Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The War Against Women Getting Paid Family Leave

April 6th, 2015 | Meghan Byrd

Meghan-Byrd_avatar_1422562197-140x140[1]A mother with a newborn baby in Canada has the right to receive paid family leave. So do mothers in France, Brazil, Australia, Pakistan, Venezuela – even Russia. But not those in the United States. Our country is one of only five in the world, and the only developed nation, that does not require paid family leave.

One would think paid family leave would have bipartisan support, given the economic benefits, overwhelming public support and fundamental right of caring for your own child at hand. Yet somehow Republicans in Congress have consistently fallen on the wrong side of the matter, just one battle in their endless war they have continued to wage against women.

The good news is that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and her colleague in the House, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) recently reintroduced the FAMILY Act. The bill would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income when they take time off for health reasons, including pregnancy, childbirth recovery and adoption. Additionally, it would allow workers to earn up to 66 percent of their monthly wages, and would apply to workers at companies large and small. The law would be funded by small employee and employer payroll contributions (two-tenths of one percent each).

Thanks to states such as New Jersey and California, which have already implemented similar programs, we can see positive economic benefits of requiring paid family leave that refute claims by critics that such a policy would be too expensive and be bad for business.

In these states, paid family leave costs less than $1 per week for each employee using payroll deductions, and the benefits are outstanding. In California, 91 percent of employers said the law had either a positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, and 99 percent said it increased or had a non-noticeable effect on employee morale, according to one survey. The policy has also led to more women joining the labor force, which in turn boosts the economy.

Mothers are far more likely to be employed up to 16 years after the birth of their first child if they received paid maternity leave, according to a Center for American Progress study. Additionally, theInstitute for Women’s Policy Research found that paid family leave increases consumer spending and generates a larger tax base, and could boost the country’s gross domestic product by 5 percent.

Current Law Is Not Enough

Current federal law requires employers give employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for caring for a newborn child or a sick family member. Critics argue that this policy should be enough job security for new parents. However, when it is a single parent or a household living in near-poverty trying to make ends meet, 12 weeks without a paycheck simply isn’t possible. This is especially true when considering the costs associated with having a new baby.

What if we left it up to businesses? So far, that strategy hasn’t worked out, seeing as only 11 percent of workers in the U.S. get paid family leave through their employer or their state.

Rebecca Traister, writing in The New Republic, recently detailed what paid family leave would mean for her. As a pregnant woman, she was left with little choice – she had to keep her job even if she might have wanted to pursue other options. “My body and its condition defined my professional situation,” she wrote. She was thrilled when the new management announced a policy of paid maternal and fraternal leave for up to 16 weeks. She asks the question, “Is it such a bad thing to attract workers by offering them more equitable conditions..?”

In his most recent State of the Union speech, President Obama highlighted why paid family leave is so important and pledged to make it one of his top priorities: “It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue…Today we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.”

The women’s economic agenda, “When Women Succeed, America Succeeds,” includes policies such as mandatory paid family leave, and is being promoted by the White House and Democrats. The President has set an example for Congress – giving six weeks paid leave to all federal employees after the birth or adoption of a child through executive action.

And not only is it the sensible thing to do – but voters agree. In a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, 81% of respondents agreed that “paid time off to care for family members and affordable child care is good for our nation.” Poll after poll show Democrats, Independents and Republicans overwhelmingly supporting paid family leave policies.

Recently, Minnesota state Rep. Andrea Kieffer (R) called women who seek equality and fundamental rights in the workforce ‘whiners’. She opposed a set of bills aimed at raising the minimum wage, shrinking the gender pay gap and introducing paid family leave, saying that the bills were “putting us backwards in time.” She said that “we [women] are losing the respect we so dearly want in the workplace by bringing up these special bills for women.” This is in a state where women earn 80 cents on the dollar to their male counterparts. Instead of addressing the reality of women in the workplace, Rep. Kieffer prefers to antagonize those who want to improve the situation. This is just one example of conservative lawmakers trying to hold back much needed progress in the workplace. We can’t let this mentality poison the conversation.

President Obama and the American public want paid family leave. Requiring it is good for the economy, good for people and good for the country. Now, the important issue is in the hands of our legislature. Due to the Republican Congress’ misguided agenda, the chance of this important bill getting through committee is relatively slim. If you agree that paid family leave should not just be a luxury, but a right, call your congressional member and urge them to support sending the FAMILY Act to the floors and once it arrives, voting ‘aye’.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Meghan Byrd is a student at Bucknell University studying political science and Spanish. In 2015 she spent a semester at American University. She is originally from Palo Alto, California in the San Francisco Bay Area and center of Silicon Valley. She is interested in public policy and the intersection between government and technology.

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After Ellen Pao’s Loss, More Women In Tech Bring Gender Discrimination Lawsuits

April 6th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertAfter Ellen Pao, a former partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and currently interim CEO of Reddit, lost her discrimination lawsuit against her former employer two weeks ago, some worried that the outcome would discourage other women from bringing lawsuits against the industry.

That fear doesn’t seem to be panning out. Last week, two different women brought lawsuits against technology companies for gender discrimination.

In one, Heather McCloskey charged Paymentwall Inc., an online payment company, for allowing harassment and a misogynist environment. She alleges that her supervisor, executive Benoit Boisset, made disparaging remarks about her appearance and called her a “big bitch.” She says he also grabbed her by the waist and said, “You’re a very bad girl, you need to be spanked up real good.” He also allegedly made disparaging remarks about women as employees in general. When she complained, she says she was told to simply tell him no and “thick skin up and deal with it” because he “makes a whole lot of money for this company.” The lawsuit claims that the company has no handbook, harassment policies, or human resources department. She says she was fired after making her complaints.

In another, Elisabeth Sussex filed a complaint against AliphCom, which makes Jawbone fitness devices, alleging that she was fired for complaining about how an executive treated women. According to the suit, Chief Technology Officer Michael Luna treated female employees in a demeaning and abusive way, leading one to “quit in disgust.” After Sussex says she complained to management, she was demoted and eventually fired despite her previously good performance track record.

Those suits are the first to be filed after Pao’s case was decided, but even while the trial was still taking place one was filed against Facebook and another against Twitter. Former Facebook employee Chia Hong alleges that she was asked why she didn’t spend more time at home with her children and punished when she used company-provided time off to visit her children’s school, made to organize office parties while men were asked to do so, and eventually fired after complaining and replaced with a less qualified man. Tina Huang hascharged Twitter for using a promotions process that is allegedly secretive and subjective and ends up helping me get ahead while holding women back.

Those lawsuits also followed others in the industry before Pao’s trial began: One against Tinder from a former female executive alleges that her cofounders downplayed her role and harassed her until she resigned, and another against Zillow says that management sent a former female employee pictures of genitals and asked her for sexual favors.

All of the lawsuits bring up the fact that the technology industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men, even after some companies have said they want to change the picture. Women make up just 11 percent of executives at the largest Silicon Valley companies. Some firms have released their diversity data, and it doesn’t look much better. At Facebook and Twitter, for example, the executive teams are 77 percent and 79 percent male, respectively. Even further down the chain, Facebook’s tech team is 85 percent male while Twitter’s is 90 percent.

The fate of all the gender discrimination lawsuits against technology companies is uncertain. The suit against Tinder has reportedly been settled without the company admitting wrongdoing, and others may not make it to a court room. As Pao’s case shows, even if they do end up in court the women may not win. But they are at least sparking a conversation about the bias women face in the industry and in today’s workplaces in general. As Pao herself recently said, “Women who felt like they were uncomfortable before, that there was something that jus wasn’t right, are hopefully now more comfortable pointing it out.” And at least some women in Silicon Valley are grateful for Ellen Pao’s efforts to expose that bias.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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Over 40 Former UNITE HERE Staff, Volunteers Rebuke Union for Endorsing Rahm Emanuel

April 3rd, 2015 | Micah Uetricht

photo_9514A group of former UNITE HERE staffers and volunteers from around the country released an open letter to the union today, rebuking Chicago’s UNITE HERE Local 1 for its endorsement of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and questioning the union’s commitment to progressive unionism.

“Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago … is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy,” the letter reads. As of Friday morning, the letter was signed by 41 people, almost all of whom listed the local or locals where they worked with the union.

The letter was released this morning at a web site entitled “No Rahm Love,” a reference to the union’s “Rahm Love” ad campaign that praises the mayor’s record on workers’ issues, despite his widespread reputation as a strongly anti-labor mayor, most notably in his dealings with the Chicago Teachers Union. Members of UNITE HERE Local 1 stood prominently behind Emanuel as he gave his speech on election night February 24. (Full disclosure: I was briefly a member of Local 1 in 2010.)

“Local 1’s campaign, ‘Rahm Love,’ claims that the mayor ‘loves’ workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth,” the letter continues. “Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago.” Almost all of those who signed the letter are former staffers or activists.

The letter’s signatories say the endorsement of Emanuel has made them question what they formerly considered to be the progressivism of the union.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

UNITE HERE has positioned itself as strong part of the progressive wing of the American labor movement. In addition to its role in the immigrant rights movement, the union has taken strong public stances on LGBTQ rights and other issues. And at a time when many unions have all but given up on militant action like strikes and strong development of rank-and-file workers as activists, the union has made both a key part of their program at many union locals around the country, including Chicago.

That made the union’s endorsement of Emanuel puzzling to many observers and former UNITE HERE activists and organizers like those quoted in the letter.

The union’s endorsement of Emanuel goes “against everything I was ever taught” at the union: that “you could have all the money in the world, but organizing outdid money,” says Jill Landrith, a former server at a restaurant inside the Westin Hotel in Chicago and member of Local 1. Landrith, who signed the open letter, left her server position to work for the union as an internal organizer from 2009 to 2014.

Local 1 has members who are food service workers in Chicago Public Schools; when Mayor Emanuel closed down 49 public schools in 2013, those workers lost their jobs. “We have members who were personally hurt by this man. When he closed the schools, our members got fired,” she says.

During a staff meeting when the union was discussing its potential endorsement in late 2013, Landrith says she remembers a staffer commenting, “This is how the trades do it”—referring to the building trades unions, the vast majority of which endorsed Emanuel—”so if we want a seat at the table, this is how we have to do it, too.” Another former Local 1 staffer present at the meeting confirmed hearing the statement.

Landrith says she was particularly upset by the “Rahm Love” ad campaign, in which workers listed off how much Emanuel has done for them. One ad included Roushaunda Williams, a Palmer House Hotel worker Landrith organized with during a strike there, who says, ““Rahm love. It’s how the mayor fights so that hotel workers earn a decent living. We have health insurance, pensions and sick days off. We have Rahm love.”

“We won [the strike] because of Roushaunda,” she says, “because of all the workers there who went out on strike and fought. So to see them in that video giving Rahm credit for what they’ve done—it killed me. Roushaunda deserved the credit, not Rahm.”

Landrith, her voice choking, says, “It hurts me, it just hurts,” before ending the interview.

Multiple requests for comment from a UNITE HERE Local 1 spokesperson went unanswered.

The full text of the letter can be read below:

Dear UNITE HERE Local 1,

We the undersigned are allies and supporters of UNITE HERE, in Chicago and elsewhere. We have all, at some point, committed our hearts, souls, and hours, as volunteer interns, boycott and research volunteers, and staff in the belief that UNITE HERE was a powerful force for justice for hospitality workers and workers everywhere. Local 1’s endorsement of Rahm Emanuel for Mayor of Chicago is the exact opposite, however: it is a betrayal of the cause of all workers and a black mark on UNITE HERE’s legacy.

Local 1’s campaign, “Rahm Love,” claims that the mayor “loves” workers in Chicago, raising wages and supporting their unions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout his term as mayor, Rahm has enacted a program of devastation against workers throughout Chicago, from his attempt to destroy the standards of the Chicago Teachers Union, closing half the mental health clinics in the city, presiding over a higher unemployment rate among African Americans than other cities, and continuing to use TIFs as a city slush fund to benefit corporate wealth and the rich.

American cities are facing pitched battles. On one side, progressive candidates are advancing across the country and socialist electoral candidates are winning elections in major cities like Jackson, Miss., and Seattle, Wash., and marchers are blocking freeways and shutting down public spaces in protest of police violence; on the other side, gentrification displaces communities into desolate ring suburbs, and politicians race to give the biggest tax breaks to corporations. This is no different in Chicago, and there is a crucial question of all unions to be asked: which side are you on?

Taking the choice of struggle is dangerous and uncertain, but one an increasing number of unions, like the CTU, have taken. Local 1’s choice was clearly not made out of stupidity or ignorance. It is a calculated choice to prioritize opportunistic gains and favor in the halls of power over the road of struggle. This is an old strategy, and one that time and again has proved a failure in the long run. It is just like an organizing drive at a workplace: to some workers the boss offers raises, promotions and even some power while others are subject to firings, surveillance, and intimidation. Those the boss tries to buy off have a choice: do they stand with their coworkers for real power, or take the pittance they’re offered? UNITE HERE Local 1 has chosen the table scraps, and thrown their fellow workers into the fire.

How could this choice have been made? It is telling that this letter does not include many current activists for the union. It is not that staff and volunteers throughout the union are not disgusted by Local 1’s behavior. Quite the contrary, there are many who agree with us, but they are afraid. They are afraid of losing their jobs, of being squeezed out of work they’ve poured themselves into, or getting cornered into uncomfortable conversations ensuring at least their silence. What’s more, some think of themselves as committed to the broader movement but have bought into the destructive idea that no matter what, building their union is identical with building the movement and thus deny the destructive impacts of this opportunism. This anti-political and anti-democratic atmosphere is a dangerous omen for the state of rank-and-file democracy in UNITE HERE, and leads us to wonder what Local 1’s membership thinks of Rahm, their union’s behavior, and whether the union represents their interests.

What is hardest to take is that we chose to work with UNITE HERE because we saw it as a beacon for worker militancy and a progressive outlook in a labor movement that oftentimes looks dismal. The training, experience, and commitment to workers’ struggle we gained in our work with UNITE HERE is invaluable, as is UNITE HERE’s historic support for victories in immigrant rights, dramatic rises in worker standards, and innovation in union tactics. Even after leaving UNITE HERE work for our various reasons, we still believed UNITE HERE could be a valuable place for young activists to put their time and energy. Local 1’s endorsement, however, raise serious doubts on this.

We hope this letter is heard by UNITE HERE Local 1 leadership, but more importantly we hope it is heard by union militants everywhere and the UNITE HERE rank and file. Do not stand cynically by as Local 1’s leadership follows the old losing playbook and betrays the entire movement. We can and must have a fighting, progressive labor movement, and we can and must beat Rahm.

This blog original appeared in Inthesetimes.com on April 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Micah Uetricht is the web editor of In These Times. He is a contributing editor at Jacobin and the author of Strike for America: Chicago Teachers Against Austerity. He has written for The Nation, Al Jazeera America,Dissent, and the Chicago Reader

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Congratulations to Peggy Young, But Pregnant Women Need Stronger Protections

April 1st, 2015 | Rebecca Pontikes and Liz Friedman

Rebecca-PontikesunnamedThe Supreme Court decision in Young v. UPS is an important victory for Peggy Young.   Young brought suit because, she needed a restriction on lifting packages over 21 pounds during her pregnancy, but UPS refused her. One of UPS’ Division Mangers told her she had to leave work because she was “too much of a liability” while pregnant, and could “not come back” until she “was no longer pregnant.”  Despite the Division Managers statement, UPS claimed that its policy was “neutral” because it did not specifically, and literally, exclude pregnant women.  Although Young presented evidence that non-pregnant employees injured off the job were accommodated, that an employee who lost his license for driving drunk was accommodated, and a shop steward gave testimony that the only time that accommodation of disabilities became an issue under UPS’ policy was with pregnant women, UPS told the courts that it was impossible for Young to prove it had discriminatory intent.

The Supreme Court found otherwise. Significantly, the Court questioned why, if UPS’ accommodation policy covered a driver who lost his license for drunk driving, it did not cover a pregnant worker like Young, particularly since UPS has a duty to treat pregnant workers the same as others similar in their ability to work.  The Court decided a plaintiff may get to trial if she shows the employer’s policy imposes a significant burden on pregnant workers and that the employer’s reasons for the policy do not justify that burden. Under this test, a jury will now decide if UPS discriminated against pregnant women.  Given this decision, employers are well advised to revise their policies and ensure immediate accommodation of pregnant workers or potentially face years of litigation over whether their policies place too much of a burden on pregnant women.

But, the decision from the Supreme Court falls short in its protections of pregnant workers because it does not guarantee accommodations.  The Supreme Court did not find that employers are always required to accommodate a pregnant worker, even if the employer accommodates other workers.  The majority agreed with UPS that there are situations where employers can make distinctions.  An employer still has discretion to decide what types of physical conditions to accommodate.  The landscape leaves a huge hole for pregnant workers to fall into.

Once a worker is fired, the burden is on her to fight to get her job back, or instead, to get lost wages. Young’s child, Triniti, whom she was carrying in 2007 is now seven years old. It has been seven long years in which Young has been caught up in litigation to secure back wages and lost opportunities. How many women have the financial and emotional resources to devote to this many years to litigation?  How many want to?

What an employer insists is a reasonable accommodation policy or a hardship to accommodate might not ultimately measure up under Young.  But, employer discretion, once exercised, is expensive to reverse.  While women like Young might ultimately prevail, an employer can usually come up with a reason to support a policy that distinguishes among accommodations and that excludes a pregnant woman.  The best option to keep pregnant women on the job is for her not to have to fight her employer in the first place.  Clear rules that ensure pregnant workers the rights to reasonable accommodation are required.

It is for these reasons that many states have passed laws requiring accommodation of pregnant workers.  Alaska, California, Illinois, Hawaii, Connecticut, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Texas have passed laws with various degrees of protection for their pregnant workers.  In Massachusetts, Representative Ellen Story of Amherst, has introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which would provide clear rules for employers to follow when a pregnant employee (or an employee affected by pregnancy—including needing to lactate) requests an accommodation.  The PWFA would allow women to ask for reasonable accommodations when pregnant, protect pregnant workers from having to accept an accommodation that she does not want, and prevent employers from forcing an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided without undue hardship to the employer.

Most importantly, the bill lists many types of accommodations that are presumed to be reasonable, including:

  • More frequent or longer breaks,
  • Time off to recover from childbirth,
  • Acquisition or modification of equipment,
  • Seating,
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position,
  • Job restructuring,
  • Light duty,
  • Break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk,
  • Assistance with manual labor, or
  • Modified work schedules.

All of these accommodations will keep most pregnant women—as well as women returning from birth who need to lactate–on the job and earning money to support their families.

There are clear benefits to laws like the one proposed in Massachusetts. A study done in California after the enactment of their accommodations protection legislation by the non-profit group Equal Rights Advocates, showed that low-wage hourly workers in fungible jobs with rigid schedules stand to benefit the most from pregnancy accommodation laws.  This is because they lack the flexibility and control professional, managerial, and white-collar employees have over their work environments and thus have the least ability to negotiate and advocate for their physical needs during pregnancy.  Significantly, after the law’s passage, the number of lawsuits filed in California (after passage of the pregnancy accommodation law) went down 7% while the number of federal pregnancy discrimination claims shot up 54%.

It is our hope that Massachusetts will follow in the footsteps of the many states that have decided to eliminate the ambiguity left open in Young and instead ensure that pregnant workers have the protections then need.  The passage of the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will provide an unmistakable rule, and ensure that no woman is ever forced to choose between her job and the health of her pregnancy.

About the Author: Rebecca Pontikes has been practicing law since 1997.  She has a passion for employment law and civil rights that drives her practice. In addition to employment, she also has brought suit under Title IX on behalf of a sexually assaulted student.  She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and of Tufts University and is admitted to the Massachusetts bar, the Federal District of Massachusetts, and the First Circuit.  Her peers selected her as a “SuperLawyer” in 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.  Massachusetts Lawyer’s Weekly named her aTop Woman in Law in 2012.  She lives in Cambridge with her husband.

Liz Friedman, MFA. Liz first became a mother in 2002 and founded the Postpartum Support Initiative of MotherWoman in 2007. As Program Director of MotherWoman, Liz is a leading voice in advocating for fair policies for mothers and with Annette Cycon, developed the MotherWoman Support Group Model which provides a safe forum for mothers to speak their truths. Liz serves on the MA Postpartum Depression Commission, is a co-investigator on research pertaining to postpartum depression and in 2013 published a chapbook entitled, “You are exactly the right mother.”  Liz says, ““I want for my daughter what I want for ALL of us. That she will be heard when she speaks her own truths as a woman and, if she chooses, as a mother.” You can find Liz at [email protected] and at www.motherwoman.org

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Foreign Trade Rules Are Killing Jobs and Communities. They Need Fixing Now.

March 31st, 2015 | Leo Gerard

Leo GerardSucker punched by massive, illegally subsidized imports, American steel producers laid off thousands of workers in bedrock communities from Ohio and Illinois to Texas and Alabama.

That’s in just the past three months.

The families of furloughed workers are struggling to pay mortgage bills. The communities, losing tax dollars, are canceling needed road work. The companies are talking about the similarities between now and the 1990s when half of the nation’s steel firms disappeared. Members of the Congressional Steel Caucus are worrying about the effect on national security if America can’t make its own steel for guns and tanks.

Virtually everyone who testified last week at a Congressional hearing on the state of steel fingered bad trade as the culprit in the current collapse. Lawmakers, steel company executives, industry group leaders and a vice president of the United Steelworkers (USW) union all agreed on this. Foreign firms, particularly those operating in non-capitalist countries, are violating international trade regulations. Those rules also require American companies, communities and workers to forfeit a pound of flesh before trade enforcement can occur. They’re failing America.

Just seven days into 2015, U.S. Steel said it would lay off 636 workers at its Lorain, Ohio, tubular plant. Before January’s end, the company announced it would furlough 2,000 workers at three locations in Alabama and Texas. In February, U.S. Steel disclosed plans to close its Gary, Indiana, coke plant, displacing 300 workers. Early in March, U.S. Steel revealed the loss of another 83 jobs at its Gary Works, for a total of 780 there this year, as well as 412 at one of its iron-ore operations in Minnesota. Later in March, the company said it would indefinitely shut down its Granite City, Illinois, mill and lay off 2,080 workers.

It’s relentless. And that’s just U.S. Steel. Other U.S. producers furloughed workers too.

Steel executives told lawmakers last week that the job cuts are a direct result of foreign companies dumping steel in the U.S. market. “American steel companies are being irreparably harmed by illegal trade practices,” U.S. Steel CEO Mario Longhi said.

China produced as much steel last year as the rest of the world combined. It continued doing so despite dwindling demand within China as both its real estate development and economy cooled.

China sends the excess steel overseas. Last year, China exported more steel than any country this century. And the numbers are still rising. China’s steel exports rose 63 percent in January from a year earlier.

The USW and U.S. producers have won trade case after trade case involving Chinese-made steel because it violates international regulations forbidding government subsidization of exported products. Those improper subsidies lower the price. When trade regulators determine that Chinese producers violated international rules and place tariffs on a particular steel product increasing its price, China ships a different one. In addition, though it’s not considered in trade cases, China manipulates the value of its currency so that its exports are cheaper.

At the Congressional hearing last week, John Ferriola, CEO of Nucor, a non-union steel company, described the situation this way:  “Blatant foreign government support of their steel industries has resulted in a glut of global steel production. A brazen disregard for international trade rules has led to the dumping of steel products in our market. As a result, one in three tons of steel sold in the U.S. today is produced abroad by less efficient, less safe, and less environmentally friendly countries. Our government must take a much tougher line with countries that break the law.”

This is not whining from uncompetitive producers. The European Union, Korea, Australia, even low-labor-cost India, are investigating whether China is dumping steel in their countries in ways that violate international law.

U.S. Steel’s Longhi talked about the consequences for national security if nothing is done.  “We do not build a steel plant in an emergency,” such as war, he told lawmakers last week. Instead, he said, “we rely on it” to already exist and quickly fulfill national needs.

He noted that during World War II, his company produced 90 percent of the steel used to make 21 million military helmets.

“In a moment of exceptional need for the steel required to maintain its strength, America makes a local call,” he told the Congressmen. It doesn’t call China.

Dumping means companies like U.S. Steel and Vallourec USA that have invested billions in modernizing and expanding their American mills face financial difficulty. The same is true of furloughed workers and their communities.

Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said that while the U.S. Steel plant in his town was shut down in 2008, 10 times as many residents sought help at food banks. Granite City business owners are concerned about U.S. Steel’s indefinite shut down beginning in May because mill jobs pay good, middle class wages that 2,080 laid off workers will not have to spend.

The lost jobs also mean lower tax revenues for towns and school districts. In Lorain, Ohio, now hit by layoffs at Republic Steel and U.S. Steel, Mayor Chase Ritenauer said that to balance the budget he would have to consider scaling back city projects and leaving job vacancies open.

For this to stop, USW Vice President Tom Conway told the Congressmen at the hearing, trade laws must be fixed. “I understand aggressive enforcement of trade laws, but aggressively enforcing a lousy law does not get you much,” he said.

“The continual failure and weakening of our laws is killing us, and it is time to rewrite our laws,” he added.

The laws should not require draconian damage before trade sanctions can be imposed, he said, and Congress must stop the swindle called currency manipulation.

No new trade deals, such as the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), should be approved without these changes, he said. In addition, Congress certainly should not prohibit itself from amending proposed trade agreements by fast-tracking them, he said, because the price of bad trade is too high.

This article originally appeared in Inthesetimes.com on March 31, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

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What’s the hottest smartphone feature? How about a unionized wireless carrier

March 31st, 2015 | David Tindell

davidIsn’t it funny how much we need our smartphone?

It’s not so different than how we depend on our union.

Finding a way to support both means giving our families the best, from companies that are giving their best to their workers.

If you’re a union member who hasn’t chosen a unionized wireless carrier (or maybe didn’t think to look!), here are some things to consider.

Supporting good jobs.

When you’re choosing a cellular plan, your first thought probably isn’t about the technicians, customers service representatives and retail store personnel that make the mobile magic happen. You’re probably thinking most about data plan savings, or the dilemma of choosing a smartphone with the best features.

But being union is all about having each other’s back, and an out of sight, out of mind attitude allows wireless companies to treat labor as just the “cost of doing business.”

As we ask ourselves about our new smartphone’s camera resolution or cost of service, maybe we should also be asking does our wireless carrier…

  • Respect workers’ right to organize a union?
  • Support collective bargaining?
  • Have union contracts to provide good, middle class jobs and health care benefits?
  • Have a fair grievance procedure to resolve workplace disputes?

When companies hire union labor, their workers live better. That’s a real upgrade.

Creating a better economy.

Even as televisions, tablets, and smartphones dual for our attention, many of us are still eagerly awaiting the release of the latest smartwatches. The point couldn’t be clearer; we just can’t get enough gadgets.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But as more of our dollars flow out of our pocket and into our cellular plan, we should seriously consider where that money is invested. And the best investment, as we know, is the middle class.

And it is a big investment! Consider this:

  • More than 60% of Americans pay more than $100 for their phone plan.
  • More than 50% pay $200 or more.
  • One in five people spend more on their cellular plan than food each month.

As mobile technology becomes more ingrained in our daily lives, the shift in consumer spend should create more good jobs to keep our economy moving. Our money should be creating middle-class consumers, the true job creators.

Union members can save with Union Plus. AT&T is the country’s largest private union employer, with some 120,000 organized workers, and the only major U.S. wireless company with a union workforce. Union members who choose Union Plus AT&T Discount Program can save:

About the Author: David Tindell is a Marketing Assistant for Union Plus. He joined Union Plus in 2012, and has written about union benefits for the Union Plus Consumer Bargains blog since 2013. Union members looking to keep up most up-to-date, union-exclusive savings is to sign up for the Union Plus E-Newsletter. Click here to get started >>

 

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Keep Current on Trending Issues with WF's Newly Updated Discrimination and Paid Sick Time Pages

March 30th, 2015 | Shannon Rusz

photoDiscrimination is in the news every day in one form or another, and its effect in the workplace can be devastating to employees and their livelihood. We’ve updated our pages in areas of discrimination law that have been front and center in the news and in the workplace.  Updates have been made to our pages on Pregnancy Discrimination, Family Responsibilities Discrimination, and Gender Identity Discrimination.  We’ve also added a new page with information about the rapidly growing body of State and Local Paid Sick Leave laws.

The case of brought pregnancy discrimination into the lime light last year.  The case, argued before the Supreme Court in December 2014, asks to what extent the   requires that employers give accommodations to pregnant employees.  In Ms. Young’s case, UPS refused to limit the amount of weight she was required to carry during her pregnancy.  As a result she was forced to take unpaid leave and ultimately lost her health insurance.  This type of predicament is all too common for pregnant women in the workforce.  Our updated Pregnancy Discrimination page explains the scope and level of protection that various federal laws might offer to pregnant women.  It also explains what employers can and cannot do with respect to the many pregnancy related issues that women in the workplace face.  It covers pregnancy-related medical leave, work accommodations, parental leave after pregnancy, recovery from terminated pregnancies, paid or unpaid time off, and health insurance.

Transgender and Gender Identity rights are another issue on the forefront of the news these days.  While acceptance and understanding of the rights of transgender people seem to be increasing in the public, employers and companies don’t always keep up with the times.  Gender identity issues can be most difficult to deal with in the workplace, especially if your employer doesn’t acknowledge or properly deal with problems.  We’ve made extensive updates to our page on Gender Identity Discrimination to provide as much information as possible for transgender workers, as well as for companies looking to develop policies and procedures to effectively address gender identity issues.  This area of law is quickly changing and developing on the state and local level, and somewhat more slowly at the federal level.  The Gender Identity Discrimination page will help fill you in on the current state of the law, and also direct you to more information on this important issue.

The definition of Family Responsibilities has certainly changed over the decades.  Employers in the U.S. have continued to place more importance on work/life balance, but workers continue to face significant obstacles in this area.  Our new updated page on Family Responsibilities Discrimination provides information about how existing laws may protect you against discrimination based on your status as a parent, spouse, or caregiver.  It is important for employees and employers to understand what personal information can and cannot be the basis for employment decisions.

This year, President Obama has of paid sick leave laws. As the President and others urge Congress to pass federal laws providing for paid sick leave to employees, states and localities have also begun to heed the call and pass their own laws. See our NEW page on State and Local Paid Sick Leave Laws for information on which jurisdictions are leading the charge, and see what different approaches each jurisdiction is taking.

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About the Author: Shannon Rusz is a general practice litigation attorney in Annapolis, Maryland. She currently serves as the content manager for WorkplaceFairness.org.  Shannon received her law degree from George Washington University Law School in 2012

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Kicking them while they’re down: Bill to treat former substance abusers as independent contractors is wrong

March 30th, 2015 | Sami Khadder

sami-khadderA new effort is underway to deprive a certain class of workers of the most basic benefits and protections of employment.

Last month, Assembly member Marie Waldron (R-San Diego) introduced AB 500, which would allow employers to hire workers who have successfully completed a drug rehabilitation program following conviction of a non-violent felony as independent contractors rather than employees for a period of two years.

The targets of this bill are workers for whom steady and fair employment is a means to rebuild a life and to prevent a relapse of the ravages of addiction. AB 500 is a cynical bill that would codify discrimination and perpetuate mistreatment of this already vulnerable group.

For starters, the language of the bill violates existing federal anti-discrimination law. The Americans with Disabilities Act  considers those who have received treatment for drug or alcohol abuse as qualified individuals with a disability who are entitled to reasonable accommodation. Contrary to the express purpose of the ADA, AB 500 stigmatizes individuals who have completed a substance abuse rehabilitation program by denying them, for a period of two years, the legal protections normally offered to employees in California. Stigmatizing people with disabilities is what gave rise to the disability rights movement to begin with.

Codifying second class status for workers with a substance abuse history is bad enough, but the effect of the bill is even more insidious. Under California law, a person who provides services for another person or entity is presumed to be an employee of that person or entity – as opposed to an independent contractor. The distinction is meaningful.Independent contractors are not entitled to the protections of the California Labor Code, which means they have no minimum wage or overtime protections and no entitlement to meal and rest breaks. Independent contractors are also exempted from the laws prohibiting discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, and they are not entitled to unemployment insurance or Social Security contributions. The bill would also allow employers to avoid the cost of carrying workers’ compensation insurance, leaving independent contractors unprotected in the event of a workplace injury.

Employers often complain that the cost of providing these benefits to their workers has grown too high and some may look with favor at the proposed economic windfall — being able to hire rehabilitated drug offenders for two years for less than the minimum wage, without having to provide overtime pay, workers’ compensation insurance or protections from unlawful discrimination.  But these benefits are essential to providing a fair and safe work environment for California workers. Without these protections, the State would invariably end up shouldering much of the costs, while the employers would reap all the benefits.

Some advocates of the bill may believe that the bill encourages employers to give people with a history of substance abuse an opportunity to work their way into full employment status.  But AB 500 would require applicants to disclose to potential employers that they have been convicted of a crime. Such disclosure is currently prohibited under certain circumstances.  More importantly, there is ample evidence that qualified applicants who disclose their criminal history are just as likely to be denied employment altogether, a result directly contrary to the intended result.

Others may take a harder line toward former substance abusers, believing that second class status in the workplace is appropriate because substance abusers should suffer the consequences of their poor decisions. But how does stripping anti-discrimination protections, overtime, and workers’ compensation achieve any policy goal related to rehabilitation or substance abuse prevention?

What is undeniable is that AB 500 targets a vulnerable constituency. And if the move to strip their rights is successful, it could embolden employers to seek further erosions of the benefits and protections of employees. Who would be next?  The long-term unemployed, veterans, the homeless? For those already struggling to become productive members of society, our goal should be to eliminate obstacles, not create them.

This article originally appeared in Celavoice.org on March 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Sami N. Khadder is the founder of the Khadder Law Firm. He has a decade of litigation experience, with the majority of his career dedicated to fighting for the rights of employees and individuals. Mr. Khadder began his career as an intellectual property defense attorney, but soon realized that the pursuit of justice on behalf of those who need it most was a far more gratifying use of his legal education and experience. Mr. Khadder looks forward to continuing the fight for justice.

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Shadowy Corporate Group Fighting to Gut Workers' Compensation Laws

March 28th, 2015 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallNearly two dozen major corporations have joined together in recent years in an effort to gut workers’ compensation laws in the states. Walmart, Lowe’s, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sysco Food Services and others formed the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC) in 2013, and the organization already has had success in Tennessee. Mother Jones takes a look at ARAWC’s methods:

Now, ARAWC wants to take the Texas and Oklahoma model nationwide. Tennessee, where Lowe’s, Walmart and Kohl’s each have about 20 locations, is the only state where the group has pushed legislation so far. But ARAWC is already considering its next targets. “ARAWC hopes to see some neighboring states take up legislation this year and we’re ready to assist those legislatures as well,” [Richard] Evans, the group’s executive director, writes in an email.

Conservative Southern states where ARAWC’s corporate funders have major operations—including Florida, Georgia and Alabama—are on the group’s short list. And ARAWC already has hired lobbyistsin North and South Carolina. The group has written model legislation, but ARAWC intends to work closely with lawmakers to adapt its model for individual states.

When ARAWC targets a state, it moves aggressively. In Tennessee, the group has spent more than $50,000 deploying lobbyists to push its legislation. Evans says that state Sen. Mark Green, who introduced the opt-out bill, was already working on the legislation before ARAWC started pushing for it. But a February blog post written by an executive at Sedgwick, an insurance company that helped found ARAWC, suggests the group played a more active role. In the post, the executive boasts that ARAWC “secured a highly respected bill sponsor”—presumably Green—to introduce the bill, which the group “assisted in drafting.”…

Green’s proposal, which supporters are calling the Tennessee Option, bears many of the hallmarks of the Texas and Oklahoma system: It allows businesses to place strict spending caps on each injured worker and to pick and choose which medical expenses to cover. “We took the best of both and put it together to make it work for Tennessee businesses,” Green told an insurance trade magazine.

The bill as introduced does not require employers to pay for artificial limbs, hearing aids, home care, funeral expenses or disability modifications to a home or a car for injured workers. All of these benefits, notes Gary Moore, president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO Labor Council, are mandated under the state’s current workers’ comp system.

“This piece of legislation is designed as a cost-saving measure for the employer,” Moore says. “Anywhere they save a dollar, it costs the employees a dollar. It’s just a shift in costs.”

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on March 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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Is Transparency The Tool Women Need to Revolutionize Their Workplaces?

March 26th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertThe United States is one of just three countries in the world that doesn’t require paid maternity leave. Just 12 percent of people who work in the private sector are offered paid family leave. That’s one of many major hurdles women, particularly mothers, face in the workplace.

But women make up half of the labor force. So what can be done to change that picture so that they aren’t so often stuck between a rock and a hard place? Two new websites have one answer: transparency.

Ursula Mead is a self-described working mom and “data geek.” “I come from an area where data can really help you make good decisions and help you understand situations,” she explained.

So with InHerSight, a website that allows people to anonymously rate their workplaces on a variety of metrics such as paid maternity leave, flexible work, and women’s representation and opportunities, she’s decided to apply data to the problems facing women in the workforce. To her, it feels like a faster and more effective way to tackle them. “Some of the other solutions that are out there just weren’t resonating with me,” she said. “I don’t have time for a Lean In circle.” She noted that mentorship doesn’t address issues on a large enough scale, company initiatives are unaccountable to the employees themselves, and policy changes, while important, are “just slow.”

For Sarah Seltzer and Meredith Clark, the decision to start Having It Some, a Tumblr that collects anonymous submissions on companies’ paid family leave policies, came from watching friends struggle with parenting and work. “In the last two years, I’ve been hearing more and more horror stories from friends about companies that didn’t have any maternity leave or having to craft their own or getting job offers rescinded when they told their future bosses they were pregnant,” Seltzer said. “I started becoming really curious as to what companies offer new moms.”

Seltzer and Clark feel that it’s an important conversation to have, and sooner rather than later, but that many people aren’t thinking about it. “We talk about navigating salary negotiations or vacation benefits, but it doesn’t feel like there’s as much of a discussion around the importance of trying to figure out what you might be getting into where family leave is concerned,” Clark said. “We’re encouraging people to really start advocating and asking those questions as early as possible.”

That’s because Seltzer says she’s seen many friends’ careers derailed by workplaces that couldn’t accommodate their needs. “I think some women are changing their career options based on things like how family-friendly their workplace is rather than just what the best fit for them might be,” she said. “If there was more transparency, at least it would help people make informed decisions.” She also noted that being able to compare a particular company to the others tagged in the same industry can be useful. “That can actually give you leverage,” she said, to get a company to consider more generous benefits if peers are already doing the same.

Mead hopes InHerSight will give women a way to pick the right workplaces for their needs. Part of the mission is to “help women find what they’re looking for and improve what they get” at work, she said. She thinks women themselves are best able to articulate what they need as well as what’s actually happening inside a given company. “I’m giving them that platform,” she said.

She also thinks it will be useful to employers. “I think it’s in companies’ interests to figure out what they need to do to attract and retain that top female talent,” she said. “Companies could use this as a starting point for an action plan for themselves.” The website can certainly point out when a company’s policies are simply lacking. But it can get more nuanced metrics around those it already has about how comfortable female employees feel using them. Some companies have even told Mead they want to send the site to their employees to gather ratings. “They’re essentially saying that they are going to own these numbers and they want to be held accountable for them,” she noted.

Seltzer and Clark they also think that companies can respond to their anonymous data. “One person emailed me saying she works at a new company and they’re going to use one of the entries on our site to help model their policy because they think it’s good,” Seltzer noted.

Both websites recognize that men are increasingly interested in figuring work/life balance out as well. “I would love for men to open up their company handbooks,” Clark said. She noted that male friends have looked at their companies’ policies and realized that “things were written very clearly for new mothers or adoptive parents,” not necessarily new dads.

Mead agrees that men are also concerned about the things that her site’s ratings measure and that men are free to rate their companies as well. But she also noted that change shouldn’t happen just because men take up the cause. “I don’t want these things to just magically fall into place when men need them too,” she said. “That shouldn’t have to be the case.”

Both sites are new and will be most effective if they reach a larger scale. Mead says she is focused right now on getting more ratings, and while the site has thousands, she wants to take it to the hundreds of thousands. More data will mean deeper insights, such as being able to benchmark a company profile against others in the same industry or of the same size. She and her team are also working on rolling out new tools, such as seeing how the ratings on each metric vary for a given company. If a company gets a bunch of fives and ones on a given aspect, that may show something different than everyone giving threes, like perhaps using a policy “depends on your manager or your department or experiences across the company are varying widely,” she said.

Having It Some is also looking for more submissions, but has about 40 at the moment. “We have some good variety,” Seltzer noted.

The work both sites are trying to do is urgent. The United States used to beat other developed countries in our share of working women, but we’ve recentlybeen falling behind because of our lack of family-friendly policies. Meanwhile, women face discrimination or even termination for talking about their pregnancies or asking for changes to company policy. “We shouldn’t be working in an environment where a woman feels uncomfortable asking about a parental leave policy in a job interview,” Clark noted. Armed with data from these websites, women may have more options.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on March 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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