Praxis - Metro Justice

If You Get Memorial Day Off, You're Lucky

4570117128_5c8be7a130_z.jpgMemorial Day has come and gone, but many are spending the week honoring those who have given their lives in service. Some of them are reminding us the holiday is about more than barbecues and the first beach trip of the season, while others want to open the dialogue on the ideas of war, peace, and the human cost. We also see Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer, and vacation season.

The majority of workers in America do not get Memorial Day off. Those in retail or food service are working the big sales, or selling supplies for backyard barbecues. For those who do have the day off, only the lucky ones get Memorial Day as a paid holiday. There are no laws calling for paid national holidays, or any holidays for that matter. In many cases it's also up to the employer whether or not those working a holiday get the customary time and a half pay rate. The lack of laws sanctioning paid vacations and holidays are yet another thing setting us behind compared to the rest of the world. Bryve Covert's article for ThinkProgress gives some stats on who is and isn't getting holiday and vacation time, and the benefits of giving employees paid time off.

With the kickoff of vacation season, let's remember that being able to take time off with no worries over workload has become an economic privilege. Many of us who have vacation time feel like there's just too much work to take care of, while others don't get vacation pay at all and work year round. This is why we fight for workers' rights, everyone deserves time off, and everyone deserves to enjoy a holiday with their friends and family.

(Photo Credit: Steven Depolo, Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.)

 On Monday, Americans celebrate Memorial Day and many have the day off to be with family, go to the beach, watch a baseball game, and barbecue in the backyard. But the ability to take a break from work is a privilege that not everyone enjoys.

There is no law guaranteeing that workers get paid holidays in the United States. That makes it stand out from 13 developed peer countries that do require companies to offer at least some paid holidays, ranging from one day in France to 13 in Austria and Portugal. But in all other developed peers, workers can at least be assured that they will get paid vacation days that they could use to take a holiday if they wanted. Again, the United States fails to guarantee that benefit as well.

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Trying to Survive in a Broken Economy (Confessions of a McDonald's Employee)

1908179_1054972917851071_582056665316687570_n.jpgMany working adults work minimum-wage fast food jobs, because they have little choice. This includes people of all education levels, as well as people who in the past have owned successful businesses that fell victim to 2008's recession. Below is one story, shared by John D'Amanda from Common Dreams, originally published on Talk 

John's story is a common one. He owns a small business that fell on hard times. With the loss of income, he lost his apartment, his car, and eventually found work at McDonald's.  A lot of people working these jobs are a lot like John. They're outside the stereotype of the high school or college student working for spending money. Many of them are people who in the past had successful careers that were cut down by budget cuts and customer losses. 

It's for people like John that we fight to bring a $15 minimum wage and union to New York State. Nobody should have to worry about whether or not they can make rent or pay all their bills. Everyone should have the right to access needed medical care, which also promotes a healthy workforce. Everyone should be able to have food security. 

Please, help us in the fight to bring a $15 minimum wage to New York. Recognize that circumstances play a factor in people's options.  

(Photo: Metro Justice Facebook from the International Day of Action)

My name is John D’Amanda, and I have been a loyal employee at a McDonald’s in Oakland, California for five years. Prior to working in fast food, I was a small business owner like millions of Americans. I made good money washing windows for houses, stores, malls, and contractors in the San Francisco/Alameda/Contra Costa counties area. But when the economy tanked, my business went with it as people tightened their belts and stopped hiring window washers. I lost many customers, struggled to pay my bills, and was eventually evicted from my apartment. I even lost the car that enabled me to travel to my jobs and couldn’t afford to buy another car. I came close to being out on the street.

I continued to work throughout my struggles. Like many others in the new economy, I went from owning my own business to a low-wage, part-time job in the fast food industry. And, even though I found work at McDonald’s, my wages were not enough to rent an apartment of my own, pay medical bills, or buy a car. Fast forward five years and I still experience unpredictable hours, and I am rarely scheduled for even 25 hours a week.

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President Obama is the One Who is Wrong About Fast Track and the TPP

10734398214_1e63409127_z.jpgMany of us agree that free trade agreements are bad news. Jobs are shipped overseas where labor is cheaper, increasing poverty for both us and whichever country the labor has been offshored to. Environmental protections and workers' rights are eroded to accommodate the needs of whatever multinational corporate entity benefits from the agreement. These agreements essentially only benefit major companies, and any commodity based benefits we reap (such as cheaper products) are at the expense of someone else. Free trade agreements promote exploitation.

President Obama has been a major cheerleader of the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a major NAFTA-esque free trade agreement that has been drafted up completely in secret. He has shot down major critics, including several other democrats, in favor of this bill. Despite what progress he has made, his defense of such a damaging bill paints him as a corporate tool. 

In a blog post for The Nation, John Nichols discusses both the dangers of the TPP as stated by opponents well-aware of the problems created by past free trade agreements, and how Obama should take the time to listen to the bill's critics. History has stated these bills create more economic turmoil than they resolve.  Let's not forget that it will likely give corporations power to override a country's laws if they want to take legal action against somebody. Corporations will literally be above the law. 

Rochester should be worried, as a former boomtown coming back from the brink the TPP could potentially undo what steps we are making to recover our economy. Those manufacturing jobs that are returning could potentially be shipped to China and other places to save money. In turn, the poverty we are currently facing will only get worse. Opposing the Trans Pacific Partnership is fighting for economic justice.

(Image credit: DonkeyHotey, used under Creative Commons License)

 President Obama takes it personally when Americans disagree with his free-trade fundamentalism. He keeps griping about the activists who usually support his agenda but arepassionately opposed to his request for “Fast Track” authority to bypass congressional input and oversight on a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. And the president is even more upset that Democratic members of Congress are, for the most part, aligning with the activists rather than the White House.

“There have been a bunch of critics about trade deals generally and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he told the crowd that was assembled last week for his appearance at the corporate headquarters of Nike, a U.S.-based firm that (with its contractors) now employs roughly 40 overseas workers for every one American.

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Class Warfare in Baltimore

16695311524_061cbe99c0_z.jpg "A riot is the language of the unheard" Martin Luther King Jr.

Last weeks protests in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the Baltimore Police Department turned violent, re-igniting the debate over the politics of riots. On one side we had people who argued that violence solves nothing and that if people "acted peaceful and well-mannered" they would be listened to. On the other side, the violence is the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. 

Chuck Epstein's article in Counter Punch is a reminder that every major social movement has had violence, it's inevitable in cases of class warfare. The degree of violence varies depending on the level of tension. In the case of Baltimore, we have a city with a high rate of racial and economic disparity that turned it into a hotbed of tension. The other thing we need to remember is that violence will continue, and likely be more prevalent if major issues remain unaddressed by people with the power to change. 

The other major movement happening now is Fight for 15, aiming for higher wages and unionization of minimum wage jobs. Racial and economic justice issues intersect, as blacks and latinos are more likely to be working minimum wage. Black neighborhoods have higher rates of poverty, and the policing of those neighborhoods is stricter than police presence in white neighborhoods. Cities like Baltimore and Ferguson have had problems with both for decades leading up to the #blacklivesmatter movement. 

Rochester has its own race and economic issues. Racial disparity in arrests is high, in some parts of the city they are higher than the disparity in Ferguson. We have organizations working to break the school to prison pipeline by reforming the RCSD's discipline policies, which in turn would raise graduation rates. We are also, still, one of the poorest cities in the country. 

If we truly want to address violence in social movements, we need to first address the history of social movements themselves and acknowledge that violence is inevitable. Then we can mitigate the risk of violence through those in power acknowledging and addressing the problems the oppressed face. 

(Photo credit: Fibonacci Blue, licensed under Creative Commons.) 

Media coverage of the events unfolding in Baltimore connected with the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black , carry a familiar theme: protestors gather to demonstrate their anger at the unprovoked death of another black man, while some become violent and torch and loot some business establishments. In turn, the media unequivocally condemns the violence, degrades those causing the violence and appeals for peace even as the police presence increases to near para-military levels in an attempt to restore the status quo.

What’s missing from these media descriptions is any historical perspective about the role of violence and how it invariably focuses more attention on the social-political-economic rather than detracts from them. In many media commentaries, the refrain is that violence serves no purpose, but the fact that their coverage intensifies when there is violence negates the media’s collective statement.

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Why Saying "Just Get a Better Job" to Fast Food Workers is Ridiculous

pinata.jpg"Just get a better job" is a popular shutdown from opponents of the Fight for $15 movement. Like fast food workers can just walk out of their current jobs, and into something better, problem solved. Unfortunately, reality doesn't work that way. Poverty wages make higher education a challenge, especially with skyrocketing tuition. The job market is highly competitive and "professional" jobs are a different organism in terms of the hiring process than "service" jobs in some cases.

We also have a need for workers in service jobs. For many, fast food is quick and convenient if you're short on time. Big box retail offers a number of items people need for their homes and have grown into these one-stop shops. How many of us go grocery shopping? How many of us fill up at the local gas station and grab a cup of coffee on the way to work? How many of us have a family member who is assisted by a nursing home or home health aide? These jobs play crucial roles in our society. Plus, some people genuinely enjoy working these jobs. Why should we punish these people for jobs that have an impact on everyone's life? 

Bottom line is that our society needs to better respect service workers. While we see them as on the bottom of they employment totem pole, without them our lives would be much more challenging. It's time we see service workers as people who should be treated with dignity, and not just people working "jobs fit for teenagers", "dropouts in life" or any other disparaging term that sees their work as less than any other job. 

Did you attend last week's Fight for 15 rally? Plan on attending future events? 

LOS ANGELES - Thousands participated in a nationwide strike against low and unlivable wages on Wednesday. The rallies, organized by Fight for $15, advocated for a $15 per hour minimum wage. Fast food workers, educators, minimum wage earners of various trades, and supporters of the minimum wage increase banded together to speak out against a major hurdle keeping low-income individuals from leading more prosperous lives.

ATTN: visited the Los Angeles rally, which started right outside a University Park McDonald's location and ended with a march over to the University of Southern California campus a few blocks away. The gathering, which drew more than 1,000 spirited, chanting people and closed down several streets, prompted the aforementioned McDonald's to lock its doors before the official 11 AM rally start time.

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People on Food Stamps Make Healthier Grocery Decisions Than Most of Us

15313081225_9980d78f01_z.jpgOne of the most common misconceptions about people on food benefits is that they'll immediately blow their food budget on snacks. In truth it's much more complicated, and a bit less nihilistic, than that as illustrated in Tom Philpott's article for Mother Jones. According to Philpott, we have to account for shrinking benefits, food deserts, as well as pilot programs that stretch SNAP dollars when produce is purchased. If anything it's been shown that when given the opportunity people on SNAP will choose healthier foods.

One of the biggest challenges is the constant threat to further slash food benefits, leaving the efforts to prevent food insecurity further in the hands of food cupboards. Much of this is driven by the "boot strap" attitude that has become popular within much of our federal government, who feels that tightening benefits will be the incentive to get people motivated to pull themselves out of poverty. Such a thought is unrealistic balderdash when you count in the number of low wage employees on food stamps, and the scarcity of living wage jobs for the average worker. Look no further than the nation-wide Fight For $15 movement and its demands for both a $15 an hour minimum wage, and unionization for fast food and other service workers.

As one of the poorest cities in the country, Rochester, and Monroe County, have a bustling social services department with two constantly packed offices. A little over half the children in the city live below the poverty line, many within food deserts, areas with no large grocery store in the neighborhood. We need to step up and protect our society's most vulnerable citizens. Examples would be getting involved to change and protect food policies. Or you can help us in the fight to raise the wage. In what ways do you plan to help ensure food security for Rochester's citizens? 

(Photo Credit: Dean Hochman, licensed under Creative Commons

 The Dollar General in Austin's gritty northeast—the neighborhood where I grew up—is a squat, warehouselike structure about twice the size of a suburban convenience store. Amid the dull flicker of fluorescent lights and the grinding hum of a compressor struggling to power a long freezer case, I'm in search of affordable and nutritious food with Melissa Helber, social-services outreach supervisor of a local food bank. The pickings are slim: We wander past two-liter jugs of Dr Pepper at the incredible price of four for $5; value-size boxes of Chocolate Lucky Charms cereal, $3.50; a wall of bagged candy, $1 each. Helber says the prices are why many of her clients shop here: The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, is stingy (about $11 a day for a family of three around here), but it's relatively open on how recipients spend their benefits. It bans alcohol and "hot food"—say, a rotisserie chicken—but almost everything you could find in Dollar General's grocery section, from sodas to M&M's, is fair game.

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Report: US Taxpayers Bear "Hidden Cost" of Poverty Wages

13077_1040963985918631_7949548391515725680_n.jpgIf we need another reminder after yesterday's rally as to why raising the wage matters, here it is. Common jokes regarding people on pubic assistance are "your tax dollars at work!" or "work harder, millions on welfare depend on you!". It's true, a portion of our tax dollars do go to supporting people on public assistance. It's also true that many people on public assistance are working, and those who are not are unable to work due to reasons that limit their personal capability, like health. Mind you in the grand scheme, 153 billion is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of tax money going to our military, or the real welfare cheats, mega corporations.

An easy way to get millions off public assistance would be to hold big companies accountable for cuts in pay and benefits. Lauren McCauley's article for Common Dreams gives a breakdown on the recent report The High Public Cost of Low Wages, which examines just how many people at work rely on public assistance to cover what their paycheck won't. 

It's important that we keep fighting for the rights of minimum wage workers. As seen with last week's article, the more we push, the more progress moves forward. This is why Fight for 15 is a strong movement. Did you attend yesterday's rally? What are your thoughts?  

Stagnant wages and declining employer-provided benefits mean that low-wage workers in the United States are increasingly reliant on federal and state-run public assistance programs.

In fact, U.S. taxpayers pay roughly $153 billion each year to supplement employers who refuse to pay a livable wage, according to report published Monday by the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Labor.

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Our Corporate Saviors

10407459_1042747382406958_3236058092833669350_n.jpgBig companies pushing for social change? It sounds too good to be true! Actually, it is. For many companies raising wages or standing against proposed discriminatory laws are just PR moves. 

The real root of these miniscule changes are social movements pressuring for these changes. The louder these movements are, the more companies fear a loss in profit due to loss in customers via vocal or silent boycott. Standing for LGBT rights, or wage movements is a way to appease their consumer base. While this may work for some, not all of us are even close to appeased and demand companies do better. Most recently, we held protests a week ago telling McDonald's that the $1 an hour raise for a small number of employees is not enough, they can do better!

Robert Kuttner's article "Our Corporate Saviors", published on both The Progressive and Huffington Post reminds us that social movements are the real drivers of change. If we are to thank anyone for the changes corporations make, it should be those active in social movements. In fact, we invite you to be an active participant. 

Come join us on April 15th for the upcoming Fight for 15 rally. We'll be meeting at the U of R in the Eastman Quad at 5 to demand $15 an hour minimum wage and unionization for fast food workers. The more we push, the more we can make change! 

 What are we to make of the fact that some big corporations are turning out to be the relative good guys, on issues as varied as same-sex marriage, the environment and even (to a limited extent) workers' wages? Last week, the governors of Indiana and Arkansas were forced to back down and dilute bogus "religious freedom" laws intended to shelter discrimination against gays and lesbians, in large part because their corporate bigwigs told them to stop embarrassing the state and scaring off business.

In Indiana, these included the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, the Indiana Pacers, and even the Indy 500. In Arkansas, the pressure came from, among others, (shudder) Walmart, whose executives urged the hapless governor, Asa Hutchinson, to veto the bill.

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Students and Parents Rally Against Cuomo's Billionaire-Backed Education Scheme

13767952255_370d6e69c2_z.jpgMany of you received calls from Metro Justice on Monday urging you to call your State Senator to voice concerns about what Cuomo's budget plans are for education.  The biggest fear, that New York State's plans for interventions at failing schools will close those schools down and replace them with privatized institutions like charter schools. 

Many of us in Rochester can attribute the struggle of our schools to a mix of severe poverty and a system that teaches high-stakes tests over pursuing a worthwhile education. Rochester City Schools is the poorest school district in the state, and while many dedicated educators work hard to provide for their students, that dedication can only go so far. Supply budgets run short, some teachers even take to paying for supplies and resources for students out of their own pockets. Teaching tests takes away time that can be spent on helping struggling students keep up with their peers. Now consider the sizable refugee population, where these burdens are doubled for some between keeping up with Common Core state standards while learning English as a second language. 

Lauren McCauley's article for Common Dreams covers recent protests against Cuomo's budget plans for education. It's a reminder that Cuomo is a politician who shamelessly sides with hedge fund managers with investments in things like the charter school industry. It's a reminder that he doesn't really care about his average citizen, preferring to favor the 1% and their agenda. It's a sign that we need sweeping reforms in education to place the value back on learning.

Did you call your Senator on Monday? Know any alternatives that can help local schools that don't involve state government intervention?

(Image credit: Jkrincon on Flickr from 2014 State Budget protests. Licensed under Creative Commons)

 Parents, teachers, and students from across the state flooded the streets of Manhattan on Saturday to call out Governor Andrew Cuomo for selling out the public school system.

"Wall Street got a bailout. Public schools were sold out," was the message as protesters rallied, surrounded by NYPD barricades, outside Cuomo's 3rd Avenue office building. The group is calling on the state government to fully fund public schools, limit high-stakes testing, support struggling schools, fairly evaluate teachers, and stop the expansion of charter schools.

Organized by a coalition of groups, the demonstration included former progressive gubernatorial candidate Zephyr Teachout, as well as other members of the Hedge Clippers—a recently founded campaign, backed by Teachout, as well as the American Federation of Teachers, and other prominent labor and community groups.

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How Privatization Degrades Our Daily Lives

5301111105_db5a9b05b2_z.jpgThere is a lot of talk in government on whether or not essential services should be privatized. Everything from healthcare to Social Security, to whether or not we can save our postal system through privatization. Private, for-profit versions of already existing public services have already stepped in to take off some of the load our public systems carry, or are they just making their own loads? 

You see, privatized systems are seen as businesses, which means their purpose is to turn a profit. For private prisons, that means perpetuating the prison industrial complex. For privatized foster care, it means keeping kids in foster homes regardless of whether or not those foster parents are neglectful or abusive. Along with warm bodies, private systems also happen to be more expensive to assure that profit. Shipping a package through UPS for example, is more expensive than using our Postal Service. 

Not all private services are bad, but there is a need to keep essential public services public. Paul Buchheit's article for Common Dreams illustrates why we have keep public services public. To privatize all essential services would simply contribute to inequality whether economically through private health insurance companies and pharmaceutical patents, to racially with private housing services. Another interesting fact is that some private companies need their public counterpart to fully operate. For instance, FedEx relies on USPS to make their more out of the way deliveries.

Do you know of any other ways privatization can do more harm that good? Is there a way we can balance public and private in a way that doesn't hurt citizens?

(Photo credit: MoneyBlogNewz, licensed under Creative Commons)

 The Project on Government Oversight found that in 33 of 35 cases the federal government spent more on private contractors than on public employees for the same services. The authors of the report summarized, "Our findings were shocking." 

Yet our elected leaders persist in their belief that free-market capitalism works best. Here are a few fact-based examples that say otherwise. 

Health Care: Markups of 100%....1,000%....100,000% 

Broadcast Journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1955: Who owns the patent on this vaccine? 
Polio Researcher Jonas Salk: Well, the people, I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun? 

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