Tuesday, May 31, 2011

As If Wal-Mart Wasn't Evil Enough . . .

I am Ali, an intern at Philadelphia JwJ, and I’ll be sending out blog posts over the course of this summer.

Currently, labor conditions and wages in Bangladeshi sweatshops are among the worst worldwide. The minimum wage is $43 USD a month, an amount insufficient for basic needs for workers and their families. However, a workers’ campaign for higher wages faced legal repercussions, including jail time, torture, and possibly the death penalty. Factory owners filed false charges against the leaders, leading to their imprisonment and torture.

Wal-Mart is the biggest purchaser of garments made in these sweatshops, and the United States is the biggest consumer worldwide. Wal-Mart profits greatly from the products made in these sweatshops, and the factory owners are often Wal-Mart subcontractors.

Wal-Mart needs to demand that the workers in these sweatshops have proper wages and benefits, and provide annual reports of workplace conditions. Unfortunately, Wal-Mart refuses to be transparent about international working conditions, ignoring demands for accountability from its very shareholders. Wal-Mart must admit to the injustices in Bangladeshi workplaces and hold itself accountable to its shareholders and the concerned public.

Currently, JwJ is working with UFCW on a campaign for fair working standards at Wal-Marts around the country, and for international accountability for workers’ rights.

Take action: Tell Walmart to stand up for workers’ rights!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

JwJ, Action United, and Coalition for Healthy Families wrap City Hall in signed postcards supporting earned sick time!

This morning, Jobs with Justice members joined other activists from the Coalition for Healthy Families inwrapping City Hall in 10,000 signed postcards asking council members to pass the Earned Sick Time bill. That's right, 10,000 postcards--and we had another 8,000 cards left over!

Check out WHYY's coverage of the action. Who is that lovely person pictured in the article? Why, that's Diane Mohney, JwJ activist extraordinare!

Next Thursday, Jobs with Justice will be organizing a clergy vigil outside Council Chambers. Faith leaders will stand and witness to the moral necessity of this legislation.

Want to help out? Good. We need all hands on deck the morning of the final vote on earned sick time--Thursday, June 9. We're going to be loud enough, big enough, and bad enough to get it through to Council: more than 70% of Philadelphians support paid sick days legislation!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Update: Philadelphians Show Support for Hunger Strikers

On May 23, activists in Philadelphia showed their support for the hunger striking workers and allies in Minneapolis, who are part of the movement seeking dignity and improved conditions for those who clean the floors at supermarkets owned or controlled by Supervalu.

Photo by Eduardo Soriano-Castillo

A delegation of fifteen from Philly Jobs with Justice, Temple U. Student Labor Action Project, PhilaPOSH (occupational safety and health advocates), UNITE HERE, and Solidarity, accompanied Gwen Snyder, executive director, as she attempted to present a letter - from JwJ supporting the workers - to the manager of a Supervalu-affiliated ACME Supermarket. The manager refused to accept the letter, citing a corporate directive, and told the delegation that they were trespassing as he phoned the police. The delegates then handbilled 300 car windshields and explained their concerns to patrons, as the manager frantically paced the parking lot and read our message into his phone. The police declined to respond to the call.

Photo by Eduardo Soriano-Castillo

The event was peaceful and civil, well received by patrons, and obviously disturbing to ACME officials who dare not imagine what might be next.

Supporters can follow this struggle at the web site: ctul.net and in the pages of Labor Notes. See the initial story below... 

Labor Notes
Minneapolis Grocery Store Cleaners Launch Hunger Strike

A mad dash to outsource cleaning services to the lowest bidder has cut wages to minimum wage (sometimes less) with no benefits. A Minneapolis worker center announced a hunger strike to protest the conditions. Photo: Alysa R. Friedrich

By Eduardo Soriano-Castillo

Four retail cleaning workers and four community allies will begin an open–ended hunger strike Saturday to ratchet up pressure on the Supervalu grocery chain. The workers, members of a Minneapolis worker center, want the company to negotiate a code of conduct that guarantees fair wages and conditions for the workers who clean its stores late into the night.
The group, led by immigrant workers from Mexico and Central America, also seeks the reinstatement of an illegally fired workplace leader.
“The drastic nature of our action is only equal to the drastic conditions under which retail cleaning workers have to work,” said Mario Colloly, the fired worker. He’s one of the hunger strikers.
After months of requests by workers and their allies for a meeting, and a November march that brought 300 members and supporters to protest in front of several stores, retail cleaning workers in the Twin Cities have said enough is enough. They are organizing with the support of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL), or the Workers United in Struggle Center, along with faith, community, and union allies.
Kristin Melby, who works on nutrition in the childhood development program in the Minneapolis schools, said she’s joining the hunger strike because “exploitation is happening in my own backyard.”
Melby, a member of the teachers union, said the campaign has built an awareness in the Twin Cities around the poor working conditions of retail cleaning workers, which will grow with the dramatic action. “The energy is building,” she said.
A mad dash to outsource cleaning services to the lowest bidder over the last decades has caused vicious competition among cleaning subcontractors—with severe consequences for workers. Retail cleaners in Minneapolis say wages have been cut from $12 an hour, with some benefits, to minimum wage (sometimes less) with no benefits.
Wage cuts and workload increases have been the most dramatic at Cub Foods, which is run by Supevalu. Other abuses, said CTUL organizer Brian Payne, include sexual harassment, lack of air conditioning or heating, and threats of physical violence.
The industry as a whole is plagued by severe wage theft and human rights violations. Acting on a tip from overseas, the Department of Justice uncovered a slavery ring in Pennsylvania last year where Ukrainian cleaners put in 16-hour days, seven days a week, at retail stores including Target, Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Safeway, for $100 a month. Prosecutors said workers were raped, beaten, threatened, and held in virtual bondage.

Pressure Nationwide

As the hunger strike begins in Minneapolis, delegations of community supporters will handbill customers and deliver letters to managers at 20 Supervalu-owned stores nationwide.
“The workers’ voices need to be heard,” said Gwen Snyder, executive director of Philadelphia Jobs with Justice, which will lead a delegation to an ACME grocery.
The hunger strike is the latest front of a vigorous campaign targeting Cub Foods. Community activists have faced a brutal reaction to their protests. During an in-store guerrilla theater action March 15, demonstrators say a Cub Foods security guard assaulted them before dousing activists and bystanders with pepper spray, including a two-year-old.
The protest demanded the reinstatement of Colloly, who was fired for organizing with his co-workers. “Although the company broke the law when they fired me, I have not given up,” Colloly said.

Code of Conduct

The worker center is demanding a legally binding agreement or code of conduct from stores that subcontract their cleaning work. They want Supervalu to guarantee fair wages, improved working conditions, and the right for workers to organize free of retaliation. The group says it will work out specifics in negotiation—if chain executives will agree to meet.
The Twin Cities faith community has begun a “receipts for worker rights” campaign to remind management of the buying power supporters could withhold.
Peter Marincel, an organizer with Spirit of Faith Church, said congregations are collecting receipts from their purchases at Supervalu-owned stores and delivering them to company decision-makers.
“We want to send a clear message that our values are indeed aligned with our pocketbooks,” Marincel said.
Jennifer Christensen, UFCW Local 1189 secretary-treasurer, said the local backs the cleaners. The Food and Commercial Workers hold contracts for clerks, baggers, meat cutters, and stockers at Supervalu stores.
“Because of subcontracting and the hiring of temporary workers, many of these one-time UFCW members have seen their standards of living completely decimated,” she said. “We want to see all our shops organized wall to wall.”
The Service Employees union has seen success in organizing cleaners in commercial office buildings, but Greg Nammacher, a staffer at SEIU Local 26 in the Twin Cities, says the union hasn’t figured out how to organize in retail cleaning because it’s so splintered and decentralized.
SEIU members and staff have participated in marches, in-store actions, and delegations to subcontractors demanding Colloly’s reinstatement. “We support CTUL and the retail sanitation workers in keeping the pressure on these subcontractors and winning the respect and dignity they deserve,” Nammacher said.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sign your name in support of Earned Sick Time, and mark 5/26 on your calendar!

Looking for a quick way to express your support for the Earned Sick Time bill before the weekend starts?

Great, because we need your signature: click here to sign the coalition's online petition for individuals in support of Earned Sick Time legislation in Philadelphia.

Next week we'll begin our final three-week stretch of action urging City Council to adopt this vital piece of legislation. This coming Thursday, May 26th at 8 a.m., we will be literally wrapping City Hall with the support cards the Coalition for Healthy Families has been collecting from Philadelphians. It should be an amazing action--we hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

How do you like THEM apples, City Council? #EarnedSickTime Campaign delivers baskets of apples, moms' stories to Council

Fun science factoid: an apple a day doesn't keep the doctor away.

If you've ever been a working mom with a tickle in your throat just receiving a call at work from the school nurse breaking the news that there are two sniffling, puking, flu-ridden kids sitting in his office waiting for a ride home and maybe some antibiotics, you almost certainly don't need me to tell you that.

But it seems like Mayor Nutter and some members of City Council would benefit from the info.

That's why moms, faith leaders, JwJ activists, and other supporters spent this morning making special deliveries to councilpeople. The delivery? Apple-o-grams--baskets containing apples and some pretty heartbreaking stories from local moms, gathered by Moms Rising.

Here's Councilman Bill Greenlee, accepting his basket and promising that "this bill will get done!"

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Orange you glad I didn't say banana? Earned sick time applegram action TOMORROW, 9 am!

Have you been keeping up with the Earned Sick Time campaign? If not, don't worry; we'll catch you up.

So here's the deal: we want folks in Philly to be able to earn paid sick time. Now, that doesn't mean taking paid sick days whenever you want, all willy-nilly. It simply means the right to accumulate a few paid sick days each year at your job.
Which means if you're sick, or your kids are sick, you don't have to debate whether to A) lose your pay and fall behind on the mortgage, or B) work anyway and make everyone around you (or all the kids around your kid) sick, too.

Let's face it, that option B isn't too great for any of us. Especially working moms and other guardians, who are forced to choose between earning the income that sustains their family and caring for an ailing family member.

So show up tomorrow and show your support. Here are the details, courtesy of the Coalition for Healthy Families:

  • Moms and children will deliver over 700 letters to Philadelphia City Council Members and “Apple-o-grams” – apples with messages from local families to Council urging Members to support a bill that would guarantee workers the ability to accrue earned sick days. Each Apple-o-gram will include apples and a booklet with personal messages from local families and stories about the need for earned sick days.

    WHEN: 9:00 am, May 12, 2011

    WHERE: 4th Floor, Outside of Council Chambers City Hall Philadelphia

    The Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (Bill No. 08074) would allow workers the opportunity to earn paid sick days to care for themselves or loved ones. The bill unanimously passed out of a committee on March 1, 2011. If the bill is passed, Philadelphia will become the fourth city in the country to pass earned sick days legislation so that workers can care for themselves or a sick family member.

    Help us show Council members the strong support for this bill by coming to City Hall. You are welcome to come to the press conference and then stay to help us deliver the baskets.

Pretty cool, right?


Monday, May 9, 2011

Austerity in America: the fall of Camden, NJ

Hey, folks--

After some technical difficulty (and, to be quite honest, slight overcommitment on the part of our staff!) , we're back up and blogging. And what better way to start than by letting you know about a quite timely discussion of what happened in a city that could no longer fund its public workforce?

Austerity in America: The Fall of Camden, NJ

Monday, May 16th – 7pm
The A-Space, 4722 Baltimore Ave., Philadelphia, PA

Camden, New Jersey went from a diverse and mighty industrial city--home to 55,000 of good paying industrial jobs--only to become the one of the nation’s most segregated and poorest.

In 2002, The New Jersey state government claimed it needed to take over nearly all of the city’s functions--legally disenfranchising every resident--only to leave a trail of failed development schemes and enough financial ruin that the city recently laid off half of its police and fire departments.

Join us for an intriguing discussion about capital flight, severe austerity, urban development, and political corruption.

Panelists include:
Dr. Howard Gillette - Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden and author of Camden After the Fall: Decline and Renewal in a Post-Industrial City.

Tom Knoche - Community organizer, Camden activist, and author of Common Sense for Camden: Taking Back Our City.

Dan Sidorick - Adjunct Assistant Professor of History at Temple University and author of Condensed Capitalism: Campbell Soup and the Pursuit of Cheap Production in the Twentieth Century.

Part of the Philadelphia Industrial Workers of the World’s Philly Labor Talk Series.

Contact walt.weber.iww@gmail.com or 215-839-9258 with questions. This event is FREE!

Hope to see you there.