• print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

It’s Time to Tap into Labor’s Fortress of Finance

Share this post

Despite the recent upsurge in worker militancy, union membership and density have been declining for decades. But a close look at labor’s finances suggests that unions have the economic resources to potentially reverse this decline.

Standard explanations for labor’s decline blame our grossly unfair labor laws, the full-scale corporate attack on organizing and collective bargaining, and economic trends including the decline of manufacturing.

But labor is not a passive bystander. Unions have the resources to deploy to new organizing and growth. They have chosen to pursue a defensive financial strategy instead.

Consider the National Education Association. Since 2010 its membership has declined by nearly 300,000 — while its net assets more than doubled.

The United Auto Workers has seen membership drop by 20 percent since 2007, yet over the last three years less than 10 percent of its budget was spent on organizing.

Twenty-five years ago, John Sweeney was elected to lead the AFL-CIO after a vigorous debate about organizing strategy. Sweeney set out real organizing goals for the affiliate unions, and proposed that they devote 30 percent of their budgets to organizing. Many of the affiliates rebelled, and the goal was quietly shelved.

Today UNITE HERE (my former union) is one of the few unions that devotes significant resources to organizing, up to 50 percent of its budget — consistently running operating deficits, spending more than its dues revenue. As a result, it was one of the fastest-growing unions before the pandemic, increasing its membership by 34 percent from 2010 to 2019.

FLUSH WITH CASH

In 2021, large unions booked $18 billion in revenues (mostly from dues) and spent $15.5 billion on operating expenses — leaving a surplus of $2.5 billion.

Though labor’s revenues are far less than those of business associations, they’re substantially bigger than those of environmental, human rights, and political organizations.

In 2021, organized labor had $31.6 billion in net assets (assets minus debt). That’s more money than any U.S. foundation but one: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with $48 billion.

While union membership declined by more than 700,000 from 2010 to 2021, total revenues increased by 33 percent over the decade, thanks to higher dues (the average rose from $778 per member in 2010 to $1,089 in 2021) and significant increases in investment, rental, and miscellaneous income, such as government training funds and royalties from selling membership lists.

Meanwhile, unions cut staff by 20 percent — they employed 24,540 fewer employees in 2021 than in 2010 — a 20 percent decline in the workforce. (Management positions in unions, however, increased by 64 percent, and more than 10,000 union employees now earn salaries over $125,000.)

Unions also paid out an average $78 million a year in strike benefits during this time — less than half a percent of net assets or revenues in most years. Overall, union spending increased only 18 percent over the decade.

As a result, unions generated large budget surpluses, and their net assets more than doubled. If these trends continue, labor’s assets could double again by 2031.

FORTRESS UNIONISM

These figures suggest that labor had substantial assets available to deploy to new organizing and growth — but chose not to do so.

Instead, to the degree it is pursuing any conscious strategy, the labor movement has followed the one laid out in a 2013 article by union researcher Richard Yeselson: “Fortress Unionism.”

Yeselson argued that, due to the straitjacket of labor law and an “uninterested working class,” labor should not undertake “lengthy and expensive campaigns to organize new sectors.” Organizing workers “takes too much time,” he wrote, “and it costs too much in money and staff resources to do so over that long period of time.”

He counseled that labor should “work to buttress the areas in which it is already strong” and “[d]efend the remaining high-density regions, sectors, and companies.”

Meanwhile, unions should “wait for the workers to say they’ve had enough” — at which point workers themselves would “militantly signal that they want unions.”

It’s long past time to adopt a dramatically different approach. We shouldn’t let labor hide behind the idea that it doesn’t have the resources to fund large-scale organizing. It does.

We should demand that our unions — from the local level to the AFL-CIO headquarters — back the current upsurge with a massive investment of resources.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared in full at Labor Notes on October 26, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Chris Bohner is a union researcher and activist who has worked with the AFL-CIO, Teamsters, UNITE HERE, Culinary Workers Local 226, and a variety of worker centers. 


Share this post

Pizza Does Not Motivate Employees More Than Cash

Share this post

Laura Clawson

Pizza motivates workers more than cash, according to a headline that’s been making the rounds — in disbelief, not agreement — on social media. So what’s going on with this? Who would say that? Because … what?

As it turns out, it’s not an idea pulled directly out of the ass of some corporate consultant. Even though that’s what it sounds like. Although an image of a headline is circulating now, the coverage dates to 2016, when psychologist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely released the results of a study testing three ways of motivating workers against a control group that was not offered an incentive. Pizza, a complimentary text from the boss, and about $30 cash were the three incentives. Pizza came in just behind the “Well done!” text from the boss, with cash doing the worst. Or so Ariely said.

Before we get into what this study would and would not mean if it was carried out absolutely perfectly, there’s this: In 2021, Ariely had to retract a different study — one on honesty — because of fake data. So that’s one grain of salt to add to your reading of his pizza study. But even if the pizza study was conducted with the utmost care and diligence and produced completely accurate data, there’s still absolutely no reason to believe it’s universally true. 

So any bosses out there who are thinking, “Great, I’m going to toss my workers the occasional pizza rather than a raise,” should slow their roll, for a number of reasons.

First off, it’s one study of one group of workers. Specifically, workers in a semiconductor plant in Israel. (That’s why it’s not exactly $30 in cash.) That setting offered the advantage of being able to measure productivity in the form of how many chips the workers made. But it’s not necessarily generalizable, as the coverage implies.

We don’t know how much those workers were paid regularly. This is a significant question when you’re considering how much motivation $30 would provide. There are people for whom $30 is more than four hours of work, and there are people for whom it’s the tip they casually give their hairdresser or waiter. A small cash bonus for someone who doesn’t worry about money lands really differently than the same amount of cash for someone worried about making rent.

The fact that this study’s incentives were one-time also matters. If you get a “Well done!” text from your boss every week, it might just start seeming a little insincere and pro forma. If you get a pizza party every week, you might start thinking it would be nice to just get to go home early instead.

Whereas if you got a $30-a-week raise, well, it wouldn’t be a very big raise — you deserve more! — but you’d be talking about $1,560 a year. In many parts of the United States, that’s a month’s rent.

If we want to put it in pizza terms, with $30 a week extra, you could get a large pizza as a meal for your family and still have some money left over, rather than eating a couple of slices at work. For a lot of families in this country, a weekly pizza night registers as a real extra in life.

But $30 a week could also mean back-to-school clothes for your kids. It could mean not falling behind on the electric bill. These things matter to people.

Indeed, according to a 2022 Gallup poll of more than 13,000 U.S. workers, the most important thing in considering a new job would be “a significant increase in income or benefits.” Nearly two out of three workers said that was “very important” to them. “Greater work-life balance and better personal wellbeing” came in second, with 61% identifying it as very important. It’s safe to say they didn’t mean pizza parties by that.

What’s appealing about Ariely’s study, to managers, is that it looked at one-time incentives, not at the effects of treating workers well and paying them a living wage week in and week out.

As articles like “51 Employee Appreciation Day Ideas That Won’t Break The Bank” show, management is always looking for ways to convey “appreciation” without spending money, let alone giving raises. Whereas workers are pretty clear that being paid enough to live on is important — and bosses, who are themselves paid well enough for $30 to seem irrelevant, generally don’t want to hear it. 

This is not a hypothetical.

Recently, as workers at a Minneapolis Trader Joe’s moved to unionize, a worker put a sign in the break room saying, “We need a living wage, not a pizza party,” Josh Eidelson reports. How did management respond? By starting an investigation and grilling workers about the sign.

When that’s the attitude you take to workers saying they need a living wage, you kind of show the real motivation behind the pizza party.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on October 20, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a contributing editor since December 2006. She has been full-time staff since 2011, and she is currently the assistant managing editor.


Share this post

California is Right: Stealing Workers’ Pay Should be a Felony

Share this post

Laura Clawson

Thirty-one California workers will get more than $216,000 in overtime pay they earned but were cheated out of by their employer. But the Labor Department’s investigation and action against the Sacramento pallet manufacturer that employed the workers is a great example of why a company would break the law by not paying overtime to begin with. A recent California law provides hope for a fix, but only if the state can beef up its enforcement.

Martinez Pallets Incorporated and its owner, Miguel Arturo Cruz, dodged overtime laws by paying cash or using separate paychecks to pay workers their regular rate, rather than the time-and-a-half they were legally entitled to, for hours they worked over 40 per week. The company also violated child labor laws by having a 16-year-old and a 17-year-old operate equipment that’s considered too hazardous for minors.

In addition to paying the workers what they should have gotten to begin with, Martinez Pallets was fined not quite $14,500 for the overtime and child labor violations. Fourteen. Thousand. Five hundred. Dollars.

Why would a boss who doesn’t care about doing the right thing follow the law here, if all that happens when—or rather if—they get caught is that they have to pay what they owed to begin with, plus a $14,500 fine?

What’s even more appalling, though, is that $14,500 is a large fine for workplace safety violations. The median Occupational Safety and Health Administration fine for a fatality investigation is just $9,753, according to the AFL-CIO’s 2022 Death on the Job report. 

A teenager working on dangerous machinery can turn into a fatality too easily. Workers under 25 are more likely to be injured on the job than older workers, and in 2015, 403 teenagers—24 of them under 18—were killed on the job. Teenagers are killed in construction and farm jobs, but also while working in amusement parks, campgrounds, and swimming pools. That’s the context in which Martinez Pallets had minors operating woodworking machines and forklifts. (And do we really think the company that was dodging overtime pay laws was being extra careful about the safety procedures involved with minors illegally operating hazardous machinery?)

The fact that Martinez Pallets committed both wage and safety violations is a reminder that bad employers are usually bad in more than one way. And wage theft is hugely common in California. It costs workers an estimated $2 billion a year. Minimum wage theft, where workers are cheated out of even the legal minimum wage, cost the average victim $64 a week, or $3,400 a year, in 2015, the last year for which data is available. Adjusting for inflation, we’re talking about 12 gallons of gas a week or three months of child care a year. 

One woman who worked at a Jack in the Box restaurant for 17 years without a raise above minimum wage did not know she was legally entitled to paid breaks. She told CBS News she had learned that if she’d been paid for the last three years of the wage theft she experienced, she might have been able to buy a car. And while California passed a law making some wage theft a felony, the agency responsible for enforcement is short-staffed. 

You can be an opponent of mass incarceration and think that felony charges are absolutely the right answer for employers who intentionally and systematically cheat their workers out of pay, be it minimum wage or overtime.

It can’t be only the state of California putting teeth in wage and hour law. There should be a federal law criminalizing this. Of course, it would never get past congressional Republicans. But this should be part of the Democratic agenda for the day when the filibuster no longer stands in the way of every possible piece of pro-worker legislation. And other states with Democratic majorities should consider copying California’s law.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on October 19, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been Daily Kos’ contributing editor since December 2006. She has been full-time staff since 2011, and is currently the assistant managing editor.

Learn more about unpaid wages and wage theft with Workplace Fairness here.


Share this post

Federal Workers Need a Functioning Federal Labor Board

Share this post

Federal workers are in unfamiliar territory with the wind at our backs. The tight labor market; popular sympathies after three bitter government shutdowns over the past decade; the Biden administration’s reversal of Trump’s abusive anti-union policies — all this sets the stage for possible rank-and-file-led advances in working conditions and new organizing in the federal sector.

But it’s not clear how long this window of opportunity will remain open. Now is the time to get organized — not only within locals to win better contracts and enforce our rights, but also nationally and politically, among all the different unions and agencies.

For starters, there’s one urgent demand that we should all support: the confirmation of incumbent Ernest DuBester to serve another term at the Federal Labor Relations Authority.

The FLRA governs federal labor relations, akin to what the National Labor Relations Board does in the private sector. In particular, the three-member board hears arbitration appeals and negotiability disputes.

Without DuBester it’s a split board — the two remaining members were appointed one by Trump, the other by Biden — and the confidence of federal unions in negotiating and enforcing agreements will be diminished.

The demand to fill a labor board seat might not sound like a recipe for reviving a fighting movement. But paired with a push by federal workers to improve working conditions, a victorious grassroots push to confirm DuBester can lead on to more victories.

UNIONIZED BUT FRAGMENTED

The U.S. government is the country’s largest employer, with 2.1 million employees, not counting postal workers. Though this workforce is relatively union-dense (1.2 million are represented), it is also an open shop environment where fewer than 20 percent pay dues to a union.

Most of the 400,000 federal union members belong to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE); another quarter are members of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). The remainder are split among two dozen unions.

By profession the workforce is mainly white collar, though there are also significant numbers of blue collar workers, such as wildland firefighters, custodial workers, and maintenance mechanics. Geographically, aside from some concentrated pockets—chiefly in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., region where 15 percent of us work—the full federal workforce is distributed thinly throughout the country.

The result of such an atomized workforce is that federal workers exert far too little political and bargaining power for our numbers.

CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES

Legally, the deck is stacked against federal unions. Unlike in the private sector, owing to major concessions enshrined in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, pay and major benefits like health care are off the table in our collective bargaining.

Instead, our uniquely limited scope of bargaining covers working conditions and how (and how much) any union member may conduct representational activities while on the clock.

The open shop plus a strict ban on work stoppages limits union leverage. Accounting for this, the law elevates the role of government “neutrals” to adjudicate disputes. And as we’ve seen, “neutrals” are often anything but neutral.

Over the five years that the FLRA was run by a Trump-appointed majority, a hard anti-union agenda was pushed through every forum — from disbanding entire unions (such as those representing the FLRA’s own staff and immigration judges at the Department of Justice) to further limiting the scope of bargaining through an expansive interpretation of management rights.

BROAD RANKS OF UNION REPS

Despite these limitations, the FLRA does lend federal workers the opportunity to directly negotiate and enforce details on a vast array of working conditions — such as telework policies, disciplinary guidelines, health and safety measures, and work performance assessment procedures.

This potential for direct self-representation is owed to the law’s requirement that the government release workers from their job duties to conduct representational union functions while on official time.

Done strategically, spreading official time among the broadest possible ranks of the workplace allows for more workers to do the work of their unions — while avoiding the need to take experienced leaders entirely away from regular work duties.

This way, veteran leaders can maintain their connection to the workplace and a larger base of new union leaders can be developed. If we emphasize self-representation and prioritize negotiating working conditions and the details of the work process, we can develop a new strategy to rebuild federal unionism from the bottom up.

But all that potential can be lost if those few favorable features of the law aren’t upheld by the FLRA.

A RALLYING CRY

If DuBester remains unconfirmed at the end of this calendar year, the FLRA will be split between its remaining two members, Trump nominee Colleen Duffy Kiko and Biden nominee Susan Tsui Grundmann, and subsequently unable to issue decisions on controversial matters.

In more than four decades of modern federal labor relations, FLRA confirmations have typically been handled quietly by Senate leaders, perhaps with some nudging by the big unions. Members and locals were not consulted, let alone required, for the confirmation process.

But these days, nothing is typical. For Biden’s first nominee to the FLRA, Grundmann, a months-long drumbeat from national labor leaders was not enough to win confirmation in the Senate.

Only in May, after a few dozen union locals representing some 20,000 feds from across the country signed onto an unforgiving letter directed at Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, did the political will materialize to see Grundmann confirmed.

The letter was part of a grassroots effort initiated early this year by an informal network of federal local leaders who were frustrated by the persistent presence of the Trump majority more than a year into the Biden administration.

A NEW OPEN LETTER

In the case of DuBester, Republicans are refusing to let his nomination out of committee, threatening to deny Biden the majority membership that the President is supposed to enjoy at the FLRA. The Senate has unanimously confirmed DuBester to all three previous terms he has served, beginning with his first nomination in 2009.

The only way around the GOP’s obstruction would be through a “discharge petition” to bring the nomination directly to the Senate floor. Such a parliamentary maneuver would require support from all 50 Senate Democrats.

Well over a year since Biden nominated him, it falls to the rank and file once again to push to get DuBester confirmed. A new open letter from local leaders and members is circulating, this time addressed to Biden, extending an offer to support the President’s nominee.

If federal union activists rally behind Ernest DuBester in the coming months, we might just manage to defeat Republican efforts to handicap federal unions. In the process, win or lose, we can cohere a national cohort of the next generation of government union leaders — and the years ahead could be full of experiments in creative, local and member-led federal unionism.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on October 13, 2022. It is republished with permission.

About the Authors: Chris Dols, Mark Smith, and Morgan Stewart wrote this blog. Chris Dols is president of IFPTE Local 98 at the New York District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Mark Smith is a steward with NFFE Local 1 at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Healthcare System. Morgan Stewart is president of AFGE Local 3380 at the Department of Housing and Urban Development in Richmond, Virginia.

Learn more about federal workers’ rights on Workplace Fairness’ page.


Share this post

How to Engage Employees in Hybrid Work Models

Share this post

Hybrid working models are becoming increasingly popular for companies transitioning out of the conditions of the pandemic. With so many employees preferring to retain flexibility and work remotely, at least some of the time, many businesses are striving to find ways to make this ‘new normal’ work.

One of the key factors for success with hybrid working models is finding ways to keep remote workers feeling engaged, enthused, motivated, and satisfied with their job. The good news is that remote staff can feel just as enthused and motivated as in-office staff, but it takes the right management approach. 

Here are six ideas to create and maintain employee engagement within a hybrid working model:

1. Communicate clearly, regularly and authentically

These days, we can be instantly connected to people remotely in a variety of ways, such as via email, direct message, Zoom calls, online work platforms, and more. Of course, it is still typically easier to communicate regularly with someone sitting on a desk in your office. Nevertheless, in this age of hyper connectivity, it’s never been easier to touch base with someone regularly.

Some remote workers likely enjoy some solace more than the next employee, but they still need to feel included, considered, and connected to their team and management. 

To make up for the lack of in-person communication nuances, such as non-verbal body language cues, it’s vital that management communicate with remote workers in a clear and authentic way. This means taking the time to ensure that a rapport is built to foster positive communications at a distance is essential to making a hybrid model work. 

Ensure that you stay in regular contact even if it requires setting reminders or creating regular scheduled check-ins for any staff that you otherwise would not connect with regularly. It can help to create meaningful reasons for the contact, such as wellness checks, setting goals, giving feedback, and acknowledging achievements. 

2. Mix it up

While communication between remote workers and their regular teams and managers may be in-hand, it also pays to make sure that they feel connected to company staff in a broader way. Organizing group chats between teams and departments can help, as well as encouraging staff with similar interests to participate in social group discussions. Other ideas include:

  • Weekly video calls (potentially to include a compulsory video-on rule to foster greater connection between participants)
  • Arranging conferences between different teams to include an ‘Ask Me Anything’ segment – this can help to create new connections and collaborations while assisting everyone in better understand the inner workings of each department

3. Include remote staff in all employee perks

One sure-fire way to make a remote employee feel excluded is to leave them out of the company perks. It may not always be possible to include remote workers in all office-based events, but it’s important to consider how to do it wherever possible. Even if you have to create unique ways to keep them involved, such as conferencing them in on an office ‘happy hour,’ they will surely appreciate the inclusion and feel more engaged in general.

Of course, you can (and should) always seek to include them in out-of-hours business events, but wherever possible, think outside the box and ensure they never feel unnecessarily excluded. For example, if you are treating your employees to a lunch, send your remote workers a voucher for some uber eats.

4. Develop an inclusive employee culture

It is imperative that your in-office employees also adopt an inclusive approach to your remote workers, and the best way to do that is to create an inclusive culture across the board. Additionally, ensure that your remote staff have all the same access to support, training materials and all other resources. 

A remote worker may overlook difficulties in accessing resources once or twice, but before long, they will come to resent feeling excluded, which will inevitably result in disengagement. 

So, ensure that all departments and teams foster an inclusive attitude to all employees whether in-person or remote, and check in regularly to ensure that remote workers are not coming up against any barriers within the company; asking them directly can be the best way to establish just how inclusive your employee culture is. 

5. Centralize platforms and set shared goals

A lack of organization leads to a lack of productivity, eventually resulting in frustration and disengagement.

When managing a hybrid work model, it’s imperative that your remote workers can access information and collaborate with in-office staff in the simplest and most effective way. Centralized platforms that are easy to access assist all employees to share data, goals, project updates, and more – all in real time. 

In addition to improving productivity and efficiency, creating a platform upon which staff can share their goals, challenges and triumphs encourages accountability, team work, and a supportive, inclusive culture. Cross-company goals can also be included to help keep the broader body of staff connected and working towards common objectives. 

6. Include remote workers in all company opportunities

It can feel extremely discouraging for a remote worker to feel that they have missed out on career opportunities because they were not physically present. Therefore, whenever handling promotions, upskilling, and project lead opportunities, be sure to include all remote workers fairly. All staff deserve the same opportunities regardless of their remote working status.

Final thoughts

Hybrid working models can create a dynamic company culture that has everyone feeling professionally motivated and fulfilled, but it does take some careful management. When leading a team that includes remote workers, managers must work diligently to ensure that those staff continue to feel included and valued to keep them engaged. 

This blog was shared directly with Workplace Fairness by an anonymous contributor. Published with permission.


Share this post

Your Workplace Rights During Natural Disasters and Emergencies

Share this post

Natural disasters create a level of chaos that can be hard to prepare for. Nevertheless, there are many federal employment laws that are in place to guide employers and their employees regarding rights and responsibilities when disaster strikes. 

The following federal laws provide the framework for understanding your workplace rights in the event that a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, hurricane, fire, flood, or other emergency occurs.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

Salary/wage payments to be made during natural disasters are outlined by the FLSA as follows:

Exempt employees

Employers must pay exempt employees their full salary while the worksite is closed due to natural disasters or inclement weather (for less than a full working week). Employers may, however, request that employees utilize any unused leave to cover this period.

Nonexempt employees

Employers must pay nonexempt employees only for any hours actually worked, regardless of whether or not it is possible to carry out work due to a natural disaster.

Exceptions to the rule

Whereby nonexempt employees have agreed to complete an unspecified number of working hours for a specified salary amount, their employers must pay them a full week’s salary for any week in which any amount of work was carried out. 

Other FLSA guidelines include:

Waiting time

If an employee is required to wait for working conditions to be reinstated, such as waiting at work for the power to come back on, it is considered time-worked that they must be paid for.

On-call time

Whether or not any work is carried out, any employees who are required to remain on-call, either on employment premises or close-by, and are not permitted to leave, may be eligible for pay for those hours.

Not-for-profit 

Not-for-profit organization employees must be paid for any work conducted that they typically carry out as an employee, and must not be regarded as volunteers during disaster response and management.

What about layoffs?

Federal laws under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) stipulate notice requirements regarding mass layoffs and some plant closures.

Exceptions are in place for closures/layoffs that are the direct result of a natural disaster, but employers are still required to give as much notice as possible; issuing less than 60 days’ notice is only legal if the employer can prove that they meet the exception conditions.

Taking leave after a disaster

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees suffering from a serious health condition (or caring for a spouse, child or parent who is) that has been caused by a natural disaster are entitled to leave. 

Employees who are also members of an emergency services organization are protected from employment discrimination under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). The act protects such American workers from being discharged, denied employment, promotion or other employment benefits due to their membership or obligation to serve with an emergency services organization.

Employee Benefit Programs

When business operations are affected by natural disasters, employers must decide whether their employee’s coverage plans will be maintained. For COBRA coverage (continuation of health coverage following loss of benefits), employers must send employees COBRA packages upon being notified of that employee’s ineligibility for an ongoing plan (typically due to ceasing work).

In the event of a natural disaster that may affect health plans, check with your employer to determine whether your cover will continue. Governmental agencies tend to issue deadline extensions in such events, but this can vary, so it is important to check.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Employees suffering physical or emotional injury resulting from a natural disaster are eligible to reasonable accommodations from their employer, so long as no undue hardship would be caused to the business. 

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

As per the OSHA, employers are responsible for protecting their employees from (unreasonable) dangers in the workplace. Natural disasters can create safety issues (such as electrical or trip hazards), and employers must consider this before expecting employees to attend and carry out duties. 

If an employee feels that they have been placed in danger, they can file a complaint with the OSHA, and request ‘whistleblower’ protections if they feel vulnerable to retaliation. 

Both the OSHA and the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act) protects employees’ rights to refuse to  work in unsafe conditions. While they must have a reasonable cause for believing the conditions to be unsafe, they are still protected even if they were genuinely mistaken regarding the risks. 

Federal relief

In the event that a worker is laid-off due to a natural disaster and is not covered by their state’s unemployment compensation program, they may apply for assistance under the federally-funded Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). This assistance scheme also provides cover to self-employed workers from a range of sectors not normally covered under state assistance programs 

Protecting your rights

If you feel that your rights have been violated by an employer, you have every right to take action.

Depending on the severity of the violation, suing your employer in small claims court may be the most appropriate action.

Still, it’s vital that you first attempt to resolve the issue out of court, and that you retain this evidence of good faith in the event that you need to take the matter further. Small claims cases tend to move along more quickly than investigations carried out by the labor department, but there are other pros and cons to consider.

If your rights have been violated, it’s best to consult with a lawyer to determine the best course of action.

This blog was contributed to Workplace Fairness by an anonymous guest author. Learn more about workers’ rights here.


Share this post

Iran’s Gender Justice Uprising Joined by Teachers, Unionists

Share this post

The world is currently witnessing an uprising in Iran, in the face of great state brutality, for liberation from gender, social and economic oppression.

This nationwide revolt, the latest in a series of popular uprisings, was sparked by the brutal killing two weeks ago of a young Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Zhina Amini, in custody of the state’s Guidance Patrol, or “morality police,” for so-called improper hijab (headscarf and coverings legally mandated in Iran for women).

Protesters have called for an end to the dictatorship, that the policing of women’s bodies be stopped, that hijab be optional according to each individual’s personal choice, an end to discrimination against Kurdish people and other ethnic minorities in Iran, and an end to economic injustice.

Women and young people are at the forefront of these protests and students at numerous universities have boycotted classes. At least 83 protesters have been killed by security forces.

What we are witnessing in Iran is a feminist revolt that has sparked a larger anti-government uprising.

The current uprising also helps illustrate the centrality of gender justice to working-class struggle.

Last week, Kurdish shopkeepers launched a general strike across Iranian Kurdistan in protest of Zhina’s killing, and some workers and labor unionists across the country are taking action to support the uprising as well. In a statement this week, the Council of Contract Oil Workers said they “support the popular struggles against organized and daily violence against women and against poverty” and threatened to withhold their labor if the state does not end its “arrests, massacring of people, repression, and harassment and harm of women because of hijab.”

On September 25, the Coordination Council of teachers’ unions in Iran threw its weight behind the uprising and launched a two-day strike.

The teachers, who have been engaged in a wave of strikes and protests since last December, wrote that the uprising shows “Iran is still alive and active, and does not bow down in the face of oppression.” The Council condemned the use of schools in the country as militarized bases to suppress protesters. They called on all working and retired teachers — as well as retirees in government, army, and social service sectors, workers’ unions, athletes and artists — to stand alongside “the rights-seeking people of Iran.”

A coalition of women teachers on strike released their own statement declaring “our solidarity with other justice-seeking people and protesters to this crime for which there is no accountability and never will be.”

While on strike this week, teachers urged Iran’s broader labor movement to escalate the current uprising against the Iranian state to help secure gender justice, democratic freedoms and economic equality.

As 60 percent of teachers in Iran are women, they have an important role to play in the current uprising.

The leadership of the teachers’ unions is overwhelmingly male, but women teachers have increasingly formed core cadre in the recent strikes and protests.

Many women leaders in the teachers’ movement have made demands in recent months that are key for the success of the current popular struggle, and show the intersection of working-class and gender struggles.

They have demanded sex education around issues of healthcare and sexual harassment, as well as contraception, which is significant given Iran’s 2021 population law which imposed increased restrictions on abortions and banned the distribution of free contraceptives by the healthcare system. They have demanded expanded maternity leave and daycare centers at the workplace. And they have demanded that school administrations stop harassing them for improper hijab.

These calls from a segment of working-class Iranian women form an integral part of the broader Iranian feminist movement which has been thrust onto the global stage in recent weeks.

In many ways, the slogan of “Woman, Life, Freedom” that has swept the country’s streets in recent days goes hand in hand with the slogan of “Bread, Work, Freedom,” which emerged during previous nationwide uprisings in Iran against austerity and the high cost of living, both in late 2017 as well as in November 2019 when a gas price increase quickly led to anti-government protests.

Actions like these show the importance of leadership by women workers.

These workers are part of a larger Iranian working class that has taken part in an uptick in strikes and labor militancy in recent years, from sectors as diverse as petrochemicals, trucking, and heavy equipment. These actions have come as a result of domestic and international crises in global capitalism, and the greed of both domestic and foreign elites.

The uprising in Iran must also be seen in an international context, as part of a larger global movement for gender equality across the world among women and trans, queer, and non-binary people who are facing different, yet interrelated types of attacks.

Solidarity protests in countries such as Chile, Lebanon and Turkey have amplified the uprising in Iran and lent protesters morale.

This blog originally appeared in full at In These Times on September 30, 2022. Republished with permission. View Workplace Fairness’ page on discrimination in the workplace.

About the Author: Alborz Ghandehari is a Salt Lake City-based organizer, performance poet, and Assistant Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah.


Share this post

Are You Entitled to Time Off Work for Rehab?

Share this post

Did you know that only around 10% of people who need it get help from an appropriate rehabilitation facility? There are a number of reasons for this, including budget constraints, family responsibilities, and location, making entering a good rehab a difficult task. However, one of the biggest challenges those struggling with addiction face is taking leave from their workplace.

Taking time off for rehab is scary in itself, but when you don’t know the laws around it, it’s even worse. Whether you’re an employer, lawyer, or member of staff, it’s vital that you know the rights of employees who need to go to rehab. Let’s take a look. 

Can I Get Fired For Going to Rehab?

Most workplaces respond positively to time off for mental health and addiction. As the stigma around these topics decreases and employers risk facing criticism if they don’t modernize their policies, it’s highly unlikely you’d be fired for taking time off to attend rehab.

Even if you do have an employer who doesn’t respect putting your wellbeing first, the U.S. has laws in place to prevent this from happening. In short, it would be quite hard for an employer to fire you for going to rehab, whether they want to or not.

The Family and Medical Leave Act

In the U.S., the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was brought in in 1993 to ensure employees can take time off for medical or family-related reasons. This leave is unpaid, but the law prevents you from being fired. This act covers those who require treatment at mental health and addiction rehabilitation centers. It also protects anyone who takes care of that individual during their recovery, such as a parent or spouse.

The FMLA allows for twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year for those suffering from substance abuse and mental illness. When you return, your employer must welcome you back under the same terms and conditions as when you left (e.g., the same pay and the same allocated holiday days).

Be aware, though, that you must be receiving treatment during this time. If you stop attending rehab or are struggling with substance abuse without seeking treatment, you won’t be covered by the act and can lose your job.

Are You Protected by FMLA?

Before leaving work to attend rehab, we advise speaking with your employer about whether you’re covered by FMLA. Some companies have substance abuse policies that render the FMLA ineffective, meaning that you won’t be covered. Check with HR or your direct manager to understand the company’s stance.

Other than speaking with your employer, you can take a look at the following criteria to work out if you’re covered:

  • Your employers must be covered
  • The company employs 50+ workers within a 75-mile radius
  • You must have worked at the company for at least one year in total (the months don’t have to be consecutive)
  • You must have worked for at least 1,250 hours over that year

But, even if you think you’re covered, it’s always best to check in with your company just in case.

Is Your Employer Covered by the FMLA?

Employers that are covered by FMLA include:

  • Government agencies
  • Public or private schools
  • Private companies with 50+ employees

If your employer is covered by FMLA, they must make all staff aware. This is usually done through paperwork for new hires or is detailed in the employee handbook.

The FMLA Process For Requesting Leave

When requesting leave for rehab, it’s vital that you follow the FMLA process to ensure you’re protected by the law. Each employer will have its only policies you must adhere to, but in general, the process has three steps.

The first is to collect all information required by your workplace to process your leave request. This can include:

  • How long you’ll be in treatment
  • Confirmation you’ll be able to resume work after treatment
  • A copy of your essential duties at work

You’ll then file for an FMLA leave request, which should give your employer 30+ days’ notice. You don’t need to mention FMLA if this is your first leave request. Within five days of the request, your employer must confirm or deny your request.

It’s also important to note that you’re not required to hand over any medical records if your employer doesn’t specifically request them. All communication between your health care provider and employer must be in-line with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations regarding privacy.

Other Acts That Protect Employees Attending Rehab

There is another act that you can look into if your employer isn’t covered by FMLA. This is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If your addiction meets the requirements, you’ll be protected against discrimination in the workplace, including being fired. They must also make it easier for you to receive treatment, such as by being flexible with working hours to allow you to attend sessions.

Speaking to Your Employer About Time Off

If you’re worried about bringing up your need for treatment with your employer, remember that you’re far less likely to be treated negatively for seeking treatment rather than for substance abuse. Most employers will be sympathetic and admire your bravery.

If your nerves are holding you back, get in touch with an addiction center you feel comfortable with and ask them for help. They can give you tips and empower you to speak out, giving you the confidence you need to secure your treatment.

Final Words

Requesting leave for addiction treatment is never an easy task, but knowing your rights can make it a lot simpler. Do your research before putting in your request and prepare what you’d like to say to help your meeting go as smoothly as possible. Remember, if you’re covered by FMLA, you can’t be fired.

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness by contributor Gemma Williams — formerly Gemma Hart.


Share this post

Florida Letter Carriers Won Back Our Sunday Breaks with Direct Action

Share this post

A simple grievance can take many months to get results. But at the post office where I work, we got fast results defending our breaks with a different approach: direct action.

I’m a city carrier assistant (CCA) — part of the lower-paid second tier of letter carrier — in Naples, Florida. The retention rate for CCAs nationwide hovers around 20 percent.

Letter carriers start each day by sorting the mail and loading it into our trucks. In my post office, Mondays through Saturdays we take our first 10-minute break together inside the office, with the air conditioning, before heading out to start deliveries.

We used to take our breaks together on Sundays, too. We would chip in for donuts and coffee, a sign of our camaraderie.

But in April, the Postal Service implemented a new way of doing the Sunday package runs. (On Sundays we don’t deliver letters, just parcels, mainly for Amazon.) They had half the workforce coming in first to load trucks, and the other half coming in later to start deliveries — and we were no longer allowed to take our Sunday morning break in the office.

By the middle of the summer, we were back to the old way of loading and delivering. Everyone was back to clocking in at the same time on Sundays, 8:30 a.m.

But management was still refusing to let us take Sunday morning breaks together. They wanted us to hit the road and take our breaks out on the street, in the heat.

‘IT’S BREAK TIME’

At 9 a.m. on Sunday, August 21, my alarm went off as it usually does Mondays through Saturdays. I said what I usually say those days: “It’s break time, ladies and gentlemen.” Three other workers and I started walking towards the break room.

Our supervisor stated, loudly, in front of all of us on the loading dock, that there’s no breaks on Sundays. We shrugged that off and went to the break room. A minute later he was standing over us.

He said we had two choices: Get back to work and take our 10-minute break out on the street, or go home.

We weren’t expecting an ultimatum. But the four of us looked at each other, and we all said we would go home.

We scanned our badges to clock out, and walked to our cars together in a state of shock.

When I got home, I typed up a report on what had happened and posted it on one of the Facebook groups for union letter carriers. My post got 500 likes and a lot of positive feedback.

QUICK RESULTS

By Monday morning, our union president and the postmaster had discussed what happened and started to discuss a solution.

A couple days later, management gathered us all together for a meeting to explain the new memorandum of understanding giving us back our Sunday morning office break, so long as we finished loading our trucks first. They posted it near the schedule for everyone to read.

Twice during the week I was also called into meetings with management — once to discuss my attendance, and once to be asked a bunch of open-ended questions, such as “Was this premeditated? Were you planning all this?” I told them yes, of course I was planning to take a break. But I wasn’t issued any discipline.

The following Sunday I brought in some juice and donuts for my co-workers to enjoy before they started delivering packages in the Florida heat.

UNION STRONG

My co-workers had to work harder and longer than normal that first Sunday when we chose to go home. But most are pleased with the result. Now every CCA across Naples — not just in my office –gets to take a break inside on Sundays.

A brand new CCA started his career that same day, and was busy loading his truck when I made the decision to go home. He recently moved to Florida, after many years of having no union and bad bosses in New York.

He has no bitterness towards me and the others who took action. Instead, witnessing from the beginning of his career the power of a union, he’s proud to be union and excited to get active. He recently attended his first union meeting.

Maybe this will help with the Postal Service retention rate and help build a stronger, younger union. I’d say that’s a victory.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on September 22, 2022. Republished with permission:

About the Author: John Murphy is a city carrier assistant and a member of Letter Carriers Branch 4716.


Share this post

Subscribe For Updates

Sign Up:

* indicates required

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.