On the picket line: Farmworkers, Sex workers, Airline mechanics

NYS farmworkers win right to organize

The state appellate court in Albany, N.Y., ruled May 23 that excluding farmworkers from a state law protecting workers’ right to organize and collectively bargain without fear of retaliation is unconstitutional.

“This is a victory for farmworkers,” said Crispin Hernandez, a member of the Workers’ Center of Central New York in Syracuse, who initiated the suit after he was fired from his job at Marks Dairy in Lowville in 2016 for striving to organize fellow workers after hours. “All workers deserve to have a voice and be heard at their place of work, and farmworkers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.” The Workers Center of CNY and the Worker Justice Center of New York joined Hernandez in the suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

As workerscny.org noted in its May 23 statement, “Agriculture is big business in New York, and the work is difficult. Most of the farmworkers are immigrants and, without the same protections as other workers, they are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.” However, the powerful Farm Bureau, which represents the interests of New York state farm owners, fought against the exclusion and plans to appeal the 4-1 ruling.

Workers Center of CNY lead organizer Rebecca Fuentes said, “Farm workers make essential contributions to New York and to all of our lives. Their labor produces the food, nutrition, and money that sustain our economy and our communities.”

According to workerscny.org, state lawmakers are also considering legislation to grant farmworkers the same rights as almost all other hourly workers in New York state, including overtime pay and a day of rest. Fuentes observed that the ruling promotes passage of the long-overdue Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act, which would codify those protections.

Sex workers’ union fights Instagram discrimination

Instagram’s taking money from sex workers. What are the sex workers doing? Organizing and fighting back!

The Adult Performers Actors Guild is a new union whose mission, like others, is to bargain and fight for better wages. (“All Things Considered,” npr.com, April 30) Their most recent struggle against Instagram is sparking attention; the APAG has publicly called out the Facebook-owned, photo-sharing giant for discrimination.

In a statement, the APAG raised that Instagram deletes sex worker, porn star and adult model accounts just for existing, while “celebrities like Kim Kardashian and countless other Instagram Verified celebrities post images with full nudity, exposed nipples, bare backside and more. Each photo, with its millions of LIKES, contributes to those women’s already massive incomes, as well as Instagram’s own bank account.” (APAGunion.com, April 18)

Alice Evans, president of APAG, raises that adult performers have also monetized their accounts and used their platforms for promotion. Instagram’s uneven ban on those accounts, while keeping those of celebrities, is grounds for discrimination.

The union’s legal counsel wrote to Facebook April 22 and 30, but Facebook ignored them. So the APAG decided to craft a petition. Some 500 performers and models sent letters to Facebook and Instagram asking the companies to stop removing their accounts. APAG is still surveying members of the adult performance community to see how platforms are blocking or banning them. (vice.com, May 6) Their next idea? A June 19 Instagram strike outside the company’s New York and California offices! (@APAGunion, May 25)

Airline mechanics win struggle for safety in new contact

After a very contentious, nearly 7-year struggle for a new contract involving two lawsuits over safety issues, 2,500 Southwest Airlines mechanics voted overwhelmingly May 21 for a new 5-year contract. Represented by the Aircraft Mechanics union (AMFA), the workers won $160 million in back pay as a bonus to cover the years after the last contract ended in August 2012, a 20 percent increase in wages as of April 1, and 3 percent annual raises in August. The AMFA noted in a statement that its major concession was allowing Southwest to continue outsourcing some work to foreign contractors.

The contract is a far cry from Southwest’s suit against the union in March for a so-called “illegal work slowdown” that forced the cancellation of 100 flights a day for weeks. The Federal Aviation Administration warned both sides that the dispute could hurt the safety of the airline, which carries more passengers on domestic flights than any other airline. No wonder Southwest changed its tune at the table!

As of May 21, American Airlines sued its mechanics on May 20. Bloomberg noted that Southwest might be seen as a more reliable option in cities where the two airlines compete.

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