Weekend News & Commentary — June 1-2, 2019
Cai Shuang Chen, a delivery worker in New York, won $327,738 in a wage theft case in September 2017. However, Chen is unable to collect this money under New York state law, as the restaurant he worked for changed its name and thus technically no longer exists. In reality, the restaurant maintained most of its menu and staff; and according to Chen and his supporters, even though it has a new legal owner, the old owner still effectively runs the restaurant. Chen alleges that the restaurant instituted these minor changes in order to avoid paying out his settlement. Vincent Cao, who works with the Chinese Staff and Workers Association, noted that Chen’s situation is hardly unique; employers in the state often change their names to avoid paying out wage theft judgments. To address this loophole in New York’s wage theft laws, legislators have introduced the Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) Act. State Senator Jessica Ramos, one of the SWEAT Act’s supporters, said, “It’s just inexcusable that we’ve never been able to enforce these [wage theft] laws.”
The Intercept reports on how the State Policy Network, a “corporate-backed umbrella group of right-wing think tanks across the country,” successfully pushed for a new Department of Health and Human Services rule barring homecare workers funded by Medicaid from deducting union dues from their paychecks. As OnLabor previously reported, SEIU (which represents hundreds of thousands of homecare workers) and five state attorneys general are suing to challenge this new rule. In 2013, the State Policy Network and its Michigan affiliate, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, successfully lobbied the Michigan state legislature and Republican Governor Rick Snyder to bar child care and home health care workers from deducting union dues from their paychecks. As a result, SEIU Healthcare Michigan, the main homecare union in the state, saw significant drops in membership. Homecare workers who want to join unions or maintain their union membership face significant barriers to paying dues without automatic deductions. Some such workers are “unbanked” and thus unable to mail checks, while others face schedule pressures that make it hard to mail things on time. The new Health and Human Services rule will impact over 800,000 workers nationwide.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a former bartender, returned to bartending on Friday night to advocate for raising the minimum wage and establishing minimum wage parity between tipped and non-tipped workers. The federal minimum wage for most workers is just $7.25/hour, while the federal minimum wage for tipped workers is even lower — just $2.13/hour. Ocasio-Cortez is working with the Restaurant Opportunity Center’s One Fair Wage initiative, which seeks to end the two-tiered wage system at the state and national level. Ocasio-Cortez discussed how subminimum wages leave tipped workers especially vulnerable to sexual harassment and other forms of workplace abuse. She explained, “I remember working in restaurants, and…you would have someone say something extremely inappropriate to you, or you’d have someone touch you…[but you wouldn’t speak up because] the first of the next month was rolling right around and you have a rent check to pay.”
Workers in Argentina participated in a 24-hour on a general strike on Wednesday in protest of President Mauricio Macri’s administration’s IMF-backed austerity measures. CGT, Argentina’s umbrella union confederation, organized the strike, and seventy unions participated. Striking workers successfully shut down public transportation, airports, banks, schools, universities, and businesses. Argentina’s unions organized four previous walkouts in protest of the Macri administration’s policies, but according to union leaders, this strike is the largest to date. Among other demands, the unions are calling for salary increases that keep up with inflation and lower tax burdens on working people. “We’re sick of the low salaries [and] the halt of activity in…industry,” union member Rubén García explained.