Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for May, 2015

The Bizarre, Shania Twain-Based Argument For Keeping McDonald’s Wages Low

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

AlanPyke_108x108It’s a good thing for pop music, honky-tonk feminism, and Canadian tax collectors that McDonald’s pays lousy wages. If the food stores paid their frontline workers enough to survive on, Shania Twain would still be working there, a shareholder claimed at the company’s annual meeting this week.

The unidentified man, who said he’d been a McDonald’s investor since 1990 according to BuzzFeed News, used a Q&A session to rattle off a list of successful celebrities like Twain, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and Hollywood star Sharon Stone who had worked in a McDonald’s earlier in their lives. “I’m sure if they were making $15 an hour, they’d still be working at McDonald’s,” he said, as thousands of current McDonald’s workers protested outside.

Twain has now been making music professionally for about as long as the anonymous commentator has held McDonald’s stock. But in high school, the future star worked at an Ontario McDonald’s. “I learned tons about the meaning of service there,” she told Time in 2002. As an elementary school-aged kid, she’d been singing in talent shows and open mics.

Twain’s parents were killed in a car crash when the singer was in her early 20s. She kept singing, now at a vacation resort, to support her three younger siblings. By 1991, she had a small contract with a Nashville country label. Her second album and subsequent hits made her a superstar by the late 1990s.

It is of course possible that the orphaned college-aged Twain would have stayed in the hamburger business instead of pursuing her musical talent. Attempts to contact Twain’s representatives were unsuccessful.

The minimum wage in the early 1980s in Ontario was about $2.85 an hour, in American dollars, which had the same buying power as $6.72 per hour today. McDonald’s recently committed to paying at least $1 above the local minimum wage in the roughly 10 percent of store locations that it directly controls, meaning that many of the company’s workers are already earning well above what Twain did even after adjusting for inflation.

It’s hard to fathom how moving those workers up to $15 an hour would generate such a comfortable living that frycooks with enough star power to get them noticed would instead settle for a career inhaling grease fumes. Someone working full-time without vacations at $15 an hour would earn about $31,200 per year, before taxes. But to survive for a year in Green Bay, Wisconsin — a blue-collar town across the Great Lakes from the mining town where Twain grew up — a family of two would need roughly $48,000 per year in income according to the Economic Policy Institute’s Family Budget Calculator. For the sort of household Twain lead after her parents’ deaths, with three children and one head-of-household, it’d take about $89,121 a year to afford housing, child care, health care, taxes, food, and transportation for the year in Green Bay.

 

$15 an hour wouldn’t support a family, then, but it would mean that McDonald’s workers could stop relying on food stamps and other public assistance programs. The company is only able to pay wages so far below the cost of living because anti-poverty programs are there to step into the gap. McDonald’s low wages are effectively subsidized by taxpayers to the tune of millions of dollars per year.

The shareholder’s broader argument — that McDonald’s is a stepping stone rather than a career, and that it pays accordingly — is similarly flimsy on the evidence. Low-wage jobs like these are far more likely to be a dead end than the opening stride up the career ladder. The common perception that most fast food workers are young people just starting into the job market is incorrect. Most are adults, not dependents making extra money over the summer to mollify their parents. And a full 20 percent of all American children has a parent like Alicia McCrary who works the kind of job that would benefit from a higher minimum wage.

McDonald’s is undeniably aware of how far away from economic security it leaves its people. Until recently, the company maintained a public website with a sample budget for workers that included such fanciful projections as spending $0 on heating a home and getting health insurance for $20 a month. It has also recommended that struggling workers sell their Christmas presents for cash to make ends meet.

 

McDonald’s continues to hold out against protests, strikes, and legal challenges to its business model after more than two years of sustained worker agitation for the higher wage and union representation. If the company won’t go to $15, the $15 hourly wage may come to it. This week, Los Angeles became the second American metropolis to adopt the $15 minimum wage, following in Seattle’s footsteps from last year. State and local governments elsewhere have been raising their minimum wage laws significantly in recent years as well. The momentum for significantly higher pay in service-sector jobs has already induced some major retailers to voluntarily raise their pay in the same limited way that McDonald’s has done. Competitors from Costco to Wegman’s to Seattle-area burger chain Dick’s Drive In have built their business model around paying a living wage and valuing workers as an asset rather than targeting them as a cost-cutting opportunity. And while fast food companies sometimes protest that they couldn’t afford to do business at a $15 hourly wage, that argument doesn’t impress economists much.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Alan Pyke. Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

Suggestions to the EEOC for Charge Intake and Processing

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

Richard Seymour[Editor’s Note: The following is taken from Rick Seymour’s April 23, 2015 Comments to the EEOC on Charge Processing. It lists suggestions for improving EEOC practices in intake of charges. Changes to Mr. Seymour’s original article have been made to improve blog formatting and ease of access.]

Suggestions for Charge Intake and Processing

1. Make it easy for people to file timely charges of discrimination. Put a fillable form on the EEOC website, allow people to sign and file charges electronically and immediately, and serve the charges upon employers immediately. They can always be amended later, and the amendments promptly served. The IRS does it for taxes, and the NLRB does it for unfair labor practice charges. The Commission can do it too.

2. You can lead charging parties to preserve their rights by asking questions, the same way tax preparation software does, and filling out the charge based on answers. Insert the State and local FEPAs automatically, and allow for more than one because coverage remedies differ.

3. Insert a place where the charging party can identify counsel, and have the software ensure that counsel are always notified of events.

4. In any re-writings of charges, train staff so that they stop dropping claims by mistake, neglect, and inadvertence.

5. Put facts into the charges, and end the practice of replacing facts with uninformative boilerplate.

6. Allow charging parties to submit changes of address and changes of counsel online.

7. Do not hurt the agency’s credibility.

  • Stop taking the respondent’s words as golden and incense in front of it. This tells employers and employees alike that the Commission does not care about their facts. Only a real, questioning, examination of facts will restore credibility.
  • Train the Commission’s staff in critical thinking, give them performance standards, and eliminate those who cannot perform.
  • Stop premature kick-outs of charges shortly after they are received. Same-day kick-outs should be barred.

8. Help the agency do more with fewer resources. The agency cannot do it all, and trying to do so just wastes time and resources.

  • Use the information available, instead of turning up the agency’s nose at the available help. The greatest source of information with which to evaluate the position statement is the charging party and her or his counsel.
  • Charging parties and their counsel need to be given copies of respondents’ position statements and all their attachments, and invited to submit responses.
  • The position statements need to be served on the charging party and counsel as soon as they are received, ending the absurd practice in some offices of providing them only after the commission receives a file-stamped copy of the court Complaint.
  • The Commission should end the absurd practice in some offices of having staff members paraphrase the position statements, or re-write them. It burns up staff time and is not nearly as useful as providing the actual documents.
  • Those responses should be a great help to the Commission in focusing its investigation. Its offices should be required to follow up on the responses, instead of ignoring them and accepting the employer’s word as golden.
  • The responses should be provided to the employer for its comments.
  • More than one cycle may be needed. The important point is the Commission [uses] the parties to inform itself as to a lot of the facts, and the responses will allow a narrowing of the dispute.

9. The Commission should again become a national agency, instead of the present system of 50-odd principalities making up their own standards and procedures. The Commission’s pendulum of control tends to get stuck at the extremes, and the present system of letting every office do what it wants has not worked very well.

10. The commission should make it easy to contact every staff member. It should have an online directory of names, titles, locations, mailing addresses, telephone numbers, and e-mail addresses. Agencies like the State Department do this as a matter of routine. I went to www.state.gov and searched for “Telephone Directory” and this led me to [a PDF “Organizational Directory” which lists telephone numbers for many of the staff].

11. Whatever the outcome of Mach Mining, the Commission has major problems in its conciliation efforts. Those need to be tackled seriously. Again, agency credibility is at stake. Think about creating an internal appeal procedure to the Commission whenever a respondent thinks conciliation staff have done it wrong. That will take the commission time, but provide an invaluable insight and, in the event the Commission loses Mach Mining, will reduce the number of matters to be reviewed by the courts. [Ed. Note: The Seventh Circuit’s Mach Mining decision from April 29, 2015 can be found here.]

Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Rick Seymour. Richard Seymour graduated from Harvard Law School in 1968, and has worked in civil rights and employee rights ever since. In the 36 years since leaving the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1969, he has spent more than 90% of his time representing plaintiffs in class actions.

The Grocery Store That Competes With Walmart Prices And Is Beloved By Employees

Friday, May 22nd, 2015

Bryce CovertThis week, Wegmans, a family-owned grocery store chain, announced it would open its first location in New York City.

The announcement prompted an outpouring of devotion for the company. The New York Times noted it can actually claim a “cult following.” Part of the devotion to the store is not just that it manages to have a huge selection while offering prices that can compete with Walmart, but that it does it while treating its employees well.

The perks start with pay, which for hourly store employees is a little more than $33,000 a year on average. By contrast, Walmart has admitted that more than half of its employees make less than $25,000 a year, although it recently announced a wage increase, and retail sales workers make a median $21,410 annual salary. Anonymous pay sites like Glassdoor and Payscale also show that a Wegmans cashier can expect to make more than $9 an hour, on average.

But that’s not what makes the company famous for employee satisfaction, landing it on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list every year since the list began. It also offers generous benefits. It pays about 85 percent of the costs of health care coverage, including dental, for its full-time employees and offers insurance to part-time workers who put in 30 hours a week. It offers 401(k) plans with a salary match of up to 3 percent of an employee’s contribution.

And it has a scholarship program that awards tuition assistance to employees, which has paid out $100 million to 32,000 employees since it began in 1984. The program gives part-time employees up to $1,500 a year and full-time employees up to $2,200 a year to study at any college in any field. Starbucks’s lauded scholarship program, by contrast, used to only be for studying careers that directly prepared employees for working at Starbucks and now is only applicable for studying at Arizona State University. The share of companies offering employees college assistance has been trending downward.

Wegmans also offers more work/life balance than most retail jobs. It gives employees 11 days of paid vacation and holidays and three extra days of paid time off. It’s known for flexible scheduling, a perk that regularly tops surveys of its own workforce as the most important benefit offered. Managers have the power to craft their own schedules and work with employees’ needs, and many workers use an online system to lay out their availability around their own schedules. In retail at large, on the other hand, more than a quarter of workers report irregular and unpredictable scheduling like being made to be on call or working two shifts in one day. Nearly 40 percent of retail workers in New York City say they don’t have a set minimum of hours week to week.

These benefits aren’t just altruistic. The company generates $7.1 billion in revenue and is profitable. “When you think about employees first, the bottom line is better,” the company’s vice-president for human resources has said. The company boasts a 5 percent turnover rate among full-time employees, compared to a 27 percent rate for the industry. That comes with a cost, as it often eats up about 20 percent of a worker’s salary to replace him.

“What some companies believe is that you can’t grow and treat your people well,” says a senior vice president. “We’ve proven that you can grow and treat your people well.”

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 14, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Not Lovin’ It: Thousands Storm McDonald’s HQ To Protest Low Wages

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Terrance HeathIn the largest protest of its kind, thousands of McDonald’s employees stormed the company’s headquarters today to demand that it stop spending millions manipulating stock prices, and start paying workers a living wage. McDonald’s cashiers and cooks came to the company’s shareholders meeting, at its corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. More than 100 were arrested for refusing to leave the property.

Marching with them were Service Employees International Union president Mary Kay Henry; Moral Mondays movement leader Rev. William Barber; Rev. Marilyn Pagán Banks of North Side Power/A Just Harvest in Chicago, Illinois; and Rev. Rodney E. Williams of the Swope Parkway United Christian Church in Kansas City, Missouri

The company, which banned media from its shareholders meeting on Tuesday, responded by shutting down its corporate headquarters.

McDonald’s is already under fire worldwide for dodging €1 billion in corporate taxes in Europe, and violating labor laws in Brazil. Now its in hot water back home for a share buyback scheme designed to inflate the company’s stock price, which means more money in the already well-lined pockets of shareholders and company executives. The company recently announced plans to return $18 to $20 billion to shareholders by 2016, through dividends and share buybacks.

Thousands of workers swarmed the company’s headquarters to protest McDonald’s spending nearly $30 billion manipulating stock prices instead of paying its workers a livable wage. Some carried blown-up copies of their paychecks to illustrate how little McDonald’s invests in its workers vs. how much is spends repurchasing shares.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project released a statement in support of the protest:

“McDonald’s workers are rightly bringing the fight for $15 an hour and the right to form a union to their employer’s doorstep. For too long, the McDonald’s business model has served to enrich executives and short-term shareholders at the expense of workers and taxpayers. It’s time McDonald’s face the people who fry its fries and serve its customers but who are forced to pay for groceries with food stamps because McDonald’s does not pay them enough to feed their families.

“In the last decade, McDonald’s spent $30 billion on share buy backs—a widely discredited and short-sighted strategy to pump up the value of its stock. Spending billions on buybacks may provide short-term payoffs for a handful of rich investors, but it does nothing to benefit the company’s hundreds of thousands of employees, who are barely making ends meet. In fact, it misplaces resources that would be better used investing in growing the company or raising worker pay.

“More than half of fast-food workers are forced to rely on public assistance to support themselves and their families. McDonald’s costs taxpayers $1.2 billion every year in public assistance. McDonald’s is a $5 billion global corporation; its employees should not need to rely on food stamps, and taxpayers should not be subsidizing its profits.

“Today, as the workers protested, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Wage Board held its first hearing to significantly raise pay for fast-food workers across the state. And just yesterday, Los Angeles became the biggest city yet to vote for a $15 minimum wage, which is fast becoming a new baseline for workers across the country. The McDonald’s workers who are standing up and fighting for $15 and union rights are winning. This fight is not theirs alone—all of us have a stake in it. And when they finally get $15, all of us will be better off.”

The protest comes on the heels of the largest-ever strike against the fast food industry last month, when workers joined walkouts in 236 cities, as well as strikes and protests in 40 countries.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on May 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Terrance Heath. Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.

Extreme Bill Would Override All Local Employment Laws, Including LGBT Protections

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Zack FordDuring a meeting of the Michigan House Committee on Commerce and Trade, Republican lawmakers sneakily introduced a substitute bill replacing HB 4052. The new legislation, sponsored by Rep. Earl Poleski (R), overrides all local ordinances governing employers’ relationships with their employees. Because of the way it would impose state control, opponents have dubbed it the “Death Star” bill. Not only does it have implications for any local ordinance that controls minimum wage, benefits, sick leave, union organizing and strikes, wage disputes, apprenticeship programs, and “ban the box” policies (blocking employers from asking about felony convictions), but it would also override the LGBT protections that exist in 38 Michigan municipalities.

“A local governmental body,” the new HB 4052 reads, “shall not adopt, enforce, or administer an ordinance, local policy, or local resolution regulating the relationship between an employer and its employees or potential employees if the regulation contains requirements exceeding those imposed by state or federal law.” Because state law does not include employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, all of the municipalities who do protect LGBT workers would have their ordinances voided, similar to a law that passed earlier this year in Arkansas.

East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett (D) posted on Facebook Tuesday expressing great concern about the bill’s consideration, noting it would invalidate not only its LGBT protections, but also its Equal Benefits Ordinance, which requires the city’s contractors to offer partner benefits to employees’ same-sex partners. Describing Tuesday’s committee hearing, Triplett explained, “When State Representative Stephanie Chang pointed out that the bill would

invalidate Michigan’s 38 local nondiscrimination ordinances, the Chairman was forced to ask: ‘Will this bill really do that?’ The answer is: yes, absolutely.” East Lansing was the first community in the country to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation; its first ordinance became law in 1972.

The “Death Star” may be one of the most sweeping preemptive bills ever considered in any state. Ten states have passed bills prohibiting cities from enacting paid sick day policies, legislation championed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Last month, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a law overriding local bans on fracking. Michigan itself tried to preempt local minimum wage laws over a decade ago, but then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) vetoed the bill, and Wisconsin lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill last year.

Michigan Democrats have been pushing for LGBT nondiscrimination protections at the state level, but have so far been unsuccessful. Republican lawmakers are also considering a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), like those recently considered in Indiana and Arkansas, but Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has said he won’t sign such a bill if LGBT protections aren’t passed as well.

This blog was originally posted on May 13, 2015 on Think Progress. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Zack Ford. Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

It Takes More Than ‘Leaning In’ To Lift Wages for All Women

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

Emily-Foster_avatarAccording to a fall 2014 poll by Pew Research center, 77 percent of women and 63 percent of men agree that “this country needs to continue making changes to give men and women equality in the workplace.” Although women hold 49.3 percent of jobs, they only earn 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. It’s even less for women of color – Hispanic women earn 54 cents for every dollar white men earn, and African-American women earn 64 cents for every dollar white men earn.

The gender wage gap exists because of policies that fail to benefit American workers, and instead benefit their bosses.

On Wednesday, May 13, 2015, the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. held a panel to explore the necessity of giving women meaningful equality in the workplace. Panelists discussed how structural differences in business regarding small employers and part-time workers keep the gender pay gap strong.

Panelist Caroline Fredrickson, author of “Under the Bus: How Working Women are Being Run Over” emphasized how certain views about how women should advance themselves in the workplace, such as those Silicon Valley executive Sheryl Sandberg wrote in “Lean In,” might work for professionals in full-time jobs, but do not address the majority of America’s working women. “There’s nothing wrong with ‘leaning in,’ but it doesn’t address the problems that many women face in the U.S,” she said.

In 2013, Sandberg rallied professional women across the country to “Lean In” and push for success in their personal and professional lives. Sandberg argued that women should speak up and have meaningful conversations with employers regarding paid leave, affordable child care, and other crucial benefits.

But “leaning in” cannot fix the structural problems that need to be addressed through policy changes. The gender wage gap does not exist because not enough women are “leaning in,” but because of a system that allows part-time workers to be denied benefits and to be discriminated against by small employers, and that does not pay living wages. Part-time workers, members of racial and ethnic minorities, and mothers are among the highest numbers of women being failed by our system.

“Farm-workers, temps, small business workers, part-time workers, etc.” are often left behind by policies that allow businesses to exploit workers with minimal pay and little to no benefits, Fredrickson noted. In her introduction to “Under the Bus,” Fredrickson wrote, “Few of us are aware of how the labor and employment laws leave out so many women.”

Part-time work is a job category dominated by women. In 2014, almost 33 percent of all employed women over the age of 16 in the United States were classified as part-time workers. According to Frederickson, “8 million of these workers are involuntary,” meaning, that no full-time positions are available to them.

Most workers in part-time jobs receive minimal to no benefits. It is also common for businesses to withhold hours from employees to exempt workers from benefit status. Paid sick leave, vacation days, and health insurance are typically unheard of.

The role of motherhood also affects the workplace. According to the Department of Labor, The labor force participation rate for single mothers with children under 18 years of age was 74.2 percent in 2013, and 67.8% for married mothers (spouse present) with children under 18.

Even with high numbers of mothers participating, mothers face some of the biggest hardships in the workforce. At Wednesday’s discussion, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, CEO of MomsRising.org noted, “Being a mom is a greater predictor of job discrimination than being a woman.” Becoming a mom and having a baby is also the number one cause of “poverty spells,” where income dips below what is necessary for basic living expenses, she said.

It is impossible for women to “lean in” if policies do not keep businesses from unfair labor practices. The United States needs to implement checks on our employment policies to protect workers and close the wage gap.

During the panel, Brigid Schulte, journalist for The Washington Post, stated, “the more I learn about how our work policies are structured, the more I learn that they don’t work for anyone.”

The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. However, according to Fredrickson, “it only covers a very small number of employees – over 40 percent don’t qualify, and most of those who don’t are young women and women of color.”

The U.S. also lacks policies to protect working mothers. Today, the U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity and parental leave. Currently, 51 percent of new mothers receive no paid leave whatsoever.

Affordable childcare is also a huge problem; daycare can cost even more than college. Rowe-Finkbeiner explained the case for affordable childcare, stating, “For every dollar we spend on high quality childcare, we get $8 back – and for high-risk children, we get $20 back.”

Paid leave is also a crucial benefit that many cannot receive. Four in ten private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-wage workers cannot earn a single paid sick day. Paid sick days would ensure that women would not lose pay or their jobs because they or their child fell ill.

Even if more policies are put into place for paid leave, affordable childcare and paid sick days, one underlying force will continue to affect worker prosperity and the wage gap: the need for a living wage.

Valerie Wilson, director of the Economic Policy Institute’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy stressed that “raising pay for all workers” would make a significant difference in the gender wage gap. Women currently make up two-thirds of workers in low-wage jobs. By implementing a living wage, 15 million working women would have a greater ability to support themselves and their families.

There is still a gender wage gap in 2015 because of a lack of policy measures to protect working women. Paid leave, affordable childcare, and paid sick days are all necessary benefits that would help to close the gap. Because women are disproportionately represented in part-time and minimum wage work, a living wage is also a necessity. Until fairer work policies are put into practice, the gender wage gap will remain persistent.

Rowe-Finkbeiner summed up America’s gender gap issue: “We’re living in a ‘Modern Family’ nation with ‘Leave it to Beaver’ policies.”

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on May 14, 2015. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Emily Foster. Emily Foster is a regular contributor to Our Future.

OSHA Secures Robust Injunctive Relief for Whistleblower

Monday, May 18th, 2015

jason zuckermanOn May 7, 2015, OSHA obtained a preliminary injunction in a Section 11(c) whistleblower case barring Lear Corporation from further retaliating against the whistleblower, Kimberly King. The injunction is a significant win for whistleblowers because the court’s order broadly construes the scope of protected whistleblowing to include disclosures to the media, and it signals OSHA’s stepped up enforcement of whistleblower protection laws.

Kimberly King worked for Lear Corporation at a plant in Alabama that produces foam cushions that are used in car seats and headrests. King raised concerns about the health effects of exposure to a chemical called toluene diisocyanate (“TDI”).   Based on internal tests and tests conducted by OSHA, Lear concluded that TDI levels were within legal limits. King, however, remained concerned that she developed asthma because of her exposure to elevated TDI levels at the plant, and King shared her concerns with media outlets. An article on nbcnews.com described how TDI and other workplace chemicals correlate with certain respiratory conditions like asthma, and the article cited a physician who concluded that King is in the top 25 percent in terms of the levels of isocyanate antibodies in her blood.  King also participated in a YouTube video accusing Lear of exposing employees to TDI.

Lear suspended King and another employee from work without pay for participating in the video on the ground that King should have known that the plant was not exposing employees to elevated levels of TDI.   In addition, Lear demanded that King recant her statements to the media. King continued to raise her concerns by going to Hyundai in March 2015 to deliver a letter asking it to fix the conditions at the plant. Lear then suspended King for seven days without pay, and upon King’s return, Lear terminated her employment and sued her for defamation and interference with business relations.

After an evidentiary hearing, Judge Callie V.S. Granade concluded that King’s participation in the YouTube video, her disclosures to the press, and her disclosures to OSHA constitute protected activity. In addition, she issued an order providing broad preliminary relief, including:

  • enjoining Defendants from terminating, suspending, harassing, suing, threatening, intimidating, or taking any other discriminatory or retaliatory action against any current or former employee based on Defendants’ belief that such employee exercised any rights he or she may have under the Occupational Safety and Health Act;
  • enjoining Defendants from telling any current or former employee not to speak to or cooperate with representatives of the Secretary of Labor;
  • enjoining Defendants from obstructing any investigation by the Secretary of Labor or its designee; and
  • enjoining Defendants from suing current or former employees because those individuals complained about health and safety or because they engaged in protected activity under the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

In assessing whether OSHA’s injunction serves the public interest (one of prerequisites for granting a preliminary injunction), Judge Granade made a critical observation about the public policy undergirding whistleblower protection laws: “The public retains an interest in safe and healthy workplace environments for all employees, and protecting employees who speak up about perceived dangers in the workplace. This preliminary injunction may also help prevent future violations of section 11(c) and inform current employees of their rights under this section.” This order is a great example of the type of vigorous enforcement required to effectively protect whistleblowers.

About the author: The author’s name is Jason Zuckerman. Jason Zuckerman is Principal at Zuckerman Law (www.zuckermanlaw.com)  and represents whistleblowers nationwide.  He is the author of the Whistleblower Protection Law Blog (www.whistleblower-protection-law.com).

 

Facebook Just Made Sure Even Their Janitors Are Making At Least $15 An Hour

Friday, May 15th, 2015

Facebook issued new employee benefit guidelines that raise minimum pay to $15 and extends leave for third-party contract employees who work behind the scenes on the social network’s campuses. In a blog post Tuesday, Facebook’s chief operations executive Sheryl Sandberg wrote that contractors and vendors in U.S. will have to adhere to new standards, including a $15 minimum wage, at least 15 days paid leave for vacation, sick days and holidays, and a $4,000 new child benefit for parents who don’t get paid parental leave.

Effective May 1, the new benefits will cover contract employees who work as cooks, janitors, security guards and other support staff at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California. The company plans to extend the benefits to third-party vendors with more than 25 employees at its other 16 campuses in the U.S. over the next year.

Facebook will also absorb extra costs from the new program until contract companies can meet the new standards, a Facebook representative told the Wall Street Journal. The new program, which Sandberg said will primarily benefit women who make up two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce, aims to bring temporary or contract workers closer to the perks Facebook employees get, such as three weeks vacation, parental leave and new baby bonuses.

The move also follows a strong backlash from Silicon Valley’s invisible workforce. The employees tech companies lean on to provide the benefits full employees get such as free transportation, meals, security and personal grooming services, often face untenable work schedules with skimpy compensation by contracting companies. Earlier this year, shuttle bus drivers for Facebook employees unionized to fight grueling shifts and better pay. Amazon, which has frequent labor disputes, recently removed a controversial clause in its employment contract that banned seasonal and contract workers from getting jobs at companies that may only remotely compete with the online retailer.

Google hired more than 200 security guards last year instead of contracting the services out, giving them the same benefits — retirement, health insurance and paternity leave — as the company’s other employees. In a less traditional move, Apple and Facebook also expanded their health benefits, allowing female employees to freeze their eggs under the company’s insurance plans.  

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Lauren C. Williams. Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

States Where Minimum Wages Are Supposed To Be Living Wages

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that he is taking advantage of a state law to raise minimum wages without the involvement of the legislature. He’s not the only governor with that power; others could also follow suit.

New York State law gives the labor commissioner the authority to convene a wage board to investigate whether the minimum wage in a specific job — or even all of the jobs in the state — are adequate, and to issue a “wage order” to increase it without the involvement of state lawmakers. On Wednesday, Cuomo announced that he would direct the commissioner to investigate wages in the fast food industry. New York was the home to the first strike in the fast food industry demanding a $15 minimum wage and has been home to them as they continued to spread across the country.

But Cuomo isn’t the only governor with the power to set a higher minimum wage without approval from a state legislature. According to an analysis from the National Employment Law Project (NELP), state laws in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Wisconsin all empower their governors in similar ways. “There was a time when the minimum wage was less politicized and there was a sense that it should be at a level adequate to deliver decent incomes for workers,” explained Paul Sonn, general counsel at NELP. “These laws are still on the books in a number of places.”

States have already been raising their own minimum wages, to the point that the majority have a higher wage than the federal level of $7.25. But some state lawmakers haven’t been taking action. “Where the legislative process won’t deal adequately with the minimum wage, governors should dust [these laws] off and use them aggressively to deliver the wages that workers need,” Sonn argued. “Governors in states with this authority should be using them more frequently and more creatively to address the problem of low wages.”

One example could be California, which has a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who already signed a minimum wage increase to $10 by 2016 back in 2013. “Cuomo is saying, ‘I’m going to make New York a progressive leader with the strongest minimum wage in the nation,’” Sonn said. “Jerry Brown could do the same thing.” A spokesman for the governor’s office told ThinkProgress he wasn’t aware of similar options to what Cuomo did in California, but noted that there are other new bills and proposals to raise the wage.

The authority can also be used against governors who aren’t supportive of higher minimum wages. That’s already happened in Wisconsin. There, a state statute says that all wages in the state have to amount to no less than a living wage and that any member of the public can file a complaint saying the minimum wage fails that standard. Last year, low-wage workers and worker organizing groups submitted 100 complaints to Gov. Scott Walker (R) alleging that the state’s $7.25 minimum wage violates the statute, although his administration rejected the complaints.

A similar fight could start brewing in New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) has voiced his opposition to increasing the minimum wage. “The Governor of New Jersey has the power to raise wages for hundreds of thousands of workers,” Analilia Mejia, executive director of New Jersey Working Families, told ThinkProgress. “We will absolutely be calling on Gov. Christie to follow in the footsteps of Gov. Cuomo, who Christie has called his ‘separated at birth twin brother.’” She also said the issue would be brought up beyond Christie’s administration. “Over the coming year Working Families activists [will] be asking every potential gubernatorial contender in New Jersey’s 2017 election where they stand on using the state’s wage board to end poverty wages,” she said.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on May 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 

New York manicurists to get emergency protections against wage theft, hazardous chemicals

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Laura ClawsonTalk about journalism with an immediate impact. Last week’s New York Times investigation of labor law violations and unhealthy working conditions for manicurists in the city’s nail salons has spurred Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take sweeping emergency action:

Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. […]Salons will be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights, including the fact that it is illegal to work without wages or to pay money for a job — a common practice in the nail salon industry, according to workers and owners. The signs will be in half a dozen languages, including those most spoken in the industry — Korean, Chinese and Spanish. […]

Salons will now be required to be bonded — which is intended to ensure, through a contract with a bonding agency, that workers can eventually be paid if salon owners are found to have underpaid the workers. The move is an attempt to counteract the phenomenon of salon owners’ hiding assets when they are found guilty of wage theft.

Additionally, health and safety measures will be put in place, like requiring manicurists to wear gloves and masks and salons to be ventilated, while the Health Department will investigate the most effective health protections to incorporate into what will eventually be permanent policies replacing the short-term emergency measures.

Some of the abuses Sarah Maslin Nir’s investigation into New York City nail salons exposed may be especially prevalent in New York, where there are more nail salons per capita than in any other American city and where manicures cost below the national average. That might, for instance, make wage theft more common and more aggressive than in other locations—but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in California and Illinois and Massachusetts, too, and states should take this as a spur to inspect their own nail salons. And the health hazards manicurists face similarly deserve a good hard look by state regulators. Customers might end up paying a couple dollars more for a mani-pedi, but we’re talking about workers’ lives here, and their ability to collect the pay they’ve legally earned.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on May 9, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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