On the picket line

Demanding workers’ rights at African American Museum

Members of labor, human rights and faith communities protested at the main offices of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., the week of July 30 to demand workers’ rights. “We will not cease targeting the Smithsonian Institution until there is assurance that Wings Enterprises will not work at the National Museum of African American History and Culture,” said Ronnell Howard, a striking Wings worker and union iron worker. Wings employees have been on strike for nearly three years due to the company’s history of safety violations, unfair wages and retaliation against workers. “I worked for Wings for four years,” continued Howard, “and regardless of my hard work, Wings underpaid me, owing me over $10,000. As an African American and member of this community, I would be offended if the Smithsonian allows a company with such a bad record to build the African American Museum.” (Union City, online newsletter of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, Aug. 6)

Women farm workers win sexual harassment case

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued DiMare Ruskin, one of Florida’s largest tomato growers, on behalf of its women workers, for sexual harassment. A 95-page report released in May by Human Rights Watch found that sexual harassment of women farm workers was “systemic.” The week of July 23, the court agreed, ruling that the company had to pay the women, mostly immigrants, $150,000 in damages. DiMare Ruskin also has to implement a companywide anti-harassment policy, provide training about anti-discrimination laws, and create a system so women can submit complaints to the company without fear of retaliation or deportation. The women workers originally registered their complaints with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which has a history of fighting for living wages and better working conditions for Florida tomato pickers. This is another victory in CIW’s long struggle for economic justice in the fields. (Miami Herald, July 26)

American pilots’ contract upheld

In a surprise victory for organized labor, on Aug. 15, a federal judge denied a request by American Airline’s parent company, AMR Corp., to end its collective bargaining agreement with the Allied Pilots Association “because it would give the carrier unrestricted ability to furlough pilots.” (New York Times, Aug. 16) The ruling comes after the union rejected the company’s latest offer on Aug. 8, which would have cut $315 million from pilots’ pay, among other changes. If the judge had granted the request, American, which is trying to chop labor costs in order to get out of bankruptcy at the workers’ expense, would have been free to make more drastic pay cuts as well as institute hundreds of layoffs.

Raising minimum wage would create 100,000 jobs

On July 26, the so-called “Fair Minimum Wage Act” was introduced in both houses of Congress. If enacted, the federal minimum wage would rise to $9.80 by July 1, 2014, affecting 30 million workers, their families and communities, reported the Economic Policy Institute on Aug. 14. “The multiple positive effects that would result from a higher minimum wage are clear: It would boost the earnings of working families hardest hit by the Great Recession, spur economic growth, and create about 100,000 net new jobs.” (epi.org, Aug. 14) The EPI estimates that the U.S. gross domestic product would increase by roughly $25 billion. Other statistics refute stereotypes of minimum wage workers: 55 percent are women, 56 percent are white, 42 percent have some college education, 54 percent work full time, and the average minimum wage worker earns about half the family’s total income. However, the report also notes that the minimum wage, now $7.25 an hour, would have to be $10.55 an hour to match the inflation rate. So, OTP asks, why not boost it to at least $12 an hour by 2014?

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