book coverOne day in June 2009 a South African trade unionist emerged from a meeting with the boss of a global security firm, G4S, the largest employer on the African continent. He held his hands in the air, and in his fist he had a wrinkled copy of the contract his union had negotiated with the company. He had just successfully helped a recently-fired security guard reclaim his job, claiming the language in the contract showed unjust termination. He said:

“This is my copy of the global agreement. It’s like a bible, man. When management tells me to get out, I show them this. When workers are afraid to join, I show them this. When people tell me we don’t have the right, I point to this. This this this. This is the key. But only if we use it right.”

He was referring to a global framework agreement (GFA) that was the culmination of five years of acrimonious struggle by UNI Global Union, as well as its allies in South Africa and others around the globe. GFAs are policy instruments signed by transnational corporations and global union federations that create an arena for global labor relations. GFAs also link unions around the world in an effort to impact the behavior of companies throughout their supply chains. The agreement forced G4S, the world’s third-largest employer behind Walmart and Foxconn, to recognize unions and raise standards in a handful of countries, or risk losing investors. Notably, the agreement granted all of its nearly 600,000 employees workplace “neutrality,” the right to organize without management interference.

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Annette Bernhardt, Flickr

By Nicki Lisa Cole and Jenny Chan, for Truthout

Apple made headlines in late January 2015 when it reported the largest quarterly profit ever in corporate history: $18 billion. A record-breaking $74.6 billion quarterly revenue generated this profit, thanks in large part to the sale of 74.5 million iPhones during the same period.

For Apple, this is a great start to 2015, just as 2014 was a fantastic year for the company. Last year, they sold more than 169 million iPhones, (1) which earned them nearly $102 billion in sales. With $183 billion in total 2014 revenue, and $39.5 billion in profit, (2) Apple is the most valuable company in the world.

But for many hundreds of thousands of young Chinese toiling on Apple assembly lines, 2014 was not such a good year. Reports from China Labor Watch (CLW) and Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM), and evidence gathered by researchers Jenny Chan, Mark Selden and Pun Ngai detail a litany of labor law violations at numerous factories across China. Troublingly, this evidence shows that many of the same problems reported to Apple in 2013 continued unabated through 2014. Conditions have in fact worsened at several sites.

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American_Hustle_Logoby Allyson Stokes

The Sony hacking scandal of 2014 has Americans talking about gender inequality. One of the notorious leaked emails revealed that the two female stars of the film American Hustle, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, earned less back-end compensation for the film than their male co-stars, Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper (7% versus 9%). This despite the fact that all four actors are comparable in terms of star power, critical acclaim, and award nominations for their performances.

Information also came to light about a pay gap between top executives. Among the 17 Sony employees whose salaries topped 1 million dollars, there is only one woman – Hannah Minghella, Co-president of Production at Columbia Pictures. Even more striking is the fact that Minghella earns much less than her co-president, Michael Deluca, a man with the exact same job title. While Deluca’s salary is 2.4 million, Minghella earns 1.5 million annually.

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Teen barista

Source: Wikimedia Commons

On a bitterly cold day, Josh, like many other teenagers, traveled many miles to get to the coffee shop, where he works part-time. Despite experiencing car troubles, nearly having a car accident, and spending hours in heavy traffic, he arrived at the coffee shop only to do a double shift, carry heavy loads of garbage in the cold, and deal with a hectic day of selling hot beverages to demanding customers.

Even though his school was in session, he chose to come to work instead of going to class at the local college, where he is getting his degree in theater and humanities. When I asked him why he chose his work over his studies, he told me they need him here: “Nobody notices when I am not [in class].” Unlike at school, they notice him at work. He feels needed—like a hot cup of cocoa on a cold day.

Josh, like many other teenagers, works “part-time” while still in school, but do not be fooled by what he calls part-time work. “Part-time” sounds like a few hours of work scattered throughout the week, but he was at the coffee shop every day of the past week. Even on the days when he was not scheduled to work, he stopped by to hang out with his friends. He did not just stand idly by; he also helped the friends who were working.

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piano-315012_1280by Kim de Laat

Postbureaucratic work environments are flexible, project-based settings characterized by consensus-building. They are often hailed as an improvement over the rigid job hierarchies and inflexible working conditions found in most white collar and manufacturing sectors.

Unlike traditional forms of product manufacturing, postbureaucratic work settings, such independent contracting, website design and film projects, can involve a creative process that is unpredictable. The final output is often the result of decision-making processes that are negotiated on the fly (for example, Robert De Niro’s improvisation of the line, “You talkin’ to me?” in Taxi Driver or the Beatles’ use of some accidental feedback at the beginning of ‘I Feel Fine’). In addition, the temporary nature of much postbureaucratic work, particularly in creative industries, creates uncertainty. One’s next paycheck is never guaranteed, and so there is a constant need to pursue work opportunities. It falls on the individual to maintain relationships and ties that can lead to future job opportunities. An unruly creative process and the individualization of risk means that teamwork and cooperation are especially important in postbureaucratic work projects.

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Lucas (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Lucas (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Ben A. Rissing and Emilio J. Castilla

Immigration reform has returned to the forefront of U.S. political debate as a result of President Barack Obama’s November 2014 executive order.  Yet, proposed immigration reform measures have not attended to the process by which immigrant applicants are assessed – And many aspects of U.S. immigrant evaluation systems are opaque and discretionary.

In a study recently published in the American Sociological Review, we examine the first stage of one such work authorization process, the labor certification program, which is required for the granting of most employment-based green cards in the United States.  We find that there is substantial variation in approval outcomes associated with foreign workers’ country of citizenship.   Specifically, while 90.5 percent of workers from Asia are approved by government agents, only 66.8 percent of foreign workers from Latin America are approved.  These disparities exist even after controlling for salary, job title, job skill level requirement, location, industry, and prior visa.  However, when applications are evaluated with detailed employment-relevant information obtained through government application audits, we find that approvals are equally likely for immigrant workers from the vast majority of citizenship groups. Read More

greenhouse head shotSteven Greenhouse has had a distinguished career as a journalist. Trained initially as an attorney, he served as a longtime correspondent for The New York Times. He is perhaps best known as the Times’s senior labor reporter and as the author of The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (Anchor, 2009). Upon announcing his recent decision to step down from his post at the Times, many readers lamented the loss of the nation’s most important reporter on the labor beat –a tribe that some feel has faced major challenges. Work in Progress is pleased to post this interview with Steven Greenhouse, with much gratitude. Read More

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