Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Charter Schools’ Billion-Dollar Fraud Stinks Worse Than We Thought

Wednesday, December 18th, 2019

Jeff Bryant

Earlier this year, when members of Congress repeatedly confronted U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos about a study finding the federal government’s charter school grant program had wasted an estimated $1 billion on schools that had never opened or opened and quickly closed, she dismissed the findings and accused the report authors of having a “political agenda against charter schools.” On December 10, the organization that published the study DeVos disparaged issued a more detailed examination of waste in the government’s charter grant program and concluded the $1 billion figure was indeed likely not correct—it was an underestimate.

The report “Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste” by the Network for Public Education (NPE) calculates approximately $1.17 billion in federal funding has been spent on charters that either never opened or that opened and have since shut down. Much of the added waste the study found in the charter program comes from the researchers’ findings that way more of these charters have closed or never opened than originally estimated. Based on its second pass through of the data, NPE upped the failure rate of taxpayer-funded charter startups from 30 percent to 37 percent.

The new report arrives at an especially critical time in the discussion about charter schools in the Democratic presidential primary.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the four front-runners in the race, has proposed “halting the use of public funds to underwrite new charter schools.” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, another front-runner, has pledged to, if elected, “eliminate” the federal charter school grant program and “end federal funding for the expansion of charter schools.”

Warren in particular has been taking the brunt of the pushback from charter supporters, who contend her call for ending the federal grant program for charter schools is “threatening the freedom” charters enjoy.

A pro-charter advocacy group recently interrupted Warren when she spoke at a campaign rally in Atlanta, Georgia, and a video interview Warren recently had with the National Education Association, in which she restates her opposition to charter school expansions, prompted New York magazine columnist Jonathan Chait to imply Warren’s opposition to federal funding of charter schools is for political reasons and an effort to gain the support of teachers’ unions.

In her K-12 plan, Warren cites the first NPE report, “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride,” which I coauthored with NPE executive director Carol Burris. Warren’s campaign document repeats that report’s conclusions that “the federal government has wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never even opened, or opened and then closed because of mismanagement and other reasons.”

Because the newer report, which I also contributed to, finds the amount of waste is even worse, Warren and Sanders have had their positions strengthened, and other presidential candidates will likely feel more pressure to explain exactly how they would, if elected, stanch the drain of public funds from the federal charter grant program and take steps to address widespread fraud, corruption, and financial mismanagement of public money in the charter school industry.

Deeper Dive Into Wasted Charter School Funding

The first “Asleep at the Wheel” report, admittedly, “barely skimmed the surface” of the waste in the federal charter program. It also called attention to warnings from the education department’s own inspector general that the charter grant program was poorly monitored, and it scrutinized the application process to get the grants, noting that applicants frequently gave false or misleading information about their schools and programs, and application reviewers did little to no research on individuals and organizations asking for the money.

This new report provides a more thorough, state-by-state accounting of federal funds given to grantees from 2006 to 2014, the only data window the department has made available. (Astonishingly, during the first decade of the program, from 1995 to 2005, there is no record of how charter school grant money from the federal government—over $1 billion—was spent.) Based on the failure rate of schools in the publicly available dataset, the amount of federal tax dollars wasted on charter schools that never opened or quickly closed is likely $1.17 billion.

Although the overall rate of failed charter projects was 37 percent, in some states the rate of failure was much higher. States where the failure rate of charters receiving federal grants exceeded 50 percent include Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia, and Washington (state).

The amount of waste in taxpayer funds varied considerably from state to state.

In Georgia, 23 million federal dollars were wasted when 75 percent of the charter schools awarded government grants failed. The percentage of defunct charter school grantees in Florida matched the national average at 37 percent, resulting in $34.2 million in wasted taxpayer funds. In Michigan that failure rate was over 44 percent, costing taxpayers $21 million, and in Louisiana, $25.5 million went down the drain as 46 percent of the charter startups failed. But the most scandalous waste was in California where nearly $103 million was awarded to charters that never opened or have shut down—a 37 percent failure rate.

Money Given to ‘Ghost Schools’ That Never Opened

Details about the amount of money wasted on charter schools that never opened, which the report calls “ghost schools,” are infuriating.

NPE identified 537 charter schools in total that received public-financed government grants and never opened for even one day. According to the education department’s data, those schools received, or were due to receive, a total of $45.5 million.

Twenty-eight states had at least one charter ghost school, but California again was among the worst, where 61 charter operators pledged to open schools but never did, wasting $8.36 million. Michigan topped the list, though, where 72 grant recipients never opened their schools. Over $7.7 million was wasted there.

Drawing from records NPE obtained through a FOIA request to Michigan’s state education department, the report spotlights some egregious examples of how money given to start new charter schools never made it to classrooms, teachers, and students. Hundreds of thousands of precious education dollars went instead to the charter developers themselves, to for-profit consulting and education management organizations, to lease arrangements with school building owners, and to purchases of computers, printers, and other equipment that was never accounted for or given back to school districts when the schools failed to open.

One story the report recounts is about how a private consultant and her company hopped from one defunct charter school in Michigan to another, taking advantage of federal grants every time, to extract tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees from schools that never opened or were open for only brief periods of time.

Another example: a Michigan couple who received a $100,00 “planning grant” to open a new charter used the grant to pay themselves $53,920 and purchase laptops, a printer, and Wi-Fi services worth $4,679.11. The school never opened.

Public Funds Went to For-Profit Schools

NPE’s report also found substantial funds from the federal charter school grant program went to for-profit businesses even though the program’s guidelines limit grant awards to only nonprofit organizations. A total of $124,929,017 in federal start-up funds in the education department’s database of grant awardees went to 357 schools that are run by major for-profit chains.

How does this happen? As the report notes, only one state, Arizona, technically allows charter schools to be incorporated as for-profit corporations, yet 34 states allow for-profit management companies to contract with charter schools. These contracts create a convoluted system in which the charter serves as a passthrough for the for-profit corporation to make money from the school by providing staffing, curriculum, classroom furniture, computer equipment and software, and, in many cases, serve as the school’s landlord.

One example the report delves into is a chain of charter schools in Florida that were connected to White Hat Management Corporation, a now-defunct Ohio-based, for-profit school management company that used to be in five states. Nine of the schools in the Florida charter chain received grants from the federal government ranging from $25,000 to $705,696. All the schools are now closed, but nearly all that money likely ended up in White Hat accounts.

Some of the schools paid 97 percent of their income to White Hat, including to a separate White Hat real estate company for lease payments on buildings owned by White Hat. When White Hat also went out of business, any remaining assets the company had were sold to other privately operated charter management groups, even if those assets had been purchased with public money.

Both Sanders and Warren have called for bans on federal money going to for-profit charter schools. Other presidential candidates including former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have joined in this proposal. But candidates need to be clear that when they call for ending federal funds to expand for-profit charter schools, they also must call for ending federal funding of for-profit real estate businesses and management firms connected to the schools.

‘Down the Drain’

DeVos and the charter school industry will quite likely dismiss this new report from NPE as they did the first one.

There’s a substantial history of charter school proponents refusing to reflect on even the most reasonable criticism of their schools. Any negative reporting on the practical reality and consequences of charter schools, no matter how well documented, is often branded by charter school proponents and the media as an “attack” on all charters and an effort to undermine African American and Latinx families who send children to charters in greater proportions than white parents do.

After Warren was interrupted by a pro-charter group of predominantly black parents during her speech at the Atlanta campaign rally, she met with the protest organizers to learn more about their objections to her K-12 education plan and its proposals to curb the growth of charter schools.

During the exchange, there was a revealing moment when Warren pointed out to her critics that even if she were successful in her efforts to end the federal charter school grant program, her other proposal to increase federal spending on K-12 schools—principally, her proposal to quadruple federal Title I funds that go to schools serving low-income children, which includes many charter schools—would exceed what charters would lose by shutting down the grant program.

One of the charter school organizers, former superintendent of Milwaukee public schools Howard Fuller, who is a longtime advocate of charter schools and school voucher programs, countered that public schools will just “absorb” whatever additional money Warren proposes and the money “is going to go down the drain” unless there are “significant structural changes” that allow for charters and other forms of school choice in the system.

But given the results of this new report, anyone truly concerned about financial “drains” on public education would conclude Warren’s proposal to end the federal charter grant program is really the right way to go.

 

This article was produced by Our Schools, a project of the Independent Media Institute.  Jeff Bryant, chief correspondent for Our Schools  is a communications consultant, freelance writer, advocacy journalist, and director of the Education Opportunity Network, a strategy and messaging center for progressive education policy. Follow him on Twitter @jeffbcdm.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on December 16, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

Working People Remember Those Lost Because of 9/11

Thursday, September 12th, 2019
9/11

The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, 18 years ago today, affected all Americans, but they had a particular impact upon first responders. Thousands of lives were lost that day and more died in the aftermath because of illnesses related to the attacks. The members and leaders of the various unions affected by the 9/11 attacks are memorializing the anniversary in various ways. Here is what they are saying:

 

 

The New York City Police Department has a memorial website in honor of the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in connection with 9/11.

Also watch these videos, which provide more context and pay further tribute.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on September 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

Arizona governor gets caught in a lie over Nike incentives controversy

Wednesday, July 31st, 2019
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) claimed this week that he never ordered the withdrawal of Nike factory incentives in his state, following the brand’s decision to pull a Betsy Ross flag-themed sneaker.

This was a lie — and the tweet in which Ducey announced that order is still up on his official account.

“I’d direct you to re-read the tweet,” the governor said Tuesday, when pressed by reporters on his decision to order the incentives withdrawal earlier in July. “Try to be accurate.”

Ducey suggested he had “advocated” for the move but had not ordered it.

Nike had initially planned to build a new manufacturing plant in Goodyear, Arizona, scheduled to open in 2020, which would create 505 jobs over three years. The company made an initial investment of $184.5 million into the plant, while the Arizona Commerce Authority said it was willing to provide a $1 million grant to help sweeten the deal.

In early July, Nike made the decision to cancel distribution of a Fourth of July-themed sneaker which was emblazoned with the Betsy Ross flag. The move came after former NFL quarterback, social-justice advocate, and Nike endorser Colin Kaepernick reached out to company officials to note that the flag had connections to slavery and white supremacy.

Conservatives, including Ducey, who went on a 2 a.m. Twitter rant on the topic, were outraged.

“Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism,” he wrote. “It is a shameful retreat for the company. American businesses should be proud of our country’s history, not abandoning it.”

Ducey announced he would reverse the incentives previously promised to the company, as a result of its decision. “Nike has made its decision, and now we’re making ours,” he said. “I’ve ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here.”

Ducey’s fellow conservatives also criticized Nike’s decision as an example of over-the-top political correctness.

Ducey has wavered on the controversy since then. Two days after his initial rant against Nike, the governor was spotted wearing a pair of Nike shoes at a Fourth of July event. Ducey was also eager to promote the company a week after the online kerfuffle when Nike officially announced it would move forward with its Goodyear plant.

“This is good news for Arizona and for @GoodyearAZGov,” Ducey tweeted on July 11. “500 plus jobs. Over $184 million in capital investment. Arizona is open for business, and we welcome @Nike to our state.”

Ducey has become a close ally of Trump, vocally supporting the president’s decision earlier this year to declare a national emergency on the border. Trump also selected Ducey to sit on the national Council of Governors, a bipartisan advisory group. When Ducey visited the White House in June, Trump lauded the “fantastic job” the governor  was doing to help create jobs in his state.

“We hope that other states are going to follow Arizona’s lead,” Trump said. “You really have been at the forefront and we really appreciate that.”

This blog was originally published at Think Progress on July 31, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes covers politics and the far right. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Narratively.

Alexander Acosta stepping down as Labor secretary

Friday, July 12th, 2019

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Eliana JohnsonAnita Kumar

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.

President Donald Trump alerted reporters this morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump as Acosta stood beside him.

Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth, called Acosta “a great labor secretary not a good one” and “a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man, he went to Harvard, a great student.” Trump indicated that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”

But Acosta has had a rocky relationship in recent months with other White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, over the perceived slow pace of deregulation at the department. And one person familiar with the situation said that although Trump initially thought Acosta handled the Epstein controversy well, over the last couple of days the president saw the negative press and didn’t like it.

“POTUS is not a fan of bad press, especially when other people make him look bad,” this person said.

Acosta, a 50-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, came newly under fire for the lenient 2008 plea deal after Epstein was re-arrested July 6 in New York City and charged with sex trafficking. Under the earlier plea agreement, Epstein served only 13 months of an 18-month term and was permitted daily furloughs to go to the office. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to his underage victims.

At the White House this morning, Acosta told reporters: “Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of coverage of the department of labor. And what I have not seen is the incredible job creation that we’ve seen in this economy. more than 5 million jobs, I haven’t seen that…. I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s labor department to have Epstein as the focus, rather than the incredible economy that we have today.”

It’s an ignominious end for a son of middle-class Cuban immigrants who climbed his way up and made a name for himself in conservative social circles. Acosta led his resignation letter with mention of his parents and their desire to secure “the best opportunities for their son and grandchildren.”

“He’s been careful for his whole life, going to the right schools and connecting to the right people,” said a former administration official. “And now he’s just going to be remembered for Jeffrey Epstein.”

Things began to unravel for Acosta in November, when the Miami Herald published a lengthy reexamination of the case, and accelerated in February, when a district court judge ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated the Crime Victims Rights Act because Acosta never revealed the terms of the deal to Epstein’s victims before it was finalized. Also in February, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Acosta’s prosecution team committed professional misconduct in its handling the Epstein case.

Key details of Acosta’s plea agreement with Epstein were known to senators at the time Acosta was confirmed as labor secretary, though initially these seemed minor compared to domestic abuse allegations against Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andy Puzder. Acosta defended his actions at a congressional hearing this past April, saying he entered the case only after a state grand jury recommended that only one charge be filed against Epstein — a course of action that would have resulted in no jail time for Epstein, no restitution to victims, and no registration as a sex offender.

“At the end of the day Mr. Epstein went to jail,” Acosta said. “Mr. Epstein was incarcerated, he registered as a sex offender, the world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.“

Acosta has suggested that he and his attorneys were worn down by Epstein’s all-star legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Among other tactics, the Epstein lawyers investigated the prosecutors looking for “personal pecadillos,” Acosta wrote in 2011 to journalist Conchita Sarnoff, whose 2016 book “TrafficKing” chronicled the Epstein prosecution. Acosta called these efforts “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta has also said that the full extent of Epstein’s alleged abuse wasn’t known at the time he struck the plea deal.

“Had these additional statements and evidence been known,” he wrote in a letter Sarnoff, “the outcome may have been different.”

Epstein aside, Acosta‘s relationships in the White House wore thin in recent months. Known for his careful demeanor, Acosta was privately accused by White House officials of slow-walking deregulatory efforts, such as business-friendly policies on overtime pay and shielding franchised companies from legal liabilities.

It took two years for DOL to issue a regulation outlining a program for privately led apprenticeships, a delay that irked the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. A former DOL official told POLITICO in June that she was “fed up” with Acosta.

Mulvaney curtailed Acosta’s rule-making authority shortly after taking office in January, requiring three White House aides to sit in on all the agency’s regulatory meetings. Then in May, the White House took the unusual step of ordering Acosta to fire his chief of staff, Nick Geale, after an internal review concluded that Geale’s interactions with employees — including frequent profanity-laced tirades — were damaging morale inside the agency.

Even as White House aides abandoned Acosta, the president himself remained content, in large part because of the favorable monthly employment statistics typically reported by DOL. Acosta went out of his way to praise the strength of the economy on social media, often mentioning the president by name.

“I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta,“ Trump said July 9. “I’ve known him as somebody that works so hard and does such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

He is a native of the mitten state and graduated from Michigan State University, where he ditched most of his classes to work on The State News, the student newspaper. He’s a big fan of mountains, for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

About the Author: Eliana Johnson is a White House correspondent at POLITICO. She previously served as Washington editor of National Review, where she led the organization’s 2016 election coverage. She has worked as a producer at the Fox News Channel, as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, and as a staff reporter for the New York Sun, where she covered higher education. She graduated from Yale College in 2006 with a degree in History.

About the Author: Anita Kumar serves as White House correspondent and associate editor, covering President Donald Trump and helping organize and guide coverage for POLITICO’s White House team.

Kumar joined POLITICO in 2019 after covering the White House for McClatchy’s chain of newspapers for six years. She reported on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016 and Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.

Prior to that, she worked at the Washington Post, writing about Virginia politics, and the Tampa Bay Times, writing about local, state and federal government both in Florida and Washington. She started her career at the News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va. and worked briefly at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C.

A native Virginian, Kumar grew up in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia.

Kumar was elected to the White House Correspondents’ Association board in July 2018 for a three-year term. She appears regularly on television and radio.

Women’s national team escalates dispute with U.S. Soccer, filing gender discrimination lawsuit

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team took a big step in its ongoing wage dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation on Friday — which, not coincidentally, was International Women’s Day — when it filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the organization.

“Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts,” the complaint, filed by all 28 members of the USWNT in United States District Court in Los Angeles, states.

“This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players — with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.”

Indeed, the USWNT has won three World Cup titles, most recently in 2015, and is one of the favorites headed into the 2019 Women’s World Cup this summer in France. It is currently the top-ranked women’s soccer team in the world. The men’s team failed to even qualify for last year’s men’s World Cup

In the suit, which was first reported by the New York Times, the players are requesting back pay and damages, as they allege that “institutionalized gender discrimination” by USSF has impacted everything from their bank accounts to their living situations — including their health care, coaching, and even travel accommodations.

This is an escalation of a long-standing battle between the women and the federation that employs them. Three years ago, five USWNT players filed a wage-discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, there has been no movement on that lawsuit, which led the players to request and receive a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC last month. With this new lawsuit, the players are seeking class-action status, so they can represent any current or former USWNT player dating back to February 4, 2014. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Carli Lloyd — four of the most talented and high-profile soccer players in the world — are the lead plaintiffs on the suit.

Two years ago, after a lengthy #EqualPlayEqualPay campaign, the USWNT and USSF ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that improved pay and travel accommodations, and provided the players’ union with more control over licensing and marketing rights. However, the new lawsuit makes clear that the new CBA did not go far enough to address inequities between the men’s and women’s teams.

In reality, the USSF has utterly failed to promote gender equality. It has stubbornly refused to treat its female employees who are members of the WNT equally to its male employees who are members of the MNT. The USSF, in fact, has admitted that it pays its female player employees than its male player employees and has gone so far as to claim that ‘market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.’ The USSF admits such purposeful gender discrimination even during times when the WNT earned more profit, played more games, won more games, earned more championships, and/or garnered higher television audiences.

According to the suit, from 2013 to 2016, a comparison of the WNT and MNT pay shows that if each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all 20 friendlies, female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000, or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320, or $13,166 per game.

Advertisement

It also goes into detail about the fact that not only are the female players earning far less than male players, despite having far more success, they’re actually playing more matches for the federation as well.

In light of the WNT’s on-field success, Plaintiffs often spend more time practicing for and playing in matches, more time in training camps, more time traveling and more time participating in media sessions, among other duties and responsibilities, than similarly situated MNT players. For example, from 2015 through 2018, the WNT played 19 more games than the MNT played over that same period of time. As the MNT averaged approximately 17 games per year in that time frame, the WNT played the equivalent of more than one additional MNT calendar year session from 2015 through 2018. The USSF, nevertheless, has paid and continues to play Plaintiffs less than similarly situated MNT players.

The timing of this suit does provide the USWNT with leverage — not only is it International Women’s Day, but the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France kicks off in three months. When the USWNT won the 2015 World Cup, 23 million people in the United States tuned in to watch the match, making it the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, surpassing all men’s matches.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs is a sports reporter at ThinkProgress.

Time’s Up: Time to Reconsider the “Severe and Pervasive” Standard for Sexual Harassment

Friday, March 8th, 2019

“The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements constitute a revolution in women’s rights that is too powerful to be turned back,” said Roberta Kaplan, co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, in October 2018. But a recent Seventh Circuit decision (Swyear v. Fare Foods Corp.) dismissing an employee’s sexual harassment claim could jeopardize the momentum of the revolution.

On June 18, 2015, Fare Foods interviewed Amy Swyear for an outside sales representative position. During the interview, a hiring manager remarked that most of the other outside sales reps were men. He questioned Swyear about her ability to perform in a male-dominated field. The manager’s comments only hinted at what Fare Foods had in store for Swyear.

At the office, Swyear frequently overheard her new coworkers making crude sexual remarks and referring to female customers as “Cunty” and “Big Tittie.” Working in the field proved to be worse. In mid-July, Swyear and another sales representative, Russell Scott, attended an out-of-town overnight business trip. During a conversation with the client, Scott falsely implied that he and Swyear were sharing a hotel room.  At the hotel, Scott followed Swyear into her room and suggested that they have dinner together. Scott followed Swyear into her room without consent, got in her bed and said he wanted a “cuddle buddy.” He asked Swyear to go “skinny dipping” with him and put his hands on her lower back and arms. Scott eventually left Swyear’s hotel room, but he later returned. Swyear pretended to be in the shower and ignored Scott’s knocking. But Scott would not relent. He repeatedly called Swyear’s cell phone, demanding to enter her room.

Swyear reported Scott’s harassment during a performance meeting about one week later. Less than one month after the meeting, Fare Foods terminated Swyear’s employment.

The Seventh Circuit concluded that the harassment was not sufficiently severe and pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment and entered summary judgment for Fare Foods. The court forgave the “crude,” “immature,” and “vulgar” sexual comments because they were “off-hand” and not directed at Swyear. Similarly, Judge Bauer, writing for the court, excused Scott’s unwelcome sexual comments, advances, and touching because it occurred just once. The court’s decision indicates that, absent physical sexual assault, an employee cannot meet his/her burden to show a ‘severe and pervasive’ hostile work environment.

Essentially, the court’s decision gives employers a free pass for egregious sexual misconduct, as long as it only happens once. But one time is one too many. The #MeToo movement has helped thousands of sexual harassment victims get justice against their harassers. Unfortunately for Amy Swyear, the Seventh Circuit has yet to realize the effects of the movement. But worse, it may have set a dangerous precedent for future sexual harassment claims.

About the Author: Krista Wallace is an Associate Attorney at Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C. in Washington, D.C. Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., has partnered with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund to represent private and public-sector workers in federal court proceedings and before administrative agencies.

When a Company Tries to Decertify Its Union

Monday, February 25th, 2019

Cable provider and mass media company Charter Communications, which offers its services under the Spectrum brand, is pushing to decertify the IBEW Local 3 union in New York City, whose workers have been on strike since March 28, 2017. Decertification votes are used by workers to get rid of a union or replace it with a different one, with the vote to get rid of IBEW Local 3 being pushed by replacement workers.

Roughly 1,800 workers represented by IBEW Local 3 went on strike over a contract dispute with Charter Communications, which bought out Time Warner Cable in May 2016. A majority of workers voted to authorize a strike in response to cuts to healthcare and pension benefits in the wake of the buy-out.

As the strike approaches two years, Charter Communications is advocating workers to vote to decertify the union with the National Labor Relations Board.

In an internal email from January 31, obtained by In These Times, Charter Communications Regional Vice President of New York City Operations, John Quigley, told workers, “In my opinion, Local 3 has not earned the right to represent you. Over the past several years they have mislead (sic.) their members, led them out on a strike without a clear plan, mishandled almost every aspect of the strike, made it very clear what they think of employees who are working with us today, and continue to make empty threats about harming our business.”

Quigley added, “we hope that you vote ‘no’ and give us a chance to continue to make Charter a great place to work-together.”

The email reveals that Spectrum encouraged its workers to get rid of the union. A Spectrum spokesperson told In These Times via email, “the vote is between our employees and IBEW Local 3. We have no further comment.”

“A standard tactic in a union-busting campaign is to be intransigent in bargaining and thereby provoke a strike, hire replacement workers who are eligible to vote, schedule a decertification election and hope the replacement workers vote in greater numbers than the strikers,” Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told In These Times via email. “It illustrates the need for labor law reform that would permit workers to bargain and, if necessary, strike without losing their jobs and their rights to bargain collectively.”

The petition to decertify the union was filed with the National Labor Relations Board by Bruce Carberry, who the union alleges is a supervisor who transitioned to a survey technician role in order to file the petition and become a part of the bargaining unit represented by the union. Union members allege this individual was demoted for the purpose of undermining the union. Once a decertify petition is filed and approved with at least 30 percent of workers signing in favor, a vote is held where a majority determines the outcome. The vote went forward after negotiations to end the strike broke down in December 2018.

On his LinkedIn profile, Carberry lists his role as a supervisor until January 2018; the petition was initially filed in May 2018. Carberry began working for Charter Communications in May 2017, shortly after the union went on strike. Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director John Walsh approved Carberry’s petition to allow a decertification vote in June 2018 despite these allegations from the union that Carberry was ineligible to file the petition due to his supervisory position. The ruling explainedthe union did not prove Carberry was not in a supervisory role at the time of filing the petition, despite proving he served in a supervisory role prior to its filing.

If the vote passes to decertify the union, the outcome would essentially end the strike in Spectrum’s favor rather than continue to pressure Spectrum to make concessions in bargaining a new union contract. It’s unclear how many replacement workers, permanent and contracted employees have been hired by Spectrum during the strike. When the strike first began, Spectrum’s contingency plan included hiring contractors from out of state and the company has recently been scrutinized by city officials for not hiring enough local labor.

The attorney representing Carberry and his petition, Matthew Antonek, has previously represented union busting efforts at Verizon as the company’s Executive Director of Labor Relations.

“He’s a union buster,” said Tim Dubnau, an organizing coordinator for the Communications Workers of America which has led efforts to unionize Verizon employees, of the petitioner’s attorney. “The labor law is completely broken in this country. It’s amazing how coercive employers can be and are.”

Since the petition went through, a campaign that includes an anti-union blog surfaced to try to sway workers to vote in favor of decertifying the union. One blog post includes ten reasons to vote “No,” including claims the union hates current Spectrum employees, the union lies, and that workers would be better off without the union representing the workplace.

“Around the new year starting when the NLRB said the vote was going to go through, a charter tech blog showed up saying things like you can’t get anymore raises,” Chris Fasulo, a Spectrum worker on strike, told In These Times. “There are also a couple of Twitter accounts out there, all of a sudden they started trolling a lot of guys on strike like myself who are very outspoken on Twitter.” A Spectrum spokesperson denied the blog or accounts are affiliated with the company.

The NLRB sent out ballots to all eligible workers this month for the decertification election, which includes workers on strike and any hired before January 2019. Ballots were due February 22, and the outcome of the vote is not yet known.

“Even though none of these people are part of the union, the law seems to give them the ability to vote on whether or not a union should represent the workplace,” said Troy Walcott, a Spectrum worker on strike. “So while we’re out on strike all the people who are working in place of us who don’t have a union are now allowed to vote on whether a union gets to represent the workplace.”

He added a grassroots movement has started in the wake of the strike to create apublicly owned cable service in New York City. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and union leaders in New York have recently renewed calls to boycott Spectrum and its services over the company’s union busting. The company is currently in negotiations with the New York Public Service Commission to be able to continue providing cable services in New York State after the commission voted in July 2018 to revoke approval of Spectrum’s merger with Time Warner.

“The company is basically union busting in New York City, and they’ve come in, raised rates on people and set their own terms because they hold a monopoly right now and there’s really no one to stop them from doing what they’re doing,” added Walcott.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Sainato is a journalist based in Albany, NY. Follow him on Twitter @MSainat1

Calls Increase for Trump Labor Sec. Alexander Acosta To Resign

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

A U.S. District judge ruled Thursday that U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta committed a crime in 2007 when, as a U.S. prosecutor at the time, he secretly gave a lenient plea deal to a politically-connected billionaire accused of sex trafficking underage girls.

In a case brought by victims of billionaire and Trump associate Jeffrey Epstein, Judge Kenneth Marra found that Acosta and other federal prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by brokering a plea deal with Epstein, allowing him to serve only 13 months in a county jail for his crimes, and then sealing the agreement.

The ruling came nearly three months after the Miami Herald‘s explosive report on the plea deal, which prompted the Justice Department to begin an investigation into the prosecutors’ conduct.

Marra’s decision led to renewed calls for Acosta—who was appointed by President Donald Trump and who as head of the Labor Department is responsible for combating sex trafficking—to resign.

By sealing Epstein’s plea agreement, Acosta stole from more than 30 of Epstein’s victims—some of whom were as young as 13 when they were recruited by his paid employees and then coerced into sex acts by him—the chance to attend Epstein’s sentencing and demand a harsher punishment.

“While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims,” Marra found.

“The government-aligned themselves with Epstein, working against his victims, for 11 years,” Brad Edwards, the attorney representing the women who survived Epstein’s abuse, told the Herald. “Yes, this is a huge victory, but to make his victims suffer for 11 years, this should not have happened. Instead of admitting what they did, and doing the right thing, they spent 11 years fighting these girls.”

Epstein’s victims and the U.S. government now have 15 days to come to a resolution following Marra’s ruling.

This article was published in In These Times on February 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Julia Conley is a Maine-based staff writer for Common Dreams.

Thousands of Virginia teachers march to state capitol demanding more funding, better salaries

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Thousands of Virginia teachers left their classrooms and rallied in Richmond on Monday to demand more education funding and higher salaries. Teachers gathered in front of the state capitol building, just as their fellow educators did during strikes and rallies last year in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.

Virginia Educators United (VEU), which organized Monday’s rally, wants schools to have adequate support staff, such as nurses and social workers, competitive wages for support staff, improved school infrastructure, and better recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers. VEU encouraged teachers to take a personal day to attend the rally.

“I just think it’s one of those things where we have been waiting patiently and we always say, the [Great Recession] this, the recession that. That was 2008; we don’t have time to wait anymore so we need to fund education now,” Kevin Hickerson, president of the Fairfax Education Association, told ThinkProgress. 

Hickerson said that in Fairfax, like many other school districts across the country, it’s common for teachers to be working two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. The district needs to take additional steps to ensure support personnel, such as custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, can afford to live in the communities in which they work.

In an analysis of states’ funding formulas by the Education Law Center and Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education, Virginia received a grade of “F” on its funding distribution. Virginia’s average teacher salary is slightly less than average at $56,861, compared to $58,353, but in the Richmond area, the average teacher salary is just $51,064, state data shows. According to the National Education Association, Virginia ranks 34th in the nation in average teacher pay.

Salaries aren’t the only reason teachers decided to protest; the schools themselves desperately need improvements, according to Hickerson.

“Our infrastructure needs a lot of upgrades and improvements. When you don’t take care of things now in terms of buildings, they just cost more later down the line. We need to upgrade our buildings and we need to get out of trailers,” he said. “We have close to a thousand trailers here in Fairfax County and I don’t want my daughter going into a trailer to learn and I don’t want other kids to also have that experience.”

Hickerson added that there are mold problems, heating issues, and leaks in trailers and on top of that, trailers may not be the safest place for students to learn.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) proposed a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and $268.7 million in new money for public schools in December. Republican leaders in the house of delegates have said they support a 5 percent pay raise. The Republican-controlled state senate has said it wants more flexibility for how local governments spend increased education funding.

When asked why Virginia teachers aren’t ready for a statewide strike like other states, Hickerson said that in addition to legal issues teachers may encounter due to public employee strikes being prohibited, the upcoming state elections present an opportunity to make change.

“I think we have a golden opportunity this election season with both our chambers up for bid in the house and the senate. I think we have a great opportunity to get public education-friendly candidates into those seats,” he said. “I think there is a good chance we can flip the house and the senate and bring public education to the forefront where we don’t necessarily need those strikes and collective action that makes us remove ourselves from our job. That doesn’t mean we stop lobbying or the momentum we started but at the same time that’s where we need to be putting our time and effort right now.”

Teachers unions haven’t dialed back their concerns about school funding after the 2018 statewide strikes. In Los Angeles, teachers went on strike for a week and won major concessions. Some of the improvements include a 50 percent reduction in standardized testing, turning 30 schools into community schools, and ensuring that schools have nurses working five days a week.

This month, Denver teachers voted to go on strike after more than a year of negotiations. Teachers there want to change their performance-based compensation system, which they say is confusing and limits opportunities for some teachers to improve their pay.

There are also ongoing discussions of work stoppages in West Virginia and Oakland, California. In West Virginia, the state senate advanced education legislation that embraces school choice, something teachers unions have opposed. West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the press, “everything is on the table” when asked if another teacher walkout would happen in response to the legislation.

In Oakland, Ismael Armendariz, vice president of the Oakland Education Association, said the L.A. strike has energized teachers, who have been working without a contract since 2017 and are asking for a 12 percent pay increase over three years.

“One thing that resonated with our members is that when you fight, you win,” Armendariz said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Longest government shutdown in history causes record number of TSA workers to stay home

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ticks on, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is slowly starting to crumble.

The absence rate for TSA employees this weekend increased to a record-breaking eight percent, compared to 7.5 percent last week and just three percent this time last year, according to the Washington Post. The absences particularly impacted large hubs in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Miami. Baltimore Washington International Airport also suffered some sever staff shortages this weekend. On Sunday, the absences topped ten percent, as many TSA workers were unable to afford to continue working without pay.

In order to keep lines moving at airports, TSA has dipped into its National Deployment Force (NDF) pool, which is normally used to help out with major events such as the Superbowl.

TSA is also doing its utmost to ensure that the public does not know the true extent of how the shutdown is affecting the agency’s ability to perform its job. In an email sent Friday obtained by CNN, the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for public affairs Jim Gregory laid out a series of talking points on how to handle inquiries about the scale of the shutdown.

“Do not offer specific call out data at your airport,” the email reads. “You can say you have experienced higher numbers of call outs but in partnership with the airport and airlines you are able to manage people and resources to ensure effective security is always maintained.”

While TSA offers national data, it does not offer details for specific airports owing to “security concerns.” This means that there could be significant variation at airports that push some higher than the eight percent absence rate recorded nationwide.

The absences have, however, trickled down to travelers, who have been forced to wait in line for much longer than normal to get through security. TSA has consistently maintained that it is screening the vast majority of passengers in 30 minutes or less, but the ebbs and flows of airports during the shutdown has meant that some have been in scenarios where they’ve been severely understaffed.

Last week, for instance, multiple security lanes at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport were closed; wait times to pass through security lasted more than an hour and multiple flights were canceled. TSA is also expecting an influx of visitors into Atlanta for the Superbowl on February 3rd.

The continued lack of funding for TSA has also meant some workers have decided to simply quit outright, according to Hydrick Thomas, head of the American Federation of Government Employees’ TSA Council.

“Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” he said in a statement. “The loss of officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires.”

It’s not just TSA employees that have been struggling as the government shutdown enters its 30th day.

FBI field offices in Newark, Dallas, New Jersey and Washington are also establishing, or plan to establish, food banks for agents, who are also considered essential employees and must work through the shutdown. Because of security considerations FBI agents are usually prohibited from taking a second job, but according to CNN there has been a sharp surge in the number of agents and workers looking for additional employment.

Meanwhile, employees at federal prisons are also logging double shifts, and even in some cases using medical or maintenance employees to work as guards to help supplement low staffing numbers. According to the New York Times this led some inmates at New York’s Metropolitan Correction Center to go on hunger strike last week, as staffing shortages had forced the jail to cancel family visits for a second week.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Narratively.

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog