I don't recall reading a more insightful book about this topic than Kim Bobo's latest work, Wage Theft in America.
Bobo says wage theft in America is the crime wave no one talks about, and she is right. Billions of dollars' worth of wages are stolen from millions of workers in the United States every year. The scope of these abuses is as staggering as it is wrong - paying workers far less than the legal minimum wage, purposefully misclassifying employees as independent contractors, and illegally denying workers overtime pay. But now people are starting to take notice -- and it is my hope that they do so starting with this very good book.
Chapter 5: Organizing to Stop Wage Theft: Why Unions Matter, starts with a story of 39 year-old Mercedes Herrerra. She came to this country from Mexico, lives in Houston since 1994 and works as a janitor for staffing agencies cleaning buildings and sports facilities. Bobo says she was never paid for overtime!
Her employers would tell her, "There is no overtime. After 40 hours you work for someone else." (This is not legal).
The story continues that after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the worker was hired by a cleaning firm contracted to clean the Reliance Center. She was in charge of keeping the bathrooms clean. Her staffing agency charged her $100 per week for her shoes, gloves, masks, cleaning supplies, and shuttle rides to the Center. She wasn't told when she was hired that such charges would be taken from her paycheck. As a result, her hourly wage fell significantly below minimum wage. (This is not legal).
The lower paid workers in our country are treated like crap. Union activists have been saying this for a long time. Some claim we blow it out of proportion or distort the reality -- for Herrerra, according to Bobo, worse than the wages stolen was her ill treatment. Managers would scream at her and her colleagues. Some would tell workers they were old and worthless.
I was there once. I used to load trucks for a small production firm in NYC. I was hired as an independent contractor. It was hard to get any other work at the time for myself and I took what I could get. I had to pay $35 a week for "supplies" but never used anything but my body. One day a dumpster was filled with packing wrap and cardboard. The boss screams at me (note, he did this to others, he didn't signal me out for any apparent reason)to flatten the dumpster, "Jump your fat fucking ass in there and keep this motherfucker moving, will ya?" My coworkers laughed, then shook their heads. I wondered what kind of a sentence I would receive for throwing that boss in the dumpster and thankfully just went back to work. Moved on.
Wage theft and disrespect are twins for a worker. One is slightly more evil than the other, but both are equally painful. Bobo does a phenomenal job in telling that story -- and then says, "wage theft has been wiped out for the unionized janitors. Anytime there is a problem on wages, workers call the union hotline and someone works out the problems." (NOTE, This is the same with any unionized jobs, including my former line of work as a truck loader).
Unions not only raise wages, benefits, and working conditions ... they stop wage theft.
Bobo on: Why Aren't Unions Stronger?
Given the crisis of wage theft in the nation and the effective role unions play in stopping wage theft, one would think that unions would be growing by leaps and bounds. In fact, many workers would like to have a union in their workplace - 53 percent of all working Americans who are not currently represented by unions would vote to join a union if they had the opportunity to do so without risking their jobs. But workers are afraid. I used to be afraid.
It is simply a matter of fact, which this book does so well of spelling out for everyday folks, that no other industrialized nation has such a powerful union-busting industry or weaker labor protections.
Stopping wage theft in the United States and strengthening our unions has all to do with changing or strengthening labor laws. But it is confusing stuff -- as I have said in the past, today you need a JD just to go to work to know your rights.
Section 7 of the NLRA sets out your right to organize. It says:
"Employees have the right to self-organization, to form, join or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right might be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 159(a)(3)."
Actions by the employer that violate this right to organize are called "Unfair Labor Practices" (ULPs), and they are ILLEGAL. Section 8A of the NLRA deals with unfair labor practices by employers. These include:
* Making threats— threatening that the plant will have to close or move if people vote in the union; threatening to take away jobs or benefits if the workers bring in the union, or threatening they will need to make rules stricter if workers bring in the union.
* Giving raises— giving wage increases timed to keep people from voting for the union OR not giving regularly scheduled raises because workers are organizing. (NOTE - IF YOU ARE GIVEN A "TIMELY" RAISE, TAKE THE RAISE AND VOTE UNION ANYWAY ... IT IS A WINNING PROPOSITION).
* Questioning people— asking questions about union activities or people’s support for the union in a way that would "restrain or coerce" them.
* Spying on union meetings—or pretending to spy on union meetings.
* Discriminating against people— discriminating in hiring, promotion, layoff, termination, benefits or working conditions in order to discourage people from organizing.
* Discriminating against people who give testimony to the National Labor Relations Board (the body that enforces the NLRA).
Please learn your rights as working people. Please buy Kim Bobo's book.
Let me know what you think.