The Rise of Labor-Leasing Companies and the Exploitation of Formerly Incarcerated Workers in New York City
By Bailey Miller
Construction in New York City is booming, but beneath the glitter and shine of new buildings, a troubling trend has emerged. An expanding class of labor-leasing companies, known as “body shops”, is providing general contractors with workforces of formerly incarcerated people for exploitive construction sites across the five boroughs. Body shops pay barely minimum wage, offer no benefits like medical coverage, and provide minimal safety training for workers to erect scaffolds, clear debris, and perform other types of work on the cheap. The rise of body shops means that formerly incarcerated workers, who are disproportionately Black, are increasingly exploited to perform the dangerous work of erecting New York City’s luxury towers and shopping complexes. Continue reading Union Semester Student Bailey Miller Wins Labor Journalism Contest→
Data suggests that public education is most effective when parents, teachers, students and school administrators collaborate to focus on the individual needs of a child. A one-size-fits-all model of educating and measuring student achievement works well for some children, but leaves others desperately seeking public education alternatives.
One alternative to the current system of public education fueling political debate is the expansion of school choice through school voucher programs. According to supporters, implementation of voucher programs would create a market driven system that improves educational standards benefiting all of America’s children.The problem is, the school voucher system has been implemented in other parts of the world, and failed, even as it appeared to initially succeed. Continue reading Sweden’s School Choice Disaster→
Imagine: you call a hotline to complain about how you were fired for being pregnant or harassed by your manager. On the other end, an operator gives you advice on organizing and labor law.
It sounds unlikely today, but in the 1970s, a group of women clerical workers, frustrated with their treatment, developed and achieved success with these non-traditional methods of organizing.
Migrating from the unpaid labor of the home to wage labor in the office, women workers needed a safe way to confide the humiliations and degradation they were experiencing in their offices. The working women’s group 9to5 therefore developed the “9to5 Job Survival Hotline,” which functioned much like hotlines for domestic abuse or suicide. This private hotline allowed women workers to call, anonymously, describe their grievances in what was at times embarrassing detail, and determine how to push back. 9to5 thereby created a safe space via phone for women workers to call and speak about what they endured on the job, and learn what course of action to take next. Continue reading Dial-an-Organizer: Using Storytelling and Emotion to Build Movements→
After 45 days on strike, nearly 40,000 Verizon workers have agreed to head back to work. Having reached a tentative agreement with the communications giant, the workers state that they have achieved their goals: raising working families’ standard of living, creating over 1,300 new union jobs and achieving a first contract for retail store workers.
The largest strike in recent history, this Communications Workers of America (CWA) action marks a significant display of the strength of collective action.
During the strike, the company scrambled to fill positions with non-unionized and non-specialized personnel. Workers and their allies engaged in frequent rallies and demonstrations, holding space and making their position known. In the end, it more than paid off: besides winning the workers a raise, reversing cutbacks and creating jobs, the successful strike asserted the importance of workers in making communications infrastructure work, and re-asserted the role that organized labor can play in securing rights for workers.
Before the settlement was announced, CWA Local 1101 member, Verizon Striker and Murphy Alum (Cornell-CUNY Labor Relations Certificate, 2014) Christopher Vilardo shared this statement with the blog:
As the ‘sharing economy’ grows, so does the level of precarious work, which shifts the risks and burden to the worker, but none of the benefits. The digital tools used in these emerging economies are paving the way for future automation. Will this lead to the eventual erasure of the worker?
Each year, the Murphy Institute hosts a student-organized forum, held at Murphy during the spring semester and arranged by the Urban Studies and Labor Studies departments. The purpose of the forum is to give students an opportunity to apply the lessons being taught in our curriculum to our everyday lives.
This year, our team of students decided to focus on how changes in technology are having direct effects on worker, specifically drivers of the car service Uber. We sought to explore the ways this company is taking advantage of workers and the very communities it claims to be servicing.
The forum, called Reworking Labor: The Case of Uber and the Gig Economy, was held on April 4, 2016 and attended by over 90 faculty, classmates and community members. We’re extremely grateful to our all-star panel for challenging our ideas and expanding our understanding of the current landscape. Many thanks to:
Deputy Director and Chief Economist James Parrot from the Fiscal Policy Institute
Executive Director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance