East Village Community Coalition

There is an organization in the “East Village” called the East Village Community Coalition. I don’t know how long they’ve been around, but a whois search shows their web site was created on 08-Jun-2004, so it’s probably safe to assume they came into being some time around then.

They’re pretty secretive, too. Their registrant, admin, and tech contacts are masked. But that’s not why I’m writing about them. I want to discuss their
Guide to East Village Local Shops.

This is from their web site:

evcc-shopping-guide

Point by point:

Choose creativity and personality over uniformity – If you shop in one place because you like the color of the paint, or don’t shop in another because you don’t like the awning, it’s all the same. Besides, many local shops show neither creativity nor personality, and uniformity, in itself, is not a bad thing. And there are plenty of chain stores that vary their appearance. I suspect there will be more of this in the future, as they try to meet the demand for this type of “creativity and personality”.

Provide economic diversity and stability – It makes no sense to speak of “economic diversity” within such a small area. A country might have economic diversity, even a city, but when you break it down to ever-smaller localities, like neighborhoods, you can’t maintain this. It makes no sense, under any mode of production, to have manufacturing, distribution, retail, finance, agriculture, etc., all in one square block.

I doubt that the EVCC really expects manufacturing or agriculture to exist here. They understand the division of labor. They’re talking about retail only, which means that they want to take the level of productive forces as they’re given, and freeze them there.

Keep more of your money in your community – Does shopping locally keep money within the community? Leaving aside for now what “the community” really is, let’s set the boundaries as Houston Street on the South, 14th Street on the North, the East River on the East, and Third Avenue on the West. Imagine this is a closed system, with no money coming in and no money going out. (If the “East Village” were actually isolated from the rest of the global economy, it would die off in no time. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine this.)

All value, in the capitalist sense, is created within this closed system. No money/resources/people come in or go out, and everything functions under the capitalist mode of production. People go to work and make commodities that are sold only inside these boundaries – wages to the workers, profits to the owners. Right away you can see, in a very short time, there would be a crisis of overproduction. Assuming everyone can buy one of everything produced on their wages, once they have what they need they won’t need more. The producers would have to look outside these boundaries to sell their wares, and the local paradigm is demolished. This is essentially the national economy, reduced to the area described above.

And what about the surplus population? There are not enough jobs provided by the local businesses in the “East Village” for everyone who lives here. People will have to emigrate to other neighborhoods and send money back home. Which is, of course, what actually happens. Almost no one who lives in this geographical area works here. While the EVCC tells us to keep the money in the neighborhood, they couldn’t survive without its coming from outside the neighborhood.

Which is a good thing, because it’s the retailers themselves who are sending the money out! Since there is no manufacturing or agriculture here, local retailers sell commodities manufactured somewhere else, or with raw materials originating somewhere else, whether it’s tchotchkes at Alphabets or coffee at Mud.

The first section of EVCC’s Guide is Cafes. Cafe types, and some of their non-local ingredients, are:

Cafe Type Imports
Bakeries Butter, Flour, Sugar
Cafes Coffee
Candy & Chocolate Chocolate, Sugar
Ice Cream Eggs, Milk, Sugar, Vanilla
Juice Bar Fruits, Vegetables
Tea Shop Honey, Sugar, Tea

 
The next section is Fashion. Most of the retailers don’t make what they sell: Dinosaur Hill, Jane’s Exchange, Village Kids Footwear, etc. It’s possible that some others do, but they don’t make the sewing machines or material or thread. The other categories are: Galleries; Gifts; Florist; Health and Beauty; Culture, Music, Entertainment; and Specialty Services. It’s the same with all of them.

Create local jobs with fair living wages – The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows little variation in pay for professionals and managers by establishment size, but differentials widen as you move down the status hierarchy. Data entry clerks in small establishments earned 7% below the national average, while those in large firms earned 20% above. Gaps for janitors were wider, and those for laborers were wider still.

This fact persists regardless of occupation, industrial sector, education, experience, geographical location, union status. Workers in larger firms are more likely to be covered by company-paid health insurance and have some type of retirement plan. Also, worker safety is worse in small businesses — “Size and risk are inversely correlated at all levels of scale,” according to an International Labour Organization report.1

Sustain small business owners who strengthen the local economy – Redundant.

People who make the claims made by EVCC like to point to studies that show how much money stays in the community with small business than with larger businesses. One study conducted in Chicago found that for every $100 spent by customers, $43 stayed in the area for chains, while $68 stayed in the area for non-chains. One problem with this is that the geographical boundaries were the entire city of Chicago, so money that moved from a poor neighborhood to a richer neighborhood was still considered to be “local”. Likewise with the “East Village”. Many of the owners/workers do not live here. The money they make leaves the neighborhood daily.

A bigger problem is that this is only a measure of profits. For the chain, some part of the profits, or even gross revenue, is sent to the corporate office, leaving the manager with less to spend than the owner, but this assumes that the owners spend all their profits. Owners reinvest profits, or they use them to pay their more-expensive mortgages or vacations or restaurant bills. The argument ultimately centers on filling the capitalist class’s luxury-goods market, something that doesn’t even exist in the “East Village”.

Defend our neighborhood’s identity – Is the neighborhood’s identity really defined by its retail shops? This is definitely a petite-bourgeois perspective! Anyway, this neighborhood’s identity was defined by the real estate industry, not the retail industry. The term “East Village” was coined by real estate developers in the 1960s as a way to attract renters, by linking the area above Houston Street with Greenwich Village, and disassociating it from the Lower East Side’s immigrant, working-class roots.

Fight the lie that “low prices” at chain stores makes up for the loss of local business ownership – Low prices benefit workers, local business ownership benefits owners. Welcome to the class struggle.

***

A few things about small businesses that I’ve written about before, but which bear repeating:

Unemployment Insurance – If employees are paid in cash, there is no record of their employment, making it impossible for them to collect unemployment when they lose their job.

OSHA Requirements – If a company has fewer than 25 employees, their penalty is cut by 60 percent. If the business has fewer than 10 employees, they’re exempt from many requirements that obligate them to report workplace injuries.

Discrimination Laws – Federal laws against discrimination in the workplace do not always apply to small businesses. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to employers with 15 or more employees. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies only to employers of 20 or more people.

Employee Health Insurance – Beginning in 2014, employers will be expected to pay a “shared responsibility fee” for health insurance coverage under the terms of the Affordable Care Act. Small businesses are exempt from this rule. If the company has fewer than 50 employees, they have no healthcare responsibilities.2

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1The Small Business Myth
2Small Business Exemptions

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Restaurants

Six of the ten lowest-paying jobs in the country are in restaurants:1

  • Combined Food Preparation and Serving Workers
  • Fast Food Cooks
  • Dishwashers
  • Counter Attendants, Cafeteria, Food Concession, and Coffee Shop
  • Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurants, Lounge and Coffee Shop
  • Dining Room and Cafeteria Attendants and Bartender Helpers

Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City2

Job Classification Number Employed Percentage
Short Order Cooks 5,440 1.267
Chefs and Head Cooks 11,750 2.736
Fast Food Cooks 12,630 2.940
Hosts and Hostesses 14,310 3.332
Non-Restaurant Servers 19,480 4.535
Bussers and Barbacks 21,450 4.994
Dishwashers 26,020 6.058
Bartenders 27,210 6.335
Counter Attendants and Baristas 30,320 7.059
Supervisors and Managers 37,300 8.684
Restaurant Cooks 48,750 11.350
Food Prep Workers 50,130 11.671
Waiters and Waitresses 124,740 29.041
_____ _____
429,530 100.000

 

INDUSTRY SEGMENTS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON

Violations reported in all industry segments, but appear to be concentrated in
(1) expensive “white table cloth” restaurants and (2) independent family-style restaurants, including ethnic restaurants. Fast food and chain and franchise restaurants appear to have fewer violations.

THE JOBS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON

“Back of the house” restaurant jobs: Dishwashers, delivery persons, food prep, line cooks, and porters.
“Front of the house” restaurant jobs: Bussers, runners, bathroom attendants, barbacks, cashiers, counter persons and coat checkers (and in some restaurants, waiters, waitresses and hosts).

Typical wages

    Back of the house jobs:

  • Dishwasher: $180 – $300 per week.
  • Delivery person: $120 – $200 per week.
  • Line cook/food prep: $250 – $400 per week.
    Front of the house jobs:

  • Busser/barback: $150 – $200 per week including tips.
  • Runner: $120 – $180 per week (rush hours only, usually paid as
    percentage of tips).
  • Coat check & bathroom attendants: $20 – $80 a night.
  • Cashiers/counter persons: $222 – $320 per week.
  • Waiters/waitresses: $300 – $480 per week including tips.

Typical hours
On average, kitchen staff tend to work 6 days a week, between 8 and 12 hours a day, with some dishwashers and cooks working double shifts. In the front of the restaurant, bussers and runners work the same hours as kitchen staff. Wait staff tend to work 3–5 days per week (hours can range from 20–45 per week).

Payment method
Dishwashers, runners, bussers, and delivery persons tend to be off the books, while servers, bartenders and managerial jobs are more likely to be on the books. High-end and chain restaurants have the majority of their sales on credit cards, which can force more jobs to be on the books.

Benefits
Health benefits are generally not offered to front-line staff; when offered, the employee co–pay is usually high, resulting in low take-up rates. In the kitchen, workers may get one week unpaid vacation, but no sick days.

Immigration status
High representation of undocumented immigrants in back of the house jobs (as well as some lower-wage jobs in the front). But long tenures in the industry mean that there are also significant numbers of documented immigrants.

INTERMEDIARIES PLACING WORKERS IN UNREGULATED JOBS

(1) Employment agencies for immigrant workers and (2) much less frequently, non-profit public agencies for people transitioning off welfare or out of prison. At employment agencies, placement fees range from $50 up to a weeks’ earnings, paid by the worker, plus possibly an additional $25 application fee. Some employment agencies specialize in restaurant placements for Mexican workers.

COMMON WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS

Minimum wage and overtime

  • Minimum wage: The industry’s pay structure of flat weekly wages for more than full-time work suggests that minimum wage violations are common. For example, typical earnings of $300 per week for 60 hours translates into an hourly wage of $5 (without considering time-and-a-half pay for overtime hours). Coat checkers and delivery persons can make as low as $3 an hour.
  • Overtime: Non-payment of overtime appears common for almost all positions.
  • Tips: For tipped positions, common violations include being paid only in tips, or the employer taking a percentage of tips. Bussers often do not get tips owed them.

Non-payment of wages
Occurs mainly for kitchen jobs, especially dishwashers. Can take the form of full non-payment, partial non-payment, or several months backlog of payment.

Illegal deductions
Workers report employers deducting arbitrary amounts from wages for broken plates, spoiled food, etc.

Meal breaks
Lack of meal breaks, or erratic meal breaks, is a pervasive problem. A single meal break for a 12-hour shift is common.

Employer taxes
Restaurants are heavily cash-based, and most workers do not receive pay stubs. Employer taxes are often not paid, or not paid for the actual number of workers on site.

OSHA
Health & safety violations occur mainly in kitchens: electrical dangers, inadequate fire safety, lack of cutting guards on machines, lack of slip mats, lack of required ventilation.

Workers’ Compensation
Rarely offered. Employers may pay a one-time hospital bill out of pocket in order to avoid an official claim, and instruct workers to say that the injury did not occur at work.

Discrimination
Evidence of discrimination in hiring and promotion on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and accent – particularly for front of the house jobs. Harassment based on national origin and gender.

Retaliation & the right to organize
Employers’ retaliation in response to complaints about working conditions and attempts to organize include threats to call immigration, punishing the worker with bad shifts or bad hours, and outright retaliatory firing.

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1The 10 Lowest Paid Jobs in America
2Employment Numbers for the Restaurant Industry in New York City
3Unregulated Work in the Restaurant Industry in New York City
The Welcome Table

Bodegas

When I first started this blog, one of the topics I wanted to write about was Working — working conditions, pay, and unemployment, primarily — on the large scale as well as local. It seems I’ve been doing this for a while now without even realizing it!

I came across some information recently, while writing No 7-Eleven NYC, Labor, and “Free Markets”, from the National Employment Law Project, a national advocacy organization for employment rights of lower-wage workers, to quote their web site. Some of this restates what I wrote already, except it focusses on violations of the law instead of exemptions from it, and is more specific to food stores:

    The grocery and supermarket industry is divided into three main segments:

    1. Green grocers, bodegas & delis sell fresh produce, dry and prepared foods, and household items. They are small stores and often family-run.
    2. Gourmet grocers are the fastest-growing industry segment and are defined by luxury products (including health food and organic food) and a high-income consumer base. Stores are mid-sized and often owned by chains, although some have independent owners.
    3. Supermarkets are larger, carry a wider range of products, and are often owned by chains. Historically, this segment has had higher union density and job quality, though both have been declining because of non-union competition.

    Wages and working conditions vary by industry segment and by the degree of unionization. The most unregulated stores are green grocers, bodegas and delis – margins are razor thin, wages are low, and workplace violations are chronic.

    Immigrants make up about two-thirds of the workforce, and increasingly hail from Latin America and especially Mexico. Many find jobs through friends and family already working in a store that is hiring. But some employers advertise in ethnic newspapers, and green grocers frequently hire workers through storefront employment agencies. Bodegas rely heavily on family members, who put in very long shifts.

    In our interviews, non-union grocery jobs were widely considered the least desirable of employment options. While the jobs are easy to get, requiring little English or previous training, they are exploitative and dead-end (“There’s only one type of job,” as a bodega owner put it). Turnover is high across all segments, although workers may stay in the industry for several years because there are few alternatives.

    INDUSTRY SEGMENTS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON
    • Green grocery stores, bodegas and delis (violations are prevalent).
    • Gourmet grocers/health food stores (violations are frequent).
    • Non-union supermarkets (common violations in some occupations).
    THE JOBS WHERE WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS ARE COMMON
    • Occupations – Occupations most impacted include cashiers, stock clerks, deli counter workers, food preparers, delivery workers, janitors, baggers, produce washers/watchers, and flower-arrangers.
    • Typical wages – Green grocery, bodega, and deli workers: $250-300 per week is typical. Produce washers and food preparers earn between $4 and $5 per hour.
    • Typical hours – Hours average 55-75 hours per week in green grocery stores; 40-60 hours per week in gourmet grocery stores; and 40-60 hours per week in non-union supermarkets.
    • Payment method – Workers are largely paid in cash at green grocery stores, with the exception of occasional cashiers and family members of the owners. Gourmet grocers and supermarkets generally pay on the books, though at least a few workers are always paid in cash.
    • Benefits – Health benefits and vacation and sick days are rare in non-union stores.
    THE WORKERS MOST AFFECTED BY WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS
      Workforce is almost exclusively immigrant, from Mexico, Central America, Korea, Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia. Delivery workers are mostly African immigrants. With the exception of cashier jobs, most occupations are male dominated. Ages range from the teens through the 40s.

      Green grocery and delivery workers are often undocumented. Some undocumented workers in gourmet grocery stores and supermarkets.

    INTERMEDIARIES PLACING WORKERS IN UNREGULATED JOBS
      Storefront employment agencies are frequently used, especially for off-the-books jobs, charging the workers $100-$300 per placement, or $10 for a day job.
    COMMON WORKPLACE VIOLATIONS
    • Minimum wage – Violations are pervasive in green grocery stores, bodegas and delis. Workers commonly put in 60-72 hours per week, often resulting in hourly wages below the minimum. For example, a worker paid $300 per week for 60 hours will earn $5 per hour (without considering time-and-a half-pay for overtime hours). The worst jobs can be paid as little as $2.50 an hour. Similar violations are found in gourmet stores, but are somewhat less pervasive. Violations in non-union supermarkets are concentrated in the most vulnerable occupations (baggers, delivery workers).
    • Overtime – Green grocery stores rarely pay overtime. Gourmet grocery stores may selectively pay overtime (e.g. after six months, or for more skilled workers). Non-union supermarkets often violate overtime laws for baggers and delivery workers.
    • Meal breaks – Meal breaks are erratic, and green grocery workers in particular can work up to 14-hour days without a meal break. Delivery workers typically do not get meal breaks and have to eat on the job.
    • Employer taxes – When employers pay in cash, they very rarely pay required taxes.
    • OSHA – Chemical and pesticide exposure is a serious issue for workers handling sprayed produce, with few safeguards or training by employers. Stockers do not receive mandated training on lifting and moving.
    • Workers’ Compensation – Smaller employers do not carry workers’ compensation, and across segments, workers rarely receive it when injured on the job.
    • Discrimination – Workers report hiring, firing and promotion based on immigration status, ethnicity and relationship to owner, as well as harassment based on immigration status.
    • Retaliation and the right to organize – Workers report being threatened, intimidated and fired for bringing complaints or attempting to organize.

Another topic I plan to take up soon is working in restaurants. If you want to get a jump on things, check out this web site.

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Unregulated Work in the Grocery and Supermarket Industry in New York City