Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for April, 2010

Workers Mobilizing to Get Fair Pay for Music Artists

Friday, April 30th, 2010

For the past 80 years, radio stations have used the publicly owned airwaves to make billions of dollars playing music without paying anything to the artists who created it.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) President Roberta Reardon and American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada (AFM) President Thomas Lee joined with members of Congress today to announce a strong push by the union movement to pass legislation that supports the fundamental right of American musical artists to be paid for their work.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (third from left) jams with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, AFTRA President Roberta Reardon, musician Peter Yarrow and Reps. John Conyers and John Garamendi.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (third from left) jams with Rep. Jerrold Nadler, AFTRA President Roberta Reardon, musician Peter Yarrow and Reps. John Conyers and John Garamendi.

The Performance Rights Act, H.R. 848, would close a loophole in copyright law that allows AM and FM stations to duck royalty payments to performing artists. The United States is one of a handful of countries that do not provide fair performance rights on radio. The others include Qatar, Iraq, Iran, North Korea and China.

Trumka told a Capitol Hill press conference that workers should not be cheated out of their wages:

The labor movement was founded on the principle that a hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay. That’s the principle at stake in the fight for the Performance Rights Act.

The reckless greed that drives Wall Street is the same as the unconscionable greed that drives the handful of conglomerate corporate radio executives that control 75 percent of our nation’s radio stations.

The bipartisan legislation, introduced by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has 46 co-sponsors. Both the Obama and Bush administrations endorsed the legislation along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former House Minority Leader Dick Armey.

Reardon told reporters:

The Performance Rights Act will help thousands of hard-working, middle-income recording artists, legacy artists, and session singers earn a living, provide for themselves and their families and support an economy that works for everyone.

Big Radio has launched a propaganda campaign against the legislation led by Cathy Hughes, owner of the African American mega-company Radio One, which claims the legislation would hurt African American and small radio stations.

Last year, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) and the NAACP endorsed the legislation saying it would not hurt black radio and that musicians, like all workers, deserve to be paid a fair wage.

Radio One is a classic example of corporate greed, Trumka pointed out. In the middle of the recession, Radio One executives fired workers, cut salaries and slashed benefits while setting themselves up with millions of dollars in bonuses.

Trumka issued a challenge to members of Congress and activists across the country:

If you care about music, if you care about the right of Americans to get paid for their work, if you care about doing what is right, be a part of the good fight for our performing brothers and sisters.

The Music First Coalition, which includes AFM, AFTRA and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), is leading an effort to pass the bill. The AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees (DPE) also is backing the bill.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on April 27, 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.

Truck Driver Wins Gender Discrimination Case In Fourth Circuit

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Court Elaborates On Types Of  Evidence For Proof Of  Discrimination

The recent case of Merritt v. Old Dominion Freight is hands down one of the best decisions I have come across in a long time.

It addresses gender discrimination, sex stereotyping, and a corporate culture of discrimination in a way few cases have. It’s simply a great case for employees – particularly for victims of sex discrimination.

What Happened In The Case

Merritt worked as a line haul truck drive for Old Dominion, a nationwide trucking company. As a line haul driver, Merritt made lengthy cross-country trips. She performed her duties without incident or complaint. At some point, Merritt became interested in becoming a pickup and delivery driver so she could work more regular hours and spend  nights and weekends at home.

To prove that she could do the job, she filled in numerous times as a pickup and delivery driver, and once again performed the duties without incident or complaint.

When a permanent pickup and delivery position became available at Old Dominion’s Lynchburg Virginia terminal, Merritt talked to Bobby Howard, the terminal manager about it. Howard told her that he lacked the authority to fill the position and proceeded to hire a less experienced man for the job.

The following year another permanent pickup and delivery position became available in Lynchburg and Merritt again expressed an interest in the position to Howard. Once again, Merritt was passed over in favor of a less experienced male.

When Merritt asked why she was not hired, Howard told her that :

  • it was decided and they could not let a woman have that position.
  • the company did not really have women drivers in the city (as pick up and deliver drivers)

On another occasion he told her:

  • the Regional VP was worried about hiring a female pickup and deliver driver because women were more injury prone and he was aftaid a female would get hurt
  • the VP didn’t think a girl should have that position

Finally, a year later, Old Dominion hired Merritt to fill a permanent Pickup and Delivery position in Lynchburg. Merritt was placed on a ninety-day probationary and told she could lose her job if any performance problems arose. Male drivers were not subject to similar probationary terms.

For the next two years, Merritt performed her Pickup and Delivery duties without a problem. Unfortunately, she then suffered an ankle injury at work which was diagnosed as plantar fascititis with a superimposed strain. She was put on light duty work by her doctor at first, but a couple of months later, he gave her a clean bill of health.

When she attempted to return to her regular duties, Brian Stoddard, Vice President of Safety and Personnel, required Merritt to take a physical ability test (“PAT”), a full-body test divided into six components that evaluates the test taker’s general strength, agility, and cardiovascular endurance. The test was graded on a pass/fail basis. The PAT was created for Old Dominion to be used in the hiring process and had been used to evaluate potential hires, but only on a variable basis.

Merritt struggled with several segments of the test and received a failing grade. According to Merritt, the tasks she had problems with had nothing to do with her ankle. In one portion of the test, for example, Merritt was unable to place a box of weight on an overhead shelf simply because she was too short.

After receiving the results of Merritt’s PAT, Stoddard terminated Merritt’s employment. Merritt filed a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC and then filed a lawsuit in federal court in Western District of Virginia claiming that Old Dominion terminated her because of her gender in violation of Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The district court granted judgment against Merritt because it found that Old Dominion produced a legitimate reason for firing Merritt (she failed the PAT) and because she had not produced any evidence that Stoddard (the decision maker) harbored any “discriminatory animus” towards Merritt. Merritt appealed.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Reverses

Title VII makes it unlawful to discriminate against an individual on the basis of sex. The most prevalent  method of establishing discrimination is under the burden-shifting framework set forth in the Supreme Court case of McDonnell Douglas Corp v. Green which goes like this:

  • The plaintiff makes out a prima facie case of discrimination
  • The burden shifts to the employer to articulate a legitimate, non-discriminatory justification for its allegedly discriminatory action
  • If the employer carries this burden, the plaintiff then has an opportunity to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the neutral reason offered by the employer was not a true reason but a pretext for discrimination.

Ultimately, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that he or she was a victim of intentional discrimination.

In this case, Old Dominion put forth its legitimate non discriminatory justification for discharging Merritt – her failure to pass the PAT.  That proved, according to Old Dominion, that Merritt did not have the “requisite physical strength to safely perform the job duties.” Merritt insisted that this rationale was a pretext for discrimination.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Merritt and found that the “record as a whole supports Merritt’s claim that a jury could find that discrimination on the basis of gender was afoot.”

According to the Court, Merritt produced plenty of  evidence that Old Dominion’s explanation for her discharge was “unworthy of credence.” For example, Merritt’s doctor stated that there was nothing about Merritt’s medical condition which would have prevented her from performing her job duties as a Pickup and Delivery driver. As the Court pointed out:

Old Dominion terminated a good employee who, pre-injury, performed her job ably and without complaint and who, post-injury was both willing and able to report to this same job for work. These facts, if believed, would allow a jury to think Old Dominion was simply looking for a reason to get rid of Merritt.

In addition, the Court found that Merritt produced evidence of discriminatory intent. For one:

  • Injured male employees did not have to take the PAT test
  • Merritt produced evidence that the policy requiring all injured employees to take the PAT test did not exist

As the Court stated:

While a neutral policy serving Old Dominion’s legitimate business interests in public and employee safety could certainly be put in place, a trier of fact could reasonably find that Old Dominion’s selective application and ever-changing rationales for the PAT were designed to conceal intent to reserve the plum Pickup and Delivery positions for male drivers.

In addition, the district court ignored evidence of the corporate culture of discrimination produced by Merritt. The Court stated:

It is not unfair to observe that the corporate culture evinced a very specific yet pervasive aversion to the idea of a female Pickup and Delivery Drivers. Old Dominion employees, of all ranks, seemed to share a view that women were unfit for that position. …..

While the views of others are no proof of the views of Stoddard, at some point the corporate environment in which he worked places Stoddard’s own selective use of the PAT in Merritt’s case in a less neutral context.

In Lattieri v. Equant, ….[w]e deemed the plaintiff’s ‘powerful evidence showing a discriminatory attitude at her company of employment toward female managers’ sufficient to ‘allow a trier of fact to conclude that these discriminatory attitudes led to plaintiff’s ultimate termination.’ Likewise here.

The sum, the Court said:

Old Dominion fired an employee who was, according to the district court, able to do her job without assistance and in a satisfactory manner’ due to a treatable ankle injury, while hiding behind the results of a selectively administered physical fitness test that test that did not even purport to test the injury, and while dubiously claiming that its decision was compelled by a late-blooming policy, all in the context of, to put it mildly, a sexually stereotype work environment.

In this case, it not any single piece of evidence but rather the evidence taken in its entirety that leads us to believe Merritt deserves a trial….

Based on all of the foregoing reasons, we reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Old Dominion and remand for trial on Merritt’s Title VII claim.

Take Away

This case helps women in circumstances similar to Merritt’s – firefighters, police officers, constructions workers, etc. — those in male dominated physical professions who still face widespread discrimination because they are simply not wanted.

Just this past fall, I counseled a female firefighter who was repeatedly seeking a promotion, and forced to take numerous tests that were not required of her male counterparts. It’s not an unusual scenario though this type of discrimination is precisely what Title VII is aimed to prevent. The Merritt case, no doubt, should help women fight for equality in the workplace.

In a broad sense, this case hits so many of the issues that come up in discrimination cases all of the time – “stray remarks,” “post- hoc justifications,” “shifting explanations,” the parsing of evidence by district court judges — to name a few, and frames them in a way that will be extremely helpful to employees and their lawyers in discrimination litigation in the future.

images: rlv.zcache.com

This post originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on April 28, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ellen Simon: is recognized as one of the leading  employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States.She offers legal advice to individuals on employment rights, age/gender/race and disability discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment. With a unique grasp of the issues, Ellen’s a sought-after legal analyst who discusses high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and woman’s issues. Her blog, Employee Rights Post has dedicated readers who turn to Ellen for her advice and opinion. For more information go to www.ellensimon.net.

Why Positive Thinking is Bad for You

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Image: Srikumar RaoPositive thinking is so firmly enshrined in our culture that knocking it is a little like attacking motherhood or apple pie. Many persons swear by positive thinking and quite a few have been helped by it. Nevertheless, it is not a very effective tool and can be downright harmful in some cases. There are much better ways to get the benefits that positive thinking allegedly provides.

Perhaps the statement that best exemplifies positive thinking is “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” It seems so self-evident that this is a good thing that we never question the wisdom of the adage. But it does not take a whole lot of digging to unearth the flaws in this reasoning.

First, did fate really hand you a lemon or was this merely your initial, unthinking response? Second, is a lemon really a bad thing, something that you would rather not have, but now that you do have it you will somehow salvage something by making lemonade? Finally, it is quite stressful to be handed a lemon until such time as you figure out how to make lemonade. Do you really have to go through this phase?

No matter what happens to us in life we tend to think of it as “good” or “bad”. And most of us tend to use the “bad” label three to ten times as often as the “good” label. And when we say something is bad, the odds grow overwhelming that we will experience it as such. And that is when we need positive thinking. We have been given something bad, a real lemon, and we better scramble and make some lemonade out of it and salvage something out of this “bad” situation.

How tiring and tiresome!

Now think back on your own life. Can you recall instances of something that you initially thought was a bad thing that turned out to be not so bad after all or perhaps even a spectacularly good thing? Like the time you just missed a train and had to wait a whole hour for the next one and it was horrible except that your neighbor also missed it so you talked for the first time and a beautiful friendship developed. You will find many instances in your life, some of them very significant such as the job you desperately wanted but didn’t get only to find that a much better one came by and you would not have been able to accept it if not for the earlier rejection.

Now lets propose something radical and revolutionary. Lets propose that, no matter what happens to you, you do not stick a bad thing label on it. No matter what. You are fired from your job…your mortgage lender sends you a foreclosure notice . . . your spouse files for divorce . . . or whatever. This seems so far-fetched as to be laughable. Of course these are horrible tragedies and terrible things to happen. Or are they? Is it possible, just possible, that you have been conditioned to think of these happenings as unspeakable tragedies and hence experience them as such?

Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning narrates the tale of the beautiful girl of privilege who was grateful to be in a concentration camp because she was able to connect with a spiritual side of her that she never knew existed. Observations like this led Frankl into his life’s work of determining why, when faced with extreme adversity, some persons positively flourish while others disintegrate.

Many who rise so triumphantly never label what they go through as bad and lament over it. They simply take it as a given as if they were a civil engineer surveying the landscape through which a road is to be built. In this view, a swamp is not a bad thing. It is merely something that has to be addressed in the construction plan.

And if you never label something as bad, then you don’t need positive thinking and all of the stress associated with getting something bad and experiencing it as such till you figure out how to make lemonade out of it simply goes away.

That is the huge pebble in the positive thinking shoe. “This is bad. Really bad. It’s a lemon. But somehow I will make some lemonade out of it and then perhaps it won’t be so bad.” First you think its bad and then you think you will somehow make it less bad and there is a strong undercurrent that you are playing games and kidding yourself. Some people succeed. Many don’t. And those who don’t are devastated that the model they were trying so hard to build caved in on them. That’s why positive thinking can sometimes be harmful.

Can you actually go through life without labeling what happens to you as good or bad? Sure you can. You have to train yourself to do this. You have been conditioned to think of things as bad or good. You can de-condition yourself. It is neither easy nor fast but it is possible.

Lets say you break your leg. There is stuff you have to do like go to an orthopedist and get it set and go to therapy when the cast comes off. But all the rest of the stuff you pick up “Why did this have to happen to me? Bad things always come my way. I am in such pain. Who will hold the world up now that I am disabled?” is simply baggage. You don’t have to pick up this load and the only reason you do is because you were never told that you didn’t have to.

I am telling you now. Don’t pick up that useless burden. Don’t label what happens to you as bad. Then you won’t need positive thinking and much of the stress in your life will simply disappear. Poof! Just like that.

© 2010 Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful — No Matter What

About the Author: Srikumar S. Rao is the author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful — No Matter What (Published by McGraw-Hill). He conceived “Creativity and Personal Mastery,” the pioneering course that was among the most popular and highest rated at many of the world’s top business schools. It remains the only such course to have its own alumni association. His work has been covered by major media including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Time, Fortune, BusinessWeek, the London Times, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. CNN, PBS, and Voice of America, and dozens of radio and TV stations have interviewed him.

Please visit www.srikumarsrao.com for more information. You can also follow him on Twitter @srikumarsrao, join the happiness community on Facebook: Facebook | Srikumar Rao, and watch his videos on the McGraw-Hill YouTube Channel.

Photo: www.srikumarsrao.com

The Consultants Have No Clothes

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerThis week’s blog should get me in a lot of trouble. But I think it’s time that someone points out that many of the biggest business consultants, authors and speakers run really crappy businesses of their own.

Okay, I’ve heard all the jokes about consultants. All go basically down the same path—a consultant is someone who borrows your watch and then tells you what time it is. But this is someone much worse. I’ve discovered that many of the biggest advisors to business run shops that are much more poorly managed than many of the corporations that pay them such lofty fees.

Ironic isn’t it?

Take consultant number one—I’ve confided the real names to my editor, but dear reader you’ll have to give me some slack here, because these guys are my colleagues, and in some cases my friends.

Consultant number one has had a series of best selling books, he commands top dollar on the speakers circuit and chances are that you’ve heard or seen him at one time during your career. He is so volatile that he is barely able to hold on to staff for more than a year. He says he’s a great listener, but his staff says to me that he yells far too much to ever hear a word they say. His office might as well have a revolving door on it.

Consultant number two is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. But his company is remarkably dysfunctional. Its top leadership seems to change with the seasons. More than any other, this company almost seems to be dedicated to violating every principal that it espouses in its publications and presentations with its own people. It is a rudderless, often contradictory and cruel place that talks about sharing the credit but seldom does.

Consultant number three has built a company with some of the lowest morale anywhere. It’s hard to sort out where the battle lines are worse, in the executive suites or in the trenches. At one point I actually got to see some of the company’s internal survey results and couldn’t imagine that any of this company’s customers own results were that pathetic. Employees felt that management was more likely to knife them in the back then pat them on it. Although there was a lot of talk about values, the organization seems to only hold one value dear, and that is making the sale.

Woody Allen once said that those who can, do. And those who can’t, teach. Clearly those who really can’t do something become top-priced consultants.

So what can we do about this? I’m not suggesting that anyone throw out the baby with the bathwater. Each of these three people I referred to above has an important message and strategies to share. I just believe that corporations need to do a better job of due diligence with the messengers it picks before it starts ramming the fad of the week down its own people’s throats.

Look at each possible vendor as a little laboratory for their own principals. Ask for proof that they eat their own dog food and practice the very principals that they are foisting on you, and the rest of the business world.

Many of you are probably saying to yourself that this doesn’t really matter. It all goes back to the “Hawthorne Effect”, remember, that’s where a company turned up its lights and found that productive increased. Then when productivity stabilized they tried turning the lights down and found—like magic—that productivity magically increased again. The lesson, is that over the short haul almost anything you do can potentially increase productivity.

So Corporate America do your homework. Just because someone is a brand name, don’t assume that their principles work in the real world. That’s the bad news. The good news, is that the due diligence isn’t that hard to do. You just have to take the pulse of the employees who work for the company you are thinking about hiring. Ask to see recently survey results and staff turnover rates. I can guarantee that often you’ll be surprised by what you find.

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].

Exploding Rig’s Operator Has History of Safety Violations

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Eleven oil workers are still missing after a massive explosion and fire late Tuesday night on an oil rig off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig was under contract to BP Exploration and Production (BPEP).

Working In These Times has determined that BPEP has a history of safety violations, according to public records on file with the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the division of the federal Department of the Interior that oversees offshore drilling.

Penalties assessed to BPEP during the past decade include:

  • $41,000 for a “loss of well control.” MMS found that BPEP “failed to verify employees were trained to competently perform the assigned well control duties.”
  • $190,000 for an improperly installed fire diverter system. The lapse was discovered in the wake of a fire that damaged property and the environment.
  • $80,000 for bypassing relays for the Pressure Safety High/Low on four producing wells.
  • $70,000 for low pressure in the fire water system
ire boats battle the fire on April after a massive explosion on the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon, off the coast of Louisiana. The rigs contractor, BP Exploration and Production, has a history of safety violations.  (Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images)

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

The Tana Exploration Company, LLC was fined $190,000 after BPEP employees, working as contractors, bypassed the safety valves on a Tana rig. Investigators found that the rig failed to shut down in an emergency because the safety devices had been bypassed.

As a result, “[t]he pipeline experienced overpressure and the flange gasket ruptured allowing gas/condensate to escape,” according to MMS records.

The Wall Street Journal reports that BPEP’s parent company was fined $87 million for failing to make agreed upon safety upgrades to a Texas refinery after an explosion and fire that killed 15 people.

It is still unclear who was responsible for the April 20 explosion.

*This post originally appeared in Working in These Times on April 22, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lindsay Beyerstein, a former InTheseTimes.com political reporter, is a freelance investigative journalist in New York City. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Slate.com, AlterNet.org, The New York Press, The Washington Independent, RH Reality Check and other news outlets. Beyerstein writes a daily foreign affairs bulletin for the UN Foundation’s UN Dispatch website and covers healthcare for the Media Consortium. She is the winner of a 2009 Project Censored Award. She blogs at Majikthise.

G-20 Labor Leaders Meet at AFL-CIO for Labor Summit

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

When the world’s banks were going under, governments jumped to their aid. Now with record numbers of people out of work, it’s past time for governments to put working people first, or the fledgling economic recovery could fall apart. Leaders from the G-20 nations issued this warning while in Washington, D.C., this week for the first-ever meeting of G-20 labor ministers and employment ministers with labor and business leaders April 20-21.

The meeting stems from the efforts by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and others at the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh last September to make jobs the central element in any global economic recovery. The G-20 includes the leaders of the world’s top 19 economies and the European Union.

During their meetings at the AFL-CIO before the labor ministers’ summit, the union leaders again strongly urged their governments to support the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Global Jobs Pact, which includes comprehensive measures to stimulate employment growth and provide basic protections for workers and their families.

Sharan Burrow, president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), told the ministers:

Governments must show the same political will to attack global unemployment and underemployment as they did to tackle the banking crisis in late 2008. We cannot afford a lost decade of stagnant labor markets.

Trumka made it clear that if the jobs of the future are to be good, family supporting jobs, workers in all nations must have the fundamental right to form unions and bargain collectively:

In the U.S, tens of thousands of workers are fired every year for attempting to form unions. For example, there can be no excuse for T-Mobile, the U.S. telecommunications company, to viciously oppose unions in the U.S. while its corporate parent, Deutsche Telekom supports bargaining rights and unions throughout Europe. Unless workers’ rights are enforced in all countries, there will be a “race to the bottom” in wages and working conditions, a race that will undermine decent work everywhere.

For more information on the ongoing campaign to bring justice to T-Mobile, click here and here.

The union leaders also insisted that governments not reduce stimulus efforts until employment rates return to pre-crisis levels on a sustainable basis, and called for an equitable sharing of the cost of the recovery costs through more progressive tax systems, including the adoption of a financial transactions tax, actions the AFL-CIO strongly backs.

ITUC General Secretary Guy Ryder said:

We must halt the continuing rise in unemployment and create new jobs.  Furthermore, there needs to be an ongoing role for labor ministers within the G-20 in order to address the employment impact of the crisis with effective measures to help all workers, including the most vulnerable.

John Evans, general secretary of the Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), added:

Increasing economic inequality over two decades helped cause this crisis. Fairer income distribution and restoring real purchasing power to working people is essential for sustainable economic growth in the future.

Check out the detailed proposals presented by the union delegation here. Read the ITUC/TUAC evaluation of the meeting’s outcomes here.

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on April 22, 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

It's Equal Pay Day And Time To Pass The Paycheck Fairness Act

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Wage Discrimination Needs Attention And A Legislative Fix

April 20, 2010 is Equal Pay Day. It was established in 1996 to illuminate the gap between men’s and women’s wages. The date symbolizes how far into 2010 women must work to earn what men earned in 2009.

This year, with the support of President Obama, Equal Pay Day should also bring attention to pending legislation intended to address lingering issues of pay disparity in the American workforce.

Here are some facts about pay equity from the National Organization for Women:

  • In 2007, women’s median annual paychecks reflected only 78 cents for every $1.00 earned by men. Specifically for women of color, the gap is even wider: In comparison to a man’s dollar, African American women earn only 69 cents and Latinas just 59 cents. 
  • In 1963, when the Equal Pay Act was passed, full-time working women were paid 59 cents on average for every dollar paid to men. This means it took 44 years for the wage gap to close just 19 cents — a rate of less than half a penny a year.
  • The narrowing of this gap has slowed down over the last six years, with women gaining a mere two cents since 2001.
  • Women’s median pay was less than men’s in each and every one of the 20 industries and 25 occupation groups surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2007. Even men working in female-dominated occupations earn more than women working in those same occupations.
  • According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research,  if equal pay for women were instituted immediately, across the board, it would result in an annual $319 billion gain nationally for women and their families (in 2008 dollars).
  • When The WAGE Project looked exclusively at full-time workers, they estimated that women with a high school diploma lose as much as $700,000 over a lifetime of work, women with a college degree lose $1.2 million and professional school graduates may lose up to $2 million because of pay disparity.
  • As a result, these inequities follow women into their retirement years, reducing their Social Security benefits, pensions, savings and other financial resources.
  • A study by the American Association of University Women examined how the wage gap affects college graduates. Wage disparities kick in shortly after college graduation, when women and men should, absent discrimination, be on a level playing field.
  • One year after graduating college, women are paid on average only 80 percent of their male counterparts’ wages, and during the next 10 years, women’s wages fall even further behind, dropping to only 69 percent of men’s earnings ten years after college

I have represented women in discrimination cases for many years.  From my vantage point it’s clear that while the pay equity issues are not as blatant as they once were, wage discrimination is still a prevalent concern for women of all socio-economic groups.

It’s also true that the Equal Pay Act of 1963, while well intentioned, has not come close to fulfilling its goal due to a whole host of reasons.

The good news is that there is a bill pending in Congress aimed at correcting unlawful wage disparities and which offers a legislative fix for some of the problems with the Equal Pay Act.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (H.R.12 and S.182) was introduced January 2009 by then-Senator Hillary Clinton and Rep. Rosa DeLauro to strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The bill expands damages under the Equal Pay Act and amends its very broad fourth affirmative defense which will be a real help to victims of pay discrimination.

The Paycheck Fairness Act also prohibits retaliation against inquiring about or disclosing wage information  and proposes voluntary EEOC guidelines to show employers how to evaluate jobs with the goal of eliminating unfair disparities. The bill was passed by the House in January of 2009 and is pending in the Senate. It’s lead sponsor is Sen. Christopher Dodd.

There were hearings about the bill in March of this year with lots of illuminating testimony, including the remarks of Stuart Ishimaru, acting Chariman of the EEOC, which you can read here if you are interested in more detail about the subject.

The bottom line is if you care about equal rights for women and want to make a difference, please call or write your Senator and urge passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act. Here’s a link that will help you send the message. We know that the President  supports it — we just need to get it on his desk.

images: www.evetahmincioglu.com

*This post originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on April 20, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Ellen Simon: is recognized as one of the leading  employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States.She offers legal advice to individuals on employment rights, age/gender/race and disability discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment. With a unique grasp of the issues, Ellen’s a sought-after legal analyst who discusses high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and woman’s issues. Her blog, Employee Rights Post has dedicated readers who turn to Ellen for her advice and opinion. For more information go to www.ellensimon.net.

Our Government Should be Complying Not Just with the Letter but with the Spirit of the Buy American Act

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The Census has been purchasing promotional materials for Census 2010 that were manufactured overseas, and Congressman Dan Lipinski (D-IL) is not happy about it.  In a statement issued today, Lipinski said:

“The Census has some explaining to do, and so far it’s not providing much clarity. Our government should be complying not just with the letter but with the spirit of the Buy American Act.  That’s especially true right now, in the middle of the worst economy in decades with 15 million Americans out of work.  Blaming subcontractors or claiming the purchases are too small to matter isn’t going to cut it.  American taxpayers are spending over $14 billion to pay for the census, including hundreds of millions on this communications campaign.  If nothing else, the Census could write Buy American rules into its contracts with private vendors.  While the Census claims it was trying to save money, it doesn’t save us any money to destroy American jobs by purchasing from foreign companies.

Lipinski also sent a letter to the Census outlining his great concern over this matter.

AAM Executive Director Scott Paul issued a statement on recent reports of the Census’ decision to purchase materials manufactured abroad:

“Unemployment is nearly 10 percent.  Millions of Americans are suffering.  The Census Bureau should ensure that all of its materials are made in America, especially since census workers will be knocking on the doors of scores of families that have been devastated by layoffs.  The Census Bureau has said claimed that these purchases were made by contractors and were under the threshold for compliance with Buy America requirements.  But in this day and age, every job is precious.

“The Census Bureau should be using made in America promotional materials.  We’ve never had a problem finding an American-made t-shirt or hat.  If the Census Bureau and its contractors actually looked, they would find American-made promotional materials as well.  We commend Congressman Lipinski for his efforts to right this wrong, and we hope other leaders in Washington will join him.”

Editor’s Note: The Census is a critical and necessary process that was written into the Constitution. ManufactureThis fully supports participation in the Census and commends the efforts of all those Census employees involved in the process.

*This article originally appeared in Manufacture This on April 16, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

Self-Deception at Work

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerThanks to Myers Briggs and a host of other workplace personality tests, it seems like everyone in the corporate world is either an “ENTP,” or their collaborative style is “Red,” or their leadership style is “Homer” (I made the last one up, there is currently no test to determine if you are like the head of the Simpson clan.)

Take a test, get the results and instantly you’ll have a clearer understanding of who you are and you’ll suddenly become insanely effective at work.

I vehemently disagree. Not only are these tests mostly a waste of time and money, I think they are dangerous.

But first let me quote a favorite scene from “Seinfeld.” Jerry is being forced to take a lie detector test by a woman that he wants to date. Since he knows that he’ll be caught in a lie, he goes to the best liar he knows, George Costanza, to ask for advice. George’s reply sums up everything you need to know about what’s wrong with self-inflicted personality tests, “Jerry, it’s not a lie if you believe it to be the truth.”

And that is why I think these tests are so bogus. Because they don’t pursue an objective view of your performance, but simply quantify our own self-deceptions. And that’s where the danger comes in.

The most valid take on your personality comes from the people you work with. They watch you, they know when to trust you and when to run away from you. Even your craziest colleagues can often offer insight that you won’t find by going knee-deep in your own gray matter. Without some external input from the people who see you on a daily basis, you are just filling out forms and recycling your own misperceptions.

I admit, these tests can be an ideal starting point for a conversation with the people you work with about who you are and how you can do a better job. But they usually aren’t, because people hold the results so close to their chest—like they’re an immortal truth.

It’s like hearing your own voice (you didn’t think you were going to get through this entire column without a metaphor, did you?). Your voice sounds one way when you hear it inside your head. But have you ever noticed how it sounds totally different when you hear it on a tape recorder that is played back to you? It’s no different when it comes to meaningful feedback, the most helpful comes from outside your own head.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of self-deception as much as the next guy or gal—heck, not a Keanu Reeves movie goes by that I don’t think that I could have provided a much more compelling performance. The problem is that these tests claim that they offer some objective truth and can cost a lot of money.

If you don’t believe me, then start talking to your colleagues about what they believe they do very well. Undoubtedly you’ll hear things that will make you double over in laughter. Mr. Disorganization will tell you that he’s totally on top of all of his projects. Ms. Only-In-It-For-Herself will tell you what a great team player she is. And your boss will tell you that his people love him.

Which leads up to the big question—what are your blind spots?  What do you hold very closely about your approach to work, or your values, that is just as laughable as Mr. Disorganization, Ms. Only-In-It-For-Herself or your boss?

Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to put those number 2 pencils away any time soon. Keep taking your tests. But just remember that a dose of truth from a trusted coworker can provide you a lot more valuable input than just probing your own gray matter.

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]

Who Will Lead the SEIU?

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Now that Andy Stern has announced his impending retirement as head of the SEIU, the fight to replace him has moved out into the open.

The heir apparent is Anna Burger, SEIU secretary treasurer, and currently Stern’s second in command. Stern has groomed her to replace him. Like Stern, Burger has strong ties to the Obama administration. Visitor logs show that she and Stern have been among the most frequent visitors to the White House since Obama took office.

When Stern officially steps aside, Burger will serve as interim president until the Executive Board picks a permanent leader, typically within 30 days.

Burger faces several challengers in her bid to lead the nation’s largest and fastest-growing union. International executive vice president Mary Kay Henry has announced that she will seek the top spot. Henry heads up SEIU’s healthcare division. Henry has earned a reputation as a shrewd strategist. She is also a founding member of the SEIU’s gay and lesbian Lavender Caucus.

Dennis Rivera, the former president of Local 1199 United Healthcare Workers East would be a formidable candidate, if he decides to seek the job. As president, he forged alliances with health care executives to fight funding cuts to hospitals. Rivera went on to serve as Stern’s top health care policy adviser.

Burger is generally regarded as the favorite in this race. However, a challenge by Henry and/or Rivera could certainly make things interesting.

This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on April 15, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lindsay Beyerstein, a former InTheseTimes.com political reporter, is a freelance investigative journalist in New York City. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Slate.com, AlterNet.org, The New York Press, The Washington Independent, RH Reality Check and other news outlets. Beyerstein writes a daily foreign affairs bulletin for the UN Foundation’s UN Dispatch website and covers healthcare for the Media Consortium. She is the winner of a 2009 Project Censored Award. She blogs at Majikthise.

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