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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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.

Reposted from AFLCIO.org

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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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