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Why temporary layoffs may become permanent

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Forty-two percent, or 11.6 million, of all jobs lost through April 25 due to Covid-19 will become permanent, according to the University of Chicago.

The White House is downplaying the bulk of coronavirus-related layoffs as temporary. But as the worsening recession forces companies to downsize or shut their doors, economists warn that many of these departures will turn permanent.

The unemployment rate for May is expected to hit about 20 percent, coming on top of April’s 14.7 percent. Those statistics — likely underestimates because workers must be “actively looking” for jobs to be counted — would be the highest since the Great Depression.

But President Donald Trump’s advisers have found a different number to seize on: a Federal Reserve estimate, released earlier this month, that 91 percent of people who lost their jobs or were furloughed reported that they expect to return to the same employer eventually. This statistic, the administration officials say, is part of the reason the U.S. should reopen its economy.

“Besides the stock market, there are little glimmers,” Trump’s economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said last week. “I don’t want to downplay the heartbreak because the numbers are not good for this quarter — bad, bad pandemic contraction — but there are little glimmers. A lot of the unemployed are temporary.”

But economists say shifting demands and the sheer breadth of the business closures mean that many of the lost jobs will never return — and to lean on the statistic as a sign of economic well-being is politically risky.

“That’s a high number, and that’s good,” said the Economic Policy Institute’s Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Labor, of the workers’ optimism about returning to their jobs. “But I think we absolutely have to think of that as an upper-bound on how many will be called back.”

“And what we don’t know is how much lower than that … will it ultimately be. The concern is that it’s going to be a lot lower.”

Forty-two percent, or 11.6 million, of all jobs lost through April 25 due to Covid-19 will become permanent, according to research from the University of Chicago’s Becker Friedman Institute. The study places these in three buckets: jobs lost to coronavirus-induced demand shifts, jobs at firms that don’t survive the pandemic and jobs lost due to post-pandemic concerns, such as social distancing.

“I understand that the administration and other folks are optimistic,” the conservative Heritage Foundation’s Paul Winfree, a former Trump aide, said of the temporary layoff numbers. But “I don’t think I can get behind those estimates.”

“We’re going to be dealing with this unemployment problem for quite some time,” Winfree said. “And ultimately, it’s going to plague the economy for months, if not years.”

Businesses in some of the hardest-hit industries have already announced thousands of closures. As of April, about 3 percent of restaurants in the country, once temporarily shuttered, have permanently closed, according to the National Restaurant Association. And manufacturing giants like Caterpillar, Polaris and Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. are shutting down their once-furloughed factories for good, The Wall Street Journal reports.

“You probably had a lot of businesses in absolute good faith say ‘we’re going to call you back’ totally thinking they were going to, but will never do it,” Shierholz said. “Many may go out of business. And two, it’s very probable that in many cases [when they do reopen] they won’t need everyone.”

Even if businesses make it through the pandemic, continued social distancing and other altered consumer behavior mean that many of them are unlikely to be able to rehire their temporarily laid-off or furloughed workers, economists say.

“If it’s the case that for the next two, three years, far fewer people are going to go out and eat at restaurants, if cinemas and movie theaters are going to have to have semi-permanent social distancing reducing their capacity, then a lot of these businesses will become nonviable and these jobs will be permanently lost,” said Ryan Bourne, an economist with the libertarian Cato Institute.

By touting the majority of layoffs as impermanent, Bourne said, the White House is creating a dangerous precedent given the large degree of uncertainty.

“There’s a political danger to implying that things will just go back to normal, which is that you create the expectation that you’re willing to do what it takes to ensure that happens,” Bourne said. “If I was somebody in the Trump administration, I would not be wanting to create the expectation that 90 percent of existing work relationships … were highly likely to return because I think there’s still a huge degree of uncertainty as to whether that will happen.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eleanor Mueller is a legislative reporter for POLITICO Pro, covering policy passing through Congress. She also authors Day Ahead, POLITICO Pro’s daily newsletter rounding up Capitol Hill goings-on.


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America’s economic pain arrives on K Street

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Layoffs are happening, and a survey of trade groups shows revenue is down sharply at many of them.

Restaurants, hotels and tourism businesses are getting socked. Now their Washington lobbyists are, too.

K Street is in cutback mode: The International Franchise Association, the U.S. Travel Association and the National Rifle Association have all laid off staffers since the pandemic hit. Several law-and-lobbying firms have cut pay across the board and at least one well-connected Washington communications firm has applied for a small business relief loan.

A recent survey conducted by the American Society of Association Executives — essentially a trade group for people who lead trade groups — found that 35 percent of trade groups estimated they would lose at least a quarter of their revenue because of canceled events and conferences.

Even the massive U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which recently doled out millions in bonuses to executives and was feeling so flush in December that it seriously considered purchasing a Super Bowl ad — is slashing expenses.

The cuts have hit trade groups even as many of their lobbyists have been busier than ever, hustling to secure a piece of the trillions of dollars in coronavirus aid for their members. Doug Pinkham, president of the Public Affairs Council, said the pandemic had been “financially devastating” for many trade groups.

“Many of them rely very heavily on events for revenue, and that has just dried up,” he said.

Not every trade group that’s seen its revenue collapse has resorted to layoffs; many are weathering the pandemic relatively well. But the cuts show that Washington’s influence industry is not immune to the economic pain afflicting much of the rest of the country. While much of K Street has experienced a boom as companies have rushed to hire lobbyists to help them secure relief loans, others are hurting.

The International Franchise Association laid off a dozen people — about a third of its total staff — and stopped publishing its magazine as advertising revenue evaporated. While the trade group has had some success getting members to register for its digital events, it’s tougher to get sponsors for them.

“Franchise businesses were among the first to close and will in many cases, because of government mandated reopening schedules, be among the last to reopen,” Robert Cresanti, the trade group’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “While the names on the front doors are well-known brands, these locally-owned small businesses often run on very tight margins and until customers can return, IFA’s revenues will likely see a similar decline.”

The U.S. Travel Association, which has lobbied aggressively for more federal funding for tourism bureaus and travel industry businesses, laid off some staffers and cut pay across the board after being forced to cancel its Las Vegas trade show, according to Tori Barnes, the trade group’s top lobbyist. And the NRA — which had been enduring a New York state investigation and internal power struggles before the pandemic hit — has laid off more than 60 people.

Some trade groups that haven’t resorted to layoffs are cutting costs elsewhere. In March, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce slashed some outside consultants, including ones assigned to CEO Tom Donohue. The consultants are on hold indefinitely. The leading business lobby also asked staffers to find ways to cut their divisions’ budgets by 20 percent, according to three people familiar with the matter.

It’s a jarring reversal from December, when the Chamber interviewed major New York ad agencies about airing a Super Bowl ad before dropping the idea, according to two people familiar with the matter. During a board meeting in Florida in early March, the Chamber also approved and later handed out several million dollars in bonuses to senior management right as the pandemic was heating up, according to the people. 

A Chamber spokesman said executive compensation is “heavily weighted toward non-guaranteed bonuses, which are paid in March and based on prior year performance.”

“Of course, we have been reviewing and reducing outside expenditures,” the spokesman said in a statement. “As the world’s largest organization representing the interests of businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is marshaling all of its resources to help as many businesses, families and industries as possible endure the financial hardships caused by the pandemic and return to work in a safe and sustainable way.”

Even some trade groups that are doing well are playing it safe.

The National Association of Realtors recast its annual Washington fly-in, which had been scheduled for last week, as a virtual event and drew nearly 30,000 participants — about three times the number who typically show up in person. The event was so successful that the trade group plans to switch to a hybrid in-person and virtual fly-in in the future once restrictions have lifted, said Bob Goldberg, the trade group’s chief executive.

Still, the trade group has frozen hiring and is slowing down renovations of its Washington office to save money.

The uncertainty has led at least one Washington firm, Precision Strategies, to apply for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, according to Tom Reno, its chief operating officer. The firm was started by three alumni of President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, including Jen O’Malley Dillon, who’s now Joe Biden’s campaign manager. (O’Malley Dillon no longer works at the firm.)

Another consulting firm, Purple Strategies, is considering applying for one of the loans as well.

“We’re absolutely committed to keeping our employees on payroll and if a PPP loan is what it takes to do that, then we’re absolutely committed to pursuing one,” said Steve McMahon, one of the firm’s co-founders. Purple Strategies recently cut half a dozen positions but also plans to hire several people for Washington-based communications roles, according to someone familiar with the matter.

Neither trade groups nor firms primarily engaged in politics or lobbying are eligible to apply for Paycheck Protection Program loans, though some of them are fighting for the right to do so. The American Association of Political Consultants lost a lawsuit against the Small Business Administration last month alleging the program unfairly discriminated against such consulting firms. The group is appealing.

House Democrats voted last week to change the rules to allow trade groups to apply for the loans after the U.S. Travel Association and others lobbied them to do so. (U.S. Travel has argued the change would allow destination marketing groups — think Visit Idaho or Visit Baltimore — to receive badly needed aid.)

Still, many trade groups insist they don’t plan to apply for the loans even if they’re allowed to do so. It’s “is NOT something we would consider under any circumstances,” American Petroleum Institute spokeswoman Bethany Aronhalt wrote in an email.

Some trade groups are getting by fine so far. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores — which represents CVS, Walgreens and other pharmacies — hasn’t seen its finances deteriorate or laid off anyone, said Steve Anderson, its president and chief executive. 

But he fears for small groups with shallower pockets, including state-level trade groups. “I am greatly concerned about the financial health of trade associations moving forward,” Anderson said.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Daniel Lippman is a reporter covering the White House and Washington for POLITICO. He was previously a co-author of POLITICO’s Playbook and still writes Playbook’s “Great Weekend Reads” section on Saturdays and Sundays and the “Social Data” section of POLITICO New York Playbook.

About the Author: Theodoric Meyer covers lobbying for POLITICO and writes the POLITICO Influence newsletter. He previously covered the 2016 campaign for POLITICO and worked as a reporting fellow for ProPublica in New York. He was a lead reporter on ProPublica’s “After the Flood” series on the federal government’s troubled flood insurance program, which won the Deadline Club Award for Local Reporting. He’s a graduate of McGill University and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.


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Job losses have now hit 40% of low-income homes

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Thirteen percent of all U.S. adults, or 20 percent of people who were employed in February, were laid off or furloughed.

One in five American workers lost their jobs in March, including almost 40 percent of those in lower-income households, according to a Federal Reserve survey, underscoring the staggering impact of the coronavirus crisis.

The data — released hours after the Labor Department reported that workers filed almost 3 million new unemployment claims last week — is further evidence that the economic crunch is pounding poorer Americans the hardest. It comes as the country increasingly looks to the Fed to ease the pain of the recession and the central bank itself presses Congress to do more to halt the wave of layoffs.

“A clearer understanding of how families are coping with the changed economic landscape is vital as the Federal Reserve considers next steps to address fallout from the pandemic,” Fed Governor Michelle Bowman said in a statement.

Thirteen percent of all U.S. adults, or 20 percent of people who were employed in February, were laid off or furloughed as the pandemic began sweeping through the country in March, the Fed said. Another 6 percent of all adults worked reduced hours or went on leave without pay, the central bank found in the survey, included in its annual Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households.

For those who lost their job or were working fewer hours, only 64 percent expected to be able to pay off all their bills, compared to 85 percent of Americans who didn’t see their employment situation change.

Yet in a sign that Americans are maintaining their optimism, 91 percent of people who lost their jobs or were furloughed said they expected to return to the same employer eventually, suggesting that government efforts to keep workers tied to their current jobs might be working. Five percent in that group had already returned to work by the time of the survey.

Still, the numbers paint a grim picture: 39 percent of employed people in households making less than $40,000 lost their job or were furloughed in March. That compares to 19 percent of individuals in households making between $40,000 and $100,000, and 13 percent of people in households with an income above $100,000, a Fed official told reporters.

Meanwhile, 7 percent of workers took a new job or increased their hours. Overall, 23 percent of Americans reported lower income in March compared to February, while only 5 percent saw their pay increase.

Some people who saw their employment situation change for the worse might have been able to get new jobs or had second jobs.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday warned that the depth of the crisis could result in lingering pain for the economy and said further action by Congress to mitigate that damage would be worth the high cost.

“This reversal of economic fortune has caused a level of pain that is hard to capture in words, as lives are upended amid great uncertainty about the future,” Powell said.

The survey findings also highlight disparities among workers with different education levels, with financial well-being declining among those with a high school education or less.

People with more education also had more ability to work from home; 63 percent of workers with at least a bachelor’s degree worked entirely from home during the last week of March, compared to 20 percent of workers with a high school degree or less, and 27 percent of people with some college education or an associate degree.

The supplemental survey polled roughly 1,000 adults between April 3-6.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on May 14, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Victoria Guida is a financial services reporter covering banking regulations and monetary policy for POLITICO Pro. She covers the Federal Reserve, the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, as well as Treasury, after four years on the international trade beat, most recently for Pro and previously for Inside U.S. Trade.


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Layoffs have high stakes for foreign nationals and their employers

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As society reacts to the spread of COVID-19, businesses are making difficult decisions. Despite the government’s interventions to encourage continuity in the workforce, unemployment is at historic rates and still rising.

This creates high stakes for employers of foreign nationals. The inflexible regulatory scheme governing such employment did not anticipate COVID-19.  It’s important to approach layoffs, hours reductions, and furloughs with a concrete plan: the impact on foreign workers must be taken into account before your company takes action.

Temporary Furloughs and Reductions in Hours Worked

The H-1 and E-3 visa categories require the filing of a Labor Condition Application (LCA) with the Department of Labor and are governed by DOL wage regulations.  An employer must pay these employees the greater of (1) the actual wage rate paid by the employer to all other individuals with similar experience and qualifications for the specific job, or (2) the prevailing wage for the occupational classification in the geographic area of intended employment.  This required wage must be paid, even if the employee is not performing work and is in a nonproductive status.  The temporary furlough of such an employee would therefore lead immediately to a violation of the LCA and a potential claim by the employee against the company.  Reductions in hours worked could also lead to LCA violations where the LCA was based on full-time employment.

There is no easy way out of this problem.  Foreign national employees may not be treated better than U.S. workers, so exempting them from such measures is not an option.  An employer’s only choice may be to amend an H-1B petition to reflect the change in working conditions, which is expensive and cumbersome, or to terminate the foreign national’s employment outright.

This situation is much more flexible for foreign workers not in H-1B, H-1B1 or E-3 status.  Such employees may generally be treated the same as U.S. workers without the need to amend an underlying visa petition.

Permanent Layoffs

Immigration regulations require employers of individuals in the H-1, L-1 and O-1 visa categories to immediately notify USCIS of material changes in the terms and conditions of employment.  What constitutes a material change is not always clear, but termination of employment is plainly material.  Written notice to USCIS would be sufficient for all except H-1B employees.

Employers of terminated H-1B employees – whether through layoff or otherwise — must notify USCIS immediately by withdrawing the H-1B petition.  The employer must also offer to repatriate the employee — pay the cost of the employee’s trip home if the employee chooses to depart the U.S.

F-1/STEM OPT Issues

There are also certain obligations for employers of F-1 nonimmigrant students who are employed pursuant to STEM OPT work authorization.  The STEM OPT period is governed by the Form I-983 training plan, which contains an employer certification.  Among other things, the Form I-983 includes the student’s salary and the agreed-upon number of hours worked per week.  The employer is responsible for notifying the student’s Designated School Official (DSO) regarding any material change to the training plan, including any reduction in compensation or any significant decrease in hours worked per week.  The employer also must notify the DSO within five business days of the termination of the student during the authorized STEM OPT period.

Permanent Residency Issues

If the company has filed an immigrant petition, or I-140, or an employee who is laid off, the employer should withdraw the I-140 petition.  However, the employee may be able to join a new employer and maintain the benefit of the prior approved I-140 petition and the established priority date, so long as the I-140 petition has been approved for at least 180 days.

Layoffs may affect not only the individual employee(s) laid off, but they can also have a significant effect on the green card process for other employees as well.  If the company has had a layoff within the last six months in the area of intended employment of the PERM job or a related job, the employer may not be able to file the PERM application.  This may delay the filing of PERM applications for employees, and may prevent the employer from sponsoring an employee for a green card altogether if the employee does not have sufficient time remaining in their nonimmigrant status.

In this tumultuous time, if your business is being forced to consider layoffs or if you are a foreign national employee who has been recently laid off, be sure to speak with an immigration attorney that is well versed in the nuances of both the regulations and these unusual circumstances.

Printed with permission.

About the Author: Leslie Ditrani is Co-Managing Partner of Chin & Curtis, LLP and has been practicing immigration law for more than 25 years. Working closely with employers to hire and retain talent, she and the firm represent a wide range of enterprises from start-ups and entrepreneurs to large, multi-national businesses. Leslie is known for her broad expertise in business and family immigration matters, and her dedication to finding creative and effective solutions.


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Labor and Community Allies Fight for Jobs and Public Safety in Atlantic City

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Atlantic City, New Jersey, may be the gambling capital of the East Coast, but there are certain things that shouldn’t be left up to chance, namely public safety. However, bureaucrats in charge of the state takeover of Atlantic City are now ready to impose drastic budget cuts that will result in 50% fewer firefighters and the smallest police force since 1971.

The New Jersey State AFL-CIO has joined with various labor and community allies to oppose these cuts that threaten safety and also undermine the economic recovery of Atlantic City. This community-based coalition has launched a campaign called “Don’t Gamble on Safety AC” that seeks to raise awareness of the impact of budget cuts.

During the campaign launch last week, one of the most salient voices was that of Officer Joshlee Vadell, who was shot in the head while heroically intervening in an armed robbery last year. Under the plan proposed by the state of New Jersey, disability payments for officers like Vadell could be cut, and the officers who rushed to save his life would face layoffs.

Watch Officer Vadell’s press conference speech, and be sure to check out highlights from the event.

Without ensuring safety, residents, businesses, visitors and workers are all put at risk. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO will stand with our brothers and sisters and the Atlantic City community to ensure that this fundamental community need is met.

The campaign will include billboards, direct mail, online advertising and multiple grassroots activities, including leafleting on the boardwalk and door-to-door canvassing to inform residents. For more information on the campaign, visit DontGambleOnSafetyAC.com.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on March 28, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.


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Philadelphia School Layoffs are Endangering Students’ College Prospects

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Laura ClawsonIt’s college application time for high school seniors around the country, and Philadelphia public school students are facing more than the usual “will I get in?” stresses. That’s because last summer’s massive layoffs in the Philadelphia schools left them understaffed and without enough counselors to guide students through the application process—in some cases without enough counselors to even write recommendation letters for every student who needs them:

Many students at Central High shoot for top-tier colleges, but counselor Tatiana Olmedo has had to warn college officials not every student will have a letter of recommendation.The math just doesn’t add up, Olmedo said – 2,400 students, two counselors. Eight counselors used to work at the school. Students who want an appointment to see a counselor can count on a two-week wait.

“We don’t know all the students, and we don’t have a way of meeting them in a timely fashion,” Olmedo said. Schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University indicated that might affect students’ chances.

And forget about counselors having the time to help students figure out what colleges they should apply to, advice that can be especially important for teens seeking to become first-generation college students, whose parents aren’t familiar with the application process. Also falling by the wayside as counselors struggle to help hundreds or thousands of students make it through high school are little things like teaching students how to tell if their friends might be suicidal.

Philadelphia’s schools are being hit by a funding crisis created by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett; their teachers are paid less than teachers in surrounding suburbs, they receive less funding per student than schools in Pittsburgh and many of the state’s other cities, and school closings are disproportionately hurting low-income and black students. Now, kids who’ve nearly made it through and are trying to move on to college are being hurt by Corbett’s cuts.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on January 6, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.


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Dark Days for Philly Schools As Cuts Threaten to Decimate District

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P5034697Despite educators’ best efforts, urban school systems are bleak places to work at and learn in these days, no matter the city or one’s position in the school. But Philadelphia offers a particularly grim view of the dismantling of public education in the austerity era. Few American city school systems have faced measures as devastating as Philadelphia’s—at the very same time the state government has passed massive corporate tax breaks and increased funding for incarceration.

Citing a budget deficit of $304 million in the coming fiscal year, the city’s School Reform Commission voted in March to close 23 public schools, about 10 percent of the city’s total schools. And this week, the district announced a staggering 3,783 layoffs—676 teachers, 769 assistants and 1,202 school safety staff—if additional funds cannot be generated from the city, the state and concessions from public sector workers.

The closures were not Philadelphia’s first, nor were the layoffs—nine schools were closed andmore than 3,000 jobs were eliminated in 2011. In that year, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett slashed more than $1 billion to public education in the state’s budget (along with other brutal cuts to the social safety net throughout Pennsylvania).

Those measures were considered devastating at the time. The currently proposed closures and cuts go even deeper.

“Philadelphia schools are on life support,” says Ron Whitehorne, a retired teacher and activist with the community-labor group Philly Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, “and they’re about to pull the plug.”

The district is seeking $313 million before the end of the month. It is requesting more tax dollars—$60 million more from the city, $120 million from the state. But a plurality of its plan to close the deficit comes from union concessions and givebacks, to the tune of $133 million, most of which come from Philadelphia teachers.

Even at a time of widespread austerity, the scope of concessions demanded of Philly teachers is jaw-dropping. Under the district’s contract giveback demands, teachers earning more than $55,000 a year would receive a 13 percent pay cut, along with a 13 percent hike in health care contributions. Tenure and sabbaticals would be eliminated, the workday would be lengthened (and teachers would be forced to work additional hours off the clock without pay). Librarians would be eliminated, and schools would no longer be required to have counselors. Limits on class sizes would be lifted.

The proposal led Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch to write:

The time to stop this downward spiral of bulls–it is right now. … If this really is the deal, Philadelphia teachers need to walk off the job. That’s right — strike. And anyone who cares about the ability of the middle class to raise a family — particularly a well-educated family — needs to stand behind them.

City and state politicians might be able to justify the measures as painful but necessary decisions at a time of “shared sacrifice” if they weren’t simultaneously handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations and Wall Street, upping their contributions to charter schools, and building a new prison. Last month, for example, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a corporate tax cut that would cost the state $600-800 million per year, more than double Philadelphia schools’ deficit for the next fiscal year.

“How can you call for shared sacrifice while huge businesses are getting a tax break?” says Whitehorne.

The district spends more than 10 times the national average servicing its debt, with an astonishing $280 million—12 percent of its entire budget—going to interest payments and $161 million going to Wall Street firms in what have been called ”toxic” interest rate swaps, under criticism in other cities for unjustly robbing schools of resources.

“This is a [gubernatorial] administration that has bent over backwards to accommodate corporate interests,” says Whitehorne.

Charter schools have had to make some cuts over the years, but their percentage of the district’s total education budget—30 percent, at $729 million for FY 2014 (PDF)—continues to grow, with an estimated 40 percent of the city’s students slated to attend charters by 2017. And perhaps most incredibly, within days of the layoffs announcement, the state began work on a $400 million new prison north of Philadelphia.

The expansion of prisons at the time of massive school budget cuts makes some sense, since the 3,783 layoffs include the total elimination of all 1,202 of the district’s school safety workers, who monitor cafeterias, hallways and other areas of schools to de-escalate conflicts and violence between students, a longstanding problem in Philadelphia. If safety workers are eliminated, only police officers will remain in the schools, which could easily accelerate what activists call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Doris Hogue works at South Philadelphia High. She has worked as a school safety worker for 20 years, and is a member of UNITE HERE Local 247.  “At one time, there were interracial fights going on,” Hogue says, referencing widespread violence between African American and Asian American students in the school system several years ago. “We developed rapport with the children. They began to trust us, and we were able to help diminish much of the violence.” She says the number of violent incidents is down in her school. In a report released by UNITE HERE, 40 percent of student safety staff reported recently witnessing a violent incident where there were not enough safety personnel present to address it. If the layoffs go through as planned, there won’t be any.

“We’re not just safety staff—we’re like their mothers,” Hogue says. “They come to us if they hear a fight’s going to happen, or if they’re being bullied. I don’t think the district recognizes what will happen in September when the children come back to school without us there.”

Philadelphia was subject to what the Rand Corporation called “the nation’s largest experiment in the private management of public schools.” As reporter Daniel Denvir notes, that project included the takeover of Philadelphia public schools in 2002 by the state, which then established the School Reform Commission (SRC) “to oversee the district and turned 45 schools over to private managers, including for-profit educational management organizations.” But according to Rand, despite the massive number of schools privately managed, student achievement did not improve—and the school’s deficit only deepened. Rather than pull the district out of the red, privatization plunged Philadelphia schools further into it, thus justifying the need for further austerity measures.

Students, teachers and other education workers, and community members seem to be stepping up their pushback to the draconian cuts. In March, 19 people were arrested at the SRC meeting where the closures were voted on, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. (Whitehorne says those charges were dropped yesterday.) Students have ledmultiple walkouts throughout the city. Protests are continuing to ratchet up, including a scheduled rally in Harrisburg, the state capital, at the end of the month. But with almost half of the $323 million to plug the deficit coming on the backs of public-sector workers, the options for Philadelphia schools seem to range from bad to worse.

“If they don’t work anything out, and the money doesn’t come in, I feel it would be so dangerous for any schools to open,” says Hogue, the school safety worker. Come September, “I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like. It’s not going to be good.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on June 14, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Micah Uetricht is an In These Times contributing editor. He has written for SalonThe Nation,The American ProspectJacobin, and the Chicago Reader. Most importantly, he is also a proud former In These Times editorial intern.


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Women, Black Workers Hard Hit by Attacks on Public Employees

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Credit: Joe Kekeris

The improved jobs figures out last Friday obscured the ongoing decline in public-sector jobs. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted when releasing the March unemployment data:

Employment in local government continued to trend down over the month. Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008.

The loss of such jobs is important because the nation’s well-being depends not only on job numbers increasing, but on the creation of quality jobs—those that pay decent wages and enable people to attain or maintain a middle-class life. According to National Employment Law Project (NELP), the new jobs being created aren’t as good as the ones that have been lost. NELP found that jobs in lower wage industries, such as retail and food preparation, made up 23 percent of the jobs that were lost in the recent recession. Yet they made up 49 percent of the jobs the economy has gained in the past year. As the BBC Business puts it:

In other words, it appears that while people may finally be returning to work, they have to work for less pay.

In contrast, jobs in the public sector have provided such economic stability. They have also made it possible for some of the nation’s most economically marginalized—women and minorities—to achieve financial security often denied them in the private sector.

So attacks on public employees hit women and black workers especially hard.

Susan Feiner, professor of economics and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine, writes that:

employees at the federal (43 percent female), state (53 percent female) and local (61 percent female) levels have been able to better resist the wage reductions, benefit cuts and mass lay-offs that giant multinational corporations have visited upon employees over the last decade.

Yet Feiner finds that “while women represented 57 percent of the public-sector work force at the end of the recession,”

women lost the vast majority—79 percent—of the 327,000 jobs cut in this sector between July 2009 and February 2011, according to a January report by the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center.

Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, writes today about the striking results of his new research brief, Blacks and the Public Sector. In sum:

  • The public sector is the single most important source of employment for African Americans.
  • During 2008-2010, 21.2 percent of all black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3 percent of non-black workers.  Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.
  • The public sector is also a critical source of decent-paying jobs for black worker.  For both men and women, the median wage earned by black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.
  • Prior to the recession, the wage differential between black and white workers was less in the public sector than in the overall economy.

As California Progress Report writes:

For blacks and others, “the best anti-poverty program is union organizing,” the UC Berkeley Labor Center notes on its website.”

And so moves by Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio to shred the ability of public employees to bargain for a decent middle-class life are also specifically targeting the ability of women and black workers to remain in the economic mainstream.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (she was represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

This blog originally was post on AFL-CIO on April 5, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.


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Fired in real time: A little bit pregnant

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Image: Bob RosnerOne phrase comes to mind as I started calling my friends to tell them that I had been fired, “a little bit pregnant.” I’m a guy, so please remember, this is a metaphor.

I’ll explain. The American Dream isn’t just big cars and summer houses. No, at it’s heart is the belief that everyone has a chance to be successful. Put another way, there is an essential fairness or rationality that is the foundation of how the world of work works. As an equation it might go something like this, hard work = success.

I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that when I’ve seen people around me fired or laid off I’ve leapt to the opposite conclusion. That on some level, they deserved it. Okay, now that I’ve gone down this path, please tolerate one more equation, failure = failure.

That’s where being a little bit pregnant comes in.

I think most people assume that when you are fired you might not be 100% at fault, but you are at least a little bit guilty of something. Hence, anyone fired is at least a little big pregnant.

This not only helps to explain what happened to anyone who is fired, it also helps to justify why you still have your job. Because you clearly aren’t a failure.

I’ll save you the gory details of my firing, but I believe it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job. No, there were plenty of people at my old company who fit in that category. In fact, I’ve never worked anyplace where more people would say in normal conversation, “What exactly does he do for us?” Really, I heard people say that about at least 20% of the employees.

No, I was fired because I actually tried to do my job.

I was initially hired as a spokesmodel for the company, however, if you knew what I looked like that reference would be even funnier.

My role was to talk about the product with customers, the media, etc. However, what I quickly discovered was the marketing and sales function wasn’t broken, it was non-existent. So I filled the vacuum by creating a new name for the company, a marketing plan, sales collateral, I suggested product modifications based on client input and I started making sales calls. In addition to this I spent my first two months playing company therapist, going office to office to get people pointed in the same direction. On occasion, I even got in harms way between two warring staffers.

The responses to our sales calls varied from “like” to something bordering on adulation. But five months in I realized that we were 0 for 30. Yep, we’d made thirty sales calls and had not sold our product to one client.

I know what you’re thinking, I should have been fired for sheer sales ineptitude. Ironically, this would have been much easier to handle than the reason that I was actually fired for. Much easier.

I spent a long weekend thinking about how we could end this horrific losing streak and I realized that there were a number of contributing factors. First, with no clients, every company we talked to had to decide if they wanted to become our guinea pig. We also didn’t have examples of real companies using our product. So we needed to connect the dots for our customers. Finally, I came up with a visible and credible organization that would agree to serve as our launch client and could connect the dots for potential customers.

Guinea pig, no longer an issue. Connect the dots, check.

I put this in a report for my boss. Needless to say I learned that you should never present a report to your boss entitled “0 for 30.” However, not in the way that you’re probably thinking.

My boss didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our lack of sales. His first response was to say, “No one has said ‘No’ to us so far.” He felt that it all was just a matter of time before we’d land a series of major sales.

The stunner was when he said, “You can’t ever use the phrase 0 for 30 again. Not within earshot of me or in any emails.” Here is the clincher, “Because it will hurt the feelings of all of the staff members who’ve worked so hard on the product.” He concluded, “And I don’t ever want a potential investor to see the phrase ‘0 for 30.’”

Feelings? And that the only way that an investor would learn that we didn’t have any customers was because they read an email by me?

Two weeks after presenting the 0 for 30 report I was fired for not getting along with staff. Two staffers were mentioned by name.

My a-ha: Mine was probably more of a mercy killing than a firing

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].


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Fired in real time: The perp walk.

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Image: Bob RosnerI’ve had countless people write to me, as a workplace columnist, to describe the security guard standing next to them as they packed up their soon-to-be-former desk and painfully did a final perp walk out of the building.

Mine was not nearly that cinematic. Just me, a bunch of boxes and a coworker with whom I shared the office looking ashen. That might not mean much to you, but considering that she is African American, it was a weird way to see her.

Lucky for me, the company I worked for is not exactly a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends-kind-of-operation. Except for the days when there is an afternoon staff meeting, mostly the building starts to clear out about 3 pm. That’s when people choose to show up for work at all.

So as I scrambled to pack up my stuff, luckily I saw precious few people.

As I walked down the hallway, one guy grabbed me by the shirt and said, “You’re the lucky one here, you get to escape this zoo.”

Another woman didn’t say a word. She just hugged me with a tear in her eye. She started to say something and then just grabbed me again. Then she scurried down the hall.

One image kept coming to mind as I try to sum up the feelings that were circulating around my psyche like really powerful Jacuzzi jets in the hour after being fired. It was an old family picture, let me explain.

My sister lived with her husband for ten years. Then one day we got a call that she was moving out, into her own apartment. Within hours of that call, my mother had strategically removed any photos that contained my sister’s ex from the house.

But there was one photo that my old man really liked, so my mom couldn’t just toss it. The photo was of our extended family that was decoupaged onto a piece of wood. My mother was more than up to the challenge. She scratched out my sisters husband’s face and body, leaving a gaping hole in the photograph. She then glued a tree over where he’d been.

It might have worked, if my ex brother in law had been standing on the end of the assembled group of family members. But seeing my family gathered around that clumsily glued tree makes me laugh to this day.

That’s exactly how I felt. Like I was crudely scratched out of my own picture. In the coming days I probably will find the words to discuss the emotional devastation in greater detail. But suffice it to say that it is a searing pain that someone who is fired won’t soon forget.

My a-ha: If people in Seattle have a million ways to describe rain, people who are fired have as many to describe the numb feeling that comes over your body and soul. Try as you may to orient yourself, it only comes to you with the passage of time. At least I hope so.

Next installment: No soup for you.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].


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