Commentary

HB2 blocks access to court for victims of workplace discrimination

By now hopefully you’ve heard that HB2 wasn’t just about the right of transgender individuals to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Among other things, HB2 also eliminated important protections for employees who are fired for a discriminatory reason– based on race, religion, sex, disability or age. An opinion piece in Raleigh’s N&O over the weekend by Durham attorney and life-long Tar Heel Stewart Fisher explains just how devastating that change will be to North Carolina workers. Fisher shares examples of the kind of discrimination his clients have experienced recently:

For the past 34 years I have represented employees who have been mistreated at work. Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, disability and age occurs every day in our state. In just the past year, I have represented:

A black plumber who left his job after protesting that he was being paid less than his white co-workers and found a noose in his work truck.

A gay truck driver fired after complaining that his trainer used a slur and said he “acted like a girl.”

A marketing professional fired at age 60, shortly after the vice president of his company announced that they needed “more young people” and “more people with blue hair and tattoos.”

A Native American employee who resigned after the owner of his company repeatedly taunted him by saying white people took his land and his women.

A Muslim computer programmer fired after he took time to attend a service at his mosque in honor of the Muslims who were shot in Chapel Hill.

A female property manager fired less than two weeks after telling her boss she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

A black factory worker fired after being told “you are just as much a (racial slur) today as you were yesterday.”

Now, thanks to HB2, every one of those workers who was fired for a discriminatory reason will have a much more difficult time enforcing their rights, Fisher explains. Its infuriating that instead of enhancing protections for people who are discriminated against in North Carolina, the General Assembly held a special session to roll back those protections – protections that have been in place for 35 years.

Here’s hoping that Governor McCrory and the NCGA are starting to regret the impact of HB2. The North Carolina Justice Center is one of many organizations calling for Governor McCrory and state legislators to end workplace discrimination rather than expanding it. You can learn more about these efforts by clicking here.

Commentary

Sen. Tillis wants to make it easier for employers to hire foreign visa workers instead of local workers

The law is very clear that employers who wish to use the H-2A or H-2B “guestworker” programs, which allows US employers to import foreign workers to perform jobs in agriculture and other low-skilled industries on a temporary basis, must first recruit US workers to fill those job vacancies.  Employers are only allowed to import foreign workers after they have shown that there are no US workers able and available to do the work.  However, this new investigative report from BuzzFeed News reveals that employers who regularly rely on H-2A and H-2B visa workers have figured out how to avoid hiring US workers and how to make sure that the few US workers who get through do not last very long.

This preference for visa workers should come as no surprise to some of you. We have talked about the problems with the “guestworker” programs here several times over the last few years – chronicling the lengthy struggle in the H-2B program to increase the required wages and improve the regulations protecting both US and foreign workers, explaining the negative economic impacts of the programs, and sharing examples of how employers abuse the programs and the workers involved for personal gain (here and here).   The sad truth is that employers prefer visa workers because their fragile legal status (they are only legally allowed to be in the US while they are employed by the employe who petitioned for their visas) makes them much more willing to put up with low pay and poor working conditions. But despite the well documented problems with the program and the fact that thousands of North Carolinians are still unemployed, Senator Tillis introduced a bill about a month ago that would make it even easier for employers to get H-2B workers instead of hiring local workers.

The Jobs No Americans Can Get

Every year, thousands of U.S. companies use special visas to bring in foreign guest workers. Many of those workers get ripped off, while the Americans who are supposed to get first crack at those jobs get nothing.

A BuzzFeed News Investigation: http://bzfd.it/1Sviz92

Posted by BuzzFeed News on Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Commentary

Our love for chicken fingers is harming poultry workers

Last month Oxfam America released a report on the poultry industry, “Lives on the Line, The Human Cost of Cheap Chicken.” The report shows how the American demand for cheap chicken has not only driven growth in the $50 billion industry, but has also driven up the line speed – the number of birds per minute that workers are expected to process.  Oxfam says that “the upper limit on line speed has increased from 70 birds per minute in 1979, to 91 in 1999, to 140 today.”  140 is the maximum line speed set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the industry would like it to be even higher.  The report estimates that in order to keep up with this production rate workers repeat the same motion at least 20,000 times per day.  Unsurprisingly, poultry workers experience high rates of repetitive strain injuries and other workplace injuries.

The line speed and associated health issues are just one of the problems for low-wage workers in this industry.  The report also discusses other health issues like not being allowed to take bathroom breaks, poverty level wages, rampant wage theft, discrimination and harassment.  Oxfam calls on Pilgrim’s, Perdue, Sanderson Farms and Tyson Foods – the top four poultry companies representing 60% of the market – to take affirmative steps to change the industry.

North Carolina is #3 in poultry production and it is our state’s top agricultural commodity.  North Carolina poultry producers can afford to treat their employees better.  But while we wait on the industry to make the much needed changes, NC OSHA should quickly adopt a “Special Emphasis Program” to increase the number of inspections of poultry plants.  Many of our neighboring states have recently adopted such a program under the supervision of federal OSHA and North Carolina has been strongly encouraged to do the same.

Check out the interactive website for Lives on the Line and read more about the poultry industry from the Charlotte Observer.

Commentary

New documentary asks who benefits from unauthorized immigration to the United States

The Second Cooler, a film by Ellin Jimmerson and narrated by Martin Sheen, is a documentary about the struggle for migrant justice.  Although the film primarily focuses on Arizona, the issues it highlights are very relevant right here in North Carolina: anti-immigrant state policies, the abuses in the H-2B and H-2A guestworker programs, the lack of way for poor Mexicans to legally immigrate to the United States, and the devastating impact of free trade agreements on Mexico driving Mexicans to migrate north.

Check out the trailer below and then follow this link to purchase the whole movie.  As an added bonus, purchasing the video through that link means you are supporting the work of the North Carolina Justice Center on behalf of immigrants in North Carolina as Ellin Jimmerson has agreed to share a portion of the proceeds with us. Thanks for your support!

Commentary

The explosive growth in “temp” work and the threat it poses to us all

PV-contingent-work1Our new report, “The Age of Contingent Employment: How changes in employment relationships are impacting worker wages, power and prospects”, highlights the explosive growth of the use of temporary staffing agencies to supply workers and how that harms our economy. Meanwhile, a heart-wrenching piece on the Huffington Post today shows just how devastating temp work can be for workers (and their families) who have no other options but to accept temp jobs.

The article tells the story of Jeff Lockhart Jr, a Virginia man who got a job at the new Amazon fulfillment warehouse outside of Richmond after a long period of unemployment and died on the job a couple months later.  Although he worked at the Amazon facility, he and most of his colleagues were temp workers hired, supervised, and paid by a temporary staffing company.  The article also explains why the use of temps by large companies is on the rise.

When it comes to low-wage positions, companies like Amazon are now able to precisely calibrate the size of its workforce to meet consumer demand, week by week or even day by day. Amazon, for instance, says it has 90,000 full-time U.S. employees at its fulfillment and sorting centers—but it plans to bring on an estimated 100,000 seasonal workers to help handle this year’s peak. Many of these seasonal hires come through Integrity Staffing Solutions, a Delaware-based temp firm. The company’s website recently listed 22 corporate offices throughout the country, 15 of which were recruiting offices for Amazon fulfillment centers, including the one in Chester.

This system isn’t unique to Amazon—it pervades the U.S. retail supply chain. Read more