Grand Budapest Hotel’s Story of Worker Solidarity

Wes Anderson’s new film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a lovely paean to a lost era but it’s also a subtle story of workers and worker solidarity.

Set mostly in the 1930′s in the fictional central European nation of Zubrowka, the film’s heroes are the concierge and lobby-boy at the Grand Budapest, a luxurious hotel where bejewelled and top-hatted Old European nobles — the 1% of the day — enjoy the finer things in life.

As usual in Anderson’s films, the story, as convoluted and entertaining as it is, is less important than the quirky characters and intricately detailed sets on which the film plays out. After all the rushing about, what stands out this time is the sympathetic portrayal of the nobility of the work done by what today are simply called service workers.

While Grand Budapest concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) is tyrannical and exacting in his attention to every detail in the vast hotel — click here for Gustave’s lobby-boy job interview while walking briskly through the lobby issuing commands in all directions — he is also fiercely loyal to his fellow workers, which not only sets the film’s main plotline in motion but ultimately exacts a costly price. And when Gustave winds up in prison, his dedication to his work there quickly earns him the loyalty of even the most hardened prisoners. The unwavering commitment of young lobby-boy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) to his job, to the hotel as an institution and to Gustave as his boss and colleague, will be perfectly understandable to any union hotel worker today.

Young Zero’s apprenticeship as a lobby-boy and the pastry-maker’s dedication to her craft also resonate as memories of bygone days when work had implicit dignity in a job well-done and respected, if not by the oblivious hotel guests then by other workers.

In one of the best scenes in the film, Gustave, on the lam and stranded in the middle of no-where, activates the network of European hotel concierges to rescue him. It’s the sort of organization that would probably have been called a guild or mutual aid society in those days. A union, in other words.

All filmmaking by definition is teamwork among professionals and colleagues in which everyone has a job and must effectively carry out that work both individually and as part of the collective whole. Anderson, like his protaganist, is legendary for both his work ethic and attention to detail as well as for his generous collegiality, and that solidarity shines through brilliantly, on-screen and off, in “Grand Budapest.”

Chris Garlock is the Director of the DC Labor FilmFest, celebrating its 14th year in May-June 2014 and this year anchoring the first annual DC LaborFest, a monthlong celebration of labor arts and culture in May 2014. Details at www.dclabor.org

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Hip-Hop Star Common to Perform in Support of Nissan Workers

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Hip-hop star Common, famous for songs like “I Used to Love H.E.R.” and acting roles such as “Terminator Salvation” and “Happy Feet Too,” is performing as part of a free show in support of workers who are organizing for a voice on the job at the Nissan plant in Canton, Miss. The workers are pushing for a vote to organize as part of the UAW. The show will take place Friday at 8 p.m. at the Jackson State University’s Rose E. McCoy Auditorium. Common will be joined on stage by actor Danny Glover and local musicians and leaders.

UAW is engaged in an ongoing campaign to get a union vote at the Nissan Canton location. Workers at the Mississippi plant say the company relies too heavily on temporary workers who get reduced pay and benefits. Nissan’s business practice of staffing plants with a high percentage of temporary workers, who earn lower wages, have limited benefits and have no job security, won’t strengthen families and grow communities. They also say that Nissan is engaging in a campaign to intimidate workers to stay away from the union and imply that the plant will close if the union vote is successful.

Read more about Nissan: This Is What a Job in the U.S.’s New Manufacturing Industry Looks Like and the Nissan organizing campaign: www.choosejustice.com.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

 

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AFL-CIO and Working Families Lead Efforts Across the Country to Raise the Minimum Wage

Photo via All-Nite Images/Flickr

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., are doing their best to stop a federal increase to the minimum wage, working families and their allies across the country are fighting to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. America’s working families consistently support a minimum wage increase, supporting the idea that jobs should lift workers out of poverty, conservatives continue to rely upon disproven criticisms of increasing the wage. But Americans aren’t buying the conservative lies and are demanding that Congress and the president raise the wage for millions of workers, including tipped workers. And many of them aren’t waiting for Washington to get the job done, they’re taking action across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009 and wages for tipped workers have been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Here’s the latest news on the push for a higher minimum wage across the nation:

Alaska: More than 43,000 signatures were collected in favor of an August ballot initiative that would raise the wage to $9.75 over two years, with an annual increase for inflation.

Arkansas: Labor and community groups are pushing for a ballot measure that would raise the the state minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) proposed increasing the wage to $10.10 an hour. The legislature is now considering the bill.

Idaho: Labor and community groups are working on legislation that would increase the wage in the state that has the highest percentage of minimum wage employees in the nation.

Iowa: With the rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25!” working families in Iowa are pushing for a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

Los Angeles: The Raise L.A. campaign is working on raising the minimum salaries of hotel workers to $15 an hour while the L.A. County Federation invited Pope Francis to visit the city to help champion economic equality for low-wage workers.

Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has joined with Raise Maryland in calling for the state’s wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. They also are calling for tipped workers to earn at least 70% of the minimum wage.

Massachusetts: The Raise-Up Massachusetts campaign is collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot and is organizing a low-wage worker listening tour.

Minnesota: Working families and their allies are pushing to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, with future increases tied to inflation.

Missouri: Low-wage and tipped workers organized and testified at a critical committee hearing for a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The bill is active in the state Senate.

Nebraska: The legislature is considering a package of bills backed by local labor groups that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and require employers to provide paid sick days.

New Hampshire: The state’s labor movement and community allies have made raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour one of their top priorities for 2014.

Pennsylvania: A community coalition launched a campaign to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Seattle: Working families in Seattle are trying to recreate the success of allies in SeaTac in an effort to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.

South Dakota: The South Dakota AFL-CIO and allies successfully placed a minimum wage increase on the ballot that will be voted on in November, raising the state’s wage to $8.50 with an annual cost-of-living increase.

West Virginia: The legislature passed a bill championed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO that would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 and would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Do you think America needs a raise? Sign the petition

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Obama Seeks to Restore Overtime Pay for Millions of Workers Denied Under Bush-Era Rules

Pete Souza. The Official White House Photostream/Wikimedia

In 2004, President George W. Bush, at the urging of business groups, used his executive powers to change overtime eligibility rules and allow businesses to deny overtime for millions of workers. Tomorrow, President Barack Obama is expected to announce that he will direct the U.S. Department of Labor to update overtime eligibility rules to restore overtime protection that workers have lost to inflation since 1975.

Under federal overtime regulations, workers who earn less than a certain salary level are generally entitled to overtime protection. For decades after enactment of the federal overtime law in 1938, this salary threshold was updated every few years as a routine matter. However, the last regular adjustment to the salary level was made by President Gerald R. Ford in 1975. No further adjustments were made for the next 29 years, and as a result, workers’ overtime protections have been steadily eroded by inflation.

Obama is expected to announce tomorrow that the Labor Department will update the salary threshold for overtime eligibility. Above this salary level, workers may be denied overtime protection if they are considered executive management, administrative management or professionals. Below this salary level, workers cannot be denied overtime protection for these reasons.

However, it is not clear how much the president will propose to increase the salary level. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has recommended an increase to $970 per week ($50,440 per year), which would restore all of the overtime protection lost to inflation since 1975.

New York and California already require companies to pay overtime to anyone earning less than $600 and $640 per week, respectively. Those salary levels are set to increase to $675 and $800 per week by 2016.

The current federal threshold of $455 per week—or $23,660 per year—is ridiculously low. It is barely above the federal poverty level for a family of four. A White House official explained that overtime protections have eroded to such an extent that millions of workers who should not be denied overtime protection are being left unprotected.

For example, a convenience store manager or a fast-food shift supervisor or an office worker may be expected to work 50 or 60 hours a week or more, making barely enough to keep a family out of poverty, and not receive a dime of overtime pay.

EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey says many of the workers who would benefit from restored overtime protection are insurance clerks, secretaries, low-level managers, social workers, bookkeepers, dispatchers, sales and marketing assistants and employees in scores of other occupations.

As the rules stand now, an assistant manager at a fast-food restaurant who spends 95 percent of his (or her) time cooking fries, running a cash register, sweeping floors and moving supplies into and out of the freezer can be denied any overtime pay and work 60 or 70 hours a week if his salary is at least $23,660 a year. Because he is exempt [from overtime protection], the hourly rate of his salary can fall below the minimum wage; “executives” are excluded from minimum wage protection, too.

Last December, President Obama called attention to growing economic inequality in America and declared that making sure the economy works for working people is the defining challenge of our time and drives everything he does as president. With Republicans blocking the legislative agenda he campaigned on in 2012, the president has vowed to act within his executive powers to make sure the economy workers for everyone. Today’s announcement follows on the heels of his January executive order requiring federal contractors on all new or renewed contracts to pay their workers at least $10.10 an hour.

Also Democrats in Congress and the president are attempting to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. If you think workers deserve a raise, sign this petition.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Bus Drivers Win $350 Million Lawsuit, By Banning Together

Have you ever thought about how much money your employer is saving when you perform job duties off the clock?

Well, a group of bus drivers in Baltimore banned together and won a $350 million wage theft case against their employer, Durham School Services, for that exact reason.

From 2011 to 2013 Durham failed to pay workers overtime for things like bus inspections, cleanings and fueling, In These Times reports.

“We work hard and don’t make a lot of money to begin with,” Rosedale driver Martin Fox commented in a union press statement. “For many of us, the pay we didn’t receive was the difference between being able to pay the electric bill and having food on the table for our families. We are glad to finally win back the pay that was stolen from us.”

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 750 has been trying to organize drivers and aides for quite some time. The union was instrumental in getting the workers to file suit, and the union hopes that this move will be a stepping stone in the unionization process.

As it pertains to Durham School Services, there are several instances of this type of behavior. Worker complaints have been recorded in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Florida. In 2011, California school bus drivers won a class action suit against Durham for $7 million in lost wages.

Photo courtesy of woodleywonderworks on Flickr

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It’s a Great Time to Own a Business, and a Terrible Time to Be An Employee

Corporations and corporate CEO’s are making money.

This information likely comes as a surprise to no one, but what is surprising is that, in an economy that still feels pretty weak, corporations are making this much money.

U.S. corporate profits are the highest they’ve been in 60 years, and according to a U.S. economist those profits are linked to ridiculously low hourly wages.

“The strength (in profits) is directly related to the weakness in hourly wages, which are still growing at just a 2% nominal pace. The weakness of wages and the resulting strength of profits are telling signs that the US labor market is still far from full employment,” says Jan Hatzius, U.S. economist at Goldman Sachs.

For all of you visual learners, the charts offer an excellent illustration of exactly how outrageous corporate profits are compared to the low and slow to grow, wages of American workers.

Although many business owners are against raising the minimum wage, there’s evidence to support that raising the wage would actually help businesses by decreasing turnover and increasing productivity.

A few weeks ago, The Gap decided to increase its hourly wage to $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2015, CEO Glenn Murphy noted that it would deliver a return many times over.

Let’s put an end to the ever growing income gap in this country and Raise the Wage.

 

 

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The Shameful U.S. Record on Temporary Worker Protections

In the past decade, temporary work arrangements grew steadily in the United States—20% since 2003. In 2013, there were 2,673,800 workers employed in the temp industry, which accounted for 24% of all job growth in the United States during the tepid economic recovery from 2009 to 2012. Often these workers perform the same work as permanent employees for lower wages, little training, no benefits and no promise of security. Unfortunately,according to a recent ProPublica investigation, the United States lags far behind other industrialized countries in labor protections for temporary workers. Of 43 “developed and emerging economies” tracked by the OECD, the United States ranks near the bottom, at 41st, for temporary worker protections.

While temporary work and other forms of independent contracting offer some workers desired flexibility, most temporary workers are caught in a precarious gap in labor protections and lack needed workplace stability. From low-wage maintenance work to highly paid tech jobs, the growth of temporary work has pervaded the labor market. The AFL-CIO’s Department for Professional Employees reports more than 7.7 million self-employed and temporary workers are employed in management, professional and related occupations. Temp workers at Microsoft, for example, have long protested their “permatemp” status at the company, where many have worked for years receiving less pay for the same work as regular employees, with no benefits or paid time off and little hope of moving into regular employment.

On the other end of the wage spectrum, workers often toil in unsafe conditions with little training, as companies outsource entire segments of their blue-collar workforce to staffing firms. Workers who are cheated out of wages or have safety complaints frequently do not know where to turn, as their true employer is masked through numerous subcontracting relationships throughout a supply chain. Some 542 temp workers were fatally injured on the job in 2011; Latino temp workers represented 28% of those deaths.

Immigrant workers are especially susceptible to abuse, as they may be unaware of their labor rights or fear immigration enforcement. Many have reported having to pay fees to fly-by-night staffing firms that charge workers for van transport to unknown job sites. Immigrant workers also frequently access the labor market through international labor recruiters, who have been known to charge high fees, confiscate travel documents, issue threats and commit other forms of abuse that have even resulted in human trafficking.

The growth of temp work arrangements is the product of deliberate corporate practices and policies that have been implemented within the context of privatization, deregulation and flexibilization of labor laws. There are numerous efforts to reverse these trends. The International Labor Organization is examining temporary work this summer as part of an effort to encourage the transition from the informal to formal economy. National governments, too, have made efforts well beyond the United States to combat exploitative temp work arrangements. For example:

  • At least 12 countries have banned companies from hiring temps in dangerous industries or to do hazardous work.
  • Unlike the United States, about three-quarters of the countries tracked by OECD require temp agencies to register or become licensed before they can begin sending out workers.
  • European Union countries mandated that temp workers receive equal pay and working conditions to employees hired directly by the company;
  • Nearly half of the 43 countries in the OECD study restrict the duration of temp assignments, ranging from three months to three years.

In the United States, workers have won promising gains in an uphill battle. Through collective action, taxi workers, day laborers, home care workers and adjunct faculty have improved their working conditions and formed collective representation on the job. At the state level in the United States, workers have pushed lawmakers to pass laws targeting employee misclassification, including laws that assign joint responsibility to temp agencies as employers, or forbid agreements where businesses know the agency does not have sufficient funds for all applicable regulations. At a time when inequality is at the top of the administration’s agenda, federal agencies and lawmakers must make every effort to reflect these good practices and extend worker protections to temp workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Food Store Worker Fired for Disagreeing with North Carolina Governor While at Work

In yet another example of the powerlessness that individual workers face, a cook has been fired for expressing his disagreement with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s politics.

On Sunday, February 16th, 45-year-old Drew Swope, a cook at the Charlotte-N.C.-based Reid’s Fine Foods, decided to speak his mind when Gov. McCory patronized his workplace. Swope told McCrory, “thanks for nothing” and the governor allegedly became incensed. Shortly after berating Swope the governor and his security reported the incident to the store manager and owner.

The store’s owner argues that Swope wasn’t fired for insulting the Governor, instead he was fired for insulting a customer;  but let’s be honest, would Swope have been fired for his comment had McCrory not been in a position of power? It’s doubtful.

In fact, this isn’t the first time that the governor has flexed his power to push an unfair agenda. In 2013 Gov. McCrory signed a bill severely limiting voting rights of North Carolina residents.  Additionally McCrory declined a $2.3 billion Medicaid expansion, instigating several Moral Monday protests.

“Yet another North Carolinian has lost a job because of the McCrory administration – adding to its record of joblessness-creation. We wonder: Does Gov. McCrory plan to bring the full force of his political office to engage in power plays with every worker he comes across?” says Carolyn Smith, North Carolina State Director at Working America.

With that being said, let’s stop letting inadequate balances of power define how we treat our workers, and instead advocate for accountability and fairness for everyone.

Update: Charlotte Mayor, Pat Cannon has stepped in to help Swope find a new job. According to the News & Observer, Cannon says that he’s not trying to get in the middle of the controversy, instead he’s doing what he can to help one of his constituents find work.

“The mayor of Charlotte, Pat Cannon, just called me and asked me to send him my resume and he’ll see if he can help me find a position,” Swope wrote on his Facebook page.

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Labor Leaders See Promise in Organizing in Texas

The AFL-CIO Executive Council is meeting in Texas this week as a sign of confidence that the southern state has great potential for workers who are organizing on the job. A Houston Chronicle profile takes a look at efforts in Texas and goals for broader organizing efforts in the South:

The AFL-CIO executive [council] has come to Texas, setting its sights on what has been inhospitable terrain and betting workers in the state can be drawn to organized labor’s efforts to raise wages.

Buoyed by the growth of the energy industry along the Gulf Coast and fortified with organizing wins at poultry plants and manufacturing parts makers, the heads of some of the nation’s largest labor unions are meeting in Texas for the first time Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hilton Americas-Houston.

Members of the executive [council] hope the labor federation can continue to notch victories across the South, either through traditional organizing or public campaigns to boost the minimum wage.

They are meeting in a city where, less than a decade ago, labor celebrated its first large-scale victory in a quarter-century when a union once affiliated with the AFL-CIO organized the janitors who clean the largest office buildings.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., said the federation wants to send the message that the labor federation is expanding its horizons to new places and to new people.

“Our focus is on raising wages,” Trumka said, claiming during a news conference Monday that “everyone from the pope to the president” is embracing the global efforts.

Read the full article.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Trumka: ‘Right-Wing Zealotry’ Played Role in VW Vote

After unprecedented interference from politicians and out-of-state extremists like Grover Norquist and the Koch brothers, workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant voted 712–626 against representation by theUAW that would have led to the establishment of a works council, the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the workers stood up to “enormous odds to try to form their own union and to create an historic new model of workplace governance.” He adds:

Unconscionably, what should have been a local workplace decision by workers and management was turned into an experiment in new forms of right-wing zealotry over issues having nothing to do with how stakeholders decided for themselves the best way to build automobiles and create a strong Chattanooga community.

While Volkswagen had agreed to remain neutral, Republican lawmakers and right-wing groups mounted a large-scale anti-union attack. UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union’s southern organizing, says:

Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee.

Says UAW President Bob King:

While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union.

Trumka says:

But, make no mistake, the closeness of the results and the courage and tenacity of union supporters prove that this election is a minor setback, and not a permanent defeat.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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