Drama Behind Reality TV Cameras Puts Producers on the Line

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This is a cross-post from the Metropolitan Washington [D.C.] Council’s Union City.

Inhumanly long hours, cruelty, frayed nerves. And that’s just behind the cameras at reality shows. “It’s scary and nerve-wracking,” says Sevita Qarshi, a producer walking the line Thursday outside the Realscreen conference at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C.

Qarshi has worked on a number of reality TV shows and says that the working conditions for the men and women producing the popular programs are just as dramatic as those in front of the cameras.

It’s just awful. Incredibly long hours, many of them unpaid, no sick days, no health insurance, no job security and constant stress.

The target of Thursday’s picket lines, organized by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), is ITV Studios, a U.K.-owned television production company. The WGAE has successfully organized six major production companies and is fighting to win a contract with ITV, one of the conference sponsors, which is refusing to sign a deal with the WGAE even though the employees voted to organize four years ago.

The action was part of the industry-wide campaign to organize some 2,000 writers and producers of reality and nonfiction TV programming in New York City. Said WGAE Director of Organizing Justin Molito, as picketers chanted nearby:

Reality and nonfiction TV employees are victims of rampant wage theft and, in many cases, receive no health benefits at all. Unfortunately, this sort of freelance precarious labor is spreading into more and more industries.

“We get to work with a lot of great people,” said Qarshi, “but ITV wants more for less, and everybody’s overworked and stressed out.” Winning a union “would mean we have rights.” She added:

It would stop the intimidation, and help us feel appreciated for our hard work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Pentagon Contract Workers Strike for Living Wage

A group of Pentagon workers employed by federal contractors at low wages to operate concessions and clean federal buildings are the latest federal contract workers to walk off the job and urge President Barack Obama to use his executive authority to establish a living wage requirement for contractors that do business with the government.

Salon’s Josh Eidelson reports that low-wage contracted workers at several other federal buildings joined today’s demonstrations. Read Eidelson’s full report.

About 2 million workers are employed at low wages by federal contractors across the nation.

Like low-wage fast-food and retail workers across the country, the federal workers have staged one-day strikes to spotlight their demands for a living wage and the right to join a union without retaliation by employers.

In September, a group of federal contract workers marched to the White House and delivered petitions with more than 250,000 signatures, urging Obama to issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a living wage. While Obama has called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage, the White House has not indicated if Obama will issue the living wage executive order for federal contractors.

More than 200 workers at six Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., won union representation with UNITE HERE late last year and are bargaining for better wages and working conditions.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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D.C. City Council Passes Minimum Wage Increase, Paid Sick Days for Tipped Workers

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In Washington, D.C., there is great news for working families. The District of Columbia Council voted to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 and extend paid sick days to tipped workers.

The measures now go to Mayor Vincent Gray for consideration.

The minimum wage will increase in three steps to $11.50 by July 2016. Beginning in July 2017, the wage rate will be indexed to inflation, so that as the cost of living increases, so will the minimum wage rate. Prince George’s County (Md.) Executive Rushern Baker signed the Prince George’s County minimum wage bill today—the wage rate will rise to $11.50 by 2017. These wage increases in Washington, D.C., Prince George’s County and Montgomery County (Md.) are part of an innovative approach to raise wages in a region, with all three areas working together to pass these laws.

Read more on the D.C. minimum wage increase here and the victories in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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D.C. Council Votes Unanimously to Support Minimum Wage Increase to $11.50

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In a preliminary vote expected to mirror the final vote early next year, the D.C. Councilvoted unanimously to support a plan to raise the minimum wage in the District of Columbia to $11.50. A final vote must still take place, but no member has expressed any intention to vote differently and Mayor Vincent Gray (D) has suggested he is willing to sign the bill, in contrast to his recent veto of a measure to require big-box retailers like Walmart to pay a living wage. The D.C. Council appears to have the votes to override an unlikely veto, something they fell one vote short of on the big-box store bill.

The vote comes on the heels of two Maryland suburbs minimum wage increase votes, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, that also voted to raise their minimum wages to $11.50. Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett has indicated he will sign the bill into law. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has expressed opposition to a minimum wage increase and it is unclear he will sign the bill into law. The D.C. wage increase would be phased in a year earlier than the counties, taking full effect by 2016. Not only would the legislation increase the wage from its current rate of $8.25, which is a dollar higher than the national minimum wage, it would index the wage to inflation. Washington, D.C., is set to become one of the cities with the highest minimum wages in the country.

The council also voted unanimously to require employers to provide five paid sick days to tipped workers, who had been exempt from paid sick days rules. The change will protect both workers and customers, who will be less likely to be exposed to illnesses.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Victory in Montgomery County, Md., for Minimum Wage Workers, Prince George’s County Follows Suit

In an 8–1 vote, the Montgomery County, Md., Council passed a new ordinance that would raise the minimum wage in the county from $7.25 to $11.50 an hour by 2017. The new wage will be phased in, rising to $8.40 in October 2014, $9.55 in 2015, $10.75 in 2016 and $11.50 in 2017. After the full phase-in is complete, the annual minimum wage for a 40-hour-a-week worker in the county will be $23,600. Prince George’s County also voted 7–0, with two members absent, to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $11.50 over the next four years.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett confirmed he will sign the bill into law. Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III has expressed concerns about raising the minimum wage and has said he wants the issue to be decided by Maryland General Assembly and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) for statewide action.

Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large), the bill’s primary sponsor, said he was satisfied with the outcome: “I’m very happy. It’s substantively what I wanted. You can make a big difference to people.”

The District of Columbia, which holds a preliminary vote on Dec. 3—is also expected to raise their minimum wage in the near future.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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5 Shutdown Stories You Need to Read. Tell Us Yours

The nearly two-week-old government shutdown, engineered by House tea party Republicans, is hurting everyday working people and their families. The 800,000 federal workers and tens of thousands of government-contracted employees shut out of their jobs and others forced to work without pay perform vital duties for the public and now are struggling to keep roofs over their heads and food on their tables.

Here are five stories you need to read from shut-out workers and about shut-down services. Click here to share your story with us. We need to make sure the GOP understands who is hurt every day this shutdown continues.

Ona is a furloughed worker from a nuclear waste cleanup site in Georgia.

We were sent home on Oct. 3 and told not to come back until called back. This could be weeks….These people are the hands-on workers that are well trained to perform the difficult tasks of shutting down these waste tanks and setting things right so their kids and their kids’ kids don’t have to deal with it years down the road….I will not be surprised if some of them do not make it back and we will have lost some very well-trained and dedicated workers to this furlough situation.

Read more from Ona.

Jessica’s husband is the sole source of income for the California couple.

He works for a military base about half an hour from our home. After dealing with six weeks of furloughs from sequestration and losing $1,100/month, we fell behind in bills. Because of the shutdowns, we are now looking at our phones being shut off, cable and Internet being shut off and being left with no choice but to voluntarily repo our car.

Cesar is a furloughed federal worker in Florida.

I am the sole income earner in my family. I have two boys, and contrary to what is being said by right-wing talk show hosts, I and many of my fellow federal colleagues do not earn six-figure salaries. We are in the process of buying a home, and I will now have to dip into money that we have saved up to buy our home to get by until Republicans decide to re-open our government.

Read more from Cesar.

Emily is a young furloughed federal worker in Washington, D.C.

The sequester and now the shutdown have been disheartening and have strained my finances to the point that I will need to borrow from my parents—out of their retirement fund—to make rent. I’ve also had to put off seeing specialists for a chronic health issue that won’t quite be covered by my high-option insurance plan. Financial strain aside, public service is my passion, not just how I earn a paycheck—I love my job and just want to get back to work, doing my utmost to serve my fellow Americans and protect the environment for us all.

David is an organizer in New York.

I have been working with a group of residential workers who have been fighting for a year to form a union. The company has committed numerous illegal acts, attempting to intimidate and threaten workers. One employee illegally had his hours cut. The National Labor Relations Board just filed a complaint and was close to a settlement that would have gotten this worker over $1,500 in back pay that the company had kept from him. But with the shutdown, this worker won’t get his money any time soon. Additionally, the board cannot process the new charges filed. Justice delayed is justice denied.

Click here to share your story with us.

Photo from AFGE on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Huge Rally Tells Congress ‘Time Is Now’ for Immigration Reform Vote, Labor Leaders Take Arrest

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On a bright, sunny fall day on the National Mall, thousands of immigrants—including many families with young children—union members and community and faith activists delivered a message to the lawmakers inside the U.S. Capitol, just blocks up the street: “The time is now” for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform with a road map to citizenship.

The Camino Americano concert and march for immigration reform included a peaceful action of civil disobedience when the immigrant, union and faith leaders and lawmakers, leading the march after the rally, staged a sit-down in front of the U.S. Capitol and took arrest. Among those taken into custody were AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, AFT President Randi Weingarten, UNITE HERE President D. Taylor, The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA) President Bernie Lunzer, Communications Workers of America (CWA) Secretary-Treasurer Annie Hill, María Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor and several members of Congress.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Working Families Rally on Oct. 8 for Citizenship on the National Mall

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, tens of thousands of immigrant rights activists and working families are gathering on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., forCamino Americano, a concert and march for immigration reform.

Popular music acts Los Tigres del Norte and Lila Downs will perform at the concert and more than 30 members of Congress and senators will attend, including Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.). Civil Rights leader Julian Bond and other high-ranking faith leaders from diverse religious backgrounds and immigration reform leaders will be present.  

If you’re in the D.C. area, take the pledge to come to the march

WHAT:          Camino Americano: Concert and March for Dignity and Respect

WHERE:        National Mall, U.S. Capitol at 10th Street

WHEN:          Tuesday, Oct. 8, 12 p.m.–5 p.m.

For more information, visit www.octoberimmigration.org.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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‘We Want to Work’: 12 Federal Jobs That Are Vital to the Lives of America’s Families

Johnny Zuagar just wants to go back to work. It’s been 72 hours since he’s been locked out of his job at the U.S. Census Bureau in Suitland, Md., and he’s scared.

“I don’t know what bills to pay,” says Zuagar, who has two young children. “I’m afraid I might lose my house. I don’t know how it got to this.”

Zuagar and 800,000 federal workers all over the United States are locked out of their jobs because of the House Republican government shutdown. While most people think that the shutdown is focused on Washington, D.C., the reality is that about 85% of federal workers don’t work in the Washington area. In fact, the D.C. metro area is only the fourth largest concentration of federal workers (see a map of where federal workers are). Here are 12 examples of workers, some of whom are still working, are going without paychecks because of the irresponsible House Republican shutdown.

1. Washington, D.C., Capitol Police: The officers who responded to the tragic incidentnear the U.S. Capitol on Thursday are currently working without pay.  Whenever the shutdown ends, they’ll receive pay for time worked, but they don’t know when their next check will arrive.

2. Wyoming Nuclear Missile Support Staff: More than 1,000 support staff at a base that houses Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles were furloughed. While people who directly work in national security-related jobs stayed working, others, like map technician Thomas Sweeney, were sent home. The absence of Sweeney and others isn’t as benign as some members of Congress would have you believe: “As for civilians who work for the (Defense Department) and support our national security, furloughs and pay freezes are equally serious and threatening to our national security, especially at a time of war,” American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger said.

3. Florida Air Safety: Jennifer Martin is a member of the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS) and computer specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration in Melbourne, Fla. Martin develops and maintains software applications to monitor equipment like air-to-ground and ground-to-ground communications and surveillance. She and her co-workers, who include aviation safety inspectors, are dedicated federal employees who want to return to their jobs where they can “serve the nation, and provide for our families.” Martin says while they are locked out of their jobs, the safety of flying public may be at risk.

4. Missouri Mortgage Assistance for Rural Homeowners: Nicole Starr, a single mother of three, was locked out from her job helping low-income rural homeowners pay their mortgages. She says she’s very proud of the job she has helping people. “Now I’m in the same position as the people I help,” she says. “I feel like I am watching our community fall apart.”

5. New York Toxic Waste Cleanup: The Environmental Protection Agency was scheduled to begin the process of helping residents near the Eighteen Mile Creek Superfund site move to homes that are uncontaminated with asbestos, PCBs, lead and chromium—hazards they currently live with—but the shutdown has stopped the process. The local community involvement coordinator Mike Basile says he doesn’t know when things will move forward. “I don’t know. I can’t find out because it’s so chaotic today.”

6. Montana Native American Programs: Leaders of the Crow Tribe laid off hundreds of workers who perform home health care for the elderly and people with disabilities, bus service for rural areas and other projects. “It’s going to get hard,” says Shar Simpson, who leads the Crow’s home health care program. “We’re already taking calls from people saying, ‘Who’s going to take care of my mom? Who’s going to take care of my dad?’”

7. Illinois Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Agencies: The state’s Department of Human Services has enough money to fund WIC for about two weeks, after that, it won’t be able to afford to buy baby formula that it provides to more than 600 single mothers.

8. Idaho Missing Woman Search: Jo Elliott-Blakeslee, 63, was missing at Craters of the Moon National Monument and the search was temporarily called off after furloughs set in. Law prohibits federal government employees from volunteering for the search, since it would be unfunded work, so the remaining monument staff are trying to recruit capable volunteers from outside their office.

9. National Labor Relations Board: Lynn Rhinehart, general counsel of the AFL-CIO, says the NLRB, the government agency that helps protect workers’ rights, cannot process unfair labor practice charges or hold elections. There are no hearings taking place when employers violate workers’ rights. And workers who were scheduled to vote in elections about getting a union on the job are having those elections pushed off. “Basically,” says Rhinehart, “there is no labor law right now.”

10. South Dakota National Guard: The majority of the National Guard employees in South Dakota have been laid off, which spokesman Maj. Anthony Deiss says will hurt their ability to maintain vehicles, aircraft, and other equipment, and could impact training for regular guard members.

11. California air disaster investigations: The National Transportation Safety Board suspended its investigation into the crash of a private jet in Santa Monica that killed four people.

12. Minnesota Social Security Offices: Offices are closed and residents like Jeff Williams can’t get new or replacement Social Security cards or proof of income letters. “I can’t shut down and not take care of this little one,” he says, referring to his daughter. “I mean, they’re the government. They’re supposed to be taking care of us.”

Listen to a rally today from outside the U.S. Capitol, where locked-out workers tell Congress they want to get back to work, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addresses House Republican irresponsibility:

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Government Shutdown: The Mixtape!

Washington, D.C., DJ Kid Cannibal, whose father Chris Garlock works for theMetropolitan Washington Council, created a hip-hop mixtape to have a little fun with the House Republican shutdown of the federal government. While the shutdown is serious business that hurts real people, take a few minutes out to have a laugh (and maybe dance a little), then tell House Speaker John Boehner to stop being irresponsible and end the shutdown. Kid Cannibal DJs at various night clubs, including the Rock & Roll Hotel, Recess, Bar 7 and Federal Lounge, and notes that none of them are currently shut down.

Here’s the track listing, with the DJ’s commentary:

  • 1.  Jay-Z – Open Letter (To Congress)
  • 2.  Notorious B.I.G. – Unbelievable (That you can’t pass funding)
  • 3.  Busta Rhymes – (Representatives) Get Out
  • 4.  DMX – Ruff Ryders’ Anthem (Shut ‘Em Down)
  • 5.  Nas, featuring Lauryn Hill – If I Ruled the World (I’d do better than this)
  • 6.  Total – (You’ll Be) Sitting Home
  • 7.  Drake – Hold On (You’re Going Home Early)
  • 8.  TLC – Ain’t too Proud to Beg (To just pass the damn bill already)
  • 9.  Gwen Guthrie – Ain’t Nothin’ Goin’ on but the Rent (Please don’t furlough me)
  • 10. Eric B. & Rakim – Follow the Leader (Just do it already)
  • 11. Kid ‘N Play – Do This My Way (Or not, I guess)
  • 12. Michael Jackson – (They’re all just) Smooth Criminal(s)
  • 13. Daft Punk – (Let’s all vote) One More Time

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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