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Articles on workplace-related issues from newspapers and Internet news sources around the country.

February 5, 2016

West Virginia House passes right-to-work bill, after harsh debate

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

The West Virginia State House narrowly passed a right-to-work bill on Thursday, setting the state up to become the country's 26th that doesn't require employees to pay dues to their unions - a measure that has hobbled organized labor elsewhere. The bill had been fast-tracked through the legislature's two-month session, passing through committee hearings, floor debate, and final votes in a span of three weeks - amid protest rallies and furious lobbying by unions and their allies - in order to leave enough time for the legislature to override an anticipated veto by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It passed by a vote of 54-46. The passage of the Establishing West Virginia Workplace Freedom Act comes two years after Republicans took back the state House for the first time since 1928, and days after the state's Supreme Court handed control of the evenly divided Senate to Republicans as well. The bill's main sponsor is Republican Senate President Bill Cole, who has declared a run to replace Tomblin. West Virginia follows Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, which in recent years have passed right-to-work laws. Union membership has dipped precipitously in Wisconsin, and while membership ticked up Indiana and Michigan in 2015, that is likely due in large part to the recovery of the automobile and construction industries.

U.S. Economy Added 151,000 Jobs in January; Unemployment at 4.9%

Source: Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times

American employers eased up on the gas last month, but still added jobs at a healthy enough pace to help calm fears that the economy is on the verge of falling into a recession. The Labor Department said Friday that payrolls rose by 151,000 in January, a falloff from the year-end sprint that helped make 2015 the second-best year for job creation since the late 1990s. Given those outsize gains, as well as much colder weather last month after the warmest December on record, some payback in January was to be expected. But investors have lately been edgy, concerned about weakness in China, plunging oil prices and a series of reports suggesting the American economy may have hit an air pocket in recent weeks. The latest figures on the job market - plus a slight fall in the unemployment rate to 4.9 percent, from 5 percent in December - suggest some modest strength persists. January was the first time since February 2008 that the unemployment rate fell below 5 percent, just before the collapse of Bear Stearns set the stage for the financial crisis. Last month, average hourly earnings rose by 0.5 percent, leaving wages up 2.5 percent over the last 12 months. That was a bit better than expected and suggests some of the benefits from the falling unemployment rate are beginning to flow to ordinary workers.

On-call scheduling debate: Where retailers stand

Source: Krystina Gustafson, NBC News

Call it the domino effect. Under pressure from worker advocacy groups, government agencies and conscientious consumers, six major retailers last year promised to end on-call scheduling, a practice through which companies wait until the last minute to tell workers whether they're needed, depending on how busy their store is that day. (Think of a hardware store, for example, which might need more hands ahead of a major snowstorm.) The headlines were a big win for critics of the custom, which was condemned for limiting workers' ability to plan ahead for child care, pick up shifts at other jobs, and earn a steady wage. Now, some six months after retailers began publicly pledging to the end the use of on-call scheduling, comes the next step - making sure they weren't empty promises. Gap, which told New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in August that it would stop using on-call scheduling at its five brands, told CNBC that it completed its phase-out of this practice in September. The company is still in the process of ensuring employees receive their schedules 10 to 14 days in advance, which will be completed early this year. Abercrombie & Fitch likewise told CNBC it has discontinued on-call scheduling across its brands in New York, but continues to work toward implementation across the remainder of the U.S. And Urban Outfitters, which in October expanded its promise to end on-call shifts in New York to include the entire U.S., totally eliminated the practice across its portfolio on Monday, a spokeswoman said. The three other major retailers that told Schneiderman they would stop using on-call scheduling - Victoria's Secret parent L Brands, J Crew and Pier 1 Imports - did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Across the industry as a whole, labor experts say the broader push to do away with on-call scheduling remains a work in progress. Though many retailers are making honest efforts to move away from the practice - particularly as worker rights become more important to consumers - implementing such widespread change across a portfolio of stores can be difficult. Challenges include technology shortfalls, and finding a means to better staff their stores for the ebbs and flows of traffic.

February 4, 2016

U.S. Soccer Sues Union Representing the Women's National Team

Source: Andrew Das, New York Times

U.S. Soccer sued the union representing the world champion United States women's national team in federal court Wednesday, a sudden escalation of a simmering labor fight over the team's collective bargaining agreement. In the lawsuit, U.S. Soccer, the national governing body for the sport, is seeking to have a court rule that the terms of the agreement - which expired in 2012 but has continued to be the guiding document over the relationship between the federation and star players like Hope Solo and Alex Morgan - remain valid. U.S. Soccer seeks no penalties; instead, it asked for "declaratory relief" stating that the players' union must abide by a slightly modified version of the agreement that is set to expire in December. U.S. Soccer said in the court filing that it "reluctantly" brought the action against the union representing the women's team after the executive director of the union, Richard Nichols, threatened to repudiate the agreement and its no-strike clause in a negotiating session in New York.Nichols, reached late Wednesday, rejected the accusation that he had raised the possibility of a labor action, saying, "There were no threats about strikes or work stoppages." He said the players had merely "reserved our legal rights." "They interpreted that as a threat," he said of U.S. Soccer. Nichols added: "We have an honest disagreement about whether there is a valid C.B.A. We're just trying to get some clarity." U.S. Soccer seems to share that goal. It released a statement in which it said it was seeking relief from the court to prevent labor actions from disrupting national team matches, the coming National Women's Soccer League season and potentially even the Americans' participation in this summer's Olympics. "We are confident the court will confirm the existence and validity of the current C.B.A., which has been in effect since U.S. Soccer and the Women's National Team Players Association reached agreement almost three years ago," U.S. Soccer said, adding, "While unfortunate, we believe taking this action provides the parties with the most efficient path to a resolution.

Cincinnati first Ohio city to pass wage theft ordinance

Source: Fatima Hussein and Sharon Coolidge, USA Today

Cincinnati became the first city in Ohio to pass an ordinance to improve enforcement of existing wage laws. Members of city council voted 7-2 Wednesday to pass the ordinance. Under the measure, if the city or another agency determines a company has committed wage theft, city officials would be able to have the money returned and the company would be barred from doing business with the city. Against it: Council's two Republican members, Amy Murray and Charlie Winburn. They wanted the ordinance to apply only to people working legally. Councilman David Mann, who authored the ordinance, refused to entertain Murray's amendment. "This is the exact same kind of attack on undocumented workers as Donald Trump," said Councilman Chris Seelbach. "Workers deserve to be treated equally under the law." Councilman Wendell Young praised Mann for bringing the issue to Council. "What (Mann) has done is not only laudable, but long overdue," Young said. "When we make people rich we need to be sure that we not be culpable in helping them exploit people." Supporters, many with green arm armbands, packed council chambers in support of the law. Wage theft occurs when employer refusing to pay workers money that they are owed by withholding pay, tips or overtime. Under particularly egregious circumstances, according to Mann, a company could be fined by the city. "Cincinnati's new ordinance is a model for all Ohio cities and sends a message that economic development projects will protect the dignity of wage earners," said Brennan Grayson, director of the Interfaith Workers Center in Downtown Cincinnati. A 2009 study by the National Employment Law Project (NELP) of nearly 4,500 low-wage workers found that more than 60 percent had been shorted by their employer each week, equivalent to $2,634 per year in unpaid wages. Analysts applying this study to Cincinnati estimate that low-wage workers lose $52 million per year to wage theft.

Activists and Officials Rally for $15 Minimum Wage

Source: Hudson Valley Press, Hudson Valley Press

A coalition of 30 different organizations representing people throughout New York State gathered in Poughkeepsie last Tuesday to call on the NYS Legislature to pass a $15 an hour minimum wage. This is part of an effort by these groups to lift low-wage workers and their children out of poverty and ensure good community jobs. "Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will provide hard-working men and women with the dignity and self-respect that comes with earning a fair day's pay for an honest day's work," said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO. "This is a priority for the entire labor movement. From Buffalo to Long Island and everywhere in between, working men and women will stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder in the fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour statewide. There is dignity in all work. As such, all working men and women deserve to be paid a wage that allows them to support themselves and their families, and enjoy a standard of living and quality of life they can be proud of." Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney stated, "The economic recovery has been out of balance, and hard-working people are still being denied fair pay for the work they do everyday," said Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney. "Raising the minimum wage will mean greater economic stability for millions of families and a powerful boost to our economy." "Thousands of working class families throughout the Hudson Valley and the State of New York would be affected by a $15 an hour minimum wage," said Paul Ellis-Graham, President of the Hudson Valley Area Labor Federation. "For middle class families the cost of living has increased dramatically while their pay has remained the same in order to provide for their families and rebuild our economy workers need a livable wage and $15 an hour is a good start." 1199 SEIU Executive Vice President Greg Speller said, "It's a moral imperative that healthcare workers, the people we count on to care for the injured, the sick, the frail and elderly - are able to provide for themselves and their families at the same time they are caring for ours. It is unacceptable for any working person to live in poverty. It's clear that now is the time to move forward." Ron Diaz, President of the Dutchess County Central Labor Council said, "I know some people will say that raising the minimum wage to any amount will hurt our economy and cut jobs. However, research has shown that raising the minimum wage boosts incomes for low-wage workers with little to no adverse impacts on employment levels. We also know that these workers will use the boost in their pay and dump it right back into the U.S. economy. This is a win win for all."

February 3, 2016

Right-to-work measure headed for Virginia ballot

Source: Laura Vozzella, Washington Post

The House and Senate passed resolutions Tuesday that will let voters decide whether the state's right-to-work laws should be enshrined in the Virginia Constitution. The Republican-backed measures passed both chambers without a single Democratic vote, clearing the last major hurdle in the two-year process to get on the ballot. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) will not have an opportunity to weigh in on the measures, which, as resolutions, are not sent to his desk. House and Senate officials said they expect the proposed constitutional amendment to be on the November ballot over the objections of some registrars concerned that ballot questions in 2016 will slow down voting during a high-turnout presidential election year. In the Senate, the measure prompted a heated argument that highlighted the GOP's distrust of Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D). Herring has been a hero to liberal Democrats and a flash point for the GOP since he declined to defend the state's ban on same-sex marriage shortly after taking office in January 2014. He later extended in-state tuition to certain illegal immigrants and took action on abortion clinics and guns, further inflaming Republicans. Democrats said there is no need to amend the Constitution because state law has a right-to-work statute, which bans making union membership a condition of employment. But the sponsor of the Senate legislation, Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham), argued that future general assemblies and the current attorney general could not be trusted to support the right-to-work law that has been on Virginia's books for decades. Obenshain, who narrowly lost the 2013 race for attorney general to Herring, noted that Herring had filed a brief on behalf of teachers' unions in a California right-to-work case. Other Republicans made a broader case against Herring based on his actions in other areas, including same-sex marriage and gun policy.

Uber Drivers and Others in the Gig Economy Take a Stand

Source: Noam Scheiber, New York Times

Last September, Dallas-area drivers for UberBlack, the company's high-end car service, received an email informing them that they would be expected to start picking up passengers on UberX, its low-cost option. The next day, when the policy was scheduled to go into effect, dozens of drivers caravaned to Uber's office in downtown Dallas and planted themselves outside until company officials met with them. Many had taken out loans to buy luxury vehicles that cost upward of $35,000, and worried that the modest per-mile rate for UberX passengers would barely cover gas and wear and tear, to say nothing of their car payments. The standoff stretched across nearly three more tense days until Uber allowed them to opt out of the policy. "They thought we were just going to give up, walk away," said Kirubel Kebede, a leader of the group. "But we said, 'No, this is our livelihood.'" In the rapid growth of the online gig economy, many workers have felt squeezed and at times dehumanized by a business structure that promises independence but often leaves them at the mercy of increasingly powerful companies. Some are beginning to band together in search of leverage and to secure what they see as fairer treatment from the platforms that make the work possible. "We started realizing we're not contractors, we're more like employees," said Berhane Alemayoh, one of the UberBlack drivers in Dallas. "They tell us what kind of car to drive. They kick you out if a customer accused you of not having a clean car. They started to tighten the rope. Gradually, we can't breathe any more." Perhaps the most prominent effort was a measure to give ride-hailing drivers the right to unionize in Seattle, which was approved by the City Council in December. But while many campaigns by alienated workers have shunned this more traditional labor-organizing approach, they have highlighted a basis for advancing the interests of gig economy workers collectively. "There's a sense of workplace identity and group consciousness despite the insistence from many of these platforms that they are simply open 'marketplaces' or 'malls' for digital labor," said Mary L. Gray, a researcher at Microsoft Research and professor in the Media School at Indiana University who studies gig economy workers.

'Forked' Rates Restaurants On How They Treat Their Workers

Source: Tracie McMillan, NPR

Saru Jayaraman may be restaurant obsessed, but don't call her a foodie. She's the founding director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national organization that advocates for better wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. She's also published several studies in legal and policy journals as director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley. The combination of grassroots and ivory tower makes Jayaraman arguably one of the country's leading experts on what it's like to live as a restaurant worker in America. She's someone celebrity restaurateur Danny Meyer turned to as he decided to banish tipping at some of his restaurants to try and close the pay gap between what his servers and dishwashers make. Jayaraman's second book, Forked: A New Standard for American Dining, published Feb. 1, features 14 case studies and rankings of the working conditions at eateries ranging from greasy spoon diners to coffee shops, white tablecloth places to national chains like Olive Garden. On one end, workers get tipped minimum wage as low as $2.13 an hour, sexual harassment from customers, unpaid sick days and no opportunity for mobility. That, writes Jayaraman, is the "low road." But, as Jayaraman argues in her profiles of "high-road" employers, restaurants can be both profitable and good places to work, too. We spoke to her about what she's learned in her deep dive into the industry. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

February 2, 2016

Black America and the Class Divide

Source: Henry Louis Gates Jr., New York Times

In 1903, W. E. B. Du Bois, the leading scholar of the first half of the 20th century, defined the urgency of black social responsibility in his famous essay "The Talented Tenth" 10 being the percentage of the African-American demographic needed to lead the race into an integrated, equal America. In "The Talented Tenth," Du Bois called for "intelligent leadership" directed by "college-trained men" devoted to a "thorough understanding of the mass of Negroes and their problems" for the purpose of solving these problems, still so deeply entrenched a half century after the abolition of slavery. Forty-five years later, Du Bois would lament, this call had been largely ignored. He worried aloud about the growing class divide within Black America and how the consequences of that divide might affect the task of "lifting as we climb," the motto of the National Association of Colored Women's Clubs, describing the privilege and burden of the middle class to facilitate black upward mobility. Indeed, by 1948 Du Bois felt that the new black middle class had forgotten this noble calling. There had been, even during his college days at Fisk, troublesome warning signs: "sharp young persons, who received the education given very cheaply at Fisk University, with the distinct and single-minded idea, of seeing how much they could make out of it for themselves, and nobody else." Du Bois knew, of course, that any black person at that time had to struggle to tear down barriers just to lift oneself and one's family. But that was not enough: Successful black people, he said, must recognize that their place in life was merely a matter of opportunity. "If such opportunity were extended and broadened, a thousand times as many Negroes could join the ranks of the educated and able, instead of sinking into poverty, disease, and crime." Du Bois also knew that Black America had never consisted of one social or economic class. Even before the outbreak of the Civil War, about 11 percent of Black America was free, some born into families that had been free for generations. And in 1899, when Du Bois published his seminal sociological study, "The Philadelphia Negro," he was already noting that these two classes had morphed into four: the middle class and above, working people ("fair to comfortable"), the poor and, in terms his Victorian contemporaries would have approved of, the "vicious and criminal classes."

Some Uber Drivers Strike To Protest Company's Fare Cuts

Source: Diane Macedo, Marla Diamond, and Sonia Rincon, CBS News

More than 100 Uber drivers upset about the company's recent fare cuts went on strike Monday, and they've urged all other drivers to join them. The striking drivers said Uber continues to cut into their earningswithout cutting into its own take from each ride. They say the company needs to either raise the fares again, lower its commission, or ideally both, CBS2's Diane Macedo reported. Uber cut its prices by 15 percent last week, saying the fare reduction would mean more work for drivers. The base fare on UberX dropped from $3 to $2.55, with the per mile rate going from $2.15 to $1.75. UberXL saw drops of similar levels. The striking drivers chanted "Shame on Uber" and "Respect the Drivers" at a protest Monday outside Uber's office in Long Island City, 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported. Many protesters held signs saying, "We made you billionaires, you're making us homeless." "Uber used to charge $3 a mile. There used to be 10 percent commission," said Uber driver Inder Parmer. "They dropped the price to $2.55. The commission was increased to 20 percent. Now the commission is getting increased to 25 percent, and the price is getting dropped by another 15 percent. I would just ask American public if their salary is decreased by 45 percent in two years, how will they feel?" Josh Mohrer, Uber New York general manager, said more demand will mean less idle time for drivers."That can go down enough. The lower fare's not going to matter. That's basically what we'll be looking for," Mohrer told CBS2. "And also since we cut prices last time, our outer-borough business has more than doubled." Some drivers agree, while others don't. "I definitely feel like we're gonna get busy, we're gonna get whatever money we need, and everybody is going to be happy," Adalgisa Sanchez said. "With these prices, I won't do it. I'm going to quit," driver Rafael Espinal said.

Chicago Teachers Union bargaining team rejects contract offer

Source: Juan Perez Jr., Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Teachers Union rejected a four-year contract offer from the city, with union leaders saying they approved of certain provisions in the proposal but were concerned about the cash-strapped district's ability to enforce the deal. "The real problem is the lack of trust in CPS," CTU President Karen Lewis told reporters gathered at the union's Merchandise Mart headquarters. Contract talks, which have now gone on for more than a year, will move into a final fact-finding stage that must proceed a potential strike. A deal could be reached during that process. "There were a lot of things that were great," Lewis said of the city's offer. "I'm not going to tell you they weren't. However, the things that will affect the classrooms the most especially around the budget were the ones that were concerning to people." The union said its 40-member "Big Bargaining Team" rejected the deal unanimously, and posted a video to YouTube that showed members applauding after the vote. The offer from Chicago Public Schools would bar economic layoffs and provide some moderate pay increases, sources said last week. It would put a cap on privately run charter schools, although the union noted Monday that a state commission can override the district on charters. In exchange, union members would have to make concessions that included paying more toward their pensions and health care expenses.

February 1, 2016

As USC faculty awaits results of a union vote, some hope for 'a bigger voice'

Source: Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

Nate Heneghan was optimistic about his fledgling academic career when he joined USC's teaching ranks last fall as a lecturer in the department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. But after just one semester in the job, disillusionment had set in. His paychecks weren't arriving on time. The university eliminated his vision insurance benefits. To make ends meet, he took on a crushing teaching load. That meant putting his research on the back burner along with any hope of landing a tenure-track faculty position that would bring a measure of job security and higher pay. The way out of this dead-end spiral, he hopes, is to unionize. Heneghan is one of about 430 non-tenure-track faculty members who will decide whether to be represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 721. Ballots have been cast, and results will be announced Tuesday. "I feel like a union would give us a bigger voice," Heneghan said. Concerns about low pay, large workloads and a lack of job security have prompted non-tenure-track employees at private colleges and universities around the nation to consider unionizing to improve their working conditions. Adjunct faculty at Georgetown University unionized in 2013, and Tufts University full-time faculty organized last February. If union supporters such as Heneghan win a majority of votes, USC will become one of the largest private universities to have organized faculty. The organizing effort at USC is "a clear sign" that the trend "is continuing to grow nationwide, not slowing down," said William A. Herbert, the executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College in New York. Faculty unions are common at public universities, including the Cal State and UC systems. That's because, in part, unions are able to wield political pressure to ensure they have a role on campus, experts said. The service employees union has been trying to get a foot in the door at USC for about a year. Its focus is on non-tenure-track faculty members, especially lecturers such as Heneghan, in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Roski School of Art and Design, and the USC International Academy. Lecturers are generally responsible for leading discussion groups and teaching some classes, in addition to grading papers. Unlike their counterparts on the tenure track, they are not evaluated on the basis of their research. Lecturers are paid about $30,000 annually if they teach a full-time course load of six courses, union officials say, athough USC officials say the number is much higher. A survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that lecturers earn nearly $70,000, and that professors on the tenure track earn an annual salary of $90,000 to $102,000. And while USC has to build a case against a professor it wants to fire, non-tenure-track faculty members can be let go before the end of their contracts if they get a warning 90 days in advance.

What Economists Got Wrong About Free Trade

Source: Gillian B. White, Atlantic

As trade has become a more and more integral part of the global economy, accepted economic wisdom has asserted again and again that overall, free trade is a good thing. Because trade brings so much in the way of competitive pricing and opportunities to buy and sell goods on a more massive scale, the drawbacks that come with it job losses and declining wages for instance are often thought to be outweighed. Further, there's a belief that some of these downsides aren't even the direct consequences of trade. Proponents of free trade argue that the decline of American manufacturing jobs isn't the result of increased trade, but of a larger shift in the nation's economy toward higher-skilled jobs. They also point out that the growth of wage inequality hasn't corresponded perfectly with the expansion of global trade. At any rate, whatever their cause, the drawbacks of trade are regarded as not so severe that they can't be overcome; it's assumed that workers who find themselves in a region whose jobs are vulnerable to foreign competition could simply move and find a job somewhere else. But a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that workers' ability to relocate may be overstated, and that the negative impacts of large trade deals may be more significant than previously thought. To illustrate just how persistent the ill effects of trade could be, the authors, M.I.T.'s David H. Autor, UCSD's Gordon H. Hanson, and the University of Zurich's David Dorn of the University of Zurich, examine what happened to workers in certain parts of the U.S. after China's massive trade expansion. They found that what's thought of as workers' main recourse the desire and ability to pack up and move to a new city with more jobs isn't really all that dependable. Within the manufacturing-heavy regions of the Southeast and the Midwest, the influx of Chinese imports hit the furniture and textile industries hard. Standard economic wisdom would suggest that after an initial decline, many workers who specialized in the areas hurt by growing imports would simply leave, mitigating their losses.

Sick-leave discussions reveal deep divisions in Tucson

Source: Christianna Silva , Arizona Daily Star

Dozens of Tucsonans filled a hearing room to share their concerns about a new proposal: earned sick and safe time for employees of all businesses within Tucson city limits. The discussion, which in three public hearings has devolved into name-calling and crying, has two polarized sides digging in. The side opposing the proposal says it is an egregious government overstep that will hurt the very people it was designed to help. Supporters say it is a human-rights issue for parents and workers, and a public health issue for all of Tucson. Councilwoman Regina Romero of Ward 1 recommended the proposal. It would require all businesses within Tucson city limits to give workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours work. After 90 days of employment, workers could begin accumulating paid sick leave and could use up to 40 hours a year at a small business with fewer than 10 employees, or up to 56 hours per year at a larger business. Workers would not be required to find someone to cover their shifts while using sick time. The final of three public hearings to discuss the potential proposal was Thursday. No decisions have been made. After the public hearing, stakeholders sent their ideas for next steps to the city manager, Michael Ortega, who will create a report on the outcome of the three meetings. There's no sign the City Council will take action any time soon. Councilman Paul Cunningham, of Ward 2, hosted the most recent public hearing. "No matter what happens long term, Tucson will be better after this" for having had a healthy discussion of the issue, Cunningham said. The meeting allowed 26 small-business owners, employees, physicians and concerned citizens two minutes each to comment on the proposal. Of the 26 who spoke, 11 supported the proposal and 15 opposed it. The public comments began with name-calling when Shirley Muney of the American Association of University Women compared employers who don't offer earned safe and sick time to plantation owners in the South. After public comments, 13 stakeholders stated their official positions and discussed recommendations. Many participants hoped to find common ground, but with the divisions so deep, most refused to budge. Fred Ronstadt of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association, representing over 100 small businesses, opposed the proposal. "The city should focus on the things it's responsible for," Ronstadt said. "Stay out of small private businesses." Ronstadt said while the aim of the proposal is to help members of the community with lower income, the proposal would adversely affect them most. Some of the business leaders said there would be fewer jobs, or businesses would move jobs to areas outside city limits.

January 29, 2016

In Iowa, Jobs Are Plentiful but Workers Are Not

Source: Patricia Cohen, New York Times

AMES, Iowa - Unlike the indoor basketball court, foosball tables or fireside lounge at Workiva's sprawling campus here, the oversize green prize wheel centered among a hive of work stations is not meant for break times. "Thirty percent of our recruiting comes from that wheel," said Matthew M. Rizai, chief executive of Workiva, a cloud-based software firm. The hunt for workers is unrelenting, he said. "We always have openings." Workiva is not the only one. "We've run out of people for jobs," said Christopher E. Nelson, chief executive of Kemin Industries, a global agricultural and biotechnology company. At the Des Moines headquarters, where a processing plant can scent the winter air with rosemary or spearmint, there are dozens of positions to fill. "Everything from Ph.D.-level scientists down to factory workers," Mr. Nelson said. The lament is heard again and again from employers across the state, as the presidential caucuses on Monday are shining an intense national spotlight on Iowa. Once the parade moves on, though, the focus will return to the pressing workaday demands of hiring employees, satisfying customers and getting goods out the door. At 3.4 percent, Iowa's unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country. With major metropolitan areas crowded with hard-hat construction sites painting an alluring picture of steady economic progress, business leaders here retain a sunny optimism that is rarely heard from the presidential candidates. But now that Iowa has achieved a tightening labor market that is the envy of most other states, many companies are confronted with a different set of challenges pushing them to rethink everything from recruiting to economic development. These include the fraught questions surrounding immigration. Iowa is home to United States Representative Steve King, the Republican anti-immigrant firebrand, and the kind of anxieties that he champions pop up in political advertisements in a state where roughly nine of every 10 residents are white.

Legislators organize blitz of equal-pay legislation in nearly half the states

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Sometimes, state-based legislative change seems to be an incremental thing, with bills trickling through state houses across the country so slowly that a casual observer wouldn't notice which is often what backers of such campaigns would prefer. And then there's the supernova approach. That's what a coalition of progressive and women's empowerment groups are trying this week around the issue of equal pay, advancing bills in nearly half the states at once from Alaska to Kansas in a bid to elevate solutions to America's nagging gender pay disparity at a time when little seems likely to happen in Congress. "We decided that because legislators have been asking for it, let's try to make a coordinated effort around this to try to nationalize the issue," said Nick Rathod, director of the State Innovation Exchange, a three-year-old network of progressive state legislators. On the menu of policy ideas that a state legislature might decide to take on, equal pay is relatively low-hanging fruit. It polls well most people say they want everybody to receive the same compensation for similar work and there are several options for how to address it, from simply increasing penalties for violations of existing laws to requiring minimum salaries on job postings, so that women and people of color can't be lowballed.

How Many Workers Will the Cadillac Tax Hit?

Source: Nora Kelly, Atlantic

The term "Cadillac tax" is evocative: It suggests that the health-insurance plans it would tax-through a provision in the Affordable Care Act-are to regular health insurance as a Cadillac is to a Kia. President Obama once described the levy as targeting "really fancy [health insurance] plans that end up driving up costs." But what many Americans may not realize is that "Cadillac tax" is in part a misnomer. While some plans that qualify for the tax may be high-end with extra benefits, or "really fancy," not all of them are. Nor is every employee with an expensive plan a corporate executive. Over time, the number of Americans affected by the tax is expected to increase, as is the revenue the government expects to raise from their plans. The tension between the tax's supporters and its opponents is over whether this growing pool is a positive thing for the U.S. health-care system in the long run, or whether it's prohibitively costly. Supporters of the tax claim it will hit only "extensive union plans" or "very rich plans," says James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, a member of an anti-Cadillac-tax advocacy group. "But the reality of it is: It's going to affect plans that are expensive, not necessarily the ones that are the most comprehensive." Advocates like Klein contend that some plans are pricey through "no fault" of insurance-plan sponsors or the workers who have them; cohorts with more ill, disabled, or older workers often have more expensive plans, for example, as do people living in regions with high health-care costs, like Alaska and California. Plans that cover families who have experienced "unfortunate, catastrophic" health events can be pricey, too.

January 28, 2016

Iowa Fast-Food Workers Seeking $15 Wage to Strike Ahead of Republican Debate

Source: Emily Greenhouse, NPR

On the day of the final Republican debate before the pivotal Iowa caucus, fast-food workers will be staging their first-ever strike in the state, demanding a $15-per-hour minimum wage and union rights. "Forty-eight percent of workers in Iowa are paid less than $15 an hour," Kendall Fells, national organizing director of the Fight for $15 movement, told Bloomberg. "That's one of the highest shares in any of the country, so it's an ideal place to be organizing." The one-day strike, which seeks to gain media attention by being held the same day as the Republican debate, aims to win a $15 minimum wage and the right to form a union without retaliation for fast-food and other low-wage workers across the country, Fells said.The bulk of the Republican candidates consider the group's demand for a wage that more than doubles the federal minimum wage currently $7.25 an hour as too radical. But in recent years, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and several other cities have voted to adopt a $15 minimum wage. The Democratic Party, meanwhile, has added a $15 hourly national minimum wage to its national platform. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic senators including Elizabeth Warren, Chuck Schumer, and Kirsten Gillibrand have voiced support for the movement. And last November three years after the campaign's launch, in New York New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that he would raise the minimum wage for all New York state workers to $15. (This only eight months after he had called fast-food workers' identical demand "too high," and named $10.50 as a reasonable alternative.)

Guest Workers, Legal Yet Not Quite Free, Pick Florida's Oranges

Source: Dan Charles, NPR

In citrus-growing areas, you see lots of old converted school buses on the road; these are company buses, carrying the workers who will harvest oranges and grapefruit. And in the evening, some of those buses roll into a truck stop on a two-lane country road south of the town of LaBelle. Young men scramble out, trot into the store and line up at the taco counter. This is where I met Esteban Gonzalez and his brother Isaac, from the Mexican state of Veracruz. They are part of a small army of "guest" workers who now pick most of Florida's citrus crop. Employers are allowed to bring in such seasonal farm workers from other countries using a category of visa called H-2A. For employers, the program involves some extra costs: They have to provide free housing for H-2A workers, and cover the costs of transportation here. They also have to pay a wage that the federal government considers fair. But the good thing if you're an employer is that workers on H-2As are only allowed to work for you. And this is the reason that the H-2A program has become increasingly popular, especially among citrus growers. The way Justin Sorrells tells the story it began with a single moment, 17 years ago. "We were harvesting one of our family groves, with a harvesting crew," Sorrells says, "and directly across the street, there was another grove owner who was having trouble getting labor. So he walked across the street, went to our harvest crew, and offered them a nickel more per box to pick his oranges instead of ours. And the crew did that." "And that was the day my father said, 'This is it. We have got to have more reliability in our labor force,' " Sorrells says.

Franchise Operators Ask High Court to Hear Minimum Wage Challenge

Source: Kate Rogers, NBC News

The International Franchise Association, the industry's largest trade group, wants the Supreme Court to take up its challenge to portions of Seattle's $15 minimum wage law. Seattle's City Council in June 2014 voted to raise the minimum wage in increments, hitting $15 an hour by 2017 for businesses with at least 500 staffers. The $15 level is more than double the federal hourly minimum of $7.25. The International Franchise Association and five Seattle franchisees quickly sued Seattle, which like New York City has moved to treat smaller franchised businesses like larger companies. They argued that the mandated $15 pay unfairly lumps franchised businesses with large employers. The association and franchisees want to be recognized as smaller businesses to get more time to raise pay incrementally to $15 by 2021. "Our appeal has never sought to prevent the City of Seattle's wage law from going into effect," franchise association President Robert Cresanti said in a statement this week. "Our appeal to the Supreme Court will be focused solely on the discriminatory treatment of franchisees under Seattle's wage law and the motivation to discriminate against interstate commerce." The association said a response is due from the city of Seattle within 30 days, and the Supreme Court is expected to announce this spring whether it will hear the case.

January 27, 2016

Obama's new plan would help small business workers save for retirement

Source: Jonnelle Marte, Washington Post

President Obama's latest budget proposals will include provisions that could make it easier to save for retirement by tackling one of the largest obstacles workers face: access to retirement plans. The president's proposals, which will be included in his 2017 budget plan, would make savings account plans more available to workers by lowering the costs for small businesses. It also introduces more options for people who don't currently have a plan through their employer. For instance, the rule would make it easier for small businesses to come together to split the costs of a retirement plan. Such joint efforts, known as multi-employer pension plans, are already possible but for companies in similar industries. The latest proposal would remove the requirement on industries, making it possible for small businesses in different fields to work together to offer retirement plans to employees. As a plus for savers, those workers who change jobs to work with another company participating in the group plan would be able to keep the same account. Obama's proposal would also triple the tax break offered to small businesses that start offering retirement plans to $1,500 a year for up to three years. Those companies that began to automatically enroll workers into the savings plans, eliminating the inertia that often keeps savers from opening the accounts, would get a tax credit of $500 per year for up to three years. By reducing the costs of offering retirement accounts for small businesses, Obama hopes to make it easier for more people to set aside money for their later years. Only about half of all workers participate in a retirement plan, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among those who are part time, participation drops to 20 percent of workers, compared to 64 percent of full-time workers, according to the report.

A Surprising Number of America's Mayors Support $15 Minimum Wage

Source: Ben Wofford and Manuela Tobias, Politico

Democratic presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders are struggling to push pocketbook concerns ahead of the hot-button issues such as terrorism that dominate on the GOP side, but surprising numbers of America's most prominent mayors view poverty and a higher minimum wage as priorities for their cities. Nearly two-thirds of mayors surveyed anonymously by Politico say that raising the minimum wage is something they would endorse. A third of them say they would heed the rallying cry of unions and progressives to push the wage as high as $15. They just don't say it out loud. This snapshot of thinking inside the executive offices of America's cities comes from POLITICO Magazine's fourth national Mayors Survey, part of the award-winning What Works series. The survey of 73 mayors, the largest response yet, clearly showed that even while city CEOs are still predominantly optimistic about the state of their local economies, doubts are creeping in. Though not scientific nearly three-quarters of the respondents were Democrat and 16 percent Republican the answers of the survey revealed 71 percent of them felt their cities were better off now than six months ago. But that rosy outlook has dimmed somewhat since the last quarterly survey when more than three-quarters of the mayors felt their economic pictures improving. Asked to weigh in on news of jittery markets and global aftershocks, nearly half of mayors (48 percent) said they were worried about potential ramifications in their urban economies. (A third described themselves as largely unworried.)

Uber, Lyft put pressure on taxi companies

Source: Kate Rogers, NBC News

The competition is as fierce as ever in the for-hire transportation industry, as Uber and Lyft continue to put pressure on traditional taxi companies. On Tuesday, San Francisco's largest taxi operator, Yellow Cab Cooperative, is scheduled to have its first bankruptcy hearing after the company filed for Chapter 11 protection Friday. The operator has been struggling with declining ridership and increased competition from the two big for-hire driver start-ups. While Uber and Lyft may have contributed to increased competition for the cab cooperative, the start-ups were not the sole cause of the filing, according to the cooperative's bankruptcy attorney, Gary M. Kaplan. "It's a business reality, there is competition there," Kaplan told CNBC. "But it's incorrect to make it sound as if this is the result of Uber and Lyft. The company operationally does fine and is still operational," he said. "It does not want to lose drivers and passengers to the competition; it wants to operate business as usual." At the core of the bankruptcy were pending lawsuits and a recent verdict of $8 million in court, Kaplan said. The company was not covered as it was "self-insured," he added. Uber declined to comment, and representatives from Lyft were not immediately available for comment on the Yellow Cab Cooperative's bankruptcy filing.

January 26, 2016

Lawsuits Claim Disney Colluded to Replace U.S. Workers With Immigrants

Source: Julia Preston, New York Times

Even after Leo Perrero was laid off a year ago from his technology job at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. and spent his final months there training a temporary immigrant from India to do his work he still hoped to find a new position in the vast entertainment company. But Mr. Perrero discovered that despite his high performance ratings, he and most of the other 250 tech workers Disney dismissed would not be rehired for at least a year, and probably never. Now he and Dena Moore, another American laid off by Disney at that time, have filed lawsuits in federal court in Tampa, Fla., against Disney and two global consulting companies, HCL and Cognizant, which brought in foreign workers who replaced them. They claim the companies colluded to break the law by using temporary H-1B visas to bring in immigrant workers, knowing that Americans would be displaced. "I don't have to be angry or cause drama," said Ms. Moore, 53, who had worked at Disney for 10 years. "But they are just doing things to save a buck, and it's making Americans poor." Ms. Moore had also trained her replacement. After she was laid off, she applied for more than 150 other jobs at Disney. She did not get one. The lawsuits by Mr. Perrero and Ms. Moore, who each filed a separate but similar complaint on Monday seeking class-action status, represent the first time Americans have gone to federal court to sue both outsourcing companies that imported immigrants and the American company that contracted with those businesses, claiming that they collaborated intentionally to supplant Americans with H-1B workers. A furor over the layoffs in Orlando last January brought to light many other episodes in which American workers, mainly in technology but also in accounting and administration, said they had lost jobs to foreigners on H-1B visas, and had to train replacements as a condition of their severance. The foreign workers, mostly from India, were provided by outsourcing companies, including the two named in the lawsuits, which have dominated the H-1B visa system, packing the application process to win an outsize share of the quota set by Congress of 85,000 visas each year.

DeLeo: State won't debate boost to $15 anytime soon

Source: Donna Goodison, Boston Herald

Boston business groups yesterday welcomed House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo's remarks that he won't be pushing to boost the state's minimum wage anytime soon after the Legislature's recent vote to hike the hourly rate to $11 by 2017. DeLeo's comments come amid a national union-backed "Fight for $15" movement to raise the minimum hourly rate for low-wage workers, and follow Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh's announcement that he would form a task force of business and labor to study a $15-an-hour minimum wage for Boston. "I quite frankly can't see us revisiting that particular issue," DeLeo told State House News Thursday. "Obviously it sounds good, and a lot of folks, I think, deserve that $15 an hour. Having said that, we just went through an extensive … debate on this issue, wherein we came up with a formula, which was accepted by all folks, and it made Massachusetts the highest minimum wage in the nation." DeLeo has adopted a "very prudent approach" to the state's minimum wage, said Christopher Geehern, spokesman for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the state's largest employer group. "We are, after all, in the middle of a three-year stepped increase in the minimum wage, so I think it's wise to let employers particularly small employers try to absorb those increases before we start ... talking about $15 an hour." Facing pressure from a statewide ballot campaign, the Legislature in 2014 voted three $1 increases to move the minimum wage from $8 to $9 in 2015 the first increase since 2006 and $10 on Jan. 1. The last hike to $11 takes effect in 2017, a rate expected to be the highest state minimum wage in the nation.

Labor Goes South

Source: Justin Miller, The American Prospect

At the AFL-CIO's 2013 convention in Los Angeles, the Savannah, Georgia, Regional Central Labor Council offered a resolution with a rather simple message: Quit messing around and get serious about organizing the South. Global corporations were flooding into the region, the council argued, paying workers wages so low they were bringing down pay in the North as well as the South. It was time, they said, for the labor movement to come up with a concerted effort to rebuild power in the South. The resolution emerged from years of frustration. With organizing in decline across the nation, and with the traditionally anti-union South becoming only more so, American labor had largely abandoned the South even though the region was becoming more ethnically diverse and its cities more liberal. Across the South, labor "was not there, and we felt it needed to be," says Brett Hulme, president of the Savannah council. But this time the national movement responded, passing the resolution, making a commitment to a new "Southern Strategy" one of the AFL-CIO's priorities. Also at that convention, Tefere Gebre, an Ethiopian refugee and California labor leader, was elected AFL-CIO executive vice president and has since become one of labor's foremost proponents of a new Southern strategy. "As trade unionists, if we have to fix what ails us, we have to go where it's the hardest to function," says Gebre, who now spends much of his time traversing the South. "Unless we raise wages and fight in the South, I don't think we're safe in the North or the Midwest or anywhere else. What happens in the South sooner or later comes to the rest of the country." Since that 2013 resolution, some signs of life have emerged from the Southern labor movement not so much in workplace organizing, but in political victories at the municipal level. The AFL-CIO has targeted five Southern "mega-cities" as starting points for building up progressive power hubs. From the Piedmont to the Gulf Coast, emboldened by the surprising momentum of the Fight for $15, Southern cities are passing local wage ordinances in states that have no chance of getting the wage hiked at the state level. (Indeed, the five states with no minimum-wage laws are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee.) Labor strategists, accordingly, are looking toward the future, thinking carefully about how to translate rapidly shifting demographics into a new Southern political paradigm.

January 25, 2016

Detroit teacher: 'Why is separate and unequal okay in 2016?'

Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

Detroit teachers, prevented by law from striking, have been staging a series of "sick outs" in recent weeks to call attention to the miserable conditions in which they work and students are forced to come and supposedly learn. As my colleague Emma Brown wrote in this story: Teachers say they are fed up with working in schools that aren't fit for them or their students. Classrooms are plagued by rats, roaches, mold, ceilings full of holes and unreliable heat. Teachers don't have textbooks or other supplies they need to teach, they say, and they haven't had a raise in 10 years. Most of the city's public schools have been forced to close on days of the sickouts, and the Detroit public school system filed a legal injunction asking that the teachers be prohibited from continuing these actions. On Jan. 21, an injunction was denied by the Michigan Court of Claims, but district officials plan to push again for one next week. Here's a piece by a Detroit teacher explaining just how hard it is to work and study in the conditions that exist now in Detroit public schools. She is Shalon Miller, who has taught in Detroit schools for 15 years and is now teaching at the Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody. I love being a teacher in Detroit Public Schools, challenges and all. But when those who control the schools allow them to deteriorate to the point where the conditions are a distraction to learning, it really makes you question how much they really care about the kids.

For Many Workers, Staying Home Is Not an Option During Blizzard

Source: Rick Rojas and Emily Palmer, New York Times

There were the workers who boarded a Manhattan-bound subway train before sunrise in boots and denim shirts, looking for a place to sit between the men sprawled out and sleeping on the benches who had no other place to spend the night. There was the bartender waiting and waiting at a bus stop in Queens who was considering giving up and calling his boss to say he could not come in. And there was the superintendent of an apartment building who is usually off on Saturdays but was outside the building, the wind hitting his face, as he tried and failed to make a dent with his shovel in the accumulating snow. "The snow took my day off," said Krzysztof Prostko, 58, who had been working at the building on the Upper West Side since 7 a.m. For many, the storm could not be more perfectly timed. The snow started falling in force early Saturday, making for a weekend of bundling up at home and catching up on novels neglected on the bedside table or working through a backlog of films on Netflix. School was not a concern, and for many 9-to-5 professionals, neither was work. But this is New York City, where the grind never stops. On the streets on Saturday, pushing their way through wind-driven snow, were police officers and snowplow drivers, restaurant workers and store clerks all headed to work, if not already on the job. For them, staying in was not an option.

Meet the attorney suing Uber, Lyft, GrubHub and a dozen California tech firms

Source: Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times

Shannon Liss-Riordan made a name for herself defending workers against FedEx, American Airlines and Starbucks in wage and hour lawsuits. If you're a business executive and she's knocking at your door, it probably means your company has been accused of doing something few Americans have much tolerance for: ripping off the little guy. So, if you're an executive in Silicon Valley where businesses are lauded for disrupting the old way of doing things, tearing down the hierarchies of the past, making the world a better place you'd think you'd get a pass, right? Hardly. After slapping on-demand transportation company Uber with a class-action lawsuit over driver misclassification in 2013, the Boston lawyer has been busy, filing a dozen similar lawsuits against California tech firms. Silicon Valley companies may think they're a breed apart, but to Liss-Riordan, too many of them are too similar to the big corporations she's fought in the past, companies she says flout labor laws for profit at the expense of low-wage workers. Where some see Silicon Valley innovation, Liss-Riordan sees an old power struggle, wrapped in an app. Liss-Riordan hasn't kept track of how many miles she's logged between Boston and San Francisco since she started litigating against companies in the on-demand economy. But she's now treated as a regular at the federal courthouse in San Francisco, where she's often seen dragging a roller bag of legal documents in and out of the towering gray building. An opposing attorney in one of her cases saw her around so much he challenged whether she should be allowed to file so many lawsuits in the state when she isn't a member of the State Bar of California. If he'd hoped to deter her, it didn't work. Liss-Riordan responded by registering to take the California bar exam in February. Once admitted, she plans to open an office in San Francisco. Liss-Riordan carries herself more like an activist than a lawyer. At first, she comes off as approachable, friendly even. But her partner at Boston law firm Lichten & Liss-Riordan, Harold Lichten, describes her as having the heart of a grass-roots organizer with the tenacity of "a pit bull with a Chihuahua in its mouth." She knows her stuff and can get really academic, but without making people feel dumb. Opponents have accused her of being opportunistic and taking advantage of young companies who don't know legal rules. She counters by saying that the cases she's filing aren't about semantics. They're about people getting ripped off.

January 22, 2016

To retain drivers, some trucking companies try giving them a voice on the job

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Russell Walker, a 50-year-old truck driver from Louisiana, is the first to admit that his profession spending sometimes weeks away from home, getting paid by the mile no matter how long you spend sitting in traffic has its hardships. "I told my father I would never drive a truck," Walker says. "But this idiot's been driving a truck for 22 years now." Over the past few years, though, Walker thinks he's found a way to make it at least a little better: At the invitation of the company he works for as an independent contractor, Little Rock, Ark.-based Central Hauling, he helped form an advisory board of nine drivers to represent the concerns of all 256 people in the fleet. The council now meets a few times a year with management to talk over issues such as safety, pay and driver training. "We can't all talk together, so we had to come up with the voice of the contractors," Walker says. "We're not a union" independent contractors legally can't form one "we just had to get together and say, 'This is our company as well.'" More than a voice, the council has developed training modules to help drivers manage the business aspects of being an independent contractor, like keeping up with truck payments and minimizing fuel costs. And council members often field calls from colleagues who have issues while they're out on the road, or even just when they're lonely. Walker said the council has helped the drivers feel connected to the business. "You're not going to leave Central Hauling because you weren't treated fairly, or you didn't have the resources to be successful," Walker says. That solves a key problem for Central Hauling, as well. General manager Bobby McElyea credits the council with the fact that, in an industry grappling with about 100 percent turnover every year, Central Hauling finished out 2015 at only half as much which lowers recruiting costs, without having to woo drivers with more expensive perks. "I think that's a huge success for our company," McElyea says.

Older Drivers Hit the Road for Uber and Lyft

Source: Elizabeth Olson, New York Times

When Carol Sue Johnson, 73, wheels her silver Mazda S.U.V. out of her driveway in suburban Minneapolis, she doesn't know how much money she will make driving for the ride-hailing service Uber, but she's sure she will have an adventure. Her passengers run the gamut, she said, from three visiting Chinese business executives who were surprised to see a female driver, to teenagers needing a ride to hockey practices or games. When one group of teenagers "started to get too rowdy," said Ms. Johnson, who goes by Sue, "one of them told the others to stop because 'Grandma's in the car.'" Ms. Johnson is among a growing number of older Americans who are driving for Uber or its competitor Lyft to augment their retirement income. Some drivers say it is a great chance to be independent and earn extra cash on their own schedule. But others, including some drivers, say it is exploitation of older people who work as independent contractors, without any benefits, because their age means they have a harder time finding full-time employment. Many retirees, like Ms. Johnson, drive part time, about 20 to 30 hours a week; others may drive full time, which in many ways takes them out of the fully retired category. Drivers are in such demand that last July Uber and Life Reimagined, a subsidiary of AARP, the organization for people over 50, formed a partnership to recruit more people as drivers. They are trying to tap into the 50-and-older work force, a segment that is growing steadily, according to an AARP report released last year. As the population ages and more baby boomers challenge traditional retirement norms, the number of older workers should continue to rise. One reason is that many people are leaving the full-time work force with less money than they need to support themselves at a comfortable standard of living. Uber, which surveyed drivers in 2014 and 2015, found that nearly one-fourth of its drivers were 50 or older.

Wal-Mart strikes lawful, must reinstate workers: NLRB judge

Source: Nathan Layne, Reuters

Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) unlawfully retaliated against workers who participated in strikes in 2013 and must offer to reinstate 16 dismissed employees, a National Labor Relations Board judge ruled on Thursday.Administrative Law Judge Geoffrey Carter said in a ruling posted on the board's website that the U.S. retailer violated labor law by "disciplining or discharging several associates because they were absent from work while on strike". The ruling was hailed by one labor group as a "huge victory" for employees, although Wal-Mart indicated it would likely appeal the decision to the labor agency's board in Washington, and pointed to its recent efforts to improve worker benefits and raise pay. "We disagree with the Administrative Law Judge's recommended findings and we will pursue all of our options to defend the company because we believe our actions were legal and justified," Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg said. Carter was ruling on a complaint filed by the NLRB on behalf of a union-backed worker group, OUR Walmart, in 2014. Most of the allegations related to a coordinated set of strikes collectively referred to the "Ride for Respect" because they involved traveling by bus to the company's headquarters in Arkansas for protests at its shareholders' meeting in June 2013. Wal-Mart had argued that it was lawful to discipline workers with unexcused absences to participate in the protests because the strikes constituted "intermittent work stoppages" not protected under labor law. But the judge found the "Ride for Respect" differed materially from other previous work stoppages not protected by law because, among other factors, it was not a brief strike meaning the risk for workers was higher and because it was not scheduled close in time with other strikes.

January 21, 2016

Department of Labor sends warning shot to clients of temp staffing agencies

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

The Department of Labor thinks more companies should take responsibility for their contracted workforces, and it's just told them exactly how and when. If there's one trend that's characterized the changing American workforce more than any other in recent decades, it's been the fracturing of the employment relationship, as companies focus on their "core competencies" and pay other businesses to do everything else. Subcontracting, outsourcing, and the use of staffing agencies allows businesses to inexpensively scale up and scale down their labor needs, without the extra hassle and liability of adding payroll. But it also adds another layer between workers and the bosses who call the shots, shielding managers from responsibility when the labor provider doesn't follow the law. Department of Labor' Wage and Hour Division director David Weil, a former business school professor, calls this trend "fissuring." He thinks lots of those client companies should really be considered "joint employers," together with the contractors that sign the checks, making them liable for violations. And Wednesday, his department issued detailed guidance drawing the categories in black and white, sending a message to employers that they had better fall on the right side.

Federal Workplace Law Fails To Protect Employees Left Out Of Workers' Comp

Source: Howard Berkes, NPR

Kevin Schiller had no idea what hit him. With 21 years on the job, the building engineer for Macy's department stores had been in and out of every nook and cranny of many of the retail giant's Texas stores, including the storage room in the Macy's in Denton, Texas. One minute, the stocky, 6'2" Schiller was searching there for a floor drain. The next, he was sprawled on the floor, stunned, confused and bleeding slightly. "All I heard was a loud crack and I found myself looking up on people looking down on me," Schiller recalls more than five years later. "They saw the mannequin hit me in the head and it drove my head into a shelf and then after that my head hit the cement." The mannequin fell 12 feet from the highest shelf. Schiller has hardly worked since, given persistent headaches, memory loss, disorientation and extreme sensitivity to bright light and loud sound. He now has to post notes on the front door and refrigerator of his apartment, reminding him to take medications and keep appointments. He carries a letter from his doctor in case he's stopped by police, which says he may appear drunk due to a head injury.

CPS bankruptcy could void teachers contract, give power to judge

Source: Lauren Fitzpatrick, Chicago Sun-Times

Gov. Bruce Rauner has threatened Chicago Public Schools with bankruptcy and though the proposal he championed via Republican lawmakers is unlikely to pass, if it did, the state's largest school district would make history. No major public school district in the country has gone bankrupt. Should Rauner succeed in changing Illinois law, CPS could be in for a laborious and expensive process that surely would involve more wholesale cuts, all overseen by a federal judge who'd be working in unchartered territory in Illinois. Cities and other public entities are governed by Chapter 9 of the federal bankruptcy code, which helps municipalities restructure their debts. "All legal proceedings stop. Everything goes before the judge," said Saqib Bhatti, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, who directs the progressive ReFund America Project and has examined Detroit's bankruptcy, the largest American city to declare a financial bust. Union contracts could be voided. Pension payments also could be reduced. "When you file bankruptcy, there's a stay on all of your bills" such as payroll and supplies, Bhatti said. "The bankruptcy judge can then authorize which get paid." Someone new needs to run the show. Michigan's governor put an emergency manager in place. Illinois Republican leaders have said that Rauner's appointed State Board of Education would replace Chicago's Board of Education with a new authority to run CPS until the district straightens out its finances, if one of their bills passes. One leader said that proposed board would have expertise in finance and education and some members would be "local." Eventually, an elected school board could be installed, something Emanuel critics including the Chicago Teachers Union and Raise Your Hand have advocated for years. Then the board has to come up with a proposal to restructure CPS. Creditors enter into negotiations. The judge gets final approval.

January 20, 2016

Amazon Veers Into Labor Law Fight Zone for Hurried Deliveries

Source: Edvard Pettersson and Spencer Soper, Bloomberg

Amazon.com Inc.'s Uber-esque foray into ultra-fast delivery has landed it in court with drivers claiming they're being exploited.
It's the same claim facing Uber Technologies Inc. and others using on-demand workers who now insist on being treated like regular employees. The Seattle-based e-commerce pioneer raced ahead anyway, expanding use of independent contractors nationwide to meet a promise to deliver Prime Now orders within two hours.
This method of delivery makes sense for Amazon: it helps the company reduce labor costs while also contending with Uber, Google Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the growing market for gratifying customers who want orders filled instantly. It also carries risks: lawsuits from drivers who say they're mistreated and the ire of regulators seeking to uphold workers' rights.
But the gamble could pay off because there's a legal gray area over how to properly classify and compensate workers that'll take years to sort out. So any penalties will likely be written off as a cost of doing business, labor lawyers say. "When companies are caught misclassifying workers, it's not a huge hit to their pocket book," said Catherine Ruckelshaus, an attorney with the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. "They probably made a calculated decision because the cost of complying is generally what they would have had to pay the workers anyway." Amazon declined to comment on the legal issues around its use of drivers for hire. Amazon has spent a year expanding its same-day delivery service to 24 metropolitan areas covering a population of 75.7 million, almost one in four Americans, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profits from the free two-hour delivery service may be secondary to the long-term goal of signing up customers for the $99-a-year Prime membership, as those subscribers typically spend about twice as much.

Wealth Inequality Rising Fast, Oxfam Says, Faulting Tax Havens

Source: Patricia Cohen, New York Times

Just 62 people own as much wealth as the 3.5 billion people in the bottom half of the world's income scale, the charity Oxfam reported on Monday in its annual study of inequality, which found that the gap between rich and poor has continued to widen at an alarming rate. As recently as five years ago, the fortunes of 388 billionaires were needed to reach that halfway mark. The study released before the world's business and government elite gather at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week noted that a global network of tax havens contributed to the divide by allowing the rich to hide trillions of dollars in assets from their countries' governments. "Tax havens are at the core of a global system that allows large corporations and wealthy individuals to avoid paying their fair share," said Raymond C. Offenheiser, president of Oxfam America, "depriving governments, rich and poor, of the resources they need to provide vital public services and tackle rising inequality." Oxfam said publicly available data on some 200 companies about half of them described by the World Economic Forum as its strategic partners showed that nine out of 10 had a presence in at least one tax haven, including the Cayman Islands and Switzerland itself. The banking sector plays an essential role in the tax-haven issue, the report notes just 50 big banks manage a majority of offshore wealth. At the same time, the financial sector is a prime source of rising inequality; one in five billionaires comes from that industry. The global economy has more than doubled in size in the last 30 years. Its value reached nearly $78 trillion in 2014. But even as countries like China and India have built a vast middle class almost from scratch, those gains have disproportionately flowed to those at the very top of the income ladder. Workers in nearly all of the world's most developed nations and in most developing countries have been getting a smaller and smaller share of the pie, Oxfam notes. In a separate report released on Monday, the Dutch research firm Motivaction International said that at least some of the world's high earners could be recruited to join a campaign to reduce inequality. The firm surveyed more than 48,000 people in 20 countries who are part of the top 5 percent of income earners.

Detroit teachers weigh possibility of more sick-outs

Source: Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press

Detroit Public Schools teachers are cautiously weighing whether to have more sick-outs this week after their mass absences last week which caused dozens of schools to close were successful in prompting officials to take action about dilapidated buildings. John Roach, spokesman for Mayor Mike Duggan, said city workers have begun inspecting about a half-dozen schools. He said the city has issued corrective orders to DPS for problems discovered at one elementary-middle school. Duggan also met privately with teachers over the weekend in an attempt to better understand their concerns, Roach said. The poor conditions at some aging DPS buildings, including broken windows, moldy walls and ceilings and malfunctioning boilers, were thrust into the media spotlight Jan. 11 when hundreds of teachers took the day off in protest. More than 60 schools were closed. Officials from the city's Buildings, Safety, Engineering & Environmental Department started inspecting schools the next day, which was the same day Duggan toured a handful of schools and in one of them spotted a dead mouse. City workers plan to inspect 20 schools by the end of this month. The rest of the district's roughly 100 schools will be inspected by the end of April. In schools where there are concerns about possible environmental hazards, such as mold, the health department will require DPS to undergo independent air quality testing, Roach said late Monday. It's unclear whether any of those tests have been ordered. Roach said late Monday he did not have details about which schools have already been inspected, other than Spain Elementary-Middle School, or what problems inspectors have found. He said the corrective orders issued to DPS were related to Spain. DPS spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski could not immediately be reached for comment late Monday. Meanwhile, DPS teachers are weighing whether to hold another sick-out on Wednesday, the same day President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

January 19, 2016

Case Could Widen Free-Speech Gap Between Unions and Corporations

Source: Adam Liptak, New York Times

The Citizens United decision, which amplified the role of money in American politics, also promised something like a level playing field. Both corporations and unions, it said, could spend what they liked to support their favored candidates. But last week's arguments in a major challenge to public unions illuminated a gap in the Supreme Court's treatment of capital and labor. The court has long allowed workers to refuse to finance unions' political activities. But shareholders have no comparable right to refuse to pay for corporate political speech. At the arguments in the case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, the justices seemed poised to widen that gap by allowing government workers to refuse to support unions' collective bargaining activities, too. The case should prompt a new look at whether the differing treatment of unions and corporations is justified, said Benjamin I. Sachs, a law professor at Harvard. "If we're going to make this opt-out right for workers more and more muscular, which is what is going to happen with Friedrichs," he said, "the question of symmetrical treatment of shareholders just becomes that much more important." The differing treatment is warranted, the Supreme Court has said, because it is hard to change jobs and easy to sell shares, and because shareholders can influence what corporations say. "The disincentives to dissociate are not comparable," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in 1990 in his dissent in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce. "One need not become a member" of a corporation, he said, "in order to earn a living."

Obama unveils new wage insurance proposal for experienced workers

Source: Reuters , Al Jazeera

President Obama on Saturday laid out a plan to help support the income of workers who lose their jobs and end up in lower-paying positions, as part of a push to get unemployed Americans back to work. The proposal would offer experienced workers who now make less than $50,000 a form of wage insurance, allowing them to replace half of their lost pay. The benefit would cover up to $10,000 over two years. "It's a way to give families some stability and encourage folks to rejoin the workforce because we shouldn't just be talking about unemployment; we should be talking about re-employment," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address, broadcast on Saturday. The wage insurance proposal will be included in a broader effort to overhaul the unemployment insurance system. Details about the program's proposed funding will be further outlined in Obama's budget for fiscal year 2017 expected to be released next month. Obama promised in his State of the Union earlier this week to advocate for legislative action on issues with bipartisan support during his last year in office. During the address, he pointed to wage insurance as one measure where lawmakers may be able to work together. The White House plan would require states to provide insurance for workers laid off from jobs they had held for at least three years. The plan would be federally funded but administered through state unemployment insurance programs.

Airport workers plan disruptions in nine U.S. cities on MLK Day

Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post

Workers from nine U.S. airports are planning to block bridges, march through terminals and protest at airline headquarters during a day of civil disobedience on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The workers a mix of cleaners, baggage handlers, fuelers and wheelchair attendants will risk arrest at airports and other locations including the Mall, to bring attention to their campaign for better wages, the Service Employees International Union said. The actions are the latest in the airport workers' campaign for a $15-per-hour minimum wage, a benefits package and job protections. They're also protesting threats against their efforts to unionize. In Washington, Reagan National Airport workers and supporters as many as 200 are planning to block traffic from Independence Avenue SW, near the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at the Mall, in what could potentially cause significant gridlock to a major downtown thoroughfare. The protesters will march from the memorial along Independence Avenue, culminating with the takeover of Kutz Bridge over the Tidal Basin. Actions are also being organized in Boston; New York City; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; Miami; Chicago; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle. "These men and women are calling for real change at all these airports in the hopeful and visionary spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King," said Jaime Contreras, head of 32BJ Service Employees International Union for the Washington area. "We are protesting what we already know is a gross injustice and humiliating working conditions."

January 18, 2016

Why Are So Many Zappos Employees Leaving?

Source: Bourree Lam

The online shoe retailer Zappos has always stood out for its unconventional human-resources philosophy. For nearly a decade the company has been making something it calls "The Offer" to new hires an opportunity to take a $2,000 stipend instead of starting the job. The company prides itself on the attentiveness of its customer service and the devotion of its workers, and "The Offer" is an attempt to weed out those who aren't thrilled about the work ahead. But now, one of the company's unusual approaches has led to what's being called a Zappos exodus, as 18 percent of the company's staff have taken buyouts in the last 10 months. That takes Zappos' turnover rate for 2015 to 30 percent, which is 10 percentage points above their typical annual attrition rate. Why are so many employees leaving? Backtrack to 2013: Tony Hsieh, Zappos's CEO, started promoting a new management structure called holacracy. It's a setup that's supposed to encourage collaboration by eliminating workplace hierarchy meaning no more titles and no more bosses. The system instead asks workers to track all strategy decisions and their outcomes in a web-based app called Glass Frog. Roger Hodge, writing in The New Republic, called it "a radical experiment … to end the office workplace as we know it." But there was a result of holacracy that the company didn't anticipate (but probably should have): confusion. Self-governing produced a bit of a mess, with some workers telling reporters that they weren't sure how to get things done anymore. The New York Times reported last year that those in charge of payroll, for instance, had trouble determining salaries after titles had been banished, and some employees wanted a boss to consult when making important decisions.

The Surprising Reason Women Are Held Back in the Workplace

Source: Melissa Puls, Fortune

When thinking about barriers to female leadership, my mind is immediately flooded by the usual suspects: the patriarchal "boys club," advancement discrimination, compensation inequality, and striking a successful work-life balance. These barriers are very real and thankfully, strong female executives are chipping away at them each year. I like to think we're paving the way for the bright minds climbing today's corporate ranks who will hopefully face fewer of these injustices over time. Which led me to wonder, beyond external barriers, what continues to hold women back? Honestly, it's ourselves. Women can be our own worst enemy but it's a behavior that's completely preventable. Use yourself as an example. The last time you had a professional opportunity arise, was your first instinct to immediately jump in and say "Heck yes, sign me up!", or did you take a long pause to consider how it would impact your family and personal obligations? Be honest now. Too often, women's bold career aspirations fall victim to nurturing instincts. While men seize these career-boosting turns with gusto, women often talk themselves out of them, labelling them as "too risky or burdensome" to the family: Who will pick-up the kids? Feed the family? Clean the house? Instead of speaking with their partners about how a great opportunity can be effectively managed for everyone, we martyr ourselves in silence.

26 Years Later, Scars of a Workplace Massacre Remain

Source: The Associated Press, NBC News

Tammy Thomson switched off the lights and crowded the children into the corner of the classroom. She tried not to think of her father, or that morning 26 years ago. She focused instead on her students and the lock-down drill, this testament to a new American reality. But the old questions came back: Had her father felt fear like this? Stop it, she thought this was not the time. She whispered to the kids that everything would be OK. That night she canceled dinner plans, told her children she wasn't well and shut her bedroom door. She wept and recalled that morning in 1989 when she and her mother and sister and brothers became early members of a grim and growing fraternity: families upended by mass, public, inexplicable murder. Did he have time to feel pain? Regret? "It's like someone is reaching into you and tearing your heart apart all over again," Thomson said. "I feel very exposed, like I want to hide. I withdraw; it's hard for me to be around people. I can't laugh. It's been 26 years. When is this going to stop?" Her father, Lloyd White, was a victim of one of the nation's first workplace rampages. On Sept. 14, 1989, Joseph Wesbecker, a disgruntled worker wracked with rage and mental illness, stormed the Standard-Gravure printing plant with an AK-47 and killed her father, Lloyd White, and seven others before turning his gun on himself. The TV cameras eventually packed up and the day was filed away to history for all but the families of the dead, the 12 who were injured but survived, and dozens who hid in closets and cubicles and had to step over their friends, dead and dying, to escape.

January 15, 2016

What Is This 'Wage Insurance' Obama's Talking About?

Source: Teresa Ghilarducci, Atlantic

In his State of the Union address this week, President Obama reinforced unemployment insurance and job-training programs as ways the government can help those in need of work. Then he listed "wage insurance" as a distinct and separate recommended method: Say a hardworking American loses his job  we shouldn't just make sure he can get unemployment insurance; we should make sure that program encourages him to retrain for a business that's ready to hire him. If that new job doesn't pay as much, there should be a system of wage insurance in place so that he can still pay his bills. Though for many Americans this may have been news, wage insurance is an idea that isn't particularly new. The University of Chicago economist Robert LaLonde wrote the The Case for Wage Insurance in 2007, arguing that the basic unemployment-insurance system only gave income to workers without jobs and thus failed to help the many (often older) workers who could only find jobs that provided much less pay-a pattern common among those who lost their jobs to trade with low-wage nations. The concept was premised on a notion of fairness: The set of winners from trade (consumers benefiting from rock-bottom prices and employers benefiting from cheap labor) ought to compensate the losers. In a similar proposal, the Brookings economist Gary Burtless wrote in 2014 that wage insurance "would provide experienced, laid-off workers with monthly or quarterly earnings supplements, compensating them for a portion of their lost wages." As he had it, a program could cover half of a worker's lost earnings, landing them a total compensation that was the average of their old and new wages. Proposals for such a system often cap their generosity at a certain salary (say, $50,000) and a certain duration (two years).

Is Vast Inequality Necessary?

Source: Paul Krugman, New York Times

How rich do we need the rich to be? That's not an idle question. It is, arguably, what U.S. politics are substantively about. Liberals want to raise taxes on high incomes and use the proceeds to strengthen the social safety net; conservatives want to do the reverse, claiming that tax-the-rich policies hurt everyone by reducing the incentives to create wealth. Now, recent experience has not been kind to the conservative position. President Obama pushed through a substantial rise in top tax rates, and his health care reform was the biggest expansion of the welfare state since L.B.J. Conservatives confidently predicted disaster, just as they did when Bill Clinton raised taxes on the top 1 percent. Instead, Mr. Obama has ended up presiding over the best job growth since the 1990s. Is there, however, a longer-term case in favor of vast inequality? It won't surprise you to hear that many members of the economic elite believe that there is. It also won't surprise you to learn that I disagree, that I believe that the economy can flourish with much less concentration of income and wealth at the very top. But why do I believe that? I find it helpful to think in terms of three stylized models of where extreme inequality might come from, with the real economy involving elements from all three. First, we could have huge inequality because individuals vary hugely in their productivity: Some people are just capable of making a contribution hundreds or thousands of times greater than average. This is the view expressed in a widely quoted recent essay by the venture capitalist Paul Graham, and it's popular in Silicon Valley that is, among people who are paid hundreds or thousands of times as much as ordinary workers.

The Roberts Court finds a new way to stack the deck in favor of the rich

Source: Dana Milbank, Washington Post

Just in time for the 2016 election, the Roberts Court has found yet another way to stack the deck in favor of the rich. By all appearances at Monday's argument, the five Republican-appointed justices are ready to upend a 40-year precedent guiding labor relations in favor of a new approach that will deplete public-sector unions' finances and reduce their political clout. The case, from California, involves arcane issues of "agency fees" and member opt-outs, but make no mistake: This is about campaign finance, and, in particular, propping up the Republican Party. Citizens United and other recent rulings created the modern era of super PACs and unlimited political contributions by the wealthy. Because there are fewer liberal billionaires (and those who are politically active, such as George Soros and Tom Steyer, tend to shun super PACs in favor of their own projects) the only real counterweight to Republican super PACs in this new era is union money. And the Supreme Court is about to attack that, too. The only question is how big a loss Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will be for the unions. It's virtually certain to be another step toward American oligarchy. The court's conservative majority, setting aside a professed respect for precedent and states' authority, is putting a thumb on the scale of justice in favor of the wealthy donors who have purchased the GOP and much of the government.

January 14, 2016

With public sector unions on the rocks, middle class may take another hit

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

For all his talk about "middle class economics" in recent years, it might have seemed odd that President Obama didn't mention the "middle class" once during his nearly hour-long speech to Congress last night. Instead, he talked about "working families." Those phrases aren't interchangeable anymore - so many working people have exited the middle class that it's no longer the demographic majority. Now, here's another thing the president mentioned, even if indirectly: The power of unions to help. Working families, he said, "won't get more opportunity or bigger paychecks by...allowing attacks on collective bargaining to go unanswered." Attacks, he might have said, like the case argued earlier this week at the Supreme Court that could bar unions from collecting fees from non-members for administration of the contracts that cover them, a prohibition that has tended to weaken their bargaining power and ability to push for middle class priorities in the political process. That observation has some new analysis behind it, courtesy of a report from the Center for American Progress senior fellow David Madland and Harvard economist Richard Freeman. The headline number: The decline of union coverage is responsible for about 35 percent of the drop in the share of the workforce that falls within the middle class, the researchers found. Of course, that isn't a new argument. Liberals have long touted the equalizing effects of unions, and have been doing so more stridently as inequality has risen and become central to the Democratic party's message. Building on earlier work, Madland and Freeman have been contributing some quantitative ammunition, first with a look at how children in more unionized regions and even those in union families have a better-than-average chance of climbing the economic ladder.

Proposed laws could change lives of D.C.'s hourly workers

Source: Abigail Hauslohner, Washington Post

The D.C. Council is weighing new labor bills that, if passed, would cement the District's ranking as one of the most progressive labor markets in the country, advocates say. The council's Committee on Business and Regulatory Affairs on Wednesday heard witness testimony on proposals that would establish a minimum work week of 30 hours for building-service employees, and would require District employers to post work schedules at least 21 days in advance and provide compensation for shift changes. Rasimani Diggs, a part-time employee at Marshalls in Columbia Heights, told the council that a minimum work week and a set schedule would allow her to help her family while furthering her education and career goals something she has put on hold as she struggles to make ends meet with two part-time jobs. "Right now, life is a bit hard. I was told I would get 20 hours a week when I started, but I almost never do," said Diggs, who added that "it wasn't easy to request the time off to come and testify." Economists, social work professors and labor union leaders testified that fluctuating work weeks destabilize families and create stress for both parents and children. Retail and restaurant workers often arrange child care and travel miles to get to work, only to be told they're not needed, experts said. And unpredictable schedules make it difficult to take classes, keep up with expenses, satisfy parole requirements or get a bed in a homeless shelter.

Income inequality will become more pronounced as US ages

Source: Haya El Nasser, Al Jazeera

The wide economic disparity between minorities and white people and between men and women is likely to broaden as the nation's increasingly diverse population ages. Among Americans 65 or older, black people and Latinos are much more likely than white people to rely solely on Social Security for income. And older women are more likely to live alone than men and twice as likely to be poor. The number of seniors in the U.S. will more than double, from 46 million today to more than 98 million by 2060, when they will make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population. The gray tsunami of the aging baby boomer population is projected to fuel a 75 percent increase in the number of older Americans needing nursing home care, from 1.3 million in 2010 to 2.3 million by 2030. Just 8 percent of non-Hispanic white people 65 or older lived in poverty in 2014, but 18 percent of older Latinos and 19 percent of African-Americans were poor. "All the major demographic, economic and social changes that have been going on for decades are just starting to catch up with older adults," said Mark Mather, the associate vice president for U.S. programs at the Population Reference Bureau and the lead author of the "Aging in the United States" report, out today. White people will account for more than half of older Americans through 2060, but their share will plummet by 23 percentage points, to 55 percent. Latinos will go from 8 percent of the older population in 2014 to 11 percent by 2030 and 22 percent by 2060. "There is a lot of talk about aging baby boomers but not that much attention to the diversity of baby boomers and how that's going to affect" the aging population, he said.

January 13, 2016

How worker-friendly laws changed life as a server in San Francisco restaurants

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

A few years ago, while Bill Lester was a graduate student and working at a French restaurant in Chicago, he found himself complaining to a fellow server about the scut work they had to do as part of the job like folding napkins when the owner overheard, and chastised him. "She said, 'You have it so easy, because in France, the waiters wash windows, do everything,'" Lester recalls. "They're professionals. There's the expectation that 'I'm working for this firm, and I do anything that's needed to be done.'" The contrast was striking to Lester: Unlike in France, U.S. restaurants can pay their waiters as little as the federal tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour in many states, so they're essentially working for their customers on commission, rather than the employer. That explained his reluctance to do anything that didn't directly interface with the person who'd be leaving him a tip. The experience stuck with Lester. Now an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he started thinking about the impact of higher minimum wages and other worker-friendly mandates in American cities on the structure of low-wage jobs. And this month, he published one of the first qualitative studies on a new wave of employment legislation, focusing on what's happened in the industry where he used to work: Restaurants.

McDonald's gouging consumers in EU, complaint alleges

Source: Aamer Madhani, USA Today

A coalition of Italian consumer groups, with backing from the American Service Employees International Union, said Tuesday that it has filed an antitrust complaint with the European Commission against McDonald's (MCD), alleging that the hamburger giant has used its dominant position in the market to gouge consumers and its franchisees. In the complaint, the consumer groups (Codacons, Movimento Difesa del Cittadino and Cittadinanzattiva) allege that McDonald's is violating European Union rules by abusing its position as a landlord by charging rents to franchisees with prices up to 10 times above market rates. The group says McDonald's has set 20-year franchise contracts followed by one- to two-year non-competitive clauses that limit the ability of franchisees to switch to other brands. The high rents and the contract terms leads to the franchisees charging inflated prices to consumers, the consumer groups say. The groups argue that the practices are in violation of EU antitrust rules that establish "dominant companies have a responsibility not to abuse their powerful market position by restricting competition."

Supreme court justices put on defensive in overturning 1977 teachers' union case

Source: Steven Greenhouse, The Guardian

In Monday's oral arguments at the US supreme court, US solicitor general Donald B Verrilli Jr sought to put the court's five conservative members on the spot. Verrilli did this in a closely watched case in which 10 California teachers assert that being forced to pay union fees violates their first amendment rights. Backing the teachers' union in the case, Verrilli pressed the court's conservative members to justify their apparent move toward overturning a unanimous 1977 supreme court decision, Abood v Detroit Board of Education, that upheld a requirement that public school teachers pay union fees, even when they opt out of joining the union. Underlining the gravity of overturning a decades-old ruling, Verrilli said: "We're talking about overruling a precedent of 40 years' standing. There needs to be a showing of changed circumstances." Labor unions grew alarmed last June when the court agreed to hear the case, Friedrichs v California Teachers Association, fearing that the justices would hobble public-sector unions by barring any requirement that government employees pay fees to the unions that represent them. In states that give public-employee unions a right to bargain, but prohibit these fees (known as fair share fees or agency fees), 34% of teachers opt out of paying such fees. Since public-sector unions are one of the Democratic party's most generous backers, many Democrats fear their party will be weakened if the justices bar fair-share fees. Verrilli may well have been aiming his comments on the need to show "changed circumstances" to Justice Antonin Scalia. Though a leader of the court's conservative wing, Scalia was considered a potential swing vote in Friedrichs, who might back the union's position. In 1991, Scalia delivered a robust defense of fair-share fees, writing: "Where the state imposes upon the union a duty to deliver services, it may permit the union to demand reimbursement for them … where the state creates in the nonmembers a legal entitlement from the union, it may compel them to pay the cost."

January 12, 2016

Supreme Court majority is critical of compelled public employee union fees

Source: Robert Barnes, Washington Post

A majority of the Supreme Court on Monday seemed prepared to hand a significant defeat to organized labor and side with a group of California teachers who claim their free speech rights are violated when they are forced to pay dues to the state's teachers union. By their questioning at oral argument, the court's conservatives appeared ready to junk a decades-old precedent that allows unions to collect an "agency fee" from nonmembers to support collective-bargaining activities for members and nonmembers alike. It is the most important Supreme Court case of the year for unions and one of a clutch of politically charged cases that puts the justices in the spotlight as the nation turns its attention to the elections of 2016. The case involves only public-employee unions not private workers but those unions are the strongest segment of an organized labor movement that is increasingly tied to the Democratic Party. At the same time, Republican governors across the nation have become embroiled in high-profile battles with the public-employee unions in their states. Conservative groups have directly asked the court to overturn a 1977 decision, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that favored the unions. That ruling said that states could allow public-employee unions to collect fees from nonmembers to cover the costs of workplace negotiations but not to cover the union's political activities. The unions say losing those fees would be a heavy blow because there is no incentive for workers to pay for collective-bargaining representation they could receive for free. About 20 states, including California, allow what the unions like to call "fair-share" fees.

Word of the year candidate 'gig' reflects a new economic order

Source: Geoffrey Nunberg, Los Angeles Times

The obvious candidates for word of the year are the labels of the year's big stories new words like "microagression" or resurgent ones like "refugees." But sometimes a big theme is captured in more subtle ways. So for my word of the year, I offer you the revival of "gig" as the name for a new economic order. It's the last chapter in the life of a little word that has tracked the rise and fall of the great American job. "Gig" goes back more than a century as musicians' slang for a date or engagement. Nobody's sure where it originally came from, though there are lots of imaginative theories. But the word didn't have any particular glamour until the 1950s, when the hipsters and the Beats adapted it to mean any job you took to keep body and soul together while your real life was elsewhere. The earliest example I've found is from a 1952 piece by Jack Kerouac, talking about his gig as a part-time brakeman for the Southern Pacific railroad in San Jose. Calling a job a gig was a way of saying it didn't define you. A gig was a commitment you felt free to walk away from as soon as you had $50 in your pocket. That was the era when the "real job" permanent, well-paid and with benefits was enjoying its moment in the American sun, thanks to New Deal programs, strong unions, paternalistic corporations and the postwar boom. So to turn away from that security and comfort in search of something more meaningful seemed a daring and romantic gesture. When you read Kerouac now, it still does.

Nannies in Mass. often denied overtime, survey says

Source: Beth Healy, Boston Globe

A survey of nannies working in the Boston area found a wide disparity in the hourly wages of people who care for children in private homes, and a majority said they are not paid the legal rate for overtime. The information was gathered by the Matahari Women Workers' Center, a Boston group that advocates for women and immigrant workers, with a goal of gathering data about nannies' demographics and employment situations. The group's members conducted the census by interviewing 350 nannies at playgrounds, libraries, and train stations, in neighborhoods from Brookline and Jamaica Plain to the South End and Cambridge. The survey found that nannies in this region come from more than 25 countries and earn a median hourly pay of $18. But there is a wide range of pay, from $30 at the top end to as little as $4.44 per hour, after accounting for unpaid overtime hours or fixed salaries that don't meet the minimum wage. Nannies also widely expressed a need for paid sick time, which in Massachusetts is required only for businesses with at least 11 workers. Only one-quarter of the nannies who participated said they were paid the legal overtime rate of time-and-a-half when they worked more than 40 hours a week. "We still are having a problem on enforcement,'' said Monique Nguyen Belizario, executive director of Matahari. "The nannies are not getting the overtime they are entitled to."

January 11, 2016

At the Supreme Court, a Big Threat to Unions

Source: The Editorial Board, New York Times

A case the Supreme Court will hear on Monday morning threatens to undermine a four-decade-old ruling that upheld a key source of funding for public-sector unions, the last major bastion of unionized workers in America. In the 1977 decision Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the justices ruled that public unions may charge all employees members and nonmembers alike for the costs of collective bargaining related to their employment. For nonmembers, these are known as "fair-share fees." But nonmembers may not be compelled to pay for the union's political or ideological activities. The Abood ruling was a sensible compromise between the state's interest in labor peace and productivity and the individual worker's interest in his or her freedom of speech and association. Before the decision, strikes and labor unrest in the public sector were far more common, as workers struggled to have their voices heard in the absence of meaningful organized representation. Stronger unions have not only helped ensure that essential public services are more efficient and effective; they have also led to higher wages and better benefits for workers. According to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, public employees in states with fair-share fees enjoy nearly the same compensation as their private-sector counterparts, while those in states that have banned such fees get 9 percent less. But leaders of the "right to work" movement which is funded largely by corporate interests and has helped 25 states ban fair-share fees have been gunning from the start to overturn the Abood decision. Today they have a good friend on the court in Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who has written two majority opinions since 2012 calling the ruling into serious doubt. The latest challenge targets the California public-school teachers' union, which gets fair-share fees from about 29,000 employees, or a little under 10 percent of the work force. After Justice Alito suggested in 2012 that he would be open to striking down all fair-share fees, the anti-union activists rushed their case through the lower courts.

College sports exploits unpaid black athletes. But they could force a change.

Source: Donald H. Yee, Washington Post

On Monday night, college football will crown a new champion. In the process, a lot of money will be made. No matter who wins, the University of Alabama's Southeastern Conference and Clemson University's Atlantic Coast Conference will be paid $6 million each. So will the conferences of the schools those teams beat to make it to the final. The organization that runs the playoff, a Delaware-headquartered corporation that's separate from the NCAA, takes in about $470 million each year from ESPN. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made $3.3 million last year and, as The Washington Post recently reported, his chief of staff makes $252,000; Alabama's Nick Saban, the highest-paid coach in college football, made slightly more than $7 million, and the team's strength and conditioning coach makes $600,000. Some of the players are future NFL stars who will probably be rich one day, too: Alabama is led by Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry, who set a SEC record for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in a season. Clemson features gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson, also a Heisman finalist, and running back sensation Wayne Gallman. The NCAA, though, insists that all of its players are student-athletes motivated only by love of the game and of their alma maters. So on Monday, they'll be working for free. Most fans of college football and basketball go along with the pretense, looking past the fact that the NCAA makes nearly $1 billion a year from unpaid labor.

More than 60 DPS schools closed due to teacher sickout

Source: James David Dickson, Detroit Free Press

More than 60 public schools in the city more than half the district are closed Monday morning, as rolling teacher sickouts continue to move through Michigan's largest school district, Detroit Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Zdrodowski confirmed. Teachers are upset by large class sizes, pay and benefit concessions, and a state plan to create a new, debt-free Detroit school district. Last week, five public schools in Detroit were closed due to sickouts, including at Cass Tech, Renaissance and Martin Luther King Jr. high schools. Those closures affected some 6,700 students. The district has 46,325 students in its 107 school buildings. Another school, Wayne Elementary on the east side, attempted a sickout Wednesday, but the district was able to get the building staffed, said a teacher at a Sunday night meeting of the Strike to Win Committee, at which teachers shared their plans for Monday's action. Steven Conn, the elected-then-deposed president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, is leading the contingent of striking teachers. On Monday, with 61 schools closed, Conn told The News "it's great" on Sunday, Conn told reporters he expected only three dozen closures and added that "an all-out strike will be the only way to save public education in Detroit."

January 8, 2016

Workers are saving more for retirement, led by Millennials

Source: Stan Choe, Washington Post

Workers are saving more for retirement, and the youngest not exactly known for squirreling money away are boosting their savings rates faster than any other age group. Millennials between the ages of 25 and 34 are saving a median of 7.5 percent of their pay for retirement, including whatever match they get from their jobs, according to a survey by Fidelity Investments of 4,650 households with at least $20,000 of annual income. That's up from 5.8 percent two years ago, when the last survey was conducted, and it is the largest jump among all age groups. That's still not enough, but at least the trend is getting better. Financial advisers suggest socking away 15 percent of pay, and more if workers haven't saved in their earlier years. Younger workers had the most room for improvement, because they were saving such a pittance. Older workers were already saving more of their paychecks. Workers aged 35 to 50 are now socking away 8.2 percent of their income, up from 7.7 percent two years ago. The oldest workers, aged 51 to 69, are saving 9.7 percent, up from 8.1 percent. Several reasons are behind the rise, said John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investment strategies at Fidelity, including an improving job market and economy. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level since 2008, and workers are feeling more comfortable in their jobs and with their finances.

McDonald's Business Model Goes On Trial

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

The sight of McDonald's workers walking off the job in protest has been a public-relations nightmare for the company during the past three years. Now a judge will determine whether the fast-food giant broke labor law as it tried to protect its image and quell the strikes.
McDonald's goes on trial at the National Labor Relations Board in New York City on Monday. The proceedings will set out to answer two fundamental questions: Should McDonald's be considered an employer alongside the franchisees who run its stores, and if so, did the company violate its employees' rights amid the mass protests? The hearings are about much more than a few one-day strikes. In a sense, the very franchise model that McDonald's and most other fast-food companies operate on will be on trial. "McDonald's sets the terms and conditions for its employees -- in this case we'll make that clear," Gwynne Wilcox, an attorney for the fast-food workers, said on a call with reporters Thursday. "The company dictates policy and practice. Workers have been intimidated and threatened and even fired." While McDonald's did not immediately comment on Thursday, the company has told The Huffington Post in the past that it views the NLRB case as an "overreach" that "strike[s] at the heart of the franchise system." McDonald's denies that it broke the law. The case is being brought by the NLRB's general counsel, on behalf of McDonald's workers who are part of the union-backed Fight for $15 movement. The workers claim they were retaliated against for their activism, which embarrassed the company and helped draw national attention to the plight of low-wage workers. The trial involves so-called unfair labor practice charges involving McDonald's locations scattered around the country.

Why Are Unions So Worried About an Upcoming Supreme Court Case?

Source: Alana Semuels, Atlantic

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that experts say could provide a sizeable blow to the unions that represent millions of American public employees. "There is a huge sector of the U.S. labor movement that is now going to potentially experience a dramatic change if the court rules in favor of the plaintiff," said Kent Wong, the director of the UCLA Labor Center. The case concerns a teacher in California, Rebecca Friedrichs, who has sued the California Teachers Association, arguing that being required to pay a fee to the union violates her First Amendment rights. Friedrichs is not a member of the union, but, like many other public employees, is required to pay a so-called agency fee to cover the costs of collective bargaining and other negotiations with the school district-union activities that all teachers, even non-union teachers like Friedrichs, benefit from in the form of higher salaries and better benefits. To be clear, these agency fees are different from dues that union members pay, which can be used by the unions for political expenses such as lobbying and electoral work. The law allows public-sector employees to opt out of dues and just pay an agency fee to cover the cost of bargaining-an accommodation intended to protect people's First Amendment rights. Teachers who, like Friedrichs, have opted out of the union are still represented by it in various contract negotiations, which is why they are required to pay a fee. In California, members pay annual dues that average about $1,000 a year, while non-members pay about $600 to $650 for the agency fee alone.

January 7, 2016

Paid Family Leave Gets More Attention, but Workers Still Struggle

Source: Claire Cain Miller, New York Times

This year is shaping up to be a big one for paid family leave. On Thursday, the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of New York state senators, plans to introduce 12 weeks of paid leave as part of its legislative agenda; Gov. Andrew Cuomo is reportedly considering similar legislation. At the end of 2015, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, signed an executive order giving 20,000 city employees six weeks of fully paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Nationally, meanwhile, some presidential candidates the Democrats and at least one Republican, Marco Rubio are making it a campaign issue. But for all the political sparring and lobbying to pass paid leave laws, they address just a sliver of the challenges that working families face. After the first few weeks of a child's life, working parents have at least 18 more years to juggle work and child rearing. And many of the policies don't address the huge numbers of workers who need time to care for ailing parents or spouses or to deal with their own health problems.

One Step Closer To Collective Bargaining, Some Temp Workers Unionize

Source: Simon Rios, NPR

Advocates for temporary workers are celebrating a decision by the National Labor Relations Board to broaden the definition of joint employers a move that could bring many temp workers closer to collective bargaining. One of the first to join a union following the new rule is a group of Guatemalans in New Bedford, Mass. Arriving from all over New England and New York, a fleet of trucks delivers endless loads of spent rubber to the New Bedford tire yard. A shredder feeds a conveyor belt that spits onto a mountain as black as coal, destined to be reused as heating fuel. Tomas Ventura, 26, has worked at Bob's since he came to the U.S. from Guatemala at the age of 18. "Basically, they treated us poorly. And so in January, we got together and asked for a dollar raise. Our boss said he'd give it to us in April, but time passed and we never got our raise," Ventura says. Ventura says most of the workers get no paid sick leave or vacation time and after eight years working for the company, he earns $11 an hour. Bob's Tire Co. refused to comment for this story. But by Ventura's account, earlier this year the owner of the company fired him and three others for demanding better wages.

Why Do Americans Work So Much?

Source: Rebecca J. Rosen, Atlantic

How will we all keep busy when we only have to work 15 hours a week? That was the question that worried the economist John Maynard Keynes when he wrote his short essay "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" in 1930. Over the next century, he predicted, the economy would become so productive that people would barely need to work at all. For a while, it looked like Keynes was right: In 1930 the average workweek was 47 hours. By 1970 it had fallen to slightly less than 39. But then something changed. Instead of continuing to decline, the duration of the workweek stayed put; it's hovered just below 40 hours for nearly five decades. So what happened? Why are people working just as much today as in 1970. There would be no mystery in this if Keynes had been wrong about the economy's increasing productivity, which he thought would lead to a standard of living "between four and eight times as high as it is today." But Keynes got that right: Technology has made the economy massively more productive. According to Benjamin M. Friedman, an economist at Harvard, "the U.S. economy is right on track to reach Keynes's eight-fold multiple" by 2029-100 years after the last data Keynes would have had. (Keynes did not specify what he meant by a "standard of life," so Friedman uses per-capita output as a proxy.)

January 6, 2016

What top researchers discovered when they re-ran the numbers on income inequality

Source: Jim Tankersley, Washington Post

The world's most famous inequality researchers unveiled a new way of adding up the growing gap between the super-rich and everyone else on Tuesday. The findings by economists Emmanuel Saez, Gabriel Zucman and Thomas Piketty, which are preliminary, were hotly anticipated ever since the American Economic Association conference posted a one-paragraph summary of their results ahead of the event in San Francisco. "In contrast to survey and individual tax data, we find substantial increase in average real pre-tax incomes for the bottom 90% since the 1970s," one line in the preview said, potentially suggesting that concerns about a stagnant middle had been overblown. That summary was greeted with cheers by some conservatives that proof that Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, have been wrong to focus on income inequality and middle-class wage stagnation so much. On Tuesday, the economists said they analyzed inequality trends using a new combination of tax, survey and national accounts data, which the economists say more accurately captures income levels across the population over time. By their analysis, the bottom 90 percent appears to have done better since the late 1970s than previously estimated but not much better. You can see the trend in the following slide from their presentation.

Mayor de Blasio to Raise Base Pay for City Workers

Source: Michael M. Grynbaum, New York Times

Mayor Bill de Blasio is set to announce on Wednesday a $15-an-hour minimum wage for New York City's public work force that city officials said would be among the highest of its kind in the country. Under the mayor's plan, which matches a similar increase for state employees enacted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year, about 50,000 city workers including crossing guards, prekindergarten teachers, custodial workers and others would see their pay reach the $15-an-hour level by the end of 2018. Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat who is starting his third year as mayor, has pledged to refocus his administration on a core liberal mission, and the wage announcement, described by city officials on Tuesday evening, is sure to win praise from his left-leaning base. The majority of the city's 300,000 employees already earn $15 an hour or more, officials said. Mr. de Blasio's plan would affect about 20,000 unionized workers, mostly represented by District Council 37, and 30,000 employees of outside organizations like day-care providers whose services are paid for by the city. The increase in wages is expected to cost an additional $238 million over the next five years, concerning some fiscal experts. "The mayor has been lucky so far with the economy," said Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute. "If a recession comes, higher wages will have to mean more layoffs."

Say goodbye to restaurant tips? What restaurateurs think

Source: Jarrett Bellini, NBC News

At the start of the new year, bartenders, waiters and other tipped service employees in New York got a raise. The minimum wage for these workers went up 50 percent from $5 to $7.50. And it might change dining out as we know it, at least in America. In many parts of the world, restaurant staff salaries are simply factored into the prices on the menu and tipping is not necessarily expected. But in countries such as the United States, adding a gratuity is completely common, with 15 to 20 percent the norm. Some top restaurants in New York are now changing this custom to jibe with the new economics of minimum wage. At its most basic, the overall cost of business just went up. Restaurants are now paying their servers 50 percent more than before. Full stop. But another part of the issue is the ever-growing pay disparity between front of house and back of house, which is to say between the servers and the kitchen staff. In New York, a server is now making $7.50 an hour, plus tips. A cook in the back also got a (very slight) minimum wage increase from $8.75 to $9 an hour, but that employee doesn't receive any gratuities. Advantage: Servers.

January 5, 2016

Workplace diversity policies 'don't help' - and 'make white men feel threatened'

Source: Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post

Whether it's Silicon Valley giants such as Facebook or relatively unknown firms such as Camden Property Trust, Fortune's No. 1 "Best Workplace for Diversity" last year, businesses around the world are scrambling to show they know it's not okay to let white men run everything. That effort can take many forms from diversity training so devastatingly lampooned years ago in "The Office" to, you know, actually hiring and retaining minorities and women. A controversial piece published Monday in the Harvard Business Review now asks a simple question: "Are all of these efforts working?" For anyone who thinks diversity at work is important, the answer was a bit distressing. "In terms of increasing demographic diversity, the answer appears to be not really," the piece, written by Tessa L. Dover, Cheryl R. Kaiser and Brenda Major, read. "The most commonly used diversity programs do little to increase representation of minorities and women." That wasn't the end of the bad news. The three co-authors two professors and a PhD candidate who study diversity concluded that diversity policies can blind white men to racism and sexism at work and also lead to resentment. "We found evidence that it not only makes white men believe that women and minorities are being treated fairly whether that's true or not it also makes them more likely to believe that they themselves are being treated unfairly," the piece read. Reddit, where the piece found a wide audience, proved an outlet for the very resentment the article appeared to point to in the first place.

Analysis of NLRB Elections Shows Quicker Elections, More Union Wins

Source: Robert Combs, Bloomberg

Since the National Labor Relations Board's controversial amendments to its representation election rules took effect last April, supporters and opponents alike have asked two questions: Have the new rules served to speed up the election process? And, if so, has this pickup in tempo favored unions more than employers? Bloomberg BNA has released a report, Election Speed and the NLRB: How Unions Fare in the Representation Process, which suggests that the answer to both questions is yes. To get an accurate look at the impact of the new rules, we researched the NLRB's record in the first four full months following the effective date May, June, July and August 2015 and compared it to the record for the same four-month period in 2014. The results of this comparison are striking. Simply put, the NLRB fit 31 more resolved elections into the four-month period following the rule change than it did into the same period a year earlier. What's more, every one of those 31 additional elections was a victory for the union. There's more. In May-August 2014, the median length of time it took a union's representation petition to reach the election stage was 38 days. In May-August 2015, the median was only 24 days. What this means is that about half of the elections in the 2015 period (188) were resolved within 24 days. But in 2014, only 7 percent of all elections (24) were resolved that quickly. This is significant, the report says, because quicker elections have favored labor over management for many years. Calendar years 2014 and 2015 were no exceptions: Elections that were resolved within 24 days went the union's way 88 percent of the time in 2014, and 75 percent of the time in 2015. But because about half of the elections in the 2015 sample clocked in at 24 days or less, this translated to 140 union wins compared with only 21 union wins in 2014.

Lesbian widow's lawsuit seeking benefits from FedEx to proceed

Source: Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

A federal court in California has ruled a lawsuit can proceed against shipping giant FedEx for withholding pension benefits to the same-sex partner of a deceased worker. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, a Clinton appointee, refused on Monday to throw out the case in a 19-page decision despite objections from the shipping company that withholding the benefits is justified because the Defense of Marriage Act was in effect at the time the employee died. "The court finds that plaintiff has adequately alleged that FedEx has violated Title I of ERISA by acting contrary to applicable federal law and failing to provide plaintiff with a benefit mandated by ERISA, and that she is entitled to pursue equitable relief to remedy that violation," Hamilton wrote. "The court is not persuaded at this stage of the case and under the facts alleged in the complaint that there is any basis for denying retroactive application of Windsor." The lawsuit was filed in January 2014 by Stacey Schuett, who was told by FedEx she wouldn't be eligible for company survivor benefits after her partner, Lesly Taboada-Hall, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Taboada-Hall had been a FedEx employee for 26 years and was fully vested in her pension. The company plan on benefits comports with the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriage before it was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The couple, who had been together 30 years, married on June 19, 2013 in their Sebastopol, Calif., home in before their two children, close family and friends. Taboada-Hall died one day later on June 20. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Section 3 of DOMA in a historic decision six days later after the wedding, but that wasn't enough for FedEx to afford the benefits to Schuett.

January 4, 2016

What To Consider Before Inviting Children Into The Workplace

Source: Margarita Hakobyan, Huffington Post

From Yahoo CEO to national politics, the topic of children, their mothers, and the workplace, is everywhere in the news right now. No one's quite sure what to do. Follow the model of several Scandinavian countries and extend maternity leave? Create an onsite daycare where employees can drop off their children on their way to work? Go to the other end of the political spectrum and come to the conclusion that it's the parents who choose to have children, and it's up to them to absorb the cost, both financial and time, of their care? Some small businesses have reacted by trying to make the work environment more child-friendly for employees who need a time off because a child is home sick, but are otherwise able to work. In some situations, telecommuting is an option, but in some jobs, the employee needs to be on site because of IT security or tech needs. Here are a few things for you to consider before you decide to open your workplace to the occasional child visitor. Kids are rambunctious. Even the most quiet and calm child, the child who can be content journaling for 30 or 60 minutes at a time, is eventually going to need to burn off some energy. Sometimes kids who are home sick are content to rest and watch TV shows on an iPad or tablet, but as any parent can tell you, they get sick, and somehow have even more energy to burn off. Will the workspace stand up to a child who is, rather suddenly, full of energy? A great idea: set aside an old storage room or unused office as a kid friendly space. Communicate clearly with your employees about when kids are welcome, and what your expectations are for their behavior at the office Accidents happen, before kids are allowed in the workplace, you should check with your building's insurance company. What happens if the child, for example, slips and falls? You can't assume that their health insurance will cover the injury, if it happens on your property. Personal insurance companies are notorious for refusing to pay for a claim that happened on someone else's property, if they have insurance against injuries, and there's nothing like a personal injury lawsuit to ruin employee/employer relations.

When alcohol abuse enters the workplace

Source: Rich Meneghello, Idaho Business Review

Football powerhouse USC fired its head football coach, Steve Sarkisian, in October after it was widely reported that he had been under the influence of alcohol during several team events. His termination provides a lesson for any employer wondering how it should handle the sometimes-touchy situation involving possible alcohol abuse by an employee. What should an employer do if it believes one of its employees is under the influence at work? It may come as a surprise that the employer does not have the unfettered right to treat employees with alcohol problems in any manner it sees fit. That's because the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Oregon's disability law consider alcoholism a protected disability. In other words, if an employer fires someone because it knows or suspects the person is an alcoholic, an ADA claim could be forthcoming. The good news is that some bright line rules exist for employers to follow in order to make sure they stay out of hot water in situations involving employee alcohol use. Here are the five things to know about employee alcohol abuse: 1. The ADA specifically says that alcoholics can be held to the same performance and conduct standards as all other employees
The statute makes clear that a line can be drawn in the sand. Even the decidedly pro-employee Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recognizes that poor job performance or unsatisfactory behavior such as absenteeism, tardiness, insubordination or on-the-job accidents related to an employee's alcoholism need not be tolerated if similar performance or conduct would not be acceptable for other employees. In guidance addressing how employers should apply performance and conduct standards to disabled employees, the EEOC says employers that consistently enforce their rules can do so even if an alcoholic employee claims that the reason for the rules violation was the result of drinking. However, those employers that maintain a lax attitude about certain rules but then cracks down when an alcoholic worker breaks those rules will face ADA liability.

Could working out solve your workplace woes?

Source: Victoria Joy, The Guardian

Working out might usually fall under the category of leisure, but scientists are increasingly presenting research to prove exercise can boost performance, increase intelligence and make us more productive. So, should we be sweating our way to career success? According to Stephen Stott, CEO of executive recruitment agency Stott and May, even headhunters and employers are making the link between fitness and work. "We hold an employee's fitness in high regard because the attributes demonstrated determination, commitment, hard work are those we look for in the business world," he explains. Increase your chances of a 2016 promotion and make the best use of your time by opting for the right training method. Creative block? What works? Cycling. Your local Fitness First might not seem like a hub of inspiration, but with every bead of sweat comes a better chance of finishing The Work Project That Never Dies. Research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience asked participants to hit the pedals and tested them with questions during and after their cycling stints. The conclusion? Regular exercisers experienced an improved capacity for convergent thinking (read: creativity) during and immediately after intense physical activity. Working out directly affects the levels of oxygenation and glucose in the frontal brain regions, which is responsible for problem solving and imagination. With career experts agreeing that generating killer idea is one of the most tangible ways to prove your worth in the workplace, perhaps it's time to put spin class a little higher on your list of priorities.

December 31, 2015

The scientific case for letting go of your workplace grudges

Source: Frederic Luskin, Quartz

Forgiveness is good for our health. It can reduce depression and stress, and increase empathy and hope. Unfortunately, it's a quality that tends to be in short supply in the modern workplace.
I was reminded of this point while chatting with a reporter for a local TV station who was dubious about covering the Stanford Forgiveness Project, a teaching and research program in forgiveness founded in 1998. "Why would a world-class science institution be studying something as squishy as forgiveness?" he asked. I gave him an assignment: "Go around your newsroom and ask if anyone has a grudge or grievance against anyone else at the station. See what you come up with and get back to me." About 10 minutes later, the reporter called back. "Everyone here hates each other," he said grudgingly. The reporter's response was somewhat tongue in cheek. But there's a lot of truth to his findings. When people work in close proximity to each other, it's inevitable that they'll do selfish or thoughtless things that hurt their colleagues. In turn, their coworkers frequently take the offense personally and so office grudges are born. Left to fester, these resentments can make working together tough, affecting employee morale and productivity. I hear all the time about bitterness when companies downsize or new management takes over, forcing employees to make changes against their better judgment.

How a Browser Add-On Aims to Help Women in the Workplace Stop Selling Themselves Short

Source: Rafi Schwartz, GOOD Magazine

We all use tempering words and phrases like "I think" and "I'm no expert," to some degree (see, I did it right there). They seem harmless, but ultimately serve to dilute our ability to project confidence and communicate with authority. Now a new browser extension is helping us clean up our language, one wishy-washy word at a time. Just Not Sorry is a Gmail plug-in for Chrome browsers that highlights instances of tempering words, helping point out all the times within an email that a person is undercutting their communicative abilities. With the extension installed, tempering words and phrases appear underlined simliar to spell-check highlights. Mouse over them, and a small pop-up appears to explain how the language in question diminishes the writer's voice. A useful tool for anyone who finds themselves using these linguistic crutches, Just Not Sorry was made specifically with women in the workplace in mind. Created by Tami Reiss, CEO of the consulting firm Cyrus Innovation, Just Not Sorry came out of conversations between Reiss and other women about the language they find themselves using in their workplace communications. "The women in these rooms were all softening their speech in situations that called for directness and leadership," she wrote in a Medium post on the plug-in's origins. "We had all inadvertently fallen prey to a cultural communication pattern that undermined our ideas. As entrepreneurial women, we run businesses and lead teams  why aren't we writing with the confidence of their positions? There was the desire to change, but there wasn't a tool to help."

'Presenteeism' not healthy for workplace

Source: David Templeton, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Too ill to work? Many people, and especially those with paid sick leave, stay home. However, even people with sick leave regularly engage in "presenteeism" going to work while ill. It's the opposite of absenteeism, and its impact on the workplace has been a topic long sequestered in academic journals. As we head into winter's cold and flu season, presenteeism is gaining interest in the American workplace for good reason: It is more costly than absenteeism and is detrimental to employees and employers alike. The U.S. Bureau of Labor says 39 percent of all American workers or 41 million people do not have paid sick leave. That means a lot of people are showing up for work while under the weather. In September, President Barack Obama signed an executive order forcing companies holding federal contracts to provide paid sick-leave benefits to their employees. On the face of it, being sick at work might sound like something employers might favor, with some work preferable to none at all. Besides, such employees display a strong work ethic, job dedication and loyalty. But research generally finds health consequences for present-but-ill employees, with higher medical costs and greater reductions in productivity than absenteeism would cause. A Society for Human Resource Management online article said presenteeism costs are "higher than the combined costs of medical care, prescription drugs and absenteeism," with estimated annual costs of $150 billion to $250 billion a year. That represents 60 percent of all productivity losses.

December 30, 2015

The 6 most popular New Year's resolutions at work

Source: Jacquelyn Smith, Business Insider

This time of year, many people assume the motto, "New year, new job." In fact, a fifth (21%) of the 3,252 employees surveyed by CareerBuilder said their top resolution for 2016 is to leave their current job and find a new one. That's a 5% increase from last year, when 16% of employees said they'd like to move on. Among younger workers, the number is even higher. About 30% of millennials those between the ages of 18 and 34 expect to have a new job by the end of 2016.

How An Introvert And Extrovert Found Workplace Happiness

Source: Adam Rosenfeld, Huffington Post

I had finally gotten the big promotion I'd always wanted. It was my tenth year at a big healthcare company. My first seven years were spent as a Six Sigma Black Belt (aka project manager). My new title was Master Black Belt (or, for those not familiar with Six Sigma, manager of project managers). For the first time in my career, I was managing people. Well, one person: Joan.
Joan had risen up through the ranks of the company from call center representative to analyst to project manager. Her employee file was filled with glowing comments from supervisors, who clearly saw her potential for growth. Despite her numerous accomplishments, however, Joan wasn't happy. A big part of a project manager's job is leading meetings. Most of the meetings in our division were on the phone with people in three or four locations. Even more challenging, there might be five people in one room and seven people individually calling in. For Joan, it was exhausting keeping such a large group focused and on task. She became quiet; others spoke over her; and side conversations began. Sensing her discomfort, a higher level manager sometimes took over the meetings, leaving Joan hard-pressed to regain control. I thought I could help her become more comfortable. Joan, I believed, just needed a good agenda and some public speaking classes. I suggested that she read How to Make Friends and Influence People or attend a Dale Carnegie workshop. We rehearsed meetings together, and I simulated difficult situations so that she could become more comfortable addressing them. We discussed nonverbal cues, and I recommended that she watch Amy Cuddy's TED talk about body language. Still, her comfort level did not improve.

Lawsuit claims U of L biosafety violations

Source: James Bruggers, USA Today

Two former University of Louisville biosafety employees who lost their jobs last year following federal investigations of biological safety practices have filed a federal lawsuit against the university, claiming repeated violations of health and safety regulations and an attempted cover-up by university officials. Claiming whistleblower status, Karen Brinkley and Carol Whetstone have also named the federal government as a third plaintiff, and their lawyer, Vanessa B. Cantley, has turned over their findings and allegations to the U.S. Justice Department. The U.S. attorney's office in Louisville has declined to intervene in the case but is allowing Cantley to maintain the lawsuit in the name of the United States, according to court documents. U.S. District Court Judge David Hale has promised to seek the opinion of the Justice Department before any decision is made to settle or dismiss the case. "The U.S. always remains a party" to this kind of "false claims" case," to protect its interest in how federal funds are spent, said Stephanie Collins, spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office. "We will stay on top of it." She declined to comment specifically on the merits of the lawsuit. At issue are how policies and procedures were carried out involving potentially risky and infectious agents conducted in two Louisville labs and whether U of L officials covered up alleged violations of federal biosafety policies in seeking and spending tens of millions of dollars of federal research money.

December 29, 2015

FCC Photos Give Sneak Peek at New Google Glass for the Workplace

Source: Devin Coldewey, NBC News

Google Glass may have caused a stir, but it never did really catch on but Google isn't giving up on the wearable just yet. Images published by the Federal Communications Commission, which must approve most gadgets sold in the U.S., appear to confirm reports of a new and improved design aimed at putting Google Glass in the workplace. The most obvious change is the hinged design, allowing this device (unlike its predecessor) to be folded up and stuck in a pocket that should come in handy when you're asked to take the device off at the many restaurants, movie theaters and other locations where it's been banned. How it will attach to frames or glasses isn't clear from the images.

This Year's Biggest Wins For Women in the Workplace

Source: Valentina Zarya, Fortune

2015 wasn't exactly revolutionary when it comes to bringing gender equality to corporate America. We didn't narrow the wage gap, and we're actually ending the year with fewer female CEOs in the Fortune 500 compared to 2014. Nevertheless, there were a few big breakthroughs for working women which, with any luck, will set up 2016 to be a year to remember. It all started when movie-streaming company Netflix announced a policy under which salaried employees would receive a full year of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Other tech giants quickly followed suit, with Microsoft, Adobe, Amazon, and eBay all announcing more comprehensive family and maternal leave policies. The exact details of every policy vary, but the message these companies are sending is clear: Family is important to employees, so it's important to them, too. At the beginning of the year, tech giant Intel announced a $300 million diversity initiative to train and recruit female and other under-represented groups of computer scientists. Similarly, Google said it planned spend $150 million on diversity in 2015, while Facebook launched TechPrep, an online resource for minority learners. Of course, all the money in the world doesn't mean a thing unless these programs actually work, but putting them in motion is the first step.

The case for optimism in the workplace

Source: Harvey Schachter, The Global and Mail

Each new year dawns with a sense of optimism. Make the coming year one of daily optimism for your workplace, creating an environment that energizes employees, customers and partners. That may seem silly, an impractical sentiment sparked by the holiday spirit. But Shawn Murphy, a Sacramento, Calif., consultant who has been carrying the positive psychology approach into his work with organizations, is finding there are huge benefits from optimism. It's certainly not a trivial notion. Louis (Studs) Terkel opened his classic book Working with these chilling words: "This book, being about work, is by its very nature about violence to the spirit as well as the body." That was 1972, but today, Mr. Murphy notes, the workplace is equally depressing, as shown by continually decreasing engagement levels and the fact that 65 per cent of employees would rather have a new boss than a pay raise. He's not talking about becoming an optimist rather than a realist or pessimist. He's focused on the office environment nurturing a general feeling among employees that something good will come out of their work. Often, managers and employees focus primarily on the bad things in the office and optimism can be boosted by also noting what's working well. "When people feel good about the work environment, they have stronger relationships, which are the backbone of business. That links to more engagement," he says. People with friends in the office also handle stress better, research shows. It requires a change in thinking, beginning with the belief that the team is more important than any individual. We tend to celebrate individual effort in organizations. But our brains are wired to be social and we make sense of our world through our relationship with others. "Our individual goals get accomplished through working with others," he notes.

December 28, 2015

Worker salaries are poised to climb in 2016

Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times

American workers are poised in 2016 to finally get what they've been missing for years: higher salaries. Even as the recovery from the Great Recession brought booming corporate profits, most workers' salaries have barely kept up with inflation. But now, as the nation edges ever closer to full employment and with layoffs near historical lows, there are growing indications that ordinary workers are finally starting to reap some of the gains of the 6 1/2 year-old recovery. A variety of wage and salary statistics from payroll processors, private analysts and Federal Reserve researchers indicate that the underlying rate of pay increase for workers has been picking up much more in the last year than commonly thought. "We're at a turning point," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at research firm Moody's Analytics. "I think it'll be a breakout year [in 2016] for wage growth." If average workers' pay does rise significantly, it should give a nice boost to consumer spending, the key driver of U.S. economic growth. It should also increase consumption among lower- and middle-income households, providing a more balanced pattern of spending that for years has been skewed to wealthy households. Economic growth next year is projected to remain moderate, but about half a point stronger than this year's pace of a little more than 2%. Moody's estimated that the average pay for full-time workers who have kept their jobs grew 4.1% in the third quarter from a year earlier. That's about double the hourly wage increase for all private-sector workers as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which produces the most commonly cited figures on workers' earnings. But the labor bureau's report is based on aggregate data that include part-time and new workers, so the overall wage changes are likely to understate the gains of many existing workers. Moody's relies on records of 24 million existing employees from the payroll processor ADP. And they exclude new hires who may be replacing higher-paid baby boomers retiring from their jobs.

How 'Shared Values-Shared Results' Can Help Your Business Thrive

Source: Michael Friedman, Huffington Post

More and more companies looking for a competitive advantage are recognizing that healthy employees and a healthy company is a successful company. Not only do health issues cost U.S. businesses $576 billion annually, including sick days and workers' compensation, but also top talent may be seeking out companies that value employee health. With his 2009 book Zero Trends: Health as a Serious Economic Strategy, Dee Edington identified the importance of employee health to a successful business. And in their new book, Shared Values-Shared Results: Positive Organizational Health as a Win-Win Philosophy, Edington and co-author Jennifer Pitts explain the importance of the entire company being on the same page to promote positive individual and organizational health. Companies are recognizing that corporate culture is a major factor in the success of the organization. A recent report from Deloitte, based on surveys and interviews with more than 3,300 business and human-resources leaders from 106 countries, stated that culture and engagement was a top concern cited. Wellness may be one of the key factors, as employees may suffer or even leave their workplace because of wellness factors, such as emotional exhaustion. Progress has already been made in workplace wellness. One meta-analytic review of 17 studies found that participation in an organizational wellness program was associated with decreased absenteeism and increased job satisfaction. Further, it appears that workplace wellness programs can help companies in terms of reduced absenteeism and increased health and productivity and increased overall company performance.

Workplace Odors Are No Laughing Matter

Source: Patrick Dorrian, Bloomberg

A colleague who has bad breath. Cooked fish in the company break room. An over-fragranced co-worker. While a source of laughter for some, such odors may significantly disrupt a workplace and should be taken seriously, employment lawyers and others told Bloomberg BNA in a series of interviews. Regardless of whether it's a situation involving an employee who smells or one who has or develops a smell sensitivity to perfume or something else, "things can get serious really quick" and undercut workplace harmony and productivity, management lawyer Maria L.H. Lewis told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 7. "Don't make a joke about it" even if the intent is to lighten things up and facilitate conversation, Kathleen Lapekas, an HR consultant in Evansville, Ind., told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 4. These situations can be embarrassing to talk about, and managers and HR personnel need to treat them sensitively, she advised. "People's livelihoods are involved," employee rights attorney Scott Pollins in Philadelphia told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 3. An employer that fails to address a workplace odor issue "head on" and instead tries to downplay an employee's concerns could find itself exposed to potential liability under any number of employment discrimination laws, Lewis, who's with Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP in Philadelphia, said.

December 24, 2015

Feds' giving to workplace campaign drops, but they donate time and charities cope

Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post

The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC), which bills itself as the "world's largest and most successful annual workplace charity campaign," closes its annual drive on Tuesday. Its workplace is the federal government, and Uncle Sam's employees can be a generous lot. But the CFC is not as successful as it used to be. Contributions have been dropping steadily in recent years, with last year's $193.2 million nearly a third lower than 2009's take. Per capita contributions have fallen by a similar percentage, and the participation rate among federal workers is down to 14.1 percent. The $7 billion donated through the campaign since it began in 1961 demonstrate a workforce that is concerned and engaged in charitable work. Yet, an informal survey points to the financial pressure and workplace alienation many feds have felt in recent years. The CFC is a victim of that. It has been punished with declining contributions. "I have always donated for 27+ years, but after the recent shutdown, I reduced my benefit substantially to send a message that I was unhappy," said Kathleen Ferte, of Crofton, Md. "However, I have since reinstated my usual amount since I realized that Congress doesn't care and only the charity was hurt by my action." For Alex Mercer,"it's not the CFC that's the problem." Instead, Mercer sees a more vexing issue: "It's the culture of hatred directed at federal employees and Congressional Republicans' desire to 'punish' feds for earning a living and making us feel we can't afford to donate in this political climate."

Nursing's Workplace Safety Crisis: Bill Aims To Fix Astounding Level Of Job-Related Injuries

Source: Cole Stangler, International Business Times

When she worked at Iowa City, Iowa's Mercy Hospital, Melissa Christians had a confused patient who kept trying to climb out of bed. Early on a Sunday morning in February 2010, he tried to use her shoulder to catapult himself over the side rail. He managed to swing himself over the edge but not before Christians, a registered nurse, and another nurse technician caught him and put him back into place. The move pulled Christians off her feet and over the side rail, into the bed. "At first, I didn't really notice anything," said Christians, now 44. "I didn't really feel a pop or pull or anything." About a half-hour later, her back felt sore. It got worse the next day, and even worse the month after that. Today, more than five years later, what seemed like nothing more than a minor incident has ballooned into a life-altering affair: Christians said she was fired from her job at Mercy Hospital twice due to extended health-related leaves of absence related to the injury. She has undergone major surgeries to remove herniated disks, fuse her spine, and install a pain-reducing spinal cord stimulator. And she still suffers from nagging discomfort. "I still have pain every single day in my back and left leg," Christians said. "Some days are good, some days are bad, but it's always there." Christians recently found work as a nurse at the University of Iowa Heart and Vascular Center, an outpatient clinic that demands relatively little physical exertion. That job came after a long bout of unemployment, prolonged, she believes, by employers' reluctance to hire a nurse with a history of health problems and who remains unable to lift patients. If she ever lost her current job, she said, "I don't know who would hire me again."

Commentary: The unseen toll of workplace disease in America

Source: Jim Morris, The Center for Public Integrity

Guns take more than 30,000 lives in America each year. But there's a less-visible, even deadlier scourge that's been mostly lost in an era of mass shootings and terrorism scares: work-related illness, which kills 50,000 annually, according to the best government estimate. Hundreds of thousands more are sickened by job-related exposures to toxic substances. Occupational disease lacks the macabre drama of a San Bernardino or a Newtown. The bodies cannot be easily counted. The victims may hang on for years or decades before quietly succumbing. Often, their deaths are acknowledged only by their families, friends and former co-workers. In a series called "Unequal Risk," the Center for Public Integrity has tried to bring this little-understood, little-examined topic into the light. The most important takeaway: many work-related diseases are preventable. Actually, it's worse than that. In effect, these diseases are legally sanctioned by the United States government, which has made the conscious decision to treat workers more callously than the general public when it comes to protection against toxics. The casualties of this policy have names: Chris Johnson, Mark Flores, Johnathan Welch, Gene Cooper. The first two struggle with debilitating conditions. The last two are dead – Welch at only 18. What's remarkable is that the agency charged with regulating toxics in the workplace, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, admits that for the most part it's unable to do so. OSHA, Congress, industry and the White House all bear responsibility.

December 23, 2015

Why it's a problem that CEOs have such big piles of unused vacation pay

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

As we say goodbye to 2015, many employees are using up their final vacation days of the year. That's especially true for employees whose workplaces have a "use it or lose it" policy, and don't allow staffers to roll over their days to the following year. But at those companies that do let employees carry over much or all of their paid time off to the following year, all that accrued vacation time can start to add up. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to top executives. A report in Bloomberg last week revealed that at some companies, CEOs are due a hefty amount -- when or if they leave the company -- for the unused vacation time they have sitting around. If Qualcomm CEO Steven Mollenkopf were to leave the company, he'd be owed $185,177 in accrued time, according to the company's most recent proxy. HCA Holdings CEO R. Milton Johnson had $152,308 tallied up at the end of 2014 that he'd be due in the event he leaves the company. And at Whole Foods, co-CEO Walter Robb has $613,836 banked up due to 2,703 accrued time off hours he hasn't used -in his 24 years at the company. (Company spokesperson Michael Silverman said in an email that all "team members," including executives, will get their paid time off balance when they leave the company and said the accumulated amount reflects Robb's long service at the company. He also noted cash compensation at Whole Foods is limited to 19 times the average annual wage of full-time employees, an approach "that distinguishes Whole Foods Market from many other publicly traded companies.") The reason for those tallies, of course, is two-fold: The obvious one is that most CEOs have big paychecks, and some clearly aren't taking much of their allotted vacation. In addition, as with Whole Foods, many companies have policies -- or are required by state law -- to pay out unused vacation time when any employee exits, whatever their status at the company. (Whole Foods workers are also given the option once a year of cashing in their unused personal time off each year at 75 percent of its value, something a few companies still do.)

Why 2015 Was a Banner Year for Working Parents

Source: Tom Spiggle, Huffington Post

This year showed profound changes in the laws that impact those with caregiving responsibilities - from legal judgements to changing social attitudes. It was a notable year for working parents. Many of these changes are long overdue. Women continue to move into management positions while men are playing an ever-increasing role in caring for children. Federal laws remain largely unchanged, but courts, corporations and states are taking the lead in reinterpreting the line between work and family life. As we head into a presidential election year, we can expect to hear more about these issues at the federal level as well. The biggest moment in family law came early in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court took its first major case on the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act in a generation. Peggy Young worked in package delivery for UPS. On the advice of her doctor, she asked for a light duty assignment when she became pregnant. UPS denied her request, even though the company offered light-duty positions to other workers. UPS argued that its policy to deny light-duty leave to workers except those injured on the job was not unlawful. Without deciding this case, the Supreme Court agreed with Young that it could be illegal for a company to deny pregnant workers with light-duty leave when it provided it to other workers. The Court sent the case back to the lower court for trial where the case settled. This opinion made it clear that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act may, under certain circumstances, require a company provide accommodations to a woman with otherwise healthy pregnancy who requires modest changes to her workplace so that she can continue to work.

Workplace killing reinforces concerns over open carry legislation

Source: Mihir Zaveri, Houston Chronicle

Tyrone Auzenne walked into his boss's office on the second story of a city garbage collection building in southeast Houston and opened fire, police said, striking the man several times. The 43-year-old Auzenne then calmly walked out of the building, gun-in-hand, before he was taken into custody. The details of what prompted Monday's killing, for which Auzenne is expected to face a murder charge, are unclear. Less than two weeks before the enactment of Texas's controversial open carry and campus carry laws, the incident of workplace violence reinforced gun control advocates' concerns that the anticipated increase in the number of guns in public places might have deadly consequences. "It just makes the gun more accessible," said Andrea Brauer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense that opposed both open carry and campus carry laws. "It's out in the open, it's prime for grabbing, using immediately if you're having a workplace dispute or a mental health crisis and you've got it right there and available." Three-hundred and seven intentional shooting deaths occurred in American workplaces in 2014, according to preliminary data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's down from 381 in 2012. Data show 30 such deaths in 2014 in Texas and 12 in the Houston metropolitan area. It was unclear whether Auzenne was licensed to carry the pistol police say he used in the shooting. While Brauer acknowledged the national numbers have declined, she said that easier access to guns, such as what will be allowed by open and campus carry, leads to heightened danger. She pointed to a 2005 study in the American Journal of Public Health that found workplaces that allowed guns were about five times as likely to "experience a homicide." "It's easier, it's quicker, it's more fatal," Brauer said.

December 22, 2015

China Detains Labor Activists as Number of Workplace Disputes Doubles

Source: Associated Press, NBC News

Police in the southern province of Guangdong have detained seven labor activists, including three leading members of China's nascent grassroots labor movement, on charges they improperly intervened in labor disputes, the official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday. The report came nearly three weeks after Zeng Feiyang, Meng Han, Peng Jiayong and other activists were taken away. Xinhua confirmed the detention of seven of them, who reportedly have been denied access to lawyers. Their detentions and the accusatory article in the state news agency are part of a crackdown on labor activism, which has been growing as labor disputes increase amid an economic slowdown. The Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin reported 2,606 labor disputes this year, up from last year's 1,379. In November, the organization recorded 301 labor incidents, the highest monthly total this year. The labor groups are independent of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, which has been accused of failing to protect workers' rights. Grassroots labor activists have gained popularity with migrant workers and have offered them many services, including legal aid. In recent years, labor activists have helped workers elect their own representatives for group negotiations with management and organize collective actions, such as protests and work stoppages. Chinese authorities are wary of the grassroots activism and have said hostile foreign forces are using illegal rights groups and activists to compete for the hearts of workers, sabotage the unity of the working class and undermine the state-sanctioned union. Xinhua said Zeng and his group were funded by overseas organizations and incited workers to stage strikes that disrupted public order and hurt workers' interests. The ruling Communist Party says it is a party of the working class, but does not tolerate any social force that may threaten its monopoly over Chinese society.

Workplace bias complaints pour in from Mich. Muslims

Source: Tresa Baldas, Detroit Free Press

Just days after a Muslim couple carried out a mass shooting in California, the phone lines at the American-Arab Anti-discrimination Committee in Dearborn started ringing. Women in headscarves were calling for help, asking how to protect against discrimination in the workplace and anywhere else they ventured. One of them was Terry Ali, a 48-year-old medical receptionist who is suing Livonia Dermatology, claiming the clinic fired her two days after the deadly shooting because of her religious beliefs. Specifically, she wore a hijab to work. Since the Dec. 2 attacks in San Bernardino, the Anti-discrimination Committee (or AAC) has received more than a dozen phone calls from Muslim Americans locally reporting a variety of workplace discrimination and harassment complaints. Of those calls, one has triggered a lawsuit, and two similar workplace suits are in the works, said AAC Executive Director Fatina Abdrabboh, who hopes the litigation sends a message to employers. "We're watching. This stuff can't go unchecked … and if you think of putting someone in the back room or letting them go because of the headscarf, you can't do it," said Abdrabboh, who urges the public and employers not to "feed into this rhetoric against us." Abdrabboh said the complaints run the gamut, from supervisors and colleagues making snide remarks to Muslim workers about "wackos and your people," to people like Ali, who claims she was fired by e-mail because of her headscarf. Abdrabboh called Ali's lawsuit a "smoking gun" case that should serve as a warning to other employers. Meanwhile, Ali's case is being investigated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has to decide the following: Was Ali fired because she was a slow typist, as the employer claims, or was she let go because of her headscarf, as the employee claims? Here, according to her lawsuit, is what happened: Ali had been a receptionist for only one day at Livonia Dermatology when national news broke about the California shooting. The day after the shooting, when she came into work, Ali who wears a hijab was assigned to work in a back room putting files away, not in the front greeting clients, which was what she was hired to do, the lawsuit claims. After two days of working in a back room, Ali was fired information she learned after receiving this e-mail from the office manager:

New York City unveils new rules on gender discrimination

Source: Michael Balsamo and Jennifer Peltz, Washington Post

Restaurant owners can't require ties for male diners only. Gyms can't tell clients which locker room to use. And in most cases, an employer can't put "John" on a worker's ID if she prefers "Jane." New York City's Human Rights Commission is establishing what advocates called some of the most powerful guidelines nationwide on gender-identity discrimination, releasing specifics Monday to flesh out broad protections in a 2002 law. "Today's guidance makes it abundantly clear what the city considers to be discrimination," which can lead to fines of up to $250,000, Commissioner Carmelyn P. Malalis said in a statement. Officials said complaints about gender-identity discrimination have risen in recent years but couldn't immediately provide statistics. Some cities around the country have added transgender people to anti-discrimination protections, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo did likewise for his state this fall. Other communities have rebuffed them: Houston voters this fall defeated an ordinance that would have established nondiscrimination protections for gay and transgender people. "New York City vaults to the front of the line" with its new guidelines and strong legal framework for human rights complaints, said Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund. "These are real, everyday struggles for transgender people."

December 21, 2015

How Unions Could Change the Way Uber and Lyft Work

Source: Eric Newcomer, Bloomberg

Uber Technologies has overcome taxi driver protests, irate government officials, and the occasional self-made controversy. But the next fight for the ride-hailing company and rival Lyft may be with a modern-day Jimmy Hoffa.
Seattle became the first U.S. city to pass collective bargaining legislation on Monday. Unions pose a new kind of threat to Uber and Lyft's businesses, which connect riders with freelance drivers through a smartphone application. While the companies have been facing legal battles around the U.S. to reclassify drivers as employees and offer benefits, the new Seattle law bypassed that issue in favor of a focus on allowing them to organize into a union, giving drivers more weight in negotiations. A similar bill is expected to be introduced in California as soon as next month, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Many roadblocks are still ahead for a possible drivers union, including getting votes from more than half of active drivers, appointing a representative, and overcoming any legal challenges, but if successful, it could have a major impact, according to drivers, economists, and union advocates. Lyft declined to comment, and Uber referred questions to a statement saying drivers appreciate the independence and flexible work hours. Here are five ways unions could affect the ride-hailing industry.

How Cities And States Are Fighting Veteran Homelessness

Source: Jen Fifield, Huffington Post

The smell of coffee filled the air on a recent Thursday morning in Carpenter's Shelter, a homeless shelter here, as about a dozen people milled about. Two U.S. Army veterans were among them: a middle-aged man and woman who aren't looking for a permanent place to live. They said the food, showers and services at the shelter are enough, for now. The Obama administration, in June 2014, challenged local governments to find a home for all veterans who want one by the end of this month. At least nine states and 850 municipalities tried to meet the goal, but Virginia and 15 municipalities were the only ones that succeeded. But even there, hundreds of veterans remain homeless, most often because they have mental health or substance abuse problems, or just want to live on the street. In Virginia, the two at Carpenter's Shelter are among about 600 homeless veterans. There are hundreds more in the municipalities that met the goal in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas. The goal did not require municipalities to show that all veterans had been housed just to prove they could quickly provide shelter, if needed. And even in places that did find a home for most veterans, some of them found themselves on the street again.

Active-shooter training for office workers used to be about hiding. Not anymore.

Source: Michael S. Rosenwald, Washington Post

A day after the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., left 14 people dead, Temony McNeil was on the floor of his Washington office, pinned down by co-workers. At 6 feet and 240 pounds, McNeil is no pushover. But when colleagues being trained to take down an active shooter got control of his neck he'd need Advil afterward the senior accounting manager found himself unable to go anywhere. "They had me down," he said. McNeil, 39, had been tapped to impersonate an active shooter in the role-playing exercise. With guidance from a former SWAT team officer, his co-workers at NeighborWorks America, an affordable-housing group based in the District, were rehearsing their response going after their predator, not cowering behind a desk or hiding in the corner. From Silicon Valley tech companies to Northern Virginia credit unions, this new approach to the threat of active shooters is gaining ground. Spooked by a year of high-profile rampages, hundreds of companies and organizations like NeighborWorks are racing to train their workers how to react to a shooter in their workplaces. And after decades of telling employees to lock down and shelter in place, they are teaching them to fight back if evacuating is not an option. The idea: Work as a team to disrupt and confuse shooters, opening up a split second to take them down. The paradigm shift in response from passive to active has been endorsed and promoted by the Department of Homeland Security. Last month, it recommended that federal workplaces adopt the training program "Run, Hide, Fight," which it helped develop. D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier used the same phrase on a recent episode of "60 Minutes."

December 18, 2015

The Disturbing Story Of Widespread Sexual Assault Allegations At A Major Progressive PR Firm

Source: Amanda Terkel, Ryan Grim, and Sam Stein, Huffington Post

FitzGibbon Media, a prominent progressive public relations firm, abruptly shut down on Thursday amid allegations of sexual harassment and assault by the company's president. Trevor FitzGibbon and his team worked with some of the biggest progressive organizations, including NARAL, MoveOn, the Center for American Progress and the AFL-CIO, as well as Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning and The Intercept. The company sponsored an event with The Huffington Post earlier this year. Multiple female employees came forward with accusations of sexual harassment and assault against FitzGibbon, according to employees who spoke with The Huffington Post. A joint statement from former FitzGibbon media staffers Thursday evening confirmed HuffPost's report from earlier in the day.
"The team that comprised FitzGibbon Media is incredibly sad and disappointed to confirm that allegations have been made against Trevor FitzGibbon, FitzGibbon Media founder and President, for sexual assault and harassment of multiple female staffers," the statement said. "Staffers reported over a half dozen incidents of sexual harassment and at least two involving sexual assault committed by Trevor FitzGibbon against his own employees." FitzGibbon has faced accusations of inappropriate workplace behavior before. During his prior employment at Fenton Communications, a major PR firm, a female colleague accused him of sexual harassment, Bill Werde, Fenton's current CEO, confirmed to The Huffington Post on Thursday night. "The firm immediately investigated the claims and brought in a nationally recognized workplace expert to conduct a day long training with all employees in the Washington office, focused on preventing and handling any incidences of sexual harassment," Werde said in a statement. "Employees were also offered follow-up consultations with the expert."

California adds just 5,500 jobs in November; unemployment rate declines to 5.7%

Source: Chris Kirkham, LA Times

California employers added just 5,500 net new jobs in November, according to federal data -- a significant slowdown from more robust monthly gains earlier in the year. The state unemployment rate dipped in November to 5.7%, down from 5.8% in October and the lowest in eight years.

'This is a different age': Why schools are taking terror threats more seriously

Source: Sandhya Somashekhar and Lindsey Bever, Washington Post

In Snohomish, Wash., 1,600 high school students were evacuated after a bomb threat was found scrawled on a bathroom wall. In Lowell, Ind., 1,300 high school students were locked down for two hours after a student reportedly threatened to "shoot up the school."And in Beavercreek, Ohio, more than 2,000 high school students were sent home early after someone phoned in a bomb threat the third targeting the school this fall. While attention was trained this week on Los Angeles and its decision to shutter schools over a fake bomb threat, more than a dozen other incidents on the very same day prompted panic at the nation's educational institutions a sign of the times, and an indication that schools are taking threats increasingly seriously. "What we've told our children is that this is a different age you can't make jokes and talk about shootings or bombings," said Lowell Superintendent Debra Howe. "Everything has a heightened sense of awareness now." After a series of mass shootings this year, as well as terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Americans are feeling jittery. A Gallup poll found fear of terrorism hit its highest point in 10 years in November, with one-in-six Americans now naming terrorism as the most important issue in the country.

Fact Checking Uber On Labor Laws

Source: Aarti Shahani, NPR

Uber has grown into a global phenomenon with a flexible labor system in which drivers are treated as independent contractors. Increasingly, that system is under attack. Just this week Seattle passed a historic law to allow Uber drivers, and other drivers on contract, to unionize. And it turns out, according to legal experts, the local law has teeth. Let's start by fact checking David Plouffe. The policy guru at Uber who used to be the campaign guru for President Obama did an interview with NPR last month. On the right to unionize, as Seattle was proposing, Plouffe said, "Well, there's very clear federal law on this, that independent contractors cannot be organized. [So] that's clear." Well actually, it is clear that he's wrong, according to some labor experts. "My view is the opposite," says Wilma Liebman, who served on the National Labor Relations Board under Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama. Matthew Finkin, a labor law professor at the University of Illinois, adds: "Because [contract workers are] excluded from federal coverage doesn't mean the federal law meant for them to have no rights at all. What rights they're able to assert could be provided by state law or in this case municipal ordinance." The Supreme Court decided in two landmark cases (in 1959 and 1986) to limit how much action state and local governments can take on labor matters, ruling they can't regulate where the NLRB has jurisdiction.

December 17, 2015

The legal maneuver that allows corporations to pretend that state laws don't exist

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

The month before he left Suntrust Mortgage, in March of 2015, loan officer Bill Miller had the best sales of his life. He says he brought in $7.4 million worth, which should have entitled him to around $60,000 in commissions. He says he even worked scores of hours into the next month after he'd joined another local firm to make sure the loans went through. What happened next was a surprise. His commissions never materialized. At the end of April, "I said, gee whiz, here's all the loans I closed," Miller recalled, in a glassy conference room at his new employer, 1st Mariner Mortgage. "And they said, 'we're not paying you for any of those.'" In Maryland, salespeople are entitled to commissions on all deals they substantially complete, regardless of whether they're still employed by their company when the deal closes. Miller appealed to the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, and the agency agreed he'd been shorted $56,967.81. "We determined that your employer violated the Maryland Wage Payment Law...by failing to pay your commission wages," it read. But Suntrust disagrees. In a letter to Miller's attorney, a lawyer for the company pointed out what had seemed like an innocuous clause in the standard contract presented to loan officers: "The Plan will be governed by and interpreted in accordance with the laws of the state of Georgia…regardless of the location of the Participant's employment." And in Georgia, loan officers aren't entitled to commissions on deals that close after they quit. The legal arrangement is known as a "choice-of-law" provision, and it's one of a growing number of tools being used by corporations to protect their interests.

Chicago Public Schools settle civil rights lawsuit from pregnant teachers

Source: Aamer Madhani, USA Today

The Justice Department announced Wednesday it has reached a settlement with the nation's third-largest school system over allegations that it discriminated against pregnant teachers and new mothers in violation of federal law. The settlement came nearly a year after DOJ filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Chicago Public Schools system alleging that eight teachers at one elementary school were given lower performance ratings and targeted for firing by their principal after they had become pregnant or returned to work following their pregnancies. Federal law prohibits employers from discriminating against female employees due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Under the settlement, which still needs to be approved by a federal judge, the school board has agreed to change its personnel policies to guard against discrimination on the basis of sex and pregnancy in the future. The board has also agreed to establish new training requirements for supervisors and staff, according to the settlement. Announcement of the settlement comes as Chicago teachers are inching toward a strike. Teachers have been working without a contract since June and have balked at terms of a multiyear agreement from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration that they say would include pay cuts and an increase in health care costs. The Chicago Teachers Union announced on Monday that its members voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leadership to call a strike. Negotiations still have to move to the fact-finding phase and then a 105-day cooling off period before a strike could be called.

Nestle CEO Takes Stand in Harassment Suit Brought by Executive

Source: Hugo Miller, Bloomberg

Nestle SA Chief Executive Officer Paul Bulcke took the witness stand Wednesday in a harassment lawsuit brought by a former employee who alleges the world's largest foodmaker ignored her warnings about product safety. Bulcke said he could not recall the specifics of a 2006 meeting that Yasmine Motarjemi, a former food safety director at Nestle, said was key to her complaints. The court hearing was limited to journalists and pre-approved members of the public at Nestle's request. "There are a lot of meetings and I try to attend all those that merit it," Bulcke told the judge who was questioning him at the court in Lausanne, Switzerland, less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the foodmaker's headquarters. "Food safety is something we take very seriously." Motarjemi, who was hired as director of food safety for the Swiss company in 2000, alleges that she was subject to harassment from 2006 onward, after her repeated attempts to flag food safety lapses were ignored, before she was fired in 2010. The case is potentially embarrassing for the company, which has denied the charges of harassment and food security lapses, as the popularity of its brands hinge on consumers' loyalty. Nestle, which sells brands including Perrier water and Purina cat food, said earlier this year that a recall of its Maggi brand noodles in India hurt sales in Asia, which led to nine-month revenue missing analysts' estimates. The Maggi recall followed a report by Indian regulators that they found unsafe amounts of lead levels in a noodle packet. Nestle, which had maintained its noodles were safe, filed a case in June, challenging the recall. The Bombay High Court later overturned the ban on Maggi noodles, and ordered tests that showed the noodles were safe.

December 16, 2015

After Calif. Shootings, Workplaces Examine Emergency Plans

Source: The Associated Press, New York Times

The terror attack at a social services facility in California has become a sobering reminder to companies of how vulnerable workplaces can be when employees are confronted with active shooters. Since a gun-wielding husband-and-wife team killed 14 and wounded 21 others this month in San Bernardino, California, employers across the country have been reassessing their emergency plans to ensure they are prepared to deal with workplace violence. More companies have been calling security and human resources experts to get information on how to prepare for an attack. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said big companies have asked for permission to use its nine-minute video, "Surviving an Active Shooter," which portrays shootings in an office, a shopping mall and a school. And "Run. Hide. Fight.," a six-minute video created by Houston officials on what to do when someone opens fire in the office, has been viewed tens of thousands of times daily since the rampage, the most views since its release around the time of the mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater in 2012. Jackie Miller, the city of Houston's community preparedness programs manager, said one company asked for 6,000 wallet-sized cards with the mantra from the video, encouraging workers to hide if they can't run, and fight if they can't hide. The company inquiries come as workplace violence in the U.S. has made international headlines. The most recent official statistics are two years old and show the rate of workplace violence to be steady for the previous two decades. Still, deaths resulting from workplace violence were the second leading cause of job fatalities in the U.S. after transportation incidents in 2013, the latest data available, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Freddie Gray jury deliberations enter day 3 while Baltimore braces for verdict

Source: Kevin Rector and Justin Fenton, Los Angeles Times

A deadlocked, 12-member jury asked to reach a consensus on Baltimore Officer William G. Porter's guilt or innocence in the death of Freddie Gray resumed deliberations Wednesday morning. Judge Barry G. Williams on Tuesday ordered the jury back to work, asking them to try harder to reach a consensus on the charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. If the jury cannot reach a verdict, Williams will be forced to declare a mistrial on the undecided counts, leaving it to prosecutors to decide whether to retry the case. After 10 hours of deliberations that began Monday afternoon, jury members sent a note to Williams on Tuesday afternoon indicating that they were deadlocked. The panel did not elaborate on whether the members were split on one, some or all of the charges, or which way they were leaning. Williams, meeting the jurors in open court, instructed them to return to deliberations. He read from a portion of the jury instructions that said the members must come to a unanimous decision in order to reach a conviction or acquittal. Jurors then deliberated for about two more hours before breaking for the day.

Lawmaker wants FBI investigation into military's handling of Afghanistan attack whistleblower

Source: Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times

A key congressman is pressing Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to set up an independent investigation into a jihadi's killing of three Marines in 2012, the role of a corrupt Afghan police chief in their deaths and the Navy's decision to discharge the officer who tried to warn the base. In a letter, Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican and a former Marine Corps officer, said neither the Pentagon inspector general nor the Naval Criminal Investigative Command should have any role in such a probe. Instead, he said, the FBI needs to investigate charges of child sex abuse by Afghan police chief Sarwan Jan, whether any U.S. military commanders knew of but failed to act on the abuse, and whether the Navy's investigation into the killings had any flaws. "I ask that you undertake an expedited review of this case and make an immediate recommendation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation to initiate an investigation," the House Armed Services Committee member told Mr. Carter. According to a U.S. intelligence report, Mr. Jan showed up at Forward Operating Base Delhi with nine boys and male teens. One of them walked into the base gym and opened fire, killing three unarmed Marines. The teen proclaimed he was carrying out jihad. A judge sentenced him to 7 and a half years in prison.

December 15, 2015

Supreme Court rejects class-action suit against DirecTV

Source: Robert Barnes, Washington Post

The Supreme Court said Monday that a class-action suit against satellite TV provider ­DirecTV over early-termination fees cannot go forward, because such complaints must be settled by private arbitration hearings. The court ruled 6 to 3 that its previous decisions on the subject mean that California consumers may not rely on a state law that would have allowed consumers the right to band together to sue. The action continues the court's string of rulings that cut back on class-action suits and strengthens the power of companies to insist that consumer complaints must be settled by arbitration, which is generally seen as more advantageous for businesses. Those rulings brought a sharp dissent from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "These decisions have predictably resulted in the deprivation of consumers' rights to seek redress for losses, and turning the coin, they have insulated powerful economic interests from liability for violations of consumer protection laws," wrote Ginsburg, who was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Stephen G. Breyer was tasked by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. with writing Monday's decision, even though he dissented in the court's 2011 decision in AT&T v. Concepcion that proved fatal to the California consumers. It said that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts state rules that keep class-arbitration bans from being enforced.

Seattle Will Allow Uber and Lyft Drivers to Form Unions

Source: Nick Wingfield and Mike Isaac, New York Times

The Seattle City Council voted unanimously to approve a bill allowing drivers for Uber, Lyft and other ride-hailing apps to form unions. Council members voted 9-0 in favor of the ordinance, the first legislation of its kind in the country. The decision was greeted with cheers in a City Council chamber packed with supporters holding placards that read "Driver Unity." The measure is likely to be challenged in court. The vote is a victory for the App-Based Drivers Association, or ABDA, of Seattle, an organization of on-demand contract workers that lobbied with the local Teamsters union for the legislation. It is a fight that other drivers around the country have watched closely; union organizers in California have said that the outcome of the Seattle vote could influence actions taken in their own cities. One member of the City Council, Nick Licata, called the vote "history-setting in what we're attempting to do here in terms of advancing the rights of drivers." The ordinance is also the latest headache for Uber, which is in battles about employment issues across the country. The company faces a class-action lawsuit in California on behalf of some drivers who wish to be considered full-time employees, not contractors. Uber has consistently resisted that effort, underscoring the flexibility its service affords those who drive for the company.

Connecting the Dots Between Therapist Training and Workplace Wellness

Source: Linda Harding-Bond, Huffington Post

The Global Wellness Summit (GWS) recently took place in Mexico City. More than 470 delegates from over 40 countries and sectors came together under the theme "Building a Better World." The top 10 trends were identified. One of the trends, "Workplace Wellness," affects most industries where people physically come to work. According to GWS, "Workplace Wellness will become more absorbed into the company zeitgeist and get more 'real.' Work-culture-wide initiatives will tackle everything from physical to emotional to financial wellness: fair pay." Dr. Fikray Isaac, chief medical officer at workplace wellness leader Johnson & Johnson, said, "Workplace Wellness will expand far beyond lowering blood/cholesterol levels to helping people feel happy and purposeful at work, getting to how they 'feel inside.'" When I considered the impact of this vision to the spa industry today, it made me wonder: How do you get there from here? As a writer and spa training consultant, one issue that seems to be constant with managers is the low or no training budget. Several industry insiders tell me that it's not uncommon to allocate $300 per year for training, and that is per spa, not per therapist. I wonder with all of the concern expressed by senior management about customer retention, employee retention and revenue generation, why hasn't more money been allocated to staff training? When I was a spa therapist what lowered my blood pressure and gave me a good purposeful feeling began with the ability to pay my bills at the end of the month. At that time Harvard Business Review studies had not yet been done quantifying the benefits of an excellent personalized, customized experience. I was engaged at work because I had been taught the skills to successfully upsell treatments and recommend retail products. Each guest was unique and it was stimulating and fun for me to customize their experience. That made my guests happy which led to my "Best Esthetician" in Philadelphia award. The additional commission pay served to supplement my income allowing me to afford much needed bodywork, nutritious food and other niceties. The owner of my former spa was bullish on training her staff, resulting in more than 30 awards and recognition for best spa and various services.

December 14, 2015

Seattle Considers Measure to Let Uber and Lyft Drivers Unionize

Source: Mike Isaac, Nick Wingfield, and Noam Scheiber, New York Times

After burning out the clutch on his Kia Soul last year, Don Creery bought a new car with an automatic transmission. He went into debt for the vehicle because he considered it an investment: He had just started driving full time in Seattle for Lyft and Uber, the ride-hailing start-ups, and was making money. Since then, Uber and Lyft have cut the rates they charge passengers for rides and ended the incentives used to recruit drivers. Mr. Creery said he now has to drive 10 to 12 hours a day to make the amount of money he once did working six to eight hours. He is not taking it lying down. On Monday, the Seattle City Council plans to vote on a proposed law to give freelance, on-demand drivers like Mr. Creery the right to collectively negotiate on pay and working conditions, a right historically reserved for regular employees. Mr. Creery and hundreds of fellow drivers in Seattle helped push for the legislation. The hope, he said, is to give drivers more say on how much they should be paid. "Early on, these companies were really great," said Mr. Creery, 62, a lifelong Seattle resident whose primary source of income is driving for Uber and Lyft. "But when it comes down to it, they keep lowering their rates on us." If Mr. Creery and other drivers are successful and early indications are positive the group they belong to, the App-Based Drivers Association, or ABDA, will become the first organization of on-demand contract workers in the United States to win an explicit right to unionize, albeit one that could run afoul of federal law. If workers in other cities follow suit, it could spur a potential shift in the rights of American contract workers, one that could have lasting repercussions on Uber's bottom line and $62.5 billion valuation.

No One Is Actually Sure If The 'Sharing Economy' Even Exists

Source: Shane Ferro, Huffington Post

There has been a lot of hype lately about the so-called gig economy. It's huge! It's growing! We're all going to be freelancers soon! But is this actually true? Well, that depends on whom you ask. A recent study says there are a whopping 54 million freelancers in America and concludes that "we're entering a new era of work project-based, independent, exciting, potentially risky, and rich with opportunities." The paper was put out by the Freelancers Union, an insurance pool for freelance workers, and Upwork, a company that connects businesses with freelancers.
Another report published this week by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute says the freelance economy is far smaller and that it actually shrank over the last year, from 19.6 million independent contractors to 18.1 million.
This issue has come to the forefront of economic policy discussion because of the number of high-profile Silicon Valley companies, like Uber, that use independent contractors rather than having employees. The real question is whether these companies represent a true shift in the economy, or whether they're just a tiny sample that's great at getting press. There's no question that freelancers get a raw deal in the U.S., since employers tend to subsidize health insurance, retirement benefits and even taxes. The question is whether the economy is changing such that it's leaving out many more people than it did before.
The EPI report concludes that, "based on current trends there is no reason to believe that in the near or intermediate future a large and growing share of people will obtain their main source of income from freelancing or doing gig work." It refutes FU's claim that there are 54 million people freelancing in America. That's a huge number equal to a third of the American workforce. The problem, says Lawrence Mishel at EPI, is that it isn't totally accurate.

Slavery labels sought for U.S. goods as SEC reporting law mulled

Source: Erik Larson, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

"This item may be the product of slave labor." Those jarring words could end up on candy bar wrappers, packages of frozen shrimp and even cans of cat food if some California lawyers get their way. Forced labor permeates supply chains that stretch across the globe, from remote farms in Africa and the seas off Southeast Asia to supermarkets in America and Europe. Almost 21 million people are enslaved for profit worldwide, the UN says, providing $150 billion in illicit revenue every year. Governments are pushing companies to better police suppliers, including proposed SEC reporting rules in the U.S. But that's not enough for a group of law firms. They've sued name-brand companies doing business in California, like Hershey Co., Mars Inc., Nestle SA and Costco Wholesale Corp., hoping to use the state's novel consumer protection laws to put the suffering of millions squarely in front of shoppers. "These lawsuits are vehicles for forcing business ethics," said Niall McCarthy, an attorney with one of the class-action firms taking up the issue, Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy. "You cannot ignore human suffering to make a buck." The companies say there's no state law mandating warnings, and that they're doing their best to avoid working with anyone using slave labor. This week, Nestle prevailed in Los Angeles, where a federal judge agreed there's no requirement to warn consumers about seafood from Thailand. The lawyers behind that suit have vowed to appeal, while Mr. McCarthy's firm will argue a similar case against Costco in San Francisco later this month. A victory for consumer lawyers may force companies into a corner: Give shoppers a moral dilemma every time they go to the supermarket, or pay suppliers a lot more to eliminate any temptation to use slave labor.

December 11, 2015

Selling Stardom: Aspiring actors are reeled in by talent listing firms

Source: Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times

Rita Reimers, 54, runs a cat-sitting service in Charlotte, N.C. But what she really wants to do is act. Breaking into show business seemed nearly impossible, until she saw an online pitch for Explore Talent. The company's website promises access to casting calls and audition opportunities, billing itself as the "world's largest talent resource." Reimers said she signed up for the service about a decade ago, but canceled her membership when the acting gigs didn't materialize. Then last year, she said she got a call from an Explore representative, who said he could land her an audition for a Tom Cruise film if she renewed her membership. She paid $120 to get the company's services for six months, knowing that in Hollywood, nothing happens without a talent agent. And that's what she thought she was getting. "Who else would have parts in movies for people?" Reimers said. "They would call and say, 'Oh, you're right for this.' That sounds like a talent agency." In fact, Reimers had contacted a talent listing service. These firms operate in a cut-rate corner of Hollywood one in which outsized aspirations and naiveté collide with companies touting a chance at a career in front of the camera. Listing services provide databases of audition and employment opportunities. They also offer to promote their clients on a Web page with a photograph, resume, reel and portfolio. There's one problem: Hardly anyone who is anyone in Hollywood takes these services seriously. Most working actors and their agents find out about auditions and casting calls through their own contacts or long-established casting services.

A Middle Ground Between Contract Worker and Employee

Source: Noam Scheiber, New York Times

For roughly the first two years of its existence, Munchery, an on-demand food preparation and delivery service, classified its drivers as independent contractors. They were not covered by minimum wage and overtime laws, and were not eligible for unemployment insurance or workers' compensation. Then, in 2013, it reversed course and made its drivers full-blown employees. In addition to those various protections, they received health benefits if they worked at least 30 hours per week. The about-face suggests an ambiguity in the status of workers at Munchery and other on-demand companies like the car-hailing services Uber and Lyft. These workers have some characteristics typically associated with contractors (like working as few or as many hours as they want), and some associated with regular employees (the companies often give some form of instructions about how to perform tasks). This ambiguity has, in turn, led to pleas by technology executives and policy advocates for the creation of a new kind of worker status that would effectively split the difference between the two categories. Alan B. Krueger, a former chief economist to President Obama, and Seth D. Harris, a former deputy labor secretary, argued in a paper released this week that many workers in the so-called online gig economy should have more rights and protections than most do now. At the same time, they wrote, "forcing these new forms of work into a traditional employment relationship could be an existential threat to the emergence of online-intermediated work." Munchery's experience, however, suggests that the traditional employee-contractor dichotomy in the laws governing work may still hold up reasonably well when it comes to this new world. The true source of ambiguity may be confusion on the part of the companies themselves over which model best suits their business needs.

When Will Labor Laws Catch Up With the Gig Economy?

Source: Gillian B. White, Atlantic

If asked to define the variously named sharing/gig/on-demand economy, anyone would struggle. Despite the fact that Uber and Airbnb have become household names, most companies that are considered part of this new tech-driven, non-ownership economy do vastly different things. And so do their workers. This nebulousness of these companies makes them hard not only to define, but also to regulate. Part of the problem is the limited, binary system for labeling workers either they are employees with all the legal protections that imbues or not argue Seth Harris and Alan Krueger in a new paper from the Brookings Institution. They (and others) have suggested that the solution is finding a new, middle classification, which would allow workers and employers to retain some of the freedoms associated with independent work while enjoying some of the protections from being mistreated. Krueger and Harris specifically recommend that workers who straddle the line between being a 1099 independent contractor and a W-2 employee should be able to retain flexibility of hours, while enjoying the right to organize, civil-rights protections, and tax withholding-but not the more contested benefits of unemployment insurance, workers comp, and minimum-wage requirements. For many workers' advocates, leaving these benefits out of the classification is a weakness of this proposal. In particular, the rejection of workers comp, for individuals injured on the job, and unemployment insurance, should a worker be suddenly dismissed, would be hard to swallow. Harris says these benefits were left out because they could be addressed through collective bargaining, which the proposed classification does protect. During an event hosted by Brookings to discuss the new proposal, experts agreed that the fast and vast growth of these companies made pinning down precise problems and solutions difficult. "We are creating really large businesses very very quickly and are not completely educated on what it takes to be a good employer," said Marcela Sapone, the chief executive officer of Hello Alfred, an on-demand service that helps coordinate chores like grocery shopping, laundry delivery, and cleaning. But already the conversation about employee classification seems to be having an impact without explicit regulation. Hello Alfred and a spate of companies that fit the sharing or on-demand model have already made the choice to bestow greater protections on their workers by making them full employees. The benefit for workers is apparent, but for companies it also means that they have greater control over their workers and their work product and they don't have to worry about lawsuits or impending legislation that could force them to make their workers employees.

December 10, 2015

Judge expands scope of Uber lawsuit

Source: Sudhin Thanawala, Washington Post

A federal judge Wednesday increased the number of drivers eligible to join a lawsuit against ride-hailing company Uber alleging they were incorrectly classified as independent contractors when they were actually employees. U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco certified an additional class of California drivers in the suit. Shannon Liss-Riordan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the ruling would allow "many thousands more Uber drivers to be covered" by the lawsuit. Before the expansion, Chen had estimated that at least hundreds of drivers would qualify for the suit. Chen also said in his ruling the drivers could seek vehicle-related and phone expenses. He had previously limited the drivers' claims to tips. Wednesday' ruling means the company could be on the hook for more in damages if it loses the case. Uber said in a statement it would appeal Chen's ruling and was confident it would win on the merits of the case. "Drivers use Uber on their own terms; they control their use of the app along with where and when they drive," the company said. "As employees, drivers would lose the personal flexibility they value most." The plaintiffs in the suit several current and former Uber drivers say they are Uber employees and have been shortchanged on expenses and tips.

Deaf employee sues UPS

Source: Julie Shaw, Philly.com

As A deaf employee, Michael MacDonald can do his work as a package handler at the United Parcel Service facility at Philadelphia International Airport without assistance. But when it comes to employee meetings and to understanding certain things - such as safety and emergency procedures, company policies and procedures, and some other workplace communications he needs an American Sign Language interpreter. Federal law the Americans with Disabilities Act "requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities so that they can enjoy equal employment opportunities and participate fully in the workplace," said Julie Foster, an attorney at the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which filed a lawsuit on MacDonald's behalf. The lawsuit, filed last month in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, contends UPS has repeatedly failed to provide MacDonald with an ASL interpreter when he needs one and has failed to provide other reasonable accommodations so he can effectively communicate in the workplace. As a result, MacDonald has faced "stigmatization, embarrassment, and anxiety over workplace safety," the lawsuit says. MacDonald, 37, of South Philadelphia, was born deaf. His primary language is ASL, not English. In an interview at the Public Interest Law Center's Center City office last week, MacDonald explained that he can do his daily tasks without an interpreter, but when there is an employee meeting, he needs an interpreter. "No meeting, I don't need an interpreter, I can do my job," MacDonald said through the assistance of ASL interpreter Joy Harris of the Deaf-Hearing Communication Centre.

A Safety Net for On-Demand Workers?

Source: Steven Greenhouse, The American Prospect

For many Americans who care about how workers are treated, their biggest concern about the much-ballyhooed "on-demand" economy is the way that Uber, Lyft, and other "gig economy" companies have rushed to treat their workers as independent contractors. For employers, the advantages of this strategy are huge (as I explain in my deep dive for the Prospect about Uber's questionable labor practices): You don't have to follow minimum wage, overtime, or employment discrimination laws, you don't have to make employer contributions to Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment insurance, and your workers can't unionize. A new paper, released on Monday, has some provocative recommendations about how to deal with this phenomenon the nation's oh-so-cool on-demand companies scurrying to dodge all or nearly all responsibilities and obligations to their workers. The paper posits that workers who get their work through an app or platform like Mechanical Turk or Task Rabbit are a new type of worker. The paper by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist who once headed Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, and Seth Harris, a former deputy secretary of labor says it's often maddeningly difficult to determine whether Uber drivers, GrubHub deliverymen, or Task Rabbit workers are employees or independent contractors. They say that many workers fall between the two categories (a notion that some experts, like Harvard Law School's Ben Sachs, take strong issue with), and they propose that Congress update the nation's labor laws and create a third category of workers: independent workers. Krueger and Harris say that under such new legislation, independent workers should have many of the protections of regular employees they should be covered by employment-discrimination laws, they should have the right to unionize and bargain collectively, and their employers should pay Social Security and Medicare taxes. But Krueger and Harris argue that these "gig economy" workers shouldn't be covered by minimum wage and overtime laws because, in their view, it's so hard to keep track of exactly when they're working since they are often totally free to choose their hours and can sign on and off the app whenever they want.

December 9, 2015

Busy Air Traffic Control Facilities Lack Enough Controllers

Source: The Associated Press, New York Times

Thirteen of the nation's busiest air traffic control facilities are suffering from a shortage of air traffic controllers, a problem that demands "urgent attention," a government watchdog told lawmakers on Tuesday. The number of fully qualified controllers is "below the minimum staffing requirements" the Federal Aviation Administration has set, Matthew Hampton, a Department of Transportation assistant inspector general, told members of the House transportation aviation subcommittee. He didn't provide a list of all 13, but cited facilities in New York, Dallas, Denver and Chicago as examples. The facilities also are under stress because a large share of their controllers are still being trained and are not yet competent to work on their own, he said. Many of their experienced controllers also are eligible to retire, Hampton said. He cited several reasons for the understaffing: a lack of precision in the FAA models for estimating staff requirements; failure to fully use systems to determine the best controller schedules; lack of accurate and complete data on planned retirements and poor communication between FAA headquarters and field offices. Officials with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the union representing controllers, also complained that many of the busiest facilities are understaffed. Union President Paul Rinaldi described the difficulty in moving an experienced controller from a less-busy workplace to a busy one. Managers are reluctant to let workers go for fear they won't be readily replaceable, he said. And employees may oppose moving to an area where the cost of living is higher New York, for example. It also takes a controller who's moving up to a busier location two or three years to adapt to the heavier loads. Attrition rates are high, Rinaldi said. Adding to the problem, said union vice president Trish Gilbert: A third of FAA's 10,900 controllers are eligible to retire and new controllers have high failure rates.

Uber: On the Road to Nowhere

Source: Steven Greenhouse, The American Prospect

Last August 31, Takele Gobena, an Uber driver, stood alongside Seattle City Councilman Mike O'Brien at a news conference, complaining that his Uber earnings came to less than the federal minimum wage after factoring in gas, insurance, and other costs. At the press conference, Gobena, a 26-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia, hailed O'Brien's plan to introduce legislation that would allow Seattle's Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize and bargain collectively, even though those companies insist their drivers are independent contractors and not employees. A half-dozen drivers flanked O'Brien, holding signs saying, "Drivers need a voice." Toward the end of his remarks, Gobena, a member of the App-Based Drivers Association, said, "I know Uber will probably deactivate me tomorrow, but I'm ready because this is worth fighting for." It didn't take that long. At 6:50 that evening, a few hours after several websites posted stories about the news conference, Uber emailed Gobena to notify him that he had been deactivated as a driver. The reason Uber gave: His auto insurance had expired. Gobena rushed to inform the news media and Councilman O'Brien about his being deactivated (Uber-ese for dismissed). Not only that, Gobena sent them iPhone photos of his insurance certificate, which wasn't to expire until December. Several reporters contacted Uber to ask about the sudden deactivation, and as if by magic, Uber re-activated Gobena around 9 p.m. (Uber denied de-activating him, even though news websites later posted a screenshot of Uber's deactivation message on Gobena's phone.) "We have made Uber become a very valuable company, but they are treating us in an inhuman way," says Gobena, who is studying business at the University of Washington. "Some days, I spend 16 hours on the road. Most of the drivers do the same thing."

The labor ruling that's now a hot-button political issue

Source: Kate Gibson, CBS News

Franchises are worried that a new labor law is going to put them out of business. In a conference call promoted by the International Franchise Association (IFA), three lawmakers and a handful of business owners called for the adoption of language in the omnibus appropriations bill to void a recent ruling by the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that tens of thousands of small businesses may otherwise fail. Calling the late August ruling a "radical overreach into the American dream," Texas Rep. Bill Flores on Monday said the labor board's decision held the potential to destroy "the entire franchise model." Flores, a Republican, said he was "calling on this Congress to stand up for small business everywhere, (and) fortunately this week in Congress we have the chance." At least one supporter of the NLRB ruling sees those odds as long. "The administration has been pretty clear they don't intend to negotiate over what they call 'ideological riders,'" said Bill Samuel, the AFL-CIO's legislative director. "This is decision-making by an independent agency, it would be bad precedent for Congress or the White House to get involved." The regulatory action, seen as one of the more important shifts in labor rules, has gotten strong support from the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters Union, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the IFA were among those decrying it. "The chamber supports the joint employer rider and has been lobbying for it," a spokesperson for the trade group emailed on Monday. "We hope it will be included in the spending bill." The NLRB decision dealt specifically with waste-management company Browning-Ferris Industries and its use of Leadpoint Business Services to staff a facility in California. The labor board found that Browning-Ferris should be viewed as a "joint employer" with the Phoenix-based staffing firm.

December 8, 2015

L.A. rolls back pension reform

Source: The Times Editorial Board, Los Angeles Times

Three years ago, then-Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council voted to reduce the retirement benefits they would offer to future civilian hires, in an effort to curtail the growing pension costs that have been consuming more and more of the city budget. This year, those costs ate up 20% of the general fund, leaving less money to spend on police patrols, street paving, park cleaning and other city services. The 2012 vote for pension reform was expected to save $6.9 billion over 30 years, and it was widely hailed as the foundation needed to put L.A. on a path for financial stability. But the Coalition of L.A. City Unions filed an unfair labor practice challenge and lawsuit, arguing that the city should have negotiated its pension reform plan in the collective bargaining process, rather than simply imposing it. The city's Employee Relations Board sided with the union, which represents about 17,000 civilian workers. With a lawsuit still outstanding and the threat of a strike as contract negotiations dragged on, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council leaders decided to try and reach a settlement while negotiating a new labor contract with the coalition. The result is that on Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote on a new four-year labor contract that also rolls back the aggressive pension reforms.

Why is Secret Service morale so low?

Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post

One of the most important secrets the Secret Service must uncover is how to improve the morale of its employees. A new report shows it is a mystery the agency hasn't solved. But here are two clues in recent years the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) has had too many leaders and too few staffers. The 2015 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government report indicates the Secret Service is not one of them. With its image as an elite law enforcement agency, protecting presidents and popes, severely battered by a series of security breaches in recent years, it's no surprise the morale of its employees would fall. For those who have seen the Secret Service up close, on a presidential trip or at the White House, the agency has a well-deserved reputation for professionalism, diligence and expertise. But mistakes, sometimes big mistakes, by a few have diminished the agency's stature and that can hit the morale of many. Just how much has been quantified by the Best Places report the Partnership for Public Service and the Deloitte consulting firm scheduled for release Tuesday. The Secret Service ranks 319 out of 320 agencies, with a "sizable drop in employee satisfaction in all 10 workplace categories." The agency's current index score measuring employee engagement is at a new low, 28 percent lower than last year and just half what it was 10 years ago.

Federal judge weighs landmark settlement on disabled workers

Source: Jonathan J. Cooper , Associated Press

Workers who have intellectual or developmental disabilities told a federal judge Monday that they enjoy working in traditional jobs more than "sheltered workshops" where they interact almost exclusively with disabled co-workers.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Janice Stewart is considering whether to approve a proposed settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by workers with disabilities, advocacy groups and the U.S. Department of Justice. DOJ lawyers say the settlement would be the first of its kind with a written finding that the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits employment segregation for people with disabilities. Stewart heard from seven Oregon workers who have disabilities and were called to testify by lawyers supporting the settlement. Selena Mitchell of Salem told the judge she worked in sheltered workshops for 17 years. In one janitorial job, she wasn't allowed to talk to her co-workers, she had to ask permission to use the restroom and was clocked out when she did so, she said. She started at $2 an hour and eventually made $4.50."They treat you like a little kid pretty much," she testified. "That's what I felt like."Recently, however, she got a job in a downtown Salem craft store where people can paint and decorate pottery. She makes the state minimum wage $9.25 an hour to greet customers, clean supplies, clear and set tables and provide assistance as best she can. "It makes me feel good that I can help other people out and also make friends out in the community," Mitchell said. Under the settlement, the state of Oregon agreed to provide opportunities and help for many more workers to follow Mitchell's path from segregated to integrated employment. The state also agreed to stop practices that, critics said, acted as a pipeline from schools into segregated worksites.
Sheltered workshops receive state and federal funding to provide support for people with disabilities, who often perform rote tasks, such as assembly-line work, for less than minimum wage.

December 7, 2015

Even in fraud cases, Wells Fargo customers are locked into arbitration

Source: James Rufus Koren, Los Angeles Times

Open a checking account at Wells Fargo Bank and you'll have to sign an agreement that says you can't sue the company that any disputes have to go to a private arbitrator, not to court. But what if a Wells Fargo employee then creates a separate, bogus account in your name? It turns out that arbitration still rules the day. As the San Francisco banking giant faces allegations that its employees regularly create fake accounts to boost sales figures, courts have repeatedly turned away consumers trying to sue over the issue. Judges in California and federal courts have ruled arbitration clauses signed by customers when they opened legitimate accounts prevent them from suing even over allegedly fraudulent accounts created without their knowledge. Those rulings have flabbergasted attorneys bringing lawsuits against Wells Fargo, the subject of a 2013 Times investigation that found a high-pressure environment prompted employees to open unwanted accounts. "It's laughable to any logical person," said Michael P. Kade, a Los Angeles attorney who unsuccessfully argued such a case in L.A. County Superior Court. Kade's client and other customers have alleged bank employees used personal information gleaned from their original accounts to open additional savings, Christmas club and even business checking accounts, costing them unnecessary fees in the process. The bank also is facing a lawsuit from L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer over practices detailed in the Times investigation, but the arbitration clauses are not an issue in that action, which alleges improper use of customer data. The bank's practices are also reportedly being investigated by federal regulators.

Lawsuits part of call for more transparency at law schools

Source: Sudhin Thanawala, Associated Press

Nikki Nguyen left a $50,000-a-year job at Boeing Co. in 2006 to pursue a law degree at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, her sister's successful career as a corporate attorney providing a glimpse of the possibilities she imagined ahead of her. Instead, she struggled for more than a year to find a job after she graduated and watched her student loan debt of over $180,000 balloon. Nguyen, 34, is among 12 former Thomas Jefferson students who are suing the university in a California court, accusing it of inflating its graduates' employment figures and salaries to attract students. "They weren't transparent," said Nguyen, whose case is scheduled to go to trial in March. "People who have a dream of law school should go into it with their eyes wide open." An attorney for Thomas Jefferson, Michael Sullivan, denied the allegations and said the school was following procedures set by the American Bar Association that have since changed. Nguyen's lawsuit is among more than a dozen similar ones filed in recent years against law schools, including Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco and the University of San Francisco School of Law. Though most of the suits have been dismissed, critics say they point to a need for greater regulation and transparency for law schools, so prospective students know their employment prospects, the debt they will incur and even their chances of successfully passing the bar. "Schools are setting up a lot of people to fail," said Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit legal education policy group that had no involvement with the lawsuits.
Thomas Jefferson reported post-graduation employment figures that exceeded 70 percent and topped 90 percent in 2010, but did not disclose that those figures included part-time and non-legal work such as a pool cleaner and a sales clerk at Victoria's Secret and were based on a small sample of graduates, according to Nguyen's lawsuit and her attorney, Brian Procel. The lawsuit further alleges that the school routinely reported unemployed students as employed and shredded surveys and other documents that reflected a more accurate employment picture. Thomas Jefferson responded in court documents that the students ignored additional available employment data. Sullivan said there is "no evidence that demonstrates any effort on the part of the school to misrepresent the post-graduate employment numbers." "These were students who were encountering a more difficult job market," he said. The lawsuits against Golden Gate University and the University of San Francisco also alleged the schools were misrepresenting their post-graduate employment figures. The Golden Gate lawsuit was settled, with each of the five plaintiffs receiving $8,000, according to a May 2015 court filing. The case against the University of San Francisco was dismissed in May. A spokesman for Golden Gate law school, Erik Christensen, referred comment to an attorney, who did not immediately respond. University of San Francisco law spokeswoman Angie Davis said the university and plaintiffs "amicably resolved the matter," and the school could not comment further.

Takata Investor Left Stock After Losing Trust in Management

Source: Yuki Hagiwara, Bloomberg

Takata Corp. has lost the confidence of one of its biggest former shareholders, which said the company cut off access to management and downplayed risks as its air bags spurred a record auto-safety recall. Sawakami Asset Management, whose $2.6 billion stock fund beat the benchmark Topix index 12 of the past 15 years, sold the last of its Takata shares in early October, before a U.S. regulator's unprecedented crackdown on the company. At its peak, Sawakami's holding reached 1.2 million shares, more than Honda Motor Co. owns today. "We could not help feeling the management is not trustworthy," fund manager Takahiro Kusakari said in an interview from his office in Tokyo. "We felt Takata had a 'we are needed and our products are needed, so the business will come back and the situation won't be that bad' kind of attitude, downplaying the issue." Outspoken criticism by a major Japanese investor of a company in scandal stands out in activism-averse Japan. Few voices have emerged in recent months to denounce Toshiba Corp., which overstated profits, or Toyo Tire & Rubber Co., which falsified building material data. In 2011, Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s nuclear plant disaster and accounting fraud at Olympus Corp. failed to elicit shareholders' public wrath.

December 4, 2015

The Next Fight for Racial Justice: Police Union Reform

Source: Steven Cohen, New Republic

The collective bargaining agreement between the City of Chicago and Lodge No. 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) is not an exciting document. Many of its 158 densely worded pages are devoted to topics like insurance subrogation and access to the mailboxes at department headquarters. In 2014, the City Council voted unanimously, 49-0, to approve the current agreement, which runs through June 30, 2017. Until recently, the next set of negotiations promised to play out the same way the last one did, the same way similar ones have, for years, in municipalities big and small, all across the country: quietly, behind closed doors, far from the eyes of the communities most affected by the outcome. Now, as racial justice activists shine new light on the troubling consequences of police union contracting nationwide, Chicago has its own morbid reasons to scrutinize what has long been a fatally overlooked aspect of a fatally overlooked crisis. Within the pervasive system of corruption, complicity, and negligence that led to Laquan McDonald's death and then facilitated its cover-up, Chicago's police officers union has emerged not just as a political impediment to reform, but also as a major institutional foundation underpinning racial injustice. It was a Chicago FOP spokesman, Pat Camden, who first breathed life into the slander that McDonald, a 17-year-old, lunged at detective Jason Van Dyck before Van Dyck shot him 16 times. The officers who allegedly erased 86 minutes of camera footage from a nearby Burger King that would have exposed this lie were presumably union members, too as was whoever posted a bail fund for Van Dyck on the FOP's website.

Wages Up, Prices Low: Shake Shack's Food for Thought for the Fed

Source: Neil Irwin, New York Times

When Federal Reserve officials meet in two weeks to decide whether to raise interest rates, they will probably eat catered food at their Foggy Bottom headquarters. If they want to get some fresh air, though, they might consider heading to the nearest Shake Shack, where they could find both tasty burgers and insight that will make their decision smarter. That's because the latest forecasts from Shake Shack and several other restaurant chains suggest that a mainstay of economic thought that higher wages for workers will quickly translate into higher prices for consumers may not apply as strongly as traditional economic theory suggests. Chain restaurants present a particularly useful window into the ways that an improving economy is, or isn't, transforming into broad-based price inflation. And inflation is the core issue facing the Fed as it considers a rate increase to prevent the economy from overheating. Why restaurants? Labor costs represent a larger portion of their total costs than in many other types of companies, and so any wage increases are more likely to flow through to higher prices for consumers. That sensitivity combined with the ubiquity of the sector makes it an interesting bellwether for the economy. And conveniently, because worker compensation and pricing are such crucial components of the companies' financial performance, restaurant chain executives often talk about what they are seeing in conference calls with investors.

Chesapeake hit with Pa. landowner class action lawsuit

Source: Matt Stroud, Pittsburgh Business Times

A class action lawsuit filed against Chesapeake Energy has taken aim at how royalties are paid out to landowners across the state. Filed in federal court Wednesday by Pittsburgh-based Caroselli, Beachler, McTiernan & Coleman, the complaint claims that the royalties of natural gas landowners are being unfairly underpaid by Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK). Chesapeake's stake in the Marcellus and Utica shales is limited to acreage in north-central Pennsylvania after selling its southwestern Pennsylvania assets to Southwestern Energy Co. (NYSE: SWN) as part of a $5.37 billion deal. The Southwestern acreage is not targeted by this class-action lawsuit. The lawsuit filed Tuesday focused on the terms of leases to drill for natural gas. Natural gas leaseholders typically receive a portion of monthly revenues earned from gas sales after the deduction of post-production costs.
But the class action argues that Chesapeake minimized the amount paid to landowners by not paying royalties on derivative contract proceeds, deducting costs incurred after Chesapeake Appalachia had transferred title to natural gas, and deducting transportation costs and marketing fees unfairly. "This is a classic case of corporate greed run amok," said attorney William R. Caroselli in a statement. "Instead of honoring their mutually agreed upon lease terms, Chesapeake is cheating Pennsylvania property owners out of money to which they are fully entitled. These property owners provided Chesapeake with access to their land in exchange for a share of the revenue generated by the natural gas drilling. Instead of living up to their end of the deal, Chesapeake is trying to take advantage of these people. It¹s not right and these families deserve justice in this case."

December 3, 2015

A grim bargain, once a weakness, low-skilled workers who get paid little have become the Deep South's strength

Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post

People here were so accustomed to the rural quiet, even the distant noises tipped off that something big was coming to the most impoverished corner of Alabama. First they heard chain saws buzzing through the forest, and then they heard trucks jangling along rutted roads, hauling away the timber. Next they heard pavers blazing new asphalt past a cow pasture. And finally they heard the rumblings of a different kind, the first rumors of what was planned for the clearing. That's when James Deshler decided he had to go see it for himself. So one Friday night, after finishing his shift at the roadside quick mart that his family owned, Deshler told his girlfriend and two buddies to pile into his Crown Victoria, and they turned on the high beams and found the dirt beginnings of the best new opportunity in Wilcox County in a half-century. Here, tractors and bulldozers were making way for a quarter-mile-long copper plant that would be owned and run by a Chinese company lured to the area with a massive package of state and local tax breaks. Five hundred people would have jobs, and Alabama's government called the project a "catalyst" that would "lift the fortunes" in a county where 1 in 5 workers could not get a job. Deshler scanned the site, snapping a few dark photos of the machinery. Though he could see his breath, he stood there for five minutes. Above: A truck passes through what amounts to downtown Sunny South, Ala. State and local officials lobbied to convince the Chinese-owned Golden Dragon, one of the world's largest makers of coils for air conditioners, to move a factory to Wilcox County, where jobs were desperately needed. The plant now employs about 200 workers with some mixed results. "A blessing," Deshler remembers saying. "This place is going to be a blessing." Two years later, Deshler, 29, looks back on that moment as a time when it was still easy to believe that his life, like his home town,was about to change markedly for the better. He hadn't yet started working at the copper plant at a wage nearly half of what he was expecting while saving coins so he could buy an engagement ring at Wal-Mart. He hadn't yet watched his bank account dwindle below $10, falling back on his father for help. And he hadn't yet started wondering if the Chinese flag towering in the employee parking lot in fact said something about the cost of economic progress not just in this southwest corner of Alabama but across the Deep South, a region that has increasingly enticed foreign companies with the prospect of lavish tax breaks, plentiful land and cheap American labor.

Huffington Post Employees Ask Management To Recognize Union Amid 'Overwhelming' Newsroom Support

Source: Michael Calderone, Huffington Post

NEW YORK -- Huffington Post employees have asked management to voluntarily recognize their union after an "overwhelming majority" of editorial and HuffPost Live staff members signed union cards signaling their support for representation. The Writers Guild of America, East, which is working to organize staff at HuffPost and other digital media outlets, sent a written request Tuesday to management. More than 220 of the roughly 350 eligible employees have signed cards. "We have enormous respect for the work done by these men and women, and by your company," Lowell Peterson, WGAE's executive director, said in the letter. "Like your employees, we believe that collective bargaining enables employees to redouble their commitment to their careers and to the work they find meaningful. We look forward to a long and productive relationship with you and with The Huffington Post." In a statement to HuffPost, the newsroom's organizing committee said that employees "came together to form a union to ensure that we have a voice in the company's future." "A union is a practical way to both preserve what's working and advocate for necessary changes," the statement said. "In just a few months, staff across the country united around key issues including: transparent and equitable compensation, clear job responsibilities, editorial freedom and independence, diversity in the newsroom and consistent management protocols on hiring, firing and discipline." "We've appreciated the support we've publicly received from our Editor-in-Chief and are proud to embrace the opportunity to work with our colleagues at HuffPost and other newly unionized digital media newsrooms," the statement continued. "We cherish working here and want to ensure that The Huffington Post continues to set industry-wide standards and stands by its ideals of editorial innovation and sustainable workplace practices." HuffPost's management can now choose to either voluntarily recognize the union or compel all eligible employees to vote on whether or not to join it, a process administered by the National Labor Relations Board.

Lawyers Suing VW Vie for Role, Venue

Source: Sara Randazzo, Wall Street Journal

Lawyers from across the country will descend Thursday on a courthouse in New Orleans to jockey for a potentially lucrative assignment: a role in the massive consumer-fraud litigation facing Volkswagen AG over its emissions scandal. Since the Environmental Protection Agency disclosed in September that Volkswagen cheated on emissions tests for seemingly environmentally friendly diesel vehicles, groups of consumers have filed more than 480 federal lawsuits against the company in nearly 70 jurisdictions seeking compensation for the alleged deception. Involving approximately half a million U.S. cars sold since 2008, the litigation could prove one of the largest of its kind in recent years. At a hearing on Thursday, lawyers will be allotted two or three minutes each to persuade a seven-judge panel of where they prefer the cases to be bundled up and heard. Consolidating the sprawling cases is part of a process called multidistrict litigation, generally seen as the best way to correct a "mass wrong," said Alexandra Lahav, a professor at University of Connecticut School of Law. "It doesn't make sense to resolve them one by one." The venue matters because lawyers with a home-court advantage are more likely to be appointed lead roles in steering the overall litigation. Judges also vary in their experience managing such complex cases and in how rigorously they scrutinize settlements.

December 2, 2015

Tony Hsieh got rid of bosses at Zappos and that's not even his biggest idea

Source: Lillian Cunningham, Washington Post

On Tony Hsieh's desk, next to a jumble of trinkets and three Coke Zeros, is a stack of books topped by "Rocket: Eight Lessons to Secure Infinite Growth." Aside from the title, with its pitch to the executive suite, you would never guess this was the chief executive's work spot, flanked as it is by the same low cubicle partitions as any other desk at Zappos. Zappos disrupted the retail industry 15 years ago when it launched as an e-commerce platform for selling shoes, focusing its strategy on customer service in the form of friendly call centers as well as free shipping and returns. Hsieh projected this year that profits would nearly double in 2015, to $97 million. But there's another reason people are studying the company these days: Its nearly 1,500 employees are operating without any managers. Hsieh decided about a year ago to get rid of all bosses. And as the holiday crunch begins, many are watching how that decision is holding up under the strain of the retail industry's most important and demanding season. No one reports to anyone anymore. Instead, employees self-manage and belong to different decision-making circles that keep the company operating. It's called a "holacracy." Much has been made of Hsieh's organizational daring. And many wonder: Is this experiment to create a supervisor-free workplace really working? But a more fundamental question might be: Why is he doing this? That copy of "Rocket" might be a clue.

Whistle-Blower Complaint Directed at Whistle-Blower Group

Source: Matthew Goldstein and Ben Protess, New York Times

When Lindsey Williams lost her job, the news arrived abruptly, in a voice mail message from her boss. A co-worker, Richard Renner, said he was given just an hour to hand in his keys, collect his personal effects and leave. The dismissals in their office that day, five employees in total, might evoke a steely corporate culture that thrives on cost-cutting layoffs. And yet, the employees worked not for a big bank or insurer, but for a nonprofit legal group that often holds those types of corporate giants accountable. Three years ago, the National Whistleblowers Center in Washington dismissed Ms. Williams and Mr. Renner, who are both lawyers, citing mandatory layoffs that stemmed from funding woes and a staff reorganization. The downsizing, however, came just weeks after the center had helped secure a $104 million whistle-blower award for Bradley Birkenfeld, a former UBS banker who alerted federal authorities to the Swiss bank's longstanding tax evasion strategies. Some employees expected the center to receive a cut of that reward. Now, previously unreleased documents show that the layoffs coincided with an effort by Ms. Williams and Mr. Renner to unionize the whistle-blower center's small work force. That effort, Ms. Williams and Mr. Renner contend, touched a nerve with the center's leadership, including Stephen M. Kohn, a prominent lawyer who was a co-founder of the center and has become a national expert on whistle-blower cases. After their dismissals, Ms. Williams and Mr. Renner took their concerns to the National Labor Relations Board, the documents show. After initially balking at the case, the agency ultimately filed a complaint of unfair labor practices against the whistle-blower center, blaming it for "interfering with, restraining and coercing employees" not to assemble a union. In effect, Ms. Williams and Mr. Renner became whistle-blowers on their own boss. "I immediately recognized the irony of getting fired by the National Whistleblowers Center," said Mr. Renner, now a partner with a law firm in Washington that represents whistle-blowers.

Trial involving Philly school officials accused of violating First Amendment rights to begin

Source: Solomon Leach, Philly.com

A civil case involving five current and former Philadelphia School District employees accused of violating the First Amendment rights of an ex-administrator who wrote a book about education is set to begin this week in federal court. Richard Migliore, who spent 34 years in the district as a teacher and assistant principal, claims the then-principal of Mastbaum Vocational/Technical High School and senior district officials retaliated against him after his book, Whose School is It? The Democratic Imperative for Our Schools, was published in 2007 and after he twice addressed the School Reform Commission regarding school governance. According to Migliore's lawsuit, originally filed in June 2011, he began receiving disciplinary write-ups in the 2007-08 school year, which continued the following year, and was recommended for demotion in July 2009. Migliore ultimately retired before the demotion took effect, which he alleges was intended to compel him to leave the district. The defendants in the case are the estate of Arlene Ackerman, who was superintendent at the time of the alleged actions; Estelle Matthews, former chief talent development officer; Lucy Feria, former regional superintendent; Andrew Rosen, formerly a human-resources representative; and Mary Dean, former Mastbaum principal. Rosen is deputy of employee relations, and Dean is principal of West Philadelphia High School. The others have since left the district.

December 1, 2015

Meet the millennial who coaches people feeling trapped by bureaucracy

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

It didn't take long for Kenesha Thompson, 24, to figure out that she wanted to be her own boss. "I don't like working for other people," says Thompson, who's worked for a couple of non-profits since getting her associate's degree, and never quite felt content. "There's always rules or regulations that I may not agree with. I always like freedom of choice and expression, and not all jobs allow that." She might not have done anything about it, though, if a friend's girlfriend hadn't mentioned a mysterious free opportunity: A pilot program run by something called the "Outlook Refinery," which promised to help her figure out how to strike out on her own. Thompson filled out an online form, and within a couple weeks, was notified that she'd been accepted. The person at the other end of the online form was a woman who is striking out on her own herself, to start a career transition planning business from scratch. Judy O'Babatunde, 27, had a degree in fashion merchandising and had spent time as a social work case manager for young women in transitional housing. She left her job in March of 2014 to plan her next step, and decided to focus on helping people not seeking to advance within their current workplaces, but rather to leave them altogether. "What we work on is working with disgruntled workers who would like to enter into independent venturehood," says O'Babatunde, using the royal "we" - the business is hers alone, funded mostly through savings. "Mentally, they're like, 'I'm done. I've checked out.' There's a feeling in their head that's like, 'I'm not satisfied.'" More and more people are turning to coaches for help with that kind of situation. The coaching profession arose in the mid-1990s, to meet the demand for an alternative to traditional mental health counseling, which carried some stigma for the high-powered business people who wanted to pursue it. Unlike in psychology, there were no government-mandated qualifications, and the profession grew quickly especially when practitioners realized they could charge up to $300 a session, about double the going rate for talk therapy.

A Harlem Man's First Steps Toward Self-Reliance

Source: John Otis, New York Times

Terence Marshall said self-doubt shadowed him for far too long. Mr. Marshall, 20, graduated from the Opportunity Charter School in Harlem in 2013, though he admitted his attendance during his senior year was sporadic at times. College was part of his future plans, just not right away. "I felt like I wasn't ready," he said. "I felt like, 'If I go to college now, I'm going to mess up.' " That trepidation was tied to Mr. Marshall's lack of guidance growing up. Though his mother, Cynthia Givens, has been a stalwart supporter of her son his entire life, his father was largely not present. Mr. Marshall's two older brothers were incarcerated for much of his childhood. "I didn't have the support I needed in certain areas that would help me be a man," he said. After high school, his future was out of focus. Mr. Marshall, an athlete and self-proclaimed "basketball head," aspired to play professionally, but he had more than just hoop dreams. He had a fascination with technology. Progress had not been made on either front until one day last summer. Mr. Marshall said he was with a few friends and some others he did not know. When the group was approached by another group of men, Mr. Marshall sensed that a confrontation was inevitable. Fighting broke out, and even though he ran from the melee, he was picked up by the police for questioning. "I haven't been the best kid, but I'm not bad, I'm not a bad person," Mr. Marshall said. "I was thinking all my plans with basketball, with going to college and finding out what I want to do with my life, I won't be able to do it because I will be in jail for something I didn't do." Even though he was not charged with any crime, just sitting in the holding cell meant he was in enough trouble, he said. It was enough to snap him out of his idleness. A few months later, he learned about Green City Force, an AmeriCorps program that prepares young people from low-income homes for careers in the renewable energy industry. Mr. Marshall was reluctant to join, until he realized the root of his hesitancy.

To protect N.J. consumers, a call to end forced arbitration

Source: Bruce Stern, Star-Ledger

Buried in the fine print of contracts and agreements we sign for things like cell phones, credit cards and even admitting loved ones to nursing homes, are a few words with a big impact on a constitutional right. A recent series of articles published in the New York Times shone a light on the secretive practice of what really happens when small business owners, students, employees and others "click here to agree": forced arbitration. Forced arbitration limits people's ability to band together in a class action lawsuit if they are cheated by a company. Rather than having our case heard in an open court before a judge or jury, we are instead forced into secretive arbitration hearings, with the arbitrator hand-picked by the company that wronged us. It's a rigged system that favors corporations and prevents consumers from holding companies accountable. Say your bank charges you $50 in overdraft fees that they shouldn't. It could happen: Litigation filed in 2009 revealed that a dozen banks were processing large purchases made with debit cards before smaller ones, even if the larger purchases were made later. The idea was that if someone bought a cup of coffee and then a $500 television, by processing payment for the television first, it increased the chances of an account being overdrawn and the bank could charge its customer overdraft fees. But customers joined together in a class action lawsuit against the banks to get their money back and hold the banks accountable in court.

November 30, 2015

White House eyes better pay for top civil servants

Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post

The Obama administration is preparing an executive order designed to bolster the government's Senior Executive Service (SES) with increased compensation, a streamlined hiring process and greater diversity in assignments. Its 7,000-plus members are top level civil servants whose leadership is critical to federal agencies. But that status has not stopped problems stemming from sluggish pay raises and congressional attacks. A draft order now being considered says federal agencies "shall … gradually increase the rate of basic pay of all SES employees" to ensure they are not paid less than subordinates. Potential SES candidates would be allowed to apply using resumes instead of requirements placing "undue burden on applicants" such as multiple essay-style narratives. Rotational assignments for senior leaders would increase, permitting them to serve in other federal agencies, with local, state and tribal governments, and in certain outside organizations "to improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration." Behind the scenes a new subcommittee of the President's Management Council would monitor implementation of the order, keep management practices current and identify obstacles to effective government management. Increasing compensation is the first recommendation in the draft order and a top priority for the Senior Executives Association (SEA), which represents senior leaders. It has long complained about a system that can result in lower level employees with greater pay than executives who have more responsibility and stress. That's not the only point of contention. Congress and the administration angered senior executives last year with a law that undermines due process protections for top civil servants in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The SEA was upset with the administration's temporary cancellation of the Presidential Rank Awards to the top staffers in 2013 for budgetary reasons. President Obama, however, was a hit with senior level leaders when he met with 3,000 of them in a Washington Hilton ballroom last December.

Widows: Railroad knew of defect before veterans killed

Source: Betsy Blaney, Reuters

Intensive care nurse Angie Boivin had just tended to a woman whose leg was severed near the hip when she saw her husband Larry lying nearby under an American flag blanket. She says that she was with him when he took his last breath. Larry Boivin earned a Purple Heart in Iraq in 2004, but he didn't survive a Union Pacific freight train that slammed into the flat-bed trailer he and other veterans were riding on during a 2012 parade in Midland, Texas. Three other veterans died and more than a dozen people were injured in the crash three years ago this month. "They used that (train) as a weapon to kill my husband," Angie Boivin said. She and 42 other survivors and family members sued Union Pacific Railroad Co. for negligence, saying the railroad knew 10 months before the collision of a defect in the track detection circuitry, which delayed the activation of warning lights, bells and a crossing gate. The problem caused by that defect was further compounded, they allege, by a reduced crossing warning time set by the railroad in violation of a state agreement. Shortly before trial was to begin in January, 26 of the survivors and families of victims settled for an undisclosed amount with Union Pacific, the nation's largest railroad with $5 billion in profits last year. A judge dismissed the remaining case in February, and three widows appealed to the 11th Court of Appeals in Texas. Union Pacific must file a response by Dec. 21.
Union Pacific called the collision "tragic for the victims and their families" but denied fault. It pointed to reports from the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Railroad Administration, which regulates the nation's railroads, that found the warning time before the train reached the crossing met the federal minimum. The railroad has not been sanctioned or fined by any state or federal authority as a result of the accident.

VW's Audi suspends two engineers in emissions probe

Source: Andreas Cremer, Reuters

BERLIN, Nov 26 Volkswagen's luxury flagship Audi has suspended two engineers after its larger diesel engines were found evading emissions limits in the United States, Audi CEO Rupert Stadler said in a newspaper interview published on Thursday. Volkswagen (VW) and Audi notified U.S. authorities last Thursday that about 85,000 vehicles with 3.0 litre V6 diesel engines were fitted with emissions-control equipment that was not disclosed to U.S. regulators. The news widened a scandal at parent VW which has led to the ouster of its long-time chief executive and wiped more than 20 billion euros ($21 billion) off the group's market value. Audi is now investigating whether employees in technical development and other departments deliberately manipulated emission-control devices and has suspended two engineers, Stadler said in an interview with the Donaukurier regional newspaper, without giving any further details. "We are surprised and shocked by the emissions news from the U.S.," Audi's acting chairman, Berthold Huber, said in a joint statement with works council boss Peter Mosch. "Now the causes for such grave mistakes must be found and eliminated," said Huber, a former head of Germany's IG Metall labour union. "This has utmost priority." The V6 diesel engine was designed and assembled by Audi at its factory in Neckarsulm, Germany and widely used in premium models sold by the group's VW, Audi and Porsche brands in model years 2009 through 2016, Audi said on Monday.

November 27, 2015

'Concussion' tackles the hot-button issue of brain injuries in the NFL

Source: Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times

Peter Landesman knows what it's like to get knocked in the head so hard you see stars. Before he was an investigative journalist and a filmmaker, Landesman played high school and college football as a center and a linebacker. Play after play, he found himself on the front line of the game's most violent moments. And he loved it. "How many times did I get my bell rung?" Landesman said on a recent afternoon in Los Angeles. "All the time, every day. It was almost a badge of honor to get your bell rung and get back in the game and tough it out." As the writer and director of "Concussion," Landesman who at 50 still has the broad-shouldered build of a man who could plow through a blocking dummy is girding himself for some hits of a different kind. The film takes on the hot-button issue of brain injuries in the NFL, an issue many see as posing an existential threat to one of America's most beloved pastimes and one of the most powerful institutions in the sports world. Opening Dec. 25 during the heart of both awards season and football season, "Concussion" stars Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist who identified and reported the first case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a pro football player in 2005. Linked to repetitive blows to the head, the disease can lead to dementia, aggression and depression and has been diagnosed postmortem in dozens of former NFL players, including Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012. In April, a federal judge approved a potential $1-billion settlement in a class-action lawsuit brought against the NFL by thousands of former players who accused the league of hiding what it knew about the dangers of concussions; under the terms of the settlement, the NFL made no admission of guilt.

The group of moms who struggle especially hard with daycare

Source: Danielle Paquette, Washington Post

As American families clamor for more affordable child care, a majority of kids who qualify for public assistance never see the help. Only one in six eligible children received the aid in 2011, according to the most recent government estimate. Census data, however, show a big need: a full 10 percent of preschoolers in a 2011 survey of employed mothers fell into the "self care" category meaning the only supervision they received was at school. Researchers have pinpointed a few factors for the lack of support, including little public awareness about the availability of subsidies and long waiting lists. A report published last week reveals an important but often under-appreciated factor: Irregular work schedules. Mothers working nonstandard hours servers, retail employees, hospital workers tend to have less access to quality care than those with 9-to-5 shifts. They rely on relatives and babysitters more often than licensed daycare centers, researchers at the American Enterprise Institute found. The AEI study examined a national survey sample of nearly 2,500 low-income parents. Fifty-three percent of odd-job moms with one-year-old babies said a relative was their primary source of child care, compared to 43.8 percent of day-job moms. The difference in care choice was wider for parents of older children. Forty-four percent of odd-job moms with three-year-old kids said day care was their primary arrangement, compared to 59 percent of day-job moms. Researchers didn't find a statistically significant tie between work hours and receipt of subsidies. But among the moms who used daycare, 56 percent collected public assistance, while only 14.4 percent of those who paid relatives collected the benefit.

You Could Get Your Student Debt Wiped Out

Source: Natalie Kitroeff, Bloomberg

How much are taxpayers willing to pay to encourage young people to take jobs that serve the public? Is it worth forgiving billions of dollars in student debt for social workers if doctors get the same break? And how many people buried in debt and eligible for the benefit aren't getting it? Those questions are at the heart of an intense debate about the value of a federal government program aimed at removing some of the financial burden of taking low-paying public sector jobs. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program cancels student debt for loans extended by the government after the debtor has spent 10 years paying off the loan while working in a public service job. Many people either don't know about the program or can't navigate the bureaucracy of signing up. Krista Eliot, who has $92,000 in debt, spent three years working as an adjunct instructor at several community colleges in San Diego. She tried to enroll in the program but didn't qualify because she was working several part-time jobs and no one college employer could attest to her working at least 30 hours a week, the threshold. Now she is trying to become a special education instructor in elementary and middle schools, which she thinks will make it easier to get in. "Every step of the way, from learning about it to enrolling in it, there are just obstacles all along the way, and so many opportunities for people who might qualify to miss the boat," Eliot said.
The Department of Education said the number of people on track to have their debt relieved through the program increased by 468 percent since September 2013 and that it is planning an email campaign aimed at three million borrowers to inform them that they may be eligible for the benefit. The program, launched in 2007, has also come under fire for being too inclusive. Critics say it is far too generous with people who will make a lot of money in their lifetimes. Eligible applicants include firefighters and teachers but also doctors at nonprofit hospitals and lawyers working as public defenders. That has drawn scrutiny, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

November 25, 2015

The Doctor the NFL Tried to Silence

Source: Jeanne Marie Laskas, Wall Street Journal

In 2002, a Pittsburgh neuropathologist named Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, examined the body of 50-year-old former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. At the end of his life, Webster had suffered a steep mental decline, becoming violent, depressed and forgetful and pushed to increasingly desperate lengths to battle chronic pain. In Webster's brain, Dr. Omalu, who holds multiple advanced degrees and certifications from top American medical schools, discovered what would mark a turning point in the evolution of thinking about the effects of head injuries in professional football. The following excerpt is from "Concussion" published this week by Random House, and is based on the author's interviews and other research. Laskas's reporting is the focus of a forthcoming movie by the same name. In July 2005, nearly three years after he first saw the body of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, Bennet Omalu's paper about Webster's brain is finally published in Neurosurgery: "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player." When it arrives in the mail, Omalu holds it gently in his hands like it is parchment. "We herein report the first documented case of long-term neurodegenerative changes in a retired professional NFL player consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This case draws attention to a disease that remains inadequately studied in the cohort of professional football players." Omalu marvels at it, the whole time in his mind talking to Mike Webster. "Here you go, Mike, look what we did." Some time later, the phone rings. Now Omalu is sitting at his kitchen table with his head cocked to one side, balancing the phone against his shoulder; he is listening to some guy tell him that there is a problem. "Retracted?" Omalu said. "What do you mean they want it retracted?" "The demand is pretty forthright. From some notable doctors," the guy says. He is from the journal's editorial board, and he is saying three doctors have written a letter to the board demanding that the journal retract Omalu's work. "Who?" "I'll fax you the letter."

The Doctor the NFL Tried to Silence

Source: Jeanne Marie Laskas, Wall Street Journal

In 2002, a Pittsburgh neuropathologist named Bennet Omalu, a native of Nigeria, examined the body of 50-year-old former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster. At the end of his life, Webster had suffered a steep mental decline, becoming violent, depressed and forgetful and pushed to increasingly desperate lengths to battle chronic pain. In Webster's brain, Dr. Omalu, who holds multiple advanced degrees and certifications from top American medical schools, discovered what would mark a turning point in the evolution of thinking about the effects of head injuries in professional football. The following excerpt is from "Concussion" published this week by Random House, and is based on the author's interviews and other research. Laskas's reporting is the focus of a forthcoming movie by the same name. In July 2005, nearly three years after he first saw the body of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster, Bennet Omalu's paper about Webster's brain is finally published in Neurosurgery: "Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in a National Football League Player." When it arrives in the mail, Omalu holds it gently in his hands like it is parchment. "We herein report the first documented case of long-term neurodegenerative changes in a retired professional NFL player consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). This case draws attention to a disease that remains inadequately studied in the cohort of professional football players." Omalu marvels at it, the whole time in his mind talking to Mike Webster. "Here you go, Mike, look what we did." Some time later, the phone rings. Now Omalu is sitting at his kitchen table with his head cocked to one side, balancing the phone against his shoulder; he is listening to some guy tell him that there is a problem. "Retracted?" Omalu said. "What do you mean they want it retracted?" "The demand is pretty forthright. From some notable doctors," the guy says. He is from the journal's editorial board, and he is saying three doctors have written a letter to the board demanding that the journal retract Omalu's work. "Who?" "I'll fax you the letter."

Airport workers hope to get Thanksgiving travelers' attention

Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, one of the busiest travel days of the year, workers at 15 major U.S. airports are planning a day of fasting, vigils and rallies, aiming to galvanize the traveling public's support for their fight for better wages. The workers a mix of cleaners, baggage handlers, wheelchair attendants and security officers will wear buttons that say "Ask Me Why I'm Fasting" and pass out petitions and flyers illustrating their campaign for a $15-per-hour minimum wage, the Service Employees International Union said. Besides pushing for $15 minimum hourly wages, the workers want health care, sick leave, retirement benefits and job protections. They're also protesting threats against their efforts to unionize. Last week, as many as 2,000 workers went on strike at seven major hubs, including New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. The walkout didn't disrupt air travel, but workers and union leaders say they are planning to step up their efforts as the busy holiday season takes off. Their goal is to put pressure on airports, airlines and, most importantly, the contractors that hire the workers. "These used to be good jobs 20 years ago, but with subcontracting the jobs have really gone down," said Valarie Long, executive vice president of SEIU International. "Some people are making as little as $7.25 an hour, some less because they are considered tipped employees. It is clear that something needs to change and the workers are going to use this holiday season to make sure that the public knows this."

Judge: Retaliation claim against Arpaio to remain in lawsuit

Source: Jacques Billeaud, Associated Press

A judge has ruled that a restaurant owner can move forward with his legal claim that an Arizona sheriff's office arrested him in a bid to discourage him from cooperating in a civil rights case.
Uncle Sam's owner Bret Frimmel alleges Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office wrongfully arrested him on employment-related identity theft charges after learning that he had talked with the U.S. Department of Justice about its civil rights lawsuit against the lawman. The ruling Friday from U.S. District Judge Steven Logan kept alive Frimmel's lawsuit against Arpaio but threw out the restaurant owner's claim that the sheriff's office was motivated by racial hostility toward him. The lawsuit marks one of the most recent retaliation allegations made against the six-term sheriff, who has been dogged for years by claims that he's launched investigations of judges, politicians and others who are at odds with him in political and legal disputes. Most recently, Arpaio has been accused of investigating a judge presiding over a racial profiling case against his office. The sheriff vigorously denies the allegation. "We have seen in case after case that the sheriff used his position of authority to pursue a personal or political agenda rather than a law enforcement agenda," said Leon Silver, one of Frimmel's attorneys. Messages left for Arpaio's office and Michele Iafrate, an attorney representing the sheriff, weren't immediately returned Tuesday morning. In court papers, Iafrate denied Frimmel's allegations. Two of Frimmel's restaurants were raided by Arpaio's officers in July 2013 in an investigation into whether some employees were using fraudulent IDs to get jobs. Frimmel and his manager allege they were later arrested after the restaurant owner was asked by the Justice Department for help in its case, which accused the sheriff's office of racial profiling, retaliating against Arpaio's critics and other civil rights violations.

November 24, 2015

Ann Arbor VA Hospital finds problems in surgical tools

Source: Daniel Bethencourt, Detroit Free Press

After some surgical equipment cases may have contained "particulate matter," staff at VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System have moved dozens of surgeries to U-M Medical Center, and is investigating what may have gone wrong. News of the incident came from U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, who sent a public letter to the hospital asking for more details into what happened. "Our veterans have made numerous sacrifices for our nation, and we have an obligation to make sure they are properly cared for," Dingell, D-Dearborn, said in the release. The issue stemmed from a water main break at the hospital weeks ago, which appears to have caused tiny bits of sediment to show up in the cases of some sterile surgical tools, said hospital spokesman Derek Atkinson. Atkinson said the particles never actually touched the tools, and emphasized that no veterans were ever in danger. Still, the situation caused major shifts: about 59 surgeries were moved to the U-M Medical Center, and an operating area of the hospital closed for four days in the last two weeks, according to Dingell, who was given those details by VA officials. The hospital has flushed the water lines and has invited experts to inspect the hospital further. "We're not where we want to be," said Atkinson. "We still have some things that we have to look at." He added: "We look at this as a proactive measure. Patient safety is our top priority."

Wal-Mart employee fired for redeeming $5 in discarded bottles

Source: Peter Holley, Washington Post

Thomas Smith says he was trying to get his life in order. The 52-year-old, released from prison in May after serving a 15-year sentence for armed robbery, thought a $9-an-hour job gathering grocery carts from the parking lot of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in East Greenbush, N.Y., was a good place to start. He had been homeless before he landed his new job and was looking forward to bringing home a steady paycheck that he could use to support his two teenage children. But on Nov. 6, less than 90 days into his new job, Smith was fired for redeeming a total of $5 worth of cans and bottles, violating a store policy that he claims he was unaware of, according to the Albany Times Union. In New York, empty cans and bottles can be redeemed for cash. Smith told the paper he began collecting the ones he found discarded by customers in the parking lot to put a few extra dollars in his pocket. Wal-Mart officials maintain that the bottles were actually inside the store when they were taken. "I didn't know you couldn't take empties left behind," Smith, who has a learning disability and claims he turned to crime in the past because of a heroin and cocaine addiction, told the Times Union. "They were garbage. I didn't even get a chance to explain myself. They told me to turn in my badge." Aaron Mullins, a Wal-Mart spokesman, told The Washington Post that Smith was fired for redeeming bottles that had been submitted to the customer service desk by other customers, making them store property. Had Smith found the bottles in the parking lot and brought them inside himself, he said, he wouldn't have been violating store policy. The thefts, Mullins noted, were caught on a surveillance camera. "The reality is our former employee stole from the customer service desk, was caught on camera doing so, and signed a statement admitting to that fact," Mullins said in a statement e-mailed to The Post. "Taking items that have been returned to the customer service desk is no different from stealing off our shelves or from customers."

Ex staffer sues Gowdy and Benghazi panel

Source: Rachael Blade, Politico

The ex-GOP House Benghazi Committee investigator who accused the panel of conducting a partisan witch hunt against Hillary Clinton filed suit Monday against the committee and Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) for wrongful termination and defamation. Air Force Reserve Maj. Brad Podliska in his court filing alleged he was fired from his post in June because he took leave for active duty. He also says he was singled out because he refused to focus his investigative work on Clinton and the State Department. The Benghazi Committee and Gowdy have denied both accusations, arguing that the panel, which employs several former military officers and law enforcement agents, would never punish a military member for his service. And during the back-and-forth that followed Podliska's allegations, first made public in late September, the committee also rejected the notion that they're out to get Clinton, arguing that Podliska himself had asked interns to take up partisan projects after being warned against it. The panel says he was fired for misbehavior and mishandling classified information, both of which Podliska denies. Podliska announced his intent to file suit at the end of September, but in a new twist, Podliska is also alleging that Gowdy illegally defamed him during the public skirmish that erupted after Podliska first went on national TV to accuse the panel of wrongdoing.

November 23, 2015

Is an upcoming Supreme Court case a strike for individual rights or a deceptive attack on teachers unions?

Source: Valerie Strauss, Washington Post

Sometime in the next few months, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association (CTA), a lawsuit with major implications for the future of organized labor. Those pushing the lawsuit say it is about individual rights. In this post, the author argues that both Friedrichs and a related case, Bain v. California Teachers Association, are deceptive attacks on unions. In the article below, Ben Spielberg a Teach For America alum and former member of the Executive Board of the San Jose Teachers Association (a CTA affiliate) explains how union dues and spending work in California and why he thinks both lawsuits are misleading. Spielberg blogs about a variety of social justice issues at 34justice.com and has contributed previous articles about teacher evaluation and Vergara v. California to The Answer Sheet. California public school teachers working in traditional school districts are by default members of their local teachers associations, which may be affiliates of either the California Teachers Association (CTA), which is the state branch of the National Education Association (NEA), or the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), the state branch of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). While teachers unions, like all other organizations, certainly aren't perfect, they fulfill several roles that benefit students and teachers alike and are important, powerful advocates for low- and middle-income populations in general. Despite these facts (or, perhaps, because of them), teachers unions have been under attack for quite some time. And the anti-labor movement, fueled by wealthy individuals and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), has been alarmingly successful. Union membership reached a historic low of 11.1 percent in 2014 (6.6 percent in the private sector and 35.7 percent in the public sector), 25 states have adopted inappropriately-named "right to work" laws that deprive workers of bargaining power, and an inaccurate, misleading anti-union narrative has permeated public discourse.

An Iraq War veteran who works at KFC nails the minimum wage debate

Source: Andrew Fowler, Business Insider

Video of an Iraq War veteran's emotional testimony before the Atlanta Wage Board is going viral. The video of the former Marine has garnered nearly one million views on Facebook and more than 23,000 shares. "I don't want my son to look at me like I'm something less because I have to work for $7.25. And I bust my butt every day, and I take pride in what I do, gentlemen," Derrell Odom said in the video. Odom, who works at Kentucky Fried Chicken, said that he served two tours in Iraq, was wounded in combat, and was awarded the Purple Heart. Now, he struggles to make ends meet. "I worked 45 hours this week and my manager pulled me over to the side and told me that you can't have these five hours of overtime at time-and-a-half," Odom said. "She told me she was going to take my five hours and put them on next week's check so she wouldn't have to give me my time-and-a-half." Hundreds of protests in cities across the nation have popped up to increase the minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour, and it has been a top issue for the 2016 presidential candidates.

Transgender Pilots Frustrated Over Extra Scrutiny From FAA

Source: Juliette Goodrich, CBS News

When it comes to clearing pilots for takeoff, the Federal Aviation Administration uses regular medical exams to make sure they're fit to fly. But the process may not be fair for everyone in the cockpit. Every time Jessica Zacharias starts the engine of a plane, she's fulfilling a childhood dream. "I remember in grade 3 creating a poster showing me and what my career goal was for the future and I said commercial airline pilot," Zacharias said. Zacharias wound up with a tech career and a pilot's license on the side. She flies for fun, and sometimes ferries planes for other owners, and even gives flying lessons. All of it requires her to update her airman's medical certificate annually. "You show up to a local doctor who is certified to give aviation medicals," Zacharias explained. "You go there and they give you a very basic medical including vision tests, hearing tests, and then they do a lot of other things that a normal medical would do, in terms of blood pressure, listen to you breathe, heart rate." And that's how it went, every year since 2001. Then it got complicated. "This time around I got a letter in the springtime saying I wasn't approved as a normal medical," Zacharias recalled. In 2013, Zacharias reported she was transitioning from male to female. The FAA eventually renewed her medical certificate, after she provided additional information. But now they were saying they would require the extra information every time.

November 20, 2015

Women and Blacks Make Little Progress at Big Law Firms

Source: Elizabeth Olson, New York Times

Women and blacks have made almost no headway in recent years in increasing their ranks at major United States law firms, according to the latest data from the National Association for Law Placement. The organization's annual compilation of legal employer data shows that although women and minorities made small gains at the level of law firm partner this year, the overall percentage of women associates, or entry-level lawyers, dropped in the last five years, and the percentage of African-American associates has declined every year since 2009. "It's troubling to see the numbers for women and African-American associates seemingly reversing course," said James G. Leipold, the association's executive director. This year, he said, "marks the sixth year of decline in representation of black associates and, while the percentage decrease is small, the overall number itself was small to begin with, so any decline is significant, and the trend is distressing." At the partnership level, representation of women and minorities rose slightly this year, compared with 2014. Women accounted for 21.46 percent of partners, up from 21.05 percent last year. Minorities accounted for 7.52 percent, up from 7.33 percent in 2014. Twenty-three years ago, in 1993, when the association first began tracking the numbers, women made up 12.27 percent of partners and minorities accounted for 2.55 percent of partners. Much of the increase in minority partners since 2009, the report found, comes from a rise in the number of Asian and Hispanic partners. African-Americans made up only 1.7 percent of partners in 2015. Minority women fared better at firms of more than 700 lawyers, holding 3.12 percent of partnerships, but only 2.55 percent of such law firm jobs over all.

NYC settles lawsuit with students who accused School Safety agents of using excessive force for $54,000

Source: John Marzulli, New York Daily News

The city has settled a lawsuit with the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of students who accused NYPD School Safety agents of using excessive force and making arrests for violations of school rules. The issues raised in the suit – which was filed five years ago in Brooklyn Federal Court – are addressed in a series of reforms announced earlier this month by Mayor de Blasio and a total of $54,000 in payouts to four plaintiffs, according to papers filed in Brooklyn Federal Court. "We are pleased with this settlement, which recognizes the remarkable work the City has done to further the safety and dignity of students, including implementing aggressive reforms and improvements in the area of school safety and discipline," said Law Department spokesman Nick Paolucci. The NYPD School Safety Division is an unarmed force but larger than the police departments of Detroit, Boston, and Baltimore. The suit alleged the school agents engaged in a practice of hauling students out of school in handcuffs in cases when they were often arrested for what amounted to violations of school rules, not crimes. School Safety agents will participate in "de-escalation" training and "collaborative problem solving" as part of a package of reforms to end overly punitive school discipline policies.

McDonald's settles with Justice over anti-immigrant policy

Source: Nicole Duran, Washington Examiner

McDonald's will pay the U.S. government a $355,000 penalty to settle a Justice Department lawsuit that its corporately owned restaurants discriminated against legal immigrant employees. The company has also agreed to 20 months of monitoring to make sure the illegal practice ceases, and will train its employees on immigration-related anti-discrimination laws. The Justice Department found that McDonald's was asking employees who hold green cards for additional worker-eligibility and immigration-status proof after their documents expired. It said McDonald's didn't make similar requests to U.S. citizens when their worker eligibility documents expired. "The investigation found that McDonald's had a longstanding practice of requiring lawful permanent residents to show a new permanent resident card when their original document expired, even though the law prohibits this practice," Justice explained. Workers who failed to comply lost pay and sometimes their jobs as a result, the department stated in a release issued Thursday. "Employers cannot hold lawful permanent residents to a higher standard by placing additional documentary burdens upon them during the employment eligibility verification process," said Vanita Gupta, who heads the Civil Rights Division. "Requiring unnecessary documentation of individuals based on their citizenship or immigration status is discriminatory, and the Department of Justice will not hesitate to enforce the law and protect the rights of work-authorized immigrants." "We commend McDonald's for its cooperation throughout this investigation and for committing to compensate its current and former employees who lost wages due to these practices," Gupta added. Independently owned McDonald's franchises were not part of the case.

November 19, 2015

Agency says VA hospital exposed workers to unsafe workplace

Source: Associated Press, Washington Post

Federal regulators say Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center exposed workers to an unsafe workplace. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration said Tuesday that its investigators identified 14 safety violations at the hospital in Richmond. Violations included exposing employees to workplace violence and physical assault, and failing to train employees on the prevention and management of workplace violence. The agency says in a news release that the investigation was prompted by a complaint that alleged protections were inadequate for employees exposed to workplace violence hazards while providing patient care. The agency issued notices of violation to the hospital on Nov. 6. Hunter Holmes McGuire spokeswoman Darlene Edwards says the hospital takes safety seriously. She says training and documentation deficiencies outlined in the investigation are already being addressed.

Transgender Employee Sues Wal-Mart

Source: Al Norman, Huffington Post

Wal-Mart has a larger collection of lawsuits than men's suits. They've got wage and hour lawsuits, gender discrimination lawsuits, disability discrimination lawsuits, racial discrimination lawsuits, and age discrimination lawsuits. The giant retailer has a small army of in-house lawyers and hired attorneys who defend the corporation from its own employees. One of the "risk factors and uncertainties" that Wal-Mart lists in its 2015 annual report is the threat from "the outcome of legal and regulatory proceedings to which we are a party..." But the group Making Change At Wal-Mart noted in 2011 that Wal-Mart scored 40 out of 100 points on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, "reflecting that Wal-Mart does not prohibit discrimination based upon gender identity, does not provide diversity training covering gender identity or have supportive gender transition guidelines, does not offer at least one transgender-inclusive benefit and does not offer domestic partner health insurance, COBRA, dental, vision, and legal dependent coverage." Wal-Mart also lost points for opposing a shareholder resolution at its annual meeting in Fayetteville, Arkansas to amend their non-discrimination policies to include gender identity.

Lawyers: NFL concussion deal excludes central brain injury

Source: Mary Claire Dale, Associated Press

Lawyers appealing the NFL's $1 billion plan to address concussion-linked injuries in former players say the settlement excludes the central brain injury linked to football. Lawyer Steven Molo asked a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia to reject the settlement because it excludes future payments for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the brain decay found in dozens of deceased ex-players. The challengers also argue Thursday that the plan would compensate only a few neurological conditions but not the depression and mood disorders that some experts link to earlier concussions. Lawyers who negotiated the settlement with the NFL say the deal is an insurance plan for serious brain injuries and is not meant to address every problem tied to football. The settlement would cover more than 20,000 NFL retirees for the next 65 years.

November 18, 2015

House Oversight chairman questions Secret Service's hunt for whistleblowers

Source: Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post

Lawmakers on Tuesday raised concerns about why the Secret Service appears to be trying to identify whistleblowers inside the agency at the same time its director has vowed to fix serious problems that whistleblowers first brought to light. The chairman and the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee asked Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy in a letter to explain why his investigators have in recent days been questioning staff about internal information that was shared with Congress and became the subject of a Washington Post story this spring. Internal records cited by The Post show that Clancy had not removed a controversial top director as part of a leadership shake-up he promised and that the official remained on the agency's payroll, listed as Clancy's chief of staff. The letter, co-signed by Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), came as Clancy testified to Congress that he is working hard to reform the troubled agency, which has been plagued by security gaffes, staffing shortages, plummeting morale and cases of internal misconduct. Several of its problems were brought to light by current and former staff speaking anonymously to Congress and The Post. In the letter, Chaffetz and Cummings urged Clancy to cease the Secret Service's hunt for whistleblowers and instead refer the matter to the agency's inspector general. They noted that many Secret Service staff fear retaliation for speaking up about internal problems and that whistleblowers should not have to fear probes that could find their identities.

Retailers Discover That Labor Isn't Just a Cost

Source: Justin Fox, Bloomberg

For the past couple of decades, retailing in the U.S. has with some notable exceptions been a vast experiment in minimizing labor costs. At the 2009 annual convention of the National Retail Federation, though, Charles DeWitt noticed the beginnings of a shift. "Retailers started coming up to me and saying, 'We can't get any more out of this cost stone,'" recounted DeWitt, vice president of business development at workforce-management software maker Kronos. Since then, this change in attitude has become the stuff of business headlines. Most notably, Wal Mart, the retailer that set the cost-cutting tone in the 1990s, has been raising wages and spending more on training. There's surely a cyclical element at work here as the unemployment rate drops, it's harder for retailers to find workers. There's also a political element bad press and minimum wage campaigns must have some effect on corporate behavior. But the really intriguing possibility is that retailers, in their technology-driven rush to optimize operations during the past two decades ("rocket science retailing," one Wharton School operations expert dubbed it) were actually failing to optimize labor. Their systems measured it only as a cost, and didn't track the impact of low wages, part-time work and unpredictable work schedules on sales and profits. Now some retailers are trying to fix that. One big set of targets are the scheduling systems that have allowed retailers to ever more-closely match staffing to customer traffic, but in the process wrought havoc with many workers' lives by making their schedules so unpredictable. Jodi Kantor gave a face to this last year with a compelling New York Times account of the chaotic life of a single-mom Starbucks barista. Kronos supplies Starbucks' scheduling software, and DeWitt was quoted in the Times article describing its workings as "like magic." So it was a little surprising to see him on stage last week at O'Reilly Media's Next:Economy conference, nodding pleasantly and occasionally chiming in as a Starbucks barista, a labor activist and a journalist described the horrors inflicted by scheduling software.

Fired Citigroup Currency Trader Wins Suit Over Rigging Probe

Source: Kit Chellel, Bloomberg

Former Citigroup Inc. currency trader Perry Stimpson won his lawsuit against the bank over claims he was unfairly fired during an investigation into allegations of market rigging.
Citigroup breached his employment contract by failing to pay him notice, a panel of London employment tribunal judges said. They also said Stimpson's conduct had contributed to his firing in 2014, without giving further details.
Stimpson's case was the first in a spate of wrongful termination suits related to currency-exchange manipulation to be heard in London. Banks have fired dozens of traders in the aftermath of regulatory probes in which they have been fined at least $10 billion. Stimpson said he wasn't rigging or manipulating the FX market and was following orders from management. "I took Citi to the court because I felt that I'd been singled out and made a scapegoat, when my actions were common across the bank and the industry as a whole," he said in a statement. The New York-based bank stands by its decision to fire him, spokeswoman Edwina Frawley-Gangahar said. "We expect our employees to adhere to the highest ethical standards and will not tolerate breaches of our code of conduct," she said.
Another hearing will be held in London to determine how much Citigroup should pay Stimpson in compensation. Former Citigroup currency traders Carly McWilliams, David Madaras and Robert Hoodless have also filed unfair dismissal suits against the bank. While the Stimpson decision won't bind other courts, it may influence other cases, according to Paul McAleavey, a lawyer at Brahams Dutt Badrick French LLP. Using the argument "everyone else was doing it" rarely succeeds in the employment tribunal. "This does seem to fly in the face of the prevailing mood of the regulators, who are keen to place greater emphasis on individuals in financial services taking responsibility for their own actions," said McAleavey, who isn't involved in the Stimpson case.

November 17, 2015

Second largest for-profit chain to pay $95 million to settle fraud charges

Source: Danielle Douglas Gabriel, Washington Post

Education Management Corp., the second-largest for-profit college chain, on Monday agreed to pay $95.5 million to resolve allegations that it paid employees based on student enrollment in violation of federal law. For-profit colleges are reeling from mounting government probes, tanking stock prices, regulatory scrutiny and depressed student enrollment. ITT Tech is being sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud; University of Phoenix has been suspended from receiving military tuition assistance; and Career Education Corp. closed all 14 of its Sanford-Brown schools. As marquee names falter, the industry itself appears to be in trouble. In the case of Education Management, which operates the Art Institutes, Argosy University, Brown Mackie College and South University, the Department of Justice claims the company violated a federal ban on incentive compensation at schools participating in federal financial aid programs. The rule is meant to prevent schools from steering students into loans to boost revenue. Prosecutors say the company flouted the ban by paying recruiters based on the number of students enrolled, leading employees to use aggressive and deceptive tactics to get students in the doors. Top recruiters received Pittsburgh Pirates tickets, free lunches and all-expense-paid vacations to Las Vegas and Puerto Vallarta, according to the complaint. All the while, Education Management swore to the Department of Education that it was complying with the rules. Between July 2003 and June 2011 about 90 percent of the tuition the company received, or $11 billion, came from federal grants and loans, according to the complaint.

St. Louis area taxi drivers file suit against Uber

Source: Leah Thorsen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Four taxi drivers are suing Uber and seeking class-action status, alleging they've seen up to a 40 percent dip in business since the ride-hailing service began operating in violation of local regulations. The plaintiffs in the suit filed in St. Louis County Circuit Court are Aaron Vilcek and Jeffrey Hamilton, drivers for St. Louis County Cab; Robert Glynn, who drives for Laclede Cab; and Douglas Uchendi, an ABC Cab driver. On Sept. 18, the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission voted to allow ride-hailing services such as UberX, an app-based service in which drivers use their own cars to ferry passengers, but directed that drivers be fingerprinted as part of a criminal background check. Drivers for ride hailing services also are required to possess a class E Missouri commercial drivers license, also known as a chauffeur's license. Those requirements are mandated by Missouri law, the commission said. The state law that requires vehicle for hire drivers to have fingerprint checks is specific to St. Louis and St. Louis County. Local cabdrivers also must have drug tests, vehicle inspections and get notes from doctors to prove they're in good health. But Uber described the regulations as onerous, saying it conducts its own background checks of drivers, many of whom drive less than six hours a week but not fingerprint checks. On the same day the taxicab commission approved ride-hailing services, Uber launched UberX in defiance of commission regulations and filed a federal lawsuit against the commission alleging anti-competitive practices in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Uber has said St. Louis is the largest metropolitan area in the country not to allow UberX.

Then in October, the taxi commission filed suit against Uber and sought a restraining order to bar it from operating in the city and in St. Louis County.

The end of exploitative work schedules?

Source: Esther J. Cepeda, Statesman Journal

"On-call scheduling" is the special kind of misery that low-wage workers have increasingly experienced as employers have sought to wring out every last cent of profit in a challenging economic environment. But it may be on its way out as top brands such as Starbucks, J. Crew, Bath & Body Works, Urban Outfitters and Gap respond to worker complaints and the bad press they bring. Though the practice lowers costs by constructing the most efficient schedules to meet the constantly fluctuating demand of clothing stores and fast-food shops, it creates unstable and unpredictable shift schedules for some of our most vulnerable workers. Sometimes that means employees make it into work after having secured child care or elder care for a full shift, only to be sent home after a few hours without pay if it's slow. Or worse, employees are expected to be on standby while waiting for shifts that sometimes don't materialize. Others are forced to stay at work long after a shift was supposed to end without prior notice or extra pay. According to Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, a Chicago-based advocacy organization for working women, these scheduling practices accelerated after the recession when more people started turning to low-wage jobs to make ends meet.

November 16, 2015

Efforts to Rein In Arbitration Come Under Well-Financed Attack

Source: Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery, The New York Times

A television ad during the Republican presidential debate last Tuesday depicted pale bureaucrats rubber-stamping the word "DENIED" on the files of frustrated Americans, beneath a red banner of Senator Elizabeth Warren evoking a Communist apparatchik. The ad attacks the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency created with Ms. Warren's strong backing after the 2008 mortgage crisis. What the ad did not say: Its sponsor wants to rein in the agency in part because of its efforts to restrict arbitration the widespread practice in corporate America of requiring customers and employees to resolve disputes not in the courts, but in private proceedings with neither judge nor jury. In fact, arbitration is one of the reasons the ad's sponsor, American Action Network, wanted to blast the agency with the $500,000 campaign, the group said. The consumer agency's stance on arbitration, while difficult to convey in a TV spot, "is a perfect example of how government is taking away the power of individuals and handing it to the trial lawyers," said Mike Shields, president of the American Action Network and a former top aide at the Republican National Committee. Last week's ad is one of multiple efforts across the country in recent weeks by both advocates and opponents of arbitration to revisit the much-debated practice, which, in two powerful decisions beginning in 2011, has been affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. The most significant moves came in Washington, where regulators, lawmakers and the Justice Department pushed for new restrictions on arbitration. At the same time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the most powerful business lobby in the country, started a new effort to block the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by lobbying lawmakers to attach a rider to the federal budget bill that would force the regulator to conduct a new study before issuing any rule, according to people with direct knowledge of the strategy. "If the Chamber of Commerce thinks they are going to slip a provision into a spending bill that cuts off consumer rights without a fight, they are very much mistaken," Senator Warren said. Matt Webb, a senior vice president of the chamber's Institute for Legal Reform, called the bureau's work "deeply flawed and incomplete." The flurry of activity follows the publication by The New York Times of a three-part series showing how corporations across the spectrum of the American economy phone companies, credit card providers, nursing homes use mandatory arbitration to circumvent the court system and derail legal claims alleging predatory lending, wage theft, discrimination and other violations. The reporting detailed how arbitration proceedings tend to favor businesses over individuals. In some instances, arbitration clauses require disputes to be settled in Christian arbitration, a process governed by the Bible rather than state or federal law.

Tech companies, labor advocates, and think tankers of all stripes call for sweeping reforms to the social safety net

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

It's a classic strange bedfellows story: Companies in the "on-demand economy" find common cause with labor unions, and left-leaning think tanks join up with free marketeers around a proposition that seems to make so much sense that nobody could talk it down. That's what seems to have happened this week around an issue that's crucial to the growth of new businesses like Uber and Taskrabbit: How to provide benefits to workers who use those platforms to find clients. On Tuesday, a letter surfaced calling for a new social safety net regime that could allow people to move easily from gig to gig without losing the benefits and protections usually contained within the traditional employment relationship. Right now, companies say, it's difficult for them to offer employment-like perks without running the risk of getting hit with lawsuits. The missive was signed by a long list of people ranging from the chief executives of Etsy and Lyft to activists for guest workers and home care aides a disparate group, to be sure. But it also reflects the coalescence of views on one side of a policy debate that has divided the left: The question of whether companies should be allowed to classify workers as something between regular employees and independent contractors, or whether doing so would allow employers to evade responsibility by pushing people who should really be employees into a middle category with fewer protections and benefits. "Most people still get their benefits through their employers," says David Madland, director of the American Worker project at the Center for American Progress, who knew about but didn't sign the letter. "How do we design it so all workers, regardless what their classification is, get good benefits, without undermining what other workers get? That's where the difficulty would come in."

FDA orders recall of machine used to clean medical scopes

Source: Matthew Perrone, Associated Press

Federal officials are ordering the recall of nearly 2,800 machines used to disinfect medical scopes. They blamed company violations that could lead to infections in patients. The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that Custom Ultrasonics must recall all of its endoscope reprocessing devices, which are currently used at hospitals and medical clinics throughout the U.S. The devices are intended to kill bacteria and microorganisms found on flexible endoscopes after hospital procedures, so that they can be re-used safely. But the Warminster, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer has a history of violating federal rules for manufacturing and quality control. The agency ordered the action under terms of a 2007 legal settlement with the company. The settlement bars the firm from making or distributing the machines. Custom Ultrasonics has continued to service the machines. But FDA inspectors uncovered ongoing problems with the company's technology during an April inspection. Inspectors said the company still cannot show that its devices adequately wash and disinfect endoscopes. "The FDA's recall order stemmed from the company's continued violations of federal law and the consent decree and is necessary to protect the public health," said Dr. William Maisel, the FDA's deputy director for medical devices. A consent decree is a form of legal settlement in which a company agrees to court-ordered actions without admitting fault or guilt. The decree generally remains in effect until the FDA determines the company has fixed the problems.

November 13, 2015

VW Calls On Whistleblowers to Step Forward

Source: William Boston, Wall Street Journal

Volkswagen AG on Thursday began enlisting the help of its employees to accelerate efforts to get to the bottom of an emissions-cheating scandal affecting millions of cars, offering amnesty to workers who volunteer information. Volkswagen has come under increasing pressure from regulatory authorities in the U.S. and Europe to quickly explain how and why the company duped environmental authorities on tests for nitrogen-oxide emissions and, in another instance, understated greenhouse-gas emissions and fuel consumption. "Every day counts," Herbert Diess, head of the Volkswagen brand division, said in a memo to employees that was seen by The Wall Street Journal. Separately, Martin Winterkorn, who resigned as Volkswagen chief executive in September in the wake of the crisis, cut his last remaining ties to the company this week, resigning as chairman of the supervisory board of VW brand Audi AG on Wednesday, an Audi spokesman said Thursday. Nearly two months since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed the emissions deception, the German auto maker hasn't been able to produce a clear explanation of how it happened or identified those in the company responsible, despite repeated pledges to carry out a swift and rigorous investigation. "We depend on the cooperation and knowledge from you, our employees, to carry out a complete resolution of all events connected to the diesel and [carbon-dioxide] issues," Mr. Diess said in the memo. Employees have until Nov. 30 to provide "complete and truthful" information about events as part of the internal probe being conducted by U.S. law firm Jones Day. Those who come forward before the deadline "have nothing to fear from the company in the way of repercussions on the job such as being fired or held liable for damages," Mr. Diess said in the memo. The amnesty offer only applies to workers covered by collective bargaining pacts. Volkswagen said it would reserve the right to transfer employees or change their responsibilities if they incriminate themselves. The company also warned that it has no influence over a decision by German prosecutors to seek criminal charges against any employees who confess to being a part of the deception.

The fatal trend among white working class Americans

Source: E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post

White working-class voters have been a key building block of the Republican coalition since the rise of the Reagan Democrats 35 years ago. You would think that the party's presidential candidates would want to respond to the heartbreaking crisis these Americans are facing. Two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton and Anne Case, issued a study last week that should push what the writers Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb called the "hidden injuries of class" to the center of our political conversation. Deaton and Case found that the death rates for whites 45 to 54 who never attended college increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people between 1999 and 2014. They unearthed a startling rise in suicides as well as diseases related to alcohol and drugs. Injustices relating to race remain a deep stain on our nation. Middle-aged African Americans overall still have a higher death rate (581 per 100,000) than whites (415), although the Hispanic death rate at middle age (262) is far lower. But among the middle-aged, African American and Hispanic death rates are falling while the rate for whites is going up. And make no mistake: This is a class story. Mortality rates dropped for the middle-aged college-educated; they rose by 22 percent among those with a high school education or less. On the matter of economic inequality, this study should be our fire bell in the night.

Allegiant Accused of Firing Pilot for Evacuating Smoky Plane

Source: Jef Feeley, Bloomberg

Allegiant Airlines was accused of firing a pilot who evacuated his plane after learning smoke and chemical fumes were filling up the cabin, in the company's latest safety-related flap.
Jason Kinzer, who worked as an Allegiant captain, said in a lawsuit he was "maliciously" ousted over his decision to make an emergency landing in St. Petersburg, Florida, in June and order his 141-passengers off the Boeing Co. MD-80 plane, according to a lawsuit filed in state court in Las Vegas. Allegiant officials improperly fired Kinzer for not putting "corporate financial concerns and profits as a priority over safety of the passengers, crew," according to his Nov. 10 complaint in state court in Las Vegas. Allegiant Air is a unit of Allegiant Travel Co. The suit follows a series of safety issues during the past four months at Allegiant, a Las Vegas-based carrier that focuses on leisure-destination flights. The Federal Aviation Administration began a probe in August into a mechanical failure that caused the nose of one of its airliners to rise off the ground prematurely while trying to take off. FAA officials said last month the agency intensified its scrutiny of Allegiant's "flight operations and aircraft maintenance programs." Allegiant's inspection after the errant takeoff found three jets with bolts on aircraft control systems that weren't properly secured, according to repair logs obtained by Bloomberg. Allegiant also has suffered from labor problems this year. The airline faced a strike threat from the union representing its pilots in April until a judge blocked the walkout.
Allegiant's main focus is on passenger safety and it thoroughly investigates situations that lead to an employee's firing, Kim Schaefer, an Allegiant spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement.
"While we are not able to comment on specific employment matters or lawsuits at this time, we never compromise on our commitment to safety," Schaefer said.

November 12, 2015

Mortgage rates pushed upward following strong employment data

Source: Kathy Orton, Washington Post

Mortgage rates continued to move higher in anticipation of a Federal Reserve rate hike next month, according to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac. Home loan rates began creeping up after the Federal Reserve signaled earlier this month that a December interest rate hike was a possibility. What the Fed does with interest rates doesn't have a direct relationship to mortgage rates, since they are more closely tied to long-term U.S. Treasury yields. Bonds are more likely to move ahead of a Fed action than in response to it. With the release of last week's stronger-than-expected jobs report, the possibility that the Fed will raise rates became greater and home loan rates experienced an upturn. The 30-year fixed-rate average jumped to 3.98 percent with an average 0.6 point, creeping ever closer to the 4 percent mark. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 3.87 percent a week ago and 4.01 percent a year ago. Since falling to a six-month low of 3.76 percent in late October, the 30-year fixed rate has gained 22 basis points in two weeks. (A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.) The 15-year fixed-rate average climbed to 3.2 percent with an average 0.6 point. It was 3.09 percent a week ago and 3.2 percent a year ago. Hybrid adjustable rate mortgages also rose. The five-year ARM average grew to 3.03 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 2.96 percent a week ago and 3.02 percent a year ago. The one-year ARM average increased to 2.65 percent with an average 0.2 point. It was 2.62 percent a week ago. "A surprisingly strong October jobs report showed 271,000 jobs added and wage growth of 0.4 percent from last month, exceeding many experts' expectations," Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac chief economist, said in a statement. "The positive employment reports pushed Treasury yields to about 2.3 percent as investors responded by placing a higher likelihood on a December rate hike. Mortgage rates followed with the 30-year jumping 11 basis points to 3.98 percent, the highest since July. There is only one more employment report before the December FOMC meeting, which will have major implications on whether we see a rate hike in 2015."

Cuomo to Raise Minimum Wage to $15 for All New York State Employees

Source: Jesse McKinley, The New York Times

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Tuesday that he would unilaterally establish a $15 minimum wage for all state workers, making New York the first state to set such a high wage for its public employees. The increase will place the pay of New York's state employees far ahead of the current minimum wage in other states, and positions Mr. Cuomo at the vanguard of a national movement to address stagnant pay for millions of American workers. Using executive authority, Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, would gradually increase the hourly rate: State workers in New York City would earn $15 an hour by the end of 2018; state workers outside of the city would also see wages rise, though more slowly, with rates climbing to $15 by the end of 2021. All told, some 10,000 workers about 6.5 percent of the state's permanent and seasonal work force would see an increase in pay, according to the governor's office, with the vast majority of those living upstate or outside the city. The governor's action came on a day when fast-food workers across the country staged strikes seeking a uniform $15 hourly wage, a movement that he has championed in New York as a growing number of cities have acted to raise wages. Two states, Massachusetts and Oregon, have recently agreed to raise minimum wages to $15 for home care workers, who are private employees but often receive public funds. But Mr. Cuomo's action is the first time a governor has increased mandatory hourly pay to at least $15 for employees of a state itself. At a raucous rally in Lower Manhattan, Mr. Cuomo framed his decision as part of a larger fight against poverty and economic inequality, criticizing fast-food companies like McDonald's for being culpable in "a scam on the taxpayers of this country." He also summoned the legacy of another New York governor, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and argued that "if you work full time, you should have a decent lifestyle for you and your family."

Why the success of the $15 minimum wage movement has surprised its leaders

Source: Chris Kirkman and Masunaga

Nearly three years ago, a group of about 200 workers at McDonald's, Taco Bell and other New York City fast-food restaurants walked off the job and rallied for higher wages. It was widely described as the largest series of demonstrations ever in the fast-food industry. Fast-forward to Tuesday, and the so-called Fight for $15 movement seeking better pay for fast-food and other low-wage workers has spread to what organizers say are 270 cities across the U.S. All three Democratic presidential candidates weighed in with support on Twitter after rallies began. The governor of New York and the mayor of Pittsburgh issued orders Tuesday that will lead to a $15 minimum wage for all government workers. How the once-fledgling campaign has captivated national political discourse is a testament to the uneasiness still felt by many Americans left out of the recovery from the Great Recession. Although jobs have continued to grow since the depths of the downturn, earnings for lower- and middle-income workers have not. By galvanizing efforts around fast-food workers - people who many interact with on a daily basis - the movement's organizers, backed in part by the nation's second-largest labor union, have worked to change the public perception of low-wage work. "For many of us, these are workers who we see every day, yet they're invisible," said Harley Shaiken, a UC Berkeley labor expert. "What the Fight for 15 has done is give faces, names and personal stories that many, perhaps most, working Americans can identify with." The federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour has been the same since 2009, and efforts have stalled in Congress to increase wages. But at the state and local level, there has been an unprecedented wave of action to boost wages since the movement began in 2012.

November 11, 2015

Minimum wage debate Meet people living on it

Source: Mike Kilen, USA Today

Heather Costello of Sioux City works for $7.25 an hour, the federal minimum wage. For 40 hours a week, she presses meats into Lunchables on an assembly line at Tur-Pak Foods in Sioux City. She's single and 39. Her weekly balance sheet: She brings home $250, pays $30 for transportation to her job through an employment agency, $25 to settle a debt, and roughly $84 a week for the rent-subsidized apartment she just moved into. That will leave $111 for food and, someday she hopes, a car. So this is her dream: a $9-an-hour job. Costello said she doesn't pay enough attention to politics to know how her financial situation could be helped by presidential candidates campaigning in Iowa who continue to debate whether or how much the federal minimum wage should increase. The issue typically surfaces among Democrats, who will debate in Des Moines at 9 p.m. ET Saturday on CBS. Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have advocated raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and Hillary Clinton has called for a raise to $12. Most Republicans running for president oppose raising the federal minimum wage, which hasn't increased since 2009. Democrats and some economists say increasing the wage is needed to help the working poor get by and narrow U.S. income inequality. Most Republicans and some economists say raising the minimum will cause job losses and raise prices.

Low wage workers rally for union rights, higher pay in cities across US

Source: Ned Resnikoff, Al Jazeera

Fast-food workers and others in the service industry launched coordinated protests Tuesday in cities across the United States, calling for union organizing rights and a minimum wage of $15 an hour, which they say they need to survive. Demonstrators and organizers in the Fight for $15 movement said they hope the actions will get the attention of the presidential candidates and entrench the issue in the 2016 race, with a demonstration planned at the site of the GOP debate in Milwaukee on Tuesday night. Starting early in the day, rallies were held in cities including New York, Chicago, Denver and Houston. At one rally in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the demonstrators and expressed his support. "This country can't be what it's supposed to be if people don't make a decent wage," de Blasio said. The city has been a success story for the movement, with wages for fast-food workers set to rise to $15 an hour by 2018 following the decision of a state wage board earlier this year. In Denver, demonstrators described the struggle of getting by on low pay. "I am from a family of five children, my mom is chronically ill, so $15 would really help when we're paying our bills and making sure we have food and water, everything working in order," Aubrey Anderson told local CBS affiliate KCNC. "Union rights would really ensure that I get that without feeling threatened in the workplace."

Millennials actually like government work, and other myths about them

Source: Lisa Rein, Washington Post

With waves of retirement-age employees on their staffs heading for the exits, senior leaders in government are getting worried that the generation of millennials in line behind them are hard to attract and even harder to keep. The officials seem to have good cause for concern: The share of the federal workforce under the age of 30 dropped to 7 percent this year, the lowest figure in nearly a decade, government figures show. Overall, about a third of the private-sector labor force was born between 1980 and 1995, but younger workers make up only a quarter of federal, state and local government employees. For several years, government surveys and outside studies have concluded that the foundation of millennials at all levels of government is shrinking because young people don't view public service as a permanent career the way older generations did. But a new study out Tuesday from Deloitte Consulting debunks many of these assumptions, concluding that the picture for millennials in government is actually a lot brighter than anyone thought. Deloitte decided to question some of the conclusions of its own inquiry on the subject, done last year with the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service. It showed the number of federal employees under 30 at their lowest levels since 2005, dropping by more than 45,000 people since 2010.

November 10, 2015

Class action disputes flooding Supreme Court

Source: Richard Wolf, USA Today

The Supreme Court on Tuesday completes an extraordinary run of oral arguments in cases that could jeopardize the ability of workers and consumers to join forces in lawsuits against companies. Three times in the past four weeks, the justices have considered petitions from companies seeking to overturn lower court rulings that allowed such lawsuits to proceed. Just by agreeing to hear each case, the conservative-leaning court may have signaled its intentions. The latest case was brought by Tyson Foods, one of the world's leading producers of meat and poultry. It wants out of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 3,300 current and former workers at a pork processing plant in Iowa who want overtime pay for the time taken to put on and remove protective and sanitary gear. Tyson's claim that the workers don't share enough common traits to sue as a class follows similar cases heard over the past month in which companies argued that consumers could not prove any injury or had been offered complete restitution. Consumer and labor groups fear the court will follow its past example and rule for the companies in most if not all the cases. In 2011, the court backed Walmart in a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of 1.5 million female employees claiming pay discrimination. In 2013, it denied Comcast's cable subscribers the right to sue as a class against alleged antitrust activities. "The stakes for consumer and employment class actions are absolutely enormous," says Paul Bland, executive director of the legal watchdog group Public Justice. "If the corporate defense side gets what they're asking for, class actions involving privacy or violations of the wage and hour laws will shrink dramatically, and in many cases become impossible." The common issue connecting this term's cases is what type of injury rises to the level of a lawsuit - in particular, one in which hundreds or thousands of people can join together. The question is important, because while plaintiffs stand to gain from jury awards that can reach into the millions or billions of dollars, companies face potentially ruinous verdicts.

College Athletes' Potential Realized in Missouri Resignations

Source: Joe Nocera, New York Times

Well, that was fast. When was it, exactly, that the African-American football players at the University of Missouri tweeted that they were going on strike until "President Tim Wolfe resigns or is removed" from office? It was Saturday night, around 9 p.m. Eastern time. Now consider the following timeline, which The Columbia Missourian recently published. On Sept. 12, Payton Head, the president of the Missouri Student Association, takes to Facebook to describe a campus incident during which the most vile of anti-black slurs was hurled at him. A second racial incident occurs on Oct. 5. By Oct. 10, dissatisfied by the administration's tepid response, a group called Concerned Student 1950 stages a protest during the homecoming parade. Ten days later, the group issues eight demands, including "an increase in the percentage of black faculty and staff," as well as Wolfe's removal from office. A swastika drawn with feces is discovered in a bathroom on Oct. 24. Concerned Student 1950 has an inconclusive meeting with Wolfe three days later. Jonathan Butler, a protest leader, announces a hunger strike on Nov. 2. Another meeting with Wolfe takes place the next day, during which he promises, essentially, to do better. In other words, nearly two months had gone by before the football players decided to get involved. Once they did, Wolfe lasted all of 36 hours. Later in the day, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin said he would resign as well, effective at the end of the year. In announcing his resignation Monday morning, Wolfe said he was motivated by his "love" for his alma mater. No doubt he was sincere. But it is hard to believe that his calculations didn't include money as well: the $1 million that Missouri would be contractually obliged to pay Brigham Young University if the Tigers failed to play Saturday's game; and the mess it would create for itself - and the Southeastern Conference, which it joined only four years ago - if a players' strike lasted to the end of the season. Missouri's final SEC game in late November, against Arkansas, is scheduled to be televised by CBS, which pays the conference $55 million a year for television rights.

Roofers flooded with calls ahead of El Niño

Source: Ronald D. White, LA Times

Steve Lang has weathered cycles in the roofing business many times during his 40-year career, but his Bell Gardens company has never seen anything like the wild swings recently. With El Niño expected to bring deluges to dought-stricken California, homeowners are rushing to fix their roofs - and overwhelming the roofing industry. "We are all working overtime and have been for months," said Lang, president of the 100-member Roofing Contractors Assn. of Southern California. "We can only take on so much. I can't just go out and hire 20 new roofers. They're all working." Similar tales are told by people who clean and repair rain gutters, fix sump pumps and trim trees around Southern California. The National Weather Service has predicted that the area from San Diego to Los Angeles has a 60% to 69% chance of "above-normal precipitation" this winter because of the El Niño weather phenomenon. That has even disaster-seasoned Californians a little worried. "This one has been a trigger for me," said Los Angeles artist Wendy Edlen, 70. "We've had our roof about 17 years and we know we should have had it taken care of before now." Edlen was able to get two appointments with roofers two months ago and got one bid she found reasonable. Her best hope is that the work might begin by late November. Some property owners have complained on Yelp about the difficulty of getting cost estimates - let alone getting work done. "I never received a return phone call," said one-star reviewer Constance S. of Glendale recently. "I called them back again and was told that they wouldn't be able to schedule a free estimate until at least January of 2016." Others have been told it might be as late as March before their roofs are fixed or replaced. Contractors who have multiple roofers to call on are also finding them booked. "We're getting about 10 times as many calls as we usually do this time of year," said Gary Abrams, also known as the Home Doctor, who has been repairing and remodeling homes for 35 years. Abrams subcontracts work to three roofers and said that "they are pretty much all backed up."

November 9, 2015

Judge sets trial date for Uber driver classification lawsuit

Source: Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times

The fate of Uber's business model - the same business model that has earned the company a $50-billion valuation - will be decided next summer, after a federal judge in San Francisco set a June 20, 2016, trial date for a class action lawsuit against the on-demand transportation company. Judge Edward Chen, who recently certified the class, has set aside five weeks for the trial, which will take place before a jury. The case, O'Connor vs. Uber, concerns the ride-hailing company's classification of drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. Plaintiffs in the case allege Uber treats its drivers as employees while denying them any of the benefits. Much is at stake for the San Francisco company, which, in addition to delivering people, is now also in the business of package and meal deliveries. If the jury rules in favor of the plaintiffs, thousands of Uber drivers may be entitled to back wages, expense payments and benefits, which could significantly increase Uber's cost of doing business and hurt its valuation. Companies in Silicon Valley - particularly those that use independent contractors as part of their core business - are paying close attention to how the case plays out, as any ruling could have a ripple effect in the on-demand economy.

Houston Voters Reject Broad Anti-Discrimination Ordinance

Source: Manny Fernandez and Mitch Smith, New York Times

A yearlong battle over gay and transgender rights that turned into a costly, ugly war of words between this city's lesbian mayor and social conservatives ended Tuesday as voters easily repealed an anti-discrimination ordinance that had attracted attention from the White House, sports figures and Hollywood celebrities. The City Council passed the measure in May, but it was in limbo after opponents succeeded, following a lengthy court fight, in putting the matter to a referendum. The measure failed by a vote of 61 percent to 39 percent. Supporters said the ordinance was similar to those approved in 200 other cities and prohibited bias in housing, employment, city contracting and business services for 15 protected classes, including race, age, sexual orientation and gender identity. Opponents said the measure would allow men claiming to be women to enter women's bathrooms and inflict harm, and that simple message - "No Men in Women's Bathrooms" - was plastered on signs and emphasized in television and radio ads, turning the debate from one about equal rights to one about protecting women and girls from sexual predators. "It was about protecting our grandmoms, and our mothers and our wives and our sisters and our daughters and our granddaughters," Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, told cheering opponents who gathered at an election night party at a Houston hotel. "I'm glad Houston led tonight to end this constant political-correctness attack on what we know in our heart and our gut as Americans is not right." The issue was one of a handful of high-profile initiatives across the nation up for a vote on Tuesday, some of which had similar culture-war undertones.

Wellness Programs Add Financial Advice To Improve Employee Health

Source: Yuki Noguchi, NPR

Sheena Calliham is all too aware of statistics showing that millennials have less job security and more student debt than their parents. "Student loan debt is a primary financial stressor and concern for my generation," she says, "and we've also faced a challenging job market." Calliham is 32, manages healthcare centers in Columbia, S.C, and has a 2-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago, she signed up for a financial wellness program offered by her employer. She says the stress of the debt and the cost of raising a child were affecting many aspects of her life. "It can be a stressor that I can take home with me," she says, "and that may cause me to take things out on people that I love." About half of all U.S. employers now offer financial wellness programs, although how they define them varies. Many companies have long offered lectures on topics like retirement. But increasingly, say analysts tracking the trend, employers are tailoring their programs to the worker - more like a personal trainer who works on your budget rather than your waistline. Most large companies are expanding their financial wellness programs this year, says Rob Austin, director of retirement research at consulting firm Aon Hewitt. And employers realize one-on-one counseling is a far more effective way to reach people and address their particular concerns. "It really goes much deeper and much broader," he says.According to Evren Esen, who directs survey programs at the Society for Human Resource Management, more than two-thirds of professionals in human resources say personal finances are having an effect on their employees at work, and that can affect health.

November 6, 2015

Boeing to Pay $57 Million to Settle Suit Over Retirement Plan

Source: Liz Moyer, New York Times

Boeing has agreed to pay $57 million to settle a lawsuit that accused it of charging excessive fees and choosing higher-cost investment offerings for the workers and retirees who participate in its 401(k) retirement plan. The amount of the settlement, tentatively reached in August on the eve of a trial, was disclosed on Thursday, and the two sides have asked a federal judge in Illinois for approval. With the settlement, nine large American companies have paid a combined $271.5 million over class-action lawsuits brought on behalf of workers by a St. Louis lawyer who has pushed major corporations for more accountability in the retirement plans they offer. Other companies that have settled include Ameriprise Financial, Cigna and Kraft Foods. "This settlement, the culmination of over nine years of litigation, signifies our commitment to improving the 401(k) savings plans that Americans rely on for a secure retirement," said Jerome J. Schlichter of the St. Louis firm Schlichter, Bogard & Denton, who represented the Boeing workers and retirees in the case. Boeing has the second-largest retirement plan among American companies, with $44 billion in worker and retiree savings, behind I.B.M. with $48 billion of assets. The defense contractor Lockheed Martin has paid the biggest single settlement to date in a similar case, $62 million. Boeing has denied the claims in the suit but has made a number of changes to its 401(k) plan, known as a voluntary investment plan, including replacing mutual funds with lower-cost investment options. An independent consultant will review its plan.

'Banning the Box' Is Deeply American

Source: Eric Cortellessa, Huffington Post

Ninety years ago, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby that, "Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall." Though fall officially began more than a month ago, President Barack Obama just took a step to provide more Americans the chance to start their lives over again. On Nov. 2, he issued a directive instructing federal employers to delay asking about a job applicant's criminal history until later in the application process, embracing an initiative that promotes the hiring of people with records. In doing so, the president has recognized the winds sweeping the nation's political and moral weather, as progressives and conservatives alike now acknowledge the injustice of holding people hostage to the indiscretions of their pasts. In the last year alone, governors in Georgia, Vermont and Virginia have taken executive action to remove a conviction history check box on public-sector job applications; and in the private sector, Koch Industries announced, in April, it was "banning the box," joining companies like Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot, Target and Walmart.

Miami-Dade schools settles Justice claim of employment discrimination

Source: Christina Veiga, Miami Herald

Miami-Dade County Public Schools has settled a U.S. Department of Justice claim that the country's fourth-largest school district discriminated against job applicants who are immigrants. The district cast the allegations as essentially a paperwork policy flub done in the name of efficiency, and without any intent to discriminate. Miami-Dade educates students in a community where more than half of residents are foreign-born, according to Census data. The leader of the country's fourth-largest school system, Alberto Carvalho, is himself an immigrant from Portugal. An investigation by the Civil Rights Division found that the school system asked immigrants to provide specific documents to prove their employment eligibility, whereas U.S. citizens were not asked, according to a statement released by the Justice Department. Earlier this month, the school system agreed to pay a $90,000 civil citation to settle the issue without admitting any wrongdoing. Deputy School Board Attorney Luis Garcia offered a different explanation, saying the school system asked all applicants for specific documents – like a driver's license – to make the hiring process more efficient. But federal law requires employers to accept a range of different official documents. "There is no evidence that we know or are aware of that there was any intent to discriminate against any applicant on the basis of their immigration status," he said. Garcia said the investigation was prompted by an automatic system that recognized many of the district's applicants were submitting the same documents. The Civil Rights began investigating the district in September 2014. Miami-Dade's practice dates back until at least September 2012, according to the settlement agreement.

November 5, 2015

Fast-food workers plan new strike, aim to sway election

Source: Paul Davidson, USA Today

Fast-food workers, already a potent political force, are planning their largest nationwide strike yet next week and this time will leverage their crusade for a $15-an-hour wage in a bid to sway the 2016 presidential election. The group representing the workers, Fight for $15, plans on Tuesday to stage protests at restaurants in 270 cities, the most since it began organizing the demonstrations three years ago. Striking fast-food and other low-wage workers will then gather at local city halls, kicking off a campaign to prod their colleagues to vote next November for local, state and national candidates who support the $15 pay floor. Labor and other groups will simultaneously rally in about 200 other cities, and the daylong blitz will culminate with a protest by several thousand workers at the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee. "We're putting politicians on notice that we're going to hold them accountable," says Kendall Fells, the organizing director of Fight for $15, a group funded by the Service Employees International Union. All of the top Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have said they back a $12-$15 minimum wage and have made the growing divide between rich and poor a centerpiece of their campaigns. Most of the Republican contenders oppose raising the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour, saying it will hurt job growth.

Typical child care worker paid less than dog trainer

Source: Aimee Picchi, CBS News

LiAnne Flakes, 40, has worked in the child care industry for 22 years, and after all that time she says she still can't afford health insurance and struggles at times to buy groceries. "I've been taking care of other families, making sure their needs are met, but you can't even take care of your own needs," she said of her hourly rate, which until recently was $10.75 an hour. "It is a struggle from day to day. Going to the grocery store is a luxury after I pay my bills." Despite all this, Flakes is doing better than many other child care workers because 15 percent of them live below the poverty line, or double the poverty rate for workers in other occupations, according to new research from The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. Like Flakes, about one-third of child care workers live on income within twice the the poverty threshold, which may be high enough to disqualify them from government assistance but requires daily sacrifices to keep the lights on and have food in the pantry. Their earnings are so low that child care workers would be hard-pressed to send their own kids to preschool. "They have a hard time affording child care and making ends meet," said EPI senior economist Elise Gould, who wrote the research report. "We think of child care workers as being one step away from being elementary school workers, but they are much more similar to cashiers or food service workers" in terms of pay.

Livermore National Lab settles age discrimination lawsuit

Source: Sam Richards, Contra Costa Times

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has reached a $37.25 million settlement with 129 former employees who claimed they lost their jobs because they were too old. The 129 workers sued the lab for age for age discrimination in 2008. They were among 430 laid off in 2007 as the lab was moving away from nuclear weapons research and beginning joint operation by the University of California and commercial firms including Bechtel National and Babcock and Wilcox. In 2013, the claims of five lead plaintiffs were litigated in two separate jury trials. In the first trial, addressing the workers' employment contracts, the five plaintiffs were awarded $2.73 million in damages. The lab prevailed in the second trial, which centered on claims the lab discriminated against older employees in making layoff decisions. Both verdicts were appealed. All sides spent months of mediation before the $37.25 million settlement was reached. The money will be distributed according to the workers' pay rates and years of service with the lab, one former lab worker said Wednesday.

November 4, 2015

HEB Grocery Chain to Give Stock to 55,000 Employees

Source: Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times

As the plight of low-wage retail workers has gained national attention, HEB, a regional grocery chain and one of Texas' largest private employers, is giving 55,000 employees an equity stake in the company. The Butt family, which founded the San Antonio-based grocer 110 years ago, is handing an estimated 15 percent of the company's shares to employees over 21 years old who have worked at least a year at the retailer and clocked at least 1,000 hours in a calendar year. Managers at the retailer, which runs 370 stores in Texas and Mexico and had $23 billion in net sales this year, started informing employees who qualify on Monday, according to the company. The plan is intended to recognize workers' contributions and foster loyalty to the company, and enhance their long-term financial stability, said Craig Boyan, HEB's president and chief operating officer. Under the plan, workers are able to cash out when they leave or retire from the company, and will also receive dividends based on the retailer's earnings. "So many in retail are competing in the race to the bottom, and people are the largest cost. So it seems logical to cut people, and lots of folks are doing it," Mr. Boyan said. "We think that's a trap. We believe the race for the bottom cheapens the American experience. It's bad for the country and bad for companies."

In new twist, Amazon to let employees share parental leave benefit with their spouses

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

Amazon is joining the throng of companies expanding their parental leave benefits for employees. On Monday, the online retail giant said in a memo to employees that, starting Jan. 1, it would be expanding the number of weeks it offers new parents, as well as offering an unusual "leave share" program that allows employees to share their benefit with a spouse or partner. Amazon's founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, also owns The Washington Post. Under the new policy, Amazon now offers birth mothers up to 20 paid weeks of leave, including four weeks of paid pre-partum medical leave, 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, and six weeks of paid parental leave. That six weeks of paid parental leave is also available to new fathers as well as all other new parents who have been with the company at least a year. The company said the benefit would be available to full-time salaried and hourly workers, including those who work in its fulfillment centers and in customer service. Until now, birth mothers were eligible for eight weeks of paid maternity leave, and there was no paid leave for other parents, putting Amazon well behind many technology companies' offerings, particularly recently. Within the past year, a growing number of companies have been offering generous extensions of paid leave, including Netflix, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson and Vodafone. Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google have also long had generous benefits for working parents.

How Workers' Comp Policies Leave Women to Fend for Themselves

Source: Jean Stevens, RH Reality Check

Shortly after receiving a diagnosis of Stage 1 breast cancer in 2012, Janice Page of San Diego never expected her boss to tell her that she should file a claim for workers' compensation-payments from an employer to compensate a worker who suffers a job-related injury. Page, a county sheriff and first responder to chemical fires, explosions, gas spills, and other emergencies, didn't know much about it. Still, she took her employer's advice, and when her state-appointed doctor determined that her cancer would not qualify her to receive any workers' compensation, something felt off. Page contacted an attorney, and learned that if she'd been a man diagnosed with prostate cancer, she'd automatically be entitled to substantial benefits. "I don't think it's fair at all, and it's not right," said Page, who recently testified to California Assembly members about her experience when the assembly was considering new legislation to ban gendered assessments in workers' compensation claims. She'd undergone multiple surgeries, a mastectomy, and reconstruction as a result of treating her cancer. "I don't want another woman to have to deal with what I'm dealing with."

November 3, 2015

In Religious Arbitration, Scripture Is the Rule of Law

Source: Michael Corkery and Jessica Silver-Greenberg, New York Times

A few months before he took a toxic mix of drugs and died on a stranger's couch, Nicklaus Ellison wrote a letter to his little sister. He asked for Jolly Ranchers, Starburst and Silly Bandz bracelets, some of the treats permitted at the substance abuse program he attended in Florida. Then, almost as an aside, Mr. Ellison wrote about how the Christian-run program that was supposed to cure his drug and alcohol problem had instead "de-gayed" him. "God makes all things new," Mr. Ellison wrote in bright green ink. "The weirdest thing is how do I come out as straight after all this time?" To his family and friends, Mr. Ellison's professed identity change was just one of many clues that something had gone wrong at the program, Teen Challenge, where he had been sent by a judge as an alternative to jail.But when his family sued Teen Challenge in 2012 hoping to uncover what had happened, they quickly hit a wall. When he was admitted to the program, at age 20, Mr. Ellison signed a contract that prevented him and his family from taking the Christian group to court. Instead, his claim had to be resolved through a mediation or arbitration process that would be bound not by state or federal law, but by the Bible. "The Holy Scripture shall be the supreme authority," the rules of the proceedings state. For generations, religious tribunals have been used in the United States to settle family disputes and spiritual debates. But through arbitration, religion is being used to sort out secular problems like claims of financial fraud and wrongful death. Customers who buy bamboo floors from Higuera Hardwoods in Washington State must take any dispute before a Christian arbitrator, according to the company's website. Carolina Cabin Rentals, which rents high-end vacation properties in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, tells its customers that disputes may be resolved according to biblical principles. The same goes for contestants in a fishing tournament in Hawaii.

Obama Bans Hiring Bias Against Ex-Cons Seeking Federal Jobs

Source: Ari Melber, NBC News

On Monday, President Obama is announcing a new order to reduce potential discrimination against former convicts in the hiring process for federal government employees. It is a step towards what many criminal justice reformers call "ban the box" - the effort to eliminate requirements that job applicants check a box on their applications if they have a criminal record. While the rule was once seen as a common sense way for employers to screen for criminal backgrounds, it has been increasingly criticized as a hurdle that fosters employment discrimination against former inmates, regardless of the severity of their offense or how long ago it occurred. Banning the box delays when employers learn of an applicant's record. President Obama is unveiling the plan on a visit to a treatment center in New Jersey, a state where Republican Gov. Chris Christie signed a ban the box bill into law last year. Hillary Clinton endorsed ban the box last week, while Republican Sen. Rand Paul also introduced similar federal legislation, with Democrat Cory Booker, to seal criminal records for non-violent offenders.The White House says it is "encouraged" by such legislation in a new statement, but emphasizes the president's order will take immediate action, mandating that the federal government's HR department "delay inquiries into criminal history until later in the hiring process." President Obama spoke to several federal prisoners about that very approach in July, when he was the first sitting president to visit an American prison. "If the disclosure of a criminal record happens later in a job application process," he told them, "you're more likely to be hired." Obama described what many studies show - that when many employers see the box checked for an applicant's criminal record, they weed them out without ever looking at their qualifications.

Add A Little Laughter In The Workplace To See Big Results

Source: David K. Williams, Forbes

A group of coworkers gather together in a conference room. Four are performing in front of the group, acting out a party scene; one pretends to be a dog at the vet, another Mark Twain, and a third is a birthday clown while a fourth guesses who they are. The rest of the group watches and laughs as these four explore what happens when the host spills dip on Mark Twain's suit, or what a clown's work life crisis might look like. Believe it or not, this is what effective team building looks like. Recent studies show that employees who believe that their workplaces are innovative and fun not only work harder but maintain greater loyalty towards their organizations for longer periods of time. Environments friendly to laughter are creating hotbeds of success. Some companies are enjoying a significant increase in productivity from a single instance of levity, according to Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher, authors of The Levity Effect: Why it Pays to Lighten Up. "Studies show that there is a direct correlation between being physically relaxed and motor skill acuity, task completion, team interaction, idea generation, creativity and the list goes on and on. You don't have to look much further than a high school basketball coach who reminds his players to 'have fun out there, guys!' If they're tense and nervous, they simply won't be at their best. It's usually the team who 'has nothing to lose' that ends up shooting the lights out from all over the floor, while the top-ranked Bulldogs, for example, feel the pressure of all the expectations and suddenly forget how to make a simple layup or pass the ball out of bounds," shares Christopher in a recent interview.

November 2, 2015

In Arbitration, a 'Privatization of the Justice System'

Source: Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Michael Corkery, New York Times

Deborah L. Pierce, an emergency room doctor in Philadelphia, was optimistic when she brought a sex discrimination claim against the medical group that had dismissed her. Respected by colleagues, she said she had a stack of glowing evaluations and evidence that the practice had a pattern of denying women partnerships. She began to worry, though, once she was blocked from court and forced into private arbitration. Presiding over the case was not a judge but a corporate lawyer, Vasilios J. Kalogredis, who also handled arbitrations. When Ms. Pierce showed up one day for a hearing, she said she noticed Mr. Kalogredis having a friendly coffee with the head of the medical group she was suing. Alan Carlson, a restaurant owner and chef, was involved in a 2003 class-action suit against American Express. A decade later, a Supreme Court ruling enabled American Express to prevent merchants from bringing class actions.
During the proceedings, the practice withheld crucial evidence, including audiotapes it destroyed, according to interviews and documents. Ms. Pierce thought things could not get any worse until a doctor reversed testimony she had given in Ms. Pierce's favor. The reason: Male colleagues had "clarified" her memory. When Mr. Kalogredis ultimately ruled against Ms. Pierce, his decision contained passages pulled, verbatim, from legal briefs prepared by lawyers for the medical practice, according to documents. "It took away my faith in a fair and honorable legal system," said Ms. Pierce, who is still paying off $200,000 in legal costs seven years later. If the case had been heard in civil court, Ms. Pierce would have been able to appeal, raising questions about testimony, destruction of evidence and potential conflicts of interest.

Arbitration Everywhere, Stacking the Deck of Justice

Source: Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Robert Gebeloff, New York Times

On Page 5 of a credit card contract used by American Express, beneath an explainer on interest rates and late fees, past the details about annual membership, is a clause that most customers probably miss. If cardholders have a problem with their account, American Express explains, the company "may elect to resolve any claim by individual arbitration." Those nine words are at the center of a far-reaching power play orchestrated by American corporations, an investigation by The New York Times has found. By inserting individual arbitration clauses into a soaring number of consumer and employment contracts, companies like American Express devised a way to circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits, realistically the only tool citizens have to fight illegal or deceitful business practices. Over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to apply for a credit card, use a cellphone, get cable or Internet service, or shop online without agreeing to private arbitration. The same applies to getting a job, renting a car or placing a relative in a nursing home.
Among the class actions thrown out because of the clauses was one brought by Time Warner customers over charges they said mysteriously appeared on their bills and another against a travel booking website accused of conspiring to fix hotel prices. A top executive at Goldman Sachs who sued on behalf of bankers claiming sex discrimination was also blocked, as were African-American employees at Taco Bell restaurants who said they were denied promotions, forced to work the worst shifts and subjected to degrading comments. Some state judges have called the class-action bans a "get out of jail free" card, because it is nearly impossible for one individual to take on a corporation with vast resources.

Judge issues temporary restraining order against Alliance charter group

Source: Zahira Torres, LA Times

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Alliance College-Ready Public schools that prohibits the charter group from interfering with unionization efforts. The order, signed by attorneys from Alliance and United Teachers Los Angeles, states that the city's largest charter group cannot coerce or ask teachers about their positions on unionization, must let organizers onto campuses, cannot block emails from the union and must stay 100 feet away from organizers. United Teachers Los Angeles and the charter organization have been locked in a battle since a group of teachers at Alliance announced in March that they had launched a drive to unionize. While some California charter schools have formed unions, most resist collective bargaining. California's Public Employment Relations Board this month filed for an injunction against the charter organization. The temporary restraining order issued will remain in place until Nov. 17 when the judge considers the board's request for a preliminary injunction. Union leaders have filed four unfair practice claims against Alliance alleging that the charter group is violating state law by intimidating employees, conducting surveillance on teachers and blocking organizers at school sites. Two of those complaints are scheduled for a hearing on Monday. "The court now has stated clearly that these educators at Alliance are not being treated fairly and that validates, frankly, what these educators at Alliance have been saying for months," UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said. "These are educators who are fighting for some really simple elements of having a voice at their schools around curriculum issues, school policy issues and who wanted to lift up parent and student voices." The charter group has denied wrongdoing. "Of course, we are going to comply with the order," Alliance spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said. "It actually doesn't change much. It says no one will coerce or threaten and we agree with that and haven't been doing that."

October 30, 2015

Meet the Most Progressive Paid Leave Bill in America

Source: Ellen Bravo, New Republic

A new paid leave bill in the District is once again driving the national conversation and stirring debate. If passed, it will be the most progressive in America-and, according to The Washington Post, the bill will probably have popular support. "People should be able to take medical leave, particularly during and after pregnancy, without worrying about getting fired or going broke," the Post's editors wrote in a second editorial last week about a national paid leave proposal called the FAMILY Act. I couldn't agree more. While this and their earlier editorial on the DC proposal speak to the need for paid leave in general, the Post editors unfortunately present some misleading information about how leave would be paid for and maintained, both in DC and nationwide. Here is what California, New Jersey and Rhode Island and most of the world have figured out: The most cost-effective way to ensure paid family and medical leave is a social insurance fund that pools small contributions so income is available to those needing leave, which is a fraction of those in the pool at any given time. In Rhode Island, for instance, the most recent state to pass such a program, less than one percent of the workforce used Temporary Care Insurance in 2014. The program is similar to the way disability insurance works. Contrary to the Post editorial on the national bill, employers are not mandated to pay their employees' salaries while they are out on leave. They make a small contribution per employee to the fund, so that if their employees need to take an extended leave to care for themselves or a loved one, the employee can draw wages from this pooled insurance fund.. That's a big help to small business owners who likely can't afford the full cost of extended leave themselves. It's also a lifesaver to the millions of self-employed and contract workers (who can opt in), and workers who are underemployed or have multiple part-time jobs where they are ineligible to receive even unpaid family and medical leave.

Labor board's shift in legal interpretation could allow many taxi drivers to unionize

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

For decades, taxi drivers have been classified as independent contractors, and thus unable to join unions. But a case decided last week shows that the legal ground has shifted - potentially allowing vast swaths of the industry to organize. The case concerns taxi drivers in Tucson, Ariz., where the Office and Professional Employees International Union has been running an association for taxi drivers to advocate for their rights. That's the case in many cities, where unions have organized taxi drivers as interest groups, but lack the power to collectively bargain with the companies they work for. Two years ago, the union petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for an election at AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab. A regional director denied it, ruling that the drivers were independent contractors. That followed precedent in dozens of previous cases. But the union appealed, because by that time, the full board had issued another consequential decision: FedEx Home Delivery, concerning the status of delivery drivers. In its ruling, the board laid out a new test for independent contractor status that relies more heavily on what's called "entrepreneurial opportunity." Rather than just theoretically being in business for themselves, the judges said, true independent contractors must have a meaningful opportunity for loss or gain. FedEx has since tweaked its business model in order to comply.

University of Chicago's nontenured faculty file to unionize

Source: Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times

Nontenure-track faculty at the University of Chicago on Thursday filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board to unionize, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. They are requesting an election for a bargaining unit that would represent not only adjuncts, who work part time, but also full-timers. They would join a national movement that has sought better pay and job security for the nontenured faculty who make up the majority of the nation's higher education workforce. "We want a stronger voice in decisions made by the university that affect both us and our students," said Janet Sedlar, a senior lecturer and Spanish language coordinator at the private, prestigious South Side institution.

October 29, 2015

One big reason REI can decide to skip Black Friday

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

Outdoor retailer REI made an announcement Monday that may have sounded like sacrilege to retail industry veterans. It will be closed this year on Black Friday, shutting its doors on retail's holiest of days and paying its employees for a day off. Some hailed it as an unprecedented move, especially at a time when many other retailers have turned even Thanksgiving itself into a day of holiday shopping. It was savvy marketing, a generous employee benefit and an external display of the brand's principles all rolled int0 one. It's also an example of something REI can do because it's one of the country's few large retail cooperatives and not a publicly traded company. A cooperative, roughly defined, is a business that's owned not by shareholders but by members-people who use the business, such as its shoppers, producers or employees. In cooperatives, profits are treated as a surplus and are redistributed to members or reinvested in the business. And because the governing principle is to run the business in the best interests of their members, rather than shareholders, cooperatives tend to think in longer time horizons than the quarter-to-quarter whims of Wall Street. "That basic structure frees up the business to do things that don't really make sense in conventional market terms," says Erbin Crowell, executive director for the Neighboring Food Co-op Association. He teaches a class on co-ops at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While many people associate co-ops with crunchy organic farms or local health-food stores, there are 40,000 such businesses in the United States in 14 different industries, ranging from large agricultural cooperatives such as Land O'Lakes and Ocean Spray to "purchasing co-ops" such as Ace Hardware and Tru Value Hardware that count location owners as their members.

Amazon Prime Now Drivers Claim They Were Paid Below Minimum Wage

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

Well, that didn't take long. It was just a few weeks ago that Amazon launched its Amazon Prime Now service in Los Angeles and several other metropolitan areas, promising customers one- and two-hour delivery for tens of thousands of products. On Tuesday, four former Amazon Prime Now drivers in Southern California sued the online retail behemoth, claiming the labor model behind the service is a sham. The drivers had made deliveries for roughly a month before they filed their complaint, which alleges violations of minimum wage and overtime pay laws. The lawsuit provides yet another glimpse at how Amazon keeps its prices low in part by shaving labor costs deep down in its logistics network. The drivers named in the complaint were not actually Amazon employees. Rather, they were "independent contractors" working on behalf of a courier service called Scoobeez, which the lawsuit indicates has a contract with Amazon. Since the drivers don't work for Amazon, the retailer doesn't have to worry about paying payroll taxes, workers' compensation costs or unemployment insurance taxes on them. And since the workers are independent contractors, Scoobeez doesn't bear those costs, either. The drivers must cover their own work-related expenses, including providing their own vehicles and gasoline. Therein lies the claim that the Amazon-Scoobeez arrangement runs afoul of labor law: After paying their own automobile expenses, the drivers say their wages fell below California's minimum wage of $9 per hour. They also claim they were not paid the required time-and-a-half rate when they worked more than eight hours a day.

Seattle restaurant workers report 'serious problems' despite $15 wage law

Source: Ned Resnikoff, Al Jazeera

Seattle labor activists scored a major win last year when the city became the second in the country to pass a $15 minimum wage law. But working conditions for many local service workers remain poor, in part due to lax enforcement, according to a new survey by a group representing Seattle restaurant employees. Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) Seattle - part of ROC United, a national labor group that campaigns on minimum wage issues - found in its survey of 524 Seattle-area restaurant employees that low wages and illegal labor practices persist in the industry, despite the minimum wage law and other legislation meant to improve conditions for low-wage workers. The survey found that 42.7 percent of respondents earned "poverty wages," or wages below a threshold the group set at $12.25 per hour. Seattle's $11 an hour minimum wage will gradually increase to $15 for all employers by 2021. "Many restaurant jobs in the Seattle area are low-road jobs characterized by few benefits, low wages, and poor workplace conditions," ROC Seattle said in a statement issued Tuesday. "Our report also unearths a range of serious problems related to the availability of benefits, hiring and promotion practices, workplace discrimination, and job-specific training opportunities." Wage theft was also widespread, the survey report said. More than one-fifth of respondents said they had worked off the clock without pay in the past year. And 38.8 percent of those who had worked more than 40 hours per week at some point during the year said they had not received the time-and-a-half overtime compensation required by federal law. The report praises Seattle's $15 minimum wage law, paid sick leave bill and similar legislation, but concludes that "enforcement has been largely lacking, effectively diminishing the reach of these gains." The group recommends higher penalties for employers found guilty of wage theft, and public outreach to make sure workers are informed of their legal rights.

October 28, 2015

REI: 'Black Friday Has Gotten Out of Hand'

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

American retailers have been opening earlier and earlier for Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days of the year. At first, some stores opened at the crack of dawn, then it crept up to midnight, and finally stores started opening on Thanksgiving evening to lure diehard deal hunters after dinner. Some of the more aggressive stores keep marathon store hours, operating continuously from Thursday evening till Friday night. But then came the backlash: A group of retail chains, including Nordstorm and Costco, announced they wouldn't open on Thanksgiving day. Some framed it as giving their employees a break before the holiday season, and others hoped to elicit the goodwill of their customers. Now one company is taking this ethos even further: The outdoor-equipment retailer REI announced on Monday that it plans to close its distribution centers, all 143 of its stores, its headquarters, and even its website on Black Friday this year. There will be no special promotions that day, either. For the company's 12,000 employees, Black Friday will be a paid holiday. It's up to them to decide how to spend their time, but the company is hoping that they will follow a simple mandate: Go outside and do something. "We're closing our doors, paying our employees to get out there," said Jerry Stritzke, the president and CEO of REI, in a press release. "We think that Black Friday has gotten out of hand and so we are choosing to invest in helping people get outside with loved ones this holiday season, over spending it in the aisles."

According to USA Today, Black Friday is one of REI's top sales days of the year. So while it's costly, it's a strong positive statement. "It seems consistent with REI's mission and ownership and does a great job making the organization's values clear to their employees and customers," said Zeynep Ton, a business professor at MIT who researches how companies can offer better jobs. "Good for them for standing up for something."

Labor friction escalates between California port truckers, shippers

Source: Steve Gorman, Reuters

Long-simmering labor tensions between Southern California port truckers and shipping companies they accuse of wage theft escalated on Tuesday as a group of drivers demanded recognition as full-fledged employees and petitioned to join the Teamsters union. The action, according to the Teamsters, was taken by at least 50 drivers who work for New Jersey-based Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT) hauling freight to and from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the busiest cargo hub in America. Teamsters officials said it marked an incremental but unprecedented effort in which workers treated by management as contractors had for the first time mustered a majority of their ranks to simultaneously seek employee status and union representation. James Hoffa, general president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, marked the occasion by appearing with a phalanx of union executives and picketers for a waterfront rally outside a marine terminal in Long Beach. "You have the support of the 1.4 million Teamster members," he said, surrounded by union activists carrying signs that read: "Wage theft stops here" and "We are all employees". Management rebuffed the drivers' demands, prompting petitioning workers - a majority of the company's 80-plus labor force in Los Angeles - to go on strike, the union said. Officials at IBT, a division of Chinese global shipping giant COSCO, were not immediately available for comment. The IBT truckers joined scores of other drivers already picketing two other port-based trucking companies - Pacific 9 Transportation and XPO Logistics - likewise targeted by the Teamsters. Although the striking drivers account for just a fraction of 13,600 tractor-trailer rigs registered to serve the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the dispute has implications for hundreds of companies and thousands of workers in Southern California.

How many hours per week would you have to work at the minimum wage just to afford a living wage?

Source: Grace Wilson, Houston Chronicle

The Alliance for a Just Society, a Seattle-based nonprofit, issued a report yesterday about the hours per week a person working at minimum wage in every state would have to work just to earn a living wage, and the numbers are bleak. There are 168 hours in every week, and a typical 9-5 job requires 40 hours a week. Even the best-performing states on this list require well over 40 hours of work per week at its minimum wage.
These numbers really make a case for the push to move toward a federal $15 minimum wage.
Currently, the federal minimum wage is $7.25, and though many states choose to go slightly higher, the ability to live off that wage is nearly impossible. "A wage that keeps families trapped in poverty and despair, no matter how hard or how many hours they work, is a national crisis," said Jill Reese, associate director of the Alliance for a Just Society. "We know that it's not unheard of in our country that someone is working full time and is still homeless – this is unacceptable," Reese said.

October 27, 2015

CEOs with daughters run more socially responsible companies, research finds

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

Business school professors have a knack for finding some pretty bizarre links between the personal lives of CEOs and the professional results at the companies they run. Those who golf more than 22 times a year are linked with lower corporate performance, while those who run marathons have better results. Physical traits ranging from the width of a CEO's face to the depth of his voice have been correlated with better performance and higher pay. Now, researchers are finding a link between the gender of a male CEO's children and how well his company behaves toward society. The most recent issue of Harvard Business Review spotlighted new research showing that CEOs who have daughters get roughly 12 percent higher ratings for being socially responsible than those who have sons. And the median firm with a CEO who has a daughter spends an extra 13.4 percent of the firm's net income on corporate social responsibility programs, the study found. "Having a daughter seems to make the top executives of publicly traded companies in the U.S. a bit softer, specifically in context of social responsibility," said co-author Henrik Cronqvist, a professor at University of Miami's business school, in an interview. "They seem to care more about others than just shareholders. Having a daughter seems to push the executives to care more about other stakeholders."

City employee awarded $10.9m in discrimination case

Source: John Hilliard, Boston Globe

A Suffolk Superior Court jury awarded nearly $10.9 million to a longtime City of Boston employee Friday after deciding the worker faced discrimination while working in the city's Treasury Department. Chantal Charles, described as having African-American and Haitian ancestry, claimed she received fewer benefits and lower pay than white co-workers and endured retaliation through less-favorable job evaluations after filing a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination in 2011. The jury awarded Charles, a senior administrative assistant in the Treasury Department, $10 million in punitive damages, along with $500,000 for emotional distress and nearly $389,000 in additional pay. "I hope that this jury verdict will convince the city to take a good hard look at [its] hiring practices," said attorney Emma Quinn-Judge, who represented Charles. Through her attorneys, Charles declined to comment. Laura Oggeri, spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, said in a brief e-mail statement that the events alleged in the suit happened under a previous administration, and that the city will probably appeal.

Eradicating 'Contagious Rudeness' in the Workplace

Source: Jennifer Lea Reynolds, Huffington Post

Forget the flu or common cold. What seems to spread like wildfire, according to doctoral students from the University of Florida, is rudeness -- specifically in the workplace. And just like a cold or gossip, it can quickly spread from person to person, something that can be thought of as a kind of "contagious rudeness." Apparently, interaction with rude people may make you rude yourself. Don't I know it. I remember work experiences in which staff routinely cursed at other employees, often unleashing a barrage of F-words. Weeks later, at that same ad agency, I found myself dropping the F-bomb to a colleague, albeit more quietly and with less intensity than the aforementioned yell fest. My behavior was completely out of character; I went from Poised Pollyanna to a Nasty Nellie during that three-second incident. It bothered me immensely, yet I found relief from my guilt knowing that it was the first (and has been my last "outburst," I should note) time engaging in such behavior. It just felt wrong the instant I uttered the offensive word. Being mean just isn't my thing and, I'm convinced, shouldn't be anybody's thing. Maintaining kindness in the face of rudeness Still, I'm very familiar with the rudeness cycle. I have observed others who have been on the receiving end of rudeness, left speechless by another person's unkind actions or backhanded compliments. I've had friends, strangers, and colleagues say rude things to me when I was 70 pounds heavier, as well as when I lost the weight. There have been rude sneers, stares, and statements, which in some cases led to stalled work projects, often born from a hesitancy of approaching an unkind coworker in the first place. I've been cursed at, given the middle finger while passing a co-worker's office, and ignored altogether -- all rude in my book.

October 26, 2015

Twitter CEO Gives Employees $200 Million Of His Own Stock

Source: Bill Chappell

Weeks after being named the company's permanent CEO, Jack Dorsey announced Thursday night that he's giving back a third of the stock he owns in Twitter, to be distributed among the employees. Valued at more than $200 million, the donation represents 1 percent of Twitter's stock. Dorsey, a co-founder of Twitter, says he's sending a large chunk of his share in the company "to our employee equity pool to reinvest directly in our people." Explaining the move further, Dorsey tweeted, "I'd rather have a smaller part of something big than a bigger part of something small. I'm confident we can make Twitter big!" The move comes just over a week after Twitter announced that it's cutting its workforce by 8 percent, laying off up to 336 people. At the time, Dorsey called the decision "tough but necessary" to the company's long-term growth.

Startups in HR Let Workers Have Their Say

Source: Lauren Weber, Wall Street Journal

A nascent group of startups wants to give power to the people–at work, anyway. Some 8,500 people and hundreds of vendors gathered in Las Vegas this week for the HR Technology conference, a show where companies like Workday Inc.WDAY -0.31% and Oracle Corp.ORCL +0.64% show off their big enterprise systems and commune with clients. It's also where, if you look hard enough, you'll get a glimpse of the innovations that could soon define the way we work. Right now, the future is one where workers have more information on everything from the hiring process to day-to-day management. And startup founders are selling bosses tools to empower employees by letting them weigh in-often anonymously-on company policies, their managers, and the everyday practices that drive them crazy. As companies struggle to find qualified workers, employee satisfaction "is a lightning rod" right now, and they are looking for software to help them diagnose and address problems faster and smarter, says George LaRocque, a human resources technology consultant. Companies are trying "to understand why and where workers are not engaged and then fix that," he said. (As HR analysts like to say in times like these, "the war for talent is over, and the talent won.") Conference organizers singled out one company trying to improve the perennially opaque process of applying for jobs. Great Hires, a "candidate-experience" company out of Oakland, Calif., tries to level elements of the playing field between job candidates and employers with a Web-based tool that gives applicants information about who will interview them, with links to relevant bios, blogs and social-media feeds. Great Hires also provides company information such as annual reports and employee testimonials, and prods candidates to submit feedback about the interview process. The features nod to the fact that hiring is a two-way decision these days.

New York Governor Inserts Gender Identity in Anti-Bias Rules

Source: Michael Balsamo, ABC

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo used his executive power Thursday to expand the state's anti-discrimination rules to safeguard transgender people, creating a protection advocates had been fighting for years to try to receive. Cuomo, speaking to about 700 people at the Empire State Pride Agenda's annual dinner, said the current law didn't go far enough to protect the rights of all state residents. He directed the state's Division of Human Rights to issue a regulation that would interpret the anti-discrimination law to prohibit discrimination against transgender people. His move prohibits discrimination against a transgender person when it comes to jobs, loans, schools and public accommodations. "It is long overdue," he said. "It is intolerable to allow discrimination of transgender individuals, and they are one of the most abused, harassed groups in society today." Gay, lesbian and transgender advocates have long pushed to include gender identity in the state's anti-discrimination law, but while the measure passed the Assembly multiple times it remains stalled in the Republican-controlled senate. Republicans didn't immediately respond to Cuomo's order. Cuomo's administration says the new regulation provides essentially the same protections as that bill, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or GENDA, but requires no legislative approval. Officials say the regulation makes New York the first state to take executive action to add transgender protections under law.

October 23, 2015

Here's What Really Happens When A Restaurant Bans Tipping

Source: Joseph Erbentraut, Huffington Post

When Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer announced last week that he will be eliminating tipping in favor of paying servers a living wage at 13 of his full-service New York City restaurants later this year, the news sent a ripple through the hospitality industry. Though the influential restaurateur's Shake Shack burger chain will not be affected, his other eateries making the change are city hot spots. The move adds weight to the the no-tipping movement, which a number of other restaurants nationwide have already joined. The owners of one of them, Bar Marco in Pittsburgh, announced in January they were abolishing tipping at their small wine bar and cafe and implemented the change in April. Six months later, Bar Marco manager Joslynn Manges told The Huffington Post the transition has been a success, and said that the restaurant is attracting more customers because of the change in policy. "We have people coming in consistently who partially come in because of what we're doing, not just because of the service and food," Manges said. "They respect the general idea of what we're doing and they support it." Co-owner Kevin Cox added that the restaurant, which has a staff of 16, has not seen a change in staff turnover rate. To offset the increased cost of giving employees a $35,000 base salary -- plus benefits including health insurance, paid vacation time and shares in the company -- Bar Marco increased prices on the menu. One challenge they've faced, Manges admitted, has been acclimating customers to the change in policy, particularly those who are from out of town or haven't been to the restaurant in some time. They attempt to mitigate that by featuring the policy prominently on their website and menu. Servers also inform guests at the start of their meal that they do not accept tips.

What We Know About the 92 Million Americans Who Aren't in the Labor Force

Source: Josh Zumbrun, Wall Street Journal

This sounds like a shocking statistic: 92 million Americans don't work but also aren't considered unemployed by the Labor Department. The Labor Department only classifies people as unemployed if they are actively looking for work. All those who don't have a job and aren't looking are lumped together under the fishy-sounding classification "not in the labor force." The share of Americans not in the labor force has been climbing for nearly 15 years, a development that even many economists and demographers failed to anticipate. It may sound like a giant mystery: What are these 92 million Americans doing? Actually, we do have some idea. Usually, employment statistics focus on the gray part of this chart-the people in the labor force. (It's the Department of Labor, not the Department of Leisure, after all.) But perhaps more attention ought to be paid to the colorful parts of the chart-the reasons people give for not participating in the labor force. Big pieces of this chart are no mystery at all. About 41 million Americans don't work because they're retired. These retirees are overwhelmingly actually of retirement age. It makes perfect sense to consider them outside the labor force (another way of saying it makes little sense to consider them unemployed). An additional 15 million say they're not in the labor force because they're in school. Some students, of course, work while they're in school. They're in the labor force. Those who are looking for work and can't find any are classified as in the labor force, but unemployed.

October 22, 2015

The big 2016 minimum wage push just got a powerful new ally

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

A little over a year out from the presidential election, we already know the states where the fiercest battles will likely be fought. But another electoral map is shaping up too: The states where voters will decide where to raise their minimum wage. And soon, those pay-boosting ballot measures might have some serious money behind them. A large California union is seed funding an organization aimed at accelerating such campaigns around the country, seizing on growing public support for raising the minimum wage to heights that just one cycle ago would have seemed like total fantasy. It's called the Fairness Project, officially launching Thursday, and it's already focusing on three jurisdictions: California, Maine, and Washington D.C., with potentially more to come as funding becomes available. And the group's main backer, the Service Employees International Union's 80,000-person strong United Healthcare Workers local in California, says it's talking with a handful more.

Aldermen want Uber drivers to register like cabbies to get O'Hare access

Source: John Byrne, Chicago Tribune

Two aldermen on Wednesday tried again to crack down on ride-share drivers, introducing a plan to require anyone working for Uber or other such companies to get chauffeur's licenses like cabdrivers if they want to pick up passengers at Chicago's airports, McCormick Place or Navy Pier. The move comes as Mayor Rahm Emanuel's 2016 budget plan proposes opening up those lucrative sites, where traditional cabs are currently allowed a monopoly on pickups, to ride-sharing services. It's part of a package of fee hikes designed to raise about $49 million next year. Taxi drivers say allowing ride-share drivers airport access would decimate their struggling industry. The amendment came up in Wednesday morning's Finance Committee meeting on the mayor's spending plan. Ald. John Arena, 45th, who has been pushing in recent months for the city to take a harder line on ride-share companies, said he wants to have some control over who gets to come to the airport. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel," Arena said. "The city already maintains a list (of drivers with chauffeur's licenses) that we can use." Arena said the requirement would be more about bringing a level of security to the airport pickup process and avoiding the traffic nightmare of thousands of Uber drivers descending on the airports than about bringing in large amounts of new revenue for the city. Just $15 comes to the city for each chauffeur's license granted to a cabbie, with $8 annual reapplication fees. The cost to cabdrivers to qualify for the license is much higher, around $500 per driver, because they need to pay for background checks, testing and vehicle inspections as part of the process.

The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp: What the future of low-wage work really looks like.

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

On Jan. 18, 2013, as the sun went down, Jeff Lockhart Jr. got ready for work. He slipped a T-shirt over his burly frame and hung his white work badge over his broad chest. His wife, Di-Key, was in the bathroom fixing her hair in micro-braids and preparing for another evening alone with her three sons. Jeff had been putting in long hours lately, and so the couple planned a breakfast date at Shoney's for when his shift ended around dawn. "You better have your hair done by then," he teased her. As he headed out the door, Jeff, who was 29, said goodbye to the boys. He told Jeffrey, the most rambunctious, not to give his mom a hard time; Kelton, the oldest, handed his father his iPod for the ride. Then Jeff climbed into his Chevy Suburban, cranked the bass on the stereo system he'd customized himself, and headed for the Amazon fulfillment center in nearby Chester, Virginia, just south of Richmond.
When the warehouse opened its doors in 2012, there were about 37,000 unemployed people living within a 30-minute drive; in nearby Richmond, more than a quarter of residents were living in poverty. The warehouse only provided positions for a fraction of the local jobless: It currently has around 3,000 full-time workers. But it also enlists hundreds, possibly thousands, of temporary workers to fill orders during the holiday shopping frenzy, known in Amazon parlance as "peak." Since full-timers and temps perform the same duties, the only way to tell them apart is their badges. Full-time workers wear blue. Temps wear white. That meant Jeff wore white. He'd started working at the warehouse in November 2012, not long after it opened. It was the first job he'd been able to find in months, ever since he'd been laid off from his last steady gig at a building supply store. By January, peak season had come and gone, and hundreds of Jeff's fellow temps had been let go. But he was still there, two months after he'd started, wearing his white badge. What he wanted was to earn a blue one.

October 21, 2015

Paul Ryan Demands Family Time In His New Job. Many Americans Aren't So Lucky.

Source: Amanda Terkel, Huffington Post

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) made many in his party happy Tuesday night when he told his colleagues that he had finally agreed to take the job no one wants and run for speaker of the House. But he said he will do so only if members agree to a list of conditions, most of which concern the functioning of the caucus. One demand, however, was deeply personal. "I cannot and will not give up my family time," Ryan told reporters following the House GOP meeting. Ryan is known among his colleagues as a "family guy" who goes back to Janesville, Wisconsin, every weekend to be with his wife and three young children. "This is a job where you are expected to be on the road about a hundred days a year," Ryan said in September. "Our kids are 10, 12 and 13, and I'm not going to do that." Ryan is lucky to be in a position where he can set the terms of his likely future employment. Many working parents aren't so fortunate. The United States remains the only developed country with no guaranteed paid family leave policy, and Republicans have blocked President Barack Obama's attempts to make it law. Most workers say they have access to unpaid leave, thanks to the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993. But only "53 percent of workers report being able to take some type of paid leave for their own illness and only 39 percent report being able to take some type of paid family leave for the birth of a child," according to a 2014 White House report.

Minimum-wage fight also about gender equity

Source: Heather Fargo, The Sacramento Bee

Recent groundbreaking state legislation makes it illegal to pay women less than men for substantially similar work – a big step toward equalizing pay between genders. But in Sacramento, the discussion about minimum wage is going in the other direction. The proposal before the City Council would increase the wage to $12.50 by 2020, but also create a "total compensation" model for tipped workers. That would write gender-based wage inequality into city law because the majority of tipped workers in Sacramento are women. Both of these proposals, whether the proponents know it or not, represent gender discrimination.There are about 24,000 tipped workers in Sacramento, including 14,500 in restaurants, according to federal numbers compiled by the Restaurant Opportunities Center United. Among tipped employees, 62 percent are women and 50 percent are Asian, black or Latino. This workforce is one of the poorest in our city. While about 9 percent of all workers in Sacramento live in poverty, that number skyrockets to 20 percent for all tipped workers, and 24 percent for tipped restaurant workers. On average, they are taking home about $19,500 a year. Under "total compensation," even these low wages would be unpredictable.

UPS pilots' union to announce strike vote results Friday

Source: Keith Laing, The Hill

The union that represents UPS pilots is planning to announce the results of a vote on a potential strike against one of the nation's largest parcel delivery companies on Friday. The Louisville, Ky.-based Independent Pilots Association (IPA), which has more than 2,600 members, said Tuesday that it would announce Friday morning the results of a vote on a potential strike against UPS. That vote began on Oct. 1. Union leaders have said the vote is an effort to win concessions from UPS after multiple years of protracted labor talks. "A strike is the least desirable outcome of labor negotiations, but after four years of contract talks with UPS we've reached a point where UPS needs to hear loud and clear from our membership that they are willing to do whatever it takes to secure an industry leading contract," IPA President Robert Travis said in a statement when the election was first announced.
"UPS has stalled and delayed, unnecessarily prolonging our negotiations," Travis continued then. "UPS management has created a bitter standoff with its pilot employees. In sharp contrast, UPS archrival Federal Express recently announced a tentative agreement with its pilots. If ratified, the FedEx pilot deal will bring labor peace to our main competitor, given that the pilots are the only major employee group at FedEx covered by a collective bargaining agreement."

October 20, 2015

State labor panel to file injunction in charter school unionization push

Source: Zahira Torres, Los Angeles Times

California's labor oversight board said it intends to file for an injunction to prohibit one of the state's largest charter organizations from interfering with efforts to unionize teachers.Leaders of United Teachers Los Angeles had asked the Public Employment Relations Board to seek the injunction, accusing Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, a charter organization, of intimidating employees, denying organizers access to school buildings and blocking emails. In its request, the union said there would be irreparable harm if the courts did not intervene. The board enforces collective bargaining laws for most of the state's public employees. Leaders of the charter organization have denied wrongdoing. The push to unionize educators at Alliance has drawn national attention. Charters are publicly funded, privately managed and traditionally nonunion. Organizing teachers at Alliance's 27 campuses could alter the path of school reform in Los Angeles. If successful, the move could help the teachers union as it seeks to stem years of membership decline. Alliance charter schools would no longer be able to hire and fire staff without union rules - a factor they say helps retain quality educators.

Ghost Towns of the 21st Century

Source: Alana Semuels, Atlantic

BRUCETON, Tenn.-When textile companies started sending jobs overseas in the 1990s, this town wasn't spared. Here, the Henry I. Siegel company made jeans and suits in three giant plants, employing 1,700. It started laying people off in 1995. Over time, Siegel, known locally as H.I.S., closed its wash plant, its distribution center, and its cutting center. It laid off its last 55 workers in 2000. In the 15 years since then, this town has struggled to figure out how to survive. The three giant H.I.S. plants in town are empty, their windows broken, their paint peeling. A few new manufacturing operations have come, but they've also left. One by one, the businesses on the main streets of Bruceton and neighboring town Hollow Rock have closed, leaving modern-day ghost towns. In downtown Bruceton, the bank is gone, the supermarket and the fashion store have closed, and there's a parking lot where there used to be another supermarket. All that's left is a pharmacy where seniors come to get their prescriptions filled. "What we say here about NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] is, I cannot tell you if it's good for the country, but I can tell you that it's not good for Carroll County," said Brad Hurley, who grew up in Bruceton and is now the president of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, as he drove me down the mostly abandoned main street of Bruceton. He's lived in town all his life and worked at the H.I.S. plant some summers; his mother and brother worked there for decades. But the town he sees now is a shadow of what it once was, and other towns in Carroll County, and indeed much of rural Tennessee, are struggling too.

Lack of 2016 wage increase in Florida surprises some

Source: Paul Brinkmann, Orlando Sentinel

Orlando's large hospitality industry certainly took note recently when Florida said it would not be raising the statutory minimum wage -- $8.05 per hour -- for the coming year. Each year, the state determines what the minimum will be, for the coming year, by Oct. 15. The decision was not made by Gov. Rick Scott, but by a formula that ties minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index. Given the fact that unemployment rates are falling, some people expected the minimum in Florida to go up again this year. Last year it ticked upward by 12 cents. "I was personally surprised, because we are seeing economic improvement trends" said Rachel D. Gebaide, chair of employment law for Orlando-based law firm Lowndes Drosdick Doster, Kantor & Reed. "It is a formula, so it's an objective decision based on economic indicators." Gebaide advises clients in the restaurant industry, which has large numbers of employees who make minimum wage or tipped wage. The law firm sends out advisories about the minimum wage decisions each year. The Consumer Price Index is a government tool to measure inflation, generally reflecting prices for certain household goods.

October 19, 2015

How the "Wal-Mart effect" squeezes workers in the vast infrastructure behind your groceries

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

In the early afternoon of Oct. 6, a couple of lawyers from a company called C&S Wholesale Grocers arrived at the union hall of Teamsters Local 639 in Northeast Washington. Phil Giles, the union's vice president, was already worried. Ever since C&S's Collington Services unit took over warehouse operations for Safeway, the workers who moved goods in and out of two facilities in Landover and Upper Marlboro, Md., figured their jobs might be at risk. What Giles didn't expect is that the warehouses would be shut down and 700 people might find themselves out of work. "They didn't beat around the bush," Giles recalled. "They gave me a WARN notice" - a required document formally notifying workers of a pending layoff - "said that Safeway had decided to sell the property, they [C&S] had to vacate the premises, and the layoffs would start on December 6, 19 days before Christmas." C&S planned to shift operations to non-union facilities in Pennsylvania, where any displaced Maryland union workers lucky enough to snag an opening would almost certainly be paid less - union warehouse jobs pay a base rate of $41,000 a year, plus overtime and benefits, which is about $10,000 more than the national median. Teamster truckers are paid a minimum of $57,000, about $15,000 higher than the median, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Why Paid Family Leave Has Become A Major Campaign Issue

Source: Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR

Lance Mercier knows his job gets harder when a co-worker goes out on leave. But he recently also learned that raising a newborn involves, as he puts it, an "insurmountable" amount of work. The 39-year-old bank manager from Silver Spring, Md., is currently on leave from work taking care of his newborn son with his wife, Luz. "As a manager who has had a lot of people go out on leave of absence, it absolutely sucks when they go out on leave," he said. "This puts everything back into perspective for me." In fact, he will likely end up taking more time off from work than his wife will. Lance's job provides full pay for three months. Luz, meanwhile, gets eight weeks off at 60 percent pay. She can take extra eight weeks of unpaid leave if she wants. Lance has a new appreciation for family leave, and he's not the only one. For the first time, paid leave has a prominent place in a presidential election. In this week's Democratic presidential debate, for example, Hillary Clinton took a swipe at California Republican Carly Fiorina's opposition to paid family leave. "California has had a paid-leave program for a number of years," Clinton said, adding, "and it has not had the ill effects that the Republicans are always saying it will have. We can design a system and pay for it that does not put the burden on small business."

Some NYC taxis are getting features clearly inspired by Uber in new pilot

Source: Laila Kearney, Reuters

Some New York City taxicabs will switch to using GPS-based fare calculators from current metering systems under a pilot program approved on Thursday. The NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to pass a measure to overhaul technology systems in 1,000 city cabs, which currently require bulky televisions and credit card readers."It's just streamlined technology," commission spokesman Greg Gordon said. The new systems will be smaller, more portable and less expensive than the current ones, which calculate fares using several physical components, including devices to track the number of times a wheel turns and waiting time, Gordon said. Four technology companies have been selected to develop the new metering systems. The pilot program, which will run for up to a year, will begin when the commission approves the first proposed design for testing in cabs. The program initially called for new system testing in 4,000 cabs but was amended and reduced at Thursday's meeting.

October 16, 2015

CEOs beware: Your astronomical salaries may soon cost you customers

Source: Jeff Guo, Washington Post

The upward march of chief executive salaries is a sore point in the debate over rising income inequality in America. Forty years ago, chief executives at large companies earned only about 20 times the average worker's salary. In the 90s, the pay gap widened to ten times that size. Economists like Paul Krugman have argued that this happened in part because social norms changed. Multi-million dollar salaries began to seem, well, less unseemly. But surveys show that the perceptions of average Americans are stuck in the past. Most still think the CEO pay ratio at large national corporations is around 30-to-1, when it is really closer to 300-to-1. The misunderstandings will soon fade: In August, the Securities and Exchange Commission ordered companies to begin reporting their CEO pay ratios by 2017. When that information begins to circulate widely, companies may find themselves running afoul of the old-fashioned norms on Main Street -- and losing customers as a result. Recent evidence from researchers at Harvard Business School suggests that customers punish companies that offer lavish CEO salaries.

A Wage Hike for Workers, a Win for Fiat

Source: Mark Clothier, Bloomberg

Since 2007, workers at Fiat Chrysler's U.S. plants have fallen into one of two wage categories: veteran employees who earn about $28 an hour, or Tier 1; and newer hires who make about half that, or Tier 2. The system, agreed to by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to help the Big Three automakers stem losses during the recession, turned a job that helped create the American middle class into one that for some barely paid the bills. Detroit's autoworkers want that tiered pay scale abolished, and, starting with Fiat Chrysler, they're closer to that goal. The automaker and the union reached a tentative agreement on Oct. 7 setting higher wages for all workers, averting a strike that would have crippled production. It would create a path for entry-level workers to eventually reach the highest pay grade, more than $29 an hour, with increases beyond that based on seniority.
Under the proposal, scheduled for a vote by union members on Oct. 20-21, Fiat Chrysler's entry-level workers will start at $17 an hour, up from $15.78. The union didn't win a cap, similar to one at Ford Motor, on the number of Tier 2 hires. The wage increases are a gain for a union that has spent most of the past decade making concessions. But the big winner is Fiat Chrysler, which under the proposal will continue to keep labor costs below those of its U.S. competitors.
"I thought the UAW would say, 'Get to $30 and cap Tier 2 at 25 percent,' " says Ron Harbour, a partner at New York consulting company Oliver Wyman Group. "I'm shocked that they didn't push harder for that."

Papa John's Stores To Dish Up Half A Million Dollars In Wage Theft Case

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

Four current and former Papa John's franchisees have agreed to pay out nearly $500,000 to New York workers in order to settle a wage theft investigation, New York's attorney general and the U.S. Labor Department announced on Thursday. The settlement resolves allegations from workers that they were shorted on pay at nine Papa John's restaurants in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx. According to the state, the franchisees who run the stores admitted to violating minimum wage and overtime laws. The back wages and damages will be doled out to 250 workers who worked at the stores stretching back to 2008. "Once again, we've found Papa John's franchises in New York that are ripping off their workers and violating critical state and federal laws," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "Once again, I call on Papa John's and other fast food companies to step up and stop the widespread lawlessness plaguing your businesses and harming the workers who make and deliver your food." Since the stores in question were operated by franchisees who are technically the workers' employers, Papa John's International, Inc., was not a party to the settlement. A Papa John's spokesman did not immediately return an email seeking comment on the announcement. Wage theft is typically treated as a civil matter and often goes unpunished in many states. But Schneiderman's office has aggressively pursued wage theft as a criminal act, with Papa John's stores frequently in the investigative crosshairs.

October 15, 2015

Restaurant industry leader Danny Meyer ends tipping. Who will follow?

Source: Maura Judkis, Washington Post

If you happen to have a late-November reservation at the Modern, Danny Meyer's two-­Michelin-star restaurant in New York's Museum of Modern Art, here's some good news: When the bill comes, you'll no longer have to do any fuzzy math on a full stomach and a few glasses of champagne. Meyer, head of the Union Square Hospitality Group, announced Wednesday that he is eliminating tipping at his full­service restaurants, beginning late next month. Unfortunately, there's some bad news, too: Meyer's initiative, which he is calling Hospitality Included, will raise prices 20 to 35 percent. So that $138 tasting menu could soon cost about $170. The new policy will be rolled out at all of Meyer's restaurants in the next year; Shake Shack, his fast-food chain - and his only D.C. presence - will not be affected by the change. But as the restaurant industry begins to rethink the way its employees are compensated, the no-gratuity business model - which has already been implemented in two local restaurants - may catch hold in Washington. Though Meyer certainly isn't the first restaurateur to eliminate tipping - restaurants such as New York's Dirt Candy and Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., have already instituted service charges instead - his 13 restaurants will set a high-profile example for others in the industry struggling to retain an often low-paid staff.

Labor commissioner: Uber drivers are employees, warrant employee benefits

Source: Steve Law, Portland Tribune

In a potential blow to Uber and other Oregon taxi companies, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries issued an advisory opinion Wednesday morning stating that Uber drivers are employees, not independent contractors. The opinion does not have the force of law, but could lead to court decisions or other actions that force Uber and traditional taxi companies to start paying for employee benefits. "Oregon's worker protections are in place for a reason," Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian stated in a news release announcing his opinion. "When corporations misclassify an employee," Avakian stated, "the worker is denied basic protections such as the right to be paid on time and in full. It also creates an unfair playing field for other employers who pay employment taxes, minimum wage and workers' compensation insurance." BOLI notes it is merely providing an interpretation of state labor law. However, its opinion could encourage Uber or other taxi drivers to now sue their employers to gain employee benefits. The opinion also could affect Lyft and traditional taxi companies in Oregon, most of which treat their drivers as independent contractors as well. The BOLI opinion cites as precedents recent decisions by the U.S. Department of Labor and California court cases. "Uber suffers or permits drivers to work for the company's benefit," the opinion concludes. "Further, drivers are economically dependent on Uber pursuant to the "economic realities" test. Under Oregon law … Uber drivers are employees." Uber, a $50 billion worldwide corporation based in San Francisco, declined requests for interviews, but supplied a brief statement via email. The company complained that BOLI failed to give Uber much of a chance to discuss its practices or interview its drivers.

Judge strikes down St. Louis' minimum wage increase hours before it takes effect

Source: Nicholas J.C. Pistor, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A circuit judge struck down the city's minimum wage law on Wednesday just hours before it was set to go into force. Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer issued a sobering blow to the city's law just after 4:30 p.m., declaring it void and out of step with state law. The city quickly said it would appeal to a higher court. A consortium of groups sued last month in an attempt to stop the city from instituting an $11 minimum wage by 2018. The suit alleged the action conflicted with current state law. Ohmer agreed, saying the city's law raising the wage was "unenforceable and in conflict" with current state law that sets the minimum wage at $7.65. "Obviously my clients are happy for the certainty with the impending midnight deadline for the increase," said lawyer Jane Dueker, who argued on behalf of business groups, including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, against the increase. "The city doesn't have the authority to do what it did." On Thursday, the city's minimum wage was set to rise to $8.25 an-hour- 60 cents above the state's minimum wage. The law, approved by the Board of Aldermen in August, would have triggered increases on Jan. 1 to $9. Then, it would go to $10 in 2017 and $11 on Jan. 1, 2018. Ohmer's order blocked the city from instituting the increase, which means minimum-wage workers in the city will not see an increase unless an appellate court reverses his decision - something that could take months.

October 14, 2015

With just one missed check, workers' lives can be derailed

Source: Mandy Locke, The Charlotte Observer

To Ann Loyd, it felt like old-fashioned theft. Her boss hadn't paid her for weeks spent tending to troubled women at Your New Beginning, a state-licensed group home in Raeford. When her employer did pay, her check was late and short on hours, state records show. When an investigator for the state Department of Labor closed the case against Loyd's employer, Akilia Slocumb, without collecting all the money she was owed, Loyd's despair grew deeper. Loyd felt as if she didn't matter. "I used to feel like Raleigh was the big dogs. You know, you contact Raleigh and they are going to be on it," said Loyd, 46, who lives with her teenage daughter in Raeford, 80 miles southwest of Raleigh. "I was very disappointed. Disappointed in the whole system. Disappointed that this woman is still riding around like she's invincible, and I'm suffering." While Loyd felt alone, she was one of many. The Labor Department routinely fails to help the workers who turn to it to collect the money they earned.

Fiat Chrysler said to double use of temp workers in UAW contract

Source: Geoff Robins, Chicago Tribune

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles can double its use of lower-paid temporary staffers under a new labor agreement being voted on by the United Auto Workers union, said two people familiar with the matter. Savings from that concession helps offset big raises given to almost half of the company's unionized U.S. hourly employees. More than 250 pages into the tentative labor agreement between Fiat Chrysler and the Detroit-based union is language that lets the company use temps any day of the week instead of just Mondays, Fridays, weekends and holidays. That means FCA could double the use of temporary staff from 4 percent of work hours to 8 percent, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the estimate isn't public. The new rules on temps weren't in highlights distributed to union members, who are scheduled to vote on the deal next week. Temporary workers have been a contentious issue with the UAW because they make less than entry-level workers, get fewer benefits and can be terminated at any time. The UAW has called out Nissan's use of temps at U.S. plants it's trying to organize. In December, UAW President Dennis Williams called the practice a "shell game" to keep pay low.

Business, labor unite to overcome weak Connecticut economy

Source: Stephen Singer, Associated Press

Organized labor and the state's chief business group on Tuesday announced the first steps in an unlikely alliance to confront Connecticut's slow economic growth. The Connecticut AFL-CIO and Connecticut Business and Industry Association are organizing a two-day conference in November to find ways to boost the state's economy. The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is working with the adversaries to promote the meeting. Lori Pelletier, executive secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, joked about the rare alliance between business and labor. "We're not having this press conference out in the middle of a field because lightning could strike there," she said at a Capitol news conference. "It's not going to strike here." The November meetings will help the two sides look "at how we can come together on issues we agree on to move Connecticut forward," Pelletier said. "There's plenty to disagree on. But let's just focus for two days or a day and a half on things we can agree on," she said. Joe Brennan, president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the budget debate that included tax increases unpopular with businesses helped spur discussions to organize the conference. He says many other issues will be on the agenda, but he is unsure if the attempt to find common ground will work.

October 13, 2015

Labor coalition calls for minimum wage higher than $15 per hour

Source: Ned Resnikoff, Al Jazeera

As the nationwide campaign for a $15 hourly minimum wage gains traction, some labor groups have set their sights on an even higher number: $16.87 - a demand that could help push the $15 figure closer to the mainstream of American politics. A new report, published Tuesday, from the Alliance for a Just Society, a coalition of labor organizations, argues that $15 an hour is less than a living wage in most states. A single, childless adult earning $15 per hour would still not be able to make ends meet in 34 states and the District of Columbia, Alliance for a Just Society researcher Allyson Fredericksen found. She estimated that the true nationwide living wage for a single adult - based on a weighted average of wages in each state - is $16.87 per hour. At the low end of the spectrum, the report found Arkansas to have a living wage of $14.26 an hour; D.C. was had the highest living wage, $21.86 an hour. The estimates in this report are significantly higher than those of the frequently cited MIT Living Wage Calculator, largely because of Fredericksen's more expansive assumptions regarding what workers need as a minimum living standard. (MIT assumed that a studio apartment is the minimum housing requirement for a single adult, for example, while Fredericksen assumed a one-bedroom.)

Jerry Brown vetoes expanded family leave

Source: David Siders, The Sacramento Bee

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed legislation Sunday that would have expanded California's unpaid family leave policy to include a broader range of workers' family members, handing a significant victory to business groups that opposed the measure. Senate Bill 406, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, would have let workers take up to 12 weeks off to care for sick siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic partners and parents-in-law. Current law provided that benefit only for sick children, parents or spouses. In a veto message, Brown said he is open to legislation allowing workers to take leave for more family members but that the expansion provided in the bill "creates a disparity between California's law and the Federal Medical Leave Act and, in certain circumstances, could require employers to provide employees up to 24 weeks of family leave in a 12 month period."

'Working harder for less money' in Las Vegas, weary host of the Democratic debate

Source: Michael Finnegan, The Baltimore Sun

When the economy crashed in 2008, Rocky Jones was doing electrical work at the Fontainebleau, a $3-billion casino resort under construction on the Strip. Before long, banks pulled the project's loans, builders abandoned the 63-story tower and Jones lost his job. He makes his living now as a handyman and bartends four nights a week. "Working harder for less money - that's for sure," Jones, 34, said outside a Home Depot on the outskirts of town. By some measures, the Great Recession hurt Nevada more than any other state. Most of the 186,000 jobs the state lost have returned, but anxiety over economic troubles still runs deep. Nevada's incomplete recovery will serve as the backdrop for the first Democratic presidential debate Tuesday in Las Vegas. It's likely to focus in part on those like Jones who are still scraping by. "The economy is coming back, but it's still got a lot of holes," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada in Reno.

October 12, 2015

American Apparel Lawsuit Is 'Mother Of All Sexual Harassment Cases,' Judge Says

Source: Shane Ferro, Huffington Post

Things are not going well for American Apparel founder and former CEO Dov Charney. American Apparel's board fired Charney for misconduct, including sexual harassment, last December. He then turned around and sued the company for defamation. That lawsuit's prospects aren't looking good after the latest hearing. At the Sept. 30 proceeding, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Green blocked the suit -- but not before a few harsh words for Charney."You know, I think there's a greater likelihood that I'll be the first American astronaut stranded on Mars before [Charney] wins this lawsuit," Green said, according to Litigation Daily.

When Your Boss Is Younger than You

Source: Rebecca Knight, Harvard Business Review

Perhaps you've taken a new job, or your colleague was just promoted, and now your boss is younger than you. How do you put age aside and focus on what you have to learn from your manager? How do you keep your ego from getting in the way of your relationship? And what can you do to best support your boss-which is your job no matter your manager's age? Generational differences in the workplace are often a challenge, but dealing with a younger boss is perhaps the most difficult. "It's not so much the age thing as the experience thing," says Peter Cappelli, professor of management at the Wharton School and coauthor of Managing the Older Worker. In another context it wouldn't be such a big deal. Say, for instance, you are taking a ski lesson from an instructor who's 20 years younger than you but has been skiing for 15 years. "That's not going to bother you. But if you've been in business for 20 years and your boss has been in business for 10, you might think, 'Why am I taking orders from this person?' His authority doesn't seem legitimate."

5 ways to manage workplace politics

Source: USA Today, USA Today

In work spaces from your part-time summer job at the Dairy Queen, all the way up to the CEO and his or her colleagues, there will be office politics. They are just about inherent in the way humans work together across the job market. And wouldn't it be nice if all office politics played out as entertainingly as the classic Jim-Dwight dichotomy on The Office? Unfortunately, real life does not always include staplers trapped in Jell-O. So for those workplace situations that aren't quite so much fun, here are some ways to manage the negative side of politics in the workplace. First and foremost, it is important to recognize workplace politics for what they actually are: strategies used by workers to gain advantages for themselves or causes they advocate. Now, that doesn't seem so bad. Employees simply want to find the best way to get on the boss's good side and advance their career. The negative aspect of these politics however, comes when people use them to get ahead at the expense of their co-workers. This can create uncomfortable and competitive work environments, as well as conflict among colleagues. We'll get to the ways that these negative manifestations of office politics can be managed later on. For now, it is important to acknowledge that just as office politics can create hostile environments, they can also represent beneficial ideas.

October 9, 2015

It's been a while since anybody in the White House talked this much about unions

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

You know your summit is making waves - at least inside the beltway - when it inspires a counter-summit or two. That's what seems to have happened around the White House's Summit on Worker Voice, which brought scores of labor advocates to the East Wing on Wednesday to talk about strengthening employee bargaining power, at a time when wages are stagnant and corporate profits are soaring. "If we don't refashion the social compact so workers are rewarded properly for the labor they put in, then we're going to have problem," said President Obama, in a keynote speech to the carefully selected workers, organizers and officials in attendance. "It's not just going to be a problem for our politics, creating resentment and anxiety, it's going to be a problem for our economy." The confab was accompanied by supportive studies from House Democrats, who put out a lengthy report on the benefits of unions, and the left-leaning Roosevelt Institute, which released a comprehensive framework for policy changes that could bolster the bargaining power of workers and approaches activists could take in the mean time to advance their interests.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens America's Recent Manufacturing Resurgence

Source: Alana Semuels, Atlantic

Not all of the dire predictions about the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) turned out to be true, but Ross Perot, who expected a "giant sucking sound going south," was right-in part. Companies did move jobs to Mexico after the trade agreement went into force in 1994. Robert E. Scott, of the Economic Policy Institute, calculates that the U.S. has lost 700,000 jobs as a result of growing trade deficits with Mexico, and says that 65,000 manufacturing plants in the U.S. have closed since 2001. Of course, not all of those closings were related to NAFTA-some had to do with companies moving operations to China or other low-cost Asian countries. There are now 12 million manufacturing jobs in the U.S., down 30 percent from 1990. Even with that reduced number, manufacturing still accounts for 35 percent of America's gross domestic product.

Diane Stafford: Some retailers stop on-call scheduling

Source: Diane Stafford, The Kansas City Star

When I've been out reporting on workers' protests for a higher minimum wage, fast food and retail workers repeatedly have told me three things:
▪ Their hourly pay rate isn't enough to pay basic living expenses.

▪ They're not getting enough hours on the job.

▪ They can't get a second job because they're required to be available for their first job whenever called.
All three issues are embroiled in layers of political and economic discussions. Outside of unionized environments, compensation and shift assignments for most jobs are whatever the employer believes is right, based on costs, competition, skill levels, available talent pool and other free market forces. In early October, though, hundreds of thousands of low-wage retail workers got results they wanted on their third point. Partly spurred by aggressive action in New York state, several major national retail companies have eliminated on-call scheduling - a requirement that workers be available to work whenever called.

October 8, 2015

Sanders, given a bigger spotlight, points it back to union workers

Source: David Weigel, Washington Post

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced the Workplace Democracy Act in same place where he launched his bid for president -- just a short stroll away from the Capitol. Early this afternoon, dozens of organizers and would-be organizers waved red-white-and-blue signs, donned red-white-and-blue shirts, and waited for Sanders to take a place between them and at least two dozen cameras. As he arrived, tourists gawked at a celebrity they knew from TV, who did not talk about himself. "Today, if an employee is engaged in a union organizing campaign, that employee has a one in five chance of getting fired," said Sanders. "Today, half of all employers threaten to close or relocate their businesses if workers elect to form a union. Today, when workers become interested in forming a union, they will almost always be forced to attend closed-door meetings to hear anti-union propaganda; and their supervisors will almost always be forced to attend training sessions." Sanders spoke for less than eight minutes, turned the event over to two congressional endorsers (Rep. Marc Pocan of Wisconsin and Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey), then turned it over to people who'd tried to organize and been punished for it. This had happened in plain sight. Kellie Duckett tried to form a union in the Capitol Visitor's Center, located a short walk from the "Senate swamp" where she was speaking. Mayra Tito was fired from a Starbucks in the Pentagon, "after I went on strike for $15 [wage] and a union."

What Makes D.C.'s Universal Leave Plan So Special?

Source: Gillian B. White, Atlantic

Over the past few months, some pretty major companies have responded to criticism about America's leave policies by rolling out some big benefits: At Netflix, for instance, some new parents can stay home for up to a year. And the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently matched that offer. That's great-but only if you work at these prestigious places. But what if paid time-off weren't dependent upon a company's benevolence, but were instead a right afforded by the government? A new bill introduced on Tuesday, by members of the D.C. City Council would do just that, both for residents of the District and for people who work there. Introduced by council members David Grosso and Elissa Silverman, the bill is aptly timed. A recent executive order from the Obama administration extended paid sick leave to federal contractors, many of whom live and work in the District. The District was also one of several governments that received a grant from the Department of Labor to investigate how to implement paid-leave policies. Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, says there is momentum at the state and local level to improve family-leave policies right now, mostly driven by necessity. "For the most part, Congress has been fairly quiet about legislation in these areas. So states and localities have decided it's really important to provide some of these basic labor standards."

California minimum wage measure seeks to tap into income inequality worrie

Source: Christopher Cadelago, The Sacramento Bee

Proponents of a statewide ballot measure to raise California's minimum wage signaled Tuesday that their effort will seize on unrest over income distribution and frame the wage debate as one of fairness. In the first major event in support of the proposed initiative, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said they would lead the union-funded endeavor to hike the state's base wage to $11 an hour in 2017, and then increase it by $1 a year until it hits $15 in 2021. After that, the wage would automatically rise with the cost of living. The minimum wage is scheduled to reach $10 per hour next year, an insufficient floor amid rising prices for housing and everyday expenses like milk and eggs, Lee told reporters at Rickshaw Bagworks, a manufacturer of customizable bike messenger bags. Lee, a Democrat who has focused his re-election effort on tackling inequality, said with the state economy rebounding, we have "got to do a lot more in sharing our prosperity" with the likes of schoolteachers, custodians and in-home health care workers. "There is a sense of fairness to this," Lee said, adding that families earn less than $20,000 a year on today's minimum wage. "In a state that is now surging in prosperity, one of the most innovative states not only in the United States, but perhaps all over the world ... to allow people to struggle with that kind of wage, I think is totally unfair."

October 7, 2015

United management pilots win class action certification to sue the Air Line Pilots Association union over retro pay

Source: Dana Herra, Cook County (IL) Record

A federal judge in Chicago has signed off on class action status for a lawsuit against the Air Line Pilots Association International, or ALPA, by management pilots for United Airlines, who complain they were not fairly compensated in a payout of $225 million in retroactive pay the association distributed on behalf of the airline. The two groups seeking class-action status in Case No. 13-C-6243 were ordered by U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman to confer and file either a joint proposal or competing proposals by Oct. 14. The classes are represented by pilots James Barnes, Phillip Whitehead, Walter Clark, David Bishop and Eric Lish. The men claim ALPA discriminated against the two groups – management pilots and pilot instructors - in allocating the retroactive pay it disbursed after entering into a collective bargaining agreement in 2012. The groups claimed the Air Line Pilots Association failed in its duty of fair representation, and in the case of the management pilots, unjustly enriched itself by accepting the pilots' dues and contract maintenance fees.

Delta sues Republic Airways over flights lost to pilot dispute

Source: Bloomberg News, Bloomberg

Delta Air Lines Inc. has sued regional contractor Republic Airways Holdings Inc., saying the carrier failed to supply a full schedule of flights as promised. Indianapolis-based Republic has been unable to fulfill an unspecified number of flights for Delta's regional operation, Delta Connection, according to the suit filed Monday in state court in Atlanta. That led Delta to find replacement flights and occasionally re-book passengers and issue refunds, costing direct damages exceeding $1 million, Delta said in the suit. Republic's Shuttle America Corp. unit is one of several regional carriers that transport passengers from small airports to Delta's large hubs. Delta spokesman Michael Thomas declined to comment on the suit Tuesday. Last month, he said Shuttle America operates 309 daily flights for Delta Connection.

Wal-Mart, Visa Negotiating to End $5 Billion Swipe-Fee Suit

Source: Christie Smythe, Bloomberg

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Visa Inc. are in talks aimed at settling the retailer's $5 billion lawsuit over processing fees. The negotiations were disclosed in a court filing Monday in Brooklyn federal court where dozens of retailers are pursuing claims against credit card companies alleging they illegally fixed so-called swipe fees. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, and other merchants dropped out of a nationwide settlement with Visa and MasterCard Inc. over the fees after retail trade groups argued that the compensation was too low and the terms too generous in allowing the card companies to raise rates in the future. Amazon.com Inc., the world's largest online retailer, also dropped out of the deal and is pursuing claims in a separate lawsuit with a group of other retailers. Approval of the settlement, initially valued at $7.25 billion then lowered to $5.7 billion to account for the dropouts, is on appeal. Swipe fees are deducted from purchases when customers pay with credit cards. The fees, which are generally invisible to consumers, have long been a source of complaints from retailers who must bear the cost.

October 6, 2015

In first case of term, Supreme Court considers international obligations

Source: Robert Barnes, Washington Post

Carol Sachs of California bought a Eurail pass from a company in Massachusetts and then was horribly injured in Innsbruck while trying to board a moving train operated by the Austrian national railway. The question before the Supreme Court on its first day of the new term Monday was whether she could sue for her injuries in American courts. In their questions to lawyers for Sachs, the railroad and the federal government, the justices indicated the answer would be no. "A pass is bought from a travel agent in Massachusetts, a pass covering 30-odd railroads," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. "That's all that happened in the United States. All of the relevant conduct, the tortious conduct, occurred abroad." Sachs's lawyer, Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher, soldiered on in the face of similar comments from other justices. "I think there are plenty of cases that support the proposition that when a company markets and sells a product in a jurisdiction," that implies a right to bring a lawsuit there as well, Fisher said.

BP settlement will cost $20.8 billion, Justice Department says

Source: Steven Mufson, Washington Post

The Justice Department unveiled final details of a record-setting civil settlement with BP over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a deal the department said would ultimately cost the London-based oil giant $20.8 billion. "The historic civil penalty also sends a clear message of accountability for those who pollute the U.S. environment," said Adm. Paul Zukunft, the U.S. Coast Guard commandant. The highlights of the settlement include $8.1 billion in natural resource damages, including $1 billion BP agreed to pay earlier; $5.5 billion plus interest for Clean Water Act penalties; and $5.9 billion under a separate agreement to cover state and local government claims. In July, when the outlines of the deal were announced, BP put the cost of the settlement at $18.7 billion. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the government was counting some coastline restoration money that BP did not. The settlement does not, however, include $4 billion that BP agreed to pay earlier to settle criminal charges or the billions more it has spent cleaning up the oil spill and settling separate civil claims with private individuals.

Lawsuit alleges Kansas City airline pilot lost job after misdiagnosis for mental disorder

Source: Tony Rizzo, The Kansas City Star

A federal lawsuit filed against the Department of Veterans Affairs alleges that a Kansas City airline pilot lost his job after he was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. The suit filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City on behalf of William Royster seeks a $35 million judgment against the U.S. government.
Royster filed the suit after a psychiatrist with the VA undertook a "thorough" review of his case and conducted "numerous" examinations of him in 2013 and 2014. The doctor determined that another psychiatrist who had diagnosed Royster in 2004 was incorrect. "From the review of the records, he never had any manic symptoms and he never met the criteria for the diagnosis of bi-polar disorder," Shreeja Kumar stated in a November 2014 letter. "Thus in my professional opinion, I do not believe that Mr. Royster has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder."

October 5, 2015

W.Va. court considers immunity in ex-school chief's suit

Source: Pam Ramsey, Associated Press

The West Virginia Supreme Court is considering whether the state Board of Education can be sued by a former state schools superintendent over its decision to fire her. The board has asked the court to overturn a circuit judge's denial of its request to dismiss Jorea Marple's lawsuit. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on the appeal on Tuesday.
Marple was fired in 2012. She sued the board and former board President Wade Linger last year in Kanawha County Circuit Court, alleging defamation and violation of due process rights. Both the board and Linger are entitled to qualified, or good faith, immunity for discretionary actions taken in terminating Marple's employment, the board's lawyers said in a filing with Supreme Court.
"It is unequivocal that the authority to select, appoint and retain a Superintendent at its will and pleasure is a discretionary function of the Board," the board's lawyers wrote.

Metro faces federal takeover

Source: Montgomery County (MD) Sentinel

Metro's safety problems are apparently so bad the federal government wants a more aggressive role in monitoring the subway's safety. The National Transportation Safety Board announced Wednesday that it is requesting that Metrorail safety oversight be monitored by a federal agency. For Metro oversight to be monitored by the Federal Railway Administration, the National Department of Transportation first must consider Metrorail to be a commuter rail system. The administration typically monitors above-the-ground rail trains. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is currently overseen by the Tri-State Oversight Agency. The TOC is not doing enough to address incidents of safety oversight in the case of Metrorail, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

Scottrade says victim of hackers who targeted financial firms

Source: Diane Bartz and Jim Finkle, Reuters

Discount broker Scottrade said on Friday that it was the victim of a cyber attack from late 2013 to early 2014 that compromised client names and addresses in a database with information on some 4.6 million customers. The firm said it learned about the attack from federal law enforcement officials who were investigating the theft of data from Scottrade and other financial services firms. The company did not identify other potential victims. FBI officials could not be reached for comment. News of the attack comes a day after Experian Plc disclosed a breach that compromised sensitive data of some 15 million people who sought to open accounts with T-Mobile US Inc. The two incidents, announced on the first two days of the U.S. government's Cybersecurity Awareness Month, are a stark reminder of the challenges businesses face in getting ahead of hackers following a string of massive breaches in recent years.

October 2, 2015

US lab settles age discrimination lawsuit for $37.25 million

Source: Associated Press, Washington Post

A federal security research facility in Northern California will pay $37.25 million to settle a lawsuit brought by 129 older workers who say they were fired because of their ages. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory about 45 miles east of San Francisco announced the settlement Wednesday but denied any wrongdoing. The workers who sued were among 430 laid off in 2007 as the Livermore lab restructured, shifting its focus away from nuclear weapon development and toward other scientific research. Mike McElfresh said he was a 51-year-old physicist when he was laid off, finding himself in a long line of other soon-to-be former employees who were middle-aged, the Contra Costa Times reported

Nestle Waters faces law suit over gender discrimination against female employee

Source: Kaylan Kumar, International Business Times

Nestlé Waters North America is facing a gender discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa division in late September, the lawsuit claims the Connecticut-based Nestlé Waters violated federal anti-discrimination law by refusing to promote a qualified female employee and then laying her off later. The EEOC petition asserted that the company's action stemmed from prejudice against the gender of the female employee, Dawn Bowers-Ferrera. The lawsuit alleged that even though Bowers-Ferrera had more than 20 years of experience with Nestlé Waters, she was sidelined for promotion in order to favour a less qualified male employee.

The lawsuit also highlighted that Bowers-Ferrera was the only sales zone manager of the company laid off during a consolidation of zone sales in the state of Florida, while 11 other zone managers, all men, were retained by the company. The EEOC said, it tried to settle the case out of court but that was not successful.

1,461 troops to get money for wrongful foreclosures

Source: Karen Jowers, Military Times

Nearly 1,500 additional service members will receive compensation for wrongful foreclosures on their homes, Justice Department officials announced. The new announcement brings to 2,413 the total number of service members who are eligible to share in a settlement of more than $311 million from five mortgage servicers: JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, GMAC Mortgage and Bank of America. Justice officials are wrapping up most of their work identifying the service members who will receive payments as the result of a 3-year-old settlement. The service members each will receive $125,000, plus any lost equity in their property and interest on that equity, if their mortgage was serviced by Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citi or GMAC Mortgage.

1,461 troops to get money for wrongful foreclosures

Source: Karen Jowers

October 1, 2015

Tobacco manufacturers revive lawsuit against FDA

Source: Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal

The Big Three tobacco manufacturers revived a lawsuit Wednesday seeking a permanent injunction against the Food and Drug Administration to prevent implementation of new packaging guidelines.
Altria Group Inc., Lorillard Inc. and Reynolds American Inc., along with subsidiaries, sued April 14 over rules for packaging labels that they consider too restrictive under the federal Tobacco Control Act of 2009. The FDA issued an interim enforcement policy May 29 on new tobacco products that appeared to be a response to the lawsuit.
The manufacturers agreed to drop the lawsuit June 2 based on the FDA's willingness to consider regulatory comments and delay enforcing the initial guidelines.

Tobacco manufacturers revive lawsuit against FDA

Source: Richard Craver, Winston-Salem Journal

The Big Three tobacco manufacturers revived a lawsuit Wednesday seeking a permanent injunction against the Food and Drug Administration to prevent implementation of new packaging guidelines.
Altria Group Inc., Lorillard Inc. and Reynolds American Inc., along with subsidiaries, sued April 14 over rules for packaging labels that they consider too restrictive under the federal Tobacco Control Act of 2009. The FDA issued an interim enforcement policy May 29 on new tobacco products that appeared to be a response to the lawsuit.
The manufacturers agreed to drop the lawsuit June 2 based on the FDA's willingness to consider regulatory comments and delay enforcing the initial guidelines.

Attorney general says no quota on excessive force cases

Source: David Porter, Associated Press

New state guidelines on investigating excessive force complaints against police officers should improve accountability and transparency but aren't necessarily intended to raise the percentage of cases that result in indictments, New Jersey's attorney general said Tuesday at a conference on improving relations between police and residents. Of 50 cases that were presented to grand juries in the last 10 years, two led to indictments, Division of Criminal Justice Director Elie Honig said in response to a question during a panel discussion at the community policing forum "Building Trust: Strategies to Strengthen Police/Community Relationships." That number wasn't troubling to Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman, who said afterward that while the new guidelines implemented this summer could produce more indictments, that wasn't the aim.

September 30, 2015

Cleveland estimates police department reforms will cost $45M

Source: Northeast Ohio Media Group, Associated Press

City officials said it will cost Cleveland at least $45 million to implement a plan to reform its embattled police department as part of a recent settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. Finance Director Sharon Dumas and Law Director Barbara Langhenry presented the cost analysis to City Council on Monday, Northeast Ohio Media Group reported. Dumas said two fiscal officers itemized the potential cost of every provision in the city's consent decree with the DOJ. Their analysis concluded that Cleveland will pay $13.2 million next year and at least $8 million during each of the following four years to reform the city's police department, which was accused of using excessive force too often.Officials said the two most expensive items are the monitor that will be hired to oversee compliance and training. The monitor will cost between $4.5 million and $12 million over five years, while training will cost $4.2 million over two years.

Citing WHO report, former farmhand sues Monsanto over glyphosate

Source: Ben Unglesbee, St. Louis Business Journal

A former farmworker who handled the herbicide Roundup extensively is suing its maker, Monsanto Co., in federal court on allegations that the company was negligent in presenting the risks of the crop chemical to the public. Enrique Rubio, a Colorado resident, filed the suit last week in California district court. According to his complaint, Rubio worked in fruit and vegetable fields in Oregon and California and weekly used pumps to spray fields with Roundup, Monsanto's branded version of the herbicide glyphosate. Rubio since was diagnosed with bone cancer, and his suit alleges that Roundup products were "a substantial and contributing factors in causing Plaintiff's grave injuries."

Suit alleges UPS unjustly fired Phoenix employee

Source: Lucas Robbins, Arizona Republic

A federal lawsuit accuses UPS of unjustly firing a Phoenix-based employee with medical issues as retaliation for seeking accommodations for her condition. The suit, filed Tuesday in federal court by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, says the employee, Desiree Barnabas, was forced into unpaid medical leave before her termination. The EEOC is alleging that UPS' conduct violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1991, which prohibit employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities and retaliating against employees who attempt to use the ADA's protections. Susan Rosenberg, director of UPS public relations, said the company "has not received a specific complaint on this issue." "UPS has an extensive ADA accommodation process to ensure qualified individuals are reasonably accommodated in their current jobs or through reassignment in an available position for which they are qualified," Rosenberg said. "UPS will vigorously defend its process and ADA compliance."

September 29, 2015

Chief Justice John Roberts' Supreme Court at 10, defying labels

Source: Richard Wolf, USA Today

Three years into John Roberts' tenure as chief justice of the United States, the Supreme Court ruled by one vote that the Second Amendment protects the right to keep guns at home for self-defense. Seven years later to the day, the court ruled - again by one vote - that the 14th Amendment requires states to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Leaning right on guns but left on gays, right on race and religion but left on health care reform, the Roberts Court reaches its 10-year anniversary this week at the fulcrum of American public policy, culture - and politics. From the court's landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that allows unlimited corporate spending in political campaigns to its razor-thin ruling that upheld President Obama's signature health care law, the high court under Roberts has struggled to balance a strict reading of the Constitution and federal statutes against the pressures of politics and public opinion.

Target Expands List of Chemicals It Wants Out of Consumer Goods

Source: Lauren Coleman-Lochner and Shannon Pettypiece, Bloomberg

Target Corp. has expanded the list of chemicals it wants suppliers to take out of their products, stepping up pressure on its vendors to respond to consumer health concerns. The list includes almost 600 substances on Health Canada's roster of prohibited cosmetic ingredients, such as coal tars and bisphenol A. It also adds triclosan, an antibacterial ingredient that is under review in hand soaps and sanitizers by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and was banned from products in Target's home state last year. Target made the changes earlier this year without publicizing them, but a Washington-based advocacy group called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families plans to spotlight the list this week. Though Target isn't prohibiting the ingredients outright, the move gives consumer-products companies fresh incentives to identify and eliminate controversial substances. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has a similar program for manufacturers, including a list of substances that the retailer doesn't post publicly.

Fifth Third Bank fined for discriminating against minorities seeking auto loans

Source: Jonnelle Marte, Washington Post

Fifth Third Bank agreed to pay $21 million to consumers to settle allegations that it discriminated against minorities seeking auto loans and used deceptive marketing techniques to sell credit card protection products. In a joint enforcement action from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Justice, the regional bank was asked to pay $18 million to consumers for allowing dealers to charge higher interest rates on auto loans for African-American and Hispanic borrowers, regardless of their creditworthiness. Because of the illegal pricing method, thousands of minority borrowers were charged over $200 more for their auto loans between January 2010 and September 2015. As a part of the action, Fifth Third Bank, which is headquartered in Cincinnati, will face new limits on how much dealers can mark up interest rates for consumers. In a statement, Fifth Third Bank said it already limits how much dealers can charge, and that it will be lowering those caps as part of the enforcement action.

September 28, 2015

Fight Erupts Over Protecting Rooftop Workers Many contractors refuse to comply with new rules on harnesses or nets.

A few months ago, Jose Olvera fell eight feet from the roof of a one-story home in Hereford, Ariz., a remote desert town near the Mexico border. Working without a harness or other systems that can stop falls, the 64-year-old veteran roofer died on the scene from a head injury, according to a county medical examiner. Mr. Olvera, like many other residential construction workers, had worked for decades atop Arizona's homes without protection to stop or prevent a fall. A previous tumble broke his arm so badly that a plate had to be implanted, said his stepdaughter, Yusbi Soriano. The family that runs Cochise County Roofing and Referrals, which employed Mr. Olvera, said it had never considered using netting, guard rails or safety harnesses for workers on one-story houses. "It was devastating," said manager Carla Reaves, referring to the worker's death. Many contractors say such protection is too expensive or can create new problems. But other contractors say such protection can saves lives. With a growing number of residential construction workers dying from fatal falls in recent years, the federal government has started requiring fall protection even for one- and two-story buildings as part of an initiative to address problems on residential construction sites.

Workplace violence: Know the numbers, risk factors and possible warning signs

Source: Greg Botelho, CNN

In Alabama, a recently fired man walks into a UPS facility he'd worked at, shoots dead two people, then takes his own life. In Oklahoma, another man -- also just after being laid off -- allegedly heads to his former food processing plant, beheads the first person he sees, then attacks another. In Illinois, police say, a man walks into his air traffic control center in the early morning, starts a destructive fire, then slices his own throat. In all three instances, all from this week, seemingly safe workplaces transformed instantly into danger zones. Why? How might these or other cases of workplace violence have been prevented? And are these events signs of a larger, growing possibility of death in the average Americans place of employment -- where many spend more waking hours, on a given week, than inside their own homes? While every case is different, a lot of work has been devoted to try to answer these questions and, ideally, prevent more such attacks from occurring. Workplace violence isn't new. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, FBI and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the latter of which released a study on this topic earlier this month -- have all studied it extensively, providing statistics and guidelines about who is most at risk and what can be done about it.

Promoters added to class action suit vs. TelexFree

Source: Beth Healy, Boston Globe

A class action lawsuit against TelexFree Inc., the bankrupt Marlborough company that prosecutors allege was an illegal pyramid scheme, was amended this week to pursue profits allegedly taken by the firm's promoters. The lawsuit, amended in federal courts in Arizona and Worcester, has added to its list of potential defendants high-profile TelexFree promoters like Sann Rodrigues, who is already facing civil fraud charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Kiersten Taylor, an attorney with the Boston law firm Brown Rudnick who is corepresenting the alleged victims in the case, said there could be thousands of people who both made profits on the investment scheme and received funds from other people they brought in to participate.

September 25, 2015

EEOC files first transgender discrimination lawsuits

Source: Kathryn Varn, Miami Herald

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed its first two transgender discrimination lawsuits Thursday, including one against a Florida eye clinic. The lawsuits claim that by firing employees because they identify as transgender, Lakeland Eye Clinic and Detroit-based R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits gender discrimination. The Lakeland case, based on a complaint filed to the commission's Miami division, involves a woman name Brandi Branson, who was hired in July 2010 as director of hearing services after the clinic decided to add a hearing division, according to a copy of the lawsuit. Less than a year later, she was fired.

Texas Roadhouse Age Discrimination Lawsuit Could Affect Hiring Practices

Source: Patrick G. Lee and Carol Hymowitz, Bloomberg

Maria DeSimone was 40 when she applied for a server job at a Texas Roadhouse in Palm Bay, Fla., in 2009. Her family needed more income, so the wife and mother of two, who had two years of restaurant experience, decided to return to work. A manager said he'd get back to her. He never did, and when she called to follow up on her application, DeSimone was told the restaurant wasn't hiring. She later learned that the 19-year-old daughter of a friend, who'd never worked in a restaurant, got the job. DeSimone is among 55 women and men named as claimants in a lawsuit against the Texas Roadhouse restaurant chain by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

September 24, 2015

GrubHub, DoorDash and Caviar face lawsuits over worker misclassification

Source: Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times

On-demand food delivery services GrubHub, DoorDash and Caviar were slapped with lawsuits Wednesday alleging that they misclassified their delivery drivers as independent contractors. The complaints were filed in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of the delivery drivers by Boston attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who is also representing plaintiffs in similar lawsuits against on-demand transportation companies Uber and Lyft. A federal judge in San Francisco certified the lawsuit against Uber for class action last month.

Former employees sue Kraft Heinz Co. over discontinued charity program

Source: Matthew Santoni, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Three former H.J. Heinz employees are suing the Kraft Heinz Co. because the company ended a program that would have made large donations to charity in those employees' names.
The H.J. Heinz Co. in 1989 offered the Key Employee Charitable Award Program, in which eligible top employees could donate money each year for five years to the H.J. Heinz Company Foundation. In exchange, the Heinz Co. would make a posthumous donation of up to $3 million in the employee's name to a charity of his or her choice, according to the lawsuit filed Wednesday in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.
Last year, about a year after Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital purchased the company, participants were told the program was ending, and the charities they had picked would get about 40 percent less than what was promised when they signed up, according to the lawsuit.

September 23, 2015

Minnesota-Duluth: Ex-coaches expected to file gender discrimination lawsuit

Source: John Shipley, Twin Cities Pioneer Press

Shannon Miller and two other former University of Minnesota-Duluth coaches have received right-to-sue letters from the U.S. Department of Justice and are expected to announce a lawsuit Monday against the school. Miller, the Bulldogs' national-title-winning hockey coach from 1999-2015, will join former softball coach Jen Banford and women's basketball coach Annette Wiles at a news conference Monday in Eden Prairie. Miller's lawyer, Dan Siegel of Oakland, Calif., declined to announce a lawsuit Tuesday but said all three women have received right-to-sue letters from the DOJ as well as the Minnesota Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Volkswagen emission scandal widens: 11 million cars affected

Source: Nathan Borney, USA Today

Volkswagen's emissions scandal ballooned Tuesday as the company admitted that software designed to fool regulators affects 11 million vehicles worldwide and could cost more than $7 billion to address, threatening to undermine its new position as the world's largest automaker. The automaker's deception immediately qualifies as one of the most expensive automotive scandals in recent memory and could jeopardize CEO Martin Winterkorn's job as his contract comes up for renewal. The company's crisis dragged down stocks in Germany, undermined Volkswagen's claims of environmentally advanced diesel engineering and threatened to reverse the automaker's sales gains on Toyota as the world's biggest vehicle maker - a title it seized in the first six months of 2015.

Broward Health's $70 million settlement leaves risk of criminal charges

Source: Dan Christensen, Miami Herald

Court documents describe the massive healthcare fraud that led Broward Health to pay $69.5 million to settle a whistleblower's lawsuit last week as an illegal "scheme of mutual enrichment" between the hospital system and its physicians. Was it a criminal scheme? Justice Department attorneys who handled the case aren't talking. "As a general policy, the Justice Department does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation," said Nicole A. Navas, a department spokeswoman in Washington.

September 22, 2015

Delaware North sues park service over Yosemite dispute

Source: Stephen T. Watson, The Buffalo News

Delaware North accuses the National Park Service of breach of contract in a lawsuit filed last week in the U.S. Court of Claims, the latest fallout from the service's decision this summer to award the lucrative Yosemite National Park concessions contract to another vendor. The suit brought by the Buffalo-based hospitality and tourism giant argues the park service should have required Aramark, which won the new Yosemite contract, to purchase the names of park attractions and other intangible assets from Delaware North, as Delaware North was obligated to do when it took over park operations in 1993, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Buffalo News.

In the U.S., one state is ground zero for tobacco suits

Source: Jonathan Berr, CBS News

The family of a deceased Air Force veteran who died of lung cancer at the age of 50 recently won a $34 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds, a unit of Reynolds American (RAI), from a jury in Pensacola, Florida. It was one of thousands of legal challenges the industry faces in the Sunshine State. Lawyers for the tobacco company unsuccessfully argued that Garry O'Hara knew of the dangers of smoking but choose to partake anyway before kicking the habit at age 35. They also argued that the evidence wasn't clear that the cancer originated in his lungs.O'Hara's attorney Mark Avera and Jones Day partner David Monde, who represents Reynolds, the nation's second-largest tobacco company, didn't respond to requests for comment. Brian D. Hatchell, a spokesman for Reynolds American, declined to comment for this story. The company's brands include Newport, Camel and Pall Mall.

September 21, 2015

VW cheated on U.S. pollution tests for 'clean diesels'

Source: Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times

Volkswagen called them "clean diesels," branding them as the fun-to-drive alternatives to hybrids as it dominated the U.S. market for the engine technology. Turns out the increasingly eco-conscious buyers of the sporty German cars have been unwittingly pumping smog into the air - because of software VW installed to cheat on U.S. emissions tests. The world's largest automaker has admitted selling 482,000 such diesels since 2009, California and U.S. regulators announced Friday. The scandal could cost the company billions of dollars in fines and lawsuit judgments and threatens to stunt the development of all diesel vehicles.

Bratton Tries a Community Policing Approach, on the New York Police

Source: Al Baker, The New York Times

After years of aggressive, centralized enforcement of its most minor rules, the New York Police Department is changing the way it disciplines its officers. Police Commissioner William J. Bratton is giving his commanders in the field far more authority in deciding how - or whether - to punish minor infractions, like misplacing a memo book or being late for court. Mr. Bratton still comes down hard in politically combustible cases, as he did this month in placing a plainclothes officer on desk duty for mistakenly arresting the retired tennis star James Blake with the kind of aggression that many black New Yorkers, particularly young men, say they endure frequently, and with far less attention.

Researchers find evidence of CTE in 96% of deceased NFL players they tested

Source: Nate Scott, USA Today

Researchers published findings this week that 87 of 91 deceased NFL players tested were found to have evidence of the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. The study was conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University and found that 96% of former NFL players tested had evidence of the degenerative brain disease, with 79% of all football players tested - who played at all levels - showing signs of the disease. The researchers tested the brains of 165 former football players who competed at the high school, college, semi-pro or professional level. Of those tested, 131 showed signs of CTE.

September 19, 2015

Applicant, Beware! The 10 Biggest Lies Headhunters Tell You

Source: Roger W. Feicht, Business.com

When you're looking for a new job, you spend a lot of time working with headhunters and recruiters. Sometimes these words are used interchangeably, but there is a difference. A recruiter works for the company for which she's hiring while a headhunter works independently. A business hires a headhunter to fill specific positions, and they only get paid when the position is filled. A recruiter gets paid no matter what. This distinction is very important when you're looking for a job. While most headhunters are awesome, there are a few bad apples in all professions. And there are a few things that the headhunter doesn't have control over or even insight into. After all, they are independent professionals who contract with businesses. They aren't privy to the day to day operations of the company you want to work for.

Gender Bias Suit Will Soon Shine a Harsh Light on Microsoft

Source: Katie Moussouris, Wired

Microsoft faces A class action lawsuit from former employee and noted computer security researcher Katie Moussouris. The suit claims that during Moussouris's seven years at Microsoft, she and other women were unfairly discriminated against on the basis of their gender, passed over for raises and promotions, and ranked below their male counterparts during bi-annual performance reviews. Moussouris was instrumental in prompting Microsoft to launch its first bug bounty program in 2013, something the company resisted for years.

Business Lobby Might Be Last To Realize Paid Leave Law Makes Sense

Source: Emily Peck, GPB News

Business school professors are taking a big stand in favor of a federal law for paid family leave, but business lobbying groups still vehemently oppose the idea. On Tuesday, 203 business school professors from 88 universities sent a letter to Congress urging passage of the Family Act, which would provide partially paid time off for workers who need to care for a new baby or sick family member. Leave would be funded by workers and employers. A very small percentage of one's paycheck would be used to pay into an insurance fund available to workers who need it -- amounting to about 2 cents for every $10 of pay. The bill's largely gone nowhere in Congress, though President Barack Obama recently talked about his support for it.

September 18, 2015

FIFA suspends Sepp Blatter's top aide

Source: Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times

The corruption scandal that has rocked FIFA for the last four months claimed its highest-ranking official Thursday when world soccer's governing body announced that Secretary General Jerome Valcke has been suspended after it was revealed he was the focus of a potentially lucrative deal involving the sale of 2014 World Cup tickets. In a one-paragraph statement, FIFA said it has been made aware of a "series of allegations" and has requested a formal investigation by its internal ethics committee. FIFA did not specify details but said Valcke, second only to embattled President Sepp Blatter in the group's power structure, "has been put on leave and released from his duties effective immediately."

Ruling sets up new review of religious objections to contraceptive mandate

Source: Robert Barnes, Washington Post

A federal appeals court ruling Thursday could lead to a new Supreme Court test of the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, examining whether the Obama administration has done enough to accommodate the objections of religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations such as universities, hospitals and charities. A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in St. Louis said forcing two Missouri organizations to offer contraceptive coverage to employees - even indirectly - would violate the groups' religious freedoms. The decision was at odds with that of every other appeals court that has considered the issue. Those courts have said the government's compromise was adequate. Such splits among the courts usually compel the Supreme Court to settle the issue.

$900 Million Penalty for G.M.'s Deadly Defect Leaves Many Cold

Source: Danielle Ivory and Bill Vlasic, The New York Times

At a news conference, Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, defended the settlement. "It has been a challenging case, for the agencies, for the prosecutors and for me," Mr. Bharara said. "We've had to think long and hard about the appropriate resolution in this case."
Mr. Bharara said that the victims had been paramount in the minds of the prosecutors on the case. "I met personally with families who lost loved ones in tragic accidents involving the switch and, I'll tell you, those were among the most searing moments I've ever spent in my six-plus years as United States attorney," he said.

September 17, 2015

New federal employee health insurance option will mean savings for some, higher costs for others

Source: Eric Yoder, Washington Post

Family coverage premiums in the health insurance program for federal employees and retirees will increase by 7 percent on average for 2016 because of the introduction of a new option covering only the enrollee and one family member. Meanwhile, current family plan enrollees who switch to that new option, called self plus one, will save 6 percent on average compared with current rates, the government projects.

The Office of Personnel Management plans to publish rules tomorrow that include those assumptions of how adding that option will affect premiums in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, separate from pending changes in premiums that occur year to year because of overall health-care costs.

U.S. judge certifies class action over Target Corp data breach

Source: Joeseph Ax, Reuters

A U.S. judge on Tuesday certified a class action against Target Corp (TGT.N) brought by several banks over the retailer's massive data breach in 2013.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson in St. Paul, Minnesota, said the banks could pursue their claims together over the breach, which compromised at least 40 million credit cards during the holiday season.

In a statement, Charles Zimmerman, one of the lead lawyers representing the banks, said, "This important ruling brings financial institutions one step closer to collectively holding Target accountable for its unprecedented data breach."

Microsoft discriminated against women in pay, promotions: U.S. lawsuit

Source: Daniel Wiessner, Reuters

Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) on Wednesday was hit with a proposed class action lawsuit in U.S. court claiming its policy of ranking employees to determine pay and promotions led to discrimination against women.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Seattle, Washington by former technician Katherine Moussouris, who claims she was passed over for promotions given to less-qualified men and was told supervisors did not like her "manner or style."

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft gives employees numerical rankings based on performance evaluations, according to the lawsuit, and routinely gave female workers lower ratings based on subjective criteria.

September 15, 2015

Here's What's Happening After This Restaurant Started Paying Workers $15 an Hour

Source: Zeeshan Aleem, Policy.Mic

Whenever $15 minimum wage laws have been adopted anywhere in the United States, the increase is followed by a predictable course of events: Low-wage workers cheer, while the industries that employ them jeer, warning that their businesses will suffer.

In cities like Seattle and San Francisco, business interests have rallied against increasing the wage floor to $15, arguing that the hike will be devastating for their companies and force them to fire workers. In New York, leaders in the fast-food industry have vehemently opposed an increase of the sector's minimum wage to $15.
But on the outskirts of Detroit, where the minimum wage is $8.15, one fast-food restaurant has been voluntarily paying its workers $15 an hour for two years, and business is thriving.

The taxi wars: Full-time with Uber, but running on fumes

Source: E. Tammy Kim, AlJahzeera America

One hundred job applications and still nothing. Jennifer Cantrell, 34, partway through a master's degree in social work, had depleted her savings and needed a new plan. Through Facebook, she found out about someone subleasing cars to prospective drivers for Uber, the smartphone-based ride service. It seemed promising: She didn't own a car but had a license and the willingness to learn the road.

Uber offered "freedom and flexibility," she had heard. The company had advertised that drivers could earn an annual full-time income of $90,000. "You'll make plenty of money and have plenty to pay him and pay your bills," Cantrell thought.

Uber Appeals Class-Action Ruling for Lawsuit

Source: Douglas MacMillan, Wall Street Journal

Uber Technologies Inc. on Tuesday filed to appeal a federal judge's certification of a class-action lawsuit that challenges the car-hailing service's fundamental business model.

A federal judge on Sept. 1 granted class-action status to a lawsuit brought three drivers who claim they are Uber employees, not contractors, and therefore deserve health benefits and other expenses normally covered by an employer.

September 14, 2015

House delays bill to block cities from raising minimum wage

Source: Kim Chandler, Tuscaloosa News

A proposal to prohibit Alabama cities from raising the minimum wage for workers got heated debate but not a vote Monday in the House of Representatives.

Lawmakers debated the bill by Rep. David Faulkner, R-Mountain Brook, on the House floor but ultimately delayed a vote. The bill was introduced after the Birmingham City Council voted to raise that citys minimum wage to $10.10-per-hour by July 2017. Faulkner said it was not on anyones radar that Alabama municipalities might try to set, or raise, the minimum wage.

Faulkner said the state shouldnt have a patchwork of different minimum wages. He said he believes that moves to raise the minimum wage will cause businesses to move, close or not hire.

I really believe when you raise the minimum wage, you reduce jobs, Faulkner said.

It's Not Just Uber: Why the Taxi Industry Needs an Overhaul

Source: Caroline Fredrickson, The American Prospect

The email came from John Doe. He called himself "just another Uber driver," and wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being blacklisted by the company for airing his complaints in public. Troubled by recent announcements by Uber regarding its revamped and expanded car leasing program, he reached out to me to air his grievances and to express concern for his future. He wrote, "Uber has repeatedly argued that they are an app-based technology platform, connecting rides and drivers. However, financing, owning, and managing a fleet of cars makes them identical to a taxi cab company."

Port of Long Beach Truck Drivers Wait for Court Ruling, Enter Week 10 of 6th Strike Against Employer

Source: Asia Morris, Long Beach Post

The individual hearings, which began on July 27, were set before the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE), during which the drivers provided evidence of more than $6 million in Wage Theft.

Today, Monday, the drivers striking at Pac 9's truck yard in Carson are joined on the picket line by drivers from recently unionized drayage companies, Shippers Transport Express and Eco Flo Transportation.

"Last year, the DLSE ruled that three of my co-workers are misclassified and ordered Pac 9 to pay them a quarter million dollars in back wages and penalties," said Daniel Linares, misclassified Pac 9 driver on strike, in a statement.

The "Sharing Economy" Is Dead, And We Killed It

Source: Sarah Kessler, FC

Of the eight sites listed above, only NeighborGoods is still around-after it ran through its seed funding, it was salvaged by an investor with a personal interest in the idea. About 42,000 people have signed up, though fewer than 10,000 are active. While sites like Airbnb and Uber became giant companies, the platform on which we would share our power drills with neighbors never took off.
Instead of platforms that would inspire human interaction and create less waste, what emerged were companies that awkwardly fit into-and at times completely twisted-this vision of neighborhood sharing. The "sharing economy" grew to include an odd menagerie of companies with little in common. Groupon "shared" the collective action of tipping a deal. Kickstarter "shared" a similar funding goal among many contributors.

These are the hardest places for minimum wage workers to live

Source: Ana Swanson, Washington Post

You might have a rough sense that workers who earn the minimum wage in America aren't making enough to cover the cost of a decent living. But how big is that gap really?

A professor at MIT created a new interactive map that shows where it's hardest for those earning the minimum wage to get by. Amy Glasmeier created a tool called "The Living Wage Calculator," which shows the hourly rate that an individual needs to earn to support their family for every county in the country. She then used the information to create the map pictured below, which shows the difference between the minimum wage and the amount of money needed to meet a minimum standard of living around the U.S.

September 12, 2015

Unions rally against 'right-to-work' override in Missouri

Source: Camille Phillips , St. Louis Public Radio

Union members are making sure Missouri Republican lawmakers who voted against 'right-to-work' earlier this year know that they will have union support during the next election.

Missouri's chapter of the AFL-CIO held a rally and knocked on doors Saturday in Jefferson County ahead of the General Assembly's veto session next Wednesday. That's when a vote to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a "right-to-work" bill could be brought to the floor. The measure would bar making union dues a condition of employment. Currently a business or union can require dues when a majority of workers have voted to organize.

September 10, 2015

New York State OKs $15 Minimum Wage for Fast-Food Workers

Source: David Klepper and Deepti Hajela, ABC

New York state will gradually raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $15 an hour - the first time any state has set the minimum that high.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration formally approved the increase Thursday, a move the Democratic governor announced at a labor rally with Vice President Joe Biden. Cuomo said he would work to pass legislation setting a $15 minimum for all industries, a promise that comes as more and more cities around the country move toward a $15 minimum wage.
"Every working man and woman in the state of New York deserves $15 an hour," the governor told the enthusiastic crowd of union members. "We're not going to stop until we get it done."
Biden predicted the $15 wage for fast-food workers would galvanize efforts across the country.

Five Female Migrant Workers Awarded $17 Million In Rape, Harassment Case

Source: Laura Bassett, Huffington Post

A federal jury has awarded a total of $17 million to five women who were fired from a produce packing company in Florida after their bosses allegedly raped and sexually harassed them on the job, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Thursday.

The women claim that their former bosses at Moreno Farms in Felda, Florida, raped, groped and sexually harassed them, and then fired them for resisting their sexual advances. Sandra Lopez, a migrant worker from Chiapas, Mexico, charged that Omar Moreno, the owner of the farm, dragged her away from the factory into his trailer one day and raped her for half an hour. Two more women said Moreno or his brother, Oscar, raped them, and another two women said the men attempted to rape them and regularly made sexual comments toward them.

Five Female Migrant Workers Awarded $17 Million In Rape, Harassment Case

Source: Laura Bassett, Huffington Post

A federal jury has awarded a total of $17 million to five women who were fired from a produce packing company in Florida after their bosses allegedly raped and sexually harassed them on the job, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Thursday.

The women claim that their former bosses at Moreno Farms in Felda, Florida, raped, groped and sexually harassed them, and then fired them for resisting their sexual advances. Sandra Lopez, a migrant worker from Chiapas, Mexico, charged that Omar Moreno, the owner of the farm, dragged her away from the factory into his trailer one day and raped her for half an hour. Two more women said Moreno or his brother, Oscar, raped them, and another two women said the men attempted to rape them and regularly made sexual comments toward them.

Number of Open Jobs Surges, but Employers Are Hiring Less

Source: Associated Press, New York Times

Job openings soared 8 percent to 5.75 million, the most since records began in 2000, the Labor Department said on Wednesday in its Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey. Yet overall hiring slumped, suggesting that employers were slow to fill the jobs they advertised. The big jump in openings in July would typically point to greater hiring in the months ahead, but since China's economy stumbled in August, concern about global growth has risen, causing violent swings in the stock market. That may cause employers to take a cautious approach in the coming months. In the last 12 months, average hourly pay has increased just 2.2 percent, up from a 2 percent pace in July. More job openings could also contribute to a decision by the Federal Reserve during its meeting next week to raise interest rates for the first time in nine years.

Nationwide raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour

Source: Mark Williams, The Columbus Dispatch

About 900 Nationwide workers soon will be getting a raise.
The insurer said on Wednesday that it is increasing its minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next nine months.
The change affects employees at 25 locations, primarily in call centers. Other workers who service policies also will see their wages rise.
The insurer's current minimum wage of $10.50 per hour has been in place for several years.
The change comes about after an annual review of pay for Nationwide employees, said Gale King, chief administrative officer.
"As we look at our call centers, we have discovered significant turnover and some retention issues," she said. "We look at those individuals as being the front line for us. ... We also felt it was the right thing to do."

September 9, 2015

Unions 30 Years Ago Are Somehow Making People Richer Today

Source: Rebecca J. Rosen, Atlantic

Union membership has its perks: higher wages, better healthcare, more job security. Now, a new study from the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, adds another benefit to that list: richer children, once they're all grown up.

According to the study, people between the ages of 26 and 37 who are working full time and whose parents did not go to college and were not in a union earn an average of $39,000 today. But a very similar group of people-everything the same except that they had one parent who was in a union-those people are earning $46,000. (The difference all but disappears when comparing people who had a parent who was a college graduate.)

September 8, 2015

http://prospect.org/article/labor-movement-year-review

Source: Justin Miller, The American Prospect

All in all, the year between yesterday's Labor Day and last year's had a surprising amount of good news for workers. No, their incomes weren't rising, their rate of unionization was still dismally low, the Republican governor of Illinois is hell-bent on destroying the state's public-sector unions, and if Sam Alito gets his way, the Supreme Court will try to gut those unions during its next session. All that said, during the past 12 months, workers made more gains in legislation, administrative rulings, and some courts-including the court of public opinion- than they had since before the Reagan years.
At The American Prospect, we remain dedicated to the plight of working people, labor unions, and the organized-worker movement more generally, and are committed to covering the daily fights for worker justice. In recognition of that fact, here's a round-up of our best labor coverage from the past year.

'Right to work' dominates Labor Day

Source: CDT, Kansas City Business Journal

Proponents and opponents of "right to work" legislation in Missouri used the Labor Day holiday as a chance to campaign ahead of an attempt by the Legislature to override a veto on a bill passed this year, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Missouri lawmakers will attempt to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of right to work legislation when it reconvenes on Sept. 16. Republican leaders would need 17 House members and two senators to change their earlier votes in order to override the veto, The Post-Dispatch reports.

After Labor Day, Dig In for the Fight Ahead

Source: Sarita Gupta, Talk Poverty

Between cookouts and last outings to the pool, Labor Day weekend provided all of us a chance to celebrate the end of summer. But Labor Day should also be cause for celebration of another kind: the very reason that we have weekends off, for example. As we take stock after Labor Day, there's much that we have accomplished, much to be grateful for, and yet so much work remains if we are to create a path to economic stability for all of us.

This Labor Day, nearly a quarter of Americans who work in the private sector couldn't spend time with their families because they don't have access to paid holiday time. This is just one symptom of an economic system that is out of whack-so much so that people working full-time, or two or even three jobs, can't make ends meet. While well-connected, handsomely paid CEOs have the flexibility they need to spend time with their families and provide their children with resources well beyond the basics-too many of us are barely getting by (if that) and living to work, rather than working to live full lives.

Judge to decide on halting teacher evaluation system

Source: Associated Press, KOB4

A judge will hear arguments later this month on whether the education department's evaluation system should be shut down while a lawsuit heads to court.

The Los Alamos Monitor reports Santa Fe First Judicial District Court Judge David Thomson scheduled preliminary injunction hearings for Sept. 16 and Sept. 21.

The Albuquerque Teachers Federation and the American Federation of Teachers requested the injunction after filing a lawsuit earlier this year that said the evaluations are punitive.

September 7, 2015

On Labor Day, Here Are 5 Ways To Help Labor

Source: Jonathan Cohn, Huffington Post

Labor Day isn't simply a time to fire up the grill and enjoy one last weekend of summer. It's a day to think about the challenges facing American workers. And, these days, that means there's a lot to think about.

The economy is recovering, and unemployment, according to estimates that the federal government released on Friday, is falling. It's now down to 5.1 percent, which is lower than at any time since 2008. But the employment-to-population ratio, the economic measure many economists prefer, still hasn't returned to its pre-recession levels. Wages aren't rising that quickly, either.

Ruling: More Nevada Workers Eligible For Higher Minimum Wage

Source: Associated Press, Nevada Public Radio

A Carson City judge's decision about Nevada's two-tier minimum wage law could mean more workers are eligible for higher pay.

Judge James Wilson last month struck down two portions of Nevada state code that allowed employers more latitude to pay $7.25 an hour rather than $8.25. Nevada Labor Commissioner Shannon Chambers said her office plans to ask the court to put it on hold.

A provision in the Nevada constitution allows employers to pay $7.25 an hour if they provide health insurance to employees, and $8.25 an hour if they don't. The judge ruled that employers can't count tips when calculating how much workers are getting paid.

September 6, 2015

How to get paid what you're owed, in three easy steps. (Okay, maybe not so easy.)

Source: Daniel J. Galvin, Washington Post

This Labor Day, it looks like workers' rights advocates finally have some things to celebrate. Last week the National Labor Relations Board issued a major ruling in favor of workers; the Fight for $15 movement won wage increases at several major corporations and across New York state; President Obama's Labor Department will soon dramatically expand overtime eligibility; and in the past two years alone, minimum-wage increases were enacted in 14 states and several major metropolitan areas.

These and other changes have altered the trajectory of low-wage work in the United States and given many workers hope for still better days.

But will a higher minimum wage actually deliver higher earnings for workers?

September 4, 2015

18 Numbers That Show Why American Workers Really Need a Break This Weekend

Source: Brad Tuttle, Money

Labor Day, a federal holiday since 1894, "is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers," according to the U.S. Department of Labor. It's always celebrated on the first Monday of September, unofficially marking the end of the summer with a most-welcome three-day weekend for (most) workers. We thought it would be the perfect time to gather some research to sum up how American workers are faring. Here's a statistical portrait of the American workforce.
15% vs. 138% Average pay increase in real wages since 1979 for the bottom 90% vs. top 1% of earners in America, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
11% vs. 20%+ Percentage of American workers in unions in 2014 vs. the 1970s/early 1980s, respectively; union membership has fallen consistently since the Reagan years.

U.S. employers add 173,000 jobs in August; unemployment rate falls to 5.1%

Source: Jim Puzzanghera, LA Times

Job growth unexpectedly slowed last month to a modest 173,000, but the unemployment rate fell to a post-Great Recession low and average wages posted their biggest gain since January, the Labor Department said Friday.

The report sent mixed messages to Federal Reserve policymakers, who are trying to decide if the labor market and, more broadly, the economy are strong enough to handle the first increase in a key interest rate since 2006.

The low headline number was well below analyst expectations for 223,000 net new jobs, and down from July's strong 245,000 figure.

But growth for June and July was revised up by a total of 44,000 net new jobs. That means the economy has added an average of 221,000 jobs over the last three months.

Inside the battle to overhaul overtime - and what it says about how lobbying has changed

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

The week before Labor Day may be a quiet one in Washington. But in the nation's capital and across the country, legions of lawyers and lobbyists are scrambling to weigh in one of the most consequential regulations of Obama's second term: An update to the Fair Labor Standards Act that would make 4.6 million more people eligible for overtime.

The comment period ends Friday on the rule, and the outcome could have more of a direct impact on Americans' earnings as almost any federal law that's passed since the Affordable Care Act.

September 2, 2015

The pushback against unfair labor practices

Source: Harold Meyerson, Washington Post

On this Labor Day, American workers may be beginning to reclaim what by right should be theirs. To be sure, the economic statistics continue to appall: In the second quarter of this year, for instance, labor costs rose at their lowest rate since the early '80s - a measly 0.2 percent, despite steady economic growth and falling unemployment. That's what happens when the income gains from work accrue almost entirely to owners, stock players and top executives.

But the pushback against the imbalances of power and income between workers (who have little) and employers (who have lots), which has been spurred by fast-food workers' "Fight for 15," is showing some distinctly positive results.

Georgia's Minimum Wage Is Still $5.15 An Hour

Source: Trevor Young, GPB News

Ava Hoyle is rinsing canned beans in her new apartment. She recently moved to Atlanta with her boyfriend to start college. They just found this place after living in-and-out of motels for three months. "It could have been worse. They were only, like, a few crack-head knocks, just a couple. We only had a few police incidents."

Ava makes sandwiches at Jimmy John's for minimum wage, and her boyfriend Vyse is waiting on GI benefits. He spends the better part of his day crunching numbers. "That's, just simply basics, nine-hundred forty-four dollars split where...to live here…once I get into school, I'll be making about seven hundred dollars a month, she'll be making five hundred dollars a month"

The court ruling that could blow up Uber's business model

Source: Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

San Francisco Federal Judge Edward M. Chen just peppered that strategy with buckshot and left it smoking by the side of the road. On Tuesday, Chen granted class action status to a lawsuit challenging the independent contractor classification and cleared it to go to trial. The case could involve as many as 160,000 drivers who worked for Uber in California after August 2009. But its implications are much greater, as Uber drivers all over the country could end up enjoying the benefits that belong to employees -- more secure jobs and fairer pay among them.

Uber says it will appeal, but Chen's ruling is part of what's beginning to look like a continuum. It follows a ruling in June by California labor regulators that Uber's drivers are employees, and an emergent trend among "sharing economy" startups to give their workers employee status.

September 1, 2015

The surging ranks of America's ultrapoor

Source: CBS Moneywatch, KPAX8

By one dismal measure, America is joining the likes of Third World countries.
The number of U.S. residents who are struggling to survive on just $2 a day has more than doubled since 1996, placing 1.5 million households and 3 million children in this desperate economic situation. That's according to "$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America," a book from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt that will be released on Sept. 1.
The measure of poverty isn't arbitrary -- it's the threshold the World Bank uses to measure global poverty in the developed world. While it may be the norm to see families in developing countries such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia struggle to survive on such meager income, the growing ranks of America's ultrapoor may be shocking, given that the U.S. is considered one of the most developed capitalist countries in the world.

The Renewed Push For Labor Rights

Source: Josh Zepps, Huffington Post

The Obama Administration has helped put workers's rights in the national spotlight by increasing access to overtime pay and workplace protections. But what is the current state of labor rights as union power wanes and the "gig economy" emerges?

Too many inmates, too few correctional officers: A lethal recipe in federal prisons

Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post

People who work in cafeterias might expect complaints about the chili, but not conflicts with knife-toting convicts.

Yet, if you sling grits and chicken in a U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) dining hall, dealing with killers, kidnappers, and thieves is part of the job description - and to a greater degree than many realize.

The peril was driven home shortly after 11 a.m. on August 18 when four employees, only one of whom was a correctional officer, were assaulted at the Canaan federal penitentiary in Waymart, Pa. That's the same prison, home for 1,500 male convicts, where Eric Williams, a correctional officer, was slain by an inmate in 2013.

August 31, 2015

Seattle might try something crazy to let Uber drivers unionize

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Seattle may try a novel legal approach to helping Uber drivers to unionize - and potentially other independent contractors too, if the idea holds up in court.

Today, a Seattle City Councilmember is expected to announce legislation that would grant all for-hire drivers in the city the right to collectively bargain with the companies they contract with to provide services, which they currently can't do under federal law, setting up an entirely new system.

Over the past few years, taxi drivers have affiliated with unions in cities across the country. But since they're usually independent contractors, they're not covered by the law that allows them to negotiate directly with taxi companies, like other private-sector employees can. Their only power is to try to influence how cabs are regulated, which determines their pay and working conditions.

Justice Dept. Louisiana company settle discrimination suit

Source: Associated Press, Chron

The agreement signed Monday by federal officials calls for Louisiana Crane and Construction LLC in Eunice to pay $165,000 in civil penalties. The company also must establish a $50,000 fund to compensate workers who lost wages because of its practices.

A 2014 lawsuit alleged that the company discriminated against non-citizen job applicants who had permission to work in the United States by requiring them to produce certain Department of Homeland Security documents that they were not required to produce under federal law. The Justice Department said the company allowed applicants it believed to be citizens more flexibility in the production of documents.

As His Term Wanes, Obama Champions Workers' Rights

Source: Noam Scheiber, The New York Times

With little fanfare, the Obama administration has been pursuing an aggressive campaign to restore protections for workers that have been eroded by business activism, conservative governance and the evolution of the economy in recent decades.

In the last two months alone, the administration has introduced a series of regulatory changes. Among them: a rule that would make millions more Americans eligible for extra overtime pay, and a guidance suggesting that many employers are misclassifying workers as contractors and therefore depriving them of basic workplace protections. That is an issue central to the growth of so-called gig economy companies like Uber.

A little more than a week ago, a federal appeals panel affirmed an earlier regulation granting nearly 2 million previously exempted home care workers minimum wage and overtime protections.

August 30, 2015

The undercarriage of the car-wash industry: Wage fraud and other abuses

Source: Antonio Olivo and Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

In the back area of a Fairfax County auto dealership, a crew of mostly undocumented workers provides a snapshot of the challenges that Virginia faces with its steadily transforming economy.

There, immigrants from Latin America rush to clean a steady line of used cars that their employer - an independent car-detailing company - was hired by the dealer to prepare for resale.

Each of them has bounced between several jobs in a loosely regulated industry that, according to lawsuits, is contributing to a growing form of payroll fraud that state officials estimate costs Virginia $28 million a year in lost taxes, after full-time workers are illegally categorized as independent contractors.

August 28, 2015

St. Louis Leaders Agree to Minimum Wage Increase to $11/hour

Source: Associated Press, ABC

The minimum wage in St. Louis would rise to $11 per hour by 2018 under a measure approved Friday.

The bill, which the St. Louis' Board of Alderman passed and Mayor Francis Slay later signed, was a compromise. An earlier proposal sought to raise the minimum wage to $13 by 2020.

St. Louis joins several other major U.S. cities in setting its own wage minimum. The federal rate is $7.25. Missouri's minimum wage is $7.65.

The vote on the issue met an important deadline. In July, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill that would have blocked cities from raising the minimum wage beyond the state's level. Lawmakers could override Nixon's veto during a special September session.

Minimum-Wage Work Alone Won't Get You Through College

Source: Sandhya Kambhampati and Meredith Myers, Chronicle

If the federal minimum wage were raised to $15 an hour, a year's worth of 20-hour work weeks would cover the average in-state tuition and fees in most states. (In Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Illinois - where tuition and fees exceed $15,000 - you'd have work at least two extra months to break even.)

Now, here's an important point to keep in mind: Tuition and fees are just one part of attending college. They don't include room and board, books and supplies and other expenses that come with attending college - all of which can double or even triple the costs shown here. At flagships, these estimated costs can range from $8,000 to $19,000. We're also not accounting for financial aid, which would mitigate the cost for many students, or for income tax and cost of living, which could exacerbate it.

August 27, 2015

Farmworkers See Jobs, Earnings Shrivel In California Drought

Source: Lesley McClurg, NPR

More than 21,000 people are out of work this year from California's drought, according to a study from the University of California, Davis. The majority are in agriculture. Those farmworkers lucky enough to have a job are often working harder for less money.

Leaning forward and crouching from the waist, Anastacio picks strawberries from plants about as tall as his knees. We're not using his last name because Anastacio and his family are undocumented.

He's working in an organic field in Watsonville, near Santa Cruz. This year, he's averaging about half as many boxes of berries as he usually does.

"We are earning less money because we are done with work early, and there is less fruit," he says in Spanish. A steady stream of sweat pours off his brow.

In landmark case, labor board will let more workers bargain with their employer's employer

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

A federal labor board voted Thursday to redefine the employee-employer relationship granting new bargaining powers to workers caught up in an economy increasingly reliant on subcontractors, franchisees and temporary staffing agencies.
The decision by the National Labor Relations Board could upend the traditional arms-length relationship that has prevailed between corporate titans such as McDonald's and its neighborhood fast-food franchises. And it comes as concerns are growing about a generation of new Internet-fueled business such as Uber and Lyft that depend heavily on independent contractors.
In a case that drew intense lobbying by both business and union groups, Democratic appointees on the panel split 3-2 with Republicans to adopt a more expansive definition of what it means to be an "joint employer," making it more difficult for companies to avoid responsibility through various forms of outsourcing.

August 26, 2015

Brooklyn Nail Salons Protest Increased Regulations With One Day Strike

Source: DNA Info, Rachel Holliday Smith

Several Brooklyn nail salons closed their doors for a one-day strike this week to protest new fines implemented by the state to regulate the industry, owners and workers said.

The salons, located on Nostrand Avenue in Crown Heights, Eighth Avenue in Park Slope and Flatbush Avenue in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, hung identical signs in the windows of their shuttered shops Tuesday depicting Uncle Sam next to the words "I want your money."

The posters directed customers to an open letter published on NailGlobal.com that asked customers to "tell Governor Cuomo and elected officials" that new fines and enforcement from the state were hurting their businesses.

Longer Hours, More Stress, No Extra Pay: It's Not Just Amazon, It's the Modern Workplace

Source: Bryce Covert, The Nation

By now many of us have read The New York Times's insider account of the brutal workplace culture at Amazon's corporate offices. We already knew about what it's like to work in Amazon's warehouse centers: boiling heat, impossible production demands, and frequent firings of the temporary workforce. For the white-collar workers, demands are also high, if of a different nature: staff regularly cry at their desks, are shamed for taking time off for cancer treatments, and so often work during weekends and vacations that they develop ulcers. Failure to respond to a late-night e-mail comes with a reprimand. One employee recounts that her fiancee had to come to headquarters every night at 10 pm and call her repeatedly to get her to leave.

Gap To End On-Call Scheduling For Workers

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

Gap Inc. announced Wednesday that it would end on-call scheduling for employees at its stores by the end of September, making it the latest retailer to drop a practice increasingly seen as unfriendly to working families.

In a post on a company blog, Andi Owen, global president for Banana Republic, said Gap Inc.'s various brands had been reevaluating their scheduling practices over the past year with an eye toward "work-life integration."

"Over the past several weeks, Heads of Stores have informed their organizations of their shared commitment to eliminate the use of on-call shifts across our global organization," Owen wrote.

The Labor Prospect: Getting Sick of No Paid Sick Leave

Source: Justin Miller, American Prospect

Despite an expanding patchwork of paid sick leave policies cropping up around the U.S., an In These Times investigation reminds us that this country is woefully behind the rest of the world in terms of such worker rights. Lacking any sort of basic safety net, nearly one-quarter of working mothers are back on the grind within just two weeks of giving birth, the report finds.

As Sharon Lerner writes, "most Americans don't realize quite how out of step we are. It's not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world-rich or poor-now requires paid maternity leave."

August 25, 2015

Bracing for labor board decision, franchises spend recess courting Democrats

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Hoyer wasn't participating in the tour because he was looking for a place to stay. Rather, he was there to listen to the people who own franchises - along with McDonald's and Burger Kings and other fast food outlets - who are bracing for a decision expected from the National Labor Relations Board this week that could make franchisers and general contractors liable for the labor law violations of their franchisees and subcontractors, and allow workers to bargain directly with businesses at the top of the chain. That likely would prompt principal contractors to exert more control, rather than take the risk of being sued for their subcontractors' mistakes.

Labor secretary pledges support to Detroit workers

Source: Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press

One-by-one, sometimes in tears, Detroit workers on Tuesday opened up to U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, telling him how little they earn and why they joined the labor movement -- Fight for 15 -- that is seeking $15 an hour wages, as well as better benefits and opportunities for employees in restaurants, retail and health care industries.

They talked about how hard it is to work in low-wage jobs, and how they struggle to use that income care, not just for themselves, but also for their kids -- and friends. Some of them, they said, work more than one job, to the point of exhaustion -- and still aren't able to make ends meet.

The New Workplace Normal, uncertain work

Source: Robert Reich, SF Gate

As Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don't know how much they'll be earning next week or even tomorrow.
This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

On-demand and on-call - in the "share" economy, the "gig" economy or, more prosaically, the "irregular" economy - the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.

It's the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it's happening at lightning speed. It's estimated that in five years more than 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.

August 24, 2015

Home Healthcare Workers Haven't Qualified for Minimum Wage for 80 Years. Now They Do.

Source:  Michelle Chen, The Nation

It took about 40 years after the passage of federal wage standards for the government to decide that domestic workers deserved a minimum wage. And it's taking nearly another 40 years for home healthcare workers-the subset of the industry specializing in elder and disability care-to gain the same protections. The Obama administration has amended federal wage and hour regulations to close a longstanding exemption for these aides. And after a legal tussle with home healthcare employers, last week, an appeals-court judge struck down a lower-court ruling blocking the reforms, paving the way for extending minimum wage and overtime protections for some of the poorest workers caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

Target Corp. agrees to pay $2.8M discrimination settlement

Source: Chron

Target Corp. has agreed to pay $2.8 million to settle a hiring discrimination claim filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency announced Monday.

Three employment assessments formerly used by the Minneapolis-based retailer disproportionately screened out applicants for professional positions based on race and gender, and the tests were not sufficiently job-related, the EEOC said in a statement. The commission also said an assessment that was performed by psychologists violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from subjecting applicants to medical exams prior to making a job offer.

Hearing Tuesday in Mobile focuses on ramifications behind McDonald's labor dispute

Source: John Sharp, AL

A high-stakes labor dispute that could affect 757,000 franchise business operators across the U.S. will be played out in Mobile Tuesday during a hearing into the matter.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tennessee will join U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, to host a "field hearing" on how the National Labor Relations Board plans to change the way franchise businesses operate. The hearing begins at 10 a.m. at the University of South Alabama Student Center Ballroom, 350 Campus Drive.
"It's a huge issue," Byrne said Monday. "This will affect every franchise and franchisee in the nation."
Byrne said that three witnesses are expected to testify before Roe, chairman of the House subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions. Witnesses include franchisees and an Alabama labor attorney, Byrne said.

Uber Unleashes Lobbyists in California to Reshape Driver Rules

Source: Alison Vekshin , Bloomberg

Uber has spent more on lobbyists in California than Facebook and Apple combined to fend off regulations aimed at the heart of its worldwide business model.

The San Francisco company's lobbyists are pushing lawmakers to exempt its drivers from obtaining commercial licenses before they can ferry passengers. Uber Technologies Inc. and its biggest competitor, Lyft Inc., depend on drivers with personal licenses who use their own cars to pick up fares hailed through a smartphone app.

Uber has spent almost a million dollars since 2013 on lobbyists in California. Responsible for a million daily rides worldwide, the company is fighting from the Pacific to the Atlantic to derail efforts by regulators, lawmakers and the taxi industry to extend rules governing cabs to the nascent ride-sharing industry.

August 23, 2015

As Minimum Wages Rise, Restaurants Say No to Tips, Yes to Higher Prices

Source: Patricia Cohen, New York Times

Now, prompted by a spurt of new minimum wage proposals in major cities, an expanding number of restaurateurs are experimenting with no-tipping policies as a way to manage rising labor costs.

Here in Seattle, where the first stage of a $15-an-hour minimum wage law took effect in April, Ivar's seafood restaurants switched to an all-inclusive menu. By raising prices 21 percent and ending tipping, Bob C. Donegan, the president and co-owner, calculated he could increase everyone's wages.

"We saw there was a fundamental inequity in our restaurants where the people who worked in the kitchen were paid about half as much as the people who worked with customers in front of the house," Mr. Donegan said.

August 22, 2015

How employers can save money – and lives – with paid leave

Source: Maya Raghu, MSNBC

Most low-wage jobs, unlike many office or white-collar jobs, don't come with paid leave, health insurance, or other benefits. Missing work means not getting paid and the very real risk of getting fired. In the aftermath of a traumatizing assault or frightening stalking incident, a worker may need to go to the police, to court, or to the doctor. He or she shouldn't have to worry about losing a job or paying bills in an effort to stay safe – an impossible choice many survivors are forced to make. Employers have both a unique ability and a responsibility to recognize how important it is for victims to be able to take time off to recover, obtain a restraining order, or pursue other legal assistance to help ensure his or her welfare.

August 21, 2015

Boycott Amazon? It's not an easy choice

Source: David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times

There are plenty of examples of consumers flexing their economic muscle in response to what they see as businesses behaving badly.

Take the boycott of California grapes in the 1960s over mistreatment of farmworkers. Or the boycott of Chick-fil-A in 2012 over the fast-food chain's opposition to same-sex marriage.

So what, if anything, should be done about Amazon.com?

August 19, 2015

Why McDonald's Could Suddenly Be Responsible for Millions of New Employees

Source: Rob Garver, Yahoo News

The National Labor Relations Board is expected to rule, possibly within days, on a case that could drastically change the relationship between millions of workers and their employers. The board, dominated by Democratic appointees, is expected to declare that companies that hire other firms to provide labor have an employer-employee relationship with the workers brought in by those firms.

The NLRB foreshadowed the expected ruling in a controversial finding earlier this month, which found that fast food giant McDonalds is a joint employer of the restaurant workers hired by McDonalds' franchisees. But the case in question now could stretch far beyond the restaurant industry in terms of its impact.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/new-york-city-is-looking-for-workers-owed-3-7-million-1440016725

Source: Thomas MacMillan, Wall Street Journal

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced Wednesday that his office was looking for more than 1,000 workers who are collectively owed $3.7 million.

The 1,056 workers are each due an average of $3,576, after contractors failed to pay the prevailing wage on public projects over the last 10 years, Mr. Stringer said.

He said his office had been unable to locate the workers, and urged people to check its website to see if they were owed money.
Mr. Stringer said his office would spread the word through social media, and through fliers distributed throughout the city in eight languages.
Mr. Stringer said that since 2014 his office had reached settlements worth $8.6 million with contractors who underpaid workers, mostly immigrants working nonunion jobs.

Amazon and the Realities of the "New Economy"

Source: John Cassidy, The New Yorker

irst up, an admission: like tens of millions of Americans, I am a member of Prime, Amazon.com's program that charges ninety-nine dollars annually for unlimited shipping and other benefits. Originally, I used Barnes & Noble's Web site for purchases of books and other media products. But when we had a family, my wife and I couldn't resist the convenience of one-stop shopping and delivery for books and everything else. A couple of years ago, after reading about the harsh working conditions at some of Amazon's warehouses, I considered cancelling Prime. The fact that I didn't get around to it perhaps reflects laziness and lack of empathy on my part, but also a collective-action problem. What difference would one cancelled membership make?

August 18, 2015

Amazon's brutal workplace is an indicator of an inhumane economy

Source: David Horsey, Los Angeles Times

The New York Times has sparked a national discussion about Amazon with a report detailing what it is like to work in the Seattle corporate offices of the behemoth online retailer. As at many new economy enterprises, Amazon workers put in long hours -- about double the 40-hour workweek that was once standard in the American workplace. Vacations are few. Most often the rare holiday escape merely provides a nice place to work remotely. Everyone is tethered to their cellphones so they can be reached by bosses at all hours of the day. There is a constant push to perform and produce.
If such pressures are common in high-tech workplaces, at Amazon they have been cranked up to an extreme level. Current and former Amazon employees interviewed for the article spoke of colleagues weeping at their desks. They described the demand for frequent self-criticism and the anonymous criticisms directed at fellow workers seeking to drag them down in the eyes of managers.

More Employees Sue Restaurants in Wage Disputes

Source: Thomas MacMillan

August 17, 2015

The labor market is tightening. Will that mean raises for employees?

Source: Timothy B. Lee, Vox

Often, stories about shortages in a specific industry focus on identifying industry-specific causes for the shortage and industry-specific strategies for alleviating it. For example, some trucking companies that traditionally demanded at least two years of experience behind the wheel have begun paying for new employees to go to trucking school. In education, as another example, some schools are seeking permission to have teachers teach subjects outside their certified area of expertise.

But in the long run, the best solution to a worker shortage is simple: Pay more. Any one employer can almost always get more workers if it pays enough, and if wages rise in an industry as a whole, that will attract more entry-level workers and career switchers.

Why erratic schedules are one of the worst parts of low-wage work

Source: Timothy B. Lee, Vox

Life in a low-wage job - at a restaurant or retail store, for example - has never been easy. You spend hours on your feet and deal with angry customers. And for parents, finding affordable child care can be a struggle.

A recent management trend has made the lives of low-wage workers even more difficult. In an effort to save on labor costs, many employers have made employees' schedules more erratic and less predictable.

"It gets frustrating because you want to work and make money and pay your bills," says Sonsira Espinal, who worked for a clothing retailer in New York.

Gov. Brown signs job protections for grocery workers

Source: Melanie Mason and Patrick McGreevy , Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed 14 bills, including a measure that requires that large grocery stores keep their workers for at least 90 days after a change in store ownership.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said her measure protects grocery workers from losing their jobs in the event of a corporate merger.

"Wall Street mergers and acquisitions that make big money for corporations and private equity firms should not jeopardize jobs of the grocery workers who live and work in our communities," said Gonzalez in a statement. "This is a common sense opportunity to save people's jobs and make sure the most-experienced, best-prepared workers stay on the job during a complicated transition period."

The bill was strongly backed by labor groups, including the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents grocery workers.

Americans Are Becoming More Pro-Union

Source: Janie Velecia, Huffington Post

Americans have grown more supportive of labor unions in recent years, according to a Gallup poll released Monday. The poll found that nearly 6 in 10 Americans say they approve of labor unions, the highest approval rate since 2008.

Gallup has been surveying American opinion on organized labor since 1936. Approval has jumped five percentage points in the last year alone, and 10 percentage points since 2008. Desire for more union influence is also up. Thirty-seven percent of Americans say they want unions to have more influence, while 35 percent want to see unions wield less influence. By comparison, in 2009, only 25 percent of respondents said they wanted more influence, and 42 percent wanted less.

August 15, 2015

Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace

Source: Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, New York Times

Even as the company tests delivery by drone and ways to restock toilet paper at the push of a bathroom button, it is conducting a little-known experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers, redrawing the boundaries of what is acceptable. The company, founded and still run by Jeff Bezos, rejects many of the popular management bromides that other corporations at least pay lip service to and has instead designed what many workers call an intricate machine propelling them to achieve Mr. Bezos' ever-expanding ambitions.

Bo Olson was one of them. He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. "You walk out of a conference room and you'll see a grown man covering his face," he said. "Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk."

August 14, 2015

She thought she was entitled to maternity leave. After asking for it, she lost her job.

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Cetrone was a contractor, along with two other staffers at the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and therefore not entitled to benefits like workers compensation or unemployment insurance - or more importantly when she became pregnant, the eight weeks of paid family leave that D.C. government employees get.

"They made us look to the public like we were full-time employees, but we didn't have any of the benefits," Cetrone says.

Cetrone thought it was unfair she'd have to take time off to have a baby without pay. But it didn't strike her that there was anything untoward about it - until she began seeing reports on all the lawsuits over misclassification in the "sharing economy," alleging that everyone from Uber drivers to Homejoy cleaners should be treated as employees rather than contractors.

August 13, 2015

Are Graduate Students 'Workers'?

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation

 The regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) deemed graduate students with Student Employees at the New School (SENS-UAW) as non-employees, based on a 2004 decision involving graduate-student workers at Brown University, in which the Board ruled that the relationship between the students and institution wasn't that of a worker and employer, but rather, that "the graduate student assistants have a predominantly academic, rather than economic relationship with their school." So although they taught, researched and performed administrative tasks in exchange for the school's financial support for their studies-even when working on a regular schedule with a designated hourly wage, under a supervisor-that labor wasn't work, but rather, simply a privilege of their academic experience.

August 12, 2015

White House to Hold Summit to Amplify Employees' Voice in Workplace

Source: Melanie Trottman, Wall Street Journal

The White House will hold a summit in October to explore how American workers can amplify their voices on the job to get ahead, and it touted labor unions as a powerful way to enable that.

The "Worker Voice" summit will focus on how to ensure workers "are fully sharing in the benefits of the broad-based economic growth that they are helping to create," the White House said in a statement Wednesday that announced the Oct. 7 event.

President Barack Obama said in March that he wanted to hold a summit but the details hadn't been sorted yet. He said at the time that even as the economy was recovering many working families were still finding it hard to advance.

Minding the Gap

Source: Inquirer Editorial Board, Philly

With wages growing at the slowest rate in 33 years, the Securities and Exchange Commission's recent vote requiring publicly traded companies to report the ratio of chief executives' earnings to those of average workers should fuel discussion of income inequality and encourage companies to narrow the great divide.

The pay-ratio rule is unfinished business from the five-year-old Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and it was mightily contested by business interests. The intense lobbying will ultimately delay its implementation until after the 2016 presidential election.

Minimum wage increases haven't grown the middle class. $15 might be different.

Source: Lydia DePillis and Jim Tankersley, Washington Post

Democratic candidates in the presidential race are extolling the virtues of a higher minimum wage, and not just for workers at the bottom of the pay scale. Party front-runner Hillary Clinton included a higher (but unspecified) minimum wage in her package of economic proposals, all aimed at raising the "real incomes of everyday Americans." Her rivals Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley have endorsed a $15-an-hour minimum nationwide, as part of broad strategies to lift workers from poverty and expand the middle class.
If you're a worker earning the minimum, it's easy to see how a higher minimum wage would boost your pay (provided your employer doesn't eliminate your job to save costs). But how might raising the wage push other, higher-paid workers toward the middle class? You would need what some researchers call a "ripple effect," where employers respond to a minimum-wage hike by raising wages for more experienced employees, too, in order to keep them ahead of their entry-level colleagues.

Businesses brace for game-changing labor decision

Source: Tim Devaney, The Hill

Business leaders in Washington are bracing for a labor ruling that they warn would redefine what constitutes an "employer" in the United States, exposing thousands of companies to new liabilities and potentially upending entire industries.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is widely expected to rule by month's end that Browning-Ferris Industries, a Houston-based waste-disposal company, is a joint employer of workers provided to the firm by a staffing agency, experts say. As a result, the company would be forced to collectively bargain with those employees and could be held liable for any labor violations committed against them.

Such a decision could hit companies from a host of industries, including hospitality, retail, manufacturing, construction, financial service providers, cleaning services and security.

August 11, 2015

Are Bank Tellers the Fast Food Workers of Wall Street?

Source: Michelle Chen, The Nation

 Occupy Wall Street's encampment at Zuccotti Park exposed the abysmal gulf between the "99 percent" and Wall Street's filthy rich-but other wealth gaps have long bubbled just below the asphalt. The bottom tier of the Street-the retail bank tellers who handle regular people's money on the edges of Big Finance-are struggling financially themselves.

The wages of Wall Street's frontline workers reflect the degradation of service labor across Main Street. National Employment Law Project (NELP) found that "Of the nearly 1.7 million people working within retail banking, almost one in three-more than half a million-are in occupations with median hourly wages below $15."

Give Fast Food Workers a Raise, Already

Source: Teresa Tritch, The New York Times

Nearly three-fourths of New York City voters (73 percent) support raising the minimum wage for fast food workers to $15 an hour, according to a recent Quinnipiac University Poll. Only about one fourth (24 percent) oppose the increase, which was recommended last month by a wage board appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The state's acting labor commissioner, Mario Musolino, is expected to approve the increase soon.

Most voters (57 percent) said they would pay more for fast food in New York City "so workers could get higher wages." The only groups in which a majority was not willing to pay more were Republicans (57 percent) and 18 to 34-year-olds (55 percent).

August 10, 2015

Tech Shuttle Company Is Accused of Thwarting Efforts to Unionize Its Drivers

Source: Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones

A recently filed federal complaint alleges that one of San Francisco's biggest tech shuttle operators has attempted to thwart an effort to unionize its drivers. The complaint, filed by the San Francisco office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in late June, alleges that Bauer's Intelligent Transportation has spied on pro-union employees, interfered with union organizers, and organized its own management-backed union.

With 450 employees and 225 vehicles, Bauer's has a visible presence on the streets of San Francisco. About a third of its business comes from technology companies such as Twitter, Yelp, Cisco, Salesforce, and EA Games. In the mid-'00s it drove 55 commuter buses for Google, which now operates giant white double-decker buses on its own. Last year, Bauer's played a key role in negotiating a controversial deal that allows private commuter shuttles to use public bus stops to pick up Silicon Valley workers.

Politicians make a push for debt-free college

Source: Amy Scott, MarketPlace

On Monday Hillary Clinton became the latest Democrat to lay out her ideas for making college more affordable. The plan itself isn't cheap, with its $350 billion price tag. Like some of her rivals for the Democratic ticket, Clinton wants to make college "debt free" for more students.

Student loans are shaping up to be a central issue in this presidential campaign. Americans collectively owe more than $1 trillion in student loans, says Mark Huelsman with the think tank Demos, and a lot of them will be voting.

"The generation that's really coming of age politically, the millennial generation, is the generation that has had to borrow the most, and for whom student debt really is the most acute crisis they're probably facing, economically," he says.

The Pension Crisis at Public Universities

Source: Jon Marcus, The Atlantic

The Southern Illinois University history professor Steve Hansen didn't need an academic analysis to tell him his retirement income was at risk in a state struggling to narrow an estimated $111 billion shortfall in its public-employee pension fund.* So, in 2012, at 63, Hansen quit his university job to lock in his benefits before they could be watered down. So did 408 fellow employees of the university's two campuses, and another 1,008 at The University of Illinois-twice the number who had left the year before.

Perhaps ironically, Hansen has since been called back to the university for a temporary position and is now dealing with budget and staffing issues from the other side: as the interim dean of its liberal-arts college while administrators search for a permanent replacement. Nationally, the retirement rate is on the rise in part because the population is aging. But "we have started to lose faculty who normally would probably have stayed," Hansen said.

Bill of rights helps 'those who make all work possible'

Source: Natalie Pate, Statesman Journal

National Labor Relations Act. Fair Labor Standards Act. Occupational Safety and Health protections. Civil Rights Act. Americans with Disabilities Act. Age Discrimination Act.

These are some of the many laws that explicitly exclude domestic workers. These laws bar domestic workers, specifically, from forming unions or bargaining collectively for wages and benefits. They exclude them from overtime provisions. They exclude them from government protections in their workplace.

That is about to change.

Oregon recently became the fifth state to enact a state-wide domestic workers bill of rights, know as the Oregon Domestic Workers' Protection Act, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Most Oregon minimum wage workers are part-time: Editorial

Source: The Oregonian Editorial Board , Oregan Live

The debate about raising the minimum wage to $13.50, as an Oregon coalition has proposed, or $15, as several West Coast cities are doing, cuts through a range of complex economic issues. But the most fundamental question that needs to be answered is this one: Who would be helped by a higher government-mandated pay floor?

The short-term macroeconomic impact of a significantly higher minimum wage likely will be minimal, in part because these workers make up a small percentage of the overall economy. But those pushing hardest for higher wages aren't basing their campaign on economic growth. And, anyway, there are better ways to encourage short-term growth – including infrastructure improvements that neither federal nor state lawmakers seem capable of funding. Before legislators support a big jump in the minimum wage, they need to closely study whether it will deliver on advocates' primary promise and lift a significant number of workers out of poverty

August 9, 2015

Footnote in legal brief adds to labor rift at Duquesne University

Source: Bill Schackner , Post Gazette

In June, Duquesne University vowed to appeal a National Labor Relations Board decision in Pittsburgh ordering the school to recognize an adjunct faculty union it has opposed, so the request for review filed days later was expected.

What was not expected was language in a footnote within that 50-page brief filed by Duquesne with the NLRB in Washington.

It has become the latest flash point in a bitter three-year fight between the Catholic university and those adjuncts, who are represented by the Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers.

Service industries grow at fastest pace in a decade

Source: Shobhana Chandra, Chicago Tribune

The Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index jumped by 4.3 points to 60.3, the best reading since August 2005 and well above the most optimistic projection in a Bloomberg survey of economists, the group's report showed Wednesday. All major components of the gauge, including orders and employment, advanced.

Steady hiring, a recovering housing market, reduced fuel expenses and cheap borrowing costs are benefiting service producers while the nation's factories battle tepid global sales and slower capital spending. Resilient domestic demand helps explain why Federal Reserve policy makers will probably raise interest rates this year for the first time since 2006.

Dallas council moves forward on possible minimum wage for city contractors

Source: Elizabeth Findell , Dallas News

The Dallas City Council will consider requiring all contractors working with the city pay employees at least $10.37 an hour, or a "living wage," after city staff creates an implementation plan.

Council members generally expressed support for the requirement during a briefing Wednesday about the possible effects it could have. Current policy requires that city employees earn at least $10.62 per hour, but places no requirements on organizations which hold city contracts.

"Dallas is just an expensive place to live," said council member Scott Griggs. "The growth in wages, particularly of people making minimum wage, hasn't kept up with the rest of Dallas real estate."

July 29, 2015

Will there ever be an organics label for worker rights?

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Ahold, the Dutch company that owns the grocery chains, has agreed to buy its Florida tomatoes only from farms certified for paying good wages and treating workers well. It's among the biggest, but it's far from the first: Retailers from Whole Foods to Wal-Mart have joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Fair Food Program in the past seven years, often after the group held protests outside their stores.

That's pretty quick progress - for tomatoes. But you won't find the Fair Food Program's label on anything else in the produce section. It's a far cry from the pervasiveness of the organic label, which is present as an alternative for nearly everything a shopper might want to buy, having been adopted by industrial agribusiness as a way to satisfy consumer desires.

Supreme Court upholds right-to-work for state workers

Source: Paul Egan, Detroit Free Press

The Michigan Supreme Court, in an opinion that has the effect of making state employees subject to Michigan's 2012 right-to-work law, ruled Wednesday that Michigan's Civil Service Commission never had the authority to impose union fees on state workers, even before the controversial law was passed.

The 4-3 ruling is a blow to the United Auto Workers and other unions representing about 36,000 state employees, who argued only the bipartisan Civil Service Commission - not the Legislature - can set the conditions of employment for civil servants.

Minimum wage could go to $15 per hour

Source: Julia Kilmer, Cassville Democrat

The current minimum wage in effect for 2015 in the state of Missouri is $7.65 per hour, but hree initiative petitions to increase the state's minimum wage have been approved for circulation by the Secretary of State.

If enough signatures are collected, the petitions may go on the 2016 general election ballot. The petitions must be signed by at least 5 percent of legal voters in six of the state's eight congressional districts to make it on the ballot.

The three petitions, filed by Lara Granich, executive director of Missouri Jobs with Justice, propose increasing the minimum wage, which is adjusted to changes in cost of living.

July 28, 2015

Companies have found something to give their workers instead of raises

Source: Ylan Q. Mui, Washington Post

Once a staple of the American workplace, the annual raise is turning into a relic of the pre-crisis economy as companies turn to creative - and cheaper - ways to compensate their employees.
More businesses are upping their spending on benefits such as one-time bonuses, health care and paid time off, according to recent survey data. Many are rolling out perks such as free gym membership, commuting subsidies, even pet health insurance.
Often, those benefits are being provided in lieu of higher salaries. Government data shows the growth in spending on benefits is outpacing gains in wages. Companies say they are catering to the growing workforce of millennials who seem to prize short-term flexibility over long-term financial security, and the change allows bosses to reward star employees without permanently increasing costs.

Democrats Want To Extend Civil Rights Protections To Unpaid Interns

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

Unpaid interns in most states aren't covered by the same workplace discrimination and harassment laws as employees, but some House Democrats are trying to change that.

Three lawmakers introduced a trio of bills Tuesday aimed at closing loopholes that exclude unpaid interns from protection. The Civil Rights Act doesn't currently cover such workers because they aren't compensated and therefore aren't technically employees. Workers must receive "significant remuneration" in order to have recourse through federal law.

"There should be no legal grey area when we are talking about preventing sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace," Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) said in a statement.

Department of Justice investigates fraud in disabled work program

Source: Drew Griffin, WWLP

The Premier Federal Program helping severely disabled Americans get jobs is being investigated by the Department of Justice.

Sources exclusively telling CNN that billions of dollars designated for disabled workers is being funneled elsewhere.

"The majority of the individuals that were being hired were not severely disabled," said the CNN Source.

This manager who wants to remain anonymous to protect current employment says instead of hiring severely disabled, the federal contractor making tens of millions of dollars, would hire just about anyone who walked through the door and no one bothered to check.

July 27, 2015

This San Francisco Cafe Is Just Fine With The $15 Minimum Wage

Source: Daniel Marans, Huffington Post

If the opponents of a $15 minimum wage were going to devise a hypothetical small business to illustrate their arguments, they'd probably come up with something like Cafe UB. The petite San Francisco coffeehouse is exactly the kind of locally owned, low-margin neighborhood business that critics say a $15 minimum wage would hurt the most.

But Cafe UB is doing just fine amid San Francisco's ongoing transition to $15. In fact, its owners embrace the change -- and not just for the typical political reasons. They say it is good for business.

"We are in support of it, because we need our employees, and our employees need to live here," said manager Nicole Martin earlier this month. "It is expensive to live in San Francisco."

Philadelphia nursing agency workers get $745,000 in unpaid wages

Source: PhillyVoice Staff , Voice Philly

More than 1,300 direct care workers who were not paid for the last two weeks of work when their employer closed unexpectedly in March will get their checks.

Infinite Care Inc. of Philadelphia, a nursing care agency which had operated at 6413 Rising Sun Ave. in Lawndale, was indicted for Medicaid fraud and closed with barely any notice to employees, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry's Bureau of Labor Law Compliance, which worked to remedy the wage theft case for the laid-off workers.

The bureau obtained more than $745,000 in unpaid wages for the workers. Paychecks were mailed by the state on July 10.

Infinite Care provided services to severely disabled people needing care at home.

July 26, 2015

The Supreme Court: Too liberal?

Source: Robert Barnes, Washington Post

As has been the case for decades, the court still has a majority appointed by Republican presidents. But a recent Gallup poll showed Republican approval of the court's work at 18 percent, a record low. Democratic approval was at its highest - 76 percent - creating the largest gap in partisan opinion about the court in the poll's history.

Political scientists and Supreme Court observers consider the court conservative. But a CNN poll showed that 37 percent of Americans say the court is too liberal, the highest share to say this since the network started asking the question in 1993. (Twenty percent said it is too conservative.)

July 25, 2015

The Insecure World of Freelancing

Source: Nancy Cook , The Atlantic

For New York City members, the union also runs two primary-care health clinics-requiring no co-pays-and community spaces with free yoga classes. Best of all, membership is free; the union supports itself with a fee on health insurance and other services it provides.

The intention is to give freelancers perks they'd receive if they held full-time jobs, which fewer and fewer workers do, sometimes involuntarily. Rather than mourn an era's passing, Horowitz says, the Freelancers Union has tried to forge a new way to think about supporting workers in the gig economy. "What happens … is that people start living their lives," she adds, "and they've started to put together their lives in really different ways."

July 24, 2015

D.C. Circuit Backs NLRB on Hospital Discipline Cases

Source: Lawrence E. Dubé, Bloomberg

The National Labor Relations Board properly held that a Virginia hospital violated federal labor law when it discharged, disciplined or failed to promote three nurses because they engaged in protected concerted activity, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held July 24.

Writing for the court, Judge Patricia A. Millett said the board had substantial evidence that INOVA Health System discharged nurse Donna Miller because she sent management an e-mail expressing concerns that she and four other nurses were adversely affected by the hospital's administration of a nursing fellows program.

How Do You Make Sure Generous Paid Leave Doesn't Backfire on Women? Focus on Men.

Source: Rebecca Leber, New Republic

First, it's important to acknowledge that the absence of universal paid leave represents a tremendous disadvantage for working women in America. Without paid leave, women are more likely to exit the workforce. If and when they reenter, they may return to lower-paying jobs, or no job at all. Many believe that the overall lower participation of women in the workforce is a result of the lack of paid leave: Economists estimate that women's labor force participation is lower for 25-54 year-olds than it would be in America if there were universal paid leave. The effects seem to be growing more serious: A comparative study of 22 countries found that the U.S. fell from the sixth-highest in labor force participation for women in 1990 to 17th by 2010. The Cornell economists, Francine Blau and Laurence Kahn, found that the lack of paid leave explained about one-third of this decline.

Dirty Work

Source: Alison Griswold

Former Handy employees I spoke with described a workplace that has conformed to every caricature of the contemporary startup: Grueling hours for staffers. Performance judged on the basis of stultifying metrics. An office culture that is at once elitist and boorish.

As for the cleaners, many have enjoyed the business the Handy platform has brought them. But others have felt exploited by the company's policies. They face harsh penalties for missed jobs. They must maintain exceptionally high ratings to earn the most competitive wages and to keep getting gigs. And as contractors, not employees, they enjoy few if any traditional workplace protections.

July 23, 2015

Work advice: Retailer's 'flexible scheduling' leaves employee in knots

Source: Karla L. Miller, Washington Post

According to a June survey of retail and service employees in Washington, workers' top complaints include too few paid hours and too little predictability. Shifts are assigned or changed with little advance notice; protests result in retaliation and further reduced hours. Even workers with multiple jobs can't get enough hours to make ends meet. And they're not just teens and recent grads; the median age of service industry workers in Washington is 36, according to Census Bureau figures cited in the report, and 25 percent of them support children.

"You can't get ahead in these jobs because you can't count on a regular schedule and regular number of hours," says lawyer Paula Brantner, executive director of the employee rights organization Workplace Fairness.

Cruise giant Carnival Corp. faces penalty over ADA compliance

Source: Gene Sloan, USA Today

Cruise giant Carnival Corp. will pay more than $400,000 in penalties and damages as part of a settlement over alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday.

The parent company of Carnival, Princess and Holland America also has agreed to survey and, if necessary, make changes to 42 existing vessels at the three brands to comply with ADA regulations. Seven vessels in various stages of design and construction also will be surveyed and, if necessary, updated to comply with the regulations.

Another 13 ships operated by the brands will be subject to possible changes if they continue to be in service in U.S. ports in four years.

How a Group of Dim Sum Makers Won $4 Million in Back Pay

Source: Vinnee Tong, KQED

Yank Sing's location in a shiny downtown San Francisco high-rise, its dramatic ceiling-to-floor water fountain and its crisp white tablecloths set it apart from other Chinese restaurants.

That's one reason the announcement last fall seemed so jarring to patrons and the public: hourly workers at Yank Sing were longtime victims of wage theft.

Wage theft occurs when employers force employees to work off the clock or don't pay them for overtime. Labor advocates say wage theft is a huge problem and it goes underreported. That's part of what made the Yank Sing case so exceptional.

Applications for US Unemployment Aid Plummet to 42-Year Low

Source: Christopher S. Rugaber, ABC

Six years after a brutal recession that wiped out more than 8.5 million jobs, Americans are now enjoying a nearly unprecedented level of job security.

The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid plunged last week to the lowest in nearly 42 years. Applications for jobless benefits are a proxy for layoffs, so the low level indicates that employers are keeping their staffs and likely hiring at a steady pace.

Weekly applications for unemployment benefits fell 26,000 to 255,000, the fewest since November 1973, the Labor Department said Thursday. If the data were adjusted for the growth of the U.S. population since then, last week's figure would likely be an all-time low.

July 22, 2015

New York Fast-Food Workers Win Their Fight for $15

Source:  Michelle Chen, The Nation

 Though New York's lawmakers are infamous for their ethical failings, Albany is about to do the right thing for once: serve the state's fast-food workers some long-overdue justice. Governor Andrew Cuomo's Wage Board, a three-member panel representing business, labor and the public, has for weeks heard gut-wrenching testimonies from workers and labor advocates at hearings across the state, and is now expected to recommend raising the minimum hourly wage for fast-food workers to $15. That will impact some 180,000 people currently earning around $16,000 a year doing strenuous, dirty work in drive-throughs and greasy kitchens. The governor is then expected to make final approval to set a new sector-specific wage-a unique mechanism that, similar to President Obama's recent executive actions on federal worker wages, can bypass the legislature.

July 21, 2015

Work Schedules: The False Tradeoff Between Fair and Productive | Commentary

Source: Ethan Bernstein, Role Call

If the past is any guide, the Schedules that Work Act (S 1772/HR 3071), fair work scheduling legislation introduced in Congress last week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., will ignite debate between employer and employee advocates. Yet solutions favoring employers and those that meet employees' needs may be closer than you think. The debate masks how much smart labor scheduling can benefit both sides.

The bill would provide retail, restaurant and building cleaning employees with at least two weeks' notice of schedules and compensate employees for last minute schedule changes, split shifts and on-call work. It would give employees in all occupations the right to request scheduling accommodations without fear of retaliation, and require employers to accommodate requests from certain employees, unless they are unable to do so for bona fide business reasons.

Port Truck Drivers Strike Again for Better Working Conditions

Source: Stephanie Rivera, Long Beach Post

Port truck drivers with the Carson-based Pacific 9 Transportation (Pac 9) began an indefinite strike Tuesday morning, protesting unsafe working conditions and the classification of drivers as contractors instead of employees, resulting in what they say are stolen wages.
The strike began at 6:00AM on Tuesday, July 21, and was scheduled to continue at the Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles terminals.
"The company refuses to recognize us as employees, refuses to provide us with safe and reliable trucks, and refuses to improve our work environment," said Pac 9 driver Pedro Martinez in a statement.
The drivers have received the support from the Teamsters Union and will also be working with Teamster companies while on strike, including Eco Flow Transportation, Shippers Transport Express, Toll Group and Horizon Lines, according to a press release.

Legislative power key issue in arguments over teacher evaluation law

Source: Todd Engdahl, Chalkbeat Colorado

Differing views of the legislature's powers over labor and contracts law were at the center of oral arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit that challenges one part of Colorado's landmark 2010 teacher evaluation law.

"The Colorado legislature has plenary power to modify these teacher employment rights," lawyer Eric Hall, representing the Denver Public Schools, argued to a three-judge panel of the Colorado Court of Appeals.

But Philip Hostak, a National Education Association lawyer from Washington, D.C., countered, "plainly there are" limits on legislative power to change contract law.

July 20, 2015

Work schedules should create consistency, not chaos

Source: Michael Wasser, The Hill

Congress runs on a schedule that's meticulously planned. Our elected representatives work pre-set days in Washington and back home in their districts. Members of Congress can count on last votes happening at nearly the same time each week, so they're able to shuttle between committee hearings, floor votes and fundraisers. They're able to meet the many demands on their time because they have predictable work schedules.

But too many Americans employed in hourly positions-those who serve us our food and help us find what we're looking for in department stores --are assigned schedules by their employer that offer more chaos than consistency. Their lives must be planned day to day because of erratic schedules at jobs that provide too few hours and pay too little. Unlike Congress, when hourly employees aren't working, they aren't being paid.

Fewer dads take paternity leave because of little to no pay

Source: Carla Fields , WAAY 31

While every new father would like to spend time home with a newborn, the reality is it's unlikely to happen because of work.

According to the Department of Labor Statistics only 11% of workplaces in the United States provide paid leave for its employees. In the majority of cases, new parents use vacation, sick or unpaid leave for the birth of a child.

For dad of two Steven Boyer, spending time with his two sons after birth was an easy decision. Luckily for Boyer, his employer allowed him to take some time off for paternity leave. "Sick leave policy was really good. I could actually take time off for doctor's appointments to go and see Cayden with his first check-up, with Connor for his first check-up, to the ultra-sounds," he says.

Worker schedules should be more predictable, Warren says

Source: Steve LeBlanc, Boston Globe

US Senator Elizabeth Warren is pushing a bill aimed at making the lives of workers more predictable by discouraging companies from waiting until the last minute to announce changes in employee schedules.

The Democrat met with workers Monday in Boston to discuss the legislation, which she refiled last week.

She said the bill addresses what she called unpredictable scheduling practices like placing workers ''on-call'' with no guarantee of work hours, scheduling them for ''split shifts'' of nonconsecutive hours, sending workers home early without pay when demand is low, and punishing workers who request schedule changes.

Kansas City raises its minimum wage - but not for teens

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

The federal government even acknowledges the risk, by allowing that workers under 20 years old be paid less than the minimum wage for a few months, theoretically while they're being trained.

But some (Kansas City) councilmembers -- in addition to nearly all of the groups that fought for the minimum wage hike -- strongly opposed the exemption. One city councilmember argued that it discriminated against older workers, who might be passed up in favor of the cheaper youngster. Others pointed out that even teenagers sometimes need to provide for their families.

Bills seek more stable hours for low-paid workers

Source: Katie Johnston, Boston Globe

Compared to many fast-food workers, Erica Bentencourt has a fairly set schedule. She is supposed to work in the kitchen at the Holbrook Burger King Tuesday through Saturday, opening at 5 a.m. and leaving at 2 p.m. But when coworkers call in sick, she is often asked to stay late or come in on her day off. When business is slow, she is sent home early.

Working extra hours means she has to scramble to find child care for her 9-year-old son. But working fewer hours is worse.

"When they start to cut hours, it affects me paying my bills," said Bentencourt, 33.

July 19, 2015

Bills seek more stable hours for low-paid workers

Source: Katie Johnston, Mashable

The gig economy, and the company that has come to epitomize it - Uber - is shaping up to be a major part of the 2016 campaign for presidential hopefuls.

It seems everyone is weighing in on the issue of innovation changing the way Americans work, and Republicans and Democrats are divided along party lines as to where they stand on Uber. While Republicans are coming out strongly in favor of the ride-share app, Democrats are hedging their bets and trying to reconcile the nature of how the app works with their fight to protect workers' rights.

July 17, 2015

In Maine, a Minimum Wage Law With a Surprise Inside

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg

Fearful of hurting the city's restaurant industry, Mayor Michael Brennan and his colleagues on the City Council are working on a new ordinance that would undo the increase for tipped workers before it takes effect on Jan. 1. "I don't know what else to tell you, other than that when we voted on it, we felt we were voting on what the intent of the council was," says Brennan, a Democrat. "It was clear afterwards that what we had voted on and the intent of the council were not the same thing."
Maine's minimum wage, like the federal one, comes with a "tip credit," the amount employers can subtract from the minimum wage when paying workers who earn tips. In Maine, where the minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, the tip credit is 50 percent. If an employee's tips are too stingy to make up the tip credit, employers are supposed to pay the difference to get their total pay up to the regular minimum wage.

July 16, 2015

Apple faces U.S. class-action lawsuit by employees over bag searches

Source: Dan Levine, Reuters

Apple Store employees who sued Apple Inc over bag searches at the iPhone maker's 52 brick and mortar outlets in California had their case certified as a class-action by a federal judge on Thursday.

The ruling, from U.S. District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco, is part of a 2013 lawsuit alleging Apple should compensate thousands of store employees for the time taken to search their bags to ensure they did not steal any merchandise.

At least two Apple retail store workers complained directly to Chief Executive Tim Cook that the technology company's policy of checking retail employees' bags as a security precaution was embarrassing and demeaning, according to court filings made public earlier in the case.

Federal law bans workplace bias against gays, panel rules

Source: Curtis Tate, McClatchy DC

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled Thursday that existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The federal government and 28 states lack laws that ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, and Thursday's ruling gives legal weight to such claims.

However, it doesn't address discrimination in housing or public accommodations, nor does it guarantee workplace discrimination claims will succeed in the courts, renewing calls for federal legislation that's been stuck in Congress for years.

July 15, 2015

EEOC sues UPS over religious discrimination

Source: Jacob Bogage, Washington Post

Federal labor regulators announced Wednesday that they are suing United Parcel Service, the country's largest private package delivery service, for violating its employees religious rights.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleges in its suit that the company declined to hire applicants and promote employees because their religious dress habits conflicted with its uniform policy.

The UPS uniform policy requires supervisors and employees who regularly come in contact with customers to shave their beards, according to the EEOC's complaint filed in the Eastern District Court of New York. Male employees in the same roles are also barred from growing their hair below collar-length.

Democrats unveil measure to address unfair scheduling practices

Source: Rebecca Shabad, The Hill

Democrats in the House and Senate on Wednesday unveiled legislation to address employers' unstable, unpredictable scheduling practices.

"The Schedules that Work Act" would protect workers who ask their bosses for schedule changes.

Employees of companies with more than 15 workers would have the right to request changes in their schedules without fear of retaliation.

"Families are struggling to put food on the table and pay their bills, let alone take a vacation or think about putting their kids through college," Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said in a statement.

Department Of Labor: "Most Workers Are Employees"

Source: Cora Lewis, Buzzfeed

Last month, the California Labor Commission ruled that an individual Uber driver was an employee. Today, the Department of Labor has issued a set of guidelines that suggests that all of them might be.

The 15-page document is a new interpretation of the existing labor laws that determine which workers should be classified as employees, and which as independent contractors. Misclassification of workers is an issue that has landed a number of tech companies - Instacart, Hand, Homejoy, Uber, and Lyft, to name a few - in court. The DOL found that, despite these companies' insistence that the flexibility they offer workers makes them contractors, most workers in the United States should be classified as employees.

Here's how many Americans could - and want - to 'work longer hours'

Source: Janell Ross, Washington Post

Last week, Jeb Bush seemed to suggest people need to work longer hours in order to improve the economy. He later said he was talking only about part-time employees. But Democrats have pounced, believing Bush's "work longer hours" comment is their ticket to winning over middle-class voters.

Whether you think the Democrats' attack is fair or not -- and our colleagues at Wonkblog parsed Bush's argument pretty deeply -- there is a real question at hand. And that is just how many part-time and unemployed American workers would like to work more hours? Who are they and why don't they simply do it?

July 14, 2015

$20-million settlement reached in guest-worker lawsuits

Source: Nigel Duara, Los Angeles Times

An Alabama marine construction company has agreed to pay $20 million to more than 200 guest workers from India who alleged they were kept in labor camps so squalid and crowded that one worker attempted suicide.

The settlement, announced Tuesday, resolves 11 lawsuits against Signal International filed in Alabama, Texas and Louisiana. The company has declared bankruptcy, so the settlement must be approved in bankruptcy court.
California measure would allow work permits for farmworkers here illegally
California measure would allow work permits for farmworkers here illegally

Signal International brought guest workers to Pascagoula, Miss., and other sites in 2006 and 2007 to repair oil rigs and other heavy machinery in the Gulf of Mexico that were damaged during Hurricane Katrina.

Wal-Mart Accused of Bias Against Gay Workers

Source: Erik Larson, Bloomberg

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was accused of discriminating against gay employees in a lawsuit that pits the biggest U.S. retailer against rights activists just weeks after same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide.
Related Stories
In a proposed class-action complaint, Wal-Mart employee Jacqueline Cote says the company failed to provide health insurance to her wife for years in violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 and a Massachusetts fair-employment law.
Wal-Mart extended benefits to same-sex couples in January 2014, but by then Cote's wife Diana "Dee" Smithson had already racked up more than $150,000 in out-of-pocket expenses battling ovarian cancer, according to a complaint filed Tuesday in Boston federal court.

July 13, 2015

The Reddit Rebellion: Unpaid Workers Can Wield Enormous Power

Source: Rebecca Taylor and Jane Parry, Newsweek

The volunteer moderators who run the boards at Reddit, an online community built of thousands of themed discussion groups, recently staged an uprising against the firm's management. That this uprising ultimately claimed the scalp of Reddit chief exec Ellen Pao says much about how the world of work is changing, particularly the challenges of managing relationships between paid and unpaid workers in an increasingly virtual workplace.

Many of them will be working from home or the local coffee shop, choosing the hours they dedicate to "mod" work, perhaps juggling it with online gaming, freelance software development, or maybe a Ph.D. in bioethics. Nevertheless, the important point is that they are workers even if they are unpaid, and as such organizational structures and relationships are important to their experiences of work.

Teachers' Union Girds For Supreme Court Setback, Pledges To Grow Membership

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

This weekend, the American Federation of Teachers passed a resolution pledging to speak individually with each of its 1.6 million members about getting more involved in the union. According to the resolution, union officials are developing a plan they hope will double the number of union activists in their ranks.

The subtext of the move has to do with Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a case that the Supreme Court recently announced it will hear in autumn. An unfavorable ruling for public-sector unions could ban what are known as fair share agreements, which require that all workers pay fees to the union to help cover the costs of collective bargaining. A union like the AFT must represent all the workers under a given contract, so the union says it's only fair that everyone contributes.

Drivers sue Yelp over unpaid tips for food delivery service Eat24

Source: Jeff John Roberts, Fortune

When Yelp bought Eat24 for $134 million in February, the restaurant review site got a foothold in the growing niche for food-delivery services. But the purchase appears to have come with a nasty legal headache: On Friday, Eat24 drivers filed a lawsuit seeking at least $5 million in unpaid tips.

According to a complaint filed in San Francisco federal court, Eat24 encouraged its customers to enter a tip amount for the food they ordered, but then failed to pass on that money, or even notify the drivers of the tip in the first place.

The purported class action complaint was filed by Steven Kay of Oakland and Esteban Polonski of South San Francisco, who are seeking money from Yelp on behalf of other drivers across the country. Both men say they work for the car-hire service SideCar.

Could Student-Athletes at Public Universities Unionize?

Source: Tim Yang , REGBLOG

In a recent paper, Michigan State University College of Law student Jay D. Lonick suggests that student-athletes could claim joint employer status and then successfully unionize. Joint employer status allows for an individual to have two employers at the same time. While counterintuitive at first glance, this status allows individuals who in name work for one employer to sue the real organization calling the shots.

Lonick's paper builds off the National Labor Relation Board's Northwestern and CAPA decision, which allowed football players at Northwestern University to unionize. That case was centered on the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which only applies to private organizations. This is problematic for student-athletes at public universities, especially since many of the nation's top football and basketball programs are at state universities.

July 11, 2015

Uber Makes It Drivers Who Want To Remain Contractors vs. Drivers Who Consider Themselves Employees

Source: Anu Passary, Tech Times

On Thursday, July 9, Uber argued in a court filing that the lawsuit filed against it by three enlisted drivers should not be considered a class action suit since Uber drivers are not deemed employees.

Uber, however, is being sued by three drivers who contend that they are in fact employees and entitled to be reimbursed by Uber for expenses such as gas, vehicle maintenance, and the like. The drivers currently have to pay for these themselves. The plaintiffs claim that they were being treated as employees, but when it came to compensation and benefits, they were treated as contractors.

Uber submitted written statements from over 400 of the service's drivers as testimony in opposition to the plaintiffs' claims. These personal statements from Uber drivers in California reveal that the drivers favor the status of an independent contractor over full-time employees.

July 10, 2015

A 7-Day Workweek Could Soon Be Legal in Wisconsin

Source: Gillian B. White , Atlantic

Wisconsin's GOP is trying to nix an existing law that requires employers in the manufacturing and retail sectors to give employees at least 24 hours off during each consecutive seven-day period. Currently, for an employee to skip his or her weekly day off, an employer has to get approval from the state's Department of Workforce Development. The Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce association-a staunch advocate of the bill-suggests that the step is onerous and unnecessary, since the department has approved 733 such requests over the past five years, a number they imply means that the department is rubber-stamping the requests. Supporters also suggest that the plan ultimately helps employees who want to work more hours.
But there are many who are skeptical. "I think it's been portrayed as an effort to try to help workers; it's clearly designed to benefit employers," says Donald F. Kettl a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland and the former director of the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin. "Many people like extra hours, but the idea of being in a position where you're asked to work seven days [raises the question] of how much of a choice it really is." In response, advocates of the bill suggest that coercion won't be an issue, and if it is, employees can report business owners.

July 9, 2015

Workers' rights groups push for paid sick days

Source: Laura Leslie, WRAL

Advocates for low-income workers used the legislature's vacation this week to push for laws to require paid sick leave and family leave.
The vacation-themed press conference, complete with beach balls and Hawaiian shirts, included left-leaning groups Moms Rising, Action NC, and the North Carolina Justice Center.
Allan Freyer, director of the Justice Center's Workers' Rights Project, said the groups don't begrudge lawmakers the week-long break.
"It is great that lawmakers were able to take time off in the middle of a busy legislative session. We think it's great because we think everyone in North Carolina should be able to take time off, particularly when they're sick," Freyer said. "Right now, there are more than a million North Carolinians who work full time and don't have access to paid sick days. That means they have to choose between keeping their job, earning their wages and being sick."

2 Philly restaurants retain workers by paying a real minimum wage

Source: Jake Blumgart , Voice Philly

In recent years, restaurants that spurn tips have popped up in New York, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Austin, Washington D.C., the Bay Area, and Seattle. In the last year two such eateries have opened up in Philadelphia, Girard Brasserie & Bruncherie and William Street Common.

But the no-tip impulse can hardly be said to be sweeping the food service and hospitality industries. Of the hundreds of thousands of restaurants in the United States, only a handful have done away with the practice.

What would it take for tipping to be abolished, or at least sharply curtailed?

According to forthcoming research, substantially higher minimum wages and the abolition of separate wages for tipped employees are undermining the practice in a few states on the West Coast.

Deere accused of firing whistleblower who reported unsafe conditions

Source: Alejandra Cancino, Chicago Tribune

The U.S. Department of Labor claims Deere violated a federal whistleblower provision by firing a pipe fitter who had reported unsafe working conditions at a company's cylinder facility in Moline.

The department filed suit Tuesday against the farm machinery maker in U.S. District Court for the central district of Illinois alleging the pipe fitter was fired in June 2012 in retaliation for filing three complaints with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The complaints, filed between 2010 and 2012, led to citations against Deere for safety violations at the Moline facility.

The Struggle for Fairness for Transgender Workers

Source: THE EDITORIAL BOARD, New York Times

Roughly 15 percent of transgender Americans earn less than $10,000 a year, a rate of extreme poverty that is almost four times higher than the national average, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. They are twice as likely to be unemployed as the general population, though transgender Americans have a higher level of education than the general population. About 16 percent of respondents to a 2011 survey said they resorted to illegal trades like prostitution and drug dealing. Ninety percent said they faced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job. The worst off are black and Hispanic transgender women, particularly those who don't have the means to alter their physical appearance as much as they would like. For many, coming out means being drawn into a cycle of debt, despair and dreadful choices.

July 8, 2015

Hawaii ban on noncompetes leaves out a huge chunk of workers

Source: Claire Zillman, Fortune

Duplicating that environment is what legislators in Hawaii likely had in mind when they introduced a bill to ban noncompete agreements earlier this year. Chris Lee, a state representative who helped sponsor the bill, told Fortune that noncompetes are "killing economic growth in [Hawaii's] tech sector." (It should be noted that the idea that eliminating noncompetes leads directly to innovation is-in some experts' view-an open one.) Lee said a constituent who was having trouble hiring IT workers at Hawaiian Airlines tipped him off to the problem. Noncompete agreements make hiring especially difficult in Hawaii because of the state's geography; its big island is 75 miles wide. Many noncompete policies restrict workers from finding new jobs within a certain distance, which in Hawaii can make much of the state off-limits. "People are moving out of the state," Lee said.

Wal-Mart Gender Bias Case Revived on Appeal

Source: Lorraine Bailey, Courthouse News Service

Plaintiffs who saw their class disbanded after accusing Wal-Mart of discriminating against female employees can press their case because the retailer has known of the allegations for years, the Sixth Circuit ruled.
In 2011, the Supreme Court disbanded the class in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, a decade-old case claiming women working for Wal-Mart are paid less and receive fewer promotions than men in comparable positions.
Wal-Mart argued that the class of 1.5 million women was too big, and employees should have to file individual lawsuits, and the high court agreed.
"Respondents filed some 120 affidavits reporting experiences of discrimination - about 1 for every 12,500 class members - relating to only some 235 out of Wal-Mart's 3,400 stores," Justice Anton Scalia said, writing the majority's opinion.

Workers' pay in many occupations still catching up

Source: Megan Woolhouse, Boston Globe

Six years after the recession ended, workers in most occupations in New England have yet to regain the buying power they had before the historic downturn began at the end of 2007.

Weekly earnings last year, in fields from food preparation to management, were below 2007 levels when adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis of Labor Department and Census Bureau data by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Of the 22 occupations tracked by the Labor Department, 17 did not reach prerecession pay levels.

Meanwhile, unemployment rates in most occupations in New England remain above the 2007 levels. Unemployment among construction workers, among the hardest hit in the downturn, was about 10 percent last year, according to the analysis.

July 7, 2015

The Good Jobs Strategy

Source: Joe Nocera, New York Times

What she and her fellow researchers discovered is that while most companies were very good at getting products from, say, China to their stores, it was a different story once the merchandise arrived. Sometimes a product stayed in the back room instead of making it to a shelf where a customer could buy it. Or it was in the wrong place. Special in-store promotions weren't being executed a surprisingly high percentage of the time. She saw this pattern in company after company.

As she took a closer look, Ton says, she realized that the problem was that these companies viewed their employees "as a cost that they tried to minimize." Workers were not just poorly paid, but poorly trained. They often didn't know their schedule until the last moment. Morale was low and turnover was high. Customer service was largely nonexistent.

More Immigration Means Higher Wages for All Workers

Source: Eric Jaffe , The Atlantic

But even people with very reasonable concerns over working-class American livelihoods should feel comforted by a recurring trend that appears wherever and whenever people study immigration: as metro areas become more diverse, everyone becomes a lot better off.

Take a new discussion paper by researchers Thomas Kemeny of the University of Southampton, in the U.K., and Abigail Cooke of SUNY-Buffalo. Their analysis of Census labor data from 1991 to 2008 tracked changes in wages alongside those of diversity at both the city and individual workplace levels. What they found is that more immigrant workers made everyone richer: as diversity rose one standard deviation in a workplace, wages rose 1.6 percent; a similar rise in the city as a whole increased wages nearly 6 percent.

July 6, 2015

How Politics Gutted Workplace Safety

Source: Jim Morris, Slate

On May 28, 1971, exactly one month after opening its doors, the already reviled Occupational Safety and Health Administration handed out its first citation.
The citation went to Allied Chemical Corp., which had allowed highly toxic mercury to pool on floors and working surfaces at its chlorine plant in Moundsville, West Virginia. It was issued under the so-called general duty clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which says that workplaces must be "free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm."
Forty-four years and some 9 million violations later, health hazards such as mercury continue to plague America's workers. OSHA has issued only 36 health standards and relies on mostly outdated exposure limits for the 470 substances it regulates; many more substances go unregulated.

A Worker's Take on the New Overtime Proposal

Source:  Wendi C. Thomas, The Nation

 The overtime threshold was last raised in 1975. According to the Department of Labor, 62 percent of workers qualified for overtime back then. Now, just 8 percent do. In fact, a family of four would have to live in poverty before a breadwinner would qualify for overtime-the poverty threshold for a family of four is $24,008, but the overtime threshold is just $23,660.

"The rules that establish which workers are exempt from overtime pay haven't kept up with the cost of living," reads a Department of Labor webpage. Under the new proposal, the federal government would lift the overtime threshold from $23,660 to $50,440.

"No one is making them stop": Why corporations outsource catastrophe - and workers pay the price

Source: Scott Eric Kaufman , Salon

In his new book, "Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe," University of Rhode Island history professor Erik Loomis addresses the limitations of understanding labor and environmental policy through a nationalistic perspective in a world in which a large majority of corporate entities embrace outsourcing as their operative economic philosophy. Salon sat down with him to discuss whether a return to horrifying excesses of the Industrial Revolution and Gilded Age is inevitable, or whether it might still be possible to reverse course and not live in a world in which unregulated sweatshops and environmental indifference are accepted as the cost of doing business.

When Adjuncts Go Union

Source: Justin Miller, American Prospect

By now, Tiffany Kraft imagined she would be fully immersed in academia, putting her Ph.D. and passion for British literature to use on an annotated version of Irish novelist George Moore's Mike Fletcher.

But her path to academia has not been as straightforward as she had hoped. She got her master's when President George W. Bush was finishing his first term; her doctorate during Barack Obama's first presidential campaign. Yet still, she finds herself in the purgatory of academia in which she's been stuck since 2004: adjunct instruction.

"Adjuncting wasn't great but there were no tenure-track jobs available," Kraft says. "So I just thought I'd ride it out till the kids got through high school and I could move. Then after a period of time you're sort of branded an adjunct if you don't matriculate immediately-people wonder what's wrong with you." As an instructor of English and writing composition in Portland, Oregon, she's cobbled together employment at four different higher education institutions in the metro area.

July 3, 2015

Farm Labor Groups Make Progress on Wages and Working Conditions

Source: Steve Greenhouse, New York Times

It was an unlikely place for a labor protest: 120 migrant workers, students and clergy members were shouting outside the flagship store of Ben & Jerry's, which displayed a "Peace, Love and Ice Cream" sign on its facade.

They were demanding that Ben & Jerry's - which prides itself on its progressive reputation - require the Vermont dairy farms that supply its milk and cream to follow a code of conduct that would guarantee their migrant workers a weekly day off, seven vacation days a year and more, including improved housing.

"The majority of us farmworkers, we don't even have a day off," Arnulfo Ramirez, a dairy worker from Guatemala, told the crowd last month. "We're looking for Ben & Jerry's to help make sure we're treated with basic respect."

Not all interns must be paid, court rules

Source: Noam Scheiber, Boston Globe

Unpaid interns can be used legally when the work serves an educational purpose, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday, setting aside a lower court decision that the movie studio Fox Searchlight Pictures had improperly classified former workers as unpaid interns rather than employees.

The decision, which sends the case back to the lower court, could have broad ramifications for the way employers rely on unpaid labor. It erects large barriers to further class-action lawsuits by unpaid interns against companies where they had worked.

July 2, 2015

Why Labor Law Should Stop Leaning So Hard on the Wagner Act

Source: Lane Windham, The American Prospect

The Wagner Act turns 80 this week and it's about time that we lessen the old man's load. For too long, this legislation that was meant to encourage workplace democracy has actually shouldered much of the burden of our nation's employer-centered social welfare state. It's high time to get citizens' health care, pensions and even guaranteed basic wages off its back, and to allow the Wagner Act to do its job: giving workers in the U.S. a real voice on the job.

Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on July 5, 1935, the Wagner Act (or National Labor Relations Act) marked the first time private-sector workers in the U.S gained permanent federal backing for organizing unions. Under the Wagner Act, if the government certified that the workers had a union-usually through a union election-then their company was obligated to enter into collective bargaining. Not only that, but the Wagner Act made it the "policy of the United States" to protect this right.

An unfruitful jobs recovery rewrites the definition of full employment

Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post

At this point in its long recovery, the U.S. economy has plenty of jobs and few of the fruits that were expected to come with them.

The nation added a solid 223,000 jobs in June, according to government data released Thursday, but the labor market was again held back by its most persistent problems: flat wages and a fresh decline in the size of the nation's workforce.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent, the lowest mark in seven years, but only because 400,000 fewer Americans in June were actively looking for work. Only months ago, economists had figured that an unemployment rate approaching 5 percent would all but announce a return to full economic health.

​Which workers are seeing the biggest wage gains?

Source: Aimee Picchi, CBS Moneywatch

The sweet-spot for getting a bigger pay raise appears to be at the bottom of the income barrel.

America's lowest-paid workers are seeing the greatest wage gains, thanks to a combination of minimum-wage hikes around the U.S. and growing employer demand for low-skilled workers. People who work in industries paying less than $12.50 an hour saw their hourly wages rise by 3.2 percent over the past year, or more than 1 percentage point higher than the entire job market, according to research from Goldman Sachs.
The increase comes amid a push from labor activists and economists to boost the wages for America's lowest earners, given the pain caused by the intersection of higher living costs and what had been stagnant or even declining pay. The "Fight for $15" movement has gained supporters from workers in a wide range of industries, such as academia -- where some adjuncts make less than the minimum wage -- and fast-food employees, with the argument that the lowest-paid Americans need to make a living wage.

July 1, 2015

Petition To Prevent Youth Minimum Wage Cuts Finalized

Source: Chynna Lockett, SDPB Radio

South Dakota voters increased the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50 last year. Shortly after, the state legislature passed a bill to keep youth minimum wage at the original rate. A referendum petition has enough signatures to prevent the bill being enacted and put before a public vote.
The Secretary of State has certified a referendum petition to prevent a youth minimum wage cut in South Dakota.
Cory Heidelberger is an organizer of the effort. He says now voters will decide the youth wage.
"You know they passed senate bill 177 in the face of the voters. The voters said we want the minimum wage to be $8.50, period. The legislature said oh that's not what voters meant. Let's change what the voters said. Just 2 months after it passed for Pete's sake," Heidelberger adds.

A dire threat to public employees from the Supreme Court

Source: Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times

The case is Friedrichs v. California Teachers Assn. It was conjured up by right-wing anti-union activists specifically as an attack on the agency-shop provisions standard in public-employee union contracts nationwide, and was designed from its inception as an invitation to the court to overturn such arrangements. The court swallowed the bait, setting the case for argument sometime in its next term, which begins in October

That means a decision is likely to be handed down right in the heat of the 2016 presidential campaign turning, at least in part, on issues of worker rights that are at the center of the case. As SCOTUSblog's Lyle Denniston appropriately observed after the court agreed to hear Friedrichs, one leading GOP candidate, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, has been "building his public reputation largely out of a showdown with public employee unions in his state."

June 30, 2015

Fast Food CEO Blames Low-Wage Workers for Poverty

Source: Deepak Bhargava , The Nation

To be "poor" in America isn't an identifying characteristic or a defining trait, like being forgetful or creative or tall.

Being a low-income American comes from being paid a low income.

It seems like a basic point, but it's one Andy Puzder needs to review. Puzder is CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc., which employs more than 20,000 people and worldwide owns, operates, and franchises more than 3,300 fast food restaurants, including Hardee's and Carl's Jr.

Behind the momentum for paid sick leave

Source: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Washington Post

Last week, the Supreme Court upheld a core provision of the Affordable Care Act, quashing the Republican Party's latest attempt to gut the law through the judicial system. At issue in the case, King v. Burwell, was the government's ability to provide subsidies to help millions of working Americans purchase health insurance through the federal exchange. Yet, as too many middle-class families know, health insurance is only one of the costs associated with getting sick. For more than 40 million workers who currently lack paid sick leave, another pressing concern is how to afford taking time off.

Working overtime hours across the world: how does the US compare?

Source: Jana Kasperkevic , The Guardian

The Obama administration is about to boost pay for about 5 million low income workers after announcing changes to how US employers determine who gets overtime.

Currently, those who are paid $455 or less a week qualify for overtime. Thanks to Obama, that threshold will be raised to $970 a week by 2016. Employees who work more than 40 hours a week qualify for overtime pay, which is 1.5 times their normal wage. There is no limit on how many hours US workers can work – except for the one imposed by nature, as there are 168 hours in a week.

June 29, 2015

Corporate America beat back its best job trainers, and now it's paying a price

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

The union's predicament illustrates the challenge organized labor in the rest of the country: Although it has historically constructed high-quality educational pipelines to well-paying jobs in cooperation with employers, labor has lost ground over the years. In the absence of union training programs, businesses in vast sectors of the economy are scrambling to meet their workforce needs through other means, like piecemeal job training programs and partnerships with community colleges, with few solutions that have really broad reach.

"What is sorely needed are forums for scaling. And that's where there's possibly a really important role for other intermediaries, including labor unions," said Brookings Institution scholar Mark Muro. "It's extremely difficult for companies to organize these properly, and obtain these certification systems, and have agreements for what the testing systems are."

Victoria's Secret Is Getting Rid Of On-Call Scheduling In Stores

Source: Sapna Maheshwari, Buzzfeed News

Victoria's Secret is ending the use of on-call scheduling in its stores, employes were told yesterday - a major reversal of a policy that wreaked havoc on the lives of tens of thousands of retail workers across the country.

The chain told employees it would no longer use the controversial scheduling practice, which requires staff to be available for shifts that can be cancelled at the last minute with no compensation, three current and former staff told BuzzFeed News on the condition of anonymity.

Tech's threat to low-wage workers

Source: Simran Noor, Aljahzeera America

A butcher, a baker and a candlestick-maker walk into a restaurant, place an order on a digital screen and pay a virtual cashier. This is not the beginning of a joke, but a reality the restaurant industry is facing that will affect millions in its workforce.

Technology threatens to replace low- and medium-skilled jobs, predominantly held by people of color, in the $709.2 billion restaurant industry. In May, Wendy's opened a facility near the campus of Ohio State University that will design and test consumer-facing technologies, including a new online ordering app. In 2011, European branches of McDonalds added 7,000 touch-screen cashiers. McDonald's claims that the few locations in the U.S. with automated cashiers will not affect workforce numbers, but that's difficult to believe: Computerization and reliance on robotic technology are already changing the industry.

June 27, 2015

Valley businesses prepare for state's new earned sick time law which takes effect Wednesday

Source: Chris Lindahl, GazetteNet

Coming down with an illness often leads to a laundry list of expenses - visits to a doctor and medicine among them.

Missing a day of work, however, has often been the most expensive part of getting sick for many Massachusetts workers - one million of them to be exact. That's the estimated number of employees who will gain access to sick time for the very first time when the state's earned sick leave law takes effect Wednesday, according to the state attorney general's office.

Beginning July 1, all Massachusetts employers will be legally required to allow full- and part-time employees to accrue sick leave - one hour for every 30 hours worked. Businesses with 11 or more employees will be required to pay workers their normal rate of pay during sick leave, while smaller businesses may offer the leave unpaid.

June 26, 2015

This is the next front in the battle for gay rights

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

With the Supreme Court's decision today striking down state bans on gay marriage, gay and lesbian people are now fully equal in the eyes of the law. Right?
Well, not exactly. There's still a big hurdle: No federal law currently prevents employers from discriminating against people on the basis of sexual orientation. So while gay, lesbian and bisexual people may have equal rights in love, they're still far from equal at work.

It's not just semantics. Multiple studies have found that gay and lesbian people face higher rates of employment discrimination and harassment, whether it's through denial of certain health benefits, vandalism of personal property, or bias in hiring. (Rates are particularly high for transgender people, although according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, they are protected under the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex).

June 25, 2015

The New Law That Would Outlaw LGBT Discrimination Everywhere

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg

For 20 years, LGBT advocates have tried, unsuccessfully, to block companies in the U.S. from firing workers for being gay. The federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was introduced in 1994 by Massachusetts Democrats Ted Kennedy in the Senate and Gerry Studds in the House. It was reintroduced in almost every congressional session and finally made it through the House in 2007, but wasn't debated in the Senate that year because of disagreement among Democrats over whether to include transgender as well as gay employees. In 2013 a version passed the Senate, which was Democratic-controlled, only to die in the Republican-controlled House.

Philadelphia Teachers Union Files Complaint Over Outsourcing of Substitute Teachers

Source: Associated Press, NBC 10

Philadelphia's teachers union has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against the city's school district over its decision to outsource more than 1,000 substitute teacher jobs.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers filed the complaint with the state Labor Relations Board Wednesday. The union says the district failed to bargain in good faith and interfered with workers' rights.

Read more: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Philadelphia-Teachers-Union-Files-Complaint-Over-Outsourcing-of-Substitute-Teachers-309772391.html#ixzz3eBLqzGHF
Follow us: @nbcphiladelphia on Twitter | nbcphiladelphia on Facebook

Farm and ranch workers now eligible for workers' compensation

Source: Cheyenne Cope, KRQE News 13

Justices Back Broad Interpretation of Housing Law

Source: ADAM LIPTAK, New York Times

The Supreme Court on Thursday endorsed a broad interpretation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, allowing suits under a legal theory that civil rights groups say is a crucial tool to fight housing discrimination.

"Much progress remains to be made in our nation's continuing struggle against racial isolation," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority in the 5-to-4 ruling. "The court acknowledges the Fair Housing Act's continuing role in moving the nation toward a more integrated society."

The court divided along familiar lines, with its four more liberal members - Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - joining Justice Kennedy.

June 24, 2015

A higher minimum wage would help me invest in my workers

Source: Chris Hallweaver, Bagor Daily News

I am the general manager of Northern Girl. We process vegetables in the Aroostook County town of Van Buren. I care about raising the minimum wage in Maine.

Northern Girl purchases crops from family farms in northern Maine. Our tagline is "Bounty from the County." We pay our farmers a fair price, trying to fully reflect all of the costs of the products and services they provide.

It can feel like an uphill battle. Much of our food system is dominated by multinational factory farms and massive agri-businesses that do not pay their workers fair wages. Whether one is in the field harvesting, on the factory floor processing or in the restaurant serving, our workers deserve the respect of a decent wage.

Teacher union 'fair share' fees may face Supreme Court

Source: Associated Press, Michigan Live

Powerful public-sector unions are facing another high-profile legal challenge that they say could wipe away millions from their bank accounts and make it tougher for them to survive.

A group of California schoolteachers, backed by a conservative group, has asked the Supreme Court to rule that unions representing government workers can't collect fees from those who choose not to join.

Half the states currently require state workers represented by a union to pay "fair share" fees that cover bargaining costs, even if they are not members. The justices could decide as early as next week whether to take up the case.

IKEA workers are getting another raise

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

A year after Ikea announced it would be boosting its pay for employees, the company is doing so again. Starting in January, the average minimum hourly wage at the flat-pack furniture maker will be $11.87, a 10.3 percent increase from last year.

Ikea, which made the announcement Wednesday, is hardly the only company these days that is raising hourly workers' pay. Amid a tightening job market and increasing pressure to raise the minimum wage at both the local and federal level, companies including Gap, Wal-Mart and Aetna have set new floors for employee wages.

June 23, 2015

McDonald's Accused Of Hanging California Produce Workers Out To Dry

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

After impounding the ballots for more than a year, federal officials last week tallied the votes in an acrimonious union election at Taylor Farms Pacific, a California vegetable producer that supplies garnishes to major fast-food companies. According to the preliminary count, the Teamsters narrowly lost the election, with workers voting 168 to 154 against the union.

But the nearly two-year saga at the company's production facilities in Tracy, California, isn't over yet. According to the National Labor Relations Board, 43 of the ballots cast by workers have been challenged, making it possible, if not likely, for the Teamsters to prevail in a final count. What's more, a labor rights watchdog is now accusing McDonald's, a purchaser of Taylor Farms product, of failing to uphold its "supplier code of conduct" in the heated runup to the election.

June 22, 2015

What your FedEx and Uber drivers have in common

Source: Alan Hyde, Fortune

Drivers at both companies are stuck in legal limbo following recent court decisions that question whether they are indeed employees eligible for more benefits.

Uber's arm's-length relationship with its drivers just got a bit closer after the California Labor Commission ruled that one of the ride-hailing company's motorists in San Francisco is an employee, not a contractor, as it contends.

This is a big deal because the rights of Uber drivers depend sharply on whether they are deemed employees or self-employed independent contractors hired for particular jobs. By extension, the success of Uber's business model may hinge on the question as well, but that's for another article.

Dollar-Slice Pizza Employees Work 70-Hour Weeks for Minimum Wage: Suit

Source: Andy Cush, Gawker

How does 2 Bros Pizza-the popular New York hot-cheese-n-crust-for-just-a-buck joint-keep its prices so nice? By underpaying its employees and working them to the bone, according to a new lawsuit.

The class-action lawsuit, filed against dollar-slice emporium 2 Bros on behalf of more than a dozen cashiers, pizzamakers, and the like, alleges that workers were paid minimum wage or less with no overtime for workweeks that often hit 60 or 70 hours.

I am an adjunct professor who teaches five classes. I earn less than a pet-sitter.

Source: Lee Hall, The Guardian

Like most university teachers today, I am a low-paid contract worker. Now and then, a friend will ask: "Have you tried dog-walking on the side?" I have. Pet care, I can reveal, takes massive attention, energy and driving time. I'm friends with a full-time, professionally employed pet-sitter who's done it for years, never topping $26,000 annually and never receiving health or other benefits.
The reason I field such questions is that, as an adjunct professor, whether teaching undergraduate or law-school courses, I make much less than a pet-sitter earns. This year I'm teaching five classes (15 credit hours, roughly comparable to the teaching loads of some tenure-track law or business school instructors). At $3,000 per course, I'll pull in $15,000 for the year. I work year-round, 20 to 30 hours weekly – teaching, developing courses and drafting syllabi, offering academic advice, recommendation letters and course extensions for students who need them. As I write, in late June, my students are wrapping up their final week of the first summer term, and the second summer term will begin next week.

Who Owns Your Overtime?

Source: FRAN SUSSNER RODGERS, New York Times

A LITTLE-NOTICED but important change in the American workplace is about to occur. Sometime in the next month, the Department of Labor is expected to announce an adjustment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. The change will raise the salary threshold for overtime. Currently, if you are a salaried employee and make less than $23,660 per year, you are eligible for time and a half pay for any hours over 40 per week. The update, which is likely to at least double that threshold, will affect millions of salaried employees.

June 21, 2015

Top US CEOs still make 300 times more than their workers

Source: Tim Fernholz, Quartz

Executive pay has not risen to the levels seen before the financial crisis or during the tech bubble, but remains much higher relative to historic measures. The ratio rose comparatively slowly in the 1960s and 70s, but from the late 1980s to 2000 CEO pay quadrupled in relation to worker compensation.

Lawrence Mishel, the economist and president of EPI who wrote the study, attributes most of that change to the significant reduction in top marginal tax rates for the wealthy since 1980, combined with the increase in stock-based compensation schemes and poor corporate governance.

"It's quite a remarkable escalation of CEO pay relative to everybody else," Mishel told Quartz. "Executive pay explains about 40% of the doubling of the income share of the top 1%-that's a pretty big deal."


June 19, 2015

Franchises fear a "devastating" change to their business model

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

But now, Gallegos said, there's a fight in Washington that could change how he runs his business day-to-day. And it's all because of a different company that has nothing to do with his: McDonald's.
There's a basic question before the Labor Relations Board right now that affects franchise owners like Gallegos around the country. If a McDonald's worker has his or her rights violated, who's liable? The franchise owner running the McDonald's? Or the executives at McDonald's headquarters, or both? The NLRB's general counsel says it's McDonald's responsibility and that companies like it should be treated as "joint employers."
If that's true, then suddenly a franchise owner like Gallegos is going to start hearing a lot more from the people running the home office for Two Men and a Truck-and Gallegos and his wife say they would start losing their independence as small business owners.

Former Shell worker cites unsafe conditions on oil ship

Source: Martha Bellisle, Washington Post

A woman who was permanently injured while working on one of Shell's Arctic drilling support ships has sued, saying the company compromised safety in its rush to drill for oil.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle on Thursday by Anita Hanks said Shell and its contractor maintained dangerous work conditions on the Arctic Challenger as it prepared to drill in the Arctic in 2012. The oil spill containment vessel is part of Shell's drilling fleet. It was docked in Bellingham at the time of an accident.

June 18, 2015

Airport workers steadily gaining back lost ground on wages

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Today, the Philadelphia City Council officially signed a new lease with several airlines for its municipally owned airport. But it's not just any lease. In the details, there's a giant gift for workers: A wage hike to $12 an hour, not including benefits, up from the current Pennsylvania minimum wage of $7.25.

And that's not all. The wage provision also covers employees of all the airlines' vendor companies - a population that has been hard to reach, as the industry has contracted out basic services, a shift that has helped depress wages for airport workers through the 2000s. And it includes a provision requiring airport employers to remain neutral in any union drives, which should help the group pushing hardest for the changes - the Service Employees International Union - finally organize the airport's contracted workforce.

Why we pay our restaurant workers more

Source: Lucy Carnaghi, Detroit Free Press

Before owning a restaurant, I spent years scrambling to make ends meet, table-by-table and shift-to-shift, as a server living off tips and a sub-minimum wage.

Eventually, I ended up waiting tables at a well-known fine-dining restaurant in downtown Detroit. I made better tips, but the incessant fighting over the "best" tables, the "best" shifts and pushing as much as possible on customers to increase the bill and up the chances of a higher tip was all unbearably stressful.

Can these fixes make college more affordable?

Source: Tom Anderson, CNBC

Rising student debt levels certainly seem unsustainable. Over the past 10 years, student loan debt has more than tripled from $360 billion in 2005 to more than $1.2 trillion today, making it second only to outstanding mortgage debt.

Meanwhile, student loan delinquencies have surged from 6 percent a decade ago to more than 11 percent at the end of last year, far higher than the delinquency rate for any other type of debt.

60 percent of Americans live with a minimum wage higher than the federal one

Source: Janell Ross, Washington Post

When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti signed a law Tuesday forcing the city's employers to begin paying a $15-an-hour minimum wage by 2020, the move wasn't exactly applauded by the business community.

But more and more, the business community is losing this battle. Not at the federal level, mind you, but at the state and local level.

In fact, so many cities and states have boosted their minimum legal wage above federal government's $7.25 an hour that at least 60 percent of the country's workforce now lives in a place in which the minimum wage sits well above that national requirement, according to David Cooper, an economic analyst with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

June 17, 2015

Older Workers Stay Unemployed Much Longer Than Younger Ones, Study Says

Source: Ann Brenoff, Huffington Post

Compared to younger job-seekers, older adults receive fewer job offers, search for work weeks longer and are less likely to find re-employment after losing a job, according to U.S. government data analyzed by Georgia Institute of Technology's School of Psychology and University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. The study was published by the journal Psychological Bulletin.

In a press release, Connie Wangerg, a Carlson School professor of industrial relations, said, "There's very robust evidence that as an individual moves beyond age 50, they experience a large penalty toward how quickly they will find a job."

Women doctors get less industry funding for research: study

Source: Steven Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare

The biomedical research careers of women physicians may be held back because they receive less funding from pharmaceutical manufacturers than men do, according to the author of a new study on gender differences in research support.

Women physicians receive roughly $15,000 a year less in research funding from manufacturers compared with their male counterparts, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS One.

It also found that female physicians received an average of about $3,600 per doctor less from industry for other types of payments, such as meals and speaker fees.

June 16, 2015

How A Pay Rise For NY Fast-Food Workers Could Spread Across America

Source: Cora Lewis, Buzzfeed News

Heading to work at McDonald's one recent morning, Evelisse Perez, 19, collapsed on her way to the door. Her mother took her to a hospital, where a doctor said she had overworked her body to exhaustion. She spent a week in bed, attached to an IV drip. Though she quit her second job as a bartender in the wake of the incident, she still gets headaches and anxiety attacks.

Perez, who attends night school, still works at a Manhattan McDonald's, she told members of New York's wage board Monday. Most weeks, she gets 30 hours. In a good week, she said she can get as many as 36. Either way, at near-minimum wage, Perez can't make ends meet in the city.

San Diego County Restaurant Workers Report Wage Theft

Source: Marissa Cabrera,Peggy Pico,Maureen Cavanaugh, KPBS

A new study finds that some of the 125,700 restaurant workers in San Diego County are getting short-changed on their earnings.

The study by the Center on Policy Initiatives, a San Diego nonprofit that advocates for the working poor, and San Diego State University's Sociology Department found 77 percent of the 337 workers surveyed have been victims of wage theft during the past year, with a third saying it happens regularly.

"In this pilot study, overwhelming numbers of restaurant workers reported they had been cheated of money they are owed in wages and tips, as well as their break time and personal time, " Jill Esbenshade, SDSU professor and lead investigator, said in a news release.

The Lessons Unions Learned From the 'Justice for Janitors' Protests

Source: Josh Eidelson , Bloomberg

Twenty-five years ago, striking janitors were clubbed and arrested by Los Angeles cops after locking arms and marching toward them in protest. This week, the Service Employees International Union is holding rallies commemorating that 1990 showdown, a key moment in a national campaign that swelled, to 133,000, the ranks of janitors covered by its union contracts. SEIU sees that effort, branded Justice for Janitors, as a precursor to today's fast-food strikes, which similarly captured national attention in a way most activists can only dream of. (The J4J protests were the subject of the film Bread and Roses, starring Adrien Brody.) It's an instructive comparison: The challenges SEIU faced organizing janitors in 1990 have only gotten more widespread. So have the tactics it took up to meet them.

June 15, 2015

What now for labor and trade? - Walker divides and conquers - FedEx pays $228M to settle classification lawsuit

Source: Brian Mahoney , Politico

WHAT NOW FOR LABOR AND TRADE?: After months of hardline opposition, Labor won big Friday when it convinced all but 40 Democrats to vote against renewing Trade Adjustment Assistance. TAA's failure rendered meaningless the House's subsequent vote granting President Barack Obama Trade Promotion Authority. Under the procedures of Friday's vote, if TAA failed, so did TPA.

FEDEX PAYS $228M TO SETTLE CLASSIFICATION LAWSUIT: Here's something you don't see everyday: FedEx agreed to settle a misclassification lawsuit for an amount ($228 million) comparable to the wage and hour division's entire annual collection of back wages from employers ($250 million in 2014).

Workers in America have problems. Meet the technologies trying to solve them.

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Terry Pham employs a couple dozen people at Fat Straws, his small chain of bubble tea shops in Dallas. And he has lots of ways of managing them.

He uses a behavioral assessment to screen job applicants, in an attempt to ensure his new hires will be good fits for his operation. A sophisticated video surveillance system catches employees who might steal or give out freebies. A "mystery shopper" service checks in to see whether workers are on their toes when the bosses aren't overseeing. Although Pham believes all the oversight helps him reward people who are doing a good job, it's primarily there for those who aren't.

America can afford a $15 minimum wage, tech CEO says

Source: Matt Egan, CNN Money

That's what billionaire Marc Benioff, the founder and CEO of Salesforce.com (CRM, Tech30), believes. Corporate leaders need to do a better job of balancing the needs of their employees with the desires of their shareholders, he argues.

Benioff applauded Los Angeles for deciding to raise the city's minimum wage from $9 an hour to $15 by 2020.

"I love that, and I think we should do that for the whole country," Benioff told CNN's Poppy Harlow from the software company's San Francisco headquarters. "That's one way to bring everybody up."

Benioff criticized companies that fail to pay their employees enough money to afford the rent in the city they work in.

June 12, 2015

A Big Win for Big Labor

Source: Russell Berman, Atlantic

House Democrats may have cast the fatal votes that killed President Obama's trade agenda on Friday morning, but the party responsible for its demise was a coalition whose numbers have diminished for decades and whose political clout has been questioned: the American labor movement.
The Obama administration believed it had the votes necessary to pass the most-contentious piece of its trade legislation-Trade Promotion Authority-that would allow the president to finalize agreements with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union. But the labor movement was not prepared to give up. Instead, it caught the administration off guard by launching a surprise attack on legislation known as Trade Adjustment Assistance, a program designed to help workers displaced by trade and one which Democrats-and organized labor-have overwhelmingly supported in the past.

Workers' schedules could be the next labor fight in the D.C. Council

Source: Perry Stein, Washington Post

One-third of service-sector employees who responded to a D.C. Jobs With Justice survey released this week said they receive their work schedules less than a week in advance. Last-minute scheduling, these workers say, makes it grueling to coordinate child care, shuffle two jobs and pay their bills.

Now activists are laying the groundwork to introduce legislation to the D.C. Council that would fight against this practice, dubbed "just-in-time" scheduling, by setting strict guidelines telling companies how much advance notice they must give their employees when scheduling their shifts.

FedEx settles suit for $228 million, records $2.2 billion non-cash pension charge

Source: Greg Akers , Memphis Business Journal

FedEx made two major announcements today, one involving millions and the other involving billions of dollars.

FedEx Corp. agreed to settle a suit regarding the employment classification status of FedEx Ground workers, according to transportation publication Transport Topics. With the $228 million settlement, the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is resolved.

"FedEx Ground faced a unique challenge in defending this case given the decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last summer. This settlement resolves claims dating back to 2000 that concern a model FedEx Ground no longer operates," said Christine Richards, FedEx general counsel.

Unpredictable Hours Are Becoming a Workers' Worst Enemy

Source: Nicole Charky, ATTN

Erratic hours and unpredictable schedules for people who prepare food, stock grocery store shelves, or sweep floors are forcing workers to put their lives on hold, a new study reveals.

What's known as "just-in-time" scheduling financially cripples retail, restaurant, and service workers who are often required to be on call for certain hours but don't always get asked to come in to work, the study finds.

By surveying 436 hourly employees who work in retail and food service jobs and aren't supervisors, the researchers found that a typical employee in Washington, D.C., works 32 hours each week, earning a pay rate of about $10 per hour. This is an annual income of approximately $16,000, which is sufficiently below $13.80, the living wage for D.C. government contractors as of Jan. 1, 2015.

June 11, 2015

Nannies And Housekeepers See Workplace Progress, Finally Granted Days Off And Overtime

Source: Eleanor Goldberg, Huffington Post

Oregon recently joined a handful of states that have committed to granting nannies and housekeepers overdue basic human rights.

The Beaver State on Tuesday narrowly passed a bill that would require meal breaks, overtime pay, protection from abuse and other standard workplace rights, according to KATU. While critics claim the bill, which was sent to the state Senate, is far too vague, advocates say the move is key in at least igniting the conversation about the common maltreatment domestic workers face. Though experts point out that it's not always intentional.

Worker protections? There's no app for that

Source: Susie Cagle, Aljahzeera America

The companies of the gig economy, the on-demand economy, the 1099 economy - whatever you want to call it - have proved the most financially successful and most ethically and legally vexing of Silicon Valley's recent startup surge. The apps may be new, but the contract work arrangement keeping these companies humming is hardly a unique or recent innovation. Hiring contractors to lower tax and legal liabilities has been a business strategy for decades. Taxi drivers were freelancers long before Uber disrupted personal vehicle travel, and they joined blue- and white-collar freelance workers across a variety of industries, from home health aides to truck drivers to engineers.
Potential class-action lawsuits like the ones pending against Lyft and Uber in California may chasten the fast-growing app-based service economy and raise awareness of worker misclassification. But the other millions of freelancers who bear the higher cost of independence with few if any of the protections that come from having a staff job will be as precarious as ever without reforms.

June 10, 2015

Richard Branson has announced a great paid leave policy for 0.2 percent of his workers

Source: Danielle Paquette, Washington Post

Virgin has a huge business, encompassing everything from airline Virgin Galactic to music label Virgin Records, employing about 50,000 workers. But the company said only about 140 will be able to take the full amount of paid leave.

That's because to qualify, male and female employees must live in London or Geneva and have worked at least four years for Virgin Management, the company's investment arm. Workers with less than two years of experience will receive 25 percent.
Now, before anyone chides Branson for excluding the vast majority of his workforce while attempting to lead a workforce revolution, remember: Virtually no one offers this much paid paternity leave - and especially in the United States, where about 14 percent of employers report providing some amount of the benefit at all.

How to pay the help

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

A few Decembers ago, a busy attorney named Julie Kay was running around buying gifts and planning holiday travel with family, coordinating schedules for the women she employed to help out with her ailing mother and infant daughter. While putting together her holiday cards, it hit her that she'd forgotten something.

"All of a sudden I realized I hadn't done any of that for the elder caregivers," Kay says - meaning let them go see their own families. "I realized that these people had the same relationships as I did with my mother, and I thought 'Oh, I should give them paid time off.'"

Federal judge: Wal-Mart violated state minimum wage laws, owes truckers millions

Source: Sudhin Thanawala, Star Tribune

Wal-Mart could be on the hook for more than $100 million in back pay after a federal judge ruled the company failed to pay California minimum wage to truck drivers for activities that included inspecting and washing their trucks, an attorney said Wednesday.

The ruling came after the company argued that the drivers are paid for particular activities that include those tasks.

U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston sided with the drivers in her May 28 ruling, saying activities that are not compensated separately cannot be included in tasks that are paid for by the company.

June 9, 2015

Chipotle to offer tuition reimbursement to hourly workers

Source: Heesun Wee, CNBC

Hoping to boost recruitment and retention amid a tightening job market, Chipotle Mexican Grill has revealed it will offer new benefits for employees including tuition reimbursement.

The benefits-available to hourly workers-begin July 1 and also will include paid vacation time and paid sick leave.

"We are always working to attract and retain the very best employees we can, and to helping develop our people so they can achieve their full potential," said Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold in an email to CNBC.com. "As part of that effort, we are changing our benefits package," he said.

New York City Council to Vote on Bill to Protect Carwash Workers

Source: Liz Robbins , New York Times

For years, labor leaders and advocates for employees toiling at New York City's 200 carwashes have been in a battle with the owners of the businesses over wages and working conditions, including the right to join a union.

Owners have largely resisted unionization, claiming it would put the carwashes out of business. Unions have cited an untenable situation in which vulnerable workers - many of whom are undocumented immigrants - say their tips and wages are stolen in an industry where abuse has been well documented.

Detroit teachers union chief takes on Lansing, recall bid

Source: Ann Zaniewski, Detroit Free Press

The head of Detroit's teachers union said he's preparing for his biggest fight yet - to stop efforts to dismantle the city's public school system.

Steve Conn may also have to fight to save his job.

Five months after being elected president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Conn is the target of a recall campaign. The 57-year-old former teacher and longtime civil rights activist said he's unfazed by critics and remains focused on improving public education in Detroit.

June 8, 2015

Federal contract workers strike outside U.S. courthouse in downtown Dallas

Source: Kevin Krause, Dallas Morning News

A group of federal contract workers who handle security inside the Earle Cabell courthouse in downtown Dallas are on strike, complaining of unfair labor practices that have led to inflexible work schedules.

The strike by the Local 293 branch of the United Government Security Officers of America (UGSOA) union began with a picket line outside the federal courthouse on May 26.

The strikers work for Virginia-based Paragon Systems, which has a contract with the government to staff the federal courthouse in Dallas. Paragon also provides workers for federal government buildings across the nation.

Why labor groups genuinely believe they can unionize McDonald's one day

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

This past weekend, the walls of Cobo Center on the Detroit River reverberated with more than the usual amount of cheers and chants, endlessly repeating a two-pronged demand: A minimum wage more than double the level of the federal baseline, and a labor union for the fast food industry.

"We work, we sweat, put $15 on our check hey hey we work, we sweat, for $15 on our check hey hey!" shouted scores of people dancing and clapping on-stage, as the crowd of hundreds in the ballroom before them joined hesitatingly, and then enthusiastically. Moments of silence with fists raised punctuated speeches and more hype sessions, as contingents of mostly black and hispanic low-wage workers from different cities sought to out-cheer each other.

San Francisco Fed Sees Involuntary Part-Time Workers Remaining Elevated

Source: Michael S. Derby, Wall Street Journal

High levels of part-time workers have long called into question how strong the job market recovery has been.

The problem is, according to a paper published Monday by the San Francisco Federal Reserve, that question won't be going away any time soon. In new research written by staffers Rob Valletta and Catherine Van Der List, the bank says the number of those forced to work part-time jobs "may remain significantly above" the levels seen before the Great Recession for some time to come.

June 5, 2015

Ending discrimination in workplace, other areas is next gay rights battle

Source: Sandhya Somashekhar, Washington Post

Gay rights groups anticipating a Supreme Court victory on same-sex marriage later this month already are turning their attention to their next big priority: broad new legal protections against discrimination in the workplace and other parts of society.

The new campaign is aimed at enacting protections at the federal level and in 28 states where civil rights statutes do not explicitly ban discrimination against gay and transgender people.

Propelled by $25 million from wealthy backers, the effort promises to open a volatile new front in the nation's culture wars, both on Capitol Hill and in statehouses nationwide.

Judge Rules Second Version of New York Teachers' Exam Is Also Racially Biased

Source: Elizabeth A. Harris, New York Times

A federal judge on Friday found that an exam for New York teaching candidates was racially discriminatory because it did not measure skills necessary to do the job, the latest step in a court battle over teacher qualifications that has spanned nearly 20 years.

The test was found to fail minority teaching candidates at a higher rate than white candidates. According to Friday's decision, written by Judge Kimba M. Wood of Federal District Court in Manhattan, the pass rate for African-American and Latino candidates was between 54 percent and 75 percent of the pass rate for white candidates. Once it was established that minority applicants were failing at a disproportionately high rate, the burden shifted to education officials to prove that the skills being tested were necessary to do the job; otherwise, the test would be ruled discriminatory.

American Apparel workers protest rumored clinic closing

Source: Shan Li, LA Times

Dozens of American Apparel workers gathered in downtown Los Angeles on Friday to protest the rumored closing of the company's medical clinic, a benefit long touted as central to the firm's lauded treatment of employees.

The Los Angeles company, meanwhile, said such rumors are "categorically false."

"American Apparel has no plans to close its on-site medical clinic," the company said in a statement.
But American Apparel employees, who were affected by layoffs and furloughs earlier this year, wanted to preemptively act to pressure management to avoid closing the clinic, said Nativo Lopez, senior adviser of Hermandad Mexicana, which has been organizing American Apparel workers.

NY Walmart store investigator claims supervisors harassed her over religious beliefs

Source: Stephen Rex Brown, New York Daily News

A Pentecostal store investigator at a Rockland County Walmart says she was harassed by supervisors after insisting she couldn't work Sundays due to her religious beliefs.

Cory Chavis says in her suit filed in Manhattan Federal Court that in 2013 a new policy required her to work on the Christian Sabbath, which she refused.

Her bosses allegedly refused to give her a religious exemption. After complaining to corporate headquarters Chavis, 40, says she got her way – but that honchos then waged a campaign of retaliation against her.

June 4, 2015

Ban Noncompete Agreements. Do It Now.

Source: Jordan Weissmann, Slate

There was a time when noncompete agreements, which ban employees from leaving their company for one of its rivals, were mostly reserved for powerful executives and other highly paid professionals. But lately, they've been popping up in an increasingly comical assortment of industries, as businesses have sought out ever-more elaborate ways to assert control over their workers. Last year, the Huffington Post discovered that Jimmy John's-yes, as in the sandwich chain-was requiring its low-wage hires to sign an expansive noncompete clause that would ban them from working at just about any other fast-food restaurant that served meat between two pieces of bread. The Verge found that Amazon was also making its warehouse staff sign noncompetes, though the company responded to the report by dropping them from its contracts. The New York Times turned up the restrictions at a summer camp and a salon. Even a doggy daycare facility has gotten in on the act.

Congress should help pregnant workers stay healthy and on the job

Source: Wendy Chavkin, M.D., The Hill

Throughout my career, I have worked to advance women's health as a public health doctor trained in obstetrics and gynecology and unfortunately, Jenny's story is not uncommon, as the law does not provide clear enough protections for pregnant women to have access to what they need to stay healthy and on the job. That's why it is critical for millions of families that Congress pass the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which will be reintroduced today by lead sponsors Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.); and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

June 2, 2015

Making Victoria's Secret Pay For Keeping Staff On Call

Source: Sapna Maheshwari and Cora Lewis , Buzzfeed News

Until earlier this year, Erin Hurley worked part-time at a Bath & Body Works in Marietta, Georgia, often spending 12 hours a week smiling at shoppers and selling them body lotion and candles in scents like "Moonlight Path" and "Endless Weekend."

She would have liked more hours, and was regularly scheduled for at least twice as many. But most of those extra shifts came in the form of "call-in" work: days that an employee needs be available, often until hours before start time, with no guarantee of getting any work, or pay.

Can the Senate stop low-wage employers from tying up workers with non-competes?

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

With the economy gaining steam, and the unemployment rate dropping, more workers are starting to look around for better jobs. But some of them are discovering their options are far more limited. They are the ones who have signed "non-compete agreements," which prevent them from going to work for their employer's competition.

It's not just high-paid technology executives, who could damage their former employer with the client Rolodexes and intellectual property they carry somewhere else. It's also sandwich makers and warehouse workers, who have fewer economic options if they're constrained after they leave, and less of a cushion if they can't find new employment quickly.

California Senate Approves Bill Allowing Undocumented Immigrants To Buy Health Insurance

Source: Reuters, Huffpost

The California Senate voted on Tuesday to allow unauthorized immigrants to buy health insurance on a state exchange created under the U.S. Affordable Care Act, a measure that would make the state the first to offer that kind of coverage.

The bill would not provide a subsidy for undocumented immigrants to buy health insurance, unlike U.S. citizens and legal residents who can qualify for such assistance based on their incomes, said Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for the bill's author, Senator Ricardo Lara.

The Senate voted 28-11 in favor of the proposal, which still must be approved by the state Assembly and signed by the governor, Melgar said. Additionally, a federal waiver would be required for California to implement the measure.

June 1, 2015

Another Arizona immigration law dismantled by the courts

Source: Associated Press, Bristol Herald Courier

The U.S. Supreme Court landed the final blow against an Arizona law that denied bail to immigrants who are in the country illegally and are charged with certain felonies, marking the latest in a series of state immigration policies that have since been thrown out by the courts.

The nation's highest court on Monday rejected a bid from metro Phoenix's top prosecutor and sheriff to reinstate the 2006 law after a lower appeals court concluded late last year that it violated civil rights by imposing punishment before trial.

While a small number of Arizona's immigration laws have been upheld, the courts have slowly dismantled most of the other statutes that sought to draw local police into immigration enforcement.

Transgender employees get OSHA backing on bathroom access

Source: Jay LeBlanc, Washington Times

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued guidelines Monday suggesting that employers allow transgender employees access to the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
The four-page "Guide to Restroom Access for Transgender Workers" was created at the request of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
"Gender identity is an intrinsic part of each person's identity and everyday life," the report says. "Accordingly, authorities on gender issues counsel that it is essential for employees to be able to work in a manner consistent with how they live the rest of their daily lives, based on their gender identity. Restricting employees to using only restrooms that are not consistent with their gender identity, or segregating them from other workers by requiring them to use gender-neutral or other specific restrooms, singles those employees out and may make them fear for their physical safety."

Supreme Court Rules For Woman Denied Abercrombie & Fitch Job Over Headscarf

Source: Brian Naylor, NPR

The Supreme Court has ruled 8-1 in favor of a young Muslim woman who was denied a job at Abercrombie & Fitch because she wore a headscarf.

Samantha Elauf had applied for the sales job in Tulsa, Okla., in 2008 and was recommended for hire by an interviewer. But Abercrombie has a "look policy" that bars the wearing of caps by its salespeople.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took up the case, and the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of Elauf, awarding her $20,000 in damages. The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, concluding that an employer cannot be held liable under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act for failing to accommodate a religious practice until the applicant provides the employer with actual knowledge of his need for an accommodation.

Delaware minimum wage increases to $8.25 per hour

Source: Associated Press, Washington Post

The start of a new work week comes with the promise of more money for low-wage workers in Delaware.

Under a bill approved by lawmakers last year, the state's minimum wage increases on Monday from $7.75 per hour to $8.25 per hour.

The chief sponsor of that legislation, Sen. Robert Marshall, says the wage increase will help people who are struggling to get by.

But Marshall, a Wilmington Democrat, says more needs to be done. He introduced legislation earlier this year that would increase Delaware's minimum wage in four 50-cent increments to $10.25 per hour by 2019.

May 29, 2015

Legislature approves two worker protection bills

Source: Associated Press, Herald and News

Two bills touted as strengthening worker protections around retaliation and wage claims are headed to Gov. Kate Brown's desk following their legislative approval Thursday.

The Oregon Senate voted 17-13 to pass House Bill 2007, a bill intended to help close the wage gap for women and people of color by making it illegal to punish a worker for discussing pay in the workplace. Retaliation would be considered an unlawful employment practice and give the employee the right to sue the employer for damages.

Proponents said the bill is needed to make it possible for employees to ask about or talk about their salaries, and those of co-workers, without fear of reprisal.

Employers hustle to retain job-hopping workers

Source: Paul Davidson

May 28, 2015

When 'flexible' schedule means unpredictability

Source: Renée Loth, Boston Globe

It's been almost 80 years since the federal Fair Labor Standards Act established the 40-hour work week, protecting laborers from demands for toil without end. These days, however, many Americans are trying to get more hours of work - or at least more stable, predictable hours.

A new trend of erratic work schedules, split shifts, on-call positions, and "contingent" employment is bedeviling workers who are trying to keep their balance in a rapidly shifting economy. Not surprisingly, those most at the mercy of these irregular schedules are low-income workers, women, minorities, and single parents - the same people whose real wages haven't budged in three decades.

We Need More Nurses

Source: Alexandra Robbins, New York Times

Several emergency-room nurses were crying in frustration after their shift ended at a large metropolitan hospital when Molly, who was new to the hospital, walked in. The nurses were scared because their department was so understaffed that they believed their patients - and their nursing licenses - were in danger, and because they knew that when tensions ran high and nurses were spread thin, patients could snap and turn violent.

The nurses were regularly assigned seven to nine patients at a time, when the safe maximum is generally considered four (and just two for patients bound for the intensive-care unit). Molly - whom I followed for a year for a book about nursing, on the condition that I use a pseudonym for her - was assigned 20 patients with non-life-threatening conditions.

May 27, 2015

Workers' rights on social media extend farther than some might think

Source: Deborah M. Todd , San Jose Mercury News

Workers' constitutionally protected right to free speech is generally checked at the doors of private enterprises. However, when it comes to social media discussions about inflexible schedules, ice-cold break rooms or obscenity-laden rants about mandatory overtime, employees have the right to post, share and like to their hearts content.

"According to the National Labor Relations Act, what constitutes as protected speech is anything that explicitly discusses terms and conditions of employment -- whether it relates to how you're treated at work, wages, breaks, anything that goes to the terms and conditions of your employment is considered protected," said Katie Loehrke, editor at Neenah, Wis.-based compliance resource firm J.J. Keller and Associates.

Ex-prosecutor sues DOJ, U.S. attorney for NE, alleges sex discrimination

Source: Riley Johnson, Journal Star

A former federal prosecutor has alleged she was discriminated against because she's a woman and retaliated against while working under the U.S. attorney for Nebraska.

In a federal lawsuit filed Friday, Jill Finken accuses the U.S. Justice Department, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Nebraska of allowing her to be harassed by supervisors, failing to treat her the same as male colleagues, failing to hire her and retaliating against her for complaining about the work environment.

Bill would help poor workers injured on job

Source: Marie Szaniszlo, Boston Herald

State lawmakers yesterday heard testimony in support of bills that would increase injured workers' access to medical care and workers' compensation benefits.

Brian Flynn, senior staff attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, urged the Labor and Workforce Development Committee to support Senate bill 976, which would help injured, low-wage workers - many of whom are immigrants who are paid in cash and less than minimum wage - by making the expenses of an interpreter and transportation to the doctor the responsibility of the insurer.

Why fewer workers are moving for better jobs

Source: Mark Thoma, CBS Moneywatch

Economic research tells us that workers who are willing to change employers tend to experience higher wage growth. But if this is true, why has labor mobility been declining since the 1980s? You would think workers would be moving to take advantage of higher wage offers. Maybe the cost of changing employers has increased, or maybe it's become less lucrative. Or perhaps it's due to the aging of the population coupled with the fact that older workers tend to move less.
Researchers at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C., looked at this question in 2014 and concluded that worker mobility is falling because of a decline in the benefits of changing jobs. In particular, the attractiveness of offers to workers making a transition has fallen, while the costs -- which include factors such as more dual-earning households and the need to retain employer-sponsored health care coverage -- appear to have remained relatively constant.

May 26, 2015

Paid Sick Time Stalls In Oregon Legislature

Source: Chris Lehman , Northwest Public Radio

Supporters of a proposal to extend paid sick time to most Oregon workers say the legislation has stalled.

As it's now written, the measure would require businesses with six or more workers to offer up to five days of paid sick leave per year.

Backers, including Democratic Representative Paul Holvey, said the measure would benefit more than just employees.

"We shouldn't be forcing people, because they can't afford to stay home, to go to work that puts the public somewhat at risk if they're working in the food service industry, child care, taking care of seniors," Holvey said.

The Cost of an Adjunct

Source: Laura McKenna, The Atlantic

Imagine meeting your English professor by the trunk of her car for office hours, where she doles out information like a taco vendor in a food truck. Or getting an e-mail error message when you write your former biology professor asking for a recommendation because she is no longer employed at the same college. Or attending an afternoon lecture in which your anthropology professor seems a little distracted because he doesn't have enough money for bus fare. This is an increasingly widespread reality of college education.

Many students-and parents who foot the bills-may assume that all college professors are adequately compensated professionals with a distinct arrangement in which they have a job for life. In actuality those are just tenured professors, who represent less than a quarter of all college faculty. Odds are that students will be taught by professors with less job security and lower pay than those tenured employees, which research shows results in diminished services for students.

Why minimum wage is a bigger problem for women than men

Source: Marnie Eistenstant, Syracuse

Across the nation, women outnumber men in the ranks of low earners, according to data from the National Women's Law Center.

In a look at data from all 50 states, the organization found that at least 50 percent of minimum wage workers in every state were women. In New York, the data shows that a little more than half of the minimum wage workers are women. A New York wage board is considering whether to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers from the current $8.75 an hour. (Regular minimum wage increases to $9 at the end of this year).

May 25, 2015

Shocker: 40% of Workers Now Have 'Contingent' Jobs, Says U.S. Government

Source: Elaine Pofeldt, Forbes

Tucked away in the pages of a new report by the U.S. General Accounting Office is a startling statistic: 40.4% of the U.S. workforce is now made up of contingent workers-that is, people who don't have what we traditionally consider secure jobs.

There is currently a lot of debate about how contingent workers should be defined. To arrive at the 40.4 %, which the workforce reached in 2010, the report counts the following types of workers as having the alternative work arrangements considered contingent. (The government did some rounding to arrive at its final number, so the numbers below add up to 40.2%).

May 24, 2015

Northland group home employees unionize

Source: Brady Slater, Duluth News Tribune

But with the second unionization of an adult foster care workforce in Duluth in recent months, Jakowski may have started something transformative in an industry with a reputation for sometimes difficult working conditions and underwhelming pay.

Since Jakowski rallied Stepping Stones for Living's workforce to a 94-22 vote in favor of union representation last September, another group home company in the Northland, At Home Living, has seen its workforce vote 22-21 in favor of unionizing. Both companies currently are bargaining first contracts with the unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees represents both workforces and 1.6 million other individual members nationwide, including nurses, child care workers, corrections facility workers and more.

May 22, 2015

With victory in L.A., the $15 minimum wage fight goes national

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

It was an ambitious move for a town that hadn't recovered quite as strongly from the recession as two of its northern neighbors - Seattle and San Francisco. Legislators in those two cities had recently voted to go all the way to $15 an hour. But even L.A.'s more modest proposal still drew howls of resistance from corporate leaders, who predicted businesses would lay people off and flee the city in droves.

For labor leaders, it was just the opening bid. The next month, they pushed a faction of the City Council to counteroffer with a proposal that would bring the minimum all the way to $15.25 by 2019. After a few more months of wrangling over economic impact studies and provisions like paid leave, that number finally settled at an even $15 - the new gold standard for wage campaigns in big liberal cities. On Wednesday, the Council passed a staged increase that would get the minimum up to $15 by 2020, by a vote of 14 to 1.

Ascension to raise pay to 'socially just' minimum wage

Source: Samantha Liss, St. Louis Post Dispatch

Ascension is hiking its minimum wage to $11 per hour starting July 5.

The move to raise pay to a "socially just" wage will affect nearly 10,000 employees, or about 7 percent of Ascension's total workforce of 150,000. In St. Louis, about 200 workers, most employed at two senior care facilities, will benefit.

With this move Ascension now joins other major employers who have made similar commitments to boosting pay for hourly employees.

Ruby Tuesday to pay $100,000 to settle EEOC sex discrimination lawsuit

Source: Staff Reporters, The Daily Times

Ruby Tuesday Inc. will pay $100,000 and implement preventative measures to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the EEOC said Thursday.

This resolves the case concerning a "females-only" assignment to the resort town Park City, Utah, according to the EEOC.

The federal agency charged that Ruby Tuesday denied two male employees the opportunity to work as servers at Park City in the summer of 2013.

May 21, 2015

How Uber-type jobs are driving inequality, and what to do about it

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Whatever you call the new sector built on "platforms" that allow independent workers to find individual clients -- think Uber, AirBnb, Taskrabbit, etc. -- you'll probably acknowledge that it's got some drawbacks. While many of these app-based exchanges allow people to find work in ways that otherwise wouldn't be possible, there's mounting anecdotal evidence that those cumulative income streams don't generate enough to make a living.

And now, there's some statistical evidence as well. Yesterday, a group called Requests for Startups released results from a survey of 897 people who've worked with 78 different companies that fall into the "on-demand economy" bucket. It's a rough and imperfect sample, but a time when there's still precious little data on the characteristics of this new workforce, it gives us some idea of what they're going through.

May 20, 2015

How The Minimum-Wage Debate Moved From Capitol Hill To City Halls

Source: Danielle Kurtzleben , NPR

Once upon a time, minimum-wage debates were mostly the province of Congress and statehouses. These days, you're more likely than ever to hear these debates in your city hall. The trend continued this week, when the Los Angeles City Council voted to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour.

The second-largest city in America could soon join Seattle and San Francisco in the club of cities that have agreed to gradually raise their wages above $15 per hour. And these cities are part of a larger, recent wave of cities and counties setting their own minimum wages.

Postal workers union protests cutbacks, poor service

Source: Danielle Ferguson, The Des Moines Register

About 30 American Postal Workers Union members stood outside the Des Moines U.S. Postal Service office Wednesday afternoon huddled in hoodies, holding signs and waving to passing drivers.

The workers were picketing for their rights, the rights of their customers and to raise awareness of changes the United States Postal Service is undergoing – including staff cuts and newly relaxed service standards – and to inform the public that USPS does not receive taxpayer dollars, said Lonnie Matticks, former USPS employee and member of the union.

Matticks said some of the main problems customers are facing are the increased wait times for receiving mail and the increased line times at the offices.

May 19, 2015

The Second Job You Don't Know You Have

Source: Craig Lambert, Politico

Technology has knocked the bottom rung out of the employment ladder, which has sent youth unemployment around the globe skyrocketing and presented us with a serious economic dilemma. While many have focused on the poor state of our educational system or the "jobless" recovery, another, overlooked factor behind this trend is the phenomenon of "shadow work." I define shadow work as all the unpaid jobs we do on behalf of businesses and organizations: We are pumping our own gas, scanning our own groceries, booking our travel and busing our tables at Starbucks. Shadow work is a new concept, so as yet, no one has compiled economic data on how many jobs we, the consumers, have taken over from (erstwhile) employees. Yet it is surely a force shrinking the job market, and the unemployment it creates is structural. Thanks in part to this new phenomenon, widespread joblessness could become entrenched in the social landscape.

The Economy Is Still Terrible for Young People

Source: Derek Thompson , The Atlantic

To start with the camera lens zoomed all the way out: The majority of young people aren't graduating from a four-year university. Rather they are dropping out of high school, graduating from high school and not going to college, or dropping out of college. Millennial is often used, in the media, as a synonym for "bachelor-degree-holding young person," but about 60 percent of this generation doesn't have a bachelor's degree.

And how are they doing, as a group? Young people don't seem to have a jobs problem-their jobless rate is a bit elevated, but not alarmingly so. Rather they have a money problem. The jobs they're getting don't pay much and their wages aren't growing. A recent analysis of the Current Population Survey last year found that the median income for people between 25 and 34 has fallen in every major industry but healthcare since the Great Recession began.

The best indication of what a federal $12 minimum wage could mean for poor places comes from Puerto Rico

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Over the past few years, demands for a minimum wage increase have jumped from around $9 an hour -- which seemed ambitious at the time -- to $15 an hour. Change has been rapid: The $15 minimum will eventually be law in a couple of cities, and it's headed for the ballot box in a few more. And on the federal level, legislators have bumped their proposal from the White House's initial bid of $10.10 an hour to $12 an hour nationwide.

That might work fine in places like New York City, where labor costs tend to be higher and consumers have a greater willingness to pay. But what about the lower-wage places, where the Senate Democrats' plan would mean a hike of 65 percent? Couldn't that hurt minimum-wage workers, if the higher cost of labor prompts firms to hire fewer people, or drives firms out of business?

Fast-Food Workers Photograph What Life Is Like When You Make Less Than $15 an Hour.

Source: Jordan G. Teicher, Slate

The workers involved in the exhibition began photographing last March with the guidance of photojournalist Steve Hebert, who's photographed the local Fight for $15 movement since its inception. Using cellphone cameras, the workers, who volunteered to participate in the project, collectively shot nearly 4,000 images at work, at home, and at various strikes and demonstrations. They illustrate the long hours and financial hardships that come with the job, as well as some lighter scenes with family and powerful moments of group solidarity.

"I've spent 20 years trying to work my way into places to make pictures of what I think is interesting in peoples' lives. The technology today allows people to do that themselves," he said. "These workers were just shooting as they went. What you get is a variety of different peoples' lives and experiences and the things they see, whether it's walking to work, on strike, or with their kids."

May 18, 2015

People have no idea what inequality actually looks like

Source: Emily Badger, Washington Post

Inequality, we keep hearing, will be a major theme of the upcoming election. Hillary Clinton has been preaching about it. Republicans are suddenly doing it, too. Both sides have been talking to the same eminent academics worried about what economic inequality could mean for the future of American children.

But here is an important point worth remembering about the electorate these candidates have been talking to: Most people - regardless of whether you ask about the poor or the rich, income or wealth, the shape of the income distribution or an individual's position in it - have a terrible sense of what inequality actually looks like.

OSHA cites Dollar General in Bear for safety violations

Source: Robin Brown and Scott Goss, Delawareonline

Federal inspectors cited a Dollar General store in Bear for safety violations officials said "could be a matter of life or death for workers."

They also allege the national chain has a longtime pattern of ignoring such violations at its stores.

Merchandise and boxes were found blocking emergency exits at the Bear store in violation of federal law, the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Monday.

In addition to blocked exits, other cited violations included electrical panel and fire extinguisher hazards.

OSHA has proposed $122,100 in penalties for violations found at the store at 1679 Pulaski Highway (U.S. 40) during a November inspection.

SEIU wants FTC to probe franchisors' practices

Source: Reuters, CNBC

The Service Employees International Union, backer of a three-year campaign to improve the plight of low-wage retail and fast-food workers, on Monday said it would petition the Federal Trade Commission to investigate alleged abusive practices by major franchisors, including McDonald's and 7-Eleven.

In its petition, reviewed by Reuters and expected to be filed with the FTC on Monday morning, SEIU outlined six U.S. franchisor practices it said appeared endemic and "particularly harmful.''

Minimum-wage increase helps workers, employers (Check Facebook for link)

Source: Amy Edelman, Philly

As a business owner in Philadelphia, I know we need to raise the minimum wage, and we need to act now. It's good for my business, customers, and our economy.

My perspective is grounded in 15 successful years as a small-business owner. I own and operate a bakery with my husband. We've more than doubled our staff and grown our business every year. The wages and benefits we offer our employees are central to our success.

All our employees start well above the current Pennsylvania minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. We employ 20 people, with counter staff starting at $10 per hour and kitchen staff earning $12 to $18 per hour. We also offer health-insurance reimbursement and paid time off.

May 15, 2015

Cops: Minimum-wage protest may bring 5,000 to McDonald's HQ

Source: Chuck Fieldman, Chicago Tribune

A group that brought about 2,000 protesters to Oak Brook in May 2014 is returning next week.

The Service Employees International Union is holding another demonstration in support of its campaign to increase the minimum wage of "quick service" restaurant employees to $15 per hour. The demonstration is planned to coincide with a meeting of McDonald's share holders at the fast-food chain's Oak Brook headquarters.

About 5,000 fast-food workers from around the country are expected this time, said Garrett Church, support officer for the Oak Brook Police Department.

Fair trade: Obama must be supportive of American workers

Source: Editorial Board, Pittsburg Post Gazette

The president does not deserve support for his trade agenda unless he pursues it with less secrecy and with more concern for its impact on American workers. He says the Trans-Pacific Partnership will create U.S. jobs and expand the economy. Two decades ago, proponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement made many of the same claims.

As Pittsburghers can attest, many of NAFTA's promises have not been kept. To the contrary, the agreement has often proved disastrous for communities that rely on manufacturing. The lesson is that liberalized trade must be concerned at least as much, in this country and abroad, with worker protections, environmental standards and intellectual property rights as it is with maximizing global investment opportunities for corporations.

May 14, 2015

WILL INTERNSHIPS START 'PAYING OFF' IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE?

Source: William Welkowitz , Bloomberg BNA

The traditional image evoked by the word "intern" is of the person in the office building who buys the coffee, picks up the dry cleaning and does all of the daily menial tasks for the company higher-ups who don't have time to do it themselves. However, as most millennials can attest, those days are long gone.

Today, most internships have participants engaging in the everyday workings of their company or organization. From entering data to doing basic research, interns make small, but important, contributions. The question then becomes whether those contributions warrant treatment comparable to any other employee, including a paycheck.

Labor bill that would fine big corporations paying low wages regains hope

Source: Christine Stuart, New Haven Register

Three weeks ago, a bill that would fine large employers who don't pay their employees $15 an hour may have been dead on arrival, but a new study and a fiscal note say it would net the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Those hundreds of millions of dollars have many lawmakers giving the bill a second look because the revenue it raises is more attractive than some of spending cuts proposed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. That's why a group of 30 Democratic lawmakers have signed a petition calling for the concept to be included in the revenue package being negotiated as part of the final budget.

Stressed out by student debt

Source: Rohit Chopra, Winsconsin Jounal Sentinel

As millions of students and their families across the country celebrate graduation season, many will be joining the ranks of the more than 40 million other Americans on the hook for over $1.2 trillion in student debt.

The average student loan borrower owes nearly $30,000 - a large chunk of debt for someone just starting out. This debt can cause real stress for borrowers. According to a recent study that examined the effects of student loans on health, researchers found that those who had higher amounts of student loan debt reported higher levels of depression, even with adjustments for parental wealth, childhood socioeconomic status and other factors. And there is growing consensus among industry leaders and policymakers that student debt may be holding back the economic recovery.

Unionizing Benefits Adjunct Faculty, Students and Society

Source: Gary Rhoades, New York Times

The decline in unionization means that the growing ranks of working poor are finding the American Dream unattainable. And adjunct faculty are the new working poor. Twenty-five percent of adjuncts receive public assistance. But now they are unionizing in unprecedented numbers.

Adjunct faculty's working conditions compromise students' ability to learn and succeed. These adjuncts are negotiating provisions to ensure their access to instructional resources and professional development, fees to discourage last-minute course assignment and cancellations, and longer contracts. These provisions will better serve students.

May 13, 2015

These are the things people who are forced to work long hours miss the most

Source: Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post

"I want you to think about your work life, and your family life, and decide which is important to you."

I'll never forget those words, coming at the end of a lengthy exegesis on the virtues of long hours from an old boss. It wasn't that my work wasn't good, or that I wasn't getting enough done. In fact -- not to brag or anything -- my performance was rated by that boss as stellar.

But he found it irksome that I only clocked eight to nine hours a day. He said that if I wanted to prove my dedication to the company and make more money, I'd need to work more -- never mind that there wasn't actually any more work to do. I just needed to be a body in a chair.

Facebook has a new answer to income inequality

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

It's an unmistakable feature of the new Silicon Valley economy: Venture capital-backed tech companies fill the cities with well-paid employees, making life less and less affordable for the service workers whose wages seem immune to the forces that have sent engineer salaries soaring.

For several years now, labor unions and community groups have recognized that bifurcation is at the root of the inequities that have embittered the Bay Area. Earlier this year, they launched a campaign called Silicon Valley Rising, which aims to fix that problem by pushing tech giants to turn those minimum wage jobs they've contracted out into family-sustaining careers, using the sometimes massive cash piles that their business models have generated.

May 12, 2015

Nail salon workers aren't the only ones who need more protections

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced emergency protections for the state's nail salon workers, just days after two New York Times reports detailed widespread wage theft and health risks. The stories, by reporter Sarah Maslin Nir, illuminated just how vulnerable these workers are: Often recent immigrants, with low English fluency and few marketable skills, they're essentially indentured to nail salons that take few measures to shield them from exposure to toxic chemicals used in manicures and pedicures.

But nail salons aren't the only workplaces with few rules and little oversight. Mary Vogel, executive director of the National Council on Occupational Safety and Health, and Charlene Obernauer, executive director of the organization's New York chapter, pointed out a few other examples of occupations where workers experience similar vulnerabilities.

Postal workers rallying for longer service hours

Source: Tim Devaney, The Hill

Postal workers are rallying for expanded service hours that they say would lead to more stable jobs.

The American Postal Workers Union, which represents many of the behind-the-scenes postal workers like counter clerks and those who sort mail, is organizing a nationwide protest Thursday. The union does not represent letter carriers.

Hundreds of postal workers in more than 85 cities will protest in front of local post office buildings. They'll urge customers to sign postcards declaring "I stand with postal workers" that they'll later deliver to the postmaster general.

Bayer is Chastised by Judge for Offering to Reinstate Sales Rep 500 Miles Away

Source: Ed Silverman, The Wall Street Journal

Six years ago, a former Bayer sales rep named Michael Townsend tipped off federal authorities about alleged Medicaid fraud involving a physician, who was later found guilty of billing the healthcare program for an unapproved version of a Bayer product.

Several months later, the drug maker fired Townsend, who subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming he lost his job for reporting the Medicaid fraud. Bayer, which was not involved in the fraud, contended he was dismissed due to a dispute over his corporate credit card, according to court documents.

May 11, 2015

When it comes to maternity leave, Latinas may have it the worst

Source: Jorge Rivas, Fusion

But one important point was missing from Oliver's impassioned plea: The people earning the least in our economy-the young, the less educated, and women of color-are also the most likely to not have access to maternity leave, paid or unpaid, according to research from the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

In fact, domestic workers-a group that is disproportionately made up of women of color-are excluded from even the most basic protections that The Family and Medical Leave Act provides.

Low, Middle Income Workers Most Vulnerable To Loss Of Obamacare Subsidies

Source: Audie Cornish, NPR

As we heard from Jeff, millions of Americans could be left scrambling if the Supreme Court decides their health insurance subsidies are illegal. These policyholders live in some three dozen states in which the federal government runs the healthcare exchange, not the state. So what might the future hold for these people if their subsidies are deemed illegal? To answer that, we spoke to Linda Blumberg. She's a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, an economic and social policy think tank. We started by asking her to tell us who would be the most affected.

May 8, 2015

Retailers are facing some harsh truths about employee wages

Source: Sinead Carews, Business Insider

Labor expenses will be a key focus during retailers' earnings conference calls in the coming weeks, with many companies under pressure to boost workers' wages at a time when low U.S. unemployment levels have given workers more leverage.

Wal-Mart, Target, T.J. Maxx, Gap, and McDonald's have already announced wage increases, and the trend appears to be trickling further into the retail and restaurant sectors.

"The competition for that job is tougher for the employer. The employee has choices now," said Thomas Sudyka, managing director at investment management firm Lawson Kroeker based in Omaha, Nebraska.

Mandate paid sick leave, Chicago

Source: Melissa Harris, Chicago Tribune

Let's think of all the people who get paid when they don't work. Congressmen who don't show up to vote. Athletes who sit on the bench. Many departing top executives, thanks to noncompete agreements.Yet an estimated 461,000 workers in Chicago aren't entitled to one paid sick day.

Expect a proposal on how to fix that to arrive on Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's desk this fall when his Working Families Working Group, which is still being formed, is expected to report back, policy adviser David Spielfogel said. Spielfogel added that the group's agenda will be broadened to include parental leave, shift-worker protections and other workforce policies.

Illinois Supreme Court Rejects Lawmakers' Pension Overhaul

Source: Monica Davey, New York Times

The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday rejected changes that legislators made to fix a deeply troubled public pension system, leaving the state where it had started - with a significant budget crisis, a vastly underfunded pension program and no plan in sight.

All seven members of the state's highest court found that a pension overhaul lawmakers had agreed to almost a year and a half ago violated the Illinois Constitution. The changes would have curtailed future cost-of-living adjustments for workers, raised the age of retirement for some and put a cap on pensions for those with the highest salaries. But under the state Constitution, benefits promised as part of a pension system for public workers "shall not be diminished or impaired."

"Crisis is not an excuse to abandon the rule of law," Justice Lloyd A. Karmeier wrote in an opinion. "It is a summons to defend it."

The next labor fight is over when you work, not how much you make

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

If there's one labor issue that's come to the forefront of political agendas over the past few years, it's the minimum wage: Cities and states around the country are taking action to boost worker pay, as federal efforts seem doomed to fail.

But a new wave of reform is already in the works. Instead of how much you earn, it addresses when you work -- pushing back against the longstanding corporate trend toward timing shifts exactly when labor is needed, sometimes in tiny increments, or at the very last minute. That practice, nicknamed "just-in-time" scheduling, can wreak havoc on the lives of workers who can't plan around work obligations that might pop up at any time.

May 7, 2015

The Price of Nice Nails

Source: Sarah Maslin Nir, New York Times

Tucked in her pocket was $100 in carefully folded bills for another expense: the fee the salon owner charges each new employee for her job. The deal was the same as it is for beginning manicurists in almost any salon in the New York area. She would work for no wages, subsisting on meager tips, until her boss decided she was skillful enough to merit a wage.

It would take nearly three months before her boss paid her. Thirty dollars a day.

Judges weigh minimum wage, overtime rules for home care providers

Source: Lydia Wheeler, The Hill

Two of the three judges on a powerful federal court appeared sympathetic to the Department of Labor's push to make home care providers of third-party employers eligible for minimum wage and overtime pay during oral arguments on Thursday.

At issue are workers who serve as aides for the elderly and disabled at home. While they are not providing healthcare, Judge Cornelia Pillard, of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, suggested they should be treated as other professionals.

"It was the intent of Congress to give wage and labor protections to people who were doing this as their bread and butter," she said referring to the Fair Labor Standards Act.

What James Franco gets wrong about working for McDonald's

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

McDonald's, now under fire from workers, customers and its own franchisees, has found an unlikely defender: James Franco. Over at PostEverything this morning, he waxed nostalgic about that one time when he needed some extra cash to support his acting career, nobody would give him a job but McDonald's. The quirky characters, the annoying customers, the stolen fries -- all just part of the charm of his pre-fame life.

Franco isn't making much of business or economic argument, or even really responding to the demands that have been put on the company by worker campaigns demanding better treatment and higher wages. His central point, to the extent one exists, is that McDonald's employs people and it would be a shame if that stopped happening. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone to disagree.

May 6, 2015

UC study says ranks of low-wage California workers growing

Source: Dan Walters, The Sacramento Bee

A University of California think tank is adding more fodder to the Capitol's burgeoning debate over poverty.

A third of California's employed workers are "low-wage" and their ranks are growing, according to a new study from the Center for Labor Research and Education at University of California's Berkeley campus..

That translates into 4.8 million workers who earn less than $13.63 per hour, the "low-wage" cutoff defined as less than two-thirds of the median wage, which was $20.44 in 2014.

New York Governor Cuomo wants to raise wages for fast food workers, all by himself

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

When McDonald's announced a few weeks ago it was raising its minimum wage to $9 an hour, workers cheered. But their excitement came with caution: The mega-chain doesn't own most of its restaurants -- franchisees do -- so the impact would be limited. And in lots of places, $9-an-hour may not be much of an improvement. It's lot less than the $15 an hour activists have been asking for.

But their concerns have reached a a higher power: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday to boost pay in the fast food industry through his executive powers, after failing to get the Legislature to raise the minimum wage statewide through the regular process. He says he can do it by appointing a "Wage Board," determining its direction, and modifying the recommendations it comes up with as he sees fit.

N.J. unions, Christie administration clash over pensions before Supreme Court

Source: Samantha Marcus, NJ

New Jersey's public worker unions and Gov. Chris Christie's administration fought over billions of dollars in pension funding before the state Supreme Court on Wednesday in a case with far-reaching implications for hundreds of thousands of workers and state budgets this year and beyond.

More than a dozen labor unions are asking the high court to establish their right to pension funding under a 2011 pension reform law that lawyers for the state argue is unconstitutional.

Justice Barry Albin called the dispute unprecedented, saying the state's position is that "the law that was passed, now that it doesn't seem to work to my advantage, I'd like to declare it unconstitutional."

May 5, 2015

Owners of Mexican restaurants sentenced to prison for hiring undocumented workers and paying substandard wages

Source: Eric Heisig, Cleveland

AKRON, Ohio - The owner of a chain of Mexican restaurants in Summit and Stark counties was sentenced Monday to 33 months in federal prison for hiring undocumented workers and paying them less than minimum wage. The owner's wife was sentenced to three months.

Miguel Castro, 46, of Uniontown, had the controlling interest in the seven "Mariachi Locos" and "Mariachi Cocos" restaurants in Akron, Stow, Tallmadge and North Canton. His wife, Monica, was also part owner, and all but one are now closed.

May 4, 2015

McDonald's workers plan 'biggest-ever protest' as company announces changes

Source: Rupert Neate, The Guardian

McDonald's workers will gatecrash the burger company's shareholder meeting later this month with "the biggest ever protest" demanding an end to "poverty wages" paid to many of its 420,000 staff.

As the company announced plans to turn around its ailing business, Fight for $15, a union-backed protest group, set out plans for a day of protest at the company's Chicago headquarters.

Where the Minimum-Wage Fight Is Being Won

Source: Russell Berman , The Atlantic

Last Thursday, congressional Democrats unveiled their latest demand for an increase in the national minimum wage: $12 an hour by 2020, an increase of nearly 68 percent from its current $7.25. Their proposal isn't likely to get enacted anytime soon. Yet the real story in the minimum-wage fight is just how much of an afterthought the federal government has become....

Congress hasn't touched the federal minimum wage in eight years. But while lawmakers in the Capitol dither, cities and states under both Democratic and Republican leadership have acted on their own in the last few years, responding to public pressure surrounding income inequality and wage stagnation.

Fiat Chrysler wants to give dealership workers a free ride to college

Source: CNN Wire, FoxCT

If the cost of college is weighing you down, now's a good time to get a job at a Fiat Chrysler dealership.

The automaker announced Monday that it will roll out a program to cover the cost of college degrees for those who work at Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram Truck and FIAT dealerships. The program will be available to 118,000 workers across the U.S. and will offer associates, bachelors and masters degrees for employees, all free of charge to them.

May 3, 2015

Substitute teachers could be outsourced in Des Moines

Source: Mackenzie Ryan, The Des Moines Register

The Des Moines school board could decide as soon as Tuesday whether to outsource the district's substitute teachers and teacher associates to a temp agency, a plan that some fear would deteriorate the quality of subs in schools.

District administrators say the same substitute standards would be upheld, and the move could actually benefit students. Right now, substitute shortages leave an average of 30 classes a day unfilled, prompting teachers to forgo planning time and other responsibilities to step in.

May 1, 2015

NLRB says arrest of union reps violated supermarket workers' rights

Source: Daniel Wiessner, Reuters

A divided National Labor Relations Board panel has ruled that the manager of a Fred Meyer Stores Inc supermarket in Oregon violated workers' rights when he launched into an anti-union tirade and called the police on union representatives who were visiting the store.

In a 2-1 decision, the NLRB on Thursday said the manager violated a store policy, which allowed union officials to visit employees for brief periods during working hours, at a critical point during bitter contract negotiations.

Several May Day demonstrations planned in Bay Area

Source: Amy Hollyfield, ABC 7

Thousands will take to the streets in the Bay Area nationwide for May Day protests.

The city of Oakland is preparing for a series of demonstrations. The first one starts at 5:30 a.m. - people plan to gather and try to shut down the McArthur BART station to impact the morning commute. Protesters will start their march at the Port of Oakland - which will coincidentally be shut down for eight hours.

May Day originally started as a pagan ritual celebrating the start of summer. In the 19th century, labor movements starting using May Day as a day to recognize workers' rights.

My shirt was ripped at work. Can I get reimbursed?

Source: Quentin Fottrell, Market Watch

On one particular Friday at work an email message went out to all employees in the Boston office asking us to unplug all of our electronics from the wall before leaving for the weekend (because the power would be turned off over the weekend for some annual building-wide maintenance). So at the end of the day I went under my desk and unplugged my computer and lamp as instructed. As I was crawling back out from under my desk, a metal part of the desk frame ripped my dress shirt. I was unharmed but my shirt was ruined. Am I being ridiculous in wanting to approach my company about reimbursing me for the ripped shirt?

April 29, 2015

Farmers Sued by Female Employee Attorney for Alleged Discrimination

Source: Don Jergler , Insurance Journal

A class-action lawsuit against Farmers Insurance on behalf of female attorney employees was filed on Wednesday in federal court, alleging the insurance giant has discriminatory policies and practices.

The suit accuses Los Angeles, Calif.-based Farmers of unlawfully paying its female attorney-employees significantly lower wages than male attorneys doing the same work.

The suit states: "Farmers does not reward its female attorneys equally compared to their male counterparts performing equal work. Instead, Farmers systematically pays female attorneys less than similarly-situated male attorneys."

Why it's so hard to protect workers caught in global supply chains

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

On Monday morning, hundreds of people lined up outside the Ministry of Labor in El Salvador to collect checks that were more than a year overdue: Compensation for the jobs they lost Jan. 7, 2014, when a textile factory in a free-trade zone outside the city closed. The factory owner failed to pay the 1,200 workers all the severance that's mandated by law. Finally, a couple of the factory's biggest clients - HanesBrands and Fruit of the Loom - ponied up $1.1 million to pay the difference.

"It's been a very difficult struggle. We haven't had enough to eat," says Maria Candelaria Reyes Rivera, a former worker, through a translator. "People have not been able to satisfy their basic needs." Workers even lost their access to health care when the factory's in-house clinic closed. Some emigrated to find new work, Rivera says, so they could send money home to their families.

Meeting the Growing Needs of Long-Term Care for the Elderly

Source: Sarita Gupta , Honolulu Civil Beat

My father was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's. As a result, my entire family has been grappling with questions of how to care for him as he gets older and the Alzheimer's becomes more severe, as it inevitably will.

My parents can't live on their own any longer, so they moved in with me this past winter. While I am grateful that I can help my parents, as a newly minted member of the sandwich generation, I worry about my ability to meet their needs while working full-time and raising a four-year-old daughter. And at the top of our family's list of concerns is how we'll be able to afford my father's long-term care.

My family is hardly alone in grappling with this - every day 10,000 Americans turn 65, and by 2030 20 percent of our population will be past retirement age. Already, more than 40 million Americans are caregivers for family members, many for loved ones with Alzheimer's. As our country and state ages, this number will only continue to grow.

Supreme Court Backs Companies in EEOC Job-Bias Clash

Source: Greg Stohr , Bloomberg

The U.S. Supreme Court gave companies a new legal tool in fighting job-bias suits by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying judges should decide whether the agency took steps to resolve the case before suing.

Ruling unanimously in favor of a mining company accused of refusing to hire a woman, the justices said courts have power to enforce the requirement that the EEOC try to conciliate disputes.

Justice Elena Kagan said the court review would be "relatively barebones," primarily ensuring that the agency notified the employer and gave it a chance to make voluntary changes in its practices.

April 28, 2015

U of C, nurses union reach 'tentative agreement' to avoid strike

Source: Sam Charles, Sun Times

The University of Chicago Medical Center and the National Nurses United union have reached a "tentative agreement" for a new collective-bargaining agreement, staving off a potential nurses strike, both side announced Monday.

The deal was reached just before midnight Monday, according to a statement from the University of Chicago.

With a deal in place, the nurses union has withdrawn its notice to strike, which was scheduled to begin April 30, according to the university.

Homeless U.S. Capitol Workers Crowdfund To Help Fellow Workers

Source: Marina Fang, Huffington Post

Last week, contract workers at the U.S. Capitol went on strike to advocate for better working conditions and higher wages. Now, some of those workers are taking further action by raising money online to support their fellow workers.

The Good Jobs Nation Worker Fund aims to raise $50,000 to help low-wage contract workers working at the U.S. Capitol, the Smithsonian, the Pentagon and other government buildings. The federal government is effectively the largest employer of contract workers. The government employs them through private contracting companies, which make billions of dollars in profits, while many of their workers can barely make ends meet.

Fox 11 Investigates truckers forced to exceed legal driving limits: Electronic monitoring of driver hours could prevent crashes, injuries and deaths

Source: Mark Leland, Fox

Semis rule the roadways. When those wheels are turning, money is made by the companies and the drivers. There's a financial incentive to drive longer hours.
But federal rules limit the number of hours a driver can work, so they're not falling asleep at the wheel.
Some drivers say getting around the law is easy, making the roadways a danger.

Poll: Most Americans believe fast food workers should be able to unionize

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

As unions become a more forceful voice in the political discourse leading up to next year's elections -- both in their fierce opposition to the White House trade agenda and as a proposed solution to rising inequality -- it's important to know what the public thinks about them. We don't get that kind of data very often, but Pew Research just came out with a bunch of numbers that show a few important things: Opinions of unions have mostly recovered from a low point during the Detroit auto bailout, and strong majorities of people believe workers should be able to unionize across several different sectors.

Here's the graph of how positive and negative views of unions have changed over time

April 27, 2015

Americans greet the decline of union rolls with a shrug

Source: Nick Gass, Politico

Americans are split on whether the long-term decline of union membership over the last three decades is good or bad for the country, according to a new Pew Research Center survey released Monday.

By contrast, the survey finds that 52 percent think of the reduction in labor union membership in negative terms, while 40 percent say it has been mostly good for working people.

Despite the steady decline in membership, the numbers are in line with a similar 1994 NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey that asked the public about the previous two decades.

Business Bid to Curb Consumer Suits Gets Top U.S. Court Look

Source: Greg Stohr, Bloomberg

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider a business-backed bid to put new limits on Congress's power to authorize consumer lawsuits in federal court.

The justices said they will hear an appeal from the data broker Spokeo Inc. in a dispute with implications for a slew of federal statutes.

Spokeo, which uses public information to compile personal dossiers, is seeking to stop a lawsuit by a man who says the company misrepresented his education, wealth and marital status.

April 26, 2015

Who actually makes the minimum wage in America today?

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

If the federal government ever raises the minimum wage, it wouldn't help everyone -- immediately, at least. Although raising the floor reverberates throughout the wage scale, the vast majority of workers already make more than $7.25 an hour, either because they live in states that have set their own baseline higher or because their employer doesn't want to be known as sticking to rock bottom.

But there were still almost 3 million people who made the minimum wage or less in the United States in 2014. And,thanks to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we know who they mostly are: disproportionately young, female, part-time, Southern restaurant workers without a high school degree.

This Year's May Day Rallies Continue Tradition of Protests for Workers Rights

Source: Peter Dreier , Huffington Post

Unlike the rest of the world's democracies, the United States doesn't use the metric system, doesn't require employers to provide workers with paid vacations, hasn't abolished the death penalty and doesn't celebrate May Day as an official national holiday.

But outside the U.S., May 1 is international workers' day, observed with speeches, rallies and demonstrations. This year, millions of workers in Europe, Asia and Latin America will be taking to the streets to demand higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions. In Bangladesh, for example, protestors will be in the streets to demand that global companies like Walmart improve safety standards in local sweatshops, which have become death traps.

April 24, 2015

Why the retirement savings crisis is also a women's crisis

Source: Sallie Krawcheck, Washington Post

Here is what we know: The retirement savings crisis is enormous. By some estimates, Americans are under-saved by up to $14 trillion. This number may in fact be understated, because it assumes Social Security and Medicare solvency – a big if. And the solutions to this problem are generally assumed to be a real negative for the economy.

But here's the dot that few have connected: The retirement savings crisis is also a women's crisis.

That's because women retire with two-thirds the savings of men, live six to eight years longer and have higher medical costs. Plus, 80 percent of women are single in their final years.

What's in a $12 minimum wage?

Source: Tim Fitzsimons, Marketplace

In the meantime, a fast food workers' movement has been pushing for a $15 an hour wage, and Chicago and Seattle raised theirs to $13 and $15, respectively.

"The good news is ... we are going to learn more about how local labor markets adjust to higher minimum wages," says Arindrajit Dube, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

April 23, 2015

Claims Hovering Near 15-Year Low Signal U.S. Payroll Rebound

Source: Anonomous, Bloomberg Buisness

The number of Americans getting fired is hovering near the lowest levels in almost 15 years, indicating the slowdown in hiring last month will prove temporary.

An average 284,500 workers a week filed claims for jobless benefits over the past month, according to Labor Department data issued Thursday in Washington. The 282,500 average reached in early April was the lowest since June 2000. Another report showed sales of new homes slumped more than forecast in March, ending the strongest quarter in seven years on a weak note.

Battling a Damaging Workplace Trend

Source: Thomas E. Perez , Huffington Post

One of the most pervasive and damaging trends we are seeing in the 21st-century workplace is the deliberate misclassification of workers by employers looking to shift responsibility and cut costs.

Two judgments announced this week in Utah and Arizona demonstrate our commitment to cracking down on this practice, whereby companies claim that their workers are not employees but independent contractors.

Minnesota House passes lower minimum wage for tip workers

Source: J. PATRICK COOLICAN, Star Tribune

A change to the minimum wage that would lead to a pay cut for thousands of tip workers passed the Republican-led Minnesota House Wednesday by a vote of 73-56.

The minimum-wage measure, which sharply divided the two parties, was part of a sprawling jobs and energy bill approved by the House, but its ultimate fate is uncertain given opposition to many provisions by the DFL-controlled Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton.

The bill would create a two-tiered minimum wage, with a lower rate for employees who receive tips of at least $4 per hour, while also prohibiting cities or the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from enacting a higher minimum wage than the state minimum.

April 22, 2015

Food workers, janitors walk out on U.S. Senate

Source: John Verhovek and Dana Bash, CNN

About 40 contracted workers from the United States Senate walked off their jobs Wednesday morning and joined more than 1,000 labor activists at a rally calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to require federal contractors to pay their workers more.

The Senate workers -- employed at the upper chamber's cafeteria, on janitorial duty and in other food service jobs -- along with other federal contracted employees, are calling on the President to sign a "Model Employer Executive Order" that would give federal contracting preferences to companies that can pay their workers $15 an hour.

What if Walmart raised its minimum wage to $70,000 a year?

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Last week, the CEO of a little company in Seattle called Gravity Payments got a lot of attention with a bold move in his human resources strategy: He would boost the minimum annual salary for his 120 employees to $70,000, and pay for it by cutting his own million-dollar compensation down to the same level, as well as directing most of the firm's profits back into his staff. He chose $70,000 because it's the level at which money buys the most happiness, which he thought would in turn lead to more productive employees.

April 21, 2015

Low Wages, Trade Deals Luring Auto Plants and Jobs to Mexico

Source: Tom Krisher and Christopher Sherman, ABC

Mexico has become the most attractive place in North America to build new automobile factories, a shift that has siphoned jobs from the U.S. and Canada, yet helped keep car and truck prices in check for consumers.

In the past two years, eight automakers have opened or announced new plants or expansions in Mexico. Just last week, Toyota announced a new plant in Guanajuato to build the popular Corolla, work now done in Canada, while Ford unveiled plans for Mexican engine and transmission factories.

Low labor costs and fewer tariffs are the swing factors. A worker in Mexico costs car companies an average of $8 an hour, including wages and benefits. That compares with $58 in the U.S. for General Motors and $38 at

Volkswagen's factory in Tennessee, the lowest hourly cost in the U.S., according to the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank in Ann Arbor, Michigan. German auto workers cost about $52 an hour.

Even With Unions, Adjuncts Are Rarely Protected From Last-Minute Job Losses

Source: Peter Schmidt, The Chronicle of Higher Education

The movement to unionize adjunct instructors has yet to protect most of them from taking big financial hits from last-minute class cancellations, according to new study based on an analysis of contract provisions.

Just one in four union contracts covering adjunct instructors includes any sort of provision ensuring them some payment when a course assignment is canceled, the study found. Where such provisions are in place, for the most part, they let colleges cancel adjuncts' classes with little notice and for a broad range of reasons, says a paper summarizing the study's findings. Most ensure adjunct instructors reimbursements of only a few hundred dollars for the canceled work - a pittance considering the time some may have already spent on class planning.

Prominent whistle-blower lawyer takes aim at Silicon Valley

Source: Thomas Lee, San Francisco Chronicle

Look out, Silicon Valley. Eric Havian just might be gunning for you.

Armed with new federal laws (plus an old one) and a track record as one of the country's best whistle-blower lawyers, Havian has his sights set on tech, an industry that has long enjoyed a relatively squeaky-clean reputation when it comes to corruption.

But just because Google adopted "don't be evil" as its motto doesn't mean people inside the search giant are not capable of ethical or legal lapses in judgment because ... well, they're people. And people love money.

Robert Reich: America's "flexible" economy is making workers' lives hell

Source: Robert Reich, Salon

These days it's not unusual for someone on the way to work to receive a text message from her employer saying she's not needed right then.

Although she's already found someone to pick up her kid from school and arranged for childcare, the work is no longer available and she won't be paid for it.

Just-in-time scheduling like this is the latest new thing, designed to make retail outlets, restaurants, hotels, and other customer-driven businesses more nimble and keep costs to a minimum.

Software can now predict up-to-the-minute staffing needs on the basis of information such as traffic patterns, weather, and sales merely hours or possibly minutes before.

One-third have almost no retirement savings

Source: Nanci Hellmich, USA Today

Many people are woefully unprepared financially for retirement, and they shouldn't count on working longer to make up the difference, a new national survey reveals.

Almost a third of workers (28%) say they have less than $1,000 in savings and investments that could be used for retirement, not counting their primary residence or defined benefits plans such as traditional pensions. And 57% say they have less than $25,000, according to a telephone survey of 1,003 workers and 1,001 retirees from the non-profit Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Greenwald and Associates. Previous surveys from EBRI and other groups have shown similar savings rates.

April 20, 2015

At Home and Abroad, the Labor Movement Comes Roaring Back

Source: Annelise Orleck, Moyers and Company

On April 15, 2015, low-wage workers across the US and around the world once again waged a flash strike intended to capture the attention of employers and policy-makers who control their wages. Protesters didn't spend their limited monies to ride buses, trains or planes to Washington, DC where their actions might or might not have attracted much media attention. Instead, they took to the streets where they live and labor - in 200 US cities and across the United Kingdom, Brazil, India, Italy, Bangladesh, Japan, and 30 other countries.

At a time when multi-national corporations are 50 of the world's largest 100 economies, this movement has had to be both intensely local and expansively global.... This year's protests are the largest and most global labor actions ever mounted.

How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy

Source: Lee Drutman, The Atlantic

Something is out of balance in Washington. Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures-more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.18 billion) and Senate ($860 million). It's a gap that has been widening since corporate lobbying began to regularly exceed the combined House-Senate budget in the early 2000s.

Today, the biggest companies have upwards of 100 lobbyists representing them, allowing them to be everywhere, all the time. For every dollar spent on lobbying by labor unions and public-interest groups together, large corporations and their associations now spend $34. Of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 consistently represent business.

April 19, 2015

San Rafael firm must pay back wages to 18 workers denied overtime

Source: Bob Egelko, SFGate

The U.S. Labor Department says a San Rafael credit card company wrongly classified 18 employees as managers or administrators exempt from overtime and must pay them a total of $51,000 in back wages and damages.
The department announced the action Friday against Central Payment Co. The company treated some of its everyday workers, with titles such as sales manager and sales analyst, as salaried managers rather than hourly wage employees, said Celeste Hale, assistant director of the Wage and Hour Division in the department's San Francisco office.

April 17, 2015

As Cities Raise Their Minimum Wage, Where's the Economic Collapse the Right Predicted?

Source: Josh Harkinson, Mother Jones

Fast-food cooks and cashiers demanding a $15 minimum wage walked off the job in 236 cities yesterday in what organizers called the largest mobilization of low-wage workers ever. The tax-day protest, known as Fight 4/15 (or #Fightfor15 on Twitter), caused some backlash on the Right:
Conservatives have long portrayed minimum wage increases as a harbingers of economic doom, but their fears simply haven't played out. San Francisco, Santa Fe, and Washington, DC, were among the first major cities to raise their minimum wages to substantially above state and national averages. The Center for Economic and Policy Research found that the increases had little effect on employment rates in traditionally low-wage sectors of their economies:

April 16, 2015

New York City Council Votes to Restrict Credit Checks in Hiring

Source: Nikita Stewart , New York Times

The City Council passed a bill on Thursday that will make New York the 12th jurisdiction in the country to prohibit employers from using credit checks to screen job applicants.

By a 47-to-3 vote, the Council approved a ban that supporters said would significantly curtail a practice that they said disproportionately affected the ability of blacks and Hispanics to get hired.

Labor unions, liberal-leaning think tanks and groups that advocate on behalf of low-income residents joined several council members in front of City Hall to cheer the legislation, seen as a major victory since a similar bill died in December 2013.

Outback Steakhouse Class Swells

Source: Mike Heuer, Courthouse News Service

If all potential members join, the class action would have 139,469 members seeking reimbursement for all hours worked and overtime wages.
Lead plaintiff Brooke Cardoza sued in October 2013, claiming the restaurant chain forced workers to start work 10 to 15 minutes early without clocking in and did not allow them to take mandated paid and unpaid work breaks.
Nor did it pay workers for overtime, mandated training, testing or company meetings and events, Cardoza claimed.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/04/16/us-usa-restaurants-protests-idUSKBN0N60U520150416

Source: Sebastien Malo, Reuters

Fast-food workers rallied in U.S. cities on Wednesday to demand higher pay, using the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns to publicize their claim that they cannot survive on the hourly wages paid by many U.S. corporations.

The protests demanding pay increases to $15 an hour kicked off at dawn outside a McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) restaurant in New York with several hundred demonstrators.

Marching behind a banner reading "Raise wages, Raise the city," protesters carried placards with "Fight for $15 on 4/15."

Fast-food strikes widen into social-justice movement

Source: Bruce Horovitz and Yamiche Alcindor, USA Today

Low-wage workers - and their sympathizers - had their say coast to coast on Wednesday.

Thousands of workers and protesters from New York City to Los Angeles walked, marched and shouted their demands in front of fast-food locations and on several major college campuses for $15-an-hour wages. No arrests were reported. At least one McDonald's in New York City was temporarily closed by protesters. Several McDonald's stores kept drive-throughs operating, even while the restaurants were temporarily locked.

Taxpayers Spend Billions On Government Help For Low-Wage Workers

Source: Cole Stangler, International Business Times

Although she works 40 hours a week, it's hard for Cheyenne Mathieu to support herself and her four-year-old son without a little help. As a nonunion home care aide in suburban Hartford, Connecticut, Mathieu, 21, earns $9.15 an hour for homemaking and $9.75 an hour for companionship. The former involves daily chores like cleaning and cooking for her clients; the latter includes work outside the home like picking up groceries and going on walks.

Mathieu started a couple of months ago after quitting a job at a Hartford Dunkin Donuts that paid even less and offered fewer hours. To get by, she depends on government assistance: $357 a month from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is better known as food stamps, $487 a month from Connecticut's Temporary Family Assistance program and $370 a month in state help for child care.

April 15, 2015

IT worker's lawsuit accuses Tata of discrimination

Source: Patrick Thibodeau , Computer World

An IT worker is accusing Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) of discriminating against American workers and favoring "South Asians" in hiring and promotion. It's backing up its complaint, in part, with numbers.

The lawsuit, filed this week in federal court in San Francisco, claims that 95% of the 14,000 people Tata employs in the U.S. are South Asian or mostly Indian. It says this practice has created a "grossly disproportionate workforce."

Is Your Tax Rate Higher Than Walmart's?

Source: Dave Johnson, Time

It's April 15, Tax Day. And while dubious business expenses and home offices might help you save a few dollars, most people pay something near what the government sets as the tax rate for their income.

The same is not always true of corporations. While the United States has the highest statutory corporate tax among industrialized nations (39.1 percent), corporations have a greater number of ways to bring that tax bill down. Use the calculator below to see how your tax rate compares to the average effective federal rates paid by 10 major corporates between 2008 to 2012, according to Citizens for Tax Justice, a labor-backed non-profit organization that advocates for corporate tax reform.

Here's What the Fight for $15 Strikers Have in Common With You

Source: Mary Kay Henry , Huffington Post

Today, I am joining tens of thousands of people all over the country who are delivering a message, louder than ever, to fast-food corporations: pay all of your workers enough to afford the basics. Fast-food workers are going on strike today, April 15, in the nationwide movement known as the Fight for $15.
Many in the crowd will be fast-food workers themselves, of course, but who's standing with them may surprise you.
I'm participating in actions in San Francisco and Berkeley, Calif., and we will not be far from Li'l Nancy's Primary Schoolhouse in West Oakland, where Nancy Harvey spends her days enthusiastically preparing young children for what's ahead. She wants to provide for her family. She wants those kids to have a great chance at success. That's why Nancy will be with us.

Americans are spending $153 billion a year to subsidize McDonald's and Wal-Mart's low wage workers

Source: Ken Jacobs, Ken Jacobs

The low wages paid by businesses, including some of the largest and most profitable companies in the U.S. – like McDonald's and Wal-Mart – are costing taxpayers nearly $153 billion a year.

After decades of wage cuts and health benefit rollbacks, more than half of all state and federal spending on public assistance programs goes to working families who need food stamps, Medicaid, or other support to meet basic needs. Let that sink in - American taxpayers are subsidizing people who work - most of them full-time (in some case more than full-time) because businesses do not pay a living wage.

April 14, 2015

How much each state spends on aid to poor workers

Source: Niraj Chokshi, Washington Post

Nearly 56 percent of the $227 billion in federal spending on a handful of assistance programs now goes to working families, according to the report from the University of California, Berkeley's Center for Labor Research and Education. Of the more than $48 billion that states spend, nearly 52 percent goes to such families, defined as those in which at least one member works 10 hours a week for 27 weeks a year.

"The solution isn't cutting back-these programs provide really a vital safety net to American lower-income families, including lower-income working families," says Ken Jacobs, co-author of the report and chairman of the center. He blames low wages and years of reluctant wage growth for the large share of working families relying on aid.

April 13, 2015

Seattle council approves paid parental leave for city workers

Source: Daniel Beekman, The Seattle Times

Seattle city employees who are new parents will get up to four weeks of paid time off at their normal wage or salary under legislation approved Monday by the City Council.

The council voted unanimously to provide the new benefit, which will be available to both men and women who have worked for the city for at least six months.

Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Jean Godden proposed the legislation in February. It will take effect 30 days after Murray signs it, which he might do this week.

Study: When companies pay low wages, taxpayers end up with the rest of the bill

Source: Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post

Wallenbrock is among millions of working Americans whose low wages are supplemented by government support. Families in which at least one member is working now make up the vast majority of those enrolled in major public-assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps, according to a new study. It's a "hidden cost" of low-wage work, researchers say, and it costs taxpayers about $153 billion a year.

According to researchers, this is the first time anyone has calculated how much is spent providing assistance to workers whose wages don't cover their families' expenses. The study, from the University of California at Berkeley's Center for La