Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for June, 2018

What You Need to Know About Washington, D.C.'s Initiative 77 and the Minimum Wage

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018

On Tuesday, Washington, D.C., voters will have an opportunity to vote on Initiative 77, a ballot measure supported by a wide array of progressive and labor organizations that would eliminate the subminimum wage for tipped workers and give many working families a much-needed raise.

Initiative 77 would increase the tipped minimum wage to match the full wage: If it passes, the initiative would phase out the tipped minimum wage, leaving a flat $15 per hour minimum wage for D.C. workers. This would be phased in between now and 2025, giving restaurant and bar owners more than enough time to adjust to the change.

Tipped workers aren’t limited to restaurants and bars: Many other workers get tips, too, including manicurists/pedicurists, hairdressers, shampooers, valets, taxi and rideshare drivers, massage therapists, baggage porters and others. Very few of them get anywhere near the 20% standard you see in high-end restaurants and bars.

The current law is changing, but it will still leave tipped workers behind: The current minimum wage in D.C. is $12.50 an hour, with a minimum wage of $3.33 for tipped workers. If tipped workers don’t earn enough from tips to get to $12.50, employers are supposed to pay the difference. After existing minimum wage increases are fully implemented, the full minimum wage for D.C. will be $15 an hour, while the tipped minimum will increase to $5. The cost of living in D.C. is higher than every state in the United States except Hawaii.

D.C. has a particular problem with the minimum wage: As one of the places in the United States with the highest costs of living, low-wage workers are hit harder by discriminatory laws. D.C. has the largest gap in the country between its tipped minimum wage and its prevailing minimum wage. Tipped workers in D.C. are twice as likely to live in poverty as the city’s overall workforce. Tipped workers in D.C. are forced to use public assistance at a higher rate than the overall population, with 14% using food stamps and 23% using Medicaid.

Wherever tipped wage jobs exist, they are typically low-wage, low-quality jobs: Nationally, the median wage is $16.48 and tipped workers median wage is $10.22. Nationally, 46% of tipped workers receive public assistance, whereas non-tipped workers use public assistance at a rate of 35.5%. Workers at tipped jobs are less likely to have access to paid sick leave, paid holiday leave, paid vacations, health insurance and retirement benefits. Seven of the 10 lowest-paying job categories are in food services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Tipped workers are more likely to end up in poverty: In states where the tipped minimum wage is at the federal standard of $2.13, the lowest in the country, the poverty rate for all workers is 14.5%, which breaks down to 18% for waitstaff and bartenders and 7% for non-tipped employees. What day of the week it is, bad weather, a sluggish economy, the changing of the seasons and any number of other factors completely outside of a server’s control can influence tips and make a night, a week or a season less likely to generate needed income.

The predictions of doom and gloom about raising the minimum wage or the tipped minimum wage never come true: Eight states already have eliminated the tipped wage and the restaurants in those states have higher sales per capita, higher job growth, higher job growth for tipped workers and higher rates of tipping. In fact, states without a lower tipped minimum wage have actually seen sectors where tipping is common grow stronger than in states where there is a subminimum wage. This is consistent with the data from overseas where countries have eliminated tipping and subminimum tipped wages. In states without a subminimum tipped wage, tipped workers, across the board, earn 14% higher. Increased minimum wages lead to employers seeing a reduction in turnover and increases in productivity. And, while there are certainly some exceptions, tippers in states without subminimum wage don’t tip less.

Tipped workers are more likely to be women, making lives worse for them and their families: Of the 4.3 million tipped workers in the United States, 60% of them are waiters and bartenders. Of that 2.5 million, 69% of them are women. Furthermore, 24% are parents, and 16% of them are single mothers. Half of the population of tipped bartenders and waitstaff are members of families that earn less than $40,000. Increasing the tipped minimum wage lets parents work fewer nights and have more time at home with their families. It also helps provide for a more steady, predictable income. Since 66% of tipped workers are women, a lower tipped minimum wage essentially creates legalized gender inequity in the industry. These lowest-paid occupations are majority female. More than one in four female restaurant servers or bartenders in D.C. live in poverty, twice the rate of men in the same jobs.

Harassment and objectification are encouraged by the tipped system: The stories about harassment in the restaurant industry are legion. Servers are forced to tolerate inappropriate behavior from customers in order to not see an instant decrease in income. This forces them to subject themselves to objectification and harassment. Workers in states with a subminimum tipped wage are twice as likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace. In D.C., more than  90% of restaurant workers report some form of sexual harassment on the job. Women’s tips increase if they have blond hair, a larger breast size and a smaller body size, leading to discrimination against women that don’t have those qualities. Nearly 37% of sexual harassment charges filed by women to the EEOC come from the restaurant industry. This rate is five times higher than the overall female workforce. LGBTQ serversalso face a higher rate of harassment in order to obtain tips. Sexual harassment of transgender employees and men is also high in tipped environments. Some 60% of transgender workers reported scary or unwanted sexual behavior. More than 45% of male workers reported that sexual harassment was part of their work life, as well.

The subminimum tipped wage harms people of color: Research shows that tipping has racist impacts, too. Nonwhite restaurant workers take home 56% less than their white colleagues. Research shows that if the minimum wage had held the value it had in 1968, poverty rates for black and Hispanic Americans would be 20% lower. While many restaurants and bars claim to be race-neutral in hiring, the evidence shows that race often has an impact on who gets hired for jobs that directly interact with customers. And fine-dining environments, the ones where servers and bartenders make the most in tips, are much more likely to hire white servers and bartenders, particularly white males. Also, customers, generally speaking, tip black servers less than white servers. For instance, black servers get 15-25% smaller tips, on average in D.C.

The people behind the opposition to 77 are not worker- or democracy-friendly: Public disclosures show that the Save Our Tips campaign that opposes Initiative 77 is heavily funded by the National Restaurant Assocation. This particular NRA represents the interests of, and is funded by, big corporations, such as McDonald’s, Yum! (which owns Taco Bell, Pizza Hut & KFC), Burger King, Darden Restaurants (which owns Olive Garden, Red Lobster and others) and more. The group spends as much as $98 million to oppose minimum wage increases, safety and labor requirements and benefit increases and requirements. Meanwhile, the CEO of the NRA, Dawn Sweeney, took home $3.8 million in total compensation.

The Save Our Tips campaign is managed in part by Lincoln Strategy Group. In 2016, the group did $600,000 worth of work for the Donald Trump presidential campaign. Lincoln Strategy is managed by Nathan Sproul, a Republican consultant and former executive director of the Arizona Christian Coalition. Sproul has a history of being accused of fraudulent election-related activities, including destroying Democratic voter registration forms and creating a fake grassroots effort to undermine the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Another corporate-sponsored group, the Employment Policy Institute, has come out strongly against the initiative and created a website to attack it and ROC. The Institute is the creation of Rick Berman, a wealthy corporate lobbyist who runs campaigns against public interest groups like the Humane Society and labor unions.

Up until 1996, the tipped subminimum wage had been tied into being 50% of the prevailing minimum wage. That year, legislation decoupled the two and the subminimum wage for tipped jobs has stayed at $2.13 nationally, while some states have raised it. The NRA, headed up then by former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, who would go on to run for president, led the charge to separate the two minimum wages.

The separate tipped minimum wage is a burden on employers and invites misuse: The system of tracking tips and wages so that employers can make up the difference is a complex one that is burdensome for employers. The system requires extensive tracking and accounting of tip flows. Not only this, employers are allowed to average tips over the course of a workweek and only have to pay the difference if the average is less than the minimum wage. Tips can also be pooled among various types of restaurant employees. Tip stealing and wage theft are hard to prove and workers are often reluctant to report them out of fear that they will be given fewer shifts or fired.

Employers frequently fail to pay the balance to their employees: While the law requires to make up the balance when tipped wages don’t reach the full minimum wage, employers often fail to do so. The Department of Labor investigated more than 9,000 restaurants and found that 84% had violated this law and had to pay out nearly $5.5 million in back pay because of tipping violations. How many didn’t get caught?

Restaurants are using union-avoidance tactics to sway employees against the initiative: Numerous reports from workers at D.C. restaurants have made it clear that not only are employers singing on to public letters and posting signs against Initiative 77, they are trying to sway their employees, too. Tactics that have been reported are straight from the union-advoidance industry. Many employers are forcing employees to listen to their opinion on the measure. Others have instructed them to evangelize to customers. Some are sending instructions to their employees on how to volunteer at the polls against the Initiative. Others have shared explicitly political videos with employees. Some managers have gone as far as to speak negatively about community organizations advocating for Initiative 77.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on June 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

Workplace Safety: Expect Excellence From Your Employer

Tuesday, June 19th, 2018

You should expect your employer to establish a strong safety culture that results in an injury-free, healthy, non-hostile workplace.

Unfortunately, OSHA can only do so much to establish what “safe and healthy” means, or to enforce those protocols. Many people, like those at Public Citizen, recognize that “government protection of workers is far from adequate.”

This means that more must be done than just meeting government standards.

High Standards for Health and Safety Should Be the Norm

Each workplace is unique, so those in charge of safety must identify and mitigate their specific health and safety issues. Hazards also change over time, so safety protocols must be adapted.

The aim, after all, should be to make sure you stay safe and healthy, physically, mentally, and emotionally. That means no workplace injuries, and certainly no fatalities, nor any disrespectful behaviors: expect respect.

What Is a Safe and Healthy Workplace?

In order to make sure you are in a safe and healthy workplace, it’s important to understand what that means. Consider some of the most common causes of workplace injuries: stress, fatigue, falling objects, lifting, collisions, and trip and falls. Are your safety managers addressing these issues?

The environment you work in should be healthy. That means clean air, a clean workspace, good lighting, and reasonable noise levels.   

Management should regularly provide information and training about how to stay safe and healthy. They should encourage and facilitate physical fitness, fatigue prevention, mental and emotional well-being, and healthy eating.

Your health and wellness, and that of your co-workers, are the foundation of a satisfying and productive work environment. Consider that your well-being is also contingent on your co-workers’ well-being. A fatigued or distracted workmate is more likely to create unsafe circumstances for others.

The more rested, clear-headed, and healthy the staff, the safer the work environment will be for everyone.

Be Proactive

You play a part in safety, too. Take moments to stretch, rest, and move as needed. When stress is high, reset with some deep breaths. And keep your workspace clean and free of hazards.

Offer help to other employees who are doing something unsafe. Be respectful of others and expect respect from them. If you see hazards, report them to your safety manager. Make suggestions to improve health and safety. Is there a vending machine with soda, candy, and chips? Request that your employer swap some (all?) of that out for healthier options.

Initiate a walking group or encourage others to join you in training for a local 5 km. Ask your employer if they’ll sponsor you. Get creative in helping to make your workplace a thriving environment.

Know Your Rights, Use Your Voice

Of course, the ideal workplace isn’t always possible in the real world. Some employers simply won’t prioritize employee well-being to the degree they should. When you experience a violation of your health or safety at work, write it down and report it to your employer. A paper trail is your best friend if you need to take further action.

If your employer doesn’t remedy the problem, contact OSHA. You can do this anonymously. You have rights and you should be aware of what they are. In his article “The 6 Reasons OSHA Will Inspect Your Workplace,” Gabe L. Sierra, the managing director of Prometrix Safety Consulting, states, “In many industries, employee complaints are the single most common reason why OSHA will conduct an inspection at a workplace.”

Are you afraid of your employer retaliating? Retaliation is illegal. You can report that to OSHA, too. If you experience discrimination or harassment, you can file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. For extreme cases of health and safety violations, you can consult a lawyer and file a lawsuit.

Just don’t stay quiet. Speaking up can be frightening, but change doesn’t happen if people remain silent. Consider the recent shift toward intolerance of sexual harassment and assault in the TV and film worlds, and beyond, because people spoke up. By saying something, you’re part of the solution, even if that solution takes time to arrive.  

Your Excellent Work Environment

Let’s hope that you have a safety manager who will be receptive to your suggestions and want to work toward an optimally safe environment.

Most of us spend an enormous amount of time at work. Why wouldn’t we expect and contribute to it being as safe and healthy as possible?

About the Author: TJ Scimone founded Slice, Inc. in 2008. His priority has been design, innovation, and safety. The result is a unique line of cutting tools, all of which are ergonomic and feature finger-friendly® blades. Safety is a key aspect of the Slice message and the website features a weekly Workplace Safety Blog.

Workplace Deaths Are Rising. Trump-Era Budget Cuts Could Make It Worse.

Monday, June 18th, 2018

In an alarming development in the world of workplace safety, the latest statistics reveal that the number of accidental deaths on the job in America is on the rise, reversing the longer-term trend toward fewer fatal incidents.

The number of deaths hit a total of 5,190 in 2016, up from 4,836 in 2015, according to an April 2018 report by the AFL-CIO. That’s about 14 deaths each day from preventable worker accidents. It’s also the third year in a row that the number has inched up, and the highest death rate since 2010, the labor federation reported.

Workplace safety systems are “definitely in the failure mode,” says Peter Dooley, a consultant with the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health who was worked closely with labor unions over the years. “In the last two years it is getting dramatically worse. It’s just outrageous.” 

The precise reasons for the rise are not simply stated, adds Peg Seminario, AFL-CIO’s long-time director of occupational safety and health. Overall patterns such as very high rates of injury in the logging and construction industries are consistent over time, she says, and there is no single employment trend that accounts for the recent rise. “The numbers are actually down in construction, but they are up almost everywhere else,” she says.

Inadequate enforcement of existing safety rules is the most commonly cited explanation for the rise, Seminario tells In These Times. A Jan. 8 report from NBC News estimates that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) employs only about 1,000 inspectors to cover all workplaces in America—and that the number of inspectors has declined four percent since President Donald Trump took office. The number of inspectors is far too low to be effective, Seminario suggests, and OSHA has been “under resourced” for years, including during the Obama administration years.

“Construction is a good example. OSHA has a big focus on construction and construction deaths are down. The areas where OSHA has less interest are up,” she says

The figures cited by Seminario and Dooley are taken from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries published annually by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The way the figures are compiled is a problem in itself, Dooley says, because it zealously protects the anonymity of employers. That diverts attention from specific workplace behavior that needs close examination and corrective action to reduce accidental deaths over time, he says. 

The National Council’s answer to this problem is to publish its own “Dirty Dozen” list of employers notable for health and safety problems among their workforces. The Council uses a standard of measurement that includes non-fatal injuries and other factors, but the list stands out in that it names some very well-known companies. For example, the online retailer Amazon is on the list because it has seen seven of its warehouse workers killed since 2013. Lowe’s Home Improvement operations have seen a total of 56 deaths associated with paint stripping chemicals. And the largest garbage disposal company in the United States, Waste Management, has had an excessive number of OSHA citations and fines. Other companies on the list are Tesla Motors and Dine Brands Global (owner of IHOP and Applebee’s restaurants).

“There is injustice in the Bureau of Labor Statistics as a totally anonymous database. There is no public record of who is dying and who the employers are,” Dooley says. The information actually does exist deep in the Labor Department files, he adds, but government policy is to keep this information out of public hands, or for use by safety experts. “This needs to be changed,” he says.

Seminario and Dooley agree that the worker safety signals coming from the Trump administration are troubling, even if the statistics are not up-to-date enough to make a direct link to increased workplace deaths. Trump’s budget proposal last year called for a 21 percent cut in Department of Labor spending, and the initial proposal for this year call for a 9 percent cut. Congress pared back last year’s proposed cut, and is expected to do so again this year, but it is clear that current Labor Department officials have no plans to take the initiative against the rise in workplace deaths, Dooley charges.

In issuing its report, the AFL-CIO noted: “The Trump administration has moved to weaken recently issued rules on beryllium and mine examinations and has delayed or abandoned the development of new protections, including regulations on workplace violence, infectious diseases, silica in mining and combustible dust.”

“At the same time, Congress is pushing forward with numerous ‘regulatory reform’ bills that would require review and culling of existing rules, make costs the primary consideration in adopting regulations, and making it virtually impossible to issue new protections.”

The reference to workplace violence represents one of the most troubling statistics buried in the government reports. According to a press release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Workplace homicides increased by 83 cases to 500 in 2016, and workplace suicides increased by 62 to 291. This is the highest homicide figure since 2010 and the most suicides since the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries began reporting data in 1992.”

“It’s a very complicated problem,” observes Seminario. “You can devise safety regulations to avoid common and predictable accidents. But how do you do that with a homicide?”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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

Tesla Swears It’s a Fair Employer—Yet It’s Trying to Dodge a Law That Protects Workers

Friday, June 15th, 2018

Since 2013, Tesla has fought unfair-labor-practice complaints from the NLRB, insisting it’s not a union buster and that it maintains a safe factory. However, just a week before the company went in front of a judge to face some of these accusations, Tesla petitioned the state of California to get around a new labor regulation that would require the company to be certified as a “fair and responsible workplace.”

On June 11, Michael Sanchez, a Tesla employee who is currently out on medical leave, testified before an NLRB administrative law judge, claiming that he was asked to leave the company’s Fremont factory by a supervisor and security guards in February 2017 after he attempted to hand out pro-union literature. The hearing is part of a wider complaint that was originally filed against Tesla by the NLRB last August.

Tesla has denied these allegations, insisting that the company is being unfairly targeted by labor groups looking to sow division among workers.

However, just one week before Sanchez’s testimony, the company sent a letter to the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency asking to be exempt from a new state rule that would require the company to be certified as a “fair and responsible workplace” in order for Tesla customers to receive state rebates for buying electric cars. Those rebates are viewed as key enticements in Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to put 5-million zero emission cars on California’s roads by 2030.

Governor Brown stuck the rule into his cap-and-trade legislation from last year, in a move that was perceived as a win for organized labor. However, Tesla believes that the provision effectively means that the state has picked a side in the company’s labor battles and is unfairly singling them out.

“To be sure, Tesla is not perfect–no company is,” reads the letter, dated June 4. “But any objective analysis of our workplace, as opposed to the selective use of unrepresentative anecdotes in a company of almost 40,000 employees globally, demonstrates we are a leader in the workplace. There should be absolutely no question that we care deeply about the well-being of our employees and that we try our hardest to do the right thing.”

On May 23, the state put out a concept paper for public comment, which detailed how the new rule would potentially be enforced. As part of their application process for the customer rebates, companies would have to submit information about their workplace practices to the state. This would include information about the company’s illness and injury prevention program, the recordable worker injury rates, nondiscrimination measures, and policies for investigating workplace complaints, wage violations and safety concerns. Manufacturers would also have to submit a list of citations and charges brought against them by government agencies and any criminal charges that have been brought against them for workplace issues within the last five years.

The concept paper will be revised with the accepted comments, and then the unions will push for the final document to become law. The government agencies have suggested that full certification commence in two years, but the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which has been pushing to unionize the company’s factory, wants it to take effect by July 2019.

In addition to the aforementioned NLRB complaint, which encompasses a number of different accusations, Tesla is also facing several discrimination lawsuits from former employees. Last November, a former African-American worker named Marcus Vaughn sued the company claiming that coworkers and supervisors consistently referred to him by the n-word. Vaughn alleges that when he complained about the treatment, he was fired for not having a positive attitude.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly defended the company’s safety record publicly. In May, he went on a lengthy Twitter rant attacking the media for covering Tesla negatively, focusing specifically on a Reveal report that detailed how the company left workplace injuries off their books. Musk also criticized the UAW and declared that his employees didn’t actually want a union. “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union,” Musk tweeted. “Could do so [tomorrow] if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”

When asked to explain what he meant by the stock option comment, Musk shifted to an observation about the Revolutionary War: “US fought War of Independence to get rid of a 2 class system!” Musk wrote, “Managers & workers [should] be equal [with] easy movement either way. Managing sucks [by the way]. Hate doing it so much.” Musk’s net worth is estimated to be about $18.2 billion currently.

The new rule and the NLRB hearing comes amid additional bad news for Tesla and its employees. After misjudging the speed at which they could produce their Model 3 vehicles, the company laid off more than 3,000 people—about 9 percent of their workforce. “We made these decisions by evaluating the criticality of each position, whether certain jobs could be done more efficiently and productively, and by assessing the specific skills and abilities of each individual in the company,” Musk wrote to the company in an email. “As you know, we are continuing to flatten our management structure to help us communicate better, eliminate bureaucracy and move faster.”

The rule could be codified as early as July.

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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

D.C. servers and bartenders say the tipped wage system isn’t working for them

Thursday, June 14th, 2018

A ballot measure in Washington, D.C. that would raise the minimum wage for tipped workers has been at the center of a heated debate in the restaurant industry.

Tipped workers in the city currently receive a base wage of just $3.33 an hour. On June 19, D.C. voters will vote on whether to change that. Initiative 77 would raise those workers’ minimum wage gradually, so that it matches the city’s minimum wage by 2026.

Bartenders and servers who spoke to ThinkProgress said they support the ballot measure because they want to have a more consistent income and feel less susceptible to putting up with harassment. But there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

The heated debate over Initiative 77

Over the last few months, “Save Our Tips” signs have been spotted inside restaurants and in windows throughout the city due to the opposition from many employers in the restaurant industry.

Last year, the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) created a committee called “Save Our Tip System Initiative 77” to campaign against and spend money on legal challenges against the initiative. The committee is managed in part by the Lincoln Strategy Group, which was responsible for canvassing work for Trump’s presidential campaign, according to The Intercept. The campaign has also received donations from many restaurant groups, including the National Restaurant Association, which successfully lobbied against increasing the minimum wage for tipped workers in the 1990s. The group gave the campaign $25,000 of the $58,550 it has raised so far, The Intercept reported.

“Servers are compensated very well,” Kathy Hollinger, the president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, told WAMU last year. “They make far more than minimum wage because of the total compensation structure that works for a server.”

Most of the servers and bartenders ThinkProgress spoke to said employers oppose Initiative 77 and made their views known. Some employers have even gone so far as to advocate against the ballot measure in discussions with servers and to ask them to tell customers about the measure.

On the other side of the debate are the D.C. branch of Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC) — which is in charge of the national One Fair Wage Campaign to get rid of the tipped wage system — and many workers who the ballot initiative actually affects.

Although under law, tipped workers are supposed to receive the minimum wage, they say enforcement is another issue entirely. (Workers spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition that we do not publish their real names, out of fear of retaliation from their employers.)

Jamie, who works at a midsize restaurant in Petworth said, “Theoretically, we already have that level playing field, because restaurants are obligated to make up the difference if wage and tips doesn’t come out to minimum wage for workers, but most restaurants are non-compliant and don’t explain this policy to workers.”

Melissa, who works as a server at a restaurant on U Street, said it’s about making things more consistent and enforceable.

“I just think everyone should have that security of knowing they are going to have that paycheck that is going to equal at least a certain amount and it’s a lot more easy to enforce,” she said. “We’ll have tips on top of that and the service as we know it isn’t going to change.”

Michelle, who works as a bartender, said there are Save Our Tips signs on the walls and windows of the restaurant she works at. The restaurant group that owns the restaurant she works for, sends a weekly newsletter to employees, which provides links to instructions on how to volunteer at polls and anti-Initiative 77 videos.

She has heard from servers that they are encouraged to talk to customers about it and “make sure they know the server are against it and that it affects their livelihood and that they should vote against it.”  

Jamie said their employer posted signs that read “NO on 77” and encouraged workers to vote against it. “My managers have also made a point to speak negatively of community organizations that advocate for [Initiative] 77,” they said.

Melissa said she doesn’t have a problem with restaurant owners making their views known as long as they aren’t “lecturing workers on company time” about the ballot measure or spreading misinformation.

“This Save Our Tips campaign has so much fear mongering and misinformation. People believe so many inaccurate ideas because their bosses have said, ‘This is what’s going on,’” she said. “I just think they should have the correct information. I don’t think that’s happening right now.”

Melissa said she thinks workers are being misled when they’re told by employers that people will go eat in Virginia or Maryland instead or that restaurants will close, when in reality, the ballot measure allows the change to take effect gradually. She said some people have told her that they believe ROC is a union and that they will have to pay union dues.

“It’s just a shame they’re being given so many reasons to be afraid,” she said.

NAJ said a lot of people who support the ballot measure are afraid to say anything at their workplace for fear of retaliation.

“Some of those employees are doing so by choice, either because they’re against it or don’t understand it,” they said. “A lot of them can’t come out in support of it because they could lose their livelihoods. They could lose their jobs.”

Many places have already gotten rid of the subminimum wage for tipped workers, including California, Minnesota, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and Nevada, and a number of cities. According to the Economic Policy Institute, poverty rates for servers and bartenders are much lower in states that don’t allow a subminimum wage.

Michelle moved to D.C. from California, where they got rid of the subminimum wage, and said she shares her experience working in California with other tipped workers.

“The differences have been pretty striking to me in terms of take-home money, the consistency of a paycheck or the consistency of what I make in a week to two weeks, and also the overtime that is expected of you in a non-tipped wage state,” she said. “I’ve really noticed the difference.”

Michelle said she has asked coworkers who wear No on 77 buttons to tell her more about their opposition to the ballot initiative.

“They’re like, ‘I don’t want to lose my tips’ and I’m like, ‘Oh is that what you believe is going to happen?’ and they say yes. I ask where they’re getting their information from. The only source they have is management and coworkers,” she said. “But they seem to be responsive when I tell them how it was for me when I worked in California and I had a regular paycheck. It wasn’t paying much but at least I could depend on the paycheck every couple weeks that I knew was coming and it was a consistent income as opposed to one week making a difference of $200 to $300 dollars a week depending on tips.”

Workers in support of Initiative 77 say the most privileged voices are the loudest

Servers and bartenders ThinkProgress spoke to said that although some tipped workers who oppose Initiative 77 seem uninformed, others appeared to oppose it because they benefit the most from the current system.

“Most of the white male bartenders I work with are very strongly anti-77,” Michelle said. “Mostly men and white guys are becoming voice of No on Initiative 77 and they are the loudest voice speaking for tipped workers. They aren’t my voice. And the people of color I know in the industry, they are not their voice either.”

NAJ said they don’t see enough people from marginalized groups represented in the debate in the media over Initiative 77.

“The idea that the experience of highest-tier people making the most money should be the representative experience is insulting to people who work in these positions who, for whatever reason, could not move into field of choice because of marginalized identities or whatever it is,” they said. “They are having their livelihoods affected by policies and by business models that literally privilege already privileged people.”

Melissa said people’s opinions seem to be divided along class lines, with people who make more money in the industry opposing the initiative, whereas people who suffer more from wage theft, make lower tips, and work several jobs tend to support it.

“They’re the ones being hurt by the current system,” she said.

Sexual harassment, queerphobia, and racism also needs to be part of the discussion on Initiative 77, servers and bartenders say.

ThinkProgress spoke to queer tipped workers, tipped workers of color, and tipped workers who have experienced sexual harassment. Although servers acknowledge that Initiative 77 won’t eliminate discrimination and sexual harassment from customers, they won’t be as worried about customer biases and behaviors affecting their ability to pay rent or buy groceries — or their ability to push back against harassment.

“I have been kissed by customers against my will. I have been groped. I have had my ass grabbed while I was pouring wine for a table,” Melissa said. “I have had so much inappropriate behavior that I was expected to put up with both by customers and by management because hey, it was a slow night and I needed the money so I guess I’m going to let you grope me if you’re going to tip me.”

Melissa said that even with tables she feels more comfortable talking to, she worries about outing herself as queer because she doesn’t know how her customers will feel.

“I have friends who present queer, much more than I do, who have faced discrimination from customers. I don’t want that to happen to me,” she said.

“White men consistently get tipped better than people of other races and genders — I don’t just mean statistically, but I mean that my own experiences have shown this to be the case,” Jamie said.

Michelle said, “As a bartender you’re likely to let a lot more stuff slide that you would otherwise call people out on when you know you’re not as dependent on tips.”

NAJ, who identifies as a Black femme, said, “I most certainly won’t be tipped by a homophobe or someone who is racist. Disabled workers experience this and transgender servers and bartenders experience this.”

“One of the arguments against 77 is that it will affect highest tipped workers in the business,” they added. “Many of them are from privileged groups, usually white men, usually straight appearing, and conventionally attractive and so they’re able to exploit a system that oppresses a certain class in order to make what they consider to be a fair wage. But a black trans woman working at IHOP can’t make anywhere near that.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 12, 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.

Grand Theft Paycheck: How Big Corporations Shortchange Their Workers

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

A new report, Grand Theft Paycheck: The Large Corporations Shortchanging Their Workers’ Wages, reveals that large corporations have paid out billions to resolve wage theft lawsuits brought by workers. The lawsuits show that corporations frequently force employees to work off the clock, cheat them out of legally required overtime pay and use other methods to steal wages from workers.

“Our findings make it clear that wage theft goes far beyond sweatshops, fast-food outlets and retailers. It is built into the business model of a substantial portion of Corporate America,” said Philip Mattera, the lead author of the report and director of research for Good Jobs First, which produced the report in conjunction with the Jobs With Justice Education Fund.

Here are nine things you need to know from the Grand Theft Paycheck report:

1. The top dozen companies from the report, in terms of wage theft settlement payouts, are Walmart, FedEx, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase & Co., State Farm Insurance, AT&T, United Parcel Service, ABM Industries, Tenet Healthcare, Zurich Insurance Group and Allstate. With the exception of Tenet Healthcare, each of these companies had profits in 2017 of $3 billion or more.

2. More than 450 big companies have paid out $1 million or more in wage theft settlements.

3. Since 2000, there have been more than 1,200 successful collective actions that have been resolved for a total in penalties of more than $8.8 billion.

4. Only eight states enforced wage theft penalties and provided data for the report. Those eight states combined with the federal totals bring the number of cases to 4,220 and the cumulative penalties reaching $9.2 billion. This includes no data from the remaining states.

5. Fortune 500 and Fortune Global 500 companies account for the bulk of the penalties, with 2,167 cases and $6.8 billion in penalties.

6. Seven individual settlements exceeded $100 million. The worst case was a $640 million omnibus settlement with Walmart, covering more than 60 different initial lawsuits.

7. The retail industry is the most frequent violator, followed by financial services, freight and logistics, business services, insurance, miscellaneous services, health care services, restaurants and food service, information technology, and food and beverage products.

8. The most penalized industries tend to be those that employ a large percentage of women, African American and Latino workers.

9. These numbers only include penalties that have been publicly disclosed. More than 125 confidential cases were found involving nearly 90 large companies, including AT&T, Home Depot, Verizon Communications Inc., Comcast, Lowe’s and Best Buy.

Read the full report.

Boeing Workers in S.C. Have Finally Unionized. But Trump’s Labor Board Could Kibosh It.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018

On May 31, technicians at the Boeing factory in North Charleston, South Carolina voted to unionize and join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. However, Boeing has appealed the vote and Donald Trump’s GOP-controlled National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) could reverse the decision by ruling that workers had no right to hold the election to begin with.

Boeing built a Dreamliner factory in South Carolina in 2009, after its Washington workers went on strike four times in a roughly 22-year period at its previous Washington location. South Carolina is a “right to work” state with a small number of unionized workers. The NLRB filed a lawsuit against Boeing after the company moved, claiming that the relocation constituted union busting, targeting the machinists’ union in Washington. In 2011, the NLRB dropped the case at the request of the union, after Boeing agreed to raise wages and expand its production back in Washington.

The May 31 labor victory follows two prior attempts to form a union. In 2015, the machinists withdrew a request for a union vote, claiming that a fair election couldn’t be held due to “an atmosphere of threats, harassment and unprecedented political interference.” Last year, the union suffered a huge defeat after employees voted 2,097-731 against joining the union.

This time, the union voted within a smaller bargaining unit, often referred to as a “micro unit,” and secured a 104-65 win on May 31. However, this win could be in jeopardy as Boeing has appealed the vote, arguing that the micro-unit election violates federal labor law. That challenge will be heard by the NLRB, which Trump has filled with pro-management forces since taking office, tipping the agency back to a 3-2 Republican majority.

There is reason to be concerned that the NLRB will side against workers. In 2017, Trump’s NLRB reversed an Obama-era ruling that made it easier for smaller bargaining units to organize for unionization, the very strategy that Boeing workers used to secure their recent victory.

Under the National Labor Relations Act, workers can petition the NLRB to hold a union election, while the board gets to rule on what constitutes an appropriate bargaining unit. In the 2011 Specialty Healthcare case, the NLRB determined that employers can’t petition to add more workers to a bargaining unit unless the added employees share an “overwhelming community of interest” with the workers already in the unit. The ruling, which made it more difficult for employers to thwart union efforts, was predictably opposed by business groups and large companies. “This makes it almost inevitable that any union target will eventually be organized,” lamented David French, the vice president of the National Retail Federation, in 2016.

In December 2017, Trump’s NLRB reversed the decision when ruling that a group of 100 welders at an Oregon company can’t legally organize without the participation of the other employees. “[Corporations] simply want to make it easier for employers to defeat an organizing campaign, by manipulating who is in a bargaining unit,” wrote the Economic Policy Institute’s Associate labor counsel Marni von Wilpert at the time. “By overturning this rule, the Trump administration has once again shown that it wants to make it harder for workers to organize and join unions.”

This May, an NLRB regional director in Seattle ruled that the welders can establish a union after all, despite the Specialty Healthcarereversal.

Despite the fact that the NLRB denied Boeing’s request for the election to be paused shortly before the vote, there is concern that the agency will side with the employer in response to the May 31 union vote. In addition to the board’s pro-management bent, there’s a looming conflict-of-interest worry. Although he’s been cleared to rule on the case by an NLRB ethics official, board member William Emanuel’s former law firm represented Boeing on a number of occasions.

Emanuel’s potential conflicts of interest were a major component of his confirmation hearing, and this February the NLRB voted to undo the reversal of an Obama-era ruling on joint employers, after it was revealed that Emanuel’s former law firm represented one of the parties involved. In a report on the matter, Inspector General David Berry wrote that “Member Emanuel’s participation … calls into question the validity of that decision and the confidence that the Board is performing its statutory duties.”

South Carolina’s Boeing plant was one of the first companies Trump visited after becoming president. “We’re here to day to celebrate American engineering and American manufacturing,” Trump said at the event. “We’re also here today to celebrate jobs. Jobs!” Five months later the factory announced a round of layoffs.

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria
This article was originally published at In These Times on June 11, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

Check out how unions make California's economy more equal

Monday, June 11th, 2018

As the Supreme Court gets ready to deal a major blow to public sector unions, here’s a reminder of how much unions do to increase equality in this country. A University of California-Berkeley Labor Center report on the effects of unions in California shows how unions help close racial and gender gaps in wages and more:

  • Union coverage increases wages by 26 percent for women, compared to 15 percent for men.
  • Black and Latino/a workers see a bigger increase in their average wages from union coverage
  • (19 percent for Black workers and 40 percent for Latino/a workers) compared to White workers (9 percent).
  • Immigrant workers also see slightly larger wage gains from union coverage (19 percent) compared to U.S.-born workers (18 percent).

Effects are similar for having employer-sponsored health coverage and retirement plans—unions make it more likely workers will have these benefits, and they make the economy a little more equal. And if more workers were in unions, that could make the economy a lot more equal.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 9, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

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

For Big Corporations Like Walmart, Wage Theft Penalties Are Just the Price of Doing Business

Friday, June 8th, 2018

A scathing new report finds that hundreds of major corporations in the United States are repeat wage-theft offenders—committing the violations and then paying the subsequent fines as part of the cost of doing business. Jointly published on June 5 by Good Jobs First and Jobs with Justice Education Fund, the report finds that, since 2000, 450 firms have each paid at least $1 million each in settlements or judgments related to wage theft. And 600 companies paid a penalty in multiple cases of wage theft, indicating that punitive measures are not deterring these companies’ violations. In some cases, the number of settlements and fines was stunning, with Hertz seeing 167 cases since 2000 and Walmart seeing 98 cases and shelling out $1.4 billion.

The report is authored by Philip Mattera and includes a chapter on policy recommendations, written by Adam Shah. Through a compilation of available lawsuits, ranging from January 2000 to the present, Mattera finds 4,220 cases filed against large companies where employers were penalized for wage theft to the tune of $9.2 billion total.

Mattera tells In These Times he was shocked by the number of large companies that were involved in wage theft. “I had thought that wage theft would turn out to be mainly an issue for a limited number of large corporations,” he said. “The fact that it is so pervasive in big business highlights the power imbalance between capital and labor.”

Wage theft is a practice in which companies withhold their employees’ overtime pay, force off-the-clock work, violate minimum wage laws or steal tips. Victims of wage theft range from low-wage workers like cashiers, cooks and security guards to higher-paid positions such as nurses, pharmaceutical sales reps and financial advisors. In the 10 most populous states in the country, 2.4 million workers lose $8 billion annually (an average of $3,300 per year for year-round workers) to minimum wage violations, according to a 2017 report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). In 2015 and 2016, a total of $2 billion in stolen wages were recovered for workers by the U.S. Department of Labor, that EPI study found.

The biggest players in wage theft are Fortune 500 companies, like Walmart, FedEx and AT&T, according to the Mattera and Shah report. Five of the top dozen companies heavily penalized were banks and insurance firms, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan and State Farm Insurance. Mega-corporations account for half of the total cases.

Other top industries where wage theft is ubiquitous are within the business services, insurance and healthcare services—industries that are employed by a predominantly woman workforce. Wage theft also disproportionately affects Black and Latino workers who make up a greater percentage of the workforce within the top ten industries that the report finds are heavily penalized.

The fast food industry should be on the top violators list, according to the Mattera and Shah report. However, high-profile companies like McDonalds run on a franchise model, exempting the corporations from signing checks, which allows them to more easily get away with illegal labor practices, like wage theft. In fact, Shah notes in the report that nine out of ten people working in fast food have experienced wage theft.

The report is a compilation of the cases in which companies were taken to court to be penalized—where records were made public. Most of the cases hail from California, which is attributable to the state’s relatively strong labor code that gives working people greater access to the courts. In most states, wage theft cases proceed through private arbitration, a process usually controlled by the employer that is often lengthy, expensive and time-consuming, which many wage theft victims simply don’t have the means to pursue, according to Shah’s policy analysis of the report. Due to the fact that the data from private litigation practices are not made public, the results of the report are minimized, cementing the fact that the American workplace is even more rife with wage theft than the report illuminates.

Fighting wage theft just became even more difficult thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling, Epic Systems v. Lewis, that allows corporations to force employees to sign away their rights to engage in collective action. Shah argues in the report that other states should follow California in implementing anti-wage theft laws to combat the austerity of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Another strategy to combat wage theft is for workers to unionize. Mattera tells In These Times that only a few of the wage theft cases found involved unionized workplaces, emphasizing that “the presence of unions seems to keep labor standards abuses in check.”

“Working people who are victims of wage theft must alert government agencies to the theft, but they must also realize that government is never permanently on their side,” Shah tells In These Times. “The best way to ensure justice in the workplace is to organize and assert their own power.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on June 8, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Sasha Kramer has a degree in environmental studies and has been published by Oakland Institute. She is a winter 2018 In These Times editorial intern.

Teamsters are preparing for what could be the nation’s largest strike in decades

Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

The Teamsters union represents the 280,000 UPS employees who voted overwhelmingly in favor of going on strike if a deal is not reached before the current labor contract expires on August 1. More than 90 percent voted for a strike.

Issuing a strike authorization vote does not necessarily mean UPS workers will order a work stoppage, but it does give the union leverage over management to win their negotiations.

Since UPS began offering regular Saturday delivery service just a year ago, labor demands have increased. While the company hasn’t announced plans for Sunday service, the union claims UPS has made several proposals to expand weekend deliveries.

Both sides have reached tentative agreements on non-economic related issues and have only begun discussions on healthcare and raises. According to CNN, one proposal from the company promote part-time workers to full-time, while keeping their wages at $15 an hour. Full-time drivers currently earn more than double what part-time employees earn at $36 an hour, or roughly $75,000 a year. The union is divided on the proposal.

The shipments UPS transports comprise an estimated 6 percent of the United States GDP. A labor strike among the company’s workers would have a sizable effect on the economy and would be the largest U.S. labor strike in decades. Three bargaining sessions ago in 1997, UPS workers went on strike for 16 days, and there were 180,000 Teamsters at UPS at that time. There hasn’t been a bigger strike since.

The possibility of one of the largest labor strikes in recent decades comes just weeks after thousands teachers across the country went on strike to demand better wages and healthcare. In almost all the cases, the teachers won their demands from GOP-controlled state governments.

This article has been updated to correct an error that incorrectly described the UPS wage proposal “a two-tier wage system that would allow part-time workers currently making $15 an hour to be paid the same wage as a full-time employee.” The company is proposing part-time workers be promoted to full-time while maintaining their part-time wage.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 6, 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.

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