Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Eleanor Roosevelt Fought for Human Rights and Union Rights

December 17th, 2014 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike HallToday is International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the day in 1948 the U.N. General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. One of the prime movers behind the declaration was Eleanor Roosevelt. As Mary Jo Binker and Brigid O’Farrell write on the History News Network that was just one piece of her long post-White House, progressive—and pro-union—activist life after President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1945 death. Something they say was glossed over in the recent Ken Burns series “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.”

“This period is a complete mystery to most Americans who usually associate Eleanor with Franklin and assume that her role in American life ended with his death in 1945 or that her postwar life merely echoed his New Deal.”

They write that the later part of Roosevelt’s life was marked by three key concepts, political courage, civic education and citizen engagement. Political courage was highlighted by her stand against McCarthyism, while her civic education activities included a six-day-a-week newspaper column, 27 books and several radio and TV public affairs programs.

Binker and O’Farrell point to Roosevelt’s action on civil rights within a then-divided Democratic Party and helping found Americans for Democratic Action as two components of her civic engagement. They also write:

“Another important aspect of ER’s [Eleanor Roosevelt’s] civic engagement philosophy was her support for American labor. ER did more than foster the labor movement, she actually joined it. In 1937, one year after she started writing My Day, she became a member of what is today The Newspaper Guild, AFL-CIO. Despite allegations that her membership implied communist affiliation, she remained a member for over 25 years. Indeed, her union card was in her wallet when she died. ER also numbered many union leaders among her personal friends. She was particularly close to United Auto Workers Union President Walter Reuther. Reuther and ER worked and relaxed together—staying at each other’s homes and befriending each other’s families.

During the postwar years, ER gradually became a strong supporter of public-sector unions and vigorously led an effort to defeat so called “right-to-work laws” in six states. She was a keynote speaker at the AFL-CIO merger convention in 1955, a merger she had championed for 20 years. When A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, asked her to join the National Farm Labor Advisory Committee in 1959, despite failing health she agreed. She attended meetings, wrote columns and testified before Congress on behalf of migrant farm workers.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO. org on December 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Eleanor-Roosevelt-Fought-for-Human-Rights-and-Union-Rights

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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After Rolling Stone’s UVa. Retraction, Randi Weingarten Shares Personal Story of Sexual Assault

December 17th, 2014 | Micah Uetricht

In the wake of Rolling Stone‘s statement that it could not stand by the veracity of its bombshell piece detailing an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, anti-sexual assault activists around the country performed a collective facepalm. By failing to properly fact-check the anonymous victim’s account and then walking back the story, the magazine practically invited the slimiest corners of the Right to engage in victim-blaming, slut-shaming and all-around vicious misogyny.

It’s a moment when feminist allies need to speak out on behalf of women’s rights and loudly insist that sexual violence is an epidemic that has to be taken seriously. In the past, however, unions often have not been willing to speak out about sexual assault—even among those that have attempted to carry out a broad progressive agenda, or those with large female memberships.

So it was a welcome surprise to see American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten strongly weighing in on the issue Jezebel yesterday, explaining little-covered efforts by her union to fight sexual assault on college campuses—and detailing her own experience with sexual assault:

“It was just after my junior year in college. I had an internship in labor relations at an automobile plant in Warren, Ohio. A New Yorker from birth, I was out of my element. I tried to find community to anchor my summer in Warren. I did what was familiar: I went to shul. One family invited me over for Shabbat dinner. Dutifully and hopefully, I went. They also invited a young man. He was nice enough. So, when this “nice Jewish guy” invited me for dinner, I said, “Sure.”

“A few days later, I went to his apartment. And that’s where it happened. He tried to rape me. I managed to get out after a struggle, but the emotional scarring was deep.”

She goes on to recall how the assault stayed with her for decades, and why she never spoke about it publicly:

“I didn’t report it. I thought it was my fault. I thought I should have known better. I should have been smarter.”

“I carried it with me for years and years. The shame and the fear faded but never erased completely as I graduated from college and law school, then became a lawyer, a teacher and a union leader.”

Weingarten also gives an example of what a labor movement committed to fighting sexual assault can accomplish, saying her union was central to pushing for a strong sexual assault policies at the State University of New York—what one administrator called “the most comprehensive, victim-centered set of sexual assault policies at any college campus or system of higher education in the country.” And today, the AFT launched a petition calling for a national campus sexual assault bill.

In recent years, the AFT has often been a strongly progressive union on social issues, and backing a national sexual assault bill seems to fit in with the AFL-CIO’s recent commitments to be a part of a broader progressive movement that includes the feminist movement. But rarely do such commitments come with public declarations of such deeply personal stories as Weingarten’s. If more union leaders like her can take her lead to speak up about the epidemic of sexual assault around the country, and can commit to pushing for those commitments at the rank-and-file level, it could be greatly strengthen the movement against sexual assault while expanding the purview of the American labor movement.

This blog original appeared in Inthesetimes.com on December 16, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17463/aft_randi_weingarten_sexual_assault_story

About the author: Micah Uetricht is the web editor of In These Times. He is a contributing editor at Jacobin and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. He has written for The Nation, Al Jazeera America, Dissent, and the Chicago Reader.

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Thanks to Labor Board Ruling, You Can Now Use Company Email to Organize a Union

December 17th, 2014 | Moshe Marvit

This week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision and a rule that could make organizing a union significantly easier for American workers.

First, yesterday the Board recognized that email is one of the primary ways that workers communicate, and that its case law and election rules needed to reflect this reality. The NLRB issued a landmark decision in Purple Communications which opens the door to allowing workers to use employers’ email systems for union purposes—and admitted that it had misunderstood in previous cases how email works. In doing so, it overturned a Bush-era Board decision, Register Guard, which allowed employers to prohibit use of company email for non-work related purposes, including organizing and union purposes, unless the employer can show special circumstances that justify specific restrictions.

In the 2007 decision, the Labor Board analogized email to other employer equipment—such as bulletin boards, telephones, photocopiers and televisions—and found that the employer had a “basic property right to regulate and restrict employee use of company property.” In dissent, Members Liebman and Walsh criticized the Board, stating that the decision “confirms that the NLRB has become the Rip Van Winkle of administrative agencies. Only a Board that has been asleep for the past 20 years could fail to recognize that e-mail has revolutionized communication both within and outside the workplace.”

Recognizing the changing nature of the workplace, Liebman and Walsh explained that email was becoming the new water cooler, and that the Board fundamentally misunderstood how email systems work. In a passage that reads almost as if written by a millennial to her out of touch grandparents, the two members explained in basic terms to the Board majority the difference between emails and more traditional communication media: “If a union notice is posted on a bulletin board, the amount of space available for the employer to post its messages is reduced. If an employee is using a telephone for Section 7 or other nonwork-related purposes, that telephone line is unavailable for others to use.”

Emails, they explained, were different, because many employees could use the system simultaneously, subject lines clue the employee into whether to read or dispose of the message, and the marginal cost for an email is almost zero.

Yesterday, the Board vindicated Liebman and Walsh’s dissent and held that the majority’s 2007 decision was “clearly incorrect,” and that it “undervalued employees’ core Section 7 [of the National Labor Relations Act] right to communicate in the workplace about their terms and conditions of employment, while giving too much weight to employers’ property rights.” Therefore, employees who have access to work email can use the email system on nonwork time to discuss the terms and conditions of their employment and engage in other organization activity.

In correcting itself yesterday, the Labor Board finally recognized the central place that digital communications has in workers’ lives. The Board recognized that email is different than other employee equipment, and that most employers tolerate the personal use of employer email. Furthermore, the number of employees that “telework” has grown exponentially, with an expected 63 million employees teleworking by 2016. Recent surveys have found that approximately one third of employees report that their employer expects them to stay in touch outside of working hours and 69% frequently or occasionally check their email outside of normal working hours.

Taking these new realities to heart, the Board concluded that email was less like a photocopy machine as it was a “new natural gathering place and a forum in which coworkers who share common interests will seek to persuade fellow workers in matters affecting their union organizational life and other matters related to their status as employees.” In shifting from an equipment analysis to an analysis that recognizes emails as a basic form of communication, the Board finally recognized the ubiquity of emails and the ways in which employer limitations effect workers’ associational rights.

And the Board doubled-down on recognizing the realities of modern communications this morning in a much-anticipated final rule that significantly changes union election procedures. The new rule includes a number of significant benefits for workers who are organizing, including postponing employer litigation over union election issues until after the election takes place to eliminating the waiting period between the time when an election is ordered and when it occurs (the time when many bosses carry out their union-busting campaigns through tactics like firings or threats of closing down a workplace).

But perhaps the most overdue change is the modernization of the “Excelsior List” rules. Prior to today’s rule, employers were required to turn over to the union an Excelsior List, which contained the names and home addresses of workers within seven days after a union election is ordered, so that the union can effectively communicate with all the workers it seeks to represent.

The new rule requires the employer to also turn over any employee email addresses and telephone numbers it possess, and shortens the amount of time management has to turn over the list to two days.

The week’s decisions are two long overdue correctives and will hopefully restore some of workers’ basic rights on the job. Given the bad news for workers from the Supreme Court earlier this week, the correctives are certainly welcome.

This blog originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com December 12,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17442/company_email_union

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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Are “Works Councils” Really Such a Good Idea for Workers and Unions?

December 16th, 2014 | Douglas Williams

douglas williamsLabor may be at a turning point in this country. New campaigns have started to infuse fresh energy into a moribund and declining movement, and new models of collective action are being proposed in the course of these ongoing efforts. While the existing National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)/National Mediation Board (NMB) certification election-contractual bargaining system still functions on paper, in practice it has broken down.

Employers do not hesitate when flouting the law while trying to head off a union vote going against them. Even when they lose, bosses are willing to sandbag their workers by refusing to even bother to negotiate, and striking has been defanged as a tactic through legal injunction and wrongly decided precedent about permanently replacing strikers. While corporate campaigns, which focus on pressuring shareholders and embarrassing companies into acting humanely, have met with some success, they have not delivered the kind of widespread worker empowerment that the postwar period did.

There’s absolutely no doubt that if workers are going to ultimately make their own destiny that a new model or approach is needed for unions. One that has been proposed, separately by the UAW at the much-discussed Chattanooga, Tennessee, Volkwagen plant, by Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs, and by labor lawyer and writer Tom Geoghegan is the implementation of works councils in the United States.

The works council model is one that is used across Europe, with the most prominent examples being in Germany, although such councils also exist in the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. There, employees are elected to four-year terms on the works council, where they negotiate the terms of employment and workplace conditions with the employer.

In Germany, this is enabled through the Works Constitution Act, which was first passed through parliament in 1952 and allows the formation of works councils in any private workplace of at least five people. While the employees who serve on the works council are not required to be in a union, over 77 percent of them are. As such, the works council functions as a strong facilitator of union power in German labor relations, especially in the large auto plants there.

Works councils are imagined in the United States as an unprecedented form of economic democracy. Our conception of a Board of Directors has very little to do with a company’s employees or their demands; rather, it is an oligarchy of investors and corporate officers who run our nation’s business apparatus. So the thought of workers getting a say in the dealings of two of our nation’s largest industries, automotive and fast food, is one that is understandably exhilarating for those supportive of the labor movement.

But there are a few problems with implementing such a model in the U.S.. First, the National Labor Relations Act explicitly bans “company unions,” a worker organization dominated by an employer rather than as an independent body for workers, in Section 8(a)(2). Sachs makes that clear in his piece, saying that implementing a works council model at McDonalds would require significant legal wrangling to avoid being proscribed by Section 8(a)(2).

Another concern is that the works council model could mollify working-class radicalism at a time where it is on the upswing. Few could have predicted that fast-food workers would be engaging in waves of walkouts with the demand of a $15 an hour minimum wage. Combined with the recent demonstrations against state violence in major cities across the country, spurred by the decisions not to prosecute police officers in the Michael Brown case in Ferguson and the Eric Garner case in New York City, and the connections between these movements, working-class organizing might be in a stronger position now than at any other time since mass deindustrialization began in the 1970s.

Furthermore, stor after story is raising awareness of how other countries have paid their fast-food workers a living wage and still managed to turn a profit. To turn all of this potential for a paradigm-shifting movement and steer it towards a highly formal and bureaucratic process before any real gains have been secured would seem to be an error. In fact, many have argued that the bureaucratization of the labor movement is a key part of why it is in such dire straits in modern times. Why voluntarily repeat the errors that got us where we are today for a system that we are not even sure will work in the United States?

Finally, is winning a process that privileges the interests of management at the same level as the interests of the workers really worth it? Given all of the effort, energy and time that would get put into organizing works councils, is it a big enough win? The purpose of works councils is for smooth functioning of commerce at a given employer by addressing the collective concerns of its workers. Whether the emphasis falls on the front half of that statement—the smooth functioning of business—or the back half—addressing workers’concerns—in an American implementation of works councils remains up in the air.

At a time when labor is frequently discussing issues in terms of “labor-management partnerships,” will workers’ interests be better served by a system where the union is not even an independent body but rather an organ inside the corporate structure?

Works councils have significant power in Europe and are able to redress major issues for the workers who participate in them. However, they gained this power in the shadow of the Cold War, at a time when capitalism had to provide Western workers with some concessions lest they fall “victim” to Communism.

That threat does not exist now. There is no indication that the works councils that are being proposed would be able to address the larger problems that the working class faces on a day-to-day basis. While alternatives to a dysfunctional NLRA-focused process should be considered, the idea of a labor-management partnership can only function when labor has sufficient power to make everything stop.

Labor can only rebuild power through advancing the interests of the working class as a whole. Investing more in organizing, training, mobilization and educating union workers about their rights is a part of this equation, but only by fundamentally aligning the labor movement with the communities it represents will we start to recover.

This article originally appeared at Hack the Union and then on Inthesetimes.org on December 15, 2014. Reprinted with permission.http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17454/american_works_councils

About the Author: Douglas Williams is a Ph.D. student in political science at the University of Alabama, researching the labor movement and labor policy. He blogs at The South Lawn.

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The Supreme Court Just Rejected A Wage Theft Suit Against Amazon. What Does It Mean For Other Workers?

December 16th, 2014 | Alan Pyke

Retail warehouses don’t have to pay workers for the time they spend in security screenings to make sure they’re not stealing, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a unanimous decision that reverses a lower court’s finding that workers must be paid for that time.

The ruling is a blow to wage theft claims by the poorly paid workers who fill orders for Amazon.com and similar online retailers in punishing conditions with little job security. It effectively ends 400,000 workers‘ hopes of recouping hundreds of millions of dollars in back pay from the company in 13 different class-action suits.

But an employment law expert tells ThinkProgress that workers who are bringing a host of other prominent wage theft cases in other industries have nothing to fear.

“It says absolutely nothing about whether other pay practices violate the Fair Labor Standards Act,” said Prof. Catherine Keck, who teaches employment and labor law at the University of California Irvine School of Law. “I don’t think you can read this decision as anything but a very narrow interpretation of a particular portion of the law.”

The case targeted Integrity Staffing Solutions (ISS), a temp agency that Amazon pays to staff its warehouses. The warehouses require staff to clock out prior to lining up for mandatory security screenings, which workers say take up to 25 minutes to complete because the company won’t invest in setting up enough metal detectors to turn the process into a quick, simple pause on the way out of the building.

A 1947 law called the Portal-to-Portal Act exempts employers from having to pay workers for the time they spend on activities “that take place before and after the workday proper,” the New York Times explains. Workers can’t demand wages for the time it takes to walk from their car to the time clock, for example, or for the time they spend commuting. How you read on-site security screenings in the context of that law, Keck said, is a judgment call.

“There’s truth in both points of view on this. This is not like commuting,” Keck said, and “essentially the employer’s choice about how it wants to run its business and its unwillingness to invest in a security system means it is wasting a lot of its employees’ time.” But the Portal-to-Portal Act specifically says companies don’t have to pay workers for anything they do after the end of their principal work duties.

“I think that language could be construed both to include the security screenings and to exclude them. And the court chose one plausible interpretation, which is that their principal job is to put stuff in boxes in a warehouse and [not] the searches to make sure they’re not stealing stuff,” Keck said. Solving the problem requires either a change to the law from Congress to clarify how mandatory security screenings relate to existing labor law, or a decision by Amazon to spend the money it would take to make the screenings efficient enough that they don’t trap workers on site after their shift’s end.

A series of high-profile wage theft suits against McDonald’s from last spring could prove crucial to the long-running, increasingly rowdy campaign to force the fast food industry to stop paying poverty wages and start letting workers unionize. But while those suits also pivot on allegations that a corporate giant systematically deprived its most exploited employees of money they should have been paid for time they spent on site, the nature of the allegations is so different from those in the Amazon case that worker advocates have nothing to fear from Tuesday’s ruling.

McDonald’s allegedly uses a computer system to police cash flows at its stores in real time, giving managers an incentive to monitor the ratio of cash register revenue to staff wage costs from moment to moment. Workers allege that managers respond to that information by forcing them to clock out but continue working, or clock out but not go home, or otherwise manipulate their time cards and deprive them of their due pay — something multiple former managers have confirmed.

Such timesheet abuses are “clearly illegal and there’s no argument on the other side,” Keck said. “That’s a totally different issue, it arises from a totally different part of the statute.”

This blog originally appeared in Thinkprogress.org on December 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/12/10/3602000/amazon-wage-theft-ruling/

About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

 

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Got a T-Shirt? Chances Are Child Labor Was Involved

December 9th, 2014 | Tula Connell
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Cotton production involves the most child labor and forced labor in the world, according to the 2014 “List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor” by the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

Overall, 126 goods are produced annually by child labor and 55 goods produced through forced labor. Most of the goods, like cotton, are found in common items like T-shirts or are among popular foods, such as melons and rice.

The sixth annual report, released this week, added 11 goods produced with children’s labor: garments from Bangladesh; cotton and sugarcane from India; vanilla from Madagascar; fish from Kenya and Yemen; alcoholic beverages, meat, textiles and timber from Cambodia; and palm oil from Malaysia. Electronics from Malaysia made the list for being produced with forced labor.

Uzbekistan, listed among countries using forced labor, including children, for cotton production, routinely requires teachers to leave classrooms and work in the country’s annual cotton harvest, according to a report the Uzbek-German Forum issued last month.

The lengthy list of goods produced with child labor and forced labor includes garments, fish, coffee, shrimp and other shellfish, tea, corn, tobacco and peanuts.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.com on December 4, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Got-a-T-Shirt-Chances-Are-Child-Labor-Was-Involved

About Tula Connell: I got my first union card while I worked my way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (we were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—I started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), I now blog under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

 

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Chicago Raises Minimum Wage to $13 by 2019, But Strikers Say It’s Not Enough

December 9th, 2014 | Will Craft

in these timesThe Chicago City Council has approved a bill to raise the city’s minimum wage to $13 an hour by 2019. The proposal, put forward by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, will give Chicago the second highest minimum wage in the nation, behind Seattle’s $15, set to take effect by 2018.

Approved by a vote of 44-5, the vote phases in the increase over the next five years, from the current minimum wage of $8.25 to $10 by July 2015, then $11 by 2017, and $13 by 2019.

The bill comes at a time when minimum wage laws have taken center stage in the ongoing national debate about stagnating wages. American wages have been growing far slower than both productivity and inflation, with low-wage workers earning the lowest effective wages in 50 years.

“On July 8, 2014, the Minimum Wage Working Group released its report, finding, among other things, that rising inflation has outpaced the growth in the minimum wage, leaving the true value of lllinois’s current minimum wage of $8.25 per hour 32 percent below the 1968 level of $10.71 per hour (in 2013 dollars),” the text of the bill reads.

The increase is not, as usual, without opponents, with some business leaders arguing that by splitting Illinois into two regions, Chicago and everywhere else, with different minimum wages, the increase will drive businesses just outside the city, where the minimum wage will remain $8.25. Momentum to increase the Illinois minimum wage seems to be growing—voters approved a nonbinding referendum in favor of raising the minimum wage during the midterm elections—but current proposals at the state level still fall short of Chicago’s $13 increase, and the anti-labor Governor-Elect Bruce Rauner is highly unlikely to emerge as a champion of the increase..

Mayor Emanuel has also been accused of using the minimum wage proposal as a political opportunity. Some of his opponents ran on a platform of raising the minimum wage, and have said the proposal is an act of political opportunism.

“For a mayor who is fond of saying he makes tough decisions, I think we have a right to ask why he did not make an easy one. Why didn’t he support a minimum wage hike during his first year in office?” Cook County Commissioner Jesus Garcia, who pushed for a $15 minimum wage, said in a statement about the hike.

Regardless of the motives behind Mayor Emanuel’s actions, there is no doubt this is a win for workers. The move raises the wages for nearly a third of the city’s workers, according to NPR, meaning that over 400,000 people will see their wages increase.

But the wage increase falls short of the $15 minimum that fast food workers have been fighting for and went on strike for again today.

“The workers I’ve been with chant, ‘Show me $15,’ not ‘$13 by 2019,'” 2nd Ward Ald. Bob Fioretti said in a statement, according to the Chicago Tribune. “That means fighting for a $15-an-hour minimum wage today, which will both lift up Chicago working families and stop the state from limiting our ability to do the right thing.”

This blog originally appeared on December 4, 2014 on Inthesetimes.com. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17415/chicago_raises_minimum_wage_to_13_by_2019_but_strikers_say_its_not_enough

About the Author: Will Craft is a fall 2014 intern with In These Times, and is a political science major at The University of Chicago. He has previously worked for The Cancer Letter and The Triple Helix. He is also a devout member of Le Vorris &Vox;, the University of Chicago circus. He is on twitter @craftworksxyz.

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Rally Urges Court to End Pregnancy Discrimination

December 9th, 2014 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike Hall

No one should have to choose between their job and the health of their pregnancy. Peggy Young was forced to do just that in 2006 when she became pregnant and her employer, UPS, refused to accommodate her with light duty as her doctor recommended. She was forced to take unpaid leave and go without her employer-provided health coverage.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard her case claiming UPS violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Outside, about 200 of her supporters from women’s groups across the political spectrum rallied in her support.

Moms Rising Executive Director Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner says:

“Far too many employers are either ignoring or misinterpreting the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was expressly designed to protect pregnant workers from discrimination and promote their economic security.”

Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes:

“Peggy Young’s Supreme Court case sounds like a throwback to the “Mad Men” era, when employers weren’t expected—or required—to welcome women in general and pregnant women in particular.”

Young’s story is, says Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, “ unfortunately, not unusual, as reflected in the number of pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” She adds:

“Women make up nearly half of the U.S. workforce and are breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of families….When employers deny equal treatment to these women, they force workers like Peggy Young to make an impossible choice between jeopardizing their families’ financial security and following their doctors’ advice for a healthy pregnancy.”

This blog originally appeared I AFL-CIO.org on December 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission.http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/Rally-Urges-Court-to-End-Pregnancy-Discrimination

About the author: Mike Hall  is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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Women Aren’t Leaving The Work Force To Have Kids, It’s Leaving Them

December 9th, 2014 | Amelia Rosch

Common wisdom that women do not make it into upper management positions because they choose to have children and focus on their families is wrong, new research indicates.

A survey conducted by the Harvard Business School has found that personal choices are not responsible for women’s struggle to find a work-life balance. The study showed that women who chose to leave the workplace after having children did so because they felt they had little chance of advancing and not because they chose to have families.

The survey probed the idea that gender imbalances in workplaces exist because women choose to opt out and have children, a dynamic that 77 percent of those surveyed thought was the main thing responsible for hurting women’s careers. Around a fourth of women between 32 and 48 and 44 percent of women between 49 and 67 had temporarily left work for their children, but only 11 percent of all surveyed women had permanently left the workforce because of their children. After controlling for variables such as age and industry type, the researchers couldn’t find a connection between asking for family-leave and the lack of women in senior positions.

Instead, they found that the relationship between women’s child-rearing decisions and their career opportunities runs the opposite direction.

Less than half of the women surveyed said they felt satisfied with their careers. Only 41 percent of women said they were satisfied with their opportunities for career growth. The study also found that there was a large gap in who got senior management positions: 57 percent of men had access to these positions, while only 41 percent of women did. The researchers suggest that women who have children choose to leave the workforce “as a last resort, because they find themselves in unfulfilling roles with dim prospects for advancement.”

The study, which was published in Harvard Business Review, looked at 25,000 graduates of Harvard Business School.

When it comes to balancing work and family life, women are at a disadvantage. The US is ranked ninth to last among developed countries when it comes to work-life balance, and 17 out of 22 for women’s participation in the workforce. Men are more likely to get requests for flexible work schedules approved and are more likely to be able to work from home. Despite being paid less than men, women tend to have jobs that are more stressful and offer less security.

This blog originally appeared in Thinkprogress.org on December 4, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2014/12/04/3599039/harvard-business/

About the author: Amelia Rosch is an intern for ThinkProgress.

 

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Outrageous Forced Arbitration Decision: Consumer Has to Arbitrate Case Involving Home Invasion and Severe Beating

December 8th, 2014 | Paul Bland

PaulBlandWeb-172I regularly hear consumer and workers’-rights advocates say this crazy thing to me: “the cases on forced arbitration are so bad, they can’t get any worse.” Um, wrong. A Missouri Court of Appeals recently issued a decision that bears me out on this point, in Johnson v. Rent-A-Center.

In this case, an 88-year-old “neighborhood staple”, Kenny Johnson, rents a refrigerator from Rent-A-Center. A guy from Rent-A-Center comes out to the consumer’s house twice to service the refrigerator. Then, the guy came a third time, the plaintiff alleges, wearing a Rent-A-Center uniform. And, according to the lawsuit and news reports, the Rent-A-Center guy, Eric Patton, seriously beat the man with gashes to his head and robbed him. He wasn’t discovered for three days. The assailant has been criminally charged.

So in the mouse print of the “agreement” the consumer had to sign to rent the refrigerator was a forced arbitration provision. The forced arbitration provision says that the arbitrator, not a court, will decide when the arbitration clause applies to some dispute. But in this case, the consumer makes a pretty strong point: he went to Rent-A-Center to get a refrigerator, he didn’t go there requesting that they send a guy to his house to beat him up and rob him.

Too bad, the court says. Listing some very pro-corporation U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the Missouri court holds that it has to enforce the arbitration clause, and let the arbitrator decide whether the dispute over the guy beating up the consumer is covered by the consumer’s contract about renting the refrigerator.  In fairness to the Missouri Court of Appeal, it directly stated that it was bound to follow a U.S. Supreme Court decision, “regardless of whether we agree with the reasoning expressed therein.”

Now, not to be overly cynical, but the arbitrators get paid in these cases by the hour. So if the arbitrator finds that the case can’t be arbitrated after thinking it over for an hour, the arbitrator only gets paid for an hour. (The typical arbitrator charges several hundred dollars an hour, in many big cities it’s more than $500 an hour.) If the arbitrator finds that the case CAN be arbitrated, though, they can bill LOTS of hours. So the arbitrator has a certain financial incentive to go with Rent-A-Center here.

The upshot of all this is a court decision whose reasoning is very defensible under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions, but the conclusion it reaches is unbelievably unfair to the consumer who was severely beaten and robbed. When a consumer signs a contract to rent a refrigerator, they think the contract is about renting a refrigerator.

If the consumer did think about the arbitration clause at all – and let’s face it, almost no one does – they would have thought: “well, this probably is talking about disputes like if the refrigerator doesn’t work or I don’t pay the rent.” No one in America would think that this was a contract that was going to decide what would happen if something unthinkable like this happens.

But welcome to 2014 America’s legal system, where the prevailing rule is that forced arbitration provisions are so favored by current law that they’ll be enforced even in situations where 1,000 people out of 1,000 would NEVER have imagined that they would be enforced. The Supreme Court’s jurisprudence of arbitration plays out, once again, as being wildly unfair and counterintuitive. It’s an outrage, but just one of far too many.

This article originally appeared in PublicJustice.net on December 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission. outrageous-forced-arbitration-decision-consumer-has-arbitrate-case-involving-home-invasion-a

About the author: F. Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy.

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