Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for November, 2017

You ARE Entitled: Workers Making Money Stretch

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

It might not come as a surprise to you that 2.2m Americans are in low-income jobs according to the US Department of Labor. Attempts are being made to pinch worker’s rights and their ability to litigate against employers. This is despite a growth in the economy, employment rates and the overall average wealth of the USA’s workers. This means that more American workers are having to make less dollars stretch further.

Fortunately, it’s not entirely doom and gloom. On a national level, workers are organizing for their rights. On a personal level, there are a wide variety of schemes, rights and techniques you can employ to make sure you are getting everything you are entitled to.

Federal and State Assistance

Despite the aforementioned legal squeeze on rights and entitlements, there is still plenty that the government is doing to help low-income workers – both on a federal and state level. This is especially important in benefit-capped states, where state assistance programs are crucial for employees. Cash isn’t the be all and end all, either. For instance, if your employer withdraws mandatory health insurance if the ACA is superseded, many states have health care assistance programs that also cover dental and other healthcare areas. They also assist with areas such as childcare, if your employer is restricting access to childcare facilities or doesn’t offer them full stop.

Legal Assistance

Employees across the USA experience legal issues for a number of reasons, from in-work disputes to non-payment of unemployment benefits. It’s estimated that 71% of low income workers experience at least one legal issue yearly. Many of these require the provision of legal assistance.

Unfortunately, as the Legal Services Corporation found, 86% of Americans received inadequate legal help, resulting in a poor success rate for claims that should have been allowed and restitution received.

This is partly down to a lack of awareness around the opportunities available to employees when it comes to legal aid. Many states offer legal aid, as covered above. However, it’s the case that increasing numbers of labor law firms are offering pro bono advice and representation, providing what is sometimes a greater level of legal help due to the increased resources available.

Credit Unions

Across the entire workforce of the USA, it’s noted that most Americans under-save. The Bureau of Economic Analysis found that most employees only save 5.7% of their incomes, which is understandable given the rising cost of living and other influences on pay packets.

Credit unions have existed for decades, largely in the sphere of labor unions and local communities. They operate on the basis that everyone pays in and this enables the union to help members in times of need, whilst also behaving as – variously – a savings pot or pension fund. They often have a sliding scale of contributions and so if you’re on low income, or out of work, it can be beneficial for long-term saving and planning to put a few of your cents away in a suitable scheme.

Personal Development 

Being removed from employment can put a bump in the road if you’re developing professional skills. Some careers are cherry picked by the employee for their professional development opportunities. When you find yourself unemployed or moved sideways, you will find that your education is sacrificed, too.

Whilst this can seem minor, studies have suggested that under skilling workers is detrimental to society. This is in addition to your own personal development and, if your cash flow is restricted, the development of your family. Again, make sure to thoroughly check your contract and legal rights to ensure that your education is linked to the job role and not an outside commitment. If you are in a bad position, you might be able to find an avenue of help in the USA’s varied community colleges, some of which offer programs in line with the state and federal assistance programs to help those less fortunate to continue their education.

Unemployment and changes in working pattern can be stressful and can come across as harsh. Whilst personal responsibility is important during these times, don’t forget that there are entitlements and services out there to support you.

About the Author: Jackie Edwards is an editor, researcher, and writer.

Working People Need a Strong CFPB with a Leader Who Supports Its Existence

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was created after the Great Recession of 2008 wreaked havoc on the U.S. economy, causing millions of families to lose their homes to foreclosure and forcing millions of working people onto the unemployment rolls. Its mission is to protect working people from tricks and traps in consumer financial products like home mortgages and credit cards.

The CFPB has proven extremely effective. Since its creation in 2010, the bureau has returned $12 billion to consumers wronged by lenders. Twenty-nine million consumers have received relief.

The bureau owes much of its success to strong leadership. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) originally had the idea to create the CFPB when she was a law professor at Harvard and led the bureau in its infancy. In 2012, she was succeeded by Richard Cordray, who had a strong record of pursuing wrongdoing against consumers as Ohio attorney general before his time at the CFPB.

Cordray, however, resigned last week, and President Donald Trump named Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to replace him.

There are a few problems with this. First, Mulvaney already has a job leading the Office of Management and Budget and has shown no intention of stepping down from the post. Mulvaney also has been highly critical of the CFPB, calling it a “joke…in a sick, sad way.” Finally, there are legal questions about who gets to lead the bureau when the director steps down—the deputy director or someone appointed by the president.

In addition, Mulvaney’s former chief of staff, Natalee Binkholder, left Mulvaney’s congressional staff to go to work as a lobbyist for Santander, a bank that has faced sanctions from the bureau and is reportedly facing a CFPB lawsuit alleging that it overcharged consumers for car loans.

We learned the hard way from the financial crisis in 2008 that working people need the CFPB. We need the bureau to fight to protect us from predatory lenders and, in order to be effective in doing that, it needs to be led by a strong, full-time director who believes in its mission. Consumer financial protection is a full-time job, not a side gig for someone who things it’s a “joke.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 28, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Heather Slavkin Corzo is the director of the AFL-CIO Office of Investment. She joined the AFL-CIO in 2007 as a research analyst and was the senior legal and policy adviser from 2007 through 2014.

Workers’ rights are being abused as they rebuild in the wake of Hurricane Harvey

Tuesday, November 28th, 2017

Day laborers, many of them undocumented, are reportedly being exploited as they rebuild after Hurricane Harvey, and their health and economic well-being are are stake.

According to a report from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and University of Illinois Chicago that surveyed 360 workers, 26 percent of workers have experienced wage theft in their post-Harvey work and 85 percent did not receive health and safety training. Sixty-one percent of workers did not have the necessary respiratory equipment to protect them from mold and chemicals, 40 percent did not have protective eyewear, and 87 percent were not informed about the risks of working in these unsafe buildings.

Workers have been exposed to mold and contamination on a regular basis, and regardless of whether workers are undocumented, they often aren’t aware of their legal protections, according to the report. To make matters worse, Texas is the only state that lets employers opt out of workers’ compensation for work injuries.

Advocates for different labor groups focusing on undocumented laborers have been speaking out on the issue of exploitation and visiting work sites to survey workers and pass out flyers with information on labor rights. There is tension between these advocates in Houston and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) on how the federal funds for hurricane recovery should be distributed. According to the Guardian, worker groups would prefer the money be distributed through the office of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), since the mayor is seen as a progressive ally. They’re afraid that if the money is instead distributed through the general land office run by George P. Bush, as Abbott wants, immigrant and worker groups won’t receive the aid they need.

The Associated Press interviewed workers hired by individual homeowners, subcontractors working on residential and commercial buildings, and work crews from outside of Texas about the working conditions. Martin Mares, a native of Mexico who came to Houston in 1995, told the AP that the demand for labor attracted people who don’t usually do this kind of work and don’t know how to do it safely. He gave the example of a pregnant woman working without gloves in an apartment building that had flooded.

Jose Garza, executive director of the Workers Defense Project wrote in the Guardian, “One woman contacted us when she and her crew, after spending more than 90 hours clearing out a Holiday Inn, were turned away without pay.”

Advocates for undocumented workers in Houston are also concerned about Senate Bill 4 (SB4), a Texas law that lets local law enforcement ask people they detain or arrest about their immigration status and hits local government officials with jail time and large financial penalties if they refuse to comply with federal detainer requests. The law is currently being held up in the courts, but that hasn’t completely erased fears among immigrant communities in Texas.

In addition to being exposed to mold and chemicals as well as experiencing wage theft, undocumented workers have already suffered from the devastation of the storm in unique ways due to poverty, lack of insurance, and their undocumented status. There are some 600,000 undocumented immigrants in Houston. After the hurricane, many undocumented people were afraid to use local shelters because of their immigration status or didn’t want to leave homes because they were concerned about protecting property. Although local and federal officials have tried to persuade undocumented people that they are not there to enforce immigration laws, undocumented people are still worried about the risk of seeking help.

Before the rebuilding efforts began, labor rights advocates and former officials from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) told ThinkProgress they were concerned about exploitation of workers in Texas and undocumented workers in particular, because laborers are routinely exploited and suffer major injuries. The Trump administration has already sent signals that it is not committed to labor rights. Workers groups have been critical of OSHA’s reportedly lax approach to coordinating health and safety training and the Labor Department’s ties to nonunion construction companies.

After Hurricane Katrina, workers were similarly exploited. A 2006 New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice study found that 61 percent of workers they surveyed had experienced workplace abuses such as wage theft and health and safety violations. A 2009 University of California, Berkeley study found that there were significant differences in conditions for undocumented versus documented workers.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Don't Pass Huge Tax Cuts for the Wealthy on the Backs of Working People

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate have proposed a job-killing tax plan that favors the super-rich and wealthy corporations over working people. We cannot afford to let this bill become law.

Here’s why this plan is a bad idea:

  • Millions of working people would pay more. People making under $40,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2021; and people making under $75,000 would be worse off, on average, in 2027.
  • The super-rich and Wall Street would make out like bandits. The richest 0.1% would get an average tax cut of more than $208,000, and 62% of the benefits of the Senate bill would go to the richest 1%. Big banks, hedge funds and other Wall Street firms would be the biggest beneficiaries of key provisions of the bill.
  • Job-killing tax breaks for outsourcing. The Republican tax plan would lower the U.S. tax rate on offshore profits to zero, giving corporations more incentive to move American jobs offshore. 
  • Working people would lose health care. Thirteen million people would lose health insurance, and health care premiums would rise 10% in the non-group market. Meanwhile, Republicans want to cut Medicaid and Medicare by $1.5 trillion—the same price tag as their tax bill.
  • Job-killing cuts to infrastructure and education. Eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes would drastically reduce state and local investment in infrastructure and lead to $350 billion in education cuts, jeopardizing the jobs of 350,000 educators.

Republican tax and budget plans would make working people pay the price for wasteful tax giveaways by sending our jobs overseas; killing jobs in infrastructure and education; raising our taxes; increasing the number of uninsured; and cutting the essential public services we depend on.

Call your senator today at 844-899-9913.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on November 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kelly Ross is the deputy policy director at AFLCIO. 

One Last Time: OSHA Extends Recordkeeping Reporting Deadline

Friday, November 24th, 2017

After multiple delays, OSHA has finally announced that employers who are required to keep OSHA injury and illness records must send summary information in to the agency by December 15, fifteen days after the deadline announced last June, when the agency proposed to delay the reporting deadline from July 1 to December 1.

The rollout has been plagued by numerous delays. First OSHA delayed until August 1 in putting up the website which was supposed to be up by the end of February.  Then there came false accusations of a data breach, and finally a delay in issuing the final change in the required submission deadline.

When the regulation was issued last year, OSHA stated that the data would be published on the web. “Public disclosure of work injury data will encourage employers to increase their efforts to prevent work-related injuries and illnesses,” OSHA announced when the regulation was issued in May 2016.  The Trump administration has not disclosed its intentions about publicizing the data, although there is legal precedent for requiring the agency to publish the data on OSHA’s website.

Other parts of the “electronic” recordkeeping regulation are being challenged in court and are under reconsideration by OSHA. The agency also announced today that OSHA is currently reviewing the other provisions of its final rule to Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses, and intends to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking to reconsider, revise, or remove portions of that rule in 2018.”

Some in the business community don’t like requirements that more detailed information on injuries and illnesses be sent to OSHA starting next year, or that OSHA has prohibited employers from retaliating against workers for reporting injuries.  At last week’s Congressional hearing, Secretary of Labor Acosta falsely stated that the regulation “was asking for some information that was very detailed and that identifies individuals.”

OSHA also noted that seven state plans, California, Maryland, Minnesota, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, have not yet adopted the regulations. States are supposed to adopt all new OSHA standards and regulations within 6 months of federal OSHA’s issuance.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on November 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

These corporations have declared war on Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

For the last decade or so, dozens of the world’s largest retailers have shifted the unofficial start date of the holiday shopping season one day forward, from Black Friday — so named because it’s the busiest shopping day of the year and pushes retailers’ bottom lines into the black — to Thanksgiving Day.

So instead of sitting down to a family dinner, corporations like Walmart, Target, Best Buy, and others coerce or sometimes force hundreds of thousands of minimum wage employees and countless more shoppers to forego the federal holiday and instead work extra long shifts hawking cheap televisions, refrigerators, or Nickelback CDs.

Defenders of the practice argue that if shoppers didn’t want to be out buying holiday presents on Thanksgiving Day, they would simply stay home. But many of the shoppers who turn up do so because the same retail stores often reserve their best deals for the first people through the door. If you’re from a lower income family and can only afford certain gifts if the price is right, showing up when a store opens isn’t so much a choice as it is a necessity.

The pressure to skip Thanksgiving is even greater on the hundreds of thousands of employees who work at big box stores. Many store managers make it hard or even impossible for their hourly workers to take off on Thanksgiving. Others who have tried to stand up for their employees have themselves been fired by corporate executives for not opening on Thanksgiving.

Fortunately, after years of push-back from shoppers and employees, some retailers are beginning to rethink the practice. For the last seven years, ThinkProgress has provided our readers with a shopping guide to the stores that are remaining closed for the duration of Thanksgiving—and the ones that are not. Our list is far from comprehensive, but we’ve tried to offer a range of retail categories. This holiday season, consider giving your business to the stores that are treating their workers with some civility, and withholding it from those that are not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Adam Peck is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Adam grew up just outside of New York City, and attended Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. Before joining ThinkProgress, Adam was an intern at Countdown with Keith Olbermann at MSNBC in New York, and at Campus Progress in Washington, D.C. He was also the founder and editor of Think Magazine, the largest collegiate news organization on Long Island. His work has appeared in The New York Times, CNN and the BBC.

This is the elaborate system Congress created to protect sexual predators on Capitol Hill

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed reported that numerous woman on the staff of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) say the congressman repeatedly sexually harassed them. Conyers’ conduct allegedly included “requests for sexual favors…caressing their hands sexually, and rubbing their legs and backs in public.” In at least one case, a woman who rebuffed Conyers’ advances says she was fired.

Yet until last night, Conyers’ behavior was secret. Why? There is no better place to be a sexual predator than the U.S. Congress.

Congress has created an elaborate system that protects sexual predators on Capitol Hill, including members of Congress and their staff. In the private sector and elsewhere in the government, victims of sexual harassment have the option of immediately filing a lawsuit and getting their grievances heard in court. But Congress has created a much different set of rules for victims who work on Capitol Hill.

The 180-day statute of limitations to request “counseling”

In order to pursue accountability for a sitting member of Congress for an alleged incident of sexual harassment or assault, a victim must file a written notice with the Office of Compliance within 180 days of the incident. If they don’t act within 180 days, they have no ability to pursue their claims. As reporting on Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and others reveals, it can take years for victims to feel comfortable coming forward.

Furthermore, the form to file such a complaint is password protected; a victim must call the Office of Compliance to get the password to initiate the process.

The 30-day “counseling” period

After filing the complaint, the person alleging harassment or assault must participate in a 30-day counseling period. Yes, in Congress, the victims of sexual harassment must submit to counseling, as if there is something wrong with them. During this period, no one else — including the alleged harasser — is even notified the complaint has been filed.

The Office of Compliance puts a sunny face on this process, saying it “provides the employee with an opportunity to assess his/her case before deciding whether to pursue the claim(s) beyond counseling.” In other words, the process starts with a 30-day waiting period in which the victim is given the “opportunity” to consider dropping the entire matter.

The 15-day statute of limitations to request mediation

After going through the counseling process, the alleged victim has just 15 days to file a request for mediation. If they fail to do so, the claim is extinguished. The form to request mediation is also password protected and must be obtained from the Office of Compliance.

The 30-day mediation period

After the counseling process, the alleged victim is still prohibited from filing a case in court. Rather, they must enter mandatory, confidential mediation which lasts at least another 30 days. The mediation period involves “the employing office, employee, and [Office of Compliance] mediator.” The purpose of the mediation, according to the Office of Compliance, is to “resolve the dispute.”

The individual alleging harassment or assault is also required to keep this mediation secret. “All mediation shall be strictly confidential, and the Executive Director shall notify each person participating in the mediation of the confidentiality requirement and of the sanctions applicable to any person who violates the confidentiality requirement,” according to the poorly named Congressional Accountability Act, which governs the process. The alleged perpetrator may not even be involved in this process, even if the claim is settled. John Conyers, whose case was settled through mediation, claimed he was unaware of any allegations against him — although sources tell BuzzFeed he did know.

There are also indications of misconduct within the Office of Compliance. Conyers’ settlement was confidential but documents were leaked by someone to Mike Cernovich, a right-wing conspiracy theorist and professional misogynist, who shared the documents with BuzzFeed.

The taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlement

As part of the mediation process, the parties can reach a settlement to resolve the dispute. But this settlement is not paid by the person who actually conducted the sexual harassment. Rather, the settlement is paid by you, the taxpayer. “[O]nly funds which are appropriated to an account of the Office in the Treasury of the United States for the payment of awards and settlements may be used for the payment of awards and settlements under this chapter,” the Congressional Accountability Actstates. This is why Conyers did not have to pay a penny of his own money to settle claims against his alleged victims.

According to the Washington Post, the Office of Compliance has paid more than $17 million over the past two decades to settle complaints regarding violations of workplace rules, including but not limited to sexual harassment cases. But BuzzFeed’s reporting indicates this doesn’t get at the scope of the problem. At least one settlement with a woman who alleged Conyers harassed her was paid from Conyers’ office budget, not from the Office of Compliance.

The 30-day waiting period and 60-day statute of limitations for filing a complaint

After making it through counseling and mediation, the victim must wait 30 days before doing anything. It’s unclear what this waiting period is for, other than to pressure the victim to accept a settlement offer or drop the claim. The victim then has just 60 days to either file an administrative complaint with the Office of Compliance or file a case in federal district court. The form to file an administrative complaint is also password protected. If the victim does not take any action within 90 days of the end of mediation, the claim is extinguished.

The secret administrative hearing

The administrative proceeding, unlike a federal court case, is also confidential and presents another opportunity for a perpetrator to keep the allegations secret. The hearings are closed to the public. (The hearing officer is empowered to dismiss any claim without a hearing if he or she judges the claim to be “frivolous.”) The responding party is not the individual that engaged in sexual harassment, but the office that employed that person. A record of the proceedings are only made public if the victim is successful.

If the victim disagrees with the decision, he or she must appeal first to the board of the Office of Compliance. After the Office of Compliance issue their decision, the victim may appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. That means there will be no independent evaluation of the evidence, rather the appeals court simply reviews for arbitrary or capricious application of the law, a very high legal standard.

If the victim wins in the administrative hearing, the payment is made from taxpayer money. They are not entitled to receive civil penalties or punitive damages under the law. This keeps both the awards and the settlements fairly low. Over 20 years, Congress has paid $17.1 million to 264 victims, a figure that includes sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination — an average award of about $65,000.

A federal case against a congressional office, not the person engaging in sexual harassment

After all this, a victim still cannot sue a member of Congress or other staff member who engaged in sexual harassment. Rather, if a victim choses to forgo the administrative hearing, he or she can file a federal case against the office where the sexual harassment allegedly occurred. In this case, victims are still not entitled to civil penalties or punitive damages. This makes the choice to file a suit, in most cases, prohibitively expensive since even a successful case will not bring in a large award.

Whatever money is awarded still is not paid by the sexual harasser but by taxpayers.

With more recent scrutiny on the systems in place to hold accountable powerful men accused of assault and harassment, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) recently introduced legislation to reform this process. Their bill would make counseling and mediation optional. It would also require hearings to be completed within 180 days after the complaint is filed. Complaints under the new legislation could also be filed anonymously. Members of Congress who personally engage in sexual harassment would be required to pay their own settlements and awards, rather than using taxpayer funds for this purpose.

The proposed bill — called the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act, or ME TOO Congress — still requires an administrative complaint or civil action to be filed 180 days after the alleged incident.

Gillibrand and Speier’s bill has attracted three co-sponsors in the Senate and five in the House. All of Gillibrand’s co-sponsors are Democratic women. Speier’s co-sponsors include three Republican men.

This article was published at ThinkProgress on November 21, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Judd Legum is the founder and editor in chief of ThinkProgress

Republicans want to give corporations yet another tax cut and call it paid family leave

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

Americans want paid family leave—something people in most nations around the world already get. So it sounds like something to cheer that there’s a paid family leave provision in the Senate Republican tax plan, right? Yeah, no. This is very much a Republican family leave proposal, which is to say it’s a giveaway to big corporations that won’t get much for working Americans. 

The bill would give companies a tax credit for a small proportion of the worker’s pay, companies only get the credit at the end of the year—so if they can’t afford to offer leave up front, they can’t take advantage of it—and it expires in 2019.

“It’s a flimflam,” said Ellen Bravo, co-director at Family Values@Work, a national coalition of paid leave advocates. “It’s pretending to say we’re giving you something new that people urgently need when, in fact, it’s a giveaway to the bigger corporations that can already afford to do it.” […]

Several conservative economists agree. This kind of tax credit would most likely be embraced by companies that already offer paid family leave, wrote Aparna Mathur, a resident scholar in economic policy at the American Enterprise Institute.

“This is only a small step forward in this debate, not a giant leap,” Mathur said. “Much more can and should be done.”

Not to mention, including something they can call paid family leave is a great Republican trick for pretending their giant tax cuts for rich people package is good for working families. And—like this flimflam proposal—it’s just not.

Call your senators now at (202) 224-3121 and urge them to vote no on this giveaway to corporations and the wealthy at the expense of working families.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on November 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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

Conservatives will not stop pushing the ‘Pence rule’ as a solution to sexual harassment

Monday, November 20th, 2017

As stories of powerful men masturbating in front of women, forcibly kissing and groping women, and forcing teenage girls’ heads into their crotch have gained national attention, it’s sparked widespread conversation about how to prevent sexual harassment and assault.

The solution seems obvious: The best way to prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault of women and girls is for men not to sexually harass and assault women and girls. But conservatives appear to be less interested in finding ways to teach men how to co-exist with women, who comprise 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, than discussing how best to avoid women altogether.

In particular, conservative writers are increasingly focused on the “Mike Pence rule,” pointing out that Vice President Mike Pence does not eat dinner alone with women who are not his wife and does not go to events where alcohol is being served when his wife is not present. Pence first revealed this detail in a Washington Post article published in March.

On Friday, the National Review published a piece with the headline, “In the Age of Sexual Misconduct, How is Mike Pence a Problem?” The writer, David French, insists that this rule is not about suggesting that men will assault women if they are alone with them — but, as he continues to lay out his argument, he refers to the motivations behind the rule as “an accurate view of man’s fallen nature.”

French argues that people are sometimes attracted to each other in professional settings, regardless of their marital status. He doesn’t explain why those people, regardless of their gender or marital status, can’t be expected to exercise judgement. French also ignores the reality that men are capable of harassing other men and women are capable of harassing other women. Do men never meet with other men alone? Must bisexual people always have a third party present when meeting with anyone they work with?

French goes on to write that abiding by such a rule “protects both sides from” reputational harm, suggesting that high-profile men must always worry about women lying about them.

“Second, variations of the Pence rule protect both sides from reputational harm. It’s a simple fact that observing a married man alone at dinner with a woman other than his wife can start tongues wagging, and it’s also a fact that leaders of Christian ministries have often had to take extreme measures to protect against intentional sabotage of their reputations. I know leaders who never travel alone in part because of actual past hostile attempts to place them in compromising positions (with photographic evidence). If we should understand anything in 2017 it’s that our politics is vicious and poisonous. The more high-profile you become, the more careful you should be.”

What starts tongues wagging is not the actual fact of a man and women sitting alone together. It is the perpetuation of heterosexist assumptions about how men and women must interact and the misogynistic idea that men cannot be interested in the friendship, intellect, or skills of women.

The fear that people are carelessly making allegations against men out of bitterness or simply or for fun looks pretty silly when you consider the risks people take in reporting harassment.

But French is not alone in his focus on the “Pence rule” in the midst of sexual harassment allegations. In October, former deputy assistant to President Donald Trump, Sebastian Gorka, tweeted the alleged instances of sexual assault and harassment that dozens of women say Harvey Weinstein committed could have been avoided if Weinstein simply didn’t meet with women one-on-one at all — referring to Pence’s rule.

At the time, several male journalists joined in to say they supported the Pence rule as well.

Josh Barro, a senior editor at Business Insider, argued the problem was office happy hours that “blur the lines between business and leisure.” Politico labor editor Timothy Noah said companies should take a “small, practical step to limit sexual harassment” by making it a fireable offense to hold a closed door meeting.

Women and men responded to Noah to tell him that this step was neither small nor practical. When people pointed out that someone may want to talk about an issue privately with a colleague because it is a sensitive matter, Noah said the solution was to speak quietly. When taken to this conclusion, it becomes clear just how absurd the “Pence rule” is in practice.

Not only is it absurd, but it is also deeply harmful to the careers of women in the workplace. When men avoid women for fear of looking “improper” or for fear that they can’t control themselves, they deprive women of opportunities to gain sponsors in their careers and to build better working relationships with colleagues and supervisors.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress. She covers economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Murray, DeLauro Call on USDA to Reject Chicken Council’s Petition to Increase Line Speeds

Friday, November 17th, 2017

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Ranking Member of the House Labor Appropriations Committee, today sent a sharply worded letter to Carmen Rottenberg, acting head of USDA’s Food Safety Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) calling on the agency to reject a petition from the National Chicken Council to increase the line speed for poultry workers.

The legislators argue that

granting the petition would further endanger an already vulnerable workforce. Poultry workers face harsh and dangerous working conditions. Industry-reported statistics show that poultry workers are injured at rates almost twice the national average and suffer occupational illnesses at a rate that is over six times as high. Still worse, according to FSIS itself, these shocking figures significantly understate the actual rate of injury and illness among these workers.

Poultry workers currently work at breakneck line speeds, and further increasing the speeds will inevitably result in even more worker injuries and illnesses. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) research shows staggeringly high rates of injuries directly related to the rapid, repetitive movements these workers must perform. In one study, 34 percent of such workers had carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), and 76 percent had evidence of nerve damage in their hands and wrists. In another study, 42 percent had CTS. Further, workers in the poultry industry suffer finger amputations at the single highest rate of any U.S. industry.”

They argue that FSIS does not have the authority to grant the petition because the agency only has temporary waiver authority and “only 1) in the event of a public health emergency or 2) “to permit experimentation so that new procedures, equipment and processing techniques may be tested to facilitate definite improvements.”

There is no public health emergency according to Murray and DeLauro, and “there is nothing ‘new’ or ‘experiment[al]’ about fast line speeds.” Not only has the department already issued a waiver to some plants, but “FSIS issued a final rule in 2014 declining to allow any increase in the line speed limit beyond 140 bpm.”

And finally:

Additionally, FSIS assured the public that it would make no changes to any provisions in the rule until it could assess the impact of changes under the NPIS after it has been “fully implemented on a wide scale” for at least one year.  The system has not been “fully implemented on a wide scale;” only a few dozen plants out of the 187 expected to convert to NPIS have operated for a year or more under it.

The Chicken Council has been waging a long campaign speed up production.  Chicken Council spokesperson Tom Super says we’re in a race to the bottom that they don’t want to lose: “The motivation behind the higher line speeds is to keep up with international competitors.”

But as a recent NPR story describes, worker groups are fighting back, warning that “higher line speeds increase the risks for foodborne illness and worker injuries in an industry that has an already spotty safety record.”

Workers are hurting. “Federal statistics show that animal slaughtering and processing facilities are the 6th most dangerous workplaces for severe injuries. According to a Government Accountability Office report, most musculoskeletal injuries caused by repetitive movement, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, are not reported by workers.”

And it’s not good for people who eat chicken either.   Under a pilot project, according to a former USDA inspector,  only one federal inspector is responsible for viewing birds that come through the chicken evisceration line. “‘You had less than 30 seconds to inspect the chicken. How can you look at the front, back, up and down and inside a chicken in 30 seconds? [retired USDA inspector Phyllis] McKelvey asks before answering her own question: ‘There’s no way.’”

Thirteen non-profit organizations and unions, including worker rights, civil rights, consumer safety, public health, and animal welfare groups—met with top officials last month to “to urge them to reject a poultry industry petition to allow faster and unrestricted line speeds in poultry plants.”  And last August, the groups sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sunny Purdue calling on him to ”oppose any proposed rule that would increase line speeds in poultry plants within the United States above the current 140 birds per minute (bpm).”

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on November 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Jordan Barab served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017. Before that he worked for the House Education and Labor Committee, the Chemical Safety Board, the AFL-CIO, OSHA and AFSCME. He currently produces Confined Space, a newsletter of workplace safety and labor issues.

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