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Daniel X. O’Neil

The Minimum Wage Worker Strikes Back
Sarah Kendzior |

At 24, Patrick is a fast food veteran. Over the past eight years, he has worked at seven different franchises. He started out at America’s Incredible Pizza Company at the NASCAR Speedpark in St. Louis, Missouri, the city where he grew up and still lives. He thought a fast food job would keep him on his feet while he figured out his life. He did not know it would become his life. Now he is captive to the hustle, always moving and going nowhere.

“You pick up something easy to get stable,” he says. “And on your quest to get stable, you end up getting stuck. You either fall or you stay where you are. Or you fall staying where you are.”

How One Protest Turned Into a Fast-Food-Worker Movement
Kristina Bravo | TakePart | 4 April 2014

“So we started talking to workers at fast-food places and asking them if they wanted to organize for higher pay,” New York Communities for Change’s Jonathan Westin said in an emailed statement. “There was not a worker we talked to who wouldn’t sign onto the campaign.”

The movement became known as Fast Food Forward. It held its first citywide protest in 2012, and the movement has since spread across the country. The federal minimum wage still stagnates at $7.25 per hour, a rate that hasn’t budged since 2009. But a lot of progress has been made on the state level. As of Jan. 1, 2014, twenty-one states exceed the federal minimum wage; others are expected to follow suit. Here’s a look back at the American fast-food workers’ fight for livable pay.

Fast-Food CEOs Make 1,200 Times As Much As One of Their Workers—and They Want to Keep It That Way
Zoë Carpenter | The Nation | 24 April 2014

David Novak is the chief executive of Yum! Brands, the parent company that runs Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC. Last year, while Yum! Brands and other restaurant companies lobbied against raising the minimum wage, Novak made at least $22 million—more than 1,000 times what the average fast-food worker makes in a year. In return for paying him so much, Yum! got a tax break.

The National Restaurant Association, which represents Yum! and other restaurant companies, is expected to launch a lobbying blitz in Washington next week against a minimum wage increase. For years the restaurant industry has fought to keep the wage floor low, all while rewarding its CEOs with increasingly large pay packages. As a result, the food industry is now the most unequal sector in the American economy. Thanks to a tax loophole that encourages companies to raise “performance pay” for executives, taxpayers are effectively subsidizing the imbalance.

While inequality between low-level workers and CEOs manifests in all areas of the economy, a new report from Demos concludes that the gap within the food industry is exceptional. Between 2009 and 2012 the CEO-to-worker pay ratio in food services and accommodation was about twice as large as most other sectors. In 2012, fast-food CEOs earned 1,200 times as much as the average employee.

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Daniel X. O’Neil
Fast Food Pulls a Fast One
Michael Winship | | 29 April 2014

Maybe you’ve even read about the wage theft lawsuits that have been filed against McDonald’s and Taco Bell, or the recent settlements in New York State against McDonald’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s Pizza that have led to payments to employees of more than $2 million.

But, much in the way that Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the Twenty-First Century lays out the hard data backing up everything we’ve believed about the reality of vast income inequality in America, a trio of new reports confirms with solid statistics what we’ve suspected about the fast-food industry — that those in charge are gobbling up the profits voraciously while their workers are forced into public assistance. What’s more, our tax dollars are subsidizing both the fast-food poor who need the help and the fast-food rich who don’t.

First, a recent data brief from the National Employment Law Project (NELP) notes, “Lower-wage industries accounted for 22 percent of job losses during the recession, but 44 percent of employment growth over the past four years. Today, lower-wage industries employ 1.85 million more workers than at the start of the recession.” In other words, as The New York Times more succinctly put it, “The poor economy has replaced good jobs with bad ones.”

Subway leads fast food industry in underpaying workers
Annalyn Kurtz | CNN Money | 1 May 2014

McDonald’s gets a lot of bad press for its low pay. But there’s an even bigger offender when it comes to fast food companies underpaying their employees: Subway.

Individual Subway franchisees have been found in violation of pay and hour rules in more than 1,100 investigations spanning from 2000 to 2013, according to a CNNMoney analysis of data collected by the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Hamburgled: Nine Out Of Ten Fast Food Workers Have Experienced Wage Theft
Alan Pyke | Think Progress | 2 April 2014

A new poll finds that 89 percent of fast food workers nationwide say they experience wage theft. That means that nine out of every ten fast food workers doesn’t get the pay they earned, according Hart Research Associates’ findings. The most common violation, workers report, is off-the-clock work. About a quarter of those surveyed had worked over 40 hours in a week on some occasions, and half of that group said they didn’t get overtime pay for those hours.

The poll coincides with testimonials from two former McDonald’s managers who say these sorts of illegal labor practices were routine in their stores for years.


Kimberly Kindy reports on the attempt by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to call bullshit on the conclusions that the USDA is drawing from a report on the effect of a pilot program to speed up poultry production lines.

In a March 26 blog post, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service director Al Almanza said the study shows line speed increases are “not a significant factor in worker safety.” USDA officials have offered a similar interpretation to members of Congress and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights over the past several weeks.

However, NIOSH Director John Howard chastised USDA officials, last week, saying he was “quite surprised” by the agency’s assertions. “It’s impossible to draw a conclusion about the impact of line speed changes on worker health” from the NIOSH study,” Howard said in a letter to Almanza, adding that to do so “is misleading.”

Howard said NIOSH “found an alarming 42% prevalence of carpal tunnel syndrome” among workers during its first assessment at a plant in South Carolina. When NIOSH returned a second time, some 10 months later, they were not surprised to find the injury rates were about the same.

What’s stunning is that the USDA felt that a 47% rate of carpal tunnel was an acceptable base rate against which to judge the effect of a speed up. Wow.

Bill Moyers and Saru Jayaraman on a real minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers

. . . back in 1991, the National Restaurant Association passed around enough campaign contributions to persuade Congress to set the federal minimum wage for waiters, busboys and bartenders at only $2.13 an hour. And it has never gone up.

Take the 25 minutes and watch the segment.

Pesticides and Farm Workers. A Labor and an Environmental Issue.

This week’s must read comes from Susan Freinkel writing for FERN in The Nation on long term research into the impact of pesticides on the children of farm workers in California:

When Eskenazi and Bradman began visiting the valley, they were met with some wariness. Growers feared they had an anti-pesticide agenda, and farmworkers worried they could lose their jobs if they agreed to participate. The researchers connected with local clinics and gave gift cards to families who enrolled. Over a two-year period, from 1999 to 2000, they enrolled a cohort of 601 pregnant women—most born in Mexico, working as or living with farmworkers, and with an income well below the poverty line. As the women gave birth, the researchers began following the children—an initial group of 536—with periodic assessments.

To determine what the children were exposed to in the womb, the researchers took urine and blood samples from the women while pregnant and at delivery. To gauge the presence of pesticides in participants’ homes, the researchers did inspections and took dust samples. And to assess impacts, they questioned the mothers every few years about their children’s behaviors and tracked the kids through periodic tests: physical exams, neurobehavioral assessments, and analyses of their urine, blood, saliva, baby teeth and hair. (Over time, about half of the children dropped out of the study, so in 2010 and 2011, the researchers recruited another 300 9-year-olds to start following.)

All of that information—including more than 150,000 biological samples stored in banks of freezers at a facility in Richmond, California—constitutes a treasure trove of data that Eskenazi and her colleagues have mined for more than a hundred scientific papers. Over the years, they have broadened their investigations to look at the effects of other chemicals to which the CHAMACOS children have been exposed, including fungicides, fumigants, bisphenol A and flame retardants. (They explored the last one because, until recently, California required the retardants to be present in any upholstered furniture sold in the state.) “We call the exposures we’ve looked at ‘the California mix,’” Eskenazi says.

This is what they found:

Prenatal exposure to even tiny amounts of organophosphates—in the parts per trillion range—can have significant impacts on the brain, the CHAMACOS study suggests.

From infancy on, the children of the mothers with the highest levels of organophosphates were at the greatest risk for neurodevelopmental problems. That association was present at every stage the researchers checked in on the kids. At 6 months, they were more likely to have poorer reflexes. At 2, they were at higher risk for pervasive developmental disorder, an autism-related condition, like Asperger’s, in which children have trouble connecting to others. At 5, they were more likely to be hyperactive and have trouble paying attention. At 7, they scored lower on IQ tests, by an average of seven points—the equivalent of being a half-year behind their peers. Eskenazi can’t say whether the associations persist, because she hasn’t been funded to keep looking.

The article underscores one of the biggest fault lines in US agriculture. To me the issues surrounding class and labor issues between produce growers in California and Florida are very different than even the largest family farms in the Midwest. In developing a productive and accurate critique of so-called ‘Big Ag’ on ‘Industrial Agriculture’ it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not just one thing. Large commodity crop farms in the Midwest are almost universally family farms and highly mechanized. They don’t require many hired hands and those they do hire tend to be long term and local. The people handling the pesticides tend have college degrees in agriculture, and relationships with extension agents and sales reps. You can bet if their kids are helping out, they using best practices for handling those pesticides. The same is nowhere near as true for farm workers, especially migrant farm workers in places like California and Florida.
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