Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Employment’

The Morality of a $15 Minimum

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Robert ReichHave you noticed how often conservatives who disagree with a policy proposal call it a “job killer?”

They’re especially incensed about proposals to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim it will force employers to lay off workers worth hiring at the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour but not at a higher minimum.

But as Princeton University economist Alan Krueger pointed out recently in the New York Times“research suggests that a minimum wage set as high as $12 an hour will do more good than harm for low-wage workers.”

That’s because a higher minimum puts more money into the pockets of people who will spend it, mostly in the local economy. That spending encourages businesses to hire more workers.

Which is why many economists, like Krueger, support raising the federal minimum to $12 an hour.

What about $15 an hour?

Across America, workers at fast-food and big-box retail establishments are striking for $15. Some cities are already moving toward this goal. Bernie Sanders is advocating it. A national movement is growing for a $15 an hour minimum.

Yet economists are nervous. Krueger says a $15 an hour minimum would “put us in uncharted waters, and risk undesirable and unintended consequences” of job loss.

Yet maybe some jobs are worth risking if a strong moral case can be made for a $15 minimum.

That moral case is that no one should be working full time and still remain in poverty.

People who work full time are fulfilling their most basic social responsibility. As such, they should earn enough to live on.

A full-time worker with two kids needs at least $30,135 this year to be safely out of poverty. That’s $15 an hour for a forty-hour workweek.

Any amount below this usually requires government make up the shortfall – using tax payments from the rest of us to finance food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and other kinds of help.

What about the risk of job loss? Historically, such a risk hasn’t deterred us from setting minimum work standards based on public morality.

The original child labor laws that went into effect in many states at turn of last century were opposed by business groups that argued such standards would raise the costs of business and force employers to lay off large numbers of young workers.

But America decided the employment of young children was morally wrong.

The safety laws enacted in the wake of the tragic Triangle Shirt Waste Factory fire of 1911, which killed 145 workers, were also deemed “job killers.”

“We are of the opinion that if the present recommendations [for stricter building codes] are insisted upon…factories will be driven from the city,”argued New York’s association of realtors.

But New York and hundreds of other cities enacted them nonetheless because they viewed unsafe sweatshops morally objectionable.

It was the same with the 1938 legislation mandating a forty-hour workweek with time-and-a-half for overtime, along with the first national minimum wage.

“It will destroy small industry,” predicted Georgia Congressman Edward Cox. It’s “a solution of this problem which is utterly impractical and in operation would be much more destructive than constructive to the very purposes which it is designed to serve,” charged Rep. Arthur Phillip Lamneck of Ohio.

America enacted fair labor standards anyway because it was the right thing to do.

Over the years America has decided that certain kinds of jobs – jobs that were done by children, or were unsafe, or required people to work too many hours, or below poverty wages – offend our sense of decency.

So we’ve raised standards and lost such jobs. In effect, we’ve decided such jobs aren’t worth keeping.

Even if a $15 an hour minimum wage risks job losses, it is still the right thing to do.

This post appeared in Our Future on October 19, 2015. Originally posted at RobertReich.org. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

Marco Rubio's Paid Family Leave Plan Would Do Little To Expand Paid Family Leave

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

The Daily KosFour in five Americans thinks companies should be required to “offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members.” So trust a Republican to come up with a paid family leave policy that doesn’t require anything and benefits business, not workers. Marco Rubio is the one Republican presidential candidate with any plan on this issue, and experts say it wouldn’t expand paid leave to many workers who don’t already have it.

Rubio would give tax credits to companies that offer paid leave. The problem is, such tax credits already exist for other things the government wants to encourage companies to do—and we know that it doesn’t work very well.

The government offers tax credits to encourage companies to do other things, like hiring veterans or people with disabilities and offering on-site child care. But there is little evidence that these credits significantly change employers’ behavior. Employer-sponsored child care is still extremely rare, for instance, and a subsidy for firms that hire various disadvantaged workers has been found to have little effect on their employment.

Rubio’s plan would be a nice reward for companies that are already doing the right thing by offering paid leave, but it’s unlikely to mean paid leave for workers who don’t already have it, and that means once again leaving low-income women in the dust. Hillary Clinton policy adviser Ann O’Leary writes that:

The companies that don’t offer [paid leave] tend to have large and mainly lower-skilled workforces. But that’s the rub?—?the people who need paid leave the most are the very people that Rubio’s plan ignores. While everyone should have access to paid family leave, it’s particularly vital for, say, a mother working at a low wage, because she’ll likely have less in savings. […]Consider this fact: In the early 1960s, just over 16 percent of women with less than a high school education had access to paid maternity leave after the birth of their first child. Today that number has not moved at all?—?still only 16 percent of our least educated workers have paid family leave.

But for women with a college degree or more, in the early 1960s, 14 percent had access to paid leave and today that number is over 64 percent. We have literally not moved the needle at all to help our least empowered workers have access to paid maternal leave.

We need policies that actually change this, expanding paid family leave to people who cannot afford to miss a week of pay, not policies that exist to get attention for Marco Rubio as the lone Republican talking about paid leave.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Jobs Report: Flat Wages, Shrinking Workforce

Monday, July 6th, 2015

Robert-Borosage_The June Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report shows continued growth — 223,000 new jobs added with the official unemployment rate declining to 5.3%. Jobs growth remains steady — rising for 57 straight months, now setting a new record each month – but slow, lagging previous recoveries.   The decline in the unemployment rate was largely due to 432,000 people leaving the labor force, reversing the increase that took place in May.

The headline unemployment figure is always misleading. Nearly 17 million people are still in need of full-time work. Long-term unemployment has declined, but remains higher than before the great recession. The employment-population ratio has also not recovered, remaining at 59.3%, marginally lower than a year ago. The portion of the working age population that is employed or wants a job, the labor force participation rate, declined last month and is lower than a year ago. This is not a picture of robust growth.

The BLS reports are important largely as signposts for the Federal Reserve and its pending decision on when to raise interest rates. Fed Chair Janet Yellen sensibly has been focused on disappointing wage growth and looking for “additional strength in the labor market.” She won’t find much that is encouraging in this report.   In this month’s report, hourly wages showed no growth, with the yearly average up barely 2%, despite hikes in the minimum wage by more and more cities and states and more and more companies. Average hours worked remained steady.

Speculation is that the Federal Reserve is headed towards beginning to wage interest rates in September. Higher interest rates will be a drag on growth, jobs and thus wages. The Fed would be well advised to wait until more workers find jobs, and the greater demand for workers is reflected in continuing rising wages.

Government employment showed no increase. The US Congress continues to block any investment to rebuild our decrepit infrastructure at a time of record low interest rates. With the US able to borrow for virtually nothing, an investment in infrastructure, as Larry Summers argues, would pay for itself, with even a minimum return in efficiency. No business leader with a whit of sense would refuse to grasp this opportunity. Perhaps Donald Trump who has built his fortune by making far riskier bets with borrowed money could explain this to his colleagues.

Manufacturing employment showed little change, adding 4,000 jobs. For the president to meet his pledge of adding 1 million manufacturing jobs in his second term, he would have to average over 32,000 a month. This seems less and less likely, as manufacturing is weakened by our rising trade deficits, resulting from the strong dollar and our perverse trade policies that the president is intent on extending.  The economy has gained only 38,000 manufacturing jobs in the first six months of this year.

The economy continues to add jobs, which is an indisputably good thing. But the pace is slow, and little of the recovery is reaching most Americans. Surveys show that Americans are growing more optimistic about the economy. This is reflected in rising non-revolving consumer credit – significantly student and car loans – which is outpacing after-tax income growth. If the Fed raises interest rates, these debts will grow more costly, putting a crimp on consumer demand. Again, with the Congress refusing to act sensibly, the Fed has every reason to wait until wages are rising and more Americans are working before starting to put on the brakes.

This blog was originally posted on Our Future on July 2, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Robert Borosage. Robert L. Borosage is the founder and president of the Institute for America’s Future and co-director of its sister organization, the Campaign for America’s Future. The organizations were launched by 100 prominent Americans to develop the policies, message and issue campaigns to help forge an enduring majority for progressive change in America. Mr. Borosage writes widely on political, economic and national security issues. He is a Contributing Editor at The Nation magazine, and a regular blogger at The Huffington Post. His articles have appeared in The American Prospect, The Washington Post,Tthe New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He edits the Campaign’s Making Sense issues guides, and is co-editor of Taking Back America (with Katrina Vanden Heuvel) and The Next Agenda (with Roger Hickey).

Jobs Report: Under The Sunny Headline, Deep Roots Of Discontent

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Isaih J. PooleThe latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms what voters felt when they went to the polls Tuesday: Job growth continues slowly but inadequately, built on a weak foundation of weak wage growth and low labor force participation.

There were 214,000 new jobs created in October, the report said, with the unemployment rate at 5.8 percent. It’s enough to prompt optimistic headlines, but as we’ve said repeatedly, this is well under the rate of growth we really need to make workers whole after the damage done by the 2008 recession. We’ve been living with unemployment above 5.8 percent since August 2008 – more than six years.

We still have an economy in which 32 percent of the unemployed have been out of work for more than 26 weeks – that’s almost 3 million people who the job market still does not have room to accommodate. The labor-force participation rate remains at a historic low, under 63 percent. Job growth continues to be concentrated in low-wage service jobs, with only modest increases in manufacturing, construction and other blue-collar occupations. Public-sector job growth barely budged upward.

Wage growth year-over-year remains stuck at about 2 percent, which in effect is virtually no growth at all when inflation is taken into account. Wages should be growing at a rate of 3.5 percent annually to remain consistent with the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent inflation target, so there is plenty of room to raise wages without raising fears of inflation.

This is the economic climate that drove voter anger and frustration Tuesday. It motivated voters to approve minimum-wage-increase referendums whenever they were on the ballot, even as they voted out Democrats who support a minimum wage increase but did not present a bold vision for how to rebuild middle-class prosperity.

Here’s where the tragedy of Tuesday’s election results come into sharp relief. Republicans were more successful than Democrats in tapping into voters’ economic anxiety, even with their record of blocking the policy changes needed to address the causes of that anxiety.

A major infrastructure investment program, done while borrowing costs are near zero, would have bolstered construction, manufacturing and other higher-age sectors. But that effort has now been held hostage to a deal to let corporations off the hook that have stashed profits overseas to avoid corporate taxes. Now that Republicans control the Senate as well as the House, we will see that deal go forward as a bipartisan “compromise” to show that Washington can “get things done.” Never mind that by any reasonable standard letting the nation’s biggest corporations keep billions of their ill-gotten gains from shifting profits overseas is too high a price to pay for the trickle of extra dollars that would be yielded for infrastructure.

There is even less of a chance that a Republican-controlled Congress, believing that every economic challenge is a nail that requires the hammer of top-end tax cuts and government spending cuts, will send increased state and local funds to the nation’s pockets of high unemployment. The Economic Policy Institute released a chart this week that showed that every state but two has shown a decline in the percentage of the working-age population with a job. The drop has been 3 percent nationally, and 28 states have percentages below the national average. Four states – Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico and Arkansas – have declines that more than double the national average.

That shows how in so many ways, what gains there are in the economy are not broadly shared. This will not be fixed, as Republicans are saying, by repealing the Affordable Care Act, building the Keystone XL pipeline, and by cutting corporate taxes. We need to invest in infrastructure, clean energy, education from preschool to affordable college, and in the communities that are always left behind in a you’re-on-your-own economic climate. Voters who in frustration voted out Democrats who failed to present a vision for how this can be done will now have to join a movement to ensure that Washington and the nation cannot duck these issues in the months and years ahead.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on November 7, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141107/jobs-report-under-the-sunny-headline-deep-roots-of-discontent.

About the author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.     

We Cannot Build a Strong, Equitable Economy on Low-Paying Jobs

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Mary Kay HenryWhat started out last fall as a one-day walkout at fast-food restaurants to protest poverty-level wages and stand up for basic human dignity has transformed into a movement that has captured the public interest.

I’ve been privileged, especially in recent weeks, to talk to institutional partners, policymakers and media about why low-wage workers across the country are risking their jobs and forgoing a much-needed day’s pay to work toward a better future for themselves and their families. We will be better off when hardworking people have enough money in their pockets to put back into their communities and generate more jobs, and SEIU members are proud to back these workers in their pursuit of economic justice and better lives for their families.

I traveled to New York City on Wednesday, to talk to Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert about the fast-food strikes. How in the world did this happen? I told Kendall Fells, an organizer from Fast Food Forward, it is because of the courage of the strikers, such as Shay Kerr and Shakira Campbell.

Shay has worked at McDonald’s in East Flatbush, N.Y., for six months. She earns minimum wage and, because sometimes her hours are cut for no reason, she can’t rely on a set pay every week. Since she cannot make ends meet on her wages, she has been bouncing around shelters. She’s fighting for a union so she can make a better life for herself and her 6-year-old son. Shakira is leading an action tomorrow at her store to be put back on the schedule. Their stories echo stories I’ve heard from workers all around the country.

Shakira, Shay, and many others who I have had the privilege of meeting in recent months are helping the public understand that, contrary to what some believe, these positions aren’t being filled by teenagers. Anyone who thinks they are is nostalgic for a time that no longer exists.

More than 4 million people work in the food service industry. Their average age is 28. Many of these workers have children and are trying to support a family. The median wage (including managerial staff) of $9.08 an hour still falls far below the federal poverty line for a worker lucky enough to get 40 hours a week and never have to take a sick day. According to the National Employment Law Project, low-wage jobs comprised 21 percent of recession losses, but 58 percent of recovery growth in the last few years.

This means middle-class jobs are disappearing while low-wage jobs are growing. If we simply accept this as fact, then the divide between the haves and the have-nots will only grow worse. And that is just wrong.

We cannot build a strong, equitable economy on low-paying jobs. Corporate profits are at an all-time high. McDonalds earned $5.5 billion just last year; other fast-food restaurants and retail chains are similarly profitable. They can afford to raise wages.

Americans have a long history of sticking together to fight for something better. SEIU can be proud of how we are fighting on so many fronts, from winning commonsense immigration reform, to delivering on the promise of the Affordable Care Act, to telling our elected officials to invest in vital public services, and to organizing in various sectors to make sure workers have a voice in the workplace. All of our members are involved in these campaigns to help workers strengthen and grow our union. As we do it, we know we have to reach out to the growing service sector of low-wage jobs in retail and fast food.

We are united to make a path to power for all workers; winning a just society; and leaving the world a better and more equal place for next generations to come.

This article originally appeared on SEIU blog on August 8, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mary Kay Henry is the International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Walmart: Portrait of a Job Killer

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Image: Mike HallWhenever communities, lawmakers or activists question or criticize Walmart for the way it treats workers—the low-pay, the stores’ impact on the communities—the retail giant pulls out a well-worn script with a simple message, “Walmart creates jobs and if there’s one thing this economy needs, it’s more jobs.”

Setting aside the quality of the jobs for another day, is Walmart telling the truth? Sure doesn’t look like it, according to Salon’s Kathleen Geier, who matches Walmart’s claims against in-depth research from universities, economists, government studies and other sources. Here’s what she finds:

Contrary to Walmart’s self-glorifying mythology, the retailer is anything but a job creator—in fact, it is a huge job killer. Not only that, destroying jobs is an essential component of Walmart’s anti-worker business model.

She cites a study led by Economist David Neumark—who, by the way, has written against raising the minimum wage in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Using data from more than 3,000 counties, [the] results show that when a Walmart store opens, it kills an average 150 retail jobs at the county level, with each Walmart worker replacing about 1.4 retail workers. These results are robust under a variety of models and tests.

2009 study by Loyola University found that the opening of a Chicago Walmart store was “a wash,” destroying as many jobs as it created. According to the report, “There is no evidence that Wal-Mart sparked any significant net growth in economic activity or employment in the area.” Says Geier:

In short, when Walmart comes to town, it doesn’t “create” anything. All it does is put mom-and-pop stores out of business.

Walmart’s job-killing spree doesn’t stop at the city limits. The remains of once good jobs are scattered throughout Walmart’s entire supply chain. Its cut-throat drive for lower prices, writes Geier, squeezes suppliers to deliver goods at the lowest possible prices and that means cutting labor costs—aka jobs.

Read the full article.

Walmart’s using that specious jobs argument in its fight to block a living wage law in Washington,D.C. Find out more here.

Article originally appeared on AFL-CIO NOW  on August 6, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author:  Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland 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

NLRB Truth: 10 Reasons Why the National Labor Relations Board Matters

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallA radical decision by Republican-appointed federal judges threatens to destabilize the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) if the Board loses a quorum in August. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that two recess appointments made by President Barack Obama in January 2012 were invalid and now NLRB decisions made while those appointees served on the Board are being challenged based on the D.C. Circuit opinion and placed on hold pending resolution of this issue by the U.S. Supreme Court.  This puts many workers across the country in dangerous and unfair situations that hurt them and their families.  The Senate could go a long way towards fixing the problem by confirming five nominations the president has made to the Board, but Republicans continue to obstruct the process in an effort to disable the NLRB and prevent it from protecting the rights of American workers.  Some, like Lindsey Graham (R-SC), have taken the extreme position that the NLRB should be “inoperable” and have vowed to block all nominations to the Board.

Here are ten examples—real stories from workers whose jobs and lives are negatively impacted by Republican obstruction—of why we need a functioning NLRB:

1. Dexter Wray, Alaska: Dexter worked as a maintenance engineer at a Sheraton in Anchorage.  His manager pressured him and several of his co-workers to decertify their union and told them to lie to the NLRB.  When they told the truth, Dexter and two of his co-workers were fired.  The NLRB ruled that the firings and coercion were illegal, but the hotel has refused to rehire them.  Dexter didn’t work for six months and incurred a large medical debt when he lost his health insurance.

2. Michelle Baricko, Connecticut: Michelle is a certified nursing assistant at West River Health Care.  She and her co-workers were locked out for months during contract negotiations.  The hospital’s owner, HealthBridge/CareOne, declared that negotiations were permanently stalled and implemented its own contract, which the employees did not agree to.  The NLRB obtained a court injunction for the company to stop its unfair labor practices, but HealthBridge declared bankruptcy and was able to escape its obligations to the employees. The Board and the employees’ union have appealed the decision.  Michelle was forced to sell her home and still struggles to provide for her three sons.

3. Kathleen Von Eitzen, Michigan: Kathleen is a baker at Panera Bread who organized 17 of her coworkers to form a union.  The company fought back, firing one employee and cutting Kathleen’s pay, giving her a negative evaluation because of her organizing.  The NLRB found that Panera violated the workers’ rights and ordered the company to pay back and compensate employees for cutting their hours. Panera appealed and the case is now stalled in federal court.  Kathleen’s husband has had two heart attacks and can’t work full time.  They can’t afford insurance because of her low pay and their home is now in foreclosure.

4. Susana Salgado Martinez, Nebraska: Susana was fired from Greater Omaha Packing Co., a meat packing plant, after she and fellow employees were accused of planning a strike.  She and her co-workers complained that the production line was moving too fast for several new, inexperienced workers to keep up with and that they were not being paid adequately.  A judge found that Susana and her co-workers were illegally fired and ordered that they be reinstated with back pay.  The case is pending before the NLRB.  Over the last year, she has been unable to find steady work and her family had to file for bankruptcy.

5. Juan Lopez, New Mexico: Juan worked as a janitor for Merchant Building Maintenance.  He and several of his fellow employees complained about sexual harassment, disrespectful treatment by a supervisor and the failure to receive a promised pay raise.  The company temporarily lost the contract that Juan was working on in the Santa Fe Public School District.  When the company was rehired by the school district, Merchant refused to rehire the workers who complained.  The NLRB found that failure to rehire those employees was illegal and that they should be reinstated and given back pay.  The company has refused to comply with the ruling.  Juan has been unable to find steady work since then and has had to skip paying some of his bills.

6. Clarence Adams, New York: Clarence is a Marine and Iraqi veteran who was fired by Cablevision for asking to meet with management, under the company’s “open-door” policy, to discuss stalled contract negotiations.  Two regional offices of the NLRB issued complaints against the company for illegally firing workers and for failing to bargain in good faith.  The company has filed suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals to prevent the complaints from being enforced.  Meanwhile, Clarence is struggling to provide for his family.

7. Jack Conway, Ohio: Jack and 15 other workers at aluminum products company KLB Industries were locked out during union negotiations.  Five years later, KLB has refused to reinstate the workers or give them back pay as the NLRB and U.S. Court of Appeals have ordered.  Conway hasn’t found regular work since the lockout and has exhausted unemployment insurance.  He barely survives on the $200 a week that the United Auto Workers (UAW) provides to him and the other locked-out workers.

8. Anonymous, Virginia: An employee at BaySys Technologies posted a comment on Facebook about not receiving paychecks on time.  The company fired him or her and threatened to sue the employee for violating a non-disclosure agreement.  The NLRB ruled the firing was illegal and ordered the company to reinstate him or her with back pay.  An appeals court enforced the order, which couldn’t have happened without a functioning NLRB.

9. Richard Salinas, Washington: After Richard and his fellow employees at Oak Harbor Freight Lines went on strike in 2008, the company stopped paying into the workers’ pension and health care trust funds.  The NLRB found this to be an illegal action and ordered the company to reimburse the funds for the missed payment and make up for personal losses the employees incurred when their health coverage lapsed.  The Court of Appeals has delayed enforcing the decision because of the uncertainty about the NLRB.  Richard said he’s close enough to retirement that the missed payments won’t affect him much, but he’s worried about how the loss will affect his younger co-workers.

10. Dave Preast, West Virginia: Dave was a miner at the Cannelton mine in Smithers, W.Va., when the mine was purchased by a new company.  The new owner refused to give him a job because of his union membership.  The NLRB has ruled twice that the refusal was illegal, but Dave and 84 other miners have not been rehired or given the back pay they deserve.  Dave has a 16-year-old son who has needed several surgeries for a life-threatening heart condition.  Luckily, he was able to cover the surgeries through the state’s CHIP program and Medicaid, otherwise the costs could have bankrupted the family.  As of now, Dave is doing odd jobs to make ends meet, but without reinstatement he’ll be forced to live on $500 a month when he retires.

There are many more stories of workers whose lives and livelihoods are in crisis because of this NLRB fight.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO NOW on July 11, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Unions to Blame for Economic Woes? 'Oh, Please'

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Jackie TortoraToday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board ridiculed the absurd notion from the Missouri state Senate that somehow union members (teachers, nurses, secretaries, pothole fixers and home health care workers) are to blame for the state’s economic woes. “Oh, please,” the board responds. 

In its editorial, the board points out Missouri state workers are the lowest paid in the country.

Early Tuesday morning, while some of those workers were helping roll over your grandma or grandpa at the nursing home so they didn’t get bed sores, the Republicans who lead the state Senate set things right. They gave initial approval to a bill that will make it a little harder for the unions that represent those public employees to collect fees that might be used to elect thoughtful people to elected office.

The board says that the Republicans in Missouri didn’t want to feel left out of the union-bashing that occurred in Wisconsin and Michigan, so they followed suit pushing through legislation crafted by “their corporate overlords in the American Legislative Exchange Council, which promotes cookie-cutter legislation written by corporate lawyers to enhance their bottom lines.”

In one of the last key legislative weeks before the spring break, the Senate:

  • Raised taxes on poor people.
  • Cut taxes for rich people.
  • Hurt teachers, nurses and other public employees.

The S.B. 29 paycheck deception bill, which makes it harder for unions to collect fees from its members (which are voluntary), is such a “farce,” the board adds, that its sponsor, state Sen. Dan Brown (R), was unable to explain its purpose. 

First responders, police and firefighters are exempt from the bill. 

Call your representative now at 888-907-9711 and urge him or her to oppose paycheck deception, “right to work” for less and anti-prevailing wage bills.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on March 12, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is an blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Cop Sues for Overtime for E-mail Checking

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

mike elkA Chicago police offer is suing the city for overtime pay after being forced to answer emails outside of work. The lawsuit could have far reaching effects for the many employees across industries who are expected to respond to work emails in off hours. From AP:

“Everybody can relate to this because people are being asked all the time these days to work for free and they are being told to work for free using their phones,” attorney Paul Geiger said.

Earlier Wednesday, attorneys for both Allen and the city told a judge they had agreed on the wording of documents that will be sent to other officers asking if they want to join the lawsuit.

According to the suit, police brass pressured subordinates in the department’s organized crime bureau to answer work-related calls and emails on their BlackBerrys, and then also dissuaded the officers from filing for overtime.

“A culture has developed where police officers feel compelled to work for free in order to possibly gain a promotion and/or maintain their coveted assignment,” according to a plaintiff filing.

This post was originally posted on Working In These Times on Feb. 8, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at [email protected].

Why Picket Lines Matter

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Photo courtesy of Caitlin Vega.   I spent so much time on picket lines as a kid that when I thought my dad’s rules were too strict, I would run to build a sign on a stick and try to talk the neighbor kids into marching around the house with me. I learned early on the power of a picket to protest unfair treatment.

That right is more important today than ever. As our economy has shifted toward a more contingent workforce, companies are increasingly hiring workers as part-time or temporary, or labeling them as independent contractors. This leaves workers more vulnerable to abuse while also shielding companies from accountability. When warehouse workers unpacking Walmart goods in a Walmart-owned warehouse were cheated out of their wages, the retail giant responded that those workers were hired through a temporary agency and are not the company’s responsibility.

These kinds of working conditions make it all the more important that workers be able to share their stories with the public. Consumers have the right to know about the kinds of labor practices they are supporting when they shop at a particular store. In this economy, where workers have so little bargaining power, the ability to picket an employer to expose unfair conditions is more important than ever.

That’s what makes the recent California Supreme Court decision in Ralphs Grocery Co. v. UFCW Local 8 so important. The court upheld two provisions of California law that protect the right of workers to picket. The Moscone Act protects peaceful picketing and communicating about the facts of a labor dispute on “any public street or any place where any person or persons may lawfully be.” Labor Code Section 1138.1 restricts injunctive relief to stop picketing unless a company can show substantial and irreparable injury, the commission of unlawful acts and several other factors. Ralphs sought to invalidate those state statutes, which would have silenced California workers from such peaceful protest.

In upholding California law, the court maintained a critical protection for working people. What is at stake here is far more than where in a shopping center picketers are allowed to stand. The picket line was—and still is—an essential tool in building the American middle class. Workers standing together, making their case in the court of public opinion, helped bring about the eight-hour day, the weekend, prevailing wage, anti-discrimination laws and so many other protections. It also helped working people win wages and benefits that allowed them to buy homes, send their children to college and give back to their community through taxes, service and time.

In essence, the picket sign has enabled generations of working people to achieve the American Dream. Given the economy we face today, it’s time for the next generation to start making signs and marching to demand those same opportunities.

Why Picket Lines Matter,” by Caitlin Vega, originally appeared on the California Labor Federation’s blog Labor’s Edge. You can also view it on AFL-CIO NOW, posted on January 7, 2013.

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