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Jimmy John’s Fired Workers for Making a ‘Disloyal’ Meme. A Court Just Ruled That’s Okay.

Friday, July 14th, 2017

In a decision emblematic of the new climate of Trumpian governance, a federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled on July 3 that it is acceptable for the boss of a fast-food chain to fire workers for the sin of being “disloyal.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a ruling issued by the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a case spawned by a labor organizing drive at the Jimmy John’s fast-food chain. The court held that Miklin Enterprises, the owner of Jimmy John’s franchises in Minneapolis, had the right to fire six pro-union advocates because they demonstrated “disloyalty” by distributing flyers in 2011 that implied the company was selling unsafe food contaminated by employees obliged to work while sick with the flu.

The organizers designed and distributed memes that showed images of identical Jimmy John’s sandwiches. One was “made by a healthy Jimmy John’s worker,” the other by a “sick” worker. “Can’t tell the different?” the poster continued. “That’s too bad because Jimmy John’s workers don’t get paid sick days. Shoot, we can’t even call in sick. We hope your immune system is ready because you’re about to take the sandwich test.”

The Minneapolis union campaign, launched by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or ‘Wobblies’), has been high-profile from the start. First erupting in 2010, the effort quickly developed into an intense legal fight at the NLRB before advancing to the federal courts. It even spilled over into the U.S. Congress in 2014 with the revelation that Jimmy John’s routinely required its low-paid sandwich makers to sign questionable “non-compete agreements.”

Threatened with punitive action by the attorneys general in several states, Jimmy John’s rescinded its non-compete policies in 2016, but not before the company’s reputation had been tarnished.

Like the non-compete agreements, the July 3 court decision is an unwarranted attack on labor rights, says William B. Gould IV, a labor law professor at Stanford University and former chairman of the federal labor board.

“The first thing that strikes you is how archaic this feels,” Gould tells In These Times. “The legal basis is from a case in the 1950s when people had a whole different concept of loyalty owed to their employer.

“In those days,” Gould continues, “the assumption was that loyalty was a two-way street: You were loyal to the company and the company was loyal to you. Now, with Uber and Lyft and the others, companies are even refusing to admit that you are one of their employees, so there isn’t much talk about loyalty owed to the employer anymore.”

The July 3 decision turns on the interpretation of ‘loyalty’ articulated in the 1953 Supreme Court case National Labor Relations Board v. Local Union 1229 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, known as “Jefferson Standard” for short. Earlier in the process of the more recent NLRB case, the labor agency’s Obama appointees had ruled that the firing of the workers was an illegal violation of their rights to form a union. But the appeals court decision reversed that decision, asserting that the disloyalty displayed by the pamphlets gave the employer the right to fire the workers, Gould explains.

The court stated, “(W)hile an employee’s subjective intent is of course relevant to the disloyalty inquiry—”sharp, public, disparaging attack” suggests an intent to harm the Jefferson Standard principle includes an objective component that focuses, not on the employee’s purpose, but on the means used—whether the disparaging attack was ‘reasonably calculated to harm the company’s reputation and reduce its income,’ to such an extent that it was harmful, indefensible disparagement of the employer or its product.”

Erik Forman was fired six years ago for organizing a union at a Jimmy John’s in Minneapolis. He told In These Times, “The big takeaway for me is that this ruling means workers do not have the right to tell the truth about their employer,” he said, adding: “The ruling is incredibly slanted towards the employer. They frame our campaign for sick days as an attack on the employer and turn logic on its head. We told the truth about the risk to the public.”

“Employers’ motivation wasn’t just to stop the sick-day campaign,” Forman continued. “It was to stop our unionization effort.”

According to Gould, “This case comes from the 8th Circuit which is the most conservative in the country. It’s the worst circuit in the country for a labor union, or for labor rights.”

The ultra-conservative nature of the ruling may have the unintended benefit of limiting its applicability to workers other than the Minneapolis Jimmy John’s employees, the former NLRB chairman adds. Other judicial districts may not be eager to follow its lead because many traditionally defer to the NLRB in matters of this kind, he says, and few employers will want to take the legal risk of relying on a circuit court ruling that has not been confirmed by the Supreme Court.

The reversal of the Obama-era NLRB decision mirrors action in Congress, where several measures are under consideration to roll back pro-worker measures adopted by the labor board during Obama’s tenure. This week, the U.S. Senate is considering thenomination of two Trump NLRB appointees, both of whom have been criticized as anti-worker by the AFL-CIO.

Carmen Spell, an NLRB representative at the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, would only comment that “(w)e are considering options at this time” on how the agency will respond to the court ruling.

Jane Hardey, a spokeswoman for Jimmy John’s, declined any comment, asserting that the legal case involved only the Minneapolis franchise owner, and did not involve the sandwich chain company itself. Hardey did not respond to a request from In These Times for a telephone interview with Jimmy John Liautard, the controversial founder of the franchise.

According to the Jimmy John’s web site, the rapidly growing chain currently has 2,701 locations in 48 states. The number of employees is estimated at over 100,000.

“The fact that we were fired over six years ago in retaliation for union organizing should tell everyone that you cannot rely on labor law in this country,” says Forman. “Every single decision can now be appealed up to a Trump Supreme Court. We need to find new ways of building and exercising power on our own.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 13, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

420,000 More Workers in Cook County Will Soon Have Paid Sick Leave

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

ltcoyngtThe United States of America: land of liberty, bastion of opportunity, the world’s leading economic power.

But if you’re a low-wage worker and wake up sick, you’d better clock in on time or you risk losing your wages and even your job.

Paid time off for illness, taken for granted in professional sectors and much of the developed world, remains out of reach for millions of American workers. The United States is the only major developed country that does not guarantee paid sick days to all workers by law. Federal data show that more than one-third of private sector workers throughout the United States do not receive paid sick leave.

A disproportionate number of those without paid sick days are women, people of color and people with low incomes. Though women are the primary caregivers in most families, they also make up the majority of workers in low-wage jobs that do not offer paid sick days. Access is particularly bad for Hispanic workersresearchers have found that less than half get paid sick days, compared to 60 percent of workers overall. And for both women and men, federal data show that the highest paid workers overwhelmingly have access to paid sick days, while most of the poorest workers do not.

But this month, the Cook County Board of Commissioners in Illinois took a major step toward changing that. The board approved legislation that guarantees paid sick days to all workers in the county, bringing the Chicago suburbs in line with the city. Chicago passed its own paid sick leave ordinance in June.

Under the ordinance, Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 900,000 workers in the county don’t currently have paid sick days, including 420,000 in the suburbs. The new laws in Chicago and Cook County will take effect July 1, 2017.

Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy for the advocacy group Women Employed, helped campaign for the law.

“All employees—no matter their occupation—should have the peace of mind to know they can take time off work for their own illness or to care for a sick family member without fear of losing their job or a day’s pay,” says Josephs.

Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)

Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)

Cook County’s decision is the most recent victory in what seems to be a growing movement for paid sick leave. Since 2006, 38 localities in the United States have passed sick leave legislation. This year alone, 12 paid sick leave laws have been passed across the country, including in Vermont and major cities like Los Angeles and San Diego.

Also this year, the momentum for paid sick leave reached the Obama administration. At the direction of the President, the Department of Labor issued new rules requiring federal contractors to provide up to 56 hours, or more than a week, of paid sick leave per year, which will impact more than a million workers when they go into effect.

Tamara Green, 29, did not have access to paid sick leave until recently. A few years ago, she was working for a major fast-food chain in New York City. She was also taking care of her mother, who is HIV positive. One day, her mother fell ill unexpectedly and Green asked her boss if she could leave. Her boss told her that if she left, she would consider it a walk-off and she would not be paid.

“How do you keep going if someone you love is ill or, God forbid, dies, and you’re not there because your boss said she needed you to drop some more fries?” asked Green. “That’s not OK.”

Paid sick leave benefits more than individual workers like Green. Research has found that giving workers the ability to stay home when they’re sick without sacrificing their wages benefits public health and the economy. Paid sick dayslead to higher rates of preventative medical care, including mammograms and Pap tests, decrease workplace injuries and reduce rates of illness.

Opponents have argued that sick leave laws burden businesses or force them to make pay cuts. But an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that sick leave poses minimal costs to employers. The cost of paid sick leave policies to employers in Seattle, for example, was less than one percent of revenue on average. What’s more, research indicates that the costs of paid sick leave would be at least partially offset by benefits to employers like reduced turnover, increased morale and increased productivity.

The building momentum for paid sick days suggests that local lawmakers as well as the general public are seeing these benefits. National surveys have shown that the majority of the public supports laws that would mandate paid sick leave.

But at the state and federal level, it’s an uphill battle. Between 2000 and 2013, state legislatures in 10 states—the majority of which were controlled by Republicans—passed laws that prohibit local governments from mandating paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act, which would mandate paid sick time to most workers nationwide, has been stuck in Congress for years.

At her new job, Tamara Green finally has access to paid sick days. She says knowing that she can care for herself or her mother during an emergency means she no longer has to choose “health over wealth,” and she hopes to see the day when no one in the world has to make that choice.

“To know that I have that option to take the day off without losing a way to pay my bills, that’s a relief that some people can’t even understand,” Green says. “One missed doctor’s appointment could be the last time to say goodbye.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on October 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Jonathan Timm is a freelance reporter who specializes in labor and gender issues. Follow him on Twitter @jdrtimm.

The Midwest continues its paid sick leave winning streak

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Bryce Covert

There is no national law ensuring that American workers can take a paid day off of work if they or their family members get sick. But there are now more than 30 of these laws in cities and states throughout the country.

On Wednesday, St. Paul became the second city in Minnesota to pass a paid sick leave law, following Minneapolis in May. Once it goes into effect, more than 68,000 workers in the city’s private sector who have gone without the benefit should be able to take a paid day for illness.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Brian Witte

Starting next summer, those at companies with 24 or more employees would be able to earn up to 48 hours of leave a year, while those at smaller ones will be covered at the beginning of 2018.

Before this year, paid sick leave laws had mostly been concentrated on the East and West coasts. But the last three laws passed have been in the Midwest, with Chicago passing its own ordinance in June.

In total, with St. Paul’s passage, 28 cities and five states have passed paid sick leave laws.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

These policies are already having a noticeable effect. The share of Americans who get paid sick days at work just reached an all-time high, climbing to 64 percent of the private sector workforce, up 7 percentage points over the last decade when cities and states began passing laws. Those toward the bottom of the income scale, who perversely are the least likely to get paid leave benefits, have been the biggest beneficiaries.

CREDIT: Bureau of Labor Statistics

This increase also hasn’t come at the expense of employers or employment. A new survey of businesses in New York City found that the vast majority reported no increase in their costs to comply with the law, while most of the small share that saw them go up only had to grapple with an increase of less than 3 percent. Meanwhile, they reported virtually no abuse of the benefit by employees, such as taking days when they weren’t actually sick.

That comports with other surveys of employers after these policies have taken effect. Employers in Connecticut, Jersey City, and Washington, D.C. have also reported that the laws weren’t costly or difficult to comply with. The majority of businesses in San Francisco and Seattle actually support the policies now.

Job growth has also remained unaffected. It stayed strong in Connecticut and San Francisco even after paid sick days went into effect and was actually stronger in Seattle.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on September 8, 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.

American Workers See Progress On Paid Sick Leave, No Thanks To Congress

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

LauraClawsonPaid sick leave is high on the list of policies that are popular with the public but won’t become federal law as long as Republicans control Congress. But, like the minimum wage, cities and states and employers and the president can expand paid leave to many workers, and in 2015, some did. That’s good news for workers who won’t have to choose between going to work sick and going without pay they can’t afford to lose—and with half of food workers going to work sick because they don’t have paid leave, we’re talking about not just a lot of workers but many more customers who stand to be infected by people working sick.

Paid sick days have gained a lot of ground in the last few years, and continued to do so in 2015. Oregon became the fourth state to require paid sick leave for most workers, following Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts.

The cities of Tacoma, Washington, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also passed paid sick leave laws. New Jersey cities continued their incredible momentum on this issue, with BloomfieldElizabeth, and New Brunswick becoming the ninth, tenth, and eleventh New Jersey municipalities with paid sick leave laws. Montgomery County, Maryland, meanwhile, is the first county to pass a sick leave law. At the federal level, President Obama ordered paid sick leave for federal contract workers starting in 2017.

Despite all that progress, though, Republicans remain determined to keep workers going to work sick. In Michigan, for instance, Republicans passed a state law to block cities and towns from passing either paid sick leave or minimum wage increases. And their party’s presidential candidates? Ha ha ha.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.org on December 31, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Demand Paid Sick Leave for All Employees to Ensure a Healthier and More Productive Workplace

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

grace baehrenIt’s a familiar situation: being sick and at work—or having a sick family member who requires care. While most of us would prefer to stay home and get well or provide care, for the majority of American workers taking a sick day means taking a pay-cut. Not only is the idea of losing pay unappealing, but many American workers simply cannot afford the loss. For some, taking an unexpected day off may even mean risking termination.

Up until now, the push for paid sick leave has been limited to the state and city levels of government. Progress was made with 4 states and Washington, D.C. mandating a paid sick leave accrual system for all employees, and multiple localities passing similar city ordinances (see our state and local paid sick leave laws page).

But now, change is happening at the federal level. On Labor Day, September 7, 2015, President Obama announced an executive order establishing paid sick leave for federal contractors. The order requires federal contractors to provide their employees with up to 7 days of paid sick leave per year beginning in 2017.

Additionally, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or “FAMILY” Act (House, Senate), is proposed legislation that aims to extend paid sick and family leave to all employees in the United States. These standards would provide all employees with at least some partial income, based on a monthly income benefit standard and subject to a capped amount, when such periods of leave are necessary.

If the foreseeable public health benefits aren’t enough to convince you that paid sick leave is beneficial for the workplace, take a look at this letter to Congress signed by over 200 business professors from universities throughout the United States. Among the benefits of paid sick leave discussed in this letter are more productive and engaged employees, as well as long term cost-saving for businesses who offer paid leave.

We need employers and employees everywhere to urge Congress to make legislative changes that support workers, families, employers, and our nation’s economy. Tell your members of Congress to support the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act and make paid leave a reality for all!

About the Author: The author’s name is Grace Baehren. Grace Baehren is a student at The University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.

Carly Fiorina Thinks Corporations Should Be Able To Deny Paid Leave To New Mothers

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

 

Bryce CovertAfter Jake Tapper, host of CNN’s State of the Union, asked Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina about Netflix’s announcement that it will offer a year of unlimited paid family leave, the former Hewlett Packard CEO said she opposes any requirement that employers offer their workers paid leave.

“I don’t think it’s the role of government to dictate to the private sector how to manage their businesses, especially when it’s pretty clear that the private sector, like Netflix…is doing the right thing because they know it helps them attract the right talent,” she said. “I’m not saying I oppose paid maternity leave. What I’m saying is I oppose the federal government mandating paid maternity leave to every company out there.”

But the vast majority of private sector employers don’t seem to agree that offering paid leave is the right thing to do. Only 12 percent of workers in the private sector get paid family leave from work. These benefits are also far more likely to be offered to higher-income, white collar workers and not to the low-income workers who may need it the most to be able to afford time off. Just 5 percent of the lowest-paid 25 percent of employees get paid family leave, compared to 21 percent of the highest 25 percent.

Fiorina noted that while she was at Hewlett Packard, the company offered paid maternity and paternity leave. Current online versions of its employee handbook only refer to “several leave opportunities to provide additional time when you need it, including [unpaid] Family and Medical (FMLA) Leave, state family leaves, [and] parental leave” without specifying how much leave employees might get. But in response to a New York Times inquiry in 2013, the company said new mothers get six weeks of full pay under a short-term disability plan with additional weeks at lower pay, while new fathers get just 10 days.

Netflix and other technology companies have made headlines for far more generous leave: Netflixannounced unlimited paid leave for the first year after the arrival of a child, while Google offersfive months and many others offer 17. But they are the exception to the norm. And without a requirement, leave policies will differ wildly from workplace to workplace.

The lack of a federal law requiring maternity and paternity leave makes the U.S. a lonely outlier on the world stage. It is one of just three countries among 185 that doesn’t guarantee new mothers paid time off, while another 70 include new fathers.

Three states have decided to enact their own policies: California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. And the evidence from those experiments goes against Fiorina’s claim that it would be “ineffective” and “hypocritical” for government to mandate leave when it “hasn’t gotten its basic house in order.” In California, the vast majority of businesses report that the paid leave law had either a positive impact or none at all on profitability, employee performance, and productivity and it helped reduce turnover. In New Jersey, the majority of businesses also say that it hasn’t hurt their finances, while some saw similar benefits.

Paid family leave is generally found to keep women in the labor force and to expand it. The savings in turnover can come to an estimated $89 million a year for the country’s employers. But the lack of paid leave is one of the reasons that the country’s rate of women in the labor force is being far outpaced by other developed countries.

Fiorina has also come out against issues related to women’s equality in the past. She opposes the Paycheck Fairness Act, which is aimed at closing the gender wage gap, and blames the gap on unions and government bureaucracies.

“This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.”

Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Want healthy workers who don't steal? Give them paid sick leave and pay them well.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Laura ClawsonIf you needed evidence that it’s better when businesses treat their employees better, here are two pieces: One new study finds that people who have paid sick leave are less likely to be injured on the job and another study finds that convenience store workers steal less when they’re paid better.

In the first study, Center for Disease Control researchers found that workers with paid sick leave were 28 percent less likely to report workplace injuries requiring medical attention, and “Workers in jobs with a high baseline risk for injury—such as construction or manufacturing—appeared to benefit more from having access to paid sick leave.”

The study doesn’t delve into the several ways this could work. Maybe people who have paid sick days are less likely to go to work when illness makes them more likely to fall or be careless. Or maybe there are other factors that come into play, like union membership or occupational safety programs. But that hardly weakens the take-away of the study. If unions bargain for paid sick leave and improved safety standards, making their members both more likely to have paid sick leave and less likely to be injured on the job, then we may better understand the association between sick leave and occupational injuries, but it doesn’t weaken that association. It’s the same if non-union workplaces that have paid sick leave also tend to have solid safety procedures in place, leading to fewer injuries. Whether one is the cause of the other or whether they both are likely to come as a result of responsible employment practices, a concrete benefit for workers—paid sick leave—is associated with another benefit—fewer injuries.

The second study found that convenience stores that pay workers well relative to workers in similar jobs in their region experienced less cash shortage and inventory shrinkage, and that, according to study coauthor Clara Xiaoling Chen, “the effect of relative wages on employee theft is more pronounced when there are multiple workers. Relative wages influence the type of norms that develop among the co-workers.”

Low-paid workers only steal about 39 percent of what paying them more would cost, so many convenience store owners probably think it’s a fair trade. For responsible owners and managers, though, the lower turnover and training costs, as well as the general plus of not having employees who steal, strengthen the financial argument for decent pay. The moral argument for decent pay is always there, of course; it’s just that so many bosses ignore it.

These studies have in common that they both find that better treatment for workers has benefits for the employer and, if we believe that lower rates of injury and theft are good for society, benefits for society as well. It’s unfortunate that the notion that people should be paid enough to live on and be able to stay home when they’re sick needs further validation, but 35 years into the great American race to the bottom, that’s where we are.

(Via Blogwood)

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on August 1, 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.

Paid-Sick-Leave Fight Escalates in New York City, Expands Across the Nation

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

eidelson-headshotNEW YORK CITY—Flanked by a hundred-some supporters at a press conference on Wednesday, labor leaders and feminist activists announced a new initiative to push a longtime goal: passage of a citywide paid-sick-leave mandate. Wednesday’s event, held at noon on the steps of City Hall, marked supporters’ latest effort to move City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who will decide the bill’s fate. It comes amid increased organized labor support for similar campaigns around the country—including a recently announced effort in Portland.

All eyes are on Quinn because the law is already backed by a large enough majority of the council to pass and override a promised veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The question is whether Quinn will allow the bill to come up for a vote. As I’ve reported for Working In These Times, paid sick leave poses a crucial test for Quinn, a former liberal activist now viewed as the candidate of the city’s business establishment, and Bloomberg’s heir apparent.

Rev. Jennifer Kottler opened the rally with a prayer asking, “Oh holy one…please temper [Quinn’s] strength with compassion and justice so that she is moved to do the right thing…Give her the courage to do what is right.” Rhonda Nelson, the Chair of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Women’s Network, said that Speaker Quinn “has been a champion for women who work in supermarkets across this great city. … Today we ask her to continue to fight for fairness for supermarket workers and the thousands of other workers in this great city who need paid-sick-leave legislation.”

In 2010, Quinn stymied a stronger paid-sick-leave bill by preventing a vote. At the time, Quinn said she supported the goal but had to “help small business stay alive in a fragile economy.” By winter, Quinn will have to disappoint a constituency whose support she’s counting on in next year’s election: either liberals or the business lobby.

Wednesday’s rally marked the launch of a new Women for Paid Sick Days Initiative. Ai-Jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, emceed the event, which drew contingents from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Make the Road New York and other organizations. Restaurant worker Ai Elo, restaurant owner Barbara Sibley and Gay Men’s Health Crisis head Marjorie Hill all spoke at the event, amidst signs reading, “Here are the Germs You Ordered” and “Our Health = Clean Food.”

In an e-mail to The New York Times this week, Quinn maintained her opposition. Echoing her past comments, Quinn said that she supported the goal, but “with the current state of the economy and so many businesses struggling to stay alive, I do not believe it would be wise to implement this policy, in this way, at this time.” Quinn also wrote, “I stand by the commitment I made more than a year ago—to continue to meet and discuss the legislation, in the context of the evolving economy, with council leaders” and supporters. Quinn’s comments came in the Times’ report on a letter from 200 prominent women calling for the speaker to allow a vote. Signatories included current and former New York politicians, union leaders and feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

“I challenge these celebrities,” Manhattan Chamber of Commerce President Nancy Ploeger told Crain’s New York Business. “What do these women really know about running a small business and what the costs of this bill will be?”

The Times noted that Steinem had introduced Quinn at a fall fundraiser, but reported that in an e-mail to the paper, “Steinem said that before she gave her support to Ms. Quinn, she had told her that it was conditional on Ms. Quinn’s bringing the paid-sick-day bill to a vote.” Steinem told the Times that Quinn had told her that “discussions were under way about the size of businesses to be covered.”

“Everyday people want to see that they can both care for their families and keep their jobs,” says Carol Joyner, the national policy director for the Labor Project for Working Families. By not calling the vote, she notes, “Chris Quinn is standing between a healthy workforce…and the will of the people.”

In 2007, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to pass a law requiring most employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. As I’ve reported, paid sick days laws have since passed citywide in San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC, and statewide in Connecticut. A ballot initiative failed in Denver. Philadelphia Mayor Nutter vetoed a paid sick days bill but subsequently allowed a narrower one covering city contractors and subsidized companies to pass. Milwaukee passed a law, but it was over-ridden by a state law signed by Governor Scott Walker. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal similarly signed a law preemptively barring cities from mandating paid sick leave. Along with New York City, campaigns are underway for bills covering Orange County, the state of Massachusetts and now the city of Portland.

Joyner says that what last year was “a group of different campaigns” is now “becoming a movement. There have been some wins along the win, some losses – losses we have learned from. There’s a growing momentum.”

“Over the last year the engagement of labor has been ratcheted up,” Joyner adds. “Some of the larger international unions have been paying closer attention to the issue…we’ve seen a dramatic increase in unions getting involved in this issue on a state and a local level.”

Joyner also cites the prominent role of labor leaders, including AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler and SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry, at a national paid sick leave summit this month. She says that “real heavy-hitters who always have been supportive” are now “speaking up publicly and saying these are issues that the labor movement has to take on, so that everyone can have a minimum standard.”

“Most of the hard-working men and women that we represent get paid sick leave as part of their negotiated contracts,” SEIU District 1199 Secretary-Treasurer Maria Castaneda told the crowd Wednesday. “But we believe that workers deserve a paid day off to care for their self or their loved one, without the risk of losing wages or being terminated. Paid sick days should be a basic workplace standard for all New Yorkers.” UFCW’s Nelson also noted that most of her union’s members have paid sick leave, but said, “All these other employers that do not provide paid sick days are trying to drag the responsible employers and their workers down into the gutter, where profit matters more than fairness.”

Paid sick leave has also become a focus for some chapters of Working America, the AFL-CIO affiliate for non-union workers. Tara Murphy, a senior member coordinator in Portland, says that Working America canvassers have collected 2,000 letters to the city’s mayor and city council calling for a bill.

“Working families are saying to our organizers that this something that they really need right now,” Murphy says. The coalition backing a bill includes several local unions and the state Working Families Party. According to Murphy, organizers had originally hoped to push for an August vote, but may need to wait until just after the November election. “We’re hoping to get this done sooner rather than later,” she adds. “People really can’t wait any longer.”

This blog originally appeared in Working In These Times on July 23, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer and a contributor at In These Times, The American Prospect, Dissent, and Alternet. After receiving his MA in Political Science, he worked as a union organizer for five years. His website is http://www.josheidelson.com.

Support Grows for Striking Verizon Workers’ Fight for Middle-Class Jobs

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Image: Mike HallThe huge crowd outside the Verizon Center in downtown Washington, D.C., Saturday wasn’t there for a basketball game or concert. They came to tell Verizon to stop its attack on middle-class jobs.

The Verizon Center demonstration and dozens and dozens of other actions at Verizon worksites and Verizon Wireless stores are part of the growing support for the 45,000 Communications Workers of America (CWA) and Electrical Workers (IBEW) members forced on strike by Verizon Aug. 6.

Photo credit: Scott ReynoldsThe company, with $32.5 billion in revenue in the past three years, is demanding $1 billion in concessions from workers, which amounts to $20,000 per Verizon worker per year. While talks resumed last week, those demands remain on the table. Says CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson:

If wealthy companies like Verizon can continue to cut working families’ pay and benefits, we will never have an economic recovery in this country. This is a fight for all middle-class working families.

Verizon’s demands include outsourcing jobs overseas, gutting pension security, eliminating benefits for workers injured on the job, eliminating job security, slashing paid sick leave and raising health care costs.

CWA filed unfair labor practice charges against Verizon Aug. 12 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), charging the company with refusal to bargain in good faith.

Union workers and community allies are joining striking CWA and IBEW members on the picket lines. Barbara Smith of CWA Local 1109 In Brooklyn, N.Y., told Labor Notes that when Verizon Wireless pickets are up:

pedestrians stop and thank us because they understand that this fight is about more than Verizon.

While Verizon is demanding that workers take home less, it paid its top five executives more than $258 million over the past four years, including $80.8 million for its former CEO Ivan Seidenberg. Friday night, more than 500 CWA, IBEW members and their allies held a candlelight vigil outside Seidenberg’ West Nyack, N.Y., home.

They carried a coffin to symbolize the death of the middle class. CWA Local 1101 member Ron Canterino, told reporters:

The middle class is dying here, and we’re here to be together as one class, one people—whether it’s union or nonunion working people.

Here are some other actions you can take to support the strikers:

  • Find a local picket line to support here.
  • Download leaflets here.
  • “Like” the strikers on Facebook here and change your Facebook and/or Twitter profile picture in solidarity here.
  • Click here to demand that Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam value employees’ work and share his corporation’s success with those who make it possible.
  • Click here for a list of picket sites in the New York and New Jersey area. `
  • Click here to sign and Tweet an act.ly petition demanding Verizon drop its outrageous concessionary demands.
  • To Tweet about the strike, use the hashtag #verizonstrike and feel free to direct to @VZLaborfacts.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Blog on August 15, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent.

Paid Sick Days – an Important Job Saving Strategy in a Weak Economy

Friday, March 18th, 2011

EileenThe latest government report on job openings and labor turnover – the JOLTS report – makes an important point. Recent improvements in the labor market – employment gains and the falling unemployment rate – owe little to an increase in hiring by employers. Instead, they result mainly from a decline in involuntary separations – layoffs and firing – of workers. Making it possible for workers to keep their jobs is important to the economic recovery.

Routine illnesses can threaten workers’ employment. Too many workers still face an impossible choice: take off from work to care for themselves or their kids when illness strikes and risk losing their jobs or risk their health or that of their children and come into work. A surprisingly high two-fifths of all workers, and three-quarters of low-wage workers, have no paid sick days at all. And most workers who do have paid sick days can’t use them to care for a sick child. Routine illnesses create a crisis for these workers and their families.

Workers too sick to come into work or unable to leave a sick child unattended face the very real threat that they will be fired. And workers know very well what the loss of a job means for them and their families. New evidence confirms the high cost of starting over when you lose your job. Even if a worker who is let go because illness forces them to miss work manages to find another job – no easy task in an economy with nearly 14 million unemployed workers – job displacement results in years of lower pay. Indeed, time out of work to care for family members still falls mainly on women, and is one reason that they earn less, on average, than their male counterparts.

As the JOLTS report shows, the recovery is still too weak to support robust hiring by employers. Workers who are fired for not showing up on the job when they are too sick to get out of bed will not be readily replaced. The employer may choose to leave the position vacant until the recovery gathers strength. Advocates have long argued that access to paid sick days so a worker can stay home and recover from the flu or care for a child with a high fever is more important than ever when the job market is weak. Keeping workers in their jobs is an important factor in improving the labor market. A paid sick days standard that guarantees every worker access to time off when they or a family member come down with a serious cold or flu is good for workers, good for business, and good for an economy still struggling to put people to work.

About the Author: Eileen Appelbaum is a Senior Economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research with over 20 years of experience carrying out empirical research on workplace practices and labor-management cooperation. Full Bio.

This blog originally appeared in CEPR on March 15, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

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