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Undefeated Olympic U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Is Still Fighting For Equal Pay

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Bryce CovertThe U.S. women’s soccer team is already on a roll at the Olympics in Rio.

So far, they haven’t lost a single game they’ve played, winning against New Zealand and France and tying with Colombia. They didn’t even give up a goal during the first two games and are now first in their group. They’re well on their way toward gold.

Yet the victorious streak comes amid their continuing fight to be paid equally with the U.S. men’s team, which didn’t even qualify to participate in this year’s summer Olympics.

In March, five stars on the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT)?—?Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Hope Solo?—?filed a complaint on behalf of everyone on the women’s team with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They alleged that the U.S. Soccer Federation unfairly pays female players less than those on the men’s team.

In their complaint, the players claimed that they are paid almost four times less than the men’s team players. For example, the women say they are paidjust $1,350 each for winning a friendly match and nothing for a tie or loss, compared to $9,375 for a men’s victory (even more if they win against a top-ranked team), $6,250 for a tie, and $5,000 for a loss.

The women’s team has a contract specifying that top-tier players get $72,000 a year as a base salary, while the men aren’t guaranteed payment. But the complaint pointed out that if the USWNT were to lose all 20 friendlies in a season, a player would get $72,000, while if it won all 20 she would get $99,000. The men, on the other hand, get $100,000 a year for losing all 20 friendlies, $1,000 more than a victorious female player. Meanwhile, they get about $263,000 each for winning all 20 matches–38 percent more than a winning women’s player.

The women’s team also gets nothing for playing in World Cup matches until they get into fourth place, even though the men’s team gets payment for each game played regardless of the result. They got just $2 million for winning the World Cup last year, while the U.S. men’s team earned $8 million for losing in the first round. Meanwhile, the German team that won the men’s World Cup got $35 million.

The women have argued that their pay is unfair in part because the men are compensated more for just showing up, while the women have to perform at world champion levels to get comparable pay.

The current team has been ranked number one in the world for 12 of the last 13 years, won three World Cups, and got the gold at four of the five Olympics that included women’s soccer?—?so they’re getting unequal pay for unequal work. Another gold medal would only add to their pile of accomplishments.

But the U.S. Soccer Federation, the target of the USWNT lawsuit, has fired back.

In June, it filed a response with the EEOC in which it called accusations of discrimination “unwarranted, unfounded, and untrue.” It also claims that the women’s team players are actually paid more than the men. The team’s compensation “is comparable to (and in many cases better than) the compensation U.S. Soccer provides to the MNT,” it says in the filing.

Without going into a detailed breakdown of pay, the Federation notes that among all USWNT players who got any pay between 2012 and 2015, their average compensation was $279,743?—?about $90,000 more than average compensation for a men’s team player over the same time period.

The Federation also argues that the five players who brought the complaint were paid more than the top five highest-paid members of the USMNT when World Cup money is taken out of the picture. Yet when that income is included, the five female players earned 3.8 percent less than the men?—?despite winning the cup. Meanwhile, the Federation’s response also admits that the 14 women who are among the 25 highest-earning U.S. soccer players earned 2.2 percent less, on average, than the men in the same group.

The biggest inequalities show up at the bottom, not at the top, of the pay scales. According to data obtained by the New York Times dating back to 2008, the 25th highest-paid female player made about $341,000, compared to $580,000 for the corresponding male player, and the male player in the 50th slot made 50 times more than the female one.

The Federation argues that if there are any pay differences, they should be chalked up to the fact that the men’s team has historically generated higher ratings and more revenue. The men’s team brought in about $144 million between 2008 and 2015, according to the Federation’s filing, compared to $53 million from the women’s team. Attendance at USMNT games was more than double that of USWNT games between 2001 and 2015.

Meanwhile, although it admits that the women’s World Cup final got “unprecedented” TV ratings last year, it argues that historically men draw twice the viewership.

The fight has garnered attention from the U.S. Senate, where Patty Murray (D-WA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have been looking into why the two teams are paid different amounts. After viewing the data provided in the Federation’s response, the two senators sent it a letter asking for more information about the revenue it gets from TV contracts and the efforts it makes to promote the women’s team. They also pointed out that the Federation’s own data shows that viewership for the Women’s World Cup last year set a record, and not just for the final match.

“We remain focused on the pressing issue of pay equity for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team,” they wrote. “We, along with millions of women’s soccer fans, are looking forward to rooting for the Women’s Team as they compete in the summer Olympic Games in Brazil.”

The differences between revenue and viewership also don’t take into account the systemic and historic disadvantages that women’s soccer has faced. Nor has either side in the dispute brought up other disparities like being made to fly coach while the men fly business class or racking up a third of the men’s teams expenses over a year.

Since filing the complaint, the USWNT has continued to be vocal about their cause. At a match in July, they sported t-shirts that read #EqualPayEqualPlay and took to social media to discuss the pay gap. It remains to be seen if they bring the issue up as they go for gold in Rio.

This article originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Massachusetts Becomes First State Ever To Ban Employers From Asking For Salary Histories

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Bryce CovertMassachusetts has leapfrogged over all other states to pass the most robust equal pay law in the country.

The law takes a step that is completely unique: it prohibits employers from asking prospective hires about their salary histories until after they make a job offer that includes compensation, unless the applicants voluntarily disclose the information. No other state has such a ban in place.

Many employers require applicants to give them a salary history at the outset or during the initial steps of the hiring process, usually to determine how much they should be paid and whether the employer can afford their salary. But this disadvantages women, who, thanks to a variety of factors that can include outright discrimination, make less than men on average. Women make less than men in their first jobs even when education and field are taken into consideration, and they are also penalized in salary negotiations, while men get an advantage. If the next employer bases a salary on the previous one a woman was earning, that discrimination will only be furthered.

Massachusetts’s new law also mandates that employers pay men and women the same not just when they do the exact same work, but when their work is “comparable.” Most laws only require men and women in the exact same job to be paid equally. The state defines comparable work as being “substantially similar” in skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions — not just based on job titles or descriptions. It does, however, allow for differing pay scales based on seniority — so long as a lack of seniority for a female employee isn’t related to pregnancy or family leave — merit, production, geography, education, experience, or training.

Women’s work has long been undervalued even when it’s substantially similar to what men do.Housekeepers make less than janitors, for instance. And when women move into higher-paying, male-dominated jobs, the pay drops.

There was a movement in the 1970s and 80s among state governments to ensure comparable pay equity in their own workforces. They ended up spending $527 million to adjust women’s pay to make it equal with men who had essentially the same job duties, eliminating about 20 percent of women’s wage gap.

A paper at the time found that a national pay equity law, one that looks like Massachusetts’s, would eliminate more than a quarter of the overall gender wage gap.

The new law also bans salary secrecy, blocking employers from keeping their employees from talking about pay with each other. About half of all employees say they are either prohibited or discouraged from discussing compensation, even though they have a legal right to do so. That makes it incredibly difficult for women or other marginalized groups to discover whether they’re being unfairly paid less than their colleagues.

A handful of other states have passed their own equal pay laws aimed at closing the gender wage gap. California passed one at the end of last year mandating pay equity for comparable work and banning salary secrecy, and New York passed a package of bills that included prohibiting salary secrecy. But none of them have gone as far as Massachusetts in including a ban on employers asking for salary histories.

Massachusetts’s new law unanimously passed the state legislature, and Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has said he will sign it into law.

Meanwhile, progress toward passing national legislation to address the gender wage gap has been blocked in Congress. Republicans have repeatedly blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ban salary secrecy, and the Fair Pay Act, which would mandate equal pay for comparable work, never even gets a vote.

This post originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 1, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Republicans Dismiss Equal Pay Efforts While Touting Their Outreach to Women

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Laura ClawsonRepublicans are mounting a counteroffensive against Equal Pay Day, the Paycheck Fairness Act, and indeed the very notion that equal pay is a serious issue. Since you can’t straight-up admit to opposing equal pay, the substance of the Republican counteroffensive is essentially this: We support equal pay. Just not any efforts to actually make it a reality.

It’s misleading, they say, to say that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes, because that’s not entirely a result of active discrimination. So let’s dismiss the social forces that lead to jobs dominated by women being paid less than jobs dominated by men, let’s dismiss the pressures that push women into lower-paying jobs or out of the workforce altogether, and then, just for good measure, let’s also wave away active, intentional discrimination. Because you can’t deal with that without government action or lawsuits against employers, and as Republicans, we’re definitely opposed to both of those things. So, oops, looks like there’s nothing we can do.

And talking about unequal pay is bad because, in the words of Sabrina Schaeffer of the Independent Women’s Forum, “Perpetuating the myth that women are a victim class harms women and makes them feel weak.” Heavens, no. Women are empowered by their lack of economic power, I suppose.

Republicans are also rolling out their more general answer on their problems attracting women voters, and of course, again, the answer is not to promote policies that help women. It’s to jump up and down pointing at the few women they have in office now. “See! Women! Now vote for us, ladies.” Never mind that of the 20 women in the Senate, just four are Republican (and while Democrats control the Senate, it’s not by a four to one margin, sadly). Never mind that of the 82women in the House, just 20 are Republicans—8.2 percent of their party’s House membership, compared to 29 percent of the Democratic Party’s House membership. (Which is to say, Democrats need to improve, but Republicans are downright pathetic.)

So, in keeping with their lack of interest in policy solutions for problems that women in particular face, Republicans are on the phone to Politico every other day announcing some new discussion of how they already represent women super well, thanks very much, and are now ready to make sure that women voters understand this. But, uh:

House Republican Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the only GOP woman in leadership in either chamber. There are also fewer female Republican candidates running than in past election cycles.

But never mind all that! After all, they’re making a sincere effort to keep any of their male candidates and incumbents from talking publicly about legitimate rape this time around, so it’s all good, right? Right?

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on April 8, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

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

Unemployment: Why Won’t Congress Talk About It!?

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Change to WinAn interesting look at the unemployment rate. “What is currently a temporary long-term unemployment problem runs the risk of morphing into a permanent and costly increase in the unemployment rate” unless Congress takes action to create jobs. 

Why the Unemployment Rate Is So High – New York Times

Unemployment claims have increased slightly. “The Labor Department says applications rose 4,000 to a seasonally adjusted 371,000, the most in five weeks.”

Unemployment claims rise slightly in latest week – USA Today

“We need to avoid a lost generation of young people who will be playing economic catch-up their whole lives. We cannot stop pressing our leaders to help struggling poor and middle-class Americans.”

Crowdsourcing our economic recovery – CNN 

Even though the economy is improving, we need to do more to ensure the long term unemployed get back on their feet. Long term unemployment makes it harder and harder to provide for one’s family, and causes dramatic increases in mental illness. It’s time Washington gets busy putting people back to work. 

Long-Term Unemployed Winning Jobs Or Giving Up? – Huffington Post

This article was originally posted by ChangeToWin on January 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Change to Win is an organization created by over 5.5 million workers – if corporations can join together to hire an army of lobbyists, working and middle class Americans must also band together and restore balance by making sure we have a strong voice and a seat at the table again.

(Colleen Gartner is an intern at Workplace Fairness.)

Employers: Be Careful What You Wish For - Your Motion to Compel Arbitration Can Lead to Expensive, Class-Wide Arbitration

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

In the wake of ATT Mobility v. Concepcion and Stolt-Nielsen v. AnimalFeeds,* many employers have sought to enact new arbitration agreements or to enforce arbitration provisions in older agreements to eliminate their employees’ ability to come together when seeking to vindicate their rights to enforce statutory protections for workers. Employers should be careful what they wish for, in seeking to compel arbitration. They may indeed wind up in arbitration – but unable to strike class allegations, and required to pay the full and exorbitant costs of class-wide arbitration. 

In a case on which Bryan Schwartz Law serves as local counsel for Richard J. Burch of Bruckner Burch, in Houston, Texas, the employer is now feeling the danger of a Stolt-Nielsen-based strategy seeking to compel individual arbitration in a putative, wage-hour class action. In the Laughlin v. VMWare case, in which VMWare employees assert they were misclassified as exempt employees and denied overtime and other compensation to which they were entitled, the company moved to compel arbitration based on an agreement which did not specifically provide for class-wide arbitration. 

Judge Edward Davila of the Northern District of California struck some of the more offensive provisions of the arbitration agreement under Armendariz v. Foundation Health Psychcare Services (2000) 24 Cal.4th 83, such as a provision which would have required Plaintiff to share the costs of arbitration. However, Judge Davila found these unlawful provisions severable (i.e., refused to kill the whole arbitration agreement). Perhaps most importantly, though, Judge Davila referred to the arbitrator the decision on the Stolt-Nielsen argument – namely, as argued by VMWare, the notion that class-wide arbitration cannot proceed where the parties’ arbitration agreement did not expressly consent to class arbitration. His initial decision from early 2012 is available here: 

http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/VMWare.pdf

In arbitration, AAA arbitrator LaMothe then rejected the employer’s Stolt-Nielsen motion to strike class allegations, notwithstanding the fact that the agreement did not expressly give permission to bring class allegations, finding the parties’ agreement intended to encompass all claims by Plaintiff Laughlin, including her class claims. The AAA order is available here: 

http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/Laughlin.pdf

In the last 18 months, numerous other arbitrators from JAMS, AAA, and other nationwide arbitration services have likewise denied motions to strike class allegations, employing similar reasoning. 

On review, Judge Davila confirmed the arbitrator’s partial final clause construction award allowing class allegations to proceed, meaning – in light of all the foregoing – that VMWare will now be forced to arbitrate a putative class action, and will be forced to bear all of the costs of doing so: 

http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/VMWare-12-20-12.pdf

Be careful what you wish for, employers. You may find that sometimes, allowing employees their day in court is better than the alternative. 

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article is intended to form an attorney-client relationship with the reader. You must have a signed representation agreement with the firm to be a client. 

*See our numerous prior blog posts relating to the subject of arbitration class waivers in light of Concepcion andStolt-Nielsen, including: http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2012/09/california-supreme-court-grants-review.html

http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2012/09/wage-and-hour-class-actions-sky-is.html;

http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2012/01/landmark-decision-by-national-labor.html

http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2011/05/civil-rights-lawyer-and-employee.html.

This post was originally posted on December 26, 2012 on Bryan Schwartz Law. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Bryan Schwartz is an Oakland, CA-based attorney specializing in civil rights and employment law.

McDonald’s Urges Franchises to Open on Christmas Day … Without Overtime Pay

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Mark E. Andersen

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)”

How “Right to Work Shirk” Laws Kill Jobs – and Hurt All of Us

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Michigan’s recent battle makes this a good time to explain the union movement’s important role in our economy’s overall health. We’re about to explain why today’s war on unions is bad for all of us, no matter what we do for a living, and we’ll do it in four steps.

But first a word about language: “Right to work” is a misnomer for laws which let employees enjoy the benefits of union membership – at least for a little while, until they’re stripped away – without joining or contributing.

So we’ll call them “right to shirk” laws instead. And we’ll call the people who back these laws Shirkers.

And while we’re at it, let’s stop calling the states that have adopted this legislation “right to work.” They don’t give people any new rights. They take rights away, by making it illegal for employees to organize and negotiate together. They even take away employers‘ rights – to sign a certain kind of contract.

So let’s give the other states a name instead: In a nod to the Jim Crow origin of these laws, let’s call the ones which don’t have these laws “free states.”

Free Ride

Right to Shirk laws allow freeloaders to profit from the efforts of others – without contributing to the effort, and in a way that harms the common good. The billionaires and corporations behind these laws wouldn’t deliberately do anything like that, would they? Why, that would be like letting people make billions from the works of government – things like roads, the Internet and publicly-educated customers – without paying their fair share of taxes.

Oh, wait.

Right to Shirk laws are job-killers. Here are four steps to understanding why:

1. Think nationally, not just locally.

Advocates say these laws create jobs. They don’t. Their “evidence” is based on studies which show modest job growth in Right to Shirk states when compared to free states.  But all that proves is that places that are politically hostile to organized labor also offer other types of corporate favoritism.

It also suggests that Right to Shirk states can steal jobs from free states — as long as the jobs last, anyway.

The Shirker movement was started in the late 1940s by a handful of Southern politicians who were in the palm of big textile mills. They were able to draw textile jobs away from free Northern cities like my hometown of Utica, NY – until those jobs left this country altogether.  That’s not “creating” jobs — that’s killing good jobs and replacing them with ones that don’t pay enough.

The concept of “solidarity” has been tarred with McCarthyite smears. But “solidarity” is just another way of saying “We’re all in this together.”  The Right to Shirk crowd wants to stop that kind of thinking so it can pit state against state and employee against employee, shredding our social fabric for personal gain.

It’s no accident that the Shirker movement was started by the reactionary white politicians of the Jim Crow South. Back then they were still pining for the days when they could offer some folks the “right to work” … for nothing.

2. We’re fighting over a shrinking pie instead of making the pie bigger.

Things are bad. We need millions of jobs – and the jobs we do have don’t pay enough.

The graphic which Business Insider likes to call “the scariest chart ever” shows how far we are from creating the number of jobs needed to make this country’s economy grow and thrive again.  Job growth like that we’ve seen recently is always welcome, but it’s not nearly enough to get us out of this ditch. How do we get moving again?

To answer that question we need to know what’s worked in the past.

3. The real “job creators” are people with jobs – good jobs.

How did this nation finally escape the after-effects of the Great Depression and begin its greatest decades of economic growth? Government spending  – on roads, bridges, schools, and other vitally needed services – played a key part.

Unions were a crucial part of this process, too. By fighting for higher wages and better benefits, unions ensure that working people have the means to purchase consumer items, housing, and other goods and services.  Companies have to hire more people to keep up with demand – and the good jobs keep coming.

That’s why the Republican Party platform of 1956 boasted that “unions have grown in strength and responsibility, and have increased their membership by 2 millions” during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s first term. Back then Republicans understood that a growing middle class was good for the entire economy.  That party platform also said that “America does not prosper unless all Americans prosper.” Their rule: No shirkers.

But then in those days our economy wasn’t dominated by Wall Street megabanks – institutions that don’t build or sell anything. And politicians weren’t completely in bankers’ pockets back then, because the public wouldn’t have tolerated it.

We shouldn’t tolerate it now.

4. When you kill unions, that reduces consumer income – which kills jobs.

The Shirker assault on unions has taken its toll. Only 25 states remain free to unionize, and union membership has fallen dramatically:

 

Their logic would suggest that the plunge in union membership we’ve seen since 1960 must have led to a rise in good jobs.  Did it? Let’s take a look at manufacturing:

That’s my freehand drawing (and therefore not exact) of the trend line in union membership, superimposed by the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States.  Manufacturing jobs kept on increasing for more than twenty years, even as union membership increased. These jobs experienced periods of decline and stagnation as union membership fell, even before the devastating impact of NAFTA.

Consumer demand is vital to growth. That demand is tied to consumers’ income, and to their belief that life in the future will be as good or better than it is today.  Those are the two things we need to reinforce, and unions are crucial to that effort.

We need to get our economy growing again. Until then most Americans, unionized or not, will continue to struggle with stagnating wages and an ongoing economic drag that can feel a lot like a recession.  As Paul Krugman likes to say (he said it in our radio interview), This isn’t rocket science. We know how to do this.

Destroying unions is just another way for the Shirkers to make sure that we never do.

This post was originally posted on Our Future on December 13, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Richard Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician.  He has experience in health insurance and economics, occupational health, benefits, risk management, finance, and information technology.  He has a somewhat unique perspective on the current financial crisis, since he worked for AIG for a number of years (although not in its infamous Financial Products division). Richard has consulting experience in the US and over 20 countries. Past clients include USAID, the World Bank, the State Department, the Harvard School of International Public Health, the Government of Hungary, as well as corporations and investors. He has experience in financial and data analysis, systems design, operations, and management.

Women Haven’t Gained A Larger Share Of Corporate Board Seats In Seven Years

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

In addition to grappling with a persistent pay gap, working women also have to deal with extreme difficulty ascending to powerful corporate positions, according to a report by the research organization Catalyst. As Bryce Covert explained at The Nation:

Women held just over 14 percent of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies this year and 16.6 percent of board seats at the same. Adding insult to injury, an even smaller percent of those female executive officers are counted among the highest earners—less than 8 percent of the top earner positions were held by women. Meanwhile, a full quarter of these companies simply had no women executive officers at all and one-tenth had no women directors on their boards. […]

Did this year represent a step forward? Not even close. Women’s share of these positions went up by a mere half of a percentage point or less last year. Even worse, 2012 was the seventh consecutive year in which we haven’t seen any growth in board seats and the third year of stagnation in the C-suite.

Overall, more than one-third of companies have no women on their board of directors. But economic evidence shows that keeping women out of the board room is a mistake. According to work by the Credit Suisse Research Institute, “companies with at least one woman on the board would have outperformed in terms of share price performance, those with no women on the board over the course of the past six years.”

This post was originally posted on Think Progress on December 11, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author:  Pat Garofalo is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.

Favoritism at Work: How to Respond When Unequal Treatment Impacts Your Productivity and Satisfaction

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

We all grew up watching the teacher’s pet get the most attention. In the workplace we see people compete to warm up to the boss at an Olympic level. Favoritism in the office not only impacts our sense of fairness, it creates inequality in responsibility. Worse, it can breed resentment and lead to serious consequences. What should an employee do when someone else seems to be the favorite?

To understand the best way to handle this kind of situation, we need to gain some perspective on the culture of work. An office, a school, or other facility is filled with social relationships, but these connections are not the reason the place exists. The primary purpose of a business or a non-profit is to advance the mission of the organization. Although we do want people to get along, we don’t want our workplace relationships to become so overwhelming that derail the company.

While this may sound obvious, it’s completely unlike the rest of our lives. We pick our friends and partners based on mutual interests and compatibilities. We choose our neighborhoods and our preferred form of entertainment based on our own culture and experience. If you meet a group of friends at a party, you are all there because you like each other. But if you join a group of colleagues at work, you are not necessarily friends. You are not a “family.” You are a team whose members have been carefully selected to have the right skills and the right attitude to make the organization a success.

Why Favoritism Happens

It might seem like having close relationships at the office is inescapable. In fact, the Gallup organization includes a question about having a “best friend at work” as one of their key factors for predicting highly productive workgroups. We are social creatures, and we like to make connections. Part of having friendships in our personal lives is helping people, doing favors, and listening when the need our support. These are all positive aspects of healthy relationships.

However, friendships formed at the workplace can spill over into workplace responsibilities. We start to cover for people who are struggling, or we expect special treatment in the office in exchange for the personal relationship we have at home. This problem becomes even more challenging when the relationship is between a boss and an employee. This is when favoritism is most pronounced and most frustrating to other people.

Institutional Protocols and Practical Advice

If you have the authority to help define procedures for work, you can help to limit favoritism. Some companies have standing rules against relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Others try to standardize work items so that it’s clear everyone is contributing appropriately. Other organizations simply rotate employees to different departments on a regular basis, which helps to foster new ideas as well as limit favoritism.

However, if you’re just the unwitting victim of favoritism, these suggestions don’t offer much help. What do you do if a fellow coworker is the one who is getting all the attention and none of the responsibility? How do you deal with the lack of workplace fairness in this all-too-common situation?

First: resist the urge to gossip about the problem. Telling others that you are frustrated will only make the existing relationships more tense and create more challenges. Likewise, don’t approach either the employee or the manager involved in the unfair exchange. These conversations will only make you appear ungrateful and distracted.

Second: restructure your work to be more transparent. If others know what you are working on, they will want to do the same. A great technique is to list your current projects and accomplishments on a whiteboard, or to keep a log in a public places of your success.

Third: change more of your workplace conversations to be about work. If you treat every workplace conversation as one about the tasks that are being done and the challenges ahead, you’ll limit problems with workplace fairness. For example, when the office favorite tries to engage you in a long conversation about their personal life, politely excuse yourself by stating the projects you need pursue back at your desk.

Favoritism at the office can degrade morale and motivation. When other people get special, unfair treatment, overall productivity drops. Eventually, the best decision for any reasonable employee is to find work elsewhere. Push back against favoritism by focusing on what matters most at work: the work itself.

About the Author: Robby Slaughter is a business consultant with AccelaWork. He focuses on helping to improve employee engagement and productivity.

Certificates can help boost pay. More if you're a man, of course.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Laura ClawsonFor some high school graduates looking to get some more education and increase their income, or for people with college degrees looking to retrain into a new field, a certificate can be a good alternative to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. But like just about everything else, certificates pay off less for women than for men:

Men who earn certificates earn 27 percent more than high school educated men. Women with a certificate, by comparison, only receive an average 16 percent increase in earnings over women with a high school diploma.

Some of that difference is because men are more likely to get certificates in higher-paying fields, such as construction, while women are more likely to get certificates in lower-paying fields, such as cosmetology. But that doesn’t explain the entire gap:

A male with a certificate in computer and information service can earn about $72,000 per year—more than 72 percent of his peers with an associate’s degree and more than 54 percent of male bachelor’s degree holders.

Notice we said “male.” Thanks to gender inequity, just as a man with a bachelor’s degree can out-earn a woman with a master’s degree, women don’t benefit from certificates as much as the guys do. A woman working in that same field only earns about $57,000.

That’s just one of the ways that the value of getting a certificate is variable: fewer than half of certificate-holders work in a field related to their training, and those working in other fields see just a 1 percent increase in median pay relative to high school graduates. But those who do work in the field they’ve trained in earn only slightly less than the median worker with an associate’s degree. Impact varies by race, as well, with Latinos getting the biggest earnings boost from a certificate over a high school diploma, while African Americans benefit the least from certificates. White certificate holders get much less of a boost than Latinos—but because white high school graduates earn more than Latinos, white certificate holders don’t need a big increase to keep out-earning Latinos.

The picture on certificates is mixed: Some certificates in some fields can mean real pay increases for some people. The picture on gender inequity remains clear: In any level of education, in just about any field, women are left behind.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on June 12, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

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