Category Archives: on work

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.

dia de los trabajadores, 1 Mayo







On Thursday, May 1, 2008, Chicago’s labor community will celebrate May Day as International Workers Day with a ceremony at the Haymarket Monument. Organized labor will call for fairness and justice in the workplace, including the right to organize and the Employee Free Choice Act, access to health care, fair trade agreements, and the right to earn a living wage



May Day Commemoration Ceremony

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Haymarket Monument

DesPlaines Ave. between

Lake St. and Randolph St.

10:00 a.m.


Illinois LaborHistory Society

Labor Day, Chicago

from the Chicago Federation of Labor:

On May 1, 2008, organized labor will once again reclaim May Day in Chicago.  Around the world May Day is widely celebrated International Labor Day, except here in the United States where it was founded.  This year the Chicago Federation of Labor and Illinois Labor History Society, together with other labor and community organizations, have organized a ceremony at the Haymarket monument, located on Des Plaines Avenue between Lake and Randolph Streets in Chicago, at 10:00am. 

 A plaque dedicated by the Chicago Federation of Labor to the Haymarket monument will be unveiled at the ceremony. This plaque represents an important landmark for all working people in the Chicago area since it will be embedded in one of the most important labor monuments in the world.

Later that afternoon, with the participation of a number of labor organizations, a march will pass through downtown Chicago from Union Park to Federal Plaza, to call for better rights for immigrant workers and for ALL workers in the U.S.


The real price of your flowers El precio autentico de sus flores

11 a.m.  Going city to city across the U.S., Dora Acero, 35, flower worker in a small village near Bogota, Colombia for the last 17 years, earning $215 a month for a 48-hour week, the minimum pay, tells of workers, nearly of them women and most of them young, who complain about not having enough water to drink in the flower houses, about how hard it is to work when you are pregnant, about when you have to work in the flower houses freshly cleansed with pesticides, about not being allowed to go to the bathroom if your production is low, about how the company doesn’t talk to the independent union that she is an official with and about how she wishes her message would make a difference.  Think mother’s day.


So what’s so different about the news media?

Newsrooms shrink; minority percentage increases slightly
The number of full-time journalists working at America’s daily newspapers shrank by 4.4 percent in the past year, the largest decrease in the past 30 years according to the annual census conducted by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The percent of minority journalists working at daily newspapers grew minimally to 13.52 percent from 13.43 percent of all journalists, according to ASNE. ASNE marks the 30th anniversary of the survey in 2008. The annual survey was a direct outgrowth of the March 1, 1968, findings of the Kerner Commission report. The commission, created to study the causes of devastating riots in Newark and Detroit, was highly critical of the lack of coverage of black communities and the lack of minority journalists at mainstream newspapers and broadcast stations. The commission said that newspapers and TV stations shared some of the responsibility for the civil unrest because of their failure to adequately and fairly cover black communities over the years. ASNE created the annual Newsroom Employment Census in 1978 as a tool to measure the industry’s success toward its goal of having the percentage of minorities working in newsrooms nationwide equal to the percentage of minorities in the nation’s population. 
The 1978 census found an estimated 43,000 full-time journalists working as editors,
reporters, copy editors and photographers of which 3.95 percent were minorities. The 2008
census found 52,600 full-time journalists of which 13.52 are minorities. ASNE President Gilbert Bailon said, “The numbers represent a dual reality: It’s mildly encouraging that the minority percentage held steady despite difficult economic times that are causing many cutbacks. On the other hand, the total number of minority journalists employed at daily newspapers declined by nearly 300 people, which follows the pattern for the overall newsroom workforce. Such a trend will not help newspapers in their quest to reach parity with the minority population by 2025.”

Solidarity Undone

5:49 p.m. So, the SEIU, the fastest growth force in organized labor in the U.S. has hit a speed bump. A bump set up by its own. Union members, upset by President Andy Stern’s decisions, have taken the union court. And the union leadership isn’t thrilled with their doings. Bet that the San Juan convention won’t be a snooze.

here’s the dissdents’ words:

Suit filed Tuesday in federal court in San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO – Five healthcare workers and members of United Healthcare Workers-West have sued their Washington-based parent organization, Service Employees International Union, alleging violations of their federal rights to speak freely and to participate in union activities.  
The suit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, alleges SEIU President Andy Stern and other SEIU officials violated the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, which expressly gives “every member of any labor organization” the “right to meet and assemble freely with other members; and to express any views, arguments, or opinions.”
SEIU officials repeatedly have asked for the removal of a Web site,, a popular forum for nursing home, hospital and homecare workers to share information about their union and its members with each other and the public.
The suit alleges this and other conduct by SEIU officials is designed to “limit, inhibit and chill the exercise of their rights of free speech and equal participation as active members and advocates for democratic policies within their union.”
“I have been a supporter of this union for more than 30 years. This is the first time in all those years that I’ve felt threatened or intimidated because of my union activities,” said Rosie Byers, a plaintiff in the suit and a San Francisco-based home healthcare provider. “I can’t believe SEIU is trying to take away my voice, to silence me. This simply must stop.”
The suit alleges SEIU officials have coordinated these attacks against UHW members as part of a larger effort to silence any dissention at their June 2008 convention in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“During the time I’ve been involved with this union, I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind,” said plaintiff Michael Torres, a respiratory therapist at USC University Hospital in Los Angeles. “It’s utterly ridiculous that we’re now forced to sue to ensure that we have a say in the future direction of UHW.”  
The 150,000-member SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West is the largest and fastest-growing hospital and healthcare union in the western United States and represents every type of healthcare worker, including nurses, professional, technical and service classifications. Our mission is to achieve high-quality healthcare for all.