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The pandemic is replacing people with tech — threatening the jobs rebound

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The mass disruption of the workplace because of the pandemic is accelerating employers’ move toward job-displacing automation, and neither the government nor the American labor force is prepared for the sweeping fallout.

The hemorrhaging of jobs is refueling a national debate over how to give workers the skills to survive the brutal market and fill the millions of positions that automation will inevitably also create — albeit at a far slower pace than positions are being shed. Lawmakers, labor unions and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are all calling for more spending on workforce training. The employment and training programs now available — there are no fewer than 43 spread across the government — are inadequate, uncoordinated and underfunded, they say.

“We’ve fast-forwarded 10 years of change in the space of less than 10 months,” said Andy Van Kleunen, CEO of the National Skills Coalition, a policy research group that promotes workforce training. “We don’t really do a good job making it easy for someone who has lost their job due to no fault of their own, particularly in an industry that’s downsizing, to get into a new occupation in a new industry,” he said. “We just need a whole reboot of that.”

For President Joe Biden, this could be one of the most far-reaching economic issues that he will face, and failing to resolve it would undercut his vow to restore the U.S. labor market. Biden, who has strong support from organized labor, is pledging to expand partnerships between unions, businesses and community colleges, scale up work-based learning programs and build out individual career services.

Yet despite the bipartisan calls for action, it may be a struggle for Biden to convince Republicans to agree to fund a large-scale and expensive overhaul of how the government tackles reskilling workers. Even the $1.9 trillion economic relief package he has proposed contains no new funds specifically for job training. Congress has invested only $345 million in workforce development to address Covid-19, according to the House Education and Labor Committee, compared to the nearly $6 billion it appropriated to respond to the Great Recession.

This “is not just an opportunity lost if we don’t help people get the skills for the jobs that are being created, it’s going to be a real drag on the economy,” said Neil Bradley, executive vice president and chief policy officer at the Chamber of Commerce. “It’s going to mean a lot of suffering for a lot of individuals.”

Forty-three percent of businesses anticipate reducing their workforce because of new technology, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs survey. In December, searches for automation engineering equipment on Thomas, a product-sourcing platform, were up more than 300 percent from the previous year. And research firm Gartner found in February that Covid-19 had caused seven out of 10 boards of directors to accelerate their digital business.

The lightning-fast shift has created a more urgent demand for worker training than ever. With an estimated 97 million new job categories that could arise from automation, companies estimate that 40 percent of workers will require reskilling.

Though automation typically affects blue-collar workers most in manufacturing and food service, the rise of other technologies like artificial intelligence is poised to imperil white-collar employees, too.

Still, Black and brown workers are bearing the brunt of the impact: Lower levels of education and other barriers to opportunity mean that minority workers are more likely than whites to be employed as cashiers, cooks, and in other occupations susceptible to automation. Even pre-pandemic, 23 percent of Black workers were in danger of losing their jobs by 2030 due to automation, by one estimate.

The dozens of employment and training programs spread across agencies as of 2019 were funded by the Labor Department via the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Education Department’s Pell and Perkins grant programs, as well as Health and Human Services’ Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and USDA’s SNAP Employment and Training program, to name a few.

But the pandemic has underscored that “there’s no alignment of those plans in a way that gives us the opportunity to do the type of worker retraining that is necessary,” said Nicol Turner Lee, director of Brookings’ Center for Technology Innovation. “When we come out of this, we’re going to have to figure out how we get people placed into jobs that no longer look like their normal.”

On top of that, many of the highest-performing programs — like the Labor Department’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program — are narrowly restricted, accessible to only a handful of workers who meet a strict set of criteria. such as having been adversely affected by foreign trade.

If Congress is to help workers affected by automation maintain — or regain — employment, lawmakers, workers’ advocates and unions say a revamp of these programs will be necessary.

Van Kleunen says he and his team support the idea of a federal effort to bring all stakeholders — businesses, community colleges, unions — to the table for a conversation around what kind of training is needed and how it can best be provided. People close to Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Biden’s nominee for Labor secretary, say he would be on board with such a move.

“We’re going to be creating new jobs, but other jobs may be diminished or eliminated completely because of the changing economy. And we’ve got to provide the tools necessary, especially with minority workers,” said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Businesses including PwC, L’Oreal and KeyBank have already launched in-house efforts to reskill workers. But the bulk of employers lack the resources to do so and will require coordination with educational institutions and the public sector to help employees make the jump. Just 21 percent of businesses report being able to access public funds to support reskilling.


Momentum is building to streamline existing efforts to get workers retrained and back to work — including not only the 43 federal programs but safety-net measures like the unemployment insurance systems spread across all 50 states.

With many Americans out of work or employed at a company unable to do its own retraining, a key part of the conversation involves making sure workers are able to pay their rent while obtaining the skills they need to stay afloat long-term. While Biden has not specifically endorsed such an overhaul, he has said he wants to extend unemployment benefits for as long as it takes to train and reskill workers. 

Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), vice chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, called for reauthorizing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which authorized funds for the Labor Department’s programs only through fiscal 2020.

“With [the legislation] up for reauthorization, we will have an opportunity to enhance our nation’s workforce system so workers have the additional opportunities to successfully compete in the 21st century workforce,” House Education and Labor Committee ranking member Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said.

Many other developed nations like Sweden and Germany already have such large-scale systems in place. The U.S., in comparison, spends less of its GDP on worker training than most other OECD countries. The OECD’s 2020 economic survey of the U.S. found that building out “retraining or reskilling opportunities — would help workers displaced by the coronavirus shock.”

“This isn’t pie in the sky,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union. “There’s lots of global lessons we can draw on.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on February 5, 2021. Reprinted with permission.

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


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U.S. Chamber calls for governments to fund rapid training programs

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue said Tuesday that a broad-based economic recovery in 2021 depends on reskilling and supporting workers. The usually conservative Chamber is embracing a radical shift on skills policy. “Our lawmakers should fund rapid training programs to connect the unemployed with jobs in new sectors,” Donohue said in a State of American Business address. 

Employers should take a lead in designing these programs, Donohue said, but said the benefits to workers would be clear-cut: “If we do this right and do it quickly, we will improve the living standard for millions of Americans.”

Trade unions agree, but insist the federal government thinks big. “We can’t think about (it) employer by employer,” said Mary Kay Henry, international president of the Service Employees International Union. Six million fast food and care workers “are living in poverty and have irregular schedules,” leaving them without access to lifelong learning opportunities in the current system, she said. 

“Imagine a system where the company, the government and the workers together thought about how to unlock those four million people, and train them to do the work that’s emerging in the future,” Henry said. Singapore’s citizens don’t have to imagine it: that’s what SkillsFuture, the country’s adult education government agency, delivers. 

Ong Tze Ch’in, who leads the Singaporean program, told POLITICO’s Global Translations podcast that the Singaporean government has built “a national movement about the pursuit of skills mastery and allowing every individual to achieve the maximum potential.”

At the heart of Singapore’s training efforts is a credit offered to every adult in the country, of between $375 and $950, and “absentee payroll,” a system of government funding for up to 90 percent of a worker’s salary covering work-time missed attending training.

Singapore also subsidizes its education providers up to 90 percent of the cost of delivering a course. The courses range from two-day workshops to months-long programs. The original intent was ensuring Singapore’s quick transition to a digital economy. To cope with the additional disruption of Covid-19, the government increased subsidies for mid-career workers and for courses focused on job skills for workers and industries hit hardest by the pandemic such as accommodation and aviation. 

It takes a whole-of-government mindset to implement a comprehensive system like Singapore’s, and also a new outlook on education, Ong said. School and universities aren’t considered the sum of Singapore’s system, they’re “pre-employment training,” he said. It’s a necessary distinction in Ong’s view because working lives are getting longer, and “that education alone no longer sustains you for your entire career, simply because industry cycles are changing so much faster.”

The biggest winners in Singapore’s system are smaller businesses and their workers, which lack the “critical mass and the capacities” to match the training programs of multinational companies, he said. 

Ong, who was Singapore’s director of military intelligence before taking charge of SkillsFuture, advised American policymakers not to delay their efforts. “You don’t grow an army in a day. You grow it over years so that when you need it, you have it.” 

Can the Singapore model scale across the United States?

The key is re-imagining education as a broader set of services beyond school and college, say many labor experts. “Lots of skills workers have, or need, are not about getting more degrees,” said McKinsey Global Institute’s James Manyika.

Ravi Kumar, President of Infosys, the Indian company that became famous for encouraging the tech outsourcing boom, told POLITICO that Infosys now runs “the largest corporate training university in the world,” in Bangalore, India. 

Each market has to be treated differently, according to the local skills base, Kumar said. In the U.S. he said he hires based on a student’s capacity to learn, rather than the brand name of their degree. “We’re moving from degrees to skills with our digital apprenticeship program” — which includes “a finishing school infrastructure,” of eight to 10 weeks of tailored training, at a cost of around $20,000 per student.

“We’re hiring from community colleges, and putting them in the apprentice program, so they can move from operations to a data scientist, and from cyber operations to a cyber security consultant. You give them stackable credentials.” Over the next few decades, Kumar believes the changes will be so specific and frequent that individuals won’t be able to manage them on their own. 

P-TECH is a large-scale public-private partnership trying to take on this challenge. Started by IBM in Brooklyn a decade ago, the partnership now operates in 28 countries. 

Joel Duran was part of the first class to graduate from P-TECH’s six-year program in 2017, with both a high school diploma and an associate’s degree. Duran, now 23, landed a technical consultant job working for IBM’s federal government clients, an outcome he said would have been harder to achieve without the structure and safety net provided by P-TECH. 

“From the first day that you started out at P-TECH in ninth grade, you are paired with a mentor,” he told the Global Translations podcast, and take part in regular work placements where “you are depended upon by the business.” With a salary of $14 an hour as a teenager in these work placements, Duran said he also had income to help support his wider family, some of whom immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic when Duran was in primary school, and some who remained behind. 

Duran said the skills he’s learned are portable in a fast-moving labor market. Some of his graduating class “took their two-year technical degree and they went on to med school, they went on to be lawyers. I know there was one student who went and studied wildlife.” For Duran, the lasting effect has been on his approach to work. “I’ve picked up the mindset to always keep learning, to show up in a room humble and be able to say, ‘I don’t know about this, but I can get back to you’ and I’m pretty confident that I can learn it.”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on January 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ryan Heath is the author of Global Translations, POLITICO’s global newsletter and podcast, and previously authored POLITICO’s U.N. Playbook, Brussels Playbook, and Davos Playbook. 


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What Slashing the Labor Department Budget by 21 Percent Would Mean

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The Trump administration’s “budget blueprint” would devastate worker safety, job training programs and legal services essential to low-income workers. Its cuts include a 21 percent, or $2.5 billion, reduction in the Department of Labor’s budget.

The budget would reduce funding for or eliminate programs that provide job training to low-income workers, unemployed seniors, disadvantaged youth and for state-based job training grants. It eliminates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) training grants as well as the independent Chemical Safety Board. Also targeted for elimination is the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to low-income Americans.

“Cutting these programs is cutting the safety net for the most vulnerable workers, those striving for the middle class,” said Matt Shudtz, executive director at the Center for Progressive Reform. “This budget would eliminate training programs for them, the kind of things people need to move up in the world. It is very anti-worker and anti- the most vulnerable workers.”

Judy Conti, National Employment Law Project (NELP) federal advocacy coordinator, didn’t mince words.

“This budget will mean more illness, injury and death on the job,” she said Thursday, the day the proposed budget was released.

Targeting programs that prevent injury and illness

The White House budget proposal justifies its enormous cuts to the Department of Labor by saying it focuses on the agency’s “highest priority functions and disinvests in activities that are duplicative, unnecessary, unproven or ineffective.”

The budget would close Job Corps centers that serve “disadvantaged youth,” eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, decrease federal funding for state and local job training grants—shifting more financial responsibility to employers and state and local governments. The budget would also eliminate certain grants to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which helps people with disabilities stay in the job market.

Also slated for elimination are OSHA’s Susan Harwood training grants that have provided more than 2.1 million workers, especially underserved and low-literacy workers in high-hazard industries, with health and safety training since 1978. These trainings are designed to multiply their effects by “training trainers” so that both workers and employers learn how to prevent and respond to workplace hazards. They’ve trained healthcare workers on pandemic hazards, helped construction workers avoid devastating accidents, and workers in food processing and landscaping prevent ergonomic injuries. The program also helps workers for whom English is not their first language obtain essential safety training.

“The cuts to OSHA training grants will hurt workers and small employers,” said David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Training is a proven, and in fact necessary method to prevent worker injuries and illnesses. OSHA’s training grants are very cost effective, reaching large numbers of workers and small employers who would otherwise not be trained in injury and illness prevention.”

“Everyone, labor and management, believes that a workforce educated in safety and health is essential to saving lives and preventing occupational disease. That is the purpose of the Harwood grants,” said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment at United Steelworkers.

The White House says eliminating these grants will save $11 million, a miniscule fraction of the $639 billion the Trump administration is requesting for the Department of Defense.

“No words to describe how cruel it is”

Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) would mean no independent federal agency dedicated to investing devastating industrial accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the West Fertilizer plant explosion, Freedom Industries chemical release in Charleston, West Virginia, and the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California. Those are among the hundreds of cases CSB has investigated over the past 20 years or so.

“Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public are safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB,” said CSB chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland in a statement.

“The cost of even one such accident would be more than the CSB’s budget over its entire history. And that calculation is only economic. The human cost of a catastrophic accident would be enormous,” said Wright. “The CSB’s work has saved the lives of workers in chemical plants and oil refineries, residents who could be caught in a toxic cloud, even students in high school chemistry labs.”

The budget proposal also jeopardizes essential legal support for low-wage workers. While not dedicated to employment issues, the Legal Services Corporation provides vital services to low-wage workers, including on issues related to workers’ compensation and other job benefits.

“Gutting the Legal Services Corporation,” said NELP’s Conti, “there are no words to describe how cruel it is, especially considering grossly underfunded the agency is.”

“The government should be investing in workers, their families, and communities, but instead this budget drastically cuts the programs meant to uplift them,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen.

The White House calls the budget proposal a “Budget Blueprint to make American Great Again.” On a call with reporters, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, “this is the ‘America First’ budget” and said it was written “using the president’s own words” to turn “those policies into numbers.”

“This is not so much a budget as an ideological statement,” said David Golston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.


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Why Does the EEOC Make Mistakes (Part I)

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Over the years, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been routinely criticized by charging parties, plaintiffs’ attorneys, respondents, and attorneys for respondents, as to virtually every aspect of the Commission’s activities including the filing,Richard Seymour investigation, and conciliation of charges, and the Commission’s litigation.

The courts have added their voices to the criticisms by charging parties and their counsel, with numerous courts coming to the rescue of charging parties by holding that the EEOC’s interim charge-processing steps are not jurisdictional prerequisites to a private suit and echoing the early words of the Fifth Circuit:

“Significantly, under EEOC regulations, a right to demand and receive such a notice accrues sixty days after the charge is filed regardless of any act or omission by the EEOC. Were this regulation not written, we would read it into the Act lest a claimant’s statutory right to sue in federal court become subject to such fortuitous variables as workload, mistakes, or possible lack of diligence of EEOC personnel.”

Beverly v. Lone Star Lead Const. Corp., 437 F.2d 1136, 1140 (5th Cir. 1971) (footnotes omitted). The period for requesting a notice of right to sue was later expanded, of course, to 180 days. 29 C.F.R. § 1628(a).

The courts have also echoed some of the concerns raised by respondents and their counsel, and have sometimes added teeth to the criticisms by sanctioning the EEOC for perceived failures in investigation, conciliation, and litigation. E.g., E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc., 2013 WL 3984478, 119 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 739 (N.D.Iowa Aug. 1, 2013) (No. 07-CV-95-LRR), awarding $4,694,442.14 in defendant’s attorneys’ fees and costs against the EEOC for perceived failures of conciliation and for litigation missteps.

Some employers are using the courts’ criticisms in an effort to tie up the Commission’s enforcement efforts in red-tape preliminaries that could require more effort than the litigation they are trying to stave off. The Courts of Appeals are split as to whether respondents have an affirmative defense for the EEOC’s failure to conciliate reasonably, and the issue is now before the U.S. Supreme Court in Mach Mining, LLC, v. E.E.O.C., No. 13-1019 (scheduled for conference on June 19, 2014). Both sides have agreed that the Supreme Court should take the case and resolve this question, and we will shortly find out whether the Court will grant review. The Seventh Circuit had decided that courts could not enquire into the reasonableness of the EEOC’s conciliation efforts. E.E.O.C. v. Mach Mining, LLC, 738 F.3d 171 (7th Cir. 2013). The Commission’s response to the petition for certiorari, however, shows at pp. 3-4 the degree to which allowing such inquiries will stymie the EEOC’s enforcement efforts:

2. In 2008, a woman who had unsuccessfully applied for a mining position with petitioner filed a charge of unlawful employment discrimination with the Commission. . . . She contended that petitioner, which had never hired a woman for a mining position, refused to hire her based on her gender. . . . The Commission investigated the charge, found reasonable cause to believe petitioner had discriminated against a class of women who applied for mining-related jobs, and invited petitioner to conciliate. . . . From late 2010 to late 2011, the Commission attempted conciliation with petitioner, but no agreement was reached. . . .

The Commission then filed this lawsuit, contending that petitioner engaged in a pattern or practice of unlawful employment discrimination and used employment practices that had a disparate impact on female applicants. . . . In its answer, petitioner asserted a failure-to-conciliate affirmative defense, contending that the complaint should be dismissed because the Commission had failed to expend sufficient efforts on conciliation. . . . The Commission responded that Title VII includes no such failure-to-conciliate affirmative defense, and it moved for partial summary judgment on that basis. . . . In the meantime, petitioner submitted “extensive discovery requests”—including more than 600 requests for admissions of fact—that “s(ought) information about the EEOC’s investigation and conciliation efforts.” . . . . Petitioner also “slowed discovery on the merits” by objecting to the Commission’s merits-related discovery requests on “failure to conciliate” grounds. . . .

(Emphasis supplied.)  The petition, response, and reply can all be downloaded fromhttp://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/mach-mining-v-equal-employment-opportunity-commission/. (ScotusBlog, www.scotusblog.com, is an extraordinarily useful website.) The text of the response makes a compelling case why there is no judicially-enforceable duty to conciliate; a later blog posting will address that question.

In the face of all these criticisms, fair-minded persons need to pause and consider how all these perceived problems came to exist.

First, expectations for the EEOC have always been very high. The Fourth Circuit’s view of the “public avenger” role of the EEOC after the 1972 amendments to Title VII giving it the power to sue in its own name were echoed by many courts in more prosaic opinions. Here is how the Fourth Circuit put it:

“But, unlike the individual charging party, the EEOC, when it sued, did so ‘to vindicate the public interest’ as expressed in the Congressional purpose of eliminating employment discrimination as a national evil rather than for the redress of the strictly private interests of the complaining party. Because of this significant difference, the EEOC’s suit was ‘broader (in scope) than the interests of the charging parties. It follows that the standing of the EEOC to sue under Title VII cannot be controlled or determined by the standing of the charging party to sue, limited as he is in rights to the vindication of his own individual rights. To hold otherwise, as did the District Court, would be to continue treating the sole purpose of the Title to be the correction of individual wrongs rather than of public or ‘societal’ wrongs as well as to deny to the EEOC the right to be any more than a mere proxy for the charging party rather than what Congress by the Amendments of 1972 intended, i.e., the public avenger by civil suit of any discrimination uncovered in a valid investigation and subjected to conciliation under the Act. We find no warrant whatsoever for placing such limitation on the right or standing of the EEOC to bring suit; indeed, were such limitation to be imposed, it would be in our opinion a clear nullification of the legislative intent in enacting the Amendments of 1972. . . . “

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. General Electric Co., 532 F.2d 359, 373 (4th Cir. 1976) (footnotes omitted; emphasis supplied).

Second, the EEOC has always been starved for resources, and the starvation has become endemic:.

President EEOC Authorized Staff When He Took the Oath of Office EEOC Authorized Staff When He Left Office Reduction from January 1981: No. Reduction from January 1981: %
Ronald Reagan January 1981:  3,696 January 1989:  3,198 498 14.1%
George H.W. Bush January 1989:  3,198 January 1993:  3,071 625 17.7%
Bill Clinton January 1993:  3,071 January 2001:  3,055 641 18.2%
George W. Bush January 2001:  3,055 January 2009:  2,556 1,140 32.3%
Barack Obama January 2009:  2,556 N.A.   Currently 2,347 1,349 38.2%

Source, EEOC Budget figures, http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/budgetandstaffing.cfm, last visited June 8, 2014, with my calculations in the last two columns.

During this same time period, the EEOC has been given very substantial new responsibilities, including the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008.

Similarly, the EEOC’s web site shows that 93,727 charges were filed in FY 2013, compared with 72,302 in FY 1992, the earliest year with reported data. That is a 22.9% increase.

Moreover, during this period Congress has required the EEOC to devote a substantial part of its budget to help fund State and local fair employment practice agencies.

Third, the recent difficulties in financing government operations make realistic planning very difficult. Not only do agencies know whether the Office of Management and Budget will recommend budget figures for the next year comparable to those of the current year, the present dysfunction in Congress makes it impossible to tell what will be appropriated. There may be government-wide hiring freezes lasting for years. When those are lifted, agencies hire as many as possible, because they do not know when they will be able to hire again. Meanwhile, salaries and rents increase with inflation, and the training budget is among the first to be cut. The lack of professional training for attorneys, investigators, and others harms many aspects of the Commission’s operations.

Fourth, while many EEOC staff members are extremely well-skilled and dedicated, not all meet those criteria. The EEOC has never taken seriously the idea in the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 that it should adopt truly objective and fair performance standards, train staff to meet those objective standards, and terminate staff who either cannot or will not come up to objective and fair performance standards. It has routinely refused to take action against unwilling or incompetent employees, and incoming Chairs have sometimes withdrawn pending disciplinary charges against large numbers of employees in a misguided effort to build good will, and an understandable but still mistaken effort to avoid the large amounts of management time that would have to be devoted to cleaning house.

Now consider: What private firm would have a chance of meeting its goals under these conditions: heavily increased workload, almost a 40% reduction in staff, little technology to make up the slack, no money for training, an inadequate effort to identify and get rid of poor performers, and the need to give a lot of discretion to untrained staff regardless of their performance?

It is close to a miracle that the EEOC can accomplish anything at all. Yet it has provided very useful guidance to employers, unions, and employees, and has recovered substantial amounts in resolutions of charges and in litigation.

When we criticize the agency, we need to be mindful of the difficulties under which it labors.

About the Author: Richard Seymour graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968, and has worked in civil rights and employee rights ever since. In the 36 years since leaving the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1969, he have spent more than 90% of my time representing plaintiffs in class actions.


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President Obama’s Latest Manufacturing Push

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Dave JohnsonThe White House unveiled new executive actions on Monday
directing federal money toward new technologies, apprenticeship programs and competitions designed to assist small manufacturers. The idea is to make the U.S. a magnet for new jobs and investment.

 

The new executive action will:

  • Allow the Pentagon, NASA, and the Energy and Agriculture departments to spend $300 million to develop advanced materials and new technology for sensors and digital manufacturing.
  • Direct $100 million in Labor Department funds for apprenticeship programs aimed at advanced manufacturing.
  • Authorize the Commerce Department to spend $150 million over five years in 10 states to help manufacturers adopt and market new technologies.
  • Give manufacturers access to state-of-the-art facilities like those at national labs – to connect industry and universities on research and development and develop ‘technology testbeds’ where companies can design, prototype and test new products and processes.

President Obama began the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in June 2011. The administration so far has launched four manufacturing innovation institutes – “hubs” – and there are four more on the way. They have also invested nearly $1 billion for community colleges to train workers for advanced manufacturing jobs.

There is expanded investment in applied research for emerging manufacturing technologies, and a new initiative to get returning veterans into jobs in advanced manufacturing.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on October 27, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141027/president-obamas-latest-manufacturing-push

About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

 


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The Great Training Wreck: Job Skills Deficits and Corporate-Backed Tech Schools

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Roger BybeeWorker training has emerged as a major flashpoint between labor and corporate leaders, igniting conflicts over low corporate tax rates, the offshoring of jobs and the low-skilled nature of most future job growth in America.

First, corporate leaders have been insisting that a significant part of the unemployment problem is due not to the massive offshoring of jobs or lack of effective consumer demand caused by low pay, but under-skilled U.S. workers. The CEOs sometimes blame workers themselves: PIMCO investment fund founder Bill Gross has stated: “Our labor force is too expensive and poorly educated for today’s market place.”

Second, corporate leaders—although intransigent about paying higher taxes (or, quite often, any taxes) to help provide funding for education and training—seek to convert technical education into short-term retraining that benefits corporations while workers fail to learn portable skills.

This latter issue has emerged in a new law passed just before the end of the recent legislative session in Madison, when Wisconsin Republicans engineered a last-minute takeover of technical education at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

The long-term implications of the MATC takeover for working people will mean a shift from seeking skills that increase long-term opportunities to quick re-training to suit corporate needs, said Michael Rosen, president of American Federation of Teachers Local 212 at MATC and a member of Wisconsin’s Technical College Board.

“This restructuring will move MATC away from upgrading skills into training programs that will flood labor markets,” Rosen says. “It doesn’t bode well for comprehensive technical training. Our mission has been to provide industry with skills they want from their workers, but also to provide workers with skills that are portable and will build their careers.”

However, the new restructuring will take power away from a board appointed by area School Board presidents to a new entity selected by four county executives, giving power to two leaders from wealthy, conservative counties far out of proportion to the amount of funding and number of students they provide for MATC. Ozaukee and Washington counties account for only 6 percent of students, but 18 percent of funding. Milwaukee County supplies 82 percent of the funding, but accounts for nearly all MATC students.

“Two of the county executives are hardcore Republicans who don’t care about urban education at all,” Rosen asserted.

LITTLE FUNDING, BUT BIG VOICE FOR CORPORATE PRIORITIES

But despite the low funding that they provide, the new appointees will likely champion the view that technical education should be trimmed to fit immediate corporate priorities.

Rosen notes that even as corporate leaders complain about the shortage of skilled workers, CEOs have insisted on lower taxes that drain the funding base for technical education at both the high-school level-—where it is the most expensive component of education—and at two-year technical colleges.

Routinely using the threat of relocating jobs and capital to extort tax reductions that drain educational funding, corporate leaders have nonetheless escalated their complaints about the technical education provided in high schools and technical colleges.

“The very people complaining about the lack of tech ed have been fighting against increases in their own taxes, corporate and personal,” fumed Rosen. In Wisconsin, more than 60 percent of the corporations netting $100 million or more in revenues wind up paying no corporate income taxes, according to the Institute for Wisconsin’s Future.

But corporate leaders in Wisconsin, led by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce and helped by Republican legislators, have nonetheless blamed MATC to justify the hostile takeover.

Corporate leaders, led by Tim Sullivan, the former CEO of  Bucyrus-Erie and chair of Gov. Scott Walker’s Workforce Investment Council, has been sounding the alarm for producing more skilled labor. This revitalized technical education system would be based on the reallocation of federal dollars, not new funding from corporations, which are a primary beneficiary of a skilled workforce.

Further, corporations in Wisconsin—despite occasional shortages in skilled labor—are failing to generate jobs that require advanced skills and command family-sustaining wages. As Rosen, an economist, recently pointed out in a briefing paper:

Of the 10 fastest growing occupations in Wisconsin, 9 cannot be considered skilled labor. These include, in order of total openings: cashiers, waiters and waitresses, customer service reps, food preparers including fast food service workers, laborers, office clerks and bartenders. Only nurses, ranked number 6, can be considered a skilled labor occupation.

As America’s job crisis continues, expect future battles over the role of education to be fought across the nation. CEOs will insist that technical schools should be dedicated to enlarging the pool of narrowly-skilled workers to meet their needs (and boost their profits).

How forcefully educators and students demand a broader education that empowers citizens and provides portable skills remains to be seen.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on April 4, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and progressive publicity consultant whose work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, Yes!, The Progressive, Multinational Monitor, The American Prospect and Foreign Policy in Focus. His e-mail address is [email protected].


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