Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

After Contract Talks Break Down, Nearly 40,000 Verizon Workers Set To Strike Tomorrow

April 13th, 2016 | David Moberg

Leaders of the unions representing nearly 40,000 Verizon telecommunications workers in big cities and small towns from Maine to Virginia announced today that their members would be going on strike at 6 a.m. Wednesday without “a major change in direction” in contract talks now underway, according to Communications Workers of America (CWA) president Chris Shelton.

The unions—CWA and IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers)—are fighting to keep high-quality working class jobs in the United States.

Jobs in the two major categories of work pay relatively well—about $60,000 a year for call center workers and about $85,000 to $90,000 a year for technicians who install and service the telecom network, according to Bob Master, assistant to the CWA New York area vice-president Dennis Trainor.

Verizon is flush financially. It earned $18 billion in profits last year and about $1.8 billion a month so far this year. Last year it spent about $13 billion in buying back its stock, a dubious strategy to enrich stockholders. Now it is trying to buy Yahoo!, a long-shot target for a $35 billion speculative bet.

With the salaries that their union contract provides and the skills they learn, Verizon workers can provide their communities and families stable and supportive leadership. It will be harder to play that role with the lower wages, lesser benefits and less stable work routines that Verizon’s proposals would provide.

For example, Dan Hilton, a cable splicer from Roanoake, Va., who has been with Verizon for 20 years, often is sent out to provide cable service for an entire community or to restore service after disasters. The company has become addicted to such flexibility, but it means that its employees can not be at home when their family needs them.

“My wife had back surgery last year and needed my help, and I want to enjoy time with my grandkids,” he says. “We want to do a good job, go home and spend time with our spouses. … We’re just ordinary working people, doing our job, hoping for our company to succeed. That’s what life’s all about.”

But his job—and the company’s success—also involves serving people like himself in his community. He wants Verizon to expand FiOS, the company’s bundled Internet access, telephone and television service, in his home area, something he is not available to do when he is dispatched far away for long times. But he and CWA vice-president Ed Mooney see the company’s failure to build out fiber optic networks or to explain why they are adopting such a policy as representing Verizon’s disinterest in caring for needs of long-term customers.

Workers like Hilton and union leaders think that Verizon is narrowly focused on profit maximization, not the long-term well being of the company, the community or its employees. In the current negotiations over a contract that expired last June, Verizon wants lower health care costs regardless of the consequences. For their part, union negotiators have offered some changes to save some money, such as encouraging more use of preferred providers. But the unions are resisting pension cutbacks that Verizon demands.

The telecom industry has undergone decades of tumultuous change. Now even Verizon, a traditional land line telephone service provider, is ditching as much as it can of the land line business as possible and emphasizing cell phone service. It is no coincidence that Verizon has also been most intensively fighting recognition of unions in its cell phone operations.

“Our major issues involve contracting out of work,” says Trainor. That practice accounts for much of the 40 percent loss of jobs over the past decade, according to Master. The technicians, for example, not only feel pressure to work away from home for long periods but also the threat that if they do not, Verizon will turn to non-union subcontractors to do their work. On the other hand, call centers workers face the prospect of Verizon closing more of their centers and moving the work to Mexico or the Philippines.

Telephone strikes can be tough battles, with managers trying to handle much of the immediate service and repair work in central facilities as they can. But Verizon workers have some experience preparing for strikes and for ways to make their case to customers that the workers and the union are on their side, even more than Verizon itself.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com

Permalink


Another Argument In The Campaign Against Teachers’ Unions Bites The Dust

April 12th, 2016 | Jeff Bryant

Jeff BryantFor years, the campaign against public school teachers and their unions has lurched from one outrageous argument to another to support its case.

Teachers’ unions are accused of fighting for their salaries and benefits while ignoring the interests of school children. Prominent pundits say the unions “block needed reform” and protect “bad teachers” – even hiding sexual predators.

For every one of these over-heated claims, there are always powerful, fact-based counter arguments to dispel the many myths driving the anti-teachers’ union project.

Most recently, the twisted rationale for getting rid of teachers unions and the rights they’ve secured through years of struggle has led to the argument that unions play a role in misallocating resources – in particular, a role in sending the most qualified teachers away from where they are most needed: in schools with the most struggling students.

No one disputes the fact that disadvantaged children are often taught by under-credentialed, less-experienced teachers. But what anti-union operatives contend is that teachers’ unions, through collective bargaining or by pressuring public officials, are responsible for the fact that that best teachers are often misallocated to school districts with the most capable, well-supported students and that the unions simply don’t mind if underserved students get “the dregs.” The anti-teachers’ union campaign claims this misallocation is partly what causes achievement gaps in schools, which then lead to the vast socioeconomic inequality in society.

Now we know this argument is false too.

In a new report from the Economic Policy Institute, we learn, “There is no relationship between union strength and a misallocation of teachers that disadvantages students in high-poverty schools.”

The report calls the entire premise of union-created misallocation “a distraction from efforts to address the persistent nature of achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.” It recommends that instead of continuing to engage in an effort to pin the blame of inequity on unions, there should be more effort and research invested in learning “why teachers sort the way they do.” The report anticipates that research into teacher distribution would likely find the reasons teachers tend to gravitate to the more highly performing schools is due to “other aspects of school finance and school quality (e.g., facilities, access to advanced classes, curriculum, climate, etc.).”

To compile the report, the authors looked at teacher credential data from the federal government, at well-regarded measures of teachers’ union strength, and at data on student poverty levels from the National Assessment of Education Progress (known as “the nation’s report card”).

In order to assess whether teachers are misallocated away from high-poverty schools, they compare the proportion of teachers having each of three quality measures (experience, credentials, major or minor in field) in high-poverty schools relative to the average proportion across all schools in the state. Then they examine these comparisons in the context of the measures of relative union strength to look for correlations.

Their analysis consistently shows, “Misallocations of teacher quality are not more nor less severe in states with stronger teachers unions.” Some states, such as New Jersey, Wyoming, and Ohio, actually have more experienced teachers in high-poverty schools. In New Jersey, again, and Hawaii, the high-poverty schools tend to have more certificated teachers.

The authors also find there are indeed states that have grossly misallocated its most qualified teachers, including Connecticut, Virginia, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and New York.

But in both states where the most qualified teachers are in the neediest schools and in states where they aren’t, the strength of teachers’ unions is simply not a factor. Strong union states such as New York and Pennsylvania can have the same misallocation problems as weak union states such as Virginia and Arizona. Conversely, some strong unions states such as Wisconsin and Hawaii do better at distributing qualified teachers, as do states like Tennessee and South Carolina that have relatively weak unions.

The authors agree there is an urgent need to address the persistent nature of achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students. Indeed, their analysis finds, “Almost half (47.7 percent) of U.S. public schools are high-poverty schools. The share is over two-thirds in Mississippi, Washington, D.C., New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alabama, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Florida.”

But based on this analysis, the argument that somehow teachers’ unions cause the neediest students to be underserved should be rejected, and discussion needs to pivot away from these distractions to a focus on real root causes of the inequities in our schools.

This blog originally appeared on ourfuture.org on April 8, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Bryant is an Associate Fellow at Campaign for America’s Future and the editor of the Education Opportunity Network website. Prior to joining OurFuture.org he was one of the principal writers for Open Left. He owns a marketing and communications consultancy in Chapel Hill, N.C. He has written extensively about public education policy.

Permalink


Labor Notes Conference Gathers Over 2,000 ‘Troublemaker’ Workers and Organizers in Chicago

April 11th, 2016 | David Moberg

Every two years since 1981, the Detroit- and Brooklyn-based monthly newsletter Labor Notes has rallied union members and wannabe members, as well as some union staff and elected leaders, to join in a long weekend of sharing stories, strategies and wisdom gained in their workplace skirmishes.

They are the sort of people that bosses everywhere—and a few union officials—might call “troublemakers,” and they have adopted the moniker as a badge of honor (including holding “troublemaker schools” and producing tactical handbooks for do-it-yourself organizers).

Last weekend, around 2,200 labor activists, from diverse age groups, industries, personal experiences and nations (about 150 visitors from 22 countries), gathered in Chicago for a packed line-up of workshops and plenary sessions in the largest of these conferences.

Some workshops focused on learning skills (such as how to figure out the cost of a contract to employers) or tactics (including such oldie-but goodie actions as “salting,” that is, getting pro-union workers hired at businesses that are organizing targets). Conference panels also discussed strategies for particular employers or industries, such as the auto industry or postal service, and how to make the best use of different kinds of strikes and resistance inside the workplace, such as “working to rule,” which effectively slows down production.

Other discussions examined the promises and perils of unions forming broader alliances or incorporating social goals in their bargaining and other campaigns (such as teacher unionists opposing privatization or high-stakes testing). Other panels examined global labor developments and socio-economic changes shaping the world of work and new challenges for organized labor, such as climate change.

There were opportunities to gain energy, inspiration and a tingle of solidarity with other struggles in even more difficult circumstances than one’s own. Fiery speakers took the stage on behalf of ill-paid ($6 a 12-hour day), frighteningly abused indigenous workers from the southern part of Mexico, who have migrated to work in Baja California, California and Washington state, picking strawberries that are eventually sold under the Driscoll label. And one of the troublemaker awards went to hunger strikers from the community and teachers’ union who went on a hunger strike to prevent the closing of their neighborhood-based Dyett High School.

Although the Labor Notes conferences rarely discuss union political strategies, this year more than 100 conference-goers attended each of two meetings discussing  the “Labor for Bernie” organizing that is independent of the official Bernie Sanders for president campaign. The Sanders candidacy has generated hope and energy among many unionists, even though many more unions have officially endorsed his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Labor for Bernie tries to maximize grass-roots support from union members, regardless of the official position of their unions, and to block moves that would increase union support for Clinton.

For example, the electrical workers union (IBEW, or International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) has remained neutral, largely as a result of pro-Bernie advocacy by Carl Shaffer, a former international union representative who returned to his local union in Indiana to seek elected office. In turn, IBEW’s neutrality, according to some labor movement political organizers, played a significant role in blocking an endorsement of Clinton by the AFL-CIO executive council earlier this year.

Sanders stirred enthusiasm not only because of his longtime ardent support for unions but also because most of the people in attendance would probably call themselves “socialists” or “democratic socialists,” as Sanders does (and roughly 40 percent of voters under 30 years old). Like him, they were mostly not the doctrinaire ideologues who reject a socialist candidate running in one of the two “bosses’s” parties, rather than in some wisp of an organization that calls itself a “labor party.” (However, the idea of forming a labor party drew significant support in Labor Notes circles until the latest effort died a few years ago.)

Indeed, many in the group of young workers/intellectuals who started Labor Notes came from the International Socialists, one of the many left splinter groups that identified with the legacy of Leon Trotsky. More than many contemporaneous small left group members, IS members were grounded in significant work within unions (including building one of the more successful union reform groups, Teamsters for a Democratic Union), comparatively open to collaborating with others, and both thoughtful and realistic.

Their relative openness made Labor Notes and its gatherings a common ground for independent-minded leftists and workers seeking to be better troublemakers for a boss that was already making trouble for them. Although often shunned or attacked by some union leaders (such as during the 2008 meeting when Michigan Service Employees International Union [SEIU] brought busloads of members to break up the conference awards banquet), other union leaders have worked with them, including the late Tony Mazzocchi; the immediate past president of the Communications Workers, Larry Cohen; and Amalgamated Transit Union president Larry Hanley.

Mark Brenner, the current director of Labor Notes, is both a realist and an enthusiast regarding the prospects for unions.

“We’ve been on the losing end of the class struggle all my life,” the youthful-looking Brenner told the Labor Notes crowd, ruefully noting the spread of right-to-work laws. “Our labor movement can’t keep going the way it’s going. We’ve got to talk about power.” Yet, he says, “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been, since a long-time subscriber to Labor Notes is running for president.”

Later, as we chatted in the hallway, Brenner expounded: “What I think is that a couple of things are converging. The institutional labor movement recognizes their misplaced confidence in both ‘Change To Win’ and winning the Employee Free Choice Act, whether the plans came from [former SEIU and Change to Win leader Andy] Stern or [former AFL-CIO president John] Sweeney. These grand plans were flawed partly because they were “hatched in headquarters,” he says, not involving members in their design and execution.

By contrast, he puts hope not only in members who are educated and mobilized but also in the rise of new leaders at various levels in several unions, from the Teamsters and communications workers to teachers’ and nurses’ unions. Many more people have been coming to their schools, and he is especially pleased that “people who have been coming to Labor Notes are running for office and taking over unions,” such as many leaders in the Chicago Teachers Union.

“Our focus,” Brenner continues, “is that we want to build powerful movements” where leaders of unions must answer to the members.

Labor Notes has always strongly advocated union democracy, rank-and-file direct action and more progressive leadership of unions. But Brenner says the goal of Labor Notes is transforming the labor movement, not electing top officers.

“If I could, I would spend all of my time with stewards and local officers,” he says. “It’s hard to transform the labor movement from an elected position.” But it’s also hard to change it when elected leaders are hostile.

The goals Labor Notes sets for itself are admirable and necessary for the labor movement. But they are interrelated in ways that often generate tensions that are difficult to resolve (and Labor Notes does not always acknowledge). For example, sometimes members are less progressive than leaders, who may in some cases want to educate the members to be more assertive and militant (even if the opposite situation is more common).

And even though conditions for elections in unions often offer less than laboratory-perfect democracy, union members sometimes do elect conservative leaders or are reluctant to take direct actions against employers. Also, unions are both institutions and movements, or at least ideally part of both the labor movement and progressive social and political movements. But tensions easily arise among different needs that reflect these varied roles of unions.

Likewise, union staff are often pulled between obligations to the union’s president and to its members, and within all organizations there are different degrees of

access to information. For example, Bill Parker, a Labor Notes stalwart and former Chrysler union local president, described how union staff had much more access to crucial information and discussions between management and union officials than the local elected officials on the bargaining committee that he chaired during national contract negotiations. That imbalance, he said, helped to make it possible for a two-tier wage agreement to be included in a contract even though he and the bargaining committee opposed the two-tier arrangement (which will finally be phased out under the current contract).

The history of unions suggests that organizers with the democratic ambitions of Labor Notes often persevere for long periods with little progress, then surge forwards episodically. But that’s not very helpful as a guide to what to do in the interim. It’s much like the answer Kim Moody, one of the founder of Labor Notes who decamped to England to teach labor history, gave to the question posed for his workshop about how general strikes can be started: “When they start, they start,” he says.

Since he last visited the United States two years ago, he thinks that “the difference is recognizable, more a feeling of desperation, polarization.” He takes heart from the support for Sen. Bernie Sanders, even the apparent lack of voter discomfort with his defining himself as a socialist, and is appalled at the rise of Donald Trump.

“Trump is almost as much a fascist as we’ve seen here, without the funny uniforms,” he says. “The guy’s a thug.” America is beginning to look more like some European countries with political clashes between an anti-immigrant right and populist left movements, like Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece, he suggests. And Bernie is America’s counterpart to the new Labour Party leader in the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn. Yet much more is happening in a “subterranean” form in labor and other movements.

“This is the time to do things like [that subterranean organizing],” he says. “We are not on the verge of a major move to the left, but things are changing, and unions have a role to play in it. … We have to deal with race up front. It’s a problem for U.S. labor because of deep-seated racism in American society as a whole.”

Like the Highlander Folk School (now Research and Education Center), founded  in the South by Myles Horton in 1932, or the Brookwood Labor College, founded in 1921 in New York state under the leadership of A. J. Muste, Labor Notes and its conferences are part of a small, almost subterranean effort to educate workers to create a militant and democratic unionism. The labor movement can only benefit from its work and, one can hope, from others taking up the same cause.

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on April 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

Permalink


End of Pfizer-Allergan Merger Could Save U.S. Taxpayers Billions

April 8th, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth QuinnellThe withdrawal by New York-based pharma giant Pfizer of a proposed merger with Irish company Allergan could save U.S. taxpayers billions. If the merger had been completed under the Treasury Department’s old rules, Pfizer could have dodged paying $35 billion in taxes on $150 billion in overseas profits. In 2014, Treasury revised rules to make it harder for corporations to use the process called “inversion” to avoid paying taxes in the United States. The AFL-CIO recently joined more than 50 organizations that sent a letter to the Treasury calling for stiffer rules on inversion so that companies are required to pay their fair share.

Frank Clemente, executive director of Americans for Tax Fairness, praised the failure of the merger:

The prevention of Pfizer’s inversion is great news for all American taxpayers: individuals, small businesses and large domestic corporations. Pfizer’s inversion would have meant that the pharmaceutical giant could have dodged as much as $35 billion it already owes in U.S. taxes on its offshore profits.

Big corporations like Pfizer must be required to pay their fair share. The government cannot let them run away from their responsibilities to this nation. Treasury has taken an important step to improve the overall corporate tax system. These rules move in the right direction to level the playing field for domestic companies competing with multinationals.

From the letter to Treasury:

Pfizer’s potential tax dodge is a huge sum of money—more than the $30 billion increase in domestic discretionary spending for the next fiscal year that was negotiated in the budget agreement last year, and which House Republicans are now demanding be paid for by cutting Medicaid and other health and low-income programs.

These companies can avoid paying the U.S. taxes they owe on their existing offshore profits through a so-called “hopscotch” loan, whereby the former U.S. firms can loan their offshore profits to their new foreign parent companies. Treasury prohibited such tax avoidance in its 2014 Notice when the new foreign company is at least 60% owned by the original shareholders of the former U.S. firm. But both Pfizer and Johnson Controls structured their mergers so that their shareholders own 56% of the new foreign company.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on April 6, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Permalink


February Trade Deficit Was Enormous, Humongous And Caused Job Loss

April 7th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonThe February trade deficit numbers are out. Exports were up but imports were up way more than exports. Result: We shipped even more jobs and wealth out of the country in exchange for stuff we could have made here. That means we also shipped out essential components of our manufacturing ecosystem, further harming our ability to make a living in the future.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported Tuesday that the February goods and services trade deficit was an enormous, humongous $47.1 billion. The February goods deficit was $64.7 billion, offset by an $17.7 billion services surplus.

“February exports were $178.1 billion, $1.8 billion more than January exports. February imports were $225.1 billion, $3.0 billion more than January imports,” their statement read.

Chinese imports accounted for 44 percent of the overall U.S. trade deficit and monthly exports to China ($8.05 billion) were the lowest since April 2011. “The deficit with China increased $1.0 billion to $32.1 billion in February. Exports decreased $0.3 billion to $8.4 billion and imports increased $0.8 billion to $40.5 billion.”

This Is Called “Trading”?

Again: in February we bought $40.5 billion worth of stuff from China but only sold $8.4 billion worth of stuff to China. This goes on month after month, year after year and we don’t do anything about it because it is making a few people really, really rich by driving American wages down. And that’s called “trade”? That doesn’t sound like they’re engaging in “trading” with us at all. It sounds like they’re getting away with a scheme to bankrupt us.

Alliance for American Manufacturing President Scott Paul commented on the trade deficit numbers:

“The trade deficit gives us some insight as to why so many manufacturing jobs have been shed over the past year, including 29,000 manufacturing jobs in March — and I worry the worst might be yet to come. The trade deficit with China continues to grow to new levels, and today’s numbers show that our trade weakness is not limited to China alone.”

These continuing enormous, humongous trade deficits are reflected in our country’s loss of good-paying jobs – especially manufacturing jobs. Last week’s post, “Jobs Report Highlights Trade, Manufacturing Problems,” discussed how our trade policies are driving jobs, factories, wealth, key components of our manufacturing ecosystem and overall ability to make a living out of the country,

In an otherwise OK jobs report, America’s manufacturing sector lost 29,000 jobs in March. This comes after a loss of jobs in February as well. So, no resulting upward pressure on wages.

Our country’s “deindustrialization” trade policies, which includes a “strong dollar” policy, are at the root of this problem. Also, our intentional lack of a national manufacturing/industrial/economic policy and plan hold back the growth of good-paying jobs and allow our manufacturing ecosystem to whither away.

Voters have certainly caught on that these disastrous trade policies, resulting in continuing enormous, humongous trade deficits, are driving jobs and wages away.

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on APril 5, 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.

Permalink


Victory in New York City: Cuomo Signs Legislation Raising Minimum Wage to $15

April 6th, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell
Victory in New York City: Cuomo Signs Legislation Raising Minimum Wage to $15

On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a law raising the state’s minimum wage. In New York City and some more prosperous suburbs, the new minimum wage will be $15, while in the rest of the state, the new minimum wage will be $12.50. The increases will be phased in, and millions will see wage increases. Future wage Kenneth Quinnellincreases will be tied to economic indicators. The law also establishes 12 weeks of paid family leave for working people.

New York State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento applauded the legislation:

Three million working people in New York state will see their wages go up due to the $15 per hour minimum wage, making New York the first state in the country to reach that landmark.  Raising the minimum wage is long overdue and is a step in the right direction toward addressing poverty and income inequality. This meaningful wage will allow hard-working men and women the opportunity to better support themselves and their families, and enjoy a standard of living and quality of life they can be proud of.

As reported last week, California also passed legislation to raise its minimum wage to $15, reminding us that while Congress sits idle, working people throughout the country continue to fight to raise wages.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on April 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Permalink


Is Your Workplace Wellness Plan Worth the Risk?

April 5th, 2016 | Tina Jadhav

Tina Bio picAs healthcare costs continue to soar, many employers are using wellness programs as a way to help curb their costs. In addition, employees who enroll in wellness programs also enjoy the program’s great health incentives and rewards, however, unbeknownst to them, the personal information collected may also be used for other undisclosed financial or discriminatory purposes.

This is important as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) generally protects employees from discrimination based on health status or disability. The ADA specifically prohibits employers from generally requiring mandatory health examinations and also prohibits the disclosure of an employee’s protected health information. However, these exams are allowed if they are part of a voluntary employee health program or if classified as a “business necessity.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the federal agency that enforces these federal laws also recently raised concern about wellness programs

and published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) explaining how ADA applies to employer wellness programs that are also apart of group health plans. The NPRM explicitly prohibits employers from requiring employees to participate in a wellness program and also prevents the employer from disciplining or denying health coverage based on refusal. Although other federal laws prevent discrimination, the existing laws only apply to certain wellness programs under certain circumstances and as a result, some employers allow wellness program companies to share and use an employee’s information. Therefore, the proposed rule would not only help align federal laws to cover most wellness plans but would also require confidentiality and provide employees notice on how information is used and collected.

In a recent example, Houston city employees who participated in a wellness program were required to disclose their disease history, blood pressure, weight, drug and seat belt use to a wellness company. However, unknown to the employees, the contracted wellness company was also permitted to share the data with “third party vendors acting on [their] behalf.” Although the employees were permitted to refuse or opt out of the screening, they were subject to a $300 a year penalty for medical coverage. Therefore, the employees who “voluntarily” participated in the program in order to avoid the penalty, also unknowingly waived their privacy rights as the information shared could lead to discrimination by employers, lending institutions or even life insurance companies.

In another example, an employer required an employee to submit to medical testing and assessment in connection with a wellness program or “face dire consequences.” When the employee refused to comply with the mandatory program, the employer shifted responsibility for the payment of her entire health insurance premium and ultimately fired the employee shortly thereafter. This initiative unfortunately has many unintended consequences and as the Regional Attorney for the EEOC in Chicago noted, “having to choose between responding to medical exams and inquiries — which are not job-related — in a wellness program, on the one hand, or being fired, on the other hand, is no choice at all.”

While wellness programs have positive effects on employees and the workplace in general, these programs should not provide barriers to healthcare benefits or force penalties on those who cannot participate. Instead, these programs should also provide alternatives for employees who have disabilities and should not be implemented as a new way to determine insurance premium rates.

Another closely connected issue relates to privacy and the disclosure of employee data. Data companies such as Castlight Health, praised for their ability to help inform smarter decisions, are being hired by employers or wellness program companies to handle and process employees’ data. Whether it is being used, correctly or incorrectly, to identify which employees are likely to get sick, have surgery or get pregnant, these companies are using personal data and third party healthcare apps to monitor an employee’s personal information. However, even more concerning is how unregulated access to big data is.

Although some may think that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) applies, the privacy rule in HIPAA only applies or protects an individual’s identifiable health information held by either a covered entity or business associate. Therefore, depending on how the wellness program is administratively structured and whether the wellness program is offered as part of a group health plan, the identifiable health information may or may not be protected under HIPAA rules.

While some employers have structured wellness program incentives to comply with some federal laws, the exceptions in others have made achieving privacy while protecting civil rights difficult. Despite the EEOC’s best efforts to strike a balance between encouraging workplace wellness plans and compliance with federal laws, the “results appear to please no one, as the EEOC’s efforts to ensure only voluntary disclosure of private health information…drew sharp criticism from agency stakeholders.” In addition, despite legislation such as the “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act” introduced by Representative John Kline to offer clarity on incentives consistent with the ACA final rule not violating the ADA, the effect of these promulgated rules remains unknown as poorly designed wellness programs continue to have unintended consequences.

Although wellness programs offer attractive health and wellness benefits, until the various issues with discrimination, data privacy, and uniformity with all federal laws are addressed, employees may still be at risk of discrimination.

Tina Jadhav is an attorney barred in Maryland. Tina is actively involved in health law as a member of the American Health Lawyers Association as well as the American Bar Association-Health Law section. Tina recently earned her Law and Government LL.M. degree from American University Washington College of Law in 2014 and her Juris Doctor degree from Florida Coastal School of Law. Tina also served as a Health Policy Fellow for U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Legal Intern at Inova Health System Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Attorney General for Commonwealth of Virginia.

Permalink


Interfaith Coalition Calls for Moral Action on the Economy

April 4th, 2016 | Robert Borosage

The largest employer of low-wage workers in America is the federal government. U.S. government contractors employ over two million workers in jobs that pay too little – $12.00 an hour or less – to support a family. Contract workers – organizing under the banner of Good Jobs Nation – have walked off of their jobs repeatedly in protest, demanding a living wage and the right to a union.

This Monday, on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, this movement will gain a powerful ally. Led by Jim Winkler, general secretary of the National Council of Churches and Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK, an interfaith coalition of religious leaders is issuing a call for “moral action on the economy.” They will seek to meet with presidential candidates, asking each to pledge that, if elected, he or she would issue an executive order to reward model employers “that pay a living wage of at least $15.00 an hour, provide decent benefits and allow workers to organize without retaliation.”

The movement for living wages is taking off. The federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 for nearly seven years. Unable to provide for their families, fast food and other low-wage workers began to demonstrate, even at risk of losing their jobs. “Fight for 15” – the demand for a $15.00 an hour minimum wage and the right to a union – swept across the country. And is beginning to win.

In Seattle, a coalition of union, community and business leaders helped pass legislation putting the city minimum wage on a path to $15. From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, other cities joined. In the last few days, California legislators reached a deal to move the state minimum wage to $15 by 2022. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through reforms that will move that state’s minimum wage to $15, starting in December 2018 in New York City.

The pressure of the government low-wage workers moved President Obama to act. He issued three executive orders, raising the minimum wage to $10.10, cracking down on wage theft and other workplace violations, and providing paid leave. The workers continued to demonstrate, calling for “more than the minimum,” seeking $15 and a union.

Senate cafeteria workers – the people who prepare the senators’ food and clean up after them – joined the protests. Their plight – one was homeless, others on food stamps, one moonlighting as a stripper to feed her children – was embarrassing. Democratic Senate staffers organized to support them. Democratic senators like Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) demanded action. When the cafeteria contract was up for renewal in December, workers were granted pay increases of $5 an hour or more. It took more pressure and Labor Department investigation to make the raises stick, but today workers are finally receiving their pay.

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell, who has documented the struggle highlighted one beneficiary, Bertrand Olotara, a cook in the Senate cafeteria. His wage went from $12.30 to $17.45 an hour. He was able to quit his second job at Whole Foods and stop working seven days a week. That gave him more time with his five children. He’s even thinking of using the extra time to write a book. A living wage makes real differences in people’s lives.

Now the interfaith coalition joining with these workers and calling on those contending for the presidency to promise to do more. Republican contenders are still opposed to raising the minimum wage. Bernie Sanders has made a $15 an hour minimum wage a central plank in his platform. Hillary Clinton has supported lifting the national minimum wage to $12.50, accepting that some states and cities might go higher.

The interfaith alliance is calling on the presidential candidates to pledge moral action on the economy. When Ronald Reagan came to office, one of his first acts was to fire and replace the striking PATCO air controllers. He sent a message to employers across the country that it was open season on workers and their unions. Imagine the next president taking office and issuing an executive order lifting the wages of millions of contract workers and guaranteeing a right to organize without retaliation. Again a signal would be sent across the country.

“This election is fundamentally about whether the next president is willing to take transformative executive action to close the gap between the wealthy and workers – many of whom are women and people of color,” argues Jim Winkler, secretary general of the National Council of Churches. It’s time to take the pledge.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 4, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Robert Borosage is a board member of both the Blue Green Alliance and Working America.  He earned a BA in political science from Michigan State University in 1966, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1968, and a JD from Yale Law School in 1971. Borosage then practiced law until 1974, at which time he founded the Center for National Security Studies.

Permalink


Important Study Looks At Silicon Valley’s “Invisible” Low Wage Workers

April 1st, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson“We knew the tech industry was booming, but we weren’t seeing that translate into an abundance of jobs for our communities – until we looked at the low-wage jobs in contracting industries. Those are growing fast, just like tech profits are. It’s no wonder that one in three working households in Silicon Valley can’t make ends meet when these growing industries pay wages that barely cover rent.”
– Derecka Mehrens, Executive Director of Working Partnerships, USA.

Working Partnerships USA and Silicon Valley Rising released a report Wednesday, Tech’s Invisible Workforce, that looks at the contract industry workers at Silicon Valley’s “booming” tech companies.

In the last two-and-a-half decades, the number of Silicon Valley “second-class” jobs in potential contract industries has grown three times faster than overall Silicon Valley employment. These contractors and subcontractors jobs are disproportionately filled by Black and Latino workers compared to direct tech employees, and these workers receive much lower wages. As a result, Silicon Valley’s inequality and occupation segregation is amplified, especially among people of color.

The report finds that direct tech employees earn $113,300. Contractor and subcontractor tech industry workers – workers employed indirectly rather than treated as legitimate employees – are paid much less. White-collar workers in contract industries average $53,200 and blue-collar workers in contract industries average $19,900.

Along with this wage differential, as income drops the proportion of the workforce that is comprised of Black and Latino workers goes up. According to the report, Black or Latino workers make up, on average:

? 10 percent of Silicon Valley’s direct tech workforce.
? An estimated 26 percent of the white-collar contract industry workforce.
? An estimated 58 percent of the blue-collar contract industry workforce.

Lydia DePillis writes about this report at The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in “What we know about the people who clean the floors in Silicon Valley,”

Silicon Valley companies have gotten a lot of heat in recent years for failing to recruit people black and Hispanic people into their ranks. But if you factor in contractors and others whose jobs bring them inside those companies, the industry appears bit more inclusive — just perhaps not in the way one might hope.

At one time in history, the janitors, bus drivers, food service workers, and security guards who staff corporate campuses might have been employed directly by the businesses where they cooked lunches and cleaned floors. That’s become less and less true in recent decades, according to a new analysis of labor data by researchers at the University of California – Santa Cruz — especially in Silicon Valley.

The Road to Responsible Contracting

The report concludes with a section on how companies could contract out jobs responsibly.

Silicon Valley Rising calls on our region’s leading businesses to commit to the following principles:

Responsibility: Ensure that their subcontracted workers are paid a livable wage, receive equitable benefits, have the right to a voice at work without fear of discrimination or retaliation, do not suffer mass layoffs when contracts change hands, and are protected from misclassification and other forms of wage theft.

Transparency: Release public data on their subcontracted workforces, including diversity, pay, and benefit data for each subcontractor.

Inclusion: Invest in building a community where janitors, security officers, cafeteria workers, teachers, nurses, firefighters and other non-tech workers can afford to live. Support access to full-time work, affordable housing, an accessible, world-class public transit system, and high-quality education for low-wage workers and their children.

Opportunity: Work with advocates to explore new approaches to create education and career pathways for contract workers and their families to move into core tech jobs.

The technology industry faces a clear choice. It can continue the status quo of exclusive jobs and exclusionary growth, widening the existing racial, gender and income gaps and accelerating the race to the bottom. Or it can wield its enormous economic influence combined with its capacity for innovative solutions to become a true global pioneer – to not just disrupt markets and technology, but to disrupt inequality.

Click to read the report, Tech’s Invisible Workforce.

See Also

Campaign for America’s Future has been covering Silicon Valley Rising’s fight to improve conditions for this “invisible” workforce.

The Silicon Valley Rising launch: “Silicon Valley Rising Fights for Worker Justice

The fight: “Silicon Valley Rising Fights To Give Part-Timers “Opportunity to Work”

Related: “Tax Scams, Google Buses Mean Silicon Valley Is #StuckInTraffic

This blog originally appeared at ourfuture.org on March 30, 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.

Permalink


Supreme Court Rejects Anti-Worker Attack in Friedrichs Ruling

March 31st, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell
Kenneth Quinnell

The Supreme Court today rejected an attempt by wealthy special interests to restrict the voices of America’s teachers, firefighters, police officers, nurses and others who provide vital services for our communities. The court issued a 4-4 decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, upholding a lower court ruling in favor of working people and their right to join together to build a better future for their families.

AFSCME President Lee Saunders said the ruling will continue to motivate working people:

AFSCME members are more resolved than ever to band together and stand up to future attempts to silence the voices of working families. As public service workers learn more about the Friedrichs case, they are shocked to hear about such a political attack through the Supreme Court, and more motivated than ever to step up, get involved and organize. It’s never been clearer that our most basic rights are at stake.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, added that the fight is far from over:

Millions of working people who understand the importance of their unions in bettering their lives and the well-being of their communities are breathing a sigh of relief today. Even so, we know this fight is far from over. Just as our opponents won’t stop coming after us, we will continue full speed ahead in our effort to mobilize our members and their neighbors around a shared vision to reclaim the promise of America. While we wait for Senate Republicans to do their job and appoint a new justice to the [Supreme] Court, we’re working hard for the future we want to see—one with vibrant public education from pre-K through college; affordable, accessible health care; public services that support strong neighborhoods; and the right to organize and bargain for a fair wage and a voice on the job.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Today, working people have persevered in the face of another attack on our rights. All over the country working people are showing that we won’t allow wealthy special interests or their politicians to stand in our way to join collectively and make workplaces better all across America. In the face of these attacks we are more committed than ever to ensuring that everyone has the right to speak up together for a better life.

The well-funded attack in the Friedrichs case is part of a larger anti-worker agenda pushed by corporate special interests that has also sought to restrict voting rights, limit workers’ ability to have a voice, and suppress women and immigrants. This agenda has polluted America’s electoral system and civil political discourse, and has made it increasingly apparent to working families that the stakes of the 2016 election couldn’t be higher.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on March 29, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Permalink



Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog