On the picket line

Pickets continue for low-wage food workers

In Manhattan on Dec. 14, labor activists picketed Capital Grille, a chain owned by the Darden Restaurant Group that includes Red Lobster and Olive Garden. They demanded that the corporation sit down with the Restaurant Opportunities Center United to address wage theft, racist discrimination and retaliation, among other charges detailed in lawsuits. Workers at Capital Grilles in Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles and the Washington, D.C., area have also filed suits. They ask supporters to call Regional Director Bill Butler at 407-245-4051 and tell Darden to stop being a Scrooge — it raked in $700 million in profits last year — and negotiate with the low-paid workers. To sign a petition supporting the workers, visit www.dignityatdarden.org.

Two regular pickets at Golden Farm, the Brooklyn, N.Y., supermarket which owes immigrant workers their jobs and more than $500,000 in court-ordered back wages, were arrested on Dec. 9, but later released without charges. Protesters returned in the rain on Dec. 16 to pressure owner Sonny Kim to rehire the low-paid workers, give them the wages they earned, and sign a fair contract with them. Business is down 30 percent, thanks to weekly demonstrations organized by 99 Pickets and the Occupy communities.

Conn. nursing home workers back on job

Nearly 600 nursing home workers, represented by the New England Health Care Employees Union, an affiliate of Service Employees 1199, had been on an unfair-labor-practices strike since July 3 at five HealthBridge centers in Connecticut. The strike got results: they went back to work on Dec. 17. A federal judge ruled Dec. 11 that HealthBridge did not bargain in good faith when it imposed a pension freeze, an increase in health care costs of at least $6,000 a year for family coverage, and elimination of six sick days and a week’s vacation. (New York Times, Dec. 13)

Labor laws must cover domestic workers

The first comprehensive study of the horrendous working conditions of nannies, household cleaners, caregivers and other domestic workers confirmed that these workers, predominantly immigrant women of color, are often paid below the minimum wage ($7.25 an hour), with no benefits or sick days, and have no legal job protections or control over working conditions. Though these workers are usually needed to free others to work, the 2,086 women interviewed reported they don’t earn enough to adequately support their own families. The study, conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois, Chicago, concluded that domestic workers need to be covered by federal and state minimum wage laws, which include unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination and workers’ compensation provisions, as well as the right to organize and bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. The AFL-CIO formed a partnership with NDWA in 2011. (AFL-CIO Now blog, Nov. 28)

Daycon strikers win long fight for justice

The janitorial and maintenance workers at Daycon got reinstated with back pay and benefits after an unfair-labor-practices strike by Teamsters Local 639 in Maryland. It took two-and-a-half years and a court ruling on Nov. 9 after management illegally implemented a cutback contract. Local 639 credited union solidarity organized by the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO with helping them win their long battle for a better contract. (dclabor.org, Nov. 9)

USPS sets productivity records in 2012

In sharp contrast to the drive of the 1% to privatize the U.S. Postal Service, the new annual report shows how well the USPS performs. Worker productivity set a record in 2012, and shipping revenues increased 8.7 percent due to a tiny rise in the bad economy. Overall, the USPS brought in $65.7 billion, with operating expenses of $67.9 billion. Only 16 percent of the overall loss is due to mail delivery. Though this year’s deficit is $2.2 billion, down from $4.9 billion last year, the USPS’s total deficit is $15.9 billion. It’s estimated that 80 percent of that stems from having to put aside retirement benefits for workers 75 years in the future. Since Congress passed the prefunding requirement in 2006, the USPS has set aside $47 billion, a killer requirement that no other government agency or private company faces. But the billions set aside could easily erase the deficit. That’s why all four of the postal worker unions, with widespread community support across the U.S., are advocating that the law be overturned. (AFL-CIO NOW blog, Nov. 19)

Help needed for construction workers in D.C.

There’s a building boom in Washington, D.C., but local residents are “grossly underrepresented” on construction sites, reported a study published Dec. 5 by the research center Good Jobs First. The study, “Taxation without Employment: The Case for the District’s Strong Local Hiring Rules,” shows that new local hiring rules need to be implemented to help put 30,000 unemployed in D.C. back to work. The report was commissioned by the Laborers’ International Union of North America. (Union City, online newsletter of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, Dec. 5)