Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A New Day at New Era

Last week, IWJ joined workers at the New Era Cap Company in Mobile, Alabama in a prayer vigil. Workers at the facility voted for union representation with the Teamsters Local 991 earlier this year. During the organizing campaign, 25 of the 111 workers lost their jobs. The workers were notified Thanksgiving week that 35 additional workers would be laid off. New Era workers in Mobile were joined by local clergy, representatives from the NAACP, and the Teamsters.

As the Working Families Network (WFN) puts it on their website:

In retaliation for workers' desire to choose a union in order to end racial discrimination and improve poverty-level wages at New Era's Mobile, Alabama, plant, New Era is terminating scores of workers. On Monday, November 19, New Era Cap Company Inc. will announce their decision to lay off 35 permanent employees at their Mobile Distribution Center. Out of the 35 to be laid off, only 15 will be called back to work. This kind of layoff is unprecedented at the Mobile facility, and comes in the midst of a critical labor dispute between New Era Cap and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Tell New Era to play fair with their employees. No holiday firings. Chris Koch - Global Vice President of Human Resources 716-604-9000.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Worker rights and Islamic law

IWJ is partnering with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on a trailblazing effort involving workers’ rights, Islamic investment law, transnational social justice organizing, and the morally unacceptable labor practices of a multi-billion-dollar real-estate company.

The Indianapolis-based HDG Mansur, which also has offices in London, Dubai and New York, is making international financial headlines by declaring itself Shari’ah-compliant. But the shabby treatment of the janitors who work in Mansur’s Indianapolis headquarters raises serious and troubling questions — for worker justice as well as the integrity of Shari’ah compliance.

IWJ sponsored a delegation to London November 6-8 to call attention to these ethical issues. The delegation included a Muslim scholar representing ISNA, an African-American janitor currently on strike from her job cleaning at Mansur’s Indianapolis headquarters, and a staff person from IWJ. They teamed up with members of the UK Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU-Unite) and British trade union and community leaders to raise awareness about Mansur’s business practices.

The widely-read London-based newspaper The Guardian ran an article about the issue in its November 13 edition. Alas, it's not on the newspaper's website, but a truncated version can be found on the Irish Times.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sanctuary Cities Under Fire

As the Iowa primaries near closer, Republican presidential candidates are engaging in heated debates over immigration. Of particular note, the candidates are attacking sanctuary city policies arguing that federal funding should be denied to any cities with sanctuary policies in place.

In addition, state and federal lawmakers are proposing crackdowns on sanctuary cities. Measures to adopt anti-sanctuary laws are pending in Michigan, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. The Florida legislature has introduced an anti-sanctuary measure last month, and Colorado passed an anti-sanctuary law last year. These policies would require local police to enforce federal immigration law, and encite fear in many immigrants to not seek police protection.

These anti-sanctuary policies would make enforcing immigration law a local and state priority, which is and remains a federal responsibility. Having immigrants fear local police would undermine local enforcement and community safety.

As Detroit City Council President Ken Cockrel Jr. said, "I want Detroit police officers out there catching people who are stealing cars and mugging old ladies, not asking people for their passports."

Friday, November 2, 2007

Department of Labor Worsens Plight of Farmworkers

Interfaith Worker Justice just became aware of new rules that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Labor (DOL) want to propagate in order to help agribusiness hire more guest workers to harvest crops. The rules, which were crafted with input from farm operators but none from farmworker unions or advocates, would eliminate existing rights under the H-2A visa program for agricultural workers and worsen already deplorable labor conditions.

IWJ has drafted a letter to DOL Secretary Elaine Chao and is gathering signatures for the letter from religious leaders. Here is the text of the letter:

November 8, 2007

Dear Secretary Chao,

We write to you with concern for the rights of farmworkers in the U.S. The Departments of Labor and Homeland Security have plans to propose new rules to relax regulations concerning pay, housing, and other issues under the H-2A temporary foreign worker program, according to recent stories in the New York Times (“U.S. Seeks Rules to Allow Increase in Guest Workers,” Oct. 10, 2007) and the Los Angeles Times (“U.S. lets in more immigrants for farms,” Oct. 7, 2007). These rules are intended to address the reports of a labor shortage caused by increased border security measures and worksite immigration and enforcement, as well as the allegedly cumbersome H-2A visa process.

As people of faith concerned about maintaining adequate standards for all workers, we question this rush to relax regulations and government oversight in the interests of profitable agribusiness associations and farms. Moreover, these rules would go against the express mission of the Department of Labor to promote workers’ welfare and improve work conditions.

The H-2A program as it exists contains some labor protections, which, while inadequate, must not be compromised. For instance, the requirement that employers must advertise for jobs and keep them open to U.S. citizens until 50% of the season has elapsed provides an opportunity for citizens and legal residents to work in this industry, without a mere assertion by growers that no non-immigrant workers are available. The H-2A program also contains wage protections, which not only protect guest workers from exploitation but also help prevent U.S. wages from being undermined and U.S. workers deterred from taking jobs in agriculture. The Administration should not consider lowering the wages and benefits required of employers who claim they cannot find enough workers.

Rather than administrative rule-making that worsens labor conditions, the administration should support the AgJOBS legislation, a bipartisan bill that was the result of difficult but productive negotiations between the agricultural industry and farm workers unions. The bill is a package that includes a reasonable path to legalization for agricultural guest workers, while helping to ensure an adequate supply of labor to farms and balanced changes to the H-2A program.

As people of faith, we are called to uphold the dignity of every worker and every human being. We urge you to work with us in asking Congress to pass the AgJOBS bill and in ceasing to consider rules that would lead to greater exploitation of farm workers in the United States.

We thank you for your consideration of this important matter.

For a list of signatories, and more information about this issue, please visit the IWJ web site.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Fed Up with FedEx: A Report by American Rights at Work

The groups American Rights at Work and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights recently reported on FedEx Ground's misclassification of its drivers as "independent contractors," which denies their civil rights and workplace protections. Here is their summary and a link to the report.

When is a FedEx worker not a FedEx employee? When it benefits FedEx Corporation. In a new report, American Rights at Work and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights document the widespread use of employee misclassification at FedEx Ground, which denies workers’ fundamental civil rights and workplace protections.

Fed Up with FedEx: How FedEx Ground Tramples Workers' Rights and Civil Rights takes on FedEx Ground’s claim that its nearly 15,000 drivers are independent contractors and not employees. These drivers often face long hours, no benefits, and no control over their work, yet lack basic protections from labor and employment laws to address their working conditions. FedEx Ground is a striking example of corporate America’s use of troubling labor practices to deny workers their rights and dignity. When FedEx Ground drivers attempt to form unions, they are subject to intimidation, interrogation, and firings, according to federal charges. Court cases filed by drivers allege workplace discrimination and harassment, including racial and ethnic slurs.