As previously discussed here in the June 16 entry, proposed regulatory changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) are likely to have the effect of forcing a large number of employees to work for longer hours without paying overtime compensation. For additional information on the proposed changes, see WF's fair overtime page page. The Department of Labor (DOL) invited public comment on the proposed regulations, with the comment period expiring on June 30, 2003.
Ask and ye shall receive: the DOL received an estimated 75,000 to 100,000 comments from the public on the overtime proposal (including many sent through the Workplace Fairness Action Center)--the most ever received by DOL on an issue submitted for public comments (See Sun-Sentinel article.) Many organizations sought to activate their public constituencies on this issue, and apparently succeeded: one article reports that three-fourths of the comments are from workers and worker representatives, while only one-fourth were from businesses. (See Kansas City Star article. The sheer number of comments indicates that this is an issue about which many American workers feel very strongly.
However, the Department of Labor is under no obligation to take seriously any of the comments received, nor take into account the fact that a three-quarters majority oppose some or all of the proposed changes. Nor do the comments require Congressional approval. They could go into effect by the end of this year without any further changes or additional consideration, even though some experts fear the changes might be delayed. The process the proposed changes will follow now is as follows, according to DOL spokesman Ed Frank: The Labor Department will review the comments, consider whether to make any changes to address them and forward them to the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB then has 90 days to review the proposal. A final proposal could then be placed in the Federal Register, and the rules could become effective 30 to 90 days later. Thus, it appears the rules could easily be implemented before early 2004. (See Memphis Commercial Appeal article.)
The possibility that the rules could be enacted without any further changes caused House Democrats to try to put on the brakes by amending the Department of Labor's appropriation bill before Congress last week. Attaching such amendments to appropriations bills is a common strategy, as it puts the President in the difficult position of denying the agency the funding it needs to exist to do its work, or accepting the unpopular amendment in order to enable the appropriation. President Bush had threatened to veto the Labor appropriations bill, rather than accept the Democratic amendment. (See AP article.)
Groups on both sides lobbied Congress heavily prior to Thursday's vote. (See Washington Post article.) At the end of the showdown between labor and business interests, three Democrats joined Republicans in opposing the amendment, while fourteen Republicans joined Democratic colleagues in voting for the amendment. (see WXXI article.)
What happens now? Several articles reported that the same strategy could be tried in the Senate, although some skepticism was expressed as to whether the tactic was likely to succed there. But what if the Senate heard from the 75-100,000 workers who commented on the original proposal? I think the Senate, accountable to its constituency in a way that the Department of Labor is not, would sit up and take notice. However, if the American public cannot sustain a continued opposition to the regulations, then decades of wage and hour laws are likely to be blithely discarded with no further changes to tip the proposal any more in favor of workers who depend on overtime for additional income, and the threat of overtime pay for reasonable family time.
Oppose the Labor Department's Overtime Changes: Ask the Senate to Overrule the Proposed Changes
Here is some information about Pryor's record, in case you are not previously familiar with this most extreme judicial nominee:
William (Bill) Pryor, 41, has been nominated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases appealed from Alabama, Florida and Georgia federal district courts. He currently serves as Alabama’s Attorney General, a position he has held since 1997, first by appointment, and then via statewide election in 1998 and 2002.
Pryor's record demonstrates that he is an ultra-conservative activist whose record disqualifies him from a lifetime appointment to the federal judiciary. He has consistently and aggressively fought for limits on important civil rights laws, and is extremely hostile towards the rights of women, gay men & lesbians, and other minority citizens. Pryor has advocated his extreme views not only in lawsuits in which the state of Alabama was a party, but also by filing briefs in cases in which Alabama was not involved and Pryor had no obligation to participate. Pryor is also a frequent public speaker whose speeches make clear that the ideological positions he has taken in these cases are his own.
On Wednesday, June 11, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Pryor’s nomination, where Pryor unapologetically acknowledged many of his prior controversial statements.
We urge you to oppose the nomination of William Pryor for the following reasons:
Pryor advocates for limits on the reach of important civil rights laws. He personally has been involved in several key Supreme Court cases that, by narrow 5-4 majorities, have restricted the ability of Congress to protect Americans’ rights against discrimination and injury based on disability, race, and age. Recently the Supreme Court rejected Pryor’s argument that the states should be immune from lawsuits for damages brought by state employees for violation of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Pryor has argued in briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court that Congress had exceeded its power by applying disability access laws to state governments. Furthermore, Alabama was the only state to file an amicus (friend of the court) brief urging the Supreme Court to deny sexual assault victims the ability to sue their attackers using the Violence Against Women Act. The attorneys general of 36 other states took the opposite position in the Supreme Court.
Pryor does not appear to accept the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution. He has, on several occasions, stated that he believes that individual rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, such as women's rights, freedom of religion, reproductive rights, and the rights of gay men and lesbians, can be overruled by the vote of a majority of citizens. Pryor’s ideology would effectively create a balkanized America in which individual citizens may have fewer constitutional rights depending on where they live.
Pryor supports limiting the federal government’s ability to ensure compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Pryor has testified before Congress urging the repeal of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires covered jurisdictions to obtain "preclearance" for new voting practices and procedures from either the District Court for the District of Columbia or the United States Attorney General. He stated that it is "an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness."
Pryor is vehemently and stridently opposed to equal rights for gays and lesbians. In an amicus brief filed before the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas, Pryor equates private sexual conduct between same-sex consenting couples with "activities like prostitution, adultery, necrophilia, bestiality, possession of child pornography, and even incest and pedophilia." Further, Pryor defends sodomy laws, such as the Texas law attacked in Lawrence, because, even if not enforced, such laws instruct that homosexuality is objectionable. (The Supreme Court’s ruling in Lawrence strongly rejects the arguments of Pryor and other like-minded supporters. Please note Attorney General Pryor's most-restrained statement on the Lawrence ruling--one questions whether Pryor would have shown nearly as much restraint were it not for his pending nomination!)
As Alabama's attorney general, Pryor continues to abuse his position by utilizing state resources to directly and indirectly attack gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered (GLBT) Americans in his state and across the country. He links the state attorney general's website only to vehemently anti-gay and right wing organizations, including the Family Research Council and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which regularly bring lawsuit opposing GLBT rights. In contrast, his website does not make any links to groups that support GLBT civil rights. (See the web site's "Other Links - Public Policy on the Web" section for the list of right wing organizations included there.)
Pryor is often contemptuous of opposing viewpoints, and frequently uses ridicule in his speeches, briefs and arguments against rights and freedoms under debate. His extreme positions on so many critical aspects of Americans’ individual rights seriously place in doubt his ability to maintain an open mind about these matters were he to be confirmed as a federal judge.
Your voice is needed to help insure that your Senators look closely at William Pryor’s anti-civil rights record. A vote on Pryor's nomination is expected to take place the week of July 14th, so please act now by responding to WF's action alert!
Take Action Now: Demand Fair Judges: Stop Bill Pryor
Other Information About Pryor:
National Employment Lawyers Association
Alliance for Justice
Human Rights Campaign
People for the American Way
Editorials Opposing or Urging Caution on Pryor's Nomination:
Los Angeles Times
New York Times (excerpt only)
San Francisco Chronicle
Recent News Articles
Judiciary committee delays vote on Pryor nomination (7/10/03)
Specter key to committee vote on Alabama AG's nomination to court (7/10/03)
Nominee for U.S. appeals court is deeply religious, anti-abortion, pro state's rights (7/08/03)
Pryor: Ruling makes Alabama law 'unenforceable' (6/27/03)
Pryor nomination draws Congressional heat (6/26/03)
Pryor says his beliefs won't interfere with law (6/12/03)
NOW with Bill Moyers: A Justice for All? William Pryor's Record: a compilation of Bill Pryor's public statements, amicus briefs, and other representations of his position on various legal and political issues.
Doug Williams, a 48-year-old white male, was by all accounts, an angry person, and someone that many considered to be a racist. He was said to be frustrated because he thought black people had a leg up in society, and angry that he had been passed over for promotions during his 19 years as a Lockheed Martin employee. He was known as a "hothead" who had used racial epithets and made threats against blacks, and recently offended coworkers after arriving at work wearing a white covering over his head that resembled a hood, which some thought resembled a Ku Klux Klan outfit. (See Washington Post article.) Two years ago, William's behavior had come to the attention of company officials, after he angrily confronted a black coworker who complimented a white woman, telling the man that blacks had no business being with blond women and using a racial slur. The company suspended Williams and sent him to a psychological facility for two weeks of anger management counseling. Tuesday's shooting spree happened after Williams stormed out of a required ethics and sensitivity training course, returning with a shotgun to target his coworkers. (See New York Times article.)
Unfortunately, incidents similar to the Meridian shooting spree are not so isolated as one would think. A compilation of workplace shootings prepared by the Washington Post shows dozens of incidents over the past several years, while another compilation by USA Today details over one hundred deaths in workplace killing sprees since 1986. Just one week prior to Doug Williams opening fire on his coworkers, Jonathon Russell, a manufacturing plant employee in Jefferson City, Missouri, killed three coworkers and injured five before killing himself. (See Kansas City Star article.) And these are only the most famous tragedies: a 1997 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that an average of 20 workers are murdered each week in the United States. Clearly, the problem is a significant one that no employer can afford to ignore.
What can be done to stem the tide of workplace violence? Although their actions are certain to be second-guessed in the days ahead, Lockheed Martin officials undoubtedly believed that they were doing the right thing in addressing concerns about violence with Williams, between disciplining him two years aga and requiring him to undergo anger management counseling before returning to work, and scheduling ethics and sensitivity training sessions for all employees. And going to far as to terminate an employee and remove him or her from the workplace is not necessarily a solution, as historically several of the workplace incidents have involved fired employees who have returned to the company armed to avenge their firings. Yet coworkers claimed that there were unmistakable warning signs: Williams was "mad at the world," and had previously spoken of being capable of killing. (See USA Today article.)
Experts say that it is critical not to ignore the typical warning signs, which include individuals fitting "[c]ertain personality profiles...irritable, intimidating, disregards rules, preoccupied with fire arms and even talking about killing people." (See WLBT.com article.) Many of Williams' coworkers were not so surprised at his actions on Tuesday, as he appeared to fit the classic stereotype of an angry person and disgruntled employee. However, not all workers display these personality traits--in last week's Jefferson City killings, coworkers and law enforcement investigators remain baffled, as the killer, Jonathon Russell, by all accounts provided "no indication among the employees or the people at Modine that there was anything abnormal going on in his life." Warning signs, if present, should certainly not be ignored or minimized, but they may not be present in all situations.
What about increased workplace security? While installing metal detectors and security guards might deter some violent incidents, this form of security is extremely expensive and beyond the means of many employers. Also, many security systems subject current and especially long-term employees to relatively minimal security checks, and thus would be unlikely to screen out employees such as Williams, a 19-year Lockheed employee. As one security expert noted, "You get to feeling pretty bad asking someone to strip down to go through security every day for 10 years. After awhile, you just say, 'Oh, that's Jim,' and you let him through even if the machine beeps." (See Clarion-Ledger article.)
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) strongly recommends that companies follow a "zero-tolerance" approach when it comes to workplace violence. In OSHA's fact sheet on workplace violence, the agency recommends that all employers "establish a workplace violence prevention program or incorporate the information into an existing accident prevention program, employee handbook, or manual of standard operating procedures. It is critical to ensure that all employees know the policy and understand that all claims of workplace violence will be investigated and remedied promptly." Yet a zero-tolerance policy also has limitations, as one expert notes: "Some people are going to say you need a zero-tolerance policy for violent threats, but that doesn't tend to work too well. Co-workers may be reluctant to report Joe's unusual behavior because they think he might be fired when he really just needs some help." (See Clarion-Ledger article.)
We all grapple for answers when a tragedy like the one in Meridian occurs. While solutions such as workplace training, a zero-tolerance policy, identification of problem employees for counseling, and increased security may not work in every situation to deter violence, these kind of tragedies encourage both employers and employees to be increasingly vigilant for signs of violence in their own workplaces, and to take as many steps as appropriate to hopefully deter future occurrences.
OSHA's Workplace Violence Page
NIOSH's Workplace Violence Page
AFSCME's Workplace Violence Page
Gay-rights advocates, already jubilant over the June 26 Lawrence decision, continued their rejoicing when on July 2, it was announced that Wal-Mart would add sexual orientation to its sexual orientation policy. (See New York Times article) Taking credit for the victory was the Seattle-based Pride Foundation, a gay rights foundation which had lobbied nearly two years for the change as part of a group of Wal-Mart shareholders advocating the change. (See Pride Foundation press release). Wal-Mart quietly announced the change in an internal letter to its 3,500 stores, and will ask store managers to convey the policy change to Wal-Mart's over 1 million employees. Sexual orientation bias will also now become part of the company's anti-discrimination and diversity training for employees. (See Feminist Majority Newswire article.)
With this move, Wal-Mart becomes the 9th of the top ten largest U.S. corporations to include sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination policy. (See Human Rights Campaign press release.) The lone holdout is Exxon/Mobil, which took a step backward at the time of the 1999 Exxon and Mobil merger by revoking Mobil's already-existing sexual orientation policy and closing Mobil's domestic partner benefits program to new employees. (See Equality at Exxon press release.) Wal-Mart's benefit policy will not change, however; domestic partners of Wal-Mart employees will not be eligible for domestic partnership benefits, unlike employees at 7 of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies. (See HRC's Fortune 500 Companies That Offer Domestic Partner Health Benefits.
Wal-Mart's move definitely risked the anger of some of its rural, conservative constituency, which in the past it has taken several steps to appease. Some of its other recent corporate moves included an annoucement that the company has decided to stop selling three men's magazines it said were too racy and to partially obscure the covers of four women's magazines on sale in checkout lines, using U-shaped blinders to cover them. Wal-Mart has also historically refused to sell CD's with labels warning of explicit lyrics. Wal-Mart has already been taken to task by conservative groups such as Focus on the Family and the American Family Association (AFA). (See Cybercast News Service article.) Stephen Crampton of the American Family Association (AFA) decried the move, saying "Just as Neville Chamberlain gave in to Nazi Germany's outrageous demands, so Wal-Mart has capitulated to the radical homosexual agenda." However, others praised the move, stating that with the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision, that other corporations and government entities could be expected to follow suit. See New York Times article)
While Wal-Mart's timing may not have had so much after all to do with the Lawrence case, as it was supposedly in the works for some time prior to the Supreme Court's announcement of its ruling, one does wonder how much it has to do with the pending gender discrimination class action suit against Wal-Mart. (See February 10 blog entry for further information on the gender descrimination case against Wal-Mart.) On July 25, a federal court judge in San Francisco will announce whether the lawsuit against Wal-Mart will be allowed to proceed as the largest-ever discrimination class action, including an approximate 1.5 million current and former female employees. (See Fortune article.) As one commentator put it,
What is at stake, by Wal-Mart's own admission, is its reputation as a company that treats its employees with dignity—a place where, as founder Sam Walton declared, there would be "respect for the individual."While that reputation is surely bolstered by Wal-Mart's change to its anti-discrimination policy, that change may not be enough to overcome the effects of the pending class certification ruling, which will mean that enough evidence exists of corporate discrimination to allow the case to move forward collectively rather than individually. Wal-Mart's spokespersons will really have their hands full at that point.