Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The Other Victims of California’s Fires: Workers Inhaling Toxic Fumes

November 14th, 2018 | Brooke Anderson

With the death toll now standing at 42 and with some 7,200 structures destroyed, officials are now calling the wildfire in Paradise, CA (dubbed the “Camp Fire”) the deadliest and most destructive in California’s recent history. Two other massive fires—dubbed the Hill Fire and Woolsey Fire are simultaneously scorching Southern California.

As frontline firefighters—including many prison laborers—continue to battle the blaze while healthcare providers work around the clock treating fire victims, millions of other workers far away from the inferno are feeling a secondary impact: toxic smoke.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, over 160 miles away from the Camp Fire, air quality dramatically declined almost immediately after the fires broke out. Over the past week, AirNow, a government website reporting real-time air quality data has shown the Bay Area hovering between 150-200 on the federal Air Quality Index (AQI), surpassing 200 (or “very unhealthy” levels) in parts of the Bay. The higher the AQI value, the more polluted the skies are and the more concern there is for public health.

This week, the Bay Area also saw the second highest amount of fine particulate matter in the air ever recorded. This substance is not only made up of smoke from charred forests, but could contain everything that gets incinerated when residences go up in flames: cars, fuel, batteries, light bulbs, cleaning products, plastics, upholstery and more.

Public health officials have been advising residents of affected areas to stay indoors to avoid the unhealthy air that can lead to headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, eye irritation and worse.

However, for many workers who work outdoors for a living, that’s easier said than done.

While many white collar workers don protective masks to commute to office jobs where recirculated air conditioning provides some measure of protection from the smoky skies, hundreds of thousands of farmworkers, day laborers, landscapers, construction workers, public works employees and others have no choice but to work through the harmful haze—at great detriment to their health.

Many of these workers hail from neighborhoods and worksites already facing increased levels of toxins. Compounding the situation, these are also often the very same workers who are least protected by worker health and safety regulations.

“It’s been horrible,” says Kywanna Reed, who has been working 10-hour days outside this week as a traffic controller. “I wake up with headaches. I go to sleep with headaches. I have a headache right now, and a bag of headache medicine in the truck. My whole respiratory system is messed up. My coworker had a nosebleed and went home sick.”

Reed said her employer, American Construction & Supply Inc., did not provide masks to employees.

“Employers should pass out masks and you could choose to wear them or not,” says Reed, “But right now, they’re not doing anything.”

Other workers, however, say their employers are providing masks while verbally encouraging workers to protect themselves.

Cesar Fragoso, who works as a landscaper for Planting Justice, said the non-profit nursery in East Oakland passed out masks to employees.

“I work outside every day, weeding and transplanting plants. I can feel the smoke in my nose. My eyes started itching. I’ve been coughing. The masks help, but it’s tragic that we have to go through this in order for people to acknowledge what we are doing to the environment,” says Fragoso.

A 2017 news release from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) advises that “Employers with operations exposed to wildfire smoke must consider taking appropriate measures as part of their Injury and Illness Prevention Program under Title 8 section 3203 of the California Code of Regulations and as required under section 5141 (Control of Harmful Exposure to Employees).”

Those measures include “using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas,” “limiting the time that employees work outdoors” and “providing workers with respiratory protective equipment.”

However, as worker advocates note, holding employers accountable for taking such measures can be a challenge.

“Even though people we know from Cal/OSHA have made a tremendous effort, their presence in the field is so limited that it is really hard for them to do any kind of enforcement or implementation,” says Dinorah Barton-Antonio of the Labor and Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley.

Other workers say they wouldn’t use a mask even it was provided, citing the already highly dangerous nature of their industries. Sixty-three-year-old carpenter Ruel Bernard smelled the smoke and started sneezing this week as he hung siding at a residential construction site, but chose not to wear a mask.

“Us older generation of construction workers, our bodies have been toxic waste dumps from the get-go. I started working in New York in 1971, breaking down plastic walls, climbing around in attics filled with insulation and dust. Every day I hurt myself at work, so at some point you’re just like ‘Fuck it,’” explains Bernard. “I know that’s a dinosaur, macho attitude. But that attitude helps us survive in this industry.”

The idea that the smoke from the wildfires is just one ingredient in an already toxic soup of working conditions resonates in farmworker communities.

Lucas Zucker is the Policy Director at Central Coast United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which works with immigrant farmworkers in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. During last summer’s wildfires, CAUSE distributed N95 masks to workers in the field.

“Farm work is already dangerous on the day-to-day. This area has some of the highest use of toxic pesticides,” notes Zucker. “But then with the wildfires, the ag industry pushes to harvest their crop quickly to prevent damage to crops like strawberries and avocados. So we actually see an increase in production, with obvious implications for human health. Whereas a white collar worker might be able to take time off and have that paid, for farmworkers who get paid piece rate it’s hard for them to take that time off if they’re already living paycheck to paycheck.”

While much of the conversation in the Bay Area about protection from the smoke has focused on masks, some workers point to having power on the job—whether that be in the form of a union contract or worker ownership—as one of the largest factors in ensuring worker health and safety.

“We have a union here. It helps us get through things like this because I feel like we have some camaraderie and I can take steps to take care of myself without worrying that I’ll lose my job,” says Daniel DeBolt, who works as a deckhand on the ferry boats that shuttle tourists and commuters from Oakland to San Francisco and who has been experiencing headaches and fatigue all week.

Worker power on the job was also key for Dante Ortiz from Root Volume, a worker-owned landscaping cooperative.

“In 20 years of building gardens in wildfire-prone areas like Colorado and California, I’d never had a day where we had to pull out because of air quality, but that happened last Friday. We were doing heavy excavation, trenching for retaining walls. It’s hard work. You’re breathing heavily, which is the worst thing you could be doing,” says Ortiz. “So we all decided it was time to get out of there. Being in a worker cooperative gave us the agency to make that decision for ourselves.”

However, other workers like day laborers don’t have stable employment or consistent employers.

According to Gabriela Galicia, the Executive Director of the Street Level Health Project in Oakland, CA, “Workers stand on the corner for up to eight hours a day waiting for work. Many corners are already near toxic fumes, and now workers are out in the smoke too.”

Galicia notes that many workers are already thinking about heading north in search of work rebuilding fire-devastated communities, which carries its own risks to workers’ rights and their health. Worker exploitation and wage theft has marred reconstruction in post-disaster recovery efforts across the country.

“We’ve seen too many natural disasters where day laborers have been taken advantage of,” says Galicia. “They are human beings. They’re helping to rebuild. Treat them with dignity.”

As human-driven climate change intensifies and more of California becomes engulfed in flames, workers wonder whether toiling in toxic air is becoming “the new normal”—or if there can be a just transition to a new way of relating to land and labor.

CAUSE’s Lucas Zucker explains, “Ultimately, we need state or federal disaster aid that can fill in the gaps for workers exposed to disaster or toxic conditions so that they don’t have to make that horrible choice between putting food on their family’s table or being exposed to toxic conditions.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Brooke Anderson is an Oakland, California-based organizer and photojournalist. She has spent 20 years building movements for social, economic, racial and ecological justice. She is a proud union member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA 39521, AFL-CIO.

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Forced arbitration silences sexual harassment victims. After protests, Google finally got rid of it.

November 13th, 2018 | Jessica Goldstein

One week after 20,000-plus Google employees around the world staged a mass walkout to protest the company’s discrimination and its abysmal handling of sexual misconduct complaints against top-level executives — as the New York Times reported, multiple senior executives were granted multimillion-dollar severance packages or promotions after being accused of sexual violence — the company has announced revisions to its sexual harassment policy. Top of the list: An end to forced arbitration clauses.

In a memo to all employees, Google CEO Sundar Pichai detailed the changes employees could expect, and though the first bullet point about arbitration came with some defensive caveats (“Google has never required confidentiality in the arbitration process and arbitration still may be the best path for a number of reasons”), the change is a meaningful one that appears to be catching on among tech giants.

Chances are, you’ve signed a policy just like this one without even realizing it. As of 2017, more than half of American workers were bound by arbitration clauses, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

And if you didn’t sign one at work, you may have signed one elsewhere: In May, Uber announced it would be eliminating forced arbitration agreements for employees, riders, and drivers who make sexual assault or harassment claims against the rideshare company. Which means, until May, if you were an Uber rider, buried in the Terms & Conditions that virtually no one reads was language that forbade you from taking a sexual misconduct claim against Uber to the courts.

As the New York Times reported, Uber already allowed drivers and employees to get out of those agreements as long as they opted out within the first 30 days of signing their Uber contracts — but no such provision was in place for the riders.

Last December, Microsoft announced that it was eliminating forced arbitration agreements with employees who make sexual harassment claims. The company also declared its support for a proposed federal law that would essentially ban these still-commonplace agreements. “The silencing of people’s voices has clearly had an impact in perpetuating sexual harassment,” Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president and chief legal officer, told the New York Times.

And it was a forced arbitration clause that Fox Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes lorded over Gretchen Carlson, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2016. He fought back by pointing to the language in her Fox contract that barred her from bringing those claims to court and requesting that the court compel Carlson to engage in arbitration instead.

Carlson’s contract didn’t just stop her from bringing her claims to the justice system; it stipulated that “all filings, evidence and testimony connected with the arbitration, and all relevant allegations and events leading up to the arbitration, shall be held in strict confidence.” At least a dozen women reported similar experiences, with parallels not just to the initial harassment but with Ailes’ weaponizing of legal language in their employment contracts.

Other changes to Google’s sexual harassment policy, according to Pichai’s memo, include: “more granularity” around sexual harassment investigations and outcomes; an “overhaul” and consolidation of the means by which employees can report misconduct; “extra care and resources” for Google employees throughout the reporting process, with “extended counseling and career support”; and updated and expanded mandatory sexual harassment training, with failure to comply resulting in negative performance reviews.

Left unaddressed are workers’ demands that the internal harassment report be made public and that an employee representative be added to Google’s board. Only full-time employees are covered by the changes Pichai describes; contractors, vendors, and temporary workers are not.

Google Walkout For Change, the organizers behind last week’s mass demonstration, issued a statement that “commend[ed] this progress, and the rapid action which brought it about,” but called out what the workers’ perceive as the memo’s shortcomings. Mainly, “The company must address issues of systemic racism and discrimination, including pay equity and rates of promotion, and not just sexual harassment alone.”

Last year, Senators Lindsey Graham (R – SC) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) introduced legislation that would void arbitration agreements that prevent sexual harassment victims from seeking justice through the courts. It also allows victims to file EEOC complaints in addition to pursuing legal action in court, and it prevents employers from compelling arbitration, even in cases where the employee already signed an agreement with a forced arbitration clause.

A bill similar to the one introduced in the Senate, the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Harassment Act of 2017, was introduced in the House by Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL). It
has bipartisan support and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee. In 2019, with a Democratic majority in place, the House might actually pass it.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jessica M. Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress.

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House Democrats plan to grill Labor Department officials about tip and child labor policies

November 12th, 2018 | Casey Quinlan

After winning back the House on Tuesday, Democrats plan to grill Labor Department officials about some of their proposals, which they have safety and transparency concerns about.

Democrats have long had questions about the U.S. Department of Labor’s approach on issues such as child labor in health care jobs and not informing the public about an analysis that did not favor one of their proposed regulations on tipping.

Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who will be chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, told Bloomberg Law about his plans and said, “If you’re having a regulatory change, the law requires you to produce the evidence to support the change.”

In December, the department proposed a rule rescinding parts of Obama-era tip regulations and allow employers who pay the minimum wage to take workers’ tips. The department said it would allow “back of the house” workers, such as dishwashers and cooks, who don’t typically receive tips, to be part of a tip-sharing pool. But the rule wouldn’t actually prevent employers from just keeping the tips.

According to Economic Policy Institute research, tipped workers would lose $5.8 billion a year in tips as a result of this rule. Women in tipped jobs would lose $4.6 billion annually.

After doing an internal analysis of the proposal, Department of Labor decided to scrub it from its proposal after it also discovered workers would be robbed of billions of dollars. Staff then changed the methodology to get a more favorable analysis, but Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team were reportedly unsatisfied with even that analysis, so with the approval of the White House, they took it out. Later reports from Bloomberg showed that White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) staff said the proposal of changes to tipped worker pay rules should include professional estimates of the impact for tipped workers but Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget and acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, worked with Acosta to scrap the analysis entirely, Bloomberg Law first reported.

In December, Saru Jayaraman, president of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a non-profit that advocates for improvement of wages for low-wage restaurant workers, said the proposed rule would push a majority-women workforce “further into financial instability, poverty, and vulnerability to harassment and assault.”

Democrats on the committee, as well as other Democrats in Congress, wrote a letter to the department in February stating that if the department withheld the analysis, it “raises serious questions about the integrity of the Department’s rulemaking process.” They also demanded more information about meetings and further communication about the analysis.

Democrats also wrote a letter to Acosta and Mulvaney in August citing their concerns about a department proposal to allow teenagers to work more hours in health care positions that under current regulations, are considered unsafe for them. The department has said that exempting power-driven patient lifts from these regulations makes sense because use of the equipment would be “safer for workers than the alternative method of manually lifting patients.”

The department has said that teenagers would have to receive 75 hours of training and at least 16 hours of supervision by a nurse in the proposed rule.

But in their August letter, Democratic lawmakers said they want scientific reviews from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“While we believe in expanding job opportunities for young workers, I am sure you would agree that this should not be done at the expense of their health, safety, and lives,” Democratic members of Congress wrote.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

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Democrats have the House. They should use it to show how they'll fight back in the war on workers

November 9th, 2018 | Laura Clawson

Winning the House doesn’t just let Democrats block some of the worst things Donald Trump wants from Congress. It also offers a chance to show what Democrats would do if they had the chance. For years Democrats have been introducing great legislation that Republicans would never allow to even come to a vote. Now is the chance to pass some of that in the House and let Senate Republicans explain why they’re not taking action.

Let’s start with the minimum wage. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009, while red states like Missouri and Arkansas (most recently) have voted to increase it, showing how deep and broad voter support is. Democrats should be able to pass a substantial minimum wage increase in the House quickly.

Democrats should pass a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act to strengthen protections for pregnant women and prevent abuses like these.

Paid family leave. Sick leave. Protections for Dreamers. These are all obvious, necessary things with widespread support.

But you can go deeper: “Workers should not be forced to sign away their rights as a condition of employment,” Celine McNicholas and Heidi Shierholz write. Democrats should undo one of the worst recent Supreme Court decisions with the Restoring Justice for Workers Act, which allows workers to have their cases against employers heard in a real court, not a rigged arbitration process.

No, this stuff isn’t going to get through the Senate or Donald Trump. But Democrats, show us what you would do if you could. Let the country know that while Republicans use Congress and the presidency to dismantle health care and give big tax breaks to corporations, Democrats would use it to raise the minimum wage and protect pregnant workers and let workers have their day in court.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on November 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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

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Hiding Injuries at Tesla: Where The Worker Still Doesn’t Matter.

November 8th, 2018 | Jordan Barab

Under-recording of workplace injuries and illnesses is bad, and far too common. But at the automaker Tesla, in Fremont, California,  under-recording is more than a paper exercise in deception — at Tesla it means withholding needed medical treatment of injured workers so that their injuries aren’t report on OSHA logs.

We wrote previously about reports that workers are getting hurt at Tesla and that many of those injuries are not being recorded.  Earlier this year, Reveal reporters Will Evans and Alyssa Jeong Perry documented how Tesla put style and speed over safety, undercounted injuries and ignored the concerns of its own safety professionals. CalOSHA has inspected the company a number of times and found recordkeeping violations.  Now Evans shows the many ways that Tesla is keeping injuries off the OSHA logs.

Despite a clear pattern of inaccurate reporting, federal OSHA is unable to cite patterns of under-reporting after Congress repealed OSHA’s “Volks” regulation at the beginning of the Administration. Throughout OSHA’s history, the agency had been able to cite employers who violated OSHA’s requirement to keep accurate records for five years. OSHA had issued a regulation addressing a court ruling against that practice, but Congress used the Congressional Review Act to repeal it. No OSHA can’t cite recordkeeping violations longer than 6 months before a citation is issued, making it impossible to cite patterns of violations like those committed at Tesla.

California has modified these restrictions slightly by allowing the agency to cite employers for recordkeeping violations six months from when Cal/OSHA first learns of the violation, instead of six months from when the violation occurred. But the bill was signed too late for the agency to take action against Tesla.

Background

Under-reporting injuries and illnesses on OSHA logs is nothing new.  Unlike fatality reporting, injury and illness reporting is conducted by employers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated in 2016, that nearly 3.7 million workers across all industries, including state and local government, had work-related injuries and illnesses that were reported by employers. But due to documented and widespread underreporting of workplace injuries, experts estimate that the true number is closer to  7.4 million to 11.1 million injuries and illnesses a year — two to three times greater than BLS estimates.  Much of the undercounting is the result of employers discouraging workers from reporting injuries and illnesses, either through direct retaliation or through more subtle means such as incentive programs or retaliatory drug testing.  That’s why OSHA’s “electronic recordkeeping regulation,” issued in 2015, forbids employers from retaliating against workers for reporting injuries and illnesses. The Trump administration recently issued a memo weakening the enforcement of that language.

In order to understand Tesla’s strategy, you need to understand how OSHA defines a “recordable injury.” According to OSHA regulations, work-related injuries must be recorded on OSHA injury logs if they require medical treatment beyond first aid, if they result in days away from work or if the worker is assigned job restrictions due to the injury.  Tesla’s practices were designed to avoid anything that triggers recording, according to former medical personnel who worked at Tesla.

To ensure that fewer injuries would be recorded, Tesla hired Access Omnicare, headed by hand surgeon Dr. Basil Besh, to run its factory health center. Access Omnicare promised Tesla it could help reduce the number of recordable injuries and emergency room visits. Reveal obtained a copy of Access’s proposal which stated that  “Access Omnicare’s model, with more accurate diagnoses, reduces “un-necessary use of Emergency Departments and prevents inadvertent over-reporting of OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) recordability.”

“Over-reporting?”

How to Under-count at Tesla? Let Me Count the Ways

To under-record, and under-record effectively requires some creativity.

Access Omnicare had a rule that injured employees could not be given work restrictions. According to a former Access physician assistant, Anna Watson.

No matter what type of injuries workers came in with – burns, lacerations, strains and sprains – clinic staff were under instructions to send them back to work full duty, she said. Watson said she even had to send one back to work with what appeared to be a broken ankle.

A medical assistant who formerly worked at the clinic remembered an employee who was sent back to work even though he couldn’t stand on one of his feet. Another employee passed out face down on the assembly line – then went back to work.

“You always put back to full duty, no matter what,” said the medical assistant.

Ambulances were highly risky as well, if your goal is to hide serious injuries.  Tesla forbids staff from calling 911 without permission after workers have been injured –even when fingers have been severed or employees have suffered serious injuries. Instead they put them in a Lyft or Uber and send them to a clinic after which they’re put back on the assembly line with no work modifications, even if they can barely walk. One worker’s back was painfully crushed when a hood fell on him. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t even stand up straight,” Stephon Nelson recalled. But Tesla refused to call 911 or send him to the hospital in an ambulance, putting him in an Uber instead.

Why? To save money? More likely because “911 logs become public records. And first responders, unlike drivers for ride-hailing services, are required to report severe work injuries to California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, the state’s workplace safety agency.”

Other tactics Tesla used were to claim that some injuries and illnesses were not work-related and refuse treatment to temporary employees:

Watson recalled one worker who had passed out on the job and went to the hospital because of her exposure to fumes in the factory. Even though a work-related loss of consciousness is required to be counted, no such injury was recorded on Tesla’s injury logs.

Temp workers hurt on the production line also were often rebuffed by the clinic, said former clinic employees. At one point, there was a blanket policy to turn away temps, they said.

Tracy Lee developed a repetitive stress injury over the summer when a machine broke and she had to lift car parts by hand, she said. Lee said the health center sent her away without evaluating her because she wasn’t a permanent employee.

By law, Tesla is required to record injuries of temp workers who work under its supervision, no matter where they get treatment. But not all of them were.

Beware the Night

Getting hurt during the day is bad enough. But getting hurt at night is especially dangerous because there are no doctors or nurses on duty.

Two medical assistants who used to work there said they often were left on their own – one on duty at a time – and struggled to tend to all the injured. Both had to do things such as take vital signs, which medical assistants aren’t allowed to do without on-site supervision, according to the Medical Board of California. Reveal granted them anonymity because they fear speaking out will hurt their careers. Dr. Basil Besh said no one works alone. Besh is hand surgeon who owns Access Omnicare which

For a severely injured worker lying on the assembly line, it could take 10 to 15 minutes for a medical assistant to arrive and then contact on-call doctors, a medical assistant said. Getting a code for Tesla’s Lyft account was a drawn-out process that could take hours, she said.

The medical assistants said they were alarmed and uncomfortable with the doctors’ orders to use Lyft because they worried some patients could pass out or need help en route. One worker directed to take a Lyft was light-headed and dizzy. Another had his fingers badly broken, contorted and mangled.

Moving Right Along

And despite promises from Tesla CEO Elon Musk to do better, Tesla has not cleaned up its act, according to Watson:

Many more injured workers never were counted, she said.  Tesla’s official injury logs, provided to Reveal by a former employee, show 48 injuries in August. Watson reviewed the list for the three weeks she was there and estimated that more than twice as many injuries should have been counted if Tesla had provided appropriate care and counted accurately.

And despite the fact that there is evidence that Tesla is violating the law, CalOSHA has not responded to the information Watson supplied to them.

Watson called Cal/OSHA officials to insist they investigate her complaint. She told them that she had detailed knowledge of a system that undercounted injuries by failing to treat injured workers. But Cal/OSHA officials told her that it wasn’t the agency’s responsibility, she said. They suggested contacting another agency, such as the medical board or workers’ compensation regulators.

Watson, meanwhile, has moved on to a new job

She said she just wants someone to make sure that Tesla workers get the care they need. “You go to Tesla and you think it’s going to be this innovative, great, wonderful place to be, like this kind of futuristic company,” she said. “And I guess it’s just kind of disappointing that that’s our future, basically, where the worker still doesn’t matter.”

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on November 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab wasDeputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

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Minimum wage increases pass in Arkansas and Missouri

November 7th, 2018 | ThinkProgress Staff

Voters in Arkansas and Missouri have approved a ballot initiative that would significantly raise the minimum wage in their states, affecting nearly 1 million workers.

Despite President Donald Trump carrying both Arkansas and Missouri during the 2016 election and disapproval from Republican state legislatures, voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of a minimum wage hike, with 68 percent in favor in Arkansas and 61 percent in favor in Missouri.

In Arkansas, the current $8.50/hour minimum wage will be gradually increased to $11/hour by 2021, while in Missouri, the state’s measly $7.85/hour minimum wage would slowly reach $12/hour by 2023. That amounts to $455 million more in pay for Arkansas workers by 2021 — an average of $1,520 each — and more than $1 billion for Missourians by 2023, a total of roughly $1,485 per worker.

According to Rewire, the people most affected by the ballot initiatives are working women and mothers. Amy Wilson, a single mother of three children, works as a school custodian in Russellville, Arkansas and told the publication that an extra $1,520 in her pocket means a lot. She said she would be able to take care of “a lot of minor needs [that] add up over time,” like replacing car tires or buying clothes for her children somewhere other than Salvation Army.

While President Trump likes to boast that the economy is booming and wages are increasing, not everyone is feeling the effects. There are millions of workers across the country who work full-time, yet can’t afford to make rent every month or cover medical expenses.

Arkansas and Missouri join a growing list of states where wages have been raised in the face of the stagnant $7.25 federal hourly minimum wage.

Because both state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, fair wage activists have found that navigating politicians by raising the minimum wage via ballot initiatives is most effective. The legislature, however, could still react negatively to the results of the ballot initiative.

Such backlash would hardly be unprecedented. In Washington, D.C., the city council recently overruled its constituents by reinstating a tipped wage, and in Missouri, state lawmakers passed a law that prevented cities from raising the minimum wage on a municipal level. The law prevented St. Louis workers from earning a $10/hour minimum wage.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 7, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

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New Koch Brothers-Funded Super PAC Looks to Capitalize on Janus Decision Ahead of the Election

November 6th, 2018 | Eric Bradach

On the cusp of the midterm elections, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a right-wing political advocacy organization founded by the billionaire Koch brothers, has endorsed eight GOP House incumbents in the hopes of weakening labor groups’ influence in Washington and ensuring that the AFP’s political agendas remain a priority in Congress.

AFP is a Koch-funded organization whose agenda is in line with other groups—such as Concerned Veterans for America, which is also funded by the Koch brothers—that work against progressive initiatives and protections for labor unions, healthcare reform and any effort to combat climate change, says David Armiak, a researcher for the Center for Media and Democracy, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit watchdog group.

On August 31, AFP endorsed eight GOP House incumbents as its “policy champions”: Peter Roskam (R-Ill. 6th), Dave Brat (R-Va. 7th), Ted Budd (R-N.C. 13th), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio 1st), Will Hurd (R-Texas 23rd), Erik Paulsen (R-Minn. 3rd), Rod Blum (R-Iowa 1st) and David Young (R-Iowa 3rd).

“AFP will fully activate its grassroots infrastructure through phone banks and neighborhood canvassing, as well as deploy targeted digital, mail, and radio advertising” to support these candidates in their upcoming elections, the organization writes in a statement.

While it’s hard to know the specific reason that the AFP singled out these eight GOP incumbents as its “policy champions,” the AFP has “correctly recognized that these are candidates who are vulnerable,” says Alexander Hertel-Fernandez, a political scientist and public affairs professor at Columbia University. According to the nonpartisan election analyst the Cook Political Report, many of them are in toss-up races. In three of the elections, Ill.-06, Iowa-01 and Minn.-03, polls currently lean Democrat.

Armiak says AFP’s newly formed super PAC, Americans for Prosperity Action (AFPA), allows all Koch brother-funded groups to consolidate their spending power into a single political ad-buying powerhouse. This makes it more challenging for an experienced researcher, such as Armiak, to track the money funneling through the Koch brothers’ political network.

“[The groups] are reorganizing their spending filing to make it more complicated,” Armiak says. “It’s a sophisticated network and difficult to figure out and will take a while to study to truly understand how it operates.”

This can be worrisome to progressive interest groups that AFP and Koch brother affiliates typically work against—such as those pushing for healthcare reform and environmental advocacy—because it allows AFP to spend more money against such interest groups with little disclosure of where their funds come from.

Organized labor groups especially may be negatively impacted after the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision this June. “[AFP wasn’t] directly involved in the Janus decision but heavily supported it,” Hertel-Fernandez says. The decision means right-to-work laws, which prohibit unions from charging non-members fees regarding union services like collective bargaining, now apply to the public sector. This could benefit AFP and its endorsed candidates because it could lessen the financial strength of unions, which will inevitably hurt their lobbying abilities in Washington, according to Hertel-Fernandez.

It’s likely AFP and the Koch brothers are eyeing the Janus decision as an opportunity to use it as justification to support federal right-to-work laws in the private sector, too, Hertel-Fernandez says. AFPA is a new weapon that allows the AFP to spend exorbitant amounts of money to support candidates who will push for private sector right-to-work laws, which are currently applied in 27 states.

As a super PAC, AFPA is not restricted to any donation or spending limits. While it is illegal for a super PAC to coordinate with political candidates, it can spend unlimited amounts to support any candidate it chooses with methods such as advertising and canvassing. Donors to AFPA know that if they want their agendas advanced, they have to keep financially supporting congressmen that have proven to be a strong return on investment by voting on legislation that suits their interests, says Hertel-Fernandez. The eight GOP incumbents AFP has endorsed have historically been aligned with the Koch brothers’ libertarian ideology and political interests.

“To Charles and David Koch, politicians are just actors who are just a means to an end. They are looking for people who will just do what they ask them to,” Hertel-Fernandez says. “They are willing to work with anyone to pursue [their] agenda.”

The Koch brothers and their political network are clearly focused on maintaining influence in Congress. But as we head into the polls today, political analysts and pundits are predicting a blue wave that might just thwart the Koch brothers’ attempt to keep control of the House.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Eric Bradach is an editorial intern for In These Times.

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Trump economic adviser calls federal minimum wage a 'terrible idea'

November 5th, 2018 | Laura Clawson

Larry Kudlow, one of Donald Trump’s top economic advisers, took some time the week before Election Day to call the federal minimum wage a “terrible idea.” Y’see, when it comes to the cost of living, “Idaho is different than New York. Alabama is different than Nebraska.” No! You don’t say! And in none of those places does working full-time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour allow a person to afford rent.

In fact, lots of states and cities have increased their minimum wages. Nebraska voters raised their state’s minimum wage in 2014—it’s now $9. New York’s minimum wage is now $10.40 an hour and slated to go up to $11.10 at the New Year. Idaho and Alabama are at that federal poverty wage of $7.25 an hour, but Republicans in Alabama stepped in to stop Birmingham from raising its minimum wage to $10.10. 

Local control is not what Kudlow is advocating, though:

“I would argue against state and local [increases],” Kudlow said. “But that’s up to the states and localities.”

Big of him, I guess, but if it’s something he’d grudgingly allow rather than something he’s arguing for, then the position that the federal minimum wage is a “terrible idea” boils down to “I don’t like the minimum wage at all and think companies should be able to pay as little as they can get away with.”

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on November 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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

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Google employees demand company do something about sexual harassment and pay inequality

November 2nd, 2018 | Casey Quinlan

All over the world, employees at Google are demonstrating that they won’t tolerate sexual harassment, low pay, and other poor working conditions. Google workers in  London, Zurich, Dublin, Berlin, Tokyo, and Singapore organized walkouts on Thursday. U.S. workers in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, and Mountain View, California have also walked out.

Workers were responding to a New York Times article from last week that showed the tech company paid millions of dollars to male executives who were accused of sexual harassment and kept it a secret. One of these executives, Andy Rubin, was given a $90 million exit package despite a woman’s credible claims of sexual violence.

Google staff have decided to leave notes on their desks that read, “I’m not at my desk because I’m walking out with other Googlers and contractors to protest sexual harassment, misconduct, lack of transparency, and a workplace culture that’s not working for everyone,” according to the BBC.

According to a 2017 Women in Tech survey, 53 percent of female tech employees said they had experienced harassment when working in tech and 63 percent of women said it happened two or three times. Twenty three percent of women who experienced harassment said they reported the incident to senior leadership and 16 percent reported it to HR. Thirty-five percent of those workers who reported said they suffered repercussions and only 9 percent said their harassers experienced consequences for their actions.

Workers also have a specific set of demands for management, including a commitment to end pay and opportunity inequality, disclosure of sexual harassment to the public, an inclusive process for reporting sexual misconduct safely and anonymously, having the chief diversity officer answer directly to the CEO, appointing an employee representative to the board, and ending forced arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination. The latter demand would apply to both current and future workers at Google. The chief diversity officer would also make recommendations directly to the Google’s board of directors.

Issues such as forced arbitration and nondisclosure agreements have received more attention after a slew of news stories broke last year showing powerful men had long histories of sexual harassment and violence — and that for decades, they got away with it.

In October, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced legislation that would ban mandatory arbitration and class and collective action waivers in labor matters. Earlier this year, Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced a bill to prohibit certain kinds of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) that aid to silence sexual harassment victims.

Brenda Salinas, a Google employee in London, told The New York Times that although she did not participate in the walkout due to an injury, she supported it.

“Last week was one of the hardest weeks of my yearlong tenure at Google, but today is the best day. I feel like I have thousands of colleagues all over the world who like me, are committed to creating a culture where everyone is treated with dignity,” she told the Times.

Sundar Pichai, the company’s chief executive, said on Wednesday that “Employees have raised constructive ideas for how we can improve our policies and our processes” and that “We are taking in all their feedback so we can turn these ideas into action.”

Google workers have been trying to address issues of inequality and gender and racial biases in their workplace for years. One example of this tension is the 10-page memo authored by James Damore that was circulated throughout the company last year and that opposed hiring that considered racial and gender diversity in tech. Damore suggested that women were biologically unsuited for advancement in tech and listed personality traits he said women have more of. Damore wrote, “Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance). This may contribute to the higher levels of anxiety women report on Googlegeist and to the lower number of women in high stress jobs.”

Damore was eventually fired in August of last year, after the memo was leaked to the press. Last year, the Department of Labor also reviewed a sample of compensation data for Google. The department  has accused the Google of “extreme” discrimination against female employees and said there is a “systemic” gap in pay between men and women at company. Google has resisted giving the department all the data it has on the matter, and in July of last year, an administrative law judge sided with Google and said the request was “unduly burdensome.”

Now there is a revised gender-pay class action lawsuit against Google that adds a complainant and says Google asked people for their prior salaries before hiring them, according to TechCrunch. California recently passed a law that doesn’t allow employers to ask applicants about their previous salaries. If someone discloses that information without being asked, the employer is not supposed to consider it when deciding how much they should be paid. On Friday, the class action moved forward with a hearing in San Francisco.

Google spokesperson Gina Scigliano told TechCrunch in January, “We disagree with the central allegations of this amended lawsuit … We work really hard to create a great workplace for everyone, and to give everyone the chance to thrive here.”

Across the world, employees are showing Google they disagree.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

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Equal Pay for All

November 1st, 2018 | AFL-CIO Now

Today is Latina Equal Pay Day, the day in the year when Latina pay catches up to that of white, non-Hispanic men. That means Latinas work nearly 23 months to make what white, non-Hispanic men earn in one year.

More than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women still get paid less for the same work. But women of color—Latinas especially—experience the widest wage gap for the same jobs.

While it’s shameful that women are still fighting for equal pay, there are steps we can take to close the gap. The best way is to join a union. Through union contracts, women have closed the wage gap and received higher pay and better benefits. In fact, union women earn $231 more a week than women who don’t have a union voice.

When women are represented by unions and negotiate together, they have the power to create a better life.

Check out some facts below about Latina Equal Pay Day, and learn more from AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler here.

  • Latinas get paid only 53 cents to every dollar a white, non-Hispanic man makes—the largest gap in the nation.
  • Latinas must work 23 months to earn what a white man does in 12 months.
  • The average weekly earnings for Latinas is $621, compared to the $815 that white, non-Hispanic women bring home every week.
  • Latinas in unions earn 48% more.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on November 1, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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