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Let’s set the record straight on unions this Labor Day

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If your stereotype of a union worker is a white guy in a hard hat, let’s take this Labor Day to change that in a big way. Here’s the reality: 46.2% of union workers are women, and 36.1% are people of color. Black workers are the most likely to be represented by a union. More than half of workers represented by unions have an associate degree or more, and 43.1% have a bachelor’s degree. 

A reality you may be somewhat more aware of is that unions benefit their members and other workers covered by union contracts. Which they do—to the tune of an 11.2% wage boost for a worker under a union contract as compared to an equivalent worker in a nonunion workplace. But it’s important to understand that unions help nonunion workers, too. “Research shows that deunionization accounts for a sizable share of the growth in inequality between typical (median) workers and workers at the high end of the wage distribution in recent decades—on the order of 13–20% for women and 33–37% for men,” the Economic Policy Institute reports.

Put together the union wage boost and the diversity of today’s union members and there’s something else: Unions help fight not just overall economic inequality—the gulf between the 1% and the rest of us—but racial and gender disparities.

This, again from the Economic Policy Institute, is staggering: “White workers represented by union are paid ‘just’ 8.7% more than their nonunionized peers who are white, but Black workers represented by union are paid 13.7% more than their nonunionized peers who are Black, and Hispanic workers represented by unions are paid 20.1% more than their nonunionized peers who are Hispanic.”

Union workers are more likely to have paid sick days and health insurance—and unions have fought for laws ensuring that everyone will have access to paid sick days and health insurance.

So this Labor Day, remember: Unions help reduce racial and gender disparities for those covered by union contracts, as well as reducing the distance between typical workers and those at the very top—an effect that goes well beyond union members. They promote benefits like paid sick leave and have been instrumental in state and local campaigns to raise the minimum wage. And their members are definitely not all white guys in hard hats. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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People of color surge into majority of new hires in U.S. for the first time

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The U.S. workforce has passed a milestone: New hires of prime working-age people are now majority people of color. And women workers are a key to that trend. (Donald Trump just shuddered twice and he doesn’t know why.)

“Minority women began to pour into the labor market in 2015, and they have begun to reshape the demographics of the U.S. workforce, especially because many white baby boomers have been retiring,” The Washington Post reports. “There are 5.2 million more people in the United States with jobs than at the end of 2016, and 4.5 million of them are minorities, according to The Post’s analysis of Labor Department data.”

The Post suggests several reasons for the entry of women of color into the workforce: “a tight labor market that is forcing employers to look beyond their normal pool of candidates,” awfully polite phrasing for “some employers are super racist and sexist”;  changing cultural norms for some groups making it more acceptable or expected for women to work outside the home; Trump’s deportations that have left some women without their husbands’ incomes; and of course the growing need for two incomes to support families in a U.S. economy characterized by wage stagnation and economic insecurity.

The rise of women of color as new hires is one more advance that may be partially undone if the economy slows, with employers going back to their comfort zone. But in the long term, this is the future, no matter how desperately Trump tries to claw it back.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on September 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Women of color face barriers in sexual harassment claims

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Women of color are more likely to experience sexual harassment, yet less likely to report it.

The dynamic is true across all sectors, including state and federal government jobs. The increased awareness and sympathy in the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp doesn’t always translate when the victim of sexual harassment is a minority woman.

What needs to change to make it safe and viable for women of color to report harassment?

Minority women are still leery of coming forward

Numerous surveys and studies indicate women of color experience sexual harassment at a higher rate than white women. This is especially true in low-wage occupations such as food service and housekeeping. So why don’t formal harassment complaints reflect this?

  • Women of color are both fetishized and marginalized, making them frequent targets for harassment. This is especially true if they are isolated in the workplace. I’m the only non-white woman in my whole department. They worry that co-workers or supervisors will not back them up.
  • Dominant culture stereotypes can inhibit investigation of workplace harassment. Asian women are submissive. Black women are dramatic. Latinas are hotheads. Such preconceptions can skew how sexual harassment complaints are perceived and processed by management or HR.
  • Cultural norms also influence women from minority communities, including what they consider harassment and whether to report it. We don’t snitch on our own. You should take it as a compliment. Our people don’t rock the boat. No one will take a black woman seriously.

These external and internal messages get in the way of holding harassers accountable. Instead of focusing on the sexual harassment, the victim is more likely to be doubted or “handled” if she is a woman of color.

More to lose, less to gain

Women from racial and ethnic minorities are already at a disadvantage when it comes to hiring and advancement. Like all women, they have to weigh the risks and rewards when deciding whether to blow the whistle on harassment. But women of color are less likely to be believed and supported, even within the current environment to expose sexual harassment. According to The Alliance, for every black woman who reports a sexual assault, there are 15 black victims who don’t even bother to go to police.

Women of color are also more likely to suffer retaliation after reporting sexual harassment – transfers, poor performance reviews, denial of security clearance, or even termination. And so the self-dialogue becomes how much harassment they are willing to put up with.

You do not have to fight this battle alone.

The inequality won’t change overnight, but the needle is moving in the right direction. Women of color do have legal recourse to stop workplace sexual harassment and pursue civil damages. An employment law attorney can help document the harassing behavior, identify allies (or reluctant witnesses) and initiate a formal sexual harassment complaint through the EEOC or other channels.

This blog was originally published at Passman & Kaplan on May 4, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

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Davis-Bacon Is Not Racist, and We Need to Protect It

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In 1931, a Republican senator, James Davis of Pennsylvania, and a Republican congressman, Robert Bacon of New York, came together to author legislation requiring local prevailing wages on public works projects. The bill, known as Davis-Bacon, which was signed into law by President Herbert Hoover, also a Republican, aimed to fight back against the worst practices of the construction industry and ensure fair wages for those who build our nation.

 Davis-Bacon has been an undeniable success—lifting millions of working people into the middle class, strengthening public-private partnerships and guaranteeing that America’s infrastructure is built by the best-trained, highest-skilled workers in the world.

Yet today, corporate CEOs, Republicans in Congress and right-wing think tanks are attacking Davis-Bacon and the very idea of a prevailing wage. These attacks reached an absurd low in a recent piece by conservative columnist George Will who perpetuated the myth that Davis-Bacon is racist.

“As a matter of historical record, Sen. James J. Davis (R-PA), Rep. Robert L. Bacon (R-NY) and countless others supported the enactment of the Davis-Bacon Act precisely because it would give protection to all workers, regardless of race or ethnicity,” rebutted Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, on the Huffington Post.

“The overwhelming legislative intent of the Act was clear: all construction workers, including minorities, are to be protected from abusive industry practices,” he continued. “Mandating the payment of local, ‘prevailing’ wages on federally-funded construction projects not only stabilized local wage rates and labor standards for local wage earners and local contractors, but also prevented migratory contracting practices which treated African-American workers as exploitable indentured servants.”

The discussion surrounding Davis-Bacon and race is a red herring. The real opposition to this law is being perpetrated by corporate-backed politicians—including bona fide racists like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)—who oppose anything that gives more money and power to working people. For decades, these same bad actors have written the economic rules to benefit the wealthiest few at our expense. King and nine Republican co-sponsors have introduced legislation to repeal Davis-Bacon, a number far smaller than the roughly 50 House Republicans who are on record supporting the law. King and his followers simply cannot fathom compensating America‘s working people fairly for the fruits of their labor. Meanwhile, after promising an announcement on Davis-Bacon in mid-April, President Donald Trump has remained silent on the issue.

So the question facing our elected officials is this: Will you continue to come together—Republicans and Democrats—to protect Davis-Bacon and expand prevailing wage laws nationwide? Or will you join those chipping away at the freedom of working men and women to earn a living wage?

We are watching.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.com on June 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tim Schlittner is the AFL-CIO director of speechwriting and publications and co-president of Pride At Work.

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Closing Time at Chicago Libraries Hits Women and Minorities Hard

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kari-lydersenBudget austerity trims library staff and hours, as Mayor Emanuel and AFSCME trade accusations

Sara Doe was hired as a page at a Chicago library in 2007, and immediately fell in love with the job. Earning $11.18 an hour without benefits for shelving books, directing customers and other basic tasks might not be glamorous work, she told In These Times, but she loved the human interaction and the chance to spend time in libraries, which since she was a kid have been “like museums for me”—oases of calm and knowledge.

Doe’s mother worked in a city library, and since her parents were divorced, Doe considered the library her “third home” and has fond memories of stamping due dates in books. But this year visiting the library has been a somewhat painful experience since December 31 was her last day on the job at the northwest side library where she had worked since fall 2009. She was one of 181 library staff laid off because of city budget cuts that hit the library system particularly hard. Along with the layoffs, libraries are now closed on Mondays, cutting total weekly hours from 48 to 40.

After an intense campaign by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 31, some library staff were called back to work and Monday afternoon hours were restored, bringing the weekly total to 44 hours. But more than 100 library staff including all the pages are still out of work.

The library cuts—along with planned layoffs at city mental health clinics and Chicago O’Hare International Airport—have become part of a protracted and bitter battle between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and public-sector unions, as Emanuel has blamed AFSCME for forcing schedule cuts and using the library system as a bargaining chip.

The union held “People’s Library” hours with book readings outside several libraries during the Monday morning hours when they are now shuttered. Late last month, popular longtime library commissioner Mary Dempsey resigned amidst the controversy. The Chicago Sun-Times wrote of her departure:

She met her match in Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was more concerned about cutting spending than he was about preserving library services…She was apparently unwilling to preside over the dismantling of a library system she helped to build, but agreed to postpone her departure to minimize the impact of the cuts. The only surprise was that she didn’t walk out the door sooner…

Doe, 30, is desperately hoping to be called back to her library job. She has been applying for other positions—”anything and everything,” including food service at the city’s Wrigley Field baseball stadium—but she hasn’t had any luck. She qualifies for disability payments and has applied for unemployment, but she would rather be working at the job she loves so much that “the hours go by too fast.”

She told In These Times:

It’s not just a job, it’s something I really enjoyed. Even though it was low-status I felt really good and made some good money…Now I feel like I’m work-sick. I’m one of those people who like to work their butts off.

AFSCME Council 31 spokesman Anders Lindall said Doe’s attitude is typical:

People don’t give their working lives to public service to get rich. Library employees love their communities, their patrons and the role of their libraries as hubs of learning, research, culture, community and much more.

Like other layoffs resulting from city budget cuts, the library cuts have disproportionately impacted minorities and women. Lindall said 72 percent of the staff initially laid off were women and 77 percent were people of color, including 78 African Americans and 40 Latinos.

Library workers and patrons said they think the city administration is underestimating the important role that libraries play for city residents, even in the digital age. Mother Natasha Nicholes attended the People’s Library protest and has been blogging about the library cuts, which were a major disappointment for her four kids, including her three-year-old daughter whose weekly story hour was cut.

The library is an especially valuable resource for Nicholes, since she homeschools her daughter, providing needed books and also a social outlet. As a child in Chicago, Nicholes spent almost every Saturday at the library with her younger sister. She told In These Times:

I won’t let this pass without saying something, especially since libraries played such a large role in my growing up…I don’t think it’s a dying art, and I definitely don’t think eReaders will replace the feel of having a book in your hand.

Lindall said the Monday morning cuts are a serious impediment to customer service, and he noted that several years ago city libraries were open 64 hours a week, compared to 44 now. He told In These Times:

Any reduction in hours is a barrier to access…Weekday morning hours are especially popular with families and caregivers for preschool-aged children, seniors, shift workers and the unemployed. Monday mornings are the most crucial time for people looking for work, as new job postings come out in the Sunday paper but libraries are closed on Sundays. Unemployed folks line up at the branches waiting for the libraries to open on Monday morning, to look at the job listings in the Sunday paper or most commonly, to search them online, then submit resumes.

During a “Facebook town hall” I blogged about last month, Mayor Emanuel portrayed his executive order that restored some library hours as a way to bypass an out-of-control union. But Lindall said he thinks the union and library supporters should be thanked for the avoidance of more severe cuts:

In October, Mayor Emanuel introduced a budget that would have cut $10 million from the library budget, forcing 363 layoffs and untold reduction to hours. After a huge public outcry galvanized 28 aldermen to send a letter opposing these and other cuts, the mayor restored funds to rescind half his proposed layoffs.

As public criticism continued from all corners in January, he “found” money to restore more hours and positions. So he has taken two steps in the right direction. Our union and the people of the city want to work with him to finish the job, fully open and fully staff the branches.

Doe, whose first library job came after a promised position with the city park service helping special needs people fell through, said the mayor’s actions on the libraries don’t jibe with his high-profile push to lengthen the school day at public schools. She says:

I don’t know why he wants to extend the school day and short-change the library system. And with shorter library hours the longer school day makes it harder to get there on time. It doesn’t make sense.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on February 10, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book isRevolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached atkari.lydersen@gmail.com.

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