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)

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)

In Virginia, Lipton Tea workers prove there is power in a union

Lipton Tea worker leaders celebrate their first union contract. From left are Corey Hicks, Paul Garrison, Anita Anderson, Philip Surace, Ricky L. Gregory Sr., Juanita Hart and Paul Perdue

On Monday, July 24, workers at the Lipton Tea factory in Suffolk, in the so-called right-to-work Commonwealth of Virginia, voted 109 – 6 to approve their first union contract. The contract covers 240 workers in the plant. It also covers all Lipton Tea factory workers in North America, since the Suffolk plant produces all the Lipton tea bags sold in North America.

The story of workers taking charge began last year. For the preceding ten years, workers had seen their benefits shredded, the pace of work accelerated, their positions rendered increasingly precarious. Sick leave, including unpaid sick leave. was reduced to the barest legal minimum. Insurance coverage became prohibitively expensive and, simultaneously, less expansive. Particular to Lipton was something called “drafting” in which workers were forced to work overtime, often 12-hour shifts for 13 days before getting a day off.

In 2013, Lipton Tea, owned by Unilever, announced it would invest $96 million to “upgrade” the factory. That meant new machinery. Production stopped temporarily. When production resumed, all the workers were forced to re-apply for their jobs. As mechanic Robert Davis explained, “I had been there 23 years, but I had to reapply for the same job, turn in a resume and everything.” Davis was turned down the first time he applied.

With speed ups, no sick leave, workplace injuries and illnesses, workers began leaving. When they left, they were not replaced. The factory workforce decreased, as the amount of work increased. This is known as “lean production.” Last spring, workers decided they had had enough, and called the United Food and Commercial Workers. According to UFCW Kayla Mock, “From the beginning, they took so much ownership and responsibility for building their union. They held full-on organizing conversations with their co-workers, identifying other leaders in the plant and bringing them on board, talking and assessing the other workers.” Mock added, “The workers were the ones who took ownership of it from the very beginning. They very clearly understood that their union was something that they needed to build, almost like a tangible thing, and they built it from the ground up—they just owned it.”

Lipton Tea workers called Hellman Mayonnaise workers in Chicago. Unilever owns Hellman Mayonnaise, and the Chicago plant is unionized. The workers in Suffolk learned that their brothers and sisters in Chicago had better working conditions, including better and more immediate pay for overtime and a far superior, and much cheaper, health care plan.

Anita Anderson, who has been with Lipton Tea for ten years, explains, “You had a choice to make. You call out sick and get one incident, or you come to work and pass germs around … If you got hurt on the job, it’s never unsafe conditions. It was never that you were fatigued from working so many hours. It was always, the employee did not do something right. So if you get hurt, then it’s an incident, it’s a strike in your personnel file … We decided we deserved more than what we were getting. Once we got a write-up comparing the benefits of the Hellman plant compared to our plant, a lot more folks came on board.” Anderson started talking with her colleagues, “I told them about how the Verizon workers had a union, and when they were threatened with their jobs going overseas, they went on strike, they fought, and they won and kept their jobs.”

August 26, 2016, the workers of Lipton Tea voted 108 – 79 in favor of joining the UCFW. Juanita Hart has worked 25 years at Lipton Tea: “I was crying like I had won the lottery. I was so glad and I was so happy because I’ve been told for all this time, all these years, that it would never happen. And when it happened, I had so much joy that all I could do (was) cry.” Anita Anderson added, “Everyone is excited. Even the ones that were naysayers about the union are asking about the next union meeting so they can speak up and talk about the issues in the plant.”

Yesterday, Lipton Tea workers voted for the first time in the 60 year history of the factory, and they approved a contract that would save them more than $4000 a year in health care costs. Yesterday, Lipton Tea workers – with Anita Anderson and Juanita Hart among the leaders –  voted for workers’ dignity, respect, and power. There is power in a union.

 

(Photo Credit: Suffolk News Herald)

A specter haunts the university: the permanence of workers’ space and time

In Washington, DC, the George Washington University (GWU) fired more than half of the faculty at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. The decision came roughly one year after the acquisition of the Corcoran School by GWU. One professor, Antje Kharachi, whose contract was terminated, said, “The past few years have been absolutely exhausting. As much as I loved the Corcoran, I feel relief that the seemingly endless wait is finally over. We’ve been lied to, undermined, disrespected, while trying to hold the [Corcoran School] together for our students.” Kharachi was just informed her contract would be terminated, and she felt relief. This comes on the heels of the firings of two of the University’s Women’s Studies Program’s most widely known adjunct faculty in an effort to “restructure” the program at GWU. Two months prior to the Corcoran layoffs, GWU announced they would also be restructuring their dining program. The over forty workers, many of whom have spent anywhere from one to five decades working in some capacity with the dining program, have recently lost the permanence of the space they have made their livelihoods for decades. Both faculty and dining workers had heard only vague reports of their future employment at the University, and spent years reporting to work under the presumption that any day could be the day their jobs were lost.

“All right, Chesimard, pack your things. You’re being moved.”
“Moved? Where?”
“You’ll find out when you get there.”
“Then i’d like to call my lawyer.”
“You can call your lawyer when you get where you’re going.”

In Assata: An Autobiography, Assata Shakur describes the physical space of her incarceration in and around the Middlesex County Jail: “My abrupt transfer form one jail to another, without either notice to my lawyers or explanation to me, was a scenario that would be repeated over and over again during the next few years.” We often envision and discuss the space of incarceration as one of stagnant permanence. For Assata Shakur, and many others, along with solid cell walls and the indefinite permanence of solitary confinement, space also involved abrupt relocations without warning. It dictated and severely limited her relationships with her lawyers, friends and family. According to a Department of Justice report, nearly every state’s Department of Corrections “does or can transfer inmates to destinations in other states.” In Washington D.C. alone, one in five people incarcerated on felony charges is imprisoned more than 500 miles from the District of Columbia.

In relation to global militarization and securitization, violence and displacement, or “expulsion”, the impermanence of space operates as psychological warfare from individuals, such as Assata Shakur, to entire local communities to millions of people. These displacements benefit the systems of expulsion by expelling people from both land and sense of self. People are forced out of their sense of permanence and community. Landless, homeless, and without anchor, people experience loss of community as a kind of radical individuality that is not conducive to pushing back against the forces that lead to Assata’s incarceration, the ambiguity of future employment in campus dining, or displacements on a massive scale.

At GWU, the fear and unknowing about whether or not one’s job would continue to exist instilled in many a sense of despair. Lack of communication and vague non-promises about what comes next produces a demoralization that keeps workers in a state of anxiety, a state of heightened individuality that creates an even more challenging environment for collective organizing. These decisions are not specific to the George Washington University alone, but rather emblematic of a broader trend in higher education, and in the global economy as a whole. The precariousness of work has come to play a central role in efforts to financially, psychologically, and emotionally control huge swaths of people. To understand both the permanence and impermanance of space is to better understand the precariousness of work. The structuring of this new impermanent work environment leaves many with hyper-individualistic sense of despair – kept in the dark about their own time and futures, and left feeling powerless.

Workers in the struggle to put an end to on-call scheduling and reclaim some permanence in their work lives; students, workers, staff, and faculty at universities demanding accountability and transparency for administrator’s decisions to cut budgets and restructure programs; communities organizing to be informed about rights and resistance in the face of raids that fill the beds of immigrant detention centers globally are already challenging the impermanence of space. It’s time to demand full transparency and accountability from administrators as they dangle workers’ futures over a ledge, it’s time to end the practice of prisoner relocations beyond the reach of their families and loved ones. When we challenge the logics and practices that leave us feeling powerless and alone, we win. These systems are allowed to thrive when the individual is adrift amongst a sea of individuals, and to assert that a radical collectivity is not only ideal, but also necessary.

(Photo Credit: Guido van Nispen / Truthout)

Workers’ Radio Dignidad To Hit the Airwaves in Nashville

Workers Dignity

A worker-led, community radio station is coming to Nashville, Tennessee. Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera, a worker-led workers’ center based in Nashville, is currently fundraising to support Nashville’s first ever worker-led radio station, designed to be a mixtape of music and social justice, powered by the voices of those left out of Nashville’s recent rise to national prominence.

As low-wage workers continue to be priced out of their neighborhoods as a result of the massive development projects and gentrification occurring throughout Music City, it is important for outlets such as Radio Dignidad to exist so that our community does not lose sight of those struggling to survive in the quickly changing Nashville landscape.

Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera was founded in Nashville in 2010 in an effort to combat the epidemic of wage theft plaguing low-wage workers in Middle-Tennessee. Through organizing, fundraising, phone calls, visits to workplaces, and other acts of solidarity, Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera has helped workers recover over $200,000 in stolen wages.

Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera now has the opportunity to expand their efforts and ability to organize and empower low-wage workers in Nashville through their radio station. To do that, they need the support of the community and those in solidarity with workers. Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera plans to launch the radio station on 104.1 FM in 2016. They need to raise funds to purchase the expensive equipment needed to broadcast. Their current goal is to raise $10,000 by Thanksgiving. Together we can change the tide in Nashville, and bring power back to the voice of the people.

You can donate to their campaign here.

 

(Photo Credit: Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera) (Video Credit: Workers’ Dignity/Dignidad Obrera)