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Yahoo CEO Doesn’t ‘Play The Gender Card’ Because Gender Isn’t ‘Relevant’ In Tech

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer tries to stay far away from the gender-based stereotypes plaguing the tech industry.

“I never play the gender card…The moment you play into that, it’s an issue,” Mayer told Medium for an article centered on Yahoo’s two-decade legacy and Mayer’s hand in turning the company around. “In technology we live at a rare, fast-moving pace. There are probably industries where gender is more of an issue, but our industry is not one where I think that’s relevant.”

Mayer’s comments go against the consensus from Silicon Valley players and tech employees that name lack of diversity, gender-based discrimination and harassment as persistent problems in the industry.

While gender is certainly an issue when it comes to workplace diversity, it’s even more pronounced when climbing through the ranks. Women only make up 11 percent of all executive positions in Silicon Valley companies, and often deal with hostile work environments, where sexual harassment and innuendo are rampant.

Mayer has been lauded for her hands on approach in leading Yahoo’s transformation from a struggling ad-based model to a tech giant once again. She’s also garnered respect and praise for breaking into the fairly exclusive, male-dominated club of company executives, and even more so, tech CEOs.

She is one of 24 women CEOs at S&P 500 companies, and just one of four female CEOs in the tech industry’s S&P 500 companies — Xerox’s Ursula Burns, Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman, Oracle’s Safra Catz, and Virginia Rometty at IBM, according to a report from Catalyst, a business research and strategy firm.

Like other tech companies, including Google and Twitter, looking to diversify and shed the “brogrammer” stereotype, Yahoo employees are overwhelmingly male and white. Women make up 37 percent of of all Yahoo employees, according to the company’s diversity report released last year. Only 15 percent work in tech worldwide, while another 23 percent hold leadership positions.

Those figures are echoed throughout the industry and have led companies to make deliberate efforts to boost racial and gender diversity, weed out harassment and discrimination. For example, Google launched an initiative “Made With Code” to get young girls interested in coding, alongside independent efforts that ramp up outreach efforts through programs like Black Girls Code and Code2040 to make the industry less homogenous.

This article originally appeared on thinkprogress.org on March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

Woman Becomes Homeless After Employer Allegedly Fired Her Over Her Pregnancy

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Bryce CovertBetzaida Cruz Cardona is 32-weeks pregnant, unemployed, and homeless. But just a few months ago, she had a job she was willing and able to do that paid her rent.

Cruz had been a cashier at a Henrietta, New York, Savers since April of 2014 when she got pregnant and visited the doctor frequently for complications. At one visit, her doctor gave her a note saying that she shouldn’t lift more than 25 pounds. But since her job simply required that work at a cash register, she didn’t expect it to interfere with her work.

A half an hour after she handed in that doctor’s note and told her manager she still wanted to keep working, she says she was fired without any explanation except that the corporate human resources department told her manager to do so and she should “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” She wasn’t told it was to do with any disciplinary issues or the days off she had taken to visit the doctor, given that they were excused.

A spokeswoman for the company said its policy is not to comment on specific employment matters, but added, “we have not, do not, and will not tolerate discrimination of any type, including pregnancy discrimination, toward our valued employees.”

Cruz told ThinkProgress “everything basically went bad” after she was fired. “My family, we didn’t have enough money to pay everything. It was just arguments and fights [with her boyfriend] because I had lost my job. So I lost my apartment, I lost everything.”

She’s since has been moving “from house to house to house to house.” Moving around so much while pregnant is “extremely hard because it’s not comfortable,” she said. “It’s stressful, depressing.”

Cruz is now suing Savers with the help of lawyers from A Better Balance and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA). Her lawyers say the company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which bans employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, given the timing of her termination and the comment that she should stay home, which is “evidence of discriminatory intent,” explained Dina Bakst of A Better Balance. It also violated the PDA by refusing to give her an accommodation so she could keep working, which her lawyers say was given to a different worker with carpal tunnel syndrome. But while the case is about accommodation, “it’s even more so a case of outright discrimination against pregnant people,” said Elizabeth Saylor of ECBA, given that she didn’t need to lift objects to continue doing her job.

Since she had a condition related to her pregnancy that limited her activity, her lawyers say she was also covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawyers are also charging the company with a pattern and practice of discrimination against pregnant women. While the company has an express policy against discriminating against workers with disabilities, “unfortunately they don’t have any policy that we’ve seen or anything in the employment manual relating to not discriminating against pregnant women and providing them with accommodations,” said Saylor.

In response to a request for information about the company’s policies, the Savers spokeswoman said, “Savers makes reasonable accommodations for team members when they have a disability that limits their ability to perform their job.” She said that the policy applies to all workers, including those who are pregnant. Bakst argued, “that’s not what the policy says, and that’s not how the policy was applied to Ms. Cruz.”

Cruz’s lawyers also point to the involvement of the corporate human resources department of a sign that Cruz’s firing wasn’t the work of a rogue manager. “One of our express goals is for Savers to adopt a new policy that clearly states it will not discriminate against pregnant employees,” Saylor added.

To add insult to injury, Cruz says that the company claimed she had voluntarily quit for medical reasons on her termination paperwork, which made it very difficult to get unemployment insurance. She filed for the benefits in early September but didn’t start receiving them until January. And while her boyfriend has helped her out financially, her family doesn’t have the resources to help.

“I tried to get a job, but since I’m pregnant it really has been hard,” she said. “I’m planning after I have [the baby] on starting to find a job, but first I have to find somebody that can have her while I’m working.”

Had Cruz lived in New York City, instead of further upstate, the whole incident might not have happened. New York City passed a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in 2013, which requires employers to give pregnant workers reasonable accommodations, such as light duty, unless they can prove it would mean an undue burden. “It makes it crystal clear that employers have to affirmatively provide reasonable accommodations to workers with pregnancy-related needs,” Bakst explained. The rest of the state doesn’t have such a law, however; one has been passed in its senate but is still pending. “If there was an unmistakably clear law that informed employers of what their obligations are to accommodate workers, this may not have happened,” she added.

Other states have passed similar laws that cover all of their workers, and a federal bill that would apply to the entire country has been introduced multipletimes in Congress. Yet it has failed to move forward.

In the meantime, Cruz’s experience is unfortunately extremely common. An estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for an accommodation for their pregnancy every year, and many more are afraid to even ask. But 80 percent of first-time mothers work into their last month of pregnancy. A number of other employers are facing lawsuits over pregnancy discrimination, from Walmart to Bloomberg TV.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media

The Federal Reserve Board’s Plan to Kill Jobs

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Image: Dean BakerThere is an enormous amount of political debate over various pieces of legislation that are supposed to be massive job killers. For example, Republicans lambasted President Obama’s increase in taxes on the wealthy back in 2013 as a job killer. They endlessly have condemned the Affordable Care Act as a job killer. The same is true for proposals to raise the minimum wage.

While there is great concern in Washington over these and other imaginary job killers, the Federal Reserve Board is openly mapping out an actual job-killing strategy and drawing almost no attention at all for it. The Fed’s job-killing strategy centers on its plan to start raising interest rates, which is generally expected to begin at some point this year.

The Fed’s plans to raise interest rates are rarely spoken of as hurting employment, but job-killing is really at the center of the story. The rationale for raising interest rates is that inflation could begin to pick up and start to exceed the Fed’s current 2.0 percent target if the Fed doesn’t slow the economy with higher interest rates.

Higher interest rates slow the economy by discouraging people from borrowing to buy homes or cars. They will also have some effect in discouraging businesses from investing. With reduced demand from these sectors, businesses will hire fewer workers. This will weaken the labor market, which means workers have less bargaining power. If workers have less bargaining power, they will be less well-situated to get pay increases. And if wages are not rising there will be less inflationary pressure in the economy.

The potential impact of Fed rate hikes on jobs is large. Suppose the Fed raises interest rates enough to shave 0.2 percentage points off the growth rate, say pushing growth for the year down from 2.4 percent to 2.2 percent. If we assume employment growth drops roughly in proportion to GDP growth, this would imply a reduction in the rate of job growth of almost 10 percent. If the economy would have otherwise created 2.4 million jobs over the course of the year, the Fed’s rate hikes would have cost the economy more than 200,000 jobs in this scenario.

For comparison purposes, we are having a big fight over the Keystone pipeline. The proponents of the pipeline point to the jobs created by building a pipeline as an important justification, even if the oil being pumped through the pipeline may cause enormous damage to the environment. According to the State Department’s analysis, building the pipeline would create 21,000 jobs for two years. This pipeline related jobs gain has been widely touted in the media and is supposed to make it difficult for many members of Congress to go along with President Obama in opposing Keystone.

Yet, the Fed can easily destroy ten times as many jobs with a set of interest rate hikes this year with its actions passing largely unnoticed. In fact, the impact of Fed interest rate hikes on jobs can easily be far larger than this 200,000 number. If the Fed decides that the unemployment rate should not fall below a certain level (5.4 percent is a number is often used), then it could be costing the economy millions of jobs if the economy could actually sustain a considerably lower level of unemployment as it did in the late 1990s.

To be clear, Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen and her colleagues on the Fed’s Open Market Committee (FOMC), the committee that determines interest rates, are not evil people sitting around figuring out how to ruin the lives of American workers. The Fed has a legal mandate to control inflation, in addition to its mandate to sustain high levels of unemployment. If they raise interest rates it will be because they fear inflationary pressures will build if they let the economy continue to grow and unemployment to fall.

But this is inevitably a judgment call. The call is based on both their assessment of the risk of inflation and also the relative harm from higher rates of inflation as opposed to higher rates of unemployment. It is likely that the members of the FOMC, who largely come from the financial industry, are much more concerned about inflation than the population as a whole. They are also likely to be less concerned about unemployment. These are people who tend to read about unemployment in the data, not to see it themselves or among their friends and family members.

This is why it is important that the public be paying attention to the Fed’s interest rate policies and let them know how they feel about raising interest rates to kill jobs. The Center for Popular Democracy has organized an impressive grassroots campaign around the Fed’s interest rate policies. Those who don’t want to see the government deliberately trying to kill jobs might want to join in.

This article originally appeared on CEPR.Net and on ourfuture.org on March 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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.

Good News for New York’s Tipped Workers: Your Minimum Wage is Going Up

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

 

in these timesNew York Governor Andrew Cuomo is no friend to labor, but this week his policies helped one of the most vulnerable segments of workers. On February 24, Commissioner of Labor Mario Musolino announced he would be following the earlier recommendation from the Wage Board to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers 50 percent to $7.50 an hour.

The move is the culmination of a process that began when Cuomo appointed the Wage Board last fall. Tipped workers were explicitly exempted from the 2013 minimum wage increase in New York state.

New York’s minimum wage for other workers is currently $8.75, and will be increasing to $9.00 on December 31. While servers are entitled to making at least that same minimum wage, with employers legally obligated to make up any shortfall, the law is often ignored. Cuomo says he would eventually like to see the state minimum wage increase to $10.50 and go as high as $11.50 in New York City.

While a big win for the hospitality industry as a whole, some groups are emphasizing the importance of the measure for women especially. According to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC United), a workers organization with groups around the country that has worked to eliminate the two-tier tips-no tips wage system altogether, 71 percent of servers in the food industry are female—workers who, because of the tipped system, often say they face high levels of sexual harassment on the job.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country—the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of ROC United, in a statement. Jayaraman said they would continue to work toward the elimination of the two-tiered system.

Seven states have eliminated the two tiered structure already.

The increase will help of thousands of workers. According to ROC’s statistics, one in three tipped workers are parents, one in six of those have children that qualify for free lunch, one in seven tipped workers relies on food stamps.

Tipped workers have been subject to a separate wage in New York since the Minimum Wage Law of 1937. Since then, tips have been taken into account so that employers could pay lower wages. Forty-two other states have a similar system.

This article originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on February 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Kevin is an educator and freelance writer in Chicago.

Executive Council Creates Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Image: Mike Hall“America’s legacy of racism and racial injustice has been and continues to be a fundamental obstacle to workers’ efforts to act together to build better lives for all of us,” says the AFL-CIO Executive Council in a statement announcing the creation of a Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice.

The statement, released today at the council’s winter meeting in Atlanta, acknowledges “an ugly history of racism in our own movement” and adds:

“Yet at the same time the labor movement has a proud history of standing for racial and economic justice. When we have embraced our better selves we have always emerged stronger in every sense. And whenever we have succumbed to the temptation to see some working people as better than others, we have always ended up weaker.”

Pointing to today’s dramatically increasing economic inequality, decreasing union density and growing instability for the majority of Americans, the council says, “The need for all workers to strengthen common interests in achieving economic justice is clear.”

“At the same time our different experiences organized around race, gender identity, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation often challenge and complicate this shared experience. If we are to succeed as a movement, the full range of working peoples’ voices must be heard in the internal processes of our movement. To be able to stand together we have to understand where all of us are coming from.”

The council points to the unemployment rate for African Americans—10.3%, more than twice as high as that for whites—the criminal justice system and educational inequities that are large parts of a “world divided in many ways by color lines.”

“At the same time working people share a common experience of falling wages and rising economic insecurity. To build a different, better economy we need power that can only come from unity and unity has to begin with having all our voices be heard, on all sides of those color lines. We have to start by acknowledging our own shortcomings and honestly addressing issues that are faced by the communities in which our members live—both the problems and the solutions. We have to find a way to see with each other’s eyes and address the facts and realities.”

The Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice will:

  • Facilitate a broad conversation with local labor leaders around racial and economic disparities and institutional biases, and identify ways to become more inclusive as the new entrants to the labor force diversify;
  • Engage in six to eight labor discussions around the country, with local labor leaders, constituency groups and young workers addressing racial and economic issues impacting the labor movement and offering recommendations for change; and
  • Attempt to create a safe, structured and constructive opportunity for local union leaders to discuss issues pertaining to the persistence of racial injustice today in the workforce and in their communities, and to ensure that the voices of all working people in the labor movement are heard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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 has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Tipped Workers Score A Victory In New York In Fight For Better Pay

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

Isaiah J. PooleTipped workers in New York state have won a major victory, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Hospitality Wage Board announce that their minimum wage, which had been frozen at $5 an hour, will be increased to $7.50 an hour starting December 31.

This order follows years of protest and campaigning by low-wage workers throughout the state, who have not seen an increase in the tipped wage since 2011.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for the thousands of New York women who have been demanding a more just and hospitable work environment in one of the fastest growing and largest economic sectors in the country – the restaurant industry,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, one of the organizations at the forefront of the mobilization effort. (Jayaraman received the 2014 Paul Wellstone Citizen Leadership Award from the Campaign for America’s Future.)

This increase will affect workers in restaurants, hotels and in occupations where workers are dependent on tips for a portion of their income.

The new tipped wage will still be below the $9 minimum wage for untipped workers that is scheduled to go into effect on December 31. (The state’s minimum wage today is $8.75.) And Jayaraman says she is going to keep pressing toward the workers’ ultimate goal, which is to eliminate the tipped minimum wage entirely and move toward “one fair wage.”

Cuomo has endorsed the wage board’s recommendation that the tipped wage be eliminated entirely. Seven states plus Guam have done away with the tipped minimum wage for most, if not all, workers. The biggest of these is California. (Montana has an exception for some small businesses.)

Ondre Johnson, a ROC-NY restaurant-worker member and attendee at today’s announcement, issued a statement that put today’s announcement in perspective. “Relying largely on tips not only affects my dignity but also interferes with my service to customers,” she wrote. “I have to fight for tips and to get tables. Tips vary from day to day and there are months in a year, especially during the winter-time, where there is no work available at all. And I’ve seen my female co-workers tolerate customers grabbing their legs, withholding tips till they get a server’s phone number, and worse in order to not ruin a tip.”

At least for now, the coming raise “will help me to have a decent life by giving me fair compensation for my hard work,” she wrote. But for her and millions of other workers, the struggle for fair pay and dignity is by no means over.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on February 24, 2015. 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.

TPP: Four Potential Partners Don’t Comply with International Labor Rights

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

charlie fanningA new AFL-CIO report released today finds that four nations that would be major players under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are out of compliance with international labor standards and, therefore, with the commitments they would undertake under the TPP. The report—The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Four Countries That Don’t Comply with U.S. Trade Laws—finds that workers in Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei face ongoing and systematic abuse and violations of workers’ rights with the complicity or direct involvement of the governments.

The Obama administration is pressing Congress to grant it Fast Track trade authority for the TPP, the largest Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in history. Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO is pressuring lawmakers to hold potential trading partners to comply with U.S. trade laws and international labor standards.

Under Fast Track, the public, lawmakers and others would have no input in a trade deal that would grant countries with troubling human and labor rights records greater trading privileges without having to first undertake fundamental reforms.

The highest labor standards the United States has embedded in FTAs require parties at a minimum to adopt and implement laws that protect the rights enshrined in the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

The report points out that previous FTAs have forced countries to compete on the basis of lowering labor costs and attracting business by ignoring, or in some cases actively interfering with, the fundamental labor rights.

By not requiring fundamental changes of these countries first, the TPP gives away leverage that could be used to protect workers and raise standards. If workers do not have the legal freedoms to act collectively, they will not be able to exert the power needed to raise wages, increase worker protections or gain the social policies necessary for the creation of a middle class and broadly shared prosperity.

Tell Congress to stop Fast Track on the TPP because we should not turn a blind eye to countries that abuse workers.

Here are just some of the ways the four nations violate these core labor standards:

 Mexico is currently facing a human and labor rights crisis. The recent disappearance of 43 students, now declared dead, from the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero, by local police and criminal gangs is a horrific example of violence, corruption and dissolution of the rule of law. Corruption, abuse and impunity are also root causes of the near absence of genuine industrial relations in Mexico, which artificially depresses wages and limits economic growth. Many workers are covered by collective agreements (“protection contracts”) they have never seen or ratified through a vote. When workers attempt to organize independent unions, employer-dominated unions respond with threats and intimidation. Further, child labor, forced labor and inhumane working conditions exist on farms that export fresh produce into the United States, which is then sold at major retailers, including Walmart and Safeway.

 Malaysia has grave problems with forced labor and human trafficking, especially in the electronics, garment and palm oil sector, which also contains child labor. Malaysia currently has the lowest possible ranking—tier 3—in the U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, meaning the government “does not fully comply with the minimum standards and is not making significant efforts to do so.” Because of this pervasive exploitation, virtually everyone who regularly uses electronics in the United States has come in contact with forced labor. Some of the most recognizable electronics brands source components from Malaysia, where about 28% of electronics workers toil in conditions of forced labor.

Vietnam has an authoritarian government that tightly controls political rights, freedom of speech and other civil liberties. The government maintains a prohibition on independent human rights organizations and other civil society groups and restricts union activity outside the official unions affiliated with the Communist Party of Vietnam’s Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL), which actually controls the union registration process. Vietnam also has significant problems with forced labor and child labor in the production of bricks and garments,  Many of the clothes produced in Vietnam contain textiles from small workshops subcontracted to larger factories. These workshops frequently use child labor, including forced labor involving the trafficking of children from rural areas into cities.

Brunei is ruled by a repressive regime and offers few human rights protections. Last year, the sultan of Brunei, whose family has ruled Brunei for more than six centuries, imposed a strict penal code based on Sharia law. The Islamic criminal law includes punishments such as flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as adultery, alcohol consumption and homosexuality. Under emergency measures in place for 65 years, freedom of speech is severely limited and the country’s legislature has a limited role. Further, the government prohibits strikes, and the law makes no explicit provision for the right to collective bargaining.

This article originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research Coordinator at AFL CIO

Fox News commentator 'appalled' by Patricia Arquette's call for equal pay

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

Laura ClawsonAccepting the Oscar for best supporting actress, Patricia Arquette gave a shout out to equal pay, saying:

“To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights. It is our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”

Social media lit up, mostly in approval, though some noted that her use of the term “citizen” excluded many immigrants. But that was not Fox News contributor Stacey Dash’s problem with Arquette’s statement:

“I was appalled. I could not believe it. I mean, first of all, Patricia Arquette needs to do her history. In 1963, Kennedy passed an equal pay law. It’s still in effect. I didn’t get the memo that I didn’t have any rights.”

Because “not quite equal rights” and “not any rights at all” are exactly the same thing. And a law calling for equal pay is all you need, even if in reality, women earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, and even if you work—as Patricia Arquette does—in an industry where recently leaked emails showed women being paid far less than their male counterparts.

This article originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011. Laura at Daily Kos

Walmart Will Raise Its Minimum Wage To $10 An Hour

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Bryce CovertOn Thursday, Walmart announced that it will raise all of its full-time and part-time employees’ pay to at least $9 an hour starting in April. The lowest wage will rise to $10 an hour by February of next year.

In a press release, it said it is also raising pay for the compensation range for each position, and all told says that about 500,000 employees will see a raise from the changes. It also says the raises will mean its average hourly wage for full-time workers will increase from $12.85 to $13 an hour and the average for part-time workers will increase from $9.48 to $10 an hour.

It also promised that workers “will have more control over their schedules.” The wage increases will cost more than $1 billion this fiscal year.

In announcing the changes, CEO Doug McMillon acknowledged some of the criticism that the company has sacrificed customer loyalty because of its pay practices. “We have work to do to grow the business. We know what customers want from a shopping experience, and we’re investing strategically to exceed their expectations and better position Walmart for the future,” he said. “We’re strengthening investments in our people to engage and inspire them to deliver superior customer experiences.”

The company, which is the nation’s largest employer, has long come under fire for its low pay. While the company has said that it pays most workers above the minimum wage, it has also admitted in the past that the majority of its employees make under $25,000 a year. One study from 2013 of a single store in Wisconsin found that its pay was so low that workers consumed about $1 million in public benefits to get by.

Workers have repeatedly gone on strike over the past three years to demand higher pay, better scheduling, and the right to unionize. They have called for the store’s wage floor to rise to at least $15 an hour. Thursday’s announcement also comes after so many states raised their minimum wages above the federal $7.25 level that a third of Walmart stores had to raise their base wages anyway.

In an emailed statement, Emily Wells, a leader of the worker organizing group Our Walmart, said, “We are so proud that by standing together we won raises for 500,000 Walmart workers, whose families desperately need better pay and regular hours from the company we make billions for. We know that this wouldn’t have happen without our work to stand together with hundreds of thousands of supporters to change the country’s largest employer. The company is addressing the very issues that we have been raising about the low pay and erratic scheduling, and acknowledging how many of us are being paid less than $10 an hour, and many workers like me, are not getting the hours we need.” But she added, “Especially without a guarantee of getting regular hours, this announcement still falls short of what American workers need to support our families. With $16 billion in profits and $150 billion in wealth for the owners, Walmart can afford to provide the good jobs that Americans need – and that means $15 an hour, full-time, consistent hours and respect for our hard work.”

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on February 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media

 

Why the New Law Combating Wage Theft in Chicago is a Big Deal

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

in these timesIn a win for local workers, last week Illinois’s Cook County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed what workers’ advocates say is one of the strongest ordinances to combat wage theft to date in the U.S.

The Cook County Wage Theft Ordinance aims to punish companies guilty of shortchanging their workers by taking away lucrative county contracts and various tax incentives. Unscrupulous employers can steal from their workers in a number of ways, including not paying a minimum wage, incorrectly classifying employees as contractors, stealing tips and not paying overtime. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the ordinance would be a model for similar legislation nationwide.

The ordinance uses the economic leverage of the county to remove economic incentives from employers who steal wages. Businesses convicted of wage theft could risk losing their business licenses, as well as being barred from receiving contracts with the county and property tax incentives for a period of five years.

In 2013, Arise had success passing a similar ordinance in Chicago (which is located in Cook County). Under that ordinance, companies convicted of wage theft would have their business licenses revoked. After the success of that campaign, according to Adam Kader, director at Arise’s Worker Center, they wanted to explore what could happen at the county level. A major campaign this summer surrounding Source Interlink, Kader says, sped things up.

“It showed in a dramatic way, to elected officials, why wage theft is a fact that merits attention,” says Kader.

When Source Interlink, a magazine publishing company, shut down its McCook, Illinois, distribution center without notice on May 30, over 200 workers were left with no work or severance pay. The Illinois Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Ac requires large companies to provide 60 days’ notice about the layoffs, but Source Interlink did not. Arise supported the workers in finding new employment and in a class action lawsuit to recover their 60 days’ worth of wages against Source Interlink.

Arise also brought the issue to the attention of Jeffery Tobolski who, in addition to being a county commissioner, is the Mayor of McCook. Tobolski said that wage theft was a growing problem in Cook County that hurt both workers and law abiding businesses.

“Many businesses are targeting low wage workers,” he says, “who lack either the sophistication or the resources to adequately defend themselves.”

The language of the ordinance was the result of collaboration between Arise and the Board of Commissioners. Arise worked with Tobolski’s and Preckwinkle’s staffs to turn what was Arise’s concept into a functioning law.

“This was actually a collaborative effort. This wasn’t like Arise came in with demands and had to fight the county over it,” says Kader. “This was truly a community partnership.”

Aside from covering a greater geographic area than the previous wage theft law, the Cook County ordinance is larger in scope as well, going beyond business licenses and impacting the potential profits of dishonest businesses.

It received overwhelming support from the Board of Commissioners, including President Preckwinkle.

“In a sense, this is the least controversial law ever,” says Kader. “This is saying, ‘If you violate laws, you’re not going to get other public benefits.’ ”

Wage theft is a problem with large amounts of money at stake, especially for low-wage workers. In 2008, a joint study by the Center for Urban Economic Development, the National Employment Law Project, and the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment found that nearly 60 percent of the surveyed workers had experienced some sort of wage violation. The violations included examples of not receiving overtime pay, breaks shorter than legally required, and being paid below the minimum wage.

The study concluded that “many employment and labor laws are regularly and systematically violated, impacting a significant part of the low-wage labor force in the nation’s largest cities.”

More recently, the Economic Policy Institute published a study in an attempt to gauge the amount of money workers lose due to wage theft. In 2012, the study surveyed the departments of labor or attorneys general offices of nine states, and found those institutions had recovered nearly $1 billion in stolen wages. The study suggested increasing the penalties for wage theft violations, noting that the maximum civil penalty is just $1,100.

In recent years, states and local governments have made some progress in setting stricter fines for violators, and stricter penalties for repeat offenders. Cook County’s ordinance, by using the carrot and stick of county contracts—as well as applying to first time violators—is the harshest in the nation thus far, and should serve as a benchmark for future campaigns.

“The legislation passed today will make Cook County a national leader in targeting wage theft,” said Preckwinkle.

This article originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on February 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Kevin is an educator and freelance writer in Chicago.

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