The more unpaid interns who sue profitable companies taking advantage of the system to exploit labor without paying them, the sooner this system of exploitation will end.
Yesterday’s decision by National Labor Relations Board general counsel Richard Griffin declaring corporations joint employers of the workers in their franchises is a big, big deal. Couple of key rundowns from Steven Greenhouse, Alec MacGillis, and Seth Michaels.
Effectively, Obama’s NLRB has moved the needle significantly toward some of the nation’s poorest and most exploited workers. It gives workers a significant legal tool in their fight for a $15 hourly wage in fast food and is likely to have a domino effect across the subcontracted, temporary, outsourced, and franchised economy. Corporations have spend decades coming up with shady labor practices in order to avoid responsibility for workers, leading to rampant exploitation of workers with no hope of rising toward a middle class. This ruling may well begin the process of changing that by taking away the incentives for corporations to not directly hire their workers. Of course, an appeal is coming and so there is a long ways to go and many fights still to come.
In other words, both parties are the same and Rand Paul is the only progressive alternative in 2016.
The stereotype is that unions oppose any action to fight climate change. Certainly that’s true for some unions, especially the Laborers and United Mine Workers. But it is not true for all unions. In fact, like most issues, organized labor is divided over climate change. That however means there are unions that see the absolute necessity for alliances with environmental organizations and to participate on the side of environmentalism. After all, climate change is very much a working class issue as the effects will be felt disproportionately by the poor.
When a very pregnant Felicia Allen applied for medical leave from her job at Hobby Lobby three years ago, one might think that the company best known for denying its employees insurance coverage of certain contraceptives—on the false grounds that they cause abortions—would show equal concern for helping one of its employees when she learned she was pregnant.
Instead, Allen says the self-professed evangelical Christian arts-and-crafts chain fired her and then tried to prevent her from accessing unemployment benefits.
“They didn’t even want me to come back after having my baby, to provide for it,” she says.
And here I thought Hobby Lobby was acting out of very strong principle for life and not because it hates women and wants to punish them for having sex.
There’s also this gem:
When Allen applied for unemployment benefits, she says Hobby Lobby’s corporate office gave the unemployment agency a false version of events, claiming she could have taken off personal leave but chose not to. In the end, Allen says she won her claim for unemployment benefits, but she felt she had been wrongly discriminated based on the fact that she was pregnant. In February 2012 she sued Hobby Lobby, but her lawsuit was swiftly dropped because, like most—if not all—Hobby Lobby employees, Allen had signed away her rights to sue the company.
Though the multibillion-dollar, nearly 600-store chain took its legal claim against the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court when it didn’t want to honor the health insurance requirements of the Affordable Care Act, the company forbids its employees from seeking justice in the court of law.
Allen had signed a binding arbitration agreement upon taking the job, though she says she doesn’t remember doing so. The agreement, which all Hobby Lobby employees are required to sign, forces employees to resolve legal disputes outside of court through a process known as arbitration.
Lying so she couldn’t get unemployment is very special, but forcing employees to sign documents waiving their right to sue the company in order to be hired should be as illegal as the yellow-dog contract. I would ask how something like that is even legal in this nation, but of course I already know why–because corporations control our lives in ways they have not in a century.
Big news for workers’ rights today. The National Labor Relations Board has ruled McDonald’s a “joint employer.” This basically invalidates the claim used by fast food corporations that franchise out the stores that they are not responsible for what happens to the workers. Of course this is going to be challenged, but it opens up an attack on one of the ways corporations protect themselves from liability while undermining workers’ rights. The ability of workers to, say, sue McDonald’s for the bad working conditions of their stores would be a major gains in labor rights.
Lydia DePillis wrote on the potential of this decision a couple of weeks ago:
That may be true of some franchise models. In the case of McDonald’s, though, advocates argue that the fast-food giant’s franchise agreement and actual business practices are so restrictive and pervasive that franchise owners have little latitude with their staffing arrangements and no choice but to keep labor costs as low as possible. In a somewhat unusual arrangement, McDonald’s even controls its own real estate and extracts exorbitant rents from its franchisees, who are on the hook for expensive renovations. All that has driven profit margins down to the point where former McDonald’s executive Richard Adams, now a consultant, estimates that about a quarter of franchises don’t even generate positive cash flow for the owner. That doesn’t give them many options.
It’s not just fast food, though: The Browning-Ferris decision could impact janitors, nurses, assembly-line techs, clerical workers, you name it. But what does having a joint employer look like in practice? How do you bargain with two bosses at once?
For the closest example of how this might work, look to show business, says Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine.
The big movie studios, after all, haven’t directly employed the people they depend on — like writers, set designers and lighting techs — since the 1940s. But they all know they have to deal with the unions that represent them, which set standard rates for their services. “You get access to all that labor, but you’re going to pay minimum terms,” says Fisk. “People who work in Hollywood recognize that if they all start working for half as much, writers won’t be able to pay their mortgages.”
Things could work similarly in other types of service industries, if it were clear that a large employer couldn’t just pick the contractor that agreed to provide labor for cheap.
I was unaware that Stanley Kubrick had made a documentary about the Seafarers International Union in 1953. I have not seen it, but it is now available here, although I will have to wait until I am back in the U.S. to watch it.
Given that Steve Jobs was a sociopath and given the labor conditions at overseas factories where Apple products are made, it’s not at all hard to believe that the company would treat their U.S. labor horribly:
A state court in California has granted class certification to nearly 21,000 current and former Apple employees over claims that the company failed to provide timely meal and rest breaks as required by the law, and sometimes denied workers rest breaks altogether.
In a ruling late Monday, Judge Ronald S. Prager of the Superior Court of California for the County of San Diego granted the class certification for a large group of retail employees and workers at corporate headquarters.
Under California law, employers are generally required to provide 30-minute lunch breaks within an employee’s first five hours at work each day and provide a 10-minute rest break every four hours or major fraction thereof. In addition, California law requires employers to provide a second rest break for shifts that run six to 10 hours, and Judge Prager wrote that the evidence showed that Apple had failed to authorized second rest breaks under these circumstances.
Freedom Summer was 50 years ago this year and its anniversary has been pretty underreported. Anyway, this is an interesting piece from one of the white organizers about the relationship between organizing civil rights workers and union organizing in Mississippi. Obviously, biracial unionism did not exactly take hold in Mississippi or the rest of the South but still, there are potentially useful lessons here.
I know I am supposed to be all doom and gloom all the time. But that’s only true 99% of the time. Sometimes there are victories. Such as the concession workers for the San Francisco Giants who just ratified their first contract with 98% of the members voting yes.
Instead, it took place in the stands where 800 seasonal concession workers organized by UNITE HERE Local 2 just ratified by 98% a contract with Centerplate, the subcontracted concessionaire at Giants Park and one of the largest hospitality companies in North America.
The agreement provides the best wages and benefits in the country for their type of work.
The terms included an immediate raise of $1.40 an hour with some back pay, strong job security protections, dental insurance and fully paid family medical coverage without co-pays through the contract’s 2019 expiration date.
The agreement will also fund a big improvement in pension benefits and will tie future health care and wage increases to San Francisco’s big hotels – so when Local 2 hotel workers get wage and benefit increases, Centerplate will match them at Giants stadium.
This convergence of interests is not accidental.
Local 2 members regularly discuss the importance of solidarity. Membership unity across job classifications and work sites strengthens the union and, as results indicate, increases its bargaining leverage considerably.
Tying their salaries with those of the hotel workers in a strong local is a big deal.
Can you name the worst job you’ve ever had? For Cliff Martin, that’s not an easy question. All three of his current jobs—delivering newspapers, delivering magazines and working as a janitor—are strong contenders. Taken together, they pay so poorly that the 20-year-old Northfield, Minnesota, native relies on MNsure, the state Medicaid plan, for healthcare and lives at home with his father to save money. But what if Martin’s bosses had to fork over a fee to the state for paying him so badly? That money, in turn, could be used to help support Martin and his fellow low-wage workers in a variety of ways, from direct subsidies for food and housing to social programs such as Medicaid or public transportation.
TakeAction Minnesota, a network that promotes economic and racial justice in the state, wants to make that fee a reality. It’s developing the framework for a bill that it hopes will be introduced in 2015 by state legislators who have worked with the network in the past. As conceived, the “bad business fee” legislation would require companies to disclose how many of their employees are receiving public assistance from the state or federal government. Companies would then pay a fine based on the de facto subsidies they receive by externalizing labor costs onto taxpayers.
TakeAction Minnesota’s plan is one prong of a larger national effort. As progressive organizations grapple with how to turn years of public outrage over income inequality into policies for structural change, a network of labor and community organizing groups has seized upon the bad business fee as a solution that might take off.
It’s certainly an interesting idea. Moreover, if one state promoted this, even if it didn’t pass, I do believe you’d see a pretty quick turnaround in workers’ wages, at least locally. A real threat to punish corporations for their antisocial behavior would likely cause change. We’ve seen that many times in the last century and the repeal and erasure of that century of gains in recent years reflects the defeat of the forces who forced those changes, especially but not solely labor unions, a strategy corporations affected through capital mobility and outsourcing work abroad.
I am always amused by the idea that technology will set us free from the hassles of work. Talk about utopian. The reality is that technology chains us to our jobs, creating a state of permanent surveilliance by our employers who demand more and more. The 40-hour week becomes a joke, both because many people cannot work at all or can only find part-time work while those who do have work have to labor well past 40 hours because the boss can track them.
Kathleen Geier, Sarah Jaffe, and Sheila Bapat have a great discussion of how the Hobby Lobby and Harris decisions conspire to undermine women’s economic security. You should definitely read the entire thing, but Sarah’s piece is especially valuable. In part:
It should go without saying that the decision to have a child or not is one of the most profound economic decisions most of us will make in our lifetimes. The Supreme Court this week made it harder for lower-income women to be able to make that choice for themselves. While I support those who argue for the right of all people to enjoy sex on their own terms, we have spent far too little time elaborating the ways in which the “culture war” is a class war.
Take Hobby Lobby. The hashtag #NotMyBossBusiness gave me some hope that the discussion of this case would turn not on religion, hypocrisy or even just on corporate personhood but on the place where Americans’ freedoms are most curtailed: work. It is, after all, the boss, not the government, who has the most say over what we do and say, whether we can pay the rent or feed the kids, the boss who has increasingly sought the right to influence our political choices and what we wear and track our every move and keystroke.
Instead, I have watched photos of people going into Hobby Lobby stores to rearrange letter-blocks to read “pro-choice” flit across the Internet as if the workers who will have to put those blocks back away are unaware of their boss’s power over them. If we were more aware of this decision as one that will affect women not simply as women but as workers, we might stop and ask ourselves what it would mean to actually be in solidarity with the people who work at those stores, to help them get what they need.
The separation between abortion care and other healthcare that I commented on above plays out in Hobby Lobby, which attempts to paint birth control not as a legally required part of a worker’s compensation package, one that allows women to work on an equal footing with the men, but as something outside, different and worse. Or, in the voices of some dismissive commentators, simply less important, not a big deal, something easy enough for women to buy on their own.
If we recognized Hobby Lobby as a workplace issue, we might reply that the people who work at Hobby Lobby stores make between $9.50 and $14 an hour (and those are actually fairly good wages when it comes to retail work) and that $25 a month (if it’s actually that cheap; that depends on which form of contraceptive you’re using) is a significant extra expense if one is, say, raising children on the wages from that job.
I think the connection between the culture war and class war especially valuable since the culture war is very much a war against poor women seeking to control their own bodies and who lack options once the effects of the culture war are literally growing inside them. And the kind of activism that just makes Hobby Lobby workers have to labor harder while doing nothing to affect the company is the sort of the buying thriftshop clothes to protest sweatshops that might not be counterproductive but don’t really do anything to help the situation.