Labor 101: Without a Living Wage, Prosperity Is Nothing but Fools’ Gold

The Working Stiff Journal Vol. 3 #2, March 2000 by Jackie Dana How is it that in a time of unprecedented prosperity and low unemployment, so many Austinites still can’t pay their bills? It’s good to see that one of the hot topics in Austin these days is the “wage gap.” The only thing amazing about it is that it took the politicians so long to acknowledge something the rest of us have been experiencing for years. While the rich get richer, there are still lots of people all over the country who work full time but do not earn enough to make ends meet. Elizabeth McNichol, an author of a recent economic report on U.S. incomes, noted that “the booming stock market… has mainly benefited people at the top end of the income scale,” while the “incomes of the poor and middle class have fallen or stagnated.” Based on the concept that one should only pay one-third of a … Read more…

Labor 101: Anti-Immigrant Hostility Is Anti-Worker

The Working Stiff Journal Vol. 2 #8, October 1999 by Jackie Dana Negative stereotypes have always plagued immigrant workers, and many people have tried to deny immigrants access to employment, housing, and other opportunities U.S. citizens take for granted. In the nineteenth century, many immigrants, particularly working-class Irish, were portrayed as dirty, stupid, and lazy. Newspaper cartoons portrayed Irishmen as looking like apes, and it was acceptable to openly discriminate against them. Many window signs advertising work noted, “No Irish Need Apply.” Throughout Texas, Mexicans and immigrants from other countries south of the U.S. border have faced the same anti-immigrant hostility. In contrast to the Irish experience, however, such attitudes have not diminished after well over a century. Austin recently witnessed such attitudes with the relocation of the day labor site. Before the First Workers site opened its doors, several residents of the surrounding neighborhood protested at Austin City Council meetings and sent letters to local papers. On opening day, … Read more…

Labor 101: Smart Growth Is Great – If You Can Afford It

The Working Stiff Journal Vol. 2 #7, September 1999 by Jackie Dana Austin grows at a shocking pace as more and more high-tech companies move to town, attracting flocks of highly skilled (and highly paid) employees. Yuppies multiply faster than rabbits. The inhabitants of mansions perched over the greenbelts and Mount Bonnell stare, uncomprehending, at exhausted workers who are too tired to be polite when making that double decaf skim cappuccino at their second job. In the next twenty years Austin’s population is predicted to increase by 66%, ranking it third in areas of greatest growth in the country (after Sacramento and Dallas/Fort Worth). The Austin area added nearly 118,000 residents between 1990 and 1994, an increase of 13.9%. Williamson County saw its population grow by 23.7%. In order for the city to continue experiencing meteoric growth and remain a great place to live, there must be workers. Someone has to serve food in restaurants, haul away garbage, pave streets, … Read more…

Labor 101: The Importance of Being Working Class

The Working Stiff Journal Vol. 2 #6, August 1999 by Jackie Dana For too long we workers—those who do work for others—have been brainwashed by our corporation-driven society to be ashamed of what we are. In 1999 it’s hard to find someone who takes pride in being “working class.” Most people structure their whole lives to escape the treacherous confines of the working class, to become the supposedly more respectable and comfortable “middle class,” seeing the label as more important than the substance. Many of us believe the myths promoted by our politicians that we are better off than our parents and grandparents, that the standard of living is better than at any other time in the past century, and that the efforts to improve working conditions, pay, and benefits are largely unnecessary. Now that we’re all “middle class,” and now that proportionately fewer people work in factories or mines, unions are presented as some anachronistic holdover from the unwashed … Read more…

Labor 101: In the Land of Liberty, Freedom Is Conditional

The Working Stiff Journal Vol. 2 #5, July 1999 by Jackie Dana Texas governor and presidential candidate George W. Bush recently said “There ought to be limits to freedom.” This serves as a stark reminder that the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution—the right to free speech—hasn’t always applied to all Americans. Eighty years ago, in a dark period for labor and social activists, exercising free speech often led to imprisonment and deportation. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the government faced twin threats in the war against Germany and the Russian Revolution. To President Wilson, labor unions were harmful to the war effort while anarchism and socialism were “anti-American.” The Espionage Act (1917) and the Sedition Act (1918) outlawed efforts to obstruct military recruiting, write or publish disloyal information, express contempt for the government’s actions or in any way disrupt or speak publicly against the war. Under the 1918 Alien Act, the government could … Read more…

Women’s Wages: A Medieval Problem in the 21st Century?

The Working Stiff Journal Vol. 2 #3, April 1999 by Jackie Dana In every country in the world, men earn more than women. This situation has existed since before the rise of factories and cubicles. According to Paris tax records from 1313, women’s taxable wealth was 65.6% of men’s, and women held the lowest-paying jobs within the city. Women have come a long way since then—or have we? Thirty years ago women earned just over half the pay of their male counterparts. This was supposed to be resolved with the passage of the federal Equal Pay Act of 1963. Under this act, employers must pay women the same as men for work that is “substantially equal.” Additionally, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which covers employers with 15 or more workers, prohibits pay differences based on gender and bars discrimination against women in hiring, promotion, training, discipline and other job aspects. Despite the existence of such laws, … Read more…

Labor 101: What is Collective Bargaining?

The Working Stiff Journal Vol. 2 #2, March 1999 by Jackie Dana For some in the labor movement, collective bargaining is the pinnacle of union organizing; for others, it is little more than a layer of bureaucracy that takes power away from unions and the workers as a whole. Collective bargaining is the process by which a union gains a contract with an employer. Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, workers gained the legal right to join unions and engage in collective bargaining. Under the provisions of the law, once workers organize and approve a union through an election, the employer is required to meet with union representatives “at reasonable times and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment,” with the result being the “execution of a written contract incorporating any agreement reached….” Contracts spell out wages and benefits, working conditions, and the security of the union as well … Read more…

Labor 101: Unions in the 21st Century

The Working Stiff Journal Labor 101 by Jackie Dana Vol. 2 #1, February 1999 Last time, “Labor 101” explained what unions are and how they function. In this issue we will explore the broader labor union movement and what workers can do to strengthen and promote the cause of labor. By their very nature unions denote the coming together of workers despite political and cultural identities. At the most basic level, employees realize that they share concerns with each other about working conditions, pay, benefits disciplinary matters and other issues. Unions are the best vehicle for improving our work conditions. Unfortunately, Texas doesn’t have the same tradition of strong unions as the Northeast and Midwest, and many workers in our state approach unions with distrust, fear or disdain, believing that joining a union will accomplish nothing but brand them as troublemakers and get them fired. Making matters more difficult for labor organizers, Texas is a “right to work” state, which … Read more…