More about the Tompkins County Workers’ Center
Community Union Organizers
With at least 25% of working families in Tompkins County making less than a living wage, the foundation of our work is building support for a living wage for all, as well as improving benefits and working conditions for low-wage workers in the local retail and service sectors. The Community Union Organizers (CUO’s) is a leadership group comprised of workers from retail and service sectors, as well as consumers, to help ‘raise the bar’ of what such workers should expect in terms of pay and treatment. Presently, the CUO’s are focused on our campaign to make a Living Wage the new Minimum Wage in Tompkins County.
Workers’ Rights Hotline
We provide free and confidential information, referral and advocacy assistance to workers who feel they have been treated unfairly. We provide the only such service in Tompkins County and the region, and our client load is now over 300 annually. Since the 2003 inception of this program, we have won judgments of over $1,230,000 in ‘wage theft’ cases for over 350 workers. As a result of this work we published a Restaurant Owners Manual to foster legal and fair employment practices, which is distributed by the Tompkins County Department of Health. In 2015, we updated our Workers Rights Manual summarizing the protections that exist for workers. The Manual has inspired a number of other Workers’ Centers in Upstate New York. Our Workers’ Rights Hotline also serves to deepen our Membership base and stimulate involvement among those most directly affected by economic injustice. In the past two years, we successfully helped over 420 workers organize their own unions (at Tompkins Community Action; New Roots Charter School; the Ithaca Health Alliance, and now the RNs at Cayuga Medical Center who are presently engaged in an active union drive)—all as the result of the Hotline!
Living Wage Employer Certification
Since its beginning, TCWC has played a leading role in the community by highlighting the moral and economic imperative of paying workers a Living Wage. One example of this work is the Living Wage Employer Certification Program. This program certifies employers who meet our Living Wage Guidelines (updated by Alternatives Federal Credit Union in June 2015 to $14.34/hour). Modeled on Fair Trade certification programs, our program seeks to provide incentives and benefits to employers who pay a living wage. Since 2005, 98 employers, with close to 2,800 workers, have been approved for certification. The Towns of Caroline and Danby became Living Wage Employers within the past year! Look for “Living Wage-Certified” window stickers or visit the TCWC website for the complete list of certified businesses. We’re happy to announce that the national organization, Interfaith Worker Justice, modeling our program has produced a guide helping communities across the U.S. learn how to be Certifiers of Living Wage Employers!
Service Learning in Social Justice
This program provides social justice service learning opportunities for hundreds of university, college, and secondary school students in Tompkins County. Internships and volunteer experiences are also provided to numerous college students at Ithaca College, Cornell University, and TC3.
Occupational Health and Safety Issues
Through the support of the Occupational Health Clinical Center (OHCC) in Syracuse and the Midstate Education and Service Foundation in Ithaca, the TCWC is educating workers locally on occupational health and safety issues, as well as to the services offered by the OHCC. This year alone, we are training 120 immigrant and otherwise vulnerable workers (many of the immigrants are dairy farm workers).
Peace and Justice Center
Aware of the need to develop the “infrastructure” for social justice organizing, we support fledgling organizations that advocate for social justice by providing office space and services to groups like Cultura Ithaca; DIY Ithaca; Move to Amend; MoveOn.org – Fingerlakes Council; Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America; Civic Ensemble; Veterans Fellowship of Reconciliation; Love Knows No Bounds, and No Mas Lagrimas/No More Tears. Stop in and learn about their great work!
The Tompkins County Workers’ Center is affiliated with the national Jobs with Justice network (www.jwj.org); New York State Labor-Religion Coalition (www.labor-religion.org); Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org); the Future of Work/Contingent Workers Campaign as spearheaded by the National Guestworkers Alliance through its New Worker Alliance. The TCWC is a Workers’ Center affiliate of the AFL-CIO.