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

May 27, 2016

Court Rules Companies Cannot Impose Illegal Arbitration Clauses

Source: Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Noam Scheiber, New York Times

A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that companies cannot force their employees to sign away their right to band together in legal actions, delivering a major victory for American workers and opening an opportunity for the Supreme Court to weigh in. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago struck down an arbitration clause that banned employees from joining together as a class and required workers to battle the employer one by one outside of court. In its opinion, the three-judge panel said that Epic Systems, a Verona, Wis., health care software provider, violated federal labor law when it required its workers to bring any disputes individually to arbitration, a private system of justice where there is no judge or jury. “The increasing use of mandatory arbitration agreements and the prohibition on workers proceeding as a class has been one of the most major developments in employment the last decade,” said Benjamin Sachs, a professor of labor law at Harvard Law School. “Most of the court decisions have facilitated this development. This is a major move in the opposite direction.” By preventing employees from joining together in a collective action, the court said, the arbitration clause ran afoul of a critical piece of the National Labor Relations Act, a landmark 1935 law that gave workers the right to unionize and engage in concerted action.

The Dynamics Of The Digital Workplace

Source: Carol Zichi, Information Week

As companies begin to fully embrace the digital workplace, they should focus on the employee experience the same way they would on the customer experience. As technology makes the world more connected, it is shrinking barriers for employees and creating an entirely new workforce and work environment: the digital workplace. What Is The Digital Workplace? Gartner describes the digital workplace as “a business strategy for promoting employee effectiveness and engagement through a more consumer-like computing environment.” The idea of “from the cubicle to the corner office” no longer exists in the digital workplace, as work is no longer a place. Instead, it now has similar characteristics to an application. Employees want to access “work” on whatever platform they choose, both when and where it is convenient for them. Moreover, mobility often blurs the lines between employees’ work and home life while placing a certain level of expectations on employers. Creating a truly digital workplace is a significant challenge, but organizations that address the necessary dynamics will create a competitive advantage in terms of productivity, innovation, collaboration, and overall employee satisfaction.

Labor Department Backs Foot Locker Workers in Pension Spat

Source: Jacklyn Wille, Bloomberg

May 25 — The Department of Labor is urging a federal appeals court to make it easier for workers to bring class actions challenging misleading statements about their pension benefits. The DOL has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to rule that a group of Foot Locker Inc. workers can bring a class action against the company without having to prove that each individual worker relied on Foot Locker's misrepresentations about the effects of a 1996 pension plan change. If the Second Circuit agrees with the DOL, the ruling would make it easier for workers to file class actions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, whereas a decision to the contrary would limit the ability to obtain class-wide relief in cases claiming that an employer misled its workers about retirement benefits. In February, three industry groups filed a brief arguing the other side of this issue. They urge the Second Circuit to require each Foot Locker worker to individually demonstrate detrimental reliance on the company's misrepresentations. Foot Locker and its workers have spent nearly a decade in court over the company's switch from a traditional pension plan to a cash balance plan, with the workers claiming that Foot Locker concealed the way this switch would negatively affect their benefits. The lawsuit is noteworthy because the workers' requested relief reformation of the Foot Locker pension plan to restore the benefits they lost is a form of equitable relief that has only recently gained traction in disputes over ERISA benefits.

May 25, 2016

New York Attorney General Accuses Domino’s of Wage Theft in Lawsuit

Source: Marc Santora, New York Times

The system, as outlined in a lawsuit filed by the New York State attorney general, was as simple as it was flawed. A pizza is ordered from Domino’s. A pizza is made. A pizza is delivered. The workers who assembled and delivered the pie clock their hours on a computer system, and those workers are then paid. But for years, according to the lawsuit against the corporate franchiser that owns Domino’s Pizza, the computer system used by franchises across the state systematically undercounted hours worked by employees, shortchanging them hundreds of thousands of dollars. The lawsuit, announced on Tuesday, was the latest salvo in a campaign by the attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, against what he says is a pattern of corporations shortchanging low-wage workers. Since 2011, Mr. Schneiderman has secured more than $26 million for almost 20,000 workers who were bilked of wages. But unlike past cases, this one directly targets the corporate franchiser. If the state wins, Mr. Schneiderman hopes the case sets a precedent that makes it harder for corporations that run franchise businesses to avoid responsibility for the actions taken by the stores under their corporate umbrella. “Wage theft is an epidemic causing harm to low-wage workers struggling to support their families every single day,” Mr. Schneiderman said in a statement.

Wedding expenses and Tesla leases: The arms race in employee perks

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

Nick DeMarco runs a small biotech startup in Raleigh, N.C., that makes scientific instruments. But what got his company, Practichem, attention from CNBC's "Power Lunch," the Huffington Post, Fortune and other media outlets last week wasn't the innovative products he's making. It was his promise to lease Tesla Model 3s to employees when they become available. "The world’s changed a lot, and technology people are really hard to bring in," DeMarco, who has 10 full-time employees and is trying to double that number with new hires, said in an interview Monday. He believes spending money to lease the wildly popular cars which are not expected to be available until at least the end of next year will turn out to be a smarter recruiting investment than funneling more money to headhunters. Though he sees the leases as rewards for good performance to help retain current workers, he's also hopeful the media coverage and word-of-mouth from employees will help him hire people with the skills he needs in what he calls an "esoteric field." "We're not sexy," he says. DeMarco's Teslas may be particularly flashy. But companies have been increasingly thinking beyond the usual buffet of benefits as they try to hire and retain workers with in-demand skills amid a tighter labor market. Companies like Fidelity and PwC have publicized the student loan repayment perks they now offer. Firms such Netflix, IBM and KKR have touted family-friendly benefits such as extended parental leave, free shipping for employees' breast milk or paid travel expenses for new mothers' nannies. Boxed Wholesale, an e-commerce company with 122 employees that sells bulk goods, sent out a news release last week announcing that it will help pay for all employees' weddings after the CEO learned about one of his employee's financial needs.

10 Things You Should Know About Work by the Time You're 30

Source: Alison Green, U.S. News and World Report

During your first years in the workforce, you can expect to have a huge learning curve – not just about the details of your job, but about broader issues of how to manage your career and operate successfully in an office. How do you deal with difficult co-workers? Figure out if you're paid fairly? Understand what HR's convoluted memos mean? You'll keep mastering work skills throughout your career, but here are 10 key things that you should make sure you know about work by the time you're 30. How to talk to people much more senior than you. It's pretty common to be intimidated by company higher-ups or industry experts when you're just starting out in your career. But if you let yourself stay intimidated, it will keep you from forming relationships and gaining visibility with decision-makers, and that can hold you back professionally. Don't be shy about chatting with higher-ups or sharing your ideas when appropriate. The more you act like a colleague (which you are), the more you'll be seen that way. How to respond to critical feedback. Being able to listen to feedback about your work with an open mind is enormously important, because feedback is one of the most direct ways to get better at what you do. If you respond defensively or shut down, you'll prevent yourself from hearing important information, lose points with your boss and maybe even make it less likely that you'll hear information that could help you in the future. Instead, listen with an open mind and respond with something like, "This is really useful to hear," or "I appreciate you sharing this with me." If you can't stomach those, try, "I want to take some time to think about this, but I appreciate you telling me."

May 24, 2016

High tech firms lag in diversity, EEOC says

Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post

While the high tech industry is a major source of economic growth in the United States, it generally lags well behind other parts of the private sector in the employment and advancement of women, people of color and older workers. That’s the take-away from an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission forum in Washington last week on “Innovation Opportunity: Examining Strategies to Promote Diverse and Inclusive Workplaces in the Tech Industry.” An agency study, “Diversity in High Tech,” found high-tech firms generally are whiter and more male dominated than other parts of the private sector. “Compared to overall private industry, the high-tech sector employed a larger share of whites (63.5 percent to 68.5 percent), Asian Americans (5.8 percent to 14 percent) and men (52 percent to 64 percent), and a smaller share of African Americans (14.4 percent to 7.4 percent), Hispanics (13.9 percent to 8 percent), and women (48 percent to 36 percent),” the report said. In the executive ranks, the disparities were even starker. At 83 percent, this top level is almost all white. And among the white executives, 80 percent are men.

Homefront pressures have workplace lawsuits soaring

Source: Anna Robaton, CBS News

In late 2014, a federal jury in California awarded nearly $186 million in punitive damages to a former Autozone (AZO) female employee after ruling that the retailer mistreated her based on gender, demoted her after learning she was pregnant and subsequently fired her. Not surprisingly, employers across the country stood up and took notice of the blockbuster award. Yet the case was just the tip of a fast-growing iceberg. Last week, the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California released a study finding that the number of lawsuits brought by employees claiming discrimination related to pregnancy or providing care for family members more than tripled between 2006 and 2015. What's more, employees won 67 percent of the "family-responsibility discrimination" cases that went to trial, according to the study, which is based on an analysis of 4,400 such cases. Workers who prevailed collectively cost employers a bundle. They were awarded nearly $500 million in verdicts and settlements, more than double the amount for the previous decade. And that figure doesn't include confidential settlement agreements.

Foreign-Born Workforce at Two Decade High

Source: Daniel White, Time Magazine

Some 17% of the U.S. workforce was born outside of the country The share of foreign-born workers in the U.S. labor force is at a two decade high, according to recently released labor data. Nearly 17% of the total U.S. labor force was foreign-born in 2015, according to the Labor Department, meaning some 26.3 million workers born outside of the United States. That’s the highest share of the workforce since the Census Bureau started gathering information about the foreign born on the Current Population Survey in 1994.
The foreign-born population are those living in the U.S. who were born outside of the country, including immigrants, refugees, temporary residents (i.e. students) and the undocumented. The labor survey does not separately identify totals for each category.

May 23, 2016

Justices Remand Title VII Legal Fees Dispute

Source: Kevin McGowan, Bloomberg

May 19 — The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may be ordered to pay an employer's attorneys' fees under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when an agency lawsuit is dismissed because the EEOC failed to satisfy its pre-suit requirements, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled. The justices 8-0 reversed a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit decision that a district court ruling on the merits of the underlying discrimination claims is required for an employer to be deemed a “prevailing party” able to recover its legal fees. There's no indication in Title VII that Congress intended that employers defending EEOC suits “should be eligible to recover attorneys' fees only when courts dispose of claims on the merits,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote. Attorneys representing employers and plaintiffs differed on the significance of the court's ruling, which both sides indicated was the expected outcome. A decision that victorious employers may recover their attorneys' fees if the EEOC fails to investigate or to try to settle discrimination claims prior to filing suit could affect the agency's systemic program, said Gerald Maatman, with Seyfarth Shaw in Chicago. Under its systemic program, the EEOC emphasizes investigating and litigating cases affecting an entire employer or industry or large classes of workers. But employers say the EEOC sometimes fails to investigate or conciliate individual bias charges because of its eagerness to develop and litigate systemic cases. The Supreme Court's decision holding the EEOC potentially liable for an employer's attorneys' fees if it neglects those required pre-suit steps should give the agency pause, Maatman told Bloomberg BNA May 19.

How boosting workplace diversity would lift the economy

Source: Shirley Leung, Boston Globe

If we do nothing, it will take another century before women can close the gender gap in the highest ranks of corporate America. That’s according to research from McKinsey & Co., and to change that trajectory, the consulting firm estimates that we as a country will need to spend about $300 billion by 2025 on essential services such as access to affordable child care and paid leave. It is money that will help level the playing field for women in terms of participation in the labor force, pay, and representation in the ranks of management. Now many will say this is money we don’t have, but can we afford the status quo? To explore this issue, we devoted this Sunday Business section to the power of parity and some of the players trying to make it happen. Then we used new research out of McKinsey’s Boston office to better understand what’s holding back women in Massachusetts. Just as diversity in the workplace can be good for corporate bottom lines, McKinsey found that advancing women can give the economy a boost. Enabling a truly female-friendly workplace could generate an additional $2.1 trillion in US economic output in 2025; Massachusetts alone could see an extra $73 billion in gross domestic product. If you have a hard time wrapping your head around the magnitude of that figure, it’s like adding an economy the size of New Hampshire to the Massachusetts GDP.

For Workplace Creativity, Find the Right Dose of Competition

Source: Phyllis Korkki, New York Times

The idea of creativity receives plenty of lip service in the corporate world. Many businesses say they would love their employees to come up with original ideas that bring a flood of new customers and open new markets. Some aim to provide the right incentives for those ideas to bloom, with varying success. Spicing up the workplace with competitive energy is often seen as a way to unleash creativity. Just look at how many leaders use sports analogies to try to motivate their workers. But it’s important to set the dial just right on competition, or innovation will go by the wayside, according to a recent study by Daniel P. Gross, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Business School and the National Bureau of Economic Research. First, though, how do you define and measure such an amorphous concept as creativity? “Social scientists have coalesced around a definition of creativity as the act of producing ideas that are novel and appropriate to the goal at hand,” Dr. Gross wrote in his paper, titled “Creativity Under Fire: The Effects of Competition on Creative Production.” He then sought to quantify creativity by studying commercial logo design competitions, where a sponsor’s favorite design wins a prize.

May 20, 2016

UAW wants union for Tesla factory

Source: Nathan Bomey, USA Today

The United Auto Workers remains interested in unionizing the Tesla Motors assembly plant in California, the union's president told reporters Thursday. The 5.3 million-square-foot Fremont, Calif. factory is the only U.S. assembly plant owned by an American automaker that is not represented by a union. Workers for foreign automakers with U.S. plants generally do not have union representation. Although the Detroit-based UAW has previously expressed in organizing the Tesla plant, the stakes are considerably higher after the California automaker said Wednesday that it plans to manufacture 500,000 of its electric vehicles annually at the factory in 2018 about 10 times its 2015 level. The announcement moved up its timetable for 500,000 by two years. "We’re watching that very closely," UAW President Dennis Williams told reporters in speaking about Tesla. "We just believe workers ought to have a voice in the workplace, and they ought to have collective bargaining rights." Tesla did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment. Williams said the union is "not approaching this in an adversarial way." He said the union long respected Tesla's status as a start-up company. But the automaker's production ambitions would make Tesla the ninth largest seller of new vehicles in the U.S. just behind Volkswagen but ahead of BMW and Mercedes-Benz, as measured by 2018 figures. Tesla announced Wednesday that it would raise up to $1.7 billion through a stock offering to fund the production expansion of its Model 3 electric sedan, its first mass-market model. Tesla plans to start sales of the Model 3 in late 2017, joining the two luxury models it sells now.

Verizon Is Seeing a Big Dip in New Customers Due to Strike

Source: Aaron Pressman, Fortune

The massive walk out of telephone, cable TV, and broadband Internet service installers at Verizon Communications has led to a significant decline in new customers this quarter, the company said on Thursday. Installations and new orders of FiOS service have “significantly dropped” CFO Fran Shammo said speaking at the MoffettNathanson investor conference in New York. As a result, Verizon might see a net loss of cable TV or broadband customers in the quarter after showing net gains in both businesses a year ago, Shammo said. About 40,000 employees who work from Massachusetts to Virginia installing and servicing traditional telephone and the newer FiOS offerings went on strike April 13. For the first month, the two sides traded increasingly heated allegations leading up to an armed confrontation in the Philippines of Verizon security guards and striking U.S. workers. But last Sunday, the Obama administration entered the fray and pressured both sides to return to the bargaining table with a federal mediator.

US Foods Strikes Continue With Sympathy From Denver Workers

Source: Mark Madsen, CBS News

DENVER (CBS4)– The second largest food distributor in the country is having worker issues and on Thursday a sympathy strike started for union workers at US Foods facility in Englewood. “The effect will start tomorrow. We deliver to hospitals, schools, restaurants, anywhere the general public can go out and have a meal,” said Mark Madsen, an employee at US Foods and member of the local Teamsters. A strike started near Baltimore about a month ago when the company asked for millions of dollars’ worth of benefits back from union workers or threatened to shut down the distribution center and move it to another state. “In order to support our fellow teamsters we’re willing to make the sacrifice now in the hopes that in the future it won’t come to Denver,” Madsen said. “We need to protect the middle class working people.” US Foods told CBS 4 in a statement: “Union-represented employees at our Severn, Maryland location are on strike regarding the company’s plans to close our distribution center there. As a show of support, union-represented employees at our US Foods facility in Denver are conducting a sympathy strike. Right now our focus is continuing to provide our customers with the products they need and the service they expect. We have contingency plans in place and are working to minimize any disruptions that may occur.” The facility in Englewood is still operating but with less staff. Two hundred and eighty union members walked off the job Thursday, almost half of the employees.

May 19, 2016

Making Overtime Fair Again

Source: The Editorial Board, New York Times

In a long-needed move, the Obama administration issued new rules on Wednesday to restore the right to overtime pay for millions of salaried workers. Under federal law dating to 1938, an employer does not have to pay time-and-a-half when salaried employees work more than 40 hours a week if they earn enough to qualify as executives, professionals or administrators. The problem is that the salary threshold that defines a white-collar job at least $455 a week, or $23,660 a year has not been fully updated for inflation since 1975. As a result, workers who earn modest salaries are often deemed ineligible for overtime pay. The new rules, which take effect on Dec. 1, 2016, raise the threshold to $47,476. An estimated 4.2 million workers will become newly eligible for overtime and another nine million who should be earning overtime now (because of the nature of their work), but often don’t get it, will no longer be denied the pay that is rightfully theirs. In all, about one-third of salaried employees will be eligible for overtime pay under the new threshold, compared with a mere 7 percent currently.

Laid off Oreo bakery workers question Mondelez CEO on job cuts

Source: Greg Trotter, Chicago Tribune

For the first time since the announcement last summer of 600 job cuts at the Nabisco plant on Chicago's Southwest Side, Mondelez International CEO Irene Rosenfeld fielded questions directly from some of those affected by the layoffs at the company's annual meeting in suburban Lincolnshire Wednesday. Deerfield-based Mondelez, a $30 billion global snack food company known for brands like Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers, has worked to increase its profit margins by cutting costs and improving supply chain efficiency. In Chicago, that means about half of the 1,200 workers at the longtime Oreo plant will be laid off as production is shifted to newer facilities in Mexico. The decision sparked an ongoing public dispute between Mondelez and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, which represents the majority of those being laid off. The two sides are also still involved in stalled contract negotiations. Outside the meeting Wednesday morning, dozens of protesters raucously chanted their discontent. A couple of men even stomped on bags of Oreos in a symbolic act as others applauded. Inside, the scene was quite a bit tamer, proceeding along the lines of a typical shareholder meeting where proposals are made and voted on. But an orderly back-and-forth between Rosenfeld and a handful of laid off employees and their advocates, dominated the conversation.

Kroger workers vote to authorize strike, meetings scheduled for next week

Source: WLSL.com staff and Christina Craig, NBC News

SALEM (WSLS 10) – We could soon find out how Kroger shoppers will be impacted if thousands of employees go on strike. Kroger workers voted to authorize a strike during a meeting on Wednesday at the Salem Civic Center. Everyone we talked to seemed almost happy and even excited with the vote to authorize a strike. More than 1,200 workers voted unanimously to reject the company’s offer and to authorize a strike at 41 stores in the Roanoke Valley region after the hour-long meeting. “I’m really happy with the vote,” said Basim Adbul-Karim, a two-year Kroger employee. “I think we need to show Kroger that we’re serious and we’re worth a heck of a lot more than they’re offering us.” Kroger said they are meeting with the UFCW 400 bargaining committees May 23rd and 24th to work through issues. The parties have signed a contract extension through June 4th. This stems from hundreds of Kroger workers fighting for better benefits because many workers told us they are unhappy with the company’s proposed contract. Before voting to authorize the strike, they voted unanimously to reject a proposed collective bargaining agreement Kroger described as its “last best offer” to associates. The offer would have only provided a slight wage increase of .25 cents and no paid sick days for store associates. It also fell short of renewing Kroger’s commitment to providing health insurance for its retirees.

May 18, 2016

Hiring Hurdle: Finding Workers Who Can Pass a Drug Test

Source: Jackie Calmes, New York Times

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A few years back, the heavy-equipment manufacturer JCB held a job fair in the glass foyer of its sprawling headquarters near here, but when a throng of prospective employees learned the next step would be drug testing, an alarming thing happened: About half of them left. That story still circulates within the business community of this historic port city. But the problem has gotten worse. All over the country, employers say they see a disturbing downside of tighter labor markets as they try to rebuild from the worst recession since the Depression: They are struggling to find workers who can pass a pre-employment drug test. That hurdle partly stems from the growing ubiquity of drug testing, at corporations with big human resources departments, in industries like trucking where testing is mandated by federal law for safety reasons, and increasingly at smaller companies. But data suggest employers’ difficulties also reflect an increase in the use of drugs, especially marijuana employers’ main gripe and also heroin and other opioid drugs much in the news.

What happens every 7 seconds: A workplace injury

Source: Ed Leefeldt, CBS News

Injured on the job? Well, you're not alone. An American worker is injured every seven seconds, 12,900 workers per day and 4.7 million a year, according to the National Safety Council. With the workforce expanding by 160,000 in April and a new class of college graduates joining the hunt, that figure could climb. It's particularly true for younger workers who are just starting out in a new job. "More than one-quarter of injuries occur in the first year of employment," said Rich Ives, vice president of workers' compensation for Travelers Insurance. American industry is in a multigenerational vise. About a third of all workers are fairly young, in the 18- to 34-year-old group. "Teenagers getting their licenses do have a high rate of accidents," noted Ives. And another third is getting older, with 55-plus workers growing all the time and experiencing more sprains and strains. Travelers just released a five-year "Injury Impact Report" of 1.5 million workers' compensation claims in an effort to pinpoint where, why and how injuries occur and how much they cost. Workers' compensation insurance is a good barometer for serious injuries, because it pays when someone is hurt at work or acquires an occupational disease because of their previous job, such as black lung or mesothelioma. It covers serious injuries that require medical treatment, wage replacement and vocational rehabilitation. As one of the largest workers' compensation insurers, Travelers found that injuries can occur in any business or occupation. The most commonplace were simple ones such as lifting, lowering or carrying something, and the most likely consequence was a strain, sprain, bruise or inflammation. These covered nearly one-third of all claims.

EEOC to investigate equal pay

Source: Beth A. Slagle, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

In response to President Barack Obama’s National Equal Pay Task Force, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has proposed new regulations to collect wage data from employers. The goal is to identify illegal wage discrimination. As most employers know, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against employees based on sex, race, color, national origin and religion. While employees can sue their employers if they have evidence of purposeful discrimination in the workplace, many companies may inadvertently be paying workers unequally. The EEOC already requires employers with more than 100 employees to submit data about the number of individuals they employ, broken down by job function, race, ethnicity and sex. The proposed new regulation will require the same employers to also report related pay data in each category based on wages reported on W-2 tax forms, starting in 2017. If the Office of Management and Budget approves the EEOC’s proposed regulation, it will mark the first time the government will collect data that can accurately assess whether companies are discriminating among employees who are performing equal work.

May 17, 2016

Amazon Proves Infertile Soil for Unions, So Far

Source: Nick Wingfield, New York Times

SEATTLE — In early April, Kellen Wadach, the general manager at Amazon’s warehouse in Middletown, Del., told hundreds of workers at the cavernous facility a troubling story about his family being abandoned by his father’s union. Flashing a photograph of himself as a boy with his father, Mr. Wadach said the union did not help his family financially after his father died suddenly in front of their house, not even bothering to send a condolence card, according to three current workers at the warehouse who heard him speak and asked for anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. The problem with Mr. Wadach’s story was that much of it appears to have been untrue. For years, Amazon has successfully battled to keep unions out of the company. And the incident involving Mr. Wadach was an illustration of how important it was to Amazon or at least to some of its employees to keep it that way. Just days after a reporter approached Amazon about inconsistencies in Mr. Wadach’s story, Scott Stanzel, an Amazon spokesman, said Mr. Wadach was no longer with the company. Mr. Wadach did not respond to repeated messages sent to his email address and Facebook account. A voice mail message left at a listed number for his mother was not returned. In the United States, Amazon employs more than 90,000 people in what the company calls fulfillment centers, giant warehouses where customer orders are prepared and shipped.

Griffin Will Seek NLRB Change on Withdrawal of Recognition

Source: Lawrence E. Dube, Bloomberg

May 11 — National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Richard F. Griffin has instructed regional offices to argue in unfair labor practices cases that the board should adopt a rule that significantly limits the right of an employer to withdraw recognition from a union that represents its employees. In a May 9 memorandum to regional directors and field office heads, Griffin said current board law permits an employer to withdraw recognition from a union based on objective evidence the union has actually lost majority support of employees in a bargaining unit. That approach has “proven problematic,” Griffin said. The general counsel wrote in Memorandum GC 16-03 that NLRB offices should urge the board to rule that “absent an agreement between the parties, an employer may lawfully withdraw recognition from a Section 9(a) representative based on the results of an [NLRB]… election.” Griffin said that in Levitz Furniture Co. of the Pacific, 333 N.L.R.B. 717, 166 LRRM 1329 (2001), the board rejected the general counsel's argument that employers shouldn't be permitted to withdraw recognition from unions that represent employees under Section 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act absent election results showing employees had opted to reject union representation. The Levitz board adopted a framework for analyzing employer withdrawals, but “the Board noted that it would revisit this framework if experience showed that it did not effectuate the purposes of the Act,” Griffin said.

What Happens When Major Companies Take Mental Health Seriously

Source: Lindsay Holmes, Huffington Post

Matthew Shaw was working as a journalist in London in 2014 when he experienced a bout of depression on the job. He realized that the resources available to him and his colleagues weren’t necessarily addressing their needs, and many people felt they had to keep their diagnoses a secret. Fast-forward two years, and Shaw is a visiting fellow at the University of Michigan Depression Center, where he’s looking into how workplaces can make mental health a priority. “A lot of us are bringing our mental health issues with us when we go to work,” he told The Huffington Post. “I felt guilty talking about it, I think a lot of people do. But the truth of it is, people have mental health issues and they go to work. That doesn’t go away.” Shaw certainly isn’t alone in his experience. Approximately one in five American adults experience a mental health issue in a given year, but frank discussions about these illnesses are still lacking in the workplace. Many employees stay quiet about their conditions out of fear that they’ll only be further stigmatized or even held back professionally if they discuss medication, time off or therapy with a boss or coworkers.

May 16, 2016

Start-Ups Embrace Arbitration to Settle Workplace Disputes

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

Tara Zoumer thought she had found her dream job when she was hired at WeWork, a $16 billion start-up that rents office space to young entrepreneurs. The walls were adorned with Pop Art. Neon light fixtures encouraged employees to “Hustle harder,” and there was beer on tap. “It was like walking onto a set of a movie,” Ms. Zoumer said. But shortly after she became an associate community manager in WeWork’s office in Berkeley, Calif., reality set in. Ms. Zoumer said she was feeling pinched because her annual salary was only $42,000, a sum that, on some weeks, left her without money to ride the subway. She said she thought many of her duties leading tours for prospective tenants, tidying up, answering phones and changing the kegs were more suited to an hourly wage with a possibility for overtime. Ms. Zoumer tried to enlist colleagues to file what she hoped would be a class-action lawsuit to fight for overtime pay. But the company had instituted a policy that could force employees to ultimately resolve disputes through arbitration instead of the courts, which essentially shut down Ms. Zoumer’s lawsuit, since arbitration bars individuals from joining in a class action. When Ms. Zoumer refused to sign the new policy, she was fired. As once-plucky start-ups like WeWork grow the company’s work force has swelled to 1,500 from 300 a year ago they are taking a page from the playbook of big corporations, which are increasingly using arbitration to thwart employees from bringing any meaningful legal challenge in court, an investigation by The New York Times found last fall.

One Weird Trick for Getting Good Work Benefits

Source: Rebecca Greenfield, Bloomberg

What do the finance, technology, and manufacturing industries all have in common? Employees with bargaining power. Oh, and good benefits. Glassdoor analyzed 470,000 reviews on its website to assess the quality of benefits across job types. The site's users can rank 55 individual benefits and also entire packages on a scale of 1 to 5. Glassdoor dug into the data to see what industries have the best parental leave, 401(k) packages, and other perks. "We wanted to know what can we learn from these reviews about where benefits are good and bad," said Glassdoor's chief economist Andrew Chamberlain. "Not just which industries offer benefits, but what is the quality of them."
Rather than look at the average ratings by industry, which can obscure diversity, the researchers looked at the full distribution of ratings. Finance, tech, and manufacturing all had the highest average ratings, but also the most consistently high ratings. That tech and finance companies offer the best benefits isn't all that surprising, but even Chamberlain didn't expect to see manufacturing so high up. "It gets bad press because it's a declining industry in the U.S. and there's not a lot of job growth," he said. "But it is heavily unionized, and those workers are bargaining for quality benefits." While coders and traders don't tend to belong to unions, they get their negotiating power from a different source. "These are very competitive labor markets," said Chamberlain. "These workers are hard to get and hard to keep." Competition for talent has led to a perks and benefits arms race. Companies in these industries have beefed up parental leave policies and added new benefits, such as helping employees repay their student loans, in an attempt to attract and retain the best workers. When Glassdoor dug into the data further, it found finance and information technology had the best maternity and paternity leave offerings, for example. Finance workers also have the highest-rated 401(k) plans.

Lowe's settles U.S. claims it fired workers on medical leave

Source: Jonathan Stempel, Reuters

Lowe's Cos (LOW.N) has reached an $8.6 million settlement of a U.S. agency lawsuit accusing the nation's second-largest home improvement retailer of illegally firing workers who went on medical leave for a long time. The accord resolves Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claims that Lowe's violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by terminating employees whose medical leaves of absence exceeded the company's 180- or 240-day maximum leave policy. A consent decree detailing the settlement was approved on Thursday by U.S. District Judge Andre Birotte in Los Angeles. It requires Lowe's to retain consultants to oversee its leave of absence policies, and track workers' requests for accommodations. The Mooresville, North Carolina-based company also agreed to improve employee training. Lowe's denied wrongdoing in agreeing to settle. The decree lasts for four years. The accord sends a "clear message" that automatically firing disabled workers who reach rigid limits on leaves of absence may be illegal, EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said. Karen Cobb, a Lowe's spokeswoman, said the company updated its leave of absence policies in 2010, and has since taken steps "to ensure consistency in applying our policies and help employees manage their leaves of absence and accommodations."

May 13, 2016

Gender bias in Hollywood? U.S. digs deeper to investigate the industry's hiring practices

Source: Rebecca Keegan, Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has begun quietly expanding its investigation into gender discrimination in Hollywood. A year after the American Civil Liberties Union first urged government agencies to investigate a pattern of gender bias in the hiring of film and TV directors, and seven months after the EEOC began interviewing female directors, the government agency is now widening its circle of interview subjects to include studio executives, producers, agents, actors and male directors, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly. The EEOC has never publicly confirmed the existence of the investigation, citing Title VII confidentiality provisions, but a statement the ACLU issued Wednesday attests that the probe is moving forward. "ACLU SoCal and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project are pleased that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs gave careful consideration to our findings and responded by launching a wide-ranging and well-resourced investigation into the industry’s hiring practices," said Melissa Goodman, director of the LGBT, Gender and Reproductive Justice Project at the ACLU of Southern California, in a statement released Wednesday. "We are encouraged by the scope of the government’s process and are hopeful that the government will be moving to a more targeted phase."

Joe’s Crab Shack Tried Getting Rid of Tips. It Didn’t Last Long.

Source: Daniel Victor, New York Times

The day may come when you won’t have to figure out what 15 percent to 20 percent of your check is at the end of a meal, but the earliest experiments in eliminating tipping at American restaurants have proved to be less than conclusive. In one closely watched case, Joe’s Crab Shack has decided to revert to accepting tips at most of its trial locations, six months after announcing that it would become the nation’s first major restaurant chain to test a no-tipping policy at 18 locations. The casual seafood chain, which is based in Houston and has more than 130 restaurants nationwide, raised its menu prices at the test sites and said it gave higher, fixed wages to its staff. At the time, Ray Blanchette, then the chief executive of its parent company, Ignite Restaurant Group, called tipping “an antiquated model.” But Bob Merritt, the new chief executive, announced in a conference call with investors and analysts last week that the company was cutting back the experiment and that it would continue at just four restaurants, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.

Worker Non-Compete Clauses Are Incredibly Common and Often Make No Sense

Source: Kerry Close, Time Magazine

Companies more likely to invest in workers they think have fewer outside options. If you signed a non-compete agreement before you started your job, you’re in good–if annoyed–company. A recent White House report found that 18% of American workers are currently restricted by non-compete clauses. If you’ve never signed one–or even if you have and had no idea what it was–a non-compete is a legal agreement that prevents an employee from leaving a job at one company and taking a similar one with a competing company, for a specified period of time. Of the workers who have signed non-competes, fewer than half say they had access to trade secrets that a potential rival company could take advantage of. What’s more, 37% of workers say they have signed non-compete agreements at some point in their careers.

May 12, 2016

Transgender Fight in North Carolina May Hinge On 1964 Law

Source: Richard Perez-Pena and Tamar Lewin, New York Times

The legal battle over which bathrooms transgender people can use in North Carolina turns on a deceptively simple question: Can a law, written in the heat of the civil rights movement generations ago, apply to people the drafters never intended to cover? The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed after years of marches, beatings, sit-ins and lynchings, part of the convulsive change across the country that gave African-Americans the same rights that white citizens had to drink at water fountains, get jobs, buy homes, stay at hotels and vote. A creature of its time, the law prohibits discrimination because of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” The word sex made it into the bill at the last minute, almost accidentally. It was inserted only after the drafting and congressional hearings, when the bill went to the House floor. Representative Howard W. Smith, a Virginia Democrat who opposed the bill, introduced an amendment adding sex discrimination, prompting laughter from his colleagues, who mockingly offered other suggested additions.

Most Employees Feel Authentic at Work, but It Can Take a While

Source: Vanessa Buote, Harvard Business Review

Most of us engage in self-presentation in the workplace at least occasionally. We actively manage our behavior, emotions, or the way we are perceived by coworkers and bosses. We do it for a variety of reasons: Some people feel they cannot freely express emotion at work, others believe they cannot share their sense of humor, and still others feel they must “have it all together” or risk hurting their reputation or credibility. Recently, researchers have begun to explore the implications for authenticity in the workplace. One study found that the greater employees’ feelings of authenticity are, the greater their job satisfaction, engagement, and self-reported performance. We suggest, then, that the crucial point is finding a balance so that we can be true to ourselves while flourishing and finding success within the company.

Does Title VII ban transgender bias? 'Steady drumbeat of cases' supports DOJ in bathroom bill case

Source: Debra Cassensweiss, ABA Journal

The legal protection against sex discrimination was added to the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 at the last minute by a Virginia congressman who had opposed the bill. The congressman claimed he was sincere in adding the language, and the amendment passed despite speculation that it was intended to weaken support for the bill, the New York Times reports. Now, advocates for transgender rights say that language in Title VII of the act protects against gender identity bias, an idea that has been accepted by one federal appeals court and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The issue is at the center of dueling lawsuits filed by the state of North Carolina and the U.S. Justice Department over the state’s bathroom bill, which requires schools and other government-controlled facilities to restrict multiple-occupancy bathrooms to people of the same biological sex. The Justice Department claims the law violates Title VII, as well as Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. North Carolina claims the Justice Department is trying to “unilaterally rewrite long-established federal civil rights laws.” The Title VII interpretation that supports transgender rights is based on language in a 1989 Supreme Court case, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Washington Post reports. The plaintiff, Ann Hopkins, had claimed Price Waterhouse refused to make her a partner because male partners believed she acted too masculine and she should dress and look more feminine.

May 11, 2016

Detroit's Educational Catastrophe

Source: Beth Hawkins, Atlantic

Three months into her son’s first pass at third grade, Arlyssa Heard had a breakdown. Judah was bright, but had begun calling himself stupid. The chaos of Detroit’s precarious education landscape had forced him to switch schools every few months, leaving him further and further behind. There was no central system to transfer Judah’s records when he moved, and according to Heard the school where he started the 2014-15 academic year had a single teacher assigned to 44 third-graders. Heard was virtually alone in trying to deal with the fact that her boy, then 8, could write only the first two letters of his name. Heard says she was one of the parents Detroit Public Schools turned to when it needed a strong family showing at a rally or community members to serve on a task force. She was running for the Detroit School Board. But when she needed help, she had nowhere to turn. “Here I was this advocate for education, and I couldn’t find a place for my son,” she says. “I was crying in the principal’s office and I said, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ The principal said, ‘I don’t either.’”

A modern family leave policy needs these three things

Source: Brigid Schulte and Anne-Marie Slaughter, Washington Post

The bad news: In the latest World Bank report on the paid family leave policies of more than 170 countries, the United States once again shows up as one of only four that offers no such thing alongside Tonga, Suriname and Papua New Guinea. But here’s the good news: As the research mounts about the physical and mental health, child development and economic benefits of paid family leave, as states continue to pass local policies, and as presidential candidates from left and right have offered proposals, there is a slow and growing consensus that a national paid family leave program in the United States is no longer a matter of if, but when. This puts the United States in position to leapfrog and learn from the mistakes and successes of programs in other countries and our own states. We have the opportunity to turn what some have called “abject cruelty” into a paid family leave policy for the 21st century. The first lesson? Make leave equally available to men and women. The United States is already ahead of the game in this regard the unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act is already gender neutral. But that’s not the case in many other countries. The World Bank reports that women have an average of 106 days of paid maternity leave around the globe. That’s 15 times more than what men get: a paltry seven days. (Bulgaria, for example, gives mothers 410 days and fathers 15.) Longer leave for mothers was initially envisioned as a way to keep them in the workforce and promote gender equality. But that’s not how they’ve worked. Instead, decades of experience shows that long leave for women only, understandably, has made private-sector employers reluctant to hire, retain and promote them. That’s why in Sweden which from 1974 to 1995 offered only women generous maternity leave most women wound up working part time in the public sector and are still juggling the traditional role of primary caregiver at home. (It’s of several countries now trying to promote gender equality by offering a “daddy quota.”)

Committee Passes Paid Family Leave Bill In Minnesota Senate

Source: Pat Kessler, CBS News

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A Minnesota Senate Committee today OK’d a bill to expand family and medical leave. Many companies already voluntarily offer extended leave to families, but Minnesota would require it for certain businesses. “We are going to have a huge patchwork, around this state, of Minnesotans who have these kind of benefits, and Minnesotans who don’t,” Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL) said. Rural lawmakers say it’s an important tool to keep workers from moving away. Family and medical leave benefits are becoming more and more common around the country. But there’s resistance in Minnesota to a bill forcing private companies to participate. For new parents, or adult children caring for seriously illfamily members, it’s a significant benefit 12 weeks of family or medical leave, which is more than many other states. “There [are] no states that give more than six weeks right now,” Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) said. “And so we are moving into an area that we don’t know.” The bill requires private companies with more than 21 workers to offer family and medical leave. Workers and businesses would pay into an insurance fund to page wages for workers on leave for pregnancy, bonding or family care.

May 10, 2016

Uber drivers unite. But is that enough to wring change from ride-sharing giant in NYC?

Source: Frederick Kunkle, Washington Post

Uber drivers have formed a new labor organization in New York City to counter the power of the global ride-sharing company and win better terms for drivers although even some backers wonder whether the group will have enough oomph to get anything done because it lacks the legal status of a union. The new drivers association calls itself the Amalgamated Local of Livery Employees in Solidarity, or ALLES, for short. It’s meant to be a play on the German phrase “über alles,” which appeared in Germany’s national anthem at one time. (More later.) “Clearly, our aim is just to get a better deal for the driver,” said ALLES co-chair Kevin P. Lynch, who helped organize black car limousine service in New York for the Machinists union more than a decade ago. “And that should be a significantly better deal than they have right now, because they’re not doing well with the current arrangements.” Chief among the drivers’ complaints is Uber’s “drastically” reducing drivers’ compensation, Lynch said. He said Uber drivers, who must be licensed by the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), now make 30 percent less than they did when Uber became active in New York. “They carry an awful lot of expenses,” Lynch said. “They pay car payments every month. They pay payments for their car insurance every month, licensing fees from TLC, all these different things. And they buy their own gasoline and pay their car repair and all that. They’re not making enough on each ride now…” As if to add insult to injury, Lynch said, Uber then urged passengers not to tip drivers. Besides pay, drivers also have other grievances that need to be redressed.

Teamsters pension fund to Congress: We need your help

Source: Jennifer Bjorhus and Jim Spencer, Minneapolis Star Tribune

With the retirements of 407,000 people on the line, the Teamsters' Central States Pension Fund is appealing to Congress to help solve its dire financial predicament. The $16.1 billion fund holds retirement money for trucking industry workers and retirees across the country, including 22,000 in Minnesota. After the U.S. Treasury on Friday rejected the pension's plan to cut retirement benefits, the head of the Central States fund said trustees haven't decided whether to file another rescue proposal. If they do, it would require far deeper pension cuts than those originally proposed, Central States executive director Thomas Nyhan said Monday. "I clearly hope that there's been a heightened awareness of this problem in Congress and that the folks who have urged rejection of the rescue plan feel some responsibility to come forward now and provide a solution to the problem," he said. The Treasury's rejection on Friday was the first major test of the 2014 Multiemployer Pension Reform Act, which gave broader authority to troubled pensions to cut already-earned benefits. Nyhan said he supports the Keep Our Pension Promises Act, which he said is the only legislative action he's aware of that offers a meaningful solution. Nyhan said he would consider legislation combining pension cuts with direct aid to Central States.

Verizon workers lose benefits during strike

Source: Christian Schaffer, ABC News

It’s been nearly a month since thousands of Verizon workers went out on strike. You may have seen union members with picket signs outside Verizon stores around the area lately; several of them were outside the store in Timonium on Monday. “It's just about a fair contract. We're just trying to hang on to what we have, not even move forward anymore,” said Phil Porter of the Communications Workers of America Local 2100. The striking workers staff Verizon's call centers, and repair the company's copper land-lines. “There's not enough workers to do the job anymore. They have cut and cut and cut,” Porter said. They say worker shortages have forced them to work longer hours, and in many cases move out of state for months at a time. “It's not about wages, it's about the health care. It’s about moving the jobs overseas. And it's about forcing workers to move out of state for periods of time,” Porter said. While on strike, the workers are not paid; many have taken on part-time jobs. And now, after nearly a month, Verizon has ended health benefits for striking workers. “It's hard on everyone for us to walk out, from Verizon customers to Verizon employees. This was our last resort,” Porter said.

May 9, 2016

Arizona Restores Health Program for Children of Working Poor

Source: Fernanda Santos, New York Times

PHOENIX — A health care program for children of the working poor that had been left out of the budget approved by the Arizona Legislature this week was resuscitated on Friday, after Democrats and moderate Republicans agreed to attach it to a bill expanding disabled students’ eligibility for school vouchers. After blocking a previous stand-alone bill authorizing the program last month, the Senate president, Andy Biggs, allowed the amended measure to come to a vote on Friday. The House of Representatives had already passed it 38 to 21 late Thursday. Sixteen state senators 11 Democrats and five Republicans voted for it, essentially restoring the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, known in Arizona as KidsCare, six years after the state froze enrollment in the program to cut costs. The senators did so under intense protests from conservative lawmakers. One of them, Senator Nancy Barto of Phoenix, said: “Some of us here on the floor have obviously forgotten that we were not elected to expand government programs. We were elected to get rid of them.” Late Friday afternoon, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, wrote on Twitter, “Just signed KidsCare.” Now, Arizona will no longer be the only state in the country where children whose parents make too much to qualify for Medicaid yet too little to afford private insurance do not qualify for subsidized health care.

Three Things That Haunt McDonald's Workplace: Minimum Wage, Rude Customers, And Bad Management

Source: Panos Mourdoukoutas , Forbes

McDonald’s is a great company. When it comes to its business model, that is which has helped McDonald’s grow and prosper for several decades, generating flexible job opportunities for hundreds of thousands of people. Especially for younger people who look for part-time employment while in school. Some employees like the food and the flexible working hours. Others like the company’s responsiveness to overall employee needs and desire for growth opportunities. That’s consistent with the company’s career statement. “At McDonald’s, we’re all about meeting people where they are and helping them unlock their full potential. Along with our independent owner/operators, we offer resources that help open the doors of opportunity for learning, training and advancement for employees as well as leaders everywhere we do business.” But many employees have expressed three serious concerns about McDonald’s workplace: low pay, bad management, and rude customers.

Are There Limits on Undocumented Workers' Title VII Rights?

Source: Patrick Dorrian, Bloomberg

May 2 — Workers who are in the U.S. illegally are protected under federal job bias laws, but maybe only after they’ve been hired and perhaps not from all forms of discrimination. It’s settled law that undocumented workers can’t be discriminated against based on any of the Title VII-listed traits, but that list doesn’t include immigration or citizenship status, Marielena Hincapié told Bloomberg BNA April 29. She’s the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles. Although national origin is a protected trait under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, “in everyday life, there’s often a fine line” between behavior that targets a worker’s national origin and behavior directed at his or her immigration status, Hincapié said. Donald R. Livingston of management-side firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP in Washington said undocumented workers may only be covered under Title VII while actually working for an employer. At least that's the law in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, he said. Under Egbuna v. Time-Life Libraries, Inc., 153 F.3d 184, 77 FEP Cases 777 (4th Cir. 1998) (en banc), a Title VII retaliation case, employers in the Fourth Circuit can’t be held liable for refusing to hire someone who isn’t authorized to work in the U.S., Livingston told Bloomberg BNA April 29.

May 6, 2016

U.S. employment slows as only 160,000 jobs created in April, joblessness rate at 5.0 percent

Source: Chico Harlan, Washington Post

The U.S. added 160,000 jobs in April, new government data showed Friday morning, the weakest pace of hiring in seven months. Though the unemployment rate held steady at 5.0 percent, Friday’s jobs data provided an unexpectedly downcast signal about the nation’s labor market: A surge of Americans dropped out of the workforce and hiring in several key industries, including construction and manufacturing, all but stalled. The Department of Labor also revised downward jobs gains in the prior two months by a combined 19,000. The deceleration in jobs growth provides the first potential signal that broader economic sluggishness the result of thinned corporate profits and cautious business and consumer spending could be spilling into the labor market. Economists said Friday that the spike in anxiety about the global economy earlier this year could be making employers more wary about expanding their payrolls and adding costs. “This 160,000 is more consistent with the slower pace of the economy,” said John Silvia, managing director and chief economist at Wells Fargo. “Maybe the aberration is not this month, but the prior six months.”

Women in Tech Band Together to Track Diversity, After Hours

Source: Mike Isaac, New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Ellen Pao spent the last few years spotlighting the technology industry’s lack of diversity, in court and beyond. Erica Baker caused a stir at Google when she started a spreadsheet last year for employees to share their salaries, highlighting the pay disparities between those of different genders doing the same job. Laura I. Gómez founded a start-up focused on improving diversity in the hiring process. Now the three along with five other prominent Silicon Valley women from companies including Pinterest, Stripe and Slack are starting an effort to collect and share data to help diversify the rank-and-file employees who make up tech companies. The nonprofit venture, called Project Include, was unveiled on Tuesday. “The standard mantra for every company on diversity statistics is, ‘We’re not doing well, but we’re working on it,’” said Ms. Pao, a former venture capitalist at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, who sued the firm for accusations of gender discrimination and lost. “People don’t learn anything from that. Can you tell us what are you actually doing?” The group’s push is one of the more visible diversity efforts to come from women in Silicon Valley as tech companies grapple with criticism over the makeup of their work forces, which skew white and male. Over the last few years, tech entrepreneurs like Kimberly Bryant of Black Girls Code and Laura Weidman Powers of Code 2040 have promoted the inclusion of young women and minorities in early computer science education programs with their start-ups.

How paid family leave could become a reality in the U.S.

Source: Jeanne Sahadi, CNN

Most people can't afford to take real time off from their jobs without pay. Yet that's the only choice a majority of U.S. workers have when they have a baby or care for an ailing parent or spouse. Nearly 25% of women go back to work within two weeks of having a baby, mostly because they can't afford to be out any longer, said Ellen Bravo, executive director of the advocacy group Family Values @Work. "That's a scandal." The situation may soon change, however, thanks to a slow but steady trend among states to provide guaranteed paid family leave insurance programs. Today, four states have passed such laws California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and, just last month, New York. A fifth state Washington passed a paid parental leave law 10 years ago, but it has yet to go into effect for lack of funding. There is currently a push to rectify that and expand the program to cover workers who care for seriously ill family members or themselves if they become ill. Meanwhile, there are ongoing efforts in at least 15 other states, as well as Washington, D.C., to get paid family leave laws on the books, Bravo said. Her hope and expectation is that within five years there could be at least a dozen states that have them. And that, she said, may serve as a wake-up call to Congress to finally pass a federal paid family leave law to establish a national floor.

May 5, 2016

Rule on Arbitration Would Restore Right to Sue Banks

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

The nation’s consumer watchdog is unveiling a proposed rule on Thursday that would restore customers’ rights to bring class-action lawsuits against financial firms, giving Americans major new protections and delivering a serious blow to Wall Street that could cost the industry billions of dollars. The proposed rule, which would apply to bank accounts, credit cards and other types of consumer loans, seems almost certain to take effect, since it does not require congressional approval. In effect, the move by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau the biggest that the agency has made since its inception in 2010 will unravel a set of audacious legal maneuvers by corporate America that has prevented customers from using the court system to challenge potentially deceitful banking practices. Honing their plan over decades, credit card companies, banks and other lenders devised a way to use the fine print of their contracts to push consumers out of court and into arbitration, where borrowers must battle powerful companies on their own. Without the ability to pool resources, most people abandon their claims and never make it to arbitration. The new rules would mean that lenders could not force people to agree to mandatory arbitration clauses that bar class actions when those customers sign up for financial products. The changes would not apply to existing accounts, though consumers would be free to pay off their old loans and open new accounts that are covered. And while those rules are not final yet there will be a 90-day public comment period financial industry lawyers say they are tough to derail.

Tracking the Trends in Bringing Our Own Devices to Work

Source: Jane McConnell, Harvard Business Review

For the last five years or so, one of the major discussions in the corporate IT world has been around the related issues of the consumerization of IT and employees who bring their personal devices to work (the so-called BYO movement, for “bring your own”). I explored the BYO movement, looking at official policies and real-life practices for BYOD (bring your own device), BYOPC (bring your own computer) and BYOA (bring your own application, including using the public cloud). I discovered that while the BYO movement has plateaued overall, it has risen significantly in one part of the workforce client-facing employees. It’s also more common among the high performers in that category. Let’s first take a look at the general BYO landscape. As I described in my 2014 and 2015 reports, for two years running, BYOD existed in over half the 300 companies surveyed: 35% of organizations officially allowed it and 20% did not officially allow it but acknowledged its existence. In the same period, BYOPC, although less common, was present in a third of the companies, but in only 15% was it officially permitted.

Union alleges labor law violations by Lake County Circuit Court Clerk's Office

Source: Emily K. Coleman, Chicago Tribune

The Lake County Circuit Court Clerk's Office is disputing allegations that it intimidated and interfered with efforts to unionize by its employees, including by firing one employee. An investigator with the Illinois Labor Relations Board has determined that the charges meet the threshold required to hold a hearing before an administrative law judge, said the board's executive director, Melissa Mlynski. e Lake County Circuit Court Clerk's Office is disputing allegations that it intimidated and interfered with efforts to unionize by its employees, including by firing one employee. An investigator with the Illinois Labor Relations Board has determined that the charges meet the threshold required to hold a hearing before an administrative law judge, said the board's executive director, Melissa Mlynski. After further reprimands, she was fired, something the union said was in retribution for her union activities, though the office's chief deputy, Jeanne Polydoris, countered that no one in the office has been fired for union activities. "We've terminated employees for gross misconduct, excessive absences and poor work," she said in an email Wednesday.

May 4, 2016

Are minimum wage advocates becoming victims of their own success?

Source: Amber Phillips, Washington Post

When left to voters, raising the minimum wage has had astounding success. Over the past 20 years, every statewide minimum wage ballot measure but two has passed. In 2014 alone, four states Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota approved a minimum wage increase by ballot measure. And that makes sense: When given a choice, voters will choose the one they think gives them and their neighbors more money. But these ballot measures could be victims of their own success. Now even the threat of a credible one is enough to spur Republican-led state legislatures to take matters into their own hands to stop it and any significant wage increase that would come along with it. The progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center is tracking five ballot measures in four states and the District of Columbia that could be thwarted by opponents. This year, state legislatures in Alabama and Idaho passed laws preventing municipalities from raising their own minimum wages. Other states, like Michigan, voted in 2014 to raise the minimum wage, but for far less than what advocates were proposing in a ballot measure. In states where a ballot measure for a wage in the $12 range appears to be a done deal, as in Maine, opponents are trying to get a competing, lower proposal on the ballot for November.

Verizon, Unions Still Far From Agreement After Latest Talks Fail

Source: Scott Moritz, Bloomberg

Verizon Communications Inc. and two labor unions representing about 39,000 striking landline workers rejected one another’s latest proposals toward a new contract Monday, though they remain open to a new round of talks.
The two sides are struggling to narrow differences over moving jobs overseas and closing call centers, George Kohl, a representative for the Communications Workers of America, said on a conference call Tuesday. Richard Young, a Verizon spokesman, said the carrier rebuffed the union’s counteroffer on the issues without providing details. “Benefits don’t matter if you don’t have a job,” Louise Novotny, a CWA representative, said on the conference call. Members of the CWA and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers walked off the job 20 days ago, and have picketed hundreds of Verizon offices, stores, equipment facilities and jobs sites in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. The FiOS technicians, cable splicers and customer-service representatives have been working without a contract since Aug. 1.

Hiring bias study: Resumes with black, white, Hispanic names treated the same

Source: Alexa Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune

New research on hiring bias found resumes bearing names traditionally held by blacks and Hispanics are just as likely to lead to callbacks and job interviews as those bearing white-sounding names. The findings, announced last week by the University of Missouri, diverge from the results of a famous study from more than a decade ago that found Lakishas and Jamals were far less likely to get job interviews than Emilys and Gregs. But study co-author Cory Koedel, an associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of Missouri, cautions that it would "be crazy" to interpret the results to suggest hiring discrimination is a problem of the past. "People should not overreact to this study, but I think it is a data point to be considered when thinking about discrimination in the labor market today," Koedel said. The study is the first to apply the resume test to Hispanic applicants, Koedel said, but most of the attention it is getting is fixated on the black-white test. The new study, which is forthcoming in the journal Applied Economics Letters, has important differences from the research published in 2004 by University of Chicago professor Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, then at MIT and now at Harvard.

May 3, 2016

As Puerto Rico Defaults, Eyes Turn to Washington

Source: Mary Williams Walsh, New York Times

Puerto Rico’s default on most of a $422 million debt payment on Monday puts the spotlight back on Washington to enact a rescue package for the island, and congressional aides said a revised bill would be introduced next week. On Monday, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew renewed his call on Congress to act swiftly, warning in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan that without a legal framework for a debt restructuring, Puerto Rico is in danger of getting caught in “a series of cascading defaults” that could lead to a taxpayer bailout. “This is not just a matter of financial liabilities and litigation,” Mr. Lew said in the letter, which was circulated to other lawmakers and released publicly. Late last year, Mr. Ryan instructed the relevant House committees to find a “reasonable solution” for Puerto Rico. Mr. Lew, in Monday’s letter and in an interview last month with the Spanish-language television station Univision, cited signs of mounting woes, including the closing of hospital facilities on the island and the struggle to contain the spread of the Zika virus with scant financial resources available. “The human costs for the 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico are real. And they are escalating daily,” Mr. Lew wrote.

Ethiopian immigrants turn job niche into labor activism

Source: Pamela Constable, Washington Post

In his native Ethiopia, Bert Bayou was a middle-class professional with a United Nations job. But like tens of thousands of his countrymen, he left his war-torn homeland to start over in the United States. Arriving in Washington in 2001, he used the immigrant grapevine to find low-wage jobs in parking garages and coffee shops where other Ethiopians worked. Today Bayou, 38, is a labor union official in the District and the veteran of a successful campaign to improve job conditions for garage workers. Now, his union is hoping to organize another niche of Ethiopian employment: the restaurants and newsstands at Reagan National and Dulles International airports. More than 1,500 people sell snacks and magazines, wait on tables and clean floors at dozens of terminal outlets such as Starbucks and Hudson News, which are under contract at both airports with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Between 60 and 75 percent of those workers are from Ethi­o­pia, according to union officials.

Chicago Teachers Union says it still hasn't decided timing on strike

Source: Juan Perez Jr. and John Byrne, Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Teachers Union on Monday said its governing body has yet to vote on the timing of a potential walkout and took issue with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's claim that the union had "agreed not to strike." The union's executive board will meet this week before discussing a potential strike with its house of delegates Wednesday. Emanuel on Monday seized on comments union Vice President Jesse Sharkey made to the Sun-Times that suggested members "would not be looking at a strike in May" unless the school district "provokes us." "The good news is, they agreed not to strike," Emanuel told reporters Monday. "And I compliment Jesse Sharkey for his comment that there's not a mood there among teachers." The CTU fired back to say that the timing of a strike remains in the hands of members and that the city of Chicago has enough money to "avert the crisis in our schools." e Chicago Teachers Union on Monday said its governing body has yet to vote on the timing of a potential walkout and took issue with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's claim that the union had "agreed not to strike." The union's executive board will meet this week before discussing a potential strike with its house of delegates Wednesday. Emanuel on Monday seized on comments union Vice President Jesse Sharkey made to the Sun-Times that suggested members "would not be looking at a strike in May" unless the school district "provokes us." "The good news is, they agreed not to strike," Emanuel told reporters Monday. "And I compliment Jesse Sharkey for his comment that there's not a mood there among teachers." The CTU fired back to say that the timing of a strike remains in the hands of members and that the city of Chicago has enough money to "avert the crisis in our schools."

May 2, 2016

Hundreds rally, march in Seattle for labor, immigration reforms

Source: Katherine Long, The Seattle TImes

Hundreds of families, students and activists marched peacefully from the Central District to downtown Seattle on Sunday, calling for changes in the laws that make it difficult for immigrants to gain citizenship here. The May Day March for Workers and Immigrant Rights began with a two-hour rally in Judkins Park. At 3 p.m., marchers took to the streets as part of a police-escorted, permitted march to the U.S. Courthouse downtown. An Aztec dance troupe led the marchers, burning incense and dancing to the beat of drums. Mothers and fathers pushed children in strollers down Broadway or carried toddlers on their shoulders. Marchers waved flags and banners, hoisted homemade signs and chanted nonstop: “Si, se puede” (Yes, we can), followed by “Black lives matter,” then “This is what democracy looks like,” and “Down, down with deportation up, up with education.” This year marked the 10th anniversary of large-scale marches that were organized in 2006 to protest immigration and border-control legislation. Sunday’s march was peaceful and orderly, in contrast with the evening’s anti-capitalist protest that turned violent and left two police officers hurt and at least seven people under arrest.

Temporary, part-time workers not taking it anymore

Source: Paul Davidson, USA Today

The nation’s growing army of contingent workers is increasingly demanding, and often winning, higher pay and benefits and union membership, pushing back against efforts by companies to deploy a less costly, more flexible workforce. An Ohio supplier of axles to Ford recently agreed to let its entire staff of 58 temporary workers join the United Auto Workers after they threatened to strike. Last month, Washington University in St. Louis announced a tentative four-year contract that raises the pay of adjunct professors. And a new Seattle law would allow Uber and Lyft drivers to form unions. “These workers are standing up and claiming a greater share of the profits their labor has generated," says Sarah Leberstein, senior staff attorney for the National Employment Law Project, a worker advocacy group. Some, she says, have been inspired by walkouts by fast-food workers, many of whom are part-time, and their demands for $15-an-hour pay, a movement that led to legislation setting that pay floor in California and New York over the next few years. And with unemployment at 5%, the victories reflect a tighter labor market that has shifted leverage to workers and the power that temporary and part-time employees are beginning to wield as their ranks swell.

House Panel Addresses Labor Department's Persuader Rule

Source: Tyrone Richardson, Bloomberg

Lawyers and human resources consultants told a House Education and the Workforce subcommittee April 27 that the Labor Department's persuader rule could chill free speech and leave workers less informed about union activities. The two hours of testimony followed Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.), a member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, submitting a joint resolution April 15 calling for a Congressional Review Act challenge of the DOL rule (73 DLR A-9, 4/15/16). The rule, which took effect April 25, expands the reporting requirements under Section 203(b) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. That includes mandating an employer to disclose the hiring of a third-party attorney or other consultant to prevent its employees from organizing, if the consultant engages in persuader activities that go beyond the plain meaning of advice. Disclosure is mandated even if the consultant has no direct contact with the workers (56 DLR AA-1, 3/23/16). The rule applies to agreements made on or after July 1. It has prompted several law firms and industry advocates to file lawsuits to block it (79 DLR A-8, 4/25/16).

April 29, 2016

At McDonald’s, Fat Profits but Lean Wages

Source: The Times Editorial Board

McDonald’s Corporation has reported a 35 percent increase in profits for the first quarter of 2016, an unexpectedly large gain driven in part by its recent decision to sell Egg McMuffins all day long. It was the third straight quarter of positive results, indicating that the company has begun to compete more effectively against hipper, faster-growing rivals. All of which is good news for the executives and shareholders of McDonald’s. But when, if ever, will it be good news for McDonald’s employees and for taxpayers? McDonald’s, a leader in the restaurant and food service sector, is a target in the Fight for $15 movement to raise pay, and rightly so. Nearly 23 percent of workers in the sector are paid at or near the minimum wage, and raises have been feeble. A recent pay increase at McDonald’s to at least $1 over the local minimum wage will not help most employees, because it applies only to those who work at some 1,500 corporate-owned restaurants, rather than the vast majority who work at 12,500 franchises.

A surprising number of investors voted for a gender pay gap measure at eBay

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

This proxy season, the investor Arjuna Capital targeted a handful of tech companies with a resolution: Commit to preparing a report by later this year about your policies and goals for reducing the gender pay gap. After five of them Intel, Apple, Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft said their pay gap was closed or made commitments to doing so, Arjuna withdrew the proposal. But results of the first of these measures to actually go to a vote are in, and the tallies were surprising. At Wednesday's annual meeting at eBay, nearly 45 percent of the votes cast by shareholders were in favor of the gender pay gap measure, which was co-filed with Pax World Investments. In a statement, eBay CEO Devin Wenig said that before receiving the proposal, eBay had begun conducting an analysis of pay equity that's still underway, and expects to complete the review by October, promising to share it publicly. "Importantly, if we find that we have an issue, we will fix it," he said. "I believe companies and their leadership must address gender pay equity issues intentionally and proactively." Since that tally includes abstention votes, it's not quite a majority. But the figure is still unpredictably high for a social issue on a company proxy, which typically don't see big votes in their favor.

Council approves $15 wage for workers; no private mandate coming

Source: Fatima Hussein, Cincinatti Enquirer

When Cincinnati's City Council approved a wage hike for city workers Wednesday, Mayor John Cranley told the crowded hall that Cincinnati was doing what is morally right. "There's a huge discussion in this country on why there is so much economic inequality," Cranley said, "This law doesn't change the private sector, but we can lead by example." City Council voted 5-3 Wednesday to hike the minimum wage for city workers and contractors. The bill boosts the pay for all full-time workers to at least $15 per hour and part-time and seasonal workers to at least $10.10 per hour. Together, the pay hikes would benefit 1,166 workers, or 1 of every 5 city workers. Vice Mayor David Mann called for workers under the age of 21 to be included in the measure. The vote came despite a new estimate that showed the cost to taxpayers could be as much as $1.2 million, more than twice what was previously anticipated. While city leaders hope private employers follow suit, requiring a $15 minimum wage for private employers in the "wasn't even an option," said the mayor’s chief of staff Jay Kincaid in an email to The Enquirer. “We don’t have a legal authority to propose a citywide minimum wage increase. There is Ohio Supreme Court case law, which has held that even home rule cities don’t have the authority to do that.”

April 28, 2016

Where Did the Government Jobs Go?

Source: Annie Lowrey, New York Times

On a muggy afternoon in April, Angelina Iles, 65, folded herself into my passenger seat and took me on a tour of her beloved Pineville, La., a sleepy town smack in the middle of the low, wet state. We drove past spaced-out, low-slung houses and boarded-up businesses shuttered restaurants, a decrepit gas station as Iles, an African-American retired lunchroom worker and community activist, guided me toward the muddy banks of the Red River. Near there stands the locked-up Art Deco shell of the Huey P. Long hospital, which once served the poorest of the poor in Rapides Parish and employed more than 300 workers. When employers leave towns like Pineville, they often do it with a deaf ear to the pleading of state and local governments. But in the case of Huey P. Long, the employer was the government itself. Its demise began, arguably, in 2008, when Bobby Jindal was swept into the Louisiana governor’s mansion on a small-government-and-ethics platform, promising to modernize the state and unleash the power of American private industry along the Gulf Coast. At the time, Louisiana was flush with federal funds for Hurricane Katrina reconstruction and running a budget surplus. Jindal and the State Legislature slashed income taxes and started privatizing and cutting. This was a source of great pride for Jindal. During his failed bid for the presidency last year, he boasted that bureaucrats are now an endangered species in Louisiana. “I’ve laid off more of them than Trump has fired people,” he said, “and I’ve cut my state’s budget by more than he’s worth.”

Chicago Public Schools making contingency plans for possible strike

Source: Juan Perez Jr., Chicago Tribune

The governing body of the Chicago Teachers Union will meet next week to consider what conditions could trigger a strike this school year. CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Wednesday that "the majority" of members would want to strike immediately if Chicago Public Schools unilaterally ends its long-standing practice of picking up the bulk of teacher pension contributions. "We would respond accordingly and it would be on," Sharkey said. But Sharkey said the union wants to continue pressuring lawmakers for a solution to the district's latest fiscal crisis before a possible walkout. "We put a lot of energy, including an April 1 strike, into trying to figure out how schools would be funded," Sharkey said. "And there's a political process that needs to play out. And so, it's worth some trouble for us to make that play out. … We have to see what's going on there." CPS is preparing for the possibility of a teachers strike before the end of the school year with a plan that includes canceling final exams, but allowing elementary and high school graduation ceremonies to proceed, according to a letter CPS sent to principals last week.

T-Mobile Accused of Fighting a Real Union by Creating a Fake One

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg

For more than a decade, the Communications Workers of America has been trying to unionize T-Mobile, the U.S. subsidiary of German giant Deutsche Telekom, which is now the third-largest U.S. wireless carrier. The campaign has so far won only two union contracts, covering about 30 of T-Mobile’s roughly 45,000 employees. Now CWA is alleging to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that T-Mobile has adopted an anti-union tactic that’s been illegal since 1935: creating a company-controlled union to drain support for an independent one. “It’s a little bit flattering,” says CWA organizer Josh Coleman, a former employee. “We have momentum; the company’s trying to stop it by copying our union.” CWA says that in June 2015, Brian Brueckman, a T-Mobile senior vice president, sent employees an e-mail announcing “another big step to ensure your voice is heard” by management—the nationwide rollout of a group called T-Voice, composed of employee “representatives” from each call center, selected every six months by the company. “T-Voice is your voice,” Brueckman wrote in his e-mail, the first of several messages to employees that CWA contends contradict federal labor rules.

April 27, 2016

Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes

Source: Nelson D. Schwartz and Quoctrung Bui, New York Times

COURTLAND, Ala. — In this forlorn Southern town whose once-humming factories were battered in recent years by a flood of Asian imports, Rhonda Hughes, 43, is a fervent supporter of Donald Trump. Her 72-year old mother is equally passionate about Senator Bernie Sanders. Disenchantment with the political mainstream is no surprise. But research to be unveiled this week by four leading academic economists suggests that the damage to manufacturing jobs from a sharp acceleration in globalization since the turn of the century has contributed heavily to the nation’s bitter political divide. Ms. Hughes avoids discussing the election with her mother, but their neighbor Benjamin Green, 83, knows just what Washington needs. “It’ll take a junkyard dog to straighten this country out,” he said. Cross-referencing congressional voting records and district-by-district patterns of job losses and other economic trends between 2002 and 2010, the researchers found that areas hardest hit by trade shocks were much more likely to move to the far right or the far left politically.

Supreme Court Broadens First Amendment Protections for Public Employees

Source: Pete Williams, NBC News

Public employees can sue, claiming their civil rights were violated, as long as their employers thought a constitutional right was in play, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.The decision was a victory for a New Jersey man, Jeffrey Heffernan, who was a police officer in Patterson, New Jersey, when the mayor was running for re-election. Heffernan was demoted after city officials mistakenly assumed he was campaigning for a candidate who was running against the mayor. The officials thought he went to the campaign headquarters of the mayor's opponent to pick up and later display a campaign sign. But Heffernan said he went there to get the sign for his bedridden mother and had no intention of campaigning for the opponent. Heffernan sued, claiming he was punished for engaging in constitutionally protected speech. The city said, what speech? If he wasn't campaigning, he wasn't doing anything protected by the Constitution. The lower courts agreed with the city. But by a 6-2 vote, the Supreme Court reversed those rulings. Justice Stephen Breyer's opinion for the court said civil rights protections apply "to any employer who punishes an employee because the employer believes the employee has engaged in conduct that the First Amendment protects even if the employer is factually mistaken about the conduct." What counts, the court said, is the employer's motive, because the First Amendment focuses on government actions.

Kroger workers, retirees sue failing pension fund, trustees

Source: Fatima Hussein, Cincinatti Enquirer

A group of participants in the Central States Pension Fund is suing the fund, its administrators and trustees for breach of fiduciary duty. The move follows a nationwide movement of retirees who have taken to protesting the troubled fund, which is set to run out of money in 2026. The plaintiffs are current and retired warehouse workers at Kroger Co., hailing from Michigan, Illinois and Kansas, whose retirement funds are invested in the Rosemont, Illinois-based Central States Pension Fund. In the complaint, filed April 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the plaintiffs allege that Kroger negotiated a complex plan with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in March 2015, to remove Kroger's participation in the Central States Pension Fund plan, to a "stable, defined-benefit pension plan for the Kroger participants." The plaintiffs allege that the plan and its trustees breached its ERISA fiduciary duty by failing to consider the plan that would remove Kroger Co. from the pension plan, which could in turn, save retirees' pensions from massive impending cuts.

April 26, 2016

Volkswagen Reverses Course on Union at Tennessee Plant

Source: Neal E. Boudette, New York Times

Just two years ago, Volkswagen was actively supporting the United Auto Workers in its push to organize the company’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn. But in September, the German automaker was plunged into turmoil over revelations that it had equipped almost 600,000 diesel cars sold in the United States with software to cheat on tailpipe emissions tests. Since then, a large portion of Volkswagen’s senior management has changed and so has its approach to the union drive. Now, rather than cooperating with the U.A.W., Volkswagen is trying to block the union. The change signals a retreat from Volkswagen’s previous efforts to replicate in Chattanooga a German model of labor relations, in which workers have a strong voice influencing factory operations. The latest clash came on Monday, when Volkswagen announced that it would go to federal court to appeal a recent victory by the U.A.W. Late last year, a majority of the Chattanooga plant’s 160 maintenance workers voted to accept representation by the union. The rest of the plant’s 1,500 workers have not yet gone that far, but this month the National Labor Relations Board said Volkswagen must begin bargaining with the U.A.W. on behalf of the maintenance workers, who tend to the plant’s machinery and robots.

House set to limit paid time off for federal employees under investigation

Source: Eric Yoder, Washington Post

Federal agencies could no longer put employees on indefinite paid leave while investigating them for misconduct or poor performance under a bill set for a House floor vote as soon as Tuesday. The measure is one of many seeking to limit “administrative leave” following investigations finding that agencies had used that form of leave routinely to keep employees off the job, although with full pay and benefits, for months and in some cases a year or more. The bill would limit such leave to 14 days; if an investigation were not finished by then, the employee generally would have to return to work. If the agency decided that the employee would pose certain risks, even if assigned to different duties or to telecommuting, the leave could be extended for additional 30-day periods, with reports to Congress required each time. “Administrative leave is an appropriate tool, to a point. . . . It’s not fair to the employee, it’s not fair to the government for this to go on in perpetuity,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said last month when the committee passed the bill on a voice vote.

Uber drivers welcome that $100-million settlement, but here's what they're still missing

Source: Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times

After a morning spent driving for Uber in his Huntington Beach neighborhood last October, James Welton returned from lunch to find he couldn't get back into the ride service app. Without warning, he'd been deactivated. "I wasn't expecting it," said Welton, 44, who had been driving for Uber full-time for a month. Uber was Welton's only source of income. How was he going to make rent? Pay the bills? Pay the loan on his car? When he contacted Uber, the company told him his driver rating had fallen too low. His only reprieve was to take a $60 driver training class, and even then there was no guarantee he would be allowed back on the platform. This week, as part of a $100-million class-action lawsuit settlement with drivers who sought to be classified as employees rather than contractors, Uber agreed to be more transparent in its discipline. The policy changes include alerting drivers if their rating falls, no longer terminating drivers without warning, and instituting appeal panels that consist of highly rated drivers. The San Francisco start-up, which is valued at $62.5 billion, also agreed to pay for an arbitrator to hear appeals not settled by the panels.

April 25, 2016

How To Deal With A Manipulator In Your Workplace

Source: Kim Monaghan, Forbes

Somewhere along your leadership journey, you may find yourself having to manage a manipulator. Manipulation comes in many different forms in the workplace, and if it’s not managed or deterred, it can create a highly toxic work environment. The psychological influence that’s wielded through manipulation can often result in a coercive or abusive relationship. Those who are victimized by the manipulation often react by way of enabling, conflict, or worse, experiencing trauma. For example, the victimized employee may continuously make excuses for a subordinate’s lack of productivity. Or they may pitch in to ensure the work is completed on time. Such “enablers” may allow themselves to be manipulated, which only encourages the behavior to continue. If this same employee suddenly stops enabling the manipulator, conflict will most likely ensue. Finally, there are those individuals traumatized from manipulative tactics. Their plight can lead to high levels of anxiety, illness or worse. So how do you thwart the manipulator’s methods in order to keep the work culture healthy? Leaders need to know that fear is often the root of why manipulators act as they do. Simply put, manipulators are battling their own insecurities. Therefore, it may require the support of mental health professionals to help both the manipulator and the victim successfully manage and move past this behavior.

When Domestic Violence Becomes A Workplace Issue

Source: Melissa Jeltsen, Huffington Post

The two deaths came in quick succession, shocking the close-knit community of health care workers at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center. First, in August 2013, an administrative assistant was fatally shot by her estranged husband while she was helping her 3-year-old son get into a car. Five months later, a nurse who worked with oncology patients was stabbed to death by her son after a history of domestic altercations. “She was very optimistic and positive,” said Michele McKee, director of nursing services. “The staff is still struggling with the loss. There was denial. Tears. Anger. And then, guilt. What did we miss? What could we have done?” While hospital staff had been trained to identify patients who were experiencing domestic violence, they didn’t pay the same attention to warning signs in their own peers, said Leslie Hott, St. Joseph’s human resources manager. “Our value statement says, ‘loving service, compassionate care,’” Hott said. “We typically think about that for those we care for, but not each other.” That is now changing. St. Joseph is undergoing an ambitious effort to address domestic violence among its workforce, rolling out an intensive training program to help staff members identify and hopefully prevent domestic violence, as well as a new workplace policy to support employees who are suffering.

Your new office workout: Financial fitness

Source: Kelli B. Grant, CNBC

Don't be so quick to gloss over those employee benefit missives from HR. They might offer valuable help for getting your financial house in order. More employers are looking beyond retirement resources to help employees with other financial issues, from budgeting and debt management to investing, health care and saving to buy a home. More than half of employers 55 percent already offer a program to aid employees in at least one of those areas, according to a new report from benefits consulting firm Aon Hewitt. By the end of the year, they estimate, 77 percent of large- and mid-size companies will offer at least one such financial wellness program, and 52 percent will offer them in three or more categories. (See chart below for a breakdown.) The financial wellness program offers vary. "It's easy to push tools, but I think now they're getting smarter about it," said Virginia Maguire, director of retirement product and solutions at Aon Hewitt. Personalized initiatives are becoming more popular, like solo sessions with a financial planner, for example, or education and incentives tailored to worker concerns (i.e. student loan help for a younger workforce). The interest comes amid other reports painting an increasingly gloomy picture of employees' finances. In Bank of America's 2016 Workplace Benefits Report, 75 percent of employees gave indications they aren't financially secure via measures like whether they can always pay their rent or mortgage. Just over half of workers say they are stressed about their finances, and 45 percent say their worries have worsened over the last 12 months, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers survey released this month.

April 22, 2016

USC violated labor rules by interfering with union vote, federal report says

Source: Rosanna Xia, Los Angeles Times

USC officials violated federal labor rules by interfering with a high-profile vote to decide whether hundreds of its faculty members should form a union, according to a stinging report from the National Labor Relations Board that calls for a new election. The report says USC undermined the possibility of a free and fair election by giving raises to some non-tenure-track faculty at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences just before the vote in January. University officials also threatened that faculty members would not be welcome on the Academic Senate or other university committees if they voted to form a union. The report backs allegations made by union officials and singles out USC Provost Michael Quick's role in tainting the election process. "There is sufficient evidence to establish that Provost Quick engaged in conduct that was so aggravated as to create a general atmosphere of fear making a free election impossible," NLRB Hearing Officer Yaneth Palencia wrote in the report, which was released this month. Non-tenure-track faculty at Dornsife, the oldest school at USC, voted 127 to 113 against joining the Service Employees International Union Local 721 in January. These results should be set aside and a new election should be conducted, according to Palencia's conclusions.

The Unexpected Resilience of Humans in Retail

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

For over a hundred years, experts have been predicting that salespeople were on their way out. Turn-of-the-century critics predicted that the traveling salesman would soon become obsolete because the branding and advertising industries would do his job. If this sort of prediction sounds familiar, it’s because just in the last decade many have been making the same prediction, for reasons not dissimilar to those of 100 years ago: They say technology e-commerce, automatic kiosks, and maybe even robots will soon replace salespeople and cashiers. But there’s one thing that these predictions ignore, which is the fact that despite persistent fears of automation’s effects on retail hiring, the number of salespeople in the U.S. has actually been increasing. According to the latest Occupational Employment Statistics from the Labor Department, which collects data from roughly 200,000 employers, retail salespeople and cashiers were the two most common occupations in the country. Together, the two jobs are estimated to employ more than 8 million Americans representing roughly 6 percent of total American employment.

Uber Settles Cases With Concessions, but Drivers Stay Freelancers

Source: Mike Isaac and Noam Scheiber, New York Times

Uber has long been embroiled in a debate over the status of its drivers: Should they be independent contractors or full-time employees? Uber says that as independent contractors, its drivers get flexibility. Their freelancer status also lets the company sidestep the costs of full-time employees, including paying minimum wage and the employers’ share of Social Security. But labor groups and lawyers have argued that Uber drivers should be classified as employees to receive worker protections. On Thursday, Uber moved a step closer to getting its way. The company reached a settlement in a pair of class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts that will let it continue to categorize drivers in those states as independent contractors a landmark agreement that could have lasting implications for the long-term viability of the ride-hailing service. Under the settlement, filed in the United States District Court in the Northern District of California, Uber will pay as much as $100 million to the roughly 385,000 drivers represented in the cases. The company also agreed to several concessions to appease driver concerns, including giving more information on how and why drivers are barred from using the app, as well as aiding in creating new “drivers associations” in both states.

April 21, 2016

States Lead the Way on Paid Family Leave

Source: The Editorial Board, New York Times

California and New York have taken very different paths to a $15 minimum wage. Now, they are differing on how to provide paid family leave, in ways that are instructive for other states and for the federal government. Since 2004, workers in California have been entitled to receive 55 percent of their wages for up to six weeks of leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill relative. Starting in 2018, a new law will lift that rate to 70 percent for the lowest-paid earners, defined as those making up to one-third of the state’s average weekly wage of $1,121 currently. For almost all other workers, the rate will rise to 60 percent, up to a maximum weekly benefit of about $1,200. The new law is intended to help all workers in California, including low-income workers, take family leave. Under current law, many can’t afford to take leave because 55 percent of their pay is not enough to live on. In New York, which enacted its first paid family leave law this month, employees will be eligible for up to eight weeks of leave, starting in 2018. The replacement rate is 50 percent of a worker’s weekly wage, capped at 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage of nearly $1,300 currently. Starting in 2021, employees will be eligible for 12 weeks of leave at 67 percent of their weekly wage, capped at 67 percent of the statewide weekly average.

One of the nation’s largest pension funds could soon cut benefits for retirees

Source: Jonnelle Marte, Washington Post

More than a quarter of a million active and retired truckers and their families could soon see their pension benefits severely cut even though their pension fund is still years away from running out of money. Within the next few weeks, the Treasury Department is expected to announce a crucial decision on whether it will approve reductions to one of the country’s largest multi-employer pension plans. The potential cuts are possible under legislation passed by Congress in 2014 that for the first time allowed financially distressed multi-employer plans to reduce benefits for retirees if it would improve the solvency of the fund. The law weakened federal protections that for more than 40 years shielded one of the last remaining pillars that workers could rely on for financial security in retirement. For many workers, the promise of a guaranteed income stream for life a benefit now nearly extinct for younger generations was at times strong enough to convince them to sacrifice pay raises or other job opportunities. But after decades of challenges that left many pension funds in tough financial straits, some people are learning in retirement that the promises made to them may have to be broken. The Central States Pension Fund, which handles the retirement benefits for current and former Teamster union truck drivers across various states including Texas, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, New York and Minnesota, was the first plan to apply for reductions under the new law.

CPS asks teachers union for binding arbitration to avoid strike

Source: Chicago Sun-Times Staff, Chicago Sun-Times

With the Chicago Teachers Union already declaring the “clock is ticking” toward a strike, Chicago Public Schools on Wednesday asked the union to submit to binding arbitration a request the union almost immediately branded a “publicity stunt.” Over the weekend, the union had rejected a fact-finder’s report that had sided with CPS on all the significant economic items in the last contract offer from the school district. That rejection started a 30-day cooling-off period required before teachers can strike. “We are disappointed that the CTU decided to reject the Fact Finder’s recommendation,” begins the letter to Karen Lewis, president of the CTU, from Forrest Claypool, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “In our view a strike whether in May or in August or in September, would be devastating to our students and parents. Further, we are at a loss as to how a strike would solve or even advance a solution to the considerable challenges that CPS faces. The best course is for CPS and CTU to join together in Springfield for long term sustainable funding for our schools. A strike is counterproductive and would only fuel the anti-CPS forces in Springfield,” the letter continues. “To avoid disruption to our schools and to advance our partnership in Springfield, we are asking that CTU agree to final and binding interest arbitration in lieu of a strike.” The letter notes binding arbitration has been used for police and fire contracts in the past, and asks for Lewis’ response by Wednesday, April 27.

April 20, 2016

6 paid sick days for workers in L.A.? City Council says yes

Source: Emily Alpert Reyes, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles workers would be able to earn at least six paid sick days annually twice the state minimum under a proposed law that the City Council backed Tuesday. Labor and community activists had pushed for L.A. to increase the mandated amount of time off for local workers who fall ill or need to take care of a loved one, arguing that employees too often are forced to decide between their health and their jobs. Under the new law, which must be drafted by city attorneys, “no longer will workers have to make a choice between putting food on the table and getting well,” said Rusty Hicks, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. Some business groups argued that the new requirements would place another burden on employers who already are facing other costly new mandates including a string of increases to the L.A. minimum wage that eventually will require businesses to pay at least $15 hourly. The California Restaurant Assn., for instance, warned that the new rules could jeopardize small restaurants. More sick days will impose “a big burden on our local businesses,” said John Howland, government relations director of the Central City Assn.

The Verizon Strikers’ Shrinking World

Source: Mark Gimein, The New Yorker

A picket line is to a Democrat what a revival meeting is to an evangelical, so when Verizon workers went on strike last week, in one of the biggest labor actions in a decade, both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton made sure to come out for the thirty-nine thousand workers represented by the union. “You’re standing up not just for justice for Verizon workers,” Sanders told striking employees in New York, “You’re standing up for millions of Americans who don’t have a union.” And, symbolically, they are. As timely as this strike is for the campaign, however, it won’t mean much for the overwhelming majority of American workers. The issues involved in this strike preserving jobs that let workers comfortably support a family, offshoring, work rules are just as pressing as they ever were, but there are markedly fewer union workers left in the private sector to stand for them. The greater hope in the labor movement these days comes not from the picket line but from legislative efforts such as the union-backed minimum-wage initiative Fight for 15.

What Are The Main Sticking Points Between CPS, Teachers?

Source: Dorothy Tucker, CBS News

The teacher strike threat looming in Chicago is a massive difference of opinion. So what’s the truth and what’s the real sticking point? CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker went looking for answers. In the hands of professor Bob Bruno, an expert in labor relations, the 50 page proposed contract that could have ended the labor dispute between the Chicago Teachers Union and the Chicago School Board. Teachers rejected it, but Bruno sees gains for both sides. “The biggest gain is that they reduce labor costs,” Bruno said. “They shift costs on to the employee.” The shift: teachers contributing seven percent of their pay to their pensions. “That is a savings that you’re going to recoup year after year after year,” Bruno said. When asked what the teachers get out of the proposal, Bruno said, “One could stress that there is a pay increase.”Pay increases that add up to 8.75 percent over four years “Which helps to reduce the blow of the lost pension,” Bruno said. Despite the teachers’ rejection, both sides say they will continue to negotiate. “We’re going to try tweak this a little bit better,” CTU president Karen Lewis said Monday. “We are open to any suggestions that president Lewis has,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said.

April 19, 2016

Technology is helping Verizon ride out one of its biggest strikes ever

Source: Brian Fung, Washington Post

Verizon's worker strike is about to enter its second week as tens of thousands of employees, outraged about the telecom giant's efforts to outsource jobs and redeploy labor from one part of the country to another, remain on the picket line. With seemingly no resolution in sight, Verizon's landline and FiOS customers who phone in seeking help are, for the moment, being routed to contractors or management employees who've been detailed to company call centers temporarily. But a decision Verizon made at least two years ago to cut the human out of many customer interactions is blunting some of the strike's effects, company executives say. The technology-driven shift from hold music and long wait times toward instant, digital self-service could give Verizon a greater ability to withstand one of the biggest walk-offs in company history. And that may have implications for continuing negotiations between union leaders and management. In 2014, about 1 in 5 customer service interactions was resolved by customers themselves using Verizon's website or its interactive phone menus, Senior Vice President Tami Erwin said. The figure covers home network and router troubleshooting, as well as requests ranging from billing inquiries to bundling upgrades.

Chicago schools need to borrow more, CEO Forrest Claypool says

Source: Juan Perez Jr., Chicago Tribune

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool on Monday said the district would have to borrow more money to stay afloat, even as he pressed the teachers union to accept a four-year contract recommended by an independent fact-finder. The district's need for more borrowing goes beyond having to cover a new deal with teachers, Claypool said. "What I'm saying is, to keep the doors open," he said. "Not just to fund the contract." Claypool's comments came after Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said the district couldn't afford the contract the union was urged to accept Monday by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "So why are we talking about this as if some magical revenue fix has suddenly appeared and all of our problems have gone away?" Lewis said at a Monday morning press conference. Claypool, at his news conference a couple of hours later, continued to make Springfield his primary target, saying CPS will "present a balanced budget next month" that, without a financial lifeline from state lawmakers, could include layoffs and classroom cuts. "The reason that is something that is scary is because we have a $1 billion budget deficit," he said. "And without a fair educational funding system, that means… that our schools will be severely harmed this fall with massive layoffs, with larger class sizes, with summer school, after-school and all kinds of things threatened."

Baltimore Councilwoman To Propose $15 Minimum Wage

Source: Tracey Leong, Baltimore CBS

Bumping up the minimum wage to $15 in Baltimore City by 2020, nearly doubling it from the current rate of $8.25. Tracey Leong has more on both sides of the controversial proposal. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke tells WJZ this will help close the financial gap in Baltimore but those not in favor say it would actually widen it. It’s a bill aiming to uplift Baltimore, driving the minimum wage to $15 by 2020. “Hardworking men and women definitely deserve a raise,” said Chris Accord. “We need to raise up wages in order for people to spend more money, put more money back into the economy and take better care of their families,” said Pat Lippold. Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke introduced the proposal a day before the one year anniversary of Freddie Gray’s death. The city is still working to heal since the unrest that unfolded last spring. “There’s no peace without justice and justice includes fair wages,” Clarke said. About 80,000 people make minimum wage in Baltimore City but businessowners say this increase could cost them their job. “Need to lay off employees, need to decrease hours for employees in order to stay competitive in the marketplace,” said Gail Furman, Max’s Restaurant. Furman is one of the managers at Max’s Restaurant in Fells Point. She tells WJZ the proposal is unreasonable because the burden of paying the employees falls on the business. “It be detrimental to the mom-and-pop. Who’s gonna foot the bill? The bill can’t pass all the customer,” said Bob Simko. Simko says this could be catastrophic for the service industry and feels it is not a well-thought-out plan.

April 18, 2016

Life-Expectancy Inequality Grows in America

Source: Michael Specter, The New Yorker

There may be no better way to appreciate humanity’s growing prosperity than to consider how long we live. A child born in 1900 little more than a century ago was likely, on average, to die by the age of thirty. Today, according to the World Bank, the comparable figure is seventy-one. That is a worldwide average and so, of course, there is a considerable gulf between rich countries in Europe and Asia, where people live into their eighties, and the poorest nations in sub-Saharan Africa, where people born today will struggle to live to fifty. Nonetheless, even a child born in Chad, which has the world’s lowest life expectancy 49.81 years will live two years longer than did the average white American male born in 1900. Globally, the inequality in life expectancy is shrinking. Unfortunately, this effect, which the demographer Nicholas Eberstadt has aptly described as a “survival revolution,” does not apply to our country. Here, according to a study published in the most recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the numbers are moving in the opposite direction. It will surprise nobody to learn that life expectancy increases with income. Coming, however, in the midst of a Presidential campaign in which the corrosive effects of income inequality have been a principal debate topic, the data and its implications for public policy are particularly striking: the richest one per cent of American men live 14.6 years longer on average than the poorest one per cent. For women, the average difference is a just over ten years. The gap appears to be growing fast. The researchers, led by Raj Chetty, a professor of economics at Stanford University, analyzed more than 1.4 billion federal tax returns, as well as mortality data from the Social Security Administration, from the years 2001 to 2014. In that period, the life expectancy of the richest five per cent of Americans increased by roughly three years. For the poorest five per cent, there was no increase.

Family leave rights finalized for same-sex spouses of federal employees

Source: Eric Yoder, Washington Post

The government has finalized a policy that’s been in effect on a temporary basis for nearly three years, extending to federal employees with same-sex spouses the same rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act that previously applied only to opposite-sex marriages. The final rules, which took effect April 7, represent the latest in a series of changes to federal employee benefits resulting from a 2013 Supreme Court decision striking down a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act. The court declared that gay married couples must receive the same federal benefits that heterosexual couples receive. The FMLA allows federal employees to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave per year related to childbirth, adoption and certain medical conditions affecting the individual or certain family members. Following the 2013 court decision, the Office of Personnel Management applied those policies to federal workers in same-sex marriages.

Gerawan workers’ vote to decertify UFW nullified by ag labor board

Source: Robert Rodriguez, The Fresno Bee

he California Agricultural Labor Relations Board has upheld an administrative law judge’s decision to dismiss a petition by workers for Gerawan Farming of Fresno who sought to decertify the United Farm Workers as their bargaining representative. As a result, the balloting by Gerawan workers will be nullified, the ALRB said. The development was a new milestone in what has been a long and often heated process. In a decision reached Friday, the ALRB said it affirmed the judge’s previous finding that Gerawan officials had tainted the workers’ decertification effort with certain actions and that it was impossible to know the true sentiments of the employees toward the UFW. On Oct. 25, 2013, Gerawan employee Silvia Lopez filed a petition to decertify the UFW from representing the company’s workers. An election involving Gerawan workers was held several weeks later, but the ballots were impounded after objections were raised and unfair labor-practice complaints were brought. In his ruling, administrative law judge Mark R. Soble determined that Gerawan had violated the Agricultural Labor Relations Act by supporting and assisting in signature gathering for the decertification petition. Gerawan also increased workers’ wages as the decertification efforts.

April 15, 2016

California appeals court upholds teacher tenure, a major victory for unions

Source: Emma Brown, Washington Post

A California appeals court on Thursday upheld the state’s laws regarding teacher tenure, dismissal and layoffs, handing a major victory to teachers unions. The ruling overturns a lower court’s 2014 decision that found after a 10-week trial that job-protection statutes for teachers had created illegal inequalities: Poor and minority children were more likely to be saddled with ineffective teachers who were difficult to fire. The plaintiffs in the case presented a new civil rights argument against teacher tenure laws, and when it was successful, it was widely expected to be the first of many similar legal challenges in other states. One such suit is pending in New York, and another was filed this week in Minnesota.The California appeals court agreed that “deplorable staffing decisions” have harmed poor and minority children in California’s public schools. But those decisions were the fault of school system administrators and not the result of the laws themselves, a three-judge panel of the appeals court found. “The court’s job is merely to determine whether the statutes are constitutional, not if they are ‘a good idea,’ ” the court said in its opinion. “The evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.” The nine plaintiffs in the case, Vergara v. California, are public-school students backed by Students Matter, an advocacy group. They immediately pledged to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of California.

Injured Employee Featured In Workers' Comp Investigation Settles Her Case

Source: Howard Berkes, NPR

An injured worker featured in an NPR/ProPublica investigation of the opt-out alternative to workers' compensation has settled with the company that denied her medical care and wage-replacement payments after an incident at work. Rachel Jenkins, 33, was injured last March while protecting a mentally disabled man who was attacked by another client at an Oklahoma City shelter operated by ResCare, which claims to be the nation's largest provider of services to people with disabilities. ResCare had opted out of state-regulated workers' compensation in Oklahoma by developing its own workplace injury plan. The company initially denied Jenkins any benefits for her painful and persistent shoulder injury because she had missed a 24-hour reporting deadline by just three hours. Jenkins said she reported late because she had been heavily medicated after emergency treatment. The 24-hour reporting rule is one of the most contentious elements of opt-out plans in Oklahoma and Texas. Critics say the rule gives employers the ability to deny benefits for legitimate workplace injuries that they would otherwise have to provide if they hadn't opted out of workers' comp. Jenkins and other workers in Oklahoma sued their employers and state regulators over that provision and others in the state's opt-out law. ResCare and Jenkins agreed not to disclose the details of this week's settlement, but Bob Burke, Jenkins' attorney, says the monetary settlement gives Jenkins enough money to get her shoulder treated, recover lost wages and provide the same type of disability payments Jenkins would have received if ResCare had remained in the workers' comp system.

Companies can push for progress

Source: Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune

Good things don't always come around for the right reasons, but as long as they come around, the reasons become irrelevant. That's one of my prevailing workplace philosophies. Being kind to your workers, paying them well and making them feel valued and engaged is a net positive for a company. I'd like it if business leaders did those things because they're the right things to do, but if they do them only because it's a good business decision, that's fine too. We wind up at the same good place. To that end, let's look several recent examples of the way businesses and corporations are helping or may soon help push for positive change. The debate over raising the minimum wage has been rancorous, and the opposition often says company executives are against a wage increase because it will be bad for business. But a leaked survey of 1,000 business leaders from across the country conducted by a company run by Republican pollster Frank Luntz revealed the opposite. About 80 percent of the executives said they favored raising their state's minimum wage. The survey was obtained by a liberal watchdog group called the Center for Media and Democracy, along with video of a webinar LuntzGlobal conducted on the results.

April 14, 2016

Eight state AGs probe retail chains' 'on-call' work schedules

Source: Natalie Kitroeff, Los Angeles Times

Retailers' use of unpredictable work shifts has drawn the attention of attorneys general in eight states, including California. The attorneys general sent letters to 15 large companies about the on-call policies, which require employees to be ready to work on a given day but do not guarantee that they will be needed in a store. Demanding that workers clear their day of any personal or educational commitments without rewarding them with pay is unfair, the state officials wrote in their letters. The companies that received the inquiry were American Eagle, Aeropostale, Payless, Disney, Coach, PacSun, Forever 21, Vans, Justice Just for Girls, BCBG Maxazria, Tilly's, Inc., David's Tea, Zumiez, Uniglo and Carter's. "Workers who must be 'on call' have difficulty making reliable childcare and elder-care arrangements, encounter obstacles in pursuing an education, and in general experience higher incidences of adverse health effects," the letters said. Among the questions asked of retail chains was the extent to which they save money with on-call staffing. The letters ask for records of employees paid for fewer than four hours on a workday. In California, companies must compensate workers with up to four hours of wages if they are ready to provide services and aren't asked to, or if they are promised a long shift and only work a fraction of it.

In Verizon Strike, Blue-Collar Stress Hits the Sidewalks

Source: Noam Scheiber and Brian X. Chen, New York Times

The roughly 36,000 Verizon workers who went on strike Wednesday as a contract dispute entered its ninth month have brought into sharp relief one of the most fundamental questions facing the United States: Can an economy in the throes of dizzying technological change be a source of new middle-class jobs for blue-collar workers? The company, which is seeking rule changes that would make it easier to outsource work, seems to cast some doubt on that proposition, through its actions if not its words. It argues that technological change and shifts in consumer demand have rendered self-defeating many of the promises made to workers a generation or two ago. “Our objective in these negotiations is to preserve good jobs with competitive wages and excellent benefits while addressing the needs of our ever-changing business,” Lowell C. McAdam, Verizon’s chief executive, wrote in an essay posted on LinkedIn. But “nostalgia for the rotary phone era won’t save American jobs, any more than ignoring the global forces reshaping the auto industry saved the Detroit automakers. We’re determined not to find ourselves in that same boat.” The two unions involved, whose members at Verizon currently earn an average of $130,000 a year in wages and benefits, insist this level of compensation can be not just sustained but shared with more workers, if only it were a higher priority. The company, they point out, is highly profitable and sells services that consumers are clamoring for. “The biggest issue in this conflict is trying to preserve good jobs,” said Bob Master, assistant to the vice president of District 1 at the Communications Workers of America, one of the unions on strike.

Proposed ordinance would mandate five paid sick days a year in Chicago

Source: Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune

Calling access to paid sick leave "just a baseline of decency," Ald. Ameya Pawar joined like-minded lawmakers and advocates Wednesday in announcing a proposed ordinance that would require almost all Chicago employers to let their workers earn at least five sick days a year. The ordinance echoes recommendations released early this month by a task force convened by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to explore, among other things, paid sick time, the lack of which disproportionately affects low-income workers who must choose between getting paid or staying home when they or a family member are ill. "Jobs without these basic standards are growing in our city and growing rapidly," Anne Ladky, executive director of advocacy group Women Employed and co-chair of the 27-member task force with Pawar, 47th, said at a news conference before Wednesday's City Hall meeting. "We need to ensure that our workplace standards keep up with changes in our economy." If Chicago passes the ordinance, it will join more than 20 cities and five states that mandate paid sick leave.

April 13, 2016

Brown signs California law boosting paid family-leave benefits

Source: Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed a bill expanding California's pioneering family-leave law to help more low-income workers and provide better benefits. "It's a real pleasure to be able to sign another bill that helps ordinary Californians, working men and women," Brown said. The action comes 15 years after California became the first state in the nation to guarantee workers paid time off to care for a new child or ailing family member. California's program provides workers men or women with 55% of their wages for up to six weeks. The measure Brown signed into law will allow people earning close to minimum wage to be paid 70% of their salary while on leave, while workers with higher pay, up to $108,000 annually, will get 60% of their salary during leave. The change takes effect in 2018. It comes one week after California raised its minimum wage to $15 by 2022. Brown said globalization has put pressure on wages and benefits. "California is doing more probably in the aggregate than any other state," he said. "We're trying to compensate for the gross inequality that is not an abstraction but it's bringing down the lives of a lot of people who live in California." Brown signed the bill in a packed ceremony in his office surrounded by advocates for the poor and by Californians who will benefit. Vivian Thorp from Alameda County talked about being a single mother who is on leave to care for an ailing parent.

Sure, Equal Pay Day is about what's in women's paychecks. It's also about fairness.

Source: Patricia Arquette, Washington Post

When I was a single mother in my early 20s, reality was routinely choosing between buying diapers or buying food; struggling to find sitters to watch my infant son while I tried to get a job that would feed us and keep a roof over our heads, even if it was just the roof of a converted garage. I took some comfort in knowing that I was not alone in this struggle and was one of millions of American women trying to make ends meet. But I also learned that in too many industries, women are undervalued and under-compensated. As my career progressed, I've been able to earn a living doing what I love. And while there's no question that it's a privilege for anyone, woman or man, to have that opportunity, it doesn't mean we can overlook circumstances whether it's waiting tables or acting in films where men get paid more than women for doing the same jobs. Yes, it's about the paycheck. But it's also about the principle of fairness. That's what today, Equal Pay Day, is about.Women earn only 79 percent of what men make in comparable jobs. And the numbers are more striking when you consider that African American women make only 60 cents and Latinas make only 55 cents compared to white men. A new report out this week, "Gender Pay Inequality: Consequences for Women, Families and the Economy," commissioned by Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the ranking Democrat on Congress's Joint Economic Committee, shows that women's median earnings are now $10,800 less per year than men's. The disparity adds up to more than a $400,000 gap over a 40-year employment lifetime.

Verizon Workers Strike on East Coast After Deadline Passes

Source: Noam Scheiber, New York Times

Tens of thousands of Verizon workers on the East Coast walked off the job on Wednesday after the company and two labor unions failed to reach a new agreement by a 6 a.m. deadline set by the unions, more than eight months after their contracts expired. The Verizon strike, involving about 36,000 workers, is one of the largest in recent years. The workers, who are resisting proposed cuts to pension benefits and rule changes that would make it easier for the company to outsource work, are expected to picket hundreds of Verizon facilities from Virginia to Massachusetts. While over 99 percent of the striking employees work for the company's wireline business its traditional landline phone service as well its fiber optic network, which provides Internet, phone and video service the presence of a small group of Verizon Wireless workers among the strikers gives their union, the Communications Workers of America, the right to picket Verizon Wireless stores as well. "There will be a huge program of picketing of Verizon Wireless stores," said Bob Master, assistant to the vice president of District 1 for the Communications Workers. This could be an important tactical advantage because the company's wireless business is far larger and more profitable, and is growing more rapidly, than its wireline business, according to Verizon's annual report. An unhappy reaction from wireless customers would be likely to grab the company's attention. The unions, the second of which is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have made no secret of their intention to also open a political front in the dispute. After the New York City government audited Verizon's performance on building out its fiber optic network there, union leaders asked the City Council to hold hearings, in which Verizon officials testified.

April 12, 2016

Work in the Only Industrialized Country Without Paid Maternity Leave

Source: Jessica Shortall, Atlantic

Tara is a working mother of two, with a son just shy of two and a daughter, Baby C, born in late January 2016. I met Tara on Facebook when she contacted me after watching my TED talk on parental leave in the United States. She is one of the many American parents who have no access to parental leave, paid or unpaid. Tara's time off with her new baby consisted of her 13 days of accumulated vacation time; she was back at work 20 days after giving birth.The first half of this two-part series followed Tara and her family through the birth of Baby C and her 20 days off work. Here, we rejoin Tara on her first day back on the job. (Tara has asked that I not use her last name in order to protect her privacy and her job.) Tara is a manager at a small business small enough that Tara is ineligible for the Family Medical Leave Act's unpaid leave provision. She is her family's sole breadwinner. A painful chronic condition has left her husband unable to work, and he is the primary caregiver for the children. Tara's commute is 90 minutes each way, but her employer has agreed to let her work from home for a while exactly how long has been left undetermined after the birth of Baby C.

Photographer: PeopleImages.com/Getty Images How the Tech Industry's Women Problem Is Advancing Paid Family Leave

Source: Rebecca Greenfield, Bloomberg

Last week, Twitter became the latest tech company to announce an expanded parental leave policy, offering all new parents 20 weeks of paid time off. The tech industry seems to be leading the way among industries offering robust family leave something most Americans don't have access to and it may be thanks to a counterintuitive factor: The industry's notable lack of women. In the last year, Netflix, Etsy, Facebook, and a handful of others have upgraded their policies to include more workers and more time off than ever. New York and San Francisco also passed landmark leave policies this month, but the majority of workers still rely on their employers for paid family leave. Jeffrey Siminoff, Twitter's vice president of inclusion and diversity, described the company's new policy as a way to be "inclusion advancing," which seemed to mean it seeks to include more employees than ever before. But some point out that generous family leave has another purpose it's a good public relations, recruiting, and retention play for tech companies hoping to fix their diversity problem. "They are not doing this to be nice at all," said Bruce Elliot, the manager of compensation and benefits at the Society of Human Resource Management. "They expect to make money on this one." For these companies, progressive family leave comes at a relatively low price. It's cheaper to offer paid leave to a male-heavy workforce, because men tend to take less time off than new mothers. Twitter, as of 2014, was 70 percent male. The company hopes women will make up 35 percent of the company by 2016. Many tech companies have similarly imbalanced staffs. Facebook, per its diversity report, is 68 percent male; men hold 80 percent of Netflix's tech jobs, according to its diversity report. Etsy is the rare tech company exception to this imbalance, with 54 percent of employees identifying as female.

Verizon Workers To Strike This Week If They Don't Get A Contract

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

Labor unions representing 40,000 Verizon workers say they will carry out the largest U.S. strike in five years if they can't reach a deal with the company by Wednesday. The workers are members of the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Mostly technicians and customer service reps on the East Coast, their last contract expired in August. The unions say that negotiations have stalled as the company seeks concessions at the bargaining table. Bob Master, a CWA official, said the union is concerned about a lack of layoff protections for newer workers in the proposal, and the possibility that employees could be required to work far from home for two-month spells, among other sticking points.In a statement, Marc Reed, Verizon's chief administrative officer, said the company was committed to the bargaining process, "but now union leaders would rather make strike threats than constructively engage at the bargaining table." (The Huffington Post's parent company, AOL, is owned by Verizon.) The two sides have been tangling over a new contract since last summer; unions say the company is being greedy, and the company says the unions are being stubborn. This wouldn't be the first time Verizon workers launched a major work stoppage. The same workforce went on strike in 2011, in what was the largest worker strike since 2004, according to Labor Department data. That strike lasted two weeks and involved 45,000 workers.

April 11, 2016

A Workplace-Diversity Dilemma

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

Several of my female friends working in various industries have recently expressed a similar disheartening sentiment: "It's not that I prefer male bosses, but they're the only ones who give me opportunities and successfully fight for me." The first time I heard this, I was outraged, but soon I started to worry if this is a belief that actually undermines female leadership. It's troubling in a couple of ways, but most of all, how can female managers succeed if those who report to them don't trust their ability to navigate workplace power structures? Put more pointedly, what if talented employees prefer and benefit from male leadership because professional culture enables men to have an edge in getting things done? One of the common strategies for achieving greater gender and racial diversity in the workplace is to promote more women and people of color to leadership roles, in the hope that such people will promote diversity from within. In theory, women and minority leaders are likely to think about diversity more when making personnel decisions. They're also thought to be better at identifying talented but overlooked job candidates and may push for workplace policies that could enable those women and people of color to thrive.

10 Best Workplace Habits for Landing a Promotion

Source: R.L. Adams, Huffington Post

There are good habits and there are bad habits in the workplace. Most of us already know what they are, but not all of us adhere to them. However, anyone that wants to land a promotion at their job knows that they need to improve their workplace habits to have any fighting chance. Clearly, people take notice of what we do each day. Whether we're in a cubicle out in the open, or in an office behind a closed door, our workplace habits have a huge impact on our productivity on the job and just what we're able to get done for our employers. The truth? Habits take a long time to foster, but if you're looking to land that promotion you've been chasing for some time, then ensure that you adhere to these 10 best workplace habits, and in time, you might just get what you want. #1 - Arrive early every day. Commitment to your job begins at the start of the day. Are you arriving early, on time, or just running through the door a few minutes late? Of course, if you're arriving late on occasion or even often, you'll need to make some drastic changes to your lifestyle. However, even if you're arriving on time, many people won't take notice. If you want to impress your boss, other managers, and even clients and customers, arrive early and do it every single day without fail.

2 Airmen Dead in 'Workplace Violence' Shooting at Texas Air Force Base

Source: Emily Shapiro, ABC News

Military officials said the shooting that left two airmen dead on the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas was a result of "workplace violence." The incident happened Tuesday morning and the base was placed on lockdown, a defense official told ABC News. The base later said in a statement the incident was "contained" and that an investigation is underway.Officials said that two weapons were found at the scene. The incident does not appear to be an act of terrorism, an FBI spokesman said at the press conference.Officials said that two weapons were found at the scene. The incident does not appear to be an act of terrorism, an FBI spokesman said at the press conference.

April 8, 2016

Our Business Leaders Can Change Our Democracy

Source: Jostein Solheim, Huffington Post

Five years ago I took a bet on the state of Vermont and a little, iconic ice cream company called Ben & Jerry's when I joined as the CEO. Since then, I've come to learn and love many things about the place I now call home: Vermonters are immensely proud of their state, with its green mountains, homegrown products (like our ice cream and a world-famous selection of craft beers), and recently a particular homegrown candidate for president. There is something else that Vermonters take a lot of pride in: their democracy. Every year, on the first Tuesday in March, Vermonters come together in towns and cities around the state for Town Meeting Day. Town Meeting Day, a state holiday, is a long held tradition of direct and participatory democracy where citizens of a town come together to debate, discuss, and vote on municipal issues as varied as school budgets, tax rates, and whether or not to buy a new fire truck. Town Meeting Day is a time when all are encouraged to participate, all voices are heard, and big money has no influence. Unfortunately, this idyllic expression of democracy is all too often the exception to the rule in the United States. In a number of states around the country and in Washington, DC, there are clear signs that our democracy is not working for everyone. Our elections are drowning in unlimited, unregulated, and often untraceable amounts of money that influence election outcomes and enable a very few, very wealthy corporate and private interests to have much more power over the direction of our country than the vast majority of Americans. In fact, just 158 wealthy families were responsible for half of the early money in the 2016 election cycle. In addition, 16 states will for the first time have new laws on the books for the Presidential Election that make it more difficult for millions of low-income people and African Americans, to exercise their right to vote.

Why Parental Leave Policies Are Changing

Source: Jodi Kantor, Thomas Fuller, and Noam Scheiber, New York Times

A news article posted on Tuesday, San Francisco Approves Fully Paid Parental Leave, by Thomas Fuller, described a groundbreaking law that will give parents six weeks of fully paid leave when they have a new baby. Readers responded vigorously on Facebook, some to applaud the law and others to chide the United States for not offering such benefits as a matter of course. Here, three reporters for The New York Times Jodi Kantor, an enterprise reporter who has written about gender, politics and the workplace; Noam Scheiber, a labor reporter based in Washington, D.C., and Mr. Fuller, the San Francisco bureau chief discuss their views on new family leave laws in California, New York and corporate America and what they might augur in terms of national policy. First up, Jodi Kantor. Dear Noam and Thomas, Here's a mashup of what I used to hear, as a reporter and parent, about the prospects for ever having state-mandated parental leave in the United States: Paid family leave may be desperately needed, but it's a political pipe dream. Democrats are unwilling to fight for it. The business world will never go for it. The United States just has terminally shoddy parental leave policies. (Cue dirgelike music and new parents giving longing glances to countries like Sweden, which grants 480 days of paid leave.) But now every day the statements above are becoming a little less true. On Tuesday San Francisco approved six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents. Last week, New York State adopted a measure that will phase in 12 weeks of paid family leave, which can be used to care for ailing relatives as well as new babies (the pay for higher-income workers will be partial; details here.) Similar laws have been passed in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington State. Washington D.C. may be next; Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Minnesota are possibilities, too.

Are Grad Students Employees? Labor Board To Again Weigh In

Source: Yuki Noguchi, NPR

Graduate students at private universities are asking regulators to consider these questions: Are we employees, or not? Can we join a union? The National Labor Relations Board recently decided to review its previous position, reigniting debate within the ivory tower. For Paul Katz, who's three years into a history Ph.D. program at Columbia University, the 15 to 20 hours a week he spends teaching university undergraduates should mean he's an employee. He teaches in addition to conducting his own research. "I grade all of their papers, their exams, I run review sessions, I meet with them one-on-one, basically support them throughout the semester," Katz says. "The university should treat me as an employee because I do work for them." But technically, he doesn't. The university classifies him as a student even though it pays him a stipend and provides health insurance. "It's more or less impossible to live in New York City on a graduate stipend and not spend at least 40 percent of your income in rent," he says.

April 7, 2016

San Francisco Approves Fully Paid Parental Leave

Source: Thomas Fuller, New York Times

San Francisco on Tuesday became the first city in the United States to approve six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents mothers and fathers, including same-sex couples, who either bear or adopt a child. California is already one of only a few states that offer paid parental leave, with workers receiving 55 percent of their pay for six weeks, paid for by employee-financed public disability insurance. The new law in San Francisco, passed unanimously by the city's Board of Supervisors, mandates full pay, with the 45 percent difference being paid by employers. Before the vote, the supervisors amended the proposal to make employees eligible only when they have worked for a company 180 days. The ordinance goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, for companies with more than 50 employees, and a year later for those with 20 or more workers. The new law will make San Francisco's policy far broader than that of New York City, which has also expanded its parental leave policy. In December, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York ordered that 20,000 nonunionized workers be given six weeks of fully paid parental leave, but that amounts to a sliver of the total municipal work force of around 300,000.

Is America Having the Wrong Conversation About Income Inequality?

Source: Gillian B. White, Atlantic

By now, no one is debating the fact that economic inequality has grown substantially in the past few decades. It seems that almost every day there's a new report showing that incomes and wealth continue to grow for the richest while everyone else struggles to make do. But when it comes to solutions, the conversation stalls. That may be because people are focusing on the wrong parts of of inequality, says Kevin Leicht, the head of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign's sociology department. In a paper recently published in The Sociological Quarterly, Leicht writes that the conversation about inequality in America revolves too much around disparities between groups say, the earnings gap between white and black workers and not enough on the disparities within them. He argues that most conversations about inequality distract from finding practical solutions, and suggest a misleading narrative about how to get ahead in America. I spoke with Leicht about his paper and his views on better ways to think about dealing with inequality. The interview below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Labor Department rule sets new standards for retirement advice

Source: Jonnelle Marte, Washington Post

The Labor Department announced sweeping rules Wednesday that could transform the financial advice given to people saving for retirement by requiring brokers and advisers to put their clients' interests first. The long-awaited "fiduciary rule" would create a new standard for brokers and advisers that is stricter than current regulations, which only require that brokers recommend products that are "suitable," even if it may not be the investor's best option. At a time when mom-and-pop savers are increasingly being put in charge of their own retirement security, the rule is meant to add a new layer of protection to guard workers from poor or conflicted investment advice. The rule is supposed to improve disclosures and to reduce conflicts of interest, such as cases when a firm is paid by a mutual fund company or other third
party for recommending a particular investment. "This is a huge win for the middle class," said Thomas Perez, secretary of the Labor Department. "In far too many places and on far too many issues, the rules no longer work for working people." Proponents of the rule say it should cut back on cases of retirement savers being steered into complicated and pricey investments, leaving them with more savings in their pockets. While the new rule won't ban commissions, brokers may have to explain why they are recommending a particular product when a less expensive option is available, and they could face scrutiny if they recommend complicated products. Conflicted investment advice costs savers $17 billion a year, according to an estimate from the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

April 6, 2016

Older people are powering the on-demand economy

Source: Justin Fox, Chicago Tribune

Much ink and many pixels have been spilled over the past few years about the rise of the gig economy, sharing economy, on-demand economy, 1099 economy, freelancer economy or whatever you prefer to call it. Some of the claims about its growth have been overstated. But this data, from economists Lawrence F. Katz and Alan B. Krueger's new paper on "The Rise and Nature of Alternative Work Arrangements in the United States, 1995-2015," is for real. After barely changing between 1995 and 2005, the share of U.S. workers in alternative work arrangements jumped from 10.1 percent in 2005 to 15.8 percent in 2015. (This was first reported last month in the Wall Street Journal.) That's a pretty big leap. As Katz and Krueger write, "All of the net employment growth in the U.S. economy from 2005 to 2015 appears to have occurred in alternative work arrangements." These arrangements for the most part did not involve work arranged through online gig-economy platforms -- only about 0.5 percent of workers "identify customers through an online intermediary," Katz and Krueger found. They do speculate that "technological changes that lead to enhanced monitoring, standardize job tasks and make information on worker reputation more widely available" have helped bring about the rise in alternative work. Other possible causes that they cite include shifts in the age and education characteristics of the workforce (more on that in a moment), the Affordable Care Act (which generally makes it easier for independent workers to get health insurance), corporate efforts to boost profits by contracting out more work and the lingering effects of the Great Recession.

Teachers union touts victory in evaluation fight

Source: Perry Stein, Washington Post

The Washington Teachers Union clinched a long-sought victory in its fight against the D.C. Public Schools' teacher evaluation system, albeit a minor one on procedural grounds. An arbitrator ruled Monday that the school system had to re-hire a teacher who filed a grievance claiming he was wrongly fired under its controversial teacher evaluation system called IMPACT. The city's teacher union has long assailed the evaluation system, which has been central to the city's high-profile education reform efforts during the past decade. Then-Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee introduced IMPACT in fall 2009, and critics argue that the time-consuming process is arbitrary and could result in teachers wrongly getting fired with little recourse. The most contested aspect of the IMPACT system is that students' test scores are taken into account when evaluating teachers. The arbitrator's ruling in this specific case does not touch on that issue, and it does not undermine the crux of the evaluation system. But it is the first grievance involving the evaluation system the union has won, according to Elizabeth Davis, the head of the Washington Teachers Union. In the 2015-2016 academic year alone, more than 100 grievances have been filed.

Despite Fears, Affordable Care Act Has Not Uprooted Employer Coverage

Source: Reed Abelson, New York Times

The Affordable Care Act was aimed mainly at giving people better options for buying health insurance on their own. There were widespread predictions that employers would leap at the chance to drop coverage and send workers to fend for themselves. But those predictions were largely wrong. Most companies, and particularly large employers, that offered coverage before the law have stayed committed to providing health insurance. As it turns out, health care remains an important recruitment and retention tool as the labor market has tightened in recent years. Desirable employees still expect health benefits, and companies are responding, new analyses of federal data show. "We're more confident than ever that we'll offer benefits," said Robert Ihrie Jr., a senior vice president for Lowe's Companies, the home improvement retailer. Companies get a sizable federal tax break from providing the insurance. And if they dropped the coverage, many workers would expect the money in their paycheck to increase enough to pay for outside insurance or would look for a new job. The reversal in thinking about employer benefits is so stark that even government budget officials are singing an optimistic tune. They lowered the number of people they think will lose coverage because of the health law and now predict employers will remain the source of coverage for a majority of working Americans for the next decade. The surprise turnaround adds to an emerging consensus about the contentious health law: It has not upturned the core of the country's health insurance system, even while insuring millions of low-income people. "The employer-based system is alive and well," said Jeff Alter, the chief executive of the commercial insurance business for UnitedHealthcare, one of the nation's largest health insurance companies. Even among critics of the law, including the Republican presidential candidates, there has been virtually no debate about employer coverage.

April 5, 2016

California's top court tells employers to give workers a chair

Source: Maura Dolan, Los Angeles Times

Pamela Bowlin, a retired CVS cashier, says the years she spent being forced to stand while waiting on customers took their toll. "At the end of the day, I would be exhausted from standing in one place for hours and my legs would ache," Bowlin said in a sworn declaration. "I also suffered from varicose veins which were painful, especially when standing." On Monday, the California Supreme Court told workers like Bowlin perhaps millions of them in effect that they could take a load off. Bowlin had joined a class-action lawsuit against the pharmacy chain, one of dozens filed in California during the last several years against corporations that required workers to stand. In a unanimous ruling Monday, the court clarified labor law in a way that is likely to make it more difficult for companies to deny workers a chair. "There is no principled reason for denying an employee a seat when he spends a substantial part of his workday at a single location performing tasks that could reasonably be done while seated, merely because his job duties include other tasks that must be done standing," Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote for the court.

Coalition files brief with high court in bag bill suit

Source: Tim Curtis, The Missouri Times

Several worker advocacy groups filed an amicus brief with the Missouri Supreme Court on Monday supporting the ability of local municipalities to raise the minimum wage above the state minimum wage. Last year, House Bill 722 prohibited localities from creating a bag tax, fee, or ban on plastic bags used in grocery stores. In the Senate, the bill was expanded to include raising the minimum wage and benefit standards beyond the state minimum. Municipal and Labor Law Scholars, the National Employment Law Project and Missouri Jobs with Justice filed the amicus brief arguing that raising the minimum wage in Kansas City should have been on the ballot. They argue that the state minimum wage is a floor that other places, like Kansas City and St. Louis, can build off of by increasing the minimum wage within their jurisdiction.

Supreme Court refuses to hear Wal-Mart case; Pa. workers owed $224M

Source: Jane M. Von Bergen, Philly.com

Nearly 10 years ago, Delores Killingsworth Barber, then 25 and an employee at a Roosevelt Boulevard Walmart, took the witness stand in a Philadelphia courtroom and told a judge and jury that the retail giant was "stealing our time." It got worse during the holidays, when, she testified, workers were told to "do whatever it takes to get it done, and if that meant missing your break, that's what had to be done." Many years and boxes of legal documents later, the workers should be paid for those missed breaks. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it would not take up a lost-wages case involving 186,000 current and former Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employees, clearing the way for the workers, all from Pennsylvania, and their lawyers to receive $187 million in the class-action suit. With interest, the employees, who had been owed $140 million of the $187 million, will now split $224 million, said their attorney, Michael D. Donovan of Donovan Litigation Group in Berwyn. "Wage theft will not be tolerated, and class actions are an optimal way for large numbers of workers to recover wages stolen by their employers," Donovan said Monday. Wal-Mart spokesman Randy Hargrove said: "We are disappointed the Supreme Court decided not to review our case. While we continue to believe these claims should not be bundled together in a class-action lawsuit, we respect the court's decision." The case began in 2002, when Michelle Braun, working at the Walmart store in Franklin Mills, joined other colleagues in filing a wage-and-hour lawsuit against the retailer.

April 4, 2016

Low jobless rate juiced by workers who settle for part-time gigs

Source: Carlos Torres and Victoria Stilwell

A slowly improving economy is pulling discouraged Americans into the workforce, although some are having to settle for part-time jobs for now. That's the message from the March employment report issued by the Labor Department on Friday in Washington. Payrolls grew by 215,000 workers last month following a gain of 245,000 in February, according to employers surveyed by the government. The separate poll of households showed that the jobless rate ticked up to 5 percent from 4.9 percent as people streamed into the labor force looking for work, and not all were successful. The gain in hiring shows that businesses remain confident in U.S. prospects even amid the slowdown in global growth and turmoil in financial markets that Federal Reserve Chair Janet L. Yellen said prompted policymakers to signal a slower pace of rate increases in 2016. The gradual approach in tightening monetary policy to allow the labor market to heat up further was reinforced by readings showing the world's largest economy still wasn't strong enough to provide more full-time work.

What it's like to live in a city with a $14 minimum wage

Source: Tracey Lien, Rick Anderson, Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times

Security guard Kenneth Lofton was among the workers who benefited last year when this East Bay city hiked its hourly minimum wage to nearly $15 for employees at large companies. The jump was almost 50% more than what he used to make in nearby Oakland when he was paid $10 an hour. But it's not enough for Lofton, 62, to move closer to work he still has to commute nearly 20 miles from Hayward and back each day. "It's somewhat better, but not much," Lofton said Tuesday morning while eating breakfast and manning the security gate at an Emeryville parking lot. "The high cost of living here takes a big bite out of whatever monetary increase you get, so it's like not getting an increase at all." But, he said, "at least they're trying." If, as expected, Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signs legislation raising California's hourly minimum wage gradually to $15, the state will become the largest proving ground in the impassioned debate over wage stagnation and wealth inequality.

Workers: Nabisco layoffs more than campaign trail sound bites

Source: Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times

Michael Smith is all too familiar with this scenario. Smith, 58, of Tinley Park, is a utility worker laid off March 23 from the Southwest Side Nabisco Chicago Bakery that's become a symbol in the presidential campaign of the impact of offshore outsourcing, with Democrats Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump all complaining about the loss of Nabisco jobs shifted to Mexico.

April 1, 2016

The Cities on the Sunny Side of the American Economy

Source: Patricia Cohen, New York Times

When the aerospace company Sierra Nevada Corporation moved into the Colorado Technology Center about eight years ago, employees on their lunch break could stroll by the alpaca farm next door. Now the animals are gone, and the land is cleared and ready for the new development surging along the Denver-to-Boulder corridor. At campaign rallies throughout the South and Midwest, economic frustration and sluggish wage growth are dominant themes. States like Alaska and Oklahoma, faced with low oil prices, are grappling with bankruptcies and layoffs. And overall growth in the United States economy remains disappointing. But this thriving industrial park is just one sign of the many metropolises and smaller cities across the nation that have not only regained their footing since the recession, but are on the upswing. Here in the Mountain West but also in places as varied as Seattle and Portland, Ore., in the Northwest, and Atlanta and Orlando, Fla., in the Southeast employers are hiring at a steady clip, housing prices are up and consumers are spending more freely. "It's pretty clear that some metropolitan areas are doing really well," said Andrew McAfee, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The ingredients to that formula seem to be some combination of great research universities and knowledge-intensive industries, whether it's high tech on the West Coast, biotechnology here in the East or clusters of technology and robotics in places like Pittsburgh."

5 things to know about the Chicago teachers strike

Source: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Tribune

Friday's the day. Classes are canceled for about 330,000 Chicago Public Schools students while their teachers walk the picket line in a citywide "Day of Action" aimed at spotlighting the tug-of-war over their expired contract and the budget stalemate in Springfield that could further cripple the cash-strapped school system. As questions loom about whether the daylong walkout is legal union leaders say it is but CPS says it's not and parents and their kids navigate a day off, the event won't just touch on teachers and students. Anyone who lives, works or plays in the city Friday may catch a glimpse of sign-pumping teachers, union rallies or a downtown demonstration in the afternoon that is expected to make the evening commute a tough go. Here's a closer look at the five things you need to know about the one-day strike. Why has the teachers union organized the walkout? The walkout is an effort to draw attention to the lack of state funding for schools and social services and to pressure Gov. Bruce Rauner and state lawmakers to agree on a plan to help, union leaders say. It also presents an opportunity to highlight how teacher contract negotiations have stalled and differences between the two sides that include raises based on experience and educational attainment and how much the district should contribute to teachers' pensions.

Five U.S. women's soccer players file wage discrimination complaint

Source: Matt Bonesteel, Washington Post

Five key members of the U.S. women's soccer team have filed a federal complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging wage discrimination. In the complaint, the players cite USSF figures from last year showing that they were paid nearly four times less than men's players despite generating much more revenue. Four of the five team members who filed the complaint co-captains Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn, forward Alex Morgan, midfielder Megan Rapinoe and goalkeeper Hope Solo appeared Thursday on the "Today" show along with attorney Jeffrey Kessler. "I think the timing is right. I think we've proven our worth over the years, just coming off a World Cup win," Lloyd told NBC's Matt Lauer. "The pay disparity between men and women is just too large, and we want to continue to fight. The generation of players before us fought, and we want to continue the fight." Jeffrey Kessler, the attorney representing the women's players, said in a telephone interview with The Post that the complaint is akin to asking a district attorney to investigate a crime. The EEOC, the federal agency that enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination, will now conduct an investigation into the matter and decide if there has been a violation. "We're hopeful that we'll get the right result, or that U.S. Soccer will do the right thing and agree to equal compensation," Kessler said, adding that there have been many precedents for such an investigation outside of the sports world. What's unusual about this case, Kessler said, is that both the men's and women's soccer teams work for the same employer. "So it fits squarely into the Equal Pay Act," Kessler said, referring to the 1963 federal law that seeks to end wage disparity between men and women.

March 31, 2016

Chicago Teachers Union pushes broad message for fiscal reform with walkout

Source: Diane Rado and Juan Perez Jr., Chicago Tribune

The financial crisis at the root of the Chicago Teachers Union's planned one-day walkout Friday is different from past troubles for the school district in an especially alarming way: No one seems to be riding to the rescue this time. With neither Gov. Bruce Rauner nor state lawmakers acting to bail out the nation's third-largest school system, teachers are taking to the streets for a day to pressure a deadlocked Springfield to help shore up Chicago Public Schools' precarious finances. The union's repeated threats to strike over pay and pension issues in recent weeks have evolved into a labor-led fight against Rauner's anti-union agenda, and a call for new revenue amid a state budget impasse that has jeopardized social service programs and public universities. "I guess the important thing to say is we're just very conscious of the fact that we're part of a broader movement that needs to figure out how to fund social services and we're trying to ask people to see April 1 in that broader context," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Wednesday.

Strike is back on for U.S. airport workers seeking higher pay, job protections

Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post

The 24-hour strike workers had planned at several major U.S. airports last week, then postponed after the Brussels terrorist attacks, is back on. Service workers, including cleaners, security officers and baggage handlers, plan to walk off their jobs Wednesday night, in a demand for better wages and union rights. In the wake of the attack at the Brussels airport, workers are also calling for better emergency preparedness, the Service Employees International Union said. "We need critical training to protect ourselves, other workers and our passengers when emergencies happen," Sadaf Subijano, a security officer at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport said. She said the Brussels attacks "should be a wake-up call for everybody." The strike is planned at eight airports including Washington's Reagan National, Chicago's O'Hare, New Jersey's Newark Liberty, and New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports. This will be the first time workers at National airport have struck, though in recent months, they have joined in protests, vigils and rallies as part of the Airport Workers United campaign for a $15 an-hour minimum wage and union rights.

With 'Gigs' Instead of Jobs, Workers Bear New Burdens

Source: Neil Irwin, New York Times

If you believe the Silicon Valley sloganeers, we are in a "gig economy," where work consists of a series of short-term jobs coordinated through a mobile app. That, anyway, is both the prediction of tech executives and futurists and the great fear of labor activists. But anyone who cares about the future of work in the United States shouldn't focus too narrowly on the novelty of people making extra money using their mobile phones. There's a bigger shift underway. That's a key implication of new research that indicates the proportion of American workers who don't have traditional jobs who instead work as independent contractors, through temporary services or on-call has soared in the last decade. They account for vastly more American workers than the likes of Uber alone. Most remarkably, the number of Americans using these alternate work arrangements rose 9.4 million from 2005 to 2015. That was greater than the rise in overall employment, meaning there was a small net decline in the number of workers with conventional jobs. That, in turn, raises still bigger questions about how employers have succeeded at shifting much the burden of providing social insurance onto workers, and what technological and economic forces are driving the shift. The labor economists Lawrence F. Katz of Harvard and Alan B. Krueger of Princeton found that the percentage of workers in "alternative work arrangements" including working for temporary help agencies, as independent contractors, for contract firms or on-call was 15.8 percent in the fall of 2015, up from 10.1 percent a decade earlier. (Only 0.5 percent of all workers did so through "online intermediaries," and most of those appear to have been Uber drivers.)

March 30, 2016

Victory for Unions as Supreme Court, Scalia Gone, Ties 4-4

Source: Adam Liptak, New York Times

The Supreme Court handed organized labor a major victory on Tuesday, deadlocking 4 to 4 in a case that had threatened to cripple the ability of public-sector unions to collect fees from workers who chose not to join and did not want to pay for the unions' collective bargaining activities. It was the starkest illustration yet of how the sudden death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month has blocked the power of the court's four remaining conservatives to move the law to the right. A ruling allowing workers to refuse to pay the fees would have been the culmination of a decades-long campaign by a group of prominent conservative foundations aimed at weakening unions that represent teachers and other public employees. Tuesday's deadlock denied them that victory, but it set no precedent and left the door open for further challenges once the Supreme Court is back at full strength. When the case was argued in January, the court's conservative majority seemed ready to say that forcing public workers to support unions they had declined to join violates the First Amendment. Justice Scalia's questions were consistently hostile to the unions.

How a $15 Minimum Wage Went From Fringe to Mainstream

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg

By 2020 there will be a $15 minimum wage in effect for fast-food workers in New York City, for employees of large companies in Seattle, and for all workers in Los Angeles. On March 28, California Governor Jerry Brown announced a deal to make the $15 wage standard throughout the state by 2022. Last year, Democrats in Congress proposed making it the national starting wage, replacing the $7.25 federal minimum that prevails today. None of that would have been possible without the union-conceived Fight for $15, a four-year-old effort that's been organized labor's most effective political campaign in recent memory. "On the political level, it's definitely working," says Vincent Vernuccio, who directs labor policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Michigan-based free-market think tank. The Fight for $15 was the brainchild of the Service Employees International Union, the second-largest in the U.S., many of whose 1.9 million members work for local or state government or in taxpayer-funded health-care jobs. Since 2012, SEIU has sunk millions of dollars into the Fight for $15 to pressure fast-food corporations to allow unionization, lobby elected officials to pass higher wage laws, and support worker walkouts and mass demonstrations. SEIU's president, Mary Kay Henry, is gambling that the Fight for $15 will help save her union. She says increasing standards for the worst-paid workers is bolstering her members' efforts to win bigger raises. SEIU leaders also believe pressure on fast-food corporations will eventually yield a deal that covers millions of workers, improves their lives, and includes a funding mechanism for the campaign to continue even if the result doesn't look like a traditional union. "We bargain in the way we know how," Henry says. "We're also taking risks in building a movement that's going to birth the next form of worker power."

The Uber business model loses some of its sheen

Source: Heesun Wee, CNBC

Six years ago, Uber launched a test run to help hail cars in a few cities. Freelance drivers, who needed work in a deep recession, and customers, lured by cheaper rides and cashless transactions, together bankrolled Uber into a tech unicorn a private company with a valuation of at least $1 billion. But the era of cheap money is easing as valuation expectations adjust. Some start-ups have discreetly cut staff. IPOs remain weak. And it turns out the Uber business model this broad idea that any sector might be disrupted by an army of freelancers, overlaid across a mobile platform doesn't necessarily translate. Uber and other start-ups in the on-demand economy have been dogged by questions about freelance-worker background checks. There are accusations that start-ups are basically skirting regulations and related licensing fees that apply to traditional businesses, including taxis, limousines and hotels. But beyond Uber, more new companies are reimagining the on-demand business model. New ventures are coupling flexible schedules with more traditional workplace benefits including health insurance and a chance to buy a company stake a privilege usually reserved for founding members and deep-pocketed investors, not rank-and-file employees. More start-ups are also converting 1099 independent contractors to W-2 employees. And other companies are offering base wages above the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. Some employees also get health insurance. "Uber was the first game in town," said Rebecca Smith, deputy director of the National Employment Law Project, or NELP. But San Francisco-based juggernaut Uber stands by its strategy and says the company is growing, co-founder and chief executive Travis Kalanick told CNBC on Monday. "We've just been watching literally hundreds of cities go profitable. We've just tightened up the operations," he said.

March 29, 2016

California proposal for state-run retirement plan for private-sector workers moves forward

Source: James Rufus Koren, Los Angeles Times

California has taken a step closer to becoming the first state to make retirement savings accounts a near-universal benefit for workers with a plan that lawmakers hope will help ease an expected massive shortfall in retirement savings. A state board Monday sent a set of recommendations to the Legislature calling for the creation of the California Secure Choice Retirement Plan essentially a 401(k) plan operated by the state and open to private-sector workers whose employers don't offer a retirement savings plan. Employees of any company with at least five workers would be eligible to participate. That would cover an estimated 6.8 million workers, about a third of California's labor force. The plan calls for eligible workers to be signed up automatically by their employers and have 2% to 5% of their wages invested in the plan, unless workers opt out. Business groups have questioned whether the plan could cost employers or make them liable for investment losses or other problems. But state officials have said the retirement plans would be similar to those available to many private-sector employees and, unlike pension plans for state workers, would not be funded or guaranteed by employers or taxpayers.

66 more Oreo bakery workers receive layoff notice

Source: Greg Trotter, Chicago Tribune

An additional 66 hourly wage workers at the Nabisco bakery received their layoff notices Monday, the latest round of cuts at the longtime facility on Chicago's Southwest Side. Those who received the 60-day notice required by state law are staring at May 27 as their final day of work at the plant where snacks like Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Ritz Crackers have been made for decades. Last week, 277 workers were laid off, and more cuts are expected as Mondelez International the global snack food company that owns the bakery pushes forward with its plan to shift some operations to Mexico. Ron Baker, spokesman for the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union, said the timing of the notices was intended to apply pressure amid ongoing labor negotiations with the bakers union. "I'm sure that affects how a lot of people feel about bargaining," Baker said Monday. "But the membership is strong, and they're not going to put up with this."

California looks to set a $15-an-hour minimum wage, raising the floor while others add ceilings

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

On Monday, California lawmakers are preparing to announce a deal, according to the state's newspapers, to raise the minimum wage statewide to $15 an hour by 2022, becoming the first state to meet a target that over the past few years has gone from a pie-in-the-sky activist demand to the new baseline for big cities.The agreement comes as a labor-backed initiative that could also have raised hourly wages qualified for the 2016 ballot. And it follows the lead of Los Angeles and San Francisco, which already had passed $15 minimum wages. Similar dynamics are at play in New York; Washington, D.C.; Washington state; and Oregon. According to a quick analysis by the Berkeley Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, the plan would raise the wages of more than 5 million low-paid Californians about 38 percent of the workforce by an average of $4,000 annually, paid for by what the group called "modest" price increases on consumers. "These large and widespread pay raises will substantially reverse the past three decades of growing wage inequality among California's low-paid workers," said the institute's Michael Reich.

March 28, 2016

Labor Secretary Calls Workers' Comp Opt-Out Plans A 'Pathway To Poverty'

Source: Howard Berkes, NPR

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez says his agency will use its "bully pulpit" to strike at what he calls "a disturbing trend" that leaves workers without medical care and wage replacement payments when they are injured on the job. In an interview with NPR, Perez also confirms a Labor Department investigation of an opt-out alternative to state-regulated workers' compensation that has saved employers millions of dollars but that he says is "undermining that basic bargain" for American workers. Perez says the probe focuses on a practice by thousands of employers in Texas and Oklahoma to opt out of conventional state workers' compensation in favor of benefits plans that provide lower and fewer payments, make it more difficult to qualify for benefits, control access to doctors and limit independent appeals of benefits decisions. "What opt-out programs really are all about is enabling employers to reduce benefits," Perez says. Opt-out programs "create really a pathway to poverty for people who get injured on the job." Perez wouldn't provide any details. But last month, his agency sent a letter to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, disclosing "contact with the company cited in the ProPublica/National Public Radio report that is offering services to employers in Texas and Oklahoma" who opt out of workers' comp. That description fits PartnerSource, a Dallas company that wrote and supports almost all opt-out plans in Oklahoma and about half the plans in Texas. An agency official, who declined to be named because he is not authorized to speak publicly, confirmed that PartnerSource plans are the focus of the investigation. PartnerSource President Bill Minick has not responded to NPR's requests for comment about the probe.

California Lawmakers, Unions Reach $15 Minimum Wage Deal: Reports

Source: Sharon Bernstein, Huffington Post

California lawmakers and union leaders have reached a tentative deal to raise the state's minimum wage to $15 over six years that could avert a campaign to bring the issue to voters, two California newspapers reported on Sunday, citing unnamed sources. The deal, if passed in the state legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, would add to a wave of minimum wage increases at the state level in the United States, where the federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour for more than six years. The agreement, as reported by the Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee, would gradually raise the minimum wage in the most populous U.S. state from the current $10 to $15 in 2022. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees would have one extra year to comply with the proposed law. The Bee said Brown is part of the agreement, while the Times said the Democratic governor could make a formal announcement on a deal as early as Monday. A spokesman for Brown was unavailable for comment on Sunday. Sources told the Times that lawmakers could vote on the proposed agreement by the end of next week by amending an existing wage-hike bill. To pass in the legislature, any minimum wage hike would have to win the approval of moderate Democrats, who in the past have blocked key legislation backed by the governor and the majority party's more liberal leaders.

DFL takes battle over paid family leave to Minnesota Capitol

Source: Maya Rao, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minnesota DFLers are intensifying efforts to adopt one of the most sweeping paid family leave policies in the country, an effort gaining wide support from labor unions and low-income groups. Senate DFLers are pushing a more generous paid family leave than the three states that require it, mandating up to 12 weeks of paid time off for new parents or people caring for sick family members. That's double what is required in New Jersey and California; Rhode Island offers eight weeks. The measure also calls for 12 weeks of paid leave for seriously ill employees, which is less than those other states. The political debate in Minnesota is part of a larger national battle over the government's role in mandating various types of paid leave, one that for the first time is emerging as a significant issue in the presidential campaign. Minnesota's elected leaders are trying to balance growing concern from business leaders frustrated by increasing and overlapping mandates, with workers caring for sick relatives or newborns who say they are strained to the limit as they choose between their families and their jobs. "Everyone is temporarily well," said Jessica Rohloff, who had to quit her job years ago to care for her ill grandmother. "Everyone is temporarily able. … At some point, this is going to be an issue for your family."

March 25, 2016

Teachers Are Warned About Criticizing New York State Tests

Source: Kate Taylor, New York Times

Since the revolt by parents against New York State's reading and math tests last year, education officials at the state level have been bending over backward to try to show that they are listening to parents' and educators' concerns. The tests, which are given to third through eighth graders and will begin this year on April 5, were shortened, time limits were removed, and the results will not be a factor in teacher evaluations, among other changes. On Monday, Betty A. Rosa, the newly elected chancellor of the Board of Regents and the state's highest education official, even said that if she had children of testing age, she would have them sit out the exams. The message, clearly, is: We hear you. But in New York City, the Education Department seems to be sending a different message to some teachers and principals: Watch what you say. At a forum in December, Anita Skop, the superintendent of District 15 in Brooklyn, which had the highest rate of test refusals in the city last year, said that for an educator to encourage opting out was a political act and that public employees were barred from using their positions to make political statements.

Senators finally won their cafeteria workers a raise. Millions of Americans still wait their turn.

Source: Catherine Rampell, Washington Post

Bertrand Olotara, a cook in the Senate cafeteria, is finally getting the wages that are owed to him. All of them this time. I last wrote about Olotara in January. As you may recall, he and 60 co-workers staged a series of strikes demanding a living wage and a union. Stories of these workers' financial struggles one was homeless, others were on food stamps, yet another was moonlighting as a stripper generated national outrage. Which in turn added pressure for senators to, you know, do something to make sure the people who serve them food and clean their toilets earn better than starvation wages. And to their credit, senators did something. When the cafeteria contract came up for renewal in December, senators won the workers big wage gains. Olotara's hourly pay, for example, was supposed to rise more than $5, from $12.30 to at least $17.45. Or so he thought. The contract, alas, turned out to be a bait-and-switch. Within days, a manager began calling workers into his office. There they learned that their titles, but not their duties, would change. Titles matter, though, since the new contract specified pay by occupation. When Olotara's title switched from "cook" to the lower-paid "food service worker," he was denied most of the raise he'd been promised. Such reclassifications violated not only the hard-won new contract but potentially also federal law. Under the Service Contract Act, federal contract workers' occupations are explicitly defined by the Labor Department based on job duties. They are not subject to the whims of employers who may be hoping to evade an expensive pay hike.

Companies in Middle America Want to Recruit More LGBT Workers

Source: Jeff Green, Bloomberg

When Hormel Foods added gay pride holidays to its 2012 corporate calendar, there was instant pushback, recalls Larry Lyons, senior vice president for human resources. He received angry e-mails objecting to the decision, and several employees confronted him in person to complain. The calendar, he says, led to "some very difficult conversations that needed to happen" and served as a referendum on Hormel's support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers. It's common for companies that want to attract younger, more diverse employees, including LGBT workers, to meet such resistance, especially those in the Midwest and the South that aren't in large urban centers. At the same time, industries from oil and gas to construction are facing greater pressure to adopt more open policies. "We have a sophisticated, new kind of employee who's not just looking at what their salary is going to be but at the environment they're going to be working in every day," says Sarah Kate Ellis, president and chief executive officer of Glaad, an LGBT advocacy organization. "They want that environment to be inclusive, to be welcoming." That's especially true of millennials who've left cities like New York and San Francisco because of the high cost of living.

March 24, 2016

These 15 jobs have the widest gap in pay between men and women

Source: Jena McGregor, Washington Post

Study after study has shown that that a stubborn gender pay gap persists in what men and women generally earn, and that career decisions play a big role in explaining the difference. But when men's and women's pay in similar job categories are compared, where does the gap remain the highest? That's a question Glassdoor, the careers and pay transparency web site, tried to answer in a new study released Wednesday about the gender pay gap. It first examined more than 500,000 salary reports that workers self-reported on its site. It found, similar to what other studies have shown, that there's a broad, "unadjusted" gap, where women make 76 percent of what men earn. (The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that it's 79 percent; Pew Research Center found a few years ago that it was 84 percent.) But add in controls for differences such as age, education, years of experience, industry, job titles and location, and the gap shrinks considerably, to just 5.4 percent, Glassdoor found. This is the "adjusted" gap, or the part of the difference for which Glassdoor can find no obvious explanation other than potential differences in how men and women negotiate, simple bias on the part of employers or other unexplained differences. Glassdoor's chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain, said that even if that 5 percent unexplained gap may seem small to some, he was surprised by it. "Before I started this paper five or six months ago, I thought once we controlled for job titles and companies, there was going to be almost no gender pay gap involved," he said in an interview. "There's a risk that in this paper showing a 5 percent pay gap, many people might think that's minimizing the problem. But I'm actually surprised it's not smaller than 5 percent. That's pretty significant, and a pretty decent chunk of change over a lifetime."

Federal, State Moves Aim To Protect LGBT Workers

Source: Yuki Noguchi, NPR

The Civil Rights Act bans sex discrimination, but does it cover sexual orientation? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says it does and it wants this position validated by federal courts. This month, the EEOC filed its first-ever lawsuits charging employers with discrimination against gay and lesbian employees. "The commission takes the position that discrimination because of sexual orientation is intrinsically a form of sex discrimination," says David Lopez, the agency's general counsel. "I think it will help illuminate for employers their responsibilities and it will help illuminate for employees the rights."One of the two cases alleges that a gay man working at a health clinic in Pennsylvania was subject to homophobic epithets and degrading comments about his sex life. His complaints, he says, were ignored. The other case involves a forklift company in Baltimore, where a lesbian employee alleges that her supervisor made lewd comments and gestures, promising to turn her "back into a woman." She claims she was fired after lodging a complaint. Greg Nevins, a workplace fairness counsel at Lambda Legal, says these are very common complaints. His organization represents LGBT issues in court and fields thousands of workplace complaints a year. He says historically, cases like these where gay and lesbian workers bring charges do not fare well.

CTU votes yes to April 1 'showdown' strike

Source: Tina Sfondeles and Lauren FitzPatrick, Chicago Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union voted Wednesday evening to approve a one-day "showdown" strike on April 1 which will include a massive downtown rally to bring attention to ongoing contract negotiations and the state's education funding crisis. "I think it'll be a clear message. Based on the current organizing, we'll shut this city down," Tammie Vinson, a special education teacher at Oscar DePriest Elementary School said after the vote at the International Operating Engineers Hall. But the vote 486 in favor, 124 opposed was hardly unanimous, and some teachers expressed doubts about the amorphous action after seeing the motive change over the past few weeks. Still, CTU President Karen Lewis said the numbers show teachers are ready to fight. "This house is ready and united," Lewis said. The April 1 action will include picketing in the morning and a downtown rally in front of the Thompson Center. "Strikes are about withholding labor because the labor conditions have come to a point where they're not tolerable. We're working under conditions that seem to be extremely unfair to our people," Lewis said.

March 23, 2016

Airports workers cancel strike planned for U.S. hubs following Brussels attacks

Source: Luz Lazo, Washington Post

In the wake of terror attacks in Belgium, U.S. airport workers are canceling a 24-hour strike and protests they had planned at 10 major U.S. hubs. Officials with the Service Employees International Union said the workers will postpone the walkout that had been slated to begin Tuesday night "out of respect for the innocent victims." The attacks at Brussels' Zaventem Airport and a subway station left at least 30 dead and more than 200 injured. "We stand in solidarity with the Brussels Airport workers and our thoughts and prayers are with the families that lost loved ones in this senseless tragedy," said Legesse Woldearegay, a customer service agent at Reagan National Airport who was prepared to go on strike Tuesday night. "We must all work together to make our airports as safe as they can possibly be." More than 2,000 workers, including cleaners, security officers and baggage handlers were set to strike at National, Chicago's O'Hare, New Jersey's Newark Liberty, and New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, among others. The walkout was planned in protest of low wages and retaliation for union organizing, labor leaders said. Airport workers were also hoping to draw attention to workplace conditions, including alleged health and safety violations and inadequate training for workers in key security positions. Some workers said the events in Brussels draw attention to some of the problems they say they face, including inadequate training.

It's About To Get Harder For Companies To Hide Union-Busting

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

A lot of U.S. companies pay top dollar just to keep labor unions out of their workplaces. It's hard to know exactly how much or who they pay, because the reporting standards aren't all that strict. But that's about to change. On Wednesday, the Labor Department announced a final version of its contentious "persuader" rule. Persuaders are lawyers and consultants hired by companies to discourage workers from unionizing. The art sometimes subtle, sometimes not is known as "union avoidance." Unions, though, have a more derisive term for it: union-busting. Employers are already required to report to the federal government any direct work these consultants do on their behalf that is, any talks or presentations the consultants personally deliver to workers. However, consultants can also advise company supervisors on what to say to workers and how to say it, thus bypassing the reporting requirements with behind-the-scenes work that doesn't have to be disclosed. Until now. Under the new rule, employers and their contractors will have to acknowledge any indirect "persuading" that was done and the fee structure for it. For example, if a lawyer helps a company craft a video presentation that paints unionizing as a bad idea, or drafts a speech for a manager, then both parties will have to inform the agency that they had a relationship and report how much money changed hands. In a call with reporters ahead of the rule's announcement, Labor Secretary Tom Perez said the idea behind the rule was basic transparency. If an employer's message during a union campaign is being shaped by outsiders, he said, then the employees who will be voting in the union election have a right to know that. "Informed decisions are the best decisions," Perez said. "This rule will pull back the curtain on the consultants who craft the employer's message."

Workers will overcome anti-union laws

Source: Gary Casteel, The Detroit News

How can organized labor make inroads in the politically hostile environment of the U.S. South? Whether we're talking about UAW Local 737 at that glass plant or other UAW local unions at other represented automotive parts suppliers throughout the state and around the region, we are part of the fabric of the Southern economy and workforce. Not long ago, Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman Bill Ford told CNBC that he credits the UAW with helping the entire automotive industry get back on its feet after the recession. For a good example of this, we can look 40 miles down the road from Nashville to Spring Hill, Tennessee, where the members of UAW Local 1853 have been building quality cars for nearly three decades at a General Motors assembly plant. During the recession, GM temporarily shuttered the Spring Hill facility. But today, that plant is open thanks to the local union's efforts through collective bargaining on wages, hours, insurance and other issues. Now, General Motors is adding new products and new jobs. And the local union members are playing a key role in GM's comeback story. Do the successes of our local unions in Spring Hill and elsewhere mean the UAW is happy with the environment in Tennessee and the region? Of course not. We haven't made as much progress down South as we would have liked. The reason why is obvious: Every state in the region, except Kentucky, has so-called "right-to-work" laws on the books that are designed to undermine hard-working men and women. These policies complicate employees' efforts to organize.

March 22, 2016

Fired worker accuses of Smithfield Foods with labor law violations

Source: Fatima Hussein, Cincinatti Enquirer

Philip Ewing, a former forklift driver at Smithfield Foods, said he was fired last February for fulfilling his duties as a union steward. The North Avondale resident is accusing the company of illegal labor practices, harassment and discrimination. He has filed separate complaints with the National Labor Relations Board and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The company declined to respond to Ewing's claims. "Smithfield does not comment on pending litigation," said spokeswoman Kathleen Kirkham. Ewing, 43, drove a forklift for the company for more than two years, but he said as soon as he was appointed a union steward for the company last October, "I started getting written up whenever I filed a grievance for the workers." After being written up three times in the span of four months, each resulting in a three-day suspension without pay, Ewing said he was notified in a letter that he was being terminated. "I know this isn't right they fired me because I was representing the union," Ewing said. Smithfield Foods is the world's largest pork producer and was purchased by Shuanghui Group, a Chinese firm in 2013 for approximately $4.72 billion. Smithfield purchased Springdale-based John Morrell & Co. roughly 20 years ago and has roughly 400 employees at its meat processing plant in Springdale. Worldwide, the company has 48,000 employees, selling over 50 brands of fresh and processed pork products, along with other food items.

National Airport workers join those at other major hubs in a 24-hour strike for better wages

Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/national-airport-workers-join-those-at-other-major-hubs-in-a-24-hour-strike-for-better-wages/2016/03/21/40663c88-ef7c-11e5-85a6-2132cf446d0a_story.html?can_id=96808db46c2e6163f553bf6360267ff3&source, Washington Post

Workers at Reagan National Airport will join those at some of the country's busiest hubs for a 24-hour strike beginning Tuesday night over what they say are low wages and retaliation for union organizing, labor leaders said Monday. More than 2,000 workers, including cleaners, security officers and baggage handlers plan to strike at National, Chicago's O'Hare, New Jersey's Newark Liberty, and New York's Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, among others, the Service Employees International Union said. Airport officials across the country said they don't expect the strike to have significant effect on travelers or daily airport operations, even though the walkout coincides with busy spring break and Easter holiday travel. They said airlines often have backup plans to avert disruptions. But organizers and workers promise to be out in force, picketing and rallying for an hourly minimum wage of $15 for the lowest-paid airport workers, who they said are forced to work two or three jobs to support their families. "Until we achieve our goal, we have to fight," said Legesse Woldearegay, 70, who makes $8 an hour as a customer service agent for Eulen America, a Miami-based Delta and American airlines contractor. Woldearegay said he works a second shift as a security officer at National to make ends meet.

Life as an Undercover Union Organizer

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

In the U.S., union membership has fallen significantly in the last 50 years. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union-membership rate was 11 percent in 2015 roughly half of the proportion of Americans who belonged to a union in 1983. One of the ways unions organize workers is by salting when a union organizer gets a job at a company with the intent of organizing workers from within. Salting is legal, but employers tend to not be too fond of people who do it. James Walsh became a salt after college with the intent to tell a first-person story about his experiences. He spent two years as an undercover labor organizer for Unite Here, a large union that revived salting in an effort to increase membership; he salted at two casinos in Florida, a state where private-sector union membership is a measly 5.7 percent. I recently spoke with Walsh about his new book, Playing Against the House: The Dramatic World of an Undercover Union Organizer, and why he believes that union membership remains important in the 21st century. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

March 21, 2016

Carrier Workers See Costs, Not Benefits, of Global Trade

Source: Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times

INDIANAPOLIS - The fuzzy video, shot by a worker on the floor of a Carrier factory here in the American heartland last month, captured the raging national debate over trade and the future of the working class in 3 minutes 32 seconds. "This is strictly a business decision," a Carrier executive tells employees, describing how their 1,400 jobs making furnaces and heating equipment will be sent to Mexico. Workers there typically earn about $19 a day less than what many on the assembly line here make in an hour. As boos and curses erupt from the crowd, the executive says, "Please quiet down." What came next was nothing of the kind. Within hours of being posted on Facebook, the video went viral. Three days after Carrier's Feb. 10 announcement, Donald J. Trump seized on the video in a Republican presidential debate and made Carrier's move to Mexico a centerpiece of his stump speeches attacking free trade. Jennifer Shanklin-Hawkins is one of those Carrier workers who listened to the announcement on the factory floor. After 14 years on the assembly line, she earns $21.22 an hour, enough to put her oldest son through college while raising two other children with her husband, a truck driver. And when she saw Mr. Trump talking about Carrier on the news, all she could do was shout "Yessss!" at the TV. "I loved it," she said. "I was so happy Trump noticed us." In living rooms and barrooms across Indianapolis, conversations with Carrier workers like Ms. Shanklin-Hawkins crystallize what has become an extraordinary moment in the American political and economic debate. As both political parties belatedly recognize the anxiety and deep-seated anger of blue-collar workers nationwide, the more-trade-is-good bipartisan consensus that has long held sway in Washington is being sundered. What isn't evident in the video or in the furious debate it has spawned is that both the company and its soon-to-be former employees are reacting to the same transformative quarter-century of American economic policy aimed at lowering trade barriers and staying globally competitive.

The biggest threat to American workers is slowly starting to go away

Source: Matt O'Brien, Washington Post

It turns out that the end of history was really the end of workers' bargaining power. In other words, it wasn't just capitalism that won when the Berlin Wall came down. It was capital itself. That's what adding a billion new workers to the global economy all at once will do. Suddenly CEOs had the leverage to keep wages down in rich countries since they could always threaten to move jobs someplace cheaper like China which they did. And that's really what we're talking about when we talk about globalization. Sure, Latin America, eastern Europe, and southeast Asia have all become key cogs in the world economy in the past quarter century, but China has remade it. Manufacturers have moved their factories there, suppliers have too, and this whole ecosystem has helped pull more people out of poverty than at any other time in human history. The flip side of this happy story, though, is that it's very much come at the expense of American workers. Now, I know: ask any economist, and they'll tell you that this isn't the way things work. That people who have their jobs outsourced will, for the most part, find new ones that pay just as much if not more. And, to be fair, that was a pretty accurate description of the world for a long time but not right now. Economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson have found that, between 1990 and 2007, the American communities most exposed to Chinese competition saw their manufacturing workers pushed into persistent unemployment, their non-manufacturing workers pushed into accepting lower wages, and everyone pushed into relying on the safety net, whether that was welfare, disability, or food stamps, more than before. In all, trade with China alone was responsible for about a fifth of the manufacturing jobs we lost during this time or 1.5 million to be exact.

CTU's April 1 strike legal or illegal? State board would decide

Source: Lauren FitzPatrick, Chicago Sun-Times

The Chicago Teachers Union has threatened to walk off the job on April 1 in a one-day strike, saying their employer unilaterally nixed their raises for education and experience. Chicago Public Schools insists that any walkout, as the two sides continue bargaining, would be illegal. CPS has informed teachers who call off without a doctor's note or written proof of an emergency that they will not be paid that day. Despite the rhetoric, determining the legality of a strike at the end of next week isn't up to either one. That call and any consequences will be decided by the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, which is already overseeing a contract dispute between CPS and the CTU. One of the sides, likely CPS, would have to ask the board to step in, said John Brosnan, a spokesman for the labor relations board. "Almost everything has to come to us," Brosnan said. "We don't go out and enforce it. . . . Generally what happens is someone has to file a charge." The staff investigates and makes a decision, which can be appealed to the five-person board. Three of them were appointed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who has tried to weaken labor unions.

March 18, 2016

How Sunday stopped being special for the American worker

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

This month, workers who have been with Walmart for at least five years received a one-time bump in their paychecks. A couple hundred extra dollars is usually welcome, but this time, it actually symbolizes a loss: No longer will those workers receive premium pay for their Sunday shifts, as the idea of compensating people for toiling on what some consider a day of rest fades from American business. Walmart discontinued Sunday premium pay, which had been $1 extra per hour, for new hires back in 2011. Those who had continued to receive it will receive a lump sum equal to half the amount of Sunday pay they received last year, according to a company release in January outlining a handful of adjustments that Walmart explained were a way of "simplifying its pay structure" and reducing the overall cost of increasing base wages to $10 an hour across the board. That hasn't worked worked out so well for more experienced employees like eight-year Walmart veteran Nancy Reynolds, a 69-year-old cashier in Merritt Island, Fla., who works Thursday through Monday. Her base pay was already slightly above $10 an hour, so she didn't get much of a raise, and the loss of a few extra Sunday dollars a week will hurt. "The younger people, the ones who haven't been there that long, they got it, and I'm glad for them," Reynolds says. "But they did it at the expense of me and everybody who's been there a long time." In cutting Sunday pay, Walmart is actually behind most of the retail industry, which made that change as legal requirements to pay more on Sundays were stricken from state laws across the country. So-called "blue laws" once prohibited Sunday commerce altogether in 34 states in the 1960s. They were often weakened through compromise, with higher pay mandated in exchange for shopping being legalized. Even with no mandate, premium pay was often what the labor market demanded. "To get people to work, when they'd never worked before, they started to pay Sunday pay," says Craig Rowley, a retail compensation consultant with Korn Ferry, who has done work for Walmart.

Top Economic Issue for Working Women? Equal Pay, Union Survey Says

Source: Melanie Trottman, The Wall Street Journal

Women across America talk a lot these days about the need for paid family leave and affordable health-care and college costs. But getting equal pay for the same work men perform is the top economic priority working women are poised to fight for, according to a new union survey being released Thursday on Capitol Hill. The survey of about 23,000 working female respondents‎, most of them union members, was conducted by the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest federation of labor unions. It found that attaining gender pay equity trumped about 20 other social and economic issues of concern to those women, across varying demographics. When women were presented with the list and then asked to choose no more than three issues that they would consider taking action to address, they cited equal pay for equal work most frequently. Nearly half, 46%, of respondents pointed to equal pay. affordable higher education and raising the minimum wage, in that order. Reproductive rights and stronger retirement savings programs didn't make the top five. Neither did affordable housing, affordable child care or affordable higher education. Gender pay inequity may have grabbed the top spot because it isn't happening in a vacuum, the survey found. A majority of respondents, 59%, said they were the primary breadwinner in their households, making equal pay even more important to them and their families. "Working women understand that our growing role in the workforce carries new responsibilities," said Liz Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, who will release the survey Thursday alongside some Democratic House lawmakers, who are prepared to use the findings to push for legislation such as the Paycheck Fairness Act. "We embrace these responsibilities as part of making progress. What we don't accept what we have to stop accepting is the price society demands from us in return." Part of the price Ms. Shuler is referring to is a decades-old gender pay gap that has narrowed some since 1979 but still persists. Women earn 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, according to a Census report released in September, though that doesn't control for differences such as varying occupations or career interruptions that might affect pay, such as taking leave to care for children.

How Citizens United Made It Easier For Bosses To Control Their Workers' Votes

Source: Ned Resnikoff, International Business Times

The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision is most famous for the torrent of outside ad spending it unleashed on the American election system. But the ruling did more than just lift caps on outside political expenditures; it also gave corporations more leverage over the political behavior of their employees. Citizens United eliminated restrictions on the ability of employers to lobby their workers in support of particular candidates and causes. Bosses can even make employees attend partisan political events during work hours. In addition to now being legal, those tactics are also effective, according to new research by Paul Secunda, a law professor at Marquette University, and Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a doctoral candidate in government and social policy at Harvard. A survey they conducted for an upcoming UCLA Law Review paper found that workers are generally responsive to political pressure from their managers. Hertel-Fernandez and Secunda surveyed more than 1,000 workers, many of whom worked at companies like Cintas and Georgia-Pacific, both of which sent political messages to their workers during the 2012 presidential race. Those two companies warned employees that their jobs could be negatively affected if management didn't get its way in the election. (Georgia-Pacific is a subsidiary of Koch Industries, the company run by the billionaire conservative activist brothers Charles and David Koch.) "Workers who received warnings such as those from Cintas or Georgia-Pacific were about three times as likely to indicate that they were uncomfortable with employer messages as workers who did not receive these warnings, according to the results from Hertel-Fernandez's survey," write Secunda and Hertel-Fernandez. "These warnings were also apparently effective at changing workers' political behaviors and attitudes: A worker who received at least one such warning about potential economic losses was about twice as likely to report responding to their employers' political requests compared to workers who received no such warnings."

March 17, 2016

Ireland's industrial peace begins to fray in a political vacuum

Source: Padraic Halpin, Reuters

Six years of almost unbroken industrial peace in Ireland is beginning to fray, as a recovering economy breeds contested wage demands, weekly threats of strikes and a headache for the country's new government whenever one is formed. Ireland was spared the kind of walkouts and protests that beset its fellow bailout recipients Greece, Spain and Portugal throughout the financial crisis. Workers reluctantly stomached steep tax hikes and deep wage cuts. But with the economy set to outperform the rest of Europe for a third straight year after growing 7.8 percent last year, a string of conflicts have blown up in recent weeks, from factory workers to teachers, emergency call operators to train drivers. Progress was made in the most serious dispute on Wednesday, when a planned St. Patrick's Day strike by workers at one of Dublin's two rail services was deferred, averting action that would have upset the busy March 17 tourist occasion. Drivers pointed out that passenger numbers have soared as the jobless rate almost halved, to 8.8 percent, since 2012. They sought pay increases of more than 50 percent over the course of five years, although they later moderated their claims. Neither side disclosed the final details, but the terms will be closely watched across the economy. Trade unions say other pay claims are likely to follow, soon. "I think you're going to see many workers seeking to reclaim the lost ground they had to concede during the recession," said Owen Reidy, the divisional organizer for the SIPTU trade union, which negotiated the agreement. "Workers right across the economy are becoming more confident."

Factory jobs trickle back to the U.S., giving hope to a once-booming mill town

Source: Abha Bhattarai, Washington Post

Not so long ago, this rural town an hour outside Atlanta was a hotbed of textile manufacturing. In the late 1990s, there were six major mills here. Their machines spun children's clothing for Carter's, made tire cords for B.F. Goodrich and produced bed sheets for J.C. Penney, Sears and Walmart. In all, they employed about 4,000 workers. By 2001, all of those jobs were gone. What has happened here in the 15 years since then tracks the slow comeback of manufacturing in the United States. Two textile companies have come in, investing millions in new technology and adding about 280 jobs in this town where one-third of the residents still live below the poverty line. It is becoming more affordable to produce textiles in the United States as machines become more efficient, companies say. Major firms are more willing to pay higher prices for domestically sourced products, and rising wages in China mean there is less of an advantage to making products overseas.

Last week, there was new cause for celebration when Marriott International announced that all towels in its 3,000 U.S. hotels would be manufactured by Standard Textile in plants here and in Union, S.C., a move expected to bring $23 million worth of business and 150 jobs back to the United States. The hotelier joins a number of other companies, including Walmart, Apple and General Electric, that have pushed for more U.S.-made products in recent years. But manufacturing employment here is a small fraction of what it was. Although a company such as Standard Textile once might have employed close to 1,000 people, today it has a couple of hundred workers who oversee machines that spin, scour and weave cotton. "We've had to redefine who we were because we were a mill town for so long," said Kyle Fletcher, executive director of the Thomaston-Upton Industrial Development Authority. "We lost a lot of the middle class."

Oreo bakers union's motion denied by federal judge

Source: Greg Trotter, Chicago Tribune

The union fighting the layoff of about 600 workers at a Southwest Side Oreo bakery suffered a setback late last week when a Chicago federal judge denied its request for assistance from the court. Meanwhile, Mondelez International and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers union remain deadlocked on contract negotiations. The union has until Sunday to ratify the "last, best and final" contract offer from Oreo maker Mondelez or the company can withdraw it. Mondelez spokeswoman Laurie Guzzinati said Wednesday there are no contract talks scheduled for the rest of the month, but the company remains open to bargaining in good faith. Last week, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall denied the union's motion, which sought binding arbitration on grievances related to the pending layoffs at the Nabisco plant on Chicago's Southwest Side. In her ruling, Kendall said the two sides were still working through the grievance process outlined in the collective bargaining agreement and that "Mondelez has done nothing to obstruct this procedure." Neither union spokesman Ron Baker nor Ed Burpo, president of Local 300 of the bakers union, could be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

March 16, 2016

Meet The Gig Economy Companies That See Investing In Workers As A Smart Business Strategy

Source: Cole Stangler, International Business Times

Evan Bochner is part of what's often dubbed the "on-demand economy" or the "gig economy," the growing collection of app-based startups providing services to clients at the click of a button. The 27-year-old handyman works 30 to 40 hours a week for the New York City-based office cleaning and maintenance company Managed by Q. He does everything from assembling desks, shelves and chairs to unclogging toilets, painting and electrical work. "It's fun and exciting because I'm always doing something different, going to different offices, different people," Bochner said. "It's never the same thing two days in a row." The pay isn't bad either. Unlike most workers in the on-demand economy, Bochner is pretty well-compensated, earning around $40 an hour, according to Managed by Q. And as an employee rather than an independent contractor, Bochner's company offers benefits like medical, dental and vision insurance in addition to a 401(k) plan. It's in sharp contrast to his previous job situation. In the two years before he started at Q, Bochner said he worked as an independent contractor, relying on referrals, friends, family and the on-demand app TaskRabbit. It was deeply unpredictable. "When you're paid well and you get good benefits and your company actually cares about you, you're more likely to take pride in your work and do your job better and stay with the company," Bochner said. "This is definitely a place I could see myself staying for a long time." Between the low pay and extensive use of independent contractors, the on-demand economy has achieved a certain notoriety for exploiting workers at the expense of consumers and Silicon Valley investors. But a growing number of companies like Managed by Q are taking a different approach, classifying their rank-and-file workers as employees and offering them higher pay and benefits. These on-demand employers see investing in workers as part of a smarter and more sustainable business strategy. But the shift also comes amid mounting legal pressure, driven by a surge of lawsuits alleging employment misclassification and mounting regulatory scrutiny from the federal government: In the past year, grocery delivery service Instacart, valet parking company Luxe and shipping app Shyp all began using official employees, to name a few.

Why Tech Is the Leading Industry on Parental Leave

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

On Tuesday, the online retailer Etsy became the latest tech company to offer an extremely generous (at least by U.S. standards) parental-leave policy. Starting this April, new mothers and fathers at the company will be able to take 26 weeks of paid leave (eight weeks immediately following birth and 18 more that can be spread out over two years). Previously, the company gave its U.S. employees 12 weeks of maternity leave or five weeks of paternity leave. "Speaking as a parent myself, and as a CEO, parental leave was really important to me personally," said Chad Dickerson, Etsy's CEO. "I think family leave has been more and more on people's minds." One explanation for why paid-leave policies are so rare is that most executives are men, who don't get the brunt of childcare duties and thus don't personally feel the need for such policies. But this may be changing, as tech founders from a younger generation start becoming parents themselves. Last year, Netflix announced that new mothers and fathers in its ranks would be free to take as much time off as they'd like during the first year of their child's life. Etsy says it believes that unlimited leave, though generous, leaves too much up to cultural norms and managers' expectations when new parents are considering how much time to take off. "I think our concern has been just that without that guidance employees can actually feel unsure about the signals that are sent by their choice of how much time to take off," says Juliet Gorman, Etsy's director of culture and employee engagement. But even generous leaves that are well-defined can still pose practical problems at work, which Etsy accounts for. Gorman says that in addition to having a budget to hire temps when employees are taking paid leave, Etsy's engineers regularly undergo cross-training, which lets them work on different projects. Dickerson says the company is already focused on strong back-ups having a number-two that can take over during illnesses or vacations which puts the company in a good position to handle the absences of new parents taking leave. The policy at Etsy, which is based in Brooklyn and has around 800 employees, is competitive with several larger Silicon Valley companies, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter. The U.S. tech sector has been leading the way in offering paid leave for new parents. But why has it been so much more focused on this benefit than other industries? One possible explanation is that this is just an extension of luxe tech-employee perks laundry service, travel stipends, haircuts, etc. into parent territory as Millennial workers start to have kids, but there are a number of other potential reasons too.

Man fired from Havertown Chipotle for working-condition tweets wins labor ruling

Source: Jane M. Von Bergen, Philly.com

James Kennedy, who served burritos at Chipotle's in Havertown, was fired last year after he tweeted about wages and circulated a petition asking managers to allow workers to take their breaks. Now the fast-food eatery has to offer to hire him back, pay him back wages, and post signs that some of its employee communication policies, including its former social guidelines, violated labor law. Kennedy's case became part of a sweep of lawsuits before the National Labor Relations Board as it sorted out what types of social media communications were covered under federal labor laws protecting the rights of workers acting together to improve wages and conditions. On Monday, Administrative Law Judge Susan A. Flynn found that Chipotle's social media policy violated the National Labor Relations Act. Kennedy's reaction? "If you want to tweet something about your personal experience at your job, do it," he said Tuesday, cautioning against libel and slander. "Tweet at your bosses and your bosses' bosses. "A lot of times your bosses will sugarcoat what's going on" to their bosses, Kennedy, said. "Doing it publicly really puts the spotlight on them." A Chipotle's spokesman and Kathleen J. Mowry, the Colorado-based lawyer who handled the case for Chipotle's, could not immediately be reached for comment.

March 15, 2016

When it comes to policies to raise wages, who's singing and who's lip syncing?

Source: Jared Bernstein, Washington Post

Last week, in the interest of trying to understand the motivation for some of the anger that's arguably fueling the current anti-establishment election, I showed the serious depth of real earnings losses among certain groups of workers. This week, I want to move from diagnosis to prescription, an especially germane exercise given the politics behind all of this. It's one thing to bemoan the large, real wage losses I showed. It's another to try to discern who among those running for office has plans that would really make a difference. First, however, let me quickly revisit a point from last week's posts. While the groups I looked at blue collar workers and non-college educated white men comprise minority shares of the labor force, their wage problems are merely an amplified version of that of many others. In fact, as Elise Gould shows in a new paper on wage trends for the broad labor force, between 2007 and 2015 real hourly pay was flat or falling for the bottom 60 percent of wage earners. At the top the 95th percentile hourly pay went up 9 percent. If you were looking for where the growth is going, there it is.

Oklahoma oil and gas workers among those owed $1.6 million in back-pay

Source: KOCO Oklahoma City, KOCO Oklahoma City

A new U.S. Department of Labor report shows oil and gas companies owe $1.6 million in back-pay to employees. An investigation found four companies violated the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime provisions. "We continue to find unacceptably high numbers of violations in the oil and gas industry," said Betty Campbell, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the Southwest. "We must ensure that employers pay workers the hard-earned wages they have rightfully earned. Employers who violate the law in their pay practices harm workers, their families and law-abiding industry employers. These cases demonstrate our commitments to ensuring workers are paid a fair day's pay for a fair day's work." Since 2012, more than 1,100 investigations of oil and gas employers have taken place and more than $40 million has been recovered for 29,000 workers. Employees for Frank's International LLC and Stream-Flo USA LLC in several states, including Oklahoma, are owed back pay, according to the Department of Labor. Viking Onshore Drilling LLC also failed to include bonus payments in workers' regular rates when determining overtime pay. Violations for Viking Onshore Drilling were reported in Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.

CTU leaders plan walkout at schools on April 1

Source: Juan Perez Jr., Chicago Tribune

Chicago Teachers Union leaders will ask its members to walk off their jobs April 1 for a one-day demonstration over contract talks and public education funding, Vice President Jesse Sharkey said Monday. "We will not go to work on April 1. We will close the schools on April 1," Sharkey said. "What we would hope is that the public joins us and that we see this as a one-day action to fight for school funding." On Saturday, CTU leaders met with a group of members to discuss a promised "Day of Action" amid halting contract talks with Chicago Public Schools. Sharkey called the one-day walkout an act of civil disobedience designed to marshal support for new taxes and revenue for public education. The union plans a special meeting of its House of Delegates next week to approve the one-day walkout. "We're saying that we're arguing for picket lines going up at schools on April 1, and that school would not be in session that day," Sharkey said. Under state law, CTU cannot strike until the completion of a final phase of contract negotiations known as "fact-finding," which won't be completed until May. School district attorneys say the union has no legal justification to strike outside the authority of state law; the union disagrees. "It's not a question of legality, it's a question of the moral necessity to do something about a very acute crisis in the city," Sharkey said. "And it's for one day, so if the powers that be are so threatened by tens of thousands of people in the public demonstrating for funding for crucial institutions, then they should be the ones who are ashamed of themselves."

March 14, 2016

Is McDonald's Responsible for Its Franchise Workers?

Source: J. Weston Phippen, Atlantic

An administrative law judge in New York City this week heard the first arguments in a case that has potential to reshape how workers fight for higher wages with giant franchisors like McDonald's. Specifically, the case deals with workers from five states (California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana), at 29 locations, who say McDonald's fired or threatened them after they joined a national day of fast-food employee protests asking for better pay in November 2012. At issue is the nature of the relationship McDonald's has with workers employed by its vast network of franchises. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a government agency whose job it is to investigate and remedy labor disputes, argued on Thursday that McDonald's is ultimately responsible for the workers because of the extent to which it controls an individual franchise's operations, down to when bathrooms should be cleaned and where food should be placed on the counters. McDonald's and its franchises disagree, calling the NLRB's interpretation of the relationship "radical and unprecedented." A ruling by administrative law Judge Lauren Esposito would decide whether McDonald's is liable for violations of labor law at its franchises nationwide. A win for the workers would set a precedent for the fast-food industry, and possibly the franchise industry in general, because it would make corporate headquarters liable for the employees who work under their banners. That hasn't happened before. Until recently, it was the franchise owners who were responsible and thus liable for the employees behind the fry cookers. But slowly this has changed. The U.S. has more than 14,000 McDonald's locations, and it says 70 percent of its American employees are either women, or people of color. In fact, McDonald's is often praised for its diverse workforce. The fast-food industry, as a whole, employs a disproportionate amount of black or Latino workers when compared to their share of the U.S. population. And the median pay for bottom-level fast-food jobs was $8.69 an hour, according to a University of California, Berkeley, study. This is why the fight for a $15 minimum has often been cast as not only a struggle to help the working poor, but to help the disproportionate amount of people of color who work in fast-food.

Trump has profited from foreign labor he says is killing U.S. jobs

Source: Rosalind S. Helderman and Tom Hamburger, Washington Post

Donald Trump wanted to market a line of men's clothing that would bear his name. He told people working with him to help find a company known for producing quality merchandise on a mass scale. In the end, Trump signed on with Phillips-Van Heusen, a manufacturer of affordable shirts produced in factories in 85 countries. The 2004 deal one of the first of many merchandise-licensing arrangements in which Trump attached his name to products made by foreign workers and sold in the United States is relevant today as the billionaire businessman wages a populist presidential campaign in which he accuses companies of killing U.S. jobs by moving manufacturing overseas to take advantage of cheap labor and lax workplace regulations. Documents and interviews reveal the personal role Trump played in negotiating the deal. Participants said they could not recall him expressing a preference that products be made in the United States. "Finding the biggest company with the best practices is what was important to him," said Jeff Danzer, who was vice president of the company hired by Trump to broker the deal. "Finding a company that made in America was never something that was specified."

Inside the secret talks that settled a threatened NJ Transit strike

Source: Larry Higgs, NJ.com

With the clock running out to avoid a strike set for a minute after midnight Sunday, there wasn't much hope Friday afternoon among the 20 or so negotiators in a Newark conference room that a deal could be reached. NJ Transit the third largest commuter railroad in the country was about to begin shutting down its system, throwing hundreds of thousands of commuters and the metropolitan region into disarray, with visions of 20-mile plus backups leading to the Hudson River crossings of Manhattan on Monday morning. Somehow, though, negotiators finally emerged Friday evening at the Gateway Hilton to declare a feared strike by NJ Transit's 4,200 rail workers had been averted. In interviews Saturday, insiders said the settlement came together quickly despite their uneasy feelings Friday after lunch. In fact, they said, there was no clear path to a deal as late as 3 p.m., even after a day of behind-closed-door talks that had taken on the air of a military operation. NJ Transit special labor counsel Gary Dellaverson's optimistic proclamation earlier in the morning to reporters that "Today is the day" seemed more of a plaintive hope than a prediction, some recounted, as negotiators on Friday moved from the spacious ballroom where they had camped during the week to the smaller quarters of the conference rooms in the Newark Hilton. The only breaks in the negotiations came when proposals were being reviewed by one side or the other, and for lunch, which included trips to a Portuguese restaurant in the Ironbound and around the nearby Prudential Center arena.

March 11, 2016

Yale grad students start a union. Next, they must win bargaining rights.

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

On Wednesday evening, something happened that generations of graduate students at Yale University had awaited for 25 years: The founding of a union. With about 1,500 members present, amidst New Haven's other unions and with the support of a who's who of Connecticut public officials, the international president of UNITE-HERE arrived to certify their majority support and grant them a charter. It felt momentous, but it was mostly symbolic. Ever since the National Labor Relations Board decided in 2004 that graduate students didn't qualify as employees, they haven't had the right to organize a union that their employers the universities were bound to respect. Since then, universities have shifted more and more of their instructional loads from professors onto graduate students, who have simultaneously been taking on a greater share of overall student debt. Some public schools and one private one have voluntarily agreed to bargain with graduate student groups. But under current law, they can at any time decide that they'd rather not and Yale, like most private universities, has given little indication it's willing to do so. So while graduate student organizing has continued at dozens of schools, prospects for gaining actual bargaining power appear weak. That could change in the next few months, when a much more labor-friendly National Labor Relations Board rules in a case concerning graduate students at Columbia University. Late last year, it invited briefs on the question of whether the board's 2004 decision should be overturned, and the board's influential general counsel submitted a brief arguing that it should: Performing work over which the university has a substantial amount of control in exchange for compensation makes a graduate student just as much of an employee as a tenured professor.

Five Winners (and Four Losers) In a Banner Year for Union Organizing

Source: Robert Combs, Bloomberg

Opinions may differ on the impact that the National Labor Relations Board's April 2015 rule changes have had on the representation election process. But since our annual NLRB Election Statistics Year-End Report for 2015 has just been released, let's set that issue aside for the moment and see 2015 for what it was: A very busy year for union organizing at the NLRB. The board held 1,628 representation elections last year a five-year high. And unions won 1,128 of them a ten-year high. Unions prevailed in 69.3 percent of NLRB elections in 2015. That's down slightly from a year earlier, but still the second-highest win rate since we started keeping records more than 20 years ago. Still, a lot of union wins don't necessarily lead to a lot of unionized workers. Labor victories at the NLRB yielded about 62,000 newly organized workers in 2015. That's below average for the past decade, and the second straight annual decline in total workers organized. So it wasn't such a big year for big bargaining units. The truth is, our year-end stats reveal that there were plenty of winners and losers at the NLRB in 2015. Here's a quick rundown. WINNERS: AFL-CIO Affiliates. 2015 was good to rival federation Change to Win as well, but it was a great year for the AFL-CIO, which organized more workers than CTW for the first time since 2007. The AFL-CIO's 560 union wins was its highest total since the schism that led such large unions as the Teamsters and SEIU to form CTW more than a decade ago. Independent Unions. Meanwhile, unions not affiliated with either coalition continued chugging along, boasting the most elections won since 2008 and the most workers organized since 2003.

Oreo bakery workers protest job cuts

Source: Greg Trotter, Chicago Tribune

"Hey Irene! Stop being greedy! Keep our jobs in the city!" That was one of several chants protesting upcoming job cuts aimed at Mondelez International CEO Irene Rosenfeld on Thursday outside the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, where Rosenfeld was inside, speaking at a conference on innovation. Mondelez, which owns the longtime Nabisco plant on Chicago's Southwest Side, plans to lay off about half of its 1,200 or so employees at the facility. Some employees who've already received layoff notices were among the dozens of protesters, organized by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union Local 300. They marched in a tight loop on the sidewalk, chanting and wielding strongly worded signs. The demonstration lasted about an hour. "Mondelez is taking our jobs to Mexico and they're going to leave us without any work," said Tony Briseno, 33, who lives in southwest suburban Justice. "We have families and kids and we need to care of them."

March 10, 2016

Long-Haul Sweatshops

Source: Anne Balay and Mona Shattell, New York Times

IT might seem like a good time to be a long-haul trucker: More than ever, the American economy relies on hundreds of thousands of 18-wheelers to move goods across the country. But the industry is in crisis, with drivers leaving in droves because of low pay and poor working conditions. A big part of the problem is that when it comes to long-haul trucking, the government's focus has been almost entirely on road safety. That's not a misplaced concern; highway accidents involving semis kill about 5,000 people per year. But it overlooks a critical concern: the well-being of the drivers themselves. We have inside knowledge of the trucking industry and the kinds of working conditions that truckers endure every day. One of us Professor Balay is a former long-haul trucker who does ethnographic research on blue-collar workers. The other, Professor Shattell, is a researcher and registered nurse who has studied the mental, physical and sexual health of truckers. We know better than most why the allure of long-haul trucking is so strong: Behind the wheel of a semi, drivers feel connected to almost one with all that power. The job involves a high degree of skill and focus; floating the gears takes coordination and timing, maneuvering that bulk takes visual perceptiveness and courage, and surviving against the odds of weather, mountains, construction zones, cultural scorn and boredom takes a certain kind of toughness. Truckers take pride in their work, especially given that there are precious few other meaningful blue-collar jobs out there these days.

How Do We Close the Wage Gap in the U.S.?

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

By all accounts and figures, women in the work force have made enormous economic progress in the last 50 years. In the 1980s, women only made 60 cents to every dollar of male earnings. The latest figures show that gender wage gap narrowed substantially, with women making nearly 80 cents to the dollar in 2015. The last three decades have seen American women move up in both educational attainment and into higher paying jobs. The gap is now the narrowest it's ever been, and yet it's still 2.5 times the size of those of other industrialized countries. So what's to be done? How can America get its men and women paid equally? The government should make it illegal for companies to pay men more than women. It already has. So why hasn't that worked? Since 1963, the Equal Pay Act has stated that men and women doing the same work have to be paid equally. More recently, the Obama administration has announced an executive action that will require companies with 100 employees or more to report pay data broken down by gender. The problem with legislating equal pay is that it puts the onus on female employees to bring lawsuits showing that they have been discriminated against. (The California Fair Pay Act has now added additional protection, saying that women need not have the same title in order to have a claim of doing equal work and protecting them from retribution if they ask about the fairness of their pay.) Of course, this helps if men and women are doing the same work. But a big part of the gender wage gap is due to the fact that they aren't. So what's to be done about that?

What you ought to know about the blockbuster McDonalds hearing today in New York

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Today, March 10, in a courtroom in New York City, McDonalds executives are scheduled to take the stand in a hearing that could have deep implications for worker power in one of America's largest low-wage industries. To be clear, it really began in the late fall of 2012, when labor activists and fast food workers mounted a spate of protests over low pay at McDonalds locations in New York City. After many of those strikes, workers charge, their bosses retaliated warning them not to talk to organizers, promising better treatment if they stopped protesting, threatening that they'd be fired if they didn't. Every time that happened, groups supported by the Service Employees International Union would help them file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, naming McDonalds headquarters as a "joint employer," equally responsible for the intimidation as the franchisees. That process repeated itself picketing, punishment, complaint through 2013 and 2014, in cities all over the country, becoming what's now called the "Fight for $15," as in a minimum wage of $15 an hour. Then, one day in late July of 2014, the board's general counsel announced that he agreed, alleging: McDonalds does exert enough control over the day-to-day operations of its franchisees, which account for 90 percent of its stores, that it should share the consequences for their legal missteps. If the legal system upholds that determination, it could not only expose McDonalds to massive liability, but also open the door for workers at McDonalds franchises across the country to form a union that would negotiate directly with corporate headquarters, rather than each individual franchisee. And although the verdict will be specific to the golden arches, it likely will have a bearing on the rights of workers at thousands of other franchises as well.

March 9, 2016

The Latest: Slain Honduran inspires women's equality fight

Source: Associated Press, Washington Post

The Latest on International Women's Day (all times local): 4:15 a.m. The head of the U.N. women's agency says the fight for gender equality by 2030 should take inspiration from slain Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceras and women around the world working to achieve the goal. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka began her speech Tuesday to a U.N. event on International Women's Day on a somber note: She asked ambassadors, diplomats and activists for a moment of silence in tribute to Caceras, the feminist indigenous leader shot dead five days ago. She then asked women and the growing number of men supporting gender parity to join together in a stepped-up campaign to achieve the U.N. goal. Mlambo-Ngucka said the Commission on the Status of Women meeting this month will establish "decisive actions" and milestones to check progress toward gender equality. 3:45 a.m. On International Women's Day, the Committee to Protect Journalists is drawing attention to nine female journalists jailed for their work. The U.S.-based CPJ said Tuesday that the women reported on protests, riots, revelations of official corruption, deplorable living conditions and natural disasters. It says authorities reacted with strip searches, weapons and forgery charges and accusations of sexual misconduct. Most of the women have been convicted on anti-state charges, but two have not been charged at all despite still being held. The nine include four freelancers.

As a potential strike looms, Cal State faculty and trustees remain at odds over pay

Source: Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times

California State University faculty members appealed to trustees Tuesday to do more to avert a strike at the nation's largest university system, but the two sides remain at odds over salaries for about 26,000 professors, lecturers, librarians, counselors and coaches. Members of the California Faculty Assn. urged trustees meeting in Long Beach to consider their legacy and find a way fund the 5% pay raise that faculty members have been demanding for nearly a year. Without a new salary deal, union members have pledged to go on strike in April in what would be the largest academic walkout at a four-year university in U.S. history. But the trustees' Committee on Collective Bargaining spent the bulk of its time Tuesday hearing about plans to keep campuses open if the strike comes to pass. Athletic and civic events will proceed, students will be expected to attend classes unless the professor cancels them and campus presidents will find ways to provide mental health counseling and other critical services. "We're seeking to minimize the impact on students," said Lori Lamb, vice chancellor for human resources. "We remain hopeful about a potential resolution; however we must plan for the eventuality of a strike." Board of Trustees Chairman Lou Monville said that no one "relishes where we are now" and asked all sides to work together to secure additional state funding. The Cal State system, he said, is still historically underfunded and has yet to recover from steep budget cuts enacted during the recession. Those comments elicited groans from faculty members who crowded the meeting room and held up signs with the words "36 days," in reference to the time remaining before a strike.

The new technology workplace

Source: Kellie Payne, Bloomberg

In a world where technology allows us to work anywhere, at any time, those that are enabling this freedom spend more time at their desks than any other industry. The new workplaces for technology companies aren't conforming to the predictions of five years ago. They aren't interested in being digital nomads; individuals working in the cloud who touch base briefly with their colleagues. Their work is fast paced, innovative and completely team based. For these companies, the success of the individual is tied to the success of the team, so they want to sit in with their team, at their own desk, in the office. Their new way of team based working, called Agile Development, is sweeping through any part of a business that delivers via technology. Whether in media, finance or marketing there are more teams embracing this new way of working. If you see a group of people in a corner of your office standing around whiteboards, putting up post-it notes and then sitting down and typing furiously; they're probably working in this way. If the office has recently bought a ping-pong table, chances are their numbers are growing. The way these teams are organised has been the greatest transformation in the way people work that we've seen in decades, and if you factor in tech companies explosive growth, this innovation is changing the workplace landscape of our cities. So how does this look? Firstly, everyone has their own desk, but they are smaller and closer together to support their team dynamic, so they use up less space. Whist tech companies give 30 per cent of their space to open plan desks traditional businesses allocate 40 to 45 per cent. Rather than leasing less space they are allocating it elsewhere. In fact compared to other businesses, tech companies are relatively generous allocating 12.4 m² per person to their staff rather than the 8-10 m² minimums other companies are achieving.

March 8, 2016

Can Labor Still Turn Out the Vote?

Source: Steven Greenhouse, New York Times

ON Labor Day in 1960, John F. Kennedy kicked off the final push of his presidential campaign in Cadillac Square in Detroit with a rousing speech to thousands of United Auto Workers members. It was a nod to the immense clout of organized labor. Those days are long gone. Today about 11 percent of American workers belong to unions, down from 31 percent in Kennedy's day. And that powerful autoworkers union? Its membership has plummeted to 400,000 from a peak of 1.5 million in 1979. The declines have been particularly steep in former strongholds like Michigan, which holds its primary on Tuesday, as well as Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and other Rust Belt states that will hold primaries in the coming month. With its shrinking ranks, organized labor, which tilts strongly Democratic, was already struggling to compete with Republican-leaning "super PACs" financed by wealthy conservatives like the Koch brothers, who have vowed with their allies to spend $889 million on this election. Now the labor movement is being buffeted by another force: Donald J. Trump, whose attacks on trade deals, illegal immigrants, Chinese imports and the shifting of jobs overseas are winning over white, blue-collar workers. Can a weakened labor movement still provide the money, voters and get-out-the-vote muscle to elect the Democratic nominee in crucial swing states, as it has in the past? Democratic strategists point to statistics they say demonstrate labor's continued influence. In union households in Ohio, President Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012 by 54 percent to 44 percent among white voters without college degrees. But in nonunion households, he lost 39 percent to 59 percent among the same voters. In Wisconsin, the results were similar: Mr. Obama won 60 percent to 38 percent in union households among those voters, but lost in nonunion households 42 percent to 57 percent. Union voters helped deliver those crucial states to Mr. Obama. For one thing, unions shape their members' economic and political views long term. Just as important, unions mount intense campaigns with workplace fliers, phone calls and door-knocking to get their members to vote for the labor-backed candidate.

When CEOs Sacrifice Their Bonuses, Do Employees Stick Around?

Source: Rebecca Greenfield, Bloomberg

There are two reasons employees leave companies, said Ken Oehler, the director of the global engagement practice at human resource consulting firm Aon Hewitt: "They're moving away from something unpleasant ... or toward something better." LinkedIn is concerned about the former scenario. After a disappointing earnings report, a downgrade by analysts, and a stock plunge, the social network lost about half its market value. When companies stumble, the best employees leave. Losing talent is expensive, and an exodus of institutional knowledge is last thing a struggling company needs. Hoping to avoid this phenomenon, Chief Executive Jeff Weiner held an all-hands meeting about a month ago to calm the troops. "We are the same company we were the day before our earnings announcement," he told 9,200 nervous employees. His efforts to keep the company's workforce from bolting didn't stop there: Last week, Weiner relinquished his annual $14 million stock bonus to employees. "Jeff did not receive an equity package this year at his request," a spokesperson told Re/code. "He asked the compensation committee to take the stock package he would have received and put it back in the pool for employees." The tactic has become more popular among CEOs leading companies headed into darkness. Jack Dorsey gave Twitter employees $200 million in stock after a rough first couple of weeks as CEO. (Layoffs followed after the company's stock price dwindled.) Aeropostale CEO Julian R. Geiger (former leader of the catastrophe that was Crumbs), gave up 1 million in stock options "solely for the purposes of motivating and retaining other key members of the organization," read a business update from early this year. (Aeropostale has lost almost all its value over the past five years.) The hope is that the gesture, the money, or some combination of the two will keep people around. But does it work?

NYC Enacts Anti-Discrimination Rules for City Facilities

Source: Michael Balsamo, ABC News

A regulation that ensures people visiting New York City facilities can use restrooms or locker rooms aligned with their gender identity was enacted Monday. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, signed an executive order on Monday that guarantees people access to single-sex facilities consistent with their gender identity at city facilities, including offices, pools and recreation centers, without the need to show identification or any other proof of gender. The move comes amid a continuing national debate over anti-discrimination laws. "Access to bathrooms and other single-sex facilities is a fundamental human right that should not be restricted or denied to any individual," de Blasio said. "Every New Yorker should feel safe in our city and this starts with our city's buildings." "We have very clear New York values and we're going to stand up for them," said de Blasio, in a clear rebuttal to Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz's recent criticism of the city's liberal politics. "Here, we respect the rights of all." The order says the regulations apply to all city-owned buildings, including city offices, public parks, playgrounds, pools, recreation centers and certain museums. It doesn't require agencies to build new single-stall restroom or locker room facilities, but instead enforces that all individuals, including those who are transgender or gender non-conforming, are free to use single-sex facilities consistent with their gender identity, city officials said. The order does not apply to New York City's public schools because there already is a policy that students must be allowed to use locker rooms or restrooms consistent with their gender identity. A bill currently pending before the city council would require publicly available, single-occupancy restrooms in both public and private buildings to be designated as gender-neutral. An estimated 25,000 transgender or gender non-conforming people live in New York City, officials said. De Blasio's executive order immediately went into effect.

March 7, 2016

Slow hiring can mean long overtime for customs officers

Source: Joe Davidson, Washington Post

Some overtime now and then can be a good thing. But long hours of overtime, over and over, can be just too much. Just talk to some Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who say working almost two days in one is not unknown. Here is Jorge LLanos, a veteran officer speaking as the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) chapter president in San Diego: "Our employees at the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry work 16-hour shifts almost on a daily basis." Thinking about his two boys, LLanos recalled missing "the majority of their birthdays [and] one of their graduations." CBP has a different story. It says officers generally volunteer for overtime in San Diego and don't work 12 to 16 hours everyday. But the larger issue is staffing. Republicans and Democrats in the House and the Senate question the agency's hiring process, which is long and slow. They raised the matter at a House hearing last week and will do so again on Tuesday in the Senate. Rep. John Carter (R-Tex.), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said at the hearing last week, "We're really concerned about CBP's hiring problems," which he said "have to be fixed."

Promoting more ethical behavior at work

Source: Jena McGregor, Los Angeles Times

People share many different things at work to try and brighten the drudgery of office life. They append moral quotes to an email signature line. They sit little statues of Buddha or other religious icons on their desk. They thumb-tack quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. or Winston Churchill to the drab, gray canvas of their cubicle wall. But those small efforts at workplace enlightenment don't just have an effect on the people who use them. New research shows they might also help preempt unethical behavior by their boss. A forthcoming study in the Academy of Management Journal that was recently highlighted in the Harvard Business Review found that when employees display moral symbols such as a virtuous quote in emails or religious images hung on a cubicle wall it could help prevent their managers from asking them to cheat or engage in other bad behavior. "It causes others in their vicinity to behave slightly more ethical," Sreedhari Desai, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's business school, said in an interview. "If the person happens to be your boss, they would be less likely to ask you to do something that's unethical." The study, which Desai wrote with coauthor Maryam Kouchaki of Northwestern University, included five laboratory studies and one study of employees and managers in Indian workplaces. The lab studies set up experiments in which the participants were asked to take part in a decision-making game where they stood to lose money and had to decide whether to engage in deceptive behavior or ask their virtual teammates to do so. When they received emails from these virtual teammates that included a moral quote Sophocles' dictum that it's better to "fail with honor than succeed by fraud" they were less likely to lie or ask others to deliver a deceptive message.

Nail Salon Sweeps in New York Reveal Abuses and Regulatory Challenges

Source: Kim Barker and Russ Buettner, New York Times

When a New York State labor investigator entered a Long Island nail salon last July, she spotted two women sneaking out the back. The owner insisted that they did not work there. But the truth emerged several days later, when one of the women called the investigator and said her boss had told her to flee so she could not be interviewed about her wages. When the investigator returned to the salon, American Beauty, in Port Washington, N.Y., she was surprised when the owner lied to her again about the woman. "I said, 'Oh my God, I can't believe this,'" the investigator, Cecilia J. Maloney, recalled. Labor investigators have swept through nail salons across the state since May, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered them to step up their scrutiny of the industry in response to a series of articles in The New York Times that revealed abysmal pay and working conditions among nail salon workers. From a regulatory perspective, the results of the inspections seem to tell a straightforward story of widespread abuses. Although the state's plans to crack down on the industry were highly publicized, all but a dozen of the 230 salons whose investigations were closed by late last year were cited for violating at least one labor law.

March 4, 2016

Are "period policies" the next workplace benefit?

Source: Aimee Picchi, CBS News

A U.K. company is considering adopting a "period policy," a benefit that would allow women with painful menstrual periods to take time off from work to recover. The firm, Coexist, said while it doesn't currently have a period policy in place, it wants to "begin a conversation about flexibility in the workplace to support the natural cycles of men and women." It may be no surprise that reaction to the idea has been mixed, with some people saying it's long overdue while others decrying it as "patronizing" and a "joke." But it may be come as some surprise that period policies aren't exactly new. Menstrual leave was approved in Japan in the 1940s, although one scholar has noted that it remains controversial given the potential for discrimination. Singling women out as unable to work because of a biological process may reinforce the antique idea that women aren't as capable as men, for instance. "We can't fight for equality, then want to be treated differently," one woman wrote on Twitter. "Girls to school, women to work, period or not."

5 Workplace Changes Your Boss Is Eyeing for the Future

Source: Hannah Morgan, US News & World Report

Are you ready to be an employee in today's workplace? CEOs are currently concerned about responding to changes in today's work environment – more millennial workers, digital technology and rapid changes in the economy and business, according to the "Global Human Capital Trends 2016" report from Deloitte, which surveyed and interviewed more than 7,000 business and human resources leaders from 100 countries, asking them to assess how important specific talent challenges were to their organizations. As senior leaders respond to the changing work environment, you will see them placing a focus on how to addresses employees' demands for rapid career growth, a compelling and flexible workplace and a sense of mission and purpose at work. The following list contains just five of the top 10 concerns outlined in Deloitte's 2016 report. 1. Get ready "to team." Yes, team has become a verb. Teaming is the top priority among executives, according to Deloitte. But you won't see more of the same old teams. Deloitte predicts that teams will need to function like those on a movie project where people from different disciplines and departments are brought together to work on a specific project. Once the work is completed, the employees will move on to a new endeavor. What this means for you is that your interpersonal skills need to be honed. Your ability to collaborate with cross-functional teams and diverse personalities will influence your success. Increased team-based projects also require adaptability and quickly coming up to speed on new initiatives. As more companies begin to initiate this type of team model, you can anticipate personal career growth. Benefits from this type of team work might include increased exposure to new areas of the company, which will enhance your network and skills and provide a broader reach for your personal brand and reputation.

Leaders are key to kindness in the workplace

Source: Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune

a two recent columns, I've written about and shared your views on kindness in the workplace. (I promise I will eventually return to more important topics, like how to get revenge on your work enemy; proper etiquette for a break room doughnut stampede; and the tyranny of pants.) But for now, I'm returning to the subject of kindness because one of the main points everyone seemed to agree on is that a culture of kindness has to be embraced, promoted and encouraged by company leaders. They set the tone. The idealistic version of me would like to think: Well, that's easy powerful people just have to be nice. But then the real-life version of me came across an article on the Harvard Business Review's website that raises questions about how likely leaders are to view kindness as a priority. Let's start with the bad news. David Dubois, an assistant professor at the French graduate business school INSEAD, wrote in the article that people take advantage of power in various ways. "They're more apt to be rude, and they're more likely to cheat. People driving expensive cars are less likely to stop for pedestrians, for example, and in a series of lab experiments upper-class individuals tended to lie more during a negotiation and cheat to increase their chance to win a prize. "Not only do the powerful seem to cheat more, it seems to come more naturally to them. A research project (still under review) with colleagues from Berkeley, Kellogg and Columbia revealed that participants who had been primed to feel powerful were better liars than those who had been primed to feel less powerful."

March 3, 2016

The Supreme Court's New Era

Source: Linda Greenhouse, New York Times

So now we know what the post-Scalia Supreme Court sounds like. Thank you, Justice Thomas, for shaking up what had come to seem the natural order of things, as well as for your pithy observation from the bench that possession of a gun "at least as of now, is still a constitutional right." And we can watch the spreading panic in a corporate world no longer certain that business has five reliable friends at the court. Last Friday, Dow Chemical agreed to settle a class-action price-fixing case for $835 million rather than take its chances in a Scalia-less court. The company's appeal of a $1.06 billion jury verdict in a long-running antitrust case, brought by purchasers of urethane, had been pending at the court since last March. Justice Antonin Scalia's death means an "increased likelihood for unfavorable outcomes for businesses involved in class action suits," Dow said in a statement announcing the decision to settle. There will be more such turnabouts appeals withdrawn, appeals not filed as players for whom the Supreme Court status quo almost always brought good news recalculate their risks and cut their losses. I picture the Beltway now as a giant poker game, a fitting memorial to the poker-loving justice. Because no one knows what happens next. Hearing what the new court sounds like is a far cry from knowing what it will look like six months, nine months, a year or more from now. We don't know, and neither do the eight justices. It's a rare moment that finds the court and the public stumbling around behind the same veil of ignorance. Just as advocates and their clients have to make strategic calculations, so do the justices. The stakes couldn't be higher on either side of the bench. Despite some 500 new appeals that had piled up during a four-week midwinter break Justice Scalia died in that time the court added no new cases to its docket this week. The argument calendar for the current term closed in late January, meaning that any cases accepted from now on won't be heard until after the new term begins in October. But who will be filling the ninth seat then? Will anyone? While it takes the votes of only four justices, a minority, to grant a case, a majority of five is needed to prevail on the merits.

The industry that adds jobs throughout a recession, but makes no profits

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

The great recession of 2008 hit most business sectors hard, leading to layoffs and downsizing. But according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, at least one type of enterprise kept adding jobs all the way through, poor economy notwithstanding: Non-profits.That shows that the non-profit sector played a counter-cyclical role in the last recession, staffing up when the everyone else was cutting back. Non-profit watchers had suspected as much during previous downturns, but didn't know for sure until the bureau came out with numbers about employment. "In times of greatest human need, the non-profit sector is there," says Shena Ashley, director of the Center on Non-profits and Philanthropy at the Urban Institute. "As a field, we're really excited about these results. They show that the model works." Now, the increase in the number of jobs wasn't a reflection of the amount of charitable giving flowing into non-profits. Donations tended to fall after the crash pinched household and foundation budgets.But private giving isn't the only way non-profits take in money. Federal government funding was extremely important in helping them expand services, especially as state and local governments cut back. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act pumped millions of dollars into education and training groups, for example, to help workers who lost their jobs.

NJ TRANSIT Commuters Concerned As Potential Strike Looms

Source: CBS New York, CBS News

Commuters are becoming concerned about a potential NJ TRANSIT strike as a deadline to get a contract done is 11 days away. CBS2's Jessica Schneider reports the workers' union says the two sides are as far apart as they've ever been. NJ TRANSIT officials aren't giving many details, but told CBS2 that they are developing plans to accommodate customers. However, many of those customers just bought monthly passes for March and say that answer isn't good enough. "It wouldn't be a good thing at all, a lot of people ride these trains," Dan Martin, who takes the train several times a week into the city, told CBS2. "Of course, what's the contingency? If they do walk off the job, how are they going to keep all these people moving to and from work?" NJ TRANSIT said in a statement that they will help customers who have already purchased tickets and passes. "In the event the unions call a strike, we will have a plan in place to accommodate customers who have purchased tickets and passes," Nancy Snyder, NJ TRANSIT spokesperson, told CBS2 in a statement. "Customers should purchase their tickets and passes as they normally would purchase them." Commuters feel that they are taking a chance without knowing the details of any contingency plan. They are worried they will be out of money if they purchase a monthly pass.

March 2, 2016

New Weapon in Day Laborers' Fight Against Wage Theft: A Smartphone App

Source: Liz Robbins, New York Times

Just past sunrise on 69th Street, near a No. 7 subway stop in Queens, men in backpacks and work boots gather in groups, many on their cellphones. They are workers at one of the largest day laborer stops in New York City, hoping to be hired. Most are undocumented immigrants who have reported being cheated by employers. In the fight against wage theft, their phones could soon become their biggest allies. After three years of planning, an immigrant rights group in Jackson Heights is set to start a smartphone app for day laborers, a new digital tool with many uses: Workers will be able to rate employers (think Yelp or Uber), log their hours and wages, take pictures of job sites and help identify, down to the color and make of a car, employers with a history of withholding wages. They will also be able to send instant alerts to other workers. The advocacy group will safeguard the information and work with lawyers to negotiate payment. "It will change my life and my colleagues' lives a good deal," Omar Trinidad, a Mexican immigrant, said in Spanish through an interpreter. Mr. Trinidad is the lead organizer who helped develop the app.

'Groundbreaking' Discrimination Lawsuits Brought On Behalf Of Gay Workers

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

The federal agency that enforces civil rights in the workplace is pursuing its first lawsuits ever based upon a worker's sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Tuesday that it has filed two cases it described as "groundbreaking" -- one on behalf of a gay male employee of a Pennsylvania medical center, another on behalf of a lesbian employee of a Maryland pallet manufacturer. A supervisor at Scott Medical Health Center, in Pittsburgh, subjected the worker to "various anti-gay epithets" and "highly offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life," leading him to eventually quit his job, according to the EEOC. A supervisor at IFCO Systems, the Maryland employer, taunted the employee there over her sexual orientation and fired her after she complained about the harassment to management, the agency said. The EEOC is responsible for protecting workers' rights under the Civil Rights Act, which bars employers from discriminating based upon race, religion, sex or national origin. The cases announced Tuesday are notable because a worker's sexual orientation is not explicitly protected under that landmark law, and the EEOC has never before filed such a suit on behalf of a gay worker (though it has on behalf of transgender workers). But in a case last year, the EEOC determined that discrimination based upon sexual orientation is inherently discrimination based upon sex. (For the commission's full rationale, check out that decision here.) That determination suggested the commission was likely to bring lawsuits based upon sexual orientation, and Commissioner Chai Feldblum said just a week ago that such a suit would be "coming soon."

Chicago Public Schools lays off 62 employees, including 17 teachers

Source: Dawn Rhodes, Chicago Tribune

The layoffs announced Monday by Chicago Public Schools 62 workers, 17 of them teachers were far milder than feared earlier in the school year, but the district's plan to end its longstanding practice of picking up pension costs for teachers led to a fresh strike threat from the Chicago Teachers Union. "For them to say 'You can't go on strike, but we can make a unilateral change in terms of employment by way of a 7 percent pay cut,' that's just an outrageous violation of the way labor law works," CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey said at an afternoon news conference. "And if they actually go through with it, you can prepare for a … strike on April 1st." The district said it filed a 30-day notice on the pension pickup in early February, but CPS chief Forrest Claypool declined on Monday to say when the system will stop picking up seven percentage points of the nine percent contribution required of teachers. The CTU's bargaining team earlier this month soundly rejected a contract proposal that included a phase-out of the pension pickup. Talks to replace a contract that expired June 30 are in a phase called fact-finding that under state law must play out through late May before the union can strike. The union believes that timetable can be upended if the district reneges on the pension pickup promised in the last contract. Of the 62 layoffs announced Monday, 19 affect part-time workers, according to the district, which employs about 37,400 people. No school lost more than one teacher except for Whitney Young High School, where two teachers are being let go.

March 1, 2016

Chicago Nabisco Workers Continue Fight to Preserve Local Jobs

Source: Natalie Moore, WBEZ 91.5

A beige apartment building at 73rd and Kedzie is ground zero of the Nabisco workers fight to keep their jobs. They've set up this empty apartment with a long table for meetings and keeping colleagues in the loop. From the front window, the massive Nabisco plant is right across the street it's where Oreo cookies and other brand favorites are baked. Last July, parent company Mondelez said it was investing in new manufacturing lines but not here. The lines and 600 jobs would be in Salinas, Mexico. The bakery union, BCTGM Local 300, is pushing back. On the wall of the union's campaign office is a banner, a replica of the famous Edvard Munch painting "Scream" and wordplay off of the name Mondelez it's called Scream-delez International. It all part of a strategy to bring attention to the disappearing jobs. Long-time workers have shown up at union protests and later plan to communicate with Mondelez leaders. "All they're worried about is making extra money. They don't want to pay the American people," said Barbara Cimbalista. "They want to pay people in another country that they can take advantage of. We made them famous the Oreos, the Chips Ahoy, the premium crackers, the Ritz. They started here," said Deborah Vargas. Sabrina Pope added: "They want them to make it and bring it back here to sell it to us. This is an American job. It's always been an American job."

As Detroit Starts to Mend, Its Schools Lurch Toward Fiscal Crisis

Source: Julie Bosman, New York Times

Since this city emerged from bankruptcy at the end of 2014, it has eked out a tentative recovery, tearing down thousands of abandoned houses, restoring streetlights and luring new businesses. Today in Detroit, "you see a mayor and a Council working together to rebuild this city," a triumphant Mayor Mike Duggan said in his annual State of the City speech last week. But the public school system in Detroit is now on the verge of its own fiscal crisis. Darnell Earley, the departing state-appointed emergency manager, said the Detroit Public Schools, battered by declining enrollment and debt of $3.5 billion, could run out of money by April. Some officials in Michigan have predicted that the district is headed for bankruptcy. The financing problem is adding uncertainty to a system already burdened by decrepit buildings, teacher disgruntlement, low test scores and a reputation as one of the country's most troubled school districts. Falling into default or bankruptcy could further jeopardize the education of its 45,000 children and hurt the city's fledgling recovery, officials said. The district's only salvation may be the Republican-controlled State Legislature, whose members are considering bills in both chambers that would gradually pay down hundreds of millions in debt and effectively divide the district into two parts. "Without that, all bets are off," Mr. Earley said in an interview in his office last week. "The whole thing will just kind of bottom out." Mr. Duggan and other local leaders are pressing lawmakers to pass legislation in the next several weeks. "We don't have any other options," Mr. Earley said.

Economists betting on jobs rebound in Feb.

Source: Paul Davidson, USA Today

Was January's tepid job growth a blip or the start of a slowdown? Are manufacturers' longstanding troubles, rooted in a weak global economy, spreading to the generally healthy service sector? This week's economic news, which features the February employment report, should begin to answer those questions and provide a sense of whether the economy is poised to rebound after a sluggish fourth quarter. Manufacturing has been the economy's weak spot for a while now, with a closely watched index indicating that industrial activity has ebbed for four straight months. The overseas woes and a strong dollar are curtailing exports, while low oil prices have prompted crude producers to scale back drilling activity and related orders for steel pipes. That picture likely didn't brighten in February, especially with regional manufacturing surveys showing continued weakness, says Lewis Alexander, chief U.S. economist of Nomura. Economists surveyed by Action Economics reckon the Institute for Supply Management will report Tuesday that its manufacturing index ticked up in February, but that would simply mean that activity contracted at a slightly slower pace. Construction spending has told a better story, hitting a postrecession high for 2015, but it slumped in the second half of the year, largely because of the struggling industrial sector. Residential investment held up well as a tight supply of existing homes and pent-up demand from Millennials still living with their parents fueled building activity. Manufacturers are still scuffling, Alexander notes. But other types of commercial construction likely bounced back while housing remained on solid footing, says The PNC Financial Services Group. Economists expect the Commerce Department to report that construction spending edged up 0.4% in January.

February 29, 2016

With Fewer Members, a Diminished Political Role for Wisconsin Unions

Source: Monica Davey, New York Times

Gov. Scott Walker's foray into the Republican presidential field ended months ago, but he may yet have sway over the outcome. Mr. Walker led a push five years ago to cut collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers, saying he needed to solve a state budget gap. Since then, union membership has dropped precipitously. Long a labor stronghold, the state has lost tens of thousands of union members, leaving Wisconsin with a smaller percentage of union members than the national average, new federal figures show. The drop is most pronounced in the public sector: More than half of Wisconsin's public workers were in unions before Mr. Walker's cuts took effect. A little more than a quarter of them remain. The shift has shaken the order of election-year politics. Democrats, who most often have been the beneficiaries of money and ground-level help from the unions, said they were uncertain about what the coming elections would look like, and what forces could take the place of depleted labor groups. The change is certain to affect the Democratic presidential nominee in November. But Democratic political consultants are more concerned about the fate of state legislative contests, in which phone banks and extra door knocks have proved pivotal here in the past and which are seen as especially important if labor leaders hope to fend off the passage of more anti-union legislation. "Maybe we can win high-profile races because Wisconsin still leans slightly Democratic, but at the level where Walker has produced the most profound change, it may prove very difficult to turn that around," Paul Maslin, a longtime Democratic pollster in Madison, said. "That's where we pay the price."

Birmingham wanted a $10.10 minimum wage. Alabama said no. How pay for the lowest wage-earners has turned into a national fight

Source: Steve Padilla, Los Angeles Times

Alabama is one of a handful of states without a minimum wage law on the books, and for the foreseeable future it's going to stay that way. Gov. Robert J. Bentley on Thursday signed into law a measure prohibiting municipalities from establishing a minimum wage. The law, which sailed through the Legislature, came in response to Birmingham, which passed an ordinance setting a minimum hourly wage of $10.10. Alabama's action came as cities, counties and states debate whether to raise the minimum wage or to have one at all. Supporters say that hiking the minimum wage helps working-class people survive. Opponents say such measures retard growth and encourage employers to relocate to less expensive locales. Describing the minimum wage landscape nationwide gets tricky because it's, well, complicated. In some jurisdictions, a minimum wage law applies only to larger employers, not smaller ones and the definition of what's large and what's small varies. In some jurisdictions, it's tied to whether employees receive health insurance.

The lawyers who are fighting for the same rights as janitors

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

To a lot of people in the American economy, $25 an hour might seem like an excellent wage. When you're chipping away at a mountain of law school debt, however, it can be woefully inadequate. That's the situation facing tens of thousands of attorneys who didn't land the cushy corporate jobs they'd been expecting after graduation, or even the type of non-profit gig that might have gotten their debt forgiven. Instead, they are freelancers, working gig by gig with law firms and staffing agencies. In recent years, their wages have sunk so low that some of those attorneys in a world where long hours have been treated as dues to be paid on the way to a comfortable career are asking for the same overtime protections enjoyed by retail clerks and bus drivers. They argue that the work combing through all the documents that emerge during the discovery phase of a lawsuit doesn't feel like the practice of law. It often takes place in hastily rented review rooms, with attorneys seated side by side, staring at computer screens to pick out pieces that might be relevant to the case. In the name of information security, employers often set rules about phone use, chatter with colleagues, and food consumption. "I was told I couldn't eat a yogurt," says Marc Steier, a former contract attorney who now works for a labor union. "That's what's so disturbing it's the absolute disregard. The realities of being employed at most of these agencies are beyond the pale for what most people would consider professional." A handful of attorneys have sued big employers for overtime pay over the past year. A settlement was reached in one case and a federal court dimissed another, because the plaintiff was judged to have performed some tasks that required legal skills. Under current law, insisting on time-and-a-half requires relinquishing any pretense that the job even requires a JD. Some attorneys, while desperate for better pay, wish to maintain the dignity of their work.

February 26, 2016

Managed by Q's 'Good Jobs' Gamble

Source: Adam Davidson, New York Times

'Baumol's cost disease'' is a phenomenon that economists sometimes cite when they want to underscore the unequal effects of technological change. William Baumol, the New York University economist for whom the concept is named, uses a classical string quartet as his paradigmatic example. As he points out, no matter how fast our computers become or how many people worldwide plug into broadband-Internet access, it will still take roughly 30 minutes for four human beings to play Mozart's String Quartet No. 14. If your business is playing string quartets for live audiences, there's a fundamental limit to how much more productive, in raw economic terms, your work can become. Or to take an example in which many more livelihoods are at stake consider office cleaning. In the future, there might be new solvents, new cleaners, better scheduling software. But at the end of the day (usually literally), someone will still have to run a vacuum over a rug, run a rag over a table, empty smaller trash cans into bigger ones. Because of this, it's almost simple logic that the only ways for an office-cleaning company to make more money will always stay the same: charge clients more or pay workers less. In a big city, filled with competitive office-cleaning companies and a seemingly endless supply of desperate workers, this means that office cleaners as a rule will never make much more than the minimum wage. Which is why, just over a year ago, Guillermo Garcia was perplexed by a job opening he heard about. He had been unemployed for six months unable to find even minimum-wage work when his counselor at Madison Strategies Group, a job-training-and-placement firm for low-income people in New York City, told him about the office-cleaning jobs that a brand-new company had listed. The company was called Managed by Q, and it was paying $12.50 an hour, or more than 40 percent above the city's minimum wage. Even more unbelievable, the job offered full health care benefits and a 401(k) plan.

The recovery is generating more high-wage jobs - but does that matter?

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

A couple of weeks ago, some economists from Goldman Sachs came out with a rosy pronouncement: "Millions of new jobs and plenty of good ones," read the headline on a note to investors. High-wage employment appeared to pick up from 2013 to the present, a change from the early years of the economic recovery, which generated a disproportionate number of low-wage jobs.And you don't have to just take it from an investment bank. The Department of Labor has run its own numbers, and saw similar growth back in October, rendered in absolute numbers rather than growth rates (which Labor's Chief Economist Heidi Shierholz says held through the end of 2015 in an analysis the department completed last week). The green bars in the graph below show changes in actual employment, and the orange line shows what it would have been if the growth had been evenly distributed. Shierholz says the loss of low-wage jobs is likely a result of workers in those categories having their wages bumped up above $10 an hour, as the huge growth in low-wage sectors from 2009-2013 led to competition for people in restaurants and retail, or finding better jobs.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez On The Movement To Raise Minimum Wages

Source: Audie Cornish, NPR

NPR's Audie Cornish speaks with U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez about the movement to increase minimum wages at the local level. AUDIE CORNISH, HOST: As we mentioned earlier, it's not just Birmingham. In the last few years, more than 30 cities and towns have set a minimum wage higher than the federal law. And some places, like L.A. and Seattle, are on a path to make their minimums $15 an hour. It's a move supported by the Obama administration, which has had zero success getting Congress to increase the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Joining me now in the studio is Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to talk more about it. Welcome. THOMAS PEREZ: Pleasure to be with you and your listeners. CORNISH: Now, is this essentially admitting defeat, right? If Congress won't work with you, is the administration left to kind of nibble around the edges at that this issue and just boost the efforts down at cities and state level? PEREZ: Well, we're certainly not admitting defeat. We're continuing to fight for the 12 by 20 minimum wage proposal of Congressman Bobby Scott and Sen. Patty Murray. And at the same time, we're setting the example at the federal government. So if you want to do business with the federal government, you have to pay a decent minimum wage - $10.10 - now it went to $10.15. And we're continuing to work with state and local governments to do the same. And when I listened to the story that your listeners just heard about Alabama, you know, this is, frankly, you know, rank hypocrisy and destructive politics at its worst. And what it really is is that the same powerful, Tea-Party-inspired forces who've stymied process here in Washington have taken their case out to the states, and a number of states are fighting progress. And for me, the irony is that the Republican Party, which, you know, believes in limited government, local control and respecting the will of people, they do so until the will of the local people - they're trying to fight inequality, like the people in Birmingham.

February 25, 2016

Poorest Areas Have Missed Out on Boons of Recovery, Study Finds

Source: Nelson D. Schwartz, New York Times

The gap between the richest and poorest American communities has widened since the Great Recession ended, and distressed areas are faring worse just as the recovery is gaining traction across much of the country. These findings, outlined in a study to be released on Thursday by the Economic Innovation Group, a new nonprofit research and advocacy organization, may help explain why the country's economic and political situation has become so polarized in recent years. The results, broken down into areas as small as individual ZIP codes, provide one of the most detailed looks at the nation's growing inequality. From 2010 to 2013, for example, employment in the most prosperous neighborhoods in the United States jumped by more than a fifth, according to the group's analysis of Census Bureau data. But in bottom-ranked neighborhoods, the number of jobs fell sharply: One in 10 businesses closed down. "It's almost like you are looking at two different countries," said Steve Glickman, executive director of the Economic Innovation Group, which created a new tool called the Distressed Communities Index. The organization, based in Washington and founded last year with backing from several well-known technology entrepreneurs, includes economists on its advisory board from both the left and the right. Beyond its research functions, the group also supports greater private investment in struggling communities. While the problems in many poorer cities predate the recession, what has felt like a real recovery for Americans in healthier cities and towns has left the worst-off locations many of them concentrated in the nation's old industrial heartland even further behind. "The most prosperous areas have enjoyed rocket-shiplike growth," said John Lettieri, senior director for policy and strategy at the Economic Innovation Group. "There you are very unlikely to run into someone without a high school diploma, a person living below the poverty line or a vacant house. That is just not part of your experience."

The Fairness Factor

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

There's a story that illustrates the near-universal response to pay inequality frustration and it involves monkeys and grapes. It comes from the research of the primatologists Sarah Brosnan and Frans de Waal. Brosnan and de Waal were running an experiment involving two capuchin monkeys, in which both were instructed to perform a task giving a rock to the researcher in order to receive a reward. In the experiment, which was recorded on video, the monkeys were compensated with either a grape (which they enjoy) or a cucumber slice (which they enjoy a lot less than grapes). Because they monkeys could see each other, and see how they were getting rewarded, the researchers could test the monkeys' reactions to unequal compensation by "paying" one monkey a grape and the other a cucumber slice. The result? The monkey who got the cucumber slice was so outraged that it promptly chucked the slice of cucumber at the researcher, and shook its cage madly. This experiment has been hailed as proof that even monkeys are incensed by income inequality so it makes sense that humans are too. De Waals, in a TED Talk that brought up the finding, jokingly compared the angry cucumber-slice-throwing monkey to Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Obama Has A Plan To Bring Paid Leave To 828,000 Workers

Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post

More than 800,000 U.S. workers may be getting more paid sick leave on their jobs, thanks to a federal rule outlined by the Labor Department on Wednesday. The proposal, set in motion by an executive order from President Barack Obama in September, would guarantee that workers under federal contracts could accrue up to a week of paid leave per year. Companies that want to maintain their business with the government would be required to offer the leave as a benefit. For now, the rule remains just a proposal, and it has to go through a period of public comment before it can be finalized and go into effect. Republicans and business groups oppose the plan, so administration officials would want to implement the rule before a Republican potentially takes over the White House next year and undoes it. In a blog post outlining the proposed rule, Labor Secretary Tom Perez said an estimated 828,000 workers would be getting some amount of paid leave that they didn't get before. Roughly 437,000 of those workers currently get no paid leave at all, he added. "I'm looking forward to a day when working moms and dads can afford to stay home with their sick kids, when a younger worker can take paid sick leave to care for an ailing grandparent and a husband can use his earned sick time to care for his wife -- all without fear of losing a day's pay or their livelihood," Perez wrote. "Today, we're one step closer to making it happen." The U.S. is an outlier among wealthy countries in not guaranteeing paid sick days for workers. In lieu of a federal mandate, it's left up to individual businesses to decide whether workers can take paid time off when they or their family members are ill. A handful of states and local governments have implemented their own paid sick leave mandates recently, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that some 44 million workers still receive no paid leave. Those without the benefit are more likely to be working in low-wage industries such as restaurants and retail, where many workers can't afford to go without a day's pay.

February 24, 2016

Unions and the fight for civil rights

Source: Jimmy Settles, Detroit Free Press

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is important to remember the historical importance of organized labor to black workers and their families, and unionism's continued relevance today. It was once legal to discriminate against minorities in hiring and wage equity. Even when it became illegal to discriminate against minorities in the workplace, bias against minorities was widely practiced and tolerated. Unions were at the forefront of the battle fighting for equal wages and an equal chance at jobs that could elevate families out of poverty. Historically, African-Americans were given the least desirable jobs if they were permitted to work at all alongside whites and the auto industry was no exception. With the advent of the UAW, job opportunities and wages improved. The UAW was formed to fight for, and ensure, workers' rights. Fairness and justice is the epicenter of our value system and it extends to the community as a whole. UAW was one of the earliest and most steadfast supporters of the civil rights movement, particularly Martin Luther King, Jr.'s message of equality and solidarity. When Nelson Mandela was finally freed from prison in South Africa, he demanded to visit UAW-Ford Local 600 in Dearborn to thank UAW members for their unwavering and outspoken support. The tradition of the UAW's commitment to societal justice continues today. We are an outspoken opponent to unfair and unsafe labor practices worldwide. Our concern extends beyond labor to community welfare. UAW-Ford members volunteer thousands of hours every year to improve the communities in which we live, work and play.

Wal-Mart hikes pay minimum to $10, rolls out scheduling changes

Source: Alexa Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune

More than 1.1 million Wal-Mart workers in the U.S. got a pay raise Saturday as the company implemented the second phase of a $2.7 billion plan to improve working conditions, which includes a companywide rollout of scheduling changes to give employees more control over their shifts. The pay bumps, announced a year ago, boosted the minimum hourly wage to at least $10 for workers hired before Jan. 1 a step up from the incremental increase to $9 implemented in April while newer entry-level associates will continue getting $9 but will move to $10 after a six-month training program. Chicago's minimum wage has been at $10 an hour since July as it inches toward $13 by 2019, but Illinois' minimum wage remains at $8.25, and the federal rate is $7.25. Wal-Mart's pay raises come as the retailer, often the target of activists protesting low wages and unkind working conditions, rolls out a new scheduling program that it expects to be available in all U.S. stores by the end of this year or early next. The new program, which has been piloted in a handful of stores for two years, gives workers the additional option to choose "fixed shifts," which guarantee the same weekly hours, or "flex shifts," which let workers see what hours are available and build their schedules from that. Currently, most employees state when they are available and managers schedule their shifts accordingly. Unpredictable schedules have been decried as a major problem in retail because they make it difficult for low-wage hourly workers to plan for child care, go to school, work a second job or have comfort that they will earn enough to pay their bills. Gap, Abercrombie & Fitch and Victoria's Secret have also changed their scheduling policies. Initial numbers after Wal-Mart piloted the scheduling choice program in stores in Arkansas and Kansas showed an 11 percent drop in absenteeism and a 14 percent drop in turnover, company spokesman Kory Lundberg said. Also Saturday, Wal-Mart hiked the starting rates of the various pay bands for employees at different levels. For example, the starting pay for the Level D band, which includes positions such as personnel coordinators and some department managers, moved to $15 an hour from $13. People at or above their pay level maximum will receive a one-time lump-sum payment equal to 2 percent of their annual pay.

Oregon's Smart Approach to a Minimum Wage

Source: Bourree Lam, Atlantic

Last week, Oregon's house of representatives passed a bill that would make the state's minimum wage one of the highest in the country. While the bill still needs the approval of Oregon Governor Kate Brown for the bill to pass, Brown has already said that she intends to sign the bill. But what's most noteworthy about the Oregon bill isn't how high the minimum wage will be. It's that different minimum wages will go into effect in different parts of the state, roughly based on their population density. In and around Portland, the state's biggest city, the increase will be the largest: The minimum wage will rise there to $14.75 in 2022. Outside of Portland, the minimum hourly wage in mid-sized counties will go up to $13.50 over the next six years, and more rural areas will see theirs increase to $12.50. Oregon's tiered system is interesting because it addresses one of the chief concerns some economists have about raising federal or state minimum wages: that rural areas will struggle to weather a decrease in jobs that may come with the increased cost of labor. A 2014 study by the Congressional Budget Office estimates that while a federal minimum-wage hike to $10.10 (from $7.25) would lift nearly a million workers above the poverty line, it's expected that it would also result in 500,000 fewer jobs nationwide. Many economists point out that these job losses would not be evenly distributed-they'd likely cluster in the cities and states whose economies aren't strong enough to start paying their low-wage workers a bit more. Oregon's tiered approach is an attempt to try and avoid this consequence. In addition, Oregon's tiered system might allay a related concern: that the minimum should be adjusted for the cost of living, since $15 goes a lot less far in metropolitan areas than it does in more rural ones. If the point of raising the minimum wage is to pay a living wage to workers, some say, then that amount should be determined regionally instead of nationally. (It is also worth noting that, according to a Fed study, when Oregon's previous minimum wage was adjusted for the state's cost of living, it was already among the highest in the country.)

February 23, 2016

How Society Pays When Women's Work Is Unpaid

Source: Claire Cain Miller, New York Times

In countries around the world, the ways in which men and women spend their time are unbalanced. Men spend more time working for money. Women do the bulk of the unpaid work cooking, cleaning and child care. This unpaid work is essential for households and societies to function. But it is also valued less than paid work, and when it is women's responsibility, it prevents them from doing other things. "This is one of those root inequalities that exist all over in society and we just don't talk about it very much," Melinda Gates, co-founder of the Gates Foundation, said in an interview. She said she was inspired by her own observations when traveling to other countries as well as by time-use data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. "If we don't bring it forward, we basically won't unlock the potential of women." Ms. Gates and her husband, Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, released their annual letter Monday night in which they outlined priorities for the year, and hers was "time poverty" because of unpaid work. Over all, richer countries like the United States tend to have a smaller time gap for unpaid work than poorer countries like Mexico. Japan, which has one of the largest gaps, has recently started a host of initiatives to try to increase the number of women who work instead of doing full-time child care, because leaders said it was essential to economic growth. Worldwide, women spend an average of 4.5 hours a day on unpaid work, including grocery shopping, child care and laundry. That is more than double the amount of time men spend, according to O.E.C.D. data. Men spend significantly more time on paid work and also on leisure activities, which include playing sports, watching TV and hanging out with friends.

Uber-type work is now a band-aid for stagnant wages - but that could change

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

Here's something that the Ubers of the world have said again and again about the people who work on their platforms: They don't depend on that income. It's just for some extra cash. With the economy how it is, people are looking for any way to augment their meager wages enough to eat and pay rent. "There's a mythical person created by people in Washington," Uber policy spokesman David Plouffe said in November. "They drive for Uber, they drive for Lyft, they rent their house on Airbnb, they maybe do a little Handy or Instacart on the side. That person doesn't exist. Most people are using one of these platforms to supplement existing income." That argument begs a big question that the on-demand economy will face in the coming years: What happens if wages return to a level at which people don't feel the need to work during their off hours to boost their income? Will pay and benefits adjust to make platform work appealing enough to compete with a traditional job? The answer is, it's happening already but slowly, and not for everybody. The on-demand labor market isn't a monolith, after all. Not everybody can do every task, and specialized skills will command a higher price. First, it's worth noting that Plouffe's analysis of the moonlighting nature of on-demand work appears to be correct. According to a new analysis by JPMorgan Chase of one million Chase users, while the number of people participating in the on-demand economy has increased dramatically between 2012 and 2015, reliance on earnings from labor platforms is low and hasn't increased over time.

More Than 200 Compton School Teachers Call in Sick

Source: John Cadiz Klemack, NBC News

More than 200 Compton Unified School District teachers called in sick Monday as contract negotiations continued between the teachers and the district. School Board Vice-President Micah Ali said 207 teachers, including 44 who teach at Compton High, called in sick. The other schools included Bursch Elementary, Kelly Elementary and Centennial High. "It is unfortunate that these teachers chose to miss work today in relation to what appears to be their dissatisfaction with negotiations between the District and Compton Educators Association," said Superintendent Darin Brawley in a statement. Brawley said the district had anticipated the alleged sick-out and prepared to send more staff to the schools. The district called in substitutes and administrators from different departments to keep an eye on students. Ali said the district would go bankrupt if the district went along with a proposal to increase teachers' wages. Monday marks the third time in the last two years that Compton's teachers have been accused of calling a sick-out - a day when workers agree to call out sick as a form of protest.

February 22, 2016

How the birthplace of the American labor movement just turned on its unions

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

CHARLESTON, W. Va - A dozen or so speeches into the debate over whether to pass a right-to-work law in West Virginia, with union members glaring their reproach from the galleries, Del. Lynwood Ireland stared at the red and the green buttons at the front of his broad, wooden desk. Ireland had spent the past few days listening intensely to businesses, unions, advocacy groups, and other delegates on the merits of making West Virginia the nation's 26th right-to-work state - a stunning change of fortunes in a state that essentially gave birth to the modern labor movement. By releasing workers from the obligation to pay for the cost of negotiating and administering the union contracts that cover them, such laws have hastened the decline of organized labor elsewhere. Of the Republican's constituents, about half told him to vote yes, and half to vote no. A former chemical engineer at Dupont's plants in the Kanawha valley, Ireland had worked with union craftsmen, and knew the value they brought to the job and to their fellow members. But West Virginia's economy wasn't like it was four decades ago, when he started his career - so many mines and factories had shed workers or idled. He thought of his granddaughters, and how likely they would have to leave the state looking for work. "Quite frankly, this is one of the hardest decisions I've made. I considered taking a walk. and then I thought, that's kind of a cowardly way out," Ireland told the chamber. After a few more minutes of warmup, he announced that he would be punching green - a yes vote. Later, after the five-hour debate ended, and the bill had passed, Ireland explained why. "If you look at West Virginia, we're 49th in a lot of things," he said. "So we have got to do something different. We can't set back and watch the place decay without trying something."

I dare you to read this and still feel good about tipping

Source: Roberto A, Ferdman, Washington Post

Three years ago, Jay Porter, a former restaurant owner who abolished tipping at his restaurant, made a powerful case against the practice, an industry standard in the United States. Everything at his establishment, he wrote in a 2013 Op-Ed for Slate, improved after he enforced a mandatory 18 percent service charge-the food, the service, the pay, the customer satisfaction. Reflecting on what tipping has done to the restaurant industry as a whole, he penned what I believe is one of the most succinct and yet irrefutable paragraphs about why tipping is wrong: Studies have shown that tipping is not an effective incentive for performance in servers. It also creates an environment in which people of color, young people, old people, women, and foreigners tend to get worse service than white males. In a tip-based system, nonwhite servers make less than their white peers for equal work. Consider also the power imbalance between tippers, who are typically male, and servers, 70 percent of whom are female, and consider that the restaurant industry generates five times the average number of sexual harassment claims per worker. And that in many instances employers have allegedly misused tip credits, which let owners pay servers less than minimum wage if tipping makes up the difference. The problems are vast, as Porter points out. They tend to afflict a very specific and unfortunate swath of the American populace: the poor and disadvantaged. And the evidence isn't merely anecdotal. Few people are better versed in the ways in which tipping marginalizes those who depend on it than Saru Jayaraman, who is the co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United) and director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Jayaraman has been working to end the modern tipping system for years, collecting the sort of data the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which has long defended the practice, hardly appreciates.

An Outspoken Force to Give Food Workers a Seat at the Table

Source: David Gelles, New York Times

One afternoon in late January, prominent New York restaurateurs, including Danny Meyer and Tom Colicchio, took the stage at the Ford Foundation to celebrate the release of a new book by Saru Jayaraman, an outspoken leader in the food labor movement. It was not an obvious pairing. "Forked: A New Standard for American Dining," paints a grim picture of the food business today: Millions of service industry employees live in poverty, most big restaurants are not great employers, and many still pay servers $2.13 an hour, the federal minimum for workers who receive tips. But the book also makes the case that restaurants can survive and even prosper while paying workers well and offering them generous benefits. Mr. Meyer, the entrepreneur behind Shake Shack, the Modern and Blue Smoke, has recently embraced this cause, pledging to do away with tipping at his restaurants, as a means to combat income inequality. He contends that paying workers well is not only the right thing to do, but is also good for business - well-compensated employees, the thinking goes, will be happy, loyal and hard-working. That big-name restaurant owners are today willing to stand side by side with Ms. Jayaraman shows just how far she has come after 15 years of organizing. Even a few years ago, her message was falling on deaf ears. "In the early days, if I heard Saru was coming, I ran the other direction," Mr. Meyer said. "You cannot be in the restaurant industry and not have had Saru on your radar." Ms. Jayaraman earned the fear of restaurant owners with a mix of dogged organizing, costly lawsuits and nationwide lobbying. Today she is pushing to change the laws that she says enable restaurants to mistreat employees. She is a leading voice in the so-called Fight for $15, the national campaign to raise the minimum wage. She is struggling to eliminate the lower, tipped minimum wage. And she is campaigning for mandatory paid sick days. In the beginning, however, she was just trying to lend a hand after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which brought down the World Trade Center and Windows on the World, the restaurant on the top floors of the north tower. In late 2001, the union representing the Windows workers approached Ms. Jayaraman, then a budding organizer. With Fekkak Mamdouh, who had been the head server at Windows, Ms. Jayaraman founded the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, with the goal of helping the roughly 250 surviving Windows employees find new jobs and gain access to donations that had poured in from around the world.

February 19, 2016

Oregon lawmakers weigh landmark minimum wage proposal

Source: Associated Press, CBS News

SALEM, Ore. -- Oregon is trailblazing a national debate with a proposal that would not only make the state's minimum wage for all workers the highest in the U.S., but would do so through a unique tiered system based on geography. As the federal minimum wage has sat unchanged since the start of the Great Recession, more than a dozen states have raised the rate within their borders in recent years. Another dozen or so are considering taking up the issue this year, either through legislative action or ballot initiative, as issues of wage inequality and middle-class incomes have climbed to the forefront of presidential campaigns by Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton. Oregon is weighing a new approach. State lawmakers are set to vote Thursday on an unprecedented three-tiered system that sets different rates by region. The proposal would start a series of gradual increases over six years: Oregon's current $9.25 an hour minimum - already one of the highest in the nation - would jump to $14.75 in metro Portland, $13.50 in smaller cities such as Salem and Eugene, and $12.50 in rural communities by 2022. Those minimums would dethrone Massachusetts where the statewide rate will climb to $11 an hour next year - from the top spot, according to D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute, which has been tracking wage increases across the nation. States have taken various approaches to raising their own minimum wages. Some target government employees or certain industries, as seen recently in New York for fast-food workers, while some states allow local jurisdictions to set their own rates above the state threshold, which prompted recent hikes in cities such as Seattle and Los Angeles.

Culinary Workers Union Won't Take Sides in Nevada Democratic Caucuses

Source: Adam Nagourney, New York Times

LAS VEGAS - When it comes to labor powerhouses in Nevada, few organizations quite match the Culinary Workers Union: 57,000 strong, more than 50 percent Latino, with an 80-year history of labor advocacy on the Strip and a record of turning out its members in political campaigns. But to the increasing distress of the two Democratic presidential contenders, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Hillary Clinton, the union has decided to sit out the Democratic presidential caucuses here on Saturday, setting off a free-for-all for its members and adding to the increasingly tense and unsettled political atmosphere here. Both campaigns have pressed union leaders to change their minds and step in at the last minute, though chances of that appear remote. Union leaders said they were staying on the sidelines because the demands of mobilizing behind either Mr. Sanders or Mrs. Clinton would divert resources, distract members and potentially polarize the union just as they are entering critical contract negotiations. The Culinary Workers will instead focus its resources on the general election, in which Nevada is almost certain to be pivotal.

Anti-Union Group Worked to Influence Elections in 5 States

Source: Matt Volz, ABC, Associated Press

It was a tantalizing offer for candidates for state legislative offices, many of whom had never mounted a campaign before. A national anti-union organization offered candidates in five states a "deadly effective" series of seven custom-written letters that would be signed with their digitally-scanned signatures and mailed to thousands of voters in the final weeks before Election Day. For that personal touch, female National Right to Work Committee field workers would rewrite by hand a "wife letter" which staffers said was a particularly potent appeal to voters. The organization offered the mail to candidates in Montana, Iowa, Kentucky, Indiana and Nevada during the 2010 elections, according to thousands of emails, letters, mailers and testimony obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request. While the organization has not been accused of wrongdoing, the documents are being used in civil cases against nine of the 14 Montana candidates who received "the works" package. They are accused of illegally coordinating with and taking unreported contributions from Right to Work and its affiliates. The group's spokesman, Patrick Semmens, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The documents, more than 14,000 in total, had been subpoenaed by Montana's elections regulator from the computers of Right to Work's field operatives, and provide a rare look into the inner workings of so-called "dark money" groups. Typically registering as social welfare organizations, these groups can raise money and aren't required to reveal the names of their donors. Those groups are not allowed to have political advocacy as their primary purpose, and Right to Work has said in tax filings that it does not participate in political campaign activities.

February 18, 2016

Walmart is rolling out big changes to worker schedules this year

Source: Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

After nearly two years of testing, Walmart is ready to roll out extensive scheduling changes for its hourly workforce in hopes of improving the daily experience for employees. For many workers, low wages aren't the only downside of a job in retail. Many have to cope with shifts that can change on short notice in response to store traffic, making it difficult to fit in other priorities like school and childcare. But those practices been changing over the past year, as companies respond to increasing public awareness around the impact on workers' lives of "just-in-time" scheduling. The changes come as states and cities across the country pursue proposals that would require companies to provide more predictable hours for workers, following first-in-the-nation legislation for retail workers in San Francisco. Right now, most of Walmart's 4,655 U.S. stores operate on a system of "open shifts," where managers schedule workers within the times the employees said they're available. By the end of the year, Walmart says it plans to make two more options available: Fixed shifts, which guarantee the same weekly hours for as long as a year, and flex shifts, which allow associates to build their own schedules from the hours available, in roughly two-and-a-half-week increments. Fixed shifts would be offered first to employees with the longest tenure, and then on a first-come-first-served basis as new shifts become available. The company is working on an app that would allow workers to choose and update their schedules on their smartphones.

When Harry Truman Nearly Doubled the Minimum Wage

Source: Teresa Tritch, New York Times

One of the arguments against raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour today to $15 an hour over five years is that the United States has never had an increase that large. There is solid research to show that modest increases in the minimum help low-wage workers without harming low-wage employers. But there is no similarly rigorous research on the effects of large increases. There is, however, the example of 1950, when the minimum wage went from 40 cents an hour to 75 cents an hour, an increase of 87.5 percent. The entire raise took effect on Jan. 25, 1950, just 90 days after the passage of the law that authorized it. Some 1.5 million workers saw their wages rise. What happened then? Data sources from that era do not allow for the kinds of analyses that economists have used to evaluate the impact of more recent minimum wage increases. Moreover, in 1950, several industries were still exempt from having to pay the minimum wage, so direct comparisons between then and now are not feasible.

The Walmart Case That Could Expand Gay Rights at Work

Source: Josh Eidelson, Bloomberg

Is anti-gay discrimination a form of sex discrimination? Walmart Stores, the biggest private employer in the U.S., is the target of a lawsuit that might soon provide an answer to that question. Walmart didn't extend spousal health benefits to employees in same-sex marriages until January 2014, even in states where same-sex marriage was legal. Before then, when workers such as Jackie Cote applied for coverage for their same-sex spouses, Walmart rejected their requests, as it has maintained it had the right to do. While the Supreme Court last year ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn't mention sexual orientation. The act does provide protection on the basis of sex, and that's a premise of the lawsuit Cote filed last summer on behalf of herself and a class of plaintiffs that lawyers now estimate to be 1,200 current and former Walmart employees. Cote, who has worked at Walmart since 1999, married Diana Smithson in Massachusetts in 2004. In 2012, Smithson, a breast cancer survivor, was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. Within two years, without Walmart insurance to cover Smithson's treatment, the couple racked up more than $150,000 in medical bills. "I thought that they would really have no choice because I was legally married in the state of Massachusetts," Cote says. Seeking compensation for the benefits that were denied and out-of-pocket medical expenses, the suit alleges that Walmart's stance was unlawful because it's a form of sex discrimination. "The sex of her spouse is the reason for treating people differently isn't that discrimination based on sex?" asks attorney Gary Buseck, legal director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, one of the advocacy groups representing Cote.

February 17, 2016

Hillary Clinton Should Just Say Yes to a $15 Minimum Wage

Source: The Times Editorial Board, New York Times

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has eloquently defined workers' rights as human rights. She could assert both more forcefully by championing a stronger federal minimum wage of $15 an hour. So far, Mrs. Clinton has proposed lifting the federal hourly minimum to $12, from its current level of $7.25 an hour. Bernie Sanders is pushing for $15. Under both proposals, the increase would be phased in over five years, which means 2022 at the earliest, assuming that legislation to raise the minimum becomes law in 2017, the first year of the next president's term. Reasonable people can disagree about the ideal level for the minimum wage. There is no doubt, however, that the longer it takes to get to a new minimum, the higher it should be, and that by any political or practical calculation, 2022 is a long way off. This alone argues for Mr. Sanders's more generous proposal. Mrs. Clinton has argued that $15 might be too high for employers in low-wage states, causing them to lay off workers or make fewer hires. There is no proof for or against that position. There is solid empirical evidence showing that moderate increases in the minimum wage do not harm employment. But there is no similarly rigorous research on the effects of large increases, mainly because there haven't been very many, either in the United States or internationally. The question is what to do in the face of uncertainty. Mrs. Clinton's argument for $12 overlooks the fact that a long phase-in would give employers and the economy time to adjust to a higher, $15 minimum. Her minimum-wage proposal is also inconsistent with her larger agenda to increase middle-class wages. Historically, a robust minimum is one that equals at least half the average wage for typical workers, recently $21 an hour. Assuming Mrs. Clinton's plan raised middle-class wages - through profit-sharing, paid sick and family leave, updated overtime-pay rules, fair-scheduling policies and labor-law enforcement - then $15 in 2022 would be a logical goal for the federal minimum wage.

Restaurants are booming despite financial market turmoil

Source: Don Lee, Los Angeles Times

One part of the U.S. economy is enjoying a surprising boom, and it should prove useful in combating the recent slowdown: Americans are spending more eating out than ever before. The restaurant industry, long a reliable indicator of the underlying economy, has become an economic standout at a time of financial market turmoil and global uncertainty. Sales at food service and drinking places jumped nearly 8% last year from 2014, more than double the pace of growth for total retail sales. Employment at restaurants and watering holes grew nearly twice the rate of all other sectors combined over the past five years. Last month, eating and drinking places created 47,000 new jobs, more than what manufacturers added all last year, according to the Labor Department. Shifting demographics and a 6 1/2-year economic recovery are fueling the industry's growth. American consumers have paid down debts since the Great Recession. Job openings are more plentiful, wages are starting to rise a little faster and cheaper gasoline is putting more cash into consumers' pockets. Average spending on food services rose to a new high of nearly $1,900 a person last year, surpassing the previous peak during the housing bubble in 2006 and far above the $1,650 a person in 2009. The industry's success may bode well for the U.S. economy. In times past, when economists' crystal balls got murky and it was hard to tell whether the U.S. was sliding toward recession, restaurants were the one indicator with an uncanny record of accuracy. Some economists view the industry's growth and profitability as a promising sign, particularly as concerns grow that China's slowdown and plunging oil prices could throw the U.S. and other economies into recession.

Va. lawmakers advance a flurry of bills ahead of midnight deadline

Source: Laura Vozzella and Jenna Portnoy, Washington Post

Virginia lawmakers plowed through dozens of bills Tuesday ahead of a crucial midnight deadline, giving some legislative stragglers a last-minute push to the other side of the Capitol while leaving others behind. Tuesday was the last day for most legislation to move out of one chamber and into the other. Crossover, as the day is known, marks the midway point of the 60-day legislative session and represents a do-or-die moment for any measures still stuck in the chamber where they began when the General Assembly session opened in January. There were a few exceptions, including budget bills, which have until next week to clear their respective chambers. The deadline also did not apply to judges, something the legislature can and often does wrestle with right up to the final moments of any given session. That leaves a bitter Supreme Court nomination battle, currently at a stalemate, free to resurface at any time. Below is a sampling of how bills on a variety of topics have fared so far this session. Guns: All of the gun-policy bills that were part of a compromise Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) struck with Republican lawmakers appear destined for the governor's signature, despite criticism from gun-control activists. The deal would expand the rights of concealed-carry handgun permit holders in Virginia and around the country in exchange for tighter restrictions on domestic abusers and voluntary background checks at gun shows.

February 16, 2016

Michael J. Dowling: If It Can't Be Done, You Haven't Tried

Source: Adam Bryant, New York Times

This interview with Michael J. Dowling, chief executive of Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System), was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant. Q. What was life like for you as a kid? A. I grew up in Ireland in a very rural area. We had a small piece of property. It was an impoverished area, especially back in the '50s and '60s. Our home had mud walls, a thatch roof, three small rooms and a mud floor. We had no electricity, no running water, no bathrooms and no heat. There was a big open fireplace where my mother cooked everything. Most of the families around us were farmers, and I thought they were very wealthy when I was a kid. As I grew older, of course, I realized they were not that wealthy. My father was a laborer. At the age of about 40, he no longer could work because he had rheumatoid arthritis in every part of his body. My mother was deaf. She lost her hearing when she was about 7 years old. She never considered it a disability, though, and learned to lip-read. To get her attention, we would kick the floor. She'd feel the vibrations; it's amazing how one sense takes over when you lose another. There were five kids, and I was the oldest, so I started working at a very young age. Both of my parents had little formal education, but my mother was unbelievably interested in reading and learning. We always had books at home, even though we didn't have much else. I remember reading Shakespeare by candlelight as a kid. I didn't think life was that tough at the time, but it was. And I'm not one who likes to complain too much. I dreamed about getting an education, even though I wasn't really sure what that was. Nobody ever thought that people like us would ever go to college because it was a very two-class system in Ireland. If you had some money, you were obviously geared to go to school. If you didn't have money and you were at the lower end of the totem pole, you were not expected to succeed. But I did well enough in my high school to make the cut to get into college. I had saved enough money to pay for my first semester of college, and I hitchhiked on a truck to get there.

3 Messages From the Workplace of the Future

Source: Doug Kirkpatrick, Huffington Post

Like staccato bursts of data from the interstellar spacecraft Voyager, the workplaces of the future are sending new messages to the people that will be soon be joining them (and in many cases, already are). The new messages are replacing the outdated memos crafted for the dawn of the industrial age, when information traveled at the speed of Morse code. Message 1: We Trust You. This message replaces the standard subliminal workplace meme that "we don't trust you." Examples of bad practices abound: absurdly restrictive limits on purchasing authority, elaborate inventory controls on disposable work supplies, ubiquitous surveillance and tracking. How about giving people the freedom to implement solutions to problems and seize opportunities in the workplace if they are equipped to do so? Brian Carney and Isaac Getz, quoting former Chaparral Steel CEO Gordon Forward in their book Freedom, Inc., describe the current reality as managing for the 3 percent. In other words, creating rules to control the small number of nonconforming employees who might misuse their autonomy, while suppressing the innovation and creativity of the 97 percent who just want to do a good job. Carney and Getz relate the story of the small company CEO who saw a secretary dipping into the office supplies for back-to-school needs, so he banned anyone from ordering office supplies during the summer. That's the recipe for an engaging workplace! Bureaucratic rules generate serious aerodynamic drag on an organization, preventing lofty performance. People live up or down to expectations, including expectations for trust. The classic 1969 HBR article by J. Sterling Livingston, "Pygmalion in Management," explains that leaders' expectations for better or worse have a huge impact on the performance of individuals. Trust should be the first app any organization installs in its organizational operating system.

Local survey finds women lacking confidence in workplace

Source: Dave Waddell, Windsor Star

Local women in the workplace are suffering a crisis in confidence. According to a study involving six area employers, only 40 per cent of women view themselves as leaders, many are reluctant to apply for positions/promotions and are hesitant to ask management for additional training or pay increases. "The most surprising finding is the lack of confidence many women have," said Heather Gregg, Program Co-ordinator for the study Positioning Women for Success – Windsor-Essex. "Only 40 per cent deemed what they're contributing to their organization as requiring leadership. Changing that mentality is one of our goals. "Leadership comes in many forms, not just visible authority positions." The purpose of the 30-month study is to identify challenges women face in the workplace and then spend three months with each employer working on eliminating the issues identified. The organizations involved in the project are Windsor's Green Shield Canada branch, Essex-Windsor Emergency Services, College Boreal, Windsor Regional Hospital, The Victorian Order of Nurses, KPMG LLP Windsor and Enwin Utilities. Ronna Hope Warsh, the study's strategic action director, said there are a number of factors that have resulted in this lack of confidence.

February 15, 2016

Career Coach: You'll lose good employees if you allow workplace bullying

Source: Joyce E. A. Russell, Chicago Daily Herald

Have you ever been in a meeting where someone spoke to a colleague or to you in such a way that everyone in the room froze? Everyone seemed shocked, not by what was said, but how it was said the tone of voice being used. Haven't those issues come up a lot in this year's presidential debates (not just the content of the message but the delivery of them)? And yet, we seem to allow colleagues at work to continue to badger others with disrespectful tones or nasty nonverbal behaviors (rolling eyes, intense stares). Sadly, the impact will be felt when the "good" employees leave in search of a culture that values collaboration and civility. The "bullies" will stay and those who can't leave due to financial or other reasons are left to deal with the continued bad behaviors. We know that incivility or rudeness has many well-documented effects on the workplace such as decreased work effort, lost work time avoiding the bully or worrying about an incident, lowered organizational commitment, greater intent to turnover, and actually leaving the firm. It can be especially damaging to organizations trying to build a culture of openness and inclusion. Just one or two powerful employees who publicly chastise others or use a negative tone can impact feelings of community and belonging to those that others in the firm are trying to recruit. The Workplace Bullying Institute reports that more than a third of U.S. workers have experienced threats, intimidation, harassment, social exclusion or verbal abuse at work, by either a boss or colleague. Employees may sometimes feel that speaking up about the person's tone will make them look like they are super sensitive and can't handle the pressure. So they say nothing and the first chance they get, they leave the department or the firm. The company may never know the real reason for why they left, but would they even have been looking if the culture had been more welcoming or less offensive or abusive?

How to Handle a Kanye West in the Workplace

Source: Alicia Adamczyk, Time Magazine

No Kanye West, Taylor Swift doesn't owe you sex for "aiding" her career. Even in an age when it's second nature for artists to seek attention by being intentionally outrageous and offensive, the latest controversy created by Kanye hits a new low. In case you haven't heard, social media users blew up Thursday morning after Kanye West released his new album, "The Life of Pablo," which included a song with this verse referring to Taylor Swift: "I feel like me and Taylor might still have sex/Why? I made that [expletive] famous." West carried on the goodwill Friday morning by defending himself on Twitter, claiming that Swift herself had credited her career to him and approved the lyric (Swift's reps have denied the claim). The comments are certainly bizarre and potentially laughable. Taylor Swift, the biggest pop star in the world, did not need Kanye West to become the powerhouse that she is. Also, West is apparently saying he made Swift's career by famously stealing a microphone from her after she was winning awards and selling out arenas. Even more despicably, West thinks whatever success he believes he generated for Swift is a justification for sex. Unfortunately, it's an issue women in the workplace are all too familiar with. Over half of workers say they have experienced sexual harassment on the job, and 79% of those who have been harassed are female. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a form of sex discrimination, and it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Election year is prime time for workplace disagreements

Source: Diane Stafford, Kansas City Star

The lunchroom conversation started out with what seemed to be a simple observation about the news a comment about results of the Iowa caucuses. It didn't end that way. A co-worker, actually just passing by the table where the conversation began, wheeled around and delivered a fervent advocacy for one of the losing candidates, with unkind words about the winner. The pair at the table, somewhat stunned at the outburst, let him speak his piece. One of them responded with a noncommittal, "I hear ya." Fortunately, an explosive encounter was avoided, but it showed how the workplace can be hostile ground for politics. Even when strident opinions aren't said aloud, there are many ways for co-workers to make their thoughts known through social media posts or even facial expressions and gestures. Those thoughts can color workplace relationships. Here's the thing: We naturally are inclined to want to work with, to do business with, people who think as we do. That's one of the reasons diversity can be difficult, for some people more than others. Especially when political races heat up, there's plenty of verbal gunslinging. Passions rise. Supporters want others to take the positions they take, to back the candidates they like. The workplace danger is when political leanings infect the ability of co-workers to get along or for managers to treat their employees fairly. It's ridiculous to assume that touchy topics religion, abortion, guns, gay marriage and the like could be banned at work. It won't happen.

February 12, 2016

Schedule workers as you would have them schedule you

Source: Nick Hanauer, Seattle Times

IMAGINE you own a small restaurant and you just hired a new server. She's looking forward to starting, she insists, though she won't tell you exactly when. But don't worry, she says, she'll call you every Sunday to give you her schedule for the coming week and will try to stick to that as much as possible. Meanwhile, your bartender calls in to tell you that due to a drop in business on Tuesdays his service will no longer be needed those nights, while one of your cooks unexpectedly shows up a few hours early demanding an unscheduled double shift. Now imagine all of your employees demanding this sort of "flexibility" coming and going as fits their schedules, not yours, while providing little, if any, notice in advance. You couldn't possibly run a business like that! Yet this is exactly what many businesses currently expect of their workers. Existing scheduling laws are frankly appalling. Employers aren't required to give any notice for changes in schedules, which make it impossible for employees to plan the details of their daily life whether it's child care, a dentist appointment or something as basic as the family dinner. Even worse, employees who can't reliably count on regular hours can't reliably plan a monthly budget.

The Real Jobless Rate Is 42 Percent? Donald Trump Has a Point, Sort Of

Source: Neil Irwin, New York Times

Donald Trump seems quite certain that the real unemployment rate is higher than the 4.9 percent that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported it to be. A lot higher. "Don't believe these phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment," Mr. Trump said in his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary Tuesday night. "The number's probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent." Mr. Trump might be bombastic, but he's not entirely wrong. And the ways in which he is wrong are actually useful for anyone who wants to understand how to make sense of economic data. The truth is, there is no "true" unemployment rate. There are a nearly infinite multitude of ways to think about, and calculate, joblessness. The unemployment rate that is widely reported in the press on the first Friday of every month isn't some manna from heaven, but rather a convention that has developed over the years that gives a partial but still useful view of the state of the labor market. The B.L.S. itself reports six different unemployment rates, of which the one the press most commonly cites is called U-3, the third of the six options. But anyone with Microsoft Excel and access to B.L.S. and census data could dream up their own version. So what's in that 4.9 percent "official" unemployment rate? The numerator is Americans who are unemployed, the people who told a survey taker that they do not have a job but want one and have actively sought a job in the last four weeks. There were 7.8 million people in that category in January. The denominator is the total labor force, meaning people who either have a job or are looking for one; there were 158 million of those people. It's easy to see how you can get to a much larger unemployment rate if you change your definition for either of those numbers. Take the B.L.S.'s broadest definition of unemployment for example, known as U-6.

Backers of $15 minimum wage plan to launch Minneapolis ballot campaign

Source: Erin Golden, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Minneapolis residents may have another item to vote on at the polls this November: raising the city's minimum wage to $15 per hour. Members of the group 15 Now Minnesota said they're tired of waiting for the Minneapolis City Council to act on calls for a higher minimum wage, so they're taking the issue directly to voters. Along with several other community and labor groups, they plan to launch their ballot measure campaign at a Feb. 27 rally and begin gathering the approximately 7,000 signatures they'll need to get the issue on the November ballot. The results of a city study on a wage hike won't be available until summer, and some council members said in a Wednesday meeting that they're not certain the city has the legal authority to raise the minimum wage. But organizers with 15 Now said supporters want to build on momentum around a variety of social and workers' issues, including local movements around sick-leave ordinances. Plus, the group wants to act quickly so the topic can be on the ballot in a presidential election year a time when more people show up to vote. "We want to bring it to voters, to the people of Minneapolis and let them have their say on it," said Kip Hedges, a 15 Now organizer. As other large cities have raised their minimum wage up to $15 in places like Seattle and San Francisco activists have pressed local officials to do the same. They have pointed to the city's significant racial disparities in income, education, housing and the workforce and said higher wages could provide a specific way to improve the lives of many people of color. Minnesota's minimum wage for workers at large businesses went up to $9 per hour last year and will rise to $9.50 in August. For workers at small businesses, the rate is $7.25 per hour and will rise to $7.75.

February 11, 2016

San Diego voters will decide on a minimum wage increase

Source: David Garrick, Los Angeles Times

Voters will get a chance on June 7 to decide whether the city should have a higher minimum wage than the $10 an hour required by the state. City Council members voted Monday to place incremental minimum wage increases up to $11.50 on the June primary ballot. The council initially approved the increases in summer 2014, but they never took effect after a referendum campaign gathered enough signatures to require a public vote. If approved by a simple majority of voters, the proposal would make the city's minimum wage $10.50 as soon as the election results are certified, then increase to $11.50 on Jan. 1, 2017. Two years later in January 2019, annual increases based on the consumer price index would start to be implemented. The measure would also provide full-time workers with five paid sick days a year, and part-timers with one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The proposal includes no exemptions for any industry or business. Supporters say the wage hike will help businesses by boosting the buying power of many thousands of low-wage workers. They also say it's unacceptable that full-time employees can't afford the basics in San Diego. Opponents say raising the minimum wage will force small businesses to increase prices, lay off workers, search for greater automation and possibly shut close or leave San Diego.

Cafeteria workers at Intel rally over low wages

Source: Elizabeth Weise, USA Today

Close to 100 Intel cafeteria workers and supporters held a rally outside of the chip maker's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif. Wednesday afternoon to highlight the growing inability of low-wage workers to survive in an area where rents are rising to stratospheric heights. "Here in the economy in Silicon Valley, we struggle. I'm a single mom of two children. I had to move in with my ex-mother-in-law because I can't afford to rent my own apartment," said Nahima Aguiniga, 35. She works full time putting out coffee, washing dishes, mopping and running a cash register for Guckenheimer Enterprises, the food service company that Intel subcontracts its catering out to. "We work at a multi-million dollar company which can't treat us fairly and give us the wages we deserve to be able to live here in the Bay area," Aguiniga said. "Intel should be held responsible. The same way they are able to give pay their employees a sufficient amount of money to live here, we should also make enough to be able to live here," she said. The workers are being organized by Unite Here, a food service workers union based in New York City.

$15 minimum wage would create $6.5 billion for NYC economy, state report says

Source: Glenn Blain, New York Daily News

Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would benefit 927,400 city workers and pump $6.5 billion into the city's economy, according to state Labor Department report released Wednesday. The report predicted that Gov. Cuomo's proposal for a $15 minimum wage would boost wages for 2.3 million workers across the state and generate $15.7 billion for New York's economy through increased consumer spending. "This report demonstrates that raising the minimum wage will provide new opportunity and restore economic justice to millions of New Yorkers," Cuomo said. "Our proposal will lift families out of poverty and create a stronger economy for all, and I urge lawmakers to help us fight for fair pay for working families this year," Cuomo continued. Critics slammed the report as "self-serving propaganda" by Cuomo. "We find this alleged analysis absent the comprehensive examination worthy of such state resources," said Mike Durant of the National Federation of Independent Business. "Any serious study would disprove that this proposal is simply an economic stimulus package and highlight that mandating a 67% increase in labor costs on Main Street will, in fact, have serious consequences," Durant added. Release of the report came a day after state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County), who has expressed reservations about Cuomo's plan, said Senate Republicans needed more information about the proposal's impact. A report produced late last year by the Empire Center for Public Policy and the American Action Forum said raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would cost the state at least 200,000 jobs. Cuomo wants to raise minimum wage incrementally so that it reaches $15 an hour in the city on Dec. 31, 2018, and everywhere else in the state on July 1, 2021.

February 10, 2016

Obama's Budget Seeks to Ease Economic Fears for U.S. Workers

Source: Noam Scheiber, New York Times

At the center of the final budget of President Obama's term is a concession that the major macroeconomic trends of the past two generations particularly the loss of benefits that once went with formal employment relationships are largely irreversible. In laying out proposals from improving access to 401(k) plans to supplementing the incomes of workers who accept lower wages after losing jobs, the president laid out a clear, if limited, view of government's role in the labor market. Inside the budget is a detailed agenda to ease the anxieties of workers weighed down by job insecurity and income volatility. Those anxieties are among the factors that propelled two populist candidates to victory in the New Hampshire presidential primaries on Tuesday. Mr. Obama's approach has clear advantages at a moment when Republicans control both chambers of Congress, and when the business community has made clear its opposition to a greater government role in the economy. But it falls well short of the crusading vision of government intervention ascendant in the Democratic Party through the campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who won the party's New Hampshire primary. He has proposed an increase in Social Security benefits and support for more than 13 million jobs by spending $1 trillion on infrastructure over five years. The proposed expansion of Social Security alone would cost more than $100 billion over 10 years, then rise substantially after that. "These are policies that broadly accept the extent to which risks have shifted onto working people and they try to mitigate the impact of those risks," Jared Bernstein, a former top economic adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., said about the president's proposals. "They have not viewed it as their job to try to change the underlying shifts in risks." With the left invigorated by the campaign to succeed Mr. Obama, such assurances may fall flat with wide swaths of Democrats. "The president has some good messaging proposals that would have a positive impact," said Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a grass-roots organizing group that supports Mr. Sanders. "But a new Democratic president winning on something like a trillion-dollar infrastructure proposal would reset the debate."

A huge coal miners' pension plan is on the brink of failure. One senator is blocking a fix.

Source: Joby Warrick and Lydia DePillis, Washington Post

hen Sen. Mitch McConnell strode into the Capitol for last month's State of the Union speech, he took with him a guest whose presence was sure to be seen as a slap against the Obama administration and its policies on coal. "I brought along this unemployed coal miner here," McConnell (R-Ky.) said, gesturing to fourth-generation mineworker Howard Abshire, "to see the person who put him out of work." The Senate majority leader said he wanted to call attention to President Obama's "heartless" regulations that he argues have devastated communities in Abshire's native eastern Kentucky. Yet just weeks earlier, McConnell's office had delivered its own blow to Appalachian coal towns: It blocked efforts to rescue health and pension funds on which thousands of retired and disabled miners rely. A plan that would ensure the solvency of the funds nearly made it through Congress in December as part of the bipartisan budget deal that cleared both chambers. But the bailout attempt backed by key lawmakers from both political parties was excluded from the deal at McConnell's request, according to four Senate officials directly familiar with the events. McConnell's spokesman does not dispute that telling of events. And McConnell has not publicly explained his opposition to the measure.

Union files complaint in USC faculty election

Source: Jason Song, Los Angeles Times

Union officials alleged on Tuesday that USC officials interfered with attempts to organize non-tenure-track faculty by promising them better working conditions and implying that employees would lose rights if they unionized. Faculty at Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the oldest school at USC, voted against joining the Service Employees International Union Local 721 last week, with 113 educators casting ballots in favor of organizing and 127 voting against. But the objection alleges that the Dornsife election was "infected by widely disseminated threats" and "promises and grants of benefits" that "affected the outcome of the election." If National Labor Relations Board officials find the union's complaint is true, they could call for another election at Dornsife. The objection also alleged that USC Provost Michael Quick repeatedly told faculty members that if they formed a union they could not participate in the university's governance. USC officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In letters to USC employees, Quick said that he was not in favor of unionization but also noted that he could not make promises of future treatment during organizing campaigns.

February 9, 2016

Searching for the Origins of the Racial Wage Gap In Jim Crow America

Source: Gillian B, White, Atlantic

Even with the bevy of data collected on American workers every year, it can be difficult to nail down the exact causes of disparities in certain workers' pay, let alone do something about them. Workplace protections such as anti-discrimination clauses and minimum wages have helped a little, but there are still big employment and earnings gaps between black and white Americans. In a new paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the economists Celeste K. Carruthers and Marianne H. Wanamaker shed more light on today's racial wage gap by turning to history: In their research, they look into the forces that determined the wages of Southern men during the 1940s, when segregation was legal and black workers weren't protected by any anti-discrimination laws. The big question that Carruthers and Wanamaker wanted to sort out was why the average black man and the average white man were earning different wages. Was it because employers were discriminating against black workers when determining pay? Or was it because black workers' skill sets were relatively less valuable? The answer they arrived at, after analyzing school quality, employment and wages, was that differences in skills accounted for the most significant portion of the wage disparities in the 1940s. But the root of that skill gap was still racial. The explicit sanctioning of segregation by Jim Crow meant that black public schools lacked of resources and public funding shortcomings that limited the skill sets and education levels of young, black men during this period, which in turn limited their job opportunities. Carruthers and Wanamaker argue that a major determinant of public-school quality and thus a school's ability to churn out skilled workers is funding. As the mid-20th-century South illustrates, a shortfall of money can hamper the development of entire groups of people: "The discriminatory preferences of white southerners were powerful in limiting black public school quality and reducing the wages of young black men through the human capital channel," the authors write. The persistent inequality of educational opportunities, they found, singlehandedly cut earnings of black Southern workers by as much as 50 percent.

I'm a Detroit teacher protesting our awful school conditions. Here's why I think we'll win.

Source: Shalon Miller, Vox

I have worked for Detroit Public Schools for 15 years. I work with students with learning disabilities, and I'm a testing coordinator. I came to Detroit fresh out of Kentucky State University at the age of 23, ready to change the world. I purposely chose urban education because I thought that was where I was needed most. I have always believed that public education is a vital part of the American dream, and I wanted to give students that chance despite their economic circumstances. I didn't realize how many roadblocks would be placed in the way of a quality public education. The educational climate right now is the worst I have seen in all of my years of teaching. In the past few weeks, local and national media have shown the deplorable conditions at my school, Medicine and Community Health Academy at Cody: The leaking roof has caused structural damage in and outside of the school. The ceiling tiles are so water-soaked that they fall down in the stairwells and classrooms. Mold has grown under tile and carpet because of dampness. The broken glass-block window that surrounds the school lets in the elements. The building temperature changes from freezing cold to tropical hot. The conditions are so bad that last month the mayor of Detroit, Mike Duggan, sent his own inspectors out to the worst Detroit public school buildings. The reports became public knowledge on January 25. Cody High School had 30 violations of city code ordinances, and the school district has 30 days to comply. As stories about the conditions of the public schools started to surface, family and friends began to call. They asked, "How did it get this bad?" and, "Has it always been this way?" Their questions made me pause. Had I become desensitized? Had I stopped seeing the blight? The answer is ... yes.

One way women have it better than men at work

Source: Danielle Paquette, Washington Post

As the number of breadwinner moms quadrupled over the past half-century, stereotypical gender roles began fading away. A dad who does his kids' laundry is no longer an adorable anomaly. A mom grinding toward the corner office is just another ambitious employee. The workplace, however, hasn't transformed with the changing ideals of workers. The latest example: Men are twice as likely as women to have their request for a flexible work schedule rejected, according to a new study from Australia. Researchers at Bain & Company, an international consulting firm, and Chief Executive Women, an Australian advocacy group, surveyed 1,030 employees about how they juggled work and life. Thirty-eight percent of the female respondents said they worked flexible hours part-time, night shift, etc. while 28 percent of male respondents said the same. Men aren't necessarily less interested in flexible work schedules. Those who asked for more family-friendly hours sometimes encountered an insidious form of discrimination. One said his manager told him, "part-time is traditionally only something we make work for women." Another reported, "My boss told me I wouldn't be able to get promoted working part-time." Another added, "The arrangements worked as agreed, but I have felt judgement for using them."

February 8, 2016

Workers' wages up, but slower job growth worries financial markets

Source: Ylan Q. Mui, Washington Post

American workers have begun to see a notable pickup in their paychecks after years of stagnation, with wages increasing at their fastest rate since the end of the Great Recession. Government data released Friday showed that average earnings spiked 12 cents an hour in January, the second-biggest jump in at least a decade. As a result, wages have risen at an annualized rate of 2.9 percent over the past six months. Still, the question remains whether those gains will be sustained or will prove to be another blip in the nation's bumpy economic recovery. Hiring surged at the end of last year, giving workers more leverage to seek better wages. But Friday's data also showed that job growth slowed in January to 151,000 positions - a solid number but less than analysts had expected. The unemployment rate dipped to 4.9 percent, a milestone in the nation's recovery since unemployment peaked at 10 percent during the recession. "This is very consistent with a recovery that's moving in the right direction," Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview. "We're getting close to the summit of the mountain, but we're not yet there." Financial markets reacted badly to the news, with the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index falling 35.4 points, or 1.9 percent, to 1880.05 and the technology-heavy Nasdaq composite index plunging 146.42 points, or 3.25 percent, to 4363.14. The Dow Jones industrial average also fell nearly 212 points, or 1.3 percent. Investors' anxieties may have been driven by different, and potentially conflicting, concerns: that job growth was slowing, indicating a softer economy, and that higher wages would spur inflation, leading the Federal Reserve to raise rates. Before the recession, wages were growing at an annual rate of about 3.5 percent. But then millions of workers lost their jobs and the jobless rate skyrocketed. Since 2010, wage growth has flatlined at roughly 2 percent despite a dramatic drop in unemployment.

N.H. fast-food workers to stage protest before debate

Source: Katie Johnston, Boston Globe

As New Hampshire gears up for the first primary in the country next week, fast-food workers there are planning to walk off their jobs on Saturday, the first time workers in the state have joined the nationwide fight for a $15 per hour minimum wage. The strike will culminate at a rally in Manchester, where the Republican candidates are debating that night. The "Fight for $15" movement, which has helped spark wage increases around the country, has ramped up during the presidential campaign. Organizers with the Service Employees International Union, which is coordinating the workers and trying to unionize them, have staged protests to coincide with debates in Iowa, South Carolina, and Wisconsin and force politicians to pay attention to low-wage workers. The first question at the Republican debate in Milwaukee in November was about a $15 minimum wage, which is more than double the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. None of the Republican candidates has come out in favor of a $15 wage. On the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders has embraced it. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has called for a $12 minimum but said $15 could work in certain cities. Nearly half the workers in New Hampshire, about 281,000 people, make less than $15 an hour, according to an analysis of Labor Department data by the fast-food campaign. Many of them, like Megan Jensen, a 26-year-old KFC employee in Manchester, have never voted but plan to go to the polls this year. Jensen is skipping her $8-an-hour shift on Saturday to participate in the rally. She said she wants politicians to listen to workers' struggles but declined to say which candidate she will support. "Whoever is willing to work on our issue will have my vote," she said.

States Not Waiting To Close Gender Wage Gap

Source: Jennifer Ludden, NPR

Nationally, women earn an average 79 cents for every dollar men do. The gender wage gap is even wider for black and Hispanic women. Martin is the vice president and general counsel of the National Women's Law Center. The gender wage gap that she reported is not a new issue. It was President Obama's priority from the start, and the first piece of legislation he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. On the seventh anniversary of the signing last month, he again made headlines by announcing new rules that would require companies to disclose pay data. But the issue has gone nowhere in Congress. There are lots of reasons for the gender gap, but Martin says a stubborn, small part is still discrimination. "There's really disturbing social science studies out there that show that supervisors, male and female alike, without realizing it, will recommend lower salaries for women with equivalent qualifications to men," she says. Facing pressure from a growing number of activists who point out that more women than ever are primary breadwinners for their families states are forging ahead on their own efforts. They have passed a string of equal pay laws in recent years, and more proposals have been introduced in two dozen states so far this year. The measures take a variety of approaches. At least five states have banned companies from retaliating if workers talk about their pay and compare notes. Some have made it easier for workers to sue over pay, while others have made it harder for companies to justify paying men more because of a "factor other than sex." Martin says some courts have interpreted that to mean just about anything. A few proposals would bar employers from asking job applicants up front or in an interview about their pay history. "Because often your pay is set with some reference to how much you made at your last job," Martin says, "the impact of pay discrimination can follow people through their careers."

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 p