Saturday, June 30, 2012

School Workers Speak Out, Demand Meeting with Labor Commissioner.

Teachers, students, trade unionists, unorganized workers, community members and others came out in force to the Georgia Department of Labor earlier today to speak out against the sudden removal of unemployment benefits for contracted school workers across Georgia.  This change will impact thousands of hard working Georgians.

Alvin Edwards a school bus driver in Savannah, GA spoke out: "Not only are these drivers and monitors throughout the state of Georgia being effected by this... But our most precious cargo, our most precious entity, which is our children are directly effected by the decision of just a few people."

Our school systems (and school children) will lose experienced school bus drivers and food service workers if this change stands and workers are forced to find new jobs.

Kelley Grant a food service worker at Agnes Scott spoke out saying "I have been stressing, I have been worrying.  What am I going to do?"  Most workers were given little to no warning to prepare for the removal of their income over the summer.

Following the speak out the participants entered the Department of Labor to discuss the pressing issues directly with the Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler (the man that decided to remove the benefits).  At first, it was promised that someone would come down to dialogue with the workers.  However, they later rescinded their offer, stating that workers should just reapply for their unemployment.  Upon hearing this we decided that we would all sign in and go up to Mark Butler's office to engage with him directly.  After signing in we were barred from entering further into the building by security.

Earlier in the week we had requested a meeting with Mark Butler so he knew that we were coming.  It is telling that Mark Butler (an elected public official) was unwilling to engage with his constituents and the people that are being directly impacted by his decisions.  We will most certainly be back to seek resolution to this crisis.

Please sign and share the petition against these unemployment cuts.

Media Coverage:
Channel 2 WSBTV
Rome News Tribune Pre Rally
Rome News Tribune Post Rally

Monday, June 25, 2012

Naming the 1%. Verizon Workers and Restaurant Workers Unite!

This past Friday June 22nd marked the one year anniversary for 45,000 Verizon workers who have been bargaining for a fair contract at Verizon. Verizon made 10 billion in profits last year yet continues to try to strip away benefits from its employees at the bargaining table.

Members of Verizon's Board of Directors help to run the company and therefore play a key role in settling this dispute.  Each board member earns about $230,000 a year for their work as a Verizon director.
Clarence Otis is a key Verizon board member and he also happens to be the CEO of Darden Restaurants, the largest company-owned and operated full service restaurant company in the world.  The Darden brand includes restaurants like Capital Grille, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse and more.  There are more than 1900 Darden restaurants in the US.

Not only has Clarence Otis been complicit in stripping away dignity from Verizon workers, but workers at Darden owned restaurants are typically treated poorly through a lack of paid sick days, unsustainable wages, discrimination in the workplace and little chance of advancement at work.  A recent "Diners Guide" report highlights Darden restaurants as some of the low road players in the restaurant industry.  The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) recently launched a "Dignity at Darden" campaign to improve working conditions for workers at Darden locations.  

Atlanta Jobs with Justice along with interns from the UAW Global Organizing Institute and the Atlanta-North Georgia Labor Council went into the Capital Grille in Buckhead and delivered a letter and message to the manager to be sent to Clarence Otis.  We were able to engage with servers about the issues going on across the country at Darden restaurants including Capital Grille and with customers about the anti-worker posture of the Darden CEO and Verizon board member Clarence Otis. Workers at Darden restaurants make as little at 2.13 per hour while Clarence brings in $8.5 million per year.

It is great to see Verizon workers linking up with restaurant workers (Restaurant Opportunities Center, ROC) fighting for a common cause: Dignity in the Workplace.  The unification of these struggles allowed us to amplify our reach and hit hundreds of Darden locations throughout the country.  Just in Atlanta, there were actions at Darden locations including Capital Grille, Longhorn Steakhouse and Red Lobster by the Communications Workers of America and allies. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

An Open Letter from Emory Students and Workers in Solidarity (SWS)

Dear Friends,

After more than 14 months since Emory University ordered our arrests, we have recently been notified that a DeKalb County State Court judge has placed the matter on the dead docket. This means there will be no further prosecution of our case at this time.

This is a moment of great relief, filled with gratitude for the many family members, friends, professors, and workers who have supported us throughout the last year as we dealt with the stress of facing criminal prosecution for nonviolent dissent on our own university campus. However, we remain focused on the well-being of contracted workers at Emory, who continue to hold a second-class position in our community and face violations of their human rights during the school year and summer months.

Contracted workers are not entitled to the same benefits and privileges that Emory employees enjoy. There is not a space at Emory where they can participate in decision-making on matters that impact their lives or any institution at Emory that is responsible for how they are treated. Contracted workers do not have access to free MARTA passes through the “Emory Transit Subsidy Program” that other workers at Emory are entitled to. The least paid workers on our campus should not bear the heaviest financial burden of getting to and from Emory.

For most contracted workers, the end of the academic year signals a time of impending hardship, as they are effectively laid off for the summer. This temporary and seasonal nature of work, created by the structure of the academic calendar, makes contracted workers especially vulnerable to intimidation or abuse in the workplace. If they speak out, they risk not being rehired for the next school year. Sodexo’s mandatory closed-door, anti-union meetings at Emory’s campus facilities are a clear example of such intimidation. Such practices of intimidation threatens workers’ rights “to just and favorable conditions of work” and “to form and join unions for the protection of their interests” as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Emory must ensure that all workers on its campus are able to work in safe environments free of intimidation or fear of reprisal.

When contracted workers are laid off during the summer, finding temporary work to support themselves and their families is particularly difficult, especially in our current economy. Until this year, Emory’s contracted workers had access to unemployment insurance to help keep them afloat. However, new state-level regulations now deny workers at educational institutions eligibility for unemployment insurance during the summer. A Sodexo employee alerted SWS members about this change. She described how she and her coworkers were devastated, asking themselves “how are we going to live?” This new statewide policy also violates workers’ human rights, as the UDHR clearly states that “everyone has the right… to protection against unemployment.”

The hardship and undue suffering experienced by those who serve food or provide other essential services at Emory should concern all of us. True, Emory itself is not directly intimidating contracted workers, laying them off every summer or holiday break, or denying them access to unemployment insurance. However, if contracted workers provide for the Emory community and Emory in turn benefits from their labor, Emory is ethically bound to ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: Few are guiltybut all are responsible.

After more than two and a half years of investigating these issues and having dialogues with the community about possible solutions, SWS’s recommendations to 1) institute a President’s Commission on Class and Labor, 2) implement a Ethical Code of Conduct, and 3) make free MARTA passes available to all workers at Emory without discrimination, have either been ignored, dismissed, or only partially adopted. Specifically, in response to SWS pressure, Emory administrators established a temporary Committee on Class and Labor. While the Committee is temporary and has limited transparency, it is a promising first step. We hope their recommendations, due later this summer, will include the establishment of a permanent body to ensure workers’ rights and the immediate inclusion of contracted workers in the Emory Transit Subsidy Program so that all workers have access to free MARTA passes.

A permanent institutional body, accountable to the Emory community, would set and implement new policies like the elimination of closed-door anti-union meetings on Emory’s campus and investigate the adequacy of Emory’s “living wage” standard in light of significant periods of unemployment and denied access to unemployment insurance. In short, it could help ensure fair and equitable labor standards for all employees at Emory.

Throughout the life of SWS, in our highest moments of hope and our lowest moments of frustration, we have always found inspiration and strength in the bravery and persistence of the workers on this campus and the continued vigilance, care, and wisdom of hundreds of faculty supporters. The establishment of a permanent committee and the execution of its mandate will only be successful if we continue to work together and lift Emory up to its mission to apply “knowledge in the service of humanity.”

Our sincere thanks,
Students and Workers in Solidarity

Keep in touch! Email us at, or find us on Facebook.
Wondering how you can help? Contact Emory President James Wagner: james.wagner@emory.edu404-727-6013, and encourage him to make free, subsidized MARTA passes available to contracted workers (just as they are made available to other Emory employees) and form a permanent Committee on Class and Labor.