Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for December, 2012

Just When You Thought the Hostess Story Couldn't Get Worse...

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Kenneth Quinnell

Money that was intended for employee pensions was used by Hostess Brands management to cover operating expenses and workers were never compensated for the lost payment, Yahoo News reports. An undetermined amount of money that Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Miller (BCTGM) members were supposed to receive as part of their contract with the company was used to keep the company running after mismanagement led to significant losses and eventual bankruptcy. 

This was during the same time period that Hostess began paying out massive bonuses to executives. BCTGM learned that the then-Hostess CEO was to be awarded a 300% raise, and at least nine other top executives were to receive raises ranging between 35% and 80%.

The process of taking the pension money was quite simple for Hostess:

For example, John Jordan, the local union financial officer for [BCTGM] Local 334 in Biddeford, Maine, said workers at a Hostess factory in Biddeford agreed to plow 28 cents of their 30-cents-an-hour wage increase in November 2010 into the pension plan.

Hostess was supposed to take the additional 28 cents an hour and contribute it to the workers’ pension plan.

Employees never saw that 28 cents. In July 2011, Hostess stopped making pension contributions and used the money to run the business. Employees never received the pension funds and the compensation Hostess promised the workers was not made up in wages, either.

In all likelihood, the tactic doesn’t violate federal law because the money didn’t get paid to employees first, but went directly to the pension fund. Lawyers call the situation “betrayal without remedy” and it’s unlikely the money can be recovered.

Hostess CEO Gregory Rayburn’s response ranged from understatement to “it’s not my fault.”

Gregory Rayburn, Hostess’s chief executive officer, said in an interview it is “terrible” that employee wages earmarked for the pension were steered elsewhere by the company.

“I think it’s like a lot of things in this case,” he added. “It’s not a good situation to have.”

Mr. Rayburn became chief executive in March and learned about the issue shortly before the company shut down, he said. “Whatever the circumstances were, whatever those decisions were, I wasn’t there,” he said.

Rayburn’s predecessor at Hostess, Brian Driscoll, refused to comment.

The end of pension contributions by the company was a key reason for the BCTGM strike:

Halted pension contributions were a major factor in the bakers union’s refusal to make a deal with the company. After a U.S. bankruptcy judge granted Hostess’s request to impose a new contract, the union’s employees went on strike. Hostess then moved to liquidate the company.

“The company’s cessation of making pension contributions was a critical component of the bakers’ decision” to walk off the job, said Jeffrey Freund of Bredhoff & Kaiser PLLC, a lawyer for the union.

“If they had continued to fund the pension, I think we’d still be working there today,” said Craig Davis, a 44-year-old forklift operator who loaded trucks with Twinkies, cupcakes and sweet rolls at an Emporia, Kan., bakery, for nearly 22 years.

The amount of employee compensation lost by the company is not known, but the numbers are staggering:

In five months before this past January’s bankruptcy filing, the company missed payments to the main baker pension fund totaling $22.1 million, Mr. Freund said.

After that, forgone pension payments added up at a rate of $3 million to $4 million a month until Hostess formally rejected its contracts with the union. The figures include company contributions and employee wages that were earmarked for the pension, according to Mr. Freund.

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on December 11, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a senior writer for AFL-CIO, and a former precinct committeeman in the Leon County Democratic Party. He is a former vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party’s Legislative Liaison Committee, and during the 2010 election, through the primary, Kenneth Quinnell worked for the Kendrick Meek campaign. He has written for Think Progress, AFSCME and for OurFuture.org on Social Security.

Women Haven’t Gained A Larger Share Of Corporate Board Seats In Seven Years

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

In addition to grappling with a persistent pay gap, working women also have to deal with extreme difficulty ascending to powerful corporate positions, according to a report by the research organization Catalyst. As Bryce Covert explained at The Nation:

Women held just over 14 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies this year and 16.6 percent of board seats at the same. Adding insult to injury, an even smaller percent of those female executive officers are counted among the highest earners—less than 8 percent of the top earner positions were held by women. Meanwhile, a full quarter of these companies simply had no women executive officers at all and one-tenth had no women directors on their boards. […]

Did this year represent a step forward? Not even close. Women’s share of these positions went up by a mere half of a percentage point or less last year. Even worse, 2012 was the seventh consecutive year in which we haven’t seen any growth in board seats and the third year of stagnation in the C-suite.

Overall, more than one-third of companies have no women on their board of directors. But economic evidence shows that keeping women out of the board room is a mistake. According to work by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, “companies with at least one woman on the board would have outperformed in terms of share price performance, those with no women on the board over the course of the past six years.”

This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 11, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author:  Pat Garofalo is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

The Bangladeshi Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

When I first read about the horrendous fire in Bangladesh, I immediately thought of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911 — more than 100 years ago. In many ways, nothing has changed. In some ways, some things have changed.

Today:

A Bangladeshi garment factory that was producing clothes for Wal-Mart, Disney,  and other major Western companies had lost its fire safety certification in June, five months before a blaze in the facility killed 112 workers, a fire official told the Associated Press.

Separately, the owner of the Tazreen factory told AP that he had only received permission to build a three-story facility but had expanded it illegally to eight stories and was adding a ninth at the time of the blaze…

The factory didn’t have any fire exits for its 1,400 workers, many of whom became trapped by the blaze. Investigators have said the death toll would have been far lower if there had been even a single emergency exit. Fire extinguishers in the building were left unused, either because they didn’t work or workers didn’t know how to use them.

100 years ago:

Near closing time on Saturday afternoon, March 25, 1911, a fire broke out on the top floors of the Asch Building in the Triangle Waist Company. Within minutes, the quiet spring afternoon erupted into madness, a terrifying moment in time, disrupting forever the lives of young workers. By the time the fire was over, 146 of the 500 employees had died. The survivors were left to live and relive those agonizing moments. The victims and their families, the people passing by who witnessed the desperate leaps from ninth floor windows, and the City of New York would never be the same.

The Triangle Fire tragically illustrated that fire inspections and precautions were woefully inadequate at the time. Workers recounted their helpless efforts to open the ninth floor doors to the Washington Place stairs. They and many others afterwards believed they were deliberately locked– owners had frequently locked the exit doors in the past, claiming that workers stole materials. For all practical purposes, the ninth floor fire escape in the Asch Building led nowhere, certainly not to safety, and it bent under the weight of the factory workers trying to escape the inferno. Others waited at the windows for the rescue workers only to discover that the firefighters’ ladders were several stories too short and the water from the hoses could not reach the top floors. Many chose to jump to their deaths rather than to burn alive.

Nothing has changed in 100 years — workers’ lives are thought of as expendable, corners are cut in the name of profit, whether the name is Triangle Waist Company or Wal-Mart.

What did change a bit in the wake of the 1911 fire was a renewed drive to unionize and strengthen health and safety laws. Out of the tragedy, workers mobilized.

Whether that will happen in Bangladesh is to be seen. It would be a great testament to those who died is, out of the ashes of the fire, workers organized to stop the survivors and others from being future victims of the greed of Wal-Mart and its global corporate ilk.

This post was originally posted on Working Life on December 7, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981). He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors. He has also written four books, including the Audacity of Greed.

What You Need To Know About The Michigan GOP’s ‘Right-To-Work’ Assault On Workers

Monday, December 10th, 2012

On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) backtrackedon his commitment to avoid so-called “right-to-work” legislation and by the end of the day, both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan state Senate had introduced and passed separate bills aimed at the state’s union workforce.

Michigan Republicans claim the state needs the measure to stay competitive with Indiana, where lawmakers passed “right-to-work” last year. In reality, though, such laws have negative effects on workers and little effect on economic growth. Here is what you need to know about the state GOP’s campaign:

THE LEGISLATION: Both the state House and state Senate passed legislation on Thursday that prohibits private sector unions from requiring members to pay dues. The Senate followed suit and passed a different but similar measure that extends the same prohibition for public sector unions, though firefighters and police officers are exempt. The state House included a budget appropriations provision that is intended to prevent the state’s voters from being able to legally challenge the law through a ballot referendum. Due to state law, both houses are prevented from voting on legislation passed by the other for five days, so neither will be able to fully pass the legislation until Tuesday at the earliest.

THE PROCESS: Union leaders and Democrats claim that Republicans are pushing the legislation through in the lame-duck session to hide the intent of the measures from citizens, and because the legislation would face more trouble after the new House convenes in January. Michigan Republicans hold a 63-47 advantage in the state House, but Democrats narrowed the GOP majority to just eight seats in November. Six Republicans opposed the House measure; five of them won re-election in 2012 (the sixth retired). And Michigan Republicans have good reason to pursue the laws without public debate. Though the state’s voters are evenly split on whether it should become a right-to-work state, 78 percent of voters said the legislature “should focus on issues like creating jobs and improving education, and not changing state laws or rules that would impact unions or make further changes in collective bargaining.”

THE CONSEQUENCES: While Snyder and Republicans pitched “right-to-work” as a pro-worker move aimed at improving the economy, studies show such legislation can cost workers money. The Economic Policy Institute found that right-to-work laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress wrote earlier this year. The decreases in union membership that result from right-to-work laws have a significant impact on the middle class and research “shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth,” EPI wrote in a recent report about Michigan. “Right-to-work” laws also decrease worker safety and can hurt small businesses.

Union leaders are, of course, aghast at Snyder and the GOP’s right-to-work push. “In a state that gave birth to the modern U.S. labor movement, it is unconscionable that Michigan legislators would seek to drive down living standards for Michigan workers and families with a law that will do nothing to improve either the state’s economic climate or the quality of life for Michigan residents,” RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United, said in a statement.

This post was originally posted on December 7, 2012 on Think Progress. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Travis Waldron is 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.

3,000 Workers at 14 Industrial Laundry Sites Get Wage Gains, Keep Free Health Insurance

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Industrial laundry workers, who wash linen for New York’s hotels, hospitals and restaurants, voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new master contract between 14 laundries in the New York Metro area and the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU.

The contract includes significant wage gains for laundry workers, a majority of which are African-American women and Latina immigrants.  New York Metro area laundry workers will also continue to have free employer paid individual medical, dental and vision insurance and a pension. Laundry workers will be part of one multi-employer contract, which sets the standards for a majority of laundries in the New York Metro area.

“This contract makes real improvements for laundry workers and their families and continues to raise standards for the industry,” Wilfredo Larancuent, Regional Manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU, told the bargaining committee comprised of drivers and production workers from area laundries, “You can feel proud of what we have accomplished.”

Elected worker representatives from the laundries bargained the contract with employer representatives for over a month.  A strike vote was held at the laundries, but the contract was settled prior to the strike deadline. Workers and the employers were able to come to an agreement and both were satisfied with the contract.

The Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU represents nearly 70% of all industrial laundry workers in the New York Metro area.  In August, laundry workers at JVK Operations in Long Island voted to join the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United/SEIU and the Joint Board continues to organize the remaining laundries in the New York Metro area in order to bring all laundry workers up to the standards of their membership.

This article was originally published on SEIU on December 7, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Service Employees International Union is an organization of 2.1 million members united by the belief in the dignity and worth of workers and the services they provide and dedicated to improving the lives of workers and their families and creating a more just and humane society.

Striking SoCal Port Clerical Workers Win Outsourcing Controls in Tentative Pact

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Some 450 office clerical workers—members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 63—are back on the job this morning in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif., after the ILWU and port employers reached a tentative agreement Tuesday night that will prevent the outsourcing of jobs.

ILWU International President Robert McEllrath said the unity and solidarity of the workers, members, their families and thousands of community supporters played a major role in the workers’ win. When the workers struck Nov. 27, ILWU dockworkers and other port workers refused to cross the picket lines.

“This victory was accomplished because of support from the entire ILWU family of 10,000 members in the harbor community.”

The key elements in the tentative agreement are new protections that will help prevent jobs from being outsourced to Texas, Taiwan and beyond. Union spokesman Craig Merrilees said:

“Really, it was getting control on the outsourcing…ensuring that the jobs are here today, tomorrow and for the future.”

The port workers had been without contract for more than two years and employers were threatening to outsource jobs from the nation’s busiest port complex—some 40 percent of all containerized cargo is handled in the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports.

Details of the agreement that still must be ratified have not been released, but news reports say it is a six-year deal that is retroactive to June 30, 2010.

The workers don’t have ordinary clerk and secretarial jobs. The Los Angeles Times describes them as “logistics experts who process a massive flow of information on the content of ships’ cargo containers and their destinations….They are responsible for booking cargo, filing customs documentation and monitoring and tracking cargo movements.”

This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on November 6, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a 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.

America Holding Walmart’s Feet to the Fire

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Finally, someone is holding Walmart directly accountable for the abuse of workers in its contracted warehouses. “Recent discovery has established that Walmart bears ultimate responsibility for the violations of state and federal law committed against plaintiff warehouse workers,” said a court document filed in Los Angeles.  

Walmart Targeted In Warehouse Worker Lawsuit – Huffington Post  

“Wal-Mart employs a network of contractors and subcontractors who have habitually broken the law to keep their labor costs low and profit margins high. We believe Wal-Mart knows exactly what is happening and is ultimately responsible for stealing millions of dollars from the low-wage warehouse workers who move Wal-Mart merchandise.”

Warehouse Workers Sue Wal-Mart for Back pay and Damages – ABC News/Univision 

Corporate Welfare: instead of taking a small partition of their record profits, or slightly cutting CEO pay to help out their workers, Walmart wants YOU, the taxpayer, to pay for its workers’ healthcare. Just one more reason Walmart workers, and the population at large, are standing up to Walmart. 

Walmart Wants Taxpayers to Pick Up Health Care Costs – Truth Dig

Walmart wants you to think its workers love the store and love their jobs. If that’s the case, why are there unprecedented protests against the mega retailer spanning the country? Why is the store facing a lawsuit from contracted warehouse workers? Since Walmart has given us no real evidence that its workers love the store, maybe we are just supposed to take Walmart’s word for it? 

Walmart Wants You To Know That Their Workers ‘Love Their Jobs’ – Huffington Post

This post was originally posted on Change to Win on Monday, December 3, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: J Lefkowitz: Change to Win is a Strategic Organizing Center which focuses on using its “strength in numbers to reclaim the American Dream.” It’s target is middle class and working class Americans to hold corporations  and other large entities in our modern society accountable. You can learn more about Change to Win here.

Corporate Profits Hit Record High While Worker Wages Hit Record Low

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

A constant conservative charge against President Obama is that he is inherently anti-business. However, businesses keep defying the storyline by making larger and larger profits, rebounding nicely out of the Great Recession.

In the third quarter of this year, “corporate earnings were $1.75 trillion, up 18.6% from a year ago.” Corporations are currently making more as a percentage of the economy than they ever have since such records were kept. But at the same time, wages as a percentage of the economy are at an all-time low, as this chart shows. (The red line is corporate profits; the blue line is private sector wages.):

 

Corporations made a record $824 billion in profits last year as well, while the stock market has had one of its best performances since 1900 while Obama has been in office.

Meanwhile, workers are getting the short end of the stick. As CNN Money explained, “a separate government reading shows that total wages have now fallen to a record low of 43.5% of GDP. Until 1975, wages almost always accounted for at least half of GDP, and had been as high as 49% as recently as early 2001.”

This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 3, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

Workers Cheer Living Wage Victory in Austin

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Barbara DohertyConstruction workers and others in the Austin, Texas, area are celebrating a coalition victory this week after Travis County commissioners approved a first-ever economic development policy that includes a living wage requirement.

The policy requires contractors asking for tax incentives to move into the county to pay all employees at least $11 per hour. It’s a significant improvement over the prevailing construction hourly wage of $7.50.

On the same day the county provision passed, a subcommittee of the Austin City Council passed a similar policy, which will come to the full council in the coming months. As reported in the Austin American-Statesman, both the city and county have been criticized about generous tax incentives offered in recent years to major companies such as Apple and Marriott.

Along with faith-based and student organizations, the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council, the Laborers (LIUNA), the Electrical Workers (IBEW), AFSCME Local 1624, Education Austin (AFT) and Texas State Employees Union (TSEU)/CWA Local 6186 participated in the yearlong campaign spearheaded by the Austin-based Workers Defense Project (WDP). The 1,000-member WDP has worked for 10 years on wage theft and other workers’ rights issues.

Austin Interfaith and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) were among others that supported the campaign.

“Really, what this means is construction workers are starting to have a say in their working conditions and their pay,” WDP organizer Greg Casar told a celebratory crowd after the county commissioners voted.

This post was originally posted on November 30, 2012 at AFL-CIO NOW. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Barbara Doherty: My dad drove a laundry delivery truck in San Francisco and I came to appreciate unions sitting in the waiting room at the Teamsters vision center there. More than 30 years ago, I joined the international SEIU publications staff (under the union’s legendary, feisty president, George Hardy). Living in California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., over the years, I have contributed countless news and feature articles, as well as editing, to the publications and websites of unions in the public and private sectors and the construction trades.

Favoritism at Work: How to Respond When Unequal Treatment Impacts Your Productivity and Satisfaction

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

We all grew up watching the teacher’s pet get the most attention. In the workplace we see people compete to warm up to the boss at an Olympic level. Favoritism in the office not only impacts our sense of fairness, it creates inequality in responsibility. Worse, it can breed resentment and lead to serious consequences. What should an employee do when someone else seems to be the favorite?

To understand the best way to handle this kind of situation, we need to gain some perspective on the culture of work. An office, a school, or other facility is filled with social relationships, but these connections are not the reason the place exists. The primary purpose of a business or a non-profit is to advance the mission of the organization. Although we do want people to get along, we don’t want our workplace relationships to become so overwhelming that derail the company.

While this may sound obvious, it’s completely unlike the rest of our lives. We pick our friends and partners based on mutual interests and compatibilities. We choose our neighborhoods and our preferred form of entertainment based on our own culture and experience. If you meet a group of friends at a party, you are all there because you like each other. But if you join a group of colleagues at work, you are not necessarily friends. You are not a “family.” You are a team whose members have been carefully selected to have the right skills and the right attitude to make the organization a success.

Why Favoritism Happens

It might seem like having close relationships at the office is inescapable. In fact, the Gallup organization includes a question about having a “best friend at work” as one of their key factors for predicting highly productive workgroups. We are social creatures, and we like to make connections. Part of having friendships in our personal lives is helping people, doing favors, and listening when the need our support. These are all positive aspects of healthy relationships.

However, friendships formed at the workplace can spill over into workplace responsibilities. We start to cover for people who are struggling, or we expect special treatment in the office in exchange for the personal relationship we have at home. This problem becomes even more challenging when the relationship is between a boss and an employee. This is when favoritism is most pronounced and most frustrating to other people.

Institutional Protocols and Practical Advice

If you have the authority to help define procedures for work, you can help to limit favoritism. Some companies have standing rules against relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Others try to standardize work items so that it’s clear everyone is contributing appropriately. Other organizations simply rotate employees to different departments on a regular basis, which helps to foster new ideas as well as limit favoritism.

However, if you’re just the unwitting victim of favoritism, these suggestions don’t offer much help. What do you do if a fellow coworker is the one who is getting all the attention and none of the responsibility? How do you deal with the lack of workplace fairness in this all-too-common situation?

First: resist the urge to gossip about the problem. Telling others that you are frustrated will only make the existing relationships more tense and create more challenges. Likewise, don’t approach either the employee or the manager involved in the unfair exchange. These conversations will only make you appear ungrateful and distracted.

Second: restructure your work to be more transparent. If others know what you are working on, they will want to do the same. A great technique is to list your current projects and accomplishments on a whiteboard, or to keep a log in a public places of your success.

Third: change more of your workplace conversations to be about work. If you treat every workplace conversation as one about the tasks that are being done and the challenges ahead, you’ll limit problems with workplace fairness. For example, when the office favorite tries to engage you in a long conversation about their personal life, politely excuse yourself by stating the projects you need pursue back at your desk.

Favoritism at the office can degrade morale and motivation. When other people get special, unfair treatment, overall productivity drops. Eventually, the best decision for any reasonable employee is to find work elsewhere. Push back against favoritism by focusing on what matters most at work: the work itself.

About the Author: Robby Slaughter is a business consultant with AccelaWork. He focuses on helping to improve employee engagement and productivity.

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