Today’s News & Commentary — November 21, 2018
In an unprecedented victory for Amazon workers, the company’s management has agreed to negotiate with organized East African workers in Amazon’s Minneapolis warehouses. The New York Times reports that this appears to be the first time Amazon management agreed to negotiate, even privately, under pressure from workers. The predominantly Muslim workers organized to secure religious accommodations in June after managers at the shipping giant required workers to pack at such a fast rate they struggled to take breaks to pray. Last weekend, a group of about 40 workers voted to stage a walkout on December 14th, during peak holiday season, primarily over the pace of work. Workers are also concerned that, although Amazon heavily recruits Somali refugees and East African immigrants to work at their Minneapolis warehouses, only one manager speaks Somali. In response to the threatened walkout, Amazon agreed to negotiate with the workers, making the organized Minneapolis workers the first known group to bring Amazon to the bargaining table.
As wildfires rage across California, public officials have warned residents to stay inside to avoid dangerous air pollution. But farmworkers in Southern California are still being called in to work as farms move to speed up the harvest, worried that crops will be damaged by ash. Although California law requires farms to decide if conditions are too hazardous to work, and to offer safety protections (like particulate masks), farmworker organizers report that the law is under-enforced and routinely flouted. A spokesperson for the Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), an organization that advocates for farmworkers, said the organization had distributed over 15,000 masks to farmworkers last year to fill the gap as employers ignore farmworker safety laws.
Yesterday, tens of thousands of former Toys “R” Us employees secured $20 million in severance pay from two private equity groups that partly own the liquidated company. After the company filed for bankruptcy last year, it laid off more than 30,000 workers as it shuttered more than 700 locations across the country. Workers, including many who’d worked at the toy company for decades, were told that they would not receive severance pay. This summer, workers began to protest in closing stores and outside of the offices of private equity companies that owned the company, demanding severance pay, and even worked to pressure the firms through pension funds that invest in them. Toys R Us workers successfully campaigned to get Minnesota’s pension plan not to invest in one private equity firm, KKR, until it pledged to provide money for a severance fund. While the agreement appears to be an unprecedented win, the workers are continuing to demand a $75 million fund, to be distributed among all laid-off Toys R Us workers.
Marriott Boston workers returned to work today after a historic 46-day strike. As Jenny explained on Sunday, the Boston workers overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new contract and end the strike this weekend, which reportedly includes robust job security protections and dramatically improved wages and benefits. Today, more than 1,500 union workers at Boston’s seven Marriott hotels will resume work — but over 5,000 hotel workers in San Francisco and Hawaii will remain on strike through the holidays.