On the picket line

Demand higher fine for farmworker’s death

Randy Vasquez

Randy Vasquez

Randy Vasquez, 27, was killed Feb. 24 when the tractor he was driving overturned in a manure lagoon at Riverview Ranch Dairy, a member of the Darigold farmer-owned business in Washington state. The state fined Riverview $6,800, but the dairy appealed the fine, with the support of key members of the state agribusiness industry. On Oct. 13 the fine was reduced to $2,200, on the condition that Riverview take action to see that such an accident would not happen again.

Nubia Guajardo, Vasquez’s spouse, told the Oct. 13 Daily Sun News, “Is $2,200 all Randy’s life is worth? … The state acts like a farmworker dying is just a cost of doing business. State officials should be ashamed of themselves for slashing their already puny fine. I have faith the public won’t accept it.”

Sign the United Farm Workers’ petition at ufw.org to demand that Gov. Jay Inslee increase the fine and that Darigold work with the UFW and Vasquez’s widow to take real steps to ensure farmworkers can work without fear of death or injury.

American Airlines agents win first contract

On Oct. 1, the Teamsters and the Communication Workers announced that 15,000 American Airlines passenger service agents have won their first nationwide contract. This is the first pact since the merger of American Airlines and USAirways in 2013. The contract offers major improvements in wages and benefits, including an immediate 3 percent wage hike, with another 9 percent over the five-year contract. The contract must still be ratified by the workers.

This was the second nationwide pact the two unions and others won the week of Sept. 28. More than 4,000 workers at the American Red Cross in 24 states ratified their first three-year contract on Sept. 30. (dclabor.org, Oct. 2)

WeWork to hire union janitors

On Oct. 13 WeWork, a start-up valued at $1 billion that provides temporary office space to entrepreneurs and big businesses (with perks like showers, arcade games and coffee bars), put out a request for proposals from unionized janitorial contractors in New York and Boston. This followed months of protests by cleaners paid as little as $10 an hour through a nonunion janitorial contractor. After reaching out to Local 1199 of the Service Employees union in New York, the workers demonstrated outside WeWork offices in New York for a raise and union representation.

Things escalated after 100 workers were fired in September. But, according to the Oct. 14 New York Times, many of those who rent WeWork space sympathized with the laid-off janitors. So WeWork sat down with Local 1199 and, reports WeWork’s chief operating officer Arthur Minson, “in a matter of a few weeks’ time we moved from foes to friends.” Ivan Castelan, one of the former janitors who will be rehired, said, “It feels really good to see that when working people stand together, we can change our lives and the lives of other workers for the better.”

Minimum wage, overtime affirmed for home care workers

In 2013 the Department of Labor, after assessing the burgeoning $84 billion home care industry, issued new rules guaranteeing minimum wage and overtime protections for home care workers hired by agencies. Previously such workers had been deemed informal “sitters,” unworthy of basic wage and labor protections. But caring for the elderly and people with disabilities is now big business. More than 90 percent of those who do the demanding, back-breaking work are women; more than half are people of color; one in four are immigrants; and one in five are single mothers. (phinational.org, February 2014)

Industry groups challenged the new rules in 2014, arguing they would “destabilize the entire industry” — read “decrease profits stolen from hard-working poor women.” Late last year a district court judge blocked implementation of the new rules. But in August a three-judge appeals court reinstated the protections. On Oct. 6, the Supreme Court agreed, signing off on the ruling.

But the greedy industry groups are dug in; they have filed for a hearing before the full appeals court. (RH ­Reality Check, Oct. 13) Stay tuned.