Cincinnati Workers Center & Day Labor Organizing Project: Ongoing Campaigns
I. Workers Rights Workshops
Our goal is to develop a dialog among workers that encourages them to
know their legal workplace rights; consider worker justice beyond
statutory safeguards; and recognize solidarity and collective action as
desirable paths for achieving just outcomes to specific workplace
grievances. Toward these ends, we have developed two programs (English
& Spanish). Both are intended to launch our efforts to become a
membership organization. The English version is directed toward day
laborers and other low wage and un/under employed workers. The Spanish
version is a joint project with the Butler County Worker’s Center, as a
step toward sharing a membership base.
UFCW has established a Workers Center in downtown Hamilton, Ohio. While they
are transparently focused on organizing food processing companies in
the area as UFCW shops, they have expressed their desire to include all
low wage and immigrant workers and community members in their efforts.
Currently, the most resource demanding area of work for the Center is
handling complaints from individual or relatively small groups of
workers. The complaints are most often nonpayment of wages, overtime,
prevailing wages and minimum wages, workers comp and discrimination.
Our achievements in redressing these abuses is remarkable given our
limited resources, but is marked by two shortcomings. First, the intake
system is inefficient and understaffed without simple screening and
referral processes. Second, workers almost always leave once their
issues are resolved without further collective action.
Workers’ Rights Workshops will serve to introduce workers to the
Center, have an educational component and encourage further
participation in the Center’s support of collective solutions for
II. Wage Theft
Currently, our most active campaigns are:
1)Wage Recovery: Over the last two years over 300 workers have
reported valid wage theft claims to the Center, many are
immigrants, many work for subcontractors in the construction
trades. Generally, they come to us individually or in small
groups. As a result of coming to the Center workers have recovered over $190,000 in unpaid wages.
Often our efforts encounter legal blockades resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in uncollected
2) Schwan’s Foods: We continue to support the law suit filed on behalf
of day labor workers from Labor Works on Gilbert Ave. In the law suit
that was filed in federal court, we allege that Labor Works and
Schwan’s are joint employers who routinely fail to pay their day labor
workers for all the time that these workers are required to under the
direction of either Labor Works or Schwan’s, up to fourteen (14) hours
a day. In addition, these workers are mandated to take transportation
from Labor Works to the Schwan’s facility in Florence, Kentucky. They
pay $7.00 for this transportation, even though public transportation or
use of their vehicles would cost a fraction of that amount. These day
labor workers are trying to support themselves, and often their
families as well. Some of these day labor workers have families to
support. A take home pay of $35.00 for a fourteen hour day is not only
unjust but we believe is also illegal.
3) Rumpke Recycling: Responding to workers’ concerns, The Day Labor
Organizing Project began an inquiry into compliance with the City’s
Living Wage Ordinance at the Rumpke Recycling facility in St. Bernard.
The Living Wage Ordinance requires firms with City contracts and their
subcontractors to pay between $9.00-$12.00 per hour (depending on
offered benefit packages) for work pursuant to City contracts.
We found that, daily, dozens of workers are supplied by the temporary
employment service, TLC to the Rumpke Recycling plant. These employees
are paid $7.00 per hour (Ohio minimum wage) less a $7.00 per day
deduction for using TLC’s mandatory transportation. We filed complaints
with the City Contract Compliance office.
Rumpke replied that the temporary workers perform additional work not
required by the contract. We answer that their work is included in the contract’s
definition of Recycling and is a necessary component of fulfilling
Rumpke’s contractual obligation:
1) Temporary workers sort and separate waste and other materials
from the City's recycling stream upon its arrival at the
2) Temporary workers sort and separate the containers,
collected pursuant to the City
contract, by type.
3) Temporary workers enable Rumpke to market and sell the
materials, collected pursuant to the City
contract, at premium prices through their labor of sorting and
We continue to demand that the Compliance Office further investigate.
Additionally, we are arranging meetings with individual Council
Members, and actively working with our allies to increase the pressure
4) TLC Minimum Wage: The Central Parkway day labor hall TLC
frequently pays employees minimum wage less $6-$7 deductions for transportation,
lesser deductions for uniforms and safety equipment. Federal and State
law prohibits mandatory deductions which drop the effective gross pay
below minimum wage. TLC often combines these deductions with Earned
Income Tax credits for the same amount as the deductions. We filed
complaints on behalf of several employees of TLC (working for a variety
of third party employers) with the State Wage & Hour Department.
Initially, Wage & Hour responded by recognizing the EIC credit as
legally balancing the deductions. We effectively argued that EIC can
not be considered part of “wages” based on an analysis of Federal law.
A Wage & Hour investigator requested hundreds of payroll records from
TLC and they were accompanied by a response that the TLC transportation
was voluntary, not required. A claim denied by many TLC employees who
answer that using the company buses is a precondition for employment.
We continue to supply Wage & Hour with evidence to support workers’
complaints. This is the procedure of many local temp halls and similar
campaigns should be started at those who also violate this law.
5) City Contracts: We have been working with a University of
Cincinnati Urban Geographer on developing a research project into the
population of Cincinnati day labor workers. As a welcome off shoot, a
researcher from UC is acquiring and will be analysizing all existing
City contracts, in regard to compliance with the Living Wage Ordinance.
We will be provided access to the final reports.
III. DLOP: Safety Committee
On June 26, 2007, Forty Day Labor Workers and their supporters from the
Clergy, Labor and Community Organizations gathered to remember Scott
Johnson at a Memorial Service. A colleague of Mr. Johnson, who had
worked with him at the Rumpke Facility that was the site of his life
ending injuries, pointed out that neither she or any other temporary
workers received safety training before or during their assignments at
Rumpke. Other workers were quick to relate dozens of other hazards they
had faced at workplaces across the Cincinnati area. They found common
elements of lack of training, safety equipment and oversight in many of
The hour long discussion closed with workers recognizing the need for further discussion and
activity that would address workplace safety for Day Laborers. To date,
six current or former day labor workers have completed the International Chemical Workers/UFCW Workers Health and Safety Education Training. This is a first step in the founding of Safety Committees at temp hiring halls and other workplaces.
IV. DLOP: Day Labor Hall City Ordinance
Our contact with City Hall has evolved from scattered meetings with
council members into regular meetings with their aides and
representatives of the City Attorney’s office, the City Manager’s
Office and the Mayor. Enforcement and financial concerns are major
sticking points. The lack of political will to fund enforcement
provisions has left us with little alternative than to support an
“accreditation” process that seems to have the backing of some policy
makers. The accreditation plan may be viable, and presents us with some
advantages over the ordinances that are worth considering. But, it is
definitely not what we have been working toward: city-wide reform of
the industry. At best, it would be a step in that direction.
The accreditation would include the basic provisions of the existing
draft ordinance. While the accreditation would be voluntary, the use of
an "accredited" day labor hall would be required for any company with a
city service contract. The accreditation program would include the
creation of the Day Labor Fairness Commission. The Commission would
review candidates for accreditation and do outreach in the community,
including third-party employers, and other governmental agencies –
OSHA, Labor, State Wage & Hour. The Commission posts would be unpaid,
but staff support from the City administration would be provided to the
Commission: letter-head, telephone number, administrative support.
V. DLOP: Non Profit Hiring Hall
DLOP has been holding exploratory meetings with a coalition to develop
an alternative to the predatory day labor hiring halls. We have met with representatives from Christ Church Cathedral, from The Church of the Advent and other Episcopalian social justice organizations, The Archdiocese, the Cincinnati Janitorial Cooperative,
City Gospel Mission, One City Foundation and DLOP have had a series of
meetings to explore funding sources and the mission/values of the
DLOP has proposed a strong commit to worker leadership and control of
the project. There exist some opposition to this as a primary value.
Other participants feel the project would benefit more from the
leadership of an entrepreneur who has both a moral basis and a drive to
develop and manage a successful business.
Our partners are working on drafts of the Mission, Bylaws, Business
Plan and researching other legal issues. DLOP is
leading an effort to organize a “funding forum” which would seek
financial commitments from from potential funders.
The structure and strategic direction of this project is undetermined.
Other cities (even an early effort by the CJC) have failed when conceived
as a hall that can “out compete” the for profit halls. We are examining
alternative approaches and hope to present other models for
VI. Cincinnati Coalition for Comprehensive immigration Reform (CCCIR)
In 2007, we played a major role in the reformation of CCCIR,
encouraging large numbers of Church, Labor, Immigrant Rights and
Community Organizations and individuals participated in the coalition.
While we had strong reservations about the pieces of proposed
congressional legislation, we generally supported lobbying and
educational efforts directed at their passage. With the collapse of
meaningful legislative reform, most of the current efforts to restart
the process appear ineffectual.
The increasing repression of immigrants (especially in Butler County)
threatens to eliminate the space needed for immigrants to organize. The
crisis presented by the raids at Koch Foods has stimulated the
development of a “Rapid Response Team” composed of dozens of local
faith, labor, immigrant and other community individuals and
organizations who are learning from the realities presented by a major
ICE raid. Levels of solidarity both at the time of the raid and in its
aftermath appeared inspiringly high.
We were and remain committed to strengthening these coalitions. UFCW
continues to play a central role, and will make our partnership with the
Butler County Workers’ Center effective.
VII. Labor Unity
Local organizing efforts, along community lines, has strengthened the
local coalition for worker justice; and we believe it will continue
grow and lead to other important efforts. The underlying theme that
poverty wages, workplace abuse and lack of benefits are community
issues lies at the heart of our organizing efforts. We have been active
participants in SEIU Local 3’s Justice for Janitors campaign, UFCW
Local 1099’s “Share the Success” campaign at Kroger, Unite Here!'s “Hotel
Rising” and “Uniform justice! (Cintas)” campaigns, and the Ironworkers
Locals 372 & 200's Likens Company campaign.
We have joined picket lines, marched and spoke at rallies, and met with
corporate officers on behalf of union employees. We remain active in
Change To Win and have sought affiliation with the AFL-CIO through the
Labor Council. Often community organizations, such as ours, speak of
“Jobs”, writ large, as an expression of the need for training and/or
workplace location. While, we agree and support such ideas, important
components of worker justice and power are often overlooked. Our focus on
labor issues can influence the well being of community members who are
currently employed, and the nature of future job opportunities.