February 4, 2004
today's workplace: the employee rights blog
If We Can't Keep Our Promises Now, What's Going to Happen Later?: Imagine the following: after working for years and preparing for retirement, your company suddenly chooses to switch its pension plan, so that the level of benefits you had been counting on for years would not be there when you retire. On top of that, while your company had a practice of paying retiree health care benefits, it suddenly decides that it's too expensive to ensure retirees, and so it eliminates the plan entirely. So you're ready to retire, but you cannot do so, because you have no pension and no health care, after relying on promises made, in some cases for decades, by your employer, who is using the current economic climate to justify this unprecedented shift. While it sounds like a worst-case scenario designed to alarm the public, it is one that is increasingly happening across the United States to older workers.
today's news headlines

Source: Sue Shellenbarger (Wall Street Journal), Chicago Tribune
When Lisa Dugal dropped into her kids' school briefly for a parent social one morning, two mothers rushed up to her in surprise. Used to seeing her as a jeans-clad classroom volunteer, they were startled by her high-powered outfit--a dressy suit, stockings and heels. Eyeing her "really oddly," Dugal says, the mothers asked, "What's the matter? Where are you going?" When Dugal, a principal at PriceWaterhouseCoopers, New York, said she was going to work, one of the mothers replied, "Wow! We didn't think you worked!" Do you know who that woman painting faces in your kid's classroom really is? It might be Undercover Mom--an executive mother gone incognito. More working mothers are integrating work and community roles so smoothly that the people around them don't even notice they're juggling multiple identities. Some choose outfits that can make the leap between work and home; others manage to swap clothes several times a day without drawing attention.
Source: Mark Gongloff, CNN.com
In thinking about the implications of the 2004 presidential election, economists and analysts on Wall Street have been handicapping President Bush against Senator John Kerry, his most likely Democratic opponent. But at least one other Democratic candidate, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, is still given a decent chance by many political analysts to take his party's nomination, and his economic policies differ somewhat from Kerry's. Two other candidates, retired Gen. Wesley Clark and former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, are still breathing in the campaign, but their chances of winning the Democratic nomination seem, for now at least, much slimmer than Kerry's or Edwards'. In any event, there are clear differences between Bush and the two front-running Democrats.
Source: David Nakamura, Washington Post
The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority fired a high-ranking manager last year who had repeatedly warned top agency officials and federal authorities of lead contamination in the city's tap water before tests last summer revealed that the lead exceeded federal limits in thousands of homes. Seema S. Bhat was WASA's water quality manager from 1999 until she was fired in March after her bosses decided that she had too often reported lead problems directly to the Environmental Protection Agency. A federal investigator who reviewed the matter last summer ruled that Bhat was improperly terminated and ordered WASA to rehire her and pay her damages. WASA has appealed and the case is in litigation. In an interview yesterday, Bhat and her attorney, Brian J. Schwartz, said WASA officials constantly reprimanded her for raising the issue of lead contamination with the EPA -- even after it was clear that the city would exceed a federal guideline.
Source: Christopher Lee, Washington Post
For the second consecutive year, President Bush has proposed a military pay increase more than double that for civilian employees, ignoring bipartisan calls in Congress for equivalent raises for both sectors. Bush proposed a 3.5 percent average pay increase for members of the armed forces under his 2005 budget released yesterday. In contrast, civilian employees would get a 1.5 percent increase, although agencies could reward top workers with extra performance raises or recruitment and retention bonuses. Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, said the civilian raise would allow all employees to keep up with inflation but grant bigger increases only to the best of them and to those with hard-to-find skills. It is part of the Bush administration's long-term goal of overhauling a federal pay system that OMB officials say too often rewards longevity in a job rather than performance.
Source: Christine Dugas, USA Today
The Treasury Department proposed legislation Monday to protect older workers when companies convert to a controversial type of pension called a cash-balance plan. The proposal is part of the Bush budget bill. It is intended to strike a balance between worker benefits and employer costs so that companies don't freeze benefits at current levels or terminate pension plans altogether. Cash-balance pension plans, which provide portable benefits, have sparked outrage and lawsuits. Employers say the plans appeal to today's more mobile workforce. Critics say they shortchange workers and violate age-discrimination laws by reducing benefits of older, long-term workers.
Source: Associated Press, CNN.com
A civil rights suit filed against Wal-Mart by illegal immigrants was expanded Monday to accuse America's biggest retailer of locking its janitors inside stores during their shifts. The amendment to the lawsuit comes as a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania weighs evidence to determine whether Wal-Mart will face criminal charges in the use of illegal immigrants to clean its stores. A lawyer for Wal-Mart denied the new allegation. INS agents raided Wal-Mart stores across the country on October 23 in a sweep that resulted in the arrest of hundreds of janitors on immigration charges.
Source: Wendy W. Ghannam, Media Monitors Network
It's certainly been a weather-impacted autumn here in the Nation's Capital, and the Bush Administration definitely has "egg on its face" which won't readily wash off!! Certain developments have occurred in the political arena surrounding allegations of sexism and outright management deviousness going on inside the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), at it downtown Wash. DC location and its various affiliate offices worldwide. USAID, a federal agency which is supposed to be spearheading and rectifying abysmal quality-of-life circumstances relevant to Third World women and children--and the countries in which they live, is quite literally not "abiding by its own regulatory mission scope" with its own stateside female workforce members. In other words, USAID is "shafting" its working women.
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