News & Commentary

August 20, 2015

How do you build a chair fit for the Pope? The same way that many other one-off carpentry and construction projects are completed in this country: through the work of immigrant day laborers. The New York Times Editorial Board reports that per the Vatican’s request to keep “simple” the festivities surrounding Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. next month, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has tasked Fausto Hernandez, Hector Rojas and Francisco SantaMaria with the not-so-simple task of constructing the papal chair for September 25’s Mass in Madison Square Garden. Cardinal Dolan “decided to make a point about honoring immigrant laborers. . . . since day laborers, who are often unauthorized immigrants, are also often victims of wage theft and exploitation.” Notably, each of the three workers — who the Times describes as “skilled carpenters” — are members of local worker centers, and are being paid $20/hour (plus expenses and meals) for their efforts.

Sharon Lerner takes a closer look at the human toll of this country’s “out of step” maternity leave policies. Writing for In These Times, Lerner tells the story of several women who faced significant challenges either when they attempted to take leave to care for their newborn children, when they tried to reenter the workforce (in some cases, just weeks after giving birth), or both. Lerner notes that “[w]ith the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave.”

At least one person is not afraid to talk back to Donald Trump. In a recent video released by New Left Media, and reported on by the New York Times, Ricardo Aca responds to Trump’s earlier comments regarding Mexican immigrants by offering a glimpse into his life as a restaurant worker in the Trump SoHo hotel, a promising photographer, and, most importantly, a Mexican immigrant. Aca, who is undocumented but maintains legal working status due to his participation in the deferred action program, posted the video despite the risk of being fired from his job for speaking out. The Times notes that the Koi restaurant group, which employs Aca and rents its space from Trump, asked that the video be taken down and called Aca in to work to produce his working permit. Upon entering the kitchen, the “line cooks from Mexico and sushi chefs from Japan told him they were proud of him.”

The Fight for $15 is going global. As discussed by the New York Times, the growing movement has started to challenge the labor practices of McDonald’s in other countries, with representatives from the campaign descending upon Brazil this week to testify before the country’s legislature. The Times suggests that the strategic move is not only “intended to build on the success of the anti-McDonald’s campaign in raising wages for fast-food workers in the United States,” but also represents a “a tacit acknowledgment that the campaign’s second major goal, a union for workers at McDonald’s and other fast-food restaurants, remains elusive.”

The Wall Street Journal examines organized labor’s increasing focus on digital media, noting that “[a]s online media outlets grow in heft — generating significant revenue and earning eye-popping valuations in investment rounds — their workers are beginning to argue they deserve better compensation and employment protections.” However, the Journal opines that “the labor organizing movement is happening at what is arguably the most inopportune moment for the industry, just as it is attracting attention from strategic investors who can inject a huge amount of capital into their fledgling businesses.” Unions, the Journal argues, “won’t be a selling point” for investors. Nevertheless, “[m]anagement at all of the new-media companies that have voted to unionize have recognized and accepted the decisions of their workers.”

Over 100 contract workers at Boston’s Logan International Airport walked off the job yesterday, reports the Boston Globe. The workers, employees of a staffing company that contracts with airlines such as Delta and American, are asking for higher wages and the right to organize; the Globe reports that “[m]any of the airport employees make as little as $10 per hour, without access to affordable health benefits.” A spokesperson for 32BJ SEIU said that the workers had been threatened for conducting a similar action earlier this year.

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