Tag Archives: workers

A tip sheet for workers and workplaces where pot is legal

Changing marijuana laws aren’t necessarily making weed more welcome in the workplace.

For now, many employers seem to be sticking with their drug testing and personal conduct policies, even in states where recreational marijuana use is now permitted. Others are keeping a close eye on the still evolving legal, regulatory and political environment.

Voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voted Nov. 8 to approve the use of recreational marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, where it had previously been legalized. (A recount of Maine’s close result is scheduled.) More than two dozen states have medical marijuana programs.

But the drug is still against federal law.

A closer look at what it all means for workers and businesses:

CAN MY EMPLOYER STILL TEST ME FOR POT?

Bottom line: You can’t come to work high. You can still be drug tested. And you can still be fired — or not hired — for failing a drug test even if you’re not the least bit impaired at work.

All the states with legalized recreational pot have exemptions for workplace drug policies.

In Massachusetts, for example, the law includes language stating that “the authority of employers to enact and enforce workplace policies restricting the consumption of marijuana by employees” is not changed.

“Yes, you may be able to have (marijuana) at home, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK in the workplace,” said Edward Yost, an HR specialist with the Society for Human Resources Management.

WHAT ABOUT WORKPLACE SAFETY?

Advocates for marijuana legalization said it was never their intention to compromise safety, a central reason offered by employers for drug testing.

“We don’t want anyone to come to work impaired on any drugs,” said David Boyer, campaign manager for the ballot initiative in Maine.

A 2013 survey by the employee screening firm HireRight found 78 percent of employers conducted drug tests either randomly, as a condition of employment, after accidents or for some combination of those reasons.

The federal government requires drug testing for some workers, including truck drivers and others in transportation.

Quest Diagnostics, which performed nearly 11 million laboratory-based drug tests for employers in 2015, said the percentage of tests coming back positive has shown a modest increase in recent years. Nearly half of all positive tests showed evidence of marijuana use.

CAN I GET FIRED EVEN IF I’M NOT HIGH?

THC, the psychoactive chemical in cannabis, can stay in a person’s system for days or even weeks, experts say — long after the buzz has subsided.

“It’s the equivalent of firing somebody who drank a glass of wine on Friday evening and then came to work on Monday,” said Tamar Todd, legal director for the Drug Policy Alliance, who believes employers should reconsider zero-tolerance policies in light of changing laws and attitudes.

A number of efforts are underway to develop an accurate method, akin to the Breathalyzer for alcohol, to measure actual marijuana impairment. Such a test might be useful not only for employers, but also for police and prosecutors trying to determine what constitutes driving under the influence of marijuana in states where recreational pot is legal.

WHAT SHOULD COMPANIES DO?

At a minimum, companies should review their current polices, make sure their managers are trained and make clear to employees that marijuana use on or off the job can still land them in trouble, said James Reidy, a New Hampshire-based attorney who advises clients around the country on drug testing issues.

Tina Sharby, chief human resources officer for an Easter Seals affiliate with about 1,700 employees in New England, said the organization, which provides services for people with special needs, is monitoring the evolving legal and regulatory environment but is sticking with its drug testing protocols for now.

“We have a drug-free workplace policy, and we believe that the current policy we have is effective,” Sharby said.

But drug testing and zero-tolerance rules can also make it difficult for businesses with a need to recruit young professionals who may harbor more liberal attitudes toward pot.

“We have ski industries out here, and if they really took a hard line on marijuana use, they would have to shut down,” said Curtis Graves, information resource manager for the Colorado-based Mountain States Employers Council.

After Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, surveys showed an uptick in workplace drug testing, Graves said, but that trend has begun to shift in the other direction.

“Employers who have a zero-tolerance policy maybe shouldn’t apply that to non-safety sensitive workers, because if they do testing on them, they run the risk of inviting an invasion of privacy claim,” suggested Amanda Baer, a Boston-area attorney who specializes in labor and employment issues.

WHAT DO THE COURTS SAY?

Adding to the uncertainty is the scarcity of legal precedent in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. But several cases involving employees with permits to use medical marijuana have reached the courts, and most have been decided in employers’ favor.

The most widely cited case is a 2015 Colorado Supreme Court that upheld Dish Network’s firing of a disabled man who used medical marijuana and failed a drug test. The court ruled that a state law barring employers from firing workers for off-duty behavior that is legal did not apply because pot remains illegal under federal law.

Similar rulings have been issued in other states including California, Montana and Washington.

As medical marijuana programs become more common even in states where recreational pot remains outlawed, some companies have begun to weigh accommodations for workers with permission to use marijuana for an existing health condition.

 

Report: Fight for $15 wins $62 billion in raises over 4 years

The Fight for $15 marked its fourth anniversary this week with strikes, protests and civil disobedience from coast to coast. A report from the National Employment Law Project says since the movement’s launch in New York in 2012, the Fight for $15 has won nearly $62 billion in raises.

 

“The Fight for $15’s impact towers over past congressional action because it has been propelled by what workers need — not what moderate compromise might allow,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, in a news release. “As a result, workers have been fighting for and winning much bigger raises for much more of the workforce than ever before.”

The NELP analysis quantifies the impact of the Fight for $15. Some key findings:

• Since the Fight for $15 launched in 2012, underpaid workers have won $61.5 billion in raises from a combination of state and local minimum wage increases from New York to California and action by employers ranging from McDonald’s to Walmart to raise their companies’ minimum pay scales. This includes the additional annual income that workers will receive after the approved increases fully phase in.

  • Of the $61.5 billion in additional income, two-thirds is the result of $15 minimum wage laws that the Fight for $15 pressed for in California, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, SeaTac and Washington, D.C.
  • At least 19 million workers nationwide will benefit from raises sparked by the Fight for $15.
  • 2.1 million workers won raises in November, when voters approved minimum wage ballot initiatives in Arizona ($12 by 2020), Colorado ($12 by 2020), Maine ($12 by 2020), Washington State ($13.50 by 2020), and Flagstaff, Arizona ($15 by 2021).

The raises sparked by the Fight for $15 are beginning to reverse decades of wage declines that have resulted in 43 percent of the workforce, or 60 million workers, being paid less than $15 per hour.

Across the United States, the median wage rose 5.6 percent last year, the largest increase since at least the 1960s, according to the report.

World stunned as Trump defeats Clinton for White House

Republican Donald Trump stunned the world by defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election, sending the United States on an uncertain path.

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The billionaire real estate developer and former reality TV host, Trump rode a wave of anger toward Washington insiders to win the White House race against Clinton, the Democratic candidate whose resume included serving as a first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.

Worried a Trump victory would cause economic and global uncertainty, investors were in full flight from risky assets.

The unofficial returns show Trump has collected enough of the 270 state-by-state electoral votes needed to win the four-year term that would start on Jan. 20, 2017.

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Republicans also kept control of Congress, with projections showing the GOP would retain majorities in the 100-seat U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, where all 435 seats were up for grabs.

Trump appeared with his family before cheering supporters in a New York hotel ballroom, making the un-Trumpish assertion that it is time to heal the divisions caused by the campaign and find common ground.

“It is time for us to come together as one united people,” Trump said. “I will be president for all Americans.”

He said he received a call from Clinton and praised her for her service and for a hard-fought campaign.

His comments were an abrupt departure from his campaign trail rhetoric in which he repeatedly slammed Clinton as “crooked” amid supporters’ chants of “lock her up.”

At Clinton’s election event at the Javits conference center a mile away from Trump’s event, an electric atmosphere among supporters expecting a Clinton win slowly grew grim as the night went on.

Clinton opted not to appear at her event.

Campaign chairman John Podesta told supporters, “We’re not going to have anything more to say tonight.”

Clinton was expected to speak on Wednesday morning, an aide said.

Prevailing in a cliffhanger race that opinion polls clearly forecast as favoring a Clinton victory, Trump won avid support among a core base of white non-college educated workers with his promise to be the “greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

In his victory speech, he claimed he had a great economic plan, would embark on a project to rebuild American infrastructure and would double U.S. economic growth.

His win raises a host of questions for the United States at home and abroad. He campaigned on a pledge to take the country on a more isolationist, protectionist “America First” path.

Countries around the world reacted with stunned disbelief as the early returns showed Trump defeating Clinton in the electoral college.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, described the result as a “huge shock” and questioned whether it meant the end of “Pax Americana”, the state of relative peace overseen by Washington that has governed international relations since World War Two.

Neighbor Mexico was pitched into deep uncertainty by the victory for Trump who has often accused it of stealing U.S. jobs and sending criminals across the border.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the two countries would remain “strong and close partners on trade, security and defense.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Washington to stay committed to last year’s international nuclear deal with Iran, which Trump has threatened to rip up.

Trump’s national security ideas have simultaneously included promises to build up the U.S. military while at the same time avoiding foreign military entanglements.

He also wants to rewrite international trade deals to reduce trade deficits and has taken positions that raise the possibility of damaging relations with America’s most trusted allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Trump has promised to warm relations with Russia that have chilled under President Barack Obama over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s intervention in the Syrian civil war and his seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea region.

Putin sent Trump a congratulatory note, saying he hoped that they can get the U.S.-Russian relationship out of crisis.

Trump entered the race 17 months ago and survived a series of seemingly crippling blows, many of them self-inflicted, including the emergence in October of a 2005 video in which he boasted about making unwanted sexual advances on women.

He apologized but within days, several women emerged to say he had groped them, allegations he denied.

He was judged the loser of all three presidential debates with Clinton.
A Reuters/Ipsos national Election Day poll offered some clues to the outcome.

It found Clinton underperformed expectations with women, winning their vote by only about 7 percent, similar to Obama when he won re-election in 2012.

And while she won Hispanics, black and millennial voters, Clinton did not win those groups by greater margins than Obama did in 2012.

Younger blacks did not support Clinton like they did Obama, as she won eight of 10 black voters between the ages of 35 and 54. Obama won almost 100 percent of those voters in 2012.

During the campaign, Trump said he would “make America great again” through the force of his personality, negotiating skill and business acumen.
He proposed refusing entry to the United States of people from war-torn Middle Eastern countries, a modified version of an earlier proposed ban on Muslims.

His volatile nature, frequent insults and unorthodox proposals led to campaign feuds with a long list of people, including Muslims, the disabled, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier, a Miss Universe winner and a federal judge of Mexican heritage.

A largely anti-Trump crowd of about 400 to 500 people gathered outside the White House after his apparent victory, many visibly in shock or tears.
Some carried signs that read “stand up to racism” and “love trumps hate.”
Meanwhile, as financial markets absorbed the prospect of Trump’s win, the Mexican peso plunged to its lowest-ever levels. The peso had become a touchstone for sentiment on the election as Trump threatened to rip up a free trade agreement with Mexico.

His triumph was seen by some as a rebuke to Obama, a Democrat who spent weeks flying around the country to campaign against him, repeatedly casting doubt on his suitability for the White House. Obama will hand over the office to Trump after serving the maximum eight years allowed by law.

Trump promises to push Congress to repeal Obama’s health care plan and to reverse his Clean Power Plan. He plans to create jobs by relying on U.S. fossil fuels such as oil and gas and he poses a serious threat to the Paris climate change agreement.

Trump’s victory marked a frustrating end to the presidential aspirations of Clinton, 69, who so many expected to become the first woman U.S. president.

In a posting on Twitter during Tuesday evening, she acknowledged a battle that was unexpectedly tight given her edge in opinion polls going into Election Day.

“This team has so much to be proud of. Whatever happens tonight, thank you for everything,” she tweeted.

This story will be updated.

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AFT: Labor unions and shared prosperity

On the occasion of Labor Day, a message from American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on the importance of the labor movement to American workers and communities:

Today is Labor Day—and there’s a good reason it’s a national holiday. By organizing together and fighting collectively, workers have been able to better their lives and the lives of their families. So rather than think about Labor Day as the last gasp of summer or bemoan the loss of union clout, let’s redouble our efforts to re-create an enduring middle class.

Income and wealth inequality rivals levels last seen in the Gilded Age. The American dream has slipped away from those who are working hard to make it. And rather than confronting these realities, many — particularly on the right — turned to union bashing and restricting labor rights that rendered people powerless to address inequities. The result: stagnating wages and stifled hopes for men and women who worked hard and played by the rules.

But we continue to fight — to fight for higher wages, fair contracts, professional development, safety measures, and resources for our members and their students, their patients and the others they serve.

America’s educators, healthcare professionals and public service workers know this firsthand. After the Great Recession, some on the right seized the political moment to vilify teachers and assault the labor movement that gives them a voice. In the aftermath, a study by a University of Utah economist showed that, in the four states that successfully weakened teachers’ right to bargain together, public school teachers’ wages fell by nearly one-tenth. That’s a statistic we as educators and public servants simply cannot afford.

Conversely, robust unions help everyone — not just the people who form them—and a growing body of research demonstrates that. There’s a multiplier effect. Through unions, we lift up our communities, strengthen the economy and deepen our democracy. If unions were as strong today as in 1979, according to a timely new study by the Economic Policy Institute, nonunion men with a high school diploma would earn an average of $3,016 more a year. And the Center for American Progress has found that kids who live in communities where unions are strong have a better chance to get ahead.

Workers in unions earn, on average, 27 percent more than their nonunion counterparts. The National Women’s Law Center has found that unions close the pay gap for women, and the Center for Economic and Policy Research has found that black workers see outsized gains from union representation. It’s a powerful reminder of the link between organized labor and economic success.

You see the union advantage in our advocacy as well. When the recession devastated the construction sector and put millions of Americans out of work, the American labor movement came together with the goal of raising $10 billion to repair the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. Five years later, our pension funds have reallocated $16 billion for infrastructure investments, including rehabilitating New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, turning it into a travel hub befitting a great modern city and creating good American jobs in the process.

In hospitals and patient care settings across the country, our members have been leading the fight against workplace violence.

And in the classroom, unions are critical partners in giving kids the chance to succeed. A 2016 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that where teachers unions are strong, districts have a better track record of building the quality of our teaching force — keeping stronger teachers and dismissing those who are not making the grade. Through unions, teachers fight for the tools, time and trust that educators need to tailor instruction to the needs of our children, to help them reach for and achieve their dreams.

Here at the AFT, we take that work seriously—for example, curating Share My Lesson, a free digital collection of lesson plans and resources for educators used by nearly a million people. In fact, Share My Lesson has more than 750 lessons about Labor Day!

Despite years of right-wing attacks on unions, a 2015 survey found that a majority of Americans would join a union if they had the choice. They know what a union offers: a voice in their workplace, the opportunity to negotiate wages and benefits and the ability to retire with dignity and security.

Indeed, despite all the attacks waged against us, the AFT—which celebrated our 100th anniversary at our national convention this summer—has grown over the past several years, with well over 1.6 million K-12 and higher education educators and staff, state and local employees, and nurses and other healthcare professionals as members. And now we are seeing more vulnerable workers — such as adjunct faculty and graduate students, teachers at charter schools and early childhood educators—seeking to join our ranks. In the private sector, tens of thousands of low-income workers have joined the Fight for 15 and the union movement because they know a union will help them get long-denied wage increases.

We have taken on the fight for adjuncts and early childhood educators from Pennsylvania to California — many of whom work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. These are the people who teach our youngest children, and they’re the ones who educate our college students; they deserve to live above the poverty line while doing this critical work.

Graduate students at Cornell University are celebrating the recent National Labor Relations Board decision that reinstates the right of graduate workers at private universities to organize. They are building momentum and talking to hundreds of fellow grad students about the power of collective bargaining, and are excited about the prospect of winning union recognition and joining more than 25,000 AFT graduate employees at public institutions who already enjoy the benefits of a contract.

The aftermath of the Great Depression and World War II led our country to understand we were all in it together. We established the GI Bill and other educational access and equity programs; management and labor respected each other, with unions being the voice of labor; and the middle class thrived.

Now, as income inequality is again at its height, let’s remember on this Labor Day what a strong labor movement has done—and can do again—to help workers, our communities, the economy and our democracy grow and thrive.

Wisconsin needs to be welcoming place for immigrant workers

Thousands rallied on Feb. 18 in Madison to protest two pieces of legislation. The bills deal with restrictions on issuing local identification cards and a ban on “sanctuary cities,” where police and other public employees are not allowed to ask about someone’s citizenship status.

It’s critical that Wisconsin be a welcoming place for Latino and other immigrant workers who play such an important role in many parts of the economy.

Dairy farmers face significant struggles in finding and retaining workers because of the demands of the job. This is a very real problem and one that poses a major threat to our farms as well as the host of businesses and services connected to dairy.

Dairy accounts for $43.4 billion of Wisconsin’s annual economy, almost half of agriculture’s overall impact. Immigrants, particularly Latinos, are key.

A University of Wisconsin-Madison study in 2009, the most recent available, found that about 40 percent or 5,300 of all employees on dairy farms in the state were immigrants, with 90 percent of them from Mexico.

Ultimately, federal immigration reforms are needed to provide some avenue for those workers to remain in the country regardless of their status.

The state bills could have limited practical impact, but they signal that Wisconsin does not value immigrants’ contributions.

That’s not the sort of message we should be sending. Driving away immigrant workers is not the answer.

Editor’s note: The Dairy Business Association is a nonprofit organization of Wisconsin dairy farmers, milk processors, vendors and business partners.


Wisconsin manufacturer won’t change prayer-break policy

A Wisconsin manufacturer says it won’t back away from a policy change that doesn’t allow prayer breaks for Muslim employees, despite an American-Islamic group’s call for a compromise.

Fifty-three employees at Ariens Co. have left their jobs in protest after the Brillion manufacturer decided to enforce a policy of two 10-minute breaks per work shift. 

Ariens had previously allowed Muslim employees to leave their work stations at different times to accommodate prayer. Ariens said Monday it has tried to be sensitive to the employees, but the unscheduled prayer breaks disrupt production. The Council for America-Islamic Relations is asking the company to revert to its previous policy until a resolution can be reached. 

The lawn mowers and snow blower manufacture employs about 900 people in Brillion.

Did slaves peel your frozen shrimp? A guide to the issue and what to do

Enslaved migrant workers and children are ripping the heads, tails, shells and guts off shrimp at processing factories in Thailand, according to an investigation by The Associated Press.

AP journalists followed and filmed trucks loaded with freshly peeled shrimp going from one peeling shed to major Thai exporting companies. Then, using U.S. customs records and Thai industry reports, they tracked it globally. They also traced similar connections from another factory raided six months earlier, and interviewed more than two dozen workers from both sites.

U.S. customs records show the farmed shrimp made its way into the supply chains of major U.S. food stores and retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, Dollar General and Petco, along with restaurants such as Red Lobster and Olive Garden. AP reporters in all 50 states went shopping and found related brands in more than 150 stores across America.

The businesses that responded condemned the practices that lead to labor abuse, and many said they were launching investigations.

Q: How do I know if my shrimp or other seafood is tainted by labor abuses?

A: That’s a big part of the problem. Most companies do not make their supply chains public. And even if they did, there are many places for abuses to occur that are not documented or take place far from any type of scrutiny. For example, slaves have been forced to work on boats catching trash fish used for feed at shrimp farms, and migrants have been brought across borders illegally and taken straight to shrimp sheds where they are locked inside and forced to peel. Fishing boats are going farther and farther from shore, sometimes not docking for months or years at a time, creating floating prisons.

Q: What shrimp brands and companies did the AP find linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Cape Gourmet; Certifresh; Chef’s Net; Chicken of the Sea; Chico; CoCo; Darden (owner of Olive Garden Italian Kitchen, Longhorn Steakhouse, Bahama Breeze Island Grille, Seasons 52 Fresh Grill, The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s Prime Seafood and Yard House); Delicasea; Fancy Feast cat food; Farm Best; Fisherman’s Wharf; Winn-Dixie; Fishmarket; Great American; Great Atlantic; Great Catch; Harbor Banks; KPF; Market Basket; Master Catch; Neptune; Portico; Publix; Red Lobster; Royal Tiger; Royal White; Sea Best; Sea Queen; Stater Bros.; Supreme Choice; Tastee Choice; Wal-Mart; Waterfront Bistro; Wellness canned cat food; Whole Catch; Wholey; Xcellent.

Q: AP reporters visited supermarkets chosen at random in all 50 states. Where did they find shrimp linked to tainted supply chains in its investigation?

A: Acme Markets; Albertsons; Aldi; Bi-Lo; Carrs-Safeway; Cash Wise; Crest Foods; Cub Foods; D’Agostino Supermarket; Dan’s Supermarket; Dollar General; Edwards Food Giant; Family Dollar; Foodland; Fred Meyer; Giant Eagle; Harris-Teeter; H-E-B; Hy-Vee; Jerry’s Foods; Jewel-Osco; Jons International Marketplace; Kroger; Lowes Foods; Mariano’s; Market Basket; Marsh Supermarkets; Martin’s Super Markets; McDade’s Market; Pavilions; Petco; Piggly Wiggly; Price Chopper; Publix; Ralphs; Randall’s Food Market; Redner’s Warehouse Markets; Russ’s Market; Safeway; Save Mart; Schnucks; Shaws; ShopRite; Smart & Final; Sprouts Farmers Market; Stater Bros.; Stop & Shop; Sunshine Foods; Target; Van’s Thriftway; Vons; Wal-Mart; Whole Foods; Winn-Dixie.

Q: Thailand has been in the news a lot lately with problems linked to human trafficking in its seafood industry. Why is this still an issue?

A: Thailand is one of the world’s biggest seafood exporters, and relies heavily on migrant workers from poor neighboring countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. These laborers often are misled by brokers in their home countries and illegally brought to Thailand with promises of good-paying jobs. They are then sold onto fishing boats or put into seafood processing plants where they become trapped and forced to work long hours for little or no money. Thailand has repeatedly vowed to crack down on the abuses. It has created new laws and is helping to register undocumented workers, but arrests and prosecutions are still rare.

Q: What are buyers and governments doing to try to stop slave-tainted seafood from reaching their countries?

A: The U.S. State Department has blacklisted Thailand for the past two years for its dismal human rights record, placing it among the world’s worst offenders such as North Korea and Syria. However, it has not issued sanctions. The European Union put out a “yellow card” warning earlier this year that tripled seafood import tariffs, and is expected to decide next month whether to impose an outright ban on products. Companies such as Nestle have vowed to force change after conducting their own audits and finding that their Thai suppliers were abusing and enslaving workers. Others are working with rights groups to monitor their supply chains and ensure laborers are treated fairly and humanely.

UW-Madison delays changes to teaching pay for grad students

After several weeks of advocacy work by the University of Wisconsin–Madison Teaching Assistants’ Association, the administration agreed to delay implementation of a plan to restructure graduate student pay on campus.

The plan, which only came to light a few weeks ago, was developed behind closed doors with no graduate student input.

Implementation of the plan has been delayed until 2017, but continues to represent a breach of the university’s promise to honor the TAA labor contract after the passage of Act 10, according to the TAA.

Earlier in November, outside Bascom Hall on the campus, the TAA set forth a list of demands in response to the graduate school’s proposed restructuring of pay:

• In order to provide a more livable standard for all graduate workers and bring the university in line with peer institutions, provide a pay raise for all graduate workers campus-wide.

• For the sake of transparency and openness, the current proposal must be scrapped and the graduate school must work in conjunction with graduate students to find a solution that works for all graduate workers.

• For the sake of democracy and shared governance, the graduate school must provide a seat at the table with real power for graduate workers.

• The administration must respect our position as workers on campus and the value we create for the university.

“This proposal would force individual departments to decide how much we’re worth, who is worth more, and who deserves a higher wage. Department heads, faculty, and administrative staff would be forced to turn to private donors to make sure graduate workers are being paid at amounts that don’t even meet a basic standard living wage,” said TAA co-president Sergio González.

He continued, “We’ve got some of the smartest graduate students in the world working at this university. I invite all of you to join the TAA in proposing an alternative pay structure that is fair, equitable, and just, and that represents what is best for our university, its workers, and all of its students. The university must scrap this proposed pay restructuring and bring graduate student workers to the table so that together we can find a solution to ensure that the University of Wisconsin–Madison continues to be an elite institution committed to shared governance and world-class teaching and research.”

Adria Brooks, a TAA member and a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, said, “If we allow policies to be passed that kill equal pay for equal work, then whenever the College of Engineering, my college, brings in multi-million dollar industry grants to improve undergraduate studies, the language departments tasked with educating the associated increase in engineering students needing to fulfill their general education requirements may not be able to fairly compensate their graduate teaching assistants for this work.”

Concerned about the effect the new proposal will have on departments across campus, Brooks said, “When the administration pushes through policy changes like this, without graduate student input, it marginalizes traditional, non-grant based departments, but most importantly, it impinges on the world-class education we promise to our undergraduate students: of course we are in favor of pay raises. Of course we do not want esteemed faculty, students, and funding opportunities to bypass the University of Wisconsin for other institutions. But we want these things because they benefit all disciplines, not just a few.”

The TAA is the oldest graduate student labor union in the United States. Graduate student workers perform nearly half of all the instruction that takes place at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, while also taking classes and conducting research, according to the TAA.

Fast food workers set sights on presidential candidates

The fast food protests were planned by organizers at more than 270 cities nationwide, part of an ongoing campaign called “Fight for $15.” Janitors, nursing home workers and package delivery workers also joined some protests, organizers said.

Dominique McCrae, who serves fried chicken and biscuits at a Bojangles’ restaurant for $7.55 an hour, joined a protest outside a McDonald’s in Durham, North Carolina. Her pay isn’t enough to cover rent or diapers for her child, the 23-year-old said. She dropped out of college to care for her grandfather, making finances tight.

“We just want to be able to support our families,” said McCrae, who has worked at Bojangles’ for two months.

Bojangles’ Inc., based in Charlotte, North Carolina, said in a statement that it offers employees “competitive compensation.”

The campaign began about three years ago and is funded by the Service Employees International Union, which represents low-wage workers. Several protests have been scheduled in front of fast food restaurants, garnering media attention.

This time workers are pledging not to vote for presidential candidates that do not support the campaign. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both showed their support through tweets on Nov. 10, and Sanders showed up at a protest outside the Senate in Washington. A protest also took place outside the Republican debates in Milwaukee.

McDonald’s worker Adriana Alvarez said she plans to vote for the first time next year, but only for a candidate who wants to raise wages to $15 an hour. Alvarez, who is 23 and lives in Chicago, said she makes $10.50 an hour, and higher pay can help her move out of the moldy basement apartment she shares with her 3-year-old son.

“I can find a better place,” she said.

The protests are occurring against a backdrop of weak wage growth nationwide. Average hourly pay has increased at roughly a 2.2 percent annual rate since the recession ended more than six years ago.

In the retail, hotel and restaurant industries, average hourly pay for front-line workers – the roughly 80 percent who aren’t managers or supervisors – is below $15. It was $14.90 in the retail industry in October, the Labor Department said last week, and $13.82 for hotel employees. Restaurant workers, on average, earned $11.51 an hour.

McDonald’s Corp., based in Oak Brook, Illinois, said in a statement on Nov. 10 that wages at U.S. restaurants it owns increased $1 over the local minimum wage in July, affecting about 90,000 employees. But the vast majority of U.S. McDonald’s locations are franchised.

Rival Burger King, which is owned by Canada-based Restaurant Brands International Inc., said it supports “the right to demonstrate” and hopes “any demonstrators will respect the safety of our restaurant guests and employees.” It also said its franchisees that own the restaurants make wage decisions, not the corporate company.

Yum Brands Inc., the Louisville, Kentucky-based company behind Taco Bell and KFC, said its employees are paid above minimum wage at its 2,000 company-owned stores.

At a New York rally, a few hundred people cheered and clapped. Some carried signs saying, “Lift all boats, not just yachts.”

Some at the rally were not fast food workers. Liz Henry, 38, who works in environmental services at a New York hospital, makes more than $15 per hour but supports the effort for other workers.

“Even what I’m making right now is not even enough,” she says. “How do they really get by? It’s hard.”

No charges against farm workers shown abusing hogs

A prosecutor said that he has decided against charging any employees of a Minnesota hog farm who were recorded on a graphic undercover video treating animals in a way that their own employer called “disturbing.”

Los Angeles-based Last Chance for Animals released video in August that it shot at a Christensen Farms breeding facility in the southwestern Minnesota city of Luverne. At the time, the company, one of the country’s largest pork producers, said it had suspended seven employees and launched a full internal investigation. CEO Glenn Stolt said in a statement that it was “unacceptable that this behavior was allowed to continue, and was not brought to our attention immediately.”

Assistant Rock County Attorney Jeffrey Haubrich told The Associated Press on Friday that he won’t file the animal cruelty charges that Last Chance for Animals sought. In a letter to Sgt. Jeff Wienecke of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, which Haubrich provided to the AP, he said the videos are not admissible in court and that an outside veterinarian found nothing at the farm that could provide a basis for criminal charges.

“Our primary consideration is that there are substantial evidentiary issues with the material provided by Last Chance for Animals. The video and reports are obviously highly edited and filtered to enhance the position they are advocating and they lack the basic requirements for admissibility in court,” the prosecutor wrote. “Namely, there is a lack of foundation and no chain of custody for the main pieces of the evidence that have been presented.”

Haubrich also wrote that it appeared the veterinarian did not find any widespread problems at the farm or with people employed there. He found that the facilities and its methods were acceptable “within industry standards” and that “the animals appeared well cared for.”

Adam Wilson, director of investigations for Last Chance for Animals, said the group doesn’t consider the case closed and that he will write to Haubrich detailing its concerns with the decision. He said the group offered the prosecutor and detectives full unedited copies of its original recordings, and offered to make its undercover investigator available to corroborate their authenticity and other details of what the investigator witnessed, but got no reply.

“The decision was a political one — not to go after a very large corporate farming operation that’s a Minnesota company,” Wilson said. “It seems very obvious the investigation is not complete and it was not taken with the best intentions.”

The video released to the public showed sows bleeding from open sores and other injuries, including protruding organs, or lame from swollen legs. It also showed one worker repeatedly jabbing a lame sow with a pen to try to get it to move, leaving wounds on its back. The group said it recorded numerous instances of sick and severely injured sows being left to suffer for weeks.

Officials with Sleepy Eye-based Christensen Farms and the company’s attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Friday afternoon. Nor did an attorney for the employees, and it wasn’t immediately clear if they still work for the company.