A Fight for Civil and Labor Rights: Union Vote Looms at Nissan

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A meeting with autoworkers in a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi. (Photo: Maina Kiai / Flickr)

“Our only hope is to control the vote.”

Mississippi civil rights leader and NAACP icon Medgar Evers said those words over 50 years ago about the fight for voting rights. He believed, like many activists, that voting enabled dignity in the control of one’s political and economic destiny.

Decades later, a new generation of Southern activists is renewing that vision.

On August 3 and 4, a 14-year campaign to organize the Nissan Motors plant in the small southern city of Canton, Mississippi will come to its climax. The workers at Nissan will finally have their say and get the opportunity to vote for a union, the United Autoworkers (UAW), to represent them on the job.

The vast majority of the nearly 4,000 workers who will be voting at the Nissan plant are African Americans, a population that has historically faced severe economic exploitation due to racism.

The UAW promises it will help the workers grow in strength and negotiate better working conditions, hours, wages, and benefits at the plant. Additionally, the workers have made a broader call for more dignity and respect on the job.

A victory for the workers at Nissan would be historic. It would represent one of the largest successes for labor in decades and one of its largest triumphs in the South.

Read the full article on NBC News.

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Black-led Labor Organizers Discuss Challenges and Tactics of Black Worker Organizing in the Trump Era at State of Black Workers in America Conference

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(Photo: Victoria Borneman / Institute for Policy Studies)

(Washington, DC) – Six months into the Trump administration Black labor organizers are facing new and old challenges. The Institute for Policy Studies held its 3rd State of Black Workers in America Conference at historic Howard University led by our Black Worker Initiative project to discuss big-picture national trends impacting black workers, as well as the innovative Black-led labor organizing happening in the U.S. Panelists engaged with the audience to talk about topics from the women of color-led fight for a domestic worker bill of rights, to alternative power for Black workers, to partnerships for workforce training with German corporations in the Deep South.

Three dynamic panels included:

We Dream In Black: Telling the Story of Black Women Low-Wage Domestic Organizing in the South, moderated by Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. This all women of color led panel introduced the partnership between We Dream in Black and the Black Worker Initiative. It focused on telling the compelling stories of Black female domestic workers in North Carolina and Georgia who are fighting for better wages, access to benefits, and a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights at the state level. This project hopes to move both hearts and policy in the coming years.

“While Black women are working hard, democracy isn’t working for us. Black families depend on Black women, yet Black women face the highest poverty rates in the nation, second only to indigenous women,” Alicia Garza of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and Black Lives Matter said. “We do our part to make this country better—we vote at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group. It’s time for an agenda that puts Black women at the center. When Black women succeed, all women succeed.”

What the Hell do We Have to Lose? Black Workers Reflect on the First Six Months of the Trump Administration, moderated by MSNBC’s Joy Ann-Reid. This panel featured Carmen Berkley of Planned Parenthood (formerly the Civil Rights Director for the AFL-CIO), Tanya Wallace-Gobern of the National Black Worker Center Project and the Black Worker Initiative’s own Marc Bayard.  The panel discussed big-picture national trends impacting black workers, especially in the Deep South. These former and current labor leaders and activists discussed the effects of this administration on civil rights, the shift in focus back to white male workers, alternative power for Black workers, and the power of narrative change.

“This Trump moment has shown the world that the needs of U.S. workers have not been met and many of them are suffering. But if we continue to leave Black workers out of the conversation, we will never see a revitalization of a labor movement that serves the people,” Marc Bayard, director of the Black Worker Initiative at the Institute for Policy Studies said.

Building Bridges Between German Corporations, the Civil Rights Movement, and Labor. The Black Worker Initiative is seeking to build stronger and more positive relationships between German firms working in the U.S. and civil rights, academic, labor and racial justice organizations.  Our focus states are Mississippi and Alabama.  This panel showed the success of our early efforts. This panel including powerful opening remarks from DNC Chair Tom Perez. Perez set up an important frame as to the value of the German apprenticeship model for education, jobs and dignity at work.  Perez stated, “In Germany, everyone has the same stature.  We devalue apprenticeship here. [We] need to change that perception.” representatives from the Mississippi NAACP, Foundation for the Mid South and Adah International discussed vigorously the role of German corporations in the Deep South and their relationship to the Black communities that live and work there. Conversations about future partnerships and access to workforce skills and training in German companies for Black high school and college students was a key to the discussion.

This day-long event attended by one hundred and fifty labor, civil rights, women’s and community activists as well as a number of foundations and academics.

See the full program here.

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NDWA and IPS to Release New Labor Trafficking Report at Public Panel Discussion, with Survivors

Media Contacts:
Marzena Zukowska, National Domestic Workers Alliance, marzena@domesticworkers.org, 872-216-3684
Domenica Ghanem, Institute for Policy Studies, domenica@ips-dc.org, 202-787-5205

Washington, DC — The National Domestic Workers Alliance and Institute for Policy Studies will release their new report The Human Trafficking of Domestic Workers in the United States: Findings from the Beyond Survival Campaign at a public panel discussion featuring labor trafficking survivors and immigrant worker rights organizers on March 13 at 12PM at their office in Washington DC. The panel will discuss the report’s findings, the impact of the Trump administration’s policies on labor trafficking survivors, and solutions policymakers should adopt to protect domestic workers. If you cannot attend in person, you can join our audio livestream here.

In a political climate where employers are encouraged to prey upon the most vulnerable among us and police are increasingly embroiled in immigrant enforcement, we anticipate that labor protections for trafficking survivors will only deteriorate. It is critical to learn from the experiences of domestic workers, like Shanti and Rosa, whose stories are featured in the report, and who have survived labor exploitation and human trafficking. Through their leadership, others experiencing similar abuse will be encouraged to break the silence. Policymakers must adopt the solutions developed by survivors to stop the exploitation of domestic workers and bring respect, recognition and dignity to this essential workforce.

WHO:              Labor trafficking survivors and domestic worker  organizers, Shanti and Rosa
Damayan Migrant Workers Association Organizer, Riya Ortiz
Report co-author and NDWA Advocacy Director, Sameera Hafiz will moderate

WHAT:            Findings from the Beyond Survival Campaign Report Release and panel discussion on the impact of Trump immigration enforcement policies on survivors of human trafficking

WHERE:         1301 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036 OR
Join our audio livestream

WHEN:           March 13, 2017, 12:00-1:30 PM

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Divisions of Labor: The New Struggles of the Working Class

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(Photo: kuzmafoto / Shutterstock)

The working class, or at least the white part, has emerged as our great national mystery. Traditionally Democratic, they helped elect a flamboyantly ostentatious billionaire to the presidency. “What’s wrong with them?” the liberal pundits keep asking. Why do they believe Trump’s promises? Are they stupid or just deplorably racist? Why did the working class align itself against its own interests?

I was born into this elusive class and remain firmly connected to it through friendships and family. In the 1980s, for example, I personally anchored a working-class cultural hub in my own home on Long Island. The attraction was not me but my husband (then) and longtime friend Gary Stevenson, a former warehouse worker who had become an organizer for the Teamsters union. You may think of the Long Island suburbs as a bedroom community for Manhattan commuters or a portal to the Hamptons, but they were then also an industrial center, with more than 20,000 workers employed at Grumman alone. When my sister moved into our basement from Colorado, she quickly found a job in a factory within a mile of our house, as did thousands of other people, some of them bused in from the Bronx. Mostly we hosted local residents who passed through our house for evening meetings or weekend gatherings — truck drivers, factory workers, janitors and eventually nurses. My job was to make chili and keep room in the fridge for the baked ziti others would invariably bring. I once tried to explain the concept of “democratic socialism” to some machine-shop workers and went off on a brief peroration against the Soviet Union. They stared at me glumly across the kitchen counter until one growled, “At least they have health care over there.”

Read the full article on the New York Times Magazine.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a board member at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Why Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Might Back Down From the Job

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(Photo: blue cheddar / flickr)

Amid speculation that Donald Trump’s pick for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, may have lost his appetite for the job, the fast food CEO’s personal financial disclosure documents are being kept from public view.

When — and if — the Office of Government Ethics releases these documents, we’ll get a clearer picture of the grand fortune Puzder has built up in his 16 years as the chief of CKE, the company behind the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. chains. But even the incomplete data CKE has filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission make clear that Puzder has received massive rewards for exploiting his low-wage labor force.

In just the four-year period of 2009-2012, SEC filings show Puzder made $ 27.5 million in total compensation, with a peak haul in 2011 of $ 10.1 million. (After 2012, CKE no longer had to report executive compensation data because it had become privately held.) Special executive “perks” made up just a small portion of his pay, and yet these rewards dramatically illustrate the hypocrisy of Puzder’s positions on labor issues.

For example, Puzder opposes mandatory sick leave policies for workers and wants to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, he himself has enjoyed huge reimbursement checks from his company for medical and dental costs — above and beyond his regular employer-provided health insurance benefits. In just one year, 2009, these reimbursements totaled an astounding $ 61,000. In contrast, only 9 percent of CKE non-managerial staff have access to any health care benefits at all through their employer.

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As CKE CEO, Puzder has been so hostile to his employees that he famously once said he’d like to replace all of them with robots who “never take a vacation.” Meanwhile, he has pocketed as much as $ 11,000 per year from the company to cover the cost of his personal leisure trips. CKE has also reimbursed him for personal income taxes related to those trips.

To make sure Puzder travels in style, the company has forked over as much as $ 60,000 per year for his transportation via company car or jet. For leisure time closer to home, the company covers the tab for private social and recreational club dues, which ran more than $ 3,000 one year.

In California, where the firm has been headquartered for most of its history, Puzder bristled at state worker protections, including regulations that require a 30-minute meal break for a worker putting in a shift of five or more hours and a 10-minute break for a shift of more than four hours. Puzder has made clear he will work to strip workers of the right to even these small windows for rest or perhaps a personal phone call. By contrast, his own personal cell phone is covered by the company, at a rate that must be one of the highest in the world — as much as $ 4,424 per year.

CNN has quoted an unnamed Republican source saying that Puzder “may be bailing” from the cabinet competition because he’s “not into the pounding he is taking” from those critical of his labor practices at CKE. Some of that pounding took place at an emotional public forum on Capitol Hill on January 10, where three individuals with experience working for Carl’s Jr. restaurants told U.S. senators about routine incidents of wage theft and other abuses. Two days later, the Fight for $ 15 campaign helped organize protests against Puzder in more than a dozen cities.

It’s not hard to believe that the rumors about Puzder having second thoughts might be true. Given the level of imperial coddling he’s grown accustomed to at CKE, such public scrutiny would no doubt be a bit unsettling.

The post Why Trump’s Labor Secretary Pick Might Back Down From the Job appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Anderson is the director of the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Here’s What It’s Like to Work for Trump’s Labor Secretary Nominee

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Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Roberto Ramirez worked for nearly 18 years for the Carl’s Jr. burger chain in Los Angeles. He started doing food prep and eventually took on three additional jobs: cleaning, cashiering, and serving. Little did he know his experience would one day land him in the national political spotlight.

On January 10, Ramirez was a star witness in a sort of shadow hearing on Capitol Hill on the business practices of one Andrew Puzder, the fast-food king who is Donald Trump’s choice for Labor Secretary. Democratic senators tried to give Ramirez and others with experience working for Puzder’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains an even bigger platform, as witnesses in the nominee’s upcoming confirmation hearing. Republicans nixed that request.

Originally from Guerrero, Mexico, Ramirez addressed about a dozen senators in Spanish, explaining through an interpreter how his workload at Carl’s Jr. eventually became so unmanageable he had to put in half an hour of free labor every day before his clock-in time to be able to finish all his duties. None of this overtime was ever compensated. Ramirez testified that a manager later stole one of his paychecks while he was away and the company refused to help him recover the compensation. When he complained about it, his manager retaliated by cutting his hours to the point where he had no choice but to quit.

Ramirez’s story was reinforced by a new Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United report. Based on questionnaires filled out voluntarily by 564 Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s workers, the report found that 28 percent of respondents had to work off the clock without pay because of understaffing. Approximately one-third reported a wide range of wage theft violations, including not receiving required breaks or overtime pay.

A high percentage of workers reported experiencing sexual harassment on the job — 66 percent, compared to 40 percent overall in the fast-food industry. This is hardly shocking, given the behavior of the company’s CEO. Puzder is notorious for boasting about his sexualized ad campaigns, including raunchy spots for a Bacon 3-Way Burger featuring oiled-up blondes in bikinis in a pseudo menage-a-trois and another with a model rubbing a piece of bacon across her breast.

One female employee told ROC that customers have asked her why she doesn’t dress like the women in the commercials. Several others charged that store managers either ignored employee complaints about harassment or were perpetrators themselves.

Seventy-nine percent of respondents said they’d prepared or served food while sick, the vast majority because they had no sick leave. Ramirez admitted he’d also worked while ill, and felt bad about handling meat, knowing he might be making someone else sick. Another Carl’s Jr. worker at the shadow hearing, Lupe Guzman from Las Vegas, said she also had to work when she was sick, and when her child was hospitalized, she had to show documentation proving it — not to get compensated, but to avoid being fired.

Andrew Puzder has made no secret of the fact that he would like to codify his cut-throat business approach in federal policy. He is opposed to regulations on overtime pay, paid leave, mandatory break times, and a minimum wage increase. In fact, he’s so hostile to his human employees he’s waxed rhapsodic about replacing them entirely with robots.

Of course, this hasn’t stopped Puzder from accepting generous perks for himself. The ROC report points out that this devout opponent of Obamacare and mandatory sick leave policies has enjoyed reimbursement checks of as much as $ 61,000 per year from his employer for medical costs that run above and beyond his health insurance benefits. By contrast, only 9 percent of Puzder’s non-managerial staff have access to any employer-provided health care. As CEO, Puzder’s total compensation has run as high as $ 10 million per year.

“We need fair pay and dignity at work,” said Roberto Ramirez, his voice cracking with emotion as he read his prepared testimony. “I’m afraid if Andrew Puzder is confirmed as Labor Secretary, what happened to me will happen to workers across the country.”

The post Here’s What It’s Like to Work for Trump’s Labor Secretary Nominee appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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A Soiled Picture of Art and Labor

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(Photo: Donna / Flickr)

Home care givers, fast food workers, and adjunct faculty all work in multi-billion-dollar industries — and have to fight for livable, sustainable wages.

Artists also work, and struggle, in a multi-billion-dollar industry. Their $ 700 billion-a-year Industry of Art runs rampant with systemic inequality. Those who contribute the most typically get compensated the least.

The arts today don’t fit any convenient monolithic definition. Alongside the traditions of symphony and ballet, art is spilling out onto the streets and into the neighborhoods, and that’s resulting in a gap between traditional arts funding structures and actual arts practices.

A quick glimpse at one public art effort, the Cube@Canal Park project in Washington, D.C., can help illustrate our ongoing systemic problem. This project began in 2012 with an appeal to artists for A/V projections for Canal Park in Washington’s near Southeast. Funding initially came from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

Simultaneously, another project asked artists to make animal-shaped sculptures to be permanently installed on street poles in the same neighborhood. Funding for these sculptures came from the D.C. Department of Transportation.

Local artists and their allied community chose not to restrict their work to these narrow points of origin. They built instead a larger, more comprehensive project, called This Place Has a Voice, an effort that by 2014 would involve 28 artists and two historians who collectively produced projections and sculptures as well as performances, walking tours, mural-sized portraits, and a public Event Day in the park.

Funding for the historical research came out of the D.C. Humanities Council. This funding and all other project funds would actually be funneled through the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, a local nonprofit agency.

This funneling reflected common practice in the arts. Funds almost always go to art administrators, not directly to artists. This approach to funding is, as Tyler Cowen has written in his Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding, “making the American art world more bureaucratic.”

In Canal Park, the original six-month project pilot phase would devolve into a three-year ordeal as artists and community worked to build a larger story and the arts administrator kept kicking the can down the road. Finally, in June 2014, the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop withdrew entirely from the project without fulfilling a single obligation and, at the same time, withholding some of the available funds.

The agency’s formal letter of withdrawal from the effort made no claim to be acting in the interest of art or community. The agency only stipulated that it was breaking no law.

This bureaucratic lack of respect for artists, community, and the tax dollars designated for the arts offers up only one example of the challenges today’s artists and their communities face.

In this Canal Park case, artists and community would go on to successfully complete the project. Then, in a survey after the project, participating artists shared information that revealed just who, in the end, paid the cost of that completion.

The survey asked artists to indicate how much they were paid personally, how much they paid for materials, and how many hours they worked. The numbers they provided tell a distressing story.

If we multiply the number of hours artists on the Canal Park project worked by the minimum wage at the time, then artists matched each funder dollar with $ 0.77 in unpaid labor. If we use the $ 38.69/hour value of volunteer labor in D.C., then the artists surpassed each funder dollar by $ 4.36.

If we value the artists’ work based on their opportunity costs — their earning potential per hour — then for every dollar funders provided the canal Park project, the artists contributed $ 6.12.

The $ 700 billion-a-year Industry of Art doesn’t include any of these artist contributions in its official accounting.

By official accounting, the Canal Park artists were paid with tax dollars to produce community art, all brokered by salaried administrators. But in reality, the government funders provided $ 85,000 in cash, the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop pocketed part of that, and the artists provided over half a million dollars in product.

Official arts accounting also overlooks the human, facility, and other resources that pour into projects like the Canal Park effort from the local community.

In the Canal Park project, these resources came in abundance from the Arthur Capper Senior Center, a residence for older citizens who lived in the local area long before its gentrification. These seniors gave the Canal Park project countless hours and insights. They shared their meeting rooms and personal photographs of the neighborhood. This immense contribution appears nowhere on the official arts accounting ledger.

Traditional arts econometrics, in other words, paints a terribly misleading picture of who pays and who plays in the arts. The current art-world economic model simply isn’t working.

“Artists should be a partner in creating public spaces,” as author Kriston Capps puts it, “not a subcontractor.”

We don’t need to just paint a new picture. We need to reframe it.

The post A Soiled Picture of Art and Labor appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.

Bruce McKaig is a New Economy Maryland fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Your New ‘Star Wars’ Toy Might Come From Chinese Sweatshop Labor – International Business Times


International Business Times
Your New 'Star Wars' Toy Might Come From Chinese Sweatshop Labor
International Business Times
Other alleged abuses include a lack of safety equipment, overtime law violations and unsanitary housing conditions. … Hasbro, Mattel and Disney are all members of an ethical manufacturing program overseen by the International Council of Toy Industries.

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Your New ‘Star Wars’ Toy Might Come From Chinese Sweatshop Labor – International Business Times


International Business Times
Your New 'Star Wars' Toy Might Come From Chinese Sweatshop Labor
International Business Times
Other alleged abuses include a lack of safety equipment, overtime law violations and unsanitary housing conditions. … Hasbro, Mattel and Disney are all members of an ethical manufacturing program overseen by the International Council of Toy Industries.

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Your New ‘Star Wars’ Toy Might Come From Chinese Sweatshop Labor – International Business Times


International Business Times
Your New 'Star Wars' Toy Might Come From Chinese Sweatshop Labor
International Business Times
Other alleged abuses include a lack of safety equipment, overtime law violations and unsanitary housing conditions. … Hasbro, Mattel and Disney are all members of an ethical manufacturing program overseen by the International Council of Toy Industries.

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