Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Gap Will End Scheduling Practices That Wreak Havoc On Workers’ Lives

August 30th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertIn a blog post on Wednesday, Andi Owen, global president for Banana Republic at Gap Inc., announced that the company will end the practice of on-call scheduling and commit to giving employees at least 10 days advance notice of their schedules.

All five of its brands will phase out on-call scheduling, in which employees are required to be available to work on a given day but not guaranteed that they will actually be asked to come in, by the end of September. They will also all provide workers with at least 10 to 14 days notice of when they’ll be working by early 2016.

The company says the changes come from an evaluation it’s conducted over the last year to improve its scheduling practices along with a pilot it launched in July of last year with the help of Professor Joan Williams of UC Hastings’ College of Worklife Law. But it also comes after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman began an investigation into the scheduling practices of 13 large retailers and whether they violated a New York state law and sent them all a letter. The investigation had already produced results: earlier this month, Abercrombie & Fitch announced it would end on-call scheduling in New York stores by the end of the year. Those employees will also get their schedules at least a week in advance. Victoria’s Secret, which also received a letter from Schneiderman’s office, has also ended on-call shifts.

Other brands received the letter but haven’t made changes yet, including Ann Inc. (owner of Ann Taylor), Burlington Stores, Crocs, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Sears, Target, TJX (owner of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s), Urban Outfitters, and Williams-Sonoma.

Starbucks’s scheduling practices also came under fire in a New York Times story last year, after which the company took quick action to end the practice of “clopening,” or shifts where employees close stores late at night and then have to come back in a few hours later to open them for the next day, and post schedules at least a week in advance.

But overall, employees often have to deal with erratic and difficult schedules. At least 17 percent of the American workforce has an irregular schedule, including on-call shifts, split shifts (two different shifts in one day), or rotating ones, although that is likely an undercount. Nearly half of part-time workers and just under 40 percent of full-time workers don’t find out their schedules until a week ahead or less. It’s concentrated in retail, where erratic schedules impact 27 percent of the workforce. One survey of retail workers in New York City found that 40 percent didn’t have a set minimum of hours they worked week to week and a quarter had on-call shifts.

Some lawmakers have looked at ways to address these problems. Earlier this year, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Patty Murray (WA), and Chris Murphy (CT) with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Bobby Scott (VA) re-introduced the Schedules that Work Act, which requires at least two weeks’ notice of schedules and pay for workers who get sent home before the end of their shifts or are on call but not asked to work. In San Francisco, legislation actually passed to require retail chains to give workers at least two weeks’ notice of schedules and pay employees for on call shifts that get canceled. Similar legislation has been proposed in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

Gap also announced that it was raising its minimum pay to at least $10 an hour early last year, a move that has since been followed by a number of large retailers.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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What the Boy Scouts Have to Do with Unions

August 30th, 2015 | Jackie Tortora

Jackie TortoraYou’d have to live under a rock to not be somewhat familiar with the Boy Scouts of America program. The Boy Scouts work to instill values in its young members and one of those values is workers’ rights on the job. Mainly, the ability to join and form unions.

Lanette Edwards of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1625 has stepped up to make sure that the next generation of young leaders to emerge from the Boy Scouts in Central Florida will be well-versed in the rights and challenges that America’s working families face. While the American Labor merit badge has been around since 1987, it isn’t one of the more well-known badges boys can earn. Edwards wanted to change that and started teaching classes in Tampa and Orlando. The response from Scouts, leaders and parents was overwhelming, with more than 150 attending the Tampa class (with 50 more being turned away because of space limitations) and another 75 in Orlando.

Edwards spoke to the importance of teaching labor to the Scouts:

“These boys are our next generation. We need to start early because there is already so much influence on them from big corporations and the news. These youth…need to know how it is with the middle-class workers. As we know, a lot of them will be in the workforce soon. Union jobs pay more. Or when they get their business degree and happen to be in management or own a business, they will be aware of unions and have more sympathy for their workers.”

Learn more about the curricula that Scouts must complete to earn the American Labor merit badge.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on August 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

 

 

 

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The Country’s Job Creators Are Increasingly Women Of Color

August 27th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertShelly Kapoor Collins had spent more than 10 decades in technology, but she felt that something was still missing from her career. “I knew that I loved tech, but I never quite understood the concept of working for someone else,” she said.

And eventually, the mother of a 10-month-old daughter who was pregnant with a son got sick of waiting for the right time to branch out on her own. So she decided to go ahead and launch her company, Enscient Corporation. And she couldn’t be happier.

“The lesson I learned is that you can’t wait for the right time, you have to be the one to pick the right time,” she said. Now she’s taken her experience in the tech world — first at MCI, then at Oracle — and put it to work serving clients in government. “It was chaotic, but I thrived on the chaos,” she said of her experience launching a company while parenting young children with her husband. “I felt like I had found what I was looking for and I could sink my teeth into it.”

It seems that a lot of American women have decided that it is their time to take the same dive. According to an analysis of new data on business creation from the Census Bureau conducted by the National Women’s Business Council, woman-owned businesses increased 27.5 percent between 2007 and 2012, adding 2.1 million to the total, outpacing the growth the 20 percent growth they saw in the five years before that. Women now run more than 36 percent of all businesses (that aren’t farms), up from just under 30 percent in 2007.

Businesses owned by men, meanwhile, just puttered along. They grew less than 6 percent between 2002 and 2007 and less than 8 percent between 2007 and 2012.

And companies run by women now employ 8.9 million people. In fact, the number of people working for a woman-owned business increased 19.5 percent, while it only increased 11.5 percent for those run by men.

The increases are even more dramatic for businesses started by women of color like Kapoor Collins, who is Indian American. Businesses owned by black women increased 67.5 percent between 2007 and 2012, versus less than 19 percent growth for those started by black men. Nearly 60 percent of all businesses run by a black person are now run by women. Hispanic women saw an even bigger gain, as their businesses increased more than 87 percent in the same time period compared to about 39 percent growth for Hispanic men. And those run by Asian American women grew 44 percent, compared to 25 percent for Asian American men.

Of course there are still far more companies run by men. The total came to nearly 15 million as of 2012, compared to 9.9 million owned by women.

And money can be a concern. Kapoor Collins has experienced funding hurdles firsthand. When she decided to launch a new product that helps politicians and nonprofits fundraise, she needed funding herself to get it up and running. Two things got in her way, though: one is the time demand of fundraising for someone with young children, and the other was plain sexism. “Men give to men, they raise from each other and give to each other,” she said. “It’s an old boys’ network. As a woman, it’s hard to tap into that.” In the end she decided to have her company fund the project itself.

It’s a well-known problem that women struggle to raise money. They only net 13 percent of of venture capital funding and get less than 5 percent of government contracts. Business school students are four times more likely to recommend investing in a company led by a man, something that holds true even with the exact same pitch.

And once they get up and running, women’s businesses can struggle to bring in the big bucks. The vast majority of companies they own bring in less than $25,000 in receipts and companies that size saw the highest rate of growth. Just 1.8 percent make it past the $1 million revenue mark, compared to 6.3 percent owned by men.

Still, Kapoor Collins thinks the trend of women starting companies will only continue thanks to the visibility of female businesswomen like Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer. “Women can’t be what we can’t see,” she said. But things have changed. “Mentorship is on the rise, contributing to more women doing and starting businesses.”

And her message to any woman who might be considering making that move herself: jump in. “The worst thing you can do is to not do it,” she said.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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Federal Judge: Home Care Workers Entitled to Minimum Wage and Overtime

August 27th, 2015 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth QuinnellIn a unanimous decision, a federal appeals court reversed a district court and ruled that the U.S. Department of Labor was within its authority to issue a rule change meant to provide home care workers with a minimum wage and overtime protections. The case is now remanded to the district court.

In 2013, the Labor Department announced rule changes under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would guarantee that workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities in their homes would have the same labor protections as other workers. But U.S. District Judge Richard Leon halted the change saying that Labor didn’t have the authority to make the rule change. On appeal, the higher court disagreed. U.S. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan wrote for the court: “The Department’s decision to extend the FLSA’s protections to those employees is grounded in a reasonable interpretation of the statute and is neither arbitrary nor capricious.”

Christine L. Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said she assumes that Labor now has the authority to implement the changes: “States would be well advised, and employers would be well advised, to take this decision as final and begin acting.”

As Think Progress reports:

This workforce, which is 90 percent female and half people of color, hasn’t been eligible for minimum wage or overtime pay since 1974, when they fell under the companionship exemption given the idea that they merely provided company to their clients. So while their average wages come to $9.61 an hournearly a third of those surveyed in New York City made less than $15,000 a year and nearly 40 percent of the entire workforce has to rely on public benefits to get by….

Home care workers are in a huge and rapidly expanding industry. Nearly 2.5 million people are employed in this line of work, making it one of the largest occupations, and the number of jobs is expected to grow 70 percent by 2020. Even so, demand is expected to outpace supply over the next decade as the country ages, something that could be eased with higher pay and benefits.

This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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The Upsurge in Uncertain Work

August 27th, 2015 | Robert Reich

Robert ReichAs Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don’t know how much they’ll be earning next week or even tomorrow.

This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.

It’s the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it’s happening at lightening speed. It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.

Increasingly, businesses need only a relatively small pool of “talent” anchored in the enterprise –  innovators and strategists responsible for the firm’s unique competitive strength.

Everyone else is becoming fungible, sought only for their reliability and low cost.

Complex algorithms can now determine who’s needed to do what and when, and then measure the quality of what’s produced. Reliability can be measured in experience ratings. Software can seamlessly handle all transactions – contracts, billing, payments, taxes.

All this allows businesses to be highly nimble – immediately responsive to changes in consumer preferences, overall demand, and technologies.

While shifting all the risks of such changes to workers.

Whether we’re software programmers, journalists, Uber drivers, stenographers, child care workers, TaskRabbits, beauticians, plumbers, Airbnb’rs, adjunct professors, or contract nurses – increasingly, we’re on our own.

And what we’re paid, here and now, depends on what we’re worth here and now – in a spot-auction market that’s rapidly substituting for the old labor market where people held jobs that paid regular salaries and wages.

Even giant corporations are devolving into spot-auction networks. Amazon’s algorithms evaluate and pay workers for exactly what they contribute.

Apple directly employs fewer than 10 percent of the 1 million workers who design, make and sell iMacs and iPhones.

This giant risk-shift doesn’t necessarily mean lower pay. Contract workers typically make around $18 an hour, comparable to what they earned as “employees.”

Uber and other ride-share drivers earn around $25 per hour, more than double what the typical taxi driver takes home.

The problem is workers don’t know when they’ll earn it. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.

So they have to take whatever they can get, now: ride-shares in mornings and evenings, temp jobs on weekdays, freelance projects on weekends, Mechanical Turk or TaskRabbit tasks in between.

Which partly explains why Americans are putting in such long work hours – longer than in any other advanced economy.

And why we’re so stressed. According to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.

Irregular hours can also take a mental toll. Studies show people who do irregular work for a decade suffer an average cognitive decline of 6.5 years relative people with regular hours.

Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.

For all these reasons, the upsurge in uncertain work makes the old economic measures – unemployment and income – look far better than Americans actually feel.

It also renders irrelevant many labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime – because there’s no clear “employer.”

And for the same reason eliminates employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

What to do?  Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.

We should aim instead for simplicity: Whatever party – contractor, client, customer, agent, or intermediary – pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours, should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.

Presumably that party will share those costs and risks with its own clients, customers, owners, and investors. Which is the real point – to take these risks off the backs of individuals and spread them as widely as possible.

In addition, to restore some certainty to peoples’ lives, we’ll need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.

Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you’ve received from all the jobs you’ve taken over the preceding five years. Under one form of income insurance, you’d automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.

But that’s not all. Ultimately, we’ll need a guaranteed minimum basic income. But I’ll save this for another column.

This post appeared in Our Future on August 24, 2015. Originally posted at RobertReich.org. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

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Why the Fed Isn't Close to Achieving Full Employment and Shouldn’t Be Discussing Raising Interest Rates—the Case of Black Workers

August 27th, 2015 | William Spriggs

William SpriggsThe recently released minutes of the last meeting of the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee revealed there was serious discussion of the fact the labor market still showed signs of weakness. A primary issue was the lack of evidence of strong wage growth, which would be a clear signal the labor market was tightening. This has unleashed the Wall Street bettors, who want a jump on the Fed’s changing monetary policy, giving them more active play on the bond market, where interest rate movements can fuel their gambling addiction. The voices being raised to have the Fed raise interest rates march out lots of theory to predict uncontrolled inflation, despite a global slowdown, falling oil and natural resource prices, and flat real wages. We must hope that the Fed makes policy based on what is good for the economy, not what is good for the reckless gamblers on Wall Street.

The current directive to the Fed comes from the Humphrey-Hawkins Act, which in 1978 established that the nation’s primary economic policy is to achieve full employment, within reason—not by creating unsustainable budget deficits or igniting uncontrollable inflation. Unfortunately, many have twisted the legislation’s purpose to their own ends, changing the act’s intent to balance budgets and maintain low inflation in hopes those policies don’t increase unemployment. The act does not place full employment on equal footing with fighting inflation; it merely constrains full-employment policy to a measure of prudence.

With that in mind, the Fed should understand it is not at full employment. In addition to wages rising with productivity, a main tenant of evidence of full employment, the Fed needs to embrace some additional senses of full employment. One is that discrimination would disappear, since it would become prohibitively costly in a full-employment economy.

A problem for the Fed is that there is little diversity in its staffing, which reflects the low level of diversity among economists. Economists have convinced themselves there is little to explain about the persistence of the disparity in black and white unemployment rates, the ratio of which remains stubbornly at 2-to-1. It is enough to assume there are lower skill levels among African Americans and societal structural issues that permanently disadvantage African Americans, and that these circumstances will persist no matter what the level of unemployment.

Of course, many economists do appreciate that this pat answer is hard to reconcile with the great sensitivity that the black unemployment rate has to the economy—a tightening labor market brings down the black unemployment rate at twice the rate for whites. That makes the structural argument difficult to maintain.

There is another key element. The unemployment rate gaps between blacks and whites are stubborn at every education level, and the gaps are glaring. In fact, what the unemployment rate gaps for blacks suggest is the old adage that blacks must be twice as good to compete in the labor market with whites. The unemployment rate for blacks with more education is similar to that of whites with less education. This is true for blacks at all education levels, from college graduates to associate degree holders to high school graduates. And it is very difficult to argue that those huge gaps do not reflect discrimination.

When the labor market tanks, and the number of unemployed workers per job opening goes up, the gaps faced by better educated blacks to less educated whites get wider. Black college graduates find themselves with unemployment rates closer to white high school graduates, and blacks with associate degrees find themselves with unemployment rates worse than white high school dropouts.

When the labor market tightens, unemployment rates for blacks with more education improve such that they are better than those of less educated whites, though still off the mark compared with equally educated whites. When employers are faced with two unemployed working people for each job opening, many stop seeing color and start seeing qualifications. Employers faced with a growing economy and smaller applicant pools find it would now cost to discriminate by passing over the qualified African American applicant. We don’t know what would happen if the nation maintained its commitment to full employment, because just as the black unemployment rates near parity with whites, our economic policy switches all reverse to slow the economy, increase unemployment and push blacks off the path to equality.

The Fed needs to see that its policies are part of that problem. Slowing the economy before we reach full employment means employers never have to raise wages nor understand the costs of their discriminatory practices.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on August 21 ,2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

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Female Executives Aren’t Just Paid Less, They Also Suffer More For Bad Performance

August 26th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertThere isn’t just a gender wage gap among the highest-paid employees in the country. Pay for female executives also drops further when companies perform poorly compared to men but rises less during good times.

In a new note about their research, Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists Stefania Albanesi, Claudia Olivetti, and Maria Prados find that if a company’s value drops by 1 percent, female executives’ pay will drop by 63 percent, while male executives only see a 33 percent decline. On the other hand, if value goes up by 1 percent men will get a 44 percent boost but women will only get a 13 percent increase.

This leads to cumulative losses for women but gains for men. The economists looked at pay for the top five executives in public companies — CEO, vice chair, president, CFO, and chief operating officer — in the Standard and Poor’s ExecutComp database between 1992 and 2005. Over that time, women’s pay dropped 16 percent while men’s rose 15 percent. If a company’s value increases by $1 million, male executives will net $17,150 more in compensation but women will only get $1,670. “So, overall,” they write, “changes in firm performance penalize female executives while they favor male executives.”

There is still a tiny number of female executives to begin with. They made up just 3.2 percent of the people in the roles examined by the New York Fed economists, while they account for 4.6 percent of CEOs at S&P 500 companies and a quarter of executive and senior officers. But even so, they are still paid less than their male peers. The New York Fed research found that female executives’ total compensation was just 82 percent of men’s. The highest-paid female executives at S&P 500 companies made 18 percent less than male ones in 2013, and female CEOs made less than 80 percent of what male ones made.

Several prominent female executives have recently demonstrated the severity of the pay gap at the top. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was paid less in her few years than the man who had the job before her and ended up fired. Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, got a pay package for her first year that was less than half of what the man who had the job before her made, although her long-term compensation package will be higher. The value of that package, of course, will depend on the company’s value over time.

But part of the disparity is the way that female executives get paid in the first place. In their research, the New York Fed economists found that women’s compensation is made up of less incentive pay than men’s, which accounts for 93 percent of the overall gender pay gap among them. The biggest gap is in bonuses: female executives get bonuses that amount to just 71 percent of male executives’. But they also get less in stock options and grants, getting just 84 percent and 87 percent, respectively, of what men get. The gap in stock options alone explains 41 percent in the overall gender gap.

While there’s a gender wage gap at the very top of the economy, it’s part of a problem that follows women in virtually every job. They get lower salaries right out of college and will make less than men at every education level. While many factors go into the gender wage gap, women’s career interruptions to care for children can only explain about 10 percent of it and the most ambitious women will still make less.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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The Real War on Families: Why the U.S. Needs Paid Leave Now

August 19th, 2015 | Sharon Lerner

sharon-lernerInvestigation reveals the devastating effects of the lack of paid family leave: Our data show nearly 1 in 4 employed mothers return to work within two weeks of childbirth.

Leigh Benrahou began laying plans to have a second child almost as soon as she had her first, a daughter named Johara, in 2011. Benrahou, 32, wanted to time the next birth so that when she returned to work, her mother, who works at an elementary school and has summers off, could babysit. Most importantly, Benrahou wanted to spend as much time as she could with her new baby while also keeping her relatively new job as the registrar at a small college.

While her husband, Rachid, 38, earns enough at a carpet cleaning company to cover their mortgage and food, without her paycheck they’d be forced to live close to the bone. And if she quit her job, Benrahou, who has a masters in nonprofit management, would take a big step backward in what she hoped would be a long career in higher education.

So Benrahou, who has wavy dark blond hair, blue eyes and a tendency to smile even through difficult moments, set about what may be the least romantic aspect of family planning in the United States: figuring out how to maximize time with a newborn while staying solvent, employed and, ideally, sane.

Only in America

Most people are aware that Americans have a raw deal when it comes to maternity leave. Perhaps they’ve heard about Sweden, with its drool-inducing 16 months of paid parental leave, or Finland, where, after about 9 months of paid leave, the mother or father can take—or split—additional paid “child care leave” until the child’s third birthday.

But most Americans don’t realize quite how out of step we are. It’s not just wealthy, social democratic Nordic countries that make us look bad. With the exception of a few small countries like Papua New Guinea and Suriname, every other nation in the world—rich or poor—now requires paid maternity leave.

Paid parental leave frees mothers and fathers from choosing between their careers and time with their infants. For women, still most often the primary caregivers of young children, this results in higher employment rates, which in turn translates to lower poverty rates among mothers and their children.

Research shows that paid leave can also be a matter of life and death for children. By charting the correlation between death rates and paid leave in 16 European countries, Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, found that a 50-week extension in paid leave was associated with a 20 percent dip in infant deaths. (The biggest drop was in deaths of babies between 1 month and 1 year old, though mortality of children between 1 and 5 years also decreased as paid leave went up.)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only about 13 percent of U.S. workers have access to any form of paid family leave, which includes parental leave and other time off to care for a family member. The highest-paid workers are most likely to have it, according to BLS numbers, with more than 1 in 5 of the top 10 percent of earners getting paid family leave, compared to 1 in 20 in the bottom quartile. Unionized workers are more likely to get benefits than nonunionized workers.

What do the rest of American women do without a law that guarantees this basic support? Some new mothers who don’t get paid leave quit their jobs, which can leave them desperate for income and have serious consequences in terms of work opportunities and lifetime earnings. Others may choose not to have children (though it’s impossible to definitively quantify how the difficulty of integrating work and childbirth factors into those decisions). And some try to stitch together their own paid leaves through accumulated vacation time and personal days, or through independently purchased insurance policies.

The best-laid plans

Though her employer doesn’t offer paid leave, Benrahou figured she’d create her own, taking time away from work through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which entitles new parents to up to 12 weeks off, unpaid. She knew all about the law’s loopholes—that, for instance, it only applies to workplaces that have at least 50 employees. Hers did; she wouldn’t have taken the job if it hadn’t. She knew, too, that she had to have worked for her employer for at least 12 months to qualify. That part was trickier.

She had started her job in February 2014, which meant that she wouldn’t qualify until the following February. She counted back nine months from then and got to May, but then, to be safe, tacked on another two months in case the baby came early, so: July. That’s when she and Rachid would start trying for a second.

Then there was money. Reluctant to lose 12 weeks of income, Benrahou decided to opt into her employer’s disability insurance policy, paying roughly $40 a month into the plan so she could receive 60 percent of her salary for up to six weeks of her maternity leave, plus an additional $1,000 toward the cost of her hospital stay. She would also save up her two weeks of annual paid vacation time.

Numbers crunched and policy purchased, Benrahou went off birth control on schedule in July and became pregnant within a month. But her carefully laid plans started to go awry in her 20th week, when she was diagnosed with placenta previa, which can result in early delivery. Despite some bleeding and cramping, and several brief hospital stays that used up her sick days, Benrahou stuck to her plan, working as much as possible after her diagnosis in order to save her precious vacation time. But, in late December, her water broke. Though her due date was April 1, Leigh Benrahou gave birth by C-section on Christmas Eve—too soon to qualify for FMLA leave or any payoff from her disability insurance.

Ramzi Benrahou was born at 26 weeks and just over 2 pounds. Knowing that 20 percent of babies born at his gestational age don’t survive, Leigh spent the first hours after the delivery singularly focused on her tiny son’s survival. He needed oxygen, since his lungs weren’t fully developed. And, when he was whisked away for medical attention, Benrahou had to attend to another crisis: She was the mother of a very sick baby, and her carefully constructed paid maternity leave had disintegrated. So, freshly stitched up and still groggy from anesthesia, she spread out her medical fact sheets, insurance policy papers and lists of phone numbers on her hospital bed and began to grapple with her new reality. Though her college was on winter break, which put off her return by about a week, Benrahou realized she’d have to go back to work when classes resumed on January 6, less than two weeks after giving birth.

Less than a month

Like Benrahou, most U.S. women end up returning to work sooner than they’d like—sometimes just weeks or days after having a baby. Just how soon they’re going back is difficult to determine. We know that most employers don’t offer paid leave, but no federal agency collects regular statistics on how much post-childbirth time off, paid or unpaid, women are actually taking.

Census data on employment patterns among first-time mothers show that between 2005 and 2007, more than half who worked during their pregnancy were back on the job within three months of giving birth. A 2008 study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Maternal and Child Health Bureau, meanwhile, found that the average length of maternity leave, when taken, was 10 weeks. But more recent data is scarce, even though the recession left many women living on razorthin margins, ratcheting up the pressure to rush back to work after giving birth.

How are new mothers faring in today’s age of austerity? Data analyzed for In These Times by Abt Associates, a research and evaluation company, provides a window into these experiences. Abt went back to a 2012 survey it conducted for the Department of Labor of 2,852 employees who had taken family or medical leave in the last year, looking specifically at the 93 women who took time off work to care for a new baby.

Nearly 12 percent of those women took off only a week or less. Another 11 percent took between one and two weeks off. That means that about 23 percent—nearly 1 in 4—of the women interviewed were back at work within two weeks of having a child.

The educational divide between those who took shorter and relatively longer leaves is striking: 80 percent of college graduates took at least six weeks off to care for a new baby, but only 54 percent of women without college degrees did so.

Pumping in the parking lot

What’s it like to be back on the job in the first weeks after having a baby?

For Natasha Long, who was back three weeks after her third child, Jayden, was born in 2012, the worst part was missing out on bonding time with her son.

Long, who was 29 at the time, was determined to make sure Jayden got breast milk. But the factory where she worked, ACCO Office Supplies in Booneville, Mississippi, didn’t have a lactation room. So when she was on breaks, she had to run out to her truck. She sat in the cab, worried that someone might see her, and pumped, while tears rolled down her face and over the plastic suction cups attached to her breasts.

Long cried because she wanted to be holding her baby rather than sitting in the parking lot of a factory in her old Yukon Denali. But exhaustion clearly also played a role in her emotional state. Her job was simple—to place stickers with the company logo on the bottom right-hand corner of plastic binders and then box up the binders. But the shifts were long—from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.—and she put in four or five a week. Because the factory was an hour’s drive from her home in Okalona, Mississippi, Long had only 10 hours left in the day to do everything else, including tend to her three children, spend time with Jayden’s father, and sleep. By the time she got back in the evening, her children, who were being looked after by her father during the day, were on their way to bed. To pump breast milk before leaving for work, she had to get up at 4 a.m.

After just a few days of this crazed schedule, Long began to develop strange symptoms, including a headache that never seemed to go away and a choking sensation that left her feeling breathless. She started biting her fingernails to the quick—something she’d never done before—and crying a lot. “I felt like I was alone,” says Long. “I wanted to fall off the face of the earth.” Long had never been depressed. But when she went to the doctor, he surmised that her physical symptoms were rooted in her mental state, which was itself rooted in her schedule. When her doctor said he thought she was depressed, Long worried that if child welfare authorities found out, they might take her children away. She had seen other people’s children put in foster care. But when her doctor prescribed her antidepressants, she took them.

Long is not the only one to suffer emotionally from a quick return to work. Research has shown that longer maternity leaves, whether paid or unpaid, are associated with a decline in depressive symptoms, a reduction in the likelihood of severe depression, and an improvement in overall maternal health, according to a working paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research. One national study of 1,762 mothers found that a one-week increase in maternity leave was associated with a 5 to 6 percent reduction in depressive symptoms from six to 24 months after birth. Another found that women who took less than eight weeks of paid leave experienced more depression than those who had longer leaves and were in worse health overall. Mothers who work more than 40 hours a week, as Long was, were more likely to be depressed than those who worked 40 hours or less, according to a study by Child Trends, a research center.

Women who go back sooner also tend to breastfeed less, which cuts into the benefits breast milk confers, including better immunity and lower rates of childhood obesity, allergies and sudden infant death syndrome. It was only through heroic efforts that Long was able to breastfeed Jayden until he was 1.

Shorter maternity leaves may also have a negative effect on the development of early motor and social skills and even, later, on vocabulary, according to several studies. So far, Jayden, 3, hasn’t shown signs of missing any developmental milestones. What nags at Long is the thought that her absence in those first few months might have affected their relationship. He refuses to call her “mama,” and although there’s no research to indicate this would be a result of failed early bonding, she still fears that’s the reason.

Too busy to fight

For low-income women, the lack of paid maternity leave is just one of many missing supports to help them stay afloat while bringing new life into the world. By the time Jayden was born, pregnancy had already put Long in a perilous financial situation. She was on bed rest for the last four and a half months of her pregnancy. Big Dollar, where she worked at the time, didn’t fire her for not coming in—but it didn’t pay her, either. So Long filed for public assistance, which required her to attend classes. Though Mississippi is supposed to exempt people who are physically unable to take such classes, and Long’s doctor had warned her to stay off her feet, she says she was denied benefits when she didn’t attend.

Family members pitched in to pay for her groceries and rent while she was unable to work, but by the time Jayden was born (healthy, at 37 weeks), Long knew she had reached the limit of their generosity. When she went back to work at the dollar store, they offered her only reduced hours. It wasn’t enough to repay her debts, so she went to an employment agency, made no mention of her days-old baby, and got her job at ACCO.

Other social supports are glaringly absent for U.S. mothers, especially poor ones, who fill waiting lists for scarce subsidized childcare spots and underfunded early education classes. In comparison, Sweden and Denmark spend roughly 10 times what we do on childcare per person.

Without adequate options or support, low-income workers, who are more likely to live paycheck to paycheck and less likely to have access to any type of leave, often have little choice but to power through. As our data confirm—and as finances dictate—less educated women, who tend to have lower-paying jobs, are likely to take less time off after having children. Often, that means not just going back to work early, but going back to very long work hours, very early.

Raven Osborne, for instance, a 22-year-old single mother in Tupelo, Mississippi, went back to work just one week after her first child, Kylan, now 2, was born in August 2013. In addition to being a full-time college student, Osborne was waitressing full-time at IHOP, but her earnings—tips plus a base salary of $2.13 an hour—weren’t enough to cover her rent, car payments and daycare costs. Perhaps ironically, her tips were much higher—sometimes more than $100 a shift—when she was visibly pregnant. But once she had the child, they went down again, so Osborne added a few overnight shifts at Texaco when Kylan was four weeks old, leaving the baby with his grandmother. Working upwards of 60 hours each week, the new mother barely saw her son, except when she got home from work, when she often fell asleep holding him. She could have taken unpaid leave from IHOP but chose not to because she needed the pay.

This winter, Osborne returned to work four weeks after her second child, Anthony, was born. Now she’s working full-time at a debt collection agency on top of several shifts at the nearby Coles supermarket.

“I don’t like asking for help” is how Osborne explains the frantic pace she’s kept up during her first year-and-a-half of motherhood. Her mother pitches in by watching the kids when she can, though she, too, has two full-time jobs—one at Walmart and another as an aide at a retirement community.

Clearly, women with low earnings are the least likely to have a financial cushion that allows them to forgo a paycheck. But it’s not only those on the bottom of the pay scale who can’t afford to take unpaid leave. More than 2.5 million employees need time off from work to care for themselves or another but can’t afford to take it, according to a 2012 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Tracy Malloy-Curtis, a fundraiser at a nonprofit in New York City, could have taken more time off, unpaid but with job security, after she had a baby a few years back. (“It’s a civil rights organization,” she explains, though she doesn’t want to name it because she still works in the field.) Instead, Malloy-Curtis, who is 43, married, and the primary breadwinner in her family, went back five and a half weeks after having a son—and a complicated C-section—for fear she otherwise could not afford to pay her mortgage and cover the other basic costs of her life.

“Physically, I was a wreck,” she says. An infection around her C-section wound hadn’t yet healed when she went back to work. “I was still bleeding, my incision wasn’t closed.” Pus dripped down her leg under her work clothes.

Those who do take leave may find themselves penalized afterward. Jackie Wheeler took six weeks of paid maternity leave after her son, Enzo, was born in 2011. Wheeler, who lives in Westminster, Colo., was working at the front desk of a local branch of Chase Bank. Though her son had severe medical problems as a result of being born early, Wheeler had intended to go back to her job. Before giving birth, she says, she had even been talking with her boss about interviewing for an assistant manager position. “I saw myself as moving along in the company,” she says.

But after she returned to work and Enzo was released from the hospital, she took another six weeks of leave. At that point, her boss told her he thought it was best that she resign—if he didn’t fill her position right away, he said, corporate headquarters would eliminate it. And Wheeler was too overwhelmed at the time to challenge him.

The birth of hope

While, in the United States, the lack of time off can too often turn new motherhood into a distressing ordeal, most other cultures treat this immediate post-natal period as a sacred time, when both the new mother and baby receive help and special attention. Throughout history and all over the world, people have tended to carve out a minimum of at least six weeks in which women are exempt from responsibilities other than child care, according to Malin Eberhard-Gran, a Norwegian public health scholar who has compiled a cross-cultural comparison of post-natal practices.

In some Muslim traditions, new mothers spend the first 40 days after birth in their mothers’ homes, for instance. Many Latin American cultures also bracket during the same period, known as la cuarantena (from the Spanish word for “forty”), and exempt women from work responsibilities. In some other countries, women are granted special treatment for even longer. Traditionally, women in Japan and India go to their mothers’ homes for several months after giving birth. And today, by law, the 30 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—democracies with market economies—provide an average of more than a year of paid leave.

Here in the United States, advocates have been fighting for a century to get new parents just a few weeks off with pay. But the tide may be turning. In 2002, California became the first state to pass a paid family leave law, which provides workers who need to care for a new baby with 55 percent of their usual weekly pay, to a limit of $1,104 for up to six weeks. New Jersey passed a similar law in 2008. And in 2013, Rhode Island granted workers up to four weeks off with pay for “family care,” including care of a new baby. Despite dire warnings from business interests, most employers in New Jersey and California (where programs have been in effect long enough to be studied) haven’t found that paid leave has hurt productivity, profitability or turnover. (Full disclosure: I was a co-author of the New Jersey study).

The Obama administration is attempting to build momentum for paid sick leave, one of the main ways women piece together paid maternity leave. In the 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama called on Congress to send him a bill guaranteeing U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave—but in early August, Senate Republicans blocked a Democrat-sponsored bill to do so. In the meantime, Obama has an executive order in the works that will extend a week of paid sick leave to all federal contractors, and his adminstration has issued $1.25 million in grants to study how paid leave programs can be developed in states. Labor Secretary Tom Perez, who has been outspoken on the issue, has spearheaded a #leadonleave campaign, in which he and White House aide Valerie Jarrett travel the country to boost local paid leave policies.

But, so far, even a Democratic administration committed to the issue hasn’t been enough to overcome resistance to it. When bills have been debated in states, Republicans have been so vehement that paid leave is bad for business and a “job killer” that legislation at a federal level has been assumed to be a no-go. And, at least until very recently, congressional Republicans have mostly scoffed at Democratic efforts. But for the first time, a bill proposed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) this spring that would provide benefits for workers who take time off to care for a new baby or sick family member was met with a counterproposal from Republicans, which would allow hourly workers to put overtime toward paid leave.

The issue is also clearly gaining ground in certain states, where at least ten family leave proposals have been introduced since March. Though Republican presidential candidates have had little to say about the issue, Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have both come out as strong proponents of paid leave. While Sanders has been more specific about his plan, calling for 12 weeks off, with pay, both are making a moral case to which there is no politically sound retort: Families need paid time off to take care of their new babies. Men, women and children will gain from this basic human dignity.

Barreling ahead

After three months, Leigh Benrahou only has a blurry recollection of her first weeks back at work just days after her premature son was born. “I remember walking really slow and wearing stretch pants and just making it happen,” she says hazily. She spent those early days cutting a path between the college; the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where Ramzi spent four months and underwent two stomach surgeries; her 3-year-old daughter’s daycare center; and her home, where, despite her exhaustion, she found it difficult to sleep.

At work, Benrahou tended to the needs of her students, whose questions about enrollment requirements and course changes occasionally provided distraction from her own, far graver problems. But mostly it was surreal—and painful—to be there. Climbing stairs was difficult because of her recent surgery. And pretty much every time she closed the door to pump breast milk, she wound up crying. Harder still was being away from her tiny baby, whose health was still so uncertain. Every time she got a call from the hospital when she was at work—and there were many—her stomach clutched.

“They say it’s like being on a roller coaster, [having a child] in the NICU,” says Benrahou. “But a roller coaster is fun. I wanted to throw up all the time.”

Benrahou didn’t throw up, though. Instead, like so many other American women, she barreled ahead, doing her best to both take care of her newborn and remain employed. Though she never got to take leave when and how she had planned, she was recently able to take 12 weeks off through the FMLA under the category of caring for a sick relative—in this case, her infant son. And now the woman who so painstakingly planned her family’s future doesn’t know what’s ahead. Ramzi’s long-term prognosis is unclear; he’s still on oxygen and has a feeding tube. About a quarter of babies born at 26 weeks go on to have lasting disabilities.

Benrahou’s hope is to keep working. And mostly she remains upbeat. But sometimes she can’t help but wonder whether Ramzi’s early birth was preventable; and whether continuing to work after her diagnosis so she could make the best of her miniscule amount of time off brought about Ramzi’s early delivery. It certainly wasn’t the way she planned it.

This article was supported by the Leonard C. Goodman Institute for Investigative Reporting.

This blog originally appeared on InTheseTimes.com on August 18, 2015. Reprinted with permission

Sharon Lerner is an award-winning investigative journalist living in Brooklyn. She is the author of “The War on Moms: On Life in a Family-Unfriendly Nation” and covers health, the environment and other issues affecting children and families.

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Remembering Day Davis – and Standing Up for Temp Workers

August 19th, 2015 | National Council for Occupational Safety and Health

COSH-networkAt 3 p.m. on August 16, 2012, Duquan “Day” Davis reported to work at a Bacardi bottling plant in Jacksonville, Florida. It was his first day on the job, on assignment for Remedy Intelligent Staffing, a temporary employment agency. For Davis, 21, a recent graduate of the federal Job Corps program, the temp job at Bacardi was his first job ever.

Less than two hours after showing up for his first shift, Davis was dead. The young worker had been sent to clean out broken bottles that were clogging a palletizer. While he was out of sight, the machine was started up again, crushing him to death.

In Feb. 2013, OSHA cited Bacardi for 12 safety violations and proposed $192,000 in fines against the company, finding that the firm had not trained temporary employees – or its full-time employees – on the lock out and tag out procedure that could have prevented the start-up of the machine that killed Davis. “A worker’s first day at work shouldn’t be his last day on earth,” said Dr. David Michaels, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health.

The fine against Bacardi was later reduced to $110,000. Remedy Intelligent Staffing – Davis’ actual employer – was never cited. The temp firm is part of the Select Family of Staffing Companies, America’s fourth-largest industrial temp agency, with $1.9 billion in revenue in 2012.

Davis’ story – and the heartbreak felt by the family and fiancée he left behind – is hauntingly told in the independent documentary “A Day’s Work.” The film was produced by David DeSario, himself a former temp worker. It features Barbara Rahke, executive director of PhilaPOSH and board chair of National COSH, and was screened at the National Conference on Worker Safety and Health in June of this year.

“A Day’s Work” is gaining attention at film festivals and from labor and safety audiences in cities across the country.  You can see the documentary at upcoming screenings  in Massachusetts, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, and Washington DC.

This year, some 14 million Americans will work on assignment to a temporary agency. Three years after Davis’ tragic death, only a few states have laws on the books that offer protections for temporary workers, among them Massachusetts and California.

  • In 2012, after successful lobbying by MassCOSH and other groups, Massachusetts passed the Temp Workers Right to Know Law. It requires agencies to key details of job assignments, in writing, to temp workers.
  • In 2014, following a push by WorkSafe, SoCalCOSH and other advocacy groups, the California legislature passed a law will requiring host employers and their staffing firms to take joint responsibility for the health, safety, and rights of temporary employees.

Too often, temp agencies and host employers still try to pass off responsibility for proper safety procedures. The host company says: “They’re not our employees.” The temp agency says, “It’s not our workplace.” As a result, workers fall through the cracks. A review of data in five states by the investigative news website ProPublica found that temps are 36 to 72 percent more likely to get injured at work than full-time employees.

That’s why safety advocates are calling for national standards. Recommendations from National COSH, the National Staffing Workers Alliance and the Occupational Health and Safety Section of the American Public Health Association include:

  • A clear definition of responsibilities of host employers and temporary staffing agencies in complying with the health and safety laws
  • A written policy specifying health and safety training requirements for temporary staffing agencies
  • Increased and better tracking of injury and illnesses for temps
  • Improved protocols when OSHA investigates incidents involving temporary employees.

For more information on temp workers, see the National COSH Campaigns page.

Also, check out upcoming screenings of “A Day’s Work” in Massachusetts, Colorado, Florida, New Jersey, and Washington DC.  To schedule a screening of “A Day’s Work” in your community, contact: [email protected]

This blog originally appeared at Coshnetwork.org on August 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

National COSH links the efforts of local worker health and safety coalitions in communities across the United States, advocating for elimination of preventable hazards in the workplace. “Preventable Deaths 2015,” a National COSH report, describes workplace fatalities in the United States and how they can be prevented. For more information, please visit coshnetwork.org. Follow us at National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on Facebook, and @NationalCOSH on Twitter.

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Uber Drivers Could Gain Thousands in Pay, Benefits as Full-time Employees

August 19th, 2015 | Jeffrey Chu

NerdWallet logoUber drivers in six major U.S. cities would receive paid holidays and health care benefits worth an average of $5,500 a year, plus thousands more in mileage reimbursement, if the company provided them with the same benefits as its full-time employees, according to a new NerdWallet study.

The California Labor Commissioner’s Office ruled in June that Barbara Berwick, who worked as an Uber driver for just under two months, was an employee of the company rather than a contractor. The ruling ordered Uber to reimburse Berwick $3,878 for mileage and tolls plus $274 in interest.

Similarly, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity decided in May that former Uber driver Darrin McGillis had been an employee, entitling him to unemployment benefits, according to a report in the Miami Herald.

While both decisions apply to the individuals involved only and Uber is appealing, if upheld, drivers across the nation could be motivated to seek status as full-time Uber employees.

The decisions related specifically to expenses and unemployment insurance. Drivers stand to gain even more if Uber recognizes them as full-time employees. Based on what Uber offers employees, drivers might expect:

  • Fully covered health insurance, including dental and vision benefits
  • Nine paid holidays
  • Business-driving reimbursement

Although the current rulings only apply to a few individuals, it may set a precedent for all drivers in the future. This analysis, while an estimate, is still an indicator of how much money is at stake.

Jeffrey Chu is an analyst covering insurance for NerdWallet. NerdWallet staff writer Aubrey Cohen contributed to this articleNerdWallet is a consumer-focused website dedicated to saving people money every day by helping them make better, more informed financial decisions.

 

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