Weekend News and Commentary – December 14, 2014

Published December 14th, 2014 -  - 12.14.141


This week, California prison officials agreed to make minimum custody inmates employed by the prison system eligible for early release. The proceedings resulted from the Supreme Court’s finding in 2011 that California’s prisons were so overcrowded that their conditions violated the Eighth Amendment. The Attorney General’s office had resisted the settlement previously, arguing that the inmates provided a necessary supply of labor to the prison system. But after receiving negative press, the AG’s office distanced itself from these objections and, within a few weeks, agreed to settle. If approved, the settlement filed last Friday would allow inmates, who are paid anywhere from 8 to 37 cents per hour as janitors, cooks, and groundskeepers, to start earning reduced sentences in January 2015.

Last Friday, Bill-C36, or the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, a new Canadian anti-prostitution law criminalizing those who buy sex, officially took effect. Under the new law, it is illegal to knowingly advertise an offer to provide sexual services and profit from the material benefits from the sale of sex; however, individual sex workers will not be charged with advertising their services. Just one year ago, Canada’s Supreme Court struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws, which prohibited sex-workers from designating a regular meeting place to meet with clients, ruling that the laws violated the constitutional guarantee to life, liberty and security.  But many believe that the new sex work law will make conditions less safe for sex-workers by making it impossible for sex-workers to hire bodyguards and other assistance, who, by earning a salary off of the “material benefits” of sex work, would face up to ten years in prison. Kerry Porth, chairwoman of Pivot Legal Society, a legal advocacy organization based in Vancouver, and a former sex worker, commented that, although the bill was intended to protect sex workers, criminalizing consumers and public communication around sex work will lead to rushed transactions preventing sex workers from adequately screening clients.

A group of over 100 protesters, including Reverend Jesse Jackson, gathered outside Apple’s Cupertino campus this past Thursday to deliver a petition signed by 20,000 people, calling on Apple to help raise the wages of its contractors. The demonstration was organized by a regional division of SEIU, United Service Workers West, whose efforts to unionize security guards across Silicon Valley has recently focused on Apple, with the hope that it will help lead industry-wide reform. The protest took place just weeks after a recent labor victory in the Valley won by Facebook shuttle bus drivers, who voted to join the Teamsters in late November.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC), a British trade union center, reported that 1 in 12 workers in the labor force are now in in low-wage, precarious employment, including zero-hours contracts, agency employment, and short-term employment. According to the report, only 1 in 20 men and 1 in 16 women worked under such conditions in 2008, but these numbers increased by 61.8% for men and 35.6% for women in just six years. The TUC issued a report specific to women in precarious employment, making recommendations that employers implement fixed work patterns and payment for time that casual workers are on call.

Addressing similar issues in the U.S., the New York Times published a piece yesterday discussing the rates at which workers are leaving the workforce across gender. After climbing for six decades, the percentage of women between 25 and 54 in the American workforce has been declining since 1994, when 74% of women were in the workforce, and has now fallen to 69%, far below Sweden (83%), France (76%), Portugal (72%) and several others. The New York Times/CBS News/Kaiser Family Foundation poll of nonworking adults in the United States offers some insights into this recent trend, revealing that, for 61%of women, family responsibilities were a reason they weren’t working (compared with 37% of men) and that many were unwilling or unable to move to a new city for a job.

Earlier this month, the Department of Labor released the sixth edition of the List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, a report required by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2005. The list does not include information about U.S. workplace practices, but it calls attention to certain sectors of the international economy, especially agriculture, relying heavily on child and forced labor. The release of the list was followed closely by an announcement by several of the world’s biggest tobacco companies, including Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco, that they would pledge to end child labor in their supply chains, marking the first time that members of the industry had jointly agreed to abide by international labor law, according to Human Rights Watch

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