By RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum Originally appeared in Amsterdam News A business’s viability must not depend on the legally allowed exploitation of people which had originally been based on the color of their skin. That is morally indefensible. This is why New York needs to correct the glaring injustice in New York’s agriculture industry where farmworkers are denied overtime pay after 40 hours. Unlike most workers in the Empire State—and the rest of the country—New York’s farmworkers are currently denied overtime pay by New York law until they’ve worked 60 hours a week. This is a relic of Jim Crow-era labor laws that have historically treated farmworkers—the backbone of New York’s agriculture industry—as second-class workers. But with the proper action, that could soon change. As directed by the historic Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act (which in 2019 for the first time gave the state’s farmworkers the right to organize into unions) the New York Department of Labor has convened a wage board to hold hearings and consider changing the state’s regulations to reduce the 60-hour overtime threshold for farmworkers. The wage board needs to recognize that farmworkers—who have proven to be truly essential workers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—deserve overtime after 40 hours, which has been long established for almost every other worker in this country. Just like all businesses, farms have financial concerns. But the industry cannot use these concerns to justify laws rooted in the darkest point of our history to exploit predominantly Black, Brown and immigrant workers. There is virtually no evidence to support industry claims that the difference between success or failure at New York’s farms depends upon the unjust 60-hour overtime pay threshold. Even some in the agriculture business agree, including David Breeden from Sheldrake Vineyards in the Finger Lakes region. “You know what’s expensive for the coal industry, not having child labor, but we got past that,” Breeden said during one of the hearings. Cleary, the farm industry will survive paying its workers fair overtime. The data in the nation’s largest farm state, California, shows that their 40-hour overtime pay threshold has not corresponded with any negative impacts or shocks to the California farm economy or labor market. Farms in Washington state, where 40-hour overtime has also been implemented, are continuing to thrive. Last year, the RWDSU helped farmworkers at Pindar Vineyard on Long Island become the first to win union membership. These essential working men and women are predominantly full-time New Yorkers. They have families here that they care for and they have family back home whom they also support. They want a better future for their children and work to provide a safe home for them. They take pride in their work, and they want and deserve dignity at work. This dignity can only be fully realized when these workers—whom New Yorkers depend upon every day—are treated fairly and enjoy the same rights as all other working New Yorkers. The wage board must implement a 40-hour overtime threshold for New York’s farmworkers, recognizing their contributions, and moving toward correcting the injustices they’ve suffered for decades.
Last Friday, 116 employees at the Soho store in Manhattan filed for a union election with the Retail Warehouse and Department Store Union, the first of the retailer’s 15,000 employees nationwide to seek to form a union. REI has long cultivated an image as one of the nation’s most progressive retailers, shutting down stores on Black Friday for the past seven years and offering workers annual incentives that kick in when stores hits sales targets. But REI workers in Soho have many concerns that reflect the general precarity of working a non-union job in the retail industry. In particular, they want full-time status and benefits, COVID-19 protections, and guaranteed hours after the holiday season. Denend told Motherboard that despite working 40 hours a week, she and many of her coworkers are classified as part-time, and will not receive the healthcare benefits that come with full-time status until they’ve worked at the company for a year. She says workers at her store are frequently told “we don’t know” when they ask about how they can be converted to full-time status sooner. “There’s a lot of accountability and transparency issues,” she said. New hires at the Manhattan store start at roughly $18.90 an hour. MIT’s living wage calculator says a living wage in New York City is $21.77 an hour for someone without children. Read more about it at VICE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 24, 2022 Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259 OGDENSBURG, NY NATIVE ELECTED TO UNION’S SECOND HIGHEST POSITION Robert Layng, Jr. Elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (NEW YORK, NY) – On Tuesday, January 18, 2022, Robert Layng, Jr., was elected Secretary-Treasurer of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). The RWDSU represents approximately 45,000 workers in New York State and 100,000 across the country in a wide range of industries including workers in retail, grocery, pharmacy, food service, food processing, cannabis, warehousing, nursing homes, non-profits and agriculture – representing New York’s first ever unionized farmworkers. “I could not be more honored and humbled to have been elected to fill the role of Secretary-Treasurer of the RWDSU. I want to thank RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum for his trust and nomination, my parents for the work ethic they instilled in me and my entire family for their support. RWDSU members are facing some of the most extraordinary challenges they’ve ever seen as many continue to fulfill essential and frontline positions in the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever our union is supporting and ensuring workers have the critical support they need both at work and at home. I am proud of the tireless work of the RWDSU and the example Jack Wurm Jr. set, and I look forward to continue to propel the worker-driven mission of the RWDSU,” said Robert Layng, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “I am excited about Bob Layng becoming the RWDSU’s next secretary-treasurer. He is an extraordinary individual with great talent, who cares deeply about people. He has played an important role in the work of the union throughout the years; and now in his new position he will be able to make even more of a difference in the lives of working people,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Robert Layng, Jr. began his career with the RWDSU as an intern in 1996 and has held numerous positions within the union including Operations Manager, Comptroller and most recently Executive Assistant to the President. Layng was elected by the Union’s Executive Board to fill the remainder of the term vacated by retiring RWDSU Secretary-Treasurer Jack Wurm, Jr. Layng, formerly of Ogdensburg, New York is the son of Robert Layng and the late Davalene Layng and has been married for over 30 years to his wife Lenore and together they have a 21-year-old son Miles. Layng is a 1985 graduate of Ogdensburg Free Academy and a 1997 graduate of SUNY Old Westbury. # # # The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 11, 2022 Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259 NLRB DIRECTS MAIL-IN BALLOT ELECTION AT AMAZON IN BESSEMER, ALABAMA (BESSEMER, AL) – Today, the Director of Region 10 of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued the Notice of Election, outlining the terms of the new union election for workers at Amazon in Bessemer, Alabama. The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) issued the following statement: “Amazon’s misconduct during the first union election so tainted the outcome that the NLRB overturned the results and directed a second election for workers in Bessemer, Alabama. We are deeply concerned that the decision fails to adequately prevent Amazon from continuing its objectionable behavior in a new election. We proposed to the NLRB a number of remedies that could have made the process fairer to workers, which were not taken up in the Notice of Election issued today. Workers' voices can and must be heard fairly, unencumbered by Amazon’s limitless power to control what must be a fair and free election, and we will continue to hold them accountable for their actions.” # # # The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (right) reviews an RWDSU contract with RWDSU Local 3 members employed at Bloomingdale's in New York City in the 1960s. This month, Americans everywhere salute the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For members of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Dr. King's legacy has special meaning. We take special pride that, in 1968, the RWDSU was the first union anywhere to negotiate a contract guaranteeing Dr. King's birthday as a paid holiday. The RWDSU was among the earliest supporters of Dr. King's grassroots drive to challenge racial injustice in the South. In Chicago during the 1960s, RWDSU provided an important forum for Dr. King to speak out against poverty in America's cities. Later, thousands of RWDSU members stood shoulder to shoulder with other Civil Rights Activists during the historic 1963 March on Washington. Dr. King saw the Civil Rights struggle and the labor movement as closely linked. He was a constant ally of Union Activists and most have forgotten that Dr. King was in Tennessee to support a Living Wage for Sanitation Strikers on that terrible April day in 1968 when he was slain at the age of 39. Dr. King spoke about the importance of the Labor Movement on many occasions. "Our needs are identical with Labor's needs: decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, and health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children, and respect in the community. That is why negroes support Labor's demands and fight laws which curb Labor. That is why the Labor-hater and the Labor-baiter is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-negro epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth," Dr. King said in a speech in 1961. In reflecting on the life and work of Dr. King, the RWDSU recognizes the fight he began is not over until equality for all is a reality, and it is up to our generation of RWDSU members to complete his mission. His spirit lives on in the Black Lives Matter movement, the labor movement, and everywhere people seek to create a more just and equal society for all of us.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 10, 2022 Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259 RETAIL, WHOLESALE AND DEPARTMENT STORE UNION ENDORSES KATHY HOCHUL FOR GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK (NEW YORK, NY) – Today, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced its endorsement of New York Governor, Kathy Hochul. The RWDSU represents approximately 45,000 workers in New York State in a wide range of industries including retail, grocery, pharmacy, food service, food processing, cannabis, warehousing, nursing homes, non-profits and agriculture – representing New York’s first ever unionized farmworkers. “Governor Kathy Hochul recognizes that workplace safety must be prioritized amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and she is deeply committed to advocating for our members – many of whom are essential workers on the front lines in the COVID-19 crisis. Upon taking office in late August, Governor Hochul acted swiftly to implement profound safety protections for our members under the NY Hero Act. She has a proven track record as a strong and smart leader with a steady hand. She has taken on the unemployment crisis many of our members face and created funds to help our members in the tourism industry, which include our members who work in airline catering. She has looked to support workers seeking to unionize in both new and emerging industries like adult-use cannabis and historically excluded farmworkers. Governor Hochul has already shown us that workers will have a seat at the table in her administration – and Kathy has our full support as she seeks to continue her work as Governor of New York,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “I am humbled and honored to receive this endorsement from the hardworking members of the RWDSU who have kept us safe, fed and healthy throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Governor Kathy Hochul. “The RWDSU has been a strong advocate for the needs and rights of its members. RWDSU members provide critical services to us as we continue to weather the pandemic, from retail, grocery and pharmacy workers, to health aids and social workers at non-profits and in nursing homes, to food processing workers that produce the food on our dinner tables – they are there. New York is at its best when organized labor has a seat at the table and when we ensure our workers are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. I look forward to RWDSU's continued partnership in delivering the strongest pro-worker agenda in the nation.” # # # The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.
RWDSU Local 513 members in Canton, Massachusetts, have ratified a new contract with their employer, Pepsi. Over 100 RWDSU members there will see significant wage increases – up to $3 per hour for some classifications – over the course of the four-year agreement. The New England Joint Board members, who serve as warehouse workers and route drivers/merchandisers throughout the Boston area, will also see their health care protected at no cost to themselves. The health care benefits have also expanded, with a new telehealth/virtual visit benefit being added to the plan. “This is a great contract we can all be proud of,” said Pepsi employee Paul Cronin. “The pandemic has been a challenge, with much of the college and restaurant business affected, but we’ve kept the plant working throughout the entire time. Now, hopefully coming out of the pandemic, we are doing so with a strong contract that we won together.”
RWDSU members at Fresh Mark in Massillon, Ohio, and at Fresh Mark cold storage ratified a new three-year contract that brings numerous improvements to 450 RWDSU members employed in food processing and cold storage there. The new agreement, which was overwhelmingly ratified, adds a fifth week of paid vacation, and also includes significant annual wage increases including six percent the first year. Members with 10 years of service or more get vacation pay of 3 percent of their last year’s total earnings, marking a 50 percent increase over the previous benefit. Workers in progression went from five years to 18 months, which means they will earn Base Labor Wage much earlier. Maintenance workers will earn an additional 60 cents an hour with approved classes on top of their normal wage improvements. The contract also changes paychecks to weekly from bi-weekly, increases sick and accident benefits, increases the company’s 401K match, and increases the night shift differential from 25 cents all the way to $1.50 an hour. Serving on the Negotiating Committee were James Danzy, Juan Moscoso, Kristina Hoffner, Andrew Borntrager, JP Munford, and RWDSU Representative Fred Jimenez. RWDSU members at Fresh Mark produce bacon, ham, dry sausage, hot dogs and lunch meats.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 28, 2021 RWDSU Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259 AFL-CIO Contact: Tim Schlittner | [email protected] | 202-637-5018 HEALTH CARE WORKERS NEED MANDATORY OSHA PROTECTIONS FROM COVID-19 The AFL-CIO; the American Federation of Teachers; National Nurses United; AFSCME; the United Food and Commercial Workers; the United Steelworkers; the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union-UFCW; and SEIU issued the following statement on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) removing the COVID-19 emergency temporary standard (ETS) for health care workers: First and foremost, we strongly disagree with the Biden administration’s decision to discontinue the enforceable OSHA ETS for health care workers. With the omicron variant surging and no permanent standard in place, our front-line heroes are in grave danger of COVID-19 infection. Workplace COVID-19 outbreaks are exploding; recent data show the number of infections doubled and deaths nearly quadrupled among nursing home workers alone. The ETS made clear to health care employers that proven prevention measures limiting airborne exposures to COVID-19 are absolutely necessary and would be fully enforced to keep workers from getting sick and being removed from work. These include improved ventilation, patient screening and respirators, and providing paid leave when workers are infected and must quarantine. Our message to every employer is this: While vaccines and boosters help prevent serious disease and death, COVID-19 is life-threatening, especially to healthcare and medical workers, and all proven protective measures must remain in place. The administration’s pursuit of a broader infectious disease standard, something we’ve championed for years, will empower us to fight the next pandemic. But to protect workers now, we need to build on the emergency COVID-19 standard by making it permanent, not scrapping it altogether. # # # The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 11, 2021 Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259 STATEMENT ON AMAZON WAREHOUSE COLLAPSE “Time and time again Amazon puts its bottom line above the lives of its employees. Requiring workers to work through such a major tornado warning event as this was inexcusable. At least two workers will never be going home to their families, and countless others continue to be trapped beneath the rubble of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois. This is another outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers, and we cannot stand for this. Amazon cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people's lives at risk. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). # # # The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.