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Posts Tagged ‘Laura Clawson’

This week in the war on workers: Massachusetts home care workers win $15 pay

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Laura ClawsonThe Fight for 15 has another win. Home healthcare workers, who are represented by SEIU, will get a raise to $15 by July 2018, up from a current pay rate of $13.38, with a raise of 30 cents an hour effective next week. The more than 35,000 workers care for elderly and disabled people on Medicaid, helping them bathe, running errands for them, and other tasks that help people live in their homes.

Personal care attendant Rosario Cabrera, 31, of New Bedford, said the raise means she will be able to pay her bills on time, provide for her two children, and maybe even take a vacation. Cabrera works seven days a week caring for two elderly women in their homes, and even with the money her husband makes as a machine operator, her family struggles to get by.“I’m proud of what I do because I’m helping another human being life their life,” she said. “But it’s not fair if I can’t live my life.”

Home care work is one of the fastest-growing and lowest-paid industries in the country. But Massachusetts shows that doesn’t have to be the way it is.

The minimum wage in Massachusetts is on its way to $11 in 2017 (it is now $9 an hour) and a paid sick leave law kicks in next week. Obviously that hasn’t blunted the momentum in the state to do even better for workers in low-wage industries. And note that the governor with whose administration the home care workers deal was negotiated is a Republican.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on June 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a Labor editor since 2011.

Low-wage industry tries to fearmonger on overtime pay, fails

Wednesday, June 17th, 2015

Laura ClawsonThe Obama administration will soon unveil its new overtime pay rules, which will mean that millions of additional workers will get overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours a week. Many low-wage employers are obviously upset about this—they’ve been using the weak overtime rules to make salaried employees work more than 40 hours a week for no extra pay, and they like it that way. Industry groups have been trying to make the case for keeping the overtime eligibility level low—it’s currently less than $24,000 a year—but the Economic Policy Institute’s Ross Eisenbrey shows just how weak those arguments are, taking a National Retail Federation report to the woodshed:

If the threshold is raised to $42,000, the NRF predicts significant changes in retail employment: while some employers will raise salaries for employees near the threshold to guarantee that they continue to be excluded from overtime protection, many salaried employees (some of whom work 60-70 hours a week for no extra pay) will have their hours reduced and as a result, 76,000 new jobs will be created averaging 30 hours per week. Altogether, half of the retail workforce that is currently excluded from coverage will be guaranteed coverage by the law’s overtime protections. That all sounds pretty good to me.The NRF’s projections are intended to be critical of the Labor Department’s rules update, but I have a hard time seeing why it would be a bad thing to create 76,000 new retail jobs, given that 8.6 million Americans are currently unemployed. Moreover, if I were a poorly paid bookkeeper or clerk in a department store, working 60 hours a week and getting paid no more than if I worked 40 hours, I’d be happy to see my hours cut and the extra work shifted to hourly employees.

Eisenbrey also points out that the NRF report suggests that the lobby group doesn’t think its members are following existing law: One of the requirements to exempt workers from overtime eligibility is that a worker have a managerial role, but the NRF report lists many traditionally non-managerial jobs such as bookkeepers, clerks, and secretaries as exempt from overtime.

Raises for some, fewer hours of work for others, and job creation. Gosh, those are some terrifying predictions for changes in overtime rules.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on June 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and a Labor editor since 2011.

This week in the war on workers: Did Kevin Johnson destroy black mayors group over charter schools?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

Laura Clawson All-Star NBA point guard Kevin Johnson is now the mayor of Sacramento, California—and the destroyer of the 40-year-old National Conference of Black Mayors. At Deadspin, Dave McKenna details how Johnson first tried to take over the group, and then, when that failed, went to war against it while starting his own black mayors group, the African American Mayors Association. So why am I writing about this as a labor issue? Because Johnson, who is married to corporate education reform star Michelle Rhee, was trying to use the NCBM to promote charter schools:

[East Orange, New Jersey, Mayor Robert] Bowser says that Johnson, before his coup, had proposed a resolution saying NCBM endorsed the charter-school movement.“We took a vote and said, ‘Hell no!’ to his resolution,” Bowser says. “The black mayors are not buying the charter schools, period.”

During his takeover attempt of the NCBM, Johnson also tried to turn a civil rights event, the commemoration of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, into a charter-boosting event.

Then there’s Ballard Spahr. During the takeover, Valarie J. Allen, a partner in Ballard Spahr’s Philadelphia offices, sent a missive to the NCBM’s general counsel, Sue Winchester, threatening to report her to “the California Bar” if she didn’t comply with Johnson’s dictates. It turns out that Allen’s prime role with the firm is to run its charter school portfolio. And that’s a big job. “In the past 10 years, Ballard Spahr has helped more than 60 charter schools … secure more than $676 million in tax-exempt bond funding,” reads the sales pitch Allen makes to charter schools operators on the firm’s website. Allen goes on to boast that Ballard Spahr handles “more than 10 percent” of all charter-school financing nationwide.

Surprise, surprise, Johnson’s new African American Mayors Association is holding a charter-dominated education panel at its convention this year.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on May 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. She has been a Labor editor since 2011.

New York manicurists to get emergency protections against wage theft, hazardous chemicals

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Laura ClawsonTalk about journalism with an immediate impact. Last week’s New York Times investigation of labor law violations and unhealthy working conditions for manicurists in the city’s nail salons has spurred Gov. Andrew Cuomo to take sweeping emergency action:

Nail salons that do not comply with orders to pay workers back wages, or are unlicensed, will be shut down. […]Salons will be required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights, including the fact that it is illegal to work without wages or to pay money for a job — a common practice in the nail salon industry, according to workers and owners. The signs will be in half a dozen languages, including those most spoken in the industry — Korean, Chinese and Spanish. […]

Salons will now be required to be bonded — which is intended to ensure, through a contract with a bonding agency, that workers can eventually be paid if salon owners are found to have underpaid the workers. The move is an attempt to counteract the phenomenon of salon owners’ hiding assets when they are found guilty of wage theft.

Additionally, health and safety measures will be put in place, like requiring manicurists to wear gloves and masks and salons to be ventilated, while the Health Department will investigate the most effective health protections to incorporate into what will eventually be permanent policies replacing the short-term emergency measures.

Some of the abuses Sarah Maslin Nir’s investigation into New York City nail salons exposed may be especially prevalent in New York, where there are more nail salons per capita than in any other American city and where manicures cost below the national average. That might, for instance, make wage theft more common and more aggressive than in other locations—but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening in California and Illinois and Massachusetts, too, and states should take this as a spur to inspect their own nail salons. And the health hazards manicurists face similarly deserve a good hard look by state regulators. Customers might end up paying a couple dollars more for a mani-pedi, but we’re talking about workers’ lives here, and their ability to collect the pay they’ve legally earned.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on May 9, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Obama is a step closer to expanding overtime, but for how many American workers?

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Laura ClawsonThe Labor Department is moving ahead with President Obama’s eagerly awaited overtime pay expansion. That’s good news, but we don’t know yet how good. Currently, workers who make as little as $24,000 a year can be denied time-and-a-half if they’re considered managers—even if most of the work they do isn’t managerial. Obama has promised to raise that threshold to cover more salaried workers, but hasn’t said how high it will go, and the fact that the Labor Department has finalized a plan doesn’t change that. Yet:

The full proposal is now under review by OMB officials and won’t be made public for at least several weeks. After it is published, there will be a review period during which interested parties can comment on the proposed rule. The details of the rule are eagerly awaited by employers and worker advocates — not to mention overworked Americans — since they will ultimately determine who receives time-and-a-half pay when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

Just 11 percent of salaried workers qualify for overtime under the current rules. To cover the same proportion of workers who were eligible for overtime in 1975, the threshold would have to be raised from $23,660 to $69,004 ($58,344 if you adjust for increased education). To adjust for inflation since 1975, the number would be $51,168. Any increase will be an improvement that means overtime eligibility for millions more workers—meaning employers can’t save on wages by hiring salaried “managers” and expecting them to stock shelves 10 hours a day—but here’s hoping the Obama administration has chosen a number that will get us back to 1975 by one measure or another.

This blog originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on May 5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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.

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