Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for November, 2018

The First-Ever National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Was Just Unveiled—And It’s a Game Changer

Friday, November 30th, 2018

When Rosa Sanluis arrived in the United States, she earned $60 per week for a seemingly endless set of household tasks, working for a family in Texas. She worked from 5 a.m. until late at night, sometimes 3 a.m. on weekends, when her employers would go out and leave her to babysit. Like most domestic workers, Sanluis didn’t receive a written contract, uninterrupted breaks, sick leave, or overtime pay—because she wasn’t entitled to them under law.

Today, the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) announced a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights to raise wages and labor conditions for workers like Sanluis. The legislation is expected to be introduced when the new Congress convenes next year.

“It is time—and past time—to fully correct the historical injustice that left a workforce largely made up of women of color shut out of the protections of core labor standards,” Rebecca Smith, Work Structures Director of the National Employment Law Project, tells In These Times. 

Co-sponsored by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), the legislation draws on the recommendations of domestic worker leaders as well as similar bills of rights for domestic workers that have been passed in eight states and in Seattle. “Domestic workers are shaping the future of our economy,” Jayapal tells In These Times in a statement. “Their strength, courage and power inspires us all as we fight together for workplace democracy.”

The legislation would include domestic workers in Civil Rights and Occupational Health and Safety Act protections, and require fair scheduling, meal and rest breaks, written contracts and protection from retaliation. It would also increase access to retirement benefits, paid sick leave, healthcare and training programs. Additionally, the bill seeks to facilitate collective bargaining by domestic workers and would establish a federal task force on domestic workers’ rights. 

The bill offers special protections to live-in domestic workers, who were previously ineligible for overtime pay. These workers are especially likely to work long hours without breaks, and to report that their employers expect them to be constantly on call, even during scheduled time off.

“Absolutely [overtime pay] would have changed my life,” Sanluis says through an interpreter. “When you’re earning so little, your access to things is completely limited.” The bill would also guarantee live-in workers’ right to privacy and adequate notice in case of termination–a protection that’s especially important when losing a workplace also means losing a home.

Working in private homes, and largely excluded from Civil Rights Act sexual harassment protections, domestic workers are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, these workers are demanding substantive workplace protections in the form of access to “panic buttons”—devices required by law in some cities that can be activated in case of sexual harassment or threats—along with research into federal policies to support domestic worker survivors.

Silvia Reyes, a nanny in New York who described being sexually harassed by her former employer, says, “It’s not fair to feel insecure in your work, and to feel scared and feel alert all the time. It’s a horrible thing to have happen to you every single day, the whole day.”

The bill comes at a pivotal time for domestic workers and those who rely upon them. Women, traditionally the caretakers of children and the elderly, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. And the American population is aging rapidly: Every eight seconds, a baby boomer turns 65. Women, including women with children, have entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers. “As people live longer, we have the opportunity to embrace an intergenerational future in America, where all of us are cared for at each stage of our lives,” says NDWA Executive Director Ai-jen Poo in an emailed statement. 

“Quality care and workers’ rights are inextricably linked,” says Nik Theodore, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of urban planning and policy. When workers have economic security, he explains, they’re able to provide higher-quality care.

In response to the demand for their services, the number of domestic workers is growing. By 2030, caregiving is predicted to represent the largest segment of America’s workforce. And domestic workers are “some of the most vulnerable workers,” says Barnard College history professor Premilla Nadasen. Ninety-five percent are women and more than half are women of color. An estimated 45 percent are immigrants, according to the Pew Research Center, both documented and undocumented.

Like many workers who are employed in what’s considered “women’s work,” domestic laborers are chronically underpaid. According to a 2017 report from the NDWA, less than half of domestic workers are paid enough to adequately support a family, and 20 percent report that, in the last month, there have been times when they had been unable to afford food.

When the Fair Labor Standards Act and the National Labor Relations Act were enacted in the 1930s, both excluded domestic workers, leaving them without the minimum wage, overtime, and collective bargaining protections offered to other workers.

“Southern congressmen were fearful that granting black workers labor rights would disrupt the racial order of the South,” Nadasen says. “And Northern labor leaders representing industrial unions also never saw domestic workers as part of their constituency and did not advocate for their rights.”

In 1974, domestic workers finally won the federal minimum wage and other protections, but those protections still weren’t extended to casual workers like babysitters, or companions to the elderly. As Lizzy Ratner wrote in The Nation in 2009:

Because most domestic workers labor in environments with fewer than fifteen employees, they are also excluded from such key civil rights legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and Title VII, which bars most kinds of employment discrimination. Add to this the difficulty of enforcing even the few protections that do exist—particularly for undocumented workers—and for many domestic workers it’s still 1934.

“We see the gaps that still exist,” says the NDWA’s Marzena Zukowska. “There are [domestic] workers who live in states that aren’t friendly to workers’ rights or immigrants’ rights,” like Texas, which has the third highest number of domestic workers in the country, about half of whom are undocumented or lacking work authorization. “For the first time in history, we have a chance to raise the bar for every domestic worker in our country,” says Poo. 

For Sanluis—now an organizer with the Fuerza del Valle Workers Center—the success of prior bills is proof that federal legislation is achievable too. “Take a look at the bill, analyze it, be conscious of the fact that we are also human beings, and we deserve the same basic rights and protections as workers in other industries.” 

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 29, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Stoner is a writer in Chicago.

Virginia firefighter sues employer after allegedly losing his job to anti-gay discrimination

Thursday, November 29th, 2018

Scott Philips-Gartner of Norfolk, Virginia tendered his resignation from the Norfolk Fire Department one year ago, after a 27-year career. He said it was because he was allegedly about to be fired for being gay.

Now, he’s suing the city.

A U.S. Navy veteran with war-time service, Gartner started working for Norfolk back in 1991 as a telecommunications officer, and was promoted several times in the years that followed, first to firefighter cardiac technician, then to Assistant Fire Marshall for the city. He was also a senior member of the Norfolk Bomb Squad. But as his complaint details, his career took a sudden, inexplicable downturn after he married his longtime partner in October 2014.

Gartner said he began to hear anti-gay comments form his superiors. Battalion Chief Roger Burris allegedly mocked Gartner for his sexual orientation. “In December 2015, Chief Burris verbally attacked Gartner’s sexuality during an open staff meeting by asking ‘Where is Ms. Gartner?’ which prompted other coworkers to laugh,” the suit offers as an example.

Gartner filed complaints about these incidents. He had also written a letter defending one of the female employees, Karen Barnes, who’d also claimed she had experienced gender discrimination by Burris. According to the complaint, it was Chief Ronnie Mann, a good friend of Burris’, who was charged with investigating the complaints against him.

It is unclear that anything ever came of these complaints, so Gartner and Barnes took their concerns to the city auditor, noting they had experienced further retaliation for the original complaints they’d filed.

The harassment continued well into July 2016.

That month, the complaint alleges, “Chief Burris said that he was going to place Gartner ‘in the middle of a large crowd of demonstrators holding up a sign,’ implying that he wished he could set Gartner up to be attacked by protestors that opposed homosexual marriage.”

Then, in March of 2017, Gartner was suddenly demoted. He was stripped entirely of his police powers, his duties as an IT administrator, his use of Norfolk city vehicles, his firearm, his computer, and his cell phone. The complaint claims that he was reassigned to a temporary facility miles from his usual office “with little to no job duties.” Two weeks later, his request for routine bomb squad training was likewise denied and he was also ordered to retire his service dog.

By November, Gartner learned Fire Chief Jeffrey Wise was planning to terminate him. He instead put in for his retirement, ending his career with the department this past January. He is 55 years old. According to Gartner’s attorney, Barry Montgomery, the harassment and demotions “disrupted his whole life.”

Gartner filed his suit in federal court, reflecting the multiple grievances he had also filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Neither the city nor the fire department was willing to comment when asked by The Virginian-Pilot, calling it a personnel matter.

In December of 2016, the city of Norfolk began protecting municipal employees from anti-gay discrimination, and the city council also passed a citywide law protecting LGBTQ workers the following summer. Neither, however, seemed to do anything to ameliorate the retaliation Gartner experienced during that time.

Virginia remains one of 26 states with no explicit protections for LGBTQ workers.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 29, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

After nearly 2 months on strike, Hawaii workers secure better contract

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

Hawaii hotel workers, who went on strike in early October, finally reached a deal on their contract. After 51 days of striking, workers have won higher wages as well as more funding for health care and pensions.

The contract will provide for $6 per-hour increases in wages and benefits over four years, which is the most the union has negotiated, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. For many weeks, workers at Marriott-operated and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts-owned hotels lived off union stipends that were hundreds of dollars less than what they would make in a week.

Paola Rodelas, spokeswoman for the union, Unite Here Local 5, told Travel Weekly when the strike first began that the wage was insufficient for hotel workers living in a state with such a high cost of living. A worker in the state would need to make $36.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Rodelas added that job security and adequate staffing and safety procedures were important to the union, saying that “Housekeeping is back-breaking work.”

Non-tipped hotel workers secured a $1.50 per hour wage increase and tipped employees received a $0.75 hour wage increase. Workers have an additional 20 cents and 13 cents per hour for health care and for pensions. The union agreed to set aside 10 cents an hour to provide for childcare, Honolulu Civil Beat reported.

Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts, the company that owns the hotels, has agreed that housekeepers can clean fewer rooms each day and pregnant women in particular will clean fewer rooms. Hotel workers were also concerned about their jobs being affected by automation. The hotel said it will let the union know in advance if it will be getting automating and thus wiping out people’s jobs.

Gina Aczon, a hotel employee who takes care of reservations, told Hawaii News Now that the 51-day strike was difficult on families, particularly around the holidays.

Aczon said, “I’m really happy that this is already done so that we can enjoy the holidays.”

An overwhelming majority, 99.6 percent of workers, approved the deal.

Vacationers and business travelers definitely felt the absence of workers. According to Hawaii News Now, visitors at the striking hotels said pools and food and bar services were closed, bathrooms went uncleaned, and they didn’t have enough clean towels. One couple actually filed a class action lawsuit against Marriott International and Kyo-Ya Hotels & Resorts after they found the hotel stay they planned for their honeymoon did not have housekeeping and had very few services and amenities. Some guests also complained about the noise of workers striking outside hotels.

The Hawaii hotel workers join Marriott workers in Boston, San Diego, Oakland, San Jose, and Detroit who secured new contracts after going on strike in October. Those strikes lasted for weeks but alended earlier this month, with those workers securing higher wages, better health benefits and working conditions, and ending unsafe workloads. The only hotel workers who are still on strike are workers in San Francisco, who ate Thanksgiving dinner on the picket line. Negotiations will resume this weekend. In total, about 7,700 hotel workers went on strike in October.

As part of the Unite Here strike effort, hotel workers held signs that read, “One job should be enough.” Union members said one job’s pay should keep up with the cost of living and support families and that workers should be able to “retire with dignity.”

Many Americans still have multiple jobs despite lower unemployment rates, mostly due to slow increases in pay and employers not increasing hours and benefits.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 28, 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 poised to drastically reverse LGBTQ equality

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

There are now six different cases implicating LGBTQ rights sitting before the Supreme Court. While the conservative-majority Court has not yet agreed to hear any of them, a circuit split between two of the cases and the fact that President Trump’s transgender military ban is at the heart of another strongly suggest at least one of them will advance to oral arguments.

The cases span a variety of different issues, including employment, education, military service, and public discrimination. At the heart at most of them is a question about whether discrimination against LGBTQ people counts as discrimination on the basis of “sex.” If the Court rules against queer people in just one of them, it could set a precedent that hinders LGBTQ equality across all of the different issues.

Such a decision would be the largest blow to queer rights since the Court upheld sodomy laws 32 years ago.

Employment discrimination

Two of the cases before the Court address the question of whether it’s legal to fire someone for being gay. Two different federal appellate courts arrived at different conclusions, increasing the likelihood that the Supreme Court will hear the cases to resolve the dispute.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a gay man argued that he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Gerald Lynn Bostock’s case over a 1979 precedent, even though several Supreme Court cases since then have undermined that ruling, including a case that recognized “sex stereotyping” as a form of sex discrimination as well as a case that recognized same-sex sexual harassment as sex discrimination. The Eleventh Circuit insisted that “sexual orientation” enjoys no recognition under Title VII’s employment protections on the basis of sex.

Meanwhile, this past February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit arrived at the exact opposite conclusion in Zarda v. Altitude Express. In that case, the appellate court found that skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, now deceased, was illegally fired for being gay under Title VII. The Trump administration had argued otherwise.

With this split in how to interpret federal law, it seems highly likely that the Supreme Court will want to resolve the conflict. While there are several compelling arguments that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation inherently requires making determinations on the basis of sex, it’s not clear that there are five justices who will agree.

While they’re at it, the Court may also consider R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a similar case about whether Title VII’s “sex” protections include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed this past March that a Michigan funeral home violated the law when it fired employee Aimee Stephens for being transgender.

The Trump administration recently filed a brief in this case arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision and rule that it’s legal to fire someone for being trans. But the administration also argued that the Court should consider Zarda or Bostock first — in other words, that it should resolve the question of whether sexual orientation is protected before it takes up gender identity.

In any of these cases, a ruling narrowly defining “sex” could set back employment rights for the entire LGBTQ community.

Trans military ban

On Friday, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to take the reins on the four different court battles over President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The administration has lost in all of these different cases, including before two appellate courts, but it is now asking the Court to combine them all into the case Trump v. Karnoski.

The request is an unusual step, one that attempts to skip over the standard appeals process. LGBTQ groups chided the administration for being so desperate to discriminate that they’re willing to flout judicial norms and procedures. Nevertheless, given the Court’s willingness to cater to executive power in the Muslim ban cases, it might similarly be charitable to Trump’s claim that banning transgender people somehow improves military readiness, even though there’s no evidence to support that claim.

Another bakery

Just months after the Supreme Court granted a one-off victory to an anti-gay baker from Colorado, another bakery from Oregon is again asking the Court to grant it special permission to refuse service to same-sex couples. The details of Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries are almost identical to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

As ThinkProgress previously explained, Aaron and Melissa Klein — owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa — are asking for even more from the Court than Jack Phillips did last year. They argue that business owners have a right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs — against any group, not just on the basis of sexual orientation. A ruling along those lines would not only greatly undermine LGBTQ protections, but nondiscrimination protections for all vulnerable groups.

Transgender students

While the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is not defending the Kleins as it did Phillips last year, the anti-LGBTQ hate group is still heavily involved in this year’s round of cases. In addition to defending the funeral home in the transgender employment case, ADF is also representing a group of families challenging a Pennsylvania school’s inclusive policies.

In Doe v. Boyertown Area School District, ADF contends that allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity somehow violates the privacy of other students. As such, they’re asking for a mandate that schools segregate trans students to single-use restrooms. Like in the employment cases with Title VII, ADF is also asking the Court to rule that Title IX’s sex protections don’t extend to transgender students.

If the Supreme Court were to take all of these cases and the conservative majority were to prevail in them all, 2019 could look radically different for LGBTQ people. Nationwide, it’d become legal to fire them for who they are, to discriminate against them in schools, and to discriminate against them in public spaces — and several thousand transgender service members would lose their jobs.

For now, the Court is delaying making any decisions.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

Amazon employees across Europe protest ‘inhuman’ working conditions

Monday, November 26th, 2018

Amazon warehouse workers in several European countries took to the streets in protest this week over what they called “inhuman” working conditions.

In the U.K., Germany, Italy, and Spain, workers walked the streets holding signs reading “Treated like a robot at Amazon” and “We are not robots.” According to The Washington Post, some walked off the job, intentionally timing their protest for Black Friday, the busiest day of the shopping year.

“The conditions our members at Amazon are working under are frankly inhuman,” Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB trade union in the U.K., said in a statement Wednesday.

“They are breaking bones, being knocked unconscious and being taken away in ambulances. We’re standing up and saying enough is enough, these are people making Amazon its money. People with kids, homes, bills to pay — they’re not robots.”

In May, a GMB Freedom of Information request revealed ambulances had been called to one Amazon warehouse in the town of Rugeley, England at least 115 times in a span of three years, according to The Guardian. Three of those calls were for maternity or pregnancy-related problems, and three were for “major trauma,” the outlet noted.

In total, GMB found ambulances had been called out to Amazon’s U.K. warehouses a total of 600 times in three years.

“Hundreds of ambulance call-outs, pregnant women telling us they are forced to stand for 10 hours a day, pick, stow, stretch and bend, pull heavy carts and walk miles — even miscarriages and pregnancy issues at work. None of these things happen in a safe, happy working environments,” GMB national officer Mick Rix told The Guardian.

Amazon officials say the the allegation fail to present  “an accurate portrayal of activities in our buildings.”

At the company’s San Fernando logistics center in Madrid, Spain, workers held their fourth major protest to demand better working conditions and increased pay, chanting, “We will not accept discounts to our rights.”

“This is our biggest pressure [action] to date,” Marc Blanes, a trade labor union official for CGT, told Spanish newspaper El Diario.

Amazon issued a statement in response to that protest, claiming, “Most of the employees on the morning shift today in the Amazon logistics center in San Fernando de Henares are working and processing customer orders.”

According to those leading the strike, however, at least 90 percent of the workers at the San Fernando facility had joined the protest. Only two people were left working the loading bay, Douglas Harper of the CCOO trade union confederation told the Associated Press.

“It is one of the days that Amazon has most sales, and these are days when we can hurt more and make ourselves be heard because the company has not listened to us and does not want to reach any agreement,” 38-year-old employee Eduardo Hernandez, who joined the strike, told AP reporters.

Workers at distribution centers in Rheinberg and Bad Hersfeld, Germany also staged protests Friday, demanding higher pay, the latest demonstration in a years-long trade union effort.

“We have a worldwide problem, a boss who wants to impose American working conditions on the world,” Frank Bsirske, head of the Verdi union representing Amazon workers, told The Local in Denmark. “It’s like going back to the 19th century.”

Workers gathered in front of the German publishing group Axel Springer, parent company of Business Insider, where Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos was set to receive a business innovation award this week, carrying signs that read “Make Bezos pay.”

Amazon employees from Italy, France, and Poland also joined the demonstration.

The Local noted Amazon, which has around 560,000 employees, reported a profit of around $3 billion last year alone.

The National Retail Federation expects more than 164 million people to shop between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, approximately the same number as in 2017. E-commerce sales, however, are expected to jump 15 percent this holiday season, as consumers ditch brick and mortar stores for online retail giants like Amazon.

According to Adobe, as of 10 a.m. Eastern Time on Black Friday, online spending had skyrocketed nearly 30 percent over last year’s totals. NPR reported online spending was set to reach $6.4 billion by the end of the day, with an additional $3.7 billion from Thanksgiving Day, one day prior.

Target and Walmart are making moves in response to that trend, to rival Amazon’s Prime two-day delivery incentive. Amazon, however, has not missed a beat, announcing recently that it would give Prime subscribers free same-day deliveryon even more items through the holiday season.

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

About the Author: Melanie Schmitz is an editor at ThinkProgress. She formerly worked at Bustle and Romper.

Transgender guidance disappears from Office of Personnel Management website

Friday, November 23rd, 2018

Under President Obama, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which oversees all federal employees, issued detailed guidance protecting transgender people in the workforce. As of Friday, that guidance has disappeared and been replaced by generic language with no content specific to transgender people.

The previous “Gender Identity Guidance” page, which was still live as of earlier this week, laid out definitions for terms related to transgender identities, and outlined specific expectations for respecting transgender employees. These included ensuring that trans workers could dress according to their gender identity, that they were called by their preferred names and pronouns, and that they were allowed to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.

“Transitioning employees should not be required to have undergone or to provide proof of any particular medical procedure (including gender reassignment surgery) in order to have access to facilities designated for use by a particular gender,” the guidance stated. “Under no circumstances may an agency require an employee to use facilities that are unsanitary, potentially unsafe for the employee, located at an unreasonable distance from the employee’s work station, or that are inconsistent with the employee’s gender identity.”

On the new site, that language and any reference to transgender people is now gone, although the page does still state that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited — consistent with an executive order President Obama issued that is still in effect.

Gone, however, are the detailed definitions for the terms “gender identity,” “transgender,” “gender non-conforming,” and “transition.” Specific references to confidentiality related to transitioning have been replaced with generic language about medical privacy. The page’s dress code language no longer provides reassurances that employees will be allowed to dress consistent with their gender identity.

Before:

After:

Two vital sections have been erased without a trace: both the section on respecting employees’ names and pronouns and the section addressing access to “sanitary and related facilities.” There is no longer any guidance whatsoever to ensure that trans people are respected according to their gender identity in the federal government. Should a manager have questions about how to respond when an employee comes out as transgender, they will find no answers on OPM’s page.

The changes to the page came without any announcement or notice.

From the beginning of the Trump administration, federal agencies have increasingly erased content related to LGBTQ people or gender more broadly. The day after President Trump’s inauguration, the White House website discarded its page dedicated to LGBTQ rights and the Labor Department also removed a report on LGBTQ workers’ rights.

A few months later, questions that would help identify LGBTQ people in data collection were erased from two important national surveys. This past July, the Department of Health and Human Services removed language on sex discrimination from its website, and in October, it scrapped “gender” from its civil rights page. Recent reports have even suggested that the administration is trying to remove references to “gender” in United Nations documents.

While these unannounced website changes have been somewhat inconspicuous, the administration’s opposition to trans rights has been anything but subtle. A memo leaked in October laid out the administration’s plans to completely erase trans people from any recognition under any agency of the federal government. People would be defined solely by the sex they were assigned at birth, subject to genetic testing.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 23, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news. In 2014, The Advocate named Zack one of its “40 under 40” in LGBT media, describing him as “one of the most influential journalists online.”

Black workers are still not sharing in the bounty of nation-wide employment gains

Wednesday, November 21st, 2018

Embedded in the nation’s increasingly favorable unemployment statistics — the country is currently in the midst of a record decline in the number of out-of-work Americans — is the persistent fact that black workers aren’t sharing equitably in this rampant job growth.

In September, the most recent period when figures are available, approximately 134,000 jobs were created and the national unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s fantastic news for the nation at large.

But if you drill down into the bureau’s figures, you’ll find that black workers are not celebrating on par with their white colleagues. At 6 percent, the black unemployment rate is nearly twice that of white workers, at 3.3 percent. By way of comparison, Latino workers posted a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, and the Asian rate was nearly equal to whites’ at 3.5 percent.

(October’s unemployment figures are scheduled to be released on Friday. Analysts expect a continuation of these trends with little-to-no narrowing of the gap between white and black employment.)

In a recently released state-by-state review of unemployment rates by race and ethnicity for the third quarter of 2018, Janelle Jones, an analyst at the nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute, found that 12 states have a black unemployment rate that is at least twice as large as the white unemployment rate. What’s more, in each of the 21 states and the District of Columbia, for which figures were available, the black unemployment rate was higher in each of them than it was for white Americans.

Jones’ findings further underscore the fact that even as the nation climbs back from its pre-recession unemployment level, the bounty isn’t filling the pocketbooks of black Americans. For instance, she found the nation’s highest black unemployment rate was in the District of Columbia at 12.4 percent, producing a 6.2-to-1 disparity with white workers in the Nation’s Capitol. Worse, the District has the dubious distinction of having the highest black unemployment rate during the previous eight quarters — this despite the fact that Washington, DC and its surroundings are the third-richest metropolitan area in the country and home to the most affluent population on the East Coast.

Other high unemployment states for black workers included Illinois (9.3 percent), Louisiana (8.5 percent), Alabama (7.1 percent, and New York (7 percent). The lowest unemployment rate for black Americans were Massachusetts and Virginia, both with (3.8 percent).

Among Latino workers, the highest state unemployment rate is in Nebraska (5.9 percent), followed by Connecticut (5.7 percent), Arizona (5.6 percent), Pennsylvania (5.6 percent), and Washington (5.6 percent).

In two states — Colorado and Georgia — the Hispanic unemployment rate was lower than the white unemployment rate. In Colorado, Latino workers’ 2.3 percent unemployment rate was lower than the 2.9 percent rate for white workers, and in Georgia, Latino unemployment rate was 2.8 percent, compared to 3 percent for white workers.

“As the economy continues to recover, all racial and ethnic groups are making employment gains,” Jones said in a statement released with her report earlier this week. “But policymakers should make sure that the recovery reaches everyone before taking their foot off the gas.”

Bloomberg columnist Justin Fox agreed, writing recently that “[b]lack Americans really have been making employment gains in recent years – and they’ll probably keep making them as long as this expansion continues. Which is one more reason to root for it to keep going.”

As Fox described it the falling unemployment rate is, on the whole, a positive development for all Americans, especially black workers in their “prime working” ages between 25 and 54. At present, he said the gap between black and white workers in that realm is at an “all-time low” (noting that such figures can only be compared since 1994 when the federal government began reporting “prime working age” economic figures).

But Andre Perry, a Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program Fellow, cautioned against celebrating too soon. In a recent U.S. News & World Report interview he argued it’s way too early to cheer the economy’s recovery so long as a racial gap exists in employment.

“We need to start talking about prosperity and not whether people have a job. We need to start looking more deeply at equality,” said Perry, who focuses his research on majority-black populated cities in the U.S. “Because when black folks are doing well, that really means America is doing well.”

In other words, Perry says the celebratory narrative on the economy is almost exclusively the story of impressive gains for white workers and tolerance for black workers who continually lag behind.

“Right now, when we’re looking at full employment, what we’re really saying is this is a state of white employment,” Perry said. “We’re willing to base our monetary policy upon that stage and not really cater to the black unemployment rate that is still wanting. You can be at full employment in one population and be in a recession in another. . . . We need to start recognizing these disparities, or we’re going to become more comfortable with them.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sam Fulwood is a columnist for ThinkProgress who analyzes the influence of national politics and domestic policies on communities of color across the United States.

Responding to a proposed disciplinary action

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

There is short window to give your formal reply

Employees of federal agencies have many rights that do not apply in the private sector. One important protection is the right to be notified in advance of disciplinary action.

If you are facing an adverse action – suspension, demotion or removal – you may have as little as seven days to give your formal reply. With your job and possibly your federal career on the line, you should involve an attorney who practices federal employment law.

The dreaded proposal of adverse action

You may find your job in jeopardy due to supposed misconduct or performance issues. Your federal agency must give you a written proposal that outlines (a) the evidence of wrongdoing or poor performance and (b) the adverse employment action that is proposed. The proposal must be provided at least 30 days in advanced of the sanctions.

The agency must give you an opportunity to provide a formal reply to the proposed sanctions. This time frame may be as short as seven days, depending on the agency and the type of action.

Your reply is reviewed by a higher level manager. Even if the agency upholds the proposal and implements the proposed action, your formal reply will serve as the foundation for appeal. It is important to provide a detailed and timely response. Your attorney can help you draft a reply that complies with your agency’s protocols.

Appealing an unfavorable decision through the MSPB

If you are slated for termination, downgrade or suspension of 14 or more days, you can appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Your case will be heard in an MSPB hearing or, or in an arbitration if you are a member of a union.

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on November 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

New Bill Seeks to Protect Health Care and Social Service Workers from Workplace Violence

Monday, November 19th, 2018

Workplace violence is a serious and growing problem for health care and social service workers. Nurses, emergency room doctors, social workers, psychiatric facility aides, and other health care and social service workers frequently face violence that leads to serious, life-altering injuries, loss of productivity and death. In 2016, working people petitioned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for a workplace violence standard and, in 2017, OSHA granted that petition; yet there has been no action by the Trump administration to develop a national standard to protect workers from violence.

Some key facts about workplace violence:

  • It is responsible for more than 850 worker deaths and 28,000 serious injuries each year and is on the rise.
  • One of every six workplace deaths each year are from workplace violence.
  • It is now the second leading cause of death on the job.
  • Health care and social service workers are at greatest risk: They are nearly five times more likely than other workers to suffer a workplace violence injury.
  • Last year, workplace homicides doubled for health care and social service workers.
  • Two of every three workplace violence events are suffered by women.
  • Workplace violence is foreseeable and preventable.

Today, Reps. Joe Courtney (Conn.) and Bobby Scott (Va.) introduced legislation aimed at protecting health care and social service workers from workplace violence. In a letter supporting the legislation, Courtney said:

To address these rising rates of violence, I am introducing the Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act. This legislation will require the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) to issue a workplace violence prevention standard requiring employers in the health care and social service sectors to develop and implement a plan to protect their employees from workplace violence. These plans will be tailored to the specific workplace and employee population, but may include training on de-escalation techniques, personal alarm devices, surveillance and monitoring systems, or other strategies identified by the employers and employees to keep workers safe. While OSHA has already issued voluntary guidance to employers on how to prevent violence in these workplaces, data from [the Bureau of Labor Statistics] as well as personal testimony from workers about continuing violence shows that voluntary guidance is not sufficient. An enforceable standard is required to prevent the types of violence that are prevalent in too many of our hospitals, nursing homes and social service settings.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on November 19, 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

Forget Elections—Labor Needs To Get Back to Its Roots

Friday, November 16th, 2018

With the midterms behind us, we have Nov. 4, 2020, to look forward to—labor’s next morning after. On Nov. 5, 2008, we were euphoric and full of delusional hope over the imminent passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and the restoration of labor. On Nov. 9, 2016, we were paralyzed by despair and denial.

At this point, betting our future on the next brutal mating ritual of Republicans and Democrats is not a bet most workers are willing to take. Since the 1950s, union membership decline has been a straight line downward, regardless of which political party is in power. Only 10.7 percent of workers are unionized; an enormous 89.3 percent are not. That’s too low to make much difference for most people in most places—more molecular level Brownian motion than labor movement. No threat to wealth, the wealthy, or powerful. Much worse, no voice or power of, by, or, for workers. Instead, organized labor has become so marginal Donald Trump has been able to usurp its role as the emotional voice for workers.

The economy is doing great—apart from workers. Wages remain stagnant. Forty percent of adults don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency expense such as a car repair or medical crisis. Forty-three percent of families aren’t making enough to cover monthly living expenses. Uncertain work, unpredictable work hours, mandatory overtime, dictatorial bosses, miserable job standards, create day-to-day desperation with psychological and social tolls. The labor market is ripe for an organizing explosion, but it isn’t happening.

Blaming the rich and the Republicans is great sport. The income inequality research industry is booming and there is no need to catalog Republican offenses—they campaign on them. Long ago, labor outsourced its representation in the public sphere to the Democratic Party, and in the process become a dependent franchise and an easy target. But the truth is that the Democrats patronize labor on a good day, sell us out on a bad day, and ignore us on most days. (I speak as a recovering politician, a Democrat who ran and was elected four times to city council in my heavily Republican small town.)

Partisan and competitive thinking insidiously affects behavior. Fifty percent plus one passes for solidarity. Unionists succumb to political speak, sounding like Washington rather than “folks ‘round here.” We blame workers for voting for Republicans. If they’d only voted how we told them, then we could get things done. We estrange ourselves from large chunks of workers while giving ourselves an excuse for failure. We don’t have to do the hard work of building a movement, we only need to win an election.

Maybe we should rethink that.

Instead, start today from where we are and who we are. Simple collective self-representation without institutional, ideological, partisan or monetary artifice. Understanding who and where we are by our own compass; by our own position, not opposition. This requires radical respect for our fellow workers. For lack of a better term, this unadorned organizing is social organizing.

Abundant example are scattered across the globe and buried in history. I witnessed a jarring worker tutorial in social organizing in Poland in 1995, when AFL-CIO desperation over labor’s decline and my good luck resulted in a leave of absence from my elected Central Labor Council job to work in those early post-revolutionary years with Solidarnosc leadership and membership. Ironically, at one point, I was tasked with organizing a conference on American union organizing for Solidarnosc activists. Just as the accomplished, well-educated American organizer sent over by the union began his presentation, one Solidarnosc members interrupted to ask, “What do you mean “organize?” A moment of awkward silence followed. Then, charitably, another Solidarnosc member suggested, “Do you mean, join our organization and we’ll represent you?” The original questioner jumped in, “we had 45 years of that with the Communists.” The workers then came up with their own definition of organizing, “co-creating our own future.” Workers, not the organization, were the of, by, and for.

Post-revolution, the solidarity of Solidarnosc dissipated into political and institutional factions. Still, this incident illuminates the commitment to social organizing that helped spark this transformational worker movement.

When all we have is each other, social organizing is where we start.

Back to basics

Social organizing built the labor movement. When 19th-century American workers had virtually no institutional or political voice or power, they developed both by caring about and for each other. In nearly every inch of America, now-forgotten workers came together with that definition of solidarity.

In 1894, Coxey’s Army of unemployed workers marched on Washington, D.C., to press for defined jobs and meaningful work. As branches passed through cities and towns—including Fort Wayne, Ind., where I work—the Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that local residents lavished them for days with food and social support. That same year the Sentinel reported, during the 1894 streetcar workers strike, housewives directed garden hoses at scabs, horse drawn wagons inexplicably unhitched on the tracks, and riders boycotted the streetcars. Returning the solidarity, striking workers went back to work without pay for one day, Memorial Day, so citizens could visit the graves of their departed. Streetcar workers and the community won that strike.

Thousands of lost histories such as this were the roots of community-based solidarity in industrial America. This populist industrial solidarity spawned and supported Workingmen’s Associations, Knights of Labor chapters, Trade and Labor Councils. In turn, these organizations incubated worker organizing in workplaces and by trades. Local solidarity in railroad towns and company towns built the institutional, political and legal foundations for our now diminished labor movement. The gravity of solidarity drew workers into the inextricably intertwined labor market and community. This culture of solidarity included direct actions such as strikes and boycotts but, more consistently and importantly, direct education of, by, and for workers. Apprenticeships,“lectors” who read news and literature aloud to workers on the job, and intentionally educational union meetings with guest speakers were part of the culture. Railroad and industrial activities were regularly covered in newspapers, with the reporting focused more on workers than bosses or business. Journalists, whether Knights of Labor or just solid reporters, would commonly cover union federation meetings. Union leaders understood their role as representative in the community meant talking to reporters, not hiding from them. Everybody had something to teach and everybody had something to learn and an obligation to do both. A culture of solidarity meant educate to organize and organize to educate.

We could take solace and avoid the hard work of organizing by saying America and the world are different now. Our mid-twentieth century institutions, economy, and democracy have decayed or been hijacked. Our social divisions can feel insurmountable. We’ve been sliced, diced, monetized, politicized and controlled. But are we so special that we now believe we are the first ones to have ever been so seemingly screwed? Or do we try to work through it, experiment based on what we can learn from other times and places and most importantly, each other?

Social organizing after the 2008 Recession

Since 1996, the folks I’ve been working with at the Workers’ Project, a research and education nonprofit, have experimented scores of times with worker representation through social organizing. We are confident and hopeful various configurations of workers have been experimenting elsewhere. We have learned some lessons from our successes and failures.

One instructive experiment focused on unemployed workers’ social organizing for voice and power during and after the Great Recession. A torrent of mostly non-union workers, newly jobless after the economic crash, were overwhelming Indiana’s unemployment offices. The state offices were disinterested or actively hostile toward unemployed workers. Meanwhile, a union foundry in Kendallville, Ind., was closing. Busted up from years of foundry work, the union president, the late Leonard Hicks, was ready to quit working but unwilling to stop representing his folks as their lives became even tougher.

To address both problems, we brought together union and non-union unemployed workers to bargain with the state through a social organizing movement, Unemployed and Anxiously Employed Workers’ Initiative (UAEWI).

First, we listened as workers talked about problems and possibilities. We developed a survey. In the unemployment office parking lot, we surveyed unemployed workers about how the office was doing, giving them a report card style survey to fill out, with a voluntary contact information form. The state immediately called in the police to stop us—claiming that we were trespassing on private property, because the public office was housed on private land. We alerted the media and the state received reams of bad press.

The media coverage revealed to unemployed workers they could have a voice and some grit. They began coming to UAEWI meetings, along with the union foundry workers in Kendallville and other union shops experiencing mass lay-offs.

Our ranks of unemployed included workers with education and experience in sociology. With their assistance, the UAEWI members developed and collected a broader survey. The survey was not for academic publication, or for an institutional or partisan agenda, but instead for collective self-representation. It had real value for public policy discussions. While the political class talk about or for unemployed workers, UAEWI represented themselves.

Membership was determined solely by a worker’s decision to participate in the survey—to voluntarily add their voice to the collective voice. We conducted education and training classes as well as group talk sessions. Within a few months, the State’s unemployment office management found themselves in a union hall across a bargaining table with the UAEWI members. Unemployed workers gained improvements in services including increased staffing and training but most importantly, a change in attitude. Most UAEWI members had never been union members; they learned how collective representation worked.

For seven more years, we continued and broadened annual UAEWI surveys. We gathered responses wherever we found voiceless workers: from folks leaving food banks, township trustee office, social service agencies, a mobile Mexican consulate. Our sampling exceeded 500 workers in 2012 and was conducted in English, Spanish and Burmese. We asked more wide-ranging public policy questions about issues such as economic development.

UAEWI members bargained in the public sphere. They provided local, state, national, and international journalists with reliable data, context, and access to socially organized workers willing to tell compelling stories. Some of the stories supported Peabody and Murrow investigative journalism awards. UAEWI members presented survey report results to other members and the public in very public formats ranging from traditional research reports to semi-theatrical presentations and even cinematic effort. UAEWI members attended and spoke before the local and state Workforce Investment Boards, Fort Wayne City Council, Indiana Economic Development Board meetings.

Just the modest act of asking drew workers out of their isolation and into solidarity. Many UAEWI members were personally transformed as they shaped public policies from the unemployment office to well beyond. They were co-creating their own futures. This was bargaining in the public sphere, bargaining with the state over the terms and conditions of our lives. Bargaining with state is foundational for worker representation in the 21st century, just as it was with Coxey’s Army in the 19th century. The UAEWI effort only updated representation with a bit of worker-driven social science.

In the last four years, learning from UAEWI effort, we have experimented with applying worker-driven social science and applying it to original NLRA intent in workplaces. In labor speak workers develop “non-certified minority status bargaining” with so-called private employers. (This less legalistic, institutional and technocratic organizing was envisioned when the NLRA was first implemented—the work of labor law scholar, the late Clyde Summers, as well as Charles Morris’s in Blue Eagle At Work documents this well.)

We helped workers develop their collective understanding and identity to, from the worm’s eye view, make things better at work. In each case, their self-organizing grew from “solidarity selfies” and a survey of co-workers’ thoughts on the terms and conditions of their employment. It is simultaneously concerted activity under the NLRA and, more importantly, intellectual property owned by the workers. We provided supportive research and education for Latina workers at a manufacturing plant; sub-contracted workers at a retail outlet; and Burmese workers at a manufacturing plant. One group faced unsafe work conditions causing miscarriages. The second faced a classic bullying boss culture. The third faced systematic ethnic and language discrimination.

We provided them access to social science, legal support, and social organizing talent, as well as a place in our community of solidarity. We supported their conversations to develop strategies to negotiate with the boss. They succeeded on their own terms. First the survey process overcame employer-imposed isolation. Workers experienced their own workplace “me too” revelations which led to collective voice. They built their representational power by developing a research report on their work lives that became collectively owned and copyrighted intellectual property with real bargaining value. Each unit could choose to share the findings with whoever they decide in the public-private spectrum: media, government regulators, elected officials, customers, suppliers, competitors, stockholders or, if willing, across the table with the boss.

The Latina factory workers met with the plant owner to present their findings. Safety conditions improved, maternity leaves were granted, healthy babies were born, and little Jose Manuel now attends our events. Some of the workers were fired, most moved on to other jobs, some won legal settlements. Most remain active in the Hispanic Workers Circle.

The subcontracted retail workers successfully confronted top national corporate management. They ended the bullying management culture and maintain an ongoing social “solidarity union” collecting no dues and participating in all Workers’ Project activities.

The Burmese factory workers efforts are ongoing. They constitute a significant portion of our Burmese Workers Circle which is developing as a workers’ and civil rights organization.

Stay tuned for more news: All groups continue full-throated participation in Workers’ Project activities and Fort Wayne’s huge annual Labor Day picnic.

We think collective intellectual property is an intriguing innovation. As workers we are robbed of our intellectual property as employers pick our brains, pick our pockets, only to pick up and leave us jobless. As consumers, our data has collected by others, monetized and politicized at our expense to benefit wealth. Intellectual property we own collectively can help us bargain with anyone in the power spectrum, from private employer to the state.

Owning our own voices and power, collective human agency, is our democracy where we work and where we live. Valuing each other, sharing our experiences, information, ideas, and respect seems a great place to start especially when you are starting at scratch. Social organizing, old school or innovative, is still solidarity.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on November 16, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Lewandowski is co-founder and director of the Workers’ Project in Fort Wayne, Ind.

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