Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Department of Labor’

HELP Committee Should Ask Acosta for Commitments to the DOL Mission

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

Ahead of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing for Alexander Acosta as Secretary of Labor, workers and workers’ advocates have been vocal about their concerns with his appointment. Workplace Fairness, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, among others, are seeking assurances from Mr. Acosta about how he intends to protect workers and carry out the mission of the Department of Labor.

While we haven’t seen the level of outrage with the Acosta nomination that we saw with former nominee Andrew Puzder, Mr. Acosta still has a lot to answer for, and his relative lack of a record on workers’ rights issues is cause for concern. Will he protect against political influence and work to uphold the Department’s mission to promote worker welfare and assure workers’ benefits and rights?  Or will he toe the line of the Trump administration, fail to aggressively pursue investigations and litigation, and leave American workers out in the cold?

Transparency

Earlier this month, Workplace Fairness sent a position statement to the Senate HELP committee in charge of the confirmation hearing. Workplace Fairness focuses generally on advocating for workers’ rights, and more specifically on ensuring that America workers have access to comprehensive, easy to understand, information about their legal rights and remedies in the workplace. Workplace Fairness made clear that in light of recent issues with information going missing from government websites, Mr. Acosta should commit to ensuring that DOL continually provides transparency about his intentions going forward, and provides comprehensive information to the public about our rights in the workplace and how to enforce them.

Politicized hiring

Another issue sparking a call for assurances from Acosta is the potential for politicized hiring at the Department of Labor. The Trump administration is actively promoting an anti-worker agenda, from appointing a cabinet full of millionaires, to cutting the budget for programs that help workers, and working to repeal the Affordable Care Act which will dramatically impact all workers’ health benefits, even those insured through their employers. It is vital that the Secretary of Labor guard against politicized hiring that would turn the Department into an ally of the current administration rather than an agency committed to protecting workers. Acosta will most certainly have to answer questions about the 2008 report from the Office of the Inspector General which implicated him in politicized hiring at the Department of Justice when he was an Assistant Attorney General. The report found that he failed to properly supervise his deputy assistant who was clearly engaged in politicized hiring, in violation of civil service laws. He will need to explain to the HELP Committee how he intends to ensure that this type of hiring doesn’t happen at the Department of Labor. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Right recently issued a statement (joined by Workplace Fairness and 86 other organizations) specifically asking how Acosta would prevent political interference with the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, the Wage and Hour Division, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics as they carry out their missions to enforce rules and laws like the Fair Labor Standards Act and the Overtime Rule, and report vital statistics and information to the  American public.

Budget cuts

Senator Elizabeth Warren also raised grave concerns about a variety of issues, including politicized hiring and budget cuts at the DOL in her 23-page letter to Acosta, asking him to respond by March 27.  Senator Warren asks Acosta to detail how he intends to continue the work of investigating and litigating labor law violations under Trump’s proposed 21% cut to the DOL budget. She says

“I am also concerned about how you will respond to President Trump’s plan to cut more than 20% of DOL’s budget-the third biggest cut to any agency after the State Department and the Environmental Protection Agency…These draconian cuts will hobble your ability to run core parts of the agency, including the divisions that investigate and enforce the federal health and safety standards that keep workers safe on the job and the federal wage and hour laws that ensure that workers are paid fairly.”

The cut would bring the DOL budget to its lowest level since the 1970’s, according to the New York Times.

The upshot

It is expected that Acosta will be confirmed, as confirmation only requires a simple majority vote, and the Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate. Democrats and workers’ rights advocates hope to use this confirmation hearing as an opportunity to get some important assurances and commitments from Acosta on the record.

Many workers’ rights groups and other organizations, like the Economic Policy Institute, with its Perkins Project, are poised to pay close attention to what the Department does in the coming years, and to hold the Secretary of Labor accountable for the promises he makes. And as always, Workplace Fairness will continue to maintain free, up-to-date, comprehensive, easy to read information for the public about what their rights are in the workplace, and how to enforce them. These efforts will become even more critical in the days ahead as government agencies are forced to eliminate staff positions and enforcement activities, and potentially lessen their commitment to protecting the rights of workers.

SHANNON RUSZ has been associated with Workplace Fairness since 2009. Since 2014 she has worked as Content Manager for Workplacefairness.org, and most recently has taken on the role of Acting Executive Director of Workplace Fairness. Shannon is an attorney practicing in the Annapolis, Maryland area. She received her undergraduate degree from Virginia Commonwealth University and her Law degree from The George Washington University Law School.

What Slashing the Labor Department Budget by 21 Percent Would Mean

Friday, March 17th, 2017

The Trump administration’s “budget blueprint” would devastate worker safety, job training programs and legal services essential to low-income workers. Its cuts include a 21 percent, or $2.5 billion, reduction in the Department of Labor’s budget.

The budget would reduce funding for or eliminate programs that provide job training to low-income workers, unemployed seniors, disadvantaged youth and for state-based job training grants. It eliminates the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) training grants as well as the independent Chemical Safety Board. Also targeted for elimination is the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to low-income Americans.

“Cutting these programs is cutting the safety net for the most vulnerable workers, those striving for the middle class,” said Matt Shudtz, executive director at the Center for Progressive Reform. “This budget would eliminate training programs for them, the kind of things people need to move up in the world. It is very anti-worker and anti- the most vulnerable workers.”

Judy Conti, National Employment Law Project (NELP) federal advocacy coordinator, didn’t mince words.

“This budget will mean more illness, injury and death on the job,” she said Thursday, the day the proposed budget was released.

Targeting programs that prevent injury and illness

The White House budget proposal justifies its enormous cuts to the Department of Labor by saying it focuses on the agency’s “highest priority functions and disinvests in activities that are duplicative, unnecessary, unproven or ineffective.”

The budget would close Job Corps centers that serve “disadvantaged youth,” eliminate the Senior Community Service Employment Program, decrease federal funding for state and local job training grants—shifting more financial responsibility to employers and state and local governments. The budget would also eliminate certain grants to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, which helps people with disabilities stay in the job market.

Also slated for elimination are OSHA’s Susan Harwood training grants that have provided more than 2.1 million workers, especially underserved and low-literacy workers in high-hazard industries, with health and safety training since 1978. These trainings are designed to multiply their effects by “training trainers” so that both workers and employers learn how to prevent and respond to workplace hazards. They’ve trained healthcare workers on pandemic hazards, helped construction workers avoid devastating accidents, and workers in food processing and landscaping prevent ergonomic injuries. The program also helps workers for whom English is not their first language obtain essential safety training.

“The cuts to OSHA training grants will hurt workers and small employers,” said David Michaels, former assistant secretary of labor for OSHA. “Training is a proven, and in fact necessary method to prevent worker injuries and illnesses. OSHA’s training grants are very cost effective, reaching large numbers of workers and small employers who would otherwise not be trained in injury and illness prevention.”

“Everyone, labor and management, believes that a workforce educated in safety and health is essential to saving lives and preventing occupational disease. That is the purpose of the Harwood grants,” said Michael Wright, director of health, safety and environment at United Steelworkers.

The White House says eliminating these grants will save $11 million, a miniscule fraction of the $639 billion the Trump administration is requesting for the Department of Defense.

“No words to describe how cruel it is”

Eliminating the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) would mean no independent federal agency dedicated to investing devastating industrial accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the West Fertilizer plant explosion, Freedom Industries chemical release in Charleston, West Virginia, and the Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, California. Those are among the hundreds of cases CSB has investigated over the past 20 years or so.

“Our recommendations have resulted in banned natural gas blows in Connecticut, an improved fire code in New York City, and increased public safety at oil and gas sites across the State of Mississippi. The CSB has been able to accomplish all of this with a small and limited budget. The American public are safer today as a result of the work of the dedicated and professional staff of the CSB,” said CSB chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland in a statement.

“The cost of even one such accident would be more than the CSB’s budget over its entire history. And that calculation is only economic. The human cost of a catastrophic accident would be enormous,” said Wright. “The CSB’s work has saved the lives of workers in chemical plants and oil refineries, residents who could be caught in a toxic cloud, even students in high school chemistry labs.”

The budget proposal also jeopardizes essential legal support for low-wage workers. While not dedicated to employment issues, the Legal Services Corporation provides vital services to low-wage workers, including on issues related to workers’ compensation and other job benefits.

“Gutting the Legal Services Corporation,” said NELP’s Conti, “there are no words to describe how cruel it is, especially considering grossly underfunded the agency is.”

“The government should be investing in workers, their families, and communities, but instead this budget drastically cuts the programs meant to uplift them,” said Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate at Public Citizen.

The White House calls the budget proposal a “Budget Blueprint to make American Great Again.” On a call with reporters, Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, “this is the ‘America First’ budget” and said it was written “using the president’s own words” to turn “those policies into numbers.”

“This is not so much a budget as an ideological statement,” said David Golston, government affairs director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 17, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

Despite Some Union Support, Trump’s New Labor Pick Would Be Terrible for Workers

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

President Donald Trump’s new pick to head the Labor Department is getting an early boost from a “divide-and-conquer” strategy against labor unions and their allies, even before his qualifications and background as a civil servant are scrutinized in a Senate confirmation hearing.

The nomination of R. Alexander Acosta was announced by Trump less than 24 hours after the president’s first choice for the job, hamburger-chain executive Andrew Puzder, dropped out of consideration. Puzder faced mounting Senate opposition, even from some conservative Republicans, because of disclosures that he had personally broken labor law by hiring an undocumented household servant, and also that he had been accused of spousal abuse many years ago.

Labor unions and Democratic Party leaders in Washington, D.C., had maintained a unified front against the Puzder nomination but that unity dissolved almost immediately with the announcement of Acosta’s nomination February 16. His first confirmation hearing, which was scheduled for this week, has been moved to March 22.

The first endorsement came from the International Union of Operating Engineers, followed by one from the International Association of Fire Fighters and then the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) got on board. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka even offered lukewarm praise, telling MSNBC News: “Well, we’re going to vet him, but he does have a history of enforcing the laws that protect workers, which is a real plus, whereas Puzder had a history of violating the rules.”

Acosta, 48, is currently dean at the Florida International University’s law school, a position he has held since 2009. A Harvard-trained lawyer, he held several appointed positions in the administration of George W. Bush. Before that, he was a labor lawyer at the giant law firm Kirkland & Ellis LLP, known for representing large multinational corporations.

Pro-labor Democrats in the Senate have been conspicuously quiet on Acosta’s nomination—at least thus far. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, for example, was an outspoken opponent of Puzder but spokeswoman Alexis Krieg tells In These Times that the senator has no comment on Acosta.

Not so shy is Erik Loomis, assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island and a labor commentator at the progressive blog Lawyers, Guns & Money. He said:

“The selection of Alexander Acosta should provide no comfort for those who worked to reject Andy Puzder. Acosta has a lifetime of anti-union and anti-worker positions. Appointed to the National Labor Relations Board by George W. Bush, Acosta consistently decided with employers during his term. His support of Ohio’s attempt to suppress black voting in 2004 is deeply disturbing. That the AFL-CIO seems to think Acosta is as good as they are going to get under Trump is depressing, but perhaps realistic.”

William B. Gould IV, a law professor at Stanford University, agrees with Loomis’ analysis of Acosta’s tenure at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). He says Acosta had “a short, and for the most part uninspiring record” at the NLRB. Acosta served at the board for just eight months in 2003, a time when anti-union Republicans were in control.

Gould, a former NLRB chairman during the President Bill Clinton administration, cites several cases as examples of Acosta’s anti-worker positions:

  • Alexandria Clinic, P.A., 339 NLRB No. 162 (2003). Acosta voted that hospital strikers could be legally fired because they delayed the beginning of an otherwise legal job action by several hours.
  • Curwood Inc., a division of Bemis Company Inc., 339 NLRB No. 148 (2003). Acosta voted to ignore otherwise illegal threats made by the employer against workers trying to form a union. He also sanctioned otherwise illegal promises of new benefits to workers who would vote against the union.
  • Beverly Health, 339 NLRB No.161 (2003). Acosta voted against a corporate remedy in spite of the fact that the company had been found guilty of extensive misconduct on other occasions. His vote was in the minority.

“Curiously, one opinion of Acosta’s, while laudable and appropriate, will give him problems with the anti-immigrants,” among conservative Republicans, Gould adds.

In the case of Double D Construction, 339 NLRB No.48 (2003), Acosta stated that a worker who used a false social security number should not be considered guilty of committing a crime. Such misrepresentations are just part of the workday reality for undocumented workers, Acosta argued. This was the correct decision, according to Gould, but will likely be viewed differently by Republicans favoring a hard line against immigrants.

Equally problematic for worker rights advocates is Acosta’s tenure at the Department of Justice, where Acosta held appointed positions starting in 2003, says Saru Jayaraman, co-director of the pro-worker Restaurant Opportunities Center United.

There are at least two “troubling” episodes in Acosta’s Department of Justice career, Jayaraman says. First, Acosta is on record supporting efforts to restrict voting rights for African Americans in Ohio in 2004. In that case, Acosta was accused of exerting political pressure to help suppress voter turnout. “Voting rights are essential to labor rights, so I see this as important,” Jayaraman says.

So does the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group that has been fighting attempts to restrict voting laws. Committee President Kristen Clarke stated:

Mr. Acosta led the Civil Rights Division at a time that was marked by stark politicization, and other improper hiring and personnel decisions that were fully laid to bare in a 2008 report issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG found that actions taken during Mr. Acosta’s tenure violated Justice Department policy and federal law. Political and ideological affiliations were used as a litmus test to evaluate job candidates and career attorneys, wreaking havoc on the work of the Division. This egregious conduct played out under Mr. Acosta’s watch and undermined the integrity of the Civil Rights Division. It is hard to believe that Mr. Acosta would now be nominated to lead a federal agency tasked with promoting lawful hiring practices and safe workplaces.

A second troubling incident was a plea deal that Acosta negotiated while he was the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2005, Jayaraman says. In that case, a man accused of having sex with underage girls and soliciting prostitution received a light sentence, apparently because the man was a wealthy businessman who could afford expensive lawyers, she claims.

“This was a sexual predator. This is very relevant to workers in the restaurant sector because sexual harassment and sexual abuse in the restaurant industry is just rampant,” Jayaraman tells In These Times. “Acosta does not take the issue seriously.”

But in the final analysis, “it doesn’t matter whether it’s Puzder or this guy (Acosta). The agenda is the same … The secretary of labor doesn’t set the policy, the president does,” says Jayaraman.

Loomis concurs.

He says: “Trump’s selections, both Puzder and Acosta, are inherently anti-worker. But so is Donald Trump, despite the unusual level of support he received from union members.”

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on March 13, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Labor Department goes silent on workplace safety enforcement under Trump

Monday, March 6th, 2017

In November, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced fines against businesses with workers who were killed when they were pulled into a wood chipper, burned in a refinery fire and crushed in collapsing grain bins and construction trenches. In all, OSHA issued 33 enforcement news releases that month, and over 50 more from Dec. 1 until just before Inauguration Day on Jan. 20.

But since then, OSHA hasn’t issued a single news release about penalties or other enforcement actions by federal authorities. The same goes for a second Department of Labor division, Wage and Hour, which in previous weeks had announced the recovery of back wages for peanut processors in Georgia, hotel staffers in New York City, commercial painters in Texas and cafeteria workers at the U.S. Senate building.

This doesn’t mean that enforcement has stopped, but publicizing when bad bosses get fined is a way the Labor Department has gotten the word out—and potentially scared other employers away from similar abuses:

As a result, according to Barab’s ex-boss and former OSHA chief David Michaels, “Failure to publicize OSHA’s activities means many employers will not think to abate their hazards and more workers will be hurt.”

Maybe once Donald Trump gets a labor secretary in place and fills other key roles, the Labor Department will again tell the world about the fines companies face for endangering their workers. But we sure can’t take it for granted.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on March 4, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

The People Fired Puzder

Monday, February 20th, 2017

Andy Puzder, President Trump’s pick to run the Labor Department, didn’t really bow out. He was fired.

But even though Trump made the phrase “you’re fired” his motto, he didn’t force Puzder out. We did. Working people sent him the pink slip.

When Trump was inaugurated less than one month ago, he figured he could dictate his policies and ram his appointments through the Republican-run Congress. Being the least popular president elected since polls began recording public sentiments apparently didn’t faze him.

Trump loaded his proposed cabinet with billionaires, cronies and crooks, goading his opponents.

One of the Worst

Of all the unqualified and inappropriate crew of cabinet nominees, Puzder was one of the worst. As the CEO of the parent company of the Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. fast-food chains, he has both personal and political beliefs that clash with public values. He opposes raising the minimum wage or requiring that restaurants pay servers the same minimum wage as other workers earn and he routinely violated labor laws at his own restaurants. He behaves in a sexist way and defends the sexist behavior of his subordinates. And yet had he become the next Labor secretary, he would have been required to enforce the labor laws he flouts.

It’s no surprise that low-wage workers and the labor movement found Puzder unacceptable. Ahead of his scheduled Senate hearings, thousands of workers — including people who work at Puzder’s own restaurants — protested the nominee in front of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants from coast to coast.

Puzder has also enraged women and advocates over his use of sexualized images of women in Carl’s Jr. ads. In his own words: “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers.”

Saru Jayaraman, Executive Director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, said on Democracy Now!,

You’ve seen these ads of Carl’s Jr. restaurants in which they have nearly naked women holding up burgers in front of their breasts or lying on the floor eating a burger or feeding burgers to each other in naked positions. And then you look at the data from our report and other reports showing that young women, often very young women, 16-, 17-, 18-year-old girls, were harassed, grabbed, assaulted in various ways, as I said, told by customers, “Why aren’t you dressed like the girls in the ads?”

(ROC United is an affiliate of People’s Action.)

In Trouble from the Beginning

Puzder’s nomination was in trouble from the beginning. His hearing was postponed at least four times because the nominee failed to provide required paperwork to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

What eventually forced Trump to demand Puzder’s withdrawal was the growing opposition to Puzder’s nomination among some GOP senators. Those Republicans were angered, not by his sexism and abuse of working people, but his hiring of an undocumented woman to clean his home. Politico reports that some close Trump advisor’s didn’t fully back Puzder’s nomination because he supported moderate immigration reform.

Puzder’s anti-worker behavior should disturb every American. Over the past few years, amid rising inequality, the plight of low-wage workers has become a central issue in economic debates. There’s broad support for increasing the minimum wage nationally to begin to address the stagnation of real wages. In state after state, voters have approved ballot initiatives that boosted the minimum wage within their borders, and in Seattle, Los Angeles and now New York State, voters have embraced a pay floor of at least $15 per hour.

Opposition to Puzder generated an organized barrage of calls to senators and the White House, petitions, protests and more. The repeated delays of his confirmation hearing might have hurt Puzder as well. Senate Republicans tried to rush all the cabinet confirmations because they knew due diligence and scrutiny would expose the questionable records of Trump’s team. As the delay dragged on,  more and more revelations, like the damning tape of his ex-wife appearing in disguise on the Oprah Winfrey show describing how Puzder physically abused her, came to light. (She later retracted the charges and said she regretted her Oprah appearance.)

No Accident

It’s no accident that Puzder bowed out just two days after National Security Adviser Gen. Mike T. Flynn’s resignation. The Trump administration’s confidence is shaken. GOP unanimity is broken. Just last week, Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, couldn’t be confirmed without Vice-President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote when two Republicans voted against it.

Thousands of local protests as part of the #ResistTrumpTuesdsays campaign and in response to the outrageous immigration orders have fueled public rage against the administration and its supporters. Boycotts of Uber, Disney, Tesla and other corporations cooperating with Trump’s economic agenda have also alarmed business leaders.

Plus, the past two weeks have GOP senators feeling the heat as their constituents have showed up at town halls meetings and Senate offices demanding opposition to dismantling Obamacare and Trump’s crooked cabinet.

All of that pressure brought on Puzder’s demise. The people sent him packing.

Within a day of Puzder’s bowing out, Trump named Alexander Acosta, dean of Florida International University College of Law, as his new nominee for Labor secretary. Acosta is sure to also get strong scrutiny from people who work for a living and their advocates.

The people have begun to slow the momentum of the Trump/GOP anti-people agenda. And the resistance to their agenda has only just begun.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on February 16, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Libero Della Piana is the Director of Digital Organizing at People’s Action. Follow him on twitter @ldellapiana.

 

Trump’s Labor pick hasn’t even had a hearing yet and his confirmation is in serious jeopardy

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

The fight against President Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, fast food CEO Andy Puzder, is shaping up to be as intense as opposition to Betsy DeVos’ nomination for education secretary. Puzder’s long delayed confirmation hearing is set for Thursday, and a few Republican senators are already signaling they may vote against him.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Lisa Murskowski (R-AK), Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) are withholding their support of his nomination. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) made it clear through a 28-page letter with 83 questions for Puzder that she will ensure his confirmation process will be a knock-down, drag-out fight. Other prominent Democrats have spoken out against his record as an employer, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has called on President Trump to withdraw Puzder’s nomination.

DeVos ultimately squeaked through a Senate floor debate, but only after an unprecedented tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence. For weeks before that vote, thousands of people flooded Senate offices with calls against her nomination, and teachers and their allies protested.

Two Republican senators, Sen. Collins and Sen. Murkowski, who now represent half of the Republican senators withholding support for Puzder, voted against her confirmation. Now that twice as many Republicans have already voiced apprehension regarding Puzder, his chances of being confirmed appear even lower.

In her letter, Warren mentioned his “record of prolific labor law abuses and discrimination suits” and “a sneering contempt for the workers in your stores, and a vehement opposition to the laws you will be charged with enforcing.”

Puzder’s CKE Restaurants, which owns fast food restaurants such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr., has been the subject of class action lawsuits over the denial of overtime pay as well as lawsuits accusing the company of discrimination. Workers also allege that they were fired for protesting as part of the Fight for 15 campaign.

ROC United, a restaurant employee advocacy group, released a report last month showing that many of the over 500 workers surveyed experienced sexual harassment and unsafe conditions working at CKE restaurants. Sixty-six percent of female CKE employees said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, compared to 40 percent of women who reported such incidents across the entire industry. Puzder has also opposed a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Puzder’s nomination has also been plagued with reports of domestic abuse against his first wife, Lisa Fierstein. On Tuesday, a Missouri judge will rule on whether to unseal records from Puzder’s 1987 divorce, just two days before the nominee’s confirmation hearing. Republican and Democratic senators have also received a tape from the Oprah Winfrey Network that shows a 1990 episode titled, “High-Class Battered Women,” in which Fierstein appeared to discuss the alleged domestic abuse. Fierstein has since retracted the domestic abuse allegations.

Collins has seen the tape, according to Bloomberg, and said, “I am reviewing the other information that has come to light and I’m sure all of this has been explored thoroughly.”

Like the teachers unions that opposed DeVos, which often work with the Fight for $15 campaign, labor groups also have the power to galvanize opposition to Puzder. Last Thursday, thousands of workers protested against his nomination across the U.S., a spokesman for the Fight for 15 campaign told The New York Times. Some of the protesters demonstrated at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s locations.

The passionate response to DeVos’ nomination, and eventually confirmation, may also be owed to the broad appeal of protecting public school funding, since plenty of middle class Americans of all political stripes send their kids to public schools or know someone who is a teacher. There is a possibility that a broad swath of Americans would similarly oppose a nominee for labor secretary whose record suggests that he will trample on labor protections.

This blog originally appeared at Thinkprogress.org on February 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.

Social Media is a Danger Zone for the Healthcare Industry

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Social media can cause big problems for healthcare workers and their employers. Because of HIPAA rules and other concerns, posting something as seemingly harmless as a selfie with a patient could ruin careers, or worse. Healthcare professionals do form bonds and friendships with some of their patients and because social media has become a place where people share details of their lives and their friends’ lives, it is understandable that a healthcare worker might slip up and post something that he or she shouldn’t. Understandable, but not excusable.

Blurred Lines

Healthcare workers are advised of HIPAA rules and know that information about their patients is confidential, but that hasn’t stopped some healthcare workers from getting into trouble for their social media posts. For example, when a police officer was brought into an emergency room and the staff was unable to save him, some posted their condolences on Facebook, complete with the name of the deceased officer. To make matters worse, the officer’s family had yet to be notified.

Certainly, the ER staffers were reacting to the heartbreak of losing a patient and doing what felt natural in the moment—sharing thoughts and feelings on social media. They were acting out of kindness.

Intent Doesn’t Matter

A post that is meant to be kind is still not OK. The bottom line is this: sharing any information about a patient is a HIPAA violation even if the social media account has the highest possible privacy settings (which are never 100% reliable), and even if the post is mourning the loss of a patient.

As Ed Bennett, director of Web strategy at University of Maryland Medical System points out, “We already have guidelines; social media is simply another form of communication. It’s no different from e-mail or talking to someone in an elevator. The safe advice is to assume anything you put out on a social media site has the potential to be public.”

What About Free Speech?

A recent social media conduct survey found that 41.2% of Americans believe that getting fired because of a social media post is an infringement of their First Amendment rights. In the private sector, it’s usually not.

The First Amendment affords Americans the right to free speech, which means they can express themselves without interference or constraint by the government. The First Amendment does not protect employees from private sector disciplinary action.

Healthcare professionals can get fired for a post, even one that does not violate HIPAA laws, as a Philadelphia hospital employee learned when she posted a racially-charged rant on social media. Word spread (because social media is not private!), someone started a change.org petition to demand that the hospital fire the employee (for a post that had nothing to do with her job) and the worker was fired.

Headaches All Around

An inappropriate social media post can become a major headache for everyone involved. According to the AMA:

Criminal penalties for a violation of HIPAA are directly applicable to covered entities—including health plans, health care clearinghouses, health care providers who transmit claims in electronic form, and Medicare prescription drug card sponsors. Individuals such as directors, employees, or officers of the covered entity, where the covered entity is not an individual, may also be directly criminally liable under HIPAA in accordance with principles of “corporate criminal liability.”

HIPAA was enacted in 1996 and social media didn’t begin to hit its stride until Facebook opened to the public in 2006. Since employers are liable, and HIPAA doesn’t explicitly address social media, many deem it prudent to have a very clear social media policy. As a healthcare employee, you should be aware of your employer’s policies, which may go above and beyond HIPAA.

Conclusion

The healthcare provider/client relationship is like no other. Healthcare professionals know the most personal details about their patients, and they care about their patients, yet they’re expected to maintain a professional relationship.

According to the US Department of Labor, “Employment of healthcare occupations is projected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, adding about 2.3 million new jobs. Healthcare occupations will add more jobs than any other group of occupations.” Workers of the future who have grown up with social media and habitually post random moments of their days on Snapchat or Instagram will have to learn to curb that behavior if they intend to get a job in the healthcare field—and keep it.

 

Ellen Gipko is a marketing analyst for white label SEO firm HubShout, and a writer specializing in the topics of social media and digital marketing. She has contributed content to Social Media Today, Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Journal and other industry websites.

New Congress on Track to Block Long-Sought Workplace and Public Health Protections

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

An estimated 10,000 Americans die from asbestos-caused diseases each year, a figure that’s considered conservative. Asbestos is no longer mined in the United States but it still exists in products here, perpetuating exposure, especially for workers in construction and other heavy industries. In June 2016, after years of debate, the country’s major chemical regulation law was updated for the first time in 40 years, removing a major obstacle to banning asbestos.

Exposure to beryllium, a metal used in aerospace, defense, and communications industry manufacturing, to which about 62,000 U.S. workers are exposed annually, can cause a severe, chronic lung disease. On January 6, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issued a rule—more than 15 years in the making—that dramatically lowers allowable workplace exposure to beryllium. OSHA says this will prevent 94 premature deaths and prevent 46 new cases of beryllium-related disease per year.

On April 17, 2013, an explosion and fire at the West Fertilizer Company plant in West, Texas, killed 15 people and injured hundreds. In late December—after a four-year process involving public, business, governments and non-profit input—the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule designed to prevent such accidents, improve community response to and preparedness for such disasters.

Those three examples are among the occupational and public health protective policies finalized by the Obama administration now jeopardized by antiregulatory legislation already passed by the 115th Congress. It remains to be seen if this legislation will become law and actually used. But, says University of Texas School of Law professor Thomas McGarity, the likely outcome is “that this will make people sick and unsafe.”

“Landscape is grim as it is”

In addition to having the ability to pass antiregulatory legislation, Congress has at its disposal the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Passed in 1996 by the Newt Gingrich-led House, it allows Congress to overturn a regulation passed during the last 60 legislative working days of an outgoing administration. What’s more, it prevents the creation of a substantially similar regulation. It’s only been used once, in 2001, to overturn the ergonomics regulation passed by OSHA under President Bill Clinton.

Add to this the Midnight Rules Relief Act, passed by the House on January 4. It amends the CRA, allowing Congress to overturn multiple regulations promulgated during the previous administration’s last six months, rather than individually as the CRA requires. “This allows the House to pick and choose rules that industry doesn’t like and do it all at once,” McGarity explains.

Also already passed by the House is the Regulatory Accountability Act. It includes a provision that could threaten the change made to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) eliminating the provision that prevented the EPA from banning asbestos. As Natural Resources Defense Council director of government affairs, David Goldston explains, “This bill has a provision that says notwithstanding any other provision of law, costs and benefits have to be considered when writing a rule.” Goldston calls this phrase “dangerous,” as it means putting economic costs to industry ahead of costs to human health as TSCA previously required—a requirement the revised bill eliminated.

And, as if these laws weren’t enough to threaten existing regulations, there’s the REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act), also already passed by the House. This law essentially says that an agency rule can’t go into effect unless Congress approves it. Or, as University of Maryland Carey School of Law professor Rena Steinzor explained in the American Prospect, “In a drastic power grab, the House has approved a measure that would strip executive agencies of the authority to issue significant new regulations.”

“If the REINS Act becomes law, then Congressional inaction will supersede previous Congressional action on fundamental bedrock popular health, safety and environmental protection laws,” says Public Citizen regulatory policy advocate Amit Narang.

He also points out that if the administration of Donald Trump declines to defend regulations now under legal challenge, they could also be undone. Among the rules now being challenged is OSHA’s long sought updated restriction on occupational silica exposure.

“The landscape is grim as it is,” says Emily Gardner, worker health and safety advocate at the non-profit citizens’ rights advocacy group Public Citizen, referring to OSHA’s limited resources. “There are nearly 5,000 workers dying on the job every year and OSHA’s not able to respond to threats as they’re happening.” Now, she says, “I’m looking at a Congress that would nearly paralyze rulemaking.”

“Designed to smash the system not reform it”

These laws effectively knock the foundation out from under how agencies like OSHA, the Department of Labor and EPA go about creating the network of regulations needed to implement the intent of laws that protect workplace and public health.

“This is designed to smash the system not reform it,” says Goldston of this antiregulatory legislation.

Not surprisingly, the historically pro-big business U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports antiregulatory legislation, as does the American Chemistry Council and National Association of Manufacturers. On the other hand, it’s opposed by American Sustainable Business Council, which represents more than 250,000 business owners and says the regulations these laws aim to undo are needed to support healthy, thriving workplaces and the economy.

Apart from the CRA, all of this legislation still needs to pass the Senate and be signed by the president to become law. But with a Republicans in the majority and Trump in the White House, vetoes seem highly unlikely.

This article originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on January 27, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones, Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

Five Groups of Americans Who’ll Get Shafted Under Trump’s Hiring Freeze

Monday, January 30th, 2017

RichardEskowDonald Trump, in what’s been hyped as an “unprecedented” move, has instituted a freeze on the hiring of federal employees. Hyperbole aside (it’s hardly unprecedented, since Ronald Reagan did the same thing on his first day in office), one thing is already clear: this will hurt a lot of people.

Trump’s order exempts military personnel, along with any position that a department or agency head “deems necessary to meet national security or public safety responsibilities.” That offers a fair degree of latitude when it comes to filling positions in certain areas.

But Trump’s appointees aren’t likely to ask for “national security or public safety” exemptions for the many government jobs that help people in ways Republicans despise. So who stands to lose the most under this hiring freeze?

1. Social Security Recipients

Trump and his advisors seem to have had Social Security in mind when they included this language:

“This hiring freeze applies to all executive departments and agencies regardless of the sources of their operational and programmatic funding …” (Emphasis mine.)

While there may be other reasons for this verbiage, it effectively targets Social Security, which is entirely self-funded through the contributions of working Americans and their employers.

Social Security is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit. It has very low administrative overhead and is remarkably cost-efficient when compared to pension programs in the private sector.

That hasn’t prevented Republicans in Congress from taking a meat cleaver to Social Security’s administrative budget. That has led to increased delays in processing disability applications, longer travel times for recipients as more offices are closed, and longer wait times on the phone and in person.

Social Security pays benefits to retired Americans, disabled Americans, veterans, and children – all of whom will be hurt by these cuts.

2. Working People

The Department of Labor, especially the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), ensures that working Americans are safe on the job. It’s a huge task: Nearly 2.9 million Americans were injured on the job in 2015, according to OSHA data, and another 145,000 experienced a work-related illness. 4,836 people died from work-related injuries in 2016. (These numbers count only reported injuries, illnesses, and deaths; not all are reported.)

OSHA’s employees study injury and illness patterns, communicate safety practices and rules, and inspect workplaces to make sure that the rules are being followed. This hiring freeze will lead to fewer such studies, communications, and inspections. That means working Americans will pay a price — in injury, illness, and death.

3. Veterans

Some 500,000 veterans have waited more than a month to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Nevertheless, White House spokesperson Sean Spicer confirmed that Trump’s hiring freeze will affect thousands of open positions at the VA, including positions for doctors and nurses. The nation’s veterans will pay for this freeze, in prolonged illness, injury, and pain – or worse.

Vets will pay in another way, too. Vets make up roughly one-third of the federal workforce, which means they will be disproportionately harmed by this hiring freeze. So will women and minorities, both of whom have a significant presence among federal workers – greater than in the workforce as a whole.

4. Small Businesses and Workers All Across the Country

Contrary to what many people believe, federal employees are work in offices all across the country. The goods and services purchased by each federal worker provide jobs and growth for their local economies. Cuts in the federal workforce will therefore cause economic damage all of the states where federal jobs are located.

According to the latest report on the subject from the Office of Management and Budget, states with the largest numbers of Federal employees are: California, with 150,000 jobs; Virginia, with 143,000 jobs; Washington DC, with 133,000 jobs; and, Texas, with 130,000 jobs.

That’s right: Texas.

Other states with large numbers of Federal employees include Maryland, Florida, and Georgia.

Demand for goods and services will fall with the federal workforce. So will demand for workers, which means that wages will rise more slowly (if at all). This hiring freeze will affect small businesses and working people in states like Texas and all across the country.

5. Everybody Else.

The “public safety” argument could also be used to exempt employees of the Environmental Protection Agency from the hiring freeze. But Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, a longtime foe of environmental regulation who has sided with some genuinely noxious polluters, to run the EPA.

As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Pruitt has sued the EPA 14 times. “In 13 of those cases,” the New York Times reports, “the co-parties included companies that had contributed money to Mr. Pruitt or to Pruitt-affiliated political campaign committees.”

In other words, Pruitt is dirty. It’s unlikely he’ll seek a “public safety” exemption for the inspectors that identify industrial polluters and bring them to justice. So another group that will suffer under this freeze, without getting too cute about it, is pretty much anybody who drinks water or breathes air. That covers just about everybody.

And that’s just the beginning.

This is not an all-inclusive list. We’ve left out tourists, for example, who’ll pay the price for staffing cuts at the nation’s monuments and national parks. But the overall impact of Trump’s hiring freeze is clear: it shows a reckless disregard for the health, safety, and well-being of the American people.

(And that’s not even counting his plan to end the Affordable Care Act. Physicians Steffie Woolhandler and David Emmelstein estimate that this will result in 43,000 deaths every year. And they’re not Democratic partisans or ACA apologists; they’ve been fighting for single-payer healthcare for years.)

Given these implications – and the thousands of jobs affected at the VA alone – it was surprising to read, in Politico, that “Trump’s move, by itself, doesn’t actually do much.”

That’s true, in one way. The 10,000 to 20,000 jobs affected by this freeze pale in comparison to the federal government’s total workforce of 2.2 million.

But Trump’s just getting started. His memo instructs the Director of the Office of Management and Budget to come up with a broader long-term plan for reducing the federal workforce through attrition. And Trump’s choice for that job, Rep. Mick Mulvaney, is a far-right Republican who’s been fighting to cut the federal government for years.

This freeze is a bad idea, but there will be more where this came from.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on January 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

Worker advocates are getting under labor nominee Andy Puzder's thin, thin skin

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Donald Trump proposes to put fast food CEO Andy Puzder in charge of the Department of Labor, where he could bring his program of wage theft, automation, and sexism to workers nationwide. Unions and worker advocacy groups are not so enthusiastic about this proposal, and one of the ways they’ve tried to register their concern is by tweeting at Puzder. This has revealed something new, interesting, and pathetic about the wealthy, powerful, outspoken political nominee: he has incredibly thin skin. Puzder has been steadily blocking his critics on Twitter:

The Hardees and Carl’s Jr. CEO has blocked the Twitter accounts of at least five labor advocacy groups. This week, he even blocked one of the country’s most prominent union leaders, Mary Kay Henry of the 2-million member Service Employees International Union.

“Yes, the Twitter news is true. A sentence I can’t believe I’m writing,” an SEIU spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday evening. The union is the second-largest in the country, and has been the main backer of the Fight For $15 movement to raise wages in the fast food industry.

As a veteran fast food leader opposed to wage hikes, Puzder’s beef with Henry and the SEIU seems clear. But he’s handing out the blocks more liberally than that. The cabinet nominee has also blocked the National Employment Law Project, the Economic Policy Institute, MoveOn.org, the Fight for $15, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — all organizations that advocate on behalf of workers, especially low-wage workers and workers of color.

These groups are sober, policy-focused, and polite. As NELP’s Judy Conti told Buzzfeed, “We’re not name-calling. There are no ad hominem attacks.” But Puzder apparently can’t even face being tweeted at about New York Times coverage of himself, at least if it’s a progressive think tank doing the tweeting.

Just think: a labor secretary who doesn’t want to hear from pro-worker groups.

This article originally appeared at DailyKOS.com on January 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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