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This Labor Day, Starbucks Workers Host Union “Sip-Ins” Nationwide

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This Labor Day weekend, Starbucks workers across the country will be rolling out the red carpet to their supporters. About 100 of the coffee chain’s stores are set to hold ?“sip-ins” from Friday, Sept. 2 to Monday, Sept. 5. (To see a map of locations, click here, and for a full list, click here.)

Sip-ins are loosely modeled after sit-ins. They mark designated times when supporters of a store are asked to come in, order low-priced drinks or water, and leave big tips. The events provide an opportunity for baristas and their supporters to engage in conversation about labor conditions and build community. 

“I’m a little nervous, but we’re excited,” said Samantha Shields, a 21-year-old barista at a Starbucks store in Washington, D.C. Her store filed to unionize in late August and is the first to organize in the city. She’s worried about retaliation as a result, she told In These Times.

Labor Day Strikes

Meanwhile, several stores will also be on strike. Additionally, in several large cities, other major events are also scheduled, pointing to a more expansive vision of what the nascent union can do for Labor Day. 

In Boston, a labor rally, a rank-and-file breakfast, and a reproductive justice rally will precede sip-ins on Labor Day. Starbucks workers are also rallying at the state capitals of Oklahoma and Texas. And Colorado baristas will converge on a Labor Day parade in Louisville in remembrance of the early 20th century Coal Wars, says fired Denver barista Ryan Dinaro, 23. 

“The goal of this [day of] action is to empower workers on Labor Day, it’s to send a message to Starbucks that they couldn’t run their business without us,” says Collin Pollitt, a barista in Oklahoma City. “They need to be held accountable,”

On Monday evening, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union behind the organizing effort, is planning to host a web-based event. The event is for attendees of Labor Day events to have an opportunity to tune in so they can watch and discuss together.

“We’re not only building a movement for Starbucks workers, we’re building a cohesive labor movement,” says Tyler DaGuerre, a 27-year-old Boston barista. 

The array of different types of events, dominated by the sip-ins, reflects both the desire for coordinated action and the roles that different actors are playing in the SBWU-backed movement.

Early Organization

Conversation about SBWU’s Labor Day plans began in the early summer. Individual leaders in the Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and New England regions of SBWU including Pollitt, Dinaro, and DaGuerre, respectively, are among those who helped create the iteration that now exists.

They eventually did so as part of SBWU’s National Contract Action Team, the body charged with planning escalating direct actions to pressure Starbucks to negotiate a first contract. Workers United, the parent union for SBWU, first introduced the idea of a broad wave of sip-ins, which then received broad support from workers. 

Workers in some cities have also hinted at more militant events to follow in the days and weeks to come after Labor Day, noting that the next few months are Starbucks’ high season, though details were not yet available.

In the Boston area, the day’s events are themed around intersectionality, with a focus on reproductive rights, among other issues. ?“So long as we’re upholding one system of oppression, we’re therefore justifying our own,” says DaGuerre. ?“So it really needs to be a collective movement of intersectional solidarity.”

In Oklahoma, Pollitt was mindful of the need to make Labor Day relevant to today’s workers and also emphasized intersectionality. He wants to ?“spark a national discussion about labor” after what he describes as decades of stagnation. In Pollitt’s state, workers are gathering at the state capitol.

Collective Effort

Boosting community support is a key aim of the sip-ins. SBWU has a goal of gathering 30,000 signatures to its ?“No Contract, No Coffee” solidarity campaign over the course of the weekend.

Such support often, but not exclusively, comes from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members and chapters. For example, Worcester DSA member and barista Cory Bisbee, 25, told In These Times that his chapter has made supporting the SBWU campaign a priority. That city will see a LGBTQ+-themed sip-in, with Labor Day coinciding with Pride week in Worcester, Mass.

An outcome of the planning in the New England region, says DaGuerre, is that stores seeking support have been matched up with community supporters looking to ?“adopt” a store to help it organize, taking advantage of resources that were already there but uncoordinated.

Not every store is able to take part in the day of action. Because much of the national plan depends on community support, many workers in more isolated locations likely won’t be able to participate. Others, like the Anderson store in South Carolina where workers are suspended and barred from entering any Starbucks, have to take into account the impact of previous union-busting tactics by the company.

But for those who are able to participate, some see it as an opportunity to step up their impact in the innovative campaign to unionize Starbucks. 

“A bunch of Gen Z kids have banded together and decided to stop accepting that Starbucks will refuse to pay us a living wage,” says Dinaro. ?“It’s truly inspiring and it’s a stepping stone to greater change.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 2, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is a contributor for In These Times.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions and collective action to learn about your rights.


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Every Boss Has a Weak Spot. Find and Use It.

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Steel production in the late 1800s used to require one crucial step: a 20-minute process called the “blow” that removed impurities, strengthening the metal. It was not unheard of for union members to go to the supervisor at the start of the blow and demand that some important grievance be resolved.

According to old-timers, it was amazing what the company could accomplish in those 20 minutes. These workers had found their employer’s vulnerability — and they used it to make the workplace safer and more humane.

Think about where your employer is vulnerable. For some companies it might be their logo or their image, which they have spent millions of dollars cultivating. For others it might be a bottleneck in the production process, or a weakness in their just-in-time inventory system.

Whistle While You Work

At a Fortune 500 truck factory, supervisors were ruthless and degrading. Discipline was arbitrary and unjust. At the monthly union meeting one worker noted that they were all being “railroaded.”

A few weeks later, 2,000 plastic whistles shaped like locomotives arrived at the local. The instructions were simple: whenever you can see a supervisor on the shop floor, blow your whistle.

At first, whistles were going off all over. But by the morning break the plant floor was quiet. Not a single supervisor dared to show his face.

The next day in contract bargaining, the employer refused to bargain until the whistles were removed. The bargaining team noted the company’s statements on refusing to bargain, and asked for a break to go call the Labor Board.

Bargaining resumed immediately, with positive results.

Lunch to Rule

On a military base, aircraft maintenance workers would happily interrupt their lunch in order to deal with urgent problems. But in return they had an understanding that, once the problem was solved, they would go back to their sandwiches even though the lunch period had ended.

The situation was mutually acceptable for several years — until a new supervisor came along. We all know how that is. Had to prove himself. Show who’s boss. Etc.

Steve Eames, an international rep for the Boilermakers union, explained that the new supervisor insisted that workers take their lunch between 12:00 and 12:30, period.

“So the steward said, ‘Okay, we’ll play by the rules,’” Eames remembers. The maintenance workers had previously eaten at a lunch table in the work area. But now, when 12 o’clock came, they left and went to a fast-food restaurant on the base. For three or four days they all went as a group, leaving the shop unattended.

One day a plane came in during the half-hour lunch period. No one was there to help bring the plane in, or to check it out. The supervisor had to park the plane by himself.

“The boss went and talked to the steward, and the steward said, ‘That’s our time, we’re at lunch,’” said Eames. “‘You got what you wanted.’”

The workers went out for lunch for a couple more days, and then they ended what we might call “lunch to rule.” “They didn’t want to file a grievance,” says Eames, “because the company would have won on the basis of contract language.

“Without anything in writing, it went back to the way it had been before. It empowered the guys. It told the supervisor, we’ll be a little flexible if you’ll be flexible.”

Keep the Boss Off Balance

Managers like routine. They like to know that what happened yesterday will happen today and that no one is thinking too hard about it. You can make them nervous simply by doing something different, even something normal that would be unthreatening to the non-managerial mind. When they have to keep guessing where the next shot is coming from, you have the upper hand.

“The corporate culture is not a creative culture,” says Joe Fahey, a former Teamster leader, “and we need to look at that as an opportunity.

“I used to bargain with Smuckers,” Fahey recalls. “We decided to do things that would freak them out. Factory life is very predictable. The workers decided to take their breaks at the railroad tracks, instead of at the same table and the same bench that they did every day. It was easy for the workers to do, but it was scary for management. They are more easily scared than we realize.”

15-Minute Strike

Pennsylvania social workers figured out how to catch management off guard. During negotiations with the state, spokesman Ray Martinez said, “we wanted an activity that would irritate the boss, educate the public, and at the same time get the members psyched up. We decided that we would all take our 15-minute breaks at the same time.”

The union used its phone trees to call members at home. “At the agreed date and time,” Martinez says, “all of our members would get up and walk out of the office. This meant that clients in the office, phone calls, and so on would be placed on hold. In other words, all activity ceased.

“This served a couple of purposes. First, management and clients would get a feel for what it would be like without our services if we were to go on strike. Secondly, we, the members, would be outside of the worksite having outdoor shop meetings and updating the workers on the latest on the negotiations.

“While this was going on, we had picket signs asking drivers to honk their horns to show us their support. The beauty of it all was that this was perfectly legal, so there was nothing management could do.”

At the end of the 15-minute break, everybody went back inside and went back to work.

This blog originally appeared on July 28, 2022 at Labor Notes. Learn about workers’ rights and advocacy at Workplace Fairness.

About the Authors: Alexandra Bradbury, Jane Slaughter, and Mark Brenner are Labor Notes contributors. This article is excerpted from Labor Notes’ book, “Secrets of a Successful Organizer.”


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Depending on Employers for Abortion Access is a Nightmare

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Sarah Lazare

Following last week’s Supreme Court ruling that struck down federal protections for abortion rights, major companies, including a number of Silicon Valley giants, publicly broadcast their intention to assist their workers in traveling out of state to obtain an abortion.

Meta, Apple, Disney, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Condé Nast were among them, the New York Times noted, joining companies that had made similar pledges in May, when a leaked memo revealed that the Court would overturn Roe v. Wade. These companies include Reddit, Tesla, Microsoft, Starbucks, Yelp, Airbnb, Netflix, Patagonia, DoorDash, JP Morgan Chase, Levi Strauss & Co. and PayPal, the Times reports.

Meanwhile, Google pledged to allow workers to apply to relocate “without justification” if they live in states that do not allow abortion. Uber reiterated that its “insurance plans in the U.S. already cover a range of reproductive health benefits, including pregnancy termination and travel expenses to access healthcare.”

On its face, these gestures by employers may seem like a good thing.

But this response opens up another door to hell: The reality that workers will be even more reliant on capricious and self-interested employers to provide basic, necessary healthcare, handing bosses even more power, while giving workers one more thing to fight tooth and nail to protect.

The Problems with Employment Health Care

Let’s look at how this approach has worked out for general health coverage.

In a country that, unlike other industrialized nations, does not provide free and universal healthcare to its people, individuals rely on employers for this vital good. This means that a worker’s boss has control over their ability to get emergency heart surgery without going bankrupt, to pay for a child’s leukemia treatment, to get preventative healthcare to ward off serious complications, to afford insulin in order to not die from diabetes, etc.

Routine, day-to-day matters — like asking for time off, or asking a boss not to sexually harass you, or even banding together with your coworkers to organize a union — have higher stakes under this system. If you lose your job, you lose your healthcare. And if this healthcare is extended to your dependents and spouse, so does your family.

And what of other, more-difficult-to-quantify matters, like personal happiness and fulfillment at work? According to a May 2021 survey from West Health and Gallup, one out of six adults who receives employer-provided healthcare is staying in a job they don’t want because they’re afraid of losing these benefits.

In a capitalist society, work is how we spend our lives. Squandering our one precious life in an unwanted job is a tragic waste.

Unions Can Protect Workers’ Health

Of course, the best way to protect one’s health benefits, short of winning universal healthcare, is to organize a union.

Union workers are significantly more likely than their non-union counterparts to have health benefits at all. But imagine all the things workers could win if they didn’t have to spend their time at the bargaining table negotiating over their members’ ability to survive. If healthcare were off the table, because it was already provided by the government, maybe we would have stronger common good wins, or clauses protecting the right to strike under any circumstance, or 30-hour work weeks.

Now, apply this principle to the realm of abortion.

To think of having to add protection of one’s ability to get an abortion to the list of things employers provide, and can therefore take away, is terrifying. Some of the companies that publicly claim they will protect abortion rights are among the most viciously anti-union employers of our time.

There are Employers who Leverage Employees’ Health Against Them

How will they use this new form of leverage to crack down on workers’ rights to demand better conditions?

We are already seeing an example in Starbucks, which has said that it can’t “make promises” that any benefits for workers in need of abortions will be guaranteed for unionized shops, though they are currently provided.

Other companies making such pledges have pursued astoundingly anti-worker policies, like Uber, which is currently fighting against classifying its workers as employees, a move that would give workers access to key benefits, like the right to form a union and access to workers’ compensation.

Do we really think that a company that doesn’t want its workers to have basic rights is truly committed to ensuring they’re able to receive abortions when they need one?

Abortion travel funding shouldn’t have to be a chip on the bargaining table. But this is the terrain that unions must fight on. And they are, right now, some of their members’ best protection.

There are a host of other things unions could be doing to protect union members. Dr. Rebecca Givan, a labor law expert, has suggested creative solutions, including using union release time, to help people get abortions, drive them there, or provide childcare.

Unions should absolutely be thinking along these lines. Any step that could put abortion protections in the hands of workers, rather than their bosses, is a good thing.

Attacking Abortion Rights is Attacking Workers’ Rights

But let’s be clear-eyed about what the attack on abortion rights does.

Suddenly stealing a fundamental right to bodily autonomy helps place workers in a lower social class. It strips away workplace leverage — to give people who need abortions one more thing they have to beg their bosses for. One more thing to protect in a society where the safety net is already thin, and working-class people face rising prices and a potential looming recession. One more reason employers can claim benevolence as they crush union drives.

We can’t only rely on the bargaining table to win back the societal rights we have lost. It’s time for the resurgent labor movement to organize like hell to say that this attack on self-determination and humanity is unacceptable, and will not be tolerated — in the workplace and beyond.

This is a shortened version of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on June 27, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Sarah Lazare is a web editor and reporter for In These Times.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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The Sign Says It All: How Unions Can Stop Employers from Crying Poor

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My wife and I were motoring down the main avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2017 when I yelled out, “Stop! I gotta have this sign!”

Nancy pulled over. I jumped out and yanked out of the roadside a real estate sign that announced, “From the Upper $1 Millions, New Luxury Condos,” with a big arrow telling you to turn so you could buy one.

Back when we moved here in 1992, this had been an affordable place to live, just across the river from Washington, D.C. But soon after that, gentrification kicked in full throttle.

Today, working people are priced out of home-buying completely, forced to pay exorbitant and climbing rents.

I wrestled the big sign into the back seat. “We can show this to the politicians and bosses around here when they tell us they can’t afford a big raise,” I told Nancy, who works for the city of Alexandria as a paramedic and belongs to the Firefighters Union (IAFF). And that’s what we’ve done for the past five years.

Mayors, city councilors, and county commissioners have seen the sign. So have transit authority bosses, corporate managers, company negotiators, state representatives, and many, many rank-and-file members.

It gets attention. At first people are puzzled: “Why do you have this real estate sign here?” But everyone gets the point when I explain that the mortgages and rents are “too damn high” and working people need a big raise now!

Can’t Cry Poor

I took the sign to a union meeting with the workers of the Alexandria DASH transit company in 2018. Coincidentally, it was the day after Amazon had announced it was setting up a new corporate headquarters here.

I held the sign up as I laid out why we had to win the union authorization election by a big margin so we could win long overdue and major wage increases. Every head in the room was nodding—that sign said it all. Several workers volunteered that their landlords had already given them rent increase notices as a result of the Amazon announcement.

We won the election 9 to 1. The economic settlement we negotiated was one of the best in our international union’s recent history. The sign came with us to union meetings, city council meetings, and DASH board meetings. None of the powers that be wanted to cry poor in a city with this sort of tax base—not with that sign staring them in the face.

So if you see a sign like this in your town, grab it and put it to work.

This is a blog that originally appeared on Labor Notes on June 1, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Chris Townsend is the former national organizing director of the Amalgamated Transit Union and retired United Electrical Workers international representative.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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Limiting Non-Compete Agreements is Key to a Just Recovery

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Najah Farley

As tens of millions of workers—more than one-fifth of the U.S. workforce—were losing their jobs at the start of the pandemic, worker advocates sounded another important alarm: In many states, being laid off would not release workers from “non-compete” agreements they had signed with their employers, which would restrict what future job offers they could accept.

The prospect that employers could hamper workers in their return to work by using non-competes seemed like a far-off possibility in March 2020. But now, with many seeking to return to work, the possibility of workers being bound by past non-compete agreements or agreeing to new ones is deeply concerning. Non-competes limit workers’ power and autonomy and exacerbate existing inequities that disproportionately harm workers of color.

What Are Non-Competes?
Non-competes are contracts, signed by employees when they accept a job, that restrict them from taking a job in the same industry for a set period of time after they leave their position. Restrictions may be defined by industry or geography, and some may list specific rival competitor companies that employees are prohibited from joining. Research suggests that nearly one in five U.S. workers is currently bound by a non-compete. The types of workers bound range from chief executive officers to security guards to sandwich makers, as in the infamous Jimmy John’s case that first brought this issue to the fore.

Nearly one in five U.S. workers—from CEOs to security guards to sandwich makers—is currently bound by a non-compete.

Employers usually present non-compete provisions in a “take it or leave it” fashion. They may require workers to sit out of the labor market for a year or even longer. Not surprisingly, non-competes have been shown to depress wages by reducing competition. This is what economists refer to as the problem of monopsony, where employers have greater market power and are able to continue to offer lower wages due to lack of competition.

Non-competes may exacerbate the wage gap that workers of color face.

Push for State Reforms
Many legislatures are successfully taking on the challenge of non-compete reform. New laws have been passed or are advancing in several states. Bills were introduced in West Virginia, Minnesota, Connecticut, Colorado, New York, and Iowa. In New York, Governor Kathy Hochul included a non-compete provision in her budget proposal, and the State Senate also introduced a bill. Both the West Virginia and Iowa bills proposed banning non-competes for workers in low-wage industries.

Many legislatures are successfully taking on the challenge of non-compete reform.

The Minnesota non-compete proposal would limit agreements to an annual salary equal to the median family income and also provide for “garden leave”, i.e., an employer would have to pay 50 percent of the employee’s highest annual base salary during the restricted period. Connecticut’s bill, had it passed, would have set the non-compete threshold close to $100k. Colorado’s bill would be an important improvement of the state’s previous non-compete law. Although many legislative sessions ended without passing the non-compete laws under consideration, the bills in New Jersey, New York, and Colorado are still being considered.

Movement Nationally
President Biden’s initiative to improve competition through his Executive Order on Competition, released on July 9, 2021, has also helped fuel the push for these bills. As a result of this directive, federal agency work in the area has increased.

On March 7th, the Treasury Department, in partnership with the Labor Department, the Justice Department, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), released a report on “The State of Labor Market Competition.” The report found that the lack of competition results in wage declines of between 15 and 25 percent. It also highlighted the power differential that exists between companies and workers, based on information asymmetry as well as labor market forces, that leads to employers exerting market power and offering lower wages and worse working conditions. Now that the FTC has a full complement of commissioners, advocates are pushing for the agency to pursue rulemaking in this area. The Open Markets Institute initially submitted a petition to the FTC in 2019, joined by 60 signatory organizations, including NELP.

Coercive waivers, such as non-disclosures, arbitration agreements, and non-competes, work together to reduce worker power.

Where We Go From Here
In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” management-side lawyers have become even more aggressive in their tactics to keep employees bound by these coercive agreements. In a recent blog post on a human resources site, management-side lawyers stated that they have seen an uptick in employers wanting to sue employees because of the talent shortage; they not only want to retain the employees but also prevent them from going elsewhere. Such articles highlight the abusive way in which non-compete agreements are used to block workers from going elsewhere to use their talents and skills.

In the wake of the “Great Resignation,” management-side lawyers have become more aggressive in their tactics to keep employees bound by coercive agreements.

State law advocacy will hopefully help level the playing field for workers seeking to be free from onerous non-compete agreements imposed by their employers, but advocates still have more to do.

While many states are moving in the right direction, federal legislative reform and rulemaking remain crucial.

The Workforce Mobility Act, sponsored by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Todd Young (R-IN), would eliminate non-competes for the majority of workers, keeping them only for workers involved in the sale of a business. This bipartisan bill would go a long way toward ensuring that workers can chart their own careers; it would take power away from employers that abuse the use of non-competes. A federal bill that bans non-competes for workers could, like Oregon’s non-compete law, have a positive impact on the wages of hourly workers. Now is the time to continue to push for broad non-compete reform, creating the just recovery that workers need.

This blog is a shortened version of one that originally appeared in full at NELP on May 19, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Najah Farley is a senior staff attorney at NELP, who focuses on workplace standards and wages.


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Arizona and Many Other States Begin Legislative Process to Protect Employees Against Discrimination Based on COVID-19 Vaccine Choices (US)

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Daniel B. Pasternak

Currently pending before the Arizona legislature, Senate Bill 1648 would prohibit discrimination in the workplace (and elsewhere) against individuals who have not received or who refuse to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. As proposed, the bill would prohibit any employer from requiring a person to receive or disclose whether they have received a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of being hired or remaining employed. The bill additionally would amend not only Arizona’s state statutes devoted to employment matters, but also would prohibit nearly any business or public space from limiting access to a person on the basis of their receipt or non-receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine to any indoor or outdoor spaces or buildings, places of public accommodation (as defined by A.R.S. § 41-1491), spaces that are owned, leased, operated, occupied, or otherwise used by a public body (as defined by A.R.S. § 39-121.01), and places that are generally open to the public.  This partisan bill, sponsored by seven Republican Senators, is not yet set for a vote.

Arizona is just one of many U.S. states that have seen legislation introduced targeted at protecting employees (and persons in general) who choose not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. However, the protections in these bills, and to whom they apply, vary significantly from state to state. For example, some proposed bills would regulate only public employers (see below). Others don’t prohibit vaccine requirements, but impose limitations on them. For example, Montana’s proposed law allows employer vaccine mandates, but requires that any accommodations provided by an employer for individuals who refuse to obtain a vaccine due to medical or religious reasons must also be offered to any employee who refuses to become vaccinated, for any reason.

The list of states with currently pending vaccine anti-discrimination legislation, and links to the pending bills, includes: Alabama (here and here), AlaskaArkansasCaliforniaColoradoConnecticutGeorgia (public employers), IllinoisIndiana, Iowa (here and here), KansasMarylandMichiganMinnesotaMissouri (public employers), Montana (accommodations to employer mandated vaccine policy), New MexicoNorth CarolinaOhioOklahomaOregonPennsylvaniaRhode IslandSouth CarolinaSouth DakotaTennesseeTexasUtahVermont,  (public employers), Virginia (public employers), Washington, Wisconsin (here and here).  These bills are at various states in the legislative process.

For the most part, these bills would seek to override recent federal guidance from agencies such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that employers may require employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment, provided that employees may be entitled to reasonable job accommodations in the event that a disability or sincerely held religious belief prevents them from being vaccinated. What a reasonable accommodation would be in such cases could vary dramatically on an employer- and employee-specific, case-by-case basis.  Further, where allowed, when seeking proof of vaccination or administering vaccinations themselves, employers must be mindful not to violate other applicable laws prohibiting disclosure of genetic information (Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act) or improper or overly broad medical inquiries (Americans with Disabilities Act). Whether these bills, if they become state laws, may be challenged on various bases, including possible preemption by any federal law, remains to be seen.

This blog originally appeared at Employment Law Worldview. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dan Pasternak works with employers to solve workplace problems. Sometimes that involves helping develop, implement and enforce effective and business-sensible employment and traditional labor relations policies and practices. Other times, it involves representing employers in high-stakes litigation matters.


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Do Your Employment References Really “Have Your Back?” Better Not Assume That Your References Will Offer a Favorable or Neutral Reference

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We’ve all heard that our former employers, when contacted for a reference, will only confirm (per company policy) employment dates and title. Right?

Wrong.

There is no guarantee that all corporate employees are aware of, or will abide be, such guidelines. Consider these verbatim comments documented by Allison & Taylor in checking employment references on behalf of job seekers:

“He had issues with his co-workers and management and is not eligible for rehire.”

“Is there a rating less than inadequate?”

“She made a good effort but was simply not able to meet our expectations.”

“I’d rather not comment – you can take that any way you like.”

“She didn’t resign from our company – she was terminated.”

“I am not allowed to say anything about this person as they were fired.”

Clearly, any prospective employer receiving such feedback on a job seeker is highly unlikely to hire them. What, then, should be your course of action if you are concerned about potential commentary from your former employer?

The first step is to confirm if you do indeed have a problem with at least one of your references. Do an honest self-assessment of your references that are most likely to be called by prospective employers. Very possibly you already have a good idea of who may be making your employment search a challenging one. And while you might be able to keep some former associates off of a prospective employer’s radar, it is unlikely that a former supervisor or HR department will be overlooked. The HR department is a traditional venue for reference checks, and HR reps of your most recent employers are almost certain to get a call from potential employers. Your former supervisors will be high on an employer’s list as well, as they know you better than HR and may also be willing to offer a more revealing profile about you.

Then, consider having a reference check(s) conducted on those business associates from your past who might be problematic. Avoid the temptation to have a friend or associate call and pose as a prospective employer – this could backfire on you, also any unfavorable input obtained in this manner would be inadmissible for legal purposes. Instead, have a reputable third party (e.g., www.allisontaylor.com) conduct these reference interviews on your behalf to best ensure that any negative input obtained can be legally addressed and neutralized.

If negative input from a reference is uncovered, what steps can you take? Your options will depend on the nature of the negative input. Where your reference’s communication was inaccurate, malicious, or wrongful you may have the ability – through an attorney – to pursue legal recourse. When a reference’s negative input is not unlawful but is nonetheless restricting your ability to secure future employment, it can sometimes be addressed through a Cease-&-Desist letter which is typically issued by your attorney to the senior management of the company where the negative reference originated, alerting the management of the negative reference’s identity and actions. Typically the very act of offering a negative reference is against corporate guidelines, which normally state that only a former employee’s title/dates of employment can be confirmed. The negative reference is cautioned by management not to offer additional comments and – out of self-interest – will usually not offer negative commentary again.

How to Set and Increase Your Freelance Writing Rates

Whether through a Cease-&-Desist letter or stronger legal measures, the prospects for neutralizing further negative input from a reference are excellent. Also, the “peace of mind” a reference verification brings to an employment candidate unsure of what their references are really saying, cannot be underestimated. If concern about your references is causing you some sleepless nights, it’s never too soon to document – and address – what they are really saying about you.

For more information on reference checking, and what to do if a negative reference is impeding your chances for a new job, please visit www.AllisonTaylor.com.

“This blog originally appeared at Allison & Taylor on December 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission.” 


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What are the best and worst states to work in during the coronavirus pandemic?

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The coronavirus pandemic has dealt blow after blow to U.S. workers. The two biggest: Unemployment is sky-high, and many of the jobs that are left are suddenly unsafe. 

But as with so many things, from minimum wage to paid sick leave to enforcement of existing laws, how bad workers have it varies dramatically from state to state. Now, you can find out how your state ranks on labor protections in the era of COVID-19, thanks to a new report from Oxfam America. Oxfam ranked states by worker protections, healthcare, and unemployment, coming up with an overall ranking that puts Washington State, New Jersey, and California at the top, and Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia at the bottom.

At $275, Alabama’s maximum unemployment benefit is only a little higher than the minimum of $240 in Massachusetts—and in Puerto Rico, the maximum is just $190. But that’s not the only way Alabama is committed to hurting working families: “Alabama has no moratorium on evictions or utilities being shut off; no mandated paid sick or family leave; and no requirements for personal protective equipment for workers. In addition, the governor issued an executive order to protect businesses and health care providers from lawsuits resulting from COVID-19.”

Oxfam America is calling on states to:

  • Improve worker protections to ensure paid sick time, paid family and medical leave programs, and childcare for all workers
  • Expand Medicaid
  • Increase unemployment payments

Regardless of what state you live in, employers are going to vary in how much they’re doing to protect workers’ safety. The AFL-CIO has a new checklist to determine how safe you are at work, with information about workplace safety—including how to organize for it.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


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Unemployment drops in May to 13.3 percent as states reopen

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The rate reflects parts of the economy reopening in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 percent in May, amid a push for a reopening economic rally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The economy gained 2.2 million jobs last month, as states started relaxing stay-at-home orders and opening for business.

President Donald Trump, who has been prodding governors to reopen state economies, took credit for the reversal.

“Really Big Jobs Report.” Trump tweeted in reaction to the numbers. “Great going President Trump (kidding but true)!” He also announced a Friday morning press conference at the White House to discuss the report.

The unexpected jump follows a historic 14.7 percent unemployment rate in April, the highest recorded since the economic downturn of the 1930s.

Economists were bracing for an unemployment rate close to 20 percent in the May report, aligning with weekly applications for unemployment insurance climbing above 40 million in recent weeks.

The payroll company ADP reported a 2.8 million drop in May of nonfarm private payrolls earlier this week.

“The biggest payroll surprise in history, by a gigantic margin, likely is due to a wave of hidden rehiring,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics wrote in reaction to the number.

“Businesses which let people go in large numbers in March didn’t need to post their intention to bring people back on Indeed;” he said, “they just needed to call/text/email.”

The unexpected number likely understates the extent of the economic pain felt last month. Economists warned large numbers of people have been classifying themselves as employed but absent from work in the survey, which can artificially suppress the unemployment rate.

The figure also reflects the situation in the middle of May, which is when the agency surveys Americans to get a snapshot of the workforce.

While the unemployment rate for adult women, adult men, white workers, Hispanic workers dropped from April to May, it rose slightly for black workers to 16.8 percent.

Notably, the number of workers who say they have permanently lost their job, increased by 295,000 in May to 2.3 million.

The leisure and hospitality industry, which was battered by state stay-at-home orders and shed more than 8 million jobs in April and March, added 1.2 million jobs last month.

But even as jobs gains were seen elsewhere, employment in government continued to decline, shedding 585,000 jobs in May for a total loss of 1.5 million jobs in two months.

Most of those losses were in local government — a major employer for black workers, and one factor contributing to the black unemployment rate holding steady even as the overall rate declined.

The jobless rates for teenagers (29.9 percent) and Asians (15 percent) also saw little change from April to May.

Heidi Shierholz, former chief economist at the DOL, noted that while May’s job growth is a positive sign, the U.S. jobs level “remains in absolute crisis.”

“In May, we added 2.5 million jobs,” wrote Shierholz, who is now with the Economic Policy Institute. “But in March and April, we lost 22 million, so we are still down 19.6 million jobs.”

The damage to the economy is forecast to be long lasting. The nonpartisan CBO estimates that unemployment won’t even near pre-pandemic levels — which was at 3.5 percent in February — by the end of next year.

The May jobs report lands amid a debate in Washington over whether to extend the unemployment benefit program created to help jobless Americans weather the pandemic.

With more than 40 million unemployment claims filed throughout the pandemic, Republicans argue that an additional $600 weekly unemployment payment authorized in a March assistance bill will discourage Americans from getting back to work and stymie the recovery.

But, former congressional economists from both Republican and Democratic administrations warned lawmakers earlier this week that more aid may be needed.

A failure to extend the benefits will “hinder our ability to recover,” said Douglas Elmendorf, who led CBO from 2009 to 2015. He said benefits should stay in place until the national jobless rate falls back down to 6 percent.

This blog originally appeared at Politico on June 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter. Prior to joining POLITICO in August 2018, Rainey covered the Occupational Safety and Health administration and regulatory reform on Capitol Hill. Her work has been published by The Washington Post and the Associated Press, among other outlets.


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Economy Gains 136,000 Jobs in September; Unemployment Declines to 3.5%

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The U.S. economy gained 136,000 jobs in September, and the unemployment rate declined to 3.5%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In response to the September job numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs said: “It is surprising the rate of job creation has slowed, and the rate of labor force participation has stayed almost constant but this lower job growth is sufficient to keep the share of people with jobs rising slightly, and unemployment falling. It clearly reflects the slowing growth rate of the American workforce as the Baby Boom ages.” He also tweeted:

 

 

 

 

 

Last month’s biggest job gains were in health care (39,000), professional and business services (34,000), government (22,000), and transportation and warehousing (16,000). Employment declined in retail trade (-11,000). Employment in other major industries, including mining, construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, information, financial activities, and leisure and hospitality, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates for teenagers (12.5%), blacks (5.5%), Hispanics (3.9%), adult men (3.2%), whites (3.4%), adult women (3.1%) and Asians (2.5%) showed little or no change in September.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) rose in September and accounted for 22.7% of the unemployed.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on October 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.


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