Dark Money, Dirty War: The Corporate Crusade Against Low-Wage Workers

PE Cover Spring 2014 NO DATEThis article appears in the Spring 2014 issue of The Public Eye magazine.

Corporate interests have taken credit for reducing private-sector unions to afraction of their former strength, and for eroding public-sector collective bargaining, especially since the  2010 “Tea Party midterms.” A resurgence in low-wage worker organizing, sparked by growing inequality in the United States, promises to help defend the rights—and paychecks—of vulnerable workers. But corporations and their paid shills aim to snuff out the movement before it catches fire. 


During an April 16 event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Joe Kefauver—a lobbyist and PR man for the National Restaurant Association and the Convenience Store Association—warned the audience of business leaders about an emerging challenge to their corporate dominance. The threat comes, he said, from groups that “have the ability to leverage infrastructure to bring a multi-pronged attack, and force internal corporate changes [that] they wouldn’t have been able to get through [union] collective bargaining.”Though the organizing efforts the Chamber warns about take many forms, corporate PR lumps them together under the label “worker centers.”

At the same Chamber event, Kefauver gloated about industry’s recent successes in weakening “the union movement,” which, he said, “has hit a lot of roadblocks, in large part due to the good work of a lot of folks in this room.”1 Building on their victories, over unions, corporations are now deploying their firepower against a resurgence in low-wage worker organizing prompted by the worst economic inequality in a century.

The stakes are high. For too many working Americans, chronic debt and economic insecurity have become inescapable facts of life. Institutions that once offered refuge and the hope of escape from poverty have been hollowed out by decades of policies that concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Labor unions have been decimated by business interests’ relentless anti-unionization campaigns, and by their successful lobbying in Congress and state legislatures for laws and regulations that favor employers.

As workers face intimidation and legal challenges to their right to join unions (including a case that would damage public sector unions, Harris v. Quinn, on which the Supreme Court is about to rule2), the United States has gained a reputation for lousy treatment of workers. In a new report, the International Trade Union Confederation used a five-point scale to rank countries on their commitment to workers’ rights, with five being the worst. The United States received a ranking of four, meaning there are systematic violations.3 Only about 11 percent of U.S. workers are now represented by unions, down from a peak in the private sector of around 35 percent in the 1950s.4 Today, most union members are public-sector employees such as police officers, teachers, and government workers.

Without unions to advocate for workers’ rights at the local level, employers are able to keep wages low and suppress worker self-organization with impunity. Workers’ rights advocates have documented abuses—such as wage theft, intimidation, and sexual harassment—being committed against immigrant and low-wage workers without fear of prosecution. Inequality is at its highest level since 19285, and studies show that 95 percent of the financial gains made during the current recovery have gone to the top one percent of income earners.6

Into this breach has stepped small but vibrant constellation of low-wage and immigrant-worker organizations. This organizing resurgence features a variety of structures and approaches striving to ensure that workers’ voices are heard in public-policy debates on wages and employment practices. According to a recent briefing paper by United Workers Congress, a federation of such groups, Worker centers [and other low-wage and immigrant worker advocates] have won changes in local policies and practices, built vocal and active membership, and raised public awareness of workers’ issues. These efforts have laid the groundwork for the recent spread of legislative efforts to protect the rights of workers not covered under existing labor law, and to raise the minimum wage for all workers.”7

Such organizing efforts have also drawn the attention of corporate wolves—PR flacks and conservative-leaning think tanks answering to the same business interests that are responsible for the decline of unions and other anti-poverty institutions. While some new worker organizations have endured and even thrived in the face of relentless attacks, their antagonists have generally hailed from the particular industry (restaurant, agribusiness, big box retail, etc.) or social sector (e.g. anti-immigrant movement) that they challenge.

In the court of public opinion, low-wage and immigrant worker organizing campaigns are gaining a reputation for being scrappy underdogs, standing up for the little guys. (More often than not, these “little guys” are actually women; a recent study from the National Women’s Law Center found that women represent almost two-thirds of minimum wage workers.8) But the business lobby is trying to use its megaphone to reverse that momentum. Groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Restaurant Association are taking advantage of low public awareness of new worker organizations to frame these loosely connected groups as part of the union “Goliath”—a familiar frame that allows corporations to repurpose decades of anti-union messages and tactics.9

Although the attacks are well-coordinated, there are opportunities for low-wage and immigrant worker organizing to respond strategically. The business community is trying to hit a field of small, moving targets with independent leadership. The strength of the field lies partly in its diversity—its networked strength rather than its deep pockets. The opposition is trying to homogenize a heterogeneous field of grassroots organizing in order to simplify, vilify, and attack it. The experienced operatives at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce refer to their chosen targets as “worker centers,” using the term to merge all organizing efforts—union and non-union, immigrant rights’ groups, domestic workers, food service and retail workers, day laborers, supply chain workers, and more— together into one single, seemingly formidable enemy.10

Wage Thieves

OUR Walmart challenges poor working conditions outside the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Marc F. Henning.

OUR Walmart challenges poor working conditions outside the Walmart Home Office in Bentonville, Arkansas. Photo courtesy of Marc F. Henning.

Attacks on worker organizing are taking place against a backdrop of an economy in crisis. A 2013 New York Times article, quoting a report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, noted that the “median income for working-age households (headed by someone under age 65) slid 12.4 percent from 2000 to 2011, to $55,640. During that time the American economy grew more than 18 percent.”11

As real wages stagnate or fall, consumers have less money to spend. In response, big corporations seek to preserve their profits in ways that further squeeze workers and their disposable income. This squeezing takes many forms: scheduling workers for fewer hours on the shop floor, spreading fear and anti-union propaganda, cutting back on benefits packages, and, perhaps most shockingly, committing outright wage theft.

Imagine being hired as a cashier at a big-box retailer and being told that you’ll make $8.81 per hour, the average wage of a Walmart cashier.12 Imagine getting your meager paycheck and finding that it’s even less than you expected. Now imagine learning that the missing money isn’t being withheld by mistake. It’s being stolen by your employer. Such wage theft is pervasive across all U.S. industries, and the sums involved amount to much more than petty larceny.

“When we measure it,” Gordon Lafer, a political economist at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education & Research Center, recently told Moyers & Company, “the total amount of money stolen out of American workers’ paychecks every year is far bigger than the total amount stolen in all the bank robberies, gas station robberies, and convenience store robberies combined.”13

“It really has become for many industries the way they do business,” said Sally Dworak-Fisher, lead attorney in the Workplace Justice division at the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, Maryland. “By not paying overtime or paying less than the minimum wage, they are eroding the bedrock of labor protections in this country.”14

As real wages stagnate or fall, big corporations seek to preserve profits by further squeezing workers and their disposable income: scheduling workers for fewer hours on the shop floor, spreading fear and anti-union propaganda, cutting back on benefits packages, and, perhaps most shockingly, committing outright wage theft.

The phenomenon of wage theft is especially cynical given the amount of money that low-wage employees already produce for their employers: McDonald’s, for instance, makes an average per-employee revenue of $65,000, according to a report from the business blog “24/7 WallStreet,” derisively titled “The Companies with the Least Valuable Employees.”15

In an article for Alternet in 2013, Paul Buchheit wrote that “McDonald’s employs 440,000 workers worldwide, most of them food servers making the median hourly wage of $9.10 an hour or less, for a maximum of about $18,200 per year.”16 That $9.10 per hour McDonald’s employee is being paid less than one-third of what she earns for her employer in a year. Now she is also having those meager wages stolen, as the Labor Department found in at least two recent cases in New York and Pennsylvania.17

Wage theft is just one of a variety of weapons that private-sector businesses have deployed in order to cheat workers and maximize profits. Other tools include public policy instruments like so-called right to work laws that hamper union organizing; threats of deportation to keep unauthorized immigrant workers from asserting their rights; and lobbying to carve out loopholes in new worker-protection laws, among other devices.

For the past few years, in metro regions and states, workers and their communities have galvanized around the problem of wage theft, standing together to sue and win back money that rightfully belongs to the workers who earned it and the local communities where they spend their paychecks. Additionally, low-wage and immigrant workers are seeking relief from abusive and exploitative working conditions by expanding the laws that defend their interests—raising the minimum wage, creating stiffer penalties for wage theft, and instituting paid sick days and other basic workplace protections. Their grassroots organizing—sometimes, but not always, conducted in partnership with unions—has been effective, and a growing number of cities and states are passing these new laws.

Corporate interests are striking back with bills to pre-empt cities from passing their own minimum wage increases or to mandate paid sick days. These pre-emption bills are produced by right-wing bill mills like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and pushed by state lawmakers who are often groomed for office by corporate lobby groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.18

The legislative attack is well underway. Eleven states, including Wisconsin, Florida, and Oklahoma have already passed state-level “pre-emption” laws banning cities and counties from mandating employer-provided paid sick days. At least six other states, according to the watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy, are currently considering similar pre-emption bills that would prohibit local governments from raising the minimum wage.19

Chamber of Horrors

When the Los Angeles-based Koreatown Immigrant Workers’ Alliance (KIWA) began urging city voters in 2012 to support a state bill that would allow workers to place a temporary lien on the business owner’s property if the business owner committed wage theft, KIWA’s members were excited. The bill would have allowed workers whose employers had stiffed them to place a lien—that is, a transfer of possession— on the employer’s property until workers received the back pay they were owed. A lien is a red flag for lenders and can become a PR problem for employers. “We see this lien as a tool to bring employers who are committing wage theft to the table,” said Alexandra Suh, KIWA’s executive director. “If there’s a lien on the table, they’re going to pay attention.”20 One state—Maryland—passed a similar lien law that went into effect in October 2013.

Dworak-Fisher of the Public Justice Center said she expects that Maryland’s law will deter employers from committing wage theft. “We’re just getting it up and running,” she said. “We’ll be bringing wage lien claims over the summer and into the fall. The unscrupulous employers will be on notice.”21

As the California campaign gained steam, however, local politicians and business owners—some of whom were involved with KIWA projects in the community—started getting notifications from the California Chamber of Commerce. These Facebook ads, blog posts, and other advertising materials claimed that the anti-wage theft bill posed a danger to homeowners.

In one ad shared with PRA, the California Chamber falsely claimed that if the bill passed, it would mean that a third-party homeowner who had a contractor or cleaning service work in the home could wind up with a lien on the home. “Despite the fact that the third party homeowner had absolutely no control over the employee’s work or the wages he/she was paid,” read the statement from the California Chamber, “that homeowner could have his/her property leveraged for unpaid wages of the company’s employees.”22

In reality, the bill explicitly prevents third-party liens, or liens from one company’s workers on a third party’s, or homeowner’s, property. Yet the Cal Chamber’s lie confused and frightened California homeowners. The anti-wage theft measure died in the state Senate in January 2014. When it was brought up again for a vote in the State Assembly on May 28 of this year, it passed by a vote of 43-27. It now moves back to the California Senate for a potential vote later this year.

The corporate smokescreen also obscures the widespread nature of the problem, which continues to be “very, very serious,” as Suh said.23 Indeed, a 2010 UCLA-sponsored survey showed that the vast majority of workers are experiencing some type of wage-related violation on the job in Los Angeles County. “Low-wage workers in L.A. County frequently are paid below the minimum wage, not paid for overtime, work off the clock without pay, and have their meal breaks denied, interrupted, or shortened,” according to the report. “In fact, 88.5 per­cent of workers in the L.A. sample had experienced at least one type of pay-related workplace violation in the week of work before the survey.”24

Lies, Smears, and Innuendo

The high-profile battle in California may have helped provoke an aggressive response from the national business lobby: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative (WFI) has released three faux-academic reports on low-wage worker organizing since last fall, starting with one in November 2013 that purported to expose a cabal of left-wing, foundation-funded, low-wage worker advocacy groups like KIWA.

The report presents a kind of historical analysis of how low-wage and immigrant worker organizations emerged; labels this highly diverse landscape of organizations “worker centers”; charges that they are “union front groups” (UFOs) that circumvent the many restrictions that tie the hands of unions; and maps foundation funding for the low-wage organizing sector (implying that foundations are as responsible as unions for its existence). The report fingers worker-advocacy groups of varying forms and sizes—from small worker centers such as KIWA to larger national organizing efforts like Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United) and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart).25

Each subsequent U.S. Chamber report builds on the insinuations and distortions of the previous ones. Common to all of them is an effort to redeploy the rhetoric and regulatory efforts developed over decades against unions to attack these varied immigrant and low-wage worker projects that, while generally small, have become among the most dynamic sites of the worker-organizing resurgence. The Chamber’s approach requires convincing the public, policy makers, and judges that so-called “worker centers” are more or less all the same—that they are functionally unions, trying to represent workers for the purposes of collective bargaining while evading the regulatory scrutiny and restrictions on their behavior and funding that unions must endure.

In reality, worker organizing groups use a variety of tactics to achieve their strategic goals: a community organization files a lawsuit to stop local police from using traffic stops to hand immigrant workers over to immigration authorities; a worker center holds workshops to train members to prevent wage theft; or a local domestic workers’ organization holds a rally to call for an end to deportations. In none of these cases is a worker organization “seek[ing] to negotiate with employers on behalf of employees,” as the WFI report asserts.26

It is unsurprising that the corporate Right should want to fight on familiar ground. The loud “union front” accusation represents a clever bit of bait: an invitation for community groups to deny the charge of being unions (as if that were a bad thing) and thereby enter into a potentially endless cycle of defending themselves from that charge. In fact, the relationships between traditional unions and low-wage/immigrant worker organizing groups vary greatly: some have no working relationships with unions, some work occasionally and amicably with unions, and others engage with unions quite frequently and even openly aspire to become more union-like.

But the broad-brush labeling of “worker centers” could have potential legal and regulatory consequences, too. The U.S. Chamber is using its reports–plus attack ads, articles from right-wing think tanks such as the Manhattan Institute, and op-eds in major newspapers echoing similar refrains—to persuade the public and the government that all low-wage and immigrant worker organizing groups should be subjected to the same financial reporting and internal structuring requirements that unions face. They aim to impose severe restraints on charitable contributions and to limit or ban secondary boycotts (among other activities). If their opponents are successful, the low-wage worker sector—including groups with no active relationships with unions—could be hobbled.

The Chamber is not only recycling anti-union tactics. In one particularly revealing statement in its first report, author Jarol Manheim compares the loose network of worker centers to the anti-poverty network ACORN, which was targeted and ultimately broken apart by right-wing attacks in the mid-2000s. Manheim names a foundation (Needmor) that supports “organizing to achieve social justice, and was once a major contributor to ACORN chapters in several communities. Between 2009 and 2011, its grantees included, among others, the Koreatown Immigrant Workers Association (KIWA).”27

This comparison of worker centers to ACORN may be a dogwhistle to business leaders that low-wage worker groups are vulnerable to the same take-down tactics, including pseudo-journalistic video exposés, congressional hearings, and public defunding. As Lee Fang pointed out in an April article in The Nation, the case of ACORN, which dissolved its national structure in 2010 in response to this onslaught, could be seen as a sort of cautionary tale for immigrant and low-wage worker organizing efforts: to avoid the same fate, they will need to recognize and strategically respond to this national threat.

Chamber of Secrets

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s stated mission is “representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions,” but watchdog groups say the U.S. Chamber represents the interests of a select few big industry groups that want to crush worker organizing.28 In some states, where the local Chamber of Commerce and local business leaders tend to operate from the same playbook as the U.S. Chamber, anti-worker campaigns tend to proliferate. The California Chamber of Commerce, for example, has been actively lobbying to prevent the state legislature from passing a bill that would help to prevent wage theft. Watchdog groups such as ChamberWatch have had some success in persuading smaller Chambers of Commerce and even a few big corporations to leave and/or denounce the U.S. Chamber for its history of opposition to any regulation of corporate behavior, including environmental and safety regulations.29

But identifying who is—and isn’t—part of the U.S. Chamber can be a challenge. Unlike many local Chambers of Commerce, the U.S. Chamber keeps its member and donor lists secret. Despite its claim to represent three million businesses, watchdog groups have documented that its actual membership hovers around 300,000. What’s more, local chambers of commerce have publicly denounced or left the U.S. Chamber by the dozens in recent years. U.S. ChamberWatch reported that nearly 60 Chambers have done so since 2009. Though it does not disclose its donors, OpenSecrets has been able to track major donations to the U.S. Chamber from industry groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, the Associated General Contractors of America, and the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, itself a hard-line, right-wing business association.30

These and other industry groups are funding a broader, coordinated push to preserve the low wages and exploitative working conditions that now characterize many industries. Their targets include groups such as ROC United, which is a national network of worker centers that is challenging the American model of low-wage service sector employment.

ROC United “really carefully looked at the restaurant industry and thought about what it would take to improve wages and working conditions and standards,” said Janice Fine, a scholar of labor studies and worker centers at Rutgers University. “They are doing a number of interesting innovative things.”31 These include  surveys of restaurant workers to find out what their wages and working conditions actually are; a code of conduct that employers can adopt to take the “high road” and treat workers better; picketing bad-actor employers; and promoting “high road” employers to socially-conscious diners.

In addition to attacks from the corporate sector, some worker organizing efforts have been under constant assault from nativist anti-immigrant groups. Other vectors of attack have come from cultural conservatives such as the American Life League, which has used smear tactics to pressure faith communities and congregations.

For their efforts, ROC United has been subjected to consistent and intense attacks from industry, and has fought back doubly hard. A January 16 New York Times article exposed the restaurant industry’s PR campaign against ROC: “A prominent Washington lobbyist, Richard Berman, has run full-page ads attacking the Restaurant Opportunities Center, accusing it of intimidating opponents,” according to the piece. “He has even set up a separate website, ROCexposed.com, to attack the group.”32 Restaurant owners have also filed frivolous lawsuits against ROC, aiming to force ROC to spend money and time fighting in court instead of organizing.

In one 2005 case involving ROC’s New York chapter, reports the National Employment Law Project (NELP), “Three restaurants filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board claiming that ROC-NY’s activities made it a labor organization subject to the National Labor Relations Act. If ROC-NY were subject to the Act, it would also be subject to a series of requirements… and potentially jeopardize its tax exempt status. The restaurants said that ROC-NY’s filing of litigation, and seeking settlements that provided for improvements in working conditions…, such as promotion policies or language access policies, made ROC a labor union.”33 Such lawsuits are another attempt to shut down new worker formations by calling them unions and seeking to restrict their activities accordingly.

“It’s a sign of their effectiveness,” Fine said.34 And, indeed, the workers’ groups are winning in court. The National Guestworkers Alliance, a network that advocates for guestworkers who are brought in from other countries to work for a specific employer, won more than $200,000 in back wages and damages for a group of McDonald’s employees who had been forced to live in a manager’s basement and were paid sub-minimum wages and denied overtime. ROC United, according to an issue brief from the United Workers Congress, also has had a significant track record of court victories on behalf of workers: “The Restaurant Opportunities Center has won 18 campaigns against exploitation in large, high-profile restaurant corporations that resulted in higher wages and better benefits for these workers, as well as $9 million in recouped wages.”35

Even if these numbers don’t significantly affect the bottom line of mega-corporations such as Walmart or Darden Restaurants (which owns the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains), Fine said, the undeniable power of workers winning back their rightfully earned wages is pulling public opinion over to the workers’ side. “Before, they might have been irritants, but not enough to raise the ire of big, corporate dark-money groups like the National Restaurant Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.”36

Another approach that worker organizers have taken, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 Hoffman Plastic decision—which stripped undocumented immigrants of the right to win any back pay that is withheld during a unionization campaign—is to seek relief from workplace abuses under international human rights law. The Hoffman decision has had real consequences for workers trying to organize themselves into unions to combat wage theft and other abuses. “Workers have abandoned trade union organizing campaigns because of the fear instilled by the Hoffman decision,” wrote Human Rights Watch in a 2005 report on human rights violations in the meat-processing industry.37

In addition to the attacks from the corporate sector, some worker organizing efforts have been under constant assault from nativist anti-immigrant groups. These include groups like FAIR, JudicialWatch, and NumbersUSA. Other vectors of attack have come from cultural conservatives such as the American Life League, which has used smear tactics to pressure faith communities and congregations into withdrawing their support for the Interfaith Worker Justice coalition of worker centers.

A Gathering Storm

If halting low-wage and immigrant worker organizing efforts is the goal, then it appears corporations and industry groups are testing out a variety of strategic models for achieving this goal.

Previous attacks have generally targeted specific worker centers or specific organizing campaigns through legal strategies or PR campaigns. The pattern of recent attacks against new worker organizations suggests not only a growing frequency and intensity but also a kind of nationalization of the attacks. The flurry of op-eds, attack videos, legal briefs, and state legislative interventions draw on a broad range of right-wing infrastructure and tactics (see PRA’s related timeline of attacks on low-wage workers).

One example is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s recent series of reports purporting to “expose” worker centers as being well-funded efforts to unionize low-wage workers.

So far, it appears that the organized opposition to the resurgence in low-wage and immigrant worker organizing has not landed on the kind of PR, legal, and policy package (e.g. “right-to-work,” “paycheck protection,” anti-public employee collective bargaining) that has proven devastating to unions and other anti-poverty groups such as ACORN. But the Chamber, NRA, and others are moving aggressively to box in and take down any challengers to their corporate dominance.

Meanwhile, big businesses are finding that former campaign managers for Mitt Romney and other GOP candidates are willing to act as PR attack dogs to spread rumors that worker centers are corrupt, or “commies,” or fronts for unions. “Picking fights with restaurant workers has been good business for out-of-work GOP operatives,” writes Lee Fang in a recent article in the Nation.38

The battle is joined. The U.S. chamber’s Workforce Freedom Initiative is stafed with lobbyists and consultants, who visit industry associations and present worker centers as a threat to business. Meanwhile, members of Congress use their subpoena power on Capitol Hill to advance the anti-worker organizing cause.

And so the battle is joined. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative is staffed with lobbyists who, along with consultants like Kefauver, visit local and state-based industry associations, presenting worker centers as a threat to business. Meantime, members of Congress use their subpoena power on Capitol Hill to advance the anti-worker organizing cause.

In September 2013, Reps. Phil Roe and John Kline, two Republican House committee and subcommittee chairs, convened a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions titled “The Future of Union Organizing,” which featured speakers from lobbying groups claiming to represent small business owners, as well as anti-union lawyers. Speakers called on Congress to subject worker centers to same restrictions as unions.

Earlier in the summer, Roe and Kline had also penned a letter to Labor Secretary Tom Perez, requesting that he designate six specific worker centers as labor organizations under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). Perez refused; but had he fulfilled their request, legal experts say it could have resulted in worker-organizing groups losing the right to picket bad-actor employers, loss of their tax exempt status, and other restrictions.

And should additional industry groups and big companies decide to join the U.S. Chamber’s campaign to squash worker organizing, recent events have made it clear they will find eager friends in high places. At that April 16 U.S. Chamber event hosted by staff at the Workforce Freedom Initiative, the chief of staff for Steve King (R-IA), a right-wing representative who carries the flag for anti-immigrant groups, took the microphone during the Q&A period. He asked a question that low-wage worker organizations and the foundations that fund them might view as a chilling signal that the recent wave of attacks may be mere prologue to an intensified onslaught. “Is there something on Capitol Hill,” the Congressional aide asked the panel of industry lobbyists and lawyers, “we could be doing?”39

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1 Notes from the webcast of this event (held on April 16, 2014)—titled “Shifting Tides: Worker Centers and a New Model of Representation”—were shared with the author by a staff member for Center for Media and Democracy. The webcast was subsequently removed from the Chamber’s website:  www.uschamber.com/event/shifting-tides-worker-centers-and-new-model-representation.
2 Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014.
3 “The World’s Worst Countries for Workers” (International Trade Union Confederation, 2014), www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/survey_ra_2014_eng_v2.pdf.
4 Steven Greenhouse, “Share of the Work Force in a Union Falls to a 97-Year Low, 11.3%,” New York Times, Jan. 23, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/01/24/business/union-membership-drops-despite-job-growth.html?_r=0.
5 Drew Desilver, “U.S. income inequality, on rise for decades, is now highest since 1928,” Pew Research Center, Dec. 5, 2013, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/12/05/u-s-income-inequality-on-rise-for-decades-is-now-highest-since-1928.
6 Steven Greenhouse, “Our Economic Pickle,” New York Times, Jan. 12, 2013, www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/sunday-review/americas-productivity-climbs-but-wages-stagnate.html.
7 “The Rise of Worker Centers and the Fight for a Fair Economy,” United Workers Congress (April 2014), www.unitedworkerscongress.org/uploads/2/4/6/6/24662736/_uwc_rise_of_worker_centers-_sm.pdf.
8 “Minimum Wage,” National Women’s Law Center. www.nwlc.org/our-issues/poverty-%2526-income-support/minimum-wage.
9 David Sirota, “Making Goliath Walk,” In These Times, Sept. 9, 2008, www.inthesetimes.com/article/3895/making_goliath_walk.
10 David Kinkade, “Old Wine in New Bottles: Worker Centers Are the New Face of Union Organizing,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Jan. 31, 2014, www.uschamber.com/blog/old-wine-new-bottles-worker-centers-are-new-face-union-organizing.
11 Greenhouse, “Our Economic Pickle.”
12 “FY 2013 Sam’s Club Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Field Non-Associate Pay Plan,” Huffington Post, http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/Walmart_0.pdf.
13 Joshua Holland, “Inside the Dark Money-Fueled, 50-State Campaign Against American Workers,” BillMoyerscom, Nov. 5, 2013, http://billmoyers.com/2013/11/05/inside-the-dark-money-fueled-50-state-campaign-against-american-workers.
14 Sally Dworak-Fisher, interview with Mariya Strauss, May 23, 2014.
15 “Companies with the Least Valuable Employees,” 24/7 Wall St, Sept. 26, 2012, http://247wallst.com/special-report/2012/09/26/companies-with-the-least-valuable-employees.
16 Paul Buchheit, “Apple, Walmart, McDonald’s: Who’s the Biggest Wage Stiffer?” Alternet, July 28, 2013, www.alternet.org/labor/apple-walmart-mcdonalds-whos-biggest-wage-stiffer.
17Candice Choi, “McDonald’s hit by lawsuits over worker pay,” Associated Press, Mar. 13, 2014, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/mcdonalds-hit-lawsuits-over-worker-pay.
18 Mary Bottari, “Efforts to Deliver ‘Kill Shot’ to Paid Sick Leave Tied to ALEC,” Huffington Post, Apr. 3, 2013, www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-bottari/alec-paid-sick-leave_b_3007445.html.
19 Amy B. Dean, “The drive to ban mandated paid sick days,” Aljazeera America, May 6, 2014, http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/5/sick-days-corporatelobbyistsalecnra.html.
20 Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014.Alexandra Suh, interview with Mariya Strauss, Apr. 7, 2014.
21 Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014.Dworak-Fisher, interview with Mariya Strauss, May 23, 2014.
22 Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. “CalChamber Stops ‘Job Killer’ on Assembly Floor,” CalChamber, Jan. 31, 2014, www.calchamber.com/headlines/pages/01312014-calchamber-stops-job-killer-on-assembly-floor.aspx.
23Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. Suh, interview.
24Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. Ruth Milkman, Ana Luz Gonzalez, and Victor Narro, Wage Theft and Workplace Violations in Los Angeles (KIWA, 2010), http://kiwa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/LAwagetheft1.pdf.
25Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. Jarol B. Manheim, The Emerging Role of Worker Centers in Union Organizing (Workforce Freedom Initiative, 2013) www.workforcefreedom.com/sites/default/files/WFI%20Manheim%20Study%2011-21-2013.pdf.
26Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Blue Eagle Has Landed (Workforce Freedom Initiative, 2014), www.workforcefreedom.com/sites/default/files/REPORT%20WFI_MembersOnlyUnions_Report_FIN.pdf.
27Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. Manheim, “The Emerging Role of Worker Centers in Union Organizing.”
28Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. See Sam Jewler, The Gilded Chamber (Public Citizen, 2014), www.citizen.org/documents/us-chamber-of-commerce-funders-dominated-by-large-corporations-report.pdf.
29Joel Rogers, “Why ‘Harris v. Quinn’ Has Labor Very, Very Nervous,” Mar. 27, 2014. “Local Chambers vs. U.S. Chamber,” Public Citizen’s U.S. Chamber Watch, www.fixtheuschamber.org/issues/local-chambers-vs-us-chamber.
30 “Top Organizations Disclosing Donations to US Chamber of Commerce, 2014,” OpenSecrets.org, www.opensecrets.org/outsidespending/contrib.php?cmte=US+Chamber+of+Commerce&cycle=2014.
31 Janice Fine, interview with Mariya Strauss, April 28, 2014.
32 Steven Greenhouse, “Advocates for Workers Raise the Ire of Business,” New York Times, Jan. 16, 2014, www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/business/as-worker-advocacy-groups-gain-momentum-businesses-fight-back.html.
33 Rebecca Smith, Take Action against Wage Theft! (National Employment Law Project, 2007), http://nelp.3cdn.net/a1eaf7bc861e8d5ae7_kpm6bf4qn.pdf.
34 Fine, interview.
35 “The Rise of Worker Centers and the Fight for a Fair Economy.”
36 Fine, interview.
37Blood, Sweat, and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants (Human Rights Watch, 2005), www.hrw.org/reports/2005/01/24/blood-sweat-and-fear-0.
38 Lee Fang, “Look Who the Folks Who Took Down ACORN Are Targeting Now,” Nation , Apr. 30, 2014, www.thenation.com/article/179616/look-who-folks-who-took-down-acorn-are-targeting-now?page=0,1.
39 Sam Jewler, “Corporate center points finger at worker centers,” Citizen Vox,Apr. 21, 2014, www.citizenvox.org/2014/04/21/corporate-center-points-finger-at-worker-centers.

Issue Brief: This Month in Racial and Immigrant Justice

Racial Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Racial and Immigrant Justice.

Not1More Protests Continue
#Not1More non-violent protests have been happening all around the country for the past year, pushing President Obama and Congress to end all deportation of undocumented workers and to eliminate holds by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The latest protest happened in Philadelphia this week, as protesters surrounded an ICE building, blocking deportation vehicles from exiting the building.

Conservative Student Group Faces Backlash over “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” Game
The University of Texas at Austin’s chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) gained national headlines after announcing plans to host a “catch an illegal immigrant” event on campus. Scheduled to take place on November 20th, the goal of the event was to “spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives,” by having students chase people on campus wearing  “Illegal Immigrant” pins for $25 dollar gift cards. The group was quickly denounced by both the student body and University officials, and the YCT was forced to cancel the event under increased pressure. The event was created by Lorenzo Garcia, chairman of the UT Austin chapter of the YCT and former paid employee for the Gubernatorial campaign of state Attorney General Greg Abbott. In an official response, Abbott denounced the event, but not before throwing in a few jabs at the left, arguing that “conservatives should not stoop to the level of liberals, and the “failed policies of the Obama administration are not a joking matter.” This was not the first time that first time that Garcia and the YCT have caused controversy. Earlier this semester, the group held an anti-affirmative action bake sale that had different prices set according to race and ethnicity.

New Student Group at Tufts Rallies in Support of Immigrant Justice
While the Young Conservatives of Texas grabbed national headlines, a newly formed student group at Tufts University rallied in support of Immigrant Justice. On November 20th, the proposed date of the “catch an illegal immigrant” game, United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ) held a rally at the University’s Mayer Campus Center near Boston. The group was founded last year by two students after attending a national conference organized by the Massachusetts Student Immigration Movement. One of the co-founders, sophomore Elizabeth Palma, traveled to  D.C from November 19th to the 21st with over 200 college activists across the country to rally for immigration reform, and increase pressure on the House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive reform bill. The group protested in front of the offices of numerous Conservative members of congress, and sang in front of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) office until his staff threatened to have them arrested for civil disobedience.

New Proposal Aims to Prevent Future Racial Profiling at Retail Outlets
On December 9th, a group of civil rights leaders and representatives from numerous high-end retail outlets formed a coalition to create a list of rules to prevent customers to being subject to “stop and frisk” laws at department stores in New York City. The coalition, which included Rev. Al Sharpton and executives from Barney’s, Macy’s, and other department stores, established a “customer bill of rights” for department stores after numerous cases over the past few months where Black shoppers were unfairly accused of theft and credit card fraud by undercover NYPD officers. In a statement following the announcement of the coalition’s proposal, Sharpton hailed what he called the “best practices” agreement as a step in the right direction, but noted that in order to have real progress, the coalition needs active participation from the NYPD.

The World Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela
On December 5th, the world lost one its most celebrated advocates of racial justice and human equality. Former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away at the age 95 after years of ill health. Mandela, the face of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, spent over 27 years in prison for his involvement in protesting against the oppressive regime. Mandela never let his incarceration deter him from being one of the most fierce and compassionate activists for equal rights, and even rejected three conditional offers to be released. Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, and four years later became the first democratically elected President of South Africa, as well as the first Black president. Mandela is considered by many to be one of the greatest champions of social justice and equality, and is an inspiration to many of us at PRA. In his article “Celebrating the Movement Mandela,” PRA executive director Tarso Luís Ramos noted how Mandela’s passing is an important moment for us to not only reflect on the impact of Mandela and the African freedom movement, but to reflect on “our own lives and social justice commitments.” He notes that while Mandela’s legacy is one of remarkable accomplishments, the dreams of equality remain unfulfilled. As the the world reflects on life and legacy Mandela left behind, we are reminded that the battles for equality are far from over. It is crucial that we learn from Mandela’s legacy as we continue to rally against the the continued assaults on racial justice in our own country.

Right Wing Responses to Mandela’s Passing Distort His Legacy
While political leaders, human rights activists, and advocates for equality across the world gave their final praises to Nelson Mandela, many on the Right responded with many hateful, distorted, and altogether inaccurate claims about Mandela and the movement to end Apartheid rule. Anti-choice activist Jill Stanek said that because of Mandela’s pro-choice views, she “cannot view Mandela as any other than a leader who engaged in mass genocide of his own innocent people.” American Family Radio Host Sandy Rios argued that Mandela deserved his 27 year jail sentence because he was a “criminal” and “criminals are placed in solitary confinement.” Others such as Rick Santorum attempted to the link the plight of Mandela and the anti-Apartheid movement to domestic policy fights, with Santorum going as far as to equate apartheid with Obamacare. Tea Party Senators Ted Cruz (TX) and Mike Lee (UT) posted positive Mandela tributes on their Facebook pages, only to immediately be attacked by their Tea Party constituents for supporting a “known terrorist.” Lacking from the dialogue coming from the Right is any mention that many prominent American Conservatives lobbied against Mandela and the anti-Apartheid movement, including President Reagan, who had Mandela’s African National Congress organization added to the Terrorist Watch List. In defense of Reagan, Newt Gingrich claimed that he “was no friend of the Apartheid,” (despite voting against ending Apartheid) and Mandela’s death is “just another excuse for the left to smear Reagan.”

Speaker Boehner Continues to Balk On Immigration Reform
On November 13th, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that he would not allow any House-approved immigration legislation to be blended with the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, stating “we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” and that there is not enough time left in 2013 to debate and pass immigration reform. In response, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that passing the Senate bill would be “easy,” noting that there are enough votes currently in place to pass the comprehensive immigration reform if Boehner would simply allow a vote on it. As more Americans begin to support immigration reforms, many moderate Republicans are worried of the political consequences if they are unable to pass a reform bill. Despite his vocal opposition for compromise, many prominent Democrats believe that Boehner will soon relent, including Vice President Joe Biden, who publicly called out the Speaker saying “It’s really pretty basic – pass the bill, John Boehner. Bring the bill up and let us pass it.”

Three San Jose Students Charged With Hate Crimes Against Black Suitemate
In mid-November, a student at San Jose State reported repeated instances of racial abuse by three of his eight campus suitemates. On November 22nd, the three students were suspended by the school after being charged with hate crimes and battery. If convicted, each student faces a maximum sentence of a year in prison. The Police investigation found that over the course of three months, the victim was continuously subjected to verbal and physical abuse, including being referred to as “three-fifths,” hanging a confederate flag near his door, and locking a “U” shaped bike lock on his neck and refusing to unlock it. In response to the charges, the Black Student Union at San Jose State held a campus rally demanding answers about the case, and calling for stiffer punishment against the accused perpetrators. As noted by Lecia Brooks at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the instance at San Jose State is only one of numerous recent cases of racist behavior on campus, including sorority girls dressing in “blackface” makeup, students dressing as Trayvon Martin for halloween, and a student at Towson University in Maryland that established a “White Student Union” on campus.

Report Shows Inequality in “Stand your ground” Laws When Affecting Black Males
While there are many examples of racial injustice in our criminal justice system, John Roman of the Urban Institute notes there is a striking gap disparity that has not been adequately researched until recently. In a November 27th report, Roman notes that the in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, new studies have uncovered that African Americans are far less likely to be found justified in a gun-related homicide than white Americans. The report, which uses data from Supplemental Homicide Reports submitted to the FBI between 2005-2010, shows that when a perpetrator is black and the victim is white, there is a less than 1 percent chance of the case being ruled justified, while if the perpetrator is white and the victim is black, over nine percent are ruled justified. In states that have Stand Your Ground laws, justification for White on Black killings goes up to over 17 percent, though the rate for Black perpetrators stays the same.

Following Re-election, Chris Christie Reverses Stance on Immigration Reform
During his most recent campaign for reelection, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claimed he would vote in favor of passing the Tuition Equality Act, New Jersey’s version of the Dream Act that recently passed through the State Senate. Under the new reforms, undocumented students that have attended a public high school for at least three years would qualify for in-state tuition rates at any New Jersey public college. Despite his earlier pledge of support, Christie announced on November 25th that while he is still in favor of extending in-state tuition rates for the children of immigrants, he would not sign the Senate’s version of the bill, claiming that the bill approved by the Senate was “overreaching” by asking for more funds than the federal version of the bill. In response to his announcement, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney accused Christie of “once again turning his back on those who need us most… When he was running for governor he supported it, now that he is running for President he does not.” MSNBC columnist Steve Benen noted how Christie appears to be cross-pressured in trying to appeal to Latino and moderate voters within his state, while still keeping favor with the national Conservative base, which have become increasingly polarized on immigration issues.

Right Wing Fringe Groups Claim Illegal Immigration Will Cause Millions of “Anti-American Muslims” to Enter America
On November 11th, Right-Wing conspiracy theorist Gabor Zolna posted a video on YouTube claiming that Obama is using immigration reform to bring in 150 million Muslims to the U.S as part of a plot to impose Sharia law on Americans. Despite no evidence for his claim, the article was quickly picked up by other Right-Wing commentators. Brandon Walker of The Free Patriot claimed in a November 13th article that if the U.S passes an immigration reform bill, it will be “a back door calling for 150 million Muslims to be brought to the U.S. by 2018.” When Sandy Rios was asked what she thought of the claim, she said that it not only made sense, but questioned whether the entire immigration reform campaign is a just a “Muslim plot.” She then pointed to a Muslim organizer of DREAM Act activists as “proof,” saying “there’s no question that bad character Muslims, the Muslim Brotherhood and others, are going to use the whole amnesty problem that we have to bring in tons of illegal immigrant Muslims who don’t wish us any kind of good.”

ISSUE BRIEF: Racial and Immigrant Justice

Racial Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Race and Immigrant Justice.

California’s New Law Prohibits Deportation for Minor Crimes
Undocumented immigrants in California can breathe easier now that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a group of bills pertaining to immigration rights. The Trust Act, known officially as California Assembly Bill 4, establishes that local law enforcement officers cannot detain undocumented immigrants for deportation if they have committed a minor and nonviolent crime. In addition, the bills also include allowing undocumented peoples to apply for professional licenses, as well as fining employers who threaten their employees with deportation. This comes with the hope of giving approximately 11 million people the opportunity to “come out of the shadows,” so they can “live without fear of deportation.”

1/3 of Asian Americans Face Voting Booth Problems.
Roughly one third of Asian Americans in the United States face issues at polling booths because of their limited knowledge of the English language. As there is no official language in the U.S., these citizens are provided assistance as outlined by Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, which “requires local jurisdictions to provide language assistance when the language minority population reaches a certain size and its English ability and literacy rate is low.” According to the national affiliation Asian Americans Advancing Justice, however, many districts across the country are not meeting standards. Despite these failures, AAJC has composed a list of the best practices implemented at successful jurisdictions, in hopes of encouraging officials to reexamine Section 203 to ensure that these voters receive the aid guaranteed to them by law.

Black Pennsylvania State College Sues for ‘Illegal Racial System”
While thirteen of fourteen Philadelphia state colleges are sharing a $100 million budget surplus, the fourteenth school, Cheyney University, unlike its predominately White colleagues, is suffering a $14 million deficit. Cheyney, one of the oldest historically Black colleges in the United States, and its students, faculty, and supporters are not accepting this racial injustice. A coalition for Cheney University is currently seeking the revival of a civil rights lawsuit filed in 1980, which stated, according to the plaintiffs then and today, that Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth maintained “an illegal and racial ‘dual system’ of higher education.” Cheyney’s coalition hopes to receive more funding for their school through this lawsuit.

Report Details Top Groups Promoting Islamophobia
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights group, has listed 37 individuals and institutions they found to be “at the center of promoting Islamophobia in America.” This information, offered in their report, titled “Legislating Fear: Islamophobia and its Impact in the United States,” also named organizations battling Islamophobia. CAIR reported that these Islamophobic nonprofit organizations have grossed more than 119 million dollars in order to tarnish the religion of Islam as a whole. With CAIR’s list, more attention can be brought to these anti-Muslim groups so that action can be taken to stop them.

Native American Veterans File Federal Lawsuit for Better Voting Access
To participate in elections and exercise his constitutional rights, U.S. veteran Mark Wandering Medicine must travel a total of 157 miles. A member of the Northern Cheyenne nation in Montana, Wandering Medicine and his community have struggled to cast votes in the past because of the lengthy journey from their reservation to the nearest county seat. With no public transportation, and due to the economic injustices on American Indian reservations, it’s nearly impossible for some to even reach a voting booth. Rather than allowing this inequity to persist, Wandering Medicine and other veterans are filing a federal lawsuit. Filed on behalf of the Northern Cheyenne, Crow, Gros Ventre, and Assiniboine nations, they aim to receive the same treatment White voters have when it comes to voting ease.

Jan Brewer Bans Drivers Licenses for Deferred-Action Recipients in AZ
In mid-September, as a response to President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program—which temporarily suspends the deportation of an undocumented immigrant who meets its criteria, allowing them to work in the U.S.—Governor Jan Brewer pushed to expand Arizona’s ban on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants. The new policy now encompasses all deferred-action recipients, not just the DREAMers. Brewer claims, that “only Congress has the authority to grant non-citizens legal presence, which is required under state law to obtain a driver’s license or state ID.” This measure will be especially harmful to recently abused immigrants who are granted deferred action, because they won’t be able to receive a driver’s license to work.

Native Americans Hit Hard by Government Shutdown
The Native American community was one of the hardest-hit communities during the government shutdown. Because so many Native American programs depend on federal funds—from nutrition programs to financial assistance for low-income groups—this shutdown has stripped away assistance to over 75,000 people in approximately 276 nations.

Judge Dismisses ACLU Lawsuit Against Racist Anti-Abortion Law in AZ
A federal district court in Arizona dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the ACLU of Arizona on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of Maricopa County and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum. The suit was challenging Arizona’s anti-abortion law that the groups alleged relies on harmful racial stereotypes to shame and discriminate against women of color who decide to end their pregnancies.


Report Reveals Racial Prejudice in L.A. Canine Police Unit
According to a new report on the Los Angeles Sheriff Department Canine Special Detail, in the first six months of 2013, 100 percent of the LASD dog bite victims were Black or Latino. Urban areas of Los Angeles, where a majority of the residents are people of color, have experienced more dog bites than 21 other areas with higher White populations combined. The LASD has also been singled out by the Department of Justice for their stop and seize tactics, which target mostly Black and Latino people.

Video Reveals Rick Warren and Saddleback Church’s Anti-Asian Skits
White evangelicals at a conference hosted by Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in California are under scrutiny after a video of the event was posted publicly, revealing White pastors engaging in a skit rife with racist Asian stereotypes. In a “parody” of the 
Karate Kid, a White pastor “joked” about “making his church-planting apprentice do menial activities, such as getting him coffee, giving him massages and holding his towel.” The pastor and apprentice then engaged in speaking with fake Chinese accents, as stereotypic Asian music played in the background, and performing a karate segment where they bow to one another. This follows Rick Warren himself posting a Facebook photo of the Red Guard during China’s Cultural Revolution with the caption: “The typical attitude of Saddleback Staff as they start work each day.” Warren later offered a weak apology, stating that he apologized if people were offended by his insensitivity. No comments have been made by the Saddleback staff regarding the skit at their conference.