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HISTORIC FIX TO NEW YORK’S PART-TIME UNEMPLOYMENT SYSTEM A WIN FOR WORKERS; BOOSTS NEW YORK’S ECONOMIC RECOVERY BY ENCOURAGING RETURN TO WORK

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NEW YORK, June 10, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — This week, New York’s legislature and Governor Cuomo announced a historic deal to fix the state’s worst-in-the-nation unemployment insurance rules for part-time work that were disproportionately hurting low-and-moderate income workers, especially Black and Brown workers, and holding back New York’s economic recovery. Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe championed this long overdue reform.

Unlike in virtually all other states, New York’s unemployment insurance rules arbitrarily and sharply reduce an individual’s benefits when they return to work part-time a few hours a day spread over several days. The poorly designed policy unduly complicates decision-making by employers and workers considering a partial return to work, hurting hundreds of thousands of part-time workers across the state.

The new pair of measures (S7148 and S1042), collectively revamp New York’s partial unemployment system so that it reduces benefits based on earnings the worker receives from part-time employment, rather than the arbitrary days-worked approach. Currently, the system disincentivizes part-time work by taking away almost all unemployment benefits when a person works just a few hours per week spread out over three or four days.

The new law also establishes an earnings disregard equal to one-half of a worker’s weekly UI benefit. It puts New York on a par with its five neighboring states and a total of thirteen states nationally and the District of Columbia, which all provide for comparable or more generous partial unemployment benefits. The reform especially reduces the heavy burden on part-time workers whose hours are spread over three or four days per week.

In addition, the law requires New York State’s Department of Labor to implement an immediate interim fix by allowing workers to work up to 10 hours a week without reduction in part-time unemployment benefits, up from the current 4 hours. The full reforms implemented in the new law are scheduled to take effect by April 2022.

This historic reform is a meaningful step for New York economic recovery and for the 600,000 workers who currently receive part-time unemployment benefits. More than two-thirds of recipients come from low-and moderate-income industries including accommodations, food services, healthcare, social assistance, and retail and more than half are workers in Black and Brown communities.

“Making critical updates to New York State’s antiquated Partial Unemployment Insurance system is a huge win for working families across our state. By changing the way we calculate eligibility we are ensuring New Yorkers who are working part-time or being called back to work at reduced hours can do so knowing that they will be able to provide for their families no matter how many days and hours of work they are offered each week,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“For far too long, New York’s unemployment insurance benefits wrongfully penalized claimants seeking part-time work,” said Assemblymember Al Stirpe, the bill’s Assembly sponsor. “These arbitrary regulations have made it incredibly difficult for many part-time workers to make ends meet. After the significant challenges of the pandemic, our state should not have a system with a disincentive to part-time work built in. Instead we should have a system that helps our families get back on their feet and encourages economic recovery and growth.”

“Central to New York’s recovery is getting people back to work,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Expanding and increasing part-time unemployment insurance benefits will encourage New Yorkers to seek out and secure meaningful part-time work, while ensuring their income is supplemented appropriately to help them get back on their feet. This legislation passed by the New York State Senate Majority stands up for working-class New Yorkers whose hours were cut due to the pandemic or who were left unemployed and will help them in returning to the workforce. I thank Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe for championing this critical legislation, which will support New York’s economic recovery.”

“My colleagues and I in the Assembly Majority believe in putting New York families first and we know that unemployment benefits are a lifeline for families, especially during this health and economic crisis,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Many workers have faced a reduction in their hours or are only able to find part-time work, and this legislation ensures that they can take that work without losing their unemployment benefits. This change is critical as families and businesses work to get back on their feet. I would also like to thank Assemblymember Al Stirpe for commitment to getting this bill across the finish line.”

“Throughout the pandemic, New York’s stingy partial unemployment rule has been denying urgently needed benefits to workers whose hours have been cut — and now that the pandemic is easing it’s punishing workers who return to work part-time. NELP thanks Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the legislative leadership for championing this long overdue common-sense reform, and Governor Cuomo for supporting it,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director at the National Employment Law Project.

“Our research makes it clear that the reform will benefit both the unemployed, incentivizing them to take on part-time work and moderately increase their total income, and employers and the economy overall, supporting a return to work that helps businesses and allows workers to keep their skills current and mitigating the adverse effects of prolonged periods of high unemployment,” said James Parrott, Director of Economic and Fiscal Policies at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

“With the passage of this legislation, New York State moves from one of the worst to one of the best states for part-time workers supporting the most vulnerable and essential workers in our economy. This new system allows more part-time workers to collect unemployment at a time when they need it the most,” said Nicole Salk, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Services NYC.

“New York has transformed an outdated and unfair part-time Unemployment Insurance system to the benefit of our clients and all hard-working New Yorkers who will no longer be penalized for obtaining part-time work. We applaud State Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for their leadership on this important reform,” said Young Lee, Director of the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society of NYC.

“With the majority of partially unemployed workers being low and moderate income workers who are disproportionately people of color, this long overdue reform to the unemployment insurance system will help reduce material hardship for people who want to return to work. We are grateful for the leadership demonstrated by Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the Governor in making this vital reform a reality,” said Jason Cone, Chief Public Policy Officer of Robin Hood.

“We are proud to be part of the coalition that fought for and won big improvements for New York’s unemployed workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Many non-essential retail workers were laid off during the pandemic and are returning to what are now part-time jobs. These workers and countless others will now be able to return to work part-time without losing their entire unemployment benefit. As a result of the leadership of Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe, New York will have a faster economic recovery from the pandemic and tens of thousands of unemployed workers will be able to get back to work and still provide for their families.”

“As a statewide legal services organization, we handle many cases where a worker inadvertently loses all of their benefits simply by working a few extra hours.  The effect of the cliff is devastating and unfair. We applaud Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe and the Governor for implementing this historic reform,” said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of the Empire Justice Center.  

“This historic legislation will benefit thousands of New Yorkers who seek to sustain themselves during this time of economic uncertainty, while also creating a more economically just unemployment system for the future. NCLEJ applauds Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for supporting low-wage workers and passing this bill,” said Jarron McAllister, Penn Law Fellow at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

“As an organizing project centered around the impacts of COVID, we believe that passing this bill will greatly improve New York State’s recovery, including getting people back to work. We thank Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and all of the legislative leadership for their work on this bill and for Governor Cuomo for signing it,” said Paul Getsos, Project Director of United Together Stronger Tomorrow.

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on June 10, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: For 50 years, NELP has sought to ensure that America upholds, for all workers, the promise of opportunity and economic security through work. NELP fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and unemployed workers.


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Don’t Just Send People Money During a Pandemic—Do It All the Time

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Universal Income Project Leadership - Universal Income Project

The evidence is in: Sending out direct cash payments has been a full-blown success—and we can’t afford to stop.

It’s become almost a cliché in the politics of Washington, D.C.: Every time someone proposes expanding a social program or creating a new one, scores of politicians, lobbyists and so-called economic ?“experts” will pop up to tell you that it will cost too much and we can’t afford it. Somehow, money is never an issue when it comes to tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations or increasing our military budget, but programs that support everyday people are just too damn expensive.

new analysis from the University of Michigan on the impact of recent stimulus payments adds to a growing body of evidence that shows when it comes to direct cash assistance programs, cost is not a prohibitive issue. In fact, for social programs like these, we may be unable to afford not to do them.

According to the analysis, which looked at data from the Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, in the weeks following the stimulus check payments in December 2020 and March 2021, households across the country saw a significant decrease in their material hardship. American families reported increased food security, a greater ability to pay for household expenses and less anxiety. This effect was particularly pronounced in low-income households and households with children?—?in the six weeks following the passage of the December 2020 Covid relief bill, amongst families with children, the rate of not having enough to eat fell by 21% and the rate of having difficulty paying for household expenses fell by 24%. These rates dropped again by 23% and 31%, respectively, following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in March 2021.

These findings align with the results of a previous analysis in 2017 from the Roosevelt Institute which looked into various programs that provided direct, unconditional cash to individuals in the United States and Canada, such as the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend and the Eastern Band of Cherokees casino dividend program. Both of these analyses show the same dynamic: when people receive money with no strings attached, they spend it on the things they need, leading them to live healthier, less anxious lives.

While these outcomes are certainly beneficial for recipients in the immediate term, the broader implications of these changes are just as important. When people don’t have food or are living in poverty, it’s not just a burden on them?—?it’s a burden on all of society. These conditions are directly tied to poorer health outcomes, which puts a drain on our nation’s healthcare system. Poor people are more likely to turn to crime as a means of supporting themselves. Those in poverty may require continued support from our inadequate existing social welfare programs, relying on programs like food stamps, housing assistance and disability insurance to barely make ends meet.

The social implications of poverty are even more pronounced among children, where its impact on cognitive development and educational opportunities may alter their life trajectories. Living in a financially stable household and getting enough to eat could mean the difference between having opportunities later in life and getting trapped in a low-income job with no prospects for advancement.

When considering the aggregate impact of poverty on our society, the results are staggering. A 2018 analysis in the Social Work Research journal found that childhood poverty alone costs our society more than $1 trillion every year from a combination of lost productivity, increased health and crime costs, and increased costs as a result of childhood homelessness and maltreatment.

To accurately assess the cost of social programs, we should be comparing the required expenditures to the expected savings from poverty reduction. A good example is the recent expansion of the child tax credit?—?described as a ?“guaranteed income for families”—which is set to provide up to $300 per child per month for kids under the age of six and $250 per child per month for kids between six and seventeen starting in July. The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation expects this expansion to cost $110 billion for the year, while the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects that the program will decrease child poverty by more than 40%. Well, 40% of $1 trillion is $400 billion, which means the savings from this expansion are over three times the amount spent.

There’s good reason to think that the latest round of stimulus checks will also yield positive long-term returns, as people teeter between regaining their financial footing and slipping into poverty. ?“This money is going towards all the bills that weren’t paid during the time we had to take off,” according to Sandy Lash, a single mother in Fort Wayne, Indiana who relied on the stimulus payments to make it through the pandemic. ?“Receiving these checks will enable [us] to make a difference and move up to where we don’t have to struggle anymore.”

This presents our society with a clear choice: Do we allow increasing poverty and financial precarity to continue to drain away our society’s resources? Or do we make the investment now to create a secure and productive population through programs providing direct cash to families? An immediate first step would be to make the expanded child tax credit, which is set to expire after this year, a permanent, ongoing program. Beyond that, establishing a full, national guaranteed income program that provides monthly payments to all Americans?—?such as the one proposed by Rep. Rashida Tlaib through her Automatic BOOST to Communities Act—could pay massive dividends down the road by fully eliminating material poverty in the United States.

It’s not hard to see which of these approaches is the more affordable one.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 9, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jim Pugh is  is the co-director of the Universal Income Project.


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IN 21 STATES ENDING ALL PANDEMIC UI PROGRAMS EARLY, 3 IN 4 WILL LOSE ALL JOBLESS AID

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Nearly 4 Million Workers to Lose Lifeline Unemployment Payments Starting June 12

NATIONWIDE — In the 21 states ending early their participation in all federal pandemic unemployment programs, three quarters of the workers now receiving jobless aid—nearly 2.3 million people—will be left with no state or federal jobless aid at all, according to a new analysis released today by the National Employment Law Project (NELP).

The greatest numbers of workers affected by the pandemic unemployment cutoffs will be in Texas, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Indiana, Arizona, Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, and Florida. In Texas, a staggering four in five workers (81.9%) currently receiving unemployment payments—totaling 1.2 million workers, 59.3% of whom are workers of color—will lose all unemployment income support.

“The post-pandemic recovery has barely started. Employment remains far below pre-pandemic levels. Millions of people are still out of work and need the income support from unemployment insurance to get by,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “So it’s unconscionable that these 21 Republican governors have unilaterally decided that no one in their state needs any pandemic jobless aid anymore and that it’s OK to pull the plug on these programs early.”

“This severe, abrupt, and ill-advised cutoff of pandemic jobless aid hurts the workers and families who need that income support, harms the small businesses that depend on those workers to spend money as customers, and will set back the economic recovery in those states,” added Dixon.

The first wave of premature cutoffs begins on Saturday, June 12, in four states: Alaska, Iowa, Mississippi, and Missouri. Alaska will be ending only the $300 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) weekly supplemental payments, while the other three states will be terminating all pandemic unemployment programs. Twenty-one more states will follow suit through June and early July, although NELP has argued that the U.S. Department of Labor has legal authority to ensure that all eligible workers continue to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits through September 6.

More than 3.9 million workers in 25 states will lose the weekly $300 FPUC payments. Workers of color will bear the brunt, as nearly half (over 46%) of unemployment insurance (UI) recipients in those states are Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color.

Workers losing out on lifeline payments will face an economy that is far from fully recovered. The May jobs report showed 9.3 million people unemployed, with another 5.3 million only working part-time but still seeking full-time work. The economy is down 7.6 million jobs (5%) from pre-pandemic Feb. 2020 levels. With families still reeling from loss, lack of childcare, and ever-present concerns about getting sick on the job, FPUC and all UI funds remain a crucial lifeline.

“The past year has demanded bold solutions to unprecedented levels of unemployment, with the additional federal unemployment funds serving as a necessary stopgap in lieu of structural reform. At this pivotal moment, elected officials need to get behind critical reforms to prevent future failures of our unemployment system, so we can avoid the type of harmful actions we’re now seeing at the state level,” said Dixon.

Federal pandemic programs are still helping millions of people and their families get through the worst economic crisis in over a century. For jobless workers and their families in states where Republican governors have opted out, the ramifications will be far-reaching:

  • Over 3.9 million workers will lose the weekly $300 FPUC supplement in the 25 states.
  • 3,951,578 people receiving unemployment payments as of May 15 will be affected—all of them losing the $300 weekly FPUC benefit supplement and more than half (57.5%) abruptly losing all unemployment benefits.
  • In the 21 states ending participation in all of the pandemic programs, nearly 2.3 million people, who represent 74.5% of those receiving unemployment benefits in those states, will be left with no state or federal unemployment aid at all.
  • Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other people of color are nearly half (over 46%) of UI recipients in the states ending pandemic unemployment programs early.
  • Of the 25 states cutting pandemic unemployment payments, 11 of them have 40% or higher people-of-color UI recipients, and eight have 50% or higher.

With unemployed people spending money at higher rates, federal assistance helps stimulate the economy just as businesses and industries begin to reopen, in addition to keeping families afloat. States that are prematurely ending federal pandemic unemployment programs threaten to stymie a fuller recovery.

READ THE DATA BRIEF:
3.9 Million Workers Face Premature Cutoff of Pandemic Unemployment Programs

This blog originally appeared at Nelp on June 8, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: For 50 years, NELP has sought to ensure that America upholds, for all workers, the promise of opportunity and economic security through work. NELP fights for policies to create good jobs, expand access to work, and strengthen protections and support for low-wage workers and unemployed workers.


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Volvo Workers in Virginia Vote Down Bad Contract by 90 Percent—Again

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Jane slaughter (@Tracey_barmaid) | Twitter

Auto workers at Volvo’s truck plant in southwest Virginia have just voted down a concessionary contract by 90 percent—for the second time. Now they’re back on strike.

“The International union has been down here twice for town halls,” said Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2069 member Rhonda Sisk. “Each time we say ‘take it back, it’s garbage,’ and they just say they think it’s a good contract, but they don’t say why.”

The first vote came May 16, after a two-week strike that began April 17. Many workers were dismayed when their union sent them back to work and said they would be told later what had been bargained. When terms were finally revealed, they were outraged.

Apparently undeterred by the resounding rejection, union officials brought back a second agreement just four days later that workers described as nearly identical to the first. They voted no June 6, and officials announced the resumption of the strike at noon today.

“They made a billion-dollar profit off our labor and we got nothing,” said Sisk, a three-year assembler in the chassis department.

GET RID OF TWO-TIER

The 2,900 members had voted by 98 percent to authorize the first strike. Though union officials were close-mouthed about bargaining goals, rank and filers wanted to get rid of the two-tier wage system they had worked under for years.

The strike was solid, shutting down the largest Volvo truck manufacturing facility in the world.

It wasn’t easy finding out the first tentative agreement’s contents. A “highlights” pamphlet was distributed, but unlike the UAW’s practice at the Big 3 automakers, the entire proposed agreement was not put online. Workers could get a copy at the union hall, and soon the thick document was brought into the plant and copied.

One of the biggest insults in the first agreement, according to Sisk, was raising the cost of health care. Out-of-pocket costs would rise by the end of the contract to $2,000 a year, with a $4,000 deductible.

Under the current contract, workers are divided into “core”—those with more than 15 years’ seniority—and “competitive.” New hires start at $16.77 and get a dollar more each year for five years, up to a max of $21.77—far less than the core top pay of $30.02. Under the rejected agreement, though there are raises, “tiers are there to stay,” Sisk said. New hires in one assembler classification, for example, would get to $27 by 2026.

Language would have allowed union officials to agree to an unspecified Alternative Work Schedule such as “four 10-hour days, alternate shift operations, or other alternate schedules based on the needs of the business.” Time-and-a-half pay over eight hours in a day would be gone. These alternative schedules are popular with management at the Big 3 automakers—and very unpopular with many auto workers.

Another clause would have made workers take 40 hours of vacation in order to use FMLA.

A worker in the second-tier, “competitive” classification, who asked that his name not be used, said he wants a contract like the UAW’s pact at Mack Trucks (also owned by Volvo) in Pennsylvania, Florida, and Maryland, which “is like 40 times better.” That contract was won after a strike in fall 2019. He wants to see all workers reach top pay after three years of work. (In the 1970s, before the era of concessions began, new hires reached top pay after 90 days.)

HOW THEY REJECTED

A private Facebook group with 1,900 members was part of angry members’ organizing but, Sisk said, “most of it was just sitting and talking with people who had been there longer than we had.” There were no leaflets; members were forbidden to campaign during the vote at the union hall (where there was a police presence all day), nor were they allowed to observe the vote count.

One high-seniority worker posted a video of himself sitting on a toilet. He has cut up the tentative agreement and taped it around a toilet paper roll. A voice asks, “Dad, what do you think of the contract?” Another worker posted a picture of people burning the tentative agreement.

International officials tried to sell the first contract. “We thought Ray Curry would be there, who negotiated our contract,” Sisk said, “but he did not show up.” Curry is the UAW Secretary-Treasurer and head of the Heavy Truck Department; insiders say he will head the union’s “Administration Caucus” ticket when officers are elected next year.

At a contract information meeting, Dave Snyder of the International’s Heavy Truck Department became so exasperated with Sisk’s questions that he told her, “If you don’t like the agreement, you can go work somewhere else.”

“That blew up,” Sisk said.

The “competitive” worker said local officials did not campaign for the first contract. “It feels like it’s more the International than anything,” he said. “They’re playing more of a role than they should. The union is saying we gotta answer to the International, and whatever the International wants to do, they’ll do it. And we had no say or fight in that.”

To try to ensure a fair vote, workers encouraged each other to bring a black pen to mark their ballots. (When they had elected the bargaining team, officials told them to use pencil, and many workers think that election was fraudulent.) They took pictures of their “no” ballots alongside their company badges; Sisk—who had predicted the 90 percent no vote well before it happened—said that hundreds of such pictures were posted to Facebook.

On the first day back in the plant after the first vote, officials circulated a survey asking members’ top five issues to fix. “Everybody’s saying, ‘It’s more than five!’” Sisk said. “They’re filling up the page front and back.”

“You can take that piece of trash back to the table and let them know we are not weak pushovers and if they want to continue using the best truck builders in the world as they call us then they can give us a fair contract!!” said one worker on the local’s Facebook page.

When some workers began a petition to recall the discredited bargaining team, using union bylaws, officials threatened that their move was illegal, accused them of union-busting, and called them communists.

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on June 7, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jane Slaughter is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


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Los Deliveristas Speak: How Delivery Workers Are Organizing to Take On the Apps

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More than 2,000 food couriers snarled traffic in Times Square through pouring rain in protest April 21 demanding better working conditions and protection from violent assaults. The mass demonstration was organized by Los Deliveristas Unidos, a loose network of immigrant gig workers that was born in the strife of the pandemic last year through online chat groups on Facebook, WhatsApp, and Telegram. Since then, Los Deliveristas have coalesced into an organization with support from the Brooklyn-based Worker’s Justice Project (WJP), a worker center that organizes immigrants in construction and service sector jobs. WJP has received backing from Service Employees Local 32BJ. Learn more about Los Deliveristas in our June cover story, “Can a Driver Uprising Make Food Apps Deliver?”

No sooner had their rain-whipped faces dried than gig companies moved to thwart them through legislative maneuvering. Last month, a bill backed by the New York State AFL-CIO, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), and the Machinists’ Independent Drivers Guild attempted to kneecap the Deliveristas. TWU President John Samuelsen walked back his support for the bill after Los Deliveristas Unidos opposed the legislation.“If they don’t want this particular bill, we will support them and work with them to craft a bill [that] satisfies the workers,” Samuelsen told The City.

The draft bill would have established a legal scheme for app-based workers to exercise certain collective bargaining rights without the labor protections afforded to employees. In return workers would forgo the rights to “picketing, strikes, slowdowns, or boycotts,” as well as agreeing to “not disparage, defame, sully or compromise the goodwill, name, brand, or reputation of the network company.”

The bill would have all but banned the April demonstration. Opposition was vociferous and support has faltered—killing the bill at least for this legislative session. Read more about it in “Draft Legislation in New York Would Put Gig Workers into Toothless ‘Unions.’”

Shortly after the April mass demonstration, Labor Notes writer Luis Feliz Leon spoke to Deliverista worker leader Jonán Mancilla and WJP executive director Ligia Guallpa. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity. Part of the interview was conducted in Spanish and has been translated.—Editors

Labor Notes: Jonán, can you tell me a little bit about where you work? Who are the members of Deliveristas Unidos, and what do they do?

Jonán Mancilla: I am from Mexico City. I’ve been here for 15 years. I started working as a delivery boy in a laundry and then I started working in a restaurant. I left it because the work was too heavy. I worked as a barback and I had to carry the kegs and cases of beer. It was a lot of hours and little money. Four years ago I started with the platforms [food delivery apps], on the recommendation of a relative.

What is a typical day like for you?

I get up at seven in the morning. I drop my son off at school. I go back home to get my things ready. At nine in the morning I enter the platform, leave at one in the afternoon, come to have lunch, have a tortilla or something and go back to the platform again at two in the afternoon and finish at eight, nine in the evening.

How is it? Is there a lot of traffic? You have to, I imagine, take food up to different buildings where they don’t have working elevators. Tell me a little bit about that.

Yes, that’s an everyday thing. You can have a bad day when you have to use the stairs all day long, or you can have a day when you don’t use the stairs.

The problem is when you have to go to a building or to a public housing project where you know that your colleagues have already been assaulted and they send you there again.

How would you describe the work? Do you like it?

Yes, I like it, but with this pandemic, it is not as satisfactory as before. There is abuse from the companies in many aspects. One is the distances, another is the excess weight they make us carry, and another is the abuse with the payment. They demand things from you—for example, “put on gloves”, “put on masks”, “use antibacterial gel” [but they don’t pay for those supplies]. You have to buy the bicycle. Then it is stolen, and you have to buy another one. The company doesn’t take care of any of those things.

How did those experiences influence your decision to join Los Deliverista Unidos?

That caused us to unite. Thanks to the Worker’s Justice Project (Proyecto Justicia Laboral), I found out that this march was going to take place [on October 15].

After the march, our ethnic groups became more united. There is a big group of Latinos, but there is also a group of Africans, Bangladeshis, Chinese, other groups of people uniting in one voice and fighting for us to have rights at least. The fact that everybody was suffering from the same thing—the abuse and everything I was telling you about earlier—that was very influential.

What are the rights that you want to obtain as workers?

Prevention measures against bicycle thefts. Protections against assaults and accidents. Access to restaurants’ bathrooms, because that really sucks. A living wage besides the tips. Many people think that tips are a salary, and that is not a salary. [Income for food couriers averages between $300 to $800 weekly, according to The City.—Eds.]

The right to decent public places for protection from extreme weather. A lot of people have no idea what it’s like to wait for their bag of food when it is below 10 [degrees], or below 15. Protection against tip theft and retaliation from the apps. That’s pretty easy to explain: the apps put out messages warning, “Don’t ask about tips and if you ask you can be blocked.”

And the right to receive personal protective equipment. As I told you, they demand things from us, but they have never sent us anything. To receive compensation for accidents and to have paid sick days, which don’t exist either. The right to organize, and why not have representation? That is the Los Deliveristas Unidos movement. We are asking to be allowed to organize so that we have rights.

And when you talk about representation, what do you mean? Union representation?

Yes, I mean that a union be formed. So that there is a union group like the Taxi Workers Alliance or like the construction workers. In other words, a delivery workers union so you can count on that backup, and you don’t worry about anything happening to you. I am afraid that I will be assaulted, or that I will be robbed or something. But if there is a union—no, don’t worry. That would be very nice.

You mentioned to me some of the most important issues around which you are organizing. Any successes so far that you want to mention?

Well, right now, thank God, we have the [state] senator, Jessica Ramos, who was very influential in getting us vaccinated. [Los Deliveristas demanded to be put on the priority list for the vaccinations, and Governor Andrew Cuomo acceded to their demands in February—Eds.] There is also [New York City councilor] Carlos Menchaca and other elected representatives who have wanted to help us. They are writing legislation. [After the April demonstration, the New York City Council introduced a package of five bills to address some of the demands. One bill fines restaurants that deny drivers bathroom access. Another establishes minimum pay per trip (as Uber and Lyft drivers have). Another allows drivers to set their own routes. –Eds.] Thanks to this Deliveristas Unidos community we have made ourselves heard and that has caught their attention.

Ligia Guallpa: And can you mention DoorDash? After [Deliveristas] virtually meeting with DoorDash, the Restaurant Association sent out a press release asking restaurants to allow access to the restrooms, and DoorDash felt pressured also to ask. I think DoorDash said that they’ve gotten 200 restaurants [to agree].

Mancilla: DoorDash reached out to us, we did not look for them. DoorDash reached out to us for a meeting, to say, “I am concerned about this issue because I have many delivery drivers and I would like to know what their complaints are. What is bothering them? What do they need?” And then, the issue of the restrooms was addressed, wasn’t it? Because they had already sent a message to the restaurants. And they said that they had about 200 restaurants committed at that time, but I think there must have been more, thanks to that ruckus we made.

You protested and then DoorDash responded to your complaints? And said, “We hear you. We’re going to grant you access to the restrooms.” When did that happen?

In the first march [on October 15] there were over 800 delivery workers, I believe. I couldn’t count them either, it was impossible. But DoorDash noticed. I mean, DoorDash is not blind. DoorDash said, “They’re marching for a reason.” They noticed the signs, that it was not only Relay, but also DoorDash, Uber, Grubhub—all the platforms. They were the only ones that took notice and were concerned about their company and said: “We are going to have a meeting so that they tell us what is bothering them.”

So, basically you’re talking about power in numbers. Right? The last protest in April had 2,000 people. So, how did you guys build that organizational power? 2017 was the last time the immigrant community, in particular, mobilized in this way. There was a day without immigrants after Trump was elected, but other than that there hasn’t been such large mobilizations. So, can you talk to me a little bit about how you guys have built that collective power?

First of all, it is thanks to the Worker’s Justice Project. Because I can tell you, “I created the [Facebook] page for Los Deliveristas Unidos,” but without them we would not have done anything. They were the foundation—not only economically, but the support we receive from them is also moral: “Give it your best, guys! Let’s do it! Don’t let yourselves be defeated. These companies are nothing without you.” They tell us that a lot. “Imagine if you didn’t work there. Understand that without you, the companies wouldn’t exist.”

It is something that many people have understood, [but] many people are afraid to understand it. Or they are afraid to acknowledge it, because of retaliation.

First, we thought it would be easy with four of us [speaking about Worker’s Justice Project organizers—Eds.]. But we realized we need a bigger team, which joined us in this march. I saw many people that I didn’t know. We were thinking that there were going to be delivery workers, but we didn’t think that people who don’t deliver, but have a family member or an acquaintance who does, could march just to support the people. We didn’t expect that.

Guallpa: After October 15, Jonán and other leaders started to talk to other delivery workers on the streets, to connect with other groups and to tell them, “Hey guys, you’ve gotta join! Here are the [WhatsApp and Telegram] chats, like the [Facebook] page.” Going where they are working to talk to them every day, identifying the leaders. I hear Jonán say all the time—what’s the name of the one with the Dominicans there, the one from the tigers?

Mancilla: Henry. Right?

Guallpa: He says, “Henry is the leader of this group.” And he says, “Henry, you’re going to lead this group of 20.” It is something powerful. The organization supported by bringing resources [and] strategy, but I think the overall movement has been growing because of the leaders who are here now.

There are leaders in Queens. There is, for example, Isaias, who has a group of almost 80, 90 delivery workers who are everywhere mobilizing. Jonán created emergency chat groups, where they move quickly to assist each other. Either there’s a march, or there’s an action. And I think that the most powerful thing in this movement is that the network keeps growing every day. Right now, they are reaching out to Africans, to Bangladeshis.

They are asking us right now to have all the materials in [other languages]. [Many of the] Africans speak French. But the most powerful secret has been the leadership of leaders like Jonán, and they know that new leaders need to be groomed. They constantly say, “No. I’m not going be able to do this on my own.”

Mancilla: That forced us to be more leaders, because that is what I was telling Luis, that all of a sudden we were not enough. I was telling Ligia: “I can’t control this group, because there are so many of them.” “Ok. Well, let’s go talk to Henry. Let’s talk to Manolo, and let them help you… I know that Sergio is very intelligent and that he leads the group down there.”

This grew very fast. You can see that from October to February, not even a year. I never imagined that the page and the help groups would grow so fast. Well, I don’t like those to grow because it implies that the city is not safe, right? But it is something that we have to recognize, that they have grown because insecurity has grown.

So many people have the confidence to write to us for any kind of problem. Whether it is with their application, whether it is with their employer, or with some platform. In fact, they write to us for any nonsense. “Hey, do you know where there is a bike shop here in this area?” And I’m like, “A bike shop?!” So, it’s something that sometimes makes us laugh, but you know you’re doing something, and you know you’re doing good with the page.

I think you describe it in a way that might give the impression that it’s easy, but there are a lot of people who would like to be where you are—to be able to identify leaders and build the trust of those leaders. Could you share with me some lessons you’ve learned in organizing and what tools the Worker’s Justice Project has offered you to do the work?

Mancilla: Well, number one, the first thing I was taught in order to be a leader is not to say you can’t. Never say you can’t. And to have confidence in ourselves because if you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to get anywhere. That is something that maybe I had never told Ligia, but it is something that she has taught me a lot.

Her and Glendy [a lead organizer at Worker’s Justice Project—Eds.], they are always pushing me. Not in a bad way, but they tell me: “Yes you can, yes you can. Don’t tell me you can’t.” They go into the can-do mode and you can’t get out of it. There is no such thing as being afraid either—because many of the delivery workers are afraid to talk. You approach them, and they are afraid of you. We had to learn to talk, and I also learned a lot with her, because I think she is more used to talking to people on the street.

When I arrived and [Ligia] said: “Talk to him, talk to him,” I would say: “He won’t answer me, I know him.” “Talk to him, talk to him. You can do it, you can do it.” That helped me a lot to have self-confidence, to be sociable. Just by starting to go out with them, you realize how they act. You say: “I want to be like Ligia,” who has this leadership power, so natural that it doesn’t even show. I said, “I want to be just as natural.”

Guallpa: Also connecting with the groups, because there are different groups. The nice thing about this food delivery community is that, even if you see them alone, handling their food, they are always connected to a community. Even if it’s because they live in the same neighborhood, they are family. For example, downstairs there is a little group called the Garrafones and they are a group of 20 Mexicans. There are the Tigres [streetwise crew, in Dominican slang—Eds.], the Dominicans who are always there on the corner.

Something that didn’t happen is that they didn’t communicate among the networks. For example, the Tigres don’t talk to the Mexicans or the Garrafones. What separates the working community is always identity—where are you from? Ethnic groups.

But I think that in the delivery community everyone self-identifies, because everyone has had their bicycle stolen. Everybody has been denied the bathroom, so there’s an immediate sense of solidarity. Right? And something that Jonán and Sergio [another worker leader] have done a lot is to be quick to respond, and that helps to build trust quickly with the workers.

For example, if someone’s bicycle is stolen, they automatically post or send to the chats: “Can someone go to 112th Street right now, because there is an emergency?” Soon other workers show up to stand together against thieves. They’re the eyes, and they act fast. I think they’ve gained the trust of their peers. They are talking to the other compañeros, “You can do it and you are the leader. You are going to liberate this group.”

Mancilla: I think that these WhatsApp groups did something to break the ice between many ethnic groups. There was this saying, “Oh, he is from Guatemala, don’t talk to him.” Or “he’s from Ecuador.” And, “If he pretends he is Mexican, don’t talk to him. Don’t talk to those from Guatemala.” Those groups broke the ice a lot.

Do you remember at Thanksgiving when we went to play soccer? And we were there, the Guatemalans, the Mexicans, I think there were Ecuadorians there too. It was great to see that there is no longer that ice, thanks to the pages and the groups that were formed, thanks to the march.

Among the Latino community there are definitely divisions and you’ve talked a little bit about how you were able to create solidarity, but also, you’re working with other workers of different races and ethnic groups. Can you explain a little bit how you’re doing that work? And what are the working conditions and the racial inequalities that you share?

Guallpa: What we are doing with the delivery workers from Africa and the Bangladeshis is the same thing that we were doing with the Latinos, which is to gain the trust of the networks. Glendy and I don’t do food delivery, but the moment I feel that they give us the chance to open up, or they give us the chance to go visit them in their free time, then we go with Jonán, because we need them to see that he’s another delivery guy.

And it’s slowly building trust, because Africans have their networks as well. [But] when we go and talk and they listen to what the Latinos are doing, they identify automatically: “Well it’s about time someone fought for that, and I want to be part of it.” So, they started to give likes to the page.

We created fliers in French, so that’s been the tool, but we don’t speak French. So we are identifying partners who speak a little bit more English and who are the translators. There are some Africans who speak a little bit of Spanish because they are from a country in Africa where people speak Spanish [Equatorial Guinea].

So, that has been the way we have been growing. I’m the one doing the most outreach to the Bangladeshis in Brooklyn. I don’t speak Bangladeshi, but we have connected with some leaders and there is also a page of Bangladeshis, who communicate about robberies and all that.

It’s a process. It doesn’t mean it’s already perfect. I think that growing a more diverse movement takes time, and so does creating the foundation of values. Recently [we have talked about]—well, we have not talked about it constantly because everything has been going very fast—about inclusion, the language we use, how we make the [Los Deliveristas Unidos Facebook] page more inclusive because there are compañeros who speak [languages other than Spanish]…

Now, those who follow the site speak French. Some are already suggesting posting in English as well. So, little by little, for example, Jonán and others are trying to educate compañeros because sometimes it is talked about. When you talk about a problem, you talk based on color. How to remove the color as part of the problem, because in the end color does not matter. In the delivery industry people come in all colors and all flavors.

But it is a long process that is just beginning. As well as they have grown, they are in the first steps of building relationships with the new groups. And, for example, the most powerful thing that happened this time at the march [on April 21] was that one of the leaders of the West African networks wanted to speak.

He said, “I want to be there. You can’t leave me out of that program.” And I think the most beautiful thing about that day [was when] he talked about how “we are tired, we are essential, we are the ones who distribute, we are the ones who fed the doctors, the sick, and we are the most screwed. And here I am. I’m a deliverista.” And the fact that he said it in Spanish: “I am a deliverista. We are deliveristas.” It’s like acknowledgement, isn’t it? That this movement is his too.

And he says, “When is the next one? Because I have to bring my brothers.”

Mancilla: A lot of people got interested. They are like, “when is the next one? When is the next one? When is the next one?” I don’t know if you saw, Ligia, a guy said, “why they did only one, if when George Floyd was killed, there were marches every day?” “Well, you’re right. Why don’t we do another one?” But it’s not that easy.

Jonán, you mentioned the robberies. How are you all organizing around the security issues?

Mancilla: We have WhatsApp groups and other compañeros use Telegram, but there is also the Facebook page. Many people have come to trust it. Sometimes Ligia has to tell them, “You know what, call the police. [Oh,] you called the police already?” I don’t know what kind of page they think we are. They think we are from the police. They see it so big that they say, “I better tell them. Let’s see if somebody comes.” I feel that the page is something very important. The WhatsApp groups, the Telegram, and the page more than anything have made it into an emergency call, a solution for them.

Of course, they are not necessarily self-defense groups. What is it then?

Mancilla: I don’t know if I should call it that, but they do exist within the WhatsApp groups, because you send an emergency, as Ligia said today, “we need someone here. 148 and Amsterdam,” and all of a sudden you are going to see five or 10 people getting there and they help you.

You also mentioned George Floyd earlier and all the protests that have taken place through the summer and to this day. So, there’s a climate where a lot of people in the Latino community and the African-American community say that they fear police. How do you position yourselves in that debate? For example, street vendors often complain about how the police treat them. But then there are also other occasions where, if there is an attack, who do they call if the compañeros can’t come—who comes?

Mancilla: At the beginning it was as if many people understood that they had to call the police, but later they realized that the police don’t come. That led many to join the WhatsApp and Telegram groups, because they know they will come.

I don’t know if you saw the last video with the Queens compañeros. They sent a message to please let the groups know that they needed help. And if you look at the video, the last one shows how the [drivers] start to arrive, because the police don’t come—and if the [police] come they don’t do anything.

My friend says they were kids, teenagers, and they told him he was going to take the bicycle and then they started to fight. One of the bicycle thieves was caught and he was the one who got beaten badly. When the police arrived, they took the beaten teen away and my friend says that they saw him free later. So, it is a reality that the police don’t do anything. I don’t know if they don’t feel like it, if they don’t like the paperwork, or because they are minors they can’t do anything else. So, these self-defense groups, as you call them, emerged.

Guallpa: But what is funny is that the compañeros arrive faster than the police. For example, the chat messages, in less than five or 10 minutes, there are already five or 10, those who are nearby mobilize to get there faster. And they have helped compañeros when they have an accident to contact family members, or when a bicycle is stolen, if they are close by, they have rescued bicycles.

Mancilla: Yes, because the police do not come.

Guallpa: Or when they get stuck with a motorcycle. They’ve managed to react faster than the police. And the reason they are reacting like that is because, as Jonán said, the police are not doing anything. They are on their own, they only have themselves.

So, to wrap up the interview, Jonán, what are the next steps after last week’s protest?

Mancilla: Well, I don’t think we have finished the first steps yet. We have to keep on fighting because I don’t feel that they have listened to us yet. We have some legislation, don’t we, Ligia? We still have many things to do. If you notice, they tell us that we are essential, but they do not show it to us.

[Here the interview with Jonán Mancilla ends and the interview with Ligia Guallpa continues.]

Jonán mentioned all that you folks have done to support them. Can you take me back to where this campaign started and what kind of tools Worker’s Justice provided to the delivery drivers to help them get organized?

Guallpa: For him it started on October 15, but for WJP actually it started much earlier, in May of last year. When Covid happened, the Worker’s Justice Project became an emergency relief center for migrant workers and we had to turn our worker center serving Williamsburg, Sunset Park, and Bensonhurst into emergency relief centers where workers could pick up masks or ask for information. It was in April that we realized that Covid was going to be a long-term thing, and we saw many of our members going unemployed, being scared of Covid, not knowing if they should go back or not go back to work, also realizing that their co-workers were getting sick and they were not even notified whether they had Covid. We raised money to start doing cash relief, and we started seeing how most of our members started moving into food delivery work as an alternative.

In Bensonhurst we opened one of the worker centers to do food relief, and the people who were coming through our doors were actually the delivery workers. We started noticing that it was a whole different sector that nobody had been outreaching to, and in May, June, we started connecting with different networks.

We started connecting with different leaders that started telling us how they were doing this work and [about] access to bathrooms. They were sharing how they were carrying bottles of water to do their basic necessities, how they were treated by the restaurants, how they were pressured by the companies. I think one of the most important things for WJP is how fast and how quickly we started building trust with the different networks.

It was by May, June, July, September, we were having access to many of these networks; and also, understanding that this was not a specific issue workers were facing in Brooklyn, it was at a much bigger scale, and it was because most of these workers were not working as workers—they were treated as independent contractors. And doing this power analysis at the end of the day, it was because of these apps.

The apps were having full control of their lives. We’re talking to the leaders about understanding the power— many of them were blaming the restaurants, but we were trying to help them understand that it’s not just a restaurants’ responsibility, but the app has full control of this. The apps are the ones who negotiate these contracts in this partnership with the restaurants.

The apps could have easily said to the restaurants, “Hey, we’re going to enter into an agreement with you: we’re going to provide you the service, but you have to provide bathrooms,” and it was the apps who were actually not negotiating any conditions because they didn’t care. They just wanted to get restaurants to pay the 30 percent fee, and didn’t care about what conditions workers were facing.

One of the most powerful things was that in September, as we started connecting with different networks and talking through issues, every single worker was agitated. They were mad, they were angry, they were desperate because things were getting worse. I mean, if you think about September, it was already seven months of inhumanity; of so much unfair treatment that you have to go through that many said, “Enough.” They were like, “Somebody has to hear us.”

When we talked to the different networks and we were like, “We are ready, we’re going to march,” they initially thought, “We want to talk to the police, we’re going to march to the police,” and then we did a couple meetings.

We did something about strategy as well, like understanding who has the power to make things better, and we had conversations with the leaders that, you know, the company is responsible, has power to make changes, city council has power to make changes. The mayor of New York City has power, the restaurants have power; so, these are our main targets. The police is just one actor. They should do their jobs, but at the end of the day, they can’t give you what you need.

And there was the first time that I said, “We have to target our city council members,” and that’s when we started training our leaders, we started doing the framework of how to message. I think that’s something powerful, because they have the most powerful stories—they’re essential workers, they’re more like frontline workers. They’ve been delivering and keeping everybody fed and being treated without humanity.

Glendy and I will not only identify leaders and connect with the leaders in building trust but make sure that leaders really understand where their power is, and who has power to give them what they need, and that’s exactly what we did.

Yes, you should start targeting the restaurants who should give you access to the bathroom, but at the end of the day it’s the company who’s the target. Right? It is the mayor, it is city council who has the power to put legislation to regulate the apps.

We started doing informally this power mapping and making sure they understand the dynamics of that industry, who has the power to give it to them, and also making sure that they can tell the story of their own conditions. We started building with them what’s the narrative that they want to share, and building confidence. With Jonán, I feel like he’s a natural leader, but a lot of the leaders live with a lot of fear. “What about, if I say something, I get disconnected? or what about, if I talk to other leaders, they might not trust me.” So we’ve been helping Jonán build trust with other leaders and validating him in spaces that he’s a leader, and mentoring them.

There is so much power in the city, and they know it. But owning it has been a whole process for them, to own the power that they have, and that they could exercise. And also, building power takes time.

I remember when we did the first march. The leaders were pissed off. Not everybody came in. We only had I think between 700 and 800 people. Not all the leaders got into the buy-in of doing this march. There was a lot of criticism among them, like, “What do we want out of this march?” And I think what inspired and motivated them was DoorDash after the march. We were publicly shaming DoorDash and DoorDash was like, “Okay, we need to talk to them, because obviously they’re not talking good about the company and this is bad PR for us.” They reached out to Los Deliveristas: “We want to talk to the workers.”

Acknowledging these victories and how they’re escalating motivates them and inspires them to say, “we can do this.” Who brings a big powerful company to meet with a group of workers? That’s powerful. Or who expects the Restaurant Association to put out a press release asking the restaurants to open the bathrooms?

Acknowledging the power that they have, I think it has leveraged the movement to understand that this is their time, that this is their movement. I also see how they’re exhausted, of being like not only first responders as food delivery workers, but now also managing all these self-defense networks. I remember we were having a one-on-one meeting with Jonán, and he was like, “Ligia, I can only] manage so many people. Everybody’s expecting me, that as a leader, I should respond.” And that’s when we’d sit down with him, that part of the role of a leader is to develop other leaders, and what kind of leader you want to start identifying.

It is not just the person that talks the most—you know, Latinoamerica is like, the leader is the one who talks better, who talks the most and who’s louder. That is not a leader. You want to look for the one that has the followers, the one that is consistent, the one that you know is going to respond, the one that you know is committed to the movement.

The next phase is to diversify the movement. Bring more Africans, Bangladeshis. They took the first step by making sure that the agenda is open to other groups. Even though they have a struggle within, because they don’t speak English. So they have said, “we can distribute the flyers, but you guys have to help me follow up.” They might not talk but they go, “here’s a flyer, just read it. In your language.”

It sounds like a lot of the leadership development was done by modeling behavior through one-on-one conversations. Was there any curriculum that informed how you were power mapping, how you were helping Jonán and other leaders develop that credibility? Where do you get your lessons from?

To be honest, there is no formal training, A lot has been done one on one and with mentoring. Glendy talks to the leaders almost every single week, not only to check in with them, but we give them little homeworks. One of the most powerful things that I think organizers have to understand is that workers know the solutions better than the organizer. I talk every day to some of the leaders in Brooklyn, and they come up with these incredible ideas. Like, they came up with a sticker idea. They were saying that we had a need for something that self-identifies them as a group.

And he said, maybe stickers, to put on the bikes. And I said, how do you think the stickers will be used? And we started developing a strategy with them—like, maybe that’s a way to also talk to them about who we are and what we’re doing. They came up with the idea of giving out hardhats, because not all the delivery workers were wearing hard hats. And we consistently are asking, how do you think we can be building this strategy of hardhats?

What Glendy and I are doing is doing a lot of strategy, per borough and per neighborhood. What is needed for Harlem is not what sometimes is needed in Queens. The leaders know better what’s the dynamic in the neighborhood, so a lot of what we do is like holding open strategy sessions with leaders. We do a lot of listening; we ask a lot of questions. We also mentor them. For instance, Jonán, sometimes he’s afraid to go and talk to the bike shops, and we said, “Do you want us to go with you?” And he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah because I don’t know.” And then we asked him to do it and then he’s like, “Okay.” So it’s like, “See, you can do it.”

One of the things we want to do is bring all the leaders into one room to debrief what has worked and what hasn’t worked. We’re having these one-on-one conversations about what inclusivity means. Not only gender, but with other communities. That’s a conversation we are having one on one, because sometimes workers themselves make comments that can be racist.

A lot of the work that we’re doing is trust building, identifying leaders, mapping different neighborhoods where there is a high density of food delivery sites. We’re mapping where workers congregate. We are doing a strategy-one-on-one as well with each of the leaders. We are helping them sustain a lot of these networks, helping them manage by including more people into it and helping them identify new leaders as well.

But I think one of the most powerful things is that this is a community that believe it or not has this natural level of solidarity. They’re there for each other. I think that one of the things that Glendy and I have been able to do, including with Jonán and others, is build trust with the different groups. But also, unfortunately, conditions have become these most deadly jobs, which agitate workers to unite.

Every time they post something, they use this phrase: “Unidos somos más fuertes.” [Together we are stronger.—Eds.] All the texts when they win something or they want to agitate others, they created a hashtag. And then Glendy and I thought, you know, every time they finish a sentence we are like, “Unidos somos más fuertes, chicos!

Glendy and I cannot act so fast the way they are, there’s no way. Yesterday, Gustavo [another worker leader] was like, “I’m going to need help, because there’s some member leaders who came, brought groups, and they didn’t get a T-shirt.” And we just need to make sure that we collect their names or phone numbers because they want to grow their database, they know how important phone numbers and access to that is. So, I went to help him to collect all the phone numbers, and I was shocked because they created these stickers of Los Deliveristas Unidos. They created their own logo, how they want it to be, which is like a delivery worker with a big fist. Everybody came in, I thought they were coming for the T-shirts, but no. They’re coming for the stickers. And when they took the stickers, they said give me three, no, no, no, give me four. I asked one of the workers, I said why do you guys want so many stickers? He’s like, “I have a friend.” And I said, “Yeah but, you know, it’s a sticker, why do you need…?” He is like, “Because when we see this sticker, we know that we belong to each other. But not only that, I think the thieves are seeing these stickers, so they’re getting scared. They think that we’re part of the mafia.” I was laughing. I was shocked, but at the same time I felt like, wow, people are acknowledging how powerful they are.

This is how they own their power. They want people to know, “We’re not alone anymore. Watch us. We’re coming after you.”

Where does Los Deliveristas Unidos fit in the broader debate within the labor movement around fighting misclassification? You know, especially in the wake of Prop 22 in California, this seems to be like a poster child case of rampant misclassification.

This is much more than just fighting for basic rights for food delivery workers. The way I see it is, this is about defending the rights of all workers, whether or not they are food delivery workers. Because what they’re fighting is not just the big multi billion-dollar companies like DoorDash, GrubHub. These companies are building a new economy where they’re trying to erase decades of labor protections that historically the labor movement has won. Like minimum wage or workers comp, all these things were won because workers fought so hard for decades.

Tech companies are looking to rewrite every single labor law and redefine who’s a worker and who’s not a worker. They’re building a whole new economy. They’re using their power to define who gets protections and who doesn’t. What happened in California, it showed how powerful these companies are, and they’re looking into doing it in every single state.

They were able to make progress under Trump because Trump was more flexible about giving more power to the companies to expand the definition of independent contracting.

In New York, we know DoorDash and other companies are looking to do the exact same thing that they did in California. [The proposed New York bill fell apart in late May, thanks in large part to opposition from the Deliveristas—Eds.] And I don’t think DoorDash and others are ready to confront Los Deliveristas Unidos. They were all profiting from the pandemic. They were making good money. Nobody was complaining, the city was happy; restaurants were complaining but they realized that, at the end of the day, they were also helping businesses, they were helping New Yorkers. And they weren’t ready for workers to start raising their voices and building up so much power.

As soon as the October 15 march happened and workers started being vocal, and shaming [companies] publicly, the public [began] to realize, “Oh my god, the delivery worker that brought my food you’re telling me that he couldn’t eat? Or you are telling me that he’s not paid? But I’m still paying this high fee to DoorDash?”

And also moving elected officials to start paying attention and making it public.

We are hoping that more labor unions will join this fight because Deliveristas Unidos are about to define the future of the labor movement. And you’ve heard it from Jonán, they want representation. And the fact that we see some—32BJ, one of the unions saying we’re going to support you—it’s huge! We’re hoping that other unions will follow. Because this is a big fight. It’s about protecting basic labor protections that the labor movement won for decades.

Amazon has its Delivery Service Providers network, which also hires subcontracted delivery drivers. They are opening up shop in Hell’s Kitchen to have folks on e-bikes make deliveries. Are any Deliveristas part of that subcontracting arrangement?

Yeah, they are. One of the things they’re doing is, whenever they give a sticker, to get the person’s name and the phone number and ask, what app do you work for? Where do you deliver? And they are looking into expanding their WhatsApp groups because they also realized there is Amazon Flex—it’s one of the, one of the most common things that workers are using, which is people with cars or bikes that pick-up food from grocery stores, Whole Foods, and others.

Have you folks done a breakdown of what apps most of the deliveristas work for?

We are working on the research now, doing a survey that hasn’t been completed yet. We’re working on that with Cornell. We’re hoping that it will be completed at the end of May. I think it will give a huge understanding about where the industry is and which apps are the big actors.

In response to Amazon entering the bike delivery space, any thoughts? Amazon has been in the headlines because of the warehouse worker organizing campaign in Bessemer, Alabama. I’m curious, what is the potential for these struggles coalescing into a movement?

The movement is interconnected. Because at the end of the day, Deliveristas, Amazon workers are all fighting against corporate greed. I think the point of connection is to make sure that workers who are working for Amazon are also talking to workers who are doing food delivery. I think the big step right now is how we bring these worker leaders who are leading this amazing fight to talk to each other in real solidarity.

It’s so critical to fight together, and it takes time. Unfortunately, time is what we don’t have, because these companies are moving so fast. But the big job for unions and worker centers is to come together to understand and fight together, strategize together. This is why I think naturally 32 BJ said “Yes, we’re fighting the big fast-food companies, you know, we’re never gonna say no to the Deliveristas.” We are asking for other unions to step it up as well.

I share your belief in the potential for the labor movement to unite as a social movement of working-class people, and a multiracial working-class movement that, no pun intended, delivers for working people.

This is something I think many people don’t understand. Worker’s Justice Project and other worker centers are part of a movement that truly understands that there is no labor movement without organizing the new workforce, which just happens to be immigrant in New York—which is the exact same way the labor unions got started back in the day, right? They got started by immigrants. Los Deliveristas were born by immigrants, and look, they organized a massive march! We believe it was more like 3,000 people, not 2,000 people, because we bought 2,000 T-shirts and all of them were gone.

What stands out to me about this is that that’s the type of mass grassroots working organizing that unfortunately is all too rare these days, and we have not seen many big demos by immigrant workers in a long time. This is one of those moments where immigrant workers flex their muscle. So I want to ask for your last thoughts on that. How did these workers build up that kind of organizational power, and what’s next?

That’s a hard question, because everything is changing so fast. One of the true things that we believe as a worker center is that there’s a lot of power when people organize. What Worker’s Justice Project is doing right now is validating that power everywhere we go. We need to make sure workers understand that they have the power, and they just need to use it, and that we’re going to be there to back them up all the way through.

And also, being honest that it’s not easy to exercise your power. There’s challenges. And it has to be diverse, not just led by one leader. Los Deliveristas Unidos has grown so fast because it is led by workers and leaders, and in every borough, in every corner, every neighborhood there is one. Our job is to build their trust, build their confidence, give them the tools and make sure that they understand that this is a much broader movement, that it takes time.

What’s next? Right now, what they’re looking for is to fight specific protections at the city level. They want the city to pass some local legislation that will make things better.

They’re talking about building a much broader organization that can scale up. That takes more organizing and more base-building work, as well as deeper understanding and a stronger strategy—because they are not confronting, you know, un empleador cualquiera [just any employer—Eds.]. They are confronting multibillion-dollar tech companies that have not only a lot of economic power, but a lot of political power too. This is not a fight that can be won alone. We need to bring other people to fight together.

This blog originally appeared at LaborNotes on June 7, 2021. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


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U.S. added 559,000 jobs in May and unemployment dropped to 5.8%

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Interview with Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Contributing Editor | Smart  Bitches, Trashy Books

After a disappointing April jobs report, May looked significantly better with 559,000 new jobs added to the economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s still a little short of the 650,000 jobs analysts predicted, but unemployment ticked down from 6.1% to 5.8%, the lowest since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020. “America is on the move again,” President Joe Biden declared in response to the report. “No other major economy is gaining jobs as quickly as ours, and none of this success is an accident,” he said, crediting the American Rescue Plan with boosting the recovery.

The Economic Policy Institute’s Elise Gould described the overall report as “a promising sign that the recovery is on track.” Gould continued, ”If this pace continues over the next year, we will likely get down to 4% unemployment by mid-2022 and will be fully recovered before the end of 2022, fully absorbing losses plus population growth.” 

Another piece of good news is that women gained jobs after losing massive numbers of jobs throughout the pandemic, accounting for 56.2% of the new jobs in May. It’s just a start—women would need to gain jobs at that rate for 13 months straight to get back to where things stood in the before times, according to the National Women’s Law Center—but a start is better than another month of continuing to fall behind. Women’s labor force participation rose from 57.2% in April to 57.4% in May, still behind the February 2020 rate of 59.2%.

Nonetheless, there are still 7.6 million fewer jobs than in February 2020, with a total jobs gap of at least 8.6 million (to account for jobs growth that would normally have happened since then).

Once again, in contrast to the claims that restaurants are having trouble finding workers because of high unemployment benefits, the hospitality industry had big growth, adding 292,000 jobs. And while wages rose in hospitality, a possible sign of a labor shortage, EPI’s Heidi Shierholz notes that “the wages of typical workers in leisure and hospitality plummeted in the recession and have largely just regained their pre-COVID trend—i.e. they are now in the ballpark of where they’d be if COVID had never happened.” Josh Bivens had previously argued that rising wages in restaurants are consistent with the return of tipping customers, and may therefore not even represent higher wages being paid by employers.

There’s a long way to go, and too many people are still without jobs—remember that 7.6 million jobs are missing just from what existed in February 2020—as Republican governors make the political, not economic, decision to cut off the $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits supplement because supposedly that $300 is what’s keeping people from looking for work (even though it’s not). That’s increasing the suffering across the country even as people show, month by month, that they are looking to get back to work.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos on June 4, 2021 Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.


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Amazon is crushing Walmart in one metric: The rate of serious injuries in its warehouses

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Interview with Laura Clawson, Daily Kos Contributing Editor | Smart  Bitches, Trashy Books

Immediately following a report that Amazon’s workplace injury rates were significantly higher than those of its top rivals, the online retail giant announced a tweak to its notorious “time off task” metric, which workers and advocates say is responsible for the punishing pace that leads to many injuries. The Washington Post looked at Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) data and found that Amazon warehouses have a rate of 5.9 serious injury incidents per 100 workers, which is nearly double the rate of other retail warehouses and more than double the rate for Walmart warehouses. This despite a decrease in serious injury rates at Amazon warehouses after the company paused performance tracking to allow workers time to wash their hands and sanitize work areas during the pandemic.

In response to the Post’s questions, Amazon detailed an array of efforts to improve injury rates at its warehouses, including “ergonomics programs, guided exercises at employees’ workstations, mechanical assistance equipment, workstation setup and design, and forklift telematics and guardrails—to name a few,” a company spokeswoman told the newspaper. What those efforts notably did not include was relaxing the speed requirements placed on workers that lead to so many of those injuries, at least outside of pandemic safety measures.

But on Tuesday, via a blog post by Dave Clark, CEO of its worldwide consumer division, the company made two announcements clearly designed to garner good publicity: It will stop testing employees for marijuana except for those in positions regulated by the Department of Transportation and will support federal marijuana legalization, and it’s changing how “time off task” is calculated. The time off task metric “can easily be misunderstood,” Clark claimed, insisting that its primary goal “is to understand whether there are issues with the tools that people use to be productive, and only secondarily to identify under-performing employees.”

This is not how Amazon employees experience that, and in any case, constantly finding ways to make the “tools that people use to be productive” go faster is another way to make the workers go faster. “Starting today,” Clark announced, “we’re now averaging Time off Task over a longer period to ensure that there’s more signal and less noise—reinforcing the original intent of the program, and focusing Time off Task conversations on how we can help.”

That’s not a big enough change, said Christy Hoffman, general secretary of UNI Global Union, in a statement: “After months of intense worker activity at Amazon workplaces everywhere, the giant tech is acknowledging that it must at least tweak its management system to soften the blow on workers who have the occasional ‘bad day’. But the basic system remains the same. This small step is welcomed but insufficient. What workers need is a real seat at the table and their voices heard.”

Let’s circle back to the top of this post and remember, we’re talking about a business with a serious injury rate nearly twice that of the industry as a whole and more than twice that of Walmart (which is not exactly known as a great employer). A small tweak is not going to do it. 

Amazon’s injury data also points to the need for stronger government enforcement. A DuPont, Washington, Amazon warehouse sported a serious injury rate of 23.9 per 100 workers in 2020, up from an already high 7.2 serious incidents per 100 workers in 2017. For those conditions, Amazon was cited by Washington State’s Department of Labor and Industries, which specifically identified the following: “There is a direct connection between Amazon’s employee monitoring and discipline systems and workplace MSDs [musculoskeletal disorders].” But the fine was just $7,000. Why would Amazon take the need for change seriously if that’s how much it costs? Instead, the company is trying to deal with its high injury rates as a public relations problem by announcing the smallest possible change to its policy. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on June 2, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a full-time staff since 2011, currently acting as assistant managing editor.


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How Cuts to Unemployment Benefits Will Hurt Rural People

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Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Aallyah Wright, Author at Mississippi Today

Republican governors in at least 22 states are ending federal unemployment assistance. The cuts will hit hard in rural areas and communities of color.

After Lisa Wilkinson, 54, got laid off from her factory job in December 2019, she knew it would be difficult to replace it. She’s older and lives in rural Tennessee, where work is scarce.

She immediately began her search, but in March 2020, Covid-19 forced employers to shut their doors.

She applied for state and federal pandemic unemployment and received $300 a week plus back pay in June 2020?—?a lifeline, she said in an interview. Several weeks later, the benefits ran out, and she still couldn’t land a job. Then, in the midst of that, Wilkinson, her 79-year-old husband and her 82-year-old mother contracted Covid-19.

Wilkinson recovered, but her husband and mother did not.

“If you’re not a saver, you lose everything you got. And if you lost a spouse or member in your family?—?last year, this year?—?it makes it worse,” Wilkinson said. ?“You have anxiety, depression … and thoughts of where your next meal is coming from.”

Wilkinson feared for her health and that of others if she entered the workforce, but she kept applying anyway, she said. To date, she has sought more than 300 jobs. Since January, she has recertified and reapplied for extended benefits at least three times. Her claim is still processing, she said.

Now, she’s waiting?—?on unemployment benefits or a job, whichever comes first.

“People are like, ?‘Jobs [are] out there, if you need ?‘em,’” she said. ?“But they’re not the ones trying to apply for ?‘em.”

In at least 22 states, the federal unemployment assistance Wilkinson is fighting to get is being retracted by Republican governors, who plan to end the pandemic-related aid as early as June.

The governors argue that the benefits discourage people from taking jobs. But economists say cutting off federal aid affects people’s livelihoods?—?especially for people of color and residents of rural areas saddled with slow job growth, lackluster transportation options and limited opportunities.

“We know [communities of color in rural areas] suffer from chronic high unemployment and have been really hurt by the pandemic, so I do think that this is an issue that’s gonna be hitting different communities harder,” said Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a left-leaning independent think tank.

“We saw in the data that African Americans are really taking advantage of these programs,” he said, ?“and they’re going to be hurt by the revocation of some of these programs. I would say economic distressed communities, writ large, are going to be losing out on a lot of these benefits.”

About 16 million people nationwide would receive a total of $100 billion in benefits if all states continued federal unemployment funds through their set expiration date of Labor Day, Sept. 6, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data by The Century Foundation. Of the states that planned to pull benefits, almost $11 billion in unemployment benefits could be lost, affecting nearly 2 million workers, the analysis found.

States have never before made this reversal?—?accepting the federal funds, then turning them down?—?Stettner said.

Montana was the first state to announce it would end the program, on May 4, cutting off the benefits June 27. Other states followed suit, including Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming. All are led by Republican governors. 

Focused on Vacancies

Economists told Stateline that the decision to opt out of pandemic unemployment affects the recipients who receive the funds, which in turn reduces the flow of money into local economies. 

Some Republican governors are focusing on filling job vacancies.

“Eliminating these pandemic programs will not be a silver bullet for employers to find employees, but we currently have about 116,000 available jobs in the state,” said Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in a statement.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and President Joe Biden’s administration will ?“take concrete action to prevent anyone from falling through the cracks,” a spokesperson from the U.S. Department of Labor said in a statement. The statement doesn’t specify whether states are required to continue providing payments, as some advocacy groups have argued the department could force them to do.

Some governors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce?—?which also called for an end to the $300 weekly extended benefits?—?opposed the extra support because, they said, benefits would disincentivize people to go back to work in industries such as food service and hospitality.

However, there is no evidence that federal pandemic unemployment benefits had a substantial effect on employment after the $600 benefits expired in July 2020, according to a February 2021 study by a researcher with the National Bureau of Economic Research.

More than half of people who received a $600 federal unemployment check returned to work before the supplement expired, found a separate February paper from the University of Chicago Becker Friedman Institute for Economics.

Many lawmakers’ views on the extended benefits fall along partisan lines.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said it’s time for employees to work to bring the economy up to speed.

“The $300 federal supplement helped thousands of Arkansans make it through this time, so it served its purpose. Now we need Arkansans back on the job,” Hutchinson said in a May 11 statement.

Arkansas state Sen. Ron Caldwell, a Republican, told Stateline he agreed with the governor’s decisions to end the assistance early. Caldwell pointed to available jobs in the agriculture field in his state. People who are unemployed, but afraid of getting Covid-19, he said, have to ?“balance their fear of going to work.

“It’s not very fair for working class people to get up every day and people stay at home because they afraid to get sick,” Caldwell said in a phone call. ?“Teachers, first responders are going into the field. I know [Covid-19] is very real, but we can’t stick our head in the sand and continue on with people having grocery shelves stocked and other things that have to be done.” 

Across the aisle, Arkansas state Rep. Fredrick J. Love, a Democrat, said painting the community with a broad brush hurts households.

“In rural Arkansas, some [businesses] aren’t coming back. Some are permanently closed,” Love said. ?“If people qualify for pandemic unemployment, it’s apparent they were working before. I think they’re looking for work and can’t find it or it was less [money] than they were looking for.”

In Georgia, state Rep. Kim Schofield, a Democrat, said the responsibility rests in part on some employers who don’t pay livable wages.

“We need workplace salaries to match the 21st century workplace,” Schofield said. ?“There are larger companies who have made billions on the backs of workers. They can now give incentives back to workers, on-site child care, or raise some of the wages up to $15 and start there.” 

Although it’s challenging for smaller businesses to find employees, there isn’t a broad labor shortage, and people would go to work if jobs were available, said Wayne Vroman, an economist with The Urban Institute, an economic and social policy D.C.-based think tank.

Vroman added that the unemployment cutoffs put rural people of color at a larger disadvantage because they face higher unemployment rates. Although rural people don’t participate in unemployment programs as much, there are many who do, and if cut off from the benefits, would suffer, Vroman said.

David Cooper, a senior economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank in Washington, D.C., said the true indicator of a labor shortage is rising wages, but there’s not accelerating wage growth across the board.

There is evidence, however, of a shortage in leisure and hospitality fields, he added.

“Wages in leisure and hospitality employment make up just 4% of all wages in the U.S. economy, so this is a very small portion of the economy where employers may be struggling to find folks,” Cooper said. ?“There’s no reason why difficulty for those employers should mean that we should turn off unemployment benefits for everyone.”

The industries experiencing shortages, such as leisure and trucking, don’t provide job security for workers, Stettner argued. Taking a ?“sledgehammer to the problem” by ending benefits won’t address deeper issues, he added.

Domino Effect

About 9.8 million working-age people don’t have jobs, even as the national unemployment rate is lower than last year. The rate stands at 6.1%, the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data show, and only 19 states and the District of Columbia exceeded the national rate. This is more magnified for Black and Latino people, who face higher unemployment rates than white people, at about 10% and 8%, respectively.

Meanwhile, states’ troubled unemployment systems have been making headlines for months. Long wait times, website crashes and high traffic at call centers all contributed to barriers for people trying to navigate the unemployment system, according to New America, a public policy think tank.

And widespread unemployment fraud hurt all jobless residents in state after state: Maryland officials have frozen claimants’ accounts because of potential unemployment fraud. Residents in Colorado are struggling to verify documents through a new technology system designed to halt potential fraud.

Communities of color also may have a harder time getting approved for unemployment assistance. A July 2020 survey by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult found that Black and Latino workers were underrepresented in unemployment benefits. Black and Latino workers made up about 40% of the unemployed nationally, but were fewer than 20% of the recipients, the poll found.

The racial disparities in unemployment programs have always existed, said Michelle Holder, an economist and assistant professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Since 1972, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first began collecting data on unemployment among Black Americans, the rate has been more often than not twice the amount as white unemployment, according to the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank based in Washington, D.C.

Holder added that Black people tend to live in states where unemployment payments are lower.

“There’s already an imbalance,” Holder said.

And rural areas benefit the most from government programs because job growth is slower. Rural residents tend to be poorer, older, and lack transportation, access to the internet and health care.

Between 2010 and 2017, the yearly job growth for rural America was 0.5% compared with 1.8% in urban areas, data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows.

The families hardest hit in rural areas face other hurdles, from food and housing insecurity to difficulties paying for utilities, health and child care, said Neil Sealy, executive director the Arkansas Community Organizations, a grassroots group that focuses on social and economic justice.

“This is a domino effect that affects people,” Sealy said. ?“Not having the money to survive will kick off a whole bunch of other things.”

This is why some grassroots organizers, economists and lawmakers insist that governors continue the assistance as well as administer unemployment programs more equitably.

“If we’re counting on the system to help the economy and help to reduce poverty,” said Stettner of The Century Foundation, ?“we cannot leave it to the states.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 8, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Aallyah Wright reports on rural affairs and leads race and equity coverage for Stateline. Previously, Aallyah worked for Mississippi Today, a digital nonprofit newsroom covering K?12 education and government in the Mississippi Delta?—?her home region. As a member of the Delta Bureau, she investigated Mississippi’s teacher shortage, finding it was six times worse than in 1998 when the Mississippi legislature passed a bill to alleviate the crisis. She is a 2020 Mississippi Humanities Council Preserver of Mississippi Culture Award Recipient, 2019 StoryWorks Theater Fellow, and 2018 Educating Children in Mississippi Fellow at the Hechinger Report. Wright graduated from Delta State University with a bachelor’s in journalism and minors in communication and theater. 


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Guide to Disability Benefits Under the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS)

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The Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) is the primary retirement plan for federal employees. Congress created this plan in 1986 to replace the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS), which had existed since 1920.
FERS covers all employees who joined the federal service on and after January 1, 1987.
One of the most important components of FERS is its disability benefits.
If you are an injured or disabled federal employee, it’s critical for you to understand the disability benefits that FERS offers. It is also essential for you to understand the amount of compensation that you may potentially obtain.

Is FERS the Same as CSRS?
Many people ask whether FERS offers them the same disability benefits as CSRS. The answer
is that the two systems have significant differences. For one, CSRS disability benefits are
calculated differently than FERS disability benefits.
Furthermore, CSRS only has one component—an annuity. FERS consists of three parts:
? The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP);
? Social security benefits; and
? An annuity.
The tax consequences of each retirement plan are also different.

Which Federal Employees Are Eligible for FERS Disability Benefits?

To be eligible for FERS disability benefits, you must have:

? Finished at least 18 months of Federal service;
? Become disabled because of a medical condition that prevents you from performing the
essential functions of your position; and
? Applied for social security disability benefits.
On top of all that, your disability must be expected to last at least one year.
Your federal employer plays a significant role in this process as well. Specifically, your federal
employer must demonstrate that it attempted to accommodate your disability within your current
position. It must also show that it looked for and failed to find any other jobs you could perform
with your disability.
There are two important things that you do not need to demonstrate to be eligible for FERS.
First, you do not need to show that your disability prevents you from performing all work. You
only need to demonstrate that it makes you unable to perform your position of record with or
without reasonable accommodations.
Second, you do not need to show that your medical disability resulted from your job.

How Can I Calculate the Amount of My Benefits?
To calculate your FERS disability benefits amount, you first need to determine the highest
average basic pay you earned during any consecutive three- year period in your federal career.
This figure is called the “high-3” average salary.
Most federal employees receive their high-3 average salary during the final three years of their
career. However, you can use an earlier period of time if you received a pay cut near the end of
your career.
Once you know your high-3 average salary, you can calculate your disability benefits in one of
two different ways based on your age and years of service.
If you are over 62 and have 20 or more years of service, your disability benefits equal 1.1% of
your high-3 average salary multiplied by the number of years you worked.

If you are older than 62 with fewer than 20 years of service, or under 62, you will receive just
1.0% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by the number of years of service.

Two Examples for Calculating FERS Disability Benefits
Let’s look at a couple of examples to show you how this process works.
Example 1: Fred’s high-3 average salary is $100,000. He is 65 years old and has 35 years of
federal service. Therefore, he can use 1.1% of his high-3 average salary. 1.1% of $100,000 is
$1,100. $1,100 times 35 equals $38,500. Therefore, Fred will receive $38,500 a year in FERS
disability benefits.
Example 2: John’s high-3 average salary is also $100,000. He is 50 years old and has 20 years
of service. Because of this, he can only use 1.0% of his high-3 average salary when calculating
his disability benefits. 1.0% of $100,000 is $1,000. $1,000 multiplied by 20 equals $20,000.
Therefore, John will get $20,000 a year in FERS disability benefits.
One final note. If you are less than 62 years old, your FERS disability benefits get reduced by
the amount of any social security benefits you receive during the first 12 months of your
disability retirement. After 12 months, your disability benefits get reduced by 60% of any social
security benefits you receive.

How Can I Apply for FERS Disability Benefits?
You must do several things to apply for FERS disability benefits. First, you must complete
Standard Form (SF) 3107, titled “Application for Immediate Retirement.” You must also
complete SF 3112, titled “Documentation In Support of Disability Retirement.“
Although completing these forms may sound daunting, the good news is that your employing
agency will help you complete them. Your employer can also provide you with advice on what to
include in your application package. Finally, your employer will forward your completed application package to OPM, the federal agency responsible for processing disability retirement applications.
If you are less than 62 years old, you also need to show whether you have applied for social
security disability benefits after you separate from federal service. You can learn more about
applying for FERS disability benefits here.

What Do I Do If the Government Denies My Application for FERS Disability Benefits?
Your best choice is to contact a qualified federal employment attorney. Federal employment
attorneys can evaluate why the government denied your application for disability benefits. They
can also assess whether the government was right in denying your claim. Moreover, a federal
employment attorney can protect your rights to disability by appealing your denial of benefits.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Aaron Wersing is the founder of The Law Office of Aaron D. Wersing, PLLC. His practice
focuses on assisting federal employees with a wide variety of litigation and transactional matters.


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UBER’S NEW GIG WORKER BILL IS THE SAME OLD TRICK: DEREGULATION AND SPECIAL TREATMENT FOR EXPLOITIVE COMPANIES

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is brian-chen-350x316-350x245.jpg

In New York State, legislators are reportedly considering a bill, brokered by gig companies including Uber and Lyft, that would remove app-based drivers and food delivery workers from virtually all labor and discrimination protections. Though its supporters are selling this “Right to Bargain Act” as a novel form of bargaining in the app-based economy, there’s nothing new about this anti-worker bill. It’s straight out of a well-worn playbook for companies like Uber, Lyft, Handy, DoorDash, and Instacart: Subvert labor laws, undo industry regulations, and duck accountability to workers and the public.

New York’s “Right to Bargain Act”

As drafted, the bill would permit certain unions, if certified by 10% of “active network workers” in each industry, to exclusively represent ride-hail drivers and delivery workers at an “industry council,” where they would negotiate with the companies over a set of bargaining topics.

After reaching an agreement, and if a majority of workers who vote approve the agreement, a state board would accept (or modify) the recommendations, and then implement and supervise the agreed-upon terms across the industry.

While “sectoral bargaining” can deliver improved labor standards in the right context, there are serious flaws built into the New York bill: It precludes some member-led groups that have organized app-based workers from representing workers in bargaining; there is no mechanism for rank-and-file workers to democratically participate throughout the bargaining process; and strikes and work stoppages are explicitly banned. Each of these provisions seriously calls into question whether workers could ever build and bring power to bear on the bosses sitting across the bargaining table.

Even more troubling about the legislation is that, in exchange for this bargaining system—compromised as it is—drivers and delivery workers would be unable to access any rights or protections under any New York state or local law. Gig companies would be free of any obligations to their workers under state labor law, disability law, paid family leave, paid sick leave, and city and state human rights law.

The companies would evade accountability even if a court finds their workers to be their employees, as they already have under certain laws in New York and around the country. That means a workforce of mostly underpaid immigrant workers and people of color in New York would be permanently excluded from foundational labor standards.

Worse yet, cities would lose the ability to legislate improved working conditions in the app-based economy. Even existing protections, like New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) rules that create a pay floor for ride-hail drivers, would be dismantled. Under the proposed New York bill, Uber and Lyft drivers could start anew and bargain up—but only from half their current pay.

A Longer History of Anti-Worker Deregulation

Many have compared the New York bill to Proposition 22, a 2020 California ballot initiative that removed nearly all employment protections from app-based transportation and food delivery workers in exchange for newly-created “benefits” that already have proven illusory and mostly inaccessible to workers. The similarities, obviously, are there. But the roots of the New York bill go back further.

Ever since heralding the app-based economy in 2008, Uber and its peer companies have sought to preserve their business model—essentially, an illegal practice of misclassifying their workers as independent contractors to save as much as 30% of labor costs—by lobbying aggressively to rewrite the law to their satisfaction. More than anything else, the companies want to preserve the legal fiction that their workers are not employees—in order to profit off of their exploitation.

In 2014, Uber launched a national effort to pass state laws locking ride-hail drivers into independent contractor status, denying them their employee rights. The bills, which passed in more than forty states between 2014 and 2017, ushered in a wave of ever-worse carveout policies.

Newer state bills, this time pushed by the domestic work company Handy, created labor law exclusions for “marketplace contractors” across platforms such as Uber, Handy, and Postmates. In Texas, gig company lobbyists skipped the legislature entirely and targeted the state’s unemployment board in 2019 to implement a rule that disqualifies from unemployment insurance (UI) payments any worker dispatched through an app.

And yet, workers pushed back.

In recent years, ride-hail drivers, delivery workers, and other misclassified workers organized to fight for better working conditions. More than that, they started winning. The New York Taxi Workers Alliance led organizing and protests that eventually led to the creation of minimum pay for Uber and Lyft drivers in New York City in 2018. The next year, app-based workers mobilized support to push California legislators to enact Assembly Bill 5, a law that presumes that most people in the state are entitled to employment protections.

The Gig Companies’ “Third Way”

In the face of successful worker organizing, losses in court, and increasing public support of workers over the past couple years, the app companies pivoted: If they were to hold onto an exploitive business model, something had to give. Instead of outright denying unjust working conditions, they’d have to co-opt the language of workers’ rights and concede some limited benefits on the margins—while preserving the ultimate goal to exempt themselves from nearly all employer rules (see Prop 22 as Exhibit A).

…the app companies pivoted: If they were to hold onto an exploitive business model, something had to give. Instead of outright denying unjust working conditions, they’d have to co-opt the language of workers’ rights and concede some limited benefits on the margins…

At the same time, in the summer of 2020, the country erupted over the murder of George Floyd. Rather than paying a living wage or providing paid leave to a disproportionately poor, racialized workforce, the gig companies commodified the movement for Black lives. Uber, in particular, put its resources into this strategy—“If you tolerate racism, delete Uber”—to obscure the economic and racial subjugation of its drivers.

After winning their Prop 22 campaign in California, the companies had found their new approach: A “third way” between overt corporate extraction and full employment rights for their workers—veiled in the language of racial justice. Uber soon began pressuring the federal government to create a new system of regulation: A “third worker category” that would grant some limited benefits—such as a portable benefits system—while forever locking workers out of employment protections.

New York’s “Right to Bargain Act” is just that: A “third way” proposal—this time dressed up in a veneer of “collective bargaining”—that would excuse app-based companies from any accountability to their workers or to public social insurance funds.

And if this bill passes in New York, expect the companies to ramp up their efforts to derail the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act in the U.S. Congress and lobby for a “third worker category,” coordinated by the corporate mega-alliance the Coalition for Workforce Innovation.

Deregulation at that national scale doesn’t only concern workers in the so-called “gig economy,” it means degraded working standards and conditions for all of us, creating a legal avenue for any company to “gig” out its workers.

Deregulation at that national scale doesn’t only concern workers in the so-called “gig economy,” it means degraded working standards and conditions for all of us, creating a legal avenue for any company to “gig” out its workers.

Behind their “flexibility” and “new benefits” sleight-of-hand, the gig companies’ “third way” policies really are the same old trick: Corporate redistribution of billions of dollars from the poor and working class to the ruling elite.

Conclusion

After the companies’ long history lobbying against workers’ rights, legislators in New York and across the country should reject outright any proposal that has had input from companies like Uber, Lyft, or DoorDash. It is, instead, the workers on the streets—organizing for equal rights, better pay, and just labor standards—who must lead the way forward.

This blog originally appeared at Bloomberg Law on June 2, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: As a staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project, Brian focuses on combating exploitative work structures that subordinate workers in low-wage industries. Through litigation and policy campaigns, he supports workers’ efforts to build power at their workplace.


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