Archive for the ‘worker’s rights’ Category
Wednesday, February 10th, 2016
This post originally appeared at Kentucky State AFL-CIO.
Federal District Judge David Hale’s decision striking down Hardin County’s “right to work” ordinance was a victory for Kentucky’s working families, said Bill Londrigan, president of the Kentucky State AFL-CIO. He continued:
These illegal ordinances would have affected all working people, union and nonunion, by decreasing wages, lowering median household incomes, increasing poverty and undermining workplace safety. In short, these ordinances are wrong. The courts rejected out-of-state special interests’ attempt to take over local governments by pushing a radical outside agenda.
In January 2015, nine unions filed suit against Hardin County’s right to work ordinance, arguing that federal labor law permits only states and territories to pass right to work laws. Eleven other counties approved similar ordinances and Hale’s ruling, in effect, invalidates them, too.
Both sides stated their cases before Hale in Louisville in August 2015. He ruled in favor of the unions on Feb. 3.
We would like to thank all of the working families and elected officials that fought hard against these illegal ordinances. The Kentucky AFL-CIO and hardworking Kentuckians will continue to fight for fair wages, more good jobs and more investment in education—and fight hard against unfair, illegal and unnecessary legislation. It is unfortunate that out-of-state special interests wasted taxpayers’ money with these attacks on Kentucky workers by pushing a radical out-of-state agenda. Our mission is to improve the lives of all working Kentuckians and raise the standard of living for all Kentuckians. We salute the working people of Hardin County for taking a stand against out-of-state corporate interests.
The pro-right to work Americans for Prosperity Kentucky contributed a $50,000 grant to a legal defense fund for counties that faced legal action for passing RTW ordinances, according to Kevin Wheatley of cn/2 Pure Politics.
Buddy Cutler of Louisville, attorney for the unions, said Hale’s opinion was solid, well-reasoned and followed established law. “It is a victory for working people that honors Congress’ intent and implements the wise federal labor policy that companies and unions should be free to negotiate contracts without undue interference from local officials.”
Hale said the National Labor Relations Act “preempts the right-to-work, hiring-hall, and dues-checkoff provisions of Hardin County Ordinance 300.” He also ruled that “Section 14(b) is the only exception to NLRA preemption of the field of labor relations, and it does not extend to counties or municipalities. Because Ordinance 300 does not fall under §14(b)’s narrow exception, sections 4, 5, and 6 of the ordinance are preempted and thus invalid.”
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 9, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky.
Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015
The spirit of the season is generosity. Eight toys for Hanukkah. A partridge in a pear tree and 11 other quirky presents. Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Giving Tuesday.
It’s the thought that counts. And the thought is good-hearted. That’s why the season works so well.
To keep it all rolling happily along, however, workers need to earn enough money so that they can afford gifts and charitable donations. With wages stagnant for decades, that’s increasingly difficult.
In keeping with the figgy-pudding and potato latke traditions of the holidays, here’s a recipe for delivering joy to workers so that they can spread holiday merriment:
1 measure outlawing scabs
1 measure banning lockouts
1 measure raising minimum wage to $15 an hour
Knead in trade law enforcement
Filter out currency manipulation
Top it all with campaign finance reform
Start by combining legislation forbidding both scabs and lockouts. These are two weapons corporations use to ratchet down wages, ruining workers’ holidays.
Right now, for example, Sherwin Alumina and ATI have locked out their loyal workers and replaced them with scabs. That’s thousands of workers forced to walk picket lines and depend on USW lockout assistance and food pantries for holiday meals rather than donating to them.
Prohibiting lockouts and scabs would slightly shift the balance of power toward workers. That’s completely justified considering corporate profits are at record levels while wages are walking backward, lower now than in 2007.
Next, add to the mix a raise to the minimum wage. No one who works full-time should live in poverty. The current $7.25 minimum, moribund for six years, is a Dickensian disgrace, a Bob Cratchit-level degradation.
Increasing the wages of workers at the bottom to $15 an hour will force up the pay of everyone else as well. All workers benefit. Happier holidays for all.
Trade law enforcement must be blended in next. Failure to immediately punish trade law violators has pummeled commodity producers – like aluminum and steel. Mills are closed. Thousands of workers are laid off. No merry holiday for them. Or their communities.
Several foreign countries, but particularly China, illegally prop up their exporting manufacturers. Not only that, they’re also overproducing, flooding the world market and crashing prices.
Workers need laws enabling the government to impose punitive tariffs before American mills close and families suffer. In addition, the government must file and prosecute trade cases to defend American industry, not force labor unions and manufacturers to do it.
The next step in this recipe is pulling currency manipulation out of the international market. Ending this underhanded trade cheat is crucial
Countries including Japan and China deliberately devalue their currency in order to automatically discount the price of their exports, so every day is Black Friday for their international customers. Making matters worse, this scheme simultaneously marks up the cost of products that U.S. manufacturers try to sell in currency-manipulating countries.
This makes for very bad holidays in places like Ashland, Ky., where AK Steel shut down its blast furnace earlier this month and laid off hundreds of workers. They join about 4,000 Steelworkers at plants in Illinois and Alabama threatened with holiday layoffs.
The last ingredient, campaign finance reform, makes the whole recipe possible. Nothing will happen without it.
In a democracy, each citizen should have equal influence over lawmakers. The wealthy and fat-cat corporations shouldn’t get special access and treatment because they’ve given millions to candidates. The only way to stop that is to outlaw massive political bribes.
Gifts should be to loved ones and charities, not to politicians. If gargantuan campaign “presents” aren’t stopped, workers won’t be able to afford Christmas gifts because politicians will continue to ignore their needs and, as a result, their wages will continue to atrophy. Then the holiday season will not work well for anyone.
Workers need to make this holiday recipe happen. It would bring joy to their world.
About the Author: The author’s name is Leo Gerard. Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.
This blog was originally posted on Our Future on December 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Thursday, November 5th, 2015
Ralph knows firsthand that non-unionized workers lack basic rights. Last year he got a text from his boss while at a cancer clinic in Spokane, Wash. After receiving chemotherapy treatment, Ralph learned he was being terminated from his job in the produce transportation industry—a decision his employer had no legal obligation to justify. According to Ralph, he was fired for “insubordination” after he began to question the business’s finances. Now, he’s been forced to take a minimum-wage job and file for bankruptcy, and could lose his home.
“I will not recover from this in my lifetime,” Ralph tells In These Times. “Tell me where the justice is in that.” (Ralph wished to remain pseudonymous because he is exploring filing a suit against his former employer, though lawyers have told him that he probably does not have a viable case.)
Workers without a union contract lack any guarantee of due process on the job, let alone a dignified wage. Other than Montana, no state—nor the federal government—requires employers to give a “just cause” for firings. But a movement in Spokane has gotten a first-in-the-nation Worker Bill of Rights on November’s ballot, which, if passed, would act as a kind of union contract for all workers in the city.
The proposition is being championed by Envision Spokane, a labor-community coalition. Envision Worker Rights, a sister political committee of the group, announced that it would introduce a new, worker-focused measure, and gathered more than 2,600 signatures to ensure its place on the city’s ballot.
Spokane’s Worker Bill of Rights would amend the city charter to provide several new on-the-job protections. It would give all Spokane workers rights to equal pay for equal work and to not be wrongfully terminated, as Ralph believes he was. It would also guarantee a “family wage” sufficient to cover basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities and childcare for workers of large employers. When employers run afoul, workers would be entitled to sue.
This may seem straightforward, but typically workers must hash out these protections through the arduous process of bargaining a union contract. Granting them proactively to all workers represents a promising new paradigm.
Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is supporting the Worker Bill of Rights, explains that under current law, “in non-unionized, private workplaces, workers have no constitutional rights. It’s why e-mails can be read, urine can be tested, lockers searched. … By prohibiting firings without cause, due process constitutional rights would be afforded to all people working within the City of Spokane.” This departs from the “state-action” doctrine, the bedrock legal principle that the Constitution only protects citizens from the government, not from private entities.
When faced with efforts to protect workers and communities, corporations have often carped that their own rights are being violated. The International Franchise Association (IFA), for example, sued the City of Seattle over a $15 minimum-wage ordinance passed in June 2014, saying, among other things, that it discriminated against franchises and violated their constitutional right to equal protection. A U.S. appeals court ruled otherwise, and Spokane’s initiative is clearly not afraid of violating so-called corporate rights. The amendment declares that corporations “shall not be deemed to be ‘persons’ ” with legal rights if this interferes with the workers’ rights outlined in the measure. While Spokane is unlikely to reverse longstanding legal precedent on its own, advocates see the Worker Bill of Rights as part of a national movement to challenge corporate personhood.
This concept is resonating with many in the region and beyond. Some nine local unions and two regional labor councils have endorsed the initiative, along with community groups such as 15 Now Oregon and national figures like Noam Chomsky. Beth Thew, secretary-treasurer of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, the regional arm of the AFL-CIO, tells In These Times that the Worker Bill of Rights is “basically everything that organized labor stands for.” Given the decline in union density nationwide, she says, it makes sense “to take a more radical tactic.”
The list of backers also includes Democratic and Green Party-endorsed Spokane mayoral candidate Shar Lichty, the self-proclaimed “Bernie Sanders of Spokane.” Lichty acknowledges that “poverty is a huge issue here in Spokane”—more than 15 percent of residents live below the poverty line—and says she will defend the measure if elected.
As a result, Envision Spokane’s message is winning support from people like Ralph, who, though struggling to stay out of poverty himself, is phone banking for the campaign. “People today are just trying to fricking survive till the next day,” he tells In These Times.
The Worker Bill of Rights builds on Envision Spokane’s previous efforts to pass a Community Bill of Rights, which similarly challenged corporate personhood. The measure would have given neighborhoods power over local development and increased local environmental protections, among other provisions. First introduced on the ballot in 2009, the proposition failed to gain a majority of votes, and an updated version lost narrowly in 2011. The measure qualified again in 2013, but that vote has been delayed by a pre-election lawsuit brought by a coalition of county commissioners and business groups. The Washington Supreme Court will hear the case in November.
In August, the Worker Bill of Rights dodged a similar legal challenge, this time by Spokane’s own Republican Mayor David Condon, who sought to keep the measure off the ballot. The City of Spokane filed a lawsuit arguing, among other things, that the provision denying corporate personhood was unconstitutional because it would deny corporations access to the courts. A superior court judge ruled that the mayor did not have legal standing to keep the measure off of ballots, but city officials have persisted in their opposition. City Council members have also added controversial advisory questions about the potential costs of the initiative—whether, for example, the city should raise taxes to pay for it—that could sway voters against the measure.
Brad Read, a longtime Spokane high school English teacher and Envision Spokane organizer, is hoping that voters recognize the critical importance of the Worker Bill of Rights.
“It’s about the rights of real people … taking precedence over corporations,” he says. “If we don’t start to chip away at this edifice that has been carefully crafted for over 200 years, then we’re screwed.”
This article was originally printed on InTheseTimes.org on October 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Simon Davis-Cohen is a New York City-based writer examining the powers of local governments and corporations in the United States.
Tuesday, October 13th, 2015
Thousands of SEIU janitors are traveling to the City of Brotherly Love today to hold a massive rally in support of nearly 75,000 east coast janitors who are negotiating fair wages and benefits this fall. Across the country, thousands more are stickering up in their worksites and marching in the streets to fight for $15 and to #RaiseAmerica with good jobs.
This rally is the latest escalation in a nationwide movement to raise our communities by standing together for good jobs.
Already this year, janitors have won historic wage and job improvement increases. In March 2015, thousands stood in solidarity with Chicago and Cleveland, as they negotiated their contract, and in June we rallied again in solidarity with Detroit and Washington D.C.
More than 50% of janitors with new contracts will make more than $15 an hour by the end of this next contract. And each city has won important additional standards, like increased sick days, full-timing of work, strong non-discrimination language, and protecting employer-paid healthcare.
And we’re not done yet. 130,000 members are standing strong for our east coast brothers and sisters today. In 2016, we’re taking the fight back out West – to Minnesota and LA, Houston, Seattle and Denver. And we’re supporting our brothers and sisters in airports, security, industrial laundry, home care, child care, and in fast food.
We fight because we know our country can do better. We fight because the communities we live in are still fighting for $15 and the right to form a union. We’ve won for working people before, and we will win again. We will keep fighting until every working person in America has $15 and union rights.
This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Sunday, August 30th, 2015
In a blog post on Wednesday, Andi Owen, global president for Banana Republic at Gap Inc., announced that the company will end the practice of on-call scheduling and commit to giving employees at least 10 days advance notice of their schedules.
All five of its brands will phase out on-call scheduling, in which employees are required to be available to work on a given day but not guaranteed that they will actually be asked to come in, by the end of September. They will also all provide workers with at least 10 to 14 days notice of when they’ll be working by early 2016.
The company says the changes come from an evaluation it’s conducted over the last year to improve its scheduling practices along with a pilot it launched in July of last year with the help of Professor Joan Williams of UC Hastings’ College of Worklife Law. But it also comes after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman began an investigation into the scheduling practices of 13 large retailers and whether they violated a New York state law and sent them all a letter. The investigation had already produced results: earlier this month, Abercrombie & Fitch announced it would end on-call scheduling in New York stores by the end of the year. Those employees will also get their schedules at least a week in advance. Victoria’s Secret, which also received a letter from Schneiderman’s office, has also ended on-call shifts.
Other brands received the letter but haven’t made changes yet, including Ann Inc. (owner of Ann Taylor), Burlington Stores, Crocs, J.C. Penney, J. Crew, Sears, Target, TJX (owner of TJ Maxx and Marshall’s), Urban Outfitters, and Williams-Sonoma.
Starbucks’s scheduling practices also came under fire in a New York Times story last year, after which the company took quick action to end the practice of “clopening,” or shifts where employees close stores late at night and then have to come back in a few hours later to open them for the next day, and post schedules at least a week in advance.
But overall, employees often have to deal with erratic and difficult schedules. At least 17 percent of the American workforce has an irregular schedule, including on-call shifts, split shifts (two different shifts in one day), or rotating ones, although that is likely an undercount. Nearly half of part-time workers and just under 40 percent of full-time workers don’t find out their schedules until a week ahead or less. It’s concentrated in retail, where erratic schedules impact 27 percent of the workforce. One survey of retail workers in New York City found that 40 percent didn’t have a set minimum of hours they worked week to week and a quarter had on-call shifts.
Some lawmakers have looked at ways to address these problems. Earlier this year, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (MA), Patty Murray (WA), and Chris Murphy (CT) with Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Bobby Scott (VA) re-introduced the Schedules that Work Act, which requires at least two weeks’ notice of schedules and pay for workers who get sent home before the end of their shifts or are on call but not asked to work. In San Francisco, legislation actually passed to require retail chains to give workers at least two weeks’ notice of schedules and pay employees for on call shifts that get canceled. Similar legislation has been proposed in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.
Gap also announced that it was raising its minimum pay to at least $10 an hour early last year, a move that has since been followed by a number of large retailers.
This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 27, 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.
Tuesday, July 21st, 2015
The New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled in June that excluding field and ranch workers from workers’ comp protection is unconstitutional. It was the second victory for New Mexico’s farmworkers in less than a year—and that’s big news in a low-wage sector made up primarily of immigrant workers, where victories tend to be few and far between.
The first victory came last August when farmworkers finally started getting paid the correct minimum wage. Farmworkers were routinely, and incorrectly, paid the federal minimum when they were entitled to the New Mexican minimum wage, which is 25 cents per hour higher. It only amounts to $8 or $10 a week, but it is significant for these workers, who are among the poorest in the United States.
And now, after six years of legal battles, the state Court of Appeals has upheld a District Court ruling that New Mexico’s farmworkers are not to be excluded from workers’ comp protection.
Farm work is among the most dangerous jobs in the United States, consistently ranking in the top 10 for injuries and death. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that 167 agricultural workers are injured every day. Despite this, only 12 states require full workers’ comp for farmworkers (13 now, including New Mexico); it’s optional in 16 states and required but limited in 21 others. Until the Court of Appeals’ decision, workers’ comp wasn’t required for New Mexico’s field workers or for ranch employees who worked directly with animals. That meant that on a dairy, for example, truck drivers and bookkeepers were covered, but milkers and workers moving the cows weren’t.
As In These Times reported in December 2014, on-the-job injuries are the rule, not the exception, in New Meixco’s dairy industry, and the lack of workers’ comp left some workers in dire economic straits:
Working with large animals poses a real risk of injury. In 2012, attorney Tess Wilkes was part of a team at the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty (NMCLP) that interviewed about 60 workers from various dairies in the state. Almost 80 percent of the workers said they had never received any safety training.
Most of the cows are docile, but not all. “The younger ones are dangerous,” says Antonio Jiménez, who worked in a dairy outside of Roswell during high school. “They don’t know how to be milked and [they] kick. Sometimes the ones that have just given birth [are dangerous], too.” The NMCLP survey found that 53 percent of the workers interviewed had been injured on the job, often more than once, and sometimes seriously.
In March, Matías Soto was working as a milker at a dairy in southeastern New Mexico. Somehow, a bull had gotten mixed in with the cows and stuck in one of the milking parlor gates. As Soto was trying to free the bull, he says, “It lowered its head and attacked me, lifting me 6 or 7 feet in the air. I hit my head on the concrete floor.” His skull fractured. But, he says, he wasn’t taken to the ER in Artesia, about 40 miles away, for three hours. He then had to be airlifted to a hospital capable of handling his injury. The cost of the helicopter alone was more than $60,000, and Soto’s hospital bills were in “the tens of thousands of dollars,” says María Martínez Sánchez, a former attorney at the NMCLP who worked with Soto. And the dairy had no workers’ compensation insurance.
Its medical insurance covered Soto’s medical bills, but not all of the helicopter costs. Instead, says Martínez Sánchez, Soto went into debt, borrowing from friends and relatives, although he eventually received a small amount of money in a settlement with the dairy.
In 2009 NMCLP filed suit challenging the exclusion on behalf of three injured workers who had been denied workers’ comp based solely on the exclusion. Attorneys from the organization argued that excluding farm and ranch workers violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause.
In 2011, 2nd District Court Judge Valerie Huling ruled that the exclusion is, in fact, unconstitutional. The New Mexico Workers’ Comp Administration (WCA) appealed that decision, stating that the District Court had overstepped its jurisdiction . The WCA lost that appeal, and the three workers in the lawsuit had their cases heard and were awarded workers’ comp benefits. But the WCA argued that the District Court ruling applied only to those three workers. Employers took that as a cue to continue routinely denying coverage to all other farmworkers.
In February of this year, NMCLP attorney Tim Davis challenged that interpretation in a suit on behalf of two injured workers who had been denied workers’ comp benefits. Noe Rodriguez suffered a head injury when he was attacked by a bull at the dairy farm at which he worked and Maria Angélica Aguierre broke her arm when she slipped and fell in a chile field. The New Mexico Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the District Court’s ruling that the exclusion was unconstitutional . The court stated, “Our review of the history of workers’ compensation statutes back to 1929 has not revealed an articulable purpose for the exclusion” and that the exclusion was “without purpose or reason and leads to absurd results.”
The ruling doesn’t mean that Rodriquez and Aguierre will automatically receive workers’ comp benefits, bu it means that their claims, and the claims of other injured farmworkers, can now be heard.
Maria Martínez Sánchez, one of the lead attorneys on the 2009 case, says she is “very happy” with the appellate opinion. “This ruling finally tells agricultural employers that they … must care for their workers in the same way all other employers in New Mexico are required to do,” she says.
While advocates are heartened by the Court of Appeals ruling, they’re also realistic. Farmworkers in New Mexico and across the United States continue to work under harsh conditions for little pay. The majority of states don’t offer farmworkers full workers’ comp benefits; most deny them overtime pay and the right to collective bargaining. Wage theft is rampant, as is sexual harassment and abuse. As Martínez Sánchez says, “There’s still much work to be done.”
This blog was originally posted on In These Times on July 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Joseph Sorrentino. Joseph Sorrentino is a writer and photographer. He has been documenting the lives of agricultural workers on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border for 12 years.
Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Today, after a much-criticized delay on issuing a rule to limit workers’ exposure to cancer-causing silica dust, the Obama administration put forward a proposed rule for public consideration. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that once the rule is in effect, it could save 700 lives a year and prevent nearly 1,600 cases of silicosis annually.
In an OSHA press release, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, commented, “Exposure to silica can be deadly, and limiting that exposure is essential. Every year, exposed workers not only lose their ability to work, but also to breathe. This proposal is expected to prevent thousands of deaths from silicosis—an incurable and progressive disease—as well as lung cancer, other respiratory diseases and kidney disease. We’re looking forward to public comment on the proposal.”
Workplace safety advocates applauded the decision. In a press release issued by the non-profit National Council for Occupational Safety and Health, executive director Tom O’Conner noted that workers who are most exposed to silica tend to be those least able to advocate for themselves.
“Low-wage immigrant workers and temporary workers are disproportionally represented in the industries with silica exposure—and are the most vulnerable to retaliation should they report potential hazards, injuries or illnesses,” O’Conner said. “This new rule will help to pull them out of the shadows and make them safer at work. Everyone, regardless of immigration status, deserves a safe workplace.”
However, some in organized labor say the fight to enact the rule has just begun, as it will have to undergo a public comment period before it is issued. In his response to the news of the rule, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka cautioned:
But this rule is only a proposal–workers exposed to silica dust will only be protected when a final rule is issued. Some industry groups are certain to attack the rule and try to stop it in its tracks. The AFL-CIO will do everything we can to see that does not happen. We urge the Obama administration to continue moving forward with the public rule-making process without delay. The final silica rule should be issued as fast as humanly possible, to protect the health and lives of American workers.
This article originally appeared in Working in These Times on August 23, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times.
Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
Information about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) working in secret to push state-level policy to more extreme levels is coming to light more and more and America’s working families are starting to stand up to the group’s corporate-driven agenda. While ALEC’s agenda is all over the policy map, the organization has a particular focus on pushing new laws that attack working families and undercut the rights of workers, both in the workplace and in retirement. Here are eight of the most dangerous and most widespread ways that ALEC is targeting workers and their right to a voice on the job.
8. Voter ID Act: Laws directly based on or similar to ALEC’s Voter ID Act have been introduced in recent years in nearly every state, with more than a dozen states passing or strengthening such laws in the past three years. These laws disproportionately affect working families, senior citizens, people of color and residents of rural areas and help elect legislators who vote against the rights and needs of workers.
7. Paycheck Protection Bills: ALEC has at least four different versions of this legislation, each one more extreme than the last, that were introduced 20 times in various states in 2013. These bills range from requiring that each employee sign an annual form authorizing that their union dues be allowed to be used for political purposes to preventing payroll deductions from being used for union dues. These bills provide no additional rights to workers and do nothing more than weaken the ability of workers to collectively bargain by depriving unions of the funds they need to fight on behalf of their members.
6. Direct Union Assaults: Through model legislation such as the Election Accountability for Municipal Employee Union Representatives Act and the De-certification Elections Act, introduced in Idaho and Arizona, respectively, ALEC is seeking to make public employees vote over and over again to retain their union status, giving ALEC and other groups the opportunity to flood workers with anti-union propaganda.
5. Public Employees’ Portable Retirement Option Act: Through this and similar bills, 10 states have attempted to weaken or eliminate defined-benefit pension plans and replace them with defined-contribution plans, which make retirees depend on the market for how much money they have for retirement and health care.
4. Council on Efficient Government Act: As Orwellian a name as any in the ALEC arsenal, this legislation does nothing but use government money to create a commission to figure out ways to privatize government services. In other words, yet another example of ALEC attempting to get taxpayer money into the hands of private corporations without any accountability or taxpayer recourse.
3. “Right to Work” Act: This incredibly misleadingly titled legislation gives no one any new rights and does nothing but prevent employees from paying for the benefits that unions earn on their behalf. So-called “right to work” for less states end up paying their workers a lot less than states that don’t have such laws. In 2013, 15 states introduced this legislation.
2. Parent Trigger Act: These laws give parents the option, once a majority of parents sign a petition, to change a public school into a charter school, give students vouchers or close the school. Seven states have passed parent trigger laws similar to the ALEC bill. Parent Trigger laws force parents to make a bad choice—either stick with a poorly performing school, or take drastic actions that are likely to make things worse, do little to help students and are a boon for corporate groups that run private schools. Meanwhile one of the best tools for helping working families reach the middle class—public education—gets less and less funding.
1. Wage Protections: In 14 states, ALEC model legislation attacking wage protections were introduced. The bills sought to weaken or eliminate laws that require prevailing wages, living wages or minimum wages. Big corporations heavily support these efforts, which would only serve to lower wages for workers.
On Thursday, Aug. 8, working families and other opponents of the ALEC agenda will be rallying at the conservative group’s convention in Chicago. Those who are in the area can RSVP online.
This article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW blog on August 7, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
Monday, July 29th, 2013
Imagine the pilot episode of a revival of the 1970’s situation comedy “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” It is July 2013. After a painful break-up with her fiancé, 30-year-old Mary Richards relocates to Des Moines, Iowa, to start a new life.
Mary interviews for a secretarial position at a local television station with Executive Producer Lou Grant. Lou is an overweight, balding, married father of three grown daughters. Lou offers Mary an associate producer position, reporting directly to him. Lou’s wife Edie is threatened by the presence of an attractive, young woman in the workplace. Edie demands that Mary be fired immediately. Lou admits that he is attracted to Mary, even though their workplace relationship has been strictly professional. Lou fires Mary. He replaces her with Rhoda. In Iowa in 2013, Mary has no legal recourse.
This month, the Iowa Supreme Court reaffirmed its controversial December 2012 decision holding that a fifty-something Fort Dodge, Iowa dentist acted legally when he fired his 32-year-old dental assistant for being too attractive. Although the dental assistant had shown no interest in her married boss, both the dentist and his wife feared that he would be powerless to resist her charms. In a decision insulting to both major genders, the Court reasoned that the firing did not constitute gender discrimination because it was not “because of sex.” Instead, the Court reasoned, it was motivated by the dentist’s feelings of attraction for a specific person (I suppose you could call it “because of sexy”).
The latest version of the case, Melissa Nelson v. James H. Knight, DDS, P.C. can be read in full here.
Here is the official photo of the Justices of the Iowa Supreme Court. See if you can spot what they all have in common.
Melissa Nelson was only 20 when she was hired by Dr. James H. Knight as a dental assistant. For ten years, she was an exemplary employee. She regarded her boss as a “father figure.” Dr. Knight, on the other hand, found himself growing increasingly attracted to his young assistant. In 2009, Dr. Knight’s wife insisted that her husband’s unilateral attraction to Ms. Nelson was a threat to their marriage. Dr. Knight and his wife consulted with the senior pastor of their church, who blessed the decision to terminate Ms. Nelson. Ms. Nelson sued for gender discrimination. The trial court and the Supreme Court of the State of Iowa agreed with the Knights — and their pastor–and held that firing Ms. Nelson for being a potential threat to Dr. Knight’s marriage did not constitute illegal gender discrimination.
The Court’s original decision in late 2012 was greeted with outrage and ridicule. In June 2013, the court withdrew its opinion and agreed to reconsider the matter, giving rise to the hope that they had seen the light and would permit the case to go to trial. Those hopes were dashed when the Court reaffirmed its position that there is a difference between an employment decision based on personal feelings towards an individual and a decision based on gender itself. “In the former case, the decision is driven entirely by individual feelings and emotions regarding a specific person,” stated the opinion’s author, Justice Edward M. Mansfield (he’s the one in the back row, far left). “Such a decision is not gender-based, nor is it based on factors that might be a proxy for gender.”
Wait a minute, argued Ms. Nelson’s attorneys and reasonable people everywhere. Of course it was “because of sex.” If she were not female, she wouldn’t be in danger of involuntarily attracting the unwanted attention of her heterosexual male boss. If it is illegal to sexually harass an employee, why should an employer escape liability for firing an employee out of fear that he was just about to harass her. Under this logic, even an employee who spurns the sexual advances of her supervisor is vulnerable to dismissal under a fabricated “my wife made me fire you to save our marriage” defense.
But back to Mary Richards. In the eponymous spin-off series “Lou Grant,” Lou found a job as a newspaper editor for the fictitious Los Angeles Tribune. What if he re-hired Mary? Could Edie get her fired again in California? Not likely.
The Iowa Supreme Court was interpreting Iowa law and federal law from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The Court relied heavily on 8th Circuit precedent holding that sexual favoritism is, in essence, a private matter between the parties that doesn’t warrant regulation as gender discrimination. California state law takes a broader view of the impact of sexual favoritism on the workplace environment. Our Supreme Court has recognized that sexual favoritism is not merely a private matter. Instead, favoritism can create an atmosphere demeaning to women, giving rise to claims of a hostile work environment by both men and women. California courts are, therefore, likely to view conduct such as Dr. Knight’s in the broader context, and find a termination under similar circumstances in California to be discriminatory.
And besides. Why would Lou even listen to Edie? They got divorced after the third season of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and Edie promptly remarried. You can watch the wedding here.
Article originally appeared on CELA Voice on July 25, 2013. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Curt Surls has been practicing in Los Angeles, specializing in employment law, for almost 25 years. Mr. Surls is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation and has worked for the State of California as counsel to the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. CELA VOICE is a project of the California Employment Lawyers Association. Our goal is nothing short of changing the discussion about issues of importance to California employees. Our method is simple. We will amplify the voice of worker advocates on issues that are vital to our economy, our way of life, even our health. The contributors to the CELA VOICE bring a unique perspective to understanding what is working and, too often, what isn’t working in California workplaces.
Friday, July 12th, 2013
U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division has an office dedicated to ensuring that employers are not discriminating against work-authorized individuals based on their national origin or immigration status. It is unlawful to fire or refuse to hire certain workers because of where they are from or because they are not U.S. citizens. The law also protects workers where employers discriminate against them by asking for too many work-authorization (I-9) documents or by rejecting valid documents, and where employers discriminate during the E-Verify process.
If you think you or someone you know has been discriminated against in hiring or firing based on national origin or citizenship status, call the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice on its Worker Hotline at 1-800-255-7688, 9am-5pm, E.S.T. (TTY for the hearing impaired: 1-800-237-2515). You do not have to provide your name, and telephone interpreters are available in many languages as needed. It is unlawful to intimidate, threaten, or retaliate against anyone for contacting the Hotline, assisting in any way in an investigation, or filing a charge with OSC. For more information, to obtain outreach materials or a charge form, or to learn about OSC’s new worker webinars call the Hotline or visit www.justice.gov/crt/about/osc.
This article was written by OSC as part of a worker outreach program. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: OSC is the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) and enforces the anti-discrimination provision (§ 274B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. § 1324b.