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Reposted from Daily Kos Labor by Lightbulb logo
Bed Bath and Beyond store

Online shopping and in-store big box shopping alike are made possible by legions of warehouse workers, typically paid around $10 an hour or less, often working not for the big-name retailers they supply but for a complex web of subcontractors and temp agencies, and facing high turnover, low job security and injuries. But warehouse workers around the country are organizing and fighting back. Organizing doesn't always, or even usually, mean organizing into a union—the barriers to that are often too high. But workers are filing lawsuits and pushing the government to investigate unsafe working conditions, wage theft and more, and using protest and the media to draw attention to problems at well-known companies.

For instance, after months of scrutiny and protest drawing attention to reports of Amazon warehouses at which ambulances were kept stationed outside to treat workers inevitably collapsing from the summer heat, Amazon announced it is spending $52 million to air-condition its warehouses. Workers in those warehouses will still be worked unreasonably hard for unreasonably little money with poor job security, but air-conditioning should substantially reduce one hazard.

One set of warehouse workers is trying to join a union, though, strengthened by the fact that they are actually employed by a retailer and not by temp agencies. The overwhelmingly Latino workforce at a New Jersey Bed Bath & Beyond distribution center is moving toward a union representation vote:

Betania Valdez, who started work in the warehouse in 2008, a year after it opened, said workers sought out the UFCW to address low wages, favoritism in raises, rampant safety issues, and unaffordable and unattainable health care. [...]

In the New Jersey warehouse, Bed Bath and Beyond new hires start a quarter above minimum wage, at $7.50 an hour. After four years Valdez has seen her wage creep up to $8.87. She’s angry that she has no health insurance and just three paid sick days a year, as she and others struggle with respiratory problems she links to the perpetually dusty warehouse.

If the workers are successful, this would be the first unionized Bed Bath & Beyond facility as well as being a high-profile victory for workers in the warehousing industry more generally. Bed Bath & Beyond is carrying out an aggressive anti-union campaign within the warehouse.
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Reposted from Daily Kos Labor by Lightbulb

Walmart has agreed to pay more than $4.8 million in back pay and damages to more than 4,500 current and former vision center managers and asset protection coordinators. The workers had been treated by Walmart as exempt from overtime requirements but were found by the Department of Labor to be nonexempt and therefore due overtime pay. Walmart will also pay nearly $464,000 in penalties.

In 2007, when the Department of Labor told Walmart the workers should receive overtime pay, Walmart reclassified them and claims to have paid them properly since. But Huffington Post's Alice Hines points out that this is hardly the first time Walmart has been caught denying workers overtime they'd earned:

In 2008, the company agreed to pay as much as $640 million to settle 63 federal and state class actions that charged the company with refusing to pay overtime, as well as other types of wage theft.

In a separate case in Massachusetts in 2009, the company paid $40 million -- the largest wage and hour class-action settlement in the state's history -- to settle a suit that accused it of refusing to pay overtime, denying employees rest breaks and tampering with time sheets.

And in 2007, through another Department of Labor settlement, Walmart paid $33.5 million in back wages to 86,680 workers, many of them managers who were denied overtime.

Walmart also remains under federal investigation for its Mexican bribery scandal, highlighting the degree to which the company's success has been built on dodgy and outright illegal practices. Breaking the pattern of lawbreaking is the only way workers will ever have even a small chance of fair treatment. Sign our petition calling on Walmart to pursue a real investigation into its pattern of bribery in Mexico and remove the responsible executives.
Reposted from Daily Kos Labor by Lightbulb

The United States is a low-wage country. (Here a chorus of Republicans pipes up: Yes, but it's the greatest low-wage country in the world, and don't you forget it!) In fact, in 2009 the United States led developed nations, with 24.8 percent of workers earning less than two-thirds of the median income. By comparison, the United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland and Germany all came in at between 20 and 21 percent of workers earning less than two-thirds of their respective median incomes. (Republicans: We're number one!!!)

John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research offers a set of policy conclusions stemming from this observation. A key problem is that the United States has set its minimum wage too low, so that the minimum wage doesn't exert upward pressure on low wages defined in relation to the median: "In France in the mid-2000s, for example, the minimum wage was set near the country’s low-wage threshold and that country had among the lowest levels of low-wage work in the OECD." In the United States, though, that's not the case even in states with minimum wages set well above the federal level.

The growing prevalence of low-wage work in the United States contributes to income inequality from the bottom, just as the increasing wealth of the top 1 percent, and especially the top 0.1 percent, adds to inequality from the top. The middle is a shrinking place, and you can bet that, without a major shift of economic and political direction, its future is not only to shrink but to be squeezed downward.

Reposted from Daily Kos Labor by Lightbulb
Compared to the kind of abuses that Walmart contractor warehouses have been accused of, fined for, and sued over, Amazon has a relatively clean record. But that this is a business where a company can have a relatively clean record despite having been reported to have warehouses so hot that it needed to keep paramedics stationed outside to deal with heat stress is somewhat telling. In fact, the Seattle Times' Hal Bernton and Susan Kelleher report that in 10 years, Amazon has been fined only $6,500 for safety violations all around the country. That's an amazingly clean record for such a big company—except that Bernton and Kelleher also detail how it's maintained in part by pressuring workers and doctors not to report workplace injuries.
Three former workers at Amazon's warehouse in Campbellsville told The Seattle Times there was pressure to manage injuries so they would not have to be reported to OSHA, such as attributing workplace injuries to pre-existing conditions or treating wounds in a way that did not trigger federal reports. [...]

A former warehouse safety official said in-house medical staff were asked to treat wounds, when possible, with bandages rather than refer workers to a doctor for stitches that could trigger federal reports. And warehouse officials tried to advise doctors on how to treat injured workers.

Avoiding stitches and other treatments that might trigger an injury report "when possible"? Doesn't that just make you wonder what Amazon managers consider "possible." But it's actually very common for companies to keep their injury statistics down by pressuring workers not to report injuries, including offering bonuses—as Amazon does—for clean injury reports. That's why, for instance, unionized coal mines have more injuries reported but fewer traumatic injuries and deaths—having a union means minor injuries are more likely to be reported despite an overall safer work environment. And Amazon, of course, is fiercely anti-union.

The Seattle Times interviewed former managers and safety officials who described being intimidated away from reporting problems or pushing for change, including one who was told to either resign or be fired for a rule violation he supposedly committed, coincidentally (it's always coincidental), just a week after expressing his concerns about overheating and other working conditions.

If you had to choose between working in an Amazon warehouse and a Walmart one, Amazon seems like the better bet—pay and benefits are better, at a minimum. But, as Mother Jones' Mac McClelland detailed in her account of working in such a warehouse, the price of free shipping these days is in workers forced to keep up a brutal pace, walking or running more than 10 miles a day across concrete floors, squatting and reaching and carrying, and fired when they can't keep up, even if the reason they can't keep up is that their bodies have been broken by the work.

Reposted from Daily Kos Labor by Lightbulb
minimum wage by age 1979 2011

When Republican Senate candidates in Missouri were recently asked if they would raise the minimum wage, two out of three of them trotted out versions of the claim that the minimum wage is for teenagers who aren't worth more and wouldn't be able to find work if employers were required to pay them more. That's a common claim from proponents of a rock-bottom minimum wage (or even none at all), and it's wrong—a majority of minimum wage earners are adults. Not only that, but the Center for Economic and Policy Research's John Schmitt and Janelle Jones show that low-wage workers, defined as those earning $10 an hour or less (in 2011 dollars), were a much older and more educated group in 2011 than they were in 1979.

In 1979, more than a quarter of low-wage workers were teenagers. By 2011, it was cut by more than half, down to 12 percent. The only other age group that lost even a tiny a share of low-wage workers in those years was people 65 and over, who went from 4.6 percent of the low-wage workforce to 4.2 percent. Every other group—meaning people in their prime working years—grew as a percentage of the low-wage workforce. People ages 35 to 64, in particular, shot from 30.8 percent to 38.1 percent of workers earning $10 an hour or less.

Low-wage workers today are not just older than in 1979, they're also better educated. The percentage who have not graduated from high school has been cut by nearly half; those with some college education, but not a four-year degree, shot up from 19.5 percent to 33.3 percent. Nearly one in 10 people earning $10 or less has a college degree, or more. And it's certainly not as if these low wages are going further than they did in 1979.

Each of these statistics points to a single fact: The American low-wage workforce has gotten older and better educated during three decades in which the value of the minimum wage has dropped. These statistics are signs of the increasing difficulty of even making a sustainable living, never mind getting ahead or living the American Dream. Yet we still constantly hear Republicans invoking the group in that workforce that's shrinking—inexperienced teenagers. The reason is simple: Republicans aren't concerned with reality. They're just concerned with keeping wages low so companies can squeeze higher profits out of workers.

Reposted from Daily Kos Labor by Lightbulb
Morena Hernandez
And then she was suspended. Coincidentally.
(Unite Here Local 11)

Oh, look. More cases of workers losing their jobs just coincidentally as they're organizing for better treatment on the job or to join a union. To Xiomara Perez, the Toll Group truck driver fired for taking a bathroom break, add more than two dozen Walmart warehouse workers laid off and a Hyatt housekeeper suspended, both last week.

The California Walmart distribution center that laid off the workers is operated by Schneider Logistics; the workers in question were hired by a staffing agency, Impact Logistics. Schneider claims the workers were "temporarily laid-off while the Walmart distribution center transitions to a new inventory management system. It says the workers could be hired back as soon as next Tuesday." So surely it's just a coincidence that these workers are part of a class action suit against Schneider and two staffing agencies of wage theft and other labor law violations.

Morena Hernandez, a longtime housekeeper at the Hyatt Andaz in West Hollywood, was also the victim of another amazing coincidence. Hernandez was suspended supposedly for following an improper room cleaning procedure in dealing with this unholy mess:

That day, I noticed the carpet in the room was dirty, so I requested a shampoo – a procedure that requires another employee and extra time. I then went into the bathroom and noticed the guest had been sick because he left quite a mess in the toilet. I sprayed down the toilet, and while the cleaner penetrated, I went on to start cleaning the next room. I marked the room as “unfinished” in the hotel’s electronic tracking system.
Suspension means she may be on her way to losing her job. This is doubtless coincidental with her activism, including leafleting outside the hotel on International Women's Day in support of Martha and Lorena Reyes, who were fired from the same hotel for alleged break time violations shortly after they protested the posting of pictures of their faces photoshopped onto bikini-clad bodies. Got that? The Hyatt Andaz wants us to believe that the Reyes sisters were fired for break time violations, not their protest of the pictures, and Morena Hernandez was suspended for improper cleaning procedures (after 15 years at the same hotel), not for her protest of the Reyes sisters being fired.

This is why we need a strong National Labor Relations Board and stronger penalties for retaliatory firings: Scratch the surface of any kind of organizing effort by workers and you're likely to find these stories. It's illegal to fire workers for exercising their legal rights, but even if companies knew they'd be found guilty every single time it happened, the weak penalties would mean that many employers would still think the benefits in ridding themselves of leaders and intimidating other workers were worth it.

Reposted from Joe Hansen by Lightbulb

Workers at the Target in Valley Stream, N.Y., did a very brave thing last year: they exercised their constitutionally protected right to come together to talk about the issues they face at work and what they could do to improve their jobs for themselves, their families, and their community.

Target responded to these workers' initiative in a sadly typical way - waging a vicious campaign to scare the workers away from joining together as members of UFCW Local 1500. The company's tactics ultimately derailed last year's election at Valley Stream - and those tactics are currently being investigated by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which could decide to call for a new election with fairer conditions.

But now Target has sunk to a new low. The company announced plans to close the Valley Stream store for six months - a move that seems designed to put an end to the workers’ campaign to join together to improve their jobs.

Target is targeting these workers, singling them out, and trying to prevent the possibility of a second, fairer election. It's a shameful strategy, and one that takes aim at a core American value: the right to stick together on the job. We can't stand for such a bald-faced attack on the basic rights of working people.

UFCW Local 1500 has rightfully spoken out against the closure of the Valley Stream store and I hope federal regulators will heed their call to intervene. If they don't, it will be not only a grave injustice, but it will further embolden companies like Target and Walmart, who seek to squash worker rights in the pursuit of unfettered control of our economy.

Join me today to prevent Target from closing the Valley Stream store. Workers have the right to stick together and form a union. It’s wrong for Target or any other retailer to punish workers for exercising their rights. Retail workers across the country will be influenced by this decision, as they act together to improve their own jobs. Click here to do your part to ensure a fair outcome in Valley Stream.

cross-posted from theUFCW Blog.

Reposted from Millrat by Lightbulb

When I started my career as a mechanic, I was working for family owned companies. Most were being run by second generations of the founders. The "Old Man" would stop by occasionally to check up on things, but the kids generally ran the operations.

Management never shared with the workers what they earned for the year, I never knew what their profit margins were. I never cared. They paid me a decent salary, treated me fairly decent, and several of them still owe me a pension to which I donated not one cent. (Whether they make good on them these may years later is yet to be seen).

Up until 1987, I personally met the owner of each company I worked for. After that I started working for more internationally owned companies, mostly European, then Japanese owned. It became more impersonal as time went by. During this time, they too did not share a lot of information, but paid fairly.

Through the '90's I worked for a German owned company that paid very well, (and owes me a pension), that never really broadcast their income or expectations of a plants economic performance. At the time, they were a global "Player", had been since before WWI.

Since 2000 though, I find that every company I deal with or work for, wind up being owned by a holding company. A holding company is nothing but a pimp, The various facilities they hold are nothing but their stable of whores sent forth in the night to earn them profits.

The facility I work for now was owned by a family when I signed on. ( I was looking forward to that "knowing the owner feeling" again.) They owned 4 plants, spread strategically on the East coast. They were purchased during my first month here by a holding company that owned 12 other plants.

That was sold to,  within a year and a half,  to a company that held 60 plants.
I think we are up to about 90 plants that this one small investment group owns. Last week, I was told that the 29 MILLION dollars my small plant contributed to their profit was not enough, and we have to cut expenses to make up the difference.

I'm one of the smaller plants they own. I took this job in 2006, when they claimed a day that ran 60% efficient was a good day and finished 2011 at a year end of 90.4 % efficiency, and I didn't contribute enough?

Somebody tell me how much is enough.

Oh, they offer no pension. In case you wondered.

Thanks for reading my rant.



Mon Feb 13, 2012 at 10:04 PM PST

I quit a job in 1975 over Classwarfare

by Vetwife

Reposted from Vetwife by Horace Boothroyd III

I know it is so much out in the open now but all of this in your face classwar reminded me of long ago and far away in Atlanta, Ga  I quit a job over the injustice of what I was trying to be forced to do.  It was not just the injustice but it was also pitting an old woman against a young woman.  There was so much wrong in that environment.  I see now how life has shaped my views and glad that I was on the right side of the issues most of the time and even if I gained little in the workforce, I know right from wrong and wouldn't compromise.  I knew it at 25 and I know it now.

  I was a single mother with no child support coming in. I had been laid off at Philco Ford and for those who read my Christmas diary, I worked several jobs to maintain.
Jobs were very hard to come by in this time frame, but I managed to get a couple at a time to help me support my child.  Not this time.  This job at Colonial Stores was the only job I held.  I had to drive 45 miles one way to get to Sylvan Drive which was south of Atlanta.  I lived west of Atlanta.  I always had a piece of a vehicle and took a chance  just driving the things much less trying to depend on it for dependability for jobs.   I landed that job after six weeks of unemployability which I recall was 60.00 a week.  The pay I received at Colonial Stores was not as good as Philco but it was fair.
I used to say I would work for the insurance.  The pay I recall was enough to pay the bills but was not for any extras. It required tight budgeting.  The hours and drive were not that great but it was dayshift.  8 to 5:30.   I landed a job at the Store in the  Credit union dept amd there where approximately 300 workers in the company. there were only about six in my dept.   I was a teller and stenographer. Remember the dictaphone machines where letters were taken off the dictaphone and one transcribed the letters?  This was my job.  I thought.
Follow me below the squiggly to see how I handled this classwarfare and how it affected me.

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Reposted from rowanleigh by Lightbulb

This is an ongoing series of the stories and people who work and shop in a small town Wal-Mart.

I am not always kind, or generous in my assessments of situations, but true feelings about outrageous situations don't come cloaked in the socially acceptable.

Read on for more about Wal-mart's time management.

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Reposted from Steven D by Lightbulb

In New Hampshire, there exists two Republican legislators, one of whom once worked as a supervisor at a fast food restaurant, which means, of course that he knows everything there is to know about how to treat employees.  And guess what: they sponsored a bill to eliminate lunch breaks for workers. All workers in the state.

Their names are State Rep. J.R. Hoell and Rep Kyle Jones. (Mr. Jones is 20 years old and he's the former fast food professional).  Both are Paulites (i.e., they support Ron Paul,  of the white supremacist newsletters fame, for President).  How they got elected to the NH House is beyond me but obviously some people must think them deserving. Then again I wonder if they knew these two ideologues would push for laws that take away workers' rights (as well as their lunch hour).   At a NH House Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Service Committee meeting this is how they justified their bill to do away with a worker protection that has been on the books in NH for 36 years.

First Mr. Hoell:

"The reason I was asked to submit it is this is a paperwork nightmare for the HR department of some companies," Hoell said. "The company that asked me to submit this typically has some seasonal work, and in the off-season they tend to work shorter days, and the question is what to do about those shorter days. You could allow employees to go home."

Ah yes, all that excessive paperwork.  Breaks my heart.  Of course when asked about the real possibility that his legislation would allow employers to deny lunch breaks to employees who work ten hour or longer shifts, Rep Hoell admitted that he didn't know much about labor law.  Well, actually he said he wasn't a labor expert, which I suppose is true of most state representatives.  Most of the ones I know are always getting a free lunch from someone (i.e., a lobbyist) so maybe they just believe free lunches for employees are a natural condition in the real world, too.

But nothing tops 20 year old Rep. Kyle Jones' rationale for eliminating the lunch break for employees.  I mean, he claims to know the hearts and minds of businesses based on his vast working experience:

[Jones] said he flipped burgers at Burger King and also had supervisory duties.

"This is an unneeded law," Jones said. "If I was to deny one of my employees a break, I would be in a very bad position with the company's human resources representative. If you consider that this is a very easy law to follow in that everyone already does it, then why do we need it? Our constituents have already proven that they have enough common sense to do this on their own."

Beeep!  Wrong answer Kyle.  If there was no law requiring lunch breaks, what human resource manager would give a rat's behind if you, on your own initiative, refused to give them one?  Have you ever met a Human resources manager?  They have better things to do with their time then calling you on the carpet for not doing something for a company's employees that isn't required by law.  Why do you think a lunch break law was passed in the first place, if every employer was so kind-hearted toward the health and welfare of their employees.  In fact, seasonal employers have an interest in not giving employees a lunch break.  

Perhaps being 20 years old you don't know much about the history of labor relations in this country, but things you take for granted--the minimum wage, worker health and safety laws, worker's compensation laws for injuries in the job, etc.--were not freely given by businesses to their employees purely out of the employers' enlightened self-interest.  Labor advocates, muckraking journalists and unions had to spend years fighting against the business lobby (often at the risk of physical harm or the loss of their jobs) before these basic workers rights and protections were given to them by either a state government or by the federal governments as a matter of law.  Most employers fought tooth and nail against any worker protections period, even child labor laws.

And Kyle, let me give you some advice: I wouldn't go around touting your experience flipping burgers at Burger King (not that there's anything wrong with that) as proof that you have special knowledge about the generosity of employers.  Businesses care about one thing above all else: making as much money for the owner of the business as possible.  Why do you think so many companies are shutting down plants in America, putting American workers out on the street, and moving their jobs to China.  Trust me, if Burger King could have replaced you with a robot burger flipper they would have done so in a heart beat.  

And, as I always say, I don't understand why people, especially Republicans like these two ill informed legislators, have to ask what the Occupy Movement wants?  I'll tell you one thing its members and supporters want: idiots like you to be voted out of office so you have to go get a real job in today's economy (like flipping burgers again, Kyle).  At least you wouldn't be able to wast time proposing legislation to harm workers rights anymore.  Because the job you are doing now,  Rep. Hoell and Rep. Jones, is not only non-productive and parasitical (I'm trying to use words you'll appreciate and understand) it's actually harmful.  Workers shouldn't have to be looking over the shoulder every second to make certain your brand of idiocy and cruelty doesn't become the law of their state or our nation.

Reposted from Phil T Duck by Lightbulb

It's crazy, but it's true: I could not afford to go to work today.

I have a 45-minute commute to and from work, which costs me about ten dollars in gas each day. I'm down to six whole dollars, after paying what bills I could with my last paycheck. There are still unpaid bills, but there's nothing I can do about them right now. I'm mostly worried about how the hell I'm going to feed my daughter until my next check on Friday.

This is not a position I ever expected to find myself in. I have a full-time job at a distribution center for a well-known retailer. The company has weathered the Great Recession pretty well, all things considered: overall sales are off by only 1%, a variance which until recently would have been seen as a business hiccup. But I find that the recession itself has given the Powers That Be at my job an excuse to do whatever they damn well please to their full-time employees.

The infuriating details are below the squiggle.

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