Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for December, 2010

MSHA Safety Crackdown on Troubled Mines Continues

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

Image: Mike HallIn the latest round of stepped-up inspections of mines with a history of safety and health violations and other issues, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA)  in November  issued 250 citations and other actions at 22 mines.

The new special impact inspections began after the April coal mine explosion at the Massey Energy Co.’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine that killed 29 miners.

The mines set for tougher inspections include those with a poor history of complying with previous orders to correct unsafe conditions, or that have specific concerns, such as high numbers of violations or closure orders.

The inspections also focus on mines where there have been evasive tactics by mine management, such as advance notification of inspections that prevent inspectors from observing violations and mines with a high number of accidents, injuries, illnesses or fatalities. Says MSHA administrator Joe Main:

MSHA’s impact inspection program is helping to reduce the number of mines that consider egregious violation records a cost of doing business. We will continue using this important enforcement tool to protect the nation’s miners

MSHA conducted the November inspections at 12 coal mines, issuing 111 citations for safety violations and 11 orders for immediate correction. At 10 metal/non-metal mines, MSHA inspectors issued 113 citations and 11 orders for immediate action.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

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. He 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.

Jobs: Gifts We Really Need

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

Edith RasellThis is the season of gift giving and, for millions of us, the present we really need is a job.

We know that American families need jobs. But American businesses also need jobs—rather, they need customers with jobs. When millions of unemployed workers and their families have little money to spend, businesses, big and small, have few customers. Production stalls, hiring is frozen and investments are put on hold. Firms cannot thrive and the economy will not return to health until people can afford to buy the things they need.

The nation also needs jobs—it needs people with jobs who are paying their income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes. Tax revenues have fallen and government budget deficits have exploded because people are not working. To get deficits under control, we must put people back to work, back to earning money and back to paying taxes. Job creation must be our nation’s highest priority.

The nation’s official jobless rate is 9.8 percent, or nearly one in 10 workers. But the official count only includes people who are actively looking for work. Someone who has given up and stopped looking is not counted. Older workers who have declared themselves “retired” when they had planned to continue working are not counted. Another 9 million people are working part-time when they want full-time work. All together, more than 28 million people, or more than one in six potential workers, are either unemployed or under-employed. This more comprehensive, “real” count is nearly twice the official one.

A federal program to create millions of needed jobs will be costly. But in this very wealthy nation, the money could be found if jobs were our highest priority. Congress could have ended the Bush tax cuts for the 2 percent of taxpayers with the highest incomes, or raised the estate tax to the level it was in previous years. But a Congress that chooses instead to extend these tax breaks for the wealthy cannot honestly claim there is no money for jobs. There is money. But it is funding tax breaks for the rich, not jobs for the unemployed.

There are other potential sources of money for jobs, ways to raise money that also strengthen the economy and close tax loopholes. We could put a tax on financial transactions that would bring in money while also reducing speculation and strengthening the financial system. We could tax capital gains (money made from selling stock and other investments) at the same rate as we tax wages and salaries. We could tax hedge fund managers at least at the same rate as we tax their secretaries.

Working people have a clear choice. We can either beg Santa for jobs (and many of us have already tried that one) or we can come together and demand that our elected officials do what’s right for working families, businesses and our nation: Create jobs.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About The Author: Edith Rasell is on the national staff of the United Church of Christ serving as Minister for Economic Justice in Justice and Witness Ministries. She works with UCC congregations around the country as well as national and international organizations to bring greater economic justice to people in the U.S. and around the world, especially the poor and marginalized. Read more about Edith’s work on the UCC Economic Justice home page.

New Global Report: The Power of Unions to Improve Wages

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

Image: Kate ThomasA new global report by the International Labour Office (ILO) provides the latest evidence that failing to get more money into the hands of working people undermines economic recovery. The report shows that throughout 177 countries where data was collected, the growth in real average monthly wages declined from 2.8 percent before the crisis in 2007, to 1.5 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively, in 2008 and 2009.

From a positive frame of view, the report also suggests the economic crisis could provide an opportunity to improve wages in developing countries. One way to do this is through the power of unions.

ILO’s report found that low pay is much less prevalent in countries with higher levels of union membership.

Wages are better aligned with productivity in countries where collective bargaining covers more than 30 per cent of employees, and minimum wages reduce inequality in the bottom half of the wage distribution.

“Unions play a vital role in linking wages to productivity growth, so higher union density would help to reduce the incidence of low pay,” explained Erin Weir, a senior economist at the International Trade Union Confederation.

Download the global report here.

This article was originally posted on SEIU.

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.

Employee Rights Short Takes: Race Discrimination, 5.8 Milllion Dollar Verdict, Breach of Contract Damages And More

Friday, December 24th, 2010

ellen simonHere are a few short takes about some employment cases worth noting this month:

EEOC Files Lawsuit Against Kaplan Higher Education Corp. Claiming Race Discrimination

The EEOC announced last week that it filed a class action race discrimination case against Kaplan Higher Education Corp. The suit alleges that since at least 2008, Kaplan rejected applicants based on their credit history and that this practice has an unlawful discriminatory impact because of race. The EEOC further claims that the practice is neither job-related nor justified by business necessity and therefore violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

These kinds of discrimination lawsuits are known as “disparate impact” cases and are often the legal foundation upon which class action discrimination cases are premised. The claim arises when an employer’s practice or policy, though neutral on its face, has a disparate impact on a group which is protected under one or more of  the civil rights statutes. For more about disparate impact cases, see here.

There has been much discussion about the use of credit history as a prerequisite for hiring and its disparate impact on minorities though we haven’t seen many lawsuits challenging the practice.

It will be interesting to follow this litigation and see how Kaplan justifies its policy to check credit history as a job related business necessity. The outcome of this litigation could have a significant impact on future higher practices nationwide. For more about the case, read the NY Times article here.

El Paso Employee Wins 5.8 Million Dollar Discrimination Verdict

An El Paso, Texas jury awarded Mark Duncan, a white benefits supervisor, 5.8 million dollars in a discrimination case against his former employer, El Paso Electric.

According to the El Paso Times, Duncan worked for El Paso Electric for six years and had a good employment history with no record of discipline. He was fired in December of 2007 after his life was threatened during an altercation with a company human resources manager.

Even though Duncan was cleared of any wrongdoing the company fired him along with the human resource manager.

Duncan claimed he was fired because the company feared a lawsuit from the Hispanic human resource manager and that it got rid of him (“the white guy”) to create a defense.

The jury agreed with Duncan and awarded him $129,913 in past lost wages; $699,196 in future lost earnings; $5000 in compensatory damages; and 5 million in punitive damages. El Paso Electric plans to file motions to set aside and reduce the verdict according to newspaper reports.

It certainly looks like whoever made the decision to fire Duncan either forgot or didn’t know that white employees can be victims of race discrimination too.

Two Decisions Worth Noting

In Helpin v.Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania addressed an issue of damages which can be very helpful to other employees down the road.

Mark Helpin, a dentist and professor, won a lawsuit for breach of contract against the University of Pennsylvania and an award of over four million dollars.

Helpin claimed that he was constructively discharged without “just cause” in violation of his contract and that Penn had improperly failed to continue to pay him 50% of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia dental clinic profits to which he was entitled. In a great discussion of future earnings, lost business profits, and the propriety of the “total offset approach” to the calculation of those damages, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the award.

Under the total offset approach, it is assumed that the effect of the future inflation rate will completely offset the interest rate, thereby eliminating the need to discount an award to present value. It has been adopted by some, but not most courts, but I expect so see more of its application in opinions to come.

For anyone involved in a case with a large future damages component, this opinion is both interesting and important and one worth sharing with any expert economists prior to his or her testimony.

In Quinlan v. Curtisss-Wright Corp. the New Jersey Supreme Court issued an extremely important and helpful decision which addresses the situation in which an employee takes company documents which bolster his or her  discrimination claim.

Joyce Quinlan was the Executive Director of Human Resources for Curtiss-Wright. She filed a lawsuit claiming that she was passed over for a promotion because of gender discrimination.

Quinlan copied files — over 1800 documents — which supported her claim and gave them to her lawyers.

The company found out during discovery in her pending case  that she copied the documents and and fired her (although it did not fire her right away). It claimed that she stole company property in violation of the company’s code of conduct and therefore the discharge was justified.

Quinlian amended her lawsuit to add a retaliation claim. The case was tried and the jury awarded her more that 5.4 million dollars in compensatory damages and over 4.5 million dollars in punitive damages.

The case went to New Jersey Supreme Court which ruled in her favor this month. It upheld the trial court’s determination that Quinlan’s copying and retaining the company’s documents was not “protected conduct” and affirmed the jury’s finding that her firing was retaliatory.

In line with several federal court decisions, it adopted a “flexible totality of the circumstances approach” which sets forth seven factors to be considered in determining whether an employee is permitted to take and use documents belonging to his or her employer.

While this is a very good decision for employees, those who feel their employment rights may have been violated still need to be very cautious about taking company documents in violation of a company policy, even if the documents bolster their claims.  The law is tricky and changing, and it’s  best to seek counsel and get advice before it’s too late.

Both of these cases represent significant victories for the the plaintiffs and their lawyers.

This article was originally posted on Employee Rights Post.

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.

Worst City Policies of 2010

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

amytraub4Corruption Takes a Toll in Bell
Progressives know government can be a powerful force for good in people’s lives. So it’s particularly devastating when the people charged with upholding the public trust — local officials with the potential to improve the lives of their constituents — instead betray the public. The year’s most notorious case of municipal corruption occurred in the town of Bell, California, a working-class community outside of Los Angeles. The city’s highest ranking officials secretly paid themselves exorbitant salaries and benefits, misappropriated city funds, and gave themselves illicit low-interest loans, according to criminal allegations and reports by the Los Angeles Times. To add insult to injury, the Bell case provided the Right with a pretext to attack the wages and benefits of rank-and-file public workers, suggesting that teachers and sanitation workers (who wouldn’t see Bell-style compensation if they worked for a century) were similarly compromised. For destroying public trust and providing yet another revolting example of people at the top abusing their power, the corrupt practices of Bell officials rings out as one of the worst policies of 2010.

Blood from a Stone in New York
It might be enough make Ebenezer Scrooge squirm. In New York City the homeless population has grown to 36,600, up from 33,600 five years ago. At the same time the, city has cut services for the homeless and plans to further reduce funding for the Department of Homeless Services by $19 million over the next 18 months. But when the city announced its plan to charge working homeless families rent for sleeping in city shelters the public outcry was instantaneous. City officials insisted the program was an effort to instill greater responsibility in homeless families. But as one homeless advocate pointed out, “They are taking money… that could otherwise be used to help themselves get out of the shelter system. We’re dealing with the poorest people, the people who are the most in need, and we’re asking them to pay for a shelter of last resort.” Under intense pressure, the city has since changed its stance. Working homeless families are now encouraged to put part of their income into savings. But for attempting to place an even more onerous burden on the poorest of the working poor, New York City’s plan to charge homeless families rent finds a home among the worst policies of 2010.

Who Turned Out the Lights in Colorado Springs?
Smacked by the recession, many cities faced revenue shortfalls and tough budget choices in 2010. But few towns resorted the type of draconian service cutbacks seen in Colorado Springs, where residents voted against a property tax increase and the town instead opted to turn off streetlights (although residents who can afford to could choose to reactive their lights); shrink the police department any rely on private taxicabs to help with law enforcement; and leave neighborhood parks to wither (people with time and resources can volunteer to maintain their own local green spaces). “We did have a transit system,” the Vice-Mayor told NPR. “That’s gone almost completely now.” Many commentators denounced Colorado Springs as an object lesson in the consequences of anti-tax extremism, but the city’s small-government stance hides an inconvenient truth: a major source of Colorado Springs’ economic strength is its reliance on the military and other state and federal public employment to anchor the local labor market. For gutting public services in accordance with a narrow, me-first ideology, Colorado Springs’ cuts join our list of the worst policies of 2010.

Anti-Immigrant Fever in Fremont
In January, Kris Kobach will become Kansas’ new Secretary of State, but his destructive influence already extends far beyond the borders of the Sunflower State. For the last several years, Kobach has made a cottage industry of advancing harsh city and state anti-immigrant statutes characterized by high municipal costs, significant damage to the local economy, and tremendous potential for discrimination against anyone who “looks” like they might be an unauthorized immigrant. This year, a Kobach-written ordinance was enacted in the town of Fremont, Nebraska, which banned hiring or renting to unauthorized immigrants. Although implementation has been blocked by a lawsuit, the ordinance’s divisive impact is already being felt. Many of the city’s long-time officials are resigning or retiring, noting that the immigration fight “wears you down.” Taxpayers also feel the bite: the town raised property taxes in anticipation of an expensive legal battle. For exemplifying what one local attorney called “the power of fear” as it faced an increase in (predominantly legal) Latino residents, Fremont’s anti-immigrant ordinance is one of the worst of 2010.

Wal-Mart’s Broken Promises in Chicago
It’s no secret that mega-retailer Wal-Mart desperately wants to get a foothold in urban markets. Similarly well-known is Wal-Mart’s dismal record on workers’ rights and its devastating impact on small businesses. New Wal-Mart stores have been shown to destroy nearly as many jobs as they create, push other stores out of business, and to drive down wages for workers throughout the entire community. In Chicago, where the retail chain has ambitions to open “several dozen” stores, Wal-Mart’s strategy included buying off community leaders with charitable donations and splitting union solidarity by pitting construction unions versus retail unions. But most shamefully, Wal-Mart reneged on an agreement it had made with the unions and city leaders that helped secure City Council approval of its second Chicago store. City Aldermen and labor leaders thought they had an unwritten agreement with Wal-Mart to pay workers 50 cents above minimum wage and to give workers a minimum 40 cent raise after the first year. They thought wrong. The same day that the store was approved, Wal-Mart announced that there was, in fact, no wage deal. To Wal-Mart, for breaking a promise, and to the political leaders who failed to get a binding deal, the approval of Wal-Mart in Chicago is one of this year’s worst city policies.

John Petro contributed to this article.

This article was originally posted on DMI Blog,

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers.

Proposed NLRB Rule Requires Employers to Post Workers’ Rights

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010

Image: Mike HallMost workers have seen notices about their right to a minimum wage or safe workplace posted in the company break room or elsewhere on the job. Employers are required to post those notices by federal law.

But there is no requirement for employers to post any sort of notice about workers’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), including the right to form a union. Now, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is proposing a rule that would require employers to post such notices in the workplace.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says the proposed rule is “a common sense policy needed in today’s workplace.”

Every working person in America deserves to know his or her rights… [The rule]…ensures that workers’ rights are effectively communicated in the workplace. It is necessary in the face of widespread misunderstanding about the law and many workers’ justified fear of exercising their rights under it.

According to the proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, the NLRB believes that

many employees protected by the NLRA are unaware of their rights under the statute. The intended effects of this action are to increase knowledge of the NLRA among employees, to better enable the exercise of rights under the statute, and to promote statutory compliance by employers and unions.

Federal contractors must post such notices and the new proposed rule mirrors that requirement. The NLRB says notices would inform workers that they have

the right to act together to improve wages and working conditions, to form, join and assist a union, to bargain collectively with their employer, and to choose not to do any of these activities. It provides examples of unlawful employer and union conduct and instructs employees how to contact the NLRB with questions or complaints.

Says Trumka:

When workers know their rights, they can make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

Click here for the proposed rule and here for a fact sheet and more information about the proposed rule from the NLRB.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

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. He 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.

Poor Leaders Can Decrease Worker Productivity By Up to 40 Percent

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

Mark Harkebe

As Newswise reports, based on employee engagement research by Florida State University business school professor Wayne Hochwarter,

recession-based uncertainty has encouraged many business leaders to pursue self-serving behaviors at the expense of those that are considered mutually beneficial or supportive of organizational goals.

This plays out in behaviors that Hochwarter’s team classified using the biblical Seven Deadly Sins as a framework.  While the percentages attached to each of those “behavioral sins,” based on feedback from more than 700 mid-level workers, is interesting, what appears further down in Newswise’s article caught my attention more from a productive workplace standpoint: FSU found that employees with leaders who committed any of these “sins” said they cut back on their contributions by 40%.  Notably, they were also:

  • 66% less likely to make creative suggestions, and
  • 75% more likely to pursue other job opportunities.

Hochwarter’s findings tell me that workplace qualities that some leaders might consider as soft (or at least far down on the totem pole of what they need to worry about day to day), such as trust, respect, and fairness, are not just “nice to do’s” – they have a real impact on product/service delivery and quality, and company spending on recruiting and retraining.

This is one of the reasons that Winning Workplaces revised our Top Small Company Workplaces award application for 2011 to take a more in-depth look at how things like rewards/recognition and employee leadership development strategies impact business results.  Year after year of our small workplace award program, we see that happier, more highly engaged employees lead to better outcomes, while the opposite lead to a path of lower profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace.

This post is cross-posted on the Winning Workplaces Blog.

About The Author: Mark Harbeke is Director of Content Development for Winning Workplace. He helps write and edit Winning Workplaces’ e-newsletter, IDEAS, and provides graphic design and marketing support. Mark holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Drake University.

The Biggest Lie of 2010, And What We Can Learn From It

Monday, December 20th, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerPolitifact, the fact-checking web site of the St. Petersburg Times, announced the biggest lie of 2010. But it doesn’t stop there, the NYTimes, FactCheck.org and a number of other experts agree with Politifact’s analysis.

The lie? That the government will be taking over health care.

I’ll leave it to Politifact to debate the “why.” I’m more interested in the “how” and what we can learn from this that will help us to survive today’s challenging workplace.

Repetition was probably the one factor that pushed this phrase to the top of the list. In 2010 alone, “government takeover” was mentioned 28 times in the Washington Post, 77 times in Politico and 79 times on CNN. Add to this countless times on a variety of congressional and activist web sites.

Beyond your beliefs about health care, and the politics surrounding, is one simple fact, views can be shaped by a message being said over, and over, and over again.

Which reminds me of a previous blog that I wrote about Google. Remember, Google is not an arbiter of what’s true or not true, it’s fancy algorithms only can tell you what’s popular.

If you’ve ever locked horns with a nemesis at work, you’ll learn this lesson painfully. When someone has a lot of anger and time, they can do a huge amount of mischief at work by simply repeating something over and over again.

Which is why when someone starts spreading a mistruth about you at work, you need to respond to it. Because what could seem outrageous to everyone today, can become a “health care takeover” juggernaut in just a matter of days.

Listen to the grapevine. And take out your pencil to try to erase the parts that aren’t true, while you still can.

I’d hope that most of you don’t take this as a strategy to get ahead, but rather as insight about the dynamics of how negative messages can resonate. And more importantly, how their damage can be limited.

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.

Best City Policies of 2010

Friday, December 17th, 2010

amytraub4Denver Sparks Parental Involvement En Espanol
The experts agree: parental involvement has strong positive effects on students’ achievement in school. When parents are engaged with their child’s education, attendance improves, grades and test scores go up, and graduation rates rise. But how can school districts involve parents who don’t speak English? In Denver, where three in five students are Latino and many have parents with poor English skills, the school system has taken to the radio waves. Through an hour-long weekly program called “Educa” (educate) the Denver Public Schools connect with Spanish-speaking parents about school policies, events, and issues in public education. Parents can also call in with questions about their children’s school and the education system. The first-of-its-kind program broadcasts on three popular Spanish-language radio stations and has more than doubled its audience — to 54,200 unique listeners — over just a few months. For engaging immigrant parents in a format that speaks to them, the Denver schools’ multicultural outreach efforts come in loud in clear on our list of the best policies of 2010.

Good Jobs Prevail in Pittsburgh
Eager for new development and jobs, cities commonly give developers multi-million dollar tax breaks to sweeten the pot and to get shovels in the ground. But when subsidies are given to projects that create low-wage jobs that keep families in poverty, taxpayers get the short end of the stick. Workers making poverty-level wages at publicly subsidized developments must still rely on public assistance like food stamps, Medicaid, or rental assistance. The result is economic dependence more than economic development. To make sure that taxpayer investments would pay off for city residents, Pittsburgh passed a common-sense piece of legislation: if a developer wanted tax breaks for a new development, workers in the new taxpayer-subsidized hotels, supermarkets, or office buildings must be paid the industry-standard prevailing wage. In an affirmation of the law’s successful implementation in Pittsburgh, the surrounding Allegheny County quickly adopted a similar law. For ensuring that public tax dollars create good jobs with decent wages, Pittsburgh’s prevailing wage law earns a spot on our list of 2010′s best public policies.

Less Lock-up in New York
Treating young offenders like hardened criminals makes no sense — sending a kid in trouble to a juvenile prison greatly increases that young person’s chance of becoming an adult offender. Detaining kids also costs more money than community-based programs, which have a much better track record of preventing future criminality. Luckily, New York City is moving to eliminate unnecessary detention for youthful offenders, many of whom would otherwise be locked up while simply awaiting trial. The city is putting more kids into effective community-based alternatives to detention and reserving secure detention for only the most violent youthful offenders. New assessment tools have been developed to determine which youth should be sent to secure detention and which would be better served in the community. The bottom line is that secure detention for youth is now seen as the option of last resort, rather than the default option. For doing what’s best for youth, the community, and the taxpayer, New York City’s juvenile justice reforms are among this year’s best public policies.

My Way or the Highway in Austin
n Austin, TX, whose frustrating traffic congestion provided the backdrop for the movie “Office Space,” drivers waste an average of one and a half days stuck in traffic every year. Some business leaders pushed for a conventional response to congestion: wider roads and more highways. But the city opted to go down a different path. Recognizing that they could never build enough highways to eliminate traffic congestion, lawmakers instead put a $90 million bond issue on the ballot to improve Austin’s existing streets and make them more hospitable to pedestrians and bicycles. According to blogger Austin Contrarian, “Most of Austin’s roads outside of the central core were laid when the city was more rural than urban. no sidewalks, no bicycle lanes, no sewers, no street trees. But once rural roads now cut through major population centers.” Austin voters approved the bonds on November 2nd. For affirming that transportation investments must include more than just new highway miles, Austin’s bond walks straight onto our list of the best policies of 2010.

Cleveland Sues the Banks
It’s the story of the decade: Ameriquest, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and other banks raked in record profits speculating on mortgages, pushing more and riskier home loans onto borrowers who clearly never had the means to pay them back. Then the house of cards collapsed. Foreclosure rates soared and cities were left to pick up the pieces. Arson, property deterioration, and crime in neighborhoods devastated by foreclosure imposed steep costs on municipalities just as the recession decimated their tax base. So some cities decided to fight back. The 2010 documentary “Cleveland vs. Wall Street” tells the story of one such fight, as the city of Cleveland sued more than twenty major banks for setting off a chain of events with negative consequences “entirely foreseeable by Wall Street.” When a federal appeals court rejected the case earlier this year, Cleveland announced it would continue its fight to the Supreme Court. For striving to hold Wall Street accountable for the devastation it wreaked in its neighborhoods, Cleveland’s suit wins a place on our best policy of 2010 list.

John Petro contributed to this article.

This article was originally posted on DMI Blog,

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers.

"We Can't Hire You. You're Overqualified!"

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Don  StraitsOne of my favorite cartoon characters is The Wizard of Id.  A few years ago I read one of the Wizard’s cartoon strips and it made such a profound impression I cut it out and saved it.  Darn!  I have misplaced it over the years.  However, I can remember the script almost word for word verbatim.

After completing an interview for a job, the Wizard is standing in front of the HR manager.  The HR manager says:  “We can’t hire you.  You’re over qualified.” The Wizard, looking very perplexed, responds:  “Just give me the job and I promise to act as stupid as all the rest of you.”

WOW.  The wisdom from the Wizard is awesome.  Let’s dig a little deeper into this issue.  Almost everyone can relate to the story.   After having an interview, time after time, the candidate is told he/she is overqualified.

When you start to think about this carefully, there is absolutely no intelligence behind the decision to only hire “qualified” people.  Why shouldn’t every corporation hire talent that is extraordinarily qualified for a position?  And in fact, the candidate may possess qualifications way beyond what are necessary.

The usual boilerplate excuses are:

  • “They will only work for us for a short period of time until they find something better.”
  • “They will not be satisfied at the compensation level we are willing to pay them.”
  • “We cannot pay them more than we have budgeted.”
  • “They will not work well within our corporate culture, probably making the other employees feel uncomfortable.”
  • “They will be difficult to manage since they will be working at a level far below their capabilities.”
  • “They will not be happy in the job since it will not be challenging for them.”

I have done extensive research on this subject, having conducted thousands of salary negotiations on behalf of my clients over the past 18 years.  I have also interviewed countless HR managers, department supervisors and senior executives on this subject.

I have come to the conclusion that the overwhelming real reason is direct supervisors feel intimidated by having staff that may be superior in their talent then that supervisor.  The supervisors feel threatened by talented, overqualified, staff persons.  They think that the talented persons may make the supervisors look bad, or, may, in fact, cause the supervisors to be fired and take over their jobs.  A frightening thought for the supervisors.

Therefore, corporations have policies that, perhaps unconsciously, weed out exceptional talent, hiring only the “qualified” person.

Progressive organizations, and I might add, the most successful organizations, hire the best talent possible.  They recognize that the “overqualified” person can probably bring motivation, ideas, efficiencies, wisdom, maturity and competence that is priceless.  It is a value proposition that an organization should embrace.

Let’s look at some of the “objections” to hiring overqualified people, as shallow as those objections may be.

  • If a person is overqualified, perhaps, because of the economy, they are willing to work at a lower compensation or job level then they have been accustomed to.  Maybe they will only stay for three to six months.  But in that period of time they will probably bring more value to the company than the qualified person would bring in three to six years.   I would personally take that overqualified person in a heart beat.
  • Or perhaps the overqualified person has had a great career and has reached a decision that they want to “slow down” a little bit.  Maybe they don’t want to travel as much and would welcome the opportunity to have regular hours…even spend evenings and weekends with the kids….or grandkids.
  • Maybe a young college graduate would be perfect for a bank teller job.  In today’s tough economy, they haven’t been able to find another job.  Yep, he/she is overqualified for the bank teller position.  But that person would probably bring an energy, enthusiasm, and intelligence to the job that would be assets to the bank.  And that person could potentially be the future leadership for that bank.
  • Another example might be the senior executive who cannot find another high level opportunity because of the lack of top positions.  So they apply for a job as a regional manager or department head.  Time after time they are turned down because they are overqualified.  In my humble opinion, they should be hired immediately.  The value proposition they could bring to the company in terms of innovation, efficiencies, expertise and maturity might be worth hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars in new revenue, productivity, or cost savings.

Further, I just read a post on a blog by Steven Burningham, a financial services leader.  He presents another outstanding perspective on hiring overqualified people.

So what about that intimidated supervisor?

The answer is simple, but the solution can be somewhat more difficult to achieve.  A visionary organization should implement training programs to teach supervisors how to manage talented and overqualified executives.  They should focus on how to leverage that talent as best as they possibly can.  Even if the talent leaves after several months, the company should do everything possible to benefit from their expertise.  Perhaps the talented people can be transferred to other positions at higher levels as opportunities present themselves.

Part of the training should help the supervisor understand that if they hire exceptionally talented people, then they make themselves look good.   They will be perceived as outstanding supervisors and leaders which will contribute to their own professional growth.  As the old saying goes:  “I don’t have to be smart, I just have to hire smart people.”

So I would like to challenge hiring executives to examine their hiring practices.  Do you want an organization that is filled with “Dilbert” clones, or are you willing to seek out exceptional talent that is probably overqualified, but that can invigorate an organization and drive accelerated growth?  The answer should be simple, but the majority will take the path of least resistance.

Seek out the best and the brightest.  Challenge conventional thinking.  Today’s tough economy requires that you do so.  Don’t let talent end up at the competitor’s doorstep.  Forward thinking, progressive organizations will be the winners.

This article was originally posted on Corporate Warriors.

About The Author: Don Straits founded Corporate Warriors more than 18 years ago, and has dedicated his career to helping people develop strategies to support their careers. If you would like to contact Don for coaching or seminar work, please do so at don@corporatewarriors.com. You can also find his website here.

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