Archive for November, 2012
Friday, November 30th, 2012
The manager at the Southside Walmart in Paducah, Ky., might have figured he’d quashed the protest at his store.
After all, he made James Vetato and three other OUR Walmart picketers leave from near the front door.
The quartet retreated, but to regroup at the entrance road to the busy shopping center the Walmart store anchors.
They redeployed under a big blue and white Walmart sign and held up hand-lettered placards reading, “ON STRIKE FOR THE FREEDOM TO SPEAK OUT,” “RESPECT ASSOCIATES DON’T SILENCE ASSOCIATES,” “ULP [unfair labor practice] STRIKE” and “WALMART STOP BULLYING ASSOCIATES WHO SPEAK OUT.”
Vetato, his wife, Trina, Rick Thompson and Amber Frazee were among many members of Organization United For Respect at Walmart — “OUR Walmart” for short — who struck and walked picket lines at stores in a reported 100 cities and towns in 46 states on Thanksgiving night and on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year.
The group, which numbers thousands of current and past Walmart employees across the country, wanted to focus national attention on Walmart’s abuse of its workers, Vetato said.
The world’s richest retailer, Walmart is known for paying low wages to its employees, called “associates.” In addition, Walmart is fiercely anti-union.
Said Trina Vetato:
“People honked and waved to show their support, and they slowed down to read the signs. Some people stopped and told us they supported what we were doing.”
Vetato works at the Southside store. Her husband did, too, until he said management drove him to quit.
Frazee is employed at another Walmart in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. She and Vetato expect retaliation from Walmart management.
“They said that there will be consequences,” Vetato said. “I’ll probably get fired or put on suspension or something. But it’s well worth it to me.”
Frazee agreed. “All we want is respect,” she said.
The Vetatos, Frazee and Thompson handed out leaflets explaining, “We are the life-blood of Walmart, yet we are not always treated with respect.”
Some of the literature outlined a “Declaration of Respect,” which nearly 100 OUR Walmart members, including James Vetato, delivered to Walmart’s top management at company headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
The declaration calls on Wal-Mart management to
— Listen to associates.
— Respect associates and recognize their right to free association and free speech.
— Allow associates to challenge working conditions without fear of retribution.
— Pay a minimum of $13 an hour and make full-time jobs available for associates who want them.
— Create dependable and predictable work schedules.
— Provide affordable health care.
— Furnish each associate a policy manual that ensures “equal enforcement of policy and no discrimination” and affords every employee an “equal opportunity to succeed and advance in his or her career.”
The four Paducah protestors brought a cardboard box filled with OUR Walmart literature. They said management tried to keep it out of the store. Shoppers helped get it in.
“On Thanksgiving night, a community member took one of the fliers and taped it to the front of his shirt and walked through the store to get the word out to everybody,” Trina Vetato said.
Thompson, a Pittsburgh union activist, came to Paducah to join the picket line. When a member of management tried to stop him from handing out leaflets, another customer came to his aid.
Explained Thompson, a member of Vacaville, Calif.-based International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245:
“The manager started bullying me for peacefully disseminating information, which I had the right to do. When the customer saw the manager walk away, she said ‘Give me a stack of those. I’ll take them in for you and pass them out.'”
Thompson said OUR Walmart is not trying to drive Walmart out of business. “We are not asking a single customer to turn away. We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.
“We want employees to have a chance to form their own association and have their own concerted actions without retaliation and unfair treatment. Walmart is not a feudal manor. The associates are not serfs. Walmart does not own every aspect of their lives.”
This post was originally posted on November 24, 2012 at Union Review. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Berry Craig is a recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360. His articles can also be featured on AFL-CIO NOW.
Thursday, November 29th, 2012
WISCONSIN—The union campaign at Palermo’s Pizza in Milwaukee.—which offers a test case in integrating labor, immigrant and community-based organizing—was dealt a painful blow last week by the regional National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB told both sides it would not find the company’s mass firing of immigrant strikers to be illegal, would not protect other strikers from being “permanently replaced,” and would not order the company to enter collective bargaining.
“The Labor Board, it wasn’t very favorable to our cause,” Palermo’s striker Raul de la Torre tells Working in These Times in Spanish. “There was ample evidence to show that the company violated the rights of a majority of workers.”
The decision was announced by labor and management on November 21 and is expected to be issued in writing by the NLRB this week. Organizers celebrated some portions of the NLRB’s decision, including an expected complaint (similar to an indictment) against Palermo’s on other counts of union-busting, including nine other firings. But they pledged to appeal the NLRB’s choice not to pursue the mass termination–a significant legal setback for immigrant worker organizing–and not to require the company to negotiate.
Voces de La Frontera, a low-wage workers’ center and immigrant rights group, has been organizing Palermo’s workers around issues like staffing and wages since 2008 and has helped spur a nationwide boycott of Palermo’s products. Voces Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz said the NLRB’s validation of some of the charges against Palermo’s offered “very good affirmation for the boycott.”
But Neumann-Ortiz called the decision not to prosecute the mass firings “a travesty of justice in terms of immigrant worker rights” that shows how immigration laws are being applied in a way that “is undermining federally protected rights for all workers.” She said workers and their supporters “fully intend on getting that decision overturned both in the streets and in the legal system.”
In an emailed statement, Palermo’s President Giacomo Fallucca wrote, “We are proud that the NLRB decision confirms that we complied with the applicable laws. Voces de la Frontera should be embarrassed that its blatantly false claims have been rejected so soundly.” Dismissing the NLRB’s remaining charges as “minor technicalities,” Fallucca described the decision as “a major victory for Palermo’s and our workers” and urged Voces to “get out of the way” of an NLRB election.
Richard Saks, an attorney for the Palermo’s Workers Union, said it was “significant that the NLRB found Palermo’s guilty of a wide range of various serious violations of federal labor law, including retaliation and surveiling and interfering with employee rights to support the union and engage in protected activities.” But he said the union was “disappointed” that the regional NLRB had not found the firing of 75 strikers to be against the law.
As I’ve previously reported for Working in These Times, Palermo’s workers began actively pursuing unionization in the spring with support from Voces, the AFL-CIO and the United Steelworkers (USW) union (an AFL-CIO affiliate). In May, three-quarters of production workers signed a petition seeking recognition as the Palermo’s Workers Union. By law, companies can choose to recognize a union based on such a demonstration of majority support. Or they can then be forced to recognize a union if workers win an NLRB-supervised election.
Palermo’s refused to recognize the union, and the same day, workers were told that they had 28 days (soon reduced to 10) to prove that their immigration status authorized them to work in the United States.
In response, workers submitted a petition to the NLRB seeking a union election. Many also went on strike. Federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in what appears to be the first application of an agreement with the Department of Labor designed to avoid manipulation of ICE for union-busting, announced on June 7 that it was suspending immigration enforcement at Palermo’s. But the next day, Palermo’s fired 75 striking workers. Management called this legal compliance; organizers called it obvious union-busting.
The workers have now been on strike for almost six months. The union election has been repeatedly delayed, both by successive union-busting allegations filed by Voces and, before that, by a petition from a rival union, the United Food & Commercial Workers, to appear as an alternative to the Palermo Workers Union (the PWU is expected to affiliate with the USW). Because of the gravity of the union-busting allegations, the change in the make-up of the potential pool of voters (as strikers are replaced by new hires), and the wide margin by which workers originally petitioned management, USW and Voces began arguing that a fair election was no longer possible, and that the NLRB should issue a bargaining order requiring Palermo’s to proceed directly to negotiations with the PWU instead. Such orders are rare.
The NLRB strategy carried risks from the beginning. Because of the opportunities they provide employers to intimidate workers, and because of the limited leverage they offer to compel employers to actually negotiate in good faith, some major unions have essentially abandoned NLRB elections, opting instead for “comprehensive campaigns” to pressure employers to voluntarily grant union recognition based on a showing of majority support.
Interviewed in September, AFL-CIO Director of Immigration and Community Action Ana Avendaño described the Palermo’s struggle as an example where filing for an NLRB election might be serving an important purpose, because it provided a formal demonstration to ICE that the workers were actively organizing, thus securing the suspension of enforcement. Avendaño said that could make the NLRB filing worthwhile, despite the risks, and even if actual union recognition was won through a voluntary agreement reached because of the strike and the comprehensive campaign.
But the ICE letter didn’t stop Palermo’s from firing 75 workers, and the regional NLRB is not planning to prosecute those terminations. According to Saks, the NLRB “is essentially saying that the company would have acted that [same] way absent the strike and absent the unionization effort.” He added that because the NLRB was not finding the mass firing to be illegal, it also would not consider the strike to be an “Unfair Labor Practices” strike, and thus Palermo’s could legally “permanently replace” those strikers who haven’t been fired.
Saks said that the NLRB’s choice not to issue a bargaining order means that “there will probably have to be an election at some point for union recognition.” He said the Board has not indicated how quickly that could happen. If the regional NLRB’s decision stands, it could wait to schedule an election until after reaching resolution on all the charges it is proceeding with against Palermo’s.
That leaves union activists hoping for one of three results: Getting the regional NLRB’s decision changed on appeal; winning a majority of the current voter pool in an NLRB election; or winning union recognition and the reinstatement of the fired workers directly from Palermo’s through its comprehensive campaign. “All of those options are still on the table,” said Neumann-Ortiz. She said that while the favorable aspects of the NLRB’s decision provide validation for the workers’ allegations, the disappointing ones demonstrate “the importance of continued public support for these workers to have justice prevail.”
So far, the comprehensive campaign’s main lever has been a consumer boycott of Palermo’s pizzas, including pressure on Costco, the chain where the majority of Palermo’s product is sold. Organizers credit behind-the-scenes pressure from Costco—which benefits from a progressive reputation as an “anti-Walmart”—for spurring Palermo’s to seek a meeting with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in September. This month, De la Torre and other Palermo’s workers made a national tour, demonstrating at several Costco locations before arriving at headquarters in Washington state, where they met with officials from the company.
De la Torre described the meeting as “very positive” and said the Costco representatives “were surprised to hear what Palermo’s has done to the workers.” At the end of the meeting, said De la Torre, a Costco official “made the comment that if the charges that we made against the company were validated [by the NLRB], they could buy their pizza from any other company.”
The campaign has also targeted universities, including the campuses of the University of Wisconsin. UW-Madison undergraduate Allie Gardner said the boycott is “absolutely a student issue, because we’re on campus and we’re the ones who are paying tuition to go to this school that is then creating contracts with corporations that aren’t honoring the labor policies that we’ve created as an institution.” Gardner is a board member of the United States Students Association and of the statewide UW student council, both of which have passed resolutions calling on universities to support the boycott. The licensing committee at UW-Madison has unanimously called for the university to end its Palermo’s contract; students are pressing the university’s chancellor to honor that recommendation. The UW-Milwaukee student senate recently voted to endorse a boycott as well.
Last month, in an AFL-CIO report and legislative testimony by workers, the campaign also questioned state subsidies provided to Palermo’s.
“With the progress of the strike and the boycott so far, I feel happy,” said De la Torre. “But I’m not yet satisfied.”
Full disclosure: The United Steelworkers is an In These Times sponsor.
This post was originally posted on Working In These Times on November 28, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer and a contributor at In These Times, The American Prospect, Dissent, and Alternet. After receiving his MA in Political Science, he worked as a union organizer for five years. His website is http://www.josheidelson.com. Twitter: @josheidelson E-mail: “jeidelson” at “gmail” dot com.
Wednesday, November 28th, 2012
Domestic workers, such as caregivers and nannies, make all forms of other work possible and play an increasingly significant role in the U.S. economy. However, a new national study found, on average, domestic workers earn little more than minimum wage and few receive benefits like Social Security, health insurance or paid sick days.
Conducted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) and the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the study released today offers a startling and provocative look into the often-invisible world of domestic workers. Based on interviews with 2,086 workers across the country, researchers found domestic workers face serious financial hardships and have little control over their working conditions.
As a critical part of the U.S. labor force, domestic workers help thousands of working families by enabling them to focus on their jobs. Yet, they are often paid well below the level needed to adequately support their own family. Forty percent of workers report having paid some of their essential bills late in the previous cycle and 23% are unable to save any money for the future.
One worker featured in the report, Anna, reveals how she was “originally promised $1,500” to work as a live-in nanny in Manhattan but received less than half that amount, averaging “just $1.27 an hour.” According to the report, “Anna sleeps on the floor between the children she cares for, so she is the first to respond to their calls and the last to see them off to sleep.”
Anna’s story exemplifies how the absence of legal protections for domestic workers shapes the systemic substandard pay and conditions they experience. Domestic workers are excluded from federal and most states’ minimum wage laws, as well as by unemployment insurance, anti-discrimination and workers’ compensation laws. They also are excluded from the right to organize and collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.
Additionally, the majority of domestic workers are women of color and immigrants, a number of whom are undocumented. Researchers found wages differ significantly across ethnicity and immigration status.
At the launch event for the report’s release, Ai-jen Poo, the director of NDWA, said, “The nature of work is changing [in today’s workplaces]. We need 21st century policies that value the dignity of domestic work.”
The study calls for the end of the exclusion of domestic workers from labor laws, including state minimum wage laws and workers’ compensation. Without access to collective bargaining and legal protections, domestic workers remain vulnerable in today’s workplaces.
However, nannies, household cleaners and other domestic workers both in the United States and abroad have organized for years to raise labor standards and improve working conditions. New York became the first state in 2010 to legislate a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, granting overtime pay and other legal rights. Today, domestic workers around the nation are continuing to advocate for similar laws in other states.
In an effort to help raise labor standards for all working people, the AFL-CIO formed a national partnership with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2011. Through advocacy and organizing at both the local and state level, domestic workers are joining together with the union movement to help build power for working families.
Read the entire report: “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work.”
This article was originally published on AFL-CIO NOW! on November 28, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jennifer Angarita is is deeply committed to expanding and defending the rights of underrepresented and marginalized communities. She graduated from Yale University with an honors B.A. in Anthropology, and became the first in her family to hold a college degree. At Yale, Jennifer served as president of MEChA, a social justice and immigrant rights organization, and was co-founder of Yale for a DREAM, a student-based group advocating for the passage of the DREAM act.
Tuesday, November 27th, 2012
Cheap. Low prices. Bargains. It’s the American way of recent decades–a promise we’ve been given by everyone from politicians to corporate marketing campaigns. And most people find it hard to see the devastating cost to us as a society. But, sometimes things happen at once that can give a very clear picture, if you look. For your consideration.
First, a now well-known episode:
While Twinkies have a reputation for an unlimited shelf life, the company that makes the junk food may not.Hostess Brands, the bankrupt maker of cream-filled pastries like Twinkies and Ho Hos, said on Friday that it planned to wind down its operations. The decision comes a week after one of the company’s biggest unions went on strike to protest a labor contract.
Richard Trumka has it exactly right:
“What’s happening with Hostess Brands is a microcosm of what’s wrong with America, as Bain-style Wall Street vultures make themselves rich by making America poor,” Trumka said in a public statement. “Crony capitalism and consistently poor management drove Hostess into the ground, but its workers are paying the price.”…“These workers, who consistently make great products Americans love and have offered multiple concessions, want their company to succeed,” Trumka said in the statement. “They have bravely taken a stand against the corporate race-to-the-bottom. And now they and their communities are suffering the tragedy of a needless layoff. This is wrong. It has to stop. It’s wrecking America.”
Second, some of those cheap goods people snap up at Ikea were made by slave labor:
Ikea has long been famous for its inexpensive, some-assembly-required furniture. On Friday the company admitted that political prisoners in the former East Germany provided some of the labor that helped it keep its prices so low.A report by auditors at Ernst & Young concluded that Ikea, a Swedish company, knowingly benefited from forced labor in the former East Germany to manufacture some of its products in the 1980s. Ikea had commissioned the report in May as a result of accusations that both political and criminal prisoners were involved in making components of Ikea furniture and that some Ikea employees knew about it.
And, lastly, Black Friday is approaching–and Wal-Mart workers are asking for people to assist in their fight back against the Beast of Bentonville, the paragon of low-cost.
So, the lesson:
If we pull all those strands together–the destruction of the lives of thousands of workers who made Twinkies; the sweat that brought people the couch or bed they picked up in their car at Ikea; and the hard times hundreds of thousands of people have to endure to eke out a tiny paycheck from Wal-Mart–it tells the tale of America.
Cheap means the end of the middle-class, not to mention the mythical American Dream because cheap means minimum wage jobs, no health care, no pensions.
Low-cost means paychecks that don’t make it possible for a worker to get through the end of the month without seeing her or his financial debt grow larger.
Bargains are only beneficial to the fat-cat CEOs who pocket obscene paychecks because hidden behind that “bargain” price is an endless cycle of poverty and despair: to give millions of people “bargains”, CEOs manufacture products in low-wage countries or low-wage factories, and, the, they pay–or fire, in the case of Twinkies–workers every declining wages…and, then, those same workers don’t have enough money to buy much–so they are forced to, then, shop at the very low-wage stores–Wal-Mart being the prime example–that are the engine for the destructive cycle.
Just something to think about everytime we are assaulted by a TV ad, or coupon or billboard promising a bargain.
It isn’t more than a bargain with the devil of the bankrupt so-called free market.
This article was originally posted on Working Life on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is is a strategist, organizer, activist, commentator and writer, primarily focusing his energies on the topics of work, labor, and economy. In 2006, he unsuccessfully challenged incumbent U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in the Democratic primary.
Monday, November 26th, 2012
Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter is angry about Obamacare, and he’s taking it out on his employees. The healthcare reform law mandates that, by 2014, employees who work more than 30 hours per week at companies with more than 50 workers must be covered by their employer’s health insurance plan. In light of Obama’s re-election, the pizza magnate announced that he will cut workers’ hours in order to create a part-time workforce and dodge the cost of providing healthcare coverage.
Papa John’s is the third-largest pizza chain in the nation with about 16,500 employees, but the company currently only provides healthcare coverage to one third of its workers. Schnatter claims he wishes all of his employees could be on the company’s healthcare plan, but that rising health insurance costs are prohibitive. He tells ABC Action News, “The good news is 100 percent of the population is going to have health insurance. We’re all going to pay for it.”
Schnatter, who was a supporter of Mitt Romney and helped raise funds for the Republican presidential candidate, started voicing his opposition to the Affordable Care Act in the months leading up to the election. In August, he complained that the reform would cost his company 11-14 cents per pizza or 15-20 cents per order (though Forbes calculates the actual cost would be 3.4-4.6 cents per pizza) and that Papa John’s would pass those costs onto customers by raising pizza prices.
To many, raising pizza prices seems like a more reasonable approach to offsetting some of the costs of healthcare reform than cutting employees’ hours. The public response has been largely, “I’d pay an extra 14 cents per pizza for your employees to have healthcare.” Many have proposed boycotting the company, such as Reddit user goforReaper:
I haven’t had a Papa John’s pizza in months since he first claimed that Obamacare would cause him to raise prices—and I assure you, all of my cheap pizza needs have been fulfilled by other, equally shitty establishments. Reddit, let’s send him a message and stop buying his pizza. His employees deserve decent wages and access to healthcare, and if he doesn’t think so, he can sit with the rest of the Romney camp and circle jerk about how tough their lives are!
It seems Papa John’s is likely to lose more money from the negative public response than from the healthcare reform—Forbes reports that that the company’s shares have dropped 4.2% between Thursday and Monday. But such boycotting risks further harming these workers it aims to defend, as Mediaite points out:
The problem with boycotting Papa John’s (aside from the fact that it’s hard to refuse to buy pizza from a chain you already don’t buy pizza from) is that it actually hurts the employees on whose behalf we’re all outraged. A far better solution would be to send a check for $0.14 to John Schnatter every time you buy a pizza. Concerned citizens could also organize a Tipcott™, wherein they order the cheapest thing on the Papa John’s menu, then give the driver, like, a 100% tip.
On the other end of the spectrum, some have declared strong support for Papa John’s and are trying to use the issue to spark a movement in opposition of the healthcare reform law. In fact, @Reboot_USA started a Facebook campaign declaring Nov. 16 National Papa John’s Appreciation Day, on which Papa John’s supporters visit their local Papa John’s and order a pizza to stand against the “fiscal nightmare” that is Obamacare.
This article was originally posted on Working in These Times on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Sarah Cobarrubias is a freelance writer and editor at Chicagoista. She lives in Pilsen, IL.
Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
James Vetato planned to spend Black Friday wearing out shoe leather on a picket line at the Southside Walmart in Paducah, Ky.
“Now I’ll be there Thanksgiving night, too,” Vetato said. “Walmart has announced it will be open at 8 p.m. Thanksgiving night, which will prevent a lot of the associates from spending the holiday with their families.”
Vetato, 47, is an organizer with OUR Walmart—Organization United for Respect at Walmart—a national association of current and former Walmart employees, several thousand strong, who will be walking picket lines and striking at dozens of Walmart stores across the country on Turkey Day and Black Friday.
OUR Walmart wants to shine a national spotlight on Walmart’s abuse of its workers, Vetato said. The organization chose the day after Thanksgiving because it is the busiest shopping day of the year.
We are fighting to win respect and improve working conditions for all associates.
Vetato, who worked at the store he will be picketing, hopes OUR Walmart will become a union.
Before I worked at Walmart I wasn’t that big on unions. I didn’t think a union was a bad thing. I just didn’t know anything about unions. Now I think every workplace should be unionized.
According to Vetato, OUR Walmart has about 15 members in historic Paducah, where the Tennessee and Ohio rivers merge. “We’re relatively new so we’re not that big. But our numbers are growing.”
Vetato said the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union is providing financial backing and other valuable help to OUR Walmart, some of whose members, including Vetato, have demonstrated at Walmart corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
AFL-CIO-affiliated unions support Vetato’s group, too. “We stand in solidarity with the Walmart workers and will be glad to help them in any way we can,” said United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9447 President Jeff Wiggins, who is also president of the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council.
Vetato said fear is keeping more Walmart workers from joining OUR Walmart.
There aren’t that many jobs around here. But Walmart has pushed people so hard, they have decided enough is enough and they are not going to take it anymore.
Vetato said management drove him to quit the Southside store after two years.
It all started after I was speaking with an associate in the back room who was complaining about the way things were. I said things would be better if everybody stood together and took our problems to management.
A manager overheard the conversation, according to Vetato. “He said he was sick of my kind coming into the store and undermining what he was doing. He doubled my workload and cut my hours.”
But what really made me say ‘enough is enough’ was when he made some inappropriate comments about my 15-year-old daughter. I complained to the store manager and he told me he didn’t have time to micromanage the store.
James Vetato and son.
Vetato has worked at odd jobs since he left Walmart in October 2011. “When I apply some place and say I worked at Walmart and they call Walmart, I suspect Walmart won’t give me a good recommendation,” he said.
Meanwhile, the OUR Walmart actions began in October in Southern California when, for the first time ever, employees went on a one-day strike. Said Vetato:
Across the country, Walmart employees have filed many, many unfair labor practice charges against the company because of the way the company is treating them. Walmart refuses to address our concerns, even those that would help the company. If you speak out, you face retaliation.
Walmart, which is fiercely anti-union, has put out training videos aimed at discrediting OUR Walmart, according to Vetato. “They say all we are trying to do is take your money and get your personal information and cause trouble.”
Vetato said Walmart’s current business model includes canceling profit sharing for associates, increasing their health care costs by 36% and reducing their hours.
They are really trying to push full-time and older employees out the door and replace them with younger and part-time people.
This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on November 21, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Berry Craig is a recording secretary for the Paducah-based Western Kentucky AFL-CIO Area Council and a professor of history at West Kentucky Community and Technical College, is a former daily newspaper and Associated Press columnist and currently a member of AFT Local 1360.
Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
Michigan voters adopted a state constitutional amendment that prohibits “all sex- and race-based preferences in public education, public employment, and public contracting.”
The 6th Circuit (8-7) held this provision – as it relates to education – violates the 14th amendment’s equal protection clause.
Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action v. Univ of Michigan (6th Cir 11/15/2012)
(Plaintiffs limited their challenge to racial discrimination in public education.)
The court said that a black applicant could seek adoption of a constitutionally permissible race-conscious admissions policy only through the “lengthy, expensive, and arduous process” of amending the state constitution. On the other hand, someone wishing to change any other aspect of a university’s admissions policy has four options – lobby the admissions committee, petition the leadership of the university, seek to influence the school’s governing board, or initiate a statewide campaign to alter the state’s constitution.
“The existence of such a comparative structural burden undermines the Equal Protection Clause’s guarantee that all citizens ought to have equal access to the tools of political change.”
Seven judges wrote five DISSENTING opinions. Six said that the majority relied on two US Supreme Court cases that “have no application here,” and one said that the majority relied on “an extreme extension” of those cases. The cases are Hunter v. Erickson, 393 US 385 (1969), and Washington v. Seattle Sch Dist, 458 US 457 (1982).
This post was originally posted on Law Memo on November 16, 2012. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Ross Runkel 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.
Monday, November 19th, 2012
Today, Hostess Brands inc. — the company famed for its sickly sweet dessert snacks like Twinkies and Sno Balls — announced they’d be shuttering after more than eighty years of production.
But while headlines have been quick to blame unions for the downfall of the company there’s actually more to the story: While the company was filing for bankruptcy, for the second time, earlier this year, it actually tripled its CEO’s pay, and increased other executives’ compensation by as much as 80 percent.
At the time, creditors warned that the decision signaled an attempt to “sidestep” bankruptcy rules, potentially as a means for trying to keep the executive at a failing company. The Confectionery, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers International Union pointed this out in their written reaction to the news that the business is closing:
BCTGM members are well aware that as the company was preparing to file for bankruptcy earlier this year, the then CEO of Hostess was awarded a 300 percent raise (from approximately $750,000 to $2,550,000) and at least nine other top executives of the company received massive pay raises. One such executive received a pay increase from $500,000 to $900,000 and another received one taking his salary from $375,000 to $656,256.
Certainly, the company agreed to an out-sized pension debt, but the decision to pay executives more while scorning employee contracts during a bankruptcy reflects a lack of good managerial judgement.
It also follows a trend of rising CEO pay in times of economic difficulty. At the manufacturing company Caterpillar, for example, they froze workers’ pay while boosting their CEO’s pay to $17 million. And at Citigroup, CEO Vikram Pandit received $6.7 million for crashing his company, walking off with $260 million after the business lost 88 percent of its value.
This article was originally posted on Think Progress on November 16, 2012.
About the Author: Annie-Rose Strasser is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining American Progress, she worked for the community organizing non-profit Center for Community Change as a new media specialist. Previously, Annie-Rose served as a press assistant for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Annie-Rose holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the George Washington University.
Friday, November 16th, 2012
The expanded federal unemployment insurance program that provides benefits to millions of long-term unemployed Americans is set to expire at the end of December. If Congress fails to extend it, roughly two million Americans could lose their monthly unemployment checks.
States provide unemployment insurance for the first 27 weeks after a worker loses his or her job; after that, the federal government has provided benefits under the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program passed in 2008. There are currently five million Americans who have been out of work for longer than six months, and of those, virtually everyone who has been out of work since the end of July stands to lose their benefits at the end of the year. Even more could lose benefits by April without a renewal of the EUC program, the Washington Post reports:
These workers have exhausted their state unemployment insurance, leaving them reliant on the federal program.
In addition to those at risk of abruptly losing their benefits in December, 1 million people would have their checks curtailed by April if the program is not renewed, according to lawmakers and advocates pushing for an extension.
Congress last extended the federal unemployment program earlier this year, but it cut the number of weeks of assistance when it did so. More than 500,000 Americans lost unemployment insurance between the beginning of 2012 and the end of July, largely because the formula used to calculate eligibility for those benefits is based on comparisons of state unemployment rates. So even though some states still have persistently high unemployment rates, they have lost access to EUC because those rates have improved slightly since they peaked during the Great Recession.
Republicans have previously created fights over unemployment extensions, arguing that the program creates a culture of dependency and causes beneficiaries to stop looking for jobs. Despite those claims, the EUC program requires recipients to search for jobs while they receive benefits, and studies have shown that recipients of unemployment insurance look harder for jobs than those who don’t benefit from the program.
This post was originally posted on November 13, 2012 on ThinkProgress. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.
Thursday, November 15th, 2012
WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Cornell ILR Alumni Reception on September 20, 2012, I asked NLRB Chairman Mark Pearce, the keynote speaker, about the nearly six-year deliberation and unusual concurrence in Mezonos Maven Bakery, where the NLRB ultimately reversed an Administrative Law Judge’s (ALJ) 2006 decision granting back pay to undocumented workers under the NLRA. Speaking candidly, Chairman Pearce emphasized the importance of trying to find consensus in the Board’s voice, and the difficulty of reconciling this case with a 2002 Supreme Court holding in Hoffman Plastic Compounds v. NLRB that appeared to prohibit back pay remedies for undocumented workers. In recent weeks, Chairman Pearce has added that he “had angst over” the decision, and that “the concept of ‘made whole’ … needs to be examined [by us].”
I first became familiar with Mezonos (and a companion case, Imperial Buffet, though the restaurant-employer later went bankrupt) in the summer of 2011 when working as a Judicial Law Clerk for ALJs Steven Davis and Steven Fish—the finders-of-fact for those cases. These were cases where the employer had flouted their legal obligations to verify work documentation under IRCA, and then further violated the NLRA without having to pay out the central remedy of back pay because the workers were undocumented. Given the inequitable outcomes and the perverse incentives, ALJs Davis and Fish argued for a factual distinction of an employer who was doubly-liable under both IRCA and the NLRA from the Hoffman Plastics scenario of a worker fraudulently submitting false documents to an employer following the legal requirements under IRCA.
On August 9, 2011, the NLRB in its 3-0 decision, following some bruising years after the Boeing case, operating without a sufficient quorum, and an unprecedented attempt by House Republicans to defund the independent agency, locked into politically safe position of extending the Hoffman Plastics holding to cover the Mezonos factual scenario, though then Chairwoman Liebman and incoming Chairman Pearce wrote a concurrence critical of this perverse outcome.
Although a re-thinking of “making whole” may provide a more adequate array of remedies than mere back pay, which is the NLRB’s only real stick in ensuring compliance with its rulings, the NLRB had a strong jurisprudential basis in which to use the fault-based analysis to factually distinguish the Mezonos scenario from Hoffman Plastics. Specifically, there are examples in tort law and contract law, including the “last clear chance” doctrine and exceptions to in pari delicto, which ensure that the fault-ridden party is ultimately held liable even in a legal regime that might suggest otherwise.
As reconsideration was denied by the NLRB in December 2011, if this case ultimately finds its way into the Second Circuit (or, less likely, the D.C. Circuit), it would be worth considering how these arguments for a fault-based analysis might just result in a ruling that helps protect labor rights while still achieving the aims of our national immigration policy. After all, much angst might be resolved by having reconcilable laws work together, rather than interpreting them at cross-purposes.
This article is based on Jon L. Dueltgen’s award winning essay. He placed second place in a writing competition on labor and employment law offered by the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers. An earlier version of the paper also received recognition from the Louis Jackson National Writing competition.
About the Author: Jon L. Dueltgen is a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a graduate of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. His paper on Mezonos Brooklyn Bakery: A Bridge Too Far for Hoffman Plastics was most recently recognized by the ABA/College of Labor and Employment Law National Writing Competition.