Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for February, 2018

3 Democratic Campaigns Now Have Staff Unions. Why Not More?

Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

All signs point to a messy battle in the 2020 Democratic primaries, pitting establishment types against democratic socialists. Thanks to an effort spearheaded largely by Bernie Sanders’ 2016 campaigners, the staffers for a few 2018 Congressional candidates could be pioneering a new litmus test for determining candidates’ progressive credentials: Do they recognize their employees’ union?

Last week, the upstart Campaign Workers Guild (CWG) announced that staff members at three Democratic campaigns around the country have formed unions, each of which was voluntarily recognized. Campaigners for Jess King, running for a House seat representing southeastern Pennsylvania, Randy Bryce, vying to take Paul Ryan’s Congressional seat, and Chris Wilhelm, running for Montgomery County Council, have each successfully negotiated union contracts with their progressive—and in some cases openly Left—bosses. The two non-management staffers in Democrat Dan Haberman’s campaign for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District have also taken first steps toward a collective bargaining agreement, with Haberman recently signing a letter of support for the process to move forward.

While these efforts will almost certainly transform working conditions for electoral staffers, the organizing drives might also transform the Democratic Party.

“Every campaign worker at a certain point has either joked about joining a union or unionizing their workplace,” says Brian Wivell, field director for the Wilhelm campaign, and one half of a newly-minted, two-person CWG local. At a previous campaign he worked on, staffers hung the union logo from the fictional Springfield Nuclear Power Plant—of Simpsons fame—in their office. “As soon as we heard this was happening, we jumped on it,” he tells In These Times.

Campaign work often involves long hours—80 to 100 per week—for little pay, particularly for those on the lower rungs of the hierarchy of electoral politics. Piled-up expenses—for gas, especially—often don’t get reimbursed, and staffers can find themselves staying in precarious housing with supporters of the campaign while out on the road. The frantic, temporary nature of campaigns also means there’s little recourse for employees who face sexual assault or harassment on the job, a problem compounded by the fact that so much of the economy of campaign work depends on relationships within a relatively small network of staffers, at the state and local levels especially. Aside from improving wages and working conditions across campaigns, one of the biggest impacts of the CWG’s efforts could be establishing an industry-standard policy for dealing with sexual assault and harassment.

Campaign staffers are hoping to address harassment from supervisors and coworkers, as well as volunteers, who they depend on to meet canvassing and phone-banking quotas. As CWG organizer Meg Reilly puts it, “If your boss is constantly breathing down your neck saying you didn’t meet your goals, do you report [a volunteer] for being a creep or get your numbers up so you don’t get fired?”

Reilly realizes the optics of CWG emerging from several former Sanders campaign staffers might raise questions about the Senator’s labor practices. But she says that Bernie was not a bad boss at all. “The Bernie campaign was just about as good as you could get,” Reilly underscores. “It’s the Cadillac: We got days off and health insurance. It’s just that on the Bernie campaign we had a lot of pro-labor people, and people who were fairly radical.”

Of sexual harassment and assault, Reilly says, “Campaigns are just rife for it. You’re spending 80 to 100 hours a week all together, and campaigns are so small. Everyone knows everyone, and there’s a huge fear of being blacklisted if you do report something. A lot of people who are victims of harassment or assault don’t say anything but because they’re afraid of being blacklisted.” When abuses are reported, she explains, they tend to be handled internally. By contrast, the contracts the Guild has negotiated so far explicitly outline a process for handling such processes through a third party.

“On campaigns, there is no HR department,” says Lauren Hitt, communications director for the Bryce campaign and a member of the bargaining unit there. (I spoke with her and Bryce jointly by phone.) “Problems are always better solved when you address them before they’re problems, and have policies laid out and written down. That’s a big difference from the way campaigns operate now. There has never been anything like that.”

Reilly says that some CWG contracts included mandatory training on issues of sexual harassment. “A big part of it is just admitting that it happens. A big part of this culture is silence around it,” she argues. “And a big part of the training is just admitting that progressive and left campaigns are not immune from this.”

The campaign staffers that have organized so far faced relatively friendly audiences. The first shop—Bryce’s campaign—came about when his digital director, Nate Rifkin, asked him about the idea of starting a staff union as they were driving around talking to voters in Wisconsin. “It was a no-brainer,” Bryce tells In These Times. “It’s an extension of why I’m running in the first place. It comes down to what’s important to me as a candidate. It’s not about me. I am where I am today because we have a very talented staff.” Staffers hammered out a contract with management, which includes Bryce and campaign manager David Keith, who both have hiring and firing power. An Ironworker, Bryce got his start in politics through his union, and has campaigned as a working-class opponent to incumbent Paul Ryan.

Reilly, who worked for the Sanders campaign in 2016, ultimately hopes that CWG will adopt a “hiring hall” model, along the lines of the building trades. As in those industries, campaign work can be sporadic, with staffers facing months-long gaps between election cycles. Membership in the union provides workers with a backstop of support in dry months, and sets industry standards on wages and working conditions.

“Even if campaigns go well, they end, and the staff is looking for another job,” says Hitt. “Most campaign workers—if they do it from campaign to campaign—are looking at at least a month or two when they’re unemployed.” Several of the staffers In These Times spoke with noted that such chronic instability means campaign demographics tend to skew toward the people best able to shoulder it: young, white and middle class individuals, often recent college graduates. Hitt, Reilly and others were excited about the potential of unionization to diversify campaigning more generally, making it a more stable prospect for people dealing with student debt or familial responsibilities.

“You have to be pretty privileged to work for such little pay, and to have a place to crash in campaigns,” Reilly says. “It all sort of fits together like a puzzle. Even progressive candidates who talk the talk about diversity—even reparations—don’t pay attention to the fact that their campaign staff is coming from a pretty homogenous background.” She notes that campaign workers are often expected to have their own cars and phones, on top of sacrificing time that might otherwise be used to care for children or loved ones.

“Just personally, I have epilepsy. So not having healthcare consistently and paying for anti-seizure medications isn’t an option for me,” Hitt says, adding that it was only in the past several years that healthcare benefits became widespread for campaign staffers. Stipulations already built into certain CWG contracts—for benefits and higher wages, for instance—could make campaigning more accessible to organizers from diverse backgrounds, potentially expanding the range of communities within candidates can build relationships with.

Wivell tells In These Times that he “would love to see a future where there’s a Project Labor Agreement between the Democratic Party and campaign workers. There is a reason the building trades follow that path and are able to enforce certain standards for workplace protections.” When unionized crews aren’t used in construction projects, it’s not uncommon to see an inflatable rat outside of job sites. Feasibly, the same thing could happen to Democratic campaigns who hire non-union staff.

Staff unionization could also factor into Democrats’ efforts to win endorsements from organized labor. Especially in state and local races, union endorsements can offer critical resources. Often that money goes toward candidates considered to have the surest chance at winning; their willingness to fight for organized labor can sometimes take a backseat. Yet the optics of a union endorsing a candidate that either failed to recognize or even fought a staff union are more stark, and could create an uncomfortable situation for establishment or even progressive Democrats who are more willing to make public overtures to unions than welcome them into their own campaigns. “It’s really hard to take labor’s money and endorsement and not actively support labor when it’s coming to organize,” Harry Baker, Wivell’s data director, tells In These Times.

As it broadens the range of people who are able to work on campaigns, CWG hopes that collective bargaining agreements will translate into rank-and-file campaign staffs having more say over their campaigns’ strategy. It is well known that electoral work runs on strict hierarchies, but a strong bargaining unit could democratize decisions around things like outreach strategies and messaging.

As in the building trades, CWG envisions that the union could at some point offer not just economic security, but training—to keep staffers updated on the latest voter database software, for instance. Like any other profession, political campaigns require specialized skills. The union could help candidates standardize how those skills are developed and ensure that staffers are competent and up-to-date on the latest developments in their field.

“Every cycle we hear about how field is the most important part of any campaign,” Reilly says. “It’s a really specific skill set, and we think that it’s really been hurting candidates—Democratic and others—to not be systematically investing in it. We can train up these workers who are really excited to work. We think if we treated the workers better and kept them trained, we could win more campaigns.”

Having started around a year ago, CWG now has a 16-member advisory board comprised of both former Sanders and Clinton staffers. Union members pay $30 a month in dues, and campaign workers who aren’t actively working on a campaign can affiliate for $10 a month. CWG is eager to support union drives from Republican campaign staffers, although the union hasn’t gotten any bites yet. To date, Reilly says, the union is working to win contracts and recognition on everything from local ballot-initiative campaigns to Senate races.

Organizers see the CWG as similar in spirit to the unionization campaigns taking place in some digital newsrooms—beneficial both as a way to improve wages and working conditions and to build solidarity among white-collar workers for working-class politics in the United States and abroad.

In These Times asked Hitt and Bryce whether they had heard rumblings from Paul Ryan’s Congressional campaign about any latent unionization efforts. Laughing, Bryce replied that his office had just dropped off 16,000 signatures to his Racine office calling for gun reform: “I kicked myself afterwards for not asking them.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kate Aronoff is a writing fellow at In These Times covering the politics of climate change, the White House transition and the resistance to Trump’s agenda.

West Virginia Teachers Are Showing How Unions Can Win Power Even If They Lose Janus

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

Today’s “Workers’ Day of Action,” organized by AFL-CIO affiliates and labor groups, aimed to show the labor movement’s opposition to a verdict for the plaintiffs in Janus v. AFSCME, which begins oral arguments before the Supreme Court on Monday. Unions fear their power will be diminished if the Court rules against AFSCME, as it is expected to do, and restricts public-sector unions from collecting fees from non-members to pay for collective bargaining. The Right intends to use Janus to gut public employee unions, weakening what is the strongest constituency in organized labor. This in turn will greatly diminish labor’s strength as a progressive force.

Public employee unions are right to be worried, and yet, as today’s demonstrations evidenced, on the eve of oral arguments labor is still grappling with how to protect workers’ rights. The protest’s slogan, “It’s about freedom,” mimics the Right’s own language when it argues that unions shouldn’t be able to collect fees from workers who don’t want to pay. In fact, it’s about social justice: The struggle to protect collective bargaining is a fight for the dignity of work and working people.

How then can public employee unions and the labor movement transition from defense to offense, winning economic and political demands? Must a defeat in Janusmean the end of public employee unions? A movement of school employees in West Virginia is providing answers to these questions, showing organized labor how workers can defend their rights without the legal protections that unions rely upon: the right to strike and the right to bargain collectively.

West Virginia bars strikes by public employees and, as a so-called “right to work” state, bans unions from requiring that everyone represented by a bargaining unit become a dues-paying member. Yet, despite this hostile legal environment, school employees, led primarily by teachers, organized walkouts that resulted in closure of schools in every county on Thursday and Friday. School districts could not remain open because school employees had shown they would not come to work. Although officers of the American Federation of Teachers –West Virginia (AFT-WV) and the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), the state affiliates of the two major teachers unions, are quoted in the press and are widely seen as the movement’s leaders, they are not the force behind the job actions.

As when Detroit teachers organized “sick outs” about appalling conditions in their schools, the West Virginia teachers who took the lead in organizing this movement did so independent of the union apparatus. They invited teachers in both AFT-WV and WVEA, which many activists felt had wasted resources wrangling with one another. As one teacher-leader explained to In These Times, the strategy from the start was “keeping it open.” For this reason, teachers brought in other school employees in  planning actions and demands.

School workers were frustrated and angry about low wages, further diminished by growing health insurance costs. Within months, the movement mushroomed, with the closed Facebook page expanding to 17,000 members. (Although I am not a West Virginia school employee, I was invited to join the closed group because my writing about teacher unionism has informed the organizing. I have commented and posted, making clear that I am a visitor to their site.)

West Virginia is a red state, but one in which union pride and an attunement to class inequality still bubble up. Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary, and memories of the state’s history of labor battles in the coal fields still resonate. Many teachers in the state identify as workers and with unions, not always the case among teachers.

Understanding this movement’s success requires seeing that the WVEA and AFT-WV, which ostensibly spoke for teachers and other school workers, failed to tap into or build this labor consciousness. Instead of mobilizing actions that addressed anger at poor wages, the unions’ strategy was to court state politicians with donations and votes. As I learned in conversations over the past several months, the activists who built the grassroots movement, many of them socialists, believed that traditional labor tactics, ranging from rallies to walkouts, were essential and that their colleagues throughout the state would respond.

They were right. The movement developed at breathtaking speed. Protests and local walkouts expanded to a state-wide strike and mass protests in the state Capitol. Teachers and school workers confronted legislators who had failed to raise wages while rising healthcare costs cut into teachers’ paychecks. At each step, the movement has made demands on the union and prepared to carry out actions without union endorsement or help. In the process they have gone far in making the union carry out its responsibilities to them—and to public education. A key concern of teachers is that by keeping wages so low, West Virginia has created a teacher “shortage” that it has “solved” by allowing people who have no preparation to teach to become teachers—a strategy being adopted in many other states.

The West Virginia struggle has mirrored the energy of the 2012 Chicago Teachers Union strike, which electrified teachers throughout the world and set a new standard for militant union action in the U.S. But it also resembles what occurred in Madison, Wisc., when public employees, with teachers in the forefront, took their defense of collective bargaining to the state legislature, occupying the seat of power. Labor was badly bruised in that battle because workers did what union officials instructed: They disbanded the protest and channeled power into recalling Gov. Scott Walker. The alternative would have been maintaining the strike while building more public support by expanding their political program beyond collective bargaining, to other economic and political rights that have been attacked.

This same choice confronts the movement in West Virginia. One logical expansion of their political struggle is to demand more progressive funding for schools and a statewide “single payer” health plan to cover medical care for everyone in the state. Public employees who face higher healthcare costs will find natural allies in parents who cannot afford insurance or are worried about cutbacks to Medicaid and Medicare because the fight will be to alleviate health care costs for everyone, rather than only protecting costs for public employees. Such an alliance would join the growing movement within labor for “Medicare for all,” a struggle that requires taking on Democrats who won’t break with their party leadership’s rejection of “single payer” as unrealistic. The demand can also weaken the grip of Republicans who won’t break with the GOP’s—and Trump‘s—refusal to fund healthcare as a human right.

Officers of large public employee unions say that Janus has caused deep introspection and change. While public employee unions are reaching out to “involve,” “engage” and “hear” members, the need for the self-organization of workers is seldom expressed in this narrative of change—except in unions in which reform caucuses have won leadership, like the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

The consciousness and capacity of workers to organize at the work site is what will save labor. West Virginia’s school employees have demonstrated what workers’ power looks like without collective bargaining or the right to strike. Their lesson is clear to the unions: Either fight for the dignity of work and workers or move over and let others show you how it’s done.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on February 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lois Weiner is a professor of education at New Jersey City University who is on the editorial board of New Politics. Her newest book is The Future of Our Schools: Teachers Unions and Social Justice.

Union workers rally ahead of major Supreme Court case

Monday, February 26th, 2018

Unionized workers and their allies held rallies across the country Saturday to support unions in advance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could significantly weaken the power of organized labor. Workers are attending rallies as part of a “working people’s day of action.”

There’s a rally in Foley Square in New York City, a street party in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a Columbus, Ohio party on the statehouse steps, and a gathering at Clayborn Temple in Memphis, Tennessee. Clayborn Temple has historical significance. It’s the place where striking sanitation workers, who had the support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., began their march to City Hall in 1968 and where they gathered during another march when police attacked them with tear gas.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Mark Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 (AFSCME) case. Non-union public school teachers in California brought the case.

Mark Janus, a child support specialist who chose not to join the union, said “fair-share” fees levied on non-members, amounting to 78 percent of full union dues, are a violation of his First Amendment rights. A Supreme Court decision in his favor, which is expected, would be a huge setback for public sector unions, which depend on these funds.

A decision in Janus’ favor would also give workers far less incentive to join unions, in essence   expanding “right-to-work” laws from the current 28 states to the entire country.

In 1977, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld fair share fees by arguing that since all workers benefit from the representation of a union, represented workers should pay for those benefits. But these workers don’t have to pay full union dues, because they aren’t paying for the union’s political work.

AFSCME argues that “the Republic’s first 150 years are replete with government curtailments of public employees’ free-speech rights, including on issues of public concern” and that most of the collective-bargaining, which is what fair-share fees cover, isn’t political but focused on working conditions and grievance procedures.

Unions are preparing for this possible setback by doing more aggressive internal organizing, hoping to drum up new membership, and also hope that local governments could come up with new ways to facilitate fee collection, labor experts told ThinkProgress in January.

The workers’ rights organization Jobs With Justice, which organized the protests, referred to the historic sanitation workers strike supported by King in explaining the reason behind rallies:

Fifty years later, our struggle continues. For far too long, a handful of corporate CEOs, extremists and corrupt politicians have rigged the rules in their favor: making us work harder for less, taking away our health care, stripping away our voting rights, defunding our schools and polluting our air and water. And now the same forces are behind Janus v. AFSCME Council 31.

People tweeted out photos and videos of rallies with the hashtag #UnrigTheSystem.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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

Supreme Court to Decide Fate of Public Employee Unions: Worker Safety Is At Risk

Friday, February 23rd, 2018

One of the most significant cases for workers in recent history is coming before the Supreme Court next week. Janus vs. AFSCME will determine whether “workers who are not members of unions representing teachers, police, firefighters and certain other government employees must pay to help cover the costs of collective bargaining with state and local governments.”  Currently workers are able to refuse to pay that portion of dues that go to political activities.  If Janus wins, workers would not even have to pay that portion of dues that goes to bargaining expenses and defending workers rights. Non-members would still enjoy the benefits of union contracts and representation, however.

Janus and his supporters are hiding behind “freedom of speech” arguments, but their real agenda is weakening public sector unions by taking away their ability to collect dues.  Destroying the labor movement in this country has long been a goal of most Republicans and  the right wing  — mainly in order to weaken one of the Democrats’ most powerful backers.  The right-leaning court is expected to rule in favor of Janus. A similar case came before the court two years ago, but resulted in a 4-4 tie after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans’ refusal to allow Obama to appoint a new justice enabled Trump to appoint Neil Gorsuch and a probable majority against public employee unions –a decision that will weaken the entire labor movement.

A ruling against public unions is unlikely to have a direct impact on unionized employees of private businesses, because the First Amendment restricts government action and not private conduct. But unions now represent only 6.5 percent of private sector employees, down from the upper teens in the early 1980s, and most of the labor movement’s strength these days is in the public sector.

Public employees do the hard work that makes this country worth living in, but they’re treated as second class citizens.

Public employees — health care workers, teachers, wastewater treatment plant workers, highway workers, firefighters, police, etc — do the hard work that makes this country worth living in, but they’re treated as second class citizens. There is no national right to collective bargaining for public employees, so states decide whether government workers get to have a union or not. That right can be given, and, as we saw recently in Wisconsin, that right can be taken away.

Public employees were also not covered by OSHA. State plan states are required to cover public employees and other states can choose to establish a public employee OSHA program with half the funding coming from the feds, but only five states have chosen to do so. That leaves 23 states and 8 million public employees who have no right to a safe workplace in this country, even thought they do work that is as dangerous as private sector workers, and suffer injuries and illnesses at a higher rate.

An AFL-CIO report notes, for example, that

Workplace violence events disproportionately occur among public employees. The incidence rate of injuries caused by workplace violence was more than 675% higher for state government workers (31.2 per 10,000 workers) than the rate for private industry workers (4.0). The incidence rate of violence for local government workers (23.0 per 10,000 workers) was 475% higher than for private industry workers.

Lack of OSHA coverage makes union representation even more important for public employees, a feature noted in a New York Times article today that discussed the Janus case. Illinois AFSCME local union President Randy Clover, who voted for Trump, opposes Janus.

Mr. Clover said his union had done invaluable work, notably in ensuring workers’ safety. He gave an example from his workplace, a maximum-security facility that houses mentally ill people caught up in the criminal justice system.

“The only thing we have is our hands to protect ourselves,” he said, “and we have handcuffs we can put on an individual if they are so out of control you cannot control them without somebody facing injury.”

When the state tried to ban the use of handcuffs to transport patients, Mr. Clover said, “the union went to battle for us.” The handcuffs stayed.

But, the Times notes, Janus’s lawyers argue that even safety should be considered “lobbying on questions of public policy and that unwilling workers should not be made to subsidize it.”

But make no mistake. Behind the façade of freedom of speech is a raw power play to weaken the labor movement and workers’ rights in this country — including the right to come home alive and healthy at the end of the work day.

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

In Janus Case, Working People Continue Fight Championed by Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. joined the sanitation strikers in Memphis, Tennessee, who carried signs that boldly proclaimed “I Am a Man,” at a time when many employers rejected that very notion. King and the working people of Memphis fought for the freedom to join together in unions and to be treated with dignity and respect on the job.

Now, corporate lobbyists and the special interests that fund them are trying to undo many of the things King, the sanitation workers and many others have fought hard to win. Through a Supreme Court case, Janus v. AFSCME Local Council 31, they are ratcheting up their fight to divide and conquer us. These are the same extremists who are working to limit voting rights, roll back economic protections and gut the laws that protect working people.

The Supreme Court soon will hear the Janus case, and it will have a big impact on our voice in the workplace. Tomorrow, working people across the country will be standing up in defense of the freedoms that we’ve fought for with a day of action from coast to coast (find an event near you).

Working people across the country have been using their voice to reject the attacks on unions in the Janus case. Here are some highlights of what they’ve been saying.

Bonnee Breese Bentum, science teacher, Philadelphia Federation of Teachers: “As a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia for the past 16 years, I am living proof that being a member, a supporter and an activist in my local union assists not only the lives of our members, but also the consumers, the clients and the children we serve. Our contracts go far beyond what we do in the classroom or in an office. Our members withstood a four-year fight for a fair contract from a hostile School Reform Commission, driven by our state with an antiquated and unfair funding formula, and coupled with the force of a majority of politicians who opposed public schools and unions. We were able to win counselors and nurses for every public school; pay increases for staff after obtaining graduate degrees; and safe and healthy building conditions for all our children.”

Maureen Dugan, RN, University of California-San Francisco and board member of the California Nurses Association/NNOC: “With the union I have that platform where I can safely speak out for patient care. A lot of time in nonunion environments, nurses are intimidated and bullied into staying quiet. These hospitals that don’t have unions don’t care. It’s the union that brings many safety laws in legislation and public regulatory protections. It’s the union dues that fund those efforts. It’s the nurses in my hospital, in my region, in my whole state that make up the strength of our union and our ability to protect our patients, our license, and our profession.”

Dovard Howard, certified control systems technician in California, AFSCME Local 1902: “It is my job to make sure that the public has safe drinking water. There is no room for any mistakes. That’s why I am deeply concerned that this Supreme Court case threatens the ability of the skilled and dedicated people I work with to have a say about their future.”

Stephen Mittons, child protection investigator in Illinois, AFSCME Council 31: “My work as a child protection investigator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is vital to the safety of our state’s most vulnerable children and families. This court case is yet another political attack on the freedom of my colleagues and I to speak up to ensure that we can safely and adequately manage our caseloads, which reflects our commitment to safety and public service to our community.”

Rich Ognibene, chemistry and physics teacher, Fairport (N.Y.) Educators Association: “Technological advances and societal changes make us more isolated, and we are hesitant to make commitments to others. We assume the wages, benefits, safety and social justice that we enjoy at work have always been there, and that they will never disappear. That’s a dangerous assumption. The benefits we have today were earned over many years of hard-fought negotiations; they could disappear tomorrow without our union. Billionaire CEOs are trying to destroy our community and create a Hunger Games scenario for workers. They want to remove our collective voice and reduce the quality of life for working families. We cannot let them succeed. Now, more than ever, we must fight to keep our unions strong.”

Sue Phillips, RN, Palomar Medical Center, Escondido, Calif.: “Union protection absolutely saves lives.”

Matthew Quigley, correctional officer in Connecticut, AFSCME Local 1565, Council 4: “Big-money corporations and super-wealthy special interests are trying to prevent correctional officers, firefighters, police officers and other working people from having the freedom to join together and create positive working conditions. When we belong to strong unions, we are better able to fight for staffing levels, equipment and training that save lives within state prisons and the communities where we work and live.”

Stephanie Wiley, child care attendant in Columbus, Ohio, AFSCME Local 4/OAPSE: “Our ability to speak together with a collective voice ensures that we can better assist children who need our help. That’s why I am deeply concerned about the Supreme Court case, which could severely limit our voice on the job and hurt our ability to best serve the children we care so much about.”

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on February 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

West Virginia Teachers Are About to Stage a Statewide Strike. Here’s Why.

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Teachers and service personnel across West Virginia are planning to strike on Feb. 22 and 23 in an effort to boost pay and lower their increasing healthcare costs. It will be the first statewide walkout in nearly 30 years.

The strike was announced by the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) during a weekend rally at the state capitol in Charleston that attracted teachers and other public sector employees and supporters. Hundreds also showed up at the capitol on Feb. 2, where they sang “Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, hey, hey, goodbye!” while Tim Armstead, Republican Speaker of the W.V. House of Delegates, gave a speech on the House floor. At this past weekend’s rally, WVEA President Dale Lee declared that all 55 of the state’s counties were prepared to stand united. “The entire state of West Virginia will be shut down,” declared Lee, whose union is an affiliate of the National Education Association.

According to a 2017 study that ranked each state’s average teacher salary, West Virginia is the sixth worst in the country. On average, the state’s teachers make $45,477, compared to first-place-ranking Alaska, where teachers make $77,843. W.V. teachers want the state to fund the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) and increase their salaries. The state’s House of Delegates has voted to give public school teachers 2-percent raises next year and a 1-percent raise over the next three years, while the state’s Senate has approved a 1-percent raise, every year, over the next five years. Union representatives believe these raises are inadequate, especially when considered alongside the rising costs of healthcare.

Kym Randolph, director of communications for the WVEA, tells In These Times that dissatisfaction has been brewing for years. “It’s a number of things,” says Randolph. “PEIA, lack of salary, years of neglect, anti-worker policies … healthcare that’s inadequate.” According to Randolph, lawmakers have become “entrenched” on the issue of teacher salaries and are difficult to persuade.

One of those lawmakers is Republican Gov. Jim Justice. He has proposed freezing PEIA for a year, effectively preventing health premiums from rising, and he doesn’t believe that the 1-percent raise, every year, over the course of five years should be increased in any way. “I think the prudent thing and the smart money is to fix PEIA like we’ve done, and the smart money is to stay at 1-1-1-1-1,” said Justice at a recent press conference. However, his critics point out that a PEIA freeze is merely a short-term solution for a problem that isn’t going away, and such a temporary action could give birth to even higher healthcare costs in 2019. The teachers are looking for a long-term plan that provides security while finally making salaries competitive.

In that same press conference, Justice said that a teachers’ strike would be a “crying shame.” He also dismissed a Senate Democrat proposal that would fund PEIA by raising the state’s severance tax on natural gas as “political grandstanding.”

West Virginia is often portrayed as a steadfastly Republican state where progressive developments are nearly impossible. Nearly 70 percent of the state voted for Trump, who promised to revive the floundering coal industry, and the state’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin votes in line with Trump almost 60 percent of the time.

However, a deeper analysis of the state’s current politics reveals a slightly more nuanced picture. Bernie Sanders won all 55 counties in the 2016 Democratic Primary, and recent data suggests that support for Trump is actually dropping. Between January and September of 2017, Trump’s level of net support in West Virginia went down by 13 points. Last month, Paula Jean Swearengin, a progressive Democrat who is running against Manchin in the primary, told In These Times, “We have fought so many labor struggles and won. This nation and state deserve true democracy. … We all struggle and are going to fight like hell. I believe a new West Virginia is being born.”

Swearengin’s assertion will be put to the test in the coming months as the state’s teachers continue to fight, through the walkout and beyond. “I think what the Legislature is doing is just despicable,” a high school science teacher named Lisa Stillion told West Virginia Public Radio at last week’s rally. “We need to vote them out. Get your heads out of your rear ends; be thinking about who you represent. You work for us. We don’t work for you.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

Alaska will no longer allow workers with disabilities to be paid less than minimum wage

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

As of Friday, Alaskan businesses will no longer be allowed to pay disabled workers less than the minimum wage, which is currently $9.84 an hour.

“Workers who experience disabilities are valued members of Alaska’s workforce,” said the state’s Department of Labor and Workforce Development Acting Commissioner Greg Cashen, in a press release. “They deserve minimum wage protections as much as any other Alaskan worker.”

The state announced last week it would repeal the regulation first put in place in 1978. Alaska joins New Hampshire and Maryland as the first states to get rid of sub-minimum wage for employees with disabilities, an act which is entirely legal under federal law, and has been since 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act was implemented.

The minimum wage exception was initially created to help those with disabilities get jobs, but despite its intentions, the legislation still fell short. Disability advocates argue the law is outdated and that many disabled individuals can succeed in jobs earning minimum wage or more, and that no other class of people faces this kind of government-sanctioned wage discrimination. In addition to being paid a sub-minimum wage, employees with disabilities often perform their jobs in what are called “sheltered workshops.” This term is generally used to describe facilities that employ people with disabilities exclusively or primarily, but has been interpreted by disability advocates as a form of segregation in the workplace.

Goodwill Industries is arguably one of the biggest offenders when it comes to exploiting this kind of wage discrimination. The company is one of the largest employers for people with disabilities, many of whom are contracted by Goodwill through the government’s AbilityOne program, which ensures contracts are set aside for places that employ workers with disabilities.

Goodwill, however, is a $5.59 billion organization, and many argue they can afford to pay all of their workers a fair wage.

“You’ve got entities that are doing quite well, that are raking in donations, that get government contracts to make everything from military uniforms to…pens to whatever,” says Chris Danielsen, a spokesperson for the National Federation of the Blind told The Nation. “They get these contracts, and they’re paying their workers less than the minimum wage.”

Goodwill’s own CEO, Jim Gibbons, is blind. In 2015, he raked in more than $712,000 in salary and additional compensation while his disabled employees were making less than $9 an hour in some states.

In a comment to NBC News in 2013, Gibbons defended his salary and the million dollar salaries of other Goodwill executives. At the time, Goodwill’s total compensation for all its franchise CEOs was more than $30 million.

“These leaders are having a great impact in terms of new solutions, in terms of innovation, and in terms of job creation,” he said.

Speaking of those employees with disabilities working for less than minimum wage, he punted. “It’s typically not about their livelihood. It’s about their fulfillment. It’s about being a part of something. And it’s probably a small part of their overall program,” he added.

 Just last week, disability activists were dealt a blow by the House of Representatives, which voted 225 to 192 in favor of a bill that would significantly weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act, letting businesses off the hook for failing to provide accessibility accommodations.

Twenty-two percent of Americans live with some form of disability and 13 percent of those experience mobility issues, such as walking or climbing stairs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The share of people with disabilities is higher among women and people of color: according to the CDC, one in four women have a disability and three in 10 non-Latinx Black people have a disability.

One in three adults who are able to work have reported having a disability, and half of those making less than $15,000 a year have reported a disability as well, according to the CDC’s numbers.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

Disney is using 'tax cut bonus' to try to force union workers to accept low pay

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Disney got some positive press for saying it would give its workers a $1,000 tax cut bonus—but it’s using the bonus to try to force some of its lower-paid workers to accept a bad deal at the bargaining table. The entertainment giant carefully specified that the bonuses would go to union workers “currently working under existing union contracts”—and that doesn’t apply to everyone.

They say rank-and-file workers in December voted 93% against Disney’s most recent offer of a 50-cent-an-hour raise over the next two years, coupled with a $200 signing bonus. Most unionized Disney World employees make less than $11 an hour, according to the union.

Only 3,000 make more than $15 an hour. The union says the average hourly wage for its members is $10.71.

Eric Clinton, president of the Unite Here local at the theme park, said Disney is forcing the union to accept that same rejected offer for its members to receive the $1,000 bonus due to other Disney employees. […]

He said the union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint alleging that the demand amounts to punishing members for engaging in legally protected contract negotiations.

This maneuver by Disney shows what a load of bull these “tax cut bonuses” are to begin with—Republicans cut the corporate tax forever, but Disney isn’t offering its workers a raise that will be with them next year and the year after. It’s offering a one-time bonus while trying to low-ball on wages. Not just while trying to low-ball on wages—to use the bonus as bait to get workers to accept low pay. We see you, Disney.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on February 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Trump’s Worker Safety & Health Budget Again Undermines Worker Safety & Health

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Earlier this week, President Trump submitted his Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal. This is his second budget proposal, and like the first, although it left OSHA’s budget fairly flat, it once again proposes to slash or eliminate important safety and health programs and agencies.  And this is Trump’s second OSHA budget that has been proposed with no Assistant Secretary yet in residence.  Scott Mugno’s nomination continues to languish in the Senate.

First, the good news. With one major exception (see below), OSHA’s budget would remain mostly level– with a small $5.1 million (2.4% and 42 full time employees) increase over FY 2017 in the enforcement budget, as well as a small $3 million (4.2%) increase in compliance assistance — mostly to add Compliance Assistance Specialists who had been cut in previous years due to budget limitations, and an addition of eight staff to work exclusively on the Voluntary Protection Programs.

Meanwhile, in addition to trying once again to eliminate the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program and the Chemical Safety Board, the administration’s proposal also eliminates two OSHA Advisory Committees dealing with whistleblower protections and federal employee safety and health.

Harwood and the Chemical Safety Board: Deja Vu All Over Again

In what can only be characterized as the triumph of hope over experience, the Trump administration has yet again proposed the elimination of OSHA’s Susan Harwood Worker Training Program and the independent Chemical Safety Board — two proposals that had about as much lift as a Butterball Turkey when the administration floated these ideas in its FY 2018 budget.

Now this budget is not necessarily bad news for us bloggers. I mean, I don’t have to write any new stories about how terrible the elimination of the Susan Harwood Worker Training Program would be for the safety of workers — especially vulnerable workers like the mostly immigrant day-laborers who have been rebuilding Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

And I don’t have to write much new about how pointless the elimination of the Chemical Safety Board would be for chemical plant safety — and the safety of workers at the plants and communities surrounding the plants.

Because you, good readers, already know all of that. But perhaps more important, Congress already knows that. Certainly both the House and the Senate understand the importance of the Chemical Safety Board as they displayed when the relevant Appropriations bills in both houses voted to keep the CSB fully funded in the 2018 budget after the Trump administration recommended its elimination.

Similarly, after being sentenced to death in the Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal (and in the House of Representatives’ Labor appropriations bill), the Senate Appropriations committee voted on a bipartisan basis to ignore the Administration’s proposal (and the House bill) and maintain the program.

CSB and Harwood: There’s no education from the second kick of a mule.

But these guys aren’t only irresponsible and just plain wrong; they’re also lazy. You’d think that after failing last year to eliminate these programs, they’d at least come up with some new and improved justifications. But no. As in 2018, the 2019 budget erroneously justifies the elimination of the Harwood program on an alleged lack of “evidence that the program is effective.” And they again incorrectly justify the CSB’s elimination on the the ‘relative duplicative nature of its work,” presumably assuming that the CSB duplicates the efforts of OSHA and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The CSB, however, is not discouraged. Being an independent agency, they submitted their own $12.1 million budget request to keep the agency open. The board is currently conducting nine open investigations: Red Mountain Operating, Arkema Inc., Didion Milling Inc., Midland Resource Recovery, Loy Lange Box Co., Packaging Corporation of America, Sunoco Logistics Partners LP, Enterprise Products Partners LP and DuPont.

I’m not going to waste scarce electrons or your valuable time explaining again why these justifications are — to put it mildly — bogus. If you want to re-read what I wrote last here about these proposals, you can start here.  (Here is much more on the importance of the Chemical Safety Board and the Harwood Grants.) And I’m sure we’ll be writing more about the importance of these programs in the near future.

There’s a saying that there’s no education from the second kick of a mule.  With a little lobbying and common sense, we can only hope that the Trump administration will get to witness that phenomenon with its 2019 workplace safety and health budget.

Compliance Assistance and OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program

OSHA’s federal compliance assistance budget is slated for a 4.2% increase which will include 8 employees fully dedicated to the Voluntary Protection Program and 24 Compliance Assistance Specialists (CAS).  OSHA once had a CAS in every one of its 70 Area Offices, but budget cuts and the hiring freeze had cut those numbers significantly.

VPP, established in 1982 to recognize workplaces with exemplary safety and health management systems, has always been a favorite program of Republican administrations. As we’ve discussed, however, the program has faced significant integrity and funding issues over the past several years. Trump’s OSHA has held two stakeholder meetings to discuss problems with the program and although the outcome of those meetings have never been released by OSHA, the agency is doubling down on VPP growth. According to OSHA’s Congressional Budget Justification,  “with the addition of 24 CAS and 8 VPP staff, OSHA anticipates approving 155 new VPP sites and re-approving 395 sites in FY 2019.”

One notable change in the Trump budget from previous budgets is the total omission of a focus in its compliance assistance program on vulnerable workers, such as day laborers,  temporary workers and workers with limited English proficiency who often work in high hazard industries and are difficult for OSHA to reach. It is a common myth that the Obama administration focused totally on enforcement to the neglect of compliance assistance. The truth is that the Obama administration conducted a major compliance assistance program, but instead of focusing exclusively on assistance for employers, the Obama administration focused compliance assistance resources on helping vulnerable workers. OSHA’s CBJ doesn’t even mention vulnerable workers or working with labor unions in its Compliance Assistance section, focusing exclusively on broadening “its reach, assistance, and support to small businesses and other employers working to comply with OSHA requirements and protect their workers,” as well as working with more “trade associations, organizations, and employers it engages with directly through its cooperative programs.”

OSHA Standards

OSHA’s Budget Justification states that it plans to issue three final rules, including one on beryllium, and four proposed rules. As you may recall, OSHA proposed last June to weaken beryllium protections for maritime and construction workers.  (The schedule for this is a bit unclear as the CBJ also states that “OSHA anticipates that this rulemaking will proceed fairly quickly with a proposal either late 2018 or very early 2019.” Given that OSHA already issued a proposal in June 2017, it’s unclear whether this statement means they’ll issue a new proposal or it’s just a result of  lousy proofreading.)

Other final standards include a minor revision addressing respirator fit-test methods, and a revision of the recordkeeping standard.  OSHA has stated for some time that it doesn’t like parts of the Obama administration’s electronic recordkeeping regulation which requires employers to send injury and illness data to OSHA, and to prohibit retaliation against workers for reporting injuries or illnesses.  Given that no proposal has yet appeared, it’s possible, but unlikely that a final revised rule will be issued before October 1, 2019, the end of FY 2019.

The only small business (SBREFA) review mentioned is one for a cell tower standard. No mention of a SBREFA panel for workplace violence. SBREFA is the first formal step of the regulatory process.

In addition to numerous guidance products, OSHA plans to use its standards funding to throw a bone to its industry friends by conducting “retrospective reviews to revise and update existing standards in ways that will better protect workers and, where possible, reduce burden on employers.” Don’t expect much there. A thorough review of a standard or regulation takes years and generally confirms that the original standard protected workers more effectively, and at a lower cost than OSHA had originally predicted.

NIOSH

As it did last year, the Trump administration proposes to whack NIOSH, continuing to show its disdain for evidence-based practice that is supported by real research.  Trump is again proposing to cut NIOSH job safety research by $135.2 million (40%), and proposes to eliminate educational research centers, agriculture, forestry and fishing research centers and external research programs.

Then it gets weird. Trump is proposing to take NIOSH out of CDC and then possibly combine it at a later date with other parts of the National Institutes of Health.  Section 22 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act established the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in the Department of Health and Human Services to “conduct research,experiments, and demonstrations relating to occupational safety and health.”  NIOSH is currently part of the Centers for Disease Control, which is also part of HHS.  How this envisioned reorganization will work with the OSHAct that establishes a separate institute specifically for Occupational Safety and Health remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the World Trade Center Health Program (administered by NIOSH director by law) would remain at CDC.

MSHA

Fifteen coal miners died on the job in 2017, compared with only 8 in 2016, but Trump apparently sees those troubling numbers as a reason to cut coal enforcement by $3 million. the overall budget for the agency will increase by $2 million, with funding for metal/non-metal enforcement increasing by $2.5 million

Advice? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Advice

OSHA has several advisory committees comprised of outside experts intended to advise, consult with and make recommendations to OSHA and DOL leadership about how to improve worker safety and health.  The agency currently has five advisory committees:  The National Advisory Committee on Occupational Safety and Health (NACOSH), the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH), and the Advisory Committee for Construction Safety and Health (ACCSH), the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health (FACOSH) and the Whistleblower Protections Advisory Committee (WPAC.)   NACOSH and ACCSH were established by law and the others by the Secretary of Labor and the White House.

Trump wants to eliminate two OSHA Advisory Committees and none have met in over a year

The committees are populated with national experts representing labor, management and public agencies who rotate every few years. Advisory committees traditionally meet two or three times a year, but none have met in the first 13 months of this administration.

Trump’s OSHA budget proposes to eliminate two of the agency’s five advisory committees: FACOSH and WPAC.  WPAC is the newest advisory committee and was established in 2012 to help OSHA “improve the fairness, efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency of OSHA’s administration of whistleblower protections.” WPAC was one of the many initiatives undertaken in the Obama administration to improve the operation of OSHA’s troubled Whistleblower Program, including creating a separate directorate and a separate budget item.  Achievements of the committee include the publication of the first-ever Recommended Practices for Employers for Addressing and Preventing Retaliation which assists employers in creating workplaces in which employees can voice their concerns without fear of retaliation.

Federal employees are not covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, but were provided protections by Executive Order 12196 which requires each federal agency to “Furnish to employees places and conditions of employment that are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  Executive Order 11612, issued by Richard Nixon, established FACOSH in order to “advice on how to reduce and keep to a minimum the number of injuries and illnesses in the federal workforce and how to encourage each federal Executive Branch department and agency to establish and maintain effective occupational safety and health programs.” Federal OSHA can cite, but not fine federal agencies and has uncovered and corrected a number of serious safety and health problems in the nation’s military bases, hospitals, prisons, hospitals and other federal facilities.

Elsewhere:

In related news, Trump’s budget

  • Cuts EPA’s budget by 34% so that the agency can eliminate “lower priority programs” and refocus on “core activities.”  Among the “lower priority programs” that the EPA is proposing to eliminate are those that address the only environmental threat that can literally destroy the earth as we know it — climate change.  After all, climate change may be good for us. “Core Activities” that need more funding apparently refer to a swollen security detail for EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, his high security communications chamber and, of course, his first-class travel to points domestic and foreign.
  • Cuts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: In the midst of a flu pandemic and the ever-present threat of Ebola and the emergence of other “new” diseases, Trump is proposing to cut back CDC’s budget by $1 billion.

  • Cuts National Labor Relations Board by $25.2 million (9%)

  • Cuts Employment and Training Services by $1.3 billion (39%)

  • Cuts Unemployment Insurance and Employment Services by $45.4 million (13%)

  • Cuts Job Corp by $40.7 million (24%)

  • Eliminates the Older Worker Program

  • Cuts Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) by $13.4 million (13%). OFCCP  ensures that contractors and subcontractors who do business with the federal government comply with the legal requirement to take affirmative action and not discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, disability, or status as a protected veteran.

  • Cuts Labor Department’s International by $67.6 million (79%)

  • Cuts Women’s Bureau by $7.6 million (68%)

  • Proposes $8.5 million (22%) increase for Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) enforcement. OLMS ensures that union elections and finances are conducted legally. Republican administrations traditionally use OLMS to harass unions; hence the increased funding.

What’s Next?

This is the beginning of the FY 2019 budget process. FY 2019 begins on October 1, 2018, but the budget will not be passed by then. No Congress in recent memory has finished a budget by the end of the budget year and that prospect is even less likely in an election year.

The next step in the process will be Secretary Acosta’s testimony before the House and Senate appropriations committees.  There will then be long deliberations in the House and the Senate, and eventually both Houses of Congress and the President will have to come up with a budget that they agree on.  The process is more difficult in the Senate because 60 votes are needed to pass a budget. And as we saw last year, the House budget was much worse than the President’s proposal (although they did vote to maintain the CSB), while the Senate’s OSHA budget was better then the President’s proposal.

And, of course, depending on the outcome of the Congressional elections on November 6, Trump could be facing a Democratic House of Representatives and/or a Democratic Senate, and a Democratic majority in either house of Congress would drastically change the final budget that emerges from this process.

But nothing good in this country happens by itself. It happens because knowledgeable and caring citizens ensure that their Senators and Congressional Representatives understand the importance of these programs in protecting worker safety and health. That’s where you come in. Especially in an election year, it’s important that those running for office understand the daily hazards facing American workers and the role of the OSHA and other government agencies in making sure workers come home safely at the end of the day.  And already, just days after release of the President’s budget, opposition to his proposal to eliminate the CSB has begun.

And there will be more.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on February 15, 2018. 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).

Trump Administration Should Rescind Proposal That Allows Bosses to Pocket Working People's Tips

Thursday, February 15th, 2018

As we previously reported, President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta announced a new proposed regulation to allow restaurant owners to pocket the tips of millions of tipped workers. This would result in an estimated $5.8 billion in lost wages for workers each year?wages that they rightfully earned.

And most of that would come from women’s pockets. Nearly 70% of tipped workers are women, and a majority of them work in the restaurant industry, which suffers from some of the highest rates of sexual harassment in the entire labor market. This rule would exacerbate sexual harassment because workers will now depend on the whims of owners to get their tips back.

In a letter to Congress, the AFL-CIO opposed the rule change in the strongest possible terms, calling for the proposal to be rescinded:

Just days before the comment period for this [Notice of Proposed Rulemaking] closed, an extremely disturbing report appeared indicating that analysis of the costs and benefits in fact occurred, but was discarded. On Feb. 1, 2018, Bloomberg/BNA reported that the Department of Labor “scrubbed an unfavorable internal analysis from a new tip pooling proposal, shielding the public from estimates that potentially billions of dollars in gratuities could be transferred from workers to their employer.” Assuming these reports are correct, the Department of Labor should immediately make the underlying data (and the analyses that the Department conducted) available to the public. We call on the Department of Labor to do so immediately and to withdraw the related Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

The AFL-CIO strongly urges the Department to withdraw the proposed rule, and instead focus its energies on promoting policies that will improve economic security for people working in low-wage jobs and empower all working people with the resources they need to combat sexual harassment in their workplaces.

The Department of Labor must provide an estimate of its proposed rules’ economic impact. However, while suspiciously claiming that such an analysis was impossible, it turns out that this wasn’t true:

Senior department political officials—faced with a government analysis showing that workers could lose billions of dollars in tips as a result of the proposal—ordered staff to revise the data methodology to lessen the expected impact, several of the sources said. Although later calculations showed progressively reduced tip losses, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta and his team are said to have still been uncomfortable with including the data in the proposal. The officials disagreed with assumptions in the analysis that employers would retain their employees’ gratuities, rather than redistribute the money to other hourly workers. They wound up receiving approval from the White House to publish a proposal Dec. 5 that removed the economic transfer data altogether, the sources said.

The move to drop the analysis means workers, businesses, advocacy groups and others who want to weigh in on the tip pool proposal will have to do so without seeing the government’s estimate first.

Democrats in Congress quickly responded that the rule change should be abandoned, as the new rule would authorize employers to engage in wage theft against their workers. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said:

You have been a proponent of more transparency and economic analysis in the rulemaking process. But if DOL hid a key economic analysis of this proposed rule—and if [Office of Management and Budget] officials were aware of and complicit in doing so—that would raise serious questions about the integrity of the rule itself, and about your role and the role of other OMB officials in the rulemaking.

Take action today and send a letter to Congress asking it to stop Trump’s tip theft rule.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on February 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog