Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

BREAKING—Fight for $15 Organizers Tell SEIU: We Need $15 and a Union

August 15th, 2016 | David Moberg

David MobergThe start to this weekend’s Fight for $15 convention didn’t go as planned.

As roughly 10,000 conference goers gathered in Richmond, Va., to talk about unions and low-wage work, organizers behind the nationwide campaign demanded a union of their own.

On Friday, Jodi Lynn Fennell, a child care worker organizer from Las Vegas, attempted to deliver a letter from a Fight for $15 organizers asking the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to acknowledge it was their employer and to give them the right to organize.

A small group of supporters accompanied Fennell as she approached the stage where SEIU President Mary Kay Henry was scheduled to deliver the keynote address. But security guards stopped them from delivering the letter and escorted them away from the stage. Later, according to the Union of Union Representatives (UUR), a supervisor told Fennell and four other organizers they had to fly back to Las Vegas early Saturday morning, at their own expense.

Roughly 75 SEIU organizers and other field staff outside of the union’s national headquarters belong to the UUR. But Fennell and UUR Vice President Nicholas Calderon say that SEIU has told the roughly 100 other Fight for $15 field organizers who might be eligible to join the staff union that it doesn’t employ them.

At first, Calderon says, SEIU maintained their employer was the payroll processing firm that handles their paychecks. Now, he says, the international insists they’re employed by the individual organizing committees that direct each city’s Fight for $15 campaign.

According to Calderon, nearly 99 percent of funding for Fight for $15 organizers, as well as vehicles and supplies, comes from SEIU.

SEIU did not respond by deadline to In These Times’ request for comment.

“As we have said from the beginning, we are strong believers in the Fight for $15 campaign organizers and workers planned yesterday’s action to try to minimize disruption while still having visibility,” Conor Hanlon, UUR president, wrote in a statement to In These Times on Saturday. “We have no interest in stopping the crucial work going on there but do think it important that workers and community allies are aware of how SEIU is treating the Fight for $15.”

“We are disappointed that SEIU chose to escalate and create divisions between workers and organizers rather than act on our shared principles and beliefs about the fair treatment workers deserve,” he continued. “Nonetheless, the Fight for $15 workers will not be silenced and UUR will continue to fight with them until they are recognized as SEIU employees and getting the treatment they deserve.”

Fight for $15 organizers have a long list of grievances against SEIU. They are worried about the instability of their jobs and a tendency of the union to ramp up staff for one campaign, then shift only some of the staff to the next project. Others argue that because of the long hours, their relatively modest salaries do not amount to $15 an hour by the time their pay is divided by work hours, often much more than 40 hours a week.

But the biggest grievance organizers express is that SEIU pays them to advocate for the right of every worker to join a union but denies that same right to its own organizers. Ultimately, some workers say, SEIU’s position may undermine public support and open up lines for employer attacks.

Hypocrisy scars an organization, says Fennell, and could weaken the union in its important fight.

“We don’t have the right to join a union that we’re fighting for other workers to have,” she told In These Times. “When we’re fighting for everyone to have $15 an hour, we should have it ourselves.”

The initial organizing of Fight for $15 focused on fast-food workers in New York but quickly spread to other occupations and across the country. It includes workers in child care and elder care, early childhood education, university research and teaching, manufacturing, fashion and other building services, many of whom may move frequently from low-wage job to low-wage job over their lives.

The campaign, almost entirely funded by SEIU, can claim credit for raising pay for about 17 million of the roughly 64 million workers less than $15 an hour, with 10 million on the path to $15.

Its progress has come mainly from winning stronger state and local laws—not from any dramatic uptick in low-wage workers forming unions. That is true even in the low-wage industries that, unlike fast food, were already often organized to varying degrees by SEIU and others.

Although the strategy for establishing unions is unclear, Fight for $15 appears committed to expanding the range of workers that SEIU is able to mobilize for direct action. Tactics include strikes at fast food outlets and legislative campaigns for higher minimum wages, whether across the board or piecemeal.

For the past couple of years, the campaign’s emphasis on politics has increased, as illustrated by the choice of Richmond, Virginia, for this weekend’s meeting—billed as the organization’s first convention.

The decision to meet in the capital of the Confederacy also reflected an intensification of efforts to link the problems of America’s low-wage economy to continued structural racism with its roots in slavery. Fight for $15 must fight for both racial and economic injustice, SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the opening session of the meeting.

“You can’t have one without the other,” she said.

Likewise, you can’t advocate effectively for unions, some Fight for 15 organizers say, without having the right to join one yourself.

It is true that over the labor movement’s long history, many unions have fought with their staff over whether staff could or should organize.

But a movement like the Fight for $15, which is founded on the right of every worker to join a union, is more likely to win broad support if it follows the old adage: Practice what you preach.

At a time when the labor movement is especially vulnerable, unions need to avoid any grounds that could cost them public support—especially in a campaign as promising and crucial as the Fight for $15.

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The Fiscal Myth That’s Killing The Economy, In 7 Steps

August 13th, 2016 | Richard Eskow

RichardEskowA new economic working paper reinforces an important reality: We need more government spending to repair the economy for millions of working Americans. Unfortunately, our political debate is being held back by an economic myth – one that has yet to be challenged in political debate, despite an ever-growing body of evidence against it.

The paper, by L. John Bivens of the Economic Policy Institute, is called “Why is recovery taking so long – and who’s to blame?

The myth is called “austerity,” and it can be roughly defined as “the persistent but false belief that government spending cuts are always a good idea.”

Here are seven things about austerity worth knowing:

1. Our current recovery is too slow, and isn’t reaching everybody it should.

As Bivens points out, employment took longer to reach its pre-recession levels this time around than it did in the previous three recovery periods. Perhaps even more significantly, the rate of job creation remained slower after the recession officially ended.

What’s more, the jobs created after the 2009 crisis were weighted heavily toward lower-income professions. Labor force participation for people of working age remains low, even though it has improved somewhat.

And, as the Center for Economic and Policy Research recently reported, the percentage of people who are involuntarily working part-time rather than full-time is 25 percent higher now than it was before the recession.

As CEPR’s Nick Buffie notes, “Over 6 million people are working part-time involuntarily, and on average they work 23 hours per week. Because full-time workers are typically employed 42–43 hours per week, this is effectively a wage cut of almost 50 percent for the affected workers.”

2. The weak recovery affects a lot of full-time workers.

It is not just the unemployed and underemployed who are affected by the weak recovery. Many full-time workers are earning less than they would be if the economy had rebounded at a faster pace, creating more and better jobs than it has.

The American middle class needs a raise. But millions of people won’t get their raises until the economy is stronger and the demand for workers goes up. And demand will remain low until there are more jobs to fill.

3. We know what to do about it.

Government has two tools at its disposal in situations like this: monetary policy and fiscal policy. Monetary policy was promptly deployed after the latest crisis, both to bail out Wall Street and to improve the overall economy. The Federal Reserve should have been more attentive to the Main Street economy, using some of the creativity it used to rescue the financial sector, but it did cut interest rates and that helped.

Unfortunately, fiscal policy, in the form of job-creating government spending initiatives, was used only sparingly at the federal level. Over the past seven years there have been spending cuts at the federal, state and local levels. That’s the opposite of what’s needed, especially in an economy like this one.

As Bivens points out, it’s necessary to increase demand under conditions like those we see today. A simplistic overview of the process: The government creates jobs, the people who get those jobs spend more, the economy’s “pump” is primed and growth follows.

We aren’t talking about radical, far-left ideas here. This approach has been mainstream economic thinking for many decades, and was successfully applied under Democratic and Republican administrations alike.

4. We relied on the myth of austerity instead.

But recent years have seen the rise of different ideas – ideas that were tended and nurtured by right-wing institutions like the Peterson Foundation, and by conservative economic thinkers too numerous to mention. “Austerity economics” – the belief that governments can cut their way to growth – became conventional thinking in the halls of academe and the halls of power. It is obsessed with deficit spending, to the exclusion of other concerns that are often more pressing.

Austerity-driven cuts have hurt the U.S. economy. Austerity’s done even more damage in Europe. When the global financial crisis of 2008 struck, multilateral decision-makers (including the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, or IMF) imposed a harsh austerity regimen on Greece and other struggling European economies. The result, as we now know, was disastrous.

To its credit, the IMF conducted an internal review of its actions during this period. The report found that IMF officials ignored a number of warning signs and had a “strongly optimistic bias” about the effects of austerity. The report also agreed with an earlier investigation that found “a high degree of groupthink, intellectual capture … and incomplete analytical approaches.”

That’s pretty much what happened here, too.

The crisis of 2008, and the events that followed, disproved austerity economics and other hallmarks of conservative economic thought. But it remains popular in powerful circles – perhaps because, as Upton Sinclair said (in the gendered language of his time): “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

5. It’s mostly a Republican problem …

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, Republicans remain steadfast in their opposition to government spending – even for government jobs like teaching, firefighting, and emergency management.

As Bivens explains:

“We are enduring one of the slowest economic recoveries in recent history, and the pace can be entirely explained by the fiscal austerity, particularly with regard to spending, imposed by Republican policymakers, members of Congress primarily but also legislators and governors at the state level.”

The Republican Congress can even take much of the blame for state-level spending cuts, since transfers from the federal government account for more than 20 percent of state and local spending.

Bad economies aren’t an act of God. They are a result of human action – or inaction.

6. … but a lot of Democrats have bought into the myth, too.

A number of top Democrats echoed the rhetoric of austerity, too. That led to weaker political support for the spending we needed, and probably clouded the judgment of Democratic leaders when it came time to make the case for needed spending increases.

President Obama spent far too much time fighting for a “grand bargain” on spending with congressional Republicans that was rooted in austerity thinking, and too little time challenging that thinking. He also had the habit, especially in his first term, of echoing the false economic tropes of the austerity crowd by saying things like “just like every family in America … the Federal government has to live within its means …”

National budgets don’t work like family budgets at all – that is, unless the family in question issues its own sovereign currency.

There are strong hints of austerity-oriented thinking in Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric, too. That puts her at odds with enthusiastic backer Paul Krugman, who wielded a poison pen on her behalf during the Democratic primaries but is currently making the case for borrowing and spending.

Austerity thinking was highlighted at last month’s Democratic National Convention when Gene Sperling, a senior economic advisor to former presidents Clinton and Obama, was featured in a humor-oriented anti-Trump video produced by “Funny or Die.” Whether or not hilarity ensues must remain a matter of personal opinion, but the video clearly relies on austerity economics – specifically, an exaggerated fear of deficits – to scare viewers.

There has never been a better time for the federal government to borrow money and invest in the economy. It can obtain very low interest rates, the economy would respond very well to job creation, and we urgently need to spend money on repairing and expanding our national infrastructure. (The American Society of Civil Engineers says we need to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020.)

7. We need a national debate about austerity economics.

Hillary Clinton has proposed modest levels of infrastructure investment and other government spending – modest, but better than nothing. President Obama put forward similar spending proposals. But these proposals suffer from a fatal flaw that renders them useless in today’s climate: They’re too large to get past the Republicans in Congress and too small to change the political debate.

Democrats have not directly challenged Republicans on government’s proper role in the economy. Too often, they have tried to co-opt the rhetoric (and sometimes the policies) of austerity instead.

Republicans, on the other hand, offer a clearly articulated and internally coherent (if utterly fallacious) economic perspective. Democrats can also offer a coherent perspective, too – one with the added advantage of having been proven by experience. That perspective can make life better for millions of people.

This is the economic debate this country needs. But we won’t get it until someone challenges austerity economics and the conservative philosophy behind it – directly, unambiguously and fearlessly.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on August 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

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Fire Departments, Airports and Military Bases May Be More Toxic to Workers Than You Think

August 12th, 2016 | Elizabeth Grossman

elizabeth grossmanDrinking water supplies for at least six million Americans contain toxic industrial chemicals at levels that exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recommended safety limit. This number is likely an underestimate since the information available through the EPA does not include data for about one-third of Americans—those 100 million or more people who rely on private wells or the vast majority of public water systems that serve communities with populations of 10,000 or less. These are the conclusions of a new study whose authors include scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the University of California at Berkeley and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

The study “is just showing us the tip of the iceberg,” says author Philippe Grandjean, Harvard T.H. Chan adjunct professor of environmental health and University of Southern Denmark professor of environmental medicine. What also remains largely undocumented is the extent of exposure to workers on the frontline of this chemical use.

While industrial sites were previously recognized as sources of these highly fluorinated, toxic and environmentally-persistent compounds, this is the first nationwide study to document that wastewater treatment plants, along with military bases and airports where these chemicals are used in fire-fighting foams, are also contributing significantly to drinking water contamination. The study reports groundwater and surface water near some of these bases and airports with concentrations of these chemicals 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than the EPA’s health advisory level for drinking water.

While the EPA’s May 2016 fact sheet says, “Such contamination is typically localized and associated with a specific facility for example, an industrial facility where these chemicals were produced or used to manufacture other products or an airfield at which they were used for fire fighting,” the new study shows the contamination is much more widespread. The study’s findings suggest that not only are far more people potentially exposed through drinking water than previously thought, but that the military bases and airports where these fluorinated foams are used may be hotspots of exposure. This means that in addition to runoff from these sites, exposure to those working with these foams may be a health concern, as suggested by recent testing that showed firefighters to have elevated blood levels of fluorinated compounds.

What are PFAS?

These synthetic chemicals (they don’t occur naturally) known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, are used in waterproofing, stain and grease-resistant and non-stick coatings. They’re used in clothing, furniture, carpets, paints and food packaging, among other products. They are also used in plastics and computer chip manufacturing, and in the fire-fighting foams used in military trainings and at airports. These compounds have been so widely used over the past 60 years that theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found these chemicals in the blood of more than 97 percent of the Americans tested. These chemicals have also been found in newborns’ umbilical cord blood, an indication of prenatal exposure.

Given the well-recognized potential environmental and health hazards of PFAS and widespread exposure, the EPA has recently lowered its drinking water health advisory limit for PFAS.  But this is a guideline, not an enforceable standard. The six PFAS compounds that the EPA is now monitoring in drinking water standards are part of the agency’s Unregulated Contaminated Monitoring Rule program. This requires participating public water systems to monitor for certain contaminants and report on their presence. But it doesn’t require public water systems to ensure that the health advisory levels aren’t exceeded.

“Most wastewater treatment plants don’t remove these compounds,” explains study author Cindy Hu, doctoral candidate in environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

“We’re concerned about these chemicals because they’ve been linked to a wide range of adverse health effects. And drinking water can be an important source of exposure,” says Hu.

Various PFAS have been linked to certain cancers, elevated cholesterol, immune suppression, obesity, low birth weight, reproductive system problems and hormone disruption. Levels of PFAS found in the environment have also been linked tosuppressed immune systems in children.

“These compounds are incredibly stable, so they can leach into the groundwater over many years and they stay there,” says Grandjean.

“Their half life is on the order of several years,” explained study co-author Laurel Schaider, research scientist at the Silent Spring Institute. “If you stopped being exposed, it would take a couple of years to reduce levels in your body by half,” said Schaider.

For this reason, says Grandjean, “Even the small contributions”–or exposures–“are what we worry about.”

Even though the EPA recently lowered what it considers a safe limit in drinking water, Grandjean worries that this level is not sufficiently protective.

“Unfortunately, I have to say, the EPA water limits are way, way too high,” he says. The concern is the large “number of people that are exposed to levels that we can see are associated with adverse effects on the immune system and carry risks of miscarriage,” he explains. These are, he says, “levels that we’re not protecting people against.”

Workers on the frontline

The fact that so people are likely exposed to PFAS through drinking water at levels of concern to scientists raises additional concerns for people–like firefighters– regularly exposed on the job.

Existing studies examining firefighters for the presence of perfluorinated compounds in their blood have shown elevated exposure after responding to fires. A study of California firefighters found such levels to be three times higher than that of American men tested by the CDC. That these compounds persist in the body and can produce adverse effects at low levels makes cumulative exposures a concern. For female firefighters there’s the additional concern that these chemicals can be passed on to a fetus or infant.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation, there are about 19,299 airports in the United States, a number that includes both military and civilian airports. And according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are an estimated 137,300 U.S. workers employed in aircraft maintenance. But, to date, beyond the studies looking at blood concentrations of PFAS in firefighters, the limited occupational exposure studies for PFAS have largely been of workers at plants that manufacture these chemicals. And most such studies have been conducted or commissioned by companies producing the chemicals. Some ofthese studies have linked exposure to high blood cholesterol. Others have found links between exposure and some increased risk of prostate cancer. But overall, the industry-commissioned studies say there is not yet sufficient evidence to establish a causal link between PFAS exposure and adverse human health effects.

Yet, says Schaider, the studies that might begin to link PFAS exposure to specific health outcomes in fire fighters and others using these foams haven’t been done. Some are now just getting underway, through the International Association of Fire Fighters, which is examining impacts of these fire-fighting foams on women fire fighters. But she says, “Unfortunately, I don’t think this has been addressed yet.”

And while there is ample documentation of “highly polluted water” at airports and military bases where PFAS are used, “epidemiological data on the military is hard to come by,” says study author Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute.

The solution? For one, says Blum, “The military needs to needs to investigate alternative fire-fighting foams that don’t contain any highly fluorinated compounds.”

“My key message,” says Grandjean, is that because these chemicals “are so persistent and we are discovering more and more effects at lower doses, we need to vigorously reduce these exposures.” And, he says, for people “who’ve been exposed over a long time, exposures should get as close to zero as possible.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 11, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American,Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

 

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Undefeated Olympic U.S. Women’s Soccer Team Is Still Fighting For Equal Pay

August 10th, 2016 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertThe U.S. women’s soccer team is already on a roll at the Olympics in Rio.

So far, they haven’t lost a single game they’ve played, winning against New Zealand and France and tying with Colombia. They didn’t even give up a goal during the first two games and are now first in their group. They’re well on their way toward gold.

Yet the victorious streak comes amid their continuing fight to be paid equally with the U.S. men’s team, which didn’t even qualify to participate in this year’s summer Olympics.

In March, five stars on the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT)?—?Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Hope Solo?—?filed a complaint on behalf of everyone on the women’s team with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They alleged that the U.S. Soccer Federation unfairly pays female players less than those on the men’s team.

In their complaint, the players claimed that they are paid almost four times less than the men’s team players. For example, the women say they are paidjust $1,350 each for winning a friendly match and nothing for a tie or loss, compared to $9,375 for a men’s victory (even more if they win against a top-ranked team), $6,250 for a tie, and $5,000 for a loss.

The women’s team has a contract specifying that top-tier players get $72,000 a year as a base salary, while the men aren’t guaranteed payment. But the complaint pointed out that if the USWNT were to lose all 20 friendlies in a season, a player would get $72,000, while if it won all 20 she would get $99,000. The men, on the other hand, get $100,000 a year for losing all 20 friendlies, $1,000 more than a victorious female player. Meanwhile, they get about $263,000 each for winning all 20 matches–38 percent more than a winning women’s player.

The women’s team also gets nothing for playing in World Cup matches until they get into fourth place, even though the men’s team gets payment for each game played regardless of the result. They got just $2 million for winning the World Cup last year, while the U.S. men’s team earned $8 million for losing in the first round. Meanwhile, the German team that won the men’s World Cup got $35 million.

The women have argued that their pay is unfair in part because the men are compensated more for just showing up, while the women have to perform at world champion levels to get comparable pay.

The current team has been ranked number one in the world for 12 of the last 13 years, won three World Cups, and got the gold at four of the five Olympics that included women’s soccer?—?so they’re getting unequal pay for unequal work. Another gold medal would only add to their pile of accomplishments.

But the U.S. Soccer Federation, the target of the USWNT lawsuit, has fired back.

In June, it filed a response with the EEOC in which it called accusations of discrimination “unwarranted, unfounded, and untrue.” It also claims that the women’s team players are actually paid more than the men. The team’s compensation “is comparable to (and in many cases better than) the compensation U.S. Soccer provides to the MNT,” it says in the filing.

Without going into a detailed breakdown of pay, the Federation notes that among all USWNT players who got any pay between 2012 and 2015, their average compensation was $279,743?—?about $90,000 more than average compensation for a men’s team player over the same time period.

The Federation also argues that the five players who brought the complaint were paid more than the top five highest-paid members of the USMNT when World Cup money is taken out of the picture. Yet when that income is included, the five female players earned 3.8 percent less than the men?—?despite winning the cup. Meanwhile, the Federation’s response also admits that the 14 women who are among the 25 highest-earning U.S. soccer players earned 2.2 percent less, on average, than the men in the same group.

The biggest inequalities show up at the bottom, not at the top, of the pay scales. According to data obtained by the New York Times dating back to 2008, the 25th highest-paid female player made about $341,000, compared to $580,000 for the corresponding male player, and the male player in the 50th slot made 50 times more than the female one.

The Federation argues that if there are any pay differences, they should be chalked up to the fact that the men’s team has historically generated higher ratings and more revenue. The men’s team brought in about $144 million between 2008 and 2015, according to the Federation’s filing, compared to $53 million from the women’s team. Attendance at USMNT games was more than double that of USWNT games between 2001 and 2015.

Meanwhile, although it admits that the women’s World Cup final got “unprecedented” TV ratings last year, it argues that historically men draw twice the viewership.

The fight has garnered attention from the U.S. Senate, where Patty Murray (D-WA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have been looking into why the two teams are paid different amounts. After viewing the data provided in the Federation’s response, the two senators sent it a letter asking for more information about the revenue it gets from TV contracts and the efforts it makes to promote the women’s team. They also pointed out that the Federation’s own data shows that viewership for the Women’s World Cup last year set a record, and not just for the final match.

“We remain focused on the pressing issue of pay equity for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team,” they wrote. “We, along with millions of women’s soccer fans, are looking forward to rooting for the Women’s Team as they compete in the summer Olympic Games in Brazil.”

The differences between revenue and viewership also don’t take into account the systemic and historic disadvantages that women’s soccer has faced. Nor has either side in the dispute brought up other disparities like being made to fly coach while the men fly business class or racking up a third of the men’s teams expenses over a year.

Since filing the complaint, the USWNT has continued to be vocal about their cause. At a match in July, they sported t-shirts that read #EqualPayEqualPlay and took to social media to discuss the pay gap. It remains to be seen if they bring the issue up as they go for gold in Rio.

This article originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 10, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

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CUNY Workers Overwhelmingly Approve New Contract With 94% Voting Yes

August 9th, 2016 | Brandon Jordan

RobertSchwartzAfter six years without a contract, City University of New York professors and staff will finally get a raise.

Members of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), which represents more than 25,000 professors and staff at CUNY, voted overwhelmingly—94 percent—in favor of a new contract.

The deal is retroactive. It covers workers from October 2010 through November of next year. CUNY employees will receive a compounded salary raise of 10.41 percent, along with other benefits that include retroactive pay and health insurance for adjuncts.

“I am grateful for the members’ strong support for ratification of the contract and eager to begin work on what remains to be done. If we stay organized and remain in solidarity, a better university is within our power—and our power will continue to grow,” PSC President Barbara Bowen said after the results were announced this week.

Voting began on July 11 and ended Wednesday. The contract deal had already passed the union’s delegate assembly on June 23; CUNY’s board of trustees approved the deal on June 27.

Mike Fabricant, the PSC’s first vice president, told In These Times that the “extraordinary” result will help to validate the agreement.

“(With) 94 percent of your membership voting yes, that speaks to a consensus that you’re going to get,” he said.

Fabricant cited benefits, such as a three-year appointment for adjunct professors, as reasons why members favored the contract. More than 86 percent of adjunct faculty who took part in the vote supported the deal.

Still, some were against it. They stressed the lack of pay parity and adequate salaries for adjunct professors.

Andy Battle, an adjunct professor at Hunter College, told In These Times that he voted against the contract. For him, it widened the gap between full-time faculty and part-time professors.

“Our union has to be an organization that resists this at every junction. It dismays me the leadership makes us accept this,” he said.

Part-time professors make an average of $3,000 per course, with few benefits. Full-time faculty, on the other hand, tend to make much more.

“It shows we have a lot of work to do to reach not just activists, but also the broader rank-and-file (workers),” Battle said about the contract vote.

Fabricant said that achieving pay parity for adjuncts would require more than a contract. Rather, investment is needed from the state. For example, since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011, per-student funding to senior colleges hasdeclined by three percent.

“If you are disappointed in one part of a contract, join us to make it better,” Fabricant said.

Battle agreed on organizing against state-imposed austerity, but questioned the methods taken by the union, such as lobbying.

Over the past year, the union campaigned hard for a contract. In November, some 50 members were arrested at CUNY’s central office while demonstrating for a contract. In May, 92 percent of members voted to authorize a strike.

“We need to be broad, and we need to be militant. The PSC will tell you they will reverse austerity, but the current leadership has been trying to do this for 16 years, and it hasn’t had much of an effect,” Battle said. “The only thing that politicians listen to is people in the streets.”

Fabricant said the union will begin talks with the administration about a new contract before the current one expires next year. But for now, the union is relieved this six-year chapter is over.

“We recognize there is more to do, (but) we need to celebrate victories,” said Fabricant.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist living in Queens, New York. He has written for publications such as The Nation, Shadowproof, Truthout and City Limits. Follow him on Twitter @BrandonJ_R.

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Donald Trump’s New Childcare Plan Would Only Help The Rich

August 9th, 2016 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertIn his economic policy speech on Monday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is expected to announce a new policy: allowing families to fully deduct the cost of their childcare expenses from their taxes.

The announcement will mark Trump’s first foray into work/family issues and follows up on his daughter Ivanka’s promise during the Republican National Convention that he “will focus on making quality childcare affordable and accessible for all.” But experts say that his plan will do nothing to help low- or even middle-income families, instead solely benefitting the rich who least need help affording child care.

“It’s absolutely regressive,” said Helen Blank, director of childcare and early learning at the National Women’s Law Center.

“It’s absolutely regressive.”

Tax deductions benefit the wealthy, who usually owe more come April 15. A deduction helps them reduce that amount. But many low-income families don’t owe anything in income taxes because they make too little and qualify for credits that reduce or erase their burdens. Currently, 35 percent of all people filing taxes don’t have a liability come tax time, and Trump has said he wants to significantly expand that number.

It’s the lower- and middle-income families, however, who are paying the greatest share of their income for childcare. Families who live in poverty spend over a third of their monthly income on it, while those living just above the poverty line spend about 20 percent, according to Katie Hamm, senior director for early childhood policy at the Center for American Progress. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.) Everyone who makes more, however, spends less than 10 percent of their income on average.

Meanwhile, if childcare expenses are fully deductible with no cap at all, the more a family spends on child care the more it benefits. “For folks who are in the upper earning bracket, who have a higher tax rate to begin with, and who are paying more money to have child care options like au pairs for example, those people are likely to receive large cost savings,” said Sarah Jane Glynn, director of women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress. “Whereas a single working mom who makes around the minimum wage is going to get nothing out of this.”

Speaking of Trump, she added, “It would really help people like him and not help anybody else.”

The country has already tried a child care tax deduction and decided it didn’t work. “We had a tax deduction until the late 70s,” Blank said. “The deduction was made into a credit because a credit is more equitable.” A low-income family can take advantage of a credit, especially if it’s refundable, which allows it to get money back at tax time even if it doesn’t have a tax liability.

The tax code is also a poor tool for easing the burden of increasingly unaffordable child care. Even if it were to help lower-income families, they would only get the benefit of their tax return once a year in a lump sum. But child care expenses are ongoing, bills that usually have to be paid monthly or even weekly.

“It would really help people like him and not help anybody else.”

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on August 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

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Apple Store Employees Are Diverse, But Their Silicon Valley Co-Workers Lag Behind

August 5th, 2016 | Lauren Williams

Lauren WilliamsApple is Silicon Valley’s most diverse tech giant. According to the company’s mint diversity and inclusion report released Wednesday, Apple has been able to significantly increase its number of female and minority employees since 2014.

Women make up 32 percent of Apple’s employees worldwide, up two points from 2014. Apple’s report also boasts that racial and ethnic minorities consisted of 54 percent of new hires in the United States since June 2015. But those boosts largely come from hires in Apple’s retail stores — not tech workers in Cupertino, California.

Racial and gender diversity in retail has jumped since 2014. Seventeen percent of Apple store employees are Hispanic or Latino and 12 percent are black — a 4 point and 2 point increase respectively. Asians have much lower representation in retail stores at 7 percent, but make up 27 percent of the company’s tech employees.

Apple diversity 2016

CREDIT: APPLE

The percentage of white employees is steady at 59 percent, which could indicate that even as Apple continued to grow its retail workforce, diversity was a priority in the hiring process. Women still only make up 32 percent of their retail employees, but that is a slight improvement over two years ago, when they were just 30 percent of their staff.

The retail industry is more inherently diverse than tech industry at large, and Apple’s numbers are on par with that: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women hold 31 percent of jobs in electronic stores, while blacks make up 14 percent, Asians represent 9 percent, and Hispanics hold 19 percent of those jobs. But Apple is also one of the only tech companies with any significant retail presence, meaning their overall diversity numbers benefit in ways that most other Silicon Valley giants do not. Apple employs more than 30,000 retail employees in the U.S., where the company has more than 250 stores, double the number of their next closest competitor Microsoft.

Apple diversity 2016

CREDIT: APPLE

On the tech side, gender diversity has improved by 3 percentage points since 2014, with 23 percent of tech jobs filled by women. The number of Asian workers has ticked up 4 points since 2014, with the number of blacks increasing 2 points. Hispanics in tech saw a marginal increase from 6 percent in 2014 to 7 percent in 2016.

The transformation of Apple’s workforce from a white, male dominated company to one that is more reflective of society as a whole is a slow process, but Apple’s report is heartening. CEO Tim Cook has been outspoken and proactive about the tech industry’s need for diversity of all kinds, including religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. In fact, some of the company’s most visible — and perhaps most laudable — improvements have been in its outward representation.

Apple has been more inclusive during their signature product launches, putting more women and people of color on stage during big events. Apple Music VP and head of global consumer marketing Bozoma Saint John was the highlight at the company’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June. The native Ghanaian, who joined Apple in 2014, is the brain behind Apple Music’s hit 2015 Emmy awards commercial featuring black entertainers Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson, and Kerry Washington casually singing and dancing to tunes.

Incremental changes, such as increasing recruitment from historically black colleges and universities, are noteworthy. But while Apple can’t change Silicon Valley’s make-up in a year, the company is working to change the face of the brand. Those changes will hopefully reverberate, not only within Apple’s tech sector, but the industry overall.

This post originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on August 4, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress. She writes about the intersection of technology, culture, civil liberties, and policy. In her past lives, Lauren wrote about health care, crime, and dabbled in politics. She is a native Washingtonian with a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

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On Trade, Our Choices Aren’t Only Xenophobic Nationalism Or Neoliberal Globalization

August 5th, 2016 | Leon Fink

leon finkFew issues are receiving a more insipid—and thus more harmful—treatment in our public discourse than world trade.  Along with immigration, “free trade” is now the foremost symbol of a supposed either/or choice between globalism and nationalism.

“Globalists” generally hail the liberal marketplace as the engine of economic prosperity and assail its critics as uneducated and irrational isolationists, while “nationalists” instinctively identify trade with economic decline (or at least the loss of good working-class jobs), rising inequality and a general loss of control over the future.

As CNN host Fareed Zakaria put it after Britain voted to leave the EU, “the new politics of our age will be not be left versus right, but open versus closed.”

This framework risks closing off our best possibilities for building a progressive economic future. We need a new paradigm.

Some historical perspective is first in order. That is the only way to account for the fact that those forces—call them white working class— today most deeply resentful of the open market were among its loudest champions during the first three decades after World War II.

The wartime Bretton Woods agreement together with the immediate post-war Marshall Plan reintegrated the Western-plus-Japanese economies on the basis of stable currencies, expanding markets and political democracy. After the catastrophe of Nazi-era cartels and hyper-nationalism—including the United States’ own notorious Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which set barriers of up to 59 percent on imported goods—Western workers, generally well-organized in trade unions, felt as much stake in the rising tide of economic growth as did their bosses. A slick pamphlet designed for mass distribution by the American Federation of Labor in 1947 heralded “The Promise of Bretton Woods—5,000,000 Jobs in World Trade.”

In these early years of globalization, what we today call the Global South mattered mainly as sources of cheap raw materials or as markets for Western-produced goods. In hindsight it is easy to see how the global system that so long fed American middle-class prosperity came back to bite it, once poor countries (in alliance with multinational corporations) developed their own manufacturing platforms.

In an age of transportation and communication revolutions, geography proved less and less a haven for higher-cost home producers against distant competitors—and, to be sure, not even that distant. By the NAFTA era of the mid-1990s, U.S. workers were making ten times the average wage of their Mexican counterparts. If placed in direct competition, how could they possibly hold onto their jobs?

The question remains, however, how best to tackle the negative effects of globalization without upsetting the entire applecart of world trade? Oddly, most other problems of world economic integration have found solutions through compromise, whereas trade has remained the province of extreme either/or.

In finance and currency crises, for example, the International Monetary Fund and/or World Bank regularly intervene to protect a national currency from abrupt free falls. In oceanic mining and fishing, worldwide agreements limit territorial overreach to prevent the exhaustion of vital resources or whole species. However inadequately, even on the climate crisis, world powers have accepted the principle of limits and the need to discipline fuel consumption and carbon output.

Yet, there is no such movement towards an adoption of mutually-agreed international principles on matters of trade. In a politically suffocating manner, one is either pro-free trade (most big business and most Clinton-Bush-Obama policies), anti-free trade (Donald Trump with a proposed 45% tariff on China) or stumbling in the middle (pro-then-anti-TPP Hillary Clinton). The Trans-Pacific Partnership, in particular, attempts to overcome First World skepticism with side agreements on labor, affecting workers in Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, but the record of enforcement for such guarantees is spotty at best.

The options here present a silly, self-defeating set of choices and one that both workers and consumers in the United States and Europe need quickly to transcend.

Interestingly, as early as the time of Bretton Woods, there were voices calling for a better international architecture when it came to world economic integration. The left-of-center Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) even got initial support from the administration of Harry Truman for the creation of an International Trade Organization (alongside the IMF) that would coordinate further bilateral or multilateral trade openings with tangible commitments regarding employment, development, and investment. Hopes for the ITO collapsed when conservative Republicans captured the Congress in 1950. No similar idea has been seriously considered since.

In the spirit of the ITO, we need a return to the quest for a new world order as undertaken at Bretton Woods, but this time with a more encompassing agenda. Not just financial stability, but the regulation of trade and debt must be on the agenda. Global exchanges should yield equitable employment as well as enhanced bottom lines.

In the case of proposed NAFTA or TPP-type agreements, one could imagine an actualized ITO insisting on a step ladder of wage increases in the cheaper-labor countries as well as plans for displaced workers in the higher-wage countries before approving massive shake ups. In return, poor countries could count on significant debt relief.

Absent a move towards what we might call progressive internationalism, we are forced to choose between “globalists,” heedless of the consequences of development for those outside the professional and financial classes, or “nationalists,” suspicious of and hostile towards the world beyond our borders. Neither posture holds out much prospect for economic renewal, either at home or abroad.

This post originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Leon Fink is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and editor of the journal Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas.

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A Message for CUNY Members: Don’t Take the Money

August 3rd, 2016 | Sigmund Shen

RobertSchwartzI recently attended a memorial service for James Haughton, an alumnus of the City University of New York (CUNY). As founder of a group called Harlem Fight Back, Haughton was a central figure in the fight against racist hiring in the construction industry. One of the eulogists spoke about the first time he joined a Harlem Fight Back “shaping” crew, walking onto a job site to demand work for people of color from the community. The contractor claimed not to be hiring and quickly offered the delegation a payoff of $35,000, in cash, to go away. Shaken, crew members went asking for guidance from Haughton, who said simply, “Don’t. Take. The Money.”

The 27,000 members of CUNY’s faculty and staff union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), should consider Haughton’s advice before voting to ratify our first contract in years. (Voting opened last month and is set to end Wednesday.)

We have been working under an expired contract, even as management hiked tuition in five of the last six years. Between 2009—2014, the cost of living in New York City rose 23 percent. As part of this year’s contract campaign, the PSC lobbied and organized protests and civil disobedience, coordinating with students and community groups. An escalation of public actions culminated in a strike authorization vote in May.

Weeks later, the PSC bargaining team accepted a contract offer from management, with retroactive raises adding up to a little more than 10 percent and a tray of one-time “signing bonuses.”

When the agents of the ruling class smile and offer you “X” amount of cash and promises, it’s easy to believe that this is a sign that you’ve won. It’s not. I’ll tell you what it is a sign of though. It’s a sign of how much they want you to go away. It’s a sign of how much they stand to rake in, monetarily, from their ability to make you go away. I guarantee they want nothing more than for us to take the money.

The union bargaining team says they fought hard, and that this contract is the best they could do. Like many of my brothers and sisters, I take their word at face value, without second-guessing. But do you want to know what else I take at face value? The “yes” vote to authorize a strike.

The vote happened despite the Taylor Law, which covers municipal workers and would criminalize us the moment an actual strike began. Every union member would be docked two days of pay for every day or part thereof that he or she takes part in a collective job action, with union leaders imprisoned and the union itself losing its right to collect “fair share” fees. In the face of this law, 92 percent of voting PSC members still opted to authorize a strike.

Given that law, not to mention the two-tiered system of our full-time and adjunct members, the vote was a remarkable statement of courage and unity. It was also a measure of the immense anger at management, some of which could redirect to the union if we are perceived as too eager to settle.

Am I saying I want to go on strike? Not exactly. But the other side wants that to happen less than we do. Much less.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo cashed a campaign donation from libertarians Charles and David Koch. Given the Kochs’ neoliberal, technocratic, pro-privatization agenda, CUNY workers must not ignore the implications of the state’s attack on public higher education. But neither should we underestimate the power we have built to fight back.

It’s the right time for the national labor movement to try a new thing (or ten!) and a strike by us would inspire others. Think of the Chicago Teachers Union, which went on a one-day strike on April 1; the Verizon workers, who faced down a telecommunications giant; the Transport Workers Union, which a decade after taking on the Taylor Law, stood up and endorsed Bernie Sanders on the eve of the big New York primary. For that matter, think of the PSC who pulled off a 92 percent “yes” vote on strike authorization.

We’ve had other victories too. In the last two years of our contract campaign, the state and the university administration have threatened to cut $485 million from our budget, merge us with the State University of New York, raise tuition again and limit peaceful protests by students and staff alike. At the LaGuardia campus where I work, the administration even tried to intimidate students for uniting with faculty. Every single one of these threats was withdrawn in the face of our organizing.

At a meeting with PSC delegates, our president Barbara Bowen assured us that although she recommended passage, if members voted the contract down, she was ready to work on an alternative. I have no doubt that Bowen and the leadership would answer such a call. Despite our flaws and contradictions, there is no other municipal union in NYC I trust more to be able to mount a serious challenge to the Taylor Law by organizing an effective strike.

Do Cuomo and CUNY Chancellor James Milliken really care if we strike? Of course they do! Can we really get more? Of course we can, people!

The trouble is that time is not on our side. Every moment that our 92 percent vote is not being turned into actual strike preparation, the power and solidarity we have built fades.  Like bright Arctic ice melting to dark water that absorbs more sunlight instead of reflecting it, when power and solidarity melt away, cynicism floods in.

After seven years without contractual raises, many hope to ratify this contract and resume the larger struggle another day in another way. Others point out that the settlement’s uniform, across-the-board raises would widen the pay gap between full-time and adjunct faculty, enabling the administration to further expand the pool of vulnerable cheap labor on which the exploitation of all workers and the erosion of academic freedom depend. A settlement would also cut short one of the most militant contract campaign our union has ever waged, leaving students isolated and more vulnerable to another tuition hike.

On March 24, I joined a group of CUNY students and staff at the governor’s office. Demanding a fair contract for the PSC, we lay down on the sidewalk and were promptly arrested. Sitting in jail, I was haunted by the story of CUNY student Kalief Browder, who waited on Rikers Island for three years with no trial and later took his own life. Like he was, my students are being charged some five times the tuition I paid at Queens College in 1989. Like he did, they sit in overcrowded classrooms, with overworked faculty and staff. If we vote this contract down, and prepare to strike in the fall, CUNY will think twice before trying to raise tuition again. So, why take the money and run now?

Let’s keep standing by our students and keep fighting for a contract that, like this university itself, is a product of a historic and unfinished struggle. By voting no on this contract ratification, let’s begin to honor our 92 percent vote of “yes.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sigmund Shen is an alumnus of Queens College, associate professor of English at LaGuardia Community College and current chair of the LaGuardia chapter of the Professional Staff Congress.

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Massachusetts Becomes First State Ever To Ban Employers From Asking For Salary Histories

August 2nd, 2016 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertMassachusetts has leapfrogged over all other states to pass the most robust equal pay law in the country.

The law takes a step that is completely unique: it prohibits employers from asking prospective hires about their salary histories until after they make a job offer that includes compensation, unless the applicants voluntarily disclose the information. No other state has such a ban in place.

Many employers require applicants to give them a salary history at the outset or during the initial steps of the hiring process, usually to determine how much they should be paid and whether the employer can afford their salary. But this disadvantages women, who, thanks to a variety of factors that can include outright discrimination, make less than men on average. Women make less than men in their first jobs even when education and field are taken into consideration, and they are also penalized in salary negotiations, while men get an advantage. If the next employer bases a salary on the previous one a woman was earning, that discrimination will only be furthered.

Massachusetts’s new law also mandates that employers pay men and women the same not just when they do the exact same work, but when their work is “comparable.” Most laws only require men and women in the exact same job to be paid equally. The state defines comparable work as being “substantially similar” in skill, effort, responsibility, and working conditions — not just based on job titles or descriptions. It does, however, allow for differing pay scales based on seniority — so long as a lack of seniority for a female employee isn’t related to pregnancy or family leave — merit, production, geography, education, experience, or training.

Women’s work has long been undervalued even when it’s substantially similar to what men do.Housekeepers make less than janitors, for instance. And when women move into higher-paying, male-dominated jobs, the pay drops.

There was a movement in the 1970s and 80s among state governments to ensure comparable pay equity in their own workforces. They ended up spending $527 million to adjust women’s pay to make it equal with men who had essentially the same job duties, eliminating about 20 percent of women’s wage gap.

A paper at the time found that a national pay equity law, one that looks like Massachusetts’s, would eliminate more than a quarter of the overall gender wage gap.

The new law also bans salary secrecy, blocking employers from keeping their employees from talking about pay with each other. About half of all employees say they are either prohibited or discouraged from discussing compensation, even though they have a legal right to do so. That makes it incredibly difficult for women or other marginalized groups to discover whether they’re being unfairly paid less than their colleagues.

A handful of other states have passed their own equal pay laws aimed at closing the gender wage gap. California passed one at the end of last year mandating pay equity for comparable work and banning salary secrecy, and New York passed a package of bills that included prohibiting salary secrecy. But none of them have gone as far as Massachusetts in including a ban on employers asking for salary histories.

Massachusetts’s new law unanimously passed the state legislature, and Gov. Charlie Baker (R) has said he will sign it into law.

Meanwhile, progress toward passing national legislation to address the gender wage gap has been blocked in Congress. Republicans have repeatedly blocked the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would ban salary secrecy, and the Fair Pay Act, which would mandate equal pay for comparable work, never even gets a vote.

This post originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on August 1, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

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