Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Black Workers Say Walmart’s Background Checks Are Racially Discriminatory

April 25th, 2019 | Rebecca Burns

When Walmart announced in January that it was “in-sourcing” its Elwood, Illinois, distribution center, workers were cautiously optimistic.

Since it opened in 2006, the 3.4 million-square-foot warehouse has been operated by Schneider Logistics, a third-party contractor, which in turn hired workers through temp agencies. Walmart’s plan to absorb several of its outsourced warehouses nationwide meant an end to this web of subcontracting, which labor organizers charge is one of the company’s union-busting tactics.

The retail giant also announced that it would rehire as many current warehouse workers as possible, with raises in starting pay and benefits. Mark Balentine, who has performed quality assurance in the Elwood warehouse for three years, says he was offered and accepted the same position as a Walmart employee. It came with a pay bump from $16.35 an hour to $18.65.

“I was absolutely excited,” says Balentine.

But last month, just three weeks before Walmart was set to take over, Balentine says he received an e-mail informing him he was ineligible to work for the company based on the results of a criminal background check. He has a conviction for cocaine possession on his record that dates back to 1999.

Now 52, Balentine says he mentors youth leaving prison and is an ordained deacon at his Baptist church in Auburn-Gresham. He says the conviction hasn’t posed a problem for him in years.

Balentine is one of two Black workers who filed racial discrimination charges against Walmart this week, alleging that the company’s background check policies had a disparate impact on African Americans in the Elwood facility.

Between 100 and 200 other African American workers may have been affected, according to Chris Williams, an attorney with the National Legal Advocacy Network, which filed the complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A class-action suit could follow.

Walmart says its hiring practices exceed state and federal legal requirements and provide candidates with criminal records “a meaningful opportunity to put the record in context.”

“Retaining as many existing employees as possible has always been the goal of our transition at the Elwood distribution center, and we hired hundreds of those workers,” said spokesperson Kory Lundberg in a statement e-mailed to In These Times. “We understand the importance of providing second chances and our background checks include a thoughtful and transparent review process to help ensure everyone is treated fairly.”

But the complaint alleges that the company failed to perform any such individualized review of African American workers’ eligibility, which is part of guidance on employers’ use of criminal background checks issued by the EEOC in 2012.

Instead, according to Balentine, laid-off workers were given “$250 and a slice of pizza” and told they could reapply through the same process in 60 days.

“They told me to ‘roll the dice and try again,’” says Balentine. “And I was like, ‘this is my life.’”

Lundberg said that some candidates with criminal records “were offered a position after a personalized review of their offense,” but did not provide further details by press time.

According to the complaint, “other non-African employees with criminal backgrounds have been permitted to continue working at the Walmart distribution center.”

As many as 100 million Americans have some form of criminal record that can impact their access to jobs, housing and other public services. People with felony convictions, which are most likely to result in exclusion, represent an estimated 8 percent of the overall U.S. population and 33 percent of the African American male population.

A growing number of states and municipalities have attempted to address racially discriminatory hiring through “Ban the Box” laws that bar government employers or contractors from including questions about criminal background on job applications. Twelve states also bar private employers from doing so.

But racial discrimination in the temporary staffing industry is notoriously difficult to address. A series of lawsuits in Illinois and elsewhere have accused staffing agencies of discriminating against Black workers by, among other things, requiring them to submit to criminal background checks to which other workers are not subjected.

Exclusion of workers with a criminal record is “a huge issue in the warehouse industry,” says Roberto Jesus Clack, associate director of Warehouse Workers for Justice. The Illinois-based worker center holds monthly expungement workshops and organized meetings for the group of Elwood workers.

Elwood is located in Will County, which is home to more than 300 warehouses in total and a maze of temp agencies. When workers have raised complaints about wage theft and horrific working conditions—including during a landmark 2012 warehouse strike—a maze of subcontracting has made it difficult to hold either Walmart or Schneider Logistics responsible. While insourcing could represent “a step in the right direction,” says Clack, Walmart introducing new barriers to employment is instead a step backward.

“I’m looking out for the person behind me,” says Balentine. “The 17-year-old that’s getting in trouble today and who sees what happens to me and then he decides, ‘What’s the point in changing? They aren’t going to give me a chance anyway.'”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago Reader, The Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.

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Stop & Shop workers win pay, benefits concessions after 11-day strike

April 24th, 2019 | Alan Pyke

New England grocery store workers have won significant concessions from the Dutch firm that rules their day-to-day lives after an 11-day strike, the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) announced Monday.

More than 30,000 Stop & Shop employees walked off the job on April 11 after negotiators from Netherlands-based multinational food retailer Ahold Delhaize spent weeks insisting the grocer’s frontline workforce would have to absorb higher health care costs and major changes to retirement benefits.

Such collective action has become rare in the private sector, where union membership levels are at historic lows and complex ownership arrangements involving multinational holding companies have attenuated the connection between the people who do a business’ actual work and the well-to-do executives calling the shots.

But the nearly two-week work stoppage drew high-profile support from both local and national leaders. Multiple 2020 presidential primary contenders visited striking workers in person, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), and former Vice President Joe Biden (D). Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) also showed their faces and shared supportive remarks at rallies with the strikers. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) tweeted their support for the cause.

Attention from such dignitaries doubtless helped tighten the screws on the Dutch negotiating team. But local reports are crediting a humbler source of moral leadership for the ultimate resolution of the conflict, which was announced late on Easter Sunday by both the union and the grocer.

A slew of rabbis and Christian clergy around southern New England urged their congregations to honor the strikers by taking their Passover and Eastern business elsewhere.

“We encourage our members to celebrate the upcoming holiday in a manner that honors both the Jewish value of freedom and workers’ dignity,” Rabbis Allison Berry and Laura Abrasley of Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts, wrote to their congregants in an email.

“I just personally wasn’t comfortable crossing the picket line,” Rev. Laura Goodwin of Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Sutton, Massachusetts, told local reporters. “Flowers are nice, but they’re not as important as people’s livelihood.”

Civic solidarity of that kind can be essential to making a strike work.

When the private sector was more broadly organized decades ago, workers who voted to strike at any given firm knew they would be tapping into a resource much more powerful than any one store. Unionized suppliers and distribution partners would refuse to cross a picket line, amplifying the strike’s immediate impacts almost automatically. With union membership levels down by two thirds since the 1970s, however, modern strikes are a lonelier and more daunting prospect. Without assurances of meaningful support from colleagues, the success or failure of any given worker action rests more with customers themselves.

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Losing the holiday weekend likely put a substantial blemish on Stop & Shop’s 2019 books. Sales directly tied to Easter and Passover typically make up 3% of the firm’s yearly revenue, an industry analyst told Boston’s local NBC station, and the strike was probably costing the firm about $2 million a day even before factoring in the holiday.

That squeeze has now achieved what months of earnest discussion at the bargaining table could not, union officials announced Sunday night. The Dutch firm had reportedly sought sweeping cuts to compensation, including a higher employee charge for health care that would have dragged take-home pay lower. The firm also wanted to end pension offerings for new hires.

Neither side offered much detail about the deal struck Sunday. But both the UFCW and the corporate communications team for Stop & Shop described the new contract agreement as preserving the current terms on retirement benefits and health care cost-sharing. Workers across the 31,000-member union in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut stores will see wage increases as well, according to the statements.

Though private-sector workers have been less prone to strike lately than teachers’ unions and other public-sector labor groups, the apparent success of the protracted action in New England offers a reminder that collective-action tactics remain effective despite their declining use.

Fast food workers spent years agitating for union rights and a $15 hourly pay floor, racking up a series of local minimum wage victories while reshaping the lobbying alliances that have long protected the industry’s exploitative and publicly subsidized business model. Toys-R-US employees were able to extract a large payout from the private equity vultures that had seized the dying brand and stiffed loyal longtime staff thanks to similarly adamant protest work.

A protracted strike by Marriott hotel workers last fall also ultimately produced a negotiated agreement.

But it also afforded Americans a glimpse at how tenuous labor solidarity has become most of a century after unions forced robber baron capitalists to accept ideas like “dignity” and “safety” and “having a weekend.” Even athletes, perhaps the most culturally prominent union members in the modern U.S. economy, failed to respect the Marriott picket line during last fall’s Major League Baseball playoffs.

About the Author: Alan Pyke covers poverty and the social safety net for ThinkProgress.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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Supreme Court will decide if it is legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ

April 23rd, 2019 | Ian Millhiser

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would leave the Supreme Court last June, he gave a giant middle finger to millions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans who saw the Court slowly begin to respect their humanity. Though Kennedy was very conservative on most issues, he was relatively moderate on gay rights questions, and often joined with the Court’s liberal bloc to vindicate these rights.

Kennedy’s replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, is a much more doctrinaire conservative who is unlikely to have much sympathy for LGBTQ plaintiffs. So the shift from Kennedy to Kavanaugh is likely to be felt hard in three cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear on Monday.

Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County both ask whether existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC asks the same question about anti-trans discrimination.

In all three cases, the legal arguments against saying that such discrimination is forbidden are exceedingly weak. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” (the word “sex” in this context refers to gender and not to sexual intercourse), and it is difficult to argue that firing someone for being LGBTQ is not a form on gender discrimination.

As the appeals court explained in Harris Funeral Homes, the trans discrimination case, “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” The whole point of such a firing is that the employee’s boss does not believe that the employee identifies with the proper gender.

Similarly, suppose that a woman is fired because she is a lesbian. A lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to women, but presumably the same employer would not fire men who are sexually attracted to women. Thus, this woman was fired because she has desires that male employees are allowed to have. That is gender discrimination.

Additionally, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court held that “sex stereotyping” is illegal gender discrimination. Firing an employee because you believe them to be a man who is behaving too much like a woman is sex stereotyping. Similarly, the notion that only men may have sex with women and vice-versa may be the ultimate sex stereotype.

So if the Supreme Court follows the law in ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes, they will rule in favor of the plaintiffs in a 9-0 decision. That outcome, however, is unlikely.

If a decade of increasingly ridiculous judicial opinions striking down Obamacare has taught the legal profession anything, it should be that, in politically charged cases, judges are more likely to behave like raw partisans rather than as jurists.

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Republicans control a majority on the Supreme Court. Republicans oppose LGBTQ rights. It’s not hard to guess how ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes are likely to be decided.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a columnist for ThinkProgress, and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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NFL is working the refs to keep ex-players from claiming share of concussion settlement

April 22nd, 2019 | ThinkProgress Staff

This week, hundreds of men will see their childhood dream become reality at the 2019 NFL Draft.

But, beneath all the tears and cheers, the pomp and circumstance, the National Football League and its lawyers are battling hard to deny benefits and compensation to the players who sacrificed their bodies and minds to build that NFL dream into what it is today.

At the beginning of 2017, a class-action lawsuit between the NFL and its former players was finalized for a settlement worth approximately $1 billion over the next 65 years. But instead of celebrating the outcome, retiring players and their families found themselves facing a marathon of paperwork and physicians, appeals and audits. By November of 2017, the New York Times reported that out of the 1,400 claims that had been submitted by retired players, only 140 had been approved.

While the approvals have picked up a bit in the intervening 17 months, this month, Senior Judge Anita Brody of the U.S. Eastern District of Pennsylvania unveiled new rules that will make the already-arduous claims process even more excruciating.

“The goal posts are continuously shifting,” attorney Lance Lubel, who represents about 75 players involved in the settlement, told ThinkProgress.

At the heart of this problem is the matter of a qualifying diagnosis of neurocognitive impairment, which is required for players to get money from the settlement.

There are two ways for players to go about obtaining this diagnosis. One is the Baseline Assessment Program (BAP), which is free for the players. However, there are many catches involved. Players are only permitted to get one examination through the BAP, and the claims administrator chooses the doctor and location of the exam. The BAP has an extremely high bar for players to pass. So far, Lubel says, 95 percent of the players who have gone through the BAP exam have failed to obtain a qualifying diagnosis. The overwhelming sentiment is that the BAP is an impenetrable defensive line put in place by the league to guard its money.

“The BAP protocols are not medical standards but rather settlement-engineered testing designed to weed out as many players as possible,” writes Sheila Dingus, who has documented the case extensively on her website, Advocacy for Fairness in Sport.

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The other way for players to get a qualifying diagnosis is to go through the Monetary Award Fund (MAF). In this instance, players are responsible for paying for the tests, but they are permitted to pick the doctor and schedule the appointment on their own.

And here is where the latest controversy has emerged. Last summer, the NFL filed an appeal that essentially sought to give league-trained physicians and administrators even more control over the process of determining a qualifying diagnosis. After a series of motions and closed-door hearings, on April 11, Judge Brody released updated MAF guidelines.

“The first [MAF guidelines document] was five pages long and mostly derived from the settlement agreement,” said Dingus. “This one…is a complete re-write.”

The new MAF guidelines are supposedly in place in order to prevent fraud and to bring the MAF standards more in line with the BAP standards. But, in practice, they seem to be geared toward preventing players from getting the relief they’re entitled to under the settlement.

According to the updated guidelines, the NFL-appointed and trained Appeal Advisory Panel (AAP) has much more control over the appeal process; retired players now must receive a diagnosis from a qualified MAF physician located within 150 miles of their primary residence; and neuropsychological exams must be conducted within 50 miles of the MAF physician.

“This rule effectively eliminates any choice of doctors for players,” Dingus said.

Additionally, MAF physicians are now required to obtain their patients’ “employment information and business activities” over the past five years, as well as “any social, community, recreational or other activities by the Retired NFL Football Player outside the home around the time of the MAF Examination, whether these activities have changed over the five years preceding the date of the MAF Examination and, if so, how they have changed.”

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The NFL likes to tout the success of the settlement by advertising that it has already paid out $645 million in claims — a significant amount of money that’s nearly what the league planned to spend for the entire 65-year period of the agreement. However, the primary reason that total amount is so large is because individual pay-outs for advanced diseases such as death by CTE, ALS, and Parkinson’s have been higher than expected.

Meanwhile, retired players suffering from dementia — a Level 1.5 of Level 2.0 neurocognitive impairment, according to the settlement — are being systematically excluded from the approval process, despite the fact that they were initially expected to make up a sizable proportion of the settlement’s beneficiaries.

According to the most recent report, only 12.9% of the Level 1.5 and 2.0 claims have been paid out, compared to 59% of the CTE claims, 64.8% of the ALS claims, 50.6% of Alzheimer’s claims, and 63.6% of Parkinson’s claims.

Lubel said that touting the $645 million figure occludes the real problem: The large number of retired players who are currently struggling and unable to get the assistance the settlement promised.

“It doesn’t do anything for the remaining guys that have not qualified yet, they’re left out in the cold,” he said.

Christopher Seeger, the co-lead counsel who represents the settlement class, has been a controversial figure throughout the entire settlement process; many other attorneys in the case have criticized him for carrying water for the NFL, and for being more concerned about making money for himself than he is about earning justice for his clients. Seeger has not made a public statement since the new rules have been released. His most recent statement was issued to Deadspin through a spokesman earlier this month.

“While we believe the settlement is working as intended with more than $645 million in approved claims, we respect the Court’s view that these measures will, as Judge Brody stated, ‘safeguard the integrity of the Settlement Program,’” Seeger said. “The rule regarding ‘generally consistent’ diagnoses is in fact administrative and will streamline the approval and payment of claims. The additional rules provided by the Judge appear to be aimed at addressing her previously expressed concerns regarding possible fraudulent claims. We will ensure these rules are implemented in a way that does not allow legitimate claims to be impeded in any way.”

That sounds reasonable. But lawyers and advocates who work with the suffering players and their families on a day-in-day-out basis have no way of holding Seeger to account. The entire claims process happens behind closed doors.

“The process needs to be more transparent,” Lubel said. “That’s what’s super frustrating about it, decisions are being made in a vacuum, and the stakeholders are not able to weigh in.”

This week, the NFL will spend a lot of airtime talking about how it’s a brotherhood. But its actions in this concussion settlement have spoken much louder than than their ad campaigns.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.

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Breanna Stewart’s injury adds another layer of urgency to WNBA collective bargaining negotiations

April 19th, 2019 | ThinkProgress Staff

The 23rd season of the WNBA tips off in a little over a month, and it looks to be a momentous one for the leagues’s athletes. On court, the 12 teams and 144 players will be looking to capitalize on last year’s blockbuster season, which saw a healthy increase in ratings, a new franchise in Las Vegas get off to a promising start, and a level of league-wide talent and parity that produced an indelible array of can’t-miss match-ups on a night in, night out basis.

This year, there will be no small amount of drama off the court as well, as the players will be fighting to secure themselves a bigger piece of this expanding pie. Last October, they opted out of their current collective bargaining agreement, which will now expire at the end of the 2019 season. So they’re not just fighting for wins and titles; they’re literally fighting for better pay, better travel conditions, better marketing, and a better future for the league they love.

Unfortunately, they’re going to have to do all of this without their reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Breanna Stewart.

Last week, while playing in the EuroLeague Final Four championship game in Hungary with her team, the Russia-based Dynamo Kursk, Stewart ruptured her right Achilles tendon. It’s a terrible blow to a player whose last 11 months have been among the most accomplished in basketball history. During that time Stewart was recognized as the WNBA’s MVP, the WNBA Finals MVP, the FIBA World Cup MVP, and the FIBA EuroLeague Women regular season MVP. She took home a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and a FIBA World Cup championship with Team USA for good measure. Now, her injury will force her to sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season.

When Stewart collapsed to the ground in pain during the EuroLeague championship, her WNBA colleagues around the world stopped in their tracks. Imani McGee-Stafford, a center for the Atlanta Dream, gasped. McGee-Stafford’s Dream teammate, Elizabeth Williams, was watching the game live from Turkey when she saw Stewart fall. At the sight of Stewart’s injury, she screamed, “Nooo!” Elena Delle Donne, a forward for the Washington Mystics and good friend of Stewart’s, was simply heartbroken.

And for all of the WNBA’s players, coaches, and fans, Stewart’s devastating injury highlighted how absurd it is that the biggest stars in the WNBA still have to go overseas to play basketball during the WNBA offseason in order to earn their living, instead of spending the offseason recharging and recuperating. Stewart’s base salary this WNBA season is $64,538; overseas, elite players can sometimes earn $1 million or more per season. The current WNBA maximum salary for veterans is $117,500.

“This is harmful to our league. It effects the product on the floor. And we’ve got to find a solution to this,” said Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The players are certainly trying. The executive committee of the WNBA Player’s Association (WNBPA) — which includes Delle Donne and Williams, along with Nneka Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon, Chiney Ogwumike, Sue Bird, and Carolyn Swords — has been talking with WNBPA leadership regularly during the offseason to engineer a new path forward.

“Playing overseas should always be a choice, but not a necessity,” Delle Donne said. “There are so many reasons it makes sense for the NBA and WNBA to invest in us as players. Injury prevention is obviously a top reason.”

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A couple of weeks ago, the executive committee members who weren’t currently playing in overseas competition had their first official meeting with WNBA brass — including NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and interim WNBA president Mark Tatum, and several WNBA owners. The meeting was essentially a listening session, where the WNBPA laid out its priorities heading into negotiations: Salary and compensation, player experience, health and safety, and establishing a lasting business model for the league.

And while fostering the health and safety of players by limiting the need to seek employment opportunities overseas was already on the agenda, there’s little doubt that Stewart’s injury will add weight to to the conversation.

“This brings it more to the forefront and brings some urgency to the cause,” Williams said.

Injury prevention isn’t the only reason why its important to ensure that players have more opportunities to stay in the United States during the WNBA offseason. Going overseas for long stretches of time and playing competitive basketball without some sort of meaningful break contributes to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

“We virtually put our lives on hold when we play overseas,” McGee-Stafford said. “We miss holidays, events, time with loved ones. But furthermore, we miss marketing moments and accessibility from our fans.”

Take Williams, for example. She has only had approximately three weeks of downtime since the Dream lost in the semifinals of last year’s WNBA playoffs in September. She’s currently in Turkey, competing in the first round of their playoffs. If her team makes it to the finals, she could be coming back more than a week into Dream training camp next month. And then the cycle would start again.

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Similarly, it’s an incredible frustration for WNBA coaches, who spend training camps unable to work with their full roster due to so many absences because of overseas play; then, when players finally return, they’re nowhere near refreshed or ready to go.

“When our players come back, we are constantly making concessions,” Reeve said. “We have to change how much time we can spend on the court with them, so you just lose the ability to have this individual improvement when there’s no offseason.”

Of course, the only way to solve this problem is money. And that’s where the conversation usually hits a roadblock. Silver has been outspoken about the fact that the WNBA is still a fledgling league, subsidized by the NBA. Partially because of those comments, there has been an erosion of trust between the WNBA players and WNBA leadership — a fact that isn’t helped by the fact that the WNBA still has not named its next president, six months after Lisa Borders resigned.

Silver has insisted that he’s committed to rebuilding that trust, but the only way to truly do it is by making a significant investment in the players during this collective bargaining session.

“I just think we have a unique opportunity, the NBA does, in that they’re seen as a progressive league, and they’re an iconic brand,” Reeve said. “The idea of being a leader in society, that would mean you’re the one putting your foot forward and saying, ‘Do this with us, treat women this way with us.’ You sort-of create a chain reaction by you stepping forward and saying, ‘You will do this, because it’s important.’ And I think when you see that opportunity, minds will change.”

Delle Donne agrees. It’s time for the chicken vs. egg fight with investment vs. success to stop. The WNBA is growing. The fans are watching. The players are getting better by leaps and bounds every generation. But the only way to continue this growth is if the best players in the world play in the WNBA. And they can’t do that if they’re getting injured playing for teams on other continents that pay them significantly more money.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest, especially the league’s and the owners’, to invest in us as players – our safety, our physical and mental well-being – to grow the game,” she said.

“Everything else, and especially the future growth of the game, hinges on the WNBA being the best and most elite place to play basketball.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.

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Corporate tax cuts didn't trickle down

April 18th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

Republicans claimed that their big corporate tax cut would raise wages and bonuses for workers. How’s that looking now? Surprise! Not so hot.

The Economic Policy Institute is out with two key pieces of research on this question, and by two different measures, the corporate tax giveaway failed to deliver for workers. For one thing, Republicans claimed the move would lead to increased investment, which would trickle down to workers. In fact, investment growth has stalled. “That’s not to say that the TCJA itself stopped the upward trend in investment growth,” Hunter Blair writes, “but it sure is nothing like the investment boom its proponents promised.”

Second, right after the Republican tax law passed, a bunch of corporations announced bonuses for workers. It looked like a corporate PR move to benefit Republicans … and it was. “The average bonus for 2018 was just $0.01 higher than in 2017,” Lawrence Mishel writes, drawing on Bureau of Labor statistics.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

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Maine’s Green New Deal bill first in country to be backed by labor unions

April 17th, 2019 | ThinkProgress Staff

The Maine American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), which represents over 160 local labor unions across the state, announced its support Tuesday for the state’s recently introduced Green New Deal legislation.

This is the first Green New Deal-branded proposal to be backed by a state AFL affiliate.

“We face twin crises of skyrocketing inequality and increasing climate instability. Climate change and inequality pose dire threats to working people, to all that we love about Maine and to our democracy. The work of moving towards a renewable economy must be rooted in workers’ rights and economic and social justice,” Matt Schlobohm, executive director of the Maine AFL-CIO, said in a statement, emphasizing the need for workers and unions to “have a seat at the table in crafting bold climate protection policies.”

This endorsement comes after members of the national arm of AFL-CIO’s Energy Committee, the country’s largest union federation, criticized the federal Green New Deal resolution proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), calling it “not achievable or realistic.”

Millennial state Rep. Chloe Maxmin (D), who was endorsed by the youth-led Sunrise Movement during the 2018 midterm elections, first introduced the “Act to Establish a Green New Deal for Maine” in March.

The legislation would require Maine reach 80% renewable electricity by 2040, provide solar power to schools, set up a task force for job and economic growth, and guarantee a just transition in the shift towards a low-carbon economy.

“From the very first conversation that we had… labor was involved,” Maxmin said. For the past year, Maxmin has been speaking with constituents who voiced a “deep need for economic growth,” she said, noting that this bill is “very specific to Maine and rooted in rural and working communities.”

The goal, she said, was to “bring in voices that are traditionally not part of this conversation.”

In a statement to ThinkProgress, Sunrise executive director Varshini Prakash celebrated labor unions’ support for the state initiative, calling the broader idea of a Green New Deal “America’s biggest union job creation program in a century.”

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Across the country, states and cities are seizing on the interest generated by the Green New Deal and introducing their own ambitious climate proposals. The federal version — currently a resolution, not a piece of legislation — calls for meeting 100% of the country’s power demand with renewable, emissions-free sources in around a decade, all while using the transition to create jobs and enshrine social justice principles, like equal access to education and universal health care.

Local level efforts vary in their focus and ambition. Often, initiatives are exclusive to the power sector; as of last month, at least 19 states are considering or have already set 100% clean or renewable electricity targets. But others are working to capture the full spirit of a Green New Deal — which means incorporating social justice tenets into the plan.

Last week, Minnesota introduced its own Green New Deal bill built on close collaboration between youth activists and state lawmakers. Officials and activists in New Mexico, New York, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, as well as the city of Los Angeles, have all used Green New Deal language to frame and market their clean energy and climate initiatives.

A key component of any Green New Deal is its timeframe. As the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned last fall, without dramatic change to cut greenhouse gasses, global emissions are set to rise to a level that would usher in catastrophic consequences in just over a decade.

In Maine, global warming of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures means more flooding along the coasts and inland, as well as increased drought and extreme heat. Scientists have found that the Gulf of Maine is already warming faster than 99% of the world’s oceans, disrupting fishery patters and, in turn, the fishing industry.

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Next week, lawmakers will hold a public hearing for Maine’s Green New Deal bill. A few weeks later, it will be put up for committee vote. And Maxmin thinks there’s a good chance the bill will pass.

“It has a name that is drawing attention to it … [and it’s] really bringing people from so many backgrounds together,” she said. “I think it has a really good chance because it’s basically an economic and job growth strategy for Maine.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 16, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the deputy editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting. 

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The Stop & Shop Strike Is Showing There’s Still Power in a Union

April 16th, 2019 | Michael Arria

Roughly 31,000 employees of the northeastern grocery chain Stop & Shop have been on strike for nearly a week across more than 240 stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The workers, represented by the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), walked out on April 11 after voting to authorize the strike in March. During what is reportedly the largest private sector strike in three years, talks continued Tuesday, with neither side able to make an agreement.

Stop & Shop is owned by Ahold Delhaize, a retail company based in The Netherlands. Ahold Delhaize is a $44 billion company, and it’s saved millions thank to the corporate tax breaks implemented by the Trump administration. Workers say that, despite these numbers, Stop & Shop is attempting to cut employee pensions, raise the cost of healthcare and roll back overtime pay. They’re also concerned about the company’s rising use of automation, which many believe will lead to inevitable layoffs.

The workers have received vast support throughout the community, while the stores have been forced to scrape by with temporary staff in many areas. An employee named Temika who works at a store in Providence uploaded a Facebook video detailing what the current state of the store. “I had a family member go in today and just take a look around,” she said, continuing, “It looked terrible. The prepared foods, the deli, the seafood department, the bakery—everything was shut down. The tables looked exactly the way they looked the day [everybody went on strike], which means they haven’t been rotating anything.”

The current state of Stop & Shop should be a legitimate concern for the company. The Southern California grocery strike of 2003 to 2004 led to the establishment of new grocery chains and customers shifting their allegiances after they began shopping at different stores. The same trend could very well impact New England. Customer Gail Zulla told a local news station that she used to shop at a Providence location of Stop & Shop but had been picking up her groceries at the local rival Shaw’s. “It’s the busiest I’ve ever seen a Shaw’s in my life,” she said, “It’s like it’s a snow storm. There’s no bread, there’s nothing.” She said she’ll take her business elsewhere while the strike is underway, adding, “maybe I’ll stay at Shaw’s.”

When In These Times spoke with UFCW Local 1445 political director Jim Carvalho last month, he said that the union was hoping other workers would be inspired by the actions of the Stop & Shop employees. This appears to have born out. The striking workers have received solidarity from faith groups, other unions and local lawmakers. Rabbi Jon-Jay Tilsen of Beth El-Keser Israel in New Haven told The New Haven Register, “Any food purchased by crossing a picket line or from scab workers is not kosher for Passover.” The Teamsters Council 10 has stopped picking up trash for the company, and Massachusetts Democratic Senator (and presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren showed up at a picket line with coffee and donuts for the employees. “These giant companies think they can knock unions back,” Warren told the Somerville crowd on April 12. “Unions are here to stay because when you’re fighting for your family, you stay in the fight until you win.”

After a video of Boston Bruins legend Ray Bourque leaving a Stop & Shop was posted on social media, the former hockey player felt compelled to release a statement via Twitter. “Being a union hockey player for 22 years I respect Unions and the work that they do.” Bourque tweeted. “I have a medical condition that I was preparing for this morning and mistakenly crossed the picket line at Stop & Shop. On my way out I apologized immediately. I support the employees of Stop & Shop and once my medical condition is resolved I plan on returning to stand in solidarity and will walk the picket line alongside the members of the union.”

While unionization is declining throughout the country, Massachusetts—where most Stop & Shop stores are located—has actually experienced a sizable uptick. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the amount of workers who consider themselves part of a union went up by 16% from 2017 to 2018.

However, Stop & Shop remains one of the only remaining unionized stores in the industry, as big-box retailers like Walmart have put others out of business in recent years. As grocery industry analyst Burt Flickinger recently told The Boston Globe,“Stop & Shop is the last, best, and final hope for the great Roman empires of unionized food retail chains.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 11, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements.

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31,000 New England grocery workers strike

April 15th, 2019 | Laura Clawson

More than 30,000 grocery store workers are on strike in New England after negotiations stalled between the workers, represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers, and Stop & Shop, the region’s biggest grocery chain.

“Stop & Shop’s parent company, Ahold Delhaize, saw over $2 billion in profit last year and got a US tax cut of $225 million in 2017,” the union said in a statement. “While Stop & Shop continues to propose drastically cutting worker benefits, Ahold shareholders voted on April 10 to give themselves an 11.1 percent raise in dividends over last year. The expected payout will be on April 25 for around $880 million.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined workers at a picket line on Friday, bringing donuts and telling them, “You fight for the dignity of working people.” Sens. Kamala HarrisKirsten GillibrandCory Booker, and Bernie Sanders also tweeted their support, as did fellow Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro and numerous Democratic members of Congress.

What you can do: DON’T cross the picket line. DO contact your local store to let them know you support the workers and want management to offer a fair deal. DO express support for workers on social media and, if you pass a picket line, in person. DO keep shopping at union stores if there’s one near you—see that list for options.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.
This article was originally printed at Daily Kos on April 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

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Letter details ‘severe’ sexual harassment at AccuWeather under Trump’s pick to lead NOAA

April 12th, 2019 | ThinkProgress Staff

President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ran a family company in which employees were subjected to “widespread” and “pervasive” sexual harassment, according to an investigation by the Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).

The investigation concluded that AccuWeather, the company then run by Trump nominee Barry Lee Myers, had a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination that included unwanted touching and kissing by a male executive, according to a letter obtained by ThinkProgress via a Freedom of Information Act request.

Women who engaged in sexual relationships with senior male managers were rewarded with “job-related perks,” the OFCCP letter concludes. Many women resigned rather than submitting to the harassment, while others feared being “blacklisted” if they filed complaints, the January 2018 letter states.

Although they were aware of the issue, AccuWeather officials “did not take reasonable action to prevent and remedy harassing conduct,” the letter says.

At the time the alleged incidents occurred, Myers was the chief executive officer of AccuWeather, which he ran alongside his two brothers.

In January of this year, Trump nominated Myers — for the third time — to lead NOAA. The revelations about the investigation into AccuWeather raise concerns about the nomination, particularly in light of NOAA’s history of sexual harassment issues.

“AccuWeather clearly denied the allegations and claims raised after the audit, and we continue to deny the allegations and claims,” Rhonda Seaton, director of marketing communications at AccuWeather, told ThinkProgress on Saturday. Seaton added that AccuWeather cooperated fully with the OFCCP workplace audit, and listed several workplace initiatives she says it has put in place to ensure a “welcoming, inclusive, empowering” culture.

The OFCCP letter to AccuWeather is known as a Notification of Results of Investigation. It details the findings of the department’s investigation into a 2016 complaint regarding a hostile work environment at the company.

AccuWeather, a government contractor subject to the federal Civil Rights Act, settled with the department, agreeing in June 2018 to pay $290,000 in claims to more than 35 women, as the Center Daily Times revealed in February.

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The OFCCP investigation was prompted by a complaint alleging that AccuWeather violated its obligations under the nondiscrimination and affirmative action provisions of its federal contracts by “creating and enabling a hostile work environment by subjecting employees to unlawful harassment based on their sex and sexual orientation,” according to the letter.

The complainant also alleged she was terminated “because of her sex and sexual orientation.”

The letter details specific allegations of “[h]arassment perpetrated by a male executive and another male manager by ostracizing [redacted] from her work’s group; excluding her from meetings and emails, and making day-to-day activities extremely difficult, including the use of profane and sexually explicit name-calling by an executive when referring to [redacted] and obscene references to [redacted] sexual orientation in communication with other employees.”

This sort of treatment, however, was not exclusive to one employee, the letter states. Over the course of its investigation, the OFCCP found “widespread sexual harassment” at AccuWeather.

More than two dozen witnesses “spanning many different departments and in positions ranging from administrative support to senior management described unlawful sexual harassment that occurred at the company,” the OFCCP wrote.

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“This sexual harassment was so severe and pervasive, that some female employees resigned,” the letter states. The investigation also confirmed that “AccuWeather was aware of the sexual harassment but took no action to correct the unlawful activity.”

AccuWeather said it was “unaware of any harassing activity,” according to the letter. It also pushed back against findings that it had a widespread, hostile work environment toward women, “arguing these allegations were outside the scope of OFCCP’s investigation.”

Neither the White House nor Myers responded to requests for comment.

At the time the investigation took place, AccuWeather’s 18-person executive team was all men except for the vice president of human resources. The company was led by three brothers: Joel Myers, founder and president; Evan Myers, chief operating officer; and Barry Myers, chief executive officer.

According to OFCCP, AccuWeather’s policy manual directed employees who wished to lodge a complaint regarding sexual discrimination to file an informal complaint with the company’s Ombudsman Committee. “At the time of the investigation, however,” the OFCCP letter states, “the Ombudsman Committee did not exist and had not been active for over two years.”

Trump again nominated Myers in January 2018, but the Senate did not vote on his nomination in time. He has now been nominated to the position for a third time.

Between his second and third nomination, Myers resigned from AccuWeather and sold his shares in the company. It was also during this time that the company settled its sexual harassment claims.

Although it is unclear how much Myers was involved in or aware of the sexual harassment incidences described by the Labor Department, he was head of the company during the time the incidents allegedly occurred and at the time the company agreed to pay the hefty settlement. As part of the settlement agreement, AccuWeather pledged it would create a workplace culture that did not tolerate harassment or discrimination.

Earlier this month, Myers’ nomination was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee; it is now up to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to call a floor vote.

The full Senate typically does not question nominees once committees have approved them.

If Myers is confirmed, he will head a government agency that — like AccuWeather — has faced allegations of sexual harassment and, after years of inaction, took concrete steps to improve the work environment.

In September 2015, a NOAA oceanographer complained that she had been repeatedly harassed aboard government scientific research vessels.

“Try operating a half-million-dollar shipboard gyrocompass and multibeam sonar system while the captain of the boat shoves a meter stick between your legs, asking, ‘Are you moody because it’s that time of the month?’” Julia O’Hern described in a Washington Post op-ed.

But even though O’Hern reported some of the incidents to her superiors, she says NOAA ignored the allegations.

Instead of addressing the harassment, O’Hern wrote, a NOAA official suggested “that I should have just walked off the boat and refused to work. Of course, their employee had already threatened to fire me if I refused to work or spoke to anyone, and the whole point was that I wanted to do my job, not quit.

“It was soul-crushing to realize that I was expected to endure sexual harassment at sea as though it was no different than rough waters or long hours,” O’Hern wrote.

By the end of that year, both the House and Senate unanimously passed the “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Act,” which then-President Barack Obama signed. The law required NOAA develop a policy to prevent and respond to sexual assault and harassment.

This article was originally printed at ThinkProgress on April 13, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kyla Mandel is the deputy editor for the climate team. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, Mother Jones, and Vice. She has a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, specializing in science, health, and environment reporting.

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