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The Trouble With Men at Work, part 1 of 2

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LA Dodger outfielder Manny Ramirez missed almost a third of a season because he was found to have artificial testosterone and a female fertility drug in his system during drug testing. Unfortunately Manny isn’t the only person walking around with an artificially high level of testosterone in his system. In most of the workplaces I’ve seen, Manny wouldn’t crack the testosterone top ten. Heck, he’d probably also have more women hormones than most of the women at work, but we’ll cover that next week.

I can remember many conversations at work where former bosses would start to pull out the war metaphors—“This is a life and death struggle,” “We are in a battle for our very existence,” and “This is all out war.” The only problem was that it wasn’t actually war—it was computer software, TV news and corporate training videos.

This kind of talk not only cheapens warfare, it cheapens whatever work people are actually trying to get done during their 9-5 grind.

It’s also worth noting how it’s always the guys who have never been in battle who tend to use war metaphors. Except for the former military types who are consultants for big defense profiteers, most of the people who’ve actually been in battle seem more interested in forgetting it than spewing it out in every business meeting.

I think it all comes down to one thing, insecurity. Most guys are cardboard cut outs. They wouldn’t know a real emotional feeling if it snuck up behind them and bit them on the butt. I know, I used to be like that.

Okay, before you start dashing off that email to me, think about it guys. When was the last time you said “I don’t know” in a meeting? Or asked a person who reported to you for their advice on how to handle a difficult situation? Or admitted a mistake before there was any evidence that you’d made one? Most of the guys that I’ve met would rather drink Clorox than show any shred of vulnerability at work. Or at home. Or in a place other than work or home.

Why? There are many reasons. From trying to be a good provider, to wanting to be seen as tough, to being told when you were nine that big boys don’t cry. Wherever it comes from, men are almost raised to be emotionally non-existent or emotionally brittle.

[Before you get all worked up about the fact that I’m being harsh on men, please note in the title, this is only part 1. Next week is part 2, “The Trouble With Women at Work.”]

To me it all comes down to two concepts, control and vulnerability. Guys, when was the last time you gave up even the slightest bit of control? And I’m not just talking about at work. Heck, I’ve seen guys cut someone off on the highway rather than letting them merge into traffic. We’re built to compete 24 x 7. Even when competing is totally counter-productive.

Which leads to the real “kryptonite” of this story—vulnerability. If giving up a bit of control is anathema in most workplaces, vulnerability is the place to avoid at all costs. All costs. I know what you’re thinking, vulnerability is weakness and must always be avoided.

Maybe I’m the one drinking Clorox here, but I think vulnerability actually shows how strong you are. That you have the confidence to let down your guard. That you can really speak from the heart. That you are real; that to me is the ultimate strength.

Next week I’ll do my best to annoy the other half. Cheers.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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The Trouble With Women at Work, part 2 of 2

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Just as it’s hard to blame the Democrats for anything that happened during the Bush Administration (if you look up the word “irrelevant” in the dictionary, don’t be surprised if you see the world “democrat” listed as a synonym—when all control was in the hands of the GOP).

It’s also hard to blame women for the mess that work has become.

Let’s face it; work is still a patriarchy. Okay, I know there are a few men out there who work in a women-managed department or company, but they’re the exception and certainly not the rule.

Work is a tree house and the boys are in charge. That said, although women might not be the major part of the problem most of us call work, they do have their issues. I’m not going to go all Oprah on you, but I do want to point out a major challenge facing many women at work.

I call it “divorced women’s syndrome” and I’ve had this conversation with at least thirty women. Going through a divorce a woman learns one thing; she can’t rely on anyone else. It’s her life, and her family, and the only person who will be there for her at the end of the day is herself.

Then she goes to work and an interesting thing happens—she relies only on herself. If this woman is approached for advice, mentoring or support by a colleague she will do whatever she can for them. But when it comes to her asking colleagues for advice, mentoring or support—NO WAY. As Bette Midler once said about Madonna, it’s all about lifting yourself up by your own bra straps (seriously, how many women have boot straps today?). Work, for many women, becomes a solitary activity.

Unfortunately, this runs against how the work really works. The workplace is built on favors and on give and take. You do favors for people and they return the favor back to you. The philosophy of not relying or depending on anyone else isolates her from lots of great resources, ideas and efficiencies.

I’m not saying that self-reliance is always bad thing. It gets many women through their divorce intact. I am saying that as important as this trait is to survive a divorce, it’s very dangerous to bring this to work as the defining aspect of your personality.

So if I had a magic wand I’d encourage women to be sure that they are making both deposits and withdrawals with the people they work with. To both give and get in the favor economy that sustains every business.

If I still haven’t sold you on the importance of giving AND receiving, here is a hypothetical. Imagine you have a friend who is going through a rough stretch. And you could be a big help to her during her struggles. How would you feel if you learned much later she never let you know that she needed a helping hand? You’d feel terrible, like you let her down. So how are your friends and work colleagues supposed to feel when you don’t reach out to them?

Here is a saying to adopt—L.Y.F.H.Y. Let your friends help you. The workplace is so much easier to handle when you tackle it with the support of your colleagues. You go girl!


“No one should have to dance backward all their lives.” Jill Ruckelshaus

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Federal Minimum Wage Increase

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Effective July 24th, 2009 the Federal Minimum Wage will increase from its current level of $6.55 (previously $5.85) to $7.25 an hour, according to the United States Department of Labor. This amounts to an increase of 10.7%. These wage floor increases were mandated by a bill passed by Congress in 2007, when the minimum was $5.15 an hour, where it had been for many years prior. With few exceptions, almost all employers are required, under the Fair Labor StandardsAct (FLSA), to pay at least the federal minimum wage to their hourly non-exempt employees for all hours they work.

Accordingly, advocates for low-wage workers believe that a higher minimum wage is a step in the right direction, even though for many people it’s barely enough to survive on. With this new increase to $7.25 an hour, a full-time worker still only earns $15,080 a year. At the nationwide work-week average of 33 hours, the worker would earn only $12,441. The United States government sets the poverty level at $10,830 for one person or $22,050 for a family of four in 48 states and D.C. A worker who is above this low poverty level would not be eligible for certain welfare-related assistance. Thereby, the new federal minimum wage will just barely put many Americans above the poverty level, exempting them from certain assistance, yet barely allowing them to live comfortably.

While the federal minimum wage applies to all states, (click here for more information on each state’s minimum wage laws), individual states have the right to pass a higher minimum wage than the federal level. Some states will not be affected by the increase in minimum wage as they already have a minimum wage above $7.25. The impact will most be felt in 30 states (see below) where the minimum wages are lower than this rate, and many of them plan to match the federal minimum once it increases. Seven states already have laws mandating $7.25 minimum pay, while 14 states and the District of Columbia exceed the new minimum. Employers are required to pay whichever is the highest, federal or state.

Employers in the following 30 states will generally see the minimum wage they are required to pay increase to $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin (state law is not tied to federal law, so employers covered by state, but not federal law, will not be required to pay federal minimum wage.)
  • Wyoming (state law is not tied to federal law, so employers covered by state, but not federal law, will not be required to pay federal minimum wage.)

In the District of Columbia, the minimum wage is automatically $1.00 per hour higher than the federal rate if that amount is greater than $7.00. Therefore, the minimum wage in the district will increase to $8.25 per hour beginning July 24, 2009.

In Nevada, the state minimum wage rate varies for employers, depending on whether the employer offers its employees health benefits, and is indexed to inflation. The increase in the federal rate on July 24th will require Nevada employers that provide health insurance to pay their employees $7.25 per hour. Employers that do not offer qualified health insurance must pay their employees $7.55 per hour.

This year’s increase in the federal minimum wage will generally have no effect on employers in the following 19 states because they currently have minimum wages at or above $7.25 per hour:

  • Arizona (the state minimum wage is $7.25 and is indexed to inflation)
  • California (the state minimum wage is $8.00)
  • Colorado (the minimum wage is $7.28 and is indexed to inflation)
  • Connecticut (the state minimum wage is $8.00 ($8.25 on 1/1/10))
  • Hawaii (the state minimum wage is $7.25)
  • Illinois (the state minimum wage is $8.00 ($8.25 effective 7/1/10))
  • Iowa (the state minimum wag is $7.25)
  • Kentucky (the state minimum wage increased to $7.25 on July 1)
  • Maine (the state minimum wage is $7.25 ($7.50 on 10/1/09))
  • Massachusetts (the state minimum wage is $8.00)
  • Michigan (the state minimum wage is $7.40)
  • New Hampshire (the state minimum wage is $7.25)
  • New Mexico (the state minimum wage is $7.50)
  • Ohio (the state minimum wage is $7.30 and is indexed to inflation)
  • Oregon (the state minimum wage is $8.40 and is indexed to inflation)
  • Rhode Island (the state minimum wage is $7.40)
  • Vermont (the state minimum wage is $8.06 and is indexed to inflation)
  • Washington (the state minimum wage is $8.55 and is indexed to inflation)
  • West Virginia (the state minimum wage is $7.25)

*For more information on the minimum wage laws, click here.

**For a consolidated table of state minimum wage updates effective July 1st, 2009, click here.

Hannah Goitein: Hannah Goitein is currently a law student at the George Washington University School of Law and a legal intern for Workplace Fairness. Prior to law school, Hannah graduated magna cum laude from the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hannah previously worked for AT&T as a manager and as a manager for a restaurant before that. Through her management experience coupled with her legal and business education, Hannah became committed to helping Workplace Fairness address workers right issues and continues to be actively involved in improving the workplace. Hannah lives in Washington, DC.

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Why Americans Are The Worst Vacationers

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Ahhhh, summer’s here, and with it come trips to the beach, bar-be-ques, fireworks and vacations. Been on a vacation yet this summer? How was it? Did you come back feeling rested and refreshed? Good for you. Or, did you get swept up into a modern ‘American-style’ vacation: unable to forget about work, anxiety about email pile-up, tweeting every moment as it happened, and returning home wiped out, cranky and desperate to get back to the desk and routine? Taking time to unwind is hard enough, and knowing how to unwind properly is another matter.

What has happened to our vacations? We work all year, and save up our hard earned dollars for a getaway, only to spend far more money than we intended, race around, and get annoyed with each other. For families, the trends are mega watt destinations like Disney, Great Wolf Lodges or all inclusive resorts with constant stimulation, plenty of places to burn cash, and little in unstructured relaxation or spontaneous adventure.

Many are not able to take a vacation at all this summer – can’t afford it. Sadly, these are often the times we need it the most. A vacation can be created with very little money; the commodity we are all lacking is time. Whether the job doesn’t allow it, or workers are afraid to leave; Americans take fewer vacations than most other countries, and the ones we do take are getting busier, more expensive and consumer driven. Are we the worst vacationers in the developed world?

Only 14% of Americans took two weeks of vacation last year, and the number of Americans taking family vacations has dropped by a third in the past generation. The price we pay, by not getting away to unwind, is huge on our physical health, relationships, and emotional sense of well being.

Why are we reluctant as a culture, to support taking time off? Are vacations too costly to our GNP? Turns out job stress and burnout is said to cost our country over $300 billion per year. Our European friends have managed to compete in the modern era while continuing to take their month long “holiday”- are they just slackers?

As much as we’d like to think so, the answer is, no. The level of productivity per worker is the same, or slightly higher that ours, despite the fact they work 300 fewer hours per year. Europeans spend half the amount on health care as the US. They are requiring less health care, partly because Europeans are 50% less likely to have heart disease, hypertension or diabetes before age 50 than Americans.

Rethinking the importance of time off yet? Vacations are not just luxuries, or pithy pastimes for the rich. Statistics are showing that other countries who take regular vacations are happier, and live longer than we do. In 1980, people in only 10 other countries lived longer than we do. Now, people in 41 other countries live longer. Wow. That’s a pretty compelling reason to make sure that all Americans are getting some R&R, and that we learn how to truly “get away.”

As a matter of fact, 137 other countries are ahead of us in guaranteeing at least some vacation time. We have none. Zero. No required vacation time or paid holidays. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 28 million Americans — or about a quarter of the work force — don’t get any paid vacation. We are the veritable Ebenezer Scrooge of the world for R&R. At a minimum, every European worker is guaranteed four weeks paid vacation by law; most get six or more.

Fortunately, there is a new bill, called the H.R. 2564: THE PAID VACATION ACT OF 2009, introduced by Congressman Alan Grayson, to offer one week of paid vacation time for companies with over 100 workers, increasing to two weeks after three years, for all employees working at least 25 hours per week. Grayson proposes more vacation will stimulate the economy through fewer sick days, better productivity and happier employees.

Keep in mind seven days is modest, compared to the required 20-30 days of vacation time required in Europe and Australia. Canada and Japan offer 10 days minimum to start. According to an article in Politico, “the United States is dead last among 21 industrial countries when it comes to mandatory R&R.”

John de Graaf is the national coordinator of Take Back Your Time, an organization challenging time poverty and overwork in the U.S. and Canada, and is a frequent speaker on issues of overwork and over-consumption in America. DeGraaf is fighting to make sure this bill is seen, understood, and pushed to pass to President Obama’s desk. He is hosting the first national “Vacation Matters Summit” conference on August 10-12 at Seattle University.

DeGraff states on his site, “A new poll finds that more than two-thirds of Americans support a law that would guarantee paid vacations for workers. The poll found 69% of Americans saying they would support a paid vacation law, with the largest percentage of respondents favoring a law guaranteeing three weeks vacation or more. Take Back Your Time advocates for three weeks paid vacation or more.”

Supposedly, the “idea” for advocating for paid vacation time came to Senator Grayson when we was at Disney World. He said,

“there’s a reason why Disney World is the happiest place on Earth: The people who go there are on vacation.”

He went on to admit that,

“as much as I appreciate this job and as much as I enjoy it, the best days of my life are and always have been the days I’m on vacation.”

I found this rather funny and ironic. While Disney is an amazing place, I am not sure it is the ultimate place for a relaxing vacation. I believe there are two types of vacations these days. One type is to “see-do-buy.” Enchanted by ads with pyramid water slides, entertainment and activities, these vacations clock a mile-a-minute pace, and usually run a hefty bill. They are fun for sure, but I am not convinced they provide the type of deep unwinding our bodies require to combat stress and fatigue. Our family has taken several of these vacations, and by the end, I am ready for a break!

The other type of vacation is just to “be,” with plenty of time to read, sleep, walk, and downshift. The recession is creating an interesting vacation trend this summer- a huge spike in camping trips and visits to National Parks. Cheap, full of fresh air and untold beauty, a trip like this is sure to help gain perspective on what matters, exercise the body, and offer time for more thoughtful conversations than, “Dad, can I have a few more tokens?” A national park, local hike or gazing at scenes of natural beauty, is a key component to unhook our nerves and reset the proverbial clock for any age, single, young couples, families, or retired.

I asked about the difference between consumer vs. natural vacations to Bill Doherty, the Director of the Citizen Professional Center, and Professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. He said,

“Given the trend towards shorter and shorter vacations, it does seem to be the case that American families are packing in more activities into shorter time periods: fly to Disney World, run around for several days, and fly home. That’s different from the traditional long road trips and the trips to the ocean where they family holed up for a couple of weeks. The biggest benefits from family vacations come from down time and family members entertaining themselves, not from crowded entertainment schedules and consumer festivals. It’s kind of like the difference between a family dinner at home and a quick trip to McDonald’s.”

Moral of the story? If you believe vacations should be required, write to your local congressional leaders and express your support. Then, carve out a little sunshine for yourself, spread out a blanket, close your eyes and relax. Think of it as your own personal stimulus package.

Kari Henley: Kari is currently President of the Board of Directors at the Women & Family Life Center. She organizes the Association of Women Business Leaders (AWBL), and runs her own training and consulting practice. Kari is an avid writer, active in her community, and an expert in group facilitation. She has worked for the past 17 years with corporate, non-profit and public audiences. Past clients include Yale Medical School resident program, Fed Ex, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Washington Trust Co., CT Husky program, the American Cancer Society. For more information, email: karihenley@comcast.net.

This article originally appeared at Huffington Post on July 12, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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America’s White Underclass: When Seeing Ain’t Believing Then Somebody is Blind

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“White underclass” is a term I’ve used often in my writing, and most American readers seem to know what I mean. They’ve got eyes and live in the same nation I do. But in a sudden burst of journalistic responsibility, I decided that if I am going to throw around the word underclass, then I should offer some clearer, perhaps more scientific definition.

So I started writing this with a pile of published research papers before me. Now they are in the trash can by my side. Looking down on them, I can see the gobbledygook titles, the stuff of which government policy and political platforms are made. They run together in slurry of the language of our society’s commissars: Concerning-Prevalence-Growth-and-Dynamics-Concentrated Urban Poverty Areas- block-level vs. tract-level segregation-800-tract-tables-urban abstracts-Defining-and-Measuring-the-Underclass-from-The Journal of Policy Analysis and Management-statistical-summary-of…

What I find is that nobody in social science seems to agree on the term, or, being firmly placed in the true white middle class themselves, even agree if such a thing as a white underclass exists. You can’t smell the rabble from the putting green. To others, some blacks for example, the term white underclass is an oxymoron, or maybe yet another new white social code word to be deciphered. I can’t blame them for their wariness. You have to be an American to even get these code words. For instance, for all practical purposes and to most Americans, regardless of race, the term “middle class” means “white.” Plain and simple. We all know that, even members of the “black middle class.”

Middle class also has implications of people’s occupations, usually white collar occupations, though it also includes some of the ever thinning ranks of blue-collar workers. But this comes down to describing human beings solely in terms of their jobs in the capitalist labor marketplace, and assumptions about income and whether one takes their daily shower before they go to work or after they come home. By that definition, anyone of working age who doesn’t have a steady job of the right type, for whatever reason, is in some sort of “economic underclass.” In other words, they are the people that middle class folks feel should damned well be working, if they are over age 18 and have a pulse. (“If I gotta do time in this meaningless workhouse of a nation, you do too!”) This underclass includes any people of color seen on the street at midday during the week, single mothers, and paraplegics too, now that the middle class is paying taxes for handicap parking spaces and wheelchair access to the public shitters.

Another way we define underclass is as “losers.” People who cannot talk, think, or act like middle class professional and managerial workers, people who cannot even be posers. There is absolutely no excuse for these people. We’ve got television 24/7 to show’em how to behave. They could learn to act like the blue collar workers we see on the endless reruns of The King of Queens (an American sitcom about a parcel service delivery truck driver.). They could at least be funny and amiable fer godz sake.

From reading the studies, I can see that social scientists dislike plural nouns, and thus shun the word losers. So they call this the “educational underclass.” Either way, it comes down to folks too wooly and uncurried for office water cooler society. Nobody is denying that they all should have jobs, of course, just nowhere near the water cooler.

Yes, eight to eighty, crippled blind or crazy, Americans generally agree that every man or woman in America should have a full-time job, except those women who manage to snag a wealthy man. They are exempt, as are the middle class commissariat’s own beer guzzling spawn keeping the pizza delivery and the all-night video arcade businesses thriving in college towns across the republic.

Then you’ve got your moral underclass. Like the rest of us, they come in two major varieties — male and female. Females who don’t bother to get married before they have babies (the non-technical term is “welfare sluts”), and men who have things more serious on their national police state blotters than a parking ticket. “Non-mainstreamers,” in socio-demographic speak. Many of these are men who say, “Screw it, I ain’t gonna even bother to work my ass off and be treated like dirt for six bucks an hour. I’d rather shoot pool.” Me too.

The unwed mothers come in two varieties. There are those who decide they want children, but are choosy about the husband that traditionally comes with the deal. And there are those who are so young and naive due to cultural circumstance and environment they do not know what this country does to, not for, single mothers. They often find themselves working at least part time (workfare), yet permanently institutionalized into poverty by our social services industry, instead of being lifted out of it. More than 45 percent of U.S. single mothers are poor, compared five percent in Sweden and Finland, where no stigma is attached and substantial public resources are applied to child health and development. But research done in Europe shows that even if U.S. women had a zero rate of single motherhood, poverty among American women would still be higher than in European and other socially advanced nations.

Armchair sociologist that I am, I have a theory about this: Millions of American women are in poverty because they are paid poverty wages. I could be wrong, I often am, but there seems to be a connection between poverty and money. I started developing this theory when I was in a Melbourne, Australia hotel and learned from a single mother hotel housekeeper there that she made $19 an hour, had government assisted childcare and was going to college at night toward becoming a medical technician. Hmmm Over here we tell single mothers, “Get a six dollar an hour job or get married bitch! Workfare, baby, workfare.” Then too, contrary to the American middle class belief system, out-of-wedlock babies are increasing at all levels of white American society. Even more contrary to popularly held notions, as many of these children turn out to be as well adjusted people as do children of the middle class. But for damned sure poorer in most cases.

And finally we have simple snottiness as a line of underclass demarcation — one’s manner of physical gesture or accent. Believe me from personal experience, a Southern accent in America is no ticket to the top. But even with a Southern accent, if you talk like a college grad, don’t wear bib overhauls or gang banger gear, and appear to know where South America is on a map, Americans will deem you middle class. Actually, if you smile a lot, and sound like any sort of white customer service type, it will fly. It’s called having the appropriate social and cultural skill set. Yeah, right, appropriate to be hired as a telemarketer so you can piss people off by interrupting their dinner hour.

But even if you gather aluminum cans from dumpsters for a living, with effort, you can “pass” like light skinned black folks used to do in this country. As testimony to this, I, who am a high school dropout with a Southern accent, have successfully managed entire magazine publishing groups for a living. (The secret is balls). If I’d been black or Hispanic though, I’d have been distributing the urinal cakes in the rest rooms at night. So yes, there is a slight edge to whiteness, though not nearly as much as minorities assume. Still, you gotta make the most of that little edge.

In the end, race, gender or sexual preference are just moving parts of the class machine, with middle class perceptions setting the standard. You can indeed be black or queer, but with the properly buffed patina of white middle class mojo you can make it to the top, or near to the top of the heap (in America, proximity to the top of our cultural garbage heap is everything. All the rest of us are mere consumer refuse, as the Michael Jackson Morbidity Festival demonstrated. You can even be celebrated as an icon of diversity if you act white and middle class enough. Obama is Harvard white guy enough, Ellen DeGeneres is going strong ten years after coming out, gay Congressman Barney Franks still gets reelected. They’ve all got white middle class mojo. Al Sharpton on the other hand, has cootie mojo. (Tip for Al: They need golf cart drivers at the Congressional Country Club. A year of that and you’d know all you need to know about the white mojo shtick. Because you can watch Obama play golf there).

When it comes to the underclass, there is no arguing that some people are members because they are so damned uneducated they cannot count their toes or read well enough to fill out a job app, the causes of which are too deep and tangled to go into at the moment. Others just don’t care to do the smiling grammatically correct wimp assed customer service zombie thing. They prefer swinging a bigger hammer than that — doing real work, like America used to do. And doing it without kissing ass, which is why they are called the “permanently jobless.” As sociologist Christopher Jencks points out, “There is no absolute standard dictating what people need to know in order to get along in society. There is however, an absolute rule that you get along better if you know what the elite knows than if you do not.” He also cautions that “the term underclass combines so many different meanings that social scientists must use it with extreme care.”

Which is fine. But I’m no social scientist. If in my travels and experience in American life I see that tens of millions of Americans being screwed silly by a handful of chiselers at the top, or if I see one percent of Americans earning as much annually as the bottom 45 percent of Americans, then that 45 percent is an underclass. When I see a 70 year old man on his second pacemaker limping through Wal-mart as a “greeter” so he can pay at least something on last winter’s heating bill this month, then he is part of an underclass. When I see the humiliated single mom waitress tugging downward on the ridiculously short red plastic skirt she must wear at the Hooter’s type joint so her crotch won’t show, she’s part of an underclass of humiliated and socially oppressed people. Screw the hairsplitting about who qualifies as underclass and what color they are. Just fix it. Or reap the consequences.

We’re finally starting to hear a little discussion about the white underclass in this country. Mainly because so many middle class folks are terrified of falling into it. Frankly, I hope they do. We’ve got room for them. All the lousy, humiliating jobs have not yet been outsourced. The Devil still has plenty for them to do down here.

Call all of this anecdotal evidence. You won’t be the first. I was on a National Public Radio show last year with a couple of political consultants, demographers as I remember. One, a lady, was obviously part of the Democratic political syndicate, the other was part of the Republican political mob. The Democratic expert said dismissively of my remarks, “Well! Some people here seem to believe anecdotal evidence is relevant.” Meaning me. I held my tongue. But what I wanted to say was this:

Sister, most of us live anecdotal lives in an anecdotal world. We survive by our wits and observations, some casual, others vital to our sustenance. That plus daily experience, be it good bad or ugly as the ass end of a razorback hog. And what we see happening to us and others around us is what we know as life, the on-the-ground stuff we must deal with or be dealt out of the game. There’s no time for rigorous scientific analysis. Nor need. We can see the guy next door who’s drinking himself to death because, “I never did have a good job, just heavy labor, but now I’m all busted up, got no insurance and no job and it looks like I’ll never have another one and I’ve got four more years to go before Social Security.” He doesn’t need scientific proof. He doesn’t need another job either. He needs a cold beer, a soft armchair, some Tylenol PM and a modest guarantee of security for the rest of his life. Freedom from fear and toil and illness.

And furthermore, Sister, we cannot see much evidence that other, more elite people’s scientific analysis of our lives has ever benefited us much. When you’re fucked, you know it. You don’t need scientific verification.

I wanted to say that on the radio. But I didn’t. The little white guy mojo voice in my head told me not to. So I just laughed good naturedly. Like any other good American.

May God forgive me.

With ironic gratitude to Christopher Jencks of the Center for Urban Affairs and Policy Research at Northwestern University.

 Joe Bageant: Joe Bageant is author of the book, Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War.Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland (AK Press). A complete archive of his on-line work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class may be found on ColdType and Joe Bageant’s website, joebageant.com (Random House Crown), about working class America. He is also a contributor to Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance from the Heartland (AK Press). A complete archive of his on-line work, along with the thoughts of many working Americans on the subject of class may be found on ColdType and Joe Bageant’s website, joebageant.com.

This article originally appeared on JoeBageant.com on July 17th and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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The First Amendment Protects Public Employees Right to Run for Public Office: Or At Least It Should

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Public employees’ constitutional rights are important. Recent figures suggest that sixteen million Americans — more than 10 percent of the nation’s workforce — are employed by a state or local government, with another two million, approximately, employed by the federal government. With the economic downturn, even more workers are moving from the private sector to typically more secure public sector jobs. See, e.g., “Despite Downturn, Federal Workforce Grows; Stimulus Plan Expected to Increase the Ranks at State, Local Levels,” MSNBC News Report, January 31, 2009 (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/28952802/). Simply put, public employees are a major and growing part of our workforce. However, public employees’ rights are now vulnerable, after the recent decision in Greenwell v. Parsley, 541 F.3d 401 (6th Cir. 2008).

In Greenwell, a deputy sheriff was fired because he ran for sheriff against the incumbent. The Sixth Circuit in Kentucky held that such a firing does not implicate the First Amendment, relying on an earlier precedent from that court which said that “[t]he First Amendment does not require that an official in [an employer’s] situation nourish a viper in the nest.” Id. at 404 (citing Carver v. Dennis, 104 F.3d 847, 850-53 (6th Cir. 1997)). [1] Other circuits disagree, and rightly conclude that a public employee’s candidacy for office should be protected to at least the same degree as a public employee’s political speech. See, e.g., James v. Texas Collin County, 535 F.3d 365 (5th Cir. 2008); Finkelstein v. Bergna, 924 F.2d 1449 (9th Cir. 1991); Flinn v. Gordon, 775 F.2d 1551 (11th Cir. 1985); Washington v. Finlay, 664 F.2d 913 (4th Cir. 1981); Newcomb v. Brennan, 558 F.2d 825 (7th Cir. 1977); and Magill v. Lynch, 560 F.2d 22 (1st Cir. 1977).

The Greenwell plaintiff recently petitioned for the Supreme Court to overturn the 6th Circuit, in light of the 6th Circuit’s clear split with other Circuits on this issue. See Petition for Certiorari, 77 USLW 3619 (Apr 27, 2009) (No. 08-1328). The Supreme Court should grant review (certiorari) because “citizens are not deprived of fundamental rights by virtue of working for the government.” Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 147 (1983). Running for office is a fundamental right.

The Supreme Court’s seminal decision in Pickering v. Bd. of Educ., 391 U.S. 563, 573, 88 S.Ct. 1731 (1968), set forth a balancing test for public employees’ First Amendment rights in the workplace. More recently, in 2006, the Supreme Court acknowledged, in Garcetti v. Ceballos, 547 U.S. 410, 126 S.Ct. 1951 (2006), “Many citizens do much of their talking inside their respective workplaces, and it would not serve the goal of treating public employees ‘like any member of the general public,’ [citing Pickering], to hold that all speech within the office is automatically exposed to restriction.” Garcetti, 126 S.Ct. at 1959. Greenwell seemingly eliminates the Pickering balance, reiterated recently in Garcetti.

There are four issues that warrant Supreme Court review of the Greenwell decision’s divergent holding: 1) whether a public employee may be prevented from speaking on a matter of public concern without balancing the interests of the employee, as a citizen, in commenting upon matters of public concern; 2) whether a public employee who communicates an intent to run for office has engaged in protected First Amendment speech; 3) whether a public employee can be fired based on the employee’s political affiliation even when that affiliation is irrelevant to the performance of the employee’s job; and 4) the depth of public employees’ First Amendment protections generally.

1. Public employees’ interests – as citizens – must be given weight.

Greenwell’s reactionary result – that the employer’s interest is all-encompassing and that the employees’ rights need not enter into the balance at all – erodes Pickering and its progeny to the point of meaninglessness. Certainly, the Supreme Court will undoubtedly find, an employee whose hostility to his employer (a public officeholder) reaches the level of insubordination, can be properly removed. See, e.g., Curran v. Cousins, 509 F.3d 36, 49 (1st Cir. 2007) (citing Stanley v. City of Dalton, Ga., 219 F.3d 1280, 1290 (11th Cir.2000)) (speech done in a vulgar, insulting, and defiant manner is entitled to less weight in the Pickering balance). But there still must be some balancing in this analysis.

2. The Court should not construe narrowly what kinds of public employees’ communications engender constitutional protection.

Contrary to Greenwell’s result, “speech on public issues occupies the ‘highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values,’ and is entitled to special protection.” Connick, 461 U.S. at 145. After Greenwell and the 2006 Garcetti decision, a public employee cannot expect protection if he/she responsibly disagrees with the employer regarding a matter of public concern within the scope of his/her duties, nor if he/she tries to shift policy by dislodging the public officeholder. Essentially, this would leave a public employee devoid of the protection envisioned by Connick – unable to change a bad regime and stuck in it, without recourse, unless he/she is willing to sacrifice secure employment and the ability to provide for his/her family.

3. The right to run for office is encompassed in the right to political association.

The Supreme Court has previously held that “[t]he First Amendment protects political association as well as political expression,” and that “[t]he right to associate with the political party of one’s choice is an integral part of this basic constitutional freedom” of association. Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347, 357 (1976) (plurality opinion) (quoting Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 15 (1976) (per curiam). Those who devote their life to public service should not be deprived, contrary to Connick, the basic rights provided other citizens.

4. The Supreme Court should reaffirm the breadth of public employees’ constitutional protections.

Greenwell is particularly important because, despite the favorable language in Garcetti about treating public employees like members of the general public with respect to First Amendment expression, that 2006 Supreme Court decision may have raised doubts about the depth of public employees’ constitutional rights. In Garcetti, the Supreme Court held that “when public employees make statements pursuant to their official duties, the employees are not speaking as citizens for First Amendment purposes, and the Constitution does not insulate their communications from employer discipline.” Garcetti, 126 S.Ct. at 1960. Public employees need the Court, in reviewing Greenwell, to reestablish the strong First Amendment protections they still have on the job. See, e.g., Givhan v. Western Line Consol. School Dist., 439 U.S. 410, 414, 99 S.Ct. 693, 58 L.Ed.2d 619 (1979).

[1] The concurrence in Greenwell by Circuit Judge Boyce Martin invites Supreme Court review of both Greenwell and Carver. Judge Boyce’s strong language in his concurrence is compelling (rivaling Carver’s viper imagery): he described Carver, upon which Greenwell relied, as “a stray cat that hangs around the door and infests the house with fleas,” stating that Carver “continues to plague this Court’s jurisprudence. As such, we are bound by its conclusion.” Greenwell, 541 F.3d at 405-406.

Bryan Schwartz: Bryan Schwartz is an Oakland, CA-based attorney specializing in civil rights and employment law.

This article was originally posted on Bryan Schwartz Law on May 21, 21009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Non-Competition Agreements: Ten Cautionary Thoughts

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People do odd things when they enter into a new relationship. I call it the honeymoon period. It’s a time when it is all good, your vision is clouded by optimism that overlooks faults or problems that are visible to everyone else. Words of caution from well meaning friends have the sound of crazy alarmist rhetoric.  No, this post is not about relationship advice, it’s about the workplace. 

The same phenomenon occurs when a new employment relationships is started.  Employees are so happy to get the job with perceived infinite opportunities for advancement that they never pay attention to obvious signs that the relationship is not going to work. Obvious things like how is the company doing financially, how does it stand in relation to competitors,  the turnover rate , and how do present and former employees feel about the company.   Employers are guilty of the same thing.  They become so determined to fill a need that they do not spend the time checking background and references. They ignore obvious signs of a potential problem because the candidate says the right things in the interview.  Every employer and employee has the battle scars from these mistakes. Employees have told me of employers who brag about a fun and joking environment that really meant they would have to endure abusive superiors who took pleasure in berating them.  Employers have told me stories of the person who left them with an uneasy feeling but their resume and interview answers were exceptional so they ignored those subtle warnings that are indicative of an employee that will be a problem.

During this time, employers and employees make promises that they feel they never have to keep because they don’t envision this new relationship ever ending. One of those promises is the promise to be bound to a non-compete.  Most employers think a non-compete is an essential ingredient to protect their company, even though their real concern is confidentiality  or non-solicitation.  Employees view non-competes as “standard contracts” than everyone has to sign. If you take anything from this post, I want you to remember two things:  

1. There is no such thing as a standard agreement; and 
2. Everything is negotiable…everything.

With the recent economic downturn, employers are more likely to enforce a non-compete and less likely to look the other way, especially if you are considered to be top talent. IBM, Dell, HP, and Apple have recently been involved in very public disputes over the enforcement of non-competes. To the employee this can mean not getting that great job new job. It can mean having to pursue a new career path or having to move in order to get work.  
The truth is that employers and employees to think before they leap into a non-competition agreement. As a result, here are my 10 tips to consider before proposing or inking that non-compete.
1. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish.
Is the goal of the agreement to protect your confidential/proprietary information? If so, a non-compete may not be necessary. Instead, you should consider using a confidentiality agreement. Too often employers have not defined what they are trying to accomplish. The end result is they use a shotgun when a scalpel is sufficient.

2. Is the restriction reasonable?

States that enforce non-competition agreements are going to require the agreement to be reasonable in duration and geographic scope. What that means is that you are not going to a persuade a court to enforce a non-compete that lasts for eternity and prohibits an employee from working anywhere in the Milky Way galaxy. They will enforce an agreement that prohibits competition for 1,2 or 3 years in the geographic location where a company actually does business. Remember: Less is more. Prudent employers recognize that non-competition agreements that are narrowly tailored will less likely to be challenged in court. Translation. Less legal fees and a greater likelihood your objective will be achieved.

3. Employees: How you are going to get paid while the non-compete is in effect?

 A common complaint from employees is that the non-compete prohibits them from earning a living once they leave their employer. An employee signing a non-compete should consider asking their employer to pay them for the time that they are bound by the non-compete. Although some may think this is a radical idea, it offers distinct advantages to the employer and employee. For the employer, the prospect of having to pay a departed employee its wages has the effect of causing the employer to give serious thought to the duration and geographic scope of the agreement. In addition, by paying an employee during the period of non-competition, the employer has the contractual and moral high ground in the event it has to enforce the agreement. For the employee, it provides an income during the period of non-competition and thereby provides an incentive not to violate the agreement.

4. What happens if your company is sold or you are laid off.

Many employees signing non-competition agreement find themselves bound by that agreement after they are laid off or their employer merges with or is acquired by another company. The time to address these issues is at the beginning of the employment relationship while the prospect of a lay off, merger or acquisition is not on the horizon.

5. Where are you going to dance and what type of music will you be dancing to?

 Lawyers refer to this as venue and choice of law. Venue means the court that will hear any dispute over the non-compete. Savvy employers will insist that cases are heard in jurisdictions that are inclined to enforce non-competes. Choice of law is the law that will apply. Again, employers will insist on jurisdictions that favor enforcement of the agreement. Employees should exercise great care when it comes to venue and choice of law clauses. One of the worst things for an employee to encounter is having to defend against enforcement of or challenge a non-compete in another part of the country. This gives the party with the most money a distinct advantage.

6. Tell prospective employers about your non-compete.

 Many employees try to act like a non-compete does not exist. When the former employer alerts the new employer that the employee is bound by a non-compete, the employee acts surprised when they find themselves out of a job. It is always in the employee’s best interests to allow a prospective employer to view their non-compete. In that way, the new employer can have the agreement vetted by their legal counsel. In many instances, if legal counsel opines that an employee is not barred from working at a company because of a non-compete, the employer will agree to provide their employee with legal defense in the event the past employer seeks to enforce the agreement.

7. Tell your employer that you have accepted the new position.

 Transparency goes a long way. Many employees create problems by not being candid with their employer. Instead, they accept a position with a potential competitor. Once the former employer learns that the employee has accepted the new position, it immediately assumes the worst. Not only does this usually result in litigation, it also jeopardizes any possibility that the employee will be able to return to the company in the future.

8. Make sure you pay consideration to support the non-compete.

Many states require a non-compete to be supported by consideration. Talk to your lawyer to determine what is adequate consideration for a non-compete.

9. Figure out what it is that you need?

This goes back to item 1 which was what are you trying to accomplish. If you want to prohibit a departing employee from raiding your workforce or your customers then have them sign a non-solicitation agreement. If you are trying to protect confidential information such as customer names or other data your company treats as proprietary have the employee sign a confidentiality agreement.

10. Don’t forget about the UTSA and the employee’s duty of loyalty.

Once you, as the employer, define what it is that you are trying to protect, you will find that legal remedies exist that are designed to protect you. Many states, including Washington, recognize that a departing employee has a duty of loyalty to their employer until they leave. In addition, most jurisdictions recognize the Uniform Trade Secrets Act (UTSA) which has a strong enforcement mechanism.  Sometimes these existing legal mechanisms, are adequate to address your concerns.

Rod Stephens: Rod Stephens, of The Stephens Law Firm, brings a unique perspective to the table in that he counsels and represents employers and employees. This provides him with a keen insight into the manner in which employers and employees perceive work-related issues.
Rod is AV rated by Martindale Hubbell, has been recognized in the 2006 Martindale-Hubbell Bar Registry of Preeminent Lawyers, and has been selected as one of Washington Law & Politics magazine’s Super Lawyers from 2000 to 2007. Rod is a frequent speaker at seminars for legal and human resources professionals. To learn more about The Stephens Law Firm go to www.stephenslawfirm.com or Rod’s blog www.employmentadvisoryblog.com

This article originally appeared at Employment Advisory Blog on June 06.2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Honoring Paul Wellstone’s Legacy: Fighting Like Hell for Health Care Reform

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I had the rare privilege of meeting one of my heroes, Paul Wellstone, shortly before his death in 2002 when I visited Washington as part of a conference for high school students interested in politics. We had the opportunity to meet several senators during our time in Washington, but Paul Wellstone treated us differently — more like we were friends coming over for a cup of coffee than a bunch of nerdy high school students on a trip. He insisted that we not call him “senator,” but instead simply Paul.

While other senators were going on and on about their accomplishments or telling corny jokes, Paul went around and asked what issues were important to us and what we were doing currently to advocate for these policies. He suggested ideas about how we could become more involved, more effective, and what other issues we might want to get involved in. He encouraged us “to go out and fight because that was the only way change has ever been achieved.” Paul’s faith in my ability to achieve social change inspired me so much that I spent the rest of my summer volunteering full time to help elect Ed Rendell as governor in Pennsylvania.

A few months later. I was in tears as I listened to the news over NPR that Paul Wellstone and his loving wife, Shelia, had died in a plane crash on their way to a funeral of a steelworker in Northern Minnesota. Paul Wellstone, a tireless champion of the working class served as an inspiration to a generation of activists during the dark days of a decade long Republican reign. For the last seven years, I have kept a photo of Paul Wellstone and me on my desk as a source of inspiration for when the times get tough.

Paul came to the United States Senate under the most unusual of circumstances. He was a college professor who had been arrested protesting with union workers and had previously spent most of his career organizing welfare mothers and poor farmers. No one had expected him to win his first campaign for Senate against an incumbent Republican Senator as he was outspent nearly seven to one. Paul had a secret weapon though his ability to inspire regular people to get out and organize. Unemployed, single mothers held bake sales to help fund his campaign, youth not old enough to vote spent hours volunteering for him. He formed a grassroots army of thousands of ordinary folks and trained them in community organizing.

When Paul Wellstone was elected to the Senate, he never forgot the thousands of ordinary folks that put their hopes and their dreams in him by working to get him elected. He summed up his philosophy about why he was in the Senate by saying, “I don’t represent the big oil companies, the big pharmaceuticals or the big insurance industry. They already have great representation in Washington. Its the rest of the people that need representation.”

Many Senators had referred to Paul as “The Conscience of the Senate.” Only 5 feet 4 inches tall and walking with a severe limp, Wellstone would stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate and rail against corporates interests with the tenacity of the All-American wrestler that he was once. And then he would go back home on the weekends and teach those people how to community organize and fight against the powerful interests that were ruining their lives. Its unknown how many people Wellstone inspired, but to this day you can still see thousands of green bumper stickers in Minnesota with the phrase “W.W.W.D. — What Would Wellstone Do?”

Last week, Al Franken, a friend of Paul’s who had been inspired to run for office by Paul’s death, took back Paul’s old seat from Republican Norm Coleman. After reading, I found myself wondering of what Paul would be doing now if he was still a U.S. senator. Paul had spent the majority of his career in the minority party in the Senate. In his book Conscience of a Liberal, Paul admitted that in his time in the U.S. Senate he spent nearly 85 percent of his time defending against Republican attacks on working families and he never had the opportunity to fight for things like the big reform measures that he craved. I thought about how Paul would be down on the floor of the Senate to talk about the 20,000 people that die every year due to a lack of health coverage, or to talk about how his access to quality health care as a United States senator allowed him to continue having a productive life despite his semi-debilitating multiple sclerosis.

While Paul spent the most of his career in the minority, he did indeed spend a very brief time in the majority in 1993-1994 when Democrats had the opportunity to pass a health care reform. However, Democrats caved to the insurance companies’ lobbyists and no comprehensive health care reform was passed. As Mike Lux, a top Clinton aide at the time argued in his book The Progressive Revolution, Democrats were then swept out of power for their inability to stand up to special interests. Democrats would remain in the wilderness for the rest of Wellstone’s tenure in the Senate.

If Democrats fail to deliver on a strong public health insurance plant that an overwhelming 76% favor according to the Wall Street Journal, they too will fail as a party. Reforming health care is about standing up to the big special interests that are spending $1.4 million every day on an army of lobbyists so that they can continue to deny people the health care they need.

Furthermore, health care reform is literally about saving lives. Democrats should avoid looking for some easy compromise on health care with the insurance industry that would deny some people care in order to score a quick legislative victory.

As Wellstone said, “Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people.”

Beating the insurance industry is going to be one of the toughest fights we as a movement have ever engaged in. Unfortunately, we don’t have Paul Wellstone around to fight for us anymore. However, we do have the people that Wellstone believed in the most — ourselves. So I say its about time that we ask ourselves, What Would Wellstone Do?

Mike Elk: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer and worked previously for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). He works currently as an editor at AlterNet.

This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post on July 14, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Why Can’t We Have Health Benefits As Good As Chuck Grassley?

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Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley gets a pretty sweet deal as Senator on health care. He pays $356.59 per month, and the most he pays when visiting a doctor or hospital is $300. Compare that to your average Iowan family, who would pay almost $600 a month and be on the hook for $5,000 or more if they went to the hospital.

And who pays for Grassley’s benefits? Taxpayers like you and me.

Senator Grassley’s health benefits meet his needs and their affordable. So why can’t people like you and me have something just as good?

Grassley was asked this very question by an Iowa voter at a town hall a few weeks ago. Instead of honestly answering the question, Grassley dismissed it, saying first that the citizen should get a job with John Deere (which recently laid off hundreds in Iowa) and then that the citizen should get a job with the federal government – a job like Senator Grassley’s – if he wanted health care as good.


Outrageous, right? Click here to fight back against Senator Grassley’s comment.

An honest answer to the question would have seen Senator Grassley being straightforward about his position on health care. Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and the Senator currently leading his party in opposition to health reform, is against just about everything President Obama is for on the subject. He signed a letter against a public health insurance option that would lower costs and make health care available to people like me and you, and he’s against asking employers to kick in their fair share towards health reform, another key proposal from President Obama.

Finally, he’s the one who’s been holding up progress on health reform on the Senate Finance Committee. With the House introducing their bill in their three committees today, and the Senate HELP Committee already marking up a bill, that means the Senate Finance Committee is the only committee yet to unveil a health reform bill, in part because Grassley is holding up a “bipartisan compromise.”

But Senator Grassley didn’t tell the assembled Iowans that he’s obstructing health reform and that he’s against giving people coverage as good as he gets – even though a large majority of Iowans support President Obama’s health reform proposals. Instead, he snapped back with a snide remark.

So, in response, can you fill out a job application to work in Senator Grassley’s office, to get health benefits as good as he gets? Working with our local partners, we’ll be delivering the job applications to his offices in Iowa. It’ll make for good TV, and it’ll help drive home the point about Grassley’s obstructionism.

Also, we’re advertising this video online as well, using the image you see above, so every Iowan sees Senator Grassley’s cavalier response to the health care crisis.

Click here to watch the video and fill out your job application. And forward the page on to friends to help us spread the word.

Senators like Chuck Grassley can’t be allowed to get away with obstructing health reform.

Jason Ronsenbaum: Jason Rosenbaum is a writer and musician currently residing in Washington D.C. He is interested in the intersection of politics and culture, media consolidation issues, and making sense out of our foreign policy disasters. He currently works for Health Care for America Now and he is also the webmaster for The Seminal.

This article was originally posted at Health Care for America NOW! on July 14, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Deal or No Deal on Union Contracts

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People want to join unions because it enables them to negotiate for better wages, better working conditions, and, ultimately, a better standard of living.

As I’ve argued in the past, the U.S. needs to reform the arduous course of forming unions in order to rebuild the American middle class. But we also need to focus on the process of negotiating itself. Recent research by Dr. Kate Bronfenbrenner at Cornell University finds that employers frequently continue the campaign of delays and intimidation that lead up to union elections during the negotiation of the union’s first contract. As a result of employers’ often illegal refusal to bargain in good faith, more than half of workplaces still lack a collective bargaining agreement a full year after a union is elected. In 37% of workplaces, there is still no contract two years after the union election. For one in four workplaces, there is still no contract more than three years out. If unions are effectively blocked from achieving anything on their members’ behalf, there is little point in forming a union in the first place.

This discouraging record of contract negotiation explains why the Employee Free Choice Act not only makes it easier to organize a union, but includes measures to ensure that employees and management agree on a first contract swiftly. Under EFCA, if negotiations on a first contract drag on for 90 days without being resolved, either the union or management can refer their dispute to a federal mediator. If the mediator is unable to reach a deal within an additional 30 days, the dispute will go to binding arbitration with the arbitration agreement binding for two years.

While the Drum Major Institute has been strongly critical of binding arbitration in cases where individual employees or consumers face larger and better equipped corporate opponents on what amounts to an uneven playing field, the process is more likely to produce a fair result when unions and companies meet each other as equals over the bargaining table. Indeed, a recent Economic Policy Institute summary of how first contract arbitration works in Canada observed that “with the guarantee of a contract at the end of the process, both sides would focus on actually negotiating instead of stalling or filing unfair labor practices charges.”

When both working people and their employers genuinely aim to come to an agreement about workplace issues, collective bargaining can be a democratic and rational process. Reforming the rules to make mediation and arbitration an option for first contracts will help to ensure that good faith negotiations carry the day.

Amy Traub: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This article originally appeared on DMI Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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