On Thursday, Americans earning low wages from businesses that contract with the federal government walked off the job to urge President Obama to do “more than the minimum” by signing executive orders that ensure workers receive living wages, adequate benefits and a voice on the job.
The organizers of the campaign, Good Jobs Nation, released a report earlier this week explaining why this change is necessary. As one of the nation’s largest employers, the federal government funds nearly two million poverty-wage jobs that pay less than $12 per hour. Unfortunately, many of these workers never receive any benefits such as paid sick leave and are forced to rely on public assistance, which costs more to taxpayers. We already know these same low-wage conditions wreak havoc on state and local economies. Governments may think they are getting a great deal when they outsource services, but when federal contractors fail to pay living wages to Americans providing essential functions,
Wage theft is a serious yet seldom-reported crime that victimizes millions of Americans – particularly low-income and immigrant workers. Today, as part of an ongoing examination of workplace issues, Capital & Main debuts a new series focusing on wage theft, beginning with a primer on the problem by Bobbi Murray, followed by Joe Rihn’s profile of a port truck driver who works in an industry where wage theft is a daily fact of life.
The expression “wage theft” is a deceptively gentle term. Perhaps “paycheck mugging” more accurately describes the violence done to the earnings of millions of Americans each year.
If you are a target of wage theft no one pistol-whips you to acquire your valuables–but you definitely get robbed. Every week Los Angeles workers get held up for $26.2 million through unpaid overtime, being pressured to work through unpaid breaks or off the clock;
Whenever the subject of raising hourly pay to a livable level comes up in Los Angeles, you can expect two stalwart foes: The Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Association. They both represent business and they always argue that paying working people a wage they can live on will hurt business owners. I cannot recall a time they ever claimed anything else.
But now a new voice from the business community has surveyed the field of low-wage work and come up with a conclusion quite opposite the Chamber’s and the Association’s. A member of the faculty at MIT’s Sloan School of Management (named after a former president of General Motors, no less) compared wages and company results among sales people and check-out clerks. These jobs happen to rank one and two in the number of employees in the country, and they are notorious for low pay, part-time hours and oppressive working environments.
The charges against several McDonald’s franchises were as familiar as items on a Happy Meals menu: “illegally firing, threatening or otherwise penalizing workers for their pro-labor activities,” to quote the New York Times. What was novel about them was the news, first reported Tuesday by Associated Press, that the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel had found that the fast-food giant is responsible for these crimes when they are committed by the chain’s individual franchise owners. (Of 181 cases that came before the NLRB, 43 were found to have merit, 64 are still pending investigation and the rest were dismissed.)
This is big – very big. If there is any doubt, look no further than the Wall Street Journal’s headline for the story: McDonald’s Ruling Sets Ominous Tone for Franchisers. The reason for this “ominous” forecast is the knowledge that the NLRB’s findings could establish the principle that the corporation and the chain’s franchise owners are “joint employers,” sharing equal responsibility for their employees’ welfare – and equal blame when workers’ rights are trampled on.
Thursday’s one-day strike by fast-food workers may have received relatively little media coverage, but the doubling of strike sites to 100 cities over the previous nationwide actions showed the movement for higher wages and union recognition is growing.
The largest actions were held in New York City and Chicago, where, according to the Guardian UK, “hundreds of protesters gathered outside a McDonald’s at 6:15 a.m. as a large ‘Christmas Grinch’ ambled about in freezing temperatures.”
According to the Seattle Times, about 150 demonstrators rallied at City Hall following an all-day march in icy weather from neighboring SeaTac. In Los Angeles, rallies were held at dawn in South Los Angeles at a Manchester Boulevard McDonald’s, as well as a Sunset Boulevard McDonald’s in Silver Lake, at noon. The movement for fast-food employee rights has the twin goals of raising starting salaries to $15 an hour (at present they typically begin at $7.25) and to win the right to organize workers into unions.