Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Groups Petition OSHA to Issue Heat Standard

July 18th, 2018 | Jordan Barab

Peggy Frank, a 63-year-old California postal worker — and also a mother and grandmother — died last week while working her usual route in unusually hot weather. Frank’s heat-related death was not a freak occurrence, nor was it unusual.

“An average of more than 2.2 million workers in the agriculture or construction industries worked in extreme heat each day,” according to according to a report released yesterday by Public Citizen, in support of a petition by more than 130 organizations for an OSHA heat standard.  High heat — and especially working in high heat — can cause serious heat-related illnesses and death. It can also worsen other conditions such as heart disease and asthma.

The report cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics which concludes that “exposure to excessive environmental heat stress killed 783 U.S. workers and seriously injured 69,374 workers from 1992 through 2016,” and these numbers are probably significantly underestimated because many heat-related deaths are registered as heart attacks. Construction workers and farm workers are the occupations most at risk.

Although it seems hard to believe, almost 50 years after OSHA was created, the agency still has no occupational heat standard. High heat has been plaguing workers for a long, long time — pretty much since God said “Let there be light.” We’ve known about the hazards of heat stroke and how to prevent them for a long time as well.

And, of course, the problem has gotten much worse since the beginning of time. The groups petitioning OSHA — which include Public Citizen, Farmworker Justice, Interfaith Worker Justice, the Natural Resources Defense Council, United Farm Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers Union and several other labor unions —  tied the need for an OSHA heat standard to global warming which is significantly increasing the risk to workers. The petition noted that

Global warming is resulting in more frequent days of extreme heat, and record-breaking summers are now becoming the norm. 2017 was the second-hottest year on record, surpassed only by 2016. Indeed, 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001…. Record-setting years will be common in the coming decades, as temperatures are projected to increase by 2.5°F (1.4°C) for the period 2021–2050 relative to 1976–2005 even if we aggressively reduce greenhouse gas pollution worldwide.

Groups Petition OSHA For A Heat Standard

Yesterday, more than 130 organizations announced a petition to OSHA for a heat standard that would protect workers from the hazards of high heat.  Joining the press conference were former OSHA Directors Dr. Eula Bingham and Dr. David Michaels as well as former California/OSHA Director Ellen Widess. The press conference, which included the passionate statement of a man whose brother died of heat exposure, can be heard here.

Federal OSHA, which concluded that extreme heat was a factor in the deaths of at least six workers in 2017, has been concerned about the problem for many years. The agency launched a national heat education campaign in 2012, following successful efforts to prevent heat-related deaths among workers cleaning up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.  OSHA borrowed CalOSHA’s  their “Water, Rest, Shade” campaign and developed a cell-phone heat app, that would analyze the hazards of heat for workers in their geographical area, and recommend measures to protect themselves. (Available from the Apple Store or from Google Play.)  OSHA also increased enforcement under its General Duty Clause, which the agency uses when there is no standard. But, according to former OSHA head David Michaels, the Obama administration declined to launch rulemaking for a heat standard due to lack of time and resources while working on the silica, beryllium and other OSHA standards issued during the last administration.

Three OSHA state-plan states — CaliforniaWashington, and Minnesota (indoor) — have heat standards, leaving 130 million workers in the rest of the country who lack the protections of a national OSHA heat standard. The military also has strict heat standards and in 2016, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)  issued the third version of its criteria for a recommended heat standard “which includes the following elements: heat stress threshold, rest breaks, hydration, shade, heat acclimatization plan, PPE, exposure monitoring, hazard notification, worker training, medical monitoring, injury surveillance, and recordkeeping.”

The report and petition argue that federal OSHA’s current efforts and voluntary activities are not enough. The report points out that an OSHA analysis of heat-related fatality cases show that “17 of 23 fatalities (74 percent) involved workers who were in their first three days on the job, and eight (35 percent) victims were on the very first day of work,” because employer did not follow industry recommendations to allow workers to acclimatize, or get used to the heat for a few days before heavy work.

Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-CA), who spoke at the press conference,  promised to introduce legislation that would require OSHA to issue a heat standard.

The petition outlined a number of elements of an OSHA heat standard, which would reqiure employers to:

  1. Provide mandatory rest breaks with increased frequency in times of extreme heat and significant exertion.
  2. Provide access to shaded and otherwise cool conditions for employees to rest during breaks.
  3. Provide personal protective equipment, such as water-cooled and air-cooled garments.
  4. Make provisions for adequate hydration.
  5. Implement heat acclimatization plans to help new workers safely adjust to hot conditions.
  6. Regularly monitor both the environmental heat load and employees’ metabolic heat loads during hot conditions.
  7. Medically monitor at-risk employees.
  8. Notify employees of heat stress hazards.
  9. Institute a heat-alert plan outlining procedures to follow when heat waves are forecast.
  10. Train workers on heat stress risks and preventive measures.
  11. Maintain and report records relating to this standard.
  12. Institute whistleblower protection programs to ensure that employees who witness violations of the heat stress safety standard are free to speak up.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on July 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy 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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Trump's Supreme Court pick is eager to take the war on workers up a notch

July 17th, 2018 | Laura Clawson

Another week, another bout of Supreme Court-related horror for workers. Up this week, Donald Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. It’s bad. It’s really, really bad—a reminder that, even following a disastrous-for-workers Supreme Court session, things can get worse.

  • Daily Kos’ own Meteor Blades wrote about Kavanaugh’s awful SeaWorld dissent, noting that Kavanaugh’s demeanor as he makes the rounds of the senators he needs to vote to confirm him is surely a sharp contrast with “the snarls and sneers and outright contempt contained in his judicial record when he talks about workers.”
  • Brett Kavanaugh once sided with an anti-union company that scapegoated undocumented workers, Ethan Miller writes. Oh, and the son of the owner of that company? Was sentenced to prison, the company’s violations were so egregious … and then Donald Trump pardoned him.
  • Moshe Marvit writes that Trump’s Supreme Court pick could spell a fresh hell for workers, citing repeated cases in which Kavanaugh ruled against the most basic exercises of the right to organize, like wearing t-shirts critical of the employer or displaying pro-union signs in parked cars.
  • And while I haven’t come across any allegations that Kavanaugh has a history of sexual harassment—and in fact the execrable Amy Chua wrote in the Wall Street Journal that he’s been a good mentor to women (I’m not linking, the piece is so disgusting and such an indictment of the elite legal world)—it’s worth noting that Kavanaugh clerked for and remained notably close to Judge Alex Kozinski, who was forced to retire due to a well-established pattern of harassment. Did he know? It’s a question worth asking. And if he didn’t know, how didn’t he know?

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on July 14, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Walmart patents technology to eavesdrop on workers

July 16th, 2018 | ThinkProgress Staff

Walmart has just patented surveillance technology which would allow it to eavesdrop on worker’s conversations and help monitor them to ensure they meet the company’s “performance metrics.”

The “Listening to the Frontend” system would collect audio data from the stores’ cashier areas, allowing it to pick up everything from beeps to conversations with customers to, potentially, conversations between workers.  It would then analyse the sounds to ensure the employee is working efficiently — and help Walmart achieve “cost savings” and “guest satisfaction.”

“We’re always thinking about new concepts and ways that will help us further enhance how we serve customers,” a Walmart spokesperson told Buzzfeed News, who first reported the story. “We don’t have any further details to share on these patents at this time.”

It’s unclear when, or even if, Walmart will ever actually introduce this technology. But it is another example of how corporate giants are using technology in an attempt to track and control their workers — despite evidence showing that excess surveillance makes workers feel nervous and actually ends up slowing them down.

Amazon — whose profits topped $3 billion in 2017 — recently patented wristbandswhich can precisely track where its warehouse workers are, and point them in the right direction via vibration. In 2013, the Financial Times also documented how Amazon workers’ personal sat-navs set target times for them to shelve packages, and reports them to management if they’re behind schedule.

The surveillance isn’t just relegated to Amazon’s warehouses either. A 2015 New York Times story documented a similar Big Brother-esque atmosphere at Amazon’s corporate headquarters in Seattle. In a rare internal email, CEO Jeff Bezos pushed back on the article, saying it “doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.”

Uber’s instant rating system is similarly stressful on workers, punishing drivers who fall bellow a 4.6.

Unsurprisingly, being constantly tracked and asked to meet robot-like targets is having a devastating effect on workers. The British GMB trade union previously warned that the kinds of “regimes” Amazon employers worked under were causing them to have musculoskeletal problems as well as stress and anxiety.

“It’s hard, physical work, but the constant stress of being monitored and never being able to drop below a certain level of performance is harsh,” Elly Baker, GMB’s lead officer for Amazon, said. “You can’t be a normal person. You have to be an above-average Amazon robot all the time.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Narratively.

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D.C. Council moves to overrule voters, reinstall tipped wage system

July 13th, 2018 | Casey Quinlan

This week, the majority of the D.C. Council supported a repeal of Initiative 77. Initiative 77 is the ballot measure voters approved in June that eliminates the tipped minimum wage and would gradually phase out the tipped workers’ minimum wage, so that by 2026, all workers are paid the same minimum wage.

Fifty-six percent of District voters approved of it. States such as California, Alaska, Washington, and Oregon, have gotten rid of the subminimum wage, and Economic Policy Institute’s analysis shows that poverty rates for servers and bartenders are lower in the states that have.

The campaign against Initiative 77 was well-funded and backed by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW), which created a committee, “Save Our Tip System Initiative 77” to spread anti-Initiative 77 messages. According to The Intercept, the committee is managed partly by Lincoln Strategy Group, which did canvassing work for the Trump campaign. The National Restaurant Association, which has been lobbying against the tipped minimum wage for decades, gave the campaign $25,000.

The council members who have supported a repeal include Jack Evans (D), Anita Bonds (D), Trayon White (D), Kenyan McDuffie (D), Brandon Todd (D), Vincent Gray (D), and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). Brianne Nadeau (D) tweeted that although she did not support the ballot measure, voters did, which is why she didn’t back the repeal.

Council member Todd tweeted that “This bill is just the beginning of a legislative process where nuanced deliberation & constructive dialogue can take place.” When asked by Washington Post reporter Fenit Nirappil how a bill flatly repealing it would lead to nuanced deliberations, Todd responded that “it initiates public hearings. Who knows how the bill will change as testimony and more information become available.”

The Council won’t take up the bill until after summer recess. Council members chose not to announce the bill to repeal during a committee meeting and instead filed it with the Council’s Office of the Secretary.

Diana Ramirez of the Restaurant Opportunities Center DC told WAMU, “These are the same constituents who just voted them into office and re-elected them. I think they deserve to tell us why they introduced this.”

Although Ramirez has voiced a willingness to work with council members on some kind of compromise legislation, according to the Washington Post, Council member Mendelson said, “There are not a lot of compromise ideas that come to mind.”

The council has only overridden ballot initiatives four times since the 1980s, according to the Washington Post.

There have been many recent incidents of local lawmakers trying to override ballot measures. In Nebraska, Republican lawmakers filed a lawsuit to prevent voters from putting Medicaid expansion on the ballot this November. In other states, such as Maine and South Dakota, lawmakers have blocked or repealed ballot measures.

Josh Altic, project director for the Ballot Measures Project for the website Ballotpedia, told Stateline, a nonpartisan news service, “We have definitely seen some notable cases of legislative tampering this year, especially with regard to the boldness with which legislatures are willing to change or repeal initiatives.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 11, 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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Woman Who 'Flipped Off' President Loses Termination Lawsuit

July 12th, 2018 | The Attorneys of Passman and Kaplan

The woman who was infamously fired after giving the middle finger to President Trump has lost her wrongful termination case. A Virginia judge tossed Juli Briskman’s lawsuit, finding no First Amendment protection for private sector employees.

The ruling was not unexpected. In general, private employees are not shielded from repercussions for their words or actions, even if the conduct occurs off-duty and away from the workplace. First Amendment advocates worry about reprisal against employees who do not share their employers’ political beliefs or who openly oppose the administration in power.

Are employees ever on their own time?

Juli Briskman was riding her bike last October when the president’s motorcade drove by. She “flipped the bird” to express her personal feelings, a gesture captured by a White House pool photographer. The photo went viral but did not identify Briskman, who outed herself by re-posting the photo to Facebook and Twitter.

Soon after, she was fired by her employer, Akima LLC, ostensibly for violating the company’s social media policy. But Briskman claimed she was told by management they had to let her go because her anti-Trump gesture might anger the White House and cost them lucrative government contracts. She sued for wrongful termination, arguing that private speech – she was off-duty and away from work — is protected under state and federal free speech exclusions.

Judge Penney Azcarate dismissed the lawsuit, saying that those First Amendment exclusions do not apply in the private sector, where employment is at-will. She added that she would have ruled the same had Briskman given the finger to President Obama.

Azcarate let stand one part of the suit. Briskman said she was promised four weeks’ severance but was only paid two weeks’ worth. She was granted a month to amend her lawsuit accordingly.

Freedom of expression vs. business interests

Briskman’s lawyer alluded to broader ramifications. “Juli Briskman’s case is about democracy and the grave threat facing all Americans if keeping our jobs relies on our unconditional silence and support of the government in power.”

The defense lawyer said the underlying issue is much more simple. “The company found out about a rude and profane act and Akima decided it wasn’t interested in continuing with that particular person.”

Employees’ free speech has limits … and consequences

In the last few years, countless people have faced public backlash and been fired or suspended from their jobs (public and private sector) for speaking their mind on social media:

  • In West Virginia in 2016, the director of a nonprofit was fired for racist comments on Facebook about Michelle Obama. She compared the then-First Lady to an ape. The mayor of the town, who replied that the offensive comment had “made my day,” also resigned as a result of the furor.
  • Earlier that year, a mortgage company employee tweeted a similar offensive remark about the First Lady. Twitter users complained to her employer, who summarily fired her.
  • A CBS executive was fired in 2017 for saying on Facebook that she had no sympathy for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting massacre because they were country music fans and thus presumably Republicans.
  • In the wake of the Charlottesville alt-right rally, at least four people lost their jobs after they were outed on social media for embracing Nazi ideology.
  • Comedian Roseanne Barr had her hit TV show cancelled by ABC after a series of Twitter rants. The final straw was a tweet that seemed to disparage both African-Americans and Muslims.
  • A New York Times writer was fired for a tweet equating President Trump’s inauguration day with the attacks on Pearl Harbor and the World Trade Center.
  • A California prosecutor has been suspended (with pay) after a profanity-laced social media tirade against Rep. Maxine Waters, Michelle Obama and Mexican immigrants.

The common thread is that all of these people were on their own time, on their private social media accounts, in a non-work capacity. The First Amendment guarantees against government censorship of free speech, but does not necessarily exempt free speech from employment consequences. In an at-will employment state (like Virginia), employees can be terminated for violating explicit social media policies or other written codes of conduct, for conduct that reflects poorly on the employer, or for no reason at all.

The question raised by Briskman and her proponents is how far employers can go in policing the private speech of their workers, and whether political views are grounds for dismissal if the employee’s beliefs do not align with the boss’s beliefs. In other words, do employees effectively forfeit their First Amendment rights by accepting a job?

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on July 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

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Kavanaugh: Threat to Workers and to OSHA

July 11th, 2018 | Jordan Barab

While most of the discussion of President Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court focuses on the possibility that he will be the deciding vote to repeal Rowe v. Wade or that the will bend over backwards to help Trump out of the Russia investigation, there is clear evidence that Kavanaugh is overly friendly to corporate America, and hostile to workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the environment.

In 2010 a killer whale dismembered and drowned a Sea World trainer, Dawn Brancheau, in front of hundreds of horrified men, women and children looking forward to a day of fun and frolic with sea animals. The whale that killed Brancheau had been implicated in three previous human deaths.

OSHA issued a $70,000 willful General Duty Clause Citation against Sea World and ordered the company to reduce the hazard by physically separating trainers from the whales. OSHA proved that Sea World and its employees knew from previous incidents and close calls that the all of its killer whales were dangerous, and that Tilikum, the whale that killed Brancheau, was particularly dangerous.  Experts also described a feasible means of protecting employees — actions that Sea World in fact implemented following Brancheau’s death.

The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission upheld OSHA’s citation, and Sea World appealed to the Court of Appeals. The D.C. Circuit court decided 2-1 in favor of OSHA. The Court found that  “There was substantial record evidence that Sea World recognized its precautions were inadequate to prevent serious bodily harm or even death to its trainers and that the residual hazard was preventable,” and that there was substantial evidence that there were feasible means to protect employees without impacting the business. The majority opinion upholding OSHA’s action was written by Circuit Judge Judith Rogers. Also supporting OSHA was Chief Judge Merrick Garland.

The lone dissenter, opposing OSHA’s citation, was Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

According to former OSHA Assistant Secretary David Michaels, “In his dissent in the Sea World decision, Judge Kavanaugh made the perverse and erroneous assertion that the law allows Sea World trainers to willingly accept the risk of violent death as part of their job.  He clearly has little regard for workers who face deadly hazards at the workplace.”

Judge Kavanaugh made the perverse and erroneous assertion that the law allows Sea World trainers to willingly accept the risk of violent death as part of their job.  He clearly has little regard for workers who face deadly hazards at the workplace.  —  David Michaels

Garland, as you may remember was nominated to the Supreme Court in 2016, following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, infamously refused to consider Obama’s nomination, allowing Trump to appoint Neil Gorsuch to the Court. And the lead attorney representing Sea World was Eugene Scalia, son of deceased Justice Antonin Scalia.

Are Whale Shows A Sport Like Football?

Kavanaugh calls OSHA’s action “arbitrary and capricious” because regulating the safety of killer whale shows is allegedly no different than regulating the safety of tackling in football, or speeding in sports car racing, or punching in boxing — things in which OSHA has never involved itself.  And just as you’d have no football if you didn’t have tackling, or no sports car racing if you didn’t have speeding, there would allegedly be no Sea World if there was no close human contact with killer whales.

One problem with this argument, as Rogers points out, is that no one — except Kavanaugh — claims that whale shows are a sport where you are there to see who “wins.”

Or, to put it more bluntly, people go to boxing matches to watch people punch each other, and go to football games to watch one team physically stop the other from scoring. But tourists — including small children — go to Sea World to watch attractive trainers lovingly interact with adorable sea creatures. Killer whale shows are not supposed to be modern gladiatorial contests where the audience looks forward to seeing whether the trainers will successfully keep their limbs attached or finish the show bleeding and dead at the bottom of a pool.

Not even Sea World made the football/car racing/boxing analogy, Rogers and Garland point out. By making that argument, Kavanaugh is just makin’ stuff up — adding his own opinions on matters that weren’t even part of the case.

Second, as the majority opinion points out, “physical contact between players is ‘intrinsic’ to professional football in a way that it is not to a killer whale show.” Spectators can take pleasure from a whale jumping out of the water and doing back flips even without close personal contact with a human trainer.

In fact, the show went on even after the OSHA citation. Following Brancheau’s death, Sea World implemented many of the controls that OSHA recommended in its General Duty Clause citation — and still managed to attract customers to the park — and even to the killer whale shows — without the close personal contact.

Hostility Toward OSHA

Kavanaugh’s dissent drips with hostility toward OSHA and a basic misunderstanding of the act and the principles — and law — behind it. Comparing killer whale shows to football, boxing, car racing, as well  as other “extremely dangerous” sports such as “Ice hockey. Downhill skiing. Air shows. The circus. Horse racing. Tiger taming. Standing in the batter’s box against a 95 mile per hour fastball….” etc., etc., Kavanaugh objects to OSHA’s “paternalistic” intervention because “the participants in those activities want to take part.”

And then goes on to state (cue the heroic music)

To be fearless, courageous, tough – to perform a sport or activity at the highest levels of human capacity, even in the face of known physical risk – is among the greatest forms of personal achievement for many who take part in these activities. American spectators enjoy watching these amazing feats of competition and daring, and they pay a lot to do so.

He then asks:

When should we as a society paternalistically decide that the participants in these sports and entertainment activities must be protected from themselves – that the risk of significant physical injury is simply too great even for eager and willing participants? And most importantly for this case, who decides that the risk to participants is too high?

Not “the bureaucracy at the U.S. Department of Labor,” according to Kavanaugh.

Happily, Garland and Rogers were more knowledgeable about the Occupational Safety and Heath Act than Kavanaugh. They point out that the OSHAct puts the duty on the employer to create a safe workplace, not on the employees to choose whether or not they want to risk death — especially when the employer can make the workplace safer.

Kavanaugh’s idea of making America great again apparently hearkens back to a time before the Workers Compensation laws and the Occupational Safety and Health Act were passed.  Back then employers who maimed or killed workers often escaped legal responsibility by arguing that the employee had “assumed” the risk when he or she took the job and the employer therefore had no responsibility to make the job safer.  Maybe the worker even liked doing dangerous work.  Employers also escaped responsibility by showing that the worker was somehow negligent. (Interestingly, Sea World originally blamed Brancheau for her own death because she hadn’t tied her hair back.)

Kavanaugh’s idea of making America great again apparently hearkens back to a time before the Workers Compensation laws and the Occupational Safety and Health Act were passed.

Rogers and Garland were forced to remind Kavanaugh that the employer’s duty under the OSHAct isn’t reduced by “such common law doctrines as assumption of risk, contributory negligence, or comparative negligence.”

Workers Comp laws, originally passed in the early 20th century, were supposed to be no-fault. It didn’t matter who was at fault, if the worker was hurt, the worker got compensated.  And the OSHAct, passed in 1970, further states clearly and unequivocally that the employer is responsible for ensuring that the workplace is “free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees,” and sets up a mechanism to enforce the law and penalize employers who violated it.  Even if the macho employee wants to defy death, the law states that the workers may not work at heights without fall protection or go down into deep trenches without shoring. And it’s the employer’s job to make sure that employees are not endangered.

Did Brancheau enjoy her job? Undoubtedly.

Did she “willingly accept the risk of violent death as part of their job?”  Unlikely. And legally irrelevant.

Did she deserve a safe workplace? Absolutely.

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Kavanaugh also objected to OSHA’s citation because the agency allegedly “departed from tradition and stormed headlong into a new regulatory arena.”

Well, first, Congress put the General Duty Clause into the OSHAct to address “unique” recognized hazards for which there is no OSHA standard.

Second, objecting to OSHA “storming into a new arena” brings back memories of the arguments used by previous OSHA heads, politicians and the health care industry when unions petitioned the agency in the late 1980’s for a bloodborne pathogens standard to prevent HIV infection and over 300 health care worker deaths a year from hepatitis B. At that time, infectious diseases were “a new regulatory arena.” Thankfully, Judge (or Justice) Kavanaugh wasn’t around then to rule on that standard. Thousands of health care workers owe their lives to OSHA’s move into the “new regulatory arena” of infectious diseases.

Bad for the Environment

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette-Mail reminds us that Kavanaugh is not only anti-worker (and anti-OSHA), but also anti-environment (and anti-EPA). In 2011, Kavanaugh was the lone dissenter in a case where Arch Coal had challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to cancel a mountain-top removal permit that had been issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The 2,300-acre Spruce operation that would have buried more than seven miles of streams.  “The EPA cited the growing scientific evidence that mountaintop removal mining significantly damages water quality downstream and noted an independent engineering study that found Arch Coal could have greatly reduced the Spruce Mine’s impact.”

Kavanaugh’s argument is that EPA didn’t do a proper cost benefit analysis. Suddenly becoming a champion of working people and unions (at least when it benefits the company), Kavanaugh argued that EPA had failed to factor in the costs of  putting more than 300 United Mine Workers union members out of work.  Once again, Kavanaugh was making stuff up (legally). Arch Coal hadn’t even made that argument.

Kavanaugh also criticized the agency’s examination of potential damage to aquatic life as an “utterly one-sided analysis.” Perhaps the fish had also “accepted the risk” of living in streams near coal deposits.

One of the judges in the majority was an Ronald Reagan pick, and the other was appointed by President Obama.

Conclusion

Kavanaugh stated at last night’s press conference that one of his legal principles is that “A judge must interpret statutes as written.”  He might have added that to interpret the law as written, one must first read and understand the law.

He also warmly told the world that his mother was a prosecutor whose trademark line was: “‘Use your common sense. ‘What rings true? What rings false?’ That’s good advice for a juror and for a son. ”

Indeed it is. And maybe he could explain to the parents and husband of Dawn Brancheau why it rings false to him that the company responsible for their daughter’s safety should be held responsible for her death —  and held to the same standard as every other employer in the country.

Until he does that, he doesn’t belong on the Supreme Court.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on July 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy 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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Trump’s Supreme Court Pick Could Spell a Fresh Hell for Workers’ Rights

July 10th, 2018 | Moshe Marvit

On Monday, President Donald Trump announced his nomination of conservative Brett Kavanaugh to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Chief Justice John Roberts, a fellow conservative, will become the ideological and political center of the Supreme Court, and protections for women, minorities, voting rights, civil liberties and more could come under threat. Workers and labor unions should be particularly concerned about Judge Kavanaugh’s history of siding with businesses against workers and for pushing a deregulatory agenda.

In his 13 years on the Court, Chief Justice Roberts has helped to unleash unlimited corporate money into politics, open the door to mass voter disenfranchisement and lay the groundwork to strengthen the power of corporations over consumers and employees. He has also, in the words of Justice Elena Kagan, led the conservative project of “weaponizing the First Amendment, in a way that unleashes judges, now and in the future, to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.” This is who will now be the swing vote on the Supreme Court if Kavanaugh is confirmed.

Kavanaugh, who is 53 years old, once clerked for Judge Alex Kozinski, who abruptly retired last year after a long history of sexual harassment was revealed. Previously, Kavanaugh worked with Kenneth Starr to investigate President Clinton and draft the report that lead to Clinton’s impeachment. Over his last 12 years on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals,  Kavanaugh has shown himself to be an extraordinarily conservative judge. An analysis by Axios determined that Kavanaugh is just slightly less conservative than the most conservative member of the Court, Clarence Thomas.

A review of Judge Kavanaugh’s decisions regarding workers’ rights shows a disturbing trend of siding with employers on a range of issues.

In Southern New England Telephone Co. v. NLRB (2015), Kavanaugh overruled the NLRB’s decision that the employer committed an unfair labor practice when it barred workers from wearing T-shirts that said, “Inmate” on the front and “Prisoner of AT$T” on the back. Under the law, employees are permitted to wear union apparel to work, and the NLRB found that these shirts were protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The Board rejected the argument that “special circumstances” warranted limiting workers’ rights, because no reasonable person would conclude that the worker was a prison convict.

Kavanaugh rejected the Board’s legal analysis, writing, “Common sense sometimes matters in resolving legal disputes. … No company, at least one that is interested in keeping its customers, presumably wants its employees walking into people’s homes wearing shirts that say ‘Inmate’ and ‘Prisoner.’” Kavanaugh was undoubtedly correct in his understanding of the company’s desire not to have workers wear such shirts, which is precisely why the workers did so. What the unions did in wearing the shirts was apply pressure in a labor dispute in a manner that the law has long allowed. However, Kavanaugh criticized the Board’s analysis, writing that “the appropriate test for ‘special circumstances’ is not whether AT&T’s customers would confuse the ‘Inmate/Prisoner’ shirt with actual prison garb, but whether AT&T could reasonably believe that the message may harm its relationship with its customers or its public image.” By shifting the focus to the employer’s public image, Kavanaugh undercut the right of workers to publicly protest and dissent.

In Verizon New England Inc. v. NLRB (2016), Kavanaugh overturned the NLRB’s ruling that workers could display pro-union signs in their cars parked in the company parking lot after the union waived its members’ right to picket. In his decision, Kavanaugh held that “No hard-and-fast definition of the term ‘picketing’ excludes the visible display of pro-union signs in employees’ cars rather than in employees’ hands, especially when the cars are lined up in the employer’s parking lot and thus visible to passers-by in the same way as a picket line.” Therefore, according to Kavanaugh, the union’s waiver of the right to picket also applied to signs left in cars.

Judge Kavanaugh again overruled a pro-worker NLRB decision in Venetian Casino Resort, L.L.C. v. NLRB (2015). The NLRB had determined that the casino committed an unfair labor practice when, in response to a peaceful demonstration by employees (for which they had a permit), the casino called the police on the workers. Citing the First Amendment, Kavanaugh held that “When a person petitions the government in good faith, the First Amendment prohibits any sanction on that action.” Calling the police to enforce state trespassing laws, Kavanaugh concluded, deserved such protection.

In UFCW AFL CIO 540 v. NLRB (2014), Judge Kavanaugh issued an anti-worker decision involving Wal-Mart’s “meat wars.” After 10 meat cutters in Jacksonville, Texas, voted to form the first union at a Wal-Mart, the company closed its meat operations in 180 stores and switched to pre-packaged meats. (The notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart denied that its decision had anything to do with the union vote.) After the switch, Wal-Mart refused to bargain with the meat cutters, arguing that they no longer constituted an appropriate bargaining unit. Judge Kavanaugh agreed with Wal-Mart’s argument, but did write that Wal-Mart must bargain with the union over the effects of the conversion of the employees.

Judge Kavanaugh has consistently sided with employers in labor law cases, to the detriment of workers’ labor rights. He also has argued that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established in 2011, is unconstitutional, and Aaron Klein, director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institution, has said that his nomination “could reverse over a century of American financial regulation.”

Labor advocates should be extremely concerned about this ideological bent if Kavanaugh becomes a justice on an already very business friendly—and conservative—Supreme Court.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 10, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

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When Workers Don’t Get Paid: 3 Contributors to Wage Theft

July 9th, 2018 | Danielle Higley

Wage theft, sometimes known as time theft against employees, has been in the news a lot lately. That’s due to a study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and another by Elizabeth Tippett of the University of Oregon, featured on NPR’s Planet Money podcast.

Recently, TSheets, a time tracking software company, ran a survey of their own. Their survey found just under 10 percent of employers admit to taking time off employee timesheets every day. Over 60 percent of those take off 30 minutes per day or more. Applied to the broader, hourly workforce across the U.S., TSheets estimates workers are losing out on $22 billion in earnings each year. Here are three known factors contributing to those billions lost.

Wage theft contributor 1: Unpaid breaks

The government has some stipulations in place when it comes to breaks for meals, namely “The employee must be fully relieved from duty for the purposes of eating regular meals.”

The trouble is, some employees, particularly those in the healthcare or education sector, aren’t often able to walk away from their work completely. They end up working straight through their lunch, even while clocked out. For them, it’s tough to take time off when part of their performance, and potentially their compensation, is based on their responsiveness.

The best solution — both from an employee perspective and from employers who want to avoid an expensive FLSA lawsuit — is to figure out how to accommodate employee breaks, so individuals are free to take advantage of that time of rest. At the very least, employers should be talking to employees and getting their input on how to improve the situation.

Wage theft contributor 2: Timesheet rounding

Timesheet rounding is a setting in time tracking software that rounds an employee’s time when they clock in or out to the nearest minute, five minutes, or 15 minutes. It’s common for an admin to set up rounding to the nearest minute, as payroll solutions like QuickBooks aren’t set up to process seconds.

But whether a company rounds to the nearest minute or the nearest 15 minutes isn’t the problem. It’s the direction in which the rounding occurs. Say an employer has set timesheet rounding to go up to the nearest five minutes when an employee clocks in, but down to the nearest five minutes when an employee clocks out. When the employee comes in at 8:31, the timesheet shows 8:35. When they clock out at 5:04, the timesheet shows 5:00. That employee has missed out on 8 minutes of paid time.

This problem becomes all the more challenging when the time tracker is set to round to the nearest 15 minutes. On this matter, the U.S. Department of Labor states employers cannot always round down. “Employee time from one to seven minutes may be rounded down, and thus not counted as hours worked, but employee time from eight to 14 minutes must be rounded up and counted as a quarter hour of work time. See Regulations 29 CFR 785.48(b).”

Wage theft contributor 3: Unpaid overtime

Did you know it’s illegal to withhold wages, even when those wages include overtime an employee has worked without consent or prior approval from a manager? The Department of Labor makes it very clear that “work not requested, but suffered or permitted is work time.” That means it doesn’t matter if the employee worked when they weren’t supposed to — they must be paid for the time they put in.

Many employers are also unaware that some travel time is considered eligible for overtime pay. For instance, while the time spent commuting from work to home or vice versa shouldn’t be counted, the commute from home to a job in the case of an emergency could be. Travel made on behalf of work, in some instances, also has the potential to be counted as overtime.

Wage theft conclusions

Wage theft is a complicated issue, and it’s one that employees and the lawyers, HR personnel, and union reps who represent them should be educated on. If you suspect an employer is taking wages from employees, it’s a good idea to contact your state’s labor agency to learn more about wage theft claims in your state.

Next, employees should try to find out if their employer rounds timesheets (and in which direction), in addition to documenting all hours they’re supposed to be paid and comparing those times to the ones listed on their paystubs. If the numbers don’t line up, it might be time for a conversation.

Everyone deserves to be paid for the time they put in. When employers intentionally or unintentionally violate that right, it isn’t just morally reprehensible — it’s against the law.

About the Author: Danielle Higley is a copywriter for TSheets by QuickBooks, a time tracking and scheduling solution. She has a BA in English literature and has spent her career writing and editing marketing materials for small businesses. Last year, she started an editorial consulting company.

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Serena Williams’ French Open ordeal proves maternity rights in pro sports have a long way to go

July 6th, 2018 | ThinkProgress Staff

Last month, Serena Williams — the greatest athlete of our time (don’t @ me, it’s true) — played in her first major tournament since giving birth to her daughter. But, as excited as fans and media touts were to have her back competing, most were outraged when they discovered that she would have to enter the French Open unseeded, as her protected No. 1 ranking from the Women’s Tennis Association did not apply to the tournament’s seeding.

Ivanka Trump weighed in on Twitter, saying that Williams was being “penalized professionally for having a child,” and calling on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) to change the rule “immediately.” USA Today said that Williams was being “punished” for having a baby.

The outrage cycle was effective. Wimbledon seeded Williams No. 25 for the Championships — not high enough for the liking of many, but far better than nothing — and the U.S. Open announced that it would change its seeding protocol to account for pregnancies. Behold, the power of Serena! Mission accomplished, right?

Well, not so fast. Because when it comes to maternity rights for professional female athletes, seeding for top players isn’t even in the top half of the list of their biggest concerns. And the outsized focus on Williams’ seeding folderol could end up distracting attention from the biggest problems that pregnant athletes face — both during their pregnancies and in their comebacks — such as insurance, protected contracts, and child care.

If those sound like the kinds of basic things that should have already been taken care of long ago, well then, you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, the ideal is far from the reality.

Women who compete in sports can’t simply continue to work right up until the moment they’re ready to pop like their desk-bound counterparts, so it’s not unusual for them to take a year — or more — out of competition and training. And in many cases, these pro athletes have little-to-no guaranteed income during that time.

In team sports, such as basketball, they’re sometimes eligible to earn 50 percent of their contract when they’re off for maternity leave. But even that isn’t a given. For WNBA players, it is only applicable if they’re currently under a contract; players who are free agents or on expiring contracts when they get pregnant are in a much more precarious position. And while women’s soccer players on the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) are eligible for maternity leave, rank-and-file players in the National Women’s Soccer League, who already earn much less money than their national team counterparts, don’t have any such maternity protections.

But the situation is even worse in individual sports, where the fulfillment of sponsor contracts hinge upon results — or at least appearances — in tournaments, and where if you’re not competing, you’re obviously not getting any prize money.

There was, however, a recent breakthrough for athletes seeking a solution to this problem — though it didn’t come from Serena. Just last week, Stacey Lewis, a two-time major champion on the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association Tour (LPGA), made a landmark announcement: One of her main sponsors, KPMG, is going to pay Lewis the full value of her contract while she is off of the LPGA Tour on maternity leave. Believe it or not, this is the first time this has happened in LPGA Tour history.

“I think a lot of people were shocked to learn that that had never happened before,” Lewis told CNN. “Players that were, that are moms and have kids, they thought it was the greatest thing ever, just because they had been in my position before and they know what that feels like. They just thought it was — I mean, they thought it was unbelievable.”

Getting pregnancy leave written into contracts in both team and individual sports would be a huge boost for pregnant athletes, as would arranging insurance options that would be affordable and effective even if a player found out they were pregnant during, say, free agency. But these mothers also need support when they return to pro competition as well. Babies don’t just watch themselves, you know.

The NWSL currently provides no child care assistance for its players, and neither does the WNBA. (Many individual teams have very family-friendly atmospheres, but that is not the same as actually assisting with child care.) And, in the WTA, former WTA No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, was shocked when she returned from pregnancy last year to find out that the women’s tennis tour offered far less child care than the men’s tour, because historically men have traveled with families, while women have not.

“I have been already talking about this point (of needing daycare services at tournaments) to some of the people in WTA,” Azarenka told reporters. “From my own power, I’ll do anything to make that happen, because I think it’s really important. The guys [playing the ATP Tour] do have that luxury of having the nurseries and stuff at every event and I think it’s time for women to have the same benefit. Because I think for women it’s much more important and harder.”

This year, Azarenka, who is a member of the WTA Player’s Council, said she understood why people were upset with the fact that Williams wasn’t seeded upon her return to professional tennis. However, she pointed out that she and Williams are the exception, not the rule, both when it comes to talent and financial means. They have earned enough in their careers to afford all the child care they need; and have had enough success to earn enough wild cards to get into any tournament they want as they get their body and game back into form.

On that note, in addition to getting more day care services at tournaments, Azarenka wants to work on extending the amount of time that players returning from pregnancy can use their protected ranking (so that they don’t have to rush back to competition), and she would like to see the protected ranking used at more tournaments than a typical injury layoff permits.

“My focus right now is to protect women who want to start a family,” Azarenka said, “because it’s still unusual for women to have a family during their career, especially in tennis.”

In general, maternity policies for pro athletes need to focus on providing care for the parent and child during pregnancy, and providing support and time for the parent during their comeback. This doesn’t mean coddling these athletes — or handing them a competitive advantage. Indeed, the athletes should still have to do the necessary work to get into the physical condition to justify their spot on the roster, earn their place back in the starting lineup, or, as it may be, qualify for a seed in a major tournament.

It’s definitely good that a larger discussion of fair policy governing the seeding for players coming back from maternity leave, has come out of Williams’ experience on the professional tour. But it’s crucial that the conversation doesn’t end there. The correct policies and resources need to be articulated and made available in order to keep pregnancy and child care from being a impenetrable barrier for pro athletes, especially those who aren’t household names.

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs is a sports reporter at ThinkProgress.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 5, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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Minimum wage workers just got a raise in two states, D.C., and 15 cities or counties

July 5th, 2018 | Laura Clawson

Minimum wage workers in two states, Washington, DC, and 15 cities and counties got a raise on Sunday. These state and local governments had passed laws to increase the minimum wage on a schedule, with July 1 and January 1 being the most common dates for raises.

  • Oregon doesn’t have a single statewide minimum wage, but it went up! The minimum is now $10.75 as a standard, $10.50 in “nonurban” counties, and $12 in the Portland metro area.
  • Maryland’s minimum wage went up to $10.10. In Maryland, Montgomery County boosted its minimum wage from $11.50 to $12.25
  • Washington, D.C., rose from $12.50 to $13.25.
  • Eleven California cities saw minimum wage increases, with Emeryville the high point at $15.69 an hour for larger businesses. Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Malibu, Milpitas, Pasadena, and Santa Monica all went from $12 to $13.25. San Francisco rose from $14 to $15.
  • Workers in Portland, Maine, are seeing a modest bump from $10.68 to $10.90.
  • In Illinois, Chicago went from $11 to $12 and Cook County went from $10 to $11.

The federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour, with Republicans continuing to refuse to consider an increase. Perhaps most depressingly—and showing most clearly where Republican priorities are—Birmingham, Alabama, and Johnson County, Iowa, were both supposed to have minimum wage increases on July 1, but didn’t. Their state legislatures stepped in to pre-empt local governments from improving life for workers.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 4, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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