Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The Entire Public Sector Is About to Be Put on Trial

May 26th, 2017 | Naomi Walker

Within the next year, the Supreme Court is likely to rule on the latest existential threat to workers and their unions: Janus v. AFSCME. Like last year’s Friedrichs v. CTA—a bullet dodged with Justice Antonin Scalia’s unexpected death—the Janus case is a blatant attack on working people by right-wing, moneyed special interests who want to take away workers’ freedom to come together and negotiate for a better life.

For years, the Right has been hammering through state-level “right-to-work” laws in an effort to kill public sector unionism; it would see victory in the Janus case as the coup de grace.

Right-to-work laws allow union “free riders,” or workers who refuse to pay union dues but still enjoy the wages, benefits and protections the union negotiates. Not only does this policy drain unions of resources to fight on behalf of workers, but having fewer dues-paying members also spells less clout at the bargaining table. It becomes much more difficult for workers to come together, speak up and get ahead. In the end, right-to-work hits workers squarely in the paycheck. Workers in right-to-work states earn less and are less likely to have employer-sponsored healthcare and pensions.

As a judge, Neil Gorsuch, Scalia’s replacement, sided with corporations 91 percent of the time in pension disputes and 66 percent of the time in employment and labor cases. If the court rules in favor of the Janus plaintiff—an Illinois public sector worker whose case not to pay union dues is being argued by the right-wing Liberty Justice Center and the National Right to Work Foundation—then right to work could become the law of the land in the public sector, weakening unions and dramatically reducing living standards for millions of workers across the country.

That’s the Right’s immediate goal with Janus. Then there are the more insidious effects. The case is the next step in the Right’s long and unrelenting campaign to, as Grover Norquist famously said, shrink government “to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” The Trump team has made no secret of this goal. Trump advisor Steve Bannon parrots Norquist, calling for the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” and Trump’s budget proposal cuts key federal and state programs to the quick. According to rabidly anti-worker Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Vice President Mike Pence indicated in a February meeting with him that Pence was interested in a national version of Walker’s infamous Act 10, which eliminated public sector collective bargaining and gutted union membership.

An assault on public sector workers is ultimately an assault on the public sector itself. The Right can strike two blows at once: demonizing government and undermining the unions and workers who advocate for the robust public services that communities need to thrive. A ruling against AFSCME in Janus would decimate workers’ power to negotiate for vital staffing and funding for public services. Across the country, our loved ones will wait longer for essential care when they’re in the hospital, our kids will have more crowded classrooms and fewer after-school programs, and our roads and bridges will fall even deeper into disrepair. The progressive infrastructure in this country, from think tanks to advocacy organizations—which depends on the resources and engagement of workers and their unions—will crumble.

Public sector unions are working on building stronger unions, organizing new members and connecting more deeply with existing members to stave off the threat posed by Janus. AFSCME alone, where I serve as an assistant to the president, has a goal of having face-to-face conversations with one million of its members before the Supreme Court rules. So far, union leaders and activists have talked to more than 616,000 members about committing to be in the union no matter what the court decides. Even so, Janus will make it harder for public sector unions to lead, or even join, fights on social and economic issues that benefit all workers, union or not. And that’s just what the Right wants.

We need the entire labor and progressive movements to stand with us and fight for us. We may not survive without it—and nor, we fear, will they.

This blog was originally published at Inthesetimes.com on May 25, 2017. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Naomi Walker is the assistant to the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, writes the “9 to 5” column for In These Times.

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Uber admits underpaying New York drivers approximately $45 million

May 25th, 2017 | Lauren Williams

Uber’s gotta pay—with interest.

The infamous ride-sharing app admitted Tuesday that it had been underpaying its New York drivers since November 2014 due to an accounting error that took out more than the company’s 25 percent commission, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Uber typically takes its commission after taxes and fees are deducted from a driver’s fare, but the accounting glitch that took it out beforehand resulted in a larger pay deduction for drivers. Uber’s terms of service did not specify that it took commissions out of gross fare earnings.

To make things right, Uber is repaying an average of $900 per driver with interest, which is estimated to cost a total of at least $45 million. One driver is receiving a $7,000 payout, Recode reported.

“We made a mistake and we are committed to making it right by paying every driver every penny they are owed, plus interest, as quickly as possible,” Uber’s regional manager in the U.S. and Canada, Rachel Holt, said in a statement. “We are working hard to regain driver trust, and that means being transparent, sticking to our word, and making the Uber experience better from end to end.”

Uber has had a rough year with multiple public relations disasters spanning a consumer and driver backlash for the company’s tepid response to the Trump administration’s immigration ban and a sprawling sexual harassment scandal. But the company’s issues with drivers over pay have also persisted.

In January, Uber settled a lawsuit that claimed the company misled drivers regarding earning potential and conditions of the company’s auto financing program. Drivers protested against poor pay throughout 2016, demanding higher pay.

Through it all, Uber has fought drivers on granting employee status and benefits, fair pay, and unionization. But despite the influx of lawsuits, it appears that drivers are going to keep fighting the company on issues.

Following news of Uber’s repayment of New York drivers, the Independent Drivers Guild, which represents more than 50,000 app drivers, called for a widespread investigation into the company’s payment practices.

“Drivers have been complaining about this and other shady accounting tactics to no avail,” said IDG’s executive director Ryan Price in a statement. “Drivers are relieved to be paid the money they are owed plus interest and we hope other companies follow suit.”

“We also call for regulators to launch an immediate investigation into ride hail applications fare and payment practices in our city.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on May 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:  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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Trump targets USDA with some of the deepest proposed budget cuts

May 24th, 2017 | Natasha Geiling

President Donald Trump ran on a platform of giving a voice to rural voters who felt forgotten by politicians in Washington. But his proposed budget, released on Tuesday, proposes deep cuts to crucial Department of Agriculture programs that many rural residents, and farmers, depend on.

The budget proposes an almost 21 percent cut to the USDA, the third-largest percentage cut proposed for any agency, behind the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. It would cut crop insurance?—?which pays farmers for losses due to extreme weather, or compensates farmers for loss if prices are higher than guaranteed at the time of harvest?—?by 36 percent, far deeper cuts than were proposed under the Obama administration. And it proposes to “streamline” conservation programs, while eliminating the rural development program aimed at bringing infrastructure, technology, and utilities to rural communities.

“The Budget Proposal guts the USDA by 21 percent and makes further cuts to programs, all of which will leave rural and urban farmers, low-income families, and taxpayers more vulnerable,” Mike Lavender, senior Washington representative for the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in an emailed statement.

The proposed budget zeroes out programs like the USDA’s Farm Safety program, which seeks to reduce farm sector injuries by training workers in how to properly use farming equipment. It also eliminates programs like the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s watershed protection projects, which helps both protect sensitive watersheds from environmental degradation, like soil runoff, and helps rural communities respond to natural disasters like floods.

“Agriculture is a risky business, and we absolutely need an adequate safety net for farmers while also providing incentives that will accelerate adoption of conservation practices,” Callie Eideberg, senior policy manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress via email. “Eliminating any program that helps farmers increase resiliency and protect natural resources is a shortsighted decision that can have harmful consequences.”

Key research programs aimed at helping farmers adapt to the changing climate?—?like programs that offer grants to farmers interested in experimenting with innovative conservation techniques?—?would also face deep cuts under the proposed budget. More than $33 million would be cut from agricultural research programs like the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), which provides grants for agricultural sciences, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program (SARE), which helps farmers fund conservation projects.

“The budget would slash funding for key agricultural research and conservation programs, undermining the ability of farmers to sustain their land and their livelihoods for the future,” Lavender said.

Cuts to USDA research programs would hardly be the first time the Trump administration showed science to be a low priority for the agency. Trump is expected to name Sam Clovis, a conservative talk-show host that denies the scientific consensus on climate change, to be the USDA’s undersecretary of research, education and economics. That would put Clovis in charge of the USDA’s entire scientific mission, including research programs aimed at helping farmers respond to climate change. Current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also denies the scientific consensus on climate change, calling climate science “a running joke among the public” in a 2014 op-ed published in the National Review.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Trump budget does not specify what will become of one of the Obama administration’s signature climate-focused programs within the USDA, the regional climate hubs, which connect farmers with on-the-ground information about climate science and adaptation in their region. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney did say on Tuesday, however, that the budget at large was aimed at decreasing the “crazy” climate spending of the Obama administration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress.org on May 23, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Natasha Geiling is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Contact her at ngeiling@americanprogress.org.

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The Time Is Now to Stand Up for the CFPB

May 23rd, 2017 | Isaiah J. Poole

Mark Feuer, the Los Angeles City Attorney who helped hold Wells Fargo accountable for creating millions of fake accounts without customers’ knowledge, now warns against efforts by the Trump administration and Congress to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“I’m appalled at the spectacle of the House attempting to dismantle or at least severely diminish the CFPB,” Feuer told CNNMoney in a recent interview. He was referring to a bill disingenuously called the CHOICE Act, which would neuter the now-independent CFPB so that it no longer serves as a watchdog against the predatory practices of financial institutions.

People’s Action is asking for signatures on a petition calling on Congress to vote “no” on the CHOICE Act, which in expected to come up for a vote in the coming weeks.

Feuer explained in the interview that the CFPB played a crucial role in investigating reports that Wells Fargo employees were fabricating accounts under pressure to meet sales quotas. Those fake accounts, in turn, showed up in financial reports that helped Wells Fargo boost its stock price and, as the stock price rose, executive earnings.

“It’s true we brought the case in the first place” in response to a 2013 Los Angeles Times exposé, Feuer said, “but our collaboration with the CFPB enabled there to be nationwide relief for Wells customers.”

That included $5 million in refunds to consumers who were assessed fees on the fake accounts and changes in sales practices at the bank. The bank also had to pay $185 million in fines, and did away with the sales quotas that led to the creation of the fake accounts.

You would think that a House of Representatives that is answerable to consumers vulnerable to what Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls the “tricks and traps” big banks, predatory lenders, and debt collectors use to take billions of dollars out of their pockets would consider the CFPB to be a hero.

But that House of Representatives does not exist. The majority of the House is instead answerable to the very tricksters who want free rein to game the system and line their pockets. Republicans love the campaign donations they get from Wall Street bankers, payday lenders, and hedge fund managers. They are literally itching to destroy the CFPB and let Wall Street go wild.

After the big banks crashed the economy in 2008, people took action and won reforms to rein in Wall Street abuses. A big part of that was establishing the CFPB, and structuring it so that it isn’t a punching bag for a Congress and White House drunk on big-bank financial contributions.

The CFPB is the first federal financial watchdog whose entire job is making sure Wall Street can’t get away with the tricks and traps that bleed millions out of our pockets. The Bureau has recovered $12 billion dollars in ill-gotten gains for over 27 million people ripped off by the predatory financial industry.

It is no wonder that gutting the CFPB has been a top priority of the Republican Congress from the beginning. And with all of the scandal now consuming Washington, it would be very easy for Congress to get away with this – unless we “stay woke.”

That’s why we have to get loud about what Congress is doing here.
We’ve derailed Wall Street’s agenda before and, if we stand together, we can stop them again. But that means we need to stop the CHOICE Act dead in its tracks.

Tell Congress: You work for us, not Wall Street. We need our government to do more to rein in payday lenders and Wall Street bankers, not give them a free pass to crash the economy again. Say no to the CHOICE Act. Say yes to an independent CFPB.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on May 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

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Paid family leave policies show corporate America's disdain for low-wage workers and their babies

May 22nd, 2017 | Laura Clawson

Becoming a parent is one more aspect of life poisoned by economic inequality in the United States, with people who are paid more than $75,000 a year twice as likely to get paid leave as people who are paid less than $30,000. And even companies that have touted their parental leave programs leave many of their workers out, giving paid leave to their salaried staff at corporate headquarters but not to the workers standing behind the cash registers or making the cappuccinos or fried chicken. A new report from Paid Leave for the United States highlights the inequality within major U.S. companies:

  • Starbucks has one of the most unequal policies—they provide 18 weeks of fully-paid leave for new mothers and 12 weeks fully paid for new fathers in corporate headquarters, but only six weeks for birth moms who are in-store employees (like baristas) and nothing for dads or adoptive parents in this employment category. Starbucks employs ~5,000 people in its corporate headquarters and ~150,000 in stores; meaning their highly-touted policy affects about 3% of their total U.S. workforce.
  • The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart, provides twelve weeks of paid leave for birth mothers who are corporate employees—but only 6-8 weeks at partial pay for birth moms who are among the 1.2 million hourly employees in their stores – if they work full time.
  • Yum! Brands offers 18 weeks paid parental leave to birth mothers, and 6 weeks to dads and adoptive parents who work in the corporate office only. Field employees, who work for franchises such as KFC and Pizza Hut, receive no paid family leave.

A few companies do have equal leave policies for their corporate and frontline workers: Ikea, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Nike (though it leaves out part-time employees), Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Hilton, and Apple.

Just six percent of low-wage workers have any paid leave at all, which is why a quarter of new mothers are back on the job within 10 days. That means that not only are new mothers leaving their newborn babies, they’re working before they are physically recovered from childbirth.

 And no paid leave can also mean no flexibility even for emergencies; a Walmart worker named Jasmine Dixon told PL+US that:

“I had no paid leave and had to go back to work at Walmart two weeks after childbirth. I took Zyon to his first 2-week doctor’s check-up and found out that he needed to go back to the hospital urgently. They took him away in an ambulance – I was terrified for him, and that I might be risking my job at Walmart by coming in late that day. I called my manager to let them know I had to go with my baby to the children’s hospital, but it didn’t matter – my store manager penalized me for missing work.”

This decision should not be left to individual companies. The baby of the worker behind the cash register deserves parents at home with her just as much as the baby of the worker behind the computer. Workers shouldn’t have to hope that they’re working at Ikea rather than Starbucks when they have a baby. Paid family leave should be the law of the United States as it is the law of most countries.

This blog originally appeared on DailyKos.com on May 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

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40,000 AT&T Workers Begin 3-Day Strike

May 19th, 2017 | David Bacon

Around 40,000 members of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) at AT&T walked off their jobs Friday, for a three-day strike, as pressure continues to mount on the corporation to settle fair contracts.

In California and Nevada, around 17,000 AT&T workers who provide phone, landline and cable services have been working without a contract for more than a year. Last year, they voted to authorize a strike with more than 95 percent support. And in February, an estimated 21,000 AT&T Mobility workers in 36 states voted to strike as well, with 93 percent in favor.

Workers had issued an ultimatum, giving company executives until 3 p.m. ET on Friday to present serious proposals. They didn’t; the workers walked.

It isn’t the first strike at AT&T. Some 17,000 workers in California and Nevada walked off the job in late March to protest company changes in their working conditions in violation of federal law. After a one-day strike, AT&T agreed not to require technicians to perform work assignments outside of their expertise. Nevertheless, the biggest issues for workers remained unresolved.

AT&T has proposed to cut sick time and force long-time workers to pay hundreds of dollars more for basic healthcare, according to CWA. At a huge April rally in Silicon Valley, CWA District 9 vice president Tom Runnion fumed, “The CEO of AT&T just got a raise and now makes over $12,000 an hour. And he doesn’t want to give us a raise. He wants to sabotage our healthcare then wants us to pay more for it. Enough is enough!”

AT&T is the largest telecommunications company in the country with $164 billion in sales and 135 million wireless customers nationwide. It has eliminated 12,000 call center jobs in the United States since 2011, representing more than 30 percent of its call center employees, and closed more than 30 call centers. Meanwhile, the company has outsourced the operation of more than 60 percent of its wireless retail stores to operators who pay much less than the union wage, according to CWA.

The relocation of jobs to call centers in Mexico, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and other countries is one of the main issues in negotiations. A recent CWA report charges that in the Dominican Republic, for instance, where it uses subcontractors, wages are $2.13-$2.77/hour. Workers have been trying to organize a union there and accuse management of firing union leaders and making threats, accusations and intimidating workers. Several members of Congress sent a letter to President Donald Trump this year demanding that he help protect and bring call center jobs back to the United States.

“We’ve been bargaining with AT&T for over a year,” CWA president Chris Shelton told the rally in Silicon Valley. “They can easily afford to do what people want and instead are continuing to send jobs overseas.”

According to Dennis Trainor, vice president of CWA District 1, “AT&T is underestimating the deep frustration wireless retail, call center and field workers are feeling right now with its decisions to squeeze workers and customers, especially as the company just reported more than $13 billion in annual profits.”

“The clock is ticking for AT&T to make good on their promise to preserve family-supporting jobs for more than 40,000 workers,” Trainor said before the start of the strike. “We have made every effort to bargain in good faith with AT&T, but have only been met with delays and excuses. Now, AT&T is facing the possibility of closed stores for the first time ever. Our demands are clear and have been for months: fair contract or strike.”

Last year, CWA members at Verizon were on strike for 49 days, finally gaining a contract with greater job protections and winning 1,300 new call center jobs. Since December, AT&T workers have picketed retail stores in San Francisco, New York, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, San Diego and other cities, hung banners on freeway overpasses, organized rallies and marches and confronted the corporation at its annual meeting in Dallas.

“Americans are fed up with giant corporations like AT&T that make record profits but ask workers to do more with less and choose to offshore and outsource jobs,” said Nicole Popis, an AT&T wireless call center worker in Illinois. “I’ve watched our staff shrink from 200 employees down to 130. I’m a single mother and my son is about to graduate. I voted yes to authorize a strike because I’m willing to do whatever it takes to show AT&T we’re serious.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on May 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Bacon is a writer, photographer and former union organizer. He is the author of The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration (2013)Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008), Communities Without Borders (2006), and The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the US/Mexico Border (2004). His website is at dbacon.igc.org.

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Yale: Negotiate with Your Graduate Teachers

May 18th, 2017 | Kenneth Quinnell

In February, the graduate teachers voted to be represented by UNITE HERE. But Yale University has refused to negotiate with them. If they stall long enough, more appointees by President Donald Trump will be seated at the National Labor Relations Board. How quickly do you think those appointees would vote to roll back the rights of graduate workers?

Graduate teachers are teachers. Once they walk into the classroom, their job becomes indistinguishable from that of a tenured faculty member. When they counsel students outside of class, they aren’t giving them only part-time counseling. When they spend endless hours grading papers and tests, their work benefits the university and helps create the environment that attracts students and investors in the school.

Eight UNITE HERE Local 33 members are fasting to protest the university’s refusal to bargain with graduate teachers. The teachers also have marched, picketed and committed acts of civil disobedience. They’ve done all this because they want a seat at the table, something they have earned with their hard work:

We’ve done all this for a simple reason. We want a voice and a seat at the table. Our members, like many young workers in this economy, have to deal with intense economic insecurity. We face punishing competition in a declining career track. Women experience an epidemic of sexual harassment in academia. People of color are systemically marginalized. We want change, and we’ve been told to wait for too long.

Take action today, and send a message to Yale demanding it negotiate with its graduate teachers.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on May 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

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

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Trump’s rollback of environmental rules will fail to bring back coal, report says

May 17th, 2017 | Mark Hand

“Can Coal Make a Comeback?” asks a new report by Columbia University researchers.

Spoiler alert: In its first few pages, the report states that President Donald Trump will almost certainly fail to bring jobs back to coal country or dramatically boost coal production.

Rolling back environmental regulations, as the Trump administration frantically sought to do during its first 100 days, will not “materially improve” economic conditions in the nation’s coal communities, according to the report.

During Trump’s presidential campaign, he repeatedly vowed to end a “war on coal” allegedly waged by the Obama administration. But as long as natural gas prices remain at or near current levels, U.S. coal consumption will continue to decline despite the Trump administration’s plans to roll back Obama-era regulations, the report says.

“Responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the coal sector?—?including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence?—?rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived,” the report says.

The report was released by the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. It was authored by Jason Bordoff, the founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy; Trevor Houser, a partner at consulting firm Rhodium Group; and Peter Marsters, a research analyst with Rhodium Group.

The report seeks to offer an empirical diagnosis of what caused the coal industry to collapse. It then examines the prospects for a recovery of coal production and employment by modeling the impact of Trump’s executive order directing agencies to review or rescind several Obama-era environmental regulations and assessing the global coal market outlook.

Even coal industry executives and coal country politicians have dialed down their rhetoric in recent months, according to the report. Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy and a Trump supporter, urged him to set more modest goals during the campaign and has warned post-election that there is little chance U.S. production can return to pre-recession levels.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) also cautioned?—?after the election?—?that ending the “war on coal” might not bring jobs back to his home state of Kentucky.

The Columbia University report isn’t the first to rain on Trump’s coal parade. In a report released earlier this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance emphasized U.S. coal’s main problem “has been cheap natural gas and renewable power, not a politically driven ‘war on coal.’”

But words of caution haven’t stopped Trump from waging a crusade for coal. Two weeks into his presidency, Trump signed a congressional joint resolution eliminating the Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule finalized in 2016 by the Obama Administration that would have limited the amount of mining waste coal companies can dispose into streams and waterways. In late March, Trump signed the executive order that called on the EPA to “review” the Clean Power Plan, the agency’s carbon-reduction plan for new power plants.

“Many of these actions will take months for agencies to implement and will be challenged in the courts. But they are clearly designed to communicate Trump’s commitment to deliver on his campaign promises,” the Columbia University report said. “Indeed, he signed his March 28 [order] at the EPA in front of a group of coal miners, and after signing, turned to them and said, ‘C’mon fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says? You are going back to work.’”

In the report’s best-case scenario for coal that the authors modeled, U.S. production would see only a modest recovery to 2013 levels at just under 1 billion tons a year. In its worst-case scenario, consumption falls from 730 million short tons in 2016 to 688 million short tons in 2020 despite Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama administration climate regulations.

Rather than bet on a recovery in coal production, coal communities, governments, and other private and public sector organizations should work together to “leverage the other assets” that exist in coal country to attract investment in new sources of job creation and economic growth, the study said.

“This certainly isn’t easy,” the authors wrote. “Coal communities in particular are often geographically remote and lack the infrastructure necessary to attract large-scale investment. Miners and others in the local labor market often lack the skills necessary for jobs that offer the kind of compensation available in coal mining.”

The federal government could offer plenty of help to accelerate locally driven economic diversification efforts, according to the report. Infrastructure investment, tax credits, and re-purposing of abandoned mine land that has other economic use can attract new investment and job creation, it says.

“But this all requires a clear-eyed assessment of the outlook for the coal industry and a commitment to put sustainable solutions ahead of politically expedient talking points,” the report says.

This article originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on May 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mark Hand is a climate reporter for Think Progress. Contact him at mhand@americanprogress.org.

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Want To Speak Out About Politics at Work? Here Are 3 Things You Need to Know.

May 16th, 2017 | Leo Gertner

In the past several months, there’s been a noted uptick in political speech at work. That speech has often made national news, from Sally Yates’ dismissal as interim attorney general to IBM workers organizing against their employer’s support of Donald Trump. In the early days of the Trump administration, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s strike against the Muslim ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport stood out as an impressive act of resistance and solidarity. And even before Trump’s election, Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sparked a national discussion when he refused to stand during the national anthem in protest of racism against African-Americans and other people of color.

Protests against the administration are building quickly, with diverse groups organizing mass protests against the administration’s policies. This month, on May Day—otherwise known as International Workers’ Day—thousands of workers across the country took to the streets to challenge Trump’s draconian and unconstitutional immigration policies. In all likelihood, political activity at work will only increase throughout the Trump administration, all of which begs the question: How protected are workers who talk politics on the job?

As it turns out, not very, at least legally. Though more than 40 percent of participants in a 2014 YouGov poll believed that the First Amendment protected them from retaliation for their workplace political speech, the truth is that workers have, at best, a patchwork of rights to talk politics at work.

Most private sector workers have no Constitutional protections to engage in political speech at work. However, they do have rights as workers. (Government workers have some limited First Amendment rights because the First Amendment applies to government action, but those rights aren’t always consistently defined.)

Though it can be difficult to navigate the maze of laws that regulates employment, there are some simple things to keep in mind that can help private sector employees ensure they have maximum protection at work. These tips are not foolproof ways to protect your job, but they provide some cover in the face of the risks and challenges ahead. Of course, you’re safest keeping your protests outside of work, but building the resistance against Trump will require shop floor leaders to be vocal and visible. While speaking out at work is inherently risky, the rewards measured in collective strength and tangible gains cannot be overestimated.

Step 1: Bring a buddy

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the main law governing relations between workers and employers in the private sector, is unique: It mostly protects groups, not individuals. This means that whenever you stand up to improve the conditions at your workplace with at least one other worker, you are engaging in “protected concerted activity” under the NLRA, and you can’t lawfully be fired or disciplined for that activity. Solidarity at work is protected under federal law. This protection applies to regular workplace complaints and grievances—for instance, joining with your coworkers to form a union or ask for a wage increase—but can also apply to political activity.

Usually, even talking to coworkers about your problems at work is “protected concerted activity.” The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently broadened the meaning of the term in a 2014 case. In that case, the NLRB held that a worker who talked to her coworkers about serving as witnesses in her individual sexual harassment complaint was protected under the NLRA because she was enlisting coworkers in her aid. This suggests that a worker can invoke the protections of the NLRA just by talking with coworkers.

It’s always a good idea to act with at least one other coworker. The best defense is building strong ties with coworkers and the community. The more the boss fears pushback, the less likely he is to retaliate. At the very least, make sure to talk to a coworker before engaging in any action at work, political or otherwise, to bring that action under the NLRA’s protection. But keep in mind that not all political protest is protected—as Step 2 explains.

Step 2: If you’re talking or protesting politics, find ways to tie your protest to issues your employer can control

If you decide to engage in political activity at work, the most important action you can take to protect yourself and your coworkers is to tie your speech or protest to an “employment related concern.” With some limited exceptions, the NLRA protects you from discipline for discussing anything having to do with your pay, occupational safety, the policies at your job, and other terms and conditions of employment with coworkers and third parties, whether the news media or a government agency. In a famous labor law case from 1962, NLRB v. Washington Aluminum, the Supreme Court found that labor law protected a group of workers who spontaneously walked off the job because the shop was too cold to work, though there was a rule against leaving work without the supervisor’s permission and the employees didn’t plan or know they were engaging in a workplace action.

Problems that your employer can’t affect or control are not employment related. For example, in 2006, hundreds of workers were terminated for walking off the job to join massive protests against anti-immigrant legislation proposed in Congress. In response to the terminations, the NLRB came up with some guidelines for political activity. While the protests were found to have been done for “mutual aid and protection”—workers standing together in solidarity—walking off the job against employer rules was unprotected, since the employers could not control immigration policy.

Sometimes an employer does have power over a government policy—for instance, if the employer is actively involved in lobbying over that policy, like in a recent case where taxi drivers protested against their employer, a Las Vegas cab company, for lobbying for more medallions, which would put more drivers on the road and reduce their pay. Still, the takeaway is that you should always try to make sure your protest is about a tangible workplace policy. For instance, if you want to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies, you could center your protest around a demand that the employer not conduct voluntary I-9 audits.

One last thing to remember is that if an employer has a rule that limits political speech at work, it has to be neutral on its face and neutrally applied. If you are fired for violating an employer attendance policy to attend a rally against Trump’s immigration policies, but another coworker who also violated the attendance policy to attend a Trump rally is unscathed, then the boss has violated the law by failing to apply work rules neutrally and you should contact an attorney or the NLRB to report the violation.

Step 3: Build solidarity at work and in the community

Nothing protects you more than the support and solidarity of your coworkers and community. Collective action is a time-honored and battle-tested tactic. The more people support you, the more the boss will be afraid to retaliate against you. In the Fight for $15 campaign, organizers perfected the art of the “walk back.” After one of their now famous strike days, community members, including clergy and local politicians, would walk striking worker back to fast food restaurants in a show of community power. Build relationships at work and in your community to prepare for the fight ahead. Nothing is stronger than people power.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on May 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Leo Gertner is a labor lawyer in Washington, D.C., who previously worked as a grievance representative for janitors in Boston. Sam Wheeler is a Pennsylvania labor lawyer who has previously worked in electoral politics and in the legal departments of several national unions.

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Bosses are stealing billions from their workers' paychecks, but it's not treated like a crime

May 15th, 2017 | Laura Clawson
 Here’s a kind of theft almost no one goes to prison for. When an employer doesn’t pay workers the money they’ve earned, it has the same effect as if they got paid and then walked out on the street and had their pockets picked. But somehow wage theft—not paying workers the minimum wage for the hours they’ve worked, stealing tips, not paying overtime, and other ways of not paying workers what they’ve earned—doesn’t get treated as the crime it truly is. It has a huge impact, though, as a new study from the Economic Policy Institute shows. The EPI looked at just one form of wage theft: paying below minimum wage. Just that one type of violation steals billions of dollars out of workers’ paychecks:
  • In the 10 most populous states in the country, each year 2.4 million workers covered by state or federal minimum wage laws report being paid less than the applicable minimum wage in their state—approximately 17 percent of the eligible low-wage workforce.
  • The total underpayment of wages to these workers amounts to over $8 billion annually. If the findings for these states are representative for the rest of the country, they suggest that the total wages stolen from workers due to minimum wage violations exceeds $15 billion each year.
  • Workers suffering minimum wage violations are underpaid an average of $64 per week, nearly one-quarter of their weekly earnings. This means that a victim who works year-round is losing, on average, $3,300 per year and receiving only $10,500 in annual wages. […]
  • In the 10 most populous states, workers are most likely to be paid less than the minimum wage in Florida (7.3 percent), Ohio (5.5 percent), and New York (5.0 percent). However, the severity of underpayment is the worst in Pennsylvania and Texas, where the average victim of a minimum wage violation is cheated out of over 30 percent of earned pay.

Young workers, women, immigrants, and people of color are disproportionately affected because they’re overrepresented in low-wage jobs to begin with. This wage theft is keeping people in poverty—the poverty rate among workers paid less than the minimum wage in this study was 21 percent, and would have dropped to 15 percent if they’d been paid minimum wage. If their bosses had followed the law, in other words.

The wage thieves rarely face penalties for stealing, and when they do:

Employers found to have illegally underpaid an employee are usually required only to pay back a portion of the stolen wages—not even the full amount owed, much less a penalty for violating the law.

The law basically gives employers permission to steal from workers, in other words. And it sure won’t be getting better under Donald Trump.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on May 12, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

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