Albuquerque City Council Votes to Strengthen Minimum Wage Enforcement

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Employers who don’t pay the Albuquerque minimum wage could now face jail time or other penalties, as per a new city ordinance approved late Thursday night by a 7-2 measure.

The ordinance comes after months of organizing by Working America to increase awareness on the lack of enforcement. The measure now goes to Mayor Richard Berry for his consideration.

The minimum wage increase became effective in early 2013, but there have been complaints from workers and community members alike that employers haven’t abided by the new law, essentially committing wage theft and cheating workers out of the raises they’re owed.

Currently, the minimum wage in Albuquerque is $8.60 per hour and the tipped wage is $5.16. Both are indexed to the cost of living.

“In 2012, our members worked hard to pass the minimum wage increase, so it was both frustrating and baffling when employers flouted the law without penalty,” said Working America state director Jared Ames.

Now that stricter penalties are coming down the pipeline, there’s hope that workers may be able to get the pay increases that they deserve.

“This shows they are on the side of working class families and I’m excited to see them take steps in the right direction,” said Working America member and tipped worker Israel Chavez, who testified before the City Council.

Since the wage increase became law, Working America has been on the front lines, fighting for the enforcement of the law and attempting to hold the city accountable.

“Working America has led the effort to draw attention to the lack of enforcement, and mobilized its members at city council meetings and actions. This victory is one more indication that we can make an impact by letting our voices be heard,” Ames said.

Working America members have also helped raise wages in Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties, despite Gov. Susana Martinez vetoing a statewide minimum wage increase passed in 2013.

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How Speaker Boehner Is Making Life Harder for Potential NFL Player Michael Sam

In February, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to be considered for the NFL draft. If he is drafted, he will make history by becoming the first openly gay player in the National Football League.

Luckily for Sam, the NFL has a company-wide policy banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. Unfortunately, however, the country as a whole has no such law: in 29 states you can be fired for being gay (or perceived as gay) and in 33 states you can be fired for being transgender.

If Michael Sam is drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Houston Texans, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals, or Carolina Panthers, he will work in a state where most LGBT people have no workplace protections (13 other teams operate in cities that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, but where there are no such statewide laws).

Statewide LGBT employment protections currently:

Bloomberg’s Joshua Green laid out Michael Sam’s predicament in a February 12 Boston Globe op-ed:

Sam essentially has no say in where he’ll work, since whichever team drafts him will have exclusive rights to his services. No federal law prevents employers from discriminating against him on the basis of his sexuality. So he’s uniquely exposed to the vagaries of state laws — or, in many cases, the lack of one. If Sam winds up with, say, the New England Patriots, he’ll be protected by the laws that prohibit workplace discrimination in Massachusetts and 20 other states. But if he’s drafted by the Atlanta Falcons, he won’t be, since Georgia does not ban discrimination.

The lack of coherence in the law Green points out could be solved, at almost any point in time, by Speaker John Boehner.

In November 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) with a huge bipartisan majority of 64-votes. ENDA would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation nationwide, solving the “vagaries of state laws” problem Michael Sam and millions of other LGBT Americans face daily.

Unfortunately, Speaker Bohener has yet to introduce it in the House. “The speaker believes this legislation will increase frivolous litigation and cost American jobs,” said Boehner’s spokesperson.

On this issue, Boehner is on the wrong side of public opinion. 70 percent of Americans believe LGBT people face “a lot” or “some” discrimination at work, and 73 percent favor laws that would protect LGBT from discrimination at the workplace.

With any luck, Sam will be drafted by a team in a city where he would be protected as a football player, a schoolteacher, or a fast food worker equally. But chances are that he will remain exposed to legal discrimination, as will LGBT players who come after him, unless Boehner is convinced that the issue is not as “frivolous” as he thinks it is.

Photo by @BuzzFeed on Twitter

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Los Angeles Becomes the First City with More Than a Dozen Unionized Carwashes

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With more than a dozen local carwashes now unionized, Los Angeles workers are leading the way for union carwashes. The 133 new unionized carwasheros are represented by the United Steelworkers Local 675. The carwash owners where these employees work also have agreed by contract to comply with all labor, health and safety regulations and give their workers a 2% raise. Workers are now able to enforce these working standards by themselves through a grievance procedure.

The California Labor Federation explains why this is such an important step forward:

Unfortunately, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws leading to unsafe and unhealthy workplaces for workers and the communities they serve. In March 2008, the Los Angeles Times reported the results of an investigation of the carwash industry, finding that many owners pay less than half of the required minimum wage, and that two-thirds of those inspected by the state’s labor department since 2003 were out of compliance with one or more labor laws. Although some violations were minor, others were fundamental: underpaying workers, hiring minors, operating without workers’ compensation insurance, and denying workers meal and rest breaks.

Carwash workers in Los Angeles are overwhelmingly Latino immigrants and their work is very labor intensive. On a typical weekday, a carwash may service up to 500 cars. The workers must work at a fast pace for long periods of time, often drenched in water and exposed to high summer temperatures. In order to wash and clean such a high number of vehicles, carwash employers routinely violate basic labor laws, such as those requiring rest breaks or providing shade and clean drinking water.

See the map below for the new unionized carwashes:

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Biggest Struggle With Working In Retail Isn’t Low Wages

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The retail sector is notorious for low wages and high turnover. But one of the most troubling aspects of working for retail is scheduling.

Many big retail stores use computer systems that use data from the weather outside, the flow of customers in the store, and the rate of sales to determine how many employees are needed for any given time.

This sort of automation is intended to boost the store’s bottom line. But for retail workers, who are often parents who need to hire babysitters, students who have tuition payments due, or people just trying to juggle shifts with two jobs, the “just-in-time” scheduling system wreaks havoc on their lives.

Watch and share this video from our friends at the Retail Action Project, and text JOBS to 30644 to join the fight for dignity at work for all.

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New FLOC Campaign Brings Justice to N.C. Tobacco Farm Workers

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Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez’s appearance before British American Tobacco’s shareholders meeting in London on Wednesday kicks off a new intensive campaign to win justice and workers’ rights for thousands of farm workers in North Carolina.

Many farm workers who harvest and tend tobacco often live in labor camps with inadequate or nonfunctioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below-poverty wages.

Velasquez says the new initiative “will ensure Reynolds American takes real action to give American farm workers the voice they deserve.”

At the London meeting Velasquez and a number of allies, including the AFL-CIO and the global union movement, will urge British American Tobacco to use its influence as a 42% stakeholder in Reynolds American Inc. (and a major customer) to persuade Reynolds to respect and protect the human and workers’ rights of its migrant tobacco farm workers and to meet international labor standards, including the right to freedom of association and worker representation.

On May 8, several hundred FLOC members and supporters will march and rally outside the Reynolds American’s shareholder meeting in Raleigh, N.C. On that day, more than 50 FLOC supporters, including the NAACP and other civil rights and faith leaders will question Reynolds American CEO Daniel Delen about what FLOC says is his failure to guarantee freedom of association.

This summer, FLOC organizers and members will reach out to the estimated 5,000 North Carolina farm workers in the tobacco industry and help them gain a voice on the job. The “Respect, Recognition, Raise!” campaign will highlight farm worker demands for dignified working conditions and adequate housing, recognition of the right to join a union and negotiate with their employer for fair terms and the raising of wages to an equal and fair wage for all workers.

In late July, two of the 41 members of the British Parliament who have supported the fight for farm worker justice, will join Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio) and FLOC leaders in tour of the tobacco labor camps.

Click here and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to British American Tobacco Chairman Richard Burrows asking him to urge Reynolds to guarantee the human right to freedom of association and worker representation on its contract farms by signing an agreement with FLOC.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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FLOC Takes Fight for U.S. Tobacco Workers’ Rights to England

Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC) President Baldemar Velasquez will be in London, England, on Wednesday to urge British American Tobacco (BAT) to use its influence as a 42% stakeholder in Reynolds American Inc. (and a major customer) to persuade the company to respect and protect the human and workers’ rights of its migrant tobacco farm workers.

You can add your voice to the chorus of those urging BAT to take responsibility for ensuring the rights of workers in its supply chain. Click here and sign a petition from the International Union of Food Workers (IUF) to BAT CEO Richard Burrows asking him to urge Reynolds to guarantee the human right to freedom of association and worker representation on its contract farms by signing an agreement with FLOC.

A 2011 report by Oxfam America and FLOC, A State of Fear: Human Rights Abuses in North Carolina’s Tobacco Industry, showed that many farm workers often live in labor camps with inadequate or non-functioning toilets and showers and other substandard conditions, suffer from illnesses resulting from nicotine poisoning and exposure to dangerous pesticides and work long hours for below poverty wages.

At the annual BAT stockholders meeting Velasquez, along with a number of union allies, including the AFL-CIO, will challenge British American Tobacco on its labor practices in the supply chain and the need to implement concrete measures to ensure that farm workers can exercise their fundamental rights in accordance with international labor standards.

The living and working conditions on tobacco farms are often deplorable. Reynolds American claims that it ensures acceptable conditions on its supplier farms, but Velasquez said that independent worker representation is the only way to sustain real improvements and full respect for workers’ rights.

FLOC has a serious proposal to address rights and conditions on tobacco farms and he said BAT should play its role in making sure Reynolds and other tobacco companies engage with us about the workers’ concerns.

Photo by Farm Labor Organizing Committee on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers Memorial Day: Honor the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living

Workers Memorial Day: Honor the Dead, Fight Like Hell for the Living

Today is the 25th annual Workers Memorial Day, and around the country workers, workplace safety activists and community and faith leaders are honoring the men and women killed on the job and renewing their commitment to continuing the campaign for strong job safety laws and tough enforcement of those laws.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says Workers Memorial Day honors “the ultimate sacrifices working people make to achieve the American Dream.”

No worker should die on the job. Every one of the 150 working men and women who die every day from injury or occupational disease serve as a constant reminder of the dangers too many face at the workplace.

There have been major improvements in the workplace safety rules and significant reduction in fatalities, injuries and illness on the job since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began operations and the Occupational Safety and Health Act went into effect April 28, 1971.

But those key workplace safety milestones didn’t just happen. They came about because workers and their unions organized, fought and demanded action from employers and their government. Virtually every safety and health protection on the books today is there because of working men and women who joined together in unions.

Much more still needs to be done.

In 2012, 4,628 workers lost their lives on the job (up from the 4,400 previously reported). But that is only a part of the deadly toll. Each year, 50,000 workers die from occupational diseases caused by exposures to toxic chemicals and other health hazards. That’s a total of 150 workers dying each and every day.

Some employers cut corners and violate the law, putting workers in serious danger and costing lives. Workers who report job hazards or job injuries are fired or disciplined. Employers contract out dangerous work to try to avoid responsibility. As a result, each year thousands of workers are killed and millions more get injured or contract diseases because of their jobs.

The Obama administration has moved forward to strengthen protections with tougher enforcement and a focus on workers’ rights. Also much-needed safeguards stalled for years due to business opposition have finally started to advance, including a new proposed OSHA silica standard to protect workers from this deadly dust that causes disabling lung disease.

But other protections from workplace hazards have stalled in the face of fierce attacks by business groups and the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives who have launched an all-out attack on all government regulation and safeguards.

Trumka said that as the nation remembers those who have died on the job:

We should rededicate ourselves to holding companies accountable for putting profits over people, and we must demand stronger safety standards in the workplace. Until every worker, from the farm to the factory, is guaranteed the peace of mind of a safe workplace, our job will never truly be done.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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UConn Students Lead the Way on Collective Action

From the classroom to the basketball court, the University of Connecticut community is widely embracing the concept of collective action. The school that set the standard for basketball excellence this year by winning both the men’s and the women’s national championships is making news as the college’s students are stepping up and acting collectively to improve their lives.”

Graduate employees at the university won a victory last week as the state Board of Labor Relations verified that more than half of the graduate students who work as teaching or research assistants had signed cards authorizing the Graduate Employee Union (UAW) to represent them. UConn is the first school in the state where grad assistants have successfully unionized and, with more than 2,100 assistants, the unit becomes the largest at the college, outpacing the 1,700 members of the faculty union and 1,600 members of the staff union. The graduate employees say that the college has stayed neutral in the process and didn’t oppose the union as other colleges have. Among the top concerns the new union members plan to address with college officials are the recent increases in health insurance co-payments and student fees.

Madelynn von Baeyer, a member of the organizing committee, says: “I think it’s wonderful that UConn came out and recognized our right to collectively bargain. Being recognized, we’re hopeful to enter a new mature relationship with the university that will improve not only (the) experience as a graduate employee, but will benefit the university by bringing in top-quality graduate employees for future years.”

The UConn graduate assistants are the latest group to win a union voice. More than 1.200 NYU graduate employees voted to join the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW (GSOC/UAW) and Scientists and Engineers Together/UAW (SET/UAW) in December and grad assistants on several other campuses seeking union representation.

In related news at UConn, basketball player Shabazz Napier made headlines after his team won the championship last month when he told reporters that because of NCAA limitations on what players can do, he often goes to bed hungry at night. While the rule had been in the works prior to Napier’s comments, the college athletics governing body approved changes that will allow student athletes to have unlimited meals and snacks. The rule should clear up a muddled environment where a school like Oklahoma, rather than run afoul of the NCAA, self-reported that three players ate too much pasta at a graduation banquet and were required to each donate $3.83 to charity to make sure they weren’t accused of taking illegal gifts. The new rule should prevent future such misunderstandings and guarantee that student athletes have enough food to eat.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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JetBlue Pilots Vote to Take Off with ALPA

The more than 2,600 pilots at JetBlue Airways have voted overwhelmingly to join the Air Line Pilots (ALPA), the National Mediation Board announced today.

Captains Gustavo Rivera and Rocky Durham, co-chairs of the JetBlue Organizing Committee, said:

Today, JetBlue pilots have voted for ALPA representation so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers. As committed as we are to our objectives, we also want to work with management to ensure we continue to contribute positively to JetBlue’s success. We believe in JetBlue and look forward to helping make this company one of the best.

Capt. Lee Moak, president of ALPA, said the win shows the strong desire of JetBlue pilots to secure a meaningful voice in their future, the certainty of a collective bargaining agreement and the resources needed to be relevant.

ALPA welcomes the JetBlue pilots. [ALPA] is ready to work with JetBlue pilots achieve their goals. They make our union stronger by adding their unified voices to [ALPA's] strong bargaining and advocacy efforts.

Of the 96% of pilots eligible to vote, 71% voted for ALPA.

Watch a video statement from Capt. Moak.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers File Complaint Under New Houston Wage Theft Ordinance

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On Tuesday, a group of workers organized to file a complaint under the new Houston wage theft ordinance.

Erik Lopez and 12 other workers, in collaboration with the Faith and Justice Worker Center, claim that they’re owed $200,000 in unpaid wages, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The group, who did sub-contracting work on city projects, claim that they were forced to work 80 hour work weeks with no overtime, denied tax forms, and paid with personal checks and cash in an attempt to keep them off the books.

“(My boss) would tell me it didn’t really suit him to pay me overtime,” said Lopez, 30, a native of Guerrero state in Mexico, who came to Houston 14 years ago seeking work. “I worked all the time, but we struggled paying our bills.”

Lopez notes that alone, he probably lost out on $40,000 due to his employers’ negligence.

“I always wanted to do something about it, because it’s not right,” he said. “But I was afraid.”

In November, Lopez heard about the wage ordinance and decided to take action.

Working America was instrumental in the passing of a wage ordinance that brings wage theft cases to the forefront while banning violators from obtaining contracts, permits and licenses with the city.

For months, we petitioned and organized workers in hopes of holding businesses accountable for taking advantage of working families.

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