Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘President Obama’ Category

This week in the war on workers: What happens if Obama's overtime expansion is reversed?

Monday, November 21st, 2016

LauraClawson

President Obama’s expansion of overtime pay goes into effect on December 1. But what happens if it gets rolled back in 2017? Here are some of the Department of Labor’s takeaways from a Congressional Budget Office report:

  1. CBO finds that reversing the rule would strip nearly 4 million workers of overtime protections. According to the report, there are nearly 4 million workers whose employers will be required to pay them overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week when the rule goes into effect.
  2. CBO finds that reversing the rule would reduce workers’ earnings while increasing the hours they work. The report finds that if the rule is reversed, the total annual earnings of all affected workers would decrease by more than $500 million in 2017. Further, these workers would earn less money while working more hours.
  3. At a time when income inequality is already of great concern, CBO finds that reversing the rule would primarily benefit people with high incomes. If the rule were reversed, affected workers, most of whom have moderate incomes, would experience a loss in earnings. These losses would be accompanied by an increase in firms’ profits, of which the vast majority (CBO estimates 85 percent) would accrue to people in the top income quintile.
  4. CBO finds that reversing the rule would not create or save jobs. The report finds no significant impact on the number of jobs in the economy.

Nearly 4 million workers.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on November 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

Labor Department Issues Final ‘Fair Pay And Safe Workplaces’ Rules

Tuesday, August 30th, 2016

dave.johnson
The Department of Labor (DOL) has released the final rules for implementing President Obama’s two-year-old Fair Pay And Safe Workplaces executive order.

The July 2014 post, Obama’s ‘Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order’, explained the order:Executive-order-contractors-SEIU-300x300

Saying that “taxpayer dollars should not reward corporations that break the law,” President Obama on Thursday issued another executive order designed to help low-wage workers.

… President Obama’s executive order cracks down on federal contractors who break hiring, health and safety, and wage laws. It also prohibits employers from requiring mandatory arbitration agreements with employees of federal contractors, in order that workers can get their day in an actual court instead of being forced to appear in front of an arbitrator picked and paid for by the company when there is a dispute involving the Civil Rights Act or related to sexual assault or harassment.

Specifically, the new rules require companies that bid on federal contracts to disclose wage and hour, safety and health, collective bargaining, family and medical leave, and civil rights violations from the prior three years. Federal contractor hiring officers are to take serious violations into account before awarding contracts.

Hold Companies Accountable

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, the sponsor of the Wage Theft Prevention and Wage Recovery Actto combat wage theft and require employers to provide timely paychecks, issued a statement tying the new rule to the plight of Senate cafeteria workers who work for contractor Restaurant Associates,

“We’ve seen what happens when federal contractors like Restaurant Associates don’t treat our workers fairly – employees are deprived of wages and protections that all our workers deserve,” said Brown. “This executive order will hold companies like Restaurant Associates and anyone who does business with the federal government accountable and improve the lives of millions of Americans who work for federal government contractors. I’m pleased the Department of Labor issued this guidance so we can improve oversight of contractors.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued this statement:

The AFL-CIO applauds the Administration for moving forward with regulations and guidance implementing the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order. This measure will make our contracting system more fair and accountable, which is good for working families, law-abiding employers, and communities. Companies that receive taxpayer-funded contracts should obey the law and respect their employees’ rights, and with today’s actions, the Administration has taken an important step in moving that common-sense principle forward.

The Teamsters issued a statement celebrating the final rules, titled, “Teamsters Voice Support For Fair Pay And Safe Workplaces Executive Order“:

“The Teamsters Union fully supports President Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order,” said Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa. “It will not only protect the millions of workers that are employed by federal contractors, but it will ensure that taxpayer money is not being handed to companies that blatantly violate labor and workplace laws.”

The executive order will put in place regulations that will address key issues workers are faced with on the job at federal contractors including wage theft, safety violations and discrimination. The union passed a resolution supporting the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order at its International Convention this past June:

“Be it resolved at this 29th International Convention that the Teamsters are committed to fighting for full implementation of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order and for the fundamental principle that employers who receive federal taxpayers’ money should comply with federal labor law.”

“Will Hamstring Employers And Contractors”

The Daily Caller story, “Obama Issues Order That Will Hamstring Employers And Contractors“, provides the Republican view, saying that actually having to pay employees and comply with the law, not cheat them, will “hamstring” businesses:

The rule was blasted by employers, who asserted that it would result in fewer qualified bids for federal contracts. The Associated Builders and Contractors told The Wall Street Journal the rules, “will result in needless delays and litigation, crippling the contract award process.”

Three House Republican lawmakers with the Committee on Education and the Workforce criticized the rule, saying that, “unfortunately, this administration would rather spend time and resources creating new layers of bureaucracy instead of using its existing authority to enforce current protections.” Chairman John Kline of Minnesota, along with Reps. Tim Walberg of Michigan and Phil Roe of Tennessee, went on to say that, “This redundant, unnecessary, and unworkable regulatory scheme isn’t about protecting the rights of workers. It’s about growing government and promoting a culture of union favoritism.”

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on August 25, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

Colombia Must Protect All Workers

Monday, February 8th, 2016

The government of Colombia continues to allow employers to undermine workers’ rights and fails to effectively inspect and prosecute alleged violations of labor laws. Violence against trade unionists often occurs without any effective government response.

President Barack Obama will have an important opportunity to raise these concerns during Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’ visit to Washington, D.C., this week. In unison with our partners in Colombia, the AFL-CIO supports the peace negotiations and again stresses that worker and human rights issues must be addressed to build a lasting and sustainable peace inclusive of the interests of all workers, Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities.

Any sustainable solution to the crisis in Colombia must include respect for workers’ rights, access to decent work and a commitment to shared prosperity. Real change requires a change in commitment and practices: the U.S. and Colombian governments must stop looking the other way when employers violate the law. We have shared these priorities with the current administration.

The armed conflict has been used by the Colombian government for decades to systematically deny basic labor and human rights. Since 2000, more than 1,100 trade unionists have been murdered and another 5,000 have received death threats by paramilitary, government and armed guerilla forces for exercising fundamental labor rights. Despite the commitments of the 2011 Labor Action Plan to increase legal protections for organizing and collective bargaining and to bolster formal work, little progress has been made. This is yet another example of trade agreements failing to live up to their promises for workers.

Years after Plan Colombia went into effect, the government of Colombia refuses to investigate violence against labor activists, allows employers to deny labor rights and neglects to inspect, much less prosecute, alleged violations of labor laws. Yet, the U.S. Trade Representative has not acted.

The AFL-CIO joins many civil society allies in calling on the U.S. government to fulfill its commitment to proactively monitor ongoing violations of the Labor Action Plan and broader human rights concerns. The U.S. government support must assist Colombia in building a sustained peace, inclusive of the needs of all Colombians. As presidents Santos and Obama meet this week, the AFL-CIO has communicated to the Obama administration our support for high-level engagement but also that cooperation between Colombia and the United States must address concerns that have been largely neglected over the 15 years of Plan Colombia.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on February 5, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO.

President Obama Endorses Paycheck Fairness Act

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Ravi BakhruYesterday, President Obama released a statement endorsing the Paycheck Fairness Act and calling on the Senate to pass the legislation.

In America today, women make up half of the workforce, and two-thirds of American families with children rely on a woman’s wages as a significant portion of their families’ income.

Yet, even in 2010, women make only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. The gap is even more significant for working women of color, and it affects women across all education levels.  As Vice President Biden and the Middle Class Task Force will discuss today, this is not just a question of fairness for hard-working women.  Paycheck discrimination hurts families who lose out on badly needed income.  And with so many families depending on women’s wages, it hurts the American economy as a whole.  In difficult economic times like these, we simply cannot afford this discriminatory burden.

My Administration has already begun to address this problem. In my first week in office, I signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which helps women who face wage discrimination recover their lost wages, and in my State of the Union Address, I promised to crack down on violations of equal pay laws. Today the Equal Pay Enforcement Task Force will present its recommendations, which include ways to better coordinate among enforcement agencies and inform employees about their rights.  These steps support women, and they also support businesses that are doing the right thing and paying their employees what they deserve.

We cannot do this work alone. So today, I thank the House for its work on this issue and encourage the Senate to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, a common-sense bill that will help ensure that men and women who do equal work receive the equal pay that they and their families deserve.  Passing this bill is one of the Task Force’s key recommendations, and I hope Congress will act swiftly so that I can sign it into law.

We encourage you to show your full support for the bill by going here, and contacting your Congressman.

Why Taking on Blanche Lincoln Was the Right Call

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

photo_65399Challenges within the primaries allow us to define what it means to be a real Democrat—to insist that the party truly puts the interests of working people first.

That’s what makes elections like Tuesday’s run-off in Arkansas between Bill Halter and incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln, the victor, so important. Labor and progressive movements got together to target Lincoln because she had opposed the Employee Free Choice Act, helped to block a robust public option in health care reform, and refused to back one of President Obama’s key nominees to the National Labor Relations Board.

Conventional wisdom within the Democratic Party states that we need strong majorities in order to pass better public policies in Washington, DC. But the logic of “more” doesn’t add up if those people we elect do not provide us with the votes we need. As long as our political strategies ask only that candidates have a “D” behind their names, we’ll never get the type of majorities that will take hard stands to confront the power of big business and create real reform.

Going back to the Carter years in the 1970s, we had large Democratic majorities in Congress, yet we saw labor law weakened and the right to collective bargaining eroded. Under Clinton, Democratic majorities gave us NAFTA and more unfair trade.

If we don’t want history to repeat itself with the current administration, we cannot get wrapped up in the temporary excitement of a given electoral campaign. We need to have the memory, foresight, and strategy to craft something different. That’s why we should hope that challenges within the primaries become more standard.

‘Different,’ not ‘more’

Doing politics differently means two things:

1) having a higher standard of accountability; and

2) judging our success in electoral contests based on a dual bottom line.

Accountability first means being clear about what our agenda is. Strong health care and labor law reforms are key structural changes needed in our economy if we are to rebuild the American middle class. We can’t forget these in the next Congress and simply move on to new matters. Rather than waiting for the White House to lead and hoping that candidates follow, we must lead by putting our priorities forward. We don’t need friends on issues that are foundational to working people, such as health care, living wages, and making collective bargaining the norm; we need champions.

There have been countless calls from labor and other progressive constituencies for accountability from politicians. Nobody disagrees that elected officials should be made to answer for their votes. But there is not much said about how to make this happen–about what the vehicle for ensuring accountability will be.

The answer is an organized base. None of the progressive lobbies in Washington, DC can hold any elected official accountable without strong, organized, permanent grassroots organization in the home states.

The dual bottom line

That gets to my second point about doing politics differently. When labor and progressive movements enter into any electoral contest, they should measure their success based on a dual bottom line: Did we get our candidate elected? And what did we leave behind in terms of lasting organization?

If we have to parachute people in to run a campaign, it’s a good sign that we need to invest more in building local talent and developing local capacity in the area. In A New New Deal David Reynolds and I profile case studies from around the country that show how regional activism will lead to building the type of progressive infrastructure we must have to hold politicians accountable: We need local organizations that have their own ability to run their own political campaigns. We need organizations that can form alliances across institutional boundaries, crafting coalitions between unions, community groups, and other progressive institutions. And we need organizations that can develop policy proposals and do top-flight research.

This type of organization is what will allow us to be part of a governing coalition. Accountability means that, in candidates’ eyes, our core constituencies are as just as essential to governing as they are to getting elected.

Labor and progressives have an urgent need to think long-term. Let’s not abandon our strategy just because we lost on the Halter drive. It will take several attempts before we will really start to send a message about what a new approach to politics means.

Come November, simply restoring or exceeding a 60-vote majority won’t solve the problems we face. Instead, we must go beyond “more” and start doing politics “different.”

About This Author: Amy B. Dean served as President of the South Bay AFL-CIO in Silicon Valley from 1992-2003 and chaired AFL-CIO President John Sweeney’s committee on the future direction of labor strategy at the regional level. She is co-author, with David B. Reynolds, of A New New Deal: How Regional Activism Will Reshape the American Labor Movement.

Obama's Not Alone: Inviting Cities to the Labor Day Barbecue

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

(Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

*****

We always knew it would take a fight to enact the kinds of sweeping reforms we need to fix the economy so that it really works for working Americans. The Employee Free Choice Act was never set to sail through Congress without opposition from the nation’s most anti-union employers. No one expects that it will be much easier to repair our broken immigration laws, overhaul flawed trade policy, improve retirement security or ensure that parents can finally afford time off work to welcome a newborn. But the sheer nastiness of the health care reform fight begs the question: if even modest reforms are this difficult for a popular Democratic President with large majorities in both chambers of Congress, how will we ever achieve the economic restructuring the nation needs?

One way to improve the odds that working people will have more to celebrate on Labor Days to come is to ensure that our cities get a special invitation to the national policy conversation. Picture it as a giant nationwide barbecue: gathered around the grill, cities can share local policy victories that have measurably improved the lives of their own residents – and can provide a successful model for other cities and for national action. Raising the profile of proven local policies may make the reforms proposed in Washington feel a lot less lonely.

San Francisco can share its own universal health care model, which currently provides 45,000 uninsured city residents with access to affordable primary and preventive care, prescriptions and lab tests through city clinics and participating private hospitals. The track record of Healthy San Francisco, as the program is known, should be informing the national health care debate to a far greater extent than it is.

While they’re talking health, the City by the Bay can also recount its experience guaranteeing everyone employed in the city the opportunity to earn paid sick days – a policy that is projected to reduce costs and improve public health and has not increased unemployment. Washington DC and Milwaukee have already passed weaker versions of this policy. Now New York City is looking to emulate San Francisco’s success. Examples like these can boost national legislation like the Healthy Families Act which would let working people nationwide stop having to make the untenable choice between their health and a needed paycheck.

Minneapolis could also pipe up. The City of Lakes insists that when they provide subsidies for economic development, companies that get public money need to create living wage jobs. The successful policy is a vivid example to cities across the country which regularly provide lucrative private tax breaks only to lure poverty-level jobs.

Then there’s New York, where grassroots organizations citywide have teamed up with the State Department of Labor to educate employees and employers about workplace laws and identify cases where employers are illegally cheating their workers out of pay. The program, known as New York Wage Watch has attracted national controversy because it enlists unions in the effort to detect illegal activity by employers. The debate provides a perfect opportunity to consider which poses a greater threat to the country: the pervasiveness of employers stealing employee wages or the potential for groups – which have no special power to look at a company’s books or confidential documents – to intrude on private business as they uncover illegal activity? Lawbreakers may be right to fear that this local education and monitoring effort could go national.

Finally, Los Angeles should join the party. Home to the nation’s busiest seaport, Los Angeles realized it would never significantly improve air quality as long as the dirty diesel trucks servicing the port were owned by overstretched independent operators without the resources to buy or maintain cleaner vehicles. The city took bold action to both clean up the trucks and transform the drivers from exploited independent contractors into employees with a chance of improving their own working conditions. Not surprisingly, national business interests don’t like the idea of port truckers unionizing. But other port cities are considering the policy, with the potential to improve the quality of both air and jobs.

Federal policy battles cannot be won in a vacuum. Cities and towns across the country demonstrate the success of policies that improve the lives of working people. This is one Labor Day barbecue we should all attend.

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This blog was originally written for DMI Blog for Labor Day 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

Solis Appointment Moves Out of Senate Committee

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Finally, good news, as reported in The Nation:

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, where the [nomination of California Congresswoman Hilda] Solis had been stalled, voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday evening to recommend confirmation of the congresswoman.

Solis, a labor ally who whose confirmation process was delayed by conservative Republicans who objected to her union ties and progressive politics, got the committee O.K. on a voice vote. Only two Republican members of the committee were heard to object.

A full Senate vote is likely this week, and Republican opposition appears to be crumbling.

As noted in the article, opponents to her confirmation first latched on to a tax issue related to her husband’s small business, aka, “A partisan ploy designed to embarrass Obama following the Daschle debacle, rather than a serious complaint about Solis.” Then, “[a]n objection to the involvement of the pro-labor congresswoman with pro-labor groups was acknowledged even by some Republicans as laughable.”

Once again, U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, flown in to vote on the stimulus bill, was able to break the logjam:

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee chair Kennedy, a Solis ally and champion, saw an opening and seized it. After consulting Wednesday with key Republicans on the committee, Kennedy scheduled a hasty committee session, called for a vote and got the Solis nomination out of committee and headed toward confirmation.

And that, my friends, is the real value, for any aligned contingent, in having incumbency, experience and seniority on your side. It’s also the textbook definition of politics.

Other reports: Alternet, Boston.com and, from the AFL-CIO blog, word that the vote might even come tomorrow.

Workforce Management offers one additional hold up that could occur, however:

Once Solis is put before the whole Senate, any member could prevent a vote by placing a “hold” on it. Her nomination would almost certainly prevail in a roll-call vote. Democrats hold a 58-41 majority, with a disputed Minnesota race still pending.

A White House spokesman said Wednesday that he anticipates Senate approval.

“I think that process will hopefully conclude quickly,” said Robert Gibbs, White House press secretary. “The president has confidence in her ability to continue the department’s mission.”

Now, to be fair, one of the concerns about Solis is her support of the Employee Free Choice Act. You can read more about it here at Congresspedia. It has not yet been introduced in the 111th Congress. It deals with simplifying the way in which employees can form and choose to be members of unions. However, employers allege a fear that people will be pressured into joining as well as a more realistic fear that the ranks of unions will swell. Here’s an interesting article intended for management about how to deal, preventatively, with the likelihood of EFCA becoming law.

It’s late so I’ll pass on describing my experiences with unions but frankly, like most everything else, thre are points to be made for both sides and the bottom line is, as with the Lilly Ledbetter Act, if businesses treated their workers better, as a general rule, none of this stuff would be necessary, but it’s just not that way.

About the Author: Jill Miller Zimon is an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and political commentator. Her election coverage appeared on Newsweek’s The Ruckus and she has provided on-air political analysis for Cleveland public radio (WCPN) and television (WVIZ), CNN, BBC and other broadcast outlets. You can listen to or watch selections of her appearances here. Zimon started her blog, Writes Like She Talks, in 2005. In Fall 2007, she joined the Plain Dealer/cleveland.com online venture, Wide Open. It was the first paid collaboration between a traditional newspaper and independent political bloggers in the country. This past August, she was named to WE Magazine’s list of 101 Women Bloggers to Watch This Fall. Zimon’s other blogging work includes being a Contributing Editor for BlogHer.com’s Election 2008 coverage and co-editing the Carnival of Ohio Blogs since 2007 on a voluntary basis. She was a board member of the Society of Professional Journalists Cleveland Pro Chapter in 2007 and presented at SPJ’s national conference in 2005.

Cross-posted from Writes Like She Talks.

Letter to the President Elect -- Our Workplace and Asian Pacific Americans

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations on the start of a new administration.  As one of a handful of pan-Asian legal advocates in the nation focused on the civil and legal rights of Asian Pacific Americans, The Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center hopes that your administration is mindful of issues that are specific to Asian Pacific Americans (APAs).  The APALRC is the nonprofit legal advocate advancing the legal and civil rights of low-income and limited English proficient Asian Pacific Americans of the Capitol region, through direct legal services, community education, and advocacy.  Although we are only 5% of the country’s residents, 50% of APAs live in the East Coast or West Coast.  Further, APAs are made up of more than 50 ethnicities and speak over a hundred languages/dialects.  Finally, about 2 out of 3 APAs are foreign-born.

Given these demographics, national origin discrimination, language discrimination, and accent discrimination are key workplace issues for the APA community.  In order to ensure that APAs have full integration and opportunity in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must continue to have your administration’s full support in terms of investigating claims under Title VII.  Any legislative attempts to limit the reach of Title VII should be prevented (as happened in the past few years).

APA domestic workers also face issues including trafficking and workers rights abuses.  Some APA workers arrive in the United States, have their documents taken, and forced to work long hours.  Many low-wage workers are unaware of overtime provisions and other labor statutes that protect them.  Thus, your administration should encourage and fund partnerships between government agencies and ethnic-specific community groups to work on workers rights education campaigns to ensure that all workers are aware of their legal rights.

Lastly, many APAs have immigrated to the United States as graduate-school educated professionals. Additionally, large numbers of APAs are entering professional fields such as medicine and the law.  That said, studies have demonstrated that a glass ceiling prevents APAs from progressing as quickly as their white colleagues progress.  Further, stereotypes concerning leadership ability hamper the advancement of APA professionals.  Your administration can lead the business and legal community through the appointment of APAs to highly visible and influential leadership positions throughout the federal government.

The Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center looks forward to assisting your administration in moving toward a more equitable workplace for all Americans.

About the Author: Myron Quon is the Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center, working to expand and extend the APALRC’s programs and advising regional public officials on the needs and priorities of the Asian American and broader immigrant community. Prior to joining the APALRC, Mr. Quon served as Legal Director of the Asian American Institute in Chicago and as an Adjunct Lecturer with the Asian American Studies Program at Northwestern University. Mr. Quon’s background includes being the Deputy Regional Director of the Western Regional Office of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. Mr. Quon began his legal career in the field of direct legal services, as a staff attorney and then managing attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County in Santa Maria, California. Mr. Quon has a JD from Boston University and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

Obama and the Future of Labor and Employment Law

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Obama With the historic election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the substantial gains for Democrats in the House and Senate, there is almost certainty that there will be significant labor and employment law reform in the near future.

Not being a shrinking violet by any means, I would like to add my two cents about what such reform should be about.  Although I previously posted a similar analysis of what the next President should do on the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog about three weeks ago, I want to sharpen these past comments and add some new ideas.

President-elect Obama should first focus on the following four broad areas in the labor and employment law context: labor rights, workplace anti-discrimination and civil rights, employee benefit rights, and public employee rights.

Labor Rights: The percentage of American workers covered by union contracts is now below 8%, as opposed to 16% as recently as 1985. Without unions to fight for them, workers fall behind in wages, benefits, and standard of living. Unionized workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and health insurance than non-unionized workers.  Workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation.

President-elect Obama should therefore sign the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize and secure initial agreements with their employers.  Obama should also act to restore collective bargaining rights to nurses and other workers excluded as “supervisors,” and to ban employers’ practices of permanently replacing striking workers. He should also sign into law the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to assure public safety workers who put their lives on the line every day their right to bargain collectively.  Finally, President-elect Obama should work to appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board who will work to protect employee choice by outlawing employer captive audience meetings during election campaigns and overruling Dana Corp. and putting back in place the traditional voluntary recognition bar.

Workplace Anti-Discrimination and Civil Rights: President-elect Obama should work for legislation requiring employers to provide at least seven days of paid sick leave to employees and expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover more workers (to employers with 20 or more employees). He should also protect the wages of working women by signing into law a legislative nullification of the Ledbetter decision, which will promote paycheck equity and help close the pay gap that leaves working women earning only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

President-elect Obama should also sign legislation to extend § 1983 civil rights claims to actions against federal officials so that federal employees can vindicate their constitutional rights to speech and privacy. Finally, he should expand Title VII and fully include all LGBT individuals (yes, such legislation must include transgendered individuals) under its protections.

Employee Benefits Rights: With more than 47 million Americans-–including 9 million children–without health insurance, President-elect Obama needs to sign a universal health care plan into law before the end of his first term.  This plan structure should include guaranteed eligibility, comprehensive benefits, and affordable premiums and co-payments, with subsidies for families that cannot afford the premiums.  Additionally, ERISA should be amended to provide for less preemption of state health care finance laws so that states can experiment in providing all of their citizens adequate health care.  Obama should also work to amend ERISA to provide monetary, make-whole remedies to employees who suffer from mismanagement of their employee benefits and work for the legislative nullification of the Russell/Mertens line of Section 502(a)(3) equity cases.  In this regard, I have proposed the ERISA Civil Rights Act of 2009, which will act much in the way the Civil Rights Act of 1991 amended Title VII.  Among the changes, the right to compensatory and punitive damages in appropriate cases with caps, the right to a jury trial when such damage is sought, and right to make-whole, equitable relief under current Section 502(a)(3).

Public Employee Rights: First and foremost, President-elect Obama should select Justices who will overule the Garcetti case and return to Pickering and the mandate that employer efficiency interests and employee constitutional rights to speech, expression, association, and privacy be balanced under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  As to federal employees, Congress should amend the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and provide that federal employees are free to bring their First Amendment claims directly to federal court under a re-structured Section 1983, without having to go through the current inadequate, administrative remedies now available.  (This would entail a newly-constituted Supreme Court overruling the Bivens case of Bush v. Lucas).  Such legislation would also provide whistleblowers under Sarbanes-Oxley and in other areas the protection they really need to go out on the limb and report danagerous and fraudulent conditions in the workplace.

Believe it or not, the above suggestions would merely start the process of affording American employees the same basic workplace rights as their international counterparts. Note that I have not even broached what must be an essential component of any comprehensive labor and employment law reform in this country – the institution of just cause workplace protection as the default rule for American employees.

All of this will help return the United States to its international stature and allow it again to not only be a beacon of democracy and freedom, but also the envy of the world insofar as how it treats its working men and women.

Cross-posted from the Workplace Prof Blog.

About the Author: Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.

Help Wanted: A Secretary of Labor Who Cares About Workers

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

We need a Labor Secretary in the mold of Francis Perkins, whose top priority was to help the working man.

In recent days, colleagues have asked me to write about the near-collapse of the economy. My first response was to decline — recognizing all too well that I, like most of our nation’s leaders, was not entirely clear about what was going on. I’ve always been a big believer that wisdom is about knowing when to keep your mouth shut (or fingers away from the keyboard). As Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is counted wise. When he shuts his lips, he is thought to be discerning.”

Although I must admit that I am still not completely clear about what all has occurred and has not occurred, I am more convinced than ever that we need a Secretary of Labor who cares about workers and who will at least try to address issues faced by workers. Unfortunately for the nation, we have a Secretary of Labor who is Missing in Action.

When the unemployment figures came out last week, Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao issued a one-sentence statement: “Today’s employment report provides further evidence of the need for the House of Representatives to pass an economic rescue package today, before it adjourns, which will protect Main Street America and mitigate further job loss,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao. That’s it. That’s all she could muster on the subject.

The day before, she’d given a lengthy speech to the Chamber of Commerce decrying the “Europeanization” of the workplace and denigrating unions. Meanwhile, her Wage and Hour Administrator, Alexander Passantino, claims the Division is doing a great job enforcing wage and hour laws. I’m sure the Education and Training Administrator says the agency is doing a great job there too. Throughout Chao’s speeches over the last year she’s been claiming what a great job the Bush Administration is doing for working people. Well, the emperor has no clothes.

In the midst of the economic meltdown, dramatically rising unemployment figures, military-style immigration raids in workplaces, employers stealing wages like there’s no tomorrow, young people unprepared for today’s jobs — let alone tomorrow’s — and assaults against unions and the right to organize at an all-time high, we need a Secretary of Labor who sees it as his or her job to protect workers. The Secretary of Labor must be the preacher in the bully pulpit for better working conditions for all the nation’s workers. Even if she can’t do anything, she could reach out and talk with workers.

Frances Perkins.

Frances Perkins was the Secretary of Labor appointed by Franklin D Roosevelt in 1932 to help him address the economic crisis left him by eight years of Coolidge and Hoover leadership.

She came to Washington, D.C. with a mission — in her words, to serve God, FDR and the working man. She came with a vision. She wanted to get people back to work, pass national standards for wage payment, and establish a social security system. She and her colleagues created the jobs programs that built many of our nation’s parks and bridges, she passed the Fair Labor Standards Act, the most comprehensive wage protection law in the nation, and she helped design the Social Security System.

Learning from the lessons of Frances Perkins, here’s what the new Secretary of Labor should do:

First, advocate stopping the workplace immigration raids. When Frances Perkins took over, the Department of Labor was responsible for workplace raids and she stopped them immediately. They were wrong then and they are wrong today.

Although Homeland Security, not Labor, has jurisdiction for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Labor Secretary should speak forcefully against this intimidation of workers that is a gross waste of taxpayer money.

Second, enforce the wage and hour laws in meaningful ways. Employers are stealing billions of dollars annually from the paychecks of millions of workers. Wage theft is a national crisis and the Department of Labor is asleep at the wheel. Just as an unregulated banking industry has brought forth catastrophe, unregulated workplaces have enabled employers to steal wages from workers on a mass scale. In 1941, Frances Perkins had 1,500 investigators in the field visiting 12 percent of the country’s workplaces to ensure that employers were paying people legally. Today, with more than 10 times as many workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act, there are half as many investigators. Employers know that the chances of getting caught stealing wages is minuscule and that if they are caught, the consequences are insignificant. The Secretary must go after wage theft. What better economic stimulus for the society than workers getting the wages they are owed and spending them in their communities?

Third, lead the charge in supporting unemployed workers. Unemployment insurance should be available widely to workers and job creation strategies should be pursued aggressively both through public incentives for private job creation and public jobs programs. Let’s create those green jobs everyone is talking about.

Fourth, commit to developing the 21st-century supports America’s workers need. During Perkins’s time, she focused on putting in place social security for America’s workers. Today, we need a national health care program. Forty-seven million workers and their families without health care is not in the best interest of workers or the nation as a whole. The Secretary of Labor should play a role in guaranteeing health care to all Americans.

Fifth, support the fundamental rights of all workers to organize into unions of their choice. Although Perkins wasn’t the first choice of labor unions for secretary, she overcame their hesitations with her steadfast support for workers’ rights to organize in the workplace. Elaine Chao, in contrast, has used her public voice to attack the Employee Free Choice Act, the most significant labor law reform to come along in decades.

When the economy is in shambles, it is America’s workers who take the biggest hit. Perhaps in the coming weeks and months, we will all understand better what has happened to our economy. But as we move forward as a nation in addressing the crisis, we need a Secretary of Labor who knows workers, cares for their concerns and speaks up for them. Our current Secretary of Labor is missing in action. We need to put the Labor back in Secretary of Labor.

About the Author: Kim Bobo, Founder and Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice, writes the “Dispatches from the Workplace” column for the online magazine Religion Dispatches. She is the author of Wage Theft in America: Why Millions of Working Americans Are Not Getting Paid — And What We Can Do About It (forthcoming in December from the New Press) and the co-author of Organizing for Social Change, the best-selling manual on progressive activism in the U.S.

This article originally appeared on the God’s Politics Blog (www.godspolitics.com).

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