Friday, July 17, 2015

Workers' fight for justice takes on many forms

Calif. Assemblyman David Chiu
PHOENIX -- Workers are facing substantial challenges on the job. Whether it's low pay or work schedules that vary in hours per week and can change at almost a moment's notice, many are not earning enough to support themselves or their families. But they are not alone in trying to fight these issues.

Unions, worker allies and even some lawmakers said during the Netroots Nation conference here they are stepping up their efforts to challenge corporations that are trying to maximize their profits at the expense of their employees. And many involved in the movement told attendees they are beginning to win, and others can too.

California Assemblyman David Chiu helped lead the movement to force large retail companies in San Francisco last year to issue worker schedules two weeks in advance, and penalize those employers that change it. He said the debate is now moving forward elsewhere:
This is a conversation not just happening in San Francisco, but around the country. And the more it is, the greater the chance it will prevail. ... I have no doubt over the next few years we will prevail.
Part of the battle is trying to discuss the issue in a way that the public will understand. While the constant discussion of income inequality in the media and elsewhere over the past few years has raised awareness of the need for increasing the minimum wage, for instance, the discussion over the need for scheduling certainty still lags behind. It is part of an ongoing awareness campaign.

Nelini Stamp, co-director of Rise Up Georgia, said she originally began working in retail as a way to save up money for college. But the low wages and unpredictable schedules, mixed with the ever-increasing cost of higher education, has stalled that dream for now:
We want jobs. People want to work. But employers are taking it out of our hands. ... We believe we can push corporations to offer better schedules for their workers.
Of course, there are ways for workers to challenge these matters themselves. By organizing and joining a union like the Teamsters, workers can take these issues head on and win. It isn't always easy, but it can and does succeed.

Maria Neyoy, a bakery department employee for the El Super grocery chain in Arizona, is working to bring change that will help workers there. Since she got involved, the company has raised her salary by $4 an hour in hopes to get her to stop unionization efforts, but she said through an interpreter she won't until her coworkers can also receive a better salary:
This company ... does have the money to give us the raises we deserve. They are treating us like slaves. We are going to be out there until we get the contract we deserve.