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Fox News faces new legal trouble for sexual harassment

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

The New York State Division of Human Rights (SDHR) is investigating Fox News for claims of sexual harassment and retaliation, according to attorney Lisa Bloom.

Bloom told ThinkProgress over the phone that a human rights specialist at the agency confirmed the investigation to her on Friday.

According to Bloom, the agency has spoken to one of her clients, Dr. Wendy Walsh, twice, and another of her clients, Caroline Heldman, once in the course of the investigation. The agency also wants to interview a third woman.

Bloom’s law firm filed a request for investigation with the SDHR on April 11th. Bloom told ThinkProgress she asked for the investigation because Fox has “the worst corporate culture I’ve heard of in 30 years as a civil rights attorney.”

“Over the past thirteen years, dozens of women have reported egregious sexual harassment and retaliation at Fox News, with new claims constantly coming to light,” the complaint says. “The company frequently pays women to remain silent and leave the company while the perpetrators and enablers keep their jobs. Others are scared into silence by the company’s well-documented intimidation tactics, including using its giant media platform to smear their reputations. Nearly all of the victims were not only driven out of Fox News, but the television industry entirely.”

The complaint says that since many of the victims signed confidentiality agreements or are barred by time-limits from bringing their complaints to the legal system, they cannot raise the issue with the SDHR themselves.

The SDHR did not immediately respond to ThinkProgress’ request for confirmation.

Bloom told ThinkProgress that a typical remedy for this sort of case would see the state entering into a consent decree with the employer. The employer would likely have to improve their grievance procedures and demonstrate compliance on a regular basis, anywhere from monthly to yearly.

According to Bloom, the process is “pretty intrusive” for the employer, and typically unwelcome.

This report signals a new wave in the network’s ongoing legal troubles, linked to what reports and allegations indicate is a pervasive culture of sexual discrimination.

Last year, former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against the network’s then-CEO Roger Ailes, alleging sexual harassment and gender discrimination. The network eventually settled with Carlson for $20 million, but her suit opened the floodgates of women coming forward with their own allegations. The scandal led to Ailes’ resignation.

Then this year, the New York Times reported that the network had paid over $13 million over the years to quiet allegations of harassment by Fox News Host Bill O’Reilly. The report led to a spate of women going public with their stories, and ultimately to O’Reilly’s ousting from the network after advertisers abandoned his nightly talk show.

Taken in sum, however, the women’s stories indicate that the problem went beyond the alleged predilections of two of the network’s most powerful men. The allegations and reports paint a picture of systemic sexual harassment and a culture of gender discrimination within the network.

“It’s not about Roger Ailes. It’s about a culture,” Gabriel Sherman, who wrote the book on Roger Ailes and his role in the network, told NPR in July 2016. “And it was a culture where this type of behavior was encouraged and protected. The allegations are that women routinely had to sleep with or be propositioned by their manager in many cases, Roger Ailes, but I’ve reported on another manager who did this in exchange for promotions.”

Fox News has also retained the law firm Paul Weiss to conduct internal investigations of the harassment claims against Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly.

This piece has been updated with comments from Lisa Bloom. Judd Legum contributed reporting.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laurel Raymond is a general reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was the ThinkProgress Editorial Assistant. Prior to joining ThinkProgress she worked for Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and was a Fulbright scholar, based in southeast Turkey. She holds a B.S. in brain and cognitive sciences and a B.A. in English from the University of Rochester, where she worked and researched in the university writing center and was a member of the Michael K. Tanenhaus psycholinguistics lab. Laurel is originally from Richmond, Vermont.

Trump’s Family Leave: An Empty Envelope for American Workers

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

The White House budget dispels any hopes Trump might keep his promise to extend a helping hand to the nation’s millions of small business workers with a family and medical leave act that works for them.

Instead, the Trump team hands American workers an empty envelope.

Small business owners had reasons to hope: since the campaign, rumors have swirled the president might support a federal paid leave program. Candidate Trump had endorsed a call by his daughter Ivanka, who paints herself as an empathetic business owner, mother of three, and tuned-in working woman, to enact paid family leave.

Earlier this year, progressive lawmakers in the Senate also introduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Small business owners cheered this proposal, which lays out a framework for a strong national paid leave program that meets the needs of small business owners and workers alike.

Trump’s budget does include paid family leave, but as analysts unpack the proposal, it has become increasingly clear that his plan, unlike the FAMILY Act, doesn’t work for small businesses, their employees, or their communities.

Here are the top five reasons Trump’s family leave plan doesn’t work.

1: Trump’s “family” leave doesn’t cover the whole family

Trump’s budget proposal only includes new mothers and fathers. By contrast, the FAMILY Act covers the diverse caregiving situations that most small business owners and their employees face during their career. This includes recovering from personal illness or taking care of a sick spouse, an aging parent, grandparent, domestic partner, or adult child.

For small business owners, especially sole proprietors, a universal federal paid family and medical leave policy can make or break their business if they or a loved one needs extended care.

2: Paid leave is not guaranteed for all who work

Trump’s plan fails to establish a nationwide standard for who qualifies for paid leave. It’s up to each state to decide eligibility, which is likely to be based on restrictive unemployment rules that are already on the books.

In order for paid family and medical leave to really work for Main Street small businesses, everyone who works should to have the ability to earn leave from work to care for their families or themselves without fear of losing their job or not being able to pay their bills.

Paid leave should be available in all businesses, regardless of size or sector, and to all workers, whether they work part-time, full-time, or are self-employed. And everybody should be able to access the same amount of leave time, regardless of gender.

3: The funding is shaky

To fund a federal leave policy, the FAMILY Act sets up a simple payroll tax that amounts to about $1.50 per week per employee – the price of a cup of coffee. Like Social Security, that money goes into a pooled insurance account that covers all workers who are paying into the pool, and the program is administered by a new paid leave office.

The White House’s proposal, however, puts the tab on states’ budgets, indicating that state unemployment insurance funds will cover the cost by cutting benefits or figuring out how to collect overpayments. In many states, those unemployment funds are already far short of the reserve amount.

Rather than establish definitive federal fund for paid leave, Trump passes the buck, pun intended, to taxpayers, shifting the burden to the states to figure out how to administer and pay for his policy.

4: Trump’s plan is neither clear nor straightforward

The majority of small business owners are not equipped to handle the time and expense of administering a paid family and medical leave plan. It’s essential that any federal plan be easy, efficient, and minimizes the responsibilities of small business owners.

The FAMILY Act outlines a national program that builds off existing, successful state models, with streamlined coordination and a central administrative office. The Trump plan, on the other hand, is about as comprehensive as one of his Tweets – a couple of broad strokes, no detail. The details are all left in the hands of the states, from their level of participation to eligibility, funding, benefits, administration, and protections for employees.

5: Trump’s plan doesn’t consider small business owners

Fundamentally, a paid family and medical leave plan that works for small businesses needs to do three things:

1) Level the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger companies when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.

2) Invest in the families and communities that support small businesses by strengthening basic living standards for everyone.

3) Provide a measure of security for small business owners who need to recover from an illness or care for a sick loved one.

Across the board, the paid leave plan outlined in Trump’s budget fails to meet these needs of small businesses.

Alternative Visions

The Washington think tanks American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Brookings have released their own report on the issue, “Paid Family and Medical Leave: An issue whose time has come.” Touted as a bipartisan compromise plan, the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave proposal only includes parental leave, falling far short of the inclusive and comprehensive policy American small business owners and workers need.

The FAMILY Act is the type of legislation that would help small business owners keep pace with the needs of today’s workforce. It proposes a national paid family and medical leave program that would level the playing field for small businesses to compete, reduce turnover costs, provide a critical measure to security for business owners themselves, and support local economies.

Meanwhile, the Trump plan – underfunded, restrictive, and lacking in detail – seems more like a political play for points than a serious plan to boost small business in America.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on June 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Angela Simaan is Communications Director for Main Street Alliance, a national network of small business coalitions working to build a new voice for small businesses on important public policy issues.

The Time Is Now to Stand Up for the CFPB

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Mark Feuer, the Los Angeles City Attorney who helped hold Wells Fargo accountable for creating millions of fake accounts without customers’ knowledge, now warns against efforts by the Trump administration and Congress to dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“I’m appalled at the spectacle of the House attempting to dismantle or at least severely diminish the CFPB,” Feuer told CNNMoney in a recent interview. He was referring to a bill disingenuously called the CHOICE Act, which would neuter the now-independent CFPB so that it no longer serves as a watchdog against the predatory practices of financial institutions.

People’s Action is asking for signatures on a petition calling on Congress to vote “no” on the CHOICE Act, which in expected to come up for a vote in the coming weeks.

Feuer explained in the interview that the CFPB played a crucial role in investigating reports that Wells Fargo employees were fabricating accounts under pressure to meet sales quotas. Those fake accounts, in turn, showed up in financial reports that helped Wells Fargo boost its stock price and, as the stock price rose, executive earnings.

“It’s true we brought the case in the first place” in response to a 2013 Los Angeles Times exposé, Feuer said, “but our collaboration with the CFPB enabled there to be nationwide relief for Wells customers.”

That included $5 million in refunds to consumers who were assessed fees on the fake accounts and changes in sales practices at the bank. The bank also had to pay $185 million in fines, and did away with the sales quotas that led to the creation of the fake accounts.

You would think that a House of Representatives that is answerable to consumers vulnerable to what Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls the “tricks and traps” big banks, predatory lenders, and debt collectors use to take billions of dollars out of their pockets would consider the CFPB to be a hero.

But that House of Representatives does not exist. The majority of the House is instead answerable to the very tricksters who want free rein to game the system and line their pockets. Republicans love the campaign donations they get from Wall Street bankers, payday lenders, and hedge fund managers. They are literally itching to destroy the CFPB and let Wall Street go wild.

After the big banks crashed the economy in 2008, people took action and won reforms to rein in Wall Street abuses. A big part of that was establishing the CFPB, and structuring it so that it isn’t a punching bag for a Congress and White House drunk on big-bank financial contributions.

The CFPB is the first federal financial watchdog whose entire job is making sure Wall Street can’t get away with the tricks and traps that bleed millions out of our pockets. The Bureau has recovered $12 billion dollars in ill-gotten gains for over 27 million people ripped off by the predatory financial industry.

It is no wonder that gutting the CFPB has been a top priority of the Republican Congress from the beginning. And with all of the scandal now consuming Washington, it would be very easy for Congress to get away with this – unless we “stay woke.”

That’s why we have to get loud about what Congress is doing here.
We’ve derailed Wall Street’s agenda before and, if we stand together, we can stop them again. But that means we need to stop the CHOICE Act dead in its tracks.

Tell Congress: You work for us, not Wall Street. We need our government to do more to rein in payday lenders and Wall Street bankers, not give them a free pass to crash the economy again. Say no to the CHOICE Act. Say yes to an independent CFPB.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on May 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

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.

Want To Speak Out About Politics at Work? Here Are 3 Things You Need to Know.

Tuesday, May 16th, 2017

In the past several months, there’s been a noted uptick in political speech at work. That speech has often made national news, from Sally Yates’ dismissal as interim attorney general to IBM workers organizing against their employer’s support of Donald Trump. In the early days of the Trump administration, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance’s strike against the Muslim ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport stood out as an impressive act of resistance and solidarity. And even before Trump’s election, Colin Kaepernick, then a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sparked a national discussion when he refused to stand during the national anthem in protest of racism against African-Americans and other people of color.

Protests against the administration are building quickly, with diverse groups organizing mass protests against the administration’s policies. This month, on May Day—otherwise known as International Workers’ Day—thousands of workers across the country took to the streets to challenge Trump’s draconian and unconstitutional immigration policies. In all likelihood, political activity at work will only increase throughout the Trump administration, all of which begs the question: How protected are workers who talk politics on the job?

As it turns out, not very, at least legally. Though more than 40 percent of participants in a 2014 YouGov poll believed that the First Amendment protected them from retaliation for their workplace political speech, the truth is that workers have, at best, a patchwork of rights to talk politics at work.

Most private sector workers have no Constitutional protections to engage in political speech at work. However, they do have rights as workers. (Government workers have some limited First Amendment rights because the First Amendment applies to government action, but those rights aren’t always consistently defined.)

Though it can be difficult to navigate the maze of laws that regulates employment, there are some simple things to keep in mind that can help private sector employees ensure they have maximum protection at work. These tips are not foolproof ways to protect your job, but they provide some cover in the face of the risks and challenges ahead. Of course, you’re safest keeping your protests outside of work, but building the resistance against Trump will require shop floor leaders to be vocal and visible. While speaking out at work is inherently risky, the rewards measured in collective strength and tangible gains cannot be overestimated.

Step 1: Bring a buddy

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the main law governing relations between workers and employers in the private sector, is unique: It mostly protects groups, not individuals. This means that whenever you stand up to improve the conditions at your workplace with at least one other worker, you are engaging in “protected concerted activity” under the NLRA, and you can’t lawfully be fired or disciplined for that activity. Solidarity at work is protected under federal law. This protection applies to regular workplace complaints and grievances—for instance, joining with your coworkers to form a union or ask for a wage increase—but can also apply to political activity.

Usually, even talking to coworkers about your problems at work is “protected concerted activity.” The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently broadened the meaning of the term in a 2014 case. In that case, the NLRB held that a worker who talked to her coworkers about serving as witnesses in her individual sexual harassment complaint was protected under the NLRA because she was enlisting coworkers in her aid. This suggests that a worker can invoke the protections of the NLRA just by talking with coworkers.

It’s always a good idea to act with at least one other coworker. The best defense is building strong ties with coworkers and the community. The more the boss fears pushback, the less likely he is to retaliate. At the very least, make sure to talk to a coworker before engaging in any action at work, political or otherwise, to bring that action under the NLRA’s protection. But keep in mind that not all political protest is protected—as Step 2 explains.

Step 2: If you’re talking or protesting politics, find ways to tie your protest to issues your employer can control

If you decide to engage in political activity at work, the most important action you can take to protect yourself and your coworkers is to tie your speech or protest to an “employment related concern.” With some limited exceptions, the NLRA protects you from discipline for discussing anything having to do with your pay, occupational safety, the policies at your job, and other terms and conditions of employment with coworkers and third parties, whether the news media or a government agency. In a famous labor law case from 1962, NLRB v. Washington Aluminum, the Supreme Court found that labor law protected a group of workers who spontaneously walked off the job because the shop was too cold to work, though there was a rule against leaving work without the supervisor’s permission and the employees didn’t plan or know they were engaging in a workplace action.

Problems that your employer can’t affect or control are not employment related. For example, in 2006, hundreds of workers were terminated for walking off the job to join massive protests against anti-immigrant legislation proposed in Congress. In response to the terminations, the NLRB came up with some guidelines for political activity. While the protests were found to have been done for “mutual aid and protection”—workers standing together in solidarity—walking off the job against employer rules was unprotected, since the employers could not control immigration policy.

Sometimes an employer does have power over a government policy—for instance, if the employer is actively involved in lobbying over that policy, like in a recent case where taxi drivers protested against their employer, a Las Vegas cab company, for lobbying for more medallions, which would put more drivers on the road and reduce their pay. Still, the takeaway is that you should always try to make sure your protest is about a tangible workplace policy. For instance, if you want to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies, you could center your protest around a demand that the employer not conduct voluntary I-9 audits.

One last thing to remember is that if an employer has a rule that limits political speech at work, it has to be neutral on its face and neutrally applied. If you are fired for violating an employer attendance policy to attend a rally against Trump’s immigration policies, but another coworker who also violated the attendance policy to attend a Trump rally is unscathed, then the boss has violated the law by failing to apply work rules neutrally and you should contact an attorney or the NLRB to report the violation.

Step 3: Build solidarity at work and in the community

Nothing protects you more than the support and solidarity of your coworkers and community. Collective action is a time-honored and battle-tested tactic. The more people support you, the more the boss will be afraid to retaliate against you. In the Fight for $15 campaign, organizers perfected the art of the “walk back.” After one of their now famous strike days, community members, including clergy and local politicians, would walk striking worker back to fast food restaurants in a show of community power. Build relationships at work and in your community to prepare for the fight ahead. Nothing is stronger than people power.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on May 15, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Authors: Leo Gertner is a labor lawyer in Washington, D.C., who previously worked as a grievance representative for janitors in Boston. Sam Wheeler is a Pennsylvania labor lawyer who has previously worked in electoral politics and in the legal departments of several national unions.

What Slashing the Labor Department Budget by 21 Percent Would Mean

Friday, March 17th, 2017

The Trump administration’s “budget blueprint” would devastate worker safety, job training programs and legal services essential to low-income workers. Its cuts include a 21 percent, or $2.5 billion, reduction in the Department of Labor’s budget.

The budget would reduce funding for or eliminate programs that provide job training to low-income workers, unemployed seniors, disadvantaged youth and for state-based job training grants. It eliminates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) training grants as well as the independent Chemical Safety Board. Also targeted for elimination is the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to low-income Americans.

“Cutting these programs is cutting the safety net for the most vulnerable workers, those striving for the middle class,” said Matt Shudtz, executive director at the Center for Progressive Reform. “This budget would eliminate training programs for them, the kind of things people need to move up in the world. It is very anti-worker and anti- the most vulnerable workers.”

Judy Conti, National Employment Law Project (NELP) federal advocacy coordinator, didn’t mince words.

“This budget will mean more illness, injury and death on the job,” she said Thursday, the day the proposed budget was released.

Targeting programs that prevent injury and illness

The White House budget proposal justifies its enormous cuts to the Department of Labor by saying it focuses on the agency’s “highest priority functions and disinvests in activities that are duplicative, unnecessary, unproven or ineffective.”

The budget would close Job Corps centers that serve “disadvantaged youth,” eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, decrease federal funding for state and local job training grants—shifting more financial responsibility to employers and state and local governments. The budget would also eliminate certain grants to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which helps people with disabilities stay in the job market.

Also slated for elimination are OSHA’s Susan Harwood training grants that have provided more than 2.1 million workers, especially underserved and low-literacy workers in high-hazard industries, with health and safety training since 1978. These trainings are designed to multiply their effects by “training trainers” so that both workers and employers learn how to prevent and respond to workplace hazards. They’ve trained healthcare workers on pandemic hazards, helped construction workers avoid devastating accidents, and workers in food processing and landscaping prevent ergonomic injuries. The program also helps workers for whom English is not their first language obtain essential safety training.

“The cuts to OSHA training grants will hurt workers and small employers,” said David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Training is a proven, and in fact necessary method to prevent worker injuries and illnesses. OSHA’s training grants are very cost effective, reaching large numbers of workers and small employers who would otherwise not be trained in injury and illness prevention.”

“Everyone, labor and management, believes that a workforce educated in safety and health is essential to saving lives and preventing occupational disease. That is the purpose of the Harwood grants,” said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment at United Steelworkers.

The White House says eliminating these grants will save $11 million, a miniscule fraction of the $639 billion the Trump administration is requesting for the Department of Defense.

“No words to describe how cruel it is”

Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) would mean no independent federal agency dedicated to investing devastating industrial accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the West Fertilizer plant explosion, Freedom Industries chemical release in Charleston, West Virginia, and the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California. Those are among the hundreds of cases CSB has investigated over the past 20 years or so.

“Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public are safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB,” said CSB chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland in a statement.

“The cost of even one such accident would be more than the CSB’s budget over its entire history. And that calculation is only economic. The human cost of a catastrophic accident would be enormous,” said Wright. “The CSB’s work has saved the lives of workers in chemical plants and oil refineries, residents who could be caught in a toxic cloud, even students in high school chemistry labs.”

The budget proposal also jeopardizes essential legal support for low-wage workers. While not dedicated to employment issues, the Legal Services Corporation provides vital services to low-wage workers, including on issues related to workers’ compensation and other job benefits.

“Gutting the Legal Services Corporation,” said NELP’s Conti, “there are no words to describe how cruel it is, especially considering grossly underfunded the agency is.”

“The government should be investing in workers, their families, and communities, but instead this budget drastically cuts the programs meant to uplift them,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen.

The White House calls the budget proposal a “Budget Blueprint to make American Great Again.” On a call with reporters, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, “this is the ‘America First’ budget” and said it was written “using the president’s own words” to turn “those policies into numbers.”

“This is not so much a budget as an ideological statement,” said David Golston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

Americans are now twice as likely to work in solar as in coal

Tuesday, February 7th, 2017

In his first hour as president, Donald Trump promised to resurrect middle-class manufacturing jobs in the United States. It will be all but impossible for him to reverse the tides of globalization and automation, but the future may nonetheless be bright for the American worker, thanks to a trend that predates and will outlast the 45th president.

For the last decade, the solar industry has enjoyed exponential job growth. Last year, more than 51,000 people in the United States were hired to design, manufacture, sell and install solar panels, according to a new report from The Solar Foundation. That means the solar industry created jobs 17 times faster than the economy as a whole.

“In 2016, we saw a dramatic increase in the solar workforce across the nation, thanks to a rapid decrease in the cost of solar panels and unprecedented consumer demand for solar installations,” said Andrea Luecke, The Solar Foundation’s president and executive director.

Falling prices for panels are helping drive a nationwide clean-energy boom. Utility-scale solar is now cost-competitive with wind and natural gas—and it’s cheaper than coal, even without subsidies. Last year, solar accounted for more than a third of new U.S. generating capacity.

CREDIT: Solar Jobs Census 2016, The Solar Foundation

The solar industry now employs twice as many people in the United States as the coal industry and roughly the same number of people as the natural gas industry. While solar still accounts for a much far smaller share of U.S. power generation than either of those fossil fuel sources, it’s expanding rapidly, putting a growing number of Americans to work. While the official numbers have not been tallied, early estimates have found that more solar was added to the grid in 2016 than natural gas capacity.

Roughly half of the men and women working in the solar industry are installers, who earn a median wage of $26 an hour in a job that can’t be outsourced. In addition, these positions don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

The burgeoning workforce also includes people working in sales and project development, jobs that call for an education in engineering or business.

 
CREDIT: Solar Jobs Census 2016, The Solar Foundation

The report notes that the solar workforce is growing more diverse, employing a larger share of women and people of color, as well as a significant number of military veterans. Last year, solar companies created jobs in nearly every state.

“It’s really a wide range of people that get hired into this industry—everybody from certified and licensed engineers to those who first learned about a solar project when we were building one in their area,” said George Hershman, the general manager of Swinerton Renewable Energy. “A great aspect of this business is that it isn’t an exclusionary trade. It’s a teachable job that can create opportunity for people and give them a skill.”

While jobs are cropping up all across the country, growth is more closely linked to policy support for renewable energy than to the number of sunny days in a given locale. Last year, Massachusetts added more solar jobs than Texas, despite enjoying less sunshine. The Bay State has ambitious plans to build out zero-carbon power sources like wind and solar.

CREDIT: Energy Information Administration

“Solar is an important part of our ever-expanding clean energy economy in Massachusetts, supporting thousands of high-skilled careers across the Commonwealth,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said.

Smart policy is key to the continued growth of the solar industry, which has been bolstered by federal tax credits and state renewable-energy mandates, among other measures. President Trump plans to roll back federal policies that foster the growth of clean energy, potentially scrap the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and eliminate funding for clean-energy research and development.

Without these policies, solar will continue to grow, but at an attenuated pace. Corporations like General Motors, Apple and IKEA will keep buying up solar power to cut costs and guard against volatility in the price of fossil fuels. But electric utilities will be less incentivized to shutter existing coal-fired power plants in favor of new renewable energy installations.

Solar evangelists say that if Donald Trump wants to create well-paid jobs that don’t require a college education, he should foster the growth of solar rather than pursuing deals, one-by-one, to prevent U.S. manufacturers from shipping jobs overseas.

Last year, solar companies created more than 60 jobs for every one job Donald Trump and Mike Pence preserved by giving a tax break to Carrier. Ultimately, the jobs saved at the Carrier plant may be lost to machines. Meanwhile, jobs in solar are destined to keep growing.

This post appeared originally in Think Progress on February 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Jeremy Deaton writes for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow him at @deaton_jeremy.

Delivery Drivers Sue Amazon Over Misclassification, Failure to Pay Overtime and the Minimum Wage

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

With wage and hour lawsuits becoming increasingly common across the country, there was little reason for the lawyers at Amazon.com’s Seattle headquarters to be surprised when one landed on their doorstep recently. But they may have been concerned to learn that their newest legal adversary is “Sledgehammer Shannon” Liss-Riordan, a Boston attorney who gained legal fame by beating corporate giants like FedEx and Starbucks in just these kinds of contests.

The new lawsuit against Amazon is similar to one of Liss-Riordan’s best known cases—a suit against FedEx that charged the company was misclassifying delivery drivers as independent contractors when the workers were, as a matter of law, regular employees. Liss-Riordan won that fight and, this year, FedEx announced that it would give up on a series of related legal fights and pay $240 million to some 12,000 drivers in 20 states.

Liss-Riordan took the fight to Amazon in a suit filed October 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. It charges Amazon and Amazon Logistics Inc. with violating the minimum wage law in Seattle, state labor law in Washington and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Liss-Riordan explains that Amazon is experimenting with a delivery system where the company contracts with individuals to use their own cars to pick up parcels at Amazon warehouses and deliver them to local customers. The drivers typically sign up for a specific work shift and are paid an hourly wage. They are not compensated, however, for expenses like gasoline, car maintenance, telephone calls, or other incidentals. When subtracting these expenses, drivers often end up earning less than the minimum wage and are denied overtime pay, she says.

That description of delivery methods was echoed by Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Along with co-author Olivia LaVecchia, Mitchell has just completed a major study of Amazon’s business practices that warns that the giant corporation is killing good jobs in local economies as it seeks to monopolize different sectors of the retail business.

“Amazon has substantially expanded its warehouses in recent years and is experimenting with the so-called ‘last mile’ of the delivery system. They are increasingly using on-demand drivers, and also regional couriers, to move goods,” Mitchell says. “In the past, this sort of ‘last mile’ delivery was typically done by the U.S. Postal Service or United Parcel Service. USPS and UPS jobs are good-paying union jobs, and Amazon is undermining these with its gig economy model.”

In These Times reached out to Amazon to comment on the lawsuit. Spokesman Jim Billimoria provided the following response:

“The small and medium sized businesses that partner with Amazon Logistics have their own employees and are required to abide by applicable laws and Amazon’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which focuses on compensation, benefits, and appropriate working hours. We investigate any claim that a provider isn’t complying with these obligations.”

Liss-Riordan says this sort of a defense is typical of large corporations, many of which have lost wage and hour lawsuits in court.

“It’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you do,” she said. “We’ve been able to demonstrate, time and time again, that a lot of these corporations just don’t live up to their stated policies when it comes to real-life employment practices on the ground. That’s why you see more and more of these suits.”

Indeed, a 2015 report from the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP described an “onslaught” of litigation resulting in a record high number of federally-filed wage and hour cases in 2015. According to the firm, there were 8,781 such cases in 2015, compared to only 1,935 in 2000.

Asked about her nickname “Sledgehammer Shannon,” Liss-Riordan laughed out loud.

“It’s sort of silly. Mother Jones magazine did an article last year about a case I have against Uber, and I get a lot of jokes. I don’t care. The fact is, we will take on cases like this and fight them for 10 years if we have to.”

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on December 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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.

DC Considers Cutting-Edge Paid Family Leave Law

Friday, December 2nd, 2016

“I sometimes imagine how my life would be different if my mom had the option of paid family leave,” Travis said. The District of Columbia resident was born prematurely. Because his mother could not get the time off from work to make necessary hospital visits to care for her fragile son, “She had to give me up to be raised in Florida by other family members.”

Travis and his fellow Washington, D.C., residents may no longer face those wrenching choices, thanks to the Universal Paid Leave Act, a proposed paid-leave law introduced this past Tuesday in the D.C. City Council. Among the most progressive of such paid-leave laws in the nation, the employer-paid leave program includes 11 weeks of gender equal parental leave, eight weeks of paid family caregiving leave and up to 90% pay replacement for low-income workers on leave. Family leave includes parental leave for new parents after the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, as well as caregiving leave to care for a sick, injured or dying loved one.

“58% of D.C. families can’t afford to take unpaid leave,” said Jackie Jeter, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO, which worked with a coalition of paid-leave advocates to shepherd the bill through the legislative process over the past year. The D.C. Paid Family Leave Coalition, a network of nearly 200 businesses, nonprofits and advocacy organizations, said it was “extremely pleased to see the council affirm the need for paid family leave and move toward creating a program that works for everyone,” but called for strengthening the bill. Initial drafts included medical leave, available for people who suffer serious injuries or illnesses and need time away from work to recover.

“While council members finalize the details around paid leave legislation, they have a moral obligation to include medical leave coverage for a large portion of our city’s most vulnerable working people and families,” said Jaime Contreras, vice president of SEIU 32BJ, a steering committee member of the D.C. Paid Family Leave campaign. “Paid medical leave is especially urgent for our members and others in D.C. who earn low wages, as only 17% of low-wage workers nationally have access to short-term disability plans (aka paid medical leave). At a time when the Affordable Care Act is under threat and when medical expenses are the leading cause of personal bankruptcy, working families are relying on their council members to create a program that helps their families stay financially stable during health crises.”

“I’m currently six months pregnant with my first child and am worried and nervous about the time when I can no longer work,” said Ward 8 resident Nicole earlier this year. “I won’t be able to pay bills or rent. I have never had to be on public assistance and do not want to rely on that. I’m a hard worker and always have been. Even though, I’ve been with my restaurant job for a year and a half, any time I need off of work will be unpaid.”

Under the proposed legislation, about 65% of Washington, D.C., residents who work would be covered—supporting hundreds of thousands of family members. The remaining 35% work for the District or federal government, or commute outside the city. Of those covered, 100% will be able to afford leave, advocates say. Paid family leave is more critical than ever because 59% of mothers with infants are now in the workforce, while just 12% of private-sector workers get paid leave through their employers. Studies show that when a parent can take time away from work to care for a child after birth or adoption, it results in improved health for both.

The law’s cost will be covered by a 0.62% increase in employer-paid payroll taxes, which bill sponsor At-Large Council Member David Grosso called “a pretty good deal,” noting that it will enable District residents “to do what matters most to them in life and that is be close to the people they care about during great moments of transition in their lives.” At the same time, the D.C. Paid Family Leave Coalition is calling for a return to the 1% tax initially proposed, which would enable the city to offer medical as well as family leave.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on December 1, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Chris Garlock is the Union Cities/Street Heat Coordinator for the Metro Washington (DC) Council, AFL-CIO, and the Director of the DC Labor FilmFest. He’s built one of the largest mobilization databases of any Labor Council or State Fed in the country, and more than 10,000 activists and supporters receive daily weekday updates on the metro-area labor movement via the award-winning UNION CITY ezine. He organizes the annual DC Labor FilmFest, one of the only labor-themed film festivals in the world, founded in 2001 to screen films by, for and about work and workers. Garlock has also worked as a radio producer for populist Jim Hightower, Coordinator of the Rochester (NY) Labor Council, and as a reporter, editor, columnist, radio commentator, as well as dishwasher, prep cook and chef (he’s a volunteer cook twice a month at Miriam’s Kitchen). A strong amateur go player, Chris edits the American Go E-Journal, the largest English-language publication about the game of go, with nearly 13,000 readers worldwide.

Our outdated school schedules are hurting working parents

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

casey quinlan

School schedules aren’t working for parents, and haven’t caught up to the reality of modern families’ lives.

The vast majority of parents 70 percent, work full-time from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but the median closing time for a school is 2:30 p.m. On top of that, schools are closed 80 percent longer than the typical worker receives in paid holidays and vacation time, which works out to 13 more days off than parents have, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress.

That presents a problem for parents who work outside the home, especially mothers, single parents, low-income parents, parents of color, and part-time workers. Many of these demographics overlap, of course. Women of color in particular tend to make less money than white men and women and thus are less likely to be able to afford after-school programs and day care. Part-time workers also have far less vacation days and sick days than full-time workers.

This means the most disadvantaged populations in the United States are bearing the brunt of our school schedules-which are filled with extra days off around the holidays, days taken off for teachers’ professional development, snow days not offered by local employers, and policies mandating parents to pick up their sick kids, no matter how minor the illness.

Why a 9-to-5 schedule isn’t working for parents

Right now, schools are designed for families where one parent works outside the home and one parent stays home to care for the children, and is available to be on call to pick up their kids from school whenever necessary.

“Unfortunately the reality of working families has evolved a lot, and we need to invest in the kind of school policies and schedules to catch us up to the way people are actually living their lives,” said Catherine Brown, the vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress and one of the authors of the new report. (Disclosure: ThinkProgress is an editorially independent site housed at the Center for American Progress.)

“We need to invest in the kind of school policies and schedules to catch us up to the way people are actually living their lives.”

The CAP report emphasizes the change in family work weeks. Between 1979 and 2006, the typical middle class family work week increased by 11 hours.

One might suggest after-school programs as the antidote to this problem, but these programs are not universally available, especially to the parents who need them most. Only 45 percent of all public elementary schools offer parents after-school care, according to CAP’s analysis of federal education data and only 31 percent of Title I schools have after-school programs.

Brown said school policies on picking children up from school also make parents’ lives very difficult. The report explains that schools often require parents to pick children up even when their illness is minor or non-contagious. Duval County Public Schools in Florida has a policy where parents are required to pick up an ill child within 60 minutes of being notified.

‘What will typically happen is your kid has a slight fever and they’ll call you and say you need to immediately pick them up and that’s just not viable,” Brown said. “If you’re working at McDonald’s or even if you’re working at CAP, it’s really hard to instantly abandon what you’re doing and go pick up your child, and this is a really clear way that schools disregard the needs of working parents.”

Brown added that these schedules often mean students go to recess or eat lunch very early in the day because they’re sharing a tight schedule with so many kids. Ideally, children’s schedules would be organized according to the natural ebb and flow of their energy levels throughout the day.

The creative solutions that could help fix this issue

There is no reason why this inconvenient school schedule needs to remain in place, the authors of the report explain. The CAP report puts forth several ideas for reforming the way that school schedules work.

  • States could raise the minimum length of a school day to eight hours, which would push schools toward a typical work schedule.
  • Districts could use the assistance of AmeriCorps members, college students, and community members to help run programs during school closings and to monitor students when parents are at work.
  • Schools could limit days off to major holidays, look to major employers when deciding whether to close schools for inclement weather, and create school health policies that better recognize parents’ busy schedules.
  • Administrators could accommodate parents’ work schedules when deciding when to schedule parent-teacher conferences and consider alternatives to in-person meetings, such as chatting through Skype.
  • Schools could look at more efficient ways to conduct teacher professional development, such as having teacher development run throughout the school day through teacher collaboration and individualized coaching, so the school wouldn’t have to close for the day.
  • Schools could identify alternatives to a tiered busing schedule, such as a dual-route system, so that students can get to school at the same time.

How a new school schedule would affect teachers

One of the most challenging questions facing advocates for a 9-to-5 school schedule is how to ensure teachers aren’t shortchanged in the process. After all, teachers come in early to prepare for classes and often stay later to assist students and grade papers?—?they don’t want to make their days even longer.

Staggered schedules could ensure that teachers don’t work longer hours than they already do. But if they do end up adding more hours to their workday, advocates say teachers should be fairly compensated.

“What we want to be clear about is that we’re not advocating for teachers to work longer hours without getting compensated for that time,” Brown said.

She added that kids can also do independent work an work in peer-to-peer groups that allow teachers time to do planning, give kids more time to learn, and reduce parent stress.

Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow for education policy at CAP, said there is also the possibility of teachers working a 9-to-5 schedule but doing so only four days a week. Teachers who work at Goldie Maple Academy in Queens, for example, have a school day that begins at 8 a.m. and ends at 4:35 p.m. but they have Fridays off.

How to pay for a longer school day

Keeping schools open longer will cost more money. But there are federal funds available to help school districts pay for lengthening their days.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released guidance explaining that as long as extended school days are “meeting an identified need to improve student achievement,” a federal source called Title I, Part A fund can be used toward paying for it. Other federal funding sources include Promise Neighborhoods competition, Full-Service Community Schools Program, and Community Learning Centers program.

Congress could also include a competitive grant program in the Higher Education Act to encourage graduate schools in social work to partner with neighboring school districts to develop a 9-to-5 schedule.

This new schedule could also be considered a “school theme” in the way technology or bilingualism is considered a theme for many schools. These schools could be funded through competitive grant programs targeted at low-income schools.

Some of these policy proposals are easier to implement than others, but Brown said innovation is necessary to acknowledge the needs of working parents.

“I think requiring longer school days requires an injection of resources and creative thinking about how you set up your schools,” Brown said.

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on October 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.

Chicago Teachers Are on the Verge of Striking—This Is Why

Tuesday, October 11th, 2016

Chicago teachers will likely take to the streets early Tuesday in an escalation of their campaign to defend their jobs and improve the education of the students and the communities they serve. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has said it will strike if no deal is reached by midnight.

Four years ago, the CTU won a new contract with a dramatic 7-day strike that captured national attention. Although the CTU was unable in the following years to stop Mayor Rahm Emanuel from closing more than 50 schools, last April the union continued its contract fight with a mayoral-appointed Board of Education by calling for a 1-day strike over the failure of talks to renew their contract.

With the CTU and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) still at loggerheads over a new agreement, the teachers are preparing to establish picket lines once again at schools throughout the nation’s third-largest school system, taking on the Board of Education, Emanuel, the obsessively anti-union Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, and the local business class.

The fight is, in various ways, about money. The Board of Education, under Emanuel’s control, says it must cut costs since it is running a deficit. One of its proposed solutions would eliminate a longstanding agreement to pay for part of the cost of teachers’ pensions, effectively cutting teachers’ pay.

Rauner advocates a harsh and ideological strategy designed to humiliate the teachers and break their union. He has said bankruptcy might be the best option for CPS—a move that would allow a court to void union contracts.

But the strike is about more than money, too. The CTU sees negotiations as a chance to focus on the quality of education for Chicago students. The union wants to reduce class sizes, guarantee that all schools have libraries and librarians, give teachers professional support and training to teach more creatively, and provide social services and counselors who can help students resolve problems that may be interfering with their learning or leading them to drop out.

“In my 13 years of teaching, schools and students have never faced this type of assault,” said Lillian Kass, a special education teacher in CPS and a CTU delegate.

“We are going on strike to protect our students from further cuts. We need enforceable class sizes and adequate services so all students can succeed. Teachers and students have already suffered too many cuts. More cuts are not acceptable and not sustainable,” she said.

Historical backdrop

The contract dispute is linked to profound and pernicious questions regarding class and racial divisions in the city and state. The backdrop to the current conflict is the decades-long failure of the state government to follow the state’s constitutional mandate to carry the primary responsibility for financing public education.

As a result, schools are very unevenly and inequitably funded by local property taxes. The tax burden is greatest on working-class households, while businesses successfully resist paying their fair share. Chicago taxpayers suffer an additional burden: While state taxes—including taxes paid by Chicago residents—help fund teacher pensions for the rest of the state, Chicago residents alone pay for all pension-related costs for their schools.

Low-income communities, especially those that are predominately black, have suffered most from shortcomings in funding, school closings and many other CPS policies. Reinforcing the results of other investigations, a recent report by WBEZ, the Chicago public radio station, revealed that new school construction in areas of the city where the population is growing is carefully planned to maintain high levels of racial segregation, even though it would be easy to use the construction to create a more integrated school enrollment.

Community allies

Union leaders see community groups as crucial allies in the fight now unfolding. Chicago Teachers Solidarity Campaign (CTSC), with a dozen or more members, played an important role in the 2012 strike, says Steven Ashby, a labor educator at the University of Illinois. Ashby, who is the leader of a renewed CTSC, says the new coalition already includes more than 50 groups.

The CTU, CTSC and many other progressive groups are pushing for the city to redirect to the schools as much as possible from Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a funding tool. The money is largely a “slush fund” spent at the mayor’s discretion for business-related projects, and reformers argue that it could provide significant funding for schools.

The issues posed by the teachers’ strike involve a tangle of inherited pathologies of racism, business dominance, and corrupt local politics—together forming a Gordian knot that blocks progressive reform. The strike may not cut the knot, but it could help direct the next blows for reformers tackling the many challenges beyond the current, critically important task of educating the city’s children.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on October 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

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