March, 2014

103 Years Later, the Fight for Workplace Safety Continues

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis week marked the 103rd anniversary of one of the worst workplace disasters in our country’s history.  On March 25, 1911, a fire spread through the cramped floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City.  When the workers—mostly young female immigrants—tried to escape, they encountered locked doors and broken fire escapes.  Rather than be burned alive, the workers began jumping out of windows and fell to their deaths on the street below as bystanders watched in horror.

The anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire coincides with the approaching anniversary of another workplace disaster that took place halfway around the world.   Last April, our sisters and brothers who worked at the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh were told to report to work in a building that had severe structural cracks and over 1,100 workers lost their lives when the factory collapsed.

While decades of struggle by workers and their unions have resulted in significant improvements in working conditions, too many workers here in the U.S. and around the world continue to be killed on the job, or suffer from injuries, sickness or diseases in their places of work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 4,000 workers in the U.S. lost their lives on the job in 2012 alone.

Workers everywhere deserve a safe place to work, and those corporations that exploit workers for profit and put them in danger must be held accountable.  As we observe the anniversaries of these two workplace disasters, the Retail Justice Alliance takes to heart the words of activist Mother Jones to “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living” by reaffirming our dedication to supporting workers here in the U.S. and around the world who are struggling to protect their basic rights – including safe jobs, workplace fairness and collective bargaining.

New Report Reveals Impact of “Just-in-Time” Scheduling on Workers, Families and Businesses

A new report by the Center for Law and Social Policy, Retail Action Project, and Women Employed shows the negative impact of unpredictable work schedules on workers, families and businesses. Titled Tackling Unstable and Unpredictable Work Schedules, the report examines the recent trend toward “just-in-time” scheduling practices, where employers match workers’ hours to consumer demand.  sector should have good jobs

“Just-in-Time” practices are used in the retail sector where many workers hold part-time positions with few benefits.  As the country’s largest retailer, Walmart has led the way in creating erratic and unpredictable shifts for its 1.4 million employees and its low-wage, part-time business strategy has influenced other retailers to do the same—making it almost impossible for workers to meet family obligations or have a second job.

The new report also highlights legislative and model workplace solutions, such as collective bargaining, guaranteed minimum weekly hours, advance notice practices and increased enforcement of current state laws that would enable workers to make ends meet and strengthen the economy.

 

Walmart CEO Acknowledges Lack of Opportunities for Workers

A recent AP article by Josh Boak finds that Walmart—our country’s largest employer—does not provide its employees with enough opportunities for professional advancement or a pathway to a middle class life.  As a result of the Great Recession, many older and more educated workers are turning to the retail giant as a way to support their families.  And despite the retail giant’s self-promotion as a source for professional opportunity, Bill Simon, CEO of Walmart U.S., suggests that workers look elsewhere if they want to make more money and have access to better benefits. “Some people took those jobs because they were the only ones available and haven’t been able to figure out how to move out of that,” Bill Simon, CEO of Wal-Mart U.S., acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press. If Wal-Mart employees “can go to another company and another job and make more money and develop, they’ll be better,” Simon explained. “It’ll be better for the economy. It’ll be better for us as a business, to be quite honest, because they’ll continue to advance in their economic life.” Walmart’s sheer scale in size means that its low-wage, part-time business practices have an enormous impact on our country’s labor, business, and employment climate, and the company’s profits before people business strategy has influenced other retailers to do the same.  That’s why Walmart workers across the country are taking the lead in the fight to change the way the retail giant does business. Since its inception, former and current Walmart workers who are members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) have called on the retailer to publicly commit to raising wages and increasing access to full-time hours so that no worker at Walmart makes less than $25,000 per year. OUR Walmart members have also asked the retailer to stop its practice of retaliating against workers who are simply exercising their right to speak out for a better life and improved working conditions. Too many Walmart workers like Joanna Lopez are struggling to survive on low wages with insufficient hours and are relying on taxpayer funded programs like food stamps to make ends meet. Simon’s suggestion that many Wal-Mart employees might be better off leaving for other jobs surprised Wal-Mart cashier Joanna Lopez. A 26-year-old single mother, she owns no car and lives with her church pastor near Fremont, Calif. She collects food stamps and receives insurance through California’s version of Medicaid. Lopez started at Wal-Mart as a temp in August 2011, after being unable to land a hospital job with her associate’s degree. Her pay has risen from $8 an hour to $9.20, after she moved from part time to full time. The suggestion by a Wal-Mart executive that some employees might be staying too long offended her. “To me, that’s an utter humiliation,” Lopez said. “How can you sit there and have management say that we should find other jobs because this place is ‘no bueno?'” As the largest retail employer in the country, Walmart can and should lead the way in making sure that retail jobs are good jobs—the kind that come with good benefits and wages for all workers. If Walmart would listen to—and respect—its workers, it could help to rebuild our country’s economy and strengthen America’s middle class.

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Minimum Wage Increase Would Reduce Food Stamp Spending, New Report Shows

RUR share 1A new report by the Center for American Progress shows that raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to the proposed $10.10 per hour would reduce federal food stamp spending by $4.6 billion a year.

Although the retail sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country, many retail workers are struggling to survive in low-wage jobs with inconsistent hours and few benefits.  And many of these workers are being forced to rely on taxpayer funded programs like food stamps just to make ends meet.

As corporate profits soar to astronomical rates, the real value of the current federal minimum wage is lower than it was in the 1960s. States from California to New Jersey have recently raised the minimum wage, but this problem calls for a federal solution. The Retail Justice Alliance supports H.R. 1010 which would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and tie it to inflation.  Raising the minimum wage would not only help workers provide for their families, but also boost our economy by giving them more purchasing power. Congress should pass this bill immediately.

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