Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for January, 2010

How to Date a Corporation: Dating Rules for a Post-Citizens United World

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

The Supreme Court recently determined that corporations are entitled to freedom of speech because they are legally persons. The ramifications of this decision, Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, cannot be overstated: it introduces an entirely new and untapped population into the dating pool.

Chances are you’ve never dated a corporation before. But don’t be intimidated. This can be a fun and exciting opportunity… as long as you follow the corporation-dating rules.

1. Consider your options. There are a lot of corporations out there. Is this really the best corporation out there? Is this corporation “the one?” Or should you keep looking?
2. Don’t seem too eager to get involved. Remember, corporations are predatory by nature and enjoy a chase.
3. Do a background check. What kind of relationships has this corporation had in the past? What is the corporation’s history
4. Investigate the company the corporation keeps. Who is on its board of directors? Have any been indicted?
5. Check out the corporation’s assets and figures. How do they look? Are they appealing to you?
6. Say that you’re fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Corporations find this very sexy.
7. Make sure you wait before you give up any of your assets. Corporations lose interest when you give it up right away.
8. Don’t over invest. Nothing hurts more than giving without getting.
9. Resist the “urge to merge.” Mergers often look appealing but they tend to be messy and almost always hurt party.
10. Assume the worst. Corporations have a one track mind and they can’t wait to get their hands on your goods.
11. And last but not least…Protect yourself. Corporations can be very reckless and you never really know how many people this corporation has screwed.

*This post originally appeared in Working Life. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katie Harper is a co-founder of Laughing Liberally, a political comedy group, with whom she performs regularly at venues including Netroots Nation (the convention formerly known as Yearly Kos). Katie blogs for Huffington Post, TakePart, 23/6, Nerve, Culture Kitchen, and Campus Progress. Katie is also an Artistic Director and Comedy Curator at The Tank, a non-profit performing arts space for emerging artists. Her award winning documentary, La memoria es vaga, about historical memory in Spain, has been screened throughout Spain and the U.S. Katie is currently developing a one-woman show and a documentary film about her summer camp, Camp Kinderland, and their “peace Olympics” games. For more information, check out http:// katiehalper.com

Middle Class Task Force Addresses Child Care, College Costs, Retirement Security

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
The White House Task Force on the Middle Class today announced several initiatives it says will help middle-class families afford soaring child care costs, care for their aging relatives, cope with the challenge of saving for retirement and pay for their children’s college tuition.
President Obama says the measures will help “ease the burdens on middle-class families who are struggling in this economy, and provide the help they need to get ahead.” The White House says Obama will discuss these and other vital middle-class issues, including job creation and health care in his State of the Union address Wednesday.
The Task Force chairman, Vice President Joe Biden, says the initiatives were developed after a series of meetings during the past year with working families around the country and at the White House.
Every day, middle-class families go to work and help make this country great.  For a year, our Task Force has been hearing that they are struggling with soaring costs and squeezed family budgets. These common sense initiatives will help these families cope with these challenges.
The initiatives include:
Nearly doubling the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle-class families making under $85,000 a year and a $1.6 billion increase in child care funding for families struggling to enter the middle class.
Limiting a student’s federal loan payments to 10 percent of his or her income above a basic living allowance.
Creating a system of automatic workplace IRAs, requiring all employers to give the option for employees to enroll in a direct-deposit IRA.
Expanding tax credits to match retirement savings and enacting new safeguards to protect retirement savings.
Expanding support for families balancing work with caring for elderly relatives.
Click here for a fact sheet with more detailed information on each initiative.
The Task Force has given working families and union leaders the opportunity to outline their concerns and offer recommendations on ways to make the economy work for working families.
United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard emphasized the need for creation of good green jobs. Members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 730 in St. Cloud. Minn., told Biden and the Task Force that the Employee Free Choice Act was vital to allow workers to bargain for jobs with good wages and benefits. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler urged the Task Force to make fixing manufacturing a priority in building a stronger economy.
Visit the White House Task Force on the Middle Class website here.

Image: Mike HallThe White House Task Force on the Middle Class today announced several initiatives it says will help middle-class families afford soaring child care costs, care for their aging relatives, cope with the challenge of saving for retirement and pay for their children’s college tuition.

President Obama says the measures will help “ease the burdens on middle-class families who are struggling in this economy, and provide the help they need to get ahead.” The White House says Obama will discuss these and other vital middle-class issues, including job creation and health care in his State of the Union address Wednesday.

The Task Force chairman, Vice President Joe Biden, says the initiatives were developed after a series of meetings during the past year with working families around the country and at the White House.

Every day, middle-class families go to work and help make this country great.  For a year, our Task Force has been hearing that they are struggling with soaring costs and squeezed family budgets. These common sense initiatives will help these families cope with these challenges.

The initiatives include:

Nearly doubling the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit for middle-class families making under $85,000 a year and a $1.6 billion increase in child care funding for families struggling to enter the middle class.

Limiting a student’s federal loan payments to 10 percent of his or her income above a basic living allowance.

Creating a system of automatic workplace IRAs, requiring all employers to give the option for employees to enroll in a direct-deposit IRA.

Expanding tax credits to match retirement savings and enacting new safeguards to protect retirement savings.

Expanding support for families balancing work with caring for elderly relatives.

Click here for a fact sheet with more detailed information on each initiative.

The Task Force has given working families and union leaders the opportunity to outline their concerns and offer recommendations on ways to make the economy work for working families.

United Steelworkers President Leo W. Gerard emphasized the need for creation of good green jobs. Members of Communications Workers of America (CWA) Local 730 in St. Cloud. Minn., told Biden and the Task Force that the Employee Free Choice Act was vital to allow workers to bargain for jobs with good wages and benefits. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler urged the Task Force to make fixing manufacturing a priority in building a stronger economy.

Visit the White House Task Force on the Middle Class website here.

*This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on January 25, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I 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. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

Enough Hand Wringing. Get the Job Done!

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Image: Richard KirschAs Washington grapples with the outcome of the election in Massachusetts this week, it’s important to remember one key thing: Congress can still pass historic legislation that will make health care a right, not a privilege, in the United States. While the procedural route may be different, Congress still can do what it intended to do before Tuesday. It can enact a comprehensive bill that will make good health care affordable to tens of millions of people who are uninsured or underinsured and end the practice of denying people coverage or charging people more for pre-existing conditions. It can end the specter of medical bankruptcy, provide free access to preventive care, and more. None of these historic achievements can be done through “incremental” reform, and failing to accomplish these goals would put the Democratic Party in profound political peril.

While it may seem appealing to carve up the many facets of reform into smaller bites, that won’t get the job done. Take, for example, the promise that has most resonated with the public: stopping insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions. You can’t do that without requiring everyone be covered because many people would wait to get covered until they needed treatment and that would drive premiums too high. But you can’t require people to get coverage without providing income-based subsidies to make coverage affordable. And you can’t raise the money for subsidies without finding savings in the system, like the proposed changes in Medicare, or raising new revenue. All that adds up to comprehensive reform.

The same logic applies to the other basic items Americans most want from reform, like relief from medical bankruptcy or stopping insurers from charging more to women or making the health insurance market work for small business.

At its heart, comprehensive reform is a simple guarantee that you will have access to good, affordable coverage whether you work for someone else, are self-employed, or are unemployed. The bills that have passed both houses of Congress achieve that goal through the same basic mechanisms: expanding Medicaid, establishing new health insurance marketplaces, providing income-based subsidies for buying regulated insurance within those marketplaces, extending tax credits to at least small businesses, and establishing some requirements for most businesses to offer coverage or pay for it. Both bills raise the money through changes in Medicare and new revenues. Taken together, that will mean that for the first time every American will have access to affordable health care coverage.

If we look at history, we see that once we have built such a foundation, Congress will improve on it. When Social Security was enacted, it left out major categories of workers and didn’t provide for surviving spouses or dependents. Those omissions got fixed later.

If we fail to pass reform or pass minor reforms that don’t really change anything, it will be at least 15 years before the nation tries again. If we enact the agreed upon reforms, Congress will continue to debate how to improve upon what’s in place. And it will defend the new right to health care against those who would tear it down – just like Republicans have been trying and failing to privatize Social Security since it was first passed.

This isn’t just a policy question; it’s a political one. Republicans are counting on stopping the Democratic agenda so that Democrats will fail and voters will give the Republicans another chance. The Massachusetts election demonstrated that Democrats need to deliver on the promise of change. After a year of getting within sight of the finish line on comprehensive health care reform, the only choice from a policy and political perspective is to get the job done.

As the national campaign manager of the nation’s biggest progressive health care campaign – one that has organized hundreds of thousands of people in all 50 states and spent $45 million fighting for reforms that go well beyond what now seems possible – I understand as well as anyone how frustrating progressives find this situation. But we should never lose sight of what Dr. King said about health care in this nation: “Of all the forms of injustice, inequality in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Congress is on the brink of dramatically reducing this inequality even though the legislation has many imperfections.

So on behalf of the army of activists who have fought with us for more than a year, our message to Democrats in the House and Senate is simple: pick yourselves up, dust yourselves off, and enact the compromise plan you were set to pass before the Massachusetts election. You still have big majorities in both houses. Because of Republican obstructionism, you’ll need to use different procedures to get the job done. But just do it! And know that each and every year you will have saved tens of thousands of lives, rescued hundreds of thousands of families from medical bankruptcy, and proved to America you are up to the challenge of building a new and better future for our children and the generations that follow.

*This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on January 22, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard Kirsch is the National Campaign Manager for Health Care for America Now.

The Surprising Truth About Getting Hired

Monday, January 25th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerI was talking with a friend yesterday who described a time that she was unemployed. She got a call from a potential employer asking if she could come in for a follow up interview the next day. She said no she couldn’t, she had another interview already scheduled during that time. But she could come in later that week.

She was lying. She didn’t have an interview, in fact she said she ended up spending the time eating ice cream and watching TV. She turned them down for their short notice request for an interview because she felt it would be dangerous to appear too available. So she lied to make the company think that there was competition for her services. Oh, yeah, she ended up getting the job.

I don’t think that I would have been able to pull that off. I tend to be all about enthusiasm when someone is interested in working with me. I also tend toward the truth, the whole truth and nothing but when I’m applying for work (not because I’m doing my impersonation of Mother Teresa, but because I think it’s a real bummer to get a job and then to lose it because one of your lies ended up biting you in the butt).

And I also don’t think that I could recommend this strategy for someone else to follow. But I did have to give my friend credit—she realized that getting a job is much more like a date than applying for a bank loan.

In other words, getting a job should be a two-way street. The employer doesn’t hold all the cards, unless you give ‘em to them. So in interviews it makes sense to ask questions. To not be too accommodating. To make it clear that at the same time they’re interviewing you, that you are also interviewing them.

But it’s not limited to just getting a job. A while back there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that talked about “tribal” or “voodoo” knowledge. This is where an experienced worker has learned things about how to do the job that they refuse to share with the company. According to the article, this was mostly about older workers who knew that if everyone knew what they knew, they would get pushed out the door for a younger, and often cheaper pair of hands. These older workers maintain their value, and their jobs, precisely by not being “team” players.

Maybe there was a time where the relationship between worker and company was totally based on honesty and trust. Maybe even you have that kind of relationship now with your current employer. But unfortunately this is often the exception and not the rule in today’s lean, and really mean, workplace.

I like to call this the “dance” at work. It would be great if we could get by playing fewer games, but given the lack of loyalty and trust in the vast majority of workplaces, the “dance” is the only way to survive. Or as a friend once paraphrased the old saying “It takes two to tango,” by saying, “It takes an organization to really do the tango.”

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

The Working Class Has Spoken. Will Democrats Listen?

Friday, January 22nd, 2010
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Massachusetts voters sent a strong signal to Washington lawmakers Tuesday that they want results—and aren’t seeing any. Not on health care reform, not on job creation and not on fixing the nation’s economy.

Voters also sent another powerful message for Democrats: Ignore the working class at your peril.

Some 79 percent of voters polled on election night said the most important issue for them was electing a candidate who will strengthen the economy and create more jobs. Controlling health care costs was next on their list, with 54 percent citing that issue as the main determinant of their vote.

The poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates among 810 voters for the AFL-CIO on the night of the election, also found that although voters without a college degree favored Barack Obama by 21 percentage points in the 2008 election, Democratic candidate Martha Coakley lost that same group by a 20-point margin.

And as AFL-CIO Richard Trumka has pointed out, Massachusetts voters have the same goals for reforming health care, creating good jobs and strengthening the economy as they did in November 2008—but President Obama and the Democrats have done too little:

“Voters showed they don’t think Democrats have overreached—they think that the Democrats underreached.”

In fact, voters were not worried about Democratic “overreach”—47 percent said their bigger concern about Democrats is that they haven’t succeeded in making needed change rather than tried to make too many changes too quickly (32 percent). Even voters for Scott Brown were more concerned about a lack of change (50 percent) than about trying to make too many changes too quickly (43 percent).

These results puts a lie to the corporate media spin that Democrats have gone “too far” in pushing a reform agenda.

Nor was the election result about health care reform. Brown actually lost among the 59 percent of voters who picked health care as one of their top two voting issues (50 percent for Coakley and 46 percent for Brown). Voters for Brown (55 percent ) were less likely to cite health care as a top issue than were voters for Coakley (66 percent).

The election also should be a wake-up call for those in Washington who support taxing working families’ health care. Voters who thought their health care would be taxed voted by 64 percent for Brown, while those who did not think their health care would be taxed voted by 54 percent to 40 percent for Coakley.

Our polling results show the election was not an endorsement of a Republican agenda or a call to abandon health care reform. Voters strongly disapprove of the job being done by congressional Republicans (26 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove), a much lower rating than they give to congressional Democrats (37 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove).

Other polls show the need for Democrats in Congress to take immediate action to create jobs, reform health care, stop catering to Wall Street and address the needs of America’s working class. As John Judis wrote, the election showed Democrats have lost ground primarily among white working and middle-class voters and senior citizens.

The Suffolk University poll in Massachusetts…singled out two white working-class towns, Gardner and Fitchburg, as bellwethers. Obama won Gardner, where Democrats hold a 3-1 registrations edge, by 59 percent to 31 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 56 percent to 42 percent. Obama won Fitchburg, with a similar Democratic edge, by 60 percent to 38 percent in 2008. Brown won it by 59 percent to 40 percent. That suggests a fairly dramatic shift among white working-class voters.

Summarizing the findings from election night polling conducted by Research 2000 Massachusetts Poll, MoveOn.org said the results show voters worry that Democrats in power “have not done enough to combat the policies of the Bush era.”

Both sets of voters wanted stronger, more progressive action on health care reform as well. In summary, the poll shows that the party who fights corporate interests—especially on making the economy work for most Americans—will win the confidence of the voters.

The working class has spoken. Will Democrats listen?

*This post was crossposted from the AFL-CIO blog on January 21, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Can Americans Care for Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs?

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Image: Gloria PanDid you see the announcement? Fem2.0 is kicking off the New Year with Wake Up, This Is the Reality!, a campaign to help change the way Americans talk and think about work and to begin shifting the national narrative away from privileged “balance” and corporate perspectives to one that reflects the reality on the ground for millions of Americans and American families.

On January 25, we will launch a two-week blog radio series on how work policies impact specific communities. That will be followed by a week-long blog carnival (Feb. 6-13) that will flood the public space with articles, opinions and personal stories about what it’s like to work in America today.

Fem2pt0In the inaugural show, Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer, will interview Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California – Hastings, and Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, about their new report, The Three Faces of Work/Family Conflict: Can Americans Care For Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs? To be released later this month, the report considers the impact of work policies on American workers and families at different income levels, revealing the all-too-common, gut-wrenching choices Americans face between being able to care for loved ones and being able to pay the bills.

On January 29, we’ll focus on Work Policies and Single Women: An Examination of the Work Issues Facing Single Women, With or Without Children. Lisa Matz, AAUW’s director of public policy and government relations, Melanie Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie, and Page Gardner, founder of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, join moderator Marcia G. Yerman of the Huffington Post to discuss how the continuum of single women are challenged by work policy issues. Topics will include:

+ The challenges faced by women in the workplace without children (50% of American women)

+ The challenges faced by never married women with children (19%-20%)

+ Reframing the family structure as horizontal (acknowledging that not all family responsibilities are “parental”)

+ Legislation to implement change (family and medical leave, Social Security, care giving credits, pay equity, retirement benefits)

+ Is the workload being left to single women without children?

+ Validating single women as heads of their own households

The blog radio series will also be looking at the impact of today’s work environment on men, seniors, businesses, and on the military, LGBT, Latino, and African-American communities. See entire series here.

Please forward this email to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and anyone else who might be interested. Find out other ways you can get involved, here.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know!

*Cross-posted from Feminism2.0 with permission. Check out the 2010 Wake Up! This is the Reality! Campaign happening now, and submit your pieces for the ongoing blog carnival.

New Legislation Bans Artibtration In Federal Defense Contracts

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

As Congress ended its last session, a legislative victory for employee rights advocates came with it.

The bill, signed by President Obama at the end of December,  came about because of the horrible story involving Jamie Leigh Jones. Here’s one description of what happened as reported in September by  Think Progress:

In 2005, Jamie Leigh Jones was gang-raped by her co-workers while she was working for Halliburton/KBR in Baghdad. In an apparent attempt to cover up the incident, the company then put her in a shipping container for at least 24 hours without food, water, or a bed, and “warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.”

Even more insultingly, the DOJ resisted bringing any criminal charges in the matter. KBR argued that Jones’ employment contract warranted her claims being heard in private arbitration — without jury, judge, public record, or transcript of the proceedings. After 15 months in arbitration, Jones and her lawyers went to court to fight the KBR claims. Yesterday, a court ruled in favor of Jones.

The tragedy spurred the bill which became known as both  the “Franken Amendment” and the”Jamie Leigh Jones Amendment” (to the Defense Appropriations Act for 2010) . It’s the first federal legislation that prevents employees from forcing binding arbitration on their employees as a forum for resolving employment disputes.

In recent years, many companies have required employees to sign contracts, handbooks, and other documents which require them to go to arbitration to resolve their employment disputes.

When employees sign — which they are forced to do to either get the job or keep the job — they give up their right to take claims against their employers to court. Cases involving discrimination and sexual harassment, to name a few, are compelled to go to arbitration instead.

An arbitration is generally held before three arbitrators and is commonly viewed as a favorable forum for employers versus employees.

Without binding arbitration, employees have the right to take their discrimination cases to court, and with sufficient evidence, in front of a jury. It is this precious right to a jury trial which is at the heart of this issue.

The Franken Amendment prohibits the award of Department of Defense contracts of over one million dollars to any company that forces its employees or independent contractors to submit to pre-dispute binding arbitration of Title VII and sexual assault-related tort claims

Under the bill, defense contractors:

  • with over $1 million (which is most) that are funded by 2010 appropriations will not be able to force arbitration of Title VII and sexual assault-related tort claims
  • will not be able to enter into forced arbitration agreements with their employees or independent contractors or enforce any agreements that have such provisions.

The list of covered sexual assault-related tort claims covers:

any tort related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention

The Franken Amendment will protect hundreds of thousands of employees around the country from being forced to arbitrate their Title VII claims. It also provides persuasive authority for employee advocates to strike down forced arbitration clauses in other federal contracts.

It’s also a step forward to getting rid of forced arbitration in other employment settings.

All in all, it’s a great victory on a critical issue for employee advocates and we thank Senator Franken for his efforts on behalf of employee rights.

image: bsmith101.files.wordpress.com

*This post originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on January 14, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the first and foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. With more than $50* million in verdicts and settlements and over 30 years of experience, Ellen has been listed in Best Lawyers in America and in the National Law Journal as one of the nation’s leading litigators. She has been lauded for her work on landmark cases that established employment law in both state and federal court. Ellen also possesses a wealth of knowledge as a legal analyst discussing high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and women’s issues. Ms. Simon has been quoted often in local and national news media and is a regular guest on television and radio, including appearances on Court TV. She is the author of the Employee Rights Post, a legal blog devoted to employee and civil rights.

*prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome

Misery Loves Company?

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerI’ll cut right to the chase—I’m very happy these days. No, that’s not really accurate, these are the best days of my life. I know what you’re thinking, that I must be an idiot. Who could possibly be happy today? That’s the point of this blog, why real happiness is so hard to find these days, especially at work

Keeping up with the Joneses, planned obsolescence and conspicuous consumption aren’t just concepts today, they’re lifestyles. In fact, if the famous philosopher Descartes were to ply his trade today, he’d probably say, “I consume therefore I am.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against you clicking on every ad that surrounds this page. Consumption is a good thing, until it creates a yearning in each of us that literally can’t be satisfied.

I’ve been doing a little experiment. I tell people that I’m happy. Really happy. Probably the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.

So how do people respond when someone says they are really happy? Well, dear reader, I’ve done the experiment and these are my findings. The most popular response? A faint smile. Second most common, the other person says that they are happy for me. A close third, a blank stare.

Which makes me think of the all-black outfits favored by Johnny Cash, hotel W staff and assorted urban hipsters. I’m starting to think that wearing black as a hip fashion statement doesn’t just apply to the outside of these people. Most people today seem to think that intense cynicism is the only intelligent stance that a thinking person can adopt.

I’ve personally responded to over 50,000 emails from bosses and employees. So you don’t have to convince me that there are challenges out there. The workplace is lean and mean, and getting meaner every day.

So the next time that someone says they are happy at work, let me make a small suggestion. Don’t kill the messenger. Don’t try to drag them into the hole that you are in. Don’t blow them off.

Rather, hear them out. See if you can get a contact high—you know if some of their happiness can rub off on you. Count your own blessings. Think about what is going right in your life. Okay, at most workplaces you might have to dig deep to find, but it’s there. Look for acts of kindness and appreciate them. And if your workplace is lacking in basic kindness and decency, start acting on your own.

There is a lot of cynicism out there. But if we band together we can make a dent.

Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

In Honor of Martin Luther King Jr.: Let’s Protect Worker’s Rights

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr. will always be revered as one of the greatest civil rights leaders in America and the world. Most people know King died in Memphis, but did you know that he died while fighting for the right of sanitation workers to organize unions and choose their own leaders?

King called unions “the best anti-poverty program available to poor people with jobs.” He worked with leaders of all the country’s major labor unions and supported union membership all his life.

At a press conference before his assassination in 1968, King said: “It isn’t enough to integrate lunch counters. … What is the profit in being able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if one doesn’t earn enough money to even buy a hamburger and a cup of coffee?”

On this MLK Holiday, pay tribute to Dr. King’s vision of economic justice by speaking out for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

EFCA will protect every worker’s right to form, join and assist labor unions – and bargain for a better wages, benefits and a better life. The legislation now has 225 co-sponsors but hasn’t moved in Congress because of the attention focused on health care reform. Still, now is the time to contact your members of Congress. Let them know that as soon as the health care reform legislation is passed, you expect them to turn their attention to the passage of EFCA.

Dr. King said “All labor has dignity.” Let’s restore dignity to workers by moving toward passage of the Employee Free Choice Act!

*For more on the Employee Free Choice Act visit the Workplace Fairness Employee Free Choice Act page.

About the Author: Linda Meric, a nationally-known speaker on family-friendly workplace policy, is executive director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. A diverse, grassroots, membership-based nonprofit that helps strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice, 9to5 has staffed offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose. Women’s eNews welcomes your comments. E-mail us at [email protected].

Can They Do That?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Image: Lew MaltbyLynn Gobbell was fired because her boss didn’t like the bumper sticker on her car.  During the 2004 presidential election, Gobbell put a “Kerry for President” sticker on her bumper.  When her boss saw it, he ordered her to the sticker off.  When she refused, he fired her.

Most people think that what happened to Gobbell was illegal, but they’re wrong.  What her boss did was wrong, but it wasn’t illegal.

What about the Constitution?  Doesn’t the First Amendment protect our right to freedom of speech?  The answer is yes, but only where the government is concerned.  Unlike millions of people in other countries, Americans can openly criticize the government or advocate for positions that are controversial or even offensive without fear of retribution.

But the first amendment applies only to the government.  A private corporation, no matter how large or powerful, can legally ignore the first amendment.  Too many employees have learned this the hard way, when their boss fires them for something they say on their personal blog or MySpace page.

In my upcoming book Can They Do That? Reclaiming Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace, I explain how all your Constitutional rights essentially go up in smoke the moment you go through the office door.  In addition to free speech, your right to privacy disappears.  While the government has to get a court order to read your e-mail, your boss can (and will) read your e-mail, including messages on sensitive personal subjects, for his/her own amusement.  This breach of privacy extends even further than email – it includes video monitoring, too. When Gail Nelson found out that male security guards were watching her undress in her office after work to get ready for the gym, her suit was dismissed.  She didn’t even get a trial.

Even worse nightmares are coming.  At least a million Americans carry company-issued cell phones, all of which are equipped with GPS.  Any of these employers are at liberty to track their employees 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  It could be happening to you right now without your knowledge.  The growth of biometrics (such as electronic fingerprints) may enhance security in some locations, but it also opens the door to identity theft on an unprecedented scale.  No one knows what to do when a hacker, or dishonest employee, gains access to a database containing thousands of fingerprints.

Not only may your boss know where you are every minute of your life, he may control it as well.  Thousands of companies order employees not to smoke or drink, even in their own homes, and fire those who disobey.  As the wellness movement grows, employers are expanding these rules to include diet, exercise, and potentially dangerous hobbies like skiing.

The few rights we do have exist because of federal or state legislation, such as laws prohibiting discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and other improper bases.  But even these rights are in jeopardy as employers require employees to “agree” to give up their right to go to court if their rights are ever violated.  Instead, employees must go to arbitration, where they have few rights to a fair hearing.

Can They Do That? explains what you can do to protect your rights under current law, and how we can change the law to restore our fundamental rights when we go to work.

About the Author: Lewis Maltby is president and founder of the National Workrights Institute and former Director of Employment Rights for the ACLU. He has testified before Congress many times on employment issues and appeared on 60 Minutes, Larry King Live, and Oprah. His views on employment law have been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other leading publications. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey and is the author of Can They Do That?: Retaking Our Fundamental Rights in the Workplace.

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