The Tompkins County Workers’ Center’s (TCWC) role in the community is fourfold: our Workers’ Rights Hotline; local community union organizing; the Living Wage Campaign; and community outreach through our Occupational Safety and Health programs.
The Workers’ Rights Hotline is a service which advocates for, provides resources for and supports workers in the community with any issue they have related to employment. These include a large variety of “cases” such as filing for unemployment, working through issues of discrimination, workplace harassment, and supporting workers in starting a union in their workplace when that feels like a natural next step. Educating workers on their rights and supporting them through their struggles contributes to better conditions for other workers, and increases members of the larger labor movement which endeavors to improve conditions and provide justice for all.
The Community Union Organizers is a leadership group of workers in the community that strive to improve employment standards and what workers should expect from their employers.
The goal of the Living Wage Campaign is to create fair wages for workers in the community by establishing a living wage in place of the state minimum wage, as well as Certifying employers locally as being Living Wage Employers.
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.
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 450 annually. Since the 2003 inception of this program, we have won judgments of over $1,300,000 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 four years, we successfully helped over 420 workers organize their own unions (at Tompkins Community Action; New Roots Charter School; the Ithaca Health Alliance; Gimme! Coffee)—all as the result of the Hotline!
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 Countywide minimum wage as Living Wage campaign, which, when successful, will require all employers to pay their workers the Tompkins County Living Wage. Another example is our Living Wage Employer Certification Program. This program certifies employers who meet our Living Wage Guidelines (updated by Alternatives Federal Credit Union in August 2017 to $15.11/hour). Modeled on Fair Trade certification programs, our program seeks to provide incentives and benefits to employers who pay a living wage. Since 2006, 117 employers, with close to 3,057 workers, have been approved for certification. 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; Ithaca Underground; Single Payer NY; Ithaca Democratic Socialists of America; Civic Ensemble; Tompkins County Immigrant Rights Coalition; Veterans Fellowship of Reconciliation; No Mas Lagrimas/No More Tears; and Truthsayers. 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); the Upstate New York Workers’ Center Alliance; the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition (www.labor-religion.org); and Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org). The TCWC is a Workers’ Center affiliate of the AFL-CIO.