This Labor Day, Take Action to Support Worker Rights

While for many it’s an extended weekend, we must not forget that Labor Day is the time to continue our push for worker rights, and the rights of vulnerable communities in the United States. Across the country UUSC partners, pro-worker organizations, and communities are coordinating events and actions to celebrate the contributions of low-wage workers and to call on elected officials to support worker rights.

With the election of Donald Trump, many low-wage workers are facing increasing discrimination and attacks on their rights in the work force, which makes this Labor Day weekend even more important. From the spread of right-to-work laws, that seek to undercut funding for unions, to employers reporting employees advocating for their rights to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), there have been numerous instances of efforts to undermine workers organizing and increasingly criminalize communities of color.

In this context, UUSC’s Economic Justice Program is responding by partnering, as part of Love Resists with grassroots worker centers and worker-led organizing groups in rural parts of the country where immigrants, Latinx individuals, Muslims, and other people of color are particularly at risk.

Here are just a few of the actions that we’re keeping our eye on this Labor Day weekend:

Pennsylvania

UUSC’s partner Make the Road PA is helping to organize four marches/direct actions across Pennsylvania on Monday, September 4 to demand an economy that works “for the many, not the few.” The events are aiming to push back against efforts to crack down on worker organizing, as well as the worker movement to improve wages and working conditions, and calls on people to march with the workers organizing “for their rights and future”. These rallies will be taking place in Allentown, Erie, Pittsburgh, and Wilkes-Barre, Penn.

Massachusetts

If you live in the Boston, Massachusetts-area, a group of organizations including Raise Up Massachusetts, Massachusetts Jobs with Justice, and others are hosting a rally and march to Copley Square on Monday, September 4. The rally and march are calling not only for a $15 per hour minimum wage, but also for union rights, as the action aims to center the demand for unions in the national dialogue.

Nationwide

No matter where you live, you can support the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in your community and congregation through their Labor in the Pulpits resources. Their Labor Day worship resource guide includes information including supplemental readings, background on the Fair Food Program campaign, and sermon talking points so you can show your support for CIW in your congregations this Labor Day weekend.

In addition, you can take part in Alliance for Fair Food’s (AFF) Wendy’s Boycott pledge by downloading the photo template and uploading them to your congregation’s social media with the hashtag #BoycottWendys. If you participate in the photo boycott pledge, send your photos to organize@allianceforfairfood.org to share your photos with the national AFF network.

If you are participating in or hosting a Labor Day weekend action in your community or congregation, please tag UUSC on social media to show your support for worker rights and economic justice!

UUSC supporters join a protest at the Wendy’s in Columbus, Ohio during General Assembly 2016.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss. This week, we are highlighting ways to get involved in the #May1Strike, the Nepal Earthquake anniversary, and the anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse.

 Immigration rights demonstrators rally in downtown Los Angeles 11 years ago.

How to Join the ‘Day Without Immigrants’ on May Day, Ariana Rosas Cardenas, The Nation, April 28, 2017 

 “When workers, immigrants, women, Muslims, black and brown, indigenous, queer and trans communities face exploitation, criminalization, incarceration, deportation, violence and harassment, we strike.”

This year’s May Day, an annual worker’s day strike held on International Worker’s Day, is expected to have the biggest turnout in over 10 years. Not only are immigrants and workers participating, but Native Americans, refugees, LGBTQ, and people of color are all joining to protest the Trump administration’s threats and attacks on minority communities.

Hundreds and thousands will be missing work, school, and shopping to show the impacts these combined communities and movements can have and to defy the hate and criminalization they are facing. This article highlights different events that are happening all across the United States.

Together with the Unitarian Universalist Association, UUSC has launched a joint campaign, Love Resists, to resist hate and create more welcoming communities. We’ve posted some more ways you can participate in May 1 events here!

Nepal’s earthquake disaster: Two years and $4.1bn later, Narayan Adhikari, Al Jazeera, April 24, 2017

It has been two years since the Nepal Earthquake, and only 5% of the houses that were destroyed have been rebuilt. The Nepal Earthquake destroyed close to 824,000 homes, which means over 800,000 families are still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt. Despite over $4 billion being donated and pledged for reconstruction efforts, only 12% of these funds have been used. A lack of government coordination and understanding, low participation among local groups, and overall lack of transparency have all contributed to slow recovery.

The article emphasizes that “the international community can bring about more lasting change by directing their support towards citizens and local organisations committed to solving the root problems of corruption and lack of information.”

UUSC is proud to be part of this international community that brings lasting change. We work with grassroots partners that are empowering survivors and protecting their rights as they rebuild their homes and lives. Read more about our work with two of these organizations!

It Has Been Four Years Since the Rana Plaza Factory Collapse—How Much Has Changed?, Michelle Chen, The Nation, April 24, 2017

Four years ago, Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza factory collapsed, killing more than 1,000 workers and fueling an outrage for labor reform needs in the garment industry. Despite this outrage, labor reforms have been slow to make. After hundreds went on strike at one of the manufacturing centers in Ashulia, labor activists and factory workers have been fired and accused of various acts by the same government that promised reforms and protections four years ago.

Wage theft and proper working conditions are some of the basic demands workers are asking for. Activists and workers that speak out are being punished, and at the end of the day, workers feel that large companies are only looking to make a profit. These workers currently only making $67 a month, and the raise they were asking for is still far below a livable wage.

International pressure has allowed for some regulations and improved working conditions, but without continued public pressure, workers are losing their right to organize – a detrimental effect on equal rights and protections. Without the ability to organize, there is also no structure to hold owners and bosses accountable.

The Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, recently published a blog with resources on how you can get involved in the Fashion Revolution campaign, a new movement to wake up people to the continued injustice in the garment industry.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading: a few select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss.

1. “Nepal’s Earthquake Widows Struggle to Survive,” Gopal Sharma, The World Post, June 22, 2016.

More than a year after the two earthquakes that killed over 9,000 people in Nepal, many women have to “fend for themselves in a country where widows face hostility, abuse, discrimination, and even enslavement.”

UUSC partner organization Women for Human Rights (WHR) contributed much of the information in Gopal Sharma’s article, including this quote from Lily Thapa, founder and head of WHR. “There is superstition and stigmatization. Widows have no status.”

With half a million widows throughout the country, the problem is a serious one, made worse by child marriage, often to much older men. When their husbands die, these young widows can be abandoned by their families, or if they remain with their in-laws, can be confined and treated like servants. Superstition holds widows responsible for their husbands’ deaths; they are treated more harshly the younger their husbands were when they died.

In responding to the earthquake by working with WHR and other women’s rightsto groups, UUSC’s plan reflected its overall approach to disasters: we asked who’s most likely to be overlooked or ignored, who’s doing the most innovative work to empower these marginalized people, and how can we help? In Nepal, this meant focusing on women, girls, children, Dalits, and indigenous peoples.

UUSC funding for WHR is targeted specifically to support its efforts to decrease violence against women and to support earthquake survivors. Learn more about how UUSC and WHR are collaborating in this effort by clicking here.

2. “Unitarians Picket Wendy’s Over Tomato Suppliers,” JD Malone, Columbus Dispatch, June 23, 2016

UUSC representatives attending the UU General Assembly (GA) in Columbus, Ohio, last week weren’t just there for GA itself. They also joined a march on a downtown Columbus Wendy’s restaurant to show solidarity with the Coalition of Immolakee Workers (CIW) and the Fair Food Alliance to demand that the fast food chain join all its major competitors in signing the Fair Food Agreement, a CIW initiative that requires participants to pay one penny more per pound of tomatoes in return for payment of higher wages for food workers, along with better health care and working conditions.

The article by JD Malone includes information provided by a Wendy’s spokesperson about their “encouragement” to suppliers to support human rights, and also puts the threat to Wendy’s business from the Fair Food Alliance boycott in the context of other risks to the company’s bottom line.

Still, the march in Columbus is only the latest in a years-long struggle to bring improved compensation and working conditions for Wendy’s workers, and organizers show no sign of giving up. Click here to learn more about where you might expect to see people marching and chanting, “Why not, Wendy’s?” and how you can join these protests until this last holdout among fast food restaurant chains signs the Fair Food Agreement.

Partner Profile: Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center

They’ve restored thousands of dollars in back wages that were stolen from workers. They train workers on what their rights are and how they can defend them. And they spend each and every day vigorously advancing the human rights of workers in their communities. These are just some of the many reasons we love the people that make up the Northwest Arkansas Workers’ Justice Center (NWAWJC), a UUSC partner of approximately 10 years.

Founded in 2002, NWAWJC improves working conditions for low-wage workers in northwest Arkansas through advocacy, organizing, and education. Philip Hamilton, UUSC’s associate for economic justice, says, “I am inspired by NWAWJC’s tireless commitment to raising up the issues facing their members to new, ever larger audiences in order to ensure that workers’ rights in northwest Arkansas become a reality.” UUSC partners with NWAWJC to empower workers — especially those in the poultry industry, which too often endangers and exploits people of color and women — and raise awareness of the rights violations that they face.

Based in Springdale and Fayetteville, NWAWJC has a wide range of programs that focus on wage theft, discrimination, sexual harassment, health and safety, and workers’ compensation violations. As the only workers’ center in all of Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma, NWAWJC offers vital support for local workers, offering the following and more:

  • Labor rights trainings
  • Immigrant justice organizing
  • Free English classes, GED tutoring, and computer courses
  • Worker leadership development and campaigns

Most recently, UUSC supported NWAWJC in producing Wages and Working Conditions in Arkansas Poultry Plants, an eye-opening report that reveals the challenges poultry workers face. “This report is one of the most detailed and comprehensive looks at life inside poultry plants in recent years,” explains Amber Moulton, UUSC’s researcher. “It reveals serious problems, from unpaid wages to gender and racial discrimination and health and hygiene lapses that harm both workers and consumers. This hard evidence should spur policymakers and poultry companies to action to protect the rights and dignity of the people who put chicken, Americans’ favorite meat, on our tables.” NWAWJC surveyed more than 500 workers for the report and has released a series of videos featuring the voices and experiences of those workers.

NWAWJC works in an area where the employment landscape is dominated by Walmart, Tyson, and several poultry plants. It serves communities that have significant populations of Marshallese and Latino immigrants (many of whom are made especially vulnerable to labor abuse by their undocumented status), and all of the workers it assists live below the federal poverty line. All the more reason to heartily celebrate a few of NWAWJC’s accomplishments:

  • Recovered over $920,000 in back wages, workers’ compensation, safety and health, and discrimination claims through worker advocacy
  • Educated workers on lobbying to block anti-immigrant legislation proposed in Arkansas
  • Trained more than 350 workers about their safety and health rights according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  • Presented and helped pass a resolution in support of increasing the Department of Labor statute from $1,000 to $2,000 when investigating cases of wage theft
  • Assisted in over 400 cases of workplace abuse
  • Assisted 800 workers in a Bentonville poultry processing plant to get their employer to provide safety equipment
  • Graduated more than 50 worker members from their computer literacy classes
  • Provided more than 70 worker members the opportunity to to advance their English literacy skills

Want join UUSC and NWAWJC in defending the rights of poultry workers? Learn more from the recent report and start talking to your friends, family, legislators — and the poultry companies!

Time to Turn Olive Garden’s Good Food Rhetoric into Reality

The following post, authored by Kari Hamerschlag and Hannah Hafter, was originally published on the Food Tank blog and is republished with permission. 

Last week, a coalition of environmental, social justice and animal welfare groups launched a campaign asking Olive Garden and its parent company Darden Restaurants (the nation’s largest employer of restaurant workers) to adopt better labor and sustainability practices, including putting more plant-based, local and organic food on its menu.

With more than 1,500 restaurants serving 320 million meals every year, Darden’s purchasing and menu decisions have a huge impact on health and our environment — as well the working conditions for the people who produce and serve our food.

On the Good Food Now! campaign’s launch day, March 24, thousands of people called the company and hundreds wrote comments on Olive Garden’s Facebook page. In response, the company repeatedly wrote:

“We’re committed to providing our guests with nutritious, quality and responsibly-sourced food, supporting and developing our team members, giving back to our communities and protecting the natural environment.”

Hollow company rhetoric just won’t do

The company told us the same thing in a rote response to a letter sent last November from 51 diverse organizations urging Darden to adopt better purchasing practices. In its letter, Darden directed us to its 2014 Citizenship Report, People, Planet & Plate.

Unfortunately, neither the letter nor the report adequately addresses our specific concerns — exposing a huge gulf between the $6.7 billion company rhetoric on social responsibility and its actual practices. In a letter back to the company, we detail how the company is falling short on implementing its good citizenship promises.

When a company holds itself up as a model citizen as Darden does, it should be accountable for making good on those ideals.

That’s why a historic coalition has formed to ask Darden to set a new industry standard by adopting “Good Food Principles” for at least 20 percent of its food purchases by 2020. Fixing our broken food system won’t work if we only focus on one part of the problem. By adopting the following principles Darden can turn its citizenship ideals into meaningful action for customers, communities, farmers, the environment and thousands of Darden restaurant employees. 

A valued workforce

One in every five Darden employees earns the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour, and tens of thousands of Darden’s workers earn a dismal minimum wage while only hired to work part-time. Low wages make it hard for many to meet their families’ basic needs, let alone afford healthy food for themselves. Darden should ensure a living wage of $15 an hour (which would cost customers less than 35 cents a meal), offer more full-time work opportunities, and provide paid sick leave.

Darden recently announced a partnership with Feeding America to help end hunger in its communities. While commendable, it isn’t enough when at the same time their own employees are on food stamps. The real solution to ending hunger in Olive Garden’s communities is to increase worker wages. This would spur other restaurants to do the same, helping bring thousands of families out of poverty so that they, too, can enjoy good food.

Environmental sustainability

Darden’s approach to measuring reductions in its water and carbon footprint is focused on its restaurant operations, rather than its food footprint. A sincere effort to reduce energy, water use, and other environmental impacts must include a focus on its menu items, especially meat and dairy products, since these animal foods constitute the vast majority of Darden’s energy, water, and carbon footprint.

Darden’s large portion sizes of meat and cheese aren’t only bad for our waistlines, they’re bad for the planet. By reducing portion sizes and meat and dairy purchases from factory farms as well as increasing plant protein options, Darden can reduce its environmental impact while achieving many of the company’s other goals, including improved health and wellness, reduced food waste, and cost savings.

We also urge the company to source more organic food, which is better for people and the planet. Not only does organic food reduce consumer and farmworker exposure to toxic pesticides, farming organically helps protect pollinators, soil, and water and reduces greenhouse gas emissions and energy use.

Animal welfare

Darden is a major purchaser of meat and dairy — and should use that purchasing power to demand that its suppliers employ better animal welfare practices. We are asking the company to purchase at least 20 percent of its meat and dairy from more humane livestock producers that are certified by reputable third-party organizations, including Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership (at least step 2) or Certified Humane Raised and Handled. By sourcing more humane meat and dairy, Darden will attract consumers concerned about the treatment of animals.

Support for local economies

By committing to source 20 percent of its food locally and regionally, Darden would increase opportunities for small-scale producers, strengthen local and regional economies growth,  provide fresher food, protect precious farmland, and support a more resilient food system.

Better health and nutrition

Darden should include generous portions of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, and reduce salt, added sugar, fat, and red and processed meat. It also should require that its suppliers stop using routine antibiotics in meat production for animals that aren’t sick in order to compensate for overcrowded, filthy conditions, since this leads to antibiotic resistant bacteria that infect humans. Subway, Chick-Fil-A, and In-N-Out Burger have already committed to eliminating antibiotics from their entire meat supply over time — and it’s time that Darden do the same.

Adopting the Good Food Principles is not only the right thing to do, it is a smart business response to growing consumer demand, especially among millennials, for healthier, just, locally grown and more sustainable food.

Please support the campaign even if you don’t eat at Olive Garden or other Darden restaurants! 

Sign this petition or visit the company’s Facebook page and ask Olive Garden and Darden to make its food healthy, green and fair.

The Good Food Now! campaign is a partnership of Friends of the Earth, the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, the Food Chain Workers Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, Green America, and the Animal Welfare Institute. Learn more at good-food-now.com.

Kari Hamerschlag is a senior program manager with Friends of the Earth’s Food and Technology program, where she carries out research and implements market and policy campaigns aimed at reforming animal agriculture and promoting sustainable, fair, healthy and resilient food and farming systems.

Hannah Hafter is the senior program leader for activism at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, a human rights organization powered by grassroots collaboration with a focus on economic justice, environmental justice, and rights at risk.

Celebrate Women Entrepreneurs

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day (March 8!) calls on us to take steps to end the economic gender gap. At the Good Buy, UUSC’s online store, we’re especially interested in advancing equal pay for women workers and supporting women-owned businesses.

Learn more about the progress toward gender parity in this recent World Economic Forum report. Now is the time to talk about what we can do to accelerate its growth, while celebrating the social, cultural, economic, and political achievements women contribute daily.

What can you do?