Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Labor Department Issues Final ‘Fair Pay And Safe Workplaces’ Rules

August 30th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

dave.johnson
The Department of Labor (DOL) has released the final rules for implementing President Obama’s two-year-old Fair Pay And Safe Workplaces executive order.

The July 2014 post, Obama’s ‘Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order’, explained the order:Executive-order-contractors-SEIU-300x300

Saying that “taxpayer dollars should not reward corporations that break the law,” President Obama on Thursday issued another executive order designed to help low-wage workers.

… President Obama’s executive order cracks down on federal contractors who break hiring, health and safety, and wage laws. It also prohibits employers from requiring mandatory arbitration agreements with employees of federal contractors, in order that workers can get their day in an actual court instead of being forced to appear in front of an arbitrator picked and paid for by the company when there is a dispute involving the Civil Rights Act or related to sexual assault or harassment.

Specifically, the new rules require companies that bid on federal contracts to disclose wage and hour, safety and health, collective bargaining, family and medical leave, and civil rights violations from the prior three years. Federal contractor hiring officers are to take serious violations into account before awarding contracts.

Hold Companies Accountable

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the sponsor of the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Actto combat wage theft and require employers to provide timely paychecks, issued a statement tying the new rule to the plight of Senate cafeteria workers who work for contractor Restaurant Associates,

“We’ve seen what happens when federal contractors like Restaurant Associates don’t treat our workers fairly – employees are deprived of wages and protections that all our workers deserve,” said Brown. “This executive order will hold companies like Restaurant Associates and anyone who does business with the federal government accountable and improve the lives of millions of Americans who work for federal government contractors. I’m pleased the Department of Labor issued this guidance so we can improve oversight of contractors.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued this statement:

The AFL-CIO applauds the Administration for moving forward with regulations and guidance implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. This measure will make our contracting system more fair and accountable, which is good for working families, law-abiding employers, and communities. Companies that receive taxpayer-funded contracts should obey the law and respect their employees’ rights, and with today’s actions, the Administration has taken an important step in moving that common-sense principle forward.

The Teamsters issued a statement celebrating the final rules, titled, “Teamsters Voice Support For Fair Pay And Safe Workplaces Executive Order“:

“The Teamsters Union fully supports President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “It will not only protect the millions of workers that are employed by federal contractors, but it will ensure that taxpayer money is not being handed to companies that blatantly violate labor and workplace laws.”

The executive order will put in place regulations that will address key issues workers are faced with on the job at federal contractors including wage theft, safety violations and discrimination. The union passed a resolution supporting the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order at its International Convention this past June:

“Be it resolved at this 29th International Convention that the Teamsters are committed to fighting for full implementation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order and for the fundamental principle that employers who receive federal taxpayers’ money should comply with federal labor law.”

“Will Hamstring Employers And Contractors”

The Daily Caller story, “Obama Issues Order That Will Hamstring Employers And Contractors“, provides the Republican view, saying that actually having to pay employees and comply with the law, not cheat them, will “hamstring” businesses:

The rule was blasted by employers, who asserted that it would result in fewer qualified bids for federal contracts. The Associated Builders and Contractors told The Wall Street Journal the rules, “will result in needless delays and litigation, crippling the contract award process.”

Three House Republican lawmakers with the Committee on Education and the Workforce criticized the rule, saying that, “unfortunately, this administration would rather spend time and resources creating new layers of bureaucracy instead of using its existing authority to enforce current protections.” Chairman John Kline of Minnesota, along with Reps. Tim Walberg of Michigan and Phil Roe of Tennessee, went on to say that, “This redundant, unnecessary, and unworkable regulatory scheme isn’t about protecting the rights of workers. It’s about growing government and promoting a culture of union favoritism.”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on August 25, 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.

Permalink


Minneapolis and Arizona voters will get a chance to raise the minimum wage

August 29th, 2016 | Laura Clawson
LauraClawson Voters in Arizona and Minneapolis, Minnesota, will have the chance to vote on minimum wage increases this November, according to court rulings in both places. In Minneapolis:

A Hennepin County judge on Monday overruled the Minneapolis City Council’s decision to block a $15 minimum wage charter amendment, ordering that the issue be placed on the November ballot.

City officials are appealing the decision, though. Minnesota’s minimum wage is $9.50 an hour for large employers and $7.75 an hour for small employers.

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 14: Demonstrators demanding an increase in the minimum wage march in the streets on April 14, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstrators marched to and protested in front of several locations, part of a day-long effort to draw attention to low-wage jobs. The demonstration was one of about 300 scheduled to take place nationwide today. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In Arizona

The Arizona secretary of state’s office says a voter initiative raising the state’s minimum wage from $8.05 per hour to $12 an hour by 2020 has made the November ballot.

Friday’s determination came just hours after a judge rejected a challenge to what is now officially called Proposition 206.

With congressional Republicans keeping the federal minimum wage stuck at $7.25 an hour, a living wage (or anything approaching a living wage) is left up to states and cities to do piecemeal, and every election day lately seems to see a few more ballot initiatives on the issue. The workers of the Fight for $15 have changed the debate from a high-end goal of $10.10 an hour to an America in which $15 is becoming a reality in a few places.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on August 24, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Permalink


We’ve Finally Reached 2016 African American Women’s Equal Pay Day

August 26th, 2016 | Elizabeth Kristen

 

elizabeth-kristen

Today we commemorate “African American Women’s Equal Pay Day,” the day in the year when African American women’s wages finally catch up to what men earned last year.  It is important to note that African American Women’s Equal Pay Day comes nearly four months after “Women’s Equal Pay Day,”which included wages of women of all races, and was marked on April 12th of this year.  The four-month lag signifies the nearly 20-cent wider wage gap African American women face when compared to women of all races.  So, while the average wage gap for all women in the United States is 79 cents for every dollar a man makes, African American women’s wages are at just 60.5 cents on the dollar.  African American lesbian couples, who doubly experience the high wage gap (plus discrimination based on sexual orientation), have triple the poverty rate of white lesbian couples.

Eliminating the racial gender wage gap would provide concrete economic benefits to African American women. To give a concrete example, women could buy nearly three years of food for their families or pay rent for nearly two years with those additional wages.  Given that so many African American women and their families are struggling to make ends meet, receiving equal pay would make a life-changing difference.

Harriet Tubman portrait

Last year, California passed one of the strongest equal pay laws in the country, the California Fair Pay Act of 2015, which strengthened protection for workers who discuss or ask about their wages and the wages of others.  It also protects women who challenge gender based pay differences in jobs that are “substantially similar” to theirs.  For example, a female housekeeper who is being paid less than a male janitor could remedy the pay difference since the jobs are so similar and wage inequality would likely be unjustified.  The California Labor Commissioner is charged with enforcing the California Fair Pay Act.

This year, California State Senator Hall has introduced SB 1063, the Wage Equality Act of 2016, which would add race and ethnicity to California’s strong Fair Pay Act.  Under SB 1063, California employers would be prohibited from paying workers less for substantially similar work based on race or ethnicity.  An African American woman thus might have a claim that she is being paid less based not only on sex, but on race as well.  With SB 1063, she would be able to more effectively address racial wage inequality.

Certain cities already are specifically addressing wage inequality by sex, race and ethnicity.  For example, in San Francisco, city contractors will have to disclose data on what they pay their workers, broken down by both sex and race, to the City.  California state contractors may also be required to submit similar pay data reports under another bill that should reach the governor’s desk for approval.  And the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission intends to revise its Employer Information Report (EEO-1) data collection to include salary information based on ethnicity, race, and sex.

Our current laws against sex and race discrimination have proven inadequate to end race- and sex-based unequal pay since the pay gap remains depressingly large more than fifty years after passage of federal civil rights laws in these areas. Pay disclosure rules are an important step towards closing the pay gap for women and women of color in particular. They force employers to self-audit and identify unjustified pay disparities.  In the event they do not correct the disparities, disclosure enable government agencies to conduct targeted enforcement of equal pay laws.

It will reportedly be more than a decade before the first African American woman (Harriet Tubman) graces the face of U.S. currency.  With these new laws there is hope that before the Tubmans arrive, African American women will already be receiving the full value of those $20 bills and not just 60 percent.

The Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

This article was originally posted at CelaVoice.org on August 23, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center.

Permalink


Tyson Foods Fined $263,000 Over Unsafe Working Conditions In Poultry Plant

August 26th, 2016 | Bryce Covert
Bryce Covert
The government just cracked down on the country’s largest meat and poultry processor for endangering its employees.
It all began with a report to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of a finger amputation at a Tyson Foods chicken processing plant in Texas. OSHA investigators determined the worker’s finger got stuck in an unguarded conveyer belt when he was trying to remove chicken parts that had gotten jammed in it.

But once inspectors got there, they realized the problems at the Tyson plant went far beyond one injured hand. They discovered more than a dozen serious violations, including failing to provide protective equipment, a lack of safety guards on moving machines that left employees exposed to a risk of amputation, letting carbon dioxide levels surpass the permissible limit, and no training for workers about the hazards of peracetic acid, a highly hazardous chemical that’s used as a disinfectant, which can cause burns and respiratory diseases. Workers are also at risk of slipping and falling due to a lack of adequate drainage and exposed to fire hazards from improperly stored compressed gas cylinders.

OSHA announced on Tuesday that it was fining the company $263,498 for two repeated and 15 serious violations, including improper drainage, holes in the floor left without guards, a lack of guards on dangerous machinery, obstructed fire exits, and storing chemicals in a hazardous manner.

CREDIT: Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

In response, Tyson said in a statement, “We never want to see anyone hurt on the job, which is why we’re committed to continual improvement in our workplace safety efforts. We fully cooperated with OSHA’s inspection of our Center plant and intend to meet with OSHA officials in an effort to resolve these claims.”

OSHA’s enforcement actions come as part of the agency’s recent focus on the poultry industry. And it also comes after a number of reports have exposed the gruesome conditions that workers must endure inside these plants.

In a report released in October, Oxfam America found that line processing speeds have increased drastically, with an official upper level of 140 birds per minute but with the possibility of going even higher if supervisors who run the lines decide to speed it up. Workers told Oxfam they process 35 to 45 birds per minute. Meanwhile, they must perform multiple motions on each bird, such as cutting, hacking, hanging, pulling, and twisting, repeatedly and forcefully 20,000 times a day.

The speed and repetitive motions combine to create a number of physical problems, such as pain in fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, and backs, as well as swelling, numbness, tingling, twitching, stiffness, and a loss of grip.

Workers also told Oxfam that they were frequently exposed to harsh chemicals, such as chlorine and ammonia, used to clean up the blood and other drippings from the birds.

The conditions lead to widespread injuries and illnesses. Poultry plant workers experience repetitive strain at 10 times the rate of the overall workforce, carpal tunnel at seven times the overall rate, and musculoskeletal disorders at five times the rate.

CREDIT: Oxfam America

“While the findings from this plant in Texas are disturbing, they’re not surprising,” said Oliver Gottfried, Oxfam’s senior campaign strategist, in a statement. “The repeated and serious violations exposed during this investigation corroborate conditions Oxfam has heard from workers at a half-dozen Tyson plants across the country.”

Oxfam’s findings were backed up in May, when the Government Accountability Office released its own report. It found that poultry and meat workers are at twice the risk of being injured on the job compared to other American workers, and they experience higher illness rates than other manufacturing employees. Many poultry workers report respiratory issues thanks to breathing in chlorine. There is also a high rate of deaths, with 151 poultry workers dying on the job between 2004 and 2013.

Workers must put up with other torturous conditions. A big problem is the lack of breaks to go to the bathroom and eat meals. Because they have to get a supervisor’s permission to leave the line and another employee to cover their spots, workers report often waiting an hour or more to get a break to relieve themselves. To cope, some say they have severely cut back on drinking liquids or even started wearing diapers.

For putting up with these hellish conditions, workers are rewarded very poorly. Average hourly pay is $11 an hour, which comes to between $20,000 and $25,000 a year, qualifying workers with children for food stamps and other government assistance programs. For every consumer dollar spent on a chicken product, a worker will see just two cents.

Tyson now has 15 days to either address the violations and pay the fines or contest them. But OSHA doesn’t have a great track record in getting the full amount it originally fines companies, as they are often able to contest and reduce them to sums that amount to a slap on the wrist. It’s rare to even get an OSHA inspection, as the agency is so under-budgeted and understaffed that a given workplace only sees a federal inspector once every 139 years.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 17, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Permalink


Labor board says graduate students can unionize

August 24th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

LauraClawson

According to the George W. Bush-era National Labor Relations Board, graduate students at private universities didn’t count as employees of those universities, no matter how much employment-type work they did. That means those students couldn’t unionize. Now, the NLRB has reversed that, saying graduate students can unionize:

First, the board rejected argument that graduate students cannot be employees because their relationship to their employer remains “primarily educational.” This interpretation, the board wrote, cannot actually be found in the “statutory text” of federal labor law, and cannot be derived from its “fundamental policy.” Instead, the board asked whether colleges and students had a “common-law employment relationship,” with the school exerting control over its student employees and compensating them for their labor. Because such a relationship obviously exists, students may be considered “employees” of the universities for which they work.

 As for the earlier ruling’s other concerns, the NLRB noted that almost all of them are “purely theoretical.” There is no empirical evidence that collective bargaining would somehow destroy the relationship between working graduate students and their employers by disrupting “traditional goals of higher education.” There is no proof that collective bargaining might restrict freedom of expression in the university setting. Indeed, graduate students at public universities have been unionizing for years without imperiling their school’s academic mission. And recent research has found “no support” for the assertion that graduate student unionization “would harm the faculty-student relationship” or “would diminish academic freedom.”

Students are now free to organize to change situations like this:

In the most recent academic year, Laura Hung, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at American University, earned $19,200 as a teaching and research assistant. The money was barely enough to cover her $1,000 rent and certainly not enough to pay for the health insurance offered by the university, she said. Hung is on Medicaid and said she is just $200 a year shy of qualifying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a form of welfare.

“Being a teaching and research assistant is important; it’s given me valuable classroom experience. What we do has an educational benefit, but the fact of the matter is we’re not paid fair wages,” said Hung, 31, who is finishing up her dissertation. “We work well over the hours we’re supposed to and as a result wind up being paid minimum wage or less. That’s not enough to live in D.C. Trying to make ends meet every month is virtually impossible.”

Organizing is easier said than done, of course, with some universities having shown themselves as willing to fight unionization as any major corporation. But at least now the government won’t throw up an added barrier.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on August 23, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Permalink


Postal Workers To Rally Against TPP Tuesday

August 24th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

The 200,000-member American Postal Workers Union (APWU) is holding its biennial convention in Orlando this week. As part of that convention, there will be a rally to publicize opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The rally will take place Tuesday, August 23 at 3:30 pm beginning in the Hemisphere Ballroom of Orlando’s Dolphin Hotel.

APWU President Mark Dimondstein made the following statement when announcing the rally:

“Postal workers are a proud part of a global grass-roots movement in opposing this devious, corporate-backed deal which would hurt workers and the environment in 12 different countries — if allowed to go forward. Like NAFTA and other hard-sold multinational deals, the TPP was negotiated in secret and has very little to do with trade between nations. It’s about increasing the power of multinational corporations to dictate our future, and it’s about taking away the rights of citizens and workers to advocate for a better quality of life.”

“The TPP is an attack on working people – including U.S. postal workers. We’re rallying in Orlando to make sure politicians from both parties hear us loud and clear and we’re going to head back to every zip code from Orlando with a message that the TPP needs to be blocked. Republicans and Democrats must listen to grass-roots activists across the political spectrum, vote down the TPP and get to work on an economic and environmental agenda that is fair to workers in all countries.”

Background

TPP is an agreement between 12 Pacific-region nations, but other nations like China will be able to join later. TPP is called a “trade” agreement, even though most of the sections of the agreement are about things like allowing investors to sue governments for laws and regulations that infringe on their profits, granting monopolies to giant pharmaceutical companies, and “intellectual property” rights.

The agreement was negotiated and written in secrecy, largely by past, present and future representatives of corporations. It places corporate “rights” above governments, as well as above the “rights” of working people and the environment. For example, corporate investors can sue governments for what they consider to be violations of the agreement that hurt their profits, and the suits are judged by corporate attorneys. There is no appeal and the sovereign, established court systems of the counties in the agreement are prohibited from interfering.But labor, environmental, consumer or any other “stakeholder” group have no such recourse if they feel their rights are being violated.

OurFuture’s June 2015 post, “Will TPP Kill The Post Office?”, noted that then then-secret TPP could be a problem for the US Postal Service in particular. From that post:

As if we needed yet another reason for the public to see the text of TPP before Congress preapproves it with fast track, here is a question: Does the TPP contain provisions that corporations can use to force us to privatize “public” things like our Post Office, public schools, public roads etc., so they can replace them with profit-making enterprises that provide a return only to the wealthy few?

We need to see the provisions of TPP that are designed to regulate “state-owned enterprises” (SOEs) and see them now.

Now We Know

TPP is no longer secret. Now the peasants are at last begrudgingly allowed to know what is in the “agreement.” Now we know that TPP has rules preventing governments (We the People) from “competing” with private corporations. This means that private corporations receive the return from the economy, while We the People are prohibited from just doing things for ourselves.

While continuation of the US Postal Service as presently constituted is written into TPP, the “trade” agreement could prohibit We the People from deciding we want it to do things like postal banking,  and other things we might want to do to benefit ourselves.

As the June, 2015 post noted:

Today corporations and investors consider our highways to be “commercial activity” and are competing to turn such roads into private business. There is a corporate movement battling to privatize our public schools and turn those into corporate profit centers. Private companies are trying to get (and many have gotten) the right to deliver our water instead of publicly owned municipal systems. Many municipalities have already turned over garbage collection to private companies, thereby impoverishing the workforce. Would it be a surprise to find that the corporations have inserted provisions into TPP demanding privatization of the Postal Service, schools, roads and anything else the public currently runs?

Ask any conservative and they will likely tell you that anything a government does to make people’s lives better only interferes with “the market.” They will tell you our public, “government” schools should be privatized. They will tell you that the Post Office needs to go away. They hate Amtrak, public broadcasting, the Export-Import Bank and, public transit. They certainly hate public health care. Many will even say that we shouldn’t have public parks like Yosemite and Yellowstone. They have even privatized prisons.

TPP Coming Up For A Rigged Vote Unless We Stop It

Back when We the People were still not allowed to know what was in TPP, a provision called “fast track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was passed by Congress. Fast track TPA rigged the rules of Congress to grease the skids for TPP when it comes up for a vote, which looks like it will be in the “lame duck” session of Congress after the November elections and before the new Congress is sworn in.

It is possible to stop TPP if we can convince enough members of the House of Representatives to go on record now as opposing it. To help with this, see last week’s post,“These Are Your 28 TPP House Democrat Targets”:

President Obama is trying to get a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) during the “lame duck” session of Congress that will take place after the election. We can help stop this by getting enough Democrats on the record as opposing the TPP.

In particular, we need to get the 28 Democrats who – in spite of opposition from most Democrats and hundreds of labor, consumer, LGBT, health, human rights, faith, democracy and other civil organizations – voted for the “fast-track” trade promotion authority (TPA) bill that “greased the skids” for the TPP by setting up rigged rules that will help TPP pass.

Now, along with all of those voters and organizations, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the rest of us need to start working on getting those 28 Democrats to oppose a vote after the election.

Call your Representative and say, “No to TPP!”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on August 22, 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.

Permalink


The Federal Reserve and Black Unemployment

August 23rd, 2016 | William Spriggs

The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee (FOMC) that determines U.S. monetary policy met in July.  Its job is to weigh the state of the American economy, both the labor market and inflationary pressures to set policy.  In an interesting note, its discussion of the labor market explicitly noted the condition of the African American and Hispanic unemployment rates.  More than just an aside, reflecting on the status of June’s labor market the minutes of the meeting show the following note:

“The unemployment rates for African Americans and for Hispanics stayed above the rate for whites, al­though the differentials in jobless rates across the different groups were similar to those before the most recent recession.”

While it is good the FOMC notes the damage its policies may be doing to the African American community, it unfortunately appears too simplistic in understanding the dynamics of the market and how the growth in labor demand affects the African American community.  It is simplistic because it appears to say that nothing has changed; that while the African American unemployment rate of 8.6% was on par with its pre-recession level of 8.4% in March 2007, when the white unemployment rate was 3.8%, little different than June’s 4.3%.  This suggests, the relative position of African Americans is fixed, immutable by macro-economic dynamics, so this lamentable gap corresponds to the best level of African American unemployment that can be reached.  In short, we must be near full employment.

Here is what the June report showed in detail.  The unemployment rate for adult African Americans (older than 25) with Associates Degrees was 3.0%, well below the unemployment rate for white high school graduates 4.2% rate.  This was a first since the recession began, for better educated African Americans to have unemployment rates lower than less educated whites.  In July 2015, African Americans with Associate Degrees had a 4.8% unemployment rate compared to white high school graduates lower 4.4% rate.

Further unnoticed, is that at the depths of the labor market downturn, the employment-to-population ratio for African Americans (the share of people with jobs) fell to 51.0% in July 2011, but had grown by June to 56.1%, a five percentage point gain, but a 10% increase.  For whites, on the other hand, the EPOP had grown only from 59.3% to 60.2%, less than one percentage point.

So, the change in unemployment rates is deceptive.  The African American unemployment rate is improving on a strong growth in employment and in the relative improvement resulting from less discrimination in hiring.  That success has further encouraged the rise in labor force participation for African Americans; which has the perverse effect of fighting against a lower unemployment rate, because it increases the number looking unsuccessfully.

The problem for African Americans is that they face much higher probabilities of enduring long spells of unemployment.  African Americans, of the same educational attainment and with the same cognitive skill levels (the so-called test score gap often mistakenly attributed as a measure of inferior schooling) as whites, face a fifty percent greater chance of being thrown into a long spell of unemployment.  And, once having fallen into that labor market quicksand, face about a third less chance of escaping.  The result is that massive levels of unemployment, like the Great Recession spawned, result in a very long queue of unemployed African Americans.  That long line can only clear by a similarly long and sustained recovery to pluck the unemployed back among the employed.

Put it simply, the unemployment rate is a snapshot composed of the probability of becoming unemployed plus the inability to escape unemployment; so it is a much more complex picture when large numbers of people are unemployed for long periods, as they are more likely to be captured by the snapshot.  When unemployment spells are very short, people move out of the frame before the snapshot can be taken.

The unemployment gap is not one of skill, it is the very real and present discrimination prevalent in a labor market where demand for workers is low and the power and caprice of employers is high.  The relative size of the gap can change, if policies push beyond conventional measures of unemployment and underutilization of workers; it is possible to see another answer is possible.

So, it is good that the FOMC at least is aware that macro-economic policies can have a good or bad effect on African Americans.  The next step is for the FOMC to further understand how much a difference it can make.

This is not just important for African Americans.  It is important for the health of the national economy.  First, everyone benefits if we push the labor market to its true and full level of maximum employment; it means more jobs and opportunities for everyone.

Second, because the African American community has such little wealth, when the economy expands, it is a community very sensitive to the interest rate movements and credit availability to catch-up on purchases like cars and making home improvements.  These purchases are fueled by rising employment opportunities and the easing of credit when the FOMC acts to lower interest rates and stimulate economic growth.  But, in such a leveraged position, it means that a slowing economy and the loss of jobs quickly turns auto loans and home borrowing into severe household balance sheet nightmares.  Those bad effects spill over to the broader the economy.

Since African American employment is more sensitive to a slowing economy, it means the FOMC has to get it right about understanding when African Americans have reached full employment.  So far, they have consistently guessed at a number that is too high, ending labor market recoveries too soon—and economic expansions too soon for everyone.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on August 22, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

William E. Spriggs serves as Chief Economist to the AFL-CIO, and is a professor in, and former Chair of, the Department of Economics at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

Permalink


Domestic Workers in Ill. Win Bill of Rights: “Years of Organizing Have Finally Paid Off”

August 22nd, 2016 | Parker Asmann

Domestic workers in Illinois are celebrating a new bill of rights.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the bill into law last week, capping a 5-year campaign and making Illinois the 7th state to adopt such a protection.

Sponsored by Sen. Ira Silverstein (D-8th District) in the Senate and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-24th District) in the House, the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights gives nannies, housecleaners, homecare workers and other domestic workers a minimum wage, protection from discrimination and sexual harassment and one day of rest every seven days for workers employed by one employer for at least 20 hours a week.

The law amends four other Illinois state laws—the Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Human Rights Act, the One Day Rest in Seven Act and the Wages of Women and Minors Act—to include domestic workers.

Over the past five years, the Illinois Domestic Workers Coalition has campaigned to demand that domestic workers be provided with the same workplace protections that others have had for decades. Members gathered Tuesday at the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago to celebrate.

“Finally, some of the hardest working people in the state of Illinois will receive the dignity and respect they deserve from their work environment,” said Rep. Hernandez.

Magdalena Zylinska, a domestic worker and board member of Arise Chicago, spoke about how demanding domestic work is.

“I have struggled to get by from low wages, wage theft and disrespect on the job,” Zylinska said. “But today I am here to celebrate that our years of organizing have finally paid off.”

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. While domestic workers have achieved victory in those states, the fight continues for a national bill of rights for domestic workers.

Worldwide, 90 percent of domestic workers—the vast majority of whom are women—do not have access to any kind of social security coverage, according to the International Labour Organization. In the United States, an estimated 95 percent of domestic workers are female, foreign born and/ or persons of color. They frequently lack protections and face near constant adversity.

“Women are an essential pillar of our society and our families, as you all have seen. The House listened to us. The Senate listened to us, and now the governor has listened to us,” said Maria Esther Bolaños, a domestic worker and leader from the Latino Union of Chicago.

She recalled days where she worked 12 hours and got paid just $12.00.

Grace Padao of AFIRE Chicago echoed Bolaños’ statements with struggles of her own, describing days of being isolated and alone in homes that were not her own, working seven days a week to provide for her family.

“From this day forward, domestic workers in Illinois will never have to face the conditions that I did,” Padao said.

In 2010, New York became the first state to sign such a bill into law. Illinois is now the seventh, joining Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Hawaii and Connecticut. (Parker Asmann)

This article was originally posted at Inthesetimes.com on August 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Parker Asmann is a Summer 2016 Editorial Intern at In These Times. He is an Editorial Board Member for the Chicago-based publication El BeiSMan as well as a regular contributor to The Yucatan Times located in Merida, Mexico. He graduated from DePaul University in 2015 with degrees in journalism and Spanish, as well as a minor in Latin American Studies.

 

Permalink


Investment Bank Allegedly Retaliated Against Employee After She Announced Her Pregnancy

August 19th, 2016 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertAfter working at the investment bank Jefferies Group for nearly 12 years, Shabari Nayak thought she was on track to become a managing director — especially after bringing her firm $3.75 million in revenue.

But then last year she got pregnant. In a lawsuit filed against the bank on Wednesday, she says everything changed after she announced that she would be having a baby.

Nayak “delayed announcing her pregnancy as late as possible because she feared her career would be derailed,” according to her lawyer Scott Grubin.

Her fears were quickly realized, she alleges. She claims that when she told her direct supervisor of the pregnancy in August of last year, he told her that her “priorities would be changing” after she had her child and offered to help her find a job that was “less demanding,” potentially in the human resources department. She declined, preferring to stay on track for a managing director position.

She got a nearly identical response, she says, when she told the global head of her division. “These two utterly insensitive and demeaning conversations made clear that in the minds of management, Ms. Nayak’s pregnancy had irreversibly changed — if not ended — her investment banking career at the bank,” according to the complaint.

Months later, her supervisors told her she had “taken her foot off the gas pedal,” she claims. Then she says she was denied her year-end bonus, which reduced her overall compensation by nearly 60 percent. Yet she had gotten the bonus the year before when she brought in nearly $1 million less in revenue, while a similar male coworker in her group who hadn’t generated any deal revenue got a “substantial” bonus, according to the complaint.

“What should have been a most joyous time in her life, as Ms. Nayak welcomed her first child into her family, has been transformed into a demeaning and anxious ordeal by the bank’s discriminatory and retaliatory actions against her that has effectively derailed her personal and professional aspirations,” the complaint says.

Nayak no longer works at the bank, claiming that she was forced to resign while on maternity leave after experiencing the discrimination and watching her complaints go unaddressed.

“No reasonable person should be or could be expected to work in the environment created and fostered at Jefferies,” she said.

Now that she’s gone, she says her group at the investment bank has 32 men and no women in senior vice president or managing director positions.

A Jefferies spokesman said the lawsuit is “entirely without merit,” saying she “voluntarily resigned,” and that it will defend against it.

Pregnancy discrimination is already prohibited by federal law, but it’s still incredibly common. Complaints of pregnancy discrimination filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rose 65 percent between 1992 and 2007, outpacing the increase of women in the labor force, and there were more than 3,500 filed just last year.

A number of investment banks have been hit with discrimination lawsuits that depict a male-dominated and testosterone-fueled culture, and pregnancy discrimination comes up a lot. The finance industry was hit with 97 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2013. A lawsuit last year filed by Cynthia Terrana against investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald alleged that she was fired just 11 days after she told her manager she was pregnant.

Other lawsuits against Wall Street firms have alleged a “boys club” atmosphere of trips to strip clubs and sexual assaults against female employees that went ignored, the systemic undermining of women’s careers by denying them the most lucrative clients, and repeated sexual harassment that included female employees being pressured to sleep with executives.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Permalink


Postal Workers Fend Off Attacks in New Contract

August 17th, 2016 | Alexandra Bradbury

Alexandra BradburyThis article was first posted at Labor Notes.

They didn’t end three-tier in a single blow. But in a new contract covering 200,000 members, the American Postal Workers Union made serious headway and fended off most concessionary demands, including the Postal Service’s effort to create yet another tier.
The union entered bargaining with little obvious leverage. It was up against a management that’s been openly collaborating with postal unions’ Congressional foes to push a frenzy of cuts—slashing delivery standards, shutting down mail plants,privatizing work, and selling off post offices to real estate sharks.

Postal workers can’t legally strike. If the union and management don’t reach a deal, an arbitrator writes the contract—which is what finally happened. Arbitrator Stephen Goldberg announced the results July 8.

He stopped short of eliminating the three-tier system, as the union had proposed. But the new contract shrinks the number of bottom-tier workers and improves their situation, while defending the traditional raises and no-layoff protection for the two upper tiers.

New York City mail processing clerk Carl Ross was riding the train to work when he read the results on his cell phone. “I think I screamed out loud,” he said. “It’s gone a long way towards making Postal Support Employees feel like they’re part of the U.S. Postal Service.”

The Postal underclass

Postal Support Employees (PSEs) are the worst-off members of the APWU, stuck in an indefinite temporary status. Since the last contract in 2010, all new hires have landed in this limbo.

They do the same jobs right alongside traditional career employees, but receive lower wages and minimal benefits. And their temporary status means PSEs always have to fear for their jobs—so management can squeeze more work and “flexibility” out of them. “You go wherever the management wind takes you,” Ross said.

He’s one of many union members who traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify to the arbitrator about working conditions. Six-day weeks and forced overtime every night are routine for PSEs in his facility, he said. Workweeks range from 50 to 70 hours.

“I come to work to provide a better life for my family,” Ross said, “not to forsake my family for the job.”

The old contract laid out a process to convert PSEs who were working full-time hours into career positions eventually, based on seniority. But management always dragged its heels, said Ross, a steward. It pushed each grievance to national arbitration, stalling results for months or more.

So the number of PSEs has hovered near the contractual limits—till now, up to 10 percent of all workers in motor vehicles and maintenance, and 20 percent of clerks. In negotiations, the Postal Service sought to add even more.

Steps forward

Instead, the new contract mandates that thousands will be converted to career positions by September 3. In the maintenance and motor vehicle crafts, with the conversion of all 3,500 PSEs, the category will vanish entirely. New hires in those crafts will go right into career status.

Not so in the union’s biggest craft, clerks, which includes workers at post office retail windows as well as those who process the mail in sorting plants. A thousand of the longest-serving clerks will be converted, leaving 27,000 PSEs.

These remaining temps will get a cumulative raise of 7 percent plus 50 cents an hour during the three-year agreement, plus access to Postal Service health benefits, six paid holidays (they had zero; career employees get 10), and for retail clerks, a uniform allowance.

The new holiday pay hit home for Ross. Last Christmas he was made to work a 12-hour shift, without it.

Other contract highlights include a one-year moratorium on further outsourcing of postal retail work (Staples, the target of a union boycott over its grab of APWU work, isn’t affected), a hold on plant closings at least through April 2017, and a bar on further subcontracting of motor vehicle work.

On the minus side, employees’ share of health insurance premiums will go up—the one major concession management got.

How they did it

What worked? One factor was a change in attitude at union headquarters. The last contract was settled without arbitration, when the previous officers agreed to the three-tier system.

Angry at the giveaways in that deal, members unseated their top officers in 2013, voting in a slate of activists who pledged to “stop the bleeding” by involving members and resisting concessions.

This time the Postal Workers held out against management’s demands through a year and a half of bargaining, mediation, and arbitration. “We could have settled for a new contract last year,” President Mark Dimondstein wrote in a message to members. “But it would not have been an agreement acceptable or fair to you, the member.”

On the job, workers built pressure by wearing union shirts and buttons every Thursday with the message “Good Postal Service! Good Jobs! Good Contract!” To bosses, even a simple disruption of routine can be unnerving. Managers in San Francisco soon showed their ruffled feathers—they distributed official T-shirts and told workers to wear those on Thursdays instead. Some workers refused; others gamely put on management’s shirts, but decked them out with union buttons and stickers.

As the contract expiration neared last year, the union organized a day of action, holding “I Stand with Postal Workers” rallies in 130 locations around the country. Members handed out leaflets, talked with customers about the union’s plan to defend and expand postal services, and gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures on support postcards mailed to the Postmaster General.

Once arbitration began, the union brought dozens of workers to D.C. to testify about their on-the-job concerns. Goldberg wrote that especially “the impassioned testimony of the PSEs” moved him to reject the Postal Service’s push to expand the temp category any further.

“For the first time, I felt included in my own future at the Postal Service,” Ross said. “That I had some contribution to making a better life for thousands of employees across the country—it’s actually quite humbling.”

A house divided

A half-million postal workers make up the nation’s biggest unionized workforce, split among four unions.

The biggest are the APWU and the Letter Carriers (NALC), whose members deliver letters and packages door to door in cities. Smaller unions represent Rural Carriers and Mail Handlers, the latter a division of the Laborers union.

After the APWU agreed to three tiers in its 2010 contract, the Postal Service went after the other three unions for the same concessions. The Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers fought it to arbitration. In the end arbitrators imposed tiers, although both unions got better deals for their middle tiers than the APWU did—lower starting pay than first-tier workers, but the same top pay.

And all the unions ended up funneling their new hires into third-tier perma-temp categories, similar to PSEs: City Carrier Assistant, Mail Handler Assistant, and Rural Carrier Associate.

The APWU contract results are sure to loom large in the bargaining now underway for the Letter Carriers and Mail Handlers. The Rural Carriers have already settled their contract, agreeing to continue the tiered system—a fact that arbitrator Goldberg cited in his decision to impose the same on the APWU.

The relationship among the four unions had been testy since the ’90s. Leaders officially buried the hatchet in 2014 with the proclamation of a Postal Union Alliance.

The division “allows management to play one union against the other,” Dimondstein wrote. “We would be much stronger in future negotiations if all postal workers were united in one big postal union.”

UPS-set

A factor Goldberg weighed heavily was the poor standards at the Postal Service’s most obvious competitors. The law instructs arbitrators that postal workers’ pay and benefits should be comparable to the private sector.

In its successful case to preserve the PSE tier for clerks, management leaned on evidence that at UPS and FedEx, retail and mail processing workers earn even lower wages.

It’s no wonder that FedEx workers and retail workers at UPS are low-paid, since they’re nonunion. But it’s a scandal that the part-time union members who sort packages for UPS, a wildly profitable shipper, make so little per hour that they’re driving down standards in the public postal service. UPS new-hire sorters and loaders make $10 an hour and are guaranteed only three and a half hours of work a day.

For that, we can thank another union administration that’s gone along with tiers—the Teamsters. Members angry over contract givebacks there are running a reform slate for the union’s top offices this fall. A major theme in their campaign is the demand to end “part-time poverty” at UPS.

The APWU and UPS-Teamsters contracts will both expire in 2018. If reformers were at the helm in both unions, could we hope for a coordinated campaign to fight tiered pay in the entire package delivery industry?

This article originally appeared at Labor Notes, and Inthesetimes.com on August 15, 2016. reprinted with permission.

Alexandra Bradbury is a staff writer with Labor Notes.

Permalink



Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog