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Trump Nominates Non-Free-Trader Robert Lighthizer to Trade Office

January 4th, 2017 | Dave Johnson

President-“elect” Donald Trump today announced his nomination of Robert Lighthizer for the cabinet-level office of US Trade Representative (USTR). Lighthizer, who served as deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan, is known for criticizing Republican “free trade” ideology. Before serving in the Reagan administration he was chief of staff for the Senate Finance Committee.

Lightizer’s nomination signals that Trump is likely to oppose the wide-open “free trade” ideology and policy that ruled the last several decades, enriching the Wall-Street “investor” class while wiping out US-based industries like textiles and electronics manufacturing, devastating entire regions and communities like the “Rust Belt” and Detroit, as well as much of the American middle class.

But Lightzinger and Trump’s public positions are at odds with most of Trump’s nominees to other positions, most Republicans in Congress and with the billionaires, “investors” and giant corporations that usually line up behind and fund the Republican party. How will Trump handle the expected opposition from these elements of the Republican coalition? If Trump would give a press conference perhaps we could know more.

Meanwhile, according to Fox News, Trump said,

“Ambassador Lighthizer is going to do an outstanding job representing the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first,” Trump said Tuesday in a statement announcing his pick. “He has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans. He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.”

Reuters reports that Lightizer has been fighting China’s unfair trade practices,

Lighthizer has argued that China has failed to live up to commitments made in 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization and that tougher tactics are needed to change the system, even if it means deviating from World Trade Organization rules.

“Years of passivity and drift among U.S. policymakers have allowed the U.S.­-China trade deficit to grow to the point where it is widely recognized as a major threat to our economy,” Lighthizer wrote in 2010 congressional testimony.

“Going forward, U.S. policymakers should take these problems more seriously, and should take a much more aggressive approach in dealing with China,” he wrote.

Lori Wallach Statement

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, issued a statement on the expected nomination, and noted that it contrasts with most of Trump’s appointments so far, who have been public supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Trump campaigned against,

“Lighthizer is very knowledgeable about both technical trade policy and the ways of Washington, but what sets him aside among high-level Republican trade experts is that for decades his views have been shaped by the pragmatic outcomes of trade agreements and policies rather than fealty to any particular ideology or theory. I don’t know that he would agree with progressive critics of our status quo trade policies about alternative approaches, but he also has had quite a different perspective on trade policy than the Republican congressional leaders and most of Trump’s other cabinet nominees who have supported the TPP and every past trade deal.”

Public Citizen’s press release continued,

President-elect Donald Trump has filled many top administration posts with proponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that Trump railed against during his campaign. Trump appointees who publicly advocated for the TPP include Wilbur Ross (Secretary of Commerce), Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerman (Secretary of State), Gov. Terry Branstad (Ambassador to China), Gen. James Mattis (Secretary of Defense) and Goldman Sachs President Gary Cohn (Director of National Economic Council) – not to mention Vice-President-elect Mike Pence.

“Thankfully there was never a congressional majority for the TPP in the 10 months after it was signed so the TPP was dead before the election,” said Wallach. “But even so, most of Trump’s cabinet members will be inclined to grab the shovel from Trump’s hands before he can bury the TPP’s moldering corpse by formally withdrawing the U.S. as a signatory.”

Other prominent TPP supporters nominated to join the Trump administration include:
· Gen. James Mattis – TPP supporter named Secretary of Defense
· Gov. Rick Perry – TPP supporter named Secretary of Energy
· Rep. Ryan Zinke – Supporter of Fast Track for TPP named Secretary of Interior
· Rep. Tom Price – Supporter of Fast Track for TPP named Secretary of Health & Human Services
· Dr. Ben Carson – TPP supporter named Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
· Elaine Chao – TPP supporter named Secretary of Transportation
· Mike Pompeo – TPP supporter named CIA Director

Scott Paul: “A Great Pick”

Scott Paul, President of the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM), issued a statement saying,

“Robert Lighthizer is a great pick for U.S. Trade Representative. I am hopeful he will use his new role to continue to stand up for American workers and manufacturers who have been hurt by unfair trade.

“Mr. Lighthizer fought to secure antidumping and countervailing duties against foreign companies who were flouting U.S. trade law. This leveled the playing field for U.S. workers and saved middle class jobs. He also worked to open overseas markets for U.S. companies and served as a deputy U.S. trade representative during the Reagan administration — experience that will serve him well in his new role.

“Mr. Lighthizer’s selection as USTR — as well as that of Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, the director of the new White House National Trade Council — is hopefully a signal that the incoming Trump administration intends to take on trade cheats like China, but the proof is always in the policy.”

Friends of the Earth: Lighthizer No Friend Of The Earth

Friends of the Earth Senior Trade Analyst Bill Waren isn’t so sure this is a good nomination:

Trump’s selection of Robert Lighthizer, a corporate lawyer and Republican political operative, to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative is another example of the revolving door between corporate lobby shops on K Street and the White House staff. Nothing in Lighthizer’s background suggests that he has any concern about the environmental and climate havoc resulting from trade deals like the pending Trade in Services Agreement. To the contrary, his clients include big oil, corporate agriculture, big pharma, and the insurance industry.

Lighthizer might be described as a paleo-conservative, in other words a throwback to another era. He is an admirer of the isolationist Robert A. Taft and the racist Jesse Helms. He will fit right in to the xenophobic culture of the Trump administration.

We’ll See

Trumps appointments have been sending mixed signals and Trump has been giving the public very little information on what to expect from his administration (and refusing to hold press conferences). But at least so far his trade appointments give the appearance of lining up with his campaign promises.

But watch out for this: Trump Trade Position Is Opposite Of What People Think It Is.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on January 3, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

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

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More U.S. Workers Have Highly Volatile, Unstable Incomes

January 3rd, 2017 | Elizabeth Grossman

The U.S stock market may be at record highs and U.S. unemployment at its lowest level since the Great Recession, but income inequality remains stubbornly high.

Contributing to this inequality is the fact that while more Americans are working than at any time since August 2007, more people are working part time, erratic and unpredictable schedules—without full-time, steady employment. Since 2007, the number of Americans involuntarily working part time has increased by nearly 45 percent. More Americans than before are part of what’s considered the contingent workforce, working on-call or on-demand, and as independent contractors or self-employed freelancers, often with earnings that vary dramatically month to month.

These workers span the socioeconomic spectrum, from low-wage workers in service, retail, hospitality and restaurant jobs—and temps in industry, construction and manufacturing—to highly educated Americans working job-to-job because their professions lack fulltime employment opportunities given the structure of many information age businesses. As Andrew Stettner, Michael Cassidy and George Wentworth point out in their new report, A New Safety Net for an Era of Unstable Earnings, what all these workers have in common are highly volatile, unstable incomes and a lack of access to the traditional U.S. unemployment insurance safety net.

“The programs we have to help people are very biased toward traditional incomes,” says Stettner, senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “Volatility in earnings is a really big problem.”

“Those with the least to lose are most likely to lose it”

Published by The Century Foundation, a progressive, nonpartisan think tank, in collaboration with the National Employment Law Project (NELP), which advocates for policies that expand access to work and labor protections for low-wage workers, the report found that those in the contingent or nontraditional workforce “experience nearly twice as much earnings volatility as standard workers.”

It also found that because of this situation, between 2008 and 2013, three out of five prime earners experienced at least as much as a 50 percent drop in their month-to-month income. Half experienced month-to-month income drops of more than 100 percent.

“This broad issue of underemployment,” says NELP senior counsel George Wentworth, “there’s less of a light on it and these people are not showing up in national unemployment figures. But these workers are struggling and many of them are not making ends meet.”

Central to this problem is that most workers now employed part time are making less than what they made previously, working full time. At the same time, their part-time or independent contractor status means they are likely not eligible for a full complement—if any, in the case of self-employed freelancers—of standard employment benefits, including employer paid health insurance or any form of unemployment insurance, explains Wentworth.

As the report notes, “Those with the least to lose are most likely to lose it.”

Policy recommendations

Both Stettner and Wentworth explain that historical policy responses—and those set up to help workers laid off during the Great Recession—focus on traditional employment situations. Typical unemployment insurance is also biased against those who take up part-time or self-employment gigs while they’re looking for new full-time jobs by reducing unemployment payments. Some states have partial unemployment benefits designed for part-time workers, including those who’ve involuntarily had their hours reduced, but these vary widely. The report found that for workers whose hours are cut from full time to part time, “ten states would replace half of their lost earnings while fourteen states would provide no benefits at all.”

To address what’s becoming the new normal for U.S. workers, the report makes several recommendations. It proposes that states offer partial unemployment benefits to workers earning less than 150 percent of what they’d qualify for weekly if they were laid off (rather than working part time). This would substantially improve coverage for workers whose hours have been cut or who take part-time jobs after losing fulltime jobs.

“It also should be easier to file for these benefits,” says Stettner, explaining that current work documentation requirements don’t necessarily reflect the reality of how part timers work and get paid.

The report also recommends broadening unemployment insurance support for work-sharing programs. Work-share programs, explains Wentworth, are designed to help employers avoid layoffs by retaining their existing workforce but with reduced hours.

The report proposes beefing up existing financial support for work-share programs to reduce the impact to employees of reduced hours. “This is basically for high road employers,” says Wentworth.

The report also recommends a pilot program to provide unemployment insurance to freelancers who don’t have a traditional employer relationship. This is perhaps the most challenging of the report’s proposals since it seeks to address circumstances that extend well beyond the issue of reduced hours. Ideas include giving freelancers better access to certain tax credits in ways that help even out swings in earnings. It could also involve building on international examples such as professional guilds in Europe, where people contribute in order to draw benefits when needed, Stettner explains.

These proposals go beyond and build on those already being discussed at the state, local and federal level to require employers to provide more stable scheduling, pay a minimum number of hours if workers are called for a shift and that protect workers who request schedule changes. They would also begin to address the situations of the estimated 19.1 million Americans who depend solely on freelance income and are currently without any employment safety net.

“We’re just scratching the surface to understand how to come up with a better set of market-based and government solutions,” says Stettner. “We’ve created a whole view of the world that now applies to only about half the working people in America,” he says. “We have this huge divide we need to hammer on. It should concern everyone.”

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on December 28, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Trump falsely claims he created thousands of new jobs, and news outlets lap it up

January 2nd, 2017 | Ian Millhiser

It was a huge announcement. An announcement so full of winning that we may even get tired of winning.

“Because of what’s happening and the spirit and the hope,” President-elect Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday, “I was just called by the head people at Sprint and they’re going to be bringing 5,000 jobs back to the United States.”

And just in case there’s any doubt about who deserves credit for these jobs, Trump was happy to take it. “I just spoke with the head person,” Trump claimed, “he said because of me they’re doing 5,000 jobs in this country.”

There’s just one problem. It’s not true. Or, at least, the suggestion that Trump is responsible for new, previously unannounced jobs is not true. The jobs are coming to the United States, but they are coming as part of a series of investments that were first announced in mid-October.

Sprint’s parent company, SoftBank, said in October that it would partner with a Saudi sovereign wealth fund to invest about $100 billion in the tech sector. On December 6, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son told Trump the company would use some of these funds to bring 50,000 jobs to the United States. Trump promptly announced as much on Twitter.


SoftBank confirmed to the tech news site Engadget that the 5,000 jobs Trump took credit for on Wednesday are “part of the 50,000 jobs that Masa previously announced.” The company added that the 50,000 jobs “will be a combination of newly created jobs and bringing some existing jobs back to the U.S.”

Yet, despite the fact that the 5,000 jobs Trump took credit for on Wednesday were already announced earlier this month and are part of a series of investments that were themselves announced in mid-October, numerous headlines presented Trump’s claim as fact.

Media critic Oliver Willis rounded up some of the headlines that emerged shortly after Trump’s attempt to take credit for 5,000 new jobs. Here, for example, is USAToday:

And here is CNN:

And here’s the Washington Post:

In fairness, some of these outlets reported additional details about what actually happened in the body of their stories, although the many news consumers who only read these headlines would still be mislead. Some outlets also published far more informative headlines. Here, for example, is Bloomberg:

Sprint, it should be noted, helped Trump push a favorable line. “We are excited to work with President-Elect Trump and his Administration to do our part to drive economic growth and create jobs in the U.S.,” Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure said in a statement included in that release.

It’s also worth noting that Sprint has an incentive to help Trump use already-announced news to bolster his approval ratings. The company attempted a merger with its rival T-Mobile, but abandoned that effort in 2014 due to antitrust issues raised by the Federal Communications Commission.

After Trump takes power, however, Sprint could attempt to revive this effort under the new administration.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on December 29, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor at ThinkProgress. He is a skeptic of the Supreme Court, hater of Samuel Alito, and a constitutional lawyer of ill repute. Contact him at  imillhiser@thinkprogress.org.

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6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

December 30th, 2016 | Jackie Tortora

Today we released a blueprint for how to rewrite NAFTA to benefit working families. This past election there was much-needed discussion on the impact of corporate trade deals on our manufacturing sector and on working-class communities. The outline below puts forward real solutions that should garner bipartisan support if lawmakers are truly serious about realigning our trade policies to help workers.

We need a different direction on trade. This movement has been largely driven by working people. As we approach the inauguration of a new president, it is important that everyday working people’s perspectives lead the debate, starting with how to rewrite NAFTA.

The AFL-CIO has long supported rewriting the rules of NAFTA to provide more equitable outcomes for working families. To date, the biggest beneficiaries of NAFTA have been multinational corporations, which have gained by destroying middle-class jobs in the U.S. and Canada and replacing them with exploitative, sweatshop jobs in Mexico. It doesn’t have to be this way. With different rules, NAFTA could become a tool to raise wages and working conditions in all three North American countries, rather than to lower them.

6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

Key Areas for Improvement

1. Eliminate the private justice system for foreign investors.

NAFTA established a private justice system for foreign investors, thereby prioritizing corporate rights over citizens’ rights, giving corporations even more influence over our economy than they already have. This private justice system, known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, allows foreign investors to challenge local, state and federal laws before private panels of corporate lawyers. Although these lawyers are not accountable to the public, they are empowered to decide cases and award vast sums of taxpayer money to foreign businesses. Under NAFTA, these panels have awarded millions of dollars to corporations when local and state governments exercise their jurisdictional power to deny things such as municipal building permits for toxic waste processing facilities. ISDS gives foreign investors enormous leverage to sway public policies in their favor. Scrapping the entire system would help level the playing field for small domestic producers and their employees.

2. Strengthen the labor and environment obligations (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation), include them in the agreement, and ensure they are enforced.

The NAFTA labor and environment side agreements were not designed to effectively raise standards for workers or to ensure clean air and water. Instead, they were hastily patched together to quiet NAFTA’s critics. These agreements should be scrapped and replaced with provisions that effectively and robustly protect international labor and environmental standards. Violators should be subject to trade sanctions when necessary—so that we stop the race to the bottom that has resulted from NAFTA. Without stronger provisions, environmental abuses and worker exploitation will continue unchecked.

3. Address currency manipulation by creating binding rules subject to enforcement and possible sanctions.

Within months after NAFTA’s approval by Congress, Mexico devalued the peso, wiping out overnight potential gains from NAFTA’s tariff reductions. This devaluation made imports from Mexico far cheaper than they otherwise would have been and priced many U.S. exports out of reach for average Mexican consumers. Countries should not use currency policies to gain trade advantages—something China, Japan and others have done for many years. All U.S. trade agreements, including NAFTA, should be upgraded to create binding rules, subject to trade sanctions, to prevent such game playing.

4. Upgrade NAFTA’s rules of origin, particularly on autos and auto parts, to reinforce auto sector jobs in North America.

NAFTA’s rules require that automobiles be 62.5% “made in North America” to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA. Even though 62.5% seems high compared with the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s inadequate 45%, it still allows for nearly 40% of a car to be made in China, Thailand or elsewhere. The auto rule of origin should be upgraded to eliminate loopholes (through products “deemed originating” in North America) and to provide additional incentives to produce in North America. This, combined with improved labor standards, will contribute to a more robust labor market and help North American workers gain from trade.

5. Delete the procurement chapter that undermines “Buy American” laws (Chapter 10).

NAFTA contains provisions that require the U.S. government to treat Canadian and Mexican goods and services as “American” for many purchasing decisions, including purchases by the departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, Veterans Affairs and Transportation. This means that efforts to create jobs for America’s working families by investing in infrastructure or other projects, including after the financial crisis of 2008, could be ineffective. This entire chapter should be deleted.

6. Upgrade the trade enforcement chapter (Chapter 19).

NAFTA allows for a final review of a domestic anti-dumping or countervailing duty case by a binational panel instead of by a competent domestic court. This rule, omitted from subsequent trade deals, has hampered trade enforcement, hurting U.S. firms and their employees. It should be improved or omitted.

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on December 20, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.
Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at AFL-CIO.

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Income Inequality Is off the Charts. Can Local Policies Make a Difference?

December 28th, 2016 | Theo Anderson

The income gap between the classes is growing at a startling pace in the United States. In 1980, the top 1 percent earned on average 27 times more than workers in the bottom 50 percent. Today, they earn 81 times more.

The widening gap is “due to a boom in capital income,” according to research by French economist Thomas Piketty. That means the rich are living off of their wealth rather than investing it in businesses that create jobs, as Republican, supply-side economics predicts they would do.

Piketty played a pivotal role in pushing income inequality to the center of public discussions in 2013 with his book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. In a new working paper, he and his co-authors report that the average national income per adult grew by 61 percent in the United States between 1980 and 2014. But only the highest earners benefited from that growth.

For those in the top 1 percent, income rose 205 percent. Meanwhile, the average pre-tax income of the bottom 50 percent of workers was basically unchanged, stagnating “at about $16,000 per adult after adjusting for inflation,” the paper reads.

It notes that this trend has important political consequences: “An economy that fails to deliver growth for half of its people for an entire generation is bound to generate discontent with the status quo and a rejection of establishment politics.”

But the authors also note that the trend is not inevitable or irreversible. In France, for example, the bottom 50 percent of pre-tax income grew by about the same rate—32 percent—as the overall national income per adult from 1980 to 2014.

The difference? In the United States, “the stagnation of bottom 50 percent of incomes and the upsurge in the top 1 percent coincided with drastically reduced progressive taxation, widespread deregulation of industries and services, particularly the financial services industry, weakened unions, and an eroding minimum wage,” the paper reads.

Piketty and Portland

President-elect Donald Trump’s administration promises at least four years of policies that will expand the gap in earnings. But a few glimmers of hope are emerging at the local level.

The city council of Portland, Oregon, for example, recently approved a tax on public companies that pay executives more than 100 times the median pay of workers. The surtax will increase corporate income tax by 10 percent if executive pay is less than 250 times the median pay for workers, and by 25 percent if it’s 250 and over. The tax could potentially affect more than 500 companies and raise between $2.5 million and $3.5 million per year.

The council cited Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century in the ordinance creating the tax. Steve Novick, the city commissioner behind it, recently wrote that “the dramatic growth of inequality has been fueled by very high compensation of a few managers at big corporations, as illustrated by the fact that 60 to 70 percent of people in the top 0.1 percent of income in the United States are highly paid executives at large firms.”

Novick said that he liked the idea when he first heard about it because it’s “the closest thing I’d seen to a tax on inequality itself.” He also said that “extreme economic inequality is—next to global warming—the biggest problem we have in our society.”

Investing in children

There is also hopeful news in the educational realm. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in economics at the University of Chicago who has spent much of his career studying inequality and early childhood education, recently published a paper that lays out the results of a long-term study.

In “The Life-cycle Benefits of an Influential Early Childhood Program,” Heckman and others report that high-quality programs for children from birth to age 5 have long-term positive effects across a range of metrics, including health, IQ, participation in crime, quality of life and labor income.

Predictably, perhaps, the effects of the programs weren’t limited to children. High-quality early childhood education also allowed mothers “to enter the workforce and increase earnings while their children gained the foundational skills to make them more productive in the future workforce,” a summary of the paper reads.

“While the costs of comprehensive early childhood education are high, the rate of return of [high-quality programs] imply that these costs are good investments. Every dollar spent on high quality, birth-to-five programs for disadvantaged children delivers a 13% per annum return on investment.”

The research is important because early childhood education has bipartisan support. Over the summer, the Learning Policy Institute released a report that highlighted best practices from four states that have successful early childhood education programs. Two of them—Michigan and North Carolina—are swing states in national politics. The others are Washington and a solidly red state, West Virginia.

Although it isn’t a substitute for other policy tools to address inequality, like progressive taxes, early childhood education has strong bipartisan support because it produces measurable payoffs for both children and the economy. One study found, for example, that the economic benefit of closing the educational achievement gaps between children of different classes would be $70 billion each year.

Early childhood education fosters an “increasingly productive workforce that will boost economic growth, provide budgetary savings at the state and federal levels, and lead to reductions in future generations’ involvement with the criminal justice system,” the Economic Policy Institute recently noted. “These benefits will, of course, materialize only in coming decades when today’s children have grown up. But the research is clear that they will materialize—and when they do, they are permanent.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on December 26, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Theo Anderson, an In These Times staff writer, is writing a book about the historical and contemporary influence of pragmatism on American politics. He has a Ph.D. in American history from Yale University and teaches history and literature seminars at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

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Federal judge concludes transgender worker can sue for sex discrimination

December 21st, 2016 | Zack Ford

A federal court in Kentucky is allowing a transgender workplace discrimination suit to proceed, recognizing that mistreatment in regards to gender identity constitutes illegal discrimination on the basis of sex.

Plaintiff Mykel Mickens sued General Electric Appliances (GE) for harassment and disparate treatment in the workplace. He was not permitted to use the men’s restroom, so he had to use a facility much farther away from his work station, and he was then disciplined for how long his breaks were to accommodate that journey. Mickens also had a conflict with an employee, but though GE addressed a complaint one of his white, female colleagues had with that employee, his complaint went unaddressed. He says that when he disclosed that he was transgender to his supervisor, he was singled out and reprimanded for conduct no one else was reprimanded for, and when he reported the harassment, GE said there was nothing it could do.

Federal Chief Judge Joseph McKinley, a Clinton appointee, concluded that there was significant evidence to bring a discrimination case for race and gender discrimination. He agreed there is precedent that punishing an employee for failing to conform to gender stereotypes can qualify as gender discrimination under Title VII. “Significantly,” he wrote, “Plaintiff alleges that GE both permitted continued discrimination and harassment against him and subsequently fired him because he did not conform to the gender stereotype of what someone who was born female [sic] should look and act like.”

McKinley noted that several court cases, including G.G. v. Glouchester County School Board?—?currently before the Supreme Court?—?could impact future trans discrimination suits. In the meantime, however, “what is clear is that the Plaintiff’s complaint sufficiently alleges facts to support discrimination or disparate treatment claims based upon race and gender non-conformity or sex stereotyping.”

GE did not comment directly on the suit but reaffirmed in a statement its commitment to “creating, managing and valuing diversity in our workforce” and “ensuring that our workplace is free from harassment.”

McKinley’s ruling isn’t an automatic victory for Mickens, but it is a sign of progress for those seeking the justice system’s protection for discrimination against transgender people.

Just last week, a transgender man in Louisiana won his discrimination complaint against his employer through arbitration. Tristan Broussard involuntarily resigned from the financial services company he worked for when he was intolerably forced to “act and dress only as a female.” He was awarded more than a year’s salary as well as additional damages for emotional distress.

The Obama administration has extended protections to transgender people in various ways, including advocating for their civil rights in employment discrimination cases. Many advocates worry the Trump administration will roll back these protections and abandon support for these plaintiffs, if not take an antagonistic position against their discrimination claims.

A recent massive survey of transgender people found that 16 percent had lost a job due to being transgender, and 27 percent had either been fired, denied a promotion, or not been hired due to being transgender.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on December 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Zack Ford is the LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress.org. Gay, Atheist, Pianist, Unapologetic “Social Justice Warrior.” Contact him at zford@thinkprogress.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

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Delivery Drivers Sue Amazon Over Misclassification, Failure to Pay Overtime and the Minimum Wage

December 20th, 2016 | Bruce Vail

With wage and hour lawsuits becoming increasingly common across the country, there was little reason for the lawyers at Amazon.com’s Seattle headquarters to be surprised when one landed on their doorstep recently. But they may have been concerned to learn that their newest legal adversary is “Sledgehammer Shannon” Liss-Riordan, a Boston attorney who gained legal fame by beating corporate giants like FedEx and Starbucks in just these kinds of contests.

The new lawsuit against Amazon is similar to one of Liss-Riordan’s best known cases—a suit against FedEx that charged the company was misclassifying delivery drivers as independent contractors when the workers were, as a matter of law, regular employees. Liss-Riordan won that fight and, this year, FedEx announced that it would give up on a series of related legal fights and pay $240 million to some 12,000 drivers in 20 states.

Liss-Riordan took the fight to Amazon in a suit filed October 4 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. It charges Amazon and Amazon Logistics Inc. with violating the minimum wage law in Seattle, state labor law in Washington and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Liss-Riordan explains that Amazon is experimenting with a delivery system where the company contracts with individuals to use their own cars to pick up parcels at Amazon warehouses and deliver them to local customers. The drivers typically sign up for a specific work shift and are paid an hourly wage. They are not compensated, however, for expenses like gasoline, car maintenance, telephone calls, or other incidentals. When subtracting these expenses, drivers often end up earning less than the minimum wage and are denied overtime pay, she says.

That description of delivery methods was echoed by Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Along with co-author Olivia LaVecchia, Mitchell has just completed a major study of Amazon’s business practices that warns that the giant corporation is killing good jobs in local economies as it seeks to monopolize different sectors of the retail business.

“Amazon has substantially expanded its warehouses in recent years and is experimenting with the so-called ‘last mile’ of the delivery system. They are increasingly using on-demand drivers, and also regional couriers, to move goods,” Mitchell says. “In the past, this sort of ‘last mile’ delivery was typically done by the U.S. Postal Service or United Parcel Service. USPS and UPS jobs are good-paying union jobs, and Amazon is undermining these with its gig economy model.”

In These Times reached out to Amazon to comment on the lawsuit. Spokesman Jim Billimoria provided the following response:

“The small and medium sized businesses that partner with Amazon Logistics have their own employees and are required to abide by applicable laws and Amazon’s Supplier Code of Conduct, which focuses on compensation, benefits, and appropriate working hours. We investigate any claim that a provider isn’t complying with these obligations.”

Liss-Riordan says this sort of a defense is typical of large corporations, many of which have lost wage and hour lawsuits in court.

“It’s not what you say that counts, it’s what you do,” she said. “We’ve been able to demonstrate, time and time again, that a lot of these corporations just don’t live up to their stated policies when it comes to real-life employment practices on the ground. That’s why you see more and more of these suits.”

Indeed, a 2015 report from the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw LLP described an “onslaught” of litigation resulting in a record high number of federally-filed wage and hour cases in 2015. According to the firm, there were 8,781 such cases in 2015, compared to only 1,935 in 2000.

Asked about her nickname “Sledgehammer Shannon,” Liss-Riordan laughed out loud.

“It’s sort of silly. Mother Jones magazine did an article last year about a case I have against Uber, and I get a lot of jokes. I don’t care. The fact is, we will take on cases like this and fight them for 10 years if we have to.”

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on December 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

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This week in the war on workers: SoftBank investment is not necessarily something to look forward to

December 19th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

 

Donald Trump’s claim that, because of him, SoftBank would be investing $50 billion in the U.S. and creating 50,000 jobs was greeted somewhat less credulously than his Carrier claims. But it’s still worth an extra look at the details. It’s not just that SoftBank had already planned a major investment fund before the election:

Worse yet, this deal is lose, lose, lose for the domestic economy. First, this inflow of foreign capital will bid up the U.S. dollar, which will reduce the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing by making imports cheaper and exports more expensive. This will increase the U.S. trade deficit and reduce employment in U.S. manufacturing. The U.S. dollar has gained about 25 percent in the past two-and-a-half years, and one-fifth of that increase has occurred since the election. As a result, the trade deficit in manufactured goods increased sharply in 2015 and is poised for another increase after the recent run-up in the dollar. Meanwhile, the United States has lost 78,000 manufacturing jobs since the first of the year due, in part, to the rising trade deficit.

Second, foreign investment in the U.S. economy is dominated by foreign purchases of existing U.S. companies. Between 1990 and 2005, foreign multinational companies (MNCs) acquired or established domestic subsidiaries that employed 5.25 million U.S. employees. The vast majority (94 percent) of jobs associated with those investments were in existing firms acquired by foreign MNCs. However, 4 million of those jobs disappeared through layoffs or divestiture of part or all of those companies […]

SoftBank provides a clear example of plans to acquire and merge existing U.S. businesses.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on December 17, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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Coal Communities Ask Trump To Honor His Promises

December 16th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Coal miners, their communities and Faith groups are calling on President-presumed-Elect Donald Trump to honor his campaign promise to help coal workers. In an “Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump from coal miners,” hundreds of coal miners from Appalachia to Western coal lands asked for help for coal communities across the country.

They want Trump to take action to make sure coal CEOs and companies keep promises to restore the landscape and local environments by “reclaiming” the old mines, which would mean jobs in coal communities. They also asked Trump to protect the pension and health benefits they were promised. The companies and CEOs made millions from the mines and should not be allowed leave behind a devastated environment and ruined communities.

The letter was organized by Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ), a network of Faith groups and worker centers working “to mobilize people of faith and work advocates in support of economic justice and worker rights at the local, state and national levels.” It asks Trump to stop coal CEOs and companies from abandoning their responsibility to clean up old mines.

The letters asks Trump to, “Ensure federal and state governments use every legal option to prevent coal companies from shirking their commitment to reclaim and repair the public lands mined for private profit.”

Please visit the website Help Coal Workers to read stories from coal workers, read the letter and sign a petition asking Trump to honor his promises.

For example, one of those stories:

“I worked in the mines for 25 years until I had an accident and could not work anymore,” said Charles E. Boyd of McCalla, Alabama. “I am on disability due to my work injury. I also have black lung. My pension and health benefits was promised to coal miners by our government. Please keep the promise.”

The Open Letter to President-Elect Donald Trump from coal miners:

Dear Mr. President-Elect Trump,

Dear Congressman Zinke, nominee for Secretary of the Department of the Interior,

Anybody who works on American coal mines knows that the industry is rapidly changing. Mines are closing, coal companies are declaring bankruptcy, and many of us are losing our jobs and our livelihoods. For some of us, these are the only jobs that we’ve ever known – once assured of a lifelong and stable career with good pay and a community in which to raise a family. No more.

We all have strong opinions about why our industry is suffering: which politicians or whose agenda is to blame. Regardless of politics, the bottom line is that we need to take care of our brothers and sisters who are facing uncertain times.

That means ensuring that coal companies follow through on their commitments to coal miners across the country. As you take action to revitalize the coal industry, we urge you and Congressman Zinke to do everything possible to hold true to your promise on the campaign trail that you are beholden to “no special interest. My only interest is you, the American people.”

Here’s how the Trump Administration can be a champion for coal mining communities in crisis:

Ensure federal and state governments use every legal option to prevent coal companies from shirking their commitment to reclaim and repair the public lands mined for private profit.

Through bankruptcy proceedings, we have learned that several companies are working to drastically reduce their financial and legal responsibility to reclaim mined land.

Any new or expanded coal leasing should be in concert with the strongest possible assurances that coal companies will honor their obligations to communities to create jobs by reclaiming and rehabilitating mined land.

Work with Congress to increase revenue and funding for communities as well as programs that support local economies.

There are a number of pieces of legislation on the table in Congress that would invest in coal communities, fund reclamation and economic revitalization projects, and protect promised benefits to coal miners and their families.

We urge you to work with Congress to pass these laws if they do not move forward before your inauguration

We, the undersigned coal miners and concerned individuals from across the country, demand action that will bring relief to coal communities.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on December 15, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

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

 

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Texas Bill Would Require Workers Under 18 to Get Their Parents’ Consent to Join a Union

December 15th, 2016 | Moshe Marvit

Last month, the highest-ranking member of the Texas Senate, Jane Nelson, pre-filed 11 bills to be considered in the legislative session that begins on January 10. A former teacher, Sen. Nelson has often focused her legislative attention on protecting children, and her new bills are no different—with five of the 11 bills dealing with children. However, nestled between SB 74, which affects children with high mental needs in the foster system, and SB 76, which allows municipalities to prohibit sex offenders from living near a “child safety zone,” is SB 75, which seeks to protect children from labor unions.

The bill would prohibit unions from accepting as a member anyone under 18 years of age unless the union first procures a signed consent form from the minor’s parent or guardian. According to a statement from Sen. Nelson’s office, the bill “protects parental rights by requiring consent before a minor may join a union, and it protects minors from entering into a contract they may not fully understand.” (Nelson’s staff initially responded to a request for an interview with the senator by asking questions about specifics, but then ignored attempts to schedule one.)

If the bill passes, children as young as 14 will be able to enter into an employment agreement with most employers without parental consent, but they will not be permitted to join a union without a signed parental consent.

The purpose of such a bill is not immediately clear. There appears to be no problem for which this bill is a solution. Texas has long been a right-to-work state, which means that any worker who is represented by a union can choose to pay no dues. It is also not clear how many unions even have minors as members in Texas.

Still, the proposed bill may be both symbolically and practically important, and could represent a new front in state-level attacks on unions. Symbolically, the bill positions unions as something that children need to be protected from. It hardly seems coincidental that the bill “protecting” children from unions is in the same packet as bills protecting children from sex offenders or a parent who sexually assaults the other parent. The bill treats unions not as organizations that represent and work on behalf of workers, but as something that preys on innocent children.

Practically, the bill may also have a significant effect. The number of workers between the ages of 16 and 24 that are represented by a union has increased steadily each year since 2013. (The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not measure union membership for the subgroup of those between 16 and 18 years old). Furthermore, in the past few years, some of the major labor campaigns—from Fight for 15 to a push for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to treat franchisors and franchisees as joint employers—have involved industries where younger workers represent a significant percentage of the workforce. Though workers at most fast food chains may still be far off from joining a union, a proliferation of bills such as the one being pushed in Texas would provide yet another roadblock in organizing.

Unfortunately, labor may be in a bind in terms of how best to respond to this bill. If it does not fight it, then the bill will likely become law in Texas and serve its onerous purposes. It may then spread to other states and become one more general state-level hurdle that labor has to contend with. However, if it does fight it, then it may serve to publicize the bill, and place itself in the loaded position of having to argue publicly that unions pose no harm to children.

The best approach may be to push a poison pill amendment that would either silently kill the bill, or, if passed, make the bill, on balance, a net positive. Such an amendment should similarly seek to protect young workers in the workplace, but from employers’ unscrupulous practices. It could take any number of forms, such as a just-cause provision for all workers under 24 years of age in order to protect young workers who may feel less confident in asserting their rights for fear of losing their jobs. A bill with such an amendment would have little chance of passing in Texas, but it would reframe the debate without publicizing the original bill’s faulty premise.

Conservatives have long tried, with some success, to portray unions as exploitative enterprises. Right-to-work laws position unions as organizations that stand as a barrier to work, while unfairly assessing dues. This proposed parental consent bill is of a similar vein—treating unions as something that harms or exploits workers, rather than as the representative of workers that they are.

This post originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on December 14, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

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