“THOU SHALT NOT WITHOLD WAGES”Deuteronomy, part of the shared scripture of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, has something to say about employer responsibility. “You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy laborers,” the scripture admonishes. “Pay them their wages daily before sunset, because they are poor and their livelihood depends on it.” Yet every day across the nation, workers are denied their fair wages. They are misclassified as contractors, refused pay for overtime work, paid below-minimum wage, paid less than agreed, paid with bad checks and sometimes, not paid at all. As the state area with the second highest poverty rate in the country, Washington DC is right in the thick of this wage theft crisis, a crisis inflated by the financial meltdown. According to the Washington Lawyers’ Committee, almost two thirds of day laborers and homeless workers in DC have experienced wage theft over the past year and DC’s Wage and Hour Office, which is charged with the responsibility of enforcing labor laws, doesn’t have the “teeth” to successfully reclaim wages and prosecute violators. rnrnUnion de Trabajadores Takes Wage Theft Fight to City CouncilrnWith support from the DC JwJ coalition, the Union de Trabajadores de Washington DC (DC Workers’ Union) has launched a campaign to reform the Wage and Hour Office. rnrnThe demands are straightforward:rn*Improve investigations by devoting more resources to training investigators in flexible strategies for pursuing wage and hour cases, such as tracking down license plate numbers and visiting worksites.rn*Conduct more outreach to contingent workers to ensure they know how to file claims and make sure those with pending cases get regular updates.rn*Pursue penalties against employers found guilty of wage theft in order to discourage the practice. rn*Provide training and instruction for security officers and Wage and Hour staff on the Language Access Act and how to utilize interpretation services. Ensure that security officers are aware of the proper procedure for workers without identification.rnrnOn March 19th workers took their demands to the DC City Council, where Councilmember Barry was holding an oversight hearing on the Department of Employment Services (DOES). Minutes before the hearing began, the director of DOES, Joseph Walsh, requested an ad hoc meeting with the Union de Trabajadores. “We filled out the claim and gave [the Wage and Hour Office] all the information they needed to go after the employer and get our unpaid wages,” Juan Oscar, a member of the Union de Trabajadores, told Mr. Walsh. “I even gave them pictures of the houses where we worked and the street names. But after two years they have done little to help us and are now saying that they need more information before they can investigate my case.” Mr. Walsh promised to attend a meeting with the Union, but has yet to set up an appointment.rnrnFaith Community Joins the FrayrnAs the fight continues, Interfaith Worker Justice of Greater Washington, a project of DC JwJ that brings together faith leaders to organize in support of workers’ rights, has joined the fight. IWJ announced that wage theft will be the theme of this year’s Labor in the Pulpit and Labor on the Bimah program, during which congregations across the area focus on worker justice issues during their Labor Day weekend services. More than 50 churches, synagogues, and other faith communities participate each year. IWJ has been active in supporting day laborers for quite some time, and this year is moving full steam ahead to support the Union de Trabajadores’ Wage Theft campaign. Day laborers were recently the focus of Jews United for Justice’s annual Labor Seder, and IWJ is planning a luncheon in May to educate faith leaders further on the topic of wage theft. If you are interested in helping to plan Labor Day weekend activities, or involve your church in IWJ, contact Mackenzie at 202-974-8224 or mbaris@dclabor.org.rnrnLABOR AND COMMUNITY UNITE TO SAVE THE PUBLIC SECTORrnrnThis winter, under the shadows of an economic crisis, hundreds of DC residents packed the DC City Council chamber to listen to the testimonies of health and education workers, parents, students, advocates and leaders of the labor community at a hearing held by the DC Workers Rights Board on public sector services. The testimonies presented unearthed a series of alarming trends, including the lack of due process in hiring and firing of public sector workers, the concentration of power in the Mayor’s office combined with a failure by the City Council to provide necessary oversight, the absence of accountability and transparency, and the defunding, neglect and privatization of essential services. Meet two leaders who are working to turn the tide on privatization and building DC JwJ! rnrnrnJohnnie Walker. President, American Federation of Government Employee Local 383 rnBorn in Ethiopia, Mr. Walker always had an interest in activism and politics. Prior to working at the DC Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), Mr. Walker attended Howard University where he recorded and hosted a cable jazz show and beat reported for a hip hop news paper. After a decade of working at the DYRS he became a steward, then chief steward, and in 1999, president of AFGE local 383. Mr. Walker first worked in solidarity with DC JwJ during the Spring of 2001, when unions, community organizations, environmentalists, students and faith-based activists organized a week of actions against the Free Trade Area of the Americas meeting which took place April 16-22, 2001 in Quebec. There Mr. Walker formed lasting partnerships that would come to the support the struggle of public sector workers 8 years later. rnrnThis Spring Mayor Fenty announced he would make up this year’s $800 million shortfall by laying off 1,631 public sector workers without due process. The Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), responsible for overseeing public workers’ grievances, has not met for two years because the Mayor has not nominated qualified appointees to the board. For the last two years, city workers have watched their savings disappear as they wait in limbo for their grievances to be processed. For example, six Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) social workers reinstated by the DC arbitrator last year have still not been able to return to work and receive their back pay because the PERB board has a backlog of over 60 cases. “Despite this shameful situation, I’m hopeful that with the continued assistance and dedication of the DC JwJ coalition we will be able to change the political landscape in DC for the better,” said Mr. Walker.rnrnrnKimberly Johnson. Organizer, People’s Property CampaignrnKimberly joined the People’s Property Campaign (PPC) during the summer of 2008 as the struggle to save the Franklin Shelter came to a head. “Mayor Fenty’s blatant disregard for community voices, and the homeless in particular, highlighted the need for legislation that would strengthen transparency and accountability in the sale and disposal of public property,” says Kimberly. “So I joined the campaign. I immediately felt a connection between the PPC and my own values. I was impressed by how well organized they were, and felt that my input was well utilized. When you sell community spaces like schools, shelters and recreation centers, you destroy the community. Rather than selling public land to developers, the DC government could use it to expand government services, and house government agencies, community organizations and local businesses.” rnrnThe PPC is a resident-led campaign to stop the sale of public property for private profit. This year, Councilmember Thomas re-introduced Bill 17-0527, which lays out multiple layers of community planning and input to protect the public’s interest. It is currently awaiting a hearing in the committee on Government Operations and the Environment. “The sale of public property affects all sectors of the economy, so the DC JwJ coalition is strategically placed to push to get this bill passed. Endorse the campaign, host events in your community, go to ANC meetings and contact your Councilmember so that this year the bill doesn’t get stuck in committee!”rnrnrnDC JWJ SETS ECONOMIC RECOVERY AGENDArnMomentum is growing to create an economy that works for everyone, and DC JwJ, along with our national network of local coalitions, is helping to set the agenda. This winter, we held two educational workshops on the global financial crisis that brought together labor and community activists to analyze the roots of our current global crisis and develop an alternative vision. And on Saturday, April 25th Global Justice Action and DC JwJ will be hosting with an all-day city-wide People’s Economic Forum from 1:00-8:00PM. Nationally, JwJ released the “Economic Meltdown Funnies,” a tool to help communities understand the history and ideology behind where we are today. rnrnOne key piece of this agenda is the Employee Free Choice Act legislation which will make it easier for workers to form unions, protect their rights and improve their jobs. No situation better illustrates the connection between organizing rights and economic recovery than the fight of the workers at the Sheraton Crystal City in Arlington VA, who last month launched a public campaign for a fair unionization process. While Sheraton’s parent company, HEI, is one of the country’s fastest growing hotel chains, workers are facing unfair layoffs, unaffordable healthcare, and lack of respect on the job. In spite of rising unemployment, HEI keeps its hotels under-staffed, requiring room cleaners to clean as many as 32 rooms a day. In response to worker organizing, hotel management cynically laid off three longtime, hardworking employees, even though the hotel is full and staff are already over-worked. “We are committed to keep on fighting until we win,” said union organizing committee leader Hermen Romero, a cook at the Sheraton Crystal City for 5 years and one of the laid-off workers. “Now we are even more determined to fight, we will not take a step backwards.”rnrnIn addition to supporting the Sheraton workers, DC JwJ has been part of a national campaign to collect over a million and a half signatures in support of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would impose higher penalties on companies like HEI that violate workers’ rights and allow workers to form a union through majority card sign-up. rnrnrnSTUDENT LABOR WEEK OF ACTION A HUGE SUCCESS.rnStudents from campuses across the District organized an action-pack week of events for the Student Labor Action Project’s national week of action, March 25-April 4. With the economy continuing to slip, solidarity is more important than ever, and students are taking action to ensure that fair wages and workers’ rights are preserved. The week kicked off with a march and rally in support of the affordable education, the Employee Free Choice Act and the Dream Act. Hundreds of students gathered at L’Enfant Plaza and marched to the Capitol, chanting, “students and workers will never be defeated,” before going into the Capitol building to lobby their representatives. rnrnAt Georgetown University, students held a forum for students on immigrant families, immigrant lives. Foodservice workers, hotel workers and day laborers spoke to the crowd of about 80 people about the important of student-worker alliances in their struggle for worker justice. Students have played a key role in the Sheraton Crystal City organizing drive for instance, because universities are major investors in HEI, the hotel’s parent company. At the end, SLAP collected EFCA cards. At George Washington University, students held a film screening of a documentary on the Harvard Living Wage Campaign, followed by discussion with workers currently attempting to organize at hotels in Northern Virginia. Then, students organized an action outside their cafeteria in support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which recently launched a campaign asking food service providers to help improve wages and conditions for tomato pickers in Florida. At American University, students with AU Solidarity organized a mock funeral for Columbian Coca-Cola factory workers as part of a campus campaign aimed at getting Coca-Cola products from the university. The SLAP week of action concluded with a benefit concert featuring folk singer Ryan Harvey on April 4th.rnrnrnMAY 1: BUILDING WORKER SOLIDARITYrnAs DC’s demographics change, wages remain stagnant, social services are cut and prices rise, we see bosses, landlords and even policy makers using divide-and-conquer tactics to pit new immigrants against native-born workers. Language, immigration status, ethnicity and nationality have become tools of division. One of the main pieces of legislation that hinders organizing in multi-ethnic sectors is the 287(g) agreement, developed under the Bush administration to effectively subcontract immigration enforcement duties to local law enforcement agencies that self-select as the most anti-immigrant in the country. rnrn“The current economic crisis only exacerbates matters,” said Kristi Matthews of the Fair Budget Coalition and Legal Clinic for the Homeless. “As public services contract and housing programs are shut down, working people are scrambling for an even smaller piece of the pie.” The Fair Budget Coalition and DC JwJ recently held a community forum on building unity between Black and Brown communities in the District.rnrn“The 287(g ) program is dangerous and ineffective for several reasons,” says Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Labor Organizing Network “It leaches resources away from fighting and investigating real crimes, erodes police authority by making immigrants fearful of reporting crimes, leads to racial profiling, bogs down our legal system by confusing criminal and civil laws, and hinders organizing.” So far, around 65 local agencies are participating in the program, including several counties in Maryland and Virginia. The ugliest face of 287(g) emerged this year when Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio used the powers granted to him by this agreement to segregate and march a group of 200 shackled and chained immigrant prisoners through the streets of Phoenix to a tent city in the Arizona desert, cutting off their access to healthcare and forcing them to work in chain gangs if they “misbehaved.” rnrnAfter a month of intense mobilization, the Department of Justice announced that it would investigate. “Arpaio’s reign of terror will come to an end,” Congressman John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said. “This is not the end, there are other Arpaios out there.” Join DC Jobs with Justice on May 1st to call for a moratorium on raids and deportations, an end to the 287(g) program, and just immigration reform! Gather at Malcolm X park at 3:00pm and march to the White House.rnrnJWJ VOLUNTEERS LAUNCH ESL CLASSES AT HOME DEPOT CORNERrnLast fall DC JwJ launched a volunteer-run, ESL language program at the Home Depot on the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Brentwood Road NE. The classes, targeted at expanding day laborers’ English vocabulary, include basic conversational phrases, names of tools and construction skills, and the words necessary to negotiate a fair wage. “I’ve found volunteering as an English teacher to be particularly rewarding,” says volunteer James Ploeser. “You’re not just teaching language skills – you’re working with day laborers to help them assert their basic rights, and accompanying them as they fight to have those rights respected.” Classes are on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, from 8:30-9:30am. Contact 202.974.8224 for more information or to sign up to volunteer. No previous experience necessary.rnrnDC Jobs with Justice (DC JwJ) is a leading voice for workers’ rights in the Nation’s capital. As a coalition of 34 local labor, community, faith and student organizations, DC JwJ is uniquely placed to effectively support worker and community struggles. Founded in 2001, DC JwJ has helped tens of thousands of workers organize unions and win fair contracts; pushed through a living wage law, inclusionary zoning, and paid sick and safe days legislation to ensure good jobs and affordable housing for DC residents; campaigned for corporate accountability; and most recently, directly organized low-income contingent workers to defend their rights. Through our Workers’ Rights Board, Interfaith Worker Justice Committee, Student Labor Action Project, Building Benefits Network and Member Education Project, we mobilize members to take action, win concrete victories and build a movement for the rights of working people. Membership in the coalition is open to all DC-based, grassroots organizations that share our vision for social and economic justice. We also welcome individuals to join us in building a local movement for justice by joining our Activist Network.