Archive for the ‘worker’s rights’ Category
Monday, May 20th, 2013
If you don’t already know, the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), a/k/a Obama Care, does not take effect all at once. (I say “if you don’t already know,” because a recent poll shows that 42% of Americans are unaware that Obama Care is currently the law of the land).
Title I of the Act, which is considered one of the most controversial parts of the Act, does not take effect until next year. Once it takes effect, employers may not make employment decisions based on an employee’s health care decisions. Employers will, of course, make decisions that impact employees negatively, because the ACA will increase employers’ costs and responsibilities associated with health care. This is why employees need to be aware of their new rights.
You have probably heard about the many employers who have started cutting employee hours to evade having to comply with Obama Care. If you’re one of them, you’re out of luck. The law doesn’t protect you yet.
Starting on January 1, 2014, an employer may not retaliate against you based upon your health care selections. Specifically, an employer cannot terminate, demote, discipline, intimidate, threaten, deny benefits or promotion, reduce pay or hours, blacklist, or fail to hire an employee based on the fact that the employee:
- Provided information relating to any violation of Title I of the ACA, or any act that he or she reasonably believed to be a violation of Title I of the ACA to the employer, the Federal Government, or the attorney general of a state;
- Testified, assisted, or participated in a proceeding concerning a violation of Title I of the ACA, or is about to do so;
- Objected to or refused to participate in any activity that he or she reasonably believed to be in violation of Title I of the ACA; or
- Received a credit under section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 or a cost sharing reduction under section 1402 of the ACA.
If an employer retaliates against you for engaging in any of these activities after January 1, 2014, you may file a complaint with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration(“OSHA”). OSHA has a broad range of powers to help employees combat the “evildoer” employers, including the powers of investigation, enforcement, negotiation, settlement, and the ability to award damages. The employee’s first, and critical step, is to file a claim with OSHA within 180 days from the date of retaliation.
Unlike most employment discrimination cases, the standard for proving retaliation in these cases is much more employee-friendly. You only need to demonstrate you had a reasonable belief that the employer was retaliating against you. Further, you will only need to provide evidence that your health care decision was a factor in the retaliation, not the only factor in retaliation. Hopefully, employers will have a much more difficult time defending against these types of discrimination cases. With any luck, this will deter them from violating the ACA in the first place.
This article was originally printed on Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home on May 10, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Ryan Price is an Associate Attorney at Donna M. Ballman, P.A., Employment Advocacy Attorneys.
Wednesday, May 15th, 2013
In most workplaces, it’s common to see a poster somewhere public – like a shared lunchroom – notifying employees of their workplace rights on issues such as equal opportunity and health and safety. Most workplaces don’t, however, have posters notifying employees of their rights (e.g. to form a union) under the National Labor Relations Act. And after a D.C. Circuit Court ruling this week, this seems depressingly unlikely to change anytime soon.
The NLRB tried to fix this in 2011 with a rule requiring employers to post an informational notice in the workplace. Not surprisingly, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce of other corporate-backed groups challenged the rule and delayed its implementation.
On Tuesday, the D.C. Circuit Court (known for its pro-business bias) put the final nail in the coffin and struck down the rule.
This decision is undoubtedly bad for workers.
For a sliver of optimism about the future of the labor movement, check out Harold Myerson’s May 8th op-ed in the Washington Post.
This article was originally posted on SEIU on May 10, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.
Author: SEIU Communications
Friday, December 21st, 2012
In the aftermath of the California Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court(2012) 53 Cal.4th 1004 (Brinker), employers and non-exempt employees are still hashing out the implications of the clarified meal and rest period requirements. In April, Bryan Schwartz Law discussed the implications of that case on this blog, which can be found here: California Supreme Court’s Long-Awaited Brinker Decision.
Last week, in Bradley v. Networkers International, LLC (December 12, 2012) —Cal. Rptr.3d —, 2012 WL 6182473, the California Court of Appeal in San Diego addressed a common problem in meal and rest period cases: where an employer has no compliant meal and rest period policies that are distributed to employees. This case makes clear that a lack of a meal or rest period policy can provide sufficient commonality for class certification, which is a significant victory for plaintiffs.
While the Brinker case was pending, a number of cases appealed to the Supreme Court were granted review and held, pending the decision in Brinker. Among the cases relegated to judicial limbo was Bradley v. Networkers International, Inc. (Feb. 5, 2009, D052365). In Bradley, three plaintiffs filed a class action complaint against Networkers International, LLC, alleging violations of California’s wage and hour laws including nonpayment of overtime and failure to provide rest breaks and meal periods. The plaintiffs moved to certify the class, which requires that they “demonstrate the existence of an ascertainable and sufficiently numerous class, a well-defined community of interest, and substantial benefits from certification that render proceeding as a class superior to the alternatives.” Brinker, 53 Cal.4th at 1021. The court determined that the plaintiffs did not demonstrate that common factual and legal questions would predominate over the individual issues and denied class certification. The plaintiffs appealed, but the decision was upheld by the California Court of Appeal.
Plaintiffs appealed to the California Supreme Court, which granted petition for review but held the case for over three years until Brinker was resolved. After issuing their decision in Brinker, the California Supreme Court remanded Bradleyto the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, with directions to vacate its decision on class certification and reconsider the case in light of the Brinker decision.
Before getting to the recent decision from the Fourth Appellate District, a little background is useful. A common fight between employers and employees arises when an employer classifies its employees as “independent contractors,” as opposed to employees. True independent contractors have control over the terms and conditions of their employment and are not subject to California wage and hour protections including overtime and meal and rest periods. Employees, on the other hand, remain under their employer’s control during their working hours and are protected by California’s wage and hour laws. The employee versus independent contractor issue has been a battleground for years in the employment law arena and California courts have developed numerous criteria to assess whether an individual is truly an independent contractor or an employee.
In the recent Bradley case, the three plaintiffs alleged that they were misclassified as independent contractors, and should instead have been treated as employees. All three of the plaintiffs worked for Networkers. Each of the plaintiffs was required to sign an “independent contractor agreement,” which stated that each was an independent contractor rather than an employee. As such, plaintiffs did not receive overtime pay or meal or rest periods. However, contrary to the terms of the agreement, the plaintiffs alleged that they were treated as employees and were subject to the same employment policies.
Networkers argued that plaintiffs’ motion to certify the class should be denied because the case did not involve common questions of fact or law, and therefore, resolution of the case would require mini-trials for each plaintiff. Although the court agreed with Networkers on the first go-around, after the Brinker decision, the court agreed with plaintiffs on all but one cause of action.
The Court of Appeal’s Decision on Remand
Because Networkers applied consistent companywide policies applicable to all employees regarding scheduling, payments, and work requirements, those policies could be analyzed on a class-wide basis. The court would not need to assess them with respect to each potential class member. In analyzing whether class certification was appropriate the court noted that, “[t]he critical fact is that the evidence likely to be relied upon by the parties would be largely uniform throughout the class.” The court held that the factual and legal issues related to the independent contractor issue would be the same among the plaintiff class members, and therefore appropriate for class treatment.
Moreover, in Bradley, as in many workplaces, the employer did not have a policy actually distributed to employees that provides for meal and rest periods. Networkers argued that Brinker was not controlling, in its guidance about meal and rest requirements, because in Brinker the plaintiffs challenged an express meal and rest break policy whereas in Bradley, the plaintiffs were arguing that the employer’s lack of policy violated the law. The Court rejected this argument, holding: “This is not a material distinction on the record before us. Under Brinker, and under the facts here, the employer engaged in uniform companywide conduct that allegedly violated state law.” Bradley, 2012 WL 6182473 *13. The Court noted that plaintiffs had presented evidence on Networkers’ uniform practice and that Networkers acknowledged that it did not have a policy and did not know if employees took meal or rest breaks. In assessing the lack of evidence presented by Networkers and relying on Brinker, the Bradley Court held: “Here, plaintiffs’ theory of recovery is based on Networkers’ (uniform) lack of a rest and meal break policy and its (uniform) failure to authorize employees to take statutorily required rest and meal breaks. The lack of a meal/rest break policy and the uniform failure to authorize such breaks are matters of common proof.” Bradley, 2012 WL 6182473 *13.
The Bradley decision disposes of a significant hurdle in wage and hour cases by holding that this type of scheme – where no policy is distributed to provide for meal and rest periods- can meet the commonality requirement for class certification. For example, Bryan Schwartz Law is currently representing a group of restaurant workers who were not aware of a meal/rest period policy, and who were not provided with meal or rest periods. In the Bryan Schwartz Law case, there was no policy that provided the workers with coverage to enable them to take their breaks. Under Bradley, certification is appropriate to test, class-wide, whether the employer’s lack of a well-defined policy or practice of providing meal/rest periods violated the Labor Code.
Although several meal and rest period cases have been decided adversely to workers post-Brinker, the Bradley court determined that each of those cases was distinguishable. In distinguishing Lamps Plus Overtime Cases (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 35, the Bradley Court of Appeal noted that it was undisputed that the Lamps Plus employer’s written meal and rest period policy was consistent with state law requirements and that the violations differed at each store and with respect to each employee. Similarly, the Bradley court held that Hernandez v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (2012) 208 Cal.App.4th 1487 was distinguishable because the only evidence of a company-wide policy or practice was Chipotle’s evidence that it provided meal and rest breaks as required by law. Likewise, Bradley distinguished Tien v. Tenet Healthcare Corp. (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 1077, noting that in that case there was “overwhelming” evidence that meal periods were made available and the employer’s liability with respect to each employee depended on issues specific to each employee. Brookler v. Radioshack Corp. is an undecided case that was remanded after Brinker involving wage and hour class certification, which may provide additional clarification on these issues.
The court also rejected Networkers’ argument that because each plaintiff would be owed a different amount of damages, the case should not be certified. Relying, in part, on the concurring opinion in Brinker, the court held that even where plaintiffs are required to individually prove damages, individualized damages inquiries do not bar class certification. The court also reversed its prior decision and determined that class certification on the issue of overtime was appropriate because, assuming the plaintiffs were employees, proof of damages could be determined from the common proof of the pay records.
Although the court decided to remand the off-the-clock work issue, it did so because the factual record did not show that there was a uniform policy requiring each employee to work off the clock.
About the Author: Bryan Schwartz is a practicing attorney. If you believe you have been mis-classified as an independent contractor, have meal and rest period claims, or have questions about other wage and hour violations, contact Bryan Schwartz Law (www.BryanSchwartzLaw.com). Nothing in the foregoing commentary is intended to provide legal advice in a specific case or to form an attorney-client relationship with any reader. You must have a representation agreement with Bryan Schwartz Law to be a client of this firm or author.
Monday, December 10th, 2012
On Thursday, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) backtrackedon his commitment to avoid so-called “right-to-work” legislation and by the end of the day, both the Michigan House of Representatives and the Michigan state Senate had introduced and passed separate bills aimed at the state’s union workforce.
Michigan Republicans claim the state needs the measure to stay competitive with Indiana, where lawmakers passed “right-to-work” last year. In reality, though, such laws have negative effects on workers and little effect on economic growth. Here is what you need to know about the state GOP’s campaign:
THE LEGISLATION: Both the state House and state Senate passed legislation on Thursday that prohibits private sector unions from requiring members to pay dues. The Senate followed suit and passed a different but similar measure that extends the same prohibition for public sector unions, though firefighters and police officers are exempt. The state House included a budget appropriations provision that is intended to prevent the state’s voters from being able to legally challenge the law through a ballot referendum. Due to state law, both houses are prevented from voting on legislation passed by the other for five days, so neither will be able to fully pass the legislation until Tuesday at the earliest.
THE PROCESS: Union leaders and Democrats claim that Republicans are pushing the legislation through in the lame-duck session to hide the intent of the measures from citizens, and because the legislation would face more trouble after the new House convenes in January. Michigan Republicans hold a 63-47 advantage in the state House, but Democrats narrowed the GOP majority to just eight seats in November. Six Republicans opposed the House measure; five of them won re-election in 2012 (the sixth retired). And Michigan Republicans have good reason to pursue the laws without public debate. Though the state’s voters are evenly split on whether it should become a right-to-work state, 78 percent of voters said the legislature “should focus on issues like creating jobs and improving education, and not changing state laws or rules that would impact unions or make further changes in collective bargaining.”
THE CONSEQUENCES: While Snyder and Republicans pitched “right-to-work” as a pro-worker move aimed at improving the economy, studies show such legislation can cost workers money. The Economic Policy Institute found that right-to-work laws cost all workers, union and otherwise, $1,500 a year in wages and that they make it harder for workers to obtain pensions and health coverage. “If benefits coverage in non-right-to-work states were lowered to the levels of states with these laws, 2 million fewer workers would receive health insurance and 3.8 million fewer workers would receive pensions nationwide,” David Madland and Karla Walter from the Center for American Progress wrote earlier this year. The decreases in union membership that result from right-to-work laws have a significant impact on the middle class and research “shows that there is no relationship between right-to-work laws and state unemployment rates, state per capita income, or state job growth,” EPI wrote in a recent report about Michigan. “Right-to-work” laws also decrease worker safety and can hurt small businesses.
Union leaders are, of course, aghast at Snyder and the GOP’s right-to-work push. “In a state that gave birth to the modern U.S. labor movement, it is unconscionable that Michigan legislators would seek to drive down living standards for Michigan workers and families with a law that will do nothing to improve either the state’s economic climate or the quality of life for Michigan residents,” RoseAnn DeMoro, the executive director of National Nurses United, said in a statement.
This post was originally posted on December 7, 2012 on Think Progress. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Travis Waldron is is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Travis grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper.
Wednesday, December 5th, 2012
Finally, someone is holding Walmart directly accountable for the abuse of workers in its contracted warehouses. “Recent discovery has established that Walmart bears ultimate responsibility for the violations of state and federal law committed against plaintiff warehouse workers,” said a court document filed in Los Angeles.
Walmart Targeted In Warehouse Worker Lawsuit – Huffington Post
“Wal-Mart employs a network of contractors and subcontractors who have habitually broken the law to keep their labor costs low and profit margins high. We believe Wal-Mart knows exactly what is happening and is ultimately responsible for stealing millions of dollars from the low-wage warehouse workers who move Wal-Mart merchandise.”
Warehouse Workers Sue Wal-Mart for Back pay and Damages – ABC News/Univision
Corporate Welfare: instead of taking a small partition of their record profits, or slightly cutting CEO pay to help out their workers, Walmart wants YOU, the taxpayer, to pay for its workers’ healthcare. Just one more reason Walmart workers, and the population at large, are standing up to Walmart.
Walmart Wants Taxpayers to Pick Up Health Care Costs – Truth Dig
Walmart wants you to think its workers love the store and love their jobs. If that’s the case, why are there unprecedented protests against the mega retailer spanning the country? Why is the store facing a lawsuit from contracted warehouse workers? Since Walmart has given us no real evidence that its workers love the store, maybe we are just supposed to take Walmart’s word for it?
Walmart Wants You To Know That Their Workers ‘Love Their Jobs’ – Huffington Post
This post was originally posted on Change to Win on Monday, December 3, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: J Lefkowitz: Change to Win is a Strategic Organizing Center which focuses on using its “strength in numbers to reclaim the American Dream.” It’s target is middle class and working class Americans to hold corporations and other large entities in our modern society accountable. You can learn more about Change to Win here.
Monday, December 3rd, 2012
Construction workers and others in the Austin, Texas, area are celebrating a coalition victory this week after Travis County commissioners approved a first-ever economic development policy that includes a living wage requirement.
The policy requires contractors asking for tax incentives to move into the county to pay all employees at least $11 per hour. It’s a significant improvement over the prevailing construction hourly wage of $7.50.
On the same day the county provision passed, a subcommittee of the Austin City Council passed a similar policy, which will come to the full council in the coming months. As reported in the Austin American-Statesman, both the city and county have been criticized about generous tax incentives offered in recent years to major companies such as Apple and Marriott.
Along with faith-based and student organizations, the Texas Building and Construction Trades Council, the Laborers (LIUNA), the Electrical Workers (IBEW), AFSCME Local 1624, Education Austin (AFT) and Texas State Employees Union (TSEU)/CWA Local 6186 participated in the yearlong campaign spearheaded by the Austin-based Workers Defense Project (WDP). The 1,000-member WDP has worked for 10 years on wage theft and other workers’ rights issues.
Austin Interfaith and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) were among others that supported the campaign.
“Really, what this means is construction workers are starting to have a say in their working conditions and their pay,” WDP organizer Greg Casar told a celebratory crowd after the county commissioners voted.
This post was originally posted on November 30, 2012 at AFL-CIO NOW. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Barbara Doherty: My dad drove a laundry delivery truck in San Francisco and I came to appreciate unions sitting in the waiting room at the Teamsters vision center there. More than 30 years ago, I joined the international SEIU publications staff (under the union’s legendary, feisty president, George Hardy). Living in California, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., over the years, I have contributed countless news and feature articles, as well as editing, to the publications and websites of unions in the public and private sectors and the construction trades.
Thursday, August 11th, 2011
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly returned to work yesterday after three months of maternity leave, and during her first show, she pummeled shock radio host Mike Gallagher, who back in May called Kelly’s maternity leave “a racket” that was “unbelievable.” Kelly not only took Gallagher to task for poo-pooing the notion that women should be able to stay home with their newborns, but she also pointed out that the U.S. is in “the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave,” as it is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t require employers to give new mothers paid time off:
KELLY: What a moronic thing to say…Is maternity leave, according to you, a racket?
GALLAGHER: Well, do men get maternity leave? I can’t believe I’m asking you this, because you’re just going to kill me.
KELLY: Guess what honey? Yes, they do. It’s called the Family Medical Leave Act. If men would like to take three months off to take care of their newborn baby, they can. [...] Just in case you didn’t know, Mike, I want you to know that the United States is the only country in the advanced world that doesn’t require paid maternity leave. Now I happen to work for a nice employer that gave me paid leave. But the United States is the only advanced country that doesn’t require paid leave. If anything, the United States is in the dark ages when it comes to maternity leave. And what is it about getting pregnant and carrying a baby for nine months, that you don’t think deserves a few months off so bonding and recovery can take place, hmm?…You can’t answer the question because there is no answer, my friend.
Watch it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=5BfSBxk0FMc
Kelly is spot-on. As the Project on Global Working families found during a survey of 173 countries, the U.S. is in some bad company when it comes to paid maternity leave:
Out of 173 countries studied, 169 countries offer guaranteed leave with income to women in connection with childbirth; 98 of these countries offer 14 or more weeks paid leave. Although in a number of countries many women work in the informal sector, where these government guarantees do not always apply, the fact remains that the U.S. guarantees no paid leave for mothers in any segment of the work force, leaving it in the company of only 3 other nations: Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.
The U.S. hasn’t required paid maternity leave even though such leave results in “a decrease of complications and recovery time for the mother and [a decrease in] the risk of allergies, obesity, and sudden infant death syndrome for the child.” So it seems that even a Fox News host can be sensible when personally faced with the implications of government policy.
This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on August 9, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Pat Garofalo is Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Pat’s work has also appeared in The Nation, U.S. News & World Report, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and In These Times. He has been a guest on MSNBC and Al-Jazeera television, as well as many radio shows. Pat graduated from Brandeis University, where he was the editor-in-chief of The Brandeis Hoot, Brandeis’ community newspaper, and worked for the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.
Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
Organizers say a lawsuit filed by a Minnesota grocery store chain against a worker center is nothing more than an attempt to bankrupt and silence them. Supervalu’s suit is a culmination of activity over 18 months in which workers have been calling for fair pay and better working conditions.
In May, In These Times reported that workers, frustrated with lack of response from representatives at Supervalu, parent company of Cub Foods, went on a 12-day hunger strike. That strike ended when several state lawmakers attempted to get executives at the retail chain giant to meet for talks and called on the group to end the fast.
Supervalu executives reportedly refused to meet with the workers and filed acivil lawsuit July 18 requesting damages against the small nonprofit workers center that supported the action: Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL).
The chain also filed a temporary injunction imposed by a judge and, among other things, ordered CTUL to post the suit on its website and Facebook page and on any Twitter feeds and link the order in any email, web postings or Twitter feeds concerning any planned actions against Cub Foods.
“We did not want to file a suit against CTUL, but because of their aggressive protests taking place in our stores we had no choice,” said Mike Siemienas, a spokesman at Supervalu, Inc. told In These Times.
Attorneys representing CTUL have filed a motion to dismiss the charges.
“We find it hard to believe the lawsuit was because of that. We believe it is aimed at trying to bankrupt us and silence us,” said CTUL spokeswoman Veronica Mendez, who has also been named in the suit.
The workers are calling for job safety and a “Code of Conduct.”
Several state representatives including Congressman Keith Ellison, State Senator Patricia Torres-Ray ELCA Bishop Craig Johnson, Rep. Jim Davnie, and Minneapolis City Council Member Gary Schiff are backing the workers. The Minneapolis City Council signed a resolution in support.
CTUL stated that it believes the lawsuit is in retaliation for the nonprofit calling on the help of the government to help resolve the labor dispute.
“Cub Foods should be commended for donating to food pantries and helping tornado victims. But the core of good corporate citizenship is not charitable giving; it’s treating your workers with respect and dignity. These workers have asked for little more than to meet and discuss their pay and work rules, and they have been rebuffed,” Congressman Ellison said in a statement.
Supervalu is one of the 100 richest corporations in the world – making more than $40 million in profits last year. For the quarter ending June 18, itreported a profit of $74 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, over the past 10 years, working conditions for cleaners have deteriorated. Many cleaners who once earned between $10-11 an hour now earn $7-8 an hour. The cleaning crew has shrunk from four to two, according to Mendez.
Cub Foods says it’s not responsible for the poor treatment of workers because they are subcontracted out to a cleaning company, Carlson Building Maintenance, whom Cub says is responsible for their workers. Said Siemienas, “It is a common practice for retailers to use third-party services to clean their floors. We ensure that our contractors follow all laws and labor laws.”
However, this practice allows retail companies take the lowest bid, pitting maintenance companies against each other. To keep the costs low, these companies do what they can to cut corners.
Mendez explains that Carlsen has told workers they do not have the money because they are not getting more money from Supervalu and that in fact, the price of the contract is going down.
“Carlsen doesn’t have ability to pay workers what they need to be paid. It’s clear to us that if there’s going to be real change, it has got to come from Supervalu.”
This week, workers and faith leaders went to a recent Supervalu shareholder meeting in Edina, Minn. Pastors Grant Stevensen and the Rev. John Gutterman got in, and asked the company to do the right thing.
Stated CTUL member Lucila Dominguez, who was one of the people who took part in the hunger strike in May.
This problem will not change until large retail chains like Cub Foods agree to ensure fair wages and working conditions for workers who clean their stores regardless of which contractor they use.
Said Mendez, “They’ve made lots of claims as to why they wanted this lawsuit, when all we wanted to do was sit and talk.”
This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on July 29, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thursday, July 21st, 2011
Blue-collar workers toiling on assembly lines and elsewhere have little in common with National Football League players. So it’s no surprise that few tears have been shed over the labor strife which engulfed the NFL for the last several months. Most of the angst understandably has been over the concern that games could be missed on Sundays this fall. Many viewed this dispute as one between overpaid millionaires (the players) and greedy billionaires (the team owners).
But now that a new collective bargaining agreement appears ready to be ratified, it is worth noting that while football long ago eclipsed baseball as the nation’s most popular sport, its players enjoy the least employment rights of those in the four major professional team sports.
A baseball or basketball player who signs a six-year contract and then suffers a career-threatening knee injury during a game will receive every cent of that deal whether he ultimately returns or not. If a player in those sports loses his effectiveness and no longer competes at the all-star level for which he is compensated, the money will still pour into his bank account for the remainder of his contract.
In contrast, NFL players stand alone in professional sports with one-way contracts that are not guaranteed. A five-year, $50-million contract is certainly nothing to sneeze at. But it binds only the player, not the team. For instance, if the player is injured or brings less star power than advertised in year one, the team is free to release him and owes him no compensation beyond that first season.
Oftentimes, teams will come to players and ask them to renegotiate their already-signed contracts significantly downward. If they agree, their jobs will continue. If not, the team will wash its hands of the player.
Now the more sophisticated football fans are surely thinking about the lucrative signing bonuses NFL players receive. Agents insist that player X receive say $10-to-$12 million up front to guard against the possibility of a premature termination of the contract. It’s certainly not bad money if you can get it. Those bonuses, however, tend to go to the players at the top of the sport. So Peyton Manning or Tom Brady can easily command them, but reserve offensive and defensive tackles will not.
The NFL also stands alone with the generally poor care of its retired players from the past. A disproportionate number, like the recently-deceased Baltimore Colts tight-end John Mackey, have suffered or still suffer from dementia. Others are afflicted with life-long disabilities and impairments stemming from the violent nature of a game which involves high-speed collisions on every play.
And the average career of an NFL player lasts only four years. That’s significant because the rookie wage-scale along with the amount of guaranteed money they can receive in the new collective bargaining agreement will be going down. At the same time, players must wait at least four years to gain their free agency and a pay day which statistics show the majority of them will never reach.
Make no mistake: many red-blooded American workers would do anything to have the ability to play in the NFL and have those problems. After all, it’s not to be confused with wondering if your company will be in business at the end of the week or how the mortgage will be met.
Still, for the nation’s most popular and profitable sport, where most teams sell out all of their home games, it is notable that the players fall well behind their baseball counterparts when it comes to the security of their contracts and longterm benefits. And that’s something which will not be altered by the new labor agreement.
About the Author: David Weisenfeld served as U.S. Supreme Court correspondent for LAWCAST from 1998 through June 2011. During that time, he covered every employment law case heard by the Court, and also wrote and co-anchored the company’s employment law newscasts. In addition, his work has appeared in the American Bar Association’s Supreme Court Preview magazine.
Tuesday, July 12th, 2011
A Domestic Workers Rights bill is winding through California’s Capitol.
This week the California Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted in favor (5-2) of a domestic rights bill, but some tough concessions have been made, including the removal of vacation and sick day provisions from the bill.
One former domestic worker told KPFA: “In this labor committee hearing we lost vacation days, but we understand not all workers have paid vacation days. But we also earlier lost sick days, so most of the workers were going to use vacation days for sick days.”
Even so, the historic bill would provide some basic labor protections for the state’s estimated 200,000 domestic workers, which include nannies, caregivers and housekeepers.
Domestic workers, who are primarily immigrant women, are isolated and vulnerable to the whims of their employers. Workers are reluctant to complain to anyone about unfair pay, working more hours than they are paid, lack of breaks or sexual harassment, for fear of losing their jobs.
Many of the workers provide the main income in their families. According to a report released in 2007 “Behind Closed Doors,” 54 percent of the women interviewed were the main providers. In addition, 72 percent supported families in their country of origin.
The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights would give these workers leverage to be treated fairly by creating guidelines for employers of domestic workers.
The bill, sponsored by Asssembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for approval and after that, to the full senate.
“We are making progress. It was a six-year project in New York State. Hopefully our bill will get to the governor’s desk,” said Quintin Mecke, Ammiano’s spokesman.
Just last year, a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights passed in New York.
Currently, domestic workers are excluded from all rights provided to all other California workers under Wage Order 15 — wage and hour protections.
“(The) committee vote was a historic step forward for the rights of domestic workers in California. For decades domestic work has been excluded from both state and federal labor laws and worker exploitation in this industry has remained invisible and unmonitored. AB 889 will end that by establishing the same basic protections under the law that many of us take for granted,” Ammiano said.
Historically, domestic workers have been exempted from laws that protect other workers and guarantee certain standards—such as fair wages, a safe and healthy workplaces, worker compensation, meal and rest breaks, overtime wages.
Said Jessica Lehman, employer of a personal attendant in her home and a member of Hand in Hand: Domestic Employer Association: “Employers have a vested self-interest in this campaign by working to support the (bill). We are investing in building communication and trust with workers who support some of the most intimate parts of our lives, providing home care to people with disabilities and elders, or caring for our children and our homes.”
The bill now goes to the fiscal committee, where it must also be approved before it goes to a final senate vote. It still needs to be signed into law by governor Jerry Brown, who recently vetoed a farm workers labor bill.
The domestic workers bill has received wide support from labor rights coalitions across the state.
There has been international attention to domestic workers rights as well. On June 16, the International Labor Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, passed a convention recognizing domestic work as “work.”
This blog originally appeared in These Times on July 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former editor of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at email@example.com.