All posts by Leah Feder

NYC Passes Landmark “Freelance Isn’t Free Act”

Gig workers in NYC have had reason to rejoice this week. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, which protects freelancer workers from wage theft by imposing penalties on businesses that delay or deny payment to their contract workers, was passed by the New York City Council in a unanimous vote last Thursday. The first wage protection act for freelance workers in the country, the act is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

From Gothamist:

Under the provisions of the bill, employers will have a 30 day window after a freelancer renders services (or after an agreed-upon date) to make payment in full. They will also be required to provide a written contract to freelancers working on projects for which they will be paid $800 or more.

Freelancers who bring successful litigation against employers in breach of the law will be entitled to double damages as well as attorneys’ fees. Employers will also be prohibited from retaliating against freelancers who seek to enforce their labor rights.

[…]

The bill also establishes a formal mechanism for the director of the Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce the labor rights of freelancers who are stiffed by employers.

Photo by monktea via flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Cooperative Business and the State of Higher Education

Cooperative business models are increasingly recognized as an essential element for transforming our economy. But where can you go to learn about them?

In a recent article in the Chronicle Review (Curricular Cop-out on Coops), Nathan Schneider offers a somewhat dispiriting picture of the higher education landscape for cooperative economics. He writes:

Education has been a basic feature of the modern cooperative movement since a group of textile workers established its now-canonical Rochdale Principles in 1844; promoting education is still part of how the International Co-operative Alliance defines cooperative identity.

And yet, MBA and other business-focused programs, while they appear to move increasingly away from profit-only models, mostly avoid mention of anything cooperative. For example, “At Harvard Business School […] Rebecca M. Henderson has written the latest in a decades-long series of Harvard case studies on Mondragon, and she teaches it in her “Reimagining Capitalism” course. As far as she knows, though, that’s the extent of exposure to co-ops available at the school.” Continue reading Cooperative Business and the State of Higher Education

Decolonize This Museum: An Indigenous Peoples’ Day Action

On Monday, residents of cities and states around the country celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day. New Yorkers, meanwhile, observed a holiday with what, for many, is an offensive and outdated name: Columbus Day.

Cities like Seattle, Denver and Phoenix have all renamed the civic holiday in honor of the indigenous people on whose land America was founded, rather than the colonial conqueror who claimed it in the name of Europeans. But New York City has yet to make such a move. For indigenous activists and their allies, this failure is part of a long chain of white supremacist actions, aggressions and traumas, the symbols of which are visible throughout the city.

One such symbol is a 10-foot tall statue in front of the American Museum of Natural History. The statue features Theodore Roosevelt on a horse, flanked on one side by an African man and on the other, an indigenous man: a starkly racist image of a colonialist history. This past Monday, hundreds of activists came together to cover the statue with a parachute and “Decolonize This Place,” demanding both the removal of the statue and the renaming of the holiday. Continue reading Decolonize This Museum: An Indigenous Peoples’ Day Action

UMass Labor Center in Jeopardy

While the Murphy Institute establishes itself as a labor school, the state of labor education nationwide remains perilous. The latest news comes from the Labor Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: with the sudden departure this month of its director Eve Weinbaum, who has said the she was forced out of her position, plus the cutting of funding to the center, the future of the Center is now in question.

labor_center

An email from Weinbaum before Labor Day expressed dismay at the budget cuts and an appeal to the broader community to organize to ensure that the Center remains open. Since then, alumni and activists have been writing letters and making public appeals to keep funding in place for the Center.

From an article in Labor Notes:

It’s the latest blow in a volley against labor education programs. A 2015 report by Helena Worthen for the United Association for Labor Education found that in recent years, 34 of the 53 programs across the U.S. have either lost staff or outright disappeared.

The report identified right-wing think tanks like the Freedom Foundation and the Mackinac Center as key players in the drive to eliminate these programs, especially at public colleges and universities.

For more about the budget battle at Labor Notes and In These Times.

Photo by sushiesque via flickr (CC-BY-NC)

National Strike Draws Attention to Prison Labor Practices

Though you might not know it to look at mainstream news outlets, the largest prison strike in US history is currently in its second week. On the 45th anniversary of the Attica Uprising, prisoners at an estimated 40 facilities in at least 24 states have refused to report to their prison jobs in order to draw attention to a range of grievances.

In particular, prisoners are demonstrating against the exploitative conditions that keep them working for slave wages — literally. The thirteenth amendment of the US Constitution outlawed slavery in most cases, but it continues to allow slavery “as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.”

From a 2014 article in the American Prospect:

Employment law is supposed to rely on a three-pronged test to determine whether two people are engaged in an employee-employer relationship: Are they producing something of value? Are they getting paid for their work? Do they have a supervisor telling them what to do? Prison jobs meet all three criteria. “The puzzle,” Zatz says, “is the way in which courts have a strong instinct: No, there’s something different here. And then they run around in circles trying to figure out what that something different is.”

The something different is a moral judgment: Inmate workers are seen as less deserving of a decent job or a competitive wage. The courts, in this sense, are reflecting public sentiment. It’s why the idea that “law-abiding citizens … need jobs worse than inmates” (in the words of one recent Nevada editorial page) resonates the way it does. It’s the same reason people with felony convictions have such a hard time finding a job, why in so many states they’re barred from voting, why a criminal record can prevent you from living in public housing or securing student loans, and why political candidates have long won more votes with punitive rhetoric than with compassion or level-headed talk of prevention. In America, breaking the law has become more than just an occasion to be punished or even rehabilitated. It has become a permanent mark of who you are and what our country thinks you’re entitled to earn.

It’s worth reading through the full piece, here.

Photo by Clemens v Vogelsang via flickr (CC-BY)

New Ruling Protects NYS Workers Paid Via Prepaid Debit Cards

Approximately 200,000 workers get paid via debit cards and have long suffered from the fees that come along with them. From ATM withdrawal fees to charges for paper statements and even inactivity fees, these extra charges add up — and can be have a big impact on workers’ take-home pay.

Now, thanks to new rules released last week, employees can breathe a sigh of relief: starting in early 2017, employees will have the ability to make unlimited withdrawals at no charge from at least one ATM that’s located at a “reasonable travel distance” from their work or home.

From the New York Times:

The rules also prohibit a host of incremental fees, including charges for monthly maintenance, account inactivity, overdrafts, checking a card’s balance or contacting customer service.

Companies will have to offer their workers the option of being paid either by cash or check, if they prefer — employers will not be allowed to require that employees accept a payroll card. Federal regulations already prohibit such requirements, but worker advocates say the rule is routinely flouted.

This marks an important development for the retail and service workers who are, increasingly, finding themselves paid by payroll cards rather than checks.

Read more at the New York Times.

Photo by InfoCash via flickr (CC-ND)