Tag Archives: labor rights

Infographic love, for those who don’t get spring break

I am fully aware that, outside of the academic world, spring break isn’t a ‘thing’.

I feel like I really need this break, come the middle of March every year, and so I feel for those who can’t reset at this moment, before spring really comes to the Midwest, when we’re all ready for sunshine and some extra sleep.

I can’t deliver you spring break, but I can share the next best thing (?):

Some great infographics.

Because who doesn’t love a good infographic, even more than a day on the beach?

You’re welcome.

And I’m sorry.

Bolder Advocacy’s Map of advocacy wins on GLBT rights: Check out the pins, where you can see photos and learn more about each victory. Maybe it’s more an interactive map than an infographic, but it’s cool. Spring break or no, we’re #winning!

If Kansas poverty was a city: This sobering figure comes from good friends at the Kansas Center for Economic Growth. The statistics suck, but the infographic is powerful.

Economic Policy Institute figure on attacks on American labor standards: I consider myself fairly well-informed, but a lot of this went past me. If we don’t pay attention to how the rules of the game, so to speak, are changing, we don’t stand a chance at reversing the trends of eroding worker well-being. These laws matter, for the people we serve and for the future of our nation.

Social Work Salary Guide: I receive quite a few unsolicited pieces that organizations want me to use for my blog. Some of the content is good, but I tend to be a little skeptical, and I certainly don’t want to load this site up with content from the private universities or job search services that tend to gravitate here. But this salary guide seemed like it might be of interest to folks, so I’m linking to it here.

Do you have infographics you’re loving right now, that you’re willing to share?

If they’re awesome, I’ll even look at them from vacation. OK, I promise, no more spring break talk.

Just have a great week next week, wherever you are.

That sounds about right…

In preparation for the upcoming state legislative session(s)–they’ll be here before we know it!–I’ve been working with some folks who are reviewing policy trends at the state level, nationwide, to identify sources for these new initiatives, messages and strategies that can combat them, and (because I’m ever the optimist!) positive legislative agendas that can chart a way forward, at least in the states where I spend most of my time.

Looking back, especially over the last couple of years, I was reminded of a quote that I bookmarked in Backlash, a book that I read during my maternity leave.

Will Bunch, the author, referred to some of the legislative developments that took precedence in Congress over job creation priorities, as “impulsive acts of rage with imprimatur of law” (p. 164).

And, you know, that sounds about right.

I have an obvious interest, in particular, in the anti-immigrant attacks that are odious not only for their sheer meanness but also for their foolishness, given that almost all of them are completely unlawful (which, if you think about it, is really kind of ironic: What part of “illegal” do they not understand?). Of course, immigrants aren’t the only ones hurt by these attacks: do you want to be waiting in an emergency room in Arizona while personnel are trying to verify proof of citizenship? (SB 1405–I don’t make this stuff up) Or, what–you don’t carry your original birth certificate on you in case of a life-threatening injury? Wasteful, ill-conceived, hateful, ridiculous…and popular, in states with very different demographics and even political landscapes.

But, of course, immigrants were not the only ones targeted by vengeful acts of childish rage. One of my students wrote a paper this year pointing out how the attacks on women’s reproductive rights threaten our economic viability as a nation, given the link, worldwide, between women’s ability to control their own fertility and their labor market participation. People who work for a living, despite their overwhelming strength in numbers, were demonized, devalued, and, in terms of meaningful access to redress for grievances and some power to right tremendous imbalances in the workplace, nearly destroyed.

States went after children’s health insurance, early childhood education, and safety-net services for those with mental illness, in many cases while simultaneously purporting that businesses need tax “relief” because of their horrible struggles. (In this, of course, they were echoed by the U.S. House of Representatives, whose penchant for oil company incentives over children’s health even my 5-year-old called “wacky.” Indeed.)

We cannot afford to bemoan these policy proposals (some of which made it into law, and some of which were forestalled only by the courageous efforts of advocates and policymakers who deserve our support in November 2012). What we need to do, first, is call them what they are: distractions and assaults, not legitimate plans to address the challenges facing our states.

We need organizing strategies that address their root causes–the maligning of the “other” and the fault-finding borne of desperation and preyed upon by those with a horribly unjust way of seeing the world. We need coalitions that see a threat to one as a threat to all. We need an agenda that offers a promise of real solutions.

We need a new year, and a commitment to make great things happen in it.

For many women, every day is Labor Day

Today is Labor Day.

Instead of thinking about how Americans work for a living, though, I’ve been thinking more about women’s work, the unpaid kind.

This isn’t another discussion about gendered divisions of labor within our own household, though.

The reality is that, on a much larger scale, our society and societies around the world are predicated on women’s labor and the way in which it is used to compensate for the impossibilities of our modern lives, especially as governments withdraw from the social contracts that have provided the foundation for family supports necessitated by changes in women’s work and family patterns.

It goes like this: Women provide more care for older relatives when services funded by the Older Americans Act are cut. They have to spend more time in labor-intensive meal preparation and shopping when food prices go up. They have to scramble for decent childcare when subsidies are reduced. They have to worry about health care for themselves and their children when fiscal strains and outright attacks on women’s health become commonplace in the political discourse. They work more hours (at unequal pay) as male wages stagnate in the global economy.

In many ways, then, even budget cuts that look “gender-neutral” on their face fall the hardest on women, and exact the highest price from women whose labor will inevitably fill in the cracks that surface as services are slashed. In Kansas, we’ve cut public schools and expected mothers to make sure that their children are still making “adequate yearly progress” by spending more time on homework in the evenings. We’ve reduced funding for mental health centers, both necessitating more caregiving for those with serious mental illnesses and denying those who need mental health care (including low-income women) an affordable way to access it. We’ve slashed funding for the Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services, whose work includes many programs for children and families, but we’ll make sure to get out to investigate the mothers who aren’t adequately able to hold it all together without these supports.

This isn’t just about current American political currents and an ideological attack on women.

In my class on global poverty, my students learn about how research in economies undergoing structural adjustment programs finds that women’s unpaid labor increases significantly, in many of the same ways experienced by American women. Indeed, while the impacts on children, seniors, and other vulnerable populations are often dire, the evidence is clear that they are not nearly as catastrophic as they would be without women stepping up and, in many cases, sacrificing themselves.

Today, let’s not just celebrate the labor that has built this country, and the proud traditions of labor unions that continue to fight for every working person.

Let us remember the work that isn’t even dignified by being called such, the work that policymakers are subtly depending on when they target working families for budget cuts and service reductions, knowing that women will try to keep the sky from falling down.

And let us avoid the platitudes about “a woman’s work is never done”, and instead call this kind of accounting what it is: unjust, unsustainable, and unacceptable.

Women the world over deserve an “un-labor” day, and a movement that will deliver the public infrastructure and investments that will secure it.

Living in glass houses: labor rights in nonprofit organizations

Labor union march for jobs--social work should be there

As we celebrated Labor Day this week, it seems like as good a time as any to bring up what we often try to ignore:

Progressive social workers committed to labor rights often have a lot of work to do in our own shops.

It’s rare to even hear talk about labor rights for social service professionals, and social workers are increasingly disengaged from the labor movement. Instead, we focus our attention (when we focus on labor rights at all) beyond our own walls, finding fault (rightly) with the unfair labor practices of other employers without adequately examining our own record. We talk about how our jobs are our “passion” or our “labor of love” without thinking about how, as employers, social work agencies can be guilty of taking advantage of employees’ dedication to clients and cause.

Think about it where you work. Does any of this sound familiar?

  • Employees are expected to “volunteer” at fundraisers and other special events, even after hours and on weekends.
  • Employees are pressured to give financially to the organization, even expected to write significant checks out of their salaries.
  • Employees are denied some of the safety measures that they deserve, including adequate supervision and support when dealing with difficult and even dangerous clients.
  • Benefits are meager, and salaries are low, but, without collective bargaining, workers have little clout. Even more, employers use their workers’ commitment to the organization and the issues to get them to accept lower salaries and limited offerings.
  • Unpaid overtime is a given, somehow that comp time never arrives…and you’re expected to take calls from the Governor two days after giving birth. Oh, wait, or was that last one just me?
  • The line between “my time” and “work time” is so blurred it’s more like a smudge. True story–I once had a former employer call me on my FIRST DAY after quitting the job to ask me to come to a meeting he was organizing, because my perspectives would be so important. WHEN I DIDN’T EVEN WORK THERE ANYMORE.

    In many ways, we are lucky.

    Many of us who call ourselves social workers get paid, some of us even quite well, to do work that does bring meaning into our lives. And, for the most part, we value our interactions with clients, the chance to make a contribution, and the colleagues alongside whom we have the honor to work.


    BUT, none of that means that we should ignore our own position as workers, and relatively powerless ones at that. If we won’t take our labor rights seriously for our own good, we should think about the kind of example we’re setting for those we serve–why should they take the risk to stand up for themselves on the job, if they see that we’re not willing to do so too?

    You can start today–talk with your coworkers about conditions you all find oppressive, and start to think about how you might work together to change them. Use your clinical skills to open dialogue with your employer and your rights, and, most importantly, how protecting them is in clients’ best interests, too. Use your research skills to learn more about labor rights in your state and resources to help aggrieved workers. Check out some of the examples of social workers forming unions to represent their interests.

    Social workers, like everyone who works for a living, deserve to be safe, fairly compensated, adequately rested, appropriately supported, and well-respected on the job. We need to practice what we’re preaching to our clients.

    And, besides, we have a lot of rocks to throw!

  • Happy Labor Day!

    1942 Labor Day Parade, Detroit

    So I know that the joke is always that we in the United States “celebrate” Memorial Day by grilling out, instead of honoring the dead, and, when Labor Day rolls around, instead of marching in parades and remembering the achievements and sacrifices of organized labor, we…grill out.

    But, on the Labor Day question, I think we’re too hard on ourselves. I mean, a big part of the accomplishments of the labor movement in this country, and around the world, is about recognizing that people are more than just laborers–we’re moms and dads and friends and sisters and brothers and community members and citizens…and we deserve jobs that recognize those other roles and give us time and space and respect, plus the living wage and the health and safety, with which to pursue the totality of our lives.

    So, today, celebrate as you will, be it with Labor Day parades, last-chance swimming parties, or your favorite grilling recipes. But, tomorrow, it’s back to work, not just on the job, but in the struggle, to advance to rights of all who work for a living and stand up for the movement that seeks to make dignity in the workplace a common part of everyone’s working life.

    Here are some great organizations that are carrying that work forward, every day of the year. They deserve your support, just as much as you deserve this day off. Please leave your own suggestions for ways to honor workers and build up labor in the comments, especially those of you not in the Kansas/Missouri area.

    Kansas City Worker Justice Project: I volunteer here to take intakes for workers who feel that they have been unfairly denied wages. Almost all of the stories will enrage you, but the organization has accomplished so much in terms of not only recouping lost wages for workers but also exposing abusive employers, and it’s a tremendously dedicated group of volunteers. Spending an evening at a clinic is also a good reminder that, especially in this economy, the horrible practices are being spread throughout the economy…an example of how no one is safe while anyone is threatened.

    National Employment Law Project: I love NELP. I love their research, I love their emphasis on the most vulnerable workers in our economy, I love their unwavering dedication to standing on the right side of issues, I love their accessibility and responsiveness and extremely high quality work. They deserve your money, if you have some to give, and you should sign up for their action alerts to lend your voice to theirs.

    Greater Kansas City Jobs with Justice: A friend of mine worked for years to start a Jobs with Justice chapter in Kansas City, and here’s why–it’s the organization with the best track record in bringing organized labor and community folks together to fight injustice. Check out their calendar of upcoming events, and try to go to one of their actions–they’re almost invariably fun.

    There, now you can go back to your relaxing day. The revolution starts tomorrow.