Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Scott Mugno: Rising from the Dead?

September 26th, 2018 | Jordan Barab

While Rod Rosenstein and Brett Kavanaugh may be on their way out, OSHA nominee Scott Mugno and other Department of Labor nominees may be on their way in according to intrepid Bloomberg reporter Chris Opfer.

You may recall that business interests, who hate, hate, hate the idea of Democrat Mark Pearce getting another term on the National Labor Relations Board had reportedly quashed a potential compromise that would have re-appointed Pearce in return for the Dems allowing the confirmation of Mugno, Cheryl Stanton at Wage & Hour and William Beach for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  But now that deal seems to be back on the table at the White House as the Senate Finance Committee plans to consider Gordon Hartogensis’ nomination to run the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation  on Thursday. There may even be some judicial nominations in the pot.

Not that business interests — especially the Chamber of Commerce — would be too disappointed. Mugno is, after all, their guy.

According to Opfer

If the deal comes to fruition, it will likely be within the coming weeks. Lawmakers are expected to flee Washington in early October for one last campaign push before the midterm elections. There’s no telling whether any agreement would still be on the table after the smoke clears from the ballot box. Look for the Senate to potentially use unanimous consent to speed the nominations to the floor and confirm Pearce and others by voice vote shortly before they head home to campaign.

No word as to whether Mugno is still looking forward to trading his leisurely retired life in Florida for a cold, slushy winter in Washington DC — to be followed by the prospects of all oversight all the time if/when the Dems take back the House (and possibly the Senate) in November.

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on September 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

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Kavanaugh's SeaWorld dissent shows he wants to drag workers back a century

September 25th, 2018 | Laura Clawson

During his years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit court, Brett Kavanaugh has dedicated a solid amount of time to writing extremist dissents to show us just what kind of a deciding vote he would be on the Supreme Court. One of those is his notorious SeaWorld v. Perez dissent, in which Kavanaugh said SeaWorld shouldn’t be held responsible for the killing of a trainer by an orca. Steven Greenhouse writes that the dissent is “remarkable because Kavanaugh shows far less sympathy to the whale trainer who was dismembered and killed than he shows to SeaWorld for being the victim of what he sees as government overregulation and overreach,” and that he “seemed to lack an empathy gene.”

It’s not just a lack of empathy, though. Kavanaugh’s dissent, Greenhouse suggests, is either profoundly ignorant of history or is an active attempt to undo historical progress:

He said that state tort law—for instance, lawsuits that workers bring against their employer because a machine chopped off an arm—would pressure SeaWorld to assure safety to its workers. But Kavanaugh bafflingly fails to realize that the workers compensation system was set up in the early 1900s in large part to prohibit workers from filing tort lawsuits against their employers. Moreover, state tort law compensates employees only after an arm is amputated or a worker is crippled, while government regulation in the form of OSHA aims to prevent such horrific injuries from ever happening.

In likening Dawn Brancheau to NFL players and NASCAR drivers, Kavanaugh essentially embraced a pro-corporate legal doctrine that was prevalent in the 19th century—that workers assume the risks inherent in a dangerous job. In other words, if Brancheau got killed or injured, well, tough luck. It’s on them. David Michaels, the head of OSHA under President Obama, criticized Kavanaugh for making “the perverse and erroneous assertion that the law allows SeaWorld trainers to willingly accept the risk of violent death as part of their job.” 

Is Kavanaugh that ignorant of history or is he fully aware of the brutal past of American workplaces, and knowingly trying to drag us back to that brutality? Given the totality of what we know about him, the latter seems the safe bet.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on September 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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Walmart sued for alleged discrimination against pregnant workers

September 24th, 2018 | Melanie Schmitz

Federal regulators have filed a lawsuit against Walmart claiming the retailer forced pregnant workers to take unpaid leave and refused their requests for less physically demanding duties.

Companies are required by law to accommodate employee pregnancies the same way they would disabilities, according to an article on the lawsuit published by Reuters. The suit was filed Friday on behalf of Alyssa Gilliam and several other female employees.

In her complaint, Gilliam said she became pregnant in April 2015, at which point she requested “light duty or transfer to a less physically demanding job” to avoid any heavy lifting that might endanger her pregnancy. She said she was told “light duty” was only available “to employees on workers’ compensation.”

Gilliam claimed her requests for a chair, shorter work days, or additional breaks were also denied. She said that eventually, she was forced to transfer to a part-time job within the company, resulting in a pay cut and loss of benefits.

In November 2015, Gilliam said she submitted a doctor’s note to the company identifying a five pound lifting restriction. Walmart, in response, immediately placed her on unpaid FMLA (parental) leave, two full months before she was due to deliver.

The company allegedly denied requests for accommodations for other pregnancy-related medical restrictions made by other pregnant employees at the distribution center, the suit argues.

By contrast, Walmart “accommodated non-pregnant employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work.”

“For example, Defendant accommodated [distribution center] employees who had restrictions due to work-related injuries by providing them with light duty,” the suit reads.

“Defendant deprived Gilliam and a class of female employees of equal employment opportunities and otherwise adversely affect their status as employees, because of their sex and pregnancy.”

Julianne Bowman, the EEOC’s district director in Chicago, said in a statement Friday that Walmart’s alleged refusal to accommodate the pregnant workers amounted to a violation of federal law.

“What our investigation indicated is that Walmart had a robust light duty program that allowed workers with lifting restrictions to be accommodated,” she said. “But Walmart deprived pregnant workers of the opportunity to participate in its light duty program. This amounted to pregnancy discrimination, which violates federal law.”

The EEOC said it is seeking “full relief, including back pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and non-monetary measures to correct Walmart’s practices going forward.”

In a statement Friday, Walmart spokesperson Randy Hargrove responded to the suit, saying the company’s anti-discrimination policies were in full compliance with the law.

“Our accommodations policy has been updated a number of times over the last several years and our policies have always fully met or exceeded both state and federal law,” he said.

The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart is reportedly facing similar lawsuits in other states, including Illinois and New York. In May last year, Hargrove issued a statement insisting the company was “a great place for women to work.”

According to Reuters, the company requested to have the Illinois suit tossed out earlier this year, but was denied. The New York suit is currently pending.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 22, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Melanie Schmitz is an editor at ThinkProgress. She formerly worked at Bustle and Romper. Send her tips here: mschmitz@thinkprogress.org.

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Does security clearance expire?

September 21st, 2018 | The Attorneys of Passman and Kaplan

Once you are cleared to work for the federal government, the clock starts ticking on your security clearance.

If you stay in your job, you will have to be “reinvestigated” periodically. If you leave your federal agency or contractor job, your clearance can lapse in two years. As you move up the ladder, you may need to obtain a higher level of clearance.

The key is to know your clearance status and be proactive to retain clearance, upgrade or get reinstated.

When does security clearance lapse?

Confidential level clearance, the lowest security threat, is good for 15 years. Secret clearance lasts 10 years. Top Secret clearance must be reinvestigated (reauthorized) every 5 years. This assumes no incidents or allegations arise that would cause the government to scrutinize your clearance.

If you are separated from federal employment (voluntarily or involuntarily), your security clearance can lapse. If you resume work for another federal agency or a federal contractor within that time frame, your clearance is reactivated without an investigation. But if the clock expires, you will essentially have to re-apply for security clearance.

How long does it take to get cleared or re-cleared?

The background investigation accounts for the bulk of the processing period. Clearance for lower level jobs rely more on database searches, while positions with higher security involve interviews and other field work.

According to the National Background Investigations Bureau (NBIB), the average processing time for all security clearances in the defense industry is 325 days:

  • Secret and Confidential clearances average 259 days, and 220 days for reinvestigations.
  • Top Secret clearances average 543 days, and 697 days for reinvestigations.

Why does security clearance take so long?

The government clears about 4 million people per year, but that is not keeping pace with demand. There is an estimated backlog of 700,000 security clearance cases, about one-third of whom are federal contractors. Top Secret (TS) security clearances used to be performed in less than three months. Now even the most straightforward TS cases take a year or more.

The administration aims to shift all security clearance from the NBIB to the Department of Defense. Even if that is more thorough and efficient in the long run, such a huge transition will likely increase the backlog and chaos in the short term. Applicants will slip through the cracks. Hiring and advancement will be stymied. Agencies and defense clients will get restless.

The government is also shifting to “continuous evaluation,” rather than more labor-intensive field work, to manage clearance and renewals. This will ideally speed processing times and reduce the backlog, but again the growing pains will likely be felt by federal employees and contractors who get lost in the shuffle.

This blog was originally published by Passman & Kaplan on September 8, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Authors: Founded in 1990 by Edward H. Passman and Joseph V. Kaplan, Passman & Kaplan, P.C., Attorneys at Law, is focused on protecting the rights of federal employees and promoting workplace fairness.  The attorneys of Passman & Kaplan (Edward H. Passman, Joseph V. Kaplan, Adria S. Zeldin, Andrew J. Perlmutter, Johnathan P. Lloyd and Erik D. Snyder) represent federal employees before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and other federal administrative agencies, and also represent employees in U.S. District and Appeals Courts.

 

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In Crosshairs of Right-to-Work, Kentucky Bourbon Makers Go On Strike

September 20th, 2018 | Michael Arria

More than 50 workers in Kentucky are on strike due to a contract dispute with Four Roses, a bourbon maker with a distillery in Lawrenceburg and a bottling plant in Cox’s Creek. Workers say Four Roses is attempting to adopt a two-tier system that would reduce the benefits for new employees of the company. Members of three different unions walked off their jobs at these sites on September 7.

The move to establish a two-tier system is especially concerning to union leaders because Kentucky became a “right to work” state in 2017, which means that workers are no longer required to pay union dues. A reduction in benefits would presumably give new Four Roses employees less incentive to support the unions financially, potentially dealing an irreparable blow to the company’s organized labor. Since the law passed, 16,000 workers in Kentucky have opted out of paying their union dues.

The unions on strike are United Food and Commercial Workers 10D, United Food and Commercial Workers 23D and Service Employees International Union/National Conference of Firemen and Oilers.

Jeffrey Royalty is the president of the UFCW Local 10D. He told In These Times that the Four Roses’ two-tier proposal is designed to “short change the next generation.” According to Royalty, “For these corporations, ‘right to work’ really means ‘right to take.’ He added that this system will destroy any organization.”

Royalty’s position was echoed by Tim Morris, the political director of Greater Louisville Central Labor Council. Morris told In These Times that the “whole premise” of two-tier system was to “create a divide in the workforce … cause animosity, drive a wedge and make workers not want to stand up and fight when others are attacked.” Morris emphasized, “The people on strike know that to help future employees, they need to stand up for workers now.”

The strike is occurring at a time when tourists are flocking to the area for this week’s Kentucky Bourbon Festival, an annual gathering that features an event at Four Roses’ distillery. Royalty says support from the community has been “outstanding” and that many people have dropped off food and ponchos to the picketing workers.

Four Roses, which has existed since 1888 and was purchased by Japan’s Kirin Company in 2002, said in a statement regarding the strike, “A claim that we are proposing a ‘two-tier’ sick leave policy that discriminates against new hires is not true. We agree that the new hires would not receive the same sick leave benefits as current employees, but we believe the new hires’ program is better, not worse.”

Kentucky’s Supreme Court is currently considering a lawsuit launched by unions over the state’s “right to work” law. The unions are arguing that the law was passed in violation of the Kentucky Constitution. The “right to work” law was swiftly passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and not put up for a popular vote. 

“It’s really not ‘right to work,’ it’s a right for employees to not pay their fair share for the costs of union representation,” Irwin Cutler, the attorney arguing the lawsuit, has argued. “What we see here is an effort to destroy unions, to weaken unions.”

Four Roses and the striking workers are slated to resume negotiations on September 21.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 20, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.

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#MeToo Hits Fast Food: Why McDonald’s Workers Are Out on a Historic Strike Today

September 19th, 2018 | Rachel Johnson

Workers at McDonald’s are set to walk out of work today in ten U.S. cities: Chicago, St. Louis, Durham, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Orlando and San Francisco.

While a string of fast food strikes has hit chains in recent years, this time workers aren’t walking out for higher wages, but for respect and freedom from harassment in an industry known for rampant abuse.

In the non-unionized fast food industry, marked by high turnover, low wages, and poor to non-existent benefits, sexual harassment is endemic. A recent study of fast food restaurants such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s found that 40 percent of workers reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. A full 60 percent of the women who reported multiple occurrences of harassment said they felt pressure to accept the abuse because they could not afford to quit their job.

McDonald’s has faced a slew of lawsuits related to sexual harassment in recent years. In October 2016, Fight for $15, the group advocating for minimum-wage increases in the service sector, filed 15 sexual harassment claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, accusing the McDonalds corporation and franchisees of failing to protect—and sometimes retaliating against—workers reporting harassment.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, an organization supporting the striking workers, McDonald’s management routinely “initiated or disregarded” instances of sexual harassment. Among the incidents reported by the Center: A 15-year-old cashier in St. Louis who was asked by an older male employee: “Have you ever had white chocolate inside you?” When the 15-year-old reported the harassment to her manager, she was told, “you will never win that battle.” In New Orleans, a female worker complained about a co-worker groping her, to which her manager responded that she should “take it to the next level” with him. This same worker also endured an attempted sexual assault, which she did not report because of her past experiences.

“By funding the legal representation in these cases, we hope to help ensure that these charges will be a catalyst for significant change,” Sharyn Tejani, Director of the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund, said in a statement. “Few women working in low-wage jobs have the means or the financial security to challenge sexual harassment. As shown by these charges and thousands of intakes we have received at the Fund from women in every industry, those who report their abuse are often fired, demoted or mocked—and since nothing is done to stop the harassment, nothing changes.”

The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is the latest example of the #MeToo movement’s solidarity with low-wage workers. The Fund, which arose as a response to the sexual harassment faced by women in Hollywood, has now amassed over 200 volunteer lawyers, and has pledged to support “the factory worker, the waitress, the teacher, the office worker.” The organization was also led to this cross-class alliance in part by expressions of solidarity from workers across sectors, including a letter signed by 700,000 female farmworkers associated with the Alianza Nacional de Campesinas, and a 2017 “Take Back the Workplace” march in Los Angeles.

The strike is historic. While labor organizing campaigns have often made sexual harassment a focal point, this strike marks the first multi-state action devoted solely to the issue. 

Workers organizing against sexual harassment at McDonald’s can draw from a long tradition. In the 1830s, one of the first labor struggles in the early phases of American industrialization centered around addressing the sexual harassment and assault faced by female mill workers in Lowell, Massachusetts.

In one of the first efforts to organize workers at a restaurant chain, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE) launched a six-year campaign during the 1960s to organize Playboy Bunnies. The campaign centered around combating the sexist workplace of the Playboy Clubs, an environment rooted in Hugh Hefner’s ethos that “women should be obscene and not heard.”

In the book Feminism Unfinished, Dorothy Sue Cobble writes that tenacious HERE organizer Myra Wolfgang told reporters the Bunnies would “bite back” against Playboy’s sexist working conditions.  And that’s just what they did. According to Cobble, management ultimately agreed to a “national contract promising to pay wages to Bunnies (previously the women relied solely on tips) and allow Bunnies more discretion over uniform design, customer interactions, and company appearance standards.”

While historically unions have (albeit sometimes unsuccessfully) been a bulwark against sexual harassment, fast-food empires like McDonald’s have always been closed off to unions. Without the protection of a union, fast food workers are particularly vulnerable to harassment. But, according to sexual harassment expert Lin Farley, the equation can also be reversed: Harassment can be a tool to prevent unionization and collective worker struggle. “You have fast-food managers systematically using sexual harassment to keep turnover high, so they don’t have to unionize, they don’t have to give higher wages,” Farley told On the Media.

That might be changing, however. With a more class-conscious #MeToo movement, a wave of militant teachers’ strikes, anti-sexual harassment campaigns and strikes in the majority female hotel industry, it’s clear that women are fed up with abuse in the workplace. The McDonald’s strike shows that this increased organizing may soon translate into more wins for labor in the most exploited sectors like the fast food industry, where class struggle is now on the menu.

This article was originally published at In These Times on September 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachel Johnson is a writer based in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in U.S. history from Northwestern University.

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Chicago hotels seem unwilling to meet workers’ demands, as strike stretches into second week

September 18th, 2018 | Casey Quinlan

The Chicago hotel workers strike has entered its second week, but employees and management don’t appear to be any closer to a resolution.

Workers are demanding year-round health insurance, since many workers don’t have insurance during the slow winter months, when they are laid off. They also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads.

Ionela Petrea, a server at Hyatt Regency Bar who is on the worker negotiating committee at the hotel, told the Chicago Tribune last week that there had been two negotiating sessions since the beginning of the strike. Petrea said they were talking about wage increases for tipped workers, heavy workloads, and year-round health insurance, with the last issue being the source of the most contention. Petrea told the Tribune that the reason the hotel is probably dragging its feet on this particular issue because it would be more expensive compared to other requests.

The union argues that the hotel industry can afford to answer the workers’ demands. Sarah Lyons, research analyst of UNITE HERE Local 1, told WTTW, “The Chicago hospitality industry is doing extraordinarily well. Last year there were a record number of visitors: 55 million people. Chicago hotels raked in $2.3 billion in revenue last year.”

The contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, including doorman, servers, doormen, and housekeepers, expired on August 30. The businesses don’t seem any more eager to meet workers’ requests, however. Last week, representatives for these hotels claimed that it was too early in the negotiations process to strike and that workers and management had not reached an impasse. This week, hotels continue to make similar statements and haven’t signaled that they’re willing to meet workers’ demands.

Paul Andes, a Hilton Hotels senior vice president for labor relations, said in a statement to Chicago Reader published on Tuesday that the strike will have “minimal impact” on operations and added, “We continue to provide the service and amenities we are proud to offer our guests and clients every day. We are negotiating with the union in good faith and are confident that we will reach an agreement that is fair to our valued team members and to our hotels.”

However, last week, travelers said that their stay at Palmer House a Hilton Hotel, or as some refer to it, Palmer House Hilton, had a few complications. According to ABC7, towels were piling up, beds were unmade, and check-in lines were long. The same has been true at other hotels during the strike, with managers doing housekeeping and struggling to keep up with the workload. Ernesto Melendez, a Chicago tourist staying at a strike-affected hotel he did not name, said to CBS Chicago, “Our room hasn’t been cleaned for a couple of days. They gave us a notice when we checked in that they weren’t going to clean the room and that’s tough because there’s five of us in the room.”

Some groups holding events have moved their conferences to hotels and other venues where workers are not on strike in solidarity with workers. Last week, the Democratic Attorneys General Association canceled its 200-person policy event at the strike-affected JW Marriott in support of the hotel workers, the Chicago Tribune reported. Howard Brown Health Center, a nonprofit focused on LGBTQ people’s health, moved the Midwest LGBTQ Health Symposium from its original hotel venue where workers were striking to the Tribune to Malcolm X College.

Some national political figures such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and David Axelrod, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, have tweeted in support of the strike.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) decided to give a speech at a striking hotel, however, while Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, alderman for Chicago’s 35th Ward, joined the hotel workers’ picket line.

The Democratic candidate challenging Gov. Rauner, Jay Robert Pritzker, or J.B. Pritzker, a venture capitalist, is a member of the family that owns the Hyatt Hotel chain. Pritzker, who received endorsements from 14 unions in May and has sent a number of pro-union tweets, has not tweeted anything about the hotel strike since it began.

Thousands of Boston hotel employers may be next to go on strike. Last week, Marriott hotel workers voted to authorize a strike against Marrott’s eight Boston hotels to demand better pay and benefits, according to WGBH.

“It won’t only cripple the hotels, but it will send a message worldwide that there’s labor unrest in Boston,” Brian Lang, Local 26 union president, said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

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You Can Be Fired for Not Showing Up to Work During a Hurricane

September 17th, 2018 | Joel Mendelson

Ahead of a natural disaster like Hurricane Florence, politicians and safety officials tell the public to evacuate early and not wait until conditions get bad. We all know that you can lose your home and your belongings, but politicians never talk about the fact that during a disaster, many people can lose their jobs as well.

Even when there are mandatory evacuation orders, many businesses insist that employees still show up for work. Many more won’t pay employees for time missed ahead of, during and after a storm. This forces many to make an impossible choice between protecting their lives or protecting their jobs.

In September 2017, Hurricane Irma wrecked vast portions of Florida. In its wake, Irma left many Floridians without power, shelter or essential belongings. Worse, the impact of the storm meant many people did not know how they would earn their next paycheck. Some lost their jobs because they couldn’t make it into work during the storm, while others were left unemployed after businesses had to shut down for repairs. After hearing about employer threats against people who were evacuating instead of going to work during the hurricane, Central Florida Jobs With Justice conducted a survey to determine how widespread the practice of requiring employees to show up to work in the middle of a Category 4 hurricane really was.

What they found was striking. More than half of those who responded to the survey said they faced disciplinary action or termination if they failed to show up to work during the storm. Others didn’t have to show up to work, but weren’t paid if they couldn’t make it during the evacuation, putting similar pressures on them to show up even in the worst conditions.

To put it bluntly: Even in the middle of a hurricane, many businesses still put their own profits over the well-being of their employees.

But this isn’t the way things have to be. In the wake of Hurricane Irma, the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners passed an ordinance prohibiting employers from retaliating against employees who comply with evacuation orders during a state of emergency, and some employers are taking the initiative to put “climate leave” policies in writing. However, the number of communities and companies with such policies is small and likely will remain so until working people are able to band together to demand protection from the increasing threat of hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. And while federal programs already exist that provide assistance to people put out of work due to disasters, they need to be strengthened and expanded at the state and local levels.

As our climate changes, we can expect stronger hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. Recent hurricanes like Harvey, Irma, Maria and now Florence have impacted millions of people, disrupting lives, destroying communities and killing thousands. The struggles that individuals face before, during and after a major event like Irma or Florence are already great enough without adding the stress of losing your job or wondering when you’ll get your next paycheck.

Now is the time to write new rules to ensure working people can protect themselves and their livelihoods before, during and after big disasters. We know that the climate crisis is already hurting poor people more severely than the wealthy. There’s no need to exacerbate this inequality and force people to lose a paycheck or their job due to our man-made climate crisis.

This piece was originally published at Jobs with Justice and the AFL-CIO on September 18, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Joel Mendelson is a Communications Specialist at Jobs with Justice, where he is responsible for the development and execution of communications strategies, monitoring news and editorial coverage of core issues, and drafting content for campaigns, research publications, and other projects.

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Amazon delivery drivers report wage theft and other abuses

September 14th, 2018 | Laura Clawson

Amazon’s labor practices, from its warehouses to its corporate offices, are terrible—and of course its delivery workers don’t have it any better. Many of Amazon’s packages are delivered by third-party courier companies and drivers face a range of abuses, from wage theft to being pressured into risky behaviors to deliver packages on time, Business Insider reports based on interviews with 31 current or former drivers at 14 of the companies:

Four drivers across three companies said their employers misrepresented the job by promising health benefits without following through. One worker said that when he started his job, his employer promised that he would get health benefits within 90 days of employment. He said he was fired within days of qualifying.

Eight workers across four companies said drivers were denied overtime pay, despite working well over 40 hours a week. Thirteen workers across five companies complained about wages missing from paychecks.

Workers reported being pressured to be on the job on their days off, to work through injury, to ignore stop signs if they were running late, and being fired for challenging illegal practices.

Amazon, of course, says these are contractors and Amazon is trying to work with them to do the right thing, and so on and so forth. But plausible deniability is a key reason companies like Amazon do so much outsourcing of work, and the deniability is that much less plausible coming from a company with Amazon’s labor record in other areas of its business.

Generally speaking, if a giant corporation really really cares about something, its contractors get the message … and if it doesn’t care so much, well, this is what you get. There is one way Amazon can push back against coverage like this: by improving its practices and those of its contractors.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos Labor on September 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. 

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Kavanaugh Still Doesn’t Get It

September 13th, 2018 | Jordan Barab

Good news!

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh does not think it is unreasonable for workers to expect to come home safely at the end of the day, even if they work in the entertainment industry.

So he claims in his response to a written question from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Unfortunately, “expecting” isn’t doing. And Kavanaugh, in his dissent from the SeaWorld case, in his testimony before Congress, and now in his written responses, seeks to take away the the ability of workers to make that expectation a reality.

Now, I’m not an attorney, but I do get to play one in this blog — and, at least when it comes to occupational safety law — I seem to have a better understanding of occupational safety and health law than a certain person who may take a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court of the United States before the autumn leaves start falling. And that’s disconcerting.

Background

For those just tuning in, in 2010 SeaWorld killer whale trainer Dawn Brancheau was dismembered and killed by a killer whale during a live show in front of hundreds of horrified spectators, including small children.

OSHA, which had proven that SeaWorld was aware that the whale that killed Brancheau, had been involved in previous trainer fatalities, and that killer whales in general were hazardous to trainers, cited SeaWorld and ordered them to use physical barriers or minimum distances to separate trainers from whales. SeaWorld appealed, and both the OSHA Review Commission and the federal Appeals Court found in OSHA’s favor.

Kavanaugh dissented from the majority opinion, arguing in his 2014 written opinion that OSHA had paternalistically interfered in a worker’s right to risk his or her life in a hazardous workplace, that OSHA had violated its long-standing precedent not to get involved in sports or entertainment, that the agency had no authority to regulate in the sports or entertainment industries and that Congress — and only Congress — could give OSHA that authority.

And during last week’s Senate confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh doubled down on some of the arguments in his dissent while lying about other parts.

The tort system is not an alternative to OSHA protections

Kavanaugh focuses his responses to the Committee’s questions on two shaky assertions that I addressed in my previous post on his responses to Senator Diane Feinstein’s (D-CA) questions at last week’s confirmation hearing: use of the tort system and asserting that close contact in whale training is just as “intrinsic” to whale shows as tackling is to football or fast driving is to auto races.

Kavanaugh continues to insist that even if OSHA can’t act, workers can still use the tort system and file lawsuits to ensure safe workplaces. In fact, his reliance on tort law as a remedy for worker safety problems has become his preferred method of avoiding answering questions about some of the more outrageous statements he made in his SeaWorld dissent:

QUESTION: You also wrote [in your dissent]: “To be fearless, courageous, tough—to perform a sport or activity at the highest levels of human capacity, even in the face of known physical risk— is among the greatest forms of personal achievement for many who take part in these activities.”

Do you believe that fearless, courageous, and tough people do not expect their employer to “furnish to each of [its] employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to [its] employees.”? If not, please explain.

RESPONSE: State tort law helps ensure that workplaces are reasonably safe. Congress may also regulate workplace safety, as it has done. And federal agencies may also do so within the limits of the statutes and precedents.

When asked how state tort law and our civil justice system help promote workplace safety, Kavanaugh responded:

In general, state tort law and our civil justice system can provide an opportunity for people who are harmed by the actions or negligence of others to recover damages. The tort system thereby helps deter negligent actions and encourages or requires reasonable safety measures. Of course, state tort law is often augmented by state or federal regulation. It was the scope of federal regulation that was at issue in the SeaWorld case.

Well, actually, no.  Kavanaugh has it exactly backwards. Tort law — the ability to file a lawsuit — is not a replacement for the Occupation Safety and Health Act.  One fact that Kavanaugh continues to ignore is that workers cannot sue their employers if they are hurt on the job.

A little history.  Prior to workers compensation, workers could sue employers after they got hurt on the job. Employers obviously had the upper hand with far more resources than individual workers. And their arguments — that workers got hurt because they were careless, or that workers had assumed the risk (and liability) when they took the dangerous work — often prevailed with juries.

On the other hand, employer sometimes lost — and lost big. Juries were unpredictable.

State workers’ compensation systems were created in the early 20th century to establish a “no fault” system where employer-provided insurance would reimburse workers for lost wages while providing first-dollar medical coverage and rehabilitation for work-related injuries. In return, workers gave up the right to sue their employer for any injuries (or — theoretically — illnesses) occurring on the job.

The workers compensation premiums paid by employers were supposed to be connected to the rate of injuries in a company (or in an industry sector) and were therefore supposed to provide a incentive for employers to keep the workplace safe. For a variety of reasons, that incentive was never sufficient to protect employees — a problem that led to passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHAct) in 1970 which requires employers to provide a safe workplace — to prevent workers from getting hurt or killed on the job.

So what the hell is he talking about?

We’ve all heard of workers winning lawsuits that are large enough to change or destroy an industry. The most famous is probably the lawsuits against the asbestos industry following the deaths of hundreds of thousands of workers from asbestos-related disease over the past century.  Another example is diacetyl, a popcorn flavoring that destroyed workers’ lungs. Most use of diacetyl were discontinued after disabled workers or their families won massive lawsuits.

But it’s important to remember that those workers did not sue their employers, because suing your employer is prohibited by comp laws.  They sued a “third party,” the manufacturers of the asbestos or diacetyl — companies like Johns Manville.

You can certainly make the argument that lawsuits against companies that made asbestos or diacetyl ultimately contributed to making the workplace safer for employees who came after those killed or disabled.  But Kavanaugh is trying to make this extremely small tail wag a very large dog.

How is that?

First, legal victories in these lawsuits came long after workers suffered and died horrible and preventable deaths. And tens of thousands continue to die each year from asbestos-related disease, despite the successful lawsuits.

Second, the number of successful lawsuits brought by workers against the manufacturers of hazardous chemicals is tiny compared with the thousands of hazardous chemicals in use today.

Finally,  third party lawsuits are pretty much impossible to use in workplace safety incidents — like SeaWorld. What third party does a worker sue when the employer refuses to provide fall protection equipment, or when an employer forces a worker to go down into a deep, unprotected trench?

Clearly there was no third party for Dawn Brancheau’s survivors to sue after a killer whale dismembered and drowned her. (And third-party lawsuits against God — the whale’s creator — are rarely successful.)

Why doesn’t Brett Kavanaugh — or the staff that actually wrote these answers, or the clerks that work for him  — know all of these things?

No clue. Either they’re uninformed, or they hope the Senators (and the American public) are uninformed. Either way, it’s inexcusable.

Getting eaten by a whale is not the same as racing a car

The second thing Kavanaugh insisted on over and over again in his written responses was the erroneous argument that close contact between trainers and whale was “intrinsic” or essential to whale shows.

When asked to explain how close contact between whale and trainer was intrinsic to the killer whale shows at SeaWorld  — especially when SeaWorld had itself imposed the safety measures that OSHA was requiring — Kavanaugh simply repeated what he argued in his dissent, namely that “[t]he Department [of Labor] cannot reasonably distinguish close contact with whales at SeaWorld from tackling in the NFL or speeding in NASCAR.” 

Well, no. Wrong.

First, as I already explained earlier this week, killer whale shows are not sports.

Whale trainers are not athletes; they’re workers in the entertainment industry. There is no fight between whale and human (or there shouldn’t be). No one is trying to win. No one keeps score. No one is supposed to get hurt. No one is supposed to die.

And second, close contact between whales and trainers is not ‘intrinsic” to whale shows and are not comparable to car racing or football. Obviously you can’t have a car race if cars can’t speed.  Football would arguably not be the same if you couldn’t tackle. But, as SeaWorld continues to prove every day, you can have successful, entertaining killer whale shows even without close contact between whale and trainer.

Finally, just because a hazard may be inherent to a job, doesn’t mean that OSHA can’t require feasible safety measures to prevent workers from getting hurt.  You can’t work on top of a tall building without the danger of working at a dangerous height, but you can protect those workers from falling without killing the construction industry. You can’t process chickens without cutting and hanging, but there are ways to prevent poultry processing workers from getting disabling musculoskeletal disorders while still allowing people to enjoy their wings and nuggets. You can’t have killer whale shows that don’t star a 12,000 pound wild animal with large teeth, but you can protect trainers from the hazard while spectators still enjoy the show. That’s why the OSHAct was passed in 1970.

A Comic Interlude

Now never fear, there is one bright spot to this whole sordid tale. If you think that spending your life incorrectly analyzing the law and taking away workers’ rights must be a dreary job, I learned that you can at least entertain yourself and others by occasionally saying phrases like “ipse dixit”  —  a Latin legal term meaning “an assertion made but not proved.”

Kavanaugh argues in his written comments that despite OSHA’s insistence that it would never ban tackling in football, 

that ipse dixit just brings us back to square one: Why isn’t close contact between trainers and whales as intrinsic to SeaWorld’s aquatic entertainment enterprise as tackling is to football or speeding is to auto racing?

Admit it. It’s not possible to say “ipse dixit” without smiling, just a little.

Conclusion: Kavanaugh is a human time machine

Kavanaugh’s responses to his written questions, ipse dixit, just bring us back to our original question: Why is someone who doesn’t understand occupational safety and health law, and who is hostile to worker safety being considered for the Supreme Court?

This blog was originally published at Confined Space on September 14, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jordan Barab was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor at OSHA from 2009 to 2017, and spent 16 years running the safety and health program at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).

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