The story begins in early 2012, with one of the heroes, an undocumented immigrant worker named Margarito, counting his pay at the New York City deli where he works and realizing he was shorted. He only received about $5 an hour for his work week. When we hear the manager in the background asking if they were filming, the camera person replies they are only making a video to send home to the worker’s family. This immediately portends a film that is going to depict great risk. After learning more about the abusive and unsafe working conditions at this Upper East Side restaurant, we meet some of the workers. We learn why they came to America and the hopes and dreams they had for their children. Immediately the filmmakers have established sympathetic protagonists we can root for.
Geoghegan’s argument, based on his 2014 book Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement, is that a revived—but different—labor movement is the only way to stabilize the economy, solve the problems of hierarchy in the workplace and inequality in the larger society, and save the middle-class. In particular, he developed a compelling case against the idea, shared by mainstream economists and politicians alike, that all we need is more education. Without a stronger union movement, higher levels of education simply won’t solve those pressing economic and social problems.
LAST SUMMER, Massachusetts became the fourth state in the nation to enact a bill of rights for domestic workers, establishing labor standards and granting basic protections to nannies, housekeepers, and other in-home caregivers. The law, which went into effect on April 1, is broader in scope than similar laws in California, New York, and Hawaii. As other states consider cracking down on what essentially is an unregulated underground economy, Massachusetts’ leadership, by empowering domestic workers, stands out and deserves praise. The new law is the result of four years of organizing work by the Massachusetts Coalition of Domestic Workers, which campaigned on behalf of the estimated 65,000 domestic workers in the state.
Thousands of workers staged rallies in 12 cities across Brazil on Tuesday to protest a proposed law that would allow companies to outsource their labor force. The biggest rally occurred in the federal capital of Brasilia, where some 3,000 demonstrators gathered in front of Congress hours before lawmakers were expected to vote on the measure. Except for a brief clash between police and demonstrators in Brasilia, the rallies across Brazil were peaceful. Most drew less than 500 people. In Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial and industrial nerve center, less than 1,000 people took part. The rallies were organized by the Central Workers Union, Brazil’s largest labor union umbrella organization. It fears the legislation could lead to dismissals and the hiring of outsourced workers at lower wages.
Most observers agree that adjunct instructors deserve better pay, but what about $15,000 per course? The Service Employees International Union shocked even some adjunct activists last week when it announced that figure as a centerpiece of its new faculty advocacy campaign. But while union leaders admit the number is bold, those involved in the campaign say adjuncts might as well aim big, since they have little to lose. They also say they hope the $15,000 figure will force a national conversation about just how colleges spend their money, if not on middle-class salaries for instructors. “Clearly this is an aspirational goal, but it’s a realistic goal, as well,” said Tiffany Kraft, an adjunct instructor of English at four different institutions in the Portland, Ore., area, where she earns $2,700 to $3,400 per course — about average, nationwide.
Farm workers in Washington state are fighting for fairer pay and better treatment, and they need support from consumers. These workers, who pick strawberries for the notorious Sakuma Brothers Berry Farm, have been subjected to a wide range of abuses for years, such as inadequate piece rates, systematic wage theft, racist and sexist abuse from supervisors, substandard housing, and continuous retaliation for their efforts to improve conditions. The Sakuma Brothers berry farm, located in Burlington, WA, supplies strawberries to Driscoll’s, a familiar label to many consumers. Even here in faraway, still-wintry Ontario, Driscoll’s is the only brand of fresh strawberries available year-round at my local grocery store. Sakuma also sells berries to Häagen-Dazs and Yoplait.
Labor organizers displeased with McDonald’s Corp.’s decision to raise wages only for workers at company-owned stores, leaving out employees at franchises, held protests across the nation Thursday. Planners said that workers in dozens of cities — including Los Angeles, New York, Detroit and Las Vegas — rallied to criticize what some called a disingenuous strategy from the fast-food giant, based in Oak Brook, Ill. At a protest at a Wilshire Boulevard McDonald’s, Jibri Range, 22, said his repeated requests to be paid more than $9 an hour at a South-Central franchise restaurant have all been rejected or ignored. He said he works four hours a week as a McDonald’s maintenance employee and relies on his mother, a full-time cafeteria worker, to help support him. His daughter will turn 4 on April 15, when fellow workers protest again, he said.
McDonald’s plans to raise the average pay of about 90,000 of the 750,000 McDonald’s US workers to around $10 an hour, but the increase will not benefit workers at the vast majority of the restaurants, because they are operated by franchisees, who make their own wage decisions. The pay increase, for workers at roughly 1,500 company-owned U.S. restaurants, will take effect on July 1. Starting wages at the restaurants will move to $1 above the locally mandated minimum wage. Workers groups said the move by McDonald’s, which is also adding benefits such as paid vacations, fell short of their goals. The raise is only at “company-owned restaurants,” only about 10% of its 14,350 stores nationwide. The rest are owned by franchisees, who “operate their individual businesses and make their own decisions on pay and benefits for their employees.” The National Labor Relations Board general counsel ruled differently on Dec. 19 that the Oak Brook, Ill., company “engages in sufficient control over its franchisees’ operations…to make it a putative joint employer with its franchisees, sharing liability for violations of our Act.”
Shanna Tippen was another hourly worker at the bottom of the nation’s economy, looking forward to a 25-cent bump in the Arkansas minimum wage that would make it easier for her to buy diapers for her grandson.When I wrote about her in The Post last month, she said the minimum wage hike would bring her a bit of financial relief, but it wouldn’t lift her above the poverty line. She called me the other day to say she didn’t get to enjoy the 25-cent hike for long. After the story came out, she says she was fired from her job for talking to the Post. I spend a lot of time writing about people at the low end of the economy, and I see up close how narrowly they get by day-to-day. In this case, writing about Tippen’s plight may have made her situation worse.
As the strikes at both York and the University of Toronto move into their second month, anyone following the news knows that one of the main issues for U of T students is their guaranteed funding package of $15,000 per year. That’s technically the minimum amount of funding, although few students (at least in the arts and humanities) get more than that. Living on $15,000 for an entire year in Toronto means living several thousand dollars below the low-income cutoff, which is another frequently mentioned piece of information. But what does that mean? It may sound nearly impossible to live on such a tight budget, but clearly some people manage to do it out of necessity.
The perils of ingesting food that has any contact with a Monsanto-produced product are in the news on nearly a weekly basis. As Dr. Jeff Ritterman has documented, Monstanto’s herbicide, Roundup, has beenlinked to a fatal kidney disease epidemic, and has also been repeatedly linked to cancer. Recently, a senior research scientist at MIT predicted that glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, will cause half of all children to have autism by 2025. Farmers in El Salvador are acutely aware of the importance of producing their own seeds, and avoiding those from the bioengineering giant.
A strike that has brought activity to a halt since January on three major banana plantations on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast, along the border with Panama, has highlighted the abuses in a sector in the hands of transnational corporations and has forced the governments of both countries to intervene. More than 300 labourers, almost all of them indigenous Panamanians working on plantations for a branch of the U.S. corporation Del Monte Foods, have been on strike since Jan. 16 to protest harassment of trade unionists, changes in schedules and working conditions, delayed payment of wages and dismissals considered illegal.
It took eight days of walking for 80-year-old Dhanmatya Mumat to reach New Delhi. Like thousands of other farmers from rural India, Mumat – from the state of Bihar – made the 1,000km-long trip to the Indian capital to protest proposed changes to a little known land law that he said would destroy his life. “We came with the hope that our land will be saved, if the government takes away our land, we will die of poverty,” Mumat told Al Jazeera. “I request the politicians of the country to kill me rather than taking away my bread and butter.” Organisers say some 7,000 people arrived by foot to demonstrate in New Delhi to coincide with a parliamentary session on Wednesday that will decide on proposed changes to the land act – revisions that have raised the ire of many rural Indians.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office has obtained a judgment against New Majority Holdings, LLC (New Majority) a Papa John’s pizza franchisee, and its owner and operator Ronald Johnson for underpaying hundreds of delivery workers at five Harlem pizza restaurants. “Within the last two months, courts have found that two Papa John’s franchisees owe almost $3 million to their workers,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “We will continue to investigate wage and hour violations in the fast food industry. More broadly, franchisors need to step up to the plate. I call on all fast food franchisors, including Papa John’s, to take steps necessary to ensure that their workers — the backbone of their business — are treated fairly and paid the wages the law requires.”