Holiday shopping season kicks off with temp workers who have no rights

Amazon’s recruitment of 80,000 temporary workers is a symptom of America’s culture of the low-paid seasonal worker. As Americans prepare for holiday shopping, hundreds of thousands of temporary workers around the country are counting on two months of long hours and few rights in warehouses or checkout lines, in what has become the norm for seasonal workers in the country. 

Workers at Amazon have 10-12 hour shifts, which keep them on their feet and walking 5-10 miles a day with two timed 15-minute breaks besides a 30-minute lunch break. While staffing agency advertisements promise “up to $14 an hour”, Amazon pays its workers an average rate of $11 an hour. Workers also have to spend nearly 30 minutes every day queueing for the post-shift security check, in place to ensure no items from Amazon’s inventory have been stolen. Amazon does not pay employees for this time.

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon pays $9 to $14 an hour for services that are a little more strenuous than pictured here. Photograph: Rex Rystedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

Jeff Bezos’ Amazon pays $9 to $14 an hour for services that are a little more strenuous than pictured here. Photograph: Rex Rystedt/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

The US has developed an environment where workers can’t expect many protections, says labour economist Mark Price. He says the current situation has been 30 years in the making. The rights of workers are not high priority when the labor market freely offers surplus temps. Seasonal workers are considered dispensable and replaceable. But Price points that the problem may be larger. 

“It’s part of American culture,” concedes Price disappointedly, referring to generations of managers taught to disregard the needs of individual workers, temporary or full-time.

Read more from The Guardian here

Low-Wage Workers Demand $15 Wage in Several Protests

Last Thursday, protestors “took to the streets in New York, Washington and Phoenix to draw attention to their campaign to change labor practices in retailing and other low-wage industries like fast-food restaurants. By not paying their workers a living wage, the activists say, such businesses squeeze the very people they hope to sell to.

“I can’t afford anything,” said LaRanda Jackson, 20, who earns $8.75 an hour working on the sales floor at a Walmart in Cincinnati. “Sometimes I can’t afford soap, toothpaste, tissue. Sometimes I have to go without washing my clothes.”

Fourteen Walmart employees and 12 others were arrested and charged with civil disobedience Thursday. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Fourteen Walmart employees and 12 others were arrested and charged with civil disobedience Thursday. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

“Ms. Jackson was among 14 Walmart employees and 12 others who were arrested and charged with civil disobedience Thursday after staging a protest outside the Manhattan residence of Alice Walton, an heir to the Walmart fortune, demanding that Walmart set a base pay of $15 for all its workers — much like the demands of the fast-growing movement of fast-food workers.” Read more by Hiroko Tabuchi and Steven Greenhouse of the NY Times here.

Tipped subminimum wage leads to more sexual harassment

“Workers who rely on tips to make a living experience twice as much sexual harassment as those earning minimum wage. Laws that allow employers to pay tipped workers below the minimum wage lead to increased sexual harassment in the workplace, according to a new report, which shows that female restaurant workers who virtually live off tips are in a ‘uniquely vulnerable position.’

Help Wanted: Sexual Harassment and the Restaurant Industry

Help Wanted: Sexual Harassment and the Restaurant Industry 

Glass floor, a term coined by ROC (Restaurant Opportunities Commission), refers to a system that exacerbates the already poor job security of low-wage workers by layering on a sexualized atmosphere. If workers feel expendable at their workplace, they are more likely to ignore sexual harassment, the report said. Researchers found that tipped workers in states where subminimum wage is permissible are three times as likely to be told to wear sexier or more revealing clothing than those where such payment practices are barred. The United States is the only industrialized democracy that has a two-tiered minimum wage.” Read more here.  

Jimmy John’s asks low-wage workers to sign non-compete clauses

Jimmy John’s employment agreement includes a surprisingly strict “non-competition” clause that requires workers not to work at one of the sandwich chain’s competitors for a period of two years following employment at Jimmy John’s — But the company’s definition of a “competitor” encompasses any business that’s near a Jimmy John’s location and that derives a mere 10 percent of its revenue from sandwiches. 

If you're considering working at a Jimmy John's sandwich shop, you may want to read the fine print on your job application.

If you’re considering working at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop, you may want to read the fine print on your job application.

The noncompete agreement is now part of a proposed class-action lawsuit filed this summer against Jimmy John’s by workers accusing the company of wage theft by forcing employees to work off the clock. Read more about the case here

Wage Theft Costing Low-Income Workers Billions

“Nearly $1 billion was recovered in 2012 by lawyers or regulatory agencies acting on behalf of workers who were paid below minimum wage, not paid for overtime or other wage and hour violations, according to a first-time analysis conducted by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. And the problem is growing, EPI analysts say.


Even with these efforts by lawmakers and labor groups, “I think wage theft is increasing,” said Ross Eisenbrey, vice president at EPI and one of the authors of the new study. “There really is not much state local or federal enforcement going on, particularly in the low-wage industries where you’re not going to get attorneys to bring those cases.”

“The money recovered is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Tsedeye Gebreselassie, a senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project. The EPI report says if the 2009 study were extrapolated to the entire country’s low-wage labor market, wage theft could cost workers more than $50 billion every year.

Read more from NBC News here

America Has More Low-Paying Jobs Than Any Other Developed Country

“The U.S. has more low-paying jobs than any other country in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an economic group of 34 developed countries, according to a research note released by Morgan Stanley on Monday. The OECD defines “low-paying” as jobs that earn less than two-thirds of a country’s median income. On average, around 16 percent of jobs in OECD countries are considered low-paying. In the U.S., over 25 percent of all jobs qualify as such.”

Source: OECD Employment Outlook 2013, Morgan Stanley Reports

“The ranking reflects America’s problem with income equality. Even though the U.S. has one of the highest household median incomes in the world (about $44,000 compared to roughly $10,000 worldwide), there’s a wide gulf between those making much more than the median income and those making much less. According to the Morgan Stanley economists, income inequality is stifling U.S. economic growth because low-income Americans aren’t able to spend enough to boost the greater economy.” Read more here or here.

The Fortune 500 can easily afford to give low-wage workers a healthy raise

If you went to your child’s nursery school and saw one toddler with 300 toys while most—including your own—only had one or two to play with, what would you think?

hoarding toys (image credit:

hoarding toys (image credit:

“This ugly picture is an apt metaphor for the pay practices at many of the largest U.S. companies today. While low-wage earners suffer most, there’s growing evidence that low pay harms almost everyone, hurts corporate profits over the long term, and stifles economic growth. But could U.S. companies afford to pay more – could they invest dollars in workers today — in order to reap longer term gains?

“A look at Fortune 500 data suggests that the largest U.S. corporations could improve the economy, their bottom lines, and the lot of millions of workers by increasing the wages they pay their employees… Nearly 85% of Fortune 500 companies with positive income could have paid every single worker $10,400 more and still finished 2013 in the black.”

Read more from the Fortune Magazine here



N.J. woman with three jobs eulogized as face of low-wage worker

“A New Jersey woman died earlier this week trying to catch a few hours of sleep between jobs, a chilling reminder of the struggle low-wage workers, particularly women, face making ends meet. Fernandes worked at multiple Dunkin’ Donuts locations. Dunkin’ Donuts confirmed that the outlets where she worked were owned by different franchisees and that the different owners didn’t know she was working at multiple restaurants. Fernandes worked as little as 10 hours a week at one franchise and as many as 40 hours a week at another.” With a minimum wage of $8.25/hour in New Jersey, full time work at 40 hours a week would gross an employee $330. 

“It is a very sad story and really tragic, and it shines a light on what is a real problem, particularly for low-wage workers, today,” said Elizabeth Watson, senior counsel and director of workplace justice for women at the National Women’s Law Center.


“Fernandes, 32, died while napping in a parking lot in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on Aug. 25. She was apparently overcome by fumes from a gas can she kept in her car to be sure she wouldn’t run out of fuel on her way to her part-time shifts at Dunkin’ Donuts stores in three different New Jersey towns.”

Read more about this story and why American women make up a large percentage of the U.S. low-wage and part-time workforce here or here

Updates to OSHA’s Recordkeeping Rule

The federal government is tightening rules on the reporting of workplace deaths and severe injuries. Establishments located in States under the Federal Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) jurisdiction must begin to comply with the new requirements on January 1, 2015, reporting any fatalities within eight hours of the accident or incident. Also, all work-related in-patient hospitalizations, amputations and loss of an eye must be reported within 24 hours to OSHA.

Previously, OSHA’s regulations required such reports to be filed only if three or more workers were killed or hospitalized while on the job. The agency said no company will be exempt, no matter how small.

“We can and must do more to keep America’s workers safe and healthy,” Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said in a statement. “Workplace injuries and fatalities are absolutely preventable, and these new requirements will help OSHA focus its resources and hold employers accountable for preventing them.”

Read the full updates here.

Being a True New Orleanian

Workplace Justice Project volunteer Karla Rosas writes an Op Ed for The Maroon about what it means to live in a community and truly be a part of it: “When we claim a place as our home, we have to be prepared to actively love and nurture it. When we claim something as part of who we are, we have to acknowledge that any flaws in it are a reflection of our shortcomings as well.” Read the full piece here