Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’

Chicago Window Workers Who Occupied Their Factory in 2008 Win New Bankruptcy Payout

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

kari-lydersenSeven years after Republic Windows & Doors workers occupied a recently-shuttered factory in Chicago, making international news, and three years after they opened their own window company, they are receiving a $295,000 payout in bankruptcy court that is both a symbolic and pragmatic victory.

When a company goes bankrupt, workers are usually at the end of the line to get paid, as they are considered “unsecured creditors” behind various secured creditors who are owed money. That means workers often never get money they are owed.

But the Republic Windows workers have broken the mold in many ways, starting when they occupied the factory on Goose Island in the Chicago River, receiving massive community and political support and convincing Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase to hand over the severance and vacation pay due them.

They became a poster child of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (or the “stimulus”) after the company was bought by a California-based maker of highly energy efficient products. Then they occupied the factory again when that owner threatened to close it. Finally in spring 2013 they opened their own factory, New Era Windows.

In January 2009, not long after the occupation, the United Electrical Workers (UE) union, which represented Republic workers, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board charging that the company violated the union contract by closing abruptly without negotiating over the closure terms. Two years later, the board ruled in favor of the workers and decided they were due two weeks’ wages, the estimated amount of time that bargaining over a closure would have taken.

The company was in bankruptcy proceedings by then, however, and it wasn’t until this week that the bankruptcy court ordered the release of the funds. The NLRB will distribute the money to individual workers.

A release from the NLRB this week noted:

The Board found that the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act when they closed their Goose Island facility and moved operations to an alter ego operation in Iowa. However, ongoing bankruptcy procedures made full or partial compliance with the order unlikely until a successful suit against the employer’s insurer made additional assets available for the repayment of debts.

The board continued that: “Bankruptcy proceedings often prevent compliance with Board-ordered remedies as employer’s assets are liquidated through Chapter 7 processes. While the employees did not receive full back pay, obtaining partial compliance in this case is a victory for workers who have been waiting for a remedy since 2008.”

“Some people feel like it’s not enough, but it’s symbolic,” said Armando Robles, one of the New Era worker-owners and a leader of the occupation and ensuing efforts. “It’s a huge victory.”

UE organizer Leah Fried noted that the payout is thanks to “the constant haranguing we had do to. We had to wait until everyone else came out of the woodwork, but the fact we kept pressuring the court” paid off.

“It’s great that seven years later, [the workers are] still winning money,” she says.

The former Republic Windows CEO, Richard Gillman, was sentenced to four years in prison for fraud charges related to the closing of the factory and the purchase of another window factory in Iowa. He was released after serving significantly less time than the sentence.

New Era has been growing, with 14 worker-owners and four new hires, Robles said. This is the slow season, however, when few people are ordering windows. Robles said the bankruptcy payment should mean about $1,200, helping him pay rent and bills until New Era business picks up in the spring.

“It hasn’t been easy, obviously,” said Fried. “But they’ve shown you can run a company without bosses, and do well.”

This blog originally appeared in inthesetimes.com on January 25, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist and instructor who currently works at Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Mayor 1%: Rahm Emanuel and the Rise of Chicago’s 99 Percent. She is also the co-author of Shoot an Iraqi: Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gunand the author of Revolt on Goose Island: The Chicago Factory Takeover, and What it Says About the Economic Crisis.Look for an updated reissue of Revolt on Goose Island in 2014. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work.

REPORT: The Recovery Act, Unsung Hero of the Year

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Image: Kate ThomasMarking the first anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the SEIU is releasing a new report today analyzing the social and economic impact of the Recovery Act. This report explains what the aggregate numbers on economic growth and job creation fail to illustrate–how the Recovery Act helped counter the recession by protecting human services and the workers employed to deliver those services at a local level.

Reporting by state recipients of Recovery Act direct government investment spending demonstrates that this spending has saved or created 1,239,437 jobs in both the public and private sector. When you include the impact of indirect spending–jobs created or saved as a result of the consumer spending of directly funded job holders–the total rises to 1,859,156 jobs that have been saved or created. Pretty amazing. Without it, the unemployment rate in December 2009 may have reached 11.2 percent, 1.2 percent higher than the actual rate of 10.0 percent that month.

How Recovery Act Investments in Human Services Created and Saved Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs
While it would be impossible to describe all of the significant findings of this report in just one blog post, I’ll be doing just that in a series of blog posts at SEIU.orgover the next couple of days. I’ll also be highlighting the stories included in this report–collected from a combination of public sources, government Web sites, and interviews with SEIU state-level leaders–which uniquely illustrate how states and some local units of government have used ARRA resources to limit scaling back.

For workers like Akbar Chatman–a substance abuse counselor for the Department of Mental Health in Los Angeles County–the Recovery Act played a critical role in helping him do his job. Watch:

While conditions are far better than they would have been without the stimulus fund actions that were taken, it is clear that substantial challenges remain. Without additional fiscal relief, new budget gaps could force state governments to shed 900,000 jobs this year.

View the report in full at http://seiu.me/arra

Download the (PDF) report:
“How Recovery Act Investments in Human Services Created and Saved Hundreds of Thousands of Jobs”

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on February 17, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

Labor Dept. Announces $100 Million in Green Jobs Training Grants

Friday, January 8th, 2010

Big news out of the Labor Department today — they awarded $100 million in grants to programs training workers for the green jobs of the future:

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis today announced nearly $100 million in green jobs training grants, as authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). The grants will support job training programs to help dislocated workers and others, including veterans, women, African Americans and Latinos, find jobs in expanding green industries and related occupations. Approximately $28 million of the total funds will support projects in communities impacted by auto industry restructuring.

Through the Energy Training Partnership Grants being administered by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration, 25 projects ranging from approximately $1.4 to $5 million each will receive grants. These grants are built on strategic partnerships — requiring labor and business to work together.

The grants announced today are part of a $500 million program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 — a.k.a. “the stimulus.”

For details about the individual programs awarded grants, click on over to the Labor Department’s announcement page.

UPDATE (Jan. 7): It’s not really clear from the list of grantees that DOL posted on their site, so I want to point out that training programs led by CtW-affiliated unions are prominent among those that received grants yesterday. For example, New York’s Shortman Fund (which was awarded a $2.8 million grant) is operated by SEIU 32BJ; SEIU locals also participate in H-CAP Inc. (granted $4.6 million); and LIUNA is active in training programs in Virginia, Rhode Island, Michigan, and Montana that were collectively awarded almost $17 million.

UPDATE (Jan. 7, 3:00PM): Quotes!

Mike Fishman, President of SEIU 32BJ:

High-impact, cost-effective labor-management programs like [the Shortman Fund’s] Green Supers are vital to the success of President Obama’s energy and environmental protection agenda. With nearly 80 percent of New York’s greenhouse gas emissions produced by buildings it’s imperative for owners, workers, environmental groups and the Federal government to jointly tackle this environmental challenge.

Terry O’Sullivan, General President, LIUNA:

Weatherization on a nationwide scale will require hundreds of thousands of skilled workers and LIUNA’s weatherization training program is leading the way while creating good jobs for working families and their communities. LIUNA’s credentialed weatherization workers will set the standard for a new American industry.

*This post originally appeared in Change to Win on January 6, 2010. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author Jason Lefkowitz: is the Online Campaigns Organizer for Change to Win, a partnership of seven unions and six million workers united together to restore the American Dream for everybody. He built his first Web site in 1995 and has been building online communities professionally since 1998. To read more of his work, visit the Change to Win blog, CtW Connect, at http://www.changetowin.org/connect.

On the Path to Economic Recovery: Extended Unemployment Benefits

Monday, October 19th, 2009

Image: Courney ChappellAlthough it is encouraging to see that the Dow Jones Industrial Index hit 10,000 this week, unemployment in this country continues to look bleak.  The September national unemployment rate shot up to 9.8%, and a record 5 million people have been unemployed for six months or longer.  These workers are now competing for a very limited number of available jobs, a ratio of 1 to 6.  If the Dow is in fact a reliable indicator of an economic rebound, why hasn’t the unemployment rate followed suit and leveled out or decreased?  Economists predict that unemployment will continue to remain high throughout 2010 – and even 2011 – at which time we will see more promising signs of recovery.  Until then, however, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an estimated 1.4 million jobless workers will lose their unemployment benefits by the end of 2009.

The purpose of the unemployment insurance (UI) system is to prevent workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own from slipping into poverty.  By temporarily filling the income gap for families while they search for work, UI serves as a critically important safety net.  Although the weekly benefit amount generally replaces only about one-third of a worker’s weekly earning, those checks can stabilize a household and help families cover their basic needs.

Congress is currently debating legislation that will extend benefits to workers who are struggling during this economic downturn.  Last month, the House passed a bill that would extend UI by 13 weeks, but it would apply only to those jobless workers who live in states with unemployment rates higher than 8.5%.  The Senate has likewise introduced legislation, but it is broader in scope.  The Senate bill would provide 14-20 weeks of additional benefits to jobless workers in all states.  Although advocates originally expected the bill to pass the Senate rather quickly, opposition has been raised regarding how these additional weeks will be paid, ultimately stalling any movement.

Any extension of benefits will no doubt help jobless workers in D.C.  The city’s unemployment rate is over 11%, and even higher in Wards 7 (19%) and 8 (27%), two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.  According to NELP, by the end of 2009, approximately 4,700 District workers will have exhausted their federal extensions.

The D.C. Employment Justice Center, in collaboration with its community partners, has been working to ensure that all available stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will make its way into the pockets of District workers.  Specifically, D.C. is entitled to receive $27 million of federal funding as incentive payment for modernizing its UI system.  Because the District adopted the alternative base period (ABP) in 2002, it has already received $9 million of this funding from the Department of Labor.  In order for the District to qualify for the remaining incentive payments, it must implement, at a minimum, two additional reforms and submit a second application to the Department by August 22, 2011.  Emergency legislation was introduced and passed in July 2009 that included two such reforms: a dependent allowance and an extension of UI to those enrolled in approved training.

Permanent legislation must still be passed in order for D.C. to receive the remaining stimulus funding.  But even this will not be enough.  In order to address the record rate of joblessness, the significant percentage of workers exhausting benefits, and the inadequate weekly benefit amount, evidenced by the fact that over 50% of UI recipients receive the maximum amount, the District must maximize the scope and impact of the $27 million federal funding to which it is entitled.  It can do so by also increasing the maximum weekly benefit amount by $20; expanding eligibility to those who leave their jobs to care for a sick family member or to relocate with their spouse/domestic partner; and extending the time in which an individual may file an appeal if he/she is denied UI.  These changes will help thousands of District workers and families as they continue to look for long-term employment.  Specifically, $10 million will make its way into the pockets of approximately 22,000 struggling workers.

If the federal government steps in to extend benefits for an additional 14-20 weeks under the Senate bill, all of the District’s reforms could be funded with stimulus money for 2 ½ years, and employer taxes would not increase.  Other states are no doubt in a similar situation – with the federal government footing the bill for up to 20 extra weeks, states can maximize the impact of their stimulus funding by changing their UI programs beyond the minimum requirements prescribed by the Department of Labor, and thereby provide much needed relief to their residents.  Two and a half years is a significant amount of time to feel the impact of the ARRA and create real economic opportunities for struggling communities.

With more money in the hands of consumers, more dollars will circulate throughout the economy, the stock market will continue to steadily rise, employers will regain their confidence, and the unemployment rate should eventually fall.  Congress’ decision to provide extended unemployment benefits is a critical step in helping the economy rebound, and will help ensure that the Dow’s resurgence this week is a truly promising long-term sign of the nation’s recovery, rather than a single snapshot of Wall Street.

About the Author: Courtney Chappell is the Advocacy Manager at EJC.  Prior to joining EJC, she was an associate at James & Hoffman, P.C., where she represented unions and individual employees in all matters relating to labor and employment law. As the first Policy & Programs Director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Courtney spearheaded the organization’s reproductive justice program and developed a multi-pronged action agenda that included lobbying, grassroots organizing, and public education campaigns.  Her achievements included coordinating a national lobby day relating to immigration reform, and convening a national coalition of women’s rights, immigrant rights, and reproductive rights organizations to focus on the intersection of health care and immigration.  She similarly engaged in policy advocacy as a fellow at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund after graduating from law school. Courtney graduated magna cum laude from the American University Washington College of Law, where she was a student attorney in the domestic violence clinic and interned for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, the EEOC, and the ACLU. She was also a staff member of the American University Law Review and volunteer intake counselor at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center and the Domestic Violence Intake Center.  Courtney has served on the boards of the Third Wave Foundation and the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project.  She is a recipient of a New Voices Fellowship and a Georgetown Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship.

COBRA's High Cost Bites Into Jobless Safety Net

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

As unemployment rises more women are turning to COBRA for health insurance coverage, but discovering it’s either too expensive or not available. Women who shop for individual insurance often face higher rates due to “gender rating,” a recent study found.

COBRA American Recovery and Investment Act

(WOMENSENEWS)–When Jane Schiffler loses her job on July 1, the college administrator will face tough choices.

“To help make ends meet for me and my 7-year-old son, I’ve decided to give up our land line and just use a cell phone; to cancel our cable TV and just get the basic channels; to go to the library instead of buying books; and to cook at home instead of eating out,” says Schiffler, a single mother in New York City. “But I haven’t figured out what to do about our health insurance coverage, which remains my biggest–and most frightening–challenge.”

Schiffler qualifies for COBRA, the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act.

The 1985 law allows laid-off workers and their dependents to remain on their former employer’s group health plans for 18 months as long as they pay the same amount for coverage as their employer did, and 150 percent of that amount if they extend COBRA coverage beyond 18 months.

“The problem is that COBRA is just too expensive for me to afford,” says Schiffler, who is using a pseudonym in this article because she doesn’t want her concerns about health coverage–and the fact that she may have to do without it at some point–to negatively impact her job search or her chances of getting health coverage in the future.

The average monthly unemployment payment in the United States is $1,278.

COBRA for an individual consumes 30 percent of that. Family coverage devours 84 percent.

Little Left Over

That leaves many laid-off workers with little left for rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, and other necessities, found a January 2009 report from the Washington-based Families USA.

In February, the federal government moved to help such workers by passing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), which provides $25 billion in temporary subsidies so workers who were involuntarily terminated between Sept. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2009 pay 35 percent of the normal cost of COBRA.

“While this is a significant subsidy, for the average woman, it’s still more than the 16 percent of the cost of individual coverage or the 27 percent of the cost of family coverage that she would have paid as her contribution to health insurance while she was still working,” says Karyn Schwartz, a senior policy analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation, based in Menlo Park, Calif.

Many unemployed women, meanwhile, don’t qualify for COBRA.

Ineligible are laid-off women with individual incomes of more than $125,000; family incomes of more than $250,000; employers who never offered health insurance in the first place, and employers who went out of business (and therefore had no health plan at the time of job termination).

10 States Lack ‘Mini Cobra’ Laws

“Company size is also barrier to coverage,” says Cheryl Fish-Parcham, deputy director of health policy for Families USA. “COBRA only applies to workers in companies with 20 or more full-time employees. Some states are working to help laid-off people from smaller firms. But in 10 states, there are still no ‘mini COBRA’ laws creating coverage for these laid-off workers, who now have to go without coverage, or pay high premiums for individual plans.”

The average private health insurance plan for an individual costs $4,704, while one for a family costs $12,680, according to a March study in the New England Journal of Medicine. And due to a practice known as “gender rating,” most private insurers charge women more than they charge men, according to a 2008 report by the Washington-based National Women’s Law Center.

“I can only afford COBRA for a few months, and I definitely can’t afford to buy private coverage,” says Schiffler. “If my savings run out, I may have to go without coverage, though my son may qualify for a state program for children. I need a safety net, but if I have to choose between eating and buying health insurance, I am going to eat.”

About the Author: Molly M. Ginty is a freelance reporter based in New York City. A graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she has written for Ms., Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, pbs.org and On Earth as well as Women’s eNews.

This article originally appeared in Women’s eNews on June 18, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

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