Category: Labor

Class Struggle With a Stack of Pancakes.

In 2012 a federal lawsuit was filed against the restaurant chain IHOP and franchisee, Anthraper Investments Inc. on behalf of four Arab, Muslim managers in Texas, all of whom were fired in 2010. This lawsuit alleged in part that their terminations were unlawful and discriminatory in nature, and came after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that their accusations had merit—not only had these men faced discriminatory harassment at work based on their race, and religion, there were witnesses, and corroborating evidence, determining that there was “reasonable cause to believe that…Arabs were discriminatorily harassed and discharged based on national origin.”

One of the most revealing incidents came during an employee meeting, during which Larry Hawker, hired to replace one of the fired managers, told IHOP workers that, “Arab men treat women poorly and with disrespect. We’re going to let these people go and have new faces coming in.” Prior to this event, and before their respective terminations, the district manager would be emailed warnings in time for the anniversary of the September 11th attacks, asking that Arab and Muslim employees “lay low”.

The CEO of this specific IHOP chain, John Anthraper, even referred to Muslims waiting to break their fasts during Ramadan as “dogs”, and would complain that any work related incidents that occurred at one of his stores came about as a result of the district manager hiring “those fucking Arab friends” of his. And so, these four men sought damages for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act of 1991, and the Texas Labor Code.

One of these men—the man whose face would be plastered across countless publications and television screens as the story and subsequent backlash went viral—was my father.

Pay Your Goddamn Writers

The last thing I thought to myself this morning after checking my email was, “oh great, another excuse from these fuckers.”

In August, I was published by ELLE Magazine, and as of this moment in time I still haven’t been paid by that august publication. Since the article went up, I’ve dedicated a small portion of each day to sending out emails trying to find out why ELLE Magazine, whose editor-in-chief has a net worth is estimated to be around $3 million, has yet to deposit $325 into my bank account.

These days, writing is a precarious endeavour. It is made so in my case by non-staff employment, better known as freelancing. This is reflective of the exploitative relationship between writers and the publications they work for. When you are a freelancer, getting paid for the work you do becomes a second job in and of itself; you’re sending countless emails to dozens of people over weeks, months, and (in some cases even) years just to get paid for the labor you did. “This is how it is,” they tell you. And so, you bite your tongue and hope that your bank account doesn’t overdraft, and that your part time job doesn’t cut your hours. The emails do no good, and soon it becomes clear that, despite your cordiality, your demands for updates are being ignored.

In talking with, two friends in the same boat as me, I found out they were waiting to be paid some $3,500 in back pay from an outlet that offered us $150 or less for 800+ words. We would all whisper in the background about how enraging and humiliating it was, that not only were we being paid so little but that we had to wait months for the scraps that we got. “If we go public we’ll get blackballed,” we say to each other, and it’s true. There’s an unspoken threat that hangs over this tiring process, one whispered to writers that they shouldn’t make noise about being screwed on their pay, especially not the kind of noise that involves naming the publications that make them wait to get paid.

At least, if we ever want to get published again.

On top of it, people who aren’t writers think that dragging them on social media with a name and shame will get a publication to immediately stop fucking people like us on their pay. This is ludicrous. If anything, you’d be seen as an inconvenience or nuisance, and it may result in you being offered less work. It’s mind boggling that publications, as big as they come, expect writers to wait for whatever meager pay we manage to fight for while they reap the fruit of our labor.

What’s more, these kinds of shitty pay practices only serve to cut off working class writers from media work. People whose families come from money, or have supportive partners with steady employment, then have the luxury to keep pitching to these exploitative publications while those of us who are trying to write for a living lose time for writing to doing other jobs or our bills go unpaid. This is, in part, how the media sorts out working class voices and oversamples those from privileged backgrounds.

Websites such as Who Pays Writers highlight not only the number of publications that offer abysmal wages, but just how pervasive late payments, and non-payments are in this industry. What’s horrifying is that writers are not asking for anything even remotely unreasonable. We need to be paid in a reasonable amount of time for the work that these publications build their brands on. And it should go without saying that paying someone for work done months afterward is pretty damn far from reasonable. Despite this occurring as a matter of habit for a lot of publications, it is not acceptable and should be treated as a kind of theft. While things like accounting and responding to invoices are not easy services to provide, any publication that can’t manage to do this isn’t organized enough to deserve to profit from the labor of the writers it publishes.

The only way to address this epidemic of wage theft is through collective action, and the way has already been marked out. In September of this year, The Nation magazine and the National Writers Union/UAW Local 1981 signed an agreement about how freelance writers would be treated by The Nation. The agreement included minimum payments, kill fees, and a guarantee that freelancers would be paid within thirty days of an invoice being submitted. As those on staff at publications of the online media continue to organize under the auspices of WGA East and The News Guild, freelancers must take up the fight as well to fight for the basic dignity that the NWU’s agreement with The Nation represents.

I should not have to send ELLE Magazine nearly 20 emails in order to get a straight answer out of them as to when I’m going to get $325 for an article that has made them more than that. It’s safe to assume that these same editors wouldn’t accept the type of exploitative relationship writers are so commonly forced into were it their paycheck we’re talking about. The piece I wrote for ELLE came with a deadline, so why can’t they meet my deadline for payment?

Pay your goddamn writers. And pay them on fucking time.

When the work is PhD: labor struggles on campus.

To an outsider, the work that a graduate student has to do might seem easy. A bunch of people who get paid to read and write all day, yeah? What could be easier than that?

But the work that graduate students do is extensive: we read; we write; we teach, with all of the grading and outreach work that such a job entails; we are pressured to write on things that “contribute to the literature”, meaning that we must come up with ever more inventive lines of inquiry in our research; engaging such research requires that we do traveling to uncover the mysteries of America’s social, political, and economic history in our nation’s highly fragmented system of archives. In addition to this, students must navigate the politics of each department, making sure that the people on your dissertation committee get on well enough so that infighting does not compromise your ability to produce quality work and graduate.

All of this must be done while keeping an eye on the caps that most departments place on both the money they will give you and the time you have to complete your work. Small wonder that most graduate students spend at least 40 hours a week on their graduate work.

We have not even discussed the health care needs of many graduate students. Depending on the field, anywhere between a third to half of graduate students live with some sort of mental illness. The things needed to ameliorate these illnesses all cost money: psychiatrists, counselors, and medicine if necessary. These ills of the mind can also affect the body, with grad students often experiencing sore throats, muscle aches, stomach aches, and much more around stressful periods in study, such as comprehensive exams and dissertation defenses. Even if you go to the student health center on your campus, taking care of yourself is not necessarily a cheap proposition.

These realities have driven graduate students in the United States to fight for the right to collectively bargain ever since the late 1960s, when the graduate students at the University of Wisconsin in Madison formed the Teaching Assistants’ Association. Today, this fight has spread across the country’s graduate schools like wildfire, with campaigns at Washington, Duke, American University, Yale, Columbia, and the University of Chicago.

Triangulation And Cowardice In North Carolina

(This is a joint post by Bryan and Douglas.)

If this is what a resistance looks like, then we are boned.

In another installment of As The Democrats Negotiate Against Themselves, Gov. Roy Cooper and Democrats in the General Assembly struck a deal that would “repeal” HB2, the infamous “bathroom bill” that has made it into a pariah state for corporate interests ranging from the NCAA and ACC to Google and Wells Fargo. This law was passed in the wake of Charlotte passing an ordinance banning discrimination against trans people as they access public facilities. Born from reaction and playing into the worst impulses present in North Carolina’s electorate, HB2 was a moral abomination of a law, rammed through by a Republican legislature in a special session called by the Republican lieutenant governor and signed by a Republican governor, and the hostility it earned the state across the US was justly earned.

This was the state of play back in December, when the Republican governor who signed HB2, Pat McCrory, grudgingly conceded that he lost a fair election and began turning over power to Roy Cooper, the governor-elect. Cooper, looking for a feather in his cap as he was coming into office, tried to negotiate a compromise between the NC General Assembly (still wholly controlled by the GOP despite a gerrymandered electoral map that has been struck down by federal courts) and the City of Charlotte to repeal HB2 and Charlotte’s anti-discrimination ordinance. Charlotte kept their end of the bargain, the General Assembly did not. This left the people negatively affected by HB2 with none of the protections that years of hard organizing had won in Charlotte and left the state with HB2 still on the books.

This brings us to today, where now-Governor Roy Cooper has signed a ‘repeal’ of HB2. Officially called HB142, it strikes the most egregiously anti-trans parts of the bill, but includes bitter pills. It enjoins any North Carolina municipality from passing another anti-discrimination ordinance for four years. This is notable for two reasons, the main one being that Governor Cooper turned down a similar moratorium in December that would have lasted six months. The second reason is that with the NC General Assembly being firmly in the hands of the Republican Party, it would take one law to make such a moratorium from being four years to being permanent.

There is, however, another reason why HB2 and HB142 are awful, and they have nothing to do with protecting trans people’s right to access public spaces.

Why Virginia matters to American labor in 2016.

The most important election in Virginia this year has no candidates on the ballot.

On February 2nd, the Republican-dominated General Assembly passed the two-session threshold needed to put the open shop before the Commonwealth’s voters in November. You might be asking yourself, “Wait. I thought that Virginia was already an open-shop state?” Your inclinations would be correct: legislation barring union membership as a condition of employment was signed into law by Gov. William Tuck (a later adherent to Massive Resistance in response to Brown v. Board of Education as a member of Congress) in 1947. As a result, Section 40.1-58 of the Code of Virginia reads:

“It is hereby declared to be the public policy of Virginia that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.”

So why do this? The easy answer is that Virginia Republicans are fearful that, should the open shop meet a legal challenge in state court, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring would not seek to defend it. The sponsor of the bill and defeated 2013 nominee for Attorney General, State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), stated as much in the deliberations on the bill. In addition, should the Assembly find itself in pro-labor hands in the future, they could overturn the open shop with a simple majority vote. Never mind that the extreme amounts of gerrymandering in the Assembly (particularly in the House of Delegates) makes a unified Democratic state government unlikely for decades to come.

The vote this November will be the first popular referendum on the open shop since 54 percent of Oklahoma voters approved State Question 695 on September 25, 2001. In this, an opportunity presents itself to the labor movement in this country, and it is one that labor unions must take.

On Solidarity and Flint

A lot has already been written about the ongoing atrocity in Flint, where a city of 100,000 people that is largely responsible for building the conditions that created prosperity in postwar America has been deliberately poisoned with lead and legionella by a dictatorial emergency financial manager system created by Rick Snyder, the sitting governor. The widely-reported reason of why the poisoning happened (to save a comparatively small amount of money) has also come under question, adding another dimension of horror to what’s already a horrible story. In a just world, what has been done to the people of Flint would result in a cigarette, a blindfold, and a firing squad for a lot of right-wing technocrats. We do not, however, live in a just world, more’s the pity.

Defragmenting The Movement: A Model For Building Working Class Solidarity

(This is a joint post between Cato and Douglas.)

The words on the flag of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are a perfect summation of the labor movement at its best: “JUSTICE ON THE JOB, SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY.”

It is that sense of solidarity that drives aggrieved workers to reach out to union organizers in the first place. They know that they are not just signing up to join a local or negotiate a contract, but to be a part of a movement that has been the last line of defense for many a worker since those Mill Girls first walked off the line in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1845. It is a movement that has come out of the shadows of its craft union past to embrace an industrial unionism that places its priorities in growing the ranks of the organized.

Well….not exactly.