Victory Lap – NYC Delegation to American Eagle Headquarters

 

New York, NY – “The action on Friday for the American Eagle campaign was exciting and eventful. Being part of the leading delegation at the headquarters I watched as the Bangladesh garment workers union representative, Amin, and Unite Here’s Local 100 Organizer, Milan, spoke with an executive. The conversation went well despite the fact that security forcibly pushed us out. This particular action did get the attention of the company. Afterward, at the Gap, we were able to have conversations with two managers and had a successful mike check and leafleting drive. Lastly, we gave the managers at American Eagle the petitions and congratulated them, who seemed to respond positively. Overall the actions were fun and felt like they made an impact.

– Shamima, NYC Research

As some of you may have already heard, our OBB, Organizing Beyond Barriers, Summer Organizers have led a very impressive campaign with American Eagle, pressuring the company to sign the historic Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety—which has ended in VICTORY!

We received word from our allies that American Eagle had agreed to sign the accord as of Thursday of last week. The next day they changed the Corporate Social Responsibility page on their website to read that, indeed, they were publicly acknowledging that they had signed the accord! This is the binding agreement that many international labor groups helped craft, not the non-binding, extremely weak Walmart-Gap agreement that became public the same day.

Our allies in this effort have made it very clear that the reason for American Eagle’s decision in contrast to other retailers is the relentless ground campaign that we ran, which included 40 delegations and over 12,000 signatures collected on petitions in only 4 weeks culminating in a NYC-OBB-Team-led delegation to Corporate Headquarters alongside Amin, the president of the Bangladeshi Garment Workers Union.

In Prayer and Solidarity

– Stuart Mora, American Eagle Outfitters Campaign Coordinator for Organizing Beyond Barriers

“I am a student-writer at San Diego City College and a Summer Organizer with OBB reporting briefly from two intense days of learning and actions in L.A.  In particular, I was affected by the actions taken at the American Eagle stores in Los Angeles.  As many of us know, the story of UNITE HERE includes more than a century in the textile and clothing industries.  The action against American Eagle connected us to this history while advocating for workers in another part of the world.  When we performed the delegation I felt we made a connection with abused workers not only in Bangladesh but around the world.

When the delegation began, for a few seconds I was frightened…what gave me strength was to think on all the workers and children that died in the worst garment factory accident ever; only because corporations are too greedy to care about workers. I could finally hear my voice, at first with fear, later, I did not care who was watching me. We cannot show fear when fighting for the rights of workers.  When it was time to leaflet outside the store and talk to customers passing by, it was empowering to see that you don’t need to be an expert to raise awareness and create consciousness among the public, you just have to put yourself out there and take a stand. I liked seeing how each of the participants had a unique way to get the message across. And in the end, we delivered the message!  One woman told me , This is eye opening for me; I didn’t realize the suffering of other people, we are really lucky.

In the end, learning that American Eagle signed the Agreement on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh is a lesson we can never forget; the people have power when fighting in solidarity.  It’s an achievement we earned together. The passion and hard work of many of us together made the change.  With our actions we are building bridges with all workers.”

 

Sandra, San Diego OBB Summer Organizer

We came to punish the glutton with a substance that can’t be contained, FOOD Brand Foods ©

Press Coverage:

MarketWatch (Wall Street Journal) – http://www.marketwatch.com/story/unite-here-international-labor-rights-forum-and-bangladeshi-garment-workers-president-announce-american-eagle-as-latest-retailer-to-join-bangladesh-safety-accord-2013-07-12?reflink=MW_news_stmp

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/business/news/american-eagle-agrees-to-sign-accord-on-safety-in-bangladesh-garment-industry-695220/

Woman’s Wear Daily http://www.wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/american-eagle-signs-on-7050837

American Eagle Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/americaneagle/posts/10151654874619039

ILRF http://www.laborrights.org/creating-a-sweatfree-world/sweatshops/sweatshop-fires-in-bangladesh/news/nite-here-international-lab

Fibre2Fashion http://www.fibre2fashion.com/news/apparel-news/newsdetails.aspx?news_id=148597

Just-Style http://www.just-style.com/analysis/social-media-misses-the-mark-when-it-matters_id118450.aspx

Midwest Locals Take Action at Chicago American Eagle

Chicago, IL – “Upon arriving at Water Tower we quickly strategized outside then proceeded to the action. We took the escalator up to the sixth floor and had one more short prep session. We walked into American Eagle and immediately asked to speak with the manager on duty. A young lady who looked to be about 25 informed us that there were several on duty but that she could help us. I told her about the conditions of many of the American Eagle facilities overseas and of course she was not aware. I also told her about the Bangladesh accord that American Eagle had not signed on to yet and she was not aware of that either. After several more uncomfortable questions one of her fellow managers came to her aid and promised us he would contact someone in their corporate office.  We left the register and talked to the few customers that were in the store and left fliers in the pants and shirt pockets.

After about 15 minutes of leafleting the store we were asked to leave by the same manager that we approached. After a few awkward minutes of back and forth we left the store. Then right on queue mall security walked up to the store and told us there was to be no soliciting in Water Tower and asked us to leave. Even though we were not soliciting anything we complied and followed mall security down the escalators. Initially there was one man but by the time we reached the doors to the street there were about five or six of them.

This was a great action that I learned a lot from. First I learned that the employees are just as clueless as the customers. That is, the company does not inform them about their business practices. Not even the store managers knew. I was a bit surprised that they did not know anything about what had happened in Bangladesh either. I also learned that the employees are not on the board. What I mean by this is that they don’t make the decisions as to where American Eagles builds factories. The employees do not make the decision to exploit workers in foreign lands. It felt good to know that I was helping them learn about the true practices of their employer. Finally I learned that it is not hard to get kicked out of a shopping mall. Overall the action was very fun and I am excited to do more of them. It feels good being apart of something bigger, knowing that this was going on simultaneously in 20 other cities. I believe that the strategy will work because after about ten minutes of being in the store we got one of the managers on the phone with corporate. If they receive enough of those calls something will change.”

–  Erik 22, OBB Chicago Local 1

 

Freedom to Work Action in the Indianapolis City-County Council

My name is Lucas. I am a student at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) and have volunteered for over a year with our union. I chose to be a part of OBB this summer because I want to become a better organizer and because, as a person with cerebral palsy, every day I face some of the same disrespect and discrimination that working people in our community face.

The highlight of my summer so far was the City-County Council meeting on July 16th here in Indianapolis. We packed the Council chambers with nearly 500 people, a visual “sea of red,” for the Council’s vote on our Freedom to Work ordinance, which would end the blacklisting of subcontracted hotel workers in our city. In Indianapolis many hotels subcontract large amounts of their work to temporary agencies, which pay workers minimum wage and no benefits. In January fourteen housekeepers filed a $10 million class-action lawsuit against the largest temp agency, HSS, and nine hotels for the wage underpayment they and their co-workers had suffered regularly over the last several years. When temp agency workers seek better employment by trying to apply directly to the hotels, they are told that they cannot be hired because they belong to the temp agency. Our city county council voted 16-12 to ban this practice of blacklisting temp agency employees. This was a historic vote in Indianapolis because our council had never passed union-backed legislation in support of hotel workers, and the entire hotel industry came out to oppose us!

I couldn’t even see the testimony from my wheelchair because the room was so crowded. There were more than fifty of us out in the hall outside who could not even enter the room. I am proud of the work our OBB team did to make this event happen because we helped force the politicians in our city as well as the hotel industry to pay attention to the issues facing the lowest-wage hotel workers in our city. I am proud of our city for standing with working people because it shows how much we care about our community. The organizing we do as a union and nights like last Monday give me the strength to face the physical and social challenges of being a disabled person. It is truly inspiring.

Lucas, 2012 Summer Organizer, Indianapolis

Chicago Kicks-Off the First Week with the Pride Parade

Believe it or not, the first week of the Organizing Beyond Barriers internship in Chicago has already finished!

On Wednesday, I had my first visit to the Hyatt hotel where I’ll be organizing this summer. It was such an eye-opener to hear about the pain they were experiencing in their job. I knew to expect that there would be pain associated with the work, but to hear that workers were experiencing pain that woke them in the night and to see how hard it was even to move their fingers was a really shocking thing. It makes me upset that people are treating their fellow humans like this.

This week has helped me to grow personally in a few ways. To start, I figured out what it feels like to wake up at 4:30 A.M. in order to make a 2.5 hour commute, and I’ve got to hand it to the Chicagoans who do that daily – I don’t know how you do it.  Of course, there have definitely been nay-sayers this week, which is something that just comes with the territory. It has really been a great learning experience to talk with them as well, even though they are very clearly on the other side of the fence.  It has really helped me do something my faith has always told me I should do: give my well-wishes and my blessing to those who disagree with me and may even dislike me because of my views.  It was kind of rough to talk to those people, but it was really
beneficial to me as an organizer and as a person, which made week one an overall success in my book!

-Miranda, 2012 Summer Organizer, Chicago

Photo to the Left: Miranda dancing with her fellow interns at the LGBT Parade.

Photo to the Right: Miranda giving the crowd a wake-up call to the issues at hand.

Read smiliar stories from OBBers during Pride Week in Seattle and New York!

Next Up Young Workers Summit

The AFL-CIO’s Next Up Young Workers Summit was a truly inspiring and exciting weekend! As a college student coming off of my summer with UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles, it was wonderful to once again be surrounded by people extremely passionate about the labor movement, workers’ rights and economic justice issues. Between the workshops, networking, story sharing and exploring downtown Minneapolis there was little time for thinking about anything other than the changes we need to make so that there is justice for the hardworking people who make this country run.

By far, my favorite part of the conference was being a part of the UNITE HERE delegation. The other OBBs, UNITE HERE staff and UNITE HERE workers weren’t afraid to ask the tough questions and take the lead in workshops, at the microphone and during the actions. This showed me that UNITE HERE is the union leading the way in the national labor movement. UNITE HERE workers and organizers are doing the hard, on the ground, day-to-day organizing it takes to build, strengthen, and expand the movement. And many of those people doing that important work are the young ones I met at the conference.

The conference left me excited and ready to share what I learned with others who might not know much about the labor movement. I’m inspired to maintain the connections I made and the momentum I gained to pursue economic justice campaigns both on and off campus.

Young worker leaders are changing this country for the better. Get ready because they are revitalizing and reenergizing the labor movement!

-Josephine, 2011 Summer Organizer

Victories in University Food Service: “We Discovered How Powerful We Really Were”

Great news from Northwestern and Harvard!

Will reports from Chicago:

“After 8 months of organizing and fighting, workers here at Northwestern won an amazing contract.

“After several negotiating sessions, including a marathon pair of sessions that totaled 24 hours over two days, workers on the negotiating committee finalized a deal that includes a new wage floor of $10.00 per hour on day one, up from $8.40, a combined raise of $2.30 over the four year contract, amazing protection for immigrant workers, and free health care for every full-time worker by the end of the contract.

“When students and workers started organizing together in January, the contract seemed impossibly far away. For many of us, it was our first real contract fight. As we dug ourselves into the work, however, the bonds between us tightened and we discovered how powerful we really were. This victory has changed the lives of both the workers and the students at Northwestern, and it has energized everyone here to fight harder to keep the movement rolling.”

In Boston, 550 members of Local 26 settled a groundbreaking contract with Harvard University. In their contract campaign, they called on Harvard to provide sustainable food and create sustainable jobs. Real earnings had fallen over the last several years as Harvard cut back the number of hours worked.

Dining hall workers partnered with Harvard students who organized delegations, participated in demonstrations, sat on the bargaining committee, and even leafleted Harvard president Drew Faust. Workers from Local 35 at Yale came to Harvard to attend rallies and participate in contract negotiations. As part of the contract settlement, Harvard agreed to create a joint committee with the union to adopt best practices for environmentally responsible food sourcing and preparation. Harvard also agreed to give Local 26 members priority hiring for jobs during the summer and winter recess, as well as language requiring that Local 26 members be offered work, including overtime, before temporary jobs can be assigned. Other key components to the ground-breaking contract included better protections for immigrant workers, better sick day coverage, seniority that workers carry with them throughout Harvard departments, significant wage increases, and a preservation of the quality health insurance with no increased payment by workers.”

Boston Summer Organizer Neal describes his experience fighting for victory at Harvard:

“Workers, students and allies from across New England had a lot to celebrate last week when the 550 dining hall workers at Harvard University settled a new contract. The September victory was won through worker organization and participation, as well as the activity of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) at Harvard and the support of other unions across Boston and the workers from Local 35 at Yale.

“The new contract increases wages and protects workers’ excellent health care benefits. It also commits Harvard to hiring dining hall workers for summer jobs, so that those workers will now have an income throughout the year, rather than just while school is in session. The most innovative part of the contract establishes a joint worker-management committee which will put Harvard on the path to a more systematic commitment to serving sustainable food – food that will be bought locally and prepared at Harvard. This is a significant victory for workers who know that this will mean more full-time work in the future and who want to be cooking high quality meals. It is also a victory for the student and environmental movements at Harvard, which have long sought ways to reduce our university’s environmental impact. Together, worker and student power won the day.

“As a student, I was particularly proud to see months of worker-student cooperation culminate in such a good contract, which won the overwhelming support of the union membership. I have been a member of SLAM for four years, and this past year was definitely the most active and exciting year of them all. We organized large contingents to march in several parades alongside our union allies, and also joined in pickets and protests. Three of our members even sat on the bargaining committee throughout the negotiations. During the summer, teams of students and union organizers went out to workers’ homes to talk about the fight for a new contract. Many thanks are owed to the workers and organizers who invited us to join in this historic fight, and found really substantial ways for us to make an impact on the fight.

“We learned a lot, and we won. Who could ask for more?”