Proposal to Let Bosses Keep Workers’ Tips Provokes Investigation


Labor activists drop a banner and stage a protest in front of the Department of Labor, February 5, 2018.

Trump labor officials sparked outrage late last year by proposing a reform that would allow bosses to pocket their employees’ tips. But even these unabashedly anti-labor labor officials were apparently too embarrassed to reveal just how much this rule change would harm restaurant servers and other tipped workers.

According to a Bloomberg exposé, the Department “shelved” its own economic analysis of the proposal when the numbers indicated workers could lose billions of dollars in income. That cowardly maneuver has turned up the klieg lights on this whole nefarious, industry-driven effort. Under pressure from labor activists, the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General has just launched an audit of the rulemaking process.

The Institute for Policy Studies, the National Employment Law Project, and numerous other groups filed letters urging the Department of Labor to immediately withdraw the proposal. If the Department does not take this action, the pro-worker groups are demanding that the public be allowed to weigh in on the matter after the audit is completed.

Before the official public comment period closed on February 5, the Department of Labor received about 215,000 comment letters, with the vast majority in opposition to the proposal. Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which advocates for better working conditions for restaurant workers, also organized a protest outside the Department’s headquarters where a banner was hung off the side of the building with the slogan “Trump Don’t Steal Our Tips.”

“The Department of Labor should be focused on improving tipped workers’ economic security,” wrote Institute for Policy Studies Director John Cavanagh in the organization’s public comment letter. “And yet by abolishing the regulation affirming that tips are the property of the employee who earned them, the Department would make these workers, who are primarily women and people of color, even more vulnerable to exploitation.”

The Economic Policy Institute estimates the proposal would result in employers taking $ 5.8 billion in tips from workers. This would be a severe blow in an industry where abuse is already rampant. Employers of tipped workers are among the worst offenders in minimum wage violations, especially due to the subminimum tipped wage. Employers who pay a subminimum wage ($ 2.13 at the federal level) are technically required to ensure that tips bring employee wages up to at least the full minimum wage, but difficulties in enforcement result in high noncompliance rates.

The National Restaurant Association is attempting to frame the proposed rule as an initiative to allow for tip pooling to end pay disparities between the front and back of the house in restaurants. But there’s no guarantee tips stay in the hands of workers — whether they work in the front or the back of the house.

The language in the proposal suggests that employers could allocate tips to make capital improvements or lower menu prices, which the Department of Labor claims could have “potential benefits to employees and the economy overall.” This is just “bogus trickledown theory,” IPS Director Cavanagh wrote. “It’s designed to distract attention from a rule that would clearly lead to even more severe exploitation of tipped workers.”

By burying their internal economic analysis, Labor Department officials may have shot themselves in the foot, suggests Judy Conti of the National Employment Law Project. In an interview with the publication Law 360, Conti said the proposal could be “very vulnerable” to a legal challenge if the Labor Department finalizes it without publishing an underlying economic analysis on the costs and benefits.

The post Proposal to Let Bosses Keep Workers’ Tips Provokes Investigation appeared first on Institute for Policy Studies.


US Labor Department announces final rule to improve U.S. workers’ protection from the dangers of ‘respirable’ silica dust

US Labor Department announces final rule to improve U.S. workers’ protection from the dangers of ‘respirable’ silica dust
Updated rule amends silica exposure regulations for first time since 1971

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced a final rule to improve protections for workers exposed to respirable silica dust. The rule will curb lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease in America’s workers by limiting their exposure to respirable crystalline silica.

“More than 80 years ago, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins identified silica dust as a deadly hazard and called on employers to fully protect workers,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “This rule will save lives. It will enable workers to earn a living without sacrificing their health. It builds upon decades of research and a lengthy stakeholder engagement process – including the consideration of thousands of public comments – to finally give workers the kind of protection they deserve and that Frances Perkins had hoped for them.”

OSHA estimates that when the final rule on Occupational Exposure to Respirable Crystalline Silica becomes fully effective, it will save more than 600 lives annually and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis – an incurable and progressive disease – each year. The agency also estimates the final rule will provide net benefits of about $ 7.7 billion per year.

“The previous exposure limits were outdated and did not adequately protect workers,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels. “Limiting exposure to silica dust is essential. Every year, many exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. Today, we are taking action to bring worker protections into the 21st century in ways that are feasible and economical for employers to implement.”

About 2.3 million men and women face exposure to respirable crystalline silica in their workplaces, including two million construction workers who drill and cut silica-containing materials such as concrete and stone, and 300,000 workers in operations such as brick manufacturing, foundries and hydraulic fracturing. Most employers can limit harmful dust exposure by using equipment that is widely available – generally using water to keep dust from getting into the air or a ventilation system to capture dust where it is created.

The final rule will improve worker protection by:

  • Reducing the permissible exposure limit for crystalline silica to 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air, averaged over an eight-hour shift.
  • Requiring employers to use engineering controls (such as water or ventilation) and work practices to limit worker exposure; provide respiratory protection when controls are not able to limit exposures to the permissible level; limit access to high exposure areas; train workers; and provide medical exams to highly exposed workers.
  • Providing greater certainty and ease of compliance to construction employers – including many small employers – by including a table of specified controls they can follow to be in compliance, without having to monitor exposures.
  • Staggering compliance dates to ensure employers have sufficient time to meet the requirements, e.g., extra time for the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry to install new engineering controls and for all general industry employers to offer medical surveillance to employees exposed between the PEL and 50 micrograms per cubic meter and the action level of 25 micrograms per cubic meter.

The final rule is written as two standards, one for construction and one for general industry and maritime.  

Employers covered by the construction standard have until June 23, 2017 to comply with most requirements. Employers covered by the general industry and maritime standard have until June 23, 2018 to comply with most requirements; additional time is provided to offer medical exams to some workers and for hydraulic fracturing employers to install dust controls to meet the new exposure limit.

More information is available at

Read the Spanish version of this release

Release Date: 
Media Contact Name: 

Brian Hawthorne

Phone Number: 
Media Contact Name: 

Mandy McClure

Phone Number: 
Release Number: 
Override with PDF?: 


‘Je suis invisible’: the forgotten activists fighting for food workers’ rights

Executive Director’s Blog

It will not have escaped your notice that 12 people were brutally murdered at the Paris headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on 7 January 2015. First and foremost, Fairfood would like to extend its condolences to the victims, as well as their families and colleagues. Obviously, this should never have happened in a civilized society where everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to hold opinions without interference.

There is no doubt that journalists increasingly risk their lives every day to protect our freedoms. The Committee to Protect Journalists indicates on its website that 1,100 journalists have died doing their jobs from 1992-2015. However, there is also an almost invisible group of human rights and environmental defenders exposing violations of human rights, global corruption, and fighting corporate and government abuses in the food system. Many of them die anonymously every day, with no million marches or public outrage.

In 2014 Global Witness published ‘Deadly Environment’, a report that identifies a clear increase in killings of activists defending the environment and other human rights violations between 2002 and 2013. The report reveals that during this period, at least 908 of such activists were killed in 35 countries – with an average increase of two activists per week in the last four years. Activists in Latin America and Asia-Pacific are particularly affected.

Take, for instance, the case of Rolando Pango, a labour representative for sugar plantation workers on Hacienda Salud in the Philippines, who had applied for land under the Phillipines Compreshensive Agrarian Program and filed a lawsuit against Manuel Lamata, President of the United Sugar Producers Federation, for the illegal dismissal of 41 workers. On 29 November 2014, he was ruthlessly assassinated.

How about the brave sugarcane workers, widows and children from Chicigalpa in Nicaragua who marched to expose deaths linked to Chronic Kidney Disease of non-traditional causes (CKDnT), strongly linked to inhumane working conditions and the use of pesticides, which is killing workers and leaving their loved ones without social security support. They marched to the headquarters of sugar cane multinational Gruppo Pellas and the National Social Security Headquarters, but police severely beat protesters and assaulted bystanders, including children as young as six years old. Few have marched for these workers or mourned the 20,000 workers who have died throughout Central America since the emergence of this epidemic.

Finally, there is the case of activist Andy Hall, who is facing over $ 10 million in fines and up to 7 years in prison for daring to expose the poor working conditions, unlawfully low wages and child labour, among other human rights abuses, perpetrated by powerful food and beverage companies in Thailand.

It is, of course, heartwarming to see the global outrage and the three million people marching in unity in response to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, but I would like to urge everyone to spare a thought for those invisible activists and food workers who are beaten, abused or murdered in silence every day. We need to commit to more than a unity march to ensure that these activists and food workers are given a voice, and to safeguard the vulnerable from corporate abuses and government indifference.

Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director of Fairfood Interational


Working together to safeguard workers’ rights

This week Ainhoa Galan, manager of fairness issues analysis at Fairfood International, was invited to take part on “Empezando del dia” (Starting the Day) on Radio Actuel in San Jose, Costa Rica, to talk about the work of Fairfood, specifically our work with labour unions. 

The programme is produced by la Central del Movimiento de Trabajadores de Costa Rica (CMTC), a trade union centre in Costa Rica. The programme covered several issues facing labour unions in Costa Rica.

-          Over the last few years, there has been a change in the agroindustry sector in Costa Rica, switching from local production aimed at ensuring food security, to plantations and industrial production for export. Where this has obviously benefited the economy, it has also created many social issues: income insecurity, weaker Labour Rights, unhealthy and unsafe working conditions and deterioration of the environment. Fairfood International expects companies to take responsibility wherever they operate, not only where their Head Office is situated. They must be transparent about their practices, policies and activities; these are the first steps a company must take on its path towards sustainability.

-          Exportations bring wealth to companies and the government but the issue is how does this benefit the local communities? Fairfood tackles the companies directly on this issue, asking for their corporate responsibilities to be transparent and therefore enabling the affected communities to hold companies to account.

-          Fairfood International works extensively with labour unions with the shared objective to improve labour conditions and defend basic Workers’ Rights, such as the right to join a union or bargaining. Working together we share knowledge and skills, raising awareness about the sustainability issues related to the food industry in their own country. Joint efforts and higher awareness are needed to improve food industry practices and ensure basic workers’ rights.

If you’d like to know more about CMTC and the work of Fairfood International’s work with labour unions, listen to the full radio show (in Spanish) here – apologies for the slight sound distortion. Alternatively, contact us for more details. Thanks to the great team in on “Empezando del dia”:

 Jhonatan Monge (CMTC representative and show presenter)

Jose Antonio Barquero (President of Confederación Unitaria Sindical Magisterial y Comunal CUSIMA)

Chelo Valerio (sound technician)

Ainhoa Galán, Fairfood International


Listen to the radio show (Spanish) on the player below:



Food & beverage workers’ freedom rights must be protected!

“Over 60 years ago, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining as a fundamental human right issue, but today, this right is still being trampled upon increasingly and a recent global analysis still describes a gloomy picture for workers and unions all over the world. 

It is unnerving to find that this situation is growing in the food industry. Food and beverage workers in companies’ supply chains especially those considered as “Precarious workers”, are increasingly being dismissed, harassed, beaten, threatened, imprisoned or worse – killed, for exercising their fundamental right to organise. It is clear that despite common regulations on this issue, these workers are still defenseless in the face of a sinister and inhospitable climate, where corporate greed and corruption reign supreme.

Perhaps what gives some hope is that there are indeed a few fair trade certifications and voluntary social-justice standards that seemingly go above and beyond the current regulations. Food companies must adopt and adhere to these in order to ensure that the violation of workers’ freedom of association is curbed within their supply chains.

Fairfood International introduces “The Right to Unite” via its dedicated Open Up series, to raise the level of discussion on the issue of Freedom of Association and to invite food companies, especially, to join in the effort to address this appalling human rights violation that has gone on for far too long. To echo the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) Craig Mokhiber statement at a recent panel discussion on human rights and Rio+20; we cannot think about sustainable development in the 21st century without thinking about seriously upholding fundamental human rights.”

- Anselm Iwundu, Executive Director, Fairfood International


Image: Farmer land rights protest in Jakarta, Indonesia. Jonathan McIntosh (CC License, 2004)