On the picket line

NYC building workers march for a raise

A sea of yellow and purple Service Employees union Local 32BJ flags swept up New York City’s Park Avenue on April 2. About 7,500 door attendants, porters, superintendents and handypersons marched to show they will strike if owners of 3,300 residential buildings throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island refuse to raise their wages when the old contract expires April 20.

“Rents are going up in record numbers,” 32BJ President Hector Figueroa told Alex Silverman of WCBS radio. (Apr. 2) “Our [30,000] members are struggling to make ends meet.” He noted that while the real estate industry is thriving — Rupert Murdoch plunked down $57.25 million for a four-floor condo in late February — 32BJ members need to keep up with the cost of living. “Our strong presence on the streets of Manhattan yesterday will make us stronger at the bargaining table, and we won’t settle for anything less than what we deserve,” read an April 3 press release at seiu32bj.org.

NYC airport workers march for a raise

Members of Service Employees union Local 32BJ joined with airport contract service workers, overwhelmingly Black and Latino/a, on April 4 when they marched 10 miles from New York’s Kennedy Airport to LaGuardia Airport to demand a raise to at least $10 an hour, benefits and union representation. They chose April 4 because it was the 46th anniversary of the murder of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was, at the time of his assassination, supporting a strike of African-American sanitation workers in Memphis. The protesters were joined by U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and 90-year-old Hazel Ingram — two veterans of Dr. King’s historic 1963 March on Washington. “I want to help people get better benefits and raises,” said Ingram, who has held various cleaning jobs during her 68 years as a member of 32BJ.

While some airlines have agreed to increase hourly pay, 32BJ President Hector Figueroa said it’s not enough. “Unless [the workers] have health insurance and other benefits, it doesn’t solve the problem of poverty at the airport.” (nydailynews.com, April 3)

At the end of the march, it was announced that the workers were counting down to April 28, when the airlines and their contractors must come up with a plan to meet the workers’ demands. (seiu32BJ.org, April 4) That timetable was set by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the airports.

Demand Calif. farmworkers get a raise

Four months ago, after a long struggle by the United Farm Workers, the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board ordered Gerawan Farms to raise wages for more than 5,000 mostly immigrant farmworkers to at least $10.75 an hour on March 15. But the multimillion dollar company has not complied, even though the workers sued Gerawan Farms, which markets fruits under the Prima brand, for wage and hour violations on Feb. 4. Tell the ALRB to go to court and force Gerawan to follow the law by signing the petition at action.ufw.org/prima.

End gender gap in wages

April 8 is Equal Pay Day, when, on average, women’s pay catches up after 15 months with what men earn in 12 months. This week the Senate is due to vote on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would require employers to show that wage differences are job-related and not gender-based and that protects employees from retaliation when they share compensation information. To sign a petition supporting the bill, go to Take Action on now.org.

Connecticut hikes state minimum wage

As of March 27, Connecticut became the state that will have the highest minimum wage, of $10.10 an hour, by 2017. Connecticut’s current minimum is $8.70, the fourth highest in the country after Washington state at $9.32, Oregon at $9.10 and Vermont at $8.73. A total of 21 states and the District of Columbia have higher rates than the $7.25 federal minimum.

The Connecticut wage, which will increase to $9.15 on Jan. 1, 2015, and to $9.60 in 2016, will affect the lives of between 70,000 and 90,000 workers and many thousands more family members. (New York Times, March 28) However, Workers World notes, this raise will not move these workers out of poverty, though it will make their lives less difficult. The progressive movement is already demanding a minimum wage of $15 an hour, which still barely buys what the minimum did decades ago.

NYC paid sick leave expanded

On April 1, New York City’s paid sick day law went into effect, making it the largest city in the U.S. to ensure that the vast majority of workers won’t lose their jobs or part of their pay if they or their loved ones get sick. The law covers 1.2 million workers, mostly low paid and many immigrants, in businesses with five or more employees. They will earn one day of paid leave after working three months, or a total of five days in a full year.

The law, which expanded last year’s compromise bill, will include grandparents, grandchildren and siblings as well as immediate family members. “It’s a relief,” single mother Blair Phoenix told the April 7 New York Times. “It gives you room to breathe.”

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