Tag Archives: Labor

Today’s New York City Headlines

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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”

Work Gloves

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

MORE-NYC: “Taking Back OUR Schools” March and Rally [5/17/14]

"MORE: Movement of Rank and File Educators is the Social Justice Caucus of the UFT- New York City’s Teachers union. We are a positive alternative to the current union leadership."

 

Taking Back OUR Schools March and Rally « Movement of Rank and File Educators. via MORE-NYC

 

The Goals:

  • Motivate people to act on behalf of children to receive a quality equitable education.
  • Bring various communities to work together in resisting national corporate reform policies.
  • Restore the joy of learning
  • Get media coverage of our point of view.
  • Have our voices heard on the main-steam media.
  • Involve mainstream and alternative media coverage of vision, mission, and goals
  • Let corporations know that we will resist their efforts to privatize and control public education
  • Assure authentic classroom-based assessment – end high stakes testing
  • Assure locally-developed curricula that honor languages, cultures, and communities – No mandating of common core standards and standards based testing
  • Ensure privacy of student data – end In-Bloom
  • Universal public (non charter) neighborhood preschools based in our neighborhood public schools
  • Wrap around services for every neighborhood public school: counselors, social workers, psychologists, health care
  • Strengthen neighborhood schools, assure high quality schools in every neighborhood – resist charter schools and vouchers
  • Value out of school multiple literacies and cultural pedagogy
  • Protect programs (art, music, phys. ed.) that are important to the overall development of our children and to their love of learning

May 17, 2014 in NYC!
City Hall Park (permit pending)
2:00 p.m.
Click here to RSVP Today!

Reclaiming the radical spirit of Women’s History Month

German poster for International Women's Day, March 8th, 1914; English translation: “Give Us Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Day, March 8, 1914. Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women, who as workers, mothers, and citizens wholly fulfill their duty, who must pay their taxes to the state as well as the municipality. Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed. Come all, you women and girls, to the 9th public women’s assembly on Sunday, March 8, 1914, at 3pm.” (Photo: Public Doman/ Via Karl Maria Stadler)

If you missed celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8, don’t worry — there’s most of “Women’s History” month left to make amends. If you did celebrate it, there’s a good chance you participated in something quite unlike the original radical intentions for the day. Since 1975, when the United Nations established March 8 as the official date for International Women’s Day, it has been co-opted by corporate and state sponsorship of feel-good events — celebrating women’s achievements and inspiring actions — that cater to the political mainstream. That is, of course, only part of the story. It wasn’t always all about fun — and certainly it did not start that way.

The first International Women’s Day was celebrated in 1911 by socialists and labor activists to call for organizing rights for working women. It was followed quickly with other demands, including suffrage. Locking up so many women to slave away as garment workers in horrendous conditions in the early 20th century not only catalyzed the young women and girls into activists, but also led to organized resistance with fellow workers with whom they spent so much time. With no sick days, 16-hour shifts, a grueling pace, crowded and dirty floors, dangerous machinery, and hardly any time off, there were plenty of reasons to get mad and organize on the job!

Unfortunately for the corporations who would like you to focus only on the sanitized, pastel version of International Women’s Day, widespread actions continue to focus on the needs and conditions of women and girls worldwide. A few statistics bring it home quickly. There are more than 1 billion people in the world today who live in abject poverty — the majority of whom are women. Women are paid 20 to 40 percent less than their male counterparts around the world. Two-thirds of the children who are denied access to primary education worldwide are girls — and so women make up two-thirds of the 960 million illiterate adults globally. The UN estimates that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls.  And women in sub-Saharan Africa alone spend 40 billion collective hours a year fetching fresh water.

It is hard for those in the developed world to understand what a toll that takes on the rest of your life — the time you’d rather have for work, your family, or your household.

Fortunately, some actions and protests in 2014 serve to highlight the necessity and value of reclaiming the radical roots of International Women’s Day.

In Dhaka, thousands marched on Saturday as part of an ongoing campaign to protest the abhorrent garment factory working conditions in Bangladesh. They commemorated the April 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in which 1,160 people, mostly young women, died and demanded that more brands sign the legally-binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh and contribute to a fund for the victims. This event evoked the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire protests of more than 100 years ago that catalyzed U.S. safety regulations.

Stopping violence against women was the focus of a number of events around the world, including a Guinness World Record-breaking graffiti mural in London created by over 100 female street artists associated with Femme Fierce. In Beirut, Lebanon, in support of a domestic violence bill, women marched with gut wrenching placards, including one that read “If you see it, would it finally be clear?” with a hand reaching out to choke a neck, above which there is an opening for your face surrounded by blood splatters.

Some were smaller events, but critical: Two dozen woman in Baghdad decried a draft law approved by the Iraqi cabinet that would allow the marriage of 9-year-old girls and give child custody to fathers automatically.

There were naked protests by Femen activists in Paris and New York. There were marches and rallies in hundreds of locations. Powerlifting exhibitions in Kabul, Afghanistan. Female bikers in France.

And in Gaza, there was a call for a delegation of 100 women to visit and help break the silence of the Israeli siege. The International Women’s Day delegation to Gaza came together to expose the desperate situation of Palestinian women living in an occupied territory traumatized by an economic blockade, illegal Israeli settlements, closed borders and the absence of many basic human rights. The international delegation, including Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire, was prepared to stand in solidarity with the women of the region to witness and protest these intolerable conditions — but the Egyptian border was closed and many were detained and prevented from entering the country by the Egyptian authorities.

Just in case the message wasn’t clear, Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Code Pink, was not only jailed overnight, but her shoulder was dislocated and her arm broken before being deported to Turkey without medical care. Medea managed to keep the world aware of her mistreatment through Twitter, which did allow Code Pink’s international support network to swing into action. Even though they were badgered relentlessly, U.S. embassy officials in Cairo did not find time to check in on her. The inability of the delegation to reach the women who requested their support highlights the isolation and extreme hardships that the women and families in Gaza are facing.

International Women’s Day may have been celebrated for more than 100 years, but the world has a long way to go to provide women political, economic and social equality. Kudos to all the women and girls and their supporters who, by participating in the radical spirit of the original intention of International Women’s Day, are working towards a healthier future for all.

German poster for International Women's Day, March 8th, 1914; English translation: “Give Us Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Day, March 8, 1914. Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women, who as workers, mothers, and citizens wholly fulfill their duty, who must pay their taxes to the state as well as the municipality. Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed. Come all, you women and girls, to the 9th public women’s assembly on Sunday, March 8, 1914, at 3pm.” (Photo: Public Doman/ Via Karl Maria Stadler)

German poster for International Women's Day, March 8th, 1914; English translation: “Give Us Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Day, March 8, 1914. Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women, who as workers, mothers, and citizens wholly fulfill their duty, who must pay their taxes to the state as well as the municipality. Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed. Come all, you women and girls, to the 9th public women’s assembly on Sunday, March 8, 1914, at 3pm.” (Photo: Public Doman/ Via Karl Maria Stadler)

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This article was originally published by Waging Nonviolence.

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