Immigrant Women Temp Workers Stand Up for Their Rights

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"Have A Heart for Immigrant Women." That's what immigrant women workers from Chicago Workers' Collaborative (CWC) and their supporters called for on Valentine's Day. The rally in front of Walgreen's Chicago Loop store highlighted the complaint to the Economic Equality Opportunity Commission that CWC filed that day, charging the labor supply agency Staffing Network with age discrimination. Staffing Network supplies workers to Norelco, manufacturer of shaving products that were being featured at Walgreen's as an attractive Valentine's Day present for that special guy.

The Valentine's Day rally focused on women whose intersecting oppressions based on their class, gender, age and, for some, their immigration status, make them vulnerable to exploitation. But these women, working through the CWC's Women's Committee, have banded together, fought back and sometimes won.

The workers report that, when they reach age 35 to 40, Staffing Network replaces them with younger women. "I have worked at Staffing Network for years, never missing work and helping make Staffing Network and Norelco a lot of money," says Maria Guadalupe, CWC member and a plaintiff in the case. "And now I am tossed aside like a broken piece of machinery. We deserve better for our loyal years of service." CWC's International Women's Day message notes that another CWC member, Adela, "was once told to get out of a staffing agency van which was taking her and others to work. She and other 'old' women were told only young women could go to work that day. A couple women were ordered out of the van right there, on the side of the road, far from home."

The age discrimination suit is only one of a number of campaigns waged by CWC's Women's Committee. The committee was formed after CWC member Airsa was sexually assaulted by her Burger King manager and successfully fought back. Hers is not the only victory. Another CWC member, Leonila, recently won a large discrimination settlement stemming from a sexual assault at her workplace. 'I went through hell in the past months,' [she said],'" but with the help and support of the Comité, I had the power to hang on and win the charges. I feel much better for fighting back and showing other women that it is possible to win if we stay united and support each other.'"

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Temp work is a growing sector. Currently, staffing firms hire nearly 13 million temporary and contract workers annually. Hiring temp workers through staffing firms enables employers to cut costs, for example by not offering benefits. As the American Staffing Network website advises, "The most important step companies can take to protect themselves is to amend their benefit plans to clearly exclude staffing firm [i.e., temp] employees."

Formed in 2000, CWC organizes to improve conditions for low-paid workers, primarily temp staffing workers. It's a membership organization, but not a union. CWC uses a variety of tactics. Direct action, such as this rally at Walgreen's and another at a Norelco assembly plant outside of Chicago in January, spotlighted problems with the companies that use temp agencies to avoid the obligations that they would incur with full-time, permanent employees.

Legal protections provide another angle from which to work. "Due to our legislative work at CWC," says Executive Director Leone Jose Bicchieri, "the laws in Illinois allow us to hold the client companies liable for the actions of their staffing agencies, so our legal pressure is usually pretty effective in terms of creating change at client companies. Through this legal pressure, and through our direct actions and direct worker organizing, we can improve the lives of the 350,000 staffing workers in Illinois, and we can also help open the door for organizing at the client companies." Through its Working Hands Legal Clinic, CWC has brought actions against 24 staffing agencies, resulting in $15 million in settlements.

CWC offers skills training to its members. And, although many of its members are Latino immigrants, another focus of CWC work is building bridges between Latino and African American workers. In addition to several Workers' Centers that primarily serve Latinos, CWC has an office on Chicago's South Side whose primary clientele is African-Americans.

Listen to an interview with CWC's Executive Director Leone Jose Bicchieri on Chicago DSA's podcast, episode 18: http://www.chicagodsa.org/audarch6.html

 

Sources:

CWC:

http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=45cfcd07f7b38f2dd84976c28&id=3d7be236a6&e=c909a1e94d

http://us5.campaign-archive2.com/?u=45cfcd07f7b38f2dd84976c28&id=4ee2a3f796&e=c909a1e94d

OECD: http://www.oecd.org/els/soc/LMF1.6%20Gender%20differences%20in%20employment%20outcomes%20-%20updated%20081212.pdf

Photo credits: Chicago Workers' Collaborative. Image 1: CWC members and supporters at Valentine's Day event protesting age discrimination. Image 2: Rosa, a co-founder of the Women's Committee, displays the check she received from her lawsuit.

Peg Strobel is a member of DSA's National Political Committee.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
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Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
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If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
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Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
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Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
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Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
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  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
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Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
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Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
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Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.