Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for February, 2017

Working People and Their Unions Rally to Support Members Affected by Travel Ban

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

“I was fortunate enough to have the support of a union, and I was a member of a union. And I think in this situation, I’m convinced more than ever how important the unions are. And I just wanted to mention that I know here in New York there are so many students from private universities who have been trying to and fighting to get their right to have a union, and the administration of the universities are denying them this right.” – Saira Rafiee

Faculty, staff and students studying and teaching in the United States have been scrambling since Donald Trump barred entry into the country for foreign nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries. Although the executive order has been temporarily blocked by court order, the matter remains a moving target as the White House challenges the rulings — and the legitimacy — of the courts.

The AFT has many members who have been and could be shut out of the country or prevented from traveling under the Jan. 27 executive order. For example, Saira Rafiee (pictured), a doctoral student of political science at the Graduate Center, City University of New York and member of the Professional Staff Congress/AFT Local 2334, was among those who were blocked from entry during the chaotic initial week of implementation. While attempting to return from vacation in Iran to visit her family during winter break, she was detained for 18 hours in Abu Dhabi before being sent back to Tehran.

Despite the uncertainty about her own future, Rafiee conveyed on Facebook that her main concern was for others, including a student in the United States who had to cancel a last visit with a sister who has cancer in Iran. Her sister has since died. There also are students doing fieldwork for dissertations that have taken years to research; whether they will be able to return to their work is undetermined. “These stories are not even close in painfulness and horror of those who are fleeing war and disastrous situations in their home countries,” wrote Rafiee, whose CUNY colleagues rallied to #GetSairaHome at the Brooklyn courthouse Jan. 30.

Read Rafiee’s Jan. 29 Facebook post:

Rafiee returned to the United States Feb. 4 to a rousing welcome from CUNY student activists, lawyers from CUNY’s Citizenship Now program, family members and others who had worked to make her return possible. “Union support matters,” said PSC President Barbara Bowen. “Hundreds of PSC members responded to the union’s call for messages urging action on Saira’s case, helping to focus public attention on her case. Collective action worked.”

If reinstated, the executive order would temporarily ban entry to the United States for all citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somali, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The ban is widely seen as an attempt to ban Muslims from the U.S., a religious ban that would be constitutionally prohibited. Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates was fired for refusing to enforce the ban, which she determined was illegal. Courts have challenged the new policy, but border agents reportedly ignored court orders. Details of enforcement have been confusing at best.

In addition to the turmoil academics and other travelers have experienced, another aspect of the order would suspend all refugee admittance for 120 days and turn away desperate families seeking safe haven from war and violence. These refugees already have gone through extensive, often years-long approval processes, yet these families risk being sent back to refugee camps.

The AFT is distributing information and resources on these executive orders and offering some legal advice for foreign nationals from the affected nations.

Rafiee wrote:

The first quote above from Saira Rafiee was provided via an interview with Democracy Now.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 10, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Virginia Myers is a writer/editor for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Make American Jobs

Monday, February 13th, 2017

President Donald Trump had Harley-Davidson executives and employees over to lunch at the White House last week and reiterated his promise to end wrong-headed trade policies that enable foreign countries to eat American workers’ lunch.

Trump reassured the Harley workers from the United Steelworkers (USW) union and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) that he would renegotiate NAFTA and other trade deals.

“A lot of people [have been] taking advantage of us, a lot of countries [have been] taking advantage of us, really terribly taking advantage of us,” he said as news cameras clicked. “We have to be treated fairly.”

No promise could be more heartening to workers as corporations like Carrier and Rexnord continue to move jobs to Mexico. No news could be better in the same week that the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released research showing that since 2001, the United States’ massive trade deficit with China cost 3.4 million Americans their jobs.

EPI-jobs-China-Gerard-OurFuture

Workers, families and communities have suffered as trade and tax policy over the past quarter century encouraged corporations to off-shore factories and jobs. Flipping that philosophy to favor American workers and domestic manufacturing is exactly what labor organizations like the USW have long fought for. If Trump actually achieves that, all Americans will benefit.

In the meantime, Rexnord Corp. has finalized plans to uproot its bearings manufacturing machines in Indianapolis, transport the equipment to Mexico and throw 300 skilled and dedicated workers, members of my union, the USW, into the street. Terminations begin Feb. 13.

Automation did not take these workers’ jobs. The lure of dirt-cheap wages in Mexico and tax breaks awarded for the costs of moving jobs and machinery stole them.

Trump talked to the Harley workers and executives about changing tax policy. Ending all special tax deals and loopholes that corporations like Rexnord and Carrier use for shuttering American factories and shipping them to other countries would be a good first step. U.S. policy shouldn’t reward corporations like Rexnord and Carrier that profit from exploiting the international wage race to the bottom and the wretched environmental regulation of emerging nations.

Harley-Gerard-OurFuture

Caption: Photo by Vlad/Flickr

The next logical step would be establishing consequences for those corporations — like requiring them to pay substantial economic penalties if they want access to the U.S. market for their once-domestic and now foreign-made products.

In addition, American policy must be —  just as Trump promised in his campaign — to stop trade law violators who are trampling all over American workers.

The EPI study detailed the devastation caused by the worst violator — China. American workers and companies can compete on a level playing field with any counterpart in the world. But the EPI study shows just how much American workers and their employers suffer when the United States fails to strictly enforce international trade law.

Of the 3.4 million jobs lost between 2001 and 2015 because of the U.S. trade deficit with China, EPI found that nearly three-quarters of them, 2.6 million, were manufacturing jobs. Every state and every congressional district was hit. These are jobs fabricating computer and electronic parts, textiles, apparel and furniture.

Manufacturing jobs such as these provide family-supporting wages and benefits such as health insurance and pensions. As these jobs went overseas, American workers’ income stagnated while those at the top — executives, 1 percenters and corporate stockholders — benefited.

As the rich got richer, the EPI researchers found, all non-college educated workers lost a total of $180 billion a year in income.

When the United States agreed to allow China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, former President Bill Clinton said the access that the deal provided American companies to the gigantic Chinese market would create jobs. Promises, promises.

It’s possible no one guessed just how massively China would violate the trade rules it agreed to abide by under the WTO pact. Numerous investigations by the Department of Commerce have found China improperly subsidizes its exports by providing artificially cheap loans, free land, and discounted raw materials and utilities. To keep its workers employed, China helps finance overproduction in industries like steel and aluminum, then dumps the excess at below-market prices in the United States, bankrupting mills and factories here.

China pirates innovation, software and technology from foreign producers. To steal trade secrets, its military hacked into the computers of American corporations and the USW. In addition, China has manipulated the value of its currency so that its exports are artificially cheap and imports from the United States are artificially expensive.

Even if the scale of violation was underestimated, when it occurred, the American government had a responsibility to take action, to file trade cases, to take issues before the WTO, to negotiate to bring China in line with international standards and protect American jobs and preserve domestic manufacturing, which is crucial to national defense.

Precious little of that occurred. The trade deficit with China exploded, obliterating American jobs — a quarter million on average every year since China joined the WTO in 2001. China exports to the United States its overproduced aluminum, steel and other commodities, but also its unemployment.

After that lunch, Trump thanked Harley-Davidson for assembling its iconic motorcycles in America. He extended his hand in aid, saying, “We are going to help you, too. We are going to make it really great for business, not just for you, but for everybody. We are going to be competitive with anybody in the world.”

American workers and domestic manufacturers already are competitive. What they need is a government that doesn’t require them to compete with a handicap so huge that it’s like asking Evel Knievel to jump his Harley-Davidson XR 750 over 19 cars without a ramp. What they need is tough action against corporations that renounce their birthplace for profit and against flagrant, job-stealing trade violators like China.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on February 7, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Groundbreaking Bill in Illinois Would Give Temp Workers Equal Pay and Rights as Direct Hires

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sweeping legislation introduced in the Illinois state legislature last month would dramatically improve pay, benefits and working conditions for almost a million of the state’s temp workers toiling in factories, warehouses and offices.

The Responsible Job Creation Act, sponsored by State Rep. Carol Ammons, aims to transform the largely unregulated temporary staffing industry by introducing more than 30 new worker protections, including pay equity with direct hires, enhanced safety provisions, anti-discrimination measures and protection from retaliation.

The innovative law is being pushed by the worker centers Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC) and Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), which say it would restore the temp industry to its original purpose of filling short-term, seasonal labor needs and recruiting new employees into direct-hire jobs.

Across Illinois, there are nearly 850,000 temp workers every year. Nationally, temp jobs are at record highs, with more than 12 million people flowing through the industry per year.

“Instead of temps just replacing people who are sick or coming during periods of higher production, they’re actually becoming a permanent staffing option,” says CWC executive director Tim Bell. “There’s nothing ‘temporary’ about it.”

Mark Meinster, executive director of WWJ, says there has been “an explosion” of temp workers in recent decades, especially in manufacturing and warehousing. “Those sectors are part of large, global production networks where you see hyper competition and an intense drive to lower costs. Companies can drive down labor costs by using temp agencies.”

CWC activist Freddy Amador worked at Cornfields Inc., in Waukegan, for five years. He tells In These Times the company’s direct hires start off making at least $16 an hour, but later get raises amounting to $21 an hour. As a temp, however, Amador was only making $11 an hour after five years on the job.

“As a temp worker, you don’t have vacation days, sick days, paid holidays”—all of which are available to direct hires, Amador says.

In These Times reached out to Cornfields to comment on this story. It did not immediately respond.

“Once a company is using a temp agency, it no longer has to worry about health insurance, pension liability, workers’ comp, payroll and human resources costs,” Meinster explains. “It also doesn’t have to worry about liability for workplace accidents, wage theft, or discrimination because, effectively under the law, the temp agency is the employer of record.”

This arrangement drives down standards at blue-collar workplaces, Bell says. “The company itself doesn’t have to worry about safety conditions because these workers aren’t going to cost them any money if they’re injured.”

“The safety for temp workers is really bad,” Amador says. “Temp agencies send people to do a job, but nobody trains them. Sometimes temp workers are using equipment they don’t know how to use, and they’re just guessing how to use it. I’ve seen many accidents.”

Under the new bill, temps like Amador would receive the same pay, benefits and protections as direct hires.

“This is landmark legislation,” Bell says. “There’s nothing like it in the United States.”

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found a pattern of systemic racial and gender discrimination in the temp industry nationwide. Industry whistleblowers allege that African-American workers are routinely passed over for jobs in favor of Latinos, who employers consider to be more exploitable.

Discrimination can be hard to prove because staffing agencies aren’t required to record or report the demographics of who comes in looking for work. As Bell explains, applications often aren’t even filled out in the temp industry, but rather “someone just shows up to go to a job.”

The new bill would require temp agencies to be more transparent about their hiring practices by recording the race, gender and ethnicity of applicants and reporting that information to the state.

Furthermore, the bill includes an anti-retaliation provision that says if temp workers are fired or disciplined after asserting their legal rights, the burden is on the company and temp agency to prove that it was not done in retaliation.

“There’s this fundamental imbalance in the labor market that leads to a whole range of abuses and then non-enforcement of basic labor rights,” Meinster explains. “The changes we’re proposing in this bill get at addressing that structural issue.”

To craft the bill and get it introduced, CWC and WWJ received research and communications support from Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of eight Chicago worker centers. The Illinois AFL-CIO, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, National Employment Law Project, Latino Policy Forum and Rainbow Push Coalition are among the legislation’s other supporters.

Though the Illinois government is still paralyzed by an unprecedented budget stalemate between the Republican governor and Democratic legislature, organizers are optimistic about the bill’s prospects.

“There’s potential for huge movement around this bill,” Bell says, citing the popularity of the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, which both touched on the theme of economic insecurity. While Trump focuses on jobs fleeing the country, Bell notes that “jobs here in this country have been downgraded.”

“We need to be talking about job quality, not only ‘more jobs.’ Both are important,” Meinster says. He believes existing temp jobs “could and should be good, permanent, full-time, direct-hire, living wage jobs with stability, respect and benefits.”

The author has worked with WWJ in the past on issues related to the temp industry.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 9, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Republican takes aim at your right to know how high CEO pay is compared to typical workers

Friday, February 10th, 2017

As of January 1, companies will have to make public how much their CEOs make compared to what their average workers make. They don’t like that rule so much — enacted thanks to Dodd-Frank — and they might be able to get it killed.

On Monday, the acting chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Michael Piwowar, called for reconsideration of the rule that went into effect on January 1, hinting that it could be reversed.

“[I]t is my understanding that some issuers have begun to encounter unanticipated compliance difficulties that may hinder them in meeting the reporting deadline,” he wrote. So he called for a new period of public input over the next 45 days, after which he will direct the SEC staff to “reconsider the implementation of the rule based on any comments submitted and to determine as promptly as possible whether additional guidance or relief may be appropriate.”

Translation: Companies don’t want people to know how much more their CEOs make than the median worker, and rather than admitting that they don’t want people to know that, they’re calling it “unanticipated compliance difficulties.”

This rule isn’t something Republicans can just kill off immediately, but that’s clearly the direction they’re headed. Businesses have a lot to hide, after all. Like how CEOs make 276 times more than typical workers, while the corporate world lobbies against policies that benefit workers, like paid sick leave, paid family leave, or increased minimum wage.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is stocking his cabinet with former CEOs.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Workplace Fairness Says Goodbye to Former Board Member Penny Nathan Kahan

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

Workplace Fairness was very saddened to learn of the passing of former board member and early supporter Penny Nathan Kahan on February 1, 2017, after a long and hard-fought battle with ovarian cancer.  (Penny Kahan Obituary)  Penny’s legacy will be honored at a Celebration of Life on Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, at 2:00 PM, at the Chicago Jewish Funerals – Skokie Chapel, 8851 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL 60077.

Penny founded the law firm of Penny Nathan Kahan and Associates in 1983. Her career as an attorney was focused on helping people who suffered from workplace unfairness and discrimination. She participated in a variety of professional organizations, including serving as a founding board member of the National Employment Lawyers Association and its Illinois affiliate, NELA-Illinois. In 2000 she was elected a Fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Law and a fellow of the American Bar Foundation in 2002.

As part of her devotion to the legal profession and to the cause of workers rights, Penny served on the board of Workplace Fairness when it was known as the National Employee Rights Institute (NERI). She additionally served on the Advisory Board for a long-time project of Workplace Fairness, the Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, co-published by IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law.

Workplace Fairness was co-founded by Wayne Outten and Paul Tobias in 1994. For several years following its founding, the organization was entirely volunteer-run and depended on the work and support of advocates like Penny. In a fateful board meeting in Chicago in 2001, as part of an effort to increase the profile and impact of the organization after hiring its first staff, it was Penny who suggested that the organization change its name to Workplace Fairness – the name by which it has been known ever since.

Workplace Fairness Co-Founder and Board President says of Penny, “Penny was a wonderful and warm person who will be missed by all who knew her.” Professor Douglas Scherer, long-time WF board member who served with Penny on the NERI board, adds, “Penny was a very gracious and talented woman [who] played a very important role in the establishment and development of NERI, which was renamed to Workplace Fairness.”

We acknowledge and honor Penny’s pivotal role in the development of our organization, as over 4 million workers every year now rely on the organization named Workplace Fairness to reflect our mission of providing the comprehensive and reliable employee rights content available on the Internet. We are proud that her legacy lives on through the name she selected for our organization and the millions of workers that under that name we have assisted in enforcing their rights and in finding attorneys like Penny and her professional colleagues to provide representation. We will miss Penny’s warm smile and passionate, thoughtful advocacy, and share our condolences with her family, friends and professional colleagues who will miss her dearly.

Americans are now twice as likely to work in solar as in coal

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

In his first hour as president, Donald Trump promised to resurrect middle-class manufacturing jobs in the United States. It will be all but impossible for him to reverse the tides of globalization and automation, but the future may nonetheless be bright for the American worker, thanks to a trend that predates and will outlast the 45th president.

For the last decade, the solar industry has enjoyed exponential job growth. Last year, more than 51,000 people in the United States were hired to design, manufacture, sell and install solar panels, according to a new report from The Solar Foundation. That means the solar industry created jobs 17 times faster than the economy as a whole.

“In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations,” said Andrea Luecke, The Solar Foundation’s president and executive director.

Falling prices for panels are helping drive a nationwide clean-energy boom. Utility-scale solar is now cost-competitive with wind and natural gas—and it’s cheaper than coal, even without subsidies. Last year, solar accounted for more than a third of new U.S. generating capacity.

CREDIT: Solar Jobs Census 2016, The Solar Foundation

The solar industry now employs twice as many people in the United States as the coal industry and roughly the same number of people as the natural gas industry. While solar still accounts for a much far smaller share of U.S. power generation than either of those fossil fuel sources, it’s expanding rapidly, putting a growing number of Americans to work. While the official numbers have not been tallied, early estimates have found that more solar was added to the grid in 2016 than natural gas capacity.

Roughly half of the men and women working in the solar industry are installers, who earn a median wage of $26 an hour in a job that can’t be outsourced. In addition, these positions don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

The burgeoning workforce also includes people working in sales and project development, jobs that call for an education in engineering or business.

 
CREDIT: Solar Jobs Census 2016, The Solar Foundation

The report notes that the solar workforce is growing more diverse, employing a larger share of women and people of color, as well as a significant number of military veterans. Last year, solar companies created jobs in nearly every state.

“It’s really a wide range of people that get hired into this industry—everybody from certified and licensed engineers to those who first learned about a solar project when we were building one in their area,” said George Hershman, the general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy. “A great aspect of this business is that it isn’t an exclusionary trade. It’s a teachable job that can create opportunity for people and give them a skill.”

While jobs are cropping up all across the country, growth is more closely linked to policy support for renewable energy than to the number of sunny days in a given locale. Last year, Massachusetts added more solar jobs than Texas, despite enjoying less sunshine. The Bay State has ambitious plans to build out zero-carbon power sources like wind and solar.

CREDIT: Energy Information Administration

“Solar is an important part of our ever-expanding clean energy economy in Massachusetts, supporting thousands of high-skilled careers across the Commonwealth,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said.

Smart policy is key to the continued growth of the solar industry, which has been bolstered by federal tax credits and state renewable-energy mandates, among other measures. President Trump plans to roll back federal policies that foster the growth of clean energy, potentially scrap the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and eliminate funding for clean-energy research and development.

Without these policies, solar will continue to grow, but at an attenuated pace. Corporations like General Motors, Apple and IKEA will keep buying up solar power to cut costs and guard against volatility in the price of fossil fuels. But electric utilities will be less incentivized to shutter existing coal-fired power plants in favor of new renewable energy installations.

Solar evangelists say that if Donald Trump wants to create well-paid jobs that don’t require a college education, he should foster the growth of solar rather than pursuing deals, one-by-one, to prevent U.S. manufacturers from shipping jobs overseas.

Last year, solar companies created more than 60 jobs for every one job Donald Trump and Mike Pence preserved by giving a tax break to Carrier. Ultimately, the jobs saved at the Carrier plant may be lost to machines. Meanwhile, jobs in solar are destined to keep growing.

This post appeared originally in Think Progress on February 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.

Republican Victory in Missouri Means “Right-to-Work” For Less

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Missouri’s House of Representatives passed a so-called “right-to-work” law this month, marking the end of a decades-long campaign for the adoption of the anti-union legislation in the state.

The measure had already been passed in Missouri’s Senate and newly-installed Gov. Eric Greitens has pledged to sign the law soon. Once he does, Missouri will become the 28th state to have such a law on the books.

The likelihood the law would be passed after years of lobbying by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry became clear on Election Day, when Greitens defeated a union-friendly Democratic Party candidate for governor. Greitens and his opponent had been vying to replace retiring Gov. Jay Nixon, an eight-year incumbent who had staunchly resisted the advance of right-to-work legislation during his two terms in the state capital.

The Kansas City Star reported a lopsided House vote on Thursday of 100-59 in favor of the legislation. The Senate had passed the same measure 21-12.

The new law follows the pattern of similar legislation passed recently in Kentucky and West Virginia. (A nationwide right-to-work law was also introduced in Congress last week.) It prohibits any requirement that a worker be a union member as a condition of employment, and prevents unions from collecting membership dues from the workers it represents unless the worker specifically authorizes the payment. The effect is to impair the ability of unions to maintain effective recruiting operations and financial management, labor advocates say.

Efforts by the Missouri AFL-CIO to prevent passage of the right-to-work law were a long shot ever since the results of 2016 election became known, says the labor federation’s president, Mike Louis.

“This has been a long fight. We lost the Senate in 2002 and then we lost the House in 2006. But Gov. Nixon always supported us,” he tells In These Times.

Louis adds that that the efforts of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce were given a major boost by wealthy Joplin, Missouri, businessman David Humphreys, who donated generously to promote right-to-work.

“These big corporate types like David Humphreys pay millions to buy these seats,” in the legislature, Louis says.

But Missouri unions are not accepting defeat, and have already developed a counter-campaign to neutralize the law, Louis continues. The AFL-CIO will lead an effort to collect enough signatures to place an initiative on the 2018 state ballot to reverse the right-to-work law, he says.

“Missouri law says we need 250,000 signatures to get our initiative on the ballot. We will absolutely be able to get this number, and I’m convinced we can win an election when the people of Missouri are presented with a plain choice,” Louis says.

In the meantime, individual unions will struggle to convince union members to maintain their membership. Philip Dine, a journalist and author who spent more than two decades as a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters are the two unions that are likely to feel the most immediate impact of the new law.

“UFCW and Teamsters are pretty strong in the St. Louis area. But the grocery store workers in the UFCW are going to come under a lot of pressure. A lot of those jobs don’t pay all that well to start with, so it’s not going to be easy to convince workers that union dues are worth the money,” says Dine, author of the widely-acclaimed State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve our Economy, and Regain Political Influence. Also coming under pressure to quit their unions will be aircraft production workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and assembly line workers represented by the United Auto Workers, Dine says.

“Sure, there will be a touch—absolutely. But I think it is going to be de minimis,” says David Cook, president of 10,000-member UFCW Local 655 in St. Louis. About 85 percent of the local membership is in the retail grocery sector, he says, so “we are going to have to do a better job of communicating union value to our members. This is something we have been doing already, but we’ll need to do more.”

UFCW will throw its full weight behind the AFL-CIO effort to amend the state constitution to protect workers’ union rights, Cook says.

“We’ve been fighting the right-to-work fight here [in Missouri] on an almost daily basis for the last five years. We are already geared up and I think Missouri is ahead of a lot of other states that have thought about an electoral initiative over right-to-work,” he says. “We’ve communicated with voters. We have a head start.”

“Mega-donors like David Humphries have figured out how to buy politicians. But when the issue of better wages and better worker safety are put directly to the voters, we’ll do well,” Cook predicts.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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

The Economy Adds 227,000 Jobs in January, and Unemployment Little Changed at 4.8%

Monday, February 6th, 2017
The U.S. economy added 227,000 jobs in January in the last employment report of the the Barack Obama administration. Unemployment was little changed at 4.8%, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. President Donald Trump is inheriting a relatively strong economy based on years of work that Barack Obama and his administration did to bring us out of the horrible recession brought on, in part, because of George W. Bush-era deregulation and weak enforcement. Obama inherited a failing economy, with 589,000 jobs lost in January 2009 and an unemployment rate in February 2009 of 7.6%. Trump, on the other hand, is inheriting a much stronger jobs market, with 227,000 jobs added in January 2017 and an unemployment rate of 4.8%. Trump’s challenge is to continue the pattern of job growth and rising wages. The administration needs to create policies benefiting working people so the recovery continues.
The Economy Adds 227,000 Jobs in January, and Unemployment Little Changed at 4.8%

In response to the January jobs numbers, AFL-CIO Chief Economist William Spriggs tweeted:

 

Last month’s biggest job gains were in retail trade (46,000), construction (36,000), financial activities (32,000), food services and drinking places (30,000), professional and technical services (23,000), health care (18,000), transportation and warehousing (15,000), professional and business (15,000), and financial activities (13,000). Employment in other major industries, including mining and logging, manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing, information, and government, showed little change over the month.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rate for Asians (3.7%) increased in January. The jobless rates for adult men (4.4%), adult women (4.4%), teenagers (15.0%), whites (4.3%), blacks (7.7%) and Hispanics (5.9%) showed little or no change over the month.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was little changed in January and accounted for 24.4% of the unemployed.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 3, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

Social Media is a Danger Zone for the Healthcare Industry

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Social media can cause big problems for healthcare workers and their employers. Because of HIPAA rules and other concerns, posting something as seemingly harmless as a selfie with a patient could ruin careers, or worse. Healthcare professionals do form bonds and friendships with some of their patients and because social media has become a place where people share details of their lives and their friends’ lives, it is understandable that a healthcare worker might slip up and post something that he or she shouldn’t. Understandable, but not excusable.

Blurred Lines

Healthcare workers are advised of HIPAA rules and know that information about their patients is confidential, but that hasn’t stopped some healthcare workers from getting into trouble for their social media posts. For example, when a police officer was brought into an emergency room and the staff was unable to save him, some posted their condolences on Facebook, complete with the name of the deceased officer. To make matters worse, the officer’s family had yet to be notified.

Certainly, the ER staffers were reacting to the heartbreak of losing a patient and doing what felt natural in the moment—sharing thoughts and feelings on social media. They were acting out of kindness.

Intent Doesn’t Matter

A post that is meant to be kind is still not OK. The bottom line is this: sharing any information about a patient is a HIPAA violation even if the social media account has the highest possible privacy settings (which are never 100% reliable), and even if the post is mourning the loss of a patient.

As Ed Bennett, director of Web strategy at University of Maryland Medical System points out, “We already have guidelines; social media is simply another form of communication. It’s no different from e-mail or talking to someone in an elevator. The safe advice is to assume anything you put out on a social media site has the potential to be public.”

What About Free Speech?

A recent social media conduct survey found that 41.2% of Americans believe that getting fired because of a social media post is an infringement of their First Amendment rights. In the private sector, it’s usually not.

The First Amendment affords Americans the right to free speech, which means they can express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The First Amendment does not protect employees from private sector disciplinary action.

Healthcare professionals can get fired for a post, even one that does not violate HIPAA laws, as a Philadelphia hospital employee learned when she posted a racially-charged rant on social media. Word spread (because social media is not private!), someone started a change.org petition to demand that the hospital fire the employee (for a post that had nothing to do with her job) and the worker was fired.

Headaches All Around

An inappropriate social media post can become a major headache for everyone involved. According to the AMA:

Criminal penalties for a violation of HIPAA are directly applicable to covered entities—including health plans, health care clearinghouses, health care providers who transmit claims in electronic form, and Medicare prescription drug card sponsors. Individuals such as directors, employees, or officers of the covered entity, where the covered entity is not an individual, may also be directly criminally liable under HIPAA in accordance with principles of “corporate criminal liability.”

HIPAA was enacted in 1996 and social media didn’t begin to hit its stride until Facebook opened to the public in 2006. Since employers are liable, and HIPAA doesn’t explicitly address social media, many deem it prudent to have a very clear social media policy. As a healthcare employee, you should be aware of your employer’s policies, which may go above and beyond HIPAA.

Conclusion

The healthcare provider/client relationship is like no other. Healthcare professionals know the most personal details about their patients, and they care about their patients, yet they’re expected to maintain a professional relationship.

According to the US Department of Labor, “Employment of healthcare occupations is projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.3 million new jobs. Healthcare occupations will add more jobs than any other group of occupations.” Workers of the future who have grown up with social media and habitually post random moments of their days on Snapchat or Instagram will have to learn to curb that behavior if they intend to get a job in the healthcare field—and keep it.

 

Ellen Gipko is a marketing analyst for white label SEO firm HubShout, and a writer specializing in the topics of social media and digital marketing. She has contributed content to Social Media Today, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal and other industry websites.

New Congress on Track to Block Long-Sought Workplace and Public Health Protections

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

An estimated 10,000 Americans die from asbestos-caused diseases each year, a figure that’s considered conservative. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States but it still exists in products here, perpetuating exposure, especially for workers in construction and other heavy industries. In June 2016, after years of debate, the country’s major chemical regulation law was updated for the first time in 40 years, removing a major obstacle to banning asbestos.

Exposure to beryllium, a metal used in aerospace, defense, and communications industry manufacturing, to which about 62,000 U.S. workers are exposed annually, can cause a severe, chronic lung disease. On January 6, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued a rule—more than 15 years in the making—that dramatically lowers allowable workplace exposure to beryllium. OSHA says this will prevent 94 premature deaths and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease per year.

On April 17, 2013, an explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, killed 15 people and injured hundreds. In late December—after a four-year process involving public, business, governments and non-profit input—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule designed to prevent such accidents, improve community response to and preparedness for such disasters.

Those three examples are among the occupational and public health protective policies finalized by the Obama administration now jeopardized by antiregulatory legislation already passed by the 115th Congress. It remains to be seen if this legislation will become law and actually used. But, says University of Texas School of Law professor Thomas McGarity, the likely outcome is “that this will make people sick and unsafe.”

“Landscape is grim as it is”

In addition to having the ability to pass antiregulatory legislation, Congress has at its disposal the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Passed in 1996 by the Newt Gingrich-led House, it allows Congress to overturn a regulation passed during the last 60 legislative working days of an outgoing administration. What’s more, it prevents the creation of a substantially similar regulation. It’s only been used once, in 2001, to overturn the ergonomics regulation passed by OSHA under President Bill Clinton.

Add to this the Midnight Rules Relief Act, passed by the House on January 4. It amends the CRA, allowing Congress to overturn multiple regulations promulgated during the previous administration’s last six months, rather than individually as the CRA requires. “This allows the House to pick and choose rules that industry doesn’t like and do it all at once,” McGarity explains.

Also already passed by the House is the Regulatory Accountability Act. It includes a provision that could threaten the change made to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) eliminating the provision that prevented the EPA from banning asbestos. As Natural Resources Defense Council director of government affairs, David Goldston explains, “This bill has a provision that says notwithstanding any other provision of law, costs and benefits have to be considered when writing a rule.” Goldston calls this phrase “dangerous,” as it means putting economic costs to industry ahead of costs to human health as TSCA previously required—a requirement the revised bill eliminated.

And, as if these laws weren’t enough to threaten existing regulations, there’s the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act), also already passed by the House. This law essentially says that an agency rule can’t go into effect unless Congress approves it. Or, as University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor Rena Steinzor explained in the American Prospect, “In a drastic power grab, the House has approved a measure that would strip executive agencies of the authority to issue significant new regulations.”

“If the REINS Act becomes law, then Congressional inaction will supersede previous Congressional action on fundamental bedrock popular health, safety and environmental protection laws,” says Public Citizen regulatory policy advocate Amit Narang.

He also points out that if the administration of Donald Trump declines to defend regulations now under legal challenge, they could also be undone. Among the rules now being challenged is OSHA’s long sought updated restriction on occupational silica exposure.

“The landscape is grim as it is,” says Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate at the non-profit citizens’ rights advocacy group Public Citizen, referring to OSHA’s limited resources. “There are nearly 5,000 workers dying on the job every year and OSHA’s not able to respond to threats as they’re happening.” Now, she says, “I’m looking at a Congress that would nearly paralyze rulemaking.”

“Designed to smash the system not reform it”

These laws effectively knock the foundation out from under how agencies like OSHA, the Department of Labor and EPA go about creating the network of regulations needed to implement the intent of laws that protect workplace and public health.

“This is designed to smash the system not reform it,” says Goldston of this antiregulatory legislation.

Not surprisingly, the historically pro-big business U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports antiregulatory legislation, as does the American Chemistry Council and National Association of Manufacturers. On the other hand, it’s opposed by American Sustainable Business Council, which represents more than 250,000 business owners and says the regulations these laws aim to undo are needed to support healthy, thriving workplaces and the economy.

Apart from the CRA, all of this legislation still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the president to become law. But with a Republicans in the majority and Trump in the White House, vetoes seem highly unlikely.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on January 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

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