Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Discrimination complaints hit group fighting Trump's health policies

August 16th, 2019 | Rachana Pradhan

Rachana PradhanSome of its employees have described an environment allowing mistreatment of minority and LGBTQ employees.

A legal aid organization leading the fight against several Trump administration policies, including health care for LGBTQ and low-income people, is facing its own internal allegations of discrimination.

The National Health Law Program, or NHeLP, was founded in 1969 to advocate for health care rights of underserved people. It has grown more prominent in the Trump era, taking on causes like fighting Medicaid work requirements. But some of its employees have described an environment allowing mistreatment of minority and LGBTQ employees, including instances of bullying black women; employees telling “off-color jokes” about women and Jewish people; and a “sense of not belonging among LGBTQ staff,” according to a 2018 assessment on its workplace culture obtained by POLITICO.

Elizabeth Taylor, a former Justice Department attorney who became the group’s executive director in 2014, said leadership has worked, and continues to work, to fix problems flagged by the 53-pageassessment, which the organization commissioned amid high staff turnover and concern about workplace culture.

“We appreciate the urgency of addressing racism both internally and in our outward facing work,” said Taylor. She said remedies include diversifying leadership, bringing in a human resources company to do management training, convening all-staff retreats focused on equity issues and establishing ground rules for conduct during meetings and other workplace interactions.

But a half dozen individuals who work or have worked for the social justice nonprofit claimed workplace inequities persist. All of them worked there after the January 2018 report.

NHeLP employs roughly three dozen attorneys, policy experts and administrative staff across its three offices in Washington, Los Angeles and CarrboroN.C.

“They say we hear you and we understand you but then don’t see results,” said one employee who called the pace of change too slow. “Things have to change.” That employee, as well as other current and former employees who spoke to POLITICO, asked to remain unidentified.

Taylor acknowledged that improvements may not occur quickly enough for certain employees — but that the changes can’t be rushed if they are to be done correctly and sustainably.

The January 2018 report, in addition to interviews with several former and current employees, depict an organization struggling to create an equitable workplace even as it battles the Trump administration over policies it says are discriminatory or punitive to low-income people and other marginalized groups.

The legal group is not alone in grappling with these issues; many sectors of society including Hollywood, Congress, the media and both the corporate and nonprofit worlds are uncovering mistreatment, abuse andemployee discrimination.

Since 2016, 14 people have left NHeLP, including eight people of color, according to figures the organization provided to POLITICO. Four of them left this year, including two individuals who are ethnic minorities.

It is unclear whether all these departures were related to the issues raised in the report. POLITICO was unable to reach some of the people who left in recent years; others did not respond to queries.

One employee who left after the 2018 assessment told POLITICO there were challenges around the retention of minority staff and lack of leadership opportunities.

“I think that there are situations that they are trying to improve. I just think it’s a long road ahead,” said the individual who left after concluding there was no opportunity for advancement.

NHeLP for decades has fought in court for patient access to a range of health care services, such as medications for severe chronic illness, children’s mental health benefits and abortion. It has also advocated for legislation expanding health insurance coverage. The group’s profile — along with its fundraising — has grown in the Trump era, its work seen as indispensable among health care advocates who oppose a range of Trump policies they believe will weaken the health care safety net for millions of people.

The organization has led successful lawsuits blocking the Trump administration from allowing the first-ever Medicaid work requirements in three states, though the Justice Department has appealed and other states are still planning on adding work rules. NHeLP is also likely to challenge the administration’s looming rollback of civil rights protections for LGBTQ patients, which the nonprofit helped shape as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The organization raised $8.3 million in 2017, more than triple the $2.6 million it raised in 2014, according to tax documents (though below the nearly $11 million that came in during 2013.) In 2017, as Republicans in Washington sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the group hired 11 people, about three times as many as the year before. Despite staff turnover, the organization grew.

NHeLP has stood out as a rare legal organization that is primarily led by womenYet it has struggled with retaining a diverse staff, even as it expanded.

“We know that we still have work to do and we’re doing it,” Taylor said.

Many nonprofits as well as for-profit entities struggle with boosting diversity and installing leadership that is more representative of the populations they serve.

“This is something that’s urgent and most every nonprofit in the country is struggling with,” said one individual in the nonprofit sphere who has worked with NHeLP for years. “Figuring out a way to address it is vital.”

Taylor said the departures in 2016 of three employees of color who worked on policy issues was one reason NHeLP stepped up its diversity and equity efforts, including hiring an outside firm to examine its workplace culture. That review by the Management Assistance Group produced the January 2018 assessment.

“There were certainly things in it that resonated with me,” said Wayne Turner, a senior attorney based in Washington, declining to give specifics. But he added, “I think for people who have been here for a while, it’s kind of history and we’ve moved beyond that.”

The group’s board in 2017 also adopted a strategic plan that included priorities to boost equity internally as well as in other areas, including partnering with organizations that represent the interests of people of color.

Then the January 2018 report came. The report, which is based on interviews and observations provided by current and former staff as well as board members, detailed management styles that alienated staff of color and LGBTQ workers.

The report noted the perception among some employees that “there were instances where women of color had more experience but white staff were identified as more capable.” It also relayed descriptions of instances when individuals acted “surprised when a person of color is a good writer.”

“Management issues are so bad and pervasive,” the report quotes one employee saying. “While I’ve benefited from being a white woman, it is hard to see it because it is such a challenge. It is worse for people of color.”

The report said people observed “bullying” of black female employees, but it did not provide details or indicate how many individuals witnessed it. Nor did it provide more details about off-color jokes.

“There were things in there that were shocking as leaders of the organization to read,” Taylor said.

The report said NHeLP’s emphasis on maintaining a workplace culture of “niceness” and avoiding conflict can prevent employees from raising concerns related to treating workers equally. Managers also “often” meant to create an inclusive atmosphere, but those efforts backfired at times, the report said.

“We learned that managers often have the best intentions to make staff feel included and welcome, however due to miscommunication, disparate management styles, and assumptions about what people want, are skilled at, and need, their actions do not land as intended, and too often create an atmosphere of unintended hostility,” the report reads.

Not all employees perceived that hostility; the report found most staff believed NHeLP’s offices were pleasant and knew their colleagues had “the best intentions in mind.” Many of the current and former employees interviewed by POLITICO, who represented a diverse group, also had a positive impression.

“It was a pretty decent organization,” said one former employee who nonetheless witnessed staff turnover and people of color voicing concern about the workplace environment. This individual said that managers attributed staff departures to millennial “job hop,” rather than looking at deeper issues.

“There was definitely that brush off — ‘oh, that age group,’” the former employee said.

Taylor said she had never heard anyone on the management team make such a remark.

She said the organization views the effort to improve workplace culture as a “long-term commitment.” Employees said NHeLP set up committees to address various issues, from improving partnerships with organizations led by people of color to hiring, retention and office culture.

“I feel like staff was given a lot of leeway from management to come up with a staff-driven process on how to address these issues that were going on,” said one employee who had not personally witnessed bullying but did occasionally hear off-putting jokes at work. This individual was concerned that co-workers might be impatient and “lose faith.”

“It’s not a short-term process,” the person said. “Doing something on a consensus basis, staff-led process is going to be slower.”

Two individuals who work or have worked at the organization viewed some of the remedies as inadequate. “We have all of these committees and I honestly just don’t know why,” said one.

NHeLP’s director of health policy Leonardo Cuello said the organization is making changes deliberately and doesn’t view improving diversity and equity as “a check the box thing.”

“You have to do things in the right order and you have to do it with professional support, and you have to do it thoughtfully and kind of in accordance with the model practices. And that takes time,” he said.

“We’ve been working on it for two years and there’s a reason for that.”

This article was originally published by Politico on August 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rachana Pradhan is a health care reporter for POLITICO Pro. Before coming to POLITICO, she spent more than three years at Inside Health Policy focusing on implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Prior to that, Pradhan worked at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., and spent most of her time covering city government (with the occasional foray into stories on urban chicken-keeping and the closure of neighborhood pools).

Pradhan is a rare local of the Washington, D.C., area and graduated from James Madison University. She was also news editor of JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze.

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Construction workers prepare to battle former ally Trump

August 16th, 2019 | Ian Kullgren

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)

A powerful union group uneasy about a Labor Department apprenticeship proposal has “the potential to be a significant force in the 2020 election.”

One of the nation’s largest labor groups embraced Donald Trump at the start of his presidency, in hopes he would create construction jobs and retreat from proposals that might reduce workers’ wages.

But now the two sides are on the brink of war, endangering a key bloc of Trump’s support in Midwestern swing states in 2020.

At issue is a deal gone bad between Trump and North America’s Building Trades Unions over a Labor Department apprenticeship initiative, the politics of which have grown more complicated since last month’s ouster of Secretary Alexander Acosta. Leaders of the union federation worry that the final version will undermine their own job-training programs and create a supply of cheap labor for developers, undercutting high-skilled construction workers who rely on prevailing-wage jobs to make ends meet.

“It’s an existential threat to the Building Trades,” said a former administration official with knowledge of the discussions. And it has the powerful group — a union federation that represents millions of construction workers across the U.S. — seeing early signs of a member-driven revolt against Trump in 2020.

Such a turn could further weaken Trump’s already-declining support in the Midwestern states that won him the presidency in 2016, when many Building Trades members embraced his pledge to create working-class jobs and improve the nation’s infrastructure.

“The Building Trades have the potential to be a significant force in the 2020 election,” said Steve Rosenthal, a strategist and former political director for the AFL-CIO, “particularly in some of the key swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Iowa.

“The Building Trades know how to mobilize their members and move votes,” he added. “And their opposition to Trump can have a ripple effect beyond their members and their families to other voters in the communities where their members live and work.”

Trump sought to shore up support with the Building Trades this week at an appearance in Pennsylvania. Aninstruction sheet given to workers attending the event said the president hoped to “promote good will from the labor unions,” and he wasted no time doing so.

“I love the unions and I love the workers,” Trump said. “And, you know, when I built buildings in New York … I built them exclusively with unions. People don’t understand that. I was exclusive.” (Until recently, it was virtually impossible for anyone to build anything in New York City without union labor.)

Though its leadership endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign, NABTU has always been viewed as more conservative than other labor groups, and since Trump’s victory it has weathered criticism from the left for that reason. Trump — who won the majority of white male union members — made a point of meeting with the leaders of several construction unions on his third day in office, after which NABTU President Sean McGarvey exalted their “common bond with the president.”

“We come from the same industry,” McGarvey told The New York Times after the meeting. “He understands the value of driving development, moving people to the middle class.”

In April 2017, McGarvey praised Trump as “the very definition of an American success story” before an audience of members in Washington.

McGarvey’s group had a keen interest at the time in securing construction jobs from the Trump administration’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure program, which never came to fruition. McGarvey also had an interest in dissuading Trump from an early impulse to push repeal of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, which requires the federal government to pay prevailing wage — typically union scale — on construction projects. Trump backed off the idea after floating it early in his presidency.

But the Building Trades and the administration are increasingly at odds over the apprenticeship initiative, a proposed rule that would create industry-supervised job training programs. The Labor Department’s proposal has received more than 160,000 comments, the vast majority of them from union members vouching for the strength of the unions’ existing training programs. Most of the comments implicitly rebuke officials in the White House who have sought to make the proposal less favorable to unions.

The two sides appeared more in agreement in June 2017, when Trump issued an executive order aimed at “easing the regulatory burden” on apprenticeships. In an effort to expand job training to new industries, the administration proposed to create a class of “industry-recognized” programs with fewer restrictions than existing government-sanctioned programs.

McGarvey agreed at the time to join Trump’s committee to help create the apprenticeship system — with the understanding that NABTU’s own government-supervised apprenticeships would be untouched, according to his chief of staff, Michael Monroe.

NABTU says it had a deal with the administration to exclude construction jobs from the new proposal, to protect the Building Trades’ existing programs for training pipe fitters, iron workers and roofers, among others. But that agreement was with Acosta. Now NABTU’s leaders fear that White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and his deregulation hawks won’t honor the bargain.

Trust between the Building Trades and the White House began to unravel in May, when the White House forced out Acosta’s chief of staff, Nick Geale, after an inquiry raised questions about his treatment of subordinates. But there was perhaps a deeper source of tension: Mulvaney and some domestic policy advisers judged Acosta too cautious on deregulation and too accommodating to unions.

When he took over as acting chief of staff in January, Mulvaney had judged the situation so dire that he seized Acosta’s rulemaking authority, commanding final say on policy matters. Then came the Labor secretary’s resignation in July, days after Mulvaney urged Trump to fire him over a lenient 2008 plea deal that Acosta, then the U.S. attorney for southern Florida, had struck with wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

Before he left, Acosta persuaded Ivanka Trump, who was involved in the apprenticeship rulemaking, to keep construction out of the new industry-led program, according to the former administration official. The Building Trades had told Acosta that letting developers pay industry-recognized apprentices less than prevailing wage would create price competition with NABTU’s program.

“It would lower standards, it would put workers at risk, it would put projects at risk, it would put communities at risk,” Monroe said. “All the features that make ours successful, to undermine that is to undermine the veracity of the system at large.”

Acosta’s decision was also driven by politics, according to the former official, who noted the Building Trades’ strong grassroots operation in the Midwest. Democrats on Capitol Hill were sounding alarms about the Labor Department’s new industry-led program, too, warning that it risked creating low-quality programs with lax oversight.

Acosta and three White House officials did not respond to requests for comment.

In the proposed rule published in June, the Labor Department said it would not “initially” accept industry-led apprenticeship applications for the construction sector, but didn’t rule out doing so later. That language stirred deep anxiety among Building Trades leaders, and prompted NABTU to direct a torrent of public comments to the Labor Department about the proposal.

NABTU leaders say they’ve observed a high volume of comments from the Midwest. An iron worker from Indiana, encapsulating the sentiment, told the Labor Department that his union apprenticeship provided a pathway to the middle class — and expressed concern that it would “disappear” under the administration’s proposal.

In April, meanwhile, McGarvey said the Building Trades might not endorse any candidate 2020. Hacked emails released by WikiLeaks showed internal dissent from some member unions, including the Teamsters and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, following the federation’s endorsement of Clinton — demonstrating how tenuous NABTU support was for any candidate.

Clinton performed poorly in 2016 among union households, winning only 51 percent — the narrowest margin of victory for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1984. In Ohio, Trump bested Clinton among union households by 9 percentage points. But the next Democratic nominee could poll more strongly with that group in 2020, Building Trades brass argue, if their voters feel betrayed by Trump.

“This is not necessarily what people supported or thought they would get out of this administration,” Monroe said. “The fact that they’re out there engaging on this is something I would think that people in more political circles than I am would probably take notice of.”

This article was originally published by Politico on August 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

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Save Veteran Construction Training Programs

August 15th, 2019 | Union Veterans Council

After coming home from the Army, Union Veteran Council Executive Director Will Attig struggled to find his place. “I came home without a job, a degree or a future,” Attig said. That changed when he found a Registered Apprenticeship Program with the North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU) and became a journeyman pipe fitter with the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters (UA).

This is not only Attig’s story but countless other veterans who have found the registered apprenticeship programs as a way to achieve the American dream after returning home from service. At the same time, we have seen private organizations and for-profit schools create phony programs that prey on veterans leaving them with sub-par training and no true education. Right now, the future of America’s veteran construction workers, the integrity of their industry and programs that support tens of thousands of veterans’ transitions are at risk.

“The Registered Apprenticeship model gives us the same level and quality of training we received in the military,” Attig added. “This is one of the reasons why veterans choose to attend NABTU Registered Apprenticeship Programs and are joining construction unions at a rate almost double then non-veterans.”

A new proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor could drive down training and labor standards in construction registered apprenticeship programs and set off a race to the bottom throughout this industry. We have less than a month to stop it from becoming a reality. Here is how you can add your voice to the fight. While we applaud the government’s interest in expanding apprenticeship opportunities in new industries, [Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs] have no place in construction.

How Can You Help?

First, if you are a union veteran and a member of a building trades union, we need you to click the link below to submit a comment. It takes less than five minutes and could mean the difference in defending the way of life for your fellow construction workers, your family and yourself.

Building Trade Veterans: Click here to take a stand!

Second, if you are not a member of the building trades but support your fellow union veteran brothers and sisters, please follow the link below to send in a comment voicing your support and solidarity for your fellow union veterans in the trades and the programs that are helping thousands of veterans find a way to truly return home.

Veterans and Supporters: Click here to take a stand!

The proposed IRAPs differ significantly from registered apprenticeship programs. Construction registered programs help recruit, train and retain workers through progressive wage increases; apprentice-to-journey worker ratios that promote safety; quality assurance assessments by the government; uniform standards; mandatory safety training; instructor eligibility requirements; and transparency requirements. The proposed IRAP regulations abandon the important protections of the registered model and give employers the license to implement whatever low-road standards they see fit.

IRAPs in construction would jeopardize both the quality of construction and the safety and security of veterans in the construction workforce, thereby weakening every community across the country where our fellow veterans and workers reside and are needed.

As veterans and supporters of veterans, the time is now to stand together and oppose second-rate IRAP certifications that would undermine the gold-standard that the registered apprenticeship programs have attained.

This post originally appeared at the Union Veterans Council.

This article was originally published at AFL-CIO on August 14, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The Union Veterans Council brings working-class veterans together to speak out on the issues that impact us most, especially the need for good jobs and a strong, fully funded and staffed VA.

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Proposed anti-LGBTQ Labor Department rule would let federal contractors discriminate

August 15th, 2019 | Casey Quinlan

The Labor Department proposed a new rule Wednesday that would allow broad religious exemptions for businesses with federal contracts, which could undermine the rights of LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups. This could apply to hundreds of thousands of contractors and subcontractors.

It applies to a number of organizations, such as schools, societies, and corporations. The rule says, “A religious purpose can be shown by articles of incorporation or other founding documents, but that is not the only type of evidence that can be used.”

“The problem isn’t so much that [contractors] will necessarily hold sincerely religious beliefs, but they will use this as an excuse for their homophobia and their transphobia,” said Victoria Rodriguez-Roldan, senior policy counsel for the National LGBTQ Task Force. “At the Task Force, we are concerned and many people of faith and faith-based communities that are progressive may see this as a problem.”

Several LGBTQ organizations and organizations focused on the separation of church and state attended meetings with Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) officials this summer in anticipation of the rule. The National LGBTQ Task Force, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, National Women’s Law Center, National Center for Transgender Equality, and the Human Rights Campaign held meetings with officials from May to July about the proposed rule.

Rodriguez-Roldan said that she met with the director of the OFCCP, Craig E. Been, and that he “kept insisting” that, under OFCCP regulations, gender identity and sexual orientation were still protected.

“I did say we are aware but we don’t want any exceptions to them based on religion,” she said.

An August 2018 directive mentioned several U.S. Supreme Court cases to justify its guidance to OFCCP officials, including Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Communication,Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and recent executive orders.

In the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, in which shop owner Jack Phillips refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, the court narrowly ruled in 2018 that the Colorado Civil Rights Communication did not employ religious neutrality when it found that the bakery discriminated against the couple. It reversed the CCRC’s decision. In the case involving Trinity Lutheran Church, the court held in 2017 that when a state program denied a grant to a religious school and provided grants to non-religious groups, it violated freedom of religion. The court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that closely held for-profit corporations are legal persons under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

In 2017, President Donald Trump released an executive order on Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty that would “guide the executive branch in formulating and implementing policies with implications for the religious liberty of persons and organizations in America.” In 2018, the president established a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. LGBTQ rights groups said they were concerned these orders would weaponize religious freedom rights to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

In 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that amended two executive orders by addressing LGBTQ anti-discrimination protections for federal employees. Trump said he would not rescind it. However, a Justice Department brief argued against protections for queer workers.

In a statement following news of the rule, m the National Center for Transgender Equality said the regulation is “another attempt to allow contractors to circumvent a 2014 executive order prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by any federal contractor. In 2017, President Trump weakened this rule by eliminating reporting standards for contractors.”

“This administration has clearly shown a propensity to use religious liberty to give a license to discriminate,” said Frank J. Bewkes, policy analyst for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent newsroom housed within the Center for American Progress Action Fund.)

In an interview before the proposed rule dropped, Bewkes said he does not see how the cases mentioned in the directive would justify this rule. Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, told INTO last year that the directive was “contrary to established law” and said that, in the past, the department has made it clear religious contractors can prefer members of their religion but can’t discriminate because of their religion.

“By eliminating that important qualification, the new directive is confusing at best and at worst sends a dangerous and false message that such discrimination is now permitted,” he said.

Protections for workers or prospective workers for federal contractors and subcontractors are important for the protection of LGBTQ workers’ rights when there is only a patchwork of employment protections on the state level. Senate Republicans refuse to consider the Equality Act, which would clarify and expand LGBTQ protections on the national level in employment, housing, and other areas. According to the Movement Advancement Project, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, using Gallup data, estimates that 4.5% of American adults are LGBTQ. Among millennials, 8.2% identified as LGBTQ. Federal contractors are responsible for employing about one-fifth of the country’s workforce.

Bewkes said the rule could affect an even larger number of people.

“This is a huge number of people this is affecting who are LGBTQ workers. And once you consider religious exemptions, sometimes people use it for other things. What if you’re in an [interracial marriage] and your employer disagrees with that on religious grounds?” Bewkes said. “Is that something that is going to be a problem? We’ve seen in South Carolina with adoptions and religious exemptions that people are not necessarily turned away because of their sexual orientation and identity. They’re being turned away because their specific religion is not the religion of the agency.”

Bewkes added that this is really an expansion of exemptions that already apply to The Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“They are asking for an expansion of that … They’re asking for [an exemption] for anyone who is religiously affiliated in any way, and that opens up a whole Hobby Lobby issue and would be very concerning. The larger the exemption the more undermined any nondiscrimination protection becomes, because it’s enforceable against fewer people. It’s just simple numbers. What they’re asking for would be overly broad.”

This article was originally published at Think Progress on August 14, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan covers policy issues related to gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The Atlantic, and In These Times. They studied economic reporting, political reporting, and investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where they graduated with an M.A. in business journalism.

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9 Reasons LGBTQ Workers Need Federal Protections

August 14th, 2019 | Alex Schwartz

Currently, there’s no federal law that protects LGBTQ people from discrimination at work. But this April, the Supreme Court agreed to hear three cases involving people who claim they were fired for being LGBTQ. Arguments are set to begin during the fall of this year, and decisions will likely be made next summer. The Court will decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, also includes gender identity and sexual orientation. If the plaintiffs win their cases, it could become illegal in all states to fire someone for identifying as LGBTQ.

But LGBTQ-identifying individuals who aren’t fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity may still face other types of discrimination at work. These nine statistics show just how far we still have to go to make workplaces accepting and supportive for LGBTQ folks.

  • 46% – LGBTQ people who were closeted at work in the U.S. in 2018
  • 22% – LGBTQ people who had experienced discrimination in pay or in consideration for a promotion
  • 20% – LGBTQ people who had felt pressured by coworkers to dress more feminine or masculine
  • 53% – LGBTQ people who had heard jokes about lesbian or gay people on the job
  • 10% – LGBTQ people who had left a job because the workplace was not accepting of them
  • 32% – LGBTQ people of color who had experienced discrimination when applying for jobs as of 2017
  • 73 – Countries that protect workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation (the U.S. is not among them)
  • 26 – U.S. states that allow private employers to fire someone based on sexual orientation or gender identity
  • 3 – States that explicitly ban local governments from passing nondiscrimination provisions: Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alex Schwartz is a 2019 editorial intern for In These Times.

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What Uber and the Koch Brothers Have in Common: A Plan to Destroy Public Transit

August 14th, 2019 | Jeremy Mohler

Image result for Jeremy MohlerAt first glance, the rideshare corporation Uber couldn’t appear more different than conservative oil-mogul billionaires Charles G. and David H. Koch. Uber has hired numerous former Democratic Party campaign managers and lobbyists and the company’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has publicly criticized the Trump administration, including over the travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries. The Kochs, meanwhile, have gained a reputation for bankrolling the Republican Party.

Yet Uber—the Silicon Valley startup-gone-public—shares at least one goal with the most prominent funders of modern conservatism: the destruction of America’s public transit.

While polarization in the United States is on the rise when it comes to metrics like party affiliation and media consumption, there’s a frightening level of agreement in corporate America, regardless of party loyalty. Examining where both Uber and the Koch brothers agree exposes the consensus hiding beneath the surface of our current political gridlock. Yes, rideshare corporations and oil tycoons share a financial interest in a car-centric future. But both also lobby for corporate tax cuts, deregulation and fewer rights and protections for workers. Both also envision a society with weakened or nonexistent public goods, part of a 40-year privatization trend that’s touched everything from public education to water access. From this vantage point, government is, in fact, getting things done and solving problems—just for corporate America rather than poor and working people.

A close look at the growing war on public transit reveals the planks of this corporate consensus.

In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Uber’s executives claim to see a “massive market opportunity” in the estimated 4.4 trillion miles traveled each year by people using public transit across 175 countries. The company continues to heavily subsidize per-ride costs to inflate its value to investors and undercut existing options, despite bleeding billions of dollars. “Uber is effectively a middleman for a money transfer from venture-capital (VC) firms to consumers,” writes James P. Sutton in National Review. Simply put, effectively supplanting the taxi industry wasn’t enough: Uber plans on undercutting public transit to finally turn a profit.

For their part, the Koch brothers are funneling money to their political action committee (PAC), Americans for Prosperity, to kill proposed public transit projects nationwide. Last year, they led the charge in stopping a popular $5.4 billion transit plan in Nashville, Tennessee, that had even been backed by a coalition of the city’s business community. The Kochs have funded similar anti-public transit efforts in Arkansas, Arizona, Michigan, Utah and other states.

Their stated rationale, of course, is lower taxes. Americans for Prosperity tried to kill a 2017 gas-tax plan in Indiana meant to raise a billion dollars to invest in buses and infrastructure, even though it was introduced by the state’s GOP-led House of Representatives. Cutting taxes is the Koch brothers’ bread and butter. They contributed $20 million to help pass the Trump tax plan, which slashed taxes for their primary business, Koch Industries, by as much as $1.4 billion a year.

Uber has joined the Koch brothers on this libertarian crusade, using a corporate shell game to avoid paying billions in taxes and lobbying against taxes and fees on rides across the globe.

The corporate behemoths also share a stated goal of “cutting red tape.” The Koch brothers bankrolled the founding of the nation’s first libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, which sees “limited government,” i.e., deregulation, as a key ingredient of freedom. They also funded the now-defunct Freedom Partners, which developed a road map that shaped the early days of the Trump administration’s deregulatory policy agenda. Uber, together with its main competitor Lyft, boasted more lobbyists in 2016 than Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart combined. As of June 2018, the two corporations had convinced 41 state legislatures and many local governments to pass legislation protecting them from regulation.

Most importantly, both the Koch brothers and Uber understand that their freedom depends on taking freedom away from working people. Uber has spent generously on fighting to ensure its drivers maintain their precarious status as independent contractors. The company has also invested heavily in technology that would get rid of drivers altogether, including driverless cars. The Koch brothers’ anti-worker views date back much further, all the way to the counterrevolutionary days at the end of the New Deal era. Fred Koch, Charles and David’s father, owned an oil refinery corporation and was active in the archconservative John Birch Society. Through groups like the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, the Kochs have long led the attack against collective bargaining rights for public employees, including train and bus drivers.

At the end of the day, the Koch Brothers and Uber are much like Coke and Pepsi. They may have clashing styles, but their product is largely the same: lower corporate taxes, deregulation, lower wages, and private control over public goods like mass transit.

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jeremy Mohler is a Washington D.C.-based political writer with In the Public Interest and a meditation teacher.

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Internal divides cloud tech industry's antitrust defense

August 13th, 2019 | Steven Overly

Steven OverlyIn July, the head of a leading tech lobbying group published a warning against overly broad antitrust investigations that “could jeopardize American companies’ leadership” — a message that came amid rising regulatory heat on the group’s members Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook.

But it soon became clear that some in the Information Technology Industry Council didn’t want to risk being seen as defending the four embattled tech giants.

During a conference call days later, members of ITI’s executive committee reminded CEO Jason Oxman that the group’s members don’t all share the same views on the brewing antitrust battle in Washington, two people familiar with the conversation said. They urged the association’s leadership not to go beyond the talking points of Oxman’s blog post.

The brushback highlights a byproduct of the tech backlash in Washington: Even as some of the industry’s biggest names confront mounting questions about their size and power, they can’t always rely on backup from the trade groups they’ve showered with money over the years.

The result has been only a muted response from ITI, whose executive committee includes companies like IBM, Oracle and Salesforce that aren’t facing antitrust scrutiny — and, in some cases, have had major beefs against their bigger rivals.

ITI’s leaders are “responding to what I’m sure is enormous pressure from four companies in particular” to defend them, one of the people who described the call said,while balancing a “desire of the other companies to not get in the middle of someone else’s antitrust debate.”

The Internet Association, the industry’s most prominent trade group in Washington, has stayed even quieter on the antitrust issue in the face of discord among its members, which include Google and its antagonists Yelp and TripAdvisor, as well as Amazon and rival eBay. Yelp has lodged complaints with competition regulators in the U.S. and Europe for years arguing that Google prioritizes its own products in search results.

“IA operates on consensus, which enables us to speak in a unified voice on a wide range of policies that are critical to the future of the internet,” including online liability and privacy issues, said the group’s spokesperson Noah Theran. “Because of this, IA does not engage on competition policy.”

But another industry official said tech could use some solidarity. The growing antitrust talk in Washington has “taken on an anti-tech tone in general” that affects the entire industry, the person said, and large trade groups are justified in “raising those questions” about whether the antitrust reviews are going too far.

The issue is playing out as the tech giants rack up a growing list of investigations by Congress, the Trump administration and the states. The House antitrust panel, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and a number of state attorneys general are looking into whether the companies are using their size to unfairly compete in their respective markets. The issue has also loomed large on the Democratic campaign trail, as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders pledge antitrust enforcers in their prospective administrations would break up the nation’s tech behemoths into smaller companies.

ITI has waded gingerly into the antitrust debate, trying to avoid picking sides in a fight that some members view as a threat to the entire tech sector and others see as aimed at four specific companies. In public statements and in private meetings with lawmakers, the group has stuck to arguing that antitrust reviews should be narrowly focused rather than demonizing big companies simply for their size or attacking the tech industry as a whole.

“Because antitrust law is such an important body of law, particularly for large companies who we happen to represent, it’s important to us to play that education role without getting involved in any disputes that our member companies may have,” Oxman said in an interview.

Such disputes have multiplied in recent years.

Oracle has fought high-profile battles against both Google, which it sued over alleged patent violations in the search giant’s Android operating system, and Amazon, which it accused of benefiting from a tainted bidding process for a $10 billion Pentagon cloud computing contract. All three companies are members of ITI.

And top executives don’t always hide the tensions. In a recent Recode interview, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman gleefully welcomed government scrutiny of his fellow IA members and competitors Google and Facebook.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said the tech sector’s divisions are not uncommon among industries with a growing presence in Washington, as lobbying on a wider range of policy matters reveals issues where companies’ desires are not identical.

“In those instances, the industry association may have to choose between taking sides — and risk creating rifts within their membership — or sitting on the sidelines of an intra-industry debate,” she said. “It’s bound to frustrate companies that pay money to an entity to represent their interests when that entity can’t or won’t go to bat for them.”

Tech companies have shelled out big money to myriad trade associations in Washington, D.C., that frequently serve as their first defenders when lawmakers and regulators come hollering. The groups are deeply engaged in fending off or shaping potential regulation, including data privacy legislation and proposals to amend the critical law that shields websites from liability over user-generated content. They’ve also, at times, backed lawsuits on issues like net neutrality where their members are more aligned.

“The associations are useful on issues where the industry is more united,” said Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America and author of “The Business of America is Lobbying.” “There’s a strategic value in maintaining a broad association because lawmakers generally are more likely to respond when the industry is united than when it is divided.”

But the groups’ silence on antitrust is all the more striking given the recent pileup of investigations and lawmaker complaints. The DOJ said last month its antitrust review is focusing on dominant companies in online search, social media and e-commerce — a not-so-veiled reference to Google, Facebook and Amazon, respectively.

The FTC is also conducting an antitrust probe into “social networking or social media services, digital advertising, and/or mobile or online applications” at Facebook, the social media behemoth disclosed in a recent regulatory filing. The agency has also subpoenaed sales data from third parties who sell goods on Amazon as part of a potential probe of the e-commerce juggernaut, trade publication MLex reported last month.

Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are not without resources, even as some of their associations keep a low profile. The four firms shelled out $25 million in the first six months of the year on nearly 300 in-house and outside lobbyists to shape policy on Capitol Hill and within regulatory agencies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. They also spread money around Washington think tanks and advocacy groups that often amplify their policy positions. Some of those organizations, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, are coming to the companies’ defense.

As the antitrust heat rises, the small, right-leaning trade association NetChoice, which counts Facebook and Google as members, has emerged as one of the tech industry’s most vocal defenders. Carl Szabo, the vice president and general counsel of the three-person operation, said antitrust falls well within the group’s mission to “keep the internet open for free expression and free enterprise.”

After the DOJ announced its review, NetChoice called on the department to “resist the siren song of populism and only investigate actual evidence of consumer harm.” It also slammed House Democrats as “hypocritical” for complaining about the power of tech companies while seeking an antitrust exemption for big news publishers to negotiate collectively with Google and Facebook over ad sales.

Industry trade groups shouldn’t shy away from the fight, Szabo said.

“I would hope that all associations and all business would oppose a movement away from objective, data-based analysis of antitrust and all associations and businesses would oppose the weaponization of antitrust,” Szabo said. “While such actions may help them today, it can definitely be used against them tomorrow.”

The head of the Consumer Technology Association, Gary Shapiro, has also defended the big tech companies, as has the Computer and Communications Industry Association. Both groups represent Facebook, Google and Amazon, among others. A CCIA representative testified at a House hearing that any antitrust review should consider the industry’s benefits to consumers and the economy.

CCIA President Ed Black said his group has made competition issues a focus for 47 years and at times lost members that disagreed with its stances on pending mergers or antitrust lawsuits.

“It’s one of the reasons most trade associations have not gone into antitrust issues,” Black said. “We’ve had somewhat of the field to ourselves because we’re willing to take the risk to defend innovation.”

This article was originally published at Politico on August 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Steven Overly covers technology policy and politics for POLITICO with a special focus on the industry’s effort to influence decisions in Washington. He previously spent seven years as a reporter and editor at The Washington Post. Steven holds a degree in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a master’s degree from Columbia University, where he studied as a Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economics and Business Journalism. A native of the Washington metro region, Steven currently resides in the District.

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Trump administration to weaken protections for endangered species in favor of fossil fuels

August 13th, 2019 | Kayla Mandel

The Trump administration’s Interior Department announced on Monday its official proposal to significantly weaken the nation’s Endangered Species Act. The move would make it easier for new mining, oil, and gas development to take place in areas critical to protected species.

The widely popular conservation law, passed in 1973, has been heralded worldwide for its success. It is credited with saving iconic American species such as the bald eagle and grizzly bear from extinction.

Under the Interior Department’s proposed revisions, it will be more difficult to apply considerations regarding the impact of climate change on wildlife in deciding whether a species should be protected.

Critical habitats would also likely shrink as the rule change paves the way for fossil fuel extraction in areas critical to protected species. And, in a first, economic factors will be allowed to be taken into account when deciding whether new animals should be added to the list of protected species.

The proposal comes after two years of work to narrow the law. Last year, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the Endangered Species Act places an “unnecessary regulatory burden” on companies.

Bernhardt, however, has a history of lobbying against the law. Prior to joining Interior, he ran the natural resources department at lobbying and law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. During his time there, he worked on behalf of oil and gas companies as well as large agribusinesses to weaken environmental protections. Bernhardt also lobbied on behalf of Westlands Water District and agricultural interests against the Endangered Species Act.

And during his time at the Interior, Bernhardt intervened to block a study showing pesticides might threaten the existence of 1,200 endangered species, according to documents recently revealed by the New York Times.

Fossil fuel companies have also continued to lobby against endangered species protections over the course of the Trump administration. For instance, in May, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal to downgrade the status of the American burying beetle — an insect threatened by climate change — from “endangered” to “threatened.” This was the result of oil and gas lobbying, and would make it easier for companies to build pipelines.

And two months before that, in March, the Interior Department announced a sweeping set of revisions to Obama-era sage grouse proposed protections. The Trump administration’s planned changes include removing restrictions for new oil, gas, and mining development on millions of acres of sage grouse habitat across the West. In October 2017, a proposed mining moratorium on 10 million acres of crucial sage grouse habitat was also canceled — this was swiftly followed by a decision from the Bureau of Land Management that December ending directives stating oil and gas leases should be prioritized for outside of sage grouse habitat.

One of the most controversial changes among the proposed revisions released Monday is the fact that economics will be a consideration in whether or not a species should be protected. Currently, the decision to add or remove a species is designed to be based purely on science.

“There can be economic costs to protecting endangered species,” Drew Caputo, vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans at Earthjustice, an environmental law organization, told the New York Times. But, he added, “If we make decisions based on short-term economic costs, we’re going to have a whole lot more extinct species.”

This article was originally published at Think Progress on August 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting. You can reach her at kmandel@thinkprogress.org, or on Twitter at .

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House Democrats oppose extreme anti-worker Labor nominee, this week in the war on workers

August 12th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Nearly 30 House Democrats sent Donald Trump a letter “to express our strong concerns” about the nomination of Eugene Scalia as labor secretary. “We believe Mr. Scalia’s consistent record of opposing workers’ rights disqualifies him from heading the Department designed to protect American workers,” the letter, led by Michigan Rep. Andy Levin, reads. “We urge instead that you put forward a nominee who will improve working conditions across the United States, defend workers’ rights, and raise the standard of living for working people.”

The members of Congress offer a number of examples of the work that has disqualified Scalia from ever claiming to have the welfare of workers in mind. Among them:

  • Mr. Scalia fiercely opposed a Clinton administration regulation to protect workers from repetitive stress injuries and issues like carpal tunnel syndrome, arguing “that ergonomic regulation will force companies to give more rest periods, slow the pace of work and then hire more workers (read: dues-paying members) to maintain current levels of production.” […]
  • Mr. Scalia represented SeaWorld after a killer whale killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration determined “SeaWorld either knew or should have known that the whale posed a threat to humans and should have taken steps to protect trainers,” Scalia and his colleagues claimed “SeaWorld already had adequate safety measures in place, and that the trainers had accepted the risks inherent in their jobs and that it was their responsibility to manage these risks.”

Perfect Trump nominee, in other words.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on August 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Every American Should Be Guaranteed a Job. The Green New Deal Could Make That Happen.

August 12th, 2019 | In These Time Editors
fed•er•al jobs guar•an•tee

noun

1. A government policy to provide a job for anyone who wants one

We’ve been talking about this for a while, right?

Yes! President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed a “second Bill of Rights” in his 1944 State of the Union, a list of economic and social rights including “the right to a useful and remunerative job.”

“Full employment” has been the official goal of the U.S. government since 1978, with the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act following advocacy from labor groups as well as Coretta Scott King. Early versions of the bill included an actual jobs guarantee, which was cut out of the final legislation.  A jobs guarantee was also part of Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential platform.

Are any of this year’s presidential candidates supporting a jobs guarantee?

Several! Cory Booker (N.J.) introduced a Senate bill—co-sponsored by Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.)—to create a three-year pilot program in up to 15 “high-unemployment communities” to provide jobs with at least a $15 wage.

Bernie Sanders (Vt.) arguably goes further, invoking FDR’s call for a second Bill of Rights and a full jobs guarantee.

If the point is to keep people out of poverty, why not just give people money or provide better social services?

Why not all of the above? A universal basic income is preferred by some, but there’s no need to choose just one policy to answer economic inequality. Jobs advocates argue there is plenty of fulfilling work to be done and that a jobs guarantee would strengthen the bargaining position of workers in the private sector. The Sanders campaign website, for example, suggests childcare, elder care and green infrastructure as areas to emphasize.

Speaking of which, isn’t a jobs guarantee part of the Green New Deal?

That’s right—a Green New Deal could fund millions of jobs to dramatically scale up clean energy production, build and run public transportation, and prepare communities to adapt to the realities of a warming planet. While a jobs guarantee is already popular—52% of Americans support it, according to a poll by Civis Analytics—polling commissioned by the Sunrise Movement indicates that a jobs guarantee focused on green jobs and climate protection is even more popular.

Saving the planet and ending poverty at the same time? Certainly sounds worth a try!

This article appeared originally in In these Times on August 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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