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Apple and Foxconn to Improve Working Conditions and Hours

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Laura ClawsonFollowing lots and lots of terrible publicity around the wages, working conditions and hours faced by Chinese workers manufacturing its iPhones and iPads, Apple asked the Fair Labor Association, an organization widely described as independent although it is funded by the corporations it oversees, to look into working conditions in the factories of its Chinese contractors. The FLA has now looked into Foxconn, the largest and most (in)famous Apple contractor, and:

Foxconn – which makes Apple devices from the iPhone to the iPad – will hire tens of thousands of new workers, clamp down on illegal overtime, improve safety protocols and upgrade worker housing and other amenities. […]

Foxconn said it would reduce working hours to 49 hours per week, including overtime, while keeping total compensation for workers at its current level. The FLA audit had found that during peak production times, workers in the three factories put in more than 60 hours per week on average.

To compensate for the reduced hours, Foxconn will hire tens of thousands of additional workers. It also said it would build more housing and canteens to accommodate that influx.

Foxconn’s changes will also affect other brands with products manufactured by the contractor, such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Sony. It will also have an effect on competing contract manufacturers. Consumers, of course, can expect to pay slightly higher prices, although labor costs are a small fraction of the price of the devices, and if you’re going to complain that you’re paying a little more because Chinese workers are only working 49 instead of 60 hours per week, I don’t want to hear from you anyway.

Continuing oversight will be crucial, as it would be altogether typical for the improvements for workers to be rolled back once the spotlight was off Apple’s manufacturing process.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on March 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

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Citing ‘Tradition,’ Big Ag Fights Reforms for Child Farmworkers

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Michelle ChenAdvocates push for stronger protections during National Farmworker Awareness Week

“[When I was 12] they gave me my first knife. Week after week I was cutting myself. Every week I had a new scar. My hands have a lot of stories.”

–17-year-old boy who started working at age 11 in Michigan (Human Rights Watch)

America’s farm workers have always had it tough, toiling for endless hours in the fields under brutal conditions. But those workers do benefit from a unique income subsidy in the country’s industrial farming system: children.

In every region of the country, bountiful harvests are regularly gathered by the tender hands of child poverty: several hundred thousand kids work on farms, typically to help their families survive. Those children who deliver crisp peppers and sweet grapes to the mouths of other kids every day represent the devastating social toll of the dysfunctional food industry.

The Child Labor Coalition, which advocates for the rights of exploited children around the world, documents a cornupcopia of abuses in the backyard of a global superpower:

  • More children die in agriculture than in any other industry.
  • According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 1995 and 2002, an estimated 907 youth died on American farms—that’s well over 100 preventable deaths of youth per year.
  • In 2011, 12 of the 16 children under the age of 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • When you include older children, more than half of all workers under age 18 who died from work-related injuries worked in crop production.

Advocates have for months been pressing the Labor Department to finalize a rule change that would help shield child farm workers from some of the most severe occupational hazards, such as handling pesticides and dangerous farm equipment, and would beef up protections for workers under age 16 (currently, children as young as 12 can legally work on farms, thanks to a loophole in federal labor law, and many younger ones work illegally).

The reforms would largely impact youth in the migrant communities that fuel the agricultural labor force, filled with poor and Latino workers who are extremely vulnerable to abuse.

Under the banner of National Farmworker Awareness Week (March 25-31, consumer and labor groups are working to educate communities about egregious conditions on farms. Now that organizations like the Florida-based Coalition of Immokalee Workers have begun to rattle the food industry with colorful worker- and consumer-driven campaigns, Washington should be ripe for long-overdue reforms to curb the worst forms of child labor.

But common decency has again been overshadowed by a well-oiled campaign by the agricultural industry lobby, which has pushed to block the rule changes by claiming that child labor reflects good old American values.

The “Preserving America’s Family Farms Act,” proposed by Rep. Tom Latham of Iowa, targets the pending reforms as a threat to a time-honored “tradition” of child farm labor. Evoking an imaginary pastoral ideal of the American homestead, the bill argues that the strengthening child labor protections would “adversely impact the long standing tradition of youth working on farms to gain valuable skills and lessons on hard work, character, and leadership” and would hurt their opportunities to “gain experiential learning and hands-on skills.”

Apparently, a great way to build kids’ character is pushing them into backbreaking, dangerous labor—rather than going to school or otherwise developing themselves in a way that’s less profitable for agribusiness. You might wonder how many of the bill’s sponsors regularly send their children to pick produce all day to cultivate “leadership” skills.

The saddest aspect of this political debate around farm labor is that the most systemic abuses would not be stopped by just tightening child regulations—not even by enacting the stronger restrictions on child labor that lawmakers have previously proposed in the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment. Whatever the law says, the marginalization of the farm workforce makes comprehensive enforcement nearly impossible.

Justin Feldman of Public Citizen told In These Times, “People are afraid because of immigration status, because of limited English ability, because of poverty and all sorts of issues. They’re afraid to come forward to authorities and report.”

In The Atlantic, restaurant industry veteran Helene York cites the underlying the economic dilemma: “Migrant families will lose their children’s wages and would be unable to move with available work. What’s needed is more income paid to laborers for the really hard work.”

Feldman noted, “one of the reasons that we have children and whole families working on farms is to subsidize the underpayment of the workers…. Looking at it holistically, we need to broaden immigrant rights and workers rights, and not much can change until that happens.”

Child labor is a symptom of a monstrous blight across the food system: consumers relish cheap prices and companies reap profits, and workers pay the human cost. Maybe that is an American value, of sorts.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on March 28, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These TimesColorlines.com, and Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has also appeared in The Nation, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen@ inthesetimes.com.

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New Co-Op Model for Sustainable Main Street Jobs

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Image: Mike HallThe United Steelworkers (USW), the Spanish worker cooperative Mondragon—the world’s largest worker cooperative—and the Ohio Employee Ownership Center (OEOC) this week unveiled what they describe as a “template that combines worker equity with a progressive collective bargaining process.”

USW President Leo Gerard says that “to survive the boom and bust, bubble-driven economic cycles fueled by Wall Street, we must look for new ways to create and sustain good jobs on Main Street.”

This union co-op model…provides a viable road map on how we might begin fielding these sustainable jobs. Worker-ownership can provide the opportunity to figure out collective alternatives to layoffs, bankruptcies and closings in hard times, rather than having the rug pulled right out from under struggling communities to the benefit of a few at the expense of the many.

A key part of the co-op’s mission is to support and invest in communities, by creating jobs, funding development projects, supporting education and providing opportunity.

“Sustainable Jobs, Sustainable Communities: The Union Co-Op Model” is a “public domain” template available to any organization at www.union.coop. It offers a primer for competitive and equitable employment creation based on 55 years of Mondragon principles put into marketplace practice.

In 2011, Mondragon reached annual sales of more than $24 billion with its own cooperative university, cooperative bank and cooperative social security mutual and is ranked as the top Basque business group, the seventh largest in Spain and the world’s largest industrial workers’ cooperative.

Gerard says the goal is creating an economy that can work for everyone who works, and that:

Creating sustainable jobs and sustainable communities require broadening the definition of societal value beyond “the bottom line” and moving to a more stakeholder-centric economy. Democratic worker ownership principles combined with social and economic justice differentiate the union co-op model from traditional business models, making the union co-op option sustainable and giving it a competitive edge over the long term as worker-owners get to benefit more fully from their hard work and own their own decision-making process and all the fruits of their labors.

The co-op principle, he says, will result in improved, self-reinforcing, worker and customer satisfaction through higher accountability, productivity and efficiency because all workers will have an equal equity stake in the company, share common goals and adhere to common principles and practices that broaden the definition of value beyond the bottom line.

Several co-op projects are under way and in the planning stages. Click here for information from the USW.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on March 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall “I’m a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.”

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Grad Student Workers Plan Counterattack After Michigan Gov. Signs Law Denying Rights

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eidelson-headshotUnion plans to win recognition rights through political and legal challenges rather than demanding voluntary recognition

Following two years of organizing and months of hearings, this month Michigan’s state labor board was set to rule on whether to reverse a 1981 decision that stripped union recognition from the state university’s graduate student research assistants (GSRAs).  That ruling never happened. Instead Michigan’s House and Senate passed a bill declaring GSRAs ineligible for union recognition, and Governor Rick Snyder signed it into law on March 13.

“We were clearly disappointed – disturbed, even – that our rights as graduate employees were attacked in this manner…” says Graduate Employees Organization President Samantha Montgomery. “To have the Michigan legislature pre-empt their ability to have an election in this way is very disheartening.”  GEO, also known as Local 3550 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), has represented University of Michigan graduate student employees since 1975.

Montgomery says the union will push back against the law on multiple fronts: filing a legal challenge, pushing for a constitutional amendment, and continuing to tackle workplace issues facing research assistants and other graduate student employees.

In an e-mailed statement, Governor Snyder said, “While graduate student research assistants provide valuable efforts for universities, they are students first and foremost.  Considering them to be public employees with union representation would alter the nature of the critical relationship between students and teachers, and risk the educational mission of universities.”

Montgomery, a graduate student in the university’s Psychology and Women’s Studies departments, calls Snyder’s statement “yet another one of those anti-union misconceptions about the role of collective bargaining.” Over four decades, says Montgomery, GEO has “done nothing but help to improve the lives and working conditions for graduate employees, and make it a more competitive place and a more attractive place for graduate students to come.”

Because the University of Michigan is a public institution, its labor relations are governed by state labor law, rather than the National Labor Relations Act, and by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC), rather than the National Labor Relations Board. As I’ve reported for In These Times, private-sector graduate student employees won recognition rights from the NLRB for the first time in 2000, lost them in 2004, and now are looking to Obama’s NLRB nominees to restore them once again.  While some states ban public employee union recognition entirely, others recognized graduate student workers decades before the NLRB did, and have continued for years after the NLRB stopped.

University of Michigan GSRAs had union recognition until 1981. The university began recognizing GEO as the collective bargaining agent for GSRAs and two other categories of graduate student employees – instructors and staff assistants – in 1975.  But at the expiration of GEO’s first contract, the university challenged its obligation to collectively bargain with graduate student employees. The MERC issued a split decision: graduate student instructors and staff assistants were workers with recognition rights, but GSRAs were not.

Two years ago, with GEO’s backing, GSRAs began campaigning to win back union recognition. Last spring, a majority of the 2,200 GSRAs petitioned the MERC seeking a union recognition election. The MERC denied the petition but requested more information regarding the grounds for reversing its 1981 decision.

In October 2011, GEO presented evidence arguing that the role of GSRAs had changed since the labor board excluded them from recognition rights: Research has become a central mission of the university, and GSRA’s research now is often unrelated to their dissertations. In contrast to 1980, says Montgomery, university regents backed recognition. At the labor board, “they attested to the role that RAs play and how they are treated as employees.” Management’s support increased GEO’s optimism about a reversal from the MERC. Instead, Michigan Republicans took the decision out of the labor board’s hands.

GSRAs plan to challenge the new law, PA 45, on constitutional grounds in U.S. District Court.  Mark Cousens, an attorney representing GEO, said in an e-mail that the suit will assert that the law “deprives GSRAs of the equal protection of the law” by “irrationally classifying them as non-employees.” Cousens expects the lawsuit to be filed early next month. Wisconsin unions challenged Scott Walker’s restriction of collective bargaining on similar grounds last year.

GEO has also joined the push by several Michigan unions to add a collective bargaining rights amendment to the state constitution. If unions gather the required 322,609 signatures, and their wording survives legal challenge, the proposed amendment will land on November’s ballot. In Florida in 1982, collective bargaining language in the state constitution led an appeals court to overturn a state law declaring graduate students not to be workers.

While making a legal and political push for recognition, Montgomery says GEO will continue working to improve working conditions for GSRAs and other graduate student employees.

GEO is pressuring the university’s regents to change eligibility restrictions for the university’s child care subsidy, which is only available to graduate students whose partners are employed at least 20 hours a week. Montgomery says that GSRAs are also active participants in preparing for contract negotiations for GEO’s existing bargaining units in 2014; many students are GSRAs at one point in their University of Michigan career and graduate student teachers at another.

Both GEO’s legal challenge and its constitutional amendment push face substantial obstacles. But there’s another route open to GSRAs seeking union recognition, though it faces steep challenges of its own. While Snyder’s law excludes GSRAs from legal recognition rights, it does not prevent the university from voluntarily recognizing and bargaining with them.

Cousens says any such recognition “would be ‘extra-legal,’ i.e. not unlawful but not subject to the Public Employment Relations Act,” Michigan’s public employee labor law. The union would lack PERA protections or recourse to the MERC.

“Voluntary recognition is possible, then,” says Cousens, “but would be very complicated.”

Montgomery says that although the administration has not taken an anti-union stance, some deans and faculty have expressed their opposition to recognition, and there have been “instances of intimidation and even retaliation against some our activists…It highlights the problems when workers don’t have protection in place and the problems with this legislation that denies this group of workers their rights, because it gives us fewer avenues to pursue justice for these people.”

Asked why GEO’s campaign for GSRA recognition is pursuing legal and political challenges rather than targeting the administration with a campaign demanding voluntary recognition, Montgomery says, “I think our members are hopeful that the university will continue to work with us. And we hope that one day they will have the full protections of the Public Employment Relations Act.”

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on March 26, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer and a contributor at In These Times, The American Prospect, Dissent, and Alternet.  After receiving his MA in Political Science, he worked as a union organizer for five years.  His website is http://www.josheidelson.com.

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T-Mobile To Lay Off Thousands Of Workers After Taking Millions In Taxpayer Subsidies For Job Creation

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Image: Pat GarofaloLast week, telecom giant T-Mobile announced that it plans to close seven of its 24 U.S. call centers. About 3,300 employees work at those centers, and the company is planning to lay off at least 1,900 of them, while offering transfers to some (though it doesn’t yet know how many). Adding insult to injury, four of the centers that T-Mobile is closing received taxpayer subsidies worth millions of dollars, according to Good Jobs First:

– Frisco, TX: $3.7 million

– Brownsville, TX: $5.3 million

– Lenexa, KS: $3.9 million

– Redmond, OR: $1.3 million

These subsidies took several forms, including sales tax exemptions, salary supplements for workers, and job training money. “T-Mobile USA’s decision to close seven call centers, employing 3,300 workers, is a bad one. It harms workers and communities, and in several locations, abuses taxpayers who provided funds to the company in exchange for employment and economic development,” said the Communication Workers of America.

T-Mobile is certainly not the first corporation to receive subsidies and then cut a community loose. Mega-manufacturer Boeing took a heap of taxpayer money and received significant local help in winning a $35 billion contract before bailing on Wichita, Kansas. Sears will lay off 100 workersafter receiving millions from Illinois (and can lay off another 1,750, thanks to the terrible terms to which Illinois agreed).

Fortunately, several of the subsidies received by T-Mobile came with clawback provisions, so officials in the states affected at least stand a chance of recouping some of the money they’ve lost. “The officials in those states should investigate the possibility of recapturing as much of those millions of dollars that were paid out as possible,” said Phillip Mattera, Research Director of Good Jobs First. “The taxpayers didn’t get all that they paid for. They lost those millions of dollars in revenues in the expectation that permanent jobs would be created.”

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 26, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

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Law Office Fires 14 Workers for Wearing Orange Shirts

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Mark E. AndersonWhere I work, we get donuts on payday Friday. At one law office in Florida, workers go to happy hour after work. They all wear the same color shirt so they look like a group when they go out for happy hour.

A lot of places get crowded for happy hour on Friday nights, so it makes sense to me that they would wear a visible color so group members could find each other. On one recent Friday,

14 workers wearing orange shirts were called into a conference room, where an executive said he understood there was a protest involving orange, the employees were wearing orange, and they all were fired.

The executive said anyone wearing orange for an innocent reason should speak up. One employee immediately denied involvement with a protest and explained the happy-hour color.

The executives conferred outside the room, returned and upheld the decision: all fired, said Lou Erik Ambert, 31, of Coconut Creek, a litigation para-legal who said he was terminated.

Fourteen people fired because an executive was paranoid about some type of worker protest that wasn’t even happening. And people say we don’t need unions today because the “job creators” don’t do things like this? Seriously?

This is perfectly legal too as Florida, like most states, is an at-will state. With few exceptions at-will means the employer is free to discharge individuals for good cause, or bad cause, or no cause at all and the employee is equally free to quit, strike or otherwise cease work.

Some of the employees who were fired for wearing the same color shirt spoke to a local newspaper. “There is no office policy against wearing orange shirts. We had no warning. We got no severance, no package, no nothing, I feel so violated,” according to one. Another said “I’m a single mom with four kids, and I’m out of a job just because I wore orange today.” One wants us to know they weren’t protesting: “To my mind, protesting is where you put your foot down, and you’re not working. There was none of that today.” But that doesn’t matter—all that matters is that their boss thought they might be protesting.

Fired for wearing orange without warning and because of the paranoid delusions of a “job creator.” His assumption that his employees were protesting management just cost 14 people their livelihoods. This is so wrong on so many levels and is just one more reason why unions are necessary.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on March 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Anderson, a Daily Kos Labor contributor, describes himself as a 44 year-old veteran, lifelong Progressive Democrat, Rabid Packer fan, Single Dad, Part-time Grad Student, and Full-time IS worker. You can learn more about him on his Facebook, “Kodiak54 (Mark Andersen)”

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Even With Daisey’s Lies Peeled Away, Apple’s Rotten Core Exposed

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Michelle ChenApple’s brand glared in the media spotlight this past week, after the public learned that performance artist Mike Daisey’s theatrical rendering of the struggles of Apple factory workers contained false claims—painfully exposed on an episode of the radio program This American Life. But if one fundamental truth has emerged from the scandal surrounding Daisey’s dramatic fudging, it’s that the lived reality of many Chinese workers is undoubtedly bleak—no embellishment needed.

Daisey’s personal account is gratuitously peppered with fabrications, but the story of systematic exploitation is essentially true. For years various watchdog groups have tried to hold Apple accountable for harsh working conditions in China, which have been linked to workplace-related suicides and health hazards. Since a number of young workers killed themselves in 2010, the consumer advocacy campaignMake IT Fair, together with the Hong Kong-based Students Against Corporate Misbehavior (SACOM),have documented systematic abuses: exhausting hours, an oppressive, militaristic workplace culture and, despite conciliatory pay hikes, extremely low wages in comparison to the tremendous corporate profits and brutal working conditions.

It should be noted, however, that Daisey’s “dramatic license” was debunked largely through the real findings of intrepid investigations by advocates and professional reporters, which some commentatorshave highlighted amid the media fallout. As part of its “Retraction” episode, in fact, TAL interviewed New York Times reporter Charles Duhigg about the real story behind Daisey’s fictions.

On the reported widespread violations of a 60-hour weekly cap on working hours, Duhigg tells host Ira Glass, Apple claims workers volunteer for this excess work:

Duhigg: They say, “Look, one of the reasons why there is so much overtime that’s inappropriate and, in some places, is illegal, is because the workers themselves are demanding that overtime.”

Now, workers don’t always say that. What workers often say is that they feel coerced into doing overtime, that if they didn’t do overtime when it’s asked of them, that they wouldn’t get any overtime at all, and that financially they would suffer as a result.

This is the kind of more nuanced, day-to-day exploitation that Foxconn workers face–not so sensational, but nonetheless driven by global economic forces.

Li Qiang, head of the New York-based China Labor Watch, told In These Times that in terms of the situations Daisey described, basically, “What he said about working conditions is true.” He added, “Through this kind of media reporting, maybe more artists or journalists, or others will go to China to investigate the real circumstances in Chinese factories….  This way, this issue can generate more public debate.”

While Apple has touted a new partnership with the third-party monitoring organization Fair Labor Association, many critics remain wary that Apple will continue to fail the workers at the dregs of the supply chain. Even worse, Apple might turn the scandal into a marketing opportunity, polishing its reputation with a dab of “corporate social responsibility” measures.

Make IT Fair recently denounced the FLA partnership as “a mere PR stunt,” citing comments by FLA president Auret van Heerden praising Apple facilities as “way, way above the average of the norm.”  Activists call on Apple and other industry leaders to adopt more stringent ethical codes, which protect the environment from damaging extraction of raw materials, honor collective bargaining rights, and protect workers and their communities from discrimination and rights abuses.

Apple’s real attitude toward its workers has been far from charitable. In a statement responding to TAL‘s retraction, SACOM (whose campaigns have informed both Daisey’s and TAL‘s reporting) pointed to the ongoing ramificiations of an incident that inspired Daisey’s narrative—a mass poisoning at a facility where workers were exposed to the chemical n-hexane while polishing gleaming touchscreens:

In contrast to Apple’s statement that they have all been treated successfully, many workers still suffer from weak limbs and other health problems after nine-month hospitalizations. The victims sent three letters to Apple last year, but the company did not answer them at all. Likewise, after the explosion at the iPad case manufacturer Riteng in Shanghai in last December, which injured 59 workers, Apple has not sent anyone to visit the victims. The young workers are in despair because their faces were disfigured due to the fire from the blast. Some of them suffer from bones so severely shattered that they may be permanently disabled. Three months have passed, but the victims have not received any compensation….

While Apple hypocritically expressed that the company was deeply saddened by the tragedy, it has never apologized or offered compensation to the workers for its negligence in complying with work safety rules.

For all his professed empathy for Foxconn workers, Daisey’s exaggerations were stupefyingly self-serving. Even as he awkwardly attempted to express contrition in the follow-up dialogue with Ira Glass, he insisted that within the realm of theater, he had legitimately blended fiction and nonfiction to create a more emotive experience for a Western audience.

The claim reveals that Daisey lied to elevate his role in the story. He basically decided that the ugly truth wasn’t quite dramatic enough for him—a sideways insult to the workers whose cause he claimed to champion.

In a correspondence with In These Times, SACOM project officer Chan Sze Wan said, “we worry that the public will misunderstand [and think] Foxconn is innocent after the Mike Daisey’s case.” As a research-based group, she added, SACOM “will continue to provide accurate information to consumers to solicit their supports,” but ultimately, voices of workers themselves will need to be heard:

Nowadays, Foxconn workers do not have real worker representative system in the factory. So, SACOM has to channel their grievances to Apple. However, we always emphasize that workers should be the ones to monitor the working conditions at their workplace and fight for the rights.

Following the string of suicides, a quote from a Chinese blog captured the workers’ story more eloquently than an American performer ever could:

Perhaps for the Foxconn employees and employees like us
– we who are called nongmingong, rural migrant workers, in China –
the use of death is simply to testify that we were ever alive at all,
and that while we lived, we had only despair.

In the context of that hushed plea, the media hooplah over the fudged Foxconn narrative simply distracts us from the real masterwork of fiction that Apple and other tech giants continue to peddle: the imaginary world of our gadgets, a cosmopolitan universe that pretends to connect everyone while in fact sharpening the lines between consumers and the invisible workers that enable that carefree lifestyle. And we’re all buying it.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on March 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These TimesColorlines.com, and Pacifica’s WBAI. Her work has also appeared in The Nation, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain. Follow her on Twitter at @meeshellchen or reach her at michellechen@inthesetimes.com.

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Why Does Idaho’s Governor Pay Female Employees So Much Less Than Men?

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waldron_travis_bioThe women who work in Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s (R) cabinet make substantially less than their male colleagues, according to a McClatchy analysis of state salary data. Despite chairing the state Agriculture Department, for instance, Director Celia Gould makes less than male directors.

Gould has been with the administration since its first day in 2007 and oversees 259 employees; Commerce Director Jeffrey Sayer, by contrast, joined the administration in October and oversees 53. And yet, Sayer makes nearly $40,000 a year more than Gould, the highest-paid female employee. In fact, across Otter’s administration, the median wage for women is nearly $20,000 less than the median wage for men, McClatchy found:

She is the highest-paid of the women in Otter’s Cabinet but ranks just 16th among all top full-time officials. The median salary for 11 women in the Cabinet is $85,446; the median for the 33 men is $103,002.

“We really do have a glass ceiling in Idaho,” said Rep. Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum, the senior Democrat in the Legislature and a member of the budget committee.

While the pay gap between Otter’s male and female employees is substantial — the women make roughly 82 cents for every dollar earned by men — it isn’t as large as the overall pay gap between men and women in America. American women make about 77 percent of what men make, and the gap is even larger for minorities. In 2010, black women made 67.7 percent of all male earnings, while Latino women made just 58.7 percent. That wage gap costs women huge sums of money — a woman with a college degree, for instance, will earn $723,000 less over a 40-year career.

Despite legislative efforts, the gap isn’t closing. President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination, in 2009. Senate Republican, however, blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would have updated the Equal Pay Act, closed many of its loopholes, and strengthened incentives to reduce pay discrimination, earlier this year.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

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Gender Pay Gap Is Largest On Wall Street

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While it’s well-known by now that women consistently earn less than men even though they often attain better education — 77.4 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts in 2010 — Bloomberg News’ Frank Bass reports a new development: this gap is widest on Wall Street.

Parsing census data, Bass found that the six jobs with the largest gender gap in 2010 were insurance agents, managers, financial clerks, securities sales agents, personal financial advisers, other financial specialists — all in “the Wall Street-heavy financial sector”:

The financial sector pays women in the six major jobs with the biggest salary gap from 55 to 62 cents for every $1 made by men, according to the census. Female bank tellers, with a median salary of $23,695, came closest to narrowing the gap in the industry, pulling down 96 cents for every $1 earned.

One reason female professionals make less money in the financial sector is that they tend to wind up in lower-paying positions such as in public finance rather than on trading desks, said Louise Marie Roth, a University of Arizona sociologist and author of “Selling Women Short: Gender and Money on Wall Street.”

Women often simply don’t know how much they’re being underpaid because a large percentage of Wall Street salaries are based on bonuses that are kept secret, she said.

The gap is hardly confined to the financial sector — wide disparities exist in many other high-education sectors, such as among doctors and lawyers — but it’s notable that all six of the job categories with the highest discrepancy are in a single sector.

Bass notes that “women who want to earn more on Wall Street than their male colleagues have one reliable option. They can set up a shoe-shine,” where women make $1.02 for every dollar men make.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on March 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alex Seitz-Wald is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Alex grew up in California and holds a B.A. in international relations from Brown University. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Alex interned at the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and at the National Journal’s Hotline, where he covered key senate and gubernatorial races. Alex also co-founded and edited the Olive & Arrow, a blog on foreign affairs for and by young progressives. At Brown, he contributed to several publications and served on student government.

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N-Word Lesson for Students and for Teacher

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Jaclyn-Tyndorf-photo-265x300I still remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Ross, standing in front of me, hand outstretched, a stern expression on her face. Becky had passed me a note and I hadn’t opened it yet, and wasn’t even sure what it said, but there I was, holding the incriminating evidence. I was terrified.

I bet this is how one student at Chicago’s Murray Language Academy, felt last October, when he was caught holding a passed note in class. The teacher confiscated the note and read it. As it turned out, the note included rap lyrics with the “N-word.”

The teacher, Lincoln Brown, who is white, felt that this was a “teachable moment” to discuss racism and the implications of using such words with his predominately black class. Mr. Brown grew up in a home active in the civil rights movement; his parents even named their son after their favorite president.

During the ensuing discussion with his sixth grade class, Mr. Brown discussed the history of the N-word, and discussed its use in Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn.” The school’s principal, who is black, happened to stop in that day, and heard some of the lesson.

Mr. Brown thought nothing more of the matter. But two weeks later, he received a “Notice of Pre-Discipline Hearing” from the principal on behalf of the school board accusing him of violating school policy for “using verbally abusive language to or in front of student.” Hearings and more notices followed, including a “Notice of Disciplinary Action” that informed Mr. Brown he would be suspended without pay for five days.

Under the “Suggestion(s) for Improvement” section of the notice, the principal wrote, “Do not use the word ‘N—–’ with students at Murray at any time; whether a ‘teachable moment’ or not; the word is not appropriate for this age group.”

Mr. Brown appealed the disciplinary action and a hearing was conducted with the school district’s Office of Employee Relations in early December, but the appeal was denied.

In January, Mr. Brown, who has been teaching for more than 25 years and who had never been disciplined before, sued the Chicago Public School’s Board of Education, its CEO, and the principal of the school for violating his first and fifth amendment rights, alleging that he was punished for talking about a matter of public concern, and that his due process rights were violated in disciplining him. He also claims that the school was behaving inconsistently; he cited to use of the word by the principal himself when discussing the incident.

The media reported that Mr. Brown is suing the school district and presented his account of what occurred, but didn’t analyze the matter from a legal standpoint. LASIS will.

In 2007, an Indiana public school teacher sued on first amendment grounds when her contract wasn’t renewed after a current events class discussion in which she expressed her personal opinions about the Iraq War. The court held that even though this was a matter of public importance, the first amendment didn’t provide support to primary and secondary teachers to discuss positions or matters that deviate from the established curriculum..

This decision was in line with the Supreme Court’s reasoning. In the 2006 case Garcetti v. Ceballos, the 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.”

So Mr. Brown’s first amendment arguments won’t help him.

He also claims that the discipline he received violated his due process rights because there was no written or verbal rule against what he did presented to him by the school district. To obtain relief under the fifth amendment, which states that, “No person shall be…deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” a person in Mr. Brown’s position must show that he was harmed without the benefit of notice of what he did wrong or a hearing to decide the matter.

In a 2004 Illinois District Court case, a kindergarten teacher spoke publicly and criticized both the kindergarten program and the renewal of the school principal’s contract. She then received a “Warning Resolution” for insubordination and other violations, including not finishing tasks and not assigning grades to students, and after that, her contract was not renewed. She sued, alleging that the school had violated her due process rights, but the court held that the warning she received had amply satisfied those rights.

Mr. Brown’s due process rights appear to have been equally satisfied.

We believe he meant well. But in using class time to talk about the history of a word that the media only refers to by its first letter, he stepped outside the official curriculum. At least one student was reportedly uncomfortable with the discussion. And he was given notice and the opportunity for a hearing.

The law is not on this veteran teacher’s side.

This blog originally appeared in Legal as She is Spoke, a project of the Law and Journalism track at New York Law School, on March 17, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jaclyn Tyndorf is a (2L) majored in Broadcast Journalism at Syracuse University. She is active at New York Law School, and is a member of the Media Law & Policy Center, the Institute for Information Law and Policy, and the Program in Law & Journalism. Jaclyn spends her free time exploring the neighborhoods of New York City and enjoys attending New York Jets games.

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