WASHINGTON- Today over 150 workers from around the globe and their allies came together at the Fighting for Our Share forum to push major companies to end stock buybacks and reinvest in workers, ensuring the people who make them so profitable get fair pay and benefits and have rights on the job.
Garment worker leaders from Serikat Pekerja Nasional (SPN) in Indonesia and Stand Up Movement in Sri Lanka joined U.S. worker leaders from the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) at the online forum to share their experiences organizing in some of the world’s most unequal companies.
Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ-ILRF) hosted today’s online forum with Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), CWA, SEIU, Institute for Policy Studies, Take on Wall Street and Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund.
"When I lost my job without notice, and my husband, a taxi driver, couldn't find work during the lockdown, our family went hungry,” said Kanakaraj Pathmapriya, a garment worker and member of Stand Up Movement in Sri Lanka. “It's not fair that Nike's CEO makes 31,316 times more than a regular worker in Sri Lanka who makes their clothes. That's why I'm standing up to fight for what's right."
Last year Nike CEO John Donahoe received compensation equivalent to the total income of 31,316 of the women who make Nike clothes in Sri Lanka. Nike authorized $18 billion in buybacks as it emerged from the pandemic, at a time when many of its 1.2 million supply chain workers had suffered massive income loss.
"I gave birth at the beginning of the pandemic. When I got back to work, the factory cut my wages in half for six months,” said Siti Nursyafitri, a garment worker and SPN member from a Nike-sourcing factory in Indonesia. “Three years later, I still haven't been able to pay off my debts. Meanwhile, Nike made more profits than ever before. That's why I'm fighting for Nike to pay us what we deserve."
The garment workers are part of the Fight the Heist Campaign, in which AFWA, GLJ-ILRF and over 20 Asian unions have joined forces to stop Big Fashion companies from enriching investors at workers’ expense. Garment workers have still not recovered from the impact of pandemic shutdowns and are demanding change from Wall Street executives, shareholders, and investors. Earlier this year, the campaign published a report detailing how “Big Fashion and Wall Street Cash In On Wage Theft.”
Meanwhile, recent labor actions in the U.S., from the historic United Auto Workers strike to the living wage struggle by workers at government-contractor Maximus Call Centers, are calling attention to how corporations have lavished investors with riches at the expense of the workers who generate that wealth.
“Maximus is a multi-billion dollar corporation, but instead of rewarding us with a living wage and affordable healthcare, Maximus took those profits and poured them into the hands of their executives and shareholders,” said Lakeisha Preston, a member of CWA at Maximus Call Centers in Mississippi. “In fact, from 2020 to 2022, the company spent $266 million to benefit shareholders in the form of stock buybacks, and paid $207 million in dividends.”
Amanda Rivera, a Starbucks worker in Atlanta, is part of the growing Starbucks Workers United union that has organized stores in the coffee giant across the U.S. “I came to Starbucks for the amazing benefits and progressive values,” said Rivera. “What I got was health insurance I can’t afford to use and an unpredictable schedule that I can’t budget a life on. My coworkers and I decided that we could no longer wait for Starbucks to invest in us, instead we needed to invest in ourselves and formed a union.”
These workers and many more are joining the call by members of congress to pass the Reward Work Act in the U.S. The bill would rein in U.S.corporate stock buybacks by repealing a Reagan-era Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) loophole that allows corporations to buy back their stock on the open market. This legislation also empowers workers by requiring public companies to allow workers to directly elect one-third of their company’s board of directors.
Union members and other workers and advocates joined Representative Jesús "Chuy" García and other bill sponsors when they reintroduced the legislation earlier this year.
“In 2023, companies are on track to buy back more than $1 trillion of their own stock, while their workers in the U.S. and around the world struggle to make ends meet,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” Garcia who joined the workers’ forum. “I introduced the Reward Work Act to reign in corporate greed, promote consumer safety and innovation, and invest in workers throughout the global supply chain.”
The workers and their allies said they will keep fighting for the pay workers deserve and a more just global economy.
“Stock buybacks and pandemic profiteering in U.S.-based companies affect workers and communities everywhere,” said Jennifer (JJ) Rosenbaum, Executive Director of Global Labor Justice-International Labor Rights Forum. “As workers begin organizing and sharing their experiences across borders and oceans, they are building the power it takes to make global corporations pay them what they deserve.”
"Big corporations exacerbate economic inequality and the racial wealth gap through the constant and large-scale use of stock buybacks, which benefit corporate executives and wealthy shareholders at the expense of workers, communities, and the planet," said Natalia Renta, senior policy counsel for corporate governance and power at Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund.
Global Labor Justice – International Labor Rights Forum (GLJ – ILRF) is a non-governmental organization that works transnationally to advance policies and laws that protect decent work; to strengthen freedom of association and workers’ ability to advocate for their rights; and to hold corporations accountable for labor rights violations in their supply chains.