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October, 2008 news

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Center defends rights of working families

Organizers can leverage 'WorkLife' laws

Joan Williams
Joan Williams
By Louise D. Walsh

During a difficult pregnancy, Joan Williams slept two hours a day in her office. She could tape a do-not-disturb sign on her door, and just sleep, because she was a tenured law professor. “But if I’d had a 'real job,'" she realized, with the rigidity of most work environments, “I’d have been fired.”

"Motherhood is constructed to impoverish women and make them vulnerable. That shouldn't be!" she said in an interview with the Berger-Marks Foundation. Her own vulnerability alerted her to the injustices other mothers face and fueled her passion to build a team and create a new legal discipline: Worklife Law. Berger-Marks is funding an arbitration database at the Center for Worklife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

"We live in the worst public policy environment in the industrialized world for working mothers. Some of what happens to women, especially low income women, is blatantly illegal. One supervisor gave a worker a choice between having an abortion or being fired," Williams said. "Far too often, women who have no problems at work until they have children find they face discrimination after they become mothers.”

Keep reading

 

Moms rising group withbaby carriage & banners
Rally for Agriprocessors victims in July, Postville, Iowa
Photo by MWallyman, Flickr

 

 

Big kosher meat packer tries to strip immigrants of labor rights

But caught using child labor, CEO fired

Taken from WINS radio service, PAI and news reports

Can a company strip workers of their legal right to organize so long as it hires undocumented immigrants? That’s what Agriprocessors, the huge meat processor that controls three-fifths of the kosher market wants to argue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shackled woman pushing child in stroller in march
Tethered mother marches
Photo by Nikki Naden, Flickr

Agriprocessors has asked the Court to overturn a 15-5 union vote among workers at its distribution center in Brooklyn on the claim that undocumented  immigrants have no labor rights. When the workers voted to join Local 342 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) in 2005, the company suddenly claimed to have discovered that 17 of the workers were illegal immigrants.  Yet the company “knew all along they were hiring undocumented workers,” the union organizer asserts.

This company fired union activists and strong-armed some to sign up with a phony alternative “union”during the organizing drive. When the company refused to honor their vote, workers went on strike for seven weeks; the company fired them and replaced them with day laborers, many of them also illegal immigrant. 

The NLRB ordered Agriprocessors to recognize the union , citing a 1984 Supreme Court ruling that says employees  have the right to join unions, whether or not they are legal immigrants. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington agreed, but Agriprocessors kept fighting tooth and nail.

Meanwhile, back in Iowa... Company slapped with child-labor charges

This is the same company that was then slammed with 9,311 charges of child-labor law violations in Iowa. When  the feds raided its  Iowa plant on May 12, they arrested 389 workers for being in the country illegally. As it turns out, some were children as young as 13 who said they’d been forced to work shifts of 12 to 17 hours, six days a week, with no safety training or overtime pay, reported the New York Times.
But the feds ignored the company ‘s illegal  hiring policies, forced overtime and frequent accidents and went after the workers, socking them with prison  terms, not just deportation, and shackling mothers released to care for their children. Since then outrage has spread, and 1,500 people, including many unionists, rallied in the town of  Postville on July 27 to  support the workers and their families. The rally was organized by two Jewish groups and the local Roman Catholic church.   When the state launched inspections that month, it found a host of dangerous conditions and child-labor violations.

group with sign "We are all children of immigrants"
Photo by Nikki Naden, Flickr

In September Iowa’s Attorney General filed criminal charges against the company’s owner and four managers for knowingly hiring undocumented and  underage immigrants. The State accused company officials of encouraging workers to file false identification, and of health-and-safety violations. Each violation carries fines and a punishment of up to 30 days in jail. The EEOC is now investigating sexual harassment at the plant.

Kosher groups force CEO out

The Postville, Iowa plant is the leading kosher meat packing plant in the country, which means it’s supposed to carefully follow Jewish dietary and ritual laws. The company’s claim that kosher has nothing to do with workers’ rights is challenged by a campaign known as Hekhsher Tzedek (which means “justice certification” in Hebrew). While Conservatives like Rabbi Morris J. Allen of Mendota Heights, Minn. call  for following “ethical law” and standards for workers' rights, the company convinced some Orthodox Jewish leaders that it’s “an A-1 place,” reported the New York Times. But then the public relations firm it hired got caught posting fake, offensive blog comments under Conservative Rabbi Allen’s name. (The firm blamed the fakery on an intern.)

Postville protestors with Unite-Here banner calling for immigrant rights
Photo by MWallyman, Flickr

Finally,  after the company was criminally charged in September,  the major kosher certifying organization in the U.S. had enough. The Orthodox Union insisted that the company fire its chief executive and “give people a new sense of confidence that all laws and regulations are being completely complied with,” or it would withdraw its kosher certification. Agriprocessors quickly axed the CEO and hired a former United States attorney as a compliance officer to enforce labor and safety standards. Federal prosecutors also arrested of two human resources managers at Postville on immigration harboring charges.

Workers deserve union rights

An organizing drive by UFCW  Local 789 , based in  the Twin Cities, was shattered when the fed raided the workforce.  But “whether people are undocumented or not, they deserve to have some union represent them,” said Lisa O’Leary of Local 342.

 Four protestors with signs calling for end to slavery, etc.

Nurse sues ambassador who made her a domestic slave

DAMAYAN parades her story on Fifth Avenue

One Friday this August, hundreds of New Yorkers passing by the Philippine consulate on fashionable Fifth Avenue were startled to hear Marichu Baoanan broadcast the story of her betrayal at the hands of former Filipino Ambassador to the U.S. Lauro Baja. More than 60 people stood with her, holding hand-painted banners and placards and gathering signatures for a petition demanding that Baja be held accountable.

'They paid me with curses, insults, disrespect'

Marichu Baoanan testifying in tearsWhen Marichu Baoanan graduated from nursing school in the Philippines, she desperately wanted to use her degree to support her three children. In 1996 Baja’s wife Norma promised  Baoanan a visa, airfare and help in finding a nursing job if she would hand over $5,000 to a travel agency the Bajas owned. Baoanan  mortgaged her home to raise the money.

But as soon as she stepped onto U.S. soil, she “found out that she had been lied to, and  there was a second half of this payment that she had to  pay in sweat and tears,” her lawyer told a news conference. “The Bajas took her passport controlled her movement, prevented her communication with anyone from  the outside world.”

They demanded another $5,000 and then forced her to work as their domestic slave to pay off that “debt.” Baoanan  often labored more than 120 hours a week to clean their four-story house, do all the domestic chores, and tend to the Bajas. By the time she escaped, she'd gotten just $100 for three months of hard labor and back home, her family was selling its appliances for food. “They paid me with curses, insults, disrespect,” Ms. Baoanan later said, choking back tears. “They didn’t treat me like a person.”

Got her family to safety before going public

After a Baja family acquaintance discovered her captivity and helped her escape,Baoanan went to the police. But she kept silent publicly until she won protection under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, and could bring her family to the U.S. to shield them from the government Baja represented.  (Although TVPA can grant 5,000 visas a year to victims of abuse, it only issued 1,000 in its first three years, reported Philippine Daily Inquirer. Congress is debating its reauthorization.)

DAMAYAN helps her fight back

With help from DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association  (which won a grant from  the Berger-Marks Foundation this year), she’s silent no more. She sued the Bajas and their travel agency for trafficking, forced labor, peonage and racketeering, and held a news conference to announce it– see videos.

Lauro Baja is trying to get the charges dismissed, claiming diplomatic immunity. Marichu and DAMAYAN have met with Philippine diplomats to formally request help. Though Filipino Congresswoman Liza Maza has joined the public cries to waive Baja's diplomatic immunity, the Philippine government has done nothing.

By sheltering themselves with  diplomatic immunity , said one worker who spoke for DAMAYAN at the street action,  "Many predatory employers, especially diplomats who are supposed to protect overseas compatriots, are allowed to exploit their vulnerabilities and walk away without facing consequences." The speak-out came on the heels of a report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on July 29, which revealed a larger pattern of abuse of domestic workers by diplomats with immunity.

'Don't be afraid to speak out'

"What I want to say to people like me who were oppressed or will be oppressed: don't be afraid to speak out or to come out in the open," said Baoanan. "We are not alone. We need to face people who abuse us and our weaknesses because if we do not speak up, they will continue to abuse us."

DAMAYAN vows to  continue the campaign to win justice for Marichu and all domestic workers hit with trafficking, forced labor and exploitation. You're invited to sign the petition demanding that Baja be held accountable. See campaign updates, visit: endtrafficking.blogspot.com.

 

More workers are union in 2008

Reveals UCLA team led by Ruth Milkman

Union membership grew this year, even in the private sector, says UCLA’s Institute for on Labor and Employment in a new report, “The State of the Unions in 2008: A Profile of Union Membership in Los Angeles, California and the Nation."

Four happy women clapping
Photo by Susan Tindall, taken at Northeast Regional Summer School for Union Women

Across the nation, unionization rates rose half a percentage point  to 12.6 percent of all U.S. civilian workers in 2008, five times the modest growth from 2006 to 2007. Before that, the last time U.S. unionization rates registered an increase was in 1979.

"This is good news for organized labor," said Ruth Milkman, lead author of the report. "It shows that despite an extremely hostile environment, unions can grow."

California -- with a unionization rate of 17.8 percent -- now accounts for one in six of the nation's union members, more than any other state. Most California union members are now women -- partly because most of its public administration workers and nearly half its educational services workers are union. In a welcome reversal of past trends, unions grew among private workers too, especially in L.A..

Workers with more education more likely to be union

The more educated the worker, the more likely it is that she or he is union. "Whereas decades ago, the archetypal union member was a blue collar worker with limited education, today mid-level professionals are much more likely to be unionized than anyone else,“ commented one study author.

As has been the case for decades, unionization rates are much higher among older workers than younger ones, the researchers noted, largely because there’s less turnover in union jobs. African Americans have the highest unionization rate of any racial or ethnic group. On the other side of the coin, immigrants who aren’t citizens or came to the U.S. after 1980 are less likely than other workers to be union.

Being union pays -- $2.50 an hour more

The appeal of unionism to workers is easy to understand. Average hourly earnings are about $2.50 higher for union members than for nonunion workers in the U.S. today, the study found. Nine out of ten union members have access to retirement benefits and medical coverage. Yet just six in ten nonunion workers have retirement benefits and only seven in ten get medical benefits.  57 percent of union members have employer-provided paid-leave benefits, compared with only 38 percent of nonunion workers.

See this and other UCLA reports.

 

Women gain a penny

Full-time workers paid 78¢ for every dollar a man gets

Last year women closed the wage gap with men by a penny, after years of no progress at all, says a new fact sheet released by the Institute for Women's Policy Research (IWPR). Women who work full-time year-round make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, compared to 77 cents in 2006, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

"While this gain is relatively small, it is a relief to see some progress toward equality in earnings between women and men," said Dr. Vicky Lovell, IWPR's Acting Director of Research. "The most promising thing about these new numbers is that both women's and men's earnings increased in 2007."

However, economists are seeing “a less rosy picture for the current year," she  added. Unemployment is up, especially among workers of color. And after adjusting for higher prices, hourly and weekly earnings have dropped, from $18.50 in January to $18.06 in July (in “real” inflation-adjusted dollars).

See the fact sheet for  more details – it’s available  online.

 

Wal-Mart warns workers that Obama backs union rights

Tells outrageous lies about law he supports

Taken from PAI, Wall Street Journal & WINS radio service

Did Wal-Mart violate the law when it made managers and supervisors in seven states go to meetings where the company made it clear they should campaign and vote against Sen. Barack Obama for president? Sure did, say the AFL-CIO, Change to Win, and two worker support groups, who together on Aug. 14 complained to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The company bad-mouthed Obama to employees because he co-sponsors the Employee Free Choice Act. That bill was filibustered into a coma by  Republicans because it would remove unfair barriers to union organizing – but Congress will get another shot at it next year.  Wal-Mart made it clear  that a Democratic victory would be a disaster for its anti-union business model, reported The Wall Street Journal.

Wild lies about the Free Choice Act

Opening frome from video showing presentation of petitions
Click here to see video
American Rights at Work

What's more, said the Journal, “Wal-Mart managers leading the meetings are spreading inaccurate information about the Employee Free Choice Act, according to a digital recording of a Wal-Mart meeting made by a Wal-Mart employee. . .During the meeting, employees were shown a video enactment of a union steward telling a manager that the manager could be fined for cleaning up a spill on a store floor because of the union contract.”

Among the other wild claims the Wal-Mart leader made was that if the bill passed, "their wages may be reduced to minimum wage for up to three months before a contract is negotiated, that union authorization cards violate workers' right to privacy by including their Social Security numbers on them, and that if a small unit within a store votes to unionize, the entire store will be unionize.”

The leader claimed that “"Six people can make a decision for 350 people."

Such distortions are illegal, says labor lawyer

"The statements are not correct representations of what the law would require even under the current law," said Jeffrey Hirsch, a labor lawyer in Boston. "It would be a violation of the national labor relations act to say those things."

Also, federal law says corporations can denounce federal candidates such as Obama only to salaried, not hourly, workers -- yet the Wal-Mart store managers and department supervisors who had to attend the meetings are hourly. 

'I am not a stupid person'

Wal-Mart, with 1.4 million workers, is the world’s largest private company.  It claims that when it talked with workers about the Free Choice bill, it didn't pressure them how to vote on candidates. But although the company was careful not to actually say "Vote Republican," as one customer service supervisor told The Journal, "I am not a stupid person. They were telling me how to vote."

“Unfortunately for Wal-Mart workers, this kind of intimidation is nothing new," says Michael Whitney of American Rights at Work. This is the same company that In 2000, closed down its butcher operations in 180 supercenter stores after one group of butchers in East Texas voted 7-3 to unionize.

Wal-Mart is bad news for workers

A 2005 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that when Wal-Mart opens a store, average wages for retail employees in that county drop five percent. Wal-Mart earns over $27 million per year, while the average Wal-Mart employee earns just over $17,000 — $4,000 below the poverty line for a four-person family. Just a couple of months ago, Wal-Mart was caught breaking labor law more than 2 million times in Minnesota.

To remain union-free, Wal-Mart gives its managers a "toolbox" that lists warning signs that workers might be organizing. It gives managers a hot line to call so that the company's specialists can respond quickly and head off any attempt by workers to organize.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for FEC action

The FEC hasn’t done much lately to make elections fair and legal. But it is feeling the heat. More than 61,192 people signed a petition sponsored by American Rights at Work calling for an investigation of Wal-Mart's in-plant electioneering. When the group delivered the petition to the company,  CNN and other news outlets came to watch. Watch the video and read press clips.

 

‘Your new salary is unique and special, just like you’

YouTube of manager with pie-chart of salary
From freechoiceact.org
On-line  video spoofs the non-union workplace

That's the opening line Charles Bigman, CEO, uses in a video welcoming workers to their new jobs. “In fact," he continues, "your salary is based on rigorous research into your background – your race, chest size, golf handicap, smell test, and whether your dad was in my class at Princeton …”

The video dramatically shows why workers need unions and the Employee Free Choice Act. You can find it on the web site freechoiceact.org

The web site’s creators at American Rights at Work teamed up with award-winning producers at Brave New Films to make the video. They urge people to “take two minutes to forward the video to your book club or your bowling buddies, your mother-in-law or your crazy uncle…

“Bottom line: we're more than halfway to a million signatures in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.”

 

Workers got nothing from huge productivity gains

And women now leaving the workforce, says new report

Want proof that women and other workers deserve better pay and benefits than they’ve gotten? Then take a look at the latest “State of Working America” revelations from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Chart showing productivity going up, wages flat
EPI chart shows data for U.S. workers

During the latest economic recovery, U.S. workers generated productivity gains to the tune of 11% more produced per worker -- the fastest growth of any period of economic recovery since the 1970s. What did workers get for that achievement? Nothing.

In fact, hourly pay and benefits for a typical worker (including workers with a college degree) didn’t grow at all. So who did benefit? Corporate profits surged ahead, while management honchos made out so well that the typical CEO now gets paid as much in a day as a worker earns in a year.

One in three working women still in poverty

Women are still much more likely to earn poverty-level wages than men. In 2007, nearly one in three women workers -- 31.4% -- didn't earn enough to escape poverty, while 21.8% of men were in that dilemma. The proportion of minority workers getting such poverty-level wages is even higher —34.0% for black workers and 41.8% for Hispanic workers.

The progress our nation made in lifting workers out of poverty-wage jobs in the late 1990s halted abruptly in 2002. Why? For starters, the minimum wage kept losing value to rising prices, at least until 2007 when Congress finally defied a veto threat from President Bush and hiked the minimum wage. Most of those who rely on the minimum wage are full-time workers, and six out of ten are women.

Women now leaving the workforce

Women rally with signs like"We need paid sick days for the poor!"
Photo by Andy Richards/Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO

In contrast to other periods of economic growth, when we gained lots of jobs, the share of the population that's employed has actually dropped since 2000. One shocking fact is that the loss of jobs hit women harder than men. Reversing decades of progress in opening jobs for women, 1.8 percent fewer of the nation’s women held jobs in 2007, compared to 2000. The only group that has more jobs now is 55 and over, and that’s hardly a good sign. Many older workers can no longer afford to retire, especially with crushing health care costs.

Meanwhile, the biggest paychecks keep getting bigger. That can be explained by “the continuing influence of globalization, deunionization, and the shift to lower-paying service industries,” said the report.

Entry-level wages plunge

The drop in pay for entry-level jobs (once inflation is taken into account) is an especially bad sign for the future. Among women with high-school diplomas, entry-level wages fell by 11.2% since 1979, with more than half the loss (a 6.3% plunge in pay) happening in just the last seven years. At the same time, women college graduates are taking jobs paying 1.7% less than in the year 2000. The loss in entry-level pay was actually worse for men (with a huge 18.2% loss for high school grads since 1979).

This is a big set-back from earlier progress – in the five years previous to 2000, entry-level wages rose roughly 10% for men and women high school graduates, 20.9% for men with a college degree, and 11.7% for women college graduates.

The report’s bad news covers a period when the Bush Administration thought the economy was doing fine. Now everyone recognizes that the economy is in trouble, and even before financial giants started tumbling, a Labor Day scorecard released by Rutgers University found that one out of ten workers are unemployed or underemployed, 25 percent more than only a year ago.

The union difference

Unionized workers continue to get higher wages than non-union workers with similar jobs. Union workers are also 18.3% more likely to have health insurance, 22.5% more likely to have pension coverage, and 3.2% more likely to get paid time off.

What can be done? For starters, the EPI report calls for passing labor law reform, a ban on scabs during strikes or lock-outs, and universal health care. The Executive Summary of the report, is available online.

 

Becky Williams with 2 union members
Becky Williams (center)

First Woman President of District 1199 is former organizer

District 1199, a 34,000-member health-care and social-services union that merged into SEIU, now has its first woman president – Rebecca Williams of Massillon Ohio.

Williams got her start in  the union 17 years ago when she helped organize co-workers at Hartville Meadows home for the developmentally disabled.  “I will never forget what life was like as a working mother of four without the protection of a union,” she  says. In 1992, the union brought Williams on staff as a full-time organizer,  and she  worked her way up to executive vice president. She was tapped to fill the president’s slot when it become vacant, and then won election to a full three-year term.

 

Wal-Mart workers get first union contract – in Canada

But company in trouble with Mexican government

Taken from PAI information

Meanwhile, across the border in Canada, Wal-Mart workers in Gatineau, Quebec got  the first North American union contract with Wal-Mart. After Wal-Mart stalled for three years in talks with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW),  a Quebec government arbitrator forced the company to accept a 3-year contract that raises the average wages of Gatineau Wal-Mart workers from $8.50 an hour to a minimum of $11.54,  and improves vacations. The union said it  got 98 percent of  what it wanted.

Two more UFCW pacts with Wal-Mart are expected in Ste. Hyacinthe by year's end, when Quebec arbitrators rule. And next year, the Canadian Supreme Court will decide whether Wal-Mart  broke provincial law in 2005, when it  closed a store in Jonquiere after workers voted to unionize with UFCW Canada. Claiming that the Jonquiere store was  “unprofitable,” Wal-Mart had  fired all 190 workers -- just days before an arbitrator would have imposed a labor contract.

The contract won at Gatineau “shows that even after three years, workers at Wal-Mart, like all Canadian workers, can exercise their freedom of association rights and get a decent collective agreement,"  said UFCW Canada President Wayne Hanley. 

Walmex gives workers store cards instead of money

Meanwhile in Mexico, where Wal-Mart is called Walmex , it’s in trouble with the Mexican government over paying workers with electronic store cards instead of money. The Mexican Supreme Court ruled  that scheme, similar to the “script”  widely used  under dictator Porfirio Diaz a century ago, violates the Constitution. So far the court victory only covers the worker who sued, but other workers are likely to also haul Walmex into court.

 

CLUW on TV Oct. 12  to raise awareness of cancer threat to women

Taken from PAI information

The Coalition of Labor Union Women is taking to the nation’s airwaves in its continuing campaign to raise awareness of cancers that are especially threatening to women. Following on the heels of Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, the union is a “frosted friend” for an Oct. 12 ABC television special, Frosted Pink With A Twist, that covers cancers that target women.

The special program features this year’s U.S. women’s Olympic gymnasts--including several medal winners -- music stars and other celebrities discussing dangers like breast cancer and cervical cancer.

Prevention and treatment of cervical cancer has been a CLUW cause for years, especially in spreading the word about new methods of treating it before it fatally spreads.   “As a Frosted Friend, we’re committed to doing all we can to educate and inspire women in the battle against cancer,” said Marsha Zakowski, the organization’s president and a top Steel Workers official. 

Proceeds from the television program support the fight against women’s cancers.  For more information , visit  the program’s website and CLUW’s website.  For broadcast times, check local listings.

 

We’re back! House Passes Paycheck Fairness Act

Senators blast Bush for being lax on discrimination

Undaunted by a Republican filibuster that knocked out the  Lilly Ledbetter  Fair Pay Act in the Senate, Congress moved again to put muscle behind anti-discrimination law.

CLUW supporters in outside rally for equal pay
CLUW members rally for equal pay
CLUW web site

On July 31, the U.S. House of Representatives passed another bill strongly supported by organized labor,  the Paycheck Fairness Act, with a strong 247 to 178 vote. The National Organization of Women hailed it as “the most important piece of pay equity legislation to pass in decades.”

The bill aims to strengthen penalties for equal pay violations, require employers to give more data to help identify patterns of discrimination, and puts the burden of proof on employers –if they can’t prove that something other than sex bias caused wage differences, they’re liable. The  $300,000 limit on discrimination damages (tacked onto the law by a Republican Congress) would go, and victims could sue for punitive damages, just like with other kinds of discrimination.

Championed by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the Paycheck Fairness Act would also bar managers  from retaliating against workers who tell how much they make or ask about employer wage practices. It offers grants to train girls and women in negotiation skills.

Senators blast Bush for ignoring current fair-pay laws

As the bill hit the Senate, Where its co-sponsors include Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), Senators Clinton (D-NY) and Harkin (D-IA) ripped the Bush Administration  for failing to crack down on pay inequity. They had in hand a report from the GAO (Government Accountability Office) that shows a pitiful failure by the Bush Administration to monitor  whether laws already on the books are enforced. “This report makes clear that the Bush Administration is shirking its responsibility,” said Clinton.

The report "is a loud wake-up call. It shows that the Department of Labor is AWOL in its responsibility to make sure that women who work for federal contractors receive equal pay for equal work,” added a spokesman for Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA)

While the Senators urged their colleagues to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act , Bush officials charge it would open the way to unlimited lawsuits over unequal pay. Ahem -- doesn't that mean there may be a problem? See how Congress voted.

 

Big union wins for Colombian flower workers

US-LEAP thanks supporters

USLEAP, which won a Berger-Marks grant in 2008, helps connect woman flower buyers in the U.S. with the struggles of the women who grow, pick and pack the flowers in Colombia.

Working selling flowers
Woman selling flowers in Colombia
Photo from USLEAP

After years of organizing, “here have been more victories in the past week in the Colombian flower sector that the past four years combined!” USLEAP announced this August. This is really remarkable when you consider the courage it takes to organize in Colombia --  41 Colombian  trade unionists were killed in first eight months of 2008, more than in all of 2007. Flower workers are building on the breakthrough they made a few months ago, getting the first union contract ever with a worker-chosen independent union. In August  two more strong contracts were won, and another new flower union was legally recognized.

The most well known struggle on a Colombian flower farm is at Splendor Flowers, owned by the Dole Food Company. Dole closed its largest Splendor plantation last year, decimating the strongest independent union in the industry. The union at the remaining plantation, Splendor El Rosal, got an agreement only after U.S. Rep. George Miller convinced the Colombian government to step in with arbitration.  The contract has big improvements in conditions and wages, including bonuses and a raise of $14 above the legal minimum. 

The new contract with Untrafragancia, also owned by Dole, includes a 6% pay increase, bonuses, education help for sending kids to school and other gains.

USLEAP is convinced the “amazing advances” would not be possible without  the letters, emails and donations from around the world that sustain their  work.

 

Latino workers in Boston fed up with being cheated

Call for apology from restaurants, state action

Taken from article by Dave Goodman, Boston Community Reporters Project

Contract workers who clean and maintain well-known restaurants in the greater Boston area are accusing their employers of withholding wages, refusing to pay overtime, and other violations of state and federal labor laws. More than thirty immigrant workers have not gotten part of their salaries in recent months, say immigrant rights groups.

Manifestation with woman holding sign, "Justice and respect for every human being
Photo from Centro Presente web site

“We are launching a campaign to… demand the respect of labor rights of Latino immigrant workers,” Patricia Montes of Centro Presente told a Boston City Hall press conference in late August.

'We're just asking to be paid'

"We’re not asking for a loan or for anything to be given to us. We’re just asking to be paid for the hours that we worked.” Said Gloria Rodriguez, originally from El Salvador, who is employed by Coverall Cleaning Concepts to do late night cleaning at popular spots like  Legal Sea Foods and The Cheesecake Factory. Ms. Rodriguez called on other workers to speak out. “We know there are many more people who have not joined this struggle yet, who have not broken their silence…United we know our force is even stronger as we go forward with this campaign.”

In one ploy described by maintenance worker Fernando Cervantes, crews showing up for work would find the cleaning franchise closed. Later, he said, the company would re-open with the same managers but under a new name. “Many times when I would go to cash the paycheck, it would be without funds. . .”

Companies like Coverall often hire workers through multiple sub-contractors, making it hard for workers to locate those responsible for paying their wages. Maria Alvarez of Centro Presente said restaurant chains such as Legal Sea Foods and Cheesecake Factory “are aware of bad practices” committed by contractors and should share some responsibility for protecting workers. Activists stressed that all people who are hired to work  are covered by labor  law, no matter what their immigration status.

Government & restaurants should act

They've filed a formal complaint with the state Attorney General’s office said Ingrid Nava, an employment lawyer with Greater Boston Legal Services.

For years, says Centro Presente, state officials and union leaders have said they're concerned about the so-called “underground economy” where mostly undocumented immigrants hired for construction, lawn care, and cleaning and maintenance services are often paid in cash (if at all) and face constant fears of arrest and deportation. Such schemes cost Massachusetts as much as $15 million a year in unpaid workers' compensation premiums, payroll taxes, and unemployment insurance payments, say researchers at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts. Four years ago, Massachusetts took Coverall Cleaning Concepts to the Supreme Judicial Court to force it to admit it was the employer and pay wages and benefits owed a woman who cleaned at a nursing home

The workers want Legal Sea Foods and The Cheesecake Factory to apologize for their lost wages and harsh working conditions. While Legal Sea Foods ducked phone calls to their offices, a top official of the California-based Cheesecake Factory chain said they had fully paid the cleaning company’s bills and if worker’s wages had been withheld, The Cheesecake Factory would consider this “fraud.”

 

Verizon contract expected to create 2500 union jobs

Six hundred former technicians at Verizon Business finally  won union recognition, thanks to the 3-year contract the Communications Workers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers just signed with the company. The technicians, who had worked for non-union MCI when Verizon took it over, had been trying to unionize for nearly two years.

Jobs that had been subcontracted or associated with Verizon’s exciting new FiOS technology, which connects homes to a fast fiber-optic Internet pipeline, were also brought under the contract. And it opens up new opportunities for union workers to provide customer support and service at Verizon Business.

Overall, the unions expect the agreement to create 2,500 new union jobs. It also gives workers wage and pension hikes compounded to 10.87% over three years.  And  the company will continue to fully pay health care premiums for all its active and retired union members. 

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Grants awarded
Spring, 2008

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"I was very sad, and I felt like I was a slave. My work was very hard, because they didn’t give me my breaks, and I wasn’t getting much sleep. They told us they were going to call immigration if we complained.”

Elmer L., a  Guatemalan
hired by Agriprocessors
at the age of 16


"As concerned as we are about how an animal gets killed, we need to be equally  concerned about how a worker lives,"

Rabbi Morris Allen, Minneapolis, Minn.


Agriprocessors "are the poster child for how a rogue company can exploit a broken immigration system.”

– Mark Lauritsen,
UFCW vice president


"Always low-price Wal-Mart is also always low wage, low benefits and low ethics when it comes to its workers, here and abroad.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Aug. 24, 2008


“Had Marichu Baoanan not filed a civil complaint against [a] former Philippine ambassador... people of Philippine ancestry would have shrugged off her story for its ordinariness…

"There have been innumerable stories of Filipinas seeking sanctuary from their brutal employers at consulates and embassies only to be returned to the same employers; of Filipinas funneled into the sex trade by embassy and consular personnel; of Filipinas traded as domestic workers by embassy and consular personnel to their relatives and friends as favors; of Filipinas coerced into paid-for marriages and sex work to enable embassy and consular personnel to make enormous profits."

DAMAYAN Migrant Workers Association.


"What Wal-Mart is doing for November's election is what it, and hundreds of other anti-union companies, do all the time. . . Intimidating [workers] to go against their own self-interests.”

Michael Whitney,
American Rights at Work


 

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