After worker action at McDonald’s headquarters, $15 minimum wage ordinance introduced in Chicago

A week after thousands of fast food workers and their supporters demanding a minimum wage increase stormed the McDonald’s headquarters in a Chicago suburb, a group of Chicago alderman introduced an ordinance that would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15.

Chicago becomes the third city to consider raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. A committee of the Seattle City Council has approved a $15 wage increase and the full City Council will vote on the ordinance on June 2. San Francisco is also considering raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The introduction of the $15 minimum wage ordinance in Chicago was the result of a grassroots organizing effort that has been underway in Chicago for some time now.

The success of that effort was on display last week when more that 2,000 McDonald’s workers and their supporters showed up near the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, 19 miles from downtown Chicago.

The demonstrators, 325 of whom were wearing their McDonald’s uniforms, carried signs reading, “We Are Worth More” and “My Union My Voice.”

McDonald’s with a low wage work force of nearly 860,000 is the third largest low wage employer in the US.

The average wage of a McDonald’s restaurant worker is $7.73 an hour. The average wage for a McDonald’s chief executive is $9,200 an hour.

The demonstrators said that they were at the McDonald’s headquarters just ahead of the annual board meeting because they were  frustrated by McDonald’s reluctance to address the poverty wages that it pays most of it workers.

“As workers, we went on strike, we talked to other workers, we’ve had petitions signings,” said Janah Bailey, a McDonald’s workers, to Chicago’s Channel 7 News. “We’ve done all we can; we requested meetings with the general managers. My presence today is saying that I’m willing to take it up a notch.”

The demonstrators then marched onto the McDonald’s campus where they were met by police in riot gear.

After the police tried to get demonstrators to leave, 130 were arrested for criminal trespass.

More than 100 of those arrested were McDonald’s workers.

Their supporters included clergy and trade unionists.

Some of those supporters including Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU, and William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP and the state’s Moral Majority Movement, were also arrested.

“I was arrested because I want McDonald’s workers to know that 2.1 million members of SEIU — home care workers, child care workers, adjunct professors, security officers, hospital workers and many others — proudly stand with them,” said Henry in a statement about her arrest.

Earlier in May,  Chicago fast food workers joined other fast food workers in 150 US cities in a one-day strike demanding that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour.

The actions at McDonald’s headquarters, the strikes, and other work done by fast food workers and their supporters caught the attention of nine Chicago alderman who announced on May 28 that they had filed an ordinance raising the Chicago minimum wage.

The proposed ordinance would require companies whose annual revenue exceeds $50 million to pay at least $12.50 an hour and within a year raise their wages to at least $15 an hour.

Small and medium-sized businesses would have more time to meet the $15 an hour minimum.

Alderman Joe Moreno told the Chicago Sun Times that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would increase Chicago business activity by $616 million and create 5,350 jobs.

Businesses were quick to express their opposition to raising the minimum wage arguing that increasing wages would hurt business.

Moreno said that when the minimum wage has been raised in the past it always helps the broader economy.

“It’s gonna hurt the people at the top possibly. It’s not gonna hurt business. It never has,” said Moreno to the Chicago Sun Times. “Raising the minimum wage in the United States has never, ever hurt the broader economy. . . . Our economy has been splintered with those at the top having way more. The middle class is shrinking. We want the middle class to grow.”

UT cuts ties to Accenture after coalition’s organizing and mobilizing efforts; AG ups the ante on his Accenture contract

As a result of pressure from the University of Texas Save Our Community Coalition, the UT administration announced that it will be  scaling down its Shared Services project and cutting ties with Accenture, the global consulting firm that designed Shared Services.

Accenture’s plan would have eliminated 500 jobs.

In addition to cutting staff, Accenture’s plan would have funneled many requests for administrative services to a centralized call center, reducing direct contact between staff and those they serve.

The cost of implementing Shared Services would have been at least $54 million, and as the Save Our Community Coalition has demonstrated, Accenture overestimated the savings that its plan would generate.

In a related development, the Associated Press reports that another Accenture project with a Texas government agency is $64 million over budget and is in danger of not being completed on time.

At UT, the Save Our Community Coalition, a broad-based campus coalition organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186 (TSEU), waged a 14-month long campaign aimed saving the 500 jobs slated for elimination.

The campaign included mobilizations, building a wide base of opposition to Shared Services, and confronting the administration about inconsistencies and errors in the Shared Services plan whenever possible.

At an April 23 rally, one of several rallies against Shared Services held on campus, students, faculty, and staff spoke out against Shared Services. The rally was held on the steps of the offices occupied by top UT executives.

After the rally, students walked to the office of UT President William Powers and asked to speak to him about their concerns about Shared Services.

When he refused, the students conducted a peaceful sit-in at his office, and 18 were arrested.

The announcement that UT was cutting its ties to Accenture and scaling back its Shared Services plan came about two weeks after the rally and the arrests.

In addition to the rallies, the members of the coalition succeeded in getting 100 faculty members to sign a letter to Powers expressing their opposition to Shared Services. Members of the coalition also got the Graduate Student Assembly to pass a resolution opposing implementation.

While Shared Services has been scaled back, it has not been eliminated.

UT will pilot Shared Services in the Provost’s Office and the College of Education.

After the results of the pilot have been assessed, UT will decide whether it will expand Shared Services.

Save Our Community wants to make sure that the assessment is fair and called on the administration to involve staff affected by the outcome in the planning process. It also wants qualified experts to create the metrics that will be used to evaluate results and mutually agreed on benchmarks that the pilots must meet in order to continue.

A bigger concern of the coalition is the way that UT’s search for cost savings is always limited to measures that result in layoffs, pay freezes, or benefits cuts for employees.

“The UT administration tells us we need to save money by laying off staff and eliminating positions, yet all around me I see UT expanding and investing in new construction projects,” said Sarahi Soto-Talavera, a UT student and TSEU member. “We need to stop balancing the budget on the backs of staff, and start prioritizing the people who make our campus run.”

Not far from the UT campus is the office of Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who agreed to a $210 contract with Accenture to design a new computer system for his Child Support Division.

In 2011, the State Auditor’s Office issued a report saying that the new computer system known as TXCSES 2.0, or T2, would be implemented in three phases. Full implementation would be complete by 2017. The first phase was on track to be completed by October 2013.

But more than six months after its scheduled implementation, the first phase has yet to be completed.

The Associated Press reports that earlier this year, a report by UT faculty members hired to monitor the project said that the T2 completion date was overly optimistic. According to the AP, it also “raised warning about substandard work that could escalate costs down the road.”

To address this problem Abbott agreed to a contract amendment that raised the cost of the project by $64 million.

NC state workers unions opens membership to college athletes

A North Carolina state employees union has decided to recognize scholarship athletes who play for the state’s public universities teams as state employees.

The decision by the Board of Governors of the State Employees Association of North Carolina SEIU Local 2008 (SEANC) makes most college athletes at North Carolina state universities eligible to join the union. NCSEA has 55,000 members.

“What (SEANC) has definitively decided is to change our own membership rules to allow (college athletes) to join,” SEANC spokeswoman Toni Davis to the Associated Press. “And everything beyond that is really in a planning and development stage.”

The decision by the SEANC comes at time when more college athletes are thinking about forming a union to address grievances about the way they are treated by a college sports enterprise that has enriched executives of the NCAA, the body governing most college sports in the US, a handful of college athletic directors and head coaches, and broadcasting networks.

In April, football players at Northwestern University voted in a National Labor Relations Board union representation election on whether to join the National College Players Association.

The results of that election have not been announced pending an appeal by Northwestern of an NLRB decision that classifies college athletes as employees eligible for union representation.

In its decision, the NLRB found that football players at Northwestern through their efforts have generated $235 million for the university over the last ten years. According to the NLRB, Northwestern football players spend “50 to 60 hours per week on their (football duties) during a one-month training camp” and 40 to 50 hours per week on those same duties during the four-month football season.

During the offseason and summer, players are required to participate in practices as well.

College athletes also work under a strict regimen dictated by their coaches that is similar if not exactly the same as workplace discipline required of employees in general.

The National College Players Association in a 2013 report entitled the $6 Billion Heist describes the relationship between athletes and their colleges and the NCAA as exploitative.

According to the report, the so-called full scholarship that athletes receive for playing their sport is not enough to make ends meet, saddling the athlete with an average of $3,285 in out of pocket expenses every year.

The percentage of athletes at NCAA colleges living in poverty is 82 percent for those who live on campus and 90 percent for those who live off campus.

While athletes struggle to make ends meet, the NCAA and the colleges with top-tier athletic programs receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue generated by the efforts of college athletes.

During the 2012-2013 school year, the NCAA received $912 million in total revenue generated by television contracts, ticket sales, and marketing deals.

Total revenue for the top ten college athletic programs in 2012 was, according to USA Today, $1.25 billion; their expenses were $812.2 million for a net revenue of about $435 million.

If athletes in North Carolina choose to join SEANC they won’t have collective bargaining rights. North Carolina prohibits collective bargaining by state employees.

But for $9 a month, they will become members of an advocacy group that has successfully achieved gains and protections for such state employees as correctional officers, health care workers, and other university employees.

As members, they will have the opportunity to determine what improvements they wish to achieve, and they will receive help from the union staff and other members in their struggle to achieve their goals.

“It is a membership-driven association so the members — in this case the student scholarship athletes — would let us know what their concerns are,” said Davis to the AP. “So we’re not coming to them saying we’re going to solve a set of problems what we’ve defined. We’re looking for the athletes to let us know how they would like us to help.”

Despite management pressure, Brooklyn wireless workers vote for union

Withstanding intense pressure from management, workers at six Verizon retail stores in Brooklyn on May 13 voted to join the Communication Workers of America (CWA).

“This vote is a huge victory for these workers and for thousands more across Verizon Wireless who want representation to address their issues on the job,” read a statement by CWA. “For more than a decade, Verizon has done everything possible to prevent Wireless workers from joining 40,000 Verizon Communications workers and 80 Verizon Wireless technicians who have union representation.”

Verizon is not alone in wanting to keep the Wireless industry union free. Except for AT&T whose wireless workers are CWA members, Wireless companies have been relentless in their efforts to deny their workers a collective voice on the job.

A case in point is T-Mobile, which has fired and harassed workers for supporting a union organizing drive.

Last year, T-Mobile went to unusual lengths to deny eight workers in Harlem their right to join a union.

The workers worked at the PCSMetro store on Lexington Avenue. T-Mobile had recently acquired PCSMetro in a merger deal.

When the workers petitioned for a union representation election, T-Mobile launched an outsized effort to keep the store union free.

John Legere, T-Mobile’s CEO, travelled from the State of Washington to personally urge the workers to vote no. Other top executives also visited the store.

The company also employed more sinister efforts.

Management representatives escorted individual workers to a dimly lit basement where they interrogated about their union activity. During the interrogation, management representatives made thinly veiled threats about the consequences of joining a union.

(You can see a dramatization of what the workers endured in this video clip.)

Despite the intense pressure, workers voted 7 to 1 for the union.

The Brooklyn Verizon workers faced similar pressures from their company.

During the organizing campaign, workers were ordered to attend one-on-one captive audience meetings with management, sometimes as often as three times a day.

Top Verizon executives also visited the stores to urge workers to vote no.

The day before the election, several of the Brooklyn stores were closed for two hours while the company tried to persuade workers to vote against joining CWA.

Management’s efforts, however, were unsuccessful.

“We walked in the footsteps of our brothers and sisters who fought before us,” said Bianca Cunningham, a Verizon employee who voted yes. “We banded together in the face of adversity and combatted fear with hope. We look forward to Verizon Wireless workers stepping out of the shadows and joining the 40,000 strong in CWA who work at Verizon to continue to fight for the middle class.”

The Brooklyn Verizon workers also had help from the CWA brothers and sisters who work for AT&T.

They made and shared a video in which they talked about the advantages of having a union voice on the job.

“We work in the retail environment,” said Muhammad, who works at the AT&T retail store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. “Quotas are a part of that. What the union has definitely made sure of is that before the company can hold you accountable for quotas, (the union) makes sure that you have tools necessary to meet your quotas.”

The day after the union representation election, the Brooklyn Verizon workers wore red to work to celebrate their victory.


Unions blame privatization for mine explosion in Turkey

Carrying signs that read, “It wasn’t an accident, it was murder,” 1,500 people on May 16 gathered in Soma, the site of Turkey’s worst mine disaster to protest the lack of safety at the mine where an explosion killed 301 miners.

The demonstrators were dispersed by the police, who fired tear gas and rubber bullets and blasted demonstrators with water cannons .

The mine, located in the heart of Turkey’s coal mining region, is operated by Soma Holding, a private company. Turkish unions say that safety in the mines like the one at Soma has deteriorated badly since the mines were privatized and that the company’s disregard for safety caused the explosion and resulting deaths.

“Those who keep up with privatization. . . policies, (that) threaten workers’ lives to reduce costs. . . are the culprits of the Soma massacre and they must be held accountable,” said KESK, the union of public sector workers, on its website.

“After privatization of the mines many years ago, so many occupational accidents have erupted,” said Kivanc Eliacik, director of international relations for DISK, Turkey’s largest trade union federation.

The government at first contended that the mines were safe and accidents like the one at Soma were inevitable because mining is inherently dangerous work.

But after five days of intense public demonstrations, the government on May 18 arrested and charged three Soma Holding officials with negligence.

The explosion might have been prevented had the government paid attention to mounting evidence that the company was ignoring mine safety.

The Guardian reports that a 2010 report by the Turkish Chamber of Architects and Engineers cited problems with the mine’s ventilation systems, pre-warning mechanisms, and wall supports. The problems, said the report, if not fixed could lead to a disaster.

Two weeks before the explosion occurred the Republican People’s Party, the country’s main opposition party, presented evidence during a debate in parliament showing that mine safety at Soma was deficient.

The opposition introduced a resolution calling for the government to increase its mine safety inspections at Soma. During debate on the resolution Erkan Akcay, a member of parliament , said that during 2013 there were 5,000 industrial accidents in Soma, and 90 percent of those accidents took place in the mines.

Members of the Justice and Development Party (AKP, its Turkish acronym), Turkey’s ruling party, however, said that mine safety in Soma was excellent and no additional inspections were needed. AKP members voted to oppose the resolution, and it was killed.

After the explosion, a preliminary investigation into the causes took place. According to the Associated Press, the investigation found that the mine’s support beams were made of wood not metal and that there were too few carbon monoxide sensors in the mine.

One safety feature, rescue chambers, which are common in US and European mines, could have reduced the number of deaths, but Bloomberg News reports that the Soma mine didn’t have any.

When asked why, a Soma Holding spokesperson told Bloomberg that the government didn’t require them.

DISK spokesperson Eliacik said that Soma Holding has slashed production costs at the expense of worker safety. Prior to privatization, production costs at the Soma mines were between US$ 130 to US$140 per ton. Since Soma Holdings has taken over operation of the mines, production costs have dropped to US$23.80 per ton.

Mines aren’t the only workplaces in Turkey where safety is lax. The United Nations International Labor Organization reports that Turkey has the third highest rate of on-the-job worker deaths in the world.

“Workers die an average of 8.5 times more in Turkey than in the European Union,” said Akcay. “There were 880,000 occupational accidents between 2002 and 2013, and 13,442 were killed in these accidents.”

In 2013, 1,235 Turkish workers were killed on the job, and while the AKP has been in power, 219 occupational accidents take place every day in Turkey.

After the Soma explosion, the government shrugged off the catastrophe.

During a press conference 24 hours after the explosion, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that mine disasters like the one at Soma were not unusual because mining is very dangerous work and that the tragedy should not be blown out of proportion.

Shortly after Prime Minister Erdogan’s remarks, unions called for demonstrations and strikes to protest the lack of occupational safety in the mines and on other jobs throughout the country.

On May 15, demonstrations took place in Ankara, Istanbul, and Soma. They were broken up by the police.

At the Istanbul Technical University, students occupied administration offices and demanded that the university cut its ties with Soma Holding. A university official met with the students and said that the university would do so.

On Saturday May 17 tensions remained high in Soma after the police broke up the demonstration the day before. Reuters reports that police in riot gear were patrolling the streets and had set up check points. The town was in virtual lockdown and 36 people had been arrested.

On May 18, the Associated Press reports that the government began to take action against Soma Holding. It detained and questioned 25 Soma Holding officials. As a result, the government charged the mine’s operation manager Akin Celik and two others with negligence. Six of the 25 were released, and the government is deciding whether to charge the other 16.

After one year, Ikea workers are still locked out

Ikea workers in Richmond, British Columbia on May 10 rallied to mark the one-year anniversary of their lockout.

Last year, the Ikea store in Richmond locked out its workers after 84 percent of Teamsters Local 213 members rejected the companies final offer that would have reduced benefits and wages and would have created a two-tiered wage system that would have resulted in lower wages for newly hired employees.

“I don’t think that there ever was an attempt (by Ikea) to reach an agreement here,” said Mike Levinson, a business representative for Local 213 at the rally. “It was all about teaching people here a lesson.”

Levinson said that he has been involved in negotiations in which businesses were struggling, and that in these cases, the union has worked with companies to help the business get back on track.

But that’s not the case with Ikea. “This company has no difficulties,” said Levinson. “It’s just looking for a fight. They thought you guys would cave in, but after a year, you’re still here.”

Levinson told the crowd that he just had returned from a Teamsters conference in the US where the main topic of discussion was the War on Workers that is being financed by billionaire right wingers, who want to turn back the clock on labor rights.

Levinson said that Ikea’s actions are similar to the actions of those in the US who want to bust unions. If that happens here, it won’t be just the workers at Ikea who will suffer, it will be all workers in British Columbia, he added.

Jeri Black, a 15-year Ikea Richmond employee echoed the same thought and added that the fight with Ikea is a fight for the future generation of workers.

If companies like Ikea can impose concessions on workers even when they’re making profits, then things will get much worse not only for us but for our children, said Black.

“If we don’t stick up for the next generation, it’s going to be District 13 (a reference to the movie Hunger Games),” she said. “You’re either going to be rich or you’re going to be poor. There won’t be any middle class.”

Anita Dawson, Local 213 business agent who has been negotiating with Ikea, said that Ikea’s tactics don’t reflect the social responsibilities values that Ikea claims to follow.

Would a company that believes in social responsibility force major concessions on its workers while it is making large profits? asked Dawson.

According to Dawson, some of the concessions that Ikea is trying to impose include a reduction in benefits eligibility and a new wage structure that will lengthen the time it takes for a worker to achieve the maximum wage rate.

Dawson also accused the company of coercion, intimidation, and spreading fear among its workers.

During the lock out, the company has hired a security company to conduct surveillance of strikers, has fired union members for activities on the picket line, and contacted union members directly in hopes of forcing them back to work.

Dawson said that the union had a good idea before the lock out began that the company would rather fight than negotiate.

“Would a good employer announce five days before the lock out that it would represent any employee who wanted to cross a picket line (and) that it would pay any union imposed fines for crossing the picket line,” said Dawson.

Dawson also accused Ikea of backwards bargaining–withdrawing bargaining proposals and replacing them with harsher terms if the workers would not accept concessions–and allying itself with Labor Watch, an anti-union group that works with employers to bust unions.

Despite the intimidation, fear, and coercion, most of the locked workers have refused to return to work and have rejected Ikea’s concession proposals four times.

“We’re willing to return to work,” Dawson said. “But we won’t accept concessions. We want to keep the same contract that we had before the lockout began.”

At the end of the rally, Dawson read a letter of support from Hassan Yussuff, the newly elected president of the Canadian Labor Congress (CLC), which represents 3.5 million Canadian workers.

In the letter, Yussuff said that the CLC would support the ongoing boycott of Ikea until the company drops it concession demands and bargains fairly with its workers.

Fast food workers strike goes global May 15

At a rally at a Manhattan McDonald’s, fast food workers on May 7 announced that they would be holding a one-day strike on May 15.

The fast food workers are demanding that their pay be raised to $15 an hour and that employers respect their right to organize and join unions.

Strikes will take place in 150 US cities and support demonstrations will take place around the world.

The announcement of the strike came at the conclusion of an international fast food workers’ meeting convened by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers (IUF).

“The Fight for 15 in the US has caught the attention of workers around the world in a global fast-food industry where workers have recently been mobilizing,” said IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald. “It has added further inspiration and led them to join together internationally in a fight for higher pay and better rights on the job. This is just the beginning of an unprecedented international fast-food worker movement-and this highly profitable global industry better take note.”

“We’ve gone global!” said Ashley Cathey, a McDonald’s worker from Memphis at the Manhattan rally. “It’s amazing that our fight for $15 and a union has inspired workers around the world to come together. Our campaign is growing and gaining momentum.”

After six years on the job, Cathey is still making $7.25 an hour.

Josh Eidelson reports in Salon that fast food workers in St. Louis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Oakland, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City, who last year staged successful walkouts, will be joined on the picket lines by their counterparts in Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando, Sacramento, and scores of other US cities.

Support demonstrations will take place in India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Africa, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland, El Salvador, the Philippines, Italy, Brazil, Thailand, Pakistan, Ireland, Morocco, Malawi, Korea, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Panama.”

At the Manhattan rally, Marie Rantzau, who works for McDonald’s in Denmark and belongs to an IUF affiliated union said that she was surprised to hear that McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants in the US were paid such low wages.

“In Denmark, McDonald’s pays me $21 an hour and respects our union, so I was surprised when I heard workers in the US had to fight so hard for just $15 and better rights,” said Rantzau. “Fast-food companies need to treat the people who make and serve their food with the same respect everywhere and workers in Denmark are committed to supporting the workers’ cause until that happens.”

The May 15 strike is the latest in a series of actions by fast food workers to win a decent wage and respect on the job.

That effort has led to some victories.

After last year’s strikes by fast food workers in Seattle, the city’s new mayor formed a commission to draft a city ordinance that would raise the city’s minimum wage.

On May 1, Mayor Ed Murray announced that the city would be raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour. The raise will be implemented incrementally over the next seven years.

The City of San Francisco is also considering a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.

For years, the fast food industry has justified its low pay by arguing that most of its employees are young people working part-time without the responsibilities that go along with raising families.

But if that were ever true, it certainly isn’t now.

According to the National Employment Law Project, most of the jobs created since the Crash of 2008 are low wage jobs, and the fast food industry is the source of many if not most of these jobs.

The fast food worker today is most likely to be an adult, many of whom have family responsibilities.

They are people like Eduardo Shoy, 58, who works two jobs including one at KFC in Philadelphia.

“Living on $7.25 (the current minimum wage), you cannot do it,” said Shoy to CNN.