News & Commentary

March 31, 2015

Fast food organizers driving the Fight for $15 campaign say they are expanding the scope of their campaign to other low-wage workers, including workers in airports, on college campuses and domestic workers laboring in homes across America, AP reports. The Fight for $15, which has been extensively covered here, started in 2012 with a battle for $15 hourly wages and unionization without retaliation for fast food workers. The campaign now “has morphed into a low-wage worker movement and is now shifting into a social movement with the involvement of “Black Lives Matter” groups joining in the April protests” says SEIU organizer Kendall Fells. This event celebrating the expansion of the movement will be kicked off by a day of action on April 15, which will include actions on about 170 college campuses, as well as cities around United States and abroad. Of the event, organizers said, “home health care aides, airport workers, adjunct professors, child care workers and Wal-Mart workers will be among those turning out in April.” More than 2000 groups, including Jobs with Justice and the Center for Popular Democracy, Black Lives Matter, and many unions are slated to turn out and show their support.

McDonald’s is a victim of a union-orchestrated attack on its brand. At least, that’s what their lawyer says. At the NLRB hearings that began yesterday involving the company, the central question being considered is “when does a corporate brand owner like McDonald’s become jointly responsible for labor violations at its franchisees.” This case and question has been extensively covered here. But a side issue that “flared” up during the hearing on Monday according The Wall Street Journal was “whether McDonald’s should be allowed to subpoena firms retained by the union to help investigate and promote the worker-rights campaign.” It is the company’s argument that it “has the right to know more about the motives behind the campaign.” Implicit in this contention is that there are secret, possibly malicious reasons behind the workers rights organizations’ “attack” on McDonald’s. “’We believe we have the right to defend our company from these relentless attacks,’ Jones Day partner Willis Goldsmith, who represents McDonald’s, told Judge Esposito.” Lawyers representing NLRB’s General Counsel and SEIU and companies hired to assist the workers’ campaign argued that McDonald’s had no right to the subpoenaed documents. Judge Lauren Esposito, the former NLRB field attorney hearing the case, has yet to rule on the motion.

In the last week of Women’s History Month, Latifa Lyles, director of the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor calls for a celebration of powerful and impactful women in labor history. Women spotlighted include Francis Perkins, Dolores Huerta, Mary Anderson, and Ester Peterson. Lyles calls on us to reflect on the strides we have made toward equality and fairness in the workplace that are in large part thanks to the efforts of these dedicated women leaders and others like them. “We are now more likely than men to graduate from high school, college and graduate school. Women have grown from one-third to almost one-half of the workforce . . . and are almost half of all union members . . . Women helped bring about the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Equal Rights Amendment and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.” While she invites us to rejoice in the successes, she calls on Americans to “recognize that huge challenges remain, including the lack of paid leave policies, the ongoing struggle of minority women for racial as well as gender equality, the continued wage gap between women and men, and occupational segregation by gender.”

How does fear of Black men affect labor rates in America? NPR asked this question of Professor Harry Holzer of Georgetown and Professor Phillip Atiba Goff of UCLA who said that particularly in hiring decisions, raced-based fears have a significant impact employer choices and resulting labor rates. Holzer describes and breaks down how racial bias can play out for employers, saying “first, [employers] worry about weaker performance of black males relative to black women, relative to other groups.” The fear of weaker performance is paired with the fear of “more quits, more discharges, needs to discipline employees” in general. The second fear is the fear of conflict. “This can be can be verbal . . . physical . . . it could be anything.” The final fear is legal and it clearly comes with “a bit of irony,” as it is the fear of equal employment opportunity law. “[W]hite employers fear that if they have to discipline a black male employee and maybe even discharge them, that there’s a bigger chance that they’ll be sued for that than if they turn them away at the gate.” These fears are racial bias. Goff followed up Holzer’s comments and description by pointing out that even in workplaces where we see strides in combatting racial bias in hiring when we look at raw numbers, this doesn’t amount to a “done deal” if the goal is equal opportunity and diversity in the workplace. “You have to set up a workplace so that people feel safe in their identity, and that’s not just a touchy-feely Kumbaya thing. It actually affects people’s capacity to do their best.” All Things Considered journalist Michel Martin pulled NPR listeners and social media followers for stories of times when they ever felt afraid of the presence of African-American men, or – if they were black men themselves – if they felt that they had experienced this fear themselves. For these stories, check out the full podcast here.

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