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Millions of U.S Workers for Walmart, McDonald’s and Other Corporate Giants Rely on Food Stamps and Medicaid

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Mil­lions of full-time, adult work­ers in the Unit­ed States?—?many of them employed by Wal­mart, McDonald’s and oth­er high­ly prof­itable cor­po­ra­tions?—?are paid wages so low they’re forced to rely on pub­lic assis­tance to make ends meet. 

That is the key find­ing of a new­ly released report by the non­par­ti­san Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office (GAO). Com­mis­sioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I?Vt.), the report ana­lyzed data from 15 agen­cies admin­is­ter­ing Med­ic­aid and the Sup­ple­men­tal Nutri­tion Assis­tance Pro­gram (SNAP, or ?“food stamps”) across 11 dif­fer­ent states. 

For all 15 agen­cies, Wal­mart was in the top four employ­ers of Med­ic­aid enrollees and SNAP ben­e­fi­cia­ries, while McDonald’s was in the top five for 13 of the 15 agencies.

Oth­er major retail­ers and fast-food com­pa­nies were found to be among the most com­mon employ­ers of work­ers receiv­ing Med­ic­aid and SNAP, includ­ing Dol­lar Tree, Dol­lar Gen­er­al, Tar­get, Ama­zon, Burg­er King, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Wal­greens and CVS. Rideshare ser­vice Uber?—?which recent­ly spent mil­lions of dol­lars suc­cess­ful­ly defeat­ing a Cal­i­for­nia law that would have made its dri­vers eli­gi­ble for basic work­er pro­tec­tions and ben­e­fits?—?was also ranked among the top 15 employ­ers of work­ers on pub­lic assistance.

“At a time when huge cor­po­ra­tions like Wal­mart and McDonald’s are mak­ing bil­lions in prof­its and giv­ing their CEOs tens of mil­lions of dol­lars a year, they’re rely­ing on cor­po­rate wel­fare from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment by pay­ing their work­ers star­va­tion wages,” Sanders said of the report. ?“That is moral­ly obscene.”

The new GAO report echoes the con­clu­sions of sim­i­lar stud­ies by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley Labor Cen­ter in 2013 and 2015, which found that U.S. tax­pay­ers are sub­si­diz­ing large cor­po­ra­tions to the tune of $153 bil­lion per year in the form of pub­lic assis­tance pro­grams to sup­port their low-wage employees.

“It is time for the own­ers of Wal­mart, McDonald’s and oth­er large cor­po­ra­tions to get off of wel­fare and pay their work­ers a liv­ing wage,” Sanders added.

The fed­er­al min­i­mum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. While a major­i­ty of states have raised their respec­tive min­i­mum wages above the fed­er­al floor in the past decade, 21 states have not. Thanks to union-dri­ven cam­paigns like the Fight for $15 and Unit­ed for Respect (for­mer­ly OUR Wal­mart), eight states and mul­ti­ple cities have enact­ed grad­ual increas­es to a $15-per-hour min­i­mum wage in recent years. And on Novem­ber 3, vot­ers in Flori­da over­whelm­ing­ly approved a mea­sure to raise their state’s hourly min­i­mum wage to $15 by 2026.

Last July, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic-led House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed a bill to increase the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage to $15 an hour, but the leg­is­la­tion went nowhere in the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate. Pres­i­dent-elect Joe Biden sup­ports a fed­er­al increase to $15, but whether or not such a bill can get to his desk in the near future like­ly depends on the out­come of Georgia’s Jan­u­ary 5 runoff elec­tions, which will decide which par­ty gains con­trol of the U.S. Senate.

In Geor­gia?—?where vot­ers will soon deter­mine the short-term fate of the $15 fed­er­al min­i­mum wage?—?the offi­cial state min­i­mum wage is a mere $5.15 an hour, with employ­ers only required to pay $7.25 because of the fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion passed over a decade ago. Accord­ing to the new GAO report, over 143,000 work­ing adults in Geor­gia depend on SNAP ben­e­fits and over 208,000 rely on Medicaid. 

Besides rais­ing the nation­al min­i­mum wage, the GAO’s find­ings also indi­cate the need for fed­er­al leg­is­la­tion allow­ing ser­vice sec­tor work­ers the right to union­ize with­out employ­er inter­fer­ence. After all, the ral­ly­ing cry of fast-food and retail work­ers in recent years has been “$15 and a union.” Because they are orga­nized and can bar­gain with their employ­ers, union work­ers on aver­age earn high­er wages and have greater ben­e­fits than their nonunion counterparts. 

In Feb­ru­ary, the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed the Pro­tect­ing the Right to Orga­nize (PRO) Act, which would allow work­ers to win union recog­ni­tion through ?“card check” and remove var­i­ous cor­po­rate-friend­ly legal bar­ri­ers to union­iza­tion. But as with the $15 min­i­mum wage bill passed last year, the PRO Act died in the GOP-dom­i­nat­ed Senate.

Impor­tant­ly, the data used in the new GAO report was gath­ered in Feb­ru­ary, before the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic began. Since then, with tens of mil­lions of jobs lost, the already mea­ger social safe­ty net has been stretched to the break­ing point. The tem­po­rary and lim­it­ed eco­nom­ic relief pro­vid­ed by the fed­er­al CARES Act in late March has long since dried up, with no new relief pack­age in sight. 

Mean­while, food inse­cu­ri­ty has more than dou­bled from 8.5 per­cent of all U.S. house­holds before the pan­dem­ic to 23 per­cent, and at least 8 mil­lion more Amer­i­cans have fall­en into pover­ty since May. More than 12 mil­lion U.S. work­ers and their fam­i­ly mem­bers have lost their employ­er-spon­sored health insur­ance in the midst of the pan­dem­ic, rein­forc­ing wide­spread calls to enact a sin­gle-pay­er, Medicare for All health­care system.

“No one in this coun­try should live in pover­ty. No one should go hun­gry. No one should be unable to get the med­ical care they need,” Sanders said. ?“It is long past time to increase the fed­er­al min­i­mum wage from a star­va­tion wage of $7.25 an hour to $15, and guar­an­tee health care to all Amer­i­cans as a human right.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Schuhrke has been a Work­ing In These Times con­trib­u­tor since 2013. He has a Ph.D. in His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois at Chica­go and a Master’s in Labor Stud­ies from UMass Amherst. Fol­low him on Twit­ter: @JeffSchuhrke.


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The $15 Minimum Wage Won in Florida, But Biden Didn’t. Here’s Why.

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On Novem­ber 3, Florida’s polit­i­cal­ly diverse elec­torate showed resound­ing support for Amend­ment 2, an ini­tia­tive to grad­u­al­ly raise the state min­i­mum wage from $8.56 an hour to $15 by 2026. This makes Flori­da the eighth state nation­wide, and the first state in the South, to get on track towards a $15 min­i­mum wage.

This vic­to­ry con­trasts sharply with the loss of Biden in the state, as well as sig­nif­i­cant loss­es for the state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. The activists behind Amend­ment 2 say their cam­paign offers lessons for how pro­gres­sive ideas can win the day by pri­or­i­tiz­ing improv­ing the mate­r­i­al con­di­tions of work­ers, and speak direct­ly to the hard­ship that peo­ple face.

“Far too many work­ing peo­ple in Flori­da do crit­i­cal work to keep our com­mu­ni­ties going but are under­paid and under­val­ued, often bare­ly mak­ing enough to get by,” said Esther Segu­ra, a Jack­son Health Sys­tem nurse and union mem­ber with the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion, a net­work of labor, racial, eco­nom­ic jus­tice and grass­roots orga­ni­za­tions statewide. ?“We call them essen­tial work­ers, and now it’s clear the major­i­ty of Flori­da vot­ers agree that it’s time to pay them the wages they deserve!” 

A vic­to­ry for workers

Amend­ment 2, known as the Fair Wage Ini­tia­tive, faced a dif­fi­cult ter­rain, includ­ing oppo­si­tion from the Flori­da Cham­ber of Com­merce, the Nation­al Restau­rant Asso­ci­a­tion, and the anti-Amend­ment 2 PAC Save Flori­da Jobs—which warned vot­ers of dis­as­trous effects on Florida’s small busi­ness own­ers and eco­nom­ic recov­ery. Yet, the ini­tia­tive secured 60.8% approval among Flori­da vot­ers, just bare­ly meet­ing the 60% thresh­old need­ed to pass.

Under Amend­ment 2, the wage floor will increase to $10 next Sep­tem­ber and rise in $1 incre­ments each year until reach­ing $15 on Sep­tem­ber 30, 2026. For tipped employ­ees, wages will increase from $5.54 to $11.98 by 2026. Orlan­do attor­ney and mil­lion­aire John Mor­gan, who bankrolled Florida’s bal­lot mea­sure to legal­ize med­ical mar­i­jua­na in 2016, poured mil­lions of dol­lars into Florida’s Amend­ment 2 cam­paign, char­ac­ter­iz­ing it as ?“a vote of moral­i­ty and compassion.”

Rough­ly 2.5 mil­lion work­ers are expect­ed to see a pay increase next Sep­tem­ber, includ­ing 38% of women of col­or in the work­force, accord­ing to a report from the left-lean­ing Flori­da Pol­i­cy Insti­tute. Black and Lat­inx women?—?who in the Unit­ed States earn 63 cents and 55 cents on the white, male dol­lar respec­tive­ly?—?are expect­ed to see the great­est gains from Florida’s wage bump. 

For those who orga­nized around Florida’s Amend­ment 2 across the state, the ben­e­fits of rais­ing wages weren’t a hard sell. Indi­vid­u­als with Flori­da for $15 sent more than 3.1 mil­lion texts to vot­ers ahead of Elec­tion Day, and sup­port­ed a num­ber of work­er strikes and car car­a­vans led by Flori­da fast food and air­port work­ers. The effort also gar­nered the involve­ment of for­mer­ly incar­cer­at­ed work­ers like Alex Har­ris, a 24-year-old Waf­fle House work­er and Fight for $15 leader. “[Florida’s cur­rent min­i­mum wage] is just a way to keep peo­ple incar­cer­at­ed, to keep them strug­gling, and to keep them from being free,” Har­ris said, dur­ing an Octo­ber Fight for $15 ral­ly in Tam­pa, Flori­da. Har­ris, a return­ing cit­i­zen who regained his right to vote with Florida’s 2018 Amend­ment 4 bal­lot mea­sure, vocal­ized the need for vot­ers to show up for Amend­ment 2 through­out the campaign.

Dis­ap­point­ing results for Democrats

Yet, the Biden cam­paign did not fare as well. In some­thing of an upset, Biden?—?who had qui­et­ly endorsed a $15 fed­er­al min­i­mum wage as part of his eco­nom­ic plat­form?—?lost to Trump in Flori­da by rough­ly 370,000 votes, under­per­form­ing with the state’s diverse Lat­inx and His­pan­ic com­mu­ni­ties in coun­ties like Mia­mi-Dade, where Repub­li­cans put a lot of ener­gy into ?“social­ist’ fear-mongering. 

There was a sharp dis­crep­an­cy between Flori­da vot­ers’ over­whelm­ing sup­port for a $15 min­i­mum wage and a lack of sup­port for Biden, who received more than one mil­lion less votes than Amend­ment 2. (Trump also paled in pop­u­lar­i­ty to Florida’s min­i­mum wage ini­tia­tive, trail­ing its pow­er­house base of sup­port by more than 700,000 votes.)

Biden wasn’t the only per­son who faced defeat. Florida’s state Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty also suf­fered a sig­nif­i­cant blow on Elec­tion Day. Democ­rats lost five seats in the state House, and in Mia­mi, Repub­li­cans have forced at least one state Sen­ate race to a recount. 

But despite talk that Flori­da has offi­cial­ly joined the country’s ?“red states,” Flori­da mem­bers of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA) who were active­ly involved in the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion are less cyn­i­cal about the poten­tial of Florida’s mul­tira­cial work­ing class major­i­ty. The mem­bers of DSA, the largest social­ist orga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try, have their own ideas for why Biden?—?and state Democ­rats more broad­ly?—?failed to gar­ner the same suc­cess as Florida’s min­i­mum wage amendment.

Kofi Hunt, a co-chair of the Pinel­las Coun­ty chap­ter of DSA, says the Flori­da for $15 cam­paign was unapolo­get­i­cal­ly pro-work­er in its mes­sag­ing and spoke direct­ly to the strug­gles of Florida’s work­ing class. Hunt argues that the state’s mul­tira­cial work­ing-class base more broad­ly didn’t get a staunch pro-work­er mes­sage from either Trump or Biden, but con­cedes that the lat­ter offered more of a work­er-friend­ly plat­form. But Hunt and oth­ers involved in the Flori­da for $15 coali­tion argue Biden’s most pro-work­er poli­cies?—?such as uni­ver­sal pre-Kinder­garten and a fed­er­al min­i­mum wage boost?—?didn’t get the kind of lime­light that could have ben­e­fit­ted him more on the cam­paign trail in Florida. 

“The pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was large­ly about defeat­ing Trump and not what Joe Biden would do for work­ing peo­ple,” says Richie Floyd, a Pinel­las DSA orga­niz­er and labor activist who con­tributed to Flori­da for $15 efforts. ?“Dur­ing trips to Flori­da, Biden played ?‘Despaci­to’ on his phone and pan­dered to right-wing vot­ers in Mia­mi. This strat­e­gy com­plete­ly failed as we can see from the results out of Miami-Dade.”

Talk­ing to the work­ing class

The Flori­da for $15 cam­paign, on the oth­er hand, empha­sized the strug­gles of Florida’s work­ing fam­i­lies?—?such as unaf­ford­able health­care, child­care and hous­ing?—?and under­scored how achiev­ing high­er wages could direct­ly address those con­cerns. ?“It was about telling work­ing peo­ple across the state that there is a real choice on the bal­lot that can improve peo­ple’s lives imme­di­ate­ly. It was about focus­ing on what we can offer and how we can make lives bet­ter,” says Floyd. 

Mean­while, as Repub­li­can-friend­ly cor­po­ra­tions like Pub­lix?—?a south­ern gro­cery chain based in Flori­da?—?report­ed more than $11.1 billion in sales rev­enue this quar­ter, every­day Florid­i­ans have been left to grap­ple with the state’s bro­ken unem­ploy­ment sys­tem and the dead­ly mis­man­age­ment of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic by Repub­li­can Gov­er­nor Ron DeSantis. 

While Hunt says Democ­rats gen­er­al­ly do a bet­ter job speak­ing to the needs of mar­gin­al­ized pop­u­la­tions, the ?“tug of war” between the cor­po­rate and pro­gres­sive wings of the par­ty makes it dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate a con­vinc­ing, uni­fy­ing mes­sage for Florida’s work­ing-class base?—?par­tic­u­lar­ly the state’s poor Black and Brown communities.

Instead of work­ing to meet these com­mu­ni­ties where they’re at, Hunt says many Flori­da Democ­rats scram­bled to pan­der to sub­ur­ban­ites and adopt con­ser­v­a­tive posi­tions more broad­ly, to make them­selves more appeal­ing to Repub­li­cans who already show up to the bal­lot box.

Floyd agrees with Hunt’s assess­ment. ?“If the Flori­da and Nation­al Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ties want to be suc­cess­ful here, then they need to real­ize that focus­ing on the eco­nom­ic plight of the mul­ti-racial work­ing class is the only way for­ward,” he says. ?“To win, we have to focus on the needs of the work­ing class, and not the donor class.”

Car­men Laguer Diaz, a leader of the SEIU Flori­da Pub­lic Sec­tor Union and an adjunct fac­ul­ty pro­fes­sor at Valen­cia Col­lege in Orlan­do, also believes there’s a need to iden­ti­fy com­mon­al­i­ties between work­ing indi­vid­u­als?—?like the appeal of high­er wages?—?and cross-cul­tur­al mes­sag­ing. ?“It’s not about par­ty. It’s about work­ers. It’s about all of us,” she said.

Flori­da for $15 coali­tion part­ners aren’t alone in their crit­i­cisms. State Rep. Anna Eska­mani (D?Orlando)?—?a pro­gres­sive who eas­i­ly secured a sec­ond term in the Flori­da House on Novem­ber 3?—?is one of sev­er­al Flori­da Democ­rats who has been open­ly crit­i­cal of the state par­ty since Elec­tion Day, par­tic­u­lar­ly of the fail­ure of cor­po­rate Democ­rats to deliv­er any­thing more appeal­ing than vague promis­es for ?“change.”

“Every­thing is con­nect­ed, and I think that the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty did a very, very poor job of demon­strat­ing those con­nec­tions and anchor­ing the [Amend­ment 2] issue with our can­di­date [Joe Biden],” says Eska­mani. ?“And of course, it’s often due to cor­po­rate influ­ence. You know, many of the cor­po­ra­tions that were against Amend­ment 2 write checks to Democ­rats. And that’s a prob­lem, because then you end up hav­ing top Democ­rats, who had been brand­ed as lead­ing the par­ty, express­ing luke­warm sen­ti­ments about Amend­ment 2, when we all should be ral­ly­ing around it and lift­ing up the voic­es of our direct­ly impact­ed people.”

Demo­c­ra­t­ic State Sen. Annette Tad­deo, who rep­re­sents parts of Mia­mi-Dade Coun­ty, also expressed being unim­pressed with Biden’s ground-game down south. ?“You need a con­stant pres­ence, and you can­not take minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties for grant­ed,” she told AP News in a Novem­ber 4 arti­cle. ?“You can’t come in two months before an elec­tion and expect to excite these communities.”

Flori­da Democ­rats who refuse to embrace pro­gres­sive mea­sures like Medicare for All (which has major­i­ty sup­port nation­wide) and the Green New Deal pro­pos­al claim that it’s a polit­i­cal lia­bil­i­ty to cam­paign on these poli­cies in swing states. For­mer guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Andrew Gillum, for instance, faced anti-social­ist red bait­ing when he cam­paigned on Medicare for All in Flori­da in 2018. So did Biden this elec­tion cycle, for that mat­ter, despite denounc­ing social­ism at every turn.

But activists says ret­i­cence to embrace left ideas is mis­guid­ed, even in areas like Mia­mi-Dade where demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ists are well-aware of the uphill bat­tle they face in address­ing the bag­gage of the ?‘social­ist’ label. Can­di­dates across the coun­try who backed pro­gres­sive posi­tions like the Green New Deal per­formed exceed­ing­ly well. Social­ist can­di­dates and mea­sures also faced con­sid­er­able suc­cess on Elec­tion Day: As Mindy Iss­er report­ed for In These Times, DSA ?“endorsed 29 can­di­dates and 11 bal­lot ini­tia­tives, win­ning 20 and 8 respec­tive­ly,” includ­ing Florida’s $15 min­i­mum wage initiative. 

“Biden’s cam­paign, and most Demo­c­ra­t­ic statewide cam­paigns before him in the past 20 years, have nev­er laid out a coher­ent plat­form to work­ing class vot­ers here [in Flori­da],” says Orlan­do DSA orga­niz­er and Flori­da for $15 coali­tion part­ner Grayson Lan­za. ?“Being the par­ty of ?‘also not social­ist’ and noth­ing else is clear­ly not working.”

While some argue that a $15 min­i­mum wage isn’t going far enough?—?espe­cial­ly by the time we reach 2026?—?this initiative’s pas­sage sig­ni­fies more than just a wage increase. It demon­strates the pop­u­lar­i­ty of poli­cies that stand to ben­e­fit the work­ing-class major­i­ty across the ide­o­log­i­cal spec­trum, and shows Flori­da work­ers are moti­vat­ed to orga­nize around issues that are per­ti­nent to their mate­r­i­al con­di­tions. As Floyd puts it, ?“This could bode well for future labor vic­to­ries, as I am hope­ful that politi­cians will see that work­ers rights is a win­ning issue, and take action accordingly.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on November 13, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mckenna Schueler is a free­lance writer based in Tam­pa, Flori­da. She is an avid read­er and con­sumer of pod­casts who writes about local news, pol­i­tics, and men­tal health. She has had work pub­lished in Cre­ative Loaf­ing Tam­pa Bay, Orlan­do Week­ly, the Health at Every Size® blog, and McSweeney’s Inter­net Ten­den­cy. You can find her on Twit­ter @SheCarriesOn.


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What the workplace will look like under a Biden White House

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The U.S. workplace will look much different with Joe Biden in the Oval Office — with some significant changes possible even if Republicans maintain a majority in the Senate.

“Biden, who won the endorsement of almost every major union in the country, has made labor reform a fundamental part of his program and is widely expected to name at least one union leader to his Cabinet,” your host reports. And “as the coronavirus pandemic continues to stoke permanent job losses and compromise worker safety, the case for structural change may be stronger than ever.”

What Biden can do will to some extent depend on which party controls the Senate, which won’t be determined until a pair of key Georgia runoffs in early January. “Still, the transition will be a sharp turn from the Trump White House, under which union membership has droppedpay inequity has widened and enforcement has dwindled.”

Here’s some of what you can expect:

— Heightened worker safety enforcement: One of the first things a Biden administration will likely do is instruct the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to step up worker safety enforcement by enacting an emergency temporary standard, or a set of guidelines governing how employers must protect their employees from Covid-19. He’s also likely to ramp up penalties for violators.

— A reversal of Trump executive orders: Biden will be able to immediately rescind some of President Donald Trump’s executive orders — including those restricting employment-based visasbanning diversity training in the federal government and peeling back civil service protections — as well as reinstate Obama-era executive orders that Trump had undone.

— A more labor-friendly NLRB: The former vice president is widely expected to appoint more Democrats to the National Labor Relations Board, the agency responsible for settling disputes between unions and employers. Right now, it’s three Republicans, one Democrat — and an empty seat.

— Pursuit of progressive labor policy: Biden campaigned heavily on enacting Democratic labor legislation similar to that passed out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s House in 2020 and 2019, including a measure to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 and the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would strengthen workers’ ability to unionize. This, of course, will hinge on the balance of power in the upper chamber, as many of the provisions are opposed by Republicans.

Union leaders rejoice: “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ victory in this free and fair election is a win for America’s labor movement,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. Said AFSCME President Lee Saunders: “[C]ome January 20, we will have a White House that honors our work, respects our sacrifice and fights for the aid to states, cities and towns that we need.”

WHO WILL BE BIDEN’S LABOR SECRETARY? There are already several names in rotation as Biden’s transition team gets to work, our Megan Cassella reports.

“Biden is widely expected to choose a more progressive candidate to lead the Labor Department, one that would help balance out more moderate nominees he’s expected to place at other agencies,” she writes.

“Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.), a former union organizer who also has Labor Department experience, is high on the list of potential nominees, as is California Labor Secretary Julie Su. Levin comes from a potentially vulnerable district, however, and Democrats may be wary of a special election there, given their unexpectedly narrow control of the House.”

“Other possibilities for Biden’s Labor secretary include DNC Chairman and former Obama Labor Secretary Tom Perez, AFL-CIO Chief Economist Bill Spriggs and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who POLITICO reported is interested in the position.”

CALIFORNIA’S PROP 22 GIVES GIG COMPANIES A NEW ROAD MAP: The success of a California ballot measure allowing Uber, Lyft and other gig companies’ drivers to be independent contractors — while still enjoying a few employee-like perks — may provide employers with a model to use across the country, Bloomberg’s Josh Eidelson reports.

Proposition 22 promises drivers “a guaranteed minimum pay rate while they’re assigned a task; a review process for terminations; and health stipends if they work enough hours,” he writes. “A University of California at Berkeley analysis concluded that after accounting for full expenses and wait times, the proposition’s pay guarantee is worth less than $6 an hour. (The companies dispute this.)”

“The companies spent hundreds of millions of dollars on ads … [and] it was money well spent. Uber and Lyft alone gained more than $10 billion in market value after the vote, and defanged a recent state court injunction that would have required them to reclassify their drivers as employees.”

“The companies don’t plan to stop there,” Eidelson writes. “‘You’ll see us more loudly advocate for new laws like Prop 22,’ Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi said on a Nov. 5 earnings call. DoorDash CEO Tony Xu said in a statement: ‘We’re looking ahead and across the country, ready to champion new benefits structures that are portable, proportional, and flexible.’”

This blog originally appeared at Politico on November 9, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebecca Rainey is an employment and immigration reporter with POLITICO Pro and the author of the Morning Shift newsletter.


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Increasing the minimum wage would help, not hurt, the economy

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The minimum wage in the United States hasn’t budged in 11 years. Whether it should was a hotly contested question during Thursday’s final presidential debate.

President Donald Trump asserted that increasing the minimum wage would crush small businesses, many of which are already struggling as a result of the pandemic, arguing that the decision should be left to the states. Democratic nominee Joe Biden repeated his campaign pledge to raise the minimum wage from its current $7.25 to $15.

Establishing a $15 wage floor has been a long-term goal of union-backed advocacy groups, which began putting pressure on big companies like McDonald’s and Walmart to pay workers $15 an hour in 2012. The Democratic Party made a $15 minimum wage part of its platform ahead of the 2016 election season. A handful of states with high costs of living — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — as well as some cities have adopted laws that will raise the minimum wage to $15 over time, and 29 states as well as the District of Columbia have minimum wages higher than the federal one.

The issue clearly resonates with voters: “Wages” was the most-searched topic in 44 states during the debate (the top search in the remaining six states was “unemployment”). Surveys indicate, though, that Trump’s view is out of step with that of most Americans: Two-thirds want to see a $15 minimum wage, according to the Pew Research Center.

Business groups have argued that raising the minimum wage forces business owners to fire workers, a claim echoed by Trump in the debate. The reality is more complex: The evidence of job loss is inconsistent, and the benefits are accrued by some of the country’s most vulnerable populations.

In terms of reducing income and wealth disparities, a rising minimum wage is a good thing. “The benefits in terms of reducing inequality — getting money into people’s pockets, stimulating the market — are very well proven,” said Till von Wachter, professor of economics and director of the California Policy Lab at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“The best evidence is that judiciously set minimum wages make a lot of sense. They raise earnings, reduce individual and family poverty, and have no measurable negative effects on employment,” said David Autor, an economics professor at MIT and co-chair of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future.

report last year by the Congressional Budget Office found that a $15 minimum wage would increase the income of 27 million workers, 17 million of whom currently earn below that amount with the remaining 10 million earning just over $15 an hour, but all of whom would see their wages rise due to what economists call the “spillover effect.”

When adjusted for inflation, today’s minimum wage gives workers far less buying power than it once did. Since peaking 52 years ago, purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen by 31 percent — the equivalent of $6,800 for someone working full-time at minimum wage for a year.

“The real value of the federal U.S. minimum wage is at a historic low,” Autor said. “I’d be happy to see something like $12 or $13, indexed to inflation so it doesn’t again sink to irrelevance within 10 years.”

A $15 wage would lift 1.3 million households above the poverty line — but the flip side could be fewer jobs. The CBO estimated a median loss of 1.3 million jobs, although it also acknowledged considerable ambiguity with that figure. “Findings in the research literature about how changes in the federal minimum wage affect employment vary widely,” the agency said.

A 10 percent increase in base pay is associated with a 1.5-percentage-point increase in the likelihood that workers will remain with their current employer, which can translate to significant cost savings for companies.

Given the sweeping societal impact a higher minimum wage would have on the lives of the poorest Americans, von Wachter said policymakers should deem this potential an acceptable risk. “We accept these small efficiency costs because we think it’s valuable to provide that redistribution. We accept a trade-off between costs and benefits,” he said, adding that most of the studies have yielded no evidence of higher minimum wages triggering job losses.

Some research has even found the opposite — that is, a higher minimum wage can increase employment in some situations. When studying employment practices of big chain stores, von Wachter found that raising the minimum wage had the most positive effect in labor markets dominated by just a few large employers.

Other data suggests that higher pay improves worker satisfaction and leads to lower turnover, which can help mitigate employers’ higher payroll costs. According to Glassdoor, a 10 percent increase in base pay is associated with a 1.5-percentage-point increase in the likelihood that workers will remain with their current employer, which can translate to significant cost savings for companies. Replacing a low-wage worker costs about 16 percent of that worker’s annual salary.

A minimum wage that hasn’t risen since 2009 will only become increasingly unsustainable for the people relying on it, experts say. “There’s a lot of headroom to raise it [and] workers would benefit,” Autor said. “We can afford to do better.”

This blog originally appeared at NBC News on October 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Martha C. White is an NBC News contributor who writes about business, finance and the economy.


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Minimum wage rises some places, but it’s still the COVID-19 economy

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Unemployment remains sky-high (no matter what Donald Trump tries to tell you), and four million workers have had their pay or hours cut due to the pandemic. For people who are still on the job, there’s some good news in some cities and states in the form of minimum wage increases that went into effect on July 1.

In Illinois, the minimum wage went from $9.25 an hour to $10. In Oregon, it went from $11.25 to $12. In Nevada, workers with health insurance will have an $8 minimum wage and workers without health coverage will get $9, up from $8.25. The minimum wage in Portland, Oregon, went from $12.50 to $13.25. Chicago rose from $13 to $14. More than a dozen other cities—most of them in California—and three counties had increases, too. The problem is that many workers, even those who are still employed, aren’t getting the hours they need to get by. 

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on July 4, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

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


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How to Save the Restaurant Workforce From Being Casualties of The Covid-19 Crisis

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As the Covid-19 pandemic has swept through cities across the country, restaurants have been forced to shut down indefinitely—or slashed their workforces and reduced their operations to threadbare delivery and take-out only services. 

Saru Jayaraman, President of One Fair Wage, an advocacy group for restaurant workers and other tipped service employees (including Uber and Doordash drivers, manicurists and car wash workers) hopes the economic turmoil might lead to a much-needed reset for the industry. 

One Fair Wage, which grew out of the national labor advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, envisions a sustainable post-pandemic business model. It starts with dismantling the subminimum wage system, which allows employers to calculate the minimum wage for tipped workers at just a fraction of the normal minimum, as little as $2.13 per hour, leading to rampant wage theft. And with millions of households grappling with food insecurity, One Fair Wage is also piloting the “High Road Kitchens” project—a combination of mutual aid and community-based entrepreneurship, which offers a living wage to all workers and currently works with restaurants in California to feed low-wage workers in their local communities.

In These Times talked to Jayaraman about how the pandemic could change restaurant work over the long term.

MC: How does the pandemic underscore the issues that One Fair Wage has been advocating around for years?

The pandemic put our work on speed because it literally just made our point for us: it showed America why no one should ever have been making less than a minimum wage to begin with. After all, remember that the minimum wage in the United States emerged from the last Great Depression, and at that time tipped workers were excluded [from unemployment benefits and federal safety net programs meant for industrial workers]. Incarcerated workers, gig workers, people with disabilities were excluded. That was supposed to be the moment when people [decided] going forward, no one is going to get less than this minimum. But it wasn’t true for these workers. So with the pandemic, more than 10 million service sector workers have lost their jobs and are having real problems accessing unemployment insurance or are getting unemployment insurance [based] on a total miscalculation of their income, because of the messiness of living off of tips. We’re hearing this from a lot of women who are single mothers. They’re going to apply for unemployment and the state unemployment insurance [office] is telling them [their tipped income] is too low to meet the minimum state threshold to qualify for unemployment insurance.

So tipped workers in America are up against two systems that come from the Great Depression and were built against them. One is the sub-minimum wage for tipped workers, which never worked and has been laid bare [by the pandemic] as a completely untenable situation. And two is unemployment. Now that states are reopening and restaurant workers are being forced to go back to work, not only are tipped workers facing the difficult choice between their livelihood and their life. On top of that, we’re facing a world in which tips have gone way down. People tip delivery and takeout [workers] maybe 10% of what they tip typically in a sit-down restaurant. So, all of that has made workers very angry, and we are organizing them and building up towards some really big direct action that’s coming up.

And it’s made employers, at least many independent restaurant owners, open their eyes. We’ve worked with Gov. Newsom to launch a program called High Road Kitchen in California that would provide cash grants to restaurants that commit to higher wage and greater equity going forward. And they take the money now and rehire workers and provide free meals to the community, and paid meals to anyone who can afford to pay for it. You would think all restaurant owners would be saying “don’t raise wages right now, we’re struggling.” But on the contrary, many restaurant owners, at least independent restaurant owners—the chains are not going to move on this—are saying “you know, this is precisely the time to raise wages. This is precisely the time to make changes because we’re all reinventing what restaurants are going to look. We’re having to redo our business models from scratch, we may as well incorporate something that is sustainable for our people, because it’s been made very clear that this sub-minimum wage never worked.”

My point is that all of those workers should get a full minimum wage from their employer in addition to safety protocols, because the tips are going to be so much less reliable going forward. They were never reliable to begin with. But they’re going to be even more insecure and unreliable. 

MC: Overall what do you think the restaurant industry is going to look like, given that there are places that just aren’t going to be able to reopen. Do you think there might be more consolidation in the industry?

This is why we’re really pushing for solutions like High Road Kitchens, which is both about saving small businesses and bringing the industry in the right direction and hiring workers and feeding people all at the same time. 

What I’m thinking about is a program that gets small businesses cash and commits them to higher wages—and helps them change their business models, and then also allows them to do feeding programs and rehire workers. And so it’s a multi-win, and it’s based on the philosophy and idea that if we’re going to be providing relief, let’s shape relief in a way that shapes the future. That’s what we should be doing as a country. If we know that the pandemic has laid bare inequities, then rather than providing blanket relief, especially to these big chains, that relief needs to be contingent on commitments to change.

We have two choices: Either we can go toward a much more horrific future where we force people to go back to work at two dollars an hour and there’s no tips, so they continue at basically Great Depression-era levels of poverty and starvation, plus they’re already in debt due to the last couple of months of not having income. That’s the horrific future. And then I think that the real future we need to fight for is one where we don’t go back until we get One Fair Wage and PPE and safety protocols. I don’t think there’s an in-between. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on June 1, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen is a historian based in New York City, a contributing writer at In These Times and The Nation, a contributing editor at Dissent and a co-producer of the Belabored podcast.


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Corona and Class Warfare Part II: Stopping a Multi-Dollar CEO Pension Tax Break

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jonathan-tasini

Last week I asked everyone to consider the coronavirus pandemic as a pretty clarifying picture of class warfare—who are the people who get hurt most when millions of jobs go away or at best are in limbo because of a nationwide shutdown? It’s working people, minimum wage workers, service workers—almost none of whom have enough cash in reserve to pay bills, unlike the rich who have made their wealth by exploiting workers. Who are the people most vulnerable? It’s the people who either have to still go to work or can’t afford to stay at home because they don’t have mandated paid sick leave or family leave, even in a crisis.

Today, as so many of you either hunker down or are living in fear, I talk with one of my favorite and regular guests Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, about a menu of steps the country needs to take to mitigate the devastating health and economic hits workers are taking in the pandemic.

Then, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland, joins me to talk about his efforts to protect tens of thousands of federal workers by calling for an expansion of their right to telework during the corona pandemic, as well as his effort with Bernie Sanders to buttress workers’ pensions by ending a multi-billion tax break for CEO retirement plans.

This blog originally appeared in Working Life on March 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jonathan Tasini. Some basics: I’m a political/organizing/economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years; my goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out more than a decade ago, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays (slacker), with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995). I’m currently working on two news books.


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Washington, D.C., lawmakers add insult to injury after overturning tipped minimum wage increase

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Sadly, it’s not just Republican lawmakers who overturn the will of the voters to keep workers underpaid and vulnerable. The Washington, D.C., mayor and council seem to be going out of their way to show that both sides do it.

D.C. voters passed Initiative 77, a measure gradually raising the tipped worker minimum wage to the full minimum wage, back in 2018, by a 12-point margin. Months later, the council and mayor overturned the will of the voters and booted tipped workers back down. To make that repeal vote seem more palatable, the lawmakers passed some provisions that would supposedly make life better for tipped workers—but more than a year later, those provisions haven’t been funded.

The District was supposed to publicize the rights of tipped workers, form a commission to support them, and set up an anonymous tip line for workers to report wage theft. Neither Mayor Muriel Bowser nor Council Chair Phil Mendelson included funding for those measures in the budget. Bowser isn’t commenting, while Mendelson, who pushed for the repeal of Initiative 77, told The Washington Post essentially that it was the fault of everyone who didn’t want Initiative 77 repealed to begin with. “The mayor should try harder this year to include it in her budget, but I would also note the so-called, self-proclaimed worker advocates did not lobby us as far as I know,” Mendelson said. Those worker advocates were putting their energy toward electing better council members and eventually passing—again—something raising the tipped worker minimum wage, but sure, it’s their fault that the jerks who repealed a voter-passed measure then didn’t fund their own so-called compromise measures.

This is obnoxious assault on workers layered on top of obnoxious assault on workers, and the lawmakers responsible should pay with their jobs.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 6, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Loyola Marymount cafeteria workers win a deal, so Thursday’s debate will go on as scheduled

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Happy holidays! This week’s gift is that the Democratic presidential debate will go on as scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 19, after food service workers at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles reached a tentative deal with Sodexo, the company that employs them. All seven candidates who’ve qualified for the debate had said they would not cross a picket line, even if it meant missing the debate, and the Democratic National Committee was pressing for a resolution after Sodexo walked away from contract negotiations with the workers and their union.

DNC Chair Tom Perez, a former labor secretary, said, “I was proud to help bring all stakeholders to the table, including Unite Here Local 11, Sodexo and Loyola Marymount University, to reach a deal that meets their needs and supports workers.”

Workers will receive increased pay and job security and reduced healthcare costs under the tentative deal. That’s the value of organizing and solidarity, with the workers’ union, UNITE HERE 11, effectively using the leverage provided by the debate, and the Democratic candidates standing where they should, with workers.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on December 17, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Labor’s next $15 minimum wage: Fair scheduling for shift workers

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Katherine LanderganLabor activists have their sights set on their next priority after successes in state capitols with paid sick leave and higher minimum wage: better working conditions for people who do shift work.

Several states, including Massachusetts and New Jersey, are considering so-called fair workweek laws that would arm workers with a set of rights, such as requiring that employees be given advance notice of work schedules and are compensated for canceled shifts.

The effort has been described by some in the labor movement as the “next $15 minimum wage,” with major cities adopting fair workweek ordinances and several Democratic presidential candidates taking up the cause on the campaign trail.

There’s also been legislation introduced in Congress, but it’s unlikely to advance as long as Republicans control the Senate and President Donald Trump is in office.

That’s why advocates are taking an approach similar to the one they’ve used on other issues affecting low-wage workers, such as the $15 minimum wage and paid sick leave: Start at the grassroots level and go from there.

“It’s a lot of the same pattern,” said Rachel Deutsch, who leads the national Fair Workweek campaign for the Center for Popular Democracy. “Some of our most progressive cities really championed these ideas that at first corporate America dismissed. But once we established that no, this is real, and it works, we got states to embrace [these policies].”

The campaign for more predictable work shifts emerged from the rise of technology that allows companies to make “micro adjustments” to a worker’s schedule based on factors like expected customer traffic, sales and even the weather. Cities such as Chicago, Seattle, Philadelphia, New York City and San Francisco, as well as the state of Oregon, have adopted regulations to overhaul shift work.

While the policies vary slightly from place to place, the basic framework unions and left-leaning groups are pushing is consistent. The idea is to compensate workers for employer-initiated schedule changes, mandate a certain number of hours’ rest between shifts and give workers their schedules with two weeks of advance notice. Another common requirement is that employers must give workers a chance to pick up more hours before hiring new staff.

Business and industry groups, however, fear these types of regulations will cause disruptions — not just for companies, but also for workers.

Jacque Coe, a spokesperson for the Seattle Restaurant Alliance, said that since the city of Seattle implemented a fair workweek law two years ago, restaurant managers have complained that they spend more time doing paperwork and must pay workers more if they pick up any last-minute catering gigs, and that the rigid scheduling has made it more of a headache for workers to trade shifts.

“A lot of people enter the hospitality industry for the flexibility,” Coe said. “We are hearing frustration over the paperwork required when a team member wants to switch shifts on short notice. It becomes a frustration for both the employee and employer.”

Jeff Solsby, a spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association, concurred. He said that these policies are a “one-size-fits-all” attempt to fix something that both workers and businesses aren’t asking to be solved.

“Locking in schedules weeks in advance and piling on new planning, tracking and compliance schemes hurts businesses that are anchors in their communities, and it strips away a benefit restaurant employees say is one of their most important and sought-after,” Solsby said in a statement.

But advocates say any extra costs businesses will incur is a small price to pay compared to the erratic nature of shift work. The ability for employers to make changes at any point to shift schedules affects not only a worker’s paycheck, but their health and well-being, they say.

A recent study from University of California makes that point.

Researchers found that minorities, particularly women of color, are much more likely to be assigned irregular work schedules, and that two-thirds of service workers get less than two weeks’ notice of their schedules.

“This is not desirable schedule flexibility, this is instability,” said Daniel Schneider, a sociologist at UC Berkeley who conducted the study.

The issue of predictable scheduling is also being addressed by some of the Democratic presidential candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee, said they plan to reintroduce federal legislation regarding shift scheduling. Three other Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, have previously co-sponsored the measure.

The bill, referred to as The Schedules That Work Act, would require employers in the retail, food service and cleaning industries to provide work schedules at least two weeks in advance, and to pay employees for last-minute changes or being sent home early. It also would make it illegal for companies with more than 15 employees to retaliate against workers who request a specific shift schedule for family, health or job training reasons.

Previous iterations of the bill never made it out of committee.

Warren said in a statement that Congress should take up the legislation so workers can “regain control over their work schedules.”

“More than half of hourly workers, many of whom are workers of color, get their work schedules with less than a week’s notice,” she said. “[This makes] it nearly impossible for them to go back to school, maintain stable child care and sometimes to pay the bills.”

Tom Pietrykoski, a campaign spokesperson for Booker, said in a statement that the senator supports the measure because improving the lives of working families is central to his economic agenda.

“Far too many workers are forced to make tough decisions between the demands of work and family,” Pietrykoski said. “Cory is proud to work on legislation in the Senate to provide hard working Americans certainty in their schedules and income in order to help build an economy that works for all families.”

Deutsch, of the national Fair Workweek campaign, said several states are primed to adopt fair workweek policies. The Massachusetts Legislature held hearings on a bill in the spring, and she predicts that Washington state, New Jersey and Connecticut will enact measures in the 2020 session.

Some efforts at the state level have been unsuccessful.

The California Legislature’s attempts to emulate San Francisco’s scheduling law have repeatedly fallen short, with broad business opposition trumping labor’s support for the policy. Bills were introduced but failed in both Maine and West Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Connecticut, Carlos Moreno, state deputy director of the Working Families Organization, said a bill before the Legislature was supposed to move at the end of the last session, but legislation calling for a $15 minimum wage and paid sick took precedent. Fair workweek legislation is being tweaked to bolster some provisions, Moreno said, and he expects it to move in February.

“There’s no one policy prescription that’s going to solve income inequality in Connecticut,” he said. “But what these proposals — minimum wage, paid sick leave, and fair workweek — do is provide folks with an element of financial security that they didn’t have before.”

In New Jersey, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, a Democrat who has been a driving force behind major pieces of legislation related to workers rights, announced last month that she is drafting legislation to address predictable scheduling.

“This isn’t merely a problem of overwork, it is one of uncertainty,” Weinberg said during a press conference last month, where she was joined by shift workers from throughout northern New Jersey. “The uncertainty has a high cost. It affects the quality of life of the people who are working hard to provide for themselves and their families.”

Although it’s far too early to tell how the issue will play out in Trenton, the odds of passage, at least on the surface, appear good, since Democrats control both the state Legislature and governor’s office.

Donna Fotiadis, a longtime retail worker who joined Weinberg during last month’s press conference, said it wasn’t uncommon for her employer to cancel or add shifts at the last minute. Sometimes, she would even asked to close the store at 2 a.m., and then reopen three hours later — a practice that would be banned if the legislation goes through.

“That takes a toll on your mind and body,” Fotiadis said. “No one should be expected to work with less than three hours’ sleep.”

Rebecca Rainey and Jeremy B. White contributed to this report.

This article was originally published at Politico on November 4, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katherine Landergan covers labor, tax policy and the state budget for POLITICO New Jersey.

Prior to joining POLITICO, Katherine worked as a correspondent for The Boston Globe and Boston.com, where she wrote primarily about higher education. She also contributed to some major news stories, such as the Boston Marathon bombings and capture of mobster Whitey Bulger.

Katherine also holds a master’s degree in magazine journalism from City University London. But more importantly, she grew up in the icy tundra of Massachusetts with four brothers, thus equipping her for any challenge.


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