Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for January, 2012

Building a Green Economy Means Bringing Workers in with a Commitment to Good Green Jobs

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Laura ClawsonOne of the weapons the right uses to try to block better policies on energy and the environment is the specter of job loss: regulations or clean energy or the boogeyman of the day will close businesses and put people out of work. In fact, clean energy and environmental regulations could create jobs. But Republicans exploit a legitimate fear on the part of workers, because while jobs could and should be created by improved environmental policies, there would be inevitable reshuffling, jobs shifted around from one industry to another. The people who know their jobs would be on the line have a reasonable fear that they wouldn’t immediately get new jobs, or that the new, clean energy jobs wouldn’t be as good as the ones they lost.

“Reasonable fear” doesn’t mean “reason not to act,” though. For the health of the environment, of people, of the economy, we have to take action to address climate change and more. How, though, do we do that in a way that addresses the legitimate concerns of working people? That’s both a political and a policy problem—workers have to be convinced, and the policy has to follow through and ensure that the shift to a clean energy economy is not taken as an opportunity to drive down wages and working conditions for the average worker.

This effort, of course, will take place over the well-funded resistance of the 1 percent, seeking to divide us—to make workers desperate for jobs at any cost and to convince them that climate change is less of a threat to their lives than the people who seek to avert its damage; to make environmentalists see workers, not polluting corporations, as their opponent in this battle.

That’s the needle AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had to thread this week in his address to the UN investor summit on climate risk. Trumka made clear the urgency he and others in the labor movement see in addressing climate change, and doing so comprehensively rather than relying on small fixes:

And to those who say climate risk is a far off problem, I can tell you that I have hunted the same woods in Western Pennsylvania my entire life and climate change is happening now—I see it in the summer droughts that kill the trees, the warm winter nights when flowers bloom in January, the snows that fall less frequently and melt more quickly.

Even so, some will ask, why should investors or working people focus on climate risk when we have so many economic problems across the world? The labor movement has a clear answer: Addressing climate risk is not a distraction from solving our economic problems. My friends, addressing climate risk means retooling our world—it means that every factory and power plant, every home and office, every rail line and highway, every vehicle, locomotive and plane, every school and hospital, must be modernized, upgraded, renovated or replaced with something cleaner, more efficient, less wasteful.

But to do that, he argued, workers have to be included in the dialogue about what to do and how to do it:

Too often, we have failed to consider who bears the cost of change and ensure that change is managed fairly and respectfully. And when we do that, no matter how important the reasons might seem, we sacrifice the chance to build the power to move forward. The only way for our democracy to act is for those who care about climate change to engage with the people whose livelihoods are tied up with carbon emissions. All of us—investors, companies, workers, environmental activists, governments—need to be part of this dialogue. Any other approach to addressing climate risk is not just fundamentally unfair, it simply won’t work in our democracy.

Remember that Trumka was a coal miner, and then the president of the United Mine Workers. The question of what happens to people who work with coal is a very direct and personal one for him. And while developing technologies that use less energy and investing in solar and wind and other forms of cleaner energy will create jobs in the long term:

So why, in an economy without an effective safety net, would the good men and women of my hometown and a thousand places like it surrender their whole lives and sit by while others try to force them to bear the cost of change.
The truth is that in many places – and not just places where coal is mined – there is fear that the “green economy” will turn into another version of the radical inequality that now haunts our society—another economy that works for the 1% and not for the 99%. […]

So how can all Americans sit down together and develop trust? I think it begins with a commitment—a challenging and difficult commitment—that we are going to measure our approach not by how well it fits the needs of the well-positioned. We must ask ourselves, “How well does this pathway serve the least, the hardest to reach, the most likely to be left behind?” Places like West Virginia and the Ohio Valley must come first, not last.

How can this happen? Let’s think about the new EPA emissions rules for power plants. All of the unions of the AFL-CIO want to see coal fired power plants retrofitted immediately to cut back on mercury and sulfur emissions—those retrofits create good jobs, save lives. We oppose anyone who would take away the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to keep our air and water clean. But power plant and mine workers want to know that if their employers commit to doing the retrofits, they will get the time to complete them. Surely through dialogue common ground can be found between workers who want the retrofit jobs and clean air and public health advocates.

This is a question the environmental movement has to grapple with. There are good jobs to be created in conservation, in clean energy, in doing things the right way for the planet. But that has to be a priority, not a talking point. As opposed as I am to Keystone XL, as much as I think it’s short-sighted and destructive, it’s distressing to hear opponents of the project dismiss thousands of construction jobs as merely temporary—basically all construction jobs are temporary. The unions that support the project because it will provide jobs for their members must engage seriously with research indicating that Keystone will provide far fewer jobs (PDF) than TransCanada is claiming. But building a LEED building is a temporary construction job. Retrofitting a home is a temporary construction job.

That environmentally bad jobs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be isn’t a helpful thing to say to unemployed construction workers unless you have concrete policies that are going to create better ones, or at least a strong commitment to fight for them, and a reason for the people who stand to lose “gray” jobs to believe that they will get a fair share of the green jobs created. Such jobs are possible. As we all know, it’s not even hard to identify how it could be done—there are members of the Steelworkers working on wind turbines; investments in public transit would create construction jobs as well as longer-term jobs driving trains and buses; on and on, the possibilities for good green jobs exist. But when you advocate for good environmental policy, the political bargain to get it done can’t involve shorting the workers involved. The costs cut to get that last vote in Congress can’t be the cost of workers’ health insurance and retirement. You can’t squeeze more building retrofits out of a block of funding by halving the pay rate of those (again, temporary) jobs.

There have been strong efforts on the part of both movements, environmental and labor, to address this. Environmental organizations and unions have joined in the BlueGreen Alliance to address exactly this; some environmental organizations supported the Employee Free Choice Act; unions and environmental groups have joined on campaigns to clean up port trucking; Trumka’s speech lists a number of investments that unions and their pension funds have made in job-creating green projects. These alliances are promising, but they must be built into the DNA of both movements. Not just leaders but the majority of rank and file activists have to believe in the partnership and its intertwined goals, no matter how hard the 1 percent tries to divide us.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on January 15, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Goal of True Equality Still Challenges Us All

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Arlene Holt BakerForty-nine years ago, on June 23, 1963, tens of thousands of people gathered here in Detroit, only weeks before hundreds of thousands went to Washington to march for jobs and freedom.

In the Detroit speech, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sowed the seeds of his more widely known speech at our nation’s capital. He described his famous vision of a day when the white sons of former slave owners and the black sons of those who had been enslaved would live together as brothers, judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their characters.

Yet we know King’s dream was not merely a dream about friendship, not some story about two unlikely friends communing across a great economic divide. His dream was about true equality—economic, political and social justice.

And he knew that a chief tool for freedom and progress for all people was collective action—whether in the voting booth, in the workplace organized as a labor union or in the shared spaces of this country as nonviolent civil disobedience. It could be at a lunch counter in Alabama or in a park near Wall Street.

In the decades since King was taken from us, our nation may have made enormous strides in the direction of racial justice, but the tragedy of our time is that economic inequality has increased dramatically over the past half-century. All but the richest Americans have suffered. Nearly 100 million Americans live in poverty, almost one-third of us.

Indeed, since 1997, American families have suffered the first mass decline since the Great Depression. But it’s not equal opportunity damage. Over the past 30 years, the median wealth for African-American households fell by two-thirds, and nearly half of black children live in poverty. The black unemployment rate last month was nearly 17%, almost twice the national average.

Yet, as in King’s era, we live in a time of tremendous opportunity for change. In 2011, millions of Americans saw and experienced the strength that comes from collective action as people came together in protest in such places as Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, New York City and here in Detroit.

Read the full op-ed in the Detroit Free Press here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now blog on January 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Arlene Holt Baker’s experience as a union and grassroots organizer spans more than 30 years. On Sept. 21, 2007, she was approved unanimously as executive vice president by the AFL-CIO Executive Council, becoming the first African American to be elected to one of the federation’s three highest offices and the highest-ranking African American woman in the union movement. In this position, Holt Baker builds on her legacy of inspiring activism and reaching out to diverse communities to support the needs and aspirations of working people.

White House: Insource Jobs, Decrease Inequality

Friday, January 13th, 2012
Credit: Joe Kekeris

Credit: Joe Kekeris

Is it patriotic to ship American jobs overseas? President Obama doesn’t think so. He’s right, of course. We live in a globally-connected world, but let’s face it: Home-grown corporations must first focus on their own backyards–a novel concept all to many, it seems.

Obama implicitly raised the question yesterday during his Insourcing American Jobs Forum which featured representatives from more than a dozen large and small businesses that have made decisions to bring jobs to the United States and to increase their investments here.

Pointing to the CEOs in the room, Obama said they ”take pride in hiring people here in America, not just because it’s increasingly the right thing to do for their bottom line, but also because it’s the right thing to do for their workers and for our communities and for our country.

I don’t want America to be a nation that’s primarily known for financial speculation and racking up debt buying stuff from other nations. I want us to be known for making and selling products all over the world stamped with three proud words: “Made in America.” And we can make that happen.

I don’t want the next generation of manufacturing jobs taking root in countries like China or Germany. I want them taking root in places like Michigan and Ohio and Virginia and North Carolina. And that’s a race that America can win. That’s the race businesses like these will help us win.

Lack of job creation in industries that pay solid middle-class wages is in part behind our nation’s rising inquality, and today White House Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Alan Krueger addressed the issue in detail.

TPM’s Sahil Kapur says Krueger blamed inequality on economic policies “tilted to favor top earners — including income tax reforms (presumably during the Bush era) and the ‘drastic cut in the estate tax.’ Central to the message is that inequalities in the system are “jeopardizing our tradition of equality of opportunity,” as Krueger put it.

“If we had a high degree of income mobility we would be less concerned about the degree of inequality in any given year. But we do not,” he argued. “Moreover, as inequality has increased, evidence suggests that year-to-year or generation-to-generation economic mobility has decreased.”

Applauding the White House Insourcing Forum, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka makes clear the connection between job outsourcing and the nation’s escalating inequality–according to the Congressional Budget Office, the top 1 percent saw their incomes skyrocket by 275 percent between 1979 and 2007, compared with 18 percent for the bottom 20 percent. Says Trumka:

For too long, the 1 percent have sought and received tax breaks that actually created subsidies for corporations exporting good American jobs overseas.

America’s workers are not looking for handouts, they are looking for a chance to work hard and apply their best in the world skills in order to provide their families a middle class life.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now on January 12, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tula Connell– “I got my first union card while I worked my way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (we were represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—I started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), I now blog under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.”

Calif. Car Washes Agree to $1 Million Back Pay Settlement

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

Image: Mike HallEight California car washes agreed to an historic $1 million settlement with the state’s attorney general for routinely failing to pay minimum wage or overtime, creating false records of work hours and not paying money owed to employees who quit, according to Attorney General Kamala Harris.

Workers at these car washes were taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers who illegally denied them the pay and benefits they earned. I am pleased that the resolution of this case will allow workers to receive the pay they are owed.

At least $800,000 of the settlement will go to workers who were underpaid, according to court records. Other parts of the settlement will pay taxes and penalties. Click here for a copy of the settlement agreement.

Two of the of the car washes in the agreement are Bonus Car Wash in Santa Monica and Marina Car Washin Venice, where workers fought and won recognition with United Steelworkers (USW) Local 675 last year. Says Local 75?s Dave Campbell:

We are glad that the Attorney General is taking seriously the issue of wage theft among car wash workers. Workers have been waiting to be made whole for past violations for years.

The workers there and at other Southern California carwashes came together in the CLEAN Carwash Campaign to fight for their rights. The CLEAN Carwash Campaign is a coalition supported by the USW, the AFL-CIO and more than 100 community, faith and labor organizations in Los Angeles. For more information, click here.

More good news from the Clean Carwash Campaign: the owner of Navas Car Wash in Marina Del Ray, the successor company to BJ Car Wash, agreed to respect and sign the union contract agreed to by the previous owner and ratified in early November.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now blog on January 11, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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 my collar was still blue, I 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. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.”

More Than a Number: Troubling Trends Behind the Dropping Unemployment Rateo

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Stephen FranklinSo the unemployment rate’s drop last month means we’re heading out of this tunnel, right? If only it were as simple as that.

There’s more to the nation’s unemployment situation than December’s decline to 8.5 percent joblessness. The fact is, the economy we live in today has become far too complex to be measured the same way we do when we step on a scale.

That’s because a number of forces have changed the workplace reality for American workers. Some of these are short-term changes, though even then, it’s not clear how their impact will play out in the long-term. And some are significant long-term changes that first began to take off and which are likely to affect workers for a long time to come.

Young vets’ job woes

Take the worsening job plight of veterans of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, something that deserves attention by policymakers. The jobless rate for these vets in December, according to government figures, was 13.1 percent, up from 11.7 percent a year ago.

But the real jobs problem is the one faced by young vets, the ones who have came home looking for new lives rather than staying on in the military. The unemployment rate for these veterans between 20 to 24 years old averaged 30 percent last year, up from 21 percent in July 2010, according to the New York Times.

This may seem to some as a short-term problem, but it has the marking of a dilemma that may linger on.

We have traditionally expected veterans to find their way back into the job market, after slogging through a bout of joblessness. That is not exactly what happened, however, after the Vietnam War, and the mark left from Iraq and Afghanistan may turn out to be an even far more difficult one to overcome.

That is because the physical and psychological scars left on so many who took part in fighting that lasted almost a decade. A large brunt of military service fell upon workers plucked out of their jobs because of their National Guard and Reserve obligations.

So, too, the long-term changes that have rippled across the job market continue to play and broaden in ways not seen a few years ago.

Public service workers lose their protections

The wind carrying blue-collar factory jobs away for unskilled workers blows as strong as ever. Not only have jobs vanished at stunning levels, but also the downward slide in wages and loss of benefits is a worrisome omen for those left behind in the factories.

But now we can begin charting the rapidly expanding downward slide of government jobs, a process that seems likely to roll on for some time from Washington to the state capitals and to local communities, spurred on by budget-minded Republicans and financially desperate Democrats.

One measure of the decline is the loss of state jobs across the U.S.

Employment levels among state workers dropped 1.2 percent in 2011, according to the New York Times. That, according to the newspaper, is the steepest drop since recordkeeping began over 55 years ago.

For a long time, public workers were immune from such severe job cuts as well as attacks on their security. But now that immunity has vanished, putting them in the same downward spin as workers in the private sector.

Many of these public service jobs are held by black and Latino workers and their foothold on the job market has only grown more tenuous lately.

Indeed, the construction industry bust, factory-shutdowns and shrinking wages for most workers have had disastrous results for black and Latino workers. As the Economic Policy Institute has pointed out, the jobless rate for black and Latino workers grew dramatically higher and dramatically apart, as well, from white workers during the last decade.

Combine these forces and you have a job market not only under terrible stress, but facing stresses not seen before. That’s why the good news concerning the joblessness rate leaves the nation only so much to cheer about.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on January 10, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About this Author: Stephen Franklin, former labor and workplace reporter for theChicago Tribune, is ethnic news director for the Community Media Workshop in Chicago. He is the author of Three Strikes: Labor’s Heartland Losses and What They Mean for Working Americans(2002), and has reported throughout the United States and the Middle East.  He can be reached via e-mail atfreedomwrites@hotmail.com.

Hotel Workers Stiffed Millions In Wages, Lawsuit Alleges

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Dave JamiesonMore than a dozen low-level hotel workers in Indianapolis have filed a class-action lawsuit against ten of the city’s hotels and a labor staffing agency, claiming they were routinely cheated out of pay with the knowledge of hotel management.

The workers — most of them Hispanic immigrants employed as housekeepers, dishwashers and bussers — say they were forced to work off the clock and through their unpaid breaks, sometimes pushing their earnings below the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. The suit could potentially involve more than a thousand workers and millions of dollars in claims, according to the hotel workers union UNITE HERE, which is organizing workers in Indianapolis.

The employees named in the suit worked for a labor agency called Hospitality Staffing Solutions (HSS), which provides lower-rung workers to hotel companies like Hyatt on a temporary basis in cities across the country. On its website, HSS declares itself a client’s “secret weapon for improving service while cutting costs — 12% annually, on average.”

A HuffPost report in August chronicled how the outsourcing of work to HSS has led to a two-class system within certain hotels, as lesser-paid agency workers toil alongside better-compensated direct hires. Several Indianapolis hotel workers told HuffPost then that the agency shorted them on their wages and threatened them with dismissal if they couldn’t finish their work in the allotted time. The CEO of HSS said at the time that any instances of unpaid wages were honest mistakes and that the company took the allegations seriously.

Management at Georgia-based HSS could not immediately be reached for comment. This isn’t the first time the company has been sued by workers. A former manager in Pittsburgh once filed a lawsuit claiming he was fired because he stood up for housekeepers who weren’t being paid what they were owed. The company has also been criticized for an advertisement it ran in a hotel trade publication that showed tiny workers inside a vending machine, apparently ready for purchase.

The HSS-staffed hotels named in the Indianapolis lawsuit include Embassy Suites, Marriott, Westin, Hyatt, Holiday Inn and Omni properties.

Martha Gonzalez, 28, one of the workers now suing, tells HuffPost she worked at Hyatt and Marriott properties as an HSS employee earning the minimum wage. She says that she was required to come in early and prepare her housekeeping cart before punching in, and that she often wound up working through her lunch break or clocking out to finish work at the end of the day, to avoid being punished. She says she quit last summer.

“I was sick of getting a check that didn’t meet my family’s needs,” Gonzalez, who’s from Mexico, says through a translator. “Every check was just too small. I was so tired of working in a place under pressure, getting calls from the manager, ‘Are you finished? Are you finished?'”

Plaintiff Anastasia Amantecatl, who worked for HSS as a housekeeper at a Marriott, claims that she was compelled to show up two hours before her shift actually started each day. “This was necessary for her to complete her required number of rooms for the day,” the lawsuit states. “She was not compensated for this time nor was she paid the required overtime premium for this time.” The lawsuit alleges that between 20 and 25 housekeepers found themselves in a similar situation at the hotel.

Many hotel workers in Indianapolis have told HuffPost that their workloads have increased in recent years as their wages have remained flat or even gone down. Workers and their advocates partly blame the outsourcing of previously in-house jobs for deteriorating work conditions.

A hotel company can save money by shifting some of its workforce to a company like HSS, since it would no longer be responsible for providing costly worker benefits. But workers employed by labor agencies are technically temps, sometimes going years on end without receiving health coverage or pay raises. Similar temp outsourcing has become widespread in the warehousing and logistics industries, where many workers blame the temp model for their low wages and lack of benefits.

Officials with UNITE HERE argue that the outsourcing at hotels has hidden costs for the city and state, such as the taxpayer-funded health care that many agency workers’ families end up using. “I don’t think the taxpayers of Indianapolis should be the ones to subsidize these workers because these corporations don’t want to [provide] living wages and benefits,” Becky Smith, a union organizer, told HuffPost last summer.

Salvador Perez, a 38-year-old father of two from Mexico, is also named in the hotel lawsuit. He says that he worked for HSS for the last few months of 2011, earning the $7.25 minimum wage as a dishwasher. He claims he would regularly work a 40-hour week but end up being paid only for 35. He says he’s suing with his colleagues to recover back wages and “end the exploitation that’s happening at hotels downtown.”

“We struggled to pay for diapers for our baby,” Perez says. “We had to go to food pantries and churches to feed our families. They always said, ‘It’ll come with the next check, it’ll come with the next check.’ But it didn’t.”

This article appeared in The Huffington Post on January 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Jamieson is the Huffington Post’s workplace reporter.Before joining the D.C. bureau, Jamieson reported on transportation issues for local Washington news site TBD.com and covered criminal justice for Washington City Paper. He’s the author of a non-fiction book, Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession, and his stories have appeared in SlateThe New RepublicThe Washington Post, and Outside. A Capitol Hill resident, he’s won the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and the Hillman Foundation’s Sidney Award.

It's All Your Fault, Economy!

Monday, January 9th, 2012

Maria SaabThe beginning of a new year is a time of reflection- what am I going to bring forward into the new year and what I am going to leave behind in the old year. Recently having celebrated a birthday and reaching the “I’m half-way done with law school” milestone, I have found myself reflecting more and more about where I stand as a young adult. While every human has that moment, or has the several moments, where they stop to think about where they are going and what they are doing with their lives, I feel like I spend most of my days pondering these questions. I know what you may be thinking- bring out the violins, another sob story (My comeback, however, is that this is no sob story, but a Saab story. Get it? A little homophone if you will). I largely attribute this feeling to the state of the economy , which at this point is an easy target and a catch-all reason to blame many of our sorrows upon.

However, my problem with the economy is not so much the scarcity of jobs- but the decreasing number of opportunities to follow your dreams, capitalize on your interests, or even develop a passion (I’ll elaborate more on this-just you wait). I recently read an expose in The Washington Post about the  top fourteen college majors with the highest unemployment rates. Lucky for me, my liberal arts degree and my yet-to-be-completed Juris Doctor help me to occupy two of the fourteen categories for highest unemployment but I digress. Most of the majors in this list can be categorized as part of the social sciences and liberal arts. While the hard sciences like engineering and computer science did make the list, most of the majors with the highest unemployment rates were not of technical backgrounds.

With this in mind, I registered to attend the Center of American Progress’s presentation “Keeping the American Economy Competitive in the 21st Century.” At the presentation, Secretary of Commerce John Bryson unveiled the COMPETES Act report on U.S. economic competitiveness and innovation. The presentation was timed perfectly with President Obama’s announcement that 200,000 jobs had been created in the past month. The report was prepared by the Department of Commerce in consultation with the National Economic Council and addressed topics such as tax policy; general business climate in the U.S., regional issues such as the role of state and local governments in higher education; barriers to set up new firms; trade policy; and science and technology education. Some of the key conclusions of the report outlined the need to invest more money in research and development initiatives, including investment in higher education focused on science, technology, engineering an mathematics (STEM) as well as mediums for increased innovation.

The panelists spoke of innovation as being a key element of our economic success- but elaborating on a sense of stalled innovation in the American economy. For example, Aneesh Chopra, U.S. Chief Technology Officer, spoke of America inventing wireless broadband, but that most broadband headquarters are no longer in the U.S. There is no doubt that innovation and invention are the key cornerstone to economic success. Even Steve Jobs once said “innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower” and I believe him wholeheartedly- as I type away this blog post on my MacBook Pro, while holding my iPhone, and jamming out on my iTunes (loyal consumer is what you may call me). The report emphasized that by positioning American efforts on innovation, there will increased investment in STEM education, resulting in a greater demand for individuals in jobs within these fields. In order for America to move forward and continue to stay competitive in the global economy, it will need to be able to explore, invent, and create cutting edge technologies.

The presentation was excellent- I really enjoyed listening to the panelists and listening to their responses to questions I never would have thought to have posited myself. I did get to ask a question in the break-out session, where event attendees could ask questions to some of the researchers involved with the report. The question I posed was largely based on the Washington Post article I recently read. If our current economy is lagging because of high unemployment rates, but the highest unemployment rates come from fields not within the hard science background, why choose to invest our federal dollars in a sector that is not ailing? Can we stay competitive and keep our economy afloat by relying solely on innovation and R&D in technology? The response I received was that this report didn’t address that issue, but focused on the topics presented that day. I guess it wasn’t a bad answer- it was the truth, but it left me pondering and I hate to say this, but also a little disheartened. I had the Washington Post and the Department of Commerce telling me I probably would have been better off pursuing a different field of study. This is where I can clarify my statement about the economy- I genuinely enjoyed being a liberal arts major and I have always wanted to become a lawyer. To hear that things are moving in a direction that I am clearly moving the opposite of kind of stings. While things, I know, won’t come easy and perseverance and dedication always are rewarded- for now,  I’ll just blame the economy.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

Teachers Decide To Work For Free After Budget Cuts Leave Pennsylvania School District Without Funds For Salaries

Friday, January 6th, 2012

Tanya SomanaderThe Chester Upland School District in Delaware County, Pennsylvania suffered a serious setback when Gov. Tom Corbett (R) slashed $900 million in education funds from the state budget. The cuts landed hardest on poorer districts, and Chester Upland, which predominantly serves African-American children and relies on state aid for nearly 70 percent of its funding, expects to fall short this school year by $19 million.

Faced with such a shortage of funds, the school district informed its staff that it will not be able to pay their salaries come Wednesday. So the teachers decided to work for free. As one teacher put it, students “need to be educated, so we intend to be on the job”:

At a union meeting at Chester High School on Tuesday night, the employees passed a resolution saying they would stay on “as long as we are individually able.”

Columbus Elementary School math and literacy teacher Sara Ferguson, who has taught in Chester Upland for 21 years, said after the meeting, “It’s alarming. It’s disturbing. But we are adults; we will make a way. The students don’t have any contingency plan. They need to be educated, so we intend to be on the job.”

The school board and the unions separately begged Corbett to provide financial aid for the district, but Corbett turned each request down. Pennsylvania’s Education Secretary Ron Tomalis told the board that it “had failed to properly manage its finances and would not get any additional funds.” Chester Upland was forced to lay off “40 percent of its professional staff and about half of its unionized support staff before school began last fall.” That leaves 200 professionals and 65 support staff to manage a school with class sizes of over 40 students.

Chester Upland is not the only district desperately trying to stay afloat. Corbett’s cuts forced one school district to enforce wage freezes and cut extracurricular activities and another turned to actually using sheep instead of lawnmowers to cut grass at two of its schools. As ThinkProgress’s Travis Waldron pointed out, Corbett could relieve school districts if he let special interest groups like tobacco and the oil and gas industry go without their tax breaks. But he seems to prefer allowing teachers to go without pay.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on January 6, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tanya Somanader is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tanya grew up in Pepper Pike, Ohio and holds a B.A. in international relations and history from Brown University. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Tanya was a staff member in the Office of Senator Sherrod Brown, working on issues ranging from foreign policy and defense to civil rights and social policy.

Obama Makes Recess Appointments to NLRB? Is it Enough for AFL-CIO Endorsement?

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Mike ElkWASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, President Obama made three recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)—Democrats Sharon Block and Richard Griffin, as well as Republican Terry Flynn. Without the apppointments, the federal agency, which mediate labor disputes and oversees union elections, wouldn’t have had a quorum to issue valid rulings. (He also made a much more high-profile appointment of Richard Corday to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in order to make that regulator functional as well.)

The recess appointments come after the NLRB was rendered inoperable due to the expiration of Craig Becker’s term on January 3. That lowered the number of people sitting on the board to two, below the quorum threshold. As I reported, Obama nominated Block and Griffin for the positions last month. (The Senate didn’t confirm the nominees, which were made only a few days before Congress recessed for the holidays.) With the recess appointments, the board will be able to make key decisions that affect American workers.

President Obama’s rapid fix to the NLRB”s problem stands in stark contrast to the beginning of his term in January 2009, when the board was also inoperable. Obama waited 14 months to make recess appointments to fill those slots.

The speed in making the appointments may be a move by the White House to gain the support of the AFL-CIO, which has yet to endorse Obama, unlike other major unions like AFSCME, NEA, UFCW and SEIU. It’s unclear as well if the AFL-CIO’s delay in endorsing Obama, or AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka’s recent call for greater political independence for organized labor played any role in pressuring the White House to quickly make the recess appointments to both the CFPB and NLRB.

Trumka was quick to praise the appointments:

We commend the President for exercising his constitutional authority to ensure that crucially important agencies protecting workers and consumers are not shut down by Republican obstructionism. Working families and consumers should not pay the price for political ploys that have repeatedly undercut the enforcement of rules against Wall Street abuses and the rights of working people.

The move may give the AFL-CIO necessary cover to endorse President Obama, and offer active support on the ground during the election season.

But the labor federation, and other unions that have yet to endorse Obama, may be looking to see if the president can pass several other tests this year that have to do with workers and their rights.

State legislators in Indiana are planning to bring right-to-work legislation to a vote in the Indiana legislature possibly as early as this week. It’s unclear if President Obama is going to make any public statement about the legislation, which organized labor strongly opposes, in this key battleground state.

Congressional Republicans are also floating the idea of paying for a payroll tax cut holiday by continuing a freeze on the pay of federal employees.

“Federal employees are working with severely limited resources,” National Treasury Employees Union President Colleen Kelley wrote in a letter to Congress today. “They have faced government shutdowns four times this year, yet they have worked diligently to deliver services to the public. To ask them to bear such a disproportionate additional burden is unfair and unacceptable.”

Late last month, when House Republicans floated the idea of a federal pay freeze as part of a temporary deal to extend the payroll tax cuts, Democratic Senators strongly objected. However, the White House did not object publicly to the freeze being in the deal.

Republicans may push the federal pay freeze again as part of a long-term payroll tax cut deal when the temporary deal expires at the end of February. Given Obama’s willingness to implement a two-year pay freeze on public employees in 2010 and his lack of objection to including a continuation, it’s unclear if Obama will oppose Republican efforts.

While today’s recess appointments will allow the nation’s top labor law body to operate, there are more big labor fights on the near horizon—and organized labor choose to demand more support from the President before gearing up for the campaign season.

This blog originally appeared in Working in These Times on January 4, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached atmike@inthesetimes.com.

U.S. Chamber to Members: It’s Cool to Make Your Employees Work on Christmas

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

This is a cross-post by Christy Setzer from U.S. Chamber Watch.

Dragging a little today? Desperately trying to focus on work while wishing you were still on a beach? Just be glad you don’t work for a member company of the U.S. Chamber of Congress—you might not have gotten that vacation at all.

In a toolkit for small business owners on the Chamber’s website, the lobbying organization advises modern-day Scrooge employers: “If you need to, you can require that [employees] work on Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, or any other traditional holiday.”

It’s a policy that other large corporations have already taken heat for. Over Thanksgiving, an enterprising Target employee called attention to the consequences of ever-earlier Black “Friday” sales (some starting on Thursday evening) for store employees: not getting to enjoy the holiday with their own families. More than 200,000 employees and customers signed a petition asking Target to drop the family-unfriendly policy, with copycat petitions formed against Kohl’s, Wal-Mart and other big-box stores with similar holiday hours.

The Chamber’s advice may not be surprising for an organization that’s also opposed the 40-hour workweek, paid family and medical leave, and even the federal minimum wage, but no doubt its member companies are taking note: Listen to this particular Dear Abby, only with a great deal of caution.

This blog appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on January 3, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

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