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WTO Ruling Shows Trade Law Can Work for Workers

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Image: James ParksA World Trade Organization (WTO) panel’s ruling in favor of U.S. tariffs on passenger and light truck tires made in China shows “the rules of trade, when vigorously enforced, can be made to work for working people,” United Steelworkers (USW) President Leo Gerard said.

In September 2009, President Obama became the first president to enforce U.S. trade law when he imposed tariffs to protect domestic workers against a surge in tire imports from China. The original complaint came from the USW, and Obama’s decision led to a rebound in the tire industry.

China appealed the decision to the WTO and the ruling was announced yesterday. Gerard applauded the Obama administration for “standing up and defending American jobs in its original decision to impose relief and in its strong defense of that action at the WTO.”

Fair trade law enforcement should be the standard of our government in requiring China to fulfill its obligations under its accession agreement with the WTO more than a decade ago.

“This is a major victory for the United States and particularly for American workers and businesses,” U.S. Trade Rep. Ron Kirk said in a statement.

We have said all along that our imposition of duties on Chinese tires was fully consistent with our WTO obligations. It is significant that the WTO panel has agreed with us, on all grounds.

This is the latest in a series of wins for U.S. workers in their battle to level the trade playing field against China. The USW has filed a series of complaints against illegal and improper trade practices by China’s government.

In the past few months, the Obama administration has accepted a USW complaint against subsidies to clean energy manufacturers by China’s government and the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) in October ordered duties imposed on paper products illegally dumped in the United States by China’s government.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris


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The 4.0 Career Is Coming… Are You Ready?

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Douglas LaBierEven in the midst of our economic disaster that’s hitting all but the wealthiest Americans, a transformation is continuing within people’s orientation to work. I call it the rise of the 4.0 career.

This growing shift concerns how men and women think about and pursue their careers. It also defines the features of organizations that they want to work for and commit to. This shift that I describe below transcends its most visible form: Generation X’s and, especially, Generation Y’s attitudes and behavior in the workplace. Those are part of a broader shift whose origins are within men and women at the younger end of the baby boomer spectrum.

I first encountered this while interviewing yuppies (remember them?) in the 1980s for my book “Modern Madness, about the emotional downside of career success. I often found that people would want to talk about a gnawing feeling of wanting something more “meaningful” from their work. They didn’t have quite the right language back then to express what that would look like other than feeling a gap between their personal values and the trade-offs they had to make to keep moving up in their careers and companies. The positive ideals of the 60s seemed to have trickled down into their yearnings, where they remained a kind of irritant.

Flashing forward 25 years, those people are now today’s midlife baby boomers. Their earlier irritation has bloomed into consciously expressed attitudes and behavior that have filtered down into the younger generations, where they’ve continued to evolve. Today, they’re reshaping how people think about and pursue their careers within today’s era of interconnection, constant networking and unpredictable change.

I’ll oversimplify for the sake of highlighting an evolution of people’s career orientations:

Career Versions 1.0, 2.0, 3.0… And The Emerging 4.0

The 1.0 career describes doing whatever kind of work enables you to survive. It’s what people do when they’re in situations of extreme hardship, political upheaval, or within socioeconomic conditions that limit their opportunity and choices. That probably describes the situation for the masses of people throughout most of history. And of course it exists today, especially among those who have been hardest hit by the current recession. In these situations, your criterion for “success” is being able to earn enough of a living to survive — pay your bills and support your family. The conflicts that people experience within the 1.0 career often include the impact of working conditions, discrimination and limited opportunities for getting onto a career path that can lead to something better.

Version 2.0 emerged with the political and economic environments that supported the emergence of the modern “career.” That is, work within increasingly large, bureaucratic organizations that developed from about the late 1800s into the early 20th century. Those organizations required layers of management and administration — white-collar jobs, within bureaucracies. Your career could advance along a defined path, and it was available to people who were able to gain a foothold within it. That path was often facilitated by educational opportunities and/or social class advantages people brought with them.

The 2.0 career is what most people define as “careerism:” Pursuing more power, authority, money and position within an organization. It’s all about performing — doing whatever gets you those external rewards. Our career culture begins conditioning many of us that way in childhood, as Madeline Levine described in her book, “The Price of Privilege.” It probably even contributes to the widespread experience of ADD.

Over time, you become set up for conflicts between performing to get those rewards on the one hand, and your internal desire to achieve something of deeper value, on the other. The 2.0 career still predominates within today’s career culture. It’s where you find the conditions that generate, for example, work-life conflict, boredom, workplace bullying, hostile management practices, and subtle racial and gender barriers to moving up.

The TV show “Madmen” highlights much of the experiences of the 2.0 career, and it predominated until harbingers of the 3.0 career began to appear during the last 20 years. The 3.0 career reflects a desire to find more personal meaning and sense of purpose through work. That’s what I began to find among members of the baby boomer generation when I interviewed them in their younger years.

The 3.0 careerist struggles for more balance between work and personal life, and is less willing than the 2.0 careerist to stick with an unfulfilling job, or settle for one when job-hunting. Conflicts within the 3.0 orientation are visible, for example, in the pushback against the longer hours companies increasingly pressure people into. Or, in rebellion against being available 24/7, even while on a vacation. Also, an increasing number of people say that moving up is a downer for them. For example, a Families and Work Institute report found that promotions are being turned down by workers in the thick of their careers. Workers used to be eager to take on more responsibility, and now they aren’t as much.

A woman in her 40s expressed that theme, saying, “Simply put, I want more fun in my life.” She added that there was “too much disconnect” between her duties as Chief Operation Officer — including managing her staff and dealing with the other people on the senior management team — and what she described as the “neglected me, this person hiding inside the roles I have to perform every day.” She said, “I’m going to do something different at this point, no matter what kind of adjustments I have to make.”

The 3.0 careerists do not want their professional lives to be the enemy of their talents or interests outside work. They want less fragmentation and more integration among the different parts of their lives. More than just having a successful career, they want their careers to serve and support a successful personal life.

That latter point distinguishes the 3.0 from the emerging 4.0 career. The former is more self-development-focused. In contrast, the 4.0 careerist wants more than sufficient work-life balance and personal meaning. To be sure, those remain important. But the 4.0 career is more focused on having impact on something larger than oneself.

In essence, the 4.0 careerist is motivated by a sense of service to and connection with the larger human community through the product or service he or she contributes to. The vehicle for this is the opportunity for continuous new learning and creative growth, through which you use your talents and capacities for having a positive impact on human lives, through your work.

This is the future. You’re likely to be feeling the pull towards the 4.0 career. And even if you’re not, you need to know how to work with those who are. For example, the most savvy men and women already know that today’s workplace requires a high level of collaboration with very diverse people. You need to align your talents and skills with common objectives, whether a product or service. That means diminishing your ego, learning to “forget yourself” in the service of teamwork towards that larger purpose, while also constantly looking for opportunities for learning, growth and having impact.

From the 4.0 perspective, you move through self-interest, not into it. You’re tuned in to the larger picture, in which you’re one player, while finding ways to make a positive contribution to the service or product. It includes being aware of how you’re perceived by others, and scanning for ways to be collaborative rather than self-promoting at others’ expense. As a CEO recently commented, “the definition of success is the company, not an individual.”

Consistent with the above themes, the 4.0 careerist wants to work for a company that practices and values positive leadership, transparency, informality, collaboration, high ethical standards, innovation… and is also a fun place to work. They want companies that promote and value diversity and an equitable reward system for achievement. Within them, people work hard but also have fun.

The 4.0 career is visible in the pull men and women report towards wanting to contribute to the common good — whether it’s through the value and usefulness of a product or service. That theme links the 4.0 career with the emerging new business model focused on creating sustainable enterprises and the “triple bottom line” — financial, social and environmental measures of success. It combines financial success with contributing to social needs and problems. This is “social entrepreneurialism” — the movement towards creating successful businesses that also contribute to the solution of social problems. In effect, the 4.0 careerist thinks of work as a vehicle for change and influence upon the larger human community.

A Broad Movement

I mentioned above that Generations X and Y embody many of the characteristics of the 4.0 career. I’ll describe their contributions to this evolution in a future post. But it’s clearly a broad movement transcending generations.

For example, a survey of 8,000 workers across all age groups and occupations by Concours Group found that the most productive, energized workers gravitate towards companies that provide opportunities for ongoing learning, growth and creative challenge. They want their work to have a positive impact on something more meaningful than just the narrower rewards of money, position, or power. And, they want the service or product they work on to have a positive impact on people’s lives. Regarding older workers, the New Face of Work Survey conducted by the MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures found similar trends among older baby boomers. It reports that half of that group say they’re looking to shift their careers in a direction that would provide more service to others.

And, a 2007 survey by MonsterTRAK found that 80 percent of those surveyed said they want a job that has a positive impact on the environment. And 92 percent said they would choose working for a “green” company. Other research shows employees working at companies with corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs are the most satisfied. They stay at their jobs longer and are more content with senior management then their peers at companies with lackluster CSR programs, according to a survey conducted by Kenexa Research Institute.

How The 4.0 Careerist Thinks And Behaves

Here are some ways to assess yourself and your work environment in relation to the 4.0 careerist. Do you find:

  • Ways to contribute something positive to people’s lives, whether through the product or service, regardless of your status within the company.
  • Opportunities for new learning, continued growth and expanding your skills and competencies.
  • A positive, fun work environment that makes you look forward to going to work.
  • A safe and nontoxic office environment and building, including sufficient natural light, and green equipment and furniture.
  • Open communication and feedback, up and down.
  • A team-oriented, innovative and challenging work culture.
  • Employee recognition and reward programs that are fairly applied.
  • Positive, supportive leadership and management practices, including corporate citizenship, ethics, transparency and corporate responsibility practices.
  • Commitment to diversity in hiring and promotion of employees, including differences of gender, racial/ethnic group, and sexual orientation.
  • Support for workers’ well-being, through wellness programs, exercise, stress management, flextime and other programs, not surface gestures like free coffee and soda.

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

About The Author: Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., a business psychologist and psychotherapist, is Director of the Center for Progressive Development, in Washington, D.C. You may contact him at [email protected]


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When Your Hat is Gray, Not Black or White

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Image: Bob RosnerThe arbiter of all things popular, Google, last Saturday said that Internet search was dominated by three topics: the suicide death of ponzi scam king Bernie Madoff’s son, the 2010 Army Navy football game and Santacon 2010 in New York City.

Okay, I probably weakened my point about Mark Madoff by bringing up the football game and Santacon, but how do you ever pass on a Santacon reference? I certainly couldn’t.

Mark Madoff’s life is simultaneously, something that very few people can relate to and also an amazing prism for everyone trying to navigate to choppy waters of today’s workplace. Before I explain, let me give a quick refresher course.

Madoff’s dad created a sink hole that eventually swallowed relatives, friends and some top charities. The more you think about what happened, the more you think that Bernie could be nominated as the top sociopath of this century. Okay, it’s early in the century, but you don’t see evil like that very often.

But remember, it was Mark who turned in his dad to authorities. Okay, some could argue that he saw it all coming and called the cops earlier, but at least he finally put an end to any additional financial bleeding.

The narrative immediately after Mark’s suicide is that it was timed with the second anniversary of the scam being discovered and by the inclusion of Mark’s kids in the lawsuits to recovery money from people who profited from Bernie’s evil finally pushed him over the edge.

Unemployable, disgraced and facing the prospect of years of litigation for everyone who shared his family name and friends you can understand the desperation. But the goal of this blog isn’t to make you feel sorry for Mark. It’s to make you aware of the ever present law of unintended consequences.

Sure, Mark knowingly or unknowingly profited from his father’s business ventures for years. He held high positions in the company. And yes, some can argue that there were actually legitimate, money making components of the Madoff business, in addition to the ponzi scam.

But once the enterprise started to crumble, the guilty, the innocent and everyone in between got painted by the same broad brush of shame and retribution.

I actually applaud the attempts to recover money for the people who lost everything. And I understand the scorn that people feel who never had anything to lose but who were asked to feel sorry for these rich people who are crying over their loss of stature and sustenance.

What’s the point for the rest of us? The importance of avoiding questionable financial dealings whenever you see them. From Enron to Lehman, the rule of too good to be true still applies.

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. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


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Class Warfare and Korea “Free Trade”: An Open Letter to UAW, My Union

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Jonathan TasiniSo-called “free trade” is part of the relentless class warfare under way in America. And the so-called “free trade” deal with South Korea is no exception. That said, a lot of the shallow criticism of the UAW’s support for the deal is–well, shallow. Here’s my view about how we should engage the UAW–my union–via an open letter to the union’s president.

December 9th 2010

Bob King
President
UAW
8000 East Jefferson
Detroit, MI  48214

Dear Bob:

Over the past few weeks, I keep coming back to one question: where do we draw the line to oppose the unrelenting class warfare now under way in our country, and the rest of the world?

From listening to the rhetoric and watching the back-slapping among members of the deficit commission, Democrats and Republicans, we have a bi-partisan agreement, apparently, that working Americans have to “share the pain” for an economic crisis that they had no hand in creating; our president buys into the mantra of a phony debt “crisis” and, then promptly turns around and stands ready to treat the already-staggeringly wealthy top one percent to hundreds of billions of dollars of the U.S. Treasury’s bank account; Wall Street bonuses are back in bullish amounts; and corporate profits are at record levels, partly because of a plague of slashing jobs that will not come back.

When do we say finally: no more, enough is enough.

And, then, there is the South Korean Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). In my view, this deal is another disaster for the working people of this country, and for the world. I hope that you, and others, read the concerns I raise about this deal in the spirit in which they were written.

First, we’ve known each other a very long time. As a proud UAW member, I think of you not only as one of the most progressive and visionary leaders in the labor movement but also as a person of enormous integrity. When you took office this year, you said, “We are one union. We are one society, and we are one world. If we don’t stand up and fight for our own membership in every sector and if we don’t stand up and fight for all workers in the world to get fair wages and benefits, we will never have the power we need to win back the things we’ve given up.” [emphasis added]

And you want our union to live those words. You just spearheaded a rally in Michigan on December 6th to support Hyundai workers who are engaged in a bitter strike in South Korea because you understand the nature of global solidarity. As you said at the rally, “Bosses around the world, even at tremendously profitable corporations like Hyundai, are trying to reduce the number of permanent workers and expand the number of temporary workers, weakening the middle class. We want permanent, middle-class standard of living jobs for every person working in the world.”

Second, I also understand that, while it is easy for liberal/progressive observers to sit back in the comfort of their offices or homes and pontificate from hundreds of miles away about “fighting” and “not selling out”, you have to fulfill your mission to protect the livelihoods of UAW members, livelihoods that have been under brutal assault from transnational auto companies for the past two decades. While I understand both intellectually and emotionally what our sisters and brothers face, I know you grapple with this every day you walk into the office.

Almost two decades ago, I remember exactly where I was standing when NAFTA passed: Mazey’s bar at the union’s Black Lake education center. We had just finished the day working to build coalitions between the UAW and non-UAW activists—the mission that our Region 9A leadership, under then-Director Phil Wheeler, had dedicated the week to. We gathered around the television bracketed on the wall to watch the vote. At the end, when the vote was announced, I remember thinking: this is the end of the American middle class.

NAFTA was a disaster. Not just because it ruined the lives of millions of American, Mexican and Canadian workers. As important, it became the model for all future so-called “free trade” agreements: protect capital and investors. In my view, the South Korea deal is baked in the same NAFTA mold.

People are going to argue about whether the concessions given to the UAW in the KORUS were sufficient in terms of significant changes in tariffs or rules of origin and other similar issues. I’m going to stay away from those points in part because I think that whether X or Y cars will be allowed into Korea gets us down into the weeds and misses some crucial points:

  1. Is This Deal Worth The Paper It Is Written On When It Comes To Enforcement?
  1. Can The President Be Trusted?
  1. Does This Transform The Debate About Global Fairness?

A quick observation about why I use the term so-called “free trade”. There simply is no such thing as “free trade”, at least not if we are talking about the NAFTA model. “Free trade” is as real as the phony government deficit-debt “crisis”, as real as the Wall Street “reforms” (that left mostly the same people in charge of the financial system, making it almost a certainty we will have another financial calamity) and as real as Robert Reich’s promise that if we all just get smarter and get a college education, we’ll be fine (no one uses the absurd term “symbolic analyst” anymore and thank god for that).

I could write a “free trade” agreement in 10 pages, okay, maybe 20. But, these deals are hundreds and thousands of pages long because they are very much managed and tightly controlled corporate trade—-they set forth very specific, detailed protections for capital and investor rights (particularly, the Chapter 11 rules).

And the sooner we stop repeating the term “free trade”—which is a great marketing phrase because who isn’t for something “free” and who doesn’t want to trade—the better for the American people and our understanding of what is really afoot here: we are being robbed by these trade deals. Not simply because of the off-shoring of jobs. But because NAFTA-style trade is based on one thing and one thing only: wage and regulation arbitrage.

Every NAFTA-style deal essentially sets up a framework that allows companies to move production in search of low wages and/or undermine regulations that protect people and communities. That is what trade is about today.

You were right when you said that if “we don’t stand up and fight for all workers in the world to get fair wages and benefits, we will never have the power we need to win back the things we’ve given up.”

Respectfully, every NAFTA-style so-called “free trade” deal pushes us further from the vision that you so passionately and powerfully speak of.

They are playing us. People against people. Worker against worker. Community against community.

Enforcement: A Sham

In the past, the UAW initially made clear, in its own testimony, that the “KORUS FTA has inadequate protections and enforcement mechanisms to enforce either the spirit or the letter of the law.”

Now, the UAW’s statement in support of the South Koreal deal says that the language of the agreement “includes labor and environmental commitments”. It goes on to say: “This agreement is an important step toward a global rule-based trade system, an important step in giving labor a real voice in trade negotiations. We look forward to working with the Obama Administration on the issue of global rights for workers — especially the right to organize and bargain collectively.”

I don’t see the progress.

As I understand it, the deal keeps in the very same NAFTA-style, Bush Administration language that prevents the deal from living up to the conventions of the International Labor Conventions (ILO). To be sure, the ILO’s conventions lack much in the way of enforcement power. But, when these NAFTA-style trade deals try to even keep high-minded ILO rhetoric from muddying the waters, what are we to think?

That enforcement is a sham.

In February 2008, I posed a challenge to then-candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who were both pledging to renegotiate NAFTA in order to enhance enforcement of labor and environmental enforcement. As you recall, the labor and environmental provisions were added on to NAFTA because that was the only way to buy a handful of Democratic votes to ram through the agreement.

NAFTA enforcement was supposed to have been under the purview of the Commission for Labor Cooperation (CLC). The CLC was supposed to be funded, partly by the U.S., via a $2 million-a year appropriation, which would have meant that, over the period between 1993 and 2005, the CLC would have had $22 million from the U.S.

But, as Public Citizen found:

In another example of the gap between promised authorizations and actual funds appropriated to such programs, the CLC has only been granted $7.2 million of the $22 million it was authorized to receive from the United States as of 2005, or less than a third of the promised amount.

The game was rigged from the beginning. For argument’s sake, let’s say the CLC got the full $22 million? Would that have been sufficient?

I like to use this analogy. In the U.S., we have accepted, under Democratic and Republican Administrations alike, that injury, illness and death in the workplace are a cost of living in the wonders of the “free market”. We make a show of enforcement—-the same show that was proposed for NAFTA enforcement—-but the truth is that the system embraced, in a bipartisan way, does very little to ensure a safe workplace.

Here’s what the AFL-CIO found in its 2007 report [the emphasis is mine]:

At its current staffing and inspection levels, it would take federal OSHA 133 years to inspect each workplace under its jurisdiction just once. In seven states (Florida, Delaware, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, Maryland, and South Dakota), it would take more than 150 years for OSHA to pay a single visit to each workplace. In 18 states, it would take between 100 and 149 years to visit each workplace once. Inspection frequency is better in states with OSHA-approved plans, yet still far from satisfactory. In these states, it would now take the state OSHA’s a combined 62 years to inspect each worksite under state jurisdiction once.

The current level of federal and state OSHA inspectors provides one inspector for every 63,670 workers. This compares to a benchmark of one labor inspector for every 10,000 workers recommended by the International Labor Organization for industrialized countries. In the states of Arkansas, Florida, Delaware, Nebraska, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, the ratio of inspectors to employees is greater than 1/100,000 workers.

When the AFL-CIO issued its first report “Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect” in 1992, federal OSHA could inspect workplaces under its jurisdiction once every 84 years, compared to once every 133 years at the present time. Since the passage of the OSHAct, the number of workplaces and number of workers under OSHA’s jurisdiction has more than doubled, while at the same time the number of OSHA staff and OSHA inspectors has been reduced. In 1975, federal OSHA had a total of 2,405 staff (inspectors and all other OSHA staff) responsible for the safety and health of 67.8 million workers at more than 3.9 million establishments. In 2005, there were 2,208 federal OSHA staff responsible for the safety and health of more than 131.5 million workers at 8.5 million workplaces.

The 2008 OSHA budget proposed $490 million. Yes, that was a Bush budget. But, even in Democratic Administrations, OSHA has always been underfunded given the task described above. The 2010 Obama budget proposed a $559 million—-a significant increase but still inadequate.

So, think about that for a moment: we have an entirely inadequate system in this country just to watch over safety and health in the workplace, funded at a miniscule level of several hundred million dollars—and, yet, we even more ludicrously proposed, in the past, to oversee labor rights enforcement over three countries (the U.S., Mexico and Canada) at a laughingly pathetic and criminal level of a couple of million bucks?

The fact is enforcement is a farce. It was a farce created to buy a few votes to jam NAFTA through a Democratic Congress. It was a farce concocted by a Democratic president and his Labor secretary (Robert Reich), who were both full-throated champions of NAFTA and so-called “free trade”.

It is not clear to me how the agreement with Korea to enforce labor rights is anything but a continuance of the farce. There is simply no way—no way—that these provisions can be enforced. None. Please explain how I am mistaken.

But, here is a larger point: there is no enforcement that can work. Ever.
The problem is not enforcement of NAFTA-like agreements.

It is NAFTA-style trade itself and its very conception and framework. Labor and environmental rights are slapped on as add-ons to deals that are sideshows to the meat of these agreements—protecting capital and investors’ rights. We cannot “fix” NAFTA-style trade deals unless we destroy the fundamental motivation behind them—lower wages and a careful obliteration of every reasonable regulation to protect individuals.

We are being played. People against people. Worker against worker. Community against community.

The President’s Promises

This president cannot be trusted. I don’t mean that in some Tom Delay-Newt Gingrich venal “he will lie” manner. I believe that he is who he is—-and who he has always been: a person who believes in marketing phrases like “free trade” and the “free market”, a person who surrounds himself first and foremost with the Robert Rubins of the world; and, regretfully, a person who does not have the best interests of organized labor as a first and overriding principle.

It is also not clear to me, as a political matter, how he can help. He appears unwilling or unable to fight. Why do we think he will go to the mat for organizing rights when he will cave in and let the raiding of the U.S. Treasury by the richest people in the land continue, even after those richest people have pocketed a king’s ransom in wealth over the past 30 years?

He has promised to aid our organizing efforts, particularly in the South. Why should we believe he has a strategy to do so, beyond rhetoric? If we learned anything from the recent tax fight, it isn’t going to happen. The expiration of the tax breaks for the wealth was something he, and the rest of the Democratic Party, knew was coming from the first day the president took office.

So, a reasonable person could ask: why did he not take that on from the get-go when he was riding high? Why not take that mandate then, when he had the attention of the people (in a good way) and say, “today, we are taking a first step towards ending class warfare in America”.

Because there was no strategy.

So, I am skeptical that there is a winning strategy behind the promises on organizing.

Transforming The Debate

Even if you believe that you could find enough money to deploy inspectors all around the world and even if you are willing to believe that this president—or any president in the current political environment—will fight for the UAW at the cost of alienating large corporate contributors, there is a much bigger challenge:

How do we stop the stupefying, unrelenting class warfare of which so-called “free trade” is an integral piece?

Where do we draw the line?

Sure, each union, for the price of its support, can get a few concessions in any so-called “free trade” deal. We can get jobs some jobs. I certainly can imagine, given the dire predicament of UAW members, that any promise of some jobs is welcome.

But at what price?

Is the price of a hammering down of wages worth it—because that is precisely what will happen if we continue to let the NAFTA-style of trade grown and mutate.

Is it worth letting another NAFTA-style deal pass which is a link in a chain that connects tax cuts for the rich, the growing divide between rich and poor, the decline of union power, and Wall Street greed?

At the end of the day, if the UAW has to support this agreement, I understand the real world: we have very little power to get a better deal right now. In some peoples’ minds, we’ve gotten very little from fighting these NAFTA-style deals over the past two decades. True, nothing good has come from these rancid products.

But, let’s not, to abuse the cliché, put lipstick on a pig. Why not simply say: this deal stinks but it is the best we can get. “Free trade” is a disaster for the working people of the world. But, we have to swallow this bitter pill because of our weakness today.

I am planning on posting this letter on my blog and would also do so for any thoughts you had in response. I think these issues are crucial for labor to consider and I think a lot of people would be interested in your point of view.

Solidarity,

Jonathan

This article was originally posted on Working Life.

About the Author Jonathan Tasini: is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.


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Bloomberg’s Job Killing Budget Cuts

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amytraub4It’s the city’s ninth round of budget cuts in three fiscal years, and the most brutal. Mayor Bloomberg calls for 6,201 layoffs of public workers in the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years. Instead of responding at our firehouses, serving our frail elderly, and helping job-seekers perfect their resumes on the library computer, former New York City employees will instead crowd the unemployment lines – where, given the fact that there is just one job opening for every five Americans looking for work, they are likely to remain for some time. But this understates the impact on New York’s economy.

When we lay off public workers, we not only lose the services they provided to New Yorkers but also their spending power as city residents. As a result, laying off 6,200 New York City workers means destroying an additional 1,860 private sector jobs. The last thing New York needs is another 8,000+ jobless.

Think about it: the administrative worker in the city finance department who used to support her family on $45,000 a year now qualifies for a maximum $405 a week in unemployment benefits. She’ll buy cheaper groceries, cancel the cable, pull the kid out of ballet lessons, and put off the next shoe purchase, for starters. Suddenly the neighborhood grocery store, shoe shop and ballet studio have lost revenue: multiply that and they’ll quickly be ready for more layoffs of their own. Small businesses already on the edge may close up shop completely. In the meantime, New York taxpayers pick up the tab for her unemployment benefits as our former city worker searches in vain for a new job. It’s a bad deal all around.

Worse still, destroying 8,000 jobs in New York City is completely unnecessary. Economists find that progressive tax increases on higher income households do far less economic harm than spending cuts and layoffs. As the Fiscal Policy Institute has pointed out, New York City could raise $1 billion by raising personal income taxes on residents making more than $250,000 a year while still reducing taxes for lower-income households. Studies at the national and state level find that wealthy taxpayers do not flee tax increases in significant numbers. Yet Mayor Bloomberg has categorically ruled out such an increase, arguing that killing jobs and decimating city services is preferable.

DC37, a public employees’ union with a big stake in avoiding city job cuts, has identified still more sources of new revenue. The city could more seriously enforce its existing tax laws on billboards and cell phone antennas, for example, and could crack down on inappropriate property tax exemptions, making certain that when non-profits sell land to for-profit companies, property taxes are once again levied on those previously exempt parcels. Yet there’s no sign that these common sense proposals are on the table either.

This article was originally posted on DMI Blog.

About the Author: 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. 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.


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Puerto Rico’s working families to appeal Governor’s massive layoffs

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Image: Kate ThomasIn July 2008, Republican Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño enacted Law 7 in a two-day period. He then invoked the law in 2009, effectively firing 28,000 employees across all sectors of public services–and all without demonstrating any alternative solutions or proving financial necessity.

As a direct result of Law 7, thousands of working people who provide essential services in education, healthcare, the environment, and social services in Puerto Rico have lost their livelihoods, while the Commonwealth citizens have endured a dramatic loss of essential services.

Today at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit (located here in Boston, MA), 28,000 working families throughout Puerto Rico represented by lead plaintiffs from the Central Federation of Workers (UFCW), the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), the Service Employees International Union SPT 1996 (SEIU) and the United Auto Workers (UAW) will hear opening arguments.

This article was originally published on SEIU.org.

For more information regarding this case, you can contact Meghan Finegan at [email protected]

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.



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It’s A Long Road To Justice

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ellen simonFederal Employee Wins Appeal On Sex And Age Discrimination Claim

Lawyers representing employees in discrimination cases are forever frustrated by federal district court judges whom routinely grant summary judgment to employers instead of allowing cases to proceed to trial for a jury determination.

This recent case of Bartlett v.Gates, in which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court’s summary judgment ruling, is a perfect example of what we potentially face on every case no matter what kind of evidence has been produced.

What Happened In The Case

Barry Bartlett worked for the United States Department of Defense at the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). In September of 2005, he applied for a promotion to GS-12 contracting officer.   At the time of his application, Bartlett was 58 years old and had 34 years of experience as a GS-11 contract administrator. In addition, Bartlett’s resume showed:

  • a record of military service
  • a bachelor’s degree in history
  • completed graduate course work in business administration, accounting and law

Bartlett was deemed qualified at the initial screening stage and his name was forwarded to Kathleen Lehman, the selecting official for the promotion.

Another long term employee, Marvin Greenberg, also applied for the position. Greenberg was 63 years old at the time of his application. His resume showed:

  • a bachelor’s and doctoral degrees
  • authorship of a length book and numerous scholarly publications
  • a 27 year tenure at DCMA

In October of 2005, without conducting any interviews, Lehman chose Angela Lucas for the promotion. Lucas, another internal candidate, was 39 years old at the time and did not have a college degree.

Bartlett claimed that between 2003 and 2005, employees who were 55 years or older received only one DCMA promotion, despite making up 36% of the agency’s workforce. He also claimed that female employees were promoted in a series of personnel decisions that involved the manipulation of agency procedures.

Bartlett decided to challenge the decision. In February of 2007, after exhausting his administrative remedies, he filed a lawsuit against the DCMA claiming that he was discriminated against because of his age and sex in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment which was referred to a magistrate for a report and recommendation. In October of 2008, the magistrate issued a report which found that Bartlett established a prima facie case of discrimination under Title VII, but the DCMA provided a non-discriminatory reason for its promotion decision and Plaintiff failed to rebut it by showing pretext.

The federal district court judge adopted the recommendation and granted Defendant’s motion for summary judgment against Bartlett. He appealed.

 

The Sixth Circuit Reverses

Burden of Proof Under The Title VII  And The ADEA

Under McDonnell Douglas, a plaintiff may establish a prima facie case of discrimination in a failure to promote case when he:

  • is a member of a protected class
  • objectively qualified for the position
  • considered for but is denied the promotion
  • an individual outside of plaintiff’s protected class is selected for the position

Once the plaintiff presents a prima facie case of discrimination, the burden shifts to the employer to articulate a nondiscriminatory reason for its action. In order to overcome summary judgment, the plaintiff must produce evidence which can rebut the employer’s explanation demonstrating pretext – which means “only enough evidence … to rebut, but not to disprove, the defendant’s proffered rationale.”

A plaintiff can prove pretext with evidence that the employer’s stated reason for its adverse business action either

  • has no basis in fact
  • was not the actual reason, or
  • is insufficient to explain the employer’s action

It’s worth noting that the Sixth Circuit in this decision joined a number of other circuits in holding that age discrimination claims — post Gross– should continue to be analyzed under McDonnell Douglas.

The Court’s Analysis Of The Evidence

Since the Defendant conceded that Bartlett established a prima facie case of discrimination the appeal turned on Defendant’s explanation for its decision, and whether Bartlett presented sufficient evidence of pretext to rebut it.

As to its reason, Defendant claimed that Angela Lucas was the best qualified candidate based on the written submissions of the applicants and Lehman’s personal knowledge of their background, performance, work product, and communication abilities.

It further claimed that Lucas was highly motivated, very experienced and a strong communicator who had earned performance awards and commendations of her peers.

Bartlett, it claimed in contrast, was an average employee who lacked a sufficient background in contract negotiations as well as a strong writing ability.

Bartlett offered several grounds of support for his argument for that Defendant’s reasons were pretextual.

Relative Qualifications

As the Court noted, the relative qualifications of applicants as well as discriminatory remarks may establish pretext in a failure to promote case.

In this case, the Court pointed to:

  • Bartlett’s 24 years of experience as a contract administrator: Lucas had 8
  • Bartlett’s superior educational credentials including a bachelor’s degree and advanced course work: Lucas did not graduate from college
  • Bartlett’s communication skills, as well as those of Greenberg, which were satisfactory if not superior to Lucas’s as evidenced by favorable performance reviews, education credentials, and scholarly publications and familiarity in the area of contract negotiations.

The Court stated:

Construing the fact in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, we find that while Plaintiff may not have been a “plainly superior candidate” that rendered a DCMA’s promotion decision unreasonable on its face …Plaintiff was as qualified if not more qualified than Lucas.

Although this finding does not conclusively establish pretext, it warrants denial of summary judgment where other probative evidence of discrimination is presented.

Discriminatory Remarks

As the Court noted, discriminatory remarks may constitute direct evidence of discrimination and also serve as evidence of pretext.

In this case, Bartlett presented evidence that his supervisor, Gail Lewin, and the selecting official Kathleen Lehman:

  • informed him that 34 years on the job was enough
  • joked about whether he had taken up “antiquing or traveling or something like that”
  • suggested that he should retire – a topic which Bartlett had neither broached nor considered

The Court stated:

Because these statements were made by DCMA decisionmakers just weeks before the promotion decision and because the ostensible motivation of the comments was to hasten Plaintiff’s departure from the agency, these remarks provide strong ‘probative evidence of pretext.’

Furthermore, when coupled with record evidence that Plaintiff was as qualified if not more qualified that the selectee, these statements created triable issues of fact on the question of pretext.

Defendant’s Explanation Was Not Believable

In addition, the Court held that Bartlett had presented evidence of pretext because the reason given for its failure to promote him was not credible.

As the Court noted, Lehman testified that she made the decision that Lucas was the best qualified candidate without conducting interviews because she was familiar with the applicants experience, backgrounds, and competency. However, when asked, Lehman was unable to answer basic questions about the candidates’ qualifications.

The Court noted:

The fact that Lehman was unable to describe the candidates’ credentials creates a triable issue of fact as to the actual basis for Defendant’s promotion decision, suggesting it was pretext for discrimination based on sex and age.

In sum, the Court concluded that Bartlett presented sufficient evidence to suggest that DCMA’s proffered explanation for its promotion decision was pretextual, and had no basis in fact. Accordingly, DCMA was not entitled to summary judgment.

The case was reversed and remanded for trial.

Take Away

This case is a good example of something that’s often wrong with many federal court decisions when it comes to employment discrimination cases.

When reviewing summary judgment motions, trial court judges are, according to the Supreme Court “required to view all facts and draw all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” In employment discrimination cases, the nonmoving party is almost always the plaintiff employee.

It’s no secret to plaintiffs’ employment lawyers that, for some reason, many trial court judges fail to abide by this requirement in case after case and instead seem to draw all inferences in favor the employer.

The result of what appears to be this employer oriented approach in discrimination cases, or as some call it  — a hostility on the federal bench to employment cases —is a clogging of the docket with summary judgment motions and appeals, as well as considerable delay and expense to both sides.

It also encourages management side lawyers to file summary judgment motions in every case no matter what record of evidence has been established by the plaintiff because they just might win – and just might get affirmed or the employee might just get worn down and give up.

Mr. Bartlett filed his lawsuit in 2007. The events giving rise to claim occurred in 2005. While it’s a great victory to have won the reversal in the Court of Appeals, let’s not forget that it’s almost 2011 – and that all he has won thus far is his right to get a trial and have his case decided by a jury.

The reality is that if someone chooses to litigate an employment discrimination case, it’s virtually certain that it’s going to be a long road to justice.

This article was originally posted on Employee Rights Post.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the leading  employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. She offers legal advice to individuals on employment rights, age/gender/race and disability discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment. With a unique grasp of the issues, Ellen’s a sought-after legal analyst who discusses high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and woman’s issues. Her blog, Employee Rights Post has dedicated readers who turn to Ellen for her advice and opinion. For more information go to www.ellensimon.net.

 


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Diminished Expectations

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Image: Bob RosnerIn my last blog I wrote about the huge profits that corporations made during the third quarter of 2010. $1.695 trillion, give or take a few bucks. Okay, I whined a bit about corporations hoarding this money and not giving our economy a chance to build back its consumer marketplace by hiring new employees.

Here is an interesting survey outlining the curious place where we’ve all ended up as the recession drags on and on (I know that economists are convinced that the recession is over, but with an official 9.8% unemployment rate, and an unofficial one approaching 20%, I beg to disagree with them).

HR Solutions, recently surveyed 30,000 employees, and their results put an interesting spin on where workers are at today in trying to respond to tough times. The number one employee request, according to their survey, a higher salary. Okay, that was to be expected.

But some of the other comments that were at the top of the list might surprise you.

Employees are pleased with their coworkers.
Employees like the atmosphere of their organization.
Employees are pleased with flexible work hours.

Compare this to 2006, the last time the company surveyed workers. Back then some of the top comments were, “workloads are too heavy” and “departments are understaffed.” Apparently we have accepted a new reality of the workplace. That’s its going to be leaner, meaner and we should all be grateful to even have a job.

Okay, asking for a raise did make the cut. But it’s stunning how much workers have just decided that any job is better than no job and are putting up with huge sacrifices.

I know what you’re thinking. Duh. So what is new here?

In a remarkably short period of time we’ve gone from a workplace where talent had clout to one where talent is scared to speak up.

Enjoy your profits corporate America. Because at the same time I’ve seen studies that talk about huge numbers of workers who are going to start looking for a job as soon as the economy picks up. In other words, when it comes to surveys like this one, what people say is often less interesting in what they don’t say.

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. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


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NFL Lockout Could Cost $160 Million, 115,000 Jobs

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Image: James ParksIf the National Football League owners lock out the players next season, not only will millions of fans not have games to watch on Sunday afternoon, but more than 115,000 jobs could be lost, according to a new study.

The 32 NFL teams employ on average 3,739 people each, including players, concession workers and office staff. If the lockout lasts a long time, layoffs are likely and many of those jobs would not come back, said Jesse David, senior vice president of the economic consulting firm Edgeworth Economics, who conducted a study of the impact of a lockout for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). Check out a summary of the study here.

Not only are the players affected, but the jobs of more than 25,000 concession workers at stadiums across the country are threatened by the lockout. (See video above.)

In a telephone press conference this morning, David and NFLPA official George Atallah said each NFL home game generates on average $20 million for the team and the community. A lockout could cost each of the 32 NFL cities. as much as $160 million, they said.

“A lockout would have an impact beyond the players,” Atallah said.

We want to raise public consciousness of the effect [on communities] if the owners lock out the players.

The NFLPA has joined with the other workers in the stadiums and the rest of the union movement to fight management’s greed. Last month, the NFLPA announced that its members will fully affiliate with all AFL-CIO state federations and the central labor councils where their NFL teams are based.

The owners terminated the collective bargaining agreement two years ago because, they say, it isn’t working for them. But they refuse to provide audited financial information to explain what is wrong in a business that generated $9 billion in 2009 during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

The owners are demanding that the players give back $1 billion, although not one team has lost money. They also want players to pay for team travel and the cost of running practice facilities.

On top of that, the owners have threatened to make the players pay for their own health care in case of a lockout. As it is, management provides only five years of health care coverage after players retire. Players’ NFL careers average only 3.4 years and many retire with a range of serious health problems. Not many people would argue that facing a 325-pound lineman running at full speed over and over could be dangerous to your health

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris


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Is the Federal Pay Freeze Obama’s PATCO?

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Mike ElkFor unionists, pay freeze reminiscent of Reagan’s attack on federal workers

The Obama Administration, looking to bolster its deficit-cutting credentials and show its desire to take on what some label a “special interest”—organized labor—yesterday announced a two-year freeze on the wages of all federal workers. Tim Fernholz of The American Prospect points out that the pay freeze will reduce the deficit by .1% over the next ten years. Obama’s pay freeze also reinforces the notion that public employees earn exuberant salaries despite a Bureau of Labor Statistic report showing that civil servants earn 24% less than their counterparts in the private sector.

“This proposal to freeze federal pay is a superficial, panicked reaction to the deficit commission report,” stated AFGE National President John Gage, a union that represents over 600,000 federal government employees. “This pay freeze amounts to nothing more than political public relations. This is no time for scapegoating. The American people didn’t vote to stick it to a VA nursing assistant making $28,000 a year or a border patrol agent earning $34,000 per year.”

AFGE for Obama? The union is not so enthusiastic after The White House froze the wages of federal employees on Monday.   (Photo courtesy of the AFL-CIO)
AFGE for Obama? The union is not so enthusiastic after The White House froze the wages of federal employees on Monday. (Photo courtesy of the AFL-CIO)

Attacking “greedy federal workers” allows Obama to claim he is taking on special interests when he is completely unwilling to take on the rich over the Employee Free Choice Act or the Bush tax cuts. But, as recent polling analysis released by the Center for American Progress indicates, labor is seen by many Americans as just another big institution too far removed from the public.

This pay freeze is in line with the president’s earlier attacks on teachers unions and lack of leadership on the EFCA. The important question we should ask is, will scoring cheap political points by scapegoating workers lead to unintended consequences that could impede economic recovery?

“Is this Obama’s PATCO?” says Campaign for America’s Future Co-Director Robert Borosage, referring to President Ronald Reagan’s mass-firing of Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization members in 1981. “Will employers across the country use his language and his message to inflict another round of pay cuts?” A cut in wages by corporations across the board could decrease demand swinging us even further into a depression.

Regardless of the economic impact of President Obama’s pay freeze, the political impact is clear. Republicans smell blood in the water and will attempt to push The White House to make even more attacks on workers and workers will continue to wonder who is on their side. Indeed, the vote of union members appears to be at turning point. For the first time in a generation, less than 50% of union members voted Democratic. Obama’s attacks on federal workers will push them even further in the arms of right-wing, corporate-funded, populist demagogues.

“There will be no rejoicing in the homes of workers tonight,” said UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. “But the corporate CEO’s who frequently dine at the White House will enjoy this immensely as they realize what an opportunity this president has presented them.”

*This post originally appeared in Working in These Times on November 30, 2010.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout.


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