Three Great Reasons Why Fast Food Workers Are Striking Today

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Today thousands of fast food workers, with a little bit of help from some homecare workers, went on strike in 100 cities and staged sit-ins in 12 cities.

Organizers are calling it a day of non-violent civil disobedience.

Workers, who have been striking for months now, are demanding a $15 wage and the ability to join a union. The demands seem pretty straightforward, but there are some specific reasons as to exactly why fast food workers are striking:

1. Because $9 an hour doesn’t support a family.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fast food workers make, on average, $18,880 a year. According to the living wage calculator, that amount would put a family of two at the poverty level. CNN Money reported that a Chicago-based McDonald’s worker Nancy Salgado makes $8.25 an hour, or $600 a month. Salgado, who is a single mother to two kids, notes that after splitting rent with her three roommates and paying for childcare she’s left with a little over $100 a month for food and other necessities. “If I have a dollar at the end of the month it’s a miracle,” Salgado said.

2. Because taxpayers spend billions on fast food workers’ public assistance. The reality is that, with the wages most fast food workers are paid, many qualify for some sort of public assistance. In fact, According to a Bloomberg Businessweek article, low wages in the fast food industry cost taxpayers about $7 billion a year in public assistance and NPR reports that 52 percent of fast food workers rely on public assistance.  The New York Daily News reported that 81 year old fast food worker Jose Carrillo, who’s received a 10 cent raise in 10 years, would not be able to survive on his $8.10 an hour wage if it wasn’t for “food stamps and Medicare”.

3. And because a union will help. Whether it’s higher wages or better benefits, many fast food workers could use the protections of a union. For example McDonald’s has been hit with a slew of lawsuits alleging wage theft violations, seven in March alone, that accuse the golden arches of failing to pay workers for overtime and forcing them to work while off the clock. Unions, traditionally, are great advocates for workers, ensuring that workers get a fair and safe workplace, proper compensation for work done and an advocate for most work-related issues or problems.

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart via Flickr.

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The House of Representatives Just Stood Up Against Wage Theft

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Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed an amendment, introduced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), to penalize contractors that have previously committed wage theft.

Similar to the Houston wage theft ordinance but on a larger scale, the amendment makes federal contracts unobtainable for entities that have committed wage theft or violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In a statement the CPC said:

“The House of Representatives stood up for federal contract workers today, protecting them from wage theft and ensuring the federal government will lead the way to fairer labor standards for all Americans. No working American should ever worry that her employer might steal a part of her paycheck, especially if she works for a contractor paid by the federal government.”

 

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When It Comes to Worker Rights, It’s Not Just About Minimum Wage

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The New York Times recently ran an article that addressed the extent to which certain political figures have gone to maintain employers’ power over workers.

According to the article, over the past few years business groups have tried hard to “enhance the position of employers at the expense of employees.”

Of the charges that author Corey Robin, professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, fires at state politicians and federal government, and there are several, the most telling is the issue of wage theft.

Raising wages on the municipal, state or federal level means very little if there aren’t proper protections in place to ensure that workers get the money they rightfully deserve.

And as it stands, there aren’t.

For starters, currently there’s roughly one federal inspector for every 141,000 workers, in 1941 there was one inspector for every 41,000 workers, Robin notes.

In a report released last year, political scientist Gordon Lafer noted that the wage theft problem in the United States was “greater than the combined total stolen in all the bank robberies, gas station robberies, and convenience store robberies in the country.”

Despite this, right-wing politicians have consistently been indifferent on the issue of wage theft, Robin asserts. Additionally, when any progress is made towards wage theft reform, politicians often introduce other pieces of legislation to override it.

Robin points out that in 2010 Miami-Dade legislators passed an anti-wage theft ordinance, “resulting in more than 600 prosecutions and $1.7 million recovered in stolen pay in the first year alone.” Other parts of the state began to take notice.

To presumably stop similar laws from being passed, lawmakers in Tallahassee attempted to pass a bill that would stop any political subdivision of the state from enacting laws that targeted wage theft.

In Wyoming, Robin cites an instance where lawmakers sought to give employers a loophole to pay non-tipped workers the significantly lower tipped minimum wage, which is $2.13, by passing a law allowing business owners to force all tipped workers to share their tips with coworkers.

Overall, the article is a great read for anyone who’s curious about worker rights on a very basic level, but the really telling portion is the fact that workers cannot be fully empowered until wage theft is properly addressed and regulated.

Photo courtesy of Bob Price – TexasGOPVote.

 

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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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The Rabbit Hole Gets Deeper: Silicon Valley Wage Suppression Suit Indicates a Far Greater Reach

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What began as a ploy from tech CEOs to limit gifted engineers from gaining higher wages and possibly better jobs has revealed itself to be a large-scale operation with multiple corporate participants.

Pando got its hands on some court documents that suggest companies like Dell, IBM, eBay, Microsoft, Comcast, and Clear Channel, participated in wage suppression practices under the guidance of the original CEOs, namely Google’s Eric Schmidt and the late Steve Jobs. This could mean that the number of affected employees is much larger than previously expected.

“These are the engineers building the hardware and software that are the lifeblood of the technology industry,” Joseph R. Saveri, the plaintiff’s lawyer said. “But they were prevented from being able to freely negotiate what their skills are worth.”

In one internal document Google lists several companies that are “sensitive” and should be placed on “restrictive hiring” and “do not cold call” lists.

Despite the implication of other corporations the Department of Justice made the decision to focus its attention on a few main players (Google, Apple, and Pixar for example) and those companies are currently looking to settle out of court.

According to Pando, the additional companies listed have denied any involvement in the conspiracy.

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Class-Action Suit: McDonald’s and Franchisees Accused of Wage Theft

Photo courtesy Ben Gilman on Flickr

class-action lawsuit has been filed against McDonald’s and the company’s franchisees in three states, alleging various forms of wage theft at restaurants in California, Michigan and New York, Salon’s Josh Eidelson reports. Among the accusations are stores not paying properly for overtime hours, workers being required to clean uniforms off the clock and employees being required to show up for work, but not allowed to clock in when business is slow.

Eidelson argues that one of the key aspects of the lawsuit is that it will shine a light on how heavy a role the corporation plays in the running of franchise restaurants it doesn’t own:

The most significant threat posed by the potential class actions—one apparent arm in a campaign of media, consumer, political, economic and workplace pressure on fast food giants—may be its potential to draw scrutiny and force disclosures about the relationship between the giant McDonald’s corporation, which netted over $5 billion in profit last year, and its smaller individual franchisees, which are the legal employers of most McDonald’s workers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Exotic Dancers Sue, Misclassified as Independent Contractors But Treated Like Employees

The distinction between an independent contractor and an employee is undoubtedly a confusing issue for many workers, but being misclassified as an independent contractor can result in quite a bit of lost revenue for actual employees.

A few weeks ago, two exotic dancers hailing from Illinois filed a class action suit against their former employer for improperly classifying them as independent contractors when they believed they were treated as employees.

The two ladies claimed that on paper they were independent contractors, exempt from benefits, hourly pay, overtime pay and a minimum wage, but, in person, they were treated as employees, forced to share tips and follow managerial instructions regarding schedules and attire.

The problem is that a lot of businesses get a financial break by classifying workers as independent contractors, while maintaining the same supervisory authority over them.

That’s a great deal for employers, but it’s also illegal.  True independent contractors cannot be told how or when to do their job, they are their own business.

According the suit:

Defendants [VCG Holding Corp.] set the hours of operation; length of shifts dancers must work; the show times during which a dancer may perform; … the sequence in which a dancer may perform on stage during her stage rotation; the format and themes of dancers’ performances (including their costuming and appearances); … conduct while at work (i.e. that they be on the floor as much as possible when not on stage and mingle with patrons in a manner that supports Defendant’s general business plan) …

Another plus for employers, since independent contractors are viewed as individual businesses, they can’t organize.

“the industry-wide shift toward classifying dancers as independent contractors … has certainly made it more difficult for dancers to organize for labor rights. By law, independent contractors are unable to unionize. More insidiously, dancers’ endless competition for tips undermines the worker solidarity necessary for any sort of workplace organizing,” Rachel Aimiee, co-founder of the exotic dancer advocacy organization We Are Dancers, wrote in a 2012 essay for In These Times.

Although the distinction isn’t always clear, workers need to ensure that if they’re classified as an independent contractor, they’re treated as such.
Photo courtesy of Wendy on Flickr.

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Silicon Valley Executives Collaborated to Suppress Employee Wages By $3 Billion

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A class-action lawsuit has accused several high-profile Silicon Valley CEO’s of suppressing wages, to the tune of $3 billion, through a top-secret agreement to abstain from recruiting each other’s employees.

Tech CEO’s sought to retain talented engineers and keep their wages low by stifling any outside employment opportunities:

In early 2005, as demand for Silicon Valley engineers began booming, Apple’s Steve Jobs sealed a secret and illegal pact with Google’s Eric Schmidt to artificially push their workers wages lower by agreeing not to recruit each other’s employees, sharing wage scale information, and punishing violators…

This may come as a surprise to most of us, as the image of a brilliant, innovative, and ostensibly progressive tech CEO toiling away at his latest technological masterpiece in solitude has been burned into our brains.

But this lawsuit is the perfect example of just how vital all employees are to employers, no matter how excellent the CEO might be.

The suit alleges that, based on several uncovered email conversations, Silicon Valley executives mutually agreed to refrain from recruiting each other’s star employees. The executives implicated include Steve Jobs, Intuit’s Bill Campbell, and Google’s Eric Schmidt.

The agreements led to several ‘Do Not Call’ lists, and even prompted Apple’s head of HR to instruct employees to put Google on their ‘hands off’ list.

These interactions aren’t just another offering of the corporate greed; they also shed light on the extremes that executives will go to keep talent in-house.

But if these employees were so valuable, and they clearly were, why not treat them as such? Instead of driving down wages and competition, why wouldn’t these men pay their employees a wage that reflected just how indispensable they were to the organization, and treat them as human beings?

Too easy.

In these times it’s important to remember that no matter where you work, your job is necessary and vital to the organization’s success. And this situation in Silicon Valley is a great example of that.

Photo courtesy of privateidentity for Flickr.

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Trucking Companies Steal Wages From Employees

In what appears to be one of the grossest examples of what can happen to workers when employers aren’t properly regulated, a new report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), Change to Win Strategic Organizing Center and the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy asserts that large number of port trucking companies have stolen millions of dollars in trucker wages by illegally classifying employees as independent contractors.

That means truckers are forced to pay for expenses that their employers should incur. Things like gas, repairs, and even the trucks themselves were paid for by employees. Additionally, truckers were ineligible for overtime and benefits due to their independent contractor status.

Those expenses add up to quite a bit in stolen wages. The report estimates that in California alone the misclassification of employees adds up to about $850 million dollars in stolen wages.

According to the report, there are a total of 75,200 port drivers across the country. Of those drivers 65 percent–or more than 49,000 workers–are misclassified.

Port trucking companies have had a shady history when it comes to employee relations. In the latter part of 2013, the L.A. Times reported that port truckers from three different companies sought to organize unions at least in part over the misclassification issue.  The truckers ended up striking in protest of the companies’ alleged unfair unfair labor practices.

Port trucking used to be considered a middle-class job, but over the past 30 years “inadequate enforcement of labor and tax laws”, in addition to deliberate attacks to weaken collective bargaining has severely affected the power, and wages, of workers, thus deepening the income inequality.

The misclassification is a great injustice to invaluable truckers who, for the most part, keep retailers stocked with products.
“If we stop [work], in three days every store would be empty, we could shut down every Walmart. There’d be nothing. No fuel would be moved because trucks move gas, medicine, everything that runs America is carried on a truck,” says Albert Dantes, a port truck driver at the Port of Savannah, Georgia, in a statement to In These Times.

Photo by: socalscouse on Flickr

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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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