Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The coming Chicago teachers strike could be felt across the country

October 15th, 2019 | Miles Kampf-Lassin

This week, 35,000 teachers and support staff in Chicago are set to walk off the job in a dramatic citywide strike.

The strike—which is expected to begin on Thursday—comes on the heels of other mass walkouts by teachers in states from West Virginia to Arizona and California. And rather than simply bargaining around issues of pay and benefits, Chicago teachers are demanding investments to uplift public education in the face of austerity and privatization.

Today, Rebecca Burns reported for In These Times on the strategy being employed by the Chicago Teachers Union of “bargaining for the common good” and the promise it holds for unions across the country that are seeking to win gains for not just their members, but the entire working class.

Throughout the lead up to the strike—and during it, should it take place—In These Times will be providing an inside, on-the-ground perspective with analysis and reporting from the viewpoint of rank-and-file teachers, organizers and working-class Chicagoans.

For background on the issues at play in the strike and its national implications, check out our earlier reporting on why presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is standing with Chicago teachers, as well as Kari Lydersen on the tensions between teachers and the newly elected Chicago mayor who ran on a progressive agenda.

Check back in to InTheseTimes.com throughout the week for further coverage of this developing labor action, and what it means for organizers and union members across the country who are fighting for the rights of workers everywhere.

This article was originally published at In These Times on October 14, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Miles Kampf-Lassin, a graduate of New York University’s Gallatin School in Deliberative Democracy and Globalization, is the Community Editor at In These Times. He is a Chicago based writer. miles@inthesetimes.com @MilesKLassin

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No One Should Have to Bargain For Health Care

October 11th, 2019 | Negin Owliaei

Negin OwliaeiNearly 50,000 members of the United Auto Workers are on strike, demanding that General Motors pay them their fair share of the billions in profits the company raked in last year.

The response from General Motors was shocking. The automaker, which accepted billions in government bailouts during the last recession, cut off its payment of insurance premiums for the striking workers.

As the news broke, former Vice President Joe Biden was at an AFL-CIO event, campaigning against a single-payer Medicare for All plan that would replace employer-provided insurance. “You’ve broken your neck to get it,” Biden told the crowd. “You’ve given up wages to keep it. And no plan should be able to take it away.”

But what if that’s actually the problem? Why should union workers — or anyone — be breaking their necks to get health care, a basic human right?

Health care has been a constant subject of debate among Democratic presidential candidates. Biden and others have argued that a single-payer system would be unfair to union workers who’ve taken pay cuts in exchange for better health care plans.

But, as GM showed, our current system turns health coverage into leverage for employers. What could unions could fight for if they didn’t have to constantly play defense against employers trying to gut their health care?

If we already had Medicare for All, the United Auto Workers could be using their collective power to fight for higher wages and better benefits. Instead, GM gets to use the health of its employees as a bargaining chip.

Auto workers aren’t the only union workers fighting for health coverage.

West Virginia teachers kicked off a strike wave last year thanks, in large part, to their own fight over insurance. The state offered educators two options: use a fitness-tracking app that forced them to earn a certain number of fitness points, or watch their premiums rise. They chose to strike instead.

Meanwhile, Americans already lose their health insurance all the time. That’s actually one of the biggest problems with the health care system as it stands.

Tying health care to employment is a terrible idea. In addition to failing anyone without a full-time job, it forces people to stay in bad positions just to keep their coverage. And when workers lose their jobs, they lose their insurance too.

That wouldn’t happen under Medicare for All, which would allow workers to make decisions about leaving a job or working part-time without panicking over their insurance coverage.

Then there’s the cost.

Health insurance alone makes up, on average, 8 percent of total wages and benefits, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But workers are seeing their share of the costs rise at a higher rate than their wages. They’re getting stuck with a larger chunk than ever before.

Data shows that this burden falls heaviest on low-wage workers, who are already forced to spend a much higher share of their income on extra costs like premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.

By contrast, the Medicare for All plan now before Congress would cover all medically necessary services without co-pays and deductibles — an advantage critics like Biden rarely address.

Right now, the U.S. spends about two times as much as other high-income countries on health care, only to have poorer health outcomes. It’s obvious that the current system isn’t working — for union workers, or for anyone else.

No one should have to bargain for a human right.

This article was originally printed on OurFuture on October 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Negin Owliaei is an Inequality Editor and Researcher at the Institute for Policy Studies. Before joining IPS, she worked as a journalist and digital producer at Al Jazeera Media Network, where she covered social movements and the internet for the award-winning program The Stream. Negin graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a degree in International Studies and English.

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Brazilian and U.S. Workers Confronting Common Threat Build Solidarity in the Global Labor Movement

October 11th, 2019 | Brian Finnegan

This week, the AFL-CIO joins much of the global labor movement in Brazil to participate in the 13th Congress of Brazil’s largest labor organization, the Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT). Fred Redmond, AFL-CIO vice president and United Steelworkers vice president for human affairs, is leading the AFL-CIO delegation.Image result for brian finnegan afl-cio

Addressing the entire congress, Redmond pointed out the many challenges workers face in both Brazil and the United States, calling for unity and solidarity to move forward. In particular, he denounced the anti-worker laws and policies being driven by right-wing presidents in Brazil and the United States to weaken unions and collective bargaining.

Redmond also lamented that the current presidents in both countries have risen to power and exercise it by increasing fear and hatred, especially racial prejudice, rather than by leading.

Finally, he rallied the hundreds of delegates to the global labor movement’s call for the immediate release of Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, unjustly imprisoned for the last year and a half. Redmond closed by announcing to the crowd the upcoming visit of AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (UMWA) to present the 2019 George Meany–Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award to Lula in prison. The decision to give the award to Lula was announced in March.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 11, 2019.  Reprinted with permission.

Brian Finnegan is a Global Worker Rights coordinator for the AFL-CIO

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Don’t Leave Equality To The Supreme Court

October 10th, 2019 | Theo Wuest

Are you a woman? Imagine if you were fired for wearing a skirt to work.

Are you a man? Imagine getting fired for not wearing a skirt to work.

This sounds ridiculous, right? It sounds unfair. But for many Americans, it’s a reality we must face every day.

Take the case of Aimee Stephens, a Detroit funeral home employee. Aimee is transgender, a woman assigned male sex at birth.

For most of her career, she went undercover, wearing men’s clothing every day and pretending to be a man. When she finally told her boss that she was in fact a woman and would like to start wearing work-appropriate women’s clothing, she was fired.

In 29 states, there are no protections against workplace discrimination of this sort for transgender people like me. If I lived in Michigan like Aimee, my employer could fire me at will, just because I’m transgender. (In fact, I could also be denied housing, credit, or public accommodations.)

Facing this injustice, Aimee Stephens sued. Her case against her employer has now made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

The court will decide whether firing someone because they’re transgender constitutes discrimination “on the basis of sex,” which would be illegal under the Civil Rights Act. If they rule in favor of Stephens, transgender Americans would finally be afforded the same protections that everyone else has as a right.

The Trump administration has argued that the Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But advocates have countered that it does apply, since discrimination along these lines punishes people who defy stereotypes attached to their assigned sex.

Whatever the court decides, there’s no disputing that transgender people in the United States face alarmingly high rates of unemployment and poverty. In fact, we’re twice as likely to live in poverty as the general population, and 30 percent of us have experienced homelessness at some point.

Against this backdrop, housing and employment discrimination are an added devastation — and in all likelihood part of the reason these numbers are so high in the first place.

So it’s no exaggeration to say the Supreme Court’s ruling will have a drastic material impact on the millions of transgender people living in the United States. Allowing this discrimination to continue will threaten many more with unemployment and economic hardship.

With the court’s current right-wing majority, that’s a real danger. But Congress could address it by explicitly legislating anti-discrimination protections — for the workplace, housing, credit, and everything else — for this vulnerable group.

In fact, the House of Representatives has already passed the Equality Act, which would clearly codify the inclusion of gay, lesbian, transgender, and non-binary people in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. However, the GOP-controlled Senate has refused to consider it.

Without this legislation, the rights of millions of Americans like me are at the mercy of this Supreme Court.

No matter how the court rules, it’s the responsibility of Congress to ensure that “freedom and justice for all” includes transgender Americans, too. We need laws to prevent people like Aimee Stephens from losing their livelihoods due to employer prejudice.

We’re supposed to be a free country. We’re supposed to be an equal country. It’s time to make it that way.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 10, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Theo Wuest is a Next Leader at the Institute for Policy Studies. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

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Why Workers Like Victoria Need The PRO Act Now

October 9th, 2019 | Tom Conway

Those bundles of joy cost bundles of money, so Victoria Whipple, a quality control worker at Kumho Tire in Macon, Ga., had been working overtime to get ready for her new arrival.

She also got involved in union organizing at the plant, and management decided to teach her a lesson. It didn’t matter that Victoria had seven kids ranging in age from 10 to 1. Or that she was eight months pregnant. Those things just made her a more appealing target.

On Sept. 6, the day Kumho workers wrapped up an election in which they voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW), managers pulled Victoria off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay solely because she was supporting the union. In a heartbeat, her income was gone.

“It kind of stressed me out because of the bills,” she explained.

What happened to Victoria happens all the time. Employers face no real financial penalties for breaking federal labor law by retaliating against workers during a union organizing campaign. So they feel free to suspend, fire or threaten anyone they want. Workers are fired in one of every three organizing efforts nationwide, and the recent election at Kumho was held only because the company harassed workers before the initial vote two years ago.

Legislation now before Congress—the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—would curtail this rampant abuse.

The PRO Act would fine employers up to $50,000 for retaliating against workers during organizing campaigns. It would require the National Labor Relations Board to go to court to seek reinstatement of workers who are fired or face serious financial harm because of retaliation, and it would give workers the right to file lawsuits and seek damages on their own.

The House Committee on Education and Labor has taken up the PRO Act, and it’s important that members of Congress understand exactly what’s at stake: families like Victoria’s that might be only a couple of missed paychecks away from financial ruin.

They can’t afford to be pawns in a company’s sordid union-busting campaign.

Victoria began working at Kumho a year and a half ago, after being laid off from her dispatching job at a distribution center. Her husband, Tavaris Taylor, recently started an over-the-road trucking job. They didn’t have much of a financial cushion for emergencies, and the suspension put their backs against the wall.

Instead of focusing on her family in the final weeks of her pregnancy, Victoria had to worry about money. It wasn’t healthy for her or her unborn child. And it wasn’t right.

When Victoria’s eldest child asked why she wasn’t going to work anymore, she just said she needed some time off. It would be wrong to burden a 10-year-old with the truth.

Victoria began borrowing gas money from her mom. She cut back her spending. She prioritized the bills and paid only those—rent, electricity and so on—that she considered absolutely essential.

She kept going to her doctor appointments, hoping the company’s insurance still covered her or that Medicaid would kick in if it didn’t. Victoria qualifies for Medicaid even though she works full time. The need for better pay is just one reason Kumho workers voted to join the USW.

But Victoria’s main concern was giving workers a bigger voice in the workplace. She went to a union meeting and thought: “Maybe representation would help.”

That’s how she became a union supporter—and got crossways with a company that couldn’t care less about its workers, their families or federal labor law.

Victoria didn’t know how long her suspension would last or if management’s next step would be to fire her. That would be Kumho’s kind of baby gift.

Then, out of the blue last week, a manager called Victoria and told her to return to work. On Friday, her first day back after two weeks without pay, managers had the brass to ask her if she understood why she had been suspended.

Yeah, she understood all right.

Companies will do almost anything these days—even suspend a pregnant woman and escort her from the premises—to keep out unions and hold down workers. That’s especially true of Kumho. Its egregious union-busting activities derailed workers’ attempt to join the USW two years ago.

Back then, Kumho threatened union supporters’ jobs, interrogated employees about their union allegiance, threatened to shut down the plant if the union was voted in and made workers think they were being spied on. The conduct was so extraordinarily bad that an NLRB administrative law judge ordered Kumho to assemble the workers and read a statement outlining the many ways in which it had violated their rights and federal labor law.

The NLRB also ordered this month’s election, in which workers voted 141 to 137 to join the USW. Thirteen challenged ballots will be addressed at an upcoming hearing.

The mistreatment of Victoria shows that Kumho hasn’t changed its ways over the past two years. Unfortunately, employers have no incentive right now to follow the law.

The PRO Act would help to level the playing field. Besides fining companies for retaliation and giving workers the right to sue, the legislation would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union presentations like the “town hall” meetings Kumho forced Victoria and her co-workers to attend. Employers conduct the meetings to bully employees into voting against a union.

The legislation also would provide new protections once workers voted for representation. For example, if a company dragged its feet during bargaining for a first contract, a regular ploy to lower worker morale, mediation and arbitration could be used to speed the process along. And the PRO Act would prohibit employers from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers.

Members of Congress need to understand something. Workers aren’t looking to pick fights with their employers. They just want to do their jobs well, work in safe environments and earn enough money to care for their families. And some companies work productively with unions, including the USW, to improve working conditions and product quality.

But employers like Kumho too often exploit their employees and resist any effort that workers make to improve their lot. When that happens, workers like Victoria will stand their ground. Now more than ever, they need the protections of the PRO Act backing them up.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).

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Far-right effort to smear Elizabeth Warren flops. Turns out pregnancy discrimination is a thing

October 9th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Elizabeth Warren and the entire history of women’s employment in the 1970s are swatting away a claim by a far-right website disputing Warren’s story of losing her first teaching job because she was visibly pregnant at the end of her first year. The Free Beacon found documents claiming that Warren was offered a second-year teaching contract but resigned. However, there are a lot more documents showing that it was absolutely standard for women to lose teaching jobs because they were pregnant, and Twitter was quick to bring those receipts.

The key rebuttal to the claim that Warren wasn’t really forced out in 1971? A 1972 news story from New Jersey, the state where Warren was teaching, reporting that “Pregnant teachers can no longer be automatically forced out of New Jersey’s classrooms.” To repeat, “automatically forced out.” But many other headlines prove just how standard that was, as historian Joshua Zeitz shows.

Warren herself had a typically straightforward, non-defensive response:

She told CBS News that, as the documents Free Beacon found indicate, she had initially been offered a second-year teaching contract. But that’s not the whole story, she said: “I was pregnant, but nobody knew it. And then a couple of months later when I was six months pregnant and it was pretty obvious, the principal called me in, wished me luck, and said he was going to hire someone else for the job.”

Other people who taught in the same New Jersey district at the time didn’t remember Warren’s specific case, but did confirm the policy. “The rule was at five months you had to leave when you were pregnant. Now, if you didn’t tell anybody you were pregnant, and they didn’t know, you could fudge it and try to stay on a little bit longer,” retired teacher Trudy Randall said. “But they kind of wanted you out if you were pregnant.”

Not only did women routinely lose their jobs for being pregnant in the 1970s, when it was legal to fire them for that reason, but women continue to lose their jobs for being pregnant, even though there are now technically some legal protections for pregnant women. The Free Beacon thinking it had a giant gotcha here shows how out of touch these people are with the reality American women are still living with now, let alone what they lived with in the 1970s.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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The Corporate Media Failed to Warn Us About the Trump Admin’s Attack on LGBTQ Workers

October 9th, 2019 | Andy Roth

Image result for Andy Lee Roth“Sex,” Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “is a confounding term in our culture, in our language and certainly in the law.” As the Supreme Court opens a new session, its justices are set to tackle the conundrum of defining “sex.” At issue is whether Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination “because of sex,” applies to gay, lesbian, and transgender employees.

There are many reasons why LGBTQ Americans deserve federal protection against employment and workplace discrimination. Simplest and most glaring: In a majority of states, it is perfectly legal for an employer to refuse to hire someone, or to fire them, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In its preview of Bostock v. Clayton CountyAltitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOCSCOTUSBlog described the trio of cases as “some of the biggest” of the Court’s forthcoming term. The Court’s decisions will be consequential for how secure all workers—whether straight or queer; transgender, cisgender, or nonbinary—are in their jobs, because the cases will also test a 30-year-old decision that established gender stereotyping as a form of sex discrimination.

It is distressing that corporate news media have not deemed employment protections for LGBTQ workers to be newsworthy until the Supreme Court decided to hear these cases, but it is no surprise to us. The inadequate news coverage fits a pattern we found in a study of several hundred news reports on LGBTQ issues published by four major newspapers between January 2016 and November 2018. The study, “Stonewalled: Establishment Media’s Silence on the Trump Administration’s Crusade against LGBTQ People,” appears in Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass (Seven Stories Press, 2019).

Our study concluded that, during that period, corporate news media consistently muted, marginalized or ignored the steady rollback of LGTBQ protections and rights under the Trump administration. Another recent study, focused on television news coverage, reached similar conclusions: Since Trump became president, news coverage of LGBTQ issues has “all but disappeared.”

From the 2016 presidential campaign through the midterm elections of 2018, we found that corporate news coverage of LGBTQ issues focused on two main issues: the president’s proposal to ban transgender people from military service and so-called “bathroom bills.” Together these two topics accounted for more than forty percent of all LGBTQ-focused news articles in the New York TimesWashington PostLos Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. By contrast, during the same time period, the independent news outlets in our study covered a much wider range of issues facing LGBTQ Americans, devoting less than 10% of their coverage to the proposed transgender military ban and “bathroom bills.”

Based on the findings from our study, we forecast three trends in news coverage of the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Title VII anti-discrimination cases. The first pattern we expect to hold is a positive, encouraging one; the remainder are causes for concern.

News coverage will center LGBTQ voices.

LGBTQ people—including spokespersons for leading LGBTQ rights organizations, such as Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Transgender Equality—will achieve what sociologist William Gamson calls “media standing.” Standing, in Gamson’s use of the term, goes beyond being covered or mentioned in the news; the figures that journalists quote directly are positioned as agents whose insights and actions matter.

In our study, we found that at least 7.5% of quoted sources identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Although the actual numbers of LGBTQ people in the United States are difficult to determine, that figure is higher than recent estimates of the nation’s adult population indicate, suggesting that journalists are making good faith efforts to represent “the diversity of opinion and experience within the LGBTQ community,” as recommended by Sarah Kate Ellis in her introduction to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.

This point about the inclusion of LGBTQ voices may seem obvious, even trivial, but a long history of systemic prejudice against LGBTQ people by the nation’s most prominent news outlets makes the achievement of media standing by LGBTQ people noteworthy. As recently as 1996, for example, Edward Alwood, author of Straight News, concluded that U.S. news media “rarely focus” on the leaders of gay and lesbian rights organizations.

As coverage of the LGBTQ cases argued before the Supreme Court will show, in 2019 news organizations have improved in this regard.

Corporate news will provide limited historical context for understanding these cases.

News stories are geared toward current events and journalists often fail to provide the long-term historical view necessary to fully understand those events.

If news coverage frames the BostockAltitude Express and Harris Funeral Homes cases in terms of the history of civil liberties in the United States, this will be due to the advocacy of civil liberties organizations and their allies.

In October 2018, for example, the Trump administration proposed to define gender as a biological fact, determined at birth. In our data, we found that spokespeople for civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, articulated their opposition by linking protections of and inclusion for LGBTQ people to the history of the civil rights movement, including the racial integration of the military by President Truman in 1948, and the desegregation of schools, as mandated by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Had the newspaper articles in our study not included the voices of civil liberties advocates, readers would have had no historical context with which to make sense of the Trump administration’s audacious proposal.

To what extent will news coverage of the Supreme Court cases on employment discrimination be enhanced by historical perspective? Our study suggests that the answer to this question depends on whether that coverage features the voices of civil liberties organizations.

Corporate news coverage will whitewash anti-LGBTQ advocates’ most virulent positions.

In our study, establishment newspapers frequently quoted Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, as a newsworthy opponent of state laws and ordinances that would prohibit LGBTQ discrimination.

Quotations published by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, for example, portrayed Perkins as a fair partisan, engaged in legitimate debate, but failed to inform readers of Perkins’ more virulent anti-LGBTQ statements or that, in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the Family Research Council as an anti-gay hate group.

Similarly, Media Matters has documented how establishment media outlets have highlighted Mike Pence’s civility with gay men in public and professional meetings while downplaying his long record of anti-LGBTQ positions, first in Congress, then as Governor of Indiana, and now as Vice President.

Numerous studies show that hate crimes against LGBTQ people—including violence that is often deadly—is on the rise, while acceptance of LGBTQ people in everyday situations is eroding. But corporate news coverage of the trio of Supreme Court cases is likely to downplay these realities, in part by depicting the opponents of employment protections for LGBTQ Americans as reasonable and principled figures—even when they have taken virulent homophobic or transphobic positions in the past. Call it the Tony Perkins Syndrome.

At its best, journalism provides insights into complex issues, puts news into context, and highlights abuses of authority. We would be happy for establishment news outlets to report on the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ cases in ways that prove our critical predictions wrong. But, based on our study of recent news coverage, we expect otherwise.

The Supreme Court is not likely to rule on the trio of LGBTQ employment cases until June 2020. We do not have to wait until then to judge the establishment media’s coverage of crucial LGBTQ issues, or to hold news organizations accountable when they fail to provide the kind of coverage we need to act as informed members of our communities.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Andy Lee Roth is associate director of Project Censored, a media watchdog organization established in 1976. His research, including the study described in this article, focuses on the power of news to shape public opinion. He is the coeditor of in Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass (Seven Stories Press, 2019) and nine previous Censored yearbooks.About the Author: April Anderson is the lead author of “Stonewalled: Establishment Media’s Silence on the Trump Administration’s Crusade against LGBTQ People,” which appears in Censored 2020. A member and advocate of the LGBTQI+ community, they work as a Research and Instruction Librarian at Macalester College.

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Kamala Harris goes big and bold with proposal for six months of paid family leave

October 8th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Sen. Kamala Harris is offering up an expansive new paid family leave proposal. Harris had previously co-sponsored the FAMILY Act, which would provide three months of paid family leave—but now she’s calling for six months. Harris’ plan also calls for families with incomes under $75,000 to get full income replacement, with higher earners getting a lower percentage, while the FAMILY Act provides up to 66%.

Harris’ plan would apply not just to new parents for parental leave, but also to people needing time to care for older children or other family members. Coverage is focusing on Harris not spelling out to the last dollar how the plan would be paid for, but you know what? It’s not that freaking hard to find ways to raise taxes on wealthy people and corporations, especially after Republicans slashed those taxes. (Vox reports, “Harris’s team says funding would come from raising payroll taxes, corporate taxes, and income taxes on the top 1 percent of income earners.”)

This is the kind of policy that basically every other major industrialized nation has, while U.S. politics is built around the notion—backed up by the media—that we can’t afford it. Vast majorities of voters support paid family leave or parental leave or similar policies. So yes, Harris is being bold by the standards of how major politicians and pundits talk, but as a policy, it’s proven worldwide—proven to work for children’s health, women’s ability to stay in the workplace, and gender equality. Getting there will be a fight, particularly as any such plan would have to go through Congress, but good for her for not starting with a compromise plan.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Only Bernie’s Green New Deal Answers Greta’s Call for Action

October 8th, 2019 | Christopher Cook

Image result for christopher d. cookIn a bit of reverse parenting, the young climate strikers are teaching the rest of us an embarrassingly obvious lesson in moral clarity and courage. Mobilizing more than 7 million people across 185 countries September 20–27—with about 1,000 actions in the United States alone—youth struck a thunderous blow against adults’ insane intransigence regarding our climate meltdown.

Students have been striking for our climate future since at least 2015, but September’s actions were by far the largest, featuring huge marches, civil disobedience (activists shut down the “Wall Street West” financial center in San Francisco on September 25), and truthtelling before the United Nations—significantly ratcheting up awareness and pressure.

The question following this profound inspiration is: What next?

As the global climate strike’s website warns, it “simply won’t be enough if it stops this week and people just go home.” To reverse today’s climate madness, we must connect the strikes and protests with politics and policy.

Here, too, young folks are showing us the way, with strike organizers demanding an end to all fossil fuel extraction, a rapid transition to 100 percent clean energy and support for the victims of climate chaos, which is “mainly caused by rich people and mostly suffered by the poor.”

But the adults still hold the levers of political and economic power (for now). In 2018, carbon emissions rose to an all-time high, and the adults still aren’t acting. As Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg observed in her scathing speech before the UN Climate Summit, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

Even the UN summit leaders who claim to support Thunberg’s message are dithering as the world burns. “There’s a big dissonance between every leader saying to Greta ‘we hear you’ and the commitments they are putting onto the table,” Isabel Cavelier, a former climate negotiator for Colombia, told the Guardian. “China said absolutely nothing new, India mentioned commitments made in the past, the U.S., Canada and Australia aren’t here.”

In the United States, while a climate denier sits in the Oval Office, the Democrats are fumbling away our future in their own fog of delay and denial. In 2018, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sidelined the Green New Deal while forming a relatively toothless climate committee. This summer, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) refused to hold a climate debate to put a spotlight on candidates’ climate plans

These moves reveal a mainstream Democratic Party that is in deep denial about the danger of its cuddly relationship with capitalism and corporate power, two chief drivers of climate disaster. As Mother Jones reported, in 2018 oil and gas companies gave $198,000 to the nine Democrats sitting on Pelosi’s climate committee. The DNC had briefly banned accepting donations from the fossil fuel industry that year, until DNC Chair Tom Perez reversed the policy.

To meet this moment, we must create a new politics, economics and culture—a new system of producing and consuming far less—that makes climate repair and justice the central driving force of our actions. Climate change is not “another issue,” but the issue that defines the others.

Only one major U.S. politician has put forth a serious, urgent and comprehensive Green New Deal proposal: Sen. Bernie Sanders. Investing $16 trillion over 10 years (nearly five times what fellow presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren calls for), Sanders’ plan stands out for creating millions of jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers; pushing for publicly owned power companies; dramatically increasing financial support to decarbonize the Global South; and zeroing all emissions from electricity and transportation by 2030—all of it on a faster timeline than his rivals.

If we are to celebrate Greta and the climate-striking youth, we must embrace Sanders’ sweeping Green New Deal. Otherwise, what are we rallying and marching and striking for?

Mainstream media and hand-wringing liberals fret over the price tag, but the alternative would cost more. As Sanders’ website states, “Economists estimate that if we do not take action, we will lose $34.5 trillion in economic activity by the end of the century. And the benefits are enormous: by taking bold and decisive action, we will save $2.9 trillion over 10 years.”

We cannot afford inaction: Pay big now, or pay far more in dollars and lives soon. Regardless of who you like for president, radical and immediate climate action must be job number one.

How do we turn the climate strikes into concrete success? The vital array of direct action and street-heat movements, along with climate policy pressure groups, must continue to coalesce, put tangible pressure on politicians and force immediate policy change, starting with the Green New Deal. The climate chaos bill has come due, and it’s time to pay it down and forward.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on October 7, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:Christopher D. Cook is an award-winning journalist and author of Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis. His writing has appeared in Harper’sThe AtlanticThe Nation, the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. You can reach him at http://www.christopherdcook.com/.

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California Flexes its Muscles to Remind Fitness Studio Owners that Fitness Trainers are Employees, not Independent Contractors

October 8th, 2019 | Patrick R. Kitchin

Fitness Studios in California, including those that provide training in yoga, strength conditioning and stationary bike classes, have for years flourished in California by using workers classified as independent contractors.  In fact, fitness instructors working for studio owners should almost always be classified as employees.  By misclassifying workers as independent contractors, many studio owners have either knowingly or inadvertently failed to provide fitness instructors basic employment rights guaranteed in California.  As a result, these companies have saved millions of dollars in business costs.

What is the State of the Law on Worker Classification?

With respect to claims for underpaid wages, missed meal and rest periods and record keeping violations, California law is clear.  Last year’s California Supreme Court decision Dynamex v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, establishes that a worker is an employee in the eyes of the law unless an employing party establishes that, (A) the hired person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, (B) the hired person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business, and (C) the hired person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.  This is the “ABC Test” for determining whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee in California.  Very few fitness salons can satisfy Part B of the ABC Test. Providing instruction to salon clients is squarely inside “the usual course of the hiring entity’s business.”

In September 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 into law.  AB 5 codifies the Dynamex decision and the ABC Test for most workers.  In other words, the California Legislature and Governor Newsom believe so strongly in the correctness of the Dynamex decision, that they passed AB 5 into law, which makes the ABC Test the standard of evaluating whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.  Read together, AB 5 and Dynamex establish that nearly all fitness instructors in California working for fitness studios are employees and not independent contractors.  Not only now, but in the past as well.  Though the Supreme Court did not state that the ABC Test must be applied retroactively, courts across California have determined that it is, and now in AB 5 the Legislature has clearly stated that the ABC Test must be used in all applicable cases brought before the courts of California, past, present and future.

What are the Consequences of Worker Misclassification?

The adverse consequences of worker misclassification in the fitness industry in California have been significant.  One of the most widespread and detrimental effects of worker misclassification is that many studio owners have avoided their duty to pay the price of conducting business in California that is required of other businesses that do not rely on misclassified workers.  Non-compliant studios have operated and continue to operate as if they were exempt from California’s strict employment laws.  They are not.

Here are just a few of the economic costs fitness studio owners have avoided:

  • Workers Compensation Insurance: By failing to provide workers compensation insurance to instructors, studio owners have avoided the cost of insurance premiums paid by compliant businesses.
  • Off-the-Clock Work: By paying misclassified instructors on a flat rate basis only for the time they are running classes, studio owners have avoided paying their instructors for the time they spend on class planning activities.  By failing to pay for prep time, fitness studio owners routinely retained money that was due their employees.
  • Rest Breaks and Nonproductive Time: “Flat rate” wages are classified as piece rate wages under California law. Piece rate employees in California are entitled to be paid separately for rest breaks (every 3.5 hours) at their regular rate of pay (20 minutes during an eight-hour day), and they are entitled to be paid for nonproductive time before and after teaching classes, for team meetings and for the time spent in advanced training programs required by the studio owners at least at minimum wage.  By failing to pay for these additional work hours, fitness studio owners in California have pocketed millions of dollars that should have gone to their instructors.
  • California and Local Sick Leave Laws: Studio owners have avoided the cost of providing paid sick leave to their workers.
  • Uniforms: To the extent salon owners have required instructors to buy and wear studio-specific attire, especially apparel with studio logos, salon owners have violated California law relating to the purchase and maintenance of work uniforms.
  • Record Keeping: By misclassifying workers, studio owners have avoided the cost of buying payroll systems that are needed to track worker time, including the nonproductive time of their piece rate workers.
  • Payroll Taxes: Studio owners have avoided paying the employers’ share of payroll withholding, including the cost of paying into the unemployment insurance system in California.  This often leaves workers unable to obtain unemployment benefits when their work for a fitness studio ends.
  • Discrimination and Harassment: By running their operations with misclassified workers, studio owners have failed to provide mandatory sexual harassment training to their staff, and they have failed to give workers the protections mandated under Title VII of the United States Code (barring discrimination in the workplace) and under the Fair Employment and Housing Act in California.
  • Wrongful Termination: California employees are protected from termination on grounds that violate California public policy.  To the extent salon owners have terminated workers based on workers’ good faith complaints about how they are paid and about their worker rights, studio owners have sought to shield themselves against several California laws designed to protect employees from unfair termination practices.
  • Waiting Time Penalties: Under Labor Code § 203, an employee who has not been paid all wages due at termination, is entitled to up to 30 days of additional pay.  Labor Code § 203 provides that an employer who willfully fails to pay an employee all wages due at termination must pay the employee waiting time penalties.  Given the relatively high turnover in fitness studios, millions of dollars in waiting time penalties have been avoided by studio owners who have operated their business with misclassified independent contractors.
  • Unreimbursed Expenses: Employers are required to reimburse employees costs they incur performing their job.  For example, in the fitness studio world, instructors often are required to pay for the cost of advanced training studio owners require.  Some studios have required instructors to bring in their own music and sound systems for classes.  All of these kinds of costs are recoverable for employees under Labor Code § 2802.  Reimbursement of these costs is not required with independent contractors, however.  By misclassifying fitness trainers as independent contractors, fitness studio owners have foisted these costs onto their workers.

These are the most obvious cost savings fitness studio owners have enjoyed by misclassifying their workforce.  In the preamble to Assembly Bill 5, the California Legislature was even clearer about the impact of worker misclassification on the economic health and wellbeing of California workers:

The misclassification of workers as independent contractors has been a significant factor in the erosion of the middle class and the rise in income inequality.

It is also the intent of the Legislature in enacting this act to ensure workers who are currently exploited by being misclassified as independent contractors instead of recognized as employees have the basic rights and protections they deserve under the law, including a minimum wage, workers’ compensation if they are injured on the job, unemployment insurance, paid sick leave, and paid family leave. By codifying the California Supreme Court’s landmark, unanimous Dynamex decision, this act restores these important protections to potentially several million workers who have been denied these basic workplace rights that all employees are entitled to under the law.

What is Kitchin Legal Doing to Help Fitness Workers?

On September 26, 2019, Kitchin Legal filed an employment class action against Wheel House in San Francisco.  We also filed with the State of California a request to be appointed as a private attorney general on behalf of California to obtain penalties for the State and our client’s similarly misclassified co-workers.

Our client, a former spin instructor at Wheel House, was misclassified as an independent contractor by the company.  Though Wheel House paid her a flat fee for teaching spin classes, it failed to pay her any wages for the trainings the company required her to undergo.  In the lawsuit, out client alleges Wheel House failed to pay her for the many hours she spent preparing for each class, which Wheel House expressly called “home work.”  By misclassifying its workforce as independent contractors, she alleges, Wheel House failed to provide workers compensation coverage for her and other instructors, failed to provide paid medical leave, failed to institute mandatory sexual harassment training and protections, and failed to maintain employment records required under California law.  The complaint can be viewed on the San Francisco Superior Court website’s online site:  https://www.sfsuperiorcourt.org/online-services [Enter Case Number CGC-19-579541.]

In the coming year, I expect to see dozens of lawsuits filed against fitness studio owners in California.  Given the clarity of the law today, this seems inevitable. As studio owners across California begin to reclassify their fitness instructors as employees, I believe we will begin to see some of the benefits promised to fitness instructors and many others by both the California Legislature and the California Supreme Court.  Fitness workers will begin to receive “the basic rights and protections they deserve under the law.”

 

About the Author: Patrick Kitchin is a labor rights attorney with offices in San Francisco and Alameda, California. He has represented thousands of employees in both individual and class action cases involving violations of California and federal labor laws since founding his firm in 1999. According to retail experts and the media, his wage and hour class actions against Polo Ralph Lauren, Gap, Banana Republic, and Chico’s led to substantial changes in the retail industry’s labor practices in California. Patrick is a 1992 graduate of The University of Michigan Law School and is personally and professionally committed to the protection of workers’ rights everywhere. You can visit his website: www.kitchinlegal.com

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