Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

"The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd”

April 14th, 2015 | Jonathan Tasini

jonathan-tasiniPearls of wisdom. Not the economics–because it is absurd, the reality not of “free market” competition but the reality of cronyism, corruption and greed. But, Dan Price saw the immorality of paying people shit and did something about it: he cut his pay and is raising everyone’s wages.

A caveat: I am naturally hesitant to put anyone on a pedestal too quickly, especially someone who gets some uncritical free media without too much inquiry. But, until I see otherwise, Price gets a free ride and a tip of the cap for this:

The idea began percolating, said Dan Price, the founder of Gravity Payments, after he read an article on happiness. It showed that, for people who earn less than about $70,000, extra money makes a big difference in their lives.His idea bubbled into reality on Monday afternoon, when Mr. Price surprised his 120-person staff by announcing that he planned over the next three years to raise the salary of even the lowest-paid clerk, customer service representative and salesman to a minimum of $70,000.

“Is anyone else freaking out right now?” Mr. Price asked after the clapping and whooping died down into a few moments of stunned silence. “I’m kind of freaking out.”

If it’s a publicity stunt, it’s a costly one. Mr. Price, who started the Seattle-based credit-card payment processing firm in 2004 at the age of 19, said he would pay for the wage increases by cutting his own salary from nearly $1 million to $70,000 and using 75 to 80 percent of the company’s anticipated $2.2 million in profit this year.

The paychecks of about 70 employees will grow, with 30 ultimately doubling their salaries, according to Ryan Pirkle, a company spokesman. The average salary at Gravity is $48,000 year.[emphasis added]

What he came to understand:

“The market rate for me as a C.E.O. compared to a regular person is ridiculous, it’s absurd,” said Mr. Price, who said his main extravagances were snowboarding and picking up the bar bill. He drives a 12-year-old Audi, which he received in a barter for service from the local dealer.[emphasis added]

The reaction from his workers:

Hayley Vogt, a 24-year-old communications coordinator at Gravity who earns $45,000, said, “I’m completely blown away right now.” She said she has worried about covering rent increases and a recent emergency room bill.

And:

Phillip Akhavan, 29, earns $43,000 working on the company’s merchant relations team. “My jaw just dropped,” he said. “This is going to make a difference to everyone around me.”

A note: to be sure, Price is going to still be a very wealthy man–he has a company which is still making a lot of money.But…he did this. And as far as I can tell it comes from an honest place, an honest morality.

The fact that this even gets some buzz is a sign of how corrupt CEOs truly are, grabbing millions of dollars for themselves and leaving most of their workers to pick up crumbs. The only slight disagreement I’d have with Price is on his view of the “market” for CEO pay.

There is no “market” in the sense that normal people would understand. It’s a corrupt, closed system of cronyism. I’ve written about this many times over the years and had the good fortune, when writing my book“The Audacity of Greed” back in 2009, to talk with Graef “Bud” Crystal who was once one of the country’s premier compensation consultants—the guy who would be hired by CEOs to come up with compensation packages. He told me back then:

“In 1970, one CEO hired me and said, ‘we don’t have a bonus plan and do we need one?’” recalls Crystal. “I did the study and I went back to the CEO and said ‘yes you do need a bonus plan. But we have a problem area. You are making $150,000-a year and the problem is that the $150,000 is equal to the salary and the bonus to what your competitors are paying so we have to cut your pay to $100,000-a-year and then we can put in a bonus.’” Crystal laughs. “It was like a scene from The Exorcist where ice formed on the windows…he started arguing about the findings and he finally said ‘let me say this to you this way: who do you think is paying your bills anyway?’ I replied, ‘If I recall correctly the checks were drawn on the corporate account, not your personal account so the shareholders are paying me, not you.’ The meeting ended quite quickly.

The point is the whole game is fixed. The CEO stacks his board with cronies, pays them $20,000-per-meeting board fees and, then, makes sure his cronies approve pay packages though the real money is in the pensions and deferred pay. It’s a scam.It is interesting that Price’s decision comes on the eve what will be huge national demonstrations to raise wages to a minimum of $15-an-hour.

This article originally appeared in workinglife.org on April  14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author:  Jonathan Tasini on any given day, I think like a political-union organizer or a writer — or both. 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, 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, 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).

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On Equal Pay Day, Mind the Gap, All $431,000 of It

April 14th, 2015 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike HallToday, Equal Pay Day, marks the day when women workers close the 2014 pay gap, and that wage gap is huge. Women, on average, earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men’s wages and that adds up to more than $10,800 a year and more than $400,000 over a career.

A new report finds that wage gap is even wider for mothers, especially single mothers and mothers of color, most of whom are essential breadwinners and caregivers for their families.

The report, An Unlevel Playing Field: America’s Gender-Based Wage Gap, Binds of Discrimination and a Path Forward, by the National Partnership for Women & Families, finds mothers who work full-time, year-round in the United States are paid just 71 cents for every dollar paid to fathers who work full-time, year-round. Single mothers are paid just 58 cents for every dollar paid to fathers. And African American and Latina mothers suffer the biggest disparities, being paid just 54 cents and 49 cents, respectively, for every dollar paid to white, non-Hispanic fathers.

National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said:

“At a time when women’s wages are essential to families and our economy, the persistence of the gender-based wage gap is doing real and lasting damage to women, families, communities and to our nation. It defies common sense that lawmakers are not doing more to stop gender discrimination in wages.”

In 2009, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which overturned a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that denied many pay discrimination victims their day in court. But since then, Republican lawmakers have blocked votes on the Paycheck Fairness Act.

That legislation would strengthen penalties that courts may impose for equal pay violations and prohibit retaliation against workers who inquire about or disclose information about employers’ wage practices. The bill also would require employers to show pay disparity is truly related to job performance—not gender.

The bill was reintroduced last month by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who said:

“Equal pay is not just a problem for women, but for families, who are trying to pay their bills, trying to get ahead, trying to achieve the American Dream and are getting a smaller paycheck than they have earned for their hard work.”

Last April, President Obama signed two executive orders on equal pay, one that banned retaliation against employees of federal contractors for discussing their wages and another that instructed the U.S. Department of Labor to create new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on employee compensation. While these actions will help federal contractor employees, congressional action is needed to end gender-based pay discrimination for all workers.

Here are some other facts on unequal pay and the wage gap between men and women.

  • If the pay trends of the past five decades remain the same, it will take nearly another five decades—until 2058—for women to reach pay equity with men.
  • If women and men received equal pay, the poverty rate for all working women and their families would be cut in half from 8.1% to 3.9%.
  • The gender wage gap among union members is half the size of the wage gap among nonunion workers.
  • Union women working full-time earn, on average, 90.6% of what their male peers earn.
  • The wage gap for union members fell 2.6 cents between 2012 and 2013 but was virtually unchanged for nonunion workers.
  • Paying women the same wage as their male peers would have added an additional $448 billion to the economy in 2012 or roughly 3% of the country’s GDP.
  • 62% of women who work in the private sector report that discussing pay at work is strongly discouraged or prohibited, making it harder for women to discover if they are missing out on wages they deserve.
  • Requiring employers to disclose employee pay rankings would allow women to know if they are being paid the same wage as comparable workers.

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This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on April 14, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

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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The High Cost of Fighting for $15

April 14th, 2015 | Leo Gerard

Leo GerardThis is no plea for pity for corporate kingpins like Walmart and McDonald’s inundated by workers’ demands for living wages.

Raises would, of course, cost these billion-dollar corporations something. More costly, though, is the price paid by minimum-wage workers who have not received a raise in six years.  Even more dear is what these workers have paid for their campaign to get raises. Managers have harassed, threatened and fired them.

Despite all that, low-wage workers will return to picket lines and demonstrations Wednesday in a National Day of Action in the fight for $15 an hour. The date is 4 – 15. These are workers who live paycheck to paycheck, barely able to pay their bills, and certainly unable to cope with an emergency. They know the risk they’re taking by participating in strikes for pay hikes. They’ve seen bosses punish co-workers for demonstrating for raises. To lose a job, even one that pays poverty wages, during a time of high unemployment is terrifying. Still, thousands will participate Wednesday. That is valor.

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Kip Hedges exhibited that courage. He’s a 61-year-old with 26 years of service as a baggage handler for Delta at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. He wanted better wages for young workers and a union. He said so in a video, noting that “probably close to half make under $15 an hour.”

Delta fired him. The airline said he’d disparaged the company. Apparently Delta believes it has been disparaged if the flying public learns the truth about the way Delta treats workers.

Clearly, Delta planned to shut Hedges up and intimidate other workers. The message to his co-workers was clear: “You wanna talk about the paltry wages you get? Well, let’s talk about this pink slip.”

But when Delta messed with Hedges, it messed up big time. The firing failed to silence him. Hecontinued to protest low wages. His co-workers rallied round him. The media covered his firing and his appeal. He looked like a low-wage worker hero. Delta looked like a vindictive heel.

Unlike Hedges, Shanna Tippen was no activist before she got fired from her minimum-wage job in Pine Bluff, Ark. She was just trying to get by, and falling short by about $200 a month. Her boss at the Days Inn where she worked as a night shift jack-of-all-trades asked her to talk to a Washington Post reporter who had dropped by the hotel to discuss the state’s newly instituted 25-cent increase to the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Tippen told the reporter, Chico Harlan, that she hoped the little bit of extra money would help her pay for her grandson’s diapers.

After the Post published the story, the manager of the Days Inn, Herry Patel, telephoned Harlan to complain about being quoted in it. Then he fired Tippen. She recounted it to Harlan:

“He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [The Post].”  Even though, of course, Patel had told Tippen to talk to the reporter. Tippen continued: “He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’”

Patel told Harlan that Arkansas voters, who approved the pay increase in a referendum by 66 percent, should not have done it. “Everybody wants free money in Pine Bluff,” Harlan quoted him as saying.

Patel apparently did not understand that Tippen performed work that kept the hotel running every night, which means she earned the money. The truth is that Patel, like so many other employers, believes that employees should work for free.

The Post and other papers wrote about Tippen’s firing, making her an icon for ill-treated, low-wage workers and Patel the personification of miserly bosses.

Worker-exploiting employers like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Walmart have shown themselves to be craven in the face of courageous workers’ wage protests as well.

Over the past few months, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed charges against McDonald’s and Walmart alleging they violated workers’ rights, including threatening retribution against those who participated in strikes.

In December, the NLRB in California ruled that Walmart illegally punished workers for striking and seeking to unionize. The judge determined that Walmart managers illegally intimidated workers by, for example, telling one, who had tied a rope around his waist to pull a heavy load, “If it was up to me, I would put that rope around your neck.”

In the Chipotle case, the NLRB ruled that a manager in St. Louis illegally fired worker Patrick Leeper for participating in Fight for $15 demonstrations and for talking about wages at work. After the decision, a company spokesperson told the news website Think Progress: “Generally speaking, it is always a top priority for us to remain compliant with all local and federal labor laws.”

“Generally,” Chipotle tries. Generally. Not in this particular case involving low-wage workers demonstrating for better pay. But, you know, generally Chipotle tries to obey the law.

In the original Washington Post story about the tiny increase in the minimum wage in Arkansas, Dominic Flis, whose company owns 18 Burger Kings in central Arkansas, said raising the minimum wage pushes up pay for other workers too. Here’s what he said:

“If somebody was already making $7.50, and minimum wage goes to $7.50, they’ll have some expectation of a raise as well,” Flis said. “And I have to maintain my workforce.”

The Brookings Institute calls this the ripple effect. The pay increase at the bottom ripples all the way up the pay scale.

Hedges, the fired Delta worker, put it another way: “a lot of the better paid workers also understand that the bottom has to be raised otherwise the top is going to fall as well.”

If for no other reason than self-interest, join the gutsy minimum-wage workers at a Fight for $15 event Wednesday.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

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Workers Sue Walmart For Manipulating Employee Classification To Deny Them Overtime Pay

April 10th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertWalmart is facing a potential class action lawsuit over alleged wage theft in Alameda County Superior Court from an employee who claims the company illegally denied managers overtime pay.

Bonnie Cardoza, who worked at the company as an assistant manager for about five years, says she and other assistant mangers were made to do the same tasks as hourly workers for more than eight hours a day. The extra duties included greeting customers, operating checkout areas, and taking inventory.

But because they are labeled managers, they are exempt from federal overtime laws that require employers to pay workers time and a half for more than 40 hours of work a week. The lawsuit alleges that they “were ‘managers’ in name only because they did not have the managerial duties or authority,” but that Walmart purposefully classified them as managers to avoid overtime pay and cut costs. The suit claims they should have been paid that extra wage for more than eight hours of work a day.

The lawsuit also says the company deprived Cardoza and other assistant managers of rest and meal breaks.

She is suing for back wages to make up for the lack of overtime pay and compensation for the missed breaks on behalf of any Walmart assistant manager who has worked there since January 2011, although her lawyers say it’s too early to know whether it will achieve class action status.

In response, a Walmart spokesperson said, “It is our policy to pay associates according to federal and state laws. We take this matter seriously. We are investigating the allegations and will respond appropriately with the court.”

It’s not the first time the company has been accused of denying its workers pay. At the end of last year, the company was ordered by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to pay $151 million in back wages to 187,000 current and former employees who accused it of making them work off the clock during their breaks.

A big Walmart supplier also had to pay out over wage theft in 2013 over allegations that it forced workers to forgo meal breaks. While Walmart doesn’t own the operations, it effectively runs facilities for the company and the company has been accused of squeezing its suppliers so hard that they have to crack down on labor costs.

Wage theft is rampant beyond Walmart, however. In 2012, nearly $1 billion was recovered in back wages for the victims of wage theft, but even that undercounts the breadth of the problem since most workers don’t report the problem. It’s estimated that employers deny workers $50 billion that they’re owed every year by making them work off the clock, shave hours off of their paychecks, pay for work-related expenses out of their own paychecks, or other practices that dock wages. That figure dwarfs the $14 billion taken from all victims of robberies, burglaries, larcenies, and car thefts together.

The problem is particularly rampant in fast food, where recent suits have been filed against TGI Friday’s, McDonald’s, Subway, and Chipotle.

The issue of overtime misclassification has also gotten attention recently. Last year, President Obama issued an executive order that would update overtime laws so that fewer employees could be classified as managers and therefore exempted from time and a half. It would also raise the salary cutoff for getting overtime pay, which currently means anyone who makes more than $23,660 is exempt, a threshold that hasn’t been significantly updated since 1975. These changes could also aid employees like Cardoza, who would likely qualify for overtime pay even if they are assistant managers.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Workers and Wages Aren’t a ‘Cost,’ We’re an Investment

April 7th, 2015 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallReading today’s Politico Morning Shift column, this sentence stood out in a short piece on Wisconsin Republicans’ efforts to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law: “That’s an 80-year law requiring that workers on construction jobs for local and state governments be paid a wage that the state determines to represent the prevailing norm—a calculation that tends to raise labor costs.” The bias in that construction is pretty simple, and it’s one that is often repeated by journalists despite it being a very clear anti-worker frame: Workers are a “cost” and not an investment and not the part of a business that does the work that creates the company’s profits. In other words, this common construction says workers are a pesky obstacle instead of the source of revenue a company needs to survive and grow.

When was the last time you heard a reporter refer to CEO pay as a “labor cost,” despite the fact that for many companies these massive payouts are much bigger than the amount any prevailing wage law might increase worker pay? When was the last time you heard other common costs such as buying machines to build products or raising investment capital, as a similar type of burden? When was the last time we talked about worker compensation as an investment that grows a business? When was the last time you heard about how hiring workers and compensating them well increased profits for a company, when the evidence is pretty clear that such a thing happens all the time?

Those questions are rhetorical, but this one isn’t: Why is there an insistence on repeating extreme right-wing anti-worker talking points as if they were facts? Reporters, who represent objectivity and balance, have a responsibility to not favor business interests over those of workers.

This insistence on focusing on workers as secondary to the interests of business owners shows that there is a need to pivot the debate in America. Reporters aren’t making up this language; they’re reporting what anti-worker politicians, pundits and business owners are saying. But the conversation is starting to change, and working families are the ones forcing the change. They expect us to stay silent and allow them to get away with whatever they want, but we’d rather talk about raising wages, expanding the middle class and making the American dream more real for more working families. When the national conversation only includes one side of the story, it not only leaves most Americans out of the conversation, it helps keep wages stagnant and creates an obstacle to giving people a raise.

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on April 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

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The War Against Women Getting Paid Family Leave

April 6th, 2015 | Meghan Byrd

Meghan-Byrd_avatar_1422562197-140x140[1]A mother with a newborn baby in Canada has the right to receive paid family leave. So do mothers in France, Brazil, Australia, Pakistan, Venezuela – even Russia. But not those in the United States. Our country is one of only five in the world, and the only developed nation, that does not require paid family leave.

One would think paid family leave would have bipartisan support, given the economic benefits, overwhelming public support and fundamental right of caring for your own child at hand. Yet somehow Republicans in Congress have consistently fallen on the wrong side of the matter, just one battle in their endless war they have continued to wage against women.

The good news is that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her colleague in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) recently reintroduced the FAMILY Act. The bill would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off for health reasons, including pregnancy, childbirth recovery and adoption. Additionally, it would allow workers to earn up to 66 percent of their monthly wages, and would apply to workers at companies large and small. The law would be funded by small employee and employer payroll contributions (two-tenths of one percent each).

Thanks to states such as New Jersey and California, which have already implemented similar programs, we can see positive economic benefits of requiring paid family leave that refute claims by critics that such a policy would be too expensive and be bad for business.

In these states, paid family leave costs less than $1 per week for each employee using payroll deductions, and the benefits are outstanding. In California, 91 percent of employers said the law had either a positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, and 99 percent said it increased or had a non-noticeable effect on employee morale, according to one survey. The policy has also led to more women joining the labor force, which in turn boosts the economy.

Mothers are far more likely to be employed up to 16 years after the birth of their first child if they received paid maternity leave, according to a Center for American Progress study. Additionally, theInstitute for Women’s Policy Research found that paid family leave increases consumer spending and generates a larger tax base, and could boost the country’s gross domestic product by 5 percent.

Current Law Is Not Enough

Current federal law requires employers give employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for caring for a newborn child or a sick family member. Critics argue that this policy should be enough job security for new parents. However, when it is a single parent or a household living in near-poverty trying to make ends meet, 12 weeks without a paycheck simply isn’t possible. This is especially true when considering the costs associated with having a new baby.

What if we left it up to businesses? So far, that strategy hasn’t worked out, seeing as only 11 percent of workers in the U.S. get paid family leave through their employer or their state.

Rebecca Traister, writing in The New Republic, recently detailed what paid family leave would mean for her. As a pregnant woman, she was left with little choice – she had to keep her job even if she might have wanted to pursue other options. “My body and its condition defined my professional situation,” she wrote. She was thrilled when the new management announced a policy of paid maternal and fraternal leave for up to 16 weeks. She asks the question, “Is it such a bad thing to attract workers by offering them more equitable conditions..?”

In his most recent State of the Union speech, President Obama highlighted why paid family leave is so important and pledged to make it one of his top priorities: “It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue…Today we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.”

The women’s economic agenda, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” includes policies such as mandatory paid family leave, and is being promoted by the White House and Democrats. The President has set an example for Congress – giving six weeks paid leave to all federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child through executive action.

And not only is it the sensible thing to do – but voters agree. In a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 81% of respondents agreed that “paid time off to care for family members and affordable child care is good for our nation.” Poll after poll show Democrats, Independents and Republicans overwhelmingly supporting paid family leave policies.

Recently, Minnesota state Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R) called women who seek equality and fundamental rights in the workforce ‘whiners’. She opposed a set of bills aimed at raising the minimum wage, shrinking the gender pay gap and introducing paid family leave, saying that the bills were “putting us backwards in time.” She said that “we [women] are losing the respect we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up these special bills for women.” This is in a state where women earn 80 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts. Instead of addressing the reality of women in the workplace, Rep. Kieffer prefers to antagonize those who want to improve the situation. This is just one example of conservative lawmakers trying to hold back much needed progress in the workplace. We can’t let this mentality poison the conversation.

President Obama and the American public want paid family leave. Requiring it is good for the economy, good for people and good for the country. Now, the important issue is in the hands of our legislature. Due to the Republican Congress’ misguided agenda, the chance of this important bill getting through committee is relatively slim. If you agree that paid family leave should not just be a luxury, but a right, call your congressional member and urge them to support sending the FAMILY Act to the floors and once it arrives, voting ‘aye’.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Meghan Byrd is a student at Bucknell University studying political science and Spanish. In 2015 she spent a semester at American University. She is originally from Palo Alto, California in the San Francisco Bay Area and center of Silicon Valley. She is interested in public policy and the intersection between government and technology.

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After Ellen Pao’s Loss, More Women In Tech Bring Gender Discrimination Lawsuits

April 6th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertAfter Ellen Pao, a former partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and currently interim CEO of Reddit, lost her discrimination lawsuit against her former employer two weeks ago, some worried that the outcome would discourage other women from bringing lawsuits against the industry.

That fear doesn’t seem to be panning out. Last week, two different women brought lawsuits against technology companies for gender discrimination.

In one, Heather McCloskey charged Paymentwall Inc., an online payment company, for allowing harassment and a misogynist environment. She alleges that her supervisor, executive Benoit Boisset, made disparaging remarks about her appearance and called her a “big bitch.” She says he also grabbed her by the waist and said, “You’re a very bad girl, you need to be spanked up real good.” He also allegedly made disparaging remarks about women as employees in general. When she complained, she says she was told to simply tell him no and “thick skin up and deal with it” because he “makes a whole lot of money for this company.” The lawsuit claims that the company has no handbook, harassment policies, or human resources department. She says she was fired after making her complaints.

In another, Elisabeth Sussex filed a complaint against AliphCom, which makes Jawbone fitness devices, alleging that she was fired for complaining about how an executive treated women. According to the suit, Chief Technology Officer Michael Luna treated female employees in a demeaning and abusive way, leading one to “quit in disgust.” After Sussex says she complained to management, she was demoted and eventually fired despite her previously good performance track record.

Those suits are the first to be filed after Pao’s case was decided, but even while the trial was still taking place one was filed against Facebook and another against Twitter. Former Facebook employee Chia Hong alleges that she was asked why she didn’t spend more time at home with her children and punished when she used company-provided time off to visit her children’s school, made to organize office parties while men were asked to do so, and eventually fired after complaining and replaced with a less qualified man. Tina Huang hascharged Twitter for using a promotions process that is allegedly secretive and subjective and ends up helping me get ahead while holding women back.

Those lawsuits also followed others in the industry before Pao’s trial began: One against Tinder from a former female executive alleges that her cofounders downplayed her role and harassed her until she resigned, and another against Zillow says that management sent a former female employee pictures of genitals and asked her for sexual favors.

All of the lawsuits bring up the fact that the technology industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men, even after some companies have said they want to change the picture. Women make up just 11 percent of executives at the largest Silicon Valley companies. Some firms have released their diversity data, and it doesn’t look much better. At Facebook and Twitter, for example, the executive teams are 77 percent and 79 percent male, respectively. Even further down the chain, Facebook’s tech team is 85 percent male while Twitter’s is 90 percent.

The fate of all the gender discrimination lawsuits against technology companies is uncertain. The suit against Tinder has reportedly been settled without the company admitting wrongdoing, and others may not make it to a court room. As Pao’s case shows, even if they do end up in court the women may not win. But they are at least sparking a conversation about the bias women face in the industry and in today’s workplaces in general. As Pao herself recently said, “Women who felt like they were uncomfortable before, that there was something that jus wasn’t right, are hopefully now more comfortable pointing it out.” And at least some women in Silicon Valley are grateful for Ellen Pao’s efforts to expose that bias.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Over 40 Former UNITE HERE Staff, Volunteers Rebuke Union for Endorsing Rahm Emanuel

April 3rd, 2015 | Micah Uetricht

photo_9514A group of former UNITE HERE staffers and volunteers from around the country released an open letter to the union today, rebuking Chicago’s UNITE HERE Local 1 for its endorsement of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and questioning the union’s commitment to progressive unionism.

“Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago … is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy,” the letter reads. As of Friday morning, the letter was signed by 41 people, almost all of whom listed the local or locals where they worked with the union.

The letter was released this morning at a web site entitled “No Rahm Love,” a reference to the union’s “Rahm Love” ad campaign that praises the mayor’s record on workers’ issues, despite his widespread reputation as a strongly anti-labor mayor, most notably in his dealings with the Chicago Teachers Union. Members of UNITE HERE Local 1 stood prominently behind Emanuel as he gave his speech on election night February 24. (Full disclosure: I was briefly a member of Local 1 in 2010.)

“Local 1’s campaign, ‘Rahm Love,’ claims that the mayor ‘loves’ workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the letter continues. “Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago.” Almost all of those who signed the letter are former staffers or activists.

The letter’s signatories say the endorsement of Emanuel has made them question what they formerly considered to be the progressivism of the union.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

UNITE HERE has positioned itself as strong part of the progressive wing of the American labor movement. In addition to its role in the immigrant rights movement, the union has taken strong public stances on LGBTQ rights and other issues. And at a time when many unions have all but given up on militant action like strikes and strong development of rank-and-file workers as activists, the union has made both a key part of their program at many union locals around the country, including Chicago.

That made the union’s endorsement of Emanuel puzzling to many observers and former UNITE HERE activists and organizers like those quoted in the letter.

The union’s endorsement of Emanuel goes “against everything I was ever taught” at the union: that “you could have all the money in the world, but organizing outdid money,” says Jill Landrith, a former server at a restaurant inside the Westin Hotel in Chicago and member of Local 1. Landrith, who signed the open letter, left her server position to work for the union as an internal organizer from 2009 to 2014.

Local 1 has members who are food service workers in Chicago Public Schools; when Mayor Emanuel closed down 49 public schools in 2013, those workers lost their jobs. “We have members who were personally hurt by this man. When he closed the schools, our members got fired,” she says.

During a staff meeting when the union was discussing its potential endorsement in late 2013, Landrith says she remembers a staffer commenting, “This is how the trades do it”—referring to the building trades unions, the vast majority of which endorsed Emanuel—”so if we want a seat at the table, this is how we have to do it, too.” Another former Local 1 staffer present at the meeting confirmed hearing the statement.

Landrith says she was particularly upset by the “Rahm Love” ad campaign, in which workers listed off how much Emanuel has done for them. One ad included Roushaunda Williams, a Palmer House Hotel worker Landrith organized with during a strike there, who says, ““Rahm love. It’s how the mayor fights so that hotel workers earn a decent living. We have health insurance, pensions and sick days off. We have Rahm love.”

“We won [the strike] because of Roushaunda,” she says, “because of all the workers there who went out on strike and fought. So to see them in that video giving Rahm credit for what they’ve done—it killed me. Roushaunda deserved the credit, not Rahm.”

Landrith, her voice choking, says, “It hurts me, it just hurts,” before ending the interview.

Multiple requests for comment from a UNITE HERE Local 1 spokesperson went unanswered.

The full text of the letter can be read below:

Dear UNITE HERE Local 1,

We the undersigned are allies and supporters of UNITE HERE, in Chicago and elsewhere. We have all, at some point, committed our hearts, souls, and hours, as volunteer interns, boycott and research volunteers, and staff in the belief that UNITE HERE was a powerful force for justice for hospitality workers and workers everywhere. Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago is the exact opposite, however: it is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy.

Local 1’s campaign, “Rahm Love,” claims that the mayor “loves” workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago, from his attempt to destroy the standards of the Chicago Teachers Union, closing half the mental health clinics in the city, presiding over a higher unemployment rate among African Americans than other cities, and continuing to use TIFs as a city slush fund to benefit corporate wealth and the rich.

American cities are facing pitched battles. On one side, progressive candidates are advancing across the country and socialist electoral candidates are winning elections in major cities like Jackson, Miss., and Seattle, Wash., and marchers are blocking freeways and shutting down public spaces in protest of police violence; on the other side, gentrification displaces communities into desolate ring suburbs, and politicians race to give the biggest tax breaks to corporations. This is no different in Chicago, and there is a crucial question of all unions to be asked: which side are you on?

Taking the choice of struggle is dangerous and uncertain, but one an increasing number of unions, like the CTU, have taken. Local 1’s choice was clearly not made out of stupidity or ignorance. It is a calculated choice to prioritize opportunistic gains and favor in the halls of power over the road of struggle. This is an old strategy, and one that time and again has proved a failure in the long run. It is just like an organizing drive at a workplace: to some workers the boss offers raises, promotions and even some power while others are subject to firings, surveillance, and intimidation. Those the boss tries to buy off have a choice: do they stand with their coworkers for real power, or take the pittance they’re offered? UNITE HERE Local 1 has chosen the table scraps, and thrown their fellow workers into the fire.

How could this choice have been made? It is telling that this letter does not include many current activists for the union. It is not that staff and volunteers throughout the union are not disgusted by Local 1’s behavior. Quite the contrary, there are many who agree with us, but they are afraid. They are afraid of losing their jobs, of being squeezed out of work they’ve poured themselves into, or getting cornered into uncomfortable conversations ensuring at least their silence. What’s more, some think of themselves as committed to the broader movement but have bought into the destructive idea that no matter what, building their union is identical with building the movement and thus deny the destructive impacts of this opportunism. This anti-political and anti-democratic atmosphere is a dangerous omen for the state of rank-and-file democracy in UNITE HERE, and leads us to wonder what Local 1’s membership thinks of Rahm, their union’s behavior, and whether the union represents their interests.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

We hope this letter is heard by UNITE HERE Local 1 leadership, but more importantly we hope it is heard by union militants everywhere and the UNITE HERE rank and file. Do not stand cynically by as Local 1’s leadership follows the old losing playbook and betrays the entire movement. We can and must have a fighting, progressive labor movement, and we can and must beat Rahm.

This blog original appeared in Inthesetimes.com on April 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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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Congratulations to Peggy Young, But Pregnant Women Need Stronger Protections

April 1st, 2015 | Rebecca Pontikes and Liz Friedman

Rebecca-PontikesunnamedThe Supreme Court decision in Young v. UPS is an important victory for Peggy Young.   Young brought suit because, she needed a restriction on lifting packages over 21 pounds during her pregnancy, but UPS refused her. One of UPS’ Division Mangers told her she had to leave work because she was “too much of a liability” while pregnant, and could “not come back” until she “was no longer pregnant.”  Despite the Division Managers statement, UPS claimed that its policy was “neutral” because it did not specifically, and literally, exclude pregnant women.  Although Young presented evidence that non-pregnant employees injured off the job were accommodated, that an employee who lost his license for driving drunk was accommodated, and a shop steward gave testimony that the only time that accommodation of disabilities became an issue under UPS’ policy was with pregnant women, UPS told the courts that it was impossible for Young to prove it had discriminatory intent.

The Supreme Court found otherwise. Significantly, the Court questioned why, if UPS’ accommodation policy covered a driver who lost his license for drunk driving, it did not cover a pregnant worker like Young, particularly since UPS has a duty to treat pregnant workers the same as others similar in their ability to work.  The Court decided a plaintiff may get to trial if she shows the employer’s policy imposes a significant burden on pregnant workers and that the employer’s reasons for the policy do not justify that burden. Under this test, a jury will now decide if UPS discriminated against pregnant women.  Given this decision, employers are well advised to revise their policies and ensure immediate accommodation of pregnant workers or potentially face years of litigation over whether their policies place too much of a burden on pregnant women.

But, the decision from the Supreme Court falls short in its protections of pregnant workers because it does not guarantee accommodations.  The Supreme Court did not find that employers are always required to accommodate a pregnant worker, even if the employer accommodates other workers.  The majority agreed with UPS that there are situations where employers can make distinctions.  An employer still has discretion to decide what types of physical conditions to accommodate.  The landscape leaves a huge hole for pregnant workers to fall into.

Once a worker is fired, the burden is on her to fight to get her job back, or instead, to get lost wages. Young’s child, Triniti, whom she was carrying in 2007 is now seven years old. It has been seven long years in which Young has been caught up in litigation to secure back wages and lost opportunities. How many women have the financial and emotional resources to devote to this many years to litigation?  How many want to?

What an employer insists is a reasonable accommodation policy or a hardship to accommodate might not ultimately measure up under Young.  But, employer discretion, once exercised, is expensive to reverse.  While women like Young might ultimately prevail, an employer can usually come up with a reason to support a policy that distinguishes among accommodations and that excludes a pregnant woman.  The best option to keep pregnant women on the job is for her not to have to fight her employer in the first place.  Clear rules that ensure pregnant workers the rights to reasonable accommodation are required.

It is for these reasons that many states have passed laws requiring accommodation of pregnant workers.  Alaska, California, Illinois, Hawaii, Connecticut, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Texas have passed laws with various degrees of protection for their pregnant workers.  In Massachusetts, Representative Ellen Story of Amherst, has introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which would provide clear rules for employers to follow when a pregnant employee (or an employee affected by pregnancy—including needing to lactate) requests an accommodation.  The PWFA would allow women to ask for reasonable accommodations when pregnant, protect pregnant workers from having to accept an accommodation that she does not want, and prevent employers from forcing an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided without undue hardship to the employer.

Most importantly, the bill lists many types of accommodations that are presumed to be reasonable, including:

  • More frequent or longer breaks,
  • Time off to recover from childbirth,
  • Acquisition or modification of equipment,
  • Seating,
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position,
  • Job restructuring,
  • Light duty,
  • Break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk,
  • Assistance with manual labor, or
  • Modified work schedules.

All of these accommodations will keep most pregnant women—as well as women returning from birth who need to lactate–on the job and earning money to support their families.

There are clear benefits to laws like the one proposed in Massachusetts. A study done in California after the enactment of their accommodations protection legislation by the non-profit group Equal Rights Advocates, showed that low-wage hourly workers in fungible jobs with rigid schedules stand to benefit the most from pregnancy accommodation laws.  This is because they lack the flexibility and control professional, managerial, and white-collar employees have over their work environments and thus have the least ability to negotiate and advocate for their physical needs during pregnancy.  Significantly, after the law’s passage, the number of lawsuits filed in California (after passage of the pregnancy accommodation law) went down 7% while the number of federal pregnancy discrimination claims shot up 54%.

It is our hope that Massachusetts will follow in the footsteps of the many states that have decided to eliminate the ambiguity left open in Young and instead ensure that pregnant workers have the protections then need.  The passage of the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will provide an unmistakable rule, and ensure that no woman is ever forced to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy.

About the Author: Rebecca Pontikes has been practicing law since 1997.  She has a passion for employment law and civil rights that drives her practice. In addition to employment, she also has brought suit under Title IX on behalf of a sexually assaulted student.  She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and of Tufts University and is admitted to the Massachusetts bar, the Federal District of Massachusetts, and the First Circuit.  Her peers selected her as a “SuperLawyer” in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly named her aTop Woman in Law in 2012.  She lives in Cambridge with her husband.

Liz Friedman, MFA. Liz first became a mother in 2002 and founded the Postpartum Support Initiative of MotherWoman in 2007. As Program Director of MotherWoman, Liz is a leading voice in advocating for fair policies for mothers and with Annette Cycon, developed the MotherWoman Support Group Model which provides a safe forum for mothers to speak their truths. Liz serves on the MA Postpartum Depression Commission, is a co-investigator on research pertaining to postpartum depression and in 2013 published a chapbook entitled, “You are exactly the right mother.”  Liz says, ““I want for my daughter what I want for ALL of us. That she will be heard when she speaks her own truths as a woman and, if she chooses, as a mother.” You can find Liz at [email protected] and at www.motherwoman.org

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Foreign Trade Rules Are Killing Jobs and Communities. They Need Fixing Now.

March 31st, 2015 | Leo Gerard

Leo GerardSucker punched by massive, illegally subsidized imports, American steel producers laid off thousands of workers in bedrock communities from Ohio and Illinois to Texas and Alabama.

That’s in just the past three months.

The families of furloughed workers are struggling to pay mortgage bills. The communities, losing tax dollars, are canceling needed road work. The companies are talking about the similarities between now and the 1990s when half of the nation’s steel firms disappeared. Members of the Congressional Steel Caucus are worrying about the effect on national security if America can’t make its own steel for guns and tanks.

Virtually everyone who testified last week at a Congressional hearing on the state of steel fingered bad trade as the culprit in the current collapse. Lawmakers, steel company executives, industry group leaders and a vice president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union all agreed on this. Foreign firms, particularly those operating in non-capitalist countries, are violating international trade regulations. Those rules also require American companies, communities and workers to forfeit a pound of flesh before trade enforcement can occur. They’re failing America.

Just seven days into 2015, U.S. Steel said it would lay off 636 workers at its Lorain, Ohio, tubular plant. Before January’s end, the company announced it would furlough 2,000 workers at three locations in Alabama and Texas. In February, U.S. Steel disclosed plans to close its Gary, Indiana, coke plant, displacing 300 workers. Early in March, U.S. Steel revealed the loss of another 83 jobs at its Gary Works, for a total of 780 there this year, as well as 412 at one of its iron-ore operations in Minnesota. Later in March, the company said it would indefinitely shut down its Granite City, Illinois, mill and lay off 2,080 workers.

It’s relentless. And that’s just U.S. Steel. Other U.S. producers furloughed workers too.

Steel executives told lawmakers last week that the job cuts are a direct result of foreign companies dumping steel in the U.S. market. “American steel companies are being irreparably harmed by illegal trade practices,” U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi said.

China produced as much steel last year as the rest of the world combined. It continued doing so despite dwindling demand within China as both its real estate development and economy cooled.

China sends the excess steel overseas. Last year, China exported more steel than any country this century. And the numbers are still rising. China’s steel exports rose 63 percent in January from a year earlier.

The USW and U.S. producers have won trade case after trade case involving Chinese-made steel because it violates international regulations forbidding government subsidization of exported products. Those improper subsidies lower the price. When trade regulators determine that Chinese producers violated international rules and place tariffs on a particular steel product increasing its price, China ships a different one. In addition, though it’s not considered in trade cases, China manipulates the value of its currency so that its exports are cheaper.

At the Congressional hearing last week, John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, a non-union steel company, described the situation this way:  “Blatant foreign government support of their steel industries has resulted in a glut of global steel production. A brazen disregard for international trade rules has led to the dumping of steel products in our market. As a result, one in three tons of steel sold in the U.S. today is produced abroad by less efficient, less safe, and less environmentally friendly countries. Our government must take a much tougher line with countries that break the law.”

This is not whining from uncompetitive producers. The European Union, Korea, Australia, even low-labor-cost India, are investigating whether China is dumping steel in their countries in ways that violate international law.

U.S. Steel’s Longhi talked about the consequences for national security if nothing is done.  “We do not build a steel plant in an emergency,” such as war, he told lawmakers last week. Instead, he said, “we rely on it” to already exist and quickly fulfill national needs.

He noted that during World War II, his company produced 90 percent of the steel used to make 21 million military helmets.

“In a moment of exceptional need for the steel required to maintain its strength, America makes a local call,” he told the Congressmen. It doesn’t call China.

Dumping means companies like U.S. Steel and Vallourec USA that have invested billions in modernizing and expanding their American mills face financial difficulty. The same is true of furloughed workers and their communities.

Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said that while the U.S. Steel plant in his town was shut down in 2008, 10 times as many residents sought help at food banks. Granite City business owners are concerned about U.S. Steel’s indefinite shut down beginning in May because mill jobs pay good, middle class wages that 2,080 laid off workers will not have to spend.

The lost jobs also mean lower tax revenues for towns and school districts. In Lorain, Ohio, now hit by layoffs at Republic Steel and U.S. Steel, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said that to balance the budget he would have to consider scaling back city projects and leaving job vacancies open.

For this to stop, USW Vice President Tom Conway told the Congressmen at the hearing, trade laws must be fixed. “I understand aggressive enforcement of trade laws, but aggressively enforcing a lousy law does not get you much,” he said.

“The continual failure and weakening of our laws is killing us, and it is time to rewrite our laws,” he added.

The laws should not require draconian damage before trade sanctions can be imposed, he said, and Congress must stop the swindle called currency manipulation.

No new trade deals, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), should be approved without these changes, he said. In addition, Congress certainly should not prohibit itself from amending proposed trade agreements by fast-tracking them, he said, because the price of bad trade is too high.

This article originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on March 31, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

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