On the picket line

Costly delay for home-care workers

Enforcement of the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and overtime after 40 hours of work a week for over 2 million home-care workers, mostly women who are disproportionately women of color, will not be fully implemented until Jan. 1, 2016. The program was scheduled to begin Jan. 1, 2015. That means, said Jodi Sturgeon, president of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, that these women workers, among the lowest paid in the country, “will have to wait as long as another 12 months to receive even the most basic labor protections, guarantees that most other [U.S.] workers take for granted.” (New York Times, Oct. 8)

The Labor Department announced Oct. 7 that it was postponing the implementation date to June 30, 2015, and then using its “discretion” about enforcement for the next six months because many states had complained about paying “higher” wages and overtime. Illinois claimed overtime for 10,000 workers would exceed $32 million a year. California estimated it would cost more than $600 million. That means these workers, who live in poverty although they work full time — let’s call this what it really is: wage theft — have been subsidizing state governments with billions of dollars a year.

How did this happen? When federal wage laws were written 40 years ago, home-care workers were classified as “babysitters,” with no labor rights. Obviously, both sexism and racism dictated their demeaned status and ensuing poverty. Even now, as more and more home-care workers are needed to look after aging baby boomers, the blatant discrimination and profound injustice will continue as state budgets are deemed more important than these workers’ rights and needs.

Just 1 percent of the federal war budget would more than cover wage and overtime costs. “Justice delayed is justice denied” — a national disgrace.

Wage theft bill becomes law in D.C.

Wage theft is a huge problem in this country for low-wage workers, especially immigrants. Bosses think they can get away with cheating workers out of overtime or paying them sub-minimum wages because they are desperate for jobs. But low-wage workers are fighting back. After years of organizing, strategizing and campaigning in Washington, D.C., by the Employment Justice Center, DC Jobs with Justice and other allies in the DC Wage Theft Coalition, the Wage Theft Prevention Act was signed into law on Sept. 19. Dalia Catalan, an EJC member, exclaimed, “When I knew that we had won, wow, I felt happy because of all of our sacrifices — we did it!” The law goes into effect in early December.

Key features of the bill, which bumped up provisions in the existing law, making it the most protective wage theft law in the U.S., are that employers face much higher civil penalties and damages for violations, and may have their business licenses suspended if they commit willful violations or fail to pay ordered restitution to workers or the city. Bosses have to provide written terms of employment signed when employees are hired, and they are liable for actions by subcontractors or temp agencies. Employees are able to bring class, collective or individual actions in court or choose a 60-day administrative process to get an initial determination. Protections from retaliation, including injunctive relief and statutory damages and penalties, have been expanded. (dcejc.org, Sept. 22)

TWU wins organizing drives in NYC

Transit Workers Local 100 has been busy organizing workers in transit-related jobs in New York City. It didn’t take the more than 200 bicycle mechanics, dispatchers, call center operators and technicians in the city’s bike-share program, which opened in May 2013, long to figure out they needed a union to fight for better wages and regular schedules. Citi Bike worker Dolly Winter called the union victory on Sept. 16 “very empowering.” Local 100 President John Samuelsen said, “We view bike sharing as another important mode of public transit. We fully intend to throw our energy and political support behind expanding these bike-sharing systems and ensuring they are designed to support existing transportation networks.” He added that bike-share workers in other cities, notably Boston and D.C., are looking to join TWU. In addition, 550 call takers and reservation agents at Global Contact Services in Queens, N.Y., who schedule paratransit services for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, voted to join Local 100 in mid-September. (aflcio.blog.org, Sept. 18)