Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

How Amy Coney Barrett’s Appointment Would Escalate the War on Workers

Share this post

The death of Supreme Court Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­berg has trig­gered a hasty search by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Sen­ate Repub­li­cans for a jus­tice to fill the emp­ty seat before the Novem­ber pres­i­den­tial election. 

Now Trump has cho­sen Amy Coney Bar­rett, of the two women at the top of his short­list, as his Supreme Court nom­i­na­tion, but she has not yet been con­firmed. Bar­rett, a staunch con­ser­v­a­tive groomed by the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety, has been iden­ti­fied as a strong­ly anti-abor­tion nominee.

In employ­ment cas­es that Bar­rett has seen, she has adopt­ed large­ly anti-work­er—and on two occa­sions, racial­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry—posi­tions. In 2017, Bar­rett vot­ed not to re-hear U.S. Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­ni­ty Com­mis­sion v. Auto­zone, in which a three-judge pan­el ruled in favor of an Auto­zone which had seg­re­gat­ed its stores based on race. In a 2019 case, she ruled against a Black Illi­nois Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion work­er who had alleged that his fir­ing was racial­ly-moti­vat­ed, giv­en racist ver­bal harass­ment he expe­ri­enced on the job. And this year, Bar­rett ruled that Grub­Hub dri­vers could not file a class action law­suit against their employ­er—a blow to work­ers in the rapid­ly expand­ing gig economy. 

If appoint­ed, Bar­rett would cement the con­ser­v­a­tive major­i­ty on a court that has already demon­strat­ed a strong anti-work­er ten­den­cy. In two major labor cas­es in the last three years the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 to curb union and work­er pro­tec­tions. In Epic Sys­tem Corp. v. Lewis, the Supreme Court deter­mined that employ­ers could con­trac­tu­al­ly oblig­ate work­ers to for­go their right to col­lec­tive­ly sue the employ­er—before the deci­sion, class action law­suits were regard­ed as “pro­tect­ed con­cert­ed activ­i­ty” under Sec­tion 7 of the NLRA. And in Janus v. AFSCME, the court ruled that pub­lic-sec­tor unions could no longer require rep­re­sent­ed work­ers to pay union fees, again vot­ing along con­ser­v­a­tive-lib­er­al lines. 

In These Times spoke to James Gray Pope, a labor activist and legal schol­ar from Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty, about the con­ser­v­a­tive court and labor. 

In These Times: What kinds of labor lit­i­ga­tion do you antic­i­pate com­ing before the court? And what are the impli­ca­tions for labor when the court becomes so over­whelm­ing­ly conservative?

James Gray Pope: The big-pic­ture point here is that through­out the whole range of issues that affect the work­ing class, the Supreme Court is going to be in a fun­da­men­tal­ly reac­tionary pos­ture. And we’ve been through a peri­od like that, the so-called Lochn­er era, which refers to the late 19th and ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry Supreme Court trend of oppos­ing legal reg­u­la­tions around work­ing con­di­tions. The Lochn­er case itself involved a New York max­i­mum hours law that the court struck down because it vio­lat­ed the indi­vid­ual free­dom of con­tract of employ­ers and work­ers to agree that the work­er would work for any num­ber of hours that they want­ed. And the court said it was ille­git­i­mate for a leg­is­la­ture to take into account imbal­ances of pow­er in a con­trac­tu­al rela­tion­ship, unless the pro­tect­ed indi­vid­u­als were some­how inca­pable of tak­ing care of them­selves, like chil­dren. So, that being the basic ide­o­log­i­cal cen­ter-point for jurispru­dence dur­ing that peri­od, the court did a lot of inter­ven­tion in terms of strik­ing down work­er-pro­tec­tive leg­is­la­tion, max­i­mum-hours laws, min­i­mum wage laws, union-rights laws, and laws out­law­ing yel­low dog con­tracts.

And this peri­od today is sim­i­lar. The core ide­ol­o­gy is real­ly the same, but the court can’t imple­ment it with the kind of puri­ty that it could imple­ment it dur­ing the Lochn­er era, because labor stat­ues are sit­ting there. The state­ment of pur­pose of the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Act (NLRA) talks about inequal­i­ty, bar­gain­ing pow­er, and the need for full free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion of work­ers. So they have to deal with that. 

But you can see it in Epic Sys­tems. You can see right from the begin­ning of the opin­ion, Jus­tice Neil Gor­such is irri­tat­ed at the work­ers there for bring­ing a suit against their employ­er after they had agreed not to. So the idea here is that an indi­vid­ual work­er, you know, sits down with an employ­er and is in an equal rela­tion­ship in nego­ti­at­ing some­thing. Where­as, of course, as Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg says, in foot­note two of her opin­ion, it did­n’t hap­pen that way. The com­pa­ny just sends out an edict say­ing, “You either agree to this or you lose your job.” That’s the present-day ver­sion of the Lochn­er era, indi­vid­ual lib­er­ty of contract. 

In These Times: Beyond cas­es that deal direct­ly with the NLRA, what is the kind of lit­i­ga­tion that could come before the Supreme Court that would affect workers?

James Gray Pope: I don’t think any­thing’s going to be so much dif­fer­ent from the recent direc­tion. It’s just that it’s going to be more intense and con­sis­tent. What’s going to be an issue here in terms of what the court does, I think, is the extent to which Supreme Court Jus­tice John Roberts, who has some sense of his­to­ry and some con­cern about what the his­tor­i­cal ver­dict on his chief jus­tice­ship is going to be, is going to con­strain the court in the labor law area. I think he under­stands the need to con­strain the court in the civ­il rights area, and even some of the oth­er con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tices have issued sur­pris­ing pro-civ­il rights opinions. 

The Supreme Court is like any polit­i­cal body in the sense that you spend polit­i­cal cap­i­tal, and there’s an assess­ment: “Well, do we want to spend our polit­i­cal cap­i­tal on this issue? Are we going to spend it on that issue?” And that’s going to be the big ques­tion now that they’re going to have. If this nom­i­nee gets con­firmed, con­ser­v­a­tives are going to have a very strong major­i­ty. And they’re going to have the pow­er to trans­form the law immense­ly. And so the ques­tion is, where are they going to put their ener­gy? And my fear is not so much for labor law, because labor laws are fun­da­men­tal­ly weak any­way, but more in the area of vot­ing rights and gerrymandering. 

In These Times: How does the Fed­er­al­ist Society’s tex­tu­al­ist or orig­i­nal­ist tra­di­tion affect rul­ings on labor-relat­ed cases? 

James Gray Pope: Orig­i­nal­ism ini­tial­ly was a pure­ly con­ser­v­a­tive phi­los­o­phy where basi­cal­ly you imag­ine set­ting a time machine back and ask­ing the peo­ple who enact­ed the 14th Amend­ment, for exam­ple, “Well, did you intend to give women equal rights to men?” And that was the kind of method­ol­o­gy that’s now referred to by more sophis­ti­cat­ed pro­po­nents of orig­i­nal mean­ing as “orig­i­nal expect­ed appli­ca­tion,” where instead of going after the orig­i­nal mean­ing you’re going back and you’re going after the ways in which peo­ple in that his­tor­i­cal era would have applied the provision. 

One of the big prob­lems with orig­i­nal­ism is, what hap­pens if a body of prece­dent builds up that seems to con­tra­dict your view? In a way, the most dra­mat­ic illus­tra­tion is Supreme Court Jus­tice Clarence Thomas on the scope of the Com­merce Clause. And this relates to labor. Thomas thinks that the word “com­merce” is the Con­gress’s pow­er to reg­u­late inter­state com­merce, the word com­merce just means the buy­ing and sell­ing of things. And so, in his view, the deci­sions that upheld the Wag­n­er Act and the Nation­al Labor Rela­tions Act are wrong from an orig­i­nal­ist point of view.

Well, the prob­lem is that stare deci­sis—a judi­cial pol­i­cy that courts gen­er­al­ly fol­low ear­li­er rul­ings (prece­dent), some­times even when the ear­li­er rul­ings were erro­neous—is total­ly manip­u­la­ble: It’s a mul­ti fac­tor analy­sis that’s eas­i­ly manipulable. 

In These Times: Con­sid­er­ing the fact that labor law in the Unit­ed States is real­ly weak, and work­ers’ pro­tec­tions will like­ly be fur­ther erod­ed in the com­ing years, what are the ways that you might antic­i­pate unions or work­ers orga­ni­za­tions respond­ing to that land­scape, through the law or not?

James Gray Pope: Broad­ly, I would say that pol­i­tics are key. And what’s real­ly cru­cial is to get strong pro­gres­sives into elect­ed office, from which point they can pack the court. So if you want it to go through for­mal legal method mech­a­nisms, that would be the way to do it. And obvi­ous­ly, that’s an area that’s fraught right now with the ger­ry­man­der­ing opin­ion, the vot­er ID rul­ings, and Cit­i­zens Unit­ed guar­an­tee­ing the right of mon­ey to skew the polit­i­cal process. All of those things are going to make it very dif­fi­cult to break through. 

The last time this was a prob­lem was around the Lochn­er era, dur­ing which a lot of peo­ple were denied the right to vote, includ­ing not only African Amer­i­cans in the South, but also poor whites in the South, and women. So the demo­c­ra­t­ic process was skewed then as well. Ulti­mate­ly, what was cru­cial was mass resistance. 

And the strikes in 1934—that was the peri­od where you had gen­er­al strikes and threat­ened gen­er­al strikes in a num­ber of cities, bring­ing about the per­ceived pos­si­bil­i­ty of, if not rev­o­lu­tion, some­thing at least threat­en­ing the order. And that got the NLRA passed. And in my opin­ion, that’s what got the NLRA upheld as con­sti­tu­tion­al along with Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s threat to pack the Supreme Court with jus­tices sym­pa­thet­ic to the New Deal.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 28, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alice Herman is an In These Times Good­man Inves­tiga­tive Fel­low, as well as a writer based in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, where she works at a restau­rant. She con­tributes reg­u­lar­ly to Isth­mus, Madison’s alt-week­ly, and The Pro­gres­sive magazine.


Share this post

Survey Writing Tips to Get Honest Feedback from Your Employees

Share this post

When was the last time you sent out an employee survey? How many responses did you get? If not a lot, there is a good chance that the reason was the survey itself. 

The way you write the survey really matters to get honest feedback from employees and make the workplace better. Not just the survey questions, but the style of writing can also be an important factor in getting answers. 

In this post, find four essential writing tips to make your surveys more engaging and give you more of the valuable employee feedback. 

1. Avoid Leading Questions

A leading question is a question that encourages a specific answer, e.g., “Don’t you love our new coffee machine in the office?” It’s used mainly to confirm a piece of information, which is totally inapplicable if you want to get honest feedback. 

A better option of the just-mentioned question would be: 

What do you think of our new coffee machine in the office?” 

In this case, you’re not putting words in the survey taker’s mouth and encourage an honest answer. 

Another “classic” type of undesirable leading question starts with “Do you…” For example, the question “Do you have any problems with your manager?” prompts the survey participant to questions their relationship with their manager. 

Instead, try an open-ended option like, “Could you describe your relationship with your manager?”

Always check your surveys for leading questions before sending them out. It can be easy to forget and add a couple of them accidentally and affect employee engagement with the survey. 

2. Avoid Addressing Two Subjects in One Question

Having two subjects in the same question can easily confuse your employees and cause inaccurate feedback. These questions are often called “double-barreled,” and they reduce the quality of the answer given by survey takers.

Here’s an example from a recent employee survey at an academic writing services company that employs 150+ people:

“How satisfied are you with your compensation and wellness policy?” 

It’s a great and meaningful question, but there’s a small risk that the employee won’t understand what exactly the employer needs to measure. Moreover, the survey taker might focus on one part, say, compensation, and provide a detailed answer. As for the second part, they can limit their response to one short sentence.

To get honest feedback from employees, focus each question on a single subject. 

Pro tip: Avoid double-barreled answers to questions in case you write multiple-choice questions. For example, if the survey asks, “What is your biggest work motivation?” an answer “Positive work environment and my colleagues” would be double-barreled. 

3. Keep Each Survey to Less than Ten Questions

One major reason why people avoid taking surveys is the time it takes to complete them. Even if it’s your employees, they still can skip questions they deem too complicated (especially if there’s a bunch of them). In some cases where they experience issues like work-from-home burnout or stress, they can even skip entire surveys. 

The advice of HR experts on this also differs. The Society of Human Resource Management, for example, says that a general employee survey can contain up to 75 questions, which translates into 30 minutes of answering.

To have the best chance of getting honest and detailed feedback from your employees, limit your surveys to ten questions. This applies to all surveys, be it a weekly or an annual. 

Pro tip: Display the number of questions and the time estimate at the start of the survey. It will help your employees to manage their time expectations and avoid unnecessary frustration and incomplete answers. 

4. Always Include Questions About Work Environment

Almost every employee survey should collect feedback about the work environment. In order to create and maintain a productive and safe work environment, you need to get regular updates on potential issues, successes, or new ideas. 

Here are some examples of questions to consider.

  • In your opinion, how safe is the current work environment at the company?
  • What do you think is the best thing about the work environment in our company?
  • How, in your opinion, can your manager be a better leader to you?
  • Did you notice any workplace issues in the past week/month?
  • Do you feel valued?
  • Do you feel recognized for your contributions?

Feel free to customize these if you feel there are more opportunities to learn. Just remember to limit the number of questions to ten to avoid overwhelming the participants. One good idea is to make a “work environment” section in each survey with a few related questions. The rest could be questions about other workplace matters. 

Conclusion

Employee surveys are a great way to collect workforce feedback on a regular basis. It’s the duty of every employer to ensure the best possible work environment, so asking for feedback directly can be an effective tool to meet the needs of employees.

This blog post was reprinted with permission.

About the author: Daniela McVicker is a career specialist and a content editor at the AllTopReviews website. She enjoys sharing her experience with students and job seekers who want to improve their chances of getting their dream job.


Share this post

Common Workplace Issues And Employee Rights To Remember

Share this post

It is practically impossible to not experience conflicts of one sort or the other in the workplace. This is why there are laws that protect employees in their workplaces, irrespective of the personal dispositions of said employees.

Common Workplace Issues

1. Workplace Politics

A pointer of workplace politics is favoritism. You might notice some favoritism going on. Some employees could never do wrong, and others never seem to get it right.

When you are caught in this web, try to understand the unspoken rules of the workplace. Try to see who wields what power, and how they go about exercising that power. This way, you know how to work your way around their traps.

2. Bullies At The Workplace

Bullies are not only found in schools. If you look closely, you would find them in the workplace as well. 

Bullies may intentionally try to exclude you from team events. Unfair criticism is a form of bullying too. Name-calling coated in jokes isn’t left out either. 

When you find that you are being bullied at work, document such actions and report to the higher-ups.

Finally, as far as workplace troubles go, you may have some issues with your dress sense. In such a case like this, you would probably need to switch up your style. 

Get some stylish and up-to-date clothes as well as top-notch accessories to go with it. There’s no law against looking classy at the office after all. 

3. Inconsiderate Bosses

It is possible that you encounter inconsiderate bosses that never seem to recognize how hard you’re working. Instead, they criticize everything you do and make you feel you’re not well equipped to do your job. 

To handle such situations, make sure that the criticisms from your boss are wrong. Up your own efforts and communication skills. 

Learn to anticipate problems and present solutions. Sometimes, it may not be about you, it could just be a very inconsiderate boss. 

Your Rights As An Employee

It is essential for you to know that there are laws that protect you and your interests at your place of work. 

Lacking knowledge of these rights may land you in positions you could have completely avoided if you were privy to your rights. 

Labor Rights cover you irrespective of your race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. 

Some of these essential rights include the right to:

Here are some other rights you need to constantly remember:

1. Your Right To Complain About Working Conditions

If you find out that there is a workplace condition you’re not comfortable with, you have the right to notify your employer about the conditions that may be harmful to you and your coworkers.

However, you might not get a quick response or even any response at all if the complaint is for your own personal reasons. 

This law doesn’t even protect you in such a situation. Make sure that whatever you are complaining about is something that affects you and your coworkers.

2. Your Right To Refuse Work

When you work in a place that you believe could harm you, you may refuse to work in such a situation. 

However, you must have informed your employer before you pull this card. 

After you have informed the appropriate authorities and they still do not put any measures in place to mitigate or alleviate any hazards, you can then trigger your right to refuse work. 

3. Your Right to Have A Copy Of Your Signed Agreements

You probably signed a folder-full of agreement papers before you started at your job. 

But what you don’t know is that you might have unknowingly given up some important rights in those papers.  

It is possible you agreed never to work for a competitor or that you relinquished the claim to your intellectual property while working with them without knowing it. 

You can request copies of all the agreements you signed. Your employer may be reluctant to give them to you, but it is your right to have them, at least in many states. 

Be sure this law protects you in your state when you want to request these copies. 

When you have the copies, go through them and know what you have signed up for. This way, you can avoid lawsuit troubles should you have a falling out with your employer.

About the Author: Norma Spencer fully enjoys her editor career living an RV life with her family. She’s a devoted tech and finance writer with a Ph.D. in Business Administration (Management). In the moment of writing this bio, Norma is in Germany, planning to spend at least a few more years in Europe in the coming years.


Share this post

‘Councilwoman’ shows Carmen Castillo’s inspiring fight as a hotel housekeeper and a city leader

Share this post

Providence City Councilwoman Carmen Castillo is a deeply inspiring case: an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, she arrived in the U.S. with three children and got a job as a hotel housekeeper. After she helped organize her coworkers in a union, she ran for city council and won. But Castillo’s fight wasn’t over there, as the documentary Councilwoman—airing Tuesday night—shows.

On the city council, she kept up the fight for better wages, only to have the heavily Democratic Rhode Island state legislature pull a classically Republican move—a Scott Walker move, an Alabama move—by blocking cities and towns from raising their minimum wages. Councilwoman shows that fight, and Castillo’s fight for reelection, all as she continued working full-time as a hotel housekeeper.

Castillo’s story is incredible, and Councilwoman is worth a watch. It will premiere on U.S. television and online at 8 PM ET on Tuesday, September 3, on WORLD Channel’s America ReFramed. You can stream it on worldchannel.orgamdoc.org, all station-branded PBS platforms including PBS.org, and on PBS apps.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

Share this post

Postal Service plans to slash worker benefits, this week in the war on workers

Share this post

ongress has put strict limits on the U.S. Postal Service to prevent it from entering the 21st century or competing with private businesses, and now the Postal Service wants Congress to let it compete in the race to the bottom. HuffPost’s Arthur Delaney and Dave Jamieson reported this week on internal documents proposing that Congress allow the Postal Service to save money by cutting worker benefits and expanding its temp workforce.

Postal workers would lose retirement security under the plan, with new workers shifted from a pension to a 401(k) model and existing workers’ pension contributions raised (money that would come out of their take-home pay). Retired workers’ health care would also see changes, and active workers would likely lose paid leave.

The addition of more people in the “non-career workforce,” AKA temps, would come on top of the fact that the agency “has already added 37,000 non-career employees since 2007, while shedding nearly 200,000 career employees through attrition, according to the document.”

And, of course, the Postal Service continues to look at cutting back on deliveries as another way to save money … while setting off a downward spiral as reduced services lead to reduced reliability and demand.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

 


Share this post

Workplace Fairness Says Goodbye to Former Board Member Penny Nathan Kahan

Share this post

Workplace Fairness was very saddened to learn of the passing of former board member and early supporter Penny Nathan Kahan on February 1, 2017, after a long and hard-fought battle with ovarian cancer.  (Penny Kahan Obituary)  Penny’s legacy will be honored at a Celebration of Life on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, at 2:00 PM, at the Chicago Jewish Funerals – Skokie Chapel, 8851 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL 60077.

Penny founded the law firm of Penny Nathan Kahan and Associates in 1983. Her career as an attorney was focused on helping people who suffered from workplace unfairness and discrimination. She participated in a variety of professional organizations, including serving as a founding board member of the National Employment Lawyers Association and its Illinois affiliate, NELA-Illinois. In 2000 she was elected a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Law and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation in 2002.

As part of her devotion to the legal profession and to the cause of workers rights, Penny served on the board of Workplace Fairness when it was known as the National Employee Rights Institute (NERI). She additionally served on the Advisory Board for a long-time project of Workplace Fairness, the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, co-published by IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Workplace Fairness was co-founded by Wayne Outten and Paul Tobias in 1994. For several years following its founding, the organization was entirely volunteer-run and depended on the work and support of advocates like Penny. In a fateful board meeting in Chicago in 2001, as part of an effort to increase the profile and impact of the organization after hiring its first staff, it was Penny who suggested that the organization change its name to Workplace Fairness – the name by which it has been known ever since.

Workplace Fairness Co-Founder and Board President says of Penny, “Penny was a wonderful and warm person who will be missed by all who knew her.” Professor Douglas Scherer, long-time WF board member who served with Penny on the NERI board, adds, “Penny was a very gracious and talented woman [who] played a very important role in the establishment and development of NERI, which was renamed to Workplace Fairness.”

We acknowledge and honor Penny’s pivotal role in the development of our organization, as over 4 million workers every year now rely on the organization named Workplace Fairness to reflect our mission of providing the comprehensive and reliable employee rights content available on the Internet. We are proud that her legacy lives on through the name she selected for our organization and the millions of workers that under that name we have assisted in enforcing their rights and in finding attorneys like Penny and her professional colleagues to provide representation. We will miss Penny’s warm smile and passionate, thoughtful advocacy, and share our condolences with her family, friends and professional colleagues who will miss her dearly.


Share this post

Working People (and the Facts) Stand Up to Right to Work Push in West Virginia

Share this post

Kenneth Quinnell

That didn’t take long. As the West Virginia Legislature opened Wednesday, the first bill out of the gates was “right to work” legislation that does nothing more than attack the rights of working people. As the video above shows, workers weren’t happy about the proposal and flooded the Capitol to express their opposition to the dangerous bill.

We’ve already seen what right to work does elsewhere, like Oklahoma, which became a right to work state in 2001. In 2006, Jesse Isbell from Oklahoma City lost his job of 36 years. While in West Virginia to speak out against right to work on Wednesday, Isbell said: “In my case, and in the case of 1,400 brothers and sisters at that facility, the law did not work as advertised. There’s absolutely no anecdotal or empirical evidence that right to work has benefited the Oklahoma state economy in any way. The truth is that it has driven down wages.”

A better approach, Isbell said, is to focus on education and workforce development: “If Oklahoma would have taken this approach 10 years ago instead of the disastrous right to work route, I wouldn’t be talking to you here today. I’d be working at the Bridgestone–Firestone plant in Oklahoma City.”

Proponents of right to work in West Virginia point to a deeply flawed study from West Virginia University but, as the Economic Policy Institute notes, that study gets basic facts wrong, doesn’t follow standard economic models and really only includes one state from which to come to its conclusions. EPI analyst Elise Gould explains:

In a WVU study about the effect of right to work on employment growth, the authors mismeasured both right to work status and employment growth….The point of so-called right to work laws is to hamstring unions, thereby lessening workers’ bargaining power and driving down their wages. This law has the potential to hurt all workers in West Virginia, union and nonunion alike.

EPI makes the case against right to work in West Virginia:

  • Right to work is associated with lower wages and benefits for both union and nonunion workers. In a right to work state, the average worker makes 3.2% less than a similar worker in a non right to work state.
  • Through cutting wages, right to work may undermine West Virginia’s small businesses, which depend on the state’s residents having wages to spend.
  • Many of the arguments made by advocates of right to work ignore that under federal law it is already illegal to force anyone to be a member of a union, and it is already illegal to force workers to pay even one cent to political causes.
  • Companies that are primarily interested in cheap labor are going to China or Mexico, not to right to work states like South Carolina or Arizona.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 15, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.


Share this post

Strangers Raise Money For Walmart Worker Fired For Picking Up Cans

Share this post

AlanPyke_108x108When a parking lot attendant dared to recycle trash he picked up outside an upstate New York Walmart, the store fired him. Now generous strangers are trying to help cushion his sudden fall.

Thomas Smith, 52, had been earning $9 an hour at an upstate New York Walmart for less than three months when his manager terminated him over the cans. Smith was in charge of rounding up shopping carts from the lot outside the store, and started collecting trash from the lot while making his rounds. After storing up cans for a couple months, he recycled them in the store’s machines in early November. He got $5.10 for them.

Then he got fired. His manager told Smith his actions were “tantamount to theft of Walmart property,” the Albany Times Union reports, and said he would have to repay the $5.10 or lose his job. Smith, who commuted an hour by bus from Albany for the job, returned to the store two days later with the cash. But he’d already been fired.

“I didn’t know you couldn’t take empties left behind. They were garbage. I didn’t even get a chance to explain myself,” Smith told the paper. He also said his manager told him that a coworker who’d been caught stealing cash from a store register was allowed to keep her job because she repaid the theft and “because she has five kids.”

That thief was white. Smith collected trash while black.

The store manager who made the decision refused to speak with the Times-Union, and a Walmart spokesman told the paper it does not comment on personnel matters. After the story got picked up by local TV news, a company representative claimed Smith had admitted to stealing from inside the store itself. “They certainly didn’t indicate that both when I talked to them and our attorney talked to them,” Alice Green of the Center for Law and Justice said of that claim. Smith says he wrote out a statement for managers acknowledging he’d recycled the cans and no more.

Smith’s story has prompted strangers to send money through the crowdfunding site GoFundMe. So far the effort has collected more than $2,200 – an amount Smith would’ve had to work more than six weeks at full-time hours to earn.

While going viral for his sudden termination from a low-wage job has provided some short-term help, Smith will likely still have a hard time getting back on his feet. He was paroled in May after more than a dozen years in prison for armed robbery. He’d spent four months homeless after his release before finding housing through a charitable group. The Walmart job would have been one of his first, if not his very first, opportunities since his release for earning a living and achieving a degree of economic independence.

Formerly incarcerated people face immense hurdles to re-entering society and the workforce. Trust is hard to come by. Many job applications feature a check-box requiring applicants to volunteer information about their criminal history, which generally ruins their chances of even getting an interview.

The rejection naturally encourages desperate people to return to criminal activity for an income, as Glenn Martin, who now runs a non-profit that works with the formerly incarcerated and wasturned away from 50 different jobs in the month after his own release from prison, has described. Activists like Martin say efforts to reform the criminal justice and prison systems should include “ban the box” measures to restrict how hiring managers can ask about criminal histories – something President Obama recently did for federal hiring practices – and a revamp of education programs behind bars.

Since being fired, Smith has gotten plugged in with a legal aid group in Albany that is helping him recover his footing and that may eventually help him sue Walmart over his treatment. For now, though, he’s more worried about how he’s going to buy Christmas presents for his two teenage children.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on November 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.


Share this post

When Temp Workers Die While Being Taken to the Job, Who’s Responsible?

Share this post

in these timesOn September 24, just after 3 PM, a 36-year-old Haitian immigrant named Marianie Sanon was sitting on a particleboard bench in the back of a van overcrowded with 22 other Haitian temp workers on their way to the night shift at a factory in Evansville, Indiana. She noticed that the van driver seemed to be driving dangerously fast down Interstate 69. Sanon had recently moved from Miami to Washington, Indiana, on the hope of landing a good job at the local branch of a temp agency called ServiceXpress. This would have been her fourth day temping at a plant operated by AmeriQual, an Evansville, Indiana-based manufacturer of prepackaged military food for the Department of Defense.

The last thing Sanon remembers of the van ride was watching the driver—a 30-year-old man named James Allen who helped his father run a van service that he called “Haitian Transportation”—attempt a high-speed, slalom-like maneuver to get around a truck.

Three days later, Sanon emerged from a coma in a hospital in Evansville, Indiana. She had suffered severe head trauma, had several fractured vertebrae, a bone in her left arm had been shattered and she still had shards of glass still imbedded in her body.

The accident had left two of her fellow passengers dead. As it tumbled across the interstate, the van disintegrated, ejecting Sanon onto the pavement and sending more than a dozen other survivors to the hospital. As she lay in her hospital bed and gathered information about her co-workers, Sanon says she began to wonder why she had heard nothing from the temp agency—ServiceXpress, a subsidiary of Delaware-based Service General—that deployed her, or from AmerQual itself. Not only had there been no offer of help, but not a single person from either firm had checked in, called, visited or sent a letter, Sanon says.

Sanon called ServiceXpress and spoke with a manager. “She said she was sorry for what happened to me,” Sanon told me, “but that she cannot do anything for me.”

Sanon soon received a letter from ServiceXpress.

Dear Employee,

We thank you for your time that you have been with ServiceXpress; we want to help in some way from the traumatic experience that you have been through. We hope this gift card and food basket can help you get back on your feet. We want to wish you the best regards in everything you do.

Thank you,

ServiceXpress Staff

Aside from the $50 Walmart credit, Sanon says that she soon received a paycheck from ServiceXpress that came to $71.00. (She says she never received the food basket referenced in the letter and has heard nothing from AmeriQual.) Meanwhile, Sanon, who was airlifted from the crash site, began receiving the first of her medical bills (many more are on their way), which quickly amounted, she says, to roughly $105,000.

Out of work and unable to pay rent on her apartment, Sanon soon became homeless. She currently sleeps in a women’s shelter in downtown Evansville.

The subcontractor maze

Steven Chancellor is the Chairman of AmeriQual, according to Bloomberg. He has an ardent passion for big-game hunting on African safari trips and has even used his wealth and influence to lobby the Botswanan government to lift its ban on lion hunting. Chancellor has also proven an energetic Republican activist, hosting a high-profile fundraiser for Mitt Romney in 2012. Before that, he reportedly held a Republican fundraiser in 2004 election of President George W. Bush who, from the White House, assisted Chancellor’s crusade against Botswana’s lion hunting ban.

Immediately after the I-69 van crash, AmeriQual expressed sympathy for the victims but also made clear that it had enlisted the workers through ServiceXpress, which sent the temps to the factory for $11 per hour. Yet ServiceXpress, in turn, emphasized that the van’s driver worked for a different business. James Allen, the van’s driver, was recently arrested for his role in the van crash and Neil Chapman, Sanon’s attorney, says Allen likely has little in assets for the crash victims to draw from. (AmeriQual declined to provide comment for this story.)

Since the Great Recession, the temporary staffing industry has boomed, and temp employment has accounted for significant portions of rebounding job growth. Temps—who are employed by agencies and whose labor is simply rented out by third-party businesses—have become seen as some of America’s most vulnerable workers. Labor advocates say that, in treating workers as replaceable units of labor, the temp industry can overlook workers’ most basic human needs.  Through the layering of contractors and subcontractors, many corporations who rely on temps have effectively shielded themselves from numerous forms of liability for temps they retain through third-party agencies.

Labor advocates across the country have identified the safety of vans that transport temp workers to job sites as a key issue. In 2013, ProPublica published a diagram, drawn by a temp worker, of an overcrowded van said to be a typical feature of the New Jersey temp economy. Workers in New Jersey I spoke with this week say that they are still being transported in woefully overcrowded conditions.

“The problems with the vans from the agencies is that they pack them in over capacity,” a Spanish-speaking temp worker in northern New Jersey told me through a translator and labor organizer named Louis Kimmel, the executive director of New Labor. “Logically when it’s over capacity and no one has seatbelts on, for example—and sometimes drivers might be driving when they’re still drunk—we’re putting ourselves at risk just by getting into a full van like that.”

Sanon herself expressed surprise at the lack of responsibility assumed by AmeriQual and ServiceXpress after the crash. “I was like, how am in the hospital and why am I not hearing from anyone?” Sanon said. “I’m very strong, but really, I need help. I cannot do this by myself.”

“A heroic effort”

Bamdad Bahar, the president of ServiceXpress, said that his office in Indiana did more than just send Walmart cards and food baskets. “[O]ur team there provided round the clock support for the employees, including taking family members to and from the various hospitals,” Bahar said in an email. “It was truly a heroic effort.” Bahar said that he had taken out life insurance plans that would provide the families of each deceased worker with a $5,000 payment.

Bahar also reiterated that his company has nothing to do with the accident. “I mentioned we provided maximum support feasible. This was NOT a workmans comp case, and was NOT an industrial accident. The driver and van company are NOT part of our company, and we are NOT responsible for the accident, the blown tire etc.” He added that he is looking into filing a libel suit against the local newspaper in Indiana, the Evansville Courier & Press, for its coverage of the accident. “There is really NO need to refer to us in relation to the accident,” Bahar said in a subsequent email. “I shut my operation in Indiana because of all this negative press.”

After the accident, Jacques Estime, who is involved in Washington, Indiana’s Haitian community, launched a fundraiser for the victims of the I-69 rollover crash. After securing enough money to pay for the funerals of the deceased, Estime said he split the leftover money 17 ways among the injured victims, who will each receive a check from Estime for $196.95.

In late September, shortly after the van crash, AmeriQual announced in a Facebook post that it would launch a donation drive among its full-time employees to compensate the injured temps. Yet Sanon has heard nothing about AmerQual’s fundraiser. It is unclear if the company gathered a single donation. Estime said the ServiceXpress had donated one thousand dollars to a funeral fund.

Estime told me that the victims are coping with an array of physical and psychological injuries. “Some of them are badly hurt, some of them need therapy,” Jacques told me. “Some haven’t been sleeping well. They’ve been having horrible nightmares. All they see are people dying.”

In late October, a Gibson County prosecutor reportedly filed 19 criminal charges against the van’s driver, James Allen, who had tested positive for marijuana during a blood test taken just after the crash. The charges against Allen range from “causing death while operating a vehicle under the influence of a controlled substance” to “causing serious bodily injury while operating under the influence,” according to the Evansville Courier & Press.

Last week, Sanon’s attorney, Neil Chapman, filed a suit against not only James Allen and his father, Robert, who owns the van, but also against Ameriqual and ServiceXpress. The civil complaint seeks to dispute any notion that the Allens’ transit business operated with autonomy from Xpress and AmeriQual, and asserts that the three businesses were operating as a joint venture. “A principle motivating factor for Ameriqual to choose ServiceXpress was because it offered a competitive advantage of other temporary agencies: transportation of the Haitian employees free-of charge as a part of its advertised, integrated incentive package to its factory clients.”

Sanon told me that, before the accident, she still owed $50 to a man she had paid $200 to bring her from Miami to Washington, Indiana. Although the AmeriQual wage was modest, it was the best she could find, she said, and she had hoped to use the earnings to become debt-free. With medical bills that she estimates total over $100,000, that goal now seems impossible.

“I’m struggling for my life right now,” Sanon said. “I cannot do this by myself.”

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on November 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the AuthorSpencer Woodman is a journalist based in New York. He has written on labor for The Nation and The Guardian. You can follow him on Twitter at @spencerwoodman and reach him via email at [email protected]


Share this post

Half of Food Workers Go to Work Sick Because Lack of Paid Sick Leave Forces Them To

Share this post

LauraClawsonPaid sick leave isn’t just the right thing to do for people who currently face the choice of going to work sick, or going without pay. It’s a public health issue.

Fifty-one percent of food workers — who do everything from grow and process food to cook and serve it — said they “always” or “frequently” go to work when they’re sick, according to the results of a survey released Monday. An additional 38 percent said they go to work sick “sometimes.” […]But it’s not as if these sick food workers are careless. Nine out of 10 workers polled in the new survey said they feel responsible for the safety and well-being of their customers. Yet about 45 percent said they go to work sick because they “can’t afford to lose pay.” And about 46 percent said they do it because they “don’t want to let co-workers down.”

That means that customers are exposed to those sick workers’ illnesses. And that, in turn, can be a serious issue:

“One of the most egregious examples that I describe in the book is a worker at a Fayetteville, N.C., Olive Garden [who] was forced to work with hepatitis A because [Olive Garden] doesn’t have an earned sick leave policy,” [Saru] Jayaraman says. As a result, Jayaraman says, 3,000 people had to be tested for hepatitis A at the Cumberland County, N.C., health department.

Most cases aren’t that dramatic, of course, but norovirus is often spread by food workers, and you really don’t want norovirus. Yet somehow Republican morality says that these workers in one of the lowest-paying industries should stay home to protect the rest of us while being denied basic protections themselves, and risking their ability to pay the bills and put food on the table for every day they stay home sick.

Paid sick leave is gaining momentum in the United States, with four states—Connecticut, Oregon, California, and Massachusetts—now having laws requiring it for most workers. But it will never be federal law as long as Republicans have the ability to block it.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

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.