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Archive for May, 2010

Bringing the Wrong Mindset to Work

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerMindset. What is the context that you bring to work each day? Your personal way of seeing the world that influences your problem solving and decision making at work? I think mindsets are one of the most important, and least talked about, issues in today’s workplace. Why? Because I think most of us go to work each day with the wrong one. Here are the 5 most common mindset “M’s” that I see in today’s workplace along with a few of the problems that are associated with each.

1. MILITARY. Max Weber believed that the most efficient way to get a job done was through a rule-driven, impersonal bureaucracy. His most influential book title tells you everything you need to know about his world view—“The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.” It’s easy to make fun of Weber’s rules. But look around your workplace and you’ll see that the only thing more resilient than a cockroach is a bureaucracy. Ironically, even the US military is encouraging the troops to show more creativity and initiative these days.

2. MOTIVATION. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is the landmark title from Dale Carnegie that says everything you really need to know about motivational management. Carnegie was a master salesman who created the fundamental techniques of handling people (don’t criticize, condemn or complain, give honest and sincere appreciation and arouse in the other person an eager want). What is pure gold in the hands of a master like Carnegie, unfortunately is distinctly un-motivating in the hands of a novice.

3. MACHINE. This is one of the most popular ways to look at work. With proper fuel and maintenance, well, work will work like a machine. The “father” of the machine mindset at work is Frederick Taylor. For example, he broke down the process to make Ford’s Model T into 7,882 steps. He then determined that of these steps, 715 could be done by men with one arm and 10 by blind men. The only problem is that Taylor’s world really has no place for creativity or intelligence. Oops.

4. MEASUREMENT. Walk into the Toyota building in Tokyo and you’ll see three portraits. The first is of the company’s founder. The second the current chairman. And the third is of an American mathematician, W. Edwards Deming. Lean production, quality and reducing waste were all hallmarks of Deming’s teachings. But my favorite lesson from Deming is number eight of his famous fourteen points. “Drive out fear.” Deming’s measurements can do a remarkable job of improving quality but once again this philosophy is extremely limited when it comes to creating new markets and products.

5. ENTREPRENEURIAL. [Yes, this is not an “M” word. And that is another aspect of “mindsets,” do your box you in and limit your flexibility?] Do you know when the word entrepreneur was first coined? J.B. Say, a French economist, first coined the word in the early 1800’s. Peter Drucker talked about how systemic entrepreneurship is the secret behind many of the most revolutionary innovations in the workplace. The only problem is that most organizations can only maintain an entrepreneurial environment for a relatively short period of time before bureaucracy begins to gum up the works.

Next time I’ll talk about an entirely new mindset that you can bring to work. One that is complex enough to allow you to tackle those really tough challenges at work.

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 bob@workplace911.com.

Working Away Their Childhoods: Young Farmworkers Robbed of Rights

Friday, May 7th, 2010

As kids around the country look forward to the start of summer break, it’s easy to forget that their mid-year vacation is actually curious relic of an earlier time, when children took time off to help out on the farm. Still, even in the post-industrial age, today’s farm sector continues to put kids to work, perpetuating one of the country’s last bastions of child labor.

It makes sense to employers: Kids make obedient field hands, their little fingers nimble enough to cull all those tiny berries with maximum efficiency. Moreover, the vast migrant labor force—largely Latino, impoverished and disenfranchised—is ripe for exploitation. But there’s a cost of doing this business, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW): disrupted schooling, safety hazards, and the threat of sexual assault, all factor into the opportunity cost of a lost childhood. (See video below.)

Photo courtesy Human Rights Watch

Photo courtesy Human Rights Watch

The extensive investigation reveals that child labor isn’t limited to Dickensian sweatshops in the “third world.” The federal labor laws that govern child farmworkers, moreover, don’t recognize that the agricultural sector has moved away from bucolic fields and toward modern-day plantation slavery.

Current U.S. regulations allow children as young as 12 to work on farms, and small farms have no minimum age if the child has parental permission. Toiling alongside their parents under brutal conditions, children are underpaid and exposed to injury and pesticide contamination. Young girls are “exceptionally vulnerable to sexual abuse.” For many, education and play time are impossible luxuries.

How many children work in U.S. fields each year? Due to the migratory and transient nature of the work, it’s a difficult question to answer, and data isn’t fresh; the HRW report notes that farmers in 2006 reported directly hiring 211,588 children under 18, and that nearly half a million children worked on their family’s farm that year. The total number toiling is likely much higher—the government estimates that 9 percent of all farmworkers hired in 2006 were under 18.

Child farm labor clusters in California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Oregon, and Washington State, though HRW stresses, “Virtually no state is without child labor in agriculture, and certainly no state fails to benefit from children’s farmwork, as the produce that is harvested and packed by youngsters’ hands may travel thousands of miles to grocery store shelves.” Even when subsidized by children’s wages, annual family incomes still hovered in the poverty range, “between $15,000 and $17,499″ on average, according to 2005-2006 data.

Though the Obama administration has vowed to tighten enforcement, employers can easily flout the already weak labor rules. Some children start working at six or seven, getting a head start on the lifetime of misery to which their parents are often condemned:

Children, like many adult farmworkers, typically earn far less than minimum wage, and their pay is often further cut because employers underreport hours and force them to spend their own money on tools, gloves, and drinking water that their employers should provide by law.

The impacts on children’s development are difficult to grasp.  Some of the youth interviewed reported regularly working from dawn till dusk, returning home utterly exhausted. But even then, said one girl, “I hated to sleep because sometimes all you dreamed of was working, thinking, ‘I need to be working.’” For a large portion of these workers, constant migration from site to site could lead to further social and emotional destabilization.

In an interview with HRW, a Michigan teen recalls, “[When I was 12] they gave me my first knife. Week after week I was cutting myself. Every week I had a new scar. My hands have a lot of stories.”

A mother reflected, “When you hear the children talk, you feel bad because you’ve taken a whole childhood away and you don’t realize it because you’re thinking about trying to make payments.”

About one-third of U.S.-born farmworkers (i.e. citizens) have dropped out of school—about four times the overall national rate—in large part because young people simply can’t complete their education as families shift from site to site. Federal support for migrant children’s education has reached only about half of the eligible population.

Stories like these abound, HRW reports, but the Department of Labor in 2009 “found only 36 cases of child labor violations involving 109 children in agriculture, constituting only 4 percent of all child labor cases that year. This number is not only astonishingly low, but also reflects a dramatic decline in overall enforcement of child labor laws from 2001.”

A proposed bill in Congress, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment,would tighten regulations on child farm work and increase penalties for violations.

Yet beneath the day-to-day abuses these youth experience lies the economic structure of the food system, based on a byzantine regime of farm labor programs, an ample supply of migrants desperate for work, and the American consumer’s appetite for low prices at the checkout counter.

When viewed in light of the protests surrounding Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, these children represent all the reasons why criminalizing immigrants will do nothing to solve the crisis.

Many are U.S. citizens; many of their parents actually entered the country legally. Yet workers of all immigrant statuses are relegated to an employment system akin to indentured servitude. Child labor is the product of an immigration system that reduces families to a disposable workforce. For kids unable to contemplate a better life, their rights are the first to be thrown away.

*This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on May 7, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in Extra!, Legal Affairs, City Limits and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She also blogs at Racewire.org

290,000 Jobs Created in April, Jobless Rate Worsens to 9.9 Percent

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Some 290,000 jobs were created in April, the fourth straight month in more than year the nation has seen gains in employment. Yet the unemployment rate worsened to 9.9 percent from 9.7 percent in March, according to data released this morning by the Department of Labor. The total unemployment figure, which includes those who are discouraged or underemployed, worsened to 17.1 percent in April, from 16.9 percent in March—some 27 million U.S. workers without jobs or full-time work.

Yet economists say the increase in the unemployment rate can be viewed as good news because it means that more than 800,000 workers entered the labor force, many of them formerly discouraged workers who had stopped looking for work.

April job growth came in manufacturing, 44,000 jobs; service jobs, 166,000; construction, 14,000 and mining, 7,000. The jobs increase also was bolstered by the federal government’s hiring of 66,000 temporary workers to help complete the U.S. Census. The April jobless rate for black workers is 16.5 percent, for Hispanic, 12.5 percent and worsened for white workers, to 9 percent.

April’s jobs increase is a far better scenario than the hundreds of thousands of jobs lost each month in the past year—but nowhere near what the nation needs to fill the 11 million job deficit created by the past few years of economic maelstrom.

Especially bad new is the continued worsening in the number of long-term unemployed workers. In April, some 6.7 million U.S. workers were out of a job for 27 weeks or longer, compared with 6.5 million in March. In April, 45.9 percent of unemployed workers had been jobless for 27 weeks or more.

These data make it all the more essential that Congress extend the lifeline for jobless workers by extending unemployment insurance (UI) for a year, a move that is a key part of the AFL-CIO Jobs Agenda. Congress has passed several UI extensions, but only for up to 30 days. The length of time it takes to get a job in this economy, however, clearly shows much more time is needed.

A new report out from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers documents the challenges for unemployed workers in this economy.

In short, “No End in Sight: The Agony of Prolonged Unemployment” concludes:

While the worst phase of the Great Recession may be behind us, the vast majority of jobless Americans have not found new jobs.

The report finds only 21 percent of those unemployed and actively looking for a job in August 2009 found employment by March 2010. An even smaller number (13 percent) found full-time employment. Sixty-five percent who found employment searched for at least seven months. Twenty-eight percent looked for more than a year.

Among those still searching for work—many for more than a year—are millions who have never been without a job and who have at least a college education. And the jobs they’re taking do not fit their skills nor financial needs.

It is clear that many took their new jobs out of need rather than desire. The majority (61 percent) said their new job was “something to get you by while you look for something better,” while just 39 percent agreed with the statement that their new position is “something you really want to do and think it is a new long-term job.”

As part of the AFL-CIO Good Jobs Now campaign, we are calling for Big Banks to resume lending to help credit-starved communities create jobs. Clearly, small businesses are not getting the credit they need to expand and hire workers.

We are backing a bill co-sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to save or create nearly 1 million local jobs. Developed with mayors, county officials and others, the Local Jobs for America Act will provide $75 billion over two years to local communities to stave off planned cuts or to re-hire workers laid-off because of tight budgets. Funding would go directly to eligible local communities and nonprofit community organizations to decide how best to use the funds. More than 100 co-sponsors have signed on. (Click here to urge your representative to become a co-sponsor.)

*This post originally appeared in AFL-CIO Blog on May 7, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

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.

Six Tips for Women Entrepreneurs

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Image: Peri PakrooMore women than ever before are grabbing the reins and starting their own businesses. The number of women-owned small businesses is growing approximately twice as quickly as the national average for all start-ups.

For entrepreneurs of all stripes — women and men included — the pre-start-up phase is typically characterized by a flood of questions about what exactly it takes to make it in business. Are there different answers to these questions for men versus women? Not really. Every business needs to be based on a solid idea, aimed at a profitable market or niche, have solid systems in place, and market itself effectively. And of course, the legal and bureaucratic rules facing women entrepreneurs are exactly the same as those facing men.

But as many women business owners will tell you, the road to success for women often involves its own unique set of curves. Surveys of women business owners show that women’s business concerns tend to skew towards issues such as finding work-life balance, start-up (or expansion) financing, and marketing. The following tips address some of the issues and concerns that are most commonly faced by women entrepreneurs.

1. Start a business that works for you and fits with your personal life. There are no rules as to what a “real” business looks like. For some businesspeople, success might mean an international operation with hundreds of employees and annual revenues in the tens of millions. For others, a small consulting firm or artisan business that pays a healthy salary and allows generous personal freedom might be considered the pinnacle of success. The key is to take the time early in the planning process to consider this question and decide for yourself what your ideal vision is for your business and your personal life.

2. Don’t sweat the bureaucracy. A lot of would-be entrepreneurs, women and men alike, find themselves stuck on the verge of taking the leap into starting a business, but confused about how to tackle the legal rules of getting started. This hang-up is always grounded more in fear than reality; the truth is that clearing the bureaucratic hurdles isn’t usually big deal.

You can usually start a sole proprietorship (the legal term for a one-owner business) or a partnership (a business with more than one owner) by registering with just one government office. And for business owners who want protection from personal liability for business debts — often referred to by the legal jargon “limited liability” — the simplest corporations or limited liability companies (LLCs) require only a couple more registration tasks to complete.

Of course, there’s a lot more to launching a successful small business than dealing with bureaucratic requirements. For starters, you’ll need to have a sound business idea, and you’ll need to be able to develop good management skills to guide it to success. This is where you should put your mental energy and good ideas; don’t waste precious brain cells worrying about the legal hurdles.

3. For businesses with moderate to significant overhead, it is crucial to start the business with adequate funds. Starting a business without enough money to ride out the early lean days (described as “undercapitalization”) is the most common reason that businesses fail. Undercapitalization is less of an issue with small service-based businesses that don’t have many fixed expenses. But businesses with overhead such as rent, salaries for employees, utility bills, inventory, equipment, insurance, or other fixed costs absolutely need to plan carefully and pull together enough funding to support the fledgling business as it works up to speed.

Also, though it’s important to start your business with enough capital, that doesn’t mean that every business needs piles and piles of money to get off the ground. Plenty of mega-successful businesses were started on a shoestring: Apple Computer started in a garage; Hewlett-Packard started in the dining room of the Packard home; the list goes on and on. Generally speaking, a business that can find creative, thrifty ways to provide its product or service — especially in its early days — will typically find more success than a business that adopts a “spend more money” approach.

4. If you need start-up or expansion financing, consider sources other than traditional banks. One of the concerns most commonly cited by women entrepreneurs is difficulty finding start-up financing. And it’s little wonder: traditional banks typically don’t lend money to new ventures that don’t have a track record of success or creditworthiness. Instead of focusing on conventional big-chain banks, start-ups should instead look for local community banks, credit unions, and other local financial institutions that have a vested interest in the health of the local economy. Often, their application processes and criteria are softer than the big banks.

Two resources that women should definitely look into are Women’s Business Centers and community development financial institutions. Women’s Business Centers (WBCs) exist nationwide and focus on supporting women entrepreneurs through business training and counseling, and access to credit and capital, among other services. Community development financial institutions (CDFIs), which are certified by the U.S. Treasury, are a fast-growing segment of the business financing market specializing in loans to underserved communities and populations. CDFIs usually — but not always — have a specific focus such as improving economic opportunities in blighted communities or supporting women- or minority-owned entrepreneurs. Both WBCs and CDFIs can be especially helpful for start-ups, businesses with poor credit, and businesses seeking relatively small loans, generally up to $100,000. Even better, they often offer guidance and expertise to your business in addition to financing, which will help your chances of success.

As an example, the fabulous nonprofit where I teach entrepreneurship classes — WESST in Albuquerque — is both a WBC and a CDFI. It offers a wide range of high-quality classes on business planning, financial management, and marketing, plus offers loans and one-on-one counseling. With an organization like WESST on its side, a business gets a major boost in its chances of success.

5. Network like a social butterfly — it is one of the best ways to market your business and create profitable opportunities. Networking involves actively cultivating relationships with people, businesses, community leaders, and others who present possible opportunities for your business — not just as potential customers, but also as vendors, partners, investors, or other roles. Remember, networking is not the same thing as sales! Rather than the simple goal of making a sale, a huge goal of networking is to inform other businesspeople and influential people about what you do in hopes that they will recommend your business to their circle of contacts.

I look at networking more as a self-employed lifestyle than a specific activity. You are “networking” every time you attend an event held by a local trade association, get to know other business owners and community leaders, send an email introducing two of your contacts to each other, write a letter to the editor, participate in an online discussion group, or have lunch with another local business owner.

6. Forge relationships with contacts before you need help from them. For example, if you need the support of a local politician on an upcoming city zoning decision, you’ll have a better chance of getting the politician’s vote if he or she already knows you and thinks favorably of your business than if you place a call to his or her office out of the blue.

© 2010 Peri H. Pakroo J.D., author of The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit: A Step-by-Step Legal Guide

About the Author: Peri Pakroo is a business and communications consultant, specializing in legal and start-up issues for businesses and nonprofits. She has started, participated in, and consulted with start-up businesses for 20 years. She is the author of The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit (Nolo) and top-selling business books. Her blog is at www.peripakroo.com.

Feds Crack Down on America’s Worst Bosses-But Fines Still Trivial

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Time and time again, inspectors found that miners at the Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia were trudging through inches-deep drifts of combustible coal dust. The mining company, Massey Energy, paid the fine, stalled through endless procedural challenges or just ignored the citation all together. The bottom line was that the dust kept piling up…until disaster struck.

In late April, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration unveiled a new program to get tough on the worst offenders, the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP). Beginning in June, the SVEP will step up enforcement against employers that have shown “indifference” to the safety of their workers through “willful, repeated, or failure-to-abate violations.”

Combustible dust violations will be a high enforcement priority for SVEP, as will amputation hazards, unsafe excavation practices, and silica dust exposure.

Fines for safety violations have been increased only once in the last 40 years. Needless to say, they haven’t kept pace with inflation.

OSHA, which is part of the Department of Labor, plans to increase the costs of non-compliance. Right now, the stiffest possible penalty for a serious violation, i.e., an infraction that could kill or seriously injure someone, is just $7,000. The current maximum penalty for a willfull violation is $70,000. Under the SVEP, the average penalty for a severe infraction will rise from about $1,000 to $3,000-$4,000.

Still a pretty trivial penalty for risking someone’s life or limb, but it’s a step in the right direction.

This post originally appeared in Working In These Times on May 3, 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.

Immigrants are US

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerI’d like to raise a few topics that I don’t think got discussed nearly enough.

First, the economy has changed quite a bit over the decades.

Here is a question: What was the year that for the first time service workers and white collar workers outnumbered blue collar workers? 2001? 1990? OK, we’ll go out on a limb here — 1985?

Nope. The first time that blue collar workers were outnumbered in the economy was 1956 (from “Revolutionary Wealth” by Alvin and Heidi Toffler). I know that was a really long time ago, because that is the year I was born.

So much of the complaining about the loss of jobs to immigrants overlooks one important fact. the economy has changed dramatically.
With millions of illegal immigrants assumed to be working in the United States, you would think that there would be a huge backlash against them. Think again. According to the New York Times only a minority of Americans want tougher laws against illegal immigrants.

But we’ve all got to stop pining over the lost manufacturing jobs and deal with the economy that we have, not the one we wish we had. And immigrants play a huge role in keeping our current economy moving forward.

The second point: you’d be in the streets too.

If you think about it, this issue should be personal to everyone.

Sam, Lena, Joseph and Fay. Those names might not jump off the screen to you, but they have a lot of meaning for me. They’re my grandparents.

They were born in Hungry, Russia and Germany before they took that long trip to America. Each one has their own precarious story of their journey out of Europe. And it wasn’t necessarily a walk in the park once they got here. Each had to take his or her place at the bottom, mostly figuratively, but sometimes literally — living in the ghettos, working for the bare minimum and having to fight for their place at the table.

And they were all lucky enough during their lifetimes to achieve their little piece of the American dream — owning a home, becoming leaders of their community, being able to take a vacation. But to a person, all would probably say that the point when they’d realized they’d really made it was when their kids didn’t have to start at the bottom — and this group of elementary school dropouts saw their kids graduate college and even graduate school.

Now it’s your turn. How far back do you need to go to find people who fled their homelands to come to America? One generation, two, three?

Third, drawbridges don’t work.

In a land of immigrants, it’s remarkable to hear people screaming to pull the drawbridge up, now that they’ve landed in the “land of opportunity.” It’s remarkable that people want to kick out all illegal immigrants currently working in the country, or that so many complain about all the resources these immigrants are using.

I think it is important to remember something that my grandparents all knew by heart: “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp! Cries she with silent lips. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” The poet Emma Lazarus wrote these words that we all associate with the Statue of Liberty.

I think that this is the classic case of people who live in a glass houses throwing stones. We are all the descendents of immigrants. Let’s all seek to honor our relatives by appreciating the latest batch of people who struggled to come here so that they could create a better life for their family.

Fourth, this debate isn’t going to end any time soon.

Given the turbulence of the economy, there will always be people who try to blame our problems on people who aren’t in a position to fight back. So get prepared to hear this debate over and over again in the coming years.

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 bob@workplace911.com.

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