Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

New York City’s transgender community faces significant employment discrimination, new report finds

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) released a new report Tuesday detailing systemic discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people across the city.

Compared to the general New York City population, TGNC individuals are five times more likely to be unemployed, and among those with college degrees, more than four times more likely to be making less than $30,000 a year, the report found.

The report also outlines specific barriers TGNC people face while trying to find a job. Thirty-one percent reported experiencing discrimination before they even finished applying for jobs because they were asked what gender they were assigned at birth, a question employers are not legally allowed to ask. Others said they were asked for references from past employers who only knew them by their “dead name,” or the name they used before they transitioned.

Over half of respondents said they were forced to educate their coworkers about their identities, and a third reported being isolated by coworkers and receiving unwanted sexual comments. Many were overqualified for their jobs, while others said non-TGNC peers received higher salaries for the same work. A third of respondents said they were unable to use their health insurance to receive the gender affirming care they needed.

The New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP) released a new report Tuesday detailing systemic discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people across the city.

Compared to the general New York City population, TGNC individuals are five times more likely to be unemployed, and among those with college degrees, more than four times more likely to be making less than $30,000 a year, the report found.

The report also outlines specific barriers TGNC people face while trying to find a job. Thirty-one percent reported experiencing discrimination before they even finished applying for jobs because they were asked what gender they were assigned at birth, a question employers are not legally allowed to ask. Others said they were asked for references from past employers who only knew them by their “dead name,” or the name they used before they transitioned.

Over half of respondents said they were forced to educate their coworkers about their identities, and a third reported being isolated by coworkers and receiving unwanted sexual comments. Many were overqualified for their jobs, while others said non-TGNC peers received higher salaries for the same work. A third of respondents said they were unable to use their health insurance to receive the gender affirming care they needed.

Renata Ramos, a 57-year-old transfeminine Latina immigrant, claimed she lost a catering job when she transitioned because the business owner was allegedly concerned about “how their customers would react.” She claimed she was repeatedly told by employers such Trader Joe’s and a local dollar store that there were no open positions for which she could apply.

ThinkProgress has reached out to Trader Joe’s for comment on the allegation.

Lolan Sevilla, an AVP training coordinator and co-author of the report, told ThinkProgress that for many TGNC individuals, instances of discrimination were often compounded by their race. “For example, there was a significant disparity between trans and gender non-conforming people of color and white respondents on education, employment, and income,” they said, noting TGNC people of color with bachelor’s degrees were nearly four times more likely than to their white counterparts to make less than $10,000 a year.

“In order for us to have true economic justice for trans and gender non-conforming people, these issues must be looked at, and addressed, holistically with a framework that includes other identities held like race, disability, and immigration status,” Sevilla said.

New York City protects against employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, and has even issued guidance specifying that those protections apply to issues like correct name and pronoun usage in the workplace. The report recommended the city take things one step further and create educational opportunities and employment programs to help TGNC individuals overcome inequities they still face while attempting to enter the workforce.

It’s often impossible for TGNC individuals to know whether they are being treated differently, as many are simply unaware of the favorable treatment afforded to their non-TGNC peers. The report therefore recommends screening employers to ensure they are welcoming of TGNC employees through methods like resume testing.

The Washington, D.C. Office of Human Rights conducted one such test in 2015, sending various fake resumes to different employers, some with indications that the invented job candidate was transgender. In nearly half of the tests, employers favored a less-qualified cisgender candidate over a more qualified transgender candidate. As a result, the office was able to take enforcement actions against several of these employers for violating nondiscrimination laws, even though no real-life transgender people experienced discrimination.

New York City has used a similar process for identifying anti-transgender discrimination at substance abuse centers.

Chanel Lopez, Transgender Communities Liaison at the NYC Commission on Human Rights, emphasized the importance of such work and the need to continue pushing for more transparency in a statement Tuesday. “As we know all too well at the NYC Commission on Human Rights, TGNC individuals endure a range of discrimination and harassment in their daily lives, including in the workplace,” she said. “This is simply unacceptable.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on December 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news. In 2014, The Advocate named Zack one of its “40 under 40” in LGBT media, describing him as “one of the most influential journalists online.”

The Other Victims of California’s Fires: Workers Inhaling Toxic Fumes

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

With the death toll now standing at 42 and with some 7,200 structures destroyed, officials are now calling the wildfire in Paradise, CA (dubbed the “Camp Fire”) the deadliest and most destructive in California’s recent history. Two other massive fires—dubbed the Hill Fire and Woolsey Fire are simultaneously scorching Southern California.

As frontline firefighters—including many prison laborers—continue to battle the blaze while healthcare providers work around the clock treating fire victims, millions of other workers far away from the inferno are feeling a secondary impact: toxic smoke.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, over 160 miles away from the Camp Fire, air quality dramatically declined almost immediately after the fires broke out. Over the past week, AirNow, a government website reporting real-time air quality data has shown the Bay Area hovering between 150-200 on the federal Air Quality Index (AQI), surpassing 200 (or “very unhealthy” levels) in parts of the Bay. The higher the AQI value, the more polluted the skies are and the more concern there is for public health.

This week, the Bay Area also saw the second highest amount of fine particulate matter in the air ever recorded. This substance is not only made up of smoke from charred forests, but could contain everything that gets incinerated when residences go up in flames: cars, fuel, batteries, light bulbs, cleaning products, plastics, upholstery and more.

Public health officials have been advising residents of affected areas to stay indoors to avoid the unhealthy air that can lead to headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, eye irritation and worse.

However, for many workers who work outdoors for a living, that’s easier said than done.

While many white collar workers don protective masks to commute to office jobs where recirculated air conditioning provides some measure of protection from the smoky skies, hundreds of thousands of farmworkers, day laborers, landscapers, construction workers, public works employees and others have no choice but to work through the harmful haze—at great detriment to their health.

Many of these workers hail from neighborhoods and worksites already facing increased levels of toxins. Compounding the situation, these are also often the very same workers who are least protected by worker health and safety regulations.

“It’s been horrible,” says Kywanna Reed, who has been working 10-hour days outside this week as a traffic controller. “I wake up with headaches. I go to sleep with headaches. I have a headache right now, and a bag of headache medicine in the truck. My whole respiratory system is messed up. My coworker had a nosebleed and went home sick.”

Reed said her employer, American Construction & Supply Inc., did not provide masks to employees.

“Employers should pass out masks and you could choose to wear them or not,” says Reed, “But right now, they’re not doing anything.”

Other workers, however, say their employers are providing masks while verbally encouraging workers to protect themselves.

Cesar Fragoso, who works as a landscaper for Planting Justice, said the non-profit nursery in East Oakland passed out masks to employees.

“I work outside every day, weeding and transplanting plants. I can feel the smoke in my nose. My eyes started itching. I’ve been coughing. The masks help, but it’s tragic that we have to go through this in order for people to acknowledge what we are doing to the environment,” says Fragoso.

A 2017 news release from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) advises that “Employers with operations exposed to wildfire smoke must consider taking appropriate measures as part of their Injury and Illness Prevention Program under Title 8 section 3203 of the California Code of Regulations and as required under section 5141 (Control of Harmful Exposure to Employees).”

Those measures include “using a filtered ventilation system in indoor work areas,” “limiting the time that employees work outdoors” and “providing workers with respiratory protective equipment.”

However, as worker advocates note, holding employers accountable for taking such measures can be a challenge.

“Even though people we know from Cal/OSHA have made a tremendous effort, their presence in the field is so limited that it is really hard for them to do any kind of enforcement or implementation,” says Dinorah Barton-Antonio of the Labor and Occupational Health Program at UC Berkeley.

Other workers say they wouldn’t use a mask even it was provided, citing the already highly dangerous nature of their industries. Sixty-three-year-old carpenter Ruel Bernard smelled the smoke and started sneezing this week as he hung siding at a residential construction site, but chose not to wear a mask.

“Us older generation of construction workers, our bodies have been toxic waste dumps from the get-go. I started working in New York in 1971, breaking down plastic walls, climbing around in attics filled with insulation and dust. Every day I hurt myself at work, so at some point you’re just like ‘Fuck it,’” explains Bernard. “I know that’s a dinosaur, macho attitude. But that attitude helps us survive in this industry.”

The idea that the smoke from the wildfires is just one ingredient in an already toxic soup of working conditions resonates in farmworker communities.

Lucas Zucker is the Policy Director at Central Coast United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), which works with immigrant farmworkers in Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. During last summer’s wildfires, CAUSE distributed N95 masks to workers in the field.

“Farm work is already dangerous on the day-to-day. This area has some of the highest use of toxic pesticides,” notes Zucker. “But then with the wildfires, the ag industry pushes to harvest their crop quickly to prevent damage to crops like strawberries and avocados. So we actually see an increase in production, with obvious implications for human health. Whereas a white collar worker might be able to take time off and have that paid, for farmworkers who get paid piece rate it’s hard for them to take that time off if they’re already living paycheck to paycheck.”

While much of the conversation in the Bay Area about protection from the smoke has focused on masks, some workers point to having power on the job—whether that be in the form of a union contract or worker ownership—as one of the largest factors in ensuring worker health and safety.

“We have a union here. It helps us get through things like this because I feel like we have some camaraderie and I can take steps to take care of myself without worrying that I’ll lose my job,” says Daniel DeBolt, who works as a deckhand on the ferry boats that shuttle tourists and commuters from Oakland to San Francisco and who has been experiencing headaches and fatigue all week.

Worker power on the job was also key for Dante Ortiz from Root Volume, a worker-owned landscaping cooperative.

“In 20 years of building gardens in wildfire-prone areas like Colorado and California, I’d never had a day where we had to pull out because of air quality, but that happened last Friday. We were doing heavy excavation, trenching for retaining walls. It’s hard work. You’re breathing heavily, which is the worst thing you could be doing,” says Ortiz. “So we all decided it was time to get out of there. Being in a worker cooperative gave us the agency to make that decision for ourselves.”

However, other workers like day laborers don’t have stable employment or consistent employers.

According to Gabriela Galicia, the Executive Director of the Street Level Health Project in Oakland, CA, “Workers stand on the corner for up to eight hours a day waiting for work. Many corners are already near toxic fumes, and now workers are out in the smoke too.”

Galicia notes that many workers are already thinking about heading north in search of work rebuilding fire-devastated communities, which carries its own risks to workers’ rights and their health. Worker exploitation and wage theft has marred reconstruction in post-disaster recovery efforts across the country.

“We’ve seen too many natural disasters where day laborers have been taken advantage of,” says Galicia. “They are human beings. They’re helping to rebuild. Treat them with dignity.”

As human-driven climate change intensifies and more of California becomes engulfed in flames, workers wonder whether toiling in toxic air is becoming “the new normal”—or if there can be a just transition to a new way of relating to land and labor.

CAUSE’s Lucas Zucker explains, “Ultimately, we need state or federal disaster aid that can fill in the gaps for workers exposed to disaster or toxic conditions so that they don’t have to make that horrible choice between putting food on their family’s table or being exposed to toxic conditions.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on November 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Brooke Anderson is an Oakland, California-based organizer and photojournalist. She has spent 20 years building movements for social, economic, racial and ecological justice. She is a proud union member of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA 39521, AFL-CIO.

Minimum wage increases pass in Arkansas and Missouri

Wednesday, November 7th, 2018

Voters in Arkansas and Missouri have approved a ballot initiative that would significantly raise the minimum wage in their states, affecting nearly 1 million workers.

Despite President Donald Trump carrying both Arkansas and Missouri during the 2016 election and disapproval from Republican state legislatures, voters overwhelmingly voted in favor of a minimum wage hike, with 68 percent in favor in Arkansas and 61 percent in favor in Missouri.

In Arkansas, the current $8.50/hour minimum wage will be gradually increased to $11/hour by 2021, while in Missouri, the state’s measly $7.85/hour minimum wage would slowly reach $12/hour by 2023. That amounts to $455 million more in pay for Arkansas workers by 2021 — an average of $1,520 each — and more than $1 billion for Missourians by 2023, a total of roughly $1,485 per worker.

According to Rewire, the people most affected by the ballot initiatives are working women and mothers. Amy Wilson, a single mother of three children, works as a school custodian in Russellville, Arkansas and told the publication that an extra $1,520 in her pocket means a lot. She said she would be able to take care of “a lot of minor needs [that] add up over time,” like replacing car tires or buying clothes for her children somewhere other than Salvation Army.

While President Trump likes to boast that the economy is booming and wages are increasing, not everyone is feeling the effects. There are millions of workers across the country who work full-time, yet can’t afford to make rent every month or cover medical expenses.

Arkansas and Missouri join a growing list of states where wages have been raised in the face of the stagnant $7.25 federal hourly minimum wage.

Because both state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, fair wage activists have found that navigating politicians by raising the minimum wage via ballot initiatives is most effective. The legislature, however, could still react negatively to the results of the ballot initiative.

Such backlash would hardly be unprecedented. In Washington, D.C., the city council recently overruled its constituents by reinstating a tipped wage, and in Missouri, state lawmakers passed a law that prevented cities from raising the minimum wage on a municipal level. The law prevented St. Louis workers from earning a $10/hour minimum wage.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 7, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

One Way to Defend Transgender People From Trump’s Attacks? Labor Unions.

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

New York Times report this week revealed that the Trump administration’s assault on transgender, non-binary and intersex people has escalated. According to a memo circulating since last spring and recently obtained by the Times, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is at the helm of an effort to define gender as either male or female, immutable and determined by the sex assigned at birth—a move that would dramatically roll back protections and recognition of people who fall outside the gender binary. The legal definition would fall under Title IX, the federal law that bars gender discrimination in government-funded education programs.

The change marks the latest development in the administration’s campaign to revoke preexisting U.S. gender-recognition policies, particularly regarding employment. In 2017, Trump rescinded an Obama-era executive order designed to restrict discrimination against LGBTQ employees of federal contractors. That same year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions argued that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal workplace-equity law, did not protect transgender workers from discrimination. The Department of Justice would thus no longer side with transgender workers who sued their employers for discrimination on the grounds of the 1964 law. 

Now, activists fear that HHS’s proposed definition may further corrode protections for transgender, intersex and gender-nonconforming people in the workplace. Non-discrimination law is already fractured and deficient: According to the LGBTQ-rights nonprofit the Movement Advancement Project, 48 percent of the LGBTQ population lives in states that do not prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

If the proposal advances, one of the most immediate and robust forms of recourse for workers will be the leverage of organized labor. According to LGBTQ labor nonprofit and AFL-CIO constituency group Pride at Work, union contracts are the only form of legal protection against employment discrimination for transgender people working in 33 states. (In those states, it’s legal to fire a transgender worker based on their gender identity.)

Union contracts, which are enforceable in all 50 states, can contain clauses that specifically address gender-identity parity. “You can get any kind of non-discrimination language put into a contract that’s then enforceable through the provisions of that contract,” Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work, told In These Times. “Basic non-discrimination that includes protections for gender identity and expression go a long way toward mitigating these issues.”

This is essential for workers who face not only a greater risk of firing, harassment, and unemployment—which is approximately 16 percent for transgender and gender-non-binary Americans—but also depend on transgender-inclusive healthcare. Union contracts can remove exclusionary language from insurance policies. Relatedly, they can expand what an insurance plan covers in terms of care related to a gender transition, including hormone treatment, gender-confirmation surgery and mental healthcare. For example, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and hospitality- and service-worker union UNITE HERE have passed resolutions for transgender-inclusive healthcare.

In addition to these material concerns, Davis cited some of the more subtle forms workplace discrimination can take. These include intentionally misgendering people by inappropriately referring to them by their sex assigned at birth, Davis explained. In addition, employers who issue “male” and “female” uniforms may also coerce employees into wearing uniforms that don’t suit their gender identities. 

Unions, too, can shield workers from these indignities, and can also codify gender-reflective access to restrooms. In 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a series of guidelines declaring that “every employee, including transgender employees, should have access to restrooms that correspond to their gender identity,” but these don’t constitute law, and gender-neutral or gender-appropriate restroom access isn’t mandated nationwide. “Aside from broad non-discrimination language,” Davis said, “most union contracts have a health and safety section in which language can be added to ensure trans individuals have appropriate access to facilities.”

While contracts are an integral source of worker recourse, Pride at Work cautions that they’re only as good as the efforts of workers to defend them—and that workers thus must strategize to protect their transgender and non-binary cohorts. The organization urges workers to take such strategic measures as placing pressure on unions whose health plans don’t include transgender-related care, vocalizing opposition to workplace harassment and striving to further organize unionized and non-unionized LGBTQ workers.

As of 2015, 15 percent of transgender workers surveyed by the National Center for Transgender Equality were unionized or had some level of union representation, compared to the national average of 12 percent. While the fraction is slim—a symptom of decades of neoliberal legislation in the United States—it’s possible for unions to leverage their power beyond the scope of the workplace, thus advocating for workers who aren’t unionized. The AFL-CIO, for instance, has endorsed transgender-rights legislation in Massachusetts and combatted North Carolina’s infamous (and defunct) 2016 House Bill 2, which would have denied transgender people access to appropriate restrooms.

Davis told In These Times that the AFL-CIO has a union lobbying operation in every U.S. state, allowing the organization to shape policymaking at the local, state, and national levels.

The HHS’s proposal has yet to pass, and it’s unclear when and whether it will. Given the gravity of the situation, however, union protections countering the federal government’s potential erasure of transgender and non-binary people have taken on a new level of urgency. “When the federal government is saying these people don’t even exist, it gives employers and other people in the community basically a license to discriminate,” Davis said. “The vast majority of trans people in this country would be left hanging with that kind of a definition in place.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 25, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Julianne Tveten writes about the intersection of the technology industry and socioeconomic issues. Her work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Outline, Motherboard, and Hazlitt, among others.

EEOC reports (mostly) positive developments on sexual harassment

Monday, October 22nd, 2018

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that formal complaints of sexual harassment complaints are up significantly from 2017. The EEOC is also litigating substantially more harassment cases.

Amid the uptick in reported harassment, there is evidence that men are changing their behavior – in good and bad ways. While the impact of the #MeToo movement has mostly been positive, some leery men are going to the other extreme and avoiding female co-workers completely.

Formal harassment complaints and lawsuits have increased

The EEOC says it is leading the way in combating workplace sexual harassment. Through outreach and education, as well as through investigation and enforcement, the agency believes it’s making an impact:

  • Formal sexual harassment charges in fiscal year 2018 increased by more than 12 percent from 2017.
  • Reasonable cause findings increased by 23 percent and successful conciliations by 43 percent.
  • In complaints not resolved through mediation, the EEOC has filed 41 sexual harassment lawsuits, a 50 percent increase.
  • The EEOC recovered $70 million for victims in FY 2018, an increase of 47 percent.

In the aftermath of #MeToo, traffic to the EEOC website doubled in the past year as both employees and employers sought information on dealing with workplace harassment. The agency conducted hundreds of outreach events to educate individuals and employers

Some men are taking the wrong message from #MeToo

Overall, the #MeToo movement has affected real and positive change. More women (and men) are confronting abuse and reporting sexual harassment rather than quietly tolerating it. Employers, including government agencies, are re-examining their policies and doing more trainings. Habitual and egregious offenders are being fired or otherwise suffering real consequences.

At least anecdotally, males in the workplace are changing their behavior, out of self-preservation if not because they genuinely “get it.” From sexual come-ons and inappropriate touching and to sharing sexual jokes or pictures, men appear to be getting the message.

But there has been some unexpected backlash from the #MeToo campaign. Some men in positions of power are intentionally avoiding or excluding female counterparts to avoid being accused of harassment. For example, women may not be invited to key meetings or after-hours events. Some men say they will no longer mentor women or hire female assistants. Some go so far as to avoid riding in an elevator or vehicle with female co-workers.

This overreaction has the unintended consequence of limiting opportunities for women and creating barriers. Such behavior can rise to the level of retaliation, sex discrimination or creating a hostile work environment.

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law on October 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

#MeToo Hits Fast Food: Why McDonald’s Workers Are Out on a Historic Strike Today

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Workers at McDonald’s are set to walk out of work today in ten U.S. cities: Chicago, St. Louis, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando and San Francisco.

While a string of fast food strikes has hit chains in recent years, this time workers aren’t walking out for higher wages, but for respect and freedom from harassment in an industry known for rampant abuse.

In the non-unionized fast food industry, marked by high turnover, low wages, and poor to non-existent benefits, sexual harassment is endemic. A recent study of fast food restaurants such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s found that 40 percent of workers reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. A full 60 percent of the women who reported multiple occurrences of harassment said they felt pressure to accept the abuse because they could not afford to quit their job.

McDonald’s has faced a slew of lawsuits related to sexual harassment in recent years. In October 2016, Fight for $15, the group advocating for minimum-wage increases in the service sector, filed 15 sexual harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the McDonalds corporation and franchisees of failing to protect—and sometimes retaliating against—workers reporting harassment.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, an organization supporting the striking workers, McDonald’s management routinely “initiated or disregarded” instances of sexual harassment. Among the incidents reported by the Center: A 15-year-old cashier in St. Louis who was asked by an older male employee: “Have you ever had white chocolate inside you?” When the 15-year-old reported the harassment to her manager, she was told, “you will never win that battle.” In New Orleans, a female worker complained about a co-worker groping her, to which her manager responded that she should “take it to the next level” with him. This same worker also endured an attempted sexual assault, which she did not report because of her past experiences.

“By funding the legal representation in these cases, we hope to help ensure that these charges will be a catalyst for significant change,” Sharyn Tejani, Director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Few women working in low-wage jobs have the means or the financial security to challenge sexual harassment. As shown by these charges and thousands of intakes we have received at the Fund from women in every industry, those who report their abuse are often fired, demoted or mocked—and since nothing is done to stop the harassment, nothing changes.”

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is the latest example of the #MeToo movement’s solidarity with low-wage workers. The Fund, which arose as a response to the sexual harassment faced by women in Hollywood, has now amassed over 200 volunteer lawyers, and has pledged to support “the factory worker, the waitress, the teacher, the office worker.” The organization was also led to this cross-class alliance in part by expressions of solidarity from workers across sectors, including a letter signed by 700,000 female farmworkers associated with the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, and a 2017 “Take Back the Workplace” march in Los Angeles.

The strike is historic. While labor organizing campaigns have often made sexual harassment a focal point, this strike marks the first multi-state action devoted solely to the issue. 

Workers organizing against sexual harassment at McDonald’s can draw from a long tradition. In the 1830s, one of the first labor struggles in the early phases of American industrialization centered around addressing the sexual harassment and assault faced by female mill workers in Lowell, Massachusetts.

In one of the first efforts to organize workers at a restaurant chain, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) launched a six-year campaign during the 1960s to organize Playboy Bunnies. The campaign centered around combating the sexist workplace of the Playboy Clubs, an environment rooted in Hugh Hefner’s ethos that “women should be obscene and not heard.”

In the book Feminism Unfinished, Dorothy Sue Cobble writes that tenacious HERE organizer Myra Wolfgang told reporters the Bunnies would “bite back” against Playboy’s sexist working conditions.  And that’s just what they did. According to Cobble, management ultimately agreed to a “national contract promising to pay wages to Bunnies (previously the women relied solely on tips) and allow Bunnies more discretion over uniform design, customer interactions, and company appearance standards.”

While historically unions have (albeit sometimes unsuccessfully) been a bulwark against sexual harassment, fast-food empires like McDonald’s have always been closed off to unions. Without the protection of a union, fast food workers are particularly vulnerable to harassment. But, according to sexual harassment expert Lin Farley, the equation can also be reversed: Harassment can be a tool to prevent unionization and collective worker struggle. “You have fast-food managers systematically using sexual harassment to keep turnover high, so they don’t have to unionize, they don’t have to give higher wages,” Farley told On the Media.

That might be changing, however. With a more class-conscious #MeToo movement, a wave of militant teachers’ strikes, anti-sexual harassment campaigns and strikes in the majority female hotel industry, it’s clear that women are fed up with abuse in the workplace. The McDonald’s strike shows that this increased organizing may soon translate into more wins for labor in the most exploited sectors like the fast food industry, where class struggle is now on the menu.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel Johnson is a writer based in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in U.S. history from Northwestern University.

The Fight Against Racism Starts in the Union

Thursday, September 6th, 2018

“In your union or workplace, what’s a situation where you’ve observed or experienced racism?” That’s the first question we ask people to discuss, in groups of three, as part of a Race and Labor training that our state labor council has offered for 29 local unions and labor councils so far in Washington state.

Some stories are dramatic, like the member of color who was threatened with physical violence after winning union office. Other are more subtle, the kind of incidents that can weigh on you when they’re repeated over and over. A Black union staffer often interacts with members by phone or email; when she later meets them in person, she is told, “Oh, you’re not how I pictured you.”

After one or two people share powerful stories, other hands start shooting into the air.

This workshop isn’t simply a diversity training. It’s designed to look at the history of racism in our country and in our labor movement. We talk about how racism shows up in our workplaces, our family and community life, and even our unions; how racial categories historically have served the interests of employers; and how divide-and-conquer hampers organizing today.

Once we’ve accepted those truths, the next question is, what can leaders do to change them? The workshop is very practical. We want folks to leave with real ideas for what they can do.

Participants brainstorm solutions in four areas: bargaining, organizing, union culture, and community connections. We also discuss how to answer union sisters and brothers who aren’t convinced racial justice has anything to do with union politics. One small-group activity is to write a persuasive speech you might give to your executive board.

People leave feeling hopeful. One older gentleman told me he’d been through a number of diversity and racial equity workshops, but this was the only one that made him feel he could do something about it. Another person said she’d been afraid even to talk about racism, for fear of saying the wrong thing. Now she knew how to start.

How we started

Our state isn’t very diverse—and its labor leaders are even less so. Out of 15 central labor councils in Washington, only one has a principal officer who is a person of color. Only a handful of the 600 affiliate union locals do, either.

The project started with a resolution that passed our convention in 2015. It called on the state labor council president to take up AFL-CIO President Trumka’s call to have “a serious and open-ended conversation about what we can do, about what we should do” about race and the labor movement.

The resolution made clear that we should discuss how racism affects not just our individual beliefs, but also the policies and practices that shape our unions. For instance, who gets into the union—is it tough unless your father or uncle was a member? Who is considered for leadership roles?

A special committee convened in 2016. With the help of longtime labor activist Bill Fletcher and our state’s Labor Education Research Center, the committee developed a seven-hour Race and Labor workshop.

Get leaders on board

Some of our largest affiliates have sent leaders and staff through the training, including Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 21, the state AFSCME federation, and the state Teachers (AFT).

It’s not easy to sell a seven-hour workshop to union officers. But we ask them to resist the urge to modify the workshop to fit a 90-minute conference schedule. Real conversations take time.

Some leaders have a natural inclination to stick to lunchbox issues: wages, benefits, and working conditions. But here’s one argument why this topic matters to a union’s self-interest: Before the Janus decision, a large public sector union did a national member survey. It found that union favorability was the highest among African American workers—but also that, given the opportunity, they were the most likely to leave the union.

To me that suggests that many African-American workers recognize the value of the labor movement, but don’t see a place for themselves in our institutions. I suspect other people of color may feel the same way.

It’s personal for me. As I often tell people, it was my mom’s union job that got us off welfare and gave her the dignity that comes from being able to pay bills and provide for your family. So I believe in the labor movement. I know what a difference it can make. If we continue not addressing racism, we create a weakness in our movement. I don’t want to let that happen.

Goal: 100 percent

In 2017 we offered our first two-day train-the-trainer workshops with 100 union leaders and staff. We did it twice more this spring.

The first day, participants go through the Race and Labor workshop. We ask union principal officers to attend this first day, so that they “buy in” to the process. The second day, principal officers may leave, while the facilitators assigned from their locals (usually union staffers) stick around to learn the curriculum, including the goals of each section, and to discuss how adults learn.

Labor council delegates passed our Race and Labor 2.0 resolution in 2017, moving into wider implementation. They set ambitious goals—by the end of 2018, half our union affiliates’ executive board and staff members should have attended the workshop; by 2019, threequarters; and by 2020, all of them.

They also resolved that we should train 30 “certified trainers” ready to take the workshop around the state. We’re developing that training now.

The next step is a Race and Labor summit in September. We’ll be bringing together 100 young workers of color plus allies to develop a toolkit that might include contract language, sample policies, and plans for additional training. We’ll ask, “If we didn’t have to deal with institutional racism in our movement, what would that look like—and how do we get there?”

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 5, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: April Sims is the political and strategic campaigns director of the Washington State Labor Council. She presented a version of the Race and Labor workshop at the 2018 Labor Notes Conference.

Why the Thrillist strike is so important for digital media unions

Thursday, August 16th, 2018

Workers at Thrillist, a website that covers travel, culture, and food, went on the first known work stoppage at a digital media publication this week. Thrillist’s unionized staff voted to authorize a strike “should we not make sufficient progress at the table.”

On Monday, workers overwhelmingly voted in favor of going on strike, at 91 percent of union members, and they did not report to work. Workers were back on the job on Tuesday but are ready for another work stoppage if necessary.

On Monday, Thrillist workers said their Slack accounts and emails had been deactivated and one worker said their card to get into the building would not work. An hour and a half later, staff had their Slack and email reactivated, according to Splinter.

Thrillist workers voted to unionize last year and are still trying to negotiate a contract with the publication’s parent company, Group Nine Media.

Thrillist staffers said in statement that “livable salary minimums and fair annual increases” are at issue and that Group Nine Media has only put “scant, inadequate economic terms” on the table in response.

In February of last year, workers said that reasons for unionizing included increasing diversity of staff, having “common-sense standards for judging performance,” and more transparency about job responsibilities. Writers Guild of America, East is its collective bargaining representative. The publication had over 80 percent of its writers, editors, and social media staff sign cards choosing Writers Guild of America, East.

But Group Nine Media has resisted unionization efforts, with its founder and CEO Ben Lerer saying he is concerned about “the effect the union would have on our unique culture,” according to Deadspin and made some statements about union contracts that were just plain false. Lerer described unions as necessary for some industries and businesses but suggested that it did not make sense for workers at Thrillist or in journalism, with the “new types of personal career growth that we traditionally have.”

Talking about a “unique” culture and how a particular industry may not benefit from unionization is par for the course for anti-union rhetoric, including in journalism.

Last year, Slate Group Chairman Jacob Weisberg wrote that Slate’s “flexibility and fluidity” would be hampered by unionization, according to Splinter. He added that a union is “filled with bureaucracy and procedure,” and “That world is just not Slate-y….A union fosters a culture of opposition, which is antithetical to our way of doing things.”

Vox Media’s publisher, Melissa Bell, wrote a letter last year in response to unionization at Vox Media. Bell wrote, “… we are still in a precarious industry, and we want to ensure that our business remains strong and competitive by maintaining the flexibility necessary to adapt and innovate. Doing so is imperative to our ability to provide jobs and career paths to employees.”

Last year, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti responded to a question about unions in a companywide meeting. He said he is not against unions personally but does not believe that unionization is right for BuzzFeed, BuzzFeed News media and politics reporter Steven Perlberg tweeted at the time.

But many journalists and other media professionals have decided to unionize precisely because they work in a precarious industry. Journalists are concerned about low pay and long hours and mass layoffs.

Nastaran Mohit, organizing director of the NewsGuild of New York, told Columbia Journalism Review, “Looking at previously non-union digital publications, I think younger journalists recognize the instability and precarity of the industry, and they see the value of coming together to secure a seat at the table.”

Group Nine Media hired Proskauer Rose LLP, a law firm with 13 offices that represents major sports organizations and had 14 of its lawyers named in a 2018 guide on the top 100 “leading corporate, defense-side employment lawyers.”

A number of digital media outlets began unionization efforts in the past few years, including ThinkProgress, The Intercept, Vice Media, HuffPost, MTV News, The New Yorker, Salon, Los Angeles Times, Jacobin, Fast Company, Mic, The New Yorker, and Gawker, which is now defunct.

Fast Company’s union announced plans to unionize in June and was recognized at the end of July. The New Yorker staff had a similar timeline. It announced plans to unionize in June and and received recognition in July. CNN reported that in their letter to management, New Yorker staff said, “Salaries often vary significantly among people who hold the same position, and we have seen a steady stream of our colleagues leave for jobs that provide more tenable wages. Some of us have worked for years as subcontracted employees, without health insurance and other basic benefits, though we do the same jobs as the staff members who sit beside us.”

In June, Slate staffers said management insisted on an open shop so that union members can decide not to pay union dues and that 94 percent of the unit had signed onto a letter opposing an open shop. Unlike in the cases of The New Yorker and Fast Company, Slate took a lot longer to recognize the union: 10 months.

Thrillist workers said they decided on a work stoppage and called a meeting to authorize a strike now because, after a series of negotiations in July, Group Nine Media appeared to be dragging its feet in negotiations and workers were losing patience. There is a bargaining meeting set for September.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on August 15, 2018. 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.

Brett Kavanaugh dissent shows how far he'll go to side with the boss over workers

Wednesday, August 15th, 2018

It’s starting to look like a requirement of being nominated to the Supreme Court by Donald Trump is having at least one gratuitously, ludicrously anti-worker dissent in your record. Neil Gorsuch had the frozen trucker, and as for Brett Kavanaugh, Dave Jamieson offers a candidate. Kavanaugh was the lone dissenter on a case in which a company was found to have created a spin-off company solely for the purpose of busting its union.

In the case, Island Architectural Woodwork, a unionized company, created Verde Demountable Partitions, which was non-union. Verde operated from an Island-owned building, used the same equipment, and was run by the daughter of Island’s chief executive. It was a thin fiction:

According to court filings, Island provided Verde with free equipment and rent but didn’t even bother to document its dealings with the supposedly separate company until after it was subpoenaed.  

As the appellate court later noted, “Island made no formal valuations of its assets before handing them off to Verde” ? an unusual move if the two companies were disconnected as they claimed.

On top of all that, Island’s president, Edward Rufrano, tried to make it a condition of a new contract for Island’s workers that their union sign away its right to organize the Verde workers. But to Kavanaugh, this wasn’t enough to show that Verde existed to avoid worker organizing:

“The Board … seems to have found something shady in the fact that Verde was started and primarily owned by two daughters of Island’s primary owner,” Kavanaugh wrote, making it clear he saw no such shadiness.

What would make Kavanaugh see something done by a business owner as shady? 

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on August 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

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

Trump's NLRB Is Back in Action After Its Ethics Scandal. And It's Not Good for Workers

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

The Trump-dominated National Labor Relations Board has been mostly quiet this summer, largely as the result of an ethics scandal that has tainted some of its earlier anti-union work. But NLRB initiatives are quietly underway to restart attacks on labor rights, including an effort disclosed August 1 that could restrict how workers can use email on the job.

The ethics scandal, in which Board member William Emanuel was judged to have violated a pledge not to vote in cases involving his former law firm, prompted the agency’s chairman to order an internal review. The “ethics and recusal requirements” review has been underway since early June.

Both Emanuel and Board Chairman John Ring are Trump appointees, approved by narrow margins in the U.S. Senate over united opposition from union-friendly Democrats. One of those Democrats, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, has been an especially harsh critic of Trump’s NLRB appointees. One of her associates, who requested anonymity, tells In These Times that Senate Democrats are skeptical about Ring’s review. “It looks to me like a public relations dodge,” he says. 

Warren’s assistant press secretary told In These Times over email, “Any attempt to weaken the ethics standard…would be a betrayal of the working Americans the NLRB is meant to serve.”

Ring can expect close scrutiny of the ethics review, but is nevertheless moving forward with the Trump agenda to roll back pro-worker decisions issued by the labor board when it was controlled by Democrats during the Obama administration. In the latest example, the NLRB announced on August 1 that it intends to re-examine the 2014 Purple Communications case that upheld the limited right of workers to use workplace email systems for union-related communications.

According to an official statement, “the National Labor Relations Board invites the filing of briefs on whether the Board should adhere to, modify, or overrule Purple Communications, Inc., 361 NLRB 1050 (2014).” In Purple Communications, the Board ruled that workers have a limited right to use the email systems provided by their employers to promote union activities, even if the employer opposed the union. 

Going beyond email, Ring indicated the NLRB wants to re-examine existing rules on the use of all “employer-owned computer resources.” 

Ring telegraphed the expected outcome of the re-examination of Purple Communications by reporting that the decision to move ahead was approved by a narrow 3-2 vote of the five-member board. The split in the vote was strictly along partisan lines, with the three Trump Republicans (Ring, Emanuel and Marvin Kaplan) voting to go forward and the two Obama Democrats (Mark Pearce and Lauren McFerran) opposed. The two Democrats actually were both NLRB members back in 2014 when Purple Communications was decided, and had voted to protect union rights at that time. 

In further plans to attack the pro-labor decisions from the Obama era, Ring has  made clear that he is not done with the Browning-Ferriscase, which was at the center of the Emanuel ethics scandal. Forced to withdraw its 2017 decision to reverse Browning-Ferris because of Emanuel’s ethics violation, the NLRB now intends to attack the same issue of how the term “joint employer” will be defined under labor law by different means, according to Ring.

In a June 5 letter to Warren and other senators, Ring stated, “Candor requires me to inform you that the NLRB is no longer merely considering joint-employer rulemaking. A majority of the Board is committed to engage in rulemaking and the NLRB will do so. Internal preparations are underway, and we are working toward issuance,” of public notices required to establish the new rules. The board will act to issue the notices “as soon as possible, but certainly by this summer,” Ring wrote.

What Ring did not say is that the joint employer issue has taken on a special resonance for conservatives and business lobbyists, who view the Obama NLRB’s action as a dangerous step that could lead to increased unionization. The fast food sector took particular interest, as the franchise model for food outlets as pioneered by the McDonald’s hamburger chain was seen as newly vulnerable to union organizing under the Obama NLRB.

Ring declined a request from In These Times for a telephone interview to answer questions about the ethics review and other developments at the NLRB.   

Union members and labor activists shouldn’t expect any positive result from the NLRB’s ethics review, or from further action on Browning-Ferris, says Michael Duff, a law professor at the University of Wyoming who worked at NLRB earlier in his career. The ethics review is “window dressing, an attempt to salvage credibility,” he says, and the board’s hostility to Browning-Ferris is already “abundantly clear.”

“It’s going to be a tough road at NLRB for unions as long as there as a Republican in the White House, and especially with Trump,” he says.

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

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 14, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog