Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for October, 2015

Standing In Solidarity With Low-Wage Workers At the U.S. Senate

Saturday, October 31st, 2015

Isaiah J. PooleU.S. senators and their staff only have to go to the Senate cafeteria to see what is wrong with the low-wage economy, with the workers who serve their meals earning near-poverty wages paid by the subsidiary of a multinational corporation that has blocked efforts by the workers to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Their struggle was made most vivid recently by the story of Charles Gladden, a Senate cafeteria worker who was homeless, earning only about $360 a week.

On Wednesday, some of those staffers made a point of showing that they understand what those workers are struggling with and are standing with them.

Their show of solidarity took the form of a “brown bag boycott,” in which they brought their own brown-bag lunches to the cafeteria. Joining the 40 or so Senate staffers who participated in the protest was Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). He promised that the boycott would not be a one-time event.

“We will be here every Wednesday until you are treated fairly,” said Brown.

Senate cafeteria workers have been doing battle with the federal contractor for Senate food services, Restaurant Associates, for several years for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to collective bargaining. They have staged one-day strikes and protests to ratchet up the pressure.

Last week two of the cafeteria workers wrote an op-ed in The Hill newspaper to outline their struggle, including the efforts by Restaurant Associates to thwart their worker organizing efforts.

“Since we started organizing, we’ve been relentlessly harassed and intimidated by our bosses. Managers have threatened to fire us, questioned us about our organizing efforts, cut our hours, changed our schedules, increased our workloads, and ordered us not to speak with union organizers,” wrote Betrand Olotara and Luz Villatoro.

In addition to a $15 wage, “we are demanding a free and fair organizing process just like the one Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is proposing in his Workplace Democracy Act,” they wrote. “Instead of going through a sham election, we should be able to join a union by just signing a union membership card.”

People can show support for the Senate cafeteria workers by signing this petition to “help Senate cafeteria workers form a union to bargain for a living wage.”

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on October 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

The Great Escape, Lawsuit Edition

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

pop tortThis week, Sprint agreed to pay nearly $3 million in government fines after being caught by the Federal Trade Commission for cheating and deceiving people with low credit scores.  As the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection explained, “Sprint failed to give many consumers required information about why they were placed in a more costly program, and when they did, the notice often came too late for consumers to choose another mobile carrier.…. Companies must follow the law when it comes to the way they use consumer credit reports and scores.”

Yes they must, and it’s wonderful to see the FTC on the job. But when consumers are cheated because of illegal corporate practices, neither government regulators nor law enforcers (like attorneys general) can usually do much to recover compensation for the victims. As we noted pretty recently in a post about the VW emissions scandal, class actions are the only realistic way to do that. But since the Supreme Court let them, corporations have been inserting clauses into contracts that ban class actions and force individuals to resolve disputes in corporate-controlled, secretive arbitration systems. Forced arbitration is bad enough. But without being able to join with others in a class action lawsuit, most claims simply disappear, allowing corporate wrongdoers to completely escape any legal accountability.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken the bold step of moving towards a rule to ban such clauses in consumer financial “contracts.” We hope they hurry because the damage caused by these clauses grows every day.

Today, the Center for Justice & Democracy released a new, updated fact sheet listing nearly 50 important cases that were dismissed because of forced arbitration clauses and class-action bans. These tossed cases were brought by customers ripped-off by automobile dealers, banks, credit card companies, phone companies, payday lenders and for-profit colleges (to name a few). They involve employees suffering from discrimination and wage and hour abuse. And we know there are many more cases out there.

Notably, three cases were brought by customers defrauded by Sprint and, like the rest, were thrown out of court, leaving cheated customers with nothing.

This blog originally appeared at ThePopTort.com on October 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Hundreds gathered in DCA yesterday, but it wasn’t for what you think.

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

seiuYesterday I joined my brothers and sisters around the world at Ronald Reagan national airport in the demand for higher wages, better trainings and working conditions for airport workers. I got involved with the union and Fight for 15 because I saw the imbalance of power that is hurting people.

As a cabin cleaner at San Francisco International Airport, I am proud to say that because we have a union, we have some of the highest working standards in the country, but I know there are many more who don’t and need our support. Folks like Ababuti Ogalla, a wheelchair assistant at Boston Logan Airport. Like many, he is an immigrant who came to America to build a decent life for his family.

“I started working at Boston Logan in 2011, but I quickly realized that with two kids and a wife to support, my pay doesn’t even cover my rent and bills. That’s not the America I believed in. Now I work two jobs, barely have any time to spend with my family, and still struggle to make ends meet.”

Ababuti is right. That’s not the America any of us believe in. We continue to fight because we know we can raise the minimum wage and support the ones we love with dignity and respect.

Too many airport workers are paid minimum wage or less and that’s not right. We take pride in our jobs and play a key role in helping more than 393 million passengers yearly enjoy a safe and secure travel experience. But without health insurance or sick days, we risk losing our jobs every time we are sick or have a family emergency. It doesn’t make sense; America spends billions annually on airport security, yet the very people charged with implementing security measures are paid poverty wages.

The rally at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was just one of a series of events this week. We hosted our first ever National Airport Worker Convention, where we developed a national strategy to win $15 and union rights for all airport workers. We then took to Congress to urge our representatives to seek a federal solution to the problems faced by contracted out workers at our nation’s airports. Many pledged their support to our fight, knowing that both, $15 and union rights, will ensure better standards for workers and passengers.

By marching, protesting, and striking at airports across the U.S., already 45,000 airport workers have won wage increases and critical improvements including healthcare and paid sick leave. But there is still so much more to do. And despite all of us coming from different parts of the country and world — the United States, Europe and Australia – we all left the convention committed to one fight and one collective voice.

I am excited to see the positive changes we’re going to bring to airport workers.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

The Hellish Conditions Facing Workers At Chicken Processing Plants

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Bryce CovertPedro started getting worried when his hands were so swollen he needed a larger size of plastic gloves.

Pedro (which is not his real name) would arrive at the chicken processing plant for Tyson in North Carolina at 5 p.m. to clock in for the second shift. For the next three hours, he says he wouldn’t get a single break from breaking down slaughtered and defeathered chickens, cutting the shoulders and pulling out the tenders, until he was allowed to take a half-hour lunch at 8 p.m. Then it was back to the line until all of the chickens were processed, sometimes at 5 or 6 in the morning.

He says the line moved so quickly that he was processing 45-50 chickens every minute, or nearly one each second. The fast, repetitive motions soon started affecting his hands, which swelled up painfully. They got so large he had to wear 3XL sized plastic gloves. But when he was sent to the plant’s infirmary, he says the nurse simply told him to take ibuprofen and soak his hands in epsom salts and hot water. “The infirmary nurse told me it was nothing to worry about, just your body getting used to it, like when you lift weights and your muscles swell up,” he said on a call with media.

But he didn’t adjust and his hands kept getting worse. He eventually sought out medical treatment from a doctor, who told him he’d never seen injuries as bad as Pedro’s and gave him work restrictions. Yet Pedro says his supervisor ignored the doctor’s orders and put him back to work on the line. “They do not care about the safety of the person, they just care about putting the chickens out,” he said.

He’s worked lots of jobs, many of which — such as construction — were physically demanding. But nothing was quite like the job processing chickens. “Of all the jobs I’ve had in my life, working at the processing plant was the worst job ever,” he said.

In a report released on Tuesday, Oxfam America is launching a new campaign to address what it says are rampant health and safety issues, as well as low pay and few benefits, that face the people who process chicken in the country’s plants. Consumer demand has been growing such that the average American who consumed about 20 pounds of chicken a year in 1950 eats 89 pounds today, and today the industry sells 8.5 billion chickens a year, earning $50 billion.

That demand has come with increased pressure on processing line speeds, which are twice as fast today as they were in 1979, with an upper level of 140 birds per minute today versus 91 back then. But the report claims that speeds can go even higher than that, given that each line is run by a supervisor with the capacity to slow it down or speed it up at any time. In interviews it conducted with current and former workers in Arkansas, Mississippi, and North Carolina, they reported averaged between 35 and 45 birds per minute, or processing more than 2,000 chickens an hour and 14,000 a day.

Workers have to hang, cut, trim, bread, freeze, and package chickens, actions that require multiple motions on each bird. That means that the average worker has to repeat the same motion — cutting, pulling, hacking, twisting, and hanging — 20,000 times a day with force, although some reach as many as 100,000 of the same motion each shift.

This speed, coupled with repeated motions, is a recipe for injury. Workers report pain in their hands, fingers, arms, shoulders, and backs, plus swelling, numbness, tingling, twitching, stiffness, and loss of grip. Some workers say the pain is so intense that it wakes them up at night. Sharp knives and even chicken bones lead to cuts, which can also expose workers to pathogens. The conditions can be long-lasting if not permanent.

They end up with high rates of injuries, although Oxfam warns that even the official numbers can be an undercount. They have ten times the rate of repetitive strain from microtasks than the rest of the workforce, seven times the rate of carpal tunnel syndrome, and five times the rate of musculoskeletal disorders generally. Human Rights Watch has found that poultry workers are 14 times more likely to have injuries such as “claw hand,” where their fingers get locked in a curled position, or ganglionic cysts where fluid is deposited under the skin. In a 2013 survey from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), 86 percent of workers reported hand and wrist pain, swelling, or numbness or the inability to close their hands.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 4.32.50 PM

Credit: OXFAM

They also report being exposed to harsh chemicals, often used to clean up the blood, offal, and grease that flows from the birds. One survey found that every single worker reported being exposed to chemicals on the job, with half exposed to chlorine and 21 percent to ammonia.

“Despite industry claims that conditions are improving and injury rates are dropping, we don’t believe that they’re true,” Oliver Gottfried, senior advocacy and collaborations advisor at Oxfam, said on the media call.

In a statement, Tyson said, “we believe in fair compensation, a safe and healthy work environment and in providing workers with a voice.” It said it has the highest entry-level pay in many poultry communities, provides health and dental benefits, provides health and safety trainings, requires workers to report injuries and illnesses, allows them to leave the line to use the bathroom, and employs 500 health and safety professionals. Perdue said in a statement that it provides “competitive wages” above minimum wage, comprehensive benefits, and paid time off. It also pointed to its lost-time rate as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 0.17 per 100 workers compared to .8 for all industries, and its incident rate as recorded by OSHA of 2.23 compared to 4.5 for the industry. Pilgrim’s and Sanderson representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The industry also says the injury rate has steadily fallen over the last 20 years. But that data is often based on self-reported rates. Meanwhile, sending a worker to the company infirmary and instructing him to take Advil rather than to a regular doctor, as Pedro says he experienced, means a company doesn’t have to official record an injury in its log.

“Employers have been going to great lengths to avoid taking responsibility for these injuries,” said Celeste Monforton, professional lecturer at George Washington University and a former legislative analyst for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Then there’s the problem of breaks. The bathroom is particularly challenging, as workers say they have to get a supervisor to find another employee to fill their spots to keep the line running while they relieve themselves. Workers report that they have to wait an hour or more to get a break. Some say that to cope, they severely cut back on drinking liquids or even wear diapers. Pedro has seen people urinate on themselves while working on the line out of fear of losing their jobs if they leave to use the bathroom.

Tyson specifically refutes this issue in its plants, saying in a statement, “we make it very clear to our production supervisors that they are to allow Team Members to leave the production line if they need to use the restroom. Not permitting them to do so is simply not tolerated.”

All of this is undertaken for low wages. Oxfam reports that they average about $11 an hour, or between $20,000 and $25,000 a year. For every dollar spent on a chicken product, a worker sees just two cents. That kind of pay qualifies a poultry worker with two children for food stamps and free school lunches.

And they still might not see all of their promised pay. Workers report often working more than 40 hours a week — they’re required to stay at most plants until all chickens are processed — but rarely get overtime pay. There have also been investigations and lawsuits finding that plants fail to pay workers for time spent putting on and taking off all of their safety gear or for their lunch breaks. SPLC found that nearly 60 percent have to pay for some or all of their protective equipment, eating into their wages.

On top of all of that, Oxfam did not find a single worker who got paid time off for illness, vacation, or personal leave.

Yet the industry is profitable. The top four companies — Tyson, Pilgrim’s, Perdue, and Sanderson — control about 60 percent of the market. Tyson made $856 million in profit last year, Pilgrim’s made $711 million, and Sanderson made $249 million.

Oxfam is hoping that by drawing attention to the issue of safety, consumers will be inspired to push back. Its reforms include lower line speeds and higher staffing numbers, stronger training, more frequent breaks, and dealing with and reporting workers’ injuries. “They need to have respect for workers,” Minor Sinclair, Oxfam America’s regional director, said. It’s targeting the four largest because, he said, “They’re the ones that have the lion’s share of employees and the lion’s share of the market. They influence the market for other poultry companies.”

Pedro will miss out on any improvements, as he was fired, he says because he had been raising awareness about rights among his coworkers at the Tyson plant. He noted people used to ask him why he would put up with those conditions at work, but there are few other jobs on offer in his area.

“I’m trying to pay my bills, pay my rent, feed my family,” he said. “I have to do what I have to do to survive.”

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on October 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: 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.

Read our lips: Americans want to expand Social Security - not to raise the retirement age

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

seiu

The recent presidential debates reminds us that Democrats and Republicans are polar opposites when it comes to Social Security.

While many of the Democratic candidates want to bolster the program and increase benefits, GOP candidates Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio have all called for cutting Social Security’s modest benefits by raising the retirement age.

Raising the retirement age may not be a big deal for the wealthy Americans who finance political campaigns or even politicians proposing these cuts. However, it would have a devastating impact on Americans who live paycheck to paycheck, including Patricia Walker of Tampa, Fla.

“For me as a home care worker, I couldn’t work until 70. I already have problems with my knees. I’m already trying to make it,” says Walker, who’s in her early 50s.

Although she works long hours, Walker’s low wages prevent her from being able to purchase a car let alone save money for her golden years. Social Security will be her only plan for retirement.

If Walker and other working Americans apply for Social Security’s retirement benefits before they reach the full retirement age, their benefits will be permanently reduced. For example, when someone retires at age 62, their benefit would be about 25 percent lower than it would be if they waited until they reach full retirement age.

This is a Social Security cut Republican presidential contenders seemingly want to avoid discussing while on the campaign trail.

These same candidates also seem to be ignoring the voices of voters who want lawmakers to expand Social Security; not cut its already modest benefits.

A 2014 poll from the National Academy of Social Insurance found 69 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of independent voters support Social Security and they don’t mind paying higher taxes to preserve benefits for future generations. The poll also found 71 percent of Republicans, 79 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independent voters oppose raising the full retirement age to 70.

Republicans calling for raising the retirement age may be willing to ignore the fact that income levels and life-expectancy rates remain stagnant for the poor as well as the needs of nurses, home care providers, construction workers and others with strenuous jobs that would suffer under their proposal.

One thing any presidential candidate can’t ignore is the retirement crisis looming over the United States. Our country’s next president must be willing to put ideology aside and focus on policies to deliver retirement security to more workers. That includes increasing Social Security benefits, especially for low- and middle-income workers.

Wonder what your full retirement age will be or how your monthly benefits may be reduced if you retire before your full retirement age? Click here.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

The Complicated Story Behind Those Images of Terrified Air France Executives Fleeing Workers

Saturday, October 24th, 2015

in these times“A picture has held us captive. And we cannot get outside it, for it lay in our language about France and it has been repeated inexorably.”

Well, this is not what Ludwig Wittgenstein precisely said. Nor did the 20th century’s most enigmatic philosopher have in mind the photos of shirtless Air France executives scrambling up a fence to escape an irate crowd of employees earlier this month. Nevertheless, his observation about the power of images is du jour. While they will not be turned into key chains or postcards, these images have become emblematic of a certain idea of France and French working class militancy in the minds of many around the world.

And yet, the undeniable violence of this event obscures a different form of violence. It is a kind of violence less striking and more resistant to being struck as an image, but equally grim and despairing: the slow, incremental, and deadening violence done to workers whose livelihoods are under constant threat, whose options are increasingly limited and whose traditional parties seem either incapable or unable to help.

One could foresee the collision between Air France management and workers on October 5. First, there were the recent strategic errors made by Air France, failing to foresee the challenge posed by low-price carriers like Ryan Air for short-haul runs across Europe and rise of money-rich Gulf airlines over the growing and profitable longer routes. While Air France showed something of a rebound by 2013, a prolonged strike by the pilots union in 2014 sent its finances into yet another nosedive. The company hemorrhaged more than 600 million euros in the first half of 2015, with little prospect of lessening the hemorrhage in the second half.

A second cause was the intransigence of the Air France pilots. In the negotiations that flamed out in early October, the pilots’ union refused to compromise on a series of labor practices that would align them, both in terms of hours flown and the length of layovers, with other European carriers. Though pilots constitute 8% of Air France’s workforce, their pay makes up more than 25% of the company’s salary costs. On average, Air France pilots fly 630 hours, while Lufthansa and British Airway pilots average 750 hours, and Ryan Air upwards of 850, while their salaries are roughly equivalent.

In effect, the pilots were asked to increase their cockpit time by 10% without an equivalent wage increase. The KLM pilots union—the more profitable Dutch carrier merged ten years ago with Air France—urged their French colleagues to “take this step so that we can all move forward.”

The Dutch appeal for moderation went unheeded. When talks with the pilots union stalled, management abruptly ended the negotiations and unveiled its “Plan B.” The company would drastically reduce its freight business—retiring fourteen of its cargo planes—and eliminating five of its routes. No less drastic are the human consequences. To carry out the necessary restructuration, nearly 3,000 jobs would be slashed by 2017, the sickle slicing almost entirely through the ranks of the support and ground crews.

When the negotiations between the pilots and management broke off, the ground-workers unions were as furious at the one as the other. The union’s claim that this provides a higher guarantee of safety struck them as both false and self-serving. Laurent Berger, the leader of France’s largest trade union, the Confedération française démocratique du travail, denounced the pilots’ refusal to compromise. By refusing “to consider the predicament of their fellow Air France workers,” he exclaimed, the pilots had “torpedoed the trade unions.”

Torn between bewilderment and bitterness, he declared that the pilots could have avoided this showdown, but instead decided to leave the ground-workers holding the bag: “It’s detestable!” Jean-Claude Mailly, the leader of a second union, Force Ouvrière, echoed Berger’s frustration. Urging the pilots to maintain labor solidarity, Mailly pleaded with them “to communicate with the other unions.”

On October 5, Air France’s division of human resources convened a meeting at its corporate headquarters to discuss the implementation of Plan B. Already battered by earlier restructuring efforts, hundreds of Air France ground-workers gathered outside the building to protest the purpose of the meeting. Unnoticed by security personnel, a few dozen workers made their way into the building by a side entrance and burst into the meeting room.

The confrontation turned into a scrum, during which workers tore off the jackets and shirts of two executives, Xavier Broseta and Pierre Plissonier. With the help of security personnel, as well as other workers, the two frightened men managed to leave the building and scale the parking lot fence to safety.

While the international media feasted on images of this event, the French government reacted immediately. On an official visit in Japan, Prime Minister Manuel Valls assured France—not to mention Air France, nearly one fifth of which is owned by the French state—that the voyous, or thugs, responsible for the scuffle would be “harshly punished.” In a tweet, the economy minister Emmanuel Macron, also in Japan, relayed his shock over the event, denouncing the “unacceptable violence” shown by the Air France workers. The government made good on its vow of swift justice: at dawn on October 12, five workers suspected of leading the scuffle were arrested at their homes and charged with assault and battery.

While most of the political class applauded the arrests, there were also discordant voices. In a televised interview, Jean-Luc Mélechon, the fiery former Socialist who now leads the Parti de gauche, urged Air France workers not to be intimidated by the arrests.

“Start again,” he encouraged them: “Don’t surrender, and don’t be afraid.” As for the arrested workers, Mélenchon grandly declared: “I’d be glad to take their place in prison.” Even Mélenchon’s allies rolled their eyes over their colleague’s offer. As Julien Dray, a leader of the leftwing dissidents within the Socialist Party, drily noted: “It’s easy to say that you would willingly go to prison, all the while sitting in a television studio and knowing full well you will not go there.”

But Dray, along with several other leftwing politicians and observers, has also underscored the odd and discomfiting sight of a Socialist government mobilizing its rhetoric and resources to support Air France’s executive board and slam its employees. Laurent Bouvier, a columnist with Slate France, remarked that the violence of political reactions to the events at Air France was equally shocking.

“To side entirely with Air France executives without a word for the workers whose jobs are now threatened by the company’s flawed decision-making reflects a tragic divorce from social realities.” More laconically, a columnist with Le Parisien, Jean-Marie Montali, noted that the scuffle “makes us lose sight of another act of violence: the loss of 2,900 jobs.”

Tellingly, in a survey published last week by the French polling institute IFOP, while 38% of the respondents condemned the workers’ violence out of hand, 54% replied that though they did not approve of the violence, they nevertheless “understood” why it happened. How could it be otherwise, given the seemingly irresistible rise of unemployment in France—the toll of those who cannot find jobs now hovers at 10.3 percent—and the impotence of the Socialist government to reverse the trend?

A video revealing this tragic side to the events of October 5 has since gone viral in France. It depicts a young Air France employee, Erika Nguyen Van Vai, who had wandered into another meeting room at corporate headquarters during the confusion of that day. Finding herself face to face with several Air France executives, Van Vai, a single mother, tries to engage them in a dialogue. Repeatedly asking them for the criteria they were using for Plan B, repeatedly emphasizing the sacrifices she and her fellow workers had already made, and repeatedly stating her pride to wear an Air France uniform, she is met with silence and frequent sardonic smiles. As Van Vai later observed, “I felt humiliated by their response.”

It may well the image of this worker’s tears as she failed to elicit a response from Air France executives, which elicited a new response from the president of Air France, Alexandre de Juniac. On Sunday, he announced that just 1,000 positions would now be cut through voluntary retirements in 2016. Whether this reflects a change in the adversarial relations between management and workers at Air France, or simply a tactical retreat, remains to be seen.

This blog was originally posted on InTheseTimes.org on October 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert Zaretsky is a Professor of History at the University of Houston in the field of modern European intellectual and cultural history. He is the author of A Life Worth Living: Albert Camus and the Quest for Meaning and Boswell’s Enlightenment, and is at work on a book on the friendship between Catherine the Great and Denis Diderot. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Foreign Policy, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, Le Monde Diplomatique, Chronicle of Higher Education, and the London Times Higher Education Magazine. He is the history editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books and a monthly columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward.

Half of Food Workers Go to Work Sick Because Lack of Paid Sick Leave Forces Them To

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

LauraClawsonPaid sick leave isn’t just the right thing to do for people who currently face the choice of going to work sick, or going without pay. It’s a public health issue.

Fifty-one percent of food workers — who do everything from grow and process food to cook and serve it — said they “always” or “frequently” go to work when they’re sick, according to the results of a survey released Monday. An additional 38 percent said they go to work sick “sometimes.” […]But it’s not as if these sick food workers are careless. Nine out of 10 workers polled in the new survey said they feel responsible for the safety and well-being of their customers. Yet about 45 percent said they go to work sick because they “can’t afford to lose pay.” And about 46 percent said they do it because they “don’t want to let co-workers down.”

That means that customers are exposed to those sick workers’ illnesses. And that, in turn, can be a serious issue:

“One of the most egregious examples that I describe in the book is a worker at a Fayetteville, N.C., Olive Garden [who] was forced to work with hepatitis A because [Olive Garden] doesn’t have an earned sick leave policy,” [Saru] Jayaraman says. As a result, Jayaraman says, 3,000 people had to be tested for hepatitis A at the Cumberland County, N.C., health department.

Most cases aren’t that dramatic, of course, but norovirus is often spread by food workers, and you really don’t want norovirus. Yet somehow Republican morality says that these workers in one of the lowest-paying industries should stay home to protect the rest of us while being denied basic protections themselves, and risking their ability to pay the bills and put food on the table for every day they stay home sick.

Paid sick leave is gaining momentum in the United States, with four states—Connecticut, Oregon, California, and Massachusetts—now having laws requiring it for most workers. But it will never be federal law as long as Republicans have the ability to block it.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

Campbell Brown’s Dark Money And The War On Teachers’ Unions

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Our Future Campaign for AmericaBefore Democratic Party presidential candidates readied for their first debate on CNN, they turned down an opportunity to meet at another forum.

That meeting was to be hosted by ex-CNN anchorwoman Campbell Brown who now operates a media outlet, The Seventy Four, that promotes charter schools and other public education policies favored by wealthy foundations and individuals. Brown’s financial backers include the philanthropic organization of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the foundation of the family that owns Wal-Mart.

As Politico reports, Brown’s group and another charter advocacy organization had already brought six Republican candidates together in New Hampshire in August to talk about education policy. Next, in conjunction with the Des Moines Register, the two organizations wanted Democratic candidates to gather in Iowa. None of the candidates would commit to attend even in principle.

Politico reporter Michael Grunwald was quick to frame the candidates’ snub, with obvious help from Brown herself, as proof of the political might of teachers’ unions.

For sure, Brown has a history of fighting with teachers’ unions. As an article in The Washington Post last year reported, she led an effort to cast the New York City teachers’ union as a protector of sexual predators.

After that venture, Brown launched a group that filed a lawsuit in New York State to dilute teachers’ job protections, commonly called “tenure.”

So she is clearly at it again. Grunwald quotes her, “The teachers unions have gotten to these candidates.”

“It’s shameful how my party is being held hostage by the unions,” Grunwald quotes Kevin Chavous, the head of American Federation for Children, the other organization sponsoring the event. “I see no difference between their strong-arm tactics on the Democrats and the gun lobby’s tactics on Republicans.”

This is not the first time a proponent for charter schools has compared an organization representing classroom teachers to an extremist group that responded to the gun deaths of school kids and educators in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school by blaming the teachers for not packing heat.

Comments like these show how hyperbolic people have become who back charter schools, high-stakes testing and a crackdown on teachers’ collective bargaining rights.

Trolling For Education ‘Reform’

But aside from that offensive remark, Brown and Chavous also took to The Daily Beast to accuse the teachers’ unions of “bullying” them and being “anti-democratic.” They warn the Democratic Party presidential slate, “Voters have demonstrated time and again that candidates who buck the teachers’ union are rewarded.” (Uh-huh, tell that to ex-Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett or failed California state education superintendent Marshall Tuck, who both lost elections, in large part, for bucking unions.)

Charter school proponents in other corridors of the education reform echo chamber offered similar counsel to the candidates.

On the blog site EducationPost – a media outlet funded with $12 million by some of the same wealthy foundations and individuals who back Campbell Brown – Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the rest of the candidates were called “pathetic. … They’re afraid of the unions who warned them not to attend the event.”

In an op-ed appearing in USA Today, Richard Whitmire – a routine commentator at The Seventy Flour and author of a “worshipful portrait,” according to education historian Diane Ravitch, of former Washington, D.C. school chancellor Michelle Rhee – wrote, “The party of Hillary Clinton must decide: Support teachers’ unions or fight for low-income, minority children.”

This overheated rhetoric sounds a lot like concern-trolling coming from conservative Republicans. One of those, Fox News contributor Juan Williams, noticed the candidate no-shows for Brown’s event and wrote for The Hill, “Clinton and her Democratic rivals have shunned an invitation to an education reform forum because it was sponsored by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown … out of apparent fear of antagonizing the unions. The price of a union endorsement is too high for school children.”

All this bloviating over a botched attempt by charter school proponents to stage an event allowing them to frame issues for their own end is not only rhetorical overload, it’s really bad political advice.

It’s The Parents, Stupid

First, opposition to rich people’s agenda to convert more public schools to charters and attack teachers’ job protections is not confined to teachers unions.

In communities such as Nashville, Tennessee and Jefferson County, Colorado, parents, not teachers unions, are leading the opposition to the takeover of public schools by self-proclaimed reformers.

The successful mayoral campaigns of Bill de Blasio in New York City and Ras Baraka in Newark, New Jersey drew their strength from coalitions of voters who, yes, supported public school teachers, but also wanted solutions to the growing inequities in their cities, such as raising the minimum wage and big changes in the criminal justice system.

There is a reason, after all, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made his now infamous remark about “suburban moms” being the main opposition to the rollout of his high-stakes testing agenda for schools. Those really were suburban moms, and not the teachers’ unions, speaking out in defiance.

Unions Are Good For Low-Income Kids

Also, if Brown and her fellow education activists were really so concerned about the future of kids who live in low-income communities, they would be advocating for labor unions rather than opposing them.

My colleague Dave Johnson at the Campaign for America’s Future recently came across a new study conducted for the Center for American Progress, which found in places where union membership is higher, low-income children, in particular, benefit from “economic mobility” and “intergenerational mobility.” In plain English, this means union strength correlated with low-income children being more apt to rise higher in the income rankings – and for their children in turn to be better off.

Reporters at The New York Times looked at the study as well and noted, “There aren’t many other factors that are as strongly correlated with mobility” as the presence of unions. “A 10-percentage-point increase in the rate of unionization in an area coincided with a rise of an additional 1.3 points on the income distribution as the average child becomes an adult,” they wrote.

Combating unions is not only a strategy unlikely to result in good outcomes for low-income kids, it also seems completely out of step with the political zeitgeist of the times.

Missing The Populist Bandwagon

Robert Borosage, another CAF colleague with over three decades of experience as a political strategist, observes that among presidential candidates in the Democratic Party, “The growing populist movement in this country is driving this debate.”

“Populist,” as Borosage uses the term, is stridently pro-union and opposed to the agenda of the big-moneyed interests – the same folks who are typically behind charter schools, and the crackdowns on teachers’ rights, and parent and student voice, in school governance.

Likely sensing the populist uprising, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, after turning down the invitation to Brown’s klatch, made a surprise appearance at a union rally in Las Vegas where boisterous protestors were demanding higher wages and better treatment from their employer, a hotel bearing the name of Republican presidential primary frontrunner Donald Trump.

The wave of populism washing across the country is not lost on Republican candidates. Tellingly, two Republican candidates currently leading in polls who did not show for Brown’s event in New Hampshire, Trump and neurosurgeon Ben Carson, are arguably the most populist candidates in that field.

Also, the two Republican Party presidential hopefuls who are most aligned with the anti-union, pro-education reform advocacy stances of Campbell Brown and her fellow advocates have not fared well.

Bad Political Advice

The fate of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is the most obvious example of how union-bashing is not a sure-fire strategy for political gain. As another CAF colleague and veteran political observer Bill Scher observed upon witnessing Walker’s withdrawal from the presidential race, “Scott Walker proves you can’t union-bash your way to the White House.”

Walker, who had made a political career out of “his glorious union battles,” in Scher’s words, “became pathetic. … In the waning days of his campaign, he offered his one big idea:eliminate federal worker unions and abolish the National Labor Relations Board. Nobody cared.”

The other Republican candidate most aligned to the pro-charter, anti-union agenda of education reform proponents, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, is still in the race but has faltered severely in polling results.

More than any other candidate, Bush has made his battle for charter schools and punitive education policies in the Sunshine State a centerpiece of his campaign. This strategy hasn’t done him any good, most notably because those policy ideas are now widely held in contempt in his own state.

“The Bush-era reforms have failed,” writes a columnist for the Tampa Bay Times, noting the state’s school accountability system established during Bush’s regime has collapsed in ruins, and the system of testing put into place “turned schools into sweatshops.”

Investigative reports conducted by this author for the Alternet news outlet have found Bush’s expansions of charter schools have done little to advance the academic and life achievements of low-income kids and have instead opened up the state’s education system to widespread corruption and fomented chaos in communities.

Given what has happened to Walker and Bush, no candidate in his or her right mind should embrace the strategy promoted by Brown and her cohorts.

An Authentic Movement, If Democrats Want One

Many people leading the effort to stifle classroom teachers and do damage to public schools so charter schools can be presented as an attractive alternative like to believe they are leading a movement. But it’s far from certain their movement is catching on.

As the dust settles after the first debate among the Democratic Party presidential candidates, it became clear none of the issues charter school advocates care about came up in the discussion. While that’s not a good thing, necessarily, it shows despite all the money the Wal-Mart foundation and other rich folks can bring to bear, the return on their investment so far is pretty poor.

In the meantime, a grassroots constituency that sees big money pouring into campaigns for closing neighborhood schools and opening up more charters is increasingly unconvinced wealthy white people have the best interests of low-income black and brown children in mind.

This from-the-ground-up movement has also yet to influence the presidential debates, in either party. But should Democratic candidates decide to pay attention, it will be obvious to them which of these two education “movements” really represents an authentic voice for positive change.

This blog originally appeared in Salon on October 19, 2015 and Ourfuture.org on October 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeff Bryant is Director of the Education Opportunity Network, a partnership effort of the Institute for America’s Future and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign. Jeff owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and has written extensively about public education policy.

The Morality of a $15 Minimum

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Robert ReichHave you noticed how often conservatives who disagree with a policy proposal call it a “job killer?”

They’re especially incensed about proposals to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim it will force employers to lay off workers worth hiring at the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour but not at a higher minimum.

But as Princeton University economist Alan Krueger pointed out recently in the New York Times“research suggests that a minimum wage set as high as $12 an hour will do more good than harm for low-wage workers.”

That’s because a higher minimum puts more money into the pockets of people who will spend it, mostly in the local economy. That spending encourages businesses to hire more workers.

Which is why many economists, like Krueger, support raising the federal minimum to $12 an hour.

What about $15 an hour?

Across America, workers at fast-food and big-box retail establishments are striking for $15. Some cities are already moving toward this goal. Bernie Sanders is advocating it. A national movement is growing for a $15 an hour minimum.

Yet economists are nervous. Krueger says a $15 an hour minimum would “put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences” of job loss.

Yet maybe some jobs are worth risking if a strong moral case can be made for a $15 minimum.

That moral case is that no one should be working full time and still remain in poverty.

People who work full time are fulfilling their most basic social responsibility. As such, they should earn enough to live on.

A full-time worker with two kids needs at least $30,135 this year to be safely out of poverty. That’s $15 an hour for a forty-hour workweek.

Any amount below this usually requires government make up the shortfall – using tax payments from the rest of us to finance food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other kinds of help.

What about the risk of job loss? Historically, such a risk hasn’t deterred us from setting minimum work standards based on public morality.

The original child labor laws that went into effect in many states at turn of last century were opposed by business groups that argued such standards would raise the costs of business and force employers to lay off large numbers of young workers.

But America decided the employment of young children was morally wrong.

The safety laws enacted in the wake of the tragic Triangle Shirt Waste Factory fire of 1911, which killed 145 workers, were also deemed “job killers.”

“We are of the opinion that if the present recommendations [for stricter building codes] are insisted upon…factories will be driven from the city,”argued New York’s association of realtors.

But New York and hundreds of other cities enacted them nonetheless because they viewed unsafe sweatshops morally objectionable.

It was the same with the 1938 legislation mandating a forty-hour workweek with time-and-a-half for overtime, along with the first national minimum wage.

“It will destroy small industry,” predicted Georgia Congressman Edward Cox. It’s “a solution of this problem which is utterly impractical and in operation would be much more destructive than constructive to the very purposes which it is designed to serve,” charged Rep. Arthur Phillip Lamneck of Ohio.

America enacted fair labor standards anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Over the years America has decided that certain kinds of jobs – jobs that were done by children, or were unsafe, or required people to work too many hours, or below poverty wages – offend our sense of decency.

So we’ve raised standards and lost such jobs. In effect, we’ve decided such jobs aren’t worth keeping.

Even if a $15 an hour minimum wage risks job losses, it is still the right thing to do.

This post appeared in Our Future on October 19, 2015. Originally posted at RobertReich.org. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

Papa John's stores to pay $500,000 wage theft settlement

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

LauraClawsonNew York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman keeps cracking down on wage theft, and around 250 workers will be sharing in a nearly $500,000 settlement from four current and former Papa John’s franchisees.

“Once again, we’ve found Papa John’s franchises in New York that are ripping off their workers and violating critical state and federal laws,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. “Once again, I call on Papa John’s and other fast food companies to step up and stop the widespread lawlessness plaguing your businesses and harming the workers who make and deliver your food.”

Though it often isn’t treated this way, it actually is illegal to fail to pay minimum wage or overtime, to make people work off the clock, to force workers being paid at the tipped worker subminimum wage to do non-tipped work, and a disturbing list of other ways businesses have found to keep money that workers have earned. And about that “once again”:

In July, the attorney general’s office arrested Abdul Jamil Khokhar, owner of nine Papa John’s stores in New York, accusing him of breaking minimum wage and overtime laws. According to his plea agreement, Khokhar could serve up to 60 days in jail. In another case, the attorney general’s office secured a judgment of nearly $3 million against two other Papa John’s franchisees.

So while the workers were technically employed by—and cheated by—the franchisees, at a certain point you see a pattern and start to think maybe the parent company has something to do with it. That’s one of the reasons the National Labor Relations Board pushed to treat some fast food chains as joint employers responsible for working conditions in franchise restaurants.

In 2013, a report from Fast Food Forward found 84 percent of New York City fast food workers reporting that they’d been victims of wage theft. Fully 100 percent of fast food delivery workers said the same. Schneiderman’s efforts to crack down have also led to settlements at franchises of other chains, including Domino’s and McDonald’s.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

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