Stories I pay attention to

October 21, 2008
The City Life

Regulating the 99-Cent Store



There’s greed on Main Street, too. Along Knickerbocker Avenue, the teeming, low-income shopping drag in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, the news is that two top executives at a local supermarket were arrested on felony charges that they had cheated their immigrant workers out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary.

The executives deny the charges. But prosecutors allege that they forced grocery baggers to work 11-hour days for $20 or so in customer tips — and no wages. Other workers, they say, were paid nearly $3 per hour less than the state’s minimum wage for 70-hour weeks. Along the avenue, where workers have been routinely short-waged for decades, the idea that someone was finally arrested was a source of amazement — as if the government had decided to regulate Wall Street.

It took years of work by community organizers — remember all of the guffawing about that title at the G.O.P. convention? — at Make the Road New York to finally grab the attention of state investigators.

The laid-off bankers

10 a.m. They still feel the hurt. They have been let go, moved aside, pushed out, dumped, sent off and don’t smile much. But they don’t grump either. They hold their words the way they held onto their careers – tightly. They are old-timers and newcomers with 10 years at the place that sent them packing with a few weeks severance and not much more.

One big place ate a smaller one.

The old-timers are grey-haired and quiet with wrinkled skin, tired eyes, and no mention, no discussion, no looking back at how 25, 30, 38 years went by. Not here. Not today. They are trying to turn their heads forward though they must be constantly going in the other direction.

They were replaced, they say, by younger people or people who said they had bigger ideas who did not appreciate what they did when their company was smaller. They don’t like these people who came in with the new company from all over the country. They say they are too brash, too ambitious, too different from those who worked besides them before. And none of them say they want to go to work again for a big company or corporate America. Not these bankers swept aside in waves reaching deeper and farther today.

Sitting at the table at the outplacement company meeting here in Chicago, sitting with pads and paper and blank faces, sitting waiting to learn all about starting new careers as entrepreneurs, sitting and listen but not talking much, there’s not much passion in them about the future. Only their passion about what they left behind and how they left. And their fears of how they will get by and whether they will get by at all.

I am struck. I’ve heard this so often from blue-collar workers grousing angrily at a bar down from the factory at a picnic or sadly reminiscing at a union hall made empty by layoffs. But it’s a loss like any another. Isn’t it? Yet it’s a wave of losses like never before in my life. I wonder where and how they’ll wind up.

So do they, I bet.

But they don’t say much.

No work, Long lines- Las largas filas de los desempleados

11:18 a.m. Only one man is shoveling the paperwork as the unemployment office line keeps growing. About 30 are ahead of me. Another guy comes over to help out. “New claims,” he hollers. A group hustle up to him. One,  an elderly Chinese man, seems confused. The second guy shakes his head and shoos him away. “We’re overwhelmed and understaffed,” he says. “The extension has us swamped.” The elderly man wanders among the desks and someone finally helps him.

At my turn, the guy behind the counter says I’m in the system but it’s backed up. Too many people. Oh well. No check this week.

Is this what’s happening in places where the numbers of jobless are high? Who are these people in line, waiting to sign up for more benefits? Why couldn’t they find a job before? And why do so many seem not to qualify? How many exactly?

Here’s one story that touches on this, but doesn’t take us there.

Down and out in Southwest Florida: Unemployment rates make a dramatic jump to historic highs

By Daily News staff and Associated Press reports

Originally published 10:27 a.m., August 15, 2008
Updated 10:07 p.m., August 15, 2008

— Out of work?

You’re not alone.

In July, jobless rates spiked again in Southwest Florida.

In Collier County, the unemployment rate jumped to 7.7 percent, up from 6.5 percent a month earlier and 5.3 percent a year ago, according to the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation.

In Lee County, it’s more bleak. The unemployment rate climbed to 8.4 percent last month, up from 7.6 percent in June and 5.1 percent a year ago.

Southwest Florida has been hit particularly hard because so many of its jobs were in construction, which has slowed to a crawl with a housing slump.

The state lost 79,200 construction jobs over the year.

“A lot of the retail stores have cut back hours and cut back on staff. Construction is still winding down more and more. We are definitely having a slowdown,” said Naples investment manager and financial advisor Robert Matheson.

Florida’s unemployment rate hit a 13-year high of 6.1 percent in July, up from 5.5 percent a month earlier and 4.1 percent a year ago. It was higher than the national rate of 5.7 percent.

Hendry County posted the highest unemployment rate in

from the LA Times,0,5368211.story?page=2

La vida sin esperanza por los carwasheros

Some workers are invisible. They serve. They do the jobs we want. And we don’t notice, don’t ask, don’t wonder. In New York and L.A. officials have been wondering about the working conditions of car washers. The A.P. had a story about such. But an earlier story in the L.A. Times went further, though it could have done more to explain who they are – these carwasheros – and why the steelworkers are helping to organize them. It could have been a day in the life of cheapening suds.

Here’s the LA Times piece, and yeah, don’t forget to tip after they dry the car.

Inspectors find dirt on books at area carwashes

Owners frequently violate labor and immigration laws with little risk of penalty, officials say. Many workers are loath to complain, but some have formally accused their bosses of underpaying them.

A team of state inspectors strode into the Blue Wave Car Wash in West Los Angeles, past latte-sipping customers in electric massage chairs and into the gritty carwash tunnel.

¿Cuánto gana usted?” the inspectors asked worker after worker, about 20 of them, most Latino immigrants. “How much do you make?” Each carwashero responded that he earned minimum wage or more – just as the owner of the Blue Wave, one of the region’s busiest carwashes, had told the inspectors.

Looking over payroll records, however, the regulators became suspicious. Employees who said they were full time were listed as working just 10 or 15 hours a week.

Inspector Martha Mendoza ushered Juan Cruz Santiago, a small man with salt-and-pepper hair, away from the others. During gentle questioning under a ficus tree, he admitted that most days, he and his 66-year-old father worked for tips only. So did nearly half the other employees, he said. It had been that way for at least six years.

Immigration from morning to night – Inmigración – desde la mañana hasta la noche

women at the guatemala-mexico border

click on headline above for stories –

Here’s an outline of stories for foreign reporters-and reporters around the globe.

When a union is really a union

When governments grant unions the right to exist that doesn’t mean they really do their jobs. This has been a problem across the globe, and a story in the Jakarta Post makes this point. It would become an even stronger and helpful story if they follow it up and show the differences that the experts talk about:

here’s the link:

Freedom leads labor unions to division: Seminar

Erwida Maulia, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The freedom of association that Indonesian workers have enjoyed since the start of the reform movement in 1998 is now set to backfire on them, a seminar heard Thursday.


Like the wind, work circles the globe

Global companies shrunk and grow across the globe. That is sometimes forgotten in the rush to explain the fate of one company in one country. The auto industry is shriveling and growing at the same time. New players are staking out their turf and older players are cutting jobs, and workers. Here is a story from a newspaper in Puebla, Mexico about layoffs at the Johnson Controls parts plant there. It doesn’t explain what’s happening to the company and the industry; it doesn’t step back and explain the terrific burden placed on Mexico as a front-line producer threatened by a bunch of cheaper producers. It also raises issues of abuse, but it doesn’t tell us what is the history and the bigger picture for these kinds of plants and workers.

Denuncian acoso
Advierten más despidos en Johnson Controls

Trabajadores despedidos no descartan que se presente otro recorte de
personal, con el argumento de que la firma está haciendo ajustes en sus
líneas de producción.

Milenio, 6 agosto 2008

Los 15 trabajadores que el viernes pasado fueron despedidos de manera
“injustificada” en la empresa Johnson Controls, proveedora de autopartes
de Volkswagen de México, ayer denunciaron que algunas de sus
compañeras han sido víctimas de acoso sexual dentro de la fábrica.

En rueda de prensa, una de las víctimas -quien prefirió omitir su
nombre- relató que sus agresores fueron solapados tanto por la dirigencia
sindical como por los propios directivos. En cambio, ella fue
despedida de manera injustificada la semana pasada.

El grupo de personas no descartó que en los próximos días se
presente otro recorte de personal, con el argumento de que la firma está
haciendo ajustes en sus líneas de producción.

Sin embargo, aclararon que los ceses se deben a que desde hace dos
años los trabajadores conformaron una “coalición”, con la intención de
formar un sindicato independiente, debido a que la agrupación gremial
que actualmente ostenta el Contrato Colectivo de Trabajo, adherido a la
organización priista CROM, está coludido con la parte patronal.

Los agraviados, encabezados por Laura Morales y Jorge Aguilar, están
siendo asesorados por el Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT), a fin de
que en las próximas horas presenten sus respectivas denuncias por
despido injustificado ante la Junta Federal de Conciliación y Arbitraje.

Johnson Controls es una empresa de origen estadounidense. La planta de
Puebla está ubicada en el Parque Industrial Bralemex y cuenta con 800
trabajadores, quienes se dedican a la fabricación de asientos y
respaldos para VW, Nissan, Ford y Mercedes Benz.

Puebla . Aarón Martínez