TIME Labor

The Bloody Story of How May Day Became a Holiday for Workers

Women workers in the May Day Parade in Union Square demand a
New York Daily News Archive / Getty Images Women workers in the May Day Parade in New York City in 1936

The story goes back to 1886

Celebrations on May 1 have long had two, seemingly contradictory meanings. On one hand, May Day is known for maypoles, flowers and welcoming the spring. On the other hand, it’s a day of worker solidarity and protest; though the U.S. observes its official Labor Day in September, many countries will celebrate Labor Day on Friday.

How did that happen?

Like so many historical twists, by complete accident. As TIME explained in 1929, “To old-fashioned people, May Day means flowers, grass, picnics, children, clean frocks. To up-and-doing Socialists and Communists it means speechmaking, parading, bombs, brickbats, conscientious violence. This connotation dates back to May Day, 1886, when some 200,000 U. S. workmen engineered a nationwide strike for an eight-hour day.”

The May 1, 1886, labor action wasn’t just any strike—it was part of what became known as the Haymarket affair. On May 1 of that year, Chicago (along with other cities) was the site of a major union demonstration in support of the eight-hour workday. The Chicago protests were meant to be part of several days of action. On May 3, a strike at the McCormick Reaper plant in the city turned violent; the next day, a peaceful meeting at Haymarket Square became even more so. Here’s how TIME summed it up in 1938:

A few minutes after ten o’clock on the night of May 4, 1886, a storm began to blow up in Chicago. As the first drops of rain fell, a crowd in Haymarket Square, in the packing house district, began to break up. At eight o’clock there had been 3,000 persons on hand, listening to anarchists denounce the brutality of the police and demand the eight-hour day, but by ten there were only a few hundred. The mayor, who had waited around in expectation of trouble, went home, and went to bed. The last speaker was finishing his talk when a delegation of 180 policemen marched from the station a block away to break up what remained of the meeting. They stopped a short distance from the speaker’s wagon. As a captain ordered the meeting to disperse, and the speaker cried out that it was a peaceable gathering, a bomb exploded in the police ranks. It wounded 67 policemen, of whom seven died. The police opened fire, killing several men and wounding 200, and the Haymarket Tragedy became a part of U. S. history.

In 1889, the International Socialist Conference declared that, in commemoration of the Haymarket affair, May 1 would be an international holiday for labor, now known in many places as International Workers’ Day.

In the U.S., that holiday came in for particular contempt during the anti-communist fervor of the early Cold War. In July of 1958, President Eisenhower signed a resolution named May 1 “Loyalty Day” in an attempt to avoid any hint of solidarity with the “workers of the world” on May Day. The resolution declared that it would be “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States of America and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom.”

TIME Economy

Low Wage Workers Are Storming the Barricades

Activists Hold Protest In Favor Of Raising Minimum Wage
Alex Wong—Getty Images Activists hold protest In favor of raising minimum wage on April 29, 2014 in Washington, DC.

A few weeks back, when Walmart announced plans to raise its starting pay to $9 per hour, I wrote a column saying this was just the beginning of what would be a growing movement around raising wages in America. Today marks a new high point in this struggle, with tens of thousands of workers set to join walkouts and protests in dozens of cities including New York, Chicago, LA, Oakland, Raleigh, Atlanta, Tampa and Boston, as part of the “Fight for $15” movement to raise the federal minimum wage.

This is big shakes in a country where people don’t take to the streets easily, even when they are toiling full-time for pay so low it forces them to take government subsidies to make ends meet, as is the case with many of the employees from fast food retail outlets like McDonalds and Walmart, as well as the home care aids, child caregivers, launderers, car washers and others who’ll be joining the protests.

It’s always been amazing to me that in a country where 42% of the population makes roughly $15 per hour, that more people weren’t already holding bullhorns, and I don’t mean just low-income workers. There’s something fundamentally off about the fact that corporate profits are at record highs in large part because labor’s share is so low, yet when low-income workers have to then apply for federal benefits, the true cost of those profits gets pushed back not to companies, but onto taxpayers, at a time when state debt levels are at record highs. Talk about an imbalanced economic model.

A higher federal minimum wage is inevitable, given that numerous states have already raised theirs and most economists and even many Right Wing politicos are increasingly in agreement that potential job destruction from a moderate increase in minimum wages is negligible. (See a good New York Times summary of that here.) Indeed, the pressure is now on presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton to come out in favor of a higher wage, given her pronouncement that she wants to be a “champion” for the average Joe.

But how will all this influence the inequality debate that will be front and center in the 2016 elections? And what will any of it really do for overall economic growth?

As much as wage hikes are needed to help people avoid working in poverty, the truth is that they won’t do much to move the needle on inequality, since most of the wealth divide has happened at the top end of the labor spectrum. There’s been a $9 trillion increase in household stock market wealth since 2008, most of which has accrued to the top quarter or so of the population that owns the majority of stocks. C-suite America in particular has benefitted, since executives take home the majority of their pay in stock (and thus have reason to do whatever it takes to manipulate stock price.)

Higher federal minimum wages are a good start, but it’s only one piece of the inequality puzzle. Boosting wages in a bigger way will also requiring changing the corporate model to reflect the fact that companies don’t exist only to enrich shareholders, but also workers and society at large, which is the way capitalism works in many other countries. German style worker councils would help balance things, as would a sliding capital gains tax for long versus short-term stock holdings, limits on corporate share buybacks and fiscal stimulus that boosted demand, and hopefully, wages. (For a fascinating back and forth on that topic between Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke, see Brookings’ website.)

Politicians are going to have to grapple with this in the election cycle, because as the latest round of wage protests makes clear, the issue isn’t going away anytime soon.

Read next: Target, Gap and Other Major Retailers Face Staffing Probe

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TIME Labor

Fast Food Workers Protest for Higher Wages in Hundreds of Cities

Protesters gather at a McDonald's restaurant on tax day asking for higher wages in Miami Gardens, Fla., on April 15, 2015.
Joe Raedle—Getty Images Protesters gather at a McDonald's restaurant on tax day asking for higher wages in Miami Gardens, Fla., on April 15, 2015.

The Tax Day protest will take place in cities across the globe

Fast food workers are protesting across the world on Wednesday, their biggest action yet in a campaign for better wages that began more than two years ago. Protestors in the U.S. are pushing ahead with their demands of a $15 hourly wage and the right to unionize. The campaign has also gone global, with organizers saying strikes and protests will be taking place in 200 cities across 30 countries.

The fast food workers’ campaign in the U.S. launched in November 2012 in New York, and since then it has attracted support from other groups including students, health care workers and activists from the Black Lives Matter movement, who are also set to join in Wednesday’s rallies, Reuters reports.

Workers at airports and retail stores are also participating, protesting the increase of so-called “zero hour contracts,” in which an employer is not required to provide workers with a minimum number of hours per week.

Organizers said they chose Tax Day for the protests to highlight that they are paid so little that they are forced to rely on public aid to survive. Retailers such as Target and Walmart have recently announced increases to their hourly wage, but not to the level that workers are demanding.

TIME Labor

Why McDonald’s Wage Hike Won’t Help Most Of Its Employees (Yet)

McDonald's
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images A sign stands outside of a McDonald's restaurant on Feb. 9, 2009 in San Francisco, Calif.

Just 12% of McDonald's employees could see a bigger paycheck

Facing declining sales and a growing protest movement against its labor practices, McDonald’s announced Wednesday it’s boosting hourly wages for hundreds of thousands of workers. But the change won’t actually affect most of the men and women who wear a McDonald’s uniform.

McDonald’s employees affected by the pay raise will see their hourly earnings rise to at least $1 above the local minimum wage, a rate that will work out to an average pay of at least $10 per hour by the end of 2016. However, the raise only applies to U.S. locations that are owned and operated by McDonald’s itself.

Most of the world’s Big Macs are made at franchised restaurants, properties that McDonald’s owns or leases but hands over to independent businesspeople to operate in exchange for rent and a 4% cut of the restaurant’s sales. Franchised restaurants make independent hiring choices and set their own wages. Because of this business model, just 12% of the 750,000 workers at U.S. McDonald’s locations will qualify for the wage boosts — or the paid vacation time the fast food chain is also implementing.

The announcement, which new McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook called an “initial step,” drew the immediate ire of Fast Food Forward, a union-backed group that’s been organizing a series of one-day fast food worker strikes that started in 2012. The group is planning fresh protests for Thursday, decrying McDonald’s pay increase as a “PR stunt.”

“McDonald’s needs to step up to the plate,” Fast Food Forward director Kendall Fells said on a conference call with reporters Wednesday, noting that the vast majority of workers weren’t receiving raises. “We’re going to show McDonald’s that this movement won’t stop until we get what we deserve.”

That McDonald’s chose to make a public statement about its new wage policy illustrates how quickly discussions about low-paying jobs have shifted recently, says Dave Sherwyn, a law professor at Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. That change in the public conversation has been largely driven by those pro-union groups, who, as much as they accuse McDonald’s pay raise of being little more than a savvy public relations move, have themselves done more to raise publicity than actually threaten the daily operations of the country’s fast food chains.

“This is a pretty unique situation,” says Sherwyn. “I can’t imagine if McDonald’s, Burger King or anyone had done this five years ago, they would have made a big announcement about it. It just wasn’t in the public conversation.”

MORE Fast-Food Strike Progress Measured in Pennies, Not Dollars

The spotlight will now be thrown on the franchise owners, who will be watched closely to see if they follow the lead of McDonald’s corporate office. That’s partially because the strikes have helped more consumers learn how McDonald’s franchise structure works, something that might not have been clear to your everyday customer just looking for a Big Mac with fries.

“The franchise arrangement, not obvious to everyone, will now be more obvious,” says Jefferson Cowie, a professor of labor history at Cornell University. “Pressure will boil up from below, putting pressure on the franchises to follow suit with the corporate policy on wages.”

McDonald’s wage increase comes just as the company’s legal obligations to its franchisees are coming under intense scrutiny. The National Labor Relations Board began hearings this week to determine whether McDonald’s should be considered a “joint employer” along with franchise owners. Such a designation could make McDonald’s responsible for hiring practices, wage levels and labor violations at individual restaurants, fundamentally upsetting its lucrative franchise-based business model — a model shared by many of its rivals, too. About 60% of all U.S. fast food restaurants are franchise establishments, according to a 2007 study the U.S. Census Bureau. If the labor board rules McDonald’s is a joint employer, it could spell the end of the franchise system as we know it.

 

TIME Labor

A Surprising Historical Parallel for Seattle’s Minimum Wage Fight

Seattle Mayor Signs Bill Raising City's Minimum Wage To 15 Dollars An Hour
David Ryder—Getty Images Seattle Mayor Ed Murray (C) celebrates with supporters aafter signing a bill that raises the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour on June 3, 2014, in Seattle

How peddlers can help us understand franchise owners’ struggle with the city

Starting Wednesday, many of Seattle’s workers will enjoy a higher minimum wage – but some businesses have tried (unsuccessfully, thus far) to keep their employees out of that group. Claiming that Seattle’s wage law unfairly defines franchise owners as large employers, a lawsuit – led by the International Franchise Association (IFA) and franchisees from the hospitality, healthcare and marketing sectors – sought to stop, or at least slow, the change.

The plaintiffs’ objection: by being defined as large employers, franchises will be required to raise employees’ wages more quickly than if they had been categorized as small businesses. The latter designation, they say, is more appropriate, given the scant numbers employed by most individual franchises, as opposed to the far larger numbers employed by their parent corporations. Though a district judge ruled against the plaintiffs in March, the IFA has vowed to continue its fight.

A number of media outlets were quick to tar this lawsuit as mere money-grubbing by ‘Big Fast Food.’ And so it might be. The IFA, for instance, has been accused of defending franchisors’ interests at the expense of its franchisee members.

An unlikely comparison from American history, however, suggests a more sympathetic reading of the franchisees’ predicament – if not their representatives’ recent lawsuit. The subject of this comparison? Nineteenth-century America’s army of traveling peddlers: men (and occasionally women) who sat at the vanguard of America’s consumer-goods revolution. One part entrepreneur, one part working-poor, peddlers mediated between urban merchants and rural consumers at a time when the former were typically too risk averse to develop their own marketing and sales operations.

Comparing franchise owners and peddlers may, at first, seem an unlikely analogy (journalist Timothy Noah, writing for Pacific Standard, has suggested sharecroppers as a closer equivalent). But, on closer inspection, the two turn out to have much in common.

First, both groups mainly exist to insulate higher-ups from risk. For example, should an individual franchise location fail, corporate HQ may lose its cut of the franchise’s revenues, but it doesn’t have to answer for the cost of the franchise itself. That’s on the owner and her creditors. The same was true for peddlers, who paid for their wares before they left for the countryside. If demand proved weak, it was the peddlers’ problem, not their suppliers’.

Second, both franchise owners and peddlers were often lured into their trades with outsized promises of wealth. Franchising corporations – in fast food and beyond – are notoriously cagey about the profits franchisees can expect to reap. While sales literature is quick to publicize million-dollar revenues, it’s far more circumspect about owners’ average income. The statistics suggest why. Even at top-grossing franchises, many owners default on their loans. And even those who stay afloat take home an average income of only $50,000. This, of course, is nothing to sneeze at – especially in comparison with fast-food workers’ salaries. But it hardly puts owners in the top 1% of wealth holders.

Peddlers’ prospects were equally disappointing. While a handful went on to commercial fortunes, the majority languished just beyond the grasp of poverty. A rain-soaked and wind-beaten existence, peddling was a young man’s game – far richer in reputation than in reality. Many entered the profession in search of a promised career as a merchant, but instead found sore backs and tired limbs.

Third and finally, franchise owners and peddlers have served as lightning rods for economic anxieties not of their own making. Consider how the Seattle franchise owners’ suit has been seen as a machination by McDonald’s corporate HQ. Never mind that franchise owners typically have minimal control over wage levels, let alone marketing strategy or product design. This still hasn’t spared them from blame for the sins of their bosses.

Peddlers faced similar problems. Though merely pawns in the larger economic transformation sweeping nineteenth-century America, peddlers were often blamed for its most disruptive effects. Stuck with a broken clock or a wooden nutmeg (carved knock-offs that peddlers were reputed to sell in place of the genuine article), poor consumers were quick to vilify salesmen rather than their unscrupulous suppliers. As such, peddlers earned a reputation as tricksters and cheats, while the suppliers responsible for these frauds continued to masquerade in the garb of respectability.

In 1837, for instance, Ohio peddler John Bartholomew wrote to tell his supplier that the clocks he had received contained “very rusty” wires and parts “Swelled So that they will no [sic] run until I whittle & Smooth the wheels.” And yet, it was peddlers themselves who were cursed, in the words of one customer, as “dam profiteers” and even threatened with violence (the same irate customer pronounced that peddlers, according to New England peddler James Guild, “ought to have a good whipping by every one that sees you”).

This is not to suggest that peddlers were the worst victims in these transactions. That distinction goes to hardscrabble farmers who sold their tiny surplus for a few small luxuries – only to discover these products were not what they seemed. So, too, in Seattle’s minimum wage fight, franchisees face brighter prospects than uninsured fry cooks who daily risk third-degree oil burns for less than a living wage.

But that doesn’t mean that franchise owners’ claims warrant no consideration. By being included under the Seattle labor law’s definition of a large employer, franchisees are on the hook for an $11 minimum wage starting April 1, as opposed to the $10 they would owe if counted as small businesses. This may not sound like much of a difference, but for franchises with 20 half-time workers, it means around $20,000 in increased annual labor costs. That’s hardly a deal-breaker for a major corporation or even for the handful of owners with dozens of locations in their portfolio – but it’s a serious pinch for small franchisees averaging $50,000 in take-home income and more than a half-million dollars in debt.

A real solution to America’s wage problem therefore needs to take account of franchisees’ grievances. Just as consumers’ complaints against peddlers were inseparable from peddlers’ exploitation by their suppliers, justice for franchise staff demands justice for franchise owners. This, of course, is no easy task – but should minimum wage increases proceed without reference to franchisees’ concerns, they’ll merely succeed in gutting the middle, rather than redressing America’s larger edifice of inequality.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Sean Trainor is a Ph.D. Candidate in History & Women’s Studies at Penn State University. He blogs at seantrainor.org.

TIME Labor

Fast Food Workers Plan April 15 Strike

Fast Food Labor
Seth Wenig—AP People participate in rally in front of a McDonalds in New York, Tuesday, March 31, 2015.

Professors and home care workers will join the protests

U.S. fast food workers are planning a major one-day strike on Tax Day, April 15, their latest action in a two-year campaign for a $15 hourly wage and the right to unionize.Workers will walk off the job at fast food restaurants in more than 200 cities across the U.S. to demand higher pay, and protests will be held in as many as 40 other countries the same day.

College campuses will join in the demonstrations, with 170 universities planning rallies and marches, and adjunct professors will also advocate for their own pay increases. Home care workers, airport personnel and Walmart employees are also expected to be involved. Overall, events will take place in more than 200 U.S. cities on April 15 and as many as 40 other countries.

The movement, supported by the Service Employees International Union, has so far largely not fazed McDonald’s and other fast food giants, who point out that franchise owners set wages for their employees. The companies also say that few workers actually end up walking off the job to participate in protests.

However, retailers such as Target and Walmart have recently announced increases to their minimum wage and a growing number of cities are raising their minimum wage to $10 to $15 per hour. At the same time, the National Labor Relations Board recently determined that McDonald’s corporate office could be viewed as a “joint employer” along with franchisees in addressing some workers’ rights issues.

TIME Courts

Homejoy, Postmates, and Try Caviar Sued Over Labor Practices

The complaints allege that workers at the on-demand startups are employees and not independent contractors

Three more companies in the exploding on-demand economy have been sued over their labor practices, a day after it emerged a class action lawsuit was pending against grocery startup Instacart.

The lawsuits filed on Thursday contend that workers for house-cleaning company Homejoy, as well as delivery service companies Postmates and Try Caviar, have been misclassified as independent contractors when they should be treated like employees. The class action complaints were filed in California’s Northern District Court, where similar lawsuits are already pending against Uber, Lyft and Instacart.

Postmates and Try Caviar are both primarily in the business of facilitating delivery from restaurants that don’t normally deliver. Customers places orders for food through their apps and orders are dispatched to couriers who pick up and deliver the food to the customers’ homes or offices, using their own personal transportation. On Wednesday, Postmates announced it had partnered with Starbucks to deliver food and beverages in Seattle.

The cleaners working for Homejoy use their own cleaning supplies and transportation to do jobs they get through Homejoy. The companies take a cut of the proceeds, whether a fare, an hourly wage or delivery fee.

The lawyer behind many of the cases is Shannon Liss-Riordan, a Boston-based labor lawyer who specializes in worker classification. She first filed the case against Uber on behalf of drivers in 2013, which claims thousands of workers in California are owed for expenses like gas and vehicle maintenance.

The publicity from that case has put her much in demand from people working similar jobs at other startups who believe they are being treated unjustly, she says. Today she filed separate class action complaints on behalf of workers for those three San Francisco-based companies. If the court approves the class, the suits could potentially affect thousands around the U.S.

“When companies have control over their workers, when they get to dictate how they should act, when they get to decide whether they can work or not work,” Liss-Riordan says, “those are employees. These are the workers carrying out the services that these companies provide. So these workers are entitled to the protections of the law, to get their expenses reimbursed, to be guaranteed overtime, to make [at least] minimum wage.”

Homejoy and Postmates did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this article. Try Caviar declined to comment, as did Instacart about its own pending litigation.

One of the key issues in the case is determining exactly what business these companies are in. These on-demand companies say they are merely middle-man technology companies connecting people who want a service with someone willing to provide it. Homejoy, for instance, bills itself as a marketplace where people willing to clean homes can connect with people who want their homes cleaned through their platform. Its terms of service are explicit:

THE COMPANY DOES NOT PROVIDE CLEANING SERVICES, AND THE COMPANY IS NOT A CLEANING SERVICE PROVIDER. IT IS UP TO THE THIRD PARTY CLEANING SERVICE PROVIDER TO OFFER CLEANING SERVICES WHICH MAY BE SCHEDULED THROUGH USE OF THE SOFTWARE OR SERVICE.

But other marketing materials and advertisements often send conflicting messages. Homejoy uses first person pronouns on their website, telling potential users: “If you’re not 100% satisfied with your cleaning, we’ll come back and re-clean it!” If Liss-Riordan can prove in court that companies like Homejoy and Uber are in fact cleaning companies or transportation companies and not just middle-men that could help convince the courts that the workers are in fact employees.

“You can’t name yourself out of employer status,” says Harvard law professor Benjamin Sachs. “The realities matter because if Uber is really a transportation company—and by that we mean they’re involved in many aspects of actually providing rides, screening drivers, hiring drivers, setting rates—that’s like a taxi company with a new technology. That doesn’t change anything important about the nature of employment.” Uber has said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation.

The complaints contend that workers for each of the platforms are owed reimbursements for expenses like vehicle maintenance, cleaning supplies and gas they used to get from job to job, as well as overtime and in some cases minimum wage. The suits against Postmates and Try Caviar also contend that the companies are unfairly competing, by not paying for expenses that delivery companies with employee couriers would, like unemployment insurance or workers’ compensation.

“There seems to be this new wave of companies coming up that seem to be copying one another and thinking that it’s okay to do this because they call themselves technology companies,” Liss-Riordan says. “There’s nothing new about this. These workers should be entitled to the protections of employees.”

TIME justice

Lawsuit Claims Instacart ‘Personal Shoppers’ Should Be Classified as Employees

Kaitlin Myers a shopper for Instacart studies her smart phone as she  shops for a customer at Whole Foods in Denver.
Cyrus McCrimmon—Denver Post/Getty Images Instacart shopper Kaitlin Myers navigates through the aisles at Whole Foods in Denver.

A case filed in California's Northern District Court claims that the grocery delivery service owes workers for expenses

A new lawsuit alleges that Instacart, an on-demand grocery delivery service valued at $2 billion, misclassifies its workers as independent contractors to avoid paying expenses like overtime, reimbursements for gas and workers’ compensation.

The class action complaint, which was filed on Jan. 9th but has not been previously reported, describes Instacart’s business practices as “unethical, oppressive and unscrupulous” and seeks damages for anyone who has worked as a “shopper delivery person” for the company since 2012.

The complaint, which contains allegations similar to those in two ongoing lawsuits also pending in California’s Northern District Court against ride-app companies Uber and Lyft, is the latest potential legal hurdle for the surging on-demand economy.

“Instacart does all it can to distance itself from the employer-employee relationship,” says Bob Arns, whose San Francisco-based Arns Law Firm brought the suit on behalf of workers including Dominic Cobarruviaz, who was injured in an accident while delivering groceries for Instacart. “Why does a company want to do that? It’s to keep the bottom line lower, to unfairly compete against other companies. That’s the crux of our case.”

The suit contends that Instacart, which is two-and-a-half years old and operates in 15 markets around the U.S., has violated labor laws due to the workers’ “misclassification, unpaid workers’ compensation insurance, unpaid tax contributions, unreimbursed expenses, and related misconduct.” The complaint also claims that the company has committed fraud, knowing workers should be classified as employees, and used unfair business practices.

“[There is] this narrative that I think companies like Instacart and Uber and Lyft want to become more mainstream,” says Jonathan Davis, another lawyer for the plaintiffs, “that somehow these antiquated laws don’t apply to these types of work relationships. And frankly it’s ludicrous. Just because a worker is directed and controlled by an algorithm that comes through a phone as opposed to a foreman doesn’t do anything to change the fundamental relationship of employment.”

Instacart has not responded to requests for comment. The case names the company as Maplebear Inc., which does business as Instacart.

Instacart customers order groceries through a smartphone app, choosing items they want from their preferred store. The app then relays grocery orders to workers, who shop for the products and deliver them using their own vehicles in as little as an hour or two. The company takes a cut from a delivery fee and gets an undisclosed amount from retailers that customers buy groceries from through the app.

In late February, the case was assigned to District Judge Edward Chen, who is also hearing the Uber case, which claims that Uber drivers are employees rather than independent contractors and should be reimbursed for expenses like gas, insurance and vehicle maintenance. On March 11, Chen denied Uber’s request for a summary judgment ruling that drivers are independent contractors, saying that a jury would have to decide whether the drivers are employees or “partners,” as the company calls them. In his ruling, the judge said Uber’s claim that it is a “technology company” and not a “transportation company” is “fatally flawed.”

Instacart’s CEO Apoorva Mehta has likewise said that Instacart is a software company, not a grocery delivery company.

Arns believes that the terms the company sets out, which customers must agree to, could pass liability along to the person ordering groceries. If Instacart is “solely a communication platform” for facilitating a connection between the customer and the shopper, he says, damages from an accident or injury like the one Corbarruviaz had could be the responsibility of the customer who started the communication.

The suit rejects the idea that Instacart is simply a middle man, claiming that the company “is in the business of providing online grocery shopping and delivery service.” The suit seeks to define the class as everyone who “performed grocery delivery service” for Instacart from Jan. 1, 2012 to the present. As of June 2014, about 1,000 people were reportedly registered to shop and deliver groceries for the company. Arns estimates that the size of the class could be 10,000.

The growing independent-contractor workforce is a key reason that companies like Instacart and Uber have been able to grow so quickly. In January, Forbes put Instacart at the top of its “America’s Most Promising Companies” list. The cost of organizing independent contractors is much less than hiring employees. The companies who operate this way don’t have to pay unemployment tax or overtime, or ensure that workers are making at least minimum wage. They don’t have to pay for their own fleet of vehicles or costs associated with operating them since the workers use their personal cars. In many cases, they don’t have to pay for the smartphones or data plans workers need to do the jobs.

Arns and Davis say that after the costs of being a worker for Instacart are added up, many of them are not making minimum wage. Unlike drivers on platforms like Uber and Lyft, who can log in to work and log out at any time, personal shoppers for Instacart set their own hours in advance and work in shifts.

“We can’t sacrifice the gains that have been made over time in this country to create good, solid middle-class jobs simply at the altar of expediency and technology,” Davis says. They contend that the lawsuit is beneficial for companies in the sharing economy in the long run, even if it ends up costing them millions. “We want to see Instacart succeed,” says Arns, “and it can succeed by complying with the law.”

Corbarruviaz v. Maplebear, Inc.

Read next: This Is Where Starbucks Will Test Its Delivery Service

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TIME Labor

Burned McDonald’s Workers File Complaint Over Poor Working Conditions

Worker claims she was told to use mustard to treat a burn

McDonald’s employees in 19 cities have filed health and safety complaints against the fast food giant over lax standards that they say led workers to sustain severe burns on the job.

The complaints, which McDonald’s has said it is reviewing, allege that low staffing and pressure to work quickly led to employees getting injured. In at least one instance, a worker at a Chicago McDonald’s claims that after she suffered a severe burn from a hot grill, her boss told her to put mustard on it instead of immediately seeking medical treatment.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened a review into the complaints, according to the BBC.

The complaints are being publicized by Fast Food Forward, a union-backed group that has been organizing one-day strikes of fast food workers for more than two years, demanding a $15 per hour living wage and the right to unionize.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman told BBC that the company is “committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald’s Brand US restaurants.”

Read next: McDonald’s Wants to Replace the Drive-Thru with Drones

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TIME Opinion

Obama Takes a Page From FDR’s Playbook

President Obama Speaks At Chicago's Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy
Scott Olson—Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks in Chicago on Feb. 19, 2015. Obama used the event to designate Chicago's historic Pullman district a national monument.

In helping to resolve a longshore standoff, the President showed that he’s learned from history

Correction appended, Feb. 24, 2015, 10:45 a.m.

For nine months, trade in the Pacific has been stalled. Ships languished at docks, their cargo stuck, lost profits ticking up into the millions, as negotiations between the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) and their employers, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), dragged on. But the tide may be turning: the dockworkers’ union and the PMA announced that they have reached a tentative agreement on their next contract—and the repercussions reach far beyond the West Coast ports at the heart of the negotiations. This conflict between workers and employers goes to the heart of the crisis of inequality facing the American economy today.

President Obama repeatedly has claimed one of his top priorities is supporting middle class families. And, though he hasn’t articulated the comparison himself, this latest news shows that one of his strategies for doing so takes a page from history—namely from Franklin D. Roosevelt. Almost exactly 80 years ago, Roosevelt helped resolve a dispute not unlike the current ILWU-PMA showdown, and, in doing so, helped tens of thousands of working people and their families.

In 1934, militant longshoremen rose up and declared the “Big Strike,” shutting down every West Coast port. Workers demanded decent wages and workplace improvements, but employers called upon their allies in government to break the strike—most notoriously when San Francisco police killed two strikers and wounded dozens on “Bloody Thursday.” This remains an official holiday for ILWU members even today.

Employers did not listen to the cries of their own workers but President Roosevelt did. In a shocking break from precedent, he sent a trusted aide, Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins—the first woman ever to serve in a presidential cabinet—to mediate negotiations between workers and their bosses.

With Perkins’ assistance, the strikers won an astounding series of concessions: a union-controlled hiring hall, which ended discrimination and favoritism in hiring; a coastwide contract with all workers receiving the same wages and conditions; and a better hourly wage.

Shortly thereafter, working with a sympathetic Congress, FDR made unions, strikes and collective bargaining legal. He also helped abolish child labor, establish a minimum wage, the 8-hour day and overtime rates. In 1936, he explained why he sided with working people over corporations: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

Due to unions like the ILWU and public officials like Roosevelt and Perkins, the American middle class grew to a previously unimaginable size. Collectively bargained pay-raises in union workplaces lifted wages in non-unionized ones, too, because employers competed for workers. Not coincidentally, the so-called Greatest Generation also was the most heavily unionized generation in U.S. history.

In recent decades, however, that trend has reversed. Unions and the middle class are both weaker than they once were. Enter the ILWU-PMA impasse. During the past month, the PMA had begun rolling lockouts and blamed the union for work slow-downs. Business associations and retailers called for an end to West Coast port congestion and for the destruction of one of America’s last strong unions.

Given the relative weakness of support for unions today, President Obama found himself in the same situation FDR faced. The easy choice would be to side against the union, intervening to break the impasse, if at all. Some corporate executives and anti-union politicians called for Congress to change labor law to permanently weaken the ILWU or for Obama to invoke an anti-union “cooling off” provision of the Taft-Hartley Act (as President George W. Bush did in 2002 during previous ILWU-PMA negotiations).

But when President Obama finally acted, it was to make the choice Roosevelt also made about a century prior. He dispatched his Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, who traveled to San Francisco to meet with ILWU and PMA officials. The result is an agreement that could put both laborers and business back to work, though the details of the deal remain secret and, given the union’s democratic process, subject to a vote by the 20,000 members of its longshore division.

The timing of Obama’s intervention is apt. This past Thursday, Obama announced a new national monument, in Chicago’s Pullman neighborhood, to honor workers. Pullman was the birthplace of an important labor union of (mostly African American) sleeping car porters—but was also ground zero for a mammoth railroad strike that rocked American in its First Gilded Age.

As Obama noted in his announcement, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters dramatically benefited its members and their families by helping them enter the middle class. Crucially, unionism also facilitated racial equality by sufficiently empowering black citizens to be able to demand equal treatment.

Perhaps more surprisingly, four Illinois Republicans—one Senator and three Congressmen—endorsed the Pullman designation. In their letter to the president, they also insisted that the porters union “laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights movement.” Furthermore, they recognized that the mammoth Pullman strike in 1894 “provided workers across America with a blueprint for how to achieve a better working environment and secure fair wages and rights in the workplace.”

These statements from Obama and the Illinois Republicans would likely appeal to Roosevelt—but FDR, the best president American working people have ever had, would take even more comfort from what’s happened with the longshoremen. Eight decades after an earlier West Coast longshore dispute, the president has taken an opportunity to demonstrate—rather than merely declare—that the government serves the people rather than the interests of those FDR called “economic royalists.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated how many years ago FDR intervened in the longshoremen’s strike. It was 81. That version also incorrectly referred to the ILWU situation as a strike. It was an impasse in negotiations.

The Long ViewHistorians explain how the past informs the present

Peter Cole is a Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism on the Progressive Era Philadelphia. His current book project is entitled Dockworker Power: Struggles in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area.

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