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Auto Workers Direct Momentum Toward Organizing Plants Across the U.S.

By Luis Feliz Leon - Labor Notes, November 30, 2023

“The company knows that Toyota workers are watching,” said Auto Workers President Shawn Fain on November 3. “And when the time comes, Toyota workers and all non-union auto workers are going to be ready to stand up.”

That time has come—yesterday the UAW announced its plan, already in motion, to organize the whole auto sector. “Workers across the country, from the West to the Midwest and especially in the South, are reaching out to join our movement and to join the UAW,” said Fain in a new video.

The union says thousands of workers have reached out asking for support in unionizing their auto plants. They’ve scoured the old websites from previous union drives and filled out forms to be put in touch with an organizer.

“To all the auto workers out there working without the benefits of a union: Now it’s your turn,” he said, inviting auto workers to join the organizing push and telling them where they can electronically sign union cards, at UAW.org/join.

Thousands of non-union auto workers are already organizing across the 10 foreign-owned transplants, including Toyota, Hyundai, and Mercedes, as well as in the electric vehicle sector at Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid. Overall, the organizing drive will cover 150,000 workers—roughly the same number of workers covered under the Big 3 contracts—across 13 automakers.

How Florida farmworkers are protecting themselves from extreme heat

By Katie Myers and Siri Chilukuri - Grist, October 27, 2023

This story is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.

On any given summer day, most of the nation’s farmworkers, paid according to their productivity, grind through searing heat to harvest as much as possible before day’s end. Taking a break to cool down, or even a moment to chug water, isn’t an option. The law doesn’t require it, so few farms offer it.

The problem is most acute in the Deep South, where the weather and politics can be equally brutal toward the men and women who pick this country’s food. Yet things are improving as organizers like Leonel Perez take to the fields to tell farmworkers, and those who employ them, about the risks of heat exposure and the need to take breaks, drink water, and recognize the signs of heat exhaustion. 

“The workers themselves are never in a position where they’ve been expecting something like this,” Perez told Grist through a translator. “If we say, ‘Hey, you have the right to go and take a break when you need one,’ it’s not something that they’re accustomed to hearing or that they necessarily trust right away.”

Perez is an educator with the Fair Food Program, a worker-led human rights campaign that’s been steadily expanding from its base in southern Florida to farms in 10 states, Mexico, Chile, and South Africa. Although founded in 2011 to protect workers from forced labor, sexual harassment, and other abuses, it has of late taken on the urgent role of helping them cope with ever-hotter conditions. 

It is increasingly vital work. Among those who labor outdoors, agricultural workers enjoy the least protection. Despite this summer’s record heat, the United States still lacks a federal standard governing workplace exposure to extreme temperatures. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, the agency has opened more than 4,500 heat-related inspections since March 2022, but it does not have data on worker deaths from heat-related illnesses. 

Workers are dying from extreme heat. Why aren’t there laws to protect them?

By Jana Cholakovska and Nate Rosenfield - Grist, October 19, 2023

This story is co-published with The Guardian and produced in partnership with the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism and the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. It is part of Record High, a Grist series examining extreme heat and its impact on how — and where — we live.

Jasmine Granillo was eager for her older brother, Roendy, to get home. With their dad’s long hours at his construction job, Roendy always tried to make time for his sister. He had promised to take her shopping at a local flea market when he returned from work. 

“I thought my brother was coming home,” Granillo said. 

Roendy Granillo was installing floors in Melissa, Texas, in July 2015. Temperatures had reached 95 degrees Fahrenheit when he began to feel sick. He asked for a break, but his employer told him to keep working. Shortly after, he collapsed. He died on the way to the hospital from heat stroke. He was 25 years old. 

A few months later, the Granillo family joined protesters on the steps of Dallas City Hall for a thirst strike to demand water breaks for construction workers. Jasmine, only 11 years old at the time, spoke to a crowd about her brother’s death. She said that she was scared, but that she “didn’t really think about the fear.” 

“I just knew that it was a lot bigger than me,” she said.

Fall Protection is DANGEROUS? A Worker Died Because The Boss Told Him That

Green New Deal Justice—from Below

By Jeremy Brecher - Labor Network for Sustainability, Summer 2023

Almost by definition Green New Deal projects simultaneously address climate protection, worker empowerment, and justice. This Commentary will look at Green New Deal projects and networks that emerged from discriminated-against communities and put issues of justice front and center.

While the Green New Deal is often thought of as a program for climate and jobs, justice has been a central element from its very beginning. The initial Green New Deal resolution proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez included as a core aim to “promote justice and equity by preventing current and repairing historic oppression to frontline communities.” That included:

  • providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all members of our society, with a focus on frontline communities, so they may be full and equal participants in Green New Deal projects;
  • directing investments to spur economic development, as well as deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies and build wealth and community ownership, prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline communities and deindustrialized communities that may otherwise struggle with the transition;
  • ensuring democratic and participatory processes that are inclusive of and led by frontline communities and workers to plan, implement and administer Green New Deal projects at the local level;
  • obtaining the voluntary, prior, and informed consent of Indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect them, honoring all treaties with Indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of all Indigenous peoples.[1]

While much of the Green New Deal program has been stymied at the national level, communities, cities, and states have been going ahead to develop their own Green New Deals – what I have called in this series of Commentaries the “Green New Deal from Below.” Typically they involve a strong emphasis on the justice objectives of the Green New Deal. For example:

  • The Boston Green New Deal launched PowerCorps BOS, a green jobs program designed to serve “the dual purpose of creating job opportunities for our young adults” while “protecting our city from the ravages of climate change and enhancing quality of life for all residents.”
  • The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance requiring new buildings to be all-electric. Gloria Medina, executive director of SCOPE LA, said this ordinance is “about Black, Brown and Indigenous community members at the forefront. This is their win.” Chelsea Kirk, policy analyst at Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, said, “We think this is a super important, logical first step that allows us to make progress in our net-zero carbon goals as outlined in the Green New Deal.”
  • The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition designed a participatory process called “Listen, Lead, Share” to write a climate, jobs and justice law “written by communities for communities.” The Illinois Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, described by one journalist as a “Green New Deal for Illinois,” includes a wide range of programs embodying Green New Deal justice programs. For example, it provided that the first fossil fuel plants to be shut down will be those nearest to low-income and marginalized communities; $80 million allocated for Clean Jobs Workforce Network Hubs run by local organizations in 13 of the state’s low-income communities to deliver outreach, recruitment, training, and placement for climate jobs; travel stipends, work clothes, tools, and/or childcare for training and incubator program participants; program to train people currently in prison and place them in clean energy jobs; and a Clean Energy Jobs and Justice Fund to pay for projects in low-income and marginalized communities.

While virtually all Green New Deal from Below-style programs include a strong social justice component, some of them have emerged from and primarily represent the demands of people of color and frontline communities. They are the subject of this Commentary.

Miami-Dade nears final approval for nation’s first county-wide heat standard for outdoor workers

By Alexandra Martinez - Prism, September 20, 2023

Farmworkers and construction workers in Miami-Dade County secured a historic victory this month when the County Commission Community Health Committee approved a heat standard for outdoor workers. If the full Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approves the bill, it will mark the first heat standard for workers in the nation. Hundreds of outdoor workers, faith leaders, labor unions, and health care professionals attended the Sept. 11 Community Health Committee meeting where the decision was being heard. 

The proposed Miami-Dade Heat Standard as part of WeCount!’s ¡Que Calor! campaign includes a heat exposure safety program for workers and their supervisors about the risks of heat exposure and best practices for minimizing heat-related illness. The standard also states that on days with a heat index of at least 90 degrees, workers have a right to 10 minutes of paid rest and a water break every two hours to cool down under shade and avoid heat stroke. If passed, the county will enforce labor protections and support employers and workers with implementing heat safety protocols that can prevent heat-related illness and save lives. 

“Sometimes [the managers] don’t let you drink water because if you drink water, you go to the bathroom, and they don’t let you go to the bathroom,” said Mariola, a farmworker and organizer with WeCount! who asked to withhold her last name to protect her identity. “If the boss is watching, they start yelling at you. That is the problem we have here.”

Mariola has worked at different plant nurseries in Homestead, Florida, for 17 years since she immigrated from Guatemala. She works 12 hours straight in the grueling sun for $11 an hour. Mariola said there are no trees or shady spots to seek refuge from during the work day.

“When you’re at work, there’s nowhere for you to go if you’re fainting or feel dizzy in the sun,” she said.

Mariola said she was fired from a plant nursery a year ago for seeking shade under a tree that was far away from the nursery. 

“They fired me from my job because I couldn’t take it anymore,” Mariola said. “I felt dizzy, and I didn’t know if it was the sun. I went to look for a tree far away, and I went to drink water. But when the owner of the company arrived, he told me to go home and that there was no more work for me …There [was] no law. But if there is a law, they will obey; how can they not?”

Special interests from the construction industry attended the meeting to attempt to block the law, but the overwhelming support from the farmworker and labor communities outnumbered them.

Fair Food Program’s heat illness standards are saving farmworkers’ lives amidst record-shattering summer temperatures

By Ty Joplin - Coalition of Immokalee Workers, August 23, 2023

Fair Food Program’s heat illness standards are saving farmworkers’ lives amidst record-shattering summer temperatures

Professor Susan Marquis, Princeton University, op/ed in Miami Herald on FFP heat illness standards: “The Fair Food Program’s heat illness prevention standards already are proven. Crews are staying hydrated and safe. As one farmworker reported, “We can do more than improve day-to-day health and safety conditions. We can prevent a father or mother, a daughter or son, from losing their lives.’”

IMMOKALEE, FL – As scorching summer temperatures endanger the lives of farmworkers across the nation, and at least two farmworkers in South Florida alone have succumbed to the record heat this year, advocates are urgently sounding the alarm for rigorous and enforceable heat stress protections. While these advocacy efforts are desperately needed to protect hundreds of thousands of the country’s hardest and most vulnerable workers, there is a program that has been in operation since 2011 in farm fields from Florida to Colorado that deploys the very same protections – water, shade, and mandatory rest breaks – that advocates are calling for today around the country, and more, including on-the-clock education on their rights for farmworkers and training in life-saving interventions to prevent heat stress illness and death for supervisors. Indeed, the Fair Food Program’s Heat Illness Standards not only provide the essential elements for effective heat stress protection, they also, as part of a broader, Presidential-medal winning program to safeguard farmworkers’ basic human rights, have the power to actually enforce those standards in the fields.

To protect workers under its standards, the FFP is backed by the market power of 14 major retailers including Walmart, McDonald’s, Whole Foods, and Trader Joes, all pledged to suspend purchases from growers who are suspended from the program for violating its standards, giving the program real teeth. The FFP is monitored by a team of independent, trained human rights investigators with the Fair Food Standards Council. As a recent op-ed by the Miami Herald lays out, “the program is credited with eliminating unsafe working conditions, wage theft, beatings, rape and forced labor for tens of thousands of farmworkers each year on participating U.S. farms.”

Thousands of farmworkers are covered by the FFP, which is operative today in 12 crops in 10 states, and 3 countries. To extend these life-saving heat stress protections to workers currently toiling in fields beyond their reach, farmworkers with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers are pushing for the rapid expansion of the FFP, calling on major food brands – companies including Kroger, Wendy’s and Florida’s own Publix – to join the program and help bring these best-in-class protections to tens of thousands of more farmworkers across the county. 

As heat strikes, so do workers

By Katie Myers - Grist, August 1, 2023

The heatwave enveloping much of the world is so deadly that, in Europe, it has acquired two hellish mythical names: Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards Hades, and Charon, the man who, legend has it, ferries the dead to the afterlife.

Workers are taking a stand against the brutal conditions, using walkouts, strikes, and protests to call attention to the outsize danger the heat poses to the people who must work outdoors or in conditions where air condition isn’t available. The ongoing threat has taken the lives of people, from a construction worker in the Italian city of Lodi to farmworkers in Florida, and letter carriers in Texas. 

The organizing efforts started in Greece, where workers in the tourism industry — which accounts for 20% of the country’s GDP — are chafing under the strain. Athens’s most famous archaeological site, the Acropolis, closed for a few days earlier this month, but even as the government reopened it, temperatures continued soaring to 111 degrees Fahrenheit. The Acropolis’s staff, which is unionized through the Panhellenic Union for the Guarding of Antiquities voted to strike during the hottest four hours of each day.

Miami workers fight for better labor conditions in the heat

By Kat Grimmett - Prism, August 1, 2023


Dozens of workers from the ¡Que Calor! campaign gather after the commissioners meeting to rally behind the proposed heat standard.(Photo by Kat Grimmett)

A sea of royal blue shirts filled the floor before the Miami-Dade County Commission on July 18. They belonged to dozens of outdoor workers with WeCount!’s ¡Que Calor! campaign demanding “agua, sombra, y descanso”—water, shade, and rest. 

Miami commissioners held in their agenda legislation proposing what would be the nation’s first county-wide heat standard for outdoor workers. 

“The demand of ¡Que Calor! is a step in the right direction for bringing dignity and respect for outdoor workers,” said Pedro Marcos Raymundo, one of the leaders of ¡Que Calor!. “But it’s not only about outdoor workers; it’s a step in the right direction for any and all workers.”

Raymundo is one of more than 200 workers organizing with WeCount!, a coalition of immigrant workers and families advocating for better labor conditions in South Florida. ¡Que Calor! unites workers across the outdoor industries to create solutions to the problems they are facing in the workplace. The heat standard laid out in 14A1 is one such solution. 

The board voted unanimously to pass the first reading of 14A1, which would set a historic precedent for workers nationwide if implemented. The decision would provide much relief to a community of more than 100,000 outdoor workers laboring in industries like landscaping and roofing in Miami’s record-breaking heat. 

A week later, President Joe Biden announced new measures to address extreme temperatures as record-breaking and deadly heat waves sweep the country. A hazard alert was issued for the very industries represented by ¡Que Calor!. 

But the fight is not over. The Miami legislation will now go to the Community Health Committee for a public hearing review on Sept. 11. Meanwhile, ¡Que Calor! workers and sponsors urge the Miami community to show up in support. 

The heat standard contains life-saving measures for outdoor workers. The urgency cannot be matched by bureaucracy, and sadly, two workers in Miami died of heat-related illness earlier this year. 

Debt, Migration, and Exploitation: The Seasonal Worker Visa and the Degradation of Working Conditions in UK Horticulture

By Catherine McAndrew, Oliver Fisher, Clark McAllister, and Christian Jaccarini - Landworkers Alliance, et. al., July 10, 2023

The report ‘Debt, Migration and Exploitation: The Seasonal Worker Visa and the Degradation of Working Conditions in UK Horticulture’ has been written in collaboration with the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, New Economics Foundation, Focus on Labour Exploitation, Sustain and a farmer solidarity network of former migrant seasonal workers.

Seasonal work plays a significant role in UK agriculture. The government estimates that between 50,000 and 60,000 seasonal workers are needed annually to bring in the wider harvest across the UK, and these workers are almost entirely recruited from outside the UK.

Many of these workers are recruited via the new Seasonal Worker Visa scheme, a temporary migration programme introduced in 2019 to alleviate post-Brexit labour shortages, but a series of recent media exposés have revealed that visa holders are facing mounting issues including low wages, wage theft, excessive hours, debt bondage, and abuse by supervisors.

Our new report adds to this mounting body of evidence, and lays bare the legal and economic structures that facilitate the exploitation of farmworkers by the industrial food system, giving a platform for farmworkers to share their own account of life on the UK’s farms and develop solutions to the abuses they have faced.

The report also includes a supply chain analysis carried out by the New Economics Foundation, which reveals that migrant seasonal workers picking soft fruit retain on average just 7.6% of the total retail price of the produce.

Furthermore, the report outlines how workers who have to pay illegal broker fees (money paid by migrant workers to recruitment agencies in their home countries) can result in negative earnings. This means that after accommodation, subsistence and travel costs, some workers are essentially left out of pocket and end up paying more to come to the UK and work, than they keep as retained income to take home.

Another chapter in the report features an extended testimony from a former migrant seasonal worker from Nepal, in which they describe the exploitation of recruitment agencies, the debt associated with taking out loans to pay for agency fees and the need for the UK Government to design a more safe and secure seasonal visa scheme.

In response to issues raised in previous chapters relating to the supply chain, workers’ rights violations, and lack of redress, the final section of the report explores alternative approaches to labour rights, based on worker-led social responsibility (WSR), using the experience of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Fair Food Program (FFP) in Florida as a case study.

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

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