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Friday, October 17, 2014

City Auditor Turns Up Little Evidence of Meaningful Paid Sick Leave Enforcement

Posted by on Fri, Oct 17, 2014 at 4:31 PM

  • City of Seattle
  • After overcoming intense opposition from local businesses, former Mayor Mike McGinn signed Seattle's paid sick leave ordinance into law in September 2011.

We know several things about paid sick leave in Seattle. We know:

(a) A lot of local businesses opposed the idea of mandating that employers pay for their employees to take sick days, and many predicted there would be major business and job losses as a result;

(b) That didn't happen, according to two studies;

(c) But the ordinance will have limited effect unless it's properly enforced.

A new report by the city auditor investigates the issue of enforcement, and specifically efforts by Seattle's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) during 2013. What they found isn't pretty. In short, Seattle's paid sick leave enforcement is incomplete, isn't based on solid evidence, and often doesn't hold employers to account or make sure employees aren't being denied paid sick leave after they've complained. Here's the full report (PDF).

When someone complains to OCR that their workplace is acting illegally by denying them paid sick leave the office usually attempts to resolve the complaints with "non-adversarial advisory letters," rather than with fines, according to the report. What this means, the auditors found, is that "resolving" a complaint doesn't actually ensure compliance with the paid sick leave law. Instead, these so-called resolutions are geared toward encouraging employers to do better in the future—not holding them accountable for violations or ensuring that employees receive back pay.

The auditors note that San Francisco has "largely abandoned" the use of these non-adversarial advisory letters. (Man, don't you wish you got one of those whenever you broke the law?) Instead, officials there focus on conducting investigations that result in recovered back wages, penalties, and civil fines.

Continue reading »

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Tells Women to Have "Faith That the System Will Actually Give You the Right Raises"

Posted by on Thu, Oct 9, 2014 at 4:40 PM

Microsoft: Shut up, ladies, and well give you a raise when we feel like it.™
  • 360b / Shutterstock
  • Microsoft: Shut up, ladies, and we'll give you a raise when we feel like it.™
I had such high hopes for new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella. He seemed like a gust of cool air after so many wearying years of Steve Ballmer's humid wheezing. But as the Verge reports, Nadella gave some truly terrible advice to women when it comes to bridging the gender pay gap:

Addressing a group of mostly women at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, Nadella told the crowd, "It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will actually give you the right raises as you go along."

"That's good karma. It will come back," Nadella said. "That's the kind of person that I want to trust, that I want to give more responsibility to."

This is a baffling statement. Women are still paid much less than men. (And Microsoft is especially bad when it comes to matters of gender: they recently announced that their workforce is 71 percent men.) How will telling women to stop asking for raises allow them to climb the ladder to pay equity? Isn't part of the problem that women aren't encouraged to advocate for themselves in the workplace? Isn't having the most powerful man in the company suggest that women shut up and trust the company to pay them correctly kind of, I don't know, the wrong message to send, especially at a conference celebrating women in computing? Nadella (or Nadella's PR firm) must have realized how terrible the above quote sounded, because he tried to fix things on Twitter:

Which, you know, bullshit. This bears no relation to what Nadella said. I'm surprised he didn't try to claim that his mouth was hacked during the speech.

Nadella's statement is worrying on plenty of different levels. When the CEO of a major employer in the Seattle region tells employees and prospective employees to trust the system to pay them, that's an anti-worker statement. It suggests that Nadella (and by extension Microsoft) rewards employees who shut up and do their job, who don't complain about pay or work conditions. Nadella's comments illustrate exactly why workers need unions to advocate for them.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Rail Union Rejects Move to Single Person Train Crews

Posted by on Thu, Sep 11, 2014 at 4:06 PM

  • Stephen Mcsweeny/Shutterstock
  • Rail workers were "floored" by company's attempt to shift to one man crews.
Say you've got this massive freight train hurtling through Washington, maybe passing through downtown Seattle. How many people do you want running that train?

Back in July, Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF), the company that operates trains carrying lots of things through downtown Seattle every week, proposed having one-person crews on many of its trains.

"We are obviously floored by this," Jen Wallis, a BNSF train conductor, told me at the time. The downsized crews would effectively cut BNSF's workforce in half and create a massive public safety hazard, she said.

In Quebec last year, a single crew member didn't properly set the handbrake one evening, according to investigators, allowing a runaway train to speed downhill into Lac-Mégantic and blow up—killing 47 people in the town center. Canada proceeded to ban one-person crews on oil trains.

Today, Wallis is savoring a victory. Seattle was the first place where rail workers organized a picket in front of the meetings where this contract was discussed, she said, "and then it spread like wildfire all over." With unusually strong turnout for the vote on Wednesday, railworkers with the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union rejected the one-person-crew contract.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas says the company is going to respect their choice.

The company insisted its proposal would not apply to trains carrying oil or hazardous materials. But, Wallis says, "there was nothing in the contract that prohibited that." The next step, she says, is to push for legislation banning one-person crews.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Robots Are Coming for Your Jobs

Posted by on Mon, Aug 18, 2014 at 2:03 PM

Science fiction has for decades warned us of the coming robotic takeover. In the early days, those robots had claw hands and they were led by a single evil robot that wore a cape and laughed maniacally. In the 1980s, those robots were Terminators controlled by Skynet. Now, in this video that went viral over the weekend, the face of the real robotic revolution is becoming clear: It's a labor crisis that could dwarf the Great Depression.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why Did We Give Up on the Four-Hour Workday?

Posted by on Wed, Aug 6, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Nathan Schneider asks the question in VICE:

The United States now leads the pack of the wealthiest countries in annual working hours. US workers put in as many as 300 more hours a year than their counterparts in Western Europe, largely thanks to the lack of paid leave. (The Germans work far less than we do, while the Greeks work considerably more.) Average worker productivity has doubled a couple of times since 1950, but income has stagnated—unless you’re just looking at the rich, who’ve become a great deal richer. The value from that extra productivity, after all, has to go somewhere.

It used to be common sense that advances in technology would bring more leisure time. “If every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful,” Benjamin Franklin assumed, “that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life.” Science fiction has tended to consider a future with shorter hours to be all but an axiom. Edward Bellamy’s 1888 best seller Looking Backward describes a year 2000 in which people do their jobs for about four to eight hours, with less attractive tasks requiring less time. In the universe of Star Trek, work is done for personal development, not material necessity.

There was a point in history, Schneider shows, when the trajectory of how much time human beings would spend laboring was on the decline. But capitalism couldn't abide that notion. In the 1930s, the Senate passed a 30-hour workweek, but FDR withdrew his support for the Black-Connery Bill under pressure from industry titans and the measure failed in the House.

One major company, Kellogg, voluntarily implemented a six-hour workday for its Michigan workers in 1930 and hourly productivity soared—until in 1985, during the Reagan era, when the company threatened to relocate unless workers accepted eight-hour shifts. One worker wrote the six-hour shift a tender eulogy:

Tis sad, but true,
Now you’re gone and we’re all so blue!
Get out your vitamins, give the doctor a call,
Cause old eight hours has got us all.

Fascinating stuff. Read the whole VICE piece here.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Labor Regulator Says McDonald's Corp. Counts as a "Joint Employer" of Franchise Employees

Posted by on Tue, Jul 29, 2014 at 1:20 PM

Ronald McDonald has some thinking to do.
According to the Associated Press via the New York Times, the National Labor Relations Board has just issued a decision that the big ol' McDonald's Corporation can be named a "joint employer" of the workers in McDonald's restaurants, even if those restaurants are owned by franchisees. Hmmm, what's that mean? Says the AP:
The decision by the National Labor Relations Board was being closely watched because it could potentially expose McDonald's to liability for the working conditions in its franchisees' stores. It also puts pressure on the world's biggest hamburger chain at a time when protests for higher wages in the fast-food industry have captured national attention.

McDonald's and other fast-food companies have repeatedly said they are not responsible for determining wages and other terms at their franchised locations.

The International Franchise Association, which is currently suing the City of Seattle over our new $15 an hour minimum wage law, has maintained throughout their opposition to our tiered minimum-wage timeline that franchises should count as small businesses under Seattle's law because their operations are so totally separate from the parent company. This NLRB decision is unrelated to that suit, but it's certainly a ruling the franchise peeps are gonna hate.

In fact, the franchise association's president and CEO, Steve Caldeira, sent a long opinion piece out to media in early July with the association's fears about this potential NLRB ruling. It read in part:

Continue reading »

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Chicago Company Limits Employee Bathroom Breaks to Six Minutes a Day

Posted by on Thu, Jul 17, 2014 at 1:03 PM

The sad thing is, there's a whole army of Internet Tough Guys ready to argue on behalf of the poor, misunderstood company for trying to keep its lazy workers in line.

Spend more than 6 minutes a day in the bathroom at Chicago's WaterSaver Faucet company and you'll face disciplinary measures.

That's what a union contends the manufacturer is pulling: timing bathroom breaks and warning employees when they can't beat the clock.

Of all the trolly comments written by bad people on this article, my favorite has to be this one:

They already have unlimited bathroom time during their 1 hour of break time each day.

So generous! If you can't save up all your waste matter for one twenty-minute-long purge on your legally required lunch break, you deserve to be fired. That'll teach you to excrete biological waste when you should be eternally grateful to the free market for even bothering to provide you with a job, you worthless pee factories.

(Yeah, and Slog tipper Greg sent this one along, too. You can have eight minutes of bathroom time today, Greg. You've earned it.)

Friday, June 27, 2014

It's Business Time: Supreme Court Union Ruling Coming on Monday, Massachusetts Votes for $11 Now, and Anti-Amazon Law Passes

Posted by on Fri, Jun 27, 2014 at 1:04 PM

There's a whole bunch of business news today that Slog readers should know about:

11 Dollahs an Houah!: Massachusetts raised their minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour yesterday. The minimum wage, which will go into effect by 2017, is the highest statewide minimum wage in the nation.

Doomsday for Unions? Andy Kroll at Mother Jones warns us that a Supreme Court verdict on Monday could forever change the face of labor in America:

It's official: The Supreme Court will wait until Monday, the final day of the current term, to issue its decision in Harris v. Quinn. As I explained in May, Harris is a blockbuster case that could, in a worst-case scenario, wipe public-employee unions such as SEIU and AFSCME off the map. And the chances of a damaging decision in Harris just increased—here's why.

The New Boss Sucks: The Seattle Times's Ángel González reports that Seattle's own Russell Investments has been bought by The London Stock Exchange Group, and layoffs are possible.

French Anti-Amazon Law Moves Forward: Indispensable book news e-mail Shelf Awareness says:

The French Senate has ratified a bill previously passed by the National Assembly nicknamed the "anti-Amazon law," which prohibits online retailers from offering free delivery of discounted books

France is at the forefront of anti-Amazon sentiment in Europe, with Germany and the UK following closely behind.

(Thanks to Slog tipper Greg for sending two of these stories along to us.)


Friday, June 13, 2014

Kshama Sawant Rips "Abomination" of Unpaid Internships at UW Social Work Graduation Ceremony

Posted by on Fri, Jun 13, 2014 at 2:33 PM

  • $15? Students at the UW School of Social work say they're too often working for $0.

Now that the $15 an hour movement has forced the passage of a higher minimum wage, City Council Member Kshama Sawant is turning her attention to another facet of worsening economic inequality: the rise of unpaid internships. On Thursday evening at a University of Washington graduation ceremony, she seized the opportunity to denounce "practicums"—essentially unpaid internships that are required for graduation—at the School of Social Work.

"When she got to that part about organizing at the school of social work, everybody cheered and clapped," Ivan Cuevas, a masters social work student who just graduated, told me by phone. "There were a lot of people who thought that it wasn’t going to happen."

Kshama Sawant gives the keynote address at the UW School of Social Work graduation.
  • Clay Showalter
  • Kshama Sawant gives the keynote address at the UW School of Social Work graduation.

In her keynote address, Sawant said Social Workers Stand Up, a group of students campaigning against unpaid internships, "have taken responsibility to not only fight for institutional change in broader society, but also here at UW...I hope you are inspired by the work of your peers, and I urge all of you"—she turned towards the deans of the school at this point—"especially the faculty, advisors and administration, to join me in supporting these students who are actively fighting for justice."

"I think that freaked ‘em out a little more," said Cuevas.

Continue reading »

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seattle Human Rights Commission Urges Jeff Bezos to Investigate Anti-Union Charges

Posted by on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 2:22 PM

This morning, I linked to a story about charges that Amazon's security team, Security Industry Specialists, used intimidation tactics against union operatives. In a letter obtained by The Stranger today, the Seattle Human Rights Commission urges Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to take action on the issue.

This is the very definition of a strongly worded letter, suggesting that SIS "is operating in a manner that likely violates the human rights of security officers employed to protect [Amazon's] employees and headquarters." The Human Rights Commission, which "calls attention to human rights concerns that affect the residents and workers of the city," is an organization that furthers Seattle's commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fact that they're calling Amazon out is a big deal.

The letter closes with a plea that Bezos ensures SIS is treating workers with "respect and dignity," that the workers are not suffering from "discrimination," and that they have the "right to associate freely." Read the whole letter after the jump.

Continue reading »

Did Amazon's Elite Security Squad "Interfere with, Restrain," and "Coerce" Union Representatives?

Posted by on Thu, Jun 12, 2014 at 11:17 AM

According to Josh Eidelson at Salon, the Service Employees International Union says Amazon's security contractors, Security Industry Specialists, have been "intimidating" union representatives, "flouting both federal law and the e-commerce giant’s Code of Conduct."

In charges filed May 5 with the National Labor Relations Board, SEIU accuses SIS – a California-based company whose employees the union has long sought to represent – of illegally “attempting surveillance activity to interfere with, restrain, coerce employees” out of exercising their New Deal rights. SEIU alleges that members of SIS’ “Executive Protection” squad – the more elite division responsible for protecting Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — were recently deployed to follow SEIU staff and SIS security workers around Amazon’s Seattle campus as they tried to distribute a new SEIU leaflet to SIS and Amazon employees. More dramatically, SEIU and Young – the only current SIS employee featured on the leaflet – allege that one of the Executive Protection members confronted Young on May 1 to demand information about the leafleting.

Go read the whole article. Absolutely nobody should be surprised at this point to learn that Amazon is anti-union; the company has been battling with unions in Germany over working conditions and pay for years. And earlier this year, Time reported that Amazon "crushed" a union movement in Delaware. They're even testing their own delivery service, presumably in part because the other delivery services are union shops. Amazon has made no secret of the fact that they loathe unions. And why wouldn't they? The folks in South Lake Union are making plenty of money; they just don't want the peons out in the warehouses—or the schmucks charged with protecting Jeff Bezos—to have any.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Farmworkers Reach $850k Settlement with Sakuma Brothers Farms Over Unpaid Wages and Breaks

Posted by on Wed, Jun 11, 2014 at 5:33 PM

Farmworkers march towards the gate of Sakuma Brothers Farms last year
  • AH
  • Farmworkers marching at Sakuma Brothers Farms last year, long before a court victory like this was in sight.

In another victory for migrant farmworkers, Sakuma Brothers Farms, one of the largest berry farms in Washington state, has entered into a settlement with workers who filed a class action lawsuit against the company alleging systematic unpaid wages and denials of breaks from the difficult work of picking berries in the fields. Columbia Legal Services (CLS), whose attorneys helped negotiate the agreement in mediation, claims it's the biggest wage and hour settlement for farmworkers on record in Washington State.

The settlement shows that "farmworkers can have access to the courts and get a measure of justice," says attorney Dan Ford, but he warns that farmworkers deserve greater representation in courts and stronger enforcement of their labor rights.

Under the terms of the agreement, $350,000 will go to cover lawyer's fees and the remaining $500,000 will be divvied up between roughly 1,200 eligible Sakuma Brothers Farms workers who were employed between 2010 and 2013. One of the plaintiffs, farmworker Ana Lopez, worked 293 days during the claims period, Ford explains. She'll receive at least $1,707 under the agreement.

And the settlement applies to workers like 15-year-old Luis, who told me last year, "I thought I was getting ripped off. I deserve to get paid minimum wage, and that's it...They weren't paying the kids minimum wage for the whole season." It was complaints about missing wages, and alleged racist taunts from supervisors, that triggered a series of walkouts by workers at the farm last year.

Continue reading »

Monday, June 2, 2014

Sakuma Brothers Farms Drops Application For Guest Workers

Posted by on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 4:44 PM

Farmworkers negotiating with Sakuma Farms management
  • Tomas Madrigal
  • Farmworkers negotiating with Steve Sakuma last year during a walkout.

Fresh on the heels of a defeat in the courts last week, Sakuma Brothers Farms (an hour north of Seattle near Mount Vernon) has abruptly dropped its attempt to displace local migrant farmworkers with guest workers imported from Mexico. In a statement, the farm says it notified the federal government over the weekend that it is withdrawing from the H2-A guest worker program.

"It was sobering to witness the protests against our family-owned business and hear calls for a boycott against our berries,” said the co-owner Steve Sakuma, a reference to calls for a boycott by Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a newly formed union of berry pickers, many of whom participated in a series of wildcat strikes on the farm last year. "But, even though we have been in business for nearly 80 years, we listened to our critics and we recognized that we could do better."

"Familias is ready to go work tomorrow," Rosalinda Guillen, a Skagit Valley-based labor activist who's been supporting the union, tells me by phone, "if he calls them...We’re more than willing to support family farms and agro-corporations doing the right thing. His position is the right position on the H-2A program. But what’s his position on his workers organizing?"

I put the question to Sakuma Brothers Farms by e-mail and will update when I hear back.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Children At Work In Tobacco Fields

Posted by on Fri, May 16, 2014 at 12:29 PM

America: land of the not so free, home of the brave child laborers.

According to a new Human Rights Watch report, kids can't legally buy cigarettes, but they can make them. Thousands of children—including 12 year olds and younger—work in tobacco fields, primarily in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, where they routinely get poisoned by nicotine and pesticides:

The conditions the children testify to—grueling work, being covered in pesticides—are similar to accounts of local farmworker labor in Berkeley anthropologist Seth Holmes' aptly-titled Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies, as well as stories I heard from farmworker children in Skagit Valley last year, when I covered protests by berry pickers at Sakuma Brothers Farms.

In response to their strikes and fledgling union-organizing efforts, Sakuma Brothers Farms is seeking to replace the local farmworkers with "guest workers" imported from Mexico.

As for child farm labor across the nation, Human Rights Watch says:

Under US labor law, children working in agriculture can work longer hours, at younger ages, and in more hazardous conditions than children in any other industry. Children as young as 12 can be hired for unlimited hours outside of school hours on a farm of any size with parental permission, and there is no minimum age for children to work on small farms. At 16, child farmworkers can do jobs deemed hazardous by the US Department of Labor. Children in all other sectors must be 18 to do hazardous work. Regulations proposed by the Labor Department in 2011 would have prohibited children under 16 from working on tobacco farms, but they were withdrawn in 2012.

"The US has failed America’s families by not meaningfully protecting child farmworkers from dangers to their health and safety, including on tobacco farms,” [HRW Researcher Margaret] Wurth said. "The Obama administration should endorse regulations that make it clear that work on tobacco farms is hazardous for children, and Congress should enact laws to give child farmworkers the same protections as all other working children."

#BringBackOurGirls? How about #ProtectOurChildren?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Subway Leads the Pack...When It Comes to Underpaying Workers

Posted by on Wed, May 7, 2014 at 3:22 PM

Not only is their food bad, but they mistreat their workers, too!

Individual Subway franchisees have been found in violation of pay and hour rules in more than 1,100 investigations spanning from 2000 to 2013, according to a CNNMoney analysis of data collected by the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division.

Each investigation can lead to multiple violations and fines. Combined, these cases found about 17,000 Fair Labor Standards Act violations and resulted in franchisees having to reimburse Subway workers more than $3.8 million over the years.

Out of all the fast food chains in America, Subway is the worst in labor violations. Think about that for a minute.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Amazon Doesn't Hire Women for Top Positions

Posted by on Wed, Apr 30, 2014 at 4:54 PM

Juliette Garside at The Guardian says:

Amazon may share its name with mythology's greatest female warriors, but the world's largest online retailer employs just 18 women among its 120 most senior managers, and none of them report directly to the boss.

Amazon's founder, chief executive and chairman, Jeff Bezos, runs the company through a select all-male group of 12, known internally as the S Team (Senior Team), who have a direct line to him. And the S Team themselves seem reluctant to employ women, according to a leak from an internal directory.

So we know that things are bad at the top for women at Amazon. Gawker today published a story by an Amazon warehouse employee that suggests things are rotten for everyone at the bottom of the Amazon food chain, regardless of gender:

I got a phone call the day I was supposed to start, reminding me I was supposed to start that evening, and telling me to be at the on-site Integrity office at 6:30pm (and also stated the doors opened at 6pm). I showed up at 6:08 which is 22 minutes early, based on the time I was told to be there. I arrived at the same time as a young lady who was also supposed to start that evening. After waiting for almost half an hour, we were informed that they were only starting three of five people that night, that the jobs were first come first served, and that the three other people had gotten the jobs because they arrived at exactly 6pm.

Go read about Amazon's time thievery over at Gawker.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

As Uber Drivers Move to Unionize, Company Dismisses Complaints

Posted by on Wed, Apr 16, 2014 at 11:00 AM


At a packed forum at the Yesler Community Center on April 13, nearly 250 drivers for rideshare company Uber signed "Show of Interest" cards handed out by Teamsters Local 117. Current and former UberBlack drivers organized the event, and said they intend to form a union, or join the Teamsters taxi drivers association. The mood was hyped, and the crowd at the community center was nearly all immigrants or children of immigrants from East Africa, most of them dressed for the occasion in impeccable black business clothes.

"We are the faces of Uber," said Zerfu Takele, a bespectacled Ethiopian American driver with graying hair who's lived in Seattle since 1990. "We need to be respected." Right now, he claimed, communication with Uber management is "simply a one-way message—you accept it or you get kicked out." The audience erupted in applause.

Uber, recently valued at $3.4 billion, is widely seen as a game-changing entrepreneurial force in the world of transportation. But the local Uber drivers' complaints revolve around what they describe as indifference, even disrespect, by Uber's young downtown managerial staff toward their own entrepreneurial ambitions.

Continue Reading >>

Friday, April 11, 2014

Drivers Decry "Predatory" Uber

Posted by on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Alas, for Uber Seattle, we do not live in a Randian utopia where entrepreneurs—because their inventions are so neat!—can do whatever they want. There's pesky stuff like municipal regulations! (They've vowed to fight those.) And now, drivers protesting working conditions at the company!

In a public event on Sunday at 2 p.m., the Teamsters Local 117 and OneAmerica announce in press release, Uber and UberX drivers will describe the company’s "predatory practices, the unwarranted deactivation of drivers from the Uber app and flaws with the company’s rating system," at the Yesler Community Center. Seattle City Council members Mike O'Brien and Kshama Sawant will be there.

"My rating went to a 4.6 (out of a five-star rating) and they suspended me," said former Uber driver, Will Anderson, in the release. "They just turned my phone off. They didn’t give me a warning, they didn’t give me a week’s notice...And they’ve done that to a lot of people. That’s huge—if you make an investment in a vehicle and you have a family you need to feed."

I'll have more on this next week, but in a statement—surprise!—Uber rejected the allegations. "Uber uses a rating system that is based directly on rider feedback and is an average of the rating they received after completing a trip with a rider," says Uber Seattle General Manager Brooke Steger. "If a partner is consistently receiving negative feedback, partners are provided with the opportunity to improve their service level. If riders continue to complain, the partnership may be ended with that driver as they are not able to provide the level of service that our riders demand." And, she says, there's an appeal process for "deactivation."

Uber has been banned in Portland, New Orleans and Miami, and there's growing pushback from drivers and officials from Houston to San Francisco. But let's not throw it under the bus (remember buses?) yet. If the company's going to strike the right tone and handle worker complaints constructively, Seattle's a great place to start.

Farmworkers To Local Berry Farm: Hire Us, Not Mexican Guest Workers

Posted by on Fri, Apr 11, 2014 at 11:25 AM

SAKUMA BROTHERS FARMS Under investigation.
  • Star Murray
  • SAKUMA BROTHERS FARMS Looking to bring in guest workers from Mexico.

Remember Sakuma Brothers Farms? The sprawling berry farm in Skagit Valley that's totally a friendly family farm, not a multi-million dollar company built on the exploitation of migrant workers (including children) who do excruciating, low-paying work picking berries and live in decrepit labor camps that are nothing more than clusters of run-down shacks?

The farm is preparing for this year's harvest season, which begins in June, by declaring that it will exclusively rely on berry pickers imported from Mexico under the government's H-2A guest worker program. But that means the hundreds of farmworkers who stormed off the farm last summer on strike will be out of the job this year—if the farm's application is approved by the Deparment of Labor. (The farm is still under investigation for using guest workers last year during a labor dispute, which is prohibited.)

Here's the thing: the farmworkers who've picked berries for Sakuma Brothers in the past are dropping off hundreds of signed letters—farmworker Ramon Torres, who led the strike last year, has 317 in hand and expects to soon have more than 400, as more seasonal workers migrate north from California—with the Department of Labor that say they're ready and able to work for the farm.

But the farm says there's a labor shortage. "That's a lie, there are a lot of workers," Torres says when I reach him by phone. I ask whether they're ready to work. "Sí, ahora," he responds emphatically. Last year, Sakuma Brothers Farms fired Torres for a domestic violence charge and tried to drag his reputation through the mud by incessantly bringing it up and posting the arrest record number on its website. The charge was thrown out with prejudice by a Skagit County judge in February, meaning it had no basis and the plaintiff (in this case, the state) cannot appeal.

By law, a farm cannot use imported guest workers unless the government certifies that there are not enough "able, willing, qualified, and available" US workers, and that the wages and working conditions of US workers won't be adversely impacted.

Continue reading »

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Council Member Sawant, Can We Talk?

Posted by on Wed, Apr 9, 2014 at 8:00 AM


Mike Klotz is co-owner of Delicatus, a Seattle delicatessen. This piece is part of a series of minimum wage op-eds from activists, business owners, low-wage workers, and experts. If you have an editorial you'd like to submit, send it here.

Council Member Sawant,

I am a progressive, and upon hearing of your campaign for city council, I found myself with a moral dilemma. I was excited to support a candidate who spoke of the injustices of corporations, but as a small-business owner, I was also concerned at the impact a 60 percent wage increase would have on the very business I worked so hard to create. My business partner felt as I did, and on October 26, 2013, he wrote you an e-mail addressing our very real concerns. Less than 24 hours later, he received a response from your campaign assistant* addressing our concerns and closing with this assurance:

We would not want to enact a minimum wage increase without also guaranteeing subsidies/tax credits to small business owners, an overhaul of the B&O tax code, and the establishment of a non-profit municipal bank to invest in small business. So in many ways, the plight of small businesses will be in a much better position with someone like Kshama in office fighting for the interests of ordinary people.

Because of that campaign promise, we both voted for you. And it is because of that statement that I find myself at odds with what you have done since taking office.

Continue Reading >>

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Boeing Machinists Are Holding Their First Contested Union Election In Forty Years Today

Posted by on Thu, Apr 3, 2014 at 10:05 AM

KPLU walks us through the union's history and makes the the current national union bosses sound really sketchy—holding votes on holidays, overriding local leadership, and being forced to redo the election by the Department of Labor after an investigation:

Jason Redrup is a longtime machinist and most recently a business representative in District Lodge 751. But over the years, even he didn’t pay that much attention to the process of electing new national union leaders.

“They were really not elections, per se, because they didn’t have anybody running against them,” Redrup said. “It was almost like reading the minutes. It’s like we’d get somebody to read off the list of names and they’d be nominated, and that’s the last we’d hear of it.”

But now, there is actually an election happening, and Redrup is one of the reformers running to replace the union’s leaders. Over the weekend, Boeing machinists gathered in Renton to prepare to get out the vote, each of them walking out the door with stacks of sample ballots and fliers listing the reform ticket candidates...

What’s driving the reform effort in the Seattle area is residual anger over the Boeing contract extension offer. In January, members narrowly accepted the plan that phases out their defined-benefit pension in exchange for securing production of the 777x jet.

Read the whole thing. The story explains that similar reform efforts are underway at other big unions, including postal workers, but quotes a UCLA researcher who throws cold water on their chances: "Insurgent candidates have an uphill fight, and the case of the machinists is no exception."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Neoliberalism and the World Cup: “This feudal system existed before the World Cup...”

Posted by on Thu, Mar 27, 2014 at 8:26 AM

Atlantic Cities:

A recent report suggests that unless Qatar issues and enforces sweeping labor reforms soon, more than 4,000 migrant workers in the country will die before it hosts the 2022 World Cup.

...An estimated 1,200 Indian and Nepalese migrant workers have died in Qatar over the last three years from work-related causes (which include accidents on the job, heart attacks from heat stress, and illness connected to substandard living conditions). The two countries are estimated to supply near half of Qatar's 1.4 million migrant workers.

The legal status of a migrant worker in Qatar and also Dubai is entirely tied to his/her job. If you have a one, you can stay in the country and suffer. If you do not have one, you have to leave and suffer somewhere else. A society has finally arrived at a neoliberal paradise when workers are no longer political subjects, when firing is as good as deportation, when the boss is the government (police, court, judge, housing, immigration officer).

The reason why employers in Qatar are in the habit of seizing the passports of their workers is as much practical as symbolic: the passport registers a human with rights, a human who is recognized and documented as such. To seize a passport is to seize the political as visible—there can also be a politics without the state, a politics "sans papiers." What is left (or more closely, what is desired) is something like Agamben's bare life, a life that can be killed without a sacrifice (work accidents, heat stress, untreated illnesses). The words of a FIFA executive, Theo Zwanzinger: “This feudal system existed before the World Cup...”

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Watch How Target Warns Its Employees About Scary Unions

Posted by on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 1:01 PM

Hamilton Nolan at Gawker posted an anti-union video that Target shows its employees. Nolan explains:

The existence of Target's new anti-union employee training video (entitled "Think Hard: Protect Your Signature") was first reported today by Josh Eidelson at Salon. And we have obtained the actual video, which is above. It features Dawn and Ricardo, a cool, knowing, multiracial pair of Target employees who are here to talk to you, the Target team member, about the dangers of unions. "Someday, someone you don't know may approach you at work, or visit you at home, asking you to sign your name to an authorization card, petition, or some other union document," Ricardo warns.
"Unions want what we have" the video declares. How so? Ricardo explains, as if speaking to a child: "We're a target, because unions are threatened by us. And here's why: when we take business away from retailers that are unionized, those companies may downsize, reducing the number of employees. And that means the union loses members, which is a big problem for the union business. Did you notice how I just called it a business? Because that's what it is."

Dawn continues: "A union is not a charity. it's not a club, and it's not part of the government." Ricardo explains that "unions may have been needed in the past," but the worker protections previously enabled by unions are now state and federal law, so why would anyone need to join them? "Nobody wants to pay dues for something they already have," Dawn concludes. Because everything is great in America!

It's an infuriating video and you should go to Gawker to watch it. And then you should read Eidelson's story, which explains the history of Target's shameful treatment of pro-union workers.

Kshama Sawant's Latest Proposal Shows She Wants to Be a Good Legislator, Not Just an Agitator

Posted by on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 at 10:15 AM

  • Kelly O

In the fall of 2011, I spent a lot of time with Seattle's Occupy constituency. Like, a lot of time. And during those months—when Occupy Seattle went from "a lot of dedicated people who wanted the attention of a city government who seemed to be largely ignoring their plight" to "a small group of very militant, very demanding transients"—I watched a movement that I really, really believed in begin to slip away as louder, more aggressive voices took over.

And I'm worried the same thing could happen with the 15 Now campaign for a higher minimum wage.

At a town hall meeting on March 5, I watched some very heartfelt, very reasonable people testify both for and against a higher minimum wage. I also watched business owners and employees alike propose rational methods for enacting the change—policy ideas that would guarantee a living wage and also help ease the increase in labor costs for employers.

Continue Reading >>

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Starbucks Digital Tipping is Bullshit

Posted by on Wed, Mar 12, 2014 at 2:25 PM

Yesterday, Starbucks announced that patrons would finally be able to tip their baristas digitally. Which seems like a good thing but is in fact really kind of awful.

From Starbucks:

Beginning March 19, customers using Starbucks App for iPhone in the U.S., U.K. and Canada will experience a streamlined design and easy access to their account and My Starbucks Rewards information. In addition, customers using the app will have the option to leave a tip at more than 7,000 company-operated Starbucks® stores in the U.S.

Customers can show their appreciation to store partners by tipping through the Starbucks App for iPhone. Customers are given the option to provide a tip in the following denominations: $0.50, $1.00, $2.00.

Note: The tips will not be based on percentage. They'll just be a flat rate. If you're, say, picking up the office coffee order and it comes to, like, $40, the highest tip you can leave is $2.00, or about a 5% tip. Starbucks doesn't mention if you can give more than one tip, but I doubt it—so that's the first bullshit thing.

The second bullshit thing is that this is most likely a way for Starbucks to dodge paying their employees more.

As Dominic pointed out yesterday in this piece you should read about the proposed $15/hr minimum wage, one tactic employers are trying to use to cut their own labor cost in the instance of an increase is "total compensation," or rolling tips in with wages. This is a way to offset labor costs, while essentially placing the burden of paying service workers on to customers.

Previously, the only way for customers to show their appreciation/help baristas reach anything close to a living wage was to tip in cash. Cash tips are sort of a double-edged sword; while people carry actual bills a lot less frequently, resulting in fewer tips, cash tips aren't documented. The IRS does require baristas to declare tips as part of their income, but those who work at places without digital or credit card tipping rarely do, because a.) there is no record, and b.) there are rarely enough of them to make them worth declaring.

Additionally—and this is perhaps the most salient part of all this—Starbucks can't point to those tips as part of the baristas' wages.

As a result, tips have been sort of a see-no-evil aspect to Starbucks's (and similar companies') business model. Digital tipping allows them start accounting for those tips and, potentially, get away with including them in barista wages.

To be fair, when I was working as a Tully's barista, I would have loved digital tips because it would have meant more much-needed money in my pocket. And in the immediate future, digital tips will absolutely be beneficial to low-wage workers, because it will just be more money.

But in the long-term, especially when the fight to increase the minimum wage is happening right in Starbucks's front yard, the timing of this decision is definitely suspect.

Oh, and the $2.00 limit thing is pretty shitty, too.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Santa Fe County Passes 200 Percent Increase in Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees

Posted by on Thu, Feb 27, 2014 at 9:41 AM

If Seattle restaurateurs think a 61 percent increase in the minimum wage is precipitous, just look at what their cohorts in Santa Fe County, New Mexico are going to have to deal with:

The Santa Fe County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to increase the minimum wage in Santa Fe County from $7.50 per hour to $10.66 per hour.

The ordinance passed by the commission also calls for employees who normally receive more than $30 per month in tips or commissions to be paid a base wage equal to 60 percent of the new so-called “living wage."

The lowest allowable hourly rate for those employees will increase from $2.13 per hour to $6.40 per hour. Both new wage standards are set to take effect in 60 days.

The new minimum wage will be increased annually by the percentage of increase — if any — that occurs in the Consumer Price Index, and the base wage for tipped employees will increase in relationship to the new minimum wage.

That represents a 200 percent increase in the minimum wage for tipped employees, 42 percent for everybody else! And unlike Seattle, where our hike to $15 will almost certainly be phased in over several years, Santa Fe County's wage hike happens all at once, and in only 60 days. That's not much time for businesses to adjust to the new reality.

Opponents relentlessly warn that sudden massive hikes in the minimum wage inevitably lead to mass extinctions of small businesses. Looks like Santa Fe County will test that thesis before Seattle does.

In other minimum wage news, the Los Angeles City Council has unanimously voted to authorize a study on raising the minimum wage for workers at large hotels to $15.37 an hour. By the time Seattle's minimum wage hits $15, that number may not look so radical anymore.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I Know How to Pay Human Service Workers a $15 Minimum Wage: a Jock Tax

Posted by on Wed, Feb 26, 2014 at 9:55 AM

Danny Westneat apparently thinks of himself as a lone voice of reason in the wilderness, and so when the same Seattle Human Services Coalition report that came across everybody else's desk came across his desk, he asks: "Is the city even aware of these problems? I would hope so, but who really knows."

Um... yeah, Danny. That's why SHSC surveyed its members in the first place, several of whom sit on the mayor's Income Inequality Advisory Committee. I first mentioned that the committee was considering accommodations for nonprofits a month ago, and I only mentioned the issue because it had been raised to me by members of the committee. So yeah. The city is aware of these problems.

(As a tangent, let me just say that Westneat mentioning the report's "delicate and blandly worded conclusion" while ignoring the firmly worded opening statement—"SHSC fully supports raising the minimum wage ... to $15/hr"—is disappointing.)

As for how to pay a living wage to all those college educated social workers currently earning only $12.75? Yeah, raise taxes. Of course, raise taxes! We underfund human services to the point where we impoverish those serving the poor. The status quo is indefensible.

As for which tax to raise, here's an idea I first pitched nearly a decade ago, when the Sonics were first threatening to leave the city. A Jock Tax: an income tax on the salaries earned by athletes during their “duty days” in the city.

At least twenty other states already levy just such a “jock tax”… a tax our own Sonics, Mariners and Seahawks players already pay on nearly every away game. So why shouldn’t we tax opposing players too?

It won’t cost WA residents anything, and in fact, it won’t cost most of the visiting players all that much either, as any tax they pay here can be deducted from their state and federal income taxes, and they’re already hiring accountants to file tax returns in a dozen or more states. And they’re millionaires. Put a high exemption on the tax so as not to burden low-paid athletes in low-profile sports, but make the A-Rods pay their due. They can afford it.

A Jock Tax would be a tax on the privilege of playing professional sports in Seattle, and as such is not explicitly prohibited by anything in state statute. To avoid potential legal complications due to our lack of an income tax, we'd likely have to levy the Jock Tax on our own athletes too. But that's okay. They can afford it. And a rather middling Jock Tax rate should easily cover the added expense of paying human service workers a $15 minimum wage.

Yeah, I know, an income tax is allegedly unconstitutional. But the underlying constitutional issue—Is income property? (Hint: It's not. It's a transaction)—hasn't come before the state supreme court in over half a century, and well respected constitutional attorneys expect our modern court would likely overturn the crippling 1933 decision. Overturning that decision would put an income tax back on the table in Olympia, and that is the only way to spark the kind of debate that could ever lead to building the political support necessary for implementation.

So that's my modest proposal: pass a Jock Tax dedicated to funding human services, while phasing in a $15 minimum wage for human service providers over a period long enough to allow for the Jock Tax to wend its way through the courts.

Next issue?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Something I Never Thought I'd Say...

Posted by on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 4:58 PM

Go read this excellent column by Joni Balter.

Seattle Human Services Coalition "Fully Supports" $15 Minimum Wage, but Cautions Against "Unintended Consequences"

Posted by on Tue, Feb 25, 2014 at 1:41 PM

In a preliminary report released today (pdf), the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC) declared that it "fully supports" raising Seattle's minimum wage to $15 an hour, while urging that it be implemented in "a thoughtful manner to prevent unintended consequences," such as denying low-income people access to critical services.

The Seattle Human Services Coalition recognizes the importance of a livable minimum wage in addressing poverty in our community. SHSC fully supports raising the minimum wage for all human services workers (and others) to $15/hr.

We are also acutely aware that this call for raising the minimum wage must be done in such a way that does not result in a decrease in urgently needed services; any solution must take into account the impact on the vulnerable people we serve.

SHSC's concerns are very real. As the report points out, nonprofits generally don't have the option of raising prices or cutting profits in response to higher labor costs. Without additional resources (from donations and government grants and contracts), many human service organizations would be forced to cut back services. The report contains a laundry list of potential cuts that we would surely want to avoid, from reducing the availability of Head Start to decreasing housing and rental assistance to the homeless to closing after school programs and much more.

The sad truth is that persistent underfunding has made social work, childcare, and other human services some of our nation's lowest paid professions. "Parking lot attendants get paid more than childcare workers," SHSC co-chair Steve Daschle told me. "It is so telling of our society that we value our cars more than our children." With so many human service workers now earning below $15 an hour, a minimum wage hike would cost SHSC members millions of dollars a year.

The challenge in the minimum wage debate, says Daschle, "is to get policy makers to look at the bigger picture, and see how these decisions ripple across the broader community." More funding might be part of the solution, as well as a phase in that gives both human service organizations and their government and philanthropic funders the time to adjust. But as much as he warns against ignoring the potential impact on vulnerable communities, he also cautions against misusing this report: "It should not be used as a reason for not pursuing a minimum wage," insists Daschle.

"Much of our work is all about trying to bring a livable wage to all people," says Daschle. Including the employees of SHSC members.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014





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Monday, February 17, 2014



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Thursday, February 13, 2014



Wednesday, February 12, 2014



Sunday, February 9, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014



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Friday, January 31, 2014



Wednesday, January 29, 2014



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Friday, January 24, 2014



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