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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Equity Calls for Tax Fairness for Arts Workers at Congressional Hearing

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

The House Committee on Small Business held a remote hearing about the creative economy on Wednesday in which Actors’ Equity Association (Equity) Secretary-Treasurer Sandra Karas testified on behalf of the union. “The arts and culture sector is responsible for 5.2 million jobs and 4.3% of GDP,” Karas pointed out. She explained how this industry has been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and its recovery has been slower than many others.

Karas asked committee members to support the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act (H.R. 4750), a bill to create tax fairness by allowing arts workers to deduct their business expenses. “Performing artists pay a high percentage of their income on necessary out-of-pocket costs to look for work and stay current in the industry,” she said. “This bill is targeted to low income and middle class taxpayers, not the high earning stars.” Karas also called for passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to strengthen unions in the arts sector.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 24, 2022

About the Authors: Kenneth Quinell is a Senior Writer at AFL-CIO.

Aaron Gallant is the Internal Communications Specialist at AFL-CIO


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: MEBA Fights for Better Pay and Working Conditions for Staten Island Ferry Mariners

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Working people across the United States have stepped up to help out our friends, neighbors and communities during these trying times. In our regular Service + Solidarity Spotlight series, we’ll showcase one of these stories every day. Here’s today’s story.

The Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) is raising the alarm about New York City’s ability to attract and retain skilled mariners to work on the Staten Island Ferry. At the union’s urging, U.S. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of Staten Island sent a letter to Mayor Eric Adams, asking him to repair a broken wage structure that is compromising consistent ferry sailings, mariner retention and passenger safety.

MEBA, which represents captains, assistant captains, engineers and mates on the ferries, has pointed out that officers in the fleet work for much less than industry wages, with inadequate benefits, and have not received a pay increase in almost 11 years. “Nobody sticks around, they leave,” said MEBA Secretary-Treasurer Roland “Rex” Rexha, a former shop steward at the ferry system. “Why would they stay at the Staten Island Ferry when it’s not even close to industry wages?

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January, 20, 2022.

About the Authors: Kenneth Quinell is a Senior Writer at the AFL-CIO.

Aaron Gallant is the Internal Communications Specialist at AFL-CIO


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Your Employer’s Responsibility to Diversity in the Workplace

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Initiatives that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace have made meaningful differences in the workplace in the last five years. Equitable access to education and opportunity has been on the rise, and employers are reaping the benefits of hiring diverse talent. 

However, considerable barriers to workplace opportunities still exist. A recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report found that, on average, people of color were more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts, and that white and Asian adults were considerably more likely to hold a bachelor’s degree or higher than other races. 

Additionally, a 2020 BLS report found that 71% of people living with a disability faced a barrier to gaining employment. Amongst these barriers, their own disability ranked as the highest barrier, but 12.2% cited a lack of education or training, and 9.9% reported that workplaces did not provide the adaptable features they needed to work. 

These findings are troubling and speak to the continued effect that systemic inequality has on our society. However, as an employee, it’s hard to know what you can do to help. It’s unlikely that you will be able to change the underlying causes of inequity in society, and it’s easy to feel helpless when faced with hundreds of years of direct oppression and the overt effects of racism and ableism. 

However, you can make a difference in your workplace, and should start by understanding your employers’ responsibility to diversity in the workplace.

Non-Discrimination Acts

There have been a series of acts enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) since 1964. These laws make it illegal for employers to directly discriminate against employees based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, marital status, or political affiliation. Unfortunately, workplace discrimination still happens. 

If you suspect that your employer isn’t holding up to their responsibility to avoid discrimination, you can take legal action to end the discrimination in your workplace. The process isn’t easy and is largely dependent upon what kind of business you work in. However, it is still in your best interest to  know your rights so you can file an official complaint to the EEOC

Proactive Steps

Despite the presence of non-discrimination laws, workplace discrimination still happens and often goes unchecked. A recent Vox report found that only 18% of claims made to the EEOC were successful, and the history of the EEOC is woefully underwhelming. 

This means that it is largely up to employers to make up their own guidelines when it comes to diversity in the workplace. As an employee, you can advocate for your organization to take proactive steps to ensure that your working environment makes a serious commitment to diversity. 

Community Leadership

One of the best ways to advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is to form community leadership groups. Ideally, these groups should be made up of a diverse range of backgrounds and demographics. 

You will also need to establish clear ground rules before jumping into a community leadership initiative. These will help break deadlocks and will ensure your organization can move forward even if you have disagreements within the community leadership panels.  

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeship programs are a great way to draw more diverse talent to your organization. These apprenticeships are usually able to target specific, underrepresented groups, and will show that your organization has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. 

Education

Unfortunately, not everyone in your workplace will be receptive to initiatives that promote diversity. However, you must recognize that these folks may not have had great access to education themselves and simply haven’t learned about systemic biases. 

To overcome this, you should advocate for further education about diversity in your workplace. This means that your organization’s employees can avoid harmful microaggressions that undermine people’s sense of belonging, and your organization can work together to help promote a more just, diverse society. 

Employers have a responsibility to follow discrimination laws, and you can actively promote diversity in the workplace by advocating for new diversity-centric programs and re-education for folks who are a little behind.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a writer, content consultant, and conservationist. While Dan writes on a variety of topics, he loves to focus on the topics that look inward on mankind that help to make the surrounding world a better place to reside. When Dan isn’t working on new content, you can find him with a coffee cup in one hand and searching for new music in the other.


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Empowering Workers: Worker Wins

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Despite the challenges of organizing during a deadly pandemic, working people across the country (and beyond) continue organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. This edition begins with:

Baltimore County Public Library Employees Vote Overwhelmingly to Join IAM: Workers at the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) had a special reason to celebrate this holiday season. It was announced last week that 460 full-time and part-time library workers voted 77% in favor of forming a union with the Machinists (IAM). The successful vote comes after years of organizing, which included the IAM winning a new state law allowing BCPL employees to collectively bargain. “This is so exciting for Baltimore County Public Library workers,” said Anita Bass, a BCPL circulation assistant III at the Essex branch. “This will empower the staff of BCPL to continue to do the important work of fulfilling BCPL’s mission and vision. We need a system in place to protect and support each other, and a legally binding contract will give us that. I believe in the BCPL mission, and I know the IAM will help us accomplish that mission.” “Baltimore County Public Library employees have always been a critical pillar to our community, and now especially during the pandemic,” said IAM Grand Lodge Representative Bridget Fitzgerald, lead organizer on the campaign. “I could not be more proud of these professionals for joining together and standing strong for what they deserve. This is a victory for them, their families and all of Baltimore County, which rightfully relies on a strong and inclusive library system.”

SHoP Architects Employees Vote to Join Machinists: Employees at SHoP Architects in New York are seeking to become the first private sector architectural workers to successfully organize since the 1940s. More than 130 eligible employees at the firm have signed cards in support of forming a union with the IAM. The firm is known for work on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Steinway Tower south of Central Park, among others. Workers are seeking to reduce their workload and increase pay, after they reported working long hours for pay that doesn’t allow them to pay off the thousands of dollars of student debt those in their field often accumulate. The organizing committee has asked SHoP for voluntary recognition and wants to start a conversation with SHoP’s partners on how to address the challenges they face—and begin making positive changes. “Many of us feel pushed to the limits of our productivity and mental health,” the members of the committee said. “These conditions have become detrimental to our lives and in extension the lives of our families. These concerns are the product of larger systemic issues within the discipline of architecture and are in no way unique to SHoP. From the moment we begin studying architecture, we are taught that great design requires endless time and effort, and in turn demands the sacrifice of personal health and relationships. We are taught that architecture is a greater calling and regardless of how the client is willing to compensate us, we will perform our duty because it is critically important for the greater good.”

Air Line Pilots at Sun Country Ratify Tentative New Contract: Pilots who fly for Sun Country Airlines, members of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), voted 93% in favor of ratifying a new tentative four-year agreement. The pact brings the pilots’ salaries, retirement and other work rules in line with their peers in the industry. The agreement was reached after seven months of negotiations, and reflects the growth and modernization of Sun Country in recent years. “We are proud of this contract that reflects the work we’ve done and contributions we’ve made to help the airline grow,” said Capt. Brian Lethert, Sun Country Airlines ALPA Master Executive Council chair. “We are committed to helping the company continue growing and achieving its objectives through this modern contract, which will ensure the airline is able to retain and attract pilots.”

Kellogg Strike Ends as BCTGM Members Ratify New Contract: After a strike that began Oct. 5, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) members have approved a new five-year contract that includes “no take-aways; no concessions.” The workers at ready-to-eat cereal plants in Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Omaha, Nebraska; and Memphis, Tennessee, voted in favor of the new agreement, which includes: no permanent two-tier system, a clear path to regular full-time employment, no plant shutdowns through October 2026, increases in pension payments and the maintenance of cost-of-living raises. “Our striking members at Kellogg’s ready-to-eat cereal production facilities courageously stood their ground and sacrificed so much in order to achieve a fair contract. This agreement makes gains and does not include any concessions,” said BCTGM International President Anthony Shelton. “Our entire Union commends and thanks Kellogg’s members. From picket line to picket line, Kellogg’s union members stood strong and undeterred in this fight, inspiring generations of workers across the globe, who were energized by their tremendous show of bravery as they stood up to fight and never once backed down….The BCTGM is grateful, as well, for the outpouring of fraternal support we received from across the labor movement for our striking members at Kellogg’s. Solidarity was critical to this great workers’ victory.”

Oregon Grocery Workers End Strike with Tentative Agreement: Grocery workers, members of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 555, at Fred Meyer and Quality Food Centers in Oregon ended a strike after reaching a tentative labor agreement. The new contract provides wage increases, improved workplace protections, new retirement and health care benefits. The stores are part of Kroger-owned supermarket chains.

WGAE Ratifies Landmark Contract with VICE: On Friday, the Writers Guild of America, East, (WGAE) announced that its 160 members at VICE Media have ratified a new three-year contract that sets an increased minimum salary of $63,000 and provides minimum yearly wage increases ranging from 3% to 3.75%. The WGAE previously had four contracts at VICE representing four main editorial verticals, but the new contract combines them all into one agreement. “Thanks to a unified and strong union, workers across VICE will now work under one collective bargaining agreement,” said WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson. “This new contract and its substantial gains are a testament to the VICE bargaining committee’s diligent efforts to address the concerns and aspirations of workers at a company that continues to grow within the ever-shifting media landscape.”

Ironworkers Emerge Victorious in Strike Against Erie Strayer: After nearly three months on strike, the members of Ironworkers Local 851 in Erie, Pennsylvania, have declared victory. Management at Erie Strayer came “to the table in good faith today to meet us in our demands,” the union announced on Friday. The members of Local 851 held the line, day and night, for months in their fight for a fair contract. “This win is a testament to the power of worker solidarity, and that the best protection and future for workers everywhere is with a union contract made for workers and by workers,” the Ironworkers said in a statement. Their grit and determination to win, together with the support of the local community and the labor movement, is an example to us all.

Vodeo Games Workers Form First Video Game Union in North America: The employees at Vodeo Games have come together to form Vodeo Workers United, the first certified union of video game workers in North America. The union was organized with the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees-CWA (CODE-CWA). Thirteen workers at the video game company, including independent contractors, received voluntary recognition of their new union from their employer. With this recognition, Vodeo Workers United is set to begin bargaining a first contract. “All workers deserve a union and a say in how their workplace is run, no matter where they work, what their employment status is or what kind of conditions they work under,” said Myriame Lachapelle, a producer at Vodeo Games. “We have been inspired by the growing worker organizing within the gaming industry and hope we can set a new precedent for industry-wide standards that will better our shared working conditions and inspire others to do the same.”

OPEIU Members at MOVE Texas Ratify First Contract: Members of MOVE Texas United (MTXU), an affiliate of the Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Local 277, unanimously ratified their first contract on Friday, having secured significant gains at the bargaining table. Highlights of the new contract include full benefits paid for by the employer, 40% employee representation on the board, a $50,000 wage floor for full-time employees and a 32-hour workweek. MOVE Texas is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering underrepresented youth communities. “To begin at the start of the new year, the 47-page contract will set an unprecedented example for the labor movement in the nonprofit sector,” MTXU said after the vote. “After almost a year of negotiations between the employer and the union, MOVE Texas United can celebrate an inspiring process and several innovative strides.”

Blue Skies Ahead: TWU Members at JetBlue Ratify First Contract: Members of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) who work as flight attendants, or “inflight crewmembers” (IFCs) as JetBlue calls them, decisively ratified their inaugural contract on Monday with the airline. The union said that while successfully negotiating a first contract is not an easy feat to accomplish under ordinary circumstances, it was made even more challenging because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a skyrocketing number of assaults against aviation workers. TWU members at JetBlue have been fighting for a fair contract since overwhelmingly voting to form a union in 2018. “This is a tremendous victory for our 5,500 IFCs at JetBlue. In this time of uncertainty and peril, there is no greater security for workers than a solid contract,” said TWU International President John Samuelsen. “Our JetBlue inflight crewmembers are no longer ‘at-will’ employees of the carrier, but union workers whose employment is secured by an enforceable collective bargaining agreement. What a huge difference it is.” The new contract includes a grievance and arbitration system, work rule improvements, health insurance and retirement benefits, and wage increases.

Big Cartel Workers Form First Tech Union in Right to Work State: Tech workers at Big Cartel received voluntary recognition of their new union, Big Cartel Workers Union, on Monday in a groundbreaking organizing victory. Staff at the e-commerce platform for creative businesses are the first tech workers to form a union in a “right to work” state as the company is based in Salt Lake City. The union members, who are affiliated with Office and Professional Employees (OPEIU) Tech Workers Union Local 1010, will begin bargaining their first contract with their employer next month. “Tech workers are becoming increasingly aware of the power a union brings them at work,” said OPEIU Organizing Director Brandon Nessen. “Unionizing gives working people agency to advance not only their own interests, but the mutual interests shared by both staff and management.”

Wirecutter Union Members Reach Tentative Agreement for Their First Contract: Members of the Wirecutter Union, part of The NewsGuild of New York/CWA Local 31003, announced on Tuesday that they have reached a tentative agreement with management. The workers at The New York Times’ product review site have been fighting for their first contract for two years. They went on a five-day strike during the recent Black Friday shopping season to pressure management to stop its union-busting practices and negotiate a fair agreement. Rallying together with 100% membership participation in the strike, and with the entire labor movement and our allies backing them up, these union members now get to vote on a groundbreaking new contract that includes significant wage increases, the elimination of nondisclosure agreements in cases of harassment, and strong diversity, equity and inclusion commitments. “We’ve fought to build our power over the last two years, despite continuous union-busting from The New York Times,” the Wirecutter Union tweeted. “The result is a bargaining agreement we’re proud of.”

VTDigger Newsroom Employees Secure First Collective Bargaining Agreement: Workers at VTDigger, members of the Providence Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA Local 31041), ratified their first-ever collective bargaining agreement. The three-year deal “establishes consistent standards, rewards longevity, guarantees minimum salaries and overtime pay, and continues to solidify the organization’s commitment to improving diversity, equity and inclusion. It has been a long and at times difficult conversation, but we had it as equals, and the organization is much stronger for it,” said Lola Duffort, co-unit chair of the VTDigger Guild. “I am delighted we have arrived—unanimously—at such a robust agreement.” The new contract includes minimum salaries, cost-of-living increases, paid sick leave, paid parental leave, overtime pay, salary increases and other benefits.

Graduate Researchers Secure Union Recognition and University of California: More than 17,000 graduate student researchers across the University of California’s campuses have secured recognition from the university as members of Student Researchers United, an affiliate of the UAW. UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said: “The UAW is proud to welcome UC Student Researchers into our union family. They have shown what is possible when workers stand together and refuse to be divided. We look forward to supporting them as they bargain a strong first contract.” Members of the union held a series of protests demanding representation, employment security, protection from harassment and other common workplace protections.

Workers at iHeart Podcast Network Join WGAE: The WGAE broke the news on Thursday that a clear majority of workers at the iHeart Podcast Network—the fastest-growing division of iHeartMedia—signed union cards to organize with the WGAE. The guild is calling on management to voluntarily recognize the union of about 125 producers, editors, researchers, writers and hosts. The iHeart Podcast Organizing Committee wrote a letter to management explaining their decision to form a union with WGAE and expressing their desire for appropriate compensation and benefits, accountability mechanisms regarding diversity and inclusion efforts, and clear paths for advancement and job security. WGAE Executive Director Lowell Peterson said: “We are pleased to welcome the storytellers at the iHeart Podcast Network to the guild. A union is vital to ensuring podcast workers are able to build sustainable careers in an industry where their contributions have been essential to the sector’s continued rapid growth.”

Chalkbeat Workers Unanimously Ratify First Union Contract: Writers at Chalkbeat, represented by the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), voted unanimously to ratify their first collective bargaining agreement. The bargaining committee said: “Our members unanimously voted yes on our first contract because these issues were such a priority. We’re all excited to have better guidelines that we know will make Chalkbeat a better place to work. Organizing as a union has already helped our unit members feel more connected, sharing their various work experiences across the country, and working together to make sure we all have better working conditions. We’re excited that Chalkbeat ultimately heard our concerns, and we’re certain the new contract will lead to even more powerful journalism. Strong journalists make for a strong Chalkbeat.” The contract includes salary increases, minimum salary levels, paid parental leave, overtime compensation, improved health benefits, improved protections against sexual harassment, improved health benefits for transgender employees and other gains.

Actors’ Equity Secures Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Provisions in New Agreement with Purple Rose Theatre Company: Actors’ Equity Association announced on Tuesday that the union has reached a new agreement with the Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan. Equity said the agreement reflects a shared commitment to creating a safe workplace, free from the discrimination and harassment the company experienced under its previous leadership. In addition to improved compensation and work hours, the two-year contract includes strong language prohibiting bullying, discrimination, harassment and retaliation. “This contract is now one of the strongest Equity contracts in the country in terms of protecting members from discrimination and harassment, and it will be a model for other theatres,” said Equity Assistant Executive Director and General Counsel Andrea Hoeschen. “Actors and stage managers will have a safer workplace because of the courage and efforts of those who revealed a range of working conditions at Purple Rose that were inconsistent with a safe, equitable, unionized workplace.”

SRU-UAW Wins Recognition from the University of California: In a massive victory for the UAW and the entire labor movement, Student Researchers United-UAW (SRU-UAW) announced Wednesday night that the University of California (UC) has recognized their union. SRU-UAW submitted union authorization cards in May after a months-long organizing campaign. Their recognition now means the union will represent 17,000 higher education workers at all 10 UC campuses and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. SRU-UAW members overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike in November over UC’s refusal to recognize their bargaining unit. “This historic victory was brought about by the tireless efforts of thousands of student researchers who organized to win a union and a direct response to our massive strike authorization vote,” the union tweeted on Wednesday. “Now let’s win a strong contract for all student researchers!”

Front-Line Grocery Workers Vote to Form a Union with UFCW Local 1439: United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1439 announced Monday that some 250 grocery workers at Fred Meyer in Richland, Washington, will join the union after a victorious election, marking the first time in recent history that an entire store of grocery workers in the state have done so. The organizing win now paves the way for these new union members to move forward in bargaining their first union contract to strengthen pay, benefits and working conditions. “This is an unprecedented victory, inspired by the sacrifices of essential grocery workers during the pandemic,” said Local 1439 Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Hofstader. “We hope this inspires other grocery workers to stand up and exercise their rights.”

Dancers at Ballet Idaho Vote to Join AGMA: The American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and Ballet Idaho announced on Monday that the dancers of Ballet Idaho have voted to join AGMA. A vote was held on Tuesday, Nov. 30, based upon mutual agreement between the union and the performing arts company. Given the result in favor of forming a union, Ballet Idaho has recognized AGMA as the exclusive bargaining representative of the dancers. “AGMA is thrilled to welcome the dancers of Ballet Idaho into the union,” said Leonard Egert, national executive director of AGMA. “We look forward to a collaborative process with the management of Ballet Idaho, as the safety, well-being and long-term success of these artists remain a top priority for both parties.”

Carnegie Library Workers Reach Tentative Agreement on First Union Contract: After voting to join the United Steelworkers (USW) in 2019, approximately 300 workers at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh have reached a tentative agreement on their first union contract. The four-year contract covers eligible workers at 19 library branches and includes significant gains, including a voice in library decision-making, improved health and safety, pay equity for the lowest-paid workers and more affordable health care. Kira Yeversky, a clerk at the Homewood branch, said: “I’m so proud of every worker who shared their stories and fought for our first contract. They displayed true solidarity, and I can’t wait to see what this next chapter brings for all of us.”

PECSH-MNA Reaches Tentative Agreement at Sparrow Hospital: The bargaining team of the Professional Employees Council of Sparrow Hospital-Michigan Nurses Association (PECSH-MNA), an affiliate of National Nurses United (NNU), reached a tentative agreement with the hospital administration for a new three-year contract last Friday, averting a possible strike. The new agreement includes significant wage increases, no increases in health care premiums, a safe staffing process and contractually guaranteed access to personal protective equipment. “We truly believe that this contract will make a difference for caregivers working at our hospital, for the patients we serve and for our community as a whole,” said Katie Pontifex, RN, president of PECSH-MNA. “We are really proud of the solidarity shown by caregivers in advocating for our patients and our community.” In November, 96% of PECSH-MNA members voted to authorize a strike. Some 2,200 union members will cast their ballots in the coming days on whether to ratify the agreement.

MEBA Secures Pay Bonuses for Vaccinated Interlake Mariners: Marine Engineers’ Beneficial Association (MEBA) President Adam Vokac announced last week that the union has agreed to a new pay policy to compensate fully vaccinated MEBA members sailing for Interlake Steamship Co. The policy doesn’t mandate vaccinations but provides a generous payment for those who are vaccinated or get inoculated against COVID-19, and sets up a system where an additional one-time payment is authorized for members if at least 85% of the fleet is certified to be fully vaccinated. The MEBA said it fully endorses this proactive and fair approach to motivate mariners to get vaccinated.

LIUNA Service Contract Workers Win Higher Wages: Hundreds of thousands of federal government contract workers will receive a pay raise as the Department of Labor’s Executive Order setting a $15 an hour minimum wage goes into effect in January. Thousands of Laborers (LIUNA) members working under service contracts for the federal government, including many supporting the U.S. military, also will benefit from this increase as well as the plan to index the minimum wage to an inflation measure, so that every year after 2022 wages will be automatically adjusted to reflect changes in the cost of living. “The Biden Administration should be commended for helping workers get ahead and ensuring that the workers who support the military and the federal government are able to support themselves and their families,” said LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “By setting a wage floor for federal contract workers with cost-of-living adjustments, many thousands of Laborers will earn higher wages now and in the future.”

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on January 4, 2022

About the Authors: Kenneth Quinell is a Senior Writer at the AFL-CIO.

Aaron Gallant is the Internal Communications Specialist at AFL-CIO


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Disturbing New Report Shows Dire Conditions For Grocery Workers

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A huge new survey of Kroger employees finds homelessness, poverty, and food insecurity are widespread.

An alarming new survey of thousands of grocery workers across three western U.S. states reveals that they suffer from shockingly high rates of poverty. More than three-quarters of the workers meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s definition of ?“food insecure,” and 14% say they have been homeless within the past year. 

The survey, which was funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and performed by the nonprofit research group the Economic Roundtable, drew responses from more than 10,000 workers at Kroger, the largest all-grocery chain in the United States. (Kroger also owns other grocery brands including Fred Meyer, Harris Teeter, and City Market.) The workers surveyed live in Southern California, Washington state, and Colorado, and all of them are UFCW members?–?indicating that the abysmal conditions reported may in fact be better than the conditions of the average U.S.grocery worker, given the fact that all of those surveyed have at least the minimal protections that union contracts provide. 

Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College who co-authored the new report, believes that it is one of the largest independent surveys of retail workers ever performed in the United States. ?“We scoured pretty carefully the terrain of polling and surveys that have been done, and didn’t see anything remotely close,” he says. 

Among the survey’s findings: 

– Fourteen percent of Kroger workers are now homeless, or have been within the past year. More than one-third say they fear being evicted. Even among full time employees, 15% say that they cannot pay their next rent or mortgage bill.

– The study’s authors calculated that a living wage for Kroger workers would be $22 an hour, working full time?–?about $46,000 per year. But only 35% of the workers surveyed work full time, and the average wage for a Kroger worker is less than $18 per hour, which amounts to less than $30,000 per year. Even workers who have been at Kroger more than 14 years do not make a living wage, averaging under $21 per hour.

– Contrary to public perception, the majority of Kroger workers have some college or post-graduate education. Eighty five percent are high school graduates. Almost three-quarters of those surveyed say they are not fairly compensated for their experience and work, and more than 90% say they will not have enough money for retirement.

– Despite working around food all day, one-quarter of Kroger workers say that they went hungry in the past year because they could not afford food. Fourteen percent say they receive food stamps. Kroger offers employees only a 10% discount on food at the store.

– A quarter of workers say that their work schedule is so unstable that they do not know it more than one day in advance. Unstable work schedules are correlated with other other problems, like food and housing insecurity.

– A majority of Kroger workers say they were faced with customers who refused to wear masks during the pandemic. Only 43% of those who faced ?“disrespectful or threatening” customers say that management intervened to help them in those situations.

Though the survey only covers Kroger employees, it is fair to assume that the problems it describes apply to grocery workers across the U.S. Indeed, the descriptions of poverty and lack of workplace safety and support match what workers at other grocery stores have told In These Times repeatedly since the pandemic began. 

The attitudes of the Kroger workers surveyed reflect a broad and ongoing decline in the working standards of their entire industry. The percentage of workers who say that the company is heading in the wrong direction is highest among those who have been employed at the company the longest. They are the ones who have been there long enough to live through the erosion of the industry?–?the decline of grocery store jobs from something that could provide entree into the middle class, to a low-level retail job in which workers are treated as disposable. 

That decline in working standards is not driven by the inability of grocery companies to provide for employees. Kroger, which employs close to a half million people, sold more than $132 billion in groceries in 2020, with profits of $4 billion. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Kroger’s stock has risen more than 40%. The desperate situation reported by its work force illustrates the extent to which?–?even in unionized stores?–?grocery industry profits flow to investors and management, rather than to workers. 

In response to the report’s findings, a Kroger spokesperson sent a statement saying ?“Since 2017, we’ve invested significantly to increase our national average hourly rate of pay from $13.66 to $16.68, reflecting an increase of $3 per hour or simply stated as a 22% increase… As America’s grocer, we have balanced significant wage investments for our associates while keeping food affordable for the communities we serve.”

The report includes a list of recommendations to remedy the situation, the most important of which is raising Kroger workers up to a living wage. The authors calculate that such a raise would create nearly 8,000 new jobs in the Seattle, Denver, and Southern California regions covered in the report, due primarily to increased spending from grocery workers. Other recommendations include sharply increasing the percentage of Kroger employees who work full time, and raising the company’s food discount for employees to 50%. With the results of the survey in hand, the UFCW now has tangible evidence of the shortcomings in its own contracts to provide for the basic needs of Kroger workers. 

“Unionized grocery store workers have already been pushing for many of these improvements during the pandemic. The big difference now is that all of our contracts are soon to be expiring by this summer or before,” says Tom Geiger, special projects director for UFCW Local 21, whose members were included in the survey. ?“And there is a lot of growing solidarity for addressing grocery store workers’ struggle for higher wages, more secure scheduling, improved safety and more. We will all be pushing hard for those improvements in 2022.”

According to Dreier, the downward trend in economic conditions in the grocery industry has been driven largely by the need to compete with Walmart, which sells more groceries than anyone else in the U.S. He argues that raising wages ?“would be good for Kroger, because they have enormous turnover. They’re basically operating in a self-destructive way.” 

Dreier was not surprised at the suffering among grocery workers, but he was surprised by the sheer scale of the problem. ?“This is a phenomenon in America that’s almost invisible,” he says. ?“There are people working full time, living in their cars.” 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on January 11, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: “Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at Hamilton@?InTheseTimes.?com.”


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Nursing Workplace Violence

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While workplace violence in healthcare has been a persistent problem for many years, the rates have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nurses report escalating rates of COVID-related violence directed at them by frustrated and angry patients and their families.

A 2021 Workplace Health & Safety survey of registered nurses reports that 44% experienced physical violence at least once during the pandemic from patients, family members, or visitors. Over two thirds encountered verbal abuse at least once. RNs who provided direct care for patients with COVID-19 experienced more violence than nurses who did not care for these patients. Nurses also faced difficulty reporting these incidents to management.

The healthcare industry leads all other sectors for non-fatal workplace assaults. Within healthcare settings, violence in emergency departments has reached epidemic proportions during the pandemic. Emergency nurses are particularly vulnerable. Nearly 70 percent of emergency nurses report being hit or kicked at work.

Workplace violence injures healthcare professionals physically and psychologically, resulting in lost workdays, burnout, and turnover. The escalating rates of violence undermine efforts to provide quality patient care and hinder effective responses to combatting the COVID-19 virus.

The State of Workplace Violence Against Nurses

The rates of workplace violence have increased rapidly since the pandemic began. In August 2021 at a hospital in San Antonio, Texas, family members of COVID-19 patients physically and verbally abused healthcare workers for enforcing mask and visiting restrictions. Across the country, healthcare professions who advocate for vaccination and masking mandates have been subjected to online verbal abuse and threats of physical harm toward them or their family members.

Incidents of workplace violence are not restricted to the United States. A patient with COVID symptoms in Naples, Italy grew impatient waiting for treatment and spat at a doctor and nurse. His actions led to a shutdown of the entire ward and quarantine of all staff. In the United Kingdom, patients spat at and verbally abused staff who asked that they wear masks. In Mexico, healthcare workers accused of spreading the virus, have been assaulted and doused with bleach on public streets.

Nurses have become especially vulnerable to these kinds of physical and verbal assaults. Tina M. Baxter, an advanced practice registered nurse who provides consulting services for healthcare organizations, attorneys, and insurance professionals, has personally experienced workplace violence on several occasions.

She points out that “violence as a whole has increased during the pandemic and the lack of civil discourse in society, too often resorting to violence has become the first instinct instead of the last resort…Nurses are the most convenient target as we are with the patients the majority of the time. It is often the nurse who is tasked to enforce the rules about visitation, masking, and other mandates.”

A recent brief prepared by National Nurses United (NNU) support’s Baxter’s observations. NNU identifies multiple factors fueling COVID-related workplace violence. Nurses constantly face patients and families reacting with anger related to understaffing and increased wait times for care. They frequently deal with aggressive family members who refuse to adhere to visiting and masking requirements. The pandemic fatigue felt by many people and the misinformation spread by untrustworthy media and online outlets have also escalated the violent incidents.

The Influence of COVID on Rising Verbal and Physical Attacks

The recent Workplace Health & Safety survey connects COVID-related violence to the strained relations between nurses and patients. Over 67% of the nurses reported incidents of physical violence or verbal abuse between February and June 2020.

One in ten RNs indicated that reporting the violent incidents to management has become more difficult during the pandemic than before. Underreporting violence during the pandemic may be due to busy workloads, non-standardized reporting procedures, unclear definitions of what constitutes violence, and a perceived lack of management support.

Stressful conditions and more intense patient and family interactions are among the major forces behind the increased risks for aggression and violence toward nurses during the pandemic. Priscilla Grace Barnes, a registered nurse, personal trainer, and nutrition coach, explains that “part of being a nurse isn’t solely caring for the patient, it’s educating and communicating with the family. Many times this communication involves difficult situations around rules and regulations nurses have no control over. We are put in very tough situations.”

The pandemic may have helped spread the mistaken assumption that violence is part of the nursing profession. Many nurses believe that they have a responsibility to provide compassionate care even to those exhibiting violent behavior. As a result, nurses feel they must tolerate unsafe and dangerous conditions, rationalizing that the increase in violence stems directly from the anger and frustration experienced by patients and their families.

The Long-Term Impacts of Nurse Violence

A 2021 research study published in Healthcare reports that nurses who have experienced direct and indirect exposure to workplace violence are two to four times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and burnout than nurses with no exposure.

According to the International Council of Nurses (ICN), rates of anxiety, trauma, and burnout have spiked dramatically since the onset of the pandemic. ICN data shows that the number of nurses reporting mental health distress has increased from 60% to 80% in many countries. Failure to address these mental health pressures will impact the already existing nursing shortage. ICN estimates a potential shortfall of 14 million nurses by 2030, which amounts to half the current nursing workforce.

Government, healthcare organizations, and nursing associations must address the pressing need for mental health support and preventive care for nurses. Barnes argues that healthcare facilities must promote psychological wellness to ensure nurse safety: “Nurses are caregivers. We live to serve. But caregivers have to be well. Working in a hospital I often felt like I was pouring into a cup that had holes in the bottom of it – no matter how much I gave, the cup was never full. This only leads to burnout of those who are the lifeline to the hospital – nurses.”

Despite the generally high regard for nurses held by the general public throughout the pandemic, negative public perceptions have also emerged about workplace safety and mental health challenges in the nursing profession. These unfavorable views may deter prospective nurses from entering the field at the time when they are most needed.

Preventing Workplace Violence Against Nurses: What Needs to Happen?

Even before the pandemic, healthcare workers experienced one of the highest rates of workplace violence compared to all other U.S. workers. According to a 2018 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of violent injuries has steadily increased since 2011. Because the problem has reached epidemic proportions, nurses, medical facilities, and government agencies must work together to develop concrete measures to prevent the escalation of workplace violence.

One of the first issues to address is the culture of acceptance about violence in nursing. Rhonda Collins, the chief nursing officer at Vocera Communications, a healthcare technology company, cautions that “workplace violence should not and does not ‘come with the territory’ of being a nurse. Healthcare leaders must aggressively act to address this epidemic by validating concerns and ensuring nurses are heard and respected when reporting violent acts.”

Addressing Workplace Violence During COVID and Beyond

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem of escalating workplace violence in nursing. The healthcare industry and the nursing profession must embrace a cultural shift toward accountability and responsibility, providing a safe environment for all healthcare personnel, promoting positive patient care outcomes, and increasing the effectiveness of nursing practice.

Addressing the problem of workplace violence in nursing is in everyone’s interest. Nurses deserve to work in safe settings, performing their duties without fear of injury. Healthcare organizations will face greater nursing shortages due to injury or burnout, impacting the quality and cost of patient care. Effective workplace violence prevention initiatives must include transparent zero-tolerance policies, clear communication and procedures for incident reporting, and educational and support programs.

Read the full article including access to proactive approaches and training to prevent workplace violence here.

This blog is printed with permission.

About the Author: This article was written by Priscilla Barnes, Tina Baxter APRN GNP-BC and Rhonda Collins, DNP, RN, FAAN, and was reviewed by Elizabeth M. Clarke, FNP, MSN, RN, MSSW. Learn more about them here.


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The Top AFL-CIO Blog Posts of 2021

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By any measure, 2021 was another historic year. Working people across the country continued to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, engaged in an historic wave of strikes and worked to hold the administration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris true to their promise to be pro-worker. We covered these stories and many others throughout the year and here are the top 10 most-read stories by you, our readers.

Working People Respond to Attempted Coup at Nation’s Capitol (January 7): Yesterday saw an unprecedented attack on U.S. democratic institutions and working people across the country, and world, were shocked by what unfolded before us. Here are responses to Wednesday’s events from across the labor movement.

RWDSU-UFCW Leads Organizing Drive at Amazon Fulfillment Center in Alabama (January 26): The strongest effort to create a union at Amazon in many years is underway in Bessemer, Alabama. Organizers with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union-UFCW (RWDSU-UFCW) have been working with employees at the Amazon fulfillment center. By December, more than 2,000 workers had signed union cards, leading to an election set to begin in February. The company is engaging in union-busting activities in response, but the workers are not backing down. Many of the organizers and the employees at the fulfillment center are Black, and the organizers have focused on issues of racial equality and empowerment as a part of the drive.

John J. Sweeney, 1934-2021 (February 2): John Sweeney, who led an era of transformative change in America’s labor movement, passed away Feb. 1 at the age of 86. Sweeney was one of four children born to Irish immigrants in a working-class Bronx neighborhood shortly after the Great Depression. His parents, James and Agnes Sweeney, worked as a bus driver and a domestic worker, respectively. Sweeney always understood the struggles and the pride of working people.

20 Ways the American Rescue Plan Helps Working People (March 11): This week, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act, a $1.9 trillion bill to help fight the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Biden signed the law, which will provide significant assistance to the American people during this unprecedented crisis. Here are 20 ways the American Rescue Plan will help working people.

Success in the Tech Industry: Worker Wins (March 25): Despite the challenges of organizing during a deadly pandemic, working people across the country (and beyond) continue organizing, bargaining and mobilizing for a better life. This edition begins with: “CODE-CWA’s Tech Industry Organizing Efforts Lead to Union Recognition at Mobilize….”

Profiles in Courage: Celebrating AAPI Labor Activists (March 31): In the wake of the rise of hate crimes and violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, we take an important pause to voice our support of our brothers, sisters and friends in the AAPI community. The AAPI community has played an important and active role in the growth, expansion and unique diversity of this country and has given the labor movement many of its true heroes. This community is our community, and we are proud to celebrate these seven labor activists—all of whom have advanced the cause of worker justice.

13 Ways the PRO Act Helps Working People (April 26): The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act is a generational opportunity and the cornerstone of the AFL-CIO’s Workers First Agenda. It motivated working people this past election cycle to mobilize for a pro-worker trifecta in the U.S. House, Senate and White House. And working people won a mandate. The PRO Act was introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.), and it is landmark worker empowerment, civil rights and economic stimulus legislation, and an essential part of any plan to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic and recession.

Richard L. Trumka’s Lifelong Devotion to Family and Democracy (August 13): Richard Louis Trumka dedicated his entire life to making sure every institution he touched—the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), the AFL-CIO, the U.S. government and the world community—served working people and the public interest, comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.

Liz Shuler Elected President as Part of Most Diverse Leadership Team in AFL-CIO History (August 20): The AFL-CIO Executive Council today elected Liz Shuler, a visionary leader and longtime trade unionist, to serve as president of the federation of 56 unions and 12.5 million members. Shuler is the first woman to hold the office in the history of the labor federation. The Executive Council also elected United Steelworkers (USW) International Vice President Fred Redmond to succeed Shuler as secretary-treasurer, the first African American to hold the number two office. Tefere Gebre will continue as executive vice president, rounding out the most diverse team of officers ever to lead the AFL-CIO. 

Do You Know Where Your Nabisco Treats Are Made? (August 25): Members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) working at Nabisco plants throughout the United States take great pride in producing the iconic products that have been a part of millions of Americans’ lives for more than 50 years. Workers at five Nabisco locations in the United States are currently on strike. 

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on December 16, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author is Kenneth Quinell. Kenneth Quinell is a Senior Writer at the AFL-CIO.


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