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Path to Power Is Clear in the Ocean State

Tuesday, May 21st, 2019

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO has been busy in 2019, leading the fight on a number of important legislative initiatives. There are numerous union members who have been elected to the state legislature and that has provided an opportunity to pass legislation that will make a huge difference for our members and for working people across the Ocean State.

Earlier this month, the state legislature passed, and Gov. Gina Raimondo signed, a continuing-contract bill that would indefinitely lock in wages and benefits in expired public-employee contracts. The law now prevents cities and towns from unilaterally slashing pay and making employees pay more for their health insurance during deadlocked negotiations.

The state federation also was involved in passing a bill that established fairness in the overtime laws to firefighters and relieves them of burdensome shift scheduling practices. A top priority for the Rhode Island State Association of Firefighters/IAFF, the new law sets the overtime threshold at 42 hours per week, bringing firefighters’ overtime protections more in line with other industry workers.

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is also advocating for the passage of an increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour for care providers for developmentally disabled individuals in the state. The legislation has broad support in the legislature and will end the discriminatory minimum wage disparity for these essential care workers.

All of these advancements were made possible through an unrelenting advocacy effort that coordinated many union members elected to the Rhode Island state legislature, including state Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (LIUNA). Ruggerio was instrumental in guiding these initiatives through a complicated political effort and ultimately passed the bills with overwhelming support.

The Rhode Island AFL-CIO is proving that the path to power runs through the labor movement.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on May 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michael Gillis is a writer at AFL-CIO.

Federal workers protest against government shutdown across the country

Tuesday, January 8th, 2019

As the partial government shutdown stretches into its third week — making it the second longest shutdown in U.S. history — federal workers in Philadelphia took to the streets Tuesday to protest the White House and congressional inaction that has left them without work and pay for 18 days.

About 150 workers from various government agencies, including the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, joined the rally organized by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), with the support of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU). Organizers called for an end to the shutdown that began late last month over President Donald Trump’s demand for $5 billion in funding to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nearly 800,000 federal workers across the country have been affected by the shutdown.

“It is unconscionable that many employees are having to work – and in some cases overtime – with no pay whatsoever,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said in a press release Monday. Reardon’s organization filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Monday, alleging that the shutdown violates the Fair Labor Standards Act by requiring federal employees to work without pay.

“Many of us used our credit cards to pay for Christmas and now we’re being hit with high interest rates on that. So, it’s really overwhelming,” Jan Nation, a protester who works for the EPA, told NBC Philadelphia Tuesday. “We don’t want a wall, we want to do our jobs.”

Philadelphia rally organizers also plan to travel to Washington, D.C. on Thursday for a second protest outside the AFL-CIO headquarters. Several hundred workers from multiple unions are expected to attend Thursday’s protest, which will be followed by a march to the White House.

Federal workers in St. Louis and Boston have also organized or plan to hold rallies in opposition to the government shutdown, despite Trump’s comments to reporters last week that federal workers “agree 100 percent with what I’m doing.”

In St. Louis, which is home to a U.S. Department of Agriculture office that employs 1,200 federal workers, a small contingent of USDA employees spent much of last Friday and Monday rallying outside their offices.

“We’re just tired of being held hostage,” Don Pusczek, a USDA accountant, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Friday. “The longer it lasts, the more the bills pile up and don’t get paid.”

Federal workers in Boston also plan to hold an AFGE-organized rally Friday outside the offices of the Environmental Protection Agency in the city’s Post Office Square.

“Federal employees want to go back to work. They believe in their mission and want to provide quality services to the American people,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement Monday. “These are real people, with real lives and real responsibilities. It’s time to end this shutdown, open the government, and get federal employees back on the job — with pay.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Elham Khatami is an associate editor at ThinkProgress. Previously, she worked as a grassroots organizer within the Iranian-American community. She also served as research manager, editor, and reporter during her five-year career at CQ Roll Call. Elham earned her Master of Arts in Global Communication at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs and her bachelor’s degree in writing and political science at the University of Pittsburgh.

A Rundown of All the Ways Trump Is Overseeing an All Out, Under-the-Radar Attack on Workers

Friday, August 17th, 2018

Amidst headlines about porn stars and bromance with Russian President Vladimir Putin, it can be hard to track the many ways the Trump administration is hurting workers in the United States. The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling that struck a blow to unions’ ability to collect membership dues held a brief spotlight in the national news churn. But in a more-quiet fashion, the Trump administration already has been slowly dismantling worker protections, especially those enacted under the Obama administration.     

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly proclaimed that he would help workers. He even boasted, “I have great relationships with unions.” But actions speak louder than words, and the policies pursued by the Trump administration have directly targeted middle and lower-income workers and labor unions.

The anti-labor attack gained momentum in the last weeks of 2017. President Trump had to wait until his two nominees to the five-member National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) were confirmed. Those new members flipped the board’s majority from Democratic to Republican. The NLRB, which oversees collective bargaining law and enforcement of U.S. labor laws and standards, then quickly issued a slew of key decisions that rolled back a number of worker- and union-related reforms.

In one of the most important changes, the NLRB reversed a 2011 ruling that helped workers form smaller unions within a single workplace. The precedent set under Obama allowed the holding of a union election without including all the different types of jobs within that business that don’t share similar job duties, wages and working conditions. Employers complained that it led to “micro unions.” In a specific case, after 100 welders unionized at a large manufacturing plant, the NLRB ruled that the smaller organizing unit was illegitimate since any union election would have to include all 2,500 workers at the company, spanning 120 job classifications. The NLRB ruled 3-2 along partisan lines.

Another consequential case decided under Trump will hurt low-income fast food workers. The Trump board overturned a major 2015 decision that ruled employers are responsible for bargaining with workers, even if they have only indirect control over those workers’ employment. Fast-food companies like McDonald’s license smaller franchise businesses to run most of their restaurants. McDonald’s instructs these franchises on how to operate but leaves them to control many aspects of their day-to-day business. For decades, franchise employees who wished to bargain collectively were caught in a vicious trap. Their boss, the franchise operator, could insist that McDonald’s controlled the terms of their employment. But if they tried to bargain with McDonald’s, the company would insist that the franchise operator was their true employer.

Obama’s NLRB solved this problem by clarifying that companies like McDonald’s are, jointly with franchise operators, employers of these workers and can be forced to the bargaining table. This new standard permitted much more meaningful collective bargaining among millions of low-wage workers. Longer term, that ruling on joint employers would have dramatically improved collective bargaining rights in the fast-food industry. But the GOP majority on the NLRB scrapped this standard, returning to an old, stringent policy that requires employers to exercise “immediate and direct” control in order to be liable under labor law.

Other damaging decisions by Trump’s NLRB include:

— Reversing a 2004 decision bolstering workers’ rights to organize free from employer interference.

— Reversing a 2016 decision safeguarding unionized workers’ rights to bargain over changes in employment terms.

— Overturning a 2016 decision that required settlements between employers and employees to provide a “full remedy” to aggrieved workers, instead of partial settlements.

All of these were 3–2 decisions, with Republicans in the majority and Democrats dissenting.

Beyond the NLRB

But the NLRB is only one federal agency. Trump’s Labor Department has also rolled back several rules and executive orders that the Obama administration issued to protect workers. Those include the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, which required companies bidding for large federal contracts to disclose and correct past labor and safety violations. Another rescinded rule had established guidelines for when states can drug-test applicants for unemployment insurance benefits. Also rescinded was the “persuader rule,” which required law firms to publicly disclose any work they do for employers trying to fight against union organization efforts.

Meanwhile, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has delayed three workplace safety rules issued during the last year of Obama’s presidency. Those rules required certain employers to submit injury and illness data electronically to OSHA for publication on the agency’s website; tightened exposure standards for silica dust, which is often breathed in by certain construction workers and linked to lung disease; and weakened workplace exposure limits for beryllium, an industrial mineral linked to lung cancer.

The Supreme Court also ruled to allow employers to require workers to sign arbitration agreements that waive their rights to file class or collective action lawsuits. Last June, Trump’s acting solicitor general filed a brief with the Court that took the opposite stance from the Obama administration, asserting that mandatory arbitration agreements do not violate the National Labor Relations Act and are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act.

Another important ruling made under the Obama administration regarded which workers were eligible to receive overtime pay. The Obama-era rules required nearly everyone paid less than $47,476 a year to be eligible for time-and-a-half overtime pay when they worked more than 40 hours a week. That was a big jump from the $23,660 threshold in place since 2004, and a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s efforts to lift wages. But a federal judge in Texas blocked that rule a week before it was scheduled to take effect, and Obama’s Labor Department appealed. However, Trump’s Labor Department filed a brief in federal appellate court indicating it will not advocate for these overtime changes.

In addition to all that, the Trump administration has proposed $2.6 billion in budget cuts—an enormous 21 percent—to the Department of Labor. Those cuts include a proposed elimination of four department programs and their services, such as training for worker-safety and for migrant farmworkers. The budget also seeks to significantly slash funding for Job Corps, a program that provides job training to disadvantaged youth, by $407 million, or 24 percent. Dimitri Iglitzin, a labor attorney in Seattle, says that “Of all of the ways that the Trump administration has been crushing labor, the most important has been the neutering of the Department of Labor. On a day-to-day basis, the agency that should be fighting for working people is doing so no longer.”

Typically, when the U.S. government shifts from a Democratic presidential administration to a Republican one, a certain level of pro-business policies and erosion of labor rights is expected. However, many labor experts say that the presidency of Donald Trump has led to a repeal of Obama administration regulations that is unprecedented, and is proceeding faster than is typical under a new GOP administration. Celine McNicholas, labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington D.C., says the Trump rollbacks of various pro-labor rules and regulations, in addition to deep cuts to the Labor Department’s budget, have been devastating to U.S. workers and “are not business as usual.”

In just over a year and a half as president, Donald Trump has wiped away a number of the modest policy gains that organized labor made during the Obama years. The nominees he chose to fill crucial regulatory roles already are making it more difficult for workers. Taken together, this blizzard of decisions will hurt millions of workers and weaken their abilities to unionize and bargain collectively.

Another way forward

But it does not have to be like this. Germany, Sweden and other EU member states show another path that is better for workers and that creates a stronger relationship between businesses, employees and trade unions.

Countries like Germany and Sweden have stronger labor laws than in the United States, and consequently more influential trade unions. In addition, many EU member states benefit from what is known as “co-determination,” which includes works councils at every job site and worker-elected boards of directors for the biggest of businesses, including Fortune 500 companies. Imagine if Walmart and Amazon were legally required to allow its workers to elect up to 50% of the members of its board of directors? It’s unimaginable to most Americans, yet this is standard practice throughout Europe. Co-determination fosters a “culture of consultation” and a degree of economic democracy. As a result, there is more broadly shared prosperity, with social supports like universal health care, child care, affordable university education, affordable housing, job training/re-skilling, workplace protections, a decent retirement and more.

In an age of growing inequality, the European practice of co-determination has broken with a strictly “shareholder model,” and has set a standard for corporate governance that holds great potential for the digital age if used in a widespread fashion.

Labor attorney Thomas Geoghegan has proposed that U.S. states should try out codetermination. Geoghegan says states should offer tax breaks to companies that allow rank-and-file employees to elect a third to a half of its corporate board of directors. Doing so, says Geoghegan, would allow U.S. companies to test drive an alternative model to the current dysfunctional stockholder model. Also, states could try out this model by requiring that nonprofits, NGOs and universities allow their employees to elect a portion of its board of directors or trustees.

Three senators (Democrats Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz) have introduced legislation that would require that companies allow workers to elect one-third of their corporate board. The bill is not expected to pass, and while the AFL-CIO has endorsed this legislation, historically unions and labor advocates have not taken up this cause. Yet labor leaders don’t seem to have any other proposals that might stop the hemorrhaging of union members.

Certainly such progressive proposals are going nowhere at the federal level under the administration of Donald Trump. So the landscape for political change has shifted to states and to cities where Democrats and progressives are more dominant. Still, even when Democrats have been in control, whether at the federal level under President Obama or in heavily Democratic states like California, Maryland and Massachusetts, there has been little appetite to push the boundaries of ways to support labor unions or progressive labor reform.

Which is surprising, since the unionization rate in the United States has fallen to fewer than 7 percent in the private sector and 11 percent of all workers. And future prospects don’t look too bright.

In an age when many workers are becoming freelancers and contractors who supposedly are the “CEOs of their own business” (whether driving for Uber, or being a hotelier for Airbnb, or a freelancer for Upwork and dozens of other online platform companies), the fate of labor unions hasn’t been this threatened in nearly a century. The Trump administration is just the latest nail in a slowly closing coffin that has been in process for decades. It’s time for U.S. labor unions to try new tactics.

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 17, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Steven Hill is a senior fellow at FairVote, a former senior fellow and political reform program director with the New America Foundation, and former Holtzbrinck fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. For more information, visit Steven Hill’s website at www.Steven-Hill.com and follow him on Twitter @StevenHill1776.

Former Houston Texans cheerleaders sue team over low pay and harassment

Monday, June 4th, 2018

Five former Houston Texans cheerleaders are suing the NFL team, claiming they weren’t paid for many hours of work and were subjected to intimidation and harassment on the job.

“We were harassed, bullied, and body shamed for $7.25 an hour,” former cheerleader Ainsley Parish said at a press conference Friday.

The women, who are represented by prominent women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred, accuse the team of failing to pay its cheerleaders minimum wage and overtime, as well as failing to provide a safe working environment.

“I was attacked by a fan at a game leaving abrasions on my shoulder. My attacker was not approached, nor was he removed from the game,” former cheerleader Hannah Turnbow said during the press conference. “I was told to just suck it up.”

The five women aren’t alone; just last month, three other former Houston Texans cheerleaders sued the team and its cheerleading supervisor for failing to adequately compensate the women for hours worked, and accused the supervisor of body-shaming and failing to protect the cheerleaders from physical harm.

The suit alleges that the cheerleader director, Altovise Gary, told one cheerleader that she had a “jelly belly,” and criticized another cheerleader’s hairstyle, threatening to “find another Latina girl to replace her.”

In a statement, the team said it is “proud of the cheerleader program” and “will continue to make adjustments as needed to make the program enjoyable for everyone.”

The legal actions against the Texans are the latest in a growing body of reports and lawsuits detailing the exploitation of cheerleaders across the NFL.

Last month, the New York Times reported on disturbing allegations from former cheerleaders for Washington, D.C.’s NFL team, who claim they were forced to pose topless during a trip to Costa Rica in 2013 while male sponsors and suiteholders watched. Some of the women were then told they had to escort the men to a club later that night.

A former New Orleans Saints cheerleader filed a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission earlier this year, claiming she was fired for posting a photo of herself in a bathing suit on her private Instagram account and for attending a party where Saints players may have also been present. Saints cheerleaders are instructed to avoid players in any setting, even on social media, and as ThinkProgress’ Lindsay Gibbs wrote, the onus is fully on the cheerleaders to comply.

In recent years, cheerleaders for the Oakland Raiders, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New York Jets have all filed lawsuits just to be paid the minimum wage for their work.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 2, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kiley Kroh is a senior editor at ThinkProgress.

Here Are the 10 Worst Attacks on Workers From Trump’s First Year

Wednesday, January 24th, 2018

January 20th marks the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Since taking office, President Trump has overseen a string of policies that will harm working people and benefit corporations and the rich. Here we present a list of the 10 worst things Congress and Trump have done to undermine pay growth and erode working conditions for the nation’s workers.

1) Enacting tax cuts that overwhelmingly favor the wealthy over the average worker

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) signed into law at the end of 2017 provides a permanent cut in the corporate income tax rate that will overwhelmingly benefit capital owners and the top 1%. President Trump’s boast to wealthy diners at his $200,000-initiation-fee Mar-a-Lago Club on Dec. 22, 2017, says it best: “You all just got a lot richer.”

2) Taking billions out of workers’ pockets by weakening or abandoning regulations that protect their pay

In 2017, the Trump administration hurt workers’ pay in a number of ways, including acts to dismantle two key regulations that protect the pay of low- to middle-income workers. The Trump administration failed to defend a 2016 rule strengthening overtime protections for these workers, and took steps to gut regulations that protect servers from having their tips taken by their employers.

3) Blocking workers from access to the courts by allowing mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts

The Trump administration is fighting on the side of corporate interests who want to continue to require employees to sign arbitration agreements with class action waivers. This forces workers to give up their right to file class action lawsuits, and takes them out of the courtrooms and into individual private arbitration when their rights on the job are violated.

4) Pushing immigration policies that hurt all workers

The Trump administration has taken a number of extreme actions that will hurt all workers, including detaining unauthorized immigrants who were victims of employer abuse and human trafficking, and ending Temporary Protected Status for hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers, many of whom have resided in the United States for decades. But perhaps the most striking example has been the administration’s termination of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program.

5) Rolling back regulations that protect worker pay and safety

President Trump and congressional Republicans have blocked regulations that protect workers’ pay and safety. By blocking these rules, the president and Congress are raising the risks for workers while rewarding companies that put their employees at risk.

6) Stacking the Federal Reserve Board with candidates friendlier to Wall Street than to working families

President Trump’s actions so far—including his choice not to reappoint Janet Yellen as chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and his nomination of Randal Quarles to fill one of the vacancies—suggest that he plans to tilt the board toward the interests of Wall Street rather than those of working families.

7) Ensuring Wall Street can pocket more of workers’ retirement savings

Since Trump took office, the Department of Labor has actively worked to weaken or rescind the “fiduciary” rule, which requires financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients when giving retirement investment advice. The Trump administration’s repeated delays in enforcing this rule will cost retirement savers an estimated $18.5 billion over the next 30 years in hidden fees and lost earning potential.

8) Stacking the Supreme Court against workers by appointing Neil Gorsuch

Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, has a record of ruling against workers and siding with corporate interests. Cases involving collective bargaining, forced arbitration and class action waivers in employment disputes are already on the court’s docket this term or are likely to be considered by the court in coming years. Gorsuch may cast the deciding vote in significant cases challenging workers’ rights.

9) Trying to take affordable health care away from millions of working people

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans spent much of 2017 attempting to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They finally succeeded in repealing a well-known provision of the ACA—the penalty for not buying health insurance—in the tax bill signed into law at the end of 2017. According to the Congressional Budget Office, by 2027, the repeal of this provision will raise the number of uninsured Americans by 13 million.

10) Undercutting key worker protection agencies by nominating anti-worker leaders

Trump has appointed—or tried to appoint—individuals with records of exploiting workers to key posts in the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Nominees to critical roles at DOL and the NLRB have—in word and deed—expressed hostility to the worker rights laws they are in charge of upholding.

This list is based on a new report out from the Economic Policy Institute.

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 19, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank created in 1986 to include the needs of low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions.

Lifelong Wage Warrior Larry Mishel Takes On Trump’s Tax Scam

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Lawrence Mishel, the outgoing President of the Economic Policy Institute, is finally – after 30 years at the progressive economic research organization – seeing one of his wishes come true. Leaders in both major political parties are talking about wage stagnation, and how to address it.

“I’ve always wanted to elevate the concerns about people’s paychecks as the salient economic issue,” he said in an interview in his downtown Washington office.

The bad news is that the stagnant wages conversation is being co-opted by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to sell a tax cut bill that will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy.

Even so, Mishel counts that as progress. When Mishel joined the then-embryonic EPI as its first research director in 1987, all of the major right-wing think tanks denied that wage stagnation among the working class was a problem, even though EPI was among the first to show the trend unfolding, using the federal government’s deep trove of economic data. Few Democrats recognized the issue, either, Mishel said.

Today, “what’s interesting is there is so much of a dedication on the Trump team to link everything they are going to do to good jobs and wages, something that Democrats have not always done, for mysterious reasons,” Mishel said, pointing as an example the administration promoting its tax bill as “a $4,000 pay raise to workers.”

“The polls show that not many people buy it, even among Republicans, but it’s interesting that this transformation has happened,” Mishel said.

A Lifelong Passion

Mishel has had a lifelong passion for the plight of workers, going at least as far back as his Philadelphia boyhood and days at Penn State University. At Penn State, he combined that passion with a passion for economics, and after receiving advanced economics degrees from American University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he went to work as an economist for several unions, including the United Auto Workers; United Steelworkers; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.

When Mishel became president of EPI in 2002, the think tank was beginning to gain a reputation as being more than an advocate of pro-worker policies; it has a reputation for rigorous, fact-based scholarship and economic analysis that is relied on by a broad range of scholars, journalists and lawmakers. Its “State of Working America” reports have become a bible for people seeking to understand the economy from a Main Street point of view.

This month, Mishel hands over the reins of the EPI presidency to Thea Lee, who was previously deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO and a leading spokesperson for the union on issues like the impact of trade policy on workers.

But Mishel says he’s not going to disappear; he plans to continue to do research for EPI. “I want to tell the narrative about how wages were suppressed,” he said, particularly to make the point that four decades of stagnant wages for the working class is the result of, to borrow from the title of an EPI publication, “failure by design.”

An Economic Conundrum

The current state of the economy presents a classic economic conundrum. Economic textbooks say that with today’s national unemployment rate, 4.1 percent, we should see wage inflation caused by a tight labor market.

The last time the national unemployment rate averaged 4 percent, in 2000, wages rose on average about 5 percent a year, as shown in this wage tracker by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In 2017, the wage tracker shows wage growth in 2017 hovering around 3.4 percent. EPI research further finds that this substandard wage growth has been even worse for people at the lower end of the income scale, whose wages in 2016 grew only about half as much as those of the top 20 percent.

“A true sign of a robust economy is rapid wage growth, and we don’t see wages growing that much faster than inflation, even with roughly 4 percent unemployment,” Mishel said.

Barring a last-minute surprise, passage of the Trump administration/Republican tax bill this week appears inevitable. Asked to what the American economy might look like a year after the tax bill is passed, Mishel predicted a continued stock market rise because companies, already flush with cash and finding themselves flooded with more, will continue to choose to use that cash to buy back their shares rather than invest in creating new jobs.

The big winners will be stockholders and corporate executives. Workers? Not so much. A boost in stock prices at best only benefits the third of American workers who have meaningful stock holdings, primarily retirement accounts. And even among that group of workers, the average retirement account stock portfolio is less than $100,000.

“The rising stock market is not a sign that the economy is doing well,” Mishel said. In fact, an overheated stock market, disconnected from the pulse of the Main Street economy, is prone to the kind of explosive bubble-burst that the nation saw in 2008.

What We Need Instead

What we need instead, Mishel said, is structural changes that will lead to real wage growth and improved working-class living standards. Those policies include:

• Raising the minimum wage, which Mishel said would have ripple effects beyond low-wage workers to boost the take-home pay of about 30 percent of the workforce.

• Targeting job creation in areas of high unemployment, which are disproportionately communities of color. Ultimately, government policy should be to ensure that every person who wants a job has access to a job, publicly funded if necessary. “You want a situation where employers are chasing after workers, and not workers chasing after employers. When employers are chasing after workers, wages go up,” Mishel said.

• Rebuilding the collective bargaining system. In 2016, only about one in 10 workers belonged to a labor union, a close to 50 percent decline from 1983. Nearly half of those work in the public sector. In private companies, fewer than one in 16 workers – less than 7 percent – belong to a union. If unions are stronger, Mishel said, “workers in non-union employers benefit as well, because their employers will follow the lead of the employers where collective bargaining is setting the standard. …I don’t think we will ever get robust middle-class wage growth or have the vibrant democracy that we need without reestablishing collective bargaining.”

• Assuring what Mishel calls “day-one fairness,” which would include eliminating such practices as misclassifying full-time workers so they are not eligible for health benefits or overtime, or forced arbitration and noncompete clauses that prevent workers from challenging bad worker policies or even leaving a bad employer to work for a competitor.

Having Their Moment

When Mishel is presented with the view that Donald Trump’s presidency and right-wing control of Congress has placed many of these policy goals further out of reach, he offers a contrarian view.

“The right is having its moment now,” he said, “but what has happened, though, is that the traditional stranglehold on the Democratic Party policy agenda by what you could call the corporate Democrats and their friends has been broken… The center-left policymakers have moved much closer to where the Economic Policy Institute has always been. So [with] the next wave of candidates and the next wave of legislation that comes if and when Democrats have electoral victories, we will do a lot better than we did during the Clinton era or the Obama era.”

Examples include the increased willingness of the Democratic Party mainstream to embrace universal health care, a $15 minimum wage by 2023, and support for collective bargaining for all public employees, Mishel said.

With this change, “you will see the Economic Policy Institute emerge as a much more important source of policy proposals,” Mishel predicted. “Our time will come again; there may be a Democratic House in 2019, and who knows about the Senate? Nothing is for sure, but it is not as grim as ‘the Democrats will never get back.’”

The People Can Win

In the meantime, Mishel advises people concerned about the state of the American worker to not think of the economy as “broken.”

“People walk around as if we have a bad economy,” Mishel said. “We don’t have a bad economy. It’s been built to do what it is doing, which is skimming the most for those at the top.”

That should be heartening, he went on to say, because changing the economy is “a matter of organizing and policy and mobilization.” That work won’t be easy, he said, but “the people can win.”

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on December 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole is communications director of People’s Action, and 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.

With All Eyes on DACA, the Trump Administration Is Quietly Killing Overtime Protections

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

On September 5, the administration of Donald Trump formally announced that they won’t try to save Obama’s overtime rule, effectively killing a potential raise for millions of Americans. This disturbing development has largely slipped under the radar during a busy news week, marked by Trump’s scrapping of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Twenty-one states and a number of business groups sued the Obama administration last September, after the Department of Labor (DOL) announced the new rule, accusing the former president of overreach.

That lawsuit led to Amos Mazzant, a federal Obama-appointed judge in Texas, putting the rule on hold last November, shortly before it was set to become law. On August 31, Mazzant struck the rule down, and—less than a week later—Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to challenge the District Court’s decision. In a court filing, a DOJ lawyer said that the administration would not appeal.

The Obama administration’s rule would have raised the overtime salary threshold considerably. The threshold hadn’t been increased by any administration to adequately reflect wage growth or inflation, which means that many workers only see overtime pay if they make less than about $23,660 a year. Obama had scheduled that number to be bumped up to about $47,476 after reviewing 300,000 comments on the subject.

“The overtime rule is about making sure middle-class jobs pay middle-class wages,” former Labor Secretary Tom Perez told reporters on a call after the rule was announced in May 2016. “Some will see more money in their pockets … Some will get more time with their family … and everybody will receive clarity on where they stand, so that they can stand up for their rights.”

While the overtime rule faced predictable opposition from Republicans and business groups, it also received backlash from some liberal advocacy organizations. In May 2016, U.S. PIRG, the popular federation of non-profit organizations, released a statement criticizing Obama’s decision. “Organizations like ours rely on small donations from individuals to pay the bills. We can’t expect those individuals to double the amount they donate,” said the group.

Critics of the statement pointed out that U.S. PIRG’s opposition suggests they have employees not being paid for overtime despite their low wages. The group was slammed by progressives for supporting a regressive policy when it benefited their economic interests.

The DOL claimed that the rule would mean a pay increase for about 4.2 million Americans, but the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) contends that the DOL’s figure is far too low. According to EPI, the DOL’s analysis fails to take the impact of George W. Bush’s overtime policies into account and relies heavily on statistics that were generated before he took power. EPI estimates that, because of changes to employee classifications in 2004, roughly 6 million workers had their right to overtime destroyed.

The EPI’s study of the overtime rule determined that about 12.5 million workers would have been impacted if it had been implemented. A wide range of workers would have potentially seen a pay increase, including 6.4 million women, 1.5 million African Americans and 2.0 million Latinos, the EPI concludes.

“Once again, the Trump administration has sided with corporate interests over workers, in this case, siding with business groups who care more about corporate profits than about allowing working people earn overtime pay,” Heidi Shierholz, who leads the EPI’s Perkins Project on Worker Rights and Wages, told In These Times.

The Trump administration’s move might be disappointing for workers’ rights advocates, but it’s hardly surprising. As a presidential candidate in 2016, Trump vowed to kill the overtime rule if elected. “We have to address the issues of over-taxation and overregulation and the lack of access to credit markets to get our small business owners thriving again,” he said in an interview. “Rolling back the overtime regulation is just one example of the many regulations that need to be addressed to do that.”

While many pundits have focused on Trump’s unrelenting series of failures and scandals, his administration has quietly waged a fairly successful war on labor. In addition to nixing one of Obama’s most notable policy achievements, the Trump administration is also poised to stack the National Labor Relations Board with a pro-business majority, has proposed major cuts to the Labor Department and has rolled back safety protections for workers.

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Trump’s Labor Department had created an office specifically designed to reconsider government regulations. The office will be run by Nathan Mehrens, the anti-union lawyer who is also in charge of the department’s policy shop.

Trump geared much of his campaign rhetoric toward the U.S. worker, vowing to dismantle exploitative trade agreements and bring back jobs. However, his administration has simply emboldened the anti-labor forces that have dictated economic policy for decades.

This blog was originally published at In These Times on September 7, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Arria covers labor and social movements. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelarria

Trump has bad news for millions of workers in line for overtime pay under Obama

Friday, July 28th, 2017

Donald Trump’s major life goal at this point seems to be rolling back everything good President Barack Obama did for the country and its people—and now he’s coming for your overtime pay. Obama had sought to raise the overtime eligibility threshold to include millions more workers, a change that was supposed to go into effect in December but was blocked at the last minute by a judge. Now, of course—of course—Mr. Populist is rolling back Obama’s expansion. Trump’s Labor Department announced Tuesday that it would be doing something to the overtime eligibility threshold, but it’s not clear what, and they’re definitely not going to be raising the threshold to $47,000 like Obama proposed.

In the final days of the Obama administration, the Labor Department had appealed the judge’s decision blocking implementation of the raise, and Trump’s Labor Department agreed in court that it has the power to set the eligibility threshold. But Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta plans to use that power in a very different way than Tom Perez did under Obama:

On Tuesday, the department said in light of the pending appeal, it decided to issue a request for comments rather than skip immediately to rescinding or revising the rule.

The agency asked for input on whether the current threshold of $23,660 set in 2004 should be updated for inflation, and whether there should be multiple levels based on region, employer size, industry or other factors. […]

The department also asked employers to explain how they prepared for the rule to take effect and whether it has had an outsize impact on small businesses and particular industries.

The department said it was considering eliminating the salary threshold, leaving overtime eligibility to be based on workers’ job duties.

Mind you, the Obama administration already had a lengthy comment period and took 300,000 comments. But we know the Trump regime will be listening to comments from one set of people in particular: bosses who want to exploit their workers.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos by Laura Clawson on July 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

Republicans Working Against Workers

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

Ever-worsening is the chasm between the loaded, who luxuriate in gated communities, and the workers, who are hounded at their rickety gates by bill collectors.

Even though last week’s Bureau of Labor Statistics report showed unemployment at a low 4.4 percent, wages continue to flatline, killing both opportunity and the consumer economy. Meanwhile, corporations persist in showering CEOs and their cronies with ever-fatter pay packages and golden parachutes when they mess up.

This would all be sufferable if workers felt those in control in Washington, D.C. were striving to turn it all around. But the Republicans, who boast majorities in both houses of Congress, are just the opposite.

Their legislation shows they’re indentured to big business. Ever since they took power, they’ve labored tirelessly to destroy worker protections. They’ve swiped money from workers’ ragged pockets and handed it to 1 percenters on a silver platter – a plate bought with massive campaign contributions by the 1 percent.

The most blatant example is Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill. Both the House and Senate versions would strip health care from tens of millions of Americans while granting corporations and the nation’s richest tax cuts totaling $700 billion.

The Tax Policy Center determined that households with incomes above $875,000 a year would get 45 percent of those benefits. For the wealthiest, the annual tax cut would be nearly $52,000, a big fat break that is almost exactly the entire household income for the median American family.

In other words, Republicans want to hand millionaires a check that equals what a typical family earns by working an entire year.

Those massive tax breaks for the rich cost workers big time. Republicans’ so-called health insurance bill slashes Medicaid, so workers’ frail, elderly parents will lose the coverage they need to remain in nursing homes, babies born with cancer and crippling congenital diseases will be cut off care, and relatives who are victims of the opioid epidemic will be denied treatment. But, hey, the rich get richer!

Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing legislation in Congress to hobble labor unions and suppress wages. One House bill would delay union elections, giving corporations more time to bully and fire workers who consider joining. This proposed legislation would also stop workers from organizing small groups instead of the entire roster of employees.

Yet another GOP proposal would change the definition of democratic election. As it is now, a congressional candidate wins when he or she receives the highest number of votes cast. Candidates aren’t deemed losers if they receive votes from fewer than half of all potential voters.

Securing ballots from more than half of potential voters would be a very hard standard to meet because in many elections little more than a third of eligible voters go to the polls. In the 2016 Presidential election, 58 percent of potential voters exercised their franchise. That means neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton would have won under the more than 50 percent of eligible voters standard.

Even so, the bill under consideration in Congress would impose that standard on unions. When workers want to form a union, this legislation would require that they get positive votes from more than half of all eligible workers, not more than half of those who actually vote.

It is a standard no politician would want to be held to, but Republicans are willing to require it of workers to prevent them from organizing and bargaining jointly for better wages and working conditions.

At the bidding of corporations, Republicans are working against workers because labor organizations succeed through concerted action in wresting from fat cat CEOs a more fair share of the fruit of workers’ labor. Workers in labor unions receive higher wages, better health benefits and pensions and safer conditions.

When more workers were unionized, the space between rich and poor was more like a crack than the current chasm. In the 1950s, 33 percent of workers participated in labor organizations. Now it’s 10.7 percent. In the ’50s, the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay was 20-to-1. That means for every dollar a worker made, the CEO got $20. Now the ratio is 347-to-1. For every dollar a worker earns, the top dog grabs $347. CEOs of S&P 500 corporations pulled down an average of $13.1 million in total annual compensation in 2016, while their typical worker received $37,632.

The high point of unionization in America, the 1950s, was the low point in income inequality. It is called the time of the great compression. And a new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research reaffirms that unionization produced better wages.

In a report titled “Unions, Workers, and Wages at the Peak of the American Labor Movement,” scholars Brantly Callaway of Temple University and William E. Collins of Vanderbilt University analyzed new data and determined “the overall wage distribution was considerably narrower in 1950 than it would have been if union members had been paid like non-union members with similar characteristics.”

They go on to say, “Our historical interpretation is that in the wake of the Great Depression, workers sought and policymakers delivered institutional reforms to labor markets that promoted  unions, reduced inequality, and helped lock in a relatively narrow distribution of wages that lasted for a generation.”

That time is gone. Unions have been declining for decades, largely as a result of onerous requirements legislated by Republicans. As unions shrank, so did worker bargaining power. The result is that while workers’ productivity increased, their wages stagnated for the past three decades.

Still, Republicans are squashing unions even more by, for example, reversing a rule requiring corporations to report when they hire union busters to strong-arm workers into voting against organizing.

And Republicans are working hard on other measures to ensure workers make even less money. For example, Missouri Republicans reversed a minimum wage increase in St. Louis and prohibited the state’s cities from requiring union-level wages on public construction projects.

In addition, in Washington, the Republican administration refused to defend in court a new rule that would have made millions more workers automatically eligible to receive time-and-a-half pay when they work overtime.

If workers feel like the system is rigged against them, that’s because it is. Republicans working at the behest of CEOs and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have created a government by corporations for corporations.

And none of the government welfare and benefits that corporations and one percenters got for themselves in this process ever trickled down to workers.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on July 14, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Bosses are stealing billions from their workers' paychecks, but it's not treated like a crime

Monday, May 15th, 2017
 Here’s a kind of theft almost no one goes to prison for. When an employer doesn’t pay workers the money they’ve earned, it has the same effect as if they got paid and then walked out on the street and had their pockets picked. But somehow wage theft—not paying workers the minimum wage for the hours they’ve worked, stealing tips, not paying overtime, and other ways of not paying workers what they’ve earned—doesn’t get treated as the crime it truly is. It has a huge impact, though, as a new study from the Economic Policy Institute shows. The EPI looked at just one form of wage theft: paying below minimum wage. Just that one type of violation steals billions of dollars out of workers’ paychecks:
  • In the 10 most populous states in the country, each year 2.4 million workers covered by state or federal minimum wage laws report being paid less than the applicable minimum wage in their state—approximately 17 percent of the eligible low-wage workforce.
  • The total underpayment of wages to these workers amounts to over $8 billion annually. If the findings for these states are representative for the rest of the country, they suggest that the total wages stolen from workers due to minimum wage violations exceeds $15 billion each year.
  • Workers suffering minimum wage violations are underpaid an average of $64 per week, nearly one-quarter of their weekly earnings. This means that a victim who works year-round is losing, on average, $3,300 per year and receiving only $10,500 in annual wages. […]
  • In the 10 most populous states, workers are most likely to be paid less than the minimum wage in Florida (7.3 percent), Ohio (5.5 percent), and New York (5.0 percent). However, the severity of underpayment is the worst in Pennsylvania and Texas, where the average victim of a minimum wage violation is cheated out of over 30 percent of earned pay.

Young workers, women, immigrants, and people of color are disproportionately affected because they’re overrepresented in low-wage jobs to begin with. This wage theft is keeping people in poverty—the poverty rate among workers paid less than the minimum wage in this study was 21 percent, and would have dropped to 15 percent if they’d been paid minimum wage. If their bosses had followed the law, in other words.

The wage thieves rarely face penalties for stealing, and when they do:

Employers found to have illegally underpaid an employee are usually required only to pay back a portion of the stolen wages—not even the full amount owed, much less a penalty for violating the law.

The law basically gives employers permission to steal from workers, in other words. And it sure won’t be getting better under Donald Trump.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on May 12, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

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