In an otherwise grim period for the U.S. labor movement, the fast food industry has been a hot spot for organizing activity. For the past four years, the union-backed Fight for 15 movement and allied groups have staged a series of nationwide, day-long strikes and protests in support of higher wages and unionization for fast food workers.
Fast food workers have yet to gain any significant union representation. But thanks in large part to the movement’s efforts, states and cities across the country have passed minimum wage laws raising pay for millions of people.
And now, if President-elect Donald Trump has his way, an enemy of the Fight for $15 movement will lead the U.S. Labor Department.
On Thursday, Trump revealed that he had nominated Andrew Puzder, CEO of CKE Restaurants, to be Labor Secretary. CKE Restaurants is the parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., two fast food companies that have been targeted by Fight for 15. Puzder himself is on record as an opponent of raising the minimum wage, and has said that he would like to try automating service more service jobs in response to wage hikes.
Unsurprisingly, the fast food lobby was delighted with Trump’s decision to elevate Puzder. International Franchise Association President and CEO Robert Cresanti called Puzder “an exceptional choice to lead the Labor Department” in a statement responding to the news.
Cresanti also offered up a wishlist for Puzder’s early days in office. The Obama Labor Department issue a rule (currently held up in federal court) that would dramatically expand the number of workers eligible for overtime pay. The department has also fought to expand joint-employer liability, meaning that multinational corporations such as McDonald’s may be held legally accountable for labor law violations committed at their franchised locations.
“We are hopeful that, if confirmed by the Senate, a top priority [for Puzder] will be rolling back the damaging effects caused by the expansion of joint employer liability to America’s 733,000 franchise businesses, and the too-far, too-fast increase in the overtime threshold that was recently put on hold by a Texas judge,” said Cresanti.
The progressive National Employment Law Project, on the other hand, described Puzder’s nomination as a “sucker-punch in the gut to all the men and women of good faith who believe in the mission of the U.S. Labor Department.”
“The job of the labor secretary is NOT to strengthen the power of corporations to reap record profits by squeezing every last drop out of their low-wage workforce—and threatening to replace them with machines if they ask for wages they can support their families on,” said NELP Executive Director Christine Owens. “While Mr. Puzder’s qualifications may fit the bill for the latter, those qualifications are anathema to what a secretary of labor should stand for.”
As Labor Secretary, Puzder would head up the main government agency charged with investigating claims of wage theft. A 2016 Bloomberg analysis of Labor Department data found that Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants were themselves frequent violators of the law.
That may be why Fight for 15 organizing director told the American Prospect two weeks ago that appointing Puzder as Labor Secretary would be “like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of the treasury.”
This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on December 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Ned Resnikoff is a senior editor at @thinkprogress.He was previously a reporter for for International Business Times, Al Jazeera America, and msnbc. Follow him on twitter @resnikoff.
Recently, the Department of Labor proposed a rule to bring overtime up-to-date. If the proposal goes into effect, an additional 5 million white-collar workers are expected to benefit from overtime. The Department of Labor wants to hear your voice on this proposal and until this Friday, September 4, 2015,they are taking comments on the proposed rule.
Whether a worker receives overtime or not is determined by a three-part test. Under this test, the employee does not receive overtime when:
they are paid a fixed salary;
their salary is at least $455 a week (which equates to $23,660 a year); and
their job primarily involves executive, administrative, or professional duties.
Furthermore, there are exemptions for highly compensated employees who regularly perform executive, administrative, or professional duties and make at least $100,000 a year, including at least $455 a week via salary or fees.
The Department of Labor’s proposal would focus on the salary aspect of the three-part test. Instead of a stagnant number, the salary standard would be set at the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers, which is expected to be about $970 a week, $50,440 a year, in 2016. For highly compensated employees, the standard would be set at the 90th percentile, expected to be $122,148 annually.
These days, the few that do fall under the salary threshold for overtime likely fall under another threshold, the poverty line. The poverty line for a family of four is $24,008 a year, or $348 more than the overtime threshold. This means that, a worker making $460 a week could work 50 hours every week, receive no overtime pay, and be below the poverty line.
The Department of Labor’s proposal can still change and they want to hear from you on a wide variety of issues. The agency wants your opinion on the proposal to use the 40th and 90th percentiles, or switch to using changes in inflation to determine the salary threshold. They want to know whether the three-part test is working. First and foremost, they want to know what overtime pay would mean to you and your family.
Make your voice heard and make it clear that this is an important issue that has been ignored for far too long. Share your ideas on the proposal here and your story here. You only have until Friday, but please, don’t make the comments too long they would have to work overtime to read them all, and chances are they don’t get paid for that.
About the Author: The author’s name is Erik Idoni. Erik Idoni is a student at the George Mason University School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.
To commemorate its 100th anniversary, the U.S. Department of Labor has launched “Books that Shaped Work in America (www.dol.gov/books), an online project which explores work, workers and workplaces through literature, and aims to educates the public about the history, mission and resources of their Labor Department.
People from all walks of life are being asked to recommend books that informed them about occupations and careers, and molded their views about work.
What book would you list that shaped work in the nation? What title from which iconic author to choose? Fiction or nonfiction: which plays a bigger role? Whose life—in biography or autobiography—exemplifies the axiom that hard work is the best path to achieving the American Dream? Plays and poetry count, too.
Already on the list: Death of a Salesman, What Color is Your Parachute?, Working, Economics in One Lesson, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, The Feminine Mystique, Anthem, and On the Waterfront, among others. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez, contributed suggestions for the list, as did George P. Shultz and seven other former labor secretaries from both sides of the aisle. Other notables that contributed to the list include authors Daniel H. Pink and Joan Acocella, Solicitor of Labor M. Patricia Smith, Liz Claman of Fox Business News, President of the National Urban League Marc Morial and Scott McGee of Turner Classic Movies. Their recommendations are included on the initiative’s website, along with brief summaries of each book and links to related U.S. Department of Labor resources.
About the Author: Carl Fillichio serves as senior advisor for public affairs and communications at the U.S. Department of Labor. He oversees the department’s media and public relations efforts, internal communications, social and digital media, audio visual production, graphic design, editorial services, web development and the DOL National Contact Center. He also serves as the chair of the department’s centennial and the U.S. Labor Hall of Honor.
Prior to coming to the Labor Department Fillichio was a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers, the global investment bank, where he promoted the firm’s thought leadership in talent management, diversity recruitment, and philanthropic initiatives.
Previously, he served for seven years as the Vice President for Public Engagement at the Council for Excellence in Government, a national non-partisan think tank that worked to improve government performance and citizen participation, understanding and trust in government. In this role Fillichio convened thought leaders, Members of Congress, journalists, and community members to examine a wide range of public policy issues. Working alongside the newly formed Department of Homeland Security, he led a national initiative to capture public perceptions of safety and emergency preparedness. He also directed the Council’s efforts on attracting the best and brightest to public service and served as program committee chair of the annual Excellence in Government Conference. For his work, he was named in 2004 to Utne Magazine’s list of the “Radical Middle: 10 Americans Reshaping the Future of American Politics.”
In 2013 he was named “Communicator of the Year” by the National Association of Government Communicators.
This is not Fillichio’s first “tour of service” at the US Department of Labor: He was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs during the Clinton Administration. He grew up in Chicago, Illinois and Boca Raton, Florida and is a graduate of the John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Advocates estimate that tens of billions dollars are stolen from workers every year through wage theft. A national survey of workers in the United States’ three largest cities – New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles – showed the startling finding that 26 percent of those surveyed in low-wage industries were paid less than the minimum wage in the last year and 75 percent were not paid overtime. The survey showed that 15 percent of the earnings of low-wage workers were stolen each year.
Part of the problem is that often workers don’t have the ability to prove that their wages were stolen. Pay stubs do not have uniform standards that clearly indicate overtime, wage per hour, exact days, and hours worked. Ten states do not even require employers to provide pay stubs for workers. The uneven standards and lack of uniformity and clarity in standards makes it very difficult for workers to prove that wages are stolen.
It would cost employers almost nothing to provide workers with such information. Already, employers are required to keep this information and give it to the IRS, state tax authorities, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), just not to the workers. So it’s not as if companies do not already collect this information—they simply don’t want to give it to workers. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a statement indicating it intended to make a rule making greater standards and transparency. The Department announced that
Wage and Hour Division [of the Department] intends to publish a proposed rule updating the recordkeeping regulation issued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to assist employers in planning to protect workers’ entitlement to wages that they have earned and bring greater transparency and openness to the workplace.
The proposed rule would address notification of workers’ status as employees or some other status such as independent contractors, and whether that worker is entitled to the protections of the FLSA. The proposed rulemaking would also explore requiring employers to provide a wage statement each pay period to their employees.
But anti-wage theft activists are saying the rule is not taking effect quickly enough.
“We are encouraged that the DOL is proposing a regulation that would mandate pay stubs. But the devil is in the details,” says Ted Smukler, policy director at Interfaith Worker’s Justice Center, which has helped make the country’s wage theft crisis visible nationally. “The regulatory language has not been released, even while this has been on the DOL’s agenda since the fall of 2009. Meanwhile, tens of millions of workers are ripped off every week. Whether it’s through regulatory reform or passing national legislation mandating that businesses provide workers detailed pay records, something must be done.”
It goes without saying that struggling American workers need every dollar they earn in order to survive. But as the U.S. economy sputters back to life after the worst recession in 70 years, it’s worth pointing out that eliminating wage theft would not only be the just thing to do—it could prove an economic stimulus.
About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Alternet, The Atlantic and The American Prospect. Mike Elk is a labor journalist and third-generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. He has written for Harper’s Magazine, the American Prospect and In These Times.
The new year started with better but not great news on the jobs front. The latest figures from the U.S. Department of Labor released this morning show that unemployment dropped from 9.8 percent in November to 9.4 percent in December.
Even with the expected holiday season hires, only 103,000 net new jobs were created last month. Economists had predicted 150,000 to 175,000 new jobs for December. The number of jobs created is a drop from November, when 151,000 jobs were added.
The jobless rate has been at 9 percent or more for the past 20 months—the longest it has been this high since World War II, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
Economic Policy Institute (EPI) economist Heidi Shierholz says the drop in the unemployment rate is somewhat misleading.
Around half of the improvement was due to 260,000 people dropping out of the labor force, leaving the labor force participation rate at 64.3 percent, a stunning new low for the recession. Incredibly, the U.S. labor force is now smaller than it was before the recession started, though it should have grown by over 4 million workers to keep up with working-age population growth over this period.
According to the report, 14.5 million are officially jobless, down by 556,000 from last month. Long-term joblessness did not change from last month, with 6.5 million workers jobless for six months or more. That represents 44.3 percent of all unemployed workers.
The economy needs to add about 150,000 new jobs each month to keep up with the growth in the labor force. But to lower the nation’s unemployment rate to 6 percent by 2013 and make up for the more than 8 million jobs lost due to the Bush recession, the economy needs to add 350,000 jobs a month.
The nation is in dire need of a battle plan to create jobs and revive the economy. But instead of tackling job creation out of the gate, the new Republican majority in the House is playing cheap partisan politics by devoting its first week of action to repealing health care reform.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka says that while the drop in December’s unemployment rate is welcome news, “net job growth is still not enough to accommodate our growing population, let alone close the 11-million job gap left by the Bush recession.”
The cuts being proposed by Republicans in Washington and around the country, including undermining Social Security and Medicare and cutting transportation spending, are the wrong remedies at the wrong time and threaten our economic future. We need dramatic action to invest in America and give states and cities breathing room to prevent further layoffs and create jobs.
Manufacturing gained 10,000 jobs in December, contributing to a gain of more than 100,000 jobs since December 2009. Construction jobs fell by 13,000, while retail jobs increased slightly by 12,000. But that follows November’s loss of 28,000 retail jobs. State and local public employee jobs fell by 20,000 last month.
The health care and leisure/hospitality sectors continue to be the strongest areas of job growth, with leisure/hospitality jobs increasing by 47,000 and health care employment expanding by 36,000 in December.
Earlier this week, Michael Snyder took a dispiriting look at how working families have been battered in recent years, especially with vanishing middle-class jobs and blue-collar jobs that pay decent wages. These jobs vanished in large part because of Bush-era trade and economic policies that encouraged U.S. firms to export jobs and gave Wall Street and Big Banks free rein to recklessly ride the economy off a cliff. Snyder writes:
More than half of the U.S. labor force (55 percent) has “suffered a spell of unemployment, a cut in pay, a reduction in hours or have become involuntary part-time workers” since the recession began in December 2007.
Since the year 2000, we have lost 10 percent of our middle-class jobs. In the year 2000, there were about 72 million middle-class jobs in the United States but today there are only about 65 million middle-class jobs. Meanwhile, our population is getting larger.
One out of every six Americans is now enrolled in at least one anti-poverty program run by the federal government.
Income inequality continued to grow with the richest 20 percent of working families taking home 47 percent of all income and earning 10 times that of low-income working families.
About The Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.
It is still very grim out there for those people who want decent paying work. Not just a job–but a job that pays a fair wage. Today’s numbers make even more clear–we need a Job Party.
I’ll talk about the Job Party a bit more. But, first, let’s look at the numbers:
While the overall picture showed improving job growth, the additions in the private sector in December were not enough to significantly reduce the ranks of the unemployed or keep pace with people entering the work force. The outlook remains bleak for many workers. More than 14.5 million people were out of work in December.
The Department of Labor says the “official unemployment rate” is now at 9.4 percent. Even The Wall Street Journal points out:
The U.S. unemployment rate has now been above 9% since May 2009, or 20 months. That is the longest stretch at such an elevated level since the Second World War. In the recession of the early 1980s, the jobless rate crept to 9% in March 1982 and remained above that mark until September 1983.[emphasis added]
But, the depth of the crisis is better seen here by looking at the U-6 level, which measures “Total unemployed, plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all persons marginally attached to the labor force”.
That number is at 16.7 percent.
And that doesn’t even reflect how bad things are. I have pointed out that the minimum wage–which millions of people work for–is a poverty-level wage and a national scandal that covers up the depth of the economic crisis. It should be more than $19 an hour if we took in account the productivity rises over the last 30 years–that is, how hard people have worked compared to the rise in wages.
So, it isn’t just the number of jobs but the QUALITY OF JOBS.
I’m guessing that at least one in five Americans–20 percent–in the U-6 and minimum wage categories does not have decent full-time paying work. And I think the crisis is far bigger if you really look at what it takes to get by in today’s world of higher prices.
Which brings me to the Job Party. Several of us concluded recently that we needed a movement that is focused entirely on the job crisis:
The Job Party is a nationwide grassroots movement to demand an Emergency Jobs Bill for 15 million jobs so every unemployed American can go to work, feed their families, and put a roof over their head.
In December, Congress passed a $900 billion tax bill for 2 years that will produce only 1 million jobs through “trickle-down” economics for the rich. For that same $900 billion, Congress could create 15 million jobs paying $30,000 per year for 2 years!
Not only is that morally right, but it’s economically right too – because those 15 million paid workers would massively increase consumer spending, fuel growth for the whole economy, and greatly reduce the national debt.
It’s a revolutionary change from the failed “trickle-down” policies of the past 30 years that created the Great Recession that’s killing us. We call it “gusher-up” and we demand the politicians in Washington DC embrace it before we all starve and the nation goes broke.
And if this current Congress doesn’t act, we’ll elect a new Congress in 2012 that will.
Move over, Tea Party – the Job Party has arrived. Join us today!
We would like to have people help build this. This is the economic crisis of our times. We can’t wait for the current political system to act.
About the AuthorJonathan Tasini:is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.
For the last few months I’ve been thinking about and writing about home care workers. In my work, I find that if folks haven’t had to hire a homecare worker for themselves or their family, it appears that most of these workers fall off the radar.
The problem here is somewhat circular. The demand for homecare services is exploding as the baby boomer generation ages and more seniors and people with disabilities choose to live at home rather than in a nursing home. Low wages, no federal minimum wage or overtime protections, and no benefits contribute to homecare workers leaving their profession (turnover is estimated to be as high as 60% per year). Consumers and patients have difficulty finding and keeping homecare services as a result. Which leads to – yes – increasing demand for homecare workers.
How did this happen?
Well, it goes all the way back to 1938 when the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was enacted to ensure a minimum standard of living for workers through the provision of minimum wage, overtime pay, and other protections – but domestic workers, for some reason, were excluded.
Then 36 years later, in 1974, the FLSA was amended to include domestic employees, such as housekeepers, full-time nannies, chauffeurs, and cleaners. However, people who were described as “companions to the elderly or infirm” were for some reason excluded from the law. They were compared to “babysitters.” Weird, huh?
The following year, in 1975, the Department of Labor (DOL) goes on to interpret this “companionship exemption” as including all direct-care workers in the home, even homecare workers employed by third parties, such as home care agencies.
So, in 2001, the Clinton DOL finds that “significant changes in the home care industry” have occurred and issues a “notice of proposed rulemaking” that would have made important changes to this weird exemption. They agreed that it made no sense to exclude this whole industry, as if they were just like “babysitters.”
Clinton’s findings were unfortunately short-lived because the incoming Bush Administration terminated the revision process. Thank you, Mr. Bush.
In 2007 something else happened worth noting: The US Supreme Court, in a case brought by New York home care attendant Evelyn Coke, upheld the DOL’s authority to define this exception to the FLSA. This means, this crazy archaic law can easily be reversed by the DOL.
Meanwhile more than 1.5 million homecare workers are currently living at near poverty level earning a median income of $17,000 a year. Most of these workers, who both love their work and are good at their work, must have two and three jobs to just make ends meet. Many of these workers need food stamps to put food on their tables. All this ultimately comes back to the consumer who often finds it difficult to find and retain high quality homecare services.
The injustice here is, as was said in a June 6 NY Times Op-Ed, ” …while nannies and caregivers make it possible for professional couples to balance the demands of family and work, they often cannot take time to be with their own families when sickness or injury strikes.”
Though I inherently know that we can fix this problem together, I am keen to know what you think is the best way to make this happen.
This article originally appeared on the SEIU Blog.
About the Author: Richard Negri is the founder of UnionReview.com and is the Online Manager for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
The Labor Department’s announcement of its proposed temporary suspension of the Bush Administration’s changes to the H-2A agricultural guestworker program will be officially published in the Federal Register today (Tuesday, March 17th).
The Bush Administration finalized its changes to the guestworker program in midnight legislation last December. The new rules for the program, which slash wages and worker protections for our nation’s farmworkers, went into effect January 17th.
Several farmworker groups, including the United Farm Workers (UFW), the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) and Farmworker Justice, among others, warned that the changes would have devastating effects for agricultural workers and tried to prevent them from taking effect. Those groups praised the new administration’s decision to review the new rules. Baldemar Velásquez of FLOC called the proposal “an important victory against the Bush Administration’s closed door policies in not allowing farm workers to have a say over important issues impacting their livelihood.”
“We thank the Obama administration. Our president has clearly demonstrated that we, Americans, now have a government that listens and cares about farm workers” said UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez. “Today’s announcement is definitely a victory and is the first step in ensuring that the women and men who pick our food are treated fairly.”
The proposed suspension would be for a period of nine months and would give the Labor Department time to review the Bush regulations. There will be a ten day public comment period.
Meanwhile workers who begin their contracts during the period the Bush Administration’s rules are in effect (from January 17th until the suspension begins) may end up working for the lower wages and benefits of the Bush rules, said Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director of Farmworker Justice.
“A suspension of the Bush rules would be a great relief for our nation’s farm workers. The rules were illegal and DOL is acting responsibly in announcing plans to review them. However, it’s unclear what this means for workers who started their contracts under the Bush rules. The Department should not leave them out.”