Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

U.N. Special Report: U.S. Workers Restricted in Exercising Basic Union Rights

October 21st, 2016 | Aaron Chappell

12189524_10154256555228098_5790056854214410429_nA new report finds that the United States fails to uphold the most basic rights of workers, particularly in the South, where some states “support or collude with employers to infringe upon workers’ rights to peaceful assembly and association.” The report cited examples such as Tennessee officials’ opposition to unionization at a Volkswagen plant and the “government of Mississippi [which] touts the lack of unionization as a great benefit when courting potential employers.”

Maina Kiai, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and author of the report, stated that while governments are “obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill workers’ rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association,” many fail to enable, protect or enforce these fundamental rights, “disenfranchising millions of workers.”

u-n-special-report-u-s-workers-restricted-in-exercising-basic-union-rights_blog_post_fullwidthKiai, a Kenyan lawyer and human rights activist, spent more than two weeks in several U.S. cities researching workers’ rights. He met with Nissan workers in Canton, Mississippi; United Steelworkers (USW) members at Novelis in New York, and Asarco in Arizona; Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU)-member carwash workers in New York City; UNITE HERE hotel workers in New York and Arizona; and AFT-member teachers in Louisiana.

Kiai experienced firsthand the many obstacles our nation’s workers need to overcome to organize and bargain for a better life. He made clear that the United States needs to do more, both domestically and in the global supply chains of our companies, “where some of the worst abuses of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are found—and where migrant workers are often concentrated.”

As the report found: “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are…key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.” Unfortunately, the United States is a long way from meeting this standard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on October 21, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Aaron Chappell writes for AFL-CIO about the right to unionize and collective bargaining.


How Can We Do ‘Trade’ Right?

October 20th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

dave.johnsonPeople have figured out that our country’s “trade” deals haven’t been working our so well for “our country.” A visit to Flint, Detroit or almost any town, city, state or region that was built around manufacturing make it clear what we have done. Shifting jobs and factories to places where people are paid squat and are forced to work long hours with few protections while the environment is sacrificed might have put a lot of money into the pockets of already-wealthy executives and Wall Street “investors” but it hurt almost everyone and almost everywhere else in the country.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) coming up for a vote in the “lame duck” session of Congress following the election, and a new President coming in January, many are looking for a different way to do “trade.”


The way word “trade” is used in current discussions is misleading. “Trade” used to be about “trading” banana for cars. Bananas can only be grown in certain regions, and cars werealready being made in other regions. “Trade” meant the people who made cars could get bananas and the people grew bananas could get cars. Everyone benefited.

But “trade” has instead come to mean one and only one thing: moving jobs and production to low-paying areas that don’t spend to protect the environment, so executives and “investors” can pocket the savings. The regions production was relocated to did not have existing regional expertise in “making cars” (as in the “bananas example. Making smart phones is a better example.) The factories were not already located in these regions. The ecosystem of expertise, supply chains, etc. was not yet in existence. The only pre-existing regional specialty, or “comparative advantage” of the low-wage regions was governments that to one degree or another kept the wages low, kept the unions (and resulting worker protections) out and let the factories pollute freely. China, for example.

The result, of course, was devastating to American workers and their communities. Mike Konczal at The Nation, “Here’s the Trade Policy That Progressives Should Get Behind,” writes about the impact of opening up “trade” with China had on US workers:

Manufacturing was hit hard, and so were workers outside manufacturing—especially those without a college degree—as these areas lost their economic vitality. Contrary to the optimistic forecasts offered by many economists, workers didn’t magically get jobs in new places and new industries; instead, they faced worse employment prospects and lower wages—if they found jobs at all.

Corporate Influence

The biggest problem with our country’s trade policies is that the process of negotiating the deals has been “captured” by interests representing giant multinational corporations. As a result “trade” is not about “trade” at all, and “trade deals” are really about limiting the power of governments to make decisions that corporation don’t like.

Lori Wallach op-ed in the Washington Post, “Free Our Trade Deals from Corporate Interests,” describes the result of this capture:

Consider the Trans-Pacific Partnership: A 2014 Post infographic reveals that more than 500 official U.S. trade advisers representing corporate interests had special access to TPP negotiators and texts while the public, press and Congress were shut out.

Wallach says one result of this corporate-dominated process is “trade” agreements loaded up with “goodies” for corporations, and the deals “have been used as a backdoor delivery mechanism for the corporate-favored-versions of non-trade policies.” These “goodies” include moving multinational corporations — but not domestic corporations — outside of our own legal system:

Only nine of the TPP’s 30 chapters cover trade matters like cutting tariffs. Much of the rest is a smorgasbord of corporate goodies, such as the requirement that signatory countries protect pharmaceutical companies from having to compete with generic medicines, thereby raising consumer prices.

Another key provision grants new rights to thousands of multinational corporations to sue the U.S. government before a panel of three corporate lawyers. These corporations need only convince the lawyers that a U.S. law, regulation or court ruling violates the new privileges TPP grants them, and the lawyers can award the corporations unlimited sums to be paid by America’s taxpayers — including for the loss of expected future profits. The decisions are not subject to appeal.

Jared Bernstein writes about this in, “The New Rules of the Road: A Progressive Approach to Globalization,”:

Unfortunately, both the trade debate and trade negotiations have long been co-opted by multinational corporate interests at the expense of workers and consumers both here and abroad. Fortunately, this election season has finally elevated that reality. The days when elites, both here and elsewhere, could ignore those who perceive themselves as hurt (on net) by globalization are hopefully gone, if not for good, than for a number of years.

Dean Baker, writing in “It Was As Inevitable that Doctors and Lawyers Would Lose Jobs to Foreign Competition as Factory Workers,” notes that it isn’t just giant corporations that benefit from this, but an entire “class” of professionals:

There are millions of very bright people in Mexico, India, China and other developing countries who would be happy to train to U.S. standards and work as doctors and lawyers in the United States. However, because these groups have far more political power than manufacturing workers, we have maintained walls that largely prevent foreign professionals from competing with our own doctors and lawyers.

The result is that these professionals have seen substantial increases in real wages over the last four decades and the rest of us pay hundreds of billions of dollars more each year for health care, legal services, and other items. The cost to the economy from this protectionism is almost certainly an order of magnitude greater than any potential gains from a trade deal like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. In spite of the enormous economic costs, the power of these professions largely prevents economists or the media from even discussing the protectionism enjoyed by professionals.

So What Can Be Done?

How can we negotiate trade agreements that are actually about trade and actually benefit people and the environment on all sides of trade borders?

Konczal starts with a suggestion about corporations, one that won’t happen if we have a corporate-dominated process. He writes:

So what can be done? First, we need a progressive vision of what trade deals should look like in the future. Here’s one: At this point in globalization’s spread, these deals are less about direct trading between countries and far more about the regulations that govern multinational corporations as they expand across the globe. We should be sure that trade deals don’t interfere with any country’s ability to regulate corporate behavior.

Wallach writes:

To get our trade policy redirected back onto trade — that is, to get rid of the protectionist baggage and develop trade terms that benefit U.S. workers and consumers — a new president will need to eliminate the special interest advisory system and greatly increase transparency. We need a new trade pact negotiation and approval process to replace the Nixon-era “Fast Track” regime that sets criteria for appropriate trade partner countries and what must and must not be in agreements. And, unlike our current system, Congress must approve agreements’ contents before they can be signed, making negotiators more accountable to congressional directives.

Bernstein and Wallach write at The American Prospect (same title, different content):

The new rules must prioritize the economic needs of low- and middle-income families while preserving the democratic, accountable policymaking processes that are essential to creating and maintaining the environmental, consumer, labor, and human-rights policies on which we all rely.
[. . .] A more transparent process with opportunities for meaningful engagement, accountability, and oversight by the public and Congress—rather than the current regime that privileges the commercial interests that have long captured these negotiations—is needed.

Wallach wants trade agreements that benefit not just giant corporate interests but also “U.S. workers and consumers.” Konczal wants agreements that limit corporations rather than unleash them. Bernetein and Wallach ask for transparency; and a democratic, accountable policymaking processes. They write,

U.S. positions on trade deals can be formulated the way other U.S. federal regulations are: through the on-the-record public process established under the Administrative Procedure Act to formulate positions, obtain comments on draft texts throughout negotiations, and seek comments on proposed final texts.

So “trade” shouldn’t just be about the interests of giant corporations. All of us have a stake in how we conduct trade. Trade deals should be negotiated openly with all of the stakeholders on all sides of trade borders involved and finalized in an open and democratic process.

We have the opportunity to accomplish this with a new administration, beginning in January.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 20, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


The Two-Tier Provision in the Chicago Teachers Union’s Tentative Agreement, Explained

October 19th, 2016 | Shaun Richman

The tentative agreement that the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) struck with district management less than an hour before a midnight October 10 strike deadline has been hailed by many as a victory. Facing another round of concessionary demands, the union managed to extract $88 million from the mayor’s corporate slush fund to restore some badly needed funding to the school system. The union also managed to win an increase in compensation.

But the way that the compensation is structured—with current teachers keeping their current 7 percent pension “pickup,” and new hires receiving a salary increase in lieu of a pension contribution—has some critics decrying the deal as a solidarity-killing, two-tier contract. A pickup is the percentage of a worker’s pay that an employer puts directly into a pension fund.

The CTU’s House of Delegates meets Wednesday to deliberate over the tentative agreement and vote on whether to send it to the entire membership for ratification. If the deal is rejected, there is no guarantee that management will agree to more of the union’s demands—or even return to the table.

Two-tier contracts are an emotional subject in the labor movement. Beginning in the 1980s, employers used threats of off-shoring and sub-contracting, as well as their legal “right” to permanently replace striking union members, to force a wave of wage and benefit givebacks across many unionized industries. In order to make these cuts more palatable to the members who would have to vote on their ratification, unions negotiated agreements where current workers preserved most of their pay and benefits while future hires would bear the brunt of the cuts.

There are many epithets for this sort of thing, but the most common may be selling out the unborn. These ticking time bombs blow up years later, as the “new” hires become a larger portion of the bargaining unit and resent their veteran colleagues both for their more generous compensation packages and for the fact that the older workers signed away their younger colleagues’ right to enjoy the same. As the veterans become a minority in the workplace, there is an obvious financial incentive for supervisors to push them out through aggressive discipline. In such a situation, worker unity in future rounds of bargaining is hard to achieve.

To be clear, not all “two-tiers” are alike. The powerful New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council accepted a two-tier wage structure after surviving a 27-day strike in 1985. But the tiers only impacted workers during their first year of employment. By year two, all workers were earning the same pay rate. And, decades later, ending the tiered pay scale remained a union bargaining priority.

The United Automobile Workers (UAW) accepted a two-tier pay scale at Chrysler when the company went bankrupt in 2009. It was so severe that new hires earned only half the hourly wage of veteran employees. When members voted down a 2015 successor agreement that did not go far enough in reversing the double standard, the UAW was able to renegotiate a deal that brings newer workers closer to the traditional pay scaleover the course of seven years.

The CTU’s proposed “two-tier” is a bit more of a shell game than those concessions. The fight over Chicago’s 7 percent pension pickup has more to do with symbolism than anyone’s actual paycheck. Pension systems are complicated things that only accountants and union researchers fully understand. But basically, a pension fund needs a certain amount of money coming in every year in order to guarantee a livable retirement income for actual and projected retirees. Currently, the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund has set that target at 9 percent of every pension-eligible employee’s annual income.

Before the CTU won collective bargaining rights in the 1960s, teachers had most, if not all, of their pension contributions deducted directly from their paychecks. Over the years, the CTU was able to bargain for 7 of that 9 percent to be contributed directly into the pension fund, instead of paid as a salary increase and then immediately deducted as a personal pension contribution.

Obviously, the difference between putting 7 percent in pension contributions directly versus rolling it into salaries, and then immediately deducting it, makes no financial difference to the employer. But the 7 percent became a visible target for Gov. Bruce Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. It was money they could portray to the public and the press as “extra” compensation that teachers get that other workers don’t and demand that teachers give it up. (It should be noted that Chicago teachers aren’t eligible for Social Security, so their pensions are the only thing that stand between them and an old age spent subsisting on cat food.)

Under the tentative agreement the CTU is considering, the pay for new hires would increase by an additional 3.5 percent in two successive years. It’s not entirely clear how soon new hires would be responsible for paying the full pension contribution.

Teachers at charter schools also participate in the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. Members of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS) at the UNO Charter School Network (UCSN) are currently bargaining over the very same pension pickup, and have set a Wednesday strike deadline.

I was a part of the bargaining team that negotiated the first contract at UCSN in 2013. Because we had a significant amount of bargaining leverage in the wake of a very public insider dealing scandal, we realized that those negotiations were our best shot to get the charter network to pay more than the whole lot of nothing that it had been contributing to teachers’ pensions.

We were successful. That 7 percent was a part of an overall compensation package we were going to win anyway. But by directing the employer to put it towards the pension, we politicized a different figure: the network’s starting salaries. Because charters compete in the same labor market as the district to recruit new teachers, the salaries they can offer are key. If that 7 percent had simply been rolled into base pay, UCSN would be able to quote starting salaries that appear to be larger than what the district offers, but really aren’t, giving the union leverage to raise wages in future negotiations. Now that starting salaries at Chicago Public Schools will appear to be 7 percent larger—if CTU members ratify the deal—the salaries that UCSN offers will appear even less competitive.

As for ratification of their contract, CTU members have to decide how important the symbolism of that 7 percent is and what impact it will have on future rounds of negotiations. The shifting of that 7 percent from one column in a spreadsheet to another strikes me as a last minute ploy to give Rauner and Emanuel a face-saving narrative that allows them to say they didn’t suffer a humiliating defeat in this round of bargaining.

“This is not a perfect agreement,” said CTU president Karen Lewis. “But it is good for the kids. And good for the clinicians. And good for the teachers, and the paraprofessionals.”

This blog originally appeared at InTheseTimes.org on October 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Shaun Richman is a former organizing director for the American Federation of Teachers. His Twitter handle is @Ess_Dog.


Thanks to Obama, immigrants are getting better jobs

October 18th, 2016 | Esther Yu-Hsi Lee

The vast majority of undocumented immigrants who have been given the temporary ability to legally work in the United States are currently employed or attending school—helping them make “significant contributions” to various labor markets—according to a national survey released Tuesday by immigrant advocacy groups.

The survey took a look at 1,308 people who received legal work authorization and deportation relief through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, an 2012 executive action from the Obama administration aimed at assisting undocumented immigrants who grew up here in the United States.

According to the report, 95 percent of survey respondents are currently employed or enrolled in school. And nearly two-thirds of them reported receiving better pay under DACA, with almost half saying they found a job that “better fits my education and training.” Others said they now have a job with better working conditions.

The report also found that DACA recipients have gone into industries like educational and health services, nonprofit work, wholesale and retail trade, and professional and business services. Close to 6 percent of respondents started their own businesses—twice as high as the entrepreneur rate among the general American public.

The impact of DACA recipients on the U.S. economy has been enormous. Average hourly wages for DACA recipients have gone up by 42 percent, roughly an increase from $9.83 per hour to $13.96 per hour, according to the survey. More than half of all respondents said they recently purchased their first car, while 12 percent purchased their first home.


Sigifredo Pizana Hernandez, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, attends the “Rally for Citizenship” on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, April 10, 2013, where tens of thousands of immigrants and their supporters are expected to rally for immigration reform. CREDIT: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

“These large purchases [of vehicles] matter for state revenue, as most states collect between 3 percent and 6 percent of the purchase price in sales tax, along with additional registration and title fees,” study authors wrote. “The added revenue for states comes in addition to the safety benefits of having more licensed and insured drivers on the roads.”

The survey was conducted by UC San Diego Professor Tom Wong, the advocacy group National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the immigrant rights group United We Dream, and the think tank Center for American Progress. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent website housed within the Center for American Progress.)

This survey echoes findings from a similar report conducted last year, which found that DACA recipients were able to get jobs that better matched their skills and that paid them better wages.

This research helps present a clearer understanding about the impact of the DACA initiative, which from its inception has received sharp criticism from Republicans who say the policy is a show of President Obama’s “executive amnesty overreach.” In fact, Obama’s actions are legal and based on a decades-old legal precedent for the executive branch to exercise prosecutorial discretion for some immigrants who have “non-priority enforcement status.”

About 741,546 undocumented immigrants have benefited under DACA as of mid-September, according to the latest U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) data.

However, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump—who typically refers to immigrants in disparaging terms and has promised to build a wall between the United States and Mexico—has indicated that he would dismantle the DACA initiative altogether if he becomes president.

This blog was originally posted on ThinkProgress on October 18, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Esther Yu-Hsi Lee is the Immigration Reporter for ThinkProgress. She received her B.A. in Psychology and Middle East and Islamic Studies and a M.A. in Psychology from New York University. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary, Esther is passionate about immigration issues from all sides of the debate. She is also a White House Champion of Change recipient. Esther is originally from Los Angeles, CA.


Inequality Is Still the Defining Issue of Our Time

October 17th, 2016 | Robert Borosage
In 2011, President Obama, speaking in the wake of Occupy Wall Street, called inequality the “defining issue of our time.” Now Jason Furman, chair of the Council on Economic Advisors, argues that Obama “narrowed the inequality gap” more than any president in 50 years. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office echoes the observation that income inequality after taxes is no higher than it was in 2000, and that Obama’s policies have done more to reduce inequality than any other policies on record.

Don’t take down the barricades. Inequality remains extreme and continues to widen. And the populist uprisings that have roiled American politics have clear opportunities to tackle the core problem after the election.

As James Kwak at Baseline Scenario notes, the council’s report measures Obama’s reductions against what inequality would have been if George Bush’s policies had been sustained through the Great Recession. The progress comes largely from progressive tax changes. Obama raised taxes marginally on the very wealthy (allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire for very rich, particularly the 15 percent tax on capital gains, and taxing investment income under Medicare to help pay for health care reform) and increased tax subsidies to low-wage workers (expanded child tax and expanded earned-income tax credits.) These advances, while praiseworthy, don’t come close to reversing the regressive tax polices of the past decades.

As Emmanuel Saez has shown, the richest 1 percent continue to pocket the bulk of the rewards of growth. The income share of the top 1 percent before taxes fluctuates with the business cycle, but it has been rising over time. Despite recent increases, household income for the vast majority of the population has still not recovered from the Great Recession. These rewards largely reflect the underlying economic structures that determine what Jacob Hacker has dubbed predistribution (the pretax distribution of income): globalization, bargaining power of labor, executive pay structures, demand for skills, etc. As Kwak concludes, “It’s hard to point to anything [Obama] did that affected the underlying economic factors producing the increase in inequality.”

This elevates the importance of fierce political battles that will occur after the November elections. First, President Obama plans to join with the business lobby to push the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty through the lame-duck session of Congress. The TPP is another in the corporate trade and investment deals that have proved so devastating to American workers. Even trade-accord advocates now admit that our globalization strategy has contributed directly to growing inequality, putting American workers in competition with low-wage and repressed labor abroad, with no sensible industrial or comprehensive strategy for impacted communities and workers.

The mobilization against the TPP will engage the populist energies in both parties. Sanders’s new organization Our Revolution will join with labor and the bulk of the activist Democratic base to drive an intense opposition that will make the Tea Party look like, well, a tea party. If the TPP is defeated, the next administration will be forced to rethink America’s globalization strategies, moving toward more balanced trade, ending the special privatized investor arbitration system, and focusing attention on the tax traps and dodges that allow global corporations to evade hundreds of billions in taxes. Even if the TPP passes, the fury of the opposition could force an understanding that the old game is over.

Similarly, efforts to lift the floor under workers already in motion should gain new energy. The Republican House leadership won’t even allow a vote on hiking the minimum wage, but Fight for $15 and other movements are winning wage hikes in cities and states across the country. Measures to guarantee paid sick and vacation days and to crack down on wage theft and demand equal pay for women are beginning to move. These efforts—particularly at a time of relatively low unemployment—can help workers gain a greater share of the profits they help to produce.

Obama recently admitted that stronger unions are vital to redressing inequality. Yet he abandoned campaign promises to make labor-law reform a priority early in his administration and has refused to issue an executive order giving union employers priority in government contracting. Union support was central to Clinton’s victory in the primaries. When she takes office in January, activists should join with federal contract employees to demand issuance of a Good Jobs executive order that would encourage firms with federal contracts to respect labor rights. And Democrats at every level of executive office should be pushed to put government on the side of workers.

Finally, populist energy should be directed at curbing obscene CEO pay packages. Academics have exposed the fraudulence of “performance pay” bonuses. Investors bemoan the perverse corporate policies generated by executive efforts to drive up the value of their bonuses. Yet boardrooms haven’t got the message. It is time to turn up the heat. For example, executive compensation rules to discourage Wall Street risk-taking were supposed to have been written nearly five years ago. They haven’t been, and progressives in Congress led by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders should expose this outrage. Unions, public pension funds, and university endowments should use their votes to challenge excessive CEO compensation packages. Sanders’s Our Revolution might join with other progressive groups in challenging the worst abusers at their annual shareholders meetings.

Inequality remains a defining issue of our time. The advances made under Obama deserve applause, but the real work remains to be done. This presidential season has exposed the growing revolt against business as usual. Now activists must seize the opportunity to build on the energy after November.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on October 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. The organizations were launched by 100 prominent Americans to develop the policies, message and issue campaigns to help forge an enduring majority for progressive change in America. Mr. Borosage writes widely on political, economic and national security issues. He is a Contributing Editor at The Nation magazine, and a regular blogger at The Huffington Post. His articles have appeared in The American Prospect, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He edits the Campaign’s Making Sense issues guides, and is co-editor of Taking Back America (with Katrina Vanden Heuvel) and The Next Agenda (with Roger Hickey).


Black Livelihoods Matter: The Civil Justice System Needs Reform Too

October 14th, 2016 | Phillis Rambsy

downloadThe Black Lives Matter movement has brought much-needed attention to the disparity in the way our criminal justice system treats African Americans.

But there’s another side of American justice that matters too: our civil courts.

In the United States today, the civil justice system is the last line of defense for workers who have faced discrimination on the job. And not just for individuals, either. Lawsuits and the threat of lawsuits have been the most effective way to force recalcitrant employers to take action against discrimination.

Still, our courthouses are not open to all. As a black lawyer who focuses on employment discrimination, I’ve seen first-hand how access to the courts, the racial makeup of law firms and the way cases are handled can throw up barriers to justice.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to how black workers’ cases get derailed.

Step 1: Black workers are more likely to represent themselves.

Few people can afford to pay an employment attorney up front. Instead, most lawyers in the field work on contingency—meaning they will only get paid if the worker receives a cash award. That makes these cases financially risky for lawyers, who might get nothing for hours of work if the case is dismissed. As a result, it can be hard for many workers to find an employment lawyer.

But for black workers, the problem is even worse. A study commissioned by the American Bar Association found that black plaintiffs are 2.5 times more likely than white plaintiffs to file employment discrimination claims pro se, or without a lawyer. Other racial minorities, including Hispanics and Asians, are 1.9 times more likely to file pro se than their white counterparts.

Winning an employment case is already difficult, even under the best circumstances. Pro se litigants, assuming that they can even get their cases inside a courtroom, are almost guaranteed to lose—no matter how strong the details of their case may be.

For example, litigants may be required to file their case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within a certain number of days, and that time limit varies by state. Workers representing themselves may miss that deadline, and lose their cases before they even start.

Step 2: Attorneys are less likely to take cases involving black workers.

Even when black workers have found an attorney who might be interested in their case, they are less likely to get help. The ABA study found that the way employment attorneys screen their cases can contribute to the racial disparity.

In some cases, employment attorneys charge expensive consultation fees before considering a potential client. Black workers who can’t afford those fees never get in the front door. In other cases, the ABA study found that attorneys favored clients based on criteria that weren’t related to the merits of their case, such as perceived demeanor, mannerisms or a personal referral.

The disparity in pay between black and white workers adds to the problem. Because lost wages are a major part of the case, workers who make less money will receive smaller payouts. For employment attorneys who have to work for free upfront, that means less money at the back end.

Step 3: Juries aren’t always sympathetic to black workers.

Even when employment cases make it to trial, the worker still has only a 15 percent chance of winning, compared to a 50 percent win rate for other types of plaintiffs.

That means employment cases are particularly sensitive to jurors’ beliefs and prejudices. If a jury does not find the plaintiff’s story credible, or doesn’t believe that discrimination occurred, or doubts whether discrimination is all that common anyway—the worker loses.

In addition, damages for emotional distress are allowed in many employment discrimination cases. But jurors may not be as willing to provide them to black workers even when they have found in favor of them overall due to prejudices about their mythical inner strength or whether discrimination is serious.

The end result is that the same discrimination that black workers face in the workplace can also negatively affect them in the eyes of a jury.

Step 4: Even if they win, they are often awarded less money.

Workers who win their cases can receive money for emotional distress, punitive damages intended to send a message to the employer and lost wages. Under federal law, those first two amounts are limited between $50,000 and $300,000, levels set in 1991 that have not been adjusted since. (If they had been pegged to the Consumer Price Index, the cap would be closer to $525,000.)

Generally, the largest award in employment cases is for lost wages. Employees who win their cases can only get the difference between what they made since being illegally fired and what they would have made had they not been fired.

Black employees, on average, make less than white employees. As a result, black employees bringing discrimination cases are disproportionately affected by caps for damages for lost wages. This means that these employees have less leverage to negotiate an out-of-court settlement with employers prior to trial because of the low risk to the employer of having to pay a significant judgment—if the employee prevails at trial. As a result, employers may have less incentive to adequately address discrimination against black employees.

The deep-seated flaws in our civil justice system cannot be ignored. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed by employers, legal professionals, and lawmakers. There needs to be a serious examination as to why black employees who have often been unlawfully excluded from the workplace are then again denied recourse through the legal system.

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post on October 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Phillis h. Rambsy is a partner with the Spiggle Law Firm, which has offices in Arlington, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Nashville, Tennessee. Her legal practice focuses on workplace law where she represents employees in matters of wrongful termination and employment discrimination including racial discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, and other family-care issues such as caring for a sick child or an elderly parent. To learn more, visit www.spigglelaw.com.


420,000 More Workers in Cook County Will Soon Have Paid Sick Leave

October 13th, 2016 | Jonathan Timm

ltcoyngtThe United States of America: land of liberty, bastion of opportunity, the world’s leading economic power.

But if you’re a low-wage worker and wake up sick, you’d better clock in on time or you risk losing your wages and even your job.

Paid time off for illness, taken for granted in professional sectors and much of the developed world, remains out of reach for millions of American workers. The United States is the only major developed country that does not guarantee paid sick days to all workers by law. Federal data show that more than one-third of private sector workers throughout the United States do not receive paid sick leave.

A disproportionate number of those without paid sick days are women, people of color and people with low incomes. Though women are the primary caregivers in most families, they also make up the majority of workers in low-wage jobs that do not offer paid sick days. Access is particularly bad for Hispanic workersresearchers have found that less than half get paid sick days, compared to 60 percent of workers overall. And for both women and men, federal data show that the highest paid workers overwhelmingly have access to paid sick days, while most of the poorest workers do not.

But this month, the Cook County Board of Commissioners in Illinois took a major step toward changing that. The board approved legislation that guarantees paid sick days to all workers in the county, bringing the Chicago suburbs in line with the city. Chicago passed its own paid sick leave ordinance in June.

Under the ordinance, Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 900,000 workers in the county don’t currently have paid sick days, including 420,000 in the suburbs. The new laws in Chicago and Cook County will take effect July 1, 2017.

Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy for the advocacy group Women Employed, helped campaign for the law.

“All employees—no matter their occupation—should have the peace of mind to know they can take time off work for their own illness or to care for a sick family member without fear of losing their job or a day’s pay,” says Josephs.

Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)

Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)

Cook County’s decision is the most recent victory in what seems to be a growing movement for paid sick leave. Since 2006, 38 localities in the United States have passed sick leave legislation. This year alone, 12 paid sick leave laws have been passed across the country, including in Vermont and major cities like Los Angeles and San Diego.

Also this year, the momentum for paid sick leave reached the Obama administration. At the direction of the President, the Department of Labor issued new rules requiring federal contractors to provide up to 56 hours, or more than a week, of paid sick leave per year, which will impact more than a million workers when they go into effect.

Tamara Green, 29, did not have access to paid sick leave until recently. A few years ago, she was working for a major fast-food chain in New York City. She was also taking care of her mother, who is HIV positive. One day, her mother fell ill unexpectedly and Green asked her boss if she could leave. Her boss told her that if she left, she would consider it a walk-off and she would not be paid.

“How do you keep going if someone you love is ill or, God forbid, dies, and you’re not there because your boss said she needed you to drop some more fries?” asked Green. “That’s not OK.”

Paid sick leave benefits more than individual workers like Green. Research has found that giving workers the ability to stay home when they’re sick without sacrificing their wages benefits public health and the economy. Paid sick dayslead to higher rates of preventative medical care, including mammograms and Pap tests, decrease workplace injuries and reduce rates of illness.

Opponents have argued that sick leave laws burden businesses or force them to make pay cuts. But an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that sick leave poses minimal costs to employers. The cost of paid sick leave policies to employers in Seattle, for example, was less than one percent of revenue on average. What’s more, research indicates that the costs of paid sick leave would be at least partially offset by benefits to employers like reduced turnover, increased morale and increased productivity.

The building momentum for paid sick days suggests that local lawmakers as well as the general public are seeing these benefits. National surveys have shown that the majority of the public supports laws that would mandate paid sick leave.

But at the state and federal level, it’s an uphill battle. Between 2000 and 2013, state legislatures in 10 states—the majority of which were controlled by Republicans—passed laws that prohibit local governments from mandating paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act, which would mandate paid sick time to most workers nationwide, has been stuck in Congress for years.

At her new job, Tamara Green finally has access to paid sick days. She says knowing that she can care for herself or her mother during an emergency means she no longer has to choose “health over wealth,” and she hopes to see the day when no one in the world has to make that choice.

“To know that I have that option to take the day off without losing a way to pay my bills, that’s a relief that some people can’t even understand,” Green says. “One missed doctor’s appointment could be the last time to say goodbye.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on October 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Jonathan Timm is a freelance reporter who specializes in labor and gender issues. Follow him on Twitter @jdrtimm.


Our outdated school schedules are hurting working parents

October 12th, 2016 | Casey Quinlan

casey quinlan

School schedules aren’t working for parents, and haven’t caught up to the reality of modern families’ lives.

The vast majority of parents 70 percent, work full-time from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the median closing time for a school is 2:30 p.m. On top of that, schools are closed 80 percent longer than the typical worker receives in paid holidays and vacation time, which works out to 13 more days off than parents have, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress.

That presents a problem for parents who work outside the home, especially mothers, single parents, low-income parents, parents of color, and part-time workers. Many of these demographics overlap, of course. Women of color in particular tend to make less money than white men and women and thus are less likely to be able to afford after-school programs and day care. Part-time workers also have far less vacation days and sick days than full-time workers.

This means the most disadvantaged populations in the United States are bearing the brunt of our school schedules-which are filled with extra days off around the holidays, days taken off for teachers’ professional development, snow days not offered by local employers, and policies mandating parents to pick up their sick kids, no matter how minor the illness.

Why a 9-to-5 schedule isn’t working for parents

Right now, schools are designed for families where one parent works outside the home and one parent stays home to care for the children, and is available to be on call to pick up their kids from school whenever necessary.

“Unfortunately the reality of working families has evolved a lot, and we need to invest in the kind of school policies and schedules to catch us up to the way people are actually living their lives,” said Catherine Brown, the vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress and one of the authors of the new report. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.)

“We need to invest in the kind of school policies and schedules to catch us up to the way people are actually living their lives.”

The CAP report emphasizes the change in family work weeks. Between 1979 and 2006, the typical middle class family work week increased by 11 hours.

One might suggest after-school programs as the antidote to this problem, but these programs are not universally available, especially to the parents who need them most. Only 45 percent of all public elementary schools offer parents after-school care, according to CAP’s analysis of federal education data and only 31 percent of Title I schools have after-school programs.

Brown said school policies on picking children up from school also make parents’ lives very difficult. The report explains that schools often require parents to pick children up even when their illness is minor or non-contagious. Duval County Public Schools in Florida has a policy where parents are required to pick up an ill child within 60 minutes of being notified.

‘What will typically happen is your kid has a slight fever and they’ll call you and say you need to immediately pick them up and that’s just not viable,” Brown said. “If you’re working at McDonald’s or even if you’re working at CAP, it’s really hard to instantly abandon what you’re doing and go pick up your child, and this is a really clear way that schools disregard the needs of working parents.”

Brown added that these schedules often mean students go to recess or eat lunch very early in the day because they’re sharing a tight schedule with so many kids. Ideally, children’s schedules would be organized according to the natural ebb and flow of their energy levels throughout the day.

The creative solutions that could help fix this issue

There is no reason why this inconvenient school schedule needs to remain in place, the authors of the report explain. The CAP report puts forth several ideas for reforming the way that school schedules work.

  • States could raise the minimum length of a school day to eight hours, which would push schools toward a typical work schedule.
  • Districts could use the assistance of AmeriCorps members, college students, and community members to help run programs during school closings and to monitor students when parents are at work.
  • Schools could limit days off to major holidays, look to major employers when deciding whether to close schools for inclement weather, and create school health policies that better recognize parents’ busy schedules.
  • Administrators could accommodate parents’ work schedules when deciding when to schedule parent-teacher conferences and consider alternatives to in-person meetings, such as chatting through Skype.
  • Schools could look at more efficient ways to conduct teacher professional development, such as having teacher development run throughout the school day through teacher collaboration and individualized coaching, so the school wouldn’t have to close for the day.
  • Schools could identify alternatives to a tiered busing schedule, such as a dual-route system, so that students can get to school at the same time.

How a new school schedule would affect teachers

One of the most challenging questions facing advocates for a 9-to-5 school schedule is how to ensure teachers aren’t shortchanged in the process. After all, teachers come in early to prepare for classes and often stay later to assist students and grade papers?—?they don’t want to make their days even longer.

Staggered schedules could ensure that teachers don’t work longer hours than they already do. But if they do end up adding more hours to their workday, advocates say teachers should be fairly compensated.

“What we want to be clear about is that we’re not advocating for teachers to work longer hours without getting compensated for that time,” Brown said.

She added that kids can also do independent work an work in peer-to-peer groups that allow teachers time to do planning, give kids more time to learn, and reduce parent stress.

Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow for education policy at CAP, said there is also the possibility of teachers working a 9-to-5 schedule but doing so only four days a week. Teachers who work at Goldie Maple Academy in Queens, for example, have a school day that begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4:35 p.m. but they have Fridays off.

How to pay for a longer school day

Keeping schools open longer will cost more money. But there are federal funds available to help school districts pay for lengthening their days.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance explaining that as long as extended school days are “meeting an identified need to improve student achievement,” a federal source called Title I, Part A fund can be used toward paying for it. Other federal funding sources include Promise Neighborhoods competition, Full-Service Community Schools Program, and Community Learning Centers program.

Congress could also include a competitive grant program in the Higher Education Act to encourage graduate schools in social work to partner with neighboring school districts to develop a 9-to-5 schedule.

This new schedule could also be considered a “school theme” in the way technology or bilingualism is considered a theme for many schools. These schools could be funded through competitive grant programs targeted at low-income schools.

Some of these policy proposals are easier to implement than others, but Brown said innovation is necessary to acknowledge the needs of working parents.

“I think requiring longer school days requires an injection of resources and creative thinking about how you set up your schools,” Brown said.

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on October 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.


Enormous, Humongous August Trade Deficit Prompts Trade Deficit Bill

October 11th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

dave.johnsonThe U.S. Census Bureau reported Wednesday that the August trade deficit rose 3 percent to $40.73 billion from July’s $39.5 (slightly revised). Both exports and imports rose, with imports rising more than exports. August exports were $187.9 billion up $1.5 billion from July. August imports were $228.6 billion up $2.6 billion.

The goods deficit was $60.3 billion, offset by a services surplus of $19.6 billion.

Imports from China increased 9.5 percent.

Is Increased “Trade” Good If It Really Means Increased Trade Deficits?

“Trade” is generally considered a good thing. But consider this: closing an American factory and firing its workers (not to mention the managers, supply chain, truck drivers, etc affected) and instead producing the same goods in a country with low wages and few environmental protections, then bringing the same goods back to sell in the same stores increases “trade” because now those goods cross a border. This is how “trade” results in a structural trade deficit. Goods once made here are made there, the economic gains move from here to there.

Offshoring production can be a good thing, but only in a full-employment economy. This is because with everyone employed companies can’t find people to do things that need to be done. Meanwhile workers in other countries need the jobs. The people there can afford things made here, and trade balances. Everyone benefits.

But since the 1970s the US has used “trade” and other policies to intentionally drive unemployment up and wages down, to the benefit of “investors” (Wall Street) and executives, who then pocket the wage differential. This pushes the economy’s gains to a few at the top, increasing inequality, which increases the power of plutocrats to further influence policy in their favor.

The US has run a trade deficit since the 1970s. Coincidentally, see this chart:

The stagnation of wages for working people just happens to correspond with the introduction of the intentional “trade” deficit. Again, “trade” in this case means deindustrialization: closing factories here, opening them there and bringing the same goods across a border to sell in the same stores.

Trade Deficit Reduction Act

This week Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced a bill designed to identify and reduce our enormous, humongous trade deficits. RochesterFirst.com has the story, in Slaughter introduces legislation to reduce trade deficits,

On Monday, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter unveiled the Trade Deficit Reduction Act, which calls for a change in how we approach international trade in order to benefit our workers.

The legislation would put a government-wide focus on addressing the most significant trade deficits that exist between the United States and other countries. The U.S. has run trade deficits since the 1970s.

… “The last thing our community needs as we work to reignite our manufacturing base with advanced technologies like optics and photonics is to undo this progress by enacting another NAFTA-style trade deal. We need a whole new direction in our trade policy, which is why I am standing with workers from PGM Corp. today to unveil the Trade Deficit Reduction Act. This legislation will change how we approach international trade and make it benefit our workers and manufacturers,” said Slaughter.

The bill would require the administration to identify the countries with which the U.S. has the worst trade deficits.

The bill also directs the administration to develop plans of action to address the trade deficits with those countries, with strict deadlines and oversight from Congress.

The intentional trade deficit and other policies to drive up unemployment and drive down wages greatly enrich a few, but history tells us the consequences are dangerous to society. For example, the rising support for Trump and other far-right populists like him around the world.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on October 6, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.


Chicago Teachers Are on the Verge of Striking—This Is Why

October 11th, 2016 | David Moberg

Chicago teachers will likely take to the streets early Tuesday in an escalation of their campaign to defend their jobs and improve the education of the students and the communities they serve. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has said it will strike if no deal is reached by midnight.

Four years ago, the CTU won a new contract with a dramatic 7-day strike that captured national attention. Although the CTU was unable in the following years to stop Mayor Rahm Emanuel from closing more than 50 schools, last April the union continued its contract fight with a mayoral-appointed Board of Education by calling for a 1-day strike over the failure of talks to renew their contract.

With the CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) still at loggerheads over a new agreement, the teachers are preparing to establish picket lines once again at schools throughout the nation’s third-largest school system, taking on the Board of Education, Emanuel, the obsessively anti-union Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and the local business class.

The fight is, in various ways, about money. The Board of Education, under Emanuel’s control, says it must cut costs since it is running a deficit. One of its proposed solutions would eliminate a longstanding agreement to pay for part of the cost of teachers’ pensions, effectively cutting teachers’ pay.

Rauner advocates a harsh and ideological strategy designed to humiliate the teachers and break their union. He has said bankruptcy might be the best option for CPS—a move that would allow a court to void union contracts.

But the strike is about more than money, too. The CTU sees negotiations as a chance to focus on the quality of education for Chicago students. The union wants to reduce class sizes, guarantee that all schools have libraries and librarians, give teachers professional support and training to teach more creatively, and provide social services and counselors who can help students resolve problems that may be interfering with their learning or leading them to drop out.

“In my 13 years of teaching, schools and students have never faced this type of assault,” said Lillian Kass, a special education teacher in CPS and a CTU delegate.

“We are going on strike to protect our students from further cuts. We need enforceable class sizes and adequate services so all students can succeed. Teachers and students have already suffered too many cuts. More cuts are not acceptable and not sustainable,” she said.

Historical backdrop

The contract dispute is linked to profound and pernicious questions regarding class and racial divisions in the city and state. The backdrop to the current conflict is the decades-long failure of the state government to follow the state’s constitutional mandate to carry the primary responsibility for financing public education.

As a result, schools are very unevenly and inequitably funded by local property taxes. The tax burden is greatest on working-class households, while businesses successfully resist paying their fair share. Chicago taxpayers suffer an additional burden: While state taxes—including taxes paid by Chicago residents—help fund teacher pensions for the rest of the state, Chicago residents alone pay for all pension-related costs for their schools.

Low-income communities, especially those that are predominately black, have suffered most from shortcomings in funding, school closings and many other CPS policies. Reinforcing the results of other investigations, a recent report by WBEZ, the Chicago public radio station, revealed that new school construction in areas of the city where the population is growing is carefully planned to maintain high levels of racial segregation, even though it would be easy to use the construction to create a more integrated school enrollment.

Community allies

Union leaders see community groups as crucial allies in the fight now unfolding. Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign (CTSC), with a dozen or more members, played an important role in the 2012 strike, says Steven Ashby, a labor educator at the University of Illinois. Ashby, who is the leader of a renewed CTSC, says the new coalition already includes more than 50 groups.

The CTU, CTSC and many other progressive groups are pushing for the city to redirect to the schools as much as possible from Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a funding tool. The money is largely a “slush fund” spent at the mayor’s discretion for business-related projects, and reformers argue that it could provide significant funding for schools.

The issues posed by the teachers’ strike involve a tangle of inherited pathologies of racism, business dominance, and corrupt local politics—together forming a Gordian knot that blocks progressive reform. The strike may not cut the knot, but it could help direct the next blows for reformers tackling the many challenges beyond the current, critically important task of educating the city’s children.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on October 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.


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