Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for July, 2013

Will Washington, D.C., be a national example for fighting Walmart?

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Laura ClawsonAs we wait for Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray to decide whether to sign or veto the Large Retailer Accountability Act passed by the city council, business lobby groups are insisting that DC’s push to make big box stores pay a living wage of $12.50 an hour is an isolated occurrence, not a sign of things to come:

“This fight in D.C. is being driven by local D.C. politics more than a national agenda,” David French, senior vice president for government relations at the National Retail Federation, told POLITICO.Justin Wilson of the business-funded Center for Union Facts said he believes no national movement will come from the D.C. battle. “I don’t foresee (a national movement) happening,” Wilson said.

Right, and the fight that kept Walmart out of Brooklyn last year was driven by local New York City politics, and the fight to keep Walmart out of Chinatown in Los Angeles is driven by local Los Angeles politics, and the failed effort—passed by the city council and vetoed by then-Mayor Richard Daley—to institute a similar large retailer living wage in Chicago as Walmart was moving in was driven by local Chicago politics. Point being, as Walmart tries to move into cities, the politics are different from its traditional suburban and rural locations. So the whole “just an isolated thing, not going to be replicated anywhere” insistence rings a little hollow.

That’s not to say Walmart doesn’t have the power to push itself into many cities, as it did Chicago. But the opposition is a lot more organized. And with good reason. Trying to move into D.C., Walmart went on a charm offensive, donating millions of dollars to local charities and talking up the great jobs it would allegedly create. But:

[Living wage organizer Mike] Wilson says that activists and community leaders met with Wal-Mart representatives soon after the company announced its intentions to move into D.C., but that it became clear Wal-Mart had no interest in negotiating any kind of binding agreement concerning workers’ wages or benefits. Wal-Mart may have told a group of church leaders it would pay $13 an hour, but on other occasions, the company cited its average pay of $12.78 to activists—a number that made Wilson and others suspicious. That figure, which excludes part-time workers and includes department managers, ishighly disputed.

Walmart can’t be trusted, so Walmart faces a fight. In fact, Walmart drives wages down for workers at other retailers in areas where Walmart stores open, so a $12.50 minimum wage at Walmart and other large retailers in Washington, D.C., would help protect wages at existing smaller stores.

Tell Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray that his city’s big box workers deserve a living wage.

This article was originally posted on The Daily Kos on July 16th 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

NLRB Truth: 10 Reasons Why the National Labor Relations Board Matters

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallA radical decision by Republican-appointed federal judges threatens to destabilize the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if the Board loses a quorum in August. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two recess appointments made by President Barack Obama in January 2012 were invalid and now NLRB decisions made while those appointees served on the Board are being challenged based on the D.C. Circuit opinion and placed on hold pending resolution of this issue by the U.S. Supreme Court.  This puts many workers across the country in dangerous and unfair situations that hurt them and their families.  The Senate could go a long way towards fixing the problem by confirming five nominations the president has made to the Board, but Republicans continue to obstruct the process in an effort to disable the NLRB and prevent it from protecting the rights of American workers.  Some, like Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have taken the extreme position that the NLRB should be “inoperable” and have vowed to block all nominations to the Board.

Here are ten examples—real stories from workers whose jobs and lives are negatively impacted by Republican obstruction—of why we need a functioning NLRB:

1. Dexter Wray, Alaska: Dexter worked as a maintenance engineer at a Sheraton in Anchorage.  His manager pressured him and several of his co-workers to decertify their union and told them to lie to the NLRB.  When they told the truth, Dexter and two of his co-workers were fired.  The NLRB ruled that the firings and coercion were illegal, but the hotel has refused to rehire them.  Dexter didn’t work for six months and incurred a large medical debt when he lost his health insurance.

2. Michelle Baricko, Connecticut: Michelle is a certified nursing assistant at West River Health Care.  She and her co-workers were locked out for months during contract negotiations.  The hospital’s owner, HealthBridge/CareOne, declared that negotiations were permanently stalled and implemented its own contract, which the employees did not agree to.  The NLRB obtained a court injunction for the company to stop its unfair labor practices, but HealthBridge declared bankruptcy and was able to escape its obligations to the employees. The Board and the employees’ union have appealed the decision.  Michelle was forced to sell her home and still struggles to provide for her three sons.

3. Kathleen Von Eitzen, Michigan: Kathleen is a baker at Panera Bread who organized 17 of her coworkers to form a union.  The company fought back, firing one employee and cutting Kathleen’s pay, giving her a negative evaluation because of her organizing.  The NLRB found that Panera violated the workers’ rights and ordered the company to pay back and compensate employees for cutting their hours. Panera appealed and the case is now stalled in federal court.  Kathleen’s husband has had two heart attacks and can’t work full time.  They can’t afford insurance because of her low pay and their home is now in foreclosure.

4. Susana Salgado Martinez, Nebraska: Susana was fired from Greater Omaha Packing Co., a meat packing plant, after she and fellow employees were accused of planning a strike.  She and her co-workers complained that the production line was moving too fast for several new, inexperienced workers to keep up with and that they were not being paid adequately.  A judge found that Susana and her co-workers were illegally fired and ordered that they be reinstated with back pay.  The case is pending before the NLRB.  Over the last year, she has been unable to find steady work and her family had to file for bankruptcy.

5. Juan Lopez, New Mexico: Juan worked as a janitor for Merchant Building Maintenance.  He and several of his fellow employees complained about sexual harassment, disrespectful treatment by a supervisor and the failure to receive a promised pay raise.  The company temporarily lost the contract that Juan was working on in the Santa Fe Public School District.  When the company was rehired by the school district, Merchant refused to rehire the workers who complained.  The NLRB found that failure to rehire those employees was illegal and that they should be reinstated and given back pay.  The company has refused to comply with the ruling.  Juan has been unable to find steady work since then and has had to skip paying some of his bills.

6. Clarence Adams, New York: Clarence is a Marine and Iraqi veteran who was fired by Cablevision for asking to meet with management, under the company’s “open-door” policy, to discuss stalled contract negotiations.  Two regional offices of the NLRB issued complaints against the company for illegally firing workers and for failing to bargain in good faith.  The company has filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent the complaints from being enforced.  Meanwhile, Clarence is struggling to provide for his family.

7. Jack Conway, Ohio: Jack and 15 other workers at aluminum products company KLB Industries were locked out during union negotiations.  Five years later, KLB has refused to reinstate the workers or give them back pay as the NLRB and U.S. Court of Appeals have ordered.  Conway hasn’t found regular work since the lockout and has exhausted unemployment insurance.  He barely survives on the $200 a week that the United Auto Workers (UAW) provides to him and the other locked-out workers.

8. Anonymous, Virginia: An employee at BaySys Technologies posted a comment on Facebook about not receiving paychecks on time.  The company fired him or her and threatened to sue the employee for violating a non-disclosure agreement.  The NLRB ruled the firing was illegal and ordered the company to reinstate him or her with back pay.  An appeals court enforced the order, which couldn’t have happened without a functioning NLRB.

9. Richard Salinas, Washington: After Richard and his fellow employees at Oak Harbor Freight Lines went on strike in 2008, the company stopped paying into the workers’ pension and health care trust funds.  The NLRB found this to be an illegal action and ordered the company to reimburse the funds for the missed payment and make up for personal losses the employees incurred when their health coverage lapsed.  The Court of Appeals has delayed enforcing the decision because of the uncertainty about the NLRB.  Richard said he’s close enough to retirement that the missed payments won’t affect him much, but he’s worried about how the loss will affect his younger co-workers.

10. Dave Preast, West Virginia: Dave was a miner at the Cannelton mine in Smithers, W.Va., when the mine was purchased by a new company.  The new owner refused to give him a job because of his union membership.  The NLRB has ruled twice that the refusal was illegal, but Dave and 84 other miners have not been rehired or given the back pay they deserve.  Dave has a 16-year-old son who has needed several surgeries for a life-threatening heart condition.  Luckily, he was able to cover the surgeries through the state’s CHIP program and Medicaid, otherwise the costs could have bankrupted the family.  As of now, Dave is doing odd jobs to make ends meet, but without reinstatement he’ll be forced to live on $500 a month when he retires.

There are many more stories of workers whose lives and livelihoods are in crisis because of this NLRB fight.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO NOW on July 11, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

14 Workers Protest for Over $40,000 in Unpaid Wages, Overtime, and Damages

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Hannah-pic-for-websiteFourteen former workers of Bravo Facilities Services, Inc. marched today at George Washington University to demand over $40,000 they are owed in unpaid wages and liquidated damages. In May, the workers were hired by Bravo, a cleaning contractor that is contracted by George Washington University. They spent the next two weeks working grueling 12 hour shifts cleaning at multiple buildings within the university. After two weeks, the workers were abruptly fired, and the company has refused to pay them their wages.

Today, the workers were no longer alone in demanding their wages. They were joined by the Employment Justice Center, OUR DC, the Restaurant Opportunities Center-DC and other members of the D.C. Wage Theft Coalition, a group of labor, community, and workers’ rights organizations that have come together to fight back against the rampant practice of wage theft in DC.

“It’s atrocious that in our nation’s capital, a company can so flagrantly deny workers their hard-earned wages,” said EJC Deputy Director Ari Weisbard. “The public needs to know that wage theft is a common occurrence in the District. It’s time to stand up and fight back.”

“If you don’t get paid in this country, they kick you out of your apartment. We have to pay for food, everything here,” said Cesar Monje, one of the workers who has not been paid. “We’re here because they haven’t paid us. We’re here to demand that they pay us now!”

Bystanders inside the university looked on, as the group of workers and their 30 community supporters chanted, “Bravo, Bravo, pay us now!”

Ultimately, Jonny Castillo, another worker who has not been paid, promised that the workers will return if they do not receive their wages. As the protesters marched away, they chanted, “We’ll be back!”

This article was originally printed on the Employment Justice Center Blog on July 12, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Hannah Kane joined the EJC as a Wage Theft Campaign Organizer in August, 2012. Prior to joining the EJC, Hannah received her Masters in Social Work from George Mason University. During graduate school, Hannah worked as an organizer and social worker with Tenants and Workers United, using a combination of social services, community organizing, and popular education to fight back against wage theft in Falls Church, Virginia. Hannah also worked as a social worker with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, providing Know Your Rights presentations to immigrants in detention and case management to former detainees being released back into the community. Hannah is a member of the National and Virginia chapters of the National Association of Social Worker

Know Your Rights!: The Anti-Discrimination Provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA)

Friday, July 12th, 2013

office of special counselU.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division has an office dedicated to ensuring that employers are not discriminating against work-authorized individuals based on their national origin or immigration status.  It is unlawful to fire or refuse to hire certain workers because of where they are from or because they are not U.S. citizens.  The law also protects workers where employers discriminate against them by asking for too many work-authorization (I-9) documents or by rejecting valid documents, and where employers discriminate during the E-Verify process.

If you think you or someone you know has been discriminated against in hiring or firing based on national origin or citizenship status, call the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice on its Worker Hotline at 1-800-255-7688, 9am-5pm, E.S.T. (TTY for the hearing impaired: 1-800-237-2515).  You do not have to provide your name, and telephone interpreters are available in many languages as needed.  It is unlawful to intimidate, threaten, or retaliate against anyone for contacting the Hotline, assisting in any way in an investigation, or filing a charge with OSC.  For more information, to obtain outreach materials or a charge form, or to learn about OSC’s new worker webinars call the Hotline or visit www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc.

This article was written by OSC as part of a worker outreach program.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: OSC is the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) and enforces the anti-discrimination provision (§ 274B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1324b.

Nurses—and a City Council Member—Brave Arrest To Stop SUNY Hospital Closing

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

sarah jaffeThe sidewalk outside of the State University of New York School of Optometry in Midtown Manhattan was choked with people on Wednesday at 10 a.m.—nurses from New York State Nurses Association in white scrubs or red T-shirts, hospital workers in 1199 SEIU purple, community members in the orange T-shirts of New York Communities for Change, and even a few elected officials (and would-be elected officials) in their business-casual best.

And, of course, there were the NYPD officers, plastic zip-cuffs dangling from their belts.

They were assembled to deliver a nearly 7,000-signature petition to SUNY Downstate Chancellor Nancy Zimpher’s New York City office demanding she stop the process of closing Long Island College Hospital (LICH), which SUNY Downstate has been attempting to shut down since February. But when a SUNY representative refused to comment on the ongoing situation, the crowd turned to civil disobedience. A group that included nurses, hospital staffers, community members, NYSNA executive director Jill Furillo and even City Councilmember Stephen Levin and mayoral candidate/Public Advocate Bill de Blasio blocked the doors to the building and refused to move until police took them away in cuffs.

While the battle to keep the hospital open drags on in the courts—a contempt of court hearing is scheduled for Monday, July 15 to look into the ongoing diversion of ambulances away from LICH—the hospital staff and community are determined to keep drawing attention to their cause. The unions and community groups at the core of the fight were joined Wednesday by a group of politicians: mayoral hopefuls John Liu (the city comptroller), Anthony Weiner and de Blasio; Councilmember Letitia James, a candidate for Public Advocate; and of course Councilmember Levin, who represents part of the area served by LICH.

“I had always said, ‘Look, if you guys need me to get arrested I’ll do it,’ ” Levin told In These Times after his release from jail. “This is an initiative that is important to me. I think [the action] was effective today in calling some real attention to the issue.”

Surrounded by about 100 protestors, the small group willing to risk arrest stood behind Levin, their arms linked, as he attempted to hand a folder containing the petition to a SUNY official. Among them was Leonicha Williams, an intensive care nurse who has worked at LICH for 14 years. “Never in my life have I been arrested, I was terrified,” she told In These Times after her release. “I felt like that at the front of the building, but I got encouraged by my other coworkers, we just held hands and bravery spread.”

“We had to make a statement for our patients so we decided to do it,” she added.

The hospital workers were inspired by the willingness of community supporters and high-profile elected officials to get arrested alongside them, and the raucous support of the rally. “It felt like we were finally being heard,” Williams said.

Miriande Philistin, a nurse in LICH’s stroke unit, told In These Times that she and her colleagues show up every day to work, in solidarity with their community, despite SUNY’s continued diversion of ambulances to other hospitals. The Department of Health, according to Philistin, had provided a letter to the union saying that the hospital did not have unsafe staffing levels—as SUNY claimed—and calling for the diversion to be lifted. “That was about three or four Mondays ago,” she said.

“What they’ve done in terms of diverting the ambulances further destabilizes healthcare here,” Levin said. “It’s a very dangerous course of action that they’re taking,” For patients in critical condition sent to distant, crowded hospitals via ambulance, dangers increase with each second of delay. Meanwhile, staff at Brooklyn Hospital and New York Methodist Hospital say they’re “overflowing” with patients, according to Williams.

Susan Raboy was once rushed to LICH in an ambulance; now she’s creating a network of present and former LICH patients to demand the hospital remain open. “LICH saved my life a year and a half ago,” she said. “I was in intensive care for a month.” She and several former patients were at the Wednesday rally, singing, dancing and chanting on the sidewalk as arrestees were loaded into police vans.

Patients who do get to LICH—by walking in or being privately driven—are still receiving excellent care, according to the nurses. Jeanie Segall, a respiratory therapist at LICH, commented on the “eeriness” of being in the mostly-empty building, waiting for patients. She called it a “slow death that’s been imposed on the hospital.”

Monday, Justice Johnny Lee Baynes of the Supreme Court of New York will hear arguments as to why SUNY and its representatives should not be held in contempt of court for diverting ambulances against the judge’s instructions. To the nurses, it’s time for someone to be held responsible for what’s happening. “SUNY is the one to be jailed. They’re the one in contempt of court. Whatever the judge has said has not been followed,” Philistin argued.

Levin concurs. “There is some irony in the fact that we were the ones in a jail cell today.”

But he’s not sorry he did it. “This is one of those things where you have to fight tooth and nail every step of the way because if it’s lost, it’s gone for good. From the community’s perspective, you really can’t give an inch.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on July 11, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sarah Jaffe is an independent journalist, a rabblerouser and contributor to Truthout, AlterNet,The Nation, Jacobin and others. Follow her exploits on Twitter @sarahljaffe.

The Legal Implications of Online Whistleblowing

Wednesday, July 10th, 2013

davidyamadaIn Monday’s news, the Golden Corral discount buffet chain got some unwanted national publicity when the YouTube video above, showing how raw meat and other foodstuffs to be served to customers was stored outside near a dumpster at one of its Florida restaurants, went viral. The video was taken supposedly during a health inspection(!) and posted by one of its own chefs. (For details about this incident and similar instances involving the retail food industry, see Olivia Waxman’s article for Timehere.)

Online whistleblowing

The posting of the video to YouTube was a classic example of online whistleblowing.

Websites, blogs, and social media in general have given rise to workers sharing stories of illegal and unethical behavior online, sometimes in lieu of pursuing internal reporting and legal complaint options that they believe will be ineffective. With the ready availability of public forums such as YouTube and Facebook and work-specific sites such eBossWatch and Glassdoor, workers can take their concerns directly to a broader audience.

Some forms of online whistleblowing involve self-identification; others are anonymous. Some mention specific employers and bosses; others do not.

Legal implications

Such online expression should be undertaken with caution, because questions of whether or not it is protected under the law are far from settled.

The Golden Corral chef who posted the video apparently has not lost his job. If he’s fired, it’s possible he’ll have a legal claim under some food safety law, or perhaps a state-based claim for wrongful termination on grounds that his termination violated public policy.

Nevertheless, we need to start with the fact that most U.S. workers are hired at will, which means that they can be fired for any reason or no reason at all. Finding an exception to this broad rule would be the main challenge facing any lawyer representing  a client who was fired for online whistleblowing.

Don’t count on claiming First Amendment protections. Private sector workers are not covered by the First Amendment’s free-speech protections, with one exception (Connecticut); public sector workers are covered only in limited instances when the expression relates to a public concern.

Various whistleblower laws and anti-retaliation provisions are most applicable when someone has filed a formal complaint or at least reported illegal or unethical behavior internally. These protections, on the whole, are less to cover reports posted to various Internet sites.

During the past two years, media coverage of National Labor Relations Board decisions concerning social media has led some people to believe (erroneously) that they have a more or less absolute right to criticize their boss on Facebook. It would take a legal memo for me to explain all the reasons why this is not true. Some workers, mostly union members and non-management employees acting as a group, would be covered. Most other employees would not.

It is worth adding that not all unethical behavior raises a direct legal issue. Also, a wrongful accusation of illegal or unethical behavior posted publicly could lead to a defamation claim, especially if it receives widespread attention.

For more

For those interested in learning about the legal and public policy implications of online whistleblowing concerning employment conditions, Professor Miriam Cherry of St. Louis University School of Law has authored a 2012 law review article, “Virtual Whistleblowing” (link to pdf). Here’s the abstract posted to her Social Science Research Network page:

“With the advent of YouTube, blogs, social networking, and whistleblower websites such as WikiLeaks, the paradigm of whistleblowing is changing. The new paradigm for “virtual whistleblowing” is increasingly online, networked, and anonymous. While whistleblowing can take place in many contexts, this symposium article concentrates on the impact of technological changes on employment law whistleblowing. My contention for some time has been that existing regulation has been inadequate to cover existing forms of whistleblowing. Therefore, it is not surprising that existing whistleblowing laws have also failed to keep pace with the changes brought by modern technology. If older laws cannot be made to fit the new paradigm of virtual work, it is necessary to reassess and determine what changes in the law might fit new forms of whistleblowing more appropriately. This article hopes to begin that conversation.”

As Prof. Cherry’s article indicates, this is a murky area under current employment laws for workers and their employers alike. Those who contemplate engaging in some type of virtual whistleblowing should not blithely assume that their identities cannot be discovered or that the law protects them from retaliation. In situations where these factors matter, it would be prudent to obtain legal advice.

This article was originally printed on Minding the Workplace on July 9, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Yamada is a tenured Professor of Law and Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.  He is an internationally recognized authority on the legal aspects of workplace bullying, and he is author of model anti-bullying legislation — dubbed the Healthy Workplace Bill — that has become the template for law reform efforts across the country.  In addition to teaching at Suffolk, he holds numerous leadership positions in non-profit and policy advocacy organizations.

 

Airline Unions Respond to Asiana Crash in San Francisco

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Kenneth QuinnellOn Saturday, July 6, Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crashed while landing in San Francisco, leading to two deaths and more than 100 injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board is conducting an investigation into the cause of the tragedy.

The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA-CWA) issued a statement in response to the crash:

“This event makes us pause. Regardless of carrier or country borders, events such as this call instant attention to our common bond with other Flight Attendants and those who serve in our industry. The safety and security of our flights is our highest priority as we look after each other and the passengers in our care. This is the primary purpose of our job, our training and our certification. Events such as these shed a sober light on our critical contribution to air travel. As we wait for word on the well-being of our flying partners and the passengers on Flight 214, we honor the courageous actions of the Asiana Flight Attendants who clearly saved lives. If possible, we submit even greater vigilance to our duties as safety professionals for our airline and our industry.”

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) also issued a response:

“Our thoughts are with the passengers and crew of Asiana Airlines Flight 214, which crashed upon landing at San Francisco International Airport earlier today.”

“As with all airline incidents and accidents, there is an established and proven process overseen by the National Transportation Safety Board. The Air Line Pilots Association supports this investigative process and will continue to monitor the situation.”

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on July 8, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Should We Have a “Maximum Wage”?

Monday, July 8th, 2013

markengler140

Should our societies have a “maximum wage”? Would the world be better off if the United States had one?

Currently, Americans are debating raising the national minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10 per hour over the next two years. While conservatives will oppose it, such a boost shouldn’t be contentious.

Back in 1967, the U.S. minimum wage was $1.40 per hour. That’s not as measly as it sounds. Your grandparents’ tales about when ten pennies could actually buy something are not mere nostalgia. In fact, the 1967 wage had twenty percent more purchasing power than the current minimum.

Economic productivity is an even bigger part of the story. Our labor is producing more value today, but working people aren’t seeing any of the gains. Had the U.S. minimum wage kept pace with productivity increases since 1960, it would now be $22 per hour.

Who has walked away with the proceeds from all that productivity? It’s a fair question, but it leads back to discussion of a maximum wage. And that’s where things get controversial.

A January report from Oxfam noted, “The richest one percent has increased its income by 60 percent in the last 20 years.” It further argued that the 2012 net income of the world’s top 100 billionaires—a haul of $240 billion–would be four times the amount needed to eliminate extreme poverty internationally.

While regions such as Latin America have made strides in reducing the gap between the rich and poor in the past decade, the United States has led the way in manufacturing excess at the expense of equity.

To remedy this, U.S. transit workers union leader Larry Hanley recently proposed a “maximum wage” law that would limit an employer’s income to being no more than 100 times the salary of his or her lowest-paid employee. If an entry-level worker gets $30,000 per year, the CEO would make no more than $3 million.

Other countries provide precedents for such a policy. In Spain, the manufacturing and retail enterprises that belong to the Mondragon cooperative network limit top pay to three to nine times worker compensation,” explains author and policy analyst Sam Pizzigati, perhaps the most outspoken U.S. proponent of a maximum wage. Since 2011, Egypt and France have each pursued fixed pay ratios for leaders of state-owned enterprises. Even Switzerland, a country not known for being inhospitable to bankers, has passed restrictions on pay for bank executives and banned “golden parachute” severance packages.

Some advocates contend that a maximum wage should apply only to businesses receiving taxpayer support—in the form of bailouts, government contracts, tax abatements, or other public subsidies. Since American industry has been notoriously hungry for corporate welfare, this would cover a very large portion of the U.S. economy.

Free marketeers will no doubt blast the idea of a maximum wage as the type of insane socialistic tyranny that chains everyone into the same, lowly state of mediocrity. Yet a ceiling based on a ratio between the executives at the top of a business and the grunts at the bottom doesn’t set a hard cap on earnings. It merely puts to the test one of their most cherished claims: that the profits of a successful enterprise trickle down to benefit everyone.

Economists love to talk about incentives. In this case, such limits would motivate CEOs to augment the pay of their janitors, secretaries, and cashiers for a simple reason: Their own raises would depend on it.

Besides, a 100-to-1 discrepancy is hardly government-enforced equality.

It would be a considerable departure from the status quo, however. A typical American CEO now makes 380 times what the average worker in the country earns (never mind the lowest-paid).

That’s not an example the world needs. And it’s something that will take more than just a small boost in the minimum to fix.

This article was first published in the New Internationalist and appears with permission of the author.
About the Author: Mark Engler is a senior analyst with Foreign Policy In Focus and author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books). He can be reached via the website http://www.DemocracyUprising.com.

 

Unite Here and Hyatt Hotels Reach Broad Peace Agreement

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013

Bruce VailHospitality workers union Unite Here has reached an expansive labor agreement with Hyatt Hotels Corp that is expected to end a years-long series of workplace struggles that has attracted attention around the country and across the globe.

The agreement is aimed at ending the union’s ‘Hyatt Hurts’ global boycott campaign by settling outstanding labor contract issues at nine broadly scattered hotels and creating a path forward for new union organizing efforts at a select number of the company’s non-union facilities, Unite Here President Donald Taylor tells Working In These Times.

“We feel good about this, but obviously there is still work to do,” to repair relations with Hyatt, Taylor says. “This campaign has been going on for four years and it was pretty clear that neither side was going to cave…For both sides, a better way…was to reach a compromise,” he says.

Full details of the agreement will be released only gradually, Taylor says, as union members are briefed on the specific provisions and ratification votes are held in the four cities where new contracts are being finalized. Those include Hyatt’s home city of Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu. In all of these cities, the union says, new contracts will provide wage increases and broad protections for existing pension and health care benefits that had previously been under attack by the company.

“We are delighted that our associates in Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Waikiki will have [new] contracts and the pay raises that go with them,” states Doug Patrick, Hyatt’s senior vice president of human resources. Those contracts will cover about 3,000 union workers at nine separate hotels in the four cities, the company says, and will extend to 2018.

Once the new contracts have been ratified, Unite Here will end its highly publicized global boycott of the Hyatt chain, Taylor says. That should take 4 to 6 weeks, the union leader indicates. A neutrality agreement to allow organizing at select non-union Hyatt hotels will go forward at that time as well.

The boycott gained many strong backers, from the National Organization for Women to the National Football League Players Association.

The campaign even reached into the White House, with President Barack Obama receiving criticism for his appointment of Hyatt heir Penny Pritzker as U.S. Secretary of Commerce. Pritzker, the daughter of Hyatt co-founder Donald Pritzker, claimed to have no influence on the chain’s day-to-day business affairs, despite serving on the board of directors and owning some 10 million shares of company stock. During the nomination process, Pritzker promised to remove herself from Hyatt’s board once she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Taylor says there is no connection between the Pritzker’s confirmation last week and announcement of the Hyatt deal this week. “Speaking for the union, I can tell you that it didn’t have any effect on us at all. I can’t speak for Hyatt though,” he says.

As part of the compromise between Unite Here and Hyatt, the union is dropping demands that the company agree to “card check” certification procedures at a number of hotels where the union has new organizing campaigns underway. The card check, in which union certification is achieved by collecting signed cards from a majority of workers who want a union, has long been staunchly opposed by Hyatt. The two sides have agreed to a compromise, Taylor says, in which secret ballot elections will be held under the direction of an independent third-party arbitrator. Hyatt will agree not to actively campaign against the union, as it has in the past, he indicates.

Unite Here’s concession on card check was key to the agreement, Hyatt’s Patrick indicates. “Hyatt has long maintained that our associates should have the right to vote on whether they wish to be represented by a union. We are pleased that our associates will continue to have the opportunity to vote whether or not they wish to be represented by Unite Here. The voting process will take place at those locations where Hyatt and Unite Here agree to it,” he tells Working In These Times in an e-mail message.

One aspect of the national agreement that is being held close to the vest is the location of the different hotels where new organizing elections are to be scheduled. Taylor confirms rumors that the high profile organizing campaign at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore is among them, but declines to name any of the others.

Taylor concludes by saying that the national agreement does not cover all of the Hyatt hotels where the union and the company have clashed, so observers can expect to see union activism continuing in some places. “Some campaigns will continue, but we want to diminish the skirmishing in some markets,” he says, without offering much detail. “Hopefully, the national agreement will lead to better understanding all around,” so that remaining points of contention can be resolved more easily over time, he suggests.

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on July 2, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Supreme Court Narrows Definition of "Supervisor" Under Title VII

Monday, July 1st, 2013

sheppard mullinEarlier this week, the United States Supreme Court narrowed the definition of “supervisor” for purposes of employment-related claims.  Specifically, on Monday, June 24, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in Vance v. Ball State University, et al., that, under the federal Title VII discrimination statute, an employer can be held vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment only where that particular employee has been empowered with the authority “to take tangible employment actions against the victim.”  The Court’s 5-4 decision resolves a circuit split concerning the extent of authority an employee must exercise and be granted to be classified as a “supervisor.” The term “supervisor” is not defined in Title VII.  Instead, it was adopted by the Supreme Court as a way to identify those individuals whose actions could give rise to vicarious employer liability in the two earlier decisions of Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998), and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998).  As established in Ellerth and Faragher, the standard to determine the employer’s liability is different based on whether or not the alleged harasser held a “supervisor” position.  First, where the alleged harasser is only the individual’s co-worker (and not a supervisor), the employer is liable only if it was negligent in failing to prevent the harassment from taking place.  Conversely, where the alleged harasser is the individual’s supervisor, and the harassment results in an adverse tangible employment action, the employer will be strictly liable.  However, if no tangible employment action is taken, the employer can avoid liability if it can demonstrate, as an affirmative defense, that (1) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and eliminate harassment, and (2) that the plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the preventive or remedial opportunities provided by the employer. Despite the central focus in Ellerth and Faragher on the status of the alleged harasser, neither case presented the Court with the question of what degree of authority an individual must have imbued to him or her so as to be classified as a “supervisor.”  This precise issue reached the court in Vance, and provided the Supreme Court with its first opportunity to address this matter.  In Vance, an African American woman (Maetta Vance) claimed that a white Ball State University employee (Saundra Davis) created a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.  The trial court held that the University could not be liable for Davis’ alleged harassment because she did not have authority to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” Vance and, therefore, was not a supervisor.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision and Vance appealed to the Supreme Court. In holding that “the authority to take tangible employment actions is the defining characteristic of a supervisor,” the Supreme Court rejected guidance issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) – and adopted by several other circuit courts –that links supervisor status, in part, to an employee’s ability to direct another’s daily tasks.  Accordingly, according to the Majority decision, “an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.’” Rather than adopt the EEOC’s definition of a supervisor, which the Supreme Court characterized as “nebulous,” “vague” and “a study in ambiguity,” the Supreme Court emphasized that its own definition is “easily workable.”  Significantly, the Supreme Court explained that, because of its newly-announced definition, parties will be able to determine whether an alleged harasser was a supervisor even before litigation commences, thereby permitting the parties to assess a case’s strength, and to potentially resolve a dispute, before filing suit.  Furthermore, where parties fail to reach an early resolution, the Supreme Court’s framework “can be applied without undue difficulty at both the summary judgment stage and at trial” and will “very often [resolve the question of supervisor status] as a matter of law before trial.”  Indeed, the Supreme Court noted that its definition permits supervisory status to generally be determined by “written documentation,” as opposed to the EEOC’s approach, which requires litigants to engage in a “highly case-specific evaluation” of a number of factors including how often the alleged supervisor directs an employee’s daily activities and how many tasks the individual directs. Conclusion The Supreme Court’s ruling in Vance narrows the class of employees whose actions can potentially hold an employer vicariously liable for creating a hostile work environment under Title VII.  Based on the Supreme Court’s indication that supervisory status generally can be determined through written documentation, employers should review the job descriptions of individuals in supervisory roles to ensure their accuracy.  Additionally, employers should identify which of their employees are vested with the authority to take tangible employment actions and provide them with anti-harassment training which is targeted to the workplace issues that supervisors are likely to encounter.

This article was originally posted on Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP’s Labor & Employment Law Blog.  For more information, please visit: http://www.laboremploymentlawblog.com/.

About the Authors:

Gregg A. Fisch is a partner in the Labor & Employment Practice Group in Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, & Hampton LLP’s  Century City office

Jonathan Sokolowski is an associate in the Labor and Employment Practice Group in Sheppard, Mullin, Richter, & Hampton LLP’s New York office.

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