On the picket line

Support ‘Seating Workers United’ in Selma, Ala.

During the 50th anniversary of the heroic Selma-to-Montgomery, Ala., march on March 8, a current struggle of workers came to light there. The mostly African-American women workers at the Lear Corp. in Selma make foam car seats for multinational Hyundai. In 2008, they filed a wage theft lawsuit, proving the company failed to pay them overtime. In May 2014, they filed charges with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that a chemical used to make the seats was making them sick. They say the company failed to provide sufficient ventilation and protective gear, which led to workers developing chronic asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Despite working for 10 years since the plant opened, production workers make $12 an hour or less. The workers, who came together in Seating Workers United, are actively organizing to join the United Auto Workers.

On March 7, a delegation of Lear workers, faith leaders and other supporters went to Hyundai headquarters in Montgomery to deliver a letter detailing the hazardous working conditions and poverty wages paid by the automaker’s supplier. “The workers were callously turned away by company security, which refused to even deliver the letter,” writes UAW retiree Dianne Mathiowetz in a March 10 email. “These brave workers [made] it clear that the fight for jobs and justice continues today in Selma.”

For more information, see “Who Really Made Your Car” on Facebook and follow links to a general petition demanding higher pay and better working conditions; and sign the Seating Workers United petition to OSHA at tinyurl.com/lf73fbe.

Protesters demand $15 minimum wage in Philly

Philadelphia, named the poorest big city in the U.S. by a recent census report, has become the latest city to discuss a $15-an-hour minimum wage. On March 4, more than 150 workers, activists and faith leaders, organized by 15NOW, packed Philadelphia City Hall to urge officials to legislate against poverty wages. Dozens of low-wage workers testified before the City Council about the urgent need to raise the minimum wage, which is a paltry $7.25 in Pennsylvania. Despite a state law that makes it illegal for cities to raise minimum wages locally, supporters are hoping that such a resolution will trigger a legal and legislative challenge to the state. (Eyewitness report from Scott Williams)

Papa John’s delivery workers in NYC to get $2.1 million in back pay

A New York County Supreme Court judge ordered the owner of five Papa John’s restaurants in the Harlem section of Manhattan on March 3 to pay out more than $2.1 million in back pay and damages to hundreds of delivery workers. The court found that franchisee New Majority Holdings and owner/operator Ronald Johnson consistently paid workers less than the minimum wage, stole workers’ wages and illegally withheld overtime. This judgment comes less than a month after a New York court ordered another Papa John’s franchisee to pay out almost $800,000 in back pay for stolen wages. Luis Juarez, a worker at a Manhattan Papa John’s restaurant, urged more workers to stand up against wage theft: “I ask my colleagues not to remain silent against injustice, and to demand payment for the hard work they do.” (ag.ny.gov, Mar. 5)

Women’s economic status: mostly worse or same after 10 years

The study “Status of Women in the States: 2015,” published in March by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, reports that women workers’ economic status has gotten worse or stayed the same in almost half the 50 states and the District of Columbia over the last 10 years. The IWPR used four indicators to evaluate women’s economic status based on full-time, year-round work: the percentage of women in the workforce, the number of women in professional or managerial positions, women’s median yearly earnings and the gender wage gap.

Women constitute the majority of the low-wage workforce, while higher paying technology and engineering jobs remain dominated by men. White women are paid on average 22 cents less than white men, or 78 cents for every dollar made by a man, though the gap increases for women of color, with Latinas earning the least. The gap is narrowed for women in unions by almost 50 percent, or to about 10 cents. Women workers in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic states fared the best, while those in Southern states fared the worst. Based on current statistics, the survey estimates the wage gap will not close entirely until the year 2058. (RHrealitycheck.org, Mar. 12) That means we need to make some real changes mighty soon!