Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for July, 2009

How to Get Work-Life Balance

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Workers are parents. Workers are caregivers for their elderly and disabled adult loved ones. And yes, workers get sick sometimes and have to stop working and take care of themselves. The question is when our workplaces are going to acknowledge these all-too-obvious facts and provide basic benefits that let working people handle their non-work lives without going broke.

The answer, of course, is that we get what’s known as “work-life balance” or “family-friendly” benefits – like paid sick days, paid family and medical leave, and child care benefits – when we oblige employers to give them to us. Employees with in-demand skills do that now, and the good news is, employers are generally not scaling back workplace flexibility policies during this recession. (See this new study from the Families and Work Institute for the first piece of good employment news I’ve read in a while.)

But what about the rest of us? We’ve got two complementary and mutually reinforcing ways to make sure the boss lets Daddy stay home with Sally when she gets the flu. The first is government regulation: in recent weeks, I’ve made the case that the nation should set up a national system of paid family leave insurance and mandate that employers provide paid sick days.

The second way to ensure that our work lives give ground when necessary to the exigencies of the rest of our lives is to organize a union and put family-friendly benefits on the bargaining table. A recent report by the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education and the Labor Project for Working Families highlights the effectiveness of this approach. Among the findings:

* Union workers are more likely to receive fully paid and partially paid family leaves than their non-union counterparts.

* Union workers are more likely to have paid sick days, and to have paid time off they can use to care for sick children.

* Union workers are more likely to have child care benefits, from referral services to dependent care reimbursement accounts.

* Companies with a unionized workforce are five times more likely to pay the entire family health insurance premium, and when union employees do have to pay part of the premium themselves, they are responsible for a smaller share.

* Unions can even increase access to benefits that are mandated by law for a much wider range of workers. For example, although the federal Family Medical Leave Act has guaranteed unpaid, job-protected leave for many workers at large companies for over 15 years, surveys suggest that many employees still don’t realize they have this right. Others are too afraid to use the leave they’re entitled to. But, as the report explains, unions “educate members on what their workplace rights are and how to exercise them; they monitor the workplace and ensure that policies and rights are being enforced; and they protect workers from retaliation when they exercise their rights.”

As the last example suggests, unionization and government action complement each other, with public policy granting protection to a broader range of working people, and unions increasing the ability of their members to fully exercise the rights they’re given by the law. More of us will get more balance in our work and lives if the nation pursues both routes aggressively: make it easier to join unions while also fighting for paid leave and other “balance” policies for everyone. Since unions themselves are among the most dedicated advocates of regulations providing family-friendly benefits for all employees, these strategies are also mutually reinforcing.

Amy Traub: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This article originally appeared at DMI Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Finding Common Ground Between Public Option Advocates and Single Payer Advocates

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

A heated argument is going on about the right health insurance model between those those who believe in a public option and those who believe in single payer.

Or perhaps I should say between those who are willing to take what they can get: public option; vs. those who want to hold out for what they consider the best option: single payer.

By way of reconciling what differences can be reconciled, let me ask a question of each side.

A Question for Public Option Advocates

Do you want to eventually have a single payer or a comprehensive system like the French have?  If not, why not?

A Question for Single Payer Advocates

Are you willing to fight for a public option which could eventually lead to single payer or a comprehensive system like the French one? If not, why not?

At this point what I'm seeing is both sides retreating into moralistic screaming.

The public option folks are saying: “It is better to save some lives than none, and if you single payer purists don't support a public option which will save even a few lives, you're responsible for those deaths.”

The single payer people are saying: “The public option is so watered down that all it will do is discredit real public reform, aka single payer.  You public option folks are settling for so little that the few lives you might save are outweighed by all the lives you won't save and the damage to the chance at real comprehensive health care reform.”

Both sides are assuming the other side is operating in bad faith.  The public option folks assume the single payer folks just want to be pure rather than saving lives, the single payer that the public option folks are just sell-outs shilling for a bad bill.

But what I'm seeing, as someone with a foot in each camp, is that both sides are (mostly) sincere.

Now there is one group that can't be reconciled.  People who want a public option so weak it either won't survive, or can't be used as the basis for a comprehensive system.  The usual suspects like Insurance company executives, for example.  But also some people in the Obama administration, such as Health Secretary Katherine Sibelius, the health secretary, who said that the plan would be drafted specifically so that it could never become single payer.

But for everyone else, for those acting in good faith, there should be some common ground from which we can work together. Let's start by recognizing that the battle over public option vs single payer is a distraction away from what we could accomplish if we worked together.

United we stand a chance.  Divided, we will lose our chance at health care reform.

(Minor edits made 3 am July 26th for clarity and style)

Ian Welsh: Ian Welsh has been blogging since 2003. He was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in Pogge.ca and BlogsCanada. He is a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

This article was originally posted at Open Left on July 27, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.


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Confusing the Terms of the Health Care Debate

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Martin Feldstein, a brilliant conservative economist, has his facts wrong on the health care debate in an op-ed he penned today in the Washington Post.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight concisely explains Feldstein’s error:

Take a look at this:
Obama has said that he would favor a British-style “single payer” system in which the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are salaried but that he recognizes that such a shift would be too disruptive to the health-care industry. The Obama plan to have a government insurance provider that can undercut the premiums charged by private insurers would undoubtedly speed the arrival of such a single-payer plan.

Feldstein is simply mistaken here. “Single-payer” has to do with who pays for health care (in the case of single-payer, the federal government does). It has absolutely nothing to do with who provides health care. It’s the difference between the Canadian system, in which private doctors and hospitals are paid by the Canadian government (and indirectly, Canadian taxpayers) to provide health care to its citizenry, and the British system, in which the providers themselves — doctors, nurses, hospital administrators — are actually in the employ of Her Majesty’s Government. For that matter, it’s the difference between Medicare — a single-payer system for American seniors — and the British system. The Canadian system is nationalized health insurance. The British system is nationalized health care — or if you prefer, socialized medicine.

Obama has never expressed or implied any admiration for the British system of socalized medicine. Not that there aren’t admirable elements of it — but I doubt that you’d find even very many self-identified liberals who would suggest that it’s the right system for America. Obama, rather, has expressed admiration for a government-run monopoly on insurance — single-payer — as do about half of Americans in opinion polls.

Got it? Get it? Good.

Paul Secunda:

Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.
This article originally appeared at Workplace Prof Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

 


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Federal Minimum Wage Increase on 7/23/09

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Atlanta, GA, July 24, 2009 – The federal minimum wage increased today, raising wages of the lowest paid workers from $6.55/hour to $7.25/hour and providing a real boost to working families and the economy. Workers who benefit from the increase will spend it in their local communities on much needed items like milk, diapers and clothes for their children.

Marilynn Winn, is a temp worker in Atlanta earning $6.75/hour at an auto auction. “Increasing the minimum wage will help me and everyone in my community,” she says. “I help my 77 year old mother and 18 year old grandson when I can. Sometimes my mother calls asking for help to buy food and I have to say, “I can’t this week.”

Such basic needs might not sound like the elements of an economic recovery package. But according to the Economic Policy Institute, this $24 per week increase for full-time minimum wage workers will generate $5.5 billion in consumer spending over the next year – providing a helping hand to the sagging economy. Though Congress could not foresee our current economic troubles when a series of three wage increases were enacted in 2007, this minimum wage increase could not come at a better time – for low-wage,
working families and for the country as a whole.

When President Franklin Roosevelt first proposed the first federal minimum wage law in 1937, he noted that: “The increase in national purchasing power (is) an underlying necessity of the day.”

Thirty –one states will be affected by the minimum wage increase, including Georgia and Wisconsin where 9to5 has worked in coalition with business, labor, faith, nonprofit and civil rights organizations to ensure that working families receive what Roosevelt called a “fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.” Other states where 9to5 has launched campaigns, including Colorado and California, have a minimum wage above $7.25.

Recent economic studies document that states where the minimum wage was raised had better employment and small business growth than states that did not. A letter signed by 650 leading economists, in support of raising the minimum wage, noted “most of the beneficiaries are adults, most are female and the vast majority (come from) low-income working families.” Disputing claims that these increases threaten job growth, they state, “The increase… would not have the adverse effects that critics have claimed.”

While the federal minimum wage increase will go into effect at a time when working families are struggling mightily to make ends meet, the American worker, particularly low-wage workers, need and deserve more: guaranteed paid sick days, more affordable child care for working parents and time off to be involved in their children’s school activities.

As we celebrate this minimum wage increase and all that it promises, let’s continue to move toward family-friendly workplace legislation so that the workplace works for all of us.

Cindia Cameron: As Organizing Director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women, Ms Cameron coordinates issue campaigns, provides leadership and program development to chapters and staff across the country. She is a media spokesperson and public speaker for community and employer audiences on a range of working women’s issues, including living wages, sexual harassment, working poverty and family friendly policies. Ms Cameron has a background in adult and labor education, with a BA in Economics and Labor Studies from Rutgers University. She has worked for 9to5 since 1983.

This article originally appeared at 9 to 5 on July 23, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.


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Why I am Pro-Corporate

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I am pro-corporate. I’ll go a step further with that and proclaim that I believe that there are no bad corporations, and that I haven’t seen any corporations do anything wrong.

I see the way you are looking at me. I’d better explain.

The reason I say there are no “bad” corporations is because corporations are not sentient beings that can “do” things or that can be good or bad. They can’t make decisions. Corporations are just a bundle of contracts that allow groups of people to more easily raise capital and amass resources. Corporations are things, like chairs, and things do not make decisions, any more than a chair does. Corporations are tools and tools are neither good nor bad.

When I say I am pro-corporate, this is what I mean: The things that the corporate legal structure enables people to do are good for society. This is why We, the People decided to enact the laws that created corporations. If we want to be able to accomplish things on a large scale, like build a railroad or airports and airplanes or skyscrapers – or solar power plants to replace coal power plants – we want to enable people to more easily raise the necessary capital and amass the resources needed to get the job done. The legal structure of the corporate form of a business accomplishes this.

Corporations, a bundle of contracts, don’t “do” anything, people do. And that is why this discussion is important right now. We are looking here at how to restructure our economy, but before we can do that, we have to correctly identify what went wrong. We have to understand who the good and bad actors were.

So what are some of the things that companies have been doing that we as progressives think should change? Let’s use the highly-publicized example of Wal-Mart and their low wages and benefits and Chinese imports. Wal-Mart always complained about being cast as the bad-actor. They said that if Wal-Mart raised wages and benefits and their competitor Target didn’t, then they would be at a competitive disadvantage and Target would take over the business. And, by extension, any company that tries to “do the right thing” is immediately at a disadvantage to a company that does not.

Looked at this way, if we make Wal-Mart raise wages and Target doesn’t, then not only is Wal-Mart in trouble as a company but now we’re starting all over again trying to get Target to raise wages. And if THEY do so, then along comes K-Mart or Costco or a new company X-Co to pay the low wages, charge lower prices and take away the business. This feels like it is going around in a circle, trying to fix a problem in one place and the pressures of the system immediately make the problem appear somewhere else.

I think blaming companies for the things they “do” also places a lot of stress on people inside of them who might agree with us, and even can alienate them from otherwise supporting progressives. People in the corporate world often feel trapped because the rules of the game require them to engage in what we think of as bad behavior. These are good people who would be very helpful to us in making the correct changes but they feel forced by the system to do the things they do. They are pulled two ways. Executives at Wal-Mart on the one hand can be want to raise wages, and on the other hand have a responsibility to compete with Target.

So what am I getting at here? The companies are not the problem, the rules we set up for them are. Companies operate on a playing field on which the rules of the game are supposed to be decided by US. We, the People are supposed to set up the ground rules and then the companies are supposed to follow those rules. Wal-Mart followed those rules. If we didn’t like the wages and benefits that companies pay, why don’t we change the rules and tell them they all have to pay higher wages and provide better benefits?

Now we’re getting somewhere. Many progressives have been trying to get companies to “behave” in better ways, and haven’t been getting much done — I think due to not correctly identifying the problem. The real problem is that we haven’t set up the rules of the playing field to require these companies – all of them – to provide good wages and benefits, etc. It is our job to regulate what these corporations do. So why didn’t we, through our government, change the rules for all the companies, so they all had a level playing field and clear rules? Identifying why we have not fixed the rules is the path to fixing the larger problem.

What has been happening is that a few people in the bigger companies have been using the resources of those big corporations to influence our system and set the rules of that playing field to give an edge to their companies. They do this so they can personally gain.

This is where we need to focus to fix the corporate system. There should be no way for people in companies to have any say whatsoever in how the playing field on which they operate is set up. How to accomplish this is a subject for future posts.

As I said above, corporations are just a tool, like a hammer. But a hammer can do a lot of damage if a person hits you upside the head with it. That is what we have to stop: a few people using corporate resources and hitting us upside the head.

Oh, and for the record, I am pro-chair, too, though my wife will probably insist I am a pro-couch partisan.

Dave Johnson:Dave is at Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and a Fellow at the Commonwealth Institute.

This article originally appeared at Blog for Our Future and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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'Green Jobs' Aren't Growing Quickly at Republic Factory in Chicago

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Photo by Kari Lydersen.

Workers from the former Republic Windows and Doors factory hope weatherization incentives will help them get their jobs back.

The phrase “green jobs” has been thrown out right and left recently, with everything from urban farming to building wind turbines and solar panels to producing plain old insulation described as a “green job.”

When the California company Serious Materials bought the former Republic Windows and Doors factory on Chicago’s Goose Island this spring, inspired by the Republic workers’ six-day factory occupation in December, company officials and national politicians—including President Obama and Vice President Biden—held up the operation as a poster child of “green jobs” and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), or stimulus, at work.

The idea was that stimulus funds for weatherization would exponentially increase demand for Serious Materials’ energy-efficient windows and ecological drywall.

The concept certainly makes sense. But the relatively slow ramp-up of production at the Serious Materials Goose Island plant shows how “green jobs” and, more generally, jobs created by the stimulus, don’t materialize as quickly and easily as people might have hoped.

Before buying the plant, Serious Materials signed a union contract with the UE union local 1110 and promised to hire back any of the 250 workers who still wanted their jobs. Union and company officials had originally said they planned for a full plant opening in May or June.

But even now, only about 15 former employees are back at work. This is perhaps not surprising, given the lead time needed for stimulus incentives to translate into actual orders, assuming that does in fact happen on a significant scale.

The stimulus does not give funds directly to a company like Serious Materials. The idea is that tax breaks for weatherization of government buildings and grants to low-income home owners would increase demand for energy-efficient building components.

Serious Materials officials said the company is working directly with different government agencies to plan green building renovations. But unbeknownst to many people, the stimulus actually did not cover new windows for homeowners until recently.

Now new results from the National Energy Audit Tool (NEAT) mean that low-income homeowners making up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level can get up to $6,500 for new windows as part of the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), the funding of which was increased by the stimulus. (The federal poverty level requirements mean a family of four making $44,000 a year would basically qualify for WAP funds.)

Serious Materials celebrated by launching its own line of WAP products. The company says their windows can cut energy costs by 40 percent a household, which would cut an average energy bill by almost $700 a year.

The grant means that, theoretically, workers awaiting rehire by Serious Materials could replace their own windows and save on energy expenditures—especially come winter. This spring, President Obama announced a goal of providing weatherization assistance to 1 million homeowners.

It appears that workers at Serious Materials on Goose Island are mixing hope with healthy skepticism, waiting eagerly for these incentives to kick in, but also remembering they have typically had to fight for every gain they’ve gotten. They know they can’t just sit back and wait for the stimulus or the factory’s new owner to make everything all right.

Kari Lydersen: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island.

This article was originally posted on Working in These Times on July 25, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the source.


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Kaiser Model Shows the Way to Improving Health Care Delivery

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Using a combination of integrated, team-based care and technology, Kaiser Permanente of Southern California developed a Healthy Bones initiative that not only reduced fractures in the most at-risk patients by 37 percent, but lowered the care cost for the same patients by 30 percent.

Similar Kaiser programs have reduced heart disease deaths and treatment costs in Colorado and diabetes complications and costs in Hawaii.

Yesterday, a forum hosted by the National Labor College (NLC) and the Kaiser Permanente Health Care Institute explored how health care delivery and quality can be vastly improved and costs significantly lowered with integrated care and technology and by maximizing the unique labor-management partnership at Kaiser Permanente, where some 96,000 health care workers are unionized.

With the nation in the midst of a debate over how to reform the nation’s broken health care system and how to expand and improve care and reduce costs, the Kaiser model provides a promising blueprint.

One of the cornerstones of Kaiser’s success is the labor-management partnership that allows all caregivers a voice developing and delivering new care initiatives.

In an interview during a break in the presentations, George Halverson, chairman and CEO of Kaiser Permanente, said:

The labor-management partnership has been very productive. It’s been a huge asset and a lot of this that we are doing with the labor-management partnership would translate to other places.

Halverson says it would be a mistake to reform health care—whether reform includes expanding coverage, establishing new insurance company rules or financing—without reforming the way health care is delivered

Integrated care ensures that everyone is involved in a patient’s care, from primary physician to specialists, pharmacist, nurse and others, and that new technology allows that information to be shared and analyzed. Speaking at the forum, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said a health care reform proposal without integrated health care reform “is not optional.” He adds that the team-based care concept is vital.

I think is perhaps our most significant work together-the use of what are called “unit-based” teams to bring doctors, nurses, technicians, pharmacists and other caregivers together on behalf of patients.

The results have included startling improvements in patient outcomes, reductions in medical errors, better preventative care, cost savings and a better, more satisfying work environment for everyone involved.

John August, executive director of the Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions, told participants he believes the method by which Kaiser delivers health care can be successful elsewhere, but adds:

You’ve got to have a system where labor and management work together everyday…where workers can feel confident in the team.

He says when changes or new care plans come from a “top-down” management, with a “here’s the plan, implement it” style, it is likely not to have complete worker buy-in and enthusiasm. But with a team-based plan:

It doesn’t take much of a leap of faith to have confidence in it.

Sweeney says the Kaiser Permanente Labor Management Partnership has provided “a framework for what every health care delivery system should do,”

and that’s break down walls and bring caregivers together so they can use new technology and coordinate care 24-hours-a-day.

Mike Hall: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO NOW Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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Lieutenant Sotomayor?

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Could Sonia Sotomayor have moved up the ranks in the New Haven Fire Department? The stark contrast between a Hispanic lawyer who has risen to the top of the legal profession and a group of African-American firefighters whose efforts to move up have been stymied by a test points to how differently equal opportunity has played out in education and in employment.

Educational and employment tests rose to prominence after the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. They signaled that a college or employer valued ability and was committed to equal treatment. With the SAT, the New Haven fire captain’s exam, or the popular General Aptitude Test Battery, each candidate’s numerical score could be plotted on a curve. A scientific judgment could be made about who was most able, most meritorious, and most deserving of a desk in the classroom or a seat on the fire truck.

While both kinds of tests were popularized by equal opportunity laws, educational tests have had a very different legal and practical history than employment tests. Berkeley and the University of Michigan and Yale and Harvard took SAT test scores with a grain of salt, in part because data from millions of test-takers showed that the test does not predict college performance very well for African-Americans. When elite colleges made a concerted effort to diversify the student body in the 1960s, they avoided hard numerical cutoffs for SAT performance and instead took a range of different indictors, like high school grades, into account. Non-elite colleges were admitting almost all comers, so the test mattered little for the average college applicant.

Many companies responded to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by installing hiring and promotion tests on the theory that these could guarantee that placement was based on merit, not bias. While police and fire departments came to rely heavily on tests, the relationship between test and job performance was problematic, like the relationship between SAT and college performance. Employers often used general ability tests that covered basic high school math and English skills for jobs in auto factories and airplane plants that didn’t require these skills. People who do well on the GATB can make lousy bricklayers. The disconnect between test scores and job performance was the basis of a the Supreme Court’s landmark Griggs v. Duke Power decision in 1971, in which African-American plaintiffs argued that they had been denied posts at Duke Power because they scored poorly on a test that measured skills unrelated to the job. Substandard segregated high schools had prepared African-Americans poorly for such tests, and so many promising candidates for jobs botched the test. The Court ruled that hiring and promotion practices that have a “disparate impact” on certain groups, and serve no business purpose, can be discriminatory.

Personnel psychologists echoed the court’s call for tests to be validated — statistically proven to predict job performance. Lower courts encouraged validation, but Washington made no hard and fast rule that employers must validate job tests. As a result, HR departments sometimes used psychologists’ stringent criteria to validate employment tests, but more often they used guesswork or, as one HR manager told me in an interview, decided they would “throw themselves on the mercy of the court” if they were sued for using a discriminatory test. Even big city police and fire departments, many of whom were under court order to integrate, continued to use tests that had not been validated, and that were known to exclude almost all African-American or Latino candidates. New Haven’s captain’s test had not been validated. While some police and fire departments followed colleges in using supplemental criteria for selection, such as performance in a mock fire, many did something like New Haven, which gave the multiple choice exam a weight of 60% and an oral exam a weight of 40%. In effect, no one below a certain threshold could win a lieutenancy or captaincy.

In colleges, we know that the SAT isn’t a perfect predictor of success, and so we don’t exclude all candidates below a particular score. In fire departments, which use any number of different tests, fire chiefs frequently have no idea of whether the exam is a good predictor of job performance, and yet they rule out candidates below a particular score.

Would Sonia Sotomayor have passed the New Haven lieutenant’s exam? Perhaps, though there are some reasons to think she might not have. She reports that her SAT scores for Princeton and her LSAT scores for Yale were not on par with those of her peers, and that she had to teach herself grammar and vocabulary and the classics when she got to Princeton. She likely wouldn’t have gotten into either Princeton or Yale if they had used hard cutoffs, but that didn’t stop her from graduating summa cum laude from Princeton and making the Law Review at Yale. She may have done a middling job on the SAT for any number of reasons. Perhaps growing up in a housing project in the Bronx didn’t give the preparation that a childhood in Scarsdale and at Exeter Academy might have. Perhaps learning English as a second language put her at a disadvantage. Or perhaps she choked. Social psychologists find that minorities often blow tests when they are thinking of their status, and excel when they aren’t.

Soon to be Justice Sotomayor hoped as a child to become a detective. If she had followed that dream, she might well have struggled with the police department’s detective exam and been stuck as a beat cop. The world of policing would have lost a natural leader, and a great intellect. Police and fire departments could stand to learn one thing from colleges and universities. If multiple choice tests don’t predict college test-taking very well, they surely don’t predict policing and firefighting very well. Chiefs would be well advised to look at a wider range of criteria, as Princeton and Yale did in the case of Sonia Sotomayor.

Frank Dobbin is the author of Inventing Equal Opportunity

Frank Dobbins: Frank Dobbin is professor of sociology at Harvard. He has studied corporate equal opportunity and diversity programs for more than two decades. In his most recent work, with Alexandra Kalev, he is developing an evidence-based approach to diversity management, using a large sample of firms and thirty years of data to analyze the effects of popular diversity programs on workforce integration. His Inventing Equal Opportunity (Princeton University Press, 2009) traces the evolution of corporate equal opportunity and diversity programs put into place by human resources managers – programs that ultimately define discrimination in the American mind.

Slowing the Decline in Living Standards for Low Wage Workers is Not Enough

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Today’s increase means a full-time minimum wage earner will receive $28 more a week. This raise is badly needed. It is also categorically insufficient.

While our nation’s plunge into recession has forced many working families to tighten their belts, low-wage workers have fared even worse. The decade between 1997 and 2007 was the longest period in history without a minimum wage increase–but even with this wage hike, minimum wage workers will still make less than they did in 1956, after adjusting for inflation.

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life.” How is it possible that his statement would still ring true 40 years later? Recent raises are so little, so late that even with the increase, America’s minimum wage is still 17 percent lower than its peak in 1968. In fact, it would take $9.83 today to match the buying power of the minimum wage of 1968.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) estimates that some 10 million workers–those at the minimum wage or just above it–will benefit from the increase. But the facts remain that an individual earning $7.25 an hour in a standard 2,000-hour work year would earn $14,500 per year…a salary which is still slightly below the 2009 federal poverty level for a family of two. While corporate profits have grown steadily in the past several decades, workers are not getting . As the minimum wage fell 22% in real dollars from 1973 to 2007, corporate profits have grown steadily in the past several decades, jumping more than 50% during the same time period. Statistics like these just reinforce that sad reality that although Americans are working harder than ever, they are not reaping the fair share of the profits their labor work is creating.

Although the federal minimum wage increase from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour reflects a growing understanding that workers face enormous financial burdens, it’s not nearly enough. A NY Times editorial points out: “The latest increase will slow the decline in living standards, but it doesn’t reverse the overall downward pull.” But it doesn’t have to be this way, says SEIU’s Anna Burger:

“For millions of hardworking Americans, their only opportunity for a raise is controlled by which way the political wind blows in Washington…Congress must pass the Employee Free Choice Act, a bill that would allow workers to bargain with their employers for better job security, wages and benefits to ensure that millions more Americans have good jobs with real benefits and a pathway to the middle class.”

It’s time to break the cycle of too little, too late raises. We can’t build a strong, sustainable economy if a growing share of business revenue continues to go to executive pay and profits–we need to level the playing field. The thousands of people who have already taken action know that majority sign-up is still, bar none, the fairest way for workers to negotiate for better job security and wages.

It’s important that both the House and the Senate see how much support there is for majority sign-up and the Employee Free Choice Act–

SEIU Blog

Kate Thomas: Kate Thomas works in New Media for the Service Employees International Union.

This article was originally posted on the SEIU Blog on July 24, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

 

The Minimum Wage--And Why the Recovery is Not Coming

Monday, July 27th, 2009

Today, the minimum wage rises to $7.25 an hour. We should all be glad that millions of people are going to get a bit more money in their pockets. But, this hike masks a very grim fact: the “recovery” is not going to happen anytime soon, if the measure we use for “recovery” is that working Americans are going to find meaningful, full-time, decently-paid employment.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the scandal of the minimum wage–a level of income that at the grand sum of the new $7.25 per hour, if you worked every single week, every day, you would earn $14,645 a year–with likely no health care, no retirement, no vacation days, no sick days. By comparison, the federal POVERTY LEVEL for a family of three is $17,600–a number that is outdated because it doesn’t take into account the real cost of living. But, even that number is higher than what a person would earn at the new minimum wage.

So, the truth is that by feeling good about the new minimum wage, we are quietly accepting the fact that millions of people will continue to work as slaves–laboring at sub-standard wages. In New York State, the minimum wage hike will do very little for workers because the state minimum wage is already $7.15 and, as the Fiscal Policy Institute points out,”New York’s minimum wage will still be more than 21 percent below its peak value in 1970, which was $9.23 in today’s dollars. The 10 cents an hour increase for New York’s minimum wage workers amounts to only a 1.4 percent raise, well below the 4 percent general rate of inflation since January 2007 and even further below the nearly 7 percent inflation rise in the New York City metropolitan area.”

Remember that fact and, then, take into account what we now face in America: an effective unemployment and underemployment rate of more than 16 percent.

Yes, 16 percent. Not the 9.5 percent that the we mostly hear about. The typical number the media reports–the Labor Department’s U-3 rate–excludes people who have given up looking for work and people who only have part-time work because they can’t find full-time work (part-time workers are counted as “employed” even if they only work ONE HOUR A WEEK).

And, thanks to the glories of the “flexible” free-market, the economy we now live in has forced more people into part-time work–because that allows companies to hire and fire people without having to assume all those annoying things like health care and pensions for the workers.

16 percent of our fellow citizens do not have full-time, decent paying work. And that does not count those people working full-time for the minimum wage–who end up in poverty.

This is a national crisis and a national scandal. It is what I call The Audacity of Greed (and, in a quick shameless bit of promotion, the title of my new book just about out–feel free to join the Facebook Fan page)

So, when we hear the discussions about “recovery”, my reaction is this: until we know that we have returned to the concept of FULL EMPLOYMENT in the country (which no one seems to talk about) and until we begin to see people working for above-poverty level wages and until people can join unions in large numbers so they can have some power in the marketplace (not just to raise wages and benefits but to have dignity and respect on the job), there will be no recovery.

Why are we not marching, by the millions, to protest what is effectively the robbing of working Americans?

Jonathan Tasini: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

This article originally appeared on Working Life on July 24, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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