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Posts Tagged ‘unions’

The price of cheap clothing — 377 die in Bangladesh factory collapse

In behavior, business, Crime, Fashion, news, politics, urban life, women, work on April 30, 2013 at 12:17 am

By Caitlin Kelly

As many of you know by now, more than 377 men and women making clothing for companies like Primark, JC Penney, Benetton and others, were killed two days ago in the collapse of a factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

JC Penney is one of the three department store...

JC Penney is one of the three department stores at the mall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s part of the story from The New York Times:

Thousands of people surrounded the site on Sunday, watching the huge rescue operation, even as hopes faded that many more victims would be found alive. For nearly 12 hours, rescuers tried to save a trapped woman, lowering dry food and juice to her as they carefully cut through the wreckage trying to reach her. But then a fire broke out, apparently killing the woman, leaving many firefighters in tears.

With national outrage boiling over, Bangladeshi paramilitary officers tracked down and arrested Sohel Rana, the owner of the building, who was hiding near the Indian border, and returned him by helicopter to Dhaka. When loudspeakers at the rescue site announced his capture earlier in
the day, local news reports said, the crowd broke out in cheers.

The collapse of the building, the Rana Plaza, is considered the deadliest accident in the history of the garment industry. It is known to have claimed at least 377 lives, and hundreds more workers are
thought to be missing still, buried in the rubble.

The Rana Plaza building contained five garment factories, employing more than 3,000 workers, who were making clothing for European and American consumers.

It is worth reading the story because the accompanying photo is so heartbreaking, and one is horribly familiar to  any New Yorker — it is a wall with posters and photos of missing workers, posted by their loved ones, seeking them. After the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, struck down by two jet airliners, there was an equally feverish, often insane, hope that the thousands of workers trapped in those buildings might have escaped alive.

Some did. Many did not.

But their posters were plastered all over the city. They were truly “Wanted” posters, but too often in vain. You could not look at them, even if you knew no one affected, and not want to weep.

Karwan Bazar, one of the most important busine...

Karwan Bazar, one of the most important business centres in Dhaka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is hard to know what, if anything, one can usefully say about this Dhaka disaster, the largest (so far) such industry accident in history:

— That the workers were very far away from the people who buy and wear the clothes they make

— That they earn, on average, $37 a month

— That they are completely without political and economic power since this industry is essential to the nation’s economy

— That many of the owners of these factories are also politicians, further weakening any oversight or regulation of the workers so endangered

— That we, as people who buy the cheap clothes they make, are all complicit

Three very powerful recent books are well worth reading, if this topic also disturbs and interests you:

Where Am I Wearing, by a young American freelance journalist who traveled to these countries and factories to meet and speak to the workers there.

Cheap, by Boston University professor Ellen Ruppel Shell,  a scathing condemnation of what it really costs to produce some items we enjoy at low prices but hidden high costs, from frozen Thai shrimp to cultured pearls.

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion, by Elizabeth Cline.

As I write this post, I’m wearing a cotton Gap dress and cashmere Ralph Lauren cardigan; the dress was made in Indonesia and the sweater in China.

So, I too, am complicit in the use of overseas, sub-contracted, poorly-supervised labor. I know it. I hate it. I am not at all clear what (else) to do.

My clothes, probably like many of yours as well, no matter where you live, are made cheaply by people we will never meet or know or feel, possibly, much responsibility to.

Bangladeshi woman

Bangladeshi woman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Until they are killed making it.

What are our choices?

— Make all our own shoes and clothing, (not practical for most of us)

— Wear only clothing made by American workers, (if you are American)

— Look for the ILGWU label, if so

– Find out which manufacturers, (if possible), were sub-contracting work to Rana, and Tazreen, site of another major Bangladeshi garment factory fire that killed 112 workers and boycott all their products

— And spread the word through social media

Here’s a story about Aminul Islam, who tried to organize Bangladeshi garment factory workers.

He was killed.

Ideas?

Solutions?

Outrage?

Can a Freelancers’ Union really help us?

In behavior, blogging, books, business, journalism, life, Media, news, urban life, war, work on March 24, 2013 at 4:33 pm
Freelancers Union Logo

Freelancers Union Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Interesting story in The New York Times about the Freelancers’ Union, a New York based group with 200,000 members:

SOON after landing a job at a Manhattan law firm nearly 20 years ago, Sara Horowitz was shocked to discover that it planned to treat her not as an employee, but as an independent contractor.

“I saw right away that something wasn’t kosher,” Ms. Horowitz recalls. Her status meant no health coverage, no pension plan, no paid vacation — nothing but a paycheck. She realized that she was part of a trend in which American employers relied increasingly on independent contractors, temporary workers, contract employees and freelancers to cut costs….

Ms. Horowitz’s grandfather was a vice president of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, and her father was a labor lawyer. So it was perhaps not surprising that she responded to her rising outrage by deciding to organize a union…The Freelancers Union, with its oxymoronic name, is a motley collection of workers in the fast-evolving freelance economy — whether lawyers, software developers, graphic artists, accountants, consultants, nannies, writers, editors, Web site designers or sellers on Etsy.

I’m not a member of the FU (Hmmmm, nice abbreviation!), but I applaud her efforts.

Turns out that 87 percent of her members earn less than $50,000 — 29 percent of them make less than $25,000 a year.

God knows, freelancers/temps/contract workers need all the help we can get.

In the same edition of the Times, there’s a fascinating interview about the many powerful emotions we often feel at work. This one really resonated for me:

Certainty is a constant drive for the brain. We saw this with Hurricane Sandy. The feeling of uncertainty feels like pain, when you can’t predict when the lights will come back on and you’re holding multiple possible futures in your head. That turns out to be cognitively exhausting. And the more we can predict the future, the more rewarded we feel. The less we can predict the future, the more threatened we feel. As soon as any ambiguity arises in even a very simple activity, we get a threat response. So we are driven to create certainty.

I get up every day with no idea where my income is going to arrive from in three months from now. I usually work three months ahead — i.e. with enough income lined up to count on that my basic bills will get paid in that time and it buys me time to go line up the next batch. I live by the salesman’s motto: ABCAlways Be Closing.

Which means not just having coffee, sending emails, taking meetings or chatting to potential clients, but closing the deal — agreeing to a set fee, terms and deadline. Working retail, which I did for 27 months selling clothing in a mall, was extraordinarily helpful to me in this respect. I used to be too scared to ask for the sale. Not any more!

Now I’m much better at sussing out the tire-kickers and time-wasters.

Time Selector

Time Selector (Photo credit: Telstar Logistics)

Here are some of the many issues that face freelancers:

– How much will they pay me?

– Is this a lot less (or more) than that they are paying others at my level of skill and experience? (Networking and joining an industry-focused freelance group is essential to determine this.)

– Do I have a contract, and one with terms acceptable to me? If not, how much of it can I negotiate?

— When will I get paid? Some companies are playing truly nasty games — like 90 days after submission. Three months!? I work on 30 days, after which I start sending emails and phone calls.

–How many times will I need to sue in small claims court or hire a lawyer to write a threatening letter on my behalf? (Did it, it worked, from Kansas City to Vancouver.)

– How will I meet my monthly financial commitments when payment arrives late (or not at all?) A line of credit and low-interest credit cards, plus whatever savings you can scrape together.

– Who is the point person who will make sure, internally, that I do get paid? (Both my editors quit one company recently, leaving my payment much more vulnerable. Luckily, it did arrive and within six weeks.)

— When and how can I ask for a higher rate?

— What is the lowest fee I’ll accept, and why am I bottom-feeding?

– How soon can I fire this PITA client?

— Where can I find my next 5,10, 15 new clients?

—Which conferences, events and meetings are really worth investing my hard-won time and money in to meet collegial veterans and learn important new skills?

I grew up in a family where no one had a paycheck. My father made documentary and feature films and television news series. My stepmother wrote television drama. So whatever we earned was whatever our skill, talent and tough negotiation won for us.

Nothing was guaranteed. Just like “real” jobs — which you can (and many do) lose overnight with no warning at all.

I hate the stress of not knowing my annual income will be. I know what I hope to earn, but will I make it? The joy/terror of freelance work is that it’s all up to me.

But, having been summarily canned from a few well-paid jobs and having been badly bullied at a few as well, I know how stressful that is, too.

Do you work freelance?

How’s it going?

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You’re Overpaid! Mott’s Squeezes Hourly Workers Even Harder

In business, food, work on August 19, 2010 at 12:34 pm

You have to love a company that makes it abundantly clear to workers — you’re overpaid! At $19 an hour, those employed at an upstate New York plant making Mott’s apple juice have been told they earn too much.

This, in comparison to other area production workers near Rochester, many of them desperate for work after layoffs by Xerox or Kodak, former corporate behemoths.

The company is doing just fine.

It’s not in bankruptcy, or struggling, or cut to its knees by competition from China or India. No, they posted $555 million in income for 2009, compared to a $312 million loss the year before.

They just want more profit! Because…they can.

So, in a gesture almost touching in its quaint futility — sort of a whaling captains’ convention — the workers went out on strike in May. They’re still there, reports The New York Times’ terrific labor reporter Steven Greenhouse.

The company cut its annual picnic and holiday party — but also wanted a $1.50/hour wage cut, pension freeze and other concessions.

The plant, of course, is running with scab labor. In this economy, they can certainly count on finding willing bodies happy to make sure the plant’s workers have little leverage.

Read “The Big Squeeze”, Greenhouse’s depressing, powerful analysis of where the American worker has ended up: with little to no power, forced into wage and benefit concessions, scared and angry. Published in 2008, it is nothing but prophetic.

If it doesn’t wake you up, you’re not paying attention.

Few reporters even bother to cover “labor” anymore, instead preferring business profiles about CEOs or Wall Street analysts.

Workers? Not so much.

Now that corporate executives earn 300 times their lowest-paid workers, when — exactly — is enough profit enough?

From The Times’ story:

“Companies have asked for concessions throughout the history of the labor movement because they’ve faced hard times and needed help to survive,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which represents the Mott’s workers. “Dr Pepper Snapple is different. They don’t even show the respect to lie to us. They just came in and said, ‘We have no financial need for this, but we just want it anyway because we figure we can get away with it.’ ”

Negotiations have not been held since May, and Dr Pepper Snapple says it has no intention of resuming them. The company has continued to operate the plant using replacement workers and says that production of apple juice and apple sauce is growing each day. Union officials say production is one-third of what it was before the walkout.

The Mott’s workers voted 250 to 5 to strike, walking out on May 23. They were furious about the company’s demands to cut their wages by about $3,000 a year, freeze pensions, end pensions for new hires, reduce the company’s 401(k) retirement contributions and increase employees’ costs for health care benefits. Dr Pepper Snapple said it was merely seeking to bring its benefits more in line with those of its other plants.

I’m not swallowing Motts’ arguments.

Nor a drop of any of their products.

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A Mosque And Islamic Center Near Ground Zero? Fuhggedaboudit!

In business, cities, Crime, politics, religion on August 4, 2010 at 12:35 am
The World Trade Center after the 9/11 attacks
Image via Wikipedia

This makes me crazy.

A mosque and Muslim center planned for a building mere blocks from Ground Zero is a really bad idea.

As one man said tonight on NBC Nightly News, “It’s a finger in the eye.”

Reports The New York Times:

After a protracted battle that set off a national debate over freedom of religion, a Muslim center and mosque to be built two blocks from ground zero surmounted a final hurdle on Tuesday.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9 to 0 against granting historic protection to the building at 45-47 Park Place in Lower Manhattan, where the $100 million center would be built.

That decision clears the way for the construction of Park51, a tower of as many as 15 stories that will house a mosque, a 500-seat auditorium, and a pool. Its leaders say it will be modeled on the Y.M.C.A. and Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.

I am deeply committed to diversity and freedom of worship and thought.

Yes, build it. Yes, make it a place that will welcome people of all faiths who — finally — might get the chance to meet Muslims face to face, get to know them, get to make friends, get to understand them. Clearly, not all Muslims are terrorists, no more than all Christians or Jews fall to the outer margins of what the majority consider acceptable behavior.

Just not there.

I did not lose family or friends on 9/11. I did spend a terrifying day wondering, as thousands of New Yorkers did, if my partner was alive or dead, as he was due to have been on the subway directly beneath the Towers when they were hit. He got home a few hours early, having left his friends’ house much sooner than he’d originally planned.

Everyone who was here, and many who had friends, loved ones, relatives or colleagues working here, remembers that day as if it were yesterday. No one who smelled the sour, vicious, disgusting smell of the towers as they burned for weeks afterward will ever forget it.

It is utter madness and folly to mess with this trauma.

Build it elsewhere.

Or wait for a retaliation — like every single area unionized ironworker, electrician, plumber, carpenter, HVAC expert and mason to refuse their labor — and say aloud what many of us feel.

You want me working where?

Fuhgeddaboudit!

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