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Jimmy John’s Fired Workers for Making a ‘Disloyal’ Meme. A Court Just Ruled That’s Okay.

Friday, July 14th, 2017

In a decision emblematic of the new climate of Trumpian governance, a federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled on July 3 that it is acceptable for the boss of a fast-food chain to fire workers for the sin of being “disloyal.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a ruling issued by the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a case spawned by a labor organizing drive at the Jimmy John’s fast-food chain. The court held that Miklin Enterprises, the owner of Jimmy John’s franchises in Minneapolis, had the right to fire six pro-union advocates because they demonstrated “disloyalty” by distributing flyers in 2011 that implied the company was selling unsafe food contaminated by employees obliged to work while sick with the flu.

The organizers designed and distributed memes that showed images of identical Jimmy John’s sandwiches. One was “made by a healthy Jimmy John’s worker,” the other by a “sick” worker. “Can’t tell the different?” the poster continued. “That’s too bad because Jimmy John’s workers don’t get paid sick days. Shoot, we can’t even call in sick. We hope your immune system is ready because you’re about to take the sandwich test.”

The Minneapolis union campaign, launched by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or ‘Wobblies’), has been high-profile from the start. First erupting in 2010, the effort quickly developed into an intense legal fight at the NLRB before advancing to the federal courts. It even spilled over into the U.S. Congress in 2014 with the revelation that Jimmy John’s routinely required its low-paid sandwich makers to sign questionable “non-compete agreements.”

Threatened with punitive action by the attorneys general in several states, Jimmy John’s rescinded its non-compete policies in 2016, but not before the company’s reputation had been tarnished.

Like the non-compete agreements, the July 3 court decision is an unwarranted attack on labor rights, says William B. Gould IV, a labor law professor at Stanford University and former chairman of the federal labor board.

“The first thing that strikes you is how archaic this feels,” Gould tells In These Times. “The legal basis is from a case in the 1950s when people had a whole different concept of loyalty owed to their employer.

“In those days,” Gould continues, “the assumption was that loyalty was a two-way street: You were loyal to the company and the company was loyal to you. Now, with Uber and Lyft and the others, companies are even refusing to admit that you are one of their employees, so there isn’t much talk about loyalty owed to the employer anymore.”

The July 3 decision turns on the interpretation of ‘loyalty’ articulated in the 1953 Supreme Court case National Labor Relations Board v. Local Union 1229 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, known as “Jefferson Standard” for short. Earlier in the process of the more recent NLRB case, the labor agency’s Obama appointees had ruled that the firing of the workers was an illegal violation of their rights to form a union. But the appeals court decision reversed that decision, asserting that the disloyalty displayed by the pamphlets gave the employer the right to fire the workers, Gould explains.

The court stated, “(W)hile an employee’s subjective intent is of course relevant to the disloyalty inquiry—”sharp, public, disparaging attack” suggests an intent to harm the Jefferson Standard principle includes an objective component that focuses, not on the employee’s purpose, but on the means used—whether the disparaging attack was ‘reasonably calculated to harm the company’s reputation and reduce its income,’ to such an extent that it was harmful, indefensible disparagement of the employer or its product.”

Erik Forman was fired six years ago for organizing a union at a Jimmy John’s in Minneapolis. He told In These Times, “The big takeaway for me is that this ruling means workers do not have the right to tell the truth about their employer,” he said, adding: “The ruling is incredibly slanted towards the employer. They frame our campaign for sick days as an attack on the employer and turn logic on its head. We told the truth about the risk to the public.”

“Employers’ motivation wasn’t just to stop the sick-day campaign,” Forman continued. “It was to stop our unionization effort.”

According to Gould, “This case comes from the 8th Circuit which is the most conservative in the country. It’s the worst circuit in the country for a labor union, or for labor rights.”

The ultra-conservative nature of the ruling may have the unintended benefit of limiting its applicability to workers other than the Minneapolis Jimmy John’s employees, the former NLRB chairman adds. Other judicial districts may not be eager to follow its lead because many traditionally defer to the NLRB in matters of this kind, he says, and few employers will want to take the legal risk of relying on a circuit court ruling that has not been confirmed by the Supreme Court.

The reversal of the Obama-era NLRB decision mirrors action in Congress, where several measures are under consideration to roll back pro-worker measures adopted by the labor board during Obama’s tenure. This week, the U.S. Senate is considering thenomination of two Trump NLRB appointees, both of whom have been criticized as anti-worker by the AFL-CIO.

Carmen Spell, an NLRB representative at the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, would only comment that “(w)e are considering options at this time” on how the agency will respond to the court ruling.

Jane Hardey, a spokeswoman for Jimmy John’s, declined any comment, asserting that the legal case involved only the Minneapolis franchise owner, and did not involve the sandwich chain company itself. Hardey did not respond to a request from In These Times for a telephone interview with Jimmy John Liautard, the controversial founder of the franchise.

According to the Jimmy John’s web site, the rapidly growing chain currently has 2,701 locations in 48 states. The number of employees is estimated at over 100,000.

“The fact that we were fired over six years ago in retaliation for union organizing should tell everyone that you cannot rely on labor law in this country,” says Forman. “Every single decision can now be appealed up to a Trump Supreme Court. We need to find new ways of building and exercising power on our own.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 13, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.

Groundbreaking Bill in Illinois Would Give Temp Workers Equal Pay and Rights as Direct Hires

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Sweeping legislation introduced in the Illinois state legislature last month would dramatically improve pay, benefits and working conditions for almost a million of the state’s temp workers toiling in factories, warehouses and offices.

The Responsible Job Creation Act, sponsored by State Rep. Carol Ammons, aims to transform the largely unregulated temporary staffing industry by introducing more than 30 new worker protections, including pay equity with direct hires, enhanced safety provisions, anti-discrimination measures and protection from retaliation.

The innovative law is being pushed by the worker centers Chicago Workers’ Collaborative (CWC) and Warehouse Workers for Justice (WWJ), which say it would restore the temp industry to its original purpose of filling short-term, seasonal labor needs and recruiting new employees into direct-hire jobs.

Across Illinois, there are nearly 850,000 temp workers every year. Nationally, temp jobs are at record highs, with more than 12 million people flowing through the industry per year.

“Instead of temps just replacing people who are sick or coming during periods of higher production, they’re actually becoming a permanent staffing option,” says CWC executive director Tim Bell. “There’s nothing ‘temporary’ about it.”

Mark Meinster, executive director of WWJ, says there has been “an explosion” of temp workers in recent decades, especially in manufacturing and warehousing. “Those sectors are part of large, global production networks where you see hyper competition and an intense drive to lower costs. Companies can drive down labor costs by using temp agencies.”

CWC activist Freddy Amador worked at Cornfields Inc., in Waukegan, for five years. He tells In These Times the company’s direct hires start off making at least $16 an hour, but later get raises amounting to $21 an hour. As a temp, however, Amador was only making $11 an hour after five years on the job.

“As a temp worker, you don’t have vacation days, sick days, paid holidays”—all of which are available to direct hires, Amador says.

In These Times reached out to Cornfields to comment on this story. It did not immediately respond.

“Once a company is using a temp agency, it no longer has to worry about health insurance, pension liability, workers’ comp, payroll and human resources costs,” Meinster explains. “It also doesn’t have to worry about liability for workplace accidents, wage theft, or discrimination because, effectively under the law, the temp agency is the employer of record.”

This arrangement drives down standards at blue-collar workplaces, Bell says. “The company itself doesn’t have to worry about safety conditions because these workers aren’t going to cost them any money if they’re injured.”

“The safety for temp workers is really bad,” Amador says. “Temp agencies send people to do a job, but nobody trains them. Sometimes temp workers are using equipment they don’t know how to use, and they’re just guessing how to use it. I’ve seen many accidents.”

Under the new bill, temps like Amador would receive the same pay, benefits and protections as direct hires.

“This is landmark legislation,” Bell says. “There’s nothing like it in the United States.”

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting found a pattern of systemic racial and gender discrimination in the temp industry nationwide. Industry whistleblowers allege that African-American workers are routinely passed over for jobs in favor of Latinos, who employers consider to be more exploitable.

Discrimination can be hard to prove because staffing agencies aren’t required to record or report the demographics of who comes in looking for work. As Bell explains, applications often aren’t even filled out in the temp industry, but rather “someone just shows up to go to a job.”

The new bill would require temp agencies to be more transparent about their hiring practices by recording the race, gender and ethnicity of applicants and reporting that information to the state.

Furthermore, the bill includes an anti-retaliation provision that says if temp workers are fired or disciplined after asserting their legal rights, the burden is on the company and temp agency to prove that it was not done in retaliation.

“There’s this fundamental imbalance in the labor market that leads to a whole range of abuses and then non-enforcement of basic labor rights,” Meinster explains. “The changes we’re proposing in this bill get at addressing that structural issue.”

To craft the bill and get it introduced, CWC and WWJ received research and communications support from Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of eight Chicago worker centers. The Illinois AFL-CIO, National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, National Employment Law Project, Latino Policy Forum and Rainbow Push Coalition are among the legislation’s other supporters.

Though the Illinois government is still paralyzed by an unprecedented budget stalemate between the Republican governor and Democratic legislature, organizers are optimistic about the bill’s prospects.

“There’s potential for huge movement around this bill,” Bell says, citing the popularity of the presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, which both touched on the theme of economic insecurity. While Trump focuses on jobs fleeing the country, Bell notes that “jobs here in this country have been downgraded.”

“We need to be talking about job quality, not only ‘more jobs.’ Both are important,” Meinster says. He believes existing temp jobs “could and should be good, permanent, full-time, direct-hire, living wage jobs with stability, respect and benefits.”

The author has worked with WWJ in the past on issues related to the temp industry.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on February 9, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Jeff Schuhrke is a Working In These Times contributor based in Chicago. He has a Master’s in Labor Studies from UMass Amherst and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in labor history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a summer 2013 editorial intern at In These Times. Follow him on Twitter: @JeffSchuhrke.

Philadelphia Joins the Growing List of State/Local Governments Passing Paid Sick Days Laws

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Kenneth QuinnellThe city of Philadelphia is set to become the 17th city (along with three states) that requires paid sick leave after Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed legislation passed yesterday by the City Council. Philadelphia is the second city, after Tacoma, Wash., to pass paid sick days this year so far. Nutter previously vetoed similar laws because he said the economy couldn’t handle the change during a recession.

Councilman William K. Greenlee, who sponsored the bill, said:

“The people who do not have paid sick leave are the people who need it the most. They’re low-income workers, single mothers; they’re college students or people just starting in the workforce.”

The law goes into effect in 90 days, when businesses with 10 or more employees will be required to give workers a paid hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days a year. The sick time can be used for personal illness or that of a family member, or in seeking support after domestic violence or sexual assault.  While 200,000 Philadelphia residents will benefit from the new law, it still excludes independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, interns, government employees and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Businesses that already offer comparable or better paid sick leave to their employees will not have to change their rules. Violations of the law can be punished with fines, penalties and restitution.

As Think Progress notes, dire warnings of the negative effects of paid sick leave laws have failed to materialize elsewhere:

“Despite the concern from business that paid sick leave requirements will be too costly, the evidence from places that already have them backs up the idea that they won’t be harmful. The vast majority of employers have come to support these laws, while they haven’t hurt local economies and, in fact, many cities have outperformed after their laws were enacted.”

This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on February 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell.  He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Healthy Families Act Would Let Workers Earn Paid Sick Days

Friday, February 13th, 2015

Image: Mike HallThere are least 43 million U.S. workers who cannot earn a single paid sick day and have to decide between losing wages or even risking their jobs to take care of their own illness or a sick family member. On Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act that would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

In related news (see below), the Philadelphia City Council passed a new paid sick days law on Thursday.

Responding to the Healthy Families Act, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said:

“Too many people are still being forced to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of a loved one. Let’s pass the Healthy Families Act and make sure no worker has to make that choice again.”

Nationally more than four in 10 private-sector workers and 81% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. A 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that Latinos and those who make less than $20,000 a year are the workers least likely to have paid sick days. Only 47% of Latino workers get paid sick days.

Even worse, less than 28% of workers who make under $20,000 a year have paid sick days and many of those are food service workers, and only 24% of food preparation and service workers have access to paid sick days, despite the fact that most health departments recommend that these workers not go to work sick. Said Debra L. Ness, president of National Partnership for Women & Families:

“The Healthy Families Act is about allowing moms to stay home to care for children with strep, without having their pay docked. It’s about adult sons being able to miss a day of work to take an aging parent for medical tests, without losing their jobs. It’s about child care and nursing home staff being able to stay home when they have the flu, instead of infecting the people they care for. It’s about restaurant workers not being forced to report to work, and handle food, when they are infectious. It’s about being able to see a doctor for an eye infection before it becomes severe. It’s about common sense, public health and family economic security. It’s about dignity.”

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. Twenty jurisdictions across the country now have paid sick days standards in place.

The new Philadelphia paid sick leave will require employers with 10 or more employees to allow their full-time and part-time workers to accrue at least five days of paid sick leave a year. Marianne Bellasorte of the group Pathways PA said:

“We are the 17th city to pass paid sick days. So far, there have been no bad reports, nothing has gone wrong. Businesses are thriving, workers are thriving. There’s no reason to believe Philadelphia will be any different.”

California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have state-paid sick day laws.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

"When we are united we can do anything"- Workers React to Wage Theft Prevention Act Victory

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

EJCOn Friday, Mayor Gray signed the Wage Theft Prevention Act of 2014. Click here to see the bill or here for a marked up version of the DC Code that shows the changes that will be made once the legislation goes into effect in late November or early December. The legislation was passed after years of organizing, strategizing and campaigning by the Employment Justice Center, DC Jobs with Justice  and our other allies in the DC Wage Theft Coalition.

After a period of congressional review that should end in late November, the District of Columbia will have one of the strongest laws against wage theft in the country. The new law will combat wage theft by:

  • Establishing formal procedures at the DC Office of Wage-Hour (OWH) to enable victims of wage theft to recover unpaid wages and damages. OWH investigators will have 60 days to arrive at a formal decision, which can be appealed when necessary to an administrative law judge;
  • Increasing the penalties for those responsible for committing wage theft to include tiered administrative and criminal penalties, as well as the possibility of a suspended business license for companies that do not comply with administrative orders to pay the wages owed;
  • Providing greater protection for workers who stand up for their rights, by requiring that all employers issue a written notice of the terms of employment. If the notice is not issued, the worker’s testimony will carry greater weight if they need to demand unpaid wages; and
  • Making it easier for wage theft victims to get legal representation by clarifying how judges must calculate attorneys’ fees in these cases.

In late July, the EJC’s workers’ committee hosted a summer barbecue to celebrate the hard earned victory, look back on what they had won, and to start to develop a vision for the future.

Jose Cruz

Jose Cruz prepared the meat and chicken in a delicious marinade. “I feel content because we fought for this law that will have an effect on the whole community that needs this support. I am content with our organization, because we have fought this battle and we have won. We won and we will keep moving forward! (Me siento contento porque luchamos para esa propuesta y tiene efecto para toda la comunidad que necesita está auda. Me siento contento con toda nuestra organización que hemos luchado para está batalla y la ganamos. Ganamos y vamos a seguir adelante!).”

 

julio sanchezJulio Sanchez, a restaurant worker who testified in support of the Wage Theft Prevention Act as well as the Earned Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2013, shared how his life had changed as a result of his organizing efforts. “I learned that together, we can make something great like the law that just passed, as well as the paid sick days. I am happy because I met more people and I am now in the group. We make a great team. And we never stay silent. (Aprendí que juntos podemos hacer algo grande como la ley que se aprobó, junto con los de los derechos de enfermedad. Estoy feliz porque conocí a más gente y estoy ya en el grupo. Hacemos un gran equipo. Y nunca nos quedamos callados).

Dalia Catalan, a mother who was fired for taking a sick day to take care of her sick child, expressed how she felt when she learned the bill had passed. “When I knew that we had won, wow, I felt happy because of all of our sacrifices, and we did it! (Cuando supe yo que si lo habíamos ganado, wow, me sentí feliz por todos los sacrificios de uno, y si se pudo!).”

“There are laws for me too, and we have rights here, something that I didn’t know.

Si hay leyes para uno también, y tenemos derechos aquí, algo que yo no sabia.”

Dalia’s husband, Carlos Chajon, spoke about his favorite part of the victory. “My favorite part was to become part of a group that is small but with a lot of power and a lot of enthusiasm. I learned that we can share with others, and that there can be laws that can help us. (Mi parte favorita fue de integrarme a un grupo pequeño pero con mucho poder, con bastante entusiasmo. Aprendí poder compartir con otros, y que hay leyes que les puede ayudar).

bruno avilaBruno Avila, who kept the grill running until all the meat was gone, reflected on what this victory means for his community. “My favorite part was that we make our rights worth something, despite everything that someone has going against them, maybe that they don’t have papers, that they have a boss that wants to abuse them, that supervisors in the workplace think that they aren’t going to do anything, we start to plant the seeds of credibility. And with this we can do big things. (Mi parte favorita fue que se hacen valer los derechos, a pesar de todo lo que tienes en contra, ya sea que no tenga documentos, que tenga un jefe que quiere abusar de ti, que supervisores en el lugar de trabajo piensan que no sa va a hacer nada, se empieza a poner las semillas de la credibilidad. Entonces con eso comenzamos a hacer grandes cosas).”

“Here we don’t stop, it’s just the beginning.

Aquí no paramos, es el comienzo de seguir.”

Salvador Martinez discussed what he had learned through this struggle. “I learned that nothing is impossible (Aprendi que no hay nada imposible),” he said. “I am joyful. This beginning, this process, had a big impact on the city and throughout the whole metropolitan área. I am joyful to be part of this group, to volunteer and to help the city so that this city makes progress. (Me lleno de regocijo. este inicio, este proceso, tuvo gran impacto en la ciudad y más allá en la área metropolitana. Me siento gozoso de ser parte del grupo, el cual puedo desempeñarme voluntariamente y ayudar a la ciudad para que está ciudad siempre vaya en progreso).”

“When we are united, we can do everything.

Cuando estamos unidos, todo lo podemos.”

gregorio hernandezGregorio Hernandez had been fighting to recover his unpaid wages for nearly two years. “The dishonest employers will be afraid because they won’t want to lose their license (Se tendrán miedo los empleadores deshonestos por no querer que se les quite su licencia), he said. “I don’t think they will continue working in this way (No creo que van a seguir trabajando así).”

jonny castillo

 

Jhonny Castillo, who will be honored at the EJC’s Labor Day Breakfast as Worker Activist of the Year, spoke about his vision for the future. “We will think about and take on a project to work towards, with the support of the Employment Justice Center (Eso vamos a pensar, vamos a tomar algún proyecto que tengamos para trabajarlo, siempre con la ayuda con el Centro de Justicia),” he said.

 

Mario de la Cruz gave advice to his community: “Don’t give up! You all have rights, but we must lose our fear. We all have rights, we are all children of God. Everyone has rights. (Que no se deje! Que tienen derecho como persona, pero siempre cuando tiene que perder el miedo. Todos tenemos derechos, todos somos hijos de Dios. Todos tienen derechos).”

The EJC is proud to attribute this victory to the hard work and unity of the DC Wage Theft Coalition and the EJC’s workers’ committee. Thanks to the workers who took time off work to speak out at rallies, host community meetings, and tirelessly tell their stories to DC Councilmembers. 

¡Para adelante! Forward!

This blog originally appeared on the Employment Justice Center blog on September 22, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.dcejc.org/2014/09/22/when-we-are-united-we-can-do-anything-workers-react-to-the-wage-theft-prevention-act-victory/

About the Author: The Employment Justice Center was founded on Labor Day 2000, the mission of the D.C. Employment Justice Center is to secure, protect and promote workplace justice in the D.C. metropolitan area.  Since their founding, the EJC has successfully used a combination of strategies to protect the rights of low-income workers, including legal services, policy advocacy, community organizing, and education.  In the past eleven years, the EJC has returned more than $7,000,000 to the pockets of low-wage workers, achieved many legislative victories that have touched the lives of countless workers, educated thousands of workers about their rights and responsibilities on the job, and launched three vibrant community organizing groups. They believe that in securing, protecting, and promoting workplace justice for the most vulnerable among us, we raise the floor of workplace rights for us all.

Tinder on Fire: How Women in Tech are Still Losing

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

  A “whore,” “gold-digger,” “desperate loser,” and “just a bad girl.”  These are only a handful of the sexist comments that Whitney Wolfe, co-founder of the mobile dating app Tinder, alleges she was subjected to by chief marketing officer Justin Mateen.  Last month, Wolfe brought suit against Tinder for sex discrimination and harassment.  Wolfe’s legal complaint details how Mateen sent outrageously inappropriate text messages to her and threatened her job, and how Tinder CEO Sean Rad ignored her when she complained about Mateen’s abuse.  Wolfe claims that Mateen and Rad took away her co-founder designation because having a 24-year-old “girl” as a co-founder “makes the company look like a joke” and being a female co-founder was “sluty.”

The conduct, which Wolfe’s complaint characterizes as “the worst of the misogynist, alpha-male stereotype too often associated with technology startups,” unfortunately remains the norm, and Wolfe is not alone in her experience.  Last year, tech consultant Adria Richards was fired after she tweeted and blogged about offensive sexual jokes made by two men at a tech conference.  After one of the men was fired from his job, Richards experienced horrendous Internet backlash, including rape and death threats.  She was then fired by Sendgrid after an anonymous group hacked into the company’s system in some twisted attempt at vigilante “justice.”

In 2012, junior partner Ellen Pao filed a sexual harassment suits against a venture capital firm, alleging retaliation after refusing another partner’s sexual advances.  And back in 2010, Anita Sarkeesian was the target of online harassment after she launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a video series to explore female stereotypes in the gaming industry.  An online video game was even released in which users could “beat up” Sarkeesian.  These are just some of the many examples of demeaning attacks against women in the testosterone-driven tech world.

There are many state and federal laws that prohibit the kinds of workplace harassment that these women experience, including the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, the Bane and Ralph Act, and the California Constitution.  These laws provide strong protections against gender harassment in employment and other contexts.  So why do these attacks on women continue to happen in an industry that is supposedly progressive and populated with fairly educated adults?

It doesn’t help that tech companies are also notorious for their lack of diversity.  This year, Google released its first diversity report which revealed that 70 percent of its workforce was male, and 61 percent was white.  The workforce was also predominantly male and white at Facebook, Yahoo, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Another report this year shows that the percentage of women occupying CIO positions at companies has remained stagnant at 14 percent for the last decade.  These numbers confirm what the stories reflect — that this industry truly is “a man’s world.”  And this needs to change.

Some may dismiss Wolfe’s lawsuit and similar complaints as coming from women who are hypersensitive.  Indeed, Wolfe claims that when she complained about Mateen’s harassment, she was dismissed as being “annoying” and “dramatic.”  While some degree of social adaptation may be expected when joining any company, particularly freewheeling start-ups, there are limits that must be respected.  Those limits are crossed when the pressure to conform to a white, male norm is so great that women who challenge this norm are further harassed or their voices suppressed.

Unfortunately, this marginalization of women who challenge the macho culture even comes from other women, who blame the “feminists” for making it harder for women to advance in tech.  This also needs to change.  Women who speak out about sexism and misogyny in the tech industry deserve the support of their colleagues, and men who turn to vitriol and juvenile behavior to intimidate deserve censure.

But change will not be achieved without help from sources outside the industry.  Attorneys and employee advocates must continue to bring attention to the rampant sexism that is “business as usual” in the tech industry.  We need to encourage tech companies of all stages and sizes to comply with employment laws, adopt proper HR practices, promote diversity and inclusion, and use objective standards to measure performance.  If the tech industry is serious about encouraging young girls to become coders and developers, it also needs to place women in conspicuous leadership roles and pay real attention to change the “guy culture.”

The tech world doesn’t have to be a man’s world, and it shouldn’t be.

 This blog originally appeared in CELA Voice on July 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://celavoice.org/author/lisa-mak/.
About the Author: The authors name is Lisa Mak. Lisa Mak is an associate attorney at Lawless & Lawless in San Francisco, exclusively representing plaintiffs in employment matters. Her litigation work focuses on cases involving discrimination, harassment, whistleblower retaliation, medical leave, and labor violations. She is an active member of the CELA Diversity Committee, Co-Chair of the Asian American Bar Association’s Community Services Committee, a volunteer and supervising attorney at the Asian Law Caucus Workers’ Rights Clinic, and a Young Professionals Board member of Jumpstart Northern California working to promote early childhood education. She is a graduate of UC Hastings School of Law and UC San Diego.

Small Business Owner Gives Employees Paid Sick Days. World Doesn't End. New Jersey Doesn't Go Bankrupt

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallJersey City business owner Steven Kalcanides, who runs Helen’s Pizza, invited Mayor Steven Fulop to officially sign the city’s new paid sick days ordinance at his restaurant. Kalcanides already has been offering his employees paid sick days and not only has he been able to continue making a profit, his turnover has been very low, with many of his workers staying with him for more than five years.

“As far as I know, it’s been working for me,” he says. “I don’t see it as being the straw that breaks the camel’s back on a business.” Kalcanides says that the new law is how things should be done. “My business is like my family. Everybody that works for me is like family.”

The new ordinance would allow employees at businesses with 10 or more employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. The second largest city in New Jersey will join San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and New York City in requiring paid sick days. The state of Connecticut also has a similar requirement.

Fulop says the new measure would help bridge the gap between the city’s various communities. “I really view this legislation as an important step in that direction.” A similar measure was introduced into the state Assembly last spring.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 23, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

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

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