Why Certain Workers Are More Vulnerable to Wage Theft

Photo by John Pastor, Flickr

The problem of wage theft is not confined to any one industry, ethnicity, size of business, or corporate structure, says Labor Commissioner Julie Su. Each year, California loses approximately $8 billion in tax revenues to wage theft, and Su’s office has investigated millions of dollars’ worth of violations committed by, among others, a hospital, assisted living providers, and a construction project. But restaurants in Chinatown are particularly egregious offenders: A 2010 report by the CPA found that half of Chinatown restaurant workers have had their wages undercut, payments withheld, or tips stolen. A survey of low-wage workers in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, performed by the National Employment Labor Project, reveals that close to 85 percent of foreign-born Asians, 78.8 percent of women, and nearly 85 percent of undocumented workers have experienced overtime violations.

Among the most likely victims of wage theft are nonunion workers, people who don’t speak English, and immigrants who lack an understanding of their rights. Not all of the workers involved in the Yank Sing campaign fell into these categories, but many still felt vulnerable. If they went public too soon, if they picketed the sidewalk or stormed the dining room or publicized their story in the media, they risked turning management against them and losing their livelihood— and many of them wanted to keep working for Yank Sing. Their situation was unusual: According to Kao of the Asian Law Caucus, three-quarters of the wage claims received by the organization’s free legal clinic in San Francisco are filed by workers who have already left their job. People who are still employed, notes Victor Narro, project director at the UCLA Labor Center, typically don’t risk such actions without the protection of a union contract.

Vanessa Hua, writing for San Francisco Magazine about a brigade of kitchen workers who successfully fought to recoup $4 million in lost wages from Yank Sing, one of San Francisco’s premier dim sum restaurants.

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Yes Means Yes, So What’s the Catch? A Reading List About Consent

Photo: Eric Parker

I subscribe to writer Ann Friedman’s fabulous newsletter, where she recently shared a link to an article she wrote for Cosmopolitan magazine. Friedman visited the University of California at Santa Barbara and interviewed twenty-something students about their sexual habits and desires—specifically if they’d been affected by the “Yes Means Yes” law, SB 967, which demands enthusiastic consent from all parties throughout a sexual encounter.

I’d heard of SB 967, but I hadn’t done any real research about it. Unsurprisingly, I discovered a variety of reactions. Some feminists welcome the bill wholeheartedly, while others are trepidatious about its limitations and do not think it does enough to protect victims and their advocates. Read more…

‘Shutting People Out Is an Important Part of Being a Shut-In.’

Photo by PixaBay
Photo by PixaBay

With Alfred, you no longer have to open the door for the Instacart delivery: A worker comes into your apartment and stocks food in your fridge. You don’t hand off your dirty undies to a Washio messenger; Alfred puts the laundered undies in the drawer. This all happens by paying your Alfred $99 a month, plus the goods and services at reduced cost through Alfred’s hookups. Alfred won first place in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference last year.

Shutting people out is an important part of being a shut-in: When signing up, customers can choose the option of not seeing their Alfred, who will come in when they’re at work. Alfred’s messaging is aimed at sweeping aside any middle-class shame.

“We’re trying to remove the taboo and the guilt that you should have to do it,” says Alfred’s CEO Marcela Sapone over the phone. “We’re empowering you to let others do it for you. You’re the manager of your life. It’s against the stigma of ‘People use this because they’re lazy.’ Absolutely not. They’re using this because they’re extremely busy.”

Lauren Smiley, in an essay for Matter about the “sharing economy,” where anything and everything is now deliverable with a single click. Smiley sees the on-demand economy as less about sharing and more about serving, creating a world where one is either “pampered, isolated royalty,” or a “21st century servant.”

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Guide to Prison Life

A sketch of Dostoevsky's mock execution before he was sentenced to a prison camp. Wikimedia Commons
A sketch of Dostoevsky's mock execution before he was sentenced to a prison camp. Wikimedia Commons

It is now quite understandable why, as I already said earlier, my first question on entering prison was how to behave, on what footing to put myself wit these people. I sensed beforehand that I would often have such clashes with them as now, at work. But, despite any such clashes, I decided not to change my plan of action, which I had already partly thought out at the time; I knew it was right. Namely; I decided that I must behave as simply and independently as possible, by no means to betray any any effort to get closer with them; but not to reject them if they themselves wished to get closer. By no means to fear their threats and hatred and, as far as possible, to pretend I did not notice it. By no means to side with them on certain points, and not to cater to some of their habits and customs—in short, not to invite myself into their full friendship. I realized at first glance that they would be the first to despise me for it. However, by their way of thinking (and I later learned this for certain), I still had to maintain and even show respect for my noble origin before them, that is, to pamper myself, put on airs, disdain them, turn up my nose at everything, and keep my hands clean. That was precisely how they understood a nobleman to be. Naturally, they would abuse me for it, but deep down they would still respect me. Such a role was not for me; I had never been a nobleman according to their notions but instead I promised myself never to belittle my education or my way of thinking before them by any concession. If, to please them, I were to start fawning on them, agreeing with them, being familiar with them, entering into their various “qualities” in order to gain their sympathy—they would at once assume I was doing it out of fear and cowardice, and would treat me with contempt.

-From Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky’s new translation of Notes from A Dead House, Fyodor Dostoevsky’s fictionalized account of his time in a prison camp for participating in a utopian socialist discussion group. Often translated as The House of the Dead, Dostoevsky’s account is considered the first book to expose life inside Russia’s penal system. In order to get Notes from a Dead House published he reframed his experience as a political prisoner as that of a common-law criminal.

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We Were Awful to Monica Lewinsky But We’d Like to Think We’d Act Differently Today

Photo by TED Conference, Flickr

Ms. Lewinsky was quickly cast by the media as a “little tart,” as The Wall Street Journal put it. The New York Post nicknamed her the “Portly Pepperpot.” She was described by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times as “ditsy” and “predatory.”

And other women — self-proclaimed feminists — piled on. “My dental hygienist pointed out she had third-stage gum disease,” said Erica Jong. Betty Friedan dismissed her as “some little twerp.”

“It’s a sexual shaming that is far more directed at women than at men,” Gloria Steinem wrote me in an email, noting that in Ms. Lewinsky’s case, she was also targeted by the “ultraright wing.” “I’m grateful to [her],” Ms. Steinem said, “for having the courage to return to the public eye.”

Had the Lewinsky story unfolded today, certainly the digital reality of it would have been worse (or at least more pungent). “They would have dug up her private photos,” said Danielle Citron, a law professor and the author of “Hate Crimes in Cyberspace.” But there would have also been avenues to push back: more outlets, more varied voices, probably even a #IStandWithMonica hashtag.

“If it happened today, I think the consensus that she deserved to be thrown under the bus would be considerably weaker,” said Clay Shirky, a journalism professor at N.Y.U. who studies Internet culture. “And the key thing that’s changed is not information — there were credible press reports about Cosby for years, just as Clinton’s denial was ridiculous on its face — but the ability to coordinate reaction.”

Jessica Bennett, profiling Monica Lewinsky for the New York Times. Lewinsky has reemerged in the public sphere as of late, reclaiming her story and recasting it as a narrative about the price of shame.

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Autograph Collecting as a Feat of Historical Inquiry

Photo by Gary McCabe, Flickr

The graphing community [“graphing” is a term for the craft of autograph seeking] is one of uncommon depth, into which people have spent decades carving their fiefdoms and burrowing out their niches, whether that be players in the single-A Midwest League or members of the Whig Party. Flam’s fellow grapher Rich Hanson supervises inspections at a meatpacking plant in Monmouth, Illinois by day and occupies his nights and weekends by graphing minor leaguers in the region, a pursuit he supplements by also collecting the signatures of American authors and of Civil War personalities. He’s got Johnny Clem, a drummer-boy for the Union Army who enlisted at age 12, and James Shields, who challenged Abraham Lincoln to a duel that never came to fruition. Their scrawls are perhaps more aptly described as signatures than as autographs, since they were left behind incidentally rather than at the solicitation of a fandom.

Indeed, Flam’s and Hanson’s collections are feats of historical inquiry, of the innately human impulse for record-keeping more so than celebrity worship. Whereas the cachet of a Derek Jeter autograph, for example, is attributable to the same preoccupation with fame that brought us paparazzi, these graphers follow more in the tradition of Herodotus or Audubon. That is, they aspire above all to documenting the simple fact of their subjects’ existence (grandiose accomplishments aside) at a certain point in time. How else can one explain three decades chasing the Burlington Bees’ backup right fielder who will play out his career in obscurity?

John Stillman writing for Vice Sports about the weird, noble world of true autograph collectors.

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Karl Ove Knausgaard on the Benefits of a Work-Driven Life

Photo by Stephanie Valdez.
Photo by Stephanie Valdez.

The Protestant work ethic here was very familiar to me. Johannes hadn’t had it, and probably not Magnus either; they had been cheerful men with more dreams than they had will to realize them, at least my grandfather. My mother’s mother had the work ethic, and she had passed it on to my mother, who had just retired, and who missed her job in the same way, as she put it, a cow misses its pen.

That, too, is something I have inherited. I can’t be unoccupied, I can’t take a vacation, I can’t relax; even reading a book, which is actually part of my job, makes me feel guilty. It’s not work, it’s enjoyment. At the same time, and this is obvious, what lies behind this need to be occupied is not just a moral sensibility; working all the time is also a way to simplify life, to parry its demands, especially the demand to be happy.

-From Part Two of Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard’s travel narrative through the Midwestern United States for the New York Times Magazine.

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