On the picket line

More car washers organize in NYC

Immigrant workers at four more New York City car washes, two in the Bronx and two in Queens, signed three-year contacts with the Department Store (RWDSU) and the Food and Commercial Workers unions in New York City, UFCW announced Oct. 24. The workers will get an immediate wage increase, with three more raises, bringing the workers’ pay to a minimum of $9.18 an hour. The contract set up a grievance procedure, protections for immigrants and against discrimination, increased job security, a posted work schedule with hours and overtime evenly distributed, an equitable system for distributing tips, and bonuses for five holidays. Starting next year, workers will get five paid days off and two personal days, in addition to the right to take family leave and time to take care of immigration issues. Ernesto Salazar, who works at Webster Car Wash in the Bronx, said: “We will no longer be treated without dignity; now the bosses have to respect us. We hope to serve as an example to other carwasheros!” The unions’ WASH New York Campaign has won a total of seven union elections within the last several months. UFCW reports that the campaign is improving workplace safety at car washes across the city.

Voters approve minimum wage hikes

On Nov. 5, voters in New Jersey passed a referendum giving minimum-wage workers a raise. By a margin of 61 percent, they approved an amendment to the state constitution that will raise the minimum hourly wage to $8.25 on Jan. 1 and then step it up annually to keep pace with inflation. They passed it despite Gov. Chris Christie’s veto last year.

Also on Nov. 5, voters in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac approved the “Good Jobs Initiative” referendum sponsored by labor unions and other groups by 54 percent. That will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for more than 6,000 workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and at airport-related businesses, including hotels, car-rental agencies and parking lots. Washington state’s current minimum wage is $9.19, the highest in the nation.

In July, a Hart Research Associates poll showed 80 percent of respondents supported raising the federal minimum wage. That was confirmed by a Nov. 11 Gallup poll where 76 percent of respondents approved the hike. Even President Obama has gotten on board. The Nov. 7 New York Times reported that Obama now supports the Harkin-Miller bill, which would raise the federal minimum from the current $7.25, where it’s been since 2009, to $10.10 an hour in 2015. However, the House defeated the raise by a vote of 233 to 184 when it was attached to another bill on March 15. Stay tuned.

Also on Nov. 5, voters in Cincinnati defeated a ballot initiative by 78 percent that would have eliminated the city’s pension plan for public workers and replaced it with a 401(k) retirement plan.

Walmart strike in Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago

Between Nov. 8 and Nov. 13, workers at Walmart stores in Los Angeles, Seattle and Chicago, supported by hundreds of activists, held one-day strikes in the run-up to the biggest shopping day of the year — “Black Friday,” the day after the so-called “Thanksgiving” holiday. OUR Walmart is planning actions all over the country for that day. Salon online reported Nov. 12 that subcontracted janitorial workers who clean banks, stores like Target and other corporations in Minneapolis/St. Paul plan to strike that day as well.