Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Laura Clawson’

Want healthy workers who don't steal? Give them paid sick leave and pay them well.

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Laura ClawsonIf you needed evidence that it’s better when businesses treat their employees better, here are two pieces: One new study finds that people who have paid sick leave are less likely to be injured on the job and another study finds that convenience store workers steal less when they’re paid better.

In the first study, Center for Disease Control researchers found that workers with paid sick leave were 28 percent less likely to report workplace injuries requiring medical attention, and “Workers in jobs with a high baseline risk for injury—such as construction or manufacturing—appeared to benefit more from having access to paid sick leave.”

The study doesn’t delve into the several ways this could work. Maybe people who have paid sick days are less likely to go to work when illness makes them more likely to fall or be careless. Or maybe there are other factors that come into play, like union membership or occupational safety programs. But that hardly weakens the take-away of the study. If unions bargain for paid sick leave and improved safety standards, making their members both more likely to have paid sick leave and less likely to be injured on the job, then we may better understand the association between sick leave and occupational injuries, but it doesn’t weaken that association. It’s the same if non-union workplaces that have paid sick leave also tend to have solid safety procedures in place, leading to fewer injuries. Whether one is the cause of the other or whether they both are likely to come as a result of responsible employment practices, a concrete benefit for workers—paid sick leave—is associated with another benefit—fewer injuries.

The second study found that convenience stores that pay workers well relative to workers in similar jobs in their region experienced less cash shortage and inventory shrinkage, and that, according to study coauthor Clara Xiaoling Chen, “the effect of relative wages on employee theft is more pronounced when there are multiple workers. Relative wages influence the type of norms that develop among the co-workers.”

Low-paid workers only steal about 39 percent of what paying them more would cost, so many convenience store owners probably think it’s a fair trade. For responsible owners and managers, though, the lower turnover and training costs, as well as the general plus of not having employees who steal, strengthen the financial argument for decent pay. The moral argument for decent pay is always there, of course; it’s just that so many bosses ignore it.

These studies have in common that they both find that better treatment for workers has benefits for the employer and, if we believe that lower rates of injury and theft are good for society, benefits for society as well. It’s unfortunate that the notion that people should be paid enough to live on and be able to stay home when they’re sick needs further validation, but 35 years into the great American race to the bottom, that’s where we are.

(Via Blogwood)

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on August 1, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Unemployed for even a month? You're likely to face hiring discrimination

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Laura ClawsonIf you’re unemployed and searching for a new job, you better hope your last employer went out of business. Otherwise, according to new research, you’re likely to be discriminated against even if you’ve been out of work for as little as a month.

In one study, Ho and his team asked 47 experienced HR professionals to review resumes that were identical except for one detail: Half said the candidate was currently employed, and half said the person had been out of work for a month. The “currently employed” candidate received better marks for competence and hireability. [...]

He noted that a third experiment found that job candidates whose previous employer went under received more sympathy. “What does allay people’s bias is some explicit indication that losing your job was not your fault — for example, that the company went bankrupt or suffered some specific setbacks that made layoffs inevitable,” Ho said.

This research just backs up what we already know is happening in real life: widespread discrimination against jobless people at a time when a lot of people are jobless. Staffing agencies even defend their discriminatory practices. Democrats have proposed a bill prohibiting discrimination against unemployed people, but with Republicans in control of the House, such legislation isn’t going anywhere.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on July 30, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Volatility is the Word for It: First-Time Enemployment Claims Jump to 386,000

Friday, July 20th, 2012

Laura ClawsonFirst-time unemployment claims jumped to 386,000 from last week’s revised total of 352,000, the Department of Labor reports. Last week, first-time claims were initially reported at 350,000, the lowest since March 2008. However, analysts cautioned that the drop was likely a result, at least in part, of auto manufacturers not shutting down as many plants as they usually do at this time of year; seasonal adjustments to the jobless claims numbers were thrown off by that.

The four-week moving average, a measure preferred because it reduces volatility, was 375,500. This is a drop of 1,500 from the previous week’s revised figure of 377,000. Volatility as a result of the auto industry’s summer shutdowns, however reduced they are this year, is expected to continue making it difficult to suggest any trends in the labor market.

For all unemployment benefit programs, including federal emergency extensions, the total number of people claiming benefits for the week ending June 30 was 5,752,116, a decrease of 121,985 from the previous week. This number is dropping in part because people are exhausting their eligibility for weeks of benefits being reduced by Congress and some states.

Chart showing weekly initial unemployment claims from 2007 through the present.

(The Maddow Blog)

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on July 19, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Your applications go unanswered because 'job creators' aren't really trying to fill job openings

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

Laura ClawsonThe business owner’s version of “the dog ate my homework” these days is “we’re not hiring because we can’t find workers with the skills we need.” Various business lobby groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Association of Manufacturers are pushing that line hard, trying to pin continuing high unemployment on the alleged suckitude of American workers and justify continuing to refer to themselves as job creators even as they create damn few actual jobs. But the facts just don’t support it.

Mike Konczal rounds up research showing that job recruitment intensity on the part of businesses is low. During the recession, businesses didn’t have to try much at all to get a slew of ridiculously overqualified applicants for any job, and they got used to that. Now that things are picking up a little, employers are still spoiled, expecting to be able to snap their fingers and get what they want. And if that’s not the way it works out, they’re content to just sit around waiting and lamenting the lack of qualified applicants, rather than actually making an effort to recruit workers:

What does it mean for recruitment intensity to fall? This recruitment intensity, according to the research, “is shorthand for the other instruments employers use to influence the pace of new hires – e.g., advertising expenditures, screening methods, hiring standards, and the attractiveness of compensation packages. These instruments affect the number and quality of applicants per vacancy, the speed of applicant processing, and the acceptance rate of job offers.” This margin for trying to fill jobs is ignored, or assumed away, in most of the major economic models of unemployment and hiring.

So basically, it’s like this: business puts up a couple halfhearted ads offering $10 an hour and no benefits for a job requiring substantial skill and training, then waits for the applications to pour in. Only now, there are some applications but not thousands of desperate people begging for the job. The business takes its sweet time looking through those applications and getting back to people, some of whom may by now have found equivalently good jobs. Business then complains to reporters that there just aren’t enough qualified applicants for the jobs it’s trying so hard to fill. Reporter dutifully publishes article blaming unemployment on unemployed people.

Meanwhile, people who really do need jobs are left hanging, waiting for interviews, waiting to hear about jobs for which they’ve interviewed, wondering why the jobs that are out there pay so little considering the qualifications required. They’re waiting, struggling, hoping to hear. But the owners of the companies are too busy explaining that their homework was eaten by dogs to actually hire anyone.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on July 17, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Public education is a labor issue, even if you don't care about teachers

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

Laura ClawsonThis year’s students are the workers of five or 10 or 15 years from now. There’s an obvious statement for you, but it’s one that is too rarely considered in discussions of education policy as hedge funders and corporate billionaires try to claim the mantle of doing what’s right for kids, implying or saying straight out that teachers are too self-interested to represent kids and should be left out of the discussion altogether. The fundamental question is this: If you don’t trust Wall Street or the Walton family to do what’s in your best interest as an adult in the American workforce, why would you trust them to do what’s in the best interest of the next generation of workers?

School, from the first day we set foot in a classroom to graduation from the highest level of education we achieve, trains us to be workers not only by teaching us math and grammar but by teaching us how to respond to instructions, orders, or discipline. It teaches us how to sit still, how to show that we’re making the kind of effort our superiors want to see from us, how to work toward socially approved goals. For many jobs and careers, school gives us training or credentials we need. The level and quality of education we get to a great extent determines what jobs we’ll be considered for, how likely we are to be unemployed, how much money we’ll earn.

So the structure of education in our country trains kids for what to expect as adults and says a lot about how we envision work and people’s access to good jobs. Deprive schools of funding and you’re creating a generation that doesn’t have the education needed to succeed. Or, you’re creating a big chunk of a generation that doesn’t have the education needed to succeed—some kids’ families will be able to buy them a better education directly, some kids will live in well-to-do areas where the schools remain well-funded or where wealthy parents can subsidize public schools heavily.

This then sets up the conditions to justify not hiring people. Already we hear about how there just aren’t enough skilled workers and that companies want to hire, honest they do, they just can’t find trained workers to do the skilled jobs for which they’re offering to pay a pittance. Or we hear how companies have to move jobs overseas, because, again, American workers just can’t hack it in the information economy. It’s mostly an excuse anyway, but you think that’s going to get any better in 20 years if our public education system is gutted now?

If you create a class of schools that, while theoretically public, can effectively exclude homeless kids or disabled kids or kids whose first language isn’t English, and leave all those excluded kids in the public schools you’re telling everyone are second best, you send a message about who’s desirable as students and who will remain desirable as workers. If a state happens to funnel its entire school maintenance budget to that separate class of schools, the message is reinforced again. If you tell everyone that the new class of schools is better (even if in fact the evidence suggests otherwise), but there aren’t enough spaces for everyone, you send the message starting ever earlier in kids’ lives that they are disposable, that some of them will be left behind no matter what. Public schooling should send the opposite message—that all kids deserve a good education, an equal education, that the government is invested in all of them and that they can all succeed.

But in America today, our public schools are not just underfunded. We’re not just losing schoolteachers at an astonishing rate. We’re not just setting up new classes of education rife with abuses and with profit put before educational outcomes. We’re not just turning education over to profit-driven, ill-supervised testing companies despite a host of weaknesses from measurement error to cheating. No, we’re doing all of this thanks in large part to a massively funded campaign by a bunch of really rich people who think they know better because they’re rich. We’re letting phone tappers and people whose money comes from a company that leads the field in undermining local economies and driving down wages and benefits fund the remaking of our system of public education.

Then there’s higher education, where at the same time as a college degree becomes a near-requirement for entry into the middle class, per-student government spending is at a 25-year low and the number of administrators, and their pay, has shot up, while the number of faculty who actually teach students, and their pay, has lagged behind the administrators. As public higher education becomes a more difficult option, for-profit colleges step in to fill the void, not by being cheaper or better but by marketing themselves more aggressively despite abysmal results. Students, meanwhile, are forced to take on more and more loan debt to get that college degree, meaning they enter the workforce already desperate, to the benefit of employers who can capitalize on that desperation to keep workers who might otherwise move on or fight back.

So while I believe that teachers are important—important because they are the ones in the classrooms every day, doing an incredibly difficult job for not very much money and because they are an important part of a middle class that Republicans are trying to wipe out of existence—I understand and write about education as a labor issue not just because Mitt Romney’s top education priority is to break teachers unions, but because Mitt Romney’s next education priority, one he can only get to after breaking the unions, is to privatize public education, weakening it as a public good that serves everyone close to equally and instead bringing profit in, creating more and more unequal outcomes. I write about education as a labor issue because when Romney tells teachers class size doesn’t matter, even though he sent his own sons to a school with an average class size of 12, that’s class warfare from above in a nutshell. Class size only matters if you can pay for it to be small. If you can’t, screw you, your kids will be in the swollen classes that result from firing their teachers.

Similarly, Romney slashed higher education funding while governor of Massachusetts, pushing more students into debt—not something his own trust fund babies ever had to worry about. I use Romney as an example, but of course it’s not just him, it’s his party. Rep. Todd Akin, running for Senate from Missouri, referred to federal involvement in student loans as “the stage three cancer of socialism.” Rep. Paul Ryan, who paid for college with Social Security benefits, wants to cut Pell Grants for a million students. Rep. Virginia Foxx has “little tolerance” for people with student loans, but champions the for-profit college industry that owes its existence to, and relentlessly seeks to maximize, those loans. And so on.

Education is a labor issue because it’s how we train children to someday be workers, determining many of the conditions under which young adults enter the workforce. It’s a labor issue because school funding represents an investment, or a failure to invest, in the mass of people. Abandoning them as children, whether by underfunding the schools they attend or putting corporate profits first, is basically a guarantee they’ll face worse as adults.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on July 8, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Federal Judge Rules Yet Another Florida Drug-Testing Program Unconstitutional

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Laura ClawsonWelfare applicants aren’t the only people the courts have forced the state of Florida to stop drug testing. A federal court ruled on Thursday that Gov. Rick Scott also doesn’t get to randomly drug test 80,000 state workers.

Judge Ungaro said Mr. Scott had overreached in his executive order because there was no evidence of a large-scale problem and no reason to mandate drug tests.The governor’s drug testing requirement “does not identify a concrete danger that must be addressed by suspicionless drug-testing of state employees,” Judge Ungaro wrote. “And the governor shows no evidence of a drug-use problem at the covered agencies.”

Scott plans to appeal. Not only that, Florida may face two more drug-testing lawsuits, one over another requirement in Scott’s executive order, calling for drug testing of applicants for state jobs, and one over a law passed last month and taking effect in July, “that allows all state workers to undergo random drug testing but does not make it a requirement.” Because obviously there would be no pressure to take a drug test that you were “allowed” but “not required” to take at work.

I fully expect that soon Rick Scott will be trying to “randomly” drug test everyone to cross the border into Florida, and using state money to fight off those lawsuits, too.

*Disclaimer: The opinions of this blog are those of the author and not those of Workplace Fairness.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 26, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Half of College Graduates Under 25 are Unemployed or Underemployed

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Laura ClawsonRecent projections have job prospects improving for 2012’s college graduates. But there’s a lot more room for improvement than we’re likely to see:

About 1.5 million, or 53.6 percent, of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 last year were jobless or underemployed, the highest share in at least 11 years. In 2000, the share was at a low of 41 percent, before the dot-com bust erased job gains for college graduates in the telecommunications and IT fields.

Out of the 1.5 million who languished in the job market, about half were underemployed, an increase from the previous year.

That means 100,000 waiters, waitresses, bartenders and food-service helpers with bachelor’s degrees, plus 125,000 cashiers, retail clerks and customer representatives and 163,000 receptionists and payroll clerks. That’s a reflection of the job categories that are growing these days:

According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor’s degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren’t easily replaced by computers.

It’s the growth of inequality in action. Relatively few jobs pay a middle-class income, and competition for them grows fiercer. It’s not enough to have a bachelor’s degree; at a minimum you have to have one in the right field from the right school—and it sure helps if you’ve been able to afford to do an unpaid internship in your field while in school. But a graduate degree is even better. Too bad if that means thousands of dollars of added debt, but you don’t want to be waiting tables for the rest of your life, do you? And if you score one of those precious, rare good jobs, chances are you won’t be leaving, at least not of your own accord, not while you have all those student loans to pay off and there are so few other good jobs out there. Meanwhile, jobs that don’t require a college education are growing more quickly, but the fact that they don’t require a college education is increasingly used as the rationale for driving down wages (and benefits? forget about benefits), because why would we pay decent wages for these jobs that just anyone can do? So goes the accelerating rationale of an economy by and for the 1 percent.

11:52 AM PT: Congress can keep one small piece of this from getting worse, by acting now to keep federal student loan interest rates from doubling on July 1. Tell House Republicans to keep student loan rates low.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 23, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Initial Unemployment Claims Rise to 380,000

Friday, April 13th, 2012

unemployment_claims_4_12_12
The Department of Labor is reporting that initial claims for unemployment insurance rose to 380,000 last week, an increase of 13,000 over the previous week’s revised figure. The four-week moving average, a measure preferred by many analysts because it smooths out volatility, was 368,500, an increase of 4,250 from the previous week’s revised average of 364,250.

The general rule is that a level of unemployment claims below 375,000 is associated with dropping unemployment levels; that being the case, last week’s figure of 380,000 is not good news, especially coming on the heels of last week’s weak jobs report. However, there’s a reason we look at the four-week moving average—weekly numbers do have a lot of volatility, so the question is whether this week’s number signals the beginning of a trend. Though this is the highest level of unemployment claims we’ve seen since January, not all that many months ago it would have looked like good news.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 12, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Workers Stay on Job as AT&T Contracts Expire and Negotiations Continue to Avert a Strike

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

Laura ClawsonContracts for about 40,000 unionized AT&T landline workers represented by the Communications Workers of America expired over the weekend. Four divisions are governed by separate contracts; 9,000 AT&T Mobility workers ratified a new contract last week.

The landline workers had voted March 31 to authorize a strike if new contracts weren’t reached, but they have continued reporting to work under the terms of the now-expired contracts as negotiations continue:

“We’re committed to continuing to work together with the union to reach an agreement that will allow us to continue to provide and protect” jobs, Marty Richter, a spokesman for AT&T, said in an e-mail after 5 p.m. [Sunday.]

On a call late last week with members:

[CWA Vice President Seth] Rosen summed up the goals of all four negotiations: “We have a very clear common goal that when it is all added up — wages, benefits, the complete package — that every single member, from the lowest paid to the highest, will be better off at the end of the contract than he or she was at the beginning.”

As is usual in negotiations these days, health care costs are at issue, as well as scheduling and job security questions.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on April 9, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

More Than Half of Elders, and 60% of Older Women, Face Economic Insecurity

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

Laura ClawsonMore than half of people age 65 and older face the prospect of not having enough money to meet basic daily expenses while staying in their homes and communities, a new analysis (PDF) from Wider Opportunities for Women finds. We’re talking basic necessities here—renting a one-bedroom apartment or having a modest mortgage, basic food, health care, and transportation, and just $265 in miscellaneous monthly expenses for a single person.

Within the 52 percent of all elders struggling to get by, though, there’s a big gender gap—60 percent of women compared with 41 percent of men are economically insecure. The fact that women live longer and have more years to spend down their savings doesn’t help. But that’s not all. In retirement, as during their working years, women have lower incomes than men: “Elder men studied report typical annual incomes that are nearly 75% higher than the typical elder woman’s income ($24,300 compared to $14,000).” Women are more likely to be dependent on Social Security, and receive smaller Social Security payments than men. And, as in so many other things, women of color face greater struggles than white women: “[E]lder African-American women report median annual incomes of $12,000; both Asian and Hispanic women report median annual incomes that are less than one-half of the general male population’s median incomes at $10,100 and $9,600, respectively.”

These numbers underscore the incredible importance of Social Security, which provides, on average, 77 percent of older women’s income. They also raise a terrifying prospect: Pensions are becoming less common, but here we see how crucial they’ve been in keeping some seniors out of economic insecurity. What happens to a generation that’s forced to rely on Social Security, or whatever’s left of that after the various catfood commissions are done weakening it, and whatever savings people can cobble together despite stagnating wages and stock market crashes?

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on March 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

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