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Google employees demand company do something about sexual harassment and pay inequality

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All over the world, employees at Google are demonstrating that they won’t tolerate sexual harassment, low pay, and other poor working conditions. Google workers in  London, Zurich, Dublin, Berlin, Tokyo, and Singapore organized walkouts on Thursday. U.S. workers in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Mountain View, California have also walked out.

Workers were responding to a New York Times article from last week that showed the tech company paid millions of dollars to male executives who were accused of sexual harassment and kept it a secret. One of these executives, Andy Rubin, was given a $90 million exit package despite a woman’s credible claims of sexual violence.

Google staff have decided to leave notes on their desks that read, “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone,” according to the BBC.

According to a 2017 Women in Tech survey, 53 percent of female tech employees said they had experienced harassment when working in tech and 63 percent of women said it happened two or three times. Twenty three percent of women who experienced harassment said they reported the incident to senior leadership and 16 percent reported it to HR. Thirty-five percent of those workers who reported said they suffered repercussions and only 9 percent said their harassers experienced consequences for their actions.

Workers also have a specific set of demands for management, including a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality, disclosure of sexual harassment to the public, an inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously, having the chief diversity officer answer directly to the CEO, appointing an employee representative to the board, and ending forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination. The latter demand would apply to both current and future workers at Google. The chief diversity officer would also make recommendations directly to the Google’s board of directors.

Issues such as forced arbitration and nondisclosure agreements have received more attention after a slew of news stories broke last year showing powerful men had long histories of sexual harassment and violence — and that for decades, they got away with it.

In October, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced legislation that would ban mandatory arbitration and class and collective action waivers in labor matters. Earlier this year, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a bill to prohibit certain kinds of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that aid to silence sexual harassment victims.

Brenda Salinas, a Google employee in London, told The New York Times that although she did not participate in the walkout due to an injury, she supported it.

“Last week was one of the hardest weeks of my yearlong tenure at Google, but today is the best day. I feel like I have thousands of colleagues all over the world who like me, are committed to creating a culture where everyone is treated with dignity,” she told the Times.

Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive, said on Wednesday that “Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes” and that “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Google workers have been trying to address issues of inequality and gender and racial biases in their workplace for years. One example of this tension is the 10-page memo authored by James Damore that was circulated throughout the company last year and that opposed hiring that considered racial and gender diversity in tech. Damore suggested that women were biologically unsuited for advancement in tech and listed personality traits he said women have more of. Damore wrote, “Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.”

Damore was eventually fired in August of last year, after the memo was leaked to the press. Last year, the Department of Labor also reviewed a sample of compensation data for Google. The department  has accused the Google of “extreme” discrimination against female employees and said there is a “systemic” gap in pay between men and women at company. Google has resisted giving the department all the data it has on the matter, and in July of last year, an administrative law judge sided with Google and said the request was “unduly burdensome.”

Now there is a revised gender-pay class action lawsuit against Google that adds a complainant and says Google asked people for their prior salaries before hiring them, according to TechCrunch. California recently passed a law that doesn’t allow employers to ask applicants about their previous salaries. If someone discloses that information without being asked, the employer is not supposed to consider it when deciding how much they should be paid. On Friday, the class action moved forward with a hearing in San Francisco.

Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano told TechCrunch in January, “We disagree with the central allegations of this amended lawsuit … We work really hard to create a great workplace for everyone, and to give everyone the chance to thrive here.”

Across the world, employees are showing Google they disagree.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

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Groundbreaking Study on Domestic Workers Finds Widespread Mistreatment and Systemic Low Pay

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Domestic workers, such as caregivers and nannies, make all forms of other work possible and play an increasingly significant role in the U.S. economy. However, a new national study found, on average, domestic workers earn little more than minimum wage and few receive benefits like Social Security, health insurance or paid sick days.

Conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the study released today offers a startling and provocative look into the often-invisible world of domestic workers. Based on interviews with 2,086 workers across the country, researchers found domestic workers face serious financial hardships and have little control over their working conditions.

As a critical part of the U.S. labor force, domestic workers help thousands of working families by enabling them to focus on their jobs. Yet, they are often paid well below the level needed to adequately support their own family. Forty percent of workers report having paid some of their essential bills late in the previous cycle and 23% are unable to save any money for the future. 

One worker featured in the report, Anna, reveals how she was “originally promised $1,500” to work as a live-in nanny in Manhattan but received less than half that amount, averaging “just $1.27 an hour.” According to the report, “Anna sleeps on the floor between the children she cares for, so she is the first to respond to their calls and the last to see them off to sleep.”

Anna’s story exemplifies how the absence of legal protections for domestic workers shapes the systemic substandard pay and conditions they experience. Domestic workers are excluded from federal and most states’ minimum wage laws, as well as by unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination and workers’ compensation laws. They also are excluded from the right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions. 

Additionally, the majority of domestic workers are women of color and immigrants, a number of whom are undocumented. Researchers found wages differ significantly across ethnicity and immigration status.  

At the launch event for the report’s release, Ai-jen Poo, the director of NDWA, said, “The nature of work is changing [in today’s workplaces]. We need 21st century policies that value the dignity of domestic work.”

The study calls for the end of the exclusion of domestic workers from labor laws, including state minimum wage laws and workers’ compensation. Without access to collective bargaining and legal protections, domestic workers remain vulnerable in today’s workplaces.

However, nannies, household cleaners and other domestic workers both in the United States and abroad have organized for years to raise labor standards and improve working conditions. New York became the first state in 2010 to legislate a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, granting overtime pay and other legal rights. Today, domestic workers around the nation are continuing to advocate for similar laws in other states.

In an effort to help raise labor standards for all working people, the AFL-CIO formed a national partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2011. Through advocacy and organizing at both the local and state level, domestic workers are joining together with the union movement to help build power for working families.

Read the entire report: “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”

This article was originally published on AFL-CIO NOW! on November 28, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jennifer Angarita is is deeply committed to expanding and defending the rights of underrepresented and marginalized communities. She graduated from Yale University with an honors B.A. in Anthropology, and became the first in her family to hold a college degree. At Yale, Jennifer served as president of MEChA, a social justice and immigrant rights organization, and was co-founder of Yale for a DREAM, a student-based group advocating for the passage of the DREAM act.

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One In Four American Workers Will Be In Low-Wage Jobs For The Next Decade

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waldron_travis_bioThe share of the economy made up by low-wage jobs has grown since the Great Recession, and according to one new study, it won’t shrink in the future even as the economy continues to recover. The number of Americans working in low-wage jobs — those that pay wages equal to or below the poverty line — will remain steady over the next decade, according to the Economic Policy Institute, as CNNMoney reports:

Some 28% of workers are expected to hold low-wage jobs in 2020, roughly the same percentage as in 2010, according to a study by the Economic Policy Institute.

The study defines low-paying jobs as those with wages at or below what full-time workers must earn to live above the poverty level for a family of four. In 2011, this was $23,005, or $11.06 an hour.

The study is the latest to detail the growth of low-wage occupations in the United States. A recent report from the National Employment Law Project found that more than one in four private sector workers now make less than $10 an hour, an even lower threshold than was used in the EPI study. The five industries that are comprised mostly of low-wage workers, meanwhile, are growing faster than the overall American economy.

While the number of low-wage jobs has increased, so has the gap between low-wage workers and the executives who employ them. The federal minimum wage would need to be raised by more than $3 an hour to match the buying power it had in 1968, and overall wages in the U.S. have been virtually stagnant for decades, even as pay for chief executives has risen exponentially. At the 50 companies that employ the largest number of low-wage workers, chief executives made an average of $9.4 million last year.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on August 2, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.

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Airport Workers Say Pay Is Illegally Low

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Dave JamiesonEvery day she goes to work at O’Hare International Airport, Elda Burke faces the same dilemma.

Burke, 30, works as a passenger attendant at the airport, escorting the elderly and disabled to and from their gates by wheelchair. Even though the airlines describe this as a free service, Burke’s employer has her working partly for tips, which is why her base pay is a low $6.50 an hour, somewhat like a restaurant server’s, rather than the typical Illinois minimum wage of $8.25.

But unlike diners at a restaurant, many of the passengers Burke will be escorting on their holiday travels this week won’t realize she’s working for tips — and by federal law, she won’t be allowed to tell them.

“We cannot say anything,” Burke says. “If we do that, they can fire us.”

Burke works for Illinois-based Prospect Airport Services, Inc., a company that has contracts to supply service workers at O’Hare and other airports around the country. Prospect and similar contractors often pay their workers like Burke at a reduced rate before tips, which allows them to shift a portion of the salary burden to passengers. Such a pay scheme is perfectly legal, so long as the employer makes up the difference whenever a worker comes up short of the minimum wage after tips.

But several attendants at O’Hare claim their pay often works out to be less than the legal minimum, an issue that lies at the center of an ongoing unionization push among service workers at the airport. The Service Employees International Union has been trying to organize workers at O’Hare and Chicago’s other airport, Midway International, this year.

SEIU officials say a union could help airport workers earn a living wage. They note that many have not seen raises in years and don’t have paid vacation or sick days, even though they carry some security responsibilities, like checking the cleaning crews who enter planes. Burke says she started out at $5 per hour in 2002 and has only received a $1.50 pay bump in her nine years. She also says she has gone without health insurance the entire time because the company plan is too expensive.

“A lot of them are paid poverty wages, in some cases below the minimum wage, and they have no access to affordable health care insurance,” says Izabela Miltko with SEIU Local 1. “They’re organizing to have a dignified workforce and to win higher wages.”

Tom Murphy, general counsel for Prospect, says that the company has been following all state and federal laws, and that the complaints from workers like Burke amount to “a union ruse.” A handful of workers recently filed labor-law complaints against the company with the state labor department, though a subsequent inspection of the company by officials found that the company was in compliance with minimum-wage laws, Murphy notes.

“For years they’ve always gotten paid well more than the minimum wage,” Murphy says. “Their paychecks match the law. I don’t know what more we can do.”

A labor department spokesperson says the state is currently investigating the allegations.

Workers who don’t earn the minimum wage are supposed to fill out “tip sheets” detailing how much they earned in tips and how much they’re owed by their employer, if anything. These sheets are rarely if ever filled out, Murphy says, because workers do in fact take home sufficient pay.

But Burke and some of her colleagues at O’Hare say many workers don’t fill out tip sheets because they feel their supervisors won’t deal with it or because they don’t want to be seen as not pulling their weight. Several of them told HuffPost that they often don’t earn the $1.75 in tips each hour that they’re expected to. According to a survey of workers done by the SEIU, 86 percent said there was a time they didn’t earn the minimum wage.

“A lot of people just stopped reporting their tips,” says Aaron Crawford, a 20-year-old aspiring pilot who takes public transit to O’Hare from Chicago’s South Side for each shift with the wheelchair. “They know it won’t be taken care of.”

Some workers attribute their low pay partly to the fact that they work in the international terminal, where many of the foreign travelers don’t have the tipping customs of Americans. The federal Air Carrier Access Act that requires airlines to staff attendants for disabled and elderly travelers also prevents those attendants from soliciting tips or putting out tip jars.

Waldo Gucwa, a 22-year-old student who’s been an attendant at O’Hare for three years, says that some workers who are desperate for tips try to artfully steer the conversation with passengers toward employment, in hopes that the passenger might ask if they can accept tips. Gucwa also says that many young, apparently able-bodied travelers seem to request wheelchair service as a way to bypass the lines at security, and often choose not to tip at the end of the ride. The attendants are forbidden from asking a passenger if he or she is actually disabled.

“There are days you leave here with 7 bucks, 8 bucks” in tips, says Gucwa, who said he supports the idea of a union. “When you go home and do the math, you’re not even getting the minimum wage, and that’s the reason people are getting real riled up around here.”

The O’Hare workers aren’t the first to say they’re earning less than the minimum wage escorting passengers. Last year a group of 20 workers who drive passenger carts at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport sued Prospect. The workers claimed the company had switched them to a tipped pay schedule because it had put in a low bid on the airport contract and could no longer afford to pay the full minimum wage, according to the suit. The workers said they did not “customarily” receive tips and were required to do odd jobs on top of escorting passengers.

Worker paychecks, the complaint alleged, were “extremely confusing” and often led to a wage below the federal and state minimums. Workers said they stopped reporting their low tips because they feared losing their jobs. Prospect denied the allegations and the case was settled, according to court documents.

This summer, wheelchair escorts at Bush International Airport in Houston lodged similar allegations against their employer, Nashville-based PrimeFlight Aviation Services. The workers were earning between $5.25 and $6.35 per hour before tips, and some told the Houston Chronicle that they were pressured to pad their tips out of fear they’d be punished or lose their jobs if their employer had to pay them more.

One worker told the paper she reports $80 worth of false tips each month, nonexistent earnings that she would be paying taxes on. PrimeFlight was receiving state funding for its workforce — up to $2,000 per employee — but the company was recently suspended from the subsidy program, the Chronicle reported earlier this month.

Keisha Davis, a passenger attendant at O’Hare, says she’s been trying to raise her two-year-old twins on her salary, but she can’t do it without food stamps and Medicaid. She says she was earning more money when she was pregnant, taken off wheelchair duties and paid a flat rate of $8.25 per hour. Now that she’s escorting passengers again, she too says her tips don’t boost her pay to where it needs to be.

“We really couldn’t make it without government assistance,” Davis says. “It’s like living from paycheck to paycheck to paycheck. … At the end, there’s nothing left.”

This article appeared in The Huffington Post: Business on November 23, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dave Jamieson is the Huffington Post’s workplace reporter. Before joining the D.C. bureau, Jamieson reported on transportation issues for local Washington news site TBD.com and covered criminal justice for Washington City Paper. He’s the author of a non-fiction book, Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, and his stories have appeared in Slate, The New Republic, The Washington Post, and Outside. A Capitol Hill resident, he’s won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and the Hillman Foundation’s Sidney Award.

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