Tuesday, December 20, 2011 11:53 AM
Anyone who has waited tables or cooked in a restaurant kitchen knows the backbreaking work, the questionable conditions, and the meager rewards. Now, it’s easy to find the restaurants that treat their employees right with the 2012 National Diners’ Guide, presented by the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC). The guide outlines the pay and benefits of 186 of the country’s most popular eateries, from fast food to fine dining.
Before you look at the guide to see where your favorite establishment stands, check out some of the reasons why the ROC says the ethical treatment of restaurant workers is vital:
With a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers and $7.25 for non-tipped workers, the median wage for restaurant workers is $8.90, just below the poverty line for a family of three. This means that more than half of all restaurant workers nationwide earn less than the federal poverty line.
90 percent of the more than 4,300 restaurant workers surveyed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center report not having paid sick leave, and two-thirds report cooking, preparing, and serving food while sick, making sick leave for restaurant workers not only a worker rights issue but a pressing concern in public health!
Women, immigrants, and people of color hold lower-paying positions in the industry, and do not have many opportunities to move up the ladder. Among the 4,300 workers surveyed, we found a $4 wage gap between white workers and workers of color, and 73 percent reported not receiving regular promotions on the job.
Jaeah Lee at Mother Jones has distilled the ROC’s guide into an excellent Zagat-like reference for diners. (See, at a glance, that Starbucks’ employees don’t get paid sick days, but Chipotle’s do.) And, also on MoJo, Utne Reader visionary Tom Philpott takes a moment to look on the bright side of the report, pointing out that the “ROC isn’t just dishing up the restaurant industry’s dark secrets. It’s also working with restaurant owners across the country to come up with fair labor standards.”
For me, waiting tables at the Tic Toc Supper Club at the end of my teenage years was a crash-course in a range of adult matters: wine bottles are harder to open with a tableful of people watching; wearing a skirt gets you better tips; and the boss will rarely give you more than the bare minimum of what is required by law. Thanks to the ROC, restaurants just might be encouraged to give that bare minimum a boost.
Sources: Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Mother Jones
Image by rbnlsn, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, August 15, 2011 1:48 PM
It’s been a tough year for progressive causes. Whether it’s the unprecedented attack on workers and organized labor or the insistence of making those least responsible for the country’s financial woes—the poor and middle class—the ones affected most by policies meant to address them. That doesn’t mean that all of 2011 has been lost to extremely conservative policies, though. Always looking for the silver lining, YES! Magazine and the Progressive States Network have a list of 13 progressive pieces of legislation that advanced in 2011.
In every region of the nation, in red states and blue states alike, momentum increased behind a variety of common-sense, positive, pragmatic measures in the states that contrast sharply with the extreme and unpopular priorities of the right. Even as moderate and progressive lawmakers found themselves forced to play defense against an unprecedented assault on the middle class in many states, they still were able to advance measures to rebuild their state economies, protect the middle class, and build healthier and stronger communities.
Among these measures are Illinois’ SB 2505, which offers a responsible way to come up with needed revenue, and considerations by many states to set up partnership banks—similar to the Bank of North Dakota—that would take money out of Wall Street banks and use it to grow local economies.
Source: YES! Magazine, Progressive States Network
Image by Whirling Phoenix, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 05, 2011 4:14 PM
Anyone who has ever had the yearning to vote for an alternative, independent, and progressive third party candidate only to cave in the voting booth and vote Democrat—haunted by voices saying, “You’d be throwing your vote away”—must surely be asking these days, “What if?” After seeing what just a few elected officials can do to the whole political process, each and every one of them has to be saying, “If only we’d voted with our hearts.” After all, as Kevin Drum points out at Mother Jones, “So who was driving the absolutist view in Congress over the past few months? If it was the no-compromise wing of the tea party, that's less than 10% of the country.”
Less than ten percent. No doubt, at some point in the last few decades all those people wishing they could break out of the tired two-party system and vote for a truly progressive-minded candidate could have reached a number in Congress that could rival the number of Tea Partiers taking the country hostage now. What then? What would this country look like had we known that so few could do so much? We’ll never know.
Still, if we must try and find a silver lining in this nobody-wins model of government, maybe it’s this: It turns out we might not being throwing our vote away if we vote more progressively than we previously thought possible. Or, at the very least, form a political base with some teeth, able to make Democrats believe they may be ousted for a more progressive candidate if they continue to woo the Almighty Independent Vote in lieu of actual liberal ideals. This is the conclusion behind recent articles in Dissent and Change-Links.
In “Stopping Obama’s Next Betrayal” Mark Engler has little time for debating whether or not Obama is a true liberal or a centrist. Such discussions don’t “lead very far in terms of suggesting a political response,” Engler writes. Obama is what he is and, no matter what else you say about his administration, it will listen to opposing sides. The problem, according to Engler, is that progressive movements aren’t doing their part in making the president or Congress work for them.
Obama is willing to compromise and cave because progressive movements are not strong enough to enforce discipline among politicians. Nor are they strong enough to consistently outweigh corporate influences within the Democratic Party….
Until a vocal, dedicated, progressive grassroots, taking a page from the Tea Party, can show that it’s far more effective to reposition the center of the debate than it is to forever triangulate in hopes of appealing to “independents,“ Democratic politicians will continue to do the latter.
Similarly Shamus Cooke, in “The Rich are Destroying the Economy,” calls for a strong, organized movement to make politicians respond to progressive ideals, though he is suspect of Democrats being willing or able to rise to the task:
Organized labor needs to bring masses of people in the street all over the country in order to get attention and pressure the government to respond to these demands. And it can succeed, especially if it organizes a serious, protracted campaign and especially if this campaign does not get funneled into supporting Democratic candidates, the surest way to kill campaign momentum.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recently spoke in favor of a strong, independent labor movement. This is the direction it must take, rather than relying on the Democrats. The labor movement must get its act together, unite to put up a fight and demand specific policies that can concretely address the crisis faced by millions of working people.
So, the silver lining is that maybe we aren’t really stuck with a two-party system. Maybe we wouldn’t be throwing our votes away if we voted the way we actually wanted to vote. At the very least, we’re (oddly) reminded by the Tea Party of what Margaret Mead said about a small group of committed citizens changing the world. (Though she did also use the word “thoughtful.”) That said, if there’s gridlock now in DC, can you imagine what it would be like if the left side of the aisle was actually full of progressive politicians bent on staying true to their ideals instead of caving for the “betterment” of the country?
Source: Dissent, Change-Link, Mother Jones
Image by Image Editor, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011 12:51 PM
Who would have thought that one of the greatest labor victories this year would come from professional sports players? While attacks on organized labor continue in places like Wisconsin and Ohio, the National Football League players’ union has reached an agreement with owners that actually can be counted as a win for workers—in this case, NFL players—by improving health and safety standards.
Some of the statistics on player health are shocking. In a new documentary, Not Just A Game, Utne Visionary, radio host, and Nation contributor Dave Zirin highlights some of the scarier ones, including this: football players die an average of twenty years earlier than the general population. Even more shocking may be the NFL’s attempt, until very recently, to deny links between the extremely violent sport and head injuries. In the clip below, Zirin tells a story about a congressperson comparing an NFL doctor who denied this connection to doctors who previously denied the fact that cigarettes had anything to do with lung cancer. To any logical person, both seem impossible to deny.
Zirin also discusses the NBA lockout and the victory for the Japanese women’s soccer team in the World Cup.
Related: In addition to being named an
Utne Reader Visionary
, Zirin also recently wrote a piece for us about
patriotism and the militarization of American sports
Source: The Nation, Democracy Now!
Monday, March 07, 2011 3:46 PM
It was reassuring, in the midst of Wisconsin’s labor strife, to see a New York Times/CBS News poll showing that many Americans sympathized with the workers. A majority of the people surveyed opposed weakening collective bargaining rights or cutting the pay or benefits of state workers to reduce state budget deficits.
It was very telling, however, to see where that sympathy dropped off. The richest Americans, it turns out, are the ones who are most eager to slash away:
Although cutting the pay or benefits of public workers was opposed by people in all income groups, it had the most support from people earning over $100,000 a year. In that income group, 45 percent said they favored cutting pay or benefits, while 49 percent opposed it. In every other income group, a majority opposed cutting pay or benefits: Among those making between $15,000 and $30,000, for instance, 35 percent said they favored cutting pay or benefits, while 60 percent opposed it.
That’s right, a solid majority of people making only $15,000 to $30,000 a year—that’s near or below the poverty line for many households—still mustered compassion for the public workers’ cause, while the biggest earners were much more eager to roll over the workers because times are tight.
The poll hearkens back to other surveys that have shown lower-income people give a greater proportion of their income to charity, and to a study done last summer by the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California in Berkeley, showing that poor people are in general more altruistic than rich people.
Could it be that the rich, unsatisfied with simply always getting richer, are now getting meaner?
Source: New York Times, Greater Good
, licensed under
Monday, March 15, 2010 4:29 PM
In the Jan.-Feb. issue of Utne Reader, we reprinted a great interview with Richard Sennett about the value of craftsmanship, what the sociologist calls “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake.” In a recent piece for Guernica, Rochelle Gurstein looks at craftsmanship from a policy perspective—by way of exploring the history of labor in the United States and the intentional dismantling of a skilled labor economy.
“There is nothing natural or inevitable about our system of labor,” Gurstein writes. “It came about through conscious decisions made by industrial capitalists in the name of profit for them alone.” The assembly-line mindset hastened the demise of meaningful work and, of course, bolstered the consumerism that’s come to define American life and threaten the environment. But while conversations about consuming less are in vogue, discussions of a new (or renewed) way to work are not. As Gurstein puts it:
Instead of putting forward, as so many of our elected officials, policy analysts, pundits, and journalists predictably do, a picture of our world that is essentially the same, except that it is somehow “green” and somehow peopled with college-educated or better “trained” workers, we need to focus our attention on the more pressing and more basic question of what kinds of work people should be expected to devote their lives to doing.
Image by K. Kendall, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 01, 2010 5:26 PM
Dairy farms in the eastern United States are not immune to the problems described in “The Dark Side of Dairies,” the High Country News article excerpted in the March-April Utne Reader. Just like their counterparts in the West, many eastern dairies are financially strapped, rely on the labor of illegal immigrant workers, and have unsafe working conditions, Barry Estabrook reports in a blog post at The Atlantic.
Estabrook, a former dairy worker himself, writes about the death last December of José Obeth Santiz Cruz, a young Mexican man, after he was caught in a manure conveyor at the Vermont farm where he worked. Because Santiz Cruz didn’t have documentation, it took officials more than a week to determine his identity and where he came from. Writes Estabrook:
Vermont likes to promote itself as a verdant, wholesome state with picturesque black and white Holsteins grazing on hillside pastures. But the postcard image hides an ugly truth. Santiz Cruz was one of 1,500 to 2,000 immigrant workers, most lacking legal papers, who toil invisibly behind the scenes in the Vermont’s beleaguered dairy industry, working 80-hour weeks and living in total isolation, often sleeping in the very barns with the cows they tend.
“Vermont’s dairy farms depend on migrant workers,” said Brendan O’Neill, coordinator of the Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project. “But there is no dignity in performing important work for that amount of time and having to hide yourself, never seeing the light of day. These people live and work in the shadows.”
The Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project helped raise money to take Santiz Cruz’s body back to his hometown, San Isidro, in the Mexican state of Chiapas. If there’s doubt in anyone’s mind that Santiz Cruz’s death was a deeply tragic loss, the Solidarity Project’s description of his mother’s reaction ought to erase it:
“He is the fourth son I’ve lost,” she explained, wiping tears from her face. “Two from diarrhea and one died at birth. He went so far and suffered so much getting there only to come home in a box.”
Santiz Cruz’s mother, father, and sisters explained that José Obeth was forced to migrate, as so many others are in his community, because his family couldn’t sustain themselves without outside income to supplement their Tojolabal agricultural community.
“It took José 20 days to cross the desert, he barely ate. He arrived to Vermont much thinner than he’d left San Isidro and in a lot of debt. It took him 6 months to find work once in Vermont,” shared Zoyla.
The independent news website Vtdigger.org (“nitty, gritty in-depth news for Vermont”) reports that the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration will not investigate Santiz Cruz’s death because the farm where he worked employed fewer than 10 workers, and the agency has jurisdiction to probe cases only on dairy farms with 11 or more workers. VOSHA, Vtdigger notes, is the only government agency with the authority to investigate the case.
Source: The Atlantic, Vermont Migrant Farmworker Solidarity Project, Vtdigger.org
Image by www.bluewaikiki.com, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, October 09, 2009 5:42 PM
The U.S. dairy system has shifted westward, and often it doesn’t look pretty: Instead of bucolic heartland pastures dotted with grazing cows, picture huge pens or sprawling open-air sheds where the animals are fed a high-protein, shipped-in diet and milked through metal crossbars. Conditions for workers in these big dairies are often little better than they are for the cows, as Rebecca Clarren makes chillingly clear in “The Dark Side of Dairies” in the August 31, 2009, High Country News.
Eighteen Western dairy workers died from 2003 to 2009, Clarren writes, “killed in tractor accidents, suffocated by falling hay bales, crushed by charging cows and bulls and asphyxiated by gases from manure lagoons and corn silage. Others survived but lost limbs or received concussions and spent days in the hospital.”
The majority of the West’s 50,000 dairy workers are immigrants, many of them living illegally in the United States. Dairy labor laws are lax to start with, and the workers’ tenuous status makes them especially vulnerable to egregious labor abuses, which Clarren vividly documents.
The story is enough to make you want to go organic and local, buying dairy products that come from a family-scale farm instead of a distant megadairy. If you do, check out the Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Dairy Report and Scorecard to find one that treats its cows, its workers, and its land with respect.
Sources: High Country News, The Cornucopia Institute
Wednesday, July 15, 2009 2:43 PM
Young men waist-deep in liming baths, or dragging hides from chromium baths with their bare hands, or covered in carcinogenic dust. This is how leather is made. At least in the Indian state of Jajmau, where illegal tanneries work with the agents of international retail empires to keep the world's markets and malls stocked with leather goods. Photographer Alex Masi has done an incredible job of documenting the abhorrent working conditions in the tanneries, and he is damning in his critique: "The misconduct of the Indian capitalist elite, a complicit government, and unethical foreign companies ought to be exposed to international consumers with the goal of redressing the violations through persuasive economic and political pressures." Masi's slideshow is as good a place as any to begin this process.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008 3:20 PM
Energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs may be lighting all of our homes within 10 years, but by next fall, they will cause the lights to turn out in six Cleveland-area General Electric plants.
Hundreds of union light bulb makers will lose their jobs, reports Lisa Rab in the Cleveland Scene, because it’s cheaper to make CFLs in countries with an abundance of cheap labor, like China or Hungary. Due to China’s careful strategic insights and planning in the 1990s, Rab reports that this notorious polluter now “produces an estimated 80 percent of the world’s CFLs.”
Rab’s report puts a wrinkle in the typical feel-good environmental interest story by highlighting the competing toll on fairly paid, union labor. In response to the layoffs, the union began a “Screw That Bulb” campaign to get the word out that GE was shipping its light-bulb jobs overseas. Union official David Raleigh told Rab, “The facilities are here….[GE owns] the buildings. You have a trained work force that can be adapted. It really is a shame.”
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