Source: Aquí y Ahora/Unvision.com
Source: Aquí y Ahora/Unvision.com
Three dozen Carrboro community members, including social justice activists, day laborers and elected officials, assembled in solidarity at the corner of Davie and Jones Ferry roads Tuesday morning and called for an end to the town’s anti-lingering ordinance.
The controversial local law, which passed in 2007, forbids anyone from standing, sitting, reclining, lingering or otherwise remaining on that corner after 11 a.m. Day laborers often assemble on that corner trying to find work.
Supporters of the ordinance say it’s needed to address a few people, many of whom aren’t looking for work, who allegedly drink and cause public disturbances on the corner.
On some days as many as 60 day laborers, many of them Latinos who live across the street at Abbey Court apartments, await trucks coming to pick them up for a shift.
Angel Martinez, one of two day laborers who spoke through a translator said he relies on the corner “to live a better life.”
“This is one of the only venues where we can provide for our families,” he said, adding that many who want the ordinance abolished did not attend the event for fear of retribution. “Once we are asked to leave, there’s nowhere else we can go.”
Chris Brook, staff attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, read a petition signed by 112 residents. Among the signatures are representatives from the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, the Orange County Democratic Party, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro branch of the NAACP, local business owners, former Board of Aldermen members and candidates.
The document, which was hand delivered to Town Hall after the press conference, calls for immediate repeal of the ordinance.
“The ordinance violates the civil and human rights of any person who would otherwise lawfully be present at the intersection,” the petition reads.
“Targeting a single ethnic group in such a fashion shows a level of insensitivity not expected in our town.”
Supporters argued Tuesday that the focus at Davie and Jones Ferry roads should not be on the workers, but rather on those who offer them work. They pointed to examples where laborers were not paid, or paid with bad checks.
“These individuals are often assigned to perform dangerous jobs that are generally rejected by workers with more options,” said Rafael Gallegos, associate director of the Human Rights Center of Chapel Hill and Carrboro.
“As a result day laborers face higher instances of workplace injuries. In addition to these precarious work conditions that they face on a daily basis, day laborers are exposed to the negative aspects of our current economic conditions which include unimaginable hardships for their families.”
The Rev. Robert Campbell, president of the local NAACP, called on the community to stand up to the Board of Alderman and seek immediate change.
“This is one of the most unjust laws there is,” Campbell said. “If we look at it with a clean heart, it oppresses and it allows day laborers to be robbed. … This law enforces poverty when it denies a worker an opportunity to employment.”
Alderman Dan Coleman, who has long opposed the ordinance and called it “discriminatory,” attended the event.
“This is an injustice that the Board of Alderman has the power to correct,” he said.
Though the board expects to discuss the ordinance next month, the best chance for rescinding the ordinance will come after the Nov. 8 election.
All four candidates running for three seats have stated they oppose the ordinance, as has Alderman Sammy Slade. Joal Hall Broun, who will leave office after this term, supports the ordinance. Mayor Mark Chilton and Aldermen Jacquelyn Gist and Randee Haven-O’Donnell also all voted to enact the ordinance in 2007.
That means once the new group is sworn in, the board would split 4-3 against the ordinance.
That said, Coleman noted that the town received a report from the police department last month that noted a decrease in calls to the corner since the ordinance was implemented. Still, a drop in calls could be due to an increase in patrols, he said.
“Neighbors feel like the ordinance has had a positive impact on their experience living in this neighborhood,” Coleman said. “My goal is to rescind the ordinance and put in place some mechanism that will provide a level of comfort and insure a quality of life for people living in the neighborhood both in Abbey Court and going across up Davie Road.”
One neighbor to the site, Chris Kreutzer, said after the press conference that though the ordinance is imperfect, it is needed.
“The community in favor of this law, nobody likes it, nobody thinks it’s great, but I’ve yet to hear a creative solution that works for both sides,” he said.
The press conference occurred at 11 a.m. to intentionally violate the ordinance.
Speakers stood adjacent to a sign that read, “According to Town of Carrboro Ordinance No. 10 of 2007-08 Town Code Section 5-20 … This gathering is illegal. According to the U.S. Constitution it is perfectly fine.”
“We want to exercise (the right to free speech) on this corner where it’s technically forbidden to do so,” Brook said. “Our 1st Amendment rights are allowed to go through, but day laborers’s rights are being infringed upon every day.”
Coleman said his understanding from the town attorney that the press conference was not illegal, but staying around afterward would be a crime.
Added Elizabeth Haddix, staff attorney at UNC’s Center for Civil Rights, “If all of us white people leave here and all the brown and black people stay here, I can guarantee you that the police cars are going to come and pick everybody off the curb.”
“To suggest that this ordinance is consistent with the Constitution and Carrboro’s otherwise progressive reputation is the height of hypocrisy,” Haddix said. “To suggest that this is the best we can do to address the needs of the community is a failure of political will.”Details
A new report shows how wage theft reaches deep into the low-wage economy.
“The Movement to End Wage Theft” illustrates the problem with the stories of workers employed by a grocery chain, s a temp agency, a construction company and other incorporated businesses. These workers’ wages were stolen by their employers who failed to pay the minimum wage or overtime, or refused to abide by work-break and safety rules.
Findings from a 2009 study cited by the study’s author, Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago, concluded that 26 percent of low-wage workers in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles were paid less than the legal minimum wage, and 76 percent of workers who worked overtime were not paid the legally required overtime rate.
Here’s one account from the report (available here in PDF format):
For six years Modesta has worked as a cashier in a retail store in Brooklyn, New York. When she started at the job she was paid $5 an hour. She worked 60 hours, 6 days a week, but received no overtime pay. Last year she was given a “raise” and now earns $6.60 an hour—still well below the state minimum wage. Most of her co-workers are paid even less, but she says her employer has been able to continue this practice because the workers are too scared to complain.
Yet workers are fighting back, Theodore reports, through worker-led efforts based in community groups and as part of worker alliances in cities throughout the country:
Many have entered into national alliances with other like-minded organizations, such as Interfaith Worker Justice, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, National People’s Action, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United and Jobs with Justice. They have forged strong working relationships with labor unions, immigrant rights coalitions, faith-based groups, community organizations, policy think tanks and, to a lesser extent, government enforcement agencies. Through these efforts, workers’ rights organizations have extended their reach; scaled up their efforts; and won significant organizing, legal and legislative victories.
The most successful of these efforts, according to David Weil, professor of economics at Boston University, who is quoted in the report, do more than recover stolen wages: They seek to bring an end to the underhanded tactics used by employers to coerce workers into exploitive employment conditions in the first place. (Weil took part yesterday in a panel discussion at the AFL-CIO headquarters on the “The Future of Work.”)
For example, the report cites the work done by the Washington State-based community organization, Casa Latina, which started its efforts against wage theft on behalf of day-laborers in the construction industry:
As workers in other industries began to report similar violations, Casa Latina extended its approach, developing strategies to prevent wage theft. This change involved expanding its day labor hiring program, which raises the wage floor and monitors employer practices (the hiring hall dispatched workers for 3,973 jobs in 2009), and founding a domestic worker training and job-placement program, in which 564 jobs were filled. Casa Latina also deepened its partnerships with labor unions, joining the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, to press more effectively for government action in defense of workers’ rights.
A particularly poignant story Theodore relates in “The Movement to End Wage Theft” is that of the Workers Defense Project in Austin, Texas, where a building contractor fled the state after three workers fell to their deaths because of unsafe practices on the construction site. The flight of the contractor left dozens of workers holding the bag for unpaid wages.
Workers Defense Project filed a lien against the property, and turned to public demonstrations as a way to highlight construction safety issues and to attempt to recover the stolen wages. Approximately $10,000 was recovered in partial unpaid wages for the surviving workers. Workers Defense Project has followed up with a $150,000 class-action lawsuit against the employer, seeking to fully recover wages for workers employed at this project site and another where the employer had also been under contract.
by Staff Writer’s website” rel=”external nofollow” href=”http://neworleanscitybusiness.com/thenewsroom/author/richardwebster”>Richard A. Webster, Staff Writer | October 21, 2011 | Source: NewOrleansCityBusiness.com
Day laborers marched on the offices of Daniel Sutterfield, director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in New Orleans, on Thursday to protest an August raid that resulted in the deportation of four men and potentially 19 more.
On Aug. 28, Louisiana Home Elevations told 30 migrant workers owed more than $100,000 for two weeks of unpaid work to gather in the parking lot of a Kenner apartment building the next day to collect their checks, said Jacinta Gonzalez, lead organizer for the Congress of Day Laborers. When the workers arrived on Aug. 29, instead of getting paid, they were surrounded by ICE agents, Kenner police officers and Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputies, all of who had their guns drawn, Gonzalez said.
“Many of the workers were seriously injured during the raid and taken to the ,” she said.
Following the raid, the 30 detained men filed complaints with the Department of Labor, claiming Louisiana Home Elevations failed to pay them for work performed, as well as overtime. Some workers had been with the company for over a year without receiving overtime pay, Gonzalez said. They also claim the officers used excessive force, engaged in racial profiling and entered their homes with without warrants, according to complaints filed with the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Division
Gonzales said ICE officials deported four men, the most recent three on Wednesday, instead of using their discretion to dismiss the cases against the undocumented workers so they could further investigate the alleged civil rights violations. ICE is in the process of deporting 19 more, she said.
“The question is whether the government cares enough about ICE violating people’s rights to make sure these investigations happen thoroughly. Or do they want it to be a rogue agency that can do whatever it wishes?” she said.
Even more frustrating to Gonzalez is that ICE conducted the raid and is moving forward with deportation proceedings against men with no criminal histories despite a July directive from the Obama administration that it would focus its resources on deporting illegal immigrants with violent criminal histories.
“For them to engage in a raid that violates peoples civil rights and doesn’t protect their labor rights is just outrageous and goes against everything the Obama administration claims they’re trying to do,” Gonzalez said.Details
The last five years have been grim and isolating ones for immigrants and working people, right? Overall, this may be the case, but if you talk with organizers at Fuerza Laboral, an independent workers’ center in Rhode Island founded in 2006, you might get a different impression.
Despite difficult times, the group has taken on some bold and determined organizing. And they have some important victories to show for their efforts.
“Fuerza’s roots are really and truly the essence of what the labor movement is: workers organizing themselves and getting together with their communities to identify some real injustices that are systemic throughout the country,” says Josie Shagwert, the group’s executive director. “They got together to say, ‘How can we put a stop to this? Because the system is failing us.’”
Not long ago, workers’ centers were seen as service providers, staff-driven organizations where individuals could go to have caseworkers help with their problems. That has changed over the past decade, and the Rhode Island group is part of the transformation. “Fuerza Laboral builds worker power,” the organization’s web site explains. “[We] organize to end exploitation in the workplace. We train workers in their rights, develop new community leaders, and take direct action against injustice to achieve real victories.”
This work sounds a lot like what unions do. And, yet, Fuerza Laboral is not formally affiliated with the labor movement. Instead, it is an affiliate of National People’s Action (NPA), and shares with other NPA members an organizing model rooted in communities. Fuerza Laboral’s campaigns show two things: why organizing among workers remains essential, and how the labor movement still has work to do in bridging the gap between its traditional practices and new groups doing cutting-edge organizing, especially among immigrants and low-wage workers.
What Good Are Laws Without the Power to Enforce Them?
When Fuerza Laboral first started organizing, it focused on the abuses of temp agencies in Rhode Island, “employers who were underpaying, not paying, taking illegal deductions,” Shagwert says. Having first coalesced around this industry, the group soon moved to take on other businesses with unjust labor practices – notably a local manufacturer called Colibri. On a cold morning in January 2009, some 280 workers showed up for work at the Colibri jewelry factory, a nonunion in East Providence. They found a handwritten sign taped to the factory door reading, “Plant Is Closed. Go Home.”
“Shock turned to anger pretty quickly,” says Shagwert, “with people asking, What kind of is this? People had worked there for 5, 15, 20 years.” One of the workers called a local Spanish-speaking radio station and complained on the air about the closing. The radio host suggested that he get in touch with Fuerza Laboral.
“For the first meeting they had 12 people,” Shagwert says. “By the time they got together for a second meeting there were 60 people in the living room of one of the workers, crowded in to talk about what to do and what an organizing campaign would look like.”
The group discovered that Colibri’s closing violated the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN), which mandates that any business with 100 or more employees must give 60-days notice before closing. (The WARN Act was in the news during the December 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows factory by the Chicago company’s laid-off workers, which Kari Lydersen chronicles in her book “Revolt on Goose Island.”) The law affords an important protection for employees. Unfortunately, there is no federal agency to enforce it. The Colibri workers decided that they would take it upon themselves to make the company obey the law.
“The vast majority of those workers had never organized before,” Shagwert says. Yet, in the course of the campaign, they pulled together a 250-person rally at the Colibri site and also began engaging in direct action. “The workers practiced civil disobedience at the auctions [of company assets],” says Shagwert, “which resulted in 13 people getting arrested.”
During the action, one observer told the local NBC affiliate, “I’d like to see them get justice … This is another AIG deal. The rich get richer, and the workers get the shaft.”
The activists subsequently brought 100 people to the headquarters of the private equity firm in New York that had d the company, and workers held a sit-in in the firm’s lobby. “As a result of all those actions,” Shagwert explains, “a prominent labor lawyer in Rhode Island, Marc Gursky, felt inspired by this grassroots surge of energy. He stepped forward and said, ‘I know that to enforce the WARN Act you are going to need a lawyer.’”
For two years, Fuerza Laboral pursued the case in court, and it ultimately reached a settlement. The precise terms of the agreement have not yet been made public. Nevertheless, Shagwert notes, “I will say that the workers felt really happy that after two years they were vindicated.”
“Unity” and Unions
Fuerza Laboral’s efforts show why, even with only 7 percent of workers in the private sector of the American economy covered by traditional unions, there is no substitute for organizing among working people. Even with pro-employee laws on the books, there is little hope of justice without a grassroots demand. Prior to the labor laws enshrined in the New Deal, mutual aid among workers was the very essence of union life. With collective bargaining in decline, the revival of this type of action may be important for labor’s future as well.
Asked what Fuerza Laboral takes from the organizing model of National People’s Action, the national coalition of which it is a member, Shagwert says, “Networking and constantly building leadership. It’s a real belief that everyone who belongs to your organization, or wants to belong, has the potential to take leadership.”
In addition to developing leadership through their campaigns, Fuerza Laboral has also actively pursued a program of political education. “The essence of Fuerza Laboral is having the passion to develop leaders who will confront social injustice,” says Heiny Maldonado, a community organizer at the group. “We have a year-round calendar of trainings for our members and leaders.”
Shagwert adds: “Since 2006, we have put at least 3,000 workers through a really aggressive popular education model within which our members and leaders get trained to teach basic workers rights. We also hold democracy schools: a multi-week school that teaches about organizing, the history of the labor movement, and the history of immigration. Many of our leaders have come through those courses. They take a course, get fired up, and then we look for ways to plug them into the regular organizing we do. That feels like a huge victory.”
If there’s going to be a progressive revival in this country, having a broadly inclusive approach to worker education and developing community leadership will be just as important to traditional unions as they are to workers’ centers. Currently, the labor movement is engaged in efforts to reach out beyond its established membership in s covered by collectively bargained contracts. From the AFL-CIO’s Working America program to Service Employees International Union’s (SEIU) Fight for a Fair Economy, labor organizations are seeking to expand their reach into working-class communities at large, recognizing that if they are perceived as a narrow special interest that benefits only a few workers, the movement will be destined to permanent decline.
Operations such as Fuerza Laboral represent another strain of organizing among workers that is taking place outside of traditional labor structures. A decade ago, the relationships between emerging workers’ centers in different parts of the country and traditional labor unions tended to be mistrustful – if not outright hostile, as Janice Fine discussed in her book “Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream.” Few ties existed in most cities. Since then, both sides have made inroads into this challenge and have strengthened their relationships with one another. In the past five years, the AFL-CIO has formed partnerships with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) and with Interfaith Worker Justice.
Yet, gaps in organizational cultures and strategies still remain. The relationships between traditional unions and workers’ centers are continually being redefined, and the interaction of the groups represents a vital ongoing conversation.
As for Fuerza Laboral, Shagwert says: “Our board president has started calling us Unity Union. Which is what we are doing: Representing people in terms of grievances, doing a lot of the things a union would do for its members. But we’re not a union. We don’t identify with workers based on where they are working, we identify with them based on the abuses they are experiencing.”
While she cites alliances with unions such as SEIU and labor groups like Jobs with Justice as crucial to Fuerza’s work, she views her organization differently: “It’s the way I compare working on human rights to working on the rights of one small minority,” she says. “It doesn’t feel right to throw our hat in the ring and fight for one particular group of people. We are fighting for all of us because we are fighting for the most vulnerable.”
She adds, “I want to find a way to say this that isn’t critical of unions. Without unions what would our country be? But I see Fuerza as able to be a little more flexible than a union can be because we don’t represent one particular group of workers.”
Fuerza Laboral at once embodies an impulse toward mutual aid that has deep roots in the history of workers’ struggles and represents a new breed of organization that is expanding in areas where traditional union structures have not been able to reach. For a labor movement that desperately needs to make clear its relevance for all Americans, the task of deepening partnerships with such community allies could not be more urgent.
Amy Dean is co-author, with David Reynolds, of “A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement” and is president and founder of ABD Ventures. She worked for nearly two decades in the labor movement and now works to develop new and innovative organizing strategies for social change organizations. You can follow Amy on Twitter at @amybdean, or she can be reached via www.amybdean.com.Details