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APRIL JOBS REPORT: STRONG JOB GROWTH AS WORKERS DEMAND BETTER JOBS

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Home - National Employment Law Project

Nationwide—The unemployment rate remained at 3.6% in April according to this morning’s monthly jobs report.  Approximately 428,000 jobs were produced, and 5.9 million workers remained unemployed. The unemployment rate for Black workers declined slightly, from 6.2% to 5.9%, yet the Black unemployment rate remained substantially higher than the rate for white workers (3.2%). The unemployment rate for Latinx workers was 4.1% and the unemployment rate for Asian workers was 3.1%. These disparities are a result of structural racism embedded in the U.S. labor market. 

“We continue to see sustained job growth today as a result of the critical relief and recovery measures passed by Congress,” said Rebecca Dixon, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “Yet faced with inflation, global conflict, and the continuing pandemic, we cannot take economic recovery for granted. Congress must act to fix the nation’s flawed and exclusionary unemployment insurance system before the next recession. While federal policymakers fail to act, states from Missouri to New Hampshire are moving to further cut and downgrade unemployment benefits, undermining the system’s ability to support workers and help the nation recover from the next downturn.”   

Strengthening unemployment insurance is critical to racial equity, as unemployment and labor force participation rates continue to be uneven.  One bright spot was the decline in unemployment for Black men and women: 309,000 more Black men and 68,000 more Black women were employed in April 2022 than in the first month of the year.  

Growing sectors of the economy included leisure and hospitality, which added 78,000 jobs in April, and transportation and warehousing, which added 52,000 jobs. Employment in retail increased by 29,000 jobs. Yet workers in these service industry jobs—which too often underpay employees, offer unstable schedules, and provide few benefits—are demanding not just employment, but better pay, benefits, and working conditions. From Starbucks, to Amazon, to the Apple Store and a host of smaller employers across the country, workers are standing together to call for recognition of the unions they have formed and improvements on the job. 

Forming unions is a vital way to promote racial equity in the economy. Strengthening unemployment insurance also helps to build power for workers of color by supporting jobless workers as they seek employment that matches their skills and qualifications, rather than forcing them to settle for an unsuitable job.  

Policymakers must implement permanent, structural reform of the unemployment insurance system before the next recession. Senator Ron Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Improvement Act would begin to address some significant ways the unemployment insurance system disproportionately excludes Black and Latinx workers, women workers, and workers with disabilities. It does so by ensuring states provide at least 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, increasing coverage for part-time workers, and expanding eligibility by requiring states to consider workers’ most recent earnings and standardizing earning requirements. These reforms lay the groundwork for transforming our unemployment insurance system and enabling all workers to thrive. 

This blog originally appeared at NELP on May 6, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The National Employment Law Project is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts research and advocates on issues affecting underpaid and unemployed workers.


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I’m a Black, Queer Woman Working as an Adjunct Professor—And I’m Going on Strike

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Victoria Collins

Last fall, after nearly two years of underemployment due to the Covid-19 pandemic, I began teaching at Mercy College in New York as an adjunct professor. I was excited to finally be back in the classroom doing the thing I loved: teaching. I knew the terms of my contract, and while I wished the compensation was better, I accepted the offer in hopes that a steady income would be the start I needed to finally get back on my feet. 

My story is not unique — it mirrors the lived conditions of Black and brown folks in academia across the country. According to a 2020 report from the American Federation of Teachers, nearly half of U.S. adjunct faculty members “struggle to cover basic household expenses” and more than 20 percent depend on public assistance. The pay rate for Mercy College adjuncts is $3,000 per course, and, while rates vary, adjunct pay remains low. Nationally, adjunct faculty members make, on average, just $3,500 per course. 

This low pay, paired with precarity on the job and two years of stalled negotiations with management, has led adjunct faculty members at Mercy College to plan to strike during the week of May 2. I stand in full support of these workers, and all of those seeking just working conditions.

If Mercy college, along with all U.S. colleges and universities, wishes to attract a more diverse faculty pool, they must begin by offering better working conditions for adjunct faculty members, including higher wages and longer contracts. This is crucial because the majority of Mercy students are low income and people of color. Representations of different racial, class, and gendered experiences among faculty is important. I can attest to the positive effects of having someone who looked like me helming a classroom.

As educators, we give our all to our students. However, when queer educators of color face the socioeconomic disparities that accompany their experiences as marginalized people of color in America, it is more likely that a larger proportion of these educators’ time and attention will be occupied by the day-to-day struggle of staying afloat and living paycheck-to-paycheck rather than serving their students. For institutions whose students are largely people of color, BIPOC representation in faculty — from adjunct to tenured staff — is critical to student success and engagement, and to creating a safe and welcoming campus culture. 

As an educator who knows the economic realities that Black and queer people in academia face sustaining a living, I support striking in order to improve the pay of Mercy adjuncts. Black and brown students and adjuncts at Mercy deserve more, and I hope with this strike that they are able to create a Mercy community that truly empowers students to thrive.

About the Author

Victoria Collins Victoria R. Collins (she/?they) is a queer, Black, southern writer and educator born and bred of the clay soil of Mississippi, currently living and working in The Bronx. Vic holds an MFA in Nonfiction Creative Writing from The New School. Follow Vic @vicwritesthings

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on 4/28/2022. Reprinted with permission.” https://inthesetimes.com/article/mercy-college-new-york-strike-adjunct-labor


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Starbucks is very unhappy about all the customers ordering drinks under the name ‘Union Strong’

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Laura Clawson – Netroots Nation

Starbucks keeps escalating its anti-union campaign, taking it ever more public and more blatant. From quietly shifting national-level managers into the first stores where workers organized, to firing pro-union workers, to interim CEO Howard Schultz whining volubly about the “assault” on Starbucks, the company has ratcheted up and up, and it’s not stopping.

This week, Starbucks announced pay raises and new benefits, including improved sick leave and credit card tipping—but not at stores where workers are organizing. It’s a direct bribe/threat: Stay quiet, and we’ll be nice. Organize, and get the short end of the stick.

Starbucks claimed that it would be illegal to unilaterally change conditions where workers are organizing, but Matthew Bodie, a law professor and former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lawyer, told The New York Times, ”If Starbucks said, ‘Drop the union campaign and you’ll get this wage increase and better benefits,’ that’d clearly be illegal,” and it’s “Hard to see how this is that much different in practice.” Starbucks Workers United has filed an unfair labor practice complaint over the company’s action, and has explained that while the company can’t unilaterally impose changes on a store that’s unionized, it can and should offer the changes to the union. That’s telling: Starbucks management is claiming that if it can’t act unilaterally, it can’t act at all, when really it’s time to start engaging the union as a bargaining counterpart.

Starbucks also took action against its own union-supporting customers. Many customers have been expressing support for the union by ordering under names like “Union Strong.” Starbucks is done putting up with that, instructing managers to not call out the names on those orders.

Starbucks even acknowledged, in a recent government filing, that “Our responses to any union organizing efforts could negatively impact how our brand is perceived and have adverse effects on our business, including on our financial results.”

The company knows this might not be so great for its image. And it’s not working. But executives are so committed to it that they’re even trying to silence customers.

About that “it’s not working” part: The union has a 90% win rate, according to a recent NLRB graph flagged by Steven Greenhouse. In recent days, that includes wins in several southern locations, including Tallahassee, Florida; Boone, North Carolina; and Farmville, Virginia, following an earlier win in Augusta, Georgia. On top of that, votes were held in four Massachusetts locations, and the union got a clean sweep, along with wins in Massapequa and Brooklyn, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Plover, Wisconsin; and Summit, New Jersey. While many of the union wins have been blowouts, the few losses have largely had very close margins, and some votes remain uncalled because the number of challenged ballots could shift the outcome.

While Starbucks has been an ongoing drip drip drip of good news on the union front, the recent surge of worker-driven organizing did suffer a significant defeat this week when the second Staten Island Amazon warehouse to vote on union representation was a lopsided no. The fact that a group of workers forming an independent union and organizing against the multimillion-dollar union-busting campaign of one of the biggest companies in the world got one win remains massive, even if the second try didn’t replicate that success. But if the LDJ5 warehouse had voted to unionize, it would have suggested a truly seismic shift, especially given that even a small Amazon warehouse has as many workers as dozens of Starbucks stores.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Amazon Workers Decide Not to Form Union at a Second U.S. Facility—But Organizers Pledge to Fight On

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One month after making history by organizing the first U.S. Amazon warehouse, workers voted against forming a union at another facility in New York.

Update (May 2, 2022): Following a hard-fought campaign, the Amazon Labor Union came up short at the LDJ5 complex, with 380 workers voting in favor of the union and 618 against. In response, ALU founder Chris Smalls wrote: “Despite todays outcome I’m proud of the worker/organizers of LDJ5 they had a tougher challenge after our victory at JFK8. Our leads should be extremely proud to have given their coworkers a right to join a Union. ALU will continue to organize and so should all of you.”

After a stunning victory last month when Amazon workers at the JFK8 warehouse in New York became the first to unionize a company facility in the United States, the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) is hoping to notch a second union win at a neighboring sorting center on Staten Island—the LDJ5 warehouse.

The results of the vote are expected Monday. More than 1,500 workers began casting ballots starting April 25 and ending on April 29. Worker organizers face an uphill battle in replicating their success at the second warehouse because it is relatively new, having opened in 2020, and is comprised of a workforce that is largely part-timers. The second warehouse also has fewer worker organizers than JFK8.

Organizers say that the company’s union-busting has been even more aggressive at LDJ5, attempting to wallop the nascent union movement at the corporate behemoth.

Ahead of the vote, In These Times spoke to organizers Julian Mitchell-Israel, 22, and Madeline Wesley, 23, about their experience in the campaign and how Amazon workers are making history. 

Julian Mitchell-Israel:

Can you talk about why you are organizing inside the LDJ5 warehouse?

When it comes down to it, what we’re doing inside the warehouse is talking about what’s been taken from us. It’s listening to other workers, and it’s spreading the love. We are making everyone realize that the reason we’re fighting for this [union] is not some ulterior motive. It comes down to the bread and butter issues. And it comes down to the fact that we’re all being robbed in the exact same way. And the only way that we stop them is together.

From the time that you sent ALU founder Chris Smalls your resume to now, what have you learned in this whole process?

I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to talk to people that I would never have talked to before. I’m a born and raised New Yorker, I know how to talk to New Yorkers. But there’s a difference in terms of speaking to people about the issues. There’s a difference in speaking to people about overtly political issues and speaking to them about their day-to-day life, about their workplace, because it becomes very personal very quickly. 

And one thing that got reinforced for me is that when it comes to organizing, you have to be vigilantly kind. And it takes discipline. And it takes a sort of militancy and love. And that’s a hard thing to understand. But when when you’re up against misinformation, when you’re up against people that are violently anti-union, you have the instinct to sort of get on the defensive to go, “screw you.” The one time I snapped during this entire campaign, I said to a worker, “why are you bootlicking Jeff Bezos right now?” And I saw the hurt in his eyes after I said that, because I didn’t get it right then. I think he was genuinely curious about things and he was genuinely trying to understand. And it’s hard because, you know, Amazon has brainwashed all these people. I went into my car, and I cried after that, because I was saying to myself that that is the mistake that has stopped this movement from happening for so long. 

People need to have unlimited chances here. One of my favorite things that one of the other organizers said is that there’s no such thing as an anti-union worker, there’s just a misinformed worker. And I think that’s a fact. Because you’re never going to work against yourself. And so I think what I’ve learned here is that when you bring love to the table, and you focus on that as the prime motivator, there’s nothing that can stand in your way.

How do you feel about the vote? 

I think we could win this thing. I really do. I’m not confident, but I’m hopeful. We have an incredible amount of momentum on our side. I think if we had one more week, I would say we have it on lock. But we don’t. And so the question is just, “did we gain enough ground back?” 

Why do you think you’ve lost ground because of JFK8?

Maddie and I took three weeks of time off of work at LBJ5 to help run the campaign for JFK in the final couple of weeks. And in that time, Amazon planted a seed of a very deep anti-unionism in a lot of the workers here. They riled up the people that were already against us to be more vocal. So when we came back into the warehouse, although some people were more on our side than ever, a lot of people were more against us than ever. So it was sort of this one step forward, one step back kind of thing. 

Madeline Wesley:

Take me back to how you got involved in this campaign. And do you think you’re on the eve of, potentially, a victory?

Potentially? Yeah.

I got involved nine months ago or so. I spoke to Chris [Smalls] and I asked him a lot of questions. And he answered all of them. And so yeah, here we are.

What set of circumstances set you on the path to becoming a union organizer coming to New York?

I was a Wesleyan student in Middletown, Connecticut. And our dining hall workers are represented by Unite Here local 17. I got involved with a group called the United Student Labor Action Coalition. So that’s how I got involved with student labor organizing. And then I also got involved with Unite Here through that. I worked with local 26 in Boston and local 355 in Miami, and I was originally planning on staying in Miami. But I made a last-minute decision to switch gears and then do this campaign here in Staten Island with Amazon Labor Union after I got a call from my good friend, Seth Goldstein. Or, not one call—I got many calls from my good friend, Seth Goldstein, about this campaign. And I figured, at the end of the day, this is something that I probably only have one chance to be a part of. So I took it

What stood out to you about the campaign? 

I really saw the potential in this movement. I think one thing that really sold me was that it was a worker-led movement. This is the kind of thing that people like us only dream about—a truly worker-led movement against one of the richest companies in the world. It doesn’t come around that often. 

You wanted to be a part of history?

When I first started on the campaign, I figured that the odds were against us, and we probably wouldn’t win, but it was it was worth a shot anyways. And here we are.

How are you feeling about the vote today? I know the campaign has really heated people up. 

It was pretty intense for a while. But I’m so proud of my team. Because even though it was really discouraging a couple of weeks ago, and Amazon was throwing all of this shit at us, we stuck through it. And no one gave up. We all prevailed, and we chipped away at it one person at a time. And now we’re at this point where I feel like we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning. I mean, nothing’s certain. And it’s always kind of difficult to tell. 

What makes you feel confident about the win? 

Just people coming up to us and being like, “I was No [on the union], but then I saw that you guys weren’t just some outsiders, you were actually here in the building, you were actually Amazon workers.” And that made the difference for me, people coming up to us being like, I don’t say a lot, but I’m with you guys. I think over the past couple of weeks we’ve changed a lot of minds and hearts. And it’s the work of the whole team. 

Is there anything that has surprised you in this campaign at LDJ5? 

I think that after winning JFK8, some of us thought that LDJ5 would be an easy win. And what we realized was that we were absolutely wrong. Amazon is really angry at us for winning JFK8, they weren’t expecting it at all. And now they’re giving us everything that they’ve got here at LDJ5. They successfully rallied some anti-union workers, so we had to fight a lot of misinformation and rumors and lies. You always have to change your tactics based off what’s going on. What we found is that we’ve had to fight for LDJ5 just as hard as we had to fight for JFK8.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 2, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

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


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Safer Surveillance: How Much Is Too Much?

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When we think of surveillance in a business, there is no doubt that it is a double edged sword. It can’t be denied that surveillance can be an important part of keeping workers safe and providing security for staff – not only against outsiders, but also from the potential actions of other members of the team, whether intentional or otherwise.

However, surveillance can also be used in an extremely negative way. Many workers see business surveillance as little more than an excuse to spy on staff. It has even been noticed that some organizations go beyond looking at employees’ work activities, to also view their personal accounts. 

“Despite it being around for a while, we have noticed an increased use of email, internet and telephone monitoring,” says HR specialist Vanessa Bell speaking with The HR Director “more employers are also taking it upon themselves to check in on employees’ social media platforms and regularly monitor the posts being uploaded”. 

The kind of creeping invasion of surveillance might all be fine in the hands of professionals with a desire to keep the business and its staff safe. But where do we draw the line between valuable security work to keep staff safe, and simply unnecessary snooping? Of course there has to be a balance, and the best way to understand where to find that balance is to understand the kind of things staff surveillance might be used to defend against. 

Insider attacks

It is unfortunately the case that insider attacks – those perpetrated by individuals working for an organization – are on the rise. In fact, recent statistics revealed that over 60% of data breaches come as a result of an insider attack. 

“As a business leader, the last thing you want is an attack from a user with existing access to your environment,” says M.K. Palmore speaking to Security Roundtable “it doesn’t really matter whether a breach is caused by malice, negligence or mistake. Insider threats are particularly pernicious because of the knowledge, access and information malicious insiders may possess, and because even individuals who are cybersecurity-aware can make inadvertent or careless errors.” 

It is naturally the case that one of the only ways to defend against these kinds of attacks are through closer monitoring of staff. However, this is not the only time that we see staff surveillance occurring. In some cases, the surveillance can occur in something of a test format. 

Penetration testing

The term ‘ethical hacking’ can be controversial – how can hacking ever be ‘ethical’? The truth is that ethical hacking can play an important role in keeping any business secure against cyberattacks. However, having it carried out can create a situation where staff feel that they are being spied upon.

Perhaps the most common form of ethical hacking is known as penetration testing. A penetration test is an assessment of a business’ current cybersecurity measures to check for potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses. These tests utilize “the tools, techniques and procedures used by genuine criminal hackers including phishing, SQL injection, brute force and deployment of custom malware.” 

Penetration testing can be extremely effective. But there has been some controversy around the use of elements such as fake phishing emails and ‘social engineering’ tactics. These are designed to replicate tactics used by criminals, but it functionally can involve the penetration testing conducting surveillance on staff without their knowledge. 

Invasion of privacy?

It is important to consider whether staff surveillance is necessary for the protection of the business and for members of staff themselves. To some, it seems less for their good and more like a simple invasion of privacy. It has been argued that with potential changes being made in the future for data privacy, this could have an impact on surveillance.

In Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was brought into effect, and there has been talk of similar legislation likely to become law in the US. Should this occur it could offer some protection for staff against some types of surveillance. 

What to do if your business surveillance is too much

If you feel that workplace surveillance is becoming a major issue, it is a good idea to take these concerns to management. Remember that it is often the case that these changes to monitoring are made with the thought in mind to help keep businesses and their staff more secure. It could well be the case that overzealous changes have been implemented without anyone thinking through the negative consequences for staff. 

Staff surveillance has huge advantages for both businesses and members of the team, if it is carried out correctly. Staff should feel that they have the opportunity to discuss changes to their monitoring without fear.

This blog was printed with permission.

About the Author: Dakota Murphey is a freelance writer based in the UK, specializing in Digital Trends in Business, Marketing, PR, Branding, Cybersecurity, Entrepreneurial Skills, and Company Growth. Having successfully contributed to a number of authoritative online resources, she has secured a platform to share her voice with like-minded professionals


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The Campus Workers Withdrawing Their Consent

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A conversation with student and graduate employees about why workers are simultaneously on strike at two universities.

Right now, a majority of residential advisers at Kenyon College, organized with the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee, are on an indefinite strike over unfair labor practices. At the same time, over 1,750 graduate student workers at Indiana University with the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition are on strike, demanding that the university administration formally recognize their union, pay graduate workers a livable wage, and eliminate costly student fees. In this extended mini-cast, we talk about these important struggles with three worker-organizers across the two campuses: Molly Orr, a sophomore at Kenyon College who works at the Kenyon Farm and the Writing Center; Nora Weber, a fourth-year PhD candidate in Sociology at Indiana University; and Anne Kavalerchik, a third-year PhD candidate in Sociology and Informatics at Indiana University.

This blog was originally posted at In These Times on April 21, 2022.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe?se?Times?.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.


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Speed Grocery Delivery Workers Are in a Dangerous Race

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A new industry of venture-capital-backed startups claim their workers are fast. Are they faster than regulations?

NEW YORK?—?Anthony Hom offers tips to delivery workers on his YouTube channel, Ride With Anthony. In one 15-minute, day-in-the-life video titled ?“Delivering Groceries Almost Kills Worker NYC,” Hom records himself on an electric bicycle delivering groceries through the streets of Manhattan, through a 20 mph wind he says is ?“pushing him sideways,” past a street barrier that blows into his path and avoiding a car that swerves without signaling.

That day, Hom was delivering for startup 1520, which launched in Manhattan in January 2021. It promised delivery in 15 to 20 minutes ?“or it’s free,” hence the name.

Grocery speed-delivery services surged in New York in 2021, heavily backed by venture capital. Already, expansion is outpacing protections, experts and advocates say (though 1520 has now shuttered, having drained its initial funding of $7.8 million). Delivery workers for the startups commute using e?bikes, and sometimes e?scooters, often provided, and branded, by the company they work for.

The ads are hard to miss, complete with neon color palettes and obscure names (see JOKR and Gorillas) and websites claiming the pasta will be ?“delivered before the water boils.”

The 20-minute delivery window is possible because of strategically located, company-owned micro-warehouses that each stock a limited supply of curated products, with an operating radius of about 2 miles (New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer has alleged the ?“dark stores” are illegally located in commercial and residential zones.)

Hom started as a full-time delivery courier for 1520 in September 2021, motivated by the prospect of being an employee with hourly pay and the requisite benefits and protections, which he would not receive as an independent contractor, where pay scales can be radically different each day. On paper, the difference seems like a big move for the delivery and gig-economy industry; the majority of delivery workers for third-party apps are classified as independent contractors, which leaves them ineligible for minimum wage protections, sick pay, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance and other benefits.

Without robust, enforced regulations, however, some advocates say the move is more about public relations than social responsibility.

“Speed delivery is testing new business models to maximize their profit, create competitive advantage and grow in the app delivery market,” says Ligia Guallpa, executive director of the Worker’s Justice Project. ?“They need a reliable workforce that can be 24/7— and this means paying the minimum and giving minimum protections, so they can control the labor more rapidly.”

Speed-delivery workers in New York City are covered under Administrative Code 10?–?157, which sets standards for businesses using bicycles for commercial purposes, according to Vincent Barone, press secretary for the city Department of Transportation. But Hildalyn Colón Hernández, policy director for the Worker’s Justice Project, says speed-delivery companies often do not comply. She cites examples such as providing reflective uniforms for safety and company identification on the bikes, guidelines that restaurant delivery services are required to follow, while some speed-delivery services are lacking, she says.

Meanwhile, the delivery industry itself is rapidly changing. ?“We have an industry that is emerging extremely fast, with a slower government sector,” Colón Hernández says. In September 2021, for example, the New York City Council passed legislation granting workers for third-party delivery apps (like Uber Eats and DoorDash) new protections, including access to restaurant bathrooms and transparency about daily compensation?—?but that particular legislation does not cover speed-delivery from micro-warehouses.

Hom quit 1520 because of ?“a lot of close calls” and the inflexibility of his schedule, he says. The average shift for 1520 workers was 12 hours according to Hom, but he says no delivery worker should be out longer than 8 hours: ?“Your body gets fatigued, not just your muscle but your instincts. That’s when human error takes place.”

As an employee, he says he was on the clock regardless of weather conditions. ?“When it’s raining, snowing, really cold outside, the hazardous work conditions, you still gotta deliver these groceries,” Hom says, adding: ?“If you refuse to, you’re probably going to get written up.”

When remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through New York in September 2021, images of delivery workers fulfilling orders for those hunkered down at home circulated online. One video, which shows a rider carrying an order through waist-deep water, prompted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to tweet, ?“If it’s too dangerous for you, it’s too dangerous for them.”

To Colón Hernández, the unacceptability of this risk should be obvious. ?“If there is a hurricane, no one should be out there,” she says. She adds that, even in wintry conditions, ?“They are out there doing the work that nobody wants to do. They need to be compensated fairly.”

Veena Dubal, a San Francisco-based law professor whose research centers on the gig economy, says, ?“In an industry where there is such a high rate
of injury, so much wear and tear on one’s body and health, there has to be a wage premium,” Dubal says. ?“These have to be good jobs, not make-it-by-the-seat-of-my-pants jobs.”

Josh Wood, a delivery worker for Uber Eats covered by the new delivery legislation, says his experience with Los Deliveristas Unidos (“Delivery Workers United”), an organizing collective created by the Worker’s Justice Project, has bolstered his beliefs in workers’ rights. 

“Every worker,” Wood says, ?“should have a union, have a group of advocates for them, and should be in an industry that’s regulated.”

This blog post was printed at In These Times on April 21, 2022.

About the Author: Maggie Duffy is a Brooklyn-based writer and an In These Times editorial intern. She is a graduate of Occidental College where she earned a degree in sociology. She most recently worked as a researcher for American Friends Service Committee. 


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Amazon moves its army of union-busters to the next warehouse over, this week in the war on workers

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Following the Amazon Labor Union’s huge win in Staten Island, they’re going for it again. Workers at another, smaller warehouse—called LDJ5—will begin voting on April 25, and Amazon is once again going hard with its union-busting campaign. 

“All those union-busters that were there to union-bust 8,000 workers at JFK8 have walked across the street and are in our little building of 1,600 people,” LDJ5 worker Madeline Wesley told reporters at a press conference last week. “They’re really fighting us, and they’re playing really dirty.”

The union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over captive audience meetings being conducted by veteran union-buster Rebecca Smith. The workers at LDJ5 will face enormous intimidation in the coming 10 days, but they can also look at JFK8 and take their inspiration.

“I can’t believe the building across from us, JFK8, got a union,” 18-year-old Ursula Tomaszuk told Labor Notes. “I thought it wasn’t doable until now.”

This blog was originally posted at Daily Kos on April 16, 2022.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor. 


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A Hotline Garment Workers Can Call When They Face Harassment on the Job

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When women who sew clothes for famous brands are harassed, there is a new place for them to turn.

MASERU, LESOTHO?—?When Nthabiseng Moshoeshoe’s supervisor told her he loved her, they were alone in a room where they both worked at a blue jeans factory in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, she says.

It was early 2021. She was emptying the garbage. He said she was beautiful, that he wanted to be with her, says Moshoeshoe, who is going by a pseudonym to protect her safety and job security. ?“Let’s keep this professional,” she remembers telling him back. ?“I pushed him away gently.” 

But he didn’t receive the news kindly, she says. From then on, she reports that he made repeated complaints about her performance. She grew worried she would lose her job, and with it the paycheck of $150 a month she relied on as her family’s breadwinner. 

For the women who sew the Western world’s clothes in Lesotho?—?the tiny country buried inside South Africa?—?men like Moshoeshoe’s supervisor have long been largely untouchable. In the factory where she worked sewing jeans for brands like Levi’s, Wrangler and The Children’s Place, it was an open secret that male supervisors traded sex for promotions and permanent jobs. And that they made work life painful for those who refused to give it to them. 

But not long after Moshoeshoe’s confrontation with her boss last year, she says she saw a poster at the factory advertising an information line to report sexual harassment. 

Though she didn’t know it, when she dialed that number, she was part of a grand experiment?—?one that advocates say has the potential to help make factories safer for women around the world. It’s modeled after labor hotlines in Bangladesh’s garment factories and Florida’s tomato fields.

The line in Lesotho is trying that approach for sexual harassment complaints, giving workers a way to report problems to someone outside the factory. That’s particularly important in an industry that is both dominated globally by women, and where sexual harassment is a documented, endemic crisis.

In an industry that has long been largely allowed to police itself, these hotlines are part of a greater movement toward accountability for brands and factories. But even their supporters are quick to point out that they are not a cure-all. Many of the conditions that make gender-based violence hard to stamp out in the world at large?—?like stigma and victim-blaming?—?exist in factories too. And in an industry beholden to the frenzied pace and dizzyingly low prices of fast fashion, working conditions remain difficult to regulate. 

Still, experts say, putting outside eyes on factories is a good place to start. ?“Left to their own devices, companies have largely failed to improve working conditions in their supply chains,” says Jason Judd, executive director of the New Conversations Project at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations school. Since the 1990s, he notes, the dominant model in the industry has been a system of social audits, where brands pay independent assessors to inspect factories for poor working conditions. But the quality of those audits is extremely inconsistent, and consequences for poorly-scoring factories are uneven at best.

But Judd says that in recent years, brands have begun to feel increased outside pressure?—?from consumers and governments in the countries where they sell their clothes?—?to be more rigorous in policing their suppliers. This comes at a time when the pandemic has exposed massive vulnerabilities on the supply side of clothing manufacturing, with brands canceling billions of dollars of orders, leaving factories and workers in the lurch. That has created, in many parts of the world, tenuous alliances between unions and factories, both desperate to keep business from shutting down. 

Lesotho’s sexual harassment line is one such example of this. On a recent morning, 20 garment workers sat in a pre-fab conference room beside the blue factory shell where they worked in a scrubby industrial district of Maseru, listening to union organizer Matsi Moalosi explain how the sexual harassment call line work. 

“After you report, you can get counseling, and the situation will be investigated,” she explained, raising her voice over the chatter of hundreds of workers on their lunch hour outside. 

The information line had its genesis in 2019, when a report by the labor NGO Worker Rights Consortium uncovered widespread sexual harassment and abuse at the factory group where Moalosi was doing the training?—?a Taiwanese company called Nien Hsing operating in Lesotho.

The factory owners initially denied the report. But its meticulous documentation, which included dozens of women independently reporting similar offenses, and a raft of bad press quickly forced the factories and the companies they manufactured for to the negotiating table. 

The brands and factories struck a deal with local labor unions and women’s rights groups. If the factories wanted to keep getting orders from the likes of Levi’s, Wrangler, and other major brands, they would agree to do two things. First, they would consent to a third-party complaints line, staffed by the Lesotho Federation of Women Lawyers, a local NGO. A second NGO, the Workers Rights Watch, would then investigate the complaints and ?“direct and enforce remedies in accordance with the Lesotho law,” according to a press release from the Worker Rights Consortium at the time. The three major brands involved agreed that if Nien Hsing was found breaching the agreement, they would reduce or cut off orders until it returned to compliance. 

Second, the factories would let the three major local trade unions, along with women’s rights NGOs, run trainings for every worker, teaching them how to access the hotline when they needed it.

Lesotho’s garment sector is heavily unionized, and ?“it was important to us that we run the trainings because we understand the issues workers are facing, and they trust us,” says Solong Senohe, general secretary of United Textile Employees (UNITE). ?“If someone who didn’t know them came and tried to teach them [about reporting sexual harassment], they might not trust that they should do it.” 

“It was important that it was a shift to an independent reporting mechanism outside of the law, because in Lesotho, the law is not trusted,” says Mampiletso Kobo, an investigator at Workers Rights Watch. As in many parts of the world, rates of sexual violence are high in the country, and women frequently say they face ?“harsh and accusatory questioning” from police when they report it. 

There hasn’t yet been any outside study of how well the hotline is working, and the pandemic has slowed down its rollout, but in Lesotho, workers and their advocates say they’re cautiously optimistic?—?with some caveats. 

A hotline is a blunt instrument, and sexual harassment is a nuanced problem, they note. After Moshoeshoe reported her harassment, for instance, she says her former supervisor was given a warning and moved to a different department. But although the hotline is theoretically anonymous, everyone around her seemed to know she had reported him, and people began to take sides. ?“I don’t feel very good being at work now,” she says. At the same time, she says, ?“other women who have problems with their bosses, they come to me now to ask for help. I help make them brave.”

For now, the program is limited to Nien Hsing’s factories, which together employ about 10,000 workers. That means the women working in most of Lesotho’s garment factories remain unprotected, and so far there’s been no move to scale the hotline up, or try a similar model in other countries. Indeed, advocates say that enforcing meaningful, widespread protections for garment workers anywhere in the world remains a constant challenge in the face of pressure from fast fashion brands to keep prices low and produce at extraordinarily brisk rates. 

“The companies are always threatening us that if we ask for too much, they will go to another country that’s cheaper,” says Rorisang Kamoli, a shop steward for UNITE at Nien Hsing. 

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Federation of Women Lawyers, which runs the hotline, says many who call it actually have complaints about workplace conditions that are unrelated to sexual violence, showing just how great the need is for outside reporting mechanisms for all kinds of workplace issues. 

Despite the problems it has brought her, Moshoeshoe says she is glad she reported what happened to her. ?“Before, men were never punished for this,” she says. ?“Now when we report, they hear us.” 

Majirata Latela contributed reporting. This story was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

This blog was originally printed at In These Times on April 18, 2022.

About the Author: Ryan Lenora Brown is a freelance journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa. She writes frequently about fashion, sustainability, and the women who make our clothes.


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Service + Solidarity Spotlight: Wisconsin AFL-CIO Supports Striking UAW Members at Vollrath Manufacturing

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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.

On April 4, more than 250 members of UAW Local 1472 went on strike at Vollrath Manufacturing in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The workers at Vollrath produce deep drawing, metal spinning, metal fabrication, annealing, polishing and finishing, and refrigeration systems. The workers are striking over wages and the equitable elimination of wage tiers for employees.

President Stephanie Bloomingdale (AFT) said the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO fully supports the UAW members: “The Wisconsin labor movement proudly stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers of UAW Local 1472 on strike at Vollrath in Sheboygan for a fair and just contract. UAW Local 1472 members are holding the line to protect our American middle class and standing up for fair wages and benefits. We urge Vollrath to come back to the table and negotiate in good faith with meaningful proposals to reach a mutually agreeable contract. It’s never easy to go on strike. The brave members of UAW Local 1472 are coming together and taking courageous action to protect and advance good jobs in our local communities across Wisconsin.”

This blog post originally appeared at AFL-CIO on April 11, 2022.

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


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