CWRU: Working While Homeless
The students of CWRU are doing a project in which all the incoming freshmen are reading the same book. The Common reading program is centered around Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do? by Michael Sandel. As part of this project they are collecting donations and socks to distribute to homeless people in Cleveland. NEOCH is assisting with this project by putting together a section of our website that provides additional information and resources in the community. One aspect of this project is to prompt the students to begin to talk about social justice issues. We have put together a series of social justice questions around housing and homelessness. We hope to solicit discussion here on the blog and in the local community with comments and debate. Here is the link to the first social justice question posted over the weekend.
Question: Is it just that men utilizing the main shelter in Cleveland work every work day for long hours at temporary labor companies, but at the end of the day they do not have enough money to pay rent even in a motel room?
Working long hours every day and not being able to afford even a motel room at the end of the day is a blatant injustice. Measures have been set up in this country supposedly to prevent this kind of injustice, namely minimum wage laws. But a 2009 study confirms the flurry of complaints that advocacy organizations and the Department of Labor have gotten about temporary labor companies using illegal practices to effectively pay their workers below the minimum wage. Paying minimum wages to begin with, these companies charge their workers with various “fees” that drops their wage substantially below the legal minimum, in addition to offenses such as not paying proper overtime.
Companies are able to do this because as “temporary laborers,” their workers are very disorganized and lack any collective bargaining power. But obviously just because these companies can get away with what their doing doesn’t mean that they should do it. The problem, is that this issue is so pervasive that companies view themselves as being “put at a competitive disadvantage” by not engaging in such illegal wage violations. Clearly something needs to be done to stop these practices once and for all. But without the help of unions on their side, these workers must rely on the government to step in for them.
These wage violations are a huge problem for homeless people because they often find it incredibly difficult to earn enough money to be able to support themselves and their family even if they are earning minimum wage. The fact that they can work all day and still not be able to afford to put a roof over their head is incredibly disheartening. As is the fact that these companies are blatantly taking advantage of these vulnerable workers while fully realizing the desperate housing situation of many of them.
by Sam the Intern
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