News & Commentary

October 10, 2014

A clothing factory in the town of Villa Altagracia, Dominican Republic, is trying to prove that workers can be paid a living wage without having to work in sweatshop conditions. The workers make clothes for the collegiate-brand Alta Gracia, which is owned by the South Carolina-based Knights Apparel. The company pays its workers more than three times ($514/month) the country’s minimum wage ($165/month) and imposes high safety standards in its factory. An independent labor-rights group monitors the factory to make sure that workers are treated fairly. Although many expected the company to fail, a report by Georgetown University says that Alta Gracia’s business in the past four years is “proving to be viable.” Alta Gracia currently sells clothes at more than 800 college campuses in the U.S. and expects $16 million in sales this year. Joe Bozich, the chief executive of Knights Apparel, hopes to hire more workers in the Dominican Republic factory and to expand the model to other countries like Haiti and Bangladesh.

According to POLITICO, Christopher Shelton, the Vice President of the northeastern Communications Workers of America (CWA) District 1, may run to be union president next spring. In 2011, Shelton led his CWA district in a 45,000-worker strike against Verizon for three weeks. CWA is one of the largest unions in the country with more than 700,000 workers in various industries such as telecommunications, airline, media, manufacturing, and public service.

In immigration news, more Cuban migrants attempted to enter the U.S. in the last fiscal year than any year since 2008. About 25,000 Cubans made the 90-mile journey by land and sea without a valid visa, prompting some to “fear that the recent spike in migration could be harbinger of a mass exodus.” The last time the U.S. saw huge numbers of Cuban migrants was in 1994. A migration accord was signed between the U.S. and Cuba after the 1994 crisis. The terms allow Cubans who reach U.S. land to stay in the country, while those who are captured at sea are returned to Cuba.

The New York Times reports that Air France has estimated the “crippling two-week strike by its pilots last month” to cost the company between $404 million and $442 million. The airline had initially estimated the cost to be substantially lower. The strike cancelled more than 8,500 flights, disrupted the journeys of almost one million passengers, and contributed to a 16% decrease in total passenger traffic. Air France pilot unions had protested against the airline’s plans to expand the low-cost subsidiary, Transavia. Unions are concerned that the low-budget carrier would lead to lower wages and longer working hours for French pilots. In an effort to negotiate with unions, Air France-KLM has decided not to move some of Transavia’s new planes and employees to lower-wage European countries. However, the airline has refused to provide uniform working conditions and pay scales for all pilots in the Air France-KLM group, citing the need to compete with other low-cost carriers. In Europe, Air France-KLM is the third-largest airline group in number of passengers  after Ryanair and Lufthansa.

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