Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

SEIU Home Care Workers Win $14 an Hour and Retirement Plan in Washington State

September 9th, 2014 | SEIU

seiu

SEIU home care workers in Washington State are celebrating an historic contract win that provides the first-ever retirement plan for any home care workers in the nation, raises their average wage to more than $14 a hour, and includes paid time off.

“This contract represents a victory for the state’s most vulnerable people, the citizens we provide care for,” said Sylvia Liang, a Seattle home care worker and SEIU Healthcare 775NW member leader. “We’re pleased that the state recognizes the importance of providing quality long term care and treating workers with dignity and respect.”

Following last week’s fast food strikes, the home care workers in Washington State are the latest example of people across the nation joining together to raise wages and raise up our communities, so we have an economy that works for everyone and a democracy where everyone has a voice.

The contract victory comes on the heels of SEIU Local 775NW’s successful coalition effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Seattle and at SeaTac. In fact, Local president David Rolf’s leadership on the “Minimum Wage Brigade” last week earned him the number 17 spot on the Politico 50, a list of people getting things done in an age of “gridlock and dysfunction.”

This blog originally appeared on the SEIU Blog on September 8, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/09/seiu-home-care-workers-win-14-an-hour-and-retireme.php.

 

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“Just Cause” and the Attack on Job Security

September 7th, 2014 | Dollars and Sense Real World Economics rand

The United States is alone among industrialized countries in allowing workers to be considered “at will” employees and dismissed for any reason—justified or not—unless protected by a collective-bargaining agreement or individual contract. At-will employees have no job security. They can be fired for a mistake, an argument with a supervisor, a critical comment about the enterprise or management, taking a sick day, a complaint about working conditions or pay, or involvement in outside political campaigns—all activities that workers protected by just-cause contract language enjoy with far less fear of losing their jobs.

Employers who are compelled to respect just cause aren’t sitting still. For example, a California judge ruled in June that public-school teacher tenure and seniority rules are unconstitutional. The lawsuit that led to the Vergara v. California decision was financed by multi-millionaire David Welch and backed by a slick PR firm. The suit argued that low-income students performed poorly on tests because of bad teachers who were protected by tenure—not because of school underfunding, large classes, or poverty itself.

The state teachers’ union, the California Teachers Association, noted that the judge ruled against due process rights for teachers because of testimony that “3% of teachers are grossly ineffective,” a statistic the union says was invented. While Vergara v. California is under appeal and only applies to California teachers, the anti-worker forces behind the lawsuit promise more legal assaults on teachers in other states.

The New York Times editorialized in favor of Vergara. “The ruling opens a new chapter in the equal education struggle,” the editors said. “It also underscores a shameful problem that has cast a long shadow over the lives of children, not just in California but in the rest of the country as well.”

Those who see the ruling as “just” affecting teachers, though, are missing the big picture. It’s part of a larger attack on union members, and on workers in general, including the elimination of public workers’ collective-bargaining rights in Wisconsin the adoption of “right-to-work” (or what labor activists call “right-to-work-for-less”) laws in Indiana and Michigan, and the Supreme Court’s Harris v. Quinn decision that will bar “agency fee” requirements for some public union members.

This blog originally appeared in Dollars and Sense Real World Economics in the September/October 2014 issue. Reprinted with permission. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0914wilson.html.

A common theme in all these attacks is the effort to weaken or remove the due-process and job-security provisions in union contracts, typically known as “just cause” provisions that protect members from arbitrary discipline and discharge.

Reflecting the growing public sentiment against union members’ job security, the Times editors concluded: “Teachers deserve reasonable due process rights and job protections. But the unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.”

The view that genuine job security and due process rights are “anachronistic” brings the labor movement to a significant crossroad. We can continue the status quo by spending our shrinking resources to defend tenure, job security, and due-process rights for the declining number of union members who have these benefits now—or we could seize this opportunity to champion “just cause” standards for all workers. A strong push to broaden “just cause” standards would appeal to all workers and put employers on the defensive.

Winning “just cause” legislation, beginning at the state level, would not be easy. But building a movement on this issue offers union leaders and activists an opportunity to champion a cause that will benefit all workers and help unions grow.

Some teachers unions are already embracing this approach. School teachers in Los Angeles have made just cause a cornerstone of their campaign to win union recognition at the Ivy Academia Charter School. Organizers report that it garnered strong support from parents and the community. By building this kind of broad-based support for just-cause for all, the labor movement will be in a stronger position with new allies when employers and politicians seek to roll back just-cause articles in union contracts.

Imagine the labor movement leading a $50- to $100-million campaign over the next five years to win just-cause protections for all workers in eight to ten states where grassroots movements have shown a desire to pursue it. Employers and their political allies would be forced on the defensive, fighting an uphill battle to protect the “freedom to fire.”

Union leaders still have to do everything possible to defend due-process rights in union contracts and stop political attacks in the legislature. But launching a major “Just Cause for All” campaign could help make labor a champion of the 99% percent, spur more workers to form unions, and help blunt the assault on our rights

This blog originally appeared in Dollars and Sense in the September/October 2014 issue. Reprinted with permission. http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2014/0914wilson.html.

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A Historic Day in the Fight for Fair Wages

September 5th, 2014 | SEIU

seiuHome care workers join call for $15 and a union.

Fast Food workers raise stakes in acts of civil disobedience.

In 150 cities from coast to coast, thousands of working people today demonstrated  at fast food restaurants as part of a “history-making,” growing movement to get our economy moving again by improving wages.

“We’re a movement now… We know this is going to be a long fight, but we’re going to fight it till we win,” Latoya Caldwell of Kansas City, Mo., said in a news story chronicling the many victories for working people that brave fast food workers have won in their fight so far.

At the crack of dawn, 52 fast food workers in Detroit and 21 fast food workers in New York were arrested during sit-ins calling on McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and others to raise their pay. Additional arrests came soon after everywhere from Chicago to Little Rock.

In Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland and Detroit, home care workers – both nonunion and SEIU members – joined fast food workers in their call for $15 an hour and the right to unite in a union.

“Earning $15 would make a huge difference,” LaTonya Allen, a home-care aide in Atlanta who earns $9 an hour, told the New York Times. “It would really help me and my husband pay our bills. It would enable us to do more things together as a family. All we do now is work, work, work.”

Originally appeared in SEIU Blog on September 4, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://www.seiu.org/blog/

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When merely considering your rights can get you fired!

September 3rd, 2014 | Afshin Mozaffari

Employers may be reluctant to admit that their policies are designed to shut workers out of our civil justice system.  But there is no denying their intent.

Consider this example.  Elizabeth is a widow with five children who came into my office this spring.  Since the death of her husband a few years ago, she immersed herself in her work to provide for her family. Elizabeth didn’t earn much at her job, but her work as a waitress was enough to support her children.  She had been working for a California-based restaurant chain for nine years.

During a Friday shift last year, Elizabeth was informed about a new kind of company policy – an arbitration agreement that she was told she had to sign and return by Monday.  Elizabeth tried to find an attorney over the weekend to explain the document to her, and when she couldn’t, she asked her employer for more time to review the agreement.  She was fired a few days later for missing the 72-hour deadline.  The company also fired several other employees for either declining to sign the arbitration agreement or not doing so by the company-imposed deadline.

Elizabeth’s case is not uncommon, but it underscores just how much “free choice” goes into these “agreements.” Remarkably, courts have held that terminating employees for not signing employer-mandated arbitration agreements is not illegal.  These and other decisions are beginning to reach their absurd conclusions, where courts enforce arbitration agreements without regard to the rights of the affected individuals, enforcement of our laws, or the administration of justice. As Judge Jack Zouhary (a George W. Bush appointee) recently wrote in an order compelling arbitration of an antitrust claim, “This Court is bound by case law’s pro arbitration bent … common sense plays no role.”

Compulsory private arbitration has been the favored corporate practice for years.  It is easy to understand why.  Highly-paid private arbitrators, whose livelihood often depends on the repeat business from the same large corporations, render “justice” to an aggrieved employee who almost certainly will never appear before them again.  The inherent disadvantage for low wage workers facing off against multi-million dollar corporate employers in any setting is obvious, but the disadvantage is compounded in an arbitral forum.  Despite this, our courts have generally enforced these “agreements.”

I often see aggrieved employees who have signed arbitration agreements without understanding the content or the significance of the document. They sign the documents that their employers put in front of them, in order to continue working and to feed their families.  In fact, most workers don’t learn what the term “arbitration” means until they consult with an attorney and learn that they have already signed away their right to seek justice in a court.

But the compulsory nature of these arbitration agreements is undeniable when we look at the employees that don’t blindly “agree” to an employer’s mandatory arbitration policy, or those like Elizabeth who merely ask for time to conduct a careful review and to consider their rights before agreeing to sign them away.  If there was any question whether such “agreements” are a condition of employment, Elizabeth’s experience offers the answer.

Are we beginning to see the end to these extreme practices? On July 31, President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting certain federal contractors from forcing their employees out of court and into arbitration in workplace discrimination cases.

Although this executive action is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough. Congress continues to ignore this systematic denial of justice to our workers by failing to move forward on the Arbitration Fairness Act, which has been pending since last year.  The Act would ban forced arbitrations in employment and consumer settings. Until workers have a real choice in deciding where to claim their rights, the scales of justice will remain unbalanced.

This blog originally appeared in CELA Voice on August 26, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://celavoice.org/category/afshin-mozaffari/.

About the Author: Afshin Mozaffari is the founder and principal of Mozaffari Law. Mr. Mozaffari’s practice focuses on civil rights and employee rights litigation, including discrimination (based on race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical or mental disability or medical condition, marital status, gender, sexual orientation, age, and pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions), sexual harassment, retaliation, disability accommodation, wrongful termination, and wage & hour. Prior to the founding of Mozaffari Law, Mr. Mozaffari represented numerous corporations, schools, and non-profits in employment law, torts, business litigation, and class action cases. He recently left the defense side to follow his long-held passion for representing the rights of employees and other individuals.

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Raising America This Labor Day

September 2nd, 2014 | SEIU

seiuThe weekend and Labor Day are important times to reflect on and honor the courage of generations of working men and women–the people who brought us Labor Day and countless other benefits won by the labor movement, from better wages to improved working conditions.

SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry adds that it is also a “pivotal time to take stock of where our families, our economy and our democracy are heading.”

In an op-ed for The Nation, Henry writes that we face an “incredible challenge”:

Half of all Americans now make less than $15 an hour. Of the 10 fastest-growing jobs in America, eight are service sector jobs. Service sector jobs are the heartbeat of our economy and our communities, from the folks who care for the elderly and our children, to those who cook and serve our food to those who clean and secure our offices. Moving our economy forward must include making service jobs into good jobs with wages that you can raise a family on.

From home care workers to adjunct professors and security officers to fast food workers, people are uniting in the largest, most determined movement for working families that modern America has ever seen. And we’re winning:

All told, 6.7 million workers have achieved better pay since fast food workers began striking less than two years ago, either through states or cities moving to raise minimum wages or through collective bargaining. These brave workers are building the momentum to raise wages and get our economy roaring again.

Yet, Henry notes, our prosperity depends not just on economic justice, but the fundamental American principles of liberty and justice for all.

The taking of Mike Brown’s life in Ferguson, Missouri only weeks ago reminds us that social and economic justice must go hand in hand for America to thrive. To solve these issues, we need opportunities for all Americans to fully participate in our economy and improve the quality of life for their families. That’s why we must also fix our broken immigration system and uphold and protect civil rights and democratic participation for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.

Enjoy a happy and safe Labor Day. For those who have the day off, best wishes for enjoyable celebrations with families and friends–and for those who are on the clock, thank you for the hard work that keeps America moving.

Originally appeared in SEIU Blog on August 31, 2014. Reprinted with Permission. http://www.seiu.org/blog/

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Ninth Circuit Rejects FedEx Effort to Portray Drivers as Independent Contractors

August 29th, 2014 | Bill Jhaveri-Weeks

Bill Jhaveri-WeeksToday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held, under California law, that FedEx drivers are employees, not independent contractors. As a result, Fed Ex, which had required the 2300 California drivers included in the case to pay for their own trucks, equipment and expenses, and work 9.5 to 11 hour days, is liable for violating the Labor Code. The case is Alexander v. FedEx, 12-17458, __F.3d__ (9th Cir. Aug. 27, 2014).

The contract that the FedEx drivers were required to sign appears to have been drafted in an effort to persuade a reviewing court that the drivers are independent contractors – it refers to the drivers as “contractors,” and says that no FedEx officer or employee would “have the authority to direct [the driver] as to the manner or means employed … [or] have the authority to prescribe hours of work … or other details of performance.” The problem for FedEx, however, was that, in the contract and elsewhere, FedEx did tell the drivers in great detail how, when and where to do their work. As Judge Trott wrote in his concurring opinion, in a quote (reportedly) attributable to Abraham Lincoln: “If you call a dog’s leg a tail, how many legs does a dog have? …. Four. Calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.”

In applying the principal factor of California’s “right-to-control” test, the Ninth Circuit observed that FedEx’s detailed control over drivers included: control over the appearance of the drivers, from their mandatory uniforms to the color of their shoes and socks and the appearance of their hair; the specific shade of white paint to be used on their trucks, the mandatory use of FedEx logos on trucks, mandatory truck dimensions, and interior shelves in the truck of particular materials and dimensions; and the structuring of work-loads such that drivers had to work 9.5 to 11 hours per day, with requirements that they not leave the FedEx terminal in the morning until all of their packages were available, and return to the terminals no later than a specified time. FedEx argued that drivers had some flexibility in the order in which they made their deliveries, and that they were permitted to be “entrepreneurial” by hiring helpers to allow them to handle multiple routes, but the Court, observing that FedEx maintained close control over the assignment of work and the right to reject proposed helpers, concluded that even if drivers had control over some aspects of the job, FedEx maintained “all necessary control.” Other relevant factors included the fact that the drivers worked for FedEx under long (one- to three-year contracts), which suggested that they were really employees, and that they were assisting the Company by carrying out its core business function – the delivery of packages.

The case was procedurally interesting in that it was filed in California but then consolidated into multi-district litigation in the District Court for Northern District of Indiana. The Indiana court, applying California law, granted summary judgment to FedEx. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals not only disagreed that FedEx was entitled to summary judgment, but held that the drivers were entitled to summary judgment.

The case stands for the proposition that if an employer’s workforce is doing the work of employees, the employer cannot avoid complying with the Labor Code’s employee protections by artful contract language: calling a dog’s tail a leg does not mean a dog has five legs.

This blog originally appeared in Bryan Schwartz Law on August 27, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://bryanschwartzlaw.blogspot.com

About the Author: William (Bill) Jhaveri-Weeks is an associate at Bryan Schwartz Law, an Oakland, CA, employees’ and workers’ rights law firm. He focuses on employment discrimination, whistleblower, and wage and hour class action claims. Previously, Mr. Weeks practiced for four years at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP in New York City, where he litigated complex contract, tort, antitrust, and securities disputes. From 2008 to 2009, Mr. Weeks clerked for the Honorable R. Guy Cole, Jr., of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Columbus, Ohio. Mr. Weeks received a J.D. magna cum laude from New York University School of Law in 2007, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif. He received a B.A. cum laude in History from Yale University in 2002. During law school, Mr. Weeks worked for the New York labor law firm Spivak Lipton LLP. http://www.bryanschwartzlaw.com/Weeks.html

Bryan Schwartz Law is an Oakland, California-based law firm dedicated to helping employees protect their rights in the workplace. Mr. Schwartz and his firm have fought to prohibit discrimination, retaliation, and harassment obtained reasonable accommodation for disabled employees, vindicated whistleblowers’ rights and ensured that corporations pay workers all wages they are owed. Bryan Schwartz Law has successfully litigated individual and class action complaints nationwide, helping to recover millions of dollars for thousands of employees, forcing corporations and Government agencies to change their practices and punish wrongdoers.
Bryan Schwartz Law is also one of the few Bay Area-based law firms with extensive experience representing Federal employees in their unique Merit Systems Protection Board and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints.

 

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10 Ways President Obama Can Take Executive Action on Immigration that Protects Workers' Rights Now

August 27th, 2014 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth QuinnellEmilio Garcia began working for U.S. Fibers in South Carolina in April 2010 as a maintenance worker. He worked 12-hour shifts with only a 30-minute lunch break because his wife and children depend on him. Garcia said that from the very beginning he and other workers were humiliated by management. Conditions were so bad that he and other workers decided to organize themselves with the assistance of the United Steelworkers (USW). But management wasn’t happy with Garcia’s organizing efforts, and they slowly began cutting his hours before firing him in July of this year. Garcia told his story to an audience today at a panel discussion hosted by the AFL-CIO.

The discussion’s main thrust was the need for President Barack Obama to advance the rights of workers by taking executive action on immigration. Emilio said: “I’m here because it is important that while the president considers taking administrative action to protect many of our families from being deported, he also has to consider that we are all workers and will remain as easy prey of exploitative companies if we do not count with any relief.”

Here are 10 ways Obama can take executive action right now to provide relief to workers:

  1. Extend work authorization to as broad a portion of the undocumented population as possible by providing deferred action to all who would qualify for a pathway to citizenship under the bipartisan Senate bill.
  2. Design a deferred action program that is broad, clear, not burdensome or costly and doesn’t exclude those who work in part-time or temporary jobs or those who work in the underground economy.
  3. Discourage employers from firing employees who do the right thing and attempt to rectify their documents and tax records.
  4. Create a process to protect workers against retaliation because they form or join a union or file a health and safety violation.
  5. Provide workers timely information about immigration audits to protect employees’ rights on the job.
  6. Terminate programs that subject workers to inconsistent local enforcement standards rather than uniform federal policies.
  7. Make sure that immigration-related violations don’t lead to the criminalization of immigrant communities and ensure that individuals receive due process before being removed.
  8. Instruct immigration enforcement agents to make sure that carrying out their duties doesn’t interfere with workers’ rights in an effort to prevent immigration status from being used as a weapon against workers who are involved in labor disputes.
  9. Clarify the standards for what constitutes a workplace crime against immigrant employees so they have more protection against unscrupulous employers.
  10. Engage in more public education promoting naturalization and reduce processing fees and expand fee waivers to ensure that more low-wage workers can access citizenship.

Lorella Praeli of United We Dream (UWD) highlighted the legal significance of executive action:

“In line with many legal scholars, UWD fully believes that the President has the constitutional and legal authority to defer action on individual cases and confer employment authorization to millions on the grounds of prosecutorial discretion. The President has a historic opportunity to show courage where Republicans showed cowardice by starting the process that only Congress can finish.”

Nadia Marin-Molina, the National Workers’ Rights coordinator for National Day Laborer Organizing Network, added:

“For administrative relief to be effective, it must take the weapon of intimidation away from unscrupulous employers who have used the threat of unchecked deportations to silence workers and lower standards. Workers who build our cities should not fear being deported from them.”

This blog appeared in AFL-CIO on August 26, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/10-Ways-President-Obama-Can-Take-Executive-Action-on-Immigration-that-Protects-Workers-Rights-Now.

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

 

 

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The Myth of the Disgruntled Employee

August 26th, 2014 | Marvin Krakow

marvin-e-krakow-LX322826-3[1]Removed from the distant wars currently in the news, it is easy to see how neighbors alike in so many ways must dehumanize one another in the midst of conflict. It’s a form of blindness that is common not just to war, but to all conflict – and one that I see all too often in my practice.

Let me introduce you to the people who come to our law office for help.   Many have worked for the same employer for long years, often for decades.  Most feel strong and warm connections to their employers and co-workers.  They struggle, as we all do, with the challenges of life, with their health, with family responsibilities, with financial reversals, and with their careers.  They come to see us, because their bosses have disrupted their work, their source of income, their identity. They are not irrational.  They are not trying to game the system.  They work with a seriousness of purpose.

Who are they?  They do every kind of work: executives, janitors, public servants, truck drivers, waiters, teachers, and artists. They come from every imaginable background.  They have advanced degrees; they did not learn to read.  Their families are established; they are recent immigrants, accompanied by their children who translate. Some are old, some young, some rich, some poor.  They are straight. They are gay.   They have strong religious beliefs.  They have no religious beliefs. They are breadwinners with obligations to pay college tuition or to support an elderly parent.  They are men and women near the ends of long careers who need another few years of work, because they cannot afford to retire.   They are from every racial and ethnic background.

If they share anything in common, it is that they are not happy to find themselves in a lawyer’s office.  When I ask potential clients about their previous dealings with lawyers, the most common response is that they have never hired a lawyer, and have never been involved in a lawsuit.  Most of them come to us reluctantly, and they apologize for doing so.  They will explain that they would prefer to consider all other options instead of filing suit.  They come, despite that reticence, because they feel they have been seriously hurt and profoundly disrespected by their employers.

Who brings a lawsuit?  Here are a few examples from my own recent experience: a store manager falsely accuses a 60-year old retail assistant of failing a drug test, and fires him.  New owners replace a worker who successfully led a computer software development department for over thirty years and replace her with a less qualified, younger man.  An executive needs time off to care for his dying wife; the owner fires him a week after she dies.

In each of these cases, the prevailing myth of the “disgruntled employee” hides the reality of our common humanity. It is impossible to hear the adjective “disgruntled” without filling in the noun “worker,” and conjuring an image of a madman spraying bullets from an automatic rifle.

The myth serves intertwining legal and psychological purposes for employers and their counsel.   A long term, productive employee is viewed as damaged.  He or she suddenly becomes a “complainer,” “a trouble maker,” “not a team player,” “unable to communicate,” “uncooperative,” “unresponsive to constructive criticism,” “an alarmist,” someone who “games the system,” “insubordinate.”  Managers targeting these employees sometimes send lengthy and detailed emails documenting “deficiencies” which were neither observed nor noted before the employee raised questions of discrimination or harassment on the job.  As part of this management mythology, employers assume that an employee who complains does so out of a failure of character: the employee must be permanently and irrationally dissatisfied by his or her lot in life, and with his or her workplace in particular.  They believe, or claim to believe, that the employee is dangerous.

Management’s goal is to cast the person as fundamentally unlikeable, less worthy of respect, “less human.”  Ultimately, management lawyers who demonize the worker who reports a problem by treating them as quasi-criminals, put the entire workforce at risk.  When the starting point is that complaints come mainly or exclusively from defective personalities, employers fail to take reports seriously. They fail to remedy problems before they grow more serious.  They ignore warning signs of sexual predators. They fail to correct safety hazards. They allow mistreatment of older workers. They make it harder for a parent to care for his or her children.

There is a better way.  When a manager puts aside defensiveness and character assassination, and sees the care and loyalty driving an employee complaint, he or she is likely to recognize issues that are critical to the well-being of the employer’s enterprise. Unfortunately, conflict feels less troubling when the enemy isn’t quite so human.  I sometimes think these employers missed a chance to get to know my clients in all their humanity.  But perhaps it is simply easier for them to forget the people they once knew.

This blog originally appeared in CELA VOICE on August 14, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/marvin-krakow/.

About the author: Marvin Krakow (B.A., Yale, 1970, J.D. Yale, 1974), a founding partner of Alexander Krakow + Glick LLP, focuses on discrimination based on race, age, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and ethnicity, wrongful termination of employment, civil rights, and class actions. He has won seven, and eight figure results. He helps victims of sexual harassment and rape, and represents whistle blowers. He argued landmark cases before the California Supreme Court, Loder v. City of Glendale and Superior Court v. Department of Health Services (McGinnis).

 

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12 Recent Victories for Workers in Raising Wages and Collective Bargaining

August 22nd, 2014 | Kenneth Quinnell
Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth Quinnell

While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.

1. AFSCME Sets Organizing Goal, Almost Doubles It: AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced that the union has organized more than 90,000 workers this year, nearly doubling its 2014 goal of 50,000.

2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW Plant: Auto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.

3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.

4. Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote to Join TWU: Flight attendants at Virgin America voted to join the Transport Workers, citing the success of TWU in bargaining fair contracts for Southwest Airlines flight attendants.

5. Maryland Cab Drivers Join National Taxi Workers Alliance: Cab drivers in Montgomery County, Md., announced their affiliation with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, citing low wages and unethical behavior by employers among their reasons to affiliate with the national union.

6. Retail and Restaurant Workers Win Big, Organize Small: Small groups of workers made big strides as over a dozen employees at a Subway restaurant in Bloomsbury, N.J., voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, cosmetics and fragrance workers at a Macy’s store in Massachusetts won an NLRB ruling that will allow them to vote on forming a union.

7. Minnesota Home Care Workers Take Key Step to Organize: Home health care workers in Minnesota presented a petition to state officials that would allow a vote on forming a union for more than 26,000 eligible workers.

8. New York Television Writers-Producers Join Writers Guild: Writers and producers from Original Media, a New York City-based production company, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, citing low wages, long work schedules and no health care.

9.  Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.

10. Workers Increasingly Have Access to Paid Sick Leave: Cities such as San Diego and Eugene, Ore., have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, providing workers with needed flexibility and making workplaces safer for all.

11. Student-Athletes See Success, Improved Conditions: College athletic programs are strengthening financial security measures for student-athletes in the wake of organizing efforts by Northwestern University football players. In addition, the future is bright as the majority of incoming college football players support forming a union.

12. San Diego Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Portland, Maine, Starts Process: Even as Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage, municipalities across the country have taken action. San Diego will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, and the Portland, Maine, Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will consider an increase that would take effect in 2015.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO America’s Unions on August 20, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

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

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Tinder on Fire: How Women in Tech are Still Losing

August 21st, 2014 | Lisa Mak

  A “whore,” “gold-digger,” “desperate loser,” and “just a bad girl.”  These are only a handful of the sexist comments that Whitney Wolfe, co-founder of the mobile dating app Tinder, alleges she was subjected to by chief marketing officer Justin Mateen.  Last month, Wolfe brought suit against Tinder for sex discrimination and harassment.  Wolfe’s legal complaint details how Mateen sent outrageously inappropriate text messages to her and threatened her job, and how Tinder CEO Sean Rad ignored her when she complained about Mateen’s abuse.  Wolfe claims that Mateen and Rad took away her co-founder designation because having a 24-year-old “girl” as a co-founder “makes the company look like a joke” and being a female co-founder was “sluty.”

The conduct, which Wolfe’s complaint characterizes as “the worst of the misogynist, alpha-male stereotype too often associated with technology startups,” unfortunately remains the norm, and Wolfe is not alone in her experience.  Last year, tech consultant Adria Richards was fired after she tweeted and blogged about offensive sexual jokes made by two men at a tech conference.  After one of the men was fired from his job, Richards experienced horrendous Internet backlash, including rape and death threats.  She was then fired by Sendgrid after an anonymous group hacked into the company’s system in some twisted attempt at vigilante “justice.”

In 2012, junior partner Ellen Pao filed a sexual harassment suits against a venture capital firm, alleging retaliation after refusing another partner’s sexual advances.  And back in 2010, Anita Sarkeesian was the target of online harassment after she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a video series to explore female stereotypes in the gaming industry.  An online video game was even released in which users could “beat up” Sarkeesian.  These are just some of the many examples of demeaning attacks against women in the testosterone-driven tech world.

There are many state and federal laws that prohibit the kinds of workplace harassment that these women experience, including the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Bane and Ralph Act, and the California Constitution.  These laws provide strong protections against gender harassment in employment and other contexts.  So why do these attacks on women continue to happen in an industry that is supposedly progressive and populated with fairly educated adults?

It doesn’t help that tech companies are also notorious for their lack of diversity.  This year, Google released its first diversity report which revealed that 70 percent of its workforce was male, and 61 percent was white.  The workforce was also predominantly male and white at Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Another report this year shows that the percentage of women occupying CIO positions at companies has remained stagnant at 14 percent for the last decade.  These numbers confirm what the stories reflect — that this industry truly is “a man’s world.”  And this needs to change.

Some may dismiss Wolfe’s lawsuit and similar complaints as coming from women who are hypersensitive.  Indeed, Wolfe claims that when she complained about Mateen’s harassment, she was dismissed as being “annoying” and “dramatic.”  While some degree of social adaptation may be expected when joining any company, particularly freewheeling start-ups, there are limits that must be respected.  Those limits are crossed when the pressure to conform to a white, male norm is so great that women who challenge this norm are further harassed or their voices suppressed.

Unfortunately, this marginalization of women who challenge the macho culture even comes from other women, who blame the “feminists” for making it harder for women to advance in tech.  This also needs to change.  Women who speak out about sexism and misogyny in the tech industry deserve the support of their colleagues, and men who turn to vitriol and juvenile behavior to intimidate deserve censure.

But change will not be achieved without help from sources outside the industry.  Attorneys and employee advocates must continue to bring attention to the rampant sexism that is “business as usual” in the tech industry.  We need to encourage tech companies of all stages and sizes to comply with employment laws, adopt proper HR practices, promote diversity and inclusion, and use objective standards to measure performance.  If the tech industry is serious about encouraging young girls to become coders and developers, it also needs to place women in conspicuous leadership roles and pay real attention to change the “guy culture.”

The tech world doesn’t have to be a man’s world, and it shouldn’t be.

 This blog originally appeared in CELA Voice on July 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/lisa-mak/.
About the Author: The authors name is Lisa Mak. Lisa Mak is an associate attorney at Lawless & Lawless in San Francisco, exclusively representing plaintiffs in employment matters. Her litigation work focuses on cases involving discrimination, harassment, whistleblower retaliation, medical leave, and labor violations. She is an active member of the CELA Diversity Committee, Co-Chair of the Asian American Bar Association’s Community Services Committee, a volunteer and supervising attorney at the Asian Law Caucus Workers’ Rights Clinic, and a Young Professionals Board member of Jumpstart Northern California working to promote early childhood education. She is a graduate of UC Hastings School of Law and UC San Diego.

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