Tuesday, November 13, 2012

What does wage theft look like?

       Wage theft has many different faces, and they're all ugly. There are so many ways that unscrupulous businesses are cheating workers. As we push the Shelby County Commission to pass a wage theft ordinance, I want to share just a few examples of what wage theft looks like.

       Take the example of Jenny Meyers,* a Rhodes College student who worked at the downtown TGI Friday' as a waitress. Her typical day as a server was, for the most part, pretty good. But then she began to notice something. Sometimes her paychecks had big gaps in them that didn't make sense. "I'd be missing $100, $150, and I had to make sure I scrutinized my check and kept up with everything," Jenny says. She started writing down all the tips customers left her on credit cards and keeping receipts. She later found out the payroll manager had been stealing her tips, along with those of other servers.

     That wasn't the only wage theft Jenny experienced at the restaurant. On nights when her tips didn't bring her up to the hourly minimum wage, the restaurant would claim that she received more cash tips than she actually did. That way they would not have to pay the difference between her tips and federal minimum wage, like the law requires restaurants to do. "I'd go in on a school night when I had a test the next day, come home at 2:00 am from closing, exhausted, with only $15," Jenny says.

     The experience of Jamal Jones* shows another kind of wage theft. He works as an oil change technician. At his current job at working for a shop in Bartlett that is part of a national chain, he's been asked by his manager to work on cars when he was on his unpaid lunch break.

    At another oil change shop where Jamal worked for 7 months, he was expected to work off the clock on an almost daily basis. Whenever there were no cars in the shop, his supervisor would tell him to clock out. But he had to stay on the job, and clean the shop while he wasn't being paid. As soon as another car would drive up, he was told to clock back in.

     Jamal knows of plenty of other employees at oil change shops who are asked to work while on break. Workers are often afraid they'll lose their jobs if they say no. "You're not being forced," he says, "but at the same time, it's a thing you can't do anything about. It makes you feel like you're being used, like you don't have rights."

     Jenny and Jamal's stories are just the tip of the iceberg. National research shows that 2 out of 3 low-wage workers experience wage theft. That's why we need a Shelby County wage theft ordinance now. Want to get involved in the campaign for the ordinance? We'd love to have your participation.

*name has been changed

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A big transition is coming at WIN

It's with very mixed emotions that I let you know I will be stepping down as WIN's executive director on January 15th. The experience of motherhood has changed my life, and I've decided that what's best for my family is to stay at home full-time with our son.

I can't tell you how many ways serving as WIN's executive director has blessed me over the past 10 years. The passion and generosity of members like you have allowed us to win victories I didn't imagine were possible when we started. The courage and persistence of so many workers who risked their livelihood inspired me to keep going even when the opposition was powerful.

Because I'm WIN's founding director, and I'm often the public face you see representing the organization, you might be wondering what's going to happen next.

I want to assure you that WIN will still be doing the same vital work of standing up against injustice with some of Memphis' most vulnerable workers. We're simply starting the next chapter in our work.

Alfredo Pena, who founded WIN's Workers' Center five years ago and has done an amazing job as its director, will be stepping up to become the interim executive director in January. I hope you'll read his letter introducing himself below. Next year, our board of directors will take the time needed to do a thorough search process for a permanent executive director.

While I'm often credited for our work, the truth is that the vast majority of our successes are because of other people: my amazing co-workers, our volunteers, and members like you. This work is so much bigger than one person - it always has been and always will be.

I'll still be a familiar face, just as a WIN volunteer rather than a staff person. I look forward to joining you, whether it's on the picket lines or at the Faith and Labor Picnic. Thank you for allowing me to serve as your director. Your trust, your support, your prayers, and your friendship have meant so much.

I know you'll show that same support to Alfredo and the rest of the WIN staff as we begin this transition.

I look forward to the many amazing things you'll continue to achieve through WIN over the coming years!


Rebekah Gienapp

As you and I know, farewells are always sad. Here at WIN, that seems to be the feeling as we get ready for Rebekah's departure from the organization. My coworkers and I support her decision and wish her and her familly the very best.

Even though we are losing our first director, we still have so much good work to do. We will continue to unite with workers seeking justice, and I ask you to continue supporting our work here at WIN. Remember, you are the reason we have been able to achieve so many victories with workers who face unfair wages and unjust working conditions.

As you might know, I have been helping workers organize themselves at WIN's Workers' Center for the past 5 years. I have heard many sad stories of how workers and their families suffer from the actions of bad employers. Before I came to WIN, I was even a victim of wage theft myself.

The abuse against workers never seems to stop, but this  has made me commit myself even more to organizing and standing alongside workers. As WIN's interim director, one of the things I hope to bring to the organization is increased leadership by low-wage workers, alongside the people of faith and other allies who have made the organization so strong.

I would like to say thank you for giving me the opportunity to be the next director. Together with your help, we can continue building alliances with workers to seek justice wherever it is needed, just as we have been doing for the last 10 years. You can continue to make WIN grow stronger, so that Memphis workers have fair and safe places to work.

Please email me if you have any questions about WIN's work or our future plans, or if you have ideas you would like to share with me. I can also be reached at (901) 332-3570. I look forward to working with you.

Alfredo Pena