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.”
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
Obama and GOP Speak Same Language: Corporate Tax Cuts = Jobs August 5, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Labor.
Tags: amazon workers, corporate tax, Free Trade, glen ford, job creation, middle class, minimum wage, Obama, reaganomics, roger hollander, tax cuts, trickle down
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A Black Agenda Radio commentary by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“There is no jobs creation plan, only a series of corporate tax giveaway programs.”
President Obama went to a low wage warehouse in Chattanooga in the right-to-work state of Tennessee to renew his offer to massively lower corporate tax rates – from 35 to 28 percent – and had the nerve to call it a Grand Bargain for the middle class. Surrounding the president were employees who do backbreaking work for $11 or $12 an hour – and can by no stretch of imagination be considered middle class. Obama praised their cutthroat Amazon corporation bosses as the sort of benign masters that he’s depending on to bring the country back to economic health – once they’ve been properly incentivized with lower tax rates, on the one hand, and outright public subsidies, on the other. Amazon is only invested in Tennessee because the state has given the corporation huge tax breaks that will allow it to undercut other book sellers, forcing them out of business and their workers into unemployment. Amazon’s 7,000 new, low wage jobs come at the cost of lay-offs and bankruptcies among its competitors. It’s the Wal-Mart business model, which is quite popular at the White House.
The Obamas have a special place in their hearts for corporations of all kinds, as long as they’re big. The president told the Amazon warehouse workers, whose jobs are not very good, that he wants to create good jobs in other industries through renewable energy and electric cars and cheap natural gas – that is, “fracking.” Of course, by that he means providing additional government subsidies and tax breaks to corporations. Good jobs, presumably, will trickle down. Obama urged Congress to pass his Fix-It-First program to rebuild bridges and other public infrastructure, while blaming the Republicans for gutting government through “sequester” of spending. But it was Obama who proposed the sequestration disaster in the first place, as part of his earlier Grand Bargain with the GOP, in 2011.
“Good jobs, presumably, will trickle down.”
Obama used the Chattanooga visit to re-pitch much of his last State of the Union Address, in which he pledged to work for a public private partnership to upgrade the privately-owned U.S. infrastructure, such as energy grids and ports. That’s a euphemism for spending billions in public monies to subsidize private, profit making corporations. Obama calls that a jobs program.
He also thinks workers should be appreciative of the Free Trade deals whose proliferation has coincided with the destruction of the U.S. manufacturing base and the loss of millions of jobs that really were “good.” Obama promised to call a meeting of the CEOs of the same corporations that sent the jobs overseas, to ask them to do more for the country – as if they haven’t done enough, already. He’s got another program, called Select USA, that offers tax breaks and other incentives to foreign corporations that locate facilities in the U.S. Since so many U.S. headquartered high-tech corporations, like Apple, are actually Chinese companies for purposes of employment, Obama might as well combine his various tax break programs and hand out the goodies to CEOs regardless of nationality. In fact, that’s close to the actual practice. There is no jobs creation plan, only a series of corporate tax giveaway programs.
For workers, there’s the minimum wage, now set at $7.25 an hour. Obama promised, once again, in Chattanooga, to try to raise that to $9.00. But, back in 2008, candidate Obama vowed to fight for $9.50. I guess, somewhere along the way, he lost his incentive. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.
Tags: ai-jen poo, childcare, Civil Rights, domestic work, domestic workers, eldercare, home care, immigrant women, labor, labor relations, labor standards, labour, lauren feeney, minimum wage, nlra, poor women, roger hollander, women, worker rights
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What we found is that the people, mostly women, who we count on to take care of the most precious elements of our lives — our homes and our families — do not earn enough to take care of their own families or themselves.
Domestic workers — the nannies, housekeepers, and home health aides who care for our young children and elderly parents — have traditionally been excluded from the most basic protections, like minimum wage. Their jobs are inherently insecure, ending abruptly when the child goes off to school or the patient passes on, yet few collect Social Security or are eligible for unemployment benefits. Working behind closed doors in private homes, they are vulnerable to abuse and unable to organize.
Enter Ai-jen Poo. The community organizer has been advocating for domestic workers’ rights for over a decade, and in 2010, led the campaign for the nation’s first Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which theoretically guarantees overtime pay, paid vacation, and basic human and civil rights protections for over 200,000 workers in the state of New York. Now she’s working to bring the same rights to domestic workers nationwide.
This week, Poo’s organization, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, together with the University of Illinois at Chicago and the DataCenter, released the first-ever national survey of domestic workers, Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work. Poo sees it as a call-to-action for the nation to tackle the problems of this unregulated sphere, problems that in a Venn diagram would overlap with race, immigration, gender, and the modern, middle-class dual-income family.
Lauren Feeney: What are some of the most important findings in your report?
Ai-jen Poo: The fact that the report exists at all is important because for so long there hasn’t been any real data on domestic work, and that’s contributed to the invisibility of these workers and the Wild West nature of this industry. Now we have data from surveys of 2,086 domestic workers in 14 different cities from 71 different countries of origin.
What we found is that the people, mostly women, who we count on to take care of the most precious elements of our lives — our homes and our families — do not earn enough to take care of their own families or themselves. Twenty-three percent of domestic workers earn below minimum wage. That’s not counting live-in domestic workers. Among live-ins, sixty-one percent earn below minimum wage. And I think all of us know that even minimum wage is impossible to survive on.
Feeney: How is it that in 21st century America — after all the successes of the labor movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement — there is still this segment of the population that lacks even the most basic protections under the law? Why were these people left behind?
Poo: One reason is the legacy of racism in this country. In the 1930s, Southern members of Congress refused to support the labor laws within the New Deal if farm workers and domestic workers, who were largely African-American at the time, were included under those protections — protections like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act.
The people who have done this work have historically been poor, working poor women — immigrant women, African-American women, white poor and working class women — socially disadvantaged people. Then there’s the fact that this work has been seen as women’s work and has never really been valued or recognized as real work — it’s a battle to even get recognition as work and as workers versus just help or companionship.
All of those factors connected have meant that this work is done in the shadows. Now, with the need for this work just growing exponentially and becoming so much a part of the lifeblood of this country and the economy, we have an opportunity to really turn the tide on that.
Feeney: What makes domestic work so important to the economy?
Poo: The economist Jared Bernstein calls it a “critical input.” We call it the work that makes all other work possible. It’s this invisible layer of work — raising families and taking care of homes — that allows other people to go into their public lives and work, achieve, build.
Feeney: You call for a living wage, paid sick days, paid vacation and health insurance for domestic workers, and I don’t think anyone would argue that these women don’t deserve these basic protections. And of course, it’s easy to point a finger at wealthy executives and politicians who don’t treat their nannies well. But what about middle-class working women with limited options for child and elder care who really can’t afford any more than they’re already paying?
Poo: We need to take a holistic approach that’s not just about workers’ rights but about a whole set of policies that will make it more possible for all of us to take care of the people that we love. So we also promote tax credits and paid family leave policies and all kinds of workplace flexibility policies for working parents.
We’re living in a 21st century economy where the majority of paid workers are women, yet they’re still responsible for the vast majority of caregiving responsibilities. Our society, in the rules and structures that currently exist, has not accounted for that whole arena of work. And the manifestation of that is the low wages and invisibility and abuse of domestic workers. But really every single family is impacted by the fact that we haven’t adequately accounted for the work that goes into caring for families. Families need help, they need childcare, they need eldercare, and they don’t always have the resources to afford it. Why don’t we have universal childcare? Why don’t we have workplace flexibility policies that account for the fact that people get sick and family members have to take care of them? It just seems very basic and it can absolutely be done. We really need to rethink the whole way we account for work and structure the economy in a way that works for everyone.
Feeney: In the meantime, what would you suggest concerned employers do to make sure that they’re treating their caregivers fairly, and what can domestic workers and their allies do to get involved in your campaign?
Poo: If you’re an employer, I would really encourage you to go to the Hand-in-Hand Domestic Employers Association website and sign up for their list. And for domestic workers, I would say join one of our affiliate organizations or the national alliance. We’re doing work in twenty-four cities in fourteen states and the District of Columbia, so we have affiliates all over the place, and if people want to form an organization in their town, we’ll support it. We’ve got big campaigns moving forward in California, Massachusetts and Illinois in 2013, so people can get involved in changing the policies and laws that will affect their lives in the future. That’s a call for employers too — we need employers to support our standards and guidelines, and their voices will be really important in that cause. Finally, there’s a measure that’s waiting in the wings at the Department of Labor that would bring 1.8 million home care workers under federal minimum wage and overtime protection, and we need people to write letters to their local Congress members and to the president himself saying that they want to see homecare workers included under basic protections. We’ve got to take care of our caregivers.
The Minimum Wage and the Coup in Honduras August 8, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Haiti, Honduras, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: aristide, economic imperialism, haiti, haiti coup, haiti labor, haiti minimum wage, haiti poverty, haiti workers, hondras minimum wage, Honduras, honduras coup, honduras elite, honduras labor, honduras poverty, honduras workers, Latin America, manual zelaya, minimum wage, obama administration, preval, robert naiman, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism, workers rights
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What is the minimum wage which a worker shall be paid for a day’s labor?
Supporters of the coup have tried to trick Americans into believing that President Zelaya was ousted by the Honduran military because he broke the law. But this is nonsense. A Honduran bishop told Catholic News Service,
“Some say Manuel Zelaya threatened democracy by proposing a constitutional assembly. But the poor of Honduras know that Zelaya raised the minimum salary. That’s what they understand. They know he defended the poor by sharing money with mayors and small towns. That’s why they are out in the streets closing highways and protesting (to demand Zelaya’s return)”
This is why the greedy, self-absorbed Honduran elite turned against President Zelaya: because he was pursuing policies in the interests of the majority. The Washington Post noted in mid-July,
To many poor Hondurans, deposed president Manuel “Mel” Zelaya was a trailblazing ally who scrapped school tuitions, raised the minimum wage and took on big business.
In a statement condemning support for the coup by U.S. business groups, the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation expressed its concern that under the coup regime, there are
worsening working conditions, and in particular at efforts to claw back a wage increase ordered by President Zelaya six months ago in order to reflect the increased cost of food and other essentials. In reality the increased wage barely covered 90% of basic food needs and less than a third of a living wage covering basic needs such as food, rent, transport, education, and medical care.
It’s not just in Honduras that raising the minimum wage provoked a coup. In reporting about efforts by Haitian lawmakers this week to raise the minimum wage in Haiti, AP noted:
Former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown in 2004, in part after business owners angered by his approval of an increased minimum wage organized opposition against him.
This May, the Haitian Parliament approved a proposal to triple the minimum wage to about $5 a day. But President Preval rejected this, saying
the increase should omit workers at factories producing garments for export. Preval said those workers should receive an increase to about $3.
What’s the argument in Haiti against raising the minimum wage?
The debate has fueled unrest across the impoverished Caribbean nation, with some critics arguing that an increase would hurt plans to fight widespread unemployment by creating jobs in factories that produce clothing for export to the United States.
There are the magic words I search for in these articles, often buried at the bottom: “United States.”
So, the argument is being made that Haiti can’t afford to raise the minimum wage for workers in the export sector to $5 a day, because if they did Americans would buy clothes and shoes produced in some other countries.
Let me underline this, dear reader. You, as an American consumer, you are being invoked in Haiti as the reason that the minimum wage cannot be raised to $5 a day.
Of course this is nonsense. The overwhelming majority of Americans, along with the overwhelming majority of Haitians and Hondurans, would be absolutely delighted if Haitian and Honduran workers producing clothes for the U.S. market would be paid more. Labor costs are a small fraction of the prices that consumers face. Wages are so low because that yields even more profits for those who already have more money than they can ever spend; the low wage floor is being determined by government policy in Washington, Haiti, Honduras, and elsewhere, not by the desires of consumers. No magic formula of economics determines the minimum wage that can be sustained in Haiti and Honduras. At the margin – whether the minimum wage shall be $3 a day or $5 a day in the export sector in Haiti – it is determined politically.
If you say that the leverage of the U.S. consumer market should be used to support higher wages for poor workers in poor countries, rather than the opposite, you’re likely to be told that this is not allowed. This leverage has been allocated to something else. The power of the U.S. market can only be used for things like forcing developing countries to enforce the patents, trademarks, and copyrights of U.S. pharmaceutical companies, software companies, and Hollywood.
Indeed, if you say that we should be supporting efforts to raise the minimum wage in Honduras and Haiti, you’ll likely to be accused of “trying to impose American values.” But this is a baldfaced lie, the twisted-mirror image of the truth. The majority of Hondurans and the majority of Haitians want the wages of workers producing for export to the United States to be raised. Far from imposing “American values,” in Honduras and Haiti, we’re imposing Wall Street values, every day, through U.S. government policy, against the wishes and interests of the majority of the population, there and here.
And by its failure to help effectively Latin American efforts restore President Zelaya, the Obama Administration is helping to drive down the minimum wage in Honduras, Haiti, and throughout the world. And the reason that the Obama Administration is, de facto, taking the side of the corrupt and greedy ruling elite in Honduras, is that, as usual, U.S. foreign policy is being determined by Corporate America, not Main Street America, because the power and efforts of Main Street America to affect U.S. foreign policy in Honduras – the U.S. labor movement and its friends, basically – is too weak, compared to the infrastructure and efforts of Corporate America’s actions to shape U.S. policy.
Count this too as a casualty of the failure of Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. If the Employee Free Choice Act were law, and more American workers were organized into unions, Main Street would have more power in Washington, and Corporate America wouldn’t be calling the shots on U.S. policy towards Honduras.
So, the next time some lying moron invokes “economics” to “explain” to you that the wages of impoverished third world workers who produce for the U.S. market cannot be raised, remember the coup in Honduras, and how Washington sat on its hands while a democratically elected government was punished by greedy elites with a military coup for trying to raise the minimum wage.
“This Agreement Has Incredible Importance for Our Movement”–Immokalee Workers Win Agreement with Subway over Tomato Prices in Florida December 10, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
Tags: aramark, benefits, burger king, corporations, farmworker, fast food, florida, gerald reyes, immokalee, labor, labour, marc rodrigues, mcdonalds, minimum wage, overtime, poverty, slavery, sodexo, subway, supermarket, taco bell, tallahasee, tomatoes, unions, wages, workers, workers rights, working conditions
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December 10, 2008
The Coalition of Immokalee Workers reached an agreement last week with Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes. Subway now joins other fast-food giants, McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King, that have all agreed to pay farm workers at least another penny per pound of tomatoes they harvest and improve working conditions.
Marc Rodrigues, Co-coordinator of Student/Farmworker Alliance. That’s the national network of students in partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.
Gerardo Reyes, Farmworker and member of Coalition of Immokalee Workers
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: In our final segment, we turn to an important victory for one of the most impoverished group of workers in this country, the migrant farm workers who harvest tomatoes in Florida. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers reached an agreement last week with Subway, the third largest fast-food chain in the world and the biggest fast-food buyer of Florida tomatoes. Subway now joins other fast-food giants—McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Burger King—that have all agreed to pay farm workers at least another penny per pound of tomatoes they harvest and improve working conditions.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders hailed the agreement with Subway, describing it as “yet another blow to the scourge of slavery that continues to exist in the tomato fields of Florida.”
Coalition members are in New York this week for their Northeast Fair Food tour and will be honored tonight by the Small Planet Fund on the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
We’re joined in the studio by Gerardo Reyes from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and Marc Rodrigues from the Student/Farmworker Alliance, that’s in partnership with the coalition.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
MARC RODRIGUES: Thanks. Thanks for having us.
GERARDO REYES: Thanks.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Gerardo, let’s begin with you. Talk about the significance of this new deal with Subway.
GERARDO REYES: Well, this agreement has an incredible importance for our movement, because it started as an idea to bring the biggest fast-food corporations to the table in order to improve the conditions that we face in the fields every day, conditions that go from stagnant wages to slavery, in the most extreme conditions. And right now, with this agreement with Subway, we could say that the most important representatives of the fast-food industry have already given their position on the situation, and they are in favor of a change. So now the question is for the supermarket industry and the providers of food to schools, like Aramark and Sodexo, that continue to benefit from the misery of communities like ours.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you spoke about these conditions. Can you describe them a little more in more detail for our audience?
GERARDO REYES: Basically, today, a farm worker has to pick two-and-a-half tons of tomatoes in order to make only the equivalent to the minimum wage of Florida. But that’s picking by piece. The tomato bucket of thirty-two pounds gets paid from forty to forty-five cents. That’s without any type of benefits nor protections. We work from ten to fourteen hours in a normal day, seven days a week, if there’s work, without receiving overtime pay.
Workers—farm workers in most of the states of this country are excluded from the National Labor Relations Act that gives workers a right to organize. That’s why the agricultural industry have not paid attention to the demands that we had in the past. And that’s why we’re asking, like, who’s benefiting the most from our poverty? How could we change the way that the agricultural industry, the corporate agricultural industrial, exists today in the United States? And it was by focusing on the big buyers, that are the ones who get more profit than anybody else.
ANJALI KAMAT: I want to bring Marc Rodrigues into the conversation, and I want to ask you about the role of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange. They seemed to be a stumbling block in this process. Can you explain who they are and what their position is on this deal that the Coalition has won with all of these fast-food chains?
MARC RODRIGUES: Yeah. Basically, the Tomato Growers Exchange is an entity that represents about 90 percent of the growers in Florida and goes to Tallahassee or D.C. to lobby on their behalf.
And what has happened ever since, more or less, we reached the agreement with McDonald’s is that the Growers Exchange has come out strongly opposing these agreements, first saying that they were un-American or saying that they’re possibly illegal, just saying that they didn’t want their members to participate in them. And so, they actually implemented a $100,000 fine against any of their own member growers who would be willing to fully participate in these agreements and allow the extra penny per pound to get through to the workers.
We know that there are growers who are willing to do that, because for a couple of years after we reached our agreement with Taco Bell in 2005, the penny per pound passed through was working completely fine. It wasn’t until the growers put up this resistance that that was halted.
Today, one of the major corporations that we have agreements with remain fully committed to carrying out those agreements. They’re still paying the extra penny per pound, but it’s going into a sort of neutral escrow account instead of getting to the workers. And we hope that the money from that account will be disbursed to the workers very soon, possibly starting with this season.
What we know is that this resistance on the part of the growers is a sign that our campaign is having an effect and that we are starting to make the change that we want to make, because, you know, just as the civil rights movement had its Bull Connors, we have the Growers Exchange. And they say that a candle burns the brightest when it’s about to go out, and it appears that that’s what’s happening now.
The important thing here is that, ironically, the resistance on the part of the growers has also attracted new allies to our cause, which might help us more in the long run. For example, we have four prominent US senators—
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: We just have ten seconds.
MARC RODRIGUES: —who are supporting us. And so, we’re going to see if we can work out the situation soon.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, that’s all we have time for. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Marc Rodrigues is a co-coordinator of the Student/Farmworker Alliance. And Gerardo Reyes is a farm worker and member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers.