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Feb. 10 2010 — 6:43 pm | 64 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

The Dems stick it to labor once again

Op-ed columnist Harold Meyerson wrote in today’s Washington Post about the disappointments heaped on organized labor in the first year of Barack Obama’s presidency, most notably the failure to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

By my count, this marks the fourth time in the past half-century that labor’s efforts to strengthen workers’ ability to organize have been deferred by the Democratic presidents and the heavily Democratic Congresses they supported.

In 1965, about the only piece of Great Society legislation not enacted was the repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act provision that gave states the power to block unions from claiming as members all the employees in workplaces where they had won contracts. In 1979, as American management was beginning to invest heavily in union-busting endeavors, the first effort to reform labor law failed to win cloture in the Senate by one vote as President Jimmy Carter stood idly by. In 1994, President Bill Clinton responded to a similar labor-backed effort by appointing a commission to recommend changes in labor law to the next Congress — which turned out to be run by Newt Gingrich.

And last year, by asking his labor supporters to wait, Obama ensured — unintentionally, of course — that the next effort to revive organizing must wait until the next overwhelmingly Democratic Congress.

With friends like these …

Feb. 10 2010 — 3:52 pm | 90 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

The schizophrenic minds of Chicago’s restauranteurs

The majority of Chicago restauranteurs interviewed for a recent report on the industry say they wanted to offer good pay and benefits to employees, but they don’t actually do it.

“Behind the Kitchen Door,” published by the Chicago Restaurant Industry Coalition, is an in-depth look at the labor practices of an industry known for wage and hour abuses. The coalition interviewed 31 owners and managers for the report and found that 17 of them “reported a policy of keeping wages low and overtime pay to a minimum,” even while paying lip service to better treatment of their workers. 

“While there are surely some ‘bad’ employers who operate only for their own profit, at the expense of their workers, what appears to be more common is that employers espouse supportive workplace policies in theory, but do not implement them in practice,” says the report. “This disconnect can be largely attributed to lack of good management, absence of industry incentives rewarding good employment practices in the industry, and ineffective employment law enforcement mechanisms.”

In other words: no carrots and no sticks. Guess it’s not schizophrenia after all. continue »

Feb. 9 2010 — 7:26 pm | 168 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

New report serves up Chicago’s restaurant industry on a platter


Image via Wikipedia

More than 80 percent of the cooks, servers, hosts, busboys and bartenders in the Chicago metropolitan area make less than $10 an hour, according to a new report on the restaurant industry released today.

In case you’re wondering, the report pegs a living wage — pay that allows a worker to support him- or herself and a family without government assistance — at $16.48 an hour. 

“Behind the Kitchen Door” was compiled by the Chicagoland Restaurant Industry Coalition, a group of academics, workers rights advocates, unions, and restaurant owners and employees. The findings are based on 582 worker surveys, plus interviews with restaurant workers and employers in Cook County, conducted between Sept. 2008 and May 2009. continue »

Feb. 5 2010 — 2:41 pm | 35 views | 1 recommendations | 1 comment

Know your rights: Raises, bonuses and severance, oh my

Knowing your rights means knowing what you’re not entitled to, as well as what you are.

Raises and bonuses? Nobody owes you one, Jack. No matter how long you’ve worked, or how well, or if you worked Christmas, or the weekends or nights. The law requires employers to pay minimum wage, and to pay overtime, and that’s it. Raises and bonuses are agreed to by the employer and the employee.

Severance? Nobody owes you that either. You get what you can negotiate with your boss.

The exception is a union contract. A union contract is a legally binding document that specifies wages, benefits and working conditions. The union negotiates it, and it applies to all the workers in the union.

The information in this post was pulled from the “Workers’ Rights Manual” published by Arise Chicago.

Feb. 4 2010 — 6:33 pm | 52 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

No. 2 man at the Chicago Federation of Labor likely to succeed his boss


Jorge Ramirez, courtesy of Chicago Federation of Labor

The Chicago Federation of Labor’s No. 2 man has the nod from his boss, who announced today he won’t seek to head the organization for a third term.

Secretary-Treasurer Jorge Ramirez is outgoing president Dennis Gannon’s choice to succeed him. According to a story in today’s Chicago Sun-Times:

Chicago’s most powerful labor leader is calling it quits.

Chicago Federation of Labor President Dennis Gannon — who went toe-to-toe with Mayor Daley in the fight against Wal-Mart — has decided not to seek re-election to another four-year term. …

“I’m just drained,” Gannon said. … ”I’m just tired. Between the politics and the labor stuff and trying to keep people together and making sure labor’s issues are front and center — it’s just time for somebody else to take the reins.”

Nick Kaleba, the federation’s spokesman, said Gannon was a little surprised by the Sun-Times’ headline, since he won’t leave office until June.

“He said, ‘Quits? I’m not quitting,’” Kaleba says.

The federation represents more than 300 unions, or about a half million workers. Ramirez has served in the No. 2 post since 2006. Before that he was executive director of United Food and Commerical Workers Local 1546.

“He knows the union business,” Kaleba says. ”He knows politics.”

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    I'm a freelance journalist based in Chicago. I've written for a lot of places no one's ever heard of, a few places they have, and I share the philosophy of Dr. Samuel Johnson, who said, "No man but a a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." The sentiment jives nicely with the beat I've assigned myself: organized labor and workers rights in the City of Big Shoulders (and other places, too, as the mood strikes). We're dealing in news here, people. If you want my opinion, buy me a drink.

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