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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Victory! How Working America Helped Save Four Schools From Closure

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Thanks in part to our efforts, on Thursday March 13th Working America members, in conjunction with other faith, community, and labor organizations, delivered over 500 petitions to the Houston Independent School Board protesting the proposal to close 5 neighborhood schools.

The result: the Houston Independent School District (HISD) voted to save four out of five public schools in Houston.

Many consider the decision a major victory for Houstonians who, according to the Houston Chronicle, have already witnessed HISD close 19 schools since 2010.

The HISD decision came after dozens of community protests and thousands of angry parents, teachers, and community members making their voices heard. On the day of the vote, 17 Working America members held a press conference outside of HISD Headquarters and stood in solidarity with other faith, community, and labor organizations to protest the closure of more public schools.

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WA member Sergio Serrano, who wants to send his 5 year old daughter to Dodson Elementary—a school slated for closure, spoke to the media at the press conference and testified in front of the Board of Trustees.  Elisabeth Johnson, an HISD Alumni, and Bernard Sampson, a concern community member, also testified in front of the Board. The message of, save our schools, was strong and clear across the board.

Carol McGregor, one of the seventeen members in attendance, said “It’s clear that this victory was a result of a strong community, standing up for strong public schools. The Houston School Board had no choice but to vote our way. I’m proud to be a part of Working America and a part this win.”

To get involved with Working America in Houston, contact Working America Member Coordinator, Taylor Thompson at tthompson@workingamerica.org.

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Join Us in the Fight To Save Our Schools

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) provides public education to more than 200,000 students.

Recently, HISD made a last-minute proposal to close five neighborhood schools at the end of the 2014 school year. Although three schools have been saved, a Thursday vote will determine if the remaining two schools will close.

If the board chooses to close the schools, students will be forced to travel farther from home and into Houston’s other, already overcrowded public schools. Class sizes will grow, students will receive less individual attention, and overall educational outcomes will worsen.

Texas is 49th out of all 50 states in education spending. We need to invest in our public schools, not make the situation worse than it already is.

In response to this, Working America members decided to take action by engaging local media, community members and key decision makers at the school board.

We’re hosting a press conference tomorrow to discuss the potential closing of the schools, at the HISD Administration building, 4400 W. 18th St., at 4 p.m.

Other actions we’ve taken

Our members Matthew Rigney and Elizabeth Johnson, a former HISD student and daughter of an HISD teacher, headed up outreach to fellow Working America members and the larger community. Together, they signed up 25 new Working America members at a district-sponsored meeting held for those affected by the proposed school closures.

Members also organized a phone bank to follow up with new members and invite them to join in the fight.

“The district may be able to ignore one or two people speaking out about this proposal, but they cannot ignore us all,” Rigney said. “If we really want to stop the attack on public education, we need to build our power through community support.”

Activist Mike Hicks, a single father of an HISD student, spoke out against the plan in a radio interview with KPFT 90.1FM on Friday Feb. 28, saying, “When you close a school, you ruin a community. Families with kids move out in search of other, more conveniently located schools, leaving only empty houses behind.”

Carol McGregor, activist, and mother of four public school-educated daughters, wrote a letter to the Houston Chronicle urging teachers, parents and community members to partner together to change the appalling pattern of overcrowded, underfunded schools.

“How [is the district] considering the closure of five Houston schools when more than 1,200 classrooms are overcrowded? If HISD thinks school closures and bigger classes are acceptable, we’re headed in the wrong direction,” McGregor said.

With little less than a week remaining before the vote, members have set their final plans into motion.

On Thursday, March 13, Working America members will head to Houston Independent School District’s headquarters to raise their voices about this important issue.

Take action now: send a message to the HISD and tell them to keep our schools open.

To get involved with Working America in Houston, contact Taylor Thompson, Working America Member Coordinator at tthompson@workingamerica.org.

Photo courtesy of scarlettgreen on Flickr.

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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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Governors Who Reject Medicaid Painfully Unaware of the Pain They Are Causing

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The most under-reported fact about our health care system in 2014 is this: 5 million Americans don’t have access to affordable health coverage simply because their governors (or majority of legislators) refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid expansion would cost the states nothing for the first three years, and after that time the federal government would pick up an overwhelming majority of the costs. Yet, when asked, these politicians frequently cite cost as the prohibiting factor to Medicaid expansion. That’s because the real reason would–and should–be embarrassing: they want to be seen as “tough” toward President Obama and the new health care law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion is the best and easiest way to do that.

These politicians include Rick Perry, governor of Texas, where nearly one out of four people don’t have health insurance. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is another: 700,000 Pennsylvanians are denied affordable coverage because of his opposition to expanding Medicaid.

Working America members in Pennsylvania have been active in pressuring Gov. Corbett and the legislature to change their tune. In December, our longtime member Georgeanne Koehler wrote a heartfelt letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in favor of Medicaid expansion, citing her 50 years in the health care industry. “I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics,” she wrote in the letter, which she dedicated to her late brother.

John Miklos, a member hailing from Uptown, followed up with a December 26 letter titled “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid.” John described several different common scenarios where the average working person would benefit from expansion. ”These scenarios are not imaginary,” he wrote, “People I know well live them every day.”

James Barum, another active Working America member in Pittsburgh, followed up these letters with a personal story of his own. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his letter, “Health care needs,” in Thursday’s paper. We’ve included the letter in its entirety:

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On the subject of the Dec. 27 letter “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid,” I thought that I would share a personal experience that may give readers pause on this issue.

A friend of mine works in the service industry brewing coffee. One day, when I was in line at that café to buy a drink, I saw her begin to cry while working. She was working furiously, making lattes and trying her best to meet each customer’s needs.

Somewhere in the chaos, a manager and I stopped her. In the break room, I spoke with her about what had occurred.

While picking up a tray, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her back. She always had issues with her back, and this happens to her occasionally, but never this bad. I asked if she had health insurance or could see a doctor, and she said, “No, I don’t, I’ll just have to tough it out.”

This saddened me, but when I heard about Gov. Tom Corbett’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, that sadness turned to anger — anger at the injustice of a friend who works so hard to serve others but cannot get her home state to serve her basic need for health care.

My friend and thousands just like her would qualify for Medicaid if our governor had the courage to put his constituent’s peace of mind above political games.

Nothing will get done if readers don’t give him the “encouragement” he needs.

JAMES BARUM
Robinson

Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.

Photo by @Fox43 on Twitter

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Houston Workers Celebrate Passage of Wage Theft Ordinance

After months of door-to-door organizing, petitioning, phone calls to lawmakers and mobilizing by a coalition of more than 30 community, faith and labor groups including Working America and Fe y Justicia Worker Center, the Houston City Council today passed a historic city wage theft ordinance that restricts the city from doing business with wage theft offenders. Houston is the first city in Texas to do so.

The ordinance provides a process to bring wage-theft claims forward and calls for the city to build a public database to track and bar wage theft offenders from getting city contracts, permits or licenses.

“The Houston City Council’s passage of this ordinance proves that the voice of the people is stronger than the checkbooks of special interests,” said Working America member Elisabeth Johnson. “I’m excited to be part of this amazing movement and look forward to the next fight.”

Johnson collected letters in favor of the ordinance and spoke at the recent city council meeting where the ordinance was considered.

“We went door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians, mobilizing them to call, write and push the City Council to stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of working families,” said Durrel Douglas, Working America Texas State Director. “We called on our lawmakers to listen to the people—and they did.”

The ordinance goes into effect immediately.

For more information, contact: Durrel Douglas, 832-857-5737; Aruna Jain, 301-461-9576

Photo by @SenatorSylvia on Twitter

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Up Late with Alec Baldwin and the Workers Defense Project

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

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

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

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

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Workers Across Houston Are Being Robbed. Will City Leaders Stand Up and Stop It?

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Workers across Houston are being robbed. But it’s not by a masked burglar. It’s by their bosses.

Wage theft happens every day across America. Low-wage workers, particularly those in the retail and service sectors, are often cheated out of the minimum wage and overtime that they are entitled to by their employers.

Any time a server is asked to clean tables after they’ve punched out? That’s wage theft. When an hourly-wage retail attendant is paid less than time-and-a-half for hours worked past 40 a week? That’s wage theft. Whenever a construction worker doesn’t receive their last paycheck? That’s wage theft.

Wage theft is illegal, yet employers constantly get away with it. In Houston, more than 100 wage and hour violations occur every week. But we have an opportunity to change this.

Mayor Annise Parker is bringing a wage theft ordinance before the Houston City Council on Wednesday, November 12.

Write a message to the City Council and tell them to support the anti-wage theft bill.

The ordinance would make any business convicted of or assessed an administrative penalty for wage theft ineligible for city contracts. It would create a huge incentive for businesses to follow the law and pay workers what they are owed.

We’ve gone door-to-door talking to thousands of Houstonians collecting over 1,000 handwritten letters with one message: City Council needs to act now and stop allowing a few businesses to take advantage of workers. We’ve called on City Council to listen to the people and not make back room deals with lobbyists and special interest groups.

Tomorrow, they’ll show their hand. Tell the City Council to support the anti-wage theft bill.

Here’s a sample of what you can write:

Every worker deserves fair pay for a fair day’s work. That’s why I urge you to support the Wage Theft Ordinance.

The ordinance will level the playing field for responsible businesses and hold businesses that steal wages from their workers accountable and ensure they do not receive city contracts, permits or licenses.

Every worker deserves wage protection in Houston. Please vote in favor of the Wage Theft Ordinance.

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Forget Website Glitches. This Is What Is Keeping Texans from Getting Health Insurance.

A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that 67 percent of Texans support the expansion of Medicaid, which would allow 1.2 million in the state to afford health insurance.

Two-thirds of voters support giving states the option to expand their Medicaid programs for low-income, uninsured adults. That majority spanned the ideological spectrum on an issue that Texas lawmakers ducked last session, opting not to expand that coverage.

Republican Governor Rick Perry, who is leaving office in January 2015 after three terms, has refused Medicaid expansion at every turn. He has said expanding Medicaid would be “like putting another thousand people on the Titanic,” whatever that means. Past standard anti-Obamacare claptrap, he has not offered any solutions for the 1.2 million Texans who don’t have health insurance, the most of any state in the country. Perry’s refusal also leaves $79 billion in federal assistance on the table.

But the Perry administration’s opposition to Obamacare implementation goes past Medicaid. Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is seeking to succeed Perry, has also placed additional restrictions on health care “navigators,” making it more difficult for Texans to obtain insurance on the state exchange.

More than any website glitch, the deliberate obstruction of politicians like Perry and Abbott is what stands between Texans and affordable health coverage. And public opinion stands firmly against this reckless, needless cruelty.

Take Action: Tell Gov. Perry to accept Medicaid expansion and allow 1.2 million Texans to afford health insurance.

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10 Ways Working Families Are ‘Kicking Ass’ for the Middle Class

Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:

1. Increasing the Minimum Wage

Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.

2. Passing “Buy America” Laws

Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.

3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days

Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.

4. Protecting Immigrant Workers

In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.

5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers

Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).

6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job

In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.

7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media

Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.

8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality

Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.

9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers

Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.

10. Protecting Voting Rights

Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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