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Trump DOL shows callous disregard for subcontracted workers On June 7, 2017, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rescinded an important guidance document on joint employer liability. Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance: “This week, the DOL rescinded a critical guidance document that helped uphold the rights of subcontracted and contingent workers. The move reflects a […]
Chinese Migrant Workers in U.S. Territory Demand: We Want Our Wages, Not Cigarettes May 2, 2017–Chinese migrant workers are standing up against wage theft and labor abuse on the U.S. Commonwealth of Saipan. The workers for the Chinese construction company Gold Mantis helped build a $500 million casino for Hong Kong-based Imperial Pacific. Although Saipan is a U.S. territory, the federal minimum wage is only $6.55. And the Gold […]
What the Newest Labor Groups Mean For US Workers – Fortune – 4/18/17 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 […]
Trump’s New Order Speeds the Race to the Bottom – 4-18-17 On April 18, 2017, the Trump Administration released an executive order addressing federal guestworker visa programs. Below is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni: “Today’s executive order threatens to erode the rights both of guestworkers, and of U.S. workers in similar jobs, on the pretext of protecting only the latter. […]

New York Times

May 31, 2016

Retailers Like H&M and Walmart Fall Short of Pledges to Overseas Workers

After more than 1,100 deaths exposed dangerous labor conditions in Bangladesh in 2013, brands like H&M, Walmart and Gap were among the most powerful companies that pledged to improve the safety of some of the country’s poorest workers.

But human rights groups say that three years later, those promises are still unfulfilled, and that safety, labor and other issues persist in Bangladesh and other countries where global retailers benefit from an inexpensive work force.

A series of new reports by the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, a coalition of trade unions and other research and advocacy groups, has put a new spotlight on the conditions. In Bangladesh, the group says, tens of thousands of workers sew garments in buildings without proper fire exits. In Indonesia, India and elsewhere, pregnant women are vulnerable to reduced wages and discrimination. In Cambodia, workers who protested for an extra $20 a month were shot and killed.

The brands say that in recent years they have aggressively pushed stronger labor protections and vastly increased their monitoring of the factories that make their products. They have also made significant structural and fire repairs at many factories in Bangladesh.

But even the retail groups say that more improvement is needed, a message underscored in the new reports. Worker advocates say that progress on improving conditions at the factories has been too slow, and that some of the world’s biggest companies continue to benefit from unfair and dangerous labor practices.

“There have been substantial safety renovations in factories that have unquestionably made those factories substantially safer,” Scott Nova, the executive director of the labor monitoring group Worker Rights Consortium, said of the work in Bangladesh. “At the same time, it’s also true that there have been unacceptable delays.”

On Tuesday, the Wage Alliance released its latest report, which accuses Walmart of benefiting from forced labor and other abusive practices in a number of Asian countries. In Cambodia, for instance, workers at factories who make products sold at the company are required to work 10 to 14 hours a day in sweltering heat, without access to clean drinking water or breaks — conditions that have contributed to “mass fainting episodes,” the report said.

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rsz_58b36e96-3354-467d-89d3-7a1ceedde5da-2In June 2016, the NGA joined the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a global coalition of trade unions, worker rights, and human rights organizations at the International Labor Conference in Geneva–demanding that the ILO help ensure that human rights cross borders.

The NGA has partnered with AFWA on a series of groundbreaking reports detailing human rights and labor abuses on global seafood and garment supply chains. The reports detail recommendations to improve working conditions worldwide, including a cross-border living wage. The NGA and AFWA, together with the rest of the Workers Conference Delegation, are pressing the ILO to move forward with setting global standards for supply chains that include wage protections, freedom of association, and freedom of migration.

Read the reports and media coverage:

 

 

Medium

May 9, 2016

A VOICE FOR DIGITAL DAY LABORERS

What can Uber and other tech companies learn from a day laborer corner?

by Saket Soni

For centuries, migrants in search of work have arrived at street corners to offer their services as day laborers. These workers have always been an essential part of our economy, taking on some of the most important work projects in our country’s history, including, in recent years, the rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina. They did these daunting jobs one gig at a time, without the prospect of permanent, full-time work.

Throughout this history, workers have faced horrific exploitation. I remember showing up at the day labor corners in post Katrina New Orleans with organizers, to defend day labors from abuse. In the last few decades, in New Orleans and across the country, waves of day laborers who faced wage theft and racial discrimination have organized collectively for a voice in the analog gig economy.

Then the digital gig economy came along. Now, workers in search of short-term work don’t have to go to the day labor corner over by Home Depot. They can hop onto a platform through their smart phones. And the disruptive technology companies that created the digital gig economy are now turning their attention to worker organizing.

First, a few weeks ago, Airbnb — the home sharing app taking on the hotel industry — was reported briefly to be in conversations promoting a $15 minimum wage and the use of unionized house cleaners by hosts. That same day, Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber — the ride sharing app destabilizing the taxi cab industry — wrote that the company will create drivers’ associations in California and Massachusetts “to discuss the issues that matter most to drivers” as part of the $84 million settlement in a class action lawsuit against the company.

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Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum (@RosenbaumJJ) is a Robina Foundation Visiting Human Rights Fellow at the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School.

From the on-demand economy to construction sites and fields, joint employer liability continues to be fundamental to combating growing inequality and substandard conditions for workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) started 2016 with two strong commitments on this issue – new administrative guidance and new data collection efforts.  The International Labor Organization (ILO) also takes up these issues in June as part of its general discussion on decent work in global supply chains.  And trade unions and workers’ centers continue their organizing and campaigns providing critical information, analysis, and momentum.

New Joint Employer Administrative Interpretation

On January 20, 2016, the USDOL issued a new Administrative Interpretation (AI) from Wage and Hour Administrator David Weil reminding business entities that they may be jointly liable for minimum wage and overtime obligations towards workers even where they are not the “employer” for purposes of payroll or other common law definitions.  The AI follows six months after USDOL’s guidance on independent contractor misclassification and the National Labor Relations Board’s decision in Browning-Ferris Industries of California, which expanded the NLRB’s joint employer standard.

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On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division released guidance on joint employment: the increasingly common situation of a worker having two or more employers who are simultaneously responsible for complying with labor law.

The following is a statement by National Guestworker Alliance Director (NGA) Executive Director Saket Soni:

“Today’s guidance by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division is an important step toward protecting some of America’s most vulnerable workers. As division administrator David Weil points out, it is becoming more and more common for businesses to source workers through temporary staffing agencies and independent contractors, in fields including construction, agricultural, janitorial, distribution and logistics, staffing, and hospitality.

“When these workers face labor abuse, staffing agencies try to shift the blame up the chain, and the employers on top try to shift the blame down, each claiming they’re not the ‘real’ employer. The result is that abuse goes unpunished, and wages and working standards fall for all workers.

“Today’s guidance clarifies that in joint employment situations like these, both employers are responsible before the law. As the guidance says, the Fair Labor Standards Act and Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act were specifically written to ‘prevent employers from using “middlemen” to evade the laws’ requirements.’

“With the rise of contingent work, this matters to every worker in America. When employers can evade liability for abuse by claiming they’re not the ‘real’ employer, wages and conditions fall for all workers. But when workers can hold their employers responsible, they can fight for better workplaces for themselves and those alongside them—the way that subcontracted NGA worker-members in Louisiana shipyards and New Bedford seafood processing plants are fighting right now.

“We applaud the Wage and Hour Division for issuing this important and timely guidance.”

 

Tech companies, labor advocates, and think tankers of all stripes call for sweeping reforms to the social safety net

But is it possible to let tech-enabled companies offer some benefits to independent contractors, without eroding those of traditional employees?

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Buzzfeed News

November 11, 2015

Companies Sued By Workers Want To Find A Way To Protect Them

by Caroline O’Donovan

An open letter was published today — on Medium, of course — that calling for a portable benefits system for workers. The letter was signed by a coalition of tech founders and CEOs, venture capitalists and funders, and non-profit and foundation executives, as well as a few representatives from the alternative labor movement.

The document argues that, in the face of a workforce that is increasingly likely to include self-employed individuals working for multiple entities, the U.S. needs to fundamentally reimagine how benefits — “such as workers compensation, unemployment insurance, paid time off, retirement savings, and training” — are distributed. Traditionally, it has been the responsibility of an employer to provide these programs. But today, the letter argues, considering the way digital platforms have fragmented the labor force, that system no longer makes the most sense.

The letter is supposed to demonstrate a sense of solidarity around the issue of benefits for gig workers, an issue that unites such strange bedfellows as labor organizations and San Francisco tech startups. The letter itself is relatively toothless; it doesn’t make specific policy recommendations, and so far it hasn’t been officially endorsed by any regulators. It does, however, confirm that issues of workers’ rights have a broad momentum right now. What the letter doesn’t address — and what may eventually divide those who signed it — is whether actually providing benefits to these workers ultimately falls to labor organizers or private entities.

Many of the companies that signed this document are the very same companies responsible for the fragmentation of the workforce in the first place. The founders of Lyft, which hires independent contractors to drive cars, signed it. So did the CEO of Handy, which dispatches contract workers to clean houses. The CEO of Instacart, which relies on a team of drivers and shoppers to deliver groceries to customers, is also on there. Partners from the venture capital firms that fund these companies (or those like them) — Homebrew, Greylock Partners, Union Square Ventures and Second Avenue Partners — also signed on.

And many, in fact, are being sued by workers who say they were misclassified as contractors and are owed compensation for the pay and benefits they thereby missed out on. (Note that this is not true of all signatories; the CEO of Etsy also signed, for example, and while that company does profit off the work of self-employed crafters, it’s not currently being sued by any.)

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POWER Act Will Lift Floor for All Workers

Bill by Rep. Judy Chu provides crucial whistleblower protections for immigrant workers & U.S. workers alongside them

WASHINGTON, DC, November 5, 2015—On Thursday, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32) introduced the POWER Act (Protect Our Workers from Exploitation and Retaliation) to the U.S. House of Representatives. Co-sponsors included Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Keith Ellison (MN-5) and Rep. Robert Scott (VA-3).

Below is a statement by Saket Soni, Executive Director of the National Guestworker Alliance and the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice:

“Every worker in the U.S. needs the POWER Act. More and more, U.S. workers face the same kind of vulnerability and instability that immigrant workers have long faced. The POWER Act ensures that when vulnerable immigrant workers stand up to blow the whistle on workplace abuse, employers can’t retaliate by threatening them with deportation. By helping immigrant workers expose abuse, the POWER Act also helps lift the floor for the tens of millions of U.S. workers alongside them.

“Without the POWER Act, an immigrant worker like Shellion Parris can be recognized by the federal government as a victim of involuntary servitude, and still face deportation. Workers like Shellion deserve immediate protection from deportation when they blow the whistle on employer abuse, and deserve the ability to work while they pursue their claims. The POWER Act would provide it.

“The POWER Act would help protect high-road employers too, by making sure that they are not at a disadvantage to exploitative employers. It would also lets law enforcement agencies do their job by ensuring that witnesses and victims of workplace crimes aren’t deported in the middle of an investigation.

“By lifting the floor for every worker in the U.S., the POWER Act provides a crucial first step toward combating income inequality and expanding opportunity for all.”

The bill was endorsed in a sign-on letter by 72 civil, labor, and human rights organizations, including the National Guestworker Alliance.

 

The Hill

November 03, 2015

Lifting the floor in the next American economy

by Saket Soni and Sarita Gupta

The deeper we get into presidential election season, the more questions the candidates face—and should—about how they’ll combat income inequality and increase economic opportunity.

They should start by protecting the most vulnerable workers in the U.S.: low-wage immigrant workers.

Shellion Parris was recruited to come to the United States from Jamaica on an H-2B guestworker visa and clean luxury condos on Florida’s Emerald Coast. She was trapped by crushing program-related debt, overpriced company housing that left her with zero-dollar paychecks, and retaliatory threats of firing and deportation when she and fellow workers went on strike. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services said it added up to involuntary servitude—but still denied the workers protection from deportation as victims of a serious crime.

Jose Adan Fugon and Gustavo Barahona were waiting for a ride to work when local police near New Orleans racially profiled them and detained them without charge. Jose and Gustavo were improperly transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which scheduled them for deportation—in spite of a Department of Homeland Security civil rights review that confirmed the racial profiling and recommended the workers be released. National pressure forced ICE to release Gustavo, but the agency had already deported Jose.

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The Nation
October 21, 2015
She Came to the US, Was Forced Into Indentured Servitude, and Now Faces Deportation

by Michelle Chen

When Shellion Parris talked about her experience as a “guestworker” at the White House earlier this month, the 35-year-old Jamaican immigrant told a tale familiar to many immigrants. She had taken on debt to secure a work visa for the United States, because she had hoped to land a job as a cleaner in this country, only to be defrauded, forced into indentured servitude, and ultimately threatened with deportation. But she told a tale of heroism, too: She and her fellow guestworkers had staged a dramatic protest campaign in 2013, and she is now a leading immigrant activist.

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