Black Friday Strikes – For Living Wage and for #FergusonDecision


This year, Black Friday sales dropped 11% nationally.  While we can’t pinpoint the exact reason why this happened, two very significant events occurred on this shopping day, which contributed to the decrease.

Photo via
Map of 2014 Black Friday Walmart demonstrations. Photo via

First, thousands of workers across the U.S. faced off against Walmart on Black Friday.   The Black Friday Protests were orchestrated by workers and the United Food & Commercial Workers International. They demanded to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and follow the legislative precedent set in Seattle, which allows for a $15 minimum wage for residents beginning April 2015.  Walmart has been the subject of scrutiny for more than a decade due to notoriously exploiting its part-time workers by denying them full-time hours, prohibiting union formation, paying low wages, and disqualifying their workers for healthcare benefits and overtime pay.  Marketplace has put together a quick video of what it would mean to workers and the average tax-paying American for Walmart to supply a living wage:

Earlier this week, public outrage ensued when it was discovered several Walmart locations were sponsoring charity food drives for their own low-paid employees.  While helpful to those associates, and not to minimize the good will one must have for his or her fellow workers, the situation’s only respite was its incredible irony. Walmart workers responded by returning the donation food bin to the Walton’s $25 million NYC condo on Park Avenue with the message ” We don’t want charity.  We want decent pay. Love, Walmart Workers”

What’s really interesting is the actual cost of a Walmart to the U.S. taxpayer. As Jess Guh writes for Counterpunch so well, that I will just copy and paste it here:

Walmart’s wages are so low that many of their employees require public assistance such as food stamps. The report calculated that a single “Walmart Supercenter” cost taxpayers anywhere from $904,542 to nearly $1.75 million dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies for employees. Another study estimated that that total annual cost to tax payers nationally was a staggering $6.2 billion dollars. And the kicker? Eighteen percent of the food stamp distributions are spent at Wal-Mart stores; that means that taxpayers essentially subsidized the $16 billion dollars in profits that Walmart made last year twice—once to subsidize wages, and once to subsidize the shoppers buying company products on sale in the stores.

Incredible, eh!? The push for national organizing campaigns for a living wage comes from two noticeable organizations across sectors: Raise the Living Wage Campaign (via the National Employment Law Project) and the StrikeFastFood campaign (which is working through an organizing group of the SEIU.)

Second, as a result of thousands enraged by the non-indictment of Darren Wilson for the death of Mike Brown, community leaders and activists called to boycott Black Friday. Malls and department stores were met with peaceful protests to demand justice for Michael Brown across the country, even as what could be described as a flash mob protest through the aisles of NYC’s Macy’s.  As a protester said, “If Black lives don’t matter, then Black Friday shouldn’t matter.”

…He’s right.

Overall, what a productive holiday for working class communities to demand more and to create such impact with dignity.

Part 4: The Apparatus, My Enemy & Other Choices

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

There was absolutely no way to prepare for the aptitude test.  Any Google search lead you to nothing – no study guides, no sample questions.  My friends and I who were scheduled to take the aptitude test were scrambling.  The only leads we had were those already in various trade unions who were able to guide us based on their own aptitude tests years ago.  So, at the risk of having received very dated information, my friends and I explored every avenue possible.

To prepare, some reviewed using a TABE prep book.  Others practiced on an apparatus that I can only describe as the “peg test” which was rumored to be used by the local to measure dexterity.  Because I didn’t have access to a “peg test” apparatus, I secretly wished and hoped that it wouldn’t be on the test.

On test day itself, the aptitude test was just that – it measured each candidate’s potential.  There was a written portion and a practical portion. The version of the test that we took, which was administered by the DOL (which oversees all trade apprenticeship programs in NY), consisted of a number of analogies.  These were very similar to the ones found on the SAT.  Another part covered spatial reasoning, and matched shapes and their mirrored/rotated versions with one another. With both sections, there was no way to complete the timed tests. There were more questions than the short 6-8 minutes would allow.

Then, the dreaded practical portion:  IT WAS THE PEG TEST!  I couldn’t find the exact game/apparatus online, but there were a couple of similar products.  The peg board looks like a hybrid of the two boards pictured below.


It’s definitely more like the “Big-Little Pegboard”, but the size of the pegs are closer to the white ones on the curved board.  The facilitators instructed us on how to maneuver the pieces through the board during a series of 15-second and 30-second rounds.

From my observation, I was doing pretty well in my group.  I was doing so well, that I think the test proxy thought I was cheating. He came over and observed me three times to make sure I didn’t have any tricks up my sleeve, and it affected my last round since he distracted me a bit.

This process began for me in July.  To date, it’s taken about 6 months. I have been unemployed, so I have taken the opportunity to pursue other educational avenues in the meantime. What you have to keep in mind as you apply to trade locals for an apprenticeship is that each union will differ in the amount of time their hiring process takes place.  A number of my friends and I have grown frustrated in the wait as our bills sing for payment.  Some of us have taken part time jobs in the meantime. I just want you to take this as a caveat and plan on how you’ll preoccupy yourself in the meantime.

For highly coveted positions, the wait time may be even years. Some trade unions don’t open up the public application process as frequently, have limited positions, or are in high demand. At times, applicants are expected to put their lives on hold in the wait, which involves a number of interviews and various daytime testing.   (Just to make clear that you will find some difficultly taking time off if you are currently employed and looking to begin an apprenticeship.) Therefore, please expect to interview, job hunt, and keep current on any requirements for the jobs or public benefits you may need. If you’re dead set on having a trade career, then this sacrifice isn’t much.

Which brings us to now…
After the rounds of testing all candidates, the only thing left is to see where I rank so that I determine whether I make the cutoff point. Then, it’d be time for the drug test. As I wait for that letter in the mail, wish me luck, and I’ll update in Part 5!


Part 3: Did I get an interview with my local trade union?

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

After waiting for months, I finally received a letter from the local, inviting me to interview. I was pretty excited!

When I decided on plumbing, and started telling my friends, the first thing many of them said was, “OMG, do you really want to work with poop?!?” The answer is always: That is a very limited view of what plumbers actually do.

In the union, the projects are mostly commercial.  In New York City, plumbers are some of the first builders on site, since the work is largely focused in the foundation of the building and every floor. So, sure, there might be some occasional poop encounters, but it’s not the primary scope of the work.

Part of my interest in plumbing is the larger, public health aspect of the work; how it can prevent diseases and affect our consumption of water. Also, I just like water, in the sense that it’s a feeling I’ve developed as a long-time swimmer.

Anyway, the day came when I had to make the trek to Queens.  Coming from the “white collar” world, I was confused as to what attire was interview appropriate.  I opted for a button down, long sleeve shirt, slacks, and some flats.  Judging from those seated next to me while we were waiting for our interviews, the mens’ outfits ranged from 3-piece suits, casual Friday wear, construction pants, and one Dickies long-sleeve coverall. I erred toward safety as there are limitations for women’s wear during trade interviews.

The local scheduled several applicants to show up within the same time block.  About 15 other candidates were waiting with me. Once 1 p.m. began, we were called from the hall into one of the classrooms.  Inside, there were 4 stations set up with 2 interviews at each. Candidates were called in as interviews were completed.

Questions that are important to know and rehearse are:

  • Tell us about yourself?
    Yes, this question also comes up here.  Keep it short and simple. Since I was in transition, I discussed my past work experience, what I’m looking forward to as a tradesperson. The Muse has a great little formula to help you brainstorm.
  • What are your hobbies?
    While this seems of non-importance, it’s just good to have a prepared answer so you’re not stumbling and stammering.   I chose to list off some of my active hobbies – like hiking, and those that showed further interest in the trade, like light carpentry.
  • What are the tasks of this particular trade?
    A good resource would be to look up the knowledge/skills/abilities  — KSAs —- of the position so that you can refer back.  Since you’re looking at an apprenticeship, the interviewer understands that many are coming into the profession very green.
  • What experience do you have that is applicable to this trade?
    Since I was coming from a series of desk jobs, I mentioned having great spatial logic,  being fit for heavy lifting, familiarity with tools, an ability to stand for extended periods of time , and my trade school pre-training.
  • What do you expect from this position? /What is your goal in the next 5 years?
    THE ANSWER IS ALWAYS THIS:  to be a Journey level trades person. The apprenticeship is no joke.  it is usually 3 to 5 years of coursework and on-the-job training.  They are looking for the long haul with you.
  • Prepared to do some mental math!
    I was asked a quick word problem.  Something about the number and lengths pipe a hypothetical team could carry in X amount of time.  The problem was fairly simple, so just listen carefully, and apply some 4th grade math.  You’ll be fine.

The entire conversation lasted around 5 to 7 minutes. The 2 men who interviewed me took notes on their form in my folder the whole time. We made slight small talk,  and  I shook the hands of both of my interviewers while thanking them for their time. They wished me luck, and the process was fine and comfortable.

After my other friends finished their interviews, we all walked out together.  The staffperson up front scheduled us for  our aptitude tests, and we knew that we were to return in a month as we headed to the train.

Which brings us to now…
I have no clue how to prepare for this aptitude test, but wish me luck anyway.  I’ll update in Part 4!

New Yorker Problems

“If they raise the subway fare one more time, I’m going to explode. I’m making nine dollars an hour. I walk home three hours from work every day to save that $2.50, because that’s a half gallon of milk for me and my daughter. And every time they raise the fare, they have a ‘hearing.’ But they aren’t hearing anything. It’s a fucking joke. If you go to one of those ‘hearings,’ every single person stands up and says: ‘Don’t raise the fare.’ Then they raise it anyway. Oh man, it burns me up. ‘We need the money,’ they say, ‘America is hurting.’ That’s bullshit! If I see one more TV program bragging about multimillion dollar homes I’m gonna scream. How about a fucking TV program that shows me if there is anywhere in this city that I can fucking afford to live anymore. I’m sorry, but it’s burning me up.”


I really love some of the posts at Humans of New York , and this one spoke to a truth so many fellow New Yorkers face. For the majority of us, we are getting priced out of our neighborhoods due to rising cost-of-living expenses.  Also, the majority of the population is absolutely reliant on subway system, so fare hikes really hurt the working class and poor.

I must research other methods public good services are funded so that the increases aren’t always passed off to the commuter.  At this rate, it’ll cost commuters an average of $8 to simply leave their home.  That’s a little much.


Part 2: How I prepared to enter the trades

My intention for this post is to share my experience, and for it to serve as a reference point/resource for women interested in entering the trades.  This is continued series, so I hope you find some portion of this helpful! See all parts at this link: CLICK HERE - h!

Many of the women in my program arrived at this training program for the same reason: they couldn’t find good jobs anywhere. Many were unemployed, or just working a series of dead-end jobs, and were looking for ways to disrupt that cycle of poverty.  This is why I wanted to head into the trades.

Research I did, and how I started:

First stop was, of course, the internet. I was able to find a program in the NYC area that focused on getting women into trade careers, and they offered a free orientation course for apprenticeships. Their training was six weeks long.

Second, I applied, interviewed, and was accepted into the trade orientation program for women. Our days consisted mostly of learning more about the various trades and associations in the area, simulating a construction site, carrying heavy loads (45-65 lbs. of various types of equipment up flights of stairs, and back), doing woodworking and electricity workshops, and learning more about green (environment-focused) trades. You have to be pretty quick at math, many of us learned, since you don’t have that much time to do complicated calculations when you’re busy at a site.

During this time, we also learned about various issues we’d face as women in a predominantly male industry. We learned about our rights at work, and how to address sexual harassment , should it arise. Other helpful workshops were about job attitudes, new trends in the trades (mostly headed toward green-minded technology), and refresher classes in math.

Third, I started speaking to the many lecturers we had. These women were also graduates of the program, and many were now journey-level in their careers. Many were involved in various associations which supported other women in the trades, usually referred to as a sisterhood. One of our mentors was a with a carpenters union for the last decade, so asking her about her profession really informed how I chose for which trade to apply.

I later found out that carpentry serves as the basis for the majority of trades, as much of what any tradesperson does is carpentry using different mediums.  This was helpful to know, and made me more open to investigating other trades, as well.

Fourth, I completed the program, and placed fairly high on my various tests.  This was sort of the easiest part for me, since I’m pretty much a nerd. What I found more challenging were some basic principles of building: sawing in a straight line, using a plane with a steady hand, not splitting the wood while you’re hammering in a nail, etc.

The other women in my cohort were also a pretty great bunch, so I really appreciated my learning experience more while with them.

At this point, I was also wrestling between the possibilities of applying to apprenticeships with the carpenters, electricians, or plumbers. I learned that for electricians and plumbers,  the curriculum for apprenticeship was advanced in that it combined the 5-year apprenticeship trainings with a college degree. Because I was deathly scared of getting “blasted” by electricity, and that the carpenters unions were not opening up soon, I decided that I would try for the plumbing apprenticeship.

Fifth, we checked the DOL’s website a lot.  Typically, if you are not coming from some kind of trade-prep training, this is the step where you would start.

In the state of New York, the Department of Labor runs ALL trade apprenticeship programs. This site lists all the days that certain unions are publicly recruiting. Depending on the trade, a certain number of applications would be handed out either on a specific date, or a range of dates. The number of applications is based on how many people the union or association can hire at that given time. Some applications are highly coveted, since their trades are high paying, and there are a limited number of positions.

One example of this is for the position of operating mechanic, whose main responsibility is operating large, heavy machinery like cranes and bulldozers on a worksite. Because there are only 14 cranes in NYC (this is a fact, btw, not an exaggeration), they only open up for recruitment every two years, and look to fill 1 or 2 positions. This is in stark contrast with a local carpenter’s union which opens up recruitment annually, and hires up to 200 new apprentices.

Looking over this boring ass website was more interesting to do with the other women in my program. The mutual support was very helpful and motivating for us all, and we went through these steps together. We were all interested in different kinds of work, but many of us made it a point to tag along in groups for application days.

Sixth, I got a union application. Right around the time that I completed my training program, the local plumbers union was opening up for public recruitment.

The plumbers were last open 8 months ago, were handing out 600 applications, but only hiring 100 apprentices.  The applications were going to be handed out on a Monday, but we were tipped to be there earlier, and we were strongly urged to even sleep on the line as early as the Friday prior. Standing “on the line” for your application is almost a point of pride for any tradesperson, serving as a symbol of earned rank through hard work and discipline.

Coming from a land of submitting my résumé through LinkedIn, lining up for an application was a completely foreign concept to me. But as the sharp women from my cohort stated: if people have the time to line up for days just for the latest iPhone or some sneakers, why can’t they line up for a job? True. A number of us in my cohort were also interested in the plumbing apprenticeship, so we were able to schedule who’d be present on the line on each day fairly easily.

Because we were in the middle of summer, the conditions on the line were not harsh. Many brought lawn chairs, coolers, and grills as if this were one big tailgate. I even got a free steak and some hot dogs from the guys who were grilling two cars down.  Some people parked nearby and slept in their car, others slept on chairs in the line as it wrapped around for blocks. We used a local McDonalds for its rest room. This lasted for three days for most, luckily my friends and I each rotated our places in line. I slept on the line for one night, and I got a spider bite – luck of the draw!

Seventh, I submitted my application. When Monday arrived, we were given a slip with a number on it. And then, we proceeded inside the union hall to pick up the full application.  Seen:


And yes, that is a blue tarp, because on the last day, the rains fell upon us without mercy. (If you look even closer, you’ll also see the McDonald’s where I brushed my teeth.) Having secured my place in the 300s, I felt awful for the poor person who was #601 on line. They were not going to receive an application.

Once inside, our ticket number was married with our application form (I’ve blurred it here, since my application is still being processed), and we were instructed to return it completed in one month. The application was very straightforward (with all needed info) and pretty easy to fill out, and included the following:

  1. some basic contact information,
  2. job history stuff,
  3. a checkmark that stated you are able to pass a drug test (this is where I hear so many people DO NOT make the cut, so please ensure that you are free of any substances when eventually taking your drug test.)
  4. the results of my TABE test (Test of Adult Basic Education, a mandatory standardized test which I took at the assigned facility for free. As of this writing, the needed score to pass for this was a 10 out of a 12.9 scale),
  5. and your sealed high school transcripts.

I made sure to ask to whom to address and send the transcripts, just in case.

Then, I returned one month later to submit. There was only a 4 day period to do this, and there were specific time blocks during the day that applications were accepted. I arrived early anyway on submission day, and I received a receipt of confirmation. Because my high school mailed my transcripts directly to them, I called a week before to make sure that my documents were received. As an added precaution, I also attached a note within my application explaining that I had called on such-and-such date, and Mr.this-and-that confirmed that the union had my sealed transcripts.

Which brings us to now…
I’m extremely grateful to my cohort for their support, and willingness to make this work for all of us! I am now waiting to hear back from the union for an interview date, and then take an aptitude test. Those would be the last two steps in this process, and I would either be accepted or rejected as a new apprentice. As of this writing, I am not in the trades, and who knows if I’ll be in a position to accept if I get an offer? 
Wish me luck anyway, and I’ll update in Part 3!

Story of Stuff

[NOTES ON] “The Story of Change”

I’m watching the entire Story of Stuff series.  Let’s watch it together, or check out my notes on all the videos, here.  Thanks – h!

Notes I took on this video:

  • Voting with your dollar Real change is demanding solutions that work.
  • They studied movements of the past that were successful in creating change.
  • 3 rules of changing the world:  sharing a big idea for change at the heart of the problem,  we will work together until the problem is solved, creative massive actions with all kinds of citizens.
  • Changemakers: investigators, communicators, builders, resisters, nurturers, networkers.  Take the quiz.
  • It doesn’t end at the vote; there are steps afterwards.
  • *** Watch this video if you just need a quick refresher or an upper as you’re about to take on another huge task!

After taking the quiz above, I found that I am an “investigator”…and it rings true:

Investigators like you play the crucial role of exposing both the problems we face and the solutions. Here’s how:

  • Reading, inquiring and learning constantly.
  • Researching facts questions, issues and stories thoroughly until the entire picture is clear.
  • Asking the hard questions and finding the sometimes-dark truths, even when it’s challenging and uncomfortable.

Notable Investigators who have done awesome things to find truth and change the world:

  • Sandra Steingraber

  • Rachel Carson

  • Seymour Hersh

  • James Hansen

  • Peter Gleick


Angela, 28: Nottingham, UK (2011)

(Snapshots, Elsewhere is a feature of recessionFRESH, where users are asked to submit photos and prices of everyday items to explore the cost of living around the world. If you’d like to submit, please visit this link.)

angel espAngela, 28: Nottingham, UK (2011)

Angela is a Radical international educator and emcee. Provegan snackmasta and yogini. Half of Filipina hip-hop duo 1st Quarter Storm as well as anti-racist, anti-imperialist radfem diode Sisters of Resistance. ( &

Cost of a loaf of bread: [£0.99] A loaf of Polish bread Kaya Market on Alfreton Road


Cost of a cup of coffee: [£1.20] A soya latte from the university cafe


Dinner [£25.00] a vegan Sunday roast dinner from  Alley Cafe – vegetarian/vegan cafe in city centre. About £25.00 for two (incl. meals + non-alcoholic drinks)


What do you like most about this neighborhood or city?  It’s culturally diverse and open to interpretation. Plus the university gave me money for school.

How has the recession affected you? Decided to go to grad school in the UK due to limited employment prospects in my hometown (Seattle, WA).

What would you spend your last £5 on? tea and biscuits (it’s the UK — standard).

Why did you choose these 3 items? I’m a snackmasta, and these items are part of my everyday life. but don’t forget the £1.00=$1.70 conversion!


Angela is a very close friend of mine, who is also a 1st year PhD student. So, thank you for finding the time… – h!

Fresh out of this recession; Tips for the poorly privileged…