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It’s the hottest week in Portland history and the boss still won’t fix the AC

By CF Ivanovic - (In)Action (Substack), June 24, 2021

The following account, by an IWW member, illustrates just how much climate and the environment are significant workplace issues, and how they will become increasingly relevant to point-of-production, workplace organizing:

An extreme heat wave is sweeping the Northwest right now. Some weather forecasts predict we will see the hottest day in Portland history this weekend with temperatures hitting 110 degrees Fahrenheit. And the climate doomer in all of us is collectively sharing, “hottest day in Portland history, so far.” Yea it fucking sucks. With even more neighbors out on the street, even with a small safety net of the city setting up a few “cooling shelters” for the unhoused, people in all likelihood are going to die.

For those in houses and apartments, most of which without AC, we will deem it too hot to cook, which for restaurant workers it means expect an all day dinner rush baby. Hunched over that pipping hot flat top, AC busted, but thank god the boss was kind enough to plug in a box fan pointed at your feet—or if you’re lucky he’ll let you prop it up on a chair so it’s aimed at your back. Same legal minimum break times being squeezed as short as possible. Hell, maybe your boss is woke and reminded you to drink water. Don’t worry if you’re getting woozy there’s a 33.3% chance you pass out on the sandwich wrapping line instead of the grill or fryer. 

Again, I’m filled with righteous anger. A little voice in the back of my head that wants to shout to my co-workers, “we don’t have to fucking do this.” And how can we? Then I remember it’s the 23rd and rent is due in a week, and I remember there’s an infinite number of excuses and legitimate fears we place in front of us. And that my righteous anger has worked to dissuade those fears in my co-workers about as well as firing a squirt gun at the sun. 

“I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.”

When I started working at Little Big Burger in 2017 it was a super hot summer[1]. A friend of mine got me the job when they were hiring at the start of the summer and I figured getting minimum wage+tips was better than 10 cents above minimum wage operating rides at an amusement park. It was my first restaurant job. Somehow it felt more dangerous working on that narrow line with a clogged grease trap and no slip mats than operating a 40+ year old spinning metal puke machine. It was barely a month in when my friend told me, “hey there’s a union at this other burger joint in town, we flip burgers, why can’t we have that here?” Perhaps not the most “by the books” organizing conversation, as he showed me the Burgerville Workers Union facebook page, but he was my friend. Nuff said for me. Shit needed to change, and we couldn’t do it alone. We reached out to the union and started trying to talk to our co-workers. 

Our union would go on to win a number of amazing changes. Safety concerns, like a non-slip map, a replacement AC system, managers required to go up on the roof to unclog the vent, getting managers to stop calling the cops on homeless people. And, bread and butter policy changes, like schedules that come out two weeks in advance (instead of 1-2 Days in advance) and getting paid sick leave instead of being forced to work sick or fear getting fired. All of this we won by sticking up for each other, building trust over time, co-writing petitions, and regular ass restaurant workers standing together and marching on our corporate bosses. I want to share the nuts-and-bolts of how we came together and fought back against the Hooters corporation[2]. But right now I’m hot, agitated, and in no way feeling sentimental. Here I want to share a story about some of the stuff that we tried that didn’t work when things first started heating up.

A Low-Carbon Economy Will Be Built By Nannies, Caregivers and House Cleaners

By Mindy Isser - In These Times, October 22, 2019.

Reinvigorated movements are charting new terrain to build worker power and reverse the dramatic climate crisis facing society. Uncompromising mass mobilizations are on the rise, as more workers participated in strikes in the U.S. in 2018 than any of the previous 31 years, and historic demonstrations, like climate strikes, have taken off to demand action around climate change. Migrant workers, many of whom are climate refugees working in the care industry are waging a tremendous struggle against the Trump administration’s relentless, racist attacks, like the new “public charge” rule, which stops immigrants who receive public benefits from obtaining a green card or permanent residency. The Green New Deal offers an opportunity to bring these fights together around a broad program that tackles not only climate change, but also advances a vision of what a society that prioritizes people—not profit—could look like. But this future can only be won if the labor and climate movements find more ways to act together, and if they strategize more seriously about how to ensure low-carbon work is also good work. 

The lowest carbon jobs are the ones that don’t extract anything from the land, don’t create any new waste and have a very limited impact on the environment—an idea put forward by writers and activists Naomi Klein and Astra Taylor, along with striking West Virginia teacher Emily Comer. These jobs include teaching, nurturing and caring— invaluable jobs like cleaning homes and caring for children, seniors and those living with disabilities. Care work is generally ignored or looked down upon because it doesn’t create commodities that can be bought and sold, and because it is typically done by women. The shift towards low-carbon work should necessarily include a dramatic expansion of care work. But in order to make that possible, the standards and conditions of that work must be urgently raised. 

Care work is not only immensely important for individuals and families who depend on it, but for the economy at large. The National Domestic Workers Alliance (my employer) describes it as “the work that makes all other work possible.” By taking care of young children, nannies and child care workers allow parents to produce at their jobs. And by caring for seniors, home care workers, Certified Nursing Assistants and other caregivers keep those in the “sandwich generation,” caring for both children and parents, in the workforce. If there were no more caregivers—or if there were a nationwide caregiving work stoppage—our economy would crumble almost instantly.

The history of domestic work and care work, however, is stained by our country’s legacy of racism and sexism. In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed, giving workers the legal right to organize, and recourse if they were intimidated or fired for doing so. But not all workers were afforded these rights—domestic workers and farm workers were purposefully excluded as part of a compromise in order to pass the NLRA. Democrats in the South feared that allowing farm and domestic workers to unionize would give black workers—who were the vast majority of farm workers and domestic workers—too much economic and political power. 

We’ve seen how this legacy affects care work today: low pay, no benefits, and it’s often illegal to unionize. In addition to their lack of labor protections, these workers’ social standing makes them even more susceptible to abuse at work, including wage theft and sexual harassment or assault. The vast majority of domestic and care workers in this country are women of color, many of whom are migrants.

By understanding this connection, we can build deeper solidarity between care workers organizing for power on the job and the climate movement more broadly. The exclusion of domestic workers from the NLRA, and the ensuing degradation of their working conditions and lack of rights at work, was a compromise rooted in economic injustice and political exclusion—two historical wrongdoings that the Green New Deal seeks to undo.

Whole Foods Workers Demand Higher Wages and Union: Delegation Delivers Petitions to Whole Foods Management as Supporters Rally Outside SOMA Whole Foods

By Tim Maher - Wfmunite.com, November 6, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - This afternoon a delegation of 20 cashiers, stockers, and cooks at Whole Foods Market initiated a temporary work stoppage to deliver a petition to Whole Foods management demanding a $5 an hour wage increase for all employees and no retaliation against workers for organizing a union. After the delegation presented the petition to management, workers and supporters held a rally outside the store, located at 4th and Harrison Streets in San Francisco's South-of-Market district.

A worker must earn $29.83 an hour to afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, according to a 2014 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Workers at the store currently earn from $11.25 to $19.25 per hour. The new minimum wage ordinance just approved by San Francisco voters will raise the City's minimum to $12.25 an hour next year, less than half of what is needed to rent an apartment.

Over 50 workers from the 4th Street store signed the petition. In addition to demanding the $5 per hour wage increase, the petition raises issues about paid time off, hours and scheduling, safety and health, and a retirement plan.

Whole Foods workers have demanded a response from Whole Foods by November 14, when their next paychecks are due. If management fails to respond, workers will begin taking job actions.

Whole Foods is a multinational chain with over 400 stores in the US, Canada and Great Britain, with $13 billion in annual sales, and 80,000 employees.

Prices are high, which is why Whole Foods is colloquially known as Whole Paycheck.

Beneath Whole Foods' glossy image of social responsibility, "working conditions at Whole Foods reflect the low industry standards that dominate all food and retail industries," according to the workers' website wfmunite.com. Despite the company's claims to the contrary, "low wages, constant understaffing, [and] inconsistent schedules" are rampant company-wide. Just recently CEO John Mackey announced that the company would be phasing out full-time positions for new hires. Meanwhile, workers say the company has forced them to shoulder more and more of the costs of their limited health benefits.

Whole Foods currently has over 100 stores in development. Case Garver, a buyer in the Prepared Foods department, has seen enough of the doublespeak.

"It seems like every 6 months they open up a brand new store," he stated, "while at the same time my manager turns around and says the company doesn't have enough money to give us 40 hours a week. We're tired of doing more with less."

Azalia Martinez, a cashier at the store, relates that in addition to working full time for Whole Foods, going to school and fulfilling family obligations, she must take additional side jobs to make ends meet. "It's extremely hard," she says.

Despite the hardships, workers at the store know that they can win better wages by standing together. "History proves that workers have the power to make change when we come together to fight for our interests. We are re-igniting a workers' movement where we have power: on the job. [...] This is our movement, we are capable of victory, and we are worth it."

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a worker-led labor union uniting diverse members from several industries throughout the world.

Founded over a century ago, the IWW raises the quality of life for workers today while laying the foundation for a society without classes.

Beauty and its Beast

By Alexandra Scranton - Women's Voices for the Earth, November 2014

3salon workers, a population dominated by women, are exposed to a myriad of chemicals of concern everyday in their workplaces. Hair sprays, permanent waves, acrylic nail application, and numerous other salon products contain ingredients associated with asthma, dermatitis, neurological symptoms and even cancer. Salon workers absorb these chemicals through their skin and breathe them in as fumes build up in the air of the salon over the course of the workday. Research shows that salon workers are at greater risk for certain health problems compared to other occupations. This report will highlight the results of decades of research on the beauty care workforce, demonstrating the disproportionate incidence of cancers, neurological diseases, immune diseases, birth defects, reproductive disorders, skin diseases, asthma, and breathing problems in this population. Clearly, action is needed to improve conditions for salon workers and to help create and ensure healthier workplaces in the future. Recommendations for salon workers, salon owners, salon product manufacturers, and researchers, as well as long-term policy solutions, are presented in this report as options for improving the health and safety of salon workers.

Read the report (PDF).

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