Tompkins County Workers' Center

Workers' advocacy, support and empowerment | Labor rights in Tompkins County, New York State |

Tompkins Workers’ Center Certifies Five New Employers as Living Wage →

• Town of Danby, 1830 Danby Road, Ithaca
• Quintile Biosciences, 19 Brown Road, Ithaca
• Miller Mayer Law Office, 202 E. State Street, Ithaca
• Ithaca Oral Surgery and Implant Care, 1301 Trumansburg Road, Ithaca
• Avalon Homes, 950 Danby Road, Ithaca

— 1 week ago
How to Write a New Organizing Playbook →

Excellent post from Jobs with Justice (whom Tompkins County Workers’ Center is affiliated with) ED, Sarita Gupta.

— 3 weeks ago
Letters from Dairy farmworkers to Syracuse Post-Standard Seeking Support for Farm Safety Inspections in New York →
— 5 months ago
Fast Food and Low-Wage Workers Rising Jobs With Justice →
— 7 months ago
Flash of Insight into Mob Protest →

Intriguing ‘take’ on our flash mob protest at McDonald’s in Ithaca last week from the Ithaca Times.

— 7 months ago
Tell Congress to Pass a $10/Hour Federal Minimum Wage! →
It looks like President Obama got the message: This week, he announced his support for a $10/hr federal minimum wage.
This comes on the heels of two big wins this week at the ballot box. On Tuesday, New Jersey voters approved a minimum wage increase by higher margins than they voted to reelect Gov. Chris Christie. And in the small city of SeaTac, Washington, home to the region’s airport, voters approved a $15/hr minimum wage, giving thousands of airport and hotel workers a much-needed raise.

Now President Obama is joining the cause, endorsing a $10 per hour federal minimum wage and asking Congress to vote on it as early as next week. Sure, it’s not a living wage, but $10 sure beats $7.25 (the current federal minimum wage).

No one in American can make ends meet on just $7.25 an hour — that’s just $15,000 a year. If you’re lucky enough to have full-time work. And every year there’s no action, it gets worse and worse as prices go up and the minimum wage stays the same. 

Meanwhile, giant low-wage employers like McDonald’s and Walmart are doing better than ever. Low wages are good for CEOs, but they’re bad for America.

With inequality at an all time high and fast food workers striking for higher pay, the fight against poverty wage is gaining steam.  From South Dakota to Maryland, Chicago to Washington, DC – people are organizing for minimum wage increases all over the country. Here in Ithaca we are organizing for a living wage.  And now Obama is joining the fight.

Let’s send Congress the message. Tell Congress to pass a $10/hr federal minimum wage.

— 8 months ago
Workers Paid Less Than a Living Wage Speak Out!
July 1, 2013

Making $7.75 an Hour, and Figuring There’s Little to Lose by Speaking Out

Shenita Simon watches a twilight rain wash across Brownsville. Softly, from her apartment in a public housing tower, she begins to talk of her life’s impossible mathematics.

This 25-year-old woman with striking black eyes and hair pulled back in a bun is a shift manager at KFC — her title is good for 50 cents an hour above minimum wage. From this, she and her husband, Jude Toussaint, an unemployed antenna installer, buy clothes for their three children and food, and help her mother with the rent.

Her wages erode on all sides. Often, she said, she finds her check is hours short. And when she works overtime, she receives two checks, each at straight time, as if she worked for two different employers rather than a single KFC across from Bargain Land on Pitkin Avenue in Brooklyn.

Last year boiling oil spilled over and scalded her hands; she received $58 a week in workers’ compensation, she said. Nearly every day her manager called and demanded: When are you returning to work?

She looks you square in the eyes.

“I’m beyond not satisfied,” she says. “This isn’t the life I want for my children. This isn’t the life I want for myself.”

Forget the gilded dreams of 90th-floor penthouse-dwelling hedge fund masters for just a second. We’ll mourn the ridiculously high price tag for brownstones in another column. The economic comebacks of New York, of New Jersey and of so many states ride piggyback on the growth of low-wage jobs, on the hiring of those who dip French fries in boiling oil and pull flesh off the bones of factory chickens.

Fast-food businesses have added 25,000 jobs in New York in the past decade. Last week I sat in a low-ceiling City Council hearing room and listened and squirmed as fast-food workers — the Wendy’s hamburger slinger, the Papa John’s bike delivery man, the woman who mops floors in KFC — recounted the prosaic facts of their lives for a fact-finding panel.

There was a Mexican man with gray hair and a bushy mustache who trained as an architect. His two daughters live in Mexico and depend on him, and he sleeps in a basement and makes $5 an hour delivering Papa John’s pizza.

“I delivered during Hurricane Sandy,” he said in Spanish. “They told us to ride bent over, so that the pizzas didn’t get wet.”

Naquasia Legrand, a 22-year-old from Canarsie, Brooklyn, works at two KFCs. She washes dishes at one for $7.75 and mops floors at the other for $8. She says she must work four or five hours each week off the clock.

She needed to buy a MetroCard last week so she skipped lunch. She shakes her head. “I think I deserve to eat lunch.”

The apostles of our new economy advise us that the middle and working classes need to “retool,” to learn new skills, to become more productive. Yes, well, O.K. When, where and with what time and whose money?

There is good news to be heard here. Workers who earn minimum wage realize their employers have no real hold on their tongues.

“I’m making the minimum wage plus 50 cents,” notes Ms. Simon. “I definitely can find another job.”

A great ferment brews. The car washers of the Bronx and Brooklyn have voted to form unions, as have security guards at Kennedy Airport. Twice in the past nine months, fast-food workers — with the aid of Fast Food Forward, a community organizing and labor coalition — have rallied and demanded higher wages and an end to wage theft.

How this ends is uncertain. American labor law is a beaten cur. Strikes are risky, and fast-food corporations are well-heeled adversaries. The current campaigns hope to embarrass these corporations.

As often, though, this sector carries an immunity to shame.

Papa John’s chief executive, John Schnatter, makes $2 million per year and lives on a faux medieval estate outside Louisville, Ky. He spoke recently of trying to subvert Obamacare’s provisions by cutting the hours of all of his workers to less than 30 hours. YUM! Brands, which owns KFC and Taco Bell and whose chief executive makes $11.3 million per year, helped lead the battle against paid sick days.

Mention long odds to these workers and they lead you back to the mathematics. They bob along the poverty line in an impossibly expensive city. What’s to lose?

Ms. Simon, still dressed in the black KFC shirt with “The Original Original” logo, shakes her head when asked if she’s worried about annoying her employer. “I have no lies to tell,” she says. “This is just my life.”


Twitter: @powellnyt

— 1 year ago
Gross Wage Violations Charged at Upstate NY Hotels

WJCNY Files Potential Class Action Lawsuit Against Quality Inn and Superlodge Hotels for Gross Wage Violations

June 4, 2013, Kingston, NY—The Worker Justice Center of New York has filed a civil action in federal district court against the Kingston-based franchises of Quality Inn and Superlodge hotels alleging gross underpayment of minimum wage and other labor violations for over a decade.  The hotel owners and management routinely paid their housekeeping and laundry staff well below the state and federal minimum wage, often at a rate of $5.00 per hour or less, and refused to pay overtime as required by the law.  The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

The hotel’s workforce—largely immigrant women—performed work ranging from cleaning rooms, laundry, and other tasks and were paid in cash for fewer hours than were actually clocked.  Over a dozen workers have already come forward alleging exploitation—in some instances, dating as far back as 1998. If certified as a class action in the Northern District of New York, dozens more would stand to recover significant back pay on the basis of the wage violations they were forced to endure.   Workers were not only denied minimum wage and overtime pay, but were cheated out of the tips they earned as well—all of which went directly into the pockets of hotel management.

“We continue to be shocked by the lengths to which local employers in the hospitality sector will go to avoid their most basic labor obligations.  Unfortunately, this case represents only the tip of the iceberg of workplace abuses within the low-wage industries throughout the region. As the summer tourism season begins, our office will continue to exhaust all means of holding unscrupulous employers accountable to the legal system and to the public at large.” stated Milan Bhatt, Co-Executive Director of the Worker Justice Center of NY.  

— 1 year ago
Ithaca Journal OpEd: Living Wage Is Moral Choice for County →

by Pete Meyers and Carl Feuer

Poverty and inequality are among the most significant issues facing our community, country and world. In the United States, these problems have grown persistently and perniciously over the last 40 years.

Tompkins County is not exempt. The Census Bureau estimates that 20 percent of the population here lives below the federal poverty level. Many more are near poor. The pernicious effects of poverty on our community are visible every day — in our schools, at the food bank, at the Department of Social Services, in doctors’ offices and in every retail business in town.

Despite the heavy effect of poverty and inequality on our community and its residents, we rarely have an opportunity to intervene. Such an opportunity is before us now. A Tompkins County legislative committee is considering the county’s living wage policy and will shortly make a proposal for the entire Legislature to consider. We have both sat in on committee’s deliberations and are impressed with the seriousness and depth of the discussion.

Yet we are concerned. Our concern centers on our perception that the primary moral dimension of this issue has not been central to the discussion. We fear that it may get lost in the ensuing legislative deliberations. This would be extremely unfortunate.

Paying a living wage to all those working on county projects is the right and moral thing to do. Why is it so easy for us to agree that garment manufacturers and retail companies operating abroad have a moral responsibility to provide for the safety and livelihood of their workers, but so hard for us to accept our own moral responsibility to ensure that those who work for the county earn a living wage and not a poverty wage?

The Legislature has the opportunity now to affect poverty and inequality, and to show that the poverty wages that often are its root are wrong and harmful to our community. It can do that by enacting the strongest possible living wage policy. Ensure that all county contractors that receive direct payments from the county must pay a living wage. Insist that all recipients of county economic development benefits must pay a living wage. And provide direct assistance to non-profit contractors where needed to assist them in meeting the living wage requirement.

Yes, this will cost the county and its taxpayers money. But we are more than convinced that the bulk of Tompkins County citizens and taxpayers would support whatever small increase is necessary. This cost, moreover, would not only be partially offset by savings that taxpayers would realize as the demand for social services declines, but could be ameliorated by additional measures such as phasing the policy in over a multiyear period.

In the end, adopting a living wage policy not only takes the moral high ground but also sets a standard of action for other employers in the county to emulate. It’s the right thing to do.

Meyers and Feuer are co-founders of the Tompkins County Workers Center.

— 1 year ago