News

New York State Minimum Wage Increases from $8.00/Hour to $8.75/Hour on 12/31/14

On December 31, 2014, the New York State minimum wage will increase from $8.00/hour to $8.75/hour. The minimum wage will then increase again on 12/31/15 to $9.00/hour in New York. Click on this link to go to the NYS Department of Labor website.

The Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) estimates that 7.3% of the Tompkins County population (or 3,800 people) will be directly affected by this increase. On a statewide level, the FPI estimates that 10.1% of the population (or 880,00o) will be directly affected by the increase.

If you are a worker who doesn’t see your wage increase on December 31, 2014, please contact the Tompkins County Workers’ Center Workers Rights Hotline at 607-269-0409 and we will help you to rectify the situation!

Huge Living Wage Victory for Tompkins County Recycling Workers!!

(Ithaca) A year and a half ago, Milton Webb and Stanley McPherson, two workers with ReCommunity Recycling (which was taken over by Casella Waste Systems in early 2014), a subcontractor with the Tompkins County Solid Waste Division, approached the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) wondering why they weren’t making a Living Wage, considering the fact that they were doing the business of the County, which is a Certified Living Wage Employer. After a joint campaign that was made possible by the teamwork of an absolute variety of players, today we celebrate a huge victory in the step to ensure that all Tompkins County ‘contracted workers’ are paid a Living Wage.

The details of the victory include an allocation from the Tompkins County Legislature’s Living Wage Contingency Fund of $20,000, as well as a commitment to pay a Living Wage coming from Casella Waste Systems. Casella estimates that it will cost an additional $105,000/year to increase all their workers to a Living Wage. The agreement will enable workers at the County’s Recycling and Solid Waste Center to all be paid a Living Wage (presently $12.62/hour or $13.94 without health insurance) beginning in early February 2015. The allocation, just approved at today’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee by a unanimous 5-0 vote, will now go to a full Legislature vote on Tuesday, January 6th.

This successful campaign is a great example of the ‘concerted action’ of two workers in the workplace acting in solidarity with each other, and in coordination with a community campaign as organized by the TCWC alongside many supportive County Legislative members. As Casella worker, Milton Webb says: “This was a team effort with the Workers’ Center and the Legislature. From the bottom of our hearts, Stanley and I want to say thank you. (Listen to audio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKOgY8RcRuM)

Added Webb: ” You know, the guys who are working here do a lot of good work, we work hard and we need that Living Wage. For all of us that are receiving nine or ten dollars an hour and getting bumped up to over $12.62, we really appreciate this. Everybody at the Recycling Facility is excited about it. We have a Living Wage coming that is going to uplift these workers. They will have the pay that they need and that they deserve. They’ll have money to put in the bank. For what we’re getting paid now, there is no option for saving money. This will make things better for families, for the economy, for everybody. The money will be spent right here in Ithaca. To all of the people who don’t earn a Living Wage because they’re employer won’t pay a Living Wage, hang in there, it’s coming.”

Milton Webb in foreground and Stanley McPherson in the background, along with the Tompkins County Workers' Center, outside ReCommunity Recyling in mid-October 2013 advocating for a Living Wage for all County-contracted workers, in general, and workers at the County's recycling facility, in particular.

Milton Webb in foreground and Stanley McPherson in the background, along with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, outside ReCommunity Recyling in mid-October 2013 advocating for a Living Wage for all County-contracted workers, in general, and workers at the County’s recycling facility, in particular.

Throughout 2013, Webb and McPherson, along with the TCWC, lobbied the Tompkins Legislature and larger public saying that no one that contracts with the County for services should be making less than a Living Wage. In the fall of 2013, the TCWC urged the Legislature to set aside funds to boost contracted workers up to a Living Wage, which the Legislature did by creating a $100,000 Living Wage Contingency Fund in November of 2013.

CLICK ON PICTURE TO HEAR AUDIO INTERVIEW WITH MILTON WEBB

Says Nathan Shinagawa, Chair of the County’s Government Operations Committee, “We made it a top goal to make sure we use this money to uplift workers. We now pay a living wage to the workers of Food Net (Meals on Wheels) and, in the new budget, we passed a Living Wage for the workers of the Suicide Prevention Center and The Literacy Volunteers. I’m glad that starting in February, the workers of the Recycling and Solid Waste Center will also receive a Living Wage.”

“Change would not have been possible without the Workers’ Center and the individual efforts of Stanley and Milton. Their organizing led directly to legislative action. This is truly responsive, progressive government in action”, added Shinagawa. “Today, all Tompkins County employees and 1,788 of 1,994 contracted employees receive a Living Wage.  I’m proud to live in and represent a community that makes a Living Wage a priority.”

Says County Legislator Carol Chock, who cosponsored legislation along with Shinagawa that created the Living Wage Contingency Fund: “We shouldn’t even be discussing whether or when to achieve a livable wage for all workers, it is in the interests of all of us that anybody who works be able to support their own basic expenses.”

“A final victory is an accumulation of many short-term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to comprehend the process of achieving full victory. It underestimates the value of confrontation and dissolves the confidence born of a partial victory by which new efforts are powered.”–Martin Luther King, Jr., from ‘Where Do We Go From Here?: Chaos or Community”

Commit to a Living Wage & Workers Rights for All by Supporting the Tompkins Workers’ Center!!

As the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) enters into its 13th year, we celebrate our victories, and yet realize just how far we have to go in order to fulfill our Vision: a Living Wage and workers’ rights for all. We could have accomplished none of this without you, our loyal supporters. Please consider supporting our efforts today by clicking on the Donate button below. (If you become a Monthly Sustainer, we have 2 Matching Grants that will match what you are able to give over a year’s time!)

 

A smattering of our victories include:

We could have done absolutely none of this without you, our loyal supporters in Tompkins County and beyond. We raise an unusually high amount of our funds from our local grassroots supporters such as you, up to 40% in this past year alone!! 

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Over 100 People Brave Cold on Black Friday in Ithaca to Demand Wal-Mart Take Lead in $15/Hour and Full Time Work

(Ithaca) Over 100 people gathered for two hours in sub-freezing conditions this past Friday on Black Friday in Ithaca, outside of the Ithaca Wal-Mart, to call Wal-Mart to task over it’s low wages and lack of full time work for those workers who want to work full time. Recognizing that Wal-Mart is not the only big-box store to engage in egregious labor practices, the organizers of the rally which included the Tompkins County Workers’ Center, the Central New York Area Labor Federation, AFL-CIO;  the Labor-Religion Coalition of the Finger Lakes; and the Midstate Central Labor Council, focus on Wal-Mart because of its leadership our nation’s retail industries.

Citizens concerned with the downward spiral taken by global corporations to dismantle our economy stand in front of the Ithaca Wal-Mart on Black Friday to bring attention to Wal-Mart's egregious actions. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)

Citizens concerned with the downward spiral taken by global corporations to dismantle our economy stand in front of the Ithaca Wal-Mart on Black Friday to bring attention to Wal-Mart’s egregious actions. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)

At the end of the two hour protest, one of over 2200 such protests nationally, fifteen or so of the protestors (including two elected officials, Cynthia Brock, 1st Ward Councilperson for the City of Ithaca and Town of Caroline Board Member, John Fraccia) delivered a letter on behalf of all those outside, and in the community, stating our demands. The text of the letter can be found below.

Talking briefly with Wal-Mart Store Manager, Floyd Bump, about the letter delivered on behalf of a community that wants economic justice for all its citizens. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)

Talking briefly with Wal-Mart Store Manager, Floyd Bump, about the letter delivered on behalf of a community that wants economic justice for all its citizens. (Photo: Paul Gottleib)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Overtime Pay May Be Required for Salaried Employees Considered Exempt

The recent labor law violations uncovered at Ithaca Trader K’s (http://ithacavoice.com/2014/11/trader-ks-found-violate-nys-wage-law/) highlight the importance of understanding the difference between exempt and non-exempt employees with respect to overtime payments. Many people classified as managers or administrators, and paid on a salaried basis, are not exempt from the requirement to also receive overtime pay (for working over 40 hours in a week).

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center has a factsheet from the NYS Department of Labor that we would be happy to send anyone (contact us at tcwrh@tcworkerscenter.org or 269-0409) but the key point is that an employee covered by NYS labor law must meet certain criteria to qualify for the administrative/managerial employee exemption. Perhaps the most important of these criteria is that the employee must be paid not less than $600/week ($31,200/year). If paid less than $600/week ($656.25 as of January 1, 2015) such an employee would be entitled to overtime (time and a half) for all hours worked over 40.

The other main criterion is that you must actually be performing the duties of an exempt employee. If your duties are not those of a bona fide exempt employee your employer cannot evade the overtime requirement by paying you a salary (and not paying overtime) regardless of how much your salary is. Those duties are also described in the factsheet referenced above and available upon request.

Trader K’s Clothing Store in Ithaca Found to Violate NYS Wage Law

(Ithaca) A New York State Department of Labor (DOL) investigation of employee complaints of wage underpayment between 2011 and 2013 at Trader K’s in Ithaca has concluded that the business is guilty.

Trader K’s failed to pay overtime properly to nine employees and was assessed over $7,500 in damages and underpayments to the employees. The failure to pay overtime affected both store clerks and managers at the store. While managers are typically exempted from overtime payments, if they do not earn over $455/week or if they have been, in effect, misclassified (their job duties do not meet certain DOL-mandated tests for being a manager) then overtime pay is required.

The DOL complaint was filed in 2013 by the Tompkins County Workers’ Center (TCWC) after an employee contacted TCWC’s Workers’ Rights Hotline. “Wage theft is rampant in NY State and around the country,” said Pete Meyers, TCWC Coordinator. “Here in Tompkins County, we/TCWC have filed complaints and won back wages for hundreds of workers over the years [winning judgments of over $1.3 million in successful ‘wage theft’ claims]. We encourage workers to contact us whenever they have questions or feel their employer is cheating them out of their wages.”

The TCWC Workers’ Rights Hotline can be reached at 607-269-0409 or TCWRH@tcworkerscenter.org or via Facebook.

ACTION ALERT: Adjunct Professors @ TC3 Need Your Help ASAP!!

There is a sprouting and thriving movement by Adjunct Professors at colleges and universities around the country to call attention to their plight (see our recent cover story article in our most recent newsletter). In Tompkins and Cortland counties, we have no shortage of Adjunct Professors who are beginning to organize to improve their contingent working conditions.

We are coming to you now in hopes that you can take an action (by clicking on this link) by Wednesday, November 5th, on behalf of the Adjunct Professors union, known as the TC3 Adjunct Association, that has taken root at Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) in Dryden, NY. (We say the 5th of November because the 6th is when the TC3 Board meets for its Annual Retreat.) A strong majority of Adjuncts at TC3 have already signed authorization cards indicating their desire for unionization. (The TC3 Adjunct Association is affiliated with NYSUT, NEA, AFT, AFL-CIO as the exclusive bargaining agent for TC3’s 200+ adjuncts.)

Take Action

On October 22, 2014, the union filed these authorization forms with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB). The TC3 Administration and Board has one month to respond and indicate it’s willingness to ‘voluntarily recognize’ the TC3 union, or else drag the already-strong majority will of the Adjuncts to be organized into a union into a legal battle that will cost taxpayers more money!

We are asking that if you live in Cortland or Tompkins County and you agree that workers should have the right to join together in representing their own interests in the form of a union, that you click here to send an email message to the TC3 Board as well as the TC3 President, Carl Haynes, indicating that you don’t want taxpayer dollars–your taxpayer dollars!–wasted on a legal battle by the College to fight the union efforts by the Adjuncts! The TC3 Board needs to know that the Tompkins and Cortland communities are supportive of the TC3 Adjunct Association’s efforts!

Additionally, we plan to show up, en masse, to the TC3 next scheduled Board Meeting on Thursday, November 20th, at 5:30 p.m., along with some members of the Adjuncts Organizing Committee to show our support for their unionizing efforts. If you think you can make this, please email TCWRH@tcworkerscenter.org or call 607-269-0409.

Amazing Story from How a Union (UAW Local 2300) Started at Cornell University

Editor’s Note: The following interview of Sue Heisey Compton, a founder back in the early 1980s of a union at Cornell University that represents over 1,100 building maintenance and service workers. The interview was conducted by Joan Lockwood, staff person with Local 2300, several months ago. Compton unfortunately passed away this past October 17th, 2014. However, we are incredibly blessed with this glimpse, from Sue’s perspective, into the inspirational history of why a union made so much sense to this union sister!

Did you know, for instance, that now no one working at Cornell and represented by the UAW makes less than $14.51/hour? Be it food service, the Statler, or grounds crews: what people might expect to make in the larger community of not much more than a minimum wage, at Cornell because of the union, is dramatically more!

Meet a Member: Sue Heisey Compton

Sue holds the honor of being the first woman from Grounds to step up and support the effort to bring a union to Cornell in the early 1980s. Her name is listed on the Charter of UAW Local 2300.

What was the moment when you knew you had to get involved? What convinced you, personally and professionally? What did you do?

I was not at Cornell for very long when I heard the grounds workers talking about getting a union to represent them mostly for reasons of retirement, sick leave policies and respect than anything else. I was so new and as the first ever female Groundsman I was trying to get the men to trust that I could and would do the same jobs that they were asked to do. I didn’t want to be treated like anything other than a fellow worker. I knew that I could do any of the work that the smaller men could do.

They had contacted the Meat Cutters Union and had a hearing already scheduled at the NLRB. I signed the card and actually testified at the hearing while I was still a probationary employee. They asked me on the stand if I was a permanent employee and I said I hadn’t been told yet either way. My boss at that time, Ed Kabelac, the Superintendent of Grounds, was asked and he said that yes, Sue Heisey, was now a permanent employee.

I had tried to get work for the 3 years previous and all I wanted was to have a chance to prove I could do the work. I had worked on a farm; I bought and sold produce; I mowed lawns; I cut, split and delivered firewood and I tended bar at Tweitmann’s Halfway House. And I applied for so many other jobs.
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Need Restaurant Workers to Help End Sub-Minimum Wages

Are you a restaurant worker, tipped or otherwise–or do you know of a restaurant worker in your work through your Agency–who would be interested in changing the wages that ‘tipped’ workers receive? Governor Cuomo has called for a Wage Board to study the state’s sub-minimum wage for tipped workers – and with the stroke of a pen, the Cuomo administration can end this unfair and outdated policy by issuing a wage order requiring employers to directly pay tipped workers the full minimum wage, with tips in addition.

The Tompkins County Workers’ Center is looking for restaurant workers who believe that sub-minimum wages should be considered a thing of the past to testify at the NYS Wage Board Hearing that will meet to receive Public Comment from workers and advocates on Friday, October 3rd, from 12-3 p.m. in Syracuse. In addition, we are looking for advocates who know how ridiculous and unfair this sub-minimum wage is, who would be willing to briefly testify! If you are a restaurant worker or advocate and can attend, please let us know ASAP by either replying to this email, or calling our office at 607-269-0409.

Did you know that restaurant workers are allowed to be paid a sub-minimum wage by restaurants in New York (in addition to 43 other states nationwide)?
Right now, in the State of New York, the tipped minimum wage for servers is $5/hour ($5.65 for delivery drivers). (The Federal Minimum Wage for tipped workers is even lower, at $2.13/hour!) Have you ever wondered why the restaurant industry has been given this special dispensation by our governments? (The NYS minimum wage for most workers is presently $8.00/hour; will go up to $8.75 on 12/31/14; and $9.00/hour on 12/31/15. Find complete summary here; also for restaurant workers). Read more

Contingent Labor: Focus on Higher Education and Adjunct Professors

By Rebecca F. Plante

On one hand, I like my job, which I take pride in doing well, and I look forward to every class. 

On the other hand, it is dead end job (only every semester), with stagnant pay, and no pathway to predictable employment. The merits of my work are known only to my students, as no one evaluates my teaching.

I could quit – It’s just a part time gig. This would be an easy decision if I didn’t love my actual job, didn’t work well with my colleagues or didn’t care for my students, but none of those things are true. I’m a good teacher – my students learn and I make them work hard. I have a good thing going and my department appreciates my work. 

If I quit, those things are lost, but the college gets just what it wanted: 9 years of my best efforts (the equivalent of 6 years of full time employment – compensated at a fraction of the salary and no benefits) and then me giving up and going away quietly when I feel used up. I don’t know what to do, and I’m tired of giving my tenure-track colleagues teaching advice. –Ithaca College Adjunct Professor

First, the good news. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) just introduced legislation intended to extend the benefits of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program to adjunct professors. This would enable adjuncts with the student loan debt often associated with earning one, two, or more degrees to eventually have their government-backed loans forgiven.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), with two million members across the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, has created Adjunct Action, an effort to unionize contingent professors. Over 21,000 adjuncts have voted to unionize on their campuses, gaining the power of union bargaining, collective action, and access to benefits.

The New Faculty Majority, founded in 2009, has begun to raise awareness about all levels of contingent faculty. And adjuncts across the United States have used the Internet to publish accounts of their working conditions, their decisions to remain in or leave academia, and to connect.

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