Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for March, 2011

Do Workers with Criminal Backgrounds Deserve a Second Chance?

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Michelle ChenThe promise that 2011 will be a year of economic recovery rings hollow for the workers held back by their past. For many who’ve been in trouble with the law, not even a lifetime is enough to recover from a bad rap sheet.

A brand-new report by the National Employment Law Project shows that people with criminal backgrounds, even those who’ve paid their dues to the state, are unfairly shut out of employment opportunities and denied the second chance they need to overcome their past.

Today, about one in 100 adults in America are in the prison system. Prison releases have exceeded 700,000 per year, according to recent federal data . And many are headed for a job market where the vast majority of employers screen applicants for criminal histories. According to NELP, “more than one in four U.S. adults—roughly 65 million people—have an arrest or conviction that shows up in a routine criminal background check.” All that adds up to a dead end for people who have a criminal taint on their record.

In the midst of fierce competition for scarce jobs, a second chance is hard to come by for people with criminal backgrounds—which could range from an arrest for smoking a joint decades ago, to a more serious conviction for which a sentence has been fully served. NELP’s research reveals that employers across the country routinely post job ads that include blanket clauses disqualifying applicants with criminal records. A compilation of online job listings includes phrases like, “You must not have any felony or misdemeanor convictions on your record. Period.”

(Image via Ban the Box campaign, The Defenders Online)

(Image via Ban the Box campaign, The Defenders Online)

But civil rights advocates aren’t letting biased employers get the last word. They have launched legal challenges against these exclusionary hiring policies under the framework of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the basis of race, gender and other protected categories. Since blacks and Latinos are historically overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system—in arrest rates as well as length of the sentence—advocates argue that the words “need not apply” in effect act as a structural barrier to opportunity in communities of color.

The downward spiral of exclusion and marginalization is intensified when the job market is increasingly under the grip of mega-companies. People seeking entry-level jobs in their communities may be completely at the mercy harsh screening policies at major employers like Radioshack, Aramark, and, that bastion of legal rectitude, Bank of America.

There are reasonable arguments for screening applicants for criminal histories, particularly if employers have workplace security concerns. Yet, as NELP points out, there is often little if any connection between a rap sheet and the personality, goals or capacities of the person behind it. A minor drug charge during one’s youth may look like a glaring blight on an application form. But the employer who screens her out automatically will never hear the job-seeker explain in an interview how she’s been sober,  steadily employed for the past ten years, or how the police record was erroneous in the first place and never corrected.

The data, in fact, shows that giving the benefit of the doubt to people with less-than-pristine records pays dividends for employee, employer and society as a whole. In the long run, NELP argues:

The irony is that employers’ attempts to safeguard the workplace are not only barring many people who pose little to no risk, but they also are compromising public safety. As studies have shown, providing individuals the opportunity for stable employment actually lowers crime recidivism rates and thus increases public safety.

A few progressive employment and training programs have emerged to address some of these barriers, but social services alone cannot make up for the economic toll of a criminal justice system aimed at punishment and not rehabilitation, much less helping people build a future from a rough past.

In addition to racial disparities, exclusionary policies may have special impacts on women struggling to to reintegrate into work and family life after prison. A 2008 study published by University of California-Berkeley School of Law examined the economic prospects of formerly incarcerated women and found hidden obstacles that prevent them from staying employed (and out of jail).

When you peel back the stigma of a criminal record, you’ll find much more troubling histories underlying their struggles, including physical and sexual abuse, health problems, and the hardships of long-term separation from their children. Focus group studies with women in the Bay Area suggested that the social services and programs in their communities were inadequate for helping overcome these hurdles.

One of the lead researchers in the study, Monique Morris, told In These Times of how legal barriers to employment, coupled with misguided policies within prison, sometimes reach the height of absurdity:

In a number of instances, women were qualified to work in a field because of work experience while incarcerated, but precluded from working in that same area upon their release because of their criminal record. For example, a number of women worked as fire fighters while incarcerated. But they could not do that work on the outside.

According to the study’s analysis of job applications showing a woman had done time versus those that didn’t, “formerly incarcerated women were 31 percent less likely to receive a positive response from potential employers.”

The consequences go beyond the sting of rejection. When an unalterable stigma is combined with long-term unemployment, being permanently branded as a criminal can lead to crippling self-doubt, frustration, and in some cases, desperation that is deep enough to drive someone back into crime.

Over time, thousands of individuals who are asked to “check the box” on an application form are slowly drained of the will to put their lives back together. That only adds to the sense of hopelessness dogging the country’s working class—building a social prison that our “recovering” economy can ill afford.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen@inthesetimes.com.

This blog originally appeared In These Times on March 24, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Fired in real time: No soup for you.

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
Image: Bob RosnerWithin an hour or so of being fired, I somehow ended up at a Whole Foods grocery store. It wasn’t on my way home, so I’m not really sure how, or why, I ended up there.
Still partially in a fog, I was surprised to look down to see my hands pushing a grocery cart that was half full. Nothing special, milk, eggs and my favorite energy bars.
I felt nauseous. I thought to myself, you were just fired. You can’t afford this stuff, especially from Whole Foods. No, Mr. Ex Employee, for the foreseeable future you are sentenced to do all your shopping at Grocery Outlet.
With apologies to the poor supermarket stocker who had to put all the stuff in my cart away, I abandoned it toward the back of the store. But my journey was more complicated than just leaving the store. No there were shelves and shelves of temptation that were between me and the exit.
I decided to turn it into a game. How could I get out of the store without feeling the urge to buy anything? I realized that I was standing fifteen feet from the pet aisle. So I headed for an aisle where I couldn’t even buy something if I had a twenty-five dollar gift certificate in my hand. Whew.
Just as I was leaving the store an employee offered me a slice of pineapple. I took it and it tasted unusually good.
It sounds ridiculous, but exiting that store felt like a victory. I realized that I needed to unlearn a series of behaviors that I’d developed as a gainfully employed individual. I’d entered the shopopocalpse, it was time for some serious belt tightening.
So when I got home I shredded half of the credit cards that were in my wallet. I decided that I would never again carry more than $20 in cash. I decided to embrace frugality and to squeeze that sucker dry.
But I also realized that there was one place where I needed to be extravagant. I put a box near my front door and filled it with energy bars. My goal would be to carry a few with me every time I left my home. Because I realized that there are many people out there who are hurting far more than me. People who’ve lost their jobs, their homes and are living in their car or with relatives.
When that grocery worker offered me that pineapple, I remembered how I’d worked through lunch earlier on the day I was fired and I realized that I was starving. Unwilling to buy anything before I got home, I savored that piece of pineapple. That was the moment that I realized that although I had to be frugal in most parts of my life for the foreseeable future. I needed to look for opportunities to help out other struggling people.
That was one of the biggest surprises so far as a person recently fired.
My a-ha. Changing your lifestyle doesn’t mean that you have to give up living.
Next installment: A little bit pregnant
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.

Join March 29 Rally to Support Wal-Mart Women

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Image: James ParksHundreds of people will show their support outside the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, when the High Court hears oral arguments in what could become the largest class-action civil rights suit in U.S. history.

The Stand with the Women of Wal-Mart rally will take place as the nation’s highest court hears arguments on Wal-Mart v. Dukes to decide whether the case can move forward as a class action.

Ten years ago, a group of women who worked at Wal-Mart stores, led by Betty Dukes, filed a lawsuit alleging the corporation engaged in company-wide gender discrimination by paying women less than men, promoting fewer women to management positions and promoting male employees more quickly. The case, now a class action, has made its way to the Supreme Court.

Wal-Mart is challenging the decision by a lower court to allow the women employed at Wal-Mart stores across the country to join together in a class action lawsuit to challenge pay and promotion practices that discriminate against women.

If Wal-Mart succeeds in keeping these women from joining together, the already uphill battle for women to fight pay discrimination will get even worse. But If the women prevail, their case will become the largest class-action civil rights suit in the nation’s history, with some 1.6 million female Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club employees.

A coalition of women’s, workers’ and religious groups are sponsoring the rally, including the AFL-CIO constituency group, the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).

In a statement, the American Association of University Women (AAUW), another rally sponsor, says class action can send a strong message to employers to follow the law in the first place. Lisa Maatz, AAUW’s director of public policy and government relations, says:

This case illuminates the dirty little secret that women know all too well — that pay discrimination is alive and well and undermining the economic security of American families.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was 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 has worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has 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.

This blog originally appeared in ALFCIO on March 28, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Radiation in the Homeland: Honeywell's Guilty Plea Shows Importance of Unions

Monday, March 28th, 2011

mike elkAttention is now turned to the radiation being released in Japan following the massive earthquake there this month. Unfortunately, Americans don’t have to look abroad to discover this kind of frightening scenario: This month, defense contractor Honeywell pleaded guilty to releasing radioactive material into the community of Metropolis, Ill. The episode shows, once again, the importance of a unionized workforce for providing for the safety of workers.

Honeywell International Inc. pleaded guilty two weeks ago in federal court “to one felony offense for knowingly storing hazardous radioactive waste without a permit in violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).” The waste was stored in such a way that large quantities of radioactive KOH mud were leaching into the water stream of the nearby Ohio River. Honeywell was fined $11.8 million by the federal government.

At the Honeywell uranium facility, air emissions from the UF6 conversion process are scrubbed with potassium hydroxide (KOH) prior to being released into the atmosphere. As a result of this process, a type of radioactive mud settles on the scrubbers which have to be released. This material, called “KOH mud,” was stored in drums in the open air behind the uranium plant in Metropolis. According to Mitch Lagerstorm, a former Honeywell environmental safety officer at the Metropolis plant, from there it leaked into the Ohio River, which runs next to the plant. (The EPA did not find the radioactive waste leaked into the river, however.)

Last year, crosses were placed near the entrance to Honeywell's uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., to represent past employees who died of cancer. Workers represented by the United Steelworkers continue to be locked-out by the corporation.   (Stephanie S. Cordle/Post-Dispatch)

Last year, crosses were placed near the entrance to Honeywell's uranium conversion plant in Metropolis, Ill., to represent past employees who died of cancer. Workers represented by the United Steelworkers continue to be locked-out by the corporation. (Stephanie S. Cordle/Post-Dispatch)

Honeywell knew that because the pH of KOH mud generated at the facility was greater than or equal to 12.5, it is classified as corrosive hazardous waste. Honeywell thus illegally stored radioactive material, and by doing so threatened the long-term health of the nearby community.

By the time EPA special agents raided the facility in April 2009, there were nearly 7,500 drums of illegally stored radioactive mud on site. As a result of the crackdown, Honeywell is being forced to store the radioactive mud in a way that is not harmful to the local community. Workers played a key role in making sure that mud wasn’t stored radioactively.

Over the years, workers notified Honeywell of the problem on many occasions. At a town hall meeting in 2007, John Jacobs, a union employee, confronted Honeywell CEO David Cote about the matter in person. An upset David Cote quickly ended the meeting when several workers said if something wasn’t done, they would notify the company. Workers later did play a role in blowing the whistle on the lockout.

Many in the union feel that this particular incident led to Cote’s desire to lockout union workers and attempt to bust the union at Honeywell.

This could explain why Cote has spent $60 million to keep the workers locked out, when it would only cost $20 million over the course of their contract to provide what the workers wanted. Cote might not want to have a unionized workforce at his uranium plant that could report potential safety violations to the authorities.

This week, as we watch events unfold in Japan and observe the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, it’s important we remember the role that unions have in preventing tragic accidents. Labor must make the argument that it’s in the public best interest for workers to have the freedom, through unions, to hold employers accountable.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times as well as Alternet, The Nation, The Atlantic and The American Prospect.

This blog originally appeared In These Times on March 22, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Foundry Workers Strike to Save Their Healthcare

Friday, March 25th, 2011

david baconBerkeley, Calif.—A strike of more than 450 workers in one of the largest foundries on the west coast brought production to a halt Sunday night, at Pacific Steel Castings.  The work stoppage, which began at midnight, has continued with round-the-clock picketing at the factory gates in West Berkeley.

Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union (GMP) has been negotiating a new labor agreement at Pacific Steel for several months. The old agreement expired on Sunday night.

The strike was caused by demands from the company’s owners for concessions and takeaway proposals in contract negotiations. Those include:

  • requiring workers to pay at least 20% of the cost of their medical insurance, amounting to about $300 per month per employee.
  • a wage freeze for the first two years of the agreement, and tiny raises after that.
  • eliminating the ability of workers to use their seniority to bid for overtime, allowing criteria including speedup, discrimination and favoritism.
david_bacon_strike_3222011-432x248

Striking Pacific Steel Castings workers on Berkeley's new picket line, outside their foundry on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. (Photo by David Bacon)

“All eight other foundries in the Bay Area have agreed to a fair contract,” said Ignacio De La Fuente, GMP international vice-president. “Workers at Pacific Steel haven’t had a raise in the last two years, in order to help the company pay for increases in health plan costs.  Pacific Steel is now alone among the rest in trying to make its workers give back $300 a month.”

The $300/month would mean an approximately 10 percent cut in wages for most workers at the foundry.

Joel Soto, a member of the union’s negotiating committee, has worked eight years at Pacific Steel, and has a wife, 2-year-old child and another on the way.  Soto said, “We’ve been trying to save money for a house. If we have to give up $300 a month, we’ll have to continue renting.  My wife and I both support our parents, and that $300 cut is what we’re able to give them now that they’re old.  And with my wife pregnant, we can’t do without that medical care.”

Benito Navarro has 10 years at the foundry, and a wife and son. “That $300 is what I pay for my car to get to work. I’m the only one in my family working, so if we don’t  have that money, I’ll have to give up the car.  But I’d rather eat than drive.”

On both Monday and Tuesday dozens of Berkeley police, with helmets and face shields, shoved and hit strikers as they attempted to help the company bring trucks full of castings out of its struck facility. On Tuesday, one striker, Norma Garcia, who is seven months pregnant, was struck in the abdomen and taken to a hospital.

“It is inexcusable that Berkeley is spending precious municipal resources on providing protection for this business, and opening the city to liability through these unprovoked actions by police against strikers,” said De La Fuente.

“That violence isn’t necessary,” added Soto. “We’re just struggling for our rights. I wouldn’t be so surprised to see this in other cities, but Berkeley?”  Another worker showed the swelling on his arm he said was caused by a blow from a police baton.

Workers feel additionally betrayed by the company because they and their union testified before the Berkeley City Council three years ago.  They urged the city to draft environmental regulations that would allow the foundry to continue operating while installing needed pollution control equipment.

Pacific Steel Casting Co. is a privately held corporation, the third-largest steel foundry in the United States. Its large corporate customers include vehicle manufacturers, like Petebilt Corp., and big oil companies, including BARCO.  The company has been very productive in recent years, despite the recession. It chose not to comment.

About the Author: David Bacon is writer, photographer and former union organizer. He is the author of Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (2008), Communities Without Borders (2006), and The Children of NAFTA: Labor Wars on the US/Mexico Border (2004). His website is at dbacon.igc.org.

This Blog Originally Appeared In These Times on March 23, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

The Triangle Fire 100 Years Later: Lessons Learned and Unlearned

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Richard GreenwaldThis Friday is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Fire. On March 25, 1911, 146 mostly young immigrant women died in a terrible factory fire in Manhattan. The tragedy, at the time the deadliest ever in New York City’s history, changed America.

While the nation learned a valuable lesson from the fire, it was a lesson, frankly, it did not need to learn. At least not this way.

It was a Saturday, like many other work days, in a 60-plus hour work-week. Workers found themselves behind sewing machines, toiling for 12 hour days. They were charged for electricity, needles and any damages. The working conditions were, by any measure, subhuman.

The factory in question was notorious. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was the largest factory of women’s shirtwaists and blouses. During the 1909 strike, the Uprising of 20,000, Triangle resorted to violence, hiring thugs and prostitutes to viciously assault pickets. While almost all other shops in the industry settled with the union, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, the owners of the Triangle factory refused.

Many of the victims of the fire were trapped on the 8th floor of the factory, and jumped from windows to their deaths on sidewalks below. Crowds gathered from adjacent Washington Square Park as the tragedy unfolded.   (Photo courtesy International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union)

Many of the victims of the fire were trapped on the 8th floor of the factory, and jumped from windows to their deaths on sidewalks below. Crowds gathered from adjacent Washington Square Park as the tragedy unfolded. (Photo courtesy International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union)

Many wondered: If the strikers had been successful at Triangle, how many of those 146 might have survived? Many union members knew the answer, and demanded that their fellow workers not be forgotten, that they not die in vain.

Because of their demands, visible on the streets of New York as tens of thousands of workers participated in a mass funeral days after the fire, preasure mounted.

Those protests led the State’s political machine, Tammany Hall, to take notice. The Democratic Party, long in control of the state, passed legislation creating the Factory Investigating Commission. That commission, co-chaired by Al Smith and Robert Wagner, made recommendations to transform the state’s labor, building and fire codes. They investigated working conditions and workers’ safety and health.

Unlike many similar commissions, because Smith and Wagner controlled the state legislature, as Smith was Assembly Speaker and Wagner was majority leader of the Senate, they forced 36 of the recommendations into law. These laws made New York a model of progressive reform. These laws protected workers and gave unions a legislative friend in the urban Democrats.

The fire taught the city, state and the nation a lesson: that the state had a responsibility to protect workers and that an unchecked free market system might not be fully compatible with democracy. Frances Perkins, then a young social worker—soon to become chief investigator of the Commission and then Commissioner of Labor for New York and then Secretary of Labor—recalled the Triangle Fire as the starting point for New Deal.

But 100 years later, have we forgotten the tragic lesson of the Triangle Fire? This year alone, 5,000 workers will loose their lives on the jobs. Many of these deaths are preventable, through better and more rigorous enforcement of current laws. Mine disasters, oil rig explosions and construction workers falling to their death are all too common. In postmortem investigations, we find that regulations were either inadequate or simply not enforced. We have slashed the budgets of regulatory agencies to the point that they can not function.

How many more workers need to die before we come to our senses? Do we need another Triangle Fire? I hope not. I hope that we can learn from history. So, on March 25, I hope you stop, remember and act on the lessons of the fire. 146 innocent workers died. Let’s not let them have died in vain.

About the Author: Richard Greenwald is a labor historian and social critic. He is currently a professor of history at Drew University. His essays have appeared in In These Times, The Progressive, The Wall Street Journal among others. He is currently writing a book on the rise of freelancing and is co-editing a book on the future of work for The New Press, which features essays from the county’s leading labor scholars and public intellectuals.

This blog originally appearing In These Times on March 22, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Migrant Refugees Swept into Revolutions in Libya and Bahrain

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Michelle ChenOver the past several weeks, the images emerging from the Middle East and North Africa have shocked and awed Western audiences, who had never seen, or bothered to notice, the massive potential of people power to challenge the rule of ossified dictators.

But the protest movements across the region have also shed light on less glorious struggles that pervade stratified Arab societies. If the young protesters represent the rise of civil society forces, the imported migrant laborers caught in the crossfire reflect the often-hidden economic and ethnic dimensions to the region’s power struggles.

On the besieged borders of Libya and in the ghettoized neighborhoods of Bahrain, migrants have found themselves in the peculiar position of being refugees from countries that were always alien to them. As the fighting escalated in Libya last week, the aid organization BRAC reported on migrants desperate to flee the country:

Nearly 70,000 Bangladeshi nationals were residing in Libya as migrant workers when violence erupted last month. As the conflict intensified, thousands fled to neighboring countries, where they face congested borders and overcrowded refugee camps and airports. Thus far, only 20,000 migrants have been able to return to Bangladesh – most of them heavily in debt and with no ready means of earning a living.

After leaving his workplace in the western Libyan town of Zawiyah, 28 year-old Bangladeshi migrant steelworker Mohammed Nienn joined mounting crowds at the Tunisian border at a displaced persons camp known as Choucha. Having languished for over a week in hopes of catching a flight out, he told the UN news service:

”My family tells me to get home as quickly as possible… But it’s not as simple as that. There are so many Bangladeshis here. The wait to go to the airport is quite long.”

Mohamed, a Somali from Mogadishu, spoke to the constant state of dispossession that follows refugees who go from one warzone to the next:

Every day I watch people board buses to the airport….But I’m not envious; their situation is just very different to mine. Even if I was offered the chance to go back to Somalia, I wouldn’t want to anyway. I’m just waiting to find out where I will end up.

Thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers who recently crossed into Tunisia from Libya walk to a United Nations displacement camp March 04, 2011 in Ras Jdir, Tunisia. Tens of thousands of guest workers from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh and other countries are fleeing to the border of Tunisia to escape the violence.   (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Thousands of Bangladeshi migrant workers who recently crossed into Tunisia from Libya walk to a United Nations displacement camp March 04, 2011 in Ras Jdir, Tunisia. Tens of thousands of guest workers from Egypt, Tunisia, Bangladesh and other countries are fleeing to the border of Tunisia to escape the violence. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

International authorities counted some 17,000 refugees at Choucha, “10,000 from Bangladesh and the remaining 7,000 mostly from sub-Saharan African countries.” Repatriation efforts have varied widely, with some countries coordinating efforts to bring nationals home, while others have no home to return to—as in the case of Somalis and Palestinians who settled in Libya when it was relatively safe.

The plight of migrants is just one facet of the humanitarian crisis, but they embody the challenges to advancing a revolution in the face of social polarization and cultural dissonance. Even within Choucha, Bangladeshi and African refugees began to self-segregate as different groups struggled to make the most of tight supplies and food rations.

In Bahrain, where protests have been viciously crushed by government and Saudi forces, the country’s oil wealth is filtered along sectarian and class lines.. At the base of the stratified social structure are Bangladeshi immigrants, working in low-wage sectors like construction. According to Mother Jones, the tiny country is tightly parceled: “Sunni Muslims, westerners, Shiite Muslims, and South Asian migrant workers (who are not citizens but constitute almost half of Bahrain’s population) generally live in separate neighborhoods.”

Migrant workers are among the most vulnerable in the current political turbulence. Indeed,  long before the protests the human rights situation for migrants in Bahrain was already dire, in some ways anticipating the terror  the monarch has now unleashed on its own citizenry.

For all the promise of democratic change washing over many Arab countries, many underlying social rifts have ruptured–a telling reminder that even a rebellion from the “right side of history” can betray regressive views that often stew under the grip of dictatorship.

Black Africans in Libya (as opposed to ethnic Arabs), who have long suffered unequal treatment as migrants, have reportedly been brutally targeted on the suspicion that they are foreign mercenaries hired by Gaddafi to suppress protests.

Black Agenda Report commentator Glen Ford rounded up reports on racial violence in Libya, and drew a sobering reflection on the emergent “Arab re-awakening”:

In the turmoil, what is also re-awakened – or never really dormant – is a “problematic” form of anti-black racism that appears, at least in some parts of the North African Maghreb, endemic and woven into the fabric of Arab nationalism.

The (re)emergence of Arab nationalism nevertheless represents a catastrophe for U.S. imperialism, which abhors all nationalisms except its own as it seeks to bend every national aspiration to the will of capital and its war machinery. However, the racism that is clearly manifest in Libya’s current dynamic is also a huge impediment to pan-African solidarity, inviting new waves of imperial mischief on the continent. On that score, we should have no illusions.

In reality, the migrants who take the dirtiest jobs in these oil-rich nations have a lot in common with the revolutionaries risking everything for emancipation. As Mohamed the Somali refugee said, they’re all waiting to find out where they will end up. A parallel form of dislocation stirred native-born Bahrainis and Libyans to rise up and reclaim their country from tyranny.

The rebellions don’t merely call for regime change or constitutional reform; people seek the sovereignty and dignity that have long been denied to them. Though frequently ignored in nationalist political clashes, migrants share in this struggle too, whether or not they see themselves as part of the civil conflict. They’re pitted against the dictatorship of global capital that subsumed their repressive host countries. Both migrants and citizens alike have endured wholesale disenfranchisement—the disempowerment that was first expressed by the defining act of protest that touched off the “Arab spring”: the self-annihilation of a desperate young worker in Tunis.

Some migrants are raising their voices as stakeholders in political conflicts as well. A group of Filipino migrant workers with the advocacy group Migrante-Middle Eas has denounced the air-strikes on Libya as “done in bad faith just to pursue their own self-serving geopolitical and economic agenda in Libya and the entire Middle East and North African region.”

Refugees from America’s former colony should know: this latest tide of displacement is just more proof that in an age of fluid borders and global capital, real revolution is anchored in the dignity of all workers, wherever they’ve come from, and wherever they’re going.

About the Author: Michelle Chen‘s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

This blog originally appeared In These Times on March 21, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Fired in real time: The perp walk.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerI’ve had countless people write to me, as a workplace columnist, to describe the security guard standing next to them as they packed up their soon-to-be-former desk and painfully did a final perp walk out of the building.

Mine was not nearly that cinematic. Just me, a bunch of boxes and a coworker with whom I shared the office looking ashen. That might not mean much to you, but considering that she is African American, it was a weird way to see her.

Lucky for me, the company I worked for is not exactly a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends-kind-of-operation. Except for the days when there is an afternoon staff meeting, mostly the building starts to clear out about 3 pm. That’s when people choose to show up for work at all.

So as I scrambled to pack up my stuff, luckily I saw precious few people.

As I walked down the hallway, one guy grabbed me by the shirt and said, “You’re the lucky one here, you get to escape this zoo.”

Another woman didn’t say a word. She just hugged me with a tear in her eye. She started to say something and then just grabbed me again. Then she scurried down the hall.

One image kept coming to mind as I try to sum up the feelings that were circulating around my psyche like really powerful Jacuzzi jets in the hour after being fired. It was an old family picture, let me explain.

My sister lived with her husband for ten years. Then one day we got a call that she was moving out, into her own apartment. Within hours of that call, my mother had strategically removed any photos that contained my sister’s ex from the house.

But there was one photo that my old man really liked, so my mom couldn’t just toss it. The photo was of our extended family that was decoupaged onto a piece of wood. My mother was more than up to the challenge. She scratched out my sisters husband’s face and body, leaving a gaping hole in the photograph. She then glued a tree over where he’d been.

It might have worked, if my ex brother in law had been standing on the end of the assembled group of family members. But seeing my family gathered around that clumsily glued tree makes me laugh to this day.

That’s exactly how I felt. Like I was crudely scratched out of my own picture. In the coming days I probably will find the words to discuss the emotional devastation in greater detail. But suffice it to say that it is a searing pain that someone who is fired won’t soon forget.

My a-ha: If people in Seattle have a million ways to describe rain, people who are fired have as many to describe the numb feeling that comes over your body and soul. Try as you may to orient yourself, it only comes to you with the passage of time. At least I hope so.

Next installment: No soup for you.

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.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert Signs Immigration Bills, Distances State From Arizona Approach

Monday, March 21st, 2011

zz_andrea_nill-e1291085868161On March 15th, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed off on a bundle of four immigration bills which includes proposals that were specifically introduced as proactive alternatives to Arizona’s harsh immigration law. One of the measures would allow undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements to carry a state-issued guest worker permit. A separate bill would create a migrant worker partnership with Mexico. Another piece of approved legislation will allow Utahns to sponsor migrants wanting to work or study in the state.

GOP delegate coordinators have dedicated a significant amount of time and resources to pushing back against the proposal with robo-calls and a petition. “As GOP delegates, we support the governor and everything he’s done up until now,” said Brandon Beckham, a Utah County GOP delegate who opposes guest worker and sponsorship proposals. “If he signs this bill, I don’t think he’s going to muster enough delegate support to make it past convention.” On the other side of the spectrum, some labor advocates worry that the guest worker permits will “give employers cheap labor without providing additional protections for workers or a path to citizenship.” “It gives illegal immigrants false hope because it makes them think they could become legal,” Ana Avendano of the AFL-CIO said. “But they’re still illegal, and could be deported.”

Gary Herbert

Gary Herbert

Meanwhile, several Latinos in Utah have been organizing against the other bill that Herbert signed into law today — HB-497. The legislation is a “watered down” version of Arizona SB-1070 that gives Utah police officers the authority to investigate a person’s immigration status if they’re suspected of felony or misdemeanor crimes.

Litigation has been threatened by both sides — immigration restrictionists who argue that the guestworker and sponsorship bills violate federal law and immigration advocates who say that the enforcement-only bill is unconstitutional. While it’s pretty monumental that such a conservative state has enacted a set of proposals that aren’t just aimed at making life completely miserable for undocumented immigrants, both sides of the debate are going to have a tough time arguing that the bill they oppose is preempted by federal law while maintaining that the one that they support is not.

Yet, maybe that’s the whole point. Utah Senate President Michael Waddoups (R) told the Salt Lake Tribune that the signing of the bills is “putting the federal government on notice.” “They’ve been on the sidelines way too long,” Herbert said. “They need to get in the game.” In fact, state officials are reportedly talking with the White House and congressional officials about using the “Utah Solution” as a model for comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. The laws won’t go into effect for another two years. The U.S. Congress could spend that time to enact a legalization and a worker program that would render all of these state and local initiatives null.

About the Author: Andrea Nill is an immigration researcher/blogger for ThinkProgress.org and the Progress Report at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

This blog originally appeared on Wonk Room on March 15, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

Paid Sick Days – an Important Job Saving Strategy in a Weak Economy

Friday, March 18th, 2011

EileenThe latest government report on job openings and labor turnover – the JOLTS report – makes an important point. Recent improvements in the labor market – employment gains and the falling unemployment rate – owe little to an increase in hiring by employers. Instead, they result mainly from a decline in involuntary separations – layoffs and firing – of workers. Making it possible for workers to keep their jobs is important to the economic recovery.

Routine illnesses can threaten workers’ employment. Too many workers still face an impossible choice: take off from work to care for themselves or their kids when illness strikes and risk losing their jobs or risk their health or that of their children and come into work. A surprisingly high two-fifths of all workers, and three-quarters of low-wage workers, have no paid sick days at all. And most workers who do have paid sick days can’t use them to care for a sick child. Routine illnesses create a crisis for these workers and their families.

Workers too sick to come into work or unable to leave a sick child unattended face the very real threat that they will be fired. And workers know very well what the loss of a job means for them and their families. New evidence confirms the high cost of starting over when you lose your job. Even if a worker who is let go because illness forces them to miss work manages to find another job – no easy task in an economy with nearly 14 million unemployed workers – job displacement results in years of lower pay. Indeed, time out of work to care for family members still falls mainly on women, and is one reason that they earn less, on average, than their male counterparts.

As the JOLTS report shows, the recovery is still too weak to support robust hiring by employers. Workers who are fired for not showing up on the job when they are too sick to get out of bed will not be readily replaced. The employer may choose to leave the position vacant until the recovery gathers strength. Advocates have long argued that access to paid sick days so a worker can stay home and recover from the flu or care for a child with a high fever is more important than ever when the job market is weak. Keeping workers in their jobs is an important factor in improving the labor market. A paid sick days standard that guarantees every worker access to time off when they or a family member come down with a serious cold or flu is good for workers, good for business, and good for an economy still struggling to put people to work.

About the Author: Eileen Appelbaum is a Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research with over 20 years of experience carrying out empirical research on workplace practices and labor-management cooperation. Full Bio.

This blog originally appeared in CEPR on March 15, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

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