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A Taxing Profession: Cabbies Face Low Pay, Long Hours, High Risk

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On July 24 the federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 an hour. But that won’t help Chicago cab drivers, who make an average of $4 an hour working 24 to 25 days a month for 12 to 13 hours a day, according to a study released this spring by the University of Illinois’ School of Labor and Employment Relations and commissioned by the American Friends Service Committee-United Taxidrivers Community Council (AFSCUTCC).

The study surveyed 920 drivers, or about 8 percent of Chicago’s 10,500-cab force, and found that weekly lease drivers make an average $4.81 an hour, shift lease drivers just $4.07 an hour, after paying their leases, fuel costs, airport taxes, cab upkeep and other expenses. That adds up to about $13,000 a year. Drivers who own their own medallions and have paid off the steep loans to get one do only a bit better, at $6.41 an hour.

Meanwhile a new study by the University of Illinois commissioned by the AFSCUTCC addressed the serious risk of violence that cab drivers face on a daily basis.

Many people know cab driving is a dangerous job, but most probably assume the main risk is violent robbery. The study and drivers affiliated with the UTCC assert that violent attacks related to racism, inebriation or random aggression, not involving robbery, are a serious and under-addressed risk.

Take Stanley Shen, a Chinese American driver beaten severely after he was rear-ended last year. Or Walid Ziada, a Palestinian driver allegedly beaten by two men and a woman (ironically leaving an Obama victory party) so badly that he suffered a facial hematoma and was at risk of losing his eye.

Or the 2005 murder of driver Haroon Paryani by Michael Jackson, a high-ranking city health official high on drugs who ran Paryani, 61, over with his own cab. Despite the brutal nature of the murder, Jackson’s supporters launched a campaign to defame Paryani and register complaints from past riders. The incident sparked the AFSC, with support from the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago to launch the Taxi Worker Organizing Project, which became the UTCC.

Contrary to stereotypes of cabbies being attacked in “bad” neighborhoods, the study shows the majority of attacks happen on Chicago’s northeast side, the wealthier, whiter portion of the city. (Cabs are also more prevalent in this area).

As in many major cities, Chicago cab drivers face substantial barriers to getting justice and financial compensation when they are victims of crime or customer misconduct. In Chicago, they live in fear of complaints, whether valid or not, filed with the city’s consumer services division, that can easily lead to them losing their ability to work as drivers.

The AFSCUTCC has long been pressing the city to mandate cabs bear a sticker notifying riders of a 2008 law making it a class 3 felony to assault a working cab driver. So far the consumer services division has resisted, saying such stickers would “clutter” cabs, according to the UTCC.

Drivers and organizing staff say people think they can attack or mistreat drivers and get away with it. Racism and xenophobia, or just the idea that immigrants and people of color have less political capital, play into this dynamic. About 60 percent of Chicago cab drivers are Muslim, and especially after the Sept. 11 attacks cab drivers anecdotally reported being verbally abused or discriminated against based on their race and religion. The top five countries of origin among surveyed drivers were Nigeria, Pakistan, U.S., Somalia and Ghana.

Cab drivers say multiple issues are tied together that make their jobs dangerous, grueling and low-paying. Along with a fare increase and other specific remedies they are requesting from city officials and cab companies, they say an increase in respect, good behavior and empathy from customers would go a long way.

Kari Lydersen: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island.

This article originally appeared at Working In These Times on August 15, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Meaningful Work, The Ultimate Oxymoron?

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It’s a question that I probably am asked more than the average person. And given my line avocation, workplace advice columnist, it shouldn’t be surprising.

“What is the key to a satisfying career?”

For most of my work life, I would have really struggled to answer that question. It would be as close to an imponderable question as why laundry detergent companies continue to call the little scoop that comes inside their box a “free” scoop, like you could use it after all the detergent is gone to serve soup when company comes to visit. Okay, maybe it’s time for me to get a real job and stop contemplating such questions.

The obvious way to tackle the satisfying career question is to not answer it. To decide that everyone is different and therefore must find their own answer.

But after a decade of writing this column I’ve decided that this question is too important to be left to answers such as, “I can handle the commute,” “My boss mostly leaves me alone,” or “If work were satisfying, why would they call it a job.”

Dear readers, I wish I was creative enough to come up with those answers on my own. But I’ve actually had people write those exact words to me through the years.

Outside of a few artists or entrepreneurs, most people seem to approach work as something not to be enjoyed, but to be tolerated. In fact, there was one guy who really got in my face at a speech a few years ago. “Work sucks, and if you think differently about it you are only going to be disappointed.”

This is where I must disagree. The “S” word of work doesn’t have to rhyme with stuck. Work can provide a sense of meaning, contribution and joy in your life…I’ll give a minute’s pause to allow most of you to stop laughing at that last sentence before I continue.

Work can provide meaning, contribution and joy AND a lot more. But it takes the blood, sweat and tears to find the right job for you. Which isn’t based just on your degree or boss or job title. It takes a good hard look in the mirror to sort out what you were really meant to do in your time here.

But that is just the first step in the journey. Just because you’ve found the right vocation doesn’t mean anything until you find the right place to practice your gift. The right company, the right team, the right boss and the right circumstances.

This is not science fiction. I’ve met people who’ve found the promised land at work. And I would count myself in this category.

As they say, a journey of a million miles begins with the first step. And I heard the best first step to a meaningful career in an interview with actor Peter O’Toole. He was asked about the best role he’d had in his amazing career. His response was simple, “The best role is always the next one.”

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

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Anna Burger Addresses Netroots Nation

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SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger took the main stage at Netroots Nation to talk about what it’s going to take to build a 21st century economy that works for all Americans. Joined by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and economist Dean Baker, the panel discussed the problems and opportunities we face as we find our place in a global, service-oriented economy.

Dean Baker opened the discussion with a clear message to the progressive community: we need a strong union movement to stabilize our economy and create a solid middle class. According to Baker, unions do more than just win better wages and benefits for their members; they improve the quality of services provided to communities, create a foundation of good jobs that can help local and state economies weather tough economic times, and provide the support needed to pass major legislation that benefits middle class Americans.

As governor of the most union dense state in the country, John Corzine spoke about unions’ ability to promote wealth gains that are shared by all Americans – not just the wealthiest one percent. He stressed that, as we rebuild our economy, we need to do away with the laws on the books that have hurt working Americans and made it so difficult for workers to join unions.

Anna Burger’s call for a national, long-term economic plan – something we’ve been without for decades – filled the room with applause. She said that, done correctly, we can build an economy that creates good jobs, lowers our carbon footprint, and gives us a lead role in the global marketplace. But, according to Burger, that kind of change takes real, grassroots energy around policy and not just politics. “Real change doesn’t happen during elections every four years,” she said. “It happens in the time before and after elections with smart policies that benefit all Americans.”

John Vandeventer: John Vandeventer is an online organizer & new media specialist in healthcare on SEIU’s New Media team.

This article originally appeared on the SEIU Blog on August 15, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Court Backs Union in Email Case, Slams Union Buster

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It took nine years, but workers at the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard newspaper finally won the right to use company e-mail to discuss union business.

In a sharply worded ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that the company did not break federal labor laws in 2000, when management disciplined the president of The Newspaper Guild-CWA (TNG-CWA) Local 37194 for using the company’s e-mail system to send three e-mail messages about Guild business. The messages were sent after work hours.

The Guild filed unfair labor practice charges, but the then Bush-dominated NLRB sided with the company regarding two of the e-mail messages. The appeals court overturned that ruling.

The company claimed that e-mail could only be used for business purposes, but the Guild showed that the company’s e-mail system was used by both employees and managers for a wide assortment of news—from baby shower invitations to requests for United Way volunteers.

The appellate judges had some sharp words for the Register-Guard’s union-busting lawyer Michael Zinser. The decision characterized Zinser’s arguments as “simply more distortion than the words can bear.”

The judges also criticized the NLRB, saying its rationale smacked of “a post hoc invention.”

TNG-CWA President Bernie Lunzer applauded the ruling:

The court’s decision made it clear that the company had discriminated based on union activity. I was at the Court of Appeals when Michael Zinser presented his case, and a jury of kindergarteners could have seen through it. He tried to argue that the union was a special case and could be barred from communicating by company e-mail, even though everyone else was allowed to use it freely.

Click here to read the court’s decision.

James Parks: My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Blog on August 12, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Healthcare Insurers: I Think the Appropriate Word is “Disturbing”

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Washington Post’s Daily Dose Blog adds more fuel to the health care reform debate:

You might have known that insurers can deny health coverage based on preexisting medical conditions, but here’s something else to worry about: They can take away the coverage you thought you had when actually need it, the government says.

The Department of Health and Human Services put a spotlight on that practice Tuesday in its continuing campaign to build support for an overhaul of health insurance.

“When a person is diagnosed with an expensive condition such as cancer, some insurance companies review his/her initial health status questionnaire,” the HHS said in a posting at HealthReform.Gov. In most states, insurance companies can retroactively cancel individuals’ policies if any condition was not disclosed when the policy was obtained, “even if the medical condition is unrelated, and even if the person was not aware of the condition at the time.”

“Coverage can also be revoked for all members of a family, even if only one family member failed to disclose a medical condition,” HHS said.

The department cited recent research by the staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which found that three large insurers rescinded almost 20,000 policies over five years, saving $300 million in medical claims.
At least one insurer included such savings in an employee performance evaluation.

I teach a case in employee benefits law class, McGann v. H&H Music (5th Cir. 1992), that describes a similar practice to this. Unfortunately, the court in McGann found that the participant could not prevail under an ERISA Section 510 retaliation claim when his coverage was dramatically reduced (1 million to $5000) when he told his employer he had AIDS.

Maybe I’ll just start counting reasons why health care reform is a necessity and that health insurers cannot continue to exist in a world with little regulation and even less meaningful remedies against them for this type of disturbing conduct.

The employee performance part can be filed under “truly disturbing.”

Paul Secunda: Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.

This article originally appeared on Workplace Prof Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Employee Free Choice supporters blast Rite Aid with new report on company’s union busting at West Coast warehouse

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Supporters urging passage of the Employee Free Choice Act took to the streets on Monday, August 10 to back warehouse workers at Rite Aid’s massive distribution center in Lancaster, California. They released a new Jobs with Justice report about how management there has aggressively interfered in workers’ freedom to form a union.

The 12-page report: “Rite Aid, Oliver J. Bell & Associates, and the Case for the Employee Free Choice Act” documents how management employed union busters and violated labor laws. Last year, the National Labor Relations Board was prepared to charge Rite Aid with 49 unfair labor practice charges before the cases were settled out of court.

“Union avoidance consultants, such as those engaged by Rite Aid, have contributed significantly to the subversion of the National Labor Relations Act,” said John Logan from the Institute for Research on Labor & Employment at the University of California at Berkeley whose research has focused on workers’ rights. “Using every weapon at their disposal, they encourage employers to fight to the death efforts by employees to form unions.”

The actions were led by local Jobs with Justice coalitions in Boston, Bangor, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Montpelier, Portland, OR and Richmond, VA. AFL-CIO organizer Rand Wilson and two community activists infiltrated a major pharmaceutical industry conference at the Boston Convention Center where a Rite Aid manager was speaking. As soon as he was done, they stood up and blasted Rite Aid’s union busting while distributing copies of the report to the pharmacy convention delegates. The report was also released in six other cities. At some locations, other Rite Aid workers’ unions — 1199 SEIU, UFCW and the Teamsters — joined the support actions.

Despite the company’s attacks, a majority the of the workers voted to join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 26 in March 2008. But more than a year later, Rite Aid management is still refusing to negotiate a first contract that would improve wages and working conditions for employees.

“Rite Aid’s intense and longstanding interference in the workers efforts to form a union — in which professional union busters have played a major role — and its failure to bargain in good faith with employees are seen as prime examples of why efforts to pass the Employee Free Choice Act are so important,” said Veronica Turner, Vice President for Health Systems at 1199 SEIU in Boston.

“If Employee Free Choice were the law of the land, the workers at the Rite Aid distribution center would have settled their contract by now. Access to mediation and arbitration on first contracts would prevent companies like Rite Aid from dragging their feet in negotiations to frustrate workers and defeat efforts to improve working conditions,” said Mark Govoni, Vice President of UFCW Local 1445 in Boston.

After the press conference, activists announced they would leaflet five Rite Aid stores in the Boston metropolitan area to inform customers about the company’s aggressive interference in workers’ rights and the need for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act to help prevent union busting.

About the Author Rand Wilson: was a Teamster communications staffer who helped coordinate the 1996-97 contract campaign and strike at UPS. He can be reached at [email protected] 

This article originally appeared on Working Life on August 11, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Bailout Oversight Panel: Some Banks Still Vulnerable to Collapse

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Nearly a year after the $700 billion bailout of the nation’s financial system began, banks—especially regional and smaller banks—are still threatened by the billions of dollars in bad loans on their balance sheets. More could fail if the economy worsens, according to a new report from the Congressional Oversight Panel (COP), which oversees the spending of the bailout funds.

The Continued Risk of Troubled Assets,” released today, warns that if unemployment rises sharply or the commercial real estate market collapses, the banking system could again nosedive into a crisis.

In the report, the panel says:

The financial system [remains] vulnerable to the crisis conditions that [the bailout] was meant to fix.

The report says many of the Obama administration’s financial stability efforts are working—including infusions of new capital for banks, heightened scrutiny of capital ratios and “stress-testing” of large financial firms.

But the way the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds have been spent has placed some banks in danger, COP says. TARP was originally proposed as a plan to buy bad mortgage-backed loans from ailing banks. But by the time the program was signed into law in October 2008, the Treasury Department had decided to go in another direction and use the money to provide banks with a capital buffer and to build reserves. That left many of the bad loans on the books.

According to the COP:

These steps have…allowed the banks to take significant losses while building reserves. Nonetheless, financial stability remains at risk if the underlying problem of toxic assets remains unresolved.

Small banks are especially vulnerable, the report says. Most of their bad loans are not covered by the Treasury Department’s main program for buying up bad assets. In addition, the report says, regional and smaller banks hold greater numbers of commercial real estate loans, “which pose a potential threat of high defaults.”

You can read the full report here.

The COP, which includes Damon Silvers, AFL-CIO associate general counsel, is charged with reporting on the Treasury Department’s effort to stabilize our nation’s financial system and make recommendations to improve it.

The COP has issued monthly reports since January, finding among other things that the Treasury Department has not produced a plan for restoring lending to consumers, questioned the overall plan to rescue the financial industry and raised concerns about the administration’s plans to stem foreclosures.

James Parks: My first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when my colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. I saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. I am a journalist by trade, and I worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. I also have been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. My proudest career moment, though, was when I served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This article originally appeared at AFL-CIO Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Don’t Let Government Get Its Hands on Healthcare

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According to Paul Krugman, that’s the unofficial rallying cry of the conservative opposition to health care reform. Across the country, much of the oxygen in the debate is sucked up by the tragic irony of Medicare recipients speaking out against a government takeover of health care. If the misinformation swamps our chances of overhauling the system, it will be an unmitigated disaster.

Yet it’s only the most vivid example of how too many Americans are blinded by anti-government ideology to the basic facts of how the nation’s economic and political system functions. And nobody says it better than Krugman. In his column on Monday, the economist pointed out that the very “government meddling” denounced on the right appears to have saved the economy from the worst of the economic crisis. Yet as Krugman has argued in the past, we could potentially be in much better economic shape than we are today – with hundreds of thousand fewer people out of work, for example – if we had disregarded calls to limit the size of “government meddling” and enacted a larger and more effective stimulus in the first place.

This ain’t just about Paul Krugman, perceptive though I think he is. Nor is it simply about the big national debates on health care and economy. Again and again, good, even necessary public policy smacks up against public ignorance about the way government is already deeply and intrinsically involved in structuring markets that are made to appear “free” of interference. Clear-eyed libertarians can argue that we’d be better off with a self-sustaining, self-regulating free market. The distortion comes in when we imagine that unobstructed free markets brought us the benefits we enjoy today.

Consider a point John Petro illustrated a few weeks back, in which investing in mass transit and changing land use policies gets painted as intolerable government coercion. In effect, spending public money to extend new roads, new sewer lines, new electric wiring and emergency services to areas on the exurban fringe is invisible, but public investment in light rail shows the long arm of big government. Similarly when a municipality makes a zoning ordinance that permits only large lots with single family homes in a given area, that’s the free market. If zoning regulations are altered to permit condos or mixed-use buildings, suddenly the government has “interfered.”

The same dynamic was at work from very rise of the modern American right in the suburbs of Orange County, California, where communities that owed their existence and day-to-day economic prosperity to lucrative government defense contracts, infrastructure spending, and federally insured home loans nevertheless launched contemporary conservatism with a fierce opposition to taxes and other manifestations of what they saw as unwarranted government interference in their apparently “self-made” lives.

Ideology neatly obscured the extensive public subsidies underlying ostensibly private success. It continues to do so today, preventing us from asking the genuinely relevant questions: not whether we should have government involvement, but which public actions will most effectively promote broad-based prosperity, helping to strengthen and expand the American middle class in both the short and long-term. Starting with this question helps us to evaluate whether aid to homeowners makes more sense than a bank bailout, for example, or whether food stamps make better stimulus than tax cuts. It makes it harder to distinguish between government action that lifts us all up and policy that benefits the few.

Amy Traub: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This article originally appeared on DMI Blog on August 11, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Freedom of Movement: Migrant Rights in the Global Economy

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What if lawmakers had the guts to create comprehensive labor legislation for immigrants, enshrining their rights in accordance with international law? What if our legal system recognized immigrants’ freedom of movement, shielded families from unnecessary separation, and allowed real recourse against exploitative employers?

We should know better, of course, than to expect anything approaching that from Capitol Hill, where the hobbling immigration debate is dictated by business interests and xenophobia.

So, it’s a good thing such a law has already been drafted for them. Years ago, in response to the growing intersection between human rights and labor migration, the United Nations developed the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Recognizing that border-crossing is an economic right and necessity, the Convention’s provisions include freedom from discrimination in the workplace and public services, equal protection before the law, and protection from “arbitrary expulsion,” violence and intimidation by groups or individuals.

Yet in another stunning display of American exceptionalism, the United States has not joined the dozens of other countries that have ratified these common-sense principles. Washington prefers to relegate immigration issues to the domestic policy arena, which allows it to capitalize freely on a two-tier labor force.

Chandra Bhatnagar of the ACLU’s Human Rights Program noted last December (in a rather lonely celebration of International Migrants Day) that there are three distinctly vulnerable subsets of migrants in America: Guestworkers, who have employment-based visas, are at risk of being chained to exploitative employers without legal recourse. And undocumented workers, following a controversial Supreme Court ruling in 2002, have lost safeguards in the areas of accessible remedies when injured or killed on the job, overtime pay, workers’ compensation” and other protections. Domestic and agricultural workers have been shut out of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and other labor laws, deprived of a minimum wage floor, workplace safety protections, and the right to unionize.

In a recent paper on the labor migration and international law, Villanova University law professor Beth Lyon writes that a major obstacle to ratification of the Convention examined the government’s reluctance to open its immigration policy to scrutiny under international law:

It appears that the Migrant Worker Convention has received virtually no domestic attention in the United States from either civil society, domestic or international government, likely because it is assumed that any attempt to define immigrants as rights holders is a political non-starter.

But Lyon argues that ratification of the Convention could “help to break through the current domestic political stalemate and build-up of undocumented immigrants” and

advance agendas important to both the right and the left, including increased national security through enhanced standing with the global south and an improved humanitarian situation for one of America’s most vulnerable groups.

Many immigrants’ rights advocates are bypassing the government to leverage international law on their own. The ACLU, for instance, recently invoked United Nations policies in advocating for hundreds of Indian guest workers imported to as cheap forced labor in the Hurricane Katrina recovery effort. The organization complemented its litigation in federal court with an appeal to the U.N. Spe­cial Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.

U.S.-based activists have worked with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate detention facilities in Texas and Arizona, as well as law enforcement policies toward undocumented immigrants.

Last month, the Commission’s Rapporteurship on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families reported, “many men, women and children detained in those facilities are held in unacceptable conditions.” The delegation also criticized reliance on local police in anti-immigrant crackdowns, warning that “the federal government might be unable to hold local law enforcement properly accountable for enforcing immigration laws with respect for basic human rights.”

The Florida-based Coalition of Imokalee Workers has framed the plight of exploited migrant farmworkers as a modern-day international slave trade. Targeting food-industry behemoths like Taco Bell and McDonald’s, the group has combined grassroots labor organizing with massive public education campaigns to pressure employers to improve wages and working conditions.

Advocates for domestic workers in New York City link the struggles of home-based laborers, the vast majority of them immigrant women of color, to global economic dynamics and the country’s legacy of racial oppression. To offset the lack of federal protections, Domestic Workers United is pushing for stronger state-level regulations, like livable wage standards, protection from trafficking, and integration into New York’s human rights laws.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico discussed trade agreements and border enforcement at the summit in Guadalajara this week. As usual, officials focused on the movement of goods, not people.

Yet the engines of global capital are greased by the flow of labor across borders. A byproduct of economic “integration” has been economic apartheid in immigrant communities. While the political establishment works to advance the rights of corporations to trade freely, the rights of migrants to basic human dignity are brushed off the agenda.

Michelle Chen: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in Extra!, Legal Affairs, City Limits and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She also blogs at

This article originally appeared at Working In These Times on July 10, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.

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Government run health-care, SIGN ME UP!

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“The government can’t run Cash for Clunkers, how can we trust them with health care.” That line was repeated over and over during recent town meetings with Congress-people and Senators.

First, the Cash for Clunkers program was an unqualified success. When was the last time you remember hearing about a government program that was so popular and so successful?

Cash for Clunkers was designed to get gas-guzzlers off the road and to sell new cars. Check and double-check. People loved the program and raced to the dealerships to cash in. Sure the program ran through a lot of money, because people loved it and it more than achieved its goals. Give me more of this kind of government program!

And speaking of government programs, sign me up for a government run health care program. As skeptical as I am of government, I am a thousand times more skeptical of health insurance companies.

I’m writing this not only as a consumer, but as a person who spent time working for two different health insurance companies. I’ve seen the lies and profiteering from the inside and I want another option. We deserve another option.

I wish Congress-people and Senators could see how frustrated we are with pre-existing conditions, treatments being considered experimental and all the other crap that we’ve all been handed by health insurance companies. Crap that we’ve had thrown in our faces even though we paid our dues and were promised the very care we’re having withheld from us.

I’m not suggesting a single-payer model. No, my suggestion is much simpler. Let the government compete with health insurance companies. I’m tired of them having a monopoly in health care. Let’s give them a real run for their money by making them compete.

They hate this idea because they know that far from fearing their government there are millions of people who would rather put their lives in the hands of government bureaucrats than profiteering private companies.

So please keep the public option on the table. Give us real choice.

Funny how corporations talk about the free market but then do everything to keep it very expensive and not free at all.

Based on your experience do you prefer the existing monopoly or would you like to join me in a government run program?

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected] .

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