Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘sick leave’

Nevada workers get some big wins because elections matter, this week in the war on workers

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Nevada Democrats had a great Election Day in 2018, and Nevada workers are about to start seeing the effects of that. Gov. Steve Sisolak signed a package of major bills, including one giving 20,000 state workers collective bargaining rights, a minimum wage increase, paid sick leave, and more.

The state’s minimum wage will only go up to $12—$11 if the employer offers insurance—and won’t reach that level until 2024, with the first 75-cent raise not coming until July 2020. Compared with the laws taking some states’ minimums up to $15 on a faster timetable that’s not spectacular, but since Nevada’s current minimum wage is $7.25 for employers that offer insurance and $8.25 for ones that don’t, it’s still a substantial improvement for an estimated 300,000 Nevada workers. (And something for worker-activists to build on, perhaps.)

Workers at businesses with more than 50 employees will also start getting paid sick leave, up to 40 hours a year for full-time workers. That law will take effect January 1. Nevada will join 10 states and Washington, D.C., in having a paid sick leave law.

The law giving public workers collective bargaining rights is “yet another massive win for working people and the labor movement as union momentum continues to grow across the country,” according to AFSCME. Harry Schiffman, a local AFSCME president in the state called it “a historic day for state employees and all Nevadans, as collective bargaining rights will mean a voice on the job to make meaningful changes in our workplaces and communities.”

 

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Why Hundreds of Georgia Bus Drivers Just Staged a Massive Sickout

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Robbie Brown loved her students. For 18 years, she drove them in her yellow bus to and from schools in DeKalb County, Georgia. And then, last Friday, two police officers showed up at Brown’s house with a letter. She’d been fired.

Brown is one of at least seven drivers sacked after staging a “sickout” to demand better pay and benefits. Last Thursday, nearly 400 school bus drivers and monitors in DeKalb County called in sick, aiming to pressure school district officials to boost driver pay, improve retirement packages and reclassify drivers from part-time to full-time employees. The drivers have 50 demands in all. Some paint a picture of a bus system in disrepair: Drivers say they need restrooms at parking lots, working intercom systems, air conditioning on buses. Other demands, like “fair treatment for bus drivers,” tell a story of workers who are tired of being pushed around.

While district officials say they fired “ringleaders,” drivers say plans for the sickout emerged informally, and spread by word of mouth. Drivers in DeKalb, which covers part of Atlanta, are not unionized, and as public employees in Georgia, they’re barred from collective bargaining and striking. But Brown, who’s 51, felt like she had to speak out.

“My mortgage is $1,000 a month, and there’s no way, even if I retire in 20 or 30 years, that I can afford to keep my home,” she told Scalawag Magazine. Brown’s retirement plan would net her only about $400 a month after she stopped working, she says. Many of her colleagues work well into their 70s just to keep the lights on.

“Once we get old enough to retire, we can’t pay the bills.”

The sickout, which continued through Monday, comes after months of meetings in which drivers voiced concerns over benefits and pay to district officials. And it follows waves of wildcat strikes by public school teachers across the South and West who are demanding better treatment and pay. It’s too early to tell what effect the DeKalb sickout will have, but supporters hope it will add fuel to a resurgent labor movement in public education. Closer to home, Brown hopes the action will pressure district officials to meet drivers’ demands, and perhaps provoke teachers, custodians and other workers in Georgia schools to fight for better pay, benefits and working conditions.

“They need to stand up,” Brown said. “If you stand together, if you make a chain link with your hands and hold on, it can be done.”

While a number of DeKalb teachers support the sickout, teachers in Georgia might be reluctant to jump on a picket line, says Verdalia Turner, President of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

“We don’t even have the word strike in our vocabulary here because there is no reason for our membership to strike,” Turner said. “Our plan is to continue to organize as issues come about … I hope all workers can get organized with an organization that they control and can run democratically.”

In DeKalb County, employment incentives discourage teachers from organizing, according to a teacher in the district. She spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns about retaliation. Some teachers are complacent, she said. And because enough teachers want to leave the classroom for the administrative ranks, where they can expect much higher salaries, it’s difficult to whip up support for collective protest, the teacher, who is a member of the Georgia Association of Educators, explained.

“The way the system has been created, it incentivizes keeping your head down and following the rules,” she said, adding that “there’s no indication of a walkout, a sickout, or a protest.”

Yet strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma have shown that teachers in states hostile to organized labor, and battered by funding cuts, can win material gains through collective protest. It’s worth remembering that the teacher strikes began in only a handful of counties in southern West Virginia, weeks before there was public chatter about a state-wide work stoppage. Even though the driver sickout only affected one Georgia county, 42 percent of DeKalb’s drivers refused to work last Thursday. If drivers win some of the improvements they’re asking for, it could be an early sign that drivers, custodians and other non-teacher staff can use direct action to successfully push for better labor conditions in the right-to-work south.

It’ll be a tough fight, though. While a DeKalb spokesperson told Scalawag that district officials have been developing a timeline for addressing driver concerns, the DeKalb County Superintendent condemned the sickout last week, saying the action put students in danger. “This is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated,” Superintendent Stephen Green told reporters at a press conference last Thursday, saying they will now require doctors’ notes from drivers who call in sick. “Your actions will have consequences and there will be repercussions for putting our children in harm’s way.”

For Brown, who has three children of her own, the suggestion that drivers would intentionally endanger their students is “totally ridiculous.” “I love my kids, I know all my kids’ names,” she said. She’s sad to think she might not see them again. “That’s the biggest regret I have — that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to them.”

Drivers have been raising concerns about pay and conditions for over two years. In recent months, a committee of drivers and bus monitors met regularly with district higher-ups, and drivers flooded recent DeKalb County Board of Education meetings with questions and complaints. On April 17, two days before the sickout, drivers met with Superintendent Green to discuss their demands. When drivers didn’t get concessions they’d asked for, they informed district officials about a planned sickout, giving them time to alert parents about possible delays. The district’s decision to subsequently fire alleged “ringleaders” prompted drivers to seek assistance from outside organizations, including Atlanta’s General Defense Committee, which is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union.

On Thursday, fired drivers held a press conference calling on Superintendent Green to rehire Brown and her colleagues. They were joined by still-employed drivers, parents of DeKalb students, and members of supportive organizations.

Melanie Douglas, a fired driver, censured Superintendent Green for behaving contrary to what DeKalb schools teach students about the importance of free speech. “The message is if you speak up about injustice, if you use your First Amendment rights, then we will strike you down,” she said.

A district spokesperson told Scalawag Superintendent Green has no plans to rehire fired drivers, but did meet with members of the Driver and Monitor and Advisory Committee on Thursday. “The district has been open, is open, and will continue to be open to sitting down and thinking about issues and how to solve them,” the spokesperson added.

But during the press conference, Douglas said the superintendent was trying to “sow division between the fired and still-employed drivers.” Another fired driver, Marion Payne, said he wasn’t confident the Driver and Monitor and Advisory Committee would advocate for rehiring drivers. “They’re afraid to death. They might not say anything,” he said.

A current driver, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed that retaliation has not entirely chilled their efforts. He said drivers may yet resolve to take further action if their demands are not met.

Drivers are also consulting with lawyers about possibly contesting the terminations in court, according to Sara Khaled, a community organizer working with the drivers. “But we’re hoping we can resolve this outside the court to get the drivers hired again and get some of their original demands met,” they added.

Whatever comes of it, the sickout is history-making. It’s the first work stoppage by school bus drivers in Atlanta since 1980, when drivers shut down schools in Fulton County. And it comes on the heels of several successful organizing efforts by bus drivers elsewhere. In February, Seattle school bus drivers staged a week-long strike, forcing management to expand benefit packages and provide comprehensive healthcare coverage. Also in February, city transit workers in Atlanta went on strike to protest unfair labor practices, ultimately prompting their employer to agree to improvements in their contract. (Crucially, drivers in DeKalb insist that their action was not a strike.)

Meanwhile, Brown’s future remains uncertain. “I am applying for jobs,” she said, a little wistfully. “My license is a Class A, and I’m thinking of driving trucks, even though I love my kids and I loved my eighteen years.”

This article was published at In These Times on April 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Williams is a writer based in Durham, NC. He covers issues from environmental justice to southern culture, and has published work in The New York Times, The Nation, HuffPost, and other local and national outlets.

When three days sick means losing a month's grocery budget

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Nearly two-thirds of private-sector workers in the U.S. have access to paid sick leave, but as with so many labor and economic statistics, that masks serious inequality: 87 percent of the top 10 percent of earners have paid sick leave, while just 27 percent of the bottom 10 percent do. And what that means is that the people who can least afford to take a day off without pay are the ones who are forced to do so if they’re too sick to go to work. A new Economic Policy Institute analysis shows how devastating that choice can be:

Without the ability to earn paid sick days, workers must choose between going to work sick (or sending a child to school sick) and losing much-needed pay. For the average worker who does not have access to paid sick days, the costs of taking unpaid sick time can make a painful dent in the monthly budget for the worker’s household:

  • If the worker needs to take off even a half day due to illness, the lost wages are equivalent to the household’s monthly spending for fruits and vegetables; lost wages from taking off nearly three days equal their entire grocery budget for the month.
  • Two days of unpaid sick time are roughly the equivalent of a month’s worth of gas, making it difficult to get to work.
  • Three days of unpaid sick time translate into a household’s monthly utilities budget, preventing the worker from paying for electricity and heat.
  • In the event of a lengthier illness—say, seven and a half days of unpaid sick time—the worker would lose income equivalent to a monthly rent or mortgage payment.

State-level paid sick leave laws are starting to make a difference—in 2012, when the first such law was passed, in Connecticut, just 18 percent of low-wage private-sector workers had paid sick days. But workers outside of the five states with such laws need the federal government to act, and that’s not going to happen under Republican control.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

The Midwest continues its paid sick leave winning streak

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016
Bryce Covert

There is no national law ensuring that American workers can take a paid day off of work if they or their family members get sick. But there are now more than 30 of these laws in cities and states throughout the country.

On Wednesday, St. Paul became the second city in Minnesota to pass a paid sick leave law, following Minneapolis in May. Once it goes into effect, more than 68,000 workers in the city’s private sector who have gone without the benefit should be able to take a paid day for illness.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Brian Witte

Starting next summer, those at companies with 24 or more employees would be able to earn up to 48 hours of leave a year, while those at smaller ones will be covered at the beginning of 2018.

Before this year, paid sick leave laws had mostly been concentrated on the East and West coasts. But the last three laws passed have been in the Midwest, with Chicago passing its own ordinance in June.

In total, with St. Paul’s passage, 28 cities and five states have passed paid sick leave laws.

CREDIT: Dylan Petrohilos

These policies are already having a noticeable effect. The share of Americans who get paid sick days at work just reached an all-time high, climbing to 64 percent of the private sector workforce, up 7 percentage points over the last decade when cities and states began passing laws. Those toward the bottom of the income scale, who perversely are the least likely to get paid leave benefits, have been the biggest beneficiaries.

CREDIT: Bureau of Labor Statistics

This increase also hasn’t come at the expense of employers or employment. A new survey of businesses in New York City found that the vast majority reported no increase in their costs to comply with the law, while most of the small share that saw them go up only had to grapple with an increase of less than 3 percent. Meanwhile, they reported virtually no abuse of the benefit by employees, such as taking days when they weren’t actually sick.

That comports with other surveys of employers after these policies have taken effect. Employers in Connecticut, Jersey City, and Washington, D.C. have also reported that the laws weren’t costly or difficult to comply with. The majority of businesses in San Francisco and Seattle actually support the policies now.

Job growth has also remained unaffected. It stayed strong in Connecticut and San Francisco even after paid sick days went into effect and was actually stronger in Seattle.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on September 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Bryce Covert  is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine, Slate, The New Republic, and others. She has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets.

Three Changes to Improve the Lives of Low Income and Middle Class Families

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015

olivia_headOn January 20, 2015, President Obama laid out what I think are three things that can make a difference in the lives of low income and middle class workers.

1. Child Care

There is a need now more than ever for affordable child care, especially since in many homes both parents are in the workforce. Child care is often viewed as an issue specific to women, and it is often the woman who has to choose between a pay check or caring for their sick child. President Obama called for us to stop treating this as a woman’s issue but to see it one that affects us all. President Obama proposed for more available and affordable child care. Additionally he proposed a tax cut of up to $3,000 to families for each child in child care.

Please visit http://www.workplacefairness.org/family-responsibilities-discrimination for more information.

2. Sick Leave

The United States, unlike Germany, France, Sweden and at least 145 other countries, does not guarantee paid sick leave or maternity leave to workers. President Obama proposed that we being to work with states to assist them in adopting paid leave laws, but also that we work toward creating a bill.

Please visit http://www.workplacefairness.org/sickleave for more information.

3.Higher Pay

President Obama urged for a commitment to an economy that generates rising income and provides a chance to everyone who makes an effort. Congress has yet to pass law that provides women the equal pay to men. President Obama stated that “It is time,” especially since it is 2015. Additionally, President Obama is seeking to raise the minimum wage, and challenged congressional members who were against it to live on an income of $15,000. Please visit http://www.workplacefairness.org/minimumwage for more information.

Finally, on a side note President Obama seeks to make community college $0. The benefits this will add for those in the workplace are numerous. Not only will workers be able to upgrade their skills but it will also give them the tools they need to participate in this growing economy. If we being to educate and encourage our workforce through, free education, higher pay, and affordable child care I believe we will see more growth than ever in our economy.

About the Author Olivia Nedd is a legal intern for Workplace Fairness and a student at Howard University School of Law.

Philadelphia Falls One Vote Short of Sick Days for Over 180,000 Workers

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

 

dougfoote

With 12 votes needed, only 11 members of the Philadelphia City Council were willing to override Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of the sick leave bill. For the second time in three years, corporate interests defeated a measure that would allow more than 180,000 Philadelphians to finally earn sick days.

“I’m very disappointed,” said city councilman Bill Greenlee, who tried but failed to get the 12 votes needed to override Mayor Nutter’s veto.  “I’m particularly disappointed for the 180,000 workers who could have had a benefit that other cities are providing.”

Instead of listening to the people of Philadelphia, Mayor Nutter sided with business interests: specifically the Philadelphia-based ALEC corporation Comcast, who spend more than $100,000 opposing sick leave in 2011 and is a big contributor to Mayor Nutter’s campaign.

“We’re not surprised the mayor vetoed this….he hasn’t exactly been a champion of workers,” said Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth McElroy. “The majority of the City Council and the majority of Philadelphians wanted this—it’s the right thing to do, and we’ll keep working on it.”

Comcast also contributed $3,000 to Councilman Brian O’Neill and $1,500 to Councilman Denny O’Brien, both who voted against the sick leave bill and refused to override Mayor Nutter’s veto. All of this despite the fact that 77% of Philadelphians favor the sick leave policy.

Not all hope is lost, however. Working America worked with a broad coalition to drive thousands of messages and phone calls to Mayor Nutter and members of the Philadelphia City Council. And while sick leave proposals move forward in Portland, Oregon, New York City and elsewhere, there will be more pressure on city officials as time goes on.

The fight isn’t over for bill sponsor Councilman Greenlee either:

“I still believe in and want to have earned paid sick leave in Philadelphia.  So we’ll see what the future holds on that,” he said.

This article was posted on the AFL-CIO on April 11, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the AuthorDoug Foote is the Social Media and Campaign Specialist at Working America. He joined Working America in 2011 after serving as New Media Director for the successful 2010 reelection campaign of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA).

Low-Wage Workers Hit Hardest by Workplace Injuries, Illnesses

Monday, December 17th, 2012

It’s a double whammy for low-wage workers when they get hurt or fall ill on the job.

First, they lose pay because the vast majority (more than 80%) of low-wage workers do not have any paid sick leave to take time off to recover. Second, not only does the pay check shrink, but because of inadequate workers’ compensation laws, they must shoulder a bigger portion of their health care costs with those smaller paychecks. That means workers and their communities must bear a larger share of the $39 billion (in 2010) that workplace injuries and illnesses cost the nation.  

A new policy brief, “Mom’s Off Work ’Cause She Got Hurt: The Economic Impact of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses in the U.S.’s Growing Low-Wage Workforce,” examines the growing problem.  

Using information from a study, by University of California, Davis, economist J. Paul Leigh, on the number and cost of injuries and illnesses among low-wage workers, Celeste Monforton, a professorial lecturer in environmental and occupational health at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services (SPHHS), and SPHHS researcher Liz Borkowski explore how workplace injuries and illnesses impact the lives of low-wage workers. Says Monforton:

Workers earning the lowest wages are the least likely to have paid sick leave, so missing work to recuperate from a work-related injury or illness often means smaller paychecks. For the millions of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, a few missed shifts can leave families struggling to pay rent and buy groceries.

Leigh’s study classifies about 31 million people—22% of the U.S. workforce—in 65 occupations for which the median wage is below $11.19 per hour as low-wage workers. The janitors, housecleaners, restaurant workers and others earning that wage full-time will bring home just $22,350 per year—an amount that means a family of four must subsist at the poverty line

In 2010, 596 low-wage workers suffered fatal on-the-job injuries and 12,415 died from occupational ailments, including certain kinds of cancer. Another 1.6 million suffered from non-fatal injuries, and 87,857 developed non-fatal occupational health problems such as asthma. The costs of the 1.73 million injuries and illness amounted to $15 billion for medical care and another $24 billion for lost productivity—the cost when injured or sick workers cannot perform their jobs or daily household duties.

But as Monforton and Borkowski point out, workers’ compensation insurance either does not apply or fails to cover many of these costs, which can bankrupt families living on the margin. In some cases, employers do not have to offer this kind of insurance to employees.

And even workers who do have the coverage often get an unexpected surprise after an on-the-job injury or illness: Insurers generally do not have to provide wage replacement until the worker has lost between three and seven consecutive shifts. And workers at the low end of the wage scale are often discouraged from reporting on-the-job injuries as work-related—which leaves them with no insurance benefits at all.

According to Leigh, insurers cover less than one-fourth of the costs of occupational injuries and illnesses. The rest falls on workers’ families, non-workers’ compensation health insurers and taxpayer-funded programs like Medicaid.

When low-wage workers miss even a few days of pay while recovering from an occupational injury or illness, the effects spread quickly,” says Borkowski.

They will usually have to cut back on their spending right away, which affects the local economy. And families with children might skip meals or cut back on the heat, money-saving tactics that can put vulnerable family members such as children at risk of developmental delays and poor performance in school.

The authors call on policymakers to address this public health problem more forcefully by improving workplace safety and strengthening the safety net to reduce the negative impacts caused by the injuries and illnesses that still occur. Says Monforton:

On average, more than 4,000 workers are injured on the job each day. If we make workplaces safer, we not only stop losing billions of dollars each year, but we also could reduce the pain and suffering and financial impact on thousands of low-wage, hard-working Americans and their families.

The reports are posted here: http://defendingscience.org/low-wage-workers.

This article was originally posted on AFL-CIO NOW on December 14, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is is a 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 his collar was “still blue,” he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse.

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