Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Pass the Wage Act Now

November 12th, 2015 | Shauna Barnaskas

Shauna BarnaskasFor many American workers, union and non-union alike, work ethic and attendance will only get them so far in the workplace. They may still face many adverse working conditions including but not limited to lack of safety, pay, and benefits. Furthermore, bargaining power of America’s workers is far weaker than it used to be. Most employees lack the chance to have a real voice in the workplace and negotiate with their employer over issues that drive workplace morale. In fact, collective bargaining is at a critically low and is currently lower in the United States than every other industrialized nation.

In effect of decline in collective bargaining and unionization, income inequality is on the rise. Rebuilding our collective bargaining system and putting power back into the hands of the workers and not just the companies and managers is significant, and necessary, for reestablishing wage growth and bringing positive changes to the workplace.

Having no recourse at work, workers depend on current labor laws to protect their workplace rights. Although the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) is in place to protect the right of private sector workers, union and non-union, to engage in collective bargaining to improve workplace conditions, the reality of the NLRA is that it was enacted 80 years ago in the midst of the Great Depression, and has failed to update to account for current workplace trends. Unlike other labor and employment laws, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the entity charged with enforcing the NLRA, has a toothless enforcement mechanism that does not adequately protect workers rights, or deter employers from breaking the laws; it does not impose any real penalties financial or otherwise. In result, employers view breaking the law as nothing less than a smart business decision where they may receive a small slap on the wrist, or they may even receive no punishment at all.

In line with the current trend towards collective action from fast-food workers to Wal-Mart employees, Congress has introduced legislation to properly aid and protect workers in collective bargaining. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) introduced the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, an act designed to strengthen protections for workers who collectively organize, and ensure that employers violating workers’ rights face actual consequences. The WAGE Act would amend the NLRA to provide it with a backbone for enforcement, and would essentially give a voice to union and non-union workers alike to provide them a path to action against those who illegally retaliate against the employees who are taking collective action.

The WAGE Act has many features, but its biggest aspects that will protect workers include adding a meaningful back pay remedy for workers illegally fired, including penalties for employers and a preliminary reinstatement; it implements triple back pay awards for workers who were illegally retaliated against regardless of that workers’ immigration status; and finally it would provide workers with a private right of action to bring suit to recover monetary damages and attorneys fees. Now, when employees complain about workplace conditions or benefits, its employer will think twice about the potential costs of illegally firing that employee under the WAGE Act penalties.

The WAGE Act would discourage employer retaliation through and promote prompt remedies through:

  • Providing a temporary reinstatement for workers who are fired or retaliated against when exercising rights to join together and seek workplace improvements. This would direct the NLRB to go to court to seek a preliminary injunction that would immediately return fired workers to their jobs so long as there is no reasonable cause to believe the worker was wrongly fired.
  • Strengthening the remedies for workers who are fired or retaliated against, providing the workers with the ability to bring cases directly to court for monetary damages and attorneys fees. In addition, the WAGE Act would triple the back pay that employers must pay to workers who are fired or retaliated against by employers regardless of immigration status.
  • Establishing robust penalties against employers who violate workers’ rights and commit unfair labor practices by implementing a $50,000 fine for illegal retaliation and doubling that amount for repeat violations.
  • Streamlining the NLRB process and implementing a 30 day maximum time limit for employers wishing to challenge an NLRB decision. After that time is expired, the NLRB decision is final and binding.
  • Improving workers knowledge of their rights through requiring employers to inform workers of their rights by posting notice and informing employees at time of hire.

This legislation is designed to help all workers, but it will necessarily give power back to low-wage workers trying to make a good living, immigrants afraid of complaining due to lack of rights, and all workers trying to collectively engage. For years, employers have taken advantage of the weak workplace protection laws, and the WAGE Act seeks to put the power back in the hands of the employee, allowing them to seek remedies for unfair labor practices without making them jumping through so many hoops.

The purpose of the WAGE Act is to help employees through protections against employers. “Too often as workers are underpaid, overworked, and treated unfairly on the job, some companies are doing everything they can to prevent them from having a voice in the workplace. The WAGE Act would strengthen protections for all workers and it would finally crack down on employers who break the law when workers exercise their basic right to collective action,” said Senator Patty Murray. Currently, the WAGE Act has gained momentum and support from presidential-hopeful, Secretary Hillary Clinton, the AFL-CIO, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Teamsters) Union, and many other organizations and unions. With more organizations supporting this bill, and more attention to inform individuals about this legislation, the WAGE Act could potentially pass to get workers what they not just deserve, but need.

While some may argue this bill is just more pro-union propaganda, the simple fact driving this bill is that it is pro-worker. It helps all workers regardless of union affiliation and allows the employees to more easily get back-pay and reinstatement. Without workers, essential functions in society cannot happen; this bill is necessary to providing workers with the power they need to protect their own rights. Employers have notoriously taken advantage of weak worker protection laws to slow down or stop working people from joining together to improve their lives. The WAGE Act is a necessary first step toward overdue labor law reform to promote collective action and put power back in the hands of the employees. Pass the WAGE Act now.

To learn about unions, the WAGE Act, or your workplace rights generally, please visit Workplace Fairness today.

About the Author: Shauna Barnaskas is an associate with Abato, Rubenstein and Abato, P.A., located in Baltimore, Maryland, where she concentrates her practice in the representation of ERISA plans. Shauna was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa to a union family, and has been actively involved in the labor movement her whole life. Mrs. Barnaskas earned her Juris Doctor degree from American University Washington College of Law in 2014, where she served as the Articles Editor for the Labor and Employment Law Forum. Prior to joining Abato, Rubenstein and Abato, P.A. Shauna served as a law clerk for the United States Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee where she was a contributing author of the committee staff report, “For Profit Higher Education: The Failure to Safeguard the Federal Investment and Ensure Student Success.”  Additionally, Mrs. Barnaskas was selected for the Peggy Browning Fellowship program where she worked for the American Federation of Teachers.


This Veterans Day

November 11th, 2015 | Grace Baehren

grace baehrenThis Veterans Day we’d like to take a moment to thank all veterans for their service and sacrifice for our country. In turn, we’d like to make sure that veterans are aware of their rights in the civilian workplace. At the federal level, the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) is the main source of protections for veterans in the civilian workplace.

USERRA has two main goals:

  • To ensure that veterans seeking civilian employment can do so free from discrimination because of their service; and
  • That should a veteran need to take military leave — or is activated from reserve to active duty status – they can retain their civilian employment and benefits.

Generally, a veteran is eligible for USERRA benefits if they left a civilian job to perform military service and:

– Have given prior written or verbal notice of the military leave to their civilian employer;

– Have 5 years or less of cumulative service during the employment relationship with the civilian employer;

– Have been released from service under conditions other than dishonorable;

– And return to work, or apply for reemployment, at their civilian job in a timely manner after the completion of service.

For more information on veterans’ rights under USERRA and how to enforce these rights, see our page on military leave.

Additionally, it is important to know your state’s laws on military leave. While some state laws merely reinforce the USERRA benefits, others include additional benefits for veterans. To view the applicable laws for your state, see our State Laws on Military Leave page.

Finally, veterans should be aware of the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Act (VEVRAA), which provides additional protections to “protected veterans” who are employed by federal contractors. Protected veterans are defined to include disabled veterans and veterans who are recently separated (are within the initial 3 year period after discharge or release from active duty). VEVRAA makes it illegal for federal contractors to discriminate against protected veterans in employment decisions and further requires that federal contractors take affirmative action to recruit, hire, and promote protected veterans. For more information on VEVRAA see this fact sheet from the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs.

About the Author: The author’s name is Grace Baehren. Grace Baehren is a student at The University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.


The Right to an Unfair Trial

November 10th, 2015 | Jen Sorensen



This cartoon was originally posted on JenSorensen.com on November 09, 2015 and the TheDailyKos on November 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jen Sorensen is a political cartoonist, writer, and graphic journalist. Her work has appeared in the Village Voice, LA Times, Ms. Magazine, The Progressive, NPR.org, and alt-weeklies around the country. You can find more of her work here.


Bottom Line: Does the TPP Trade Deal "Put American Workers First"?

November 8th, 2015 | Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson

The full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has finally been released and We the People can see what has been negotiated in our name. President Obama laid out the bottom line, saying the deal “puts American workers first.” Does it?

TPP Text

The full text of TPP can be seen here. The text consists of more than a thousand pages of incomprehensible legalese like this:

… the rate of customs duty applicable to the originating good from the Party where the good acquired the originating status in accordance with the process requirement or change in tariff classification requirement set out in Annex (PSR); or (ii) the rate of customs duty applicable to the originating good from the Party where the largest value was added among claimed production process, or the highest rate among the rates applicable to the originating good from those Parties involved in claimed production process, when the good acquired the originating status through a production process in accordance with the requirement set out in Article DD. 2(a), (b) or the regional value content requirement set out in Annex (PSR).

and this:

Pursuant to paragraph 1(b), the Commission shall review the operation of this Agreement with a view to updating and enhancing this Agreement, through negotiations, as appropriate, to ensure that the disciplines contained in the Agreement remain relevant to the trade and investment issues and challenges confronting the Parties.

You get the picture. This is going to take time and experts to figure out. Worse, it was negotiated in a corporate-dominated process, so if TPP is approved we have to assume that anything that is hard to understand or ambiguous will later be used to justify taking from We the People and giving to A Few People.

So Does TPP “Put American Workers First”?

President Obama set down the bottom line of TPP by releasing a statement calling TPP, “a new type of trade deal that puts American workers first.” In the statement he wrote, “If you’re an autoworker in Michigan, the cars you build face taxes as high as 70 percent in Vietnam.”

It is interesting that he would use the example of auto workers here. The September post “TPP Terms Are Even Worse For U.S. Than NAFTA?” looked at how TPP will affect the American auto industry and found:

Under NAFTA 62.5 percent of the value of cars and 60 percent of auto parts must be made in NAFTA countries, or a tariff will apply. But for TPP the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman appears to have made a deal saying only 45 percent for cars and 30 percent for parts need to be made in TPP countries – the rest of that business goes to China and other non-TPP, low-wage, low-labor-standards and low-environmental-protection countries. The result will be a huge shift of jobs and business away from American, Mexican and Canadian auto and parts makers.

Now we know the actual terms. Canada’s Globe and Mail reports, in “Canadian auto sector alarmed by concessions revealed in full TPP text ,” that

Canada’s auto parts makers, who employ 81,000, say the text of the agreement shows the local-content protections for vehicle components are significantly skimpier than the former Conservative government had advertised. Former prime minister Stephen Harper had said local-content requirements for important vehicle components would be between 40 per cent and 45 per cent.

… Engine parts and such body stampings as truck frames and metal roof panels will only be required to have TPP content of 35 per cent.

Basically when we are talking about “non-TPP countries” getting some percent of the business, we are really just talking about China. So says tariffs do not apply if 35 percent to 45 percent of the car and parts are made in TPP countries. This means that 55 percent to 65 percent of the car and parts can be made in China and still be tariff-free. This is much worse than even NAFTA, which, as we know, destroyed American auto and parts manufacturing jobs and entire regions of our country.

Kevin L. Kearns, President of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, in the post “Domestic Manufacturers Call Full Text of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement a ‘Very Bad Deal for America.’” says of this,

“Apparently, one of America’s biggest economic problems is that Toyota does not sell enough cars and trucks here, and thus does not displace enough American jobs. The TPP deal allows Toyota and other Japanese automakers a special concession to keep their global supply chains intact.”

So the president’s singling out of auto workers as benefiting from TPP was unfortunate. They do not, and American auto workers will be hit hard as production moves to China.

In the release statement Obama also wrote, “If you’re a worker in Oregon, you’re forced to compete against workers in other countries that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs.”

Does TPP stop the competition of Oregon’s workers “against workers in other countries that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs” as the president promises here?

The athletic apparel maker Nike is based in Oregon. The workers who actually make Nike’s shoes are already all outsourced, already located in countries “that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs,” including TPP signatories Vietnam (where it employs 345,000 workers), Mexico and Malaysia. TPP will remove tariffs already charged on those shoes and garments as they come into the U.S., making it even more attractive to outsource production to countries “that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs.” Nike will be rewarded by that tariff cut with greater profits from their choice to outsource.

Meanwhile Nike competitor New Balance has been trying to continue to make shoes in the U.S., and this removal of tariffs is likely to force them to give up. TPP lowers the cost of moving production to countries “that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs.”

So the president cited autos and Oregon, but a close look reveals these to be unfortunate choices. In both cases American workers are put first – first in line to be laid off as even more production shifts out of the country.

Does TPP Put American Steelworkers First

If TPP truly puts “American workers first” you’d think that American workers would be happy about TPP. They aren’t. The United Steelworkers said of the TPP text:

“It’s a dagger twisting in the heart of American manufacturing,” the USW said in a Nov. 5 statement. “Even the Wall Street Journal predicted the deal would cause a massive trade deficit in manufacturing, which would result in hundreds of thousands of job losses.”

The TPP, the union said, provides incentives for U.S. companies to outsource production and send jobs overseas. It would cause dramatic job losses in the U.S. manufacturing sector, and its rules of origin for automobiles and auto parts would allow China to provide the majority of a vehicle’s content, it said.

The TPP also would allow currency manipulation to continue, do nothing to prevent state-owned enterprises from receiving state support and protection, and allow foreign workers to continue to suffer violations of their rights, the USW said.

So it looks like TPP does anything but “putting American workers first.” It puts them first in line to be laid off.

Economic Theory

So why the big push for TPP?

Here’s the thing. By moving production to low-wage countries with poor environmental and safety (and other) regulations that protect people, American companies can lower the cost of production. Economic theory says this “frees up resources” in our own economy to be put to “more productive uses.” Economists say the workers can thereby move into higher-paying jobs, doing things that can’t be done in Vietnam.

But of course this is not what has been happening since the country’s elites were sold on the “free trade” agenda decades ago. We have seen the financial sector (and its associated value system) increase as the manufacturing sector (and its associated value system) declines. We have seen a dramatic increase in inequality as the “investor class” pockets the wage and other cost differential from moving production out of the country. We have seen entire regions of the country literally devastated (see Detroit and the “Rust Belt”) because the resources released by outsourcing America’s production have not been reinvested in the U.S. They have instead found their way to foreign tax shelters. We have seen the country lose entire industries, and the supply chains, “know-how” and other elements of a manufacturing ecosystem that might enable us to rebuild someday.

Now that we can actually read it we can see that TPP is just one more “NAFTA-style” power-grab elevating the “investor class” above the rest of us and our ability to run our own government in ways that make our lives better. TPP is about taking from We the People and giving to A Few People. It is a bad deal and it must be stopped.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on November 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: 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.


D.C. labor activists blast fruit grower over alleged worker abuse

November 6th, 2015 | John Lett

John Lett

As early afternoon shoppers strolled sidewalks outside a Whole Foods market in an artsy, eclectic section of Washington, D.C., dozens of labor activists broke mid-day monotony by loudly calling attention to alleged injustices 2300 miles away in Washington state. “If they’re abusing workers in one place than they will abuse workers in another. An injury to one is an injury to all,” says Maria Parrotta, a young bespectacled brunette who enthusiastically joined protesters on the busy city block. “You must be concerned because they’re people just like you. You need to understand the broader picture.”

The picket was organized by the Industrial Workers of the World, or IWW, a self-described militant tinged labor union with outspoken socialist views that was founded in 1905. The organization says it’s extremely concerned about the treatment of Mexican guest workers who are currently deadlocked in a labor dispute with management at Sakuma Brothers Farms in Washington state. The laborers there, a tightknit group of 400 berry pickers who call themselves Familias Unidas por la Justicia (United Families for Justice), became an independent union in 2013. But according to the IWW, managers at the farm have used hardball tactics to intimidate the fruit pickers, and thus, upending contract talks. “The negotiations ended up breaking down and Sakuma Brothers sent armed security guards to forcibly breakup the labor camps where the union supporters were staying, as well as their families,” says James Colgan, an energetic 27-year-old man wearing a newsboy cap, who serves as a communications representative with the Industrial Workers of the World. “They have been the subject of racist harassment, sexual assault in the fields and very serious labor conditions by working very long hours for very little pay.”

IWW chose to picket Whole Foods market because the grocery chain sells berries that are grown and picked by workers at Sakuma Brothers Farms. Once harvested, the sweet fruit is shipped to Driscoll Berries and then sold on shelves at Whole Foods. “We’re hoping that this information picket will raise awareness to the liberal customer base and get them to be sympathetic to the worker’s plight and hopefully urge businesses to drop the sale of the berries,” says Colgan. Armed with homemade signs, demonstrators marched in a circular motion on the sidewalk and chanted: “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now,” as a curious onlookers sipped coffee and stared at the scene. “Farm workers are often the most poorly treated workers in the United States. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration,” says Colgan.

In response to the labor dispute, senior management at Whole Foods says the company is committed to a pro-working class culture and expects its supply chain to comply. “We seek supplier partnerships that share our concern for social responsibility and the environment.” Down the labor ladder, Sakuma Brothers Farms says it’s committed to ending the dispute. “We both want stability, we both want all employees to have the legal right to work, and we both want a fair wage and a positive work environment,” according to a Sakuma family spokesperson. Management at Driscoll Berries have adopted a similar position and says: “It is our commitment that people are treated with consideration and respect, that their workplaces are clean and healthy, and that employment within the Driscoll’s system provides income opportunities that meet or exceed the local standards.”

But the Industrial Workers of the World stands by its strong accusations of worker abuse at Sakuma Brothers Farms and pledges support for Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Colgan says the IWW plans to keep the heat on the berry supply chain by continuing to place public pressure on the farm’s managers, Driscoll Berries and Whole Foods. “Our organizing committee will reconvene and decide next actions,” says Colgan. “We will probably have larger pickets and bigger actions.”

This article was originally printed on Examiner.com on October 28, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: John Lett. Since 1996, John Lett has worked as a news reporter and field producer for several local broadcast stations around the United States. He currently serves as a web video producer covering labor news for an AFL-CIO affiliated union headquartered in suburban, Washington, D.C. On weekends he routinely manages production of archival footage that focuses on geopolitical rallies and protests in the District of Columbia. Some of his most recent assignments include Arab American protests of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, international HIV activism on the National Mall and local immigrant outrage over African political unrest.


A Bill of Rights That Puts Workers Above Corporations

November 5th, 2015 | Simon Davis-Cohen

in these timesRalph knows firsthand that non-unionized workers lack basic rights. Last year he got a text from his boss while at a cancer clinic in Spokane, Wash. After receiving chemotherapy treatment, Ralph learned he was being terminated from his job in the produce transportation industry—a decision his employer had no legal obligation to justify. According to Ralph, he was fired for “insubordination” after he began to question the business’s finances. Now, he’s been forced to take a minimum-wage job and file for bankruptcy, and could lose his home.

“I will not recover from this in my lifetime,” Ralph tells In These Times. “Tell me where the justice is in that.” (Ralph wished to remain pseudonymous because he is exploring filing a suit against his former employer, though lawyers have told him that he probably does not have a viable case.)

Workers without a union contract lack any guarantee of due process on the job, let alone a dignified wage. Other than Montana, no state—nor the federal government—requires employers to give a “just cause” for firings. But a movement in Spokane has gotten a first-in-the-nation Worker Bill of Rights on November’s ballot, which, if passed, would act as a kind of union contract for all workers in the city.

The proposition is being championed by Envision Spokane, a labor-community coalition. Envision Worker Rights, a sister political committee of the group, announced that it would introduce a new, worker-focused measure, and gathered more than 2,600 signatures to ensure its place on the city’s ballot.

Spokane’s Worker Bill of Rights would amend the city charter to provide several new on-the-job protections. It would give all Spokane workers rights to equal pay for equal work and to not be wrongfully terminated, as Ralph believes he was. It would also guarantee a “family wage” sufficient to cover basic necessities such as food, housing, utilities and childcare for workers of large employers. When employers run afoul, workers would be entitled to sue.

This may seem straightforward, but typically workers must hash out these protections through the arduous process of bargaining a union contract. Granting them proactively to all workers represents a promising new paradigm.

Thomas Linzey, executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which is supporting the Worker Bill of Rights, explains that under current law, “in non-unionized, private workplaces, workers have no constitutional rights. It’s why e-mails can be read, urine can be tested, lockers searched. … By prohibiting firings without cause, due process constitutional rights would be afforded to all people working within the City of Spokane.” This departs from the “state-action” doctrine, the bedrock legal principle that the Constitution only protects citizens from the government, not from private entities.

When faced with efforts to protect workers and communities, corporations have often carped that their own rights are being violated. The International Franchise Association (IFA), for example, sued the City of Seattle over a $15 minimum-wage ordinance passed in June 2014, saying, among other things, that it discriminated against franchises and violated their constitutional right to equal protection. A U.S. appeals court ruled otherwise, and Spokane’s initiative is clearly not afraid of violating so-called corporate rights. The amendment declares that corporations “shall not be deemed to be ‘persons’ ” with legal rights if this interferes with the workers’ rights outlined in the measure. While Spokane is unlikely to reverse longstanding legal precedent on its own, advocates see the Worker Bill of Rights as part of a national movement to challenge corporate personhood.

This concept is resonating with many in the region and beyond. Some nine local unions and two regional labor councils have endorsed the initiative, along with community groups such as 15 Now Oregon and national figures like Noam Chomsky. Beth Thew, secretary-treasurer of the Spokane Regional Labor Council, the regional arm of the AFL-CIO, tells In These Times that the Worker Bill of Rights is “basically everything that organized labor stands for.” Given the decline in union density nationwide, she says, it makes sense “to take a more radical tactic.”

The list of backers also includes Democratic and Green Party-endorsed Spokane mayoral candidate Shar Lichty, the self-proclaimed “Bernie Sanders of Spokane.” Lichty acknowledges that “poverty is a huge issue here in Spokane”—more than 15 percent of residents live below the poverty line—and says she will defend the measure if elected.

As a result, Envision Spokane’s message is winning support from people like Ralph, who, though struggling to stay out of poverty himself, is phone banking for the campaign. “People today are just trying to fricking survive till the next day,” he tells In These Times.

The Worker Bill of Rights builds on Envision Spokane’s previous efforts to pass a Community Bill of Rights, which similarly challenged corporate personhood. The measure would have given neighborhoods power over local development and increased local environmental protections, among other provisions. First introduced on the ballot in 2009, the proposition failed to gain a majority of votes, and an updated version lost narrowly in 2011. The measure qualified again in 2013, but that vote has been delayed by a pre-election lawsuit brought by a coalition of county commissioners and business groups. The Washington Supreme Court will hear the case in November.

In August, the Worker Bill of Rights dodged a similar legal challenge, this time by Spokane’s own Republican Mayor David Condon, who sought to keep the measure off the ballot. The City of Spokane filed a lawsuit arguing, among other things, that the provision denying corporate personhood was unconstitutional because it would deny corporations access to the courts. A superior court judge ruled that the mayor did not have legal standing to keep the measure off of ballots, but city officials have persisted in their opposition. City Council members have also added controversial advisory questions about the potential costs of the initiative—whether, for example, the city should raise taxes to pay for it—that could sway voters against the measure.

Brad Read, a longtime Spokane high school English teacher and Envision Spokane organizer, is hoping that voters recognize the critical importance of the Worker Bill of Rights.

“It’s about the rights of real people … taking precedence over corporations,” he says. “If we don’t start to chip away at this edifice that has been carefully crafted for over 200 years, then we’re screwed.”

This article was originally printed on InTheseTimes.org on October 26, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Simon Davis-Cohen is a New York City-based writer examining the powers of local governments and corporations in the United States.


In Historic Ruling, NLRB Says Tucson Taxi Drivers are Employees

November 3rd, 2015 | AFL-CIO Now

afl-cio-logo__140430233329[1]In a groundbreaking ruling, the National Labor Relations Board in Tucson, Ariz., has determined that more than 200 taxi drivers employed by AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab are employees and therefore eligible for union representation.

The ruling is the first of its kind for taxi drivers, following a number of cases in which they were found to be independent contractors, and is in line with new analysis used in the FedEx Home Delivery, Inc. decision that found those drivers qualified as employees. The key clarification in that ruling was a consideration of whether the individuals have an “actual entrepreneurial opportunity for loss or gain” when determining whether they are independent contractors. In both the FedEx and Tucson drivers’ cases, it was determined that the opportunities for loss or gain were not “real or feasible,” and therefore, the drivers couldn’t be classified as independent contractors.

In his Oct. 23 decision, NLRB Regional Director Cornele A. Overstreet found that the employer, AAA Transportation/Yellow Cab, exerts significant control over the drivers in a number of ways, particularly by controlling the majority of business through its dispatch system—a system that the employer can modify at will and which directly affects the drivers’ income.

The case began more than two years ago when representatives of the Tucson Hacks Association petitioned the NLRB, challenging drivers’ status as independent contractors. At that time, the NLRB ruled against the THA. After filing a Request for Review, which the NLRB granted, the drivers sought assistance from the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which represents more than 4,000 taxi drivers in Las Vegas and San Diego.

“This group of drivers did as much as they could on their own,” said OPEIU International President Michael Goodwin. “Within three months of turning to OPEIU, we’re pleased to see a favorable decision from the NLRB and are now preparing for an election.”

The regional director has ordered an election, which is expected to take place before the end of the year.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO.org on October 30, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.


Macy’s Will Make Employees Work On Thanksgiving Day

November 1st, 2015 | Jess Colarossi

think progressMacy’s announced on Thursday that its doors will be open this holiday season, starting at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving evening. Sales will continue through Black Friday and the weekend in over 700 of its retail stores nationwide.

Macy’s, along with 12 other major retailers like Target, Best Buy, and JCPenny, made employees come in to work on Thanksgiving Day in last year. Yet 18 other stores were closed.

This year, Staples, which was among those open on the holiday last year, confirmed it will not be open on Thanksgiving. Mattress Firm, REI, GameStop, and PC Richards and Son will also close their doors, allowing thousands of retail workers to celebrate the holiday at home. REI went a step further to close on Black Friday as well, and will even pay its employees for their time off, encouraging them to spend time outdoors.

Retail stores that were open last year in hopes of boosting their holiday sales didn’t increase overall holiday purchases. Transactions simply shifted from what shoppers would have spent on Black Friday to the holiday itself, rather than increasing the number of overall sales. Strong consumer and legislative backlash against the idea of stores opening on Thanksgiving could also be curbing the trend of stores opening on the holidays. Polls from last year showed that half of Americans thought opening on Thanksgiving Day was a bad idea.

This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on October 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jess Colarossi is an intern at ThinkProgress. She is currently working on her B.A. in Journalism and minoring in Environmental Studies and Publishing at Emerson College in Boston, M.A. She previously interned at Environment Massachusetts and was president of Emerson’s environmental action organization. She has written previously for a number of campus publications covering music, health, and local news. Jessica is originally from Lindenhurst, New York.



Standing In Solidarity With Low-Wage Workers At the U.S. Senate

October 31st, 2015 | Isaiah J. Poole

Isaiah J. PooleU.S. senators and their staff only have to go to the Senate cafeteria to see what is wrong with the low-wage economy, with the workers who serve their meals earning near-poverty wages paid by the subsidiary of a multinational corporation that has blocked efforts by the workers to fight for better wages and working conditions.

Their struggle was made most vivid recently by the story of Charles Gladden, a Senate cafeteria worker who was homeless, earning only about $360 a week.

On Wednesday, some of those staffers made a point of showing that they understand what those workers are struggling with and are standing with them.

Their show of solidarity took the form of a “brown bag boycott,” in which they brought their own brown-bag lunches to the cafeteria. Joining the 40 or so Senate staffers who participated in the protest was Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). He promised that the boycott would not be a one-time event.

“We will be here every Wednesday until you are treated fairly,” said Brown.

Senate cafeteria workers have been doing battle with the federal contractor for Senate food services, Restaurant Associates, for several years for a $15-an-hour wage and the right to collective bargaining. They have staged one-day strikes and protests to ratchet up the pressure.

Last week two of the cafeteria workers wrote an op-ed in The Hill newspaper to outline their struggle, including the efforts by Restaurant Associates to thwart their worker organizing efforts.

“Since we started organizing, we’ve been relentlessly harassed and intimidated by our bosses. Managers have threatened to fire us, questioned us about our organizing efforts, cut our hours, changed our schedules, increased our workloads, and ordered us not to speak with union organizers,” wrote Betrand Olotara and Luz Villatoro.

In addition to a $15 wage, “we are demanding a free and fair organizing process just like the one Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is proposing in his Workplace Democracy Act,” they wrote. “Instead of going through a sham election, we should be able to join a union by just signing a union membership card.”

People can show support for the Senate cafeteria workers by signing this petition to “help Senate cafeteria workers form a union to bargain for a living wage.”

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on October 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.


The Great Escape, Lawsuit Edition

October 29th, 2015 | The Pop Tort

pop tortThis week, Sprint agreed to pay nearly $3 million in government fines after being caught by the Federal Trade Commission for cheating and deceiving people with low credit scores.  As the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection explained, “Sprint failed to give many consumers required information about why they were placed in a more costly program, and when they did, the notice often came too late for consumers to choose another mobile carrier.…. Companies must follow the law when it comes to the way they use consumer credit reports and scores.”

Yes they must, and it’s wonderful to see the FTC on the job. But when consumers are cheated because of illegal corporate practices, neither government regulators nor law enforcers (like attorneys general) can usually do much to recover compensation for the victims. As we noted pretty recently in a post about the VW emissions scandal, class actions are the only realistic way to do that. But since the Supreme Court let them, corporations have been inserting clauses into contracts that ban class actions and force individuals to resolve disputes in corporate-controlled, secretive arbitration systems. Forced arbitration is bad enough. But without being able to join with others in a class action lawsuit, most claims simply disappear, allowing corporate wrongdoers to completely escape any legal accountability.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken the bold step of moving towards a rule to ban such clauses in consumer financial “contracts.” We hope they hurry because the damage caused by these clauses grows every day.

Today, the Center for Justice & Democracy released a new, updated fact sheet listing nearly 50 important cases that were dismissed because of forced arbitration clauses and class-action bans. These tossed cases were brought by customers ripped-off by automobile dealers, banks, credit card companies, phone companies, payday lenders and for-profit colleges (to name a few). They involve employees suffering from discrimination and wage and hour abuse. And we know there are many more cases out there.

Notably, three cases were brought by customers defrauded by Sprint and, like the rest, were thrown out of court, leaving cheated customers with nothing.

This blog originally appeared at ThePopTort.com on October 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.


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