On the picket line

By Matty Starrdust and Sue Davis

Minn. janitors strike on ‘Black’ Friday

Joining other strikers on “Black” Friday, Nov. 28, contracted janitorial workers who clean big-box stores in the Twin Cities area walked off the job at more than 50 retailers to declare, “Enough is enough.” At least 150 janitorial workers and community allies held a rally at a Minneapolis shopping center demanding living wages and safer working conditions. The workers have seen their wages plummet over the past several years while their workloads have nearly doubled. Fifteen years ago, many retail janitors earned an average of $10 to $11 an hour, while today wages hover just above the federal minimum wage at $7.50. Many workers have to work seven days a week to provide for their families. The strikes were organized by Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (Center for Workers United in Struggle) as part of its ongoing effort to unionize the workers. (Workday Minnesota, Nov. 28; ctul.net)

San Francisco retail workers win bill of rights

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pass a package of legislation known as the “Retail Workers Bill of Rights” on Nov. 25. This bill, the first of its kind in the U.S., aims to end a host of unfair, discriminatory scheduling practices that have long plagued workers at major retailers within city limits. The legislation, which is expected to be signed by Mayor Ed Lee, mandates that employers post schedules two weeks in advance or else pay a penalty to employees who are made to come into work on shorter notice. The legislation is designed to promote full-time employment by requiring employers to offer more hours to part-time employees before hiring additional workers and to prohibit discrimination against part-time workers with regard to pay rate, promotions and paid time off. (retailworkerrights.com, Nov. 26)

Wage theft rampant in Calif. and N.Y.

A new U.S. Labor Department study exposes that between 3.5 and 6.5 percent of all wage and salary workers in California and New York — more than 300,000 each month — are paid less than the federal or state minimum wage, with an estimated 2 million workers affected nationwide. The study, based on 2011 data, showed that $20 million to $29 million is cut from workers’ paychecks each week, lowering workers’ income in New York by 36 percent and in California by 49 percent. That means the bosses steal more than a third and nearly half of low-wage workers’ income in these states each week! Who takes the brunt of this? Primarily youth and women. Violations are rampant — no surprise — in the restaurant and hotel industries, followed by educational and health services, and retail and wholesale — all industries where low-wage workers have been protesting for at least two years. (New York Times, Dec. 4)

Pregnancy disability case goes to Supreme Court

Even though the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was supposed to protect women workers’ rights when they become pregnant, a case against United Parcel Service was heard by the Supreme Court on Dec. 3 brought by a woman who was laid off by UPS without pay when her doctor recommended she be given lighter duty. Women’s rights groups rallied outside the court to support Peggy Young’s case. The National Partnership for Women & Families pointed out that nearly half of the national workforce is women and nearly two-thirds of all breadwinners are women. (aflcio.org/blog, Dec. 3) Stay tuned.

Support New England telecom workers’ strike

Two thousand employees of the New England telecommunications giant FairPoint have been on strike since Oct. 17 to protest the company’s continuing efforts to outsource union jobs, and cut wages and benefits. Despite promises made by FairPoint to create 675 new jobs as a condition of its 2008 acquisition of Verizon Northern New England’s operations, FairPoint has eliminated almost 900 jobs. When contracts with the Communication Workers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers expired in August, the company moved to freeze workers’ pension benefits, increase health care premiums and end retiree health care entirely. Nearly two-thirds of FairPoint’s 3,200 workers are represented by a coalition of IBEW Locals 2320 New Hampshire, 2326 Vermont and 232 Maine, as well as CWA Local 1400 New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. The workers are supported by a wide array of community members and labor activists, including the Boston School Bus Drivers Union, United Steelworkers Local 8751. For more information and to learn how you can help the strikers during the holidays, visit fairnessatfairpoint.com.