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The Civil Rights Act – looking back, looking ahead

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

CELAVoiceThe Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed equal treatment in the workplace, in public facilities, and in public accommodations, regardless of race, religion, ethnicity or sex.  Equality was not the norm in 1964.  Remembering where we started may provide hope and inspiration for the next fifty years.

This is the first of a two part posting: first, a history we have lived, second, imagining and planning for the future.

 

Looking Back – Part 1

By beginning with a look at the United States of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, we can better appreciate the magnitude of the changes we have experienced.  There and then were the conditions which the Civil Rights Act was meant to address.  The United States Supreme Court struck down segregated schools and the doctrine of “separate but equal” public facilities, only in 1954.  A year later, the Court called for dismantling segregated public schools with “all deliberate speed.”   In practice, communities and states intent on resisting the required changes made much of “deliberate” at the expense of “speed.”

In 1960, as part of the Wilmington, Delaware school district’s long delayed preparation for desegregation, I, with a few classmates, had a chance to visit the black school about six blocks from our own.  The only apparent equal part was the architectural plan.  The two schools had the same floor plans.  Even as an eleven year old, I could see that the black school had almost no books, that the sandstone bricks were crumbling, the toilets broken and foul.  By contrast, my own school had well maintained granite, a fully stocked library, plenty of classroom supplies and materials, clean and functioning lavatories.

The lack of adequate facilities and the open lie of “separate but equal” were but the tip of the iceberg of de jure segregation.  Our country had opportunities only for a select few.  We did not tolerate differences.  We murdered those who challenged the assigned order.   State sponsored and state enforced racial separation — combined with political disenfranchisement, and an economic and social caste system — was violent, brutal, and unremitting.   In the Summer of 1964, the world witnessed the terrorism supporting American segregation in the murders of James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner.

Lynchings, counted in the thousands, were carried out over generations, not only in the South, but throughout the country.  “Race riots”, actually pogroms and massacres of entire communities, terrorized people of color.  The ferocity of racial as well as ethnic violence characterized and defined American society in the first half of the twentieth century.

Pervasive discrimination was not limited to African Americans.  Universities had quotas for Jews, Catholics, and other minorities.  Large corporations, law firms, hospitals would not consider ethnic minorities for hire.  Women had limited rights to own property.   Gays were invisible. In quantitative terms, almost two-thirds of our country’s people suffered discrimination.  Freedom and opportunity were reserved for members of a small and privileged class consisting almost exclusively of economically fortunate, white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant men.    The norm, the life experienced by most people, included closed doors, hatred, persecution, and violence.

When we hear the stories of individuals we can begin to understand the extent and severity of discrimination in the mid-twentieth century United States.  From my own family stories: a young woman limited to secretarial work for men who were far less talented than she, a high school girl learning from her admired father that his field of work was closed to all women, a man who died unable to tell his family of his love for another human being, a woman hospitalized for “hysteria” as she came to terms with her love of another woman, an entire family whose parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins were slaughtered after the United States refused them safe haven from Nazi genocide.

There are few in my generation, coming of age in the 1960’s, who do not know such stories.  The details may vary. The story tellers may be Asian, Hispanic, African American, Irish, Native American. Regardless of one’s origins, America of the early and middle twentieth century held up the torch of liberty and opportunity while unapologetically shutting doors and crushing hopes.

Discrimination and violence strike deeply.  At its core, discrimination is a disregard and disrespect of another person’s humanity.  It is an expression of contempt and hatred.  When we suffer discrimination, the pain stays with us for years.  It is felt for generations.  When we engage in discrimination, when we tolerate contempt and hatred, and when we acquiesce in violence, we rend the fabric of our communities.  We corrupt our souls.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, at the time of its passage, represented our country’s highest aspirations in the face of social and political realities far different than our Constitution’s promises.  The ongoing success of that legislation is all around us. Women and minorities have entered the workplace.  Many have risen to positions of prominence.  People with physical and emotional challenges are emerging from the shadows of dependence and isolation.  We are beginning to understand the waste of human potential and the pain we inflict in denying and demonizing love and sexuality.  We have made room for a true diversity of spiritual beliefs and practices.

But we can’t take our progress for granted.  As we try to imagine the challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years, an appreciation of how far we have come may help us choose compassion over misplaced caution and progress over the next iteration of “all deliberate speed.”

We now have a chance to be on the right side of history.  In my next post, I will discuss how we might get there.

This blog originally appeared in CELAvoice.org on October 7,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/marvin-krakow/

About the author: Marvin Krakow (B.A., Yale, 1970, J.D. Yale, 1974), a founding partner of Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, focuses on discrimination based on race, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnicity, wrongful termination of employment, civil rights, and class actions. He has won seven, and eight figure results. He helps victims of sexual harassment and rape, and represents whistle blowers. He argued landmark cases before the California Supreme Court, Loder v. City of Glendale and Superior Court v. Department of Health Services (McGinnis).

Pelosi Is Right: We Shouldn’t Have To Wait For A Minimum Wage Increase

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Isaiah J. PooleAdvocates for workers have declared today “Minimum Wage Day,” as the 10th day of the 10th month calls attention to the demand for an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, from the current $7.25.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi marked the day by calling on Congress to drop its campaigning and come back to Washington to vote on a minimum wage increase, as well as an authorization for combat operations against the Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria.

The Hill reported:

“The American people deserve an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy and well-connected,” Pelosi said Friday during a press call. “So urgent is this that I think we should come back [to Washington] before the elections.”

That is unlikely to happen, given that the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress have actually gone out of their way to block consideration of a minimum wage increase. But in this case there is a difference between a demand being unrealistic and being unreasonable.

There is real urgency to the need for low-income workers to see an increase in their wages. The federal wage has not increased since 2009, when the latest in a series of increases that started in 2007 took effect. Since then, to quote a group of former lawmakers who wrote a joint op-ed in USA Today, “Groceries cost 20% more, a gallon of gas costs 25%more, and average tuition at a community college increased 44%. But the minimum wage remains at $7.25. If it had kept up with inflation since 1968, it would be almost $10.70 today.”

Who were these lawmakers, by the way? Four Republican former members of Congress: Jack Quinn, Mike Castle, Steve LaTourette and Connie Morella. But these Republicans aren’t cut from the conservative extremist cloth that has now blinded their party’s leadership. They get, as do most of the American public, that you don’t grow an economy by holding down wages, by keeping people who are the backbone of our economy in a state of chronic subsistence and struggle.

Yet on the same day that many Democrats and moderate Republicans are calling on lawmakers to act on increasing the minimum wage comes news that one of the heroes of the tea-party Republicanism, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, sees no problem in holding workers down to $7.25 an hour.

According to The Huffington Post, 100 of the state’s workers filed a complaint with the state Department of Workforce Development last month saying that the wages they received in their jobs – at or just above the federal $7.25 minimum – are in violation of the state’s living wage law, which requires wages “be adequate to permit any employee to maintain herself or himself in minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being.”

The state’s response? “The Department has determined that there is no reasonable cause to believe that the wages paid to the complainants are not a living wage.”

No reason to believe, they say, despite the experience of 700,000 workers who, according to a report done in conjunction with the Economic Policy Institute, earn “poverty wages” in Wisconsin. A “poverty wage” in Wisconsin is $11.36 an hour, according to the report – the point below which a full-time worker cannot keep a family of four above the poverty line. The median age of a worker working poverty wages is 30, and 60 percent of the people in this group are women.

Walker and the federal lawmakers who hew to his right-wing ideology are willing to go all out to protect the profit margins of big corporations and the über-wealthy, but feel no urgency to address the wage stagnation and real suffering of working people.

But for millions of us next month’s rent will come due in about three weeks, and the utility bills and perhaps a car payment, student loan bill or a health insurance premium on top of that. Those bills won’t wait. Neither will election day, when members of Congress should be held to account for not acting with urgency toward – and in fact getting in the way of – an increase in the minimum wage.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on October 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141010/pelosi-is-right-we-shouldnt-have-to-wait-for-a-minimum-wage-increase

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.

Two Leading Labor Activists Receive Global Recognition for Work

Monday, October 13th, 2014

0ba2540[1]Activists’ hard work fighting for workers’ rights often goes unrecognized. This week, however, two leading labor activists received global recognition for their defense of vulnerable workers and innovative organizing and advocacy campaigns. The AFL-CIO applauds our long-standing partners Kailash Satyarthi and Alejandra Ancheita.

Kailash Satyarthi won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to eradicate child labor and forced labor. In 1998, Satyarthi created the Global March Against Child Labor, a coalition of unions and child rights organizations from around the world, to work toward elimination of child labor. Global March members and partners are now in more than 140 countries. See Solidarity Center post below:

Kailash Satyarthi, Solidarity Center Ally, Wins Nobel

Labor and human rights activist and longtime Solidarity Center ally Kailash Satyarthi has won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel committee announced this morning. He shares the prestigious award with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who survived a brutal 2012 Taliban attack for her stance on girls’ education.

As a grassroots activist, Satyarthi has led the rescue of more than 78,500 child laborers and survived numerous attempts on his life as a result. As a PBS profile describes Satyarthi’s work: “His original idea was daring and dangerous. He decided to mount raids on factories—factories frequently manned by armed guards—where children and often entire families were held captive as bonded workers.”

Solidarity Center Asia Regional Director Tim Ryan said, “Kailash’s lifetime commitment to the cause of eradicating child labor is an inspiration to every human rights defender around the world to promote the rights of the most vulnerable, the most economically exploited young workers, and the paramount importance of finding ways to secure basic education for all children around the world.”

Satyarthi’s decades of work to end exploitive child labor has encompassed advocacy for decent work and working conditions for adults, including domestic workers, because impoverished families must often make the difficult choice of sending their children to work for the sake of family survival.

“Child labor is a largely neglected, ignored, denied aspect of human rights,” Satyarthi told the Solidarity Center in a recent interview. “This is crime against humanity and is unacceptable in any civilized society.”

Alejandra Ancheita, a Mexican human rights lawyer and executive director of the human rights organization ProDESC, received the prestigious Martin Ennals Award. Ancheita and ProDESC have fought for 15 years to protect land and labor rights of indigenous groups and Mexican workers from transnational mining and energy companies. ProDESC has collaborated closely with Los Mineros and United Steelworkers on organizing campaigns at Excellon in Durango and Goldcorp in Guerrero, and has also worked with the AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center on the defense of migrant workers’ human rights.

This blog originally appeared n AFL-CIO.org on October 10,2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Two-Leading-Labor-Activists-Receive-Global-Recognition-for-Work

 

Nurse's Role Protecting Healthcare Law More Critical than Ever

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Dian PalmerIt’s already October and we are in full swing organizing, educating and mobilizing for Election Day. I am sure many of you are too with so much hanging in the balance!

Again, nurses find themselves in the familiar role of protecting and defending the ?Affordable Care Act. More and more evidence backs up what nurses already know–the healthcare law works. Thanks to the law, the number of uninsured Americans is expected to decline by nearly half from 45 million in 2012 to 23 million by 2023, according to a recent report from CMS actuaries. A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation further shows the healthcare law is not only working for the millions who have coverage now, especially parents, but it is also working for the nation by slowing down spending on healthcare costs.

Nonetheless, the successes of the healthcare law does not mean the “Party of No” has given up on making Obamacare a polarizing issue in the midterm elections. Make sure you check out the 2014 Healthcare Law SEIU Member GOTV Toolkit to use for member outreach and education in advance of the election.

This blog originally appeared in SEIU.org on October 9, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/10/nurses-role-protecting-healthcare-law-more-critica.php

About the author: Dian Palmer has been a nurse for 25 years, and a member of SEIU for 17 years. “Before I joined SEIU, I was disgusted by the numerous abuses suffered as healthcare providers. We were forced to work for seven days in a row, required to do double-shifts, and had no voice in the workplace. I organized my workplace not for better wages, but because as a way to counter the abuses. Before SEIU, I thought we just had to deal with the hand we were dealt, joining a union gave us a voice and a platform to stand up for ourselves.”

Palmer is actively involved in improving working conditions and patient care. Currently, she is President of SEIU Healthcare Wisconsin and an Executive Board Member of SEIU. She is a member of the Milwaukee Chapter Black Nurses Association, and a Governor’s Appointee to the State of Wisconsin Minimum Wage Task Force. In addition, she serves as a member of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Board, the UWHCA Public Authority Board of Directors and the Wisconsin Citizen Action Board of Directors.

The Deficit Is Falling, But Where Are The Jobs?

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

Isaiah J. PooleThe deficit scolds are getting what they wanted: Today the Congressional Budget Office announced that the federal deficit for this fiscal year is the lowest it has been for any year in the Obama presidency – $486 billion, or 2.8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

The rest of us, though, aren’t getting what we were promised. Conservatives have repeatedly told us that cutting federal spending, and reducing deficits, would unleash economic growth and create jobs. Instead, what we have to show for it is a languid economy at best, with only enough jobs for half the people who are unemployed and looking for work.

Economic growth is weak enough that the Federal Reserve, at its September meeting, agreed that it was not ready to signal that an interest rate increase would come soon, for fear of further hindering economic growth. “[I]t would be prudent to err on the side of patience while awaiting further evidence of sustained progress toward the Committee’s goals,” the Federal Open Market Committee said in its September meeting minutes. It added that “the costs of downside shocks to the economy would be larger than those of upside shocks” because it would be easier for the Fed to withdraw future stimulative efforts than to add them.

The evidence keeps piling up that the bipartisan consensus that we needed to focus on deficit reduction instead of full employment was disastrously wrong. Following that consensus has worked for Wall Street and the 1 percent – with the only stimulus to the economy being the Fed’s asset-buying program – “quantitative easing” – and near-zero interest rates, equity prices have risen to record levels. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which before the 2008 crash peaked at 14,164, today closed at 16,994, an almost 20 percent increase. That’s good if you own stocks, but if you’re a working-class American, what really counts is that your wages have been flat. In fact, when you account for the disappearance of high-wage jobs and the proliferation of low-wage ones, workers have seen an average decline in wages of 23 percent. Plus, with corporations focusing on boosting their stock price instead of rewarding their workers for their productivity with improved wages and benefits, there has not been the level of consumer spending that encourages a virtuous cycle of more hiring to keep up with consumer demand.

The shame is that we could have gotten the same news of a lower deficit from the CBO through a much better route. Nick Bunker at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth cites economists Paul Krugman and Brad DeLong, and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, as three of the powerful voices saying that the United States should have taken advantage of low interest rates and low inflation to spend heavily on infrastructure – and create jobs.

Summers and DeLong, Bunker writes, argue that “all expansionary fiscal policy can be self-financing—not only infrastructure spending but also other forms of government spending and transfers. … [C]urrent fiscal policy that quickly puts the economy back toward its long-run potential will be paid for by the future output it created.”

In other words, spending to put people to work on projects that support the future growth of the economy more than pay for themselves in the long run – including by tangibly lowering the federal deficit through growth. On the other hand, high unemployment is an economic cost, and slashing the budget in a mindless pursuit of low deficits does not erase those costs.

The news of a low deficit may have quieted the deficit scolds, but their flawed ideology has not gone away. Far from it. That’s why it’s important that we get the story straight, and tell it straight to people who will be voting in November.

This blog originally appeared in OurFuture.org on October 8, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141008/the-deficit-is-falling-but-where-are-the-jobs

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.

The Phony Jobs Report Hype, A Very Sick Economy & Millions of Workers Who Don’t Count

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

jonathan-tasiniThis was almost predictable: the traditional media, and too many bloggers who regurgitate what they read in the traditional media, are buying into the “rebound” in the economy because of today’s Labor Department report; the stock market goes up; and, I’m certain, pretty soon, the White House will be taking credit for all this and, subtly or not so subtly, arguing that, see, aren’t we great, vote for us. It’s nonsense. So, here is the visual to remember:

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That chart does not reflect the 5.9 percent number being touted today–but the point is still the same: we have a very sick economy where people cannot find meaningful, solid, decent-paying work and are dropping out of the workforce. As Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research points out, in an email just landing in my inbox:

“…there was no change in the employment-to-population ratio which remained fixed at 59.0 percent. In fact, labor force participation fell by 0.3 percentage points for white men in September and 0.2 percentage points for white women.”

Even the centrist, Clinton-Administration-in-waiting-awash-in-corporate-donations, free-market-cheerleaders, the Center for American Progress said yesterday:

“Policymakers and pundits have taken far too much comfort in the decline in the headline unemployment rate. The extent to which unemployment has dropped depends on how it’s measured, especially in this recovery. The typical measure, called U-3 by economists, is pretty restrictive: It counts the percentage of people who are actively looking for work but cannot find it. There are other, broader measures we can look at. Perhaps the most complete picture, called U-6, includes marginally attached workers—those who have looked for work recently but are not looking currently—and those working part time who would prefer full-time work. U-6 is always higher than U-3, but it has gotten a lot higher since the recession, and the gap has been essentially unchanged since January.”

And:

“Another reason that the traditional unemployment rate is less informative about the overall health of the labor market is the fact that today the number of long-term unemployed, while down sharply from its postrecession peak, is still almost 50 percent higher than its highest prerecession level on record. There are still 3 million Americans who have been unemployed for half a year or longer and are still actively searching for work. Thirty-three percent of all unemployed fall into this long-term unemployed category. The average length of time someone has spent unemployed is about seven-and-a-half months, almost double what it was before the recession.[emphasis added]”

Back to Dean Baker:

“The number of people involuntarily employed part-time by fell 174,000 to 7,103,000. This is extraordinarily high given the unemployment rate. The number of people choosing to work part time rose slightly and now stands 642,000 above its year-ago level. This presumably is the result of people taking advantage of Obamacare and getting insurance through the exchanges or expanded Medicaid rather than their employers.[emphasis added]”

So, this means: A persistent, large core of workers–real people–are in part-time jobs because they can’t find full-time work. This is a trend that goes back way before the financial crisis. It is, in fact, the result of a conscious corporate decision to REDUCE the number of full-time, good-paying jobs, and to work off of part-time workers.

It means more people have dropped out of the job market, over time, because it’s just too damn depressing to look for real, meaningful, stable work.

What really has happened here is that the frame has shifted. For example, when elites, including Democrats, talk about “full employment”, they mean 5.5 percent or so–which, back in the day, would be seen as unconscionably high; full employment, at worse, was pegged at 4 percent (and could probably go a bit lower).

But, there is an acceptance of a certain level of desperation now and exploitation that would have been seen as immoral say 30-40 years ago.

In my opinion, it is much more helpful, for the sake of long-term political chance, to challenge the chatter of these jobs reports, pointing out the realities facing millions of people.

The economy is very sick because people can’t make a decent living. This is not recovery.

This blog originally appeared in Workinglife.org on October 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.workinglife.org/2014/10/03/the-phony-jobs-report-hype-a-very-sick-economy-millions-of-workers-who-dont-count/.

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

Amazon Wage Theft Case Comes Before The Supreme Court

Monday, October 6th, 2014

Dave JohnsonPicture this: You are supposedly “off work” but every day after the end of your shift you have to wait in a line for up to 25 minutes to get “checked” to see if you are stealing things. The Supreme Court is going to decide if you should be paid for your time. This is part of the larger issue of “wage theft.”

The Roberts Supreme Court is notorious for siding with big corporations over regular Americans. Now they are going to hear a case involving Amazon warehouse workers who are required to check out from “paid time” but then wait up to 25 minutes to go through a screening to see if they are stealing. Who is stealing from whom?

Bloomberg News has the story, in “Amazon Workers Take Security-Line Woes to Supreme Court”:

Jesse Busk spent a 12-hour shift rushing inventory through an Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in Nevada to meet quotas. His day wasn’t over, though.

After clocking out, Busk and hundreds of other workers went through an airport-style screening process, including metal detectors, to make sure they weren’t stealing from the Web retailer. Getting through the line often took as long as 25 minutes, uncompensated, he and others employed there say.

“They did it on my time,” Busk, 37, of Henderson, Nevada, said in an interview. “If people are stuck in your building and they’re not allowed to leave, why don’t you go ahead and pay them?”

Wage Theft Is Big Money

This is not small potatoes. In the case of just one company – Amazon – up to 400,000 workers could get back wages amounting to $100 million. Nationally wage theft is about serious money. Click this chart for the full story from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

snapshot-wage-theft-04-02-2014a.png[1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the thing. If the Roberts court sides with Amazon, businesses will feel free to increase the ways they get time and work out of workers without paying them. Already, according to Bloomberg, “Apple Inc., CVS Health Corp., J.C. Penney Co., TJX Cos. and Ross Stores Inc. are all battling court claims involving searches at break times or the end of shifts at distribution centers or stores.”

Wage theft can take several forms, including but not limited to:

  • Employees denied overtime pay.
  • Employees paid less than minimum wage.
  • Employees forced to work off the clock without pay.
  • Employees misclassified as independent contractors.
  • Employees forced to put in “volunteer” time.
  • Illegal deductions taken from pay.
  • Employees denied breaks.
  • Employees denied promised vacation pay.
  • Employees denied promised sick pay.
  • Tips stolen from workers.

Wage theft does not just hit low-wage employees. Several Silicon Valley companies are being sued for conspiring to keep wages low through an agreement to refuse to hire employees from the other conspirators. This kept competition for the employees down, which kept wages lower than they otherwise would have been.

The Labor Department caught LinkedIn shorting salespeople’s compensation and made them pay $3 million in back wages and $2.5 million in damages.

A few wage theft resources:

EPI report, “An Epidemic of Wage Theft Is Costing Workers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars a Year.”

OurFuture.org, “Wage Theft Is Much More Common Than You Think.”

WageTheft.org

Wage Theft at Interfaith Worker Justice

The National Employment Law Project

This blog originally appeared in OurFuture.org on October 6, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141006/amazon-wage-theft-case-before-supreme-court

About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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

Monday, October 6th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kish-Kevin-2011-04[1]

 

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

63 Million

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

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

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

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

wcms_306034[1]

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

wcms_306061[2]

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

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

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

wcms_306097[3]

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

wcms_306111[4]

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

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

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

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

wcms_306117[5]

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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