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Aug 4, 15

Wobblies Fight Wage Theft with Direct Action

From IWW

In Seattle at a strip club and at a construction site in Houston, Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) branches report on their fights against wage-theft through the use of collective action. 

The Fight against Felipe Serna and wage theft in Houston

by Houston IWW

The Houston IWW is engaged in a fight with a local contractor, Felipe Serna, responsible for wage theft of three former employees: Hector, Pancho, and Mauricio.  These three men were hired by Felipe Serna in May of 2015 for the remodeling of a house in Sweeny, Texas.  They were offered $150/day each for their services and provided room and board at the house.  Several days in Serna decides $150 is too much and instead wants to pay them $100/day instead.  The men held their ground, stating $150 was the agreed upon wage, and Serna backed off.

While at work one day, Serna tells the men he is letting them go.  The men ask for payment for the previous three days of labor and Serna refuses, accusing them of stealing equipment.  To add insult to injury, Hector, Pancho, and Mauricio weren’t driven back to Houston, but told to make their own way.  It cost them $100 total for them to get transportation back to the city.

Serna and his actions are not an isolated event nor is he an employer that is merely a “bad apple that spoils the bunch.”  In fact, Serna is representative of a social force that is exploiting immigrant labor in Houston and in this country.  In fact, $750 million in wages are stolen each year in Houston alone!  Despite a recent ordinance passed in Houston to curb wage theft, it hasn’t stopped it nor could it.  The reality is that Houston capitalists depend on wage theft to maintain existing profit rates and the social hierarchy.  This exploitation is backed by a racist Sheriff’s office run by Adrian Garcia that complies with 287g, Secure Communities, a program of collaboration between the police and ICE to deport and detain immigrants.

In the spirit of this perspective, on Friday, July 24th, the Houston IWW with Hector and Pancho marched to The Growing Tree Academy, a daycare facility in the Gulfton area of Houston to deliver demands to Serna, owned by his wife’s family.  Because contractors often operate in the shadows, working from their homes and vehicles, they are difficult to track down.  Hector read the demand letter in the presence of our union to the staff who kept interrupting him and declaring they have nothing to do with what happened.  Serna wasn’t there but showed up later when most of us had left to say he wanted to talk and he was instructed to follow up on the letter.

We are demanding $1,450 in stolen wages including $100 for transportation.

Hector, Pancho, and Mauricio aren’t afraid of these employer thugs who prey on working class people.  And neither is the IWW.  Work itself is theft.  But to steal the little subsistence we are given to reproduce ourselves and our families is despicable.  The only way to deal with bosses like Serna is to organize together and fight together.


It Took Direct Action to Make This Boss Pay Seattle’s New Minimum Wage

By Chelsea Harris – Labor Notes, July 23, 2015

“I don’t know who you people are!” barked Joe Walker, the owner of Pandora’s Adult Cabaret, a Seattle-area strip club, to the workers gathered in his office. “Why don’t you all go flip burgers!”

But despite this confrontational language—typical of how he often spoke to employees—within hours Walker would give in to their demand for the back pay he owed them.

As a boss, Walker is abhorrent, showing no respect for or concern for the safety of his club’s servers or dancers. Employees had horror stories of working around bodily fluids and other filth with no safety procedures, frequent illness with no health benefits or sick leave, and dancers being stalked and sexually assaulted at the club.

Add to this abusive language and shady bookkeeping. Managers had told bartenders and servers not to report tips. Instead, managers were reporting employee tips as $5 a week.

On April 1 the Seattle minimum wage went up to $11 per hour (the first step in a process towards a $15 per hour minimum wage, which won’t go into effect for two to six years).

But two weeks later, Walker was still paying his servers the old minimum wage of $9.47. When Alyssa, a server at the club, asked when they could expect a wage increase, she was fired.

Lindsay, another server fed up with Walker’s hostility whenever she asked about wages, put in her two weeks’ notice—but was promptly fired too. “You’re beneath this job,” he told her.

Unfortunately for him, Lindsay is in a union: the Seattle branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (the “Wobblies”), which anyone can join, except people with the power to hire and fire. After meeting with the union’s Seattle general organizing committee, Lindsay and Alyssa began an escalation plan.

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The IWW is a member-run union for all workers, a union dedicated to organizing on the job, in our industries and in our communities. IWW members are organizing to win better conditions today and build a world with economic democracy tomorrow. We want our workplaces run for the benefit of workers and communities rather than for a handful of bosses and executives.

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