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Take Back Labor Day: Week 2 Roundup

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For this week’s installment of our Take Back Labor Day project, we had ten new posts representing the incredible quality and diversity that exists among those who think and write about workplace issues. With a wide variety of topics, including domestic workers, CEO pay, and workplace flexibility, and the representation of powerhouse organizations such as the Center for American Progress, the new Health Care for America Now coalition, and Women Employed, Week 2 was another stellar week.

Kicking off the week, on Monday, September 8, were Dr. David Madland and Karla Walter of the Center for American Progress (CAP) and Mark Harbeke of Winning Workplaces.

Madland and Walter, of the Center for American Progress‘s American Worker Project, point out the abysmal record of the current administration when it comes to having the Department of Labor simply do its job of protecting workers.  What’s the solution (besides voting, of course)?  Passing the Employee Free Choice Act, which the next administration should have the opportunity to do.

Winning Workplaces helps small and midsize organizations create great workplaces, and often it’s Mark Harbeke bringing some of the very best workplace practices and hottest workplace trends to our attention.  This post was no exception, as Mark found three different studies that all make it crystal clear that employers have to engage their employees, if they want them to be productive and satisfied with their work.  If you’re too busy to read the handwriting on the wall, just read Mark on a regular basis at the Winning Workplace blog.

Continuing on Tuesday, September 8, were workplace columnist Bob Rosner and Anne Ladky of Women Employed, respectively tackling the hot topics of CEO pay and paid sick leave.

In a bit of workplace Freakonomics, who figured out that CEO performance has an inverse relationship with their house size? No, it wasn’t Bob Rosner, but he tells us about the study that figured out that the larger the CEO’s house, the more likely that shareholders will pay for the CEO’s poor performance. Pay close attention to Bob — you’ll be seeing a lot more of him soon around these parts!

Anne Ladky of Women Employed provides us a great way to track our progress between this Labor Day and next:  have we passed a federal paid sick leave bill?  If not, we’re not done ensuring fairness in the workplace, while a benefit considered standard by most professionals—paid sick time—is unavailable to millions of lower-paid workers, including 22 million women.

Wednesday, September 10 featured two titans among lawyers who represent workers:  Paul Tobias and Ellen Simon.

Paul Tobias, who can count founding Workplace Fairness and the National Employment Lawyers Association among his myriad of career accomplishments, uses Labor Day to identify a number of necessary changes we need to our employment laws for workers to get a fair shake.  As he remarks, we all hope that the presidential candidates will take note of these needed changes and actually fix them during the next administration.

Ellen Simon, one of the foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States, tells us about a recent surprisingly positive Supreme Court decision (Sprint v. Mendelsohn), which gives us a slight bit of hope that the Court — not especially known for its friendliness to workers — will actually enforce the long-standing rules of evidence, even when to do so might benefit workers.

Thursday, September 11, was a somber day of remembrance for many of us.  Blogger Jason Gooljar looked back to the very origins of the Labor Day holiday, while Chai Feldblum and Katie Corrigan looked to the not-too-distant future of the flexible workplace.

Jason Gooljar, blogger Working Families Party Man, points out what even the most worker-friendly among us might not know about Labor Day: that it was proposed as a September holiday to prevent the celebration of what was considered a much more radical observance:  May Day.  While we may now observe a watered-down holiday, we don’t have to have a watered-down global labor movement, and Jason tells us why that’s important.

Chai Feldblum and Katie Corrigan, who co-direct the Workplace Flexibility 2010 campaign at Georgetown Law, talk about how many workers have extreme difficulty juggling the competing demands of work, family, and community involvement.  Workplace flexibility (including telecommuting, phased retirement, and flexible work arrangements) is a solution which can ultimately bring about more effective business, a stronger workforce, and healthier families — if enough businesses choose to embrace flexibility principles and practices.

Week 2 wrapped up on Friday, September 12, but we didn’t slack off at the end of the week, with Melvina Ford and Jason Rosenbaum tackling two urgent workplace problems:  the lack of sufficient legal protections for domestic workers, and the lack of adequate health care for many, if not most, American workers.

Melvina Ford, Executive Director of the DC Employment Justice Center, identifies a problem hardly confined to the DC metro area:  the exploitation of domestic workers who cook, clean, and take care of children and seniors at home.  She correctly notes that many current laws weren’t written with domestic workers in mind, and either exempt them entirely or do not adequately protect them.  Some recently enacted laws show promise in educating oft-exploited workers about their rights, but we need to do even more to ensure that domestic workers are fairly compensated for their often back-breaking work.

Jason Rosenbaum, writing for the recently formed Health Care for America Now! coalition, makes a relatively obvious but incredibly overlooked connection:  a healthy worker is a better, more productive worker, and sick workers who lack adequate insurance sap productivity.  Yet both businesses and employees face skyrocketing health care costs as a result of insurance company intervention.  Yes, health care is an economic issue — and a vitally important one that we are forced to address in the days ahead.

Whew:  health care, CEO pay, domestic pay, the Supreme Court, the Department of Labor:  you name it, we covered it in week 2, if it’s important in today’s workplace.  And next week continues the fine tradition we’ve established this month:  with at least five guest bloggers continuing the quality posts you’ve seen all month.  Stay tuned!


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Workplace Flexibility – A New Standard for the American Workplace

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In today’s difficult economy, we are all more acutely aware of the changing nature of work in this country. American employees are increasingly concerned about job security and losing crucial benefits–while the demands on them in a 24/7, global marketplace have intensified exponentially. Many employees are working more hours than ever before, while others–especially low-wage workers and those in the growing contingent workforce–have little or no control over how many hours they will work in any given week.

As our workplaces have become more demanding, the demographics of the American workforce have shifted dramatically. For most American families, the reality of today’s economy is that both members of a couple must work full time–and even that leaves many families stretching to cover the rising costs of gas, groceries, and health care.

As a result, many American employees struggle to meet the demands of work while also meeting family responsibilities as critical as caring for a sick child. Indeed, the need for workplace flexibility among American employees of all ages, professions, and income levels is urgent. A significant majority of workers report that they do not have the flexibility they need to succeed at work and still fulfill serious personal obligations–be it caregiving for a child, a spouse, or a parent, volunteering in the community, attending religious services, or obtaining advanced training.

Workplace flexibility:  an approach that encompasses options from flexible work schedules and telecommuting to extended time off and phased retirement–is a solution at the crossroads of a myriad of pressures facing our workforce. Flexibility can help ease the intense strain felt by millions of American workers trying to balance work with the needs of their families. For example:

The benefits of these and other types of flexibility are already being seen in workplaces across the country–and workplace flexibility is now being used as a strategic management tool in a diverse range of industries. By reducing turnover rates, boosting recruitment, and enhancing efficiency and performance, a growing number of business leaders are recognizing that flexibility can actually increase their competitive advantage.

Workplace flexibility can support both employers and employees in meeting the demands of the 21st century economy. But in order to make workplace flexibility a new standard of the American workplace, we must not only encourage voluntary business practices–but also develop consensus-based, common-sense public policies that work for families and in the marketplace.

Over the last several decades, the policy debate around the intersection of work and family has been plagued by a political stalemate. But we believe that through meaningful dialogue with business leaders, labor representatives, family, aging and disability advocates–and policymakers from both sides of the aisle–we can develop comprehensive workplace flexibility solutions that bridge political divides in Washington and beyond.

As workplace flexibility becomes an integral part of the American workplace, we believe it will ultimately support more effective business, a stronger workforce, and healthier families. And those are standards we can all agree on.

For more information on Workplace Flexibility 2010 and our consensus-building process, visit www.workplaceflexibility2010.org.

About the Authors: Chai R. Feldblum is a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., Director of Georgetown’s Federal Legislation Clinic, and Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility 2010.

Katie Corrigan is the Co-Director of Workplace Flexibility and an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.


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