April, 2014

One Year Later, Garment Workers in Bangladesh Continue to Suffer

One year ago, on April 24, 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 13913072815_7441033834_zworkers lost their lives when the building 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.  In Bangladesh alone, thousands of workers continue to work in dangerous conditions and for meager wages, and survivors of the Rana Plaza tragedy are still suffering from their injuries and loss of income.

One year after this tragedy, big retailers like Walmart have still refused to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. Instead, the company has promoted its own alternative absent of enforcement mechanisms or meaningful worker input.

Workers everywhere deserve a safe place to work, and corporations like Walmart that exploit workers for profit and put them in danger must be held accountable.  As the Retail Justice Alliance observes the anniversary of this terrible tragedy, we also reaffirm our dedication to supporting workers here in the U.S. and around the world who are struggling to protect their basic rights – including the right to unite for safe workplace conditions and decent wages.

The Walton family’s role in school re-segregation

Reposted from The Walmart 1%

UFCW BENTONVILLE WALMART 101211Under the guise of “reforming” K-12 education, the Walton family, which owns a majority of Walmart and has raked in unfathomable wealth off the backs of low-wage Walmart workers, has poured over $1 billion into efforts to undermine public schools and promote a corporate-friendly, privatized model of education.

The Walton family’s work in education is both misguided and profoundly anti-democratic. Yet, asArkansas Times columnist Max Brantley wrote in a blog post discussing an Atlantic report on the re-segregation of Southern public schools, there is a less-examined but equally serious consequence of the family’s interference with schools: The Waltons’ chosen approaches to school reform, namely school choice and charter schools, are contributing to the re-segregation of public schools and the potential resurgence of highly segregated “apartheid schools.”

For example, In Little Rock, the capital of the Waltons’ home state of Arkansas, Brantley notes that a new Walton-funded charter school is expected to attract wealthier students away from the local public schools, leaving behind poorer students. The family also backed state legislation that bars school districts from considering race in its decisions about student school transfers. (For over twenty years, in order to preserve the integrity of school desegregation efforts, districts were permitted to consider race in transfer decisions.)

Scores of academic studies from a variety of states and countries demonstrate that the Waltons’ approach to education is probably worsening segregation not just in Arkansas, but everywhere they are funding “education reform.” As Iris Rotberg, a George Washington University education policy professor, wrote for the Phi Delta Kappan, school choice programs and the expansion of charter schools drive increases in school segregation by race, ethnicity, income, and other characteristics.

In spite of this evidence, the Walton family—itself an emblem of income inequality—remains a staunch advocate of school choice and is believed to be the country’s largest funder of charter schools. Walton-funded “reform” organizations often make the audacious, arrogant claim that they are leaders in the “new civil rights movement.” Actually, their efforts risk setting civil rights back by decades.

Ending child poverty has been shown to improve children’s academic performance. Walmart, which the Walton family controls roughly half of, continues to keep many of its associates in poverty, with low wages, poor benefits and unpredictable schedules that make parenting even more difficult. If the Waltons really want to make meaningful, substantive improvements in children’s education, they could help combat child poverty by ensuring living wages for the 1.3 million Walmart workers in the United States.

New Report Shows How Walmart’s Walton Family Receives $7.8 Billion in Tax Breaks and Taxpayer Subsidies

WM_TaxesA report released this week by Americans for Tax Fairness titled Walmart on Tax Day: How Taxpayers Subsidize America’s Biggest Employer and Richest Family shows how Walmart and the Walton family receive tax breaks and taxpayer subsidies estimated at more than $7.8 billion a year, while many of its workers are forced to rely on taxpayer-funded programs like food stamps and Medicaid.

The breakdown provided in the report shows where the estimated $7.8 billion in subsidies and tax breaks occurred:

• Walmart receives an estimated $6.2 billion annually in mostly federal taxpayer subsidies. Walmart pays its employees so little that many of them rely on food stamps, healthcare and other taxpayer-funded programs.

• Walmart avoids an estimated $1 billion in federal taxes each year. It uses tax breaks, loopholes, and a strategy known as accelerated depreciation that allows it to write off capital investments considerably faster than the assets actually wear out.

• The Waltons avoided an estimated $607 million in federal taxes on their Walmart dividends which are taxed at a much lower rate than income from salaries and wages. The report also estimated that $7.8 billion is enough to hire 105,000 new public school teachers.

In reaction to the news that the country’s largest retailer and richest family received an estimated $7.8 billion in tax breaks and subsidies in 2013, Walmart workers and taxpayers in Phoenix delivered a $7.8 billion tax bill to Walmart Chairman Rob Walton’s home in Paradise Valley, outside Phoenix.

“Like most Americans, I work hard, pay my taxes and play by the rules. Why can’t America’s richest family pay their fair share of taxes like the rest of us?” said Venanzi Luna, a Walmart worker who undersigned the bill.

 

OUR Walmart Members Win Huge Victories on Scheduling and for Pregnant Workers

wm momsAfter years of relentless campaigning and advocacy by members of OUR Walmart, along with their allies in the UFCW and labor, faith, and progressive communities, Walmart has announced two major policy shifts. One will allow workers to get more hours when they want them, and another will ensure that pregnant women are given some basic accommodations that will help them keep their jobs and provide for their families.

Since the group’s inception, OUR Walmart members have spoken out about the need for access to full-time work, and the struggles of being scheduled for fewer hours than they need to get by. At the same time, as a result of chronic understaffing in stores, there have been reports of empty shelves and lower customer satisfaction. Most recently, OUR Walmart sent delegations to dozens of store managers across the country, and members launched a national petition calling for access to full-time work. In Laurel, Md., OUR Walmart members stood together and got their manager to post open shifts in order to give more access to hours to part-time employees.

Walmart workers from across the country kept the pressure on for more shift access in stores. They went on strike to protest Walmart’s attempts to silence them when they spoke up about inconsistent scheduling, insufficient hours, and low wages. Shortly after their Black Friday actions, Walmart announced it would increase transparency in scheduling, but few stores saw these promised changes take effect.

With the support and the signatures of thousands of Walmart workers and community members, Walmart workers held delegations at stores around the country last month. Walmart responded by posting important changes to its scheduling policy that will allow workers to get more access to the hours they need to support their families.

Walmart also recently altered its policy to accommodate pregnant employees. Under pressure from mothers working in their stores and women’s groups with the “Respect the Bump” campaign, the retail giant reworked its policy so that women with pregnancy-related complications can be considered temporarily disabled and eligible for reasonable accommodations. While this policy doesn’t go far enough to provide reasonable accommodations regarding physical demands for all pregnant women, it’s a step forward in protecting the jobs and health of the most vulnerable pregnant women and their babies.

For decades, Walmart has been lowering the standards for retail workers. These two victories are an important step toward improving jobs at Walmart and ending the erosion of retail jobs across the industry. The victory shows that by standing together, workers can make changes even at the largest private employer in the world.

To read stories about the workers’ victory, please visit the Making Change at Walmart Facebook Page:

https://www.facebook.com/MakingChangeWMT.

 

March Unemployement Numbers Prove There is More Work to Be Done

Dr. Steven Pitts, a labor policy specialist at the Center for Labor Research and Education, Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California-Berkeley, and a member of the Retail Justice Alliance, reacts to last week’s unemployment numbers:

via laborcenter.berkeley.org

via laborcenter.berkeley.edu

Last week, the Labor Department released the official unemployment numbers for March.   The overall unemployment rate was 6.7 percent; for whites, the rate was 5.8 percent; for Blacks, the rate was 12.4 percent; for Latinos, the rate was 7.9 percent.  While these numbers are lower than they were a year ago, what is more telling is these numbers are also higher than they were in December 2007, just prior to the beginning of the Great Recession.  This lack of progress reflects the inability to enact sensible economic policies after the economy collapsed and use the immense resources of the federal government to help the residents of this country.  Instead, policy makers were either conscious actors protecting the interests of the very financial institutions that triggered the crisis, paralyzed by the power of the Right that seeks to return our country to the social contract that existed before the Great Depression, or enthralled by a narrative that said that economic progress required austerity measures.  Hopefully, we will never again be in a place where agents of the financial elite, ideologues of a reactionary Right, or practitioners of a misguided theory can hold working people hostage.

This place where the powers of the government are used to promote the greater good is one element of what Dr. King and others called “the Beloved Community.”   It is ironic that these dismal economic numbers were released on the 46th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King as he fought for the right of Black sanitation workers to organize a union.  Reflecting on this irony, we should understand his last campaign provided us insight into how to emerge from this wilderness.  First, the jobs problems we face go far beyond this issue of unemployment; our crisis has two dimensions: unemployment and low-wage work.  The problems facing the Memphis workers were problems facing the working poor.  Focusing on unemployment will not address this.  Second, a key strategy to addressing the underlying issue of powerlessness is building membership organization comprised of the working poor.  Too often, friends advance a set of solutions that emphasize education, workforce development, and entrepreneurship. While these activities are useful, in today’ economy, they will not achieve results on the scale that we need since they do not address the fundamental power dynamics in our society.  These dynamics can only be changed if we build powerful organizations of working people.  We cannot achieve economic justice without organizing workers in the workplace.

OUR Walmart Members Join the “Give America a Raise” Bus Tour in Illinois

Reposted from Making Change at Walmart

Americans United for Change - OUR Walmart membersLast week, on March 31, members of the Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart) joined U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, local elected officials, labor and faith leaders, and other low-wage workers in Chicago as part of the “Give America A Raise” bus tour.  The bus tour, launched by Americans United for Change, is an 11-state tour to urge Republicans in Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. Rose Campbell, a Walmart employee and OUR Walmart leader, spoke at a rally in Chicago about Walmart worker’s struggle to make ends meet while earning a Walmart poverty wage.

“Americans agree that no one who works should live in poverty, yet the reality is that workers around the country earning minimum wage are living below the poverty line,” said Rose Campbell. “It’s long past time for Congress to give America a raise.”

Since 2009, the federal minimum wage has remained the same but the price of price of food, gas, utilities, and basic necessities have dramatically increase due to economic inflation, making it nearly impossible to get by anywhere in America on $7.25 an hour or $15,000 a year.

A recent Public Policy Polling survey found that 63% of Illinois voters support raising the minimum wage to $10 – while only 33% are opposed – and by 11 point spread that they’re less likely to vote for Senator Mark Kirk again if he opposes it.

“The Tea Party-approved voting records of Senator Kirk and Illinois’ Republican Congressmen show that they’re more interested in voting for minimum tax responsibility for millionaires and huge corporations that outsource jobs than helping hard working Illinois workers climb out of poverty and one rung closer to the middle class, said Brad Woodhouse, President of Americans United for Change. “Their priority should be providing a needed boost not just for the millions of struggling low-wage American workers that can barely survive on $7.25, but for the U.S. economy as a whole.”

A new report out from Center for American Progress Action Fund finds that raising the minimum wage would increase wages for 1,127,000 workers in Illinois by more than $1.3 billion if the minimum wage is raised to $10.10, and it would generate more than $860 million of economic activity in the state.

The bus tour’s Illinois stops included Chicago, Belvidere, and Springfield.

Labor Unions Make a Difference in Working Lives of Black Women, New Report Finds

black women reportA new report released last week by Black Women’s Roundtable examines the state of black women across the country over the last six decades and shows that while significant progress has been made since Brown v. Board of Education, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and other key historic markers, there are many crucial social and economic issues that still need to be addressed. The report, titled Black Women in the United States, 2014, draws on data from the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services and shows that while black women are more vulnerable to health problems and violence than other groups, they are making social and economic strides in terms of education and business and have benefitted from union membership.

In particular, black women in the U.S. have maintained a higher rate of unionization than other groups.  In addition, black women who are covered under collective bargaining agreements make higher wages and have greater access to benefits than women of all races or ethnicities who are not unionized.

A full copy of the report can be found at

http://ncbcp.org/news/releases/BWR.Final_Black_Women_in_the_US_2014Report.pdf.