New Jersey Must End the Slaughter of Black Mothers

While touting a more progressive and feminist agenda than his predecessor, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed the Diane B. Allen Equal Pay Act, which will expand the protections of the state’s existing wage and hour law and amend the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination to make discrimination in wages on the basis of any protected class an unlawful employment practice. The law should be applauded as a step in the right direction to fix the state’s pay gap disparity. However, New Jersey falls horrifically short when it comes to another women’s issue: maternal health. The maternal health of New Jersey’s women is one of the worst in the country; pregnancy-related deaths, while they are progressively climbing in the United States, is double the national average in the Garden State. Ranking 47thout of 50 in maternal deaths, according to America’s Health Rankings, a report by the United Health Foundations, in New Jersey 37 women die, on average, for every 100,000 live births. The national average is 20.

The disparities for black women in the state are even more grotesque, with African-Americans in New Jersey five times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy related complications. New Jersey’s maternal mortality remains worsethan that of Mississippi(26.5 deaths per 100,000 live births). While New Jersey has one of the lowest infant mortality, the racial gap between Black and White infants is one of the largest in the country. Black babies in New Jersey are three times more likely to die before their first birthday than White babies.

According to a proclamation celebrating the state’s first ever Maternal Health Awareness Day, the leading causes of pregnancy-related death include cardiovascular disease, pregnancy-related heart failure, embolism, septic shock and cerebral hemorrhage. Other factors include obesity, chronic health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, lack of prenatal care, and drug use.

Members of Murphy’s cabinet have highlighted their concerns about the disparity and have proposed ways to help reduce it. Dr. Shereef Elnahal, the Department of Health Commissioner, and Carole Johnson, Commissioner of the Department of Humans Services, have pledged to improve data collection and modernize government systems to provide more efficient, better quality of care that results in fewer racial disparities in general. They also promised to better coordinate government services to help address housing, transportation, nutrition, and other social factors that have a tremendous impact on the health of vulnerable residents.

Toxic racism, especially in northern New Jersey, plays a significant factor in the inequalities between Black and White women, one that transcends economic or healthcare access. New Jersey only has 15% percent Black population, yet they are the worse off for many of the state’s current health, economic, and criminalization issues. Wealthy, well-educated Black women with quality healthcare experience poorer outcomes than White women, regardless of their economic or social status. Improving the current trends of lack of care for Black women requires greater awareness, but changes in healthcare policy also need to be addressed.

Finally, New Jersey’s Black population is overwhelmingly in poverty, far beyond their White counterparts. The state average rate of poverty is 10.9%. For Whites, it’s 8.3%; for African-Americans the rate is 19.7%. For Black women in New Jersey, poverty is a reproductive rights crisis. Poverty leads to lack of pre-natal care, which contributes directly to one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the United States. New Jersey must address universal access to real healthcare for all. Otherwise, the issue of maternal mortality will continue to besmirch the reputation of the Garden State.

(Infographic Credit: Pix 11)

New York votes to remove guns from domestic abusers: Will they also disarm the police?

Praising New York’s reaction to the rising concerns of gun violence in the country, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced he will sign into law legislation that would amend state law that passed after the Sandy Hook killings that previously prohibited domestic abusers from owning pistols and revolvers, but only applied to some selected misdemeanors.

Governor Cuomo said, “New York is once again leading the way to prevent gun violence, and with common sense reform, break the inextricable link between gun violence and domestic violence. Half of the women who are murdered in this country are murdered by an intimate partner.” Firearms had been used in 35 domestic killings in 2016 in New York State.

The law, which is being changed slightly to align with federal law, passed 41-19 in the Senate and 85-32 in the state Assembly. When enacted, it can prevent someone from getting or renewing a license for a gun if the person is the subject of an arrest warrant for alleged crimes.

While a step in the right direction, the law raises a question: if you’re going to disarm domestic abusers, will you disarm the police officers that make up a significant portion of the perpetrators of domestic abuse?

In an information sheet by the National Center for Women and Policing, two studies have illustrated the staggering violence in police families, with the survivors often unable to rely on the precise institution that should protect them from such abuse: “At least 40 percent of police officer families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent of families in the general population.” A third study done with older and more experienced officers found a 24 percent rate; meaning that domestic violence is two to four times more common among police families.

Reports against police families are handled informally, usually without an official report, investigation, or even a check of the victim’s safety, often in direct contradiction to legislative mandates and departmental policies regarding the appropriate response to domestic violence crimes. Often police officers who are found guilty face no consequences for their actions.

If we’re discussing taking guns away from abusers, police officers who are violent to their families should be disarmed just like any other abuser that will be disarmed in New York, not to mention prosecuted and immediately terminated from their position, as an article in The Atlantic noted, “If there’s any job that domestic abuse should disqualify a person from holding, isn’t it the one job that gives you a lethal weapon, trains you to stalk people without their noticing, and relies on your and discretion to protect the abused against domestic abusers?”

In any conversation surrounding gun violence and domestic abuse, the police need to be held accountable for the violence they perpetrate, not just out on the streets, but in their homes and against the ones they supposedly love.

Now is the time to discuss and act about disarming the police.


(Photo Credit: For A World Without Police)

Marielle Franco spoke for Afro-Brazilians, and for that she was killed

Marielle Franco was gunned down in her white Chevy after giving a speech at Rio’s House of Black Women on March 14th, in what appeared to be an assassination and an attempt to silence what Franco was best known for: speaking out against police brutality on Afro-Brazilians and marginalized people in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro. If those who fired the nine bullets at Franco thought they would silence a movement to address the rampant corruption and racism in Brazil, they were sorely wrong. The next day, tens of thousands of people rushed into the streets across Brazil to protest her murder. Many hoped that her tragic death would shine light on corruption of police officials, violence in the Maré slums between gangs and police and the “federal intervention” of the favelas by President Michel Temer, blaming rising crime as an excuse to put the army in charge of Rio’s state police forces and prisons. Franco was vehemently against the intervention, serving on a council commission to oversee the occupation.

Franco was a light of hope for marginalized people residing in Rio’s slums where violence and police intervention is frequent. A resident of the favelas herself, she worked for a scholarship to Rios Pontifical Catholic University, studying social sciences and graduated with a master’s degree in public administration. She became militant after a stray bullet during a shootout between police and gang members killed her friend in 2005.

A black single mother and a lesbian, Franco fought for single mothers, women, gay rights and favela residents. She addressed the rampant racial inequality and police brutality in Rio, an Afro-Brazilian elected to a government post which has been ruled by rich middle-aged elite white men, in a country where more than half the population is black or mixed race. One woman, an Afro-Brazilian nurse who attended a “Black Genocide” protest in downtown Rio after Franco’s death and who refused to give her name because of fear of police intervention, claimed, “Why am I afraid? Because I’m a black woman, and my life is worth nothing here.”

While Brazil touts being post-racial, believing a black/white divide is expressly imported from America and never happened in the country, critics claim the myth silences all conversations concerning discrimination and violence. Every day, 112 Black or mixed-race Brazilians are killed. Making up 54% of the national population, Black and mixed-race Brazilians account for 71% of all homicides. From 2005-2015, the proportion of Black and mixed-race Brazilians killed rose by 18% while the figure for whites dropped by 12%. Meanwhile, white politicians in power are attempting to divert the cause of Franco’s death away from discussing race. “Her bloodshed can’t be used as an opportune moment to talk about hate. When you talk about a black-white divide, you are contributing to this division,” announced white national senator from Rio Grande do Sul state, Ana Amélia. In 2017, 1,124 people were killed at the hands of the police; 80% of those killed were Black or mixed-race.

Franco denounced police killings of Black favela residences, with special criticism for Rio’s 41st Military Police Battalion, known as “the death brigade” for killing and shooting Black youth. Franco’s last tweet condemned the death of Matheus Melo, a young Black favela resident who was shot coming out of a church with his girlfriend, “How many more people need to die before this war ends?” He was only one of the latest victims in a conflict between drug traffickers, militias and police in Rio state.

Franco’s killers have not been caught. Federal prosecutors in Rio believe the evidence points to corrupt police officers. The bullets came from police ammunition stocks, and the location of her murder seems to have been meticulously chosen, since her killers followed her from the meeting and chose a “blind spot” where street cameras were not functioning. How many more people need to die before this war ends?


(Photo Credit 1: Whose Knowledge) (Photo Credit 2: The Guardian / Marcelo Sayao / EPA)

It’s Hell to Work at the Happiest Place on Earth

Disney is supposedly the cornerstone of every American family’s dream; two and a half kids, a white picket fence, and a family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. But the reality of Disney World employees that make your trip extra magical is anything but happy: low wages, employee poverty, a weakened union, and company-proposed “bonuses” that force workers to jump through additional, strenuous hoops in order to receive their justly deserved benefits.

The entire company posted a quarterly net income of $4.42 billion in February and, thanks to the Republican tax cut, the company posted $9.3 billion dollars for 2017. Any proposed bonuses of $1000 for lower level employees would only constitute 8% of a nearly $1.6 billion expected windfall from tax cuts, and the promised bonuses are now bargaining chips meant to force the unions that represent Disney World and Disneyland to agree to lower wage increases of only $.50 or 3%, whichever is larger. Already, the 80,000 nonunion workers saw $250 addition to their paycheck, with a promise of $750 to complete the bonus; the union workers, numbering 38,000 employees, have seen nothing. For a company reported to have pulled in nearly $10 billion in the last year, workers who make the parks run smoothly every single day deserve to have living wages, without the fear of homelessness or food insecurity.

Many employees do suffer from being homeless and are food insecure. For example, nearly 85 % of cast members make less than $15 per hour, and 11% have experienced homelessness in the past two years. Wages at Walt Disney World are 68% lower than the national average, some working for as little as $13,000 per year. Meanwhile, in an attempt to limit the number of housekeeping employees, predominantly women, Walt Disney World offers guests “incentives” in the form of $40 Disney gift cards in exchange for declining housekeeping services each day. Though declining is still in its testing phase, it is a way for the company to save money and cut costs, at the expense of the “mousekeepers” who are employed at the resorts.

While wages at the park for most employees are subpar, housekeepers and custodians at both American parks suffer the most from the lack of a living wage, as seen in the story of Eritrean immigrant Yeweinisht “Weiny” Mesfin. A loyal night custodian in Disney’s California Adventure in Anaheim, Mesfin went missing after Thanksgiving weekend in 2016. She was found dead, on December 19 in her car outside a 24 Hour Fitness Gym. She had suffered a heart attack on November 30, was struggling with homelessness and living in her car in front of the gym she had a membership with so she could take a shower for work. A reliable employee, she worked six days a week, at 48 hours a week, and was unable to afford an apartment even though she worked full time hours. Three days after she went missing, she was automatically terminated as per company policy.

Angered by Disney’s dismissive attitude concerning the plight of Disney employees struggling to secure wage increases sufficient to pull them out of poverty, former custodian and friend of Mesfin, Vanessa Muñoz, wrote of her friend’s death, nearly a year later, “Someone out there on third shift at Disney now wears my Weiny’s beanie, her sweater, shirts and pants. Someone out there is about to give as much as Weiny did for a company that refuses to pay the employees an affordable living wage.” It may be too late for Mesfin, but maids and other employees at Walt Disney deserve living wages as they provide a magical experience for all guests to the parks.

If you could, please sign this petition in solidarity with Disney workers, who are being strong-armed into signing a contract against their interests for the bonuses that they were promised. The Walt Disney World Office number is 407-939-2273. Tell them Weiny sent you. #StopDisneyPoverty

(Photo Credit: OC Weekly / Vannesa Muñoz)

Pay raises, affordable healthcare: Teachers strike across the country

West Virginia teachers, wildcat strikers, on the move

When teachers in West Virginia closed every school in the state for nine days to strike for better wages and better healthcare plans, other educators, and the public around the country, took notice. One of the key issues of the West Virginia teachers was the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA, and the increasing payments from employees’ paychecks alongside the lack of quality take-home pay for teachers. West Virginian teachers rank 48th in the country in terms of pay, and any raise agreed upon between the West Virginia Education Association and the state would not have been enough to cover the rising PEIA costs.

Instead of caving to the governments’ demands, and suggestions to return to work from the union leaders, West Virginia teachers continued striking two days longer than the union had wanted; when a tentative “agreement” for a five percent raise for teachers and three percent raise for public sector workers was announced by union leaders, the teachers balked, rejecting the agreement and voting to continue the strike, shouting, “We are the union bosses!” and “Back to the table!” The fear would be that the raises would not do anything to fix the more pressing concern of rising healthcare costs, which, teachers argued, would only have short term impact. Chants echoed at the state capitol while the Senate was in session, “Pass that bill or we walk out!” “Hey, hey, whaddya say, fund PEIA!” In the end, instead of a watered down 3-4% raise, the Senate passed a 5% raise and will consider long term action for fixing the state’s public employee healthcare system.

News of the success in the teachers’ strike seems to be emboldening educators in other states. Oklahoma teachers, the lowest paid in the country, are considering a strike, the first major strike since 1990, to demand higher pay from the State Legislature. Teachers in the state are so underpaid that there has been an educator crisis, forcing the state the allow for three day weekends to entice teachers to work in Oklahoma.

On February 26, graduate student workers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign launched a strike to protect tuition waivers, which the university is planning to roll back by allowing academic departments to exclude students in their program from being members of the Graduate Student Union (GEO) bargaining unit. The strike also aims to making graduate education accessible for all students, demanding comprehensive childcare, healthcare and financial provisions to keep access to graduate level education open to poor and working-class people. The “Education for All” proposal was announced on day four of the strike.

In New Jersey, Jersey City educators have voted to strike, demanding relief from the rising cost of insurance. The union and teachers are demanding a reform of a Christie Era law, signed in 2011, called Chapter 78. The law required teachers to begin paying for their healthcare costs by percentages that increased over a four-year phase-in. Now that the four years are over, the district is permitted to allow teachers to pay a lower contribution than Chapter 78 requires, something the school board does not want to give in on. Any raises from the contract would not cover the cost of the healthcare payments, as one special education teacher pointed out, “I’m making less than I was five years ago.” As of today, the teachers are still working without a contract.

The rising tide of labor, like waking a slumbering giant, is a welcome relief form the ongoing attack on unions across the country, especially during the Trump administration. This time, instead of relying on union bosses, teachers relied on a collective, on each other, and on public support. And they’re winning.

University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign graduate students, strikers, on the move


(Photo Credit 1: In These Times / West Virginia Education Association / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: In These Times / GEO / Facebook)

To the next generations, from a millennial

This is a letter for all the next generations, terrified of the world and dismissed by the older generations. I remember being in Middle School and participating in lockdown drills, hiding in the back of the school while pretending that the school was under attack. I remember moving to different schools after there was a bomb threat that had been called into the school. I didn’t think anything of it, and most likely neither did my parents; it was just protocol, it’s not like anything like that would happen anyway. I remember everyone scoffing at participation trophies, and mocking the hurt Millennials who were too much of an emotional mess. And as I watch the next generations growing into adulthood, I am terrified to see some of my generation taking up their mantle.

We laugh at tide pods, forgetting we grew up with Jackass and the Cinnamon Challenge, the Gallon Milk Challenge, and every stupid thing we did for notoriety and our minutes of fame. We call the next generation Snowflakes, forgetting we were the original Snowflakes. I am watching, horrified, that seventeen year old kids are begging for some action by Congress after the bomb threats and lockdowns from my generation have turned into an all-out massacre of the newest generation. And more than likely, we’ll all forget what happened in the next two days, to be shelved until forty or fifty kids are killed in the next shooting.

To whoever comes after us, you are already better. You have not given up where 26-year-olds like myself have scoffed at the world, because it isn’t our problem; but it is. It will forever be our problem. We condemned the generations before us, the Baby Boomers and the like, for destroying the economy, bankrupting social welfare programs, demanding more in their ever-increasing narcissism, but we have been falling back on their ways. That cannot happen.

To the students who are calling for action from Congress because you are losing friends and teachers from the alarming increase in mass shootings, don’t give up. To the kids who are resisting the destruction of our environment and the rise of intolerance and hate, don’t give up; we all want a better world to give to our children and future generations. To students who fight for debt-free education and knowledge, don’t throw in the towel; knowledge and education is a human right. To younger generations demanding a living wage, we are all there with you; all jobs where we sell our labor should at least equal the cost of living. To the girls and young women protesting unfair dress codes and lack of access to birth control, your body is yours, not something to be controlled and censored by boys and men. You are already better than us for so many reasons, for your optimism and activism in the face of ever growing hatred.

Please continue this, and fight for a better world: a world without hate, violence and death; a world without people working and barely making ends meet; a world where a child can get an education free of the burden of debt and the fear of not making it home that day.

And Millennials, remember that once, not too long ago, we were those “stupid kids” who demanded everything and gave nothing. Our goal in a society is to improve upon it for the generations that come after us. That should forever be our mantra, and right now, that is not our mantra. Instead, we are posting on Facebook about guns and mental illness and making fun of the high school kids without taking a step back into ways we can fight for ourselves and the generations to come. It’s not too late, it’s never too late.


(Photo Credit 1: Affinity) (Photo Credit 2: New York Times / Zachary Fagenson / Reuters)

The Revival of the Poor People’s Campaign and its Effects on Women in Poverty

Bishop William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis led a mass meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina

With the re-launch of the Poor People’s Campaign over fifty years after the call by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Fight for $15 joined the new movement launch with a one day strike and rallies of low wage service workers across the South, in memory of the Memphis sanitation strike. On Feb. 12, 1968, the strike began after two co-workers died on the job and drew the attention of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to the location where he was killed.

Across the Mid-south, there were more than 30 demonstrations, and fast-food workers went on strike for a day. The protest served as uniting of the coalition between the Fight for $15 Movement and the Campaign, which focuses on shared goals: the push for a $15 hourly wage, and the right to unionize and the right to organize. Rev. William Barber of North Carolina, one of the co-founders alongside Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, explained, “Both of our movements will do whatever it takes to ensure everyone has a living wage, a strong union and the right to organize for their rights so we can unrig America’s broken politics and lift people of all races out of poverty.” The movement will kick off in May, on Mother’s Day, with six weeks of direct action and nonviolent civil disobedience in effort to address the issues of racism, poverty, militarism and ecological disaster.

The re-launch of the campaign is in response to the Trump administration’s rising hostility and white nationalist backlash to the progress of women and minorities: “We’re witnessing fundamental changing our demographics around the world. We see extremist policies in America today and it’s driven by the growing blackening and browning of America and a fusion of every creed, color and class.”

The federal government has invested only $183 billion of its budget in social programs but has relocated a $630 billion to the Department of Defense for the country’s continuous wars. That money could be spent lifting people out of poverty and helping them get the necessities of food, shelter, heat and air conditioning, and other basics. Today in America, nearly 140 million people, including 31 million children, are poor or near-poor; and the country has a growing trend of adults who work full time hours but are considered impoverished.

Low-wage work has fallen on the shoulders of women who, according to the National Women’s Law Center, make up 60% of the workforce. Low wage workforce typically pays $11 per hour; in jobs paying less than $10 per hour, women make up 70% of those workers. Women primarily are bearing the consequences of the Trump administration’s attack on social welfare programs in the United States, and that trend is only likely to continue, such as replacing SNAP benefits with a food delivery service and calling for additional Medicaid work requirements.

It is symbolic and important that the launch would begin on Mother’s Day, as women and mothers are those who most need the campaign to succeed.


(Photo Credit: Facing South) (Infographic Credit: National Women’s Law Center)

Censoring Clothing for Young Women in the United States and Beyond

Vidah Movahed

In protest to the obligatory hijab law, six Iranian women walked into public and removed their head covering, waving it for all to see. They followed protests by one woman who, on December 27th, was arrested for removing her hijab in solidarity with the White Wednesday campaign. Creator of the campaign, exiled Iranian journalist and activist in the United States, Masih Alinejad, reached out to Iranian women through social media via a website entitled My Stealthy Freedom; the website posts images of women consensually removing their head scarves, with a demand for an end to the compulsory scarf law.

Though relatively small in the number, the pop-up protests seem to be indicative of the angry censoring of both women and men’s personal conduct through Islamic laws. One of the protestors explained her decision to remove her scarf, “I’m tired of our government telling me what to do with my body.”

Lawyer and human rights activist Nasrin Sotoudeh added, “It’s obvious that some women want to decide for themselves what to wear.” It seems that the public response to the Monday protest was not particularly negative. People applauded her, taxi drivers and older women took her picture while the police either did not see her or chose not to intervene.

Of the six women who protested on Monday, one was arrested for removing her head scarf. During the protest, some women waved white scarves, a symbol of Alinejad’s campaign. Another woman stood in the same spot where, on December 27th, Vida Movahedi was arrested for removing her head scarf; the protester was wearing a green ribbon, a likely supporter of the oppositional Green Movement.

While discriminatory practices in divorce and inheritance laws poses major problems for individual women, the head scarf is a highly public symbol, imposed upon the population by Iran’s clerical leaders; only they can decide the appropriate clothing that people can wear, what music they can listen to and which movies and televisions they can see. The laws affect both men and women. For example, men are unable to wear shorts in public. Both men and women have been arrested for violating the conduct laws. Under current president Hassan Rouhani, the morality police have largely been removed from the streets.

The protests are not a protest of the hijab, but a protest against the demands of controlling a woman’s body and the choices in what she decides to wear in the public sphere. They are protests against a government that censors women’s choices and wants to manage what they wear and where they chose to express themselves.

That phenomenon is not exclusive to Iran. The United States censors and disciplines girls deemed to have made `inappropriate’ clothing choices. Girls have been disciplined for showing their collarbone and shoulders. African American students have been penalized for wearing their hair in braids with extensions and have been suspended until they change their hairstyle or barred from prom, as happened to Mya and Deanna Cook last year in Malden, Massachusetts.

These cases and laws will continue to garner the appropriate outrage, because it is not a case of oppressive measures by outside countries for religion that has been negatively generalized. They are laws designed by men to make women and girls feel ashamed of themselves and regulate their clothing and, above all, their bodies.

Mya and Deanna Cook


(Photo Credit 1: New Yorker / Abaca Press) (Photo Credit 2: Buzzfeed)

No tax breaks for Amazon while warehouse employees are worked to death!

Amazon is searching for a city to house its second headquarters, and cities and states have laid incentive after incentive in a bid to court Amazon. Only Boston has publicly released its bid, but others states have begun to gift Amazon with tax breaks and tax credits, that range from a whopping $7 billion in tax subsidies for New Jersey if Newark is chosen, a reimbursement of nearly $7,500 per new Amazon worker if the company moves into the DC area, with a max of $30,000 per new job that is filled with military veterans. Illinois has all but gifted Amazon with a tax credit called EDGE, that, “allows qualified companies to keep 100 percent of the state income tax generated by their employees for up to 10 years.”

While states fall over themselves to give as many tax breaks to Amazon, the hope that the company would make good on its promise to provide $5 billion in construction and up to 50,000 permanent jobs seems a bit less meaty than what Amazon would get in return, as both liberal and conservative policy groups criticize the states’ bids. “The liberal New Jersey Policy Perspective and conservative Americans for Prosperity-New Jersey both opposed the incentives as a giveaway to a well-heeled company. ‘By putting at least $5 billion, and potentially several billion dollars more, in taxpayer dollars on the table so early in the game, New Jersey has ensured that its returns will be minimized if Amazon were to ultimately choose the state.’ Jon Whiten, vice president of New Jersey Policy Perspective, said in a statement.”

With a company whose CEO is now the richest man in the world, Amazon does not need more tax breaks and credits so that their shareholders can get wealthier, while warehouse workers are treated abysmally and dangerously. Amazon is facing fines from the death of two warehouse workers, and the state of Indiana has found four potential violations that could cost the company only $28,000, something that sadly seems like the cost of doing business. Around the country, Amazon warehouse workers have described the dangers of their working conditions as well as the near invisibility of those working in e-commerce businesses, where their problems and safety concerns are slipped under the rug by both consumer and company.

New Jersey has one of the largest population of warehouse workers, with Amazon having warehouse locations in Robbinsville, Edison, Logan and Cranbury, and is scheduled to open yet another warehouse in Teterboro in 2018. Employees work at the state’s minimum wage, with no benefits or health insurance, and with mandatory overtime. Employees must stand and work 10 to 12 hour shifts, and receive two unpaid 15 minute breaks and a 30-minute unpaid lunch break. Any slacking can result in immediate termination from the company. Thus far, efforts to unionize workers have been so far unsuccessful, but union workers hope to bring to consumers the people who work hard to bring them their packages in a timely fashion.

While Amazon continues to enjoy the promise of tax breaks and credits to bring their second headquarters to the states’ bids, we need to think about where those tax breaks are going, because it certainly isn’t going into the safety and wages of their employees. The promise of 50,000 jobs is not worth a growing income and wealth inequality between corporations as employees are worked to death!


(Infographic: The Street) (Photo Credit: North Jersey / Mitsu Yasukawa)

It’s Time to Recognize Food Industry Work as Work!

An imbalance of power has come into play with union member food service workers, unions, and the corporate elites who run business. Attempting to control and manipulate employees, employers have exerted their will over employees, trying to extract value from labor without paying enough for that labor. That happened with my old employer, A&P, which went into bankruptcy twice before closing its doors in 2015. The supermarket chain manipulated its employee by demanding they give back parts of their benefits, including pay cuts, vacation and sick days, while the corporate elites received six figure bonuses as incentive money to keep the business afloat.

Corporates use their power to control employees in several ways: by adhering to the stereotype of workers being young lazy workers who only work for disposable income; by promoting a more familial relationship so that more labor is extracted from the employee who then feels obliged to the team and family; and by obscuring rights and privileges that many employees could take advantage of. This way, when things go awry, unions are held accountable for not working hard enough.

As the food service industry has transitioned to an informal workforce, that workforce has been stereotyped as teenagers in entry level positions, lazy without any commitment to the company and who only use their paycheck as disposable income. Further, much food service work is described as mechanical and only done by unintelligent people. Of course, this is untrue. Nevertheless, these stereotypes justify low pay and extreme exploitation.

Working at a supermarket, I have seen the physical and mental, not to mention emotional, labor that goes into every day’s work. Work at grocery stores and fast food establishments keeps others fed and clean; without them people could not function. The job is physically and mentally demanding, and injuries run rampant, from carpal tunnel to back pain and bad knees. The job requires physical stamina, completely different from the stereotype of a lazy teenager ringing someone up behind a counter waiting only for payday.

While working as a part time worker, I was required to perform nearly four jobs in my title of bakery clerk. I was a cake decorator, customer service representative, stocker, and manager. At New Jersey’s minimum wage at the time, $8.50 an hour, I was on hand as a manager while my manager went out on disability. Managerial duties require knowledge of conducting inventories, ordering product, and onerous amounts of paperwork that were never checked but demanded to be done, and breaking down multiple 50 to 75lb boxes when loads are delivered, either three days a week in the winter to every day in the summer time. I had to complete all my tasks at 28 hours a week, the maximum hours for part timers. I did so to prove myself worthy of some full-time position that never came to fruition, and because the store manager trusted me with a higher-level task I felt honored to complete it.

Employers personalize relationships with their employees in order to extract more labor from them. By making them feel obligated outside of any contractual agreement, employees may feel the need to work harder, or work what wasn’t considered in their job descriptions. Many of my coworkers and I fell prey to this. We would feel obligated to work much hard than needs be, especially for the rate of pay we were given. A dairy clerk would act as a closing manager for $9.50 an hour; at a $10.00 rate, well below the living wage in the state of New Jersey, another woman worked as a front-end manager, book keeper, and handled customers at customer service. Those who worked the hardest for the lowest pay were women; thrust into jobs not technically in their contracts but paid substantially less than their male counterparts in the same jobs.

Despite the hard and draining work that is involved with providing food to the American people, food service workers are often overlooked, underappreciated, or consistently abused both by upper level management and customers alike. If we begin by legitimizing food service work as work, and not a starting off point for teenagers who need pocket money, and by discussing the gendered divisions that keep women working for less pay then men, we can begin to fight for better working conditions and pay with benefits for every worker in the commercial food industry.

(Image Credit: UFCW)