When it dismissed a federal lawsuit last week, the U.S. District Court for Maryland made it even harder for workers with poor credit histories and past criminal convictions to find a job. Civil rights advocates hope the decision is not a bellwether for similar cases pending around the country.
The lawsuit, brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, charged Freeman, a privately-held event-management company, with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act through its use of credit and criminal background checks. According to the EEOC’s complaint, the employer’s decision to use background checks to screen out job applicants amounted to discrimination because it disproportionately impacted African-American and male job applicants.
Freeman’s hiring process involved detailed inquiries into both the applicant’s credit histories and criminal backgrounds. Freeman “regularly ran credit checks for 44 job titles,” and excluded all applicants from certain positions who met any of 12 different categories of purported credit-unworthiness. Even common credit blemishes, such as credit card charge-offs, medical liens, unpaid student loans, or foreclosures would result in the applicant being rejected.
The Freeman court joined the chorus of employers extolling what some consider the “common sense” of performing credit and criminal background checks. These proponents also ignore the studies demonstrating that credit problems do not predict employee performance, as well as those that document atrocious error rates on credit checks. A report released by the Federal Trade Commission earlier this year found that a quarter of consumers identified errors on their credit report that might affect their credit scores.
In 2011, California limited the use of credit checks in employment. After three prior attempts were vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger, the bill was itself an object lesson in persistence. However, the law also established broad exceptions to the “prohibition” on employment-related credit checks, effectively blessing their use across jobs and industries where the need or utility has never been demonstrated.
In addition to the credit-check hurdle, Freeman’s standard employment application form asked, “Have you ever pleaded guilty to, or been convicted of, a criminal offense?” Applicants were told certain convictions would not be considered in the hiring process (yeah, right), but the company acknowledged a “bright-line rule” that disqualified any applicant who “failed to disclose a conviction, seriously misrepresented the circumstances of a criminal offense, or made any other materially dishonest statement on the application.”
In June, the EEOC filed two similar complaints against Dollar General Corp and BMW, alleging that the companies’ use of criminal background checks resulted in a disparate impact against African-American job applicants. Referred to as “disparate impact” cases, these types of challenges stand or fall on the persuasiveness of the parties’ statistical evidence. In the EEOC v. Freeman case, the court let loose on the EEOC’s expert, excoriating his methodology and ultimately calling his findings “an egregious example of scientific dishonesty.” (Ouch.) Though it may be possible to blunt the impact of Freeman simply by putting on better statistical evidence, the decision nonetheless entrenches practical misconceptions and legal standards that are hostile to workers.
These cases are being watched closely by consumer and civil rights advocates, who still hold out hope that the EEOC’s oversight of these employment policies will curtail the increasing use of background checks to screen out applicants. Advocates hope Freeman doesn’t signal that more bad news lies ahead.
This article originally appeared on CELA Voice on August 19, 2013. Re-posted with permission.
About the Author: Christian Schreiber is an active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association, where he serves on CELA’s Legislative Committee and Wage and Hour Committee. He is also a member of the American Constitution Society, the Public Justice Foundation, and the Consumer Attorneys of California. Mr. Schreiber received his B.A. from UCLA in 1996.
To explain the contrast between the trend in California and the United States as a whole—where union membership dropped last year by 400,000—Semuels turned to some credible sources, including Steve Smith of the state labor federation who cited “an appetite among these low-wage workers to try to get a collective voice to give themselves opportunity and a middle-class lifestyle.”
Quoting Smith and others, Semuels finds that, “After working hard to get here, many Latino immigrants demand respect in the workplace and are more willing to join unions in a tough economic environment, organizers say.”
True enough: Immigrant workers have been particularly important for unions in California and Latino organizing has helped reignite the state’s labor movement. But that’s only part of the story.
Many California unions, allied with progressive groups up and down the state, have dedicated enormous resources to community and economic organizing. This has influenced California’s political culture. Union-friendly city councils, boards, commissions, a democratic legislature and statewide office holders produce a relatively pro-worker political and economic atmosphere.
Though employer resistance to unions can be as fierce in California as in other states, there is also a growing sense that a cooperative relationship with labor can be good business (note the expedited permitting for the construction of downtown L.A.’s Farmers Field).
California unions were ahead of the curve in recognizing the power of Latino workers and voters and then led other states in building diverse constituencies around progressive economic development strategies. The number of “living wage” districts around the state testifies to that.
There is no pro-union state in the United States. But California (with 18.4 percent of the workforce unionized) may be pointed in that direction.
Despite its failure to offer context, the Los Angeles Times piece draws the same conclusion.
“Labor’s more optimistic proponents say that California could serve as a blueprint for unions across the country as they seek to stem membership declines,” writes Semuels. “The trend comes amid forecasts that the Latino population in the United States is likely to double in two decades.”
Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data on union membership for 2012. We did some number-crunching which shows that while unions are really important to women, their membership is dropping.
What’s going on with women and unions?
Between 2011 and 2012 the number of union members dropped by 398,000. Women were less than half (46 percent) of union members in 2011 – but they accounted for 72 percent of the decline.
Men are more likely than women to be members of unions. The gap between men’s and women’s union membership has narrowed over time. Last year it grew, for the first time since 2008, by 25 percent. Women’s rate of union membership (11.2 percent) was 1.2 percentage points lower than men’s (12.4 percent) in 2011. In 2012, women’s rate (10.5 percent) was 1.5 percentage points lower than men’s (12.0 percent).
Why does this matter?
Union membership is critical for women’s wage equality. Among union members, the typical full-time woman worker has weekly earnings that are 88 percent of the typical man’s. Among workers not represented by unions, this figure is 81 percent.
Why is it happening?
It’s likely that women’s concentration in public sector jobs (women comprised 57 percent of the public sector workforce in 2012) was a key factor in this union membership decline.
The rate of union membership in the public sector workforce in 2012 was more than five times higher than in the private sector (35.9 percent as compared to 6.6 percent). Public sector workers comprise just over half (51 percent) of union members in 2011, but they accounted for 59 percent of the declines in union membership between 2011 and 2012.
A few wonky data details: BLS data on union membership include all employed wage and salary workers 16 and older. Figures are 2011 and 2012 annual averages. Data are not available broken down by gender and sector. Data on the wage gap for union members differ slightly from the often-used measure of median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers. Using this figure, the typical woman makes 77 percent of what the typical man makes.
This post was originally posted at NWLC. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Katherine Gallagher Robbins is a Senior Policy Analyst for Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center where she examines how tax and budget policies influence the financial stability and security of low-income women and families. Before joining the Center in 2010, Ms. Gallagher Robbins worked as an organizer for the California Public Interest Research Group at the University of California, San Diego. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a graduate of the College of William and Mary.
As if we didn’t already have enough on our plates (having to fend off attacks from the “Fix the Debt” CEOs), now there’s another group of CEOs, the Business Roundtable, telling us we need to “modernize,” a.k.a. cut, Social Security and Medicare benefits by raising the eligibility ages and reducing cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). How helpful.
Yesterday, Gary Loveman, CEO of Caesars Entertainment Corp. and head of the Roundtable’s “health and retirement committee,” told Politico that “[a]ny effort to address the country’s fiscal problems has to have as a centerpiece reform of its principal entitlement programs.”
Added Loveman: “None of us [CEOs]—very few of us—are ideologically driven. We’re pragmatists….”
“I am encouraged by how relatively easy these remedies really are,” said Loveman. “… (and) they have a tremendously sanguine effect on the government’s fiscal health.”
That’s true. It is pretty easy. Just kick in a few rich people’s doors, seize their belongings…oh, wait. That’s the other extremist scenario. Loveman’s is the one where people who have paid for Social Security and Medicare coverage throughout their working lives must give some of their benefits up—for him and his friends.
These CEOs are the same people cutting back on pensions and retiree health benefits. Now they want working people to have even more economic insecurity in retirement by cutting the few benefits that keep seniors afloat.
Raising the Social Security retirement age is especially damaging. Not only is it a benefit cut, workers 55 and older have the longest bouts of unemployment. The average time unemployed is nearly a year (51.3 weeks, compared to 34.3 weeks for workers younger than 55).
Eskow points out that 8.9% of American seniors already live in poverty, while 5.4% are on the edge. The average Social Security recipient collects $1,164 per month.
Anyone who claims they can cut those benefits by 3%—and use those meager benefits to end elder poverty—is selling snake oil.
Snake oil indeed. There’s nothing more cynical than calling devastating cuts to vital lifelines “modernization proposals.” Working people know the difference.
This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on 1/17/2013. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO. Interviewing union musicians was her introduction to the labor movement. Her first job after graduating college was in Syracuse, New York, where she wrote and edited the International Musician, the monthly magazine for the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). Protecting Social Security and Medicare from benefit cuts brought me to Washington, D.C., where she spent two years as a new media coordinator at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. She came to the AFL-CIO in the summer of 2012, just in time to re-elect President Barack Obama. When she’s not tweeting about America’s unions, it’s likely she’s watching Syracuse basketball and football.
Flight attendants who work for Spirit Airlines filed a lawsuit against the airline for reneging on a contractual commitment to provide equal benefits for all employees by forcing employees who want health care coverage for their domestic partners into a lower-quality health care plan than the plan covering other employees. The flight attendants, members of the Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), said that management is using procedural loopholes to avoid providing equal benefits. Todd St. Pierre, the AFA-CWA president at Spirit, said:
We are outraged that management refuses to treat the families of their employees equally. At a time when equality issues have sparked a social awakening across our nation, management’s trampling on employees’ rights is deplorable. Their discriminatory behavior must be rectified immediately. Flight Attendants worked hard to ensure that these rights were included in our legally binding contract so that we could provide health care security for our loved ones. Shame on Spirit management for their blatant disregard for equality and for turning their backs on their obligations.
In a related story, aerospace manufacturer Boeing Co. said that despite the passage of a referendum legalizing gay marriage in Washington State—where Boeing has significant operations—they were not required to provide same-sex couples with benefits, including pensions. While Boeing publicly says they are evaluating what the referendum means to them, SPEEA/IFPTE Local 2001 executive director Ray Goforth said that Boeing officials explicitly told him that the benefits would not be extended to same-sex couples.
Alaska Airlines flight attendants, also members of AFA-CWA, issued a statement supporting members of SPEEA at Boeing in their fight for equal rights. Alaska AFA-CWA President Jeffrey Peterson said:
“AFA has a longstanding commitment to equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression which is why Alaska Flight Attendants stand in solidarity with our aviation colleagues at Boeing in their struggle for equal rights. With an all-Boeing fleet of aircraft, Alaska Flight Attendants depend on the professionalism and dedication of SPEEA members each and every day.
Voters in nine states across the nation have instructed their elected representatives to address marriage equality issues. Recently in Washington, all couples regardless of gender finally have the opportunity to legally marry. Yet, Boeing is refusing to recognize married couples equally.
We are all partners in the success of the aviation industry and we call on Boeing executives to provide equal benefits to all couples legally married under state law.”
This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO on January 14, 2013. 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. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere. He is the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Solis “brought urgently needed change to the Department of Labor, putting the U.S. government firmly on the side of working families.”
Under Secretary Solis, the Labor Department became a place of safety and support for workers. Secretary Solis’s Department of Labor talks tough and acts tough on enforcement, workplace safety, wage and hour violations and so many other vital services. Secretary Solis never lost sight of her own working-class roots, and she always put the values of working families at the center of everything she did. We hope that her successor will continue to be a powerful voice both within the Obama administration and across the country for all of America’s workers.
This afternoon, I submitted my resignation to President Obama. Growing up in a large Mexican-American family in La Puente, California, I never imagined that I would have the opportunity to serve in a president’s Cabinet, let alone in the service of such an incredible leader.
Because President Obama took very bold action, millions of Americans are back to work. There is still much to do, but we are well on the road to recovery, and middle class Americans know the president is on their side.
Together we have achieved extraordinary things and I am so proud of our work on behalf of the nation’s working families.
This post was originally posted by AFL-CIO NOW on January 9, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Donna Jablonski is the AFL-CIO’s deputy director of public affairs for publications, Web and broadcast. Prior to joining the AFL-CIO in 1997, she served as publications director at the nonprofit Children’s Defense Fund for 12 years. She began my career as a newspaper reporter in Southwest Florida, and since have written, edited and managed production of advocacy materials— including newsletters, books, brochures, booklets, fliers, calendars, websites, posters and direct response mail and e-mail—to support economic and social justice campaigns. In June 2001, she received a B.A. in Labor Studies from the National Labor College.
An Omaha, Nebraska, Wendy’s franchise owner is joining the list of restaurants vowing to cut worker hours rather than have them qualify for employer-provided health coverage under Obamacare. That’s endangering the livelihoods of around 100 workers who are having their hours cut (managers, of course, are remaining full-time):
The company has announced that all non-management positions will have their hours reduced to 28 a week. Gary Burdette, Vice President of Operations for the local franchise, says the cuts are coming because the new Affordable Health Care Act requires employers to offer health insurance to employees working 32-38 hours a week. Under the current law they are not considered full time and that as a small business owner, he can’t afford to stay in operation and pay for everyone’s health insurance. There are 11 Wendy’s restaurants in the metro. “It has a huge effect on me and pretty much everybody that I work with,” says [hourly worker T.J.] Growbeck, who understands the reasoning and says other part-timers at other fast-food restaurants are facing the same problem. “I’m hoping that I can get some sort of promotion because then I would get my hours, but everybody is shooting for that because of the hours being cut.”
This Wendy’s owner has apparently not learned the lesson of Olive Garden and Red Lobster parent company Darden Restaurants, Papa John’s, or the Denny’s franchise owner who made similar plans, only to have Darden’s profits drop 37 percent in the wake of those threats, Papa John’s suffer in a brand reputation survey, and the CEO of Denny’stell the franchise owner to quit making the chain look bad.
And all of these threats to workers’ livelihoods are coming over what would be tiny increases if the costs were passed directly to customers. When Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter was trying to really scare people, he said his chain would pass along a 10 to 14 cent increase in the cost of a pizza—less than $22 a year if you ate Papa John’s three times every single week. But when Forbes‘ Caleb Melby did the math on Schnatter’s claims, it worked out to less than 5 cents per pizza. Mind you, all of the wailing these chain executives and franchise owners do about how they can’t afford health care is suspect to begin with. But when they’re not willing to contemplate even the smallest price increases rather than cutting already poorly paid workers down below 30 hours a week and risking what’s now been shown to be significant public relations costs, that’s a clear statement that this isn’t some kind of pure, rational business decision. It’s an ideological stance against anything that might benefit the low-wage workers on whom the fast food industry relies.
Just in time for yesterday’s celebration of International Migrants Day, a federal court jury ruled on Monday that Universal Placement International of Los Angeles and its owner, Lourdes Navarro, must pay $4.5 million to 350 Filipino teachers who were forced into exploitative contracts. According to the AFT, the Filipino teachers were brought to Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and taught in public schools under H-1B guest worker program. This became the first positive jury verdict in a federal labor trafficking case brought forth by workers (as opposed to the government) involving workers who are not domestic workers. It is a clear example that workers can fight back against corporate greed and that, when allies join forces on behalf of working families, victories can be achieved.
The Filipino teachers began arriving in Louisiana in 2007 and most paid Universal Placement about $16,000 to find the jobs, AFT reported. Almost all of them had to borrow money to pay the placement fees. The loans were then charged 3% to 5% interest per month and recruiters took away their passports and visas until they paid off the loans. Many of the teachers were forced to give away 10% of their second-year salaries as well. Those who didn’t take the one-sided contract were threatened with the loss of their sizable investment and potentially being sent home.
The contracts were later ruled illegal and a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the teachers by AFT, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Covington & Burling, a law firm. AFT President Randi Weingarten lauded the ruling:
This groundbreaking verdict affirms the principle that all teachers working in our public schools must be treated fairly, regardless of what country they may come from. The outrageous abuses provide dramatic examples of the extreme exploitation that can occur, even here in the United States, when there is no proper oversight of the professional recruitment industry. The practices involved in this case—labor contracts signed under duress and other arrangements reminiscent of indentured servitude—are things that should have no place in 21st century America.
To prevent such egregious abuses in the future, the AFT is calling for federal, state and local governments to take steps to monitor the hiring and treatment of overseas-trained teachers. In addition, the union recommends:
Developing, adopting and enforcing ethical standards for the international recruitment of teachers.
Improving access to the government data necessary to track and study international hiring trends in education.
Fostering international cooperation to protect migrant workers and mitigate any negative impact of teacher migration in their home countries.
This post was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on December 19, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a senior writer for AFL-CIO, and a former precinct committeeman in the Leon County Democratic Party. He is a former vice chair of the Florida Democratic Party’s Legislative Liaison Committee, and during the 2010 election, through the primary, Kenneth Quinnell worked for the Kendrick Meek campaign. He has written for Think Progress, AFSCME and for OurFuture.org on Social Security.
In November McDonald’s saw a 2.5 percent increase in November sales. This is after the fast food giant saw a decrease in sales of 2.2 percent in October. So why was there increase in sales? Was the pork-like substitute McRib back? Was there a shortage of Ore-Ida french fries in your local grocer’s freezer causing a run on McDonald’s across the country?
Nope, none of the above; the corporate overlords at McDonald’s urged franchisees to be open on Thanksgiving day, a day that most franchise stores are closed. A Nov. 8 memo from McDonald’s USA Chief Operating Officer Jim Johannesen stated,
“Starting with Thanksgiving, ensure your restaurants are open throughout the holidays. Our largest holiday opportunity as a system is Christmas Day. Last year, [company-operated] restaurants that opened on Christmas averaged $5,500 in sales.”
On Dec. 12 Mr. Johannesen doubled down and sent out another memo to franchise owners stating that average sales for company-owned restaurants, which compose about 10 percent of its system, were “more than $6,000″ this Thanksgiving. That adds up to be about $36 million in extra sales.
So with all those extra sales one must ask if employees are reaping any benefits from being open on the holidays. The answer is dependent on the franchise owner; however, in the case of company owned stores the answer is a big fat no. According to McDonald’s spokesperson Heather Oldani, “when our company-owned restaurants are open on the holidays, the staff voluntarily sign up to work. There is no regular overtime pay.”
It is bad enough that McDonald’s pays crap wages but then they turn around and refuse to pay overtime for employees who volunteer to give up their holidays so that McDonald’s can make several million dollars. I am also willing to bet that most staff does not readily volunteer to work on Christmas day. This just gives me one more reason to not eat at the Golden Arches.
This post was originally posted on December 18, 2012 at The Daily Kos. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Mark E. Andersen is a 44 year old veteran, lifelong Progressive Democrat, Rabid Packer fan, Single Dad, Part-time Grad Student, and Full-time IS worker. Find me on facebook my page is “Kodiak54 (Mark Andersen)”
Walmart staves off unionization attempts in its stores by telling workers who ask about forming a union that they may lose benefits and vacation time, a potential violation of American labor law that could further inflame relations between the company and workers who picketed its stores on Black Friday and have been attempting to organize.
Walmart workers and labor advocates held protestsoutside the chain’s stores throughout Thanksgiving weekend, protesting the low wages it pays its workers. The company, which paid its chief executive $18.1 million and made $15 billion in profits last year, has fought off union attempts before, and now it tells its workers that unionization could lead to the loss of bonuses and vacation time, a spokesperson told Bloomberg BusinessWeek:
Walmart has been opposed to unions since Sam Walton opened his first store in Rogers, Ark., in 1962. These days, “we have human resources teams all over the country who are available to talk to associates, and we will get questions about joining a union,” says David Tovar, a spokesman for the company. “We would say: ‘Let us remind you of all that Walmart offers, and of what might go away. Quarterly bonuses might go away, vacation time might go away.’?”
Such tactics may not be illegal by themselves because they can be seen as predicting outcomes rather than threatening them, The Nation’s Josh Eidelson reported today. But the implication of such a “prediction” — that joining a union could be followed by actions resembling retaliation — is quite clear. Walmart’s anti-labor practices aren’t new: in 2008, the store’s workers spoke out about anti-union meetings they were forced to attend.
Though Walmart has long fought organization efforts in the United States, it sometimes letsworkers in other countries unionize — particularly when unionization is contingent on Walmart getting to enter a new country. In the U.S. though, it has responded to unionization efforts byshutting down departments, fighting legislative improvements to labor law, and now, telling workers that joining a union may cost them their bonus.
This post was originally posted on December 17, 2012 on ThinkProgress. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Travis Waldron is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.