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Posts Tagged ‘workers’

I feel especially grateful to essential workers, mail carriers, and delivery people this Labor Day. Workers really make the world go ’round any year, not just during a pandemic, and many get no credit for it.

As Kenya Evelyn noted in the Guardian in April, Amazon the company was doing just great thanks to quarantine; workers not so much.

“The Amazon CEO and entrepreneur, Jeff Bezos, has grown his vast fortune by a further $24bn so far during the coronavirus pandemic, a roughly 20% increase over the last four months to $138b. …

“[Meanwhile] Amazon reported its first warehouse worker death on Tuesday. The man, an operations manager who worked at the company’s Hawthorne, California, warehouse, died on 31 March.

“Several workers have organized strikes and walkouts in protest at lack of worker protections. Chris Smalls, a former manager assistant, was fired by the retailer after leading workers at the JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York, on a walkout. …

“Memos leaked by Vice News revealed company executives suggested coordinating an attempt to smear Smalls as ‘not smart or articulate’ in response to the backlash over his firing.

“Several Amazon workers have since alleged retaliation for organizing. In an op-Ed for the Guardian, Smalls urged Bezos to spend more time on protecting his workers instead of stifling dissent.

‘Without us working, what are you going to do,’ he asked. ‘You’ll have no money. We have the power. We make money for you. Never forget that.’

Something to think about.

For more on how our society has moved away from appreciation for workers, you might check out a fat book my husband has been fascinated by for months called The Enchantments of Mammon, which suggests that when capitalism has become a religion, it’s gone too far. “Everything in Moderation,” advise the Greeks.

Do you like traditional songs from the labor movement? Nick Noble’s Folk Revival on WICN radio plans to feature them this week and you can stream his show.

Here’s a word on the Folk Revival, in case you’re interested.

“The Folk Revival features the ‘folk of the folk renaissance’ from the second half of the last century right into the millennium. Focusing on the folk boom of the 1950s and the 1960s, this four-hour show also visits recordings from both before and well after that period,  highlighting folk music as a living and ever-changing tradition, connecting listeners and music through an eclectic mix of traditional songs, topical and  protest music, singer-songwriter creations, the blues, folk rock, and more. …

“Do you want to suggest a theme? Request a song? Talk about the music? React to the show? Correct the host (nicely, of course)? Share and/or find out more about the folk music tradition? Feel free to contact the host: nicknoble@wicn.org.”

Workers who matter, and not just in a pandemic.

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df59b7bbd4c1a071922f705dbbf5f485

Before the rise of unions and child labor laws, it was common to see scenes like the one above showing a young girl working with dangerous textile machines in Lowell, Massachusetts.

The pendulum has swung too far away from workers. Just my view. There was a time that unions had built up power to the point of abuse. That’s not where we are now. We have all benefited from people banding together to fight deadly working conditions, end child labor, and negotiate a living wage.

Ideally, it would be corporate leaders themselves who recognized that everyone is better off when employees have a decent life. How likely are we to see such leaders today? Too many parents work two or three jobs while their children still don’t eat well without the free lunch at school. CEOs’ attitude: Not my problem.

But wait! There’s news.

Ben & Jerry’s leaders may be outliers. Of course, it took worker activism, but a good-faith effort led to positive results for all.

As John Dillon reports at Vermont Public Radio, “Some Vermont dairy workers say their wages and living conditions have improved, thanks to an agreement reached last year between the workers and Ben & Jerry’s, a division of global consumer products company Unilever.

“Times are tough on dairy farms around the country, with milk prices declining for the fourth year in a row. But 72 farms that supply Ben & Jerry’s earn a little more by agreeing to follow labor and housing standards.

“Enrique Balcazar is a former dairy farm worker and an activist with the group Migrant Justice who helped negotiate an agreement last year called Milk with Dignity. …

” ‘There are farmworkers in the state who, in collaboration with their farmers and with support from the Milk With Dignity Standards Council, are now receiving a day off every week when they previously didn’t have one, who are receiving wages to bring their wages up to the Vermont minimum wage,’ he says. …

“Farms enrolled in the Milk with Dignity program also commit to providing five annual paid sick days, five paid vacation days and to meet housing health and safety standards.

“Farmers get a premium for following these standards, but it’s not clear how much. …

” ‘Ben & Jerry’s is paying the premium because we recognize a lot of farmers will need some of the financial support to improve housing conditions or to make up for the vacation days that they’re going to provide workers,’ [Cheryl Pinto, manager of values-led sourcing at Ben & Jerry’s,] says. …

“The Milk with Dignity program covers all farmworkers whose farms are enrolled — and not just undocumented workers who work on many of Vermont’s dairy farms. … Migrant Justice says the program is a model for other dairy processors.”

How about you consider Ben & Jerry’s if you are buying ice cream or frozen yogurt for your Labor Day party? Cherries Garcia, Moo-phoria, anyone?

More at Vermont Public Radio, here.

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Photo: Amitava Sarkar/Forklift
The cast of
Served performs a dance phrase based on the five key movements of mopping. Forklift Danceworks makes choreography from everyday life, revealing the beauty and majesty of what you thought was mundane.

From childhood, I was always one for fantasy and found it easy to relate to imaginary worlds in the arts. Lately, though, I find myself more interested in art that feels relevant, art that uncovers wonder in everyday life. So it’s not surprising that this Dance Magazine article about discovering the dancelike moves of ordinary occupations appealed to me.

Nancy Wozny writes, “Austin renegade Allison Orr doesn’t use traditional performers. With her Forklift Danceworks, she has created dances featuring everyone from sanitation workers (The Trash Project) to power linemen (PowerUP), urban forestry department members (The Trees of Govalle) and food service employees (Served).

“Orr has a BA in anthropology and calls her process ‘ethnographic choreography.’ Using the movements of everyday workers, she crafts large-scale extravaganzas that have included more than 75 performers (and sometimes trucks), audiences of 2,000, and a deep research process that may involve her learning how to scale a power-line distribution pole or riding with a sanitation worker at 4 am.

“She recently spoke to Dance Magazine about her unique creative process.

” ‘When I start a new piece, I listen for the story the workers want told. What do they want people to know about what they do? I usually do about 50 to 100 interviews. Then I watch people doing their expert movement, looking for that seed. ,,, Usually there’s an all-staff meeting where I am introduced. Then I start job shadowing, working alongside them when I can. …

” ‘We don’t actually get people to agree to perform until very late in the process. I usually don’t ask for what we want until that person is likely to say yes. We put out a question, like “How do you cook an omelet in three minutes or less?” and they start choreographing it. Then they want to be in it, because they are the ones who can do it.

” ‘For the actual piece we organize sequences based on their movements, expanding it in space and time. For Served I watched one gentleman mop the floor and observed five different movements he does, including this beautiful turn. …

” ‘Because participants are asked to collaborate across different work groups to make the dance together, they build trust with people they might have worked with for years but never had the chance to really get to know.

” ‘The act of performing changes how collaborators see themselves. Being witnessed in one’s everyday work, particularly doing what might be thought of as mundane or ordinary, is transformational.’ ”

More at Dance Magazine, here.

Photo: Jonica Moore/Forklift Danceworks
A worker from Austin’s Urban Forestry Division performs in the dance
The Trees of Govanelle.

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122617-dirndl-on-VT-hospitality-worker

Dressing in Austrian dirndl at Trapp Family Lodge, Stowe, Vermont.

Nearly five years ago, when I was an editor, I solicited an article on Latino dairy workers from Daniel Baker at the University of Vermont. Dairy farms are practically synonymous with Vermont, where cows dot the mountainous landscape. The article summarized Dr. Baker’s research showing how essential immigrants were to the Vermont dairy industry’s survival. (Read the piece here.)

Of late, however, Vermont dairy farmers are anxious about their industry’s viability as walls both figurative and solid threaten the labor supply.

Visiting the state this week, I did note that there seemed to be a good supply of immigrants or former immigrants working in the hospitality industry at least.

I try not to ask people where they are “from” since friends in my Race in America group at the Fed have convinced me it’s a question that can make people feel unwelcome. But I was interested when someone whose way of speaking suggested Africa came to fix the hotel shower and when I noted the dirndl-garbed young lady above working the breakfast shift.

According to 2015 data from Migration Policy, Vermont has 2,619 residents born in Africa (9.3 % of the state’s foreign-born population in 2015), 8,199 born in Asia (29%), 9,113 born in Europe (32.3%), 3,038 born in Latin America (10.8%), 4, 875 born in North America, with small places like Greenland added to that mix (17.3%), and 403 born in Oceana (1.4%). By far the largest group is from Canada, which borders Vermont on the north. Vermont would be a more empty state than it is and nearly devoid of workers without all the foreign born.

If you’re interested in more, take a look at American Migration Council’s Vermont data, too. It’s here.

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