Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

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248,000 New Jobs Drop Jobless Rate to 5.9% in September

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Image: Mike HallThe economy added 248,000 new jobs in September, a big increase over the 180,000 jobs added in August. The unemployment rate fell to 5.9% compared to 6.1% in August, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past year, the unemployment rate has dropped by 1.3 percentage points and the number of jobless workers has decreased by 1.9 million.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 3 million, unchanged from August. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term jobless workers has decreased by 1.2 million.

AFL-CIO Policy Director and Special Counsel Damon Silvers said while the drop in the jobless rate is encouraging, wages continue to stagnate.

For the economy to work for everyone, we need to see low unemployment rates coupled with wages that are rising, like we saw in the late 1990s, when real wages rose and the jobless rate dropped as low as 4%.

While long-term joblessness has dropped some, it remains a major problem. House Republicans have, since the end of last year, refused to allow a vote on the extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits program that was approved by a bipartisan Senate majority. Now, Congress is out of session until after the election, and even then House Republicans are likely to turn their backs on long-term jobless workers again.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in professional and business services (81,000), retail trade (35,000) and health care (23,000).

Other sectors that showed increases include leisure and hospitality (21,000), construction (16,000), information (12,000), financial (12,000) and mining (9,000).

Employment in other major industries, including manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing and government, showed little change in September.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates in September declined for adult men (5.3%), whites (5.1%) and Latinos (6.9%). The rates for adult women (5.7%), teenagers (20%) and blacks (11%) showed little change.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on October 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Economy/248-000-New-Jobs-Drop-Jobless-Rate-to-5.9-in-September

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

No free pass to discriminate against immigrant workers: Salas v. Sierra Chemical Co.

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Low-wage workers—regardless of immigration status—shoulder more than their fair share of workplace violations, including unpaid wages, unsafe working conditions, and discrimination and harassment.  Immigrant low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable—working under constant fear that if they exercise basic workplace rights, they will suffer retaliation that could result in the separation of their families; loss of homes and property; or return to violence or extreme poverty in their home countries.

This fear of retaliation is based in fact.  We as advocates have seen it happen time and time again—and it overwhelmingly leads to workers staying silent, leaving employers without even a slap on the wrist when they break the law.

Scofflaw employers do not and will not stop violating the law if they are not held accountable for their violations to all workers.  Any other type of piecemeal enforcement, or lack of enforcement, encourages employers to hire vulnerable undocumented workers, disregard labor laws as basic as the minimum wage, and then fire them when they complain – all to the economic disadvantage of employers who do follow the law.

Earlier this summer, the California Supreme Court in the Salas v. Sierra Chemical Company case agreed, deciding that companies that hire undocumented workers (knowingly or not) do not get a free pass to discriminate against them.

In that case, Mr. Salas sued his former employer, Sierra Chemical Company, for failing to bring him back to work after he injured himself and claimed workers’ compensation benefits. Mr. Salas alleged the company retaliated against him for filing his claim and discriminated against him because of his injury. But a jury never got the chance to decide whether he was right. The company claimed that because Mr. Salas was not authorized to work in the U.S. in the first place, the company shouldn’t be liable for failing to hire him back. A lower court agreed and dismissed the case (giving the company a free pass to discriminate in the bargain).

The California Supreme Court said not so fast. On the one hand, the law says that people without work authorization shouldn’t be working. But on the other hand, the law says that all workers should be protected from discrimination.

In a careful decision, the California Supreme court balanced these two concerns.  It allowed Mr. Salas to take his case to a jury, finding that a company can be liable for discrimination even against undocumented employees.  At the same time, the court held that undocumented employees cannot seek a court to be hired back by the company that has discriminated against them.

This decision demonstrates an understanding of the reality of the California workplace, which is  increasingly made up of workers of all immigration statuses, including green card holders and naturalized U.S. citizens.  It also includes 1.85 million undocumented workers, who constitute nearly 10% of the total workforce.

Against this backdrop, the Supreme Court confirmed that employers cannot violate the law—by discriminating or otherwise—and then later be immunized from liability for those violations. The court recognized that leaving undocumented workers without the protection of the law would actually give employers a strong incentive to “look the other way” when hiring and then turn around and use their immigration status to ultimately exploit them.  That would be bad news for employers who actually honor their obligations to treat workers fairly and legally when it comes to hiring, pay, and non-discrimination in the workforce.

Mr. Salas will now have the chance to take his case to a jury, who will decide whether he wins or loses.  But the Salas decision is a solid win for all law-abiding Californians – employees and employers alike.

This article originally appeared in CELA Voice on October 2, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/

Beaman[1]About the Author: Megan Beaman is a community-based attorney who roots her work in the notion that all people deserve access to justice, and who understands the larger struggles for immigrant and worker justice in California and nationwide. Beaman’s practice is founded on her years of advocacy and activism in working class and immigrant communities, and tends to reflect the predominate needs of those communities, including many cases of discrimination, harassment, unpaid wages, immigration, substandard housing, and other civil rights violations. The client communities Beaman most often represents are overwhelmingly Latino and Spanish-speaking. Beaman also works and volunteers in a number of other community capacities, including as a coordinator for the Eastern Coachella Valley Neighborhoods Action Team.

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About the Author: Kevin Kish is the Director of the Employment Rights Project at Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles. He leads Bet Tzedek’s employment litigation, policy and outreach initiatives, focusing on combating illegal retaliation against low-wage workers and litigating cases involving human trafficking for forced labor.

63 Million

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

jonathan-tasiniNumbers sometimes tell a story. Today, it’s 63 million. 63 million is the only number you can remember to explain to the dim politicians and “analysts” who just don’t understand why the global economy is stumbling along. It’s simple math. 63 million is the projected jobs gap around the world by 2018 just for the G20 countries. And, so, yes the dire situation for workers is much, much, much worse because the 63 million jobs gap is only for G20 countries (Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union). I’m going to come to say more here in a moment. But, remember these five key points: Tens of millions of people have essentially zero prospects for decent work in the next 5-10 years. They have zero prospects for work even though productivity is racing along just fine. They have zero prospects for decent work because governments are not doing enough. They have zero prospects for decent work because a bigger slice of the pie is not going to workers but to elites and corporate treasuries. They have zero prospects for decent work because corporations just don’t care. Where does this all come from? I happened to be re-reading a presentation made by Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization, to the recent G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting(yes, you can say: Tasini, you have to get out more).

Ryder had some important and revealing charts to make clear how truly bad the situation is. A bottom line:

“Despite a modest economic recovery in 2013-4, economic growth is expected to remain below trend over the foreseeable future. The G20 jobs gap in 2012 was about 55 million. The ILO estimates that the gap will continue to widen until 2018, reaching 63 million that year.”

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You basically get the point from the chart–the higher trend line shows where jobs should have been, the lower blue trend line shows what can be expected (and you can see the sharp drop from the crisis).

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This is a bit deceptive because it doesn’t tell the whole story: the spread between the crisis level and projected jobs level, in my opinion, should say, in part, that lower wages (slave labor) was a big attraction to corporations to stick around in developing countries. Still, as Ryder says:

“In the emerging G20 countries, jobs gaps are not as wide as an industrialized countries but the prospect of closing the gaps in the next five years is not very promising under current growth trends.”

Then, there are three other graphs that tell the story of depression and robbery. First, look at this one:

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The developing countries–the red line–had higher percentage growth because their workers were coming from slave-like, poverty wages–but still you can see the deep dive there, as well. And when it hits poorer people in that dramatic fashion, that translates into hunger. The green line had actual negative numbers in some spots but, overall, pretty much nowhere. So, duh. I mean, seriously, to the morons who claim to be economists and, then, are “analysts”: why is it so hard to understand that when wages aren’t going up, people don’t have money to spend? And where is the money going? Not to workers. The chart below illustrates the share of economic activity–Gross Domestic Product–that is going to workers…and it’s in steep decline.

wcms_306111[4]

As Ryder says, this isn’t a new story:

“This is a long-term structural problem, a “legacy vulnerability” which was revealed by the crisis but has been decades in the making. Its persistence over recent decades demonstrates that it is a problem that won’t go away on its own; it must be addressed by specific policies. And it is a problem affecting nearly all G20 economies, both current account surplus and deficit countries.”

But, it makes an even bigger problem greater because of the lack of jobs.

Now, it isn’t because workers aren’t more productive:

wcms_306117[5]

The blue line shows that we’re working our asses off and the red line shows how little we get for our work. I pointed this out recently when I criticized the pathetic $10.10-an-hour federal minimum wage campaign is far too low and argued, based on productivity, that it should be $20-an-hour. Now, what does all this mean? To repeat: Tens of millions of people have essentially zero prospects for decent work in the next 5-10 years.

They have zero prospects for work even though productivity is racing along just fine.

They have zero prospects for decent work because governments are not doing enough.

They have zero prospects for decent work because a bigger slice of the pie is not going to workers but to elites and corporate treasuries.

They have zero prospects for decent work because corporations just don’t care.

 

This blog originally appeared in WorkingLife.org on September 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.workinglife.org/2014/09/30/63-million/.

About the author Jonathan Tasini: On any given day, I think like a political-union organizer or a writer — or both. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays, with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995).

The Labor Movement Celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Image: Mike Hall

According to the 2010 Census, 50.5 million people or 16% of the population are of Hispanic or Latino origin. This represents a significant increase from 2000, which registered the Hispanic population at 35.3 million or 13% of the total U.S. population.

Since its inception in 1972, LCLAA has remained a grassroots organization driven and directed by Latino labor leaders who understand the importance of unionization in helping workers secure rights and protections on the job, empowering them to become voices for justice and change in their communities. Here are some historic photos from LCLAA, including ones of César Chávez at the LCLAA Convention.

 National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) honors the contributions made and the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States and celebrates their heritage and culture. The Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA) is tweeting daily on milestones for Hispanic workers and Latino labor leaders. You also can find out more on its Facebook page.
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The AFL-CIO and LCLAA are co-hosting a reception Monday, Oct. 6, from 5–7:30 p.m. at 815 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. for National Hispanic Heritage Month. If you’re interested in attending, RSVP to Sara Walling.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Blog on September 29, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Other-News/The-Labor-Movement-Celebrates-National-Hispanic-Heritage-Month

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

Department of Defense Expands Ban on Forced Arbitration for Servicemembers

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

ellen tavernaToday the Department of Defense (DoD) issued a new proposed rule expanding important protections to servicemembers and their families from predatory lending. The new rule closes the loopholes in the Military Lending Act (MLA) that allowed many financial services to fall outside the scope and protections of the law and put servicemembers at financial risk.

In 2006, the DoD reported to Congress that “…predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force.” In response in large part to the DoD report, the MLA, bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and signed by George W. Bush in 2007, capped interest rates at 36 percent and applied other key consumer protections to certain forms of credit.

One very important consumer protection of the MLA includes a ban on forced arbitration clauses. Forced arbitration clauses are buried in the fine print of financial contracts and require servicemembers to resolve disputes with companies in a private system, outside of court. Arbitrators are not required to follow the law, and there is no public review to make sure the arbitrator got it right. In its 2006 reposrt, the DoD states that “Servicemembers should retain full legal recourse again unscrupulous lenders. Loan contracts to Service members should not include mandatory arbitration clauses or onerous notice provisions, and should not require the Service member to waive his or her right of recourse, such as the right to participate in a plaintiff class.”

Unfortunately, the MLA only covers a narrow subset of payday loans, auto title loans and refund anticipation loans and unscrupulous business often founds ways around the law. We applaud the DoD’s new proposed rule to expand the current military financial protections and the ban on forced arbitration to a wide range of high-cost loans made to active-duty servicemembers and their dependents.

We hope the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) follows the lead of the DoD to protect all consumers – both military and civilian.  The CFPB is required by the Dodd-Frank Act to study the use of forced arbitration and is authorized to issue a rule to limit or ban forced arbitration in all consumer contracts for financial services and products under its jurisdiction.  We encourage the CFPB to write a strong rule to eliminate forced arbitration clauses for the benefit of all consumers.

This blog originally appeared in Fair Arbitration Now on September 26, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.fairarbitrationnow.org/department-of-defense-expands-ban-on-forced-arbitration-for-servicemembers/

About the author: Ellen Taverna is the Legislative Director at the National Association of Consumer Advocates. As NACA’s Legislative Director, Ellen identifies and monitors key legislative issues related to consumer justice and consumer financial services issues, organizes and coordinates NACA’s membership to promote these issues, attends various coalitions with other communities who share our agenda, communicates with members of Congress, and builds Hill and Administration contacts on specific legislative and regulatory issues. The issues that she focuses on include, but are not limited to, homeownership/foreclosure prevention, debt collection, payday lending and ensuring the regulatory implementation of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

 

Everything That's Wrong With The NFL Is Wrong With America, Too

Saturday, September 27th, 2014

Richard EskowSexism. A culture of violence. Untrustworthy leadership. Runaway wealth inequality. An indifference to workers’ health. Employees who are above the law. Hush-hush financing. Multimillion-dollar tax breaks.

We’re not talking about corporate CEOs or the Christmas parties on Wall Street. We’re talking about the National Football League.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of Ray Rice’s videotaped brutality has brought the NFL back into the public eye. It’s a sorry spectacle which others have addressed at length, so we’ll just repeat the cliché: It’s the cover-up, stupid.

For my personal assessment of Goodell, we can turn the mic over to Bill Simmons and UltraViolet.

As for the NFL itself, let’s just say it’s America in microcosm.

Capital in the 21st Century NFL

While the league’s finances are largely kept secret from the public, we know the following from public filings (form 990) and news reports (including a leaked copy of the NFL’s audited financials for 2010):

The NFL organization has 1,856 employees and paid $107.7 million per year in salaries last year. Goodell was paid more than $44 million. That means more than 40 percent of the organization’s entire payroll went to one individual.

Most of Goodell’s income was in the form of a “bonus” based on performance standards which, like that of many corporate CEOs, have never been publicly defined.

Roger Goodell is not a “job creator,” even by the right’s loose definition. He – like most corporate CEOs nowadays – invented nothing, made nothing, and built nothing. And the gravy train doesn’t stop at his house. Jeff Pash, the General Counsel, was paid $6,199,000. The EVP of Business Ventures got $4,180,000. The CFO made nearly $2 million. The EVPs of Operations and Human Resources made more than $1.6 million each. (Another executive, the EVP of media, was paid $26 million by an “affiliated” organization.)

All told, more than 54 percent of the organization’s entire payroll went to five individuals – the organization’s top 0.0027 percent. The remaining 43 percent or so was divided among 1,851 employees- the 99.9973 percent.

Now that’s inequality.

Government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich

The NFL doesn’t even make a profit – at least on paper. To the IRS, it’s a “nonprofit organization.” But “nonprofit” work pays well for some. The top guy’s salary has certainly soared in recent years:2014-09-25-Goodellpay[1]

A bipartisan bill called the “PRO Sports Act,” which would have ended the nonprofit status of the NFL and similar organizations, appears to have died in committee. It’s reasonable to assume that Goodell, the son of a Senator, had something to do with that.

Executives like Goodell – or, for that matter, bank CEOs like JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon – seem to be compensated more for their ability to influence elected officials than for their business acumen. On that score, at least, he’s been a good investment. In addition to protecting its tax status, Goodell’s NFL has brokered loans, bonds and tax concessions for its franchises.

Payback

The NFL had annual gross receipts of $184.3 million in 2010 – and that doesn’t include earnings for the individual franchises which own it. It reported $788,113,036 in total assets on the tax-exemption form which is its only public disclosure. It gave exorbitant salaries to its top executives – and it paid no taxes.

Goodell’s hypocrisy and apparent dishonesty is a shameful but very CEO-like display, one for which he’s not likely to be held accountable …

…that is, unless he becomes a financial liability.

But that day may be coming. More than half of those polled by Reuters/Ipsos said that sponsors should sever their ties with the NFL over its handling of violence scandals involving Rice, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, and other players. A number of sponsors have said they don’t want their ads running during games involving the Vikings or Rice’s former team, the Baltimore Ravens, according to  The Hollywood Reporter.

They say payback is a bitch. But in today’s America, the only payback that matters is counted in cold cash. If the day comes that owners are forced to choose between Roger Goodell and their own profits, the response will be swift and sure. The commissioner’s instant gratification will turn into instant karma.

Goodell will be fine, of course, no matter what happens. That can’t be said about most Americans. As for his accomplishments, well … Under his leadership the NFL fought reports of player head injuries for years. Its security apparatus and legal teams have intervened when its players are arrested, often for violent crimes, securing special treatment which ordinary citizens don’t receive. It has fostered a culture of misogyny, brutality, and amorality in the field of sport, whose stars were once considered examples for young people to follow,

Goodell’s football league isn’t an example for today’s corporatized America. It’s a reflection of it.

This blog originally appeared in Crook and Liars on September 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/09/what-s-wrong-nfl-wrong-america.

About the Author: Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

 

APWU Victory: 9,000 New Jobs

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Image: Mike HallSome 9,000 new postal clerk jobs are on the way, thanks to action by the American Postal Workers Union (APWU).  The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) in 2012 cut the hours of operation at small post offices around the country and filled new jobs at the offices with part-time, nonunion workers. APWU filed a grievance.

The collective bargaining agreement between the union and USPS committed management to assign any newly created or revised retail positions that had no managerial or supervisory duties to union employees.

An arbitrator agreed with the APWU and a memorandum of understanding between the union and the USPS reached earlier this week outlines how those new jobs will be filled. Said APWU President Mark Dimondstein:

“The arbitration award…and the accompanying implementation memo mean thousands of jobs within 90 days—not years from now.”

This blog originally appeared on AFLCIO.org in their Blog Section on September 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/APWU-Victory-9-000-New-Jobs

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

Security Officer Suspended After Asthma Attack Urges Seattle Companies to Follow Law

Friday, September 26th, 2014

seiuTracison Casarrubias knows firsthand how enforcing Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) law would give residents economic stability and transform their relationships with their employers.

The wife and mother once considered protecting Amazon’s Seattle headquarters as security specialist for Security Industry Specialists (SIS) to be a good job. But that all changed on the day she lost her breath.

Last October, Tracison suffered an asthma attack while on duty. Fighting to breathe, she wasn’t able to treat her unpredictable condition with an inhaler until after things took a turn for the worst. Trying to follow SIS employee protocol and seeking medical attention were distressing enough. But the aftermath of that day was worse.

Tracison says her supervisors suspended her two weeks later without pay for 3 days after she was relieved from her post by a supervisor due to her asthma attack, a clear violation of the PSST law.

“They said I was a good specialist and wanted to help me out,” she said. “But at the same time, the supervisor kept telling me ‘at the end of the day, we’re a business.’ But I’m a human being.”

Although Tracison felt many effects from that day, her employer experienced no consequences for breaking the law.

She used to view her employer favorably and enjoyed the work that supplemented her other part time job and often recommended SIS to her colleagues and friends. In the wake of her suspension, that’s all changed when she learned that her legal rights were violated.

Tracison says that her situation shows that security officers and other Seattle service workers are treated unfairly when it comes to family sick leave. She’s now fighting to protect these rights for workers.

“People should be concentrating on getting well and caring for their family members, not worrying about how they’ll make up for missing income,” she said.

Tracison says Seattle lawmakers must do more to enforce the city’s 2012 sick leave ordinance to protect the city’s growing population of service workers just like her whose livelihoods depend on their hourly wages. By law, these workers are entitled to receive sick leave benefits without fear of employer retaliation or lost wages.

“Something needs to be done to make sure companies follow the law,” she said. “If employers had accountability, things would change. It’s time to give this ball some momentum.”

This blog originally appeared on the SEIU.org blog page on September 24, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/09/security-officer-suspended-after-asthma-attack-urg.php#more

"When we are united we can do anything"- Workers React to Wage Theft Prevention Act Victory

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

EJCOn Friday, Mayor Gray signed the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014. Click here to see the bill or here for a marked up version of the DC Code that shows the changes that will be made once the legislation goes into effect in late November or early December. The legislation was passed after years of organizing, strategizing and campaigning by the Employment Justice Center, DC Jobs with Justice  and our other allies in the DC Wage Theft Coalition.

After a period of congressional review that should end in late November, the District of Columbia will have one of the strongest laws against wage theft in the country. The new law will combat wage theft by:

  • Establishing formal procedures at the DC Office of Wage-Hour (OWH) to enable victims of wage theft to recover unpaid wages and damages. OWH investigators will have 60 days to arrive at a formal decision, which can be appealed when necessary to an administrative law judge;
  • Increasing the penalties for those responsible for committing wage theft to include tiered administrative and criminal penalties, as well as the possibility of a suspended business license for companies that do not comply with administrative orders to pay the wages owed;
  • Providing greater protection for workers who stand up for their rights, by requiring that all employers issue a written notice of the terms of employment. If the notice is not issued, the worker’s testimony will carry greater weight if they need to demand unpaid wages; and
  • Making it easier for wage theft victims to get legal representation by clarifying how judges must calculate attorneys’ fees in these cases.

In late July, the EJC’s workers’ committee hosted a summer barbecue to celebrate the hard earned victory, look back on what they had won, and to start to develop a vision for the future.

Jose Cruz

Jose Cruz prepared the meat and chicken in a delicious marinade. “I feel content because we fought for this law that will have an effect on the whole community that needs this support. I am content with our organization, because we have fought this battle and we have won. We won and we will keep moving forward! (Me siento contento porque luchamos para esa propuesta y tiene efecto para toda la comunidad que necesita está auda. Me siento contento con toda nuestra organización que hemos luchado para está batalla y la ganamos. Ganamos y vamos a seguir adelante!).”

 

julio sanchezJulio Sanchez, a restaurant worker who testified in support of the Wage Theft Prevention Act as well as the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2013, shared how his life had changed as a result of his organizing efforts. “I learned that together, we can make something great like the law that just passed, as well as the paid sick days. I am happy because I met more people and I am now in the group. We make a great team. And we never stay silent. (Aprendí que juntos podemos hacer algo grande como la ley que se aprobó, junto con los de los derechos de enfermedad. Estoy feliz porque conocí a más gente y estoy ya en el grupo. Hacemos un gran equipo. Y nunca nos quedamos callados).

Dalia Catalan, a mother who was fired for taking a sick day to take care of her sick child, expressed how she felt when she learned the bill had passed. “When I knew that we had won, wow, I felt happy because of all of our sacrifices, and we did it! (Cuando supe yo que si lo habíamos ganado, wow, me sentí feliz por todos los sacrificios de uno, y si se pudo!).”

“There are laws for me too, and we have rights here, something that I didn’t know.

Si hay leyes para uno también, y tenemos derechos aquí, algo que yo no sabia.”

Dalia’s husband, Carlos Chajon, spoke about his favorite part of the victory. “My favorite part was to become part of a group that is small but with a lot of power and a lot of enthusiasm. I learned that we can share with others, and that there can be laws that can help us. (Mi parte favorita fue de integrarme a un grupo pequeño pero con mucho poder, con bastante entusiasmo. Aprendí poder compartir con otros, y que hay leyes que les puede ayudar).

bruno avilaBruno Avila, who kept the grill running until all the meat was gone, reflected on what this victory means for his community. “My favorite part was that we make our rights worth something, despite everything that someone has going against them, maybe that they don’t have papers, that they have a boss that wants to abuse them, that supervisors in the workplace think that they aren’t going to do anything, we start to plant the seeds of credibility. And with this we can do big things. (Mi parte favorita fue que se hacen valer los derechos, a pesar de todo lo que tienes en contra, ya sea que no tenga documentos, que tenga un jefe que quiere abusar de ti, que supervisores en el lugar de trabajo piensan que no sa va a hacer nada, se empieza a poner las semillas de la credibilidad. Entonces con eso comenzamos a hacer grandes cosas).”

“Here we don’t stop, it’s just the beginning.

Aquí no paramos, es el comienzo de seguir.”

Salvador Martinez discussed what he had learned through this struggle. “I learned that nothing is impossible (Aprendi que no hay nada imposible),” he said. “I am joyful. This beginning, this process, had a big impact on the city and throughout the whole metropolitan área. I am joyful to be part of this group, to volunteer and to help the city so that this city makes progress. (Me lleno de regocijo. este inicio, este proceso, tuvo gran impacto en la ciudad y más allá en la área metropolitana. Me siento gozoso de ser parte del grupo, el cual puedo desempeñarme voluntariamente y ayudar a la ciudad para que está ciudad siempre vaya en progreso).”

“When we are united, we can do everything.

Cuando estamos unidos, todo lo podemos.”

gregorio hernandezGregorio Hernandez had been fighting to recover his unpaid wages for nearly two years. “The dishonest employers will be afraid because they won’t want to lose their license (Se tendrán miedo los empleadores deshonestos por no querer que se les quite su licencia), he said. “I don’t think they will continue working in this way (No creo que van a seguir trabajando así).”

jonny castillo

 

Jhonny Castillo, who will be honored at the EJC’s Labor Day Breakfast as Worker Activist of the Year, spoke about his vision for the future. “We will think about and take on a project to work towards, with the support of the Employment Justice Center (Eso vamos a pensar, vamos a tomar algún proyecto que tengamos para trabajarlo, siempre con la ayuda con el Centro de Justicia),” he said.

 

Mario de la Cruz gave advice to his community: “Don’t give up! You all have rights, but we must lose our fear. We all have rights, we are all children of God. Everyone has rights. (Que no se deje! Que tienen derecho como persona, pero siempre cuando tiene que perder el miedo. Todos tenemos derechos, todos somos hijos de Dios. Todos tienen derechos).”

The EJC is proud to attribute this victory to the hard work and unity of the DC Wage Theft Coalition and the EJC’s workers’ committee. Thanks to the workers who took time off work to speak out at rallies, host community meetings, and tirelessly tell their stories to DC Councilmembers. 

¡Para adelante! Forward!

This blog originally appeared on the Employment Justice Center blog on September 22, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.dcejc.org/2014/09/22/when-we-are-united-we-can-do-anything-workers-react-to-the-wage-theft-prevention-act-victory/

About the Author: The Employment Justice Center was founded on Labor Day 2000, the mission of the D.C. Employment Justice Center is to secure, protect and promote workplace justice in the D.C. metropolitan area.  Since their founding, the EJC has successfully used a combination of strategies to protect the rights of low-income workers, including legal services, policy advocacy, community organizing, and education.  In the past eleven years, the EJC has returned more than $7,000,000 to the pockets of low-wage workers, achieved many legislative victories that have touched the lives of countless workers, educated thousands of workers about their rights and responsibilities on the job, and launched three vibrant community organizing groups. They believe that in securing, protecting, and promoting workplace justice for the most vulnerable among us, we raise the floor of workplace rights for us all.

Important New Joint Employer Decision: Corporate Parents Responsible for Employment Violations by Wholly-Owned, Controlled Subsidiaries

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Bill Jhaveri-WeeksCan a parent company avoid liability for unlawful employment policies at its wholly-owned subsidiaries? This week, a California Court of Appeal issued an important decision on that question, holding that a corporate parent could be found liable for its subsidiary’s failure to pay overtime and minimum wages. The opinion, Castaneda v. Ensign Group, Inc., B249119 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Sept. 15, 2014), is available here.

The case was filed on behalf of a class of certified nursing assistants asserting wage claims. They brought suit against The Ensign Company (“Ensign”), which is a parent company that owns a “cluster” or “portfolio” of companies providing nursing care, including the entity at which the named Plaintiff worked, Cabrillo Rehabilitation and Care Center (“Cabrillo”). Ensign argued that because Cabrillo was registered as an independent entity, and because it allegedly hired and paid Plaintiff and set his schedule, only Cabrillo could be held liable for wage violations as Plaintiff’s “employer.” The lower court agreed, and granted a motion for summary judgment dismissing Ensign from the case.

The Court of Appeal reversed, ruling that a jury could conclude that Ensign was Plaintiff’s “joint employer” under California law. Building on the Supreme Court’s Martinez v. Combs case, as well as recent Court of Appeal decision Guerrero v. Superior Court (both of which we have blogged about, here, here, and here), the Court explained that an “entity that controls the business enterprise may be an employer even if it did not ‘directly hire, fire or supervise’ the employees” (quoting Guerrero). Quoting Martinez, the Court emphasized: “The basis of liability is the owner’s failure to perform the duty of seeing to it that the prohibited condition does not exist” (italics added by Castaneda Court). The Court found plenty of evidence that Ensign “controlled” its various affiliates, including Cabrillo, and that Ensign had the power to ensure that its subsidiaries complied with the wage laws.

For example: Ensign was the sole shareholder of Cabrillo, as well as other Ensign subsidiaries that performed corporate functions for Cabrillo; Ensign was involved in recruiting Cabrillo employees; Cabrillo’s management reported up to individuals at other wholly-owned Ensign affiliates; Ensign uses a “services center approach,” in which it performs centralized IT, human resources, legal, risk management, and other key services to its affiliates; there was a flow of corporate officers between Ensign and its affiliates; Ensign required Cabrillo employees to use its forms and templates; Ensign implemented expectations that Cabrillo employees increase revenues, and offered cash bonuses to Cabrillo if it maximized profits; and Ensign controlled the manner in which employees tracked their time (i.e., circumstances closely related to the policy the Plaintiffs sought to challenge as unlawful).

Although Ensign had attempted to create a paper trail stating that “the members of the facility staff [at Cabrillo] are Cabrillo’s ‘own’ employees,” the Court noted that such labels will be ignored when “the evidence of [the entities'] actual conduct establishes that a different relationship exists.” The Court also took into account the fact that Ensign’s logo was posted at Cabrillo, employees at Cabrillo viewed themselves as Ensign employees and had Ensign email addresses, and Ensign controlled their pension plan and provided an “Ensign Benefits Call Center” for them to contact with questions.

The Court’s decision is the right one: The facts suggested that the parent had the ability to correct the allegedly unlawful policy in effect at its wholly-owned subsidiary. Dismissing parents simply because they have separately incorporated their facilities would allow them to avoid enforcement of the wage laws by pinning the blame on their individually incorporated affiliates, even when the parent is responsible for the policy or practice being challenged.

This blog appeared on Bryan Schwartz Law on September 17, 2014. Reprinted with permission. Follow this link to the Bryan Schwartz Law page: http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com/2014/09/important-new-joint-employer-decision.html.

About the Author: William (Bill) Jhaveri-Weeks is an associate at Bryan Schwartz Law, an Oakland, CA, employees’ and workers’ rights law firm. He focuses on employment discrimination, whistleblower, and wage and hour class action claims. Previously, Mr. Weeks practiced for four years at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York City, where he litigated complex contract, tort, antitrust, and securities disputes. From 2008 to 2009, Mr. Weeks clerked for the Honorable R. Guy Cole, Jr., of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Weeks received a J.D. magna cum laude from New York University School of Law in 2007, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif. He received a B.A. cum laude in History from Yale University in 2002. During law school, Mr. Weeks worked for the New York labor law firm Spivak Lipton LLP. http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/Weeks.html

BryanSchwartz727_Copy937Bryan Schwartz Law is an Oakland, California-based law firm dedicated to helping employees protect their rights in the workplace. Mr. Schwartz and his firm have fought to prohibit discrimination, retaliation, and harassment obtained reasonable accommodation for disabled employees, vindicated whistleblowers’ rights and ensured that corporations pay workers all wages they are owed. Bryan Schwartz Law has successfully litigated individual and class action complaints nationwide, helping to recover millions of dollars for thousands of employees, forcing corporations and Government agencies to change their practices and punish wrongdoers.
Bryan Schwartz Law is also one of the few Bay Area-based law firms with extensive experience representing Federal employees in their unique Merit Systems Protection Board and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints.
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