Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

NEWS FLASH: Labor Membership Boosts Incomes, Families And Economy

September 14th, 2015 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonStudy after study, report after report, and of course common sense and our own eyes are telling us that unions help people and the economy do better. It’s obvious. But the billionaires and big corporations want to keep pay and benefits low, and pay politicians to keep it that way.

Which Democratic presidential candidates will come out in favor of strong labor rights and the laws and regulations that protect and encourage this?

A new report presented by the Center for American Progress co-authored with economists Richard Freeman and Eunice Han is only the latest look at how labor unions enable working people to do better. The report, “Bargaining for the American Dream: What Unions do for Mobility,” looks at “economic mobility” and “intergenerational mobility” and finds that mobility is better where unions are strong.

Big words, but what does this mean for real people? The study found that areas with higher union membership demonstrate more mobility for low-income children:

? Low-income children rise higher in the income rankings when they grow up in areas with high union membership.
? An increase in union density is associated with an increase in the income of an area’s children – as much as or more than high school dropout rates.
? Children of non-college-educated fathers earn more if their father was in a labor union.

Previous studies had looked at how other factors affected mobility: single motherhood rates, income inequality, high school dropout rates, social capital and segregation. But they had not looked at union membership. This study did look at this and found that the effect of union membership is close to the effect of inequality; only single motherhood has more of an effect.

At an event about the report, former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers (starting about 12:35 in the video) was rather pro-labor. He congratulated the authors for the study, but warned not to necessarily interpret the results as causal. He said the data used could also show that it’s the policies of the old Confederate states that cause lower mobility. Those states “are set up to produce a lot of immobility.” Are unions a cause or a symptom of that? The data show that holding all other factors constant, being in a union does appear to mean your children and grandchildren will do better.

Summers said private sector unionism by its nature goes hand-in-hand with private sector monopoly power and monopoly profits. Unions make sure that workers share in it. But government policies have assisted in making union organizing difficult, thereby decreasing membership.

The report suggested ways that unions might promote increased mobility. Union jobs pay more, which can lead to better outcomes for the kids in union families. Union jobs are often more stable, leading to a stable living environment for children to grow up in. Union jobs tend to come with family health insurance.

These gains show up in children who are not from union families but come from more densely unionized regions. This could be because unions push up wages generally, not just union members, and fight for programs that benefit everyone, especially low-income people.

What Can We Do?

While studies, reports, common sense and our eyes show us that people and our economy do better when workers are able to organize to fight the power of organized wealth, organized wealth is winning. Public policy increasingly supports wealth over working people. Unions are in decline, public investment is in decline, income inequality is rising. Even in times of political domination by Democrats, such as the early years of the Obama administration, little is done to reverse these policies and help working people.

In this presidential campaign Republicans are overwhelmingly speaking out for the interests of the billionaire class that funds them. For example, “Jeb!” Bush has introduced a plan to dramatically cut taxes for the rich. The Republican frontrunner is an actual billionaire.

On the Democratic side, frontrunner Hillary Clinton largely avoids championing specific policy proposals, and in spite of populist language is suspected of supporting the wealth/corporate-owning class. Opponent Bernie Sanders initiated his campaign in an attempt to “move Clinton to the left,” to get her to endorse specific policies that could address the problems of increasing inequality and the decline in pro-worker, pro-labor policies that worsen inequality. Interestingly, he is rising in the polls and even overtaking Clinton in some states as a result of his message.

Will the Democratic Party at large see this and rally for stronger labor laws as part of their plan to fight inequality and raise wages? If Bernie Sanders gets the votes to win the nomination and become the candidate, will the party apparatus fall in line? Or will they continue to provide only lip service – and lose elections?

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on September 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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


Woman Fired For Being Transgender Scores A Victory

September 12th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertJessi Dye was excited about her new job at the Summerford Nursing Home in Alabama. Her experience watching her grandmother be put in a nursing home when she was younger made her want to help others who end up in the same situation. “She felt alone a lot of the time,” the 28-year-old said. “I wanted to be there for people, make it a little brighter place for these people who might not have somebody to visit them.”

She had also been working in fast food, but this job would come with better pay, better hours, and the possibility of fast advancement.

Yet she would only spend four hours actually doing her new job. After going through half a day of training, she says she was told to report to the manager’s office after lunch. “And the first thing the manager said to me when I stepped into his office is, ‘What are you?’” she said. “That’s not a question you ask me as a person, it’s a question you ask some little knickknack… It’s honestly not even a question for a pet.”

As a transgender woman, she had changed the photo on her driver’s license to match her gender expression, but her gender marker was wrong. That was what the manager was looking at as he asked her blunt questions about her gender. Getting a driver’s license updated can be difficult; more than 40 percent of transgender people across the country go without an ID that matches their gender identity, and 11 percent say they were denied in an attempt to update it. But having an ID that doesn’t reflect someone’s gender identity is correlated with much higher rates of discrimination and harassment.

“I can’t describe easily how that felt,” she said of that first question the manager asked her. “The closest thing I can say is that it felt like somebody punched me in the stomach.” She says that the manager not only told her he was letting her go just hours after she started, but that he confirmed it was because she is transgender.

“I walked out the door of the nursing home, said my goodbyes to the ladies I’d been working with, and made the hardest phone call of my life to my wife to say I couldn’t support us the way I’d planned on,” she said. “It was the worst feeling I’ve ever had.”

She has since received some good news: On Thursday, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented her in her lawsuit against Summerford, announced that the nursing home has agreed to pay her a financial settlement, as well as to implement a workplace nondiscrimination policy for sexual orientation and gender and to provide LGBT training for human resource employees, including the manager who fired Dye. A representative of the nursing home declined to comment on the settlement.

The policy change is the most important part for Dye. “That was more of a victory for me than any money could have ever been. Making sure the world’s a little bit safer for the next person who comes along,” she said. “I don’t want anybody to ever have to make that phone call I made that day.”

The loss of a job can be catastrophic, and losing her job at the nursing home was a blow for Dye and her wife. “Our financial stability was completely taken out from under us,” she said. She was able to rescind her two weeks notice at the fast food job, but her entire shift was laid off just a couple of months later. After that, she spent six months looking for work until she found the retail job she has now. “It’s hard to find a job in Alabama anyway, but one that’s openly accepting and easy to work with, not so much,” she noted.

The hope is also that such a case, which is likely the first of its kind won against a private Alabama employer, resonates beyond Dye. “There still seems to be a misperception among many employers that they can fire employees at will for any reason or no reason at all,” said Sam Wolfe, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But there are federal protections against individuals because they are transgender, and we’re hopeful this lawsuit will raise awareness.”

Federal law doesn’t explicitly enumerate gender identity as a protected class against workplace discrimination. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that employer discrimination on that basis violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on sex. Just in April, it ruled that the Army illegally discriminated against a transgender civilian employee by forcing her to use a single bathroom. Yet just 19 states and Washington, D.C.have laws prohibiting employment discrimination that include gender identity. The Equality Act, introduced in Congress in July, would explicitly ban employment discrimination against all LGBT people, but has not yet been passed and doesn’t have any Republican sponsors.

This is part of what motivated Dye to take action in the first place. “It was never about money,” she said. “It was about doing what’s right, standing up and and letting it be known you can’t do this to people, you can’t treat people like objects.”

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 11th, 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.


Raising the Minimum Wage Has a Negligible Effect on Jobs

September 11th, 2015 | William Spriggs

William SpriggsAs states, cities and municipalities across the country raise wages to improve the lives of working people, it is worth highlighting how such moves affect low-income communities of color.

Many argue that higher wages hurt job growth. Here’s why that thinking is wrong.

The Congressional Budget Office, in an extensive review of the available research on the effects of the minimum wage, found that as many studies found job gains as found job losses, with the average estimate being that increases in the minimum wage have no measurable effect on employment. Digging more deeply into the studies’ various methodologies, the CBO noted that the best and most convincing studies looked specifically at instances in which minimum wages were increased in localities where bordering jurisdictions did not raise their minimum wage. The CBO found that in those studies, no significant employment effects were observed in the localities that raised their minimum wage compared with employment in the bordering communities. On that basis, the current consensus among economists is that raising the minimum wage has negligible effects on employment.

During the expansion of private-sector employment that began in 2010, and is now at record length, many states and localities have raised their minimum wage. Despite this, the sector most sensitive to increases in the minimum wage—the fast-food restaurant sector—has seen the greatest job growth of any sector. Job growth in those states with higher minimum wages is not lagging job growth in states that have failed to raise their minimum wage; again, this is true when looking at neighboring states with different minimum wages.

It continues to be the case that minimum wages are presented as a creator or destroyer of jobs. In reality, job growth is driven by rising incomes and growing customer bases that demand products, prompting businesses to respond by hiring more people to increase their output and serve the growing customer demand. Low wages do not create jobs or expand customer bases.

An error often repeated within the black community confuses the notion of not employed with unemployed. These are two separate concepts, and economists use them to understand the policy solution. The black community suffers from a very high unemployment rate—the share of people actively trying to find work. Nationally, while the number of unemployed people per job opening has come down, it remains higher than when the labor market peaks at slightly fewer than two unemployed people per job opening. The black community also suffers from a low labor-force participation rate, which is the share of people either employed or looking for work—those who are active members of the labor market.

Because of high unemployment rates, black working people are far more likely than white working people to accept low-wage work. Among households with full-time year-round working people, 9.2% of black families live in poverty compared with 3.4% of white families; among female-headed households in the black community, it’s 18.1%. At every level of educational attainment, black income is less than white income, just as at every level of educational attainment, black unemployment rates are higher than those of whites. Lowering black people’s wages will not close the unemployment gap faced by black working families.

Blacks will work for less, but that doesn’t mean blacks will work for anything. Some are not active in the labor market because of discouragement over limited job openings. However, many are discouraged not over job openings but over wages. Non-employment includes both those who are unemployed—actively looking for work—and those not in the labor force at all, such as young people who would rather pursue more education than take low wages, mothers who can’t afford transportation and child care expenses at low wages, and non-custodial fathers who wouldn’t net an income at low wages after paying for transportation and child support.

Raising wages will increase black labor-force participation. More black working people will continue to be engaged in job search if the jobs they are chasing pay higher wages. Working and being poor can be a poverty trap itself. Those who want to help the black community should work to raise the wages of the jobs that black people find themselves locked into. Raising wages for black working families means that money will support the growth and survival of businesses in their community.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on September 11 ,2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.


Corporations Deploy Anti-Worker Weapon

September 10th, 2015 | Leo Gerard

Leo GerardInstead of picnicking, Steelworkers in six states spent this Labor Day picketing the gates of a dozen Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) specialty mills.

These 2,200 Steelworkers are not on strike. They never even took a strike vote to threaten a walkout.

ATI locked them out of their jobs.

ATI threw them out of the mills on Aug. 15 even though the Steelworkers clearly told the corporation that they were willing to work – that they wanted to work – while negotiating a new labor agreement.

A lockout like this is a weapon increasingly deployed by corporations to injure workers, families and communities. And corporations are doing it even as workers engage in significantly fewer strikes. The growing use of lockouts to force workers to accept corporate demands demonstrates that the already powerful – corporations – have secured even more might in their relationship with workers. Corporations’ lopsided hold on power in the United States has suppressed labor unions and contributed significantly to wage stagnation and income inequality.

USW District Director David McCall holds Marlee Grinage, daughter of Steelworker Jaimee Grinage, aloft at Steelworker rally.

A century ago, the power imbalance between corporations and workers looked like Jabba the Hutt commanding one end of a seesaw and Yoda clinging to the other. By the 1930s, workers fumed about this inequity and labor unrest was rampant. In 1935, Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) encouraging collective bargaining and giving a little weight to the workers’ end of that seesaw.

For several decades, workers organized and secured gains in pay and benefits. By the 1960s, a third of the U.S. workforce was unionized. Because organized workers had the power to win labor agreements calling for better wages, income inequality declined significantly from its peak in 1929. Thirty years after the NLRA passed, CEOs earned about 20 times the pay of average workers.

Since the day the NLRA took effect, though, corporations lobbied to recover the small measure of power Congress gave workers. Congress, courts and too many state legislatures complied with corporate demands, handing them more muscle in their dealings with workers.

As a result, now only 11 percent of U.S. workers are represented by labor unions, about the same portion as before the NLRA passed. The number of strikes in a given year is down to a sixth of what it was just two decades ago. Income inequality is back to 1929 levels. CEOs now pull down nearly 300 times what workers get.

ATI is an example. It locked out workers to force them to accept massive benefit cuts. Just one year ago, however, it handed its top management team raises of up to 70 percent, so that the top five executives pulled down more than $19 million.

Between 1978 and 2013, corporations increased compensation for their CEOs by 937 percent, while raising worker pay a paltry 10.2 percent.

The situation worsened for workers recently. A study by the National Employment Law Project released last week found that considering inflation, median worker wages actually fell by 4 percent between 2009 and 2014.

This occurred even while worker productivity increased. Another report released last week, this one by the Economic Policy Institute, shows that the benefits of better productivity have nearly all gone to corporations, shareholders and top executives. Workers produced more and got less.  Instead of investing in workers, research and development, corporations are increasingly spending virtually all profits on stock buybacks, a practice that increases CEO compensation.

Corporations are using lockouts to try to take even more from workers. That’s what the Minnesota company American Crystal Sugar did. It was earning record profits, yet demanded concessions from workers. When the 1,300 members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union said they wanted a fair share of the wealth that their labor had created, the company locked them out on Aug. 1, 2011.

American Crystal Sugar contracted Strom Engineering to find replacement workers. That’s the same company ATI hired in an attempt replace its hardworking, highly-skilled Steelworkers. American Crystal Sugar paid the inexperienced replacement workers more than it did its veteran workers – just as ATI is doing.

They’re willing to do that because their goal is eventually to kill the union, just as robber baron Andrew Carnegie and his henchman Henry Clay Frick did in 1892 when they locked workers out of the Homestead Steel Works.

That lockout cost the lives of six steelworkers and at least four Frick-hired Pinkerton guards. But Frick and Carnegie didn’t care about that. In the end, with the help of troops sent by the state, they got what they wanted – the ability to impose wage cuts and hazardous working conditions with no threat of pushback from organized workers.

In Minnesota, after 22 months locked out, a slim majority of Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union members voted to accept the concessions American Crystal Sugar demanded. That seemed to give the company what it wanted – the ability  to more easily stuff into the fists of executives all the sweet profits produced by the hands of labor. But the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Union is fighting back to protect its members.

Labor is not down for the count. Far from it. Check out the thousands of Steelworkers who rallied in Pittsburgh, Chicago and Burns Harbor last week, demanding fair contracts from ATI, U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal. Check out the success of the Fight for Fifteen movement, strongly supported by the Service Employees International Union and other labor groups. Check out the polls showing surging support for labor unions.

Larry Curry, 61, drove from Maple Heights, Ohio, to Pittsburgh to join the Steelworkers’ rally last week. The retiree from ArcelorMittal said he was making a stand. He explained, “The corporations are getting greedier and greedier. They want to give us peanuts. If we continue like this, with them cutting everything, we can’t take care of our families.”

Carl LeDonne, 48, a Teamster, joined the Steelworker rally because he felt he had to defend unions against the current corporate assault on labor. “We can’t give away what my dad’s generation fought and died for,” he said as he marched on Grant Street. “They are coming after all of us. Today it is the Steelworkers under attack, tomorrow it is my union. They want to destroy all unions and force people to work for $2 an hour, 80 hours a week, like a Third World country.”

Eric Martin, 45, of Fombell, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers, marched in the rally because he believes the ATI lockout specifically, and lockouts in general, are attacks on workers. “Corporations are trying to break anyone who they think is standing in their way. I am standing with my brothers in this struggle,” he said.

As the rally began at the United  Steelworkers (USW) International Headquarters on the Boulevard of the Allies in Pittsburgh, David McCall, who is Director of USW District 1, held aloft 7-year-old Marlee Grinage, daughter of Steelworker Jaimee Grinage. “This is what this fight is all about,” McCall said. “It is about a decent future for our children!”

On this Labor Day, with the public at its back, organized labor demands an end to lockouts and to this new age of robber barons who impose them.


This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on September 8th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.


Woman Claims She Was Fired By The Same Company Twice For Being Pregnant

September 9th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertAshley Lucas alleges she was fired not once, but twice, for being pregnant from her job with Service Boss Inc., a company that provides clients with household services such as cleaning, plumbing, and landscaping.

In a lawsuit filed last month in federal court, Lucas says she began working at the company in February 2014 but says she was fired in April, then reinstated, only to be fired again in June. She was pregnant at both times, but she says she had no work restrictions and was able to perform her job. She also says that she was a reliable employee. Given all of these factors, she believes she was fired because she was pregnant.

Lucas also describes management making derogatory comments about her pregnancy. According to her lawsuit, she was told that being pregnant made her unreliable and a liability, that she shouldn’t be working while pregnant, and that she should file for disability or welfare benefits.

Lucas’s lawsuit claims the company violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits sex discrimination in employment, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). She’s seeking to ensure that the practice of firing pregnancy employees ends at Service Boss, as well as back pay, punitive damages, and legal fees. The company could not be immediately reached for comment.

Lucas may be somewhat unique for being fired twice for the same pregnancy, but she’s not the first employee by far to be terminated for getting pregnant. A nonprofit had to pay $75,000 for having a “no pregnancy in the workplace” policy that led to the termination of a pregnant employee. A woman says she was fired after being told to “stay home and take care of [her] pregnancy.” Another says she was fired after being told her pregnancy would make her “move too slow.” The terminations can be swift: one woman claimed she was fired two weeks after telling her employer she was pregnant, while another says it only took hours.

Employers have been warned that these actions run afoul of existing law. Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) updated its guidance for the first time since 1983 to remind businesses that Title VII and the PDA protect employees from being fired for being pregnant and also require them to be treated the same as any others “in their ability or inability to work” when it comes to accommodations and work adjustments so they can stay on the job. UPS also lost a high-profile case at the Supreme Court this year in a lawsuit brought by Peggy Young for failing to give her light duty during her pregnancy despite giving it to workers with disabilities or even suspended licenses.

And violating the law could come with steep financial consequences — in July, for example, AutoZone was made to pay a record-breaking $185 million in damages in a case where an employee said she was demoted and then fired for being pregnant.

Even so, pregnancy discrimination appears to be an increasing problem. Charges filed with the EEOC have increased from more than 3,900 in 1997 to more than 5,000 in 2013, and they have also outpaced the influx of women joining the labor force. The majority of charges are from women claiming they were fired for being pregnant. Meanwhile, an estimated quarter million women are denied their requests for pregnancy accommodations at work each year.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 8th, 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.


Want To Shrink The Wage Gap? Unions Are One Powerful Solution

September 9th, 2015 | Laura Clawson
Laura ClawsonThere’s a stereotype of union members as, well, men. You know: The sweat-stained, blue-collar guy toiling at the construction site, or sweating in a factory. To be sure, it’s a stereotype that’s grounded in reality. Historically, unions have been a powerful conduit that enabled blue-collar men to enter and then build the American middle class. Labor unions succeeded in limiting their working hours, improving the safety of their workplaces, and raising their pay. But that’s only a small piece of the overall union movement.Take women, for example. In 2014, women made up 45.5 percent of all union members, up from 33.6 percent in 1984, according to a new report on women in unions from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

And being a union member can make a big difference for women, raising wages and shrinking the gender wage gap. Keep reading below to see just how stark these differences can be.

  • Among full-time workers ages 16 and older, women represented by labor unions earn an average of $212, or 30.9 percent, more per week than women in nonunion jobs (Figure 1). Men of the same age range who are represented by unions earn, on average, $173, or 20.6 percent, more per week than those without union representation (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c). Earnings data in this section are not controlled for age, education, or industry; when controlled for these factors, the union advantage is smaller but still significant, especially for women and minorities (Jones, Schmitt, and Woo 2014).
  • Union women experience a smaller gender wage gap. Women who are represented by labor unions earn 88.7 cents on the dollar compared with their male counterparts, a considerably higher earnings ratio than the earnings ratio between all women and men in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015c).
  • Women of all major racial and ethnic groups experience a union wage advantage. The difference in earnings between those with and without union representation is largest for Hispanic workers. Hispanic women represented by labor unions have median weekly earnings that are 42.1 percent higher than those without union representation. Hispanic men with union representation have earnings that are 40.6 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts.

Women represented by a union are also more likely to get health insurance and a pension. The overall effect is that unions are helping to lift women into financial security and move workplaces toward equality, just as they helped create the middle class during the 20th century. It’s one more thing to think about as we continue to watch Republicans attack unions and everything they stand for.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 7th, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.


Unemployment Drops To Lowest Rate Since April Of 2008

September 6th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertThe economy added 173,000 jobs in August while the unemployment rate fell to 5.1 percent, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Analysts had expected 220,000 jobs to be added. That’s the lowest unemployment rate since March of 2008.

August jobs reports are frequently unreliable, however, and tend to get revised upward in later reports. The initial report tends to get an extra 90,000 jobs on average in later months, more than double the jobs added from revisions in other months. And revisions for June and July added an additional 44,000 jobs compared to what was originally reported.

August job growth was led by 56,000 in health care, 33,000 in professional and business services, 26,000 in food and drink services, and 19,000 in finance.

Wages rose by 8 cents in August following a 6-cent rise in July, but have risen just 2.2 percent over the last year, in line with record low rates.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on September 4th, 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.


U.S. Supreme Court To Decide Whether Class Action Defendants Can Bribe Their Way Out Of Legal Trouble

September 3rd, 2015 | Leslie Brueckner

TLeslie Bruecknerhe U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide an issue of huge importance to everyone who cares about access to justice. The question, in Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, is whether corporate defendants in class actions are entitled to bribe class representatives to abandon the rest of the potential class members.

Yes, you read that right. According to the corporation who was sued, it should be allowed to cancel out a class action against it simply by offering to settle the named plaintiff’s individual claims. Under the defendant’s view of the law, corporations accused of ripping off millions of people could avoid accountability by repeatedly picking off the few named plaintiffs who are willing to step forward. Campbell-Ewald has even gone so far as to argue that class representatives are bound by such offers, accepted or not, even if it effectively denies all other class members the ability to obtain any relief at all.

The craziest part about the theory they’ve put forth is that it turns the whole notion of adequacy of representation 180 degrees. As we explained in an amici brief we just filed with the Court (along with the AARP), one of the most basic rules of class actions is that class representatives are supposed to represent the others impacted by the wrongdoing. Not only is this required by Rule 23 (the federal class action rule), it’s also required by the U.S. Constitution (due process, anyone?). This means not just that the class representatives are supposed to be competent, they are also supposed to be loyal to the rest of the class members. And that means the class representatives are not supposed to file potential class actions just to make money for themselves, they are supposed to be standing up for everyone in the class.

But if Campbell-Ewald’s lawyers are to be believed, the basic ethical and constitutional premises of class actions were just flipped. They say that corporate defendants in class actions have the right to bribe class representatives to abandon everyone else. And in their view, even if a class representative wants to do the right thing and reject an individual payday so they can stand for the entire class, Rule 68 strips away that possibility, and the court must dismiss the whole case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

If the Supreme Court agrees with Campbell-Ewald, it could spell disaster for the ability of injury victims to obtain any compensation whatsoever via class action suits. Class actions make it economically possible for injured consumers, civil rights plaintiffs, and low-wage workers to pursue claims for relatively small damage amounts for wrongs that would otherwise go unremedied. A Supreme Court ruling that would allow defendants to shut down class actions simply by “picking off” named plaintiffs could wipe countless cases – and countless consumers and others who would benefit from those cases – off the litigation map.

Hopefully, the Court will see this tactic for what it is: a form of bribery that turns the very idea of class representation on its head.

This blog was originally posted on Public Justice on September 02, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Leslie Brueckner.  In 2011, Leslie became the director of Public Justice’s new Food Safety & Health Project. In addition to her litigation work, Ms. Brueckner has taught appellate advocacy at American University Law School and Georgetown University School of Law. She is a senior attorney at Public Justice.


Tech Companies Ordered To Pay Employees $415 Million For Working Together To Lower Wages

September 3rd, 2015 | Lauren Williams

Lauren WilliamsA U.S. District Court finalized a $415 million wage settlement for tech workers Wednesday after four-years of litigation.

Nearly 65,000 employees for Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel filed a class-action antitrust lawsuit in 2011 after the government uncovered emails between Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and other executives that showed companies conspired to not poach one another’s employees in an effort to keep salaries low and reduce turnover.

Judge Lucy Koh of the United States District Court, Northern District of California, who signed off on the settlement, tossed out a previous $325 million agreement earlier this year because it was too low. The companies appealed the decision and then submitted a $415 million offer.

The companies will pay out the settlement to 64,466 plaintiffs listing in the suit according to individual worker’s base salaries between 2005 and 2009, the time period covered during the email exchanges.

Koh will lead a final hearing Thursday to close the matter.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on September 03, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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


Changes to Overtime Rules Getting Closer: Act Now!

September 1st, 2015 | Erik Idoni

erik idoniRecently, the Department of Labor proposed a rule to bring overtime up-to-date. If the proposal goes into effect, an additional 5 million white-collar workers are expected to benefit from overtime. The Department of Labor wants to hear your voice on this proposal and until this Friday, September 4, 2015, they are taking comments on the proposed rule.

Whether a worker receives overtime or not is determined by a three-part test. Under this test, the employee does not receive overtime when:

  1. they are paid a fixed salary;
  2. their salary is at least $455 a week (which equates to $23,660 a year); and
  3. their job primarily involves executive, administrative, or professional duties.

Furthermore, there are exemptions for highly compensated employees who regularly perform executive, administrative, or professional duties and make at least $100,000 a year, including at least $455 a week via salary or fees.

The Department of Labor’s proposal would focus on the salary aspect of the three-part test. Instead of a stagnant number, the salary standard would be set at the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers, which is expected to be about $970 a week, $50,440 a year, in 2016. For highly compensated employees, the standard would be set at the 90th percentile, expected to be $122,148 annually.

This proposal would be a drastic change, but a necessary one. The salary threshold has only been updated twice in the last 40 years. As a result, only 8% of full-time salaried workers fall under the threshold. This is a stark contrast from 1975 when 62% of full-time salaried workers fell below the threshold. Under the Department of Labor’s proposal, of the five million new workers expected to qualify for overtime, 53% of them would have college degrees and 56% would be women.

These days, the few that do fall under the salary threshold for overtime likely fall under another threshold, the poverty line. The poverty line for a family of four is $24,008 a year, or $348 more than the overtime threshold. This means that, a worker making $460 a week could work 50 hours every week, receive no overtime pay, and be below the poverty line.

The Department of Labor’s proposal can still change and they want to hear from you on a wide variety of issues. The agency wants your opinion on the proposal to use the 40th and 90th percentiles, or switch to using changes in inflation to determine the salary threshold. They want to know whether the three-part test is working. First and foremost, they want to know what overtime pay would mean to you and your family.

Make your voice heard and make it clear that this is an important issue that has been ignored for far too long. Share your ideas on the proposal here and your story here. You only have until Friday, but please, don’t make the comments too long they would have to work overtime to read them all, and chances are they don’t get paid for that.


About the Author: The author’s name is Erik Idoni. Erik Idoni is a student at the George Mason University School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.


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