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Takeaways from the 2014 Elections for Working Families

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Mary Kay HenryDespite a tough night with many close races, a key takeaway from Election Day is the progress made toward raising wages for working families for an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few.

Raising the minimum wage was a winning issue yesterday in red, blue, and purple states.
In deeply conservative states like Nebraska and South Dakota, the economy isn’t working for working people and the message from voters was clear: we’ve got to increase wages.

In San Francisco, where workers will get to $15 an hour a year ahead of Seattle, we saw incredible momentum built from the Fight for $15, where workers have had the courage to come out and call for wages they can raise a family on without having to cobble together 2-3 jobs and still live on the brink.

Working families issues also prevailed in Oakland with the increase in the wage to $12.25 and earned sick time, which also passed in Massachusetts.

The minimum-wage results and wins in Governors’ races in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Connecticut show that working families want action on higher wages.

I spent yesterday in Pennsylvania, where folks were so excited to get out and volunteer for Tom Wolf, who made it crystal clear from the very beginning the sharp contrast with Gov. Corbett on wages, healthcare, and education.

We need more champions like Tom Wolf, Mark Dayton and Dan Malloy. They won because of their leadership on the issues that families care about: higher wages, good jobs, better schools, and affordable healthcare. Full-throated champions of those issues can and will win.
The Fight for $15’s momentum continued even on a tough night like last night because of the boldness of the fast food workers, home care workers, Walmart workers and others. Their courage to stand up for a living wage is helping the nation understand that if you work hard for a living, you ought to be able to work one job and live a decent life

The wins in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Connecticut and in the minimum wage initiatives show that there is a clear path forward for working people. Working people will keep fighting for higher wages and good jobs, at the ballot box, in the workplace, in our communities and on the street.

This blog originally appeared in SEIU.org on November 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/11/takeaways-from-the-2014-elections-for-working-fami.php

About the Author: Mary Kay Henry is the president of the SEIU.

A Bright Spot in Tuesday’s Bloodbath: Massachusetts Voters Passed a Strong Paid Sick Leave Bill

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

in these timesOn Tuesday night, Massachusetts became the first state to give workers 40 hours of sick leave a year. California and Connecticut have both recently adopted statewide sick leave policies, but Massachusetts now possesses the most ambitious and comprehensive system in the nation.

As a result of the initiative, employees of businesses with more than 10 people will earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. Employees who work for companies with 10 or less people will accrue sick time at the same rate, although their employers aren’t required to pay them for the time away.

Sixty percent of voters supported the measure, Question 4 on the state’s ballot. About 900,000 workers in Massachusetts lacked paid sick days.

Although frequently defined by its many higher education, tech, and science jobs, Massachusetts is also fueled by a service sector of almost 300,000. Fifty-two percent of those employees lacked paid sick time. For maintenance and construction workers, it was 43 percent. Fifty-five percent of the state’s workers who make less than $15,000 were without sick time; 46 percent of Hispanic workers in the state were unable to take a paid sick day. Without paid sick days, workers not only were unable to take time off for their own ailments, but were also unable to take time off to care for a sick child or parent.

While some in the business community predictably suggest that such legislation would hurt the economy— Bob Luz, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, claimed that the law would be a “job-killing mandate”—a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded the opposite is, in fact, true. Question 4 should reduce worker turnover and drastically cut back on diseases spreading throughout the state’s workplaces, according to the study’s authors, in addition to improving the overall health and economic well-being of the community: “Comparing costs to employers and anticipated benefits for employers, an annual net benefit for Massachusetts employers of $26 million is expected”

The Drum Major Institute studied the impact of San Francisco’s paid sick leave policy and reached similar conclusions. Not only did they discover the legislation hadn’t negatively impacted San Francisco businesses, but “since San Francisco’s paid sick leave law was enacted, both job growth and business growth in San Francisco have consistently been greater than in the five neighboring counties of the Bay Area, none of which have enacted paid sick leave.”

While Question 4 will certainly alleviate a massive burden for the state’s most vulnerable workers, Andrew Farnitano, a spokesperson for Raise Up Massachusetts, a local coalition of organizers who worked on the initiative, says he was impressed with how the movement had found support throughout the state regardless of the area’s economic position or racial demographic.

“It’s an issue that cuts through a lot of lines,” Farnitano said. A long list of community organizations, economists, local politicians and faith groups publicly endorsed the measure. “We believe that requiring earned sick time contributes to the dignity of every worker,” read a statement signed by the four Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts.

While the movement for paid sick time moves throughout the US, an alternative movement of “preemption bills aiming to block the possibility of expanded sick time have also worked their way throughout the country. Last year, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed an ALEC-affiliated bill that would obstruct local governments from enacting sick time legislation; the bill was backed by Disney World, Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

But if Massachusetts’ successful Question 4 campaign is any indication, many voters around the country are willing to back measures that bolster basic human rights in their community like paid sick leave.

This blog originally appeared in IntheseTime.com on November 6, 2016 Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17327/massachusetts_paid_sick_leave.

About the author: Michael Arria is a journalist living in NYC. He is the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC.

‘Over a Hundred’ Female Auto Workers Claim Assault, Sexual Harassment at Ford Plant

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

in these timesFour female workers at two Ford Motor plants, the Chicago Ford Assembly Plant and the Chicago Stamping Plant—have filed sexual harassment lawsuits in federal court, claiming they were groped, touched inappropriately and harassed.

The plaintiffs described an overwhelmingly hostile work environment for women, particularly women of color.

“It’s not like work, it’s more like a meat market,” Charmella LeViege, one of the four plaintiffs, said in a press conference.

As reported by Crain’s Chicago‘s Meribah Knight, another plaintiff, Christie Van, claimed that after complaining about harassment to the company’s harassment hotline,

while walking to her car she was pushed to the ground and stomped on and told she was a “black snitch bitch” and that she’d better not return to her job at Ford. The lawsuit stated Ms. Van’s assailant threatened that he knew where she lived and would kill her if she came back. …

[Maria] Price, a single mother, said she was “groped, felt on and violated in every way,” by managers, co-workers and supervisors while on the job. “It’s come from every angle,” she said.

The four plaintiffs in the suit, Leviege, Van, Price and Helen Allen, are not the only women claiming harassment at work. The case is a class action suit and Hunt claims that there are over a hundred complaints filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The women’s attorney, Keith Hunt, has brought suits against Ford before, in 1995 and 1997. When the second suit was settled in 2000, it contained provisions requiring Ford to introduce new sexual harassment training and to have independent monitors at the plant to oversee the enforcement of the agreement. Ford was expecting to pay over $10 million for that new training.

In response to this latest lawsuit, Ford said in a statement, “Where allegations of misconduct are raised, it is our policy to investigate them thoroughly and take all appropriate steps in response.”

The Ford Code of Conduct says that employees should “report, and encourage others to report, incidents of harassment or retaliation. Report any incidents to appropriate Human Resources personnel, or use the Company’s reporting system.” It also bars retaliation for those who report.

How Ford investigated those complaints are part of the lawsuit. According to the Chicago Tribune’s Alejandra Cancino:

[Helen] Allen, a maintenance worker, said the location of the plant’s labor relations office, in sight of co-workers, makes it difficult to file complaints without being identified. Once she said she was called into the office after calling the harassment line. Then, a few minutes after she walked out, her supervisor was called in. As a result, workers immediately knew she had complained about her supervisor, she said.

“When you complain, you become the problem,” Allen said.

Allen went on to describe being pushed down, stomped on, and called a “snitch” as a result. She reported the incident, but the lawsuit claims Ford did not investigate. The reported incidents came from coworkers, supervisors, and managers.

The lawsuit is seeking damages, lost earnings, back pay, and independent monitors for five years. Workers at the plants are represented by the UAW.

This blog originally appear on IntheseTimes.com on Wednesday November 5, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17321/over_a_hundred_female_auto_workers_claim_assault_sexual_harassment_at_ford.

About the Author: Kevin Solari is an intern at In These Times.

Helping Women Veterans Find Sheet Metal Apprenticeships

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Kenneth QuinnellAfter serving their country, many veterans have trouble transitioning into civilian jobs, particularly younger and female service members. The unemployment rate among all veterans ages 18–24 is 21.3% (compared to 13.1% of civilians.  And while male veterans have an unemployment rate (4.2%) lower than the national rate, female veterans are much worse off with a 7.9% unemployment rate. Helmets to Hardhats, the International Training Institute (ITI) and the construction trades are trying to do something about that problem.

The two organizations are working to bring in veterans, particularly female veterans, into apprenticeship programs at 153 unionized and sheet metal and air conditioning industry schools across the country.  Veterans get direct entry into the school and other benefits (if they qualify). The International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association are also partners in the efforts.

Katherine Kuczynski, a participant in the program, explained how her military experience meshed well with working in the sheet metal industry:

“Serving in the United States Navy prepared me for the physical and mental aspects of the sheet metal industry. The work is different every day and the discipline I learned in the Navy helps me to get the job done.”

Larry Lawrence, regional field representative/instructional development specialist for ITI, said:

“Although veterans have proven work experience, dedication and discipline, they have a higher unemployment rate than the everyday person off the street in the same age group. That doesn’t make sense to me. People with this military training and an honorable discharge should be able to work.”

Jobs Report: Under The Sunny Headline, Deep Roots Of Discontent

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Isaih J. PooleThe latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms what voters felt when they went to the polls Tuesday: Job growth continues slowly but inadequately, built on a weak foundation of weak wage growth and low labor force participation.

There were 214,000 new jobs created in October, the report said, with the unemployment rate at 5.8 percent. It’s enough to prompt optimistic headlines, but as we’ve said repeatedly, this is well under the rate of growth we really need to make workers whole after the damage done by the 2008 recession. We’ve been living with unemployment above 5.8 percent since August 2008 – more than six years.

We still have an economy in which 32 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 26 weeks – that’s almost 3 million people who the job market still does not have room to accommodate. The labor-force participation rate remains at a historic low, under 63 percent. Job growth continues to be concentrated in low-wage service jobs, with only modest increases in manufacturing, construction and other blue-collar occupations. Public-sector job growth barely budged upward.

Wage growth year-over-year remains stuck at about 2 percent, which in effect is virtually no growth at all when inflation is taken into account. Wages should be growing at a rate of 3.5 percent annually to remain consistent with the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target, so there is plenty of room to raise wages without raising fears of inflation.

This is the economic climate that drove voter anger and frustration Tuesday. It motivated voters to approve minimum-wage-increase referendums whenever they were on the ballot, even as they voted out Democrats who support a minimum wage increase but did not present a bold vision for how to rebuild middle-class prosperity.

Here’s where the tragedy of Tuesday’s election results come into sharp relief. Republicans were more successful than Democrats in tapping into voters’ economic anxiety, even with their record of blocking the policy changes needed to address the causes of that anxiety.

A major infrastructure investment program, done while borrowing costs are near zero, would have bolstered construction, manufacturing and other higher-age sectors. But that effort has now been held hostage to a deal to let corporations off the hook that have stashed profits overseas to avoid corporate taxes. Now that Republicans control the Senate as well as the House, we will see that deal go forward as a bipartisan “compromise” to show that Washington can “get things done.” Never mind that by any reasonable standard letting the nation’s biggest corporations keep billions of their ill-gotten gains from shifting profits overseas is too high a price to pay for the trickle of extra dollars that would be yielded for infrastructure.

There is even less of a chance that a Republican-controlled Congress, believing that every economic challenge is a nail that requires the hammer of top-end tax cuts and government spending cuts, will send increased state and local funds to the nation’s pockets of high unemployment. The Economic Policy Institute released a chart this week that showed that every state but two has shown a decline in the percentage of the working-age population with a job. The drop has been 3 percent nationally, and 28 states have percentages below the national average. Four states – Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico and Arkansas – have declines that more than double the national average.

That shows how in so many ways, what gains there are in the economy are not broadly shared. This will not be fixed, as Republicans are saying, by repealing the Affordable Care Act, building the Keystone XL pipeline, and by cutting corporate taxes. We need to invest in infrastructure, clean energy, education from preschool to affordable college, and in the communities that are always left behind in a you’re-on-your-own economic climate. Voters who in frustration voted out Democrats who failed to present a vision for how this can be done will now have to join a movement to ensure that Washington and the nation cannot duck these issues in the months and years ahead.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on November 7, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141107/jobs-report-under-the-sunny-headline-deep-roots-of-discontent.

About the author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.     

Full Employment: The Recovery’s Missing Ingredient

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Image: Dean BakerBy Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein

Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen gave a speech a few weeks ago that was doubly unusual.

First, she provided a welcome and trenchant analysis of inequality, focusing on the stagnant income and wealth of middle- and low-income families relative to the top few percent. For the nation’s chief economist to elevate this issue is an important contribution in its own right.

Second, she declined to mention the critical role of slack labor markets in these outcomes. In what is a rare case for her, the word “unemployment” was not even mentioned in the speech. The omission was especially noticeable as Yellen, to her credit, has so consistently pointed out the extent of remaining slack in the U.S. job market.

Unemployment is down and gross domestic product is up, yet there isn’t much progress in real wages and incomes of most working families. While many reasons have been set forth to explain this unfortunate disconnect, including globalization and technological change as well as unmet skill demands and the Federal Reserve’s asset-buying program, our research suggests that the main factor behind both stagnant real wages and rising inequality is the absence of full employment. Truly tight labor markets — an unemployment rate closer to 4 percent than 6 percent — would not only boost real wages, but would give a larger lift to the lowest-paid workers and those with the least bargaining clout, pushing back on stagnation and inequality.

It’s true, as noted, that the unemployment rate has fallen quite sharply, from 10 percent in late 2009 to just below 6 percent now. This decline is partly due to job creation, but it’s also a function of people giving up looking for work and therefore not being counted as unemployed.

That’s important because it means there’s more slack in the labor market than we would usually associate with a 5.9 percent unemployment rate. And when there is lots of slack, most American workers lack the bargaining power they need to press for wage gains. With wages growing close to the rate of inflation — about 2 percent — since 2009, most workers have been stuck with stagnant real earnings.

By contrast, corporate profits have risen sharply in the recovery, with the profit share of national income hitting the highest level in many decades and the stock market also has hit new highs. Meanwhile, real median household income is still down 3 percent since the current expansion began in the second half of 2009.

To use a seasonal analogy, growth has been doing an end run around most households.
The impact of a falling unemployment rate on real wages at different points in the wage scale demonstrates why this relationship is so germane right now. Looking at a large data set with observations across all 50 states for more than 30 years, we find that a sustained 10 percent drop in the unemployment rate, say from 6 percent to 5.4 percent (10 percent, not 10 percentage points) does not have a uniform effect on real wages.

Instead, it leads to real wage gains of 10 percent for low-wage workers, 4 percent for middle-wage workers and does nothing for high-wage workers. That’s why full employment is such an important antidote to earnings inequality. By forcing employers to bid compensation up to get and keep the workers they need, it re-channels growth away from the top and back toward the bottom and middle of the pay scale.

But don’t both wage stagnation and inequality predate the recession? Does the fact that these are ongoing phenomena diminish the explanatory power of labor market slack?

Not at all, because a broad look over our history shows that the income stagnation period generally matches the slack period (we’re switching to income here because our wage data don’t go back far enough). From the late 1940s to the late 1970s, the job market was at full employment 70 percent of the time and incomes doubled for low, middle, and high-income families. Working families at all points in the income distribution shared in the gains of growth.

Since then, we’ve been at full employment only 30 percent of the time, and all that slack has been accompanied by periods of wage stagnation and rising inequality.

Of course, the absence of full employment is not the only difference between these periods of growing together and growing apart. For example, we engaged in much less and much more balanced global trade in the earlier period, a point we will return to in a moment.

So, let’s not make this any more complicated than it needs to be. We must plot a policy course back to full employment ASAP. Given Washington’s partisan fever, here are three ideas that might plausibly be enacted, even in these divided times.

1.) A deep dive into infrastructure investment is warranted to replenish our deteriorating stock of public goods and to absorb slack among the underemployed in production and building occupations. Historically, such investments have garnered bipartisan support.

2.) The trade deficit, a serious drag on employment growth in our factory sector, should be reduced by pushing back on competitors who deliberately keep down the value of their currencies to get a price advantage in global markets. Again, joining this fight is favored by both parties, although the White House tends to get squeamish on the issue.

3.) With fiscal stimulus sidelined by gridlock, the Fed is the only game in town. Yellen’s slack attack has been strong and consistent, but the central bank is facing pressures to tighten sooner rather than later. Given the striking absence of inflationary pressures and wide room for non-inflationary wage growth, Yellen and Co. should continue to tack toward full employment.

Economists tend to come up with all kinds of complexities when sometimes a shave with Occam’s razor is all that’s needed. The bargaining power of most American workers is at a historical low point. The best way to restore it is to get the economy back to full employment.

 

This blog originally appeared on CEPRE.net and on OurFuture.org. on November 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141103/full-employment-the-recoverys-missing-ingredient

About the Author: Dean Baker is an American economist whose books have been published by the University of Chicago Press, MIT Press, and Cambridge University Press. 

Postal Unions Set Day of Action to Protest Service Cuts, Mail Delays

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Image: Mike HallThe nation’s four postal unions are mobilizing a National Day of Action on Nov. 14, to send a powerful message to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the United States Postal Service Board of Governor’s: Stop Delaying America’s Mail.

On Jan. 5, the USPS is poised to make devastating cuts in service to the American people – cuts so severe that they will forever damage the U.S. Postal Service, the union presidents said in an Oct. 16 letter to their members. According the unions:

  • The USPS is slated to lower “service standards” to virtually eliminate overnight delivery – including first-class mail from one address to another within the same city or town.
  • All mail – including medicine, online purchases, local newspapers, church bulletins, bill payments and sale notices – throughout the country will be delayed.
  • Beginning Jan. 5, 82 Mail Processing & Distribution Centers are scheduled to close or “consolidate operations.”

The service cuts, said the union leaders:

Will cause hardships for customers, drive away business, cause irreparable harm to the U.S. Postal Service, and lead to massive schedule changes and reassignments for employees. They are part of a flawed management strategy that has unnecessarily sacrificed service and failed to address the cause of the Postal Service’s manufactured financial crisis.

The four postal unions are the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Letter Carriers (NALC), National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), Mail Handlers (NPMHU) and Rural Letter Carriers (NRLCA) .

This blog  originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on October 29, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/Postal-Unions-Set-Day-of-Action-to-Protest-Service-Cuts-Mail-Delays.

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.

Nov. 4: It’s All About Women

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Image: Liz Shuler

The other day I read a statistic that made me laugh a little. It said women’s issues are shaping up as the second-biggest issue among voters this year, behind only the economy.

Really? I don’t think so.

We are the economy.

Women’s issues, family issues are economic issues. And, as we know every single day, economic issues are women’s issues.

That’s why this election is so important to us. And why we’re so important in this election.

In a few days, we’ll have the opportunity to determine what kind of economy we will have—what kind of future—by electing leaders who will work for all of us.

In many cases, it’s women (especially unmarried women) who are putting these candidates on top in the polls.

But polls aren’t what shape our future. Elections are. And a big question today is: Will women turn out to vote?

The track record in midterm elections isn’t great. Let’s change that. There is a lot at stake:

  • We still make 77 cents for every $1 a man makes—that is a national shame, and it costs a typical women at least $400,000 over her lifetime. The shortfall doesn’t end when she is done working—it affects her income after retirement. It’s time to elect candidates who will enact equal pay laws.
  • We are nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers at $7.25 an hour, and two-thirds of tipped workers, who have a federal minimum wage of just $2.13 an hour. Even the full minimum wage leaves a woman and her two children thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Raising the minimum wage would improve life for millions of working women and families.
  • Many women in low-wage jobs also are crippled economically by work schedules they have no control over—shifts assigned just a day or two in advance or scheduled at the last minute is nothing unusual. We need to enact the Schedules That Work Act in Congress and similar state and local measures.
  • Women also have additional responsibilities for caregiving in our homes—yet employers rarely are required to provide earned leave for caregivers! Millions of women go to work sick or can’t care for a sick child without losing a day’s pay and potentially jeopardizing their jobs. Women can elect the leaders to change that.
  • When I was in Bangor, Maine, last week I spoke to a United Steelworkers union millwright and “Women of Steel” leader named Linda.  I asked her why she got active this election cycle and she put it quite plainly: “Somebody needs to step up” for what’s right.  Linda’s 51-year-old sister has a serious health condition but no health insurance.  Her governor had refused to extend health coverage to more low-income people under the Affordable Care Act, as 23 states have done. Linda’s next governor’s decisions on health care will make a real, personal difference for her family—and for many more low-income women.
  • And, finally, all of us have seen the outrageous attacks at every level on women’s access to a full range of health care services. It is amazingly hypocritical that the extremists who scream the loudest against ”government intrusion” also fight the hardest to intrude in health care decisions that belong between a woman and her doctor.

This is why I’m asking you to pull out all the stops to rev up voters for candidates who will deliver what women need—equal pay, a higher minimum wage, fair scheduling and earned sick leave, and protection of our right to make our own health care decisions.

This year’s elections are going to be very tight. Every vote will make a difference—the difference between progress and backsliding, between hope and fear. So every conversation you have with a potential woman voter is important.

We need women power if we want to win. And that means you!

This blog originally appeared in Momsrising.org and AFL-CIO.org. on October 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/Nov.-4-It-s-All-About-Women

About the Author: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.

 

Silicon Valley Firm’s Wage Theft: ‘Worse Than Sweatshops’

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

alex-lubben[1]“This is worse than anything I ever saw in any of those Los Angeles sweatshops,” said Michael Eastwood, a Los Angeles Department of Labor assistant district director, reflecting on a Silicon Valley firm’s failure to pay minimum wage to eight Indian employees.

The workers, who were flown in from the company’s Bangalore offices, worked up to 122 hours a week helping Electronics for Imaging, Inc. (EFI) move its headquarters from Foster City to Fremont, CA. They were granted no overtime for their work, and were paid the equivalent of $1.21 an hour—well below California’s $8 per hour minimum wage. While working in the U.S., they continued to be paid in rupees.

An anonymous tip led the Department of Labor to investigate. The result: EFI will pay more than $40,000 in back pay to the workers, as well as a $3,500 fine.

While not one of Silicon Valley’s high-profile giants, Electronics for Imaging certainly has the cash to pay everyone a fair wage. They brought in $728 million in revenue last year and offered their CEO, Guy Gecht, a pay package valued at around $6 million.

Beverly Rubin, EFI’s vice president of HR shared services, provided the following statement to CNBC:

“To help our local IT team with a complex move of our Bay Area facility and data center, we brought a few of our IT employees from India for a short assignment in the US. … During this assignment they continued to be paid their regular pay in India, as well as a special bonus for their efforts on this project. During this process we unintentionally overlooked laws that require even foreign employees to be paid based on local US standards. When this was brought to our attention, we cooperated fully with the Department of Labor, and did not hesitate to correct our mistake and to make our Indian colleagues whole based on US laws, including for all overtime worked. We have also taken steps to ensure that this type of administrative error does not reoccur.”

In other words, they didn’t realize that foreign employees had to be paid the minimum wage of the country in which they were temporarily working — a poor excuse that neither qualifies as an apology nor indicates that EFI has any intention to stop exploiting its outsourced labor.

Given the incredibly under-resourced government agencies tasked with monitoring employers who violate labor law, the likelihood that companies will be caught is fairly low. And even if they are caught, companies like EFI are only risking miniscule fines—in the case of these Indian workers, less than $500 per worker.

So why wouldn’t companies take a gamble on paying workers so far below the minimum wage?

The EFI story seems to be representative rather than exceptional. While profits for domestic tech workers continue to skyrocket (with the exception, of course, of those workers involved in the tech-service industry), the laborers that tech hires abroad are seeing neither the pay nor the cushy work environments that distinguish their U.S. counterparts.

Adrian Chen reported for WIRED last week on the content moderation industry, an invisible workforce of up to 100,000 that operates primarily in Southeast Asia. These workers are responsible for sifting through the Internet’s ugliest corners to ensure social media users don’t come across graphic content. They spend their days examining videos and images of everything from beheadings to bestiality.

“It’s like PTSD,” one of the workers told Chen. “How would you feel watching pornography for eight hours a day, every day? How long can you take that?”

This blog originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on October 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17302/silicon_valley_wage_theft_worse_than_sweatshops.

About the author: Alex Lubben is the Deputy published of InTheseTimes.

What Working in Fast Food Could Be Like

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Kenneth QuinnellImagine you have a job where you get the full 40-hour workweek you want. You have affordable health care that meets your needs. You get five weeks paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave, a pension and overtime pay for working after 6 p.m. or on Sunday. You get your work schedule four weeks in advance so you can plan your life. And your employer can’t send you home early without pay because business is slow. You have a union that is well-organized and fights to make sure your rights are protected. After you pay your rent and bills, you can still put some money in your savings account, and you still have money left over to go out and have a nice evening. And you know that if times get tough, that savings you have been able to put away will help you through.

Now imagine that job is a fast-food job.

That’s the reality in Denmark, where fast-food employees are paid $20 an hour. And the country hasn’t fallen into anarchy, giant fast-food chains haven’t gone out of business and working families make enough money to live their lives without worrying about being one paycheck away from poverty.

Now imagine a bunch of rich people on TV and radio telling you that you can’t have that Danish scenario because Denmark is “different” and “smaller,” but with no explanation as to how it is different or how being a smaller country makes it possible to pay workers more.

That’s the reality in the United States where corporate interests fight against paying fast-food workers a living wage with vague excuses and warnings that never seem to pan out. They haven’t even really made the case that the fast-food companies in Denmark are less profitable. Everyone says they “assume” that Danish fast-food companies are less profitable, but no one shows the numbers. Certainly McDonald’s and Burger King know how much their locations in Denmark make in profits.  Why are they so mum on the topic?

“We see from Denmark that it’s possible to run a profitable fast-food business while paying workers these kinds of wages,” said John Schmitt, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The critics are right about one thing, fast food is more expensive in Denmark. A Big Mac, for instance, costs about 80 cents more. But when the person buying the Big Mac gets paid $12 more an hour (on average), they can afford that 80 cents. And health care. And child care. And clothes for their kids.

This blog originally appeared on AFL-CIO.org on November 1, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/What-Working-in-Fast-Food-Could-Be-Like

About the author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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