finish line. We still have lots more work to do, but last night was proof that we can achieve great things for our city together.

For more than a decade, the WDP has been battling against wage theft, spotlighting the dangers and winning reforms of the Texas construction industry and standing up for workplace justice and immigrants’ rights.

Texas AFL-CIO President Becky Moeller said:

The Austin City Council’s decision to ask companies that receive tax breaks to give something back in the form of higher construction wages came about in large part because a broad coalition, including labor unions, stood united. Many companies that come to Austin will offer workplace benefits that help the entire community. Others can decline to meet the ‘living wage’ standard, but the council’s action makes it less likely they will be rewarded with subsidies just for showing up. The ordinance is a carrot, not a stick, and it will benefit workers.

WDP Political Director Greg Casar told the Texas Observer that the Austin ordinance “should be a model for the rest of our state to follow.”

Texas by far gives more tax incentives [than other states] in the country, while the working people who build Texas aren’t allowed to make enough money to make ends meet and aren’t allowed a safe worksite….The city took a critical and historic step last night to make sure that our tax dollars are really benefiting all of Austin and all the people who are paying taxes rather than just the corporations receiving the tax breaks.

Read more about Austin’s new law here and more about the WDP from The New York Times here.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Austin Taxi Drivers Affiliate with AFL-CIO, Gain Voice on the Job

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

It’s been a good few years for taxi drivers gaining a voice on the job. Today in Austin, Texas, the National Taxi Workers Alliance (NTWA) granted its first local chapter charter since it joined the AFL-CIO. The NTWA was chartered by the AFL-CIO in 2011, with New York City and Philadelphia locals as the founding members.

Austin taxi drivers founded the Taxi Drivers Association of Austin (TDAA) to organize and collectively address drivers’ concerns, from economic hardship to harassment and physical safety on the job. TDAA says drivers work up to 15 hours per day, seven days a week and yet earn less than minimum wage on many days and have no job security. While income is tightly regulated by the city through the meter, owners regularly increase lease fees charged to drivers that eat up much of their earnings.

Today at a ceremony welcoming the chapter, Becky Moeller, president of the Texas AFL-CIO, told KUT News the affiliation will allow the drivers to “Speak with one voice, whereas before they would speak and we would assist them. And now they’re actually part of organized labor, and we’re excited about that.”

Merga Gemada, vice president of the TDAA, said:

The bare minimum protections required for a taxi driver to have a dignified life are not available to us today because of the economic instability we work under. At the same time, drivers are not covered by workers’ comp or disability and have no insurance to protect themselves in the case of an accident. Today’s affiliation is also the launch for the TDAA’s campaign for economic rights and dignity, in which drivers are demanding greater job security and a safety net against their precarious working conditions.

Bhairavi Desai, president of the NTWA, added:

Austin joining the national Alliance is just the beginning of a much bigger change in Texas.

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