Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘economic justice’

11 Things You Need to Know on Equal Pay Day

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018

Equal Pay Day calls attention to the persistent moral and economic injustice working women face. For a woman to earn as much as a man, she has to work a full year, plus more than a hundred extra days, all the way to April 10. The problem is even worse for women of color, LGBTQ women and part-time workers.

Here are 11 things you need to know on Equal Pay Day:

1. Equal Pay Day for women of color is even later: For black women, Equal Pay Day comes later because they are paid, on average, even less than white women. Equal Pay Day for black women is Aug. 7. For Native American women, it’s Sept. 7. For Latinas, it’s Nov. 1.

2. LGBTQ women face a host of related problems: A woman in a same-sex couple makes 79% of what a straight, white man makes. Additionally, they face higher rates of unemployment, discrimination and harassment on the job.

3. It will take decades to fix the problem if we don’t act now: If nothing changes, it will take until 2059 for women to reach pay equality. For black women, parity won’t come until 2124 and for Latinas, 2233.

4. Fixing the wage gap will reduce poverty: The poverty rate for women would be cut in half if the wage gap were eliminated. Additionally, 25.8 million children would benefit from closing the gap.

5. Fixing the wage gap would boost the economy: Eliminating the wage gap would increase women’s earnings by $512.6 billion, a 2.8% boost to the country’s gross domestic product. Women are consumers and the bulk of this new income would be injected directly into the economy.

6. Women aren’t paid less because they choose to work in low-paying jobs: The gender pay gap persists in nearly every occupation, regardless of race, ethnicity, education, age and location.

7. Education alone isn’t the solution: Women are paid less at every level of education. Women with advanced degrees get paid less than men with bachelor’s degrees.

8. The Paycheck Fairness Act would help: This bipartisan legislation would close loopholes in existing law, break harmful patterns of pay discrimination and strengthen protections for women workers.

9. Being in union makes a difference: Women who are represented by unions and negotiate together are closer to pay equality, making 94 cents per dollar that white men make.

10. Business leaders have a role in the solution: Individual business owners and leaders have the power to close the pay gap and improve people’s lives. Catalyst offers five tips on what business leaders can do.

11. Many companies already are working on solutions: Learn from them.

Florida County Makes It Easier For Workers To Get Unpaid Wages From Bosses

Friday, March 20th, 2015

AlanPyke_108x108Workers who get cheated out of their due pay in central Florida will have a much easier time recovering what they’re owed after Osceola County approved a tough new wage theft law, making it the latest in a string of local governments to take on increased responsibility for enforcing federal wage and hour laws.

Under the new rules, workers will be able to file cases with the county and employers who are accused of wage theft could end up having to repay triple the amount they stole from employees if they fight a case and lose. Workers in Miami-Dade County have so far recovered about $1.8 million since that wage theft law came online in late 2010.

Osceola’s law adds an important, tougher element to the basic model laid out in Miami-Dade. Companies that fight a wage theft claim and lose can have their business license revoked by the county.

Efforts to combat wage theft at the local level appear to be spreading, according to Tesedeye Gebreselassie of the National Employment Law Project (NELP). “It’s clear that existing laws and resources on fed state level are insufficient, and we’re starting to see more cities and counties take action in any way that they can,” she said. “There’s a growing trend to figure out what can be done on the local level now that everybody’s acknowledged that wage theft is a huge problem.” Propagating enforcement systems that work will be especially important if low-wage workers are to actually realize the economic benefits that should come from a rash of state and local minimum wage increases around the country, as the NELP argues in a new report.

There is no perfect deterrent, since a business owner willing to ignore wage laws in the first place is often going to choose to go out of business rather than dole out back pay. And the prevalence of low-wage, low-skill jobs in the American economy has helped create a sort of race to the ethical bottom among employers who are more interested in cutting corners than giving honest pay for honest work. As David Weil, the top federal official in charge of enforcing wage and hour laws for the Department of Labor, told the New York Times in 2014, “We have a change in the structure of work that is then compounded by a falling level of what is viewed as acceptable in the workplace in terms of how you treat people and how you regard the law.”

“I have a very close relative that had this happen to him,” Osceola County Commissioner Michael Harford (D) told ThinkProgress. “It was very difficult for him to understand how he was getting paid.” Harford gradually realized that wage theft was relatively common among his constituents, and helped push the law through this spring after voters elected four Democrats and one Republican to the commission last fall.

Harford’s reforms not only increase the consequences of wage theft for employers who get caught, but also make it easier for workers to find legal help. If the new adjudication process finds a company liable for wage theft, it must pay treble damages for the withheld pay and also cover the legal fees incurred by the workers who brought the allegation. “If we had more of an incentive for representation in these cases, we’d see hopefully the same effort to vindicate workers’ rights that we see to vindicate the rights of the injured in personal injury cases,” Rep. Alan Grayson (D) told ThinkProgress.

There’s no reason other localities can’t follow Osceola and Miami’s lead. Jeanette Smith, executive director of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice and a key member of the coalition that researched the wage theft question for two years before bringing a legislative proposal in Miami-Dade, told ThinkProgress she thinks the model ought to be easily transferred even beyond the state line.

“I tell people not to just change the name on it, make sure it works,” Smith said. “But in general I think this kind of process is portable, as long as you’ve got a division of your government that can pick it up and administer it, and you have the political will, and frankly that you have responsible businesses that speak up.” Partly that’s because the laws don’t require business owners to comply with any new regulations and they don’t require local governments to hire new enforcement officers. “These ordinances do not put new regulations in place. Nothing at all. It’s simply offering a venue where the workers can go,” Smith said.

The real cutting edge of a law like Osceola’s comes well before a lawyer would ever get involved, in a pre-hearing process called conciliation. After a worker notifies the county of a wage theft allegation and provides evidence for the claim, the county contacts the employer and invites him to address the complaint voluntarily. Conciliation has produced a little over half of the $1.8 in recovered wages and damages under Miami-Dade County’s law and 53 percent of cases brought under the law were resolved at that early stage, according to Smith.

“There’s a big emphasis on conciliation, because the idea is that these are predominantly low-wage workers and they need to get their money right away. These are people who can’t go to court and wait all that time,” Smith said. By creating a two-stage process and giving employers immunity from the damages provision of the law as long as they resolve a legitimate wage violation in the conciliation stage, these laws give employers an incentive to be responsive to complaints. “There is gonna be that smaller group of completely unscrupulous employers that just completely disappear, often people who never even had a business license to start with,” Smith said. But even if workers for such employers never get made whole under this new process, the law still discourages willful violators from setting up shop in the area.

Wage theft steals more money from American workers each year than the combined haul from every robbery and heist nationwide. The term refers to violations of federal wage and hour protections, and that federal jurisdiction is part of the reason that local protections like the ones just passed in Osceola County are rare. Workers who think they’re being cheated by the boss can file a suit anywhere, regardless of local ordinances, and they have done so at a rapidly increasing clip in recent years. Workers have won court settlements from retail logistics firms, trucking companies, strip clubs, and fast food companies. They’ve also lost one significant case before the Supreme Court, though it only narrowly curtailed the types of employer policies that can be considered wage theft.

But going to court is expensive, in both dollars and time, and Osceola is the most recent place to erect a more worker-friendly system for addressing the complaints. Wage theft laws intended to help workers recoup wages without getting tied up in court have come into effect in Chicago, Houston, andColorado in recent years.

Lowering the local barriers to recovering stolen wages is a good start, Grayson said, but it does not address the various other ways in which workers have been pitted against one another by recent attacks on union solidarity on the job. “The right to organize has been frustrated and in many cases defeated by business groups. That’s left a disorganized low-wage labor base that can be exploited at will by unscrupulous employers, so the problem increases over time,” Grayson said. Right now, “crime does pay if you’re cheating your employees. And we have to stop that.”

This blog originally appeared in Thinkprogress.org on December 10, 2014. Reprinted with permission.

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

Executive Council Creates Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Image: Mike Hall“America’s legacy of racism and racial injustice has been and continues to be a fundamental obstacle to workers’ efforts to act together to build better lives for all of us,” says the AFL-CIO Executive Council in a statement announcing the creation of a Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice.

The statement, released today at the council’s winter meeting in Atlanta, acknowledges “an ugly history of racism in our own movement” and adds:

“Yet at the same time the labor movement has a proud history of standing for racial and economic justice. When we have embraced our better selves we have always emerged stronger in every sense. And whenever we have succumbed to the temptation to see some working people as better than others, we have always ended up weaker.”

Pointing to today’s dramatically increasing economic inequality, decreasing union density and growing instability for the majority of Americans, the council says, “The need for all workers to strengthen common interests in achieving economic justice is clear.”

“At the same time our different experiences organized around race, gender identity, ethnicity, disability and sexual orientation often challenge and complicate this shared experience. If we are to succeed as a movement, the full range of working peoples’ voices must be heard in the internal processes of our movement. To be able to stand together we have to understand where all of us are coming from.”

The council points to the unemployment rate for African Americans—10.3%, more than twice as high as that for whites—the criminal justice system and educational inequities that are large parts of a “world divided in many ways by color lines.”

“At the same time working people share a common experience of falling wages and rising economic insecurity. To build a different, better economy we need power that can only come from unity and unity has to begin with having all our voices be heard, on all sides of those color lines. We have to start by acknowledging our own shortcomings and honestly addressing issues that are faced by the communities in which our members live—both the problems and the solutions. We have to find a way to see with each other’s eyes and address the facts and realities.”

The Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice will:

  • Facilitate a broad conversation with local labor leaders around racial and economic disparities and institutional biases, and identify ways to become more inclusive as the new entrants to the labor force diversify;
  • Engage in six to eight labor discussions around the country, with local labor leaders, constituency groups and young workers addressing racial and economic issues impacting the labor movement and offering recommendations for change; and
  • Attempt to create a safe, structured and constructive opportunity for local union leaders to discuss issues pertaining to the persistence of racial injustice today in the workforce and in their communities, and to ensure that the voices of all working people in the labor movement are heard.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

Martin Luther King Jr. Gave His Life Supporting Workers’ Rights

Monday, January 17th, 2011

Image: James ParksMartin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this weekend, died fighting for the freedom of Memphis sanitation workers to form a union with AFSCME. For King, economic justice went hand in hand with civil rights and the right to join a union was critical to gaining economic justice.

Writing on AlterNet, Laura Flanders says:

King saw public workers as the first line of defense. That’s why he went to Memphis to stand by striking sanitation members of AFSCME, the public workers’ union. In his view they led the way in the fight for fair pay and benefits…and in the fight for dignity for those who shovel our snow and clean our streets.

Read her full column here. Read about the AFL-CIO’s 2011l King Day celebration here and here.

King also recognized that the anti-union politicians in the South were the same people who opposed civil rights for all Americans. That’s why he opposed union-busting ”right to work” for less laws. In fact, in 1961, he said:

In our glorious fight for civil rights, we must guard against being fooled by false slogans, as “right-to-work.” It provides no “rights” and no “works.” Its purpose is to destroy labor unions and the freedom of collective bargaining….We demand this fraud be stopped.

This article was originally published on AFL-CIO Now Blog.

About the Author: James Parks had his first encounter with unions at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He is a journalist by trade, and worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

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