This Labor Day, support the country’s most militant workers: women and incarcerated workers

This Labor Day Weekend, while many observe the final holiday weekend that signifies the end of the summer, while politicians tweet out false message reveling in the American worker, and government and corporations systematically take away the rights of public/privatesector union workforces, women represent the largest group of low wage workers who have the most to lose from the Anti-Labor Movement; they will be serving your meals at restaurants, ringing you up at the registers for your family barbeque, and listening to your trivial complaints as you celebrate a holiday meant for them.

According to reports from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, of the 23.5 million Americans working low-wage jobs, 19 millionare women. Traditional so-called feminine jobs –  such as office and administration assistance, food preparation and serving, and beauty and personal services – are low-wage work, held mostly by women. A third of these women have children, and lack child care options and education. By 2024, one in six of all positions will be in “low-wage women’s work.”

The misconception that low wage work is only completed by teenagers hoping for some quick “movie money” is a complete falsehood. In the workforce sector that pays less than a living wage, 90% of the womenare over twenty years old. With union membership at only 6.5% for the private sector, women are feeling the brunt of the anti-union movement.

Despite the lack of strengththat union leaders feel confronting the current administration and its hostility to minorities, union members and their allies continue to use striking and picketing to make headway, as can be seen throughout the country.

In West Virginia, teacher’s strikes initially resulted in no significant gains while union leaders claimed victory. Teachers and supporters revolted, chanting “Go back to the bargaining table! We are the union bosses!” and continued striking for five more days to secure more concessions from the state. The Oklahoma Education Association (OEA), ending the shutdown for teachers after only nine days, angered and frustrated teachers. Around 70 percentof workers and parents wanted to continue the shutdown. In the end, the teachers took revenge on state legislators who criticized the strike by voting a majorityof them out of office.

While the teachers’ strike was ongoing, 1,400 communications workers went on strike. Some of the country’s most exploitable humans, currently incarcerated individuals,have organized a strike to end the abuses of the prison industrial complex. The motivations and purpose of the demonstrations, according to organizers, is a ‘“[Call] to an end to modern day slavery,’ they’re highlighting the 13thAmendment, which otherwise banned slavery, ‘except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.’ Prisoners laboring for little or no wages is common practice, and those on strike are demanding an end to it, along with nine other demands, such as rescinding the Prison Litigation Reform Act, the restoration of the voting rights for incarcerated people and greater funding for rehabilitation services.”

This Labor Day, as we celebrate and possibly mourn the continued attacks on organized labor, we must also highlight the work of the country’s most vulnerable; women and those in prison. Against the rank and file leaders of the union, workers across the country are continuing the militant activism of the Labor Movement.

 

(Photo Credit 1: CNN) (Photo Credit 2: Chicago Sun-Times / AP / Jacquelyn Martin)

In 2006 in South Korea, women railway workers went on strike. 4526 days later … they won!

KTX women workers on strike

In 2004, South Korea launched its national bullet train, the KTX. KTX advertised to hire women train attendants. Close to 5000 women applied. KTX hired 351, all in their 20’s. The women were hired on a two year contract. The women were told they would become `regular’ employees at the end of the two years. These jobs were considered dream jobs. The women were highly educated; the jobs were secure, well paying, government jobs. What could go wrong? Everything, and predictably so. After a year, the government launched a privatization program. Women were told they were to be permanently outsource. They would be permanently irregular workers. They could still be called “the Flowers of KTX”, however. In 2006, male and female workers walked off the job. Four days later, the men returned. Twelve years later, on July 21, the women won their victory! On July 21, the Korean Railroad Corporation, KORAIL, said it would reinstate all the workers. One of the strikers, Oh Mi-seon, commented, “The ‘time of struggle’ isn’t over yet.”

The story of the South Korean railway workers’ organizing has at least three major strands. First, there’s the ongoing, intense women workers’ organizing campaigns, lasting twelve years. Women workers organized rallies, sit-ins, occupations, tent cities, and more. Since January 2007, KTX union leaders have conducted a sit-in at Seoul’s central train station. The women workers knew that they were right. They knew that, despite the numbers actually working on the trains, women made up only 5% of KORAIL’s regular employees. They knew that no one can be a permanent `irregular’ employee, and they knew that that particular destiny was slotted for women workers.

Second, the women workers went to court. IN 2008, the women filed a lawsuit. They won in 2009. KORAIL appealed. In 2011, at the appeals level, the women workers won again. KORAIL appealed again. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of KORAIL. But it didn’t end there. Since 2015, the women workers, while continuing their demonstrations and other actions, argued that something was fishy about the Supreme Court decision. At the end of May, they were proven right, when documents revealed that former Supreme Court Justice Yang Sung-tae had colluded with former president Park Geun-hye and twisted the law to benefit KORAIL. With that, the women threatened to storm the Supreme Court. Two months later, KORAIL caved.

There is a third strand. When the Supreme Court issued its ruling, in 2015, KORAIL attacked the women workers. KORAIL went to court, insisting that each of the women had to “repay” the company the equivalent of $76,000. In March 2016, a 36-year-old woman worker, only identified as Ms. Park, committed suicide. In every demonstration, press conference, action, Ms. Park is remembered, invoked, conjured. Ms. Park left a note for her 3-year-old daughter: “I am sorry, my baby. All I can leave with you is debt.” When Kim Seung-ha, head of the Korean Railway Workers Union, heard of the agreement with KORAIL, she responded, “I want to tell the friend who couldn’t be here with us for this joyous moment that we were right, we were justified.” Oh Mi-seon added, “I plan to keep battling until the truth comes to light – if only to restore the reputation of the friend I lost.”

Militant women made this happen. Militant women rejected being rendered irregular, precarious, inferior, vulnerable, weak. They withstood and transformed, and today, they are taking the struggle forward, inside the spaces of work and labor, and onto the trains. After twelve years, Korean women workers plan to keep battling until the truth comes to light. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit: Minplus)

Thailand bus fire kills 20 migrant workers from Myanmar. 18 were women. Who cares?

Early Friday morning, March 30, in Tak Province, a bus carrying workers from Myanmar to a factory district caught fire. The bus was carrying 48 workers, plus the driver and his wife. 20 workers were killed, 18 women, 2 men. Once again, despite the overwhelming gender composition of this event, the international press described the dead as simply “migrant workers” and then proceeded to focus on Thailand’s hazardous roads and the shoddy condition of the bus. Thailand has dangerous roads, but this incident was a rolling factory fire. As in Tangerang, Indonesia;  Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, United States; Kader Toy Factory, Thailand; Zhili Handicraft Factory, China; Tazreen Fashions Factory, Bangladesh; Kentex Manufacturing Corporation; Philippines; House Technologies Industries, Philippines; Bawana Industrial Area, India, and so many others, this bus fire was a planned massacre of women workers. And, as so often in these cases, the news media generally glosses over the massacre as an assault on women.

What happened? A bus carrying 48 women workers, a bus driver and his wife, was on route  from Myanmar to the Nava Nakorn Industrial Zone, near Bangkok. The bus was without air conditioning. Around 1:40, a fire broke out in the middle of the bus and spread quickly. Those in the front managed to escape. Those in the back were burnt to death.

Pa Pa Hlaing, a 19-year-old woman worker survivor, said, “When we were asleep, some people from the back of the bus started shouting and screaming ‘fire, fire’ and as we awoke, the smoke was already filling the bus. We couldn’t see anything or breathe. We just tried to get out of the bus as soon as possible. We were just rushing toward the bus door. I don’t even remember how I actually got out of that bus. There were bruises all over my legs as I was just randomly running around. Then, three minutes right after we got out of the bus, the flames just swallowed the bus.”

According to reports, the workers, from Myanmar, were all properly registered migrant workers. According to the Thai Labor Ministry, Thailand has about 2.7 million registered migrant workers, primarily from Myanmar and Cambodia. Women migrant workers figure prominently in the industrial and agricultural sector as well as among domestic workers. There is no surprise when, of 20 people killed in a factory fire, 18 are women. There is no surprise that the bus was in such bad shape it would have to be described as equipped to kill at least 20 people in the event of a fire or other catastrophe. There is no surprise here, none of this is new. It’s all part of the development model the entire world has signed on to. Apparently, the women workers in this particular bus were heading to work in a Japanese-owned toy factory.

At what point do women matter to the world at large? At what point do the world media begin to consider the high numbers of women killed in the disasters built into our built landscapes, from the garbage dumps of Maputo, Mozambique, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the earthquake struck buildings of Mexico City, Mexico, to the factories across the globe? This past week, a bus in Thailand caught fire. 20 migrant workers from Myanmar were killed. 18 were women. Who cares?

 

(Photo Credit: Bangkok Post)

The factory fire in Indonesia was a planned massacre of women workers

A police officer stands in front of the factory

On Thursday, October 26, 2017, in Tangerang, a city near Jakarta, local, national, regional, and global economic development tossed another 49 charred bodies, almost all women and girls, onto the sacrificial pyre. A fireworks factory “experienced” a fire. Two explosions roared, and 49 workers burned to death. The factory employed 103 workers, almost all women and girls. The death toll continues to rise. The 49 dead, and the 54 survivors, most of whom are severely injured, join their sisters from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in the United States, to the Kader Toy Factory in Thailand, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in China, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in Bangladesh, and to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in the Philippines two years ago and the House Technologies Industries earlier this year, also in the Philippines. Every one of these was a planned massacre of women workers. Last week’s fire in Indonesia was a planned massacre of women workers. Everyone knew it would happen, sooner or later.

Why did so many women die? So many women died because women were the workers. It makes “economic sense”, which means the pay is low and the working conditions abysmal. Now that the smoke and stench rise from the pile of 49 charred workers, almost all women and girls, now the world takes notice of “Indonesia’s conjoined struggles with workplace safety, widespread child labor and keeping children in school.”

Why did so many women die? So many women died because there was no rear exit, and so they were trapped by flames and smoke, and many were burned beyond recognition.

Since the early 1980s, researchers have been writing about women workers in Tangerang. Along with nearby Cikarang, Tangerang has been “at the heart of the Indonesian industrial system since the export boom of the 1970s”, and, from the 1970s until today, the living and working conditions have been described as “hell-like”. Women have organized, through unions and through other associations, for improvements, which come and go. Women workers in Tangerang have organized mass strikes, famously in 1991. Most of the women who work in Tangerang have migrated there, from rural areas in Indonesia, and so, despite decades of struggle, in some ways, the struggle begins anew with every new cohort.

And now? The factory owners are detained and under investigation. Families, friends and neigbhors keen and mourn. The world yet again stares, for a moment, at the pictures of grieving mothers, and reads of the loss and sorrow and loss. None of this is new or unforeseen. Tangerang specifically has been in the eye of public policy, environmental, labor, women’s, children’s, development scholars’ and activists’ studies for four decades. Industrial fire codes have been in everyone’s eyes for over a century. And yet, day in and day out, 103 workers, almost all women and girls, went to work in a fireworks factory that had no proper exit in case of fire or other catastrophe. That factory wasn’t a factory; it was a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the women and girl workers’ bodies exploded, when the daughters’ and mothers’ and sisters’ bodies blew up, there was no accident. That was an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people, a massacre, and it was part of the plan. The fire was like a roar. “After that, there were no voices anymore.”

 

(Photo Credit: Jakarta Globe / Yudha Baskoro)

Wage Theft in Music City: HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!

HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT! is the new battle cry for Workers’ Dignity’s newest campaign against wage theft and working conditions in Nashville’s booming hospitality industry. The member-led workers’ center for Nashville’s low-wage workers, with support from researchers at Vanderbilt University, released a report last week detailing the harsh conditions of labor for the city’s hospitality workers. The Music City has experienced a huge boost to its hospitality industry in the recent years thanks to Nashville’s rise to prominence as an “it” city. However economic benefits have not reached the lowest paid workers in the industry – housekeepers, custodians, and laundry employees.

The findings of the report are saddening, though not shocking. The hospitality industry has a long history of wage theft and abuse among its lowest paid workers. Nashville is no exception. The report finds that nearly 10% of all hospitality workers in Nashville make less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25. 89% of workers worked more than 40 hours a week without receiving fair overtime compensation. As housing and living costs sky-rocket in Nashville, the average wage of a hotel housekeeper, $8.36 an hour, falls far below the national median income. Who are the housekeepers? Overwhelmingly women of color.

In addition to criminally low and stolen wages, the industry is providing little in way of quality safety standards to the lowest paid workers. 39% of employees received no on the job training in handling toxic chemicals. 21% of workers reported that their employees did not provide protective materials such as masks or gloves. 27% of employees reported being injured on the job and 51% of employees are not provided sick days (paid or unpaid). Workers report constantly becoming ill due to long exposure to toxic cleaning chemicals, malfunctioning elevators that lead them to run flights of stairs as they are not permitted in the elevators with hotel patrons, and severe burns that received no attention from hotel management.

Wage theft anywhere cannot be tolerated, but in a city where prices, and buildings, continue to go up, it is crucial that every worker has access to a fair wage and safe working environments. As Workers’ Dignity claims, Nashville is in the midst of a crisis. You may donate to Workers’ Dignity here and remind the Music City that HOTELS SHOULDN’T HURT!

 

(Photo Credit: Workers’ Dignity) (Video Credit: You Tube / Zach Blumey / Workers’ Dignity)

Women say NO! to the new labor laws in France and across Europe that attack women

Once more, labor laws and work conditions are under attack in Europe, this time in France. The labor code of France, a heavy book, probably needed some cleaning up as laws had piled up and sometimes were redundant. With the encouragement of the Medef (the union of employers), the current government has undertaken to reshuffle all the principles of labor protection. Using a rare executive order (Article 49-3 of the Constitution), the French President passed a bill that was once opposed by the same Francois Hollande, who then called it undemocratic. Since his action, a movement to remind the government of its democratic responsibility has grown, and demonstrations and strikes succeed each other daily.

The Medef has argued that to create jobs employers must be able to fire more easily with fewer constraints that guarantee employees’ rights. So the French government offered a new labor law that has the potential to erase the type of labor protection that is the basis of labor rights. The bill was largely inspired by other labor bills passed in other European Countries under the aegis of austerity measures. Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Greece, Spain have passed bills to feed the exploitative neoliberal system with precarious labor contracts, called zero hour contract in one place and one-euro jobs in the next. In Greece, despite all the critics, the Troika imposed its memoranda making firing very easy. The minimum wage is now at its lowest level (511Euros for those under 25) and the social security system, which was efficient and inexpensive, is now close to being totally destroyed. Additionally, the dismantling of labor rights is very handy in making migration another source of marketization.

In France, the opposition to the bill first came from the students, who are fairly well unionized in high schools and universities. They immediately organized, understanding that this law would create a transitional system to precariousness for the youth, either for intellectual work or blue-collar jobs. Soon after many unions joined, including the CGT (Confédération Générale du Travail), CGC (Confédération générale des cadres), and FO (Force Ouvrière). Meanwhile, Nuit Debout (Night Standing Up), a rather spontaneous movement, gathered in public squares in various French cities, including Paris, Lyon, Bordeaux, and beyond.

Like other European labor bills, the French labor law is a double sentence for women. The bill ignores women’s rights while asserting its respect for the principle of equality. The bill’s language actually razes all means to attain this infamous gender equality. Flexibility supersedes gender equality. The law will limit the bargaining power of unions and fragment their negotiating power; it will aggravate the asymmetrical relationship between the employers associated with the financial oligarchy and the employees or the labor force in general. The obligations of employers toward their employees will be reduced tremendously. It will reduce the number of days off and possibilities for days off that made the leave of absence system a model for labor organizations.

The notion of flexibility has been used as a mythical term for progress while it’s real meaning for working class and particularly for women is increased precarity. In France, women make 80% of the part time labor force. Women also perform 80% of unpaid domestic work. The employers union never discusses this reality. Flexibility means lowering additional pay for extra hours, reducing delay for notices, and easing the firing process. This assault on workers’ time is a double assault on women workers.

The bill will also weaken the occupational medical system that has provided strong medical protection for employees. The risk in feminized professions of lowering the standard of protection is more than real.

Across France, mobilization is high. Feminists have been in the forefront, sending petitions and organizing demonstrations. The movement is also picking up in Belgium, for the same reasons. To understand what is at stake today, we should reread Emile Zola on the disastrous condition of the working class during the industrial revolution and especially women’s conditions. The struggle continues.

 

(Photo Credit 1: 20minutes) (Photo Credit 2: France24)

From Kerala to Florida, women farm workers are organizing and winning!

 


Around the world, women farm workers are on the move, organizing and gaining ground for women workers everywhere. This past week, women farm workers in Kerala, in India, and Florida, in the United States, won major victories. In Kerala, tea plantation workers, all women, rejecting the direction of male dominated unions and political parties, went on strike and won! In Florida, undocumented women farm workers rejected the business-as-usual of sexual exploitation … and won! Women farm workers are turning the common sense of global food chains into global food networks and communities.

In July, the Great Place to Work Institute and People Matters rated Kanan Devan Hills Plantation, the largest tea estate in Munnar, in Kerala, as one of the best places to work in India. In early September, over 5000 plantation workers, almost all women, replied, “No!” They went on strike, demanding higher wages and bonuses. Their strike lasted nine days. During that time, the women told trade unions and political parties that [a] that male-dominated unions and parties did not represent the women’s interests sufficiently and [b] the women could negotiate for themselves.

The women allowed only four politicians to join the strike. They unconditionally welcomed 92-year-old VS Achuthanandan, a founding member of the Communist Party India (Marxist) and widely respected for his integrity. They also allowed women politicians PK Jayalakshmi, Bindhu Krishna, and Latika Subhash to join the strike, on the condition that they would stay in Munnar until the strike was resolved.

On Sunday night, the women won their bonus demands, and called off the strike. The wage demands are still being worked out.

For over 20 years, Ananthalakshmi has worked the fields: “Men hardly get tough chores like us. We even load the sacks to the trucks and are disproportionately paid”. The struggle in the Munnar hills of Kerala is for wages, bonuses, equality, women’s dignity and women’s power. By enthusiastically welcoming VS Achuthanandan, the women workers demonstrated that women’s power is principled, rigorous and courageous in its forms of inclusion.

The line of women’s power from the tea fields of Munnar to the tomatoland of Felda, Florida is long and direct. On Friday, five women vegetable packers won a $17 million sexual harassment case. The five women had worked for Moreno Farms, Inc. They said they felt terrified whenever their supervisors threatened to take them to the cooler and trailer. Their bosses groped, threatened, and raped them. When the women refused to submit, the bosses fired them. Three of the five women were raped. When they went to the local sheriff’s office to report the rapes, the sheriffs did … less than nothing. A local attorney, Victoria Mesa, stepped in and took the case, and she persuaded the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC, to represent the women.

Beatriz André, EEOC’s lead attorney in the case, said, “Having long been silenced by shame and fear, this trial offered these five women the opportunity to give voice publicly to their experiences and their desire for justice.” Robert E. Weisberg, regional attorney for the Miami office of the EEOC, added “I’m thrilled because this jury’s verdict sends a message to every other woman working in Florida’s fields. They do have rights, regardless of their immigration status.” For the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, this is a cautionary tale: “The women on Moreno Farms suffered unspeakable indignities that could have been prevented, had they been working on Fair Food Program farms.”

Moreno Farms closed in May, which means it’s unlikely that the women will see the 17 million dollars, but this is more than a symbolic victory. First, the women will receive special U visas for victims of crime who assist law enforcement in prosecuting cases. Second, the women won! Five undocumented Latinas won. This local victory is a cross-border, transnational victory, as has been noted in Mexico and beyond.

Tea and tomatoes are big global business. Over the past week, 5000 women farm workers on a tea plantation in Munnar and five women workers in a tomato processing plant in Felda have shown they are not too big to be cracked open by women’s power and mobilization for justice for workers, women, and women workers. The struggle continues!

 

(Photo Credit 1: Youth Ki Awaaz) (Photo Credit 2: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Tufts University, Sotheby’s, WeWork and the war on women workers

Former WeWork cleaners’ vigil at WeWork headquarters on Monday

In the United States, August 26 is Women’s Equality Day. On Aug. 26, 1920, the amendment guaranteeing the right to vote for women officially became part of the U.S. Constitution. That equality does not extend to the workplace. Ask the women who clean offices. They’ll tell you of rampant sexual violence, harassment, persecution, and dismissal for speaking up or trying to organize. This is part of the global condition of women workers in the shining not-so-new economy of global cities.

In Boston, Tufts University “employs” around 200 janitors. The workers officially work for DTZ. DTZ describes itself as “a global leader in commercial real estate services.” DTZ boasts “facilities management for Harvard, Stanford, Florida State universities and many more colleges and universities across North America, Australia and Asia.”

Tufts claims DTZ began plans for reorganizing its custodial staff a while ago. Tufts also claims the university “planned the layoffs because it found out it was paying more for cleaning services than other similar universities … The restructuring will save the university about $900,000.” Both stories could be true at the same time.

Tufts would not speak with the janitors because the janitors don’t work for Tufts. They work for DTZ. When the notices finally came, janitors, students, the Service Employees International Union and other supporters began a months’ long campaign, which resulted in a temporary stay of eviction. But then the school year ended, the students went off, and the workers remained.

In July, DTZ told all the workers they had to change their schedules. Paula Castillo, 67-years-old, has worked as a janitor at Tufts for 19 years. She describes the impact of changed hours and increased workloads, “The shift in our work plus the change of our schedules have had a large impact on us. I used to schedule my weekly hospital appointments around 4 p.m. after work, but now that my hours were changed, I can’t go at 4 … The problem is that I won’t be able to clean the 120 bathrooms, and four buildings with three to five floors that I’m assigned to. We won’t be able to finish all the work they’ve assigned us. What they want is to take out all the elders, and it’s difficult to find a job because of my age. I won’t be able to.”

This is not particular to Tufts or to DTZ. It’s the same-old and new norm, all at once. At Sotheby’s in London, four Latin American workers joined a protest asking for livable sick leave. The next day, they were fired, but they don’t work for Sotheby’s. They work for Servest, “one of the largest cleaning services companies in the UK with experience in every setting you can imagine … With us, you can also expect a completely flexible approach.” Servest also flexibly “maintains” Cambridge University.

In New York, WeWork “released” its sub-contracted cleaners this past Monday, and announced it would be hiring new workers in “an exciting transition.” The new hires will be called Community Service Associates, and they must now demonstrate an “ability to communicate in English.” There is no mention of the metrics for evaluating that ability. Carlos Angulo has worked as a cleaner at WeWork for two years: “If I talk to the toilet in English it’s not going to answer. The printer doesn’t ask me to talk to it in English.”

These work forces are overwhelmingly women of color, and more often than not immigrant and transnational women of color. From dismissals to changed schedules to reduced hours and work speedups, efficiency and paying-more-for-services-than-our-brothers always provides cover for the systemic assault on women’s dignity and well being: office cleaners, garment workers, home health care workers, domestic workers, restaurant workers, teachers, nurses, women farm workers, women.

 

 

(Photo Credit: SEIU 32BJ / Gothamist)

In Canada two Mexican women workers win a victory for women workers everywhere!

Since 1973, Canada has run the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, or TFWP. Initially designed to bring in `high-skilled’ and specialized workers, in 2002 it was revised in order to bring in “low-skilled” workers who now make up the overwhelming majority of TFWP workers. Eight years ago, two Mexican sisters took on the injustice of the TFWP and, last week, won a landmark victory for women workers everywhere.

In August 2007, two sisters, now known as O.P.T. and M.P.T., left Mexico to work in Canada under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. They were employed by Presteve Foods Ltd, in Ontario, owned at the time by Jose Pratás. At the time Pratás was 74. O.P.T. is now 36 years old, and her sister is 30.

According to both sisters, Pratás immediately started making explicit sexual advances towards O.P.T. and then demanded sex. Whenever O.P.T offered resistance, Pratás would threaten to send her back to Mexico. This was no idle threat. Under the TFWP, “temporary workers” are attached to their employers. In the Spring of 2008, O.P.T. fled Presteve, moved to Windsor for a bit, and then returned to Mexico.

In the Spring of 2009, the CAW-Canada union, now called Unifor, filed a brief with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, on behalf of 39 Thai and Mexican women workers employed at Presteve. Then things moved both quickly and slowly. Pratás was charged with 23 criminal charges of sexual assault and five counts of common assault, all involving women “temporary foreign workers”. In March 2010, Pratás pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and received a conditional sentence and some probation.

Ultimately, of the original 39 claimants, only O.P.T. and M.P.T. were left to challenge the power of Presteve Foods, Jose Pratás and the entire Temporary Food Works Program.

Last Wednesday, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario handed down its decision and awarded O.P.T. a record $165,000 as compensation for “injury to her dignity, feelings and self-respect”. The Tribunal also awarded M.P.T. $55,000. Pratás and Presteve Foods, now owned by Pratás’s son, must pay the two sisters $220,000 for having created a “sexually poisoned work environment”.

After the hearing, O.P.T. said, “I want to tell all women that are in a similar situation, that they should not be silent and that there is justice and they should not just accept mistreatment or humiliation. We must not stay silent. [As a migrant] one feels that she or he has to stay there [in the workplace] and there is nowhere to go or no one to talk to. Under the temporary foreign worker program, the boss has all the power – over your money, house, status, everything. They have you tied to their will. It has been 8 years to obtain justice but 8 years and justice is finally here today.

If we don’t do what they say, they have the power to deport. We are obligated to work. Not as people, but as slaves. We endure wage theft, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and our bodies are injured because of the stress of the work. They push and push us. How can you say that we are free when in practice we have no right to leave?

“But how can we leave, if we cannot work for another employer. They harm us, and then they send us home. There is racism underlying their treatment of us. How is this allowed in Canada? That happened to me eight years ago, and the system is still the same. Treat us with dignity. Not as animals. But as human beings who merit respect.

Even when we have been humiliated and mistreated, we have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.”

Canada created a system in which workers were tied, handcuffed, to their employers, in which workers were forced into almost complete dependence on employers. Employers then sought women workers, whom, by law, they are allowed to pay less for the same work as male workers in the program. Women in the caregivers’ program suffer the same violence.

O.P.T’s and M.P.T.’s victory is a victory for women workers across Canada and around the world, as they struggle with the violence of `national economic growth.’ We have to hang on to our dignity. That is all we have.

 

(Photo Credit: thestar.com)

From Connecticut to Oregon, women fight for domestic workers’ rights and power

Domestic workers celebrate in the Connecticut Senate gallery

Across the United States, women are organizing for domestic workers’ rights and power. According to the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance, in the next week, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights will hit the Illinois State Senate; the Connecticut Domestic Workers’ Bill will go to the Connecticut House of Representatives; and the Oregon Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will arrive on the floor of the Oregon State House of Representatives. From sea to shining sea, domestic workers – maids, nannies, and home health care providers – are on the move and winning previously thought impossible battles. Women, overwhelming women of color and largely immigrant women, are transforming a subterranean network into an Overground Railroad of emancipation and enfranchisement. Connecticut, Illinois, and Oregon are stations on that system.

In so doing, women are re-writing history. While every labor victory rewrites history, these particular struggles involve not only State and Civil, or uncivil, Society disrespect and marginalization. They involve the words and texts of law. In Connecticut, for example, domestic workers’ struggle for dignity, rights, power, and better working conditions is aimed at re-writing the State definition of “employer.” Under Connecticut law, “employee” is defined as “any person employed by an employer but shall not include any individual employed by such individual’s parents, spouse or child; or in the domestic service of any person.” The Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights eliminates the last clause: “or in the domestic service of any person.”

On Friday night, the Connecticut Senate passed the Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights. Domestic workers – such as Natalicia Tracy, Iame Manucci, Maria Lima and Nina Siqueira – danced and shouted from the gallery, as the final vote was tallied. But they understand that this is the next step. Not only must the House of Representatives pass the Bill, but domestic workers must then militate further to be included in the State’s minimum wage law. That protection is not guaranteed under the Bill of Rights.

In Illinois and Oregon, it’s the same. Domestic workers are pushing to do much more thatn “come out of the shadows.” They have never been “shadow workers”. They have always been women workers on the move, and now the move has risen and expanded to the next stage.

The exclusion of domestic workers from labor law emerges from the explicitly racist foundations of slavery and Jim Crow. Domestic workers writing and promulgating Domestic Worker Bills of Rights participate in an ongoing Black and Brown Workers’ Liberation Movement. Within and beyond #BlackWomensLivesMatter and #SayHerName, domestic workers are pushing and expanding the terrain of emancipatory struggle. A luta continua! The struggle continues!

 

(Photo credit: Mark Pazniokas / Connecticut Mirror)