Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Huffington Post’

America Holding Walmart’s Feet to the Fire

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Finally, someone is holding Walmart directly accountable for the abuse of workers in its contracted warehouses. “Recent discovery has established that Walmart bears ultimate responsibility for the violations of state and federal law committed against plaintiff warehouse workers,” said a court document filed in Los Angeles.  

Walmart Targeted In Warehouse Worker Lawsuit – Huffington Post  

“Wal-Mart employs a network of contractors and subcontractors who have habitually broken the law to keep their labor costs low and profit margins high. We believe Wal-Mart knows exactly what is happening and is ultimately responsible for stealing millions of dollars from the low-wage warehouse workers who move Wal-Mart merchandise.”

Warehouse Workers Sue Wal-Mart for Back pay and Damages – ABC News/Univision 

Corporate Welfare: instead of taking a small partition of their record profits, or slightly cutting CEO pay to help out their workers, Walmart wants YOU, the taxpayer, to pay for its workers’ healthcare. Just one more reason Walmart workers, and the population at large, are standing up to Walmart. 

Walmart Wants Taxpayers to Pick Up Health Care Costs – Truth Dig

Walmart wants you to think its workers love the store and love their jobs. If that’s the case, why are there unprecedented protests against the mega retailer spanning the country? Why is the store facing a lawsuit from contracted warehouse workers? Since Walmart has given us no real evidence that its workers love the store, maybe we are just supposed to take Walmart’s word for it? 

Walmart Wants You To Know That Their Workers ‘Love Their Jobs’ – Huffington Post

This post was originally posted on Change to Win on Monday, December 3, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: J Lefkowitz: Change to Win is a Strategic Organizing Center which focuses on using its “strength in numbers to reclaim the American Dream.” It’s target is middle class and working class Americans to hold corporations  and other large entities in our modern society accountable. You can learn more about Change to Win here.

Why Americans Are The Worst Vacationers

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Ahhhh, summer’s here, and with it come trips to the beach, bar-be-ques, fireworks and vacations. Been on a vacation yet this summer? How was it? Did you come back feeling rested and refreshed? Good for you. Or, did you get swept up into a modern ‘American-style’ vacation: unable to forget about work, anxiety about email pile-up, tweeting every moment as it happened, and returning home wiped out, cranky and desperate to get back to the desk and routine? Taking time to unwind is hard enough, and knowing how to unwind properly is another matter.

What has happened to our vacations? We work all year, and save up our hard earned dollars for a getaway, only to spend far more money than we intended, race around, and get annoyed with each other. For families, the trends are mega watt destinations like Disney, Great Wolf Lodges or all inclusive resorts with constant stimulation, plenty of places to burn cash, and little in unstructured relaxation or spontaneous adventure.

Many are not able to take a vacation at all this summer – can’t afford it. Sadly, these are often the times we need it the most. A vacation can be created with very little money; the commodity we are all lacking is time. Whether the job doesn’t allow it, or workers are afraid to leave; Americans take fewer vacations than most other countries, and the ones we do take are getting busier, more expensive and consumer driven. Are we the worst vacationers in the developed world?

Only 14% of Americans took two weeks of vacation last year, and the number of Americans taking family vacations has dropped by a third in the past generation. The price we pay, by not getting away to unwind, is huge on our physical health, relationships, and emotional sense of well being.

Why are we reluctant as a culture, to support taking time off? Are vacations too costly to our GNP? Turns out job stress and burnout is said to cost our country over $300 billion per year. Our European friends have managed to compete in the modern era while continuing to take their month long “holiday”- are they just slackers?

As much as we’d like to think so, the answer is, no. The level of productivity per worker is the same, or slightly higher that ours, despite the fact they work 300 fewer hours per year. Europeans spend half the amount on health care as the US. They are requiring less health care, partly because Europeans are 50% less likely to have heart disease, hypertension or diabetes before age 50 than Americans.

Rethinking the importance of time off yet? Vacations are not just luxuries, or pithy pastimes for the rich. Statistics are showing that other countries who take regular vacations are happier, and live longer than we do. In 1980, people in only 10 other countries lived longer than we do. Now, people in 41 other countries live longer. Wow. That’s a pretty compelling reason to make sure that all Americans are getting some R&R, and that we learn how to truly “get away.”

As a matter of fact, 137 other countries are ahead of us in guaranteeing at least some vacation time. We have none. Zero. No required vacation time or paid holidays. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 28 million Americans — or about a quarter of the work force — don’t get any paid vacation. We are the veritable Ebenezer Scrooge of the world for R&R. At a minimum, every European worker is guaranteed four weeks paid vacation by law; most get six or more.

Fortunately, there is a new bill, called the H.R. 2564: THE PAID VACATION ACT OF 2009, introduced by Congressman Alan Grayson, to offer one week of paid vacation time for companies with over 100 workers, increasing to two weeks after three years, for all employees working at least 25 hours per week. Grayson proposes more vacation will stimulate the economy through fewer sick days, better productivity and happier employees.

Keep in mind seven days is modest, compared to the required 20-30 days of vacation time required in Europe and Australia. Canada and Japan offer 10 days minimum to start. According to an article in Politico, “the United States is dead last among 21 industrial countries when it comes to mandatory R&R.”

John de Graaf is the national coordinator of Take Back Your Time, an organization challenging time poverty and overwork in the U.S. and Canada, and is a frequent speaker on issues of overwork and over-consumption in America. DeGraaf is fighting to make sure this bill is seen, understood, and pushed to pass to President Obama’s desk. He is hosting the first national “Vacation Matters Summit” conference on August 10-12 at Seattle University.

DeGraff states on his site, “A new poll finds that more than two-thirds of Americans support a law that would guarantee paid vacations for workers. The poll found 69% of Americans saying they would support a paid vacation law, with the largest percentage of respondents favoring a law guaranteeing three weeks vacation or more. Take Back Your Time advocates for three weeks paid vacation or more.”

Supposedly, the “idea” for advocating for paid vacation time came to Senator Grayson when we was at Disney World. He said,

“there’s a reason why Disney World is the happiest place on Earth: The people who go there are on vacation.”

He went on to admit that,

“as much as I appreciate this job and as much as I enjoy it, the best days of my life are and always have been the days I’m on vacation.”

I found this rather funny and ironic. While Disney is an amazing place, I am not sure it is the ultimate place for a relaxing vacation. I believe there are two types of vacations these days. One type is to “see-do-buy.” Enchanted by ads with pyramid water slides, entertainment and activities, these vacations clock a mile-a-minute pace, and usually run a hefty bill. They are fun for sure, but I am not convinced they provide the type of deep unwinding our bodies require to combat stress and fatigue. Our family has taken several of these vacations, and by the end, I am ready for a break!

The other type of vacation is just to “be,” with plenty of time to read, sleep, walk, and downshift. The recession is creating an interesting vacation trend this summer- a huge spike in camping trips and visits to National Parks. Cheap, full of fresh air and untold beauty, a trip like this is sure to help gain perspective on what matters, exercise the body, and offer time for more thoughtful conversations than, “Dad, can I have a few more tokens?” A national park, local hike or gazing at scenes of natural beauty, is a key component to unhook our nerves and reset the proverbial clock for any age, single, young couples, families, or retired.

I asked about the difference between consumer vs. natural vacations to Bill Doherty, the Director of the Citizen Professional Center, and Professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota. He said,

“Given the trend towards shorter and shorter vacations, it does seem to be the case that American families are packing in more activities into shorter time periods: fly to Disney World, run around for several days, and fly home. That’s different from the traditional long road trips and the trips to the ocean where they family holed up for a couple of weeks. The biggest benefits from family vacations come from down time and family members entertaining themselves, not from crowded entertainment schedules and consumer festivals. It’s kind of like the difference between a family dinner at home and a quick trip to McDonald’s.”

Moral of the story? If you believe vacations should be required, write to your local congressional leaders and express your support. Then, carve out a little sunshine for yourself, spread out a blanket, close your eyes and relax. Think of it as your own personal stimulus package.

Kari Henley: Kari is currently President of the Board of Directors at the Women & Family Life Center. She organizes the Association of Women Business Leaders (AWBL), and runs her own training and consulting practice. Kari is an avid writer, active in her community, and an expert in group facilitation. She has worked for the past 17 years with corporate, non-profit and public audiences. Past clients include Yale Medical School resident program, Fed Ex, Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Washington Trust Co., CT Husky program, the American Cancer Society. For more information, email: karihenley@comcast.net.

This article originally appeared at Huffington Post on July 12, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Honoring Paul Wellstone's Legacy: Fighting Like Hell for Health Care Reform

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

I had the rare privilege of meeting one of my heroes, Paul Wellstone, shortly before his death in 2002 when I visited Washington as part of a conference for high school students interested in politics. We had the opportunity to meet several senators during our time in Washington, but Paul Wellstone treated us differently — more like we were friends coming over for a cup of coffee than a bunch of nerdy high school students on a trip. He insisted that we not call him “senator,” but instead simply Paul.

While other senators were going on and on about their accomplishments or telling corny jokes, Paul went around and asked what issues were important to us and what we were doing currently to advocate for these policies. He suggested ideas about how we could become more involved, more effective, and what other issues we might want to get involved in. He encouraged us “to go out and fight because that was the only way change has ever been achieved.” Paul’s faith in my ability to achieve social change inspired me so much that I spent the rest of my summer volunteering full time to help elect Ed Rendell as governor in Pennsylvania.

A few months later. I was in tears as I listened to the news over NPR that Paul Wellstone and his loving wife, Shelia, had died in a plane crash on their way to a funeral of a steelworker in Northern Minnesota. Paul Wellstone, a tireless champion of the working class served as an inspiration to a generation of activists during the dark days of a decade long Republican reign. For the last seven years, I have kept a photo of Paul Wellstone and me on my desk as a source of inspiration for when the times get tough.

Paul came to the United States Senate under the most unusual of circumstances. He was a college professor who had been arrested protesting with union workers and had previously spent most of his career organizing welfare mothers and poor farmers. No one had expected him to win his first campaign for Senate against an incumbent Republican Senator as he was outspent nearly seven to one. Paul had a secret weapon though his ability to inspire regular people to get out and organize. Unemployed, single mothers held bake sales to help fund his campaign, youth not old enough to vote spent hours volunteering for him. He formed a grassroots army of thousands of ordinary folks and trained them in community organizing.

When Paul Wellstone was elected to the Senate, he never forgot the thousands of ordinary folks that put their hopes and their dreams in him by working to get him elected. He summed up his philosophy about why he was in the Senate by saying, “I don’t represent the big oil companies, the big pharmaceuticals or the big insurance industry. They already have great representation in Washington. Its the rest of the people that need representation.”

Many Senators had referred to Paul as “The Conscience of the Senate.” Only 5 feet 4 inches tall and walking with a severe limp, Wellstone would stand on the floor of the U.S. Senate and rail against corporates interests with the tenacity of the All-American wrestler that he was once. And then he would go back home on the weekends and teach those people how to community organize and fight against the powerful interests that were ruining their lives. Its unknown how many people Wellstone inspired, but to this day you can still see thousands of green bumper stickers in Minnesota with the phrase “W.W.W.D. — What Would Wellstone Do?”

Last week, Al Franken, a friend of Paul’s who had been inspired to run for office by Paul’s death, took back Paul’s old seat from Republican Norm Coleman. After reading, I found myself wondering of what Paul would be doing now if he was still a U.S. senator. Paul had spent the majority of his career in the minority party in the Senate. In his book Conscience of a Liberal, Paul admitted that in his time in the U.S. Senate he spent nearly 85 percent of his time defending against Republican attacks on working families and he never had the opportunity to fight for things like the big reform measures that he craved. I thought about how Paul would be down on the floor of the Senate to talk about the 20,000 people that die every year due to a lack of health coverage, or to talk about how his access to quality health care as a United States senator allowed him to continue having a productive life despite his semi-debilitating multiple sclerosis.

While Paul spent the most of his career in the minority, he did indeed spend a very brief time in the majority in 1993-1994 when Democrats had the opportunity to pass a health care reform. However, Democrats caved to the insurance companies’ lobbyists and no comprehensive health care reform was passed. As Mike Lux, a top Clinton aide at the time argued in his book The Progressive Revolution, Democrats were then swept out of power for their inability to stand up to special interests. Democrats would remain in the wilderness for the rest of Wellstone’s tenure in the Senate.

If Democrats fail to deliver on a strong public health insurance plant that an overwhelming 76% favor according to the Wall Street Journal, they too will fail as a party. Reforming health care is about standing up to the big special interests that are spending $1.4 million every day on an army of lobbyists so that they can continue to deny people the health care they need.

Furthermore, health care reform is literally about saving lives. Democrats should avoid looking for some easy compromise on health care with the insurance industry that would deny some people care in order to score a quick legislative victory.

As Wellstone said, “Politics is not about power. Politics is not about money. Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people.”

Beating the insurance industry is going to be one of the toughest fights we as a movement have ever engaged in. Unfortunately, we don’t have Paul Wellstone around to fight for us anymore. However, we do have the people that Wellstone believed in the most — ourselves. So I say its about time that we ask ourselves, What Would Wellstone Do?

Mike Elk: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer and worked previously for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers (UE). He works currently as an editor at AlterNet.

This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post on July 14, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

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