Wage theft lawsuit muddies the water for potential Amazon headquarters in D.C.

Jeremy Mohler

Jeremy Mohler Writer, In the Public Interest

Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. From President Donald Trump tweeting, incorrectly, that unemployment is at its “best point in history,” to Amazon trading new jobs for tax breaks on its next headquarters, employment seems to be today’s most valuable political currency.

Yes, jobs are valuable. They pay the bills and put food on the table. But what we rarely question is their quality: how much they pay, whether they come with good benefits, and who has access to them.

That’s why a lawsuit filed this week by Washington, D.C.’s Attorney General is so significant. It calls into question the common-sense strategy used by most if not all U.S. cities and states of handing out tax breaks to corporations and real estate developers in exchange for job creation.

In the grand scheme of things, the lawsuit is a slap on the wrist in what is really a heavyweight bout. Power Design, a Florida-based electrical contractor, allegedly schemed to avoid paying 535 D.C. workers sick leave, overtime pay, or the minimum wage. It’s already been sued at least five times for wage theft in D.C. and Maryland alone. And it’s just one contractor — employers in the ten most populous states steal an estimated $8 billion annually from workers by not paying the minimum wage.

Wage theft has been around a long time. My father has told me stories from the early 1980s when he was paid low, non-union wages by a construction company that charged its clients higher union wages.

But this lawsuit is an opportunity to ask loud and clear: if the public can’t enforce the agreements we make, then why make agreements at all?

Power Design has worked on many high-profile D.C. development projects, including the newly opened LINE Hotel in the Adams Morgan neighborhood, a few blocks from where I live. The luxury hotel’s developer received a $46 million tax break in exchange for hiring local residents for the majority of its construction and permanent jobs. The District is set to soon begin assessing whether the developer held up its end of the bargain. But what if Power Design and other contractors skirted labor laws in the process? Without full enforcement, how would we even know?

So, with Amazon potentially coming to town, D.C. residents must ask: are the new jobs worth the billions of public dollars and land we’re likely going to give away? Will they be good jobs? Or will the construction jobs be funneled through contractors like Power Design? Will the permanent jobs be too out-of-reach for existing D.C. residents?

At least this latest lawsuit hints that we might soon be able to enforce the answers to those questions.

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Reposted from Medium

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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