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Archive for the ‘layoffs’ Category

Labor and Community Allies Fight for Jobs and Public Safety in Atlantic City

Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

Atlantic City, New Jersey, may be the gambling capital of the East Coast, but there are certain things that shouldn’t be left up to chance, namely public safety. However, bureaucrats in charge of the state takeover of Atlantic City are now ready to impose drastic budget cuts that will result in 50% fewer firefighters and the smallest police force since 1971.

The New Jersey State AFL-CIO has joined with various labor and community allies to oppose these cuts that threaten safety and also undermine the economic recovery of Atlantic City. This community-based coalition has launched a campaign called “Don’t Gamble on Safety AC” that seeks to raise awareness of the impact of budget cuts.

During the campaign launch last week, one of the most salient voices was that of Officer Joshlee Vadell, who was shot in the head while heroically intervening in an armed robbery last year. Under the plan proposed by the state of New Jersey, disability payments for officers like Vadell could be cut, and the officers who rushed to save his life would face layoffs.

Watch Officer Vadell’s press conference speech, and be sure to check out highlights from the event.

Without ensuring safety, residents, businesses, visitors and workers are all put at risk. The New Jersey State AFL-CIO will stand with our brothers and sisters and the Atlantic City community to ensure that this fundamental community need is met.

The campaign will include billboards, direct mail, online advertising and multiple grassroots activities, including leafleting on the boardwalk and door-to-door canvassing to inform residents. For more information on the campaign, visit DontGambleOnSafetyAC.com.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on March 28, 2017.  Reprinted with permission.

Philadelphia School Layoffs are Endangering Students' College Prospects

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Laura ClawsonIt’s college application time for high school seniors around the country, and Philadelphia public school students are facing more than the usual “will I get in?” stresses. That’s because last summer’s massive layoffs in the Philadelphia schools left them understaffed and without enough counselors to guide students through the application process—in some cases without enough counselors to even write recommendation letters for every student who needs them:

Many students at Central High shoot for top-tier colleges, but counselor Tatiana Olmedo has had to warn college officials not every student will have a letter of recommendation.The math just doesn’t add up, Olmedo said – 2,400 students, two counselors. Eight counselors used to work at the school. Students who want an appointment to see a counselor can count on a two-week wait.

“We don’t know all the students, and we don’t have a way of meeting them in a timely fashion,” Olmedo said. Schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University indicated that might affect students’ chances.

And forget about counselors having the time to help students figure out what colleges they should apply to, advice that can be especially important for teens seeking to become first-generation college students, whose parents aren’t familiar with the application process. Also falling by the wayside as counselors struggle to help hundreds or thousands of students make it through high school are little things like teaching students how to tell if their friends might be suicidal.

Philadelphia’s schools are being hit by a funding crisis created by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett; their teachers are paid less than teachers in surrounding suburbs, they receive less funding per student than schools in Pittsburgh and many of the state’s other cities, and school closings are disproportionately hurting low-income and black students. Now, kids who’ve nearly made it through and are trying to move on to college are being hurt by Corbett’s cuts.

This article was originally printed on Daily Kos on January 6, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

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

Dark Days for Philly Schools As Cuts Threaten to Decimate District

Monday, June 17th, 2013

P5034697Despite educators’ best efforts, urban school systems are bleak places to work at and learn in these days, no matter the city or one’s position in the school. But Philadelphia offers a particularly grim view of the dismantling of public education in the austerity era. Few American city school systems have faced measures as devastating as Philadelphia’s—at the very same time the state government has passed massive corporate tax breaks and increased funding for incarceration.

Citing a budget deficit of $304 million in the coming fiscal year, the city’s School Reform Commission voted in March to close 23 public schools, about 10 percent of the city’s total schools. And this week, the district announced a staggering 3,783 layoffs—676 teachers, 769 assistants and 1,202 school safety staff—if additional funds cannot be generated from the city, the state and concessions from public sector workers.

The closures were not Philadelphia’s first, nor were the layoffs—nine schools were closed andmore than 3,000 jobs were eliminated in 2011. In that year, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett slashed more than $1 billion to public education in the state’s budget (along with other brutal cuts to the social safety net throughout Pennsylvania).

Those measures were considered devastating at the time. The currently proposed closures and cuts go even deeper.

“Philadelphia schools are on life support,” says Ron Whitehorne, a retired teacher and activist with the community-labor group Philly Coalition Advocating for Public Schools, “and they’re about to pull the plug.”

The district is seeking $313 million before the end of the month. It is requesting more tax dollars—$60 million more from the city, $120 million from the state. But a plurality of its plan to close the deficit comes from union concessions and givebacks, to the tune of $133 million, most of which come from Philadelphia teachers.

Even at a time of widespread austerity, the scope of concessions demanded of Philly teachers is jaw-dropping. Under the district’s contract giveback demands, teachers earning more than $55,000 a year would receive a 13 percent pay cut, along with a 13 percent hike in health care contributions. Tenure and sabbaticals would be eliminated, the workday would be lengthened (and teachers would be forced to work additional hours off the clock without pay). Librarians would be eliminated, and schools would no longer be required to have counselors. Limits on class sizes would be lifted.

The proposal led Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch to write:

The time to stop this downward spiral of bulls–it is right now. … If this really is the deal, Philadelphia teachers need to walk off the job. That’s right — strike. And anyone who cares about the ability of the middle class to raise a family — particularly a well-educated family — needs to stand behind them.

City and state politicians might be able to justify the measures as painful but necessary decisions at a time of “shared sacrifice” if they weren’t simultaneously handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations and Wall Street, upping their contributions to charter schools, and building a new prison. Last month, for example, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a corporate tax cut that would cost the state $600-800 million per year, more than double Philadelphia schools’ deficit for the next fiscal year.

“How can you call for shared sacrifice while huge businesses are getting a tax break?” says Whitehorne.

The district spends more than 10 times the national average servicing its debt, with an astonishing $280 million—12 percent of its entire budget—going to interest payments and $161 million going to Wall Street firms in what have been called ”toxic” interest rate swaps, under criticism in other cities for unjustly robbing schools of resources.

“This is a [gubernatorial] administration that has bent over backwards to accommodate corporate interests,” says Whitehorne.

Charter schools have had to make some cuts over the years, but their percentage of the district’s total education budget—30 percent, at $729 million for FY 2014 (PDF)—continues to grow, with an estimated 40 percent of the city’s students slated to attend charters by 2017. And perhaps most incredibly, within days of the layoffs announcement, the state began work on a $400 million new prison north of Philadelphia.

The expansion of prisons at the time of massive school budget cuts makes some sense, since the 3,783 layoffs include the total elimination of all 1,202 of the district’s school safety workers, who monitor cafeterias, hallways and other areas of schools to de-escalate conflicts and violence between students, a longstanding problem in Philadelphia. If safety workers are eliminated, only police officers will remain in the schools, which could easily accelerate what activists call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Doris Hogue works at South Philadelphia High. She has worked as a school safety worker for 20 years, and is a member of UNITE HERE Local 247.  “At one time, there were interracial fights going on,” Hogue says, referencing widespread violence between African American and Asian American students in the school system several years ago. “We developed rapport with the children. They began to trust us, and we were able to help diminish much of the violence.” She says the number of violent incidents is down in her school. In a report released by UNITE HERE, 40 percent of student safety staff reported recently witnessing a violent incident where there were not enough safety personnel present to address it. If the layoffs go through as planned, there won’t be any.

“We’re not just safety staff—we’re like their mothers,” Hogue says. “They come to us if they hear a fight’s going to happen, or if they’re being bullied. I don’t think the district recognizes what will happen in September when the children come back to school without us there.”

Philadelphia was subject to what the Rand Corporation called “the nation’s largest experiment in the private management of public schools.” As reporter Daniel Denvir notes, that project included the takeover of Philadelphia public schools in 2002 by the state, which then established the School Reform Commission (SRC) “to oversee the district and turned 45 schools over to private managers, including for-profit educational management organizations.” But according to Rand, despite the massive number of schools privately managed, student achievement did not improve—and the school’s deficit only deepened. Rather than pull the district out of the red, privatization plunged Philadelphia schools further into it, thus justifying the need for further austerity measures.

Students, teachers and other education workers, and community members seem to be stepping up their pushback to the draconian cuts. In March, 19 people were arrested at the SRC meeting where the closures were voted on, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. (Whitehorne says those charges were dropped yesterday.) Students have ledmultiple walkouts throughout the city. Protests are continuing to ratchet up, including a scheduled rally in Harrisburg, the state capital, at the end of the month. But with almost half of the $323 million to plug the deficit coming on the backs of public-sector workers, the options for Philadelphia schools seem to range from bad to worse.

“If they don’t work anything out, and the money doesn’t come in, I feel it would be so dangerous for any schools to open,” says Hogue, the school safety worker. Come September, “I can’t imagine what it’s going to look like. It’s not going to be good.”

This article was originally printed on Working In These Times on June 14, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Micah Uetricht is an In These Times contributing editor. He has written for SalonThe Nation,The American ProspectJacobin, and the Chicago Reader. Most importantly, he is also a proud former In These Times editorial intern.

Women, Black Workers Hard Hit by Attacks on Public Employees

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Credit: Joe Kekeris

The improved jobs figures out last Friday obscured the ongoing decline in public-sector jobs. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics noted when releasing the March unemployment data:

Employment in local government continued to trend down over the month. Local government has lost 416,000 jobs since an employment peak in September 2008.

The loss of such jobs is important because the nation’s well-being depends not only on job numbers increasing, but on the creation of quality jobs—those that pay decent wages and enable people to attain or maintain a middle-class life. According to National Employment Law Project (NELP), the new jobs being created aren’t as good as the ones that have been lost. NELP found that jobs in lower wage industries, such as retail and food preparation, made up 23 percent of the jobs that were lost in the recent recession. Yet they made up 49 percent of the jobs the economy has gained in the past year. As the BBC Business puts it:

In other words, it appears that while people may finally be returning to work, they have to work for less pay.

In contrast, jobs in the public sector have provided such economic stability. They have also made it possible for some of the nation’s most economically marginalized—women and minorities—to achieve financial security often denied them in the private sector.

So attacks on public employees hit women and black workers especially hard.

Susan Feiner, professor of economics and of women’s and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine, writes that:

employees at the federal (43 percent female), state (53 percent female) and local (61 percent female) levels have been able to better resist the wage reductions, benefit cuts and mass lay-offs that giant multinational corporations have visited upon employees over the last decade.

Yet Feiner finds that “while women represented 57 percent of the public-sector work force at the end of the recession,”

women lost the vast majority—79 percent—of the 327,000 jobs cut in this sector between July 2009 and February 2011, according to a January report by the Washington, D.C.-based National Women’s Law Center.

Steven Pitts, labor policy specialist at the University of California-Berkeley Labor Center, writes today about the striking results of his new research brief, Blacks and the Public Sector. In sum:

  • The public sector is the single most important source of employment for African Americans.
  • During 2008-2010, 21.2 percent of all black workers were public employees, compared with 16.3 percent of non-black workers.  Both before and after the onset of the Great Recession, African Americans were 30 percent more likely than other workers to be employed in the public sector.
  • The public sector is also a critical source of decent-paying jobs for black worker.  For both men and women, the median wage earned by black employees is significantly higher in the public sector than in other industries.
  • Prior to the recession, the wage differential between black and white workers was less in the public sector than in the overall economy.

As California Progress Report writes:

For blacks and others, “the best anti-poverty program is union organizing,” the UC Berkeley Labor Center notes on its website.”

And so moves by Republican governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio to shred the ability of public employees to bargain for a decent middle-class life are also specifically targeting the ability of women and black workers to remain in the economic mainstream.

About the Author: Tula Connell got her first union card while she worked her way through college as a banquet bartender for the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee (she was represented by a hotel and restaurant local union—the names of the national unions were different then than they are now). With a background in journalism—covering bull roping in Texas and school boards in Virginia—she started working in the labor movement in 1991. Beginning as a writer for SEIU (and OPEIU member), she now blogs under the title of AFL-CIO managing editor.

This blog originally was post on AFL-CIO on April 5, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Fired in real time: A little bit pregnant

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerOne phrase comes to mind as I started calling my friends to tell them that I had been fired, “a little bit pregnant.” I’m a guy, so please remember, this is a metaphor.

I’ll explain. The American Dream isn’t just big cars and summer houses. No, at it’s heart is the belief that everyone has a chance to be successful. Put another way, there is an essential fairness or rationality that is the foundation of how the world of work works. As an equation it might go something like this, hard work = success.

I don’t think I’m alone when I admit that when I’ve seen people around me fired or laid off I’ve leapt to the opposite conclusion. That on some level, they deserved it. Okay, now that I’ve gone down this path, please tolerate one more equation, failure = failure.

That’s where being a little bit pregnant comes in.

I think most people assume that when you are fired you might not be 100% at fault, but you are at least a little bit guilty of something. Hence, anyone fired is at least a little big pregnant.

This not only helps to explain what happened to anyone who is fired, it also helps to justify why you still have your job. Because you clearly aren’t a failure.

I’ll save you the gory details of my firing, but I believe it wasn’t because I wasn’t doing my job. No, there were plenty of people at my old company who fit in that category. In fact, I’ve never worked anyplace where more people would say in normal conversation, “What exactly does he do for us?” Really, I heard people say that about at least 20% of the employees.

No, I was fired because I actually tried to do my job.

I was initially hired as a spokesmodel for the company, however, if you knew what I looked like that reference would be even funnier.

My role was to talk about the product with customers, the media, etc. However, what I quickly discovered was the marketing and sales function wasn’t broken, it was non-existent. So I filled the vacuum by creating a new name for the company, a marketing plan, sales collateral, I suggested product modifications based on client input and I started making sales calls. In addition to this I spent my first two months playing company therapist, going office to office to get people pointed in the same direction. On occasion, I even got in harms way between two warring staffers.

The responses to our sales calls varied from “like” to something bordering on adulation. But five months in I realized that we were 0 for 30. Yep, we’d made thirty sales calls and had not sold our product to one client.

I know what you’re thinking, I should have been fired for sheer sales ineptitude. Ironically, this would have been much easier to handle than the reason that I was actually fired for. Much easier.

I spent a long weekend thinking about how we could end this horrific losing streak and I realized that there were a number of contributing factors. First, with no clients, every company we talked to had to decide if they wanted to become our guinea pig. We also didn’t have examples of real companies using our product. So we needed to connect the dots for our customers. Finally, I came up with a visible and credible organization that would agree to serve as our launch client and could connect the dots for potential customers.

Guinea pig, no longer an issue. Connect the dots, check.

I put this in a report for my boss. Needless to say I learned that you should never present a report to your boss entitled “0 for 30.” However, not in the way that you’re probably thinking.

My boss didn’t seem to be bothered at all by our lack of sales. His first response was to say, “No one has said ‘No’ to us so far.” He felt that it all was just a matter of time before we’d land a series of major sales.

The stunner was when he said, “You can’t ever use the phrase 0 for 30 again. Not within earshot of me or in any emails.” Here is the clincher, “Because it will hurt the feelings of all of the staff members who’ve worked so hard on the product.” He concluded, “And I don’t ever want a potential investor to see the phrase ‘0 for 30.’”

Feelings? And that the only way that an investor would learn that we didn’t have any customers was because they read an email by me?

Two weeks after presenting the 0 for 30 report I was fired for not getting along with staff. Two staffers were mentioned by name.

My a-ha: Mine was probably more of a mercy killing than a firing

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Fired in real time: The perp walk.

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Image: Bob RosnerI’ve had countless people write to me, as a workplace columnist, to describe the security guard standing next to them as they packed up their soon-to-be-former desk and painfully did a final perp walk out of the building.

Mine was not nearly that cinematic. Just me, a bunch of boxes and a coworker with whom I shared the office looking ashen. That might not mean much to you, but considering that she is African American, it was a weird way to see her.

Lucky for me, the company I worked for is not exactly a burn-the-candle-at-both-ends-kind-of-operation. Except for the days when there is an afternoon staff meeting, mostly the building starts to clear out about 3 pm. That’s when people choose to show up for work at all.

So as I scrambled to pack up my stuff, luckily I saw precious few people.

As I walked down the hallway, one guy grabbed me by the shirt and said, “You’re the lucky one here, you get to escape this zoo.”

Another woman didn’t say a word. She just hugged me with a tear in her eye. She started to say something and then just grabbed me again. Then she scurried down the hall.

One image kept coming to mind as I try to sum up the feelings that were circulating around my psyche like really powerful Jacuzzi jets in the hour after being fired. It was an old family picture, let me explain.

My sister lived with her husband for ten years. Then one day we got a call that she was moving out, into her own apartment. Within hours of that call, my mother had strategically removed any photos that contained my sister’s ex from the house.

But there was one photo that my old man really liked, so my mom couldn’t just toss it. The photo was of our extended family that was decoupaged onto a piece of wood. My mother was more than up to the challenge. She scratched out my sisters husband’s face and body, leaving a gaping hole in the photograph. She then glued a tree over where he’d been.

It might have worked, if my ex brother in law had been standing on the end of the assembled group of family members. But seeing my family gathered around that clumsily glued tree makes me laugh to this day.

That’s exactly how I felt. Like I was crudely scratched out of my own picture. In the coming days I probably will find the words to discuss the emotional devastation in greater detail. But suffice it to say that it is a searing pain that someone who is fired won’t soon forget.

My a-ha: If people in Seattle have a million ways to describe rain, people who are fired have as many to describe the numb feeling that comes over your body and soul. Try as you may to orient yourself, it only comes to you with the passage of time. At least I hope so.

Next installment: No soup for you.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Fired in real time: Never meet with your boss at 4 pm on Friday

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Image: Bob Rosner

My boss, and his henchman, arrived promptly for the meeting to discuss my sales update. It was 4 pm on Friday afternoon, approximately 48 hours ago. 

I knew something was up because my boss started speaking totally in sentence fragments. “I’ve made up my mind, things aren’t working out, I need people to get along, it’s time for a new direction, you can’t be having fun.” 

 Later I remembered that many termination specialists, like George Clooney in the movie “Up in the Air,” advise bosses when they fire someone to never pull a Donald Trump and say the “F” word. So it becomes a very weird game of firing euphemisms that fall on you drop-by-drop, like a painful kind of water torture.

 I said something, I honestly can’t remember what it was. This triggered my boss’s loop to start all over again, albeit in a slightly different order.  “Things aren’t working out, I need people to get along, you can’t be having fun, it’s time for a new direction, I’ve made up my mind.”

 I don’t know if he just screwed up the speech the second time, or if the termination gurus suggest that the firing sentence nuggets be shuffled like a deck of cards before being delivered each time. 

 Either way it was totally disorienting. Because he didn’t tell me directly that I was being fired, I  had to say the word inside my own head. So what happened is that I ended up firing myself. How sadistic is that?

 I do remember my next question, I asked why I was never given a chance to change my behavior before I was fired. The reply was quick, and clearly rehearsed, “Come on Bob, we’ve got lots of documentation.”

Documentation? Did anyone think to share it with me before I was fired? After? It would be nice to be consoled that there is a filing cabinet somewhere that answers the riddle of my firing, but clearly being fired by my company is a process that makes the selection of the Pope appear totally transparent. 

 Was the relationship between me and my boss flawed? You betcha. But it could have been humane to at least have one counseling session before the execution. Heck, even a kangaroo court would at least provide the illusion of concern and participation. 

 But alas it was not in the stars for me. My trial, sentencing and execution were neatly wrapped in one ten minute meeting.

 Believe it or not, I’m a best-selling business author. And yes, this greatly increases my embarrassment of being fired, but it also puts me in an interesting place to observe the process. I’m going to try to deal with the salt-in-the-wounds quality of writing about my own firing, partially as personal therapy, but mostly to increase the rate of healing for everyone else who’ll follow in my footsteps. And more of us, than we’d all like to admit, will undoubtedly go this route at some point.

Finally, I’m not going to mention the name of my former company anywhere in this blog. Because ultimately it’s not about them. It’s about my journey to regain my sanity and gainful employment. 

My a-ha: In the absence of embezzlement or a dead body, people should always get a chance to change their behavior before being fired.
 
 
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Sophie’s Choice, Workplace Edition

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Image: Bob RosnerA number of years ago I was running a small non-profit that I’d founded. We negotiated a big six-figure payday with a video production company to produce a four part video series. We also tossed in exclusive distribution rights to an award winning video we’d created.

Can you say windfall? We could.

Thinking that this was ongoing revenue for my organization, instead of a one-time bonanza, I went out and hired two new staffers.

Six months later, as the money was running out, I had to lay off the two staffers. Painful stuff that can still keep me awake at night.

At the time, a friend told me something he’d learned in his life guard training. If you were swimming back to shore with someone who couldn’t do it on their own, there is one cardinal rule. If you feel yourself being pulled beneath the waves, you need to let go of them. Because your primary job is to save yourself. Anything else is icing, not the cake.

Even though I’ve been speaking out against layoffs for a long time, I also realize that there are times where an organization needs to make tough calls for the good of everyone.

Given all the layoffs and turmoil in the economy, it never ceases to amaze me at how there are still people out there who believe that they are entitled to have their job. The float through their day partying like it’s 1999.

Organizations need to realize that if these sacred cows restricted their damage to their own lack of production, it would be difficult but not a back breaker for a company. But unfortunately these people often send the message out to everyone else that mediocrity is not only tolerated, it’s embraced.

Tough calls. It sounds tacky but addition by subtraction really does mean something in today’s workplace. Take a longer view and you might be surprised at how you look at your organization entirely differently.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Baltimore Workers File Class-Action Suit Over ESPN Zone Closure

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

kari-lydersenIn June the ESPN Zone restaurant in Baltimore’s trendy Inner Harbor shopping and entertainment district closed after workers were given just a week’s notice and state regulators were given only one day notice.

In a class-action lawsuit filed Monday naming ESPN Zone’s owner Disney, five workers allege this was a violation of the WARN Act, which requires at least 60 days notice—or 60 days severance pay—in the case of mass layoffs at companies with 100 or more employees. About 150 workers lost their jobs when the restaurant closed. About 50 workers and supporters protested Monday outside ESPN Zone, then marched to Baltimore District Court where the lawsuit was filed. (See photos by Bill Hughes here).

After the ESPN Zone closed June 16, workers were given a month’s pay on administrative leave and an additional severance based on length of service, which the company has said constitutes WARN Act compliance. But the workers’ attorneys and a grassroots labor group called United Workers says the total pay and severance is still less than what they would be due under the  WARN Act. Severance was due under an agreement with Disney that should be separate from WARN Act compliance, they say.

The case has become a centerpiece of United Workers’ Economic Human Rights Zone campaign in the Inner Harbor, a novel strategy uniting workers at various restaurants and stores to demand that as the area has received substantial taxpayer subsidies, developers of the two major malls should be responsible for making sure workers are paid a state living wage and basic workers rights are respected. Monday’s march came on the second anniversary of the declaration of the Human Rights Zone, and eight years after United Workers’ founding out of a struggle on behalf of homeless vendors at the city stadium.

United Workers began targeting individual employers in the Inner Harbor, but decided it was a more pragmatic and meaningful campaign to target the development as a whole, and demand the two major companies—GGP and Cordish—that lease and sell space commit to making sure their tenants treat workers right.

In a playful post on the United Workers website, they describe the pervasive problems uncovered during an investigation by a pro-labor “Sherlock Holmes.”

Holmes discovered that the trail of worker human rights abuses did not stop with the ESPN Zone, but extends throughout the harbor. Hearing from workers from the Cheesecake Factory, Phillips, and Hooters, he uncovered what lies beneath the surface: poverty wages, stolen tips, sexual harrassment, lack of healthcare, and barriers to education. ‘Different vendors, but the same story? The Inner Harbor is a Poverty-zone! But who is in control?,’ thought Sherlock.

ESPN Zone workers discovered by word of mouth that, they say, managers didn’t intend to give them any notice of the closing at all, until word leaked out over social media websites. That, in fact, is how numerous workers first heard the news. “We would just come to work one day and all the doors would be shut and locked,” said Lenard Gray, 28, who’d worked there more than six years.

The closing was especially problematic since it came during the busiest summer months, when workers count on racking up long hours that – even at pay rates just barely above minimum wage – allow them to save money for leaner seasons. Workers reported becoming homeless, having to withdraw kids from programs and being evicted since the closing.

“We were stunned. It was like walking through a dream. We were just devastated,” said former cook Winston Gupton. He had worked there for more than seven years, and lost his housing after the closure.

The WARN Act – which received national attention during the Republic Windows and Doors occupation in Chicago two years ago – was meant to provide workers time to look for other jobs and state agencies time to offer retraining and social services. The acronym means Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification.  Even when WARN Act notice is given, an outpouring of state services or retraining opportunities is a rarity. And the Act is regularly violated with few repercussions.

Enforcing it takes lawsuits like the one filed by ESPN Zone workers, which are costly and time-consuming for low-income workers who hardly have time to wait around for a judgment.

But as in the Republic Windows and Doors struggle, the ESPN Zone workers’ lawsuit serves not only to try to hold an employer accountable but also to raise the public profile of WARN Act violations in general and of the Economic Human Rights Zone campaign. Organizers say they will continue to investigate possible labor law violations and working conditions at various Inner Harbor outlets including the Cheesecake Factory, Phillips Seafood and Hooters. When United Workers initially surveyed restaurants trying to find the “worst of the worst,” Phillips’ name came up, they said.

Former ESPN Zone cook Debra Harris said in a statement:

We are sending a message to Disney, ESPN Zone and Inner Harbor developers that private gain should not take precedence over human life. Corporate executives think they can break the law and just get away with it, because harbor developers do not enforce any human rights standards, but we are human beings and we have the right to dignity and respect.

This post was originally published on Working In These Times.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist writing for publications including The Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island.

Outsourcing Jobs...that Can't be Outsourced

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Martin FordPeople who work in knowledge-based fields like information technology, accounting, graphic design or legal research are probably well aware that their jobs are susceptible to being outsourced to a low wage country. In fact, I suspect that economists underestimate the impact that this practice will have on the job market as improving technology makes offshoring cheaper and more accessible to smaller businesses. That may be especially true if weak consumer demand continues to push businesses to focus on cost-cutting rather than revenue growth.

But what about people who have jobs that involve physically interacting with their environment? Those jobs can’t be offshored, right? Well…

There’s an article in the San Jose Mercury News today on the emerging remote-controlled robot industry:

Remote-controlled robots are entering the workforce

The declining prices for telepresence robots will encourage experimentation among companies and entrepreneurs, who will find new uses for them, analysts say.”These robots will have a network effect,” said Hyoun Park, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, a technology research firm. “The more robots there are, the easier it will be to work remotely in ways we haven’t thought about before.”

As as these technologies become more prevalent, I think one of the new ideas that will emerge will be offshoring the control function. So you’ll have a worker in India or Bangladesh who can do a job that requires physical proximity in a developed country. Some jobs that “can’t be outsourced” … might just get outsourced.

I have a section on this in my book The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (get the free PDF), which focuses on how technology and globalization are likely to result in increasing structural unemployment:

Those jobs that require significant hand-eye coordination in a varied environment are currently very difficult to fully automate. But what about offshoring? Can these jobs be offshored?In fact they can, and we are likely to see this increasingly in the near future. As an example, consider a manufacturing assembly line. Suppose that the highly repetitive jobs have already been automated, but there remain jobs for skilled operators at certain key points in the production process. How could management get rid of these skilled workers?

They could simply build a remote controlled robot to perform the task, and then offshore the control function. As we have pointed out, it is the ability to recognize a complex visual image and then manipulate a robot arm based on that image that is a primary challenge preventing full robotic automation. Transmitting a real-time visual image overseas, where a low paid worker can then manipulate the machinery, is certainly already feasible. Remote controlled robots are currently used in military and police applications that would be dangerous for humans. We very likely will see such robots in factories and workplaces in the near future.

As I’ve written previously, I don’t think economists understand the extent to which technology is playing a role in the current unemployment crisis–and more importantly how things are likely to progress in the future. Technology and globalization are not going to stand still while we wait for the job market to recover. They will continue to progress and even accelerate. That will make it very difficult to drive the unemployment rate back down without some very effective policies in place.

This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post.

About The Author: Martin Ford is the founder of a Silicon Valley-based software development firm.  He holds a computer engineering degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and a graduate business degree from the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future (available from Amazon or as a FREE PDF eBook) and has a blog at econfuture.wordpress.com.

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