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Retailers Starting To Get The Message: It’s Time to Raise Wages

WM-March-300x200This month, Walmart announced that the company will be hiking wages for 500,000 of its employees nationwide, raising pay to $9 an hour in April and $10 an hour by February of 2016. This decision came after years of pressure from members of OUR Walmart, who have bravely been standing up to the world’s largest retailer for better pay and regular hours. With the support or UFCW members and community organizations, workers are winning change.

Unlike many retail workers, UFCW and other union members are able to raise wages at companies by bargaining strong contracts. Union members also help raise the bar in the retail industry by joining Walmart workers to stand up to competitors like Walmart and pressuring them to raise wages.

In Forbes, Walmart spokesperson Kory Lundberg directly responded to the petition for $15 per hour and full-time schedules, saying, “The door is open for associates who want to work full time and earn $15 an hour, all they have to do is walk through it.”

While it’s only a step, this victory is full of the promise of more change to come – at Walmart and beyond. As TIME magazine reported, “Walmart workers have proved they can move the most powerful retailer in the world to change. That means they, and others, can do it again.”

As Paul Krugman said in the New York Times, “The announcement is nonetheless a very big deal, for two reasons. First, there will be spillovers: Walmart is so big that its action will probably lead to raises for millions of workers employed by other companies. Second, and arguably far more important, is what Walmart’s move tells us — namely, that low wages are a political choice, and we can and should choose differently.”

Other retailers are already following suit. In the last week of February, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s and HomeGoods announced they will raise their minimum wage to $9 an hour in June and to $10 in 2016. Many speculate that other big name retailers aren’t far behind. The New York Times editorial board says, “raises at Walmart could well lead to raises elsewhere as competitive pressures force Target, Home Depot and other low-wage retailers to follow suit.”

While companies may cite different reasons for joining the bandwagon, one thing is clear – workers are standing together and creating an important discussion around inequality and the minimum wage in our country. In the last several years, paying decent wages has become part of the national conversation in an unprecedented way.  Cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle have passed their own legislation raising the wage in the next several years. Twenty-nine states, plus the District of Columbia, have set their minimum wage above the federal level as of January, 2015. Congress has even proposed a bill that would raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Union members are able to use their collective voices to raise wages at their companies by not only bargaining strong contracts, but also by standing up to competitors like Walmart and pressuring them to raise wages. These recent events have shown that when workers stand together, they can start to change companies – even companies as big as Walmart.

Local & National Leaders Demand Justice for New York City Car Wash Workers

National and local labor leaders, local elected and community leaders demonstrate and are arrested in support of Car Wash Accountability Act 

BROOKLYN, NY– Today, in an act of civil disobedience, top leaders of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) , as well as local elected and community leaders were arrested as part of a demonstration in support of the rights of car wash workers in New York City. Those arrested included UFCW International President Marc Perrone and UFCW Executive Vice President Stuart Appelbaum.

UFCW International President Marc Perrone being arrested at the demonstration

UFCW International President Marc Perrone being arrested at the demonstration

The action was led by striking immigrant workers at Vegas Auto Spa in Brooklyn and car wash workers from across New York City. Elected officials and faith leaders also joined in support. Demonstrators undertook a 10-block march through the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn and blocked the streets outside Vegas Auto Spa.

“These workers are not just hardworking men and women, they are part of our family. And, like every family, we will stand and fight for them. They’ve earned the right to be treated better and fairly. We stand together to demand not only the better wages they are owed, but the right that every worker has to be treated with dignity and respect on the job” Perrone said. “This is about the right of low-wage and immigrant workers across America to have their voices heard.”

Workers at Vegas Auto Spa have been on strike since November shortly after they sued the car wash owner for hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages and damages. The workers voted unanimously to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), an affiliate of the UFCW, in January. The owner has repeatedly refused to settle the dispute with workers and engaged in threats and retaliation.

Some workers report being paid less than the minimum wage and not receiving time and a half for overtime. Others report working 70 to 90 hours a week. The workers have gone to court, alleging they are owed back wages and damages. They have also filed complaints with Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) about unsafe working conditions and not receiving the proper safety equipment to deal with the toxic chemicals used to clean cars. DSC_4729

Vegas Auto Spa was the tenth New York City carwash where workers voted to join the RWDSU/UFCW as part of the WASH New York campaign. Demonstrators urged the New York City Council to pass the Car Wash Accountability Act, legislation that would crack down on unlawful employers and bring transparency and accountability to an industry that has a history of mistreating its workers.

 

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The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) represents more than 1.3 million workers, primarily in the retail and meatpacking, food processing and poultry industries. The UFCW protects the rights of workers and strengthens America’s middle class by fighting for health care reform, living wages, retirement security, safe working conditions and the right to unionize so that working men and women and their families can realize the American Dream. For more information about the UFCW’s effort to protect workers’ rights and strengthen America’s middle class, visit www.ufcw.org, or join our online community at www.facebook.com/UFCWinternational and www.twitter.com/ufcw.

After Successful First Year, UFCW GOLD Program Gears Up for 2015

In June 2014, the UFCW accepted 36 promising young members from across the country into the first-ever session of the UFCW GOLD Internship program, which launched in Chicago.

Now, after a wildly successful first year, the GOLD program is preparing for its 2015 session. The UFCW GOLD Internship Program provides growth opportunities for learning and development in order to raise up future union leaders and activists.

The 2015 program will select 36 rank-and-file members in the United States to participate in a seven-week program.  The program will run from June 21 – August 5, 2015.  Interns are required to participate in the entire length of the program.  All interns should have a valid driver’s license and be flexible with travel outside of their home area.

During the program, there will be a four-week action project that interns will be individually assigned.  Action projects will be assigned within one of five areas: Legislative and Political Action; Organizing; Collective Bargaining; Civil Rights; and Health and Safety.  Last year’s action projects included working on a earned sick leave ordinance in the city of Chicago; working on a Retail Bill of Rights in San Francisco; participating in the Summer for Respect alongside Walmart workers fighting for justice on the job; and many other important projects relating to the welfare of working people.

You can learn much more about the upcoming session, and what previous GOLD participants learned from their experiences by visiting the updated website: http://gold.ufcw.org/.

Be sure to also check out the video recap of the 2014 session, where participants share their experiences and talk about what service projects they worked on.

“Getting the chance to come out to Chicago, meeting different people from different locals—it’s been an eye opener,” said 2014 UFCW Local 21 participant Bruce Le.

Fellow participant Samantha Christian also noted that after completing the program she felt like “we are all related—we are all brothers and sisters.  I’ve never been as comfortable with people as I have been with the people I met here.”

Melissa Berry said she applied to become a GOLD participant because she felt that “a lot of people don’t know the role of their union, or what part they can play in it.  I was eager to meet new people and learn about how we can spread the message.”

Tracy Officer, who worked on a service project in the Seattle area, said that “this internship builds us up—it gives us the knowledge to go back to our locals and give them the inspiration to say, ‘We are one.  If you have an issue, we are fighting it together, and you don’t have to do it alone.’  I’ve been in the union for almost twelve years and I didn’t know that until this program.”

The deadline to apply to the 2015 session is April 1, 2015.  You can find both the English and Spanish applications at http://gold.ufcw.org/application/.

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