The Congressional Progressive Caucus Gets An Amendment Passed To Protect Workers From Wage Theft

Keith Ellison

Unfortunately wage theft is a reality for too many hard working Americans.  There have been stories of workers being ordered to “clock out,” and then being forced to work without pay.  Others are working 60 hours a week but not receiving any overtime pay.  Some are even more outrageous, like Mario Batali’s New York restaurants, which were caught skimming tips from workers in his restaurants.

The Employment Justice Center reports, “A 2008 survey of large cities found that 68% of low-wage workers experience wage theft in the prior week. Twenty-six percent are paid under the legal minimum wage and 76% are denied overtime.”

Workers are bringing their cases to the National Labor Relations Board and are continuing to win, but this process is very slow.

An employer stealing from workers has become a problem for the federal government as well.

“Last week, Good Jobs Nation filed a complaint with the Labor Department alleging wage theft by food vendors contracting with GSA [General Services Administration]. The group claims that eight franchises operating at the Reagan Building have paid employees less than the minimum wage and ignored rules on overtime pay.”

That is all about to change as the US House passed a new amendment that would forbid the US government from entering into contracts with any corporation that committed wage theft or other violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Keith Ellison

Congressman Keith Ellison

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) Co-Chairs Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) pushed the amendment which failed in a previous vote a few weeks ago.  Today the amendment passed unanimously.

“The House of Representatives stood up for federal contract workers today, protecting them from wage theft and ensuring the federal government will lead the way to fairer labor standards for all Americans,” stated Grijalva and Ellison. “No working American should ever worry that her employer might steal a part of her paycheck, especially if she works for a contractor paid by the federal government.”

Grijalva and Ellison continued, “Sometimes employers ask workers to show up 30 minutes before their shift starts, while others pay workers with debit cards that charge fees for every use. It doesn’t matter which form it takes—wage theft is wrong and it needs to stop.

“We’re glad our Republican colleagues joined the Progressive Caucus in this step to protect Americans working for federal contractors,” concluded Grijalva and Ellison.

In a Congress that is undoubtedly the worst Congress in history based on their total inaction, this is very good news for working families.

Overtime vs. Comp Time: US House Pushes To Take Away Overtime Pay

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL)
Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL)

Congresswoman Martha Roby (R-AL)

This week the US House passed legislation to strike down advances made by unions and workers for decades.  Through collective bargaining workers have made significant advances in the areas of time off and overtime pay. The US House, led by their Tea Party Speaker John Boehner, want to take that away.

On Wednesday May 8th, the US House passed HR 1406. The aptly named ‘Working Families Flexibility Act of 2013‘ or aka the ‘Work More for Less Pay Act’.  The bill would effectively allow employers to pay workers in compensatory time off in lieu of overtime.  The proponents of the bill say this would allow workers the ability to bank time gained by working overtime to be used at a later date.

Rep Martha Roby (R-AL) introduced the bill by stating:

“Talk to just about any working mom and dad and they’ll tell you they need more time. They need just one more hour in the day to be able to take care of responsibilities and make life work. We can’t legislate another hour in the day, but we can help working Americans better balance their time by removing unnecessary federal restrictions on comp time in the private sector.”

I would beg to differ on this.  One of the reasons that people do not have enough time in the day is because their level of productivity is continually to being pushed higher and higher.  Now with the invention of smartphones workers are spending more and more of their ‘free time’ to answer phone calls and emails.   CBS News in Chicago highlighted a case in court right now that would force employers to pay workers for time spent answering emails and phone calls after hours. However that is a completely different story.

HR 1406 is said to give freedom to the worker, in reality it saves the employer money by not having to pay out mandatory time and a half overtime rates.  The bill also does not guarantee the employee the right to take time off when they actually need it.

A senior economist for the Center for Economic and Policy Research writes, “Its major effect would be to hamstring workers — likely increasing overtime hours for those who don’t want them and cutting pay for those who do.” (TNDP.ORG)

NH Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) opposes this legislation in part due to the  lack of language allowing the employee to use the time for personal appointments.

“Giving up overtime pay is a big deal for workers, and in return they aren’t even guaranteed they’ll get to use their comp time when they really need it,” Shea-Porter said.  “This is not flexibility for workers. It’s less pay for workers. I urge Speaker Boehner to bring bills to the floor that actually help middle class families by creating jobs and ending sequestration.”

In fact, Congresswoman Shea-Porter offered an amendment to HR 1406, that was crushed by the GOP, that would  not allow employers to deny workers from using ‘comp time’ to attend:

  • Attend a medical appointment
  • Care for a sick child or family member
  • For veterans, to attend counseling or rehabilitation appointments for injuries suffered in combat.

On the floor of the House Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN) said “this is one of the saddest days this House of Representatives has ever seen“.

Working families are struggling to pay their bills. Too many are living paycheck to paycheck, and now they want to steal more money out of their paychecks.  For some people overtime pay is what is keeping their heads above water, and this would push millions of working families into a deeper hole.

I applaud all the Representatives who opposed this legislation in the House.  These Reps are the ones who are standing up for struggling working families.  These Reps truly understand the harm that legislation like this would have on all working families.  I hope that the Senate will send this bill to where it truly belongs, the trash.

Labor Fights For Immigration Reform

Image from SEIU Blog
Image from SEIU Blog

Image from SEIU Blog

As the great-grandson of Irish and Polish immigrants I do not understand people’s reluctancy to have a real discussion about reforming the immigration policy in the United States. My great-grandparents came to Boston in 1910 and settled in ‘Southie’ (that is a section of South Boston for non-locals). Their story is not very different from millions that of Americans who came to the United States from around the world to chase their own vision of the American Dream.

What is the American Dream? It is the vision that if you work hard, you can prosper in America. I believe that the American Dream is becoming harder and harder to obtain for all Americans. It is becoming nearly impossible for those who immigrate to this country. Even though it may be difficult to attain, millions are still flocking to the United States to chase this dream.

In a brief statement the Communication Workers of America (CWA) stated, “Immigration reform must be fair and should reflect our shared values of opportunity, voice and justice for all, and must ensure that workers in every industry are protected from employer exploitation.”

It is said that there is nearly 11 million immigrants who are waiting to become true American citizens. These immigrants must endure so much in their attempt to become citizens. They live in constant fear of deportation and raids from the Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. This constant threat is also being used against them in their workplace.

Companies have many legal ways to hire immigrant workers. Companies gain work visas to hire immigrants worker and the company holds the keys to their freedom. This situation is very similar to the indentured servants of the past. They are forced to work long hours and at below minimum wage. They work in sub-standard conditions because if they oppose the company revokes their visa and then call ICE to report them.

Now the labor unions are taking a stand with these immigrants to help them gain a real path to citizenship. Why would a union get involved in immigration issues? Labor unions have always stood up for all workers, not just their members. The fact that companies are using these immigrants as slave labor should be offensive to everyone and labor unions will not let it go unnoticed it any longer.

Last year the New England Regional Council of Carpenters (NERCC) helped a group of immigrants who were wrongfully abused by their employer. The NERCC opposed the construction company that was using non-union (immigrant) workers to construct new “resort style student housing” near the University of New Hampshire. However when one of the workers came to a member of the NERCC to ask for help, they jumped into action.

The immigrant worker explained that the company was withholding their pay and that his employer owed him thousands of dollars. When he and his fellow workers questioned the employer he was immediately fired. When he was fired, he was also forced out of the apartment the company was providing the immigrant workers. The company not only kept the pay owed to the worker, they kept his tools that were on the construction site and in the apartment. Then the company called ICE and reported him for being here illegally.

The NERCC stepped up to help these workers. After these workers were arrested, the NERCC got them out of jail and helped to fight back. The NERCC used the Department of Labor to force the company to pay all the employees what they were owed. They also were forced to return all the tools and belongs of these workers. Since these events last year, some of these workers have even become U.S. citizens.

(View the NERCC Press Conference on wage theft of Durham workers.)

Some may say that immigration is a tough issue to talk about because there is so much misinformation out there. We must work to help these immigrants gain legal citizenship and in turn help to ensure that all workers are treated fairly. Ensuring that these workers are covered by the same OSHA regulations that protect us now. Ensuring that all workers are paid a fair and legal wage. Ensuring that workers are valued as workers, and not treated as slave labor.

Together with our community allies to fight for these people who are fighting harder than ever to become American citizens. Together we can make the American Dream a reality for everyone who works hard and reaches for the stars.

Stealing From The Victims Of Hurricane Sandy

PHOTO CREDIT: DNAInfo/Joe Parziale

PHOTO CREDIT: DNAInfo/Joe Parziale

Hurricane Sandy was nearly a month ago but her effects are still being felt.  People are still recovering from the largest storm to hit East Coast in decades.  Even now stories are still surfacing about different people are helping the victims of the hurricane.

Recently the NH Labor News posted a story about how the Teamsters are giving up their time and money to help the people of NYC.  Even the NH Firefighters have been making runs to NY to help victims.

However not all the stories from New York are good.  After many natural disasters, theft is problem.  Today, I am not talking about someones radio or tv. Today, I am talking about the theft of peoples sick days.

In a recent article union members from UNITE HERE Local 100 are fighting to get back paid sick days after Hurricane Sandy.

“(Bill) DeBlasio said the workers, who are employed by corporate dining services like Sodexo and Aramark, didn’t find out about having involuntary days off taken away until they got their most recent pay stubs.”

Some of these cafeteria’s are still closed due to hurricane damage.

“I feel like these companies think they can do whatever they want,” said Oscar Conca, 55, who has served food to Merrill Lynch workers for Sodexho for 17 years. “People with years, decades of service are being told to go to unemployment.”

How would you feel if you opened your bi-weekly pay check and found that your sick leave bank was empty?   Taking advantage of workers who are already struggling to recover after a deadly storm rips apart their homes is absolutely wrong.  All I can say is thank goodness these people are members of UNITE HERE, because without UNITE HERE who would be filing their complaints?

Read the full article from DNAInfo

What States Are The Worst Offenders When It Comes To Wage Theft

This chart shows the worst offenders when it comes to wage theft in the United States.

For many weeks there have been many articles circling the net about companies stealing pay from their employees.  This is known a Wage Theft.  This could be a simple as miscalculating a workers pay and then giving them a paycheck based on that. In most cases it is much more serious.

Today the Progressive States released a report on the wage theft problem throughout the US.  You can see the full report here.

Why is Wage Theft so important?

“Our research shows that states’ wage theft laws are grossly inadequate, contributing to a rising trend in workplace violations that affects millions of people throughout the country. The growth of this and other forms of the “underground economy” also have a serious impact on state revenues, amounting to billions of dollars per year in tax and payroll fraud.” (Progressive States)

One other thing to note is that the states with the best record are pro-union states likes Massachusetts and New York.  However the worst offenders are also Right To Work States.

Coincidence, I think not,