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Category: Press Coverage

Fortune

April 18, 2017

What the Newest Labor Groups Mean For US Workers

by Rick Wartzman

Tensions are mounting this week as the Writers Guild of America attempts to hammer out a new labor agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, with scripts being stockpiled in case no contract is reached and the industry shuts down in early May.

Yet a bigger role already is being cast—and it’s for the guild model itself.

Across more and more of the economy, worker advocates are hoping to replicate the ways in which screenwriters, actors, and others in Hollywood have been organized since the 1920s and ’30s.

Driving this development are the exploding ranks of “gig workers,” who don’t have a traditional relationship with a single employer. Many, like those in entertainment, bounce from one project to the next. This includes folks who find assignments via digital platforms such as TaskRabbit and Upwork, as well as day laborers who get picked up on a street corner and are driven to a construction site. Others may work for a particular company (at least for a stretch) but are considered independent contractors, not employees. Uber has become the poster child for this system.

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The Guardian

March 10, 2017

‘A gift to human traffickers’: report warns of dangers of Trump immigration policy

By Kate Hodal

Donald Trump’s hardline approach to immigration has been branded a “gift to human traffickers” amid concerns that stricter deportation and border regulations will push undocumented migrant workers underground, putting them at greater risk of slavery and human rights abuses.

The new administration’s immigration policy – which hinges on the construction of a US-Mexico border wall and immediate repatriation of illegal immigrants – will force criminal networks to use more costly and potentially more dangerous trafficking routes by air and sea, say global risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft.

According to a report by the company, the controversial stance adopted by the White House towards migrant workers and immigration will be a major driver of human rights risks for business in 2017.

Developed countries are warned that human rights abuses are surfacing closer to home for western companies just as legislation strengthens and scrutiny of business practices increases.

Saket Soni, executive director of the membership organisation National Guestworkers Alliance, said the Trump administration’s new regulations will only exacerbate existing problems and proves that the US government is “part of the problem”.

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The Indian Express

March 2, 2017

After Kansas: Posing as a ‘model minority’ cannot keep Indian migrants safe in Trump’s America.

By Saket Soni

The scene at the Kansas bar was every immigrant’s nightmare. Two Indian H-1B guestworkers, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were sharing an after-work whiskey in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. A white American, Adam Purington, hurled racist insults at them and was thrown out. But he returned with a shotgun, shouted “Get out of my country,” and opened fire. He killed Srinivas and wounded Alok, as well as an American man who tried to stop him. The shooting sent shockwaves through the United States and India. Unsurprisingly, the White House rejected any connection between President Donald Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric and the shooting.

But the shooting reveals what happens when the realities of globalism meet Trump’s economic nationalism. On one hand, US immigration policy imports Indian migrant workers. On the other hand, the new political rhetoric encourages Americans to see those workers as a threat. The shooting also showed the two impulses that have always coexisted in America: The racist and nativist impulses of the shooter, and the embracing impulse of another white man, Ian Grillot, who tried to stop the shooter and got shot himself.

Indians have always had faith in the American impulse to embrace and protect migrants. But the painful reality is that racism is the stronger impulse now — boosted by Trump’s rhetoric and economic nationalism. I understand the optimistic view of the US: America gave me a scholarship to come to college and I believed I had come to a welcoming place. Donald Trump’s America is different. Race-based violence against people of colour in the US isn’t new. The Black Lives Matter movement emerged to demand an end to police violence targeting African Americans. What is new is that the president ran on an openly xenophobic and anti-immigrant platform, and upon his election, embraced the view that brown people are a threat. This gives a new boldness to Americans who may be ready to turn their racial and economic resentment into violence. Hate crimes and threats are surging — against Jews, Muslims, Latin Americans, African Americans and Asians.

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Penn Live

January 30, 2017

Do we really want an anti-labor Labor Secretary?

By Kati Sipp

What will life be like for working people if President Donald Trump’s labor secretary pick Andy Puzder gets confirmed? Pennsylvanians already know.

In 2013, readers of this newspaper learned about brutal labor exploitation at fast food restaurants in Harrisburg, Lemoyne, and Camp Hill–including sub-minimum wage pay, unpaid overtime, work shifts that lasted up to 25 hours straight, and for some workers, overpriced company housing where eight people were packed into a single basement room.

Some of those workers were student guestworkers who came to the U.S. on J-1 visas expecting a “cultural exchange program,” but instead faced abuse and wage theft at the central Pennsylvania McDonald’s restaurants.

When the student workers spoke up, their boss threatened to fire and deport them.

It wasn’t just student guestworkers facing abuse. Local Pennsylvians were being exploited and robbed of their already low wages right alongside them.

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The Hill

December 15, 2016

“Trump’s opportunity to help millions of workers in our country”

By Saket Soni

While Donald Trump was taking his victory lap over the deal to stop Carrier Corporation from moving 800 Indiana jobs to Mexico, many pointed out that the deal offers little hope for the larger U.S. workforce. No presidential administration could cut individual deals with every U.S. company looking to outsource jobs.

There is something Trump can do, though, about the abuse of insourcing. Companies outsource jobs to take advantage of cheaper workers in Mexico, India and China. When they can’t move their facilities abroad, they often import foreign workers into the U.S. instead through federal guestworker programs. But abuse of these programs is rampant—and hurts both guestworkers and U.S. workers.

Trump surprised many when he named ending guestworker program abuse as a top priority for his first 100 days.

“On immigration,” Trump said in a message to the country, “I will direct the Department of Labor to investigate all abuses of visa programs that undercut the American worker.”

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Medium

December 12, 2016

We Can Find the Cash to Pay for a Basic Income for All. But Can We Find the Love?

By Saket Soni

Donald Trump’s deal with Carrier to stop 800 U.S. jobs from being outsourced to Mexico was meant to raise hopes for a new era of job stability. Critics on both sides of the aisle dismissed this as a fantasy. Ironically, it was the CEO of Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, who offered one of the clearest reasons why: where companies can’t outsource to cut labor costs, they’ll automate instead. In fact, CEO Greg Hayes said, United Technologies plans to invest $16 million to automate jobs at the very plant where Trump cut his deal.

Not to mention that Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, has said he wants to replace human workers at his fast food chains with robots.

The U.S. economy has undergone a fundamental transformation. Workers can no longer count on the kinds of permanent full-time jobs that brought benefits and long-term stability to previous generations. Americans know this. The insurgencies in both major political parties this election season, as well as the election of Trump itself, were driven in part by pain and frustration over our country’s broken social contract.

Gig-to-gig work is on the rise. The U.S. Government Accountability Office says that more than 40% of U.S. workers are “contingent” in one form or another — meaning they’re agency temps, direct-hire temps, on-call workers, day laborers, part-time workers or independent contractors. Long-term unemployment is near historic highs. Ever-more-rapid technological change threatens to hollow out entire industries through automation.

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Medium

October 19, 2016

The Question 55 Million American Workers Have For The Next U.S. President

By Saket Soni

On Wednesday, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will share the stage for their last debate before the presidential election. Donald Trump is sure to face questions about the allegations of sexual assault he faces from more than a dozen women. Hillary Clinton is certain to face continued questionsover her private email server during her time as Secretary of State. But there’s another question both candidates should both face — one that affects of tens of millions of Americans and makes national headlines nearly every day, but has yet to draw comment from either candidate.

The question is: how do you plan to guarantee economic security for workers in our nation as work changes and America’s workers become increasingly insecure?

The American economy is undergoing a fundamental transformation. As President Obama has himself acknowledged, the old deal between workers, employers, and government is breaking down. Workers can no longer count on the kinds of permanent full-time jobs that brought benefits and long-term stability to previous generations. American voters know this: the insurgencies in both major political parties during the primaries were in part an expression of public frustration with our country’s broken social contract.

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Open Democracy

October 6, 2006

Voices from the supply chain: an interview with the National Guestworker Alliance

Beyond Trafficking and Slavery speaks with JJ Rosenbaum of the National Guestworker Alliance on ways to protect workers in global supply chains, including a global minimum wage.

BTS: So, JJ, could you tell us why this year’s ILC was particularly important?

JJ: This year the ILC took up the issue of global supply chains for the first time. Global supply chains are increasingly the way that the world economy is organised. So it is fundamental for the ILO to speak about them and to bring a workers’ perspective to the issues that they raise.

BTS: What did you want to see result from this year’s ILC?

JJ: I thought it important that the dialogue this year be a first step towards a broader process of standard setting for working conditions in global supply chains. We know that supply chains involve significant exploitation of migrant workers, of women workers, and of others, and we know that there are problems with wage levels and with freedom of association. So national supply chain standards are no longer enough – what we need is something global.

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Medium

October 4, 2016

Bringing Stability to the United States of Anxiety

Michelle Miller, Sarita Gupta, and Saket Soni

The gig economy isn’t new. Day laborers, domestic workers, construction workers, and many other workers — frequently low-wage people of color — have been living in it for decades. But with the rise of app-based labor platforms like Uber, TaskRabbit, and Handy, and with traditional companies laying off formerly full-time workers en masse only to rehire them as freelancers, the gig economy is provoking national anxieties like never before.

That’s why it’s time to develop a new generation of employment benefits and protections that meet the challenges of the gig economy.

Workers on app-based platforms still make up a small part of the total U.S. workforce, but they’re part of a full 40% of the American workforce that is now in non-traditional work arrangements of one kind or another, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. That includes agency temps, direct-hire temps, on-call workers, part-time workers, day laborers, and subcontracted workers.

What’s more, several of the technology companies that employ workers through apps have already transformed their industries. Uber and Lyft have dramatically disrupted the taxi business, while localities have struggled to regulate them. In the hotel industry, AirBnB’s current $10 billion valuation is bigger than that of global hotel chains like Hyatt. Apps like Task Rabbit have brought day labor corners online, and “crowdsourcing” platforms like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk plunge tens of thousands of workers into an entirely unregulated market for as little as a dollar an hour.

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TakePart.com

September 29, 2016

The Explosion on West Delta 32 E

The fallout from an accident two years after Deepwater Horizon reveals safety is still an issue for Gulf oil workers.

by Justin Nobel

At 7 a.m. on Nov. 16, 2012, as the morning’s first rays spilled across the Gulf of Mexico, nine Filipino men began their workday on an oil platform about 10 miles off the coast of Louisiana. To these skilled laborers, in the U.S. on temporary visas, it was perhaps just another day out on the cobalt-blue Gulf, working a foreign nation’s offshore oil patch so they could send money back to their families 8,000 miles away. But Ellroy Corporal, Jerome Malagapo, and Avelino Tajonera had a difficult task that morning: upgrading a pipe that helped pass oil pumped from beneath the seabed into Louisiana’s vast network of shore-bound pipelines. The job involved welding, which on an oil platform means spraying bits of fire onto a deck loaded with explosive fuel.

West Delta Block 32 Platform E looked like an extremely complicated swim dock, stacked with pipes and tanks. Using a pneumatic saw, one of the men cut away a two-foot section of pipe. Exposed edges were smoothed using an electric grinder. A pair of metal flanges would allow new piping to fit seamlessly into the old section. One worker held the first flange, another squared it, and the third was to weld the piece into place. Before the welding torch was lit, one of the men asked the others if they smelled a gas-like odor. Neither responded.

The offshore oil and gas industry calls welding hot work, which requires a special permit outlining safety precautions. But the appropriate permit for hot work that day on West Delta 32 E was never issued. Two portable gas detectors that should have been taken to the platform were broken. The Filipino men were working for an oil industry service provider called Grand Isle Shipyard. According to an investigation by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees the U.S. offshore oil and gas industry, a GIS supervisor told the men not to worry and suggested they “hang the non-functioning gas detector up like a ‘decoration’ so everyone could at least see that they had one.” Another contractor had told the workers that the pipes had been purged and that West Delta 32 E was safe. In fact the pipes they were about to apply a welding torch to were laced with flammable hydrocarbon vapors. The platform was a ticking time bomb.

Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, the platform’s operator, had hired Wood Group PSN, a large oil services firm registered in Scotland that operates in more than 50 countries, to manage operations. A senior Wood Group officer was supposed to attend a morning safety meeting in the galley. This individual could have told the men the pipes had not been purged of vapors or asked why a hot work permit had not been issued. Instead a lower-level Wood Group employee attended the galley safety meeting, but “merely out of coincidence,” according to the BSEE report. The man sat eating his breakfast and didn’t pay attention.

Some electromagnetic waves can circle the earth seven and a half times in one second. Your brain’s nerve signals can cover 22 miles in that time. A radio signal can travel to space and back. By comparison, fire travels slowly. And in the way time seems to halt when the brain is faced with danger, fire must seem especially slow when it’s spreading right in front of your face.

The welding torch was lit. Hydrocarbon vapors ignited. One one thousand. A string of fire ran through the piping and into a set of three oil tanks.

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