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Typo stands between Albuquerque workers and a minimum wage increase

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Let the uncertain fate of a proposal to raise Albuquerque, New Mexico’s minimum wage be a lesson to you: Proofreading matters. Groups pushing to raise the minimum wage from $7.50 to $8.50, with tipped workers receiving 45 percent of that, collected 25,000 signatures, more than 12,000 of which were certified by the city clerk. But they apparently didn’t proofread what they gathered signatures on.

The signatures were gathered for a proposal reading: “Starting in 2013, employers of tipped employees like waitresses and waiters be paid at least 45 percent of the minimum wage in cash wages from their employers.” Did you catch that? “Employers” and “employees” are reversed at the beginning of the sentence, suggesting that restaurant owners would be the ones getting paid.

With restaurant owners typically among the biggest opponents of raising the minimum wage (or offering paid sick leave, or anything else that benefits workers), if the measure passes as written, or if the typo is corrected and the measure passes, lawsuits against it taking effect are a guarantee. City law does in fact allow for typos to be fixed, but that wouldn’t necessarily prevent a lengthy legal battle.

The typo is not the only confusion regarding the measure:

The city charter says once the petitions for an initiative like the one OLE used are submitted, the city clerk has 10 days to certify the signatures. After that, city council has two weeks to act on it or the proposal goes on a ballot 90 days from when it was submitted.

No action was taken at Wednesday’s city council meeting so according to the charter, voters should get a say before November 9.

However under state law, city council needs to pass an election resolution to put the issue on the ballot, something it hasn’t done yet.

Whatever it takes, this is a fight worth having. Raising the minimum wage is popular, it’s the right thing to do for workers struggling to make ends meet, and it definitely doesn’t hurt job creation—in fact, evidence suggests it helps job creation. Nationally, the workers who benefit from a minimum wage increase are overwhelmingly at least 20 years old, with majorities being women and full-time workers.
And if it’s a fight worth having, it’s worth proofreading. Twice, if necessary.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on September 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.


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Regulators Take an Average of Seven Years to Approve New Workplace Safety Conditions

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Image: Pat GarofaloAccording to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, it takes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration more than seven years on average to write a new workplace safety rule. Some rules take nearly two decades to finalize. “The process for setting safety standards at OSHA is broken,” said Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA). “Even when the evidence is undeniable that our workers are dying from workplace hazards, OSHA still takes an eternity to issue a new safety rule. While reasonable safety rules are delayed to provide never-ending opportunities for stakeholder input, workers’ lives and livelihood are at risk.”

This post originally appeared in ThinkProgress on April 24, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.


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Wisconsin Legislature Votes To Repeal Employment Discrimination Law

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Ian Millhiser Wisconsin prohibits employers from discriminating “on the basis of age, race, creed, color, disability, marital status, sex, national origin, ancestry, arrest record, conviction record, military service, use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer’s premises during nonworking hours, or declining to attend a meeting or to participate in any communication about religious matters or political matters,” and it ensures that this law has teeth by allowing victims of discrimination to hold their employers accountable in state court. That’s about to change, however, as the Wisconsin legislature recently voted to strip the state’s workers of their ability to actually enforce this law — leaving anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) as the only obstacle to the law’s total repeal:

The Equal Pay Enforcement Act was meant to deter employers from discriminating by giving workers more avenues to press charges. Among other provisions, it allows individuals to plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state circuit court system, rather than just in federal court.

In November, the state Senate approved (SB 202) rolling back this provision. On Wednesday, the Assembly did the same. Both were party-line votes. The legislation is now in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker (R). His office did not return a request for comment on whether the governor would sign it. . . .

Women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men make. In Wisconsin, it’s 75 cents, according to [the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health], which also estimates that families in the state “lose more than $4,000 per year due to unequal pay.”

Walker, of course, has no power to repeal federal law, so he cannot strip Wisconsin workers of their right to be free from race, gender and other forms of discrimination that are banned by national civil rights laws. Nevertheless, Wisconsin law provides additional protections, such as safeguards for people with criminal convictions, that are not available under federal law.

Moreover, as Amanda Terkel points out, Wisconsin state courts can enable victims of discrimination to receive swifter justice instead of waiting for an increasingly overburdened federal judiciary to act. And this problem is only likely to get worse as Walker’s political allies in the U.S. Senate wage an unprecedented campaign of obstruction against President Obama’s nominees to the federal bench.

It’s tough to imagine something more fundamental to a just society that a guarantee that employers will not discriminate, which is why it is so baffling why Wisconsin lawmakers do not believe that their state should protect against such discrimination.

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author’s and not views expressed by Today’s Workplace/Workplace Fairness.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on February 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the Guardian, the American Prospect and the Duke Law Journal; and he has been a guest on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Fox Business and many radio shows.


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House Cuts TSA Funding, Eliminates Collective Bargaining Amid Union Election

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It was just a few months ago when Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers were granted the right to form a union following months of contentious debates in Congress.

The move paved the way for the largest federal labor election in U.S. history; balloting began in early March. But two amendments recently passed by the House of Representatives could undermine the efforts of more than 45,000 airports workers to organize as union run-off elections are set to conclude in the weeks ahead.

Last Thursday, the Republican-led House approved legislation that would eliminate collective bargaining and cut the TSA’s budget, which the unions and the federal agency say would cost thousands of jobs. The amendments were part of the 2012 homeland security budget bill for fiscal year 2012.

Rep. Todd Rokita’s (R-Ind.) amendment, which passed 218–205, prevents the use of federal funds for collective bargaining by the TSA workers, who provide security for the nations’s airports. Another measure cuts more than $270 million from the agency and was led by Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), who is also House Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The timing of the bill coincided with a report released by Rep. Mica on Friday, which found that private screeners operate more efficiently and could save the government at least $1 billion over five years. A TSA spokesperson told the Washington Post that the 10 percent workforce reduction would cutabout 5,000 jobs.

In a statement, Rep. Rokita echoed similar sentiments, but went further by saying collective bargaining “would hamper the critical nature of TSA agents’ national security responsibilities.” He added that collective bargaining would make it difficult for people to settle disputes with the security workers.

The financial undercutting and rollback of union rights comes as the workers are currently voting to decide whether the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) or the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) will represent them.

In April, neither union received a majority vote, leading to a run-off election that will continue until June 21; ballot counting will occur two days later. The landmark voting came just two months after TSA administrator John Pistole allowed limited collectively bargaining rights for the first time in the agency’s ten-year history.

In spite of the election, both unions have separately called on their supporters to mobilize against the House bills. “AFGE will not allow these corporate, right-wing politicians to make being in a union un-American,” saidnational union president John Gage in a statement. “This amendment is nothing but a repeat of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s unfounded attack on the right of all Americans to have a voice at work and the right to bargain collectively.”

The NTEU also appealed to some Senate members in hopes that the bill will not pass under the Democratic majority. President Colleen M. Kelley also called Rep. Mica’s study “partisan” and refuted the report. She writes:

In the wake of 9/11, Congress and the President determined, with wide public support, that airport security functions are better performed by federal employees. Not only does NTEU question the validity of the study, I believe the American traveling public would be loathe to return to the days [of] less than a decade ago, when low-paid, ill-trained employees of private contractors handled air passenger screening duties.

An updated study by the Government Accountability Office found that using private screeners would cost 3 percent more after an analysis of revised data from the TSA. A 2007 GAO study found that the costs were upwards of 17 percent. In January, Pistole suspended private screening programs because he did not find any “substantial advantages.”

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on June 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Akito Yoshikane is a freelance writer and reporter for Kyodo News. He regularly contributes to the In These Times blog covering labor and workplace issues. He lives in New York City.


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Four Years Ago Today, Hardworking Families Finally Got a Little Help

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senator_jon_testerExactly four years ago, hardworking folks across the country finally got a pay raise ten years in the making.

One of the first laws I helped pass, just a couple of months after joining the Senate, was the Fair Minimum Wage Act. And it became law four years ago today.

Passing that law was a promise I’d made to Montanans. I’m proud that it was a promise kept.

On the same ballot where my name appeared in 2006, Montanans overwhelmingly passed a measure raising our state’s minimum wage. I endorsed the effort and it earned the support of 73 percent of Montanans.

Montanans sent a clear message with that vote–that we understand the value of workplace protections like the minimum wage.

Because by 2006, years of failed federal economic policies by politicians in Congress had led to Montana coming in 50th (dead last) for wages in the entire country.

Montanans understand the minimum wage is an American value. And it’s a value I took with me to the Senate, where I fight for our working families every day.

I fought to pass the Fair Minimum Wage Act–which raised the minimum wage after the longest gap between increases in history–for the same reasons I’ve fought for more jobs, better access to veterans’ care and lower taxes for working families. And it’s why I fought to put health care decisions in the hands of patients instead of insurance companies.

For the same reasons, I fought for other workplace protections like the Lillie Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to prevent discrimination against women.

I’ve fought for these changes because I’m a third generation family farmer and small business owner and I know firsthand the challenges that working Montana families face.

They deserve leaders who work for them.

Other members of Congress have had different priorities over the years. But I personally believe public service is not about looking out for your own career or your own paycheck. Public service should be about building a better future for our kids and grandkids.

On this anniversary, let’s redouble our efforts to strengthen the middle class, in Montana and across the country.

Because a lot of politicians who’ve stood in the way of progress for our working families have no idea what it’s like to earn a minimum wage.

Maybe if they did, we’d see how quickly they start changing their tune.

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on May 25, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Senator Jon Tester is a third generation family farmer from Big Sandy, Montana.  He farms the same land his grandparents homesteaded nearly 100 years ago.  During his first Senate term, he has earned a reputation as a champion for rural veterans, a pioneer in government transparency and a powerful voice for rural America.


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Age Discrimination Gets Attention Of Congress

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Hearings Held On Federal Discrimination Bill To Overturn Gross Decision

Last week, both the House and Senate held hearings on the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act (POWADA) (H.R. 3721, S. 1756). The legislation would overturn the awful Gross v. FBL Financials Services, Inc. case decided by the Supreme Court last year. If passed,  the bill will apply retroactively to all cases pending on or after June 17, 2009, the date of the Gross decision.

Simply stated, the Gross decision holds age discrimination plaintiffs to a higher standard of proof than other victims of discrimination by requiring them to prove that their age was the “but for” cause of the employer’s adverse decision instead of  “a motivating factor.” I predicted, as did others, that Gross would get a Congressional fix and that’s exactly what POWADA does – and more.

For one, POWADA allows the plaintiff to win an age discrimination case by proving that:

(A) an impermissible factor under the Act (the discrimination statute) was a motivating factor for the practice complained of  — even if other factors also motivated the practice, or

(B) the practice complained of would not have occurred in the absence of an impermissible factor.

The legislation also establishes that:

  • standards of proof for all federal laws forbidding discrimination and retaliation (including whistleblowing) are the same
  • the plaintiff can choose the method of proof for the case, including the McDonnell Douglas framework
  • employees can rely on any type or form of admissible circumstantial or direct evidence to prove their discrimination and retaliation cases

The Act explicitly states that the standard for proving unlawful disparate treatment under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 and other anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws is no different than the standard of proof under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including amendments made by the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

In other words, all plaintiffs in discrimination cases will be held to the same standards of proof and will be able to prove their discrimination cases in the same way. While this is most certainly what Congress intended in the first place, it will be very beneficial for all of us who litigate these cases — and our clients — to have these evidentiary matters settled once and for all.

image: www.conversantlife.com/files/imagecache/blog_wizard/files/blog_wizard/proof.png

*This post originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on May 9, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ellen Simon: is recognized as one of the leading  employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States.She offers legal advice to individuals on employment rights, age/gender/race and disability discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment. With a unique grasp of the issues, Ellen’s a sought-after legal analyst who discusses high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and woman’s issues. Her blog, Employee Rights Post has dedicated readers who turn to Ellen for her advice and opinion. For more information go to www.ellensimon.net.


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It’s Equal Pay Day And Time To Pass The Paycheck Fairness Act

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Wage Discrimination Needs Attention And A Legislative Fix

April 20, 2010 is Equal Pay Day. It was established in 1996 to illuminate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. The date symbolizes how far into 2010 women must work to earn what men earned in 2009.

This year, with the support of President Obama, Equal Pay Day should also bring attention to pending legislation intended to address lingering issues of pay disparity in the American workforce.

Here are some facts about pay equity from the National Organization for Women:

  • In 2007, women’s median annual paychecks reflected only 78 cents for every $1.00 earned by men. Specifically for women of color, the gap is even wider: In comparison to a man’s dollar, African American women earn only 69 cents and Latinas just 59 cents. 
  • In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, full-time working women were paid 59 cents on average for every dollar paid to men. This means it took 44 years for the wage gap to close just 19 cents — a rate of less than half a penny a year.
  • The narrowing of this gap has slowed down over the last six years, with women gaining a mere two cents since 2001.
  • Women’s median pay was less than men’s in each and every one of the 20 industries and 25 occupation groups surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007. Even men working in female-dominated occupations earn more than women working in those same occupations.
  • According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research,  if equal pay for women were instituted immediately, across the board, it would result in an annual $319 billion gain nationally for women and their families (in 2008 dollars).
  • When The WAGE Project looked exclusively at full-time workers, they estimated that women with a high school diploma lose as much as $700,000 over a lifetime of work, women with a college degree lose $1.2 million and professional school graduates may lose up to $2 million because of pay disparity.
  • As a result, these inequities follow women into their retirement years, reducing their Social Security benefits, pensions, savings and other financial resources.
  • A study by the American Association of University Women examined how the wage gap affects college graduates. Wage disparities kick in shortly after college graduation, when women and men should, absent discrimination, be on a level playing field.
  • One year after graduating college, women are paid on average only 80 percent of their male counterparts’ wages, and during the next 10 years, women’s wages fall even further behind, dropping to only 69 percent of men’s earnings ten years after college

I have represented women in discrimination cases for many years.  From my vantage point it’s clear that while the pay equity issues are not as blatant as they once were, wage discrimination is still a prevalent concern for women of all socio-economic groups.

It’s also true that the Equal Pay Act of 1963, while well intentioned, has not come close to fulfilling its goal due to a whole host of reasons.

The good news is that there is a bill pending in Congress aimed at correcting unlawful wage disparities and which offers a legislative fix for some of the problems with the Equal Pay Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R.12 and S.182) was introduced January 2009 by then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rosa DeLauro to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The bill expands damages under the Equal Pay Act and amends its very broad fourth affirmative defense which will be a real help to victims of pay discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act also prohibits retaliation against inquiring about or disclosing wage information  and proposes voluntary EEOC guidelines to show employers how to evaluate jobs with the goal of eliminating unfair disparities. The bill was passed by the House in January of 2009 and is pending in the Senate. It’s lead sponsor is Sen. Christopher Dodd.

There were hearings about the bill in March of this year with lots of illuminating testimony, including the remarks of Stuart Ishimaru, acting Chariman of the EEOC, which you can read here if you are interested in more detail about the subject.

The bottom line is if you care about equal rights for women and want to make a difference, please call or write your Senator and urge passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Here’s a link that will help you send the message. We know that the President  supports it — we just need to get it on his desk.

images: www.evetahmincioglu.com

*This post originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on April 20, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Ellen Simon: is recognized as one of the leading  employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States.She offers legal advice to individuals on employment rights, age/gender/race and disability discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment. With a unique grasp of the issues, Ellen’s a sought-after legal analyst who discusses high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and woman’s issues. Her blog, Employee Rights Post has dedicated readers who turn to Ellen for her advice and opinion. For more information go to www.ellensimon.net.


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New Whistleblower Protection for Consumer Product Safety Issues

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On August 14, 2008, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act became law. Of interest to employees and their advocates is a new whistleblower provision. The Act creates a legal protection for employees who raise concerns about the safety of consumer products.

About 20 million Americans work for employers involved in the manufacture, distribution, and sale of consumer goods. Now they are protected from retaliation when they provide information about a violation of the Consumer Product Safety Act to their employer, the federal government, or any state attorney general. Employees who believe they have suffered unlawful retaliation have 180 days (from their first notice of the retaliatory act) to file a written complaint with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). However, if the safety violation involves toxic chemicals, and if the written complaint is filed within 30 days, then the employee can also seek punitive damages under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

This new CPS Act protections provides for jury trials, compensatory damages, temporary and final reinstatement, and attorney fees. Congress protects employees as long as they have a reasonable basis to believe there is a violation. If the company proves that there was no violation, they still cannot retaliate against employees who reasonably raised a concern. Also, complaining employees only have to show that the unlawful motive was a contributing factor in the retaliatory act. Then the employer will have to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that it would have imposed the same adverse action even if the employee had engaged in no protected activity.

If the Department of Labor takes more than 210 days to issue a final order, then the complainant can file a new action in U.S. District Court to seek a jury trial.

The National Whistleblower Center (NWC) is sponsoring a training seminar about this new law on November 21, 2008, in Washington, DC. It will be an opportunity to attorneys and other advocates to learn about the provisions of the new law, the Department of Labor’s plans for investigation and adjudication, and NWC’s strategies for maximizing the opportunities to get good results in the first court decisions under this new law. For more information about this seminar, see NWC Seminar on CPSIA.

About this Author: Richard Renner is a leading advocate for whistleblowers, with a long record of service for labor organizers and civil rights. He is a member of the Executive Board of the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) and a former Co-Chair of NELA’s Whistleblower Committee. Prior to joining the National Whistleblowers Center in 2008, Mr. Renner worked for 27 years as a lawyer in Ohio where he was a founding partner in the firm of Tate and Renner. Mr. Renner is the author of several articles including: “Federal Environmental Whistleblower Complaints,” in, Employee Rights Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1 (Summer 2002), pp. 29-34; “Whistleblower Book Helps with All Retaliation Cases,” a review of Concepts and Procedures in Whistleblower Law, NELA Employee Advocate, Spring 2001, p. 24; “Federal Whistleblower Complaints,” feature article for Ohio Employment Lawyers Ass’n Newsletter, October, 1996.


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