Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Eileen Toback’

Would You Like a Side of Swine Flu with Your Order?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

In President Obama’s “first 100 days” news conference, he gave good, common-sense advice:

– “Stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.”

But this advice is about as helpful as being told to eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away when nearly 50 percent of private-sector workers have no paid sick days. This statistic jumps to four out of every five low-income worker going without paid sick days. Overall, 57 million private-sector workers in this country have no paid sick days, and 94 million cannot use their paid sick days to care for a sick child [Source: Public Welfare Foundation]. There is a bad joke somewhere in there about the 48 million Americans going without health insurance not needing the sick days to go to the doctor, but the punch line is tragically unfunny.

The survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, found that when workers took time off for illness or to care for a sick family member, one in six say they were fired, disciplined or threatened by their employer. Another study done by Harvard and McGill University researchers finds the United States ranks at the bottom of 21 high-income nations in providing paid parental leave for workers.

In fact, 145 countries guarantee paid sick days; the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world with the most productive workers, is not one of them. We can do better.

Bottom line – employment law and policy have consequences far beyond the relationship of employees and their employers. If we want our co-workers to take time off to recover from illness and not jeopardize exposure to colleagues, if we want the ability to strategically close a few schools when flu cases are identified and keep children at home, then we need a policy to support it or else being told to ‘stay home from work’ becomes meaningless.

Preparing for pandemic illness requires stocking up on vaccines, improving access to health care and tracking cases, as well as giving people the ability to take sick days. The Healthy Families Act is a federal bill that will let workers accrue up to seven paid sick days a year that they could use to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, Corporate America considers the right to seven paid sick days a year as “paid vacation.” These are some of the same folks that are ‘championing’ workers’ rights’ to a management ordered secret ballot election for union representation. In case I’m being too subtle – workers’ advocates are championing the Employee Free Choice Act so that employees may collectively bargain for benefits such as paid sick days. Corporate America is threatened by a more unionized work force because it jeopardizes unchecked greed; and is fighting the legislation making it easier to form unions under the guise of protecting workers’ rights just as they are lobbying against the Healthy Families Act. This is a side point to the one I’m making about sick days, but I think worthy of consideration.

Paid sick days are a basic workplace standard. Or, more accurately, should be a basic workplace standard. And to make the point personal, do you want your restaurant food handler working on the day he has the flu? How about your child’s daycare worker?

It’s time to pass the Healthy Families Act. You can get involved with a number of groups. I recommend the National Partnership for Women & Families as well as the Everyone Gets Sick online rally.

Eileen Toback is a political strategist and labor relations expert. To read more of Eileen’s commentary on labor issues check out unionmaiden.wordpress.com. If you have a question for Eileen, contact her via eileentoback@gmail.com.

Signing a Card to Join a Group? What a Novel Idea.

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

If you have any interest in politics you have heard by now the big news about Senator Arlen Specter switching his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat. From what I can gather, the actual process to switch parties merely requires some paperwork. That’s it!

Sen. Specter does not want to join the ranks of the 434,000 people unemployed in Pennsylvania and made a strategic decision to sign-up to be a Democrat. Now, as a new member of an affiliation working to protect his job, President Obama has pledged to campaign for him and the fundraising juggernaut, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), already lists Specter as a Democrat to support in the 2010 political cycle.

In Senator Specter’s statement about switching parties, he noted his continued opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act. He stated,

“My change in party affiliation does not mean that I will be a party-line voter any more for the Democrats that I have been for the Republicans. Unlike Senator Jeffords’ switch which changed party control, I will not be an automatic 60th vote for cloture. For example, my position on Employees Free Choice (Card Check) will not change.”

Despite Sen. Specter’s betrayal by flip flopping his position on the Employee Free Choice Act last month, leaders and spokespeople within the labor movement have expressed subdued exuberance at the prospect of Sen. Specter joining the ranks of the Democrats. Sen. Specter’s party switch may indicate a compromise for the Employee Free Choice Act, and therefore, with Sen. Specter’s support, the bill could be closer to achieving the 60 votes needed for cloture.

I do not carry the heavy burden of a leader representing millions of members, so I can afford to be more skeptical and indignant. But the fact remains that Sen. Specter stated just one month ago that he would not support the bill and, as noted above, made a point of reiterating his position in his statement about switching parties. This is after he was on record for years as supporting the bill. He supported it when it was only theoretical since it didn’t have the votes to pass with Republicans holding the majority in Congress and President Bush in office vowing to veto it if it should ever come across his desk. And as a supporter of the theoretical bill, Sen. Specter enjoyed a great deal of support from unions.

Now, in 2009, with a Democratic President and majority in Congress the theoretical bill has become very real. Now is the time a person’s word and support means something. And Sen. Specter changed his position. His reasoning? He claims he cannot support legislation that would make it easier for working people to gain the protection and support of an organization that will bargain for wages, benefits and terms of employment until, wait for it – the economy improves. Well, he has a point. In a time of economic uncertainty, rampant layoffs, corporations asking employees for major givebacks while its managers award themselves multi-million dollar bonuses and travel by corporate jet – that’s certainly no time for workers to have some semblance of checks and balances looking out for their best interests.

So the question begs to be asked: Senator Specter – You signed a form and now belong to a group that will fight for your job and will represent your interests exactly at the time you really needed it. Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL have that option?

Women of the World Unite, All We Have to Win Is 22 cents

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Today is Pay Equity Day. The National Committee on Pay Equity came up with the idea in the mid-1990s to acknowledge a day in April to remind us that it takes women a full year PLUS an extra four months of earning a salary (or a total of 16 months) to equal the amount male colleagues net in just one calendar year (12 months). That is what it means when you hear the statistic that women who work full time earn about 78 cents for every dollar men earn (See U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics). Minority women are subject to a far greater wage gap.

Not mad yet? Those twenty-two cents add up. The Center for American Progress reports that women who work year-round earn less than men in comparable jobs and at all educational levels. The wage gap increases over a woman’s lifetime and adds up to $434,000 over a 40-year career for the typical woman. A woman with a bachelor’s degree or higher can lose more than $713,000 (See Center for American Progress, “Wage Gap by the Numbers“).

“Well,” you’re thinking, “that sounds pretty bad, but this is someone else’s problem; surely I am not being paid less than my male colleagues!” Think again. The statistics say otherwise. The gender wage gap is documented in all 50 states and is at a national average rate of 78 percent (Source: National Women’s Law Center‘s calculations from the U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Earnings and Poverty Data from the 2007 American Community Survey (August 2008). You do the math – chances are, if you are a woman in the workforce, it is highly likely that you are earning less than had you been a man.

If you are a man reading this, then it should trouble you that the gender wage gap is harming your wife, sister, mother, daughter, friends and colleagues. According to the AFL-CIO, working families lose $200 BILLION every year due to the wage gap! Your women are bringing home less bacon than they should be, and it is affecting everyone’s bottom line.

Or think of it another way: the current recession is especially hitting male-dominated industries, such as construction and manufacturing. Four out of every five jobs being lost in this recession affect men. Women are becoming the main breadwinner, but, on average, make up only one-third of a family’s income. Prolonged, systemic pay inequity will further hurt families who have lost the earnings of the male breadwinner and must solely depend on the woman’s wages, to say nothing of single mothers who struggle year in and year out independent of economic downturns.

In honor of Pay Equity Day, it is reasonable and even encouraged to express your well-earned outrage. There are a number of legislative efforts seeking to close the wage gaps between men and women, and minorities as well. A number of organizations’ web sites today will detail current and soon-to-be-introduced legislation to close loopholes, enhance provisions under the Equal Pay Act, and prohibit employer retaliation against workers who inquire about employers’ wage practices. I encourage you watch one of the more amusing Equal Pay legislation videos out from the Center for American Progress. Check out EQUAL PAY: Batgirl vs Chamber of Commerce.

Fixing this issue legislatively is one important approach, but cannot be achieved exclusively in this manner. If you have any doubts, consider that it was President Kennedy who signed the Equal Pay Act into law more than forty-five years ago. If Kennedy’s challenge to land a man on the moon were as successful as the Equal Pay Act, Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’ would have been referring to a cool telescope.

The most direct, proven tool to combat pay inequity are unions. According to AFL-CIO compiled data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2008, on average, unionization raised women’s wages by 32% compared to non-union women. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research found that for the years 2004 – 2007, unionized women were much more likely to have health insurance (75.4%) and a pension (75.8%) than women workers who were not in unions (50.9% for health insurance, 43% for pensions.) In real dollar terms – the average unionized woman working full-time earns a weekly salary of $809 per week vs. the $615 a non-unionized woman will earn.

The same business groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce, who fought against the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which restores the right of victims of pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion and disability to challenge the discrimination in court, are the same groups waging war against the Employee Free Choice Act – the bill that will give workers the freedom to choose a union to represent them. The more women unionize, the more they rightfully earn and the narrower the wage gap becomes.

Help pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and soon we might be celebrating Pay Equity Day when it should be celebrated – in December.

About the Author: Eileen Toback is a political strategist and labor relations expert. To read more of Eileen’s commentary on labor issues, check out unionmaiden.wordpress.com. If you have a question for Eileen, contact her via eileentoback@gmail.com.

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