On the picket line

Guest workers strike McDonald’s

Student “guest” workers from Latin America and Asia, who paid $3,000 to obtain J-1 visas to work in the U.S., staged a strike on March 6 against McDonald’s in Harrisburg, Penn. Supported by the National Guestworker Alliance, they protested widespread labor abuses, including fewer hours than the 40-hour workweeks they were promised, unpaid wages, shoddy and expensive living conditions, and retaliation when they complained. Management required the workers to be on call 24 hours a day and ready to work on 30 minutes’ notice. If they complained, they were threatened with deportation. An NGA petition directed to McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson summarizes the workers’ demands that McDonald’s: 1) pay workers money owed, including what they paid to work in the U.S., unpaid overtime and housing overcharges; 2) offer full-time work to U.S. workers; and 3) sign an agreement with NGA to guarantee basic labor standards wherever J-1 students work, including protections against retaliation when workers organize. Sign the petition at nga.org.

This issue is particularly important since some politicians have suggested expanding the guestworker program as part of immigrant reform. A Southern Poverty Law Center report, “Close to Slavery: Guestworker Programs in the United States,” details the program’s many abuses. (slpcenter.org)

Support illegally fired Cablevision workers!

James Dolan, anti-union CEO of Cablevision and multimillionaire owner of Madison Square Garden and the Knicks, has refused to bargain a first contract in good faith with technicians represented by Communications Workers Local 1109. Instead, on Jan. 30, his managers fired 22 Cablevision/Optimum workers in Brooklyn, N.Y., when they attempted to take advantage of the company’s so-called open-door policy. Even though seven of the workers have since been reinstated, 15 remain out of work. To show solidarity, there’s a petition calling on the National Basketball Association to show its support for the workers by choosing to hold the 2015 All-Star Game at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, rather than at Madison Square Garden. A Feb. 28 appeal from cwa-union.org noted: “Technicians at Cablevision/Optimum don’t get the same attention as NBA players, but they deserve the same protections at work.” To sign the petition, visit go.cwa.net/Z2OvWb.

Northwest grocery workers win better health coverage

The 14,000 grocery clerks, meat cutters and checkout clerks in Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, who work in more than 20 cities in Oregon and Washington state, ratified a contract that defeated most of the bosses’ cutbacks. (ufcw555.com, March 5) After more than 22 months of negotiation and a series of strike votes, Local 555 defeated such demands as $12,000 out-of-pocket costs for annual family health care coverage, scheduling workers seven days a week without any days off, and no overtime pay. “This was some of the toughest bargaining in bad times that I’ve ever seen,” said 36-year veteran Secretary-Treasurer Jeff Anderson. Though the worker’s wages will only increase 25 cents over the three-year contract, that is offset by the bosses’14.87 percent increase in funding for medical insurance. (nwlaborpress.org, Feb. 12)

NYC low-wage workers need paid sick days!

Christine Quinn jumped off her candidacy as the first lesbian to run for New York City mayor on March 10, but she’s not winning votes on one issue. The City Council Speaker has refused to bring a bill to a vote that guarantees five paid sick days a year for low-wage workers, though it has the support of a veto-proof, two-thirds majority in the council. Feminist leader Gloria Steinem told the Feb. 20 New York Times, “Making life fairer for all women seems more important than breaking a barrier for one woman.” She and dozens of other women leaders signed an ad in the Feb. 21 Times that threatened to withdraw their support if Quinn keeps favoring business interests by not bringing the bill to a vote. As the ad noted, “Without paid sick days, too many working women and men face an impossible choice between their family’s health and their financial security when they get sick.”

Meanwhile, the struggle for paid sick days has come to Congress. The National Women’s Health Network announced March 11 that the Healthy Families Act was introduced this week to establish a federal standard for paid sick days. Workers would be able to earn up to seven paid sick days a year so they could recover from short-term illness, care for a sick family member, seek routine medical care or get help with domestic violence. n

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