40,000 Verizon Workers Strike Against Corporate ‘Race to the Bottom’

Verizon workers across the East Coast marched in picket lines on Wednesday in the largest U.S. strike in recent memory to protest the "corporate greed" of the multinational communications behemoth.

Verizon has failed to negotiate a fair contract with its employees despite making billions in monthly profits and multiple concessions on the part of union members. Verizon employees' contract expired eight months ago and talks over a new contract, which have gone on for ten months, broke off last week.

About 40,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBW) unions are joining in the strike.

"We’re standing up for working families and standing up to Verizon’s corporate greed," said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor in a press statement.

"If a hugely profitable corporation like Verizon can destroy the good family-supporting jobs of highly skilled workers," Trainor said, "then no worker in America will be safe from this corporate race to the bottom."

Furthermore, the multinational corporation "is also refusing to negotiate any improvements in wages, benefits or working conditions for Verizon Wireless retail workers, who formed a union in 2014."

CWA also detailed the "devastating cuts" Verizon is attempting to force on workers, "even after significant worker concessions on healthcare." The desired cutbacks include offshoring jobs to countries with low wages, cutting job security, sending technicians on jobs away from home for as long as two months, freezing pensions, slashing benefits, and refusing to negotiate improvements to wages and working conditions.

The unions argue that "Verizon is making these demands despite having made $39 billion in profits over the last three years—and $1.8 billion a month in profits over the first three months of 2016," as Common Dreams reported.

"Verizon's corporate greed isn't just harming workers' families," CWA states, "it's hurting customers as well. Service quality has deteriorated to the point that New York State’s Public Service Commission has convened a formal hearing to investigate problems across the Empire State. In the last few weeks, regulators in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have launched similar inquiries into Verizon's operations."

Members of National Nurses United joined a Verizon picket line in Scranton, Pa., and expressed their solidarity with the workers' demands. Net neutrality advocacy group Fight for the Future also announced its solidarity with the striking workers.

Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has lent vocal support to CWA, who endorsed the Vermont senator for president over rival Hillary Clinton back in December. Sanders met with CWA workers preparing to strike on Monday.

In a speech in Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday morning, Sanders told the crowd that the communications giant's employees "are going on strike because they refuse to be beat down by a greedy corporation who could care less about them or the people of this country."

Sanders went on to lambaste what he described as Verizon's tax evasion and poor labor practices to a cheering crowd:

All they want is more and more profit, and it doesn't matter what happens to their employees or people in America. This is what they want to do: they want to cut benefits for their employees, they want to throw American workers out on the street, and move their calling centers to low wage countries around the world. They are not investing in inner cities in America, where people today do not have quality broadband. And they've got their lawyers and tax accountants working overtime so that in a given year, despite making billions of dollars in profit, they pay nothing, not a nickel, in federal taxes.

Sanders reiterated his support for the workers' demands in a speech on the picket line on Wednesday.

CWA members spoke about their reasons for striking in a video released by the union on Tuesday. "Corporate greed is them constantly getting raises as executives, growing profits, yet crying poor," said a call center employee in Delaware. "I'm worth a good contract. My kids are worth a good contract."

"A good contract would mean a lot to us, because we've fought long and hard," said a retail store employee from Brooklyn. "I truly believe this is something we deserve."


(this article is republished via CC license from CommonDreams. Photo: Verizon Workers picket a Verizon Wireless store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn)

Your Server Isn’t on the Menu

In so-called $2.13 states tipped women workers twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as women in states that have one minimum wage for all workers

For women who make their living off tips, sexual harassment is a constant workplace peril.

At a popular sit-down restaurant in Independence, Missouri, Allison waits tables for $3.60 an hour — the going rate for servers at her restaurant.

Advocates of raising the federal hourly tipped minimum wage of $2.13 up to the standard minimum wage — currently pegged at $7.25 — understand that living on tips is difficult. As Allison put it, “There are times when guests have left me one dollar or 50 cents just because they got angry at something."

In other words, tipped workers are financially insecure. According to the Economic Policy Institute,  tipped workers are more than twice as likely to fall into poverty and nearly twice as likely to be on food stamps as the general population.

But there is another, less obvious, reason to abolish this sub-minimum wage, according to a new report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC).

Not only are servers like Allison more likely to be poor — they are also highly likely to experience sexual harassment on the job. The new report found that a staggering 90 percent of tipped workers in the restaurant industry are sexually harassed.

Surveying nearly 700 current and former restaurant workers, ROC — in partnership with Forward Together — found that customers, co-workers, and management regularly impose “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature” on industry employees.

Women reported experiencing sexual harassment more often than men, with a majority of respondents encountering it on at least a weekly basis. Women were also more likely to say that sexual harassment was “an uncomfortable aspect of the work environment.”

Living on tips means that women — who make up two-thirds of all tipped restaurant servers — are forced to rely on customers for their income rather than on their employer.

This creates an environment, the report says, in which women must “please and curry favor with customers” for their livelihood. Often, that means tolerating unwanted sexual advances. So it’s no surprise that while the restaurant industry employs only 7 percent of American women, it generates more than a third of all federal sexual harassment claims.

Yet the phenomenon varies widely from state to state. Interestingly, the report found that in states that pay the same minimum wage to all workers — tipped and non-tipped alike — women were less likely to experience sexual harassment.

In so-called “$2.13 states,” however, tipped women workers were three times more likely to be told by management to “alter their appearance and to wear ‘sexier,’ more revealing clothing” than they were in states that had eliminated the tipped wage. And they were twice as likely to experience sexual harassment as women in states that have one minimum wage for all workers.

Men and non-tipped workers were also more likely to report being sexually harassed in $2.13 states.

What does all this add up to?

Eliminating the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers would do more than just improve women’s financial security. It would also create a safer, more equitable workplace where servers like Allison won’t have to tolerate inappropriate advances to make a living.

ROC is continuing to collect stories from tipped restaurant workers on its website at rocunited.org. If you’ve ever experienced sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, share your story with ROC.

It’s time to send a message to the industry and to policymakers that servers aren’t on the menu.


 

OtherWords columnist Marjorie E. Wood is a senior economic policy associate at the Institute for Policy Studies and the managing editor of Inequality.org. IPS-dc.org
Distributed via OtherWords.org

Today’s New York City Headlines

Cuomo Signs Off on Speed Camera Expansion

NY casino location board may expand

Brooklyn, NY, Celebrates Do the Right Thing Day in Honor of Director Spike Lee

City Council Expands Funding Of Veterans Services 

TLC's Unintended Taxicab Confession

Deal Could Bring Limited Free Wi-Fi to Port Authority Airports

Bronx CUNY funds restored 

A Fighter for NY’s Mexican Community 

Stabbing victim walks into Jamaica McDonald’s with knife in back 

Every Master Plan in New York City History, Collected in a Single Place

"Reality TV" Writers Outraged by Working Conditions:

NYC City Council Committee Holds Hearing On Working Conditions For Reality TV Production (CBS)

And here's the Labor tke: NYC Reality TV "Sweatshop" Hearing Decries Wage Theft, Long Hours & "Beleaguered And Exhausted Workforce" - Deadline.com http://bit.ly/1nHJDAM

Blue-Collar Temp Workers face a Modern “Harvest of Shame”

This story was done in collaboration with VICE News. Watch the series.

CRANBURY, N.J. — Half a century ago, the legendary journalist Edward R. Murrow came to this pancake-flat town in central New Jersey to document the plight of migrant farmworkers for a television special called "Harvest of Shame."

Today, many of Cranbury's potato fields have been built up with giant warehouses that form a distribution hub off Exit 8A of the Jersey Turnpike.

But amid this 21st century system of commerce, an old way of labor persists. Temporary workers make a daily migration on buses to this area, just as farmworkers did for every harvest in the 1960s. Temp workers today face many similar conditions in how they get hired, how they live and what they can afford to eat. Adjusted for inflation, many of today's temp workers earn roughly the same amount as those farmworkers did 50 years ago.

Across the country, farms full of migrant workers have been replaced with warehouses full of temp workers, as American consumers depend more on foreign products, online shopping and just-in-time delivery. It is a story that begins at the ports of Los Angeles and Newark, N.J., follows the railroads to Chicago and ends at your neighborhood box store, or your doorstep.

The temp industry now employs 2.8 million workers — the highest number and highest proportion of the American workforce in history. As the economy continues to recover from the Great Recession, temp work has grown nine times faster than private-sector employment as a whole. Overall, nearly one-sixth of the total job growth since the recession ended has been in the temp sector.

Many temps work for months or years packing and assembling products for some of the world's largest companies, including Walmart, Amazon and Nestlé. They make our frozen pizzas, cut our vegetables and sort the recycling from our trash. They unload clothing and toys made overseas and pack them to fill our store shelves.

The temp system insulates companies from workers' compensation claims, unemployment taxes, union drives and the duty to ensure that their workers are citizens or legal immigrants. In turn, temp workers suffer high injury rates, wait unpaid for work to begin and face fees that depress their pay below minimum wage.

Temp agencies consistently rank among the worst large industries for the rate of wage and hour violations, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal enforcement data.

It is one of our fastest-growing industries, yet one of the few in which the injury rates have been rising.

A ProPublica analysis of millions of workers' comp claims found that in five states, representing more than a fifth of the U.S. population, temps face a significantly greater risk of getting injured on the job than permanent employees. In Florida, for example, temps were about twice as likely as regular employees to suffer crushing injuries, dislocations, lacerations, fractures and punctures. They were about three times as likely to suffer an amputation on the job in Florida and the three other states for which records were available.

The disparity was even worse when we looked just at dangerous occupations, such as manufacturing, construction and warehousing. In Florida, temps in blue-collar workplaces were about six times as likely to be injured as permanent employees doing similar jobs.

Day Davis, 21, was crushed by a machine at a Bacardi bottling plant barely 90 minutes into the first day on the first job of his life. Samir Storey, 39, suffocated from hydrogen sulfide gas on his first day when he was assigned to clean the inside of a tank at a paper mill. Mark Jefferson, 47, died after collapsing from heat stroke after a long day on a garbage route.

Here too, the plight of the lowest level workers has changed little. The workers who reaped the nation's fruit and vegetables also passed out from working in the heat or became sick from pesticides such as DDT.

In "Harvest of Shame," two Florida towns — Belle Glade and Immokalee — became symbolic of the plight of farm labor. Today, researchers have identified "temp towns," such as New Brunswick, N.J., and Little Village in Chicago, Ill. "Temp towns" are often densely populated Latino neighborhoods teeming with temp agencies. Or they are cities where it has become nearly impossible for anyone, even for whites and African-Americans with vocational training, to find blue-collar work without going through a temp firm.

New Jersey has five of the counties — Middlesex, Passaic, Burlington, Camden and Union — with the highest concentration of temp workers in the country.

Lou Kimmel, an organizer for New Labor, a workers advocacy center in New Brunswick, said that when he first started working there, the founder used to say, "We're all farmworkers in a way."

For temp workers today, he said, "A lot of the conditions are the same: Low wages, wage theft, unsafe conditions, working with chemicals with no respect and dignity, and no organized effort to try to fight back."

Murrow opened his documentary with the scene of a "shape up," in which labor contractors hawk available jobs. Temp agencies today use a similar system that researchers have called a "modern-day shape up." Temp workers stand on street corners or arrive at agency hiring halls as early as 4 a.m. so the agency's dispatchers can round up enough to fill an order. In New Brunswick, one agency operated for a while out of a neon-lit beauty salon.

One morning last year, in Little Village, Chicago, workers lined up in an alleyway behind a dentist clinic and a shop selling quinceañer adresses. They knew little of where they were going to work, except that everyone called it los peluches— Spanish for stuffed animals — and that a guy named "Rigo" told them there was work. After following the bus, I discovered the warehouse was run by Ty Inc., one of the largest makers of stuffed animals in the world.

Rigo, whose full name is Rigoberto Aguilar, was what's known in Little Village as a raitero, a Spanglish invention that roughly means "a person who gives rides." But raiteros do more than that, essentially serving as immigrant labor brokers for the temp agencies. They recruit the workers, often charging them to apply for the job; then round up the workers in the predawn hours, charging them for the obligatory ride to the warehouse or factory. At the end of the week, the raiteros pick up the workers' paychecks from the agencies and bring them to check-cashing stores, where workers are charged to cash them. If they don't have the money for the ride, dozens of workers said, they don't get their paychecks.

In "Harvest of Shame," the farm laborers had similar brokers known as "crew leaders," who skimmed money from workers' wages.

After ProPublica published a story on the raiteros in Chicago, some temp agencies there stopped using them and started providing free transportation for the workers. Many agencies stopped giving the paychecks to the raiteros — although others continue to operate as they have for years.The Illinois and federal labor departments have launched a joint initiative to investigate issues temp workers face on the job, and have since opened investigations into three temp agencies for issues involving the transportation of workers.

Raiteros, however, are barely better off than temp workers. When I knocked on Aguilar's door one Friday night, he was holding his infant son. He was renting an apartment not much bigger than what the workers have, with peeling paint and mold in the bathroom. He spoke of his own struggles to make ends meet. At one point, his adult son Victor grew angry as we talked about how the temp agency deals with his father.

"They don't want to pay him," his son said. "They have all the people come here. They don't care. Screw you. You take the people. You give them the ride and you charge the fee. We don't want to have anything to do with you."

Here again, the past mirrors the present. Officials at temp agencies and the third-party warehouses told me they are squeezed by the retailers and big-name brands at the top of the supply chain. When workers are killed or don't receive their pay, those companies deny knowledge or responsibility, directing blame at the temp agencies at the bottom.

Such was the case with migrant farmworkers. A farmer told Murrow's correspondent that he was "trapped between what society expects and his market demands." He, too, pointed to the supermarket chains at the top for demanding a price that didn't allow him to improve the poor working conditions.

In "Harvest of Shame," the farmworkers traveled in buses and packed into the backs of trucks. Today, temp workers travel in buses and pack into vans. Workers say the drivers sometimes carry 22 people in a 15-passenger van.

They sit on the wheel wells, in the trunk space, or on milk crates. Female workers complain that they are forced sit on the laps of men they do not know. Sometimes, workers must lie on the floor, the other passengers' feet on top of them.

As before, the products change by the season. But now, instead of picking strawberries, tomatoes and corn, the temp workers pack chocolates for Valentine's Day, barbecue grills for Memorial Day, turkey pans for Thanksgiving, and clothing and toys for Christmas.

Back then, the farms provided housing, often shacks with shoddy bunk beds. Temp workers rent rooms in rundown houses, sometimes in a basement or attic with not much space other than for a bed. It is not uncommon to find a different family in every room. Rosa Ramirez, a 50-year-old temp worker, rents the living room of an old boarding house in Elgin, Ill. There is a cheap mattress on the floor, and a sheet blocks the French doors that separate her room from the hallway. A trap by her door guards against the rats that have woken her up at night.

"Harvest of Shame" reported that migrant farmworkers in 1960 worked 136 days of the year and earned just $900 — $7,087 in today's dollars. Many temp workers struggle to find steady work. In 2010, a good year in which she wasn't out for an injury, Ramirez earned $6,549, according to tax forms she provided.

One of the most memorable scenes in "Harvest of Shame" comes when the correspondent asks the mother of a migrant family, "What is an average dinner for the family?" Surrounded by her children, she replies, "Well, I cook a pot of beans and fry some potatoes."

Remembering this scene, I began asking the temp workers I met the same question. A conversation with one Chicago man, whose family shares an attic with another family, underscored how very little things have changed. "Frijoles y algunas papitas," he said.

Beans and potatoes.

 


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Featured Photo: Valerie Everett/CC/Fickr

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