Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for April, 2011

Blog #5. Fired in real time: What the fallen need to hear

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerOn Friday I was fired.

It’s 48 hours later, and I decided to blog about the emotional roller coaster ride that I unexpectedly found myself riding on. I’m never going to mention the name of the company, because its not about them. It’s about anyone who has ever been fired, and the journey that we all must take after we’ve been let go.

Friends who saw me immediately after my firing have told me that I appeared to be in shock. Okay, normally I’m at best slightly tethered to reality, but even for me the tether got stretched.

Friday at 9:04 pm I got a call from a friend named Steve. His call reminded me of when the doctors in the ER are faced with an irregular heartbeat. They “zap” the patient with a electric jolt from a defibrillator to get the heart beating normally again. Steve’s call, thankfully, did that for me.

“Hey Bob. This is Steve calling. It’s Friday evening. I just heard that you had a situation with your job today. Having been in this position myself, I understand how you may feel about this. I think it’s important to tell you at this time that you have lots of friends and lots of support. Just because an idiot does something to you doesn’t mean that you can’t go on and be wildly successful. Again I want to tell you that you have lots of support. And should you want to talk or grab a cup of coffee, you know how to reach me. Mainly I just want to say that regardless of whether this was fair or unfair, I’m reasonably sure it was unfair, you have lots of support and I just want you to know that. And there are people backing you up. I would say have a nice night, it probably won’t be that, but you do have friends. I’ll talk to you soon.”

I called Steve back and he told me about his experience being fired. Only one person called him, Seattle baseball announcing legend Dave Niehaus, a guy who’d been fired more than a few times early in his career. Steve said even though we weren’t great friends, he was going to be sure that I wasn’t alone on that Friday night.

Why do so few people reach out to someone who has been fired? Sure we can all rationalize that we want to give the person space to grieve on their own.

Or does it have nothing to do with the person who was fired? Is it really all about how tenuous we all feel about our jobs. And calling someone who was fired makes us fearful, that like leprosy, we could somehow catch the firing virus.

Reach out to your friends and colleagues who have been fired. If for no other reason than you’d like them to do the same for you.

My a-ha: Offer support and friendship to people who’ve been fired. Say to them, what you’d like to hear, if the situation was reversed.

Next Week’s installment: Do you ever say the “F” word?

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].

Women, Black Workers Hard Hit by Attacks on Public Employees

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Credit: Joe Kekeris

The improved jobs figures out last Friday obscured the ongoing decline in public-sector jobs. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted when releasing the March unemployment data:

Employment in local government continued to trend down over the month. Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008.

The loss of such jobs is important because the nation’s well-being depends not only on job numbers increasing, but on the creation of quality jobs—those that pay decent wages and enable people to attain or maintain a middle-class life. According to National Employment Law Project (NELP), the new jobs being created aren’t as good as the ones that have been lost. NELP found that jobs in lower wage industries, such as retail and food preparation, made up 23 percent of the jobs that were lost in the recent recession. Yet they made up 49 percent of the jobs the economy has gained in the past year. As the BBC Business puts it:

In other words, it appears that while people may finally be returning to work, they have to work for less pay.

In contrast, jobs in the public sector have provided such economic stability. They have also made it possible for some of the nation’s most economically marginalized—women and minorities—to achieve financial security often denied them in the private sector.

So attacks on public employees hit women and black workers especially hard.

Susan Feiner, professor of economics and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine, writes that:

employees at the federal (43 percent female), state (53 percent female) and local (61 percent female) levels have been able to better resist the wage reductions, benefit cuts and mass lay-offs that giant multinational corporations have visited upon employees over the last decade.

Yet Feiner finds that “while women represented 57 percent of the public-sector work force at the end of the recession,”

women lost the vast majority—79 percent—of the 327,000 jobs cut in this sector between July 2009 and February 2011, according to a January report by the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center.

Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, writes today about the striking results of his new research brief, Blacks and the Public Sector. In sum:

  • The public sector is the single most important source of employment for African Americans.
  • During 2008-2010, 21.2 percent of all black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3 percent of non-black workers.  Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.
  • The public sector is also a critical source of decent-paying jobs for black worker.  For both men and women, the median wage earned by black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.
  • Prior to the recession, the wage differential between black and white workers was less in the public sector than in the overall economy.

As California Progress Report writes:

For blacks and others, “the best anti-poverty program is union organizing,” the UC Berkeley Labor Center notes on its website.”

And so moves by Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio to shred the ability of public employees to bargain for a decent middle-class life are also specifically targeting the ability of women and black workers to remain in the economic mainstream.

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 (she was 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.

This blog originally was post on AFL-CIO on April 5, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Fair Pay Act Would Bring Equal Pay for Equal Work

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Image: Mike HallYesterday, equal rights advocates marked Equal Pay Day to remind the nation that women are paid  just 80 cents for every dollar men earn, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) introduced the Fair Pay Act of 2011 that would ensure that employers provide equal pay for jobs that are equivalent in skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

Harkin says that discrimination accounts for much of the pay gap and there are too many loopholes and barriers to effective enforcement of existing laws. “We need to strengthen penalties and give women the tools they need to confront discrimination.”

At the same time, we must recognize that the problem of unequal pay goes beyond insidious discrimination. As a nation, we unjustly devalue jobs traditionally performed by women, even when they require comparable skills to jobs traditionally performed by men.

Millions of jobs dominated by women such as social workers, teachers, child care workers and nurses are equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility and working conditions to similar jobs dominated by men says Harkin:

But the female-dominated jobs pay significantly less. This is inexplicable. Why is a housekeeper worth less than a janitor? Why is a parking meter reader worth less than an electrical meter reader? Why is a social worker worth less than a probation officer?

Commentator Debbie Hines writes on OpEdNews.com today:

Women’s salaries are outpaced by men almost everywhere from the highest paying occupation to the lowest paying occupations. Everywhere from doctors and lawyers to cashiers and lesser positions, women earn less than their male counterparts.

The Fair Pay Act would also require employers to publicly disclose their job categories and their pay scales, without requiring specific information on individual workers. Under current law women who believe they are the victim of pay discrimination must file a lawsuit and endure a drawn-out legal discovery process to find out whether they make less than the man working beside them.

It took Lilly Ledbetter nearly 20 years before she discovered she was being paid less than men doing the same job and was able to file suit. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against her in 2007, Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that helps level the playing field for victims of wage discrimination that President Obama signed in 2009. Says Harkin:

On this Equal Pay Day, let us make sure that what happened to Lilly never happens again by recommitting to eliminate discrimination in the workplace and make equal pay for equal work a reality

Click here for more information on the Fair Pay Act.

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 has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 12, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

U.S. Appeals Court Rules Against Arizona’s Immigration Law

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

zz_andrea_nill-e1291085868161Back in July, federal district court judge Susan Bolton imposed a preliminary injunction on parts of the controversial immigration law passed by Arizona last year, SB-1070. She enjoined provisions relating to warrantless arrests of suspected undocumented immigrants and document requirements and also struck down the requirement that police check the immigration status of anyone they stop, detain, or arrest if they reasonably suspect the person is in the country illegally. Bolton argued that “the United States is likely to succeed on the merits in showing that…[the enjoined provisions] are preempted by federal law” and the “United States is likely to suffer irreparable harm” in the absence of an injunction.

A federal appeals court agreed. Today, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Bolton’s preliminary injunction on several major provisions of SB-1070. In their stinging legal critiques, 9th Circuit Judges Richard Paez and John Noonan wrote in their concurring opinions that each of the provisions blocked by Bolton are outright “unconstitutional” and that SB-1070 is preempted by federal law and foreign policy:9thcircuit

By imposing mandatory obligations on state and local officers, Arizona interferes with the federal government’s authority to implement its priorities and strategies in law enforcement, turning Arizona officers into state-directed DHS agents. [...] [T]he record unmistakably demonstrates that S.B. 1070 has had a deleterious effect on the United States’ foreign relations, which weighs in favor of preemption. [...]

Finally, the threat of 50 states layering their own immigration enforcement rules on top of the INA [Immigration and Nationality Act] also weighs in favor of preemption.

The 9th Circuit Court probably won’t have the final say on the issue. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has pledged to take her case all the way to the Supreme Court. SB-1070?s sponsor, state Senate President Russell Pearce (R), has entered the legal challenge now following a recent decision by the U.S. District Court to allow the Arizona State Legislature to intervene as a defendant in the Department of Justice’s lawsuit against Brewer and her state. Today also happens to be the deadline for U.S. Justice Department lawyers to file an answer to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s countersuit that accuses the federal government of failing “to live up to its Constitutional duty to protect Arizona against invasion and domestic violence,” amongst other things.

In his opinion, Noonan recognized that SB-1070 has “become a symbol.” Noonan noted that, “For those sympathetic to immigrants to the United States, it is a challenge and a chilling foretaste of what other states might attempt.” The 9th Circuit’s decision comes as several states around the country are in the final stages of approving similar “copycat” pieces of legislation.

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 in the Wonk Room on April 11, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Egypt's Tahrir Square, Revisted: Labor's Revolution Betrayed?

Monday, April 11th, 2011

Michelle ChenIt’s time to return to Downtown Cairo. There are signs that the romance of the Arab Spring is already cooling off. Many activists who braved beatings and arrests to oust a dictator fear their civil society’s rebirth may be smothered before taking its first breath.  A proposed ban on strikes appears to expand the rollback on civil and labor rights that has steadily undermined this winter’s victory at Tahrir Square.

Activists fear that the pending draft decree, which would sharply restrict and penalize strike actions, would destroy workers’ leverage in pressuring employers and the government on wages and working conditions. Labor demonstrations were a critical weapon in the recent uprising as well as under previous authoritarian regimes.

Egypt’s leading independent labor organization, Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services, declared on March 23 that the draft decree, though the exact wording had not been made public, echoed a sordid history of labor oppression, particularly a similar law that criminalized industrial actions which Mubarak invoked to suppress protests

The Egyptian workers have struggled for decades to maintain the right to strike. They paid the price when they were imprisoned, transferred or killed….

Article 124 of the Egyptian Penal Law which criminalizes the right to strike is a witness that the regime was reactionary and had the fingerprints of the 19th century….

Article 124 of the Egyptian Penal Law which is not different from the suggested draft law was a curse in the history of the regime in Egypt. …

The Egyptian workers did not start to move after 25th January 2011. On the contrary, they were on the vanguard of the revolution until it reached its summit and would not stop until the realization of the workers demands or at least the workers are assured that their demands are on the way for achievement.

Egyptian military police close in around remaining protesters in Tahrir Square on February 14, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt.   (John Moore/Getty Images)

Egyptian military police close in around remaining protesters in Tahrir Square on February 14, 2011 in Cairo, Egypt. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The draft law is one of many troubling developments driving a renewal of grassroots activism, now that the revolution’s first wave is ebbing. Organizers launched the “Save the Revolution Friday” rally today, according to Ahram Online, to counter the governing elite’s plans to resurrect the old order under a renovated facade:

The purpose of the event, [activists] say, is to press on with the rest of the revolution’s demands, rid Egypt of the “institution of corruption” with all its figures and symbols and to challenge the counter-revolution initiated by the old regime which, they say, is playing behind the scenes to end the Egyptian revolution.

“The Egyptian people will not accept the laundering of the old regime and presenting it back to them in a new form,” wrote the group in the invitation, explaining that they insist on the complete removal of the remnants of Mubarak’s regime from every institution in the country.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has called on the current prime minister, Dr. Essam Sharaf, to reject the anti-labor decree:

This will lead to a legal disaster by all international labour standards and it will disgrace Egypt in the view of the international community.

We urge the Egyptian government to withdraw the said draft decree, and we appeal to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces not to issue it. Instead we would like to see a development of appropriate mechanisms for  negotiations between the social partners.

This proposed decree is a serious infringement of fundamental trade union rights and as a member of the ILO, Egypt is bound by international treaties, and we remind you that your government must fulfil its obligations and respect trade union rights.

But an appeal to international law is easily silenced under the imposition of “emergency” authority. With the entire political system in flux, the military has begun to mobilize against activists under the pretext of maintaining order, putting the revolution itself at risk of being co-opted or  dismantled in the “reform” process.

Now is the time to rethink civil society’s hierarchy of needs. Will embattled Egyptians slip back into conservative “stability” at the price of autocracy? Or will people’s movements plow forward by establishing human rights, building workplace democracy, and breaking the corrupt ties between capital and the state?

Modern Egypt has undergone many uprisings, spurred by anti-colonialism, pan-Arab nationalism, populism, and now, nonviolent democratic ideals. Still, past upheavals failed to yield true economic equity. That kind of revolution requires a political consciousness that directly challenges conventional premises of economic growth and “development.”

Yet in neighboring Tunisia, an awakening in the labor movement may be underway. As Seth Sandronsky reported recently, the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) has taken a leading role in both the overthrow of the old regime and the formation of a democratic government, and recently have begun networking with U.S. unions. Last month Tunisia also hosted the launch of the Arab Women’s Trade Union Network. The coalition focuses on the nexus of gender inequality and labor rights in Arab societies, where women’s oppression is compounded by economic exploitation.

So there’s a lot of work left to do for the global labor movement in the emerging political structures of Egypt and Tunisia—and all the other countries in the throes of political upheaval. And activists can’t do it without securing the power of independent collective action.

Egypt’s is not the only government that has sought to preempt the power to strike and protest through legislation. According to the ITUC’s 2010 Survey of Trade Union Rights:

Severe restrictions or outright prohibition of strikes also exists in a large number of countries. Furthermore, complex procedural requirements, imposition of compulsory arbitration and the use of excessively broad definitions of “essential services” provisions often make the exercise of trade union rights impossible in practice, depriving workers of their legitimate rights to union representation and participation in industrial action.

Egypt’s democratic vision turns on the struggles for both social and economic justice, and the power to strike is the focal point where labor and civil rights converge. The country’s workers face a process of social democratization that even “developed” democracies haven’t realized (see Wisconsin). The world is dotted with Liberation Squares, where the arc of revolution, or counterrevolution, is measured in the strength of labor.

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 April 10, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Supreme Court of the United States to Hear "Ministerial Exception" Case

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Ross_Runkel_aMarch 28, 2011, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC to decide whether the “ministerial exception” applies to teacher at a religious elementary school.

[Details, briefs]

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued the employer, asserting a retaliation claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The trial court dismissed the claim, based on the “ministerial exception” to the ADA. The 6th Circuit vacated the trial court’s dismissal.

The ministerial exception is codified in the ADA (42 USC Section 12113(d)), but it is rooted in the 1st Amendment and has been applied to Title VII and other employment discrimination statutes. The EEOC’s claim arose from the discharge of a teacher from a sectarian school, and the primary issue on appeal was whether the teacher was a “ministerial” employee subject to the ministerial exception. The 6th Circuit noted that “[t]he question of whether a teacher at a sectarian school classifies as a ministerial employee is one of first impression for this Court.”

The 6th Circuit observed that “the overwhelming majority of courts that have considered the issue have held that parochial school teachers … who teach primarily secular subjects do not classify as ministerial employees for purposes of the exception.” The 6th Circuit also observed that “when courts have found that teachers classify as ministerial employees for purposes of the exception, those teachers have generally taught primarily religious subjects or had a central role in the spiritual or pastoral mission of the church.” Applying those standards, the court concluded that the teacher at issue did not fall within the scope of the ministerial exception. The court noted that the teacher taught secular subjects, and spent only forty-five minutes out of her seven hour workday on religious-oriented activities. The court reasoned, “[t]he fact that [the teacher] participated in and led some religious activities throughout the day does not make her primary function religious.”

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the 6th Circuit judgment.

Question presented in petition for certiorari:

The federal courts of appeals have long recognized the “ministerial exception,” a First Amendment doctrine that bars most employment-related lawsuits brought against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions. The circuits are in complete agreement about the core applications of this doctrine to pastors, priests, and rabbis. But they are evenly divided over the boundaries of the ministerial exception when applied to other employees. The question presented is:Whether the ministerial exception applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship.

About the Author: Ross Runkel is founder of LawMemo, is Professor of Law Emeritus at Willamette University College of Law. He has spent 35 years specializing in employment law, employment discrimination, labor law, and arbitration.

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

You Can't Compete With Me The...Legality of Non-Compete Agreements

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

micheal helfandMillions of Americans wake up every day, get dressed in business attire, and head to work- only their “job” these days is actually looking for one. Unemployment rates are still hovering around 9.6% nationally, making this job market highly competitive and hard to crack into. Employers know this, and in a lot of ways, the sheer volume of applicants per job gives them the ability to exclude benefits, cut salaries and make demands that are sometimes not only unfair, but illegal.

One such demand that employers are placing on new-hires is that they sign a non-compete agreement. A non-compete is a document that restricts where and who you can work for should you be fired or quit.  Is that legal and should you sign it?  In a few states, they’re generally not legal. For example, in California, a non-compete agreement is enforceable only if someone sells a business and agrees not to compete with the new owner. That aside, California employers cannot restrict the livelihood of their current or former employees. For most other states the short answer to are non-competes legal is yes-however, the agreement has to be “reasonable” to be legal and upheld in court. Before signing, there are some things you should look for within the agreement itself before signing.

·  Did you get something for it?  A non-compete must be supported by consideration.  This means that it needs to be part of your employment agreement, or if you are already employed, you need to be given some other benefit for agreeing to this extra restriction.  This can be a change in status, a raise, a longer term on your contract, or some other tangible gain for you.

·   Is such a restriction necessary for this employer?   In many states, a non-compete should only be used where there is a legitimate interest to protect.  Does your employer have some confidential information that they have worked hard to create and to maintain?  Does your employer have customer lists built over time that are significant and stable relationships?  If the answer to both is “no,” then there likely is no reason to have a non-compete restriction.

·  Is the non-compete period of time reasonable?  The time period you are restricted from competition with your former employer should be related to the amount of time it took to develop the confidential information or customer relationships.  Most courts have found restrictions reasonable where the time period was connected to the time it took to start to receive revenue from the customer relationship, for example.

·  Is the geographic area reasonable?  Similar to the time restriction, many courts will generally find the geographic restriction reasonable if it is limited to those areas where you have established relationships on behalf of the employer. Even if your employer’s business has a larger geographic area than your personal work covered, a non-compete is more likely to be upheld if it only restricts the area you personally had involvement. If your work covered the city of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs, it could be unreasonable to be restricted from your profession in a 100-mile radius around downtown Chicago.

·  Are you being restricted from activity that is reasonable?  Your employer should only restrict you from those activities that are necessary to protect the business interest, so that you are not unfairly competing.  Non-competes that tried to restrict an employee from working at all for a competitor are generally held to be unreasonable in most states.  Instead, the employer should have narrowly tailored the restriction to just those activities which directly compete with your former employer.

The good news is, now you know your rights and can arm yourself with good information so that you can negotiate any non-compete you may be asked to sign. The bad news is, some employers know that their non-compete agreements toe the line of unreasonable, hence illegal- but they do not care. They will try to get you to sign on the dotted line any way by refusing to hire you if you do not. It is the very definition of being between a rock and a hard place when you are unemployed. If you find yourself in this position, first know you have legal recourse as courts frown upon companies who participate in this behavior. Secondly, you must ask yourself if this is the kind of company you want to work for? If they are using scare tactics to get you to sign an unreasonable non-compete, what else will they do once you are employed and dependent on your paycheck?

About the Auhor: Michael Helfand has been a Chicago attorney since 1997 with a focus on trying to change the way people find attorneys and legal information. In 2001 he launched  a state wide network of like-minded attorneys who talk in plain English, only pursue legitimate cases and fight for their clients. Mike recognized that the unique facts of the case should determine who the right lawyer is for a case. His network makes that goal a reality and the hundreds of lawyers he partners with state wide have achieved unmatched success for their clients.

American Workplaces are Safer...But Not for Everyone

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

kari-lydersenU.S. workplaces are getting safer, according to national Department of Labor statistics for the past two decades. But immigrant workers in the most dangerous occupations have not shared in the increased safety, according to statistics and a recent report by seven worker centers nationwide.

On March 9 Arise Chicago Worker Center released their study, done in conjunction with other workers centers, wherein 208 predominantly Chicago immigrant workers were surveyed about their workplace health and safety experiences.

About a quarter of workers reported suffering a work-related injury or illness; and a disturbing 41 percent said they had never received safety training on the job and 31 percent said they were not provided protective equipment. The workers, 88 percent Latino with an average age of 39, worked primarily in low-wage jobs in construction, restaurant, cleaning and maintenance jobs.

Construction is known to be a dangerous occupation, but the survey found even immigrant workers in the other seemingly less-dangerous fields suffered high rates of illness and injury.

Work-related injury and illness can be especially devastating for undocumented workers since they are often fired because of their injury and they often don’t collect workers compensation or other benefits due them. Because of their immigration status and unfamiliarity with their rights, they often don’t complain. The survey found 59 percent of workers were not aware of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); and 87 percent had never filed a complaint against their employer.

Arise Chicago’s report says:

“Job ghettoes,” where foreign-born groups seeking employment provide a steady stream of workers to jobs that are undesirable to US born workers—in residential construction, agriculture, and service—tend to be the most hazardous jobs and the jobs that fly below the radar of wage and hour regulation. Lack of training and absence of OSHA-mandated engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment are further contributors. Finally, language, literacy, experience, and cultural factors may play a role.

Workers and immigrants rights advocates think official safety statistics for industries including manufacturing, meatpacking and construction greatly undercount injuries and accidents, for this reason. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report says non-fatal workplace injuries could be under-reported by 80 percent.

The GAO report says:

In 2007, there were approximately 4 million cases in which workers in the United States were injured or became ill as a result of unsafe or unhealthy working conditions, and more than 5,600 workers died as a result of their injuries…The rate of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses among private sector employers as reported by BLS in 2007 has generally declined since 1992; the rate of worker fatalities decreased from 1992 to 2001, and has remained relatively constant since 2002.

But…

OSHA overlooks information from workers about injuries and illnesses because it does not routinely interview them as part of its records audits…In addition, some OSHA inspectors reported they rarely learn about injuries and illnesses from workers since the records audits are conducted about 2 years after incidents are recorded. Moreover, many workers are no longer employed at the worksite and therefore cannot be interviewed. OSHA also does not review the accuracy of injury and illness records for worksites in eight high hazard industries because it has not updated the industry codes used to identify these industries since 2002.

Arise Chicago cites government statistics in noting that Latino workers are disproportionately impacted by workplace health and safety problems, in Illinois and nationwide. Foreign-born Latinos also suffer injury and illness at a much higher rate than U.S.-born Latinos.

In Illinois, the fatality rate per 100,000 full time employees has decreased, on average, from 1997-2002. However, Hispanic workers have not experienced the same trend in the State. In addition, Hispanic workers’ average age at death, 34.9, was found to be approximately 10 years lower than non-Hispanic workers, 45.

To mitigate the injuries and illnesses suffered by low-wage and immigrant workers, Arise Chicago recommends increasing both workers’ awareness of their rights and enforcement by government agencies. Workers centers can play an important role, the study says, by offering workers information, support and advocacy. It also recommends support for the OSHA Susan Harwood Training Grants, meant to help improve workplace training and safety. These grants can go to unions, non-profit groups, employers groups and other entities.

The report also recommends increasing penalties for health and safety violations, which now often amount to little more than a slap on the wrist. And it recommends OSHA officials collaborate with workers centers and other community groups who have more grassroots contact with workers. And it says the Department of Labor’s two separate enforcement arms, the Wage and Hour division and OSHA, should cooperate more closely.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at [email protected]

This blog originally appeared In These Times on March 25, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Fired in real time: A little bit pregnant

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerOne phrase comes to mind as I started calling my friends to tell them that I had been fired, “a little bit pregnant.” I’m a guy, so please remember, this is a metaphor.

I’ll explain. The American Dream isn’t just big cars and summer houses. No, at it’s heart is the belief that everyone has a chance to be successful. Put another way, there is an essential fairness or rationality that is the foundation of how the world of work works. As an equation it might go something like this, hard work = success.

I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that when I’ve seen people around me fired or laid off I’ve leapt to the opposite conclusion. That on some level, they deserved it. Okay, now that I’ve gone down this path, please tolerate one more equation, failure = failure.

That’s where being a little bit pregnant comes in.

I think most people assume that when you are fired you might not be 100% at fault, but you are at least a little bit guilty of something. Hence, anyone fired is at least a little big pregnant.

This not only helps to explain what happened to anyone who is fired, it also helps to justify why you still have your job. Because you clearly aren’t a failure.

I’ll save you the gory details of my firing, but I believe it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job. No, there were plenty of people at my old company who fit in that category. In fact, I’ve never worked anyplace where more people would say in normal conversation, “What exactly does he do for us?” Really, I heard people say that about at least 20% of the employees.

No, I was fired because I actually tried to do my job.

I was initially hired as a spokesmodel for the company, however, if you knew what I looked like that reference would be even funnier.

My role was to talk about the product with customers, the media, etc. However, what I quickly discovered was the marketing and sales function wasn’t broken, it was non-existent. So I filled the vacuum by creating a new name for the company, a marketing plan, sales collateral, I suggested product modifications based on client input and I started making sales calls. In addition to this I spent my first two months playing company therapist, going office to office to get people pointed in the same direction. On occasion, I even got in harms way between two warring staffers.

The responses to our sales calls varied from “like” to something bordering on adulation. But five months in I realized that we were 0 for 30. Yep, we’d made thirty sales calls and had not sold our product to one client.

I know what you’re thinking, I should have been fired for sheer sales ineptitude. Ironically, this would have been much easier to handle than the reason that I was actually fired for. Much easier.

I spent a long weekend thinking about how we could end this horrific losing streak and I realized that there were a number of contributing factors. First, with no clients, every company we talked to had to decide if they wanted to become our guinea pig. We also didn’t have examples of real companies using our product. So we needed to connect the dots for our customers. Finally, I came up with a visible and credible organization that would agree to serve as our launch client and could connect the dots for potential customers.

Guinea pig, no longer an issue. Connect the dots, check.

I put this in a report for my boss. Needless to say I learned that you should never present a report to your boss entitled “0 for 30.” However, not in the way that you’re probably thinking.

My boss didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our lack of sales. His first response was to say, “No one has said ‘No’ to us so far.” He felt that it all was just a matter of time before we’d land a series of major sales.

The stunner was when he said, “You can’t ever use the phrase 0 for 30 again. Not within earshot of me or in any emails.” Here is the clincher, “Because it will hurt the feelings of all of the staff members who’ve worked so hard on the product.” He concluded, “And I don’t ever want a potential investor to see the phrase ‘0 for 30.’”

Feelings? And that the only way that an investor would learn that we didn’t have any customers was because they read an email by me?

Two weeks after presenting the 0 for 30 report I was fired for not getting along with staff. Two staffers were mentioned by name.

My a-ha: Mine was probably more of a mercy killing than a firing

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].

MSHA Says Massey Blast Shows Need for Tougher Safety Laws

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Image: Mike HallAs we approach Tuesday, April 5, the first anniversary of the deadly blast at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch (W.Va.) mine that killed 29 coal miners, the nation’s top mine safety official today called for tougher laws and bigger penalties for safety violators.

Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) chief Joe Main today told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee:

No mine operator should be risking the lives of its miners by cutting corners on health and safety. For those operators who do knowingly engage in such practices, we need to send a message that their actions will not be tolerated.

Main also called for stronger protections for miners who speak out about unsafe practices and conditions.

Miners know best the conditions in their mine. But miners are afraid to speak out because they fear they’ll lose their jobs.

He also said a full report on the blast is several months away, but MSHA will hold a public briefing in June. After the Upper Big Branch explosion, MSHA has increased its enforcement efforts, created new mine safety screening procedures and conduced 228 “impact” inspections at mines with poor safety records or other warning signs of problems.

He said the new screening procedures were put in place after officials discovered that a computer error had allowed Upper Big Branch to evade heightened scrutiny despite the pattern of violations system that is supposed to identify mines with continuing safety violations. Main urged Congress give MSHA more authority to shut down problem mines.

Legislation is still needed to fully protect our nation’s miners. This committee has never subscribed to the myth that mining fatalities are an inevitable aspect of the business. I am asking you to again stand up for miners and pass new and needed mine safety legislation.

Click here for his full testimony and a video of the entire hearing.

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 has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This blog originally appeared in blog.aflcio.org on March 31, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

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