By Doug Porter
While the image of Labor Day as one of rest, recreation and charred meats has been drilled into our collective consciousness by the mavens of Madison Avenue, I want to interrupt this program to point out that history is being made this year.
Today we’ll be taking a look at some the people locally and nationally on the front lines of the fight for decent wages and working conditions.
Courtesy of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice (ICWJ) you’ll meet George, Marisol, Valaria and Daniela as they tell about their struggles to get by here in San Diego.
Writer Bob Dorn met fast food workers Debra Flores and Diego Rios at our city’s first Fight for Fifteen demonstration last Thursday and serves up a big serving of what their lives are like.
Jim Miller writes about the history of Labor Day, how it’s meaning has been lost and what’s being done to get the ‘move’ back into the labor movement these days.
And I’ve come up with a list of things going on that you might not have heard about in between the latest breaking news on singer Justin Bieber and Kourtney Kardashian’s latest sideboob shot.
For more than three decades we’ve seen the return on the investment on honest, hard work decline in this country. The rich in America have become a lot richer, while many millions of Americans have seen their income stagnate or decline.
As Warren Buffett, the second richest man in America, famously said, “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”
Productivity is up. Profits are up. And household wealth for most Americans is down. When the real estate ‘bubble’ burst in 2008, the reality many had just been trying to keep up using credit cards and artificially inflated real estate values came crashing down.
It’s hard to admit it. And many Americans are still in denial. But we’ve been screwed. Increases in productivity have not been translated into higher wages. Traditional middle class jobs have vanished at an astonishing rate.
There are people fighting back all over the country. But images of and reporting on protest don’t do much to encourage retail sales, so it’s in the best interests of advertiser supported media to focus on more happy news.
Complacency should be the enemy of just about everything we value in this world. Here are examples of people standing up to be counted.
Fight for Fifteen
Last Thursday, fast food workers in 58 cities went on strike for better wages and a voice at the workplace. Josh Eidelson’s been covering this movement from day one. From Salon:
Fast food workers today plan to mount one-day walkouts against nearly a thousand stores in over fifty cities — the largest-ever mobilization against their growing, low-wage, non-union industry, which until last fall had never faced a substantial U.S. strike. The work stoppage comes four weeks after a four-day, seven-city strike wave in which organizers say thousands walked off the job.
Today, the strikes – which started with a single-city November work stoppage in New York — are expected to hit several cities. In each city – from Los Angeles to Peoria – workers are demanding a raise to $15 an hour, and the chance to form a union without intimidation by their boss.
Walmart Associates Seeking Respect
Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, pays low wages, offers inconsistent schedules, and little to-no health benefits. But across the country, Walmart workers and employees of Walmart contractors are organizing primarily for respect at the workplace. It all started last fall, just up the road from San Diego. From In These Times:
About 60 morning-shift workers at the Walmart Supercenter in Pico Rivera, California, reported for duty Thursday–not in the cavernous store but on a picket line in front of it for a historic strike that looks to be part of a rapidly expanding wave of protest this fall.
Forty late-night workers, then more from the afternoon shift, joined the picket line. And over the course of the morning, dozens of workers from 10 other Los Angeles-area Walmarts also walked out. Workers called the one-day, unfair labor practice strike to demand that the nation’s largest private employer treat its workers with more respect and stop retaliation against outspoken workers.
Millions of domestic workers, mostly women, are employed by households and businesses across the country. They have few worker protections – no minimum wage, overtime pay, no nothing.
Here in California, legislation (AB 241) has already been approved by the Assembly (and seems certain to pass the Senate) to extend basic labor protections to the people who care for our children and grandparents and clean our homes. Activists with the California Domestic Workers Coalition — which includes domestic workers, their employers, labor unions, and progressive groups — say they’ve been lobbying the Governor’s Office but are unsure of where he stands.
Ai-Jen Poo, founder and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance told The Nation recently that President Obama might soon bring domestic workers under the protections of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which would be “one of the most significant victories for low-wage workers of this administration.”
Union Now at Northgate Gonzalez Markets
These Latino-flavored markets have expanded rapidly in recent years throughout Southern California. A good part of their image is based on their roots in the community. Now the employees of NorthGate Gonzalez are saying it’s time to step up and deliver on issues of wages and benefits.
This has been a slow growing campaign over the past couple of years. The United Food and Commercial Workers have conducted a patient campaign, educating the communities around the NorthGate Gonzalez markets even as they’ve been recruiting workers. For more information, check out their Facebook page.
United Taxi Workers of San Diego
In the heart of CityHeights are the offices of the United Taxi Workers of San Diego. It’s an appropriate location for the nascent organizing group, which includes drivers from U.S., India, Palestine, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Congo, Kenya, Sudan, Egypt, Kurdistan, Somalia, Eritrea, Mexico, Turkey, Nigeria, Vietnam, and Pakistan.
From City News Service:
Taxi drivers in San Diego work a median of 70 hours a week to cover the costs of leasing their vehicles and other expenses, and earn a median salary of $4.45 an hour including tips, according to a study released Thursday.
The study, conducted at 25 taxi stands around the city by the Center on Policy Initiatives and San Diego State University, also found drivers were being fired or threatened for raising safety concerns and their vehicles were inadequately maintained.
“The taxi system is unfair and unsafe,” SDSU professor Jill Esbenshade, the study’s lead author, said. “We found serious defects in a transportation service that is crucial for many people and businesses in San Diego, particularly the tourism industry.”
The 12-page report, “Driven to Despair: A Survey of San Diego Taxi Drivers,” was based on a survey of 331 taxi drivers in March and April by SDSU researchers.
Here’s the Facebook page for the United Taxi Workers.
There are also organizing efforts going on around hotel and casino employees in San Diego through UNITE HERE Local 30.
Elsewhere Around the Nation
Part of the changing face of the labor movement is an increasing involvement in struggles for social justice. Here are some of the joint causes labor groups around the country are involved in.
North Carolina’s Moral Mondays
Moral Monday is a series of ongoing, nonviolent protests at the North Carolina General Assembly that has been happening every Monday since April 29 led by the NC NAACP. The protests are meant to demonstrate a push back against an “extreme” agenda that “includes cuts to education, social programs and unemployment benefits; rejecting Medicaid expansion; new restrictions on voting and labor rights; and restarting the death penalty.”
Over 940 protestors have been charged in recent weeks with violation of building rules, failure to disperse, and trespassing. The local DA’s office has expressed concern that trying all the cases separately will clog up the court system and cost taxpayers. The NAACP has refused to endorse a plan that would have used pleas bargains to would avoid hundreds of trials for Moral Monday protestors.
“We understand and endorse the moral and political power that over 940 people might bring to their communities from doing the community service. But we do not support the extracting of admissions of wrongdoing and the payment of a ransom in the form of court cost for engaging in actions that are clearly protected by our Constitution,” said the NAACP in statement.
The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers
Following protests in 2011 against Wisconsin’s new collective bargaining restrictions, Gov. Scott Walker changed the rules at the state Capitol Building in Madison, requiring protesters to have permits.
The Wisconsin Solidarity Singers had been gathering weekdays to protest the Walker agenda since March 2011 through song. Suddenly their sing alongs were illegal. Singers started getting arrested. In response, hundreds of Wisconsinites joined their singing brethren to stand up to the ridiculousness of the arrests and the broader anti-worker Walker agenda.
Over 300 people have been arrested for the usual crimes, mostly for gathering without a permit. Matt Rothschild, editor of the Progressive Magazine, was arrested while photographing someone else being led away by police.
Learn more about the Solidarity Singalong
Philadelphia Teachers, Students and Parents
For starters, Gov. Tom Corbett cut over a billion dollars from public education in Pennsylvania. Then Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and school officials demanded $133 million in concessions from school employees. Philadelphia teachers, students, and parents are marching, striking, and even fasting to call attention to their city’s school crisis. In recent years, 30 schools have been closed and nearly 4,000 teachers and other staffers have been laid off. Many teachers are short on supplies for their students and have to pay out of their own pockets or dig through dumpsters to get what they need.
For more information visit the webpage of The Philly Student Union.
Fighting Wage Theft in Houston
One of the downsides of living in Rick Perry’s Texas business utopia is the employers that thumb their noses at what little law there is and screw their employees.
The Down With Wage Theft Campaign has been organizing Houston workers fed up with employers committing wage theft – not giving a last paycheck, making employees work after punching out, etc. – They’ve been pushing the Houston City Council to pass a wage theft ordinance.
Since 2007, they’ve documented more than $3.2 millon in stolen wages and have recovered more than $550,000 through negotiations, legal actions, and public campaigns. Since FY 2008, employers have agreed to pay out $18,235,720.30 in back wages to Houston workers and$1,661,630.50 more have been recovered through civil monetary penalties.
Learn more from the Down With Wage Theft campaign.
Washington, D.C. Big Box Wage Fight
The D.C. City Council passed the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA) in July, raising the minimum wage for big box retail workers to $12.50/hour.
Walmart’s threatening to cancel construction of their D.C. stores. Mayor Vincent Gray has still not made up his mind about whether to cave to Walmart’s wishes or stand up for D.C. retail workers at stores like Walmart, Best Buy, Macy’s, and Target.
Learn more about the LRAA and D.C. retail workers.
Albuquerque Minimum Wage Struggle
Albuquerque, NM voters passed a minimum wage increase in the 2012 election with 66 percent of the vote. However GOP Mayor Richard Berry and the city council are refusing to enforce the law. Instead they’re actually telling workers who make as little as $4 or $5 an hour to hire private lawyers to sue if they’d like to paid the legal wage
Working America and allies have launched a “Got Your Raise?” campaign to pressure city officials and educate workers about their rights.
Learn more about the situation in Albuquerque
Concert Tour Dancers and Choreographers
The Dancers’ Alliance and SAG-AFTRA have launched #theUNIONIZEtour, fighting for workplace protections, access to affordable health care, and a fair shot at gigs for performers on concert tours.
Watch the video above and learn more here.
LGBT Job Protections
While there are federal laws saying that you can’t be fired for being old, female, pregnant, or disabled, in 29 states, there are no such protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender workers. Workers’ rights and LGBT groups are organizing to pass a strong Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Transgender workers in 33 states also lack protections.
Learn more from Pride at Work.
Mississippi Nissan Workers
Actor Danny Glover has adopted the cause of Nissan auto workers in Mississippi who are trying to form a union. The company is trying to use the states’ restrictive labor legislation to subvert their efforts. Nissan workers in Brazil, France, and South Africa have expressed solidarity.
Learn more at DoBetterNissan.org.
Last But Hardly Least- Undocumented Americans
There are 11 million undocumented workers and their families living in the United States.
Establishing a path to citizenship isn’t just about immigration. It’s about bringing millions of undocumented workers out of the shadows, where they are currently vulnerable to every employer abuse imaginable.
Learn more about the connection between workers’ rights and immigrant rights here.
Much of this material was sourced from Buzzfeed’s Working America Community page.
An App for Organizing
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has launched a new mobile app, available free of charge for iPhone andAndroid users, that guides workers, employers and unions with information regarding their rights and obligations under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
The app provides information for employers, employees and unions, with sections describing the rights enforced by the NLRB, along with contact information for the agency’s regional offices across the country. The app also details the process the NLRB uses in elections held to determine whether employees wish to be collectively represented.
Each month, an average of 2,000 unfair labor practice charges and 200 representation petitions are filed with the NLRB. In 2012, the NLRB collected more than $44 million in back pay or the reimbursement of fees, dues and fines. More than 1,200 employees were offered reinstatement as a result of NLRB enforcement efforts.
The app is currently available for iPhone users in the Apple App Store and for Android users on Google Play.
Check Out the SDFree Press Calendar
Thanks to the efforts of Brent Beltrain, the San Diego Free Press now has an on-line calendar of events. You can see events in the arts, performances and political gatherings of every persuasion by clicking on the ‘Calendar’ Tab at the top of the page. To get your event listed, drop us a line: firstname.lastname@example.org
On This Day: 1963 – The integration of Tuskegee High School was prevented by state troopers assigned by Alabama Gov. George Wallace. Wallace had the building surrounded by state troopers. 1969 – NBC-TV canceled “Star Trek.” The show had debuted on September 8, 1966. 1987 – The Amnesty International Tour started in London, starring Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Peter Gabriel and Tracy Chapman.
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Jim Dey says
Thank you for this upbeat message. I got up this morning and tweeted:
“Sadly, ‘Labor Day’ in the US now is like ‘Government Day’ in Somalia, or ‘Religious Freedom Day’ in Saudi Arabia.”
Then I read this story and feel a little more hopeful.
Patty Jones says
Hi Jim, I hope you’ll share this hopeful message with your Twitter followers!
Lisa Joy says
Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on why today’s Holiday was established.
It is good knowing so many types of orginazations are working to bring all workers to a liveable wage.
John Lawrence says
The decline in middle class wages corresponds almost exactly with the decline of unions in this country. There’s no natural law that says productivity gains have to be split with workers. The workers got their share of productivity gains in the past by virtue of their bargaining power. Corporations and employers will pay workers as little as possible according to the law of supply and demand.
Since there are so many unemployed there is a virtual industrial reserve army out there which bids down the cost of labor. Besides workers are now in the position of competing with robots for a job. Not to mention the vast industrial reserve army overseas that is bidding down the price of American labor.
Unionization might not be successful in bringing about wage increases for some particular industry, but it might just be successful in starting a movement that would galvanize the majority of citizens against the neo-feudal upper class that is controlling them both politically and economically.
bob dorn says
As the U.S. grows more oriented around electronics in the marketplace (check out your own groceries), robotics in the production line, and/or an abandonment of manufacturing altogether it eliminates jobs.
Worse, those who do work with their hands are more and more scorned. Homelessness grows, even the middle class is shrinking, and small businesses have to compete with national conglomerates whose profits are soaring. The politicians follow the money and find that public employees are a budgetary problem, so they cut school teacher positions and salaries, and forego the repair and building of cities and neighborhoods.
But this top-down hatred no longer works. We go out onto our streets and find real people living experiences like our own, and we get together and talk. Once again, the times are changing
Anna Daniels says
Doug- your article was my first read of the day. It left me feeling hopeful. It left me thinking about how I can support the efforts you listed. Optimism and action- a great way to start Labor Day.
SDFP weekend editor Annie Lane and Labor Day editor Doug Porter are both volunteers. Both are to be commended for the time and effort they have put into SDFP coverage this long weekend.
Annie and Doug- step away from the computer and enjoy the day!
Saw this today. Compliments your excellent article:
“In honor of workers from the bottom of the totem pole up (the “98%”) . . .
How Workers Can Get a Fair Shake — A Labor Day Message from Robert Reich By Nick Berning. Wednesday, August 28 2013
In this Labor Day message, Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor and subject of the upcoming documentary “Inequality for All,” breaks down what it’ll take for workers to get a fair share in this economy . . .
Please sign that petition before firing up the grill or heading for the beach or park.
Then on September 27th this film comes to theaters–see the trailer at this link:
At the heart of the film is a simple proposition: what is a good society, and what role does the widening income gap play in the deterioration of our nation’s economic health?
We are endeavoring for INEQUALITY FOR ALL to be a paradigm-shifting, eye-opening experience for the American public. We want to accurately show through a non-partisan perspective why extreme income inequality is such an important topic for our citizens today and for the future of America.
Labor is good, be good to labor.”
Sarah Saez says
Thank you for giving a shout out to our cities taxi drivers Mr. Porter!
John P. Falchi says
Doug Porter does a good job of outlining the range of activities in which the labor movement is engaged in, today!
Thanks for a really great story on Labor Day! Couldn’t be a better time.
micaela porte says
Doug Porter is one of the best writers and thinkers in America today, making history in his own way by keeping us better informed about the realities of our world. Thank you.