Fast fashion giant Shein’s valuation has dropped by about one-third, from $100 billion to $64 billion, according to reports last week, as the company raises funding and prepares to go public. That IPO, potentially coming this year, will ignite talk about sustainability and labor standards in the fashion industry—because Shein is such a bad actor on both fronts. But as those numbers show, being a bad actor can bring in big money. The company’s share of the U.S. fast fashion market has soared, going from 12% in January 2020 to 50% in November 2022.
Shein’s prices are extremely low, prompting the phenomenon of the “Shein haul,” where TikTokers show off a large number of clothes gotten for a relatively small amount of money. That’s a social media phenomenon glorifying the environmental and human costs of a single company’s lousy way of doing business, and it raises the question of what it would look like to do better.
RELATED STORY: In the fast fashion debate, information beats shame
The number of workers represented by a union rose by 200,000 in 2022, but the overall share of workers represented by a union dropped from 11.6% to 11.3%, according to an Economic Policy Institute (EPI) analysis of government data. That is, the overall size of the workforce rose more quickly than the size of the unionized workforce.
“The entire increase in unionization in 2022 was among workers of color—workers of color saw an increase of 231,000, while white workers saw a decrease of 31,000,” the EPI team of Heidi Shierholz, Margaret Poydock, and Celine McNicholas notes. “Of all major racial and ethnic groups, Black workers continue to have the highest unionization rates, at 12.8%. This compares with 11.2% for white workers, 10.0% for Latinx workers, and 9.2% for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) workers.”
But as the anti-union campaigns by the likes of Starbucks and Amazon remind us, many more workers want to be in unions. These companies wouldn’t be spending millions of dollars on union-busting consultants and lawyers if they thought workers would reject unions on their own. The most recent survey asking nonunion workers if they would like to join a union is from 2017. That year, 48% said they would vote to unionize. Extrapolating from that, EPI finds that around 60 million workers wanted to join a union in 2022 and didn’t have the chance.
Millions of restaurant workers have been forced without their knowledge to subsidize an organization that exists in part to keep their pay low, The New York Times reports. (Every now and then the Times does really excellent work. Just never with political reporting.) On the surface, it seems that the workers are taking a kind of insultingly basic food safety course. But the company that dominates the market for such courses is owned by the National Restaurant Association (NRA), the industry group that has successfully kept the minimum wage for tipped workers set at $2.13 an hour since 1991.
The company in question is ServSafe, of which a competitor told the Times, “We believe they’ve got at least 70 percent-plus of the market. Maybe higher.” The NRA (the restaurant one) took over ServSafe in 2007, then lobbied several large states to make such trainings mandatory not just for restaurant managers but for all restaurant workers, creating a huge built-in market. So far, “More than 3.6 million workers have taken this training, providing about $25 million in revenue to the restaurant industry’s lobbying arm since 2010.” That’s more than enough to cover all of the NRA’s lobbying in that time. And the lobbying in question has included a lot of efforts to keep the minimum wage low.
Managerial workers earning more than a ridiculously low $455 a week are exempt from overtime pay if they work more than 40 hours a week—and employers are going to great lengths to exploit that fact, a new study shows. Companies are giving people what researchers call “fake-sounding” managerial titles, along with salaries just a tiny bit over $455 a week, and saying they don’t qualify for overtime.
How fake-sounding? You’re not a front desk clerk, you’re a “director of first impressions.” You’re not a barber, you’re a “grooming manager.” You’re not a carpet cleaner, you’re a “carpet shampoo manager.”
There are supposed to be multiple factors in whether someone is exempt from overtime pay. They not only have to make more than that $455 a week, they have to be doing legitimately managerial work. But what qualifies as managerial work can be hard to define, and employers seem to be using these inflated titles to prevent workers or regulators from looking at actual, detailed job duties. In a National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) working paper using data from 2010 to 2018, Lauren Cohen, Umit Gurun, and N. Bugra Ozel offer strong evidence that this isn’t just title inflation for its own sake.
An Ohio law firm came under fire this week after it put on a display of how new parents are too often treated when they dare to take parental leave. A text from a senior attorney at Zashin and Rich, a Cleveland employment law firm, abusing a former associate at the firm for having gone to another job soon after returning from maternity leave, went viral—and the guy who sent the text is now also no longer with Zashin and Rich.
“I had suspicions you were interviewing two months ago and I told Stephen then to ask you about it. I also told him to cut you loose at that time if confirmed. He was too nice of a guy to do so,” Jon Dileno texted the unnamed associate. “What you did—collecting salary from the firm while sitting on your ass, except to find time to interview for another job—says everything one needs to know about your character. Karma’s a bitch. Rest assured regarding anyone who inquires, they will hear the truth from me about what a soul-less and morally bankrupt person you are.”
“Soul-less and morally bankrupt”—for leaving one job for another after maternity leave. Here’s the thing (aside from a level of personal abuse it’s hard to imagine Dileno would have directed at a man): Many employers don’t offer parental leave, but those that do often require a year or more on the job before the benefit becomes available. So if someone wants to leave their job but is pregnant and wants to get the leave they have already qualified for by working at their current job for a year or more, they’re pretty much stuck. That associate might have been wanting to leave Zashin and Rich for months before her leave even started.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is now breathing on his own and talking as he recovers from his on-field cardiac arrest in Monday night’s NFL game, but the issues his near-death and ongoing recovery raise are very much not over. For one thing, there was the long delay before the game was officially postponed (it was later cancelled), when the call to postpone a game following an on-field near-death should be a pretty much immediate one. Reportedly the decision was only made after intervention by the players’ union.
But there’s something else. Hamlin is an early career player whose future is very uncertain. He has not made a lot of money in a career that has left him hospitalized in critical condition, and the NFL does not guarantee his long-term financial security if he can’t get back on the field and risk his life again. As I’ve watched the donation count rise on Hamlin’s charity GoFundMe, more than once I’ve thought that he might really be needing that money himself, depending how his recovery goes.
“He’s 24 years old. He got a contract for $160,000—that’s his bonus—and he earns $825,000 this year. He’s been in the league two years. That means he’s not vested. That means that if he never plays another down in his life, he doesn’t get another check from the NFL,” Cleveland sports podcaster Garrett Bush said in the video below. “You got to play 3-4 years before you even sniff a pension. So all these heartwarming prayers and condolences don’t do anything for that boy’s mom, who has to go home, look at her son, and he might need extensive care for the rest of his life.”
Bush also noted that the league’s disability pay is now only $4,000 a month, with very high rejection rates.
On Friday, Starbucks workers started a three-day strike at as many as 100 stores, following a one-day, 110-store walkout last month.
The workers are protesting the closure of some stores that have unionized, as well as Starbucks management’s refusal to negotiate in a timely way, as the company continues to drag its feet on reaching a first contract agreement at any of the more than 250 stores that have unionized so far. While Starbucks has lost a large majority of union representation votes held so far, the refusal to negotiate represents ongoing efforts to break the union. That’s on top of all of the union activists it has fired or disciplined at stores across the country.
“The main reason why we’re taking this action is because of unfair labor practices the company is engaging in that the NLRB is investigating,” Collin Pollitt, a Starbucks worker and organizer in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, said. “The most recent are the denial of credit card tipping to union stores, hours cuts and the closing of union stores.”
“They’re doubling down on their union-busting, so we’re doubling down, too,” union activist Michelle Eisen said in a statement. “We’re demanding fair staffing, an end to store closures, and that Starbucks bargain with us in good faith.”
Six people were killed last December when a tornado hit an Amazon warehouse, causing part of the building to collapse. Now, a year later, the warehouse is almost rebuilt … and it won't have a storm shelter.
An Amazon spokeswoman told St. Louis Public Radio that Amazon is trying to prevent repeat tragedies, just not by adding a storm shelter, which isn’t required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or local building codes. The warehouse isn’t directly owned by Amazon, but the massive corporation could have made it a priority to press the owner to create a shelter when rebuilding. Amazon didn’t do that, and the owner didn’t either.
RELATED STORY: Amazon loses $8 billion a year because it treats workers too badly to keep them on the job
Starbucks workers have been winning union elections for a year this week, and in that time more than 250 stores have unionized and more stores continue to file for union elections—but the company is still union-busting and refusing to bargain a contract in good faith with even one of those stores. Starbucks has been cited for more than 900 labor law violations by the National Labor Relations Board, and it’s still at it, from firing union activists to walking out of bargaining sessions.
As they keep up the fight for a good contract at each and every store with a union, the workers are trying to make Starbucks management feel public pressure. And at the holidays, one way to create that public pressure is to not buy Starbucks gift cards. Workers are asking for just that, Saurav Sarkar reports at In These Times. “Starbucks corporate [is] not going to do anything until the customers start making their voices heard about this, because I’ve for years seen people in the stores complaining about all the things that we are asking for, but the only time anything ever changes is when customers start demanding it,” Arlington, Virginia, shift supervisor Samuel Dukore told Sarkar.
That means don’t buy a Starbucks gift card for your kid’s teacher. Or your mail carrier. Or as a stocking stuffer for a family member. You can find other gifts to give.
About 250 workers at HarperCollins have been on strike since Nov. 10, and while the publisher is not budging on its refusal to come to a deal—with workers calling on their employer to increase base pay and diversify its staff—the striking editorial, design, marketing, and other workers are drawing some high-profile support.
More than 500 authors signed a letter in support of the striking workers.
“We stand with the people who mold and champion our work and ask that they be compensated justly and fairly for their labor,” they told HarperCollins management. “Our hope is that HarperCollins will not be satisfied with meeting an industry standard that is far too low to retain top talent.”
Democratic candidates in key battleground states benefited from a massive ground game by UNITE HERE, the hotel and hospitality workers union, which knocked 2.7 million doors in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Georgia (where it’s still going for the Senate runoff). But in Philadelphia, the canvassers didn’t just talk to people about the elections—they offered opportunities to train for union jobs.
“Members of the Unite Here Philadelphia campaign passed along information about the labor union’s hospitality worker training program—which offers the guarantee of placement in a union job—before even discussing the election with potential voters,” Rebecca Rainey reported at Bloomberg Law. “Since March, they have placed 99 workers in union jobs as part of the effort in Philadelphia, according to the union.”
RELATED STORY: Cortez Masto celebrates reelection with union workers, Latinos who helped secure her victory
They weren’t mostly the highest-profile things on the ballot on Tuesday, but this year’s elections did include a number of ballot measures relevant to workers. The outcomes were a mixed bag.
In Illinois, a workers' rights amendment looks likely to pass. That measure would affirm the right to organize and ban any law that “interferes with, negates, or diminishes the right of employees to organize and bargain collectively.” Like, say, so-called right to work laws. On the flip side of that, Tennessee, which has long had such an anti-union law, voted to put it in the state constitution. But back to good news, in Michigan, Democrats won the state legislature and are reportedly planning to repeal the free rider law its Republican legislature passed in 2012.
Nebraska raised its minimum wage, which will reach $15 by 2026. Nevada raised its minimum wage to $12, eliminating a tiered system in which employers that offered “qualifying” health plans could pay $1 less per hour—a system that wasn’t working out for workers, because often that $1 an hour was being taken off the minimum wage for health plans that were still unaffordable. Washington, D.C., voters raised the tipped minimum wage to the full minimum wage. But Portland, Maine, voters rejected a measure that would have raised the minimum wage to $18 and eliminated the tipped minimum wage.
San Diego voters repealed a ban on project labor agreements, a remnant of the city’s more conservative past.
Please chime in with anything I’m missing.
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