What Boeing wants is very simple: to pay the people who make its airplanes as little money as it can get away with. It needs to do this, we’re told, to stay competitive. It has all the leverage, because enough states — and countries — are willing to give it everything it asks for. Who wouldn’t want a gleaming factory stuffed with jet assemblers, a payroll guaranteed for a generation? Boeing is on a roll, its stock at a record high despite the troubled rollout of its 787 Dreamliner, and the pay of its C.E.O. boosted 20 percent to a package totaling $27.5 million last year.
Nothing demonstrates support for striking workers more than actually showing up yourself. Not only do the workers appreciate your display of solidarity, but also the increased turnout signifies to bystanders that this is a legitimate problem worthy of everyone’s concern. On Black Friday, a record 1,500 protests will take place at Wal-Marts across the country. Though not every location will necessarily have striking workers participating in the event, each protest will educate consumers about the evils of the corporation and show even the workers who stay on shift that citizens support them earning a living wage. Even if you thought you’d never be caught dead at a Wal-Mart, particularly on the busiest shopping day, it’s always turns out to be much more fun joining the activist crowd outside than fighting the consumer crowd inside. Search BlackFridayProtest.org to find the nearest Walmart strike event near you.
And, like that, fifteen minutes are lopped from our paycheck. It’s a small but important lesson in what it means to be a “flexible” worker. We are not in control here. Shifts may last four hours, eight hours or twelve; start times will bounce around as well. I’m originally hired for a shift that begins at 7 am, but that later moves up an hour, to 8, and then, in a rush to move goods out the door, to four o’clock in the morning. In the online world of holiday shopping, where demand can surge and retreat with the click of (many) buttons, workers must respond in real time, shoving other commitments aside. For people without cars, the ever-changing schedule makes it hard to coordinate transportation. One middle-aged woman, caught off guard on a day we’re dismissed at noon, will spend three hours walking the eight miles home. That she returns for the next shift—rubbing her feet and complaining under her breath—is a testament to her “flexibility,” to how far she’s learned to bend in the new economy.
Employees say it’s their right to spend the national food-focused holiday at home with their families. Almost a dozen Whole Foods employees will strike today at two stores across the country in protest for the right to spend Thanksgiving at home rather than with hordes of customers purchasing goods,Salon reported. Whole Foods employee, Matthew Camp, a member of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago (WOCC), told Salon that he expects up to ten workers to join the strike, which will include an assembly with other fast food and Wal-Mart employees. “I think it will be disruptive, but that’s kind of the point: to disrupt the flow of things. Causing a disruption also provides us with a platform…we have to make some noise to get our point across,” he said.
Ready to Jam a Walmart Near You? Great! Here’s How. Read to the end for links to download hi-res, printable Rebrand Walmart signs. Making the Signs The “Unstoppable” and “Fightback!” price cards are ready to print and copy onto 8 ½ X 11 card stock. Cut ‘em youself! The “Lower Wages Guarantee” sign can also be printed on 8.5 X 11 with little cutting (Those are the same size and look as signs right by the cash register… Just sayin’). The red banner-type signs (“Poverty Pay”, “Inhumane”, ”Solidarity” are formatted so you can print them on legal size paper and they’ll be just the right size for the displays in the store. After you print them on legal paper, cut them. Then copy them two at a time onto 11 X 17 card stock.
The tomato pickers of the farms in Florida have raised the torch of accountability for over a decade now, successfully challenging behemoth food conglomerates in a self-determining struggle for their own welfare. Where there were once rampant human rights abuses, economic exploitation and a culture of fear peddled by infectious ignorance, there is now the legally binding Fair Food Program, “an initiative consisting of a wage increase supported by…corporate purchasers of Florida tomatoes, and a human-rights-based Code of Conduct.” Designed by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers—a vanguard group representing the voices of Florida’s tomato pickers—the FFP establishes ongoing audits by an independent council to ensure that the farms supplying tomatoes to the FFP’s corporate signees are upholding these labor standards.
Wal-Mart could afford to hike every U.S. employee’s hourly wage to at least $14.89 an hour just by not repurchasing its own stock, according to a new report from the progressive think tank Demos. “We find that if Walmart redirected the $7.6 billion it spends annually on repurchases of its own company stock, these funds could be used to give Walmart’s low-paid workers a raise of $5.83 an hour, more than enough to ensure that all Walmart workers are paid a wage equivalent to at least $25,000 a year for full-time work,” authors Catherine Ruetschlin and Amy Traub write in the Demos paper, “A Higher Wage Is Possible: How Walmart Can Invest in Its Workforce Without Costing Customers a Dime.” Demos, whose funders include unions, is releasing the paper Tuesday morning.
California taxpayers are spending $86 million a year providing healthcare and other public assistance to the state’s 44,000 Wal-Mart employees, according to a new study by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Industrial Relations. The study, “Hidden Cost of Wal-Mart Jobs,” found that the average Wal-Mart worker required $730 in taxpayer-funded healthcare and $1,222 in other forms of assistance, such as food stamps and subsidized housing, to get by. Even compared to other retailers, Wal-Mart imposes an especially large burden on taxpayers. Wal-Mart workers earn 31 percent less than the average for workers at large retail companies (more than 1,000 employees), the study found, and require 39 percent more in public assistance.
Calls for industry-wide reforms gave birth to initiatives such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. This is the first of its kind agreement and promises to bring significant changes to working conditions in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Accord was drafted in conjunction with unions in Bangladesh, apparel companies and labour rights NGOs. It gives workers at factories increased protections such as the right to refuse unsafe work — something that could have potentially saved the Rana Plaza disaster. In addition, the Accord requires monetary commitments from global corporations to fund the repairs and renovations factories. Most importantly though is the Accord is legally binding, which means that global brands can now be held accountable in court for their operations abroad. Thanks to public pressure, the Accord has now been signed by over a hundred global clothing brands.
Around 400 workers in Stockton, CA who make cups and other packaging for Starbucks and fast food companies like McDonalds are facing sharp cuts in their benefits, hours and wages in addition to the replacement of good union jobs by temporary workers. Most are workers of color, and all are members of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers. AWPPW has been in negotiations with the company for a full year, and the next round of talks will begin in early December. Accordingly, AWPPW and its allies are planning two protests in Seattle as part of an international day of action to fight back against poverty wages, cuts in benefits, and unsafe working conditions throughout the fast food supply chain. We’re working in partnership with the IWW Starbucks Union, Pactiv New Jersey & Unite New Zealand.
Kshama Sawant was recently elected as the first socialist city council member in Seattle in more than one hundred years, and within days of her election, this lawmaker is already stirring controversy and drawing condemnation for her radical, truly socialist policies. No private insurance companies in this version of progress! Initially seen as a longshot candidate, Sawant refused to concede the Seattle city council election earlier this month and went on to defeat the 16 year Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin. While her campaign platform was noticeable for pulling no punches with its anti-capitalist, pro-worker bent (the $15 minimum wage is a key part of her message), her successful election has only galvanized her to promote an even more explicitly socialist agenda.
Ah Thanksgiving, that quintessential of US holidays when the warmth of family and appreciation for the bounty of our nation are celebrated. The tantalizing and comforting aroma of turkey — with all the trimmings — lingers as we give thanks and bask in the warmth of those we love. Some begin the groaning board meal with a prayer; some begin with secular thanks; and some don’t have enough money for a proper holiday meal. But this is the day that symbolizes the harvest, the fruit of one’s labor, the emotional recognition of the value of work and life and family and friends. Except that the creeping consumerism of American society has been encroaching upon Thanksgiving. Last year some big box stores started “black Friday” by opening up on Thanksgiving eve. That new retailing strategy is continuing in 2013, with K-Mart breaking a new regrettable milestone by throwing open its doors at 6 AM on turkey day.
This summer, thousands of fast-food workers in the United States went on strike in cities across the country, demanding their wages be increased to $15 an hour and the ability to unionize. To no one’s surprise, they didn’t get it. As of 2012, an estimated 4.7% of hourly workers are paid at or below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. According to several groups, low- and minimum-wage workers are growing faster than any other group of earners. Meanwhile, profits at many of the corporations that employ the most minimum-wage workers have risen. McDonald’s, Walmart and Target together employ several million Americans. While these companies’ profits have grown in recent years, most of their workers continue to earn low or minimum wages. 24/7 Wall St. identified the 10 companies that employ the most low- and minimum wage workers.
This Wednesday, November 13, former ESPN Zone workers held a press conference to finally declare victory over Disney, after a three-year legal battle over wages and severance packages. Just before the press conference, a judge approved a $230,000 settlement between the workers and the Disney subsidiary, ESPN Zone. “I feel jubilant,” said former ESPN Zone host Emanuel McCray. “It’s been a long battle, with so many hours and hard work.” Check out this video of highlights from the press conference, filmed and edited by the United Workers Media Team. On June 16, 2010, the Inner Harbor ESPN Zone abruptly closed its doors, laying off roughly 140 workers without notice. Former workers were forced to move from their homes or take their kids out of day care. At least two former employees were stricken with cancer and now face growing health care debt, having lost health insurance when ESPN Zone closed.