On the picket line

Tough anti-wage theft law passed in Chicago

On Jan. 17, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed a bill instituting one of the toughest anti-wage theft laws in the U.S. The bill, supported by Interfaith Worker Justice affiliate Arise Chicago, immigrant worker groups and unions, mandates that the city can revoke licenses of businesses found guilty of wage theft. Alderperson Ameya Pawar, who sponsored the bill, noted that being pro-business now means “caring about how employees are treated.” A study by the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois-Chicago estimated that $7.3 million of workers’ wages are stolen by employers every week in Cook County — that’s nearly $400 million a year! Not only were 26 percent of low-wage workers paid less than the required minimum wage, but 60 percent of them were paid at least $1 less per hour. These workers were also not paid for overtime and frequently encountered retaliation when they complained about illegal working conditions. A 2012 study found that low-wage workers in 44 states had little or no protection against wage theft. (aflcio.NOW.bog, Jan. 24)

Boeing agrees to same-sex survivor benefits

Even after Washington state voted to legalize marriage equality last November, Boeing asserted it would continue to deny same-sex couples equal survivor benefits because it wasn’t required by federal law. But on Jan. 17, Boeing ate humble pie. Union negotiators in the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (IFPTE Local 2001), which represents 23,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers, told alternative press The Stranger on Jan. 17 about new inclusive contract language. What helped Boeing stop its bigoted ways was a SPEEA petition signed by 79,000 people demanding those benefits. But winning that demand is only a tiny part of SPEEA’s struggle for a new contract. If Boeing doesn’t offer better contract terms, particularly more equitable calculations for determining pensions and extending pension coverage to new hires, the workers may vote in early February to strike. (speea.org, Jan. 28) Stay tuned.

Yoga conference ‘bad karma’ at S.F. Hyatt

When 2,000 yoga practitioners gathered at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency on Jan. 17, they were met by a strong picket line organized by UNITE HERE Local 2. The union, which has boycotted the hotel for the past three years, let the yogis know they were creating “bad karma” given the hotel’s abuse of its housekeepers, who have high injury rates and excessive workloads. Walking the line were several yogis, including trainee Stella Ng, a nurse at Summit Hospital in Oakland. “Yoga is for everyone, not just for improving yourself. So social justice is important. And I know how tough it is on housekeepers because I worked as a state employment counselor where workers were trained to clean a room and make a bed in seven minutes.” No wonder the union has called Hyatt “the worst of the worst.” (counterpunch, Jan. 18)