Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The Grocery Store That Competes With Walmart Prices And Is Beloved By Employees

May 22nd, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertThis week, Wegmans, a family-owned grocery store chain, announced it would open its first location in New York City.

The announcement prompted an outpouring of devotion for the company. The New York Times noted it can actually claim a “cult following.” Part of the devotion to the store is not just that it manages to have a huge selection while offering prices that can compete with Walmart, but that it does it while treating its employees well.

The perks start with pay, which for hourly store employees is a little more than $33,000 a year on average. By contrast, Walmart has admitted that more than half of its employees make less than $25,000 a year, although it recently announced a wage increase, and retail sales workers make a median $21,410 annual salary. Anonymous pay sites like Glassdoor and Payscale also show that a Wegmans cashier can expect to make more than $9 an hour, on average.

But that’s not what makes the company famous for employee satisfaction, landing it on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since the list began. It also offers generous benefits. It pays about 85 percent of the costs of health care coverage, including dental, for its full-time employees and offers insurance to part-time workers who put in 30 hours a week. It offers 401(k) plans with a salary match of up to 3 percent of an employee’s contribution.

And it has a scholarship program that awards tuition assistance to employees, which has paid out $100 million to 32,000 employees since it began in 1984. The program gives part-time employees up to $1,500 a year and full-time employees up to $2,200 a year to study at any college in any field. Starbucks’s lauded scholarship program, by contrast, used to only be for studying careers that directly prepared employees for working at Starbucks and now is only applicable for studying at Arizona State University. The share of companies offering employees college assistance has been trending downward.

Wegmans also offers more work/life balance than most retail jobs. It gives employees 11 days of paid vacation and holidays and three extra days of paid time off. It’s known for flexible scheduling, a perk that regularly tops surveys of its own workforce as the most important benefit offered. Managers have the power to craft their own schedules and work with employees’ needs, and many workers use an online system to lay out their availability around their own schedules. In retail at large, on the other hand, more than a quarter of workers report irregular and unpredictable scheduling like being made to be on call or working two shifts in one day. Nearly 40 percent of retail workers in New York City say they don’t have a set minimum of hours week to week.

These benefits aren’t just altruistic. The company generates $7.1 billion in revenue and is profitable. “When you think about employees first, the bottom line is better,” the company’s vice-president for human resources has said. The company boasts a 5 percent turnover rate among full-time employees, compared to a 27 percent rate for the industry. That comes with a cost, as it often eats up about 20 percent of a worker’s salary to replace him.

“What some companies believe is that you can’t grow and treat your people well,” says a senior vice president. “We’ve proven that you can grow and treat your people well.”

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Not Lovin’ It: Thousands Storm McDonald’s HQ To Protest Low Wages

May 21st, 2015 | Terrance Heath

Terrance HeathIn the largest protest of its kind, thousands of McDonald’s employees stormed the company’s headquarters today to demand that it stop spending millions manipulating stock prices, and start paying workers a living wage. McDonald’s cashiers and cooks came to the company’s shareholders meeting, at its corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. More than 100 were arrested for refusing to leave the property.

Marching with them were Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry; Moral Mondays movement leader Rev. William Barber; Rev. Marilyn Pagán Banks of North Side Power/A Just Harvest in Chicago, Illinois; and Rev. Rodney E. Williams of the Swope Parkway United Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri

The company, which banned media from its shareholders meeting on Tuesday, responded by shutting down its corporate headquarters.

McDonald’s is already under fire worldwide for dodging €1 billion in corporate taxes in Europe, and violating labor laws in Brazil. Now its in hot water back home for a share buyback scheme designed to inflate the company’s stock price, which means more money in the already well-lined pockets of shareholders and company executives. The company recently announced plans to return $18 to $20 billion to shareholders by 2016, through dividends and share buybacks.

Thousands of workers swarmed the company’s headquarters to protest McDonald’s spending nearly $30 billion manipulating stock prices instead of paying its workers a livable wage. Some carried blown-up copies of their paychecks to illustrate how little McDonald’s invests in its workers vs. how much is spends repurchasing shares.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project released a statement in support of the protest:

“McDonald’s workers are rightly bringing the fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union to their employer’s doorstep. For too long, the McDonald’s business model has served to enrich executives and short-term shareholders at the expense of workers and taxpayers. It’s time McDonald’s face the people who fry its fries and serve its customers but who are forced to pay for groceries with food stamps because McDonald’s does not pay them enough to feed their families.

“In the last decade, McDonald’s spent $30 billion on share buy backs—a widely discredited and short-sighted strategy to pump up the value of its stock. Spending billions on buybacks may provide short-term payoffs for a handful of rich investors, but it does nothing to benefit the company’s hundreds of thousands of employees, who are barely making ends meet. In fact, it misplaces resources that would be better used investing in growing the company or raising worker pay.

“More than half of fast-food workers are forced to rely on public assistance to support themselves and their families. McDonald’s costs taxpayers $1.2 billion every year in public assistance. McDonald’s is a $5 billion global corporation; its employees should not need to rely on food stamps, and taxpayers should not be subsidizing its profits.

“Today, as the workers protested, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Wage Board held its first hearing to significantly raise pay for fast-food workers across the state. And just yesterday, Los Angeles became the biggest city yet to vote for a $15 minimum wage, which is fast becoming a new baseline for workers across the country. The McDonald’s workers who are standing up and fighting for $15 and union rights are winning. This fight is not theirs alone—all of us have a stake in it. And when they finally get $15, all of us will be better off.”

The protest comes on the heels of the largest-ever strike against the fast food industry last month, when workers joined walkouts in 236 cities, as well as strikes and protests in 40 countries.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on May 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Terrance Heath. Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

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Extreme Bill Would Override All Local Employment Laws, Including LGBT Protections

May 20th, 2015 | Zack Ford

Zack FordDuring a meeting of the Michigan House Committee on Commerce and Trade, Republican lawmakers sneakily introduced a substitute bill replacing HB 4052. The new legislation, sponsored by Rep. Earl Poleski (R), overrides all local ordinances governing employers’ relationships with their employees. Because of the way it would impose state control, opponents have dubbed it the “Death Star” bill. Not only does it have implications for any local ordinance that controls minimum wage, benefits, sick leave, union organizing and strikes, wage disputes, apprenticeship programs, and “ban the box” policies (blocking employers from asking about felony convictions), but it would also override the LGBT protections that exist in 38 Michigan municipalities.

“A local governmental body,” the new HB 4052 reads, “shall not adopt, enforce, or administer an ordinance, local policy, or local resolution regulating the relationship between an employer and its employees or potential employees if the regulation contains requirements exceeding those imposed by state or federal law.” Because state law does not include employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, all of the municipalities who do protect LGBT workers would have their ordinances voided, similar to a law that passed earlier this year in Arkansas.

East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett (D) posted on Facebook Tuesday expressing great concern about the bill’s consideration, noting it would invalidate not only its LGBT protections, but also its Equal Benefits Ordinance, which requires the city’s contractors to offer partner benefits to employees’ same-sex partners. Describing Tuesday’s committee hearing, Triplett explained, “When State Representative Stephanie Chang pointed out that the bill would

invalidate Michigan’s 38 local nondiscrimination ordinances, the Chairman was forced to ask: ‘Will this bill really do that?’ The answer is: yes, absolutely.” East Lansing was the first community in the country to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation; its first ordinance became law in 1972.

The “Death Star” may be one of the most sweeping preemptive bills ever considered in any state. Ten states have passed bills prohibiting cities from enacting paid sick day policies, legislation championed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Last month, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a law overriding local bans on fracking. Michigan itself tried to preempt local minimum wage laws over a decade ago, but then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) vetoed the bill, and Wisconsin lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill last year.

Michigan Democrats have been pushing for LGBT nondiscrimination protections at the state level, but have so far been unsuccessful. Republican lawmakers are also considering a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), like those recently considered in Indiana and Arkansas, but Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has said he won’t sign such a bill if LGBT protections aren’t passed as well.

This blog was originally posted on May 13, 2015 on Think Progress. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Zack Ford. Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

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It Takes More Than ‘Leaning In’ To Lift Wages for All Women

May 19th, 2015 | Emily Foster

Emily-Foster_avatarAccording to a fall 2014 poll by Pew Research center, 77 percent of women and 63 percent of men agree that “this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace.” Although women hold 49.3 percent of jobs, they only earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. It’s even less for women of color – Hispanic women earn 54 cents for every dollar white men earn, and African-American women earn 64 cents for every dollar white men earn.

The gender wage gap exists because of policies that fail to benefit American workers, and instead benefit their bosses.

On Wednesday, May 13, 2015, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. held a panel to explore the necessity of giving women meaningful equality in the workplace. Panelists discussed how structural differences in business regarding small employers and part-time workers keep the gender pay gap strong.

Panelist Caroline Fredrickson, author of “Under the Bus: How Working Women are Being Run Over” emphasized how certain views about how women should advance themselves in the workplace, such as those Silicon Valley executive Sheryl Sandberg wrote in “Lean In,” might work for professionals in full-time jobs, but do not address the majority of America’s working women. “There’s nothing wrong with ‘leaning in,’ but it doesn’t address the problems that many women face in the U.S,” she said.

In 2013, Sandberg rallied professional women across the country to “Lean In” and push for success in their personal and professional lives. Sandberg argued that women should speak up and have meaningful conversations with employers regarding paid leave, affordable child care, and other crucial benefits.

But “leaning in” cannot fix the structural problems that need to be addressed through policy changes. The gender wage gap does not exist because not enough women are “leaning in,” but because of a system that allows part-time workers to be denied benefits and to be discriminated against by small employers, and that does not pay living wages. Part-time workers, members of racial and ethnic minorities, and mothers are among the highest numbers of women being failed by our system.

“Farm-workers, temps, small business workers, part-time workers, etc.” are often left behind by policies that allow businesses to exploit workers with minimal pay and little to no benefits, Fredrickson noted. In her introduction to “Under the Bus,” Fredrickson wrote, “Few of us are aware of how the labor and employment laws leave out so many women.”

Part-time work is a job category dominated by women. In 2014, almost 33 percent of all employed women over the age of 16 in the United States were classified as part-time workers. According to Frederickson, “8 million of these workers are involuntary,” meaning, that no full-time positions are available to them.

Most workers in part-time jobs receive minimal to no benefits. It is also common for businesses to withhold hours from employees to exempt workers from benefit status. Paid sick leave, vacation days, and health insurance are typically unheard of.

The role of motherhood also affects the workplace. According to the Department of Labor, The labor force participation rate for single mothers with children under 18 years of age was 74.2 percent in 2013, and 67.8% for married mothers (spouse present) with children under 18.

Even with high numbers of mothers participating, mothers face some of the biggest hardships in the workforce. At Wednesday’s discussion, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising.org noted, “Being a mom is a greater predictor of job discrimination than being a woman.” Becoming a mom and having a baby is also the number one cause of “poverty spells,” where income dips below what is necessary for basic living expenses, she said.

It is impossible for women to “lean in” if policies do not keep businesses from unfair labor practices. The United States needs to implement checks on our employment policies to protect workers and close the wage gap.

During the panel, Brigid Schulte, journalist for The Washington Post, stated, “the more I learn about how our work policies are structured, the more I learn that they don’t work for anyone.”

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. However, according to Fredrickson, “it only covers a very small number of employees – over 40 percent don’t qualify, and most of those who don’t are young women and women of color.”

The U.S. also lacks policies to protect working mothers. Today, the U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity and parental leave. Currently, 51 percent of new mothers receive no paid leave whatsoever.

Affordable childcare is also a huge problem; daycare can cost even more than college. Rowe-Finkbeiner explained the case for affordable childcare, stating, “For every dollar we spend on high quality childcare, we get $8 back – and for high-risk children, we get $20 back.”

Paid leave is also a crucial benefit that many cannot receive. Four in ten private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-wage workers cannot earn a single paid sick day. Paid sick days would ensure that women would not lose pay or their jobs because they or their child fell ill.

Even if more policies are put into place for paid leave, affordable childcare and paid sick days, one underlying force will continue to affect worker prosperity and the wage gap: the need for a living wage.

Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy stressed that “raising pay for all workers” would make a significant difference in the gender wage gap. Women currently make up two-thirds of workers in low-wage jobs. By implementing a living wage, 15 million working women would have a greater ability to support themselves and their families.

There is still a gender wage gap in 2015 because of a lack of policy measures to protect working women. Paid leave, affordable childcare, and paid sick days are all necessary benefits that would help to close the gap. Because women are disproportionately represented in part-time and minimum wage work, a living wage is also a necessity. Until fairer work policies are put into practice, the gender wage gap will remain persistent.

Rowe-Finkbeiner summed up America’s gender gap issue: “We’re living in a ‘Modern Family’ nation with ‘Leave it to Beaver’ policies.”

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on May 14, 2015. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Emily Foster. Emily Foster is a regular contributor to Our Future.

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OSHA Secures Robust Injunctive Relief for Whistleblower

May 18th, 2015 | Jason Zuckerman

jason zuckermanOn May 7, 2015, OSHA obtained a preliminary injunction in a Section 11(c) whistleblower case barring Lear Corporation from further retaliating against the whistleblower, Kimberly King. The injunction is a significant win for whistleblowers because the court’s order broadly construes the scope of protected whistleblowing to include disclosures to the media, and it signals OSHA’s stepped up enforcement of whistleblower protection laws.

Kimberly King worked for Lear Corporation at a plant in Alabama that produces foam cushions that are used in car seats and headrests. King raised concerns about the health effects of exposure to a chemical called toluene diisocyanate (“TDI”).   Based on internal tests and tests conducted by OSHA, Lear concluded that TDI levels were within legal limits. King, however, remained concerned that she developed asthma because of her exposure to elevated TDI levels at the plant, and King shared her concerns with media outlets. An article on nbcnews.com described how TDI and other workplace chemicals correlate with certain respiratory conditions like asthma, and the article cited a physician who concluded that King is in the top 25 percent in terms of the levels of isocyanate antibodies in her blood.  King also participated in a YouTube video accusing Lear of exposing employees to TDI.

Lear suspended King and another employee from work without pay for participating in the video on the ground that King should have known that the plant was not exposing employees to elevated levels of TDI.   In addition, Lear demanded that King recant her statements to the media. King continued to raise her concerns by going to Hyundai in March 2015 to deliver a letter asking it to fix the conditions at the plant. Lear then suspended King for seven days without pay, and upon King’s return, Lear terminated her employment and sued her for defamation and interference with business relations.

After an evidentiary hearing, Judge Callie V.S. Granade concluded that King’s participation in the YouTube video, her disclosures to the press, and her disclosures to OSHA constitute protected activity. In addition, she issued an order providing broad preliminary relief, including:

  • enjoining Defendants from terminating, suspending, harassing, suing, threatening, intimidating, or taking any other discriminatory or retaliatory action against any current or former employee based on Defendants’ belief that such employee exercised any rights he or she may have under the Occupational Safety and Health Act;
  • enjoining Defendants from telling any current or former employee not to speak to or cooperate with representatives of the Secretary of Labor;
  • enjoining Defendants from obstructing any investigation by the Secretary of Labor or its designee; and
  • enjoining Defendants from suing current or former employees because those individuals complained about health and safety or because they engaged in protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

In assessing whether OSHA’s injunction serves the public interest (one of prerequisites for granting a preliminary injunction), Judge Granade made a critical observation about the public policy undergirding whistleblower protection laws: “The public retains an interest in safe and healthy workplace environments for all employees, and protecting employees who speak up about perceived dangers in the workplace. This preliminary injunction may also help prevent future violations of section 11(c) and inform current employees of their rights under this section.” This order is a great example of the type of vigorous enforcement required to effectively protect whistleblowers.

About the author: The author’s name is Jason Zuckerman. Jason Zuckerman is Principal at Zuckerman Law (www.zuckermanlaw.com)  and represents whistleblowers nationwide.  He is the author of the Whistleblower Protection Law Blog (www.whistleblower-protection-law.com).

 

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Facebook Just Made Sure Even Their Janitors Are Making At Least $15 An Hour

May 15th, 2015 | Lauren Williams

Facebook issued new employee benefit guidelines that raise minimum pay to $15 and extends leave for third-party contract employees who work behind the scenes on the social network’s campuses. In a blog post Tuesday, Facebook’s chief operations executive Sheryl Sandberg wrote that contractors and vendors in U.S. will have to adhere to new standards, including a $15 minimum wage, at least 15 days paid leave for vacation, sick days and holidays, and a $4,000 new child benefit for parents who don’t get paid parental leave.

Effective May 1, the new benefits will cover contract employees who work as cooks, janitors, security guards and other support staff at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The company plans to extend the benefits to third-party vendors with more than 25 employees at its other 16 campuses in the U.S. over the next year.

Facebook will also absorb extra costs from the new program until contract companies can meet the new standards, a Facebook representative told the Wall Street Journal. The new program, which Sandberg said will primarily benefit women who make up two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce, aims to bring temporary or contract workers closer to the perks Facebook employees get, such as three weeks vacation, parental leave and new baby bonuses.

The move also follows a strong backlash from Silicon Valley’s invisible workforce. The employees tech companies lean on to provide the benefits full employees get such as free transportation, meals, security and personal grooming services, often face untenable work schedules with skimpy compensation by contracting companies. Earlier this year, shuttle bus drivers for Facebook employees unionized to fight grueling shifts and better pay. Amazon, which has frequent labor disputes, recently removed a controversial clause in its employment contract that banned seasonal and contract workers from getting jobs at companies that may only remotely compete with the online retailer.

Google hired more than 200 security guards last year instead of contracting the services out, giving them the same benefits — retirement, health insurance and paternity leave — as the company’s other employees. In a less traditional move, Apple and Facebook also expanded their health benefits, allowing female employees to freeze their eggs under the company’s insurance plans.  

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Lauren C. Williams. Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

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States Where Minimum Wages Are Supposed To Be Living Wages

May 14th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertLast week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that he is taking advantage of a state law to raise minimum wages without the involvement of the legislature. He’s not the only governor with that power; others could also follow suit.

New York State law gives the labor commissioner the authority to convene a wage board to investigate whether the minimum wage in a specific job — or even all of the jobs in the state — are adequate, and to issue a “wage order” to increase it without the involvement of state lawmakers. On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that he would direct the commissioner to investigate wages in the fast food industry. New York was the home to the first strike in the fast food industry demanding a $15 minimum wage and has been home to them as they continued to spread across the country.

But Cuomo isn’t the only governor with the power to set a higher minimum wage without approval from a state legislature. According to an analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), state laws in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin all empower their governors in similar ways. “There was a time when the minimum wage was less politicized and there was a sense that it should be at a level adequate to deliver decent incomes for workers,” explained Paul Sonn, general counsel at NELP. “These laws are still on the books in a number of places.”

States have already been raising their own minimum wages, to the point that the majority have a higher wage than the federal level of $7.25. But some state lawmakers haven’t been taking action. “Where the legislative process won’t deal adequately with the minimum wage, governors should dust [these laws] off and use them aggressively to deliver the wages that workers need,” Sonn argued. “Governors in states with this authority should be using them more frequently and more creatively to address the problem of low wages.”

One example could be California, which has a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who already signed a minimum wage increase to $10 by 2016 back in 2013. “Cuomo is saying, ‘I’m going to make New York a progressive leader with the strongest minimum wage in the nation,’” Sonn said. “Jerry Brown could do the same thing.” A spokesman for the governor’s office told ThinkProgress he wasn’t aware of similar options to what Cuomo did in California, but noted that there are other new bills and proposals to raise the wage.

The authority can also be used against governors who aren’t supportive of higher minimum wages. That’s already happened in Wisconsin. There, a state statute says that all wages in the state have to amount to no less than a living wage and that any member of the public can file a complaint saying the minimum wage fails that standard. Last year, low-wage workers and worker organizing groups submitted 100 complaints to Gov. Scott Walker (R) alleging that the state’s $7.25 minimum wage violates the statute, although his administration rejected the complaints.

A similar fight could start brewing in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) has voiced his opposition to increasing the minimum wage. “The Governor of New Jersey has the power to raise wages for hundreds of thousands of workers,” Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, told ThinkProgress. “We will absolutely be calling on Gov. Christie to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Cuomo, who Christie has called his ‘separated at birth twin brother.’” She also said the issue would be brought up beyond Christie’s administration. “Over the coming year Working Families activists [will] be asking every potential gubernatorial contender in New Jersey’s 2017 election where they stand on using the state’s wage board to end poverty wages,” she said.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

 

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New York manicurists to get emergency protections against wage theft, hazardous chemicals

May 13th, 2015 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonTalk about journalism with an immediate impact. Last week’s New York Times investigation of labor law violations and unhealthy working conditions for manicurists in the city’s nail salons has spurred Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take sweeping emergency action:

Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. […]Salons will be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights, including the fact that it is illegal to work without wages or to pay money for a job — a common practice in the nail salon industry, according to workers and owners. The signs will be in half a dozen languages, including those most spoken in the industry — Korean, Chinese and Spanish. […]

Salons will now be required to be bonded — which is intended to ensure, through a contract with a bonding agency, that workers can eventually be paid if salon owners are found to have underpaid the workers. The move is an attempt to counteract the phenomenon of salon owners’ hiding assets when they are found guilty of wage theft.

Additionally, health and safety measures will be put in place, like requiring manicurists to wear gloves and masks and salons to be ventilated, while the Health Department will investigate the most effective health protections to incorporate into what will eventually be permanent policies replacing the short-term emergency measures.

Some of the abuses Sarah Maslin Nir’s investigation into New York City nail salons exposed may be especially prevalent in New York, where there are more nail salons per capita than in any other American city and where manicures cost below the national average. That might, for instance, make wage theft more common and more aggressive than in other locations—but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in California and Illinois and Massachusetts, too, and states should take this as a spur to inspect their own nail salons. And the health hazards manicurists face similarly deserve a good hard look by state regulators. Customers might end up paying a couple dollars more for a mani-pedi, but we’re talking about workers’ lives here, and their ability to collect the pay they’ve legally earned.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on May 9, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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The Missing 3 Million

May 12th, 2015 | Jonathan Tasini

jonathan-tasiniI remain in the camp of people who are entirely unimpressed by the economic figures raved about by most pundits, economists and The White House. We all know that pay is not growing. But, there’s another thing to be concerned about: the missing 3.1 million workers. The rebound fans:

The American job market rebounded in April, the government said on Friday, helping to ease worries that the economy was on the brink of another extended slowdown after a bleak winter in which the overall economy stalled. But the growth in jobs failed to translate, once again, into any significant improvement in pay.

Uh, but wait a minute. What about a whole bunch of people who are off the radar screen? The Economic Policy Institute is hunting for the “missing workers”:

In today’s labor market, the unemployment rate drastically understates the weakness of job opportunities. This is due to the existence of a large pool of “missing workers”—potential workers who, because of weak job opportunities, are neither employed nor actively seeking a job. In other words, these are people who would be either working or looking for work if job opportunities were significantly stronger. Because jobless workers are only counted as unemployed if they are actively seeking work, these “missing workers” are not reflected in the unemployment rate.[emphasis added]

What’s the number today?:

Total missing workers, April 2015: 3,140,000 Unemployment rate if missing workers were looking for work: 7.3%[emphasis added]

Which would mean the real unemployment rate–and I’m even leaving out the people who would like full-time work but can’t find it (but are counted as “employed”)–is double what the official number tells us. – See more at: http://www.workinglife.org/2015/05/08/the-missing-3-million/#sthash.m22tUoHe.dpuf

This blog was originally posted on Working Life on May 8, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jonathan Tasini. Some basics: I’m a political/organizing/economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years; my goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out more than a decade ago, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays (slacker), with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995). I’m currently working on two news books. My organizational life has brought me the gift of working with many talented, committed people over the past 30 years, principally during the 13 years I had the honor to serve as president of the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981). Aside from that, it’s baseball, and counting the winter days until pitchers and catchers report.

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Your Manicurist is Likely Being Paid Illegal Starvation Wages

May 11th, 2015 | Ariel Zionts

Ariel ZiontsAfter investigating 150 nail salons over 13 months, New York Times reporter Sarah Maslin Nir found that “manicurists are routinely underpaid and exploited, and endure ethnic discrimination and other abuse.” The findings are presented in a long-form multimedia story and offered in English, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.

Nir followed manicurists who, after leaving their cramped living arrangements, hop into vans that shuttle them to nail salons in the city and even into different states. When they first begin work, many are forced to pay a training fee of around $100-$200, sometimes more. Many remain unpaid during an “apprenticeship period” until they can prove they are skilled enough to deserve payment, but this payment is usually below minimum wage.

Twenty-one-year-old Jing Ren’s story illustrates this process. She paid $100 in a training fee, then worked three months without pay before earning a wage of less than $3 an hour.

Because nail salon workers are considered “tipped workers” under state and federal labor laws, they can be paid below the state’s $8.25 minimum wage; employers are required to make up the remainder of the worker’s pay if their hourly rate comes out to below minimum wage. The investigation found that bosses rarely provide that legally mandated supplemental pay. Overtime pay is similarly rare for manicurists, who may work up to 12 hours a day, seven days a week.

Nir also found that manicurists’ pay is often taken away for minor transgressions. When 47-year-old Qing Lin spilled a drop of nail polish remover on a client’s Prada sandals, she was forced to pay for damages and fired from the salon she worked at for 10 years. “I am worth less than a shoe,” she stated.

Pay also can correlate to ethnicity. Nir found that Koreans are paid the most, followed by Chinese and Latino workers. Non-Korean workers Nir spoke with are sometimes prohibited from speaking and forced to eat in a separate location. Other documented abuses include workers being monitored on video, physical and verbal abuse and poor safety standards that lead to cancer and miscarriages caused by exposure to chemicals and dust.

Nail salon owners are rarely investigated or punished for their labor violations. New York’s Department of Labor investigates a few dozen—around 1%—of the over 3,600 salons in the state per year. When investigated, the department finds wage violations 80 percent of the time. The Times said all but three of the more than 100 workers they interviewed have had wages withheld in illegal ways.

Because many manicurists are undocumented and are often unaware of labor laws and speak limited English, many do not report on their bosses’ illegal activities.

Nir is hosting a Facebook chat on Monday, May 11 at 1 PM EST. Participants are asked to submit questions ahead of time. If you want an ethical manicure, the Times has tips on that.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on May 7, 2015. Reposted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Ariel Zionts. Arielle Zionts is a Spring 2015 In These Times editorial intern and freelance reporter. In August she will join the Interfaith Voices radio show as a producer. She studied anthropology at Pitzer College and radio at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Arielle loves to ride her bike and listen to public radio. She tweets at @ajzionts and her website is ariellezionts.com.

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