Unprecedented challenges, powerful victories

 

 

This year has laid bare the stark inequalities in our society. Six months into the pandemic crisis, workers face unprecedented challenges: many workers are taking on additional risk at work, and employers are often failing to enact appropriate safety measures. The Senate has so far failed to provide adequate relief money, choosing to make it harder for us to pay our bills and survive this crisis. Hundreds of thousands of Washington workers are still unemployed and navigating a system full of delays and missing benefits payments. Meanwhile, wage theft and other workplace violations are spiking — and those violations are disproportionately impacting workers of color. 

 

Yet, in the face of these historic challenges, workers are coming together in powerful ways. A coalition of undocumented immigrants and community organizations just won a relief fund for undocumented immigrants. Gig workers in Seattle recently won sick leave and hazard pay ordinances, building momentum in the fight for a permanent pay standard. And Fair Work Center is still providing legal services and offering Know Your Rights workshops, which have shifted to virtual online events in order to reach workers remotely.

 

With Labor Day this week, we celebrate the powerful victories achieved when workers come together. Click on the stories below to learn more about how Fair Work Center is supporting worker organizing during these challenging times:

Washington State creates a relief fund for undocumented immigrant workers

Fair Work Center launches Know Your Rights training series for airport workers 

Gig workers in Seattle win new protections

Washington State is stepping up to provide relief for undocumented workers

 

Para leer esta noticia en español, haga clic aquí.

Congress and the Trump administration have intentionally excluded undocumented immigrants from all federal pandemic support—but Washington state is finally stepping up to provide undocumented workers with financial relief. 

After months of relentless organizing by undocumented workers and a broad coalition of 430 organizations, we’re celebrating a hard-fought win: Governor Inslee just announced $40 million in direct relief for undocumented workers. The newly-created Washington Worker Relief Fund will provide one-time cash assistance of up to $1000/person. With this fund, Washington joins California and Oregon as the only states to provide relief to undocumented workers. 

It’s about time. The Washington Worker Relief Fund will put much-needed money into the hands of thousands of undocumented workers, who haven’t seen any government relief since the pandemic took hold in March. 

Applications for individuals to receive funding are not yet open. There will be a separate sign-up process this fall to apply for funding. The Governor’s office is currently working to identify a community organization that will receive the funds and ensure that the money is equitably distributed to those who need it most. Click here to receive updates about the fund and the application process once it opens.

 

“The least we can do is create this worker relief fund, but it’s not the last thing we should do.” — WA State Senator & Fair Work Center board member Rebecca Saldaña  

 

The fund will provide cash assistance for thousands of immigrant families, but the $40 million commitment isn’t enough to meet the actual need. Washington is home to more than 270,000 undocumented workers, and they’ve been excluded from hundreds of millions of dollars in economic relief during the pandemic so far, including the $1,200 stimulus checks that went out in April and the $600 additional unemployment benefits that most workers received. 

Despite the fact that undocumented workers are overrepresented in the some of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic — like restaurants and hospitality — many are still facing a complete loss of income. Without any income support, many workers are left with no choice but to seek out some kind of work, despite being high-risk themselves or having family members who are high-risk — that’s a problem when it comes to controlling the spread of the virus and protecting the public health. To tackle this public health crisis effectively, all workers must have economic security.  

But at its current size, the Worker Relief Fund simply won’t get emergency relief to everyone who needs it. That’s why, from the start, our coalition has been calling for at least $100 million — and it’s why we’ll continue to fight to make sure the state invests another $60 million into the fund. 

Federal rules continue to bar undocumented workers from accessing unemployment insurance. These new one-time payments aren’t enough for any unemployed worker to weather this massive economic crisis. We need the Governor and the state legislature to step up and create a permanent income support system for undocumented workers.

We’ll be keeping the pressure on our elected officials and continuing to push the state to invest in a strong safety net for everyone, regardless of immigration status: all workers should have economic security, especially during times of crisis.

Supporting workers during this crisis


It’s a time of unparalleled crisis for workers across Washington and across the country. Since the pandemic took hold back in March, Fair Work Center has supported workers organizing for health, safety, and justice. Fruit packing house workers in Yakima are standing up for their health and calling out longstanding abuses in the workplace. Hundreds of thousands of workers in Washington State are unemployed or facing dangerous work conditions, and many are struggling to pay bills and feed their families. Amidst it all, millions of people across the nation are joining in the transformative movement for Black lives, raising their voices in support of a sweeping vision for racial and economic justice.

Read on to learn about the ways that Fair Work Center is supporting workers during this crisis: 


Yakima workers strike for safety and health

“As workers, we all have rights and we should assert our rights, because if we don’t assert them ourselves, the employers aren’t going to respect them…I’ll stay on strike until they give us a good response. I’ll stay here until they tell us that they’ll give us a wage increase, until they say that they won’t retaliate against us, that they won’t humiliate us – all of that.”  

– Striking Yakima worker

“I don’t see how they’re protecting our health. I’m one of the many who was infected with the coronavirus….I let my immediate supervisors know once I knew I was sick with the virus. But they never told any of my coworkers that I was even sick, that they had been exposed.” 

– Striking Yakima worker

 

More than one hundred workers at the Allan Bros fruit packing house walked out on strike in May after 14 co-workers tested positive for COVID-19 and the company didn’t take the appropriate steps to keep people safe. Their call for hazard pay and COVID safety protections quickly spread across the Yakima Valley, with more than 1000 workers joining picket lines at seven different packing houses. 

These workers took action together to address unsafe working conditions and years of abuse. Click to hear from workers in their own words about the dangerous conditions that led them to walk off the job.

A coalition of community organizations – including Familias Unidas, Community to Community Development, Washington State Labor Council, Columbia Legal Services, and Fair Work Center – quickly coalesced to support workers’ calls for a safe and healthy workplace. Fair Work Center supported workers in filing more than 180 health and safety complaints with the Department of Labor & Industries and provided know-your-rights trainings on the strike lines.

It’s been decades since a strike wave like this shook our state. Workers ended their strikes after managers at several warehouses negotiated directly with workers, with many companies promising to improve safety conditions. Unfortunately, many workers aren’t seeing the agreed-upon changes and are facing retaliation from management. That’s why some workers are now organizing to form an independent labor union to permanently increase their power in the workplace, raise pay, and address safety issues in the packing houses.

Fair Work Center is partnering with some of the workers who led the strikes to create a promotora program, which will train workers to facilitate health and safety workshops for their coworkers. This means that more workers will be able to identify violations of their rights, take collective action, and get connected with legal assistance during this time of crisis. 

Know Your Rights during the coronavirus crisis

Workers across Washington are facing severe impacts of the coronavirus crisis: layoffs, hours cut, issues with sick pay and childcare, and hazards on the job. Fair Work Center & Working Washington have created a guide to help you navigate your rights and the benefits you can access.

 The guide includes information about your rights and benefits under pre-existing WA laws, and new rights and benefits that are available due to emergency measures. The page is updated frequently as we learn of new emergency measures and programs.

Visit the page to learn more about your rights during this crisis.

In solidarity with the movement for Black Lives

Our organization stands in solidarity with the movement for Black lives and the powerful protests in Seattle, across Washington, and all across the country. We join the call for dignity and justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, James Scurlock, David McAtee, Charleena Lyles, and the thousands of other Black lives taken by police officers and white supremacist violence. 

We know that there is no worker justice without racial justice. Workers’ rights organizations like ours must prioritize and raise up the issues faced by Black workers in and out of work. Many of our community members are directly impacted by racism and police violence, and our movement must support Black organizers who are on the ground fighting for justice. 

Read our full statement.

Hear from striking Yakima workers

More than one hundred workers at the Allan Bros fruit packing house walked out on strike in May after 14 co-workers tested positive for COVID-19 and the company didn’t take the appropriate steps to keep people safe. Their call for hazard pay and COVID safety protections quickly spread across the Yakima Valley, with more than 1000 workers joining picket lines at seven different packing houses.

Read what two Yakima workers had to say about the dangerous conditions that led them to walk off the job:

 

Angelina

“My coworkers and I went on strike due to the hazards we’re facing at work because of the coronavirus. We have very little safety right now inside the plant. We’re not given the proper equipment to protect ourselves or our families when we go home. 

I don’t see how they’re protecting our health. I’m one of the many who was infected with the coronavirus. Some of my coworkers have two year olds, elderly people they take care of, and I wanted to be considerate of others and protect them as well. I let my immediate supervisors know once I knew I was sick with the virus. But they never told any of my coworkers that I was even sick, that they had been exposed. Nothing whatsoever, even though I gave management permission to use my name so that my coworkers could be made aware of the hazard they were put in.

I have a coworker who was removed from her job area when she complained she was sick. Immediately they put someone else there to continue her  job duties, without disinfecting the area or letting anybody else know that she might have the virus. The company does not pay you when you get sick, therefore there are people that will not report that they’re sick — and will come to work sick — because they know they’re not gonna get paid for the time they miss. 

This is something that we endure every single day. Now that the virus has become hazardous to our health, we don’t get consideration from the company. Not even just to give workers a little heads up if we’ve been exposed, so we can go home and protect our family. We’re expected to just come to work — and if you get sick, you get sick.

When I started here working at Allan Bros. back in October, I was never really trained for the job. They had the understanding that I was just gonna start working and understand the process of how it’s done. 

My job is stressful. Due to the rapid flow of the apples, at times we don’t get breaks to go to the restroom or to drink water, which is really hard on our health. There are people who have fainted while they’re packing because of the rapid work environment. There’s a particular machine that gives us a lot of back-ache and knee pain. This is a machine that’s run at such a fast pace that really it’s not friendly to humans. It’s friendly to productivity. 

They expect you to grab three or four apples at a time. Sometimes, we can’t feel our arms, we can’t feel our fingers, we can’t feel our knees. If you don’t work at this fast pace, they call attention to you. You can get in trouble for not working fast enough. 

We have tried to address these concerns with our supervisors. The machines are causing us long-term injuries, but when we report any injuries, we’re told that it’s arthritis. Some of my coworkers have had injuries for years, because of the rapid workflow that we endure during our ten-hour shifts.

I don’t see how they’re protecting us or our families. We don’t want to fear that our employer is going to retaliate against us because we speak out. When the visitors come in for inspections, they run the machines slower. When they leave, those machines run so fast that the apples go on the floor. 

I am afraid to go back to Allan Brothers. I already got sick once. I don’t see them taking any necessary measures to protect us, and I don’t trust the safety measures they’ve taken so far. I hope that with us speaking up, I hope everybody understands where we’re coming from. It’s not just a money issue. It’s our health. It’s our family. It’s everybody’s well-being, not just ours.”

Felicitas

“I started working for Allan Bros. in 2006, so it’s been about 14 years, each one of them earning minimum pay. I earn $13.50 now. I’ve always earned the minimum wage the entire time I’ve worked here. 

I went on strike because there’s a lot of discrimination at Allan Bros. If we don’t do this, it’ll never stop inside. 

At Allan Brothers, they don’t want employees who have work restrictions. They told me that if you don’t have a paper that documents medical restrictions, they can put you to work where they want. And the instant you bring a note, they’ll send you home. If you’re sent home, they don’t pay you, and people have to pay their bills.

I injured my hip while at work back in May 2018, so I’ve been working injured for the past two years. They make me do all the work as though I’m in good health, even though I told my floor supervisor that I couldn’t complete this work. One time she almost made me cry. I told her that I couldn’t do packing, because it hurts so much to bend and turn. She just told me to “keep packing.” 

This treatment is humiliation. She didn’t care about my situation. This doesn’t seem like fair treatment to me. It’s painful for me to work the bag machines. You have to quickly grab five bags, and keep turning and turning, which causes me even more pain. I push through the pain with pills and everything, but I have to continue working like this because it’s a necessity. 

I don’t think that Allan Bros. has given supervisors training in how to treat other people. They need to give the floor supervisors classes in how to treat employees with respect. I think they should be taught how to ask, “Would you help me, please?” They don’t do that.

As workers, we all have rights and we should assert our rights, because if we don’t assert them ourselves, the employers aren’t going to respect them. We have to do it ourselves. 

For me, I’ll stay on strike until they give us a good response. I’ll stay here until they tell us that they’ll give us a wage increase, until they say that they won’t retaliate against us, that they won’t humiliate us — all of that. And until there’s better safety measures. Everything they now have inside the plant, in terms of safety, they have because of all of us who went on strike. There weren’t masks, they didn’t have any kind of protection. The workers inside are already benefiting from the things that we’ve done.”

In solidarity with the movement for Black lives

Dear Working Washington / Fair Work Center community:

Our organization stands in solidarity with the movement for Black lives and the powerful protests in Seattle, across Washington, and all across this country. We join the call for dignity and justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, James Scurlock, David McAtee, Charleena Lyles, and the thousands of other Black lives taken by police officers and white supremacist violence.

We condemn Seattle’s dangerous response to these ongoing protests, including the Seattle Police Department’s use of violent crowd control tactics to silence the voices of Black organizers and allies. Police have used tear gas, flash-bangs, pepper spray, and rubber bullets on protestors without provocation. We call on Mayor Durkan to halt police escalation and to stop imposing curfews that discourage protesting and result in violence and mass arrests. We also call on all Washington leaders to stop using these tactics in communities throughout the state.

We know that there is no worker justice without racial justice. Workers’ rights organizations like ours must prioritize and raise up the issues faced by Black workers in and out of work. Many of our community members are directly impacted by racism and police violence, and our movement must support Black organizers who are on the ground fighting for justice.

Therefore, in the coming weeks we will amplify and support Black-led organizations that hold the police accountable, fight against racist violence, and lift up communities. We also commit to being a resource for Black workers and organizations. Black people are systemically denied access to jobs, disproportionately work in industries excluded from basic labor standards, and are experiencing disproportionate levels of unemployment in the current economic crisis.

And we join the call to defund police. In this moment and  this economic crisis, we see a moral imperative to invest more in our communities and spend less on policing and violence.

One concrete, immediate way to show your support: consider making a contribution to the Northwest Community Bail Fund or the Black Lives Matter Seattle Bail Fund.

 

In Solidarity,

Rachel Lauter, Executive Director
Working Washington / Fair Work Center

 

This statement was originally published June 3, 2020 on the Working Washington website.

Landmark ruling affirms protections for LGBTQ workers nationwide

It’s now official: across the country, it is illegal for your employer to fire you or otherwise discriminate against you based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. That’s because of a ruling last month by the US Supreme Court, a landmark civil rights victory that will protect millions of workers across the United States from unlawful discrimination. 

With federal anti-discrimination laws in the news, it’s a good time to get familiar with Washington State’s anti-discrimination laws. Thankfully, LGBTQ workers in our state have been protected from discrimination at work since Washington’s own landmark legislation in 2006. And, in fact, our state law goes further than federal law in protecting LBGTQ rights in other areas of life, too. 

LGBTQ workers are protected from employment discrimination. Your employer cannot discriminate against you based on your sexual orientation or gender identity. This covers all aspects of your employment, such as in applying and interviewing, hiring and firing, discipline, promotion, layoffs, and work environment.

State law also protects your right to stand up for your rights on the job. That means your boss can’t retaliate against you when you raise concerns about discrimination you’re experiencing at work. 

In addition to protections from employment discrimination, LGBTQ people in Washington also have the right to be free from discrimination in other key aspects of life:

  • Housing: Landlords can’t refuse to rent to you or lie to you about the availability of a rental property because of your gender identity or sexual orientation. 
  • Public accommodation: You can’t be refused entry, participation, or service in places that provide goods and services to the public – that means places like restaurants, theaters, hotels, hospitals, libraries, gas stations, retail stores, and more. 
  • Credit and Insurance: You can’t be refused credit or insurance services because of your LGBTQ identity.

If you are being discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, we encourage you to reach out to Q Law or the Lavender Rights Project. Our legal clinic would normally be a resource as well for employment-based discrimination you may be experiencing, but we are currently closed to new cases as we manage a large volume of other cases.

COVID-19 Resources for Workers

Workers across WA are facing severe impacts of the coronavirus crisis: layoffs, hours cuts, issues with sick pay and childcare, and hazards on the job. Follow the link below to a guide we created to help you navigate what kinds of rights & benefits you can access.

This list includes your rights & benefits under pre-existing WA laws, and new rights & benefits that are available due to emergency measures. (New measures are being passed frequently — we’ll update the page frequently.)

IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR RIGHTS & OPTIONS:

💻 EMAIL CORONAVIRUSINFO@WORKINGWA.ORG
📱 CALL 844-485-1195
⚠️ SIGN UP FOR WA WORKER ALERTS FOR UPDATES

Honoring Omar & the 76 workers who died on the job last year

Employers are failing in their responsibility to provide safe workplaces, especially in the agricultural industry. Last year, 76 workers across the state died on the job from traumatic health and safety incidents. One of those workers was Omar Gomez Lopez, a hop picker from Central Washington who was killed in a tragic equipment malfunction.

Last month, Fair Work Center and Working Washington hosted the inaugural Omar Gomez Lopez Farmworker Rights Training and vigil in Grandview. Friends and family members of Omar’s were in attendance, as well as dozens of agricultural workers. Omar’s wife Rebecca said, “My heart is broken because there’s kids with no dad or no mom out there — and this continues to happen. At the training, I was so happy because I saw a lot of workers there learning what their rights are and what’s out there for them, and it made my heart at peace for a while.”

In the wake of Omar’s death, Rebecca has decided to take action to improve workplace safety.

She invited family and friends & helped lead the training we held in Grandview. She’s been reaching out to community members to teach them about their rights, and has returned to school to study translation because she wants to make sure workers can learn about their rights in Spanish.

As Rebecca put it: “The training was the best thing that could have come out of Omar’s death. We brought the knowledge people needed, and let them know that they’re not alone and don’t need to be afraid.”

Everyone can help make our communities and our workplaces safer. Fair Work Center and Working Washington are holding regular trainings for farmworkers in central Washington. 

And over November 2-3, we’ll be hosting a vigil in honor of Omar and those 76 workers who died at the 2019 Día de Muertos Festival. Día de Muertos – or the Day of the Dead in English –  is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Mexico, in particular, the Central and South regions, and by people of Mexican heritage elsewhere. Día de Muertos celebrates the lives of those who passed with food, parties, and activities the dead enjoyed in life, and it is said that their spirits are awoken by the revelry and partake in the celebration.

We think it is a fitting way to honor the life of Omar and so many other immigrant farmworkers killed or injured on the job. Seattle’s festival is held at the Seattle Center Armory and runs all weekend. We hope you’ll attend to pay your respects, honor, and celebrate the life of Omar and others who needlessly died on the job.

September 23 is Nanny Day in Seattle!

Today, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council, led by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, proclaimed September 23, 2019 to be Seattle Nanny Day. The proclamation comes as a part of National Nanny Recognition Week, a national effort to lift up and honor the work of nannies of the homes of millions of families across the country. While Seattle recently adopted a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, providing minimum wage and other basic standards to domestic workers in our city, most domestic workers around the country are excluded from federal labor standards.

“Thank you very much for giving nannies the recognition that our hard work deserves,” said Sandra Holten, nanny and member of the Seattle Nanny Collective. “Of course, we are proud to lead the way here in Seattle, but we ask you to join us to fight for the rights of domestic workers throughout the country.”

 

More than 2.5 million domestic workers across the country provide care to our children, our elders, our homes, and more. And yet nannies, housecleaners, and home care workers lack any protections under federal labor laws. So, in addition to recognizing and praising the work of nannies in Seattle, the Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation also calls for the passage of Congresswoman Jayapal’s Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act. This bill would ensure nannies and domestic workers around United States have the same protections and standards as those here in Seattle.

Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda presenting the Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation to members of the Seattle Nanny Collective.

 

City of Seattle Nanny Day Proclamation

How much is the rest of your time worth?

Washington is boldly proposing to restore overtime protections to hundreds of thousands of salaried workers across the state. This could well be the biggest advancement in standards for workers since raising the minimum wage and providing paid sick leave through Initiative 1433. 

Caregiver from Richland, WA testifying in favor of restoring OT

This week, the Washington Department of Labor & Industries held public hearings in Ellensburg, Tri-Cities, and Spokane, to hear from people around the state what restoring overtime pay would mean to them. Working Washington and Fair Work Center were represented in each of these hearings to support the proposal to bring back time and a half pay to salaried workers.

There hearing from workers like Lauren, E., and Alec, who shared their overtime stories with L&I and Working Washington.

Lauren

Lauren is a volunteer coordinator at a nonprofit organization. “I didn’t have the option to miss an event if I was sick. We only had a staff of 2-3 people, some of whom were often working other events, so they wouldn’t have been able to cover for me. We had volunteers to help with the events, but our volunteers weren’t able to run events on their own. If I was responsible for the event, I had to be there. Taking on so much just wasn’t sustainable for the staff. I wanted to do well in my new job, be seen as a positive and flexible coworker, and learn new skills like managing volunteers and public speaking, so I was enthusiastic at first about working overtime and taking on so much. Just coming out of college I was used to spending a lot of time studying, so it didn’t occur to me, at least not right away, that I was sacrificing my health for my job.”

E. is a chef working for a catering company. They said: “My salary is $56K, and I’m not paid for overtime. Typically, I work a minimum of 50 hours a week, but over the last six months, I’ve been working 60-65 hours a week. Right now, the more I work, the less I make per hour. I make less money per hour than I did when I was an hourly worker, and that’s really depressing.”

Alec is a manager working in retail. He said: “My partner and I both work in customer service/retail. Every holiday season, I watch as my partner is expected to work up to 90 hours a week, getting paid only cents on the hour after he hits overtime. For every hour my partner works over 40, his hourly take home pay drops. Businesses are more than aware of their ability to take advantage of salaried employees below the overtime threshold and they do so — this is reprehensible and the state must put an end to it.”  

If you are an hourly worker, you should already be getting overtime when you work more than 40 hours in a week. (If you’re not getting overtime pay and you think you should be, contact us!) But almost no salaried workers in Washington qualify for overtime pay, because the overtime rules are so far out of date. By raising the salary threshold for overtime exemption to 2.5x the minimum wage, the proposal would restore overtime to more than 250,000 workers across the state, regardless of whether they’re classified salaried or hourly, and no matter what their job title is. It is critical the state hears from workers and supporters of the proposal because it is being met with fierce opposition from business and employer groups. Add your voice to Lauren’s, Alec’s, Chris’s, and thousands of others in calling for the state to restore overtime to salaried workers. Because our time counts.