Tags: Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, income inequality, labor, labour, minimum wage, pam ramos, poverty, roger hollander, wal-mart, working poor
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Roger’s note: Barack Obama, soon to be if not already a millionaire, shows just how out of touch he is with reality by his visit to one of the most exploitative enterprises on the face of the earth.
The president’s visiting my store Friday. He won’t see how I sleep on my son’s floor and eat potato chips for lunch
Thursday, May 8, 2014 12:23 PM -0500, http://www.salon.com,
When I woke up to see the news, I could hardly believe it: President Obama is planning a visit to the Mountain View Wal-Mart where I work.
But the excitement quickly passed when I found out the store would be shutting down hours in advance of his visit. I wouldn’t be able to tell the president what it’s like to work at Wal-Mart and what it’s like to struggle on low wages, without the hours I need. I am living at the center of the income inequality that he speaks about so often, and I wanted to talk to him about how to change this problem.
My situation is not unlike that of many of the 825,000 Wal-Mart associates – and many other Americans – who are working hard, but just can’t keep up. Most of us aren’t even paid $25,000 a year even though we work at the largest employer in the country and one that makes $16 billion in profits.
I wanted to tell the president what it’s like working – and living – like this.
Things have always been tight. After four years working at Wal-Mart in Mountain View, I am bringing home about $400 every two weeks (I’d like to get more hours, but I’m lucky if I work 32 hours a week). That’s not enough to pay for bills, gas and food. All I can afford to eat for lunch is a cup of coffee and a bag of potato chips. I’ve always done everything possible to stretch paychecks and scrape by. Sometimes it means not getting enough to eat.
But then I got some bad news that made stretching my budget impossible.
Two months ago, I started feeling ill. My doctor told me I needed to take a week off to have a series of medical tests. Every day for a week I went to the hospital and had to pay $30, $60 or $100 in co-pays for each appointment, test and X-ray.
With these additional expenses and without a paycheck for the week I was out, it pushed me over the edge. I didn’t have enough money to pay the rent.
Right now, I don’t have a place to call home.
I sleep on the floor of my son’s living room because I can’t afford my own place. All of my belongings are in my car. I don’t know where to send my mail.
I used to think, “At least I have my health and my family.” But my doctor thinks I may have colon cancer, and with all of the money I still owe the hospital, I’m not sure how to finish the tests and get treatment. Even though I do have insurance through Wal-Mart, the co-pays are more than I can afford with only $400 every two weeks.
I wanted to tell the president I am scared. I am scared for my health. I am scared for the future for my grandkids. And I am scared and sad about the direction that companies like Wal-Mart are taking our country.
I don’t wish the struggle I’m facing onto anyone. But sadly, my situation isn’t unique. I know that I am one of many living in the Wal-Mart economy who has no financial stability. We expect to work until our deaths because we don’t have any retirement savings and are concerned about the future in front of our children and grandchildren.
There are so many of us who have it so hard – trying to live paycheck to paycheck. While the president is here visiting my store, I want him to look inside at what is really happening at Wal-Mart.
I want the president to help us and tell Wal-Mart to pay us enough to cover the bills and take care of our families. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask from such a profitable company, a company that sets the standard for jobs in this country. And I hope it’s not too much to ask from a president who believes that income inequality is the defining challenge of our time.
Pam Ramos has worked for four years at the Walmart in Mountain View, California. President Obama is visiting this Walmart on Friday. Ramos is also a member of OUR Walmart, the worker organization calling on Walmart to publicly commit to paying workers $25,000 a year, providing full-time work and ending illegal retaliation.
Tags: Black Friday, Business News, capitalism, food banks, LA Walmart Strike, labor, labour, minimum wage, Our Walmart, poverty, poverty wages, retail workers, roger hollander, wage slavery, wal-mart, Walmart Arrests, Walmart Chinatown, Walmart Civil Disobedience, Walmart LA Protest, Walmart Los Angeles, Walmart Protest, Walmart Protesters Arrested, Walmart Protests, walmart strike, Walmart Wages, workers rights
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Roger’s note: welcome to wage slavery in capitalist America, the land of freedom. Freedom to vote. Freedom to watch your children starve.
Surrounded by about 100 police officers in riot gear and a helicopter circling above, more than 50 Walmart workers and supporters were arrested in downtown Los Angeles Thursday night as they sat in the street protesting what they called the retailer’s “poverty wages.”
Organizers said it was the largest single act of civil disobedience in Walmart’s 50-year history. The 54 arrestees, with about 500 protesting Walmart workers, clergy and supporters, demonstrated outside LA’s Chinatown Walmart. Those who refused police orders to clear the street after their permit expired were arrested without incident. Those who fail to post $5,000 bail would be jailed overnight, Detective Gus Villanueva, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman, told The Huffington Post.
Their primary demand to Walmart: pay every full-time worker at least $25,000 a year.
One of the protesting Walmart workers, Anthony Goytia, a 31-year-old father of two, said he believes he will make about $12,000 this year. It’s a daily struggle, he said, “to make sure my family doesn’t go hungry.”
“The power went out at my house yesterday because I couldn’t afford the bill,” Goytia told HuffPost. “I had to run around and get two payday loans to pay for my rent from the first” of the month. “Yesterday we went to a food bank.”
To make ends meet, Goytia said he sometimes participates in clinical trials and sells his blood plasma. He has been asking his managers for full-time employment for a year and a half. Instead, he said, they hire temporary workers, who can be fired at any time.
Goytia was one of several dozen Walmart workers in Southern California who went on strike Wednesday and Thursday, calling for an end to low wages, unpredictable part-time hours and retaliation for speaking out. They were joined by other employees on their days off and dozens more who rode buses from Northern California.
The strike, protest and arrests are the latest in a series of worker actions across the country coordinated by OUR Walmart, an advocacy organization with ties to the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. The strike and protest in Los Angeles this week are the first in what organizers said would be a series of protests leading into the holiday shopping season.
The protesters said Walmart can afford to pay every worker at least $25,000 a year — pointing to Walmart’s $17 billion profit from the latest year and the founding Walton family’s fortune, which equals the wealth of the bottom 42 percent of American families.
Walmart CEO Bill Simon disclosed in a presentation recently that 475,000 Walmart workers are paid more than $25,000 a year. That leaves 525,000 to 825,000 Walmart workers earning less than $25,000. House Democrats seeking to boost the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour have criticized Walmart for its low wages.
Walmart invited HuffPost to speak to a couple associates working in the Chinatown store during the protest Thursday. In the presence of a consultant working for Walmart, two employees — Do Nguyen, 29, and Aldo Hernandez, 55 — said that they are treated well at Walmart. Nguyen, who has worked for Walmart for almost a year, said that asking for a minimum of $25,000 is “a national issue, not a Walmart issue.”
Hernandez, who has worked for Walmart for almost five years, said he gets good health benefits through Walmart and doesn’t struggle to support himself and his son. Both Nguyen and Hernandez declined to say how much they make.
Kory Lundberg, a spokesman for Walmart, said that the company has hundreds of thousands of associates who earn $25,000 or more and that others have the opportunity to do so.
“There are unparalleled opportunities at Walmart,” Lundberg said. “We’re going to be promoting 160,000 associates this year. That’s larger than the total workforce of most companies out there.”
“Folks can come in as entry level or whatever level they’re at and can work up as far as they’re willing to go,” Lundberg said. “That’s one of the things we’re proudest of.”
After working full time at Walmart in Paramount, Calif., for 10 years, Martha Sellers, 55, makes $25,400 a year. In the last few years, she said, her managers have been cutting her weekly hours, sometimes to as few as 12 hours a week.
With that income, she said, she has to pay her rent in pieces. “If I pay all my rent at one time, then I have $12 to live on and put gas in my car until I get paid again,” Sellers, who attended Thursday’s protest, said.
“I have a very nice neighbor who lends me money. But then the next month, I’m short again,” Sellers said. “I never get caught up.”
LA’s Chinatown Walmart, about one-fifth the size of the company’s regular stores, opened in September despite thousands of Angelenos protesting it during the summer. It is the retailer’s first store in central LA.
In October 2012, for the first time in Walmart’s history, some workers went on a one-day strike, even though Walmart jobs have never been protected by a labor union. More than 70 LA Walmart workers from nine stores walked off the job, followed by over 80 Walmart workers walking off the job in a dozen other U.S. cities.
Last year, through online organizing, OUR Walmart coordinated strikes on Thanksgiving and Black Friday in 46 states and 100 stores. The actions put a spotlight on the world’s largest retailer during one of the biggest shopping periods of the year. Walmart had its best Black Friday ever, according to the company.
Regarding associates being required to work earlier on Thanksgiving, Lundberg said, “Folks understand that when they come to work for Walmart, that we’re a 24-hour store, and Thanksgiving is one of those days that we serve our customers.”
Sellers went on strike on Black Friday last year and said she plans to do so again this year. “Walmart claims to be a family-oriented company,” she said. “But where’s the family time? They took away Easter too.
“Where is the American economy going if we’re all working poverty wages?,” Sellers said. “There will be no working class. We’ll all be in a poverty class.”
Bolivian government authorizes workers to take over closed or abandoned firms October 20, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: Bolivia, bolivia labor, Evo Morales, labor, labor unions, labour, richard fidler, roger hollander, workers rights
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Richard Fidler, La Paz, Life on the Left, http://boliviasc.org/
On October 7, President Evo Morales issued a government decree that allows workers to establish “social enterprises” in businesses that are bankrupt, winding up, or unjustifiably closed or abandoned. These enterprises, while private, will be operated by the workers and qualify for government assistance.
Morales issued Supreme Decree 1754 at a ceremony in the presidential palace marking the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the Confederación General de Trabajadores Fabriles de Bolivia (CGTFB – the General Confederation of Industrial Workers of Bolivia). The Minister of Labour, Daniel Santalla, said the decree was issued pursuant to article 54 of Bolivia’s new Constitution, which states that workers
“in defense of their workplaces and protection of the social interest may, in accordance with the law, reactivate and reorganize firms that are undergoing bankrupty, creditor proceedings or liquidation, or closed or abandoned without justification, and may form communitarian or social enterprises. The state will contribute to the action of the workers.”
In his remarks to the audience of several hundred union members and leaders, President Morales noted that employers often attempt to blackmail workers with threats to shut down when faced with demands for higher wages.
“Now, if they threaten you in that way, the firm may as well go bankrupt or close, because you will become the owners. They will be new social enterprises,” he said.
Labour Minister Santalla noted that the constitutional article had already been used to establish some firms, such as Enatex, Instrabol, and Traboltex, and that more such firms could now be set up under the new decree.
Business spokesmen predictably warned that the new provisions would be a disincentive to private investment and risk the viability of companies.
Santalla also said that firms that do not comply with their workforce obligations under the law will lose preferential mechanisms to export their products to state-managed markets. And he cited some recent cases in which the government had intervened in defense of workers victimized for their attempts to form unions. In one such case last month, Burger King, the company was fined 30,000 Bolivianos ($4,300 US), ordered to reinstate the fired workers and to recognize the union.
In the following article Alfredo Rada, Bolivia’s Deputy Minister of Coordination with the Social Movements, draws attention to some important developments within the country’s labour movement and suggests some means by which the unions can be more effectively incorporated within the “process of change” being championed by the government of the MAS-IPSP, the Movement for Socialism – Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples.
My translation from the Spanish.
– Richard Fidler
Clintons’ Pet Project for Privatized ‘Aid’ to Haiti Stealing Workers’ Wages: Report October 17, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Haiti, Hillary Clinton.
Tags: Bill Clinton, caracol industrial, clinton foundation, garment industry, haiti, haiti reconstruction, hillary clinton, labor, labour, privatization, roger hollander, sarah lazare, workers rights
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Roger’s note: Ah, the Clintons, the couple I love (to hate), major destroyers of what little was left of liberal progressiveness in the Democratic Party. Here they are in Haiti with their bloodsucking “private” capitalistic venture in Haiti, which is the home to one of the poorest peoples in the world, helping to make them even poorer.
“We’re sending a message that Haiti is open for business again,” Hillary Clinton declared upon the announcement of the opening. What she mean was “open for exploitation.”
‘This calls into question the sustainability and effectiveness of relying on the garment industry to lead Haiti’s reconstruction’
Haiti’s Caracol Industrial Park—the U.S. State Department and Clinton Foundation pet project to deliver aid and reconstruction to earthquake-ravaged Haiti in the form of private investment—is systematically stealing its garment workers’ wages, paying them 34 percent less than minimum wage set by federal law, a breaking report from the Worker Rights Consortium reveals.
Critics charge that poverty wages illustrate the deep flaws with corporate models of so-called aid. “The failure of the Caracol Industrial Park to comply with minimum wage laws is a stain on the U.S.’s post-earthquake investments in Haiti and calls into question the sustainability and effectiveness of relying on the garment industry to lead Haiti’s reconstruction,” said Jake Johnston of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in an interview with Common Dreams.
Caracol is just one of five garment factories profiled in this damning report, released publicly on Wednesday, which finds that “the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories’ theft of their income.” This is due to systematic employer cheating on piece-work and overtime, as well as failure to pay employees for hours worked.
WRC charges that the wage theft at these 5 factories is “typical” across the country’s garment industry, leading to the suppression of national wages at deep poverty levels. As a result, workers have trouble affording food, shelter, and medical care, the report finds.
Through a series of in-depth interviews, as well as review of pay records, researchers discovered that the problem of wage theft throughout the country’s garment industry is “egregious” at Northern Haiti’s Caracol Industrial Park, which sits at the center of U.S. ‘reconstruction’ efforts and is slated to employ an estimated 20,000 people.
Financers included the Inter-American Development Bank, the U.S. State Department, and the Clinton Foundation, who invested a total of $224 million with promises to uphold high labor standards. Its anchor tenant is the Korean S&H Global factory, which sells garments to Walmart, Target, Kohl’s, and Old Navy, according to the report.
The largest post-earthquake U.S. investment in Haiti, Caracol’s backers have championed it as a model for privatized reconstruction. In a July press release, the U.S. State Department champions the park as a chance to “spur economic growth and bring jobs to Haiti’s underserved regions.”
Then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton attended Caracol’s opening ceremony a year ago. “We’re sending a message that Haiti is open for business again,” Hillary Clinton declared upon the announcement of the opening.
The Clinton Foundation did not immediately respond to a request from Common Dreams for an interview.
A Free-Speech Victory at the ‘University of Nike’ September 22, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Education, Labor.
Tags: aaup, academic freedom, education, first amendment, free speech, higher education, labor, labour, nike, phil knight, rebecca burns, roger hollander, unions, united academics, university of oregon, workers rights
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The “University of Nike” sounds like an institution straight out of a dystopian novel. But that moniker has actually been embraced by the University of Oregon, where Nike founder and chairman Phil Knight is one of the school’s most important donors. A gleaming new football center, complete with a locker room requiring biometric thumbprints to enter, isn’t the only sign of the corporation’s influence on campus: During negotiations with the school’s faculty union over its first-ever contract, critics say that the university pulled out some fancy footwork meant to preserve the patronage of Nike and other major donors, including provisions that would have narrowed protections for faculty who speak out against university policies. But an ultimate victory this week by the union, which faculty voted to form last year, helped beat back these measures and uphold the academic freedoms that are increasingly endangered by campuses’ corporate ties.
Unionization rates among U.S. faculty members are traditionally lower than those of their counterparts in other countries, and faculty at private colleges and universities are barred from collective bargaining entirely. But the tussle at the University of Oregon demonstrated that dwellers of the Ivory Tower are also workers under attack—and that their ability to take collective action is essential to the future of higher education.
During the past week, several proposals advanced by the Oregon administration have alarmed campus free-speech advocates and captured national attention. Colleen Flaherty reported at Inside Higher Education on the attempt to insert a “civility” clause into a section of the contract on “faculty responsibilities,” a measure that the watchdog Foundation for Individual Rights in Higher Education (FIRE) says is often abused on campuses in order to “punish unpopular viewpoints.” Even after this proposal was withdrawn last week, City University of New York Professor Corey Robin, who blogs about the politics of higher education, noted that the administration’s insistence on its right to monitor faculty e-mails and even review non-work e-mails “to the extent that they address work-related subjects” represented a “draconian assault on faculty autonomy and privacy.”
Another proposal to limit the ability of faculty members to consult for outside organizations when the Provost deemed it “contrary to the university’s best interests” drew particular concerns that the administration might kow-tow to corporate donors eager to silence their academic critics. Given that Oregon’s Board of Trustees includes “CEOs from the state’s timber and construction industries, the wife of the CEO of Microsoft, and a retired executive from Nike,” wrote Robin, “it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which a professor is forbidden by the provost from consulting with an organization critical of Nike’s labor policies or Microsoft’s market practices.”
But at a bargaining session on Wednesday, the administration backed off these measures, and the two sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract that also includes average salary increases of 11.75% over the two-year agreement. United Academics (UA), which is comprised of both tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty, also won new contract protections for contingent faculty. Full details of the agreement have not yet been released, but Susan Anderson, a German professor and member of the bargaining committee, tells In These Times that it includes “robust protections” for free speech, including language referring to the First Amendment. The union will vote on whether to ratify the contract on October 8.
In a statement released yesterday by the university, U of O President Michael Gottfredson said that he also welcomed the agreement: “Our students benefit from the talents of professors who share their knowledge and passion for research and scholarship every day and this first contract reflects a fiscally responsible agreement that rewards excellence and invests in our faculty—strengthening the University of Oregon for all of our community.”
The administration’s shift is a particularly significant one because its initial proposal eschewed a union demand to guarantee the right to free speech outside the classroom, including where this concerns debate about institutional policies. Instead, Flaherty notes, the university’s proposal “decouples academic freedom and free speech, addressing them separately. Academic freedom is ‘necessary to teaching and research,’ it says, with no mention of the role of academics in speaking out if not related directly to teaching and research.”
The ability of faculty members to criticize university policies was a key tenet of academic freedom when the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) codified the concept in 1940. But the free-speech rights of university faculty have fallen into murky territory since 2006, when the Supreme Court ruled that public employees were not entitled to these rights for speech “pursuant to their official duties.” The Supreme Court did not address whether this ruling applied to professors at public universities, leaving the question in a legal limbo. Advocates are hopeful that a decision earlier this month from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco—which ruled that a controversial proposal circulated by a former Washington State University Professor David Demers to overhaul the school’s communications department should have constituted protected speech—will form the basis for more robust protections in the future.
But apart from legal uncertainty, academic freedom faces another threat: the growing reliance of universities on corporate patronage. To make up for stunning shortfalls in state funding, public universities have both hiked tuition and courted investment by private donors. “When universities are dependent on the money of private donors, administrators may feel pressure to enact policies that jeopardize the status of the university as a place of free inquiry,” says Anderson. Oregon has already seen this kind of influence wielded—the university reportedly terminated its involvement in the anti-sweatshop Workers’ Rights Consortium following pressure from Nike’s Knight.
Yet in the face of creeping academic commercialism, writes Jen Washburn, author of University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education, the AAUP and other advocates have been slow to respond, adhering to a “narrow, individualistic interpretation of academic freedom” that disregards the broader politics of today’s universities.
According to Joe Lowndes, an associate professor of political science and member of the union’s organizing committee, the contract fight at the University of Oregon “has shown that a unionized faculty can, among other things, act to safeguard academic freedom—a freedom we have learned not to take for granted within the changing structure of American higher education.”
ABOUT THIS AUTHOR
Rebecca Burns, In These Times Assistant Editor, holds an M.A. from the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, where her research focused on global land and housing rights. A former editorial intern at the magazine, Burns also works as a research assistant for a project examining violence against humanitarian aid workers.
Walmart Workers Arrested in Peaceful Protest August 22, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
Tags: brandon garrett, labor, labor unions, labour, minimum wage, roger hollander, walmart, workers, workers rights
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BREAKING: Ten current or recently fired Walmart workers were just arrested in Washington, DC for peaceful civil disobedience near Walmart’s downtown office. This action comes after the company fired or disciplined more than 70 workers for going on strike. Now workers say that if Walmart does not reinstate the illegally fired workers and publicly commit pay a decent wage by Labor Day, the company will face some of the most intense actions it has seen to date. Below is a letter from one of the arrested workers.
I was arrested today for standing up to Walmart. Can you sign my petition to call on Walmart to respect workers’ rights and pay a living wage?
I was raised by a strong single mother. I owe everything to her. She taught me how to work hard and stand up for what is right.
I did well in high school and loved sports. In college, I became a collegiate athlete and my future looked bright. That’s when my mom got sick. She wasn’t able to support herself, so I made a tough choice. I moved home and got a job at Walmart to help support my mom.
I soon found that Walmart didn’t pay me enough to get by. We were constantly understaffed and stretched thin. Worst of all, we were treated with such a lack of respect they made you feel like you weren’t even a human being.
That’s why I decided to stand up. I went on a legally protected strike in June and travelled all the way to Walmart’s headquarters in Arkansas to defend my coworkers’ right to stand up.
But when I got home, Walmart fired me. I’m not the only one. Since June, Walmart has fired or disciplined more than 70 of us for standing up. The company has written us up, cut our hours, bullied us, called the cops on us and even fired us for going on strike.
We’re not backing down. Today, we peacefully demonstrated in front of Walmart’s office in Washington, DC calling on the company to reinstate the illegally fired workers.
Instead of listening, Walmart had me and 11 other people arrested (19 of us workers and 2 activists).
It’s time to draw a line in the sand. Let’s send Walmart a clear message: If you fail to act by Labor Day, actions will intensify around the country.
Can you please send them this message by signing my petition today?
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: UFCW and OUR Walmart have the purpose of helping Wal-Mart employees as individuals or groups in their dealings with Wal-Mart over labor rights and standards and their efforts to have Wal-Mart publically commit to adhering to labor rights and standards. UFCW and OUR Walmart have no intent to have Walmart recognize or bargain with UFCW or OUR Walmart as the representative of Walmart employees
Fast Feud Nation August 14, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Food, Humor, Labor.
Tags: daily show, fast food, fast food workers, labor, labour, low wage worker, mcdonald's strike, minimum wage, roger hollander, satire, sumofus, worker rights
It seems like everybody’s talking about the low wage worker strikes that just swept the country, and we need to make sure that they keep talking.
After hundreds of fast food and retail workers in 7 cities walked off the job demanding decent wages, more and more people are finally waking up to the fact that the millions of workers making minimum wage are scrambling to survive while profits and executive pay skyrocket. Even the mainstream media is starting to discuss how badly big, profitable fast food chains like McDonald’s are exploiting their workers — but as usual, no one is doing it as well as The Daily Show. This hilarious clip from the week of the strikes captures why this burgeoning movement is so important — and it’s a perfect introduction for people who haven’t paid attention to the strikes yet.
Thanks for all you do,
Rob, Kaytee, and the team at SumOfUs
Migrant Workers and America’s Harvest of Shame August 2, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Food, Labor, Race.
Tags: agri-business, agribusiness, agriculture, farm workers, farmworker justice, farmworkers, labor, labor standards, labour, migrant workers, Ralph Nader, roger hollander, ufw, worker protection
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The great reporter Edward R. Murrow titled his 1960 CBS documentary Harvest of Shame on the merciless exploitation of the migrant farmworkers by the large growers and their local government allies. Over fifty years later, it is still the harvest of shame for nearly two million migrant farmworkers who follow the seasons and the crops to harvest our fruits and vegetables.
As a student I went through migrant farmworker camps and fields and wrote about the abysmally low pay, toxic, unsafe working conditions, contaminated water, housing hovels and the complete absence of any legal rights.
It is a perversely inverted society when the people who do the backbreaking work to harvest one of the necessities of life are underpaid, underinsured, under-protected and under-respected while the Chicago commodity brokers – where the white collar gamblers sit in air-conditioned spaces and speculate on futures in foodstuffs’ prices – are quite well off, to put it modestly.
It probably won’t surprise you that the grapes, peaches, watermelons, strawberries, apricots and lettuce that you’re eating this week are brought to you from the fields by the descendants of the early migrant workers. Their plight is not that much better, except for the very few working under a real union contract.
Start with the exclusion of farmworkers from the Fair Labor Standards Act. Then go to the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS), which is aimed at protecting farmworkers and their families from pesticides but is outdated, weak and poorly enforced.
Continue on to the unyielding local power of growers and their campaign-cash indentured local, state and Congressional lawmakers. The recent shocking description of the tomato workers in central Florida in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s book Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, shows how close defenseless migrant workers can come to involuntary servitude.
In a recent television interview, featuring Baldemar Velasquez – a vigorous farm worker organizer – Bill Moyers summarized the period since Harvest of Shame: “Believe it or not, more than fifty years later, the life of a migrant laborer is still an ordeal. And not just for adults. Perhaps as many as half a million children, some as young as seven years old, are out in the fields and orchards working nine to ten hour days under brutal conditions.” (See the full interview here.)
Among the conditions Moyers was referring to are the daily exposures to pesticides, fertilizers and the resulting chemical-related injuries and sicknesses. Far more of these pesticides end up in the workers’ bodies than are found in our food. President of Farmworker Justice, Bruce Goldstein writes: “Short-term effects include stinging eyes, rashes, blisters, blindness, nausea, dizziness, headache, coma and even death. Pesticides also cause infertility, neurological disorders and cancer.”
In a recent letter appeal by the United Farm Workers (UFW), the beleaguered small union representing farmworkers, these ailments were connected to real workers by name. Focusing on the large grape grower – Giumarra Vineyeards of California – the UFW describes one tragedy of many: “After ten hours laboring under a blazing July sun, 53-year-old Giumarra grape picker Asuncion Valdivia became weak, dizzy and nauseated. He couldn’t talk. He lay down in the field. The temperature was 102 degrees.
Asuncion’s 21-year-old son, Luis, and another worker rushed to his aid. Someone called 911. But a Giumarra foreman cancelled the paramedics. He told Luis to drive his father home. They reached the emergency room in Bakersfield too late. Asuncion died on the car seat next to his son.”
For backbreaking work, kneeling 48 hours a week on crippled joints, 29-year-old Alejandro Ruiz and other farmworkers are not making much to live on. The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour does not apply to farmworkers. Workers without documents are often paid less than those with documents. In most cases, they are too frightened to consider objecting.
It is so deplorable how little the members of Congress from these farm Districts have done to improve the plight of migrant farm workers. Members of Congress could be raising the visibility of deplorable working conditions faced by farmworkers and allying themselves with urban district Representatives concerned about food safety. This partnership could raise awareness of the safety of the food supply, the careless use of agricultural chemicals, and press the EPA to issue a strong WPS that emphasizes training, disclosure of chemical usage, safety precautions prior to spraying and buffer zones.
Is there a more compelling case for union organizing than the farm workers who sweat for agri-business? Federal labor laws need to be amended to improve national standards for farmworkers and eliminate existing state fair wage and health barriers. California has the strongest law, passed under the first gubernatorial term of Jerry Brown in 1975. Even this law needs to be strengthened to overcome the ways it has been gamed by agri-business interests.
Next time you eat fruits or vegetables, pause a moment to imagine what the workers who harvested them had to endure and talk up their plight with your friends and co-workers. Remember, every reform starts with human conversations and awareness. (For more information see the United Farm Workers of America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee.)
Tags: bangladesh, bangladesh safety accord, bangladesh workers, Gap, garment workers, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, L.L. Bean, labor, labor rights, labour, lauren mccauley, Macy’s, Nordstrom, rana plaza, roger hollander, Sears, target, walmart, worker safety, workers rights
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Labor Rights Groups: ‘This confirms what we have long predicted: that Wal-Mart, Gap and companies like them do not want to make any promises they actually have to keep.’
In what is being blasted as a “sham” and an “expensive PR stunt” by workers’ rights groups, 17 North American retailers—including the Gap and Wal-Mart—launched a Bangladesh worker safety plan Wednesday as a means of sidestepping a legally binding international agreement.
The plan, called the “Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety” was devised as an alternative to the Bangladesh Safety Accord—a union-led and legally binding agreement signed by over 70 international brands and retailers.
“Gap and Wal-Mart’s safety plan is a sham which won’t make factories safe and only serves to undermine the Bangladesh Safety Accord,” said Murray Worthy, sweatshops campaigner at the human rights watchdog group War on Want.
Both agreements were spurred by the enormous international outcry following the Rana Plaza disaster in April when over 1,100 workers were killed in the collapse of a substandard Bangladesh factory. Previous to the collapse, a series of devastating garment factory fires highlighted the dangerous working conditions in the country and the enormous risk posed to millions of workers paid as little as $40 a month.
“This is just more of the same corporate-dominated voluntary measures that were so clearly proven to have failed in the Rana Plaza disaster,” Worthy continued. “Gap, Wal-Mart and the other brands behind the Alliance must scrap this expensive PR stunt and join the rest of the clothing industry in signing the comprehensive, legally binding and life-saving Bangladesh Safety Accord.”
Other signers of the Alliance include Target, Macy’s, Nordstrom, Kohl’s, Sears, L.L. Bean and J.C.Penney.
The deal alleges to inspect all factories used by the signatories within a year and establish a common set of safety standards. Further, the retailers will reportedly pay up to $1m a year each to support mandatory training for factory staff and managers and to support “worker participation committees” in every factory to deal with complaints about working conditions, the Guardian reports.
However, according to a response by a half-dozen labor rights groups reported by IPS, “companies that decide to withdraw from the alliance are only penalized by being forced to pay their share of administrative costs. For large companies, this would work out to around five million dollars – while Wal-Mart alone brings in more than 400 billion dollars annually.”
“Companies that sign onto the alliance but fail to meet a commitment face no adverse consequences beyond expulsion from the scheme. Instead, workers will continue to pay,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, told IPS.
Further, Trumka notes that the “so-called” Global Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety was developed without consulting with workers or union representatives and other critics point out that the “worker participation committees” will likely undermine workers’ rights to join trade unions and organize freely.
“This confirms what labor rights advocates have long predicted: that Wal-Mart, Gap and companies like them simply do not want to make any promises they actually have to keep,” said the labor rights coalition. “What they want is to be able to make promises now, at a time of major public and media scrutiny, that they can walk away from whenever it suits them, at a token cost.”