Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Low-wage industry tries to fearmonger on overtime pay, fails

June 17th, 2015 | Laura Clawson

Laura ClawsonThe Obama administration will soon unveil its new overtime pay rules, which will mean that millions of additional workers will get overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. Many low-wage employers are obviously upset about this—they’ve been using the weak overtime rules to make salaried employees work more than 40 hours a week for no extra pay, and they like it that way. Industry groups have been trying to make the case for keeping the overtime eligibility level low—it’s currently less than $24,000 a year—but the Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey shows just how weak those arguments are, taking a National Retail Federation report to the woodshed:

If the threshold is raised to $42,000, the NRF predicts significant changes in retail employment: while some employers will raise salaries for employees near the threshold to guarantee that they continue to be excluded from overtime protection, many salaried employees (some of whom work 60-70 hours a week for no extra pay) will have their hours reduced and as a result, 76,000 new jobs will be created averaging 30 hours per week. Altogether, half of the retail workforce that is currently excluded from coverage will be guaranteed coverage by the law’s overtime protections. That all sounds pretty good to me.The NRF’s projections are intended to be critical of the Labor Department’s rules update, but I have a hard time seeing why it would be a bad thing to create 76,000 new retail jobs, given that 8.6 million Americans are currently unemployed. Moreover, if I were a poorly paid bookkeeper or clerk in a department store, working 60 hours a week and getting paid no more than if I worked 40 hours, I’d be happy to see my hours cut and the extra work shifted to hourly employees.

Eisenbrey also points out that the NRF report suggests that the lobby group doesn’t think its members are following existing law: One of the requirements to exempt workers from overtime eligibility is that a worker have a managerial role, but the NRF report lists many traditionally non-managerial jobs such as bookkeepers, clerks, and secretaries as exempt from overtime.

Raises for some, fewer hours of work for others, and job creation. Gosh, those are some terrifying predictions for changes in overtime rules.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on June 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a Labor editor since 2011.

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The List of the Fight for $15’s Victories—Tangible and Intangible—Is Getting Longer

June 16th, 2015 | David Moberg

 

David MobergFast food workers and their allies in New York City, supported by protestors elsewhere around the country, flooded public hearings in New York today with the message that they deserve at least $15 an hour. They testified before a wage board appointed at the behest of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to determine standards for fast food workers in the state.

The board’s work is taking place as a widening movement to raise minimum wages for the growing share of Americans in ill-paid jobs is both raising expectations and winning concrete victories. But the Fight for $15 campaign has also spurred action by many groups of low-wage workers, from home care aides to university adjunct teachers. And it is generating a complex new current within the broader labor movement that goes far beyond even their ambitious wage goals.

The Los Angeles city council’s vote last month to raise the minimum wage in the nation’s second largest city to $15 an hour by 2010 was the latest—but almost certainly not the last—in a series of major local victories by low-wage workers and their advocates that started last year in SeaTac, Washington. The movement then won victories in Seattle, San Francisco and other local jurisdictions. Popular movements in other cities, such as St. Louis and Kansas City, are close to pressuring local legislators to set a minimum wage of $15 an hour.

Some employers, most recently Chipotle, are apparently reading the writing on the wall and improving pay, benefits and work rules (though generally offering much less than workers want).

In Los Angeles, more than 40 percent of its workforce, which has a high proportion of service workers, earn near California’s current state minimum wage of $9 an hour (or less for some tipped employees and for victims of employers’ wage theft, estimated in Los Angeles as afflicting nearly one-fifth of the low-wage workforce).

They also rely heavily on public assistance programs to survive. Such aid effectively amounts to taxpayer subsidies of nearly $7 billion a year across the country to companies like McDonald’s to support the substandard wages of non-managerial fast food workers in the U.S., according to the University of California at Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.

The contemporary movement to “raise the wage” has roots that are often run deep and wide—for example, in Los Angeles, traditional unions, worker centers and other non-union worker organizations, non-profit research and advocacy groups, faith organizations, immigrant and civil rights groups and dozens of other allies are participating in the movement. Last year, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti advocated raising the minimum to $13.25, but he missed the wave of public opinion that swept away his by then passé proposal. In a poll of Los Angeles residents, 69 percent favored a strong package of workplace improvements, including a minimum of $15.25 an hour.

In Los Angeles, more than 100 groups formed the Raise the Wage coalition. Many of them had been involved in living wage battles or other campaigns to raise wages for specific groups of workers, such as hotel employees or people working at the publicly-subsidized LAX airport, or to raise awareness of how many employers cheated their employees.  As a result of their work, the new law covers every worker and establishes an enforcement agency for the first time.

The coalition drew on studies of the economics of raising the minimum from the Berkeley Center, the Economic Policy Institute and the non-governmental think tank the Economic Roundtable (collaborating with two UCLA research institutes) that promised little or no loss of jobs, an economic shot in the arm (especially in poor areas) and a boost in economic well-being for more than 40 percent of Angelenos.

The minimum wage campaign even drew support from a few small business people. Kevin Litwin, chief operating officer of Joe’s Auto Parks (with 20,000 parking spaces in downtown Los Angeles), was told by his CEO not to fight the wage increase but instead investigate what happened to the company’s branch in Seattle after the local minimum wage rose to $15 an hour. Litwin discovered that revenue increased, workers were more productive, turnover declined, and, he said, “the whole thing seemed to work for us in Seattle. Why not LA? We think this is just good to do, and it was also good for our industry.”

The final legislation rejected requests for exemptions from some businesses, such as the restaurant industry’s standard plea for sub-minimum wages for tipped employees, as well as a labor movement proposal that workers under collective bargaining agreements not be covered.  Business critics pounced on what they claimed was labor hypocrisy and an effort to entice employers to accept unions in order to benefit from the exemption.

But Kent Wong, director of the UCLA Labor Center, said, “The concern of labor is for unionized employees’ varying benefits—sick pay, pensions—with an overall package significantly higher than the minimum wage. It was an attempt to respect existing collective bargaining agreements.” The proposed revision may be taken up later, but many council members seemed unsympathetic to the union argument, even though such exemptions are common in local minimum wage laws.

Even if the Fight for $15 was only one Raise the Wage member among many, the broader movement owes much to the fast food fighters. Starting with a one-day strike action two and one-half year ago by several hundred fast food workers in New York City, the organization has spread throughout the country and to other occupations, though the fast food industry is its priority.

Fight for $15 has contributed to the low-wage worker movement its goals—which at first, seemed to be a far stretch—of at least $15 an hour and the right to join a union without harassment. Its grassroots dynamism and direct action tactics have inspired a variety of ill-paid workers but posed a formidable  threat to its foes, most immediately McDonald’s Corporation, the world’s third largest private employer.

“Once you cut the head off the snake, it all falls in place,” says New York City McDonald’s worker and volunteer organizer Jorel Ware. “McDonald’s is the snake.”

Last weekend more than 1,300 Fight for $15 representatives gathered in Detroit for their second annual convention, and judging from their major resolution—and from the keynote speech by Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, their financial and organizational backer—the organization is counting on the New York wage board determination to be good enough to become the standard for the industry.

“We believe New Yorkers are leading the way to a new standard for fast-food workers and our families across the country,” the resolution reads (and Henry said that “New York is on the verge of setting a new standard that will change how we think about wages in this country”).

Despite the overwhelming emphasis on higher pay, the Fight for $15 has always been a fight for a union as well. Yet increasingly leaders at all levels are focusing on the need for a union as well as for a minimum wage raise. But Kendall Fells, national organizing director of Fight for $15, acknowledges that the union cannot organize store by store, but it can keep pressure on the company as a whole until there’s an agreement about how to proceed with  recognition.

“The problem is the process of organizing is too small and Fight for $15 is too big,” he says, but there’s the possibility of organizing all of the stores at once, adding community pressure from clergy, allies and other unions to the pressure, including additional legal action on the company’s labor law abuse.

Meanwhile, even without official recognition of their status, the workers can bring some changes by a variety of challenges at work, in the courts, and before the National Labor Relations Board.  “In these workers’ minds, they already have a union because they’re sticking together and bringing change,” Fells says.

Many workers are not only fighting for the $15 an hour and a union that first drew them to the campaign. They’re fighting for a better world. They see their actions as re-directing the course of history, as building a future for their children and grandchildren, and as helping workers not only in other fast food outlets but also in many other jobs and industries. They are exercising newly discovered rights as citizens of the United States and even enjoy a sense of being linked to workers in other countries. In these ways, they have already taken steps beyond developing a simple trade union mentality towards a consciousness of class that is as much ethical and political as economic.

“Our goal is a living wage when we say $15 and a union,” says Ware, an early supporter of Fight for $15. “That’s why we say $15 and a union. It looks like we’ve got the $15 but it may be a long fight for a union.”

But he notes that next year is an election year, which may open possibilities. Indeed, Hillary Clinton called into the convention saying that she wanted to be the “champion” of the organization and its members. Her move may have been simply political positioning, but it at least indicates that some Democrats may feel momentarily comfortable supporting a labor struggle.

Ware sees their demands as “good for the economy,” since their victories will likely encourage other companies to pay a living wage. And the campaign is good for him, helping him do something he had always wanted but did not know how to do.  “I never thought I’d be doing this,” he said. “I always wanted to help people, but I didn’t know how.”

At his second Fight for $15 convention, Antione Hearon, 22, was impressed by how much the movement had grown in a year, spreading across the country and even around the world. Although he hopes to be able to afford to return to community college, he wants to know that McDonald’s will pay a living wage if he has to rely on it.  But he’s in it for more than himself.

“My family [of 14 children] has been without lights, gas, water. At times we didn’t eat,” he said. “I need the money for myself and my family. I’m doing this not just for myself but for the whole country. I didn’t know anything about unions [before joining the campaign]. I didn’t think fast food workers could have a union. … It shocked me: this is a real thing. … Then there’s the unity aspect of this: there are people who I could go to personally, who have my back. I like that unity.”

At the convention, Connie Bennett, 57, an eight-year veteran at McDonald’s, found herself swapping ideas with other workers about how to recruit people—especially young workers—to the Fight for $15, as well as setting up “pen pal” ties with workers in other cities. She realizes some of them feel they need the job badly and are afraid of losing it, but she explains to them that organizing, even striking, “that’s our freedom, and that’s our right as citizens. I tell them that this is not only their fight but a fight for their children and grandchildren.”

She talks up the union at her bus stop and when she stops by the mid-morning daily coffee club of elderly customers. That paid off when workers at her Chicago McDonald’s went out on strike. The coffee club members joined in. “I can’t put into words how that support made me feel,” she said.

Fifteen dollars an hour might mean that she could take a bus to work all the time, not just half the time. More important, she might be able to visit four grandchildren she has never seen. But the experience of solidarity, of being part of a union, is a reward in itself.

“I believe very much in unions,” she said. “If this is a sign of what a union means, I believe a union will bring the $15 to us. I explain to the members that a union is a big part of what they need. A union will give them freedom of speech, and you’re the ones who make the decisions.”

Even without a formal union or a pay raise, the fighting fast food workers have become winners. They’ve won a new sense of their rights and power and a new view of how they fit in the world. And that’s worth at least as much in its own way as the pay raise they need and deserve.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on June 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is David Moberg. 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 [email protected]

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West Coast Truckers Poised to Strike, Say They’re Owed Nearly $1 Billion in Stolen Wages

June 15th, 2015 | Mario Vasquez

Mario VasquezLess than two months after participating in a strike against trucking companies allegedly committing wage theft at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a supermajority of drivers at Intermodal Bridge Transport (IBT) are poised to strike in order to pressure IBT into correcting their alleged misclassification as independent contractors.

IBT, which moves merchandise for Sony, Toyota, General Electric, Target and JC Penney, among others, is a subsidiary of the Chinese Government-owned COSCO Logistics Americas network and employes 88 drivers, according to the union supporting driver efforts, Teamsters Local 848.

The drivers contest that their status as independent contractors is wrong and creates wage theft that amounts to almost $1 billion yearly in California alone, according to estimates by local allies.

Although IBT provides the vehicle that truckers drive (which is standard in an employer-employee relationship), IBT has a leasing arrangement with the drivers to pass along the costs of business on to them. “They deduct reparations, they deduct diesel fuel, they deduct anything they see convenient from the paycheck,” explains Humberto Canales of a fellow trucking company, XPO Logistics.

Their alleged misclassification as independent contractors makes the truckers ineligible for not only the much-publicized recent $15 minimum wage ordinance in Los Angeles, but also for unionization.

On June 5, IBT truckers delivered a petition signed by 59 drivers to executives at IBT, COSCO and their Fortune 500 clients at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, in order to inform management that they had chosen Teamsters Local 848 as their collective bargaining representative. The drivers hope that the letter will stimulate movement on re-classification, and are threatening to strike if the outcome is not in their favor.

“We will fight for as long as it takes and are even ready to go on strike again. But all of that disruption and expense can be avoided if the company simply chooses to do the right thing and recognize our rights as employees and right to become members of the Union,” says IBT driver Hector Flores.

Barb Maynard, an official at Teamsters Local 848, points to April’s trucker strike as a catalyst for the pro-union mood that culminated with the June 5 letter, saying that while only 8 drivers went on strike on the first day, by week’s end that number grew to 57. “They went out on strike, and the strike grew—their numbers kept growing. … They were organizing themselves in the middle of the strike. It was really incredible,” Maynard tells In These Times.

Teamsters Local 848 says that IBT drivers were particularly emboldened by the unionization of truckers at Shippers Transport Express, whose previous legal challenges had successfully compelled the trucking company into reclassification of their workers. COSCO and SSA Marine, the respective parent companies of IBT and Shippers, together own and operate Pacific Container Terminals, a 256-acre marine terminal at the Port of Long Beach. Drivers at both companies were close enough to observe the benefits of full employment status and collective bargaining, workers say.

“Drivers at Shippers Transport Express, who were converted to employees in January and soon thereafter became Teamsters, had to fight through the courts to get their rights. We are hoping to avoid that long and expensive legal process because we know that we are misclassified at IBT—just as they were at Shippers,” Flores says.

IBT truckers are also currently involved in class action and individual lawsuits alleging wage theft and misclassification. The union expects this litigation to be ruled in favor of the truckers.

“[All driver-trucking company litigation] is the same. The working circumstances are all the same—exactly how these companies set up their leases…what deductions they make,” Maynard says. “There’s no reason to believe that, if these drivers do have to take their cases all the way through the court system, which takes years, that the outcome would be any different than what it’s been at Shippers or at any place else.”

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has recently spoken out against misclassification and related wage theft. “The misclassification of port truck drivers is not the gripe of a few drivers but a battle cry of a systemic problem that must be addressed,” Garcetti said at a May press conference, while celebrating the creation of a new 100%-employee-driver trucking company called Eco Flow.

The $15 minimum wage ordinance in Los Angeles also includes funding for a new Wage Enforcement Division that would have five investigators to crack down on wage theft locally. According to a March 2015 study published by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, San Francisco has the same number of investigators in its own wage enforcement team, but because the city has a lower concentration of low-wage workers than Los Angeles, investigators there cover 20,000 low wage workers each. The study says that Los Angeles’s Wage Enforcement Division would require 25 investigators to reach such an average of 20,000 per investigator.

As progressives across the country celebrate the passage of yet another successful $15 minimum wage campaign, and conservatives damn the unions who wish to collectively bargaining for low-wage earners, IBT truckers will eye a possible strike in order to simply qualify for a minimum wage at all.

According to Maynard, IBT truckers “are not going to sit around and wait for either mayor to take action. … [Drivers] are going to continue to fight back. Every day that they are misclassified is another day that their wages are being stolen,” she says.

This blog was originally posted on In These Times on June 12, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Mario Vasquez. Mario Vasquez is a writer from Santa Barbara, California. You can reach him at [email protected]

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This Restaurant Pays A $15 Hourly Wage With Health Insurance, A Retirement Plan And Paid Leave

June 15th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertJen Piallat, the owner of Zazie in San Francisco, knows what it’s like to work in the American restaurant industry. “I worked on the restaurant floor for 30 years before I owned my own,” she said. “I didn’t have savings or health insurance until I was 35.”

The story is very different for her employees today. She had already offered them 401(k) plans with a match, fully funded health and dental insurance, and paid sick leave. And now she’s gone even further, getting rid of tips in favor of increasing pay and offering even more benefits.

At the beginning of the month, the restaurant increased its prices across the board by about 20 percent. She noted some restaurants that have done away with tips have added a mandatory service charge at the bottom of the check instead. “I didn’t want to do that,” she said. “I like the all-inclusive model…of everything, not just service, not just a tip, it’s also full benefits.”

Her servers’ wages, which were already about $15 an hour, will now raise by 2 to 3 percent. But those who work in the “back of the house” in the kitchen or busing tables will get at least a 30 percent increase. Servers will also get a share of profits, receiving 11 percent of their individual sales every day on top of their wages.

And while she offered paid family leave on an informal basis, she said she’s now added it officially to the books. “We have basically full benefits,” she said.

She anticipates the changes will make a big difference for her employees. “Housing is so expensive here,” she noted. Housing costs in San Francisco are up 6 percent over the last year and have risen in some neighborhoods by 50 percent over the last decade. Three years ago, she says, all of her staff lived in San Francisco proper, but now at least a third live outside the city. She also noted that most restaurant workers have no savings, just as she didn’t before opening her own up. But she says that combined, her employees have over $1 million in their 401(k) plans.

Her employees are enthusiastic about the changes. “One of my servers who had been reticent about it said, ‘Can I hug you, I feel great about it,’” she said. After the first day without tips, servers realized that they had more time freed up because they didn’t have to keep track of credit card slips and enter their tips into the computer system. And they’re able to treat customers better as well. One served a table of people with French accents, notorious for low tips given that tipping isn’t customary in Europe, but didn’t feel the pressure to serve other tables better because she might get a better tip. “She said it’s so nice to be totally welcoming and friendly to them and not have to have any concern,” Palliat said.

There is a chance she’ll end up losing money in the new system. “I’m five percent concerned,” she said. She’ll also have to pay more in taxes because what servers used to make in tips, which doesn’t get reported, will now be reported income. But she says it’s still worth it. “I don’t have a problem making a little less to even things out, make it a little more equitable,” she said. Plus the restaurant might benefit from slightly less business: she noted that there’s a consistent two-hour wait on weekends, which she’d like to bring down and might achieve it through people being turned off by higher prices.

She’s going to keep a close eye on profits. But, she said, “I’m definitely not going to ever decrease [the staff’s] percentage… If in six months our profit level has bottomed out, we’ll just have to increase prices.”

By doing away with tips in favor of a living wage, Palliat joins a movement of sorts. It began in high-end restaurants in New York and on the West Coast, but now has spread to lower tier restaurants in Philadelphia, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, St. Paul, Minnesota, and Washington, D.C. While Americans think that our system is a way to reward good service, research has found that in reality tips vary little based on a customer’s experience. Instead, they tend to change more based on appearance and race.

Being compensated through tips can also mean financial hardship for a lot of servers. It means they can be paid a lower minimum wage — the federal tipped minimum wage is just $2.13 an hour. While restaurant owners are supposed to make up the difference if tips don’t bring pay up to at least $7.25 an hour, many don’t. So people who work for tips end up twice as likely to live in poverty.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 11, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 

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“Ban the Box” Continues to Take Off

June 11th, 2015 | Erik Idoni

erik idoni

Yesterday, June 10, 2015, the National Employment Law Project and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights called on President Obama to “Ban the Box” and give everyone a fair chance to get a job by pushing background checks to later in the hiring process and banning the check-box on job applications asking if a person has a criminal record. That was the latest step in the “Ban the Box” campaign that on June 1 saw Ohio become the 17th state to “Ban the Box”, and expects to see Oregon join them soon.

An estimated 68 million Americans have a criminal record, about one in four and more than the total population of France. On top of that, only around half of the FBI’s records are up-to-date, meaning an arrest without a conviction can still negatively impact employment chances due to an incorrect record. Not only do 92% of employers run background checks, but more than 800 occupations ban felons via the law or licensing rules. Furthermore, only 40% of employers interviewed said they would “definitely” or “probably” hire someone with a criminal record. Furthermore, the inability of ex-felons and formerly imprisoned Americans to get a job is costing the economy an estimated $57 to $65 billion per year in lost output.

The “Ban the Box” campaign’s purpose is to give people with criminal records a fair chance at getting a job. By eliminating background checks until later in the process, every person would have the chance to demonstrate their qualification without the shadow of a criminal record hanging over them. This can be a serious help to people with criminal records as 76% of hiring discrimination takes place when reviewing a job application.

The campaign took its first major step back in 1998 when Hawaii became the first state to pass a “Ban the Box” law. However, the term “Ban the Box” wasn’t coined until All of Us or None started using it in the early 2000s. Since then, “Ban the Box” has taken off, with four states passing “Ban the Box” laws already in 2015. While most states’ “Ban the Box” laws only apply to public employers, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, along with cities like Baltimore, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., have extended the laws to private employers.

These policies have been effective as well. After Minneapolis “Banned the Box” over half of applicants with convictions were hired, 10% of the people hired by the City of Atlanta between March and October of 2013 had records, and the number of people in Durham County, North Carolina with criminal records that were recommended for hire nearly tripled in the two years since they “Banned the Box”. Employers don’t regret these decisions either as a study by Evolv found that employees with criminal records end up being 1% to 1.5% more productive than those without criminal records.

There are many ways for people who want to help “Ban the Box” to get involved. The National Employment Law Project has plenty of information on the campaign as well as campaign strategies, model policies, and much more. People can also visit the “Ban the Box” campaign website to take the pledge, get information on the campaign, and find tools for a successful campaign. Similarly, All of Us or None has their own toolkit for people to use on their campaign as they try to make Ohio the 17th state out of 50 to “Ban the Box”.

In the interest of both strengthening the economy and giving more qualified individuals a fair chance at getting jobs, we here at Workplace Fairness hope to see “Ban the Box” continue to thrive.

About the Author: The author’s name is Erik Idoni. Erik Idoni is a student at the George Mason University School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.

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Today is Take Action Day for Federal Fair-Chance Hiring!

June 10th, 2015 | Paula Brantner

Workplace Fairness is on the look out for important advancements in employee rights. That’s why we want our readers to take note of Fair-Chance Hiring Take Action Day. Check back here tomorrow morning for more information on Ban the Box on our blog, Today’s Workplace!

For now, here’s what you can do to get  from information sent to us by NELP:banthebox banner

Join NELP and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights today for a National Day of Action calling on President Obama to give people with records a fair chance at employment with federal agencies and contractors — because a mistake from the past shouldn’t be a life sentence to joblessness.

1. SEND A TWEET URGING PRESIDENT OBAMA TO TAKE ACTION:

It’s time for the U.S. to adopt a federal #FairChance hiring policy! Tell @POTUS to #BantheBox pic.twitter.com/73sQk8oixo
.@POTUS can help open up employment opportunities for qualified job-seekers with records #BanTheBox #FairChance pic.twitter.com/73sQk8oixo
#FairChance reforms restore hope & opportunity to qualified job-seekers with an arrest or conviction record. @POTUS, it’s time to #BanTheBox

2. SIGN A LETTER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT:

Tell him it’s time for the White House to lead the way in adopting fair-chance hiring practices. People should be judged on their skills and qualifications, not solely on a past mistake.

Did you know?

Seventeen states and more than 100 cities and counties have already adopted fair-chance hiring policies for people with records. So too have big companies such as Walmart, Home Depot, Target, and even Koch Industries.  If they can do it, why can’t our federal government?
Visit NELP’s Fair Chance campaign page for more info.

Thank you for your support!

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Big Wins For The People Who Clean Our Homes And Care For Our Children

June 10th, 2015 | Bryce Covert

Bryce CovertLast week, domestic workers — those who care for children and clean inside people’s homes — won two surprise victories securing more rights in Connecticut and Oregon.

Oregon has considered a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights for many years, but then last week it gained traction. “At the last minute, this bill suddenly got the attention of a critical mass of legislators,” said Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. The law would mean that all nannies, house cleaners, and housekeepers who work in people’s homes would have a right to three days off a year, overtime pay for working more than 40 hours a week (or 44 if they live in an employer’s home), meal and rest breaks, 24 consecutive hours of rest each week or eight hours of rest every 24 hours for live-in employees, uninterrupted sleep and the right to cook food for those who live in their employers’ homes, and protections against harassment and discrimination.

Connecticut’s bill is a good deal narrower. It would change the state’s anti-discrimination and harassment statutes so that they include domestic workers, who are currently excluded. It will only apply to employers with three or more workers, however, which will exclude many households that only have one nanny or housekeeper. But as Poo pointed out, the state has “a density of wealthy employers who employ more than one domestic worker in their homes.”

And the changes can still have a big impact. “We believe a very high percentage of workers in Connecticut will benefit from this,” said Natalicia Tracy, executive director of the Brazilian Worker Center. Meanwhile, the symbolic significance is important. “It’s removing exclusions that are over 70 years old, it is creating changes in laws, but also showing it’s possible to change culture,” she said.

It’s also the first step in what organizers in the state hope will be a two-part process. Last year, the state convened a task force to study domestic workers’ rights in the state. The task force will release a report on its findings in October. At that point, Tracy, a member of the task force herself, says her group will use the recommendations to push for a full bill of rights that includes anti-relation provisions, parental leave and other benefits, and anti-trafficking measures. “I firmly believe that we’re going to be in excellent shape next year when it comes time to submit a bill and to have support on the bill,” she said.

It’s unclear whether the governors in each state will sign the bills into law, although advocates told ThinkProgress they believe both will. A spokesperson for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) said, “The Governor will review the bill once it reaches her desk,” and a spokesperson for Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy’s (D) office said they are reviewing its bill.

Four states have already passed their own versions of Domestic Workers Bills of Rights: the first was New York, followed by California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts.

Beyond Connecticut and Oregon, Illinois could be another state to join the mix and pass a bill of rights. “We finally got a breakthrough last week with the House passing the bill, including some bipartisan support,” Poo noted. “We are now kind of all hands on deck trying to move through the Senate.”

Without the extra protections, domestic workers remain vulnerable to being paid poorly and mistreated. In a 2012 survey of more than 2,000 domestic workers across the country, a quarter were paid less than minimum wage and about half made an hourly wage that wasn’t enough to support their families. That left 20 percent to go without food because they couldn’t afford to buy any. Meanwhile, more than a third said they worked long hours without breaks but 85 percent didn’t get any overtime pay. But they have little recourse if they don’t like their working conditions: 91 percent who had problems didn’t complain for fear of risking their jobs, while among those who were actually fired, nearly a quarter was because they spoke up.

Poo’s group also isn’t settling for the basic standards required in the states that have passed bills of rights. They also want to see domestic workers get a living wage and paid time off. “We haven’t been successful in getting those pieces into many of the bills around the country,” she noted. But ever since they passed, her group has been focused on “using the minimum standards as a jumping off point,” she said, to get employers to go beyond the minimum.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 10, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

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Surprise! Zara, The Brand That Brought You Swastika-Stamped Handbags, Faces $40 Million Anti-Semitism Lawsuit

June 9th, 2015 | Jessica Goldstein

Jessica_GoldsteinZara, the fast-fashion retailer that brought you a children’s t-shirt that looks like a concentration camp uniform and a handbag decorated with swastikas, is facing a $40 million discrimination lawsuit. Three employees are alleging nine causes of action: according to Women’s Wear Daily, the lawsuit makes “claims on racial discrimination, in particular anti-Semitism. It is also alleging pay discrimination and retaliation.”

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday by Zara’s former general counsel, Ian Jack Miller, and lists the U.S. country manager, and Zara USA’s director of expansion for North and South American, Moises Costas Rodriguez, as the other defendants. Miller started working at Zara in January 2008 and was fired in March of this year.

Miller is Jewish and alleges the discrimination he experienced was particularly harsh as a result. Though upper management didn’t know about Miller’s faith until he’d been at Zara for five years, they routinely called Jewish landlords and real estate developers with whom they worked “los judios” (Spanish for “the Jews”), whined that it was trying to work with “those people,” and generally mocked them. Once Miller’s religion came to light, he found himself cut out of crucial meetings and email chains; his annual pay raises were cut from over 15 percent to three percent.

Miller alleges that employees are favored if they are “straight, Spanish and Christian.” Spanish employees allegedly enjoyed greater job security and higher pay raises, he claims. He also alleges that he was fired the day after his legal counsel sent a letter to Zara detailing his complaints.

From Fashionista:

The lawsuits claims are specific, lewd and no doubt embarrassing to many current and former employees. The lawsuit describes a corporate culture where visits to prostitutes are a normal part of business trips and a heterosexual lifestyle is endorsed. Miller says that former Zara USA CEO Moises Costas Rodriguez bragged about the size of his penis and having sexual relations with five female subordinates, including a director of human resources, and that he sent an email to Miller highlighting language that marriage is an institution “sanctified between a man and a woman.” The suit claims that another Zara executive, Francesc Fernandez Claramunt, sent Miller’s partner, Michael Mayberry, a pornographic image of an erect and tattooed penis and that Fernandez had been trying to persuade Miller to get such a tattoo.

It wasn’t just Miller who was the alleged target of Zara’s prejudice: emails that regularly circulated among senior management reportedly contained pictures of Michelle and Barack Obama, the former serving fried chicken, the latter on an Aunt Jemima box shining shoes and in a Ku Klux Klan hood holding a Confederate flag.

 

In response to the lawsuit, a Zara representative told WWD, “We do not tolerate any behavior that is discriminatory or disrespectful, but value each individual’s contributions to our dynamic organization.”

 

Revelations like this are always a bit shocking, not because it’s so stunning that someone could still harbor such antiquated prejudices in a modern time, but really that someone could be stupid enough to document them in a work email. As no one at Zara would be encouraged to say, dayenu.

 

And yet, for the consumer paying attention to Zara’s practices — and really, the practices of all these fast fashion retailers — there is no real reason to be taken aback by this news. This is a store that not only has stocked its shelves with easily identifiable signifiers of the Holocaust (twice!) but has also shilled blackface necklaces.

So Zara’s corporate culture shouldn’t be all that shocking, just like there is nothing particularly jaw-dropping about Abercrombie & Fitch, purveyor of all things white, blonde and preppy, would be found guilty of religious discrimination against a potential employee who wore a hijab at her job interview; just like there is nothing especially mind-blowing about Urban Outfitters, which navigates cultural landmines with all the grace of a drunk hipster, would sell a “Vintage Kent State Sweatshirt” that appears to be splattered with blood. We’ve reached a point where shopping at any of these places is, at best, a passive acceptance of the values they openly, eagerly uphold.

 

Still, would-be responsible shoppers are in a bind: it is practically impossible to know that you’re buying clothing that is not only inoffensive on its face (can’t really say enough times how easy it is to make sure Nazi regalia isn’t all over your fine fake-leather goods) but ethical in its supply chain. Stores like Forever 21, H&M and Topshop keep prices low by exploiting and endangering the lives of impoverished people, mostly women, in developing countries. Even Patagonia, probably the most high-profile advocate in the retail space for fair labor practices, can’t weed human trafficking out of its factories.

One more thing to consider: Zara founder Armancio Ortega is the second-richest man on Earth. He has a net work of $71.5 billion.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jessica Goldstein. Jessica Goldstein is the Culture Editor for ThinkProgress. She also writes recaps for Vulture, New York Magazine’s culture blog. Before coming to ThinkProgress, Jessica was a feature writer and theater columnist at the Washington Post. Jessica holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the University of Pennsylvania. While at Penn, she wrote for Seventeen and Her Campus. Jessica is originally from New Jersey.

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St. Louis Mayor Joins the Fight for $15

June 8th, 2015 | Emily Foster

Emily-Foster_avatarSt. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is announcing today a bill that will raise the city’s minimum wage to a living wage of $15 an hour for those who work for the city’s larger employers.

The plan would steadily raise wages by $1.25 an hour per year until 2020. However, small businesses that gross less than $500,000 annually or have fewer than 15 employees would be exempt.

The state’s second-largest city is on its way to join others across the nation, such as Los Angeles and the District of Columbia, that have set their wages higher than the federal minimum wage. The federal minimum wage stands at a mere $7.25 – not nearly enough for anyone to live on.

Via his personal Twitter account, the mayor addressed the need for the plan: “The discussion about a local increase of a minimum wage has been positive: how we best make this work. Read the bill. The legislative process is just beginning. There is opportunity to address concerns. Bottom line, though: the city and the region must make it possible for full-time workers to live, raise families.”

The city’s clock is ticking, however. Missouri’s Republican-led state legislature passed a bill last month that prohibits cities from adopting various local ordinances, including increases in the minimum wage. Cities must raise their wages by August 28, before the bill takes effect.

Missouri’s Republicans must be threatened by the evidence that a living wage is overdue and necessary. According to the Economic Policy Institute and the National Employment Law Project, “the minimum wage in 2014 was 24 percent below its 1968 level despite the fact that U.S. productivity more than doubled over that period.”

These same Republicans are also threatened by the legislative support raising wages has gained. In fact, 29 states and the District of Columbia, as well as 21 cities and counties, have recently set their minimum wages above the “inadequate federal rate of $7.25,” according to the same EPI and NELP report.

One of the states trying to also get on board is New York. Last month, New York governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a wage increase for fast-food workers in the state.

In his New York Times opinion piece, Cuomo detailed how in fact raising wages boosts our economy. “More than 600 economists, including seven Nobel Prize laureates, have affirmed the growing consensus that raising wages for the lowest-paid workers doesn’t hurt the economy. In fact, by increasing consumer spending and creating jobs, it helps the economy. Studies have shown that every dollar increase for a minimum-wage worker results in $2,800 in new consumer spending by household,” wrote Cuomo.

According to the National Employment Law Project, fast-food employment in the state has grown “57 percent between the years 2000 and 2014. Private sector jobs overall grew 7 percent during the same period.” In New York City, fast-food employment” grew even faster—at the rate of 87 percent, to almost double its level 15 years ago.”

Raising the minimum wage is common sense if we want to have a thriving middle class and a strengthened economy. EPI and NELP have both outlined who will benefit from a wage increase – in short, over 35 million Americans.

Mayor [Slay] stands behind his plan with confidence. “Make no mistake about it. We are raising the minimum in STL. There are arguments against a minimum wage and a higher minimum. They are not as good as the arguments in favor,” he said.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on June 8, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Emily Foster. Emily Foster is a regular contributor to Our Future.

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After Ruling That McDonald’s Can’t Pay Workers In Bank Cards, The Bank Pays Up

June 5th, 2015 | Alan Pyke

AlanPyke_108x108Paying employees through prepaid debit cards that incur fees when workers try to withdraw their cash is illegal in Pennsylvania, a judge ruled Tuesday. The lawsuit targeting a McDonald’s franchisee in the eastern-central part of the state has already prompted a powerful Wall Street bank to voluntarily give money back, a lawyer for the plaintiffs told ThinkProgress on Wednesday.

The case began in 2013 after a woman named Natalie Gunshannon sued a couple who own and operate multiple McDonald’s franchises in the state. The owners, Carol and Albert Mueller, had been using payroll debit cards provided by JP Morgan Chase rather than traditional paychecks or direct deposit payroll systems. After Gunshannon filed suit, the couple began offering direct deposit and traditional checks as alternatives to the payroll cards, which had previously been workers’ only option.

Gunshannon and other workers faced a $1.50 charge every time they used an ATM to access their wages, and a $5 charge for withdrawing the money over the counter at a cash register. Where a worker who misplaced a standard paycheck would be able to get a replacement check, the JP Morgan Chase prepaid cards charged a $15 replacement fee if lost or stolen. Paying bills online with the card meant spending an additional 75 cents on bank fees, and merely checking the balance of a card triggered a $1 fee.

The Muellers’ hourly workers were charged such fees nearly 47,000 separate times from the fall of 2010 to the summer of 2014, according to an expert witness in the case. That works out to roughly 20 separate fees per person in the class over a 45-month period.

Store managers, meanwhile, were offered direct deposit forms to receive their pay without facing the card fees.

When Gunshannon’s claim gained class action status earlier this year, all 2,380 hourly workers at the Muellers’ chain were able to join the case. Each of those workers would be entitled to a $500 damages payment plus the reimbursement of all the fees they were charged by the payroll cards, should the Muellers’ appeal of Tuesday’s ruling ultimately fail. In that case, the couple would have to pay out roughly $1.2 million in damages, unless they are able to strike a settlement with the workers’ attorneys.

Because the class action decision raised the stakes so significantly, that May ruling was in some ways a bigger deal than Tuesday’s finding that the Muellers had broken the law. The class status ruling in May certainly got Chase’s attention, plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Cefalo told ThinkProgress.

“Our lawfirm became bombarded with telephone calls. All of the class members were getting a form letter from Chase saying, we have decided to refund you all of the fees you have paid Chase,” Cefalo said. “We were shocked.” The voluntary payments from Chase ranged from as little as a penny to as high as $148, the attorney said. A call to the bank’s press office about the payments was not immediately returned.

The checks do little to shield the Muellers from the potentially backbreaking damages payments mandates by Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law. And while the money is nice, Cefalo said, it doesn’t erase what the McDonald’s franchisees and Chase did to his clients.

“Say I come up to you and I have an armed robbery, and then I say ‘I’m sorry, here’s your money back.’ I still committed a robbery,” he said. “You still paid ‘em the wrong way.”

The Muellers’ attorneys told Law360 they intend to appeal Tuesday’s ruling. They may yet succeed in persuading a different judge that the payroll cards fit the state’s definition of legal payment. In Tuesday’s decision, Judge Thomas Burke himself acknowledged that the relevant state law was written in 1961, and the technological progress in payments technology since then may cloud the case. He also asked the state’s Department of Labor and Industry to issue a formal administrative position on whether or not payroll cards that charge user fees are equivalent to cash or checks. The agency has previously said the cards are legal payment, but only in a non-binding advisory letter, according to Law360. A call to the agency for comment was not returned.

Payroll cards such as those the Muellers used are legal in many states, despite the fees that eat into workers’ wages. A handful of state legislatures are weighing new rules to govern the use of such cards, including Pensylvania itself and Washington state. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on regulations for a wide range of different prepaid debit cards including payroll cards like those in the Mueller case. The agency has warned employers that they must make alternative forms of payment available for any worker who doesn’t want the cards, and is currently soliciting comments on a proposed federal regulation.

With millions of Americans lacking access to banking services, the cards can be an important and beneficial tool for workers so long as they come with the right safeguards, the National Consumer Law Center has argued. Close to 5 million people were paid through such cards in 2012, a number projected to double by 2017. Similar prepaid debit cards are also being used in some cases to pay public benefits such as unemployment insurance. The banks that provide the cards and charge the fees are trying to recoup some of the profit they lost when Dodd-Frank regulations curtailed their old business practices involving fees for standard debit cards.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission .

About the Author: The author’s name is Alan Pyke. Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

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