Fast-Food Workers Seeking $15 Wage Planning Civil Disobedience

From NYT September 1 by Steven Greenhouse:

The next round of strikes by fast-food workers demanding higher wages is scheduled for Thursday, and this time labor organizers plan to increase the pressure by staging widespread civil disobedience and having thousands of home-care workers join the protests.

The organizers say fast-food workers — who are seeking a $15 hourly wage — will go on strike at restaurants in more than 100 cities and engage in sit-ins in more than a dozen cities.

But by having home-care workers join, workers and union leaders hope to expand their campaign into a broader movement.

“On Thursday, we are prepared to take arrests to show our commitment to the growing fight for $15,” said Terrence Wise, a Burger King employee in Kansas City, Mo., and a member of the fast-food workers’ national organizing committee. At a convention that was held outside Chicago in July, 1,300 fast-food workers unanimously approved a resolution calling for civil disobedience as a way to step up pressure on the fast-food chains.

“They’re going to use nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to call attention to what they’re facing,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions of dollars helping to underwrite the campaign. “They’re invoking civil rights history to make the case that these jobs ought to be paid $15 and the companies ought to recognize a union.”

President Obama, in a Labor Day speech in Milwaukee, mentioned the fast-food campaign, saying, “All across the country right now there’s a national movement going on made up of fast-food workers organizing to lift wages so they can provide for their families with pride and dignity.”

Mr. Obama added that if he had a service-sector job, and “wanted an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, I’d join a union.”

Fast-food chains and many franchise operators have said that $15 an hour was unrealistic and would wipe out profit margins at many restaurants. Some business groups have attacked the campaign as an attempt by a fading union movement to rally a new group of workers.

Some franchise operators have dismissed the walkout, saying that in previous one-day strikes, only a handful of employees at their restaurants walked out, barely disrupting business. But organizers say that workers walked out at restaurants in 150 cities nationwide during the last one-day strike in May, closing several of them for part of the day, with solidarity protests held in 30 countries.

The S.E.I.U., which represents hundreds of thousands of health care workers and janitors, is encouraging home-care aides to march alongside the fast-food strikers. The union hopes that if thousands of the nation’s approximately two million home-care aides join in it would put more pressure on cities and states to raise their minimum wage.

“They want to join,” Ms. Henry said. “They think their jobs should be valued at $15.”

S.E.I.U. officials are encouraging home-care aides to join protests in six cities — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle. Union leaders say the hope is to expand to more cities in future strikes.

Jasmine Almodovar, who earns $9.50 an hour as a home-care aide in Cleveland, said the $350 she took home weekly was barely enough to support herself and her 11-year-old daughter. “I work very hard — I’m underpaid,” she said. “We deserve a good life, too. We want to provide a nice future to our kids, but how can you provide a good life, how can you plan for the future, when you’re scraping by day to day?”

Within the S.E.I.U., there has been some grumbling about why has the union spent millions of dollars to back the fast-food workers when they are not in the industries that the union has traditionally represented.

But Ms. Henry defended the strategy, saying that underwriting the fast-food push has helped persuade many people that $15 is a credible wage floor for many workers. She said it prompted Seattle to adopt a $15 minimum wage and that San Francisco was considering a similar move. She also said the campaign helped persuade the Los Angeles school district to sign a contract for 20,000 cafeteria workers, custodians and other service workers that will raise their pay, now often $8 or $9 an hour, to $15 by 2016.

“This movement has made the impossible seem more possible in people’s minds,” Ms. Henry said. “The home-care workers’ joining will have a huge lift inside our union.”

The Economic Value of Treating Workers Humanely

From today’s NYT ‘Taking Note” Blog by Carol Giacomo:

There has been so much regression on democracy and human rights in Myanmar recently that many people, this editorial page included, have suggested the United States must consider reinstating broad sanctions.

On Thursday, however, there was a positive step forward – an agreement between the two countries to work together to strengthen labor rights and improve labor conditions in Myanmar.

The new initiative, which is backed by the International Labor Organization, was announced in Yangon during a visit by Mike Froman, the United States Trade Representative.

It will involve American and Myanmar officials, other interested governments, businesses, workers and labor groups such as the ILO in developing a multi-year strategy on reforming Myanmar’s labor laws. The intent is also to help the country and its people develop the skills and the systems needed to ensure reforms are consistent with international standards and that they are put into effect.

For instance, Myanmar has recently allowed the formation of labor unions and there are now more than 1,000 of them. But given that the country was ruled by a military junta until 2011, there is little understanding of how workers, government officials and employers should interact or even how to set a minimum wage. The new initiative is expected to address that.

The agreement suggests that Myanmar officials, eager to draw foreign investment into their country, and foreign businesses, eager for a new market, see an economic value in treating workers humanely and respectfully.

It seems no coincidence that the initiative was unveiled at the same time as a $480 million solar power project, financed in part by American investors, that is expected to provide Myanmar with up to 12 percent of its power.

In a statement, Gap Inc., one of the American companies taking part in the initiative, said that “as the first American retailer to begin sourcing from Myanmar, we understand that we have a responsibility to ensure that our vendors provide a safe, healthy and fair workplace for workers.”

If Myanmar’s government, still heavily influenced by the military, is serious about this new commitment, it could be an important turning point. But in recent months there has been more backsliding than forward movement in Myanmar’s transition to a democratic society. So skepticism is warranted.

And even if this initiative bears fruit, the country still faces many serious challenges given the human rights abuses against the Rohinga, a Muslim minority group; the efforts to close off elections to opposition candidates; and attacks on press freedoms. Re-imposing sanctions must remain an option.

LA city workers rally for living wage

From yesterday’s LA Times Local:

Hundreds of workers rallied outside the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, demanding an increase to the “living wage” that county contractors are required to pay employees.

“We should not forget one of the goals of the civil rights movement was the end of poverty,” said Michael Green, a regional director of SEIU 721, which represents 55,000 county workers.

The living wage ordinance was enacted by the Supervisors in 1999 as a response to private firms that the county contracted with paying workers low wages that left them reliant on county-funded healthcare and social services. The living wage was increased in 2006 and currently stands at $9.64 per hour if the employer is providing health benefits and $11.84 per hour if the employer is not providing health benefits.

Labor leaders have argued that the wage has failed to keep pace with inflation, and Green noted that poverty in the area has increased 17% in the last five years.

“The Board of Supervisors needs to set an example,” he said. “Our message is simple — it is time to take another look at Los Angeles County’s living wage.”

Noise from the rally could be heard inside the board’s chambers, where members were holding their weekly meeting. The protestors never entered the chamber and ended their hourlong rally at 1 p.m.

Forty minutes later, board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who benefited from millions of dollars in labor spending on his bid to be elected to the board in 2008, directed county staff to provide an update on the living wage ordinance and cost-of-living increases.

“It seems  to me that we wish to be current in terms of what the living wage is for the workforce in the County of Los Angeles,” he said.

BART strike postponement nears end, Governor considers extension

BART and its unions are at the negotiating table today in an effort to settle the ongoing labor dispute that has caused transportation disruptions in the Bay Area since last month.

This is the first time negotiators for both sides have met since Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a week-long temporary hiatus last weekend. However, the main sticking points for negotiators concerning pay and benefits are not supposed to be part of the discussion today. The financial gap between the two sides runs between $50 and $100 million.

The unions announced they would issue a 48-hour notice of a strike for Monday morning if negotiations do not prove fruitful today, because Brown’s order expires on Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the members of a bargaining team commissioned by Brown were preparing a report for the Governor’s office to determine whether he should issue a 60-day strike hiatus. The Governor is expected to make his decision on the two-month hiatus by Sunday night.