Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for February, 2010

We Need to Combat Workplace Violence

Monday, February 15th, 2010

Image: Dick MeisterOrganized labor and its allies are rightly alarmed over the high incidence of on-the-job accidents that have killed or maimed many thousands of workers. But they haven’t forgotten – nor should we forget – the on-the-job violence that also afflicts many thousands.

Consider this: Every year, almost two million American men and women are the victims of violent crime at their workplaces. That often forces the victims to stay off work for a week or more and costs their employers more than $60 billion a year in lost productivity.

These crimes are the tenth leading cause of all workplace injuries. They range from murder to verbal or written abuse and threatening behavior and harassment, including bullying by employers and supervisors.

Women have been particularly victimized. At least 30,000 a year are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted while on the job. The actual total is undoubtedly much higher, since it’s estimated that only about one-fourth of such crimes are reported to the police.

Estimates are that more than 900,000 of all on-the-job crimes go unreported yearly, including a large percentage of what’s thought to be some 13,000 cases annually that involve boyfriends or husbands attacking women at their workplaces.

The Retail, Wholesale & Department Store Union (RWDSU), which represents many of the victimized workers, cites that as an example of the job violence problem that is often distorted by media coverage that “would lead us to believe that most workplace violence involves worker against worker situations.”

The union says that has focused many employers “on identifying troubled employees or disgruntled workers who might turn into violent predators at a moment’s notice. But in fact, 62 percent of all violence at worksites is caused by outsiders.”

As you might expect, those most vulnerable to the violence are workers who exchange money with the public, deliver passengers, goods or services, work alone or in small groups during late night or early morning hours in high-crime areas or wherever they have extensive contact with the public.

That includes police, security guards, water meter readers and other utility workers, telephone and cable TV installers, letter carriers, taxi drivers, flight attendants, probation officers and teachers. Convenience store clerks and other retail workers account for fully one-fifth of the victims.

The American Federation of Teachers is so concerned that it has provided each of its 1.4 million members a $100,000 life insurance policy payable if the teacher dies as the result of workplace violence.

The major violence victims also include health care and social service workers such as visiting nurses, and employees of nursing homes, psychiatric facilities and prisons. They suffer two-thirds of all physical assaults. Many of the victims regularly deal with volatile, abusive and dangerous clients, often alone because of the understaffing that’s become all too common.

It could get even worse, at least for some workers. The RWDSU warns that today’s troubled economic times create additional threats. The danger is especially great for retail workers whose stores are likely to face increased incidents of theft, some involving gun-wielding robbers.

The RWDSU and other unions have been pushing for recognition of workplace violence as an occupational as well as criminal justice issue. That would put it under the purview of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and state job safety agencies.

The federal and state agencies could then issue enforceable regulations designed to lessen the on-the-job dangers of violence, as they do for other hazardous working conditions. A few states do that already, but only for a very limited number of industries.

OSHA has issued guidelines for workers in late-night retail jobs, cab drivers and some health care workers, but the guidelines are strictly voluntary. Although the unions’ top priority is for legally binding regulations, they also are pressing employers to meanwhile voluntarily implement violence-prevention programs.

Currently, only about one-fourth of them have such programs or any guidelines at all. The RWDSU’s Health and Safety Department is offering to help the other employers develop programs.

We have federal and state standards, laws and regulations designed to protect working Americans from many of the serious on-the-job hazards they face daily. Yet we have generally failed to lay down firm guidelines for protecting workers from the workplace violence that’s one of the most dangerous hazards of all.

*This post originally appeared in Truth Out on February 11, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Dick Meister is a former labor correspondent of the San Francisco Chronicle and has covered labor and politics for a half-century as a newspaper, radio, television and online reporter, editor and commentator.

New Report From CPR Examines Dysfunction at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Image: Matt ShudtzThe American workplace has changed dramatically over the last two decades, and so have the inherent hazards for workers. New, bigger, more powerful equipment has come online. New chemicals and other toxic substances have come into routine use. New production and construction methods have been introduced.

Created in 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, is charged with protecting workers in the workplace, empowered to adopt regulations on a range of worker-safety topics, and to enforce those regulations to the point of pursuing criminal violations of the law. In its early years, OSHA aggressively attacked the myriad safety problems in American workplaces, to great effect – fewer injuries and fewer deaths. But the war on regulation launched during the Reagan years began a steady decline in OSHA’s ambition and effectiveness, and progress preventing workplace injuries has stopped.

Today, OSHA casts an exceedingly small shadow on the American workplace. It has been starved of the resources it needs to keep up with regulatory challenges and burdened with analytical requirements by adverse court decisions and congressional action. The result is that new safety standards can take a decade or more to implement, and enforcement of existing standards is sporadic at best.

This week, the Center for Progressive Reform released “Workers at Risk: Regulatory Dysfunction at OSHA,” by CPR Member Scholars Thomas McGarity, Rena Steinzor, and Sidney Shapiro, along with me. The white paper explores the reasons for OSHA’s systemic failures, and offers a series of recommendations for regulatory reform of OSHA – administrative actions the agency could implement in the absence of congressional action. They include:

• End the practice of regularly discounting penalties before they’re even proposed.
• Publish all negotiated settlement proposals for public comment.
• Conduct a rigorous analysis of what resources would be required to make the OSHA inspection program a credible threat for employers chronically out of compliance, restoring the efficacy of deterrence-based enforcement throughout the agency.
• Improve training to promote criminal referrals and work with state and local prosecutors to prompt criminal indictments in certain cases.
• Use the “general duty clause” to protect workers exposed to chemicals that lack OSHA-derived Permissible Exposure Levels. The “general duty clause” requires that employers have a general duty to protect workers from known hazards likely to cause death or serious harm.
• Seek additional resources to increase rulemaking staff.
• Reexamine the heavy risk analysis requirements OSHA imposes on itself in the wake of a Supreme Court decision several years ago.
• Avoid negotiated rulemaking, a process where stakeholders in a prospective rule meet to negotiate a standard with guidance from OSHA. The objective is to avoid litigation, but the approach simply hasn’t worked.
• Improve transparency with respect to the White House Office of Management and Budget’s interaction with the agency.

These kinds of actions would be a good start toward helping set OSHA on the path toward protecting American workers from harm on the job.

*This post originally appeared in CPR Blog on February 9, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Matthew Shudtz, J.D., is a Policy Analyst working with CPR’s Clean Science and Corporate Accountability issue groups. He joined CPR in 2006 after graduating law school with a certificate in environmental law. As a staff attorney in the Environmental Law Clinic, he worked on litigation with the Environmental Integrity Project that led to a consent decree in which the Mirant Corporation agreed to comply with newer, more stringent opacity and particulate matter standards for its Chalk Point generating station, one of the largest power plants in Maryland. Mr. Shudtz’s prior experience in the public interest field also includes work for the Natural Resources Defense Council, where he was a legal intern. While at NRDC, he provided research and drafting support in FIFRA and CAA litigation, and CWA regulatory affairs. He also worked as a legal/legislative intern at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation during the 2005 Session of the Maryland General Assembly. He received his J.D. from the University of Maryland and a B.S. from Columbia University.

Disneyland Hotel Workers Fast For Safer Work

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Image: James ParksDisneyland hotel workers  began a water-only fast Tuesday to protest what they describe as life-threatening safety issues on the job. The more than 2,000 bellmen, dishwashers, room attendants, and cooks, members of Unite Here! Local 11, have been working without a contract since February 2008. They say new work requirements at three resort hotels and the villas at the Grand Californian Hotel have led to serious health problems among workers, including heart attack, stroke and musculoskeletal injuries.

Disney management also is demanding to make drastic cuts in workers’ health insurance.

During the fast, eight Disneyland hotel workers, two Los Angeles International Airport food service employees–who also are members of the local–and one adult son of a Disneyland hotel worker will refrain from eating and consume only water. Fast participants will remain, 24-hours a day, in front of the Grand Californian Hotel, sleeping in tents on the sidewalk and surrounded by a large shrine to injured workers.

Part of the shrine will pay tribute to Grand Californian housekeeper Rosario Casas, who is out of work on disability after suffering a heart attack on the job in October.  Casas said her doctor said the heart attack was due to stress.

Narciso Guevara, a houseman at the Grand Californian Hotel, who plans to fast, said:

We’re fighting for our health. We need better, safer conditions on the job, healthcare we can afford, and even more importantly, we need the company to respect us.

Maria Navarro, a housekeeper at the Grand Californian, who was injured at work just three days after Disney remodeled the hotel, said she is fasting to bring attention to the injuries she and several of her co-workers have suffered.

Since the changes were implemented at the Grand Californian, things have gotten worse. There are many people in my department who are hurt, but work through the pain because they are afraid of losing their jobs. So much pressure creates an unsafe place. We must make it stop.

Throughout the fast, community and religious leaders, unions, musicians, students and residents will call on Disney to address the health and safety issues at the hotels to by participating in daily actions, rallies and concerts.

The fasting workers are blogging about the action at: http://www.disneyisunfaithful.org/work-shouldnt-hurt and more information also is available here.

*This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on February 9, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He has also been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections. Author photo by Joe Kekeris

If Widely Adopted, Workplace Bill of Rights Would Dramatically Improve Our Economy

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

*The following post originally appeared in Winning Workplaces on February 9, 2010 in support of our proposed Workplace Bill of Rights. Thanks to Mark and Winning Workplaces for their support!

The U.S. has survived and, most often during its 234-year history, thrived under a forward-thinking Bill of Rights.  Much more recently, innovative airline JetBlue has turned its industry on its ear and even inspired action by the White House through its Customer Bill of Rights – which, from a consumer’s point of view, is one of the few bright spots amidst a slew of disappointing developments like this one.

If the Bill of Rights concept works, why not apply it to the workplace culture? After all, research shows that more highly engaged employees result in stronger company earnings, and lead those firms to more resiliency in down economies like the one we’re in now.

That – along with fair treatment of, and an adequate living wage for, employees – is the idea behind Workplace Fairness’ proposed Workplace Bill of Rights.  The 9 “basic rights [they] believe every worker should be entitled to” that they spell out here are the basis of a petition in partnership with Change.org.  The signatures gathered will be presented to the Obama Administration, through which a best-case scenario would produce widespread adoption of the bill by employers.

The largest hurdle before this initiative is, of course, business owners’ uncertainty of the payoff of employee engagement, or of anything beyond what they’re already doing in a tough economy.  This is especially true of small businesses, which comprise the vast majority of employers and tend to be under-resourced versus their larger peers.

To help prove the point of my title for this post, and hopefully help overcome this hurdle, I’ve linked some of the 9 basic employee rights* Workplace Fairness is advocating to bottom line business results that Winning Workplaces has seen in our small business award honorees, and confirmed in workplace research by others – both of which I’ve blogged about previously:

Employees should be treated with honesty and respect – Among our 2010 small business award applicants, employee activities designed to foster greater respect helped them grow 2009 revenues 12% over 2008, on average.
Working full-time should guarantee a basic standard of living – Paying only 5% over the minimum wage saves a business almost $2,200 per employee in turnover costs.
No working person should be without health insurance – An average increase in employer-paid employee medical premiums of 6.8% of our 2009 small business award finalists, over their 2008 counterparts, led to increases in employee tenure and year-over-year revenue growth, and a decrease in turnover.
Employees should be able to leave a job with dignity – Our 2008 award winners’ universal adoption of retirement plans that match employee contributions at an average rate of 2.8% is linked to double-digit, year-over-year revenue growth and average per-employee revenue of over $200,000.
There is more to life than work – We pointed to Talent Management’s citation of a Corporate Executive Board analysis which shows that strategies to promote work/life balance can raise workplace productivity by 21% and employee tenure by 33%.

The net impact of these business outcomes is stronger sales from a larger, more satisfied customer base, which adds up to job growth and ultimately a more robust economy over time.

If you see benefits for both employees and companies in WF’s Workplace Bill of Rights, you can help to advance it by signing their petition here (and voting /commenting at Change.org)

*Update: Workplace Fairness Executive Director Paula Brantner informed me that even though their list was promoted as having 9 employee rights, there are actually 10.  See toward the bottom of their petition, as well as the voting/comments page over at Change.org.

About the Author: Mark Harbeke ensures that content on Winning Workplaces’ website is up-to-date, accurate and engaging. He also writes and edits their monthly e-newsletter, Ideas, and provides graphic design and marketing support. His experience includes serving as editorial assistant for Meredith Corporation’s Midwest Living magazine title, publications editor for Visionation, Ltd., and proofreader for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University. Winning Workplaces is a not-for-profit providing consulting, training and information to help small and midsize organizations create great workplaces. Too often, the information and resources needed to create a high-performance workplace are out of reach for all but the largest organizations. Winning Workplaces is changing that by offering employers affordable consulting, training and information.

KBR is Asking for It

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

To paraphrase comedian Henny Youngman’s famous one-liner, take my KBR, please.

After all the bad press U.S. engineering and construction company KBR has received over the years for its operations in Iraq , both during its time as a Halliburton subsidiary and since, one might think it had learned a thing or two about how to avoid sticking its foot in its mouth.

But you would be wrong, As case in point consider the following legal brief KBR filed, which was posted online by the estimable Ms. Sparky – who is to chronicling KBR misdeeds, including those against it own employees, as white is to rice — in regard to the case of Jamie Leigh Jones,

For those who missed this news Ms. Jones is the then 20-year old former KBR/Halliburton worker, who says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad in late July 2005.

The main points are by now well known. She says that just four days after arriving in Iraq she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave.

According to her lawsuit, Jones was raped by “several attackers who first drugged her, then repeatedly raped and injured her, both physically and emotionally.” Jones said that an examination by Army doctors showed she had been raped “both vaginally and anally,” but that the rape kit disappeared after it was handed over to KBR security officers.

Ms. Jones had to be rescued from her American employer by U.S. State Department agents from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, after she was able to contact her father by cell phone, who then contacted his congressman, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who contacted the State Department.

In late 2007, over two years after the reported rape occurred, the Justice Department had brought no criminal charges in the matter. In fact, an investigation by ABC News could not confirm any federal agency was investigating the case.

Early on, in a statement, KBR said it was “instructed to cease” its own investigation by U.S. government authorities “because they were assuming sole responsibility for the criminal investigations.”

Since no criminal charges were filed, the only other option was the civil system, which Jones tried. But KBR didn’t want this case to see the inside of a civil courtroom. Instead, KBR moved for Jones’ claim to be heard in private arbitration, instead of a public courtroom. It says her employment contract requires it.

When Jones went to work for KBR in Texas, and later for its subsidiary, Overseas Administrative Services, she signed contracts containing mandatory binding arbitration clauses, which required her to give up her right to sue the companies and any right to a jury trial. Instead, the contracts forced Jones to press her case through private arbitration, which she did in 2006.

At the time of the alleged attack, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton. So Jones was covered by the Halliburton dispute-resolution program, which was implemented when Dick Cheney was Halliburton’s CEO. On his watch, Halliburton, in late 1997, made it more difficult for its employees to sue the company for discrimination, sexual harassment, and other workplace-related issues.

One day, Halliburton sent all its employees a brochure explaining that the company was implementing a new dispute resolution system. The company sold the new program as an employee perk that would create an “open door” policy for bringing grievances to management and as a forum for resolving disputes without expensive and lengthy litigation. In practice, it meant that anyone who had a legitimate civil-rights or personal-injury claim signed away his or her constitutional right to a jury trial. Anyone who showed up for work after getting the brochure was considered to have agreed to give up his or her rights, regardless of whether the employees had actually read it. In 2001, the conservative and pro-business Texas Supreme Court overturned two lower courts to declare that this move was legal.

In arbitration, there is no public record or transcript of the proceedings, meaning that Jones’ claims would not be heard before a judge and jury. Rather, a private arbitrator hired by the corporation would decide Jones’ case.

When Ms. Jones testified before the House subcommittee on crime, terrorism, and homeland security in December 2007 the point was made that as KBR employees working on contract for the U.S. Army, Jones’ attackers were almost certainly covered under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, more simply known as MEJA, which subjects all civilians working abroad with U.S. armed forces to a defined legal code. But in Jones’ case, MEJA seems to have fallen short for a different reason: a lack of investigative muscle in the Green Zone. Both then and now the Department of Justice lacks investigators in Baghdad with responsibility for looking into crimes committed by private contractors against their own.

KBR has not shown much adroitness in its handling of Ms. Jones’s case. In a December 2007 e-mail with the subject line titled “Recent media coverage,” KBR President and Chairman Bill Utt said the company has disputed allegations by Jamie Leigh Jones.

“While the allegations raised by Ms. Jones are serious, after a review of the case KBR noted inaccuracies in the accounts of the incident in question, and disputes portions of Ms. Jones’ version of the facts,” Utt wrote in an e-mail obtained by the Houston Chronicle.

There is reason to think that Ms. Jones was not an isolated case. In her lawsuit, Jones asserted that “KBR and Halliburton created a ‘boys will be boys’ atmosphere at the company barracks which put her and other female employees at risk.” Another former KBR employee, Linda Lindsey, supported Jones’s claims about the “boys will be boys” environment of KBR barracks in Iraq. “I saw rampant sexual harassment and discrimination,” said Lindsey in a sworn affidavit for Jones’s case.

In a December 2007 letter to Secretary of Robert Defense Gates, Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) mentioned “a second alleged assault, this time of a woman from Florida who reportedly worked for a KBR subsidiary in Ramadi, Iraq in 2005.”

Since the attacks, Jones has started a nonprofit foundation called the Jamie Leigh Foundation, which is dedicated to helping victims who were raped or sexually assaulted overseas while working for government contractors or other corporations. Since Ms. Jones came forward, other women have come forward with similar lawsuits against KBR

It was primarily because of Ms. Jones that the fiscal 2010 Defense appropriations measure includes a provision barring the Defense Department from entering into contracts with companies that restrict alleged sexual assault victims from taking legal action.

The amendment was introduced by Sen. Al Franken, D-MN. Support for the amendment was broad, but far from universal. The provision passed the Senate 68-30 in October, when the chamber was considering an initial version of the spending bill. Some Republican opponents argued that it was not Congress’ place to interfere in private sector contracts.

“Congress should not be involved in writing or rewriting private contracts,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, during floor debate on the provision. “Instead of eliminating arbitration we should look into how to utilize arbitration more in these kinds of disputes.” Sessions called the amendment a “political attack directed at Halliburton,” KBR’s former parent company.

The Obama administration and the Defense Department initially opposed the amendment, although the White House insisted it supported the provision’s intent. The Pentagon’s primary concern, according to a letter Defense officials sent to lawmakers before the Senate’s vote, was enforcement.

“The Department of Defense, the prime contractor, and higher tier subcontractors may not be in a position to know about such things,” the letter stated. “Enforcement would be problematic, especially in cases where privity of contract does not exist between parties within the supply chain that supports a contract.”

The letter stated that if the Senate deemed these types of contract clauses to be unacceptable, it might be more effective to prohibit them in any business transaction within the jurisdiction of the United States.

Negotiations between the department and Capitol Hill eventually resulted in a number of changes, including an agreement that the restriction would apply only to companies with government contracts valued at more than $1 million and that it would contain a waiver for national security concerns.

The provision, now law, does not require companies to change existing employment contracts, but will bar the government from entering into future pacts with those firms if they do not modify employment clauses. When the provision passed the Senate, Franken said it “narrowly targets the most egregious violations.”

With all this one might think that both KBR and Halliburton would have long ago seen given up trying to treat this as some sort of labor dispute, which should be handled by arbitration. Especially in light of recent court decisions.

Last September the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a decision in regard to an appeal from Halliburton regarding the case. According to the case summary:

PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Appellant employer sought review of a decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, which partially refused to compel arbitration of some of appellee employee’s claims against the employer, which stemmed from the alleged gang rape of the employee by coworkers while working in Iraq.

OVERVIEW: The employee alleged that she informed the employer that conditions at the barracks were not safe and that she was gang raped in her bedroom after a social gathering outside the barracks. The claims for assault and battery, emotional distress, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision, and false imprisonment were found not arbitrable. At issue was whether these claims were related to the employee’s employment or constituted personal injury arising in the workplace, so as to render them arbitrable under the arbitration agreement. The employer argued that the claims were covered by the agreement because the alleged incident “related to” the employee’s employment. The court disagreed. Sexual assault was not within the course and scope of employment. This was true even though the employee received workers’ compensation benefits in connection with the incident, as the terms “course and scope of employment” were more narrowly defined under the agreement than in workers’ compensation laws such as the Defense Base Act. That the employee lived in employer-provided barracks was inconsequential because she was off duty at the time, and the barracks were located away from the work place.

OUTCOME: The court affirmed the district court’s decision and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings.

Yet KBR is preparing to fight Ms. Jones over her right to settle her suit with the company, all the way to the Supreme Court. Its strategy? Destroying Jones’ credibility.

In its most recent 188-page brief KBR petitions for a writ of certiorari, which is a document a losing party files with the Supreme Court asking the Court to review the decision of a lower court.

To quote from the brief:

This interlocutory appeal from a partial refusal to compel arbitration concerns the arbitrability vel non of tort claims by an employee who, while working at an overseas location, was allegedly gang-raped by her co-workers in her bedroom in employer-provided housing. Halliburton Company/Kellogg Brown & Root, and various affiliates (Halliburton/KBR), contest the denial, in part, of their motion to compel arbitration of Jamie Leigh Jones’ claims concerning her alleged rape by Halliburton/KBR employees, while she was stationed at a company facility in Baghdad, Iraq. All of her claims were deemed arbitrable except for: (1) assault and battery; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress arising out of the alleged assault; (3) negligent hiring, retention, and supervision of employees involved in the alleged assault; and (4) false imprisonment.

At issue is whether those four claims found non-arbitrable are, for purposes of Jones’ employment contract, “related to [her] employment” or constitute personal injury “arising in the workplace”. That contract incorporated Halliburton/KBR’s dispute resolution program (DRP), which required her to arbitrate all claims brought against the company falling within the scope of related-to or workplace language. In the alternative, should the alleged rape be deemed covered by the arbitration clause, at issue is whether the doctrine of unclean hands precludes granting equitable relief of specific enforcement of that clause.

Not being a lawyer myself I can’t comment on the jurisprudence of all this but I do find it amazing that KBR fights so hard to avoid doing the right thing; namely letting Ms. Jones have her day in court.

After all, on other issues, KBR can show signs of rationality. An example is the op-ed that appeared in this past Sunday’s Washington Post. The author, a former Air Force loadmaster, who was discharged for being gay, notes that within three weeks of his discharge, KBR hired him to go back to Iraq as a radio repair technician. (KBR knew that he was gay.)

So, for the time being, I can only suggest that KBR be subjected to the full barrage of ridicule it so richly deserves. After all, to cite a defense often heard in rape cases, it is asking for it.

*This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on February 8, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

**For more on binding arbitration visit the Workplace Fairness arbitration resources page and Fair Arbitration website.

About the Author: David Isenberg is the author of the book Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. He wrote the “Dogs of War” weekly column for UPI from 2008 to 2009. During 2009 he ran the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers project at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo. His affiliations include the Straus Military Reform Project, Cato Institute, and the Independent Institute. He is a US Navy veteran. His e-mail is [email protected]

What Is the Best Mindset to Bring to Work

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerLast time I discussed the top “mindsets” that we bring to work. For those of you who like things defined, here goes—mindset is “a habitual or characteristic mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.”

Most of us bring some “habits” to work on a regular basis. After doing a lot of interviews and research, I came up with five. What I like to call the 5 M’s. Machine, military, motivation, measurement and entrepreneurship (okay, that’s not an “M” word. I put it in because that is one of the problems with mindsets, they tend to lock us in to a limited way of viewing the world).

According to your votes, the mindset that you most often bring to work is machine. 35% of you chose it. Next was military with 27%. Followed by motivation, the choice of 17%. Measurement, 15%, and entrepreneurship at 6%.

Each of these mindsets served a purpose at one time. The problem is that they tend to live on long past the point they continue to provide value. Take the top response, machine. A smooth running machine is a very effective way to run a business. The problem? Machines don’t do so well when it comes to creativity and initiative. And those are two things that most businesses can’t do without today.

In addition, all of the mindsets share two basic problems. First, they tend to struggle when it comes to handling complexity. A new competitor, a worker shortage or a lawsuit against your company aren’t things that any of the 5 Ms can really cope with. The problem is that today’s workplace is all about complexity.

But there is an even bigger problem—control. All of these mindsets do best when there is a heavy hand running the show. And that heavy hand may have helped 60 years ago to make the trains run on time, but today many businesses are starting to realize that the brains of their people are a terrible thing to waste. So rather than trying to produce a certain result from people, more organizations are realizing they have to create a place where the best efforts can flow out of people.

So we need to develop a new mindset, one that gives more control to the people who actually do the work. Not for some soft headed share the wealth idea, but because organizations need to extract everything they can from their people’s hands, heads and hearts (okay, that will be the last bit of alliteration for this column).

Ultimately I’m not going to try to sell you on exactly what new mindset to adopt. My point is simply that we need to become more aware of the mindset we bring to work each day. And not forget the creativity and control as we go along our journey at work. Just realizing this should help us all to better navigate our workday more successfully.

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. Also check out his newly revised best-seller “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]

‘Undercover Boss’: A Fairy Tale That Ignores Grim Reality

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Image: Mike HallAs kids, we all loved the sugar-coated fairy tales of handsome and brave princes rescuing beautiful princesses from despotic kings.

The new CBS “reality” show “Undercover Boss” that debuted last night after the Super Bowl is a 21st century sugar-coated fairy tale. But this time, the brave prince is actually a CEO who goes undercover as a regular worker near the bottom of the food chain. There he finds how hard and dirty the job is; how stifling and draconian the company’s workplace rules are; and how crappy the pay is.

Then after walking so many miles in an employee’s work boots, the boss sees the light and promotes workers, raises pay, eases rules and promises a new found respect for all workers.

(If your boss isn’t going undercover anytime soon, be sure to check out American Rights at Work’s new website, Fix Our Jobs, where you can vent about how lousy—and even how great—your job is and learn how to make it better. Click here to watch the video.)

But just like our childhood stories ignored the dark, bloody and scary Brothers Grimm originals, “Undercover Boss” ignores the grim reality of too many of today’s workplaces.

“Undercover Boss” is a sweet, happy-ending tale for a handful of workers, but make-believe for millions of others. The best way to make workplace improvement and worker rights a reality is with the Employee Free Choice Act, that would restore the right of workers to form unions and bargain for a better life.

The bosses portrayed on the show may indeed be sincere and a handful of workers will enjoy the benefits of their foxhole conversions. But what about the millions of workers whose CEO’s will never be on TV? That’s where unions come in: to ensure employees have a voice at the workplace, with family-supporting pay and affordable health care and retirement security.

Along with the restoring the freedom to form unions, rebuilding the middle class means fighting for health care legislation, strong enforcement of wage and hour laws, holding Wall Street accountable and most importantly creating jobs. Unions and their members at the forefront of all these battles—out in the open—not undercover.

*This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on February 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission.

**For more information on the Employee Free Choice Act visit the Workplace Fairness EFCA Resource Page.

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.

Surge in Women’s Employment Brings Unemployment Rate Down to 9.7 Percent

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Image: Dean BakerThe index of total hours worked is below the November 1997 level.

The unemployment rate fell to 9.7 percent in January, driven by a 0.4 percentage-point drop in the unemployment rate for women to 8.4 percent. The unemployment rate for men fell 0.2 percentage points to 10.8 percent. This drop came in spite of a reported loss of 20,000 jobs in the establishment survey.

The improved employment picture was primarily a story for adult white women. Their unemployment rate fell by 0.6 percentage points to 6.8 percent, while their employment rate (EPOP) rose by 0.6 percentage points to 56.1 percent. The unemployment rate for black women rose slightly to 13.3 percent, although their EPOP also rose 0.2 percentage points to 54.7 percent. It is striking that the EPOP for white women is now 1.4 percentage points higher than for black women. Until last summer it had always been lower, although the gap had been narrowing over the last three decades.

For blacks overall, January was a bad month. The unemployment rate rose to 16.5 percent, the highest of the downturn. The unemployment rate for black men rose a full percentage point to 17.6 percent, also a high for the downturn.

By education group, the big winners were people with some college, who saw 1.2 percentage-point increase in their EPOP. There was little change in the EPOPs for other groups. Workers over age 55 continued to fare best, accounting for 178,000 of the 541,000 increase in employment. Women over age 55 accounted for 140,000 of these jobs.

In addition to the gains in employment, the household survey also showed a sharp fall in the number of people involuntarily working part-time, from 9,055,000 to 8,193,000. The U-6 measure of labor market slack correspondingly fell from 17.3 percent to 16.5 percent. It is also worth noting that the percentage of the unemployed who have voluntarily quit their job has edged up to 6.1 percent. This is still very low, but somewhat better than the 5.6 percent reported last summer, suggesting somewhat greater confidence in the labor market.

The establishment data look somewhat less positive. Not only do the data continue to show job loss, but the job loss over the last three months (Oct-Dec) was revised upward by 102,000, giving an average job loss of 103,000 per month over this period. Without 33,000 temporary census jobs, the establishment survey would have shown a loss of 53,000 jobs for January.

However, even in the establishment survey there are some positive signs. Manufacturing employment increased by 11,000, the first gain since January of 2007. This was fully explained by a 22,700 rise in auto employment. While this may not be repeated, it is likely that manufacturing employment has finally bottomed out.

Retail trade added 42,100 jobs, although this may be a seasonal anomaly with fewer people than normal hired in the holiday season and therefore fewer layoffs in January. Employment services showed another big increase, adding 52,000 jobs in January. This is consistent with a picture of employees getting ready to add permanent employees. Hours worked also increased, with the index of aggregate hours rising from 97.9 to 98.2.

Aggregate Weekly Hours

However, there were also many negative aspects to the establishment data. Construction lost another 75,000 jobs, the vast majority in non-residential construction.  State and local governments shed 41,000 jobs. The leisure and hospitality sector shed 14,000 jobs. Even health care seems to be weakening as a bastion of employment growth, adding just 14,500 jobs in January.

The benchmark revisions show the downturn to be even deeper than previously believed. The revised data show a loss of 8,424,000 from the peak in December of 2007.  Over the decade from January 2000 to January 2010, the economy actually lost 1,254,000 jobs.  The economy lost 2,100,000 construction jobs (27.2 percent) since the peak in August of 2006 and 2,467,000 manufacturing jobs since the decline began in January 2007. The index of hours worked is below the November 1997 level.

On the whole, there is some positive news in this report, with the household survey showing a much brighter picture than the establishment survey. It is possible that the birth/death data could now be understating job growth.

*This article originally appeared in CEPR on February 5, 2009.

About the Author: Dean Baker is the Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. CEPR’s Jobs Byte is published each month upon release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ employment report. For more information or to subscribe by fax or email contact CEPR at 202-293-5380 ext. 102, or chinku [at] cepr [dot] net.

Danger: Falling Middle Class

Friday, February 5th, 2010
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Jack Cafferty at CNN this week asked viewers one of his seemingly routine questions. But the responses to: “How has definition of ‘middle-class American’ changed?” reveal a cataclysmic shift in our nation’s economic identity.

Gary from El Centro, Calif., summed up the vast majority of the nearly 200 responses when he replied:

You should ask this question of the three or four people in the country still remaining in the middle class.

The comments reflect more than the run-of-the-mill griping about taxes or middle-aged discontent. They demonstrate a visceral understanding of the deep forces underlying the dramatic change that in recent decades has eroded the solid financial footing of America’s working families—America’s middle class.

In short, the American public knows what most lawmakers in Washington and policymakers around the country have yet to figure out: The nation is losing its middle-class backbone and bifurcating into a have/have not country.

As Karen from Idaho Falls writes on Cafferty’s site:

In my world, there is no middle class–only the very rich, the rich, the poor, and the very poor. Most of us are hanging on to being “poor” by our fingernails and hoping that we won’t join the ever growing “very poor” class. Somewhere along the line, “middle class” disappeared.

The not-so-Great Recession is just the latest and loudest part of the long decline of the middle class. From the end of World War II to the early 1970s, wages grew along with productivity. But since then, wages have been stagnant or declining—while productivity skyrocketed. The decline in a family’s earning power was offset by the entrance of vast numbers of women in the labor market—and then by wage-earners holding multiple jobs. By the late 1990s, debt—from second mortgages or credit cards—kept the middle class afloat. And now what is revealed is a middle class held together by nothing more than string.

One of the most consequential but least recognized aspects of the current economic disaster is the growing length of time workers are without jobs. In December, the average jobless worker had been unemployed for 29.1 weeks. In contrast, when the recession began in 2007, the average unemployed person had been out of work for 16.5 weeks.

At Economix blog, Catherine Rampell points out in an tellingly titled post, “A Growing Underclass,” that the longer unemployed workers stay out of work, the less likely they may be to find work.

First, their skills may deteriorate or become obsolete—especially if they are in a dynamically changing industry like high technology.

Second, the stigma—both internal and external—of their unemployment grows. Studies have linked job loss to declines in self-worth and self-esteem, meaning these people will probably make less compelling job candidates.

So, even if there were jobs available—there are now more than six unemployed workers for every one job—getting one becomes harder and harder the longer you’re out of work. Jobs are so few, in fact, even a weekly columnist at Forbes had this to say:

For many, many Americans there are no jobs and few prospects. For them the Great Recession is not a cute aphorism but a major cataclysm.

Long-term joblessness is one more nail in the middle class coffin. As Working-Class Perspectives describes it:

Unlike in past business cycles, the middle class has not been able to recover so far, despite increases in productivity and stock prices. In “America Without a Middle Class,” Elizabeth Warren documents how the de facto unemployment rate, credit debt, “underwater” mortgages, increased use of food stamps, personal bankruptcies, and the loss of pensions and health care have all dramatically increased. Middle-class households have depleted their savings and are increasingly accruing debt to pay for college, health care, and other expenses.

Some experts believe that the decline in jobs will only continue. For example, Alexandra Levit predicts significant losses in a number of key industries between 2008 and 2018: semiconductor manufacturing (33.7 percent), apparel manufacturing (57 percent), newspaper publishers (24.8 percent)….Corporations are moving many of these jobs offshore or replacing them with technology rather than paying middle-class wages and benefits. The economists are right that new jobs are being created in place of these. But as Jack Metzgar discussed last week, most of the new jobs offer even lower wages and benefits and require less education.

Jobs are offshored while the jobs that remain in the United States are low-wage, with little affordable health care or retirement options. Meanwhile, the smooth of face and soft of hand financial wizards who turn their noses up at the industrial manufacturing sector fail to realize that when the United States loses its ability to make things, it also loses the research and development power that fueled the nation to greatness. And it loses something a lot more. Louis Uchitelle interviews Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) about the humiliation of building a new World Trade Center with no glass made in the United States:

“Imagine China,” he said in an interview, “building a huge structure intended to be an important national symbol and importing glass from the United States to build it. There is no way the Chinese would do that.”

And a low-wage job nation fuels income inequality. This from a stunning report by economist John Schmit at the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

From a peak just before the 1929 stock market crash through the early 1950s, wage and income inequality, broadly measured, were declining. From the early 1950s through the late 1970s, inequality was flat, or even falling slightly. Since the late 1970s, however, inequality has skyrocketed, climbing back to levels last seen in the 1920s. In 1979, for example, the top one percent of all U.S. taxpayers received about 8 percent of national income; by 2007, the top one percent received over 18 percent. If we include income from capital gains in the calculation, the increase in inequality is even sharper, with the top one percent capturing 10 percent of all income in 1979, but over 23 percent in 2007.

Back at Cafferty’s site, Chad from Los Angeles knows why:

The middle class has turned into the “peasant class.” We have been taken over by a few wealthy people who control our politicians and government. We have become an Aristocracy. Except the ones in control are not royalty, they are businessmen hiding behind a cloak of deception that is Corporate America.

In the short term, critical steps must be taken for immediate relief. The first is getting the Senate to extend unemployment insurance (UI) for the long-term unemployed. As usual, the House already has acted, extending UI in December, while senators dither. (Click here to tell your lawmakers it’s time to act.) Extending UI is part of the jobs initiative the AFL-CIO is pushing for immediate relief for jobless workers.

But before the current crisis fades, the nation must begin to reverse the more than 40-year trend in which the gap widens between rich and poor and the middle class falls out of the bottom.

Silas from Boston—a city not unfamiliar with fomenting revolutions—offers an intriguing insight:

We’ve allowed the “upper” class to become too big to fail. As a result, the middle class is an endangered species which has to bail out the class that got us into this mess to begin with. This is how the French Revolution started.

*This blog has been crossposted with permission from Campaign for America’s Future.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (they were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

U.S. Chamber's "Card Check Compromise" Poll Compromises the Facts

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

Image: Kate ThomasYesterday, the U.S. Chamber released a “nationwide poll,” which claimed to reveal the public’s fears about how the “Employee Free Choice Act” would hurt job growth.

If the Chamber really wanted to stir up some press on their reinvigorated anti-worker campaign, perhaps they should have picked a less-obviously right wing polling company to make their intentions appear less transparent. Although the sources of every dime of the $144.5K the Chamber spent last year on lobbying may be completely anonymous, the Republican client list of the Chamber’s partisan bent polling company

Voter/Consumer Research is not. Consider their list of clients:

Political – National Bush Cheney 2004 and Bush Cheney 200 || President George W. Bush || Republican National Committee (RNC) || National Republican Senatorial Committee || National Republican Congressional Committee || Mitt Romney for President

Political – States?Governor Don Carcieri || Governor Charlie Crist || Senator Mitch McConnell || Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison || Senator John Cornyn || Senator Richard Shelby || Congressman Mike Castle || Congressman Brett Guthrie

Corporations/Associations Wal-Mart || RJ Reynolds || Credit Union National Association || PhRMA || The Business Roundtable

Chamber Poll Neglects Truth, Sticks to Anti-Worker Rhetoric

It’s telling that the Chamber’s new poll also neglects to mention one of the most important aspects of labor reform: adding strict penalties for companies that break the law and intimidate or fire workers who want to form a union.

In the last 20 years, employer opposition to unionization has increased dramatically. Employers threaten to close plants and factories in 57 percent of union organizing drives and threaten to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent–while ultimately firing pro-union workers 34 percent of the time. Those are not good odds.

The authors of the poll say if employers and workers can’t reach an contract agreement in a reasonable amount of time, government bureaucrats will swoop in to mandate a binding agreement. This simply isn’t accurate. In arbitration, either side can bring in an independent, trained arbitrator to settle the dispute who both sides agree on. The bottom line is that arbitration encourages compromise, and no one has anything to fear from a process that is fair, neutral and promotes compromise instead of confrontation.

When confronted with legislation to improve American workers’ lives, the Chamber of Commerce invariably threatens economic ruin and rampant government control. This time, their fear hyperbole takes the form of this “Card Check Compromise” poll, which was writtenby and for people who want to keep the power to deny workers the choice of a union. The Chamber says their poll found little enthusiasm for various “compromise” proposals floated by labor supporters–but the only thing the Chamber is compromising away is workers’ interests, on behalf of the corporate special interests that pay them.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on February 2, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

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