Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘workers’

Bottom Line: Does the TPP Trade Deal "Put American Workers First"?

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Dave Johnson

The full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has finally been released and We the People can see what has been negotiated in our name. President Obama laid out the bottom line, saying the deal “puts American workers first.” Does it?

TPP Text

The full text of TPP can be seen here. The text consists of more than a thousand pages of incomprehensible legalese like this:

… the rate of customs duty applicable to the originating good from the Party where the good acquired the originating status in accordance with the process requirement or change in tariff classification requirement set out in Annex (PSR); or (ii) the rate of customs duty applicable to the originating good from the Party where the largest value was added among claimed production process, or the highest rate among the rates applicable to the originating good from those Parties involved in claimed production process, when the good acquired the originating status through a production process in accordance with the requirement set out in Article DD. 2(a), (b) or the regional value content requirement set out in Annex (PSR).

and this:

Pursuant to paragraph 1(b), the Commission shall review the operation of this Agreement with a view to updating and enhancing this Agreement, through negotiations, as appropriate, to ensure that the disciplines contained in the Agreement remain relevant to the trade and investment issues and challenges confronting the Parties.

You get the picture. This is going to take time and experts to figure out. Worse, it was negotiated in a corporate-dominated process, so if TPP is approved we have to assume that anything that is hard to understand or ambiguous will later be used to justify taking from We the People and giving to A Few People.

So Does TPP “Put American Workers First”?

President Obama set down the bottom line of TPP by releasing a statement calling TPP, “a new type of trade deal that puts American workers first.” In the statement he wrote, “If you’re an autoworker in Michigan, the cars you build face taxes as high as 70 percent in Vietnam.”

It is interesting that he would use the example of auto workers here. The September post “TPP Terms Are Even Worse For U.S. Than NAFTA?” looked at how TPP will affect the American auto industry and found:

Under NAFTA 62.5 percent of the value of cars and 60 percent of auto parts must be made in NAFTA countries, or a tariff will apply. But for TPP the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman appears to have made a deal saying only 45 percent for cars and 30 percent for parts need to be made in TPP countries – the rest of that business goes to China and other non-TPP, low-wage, low-labor-standards and low-environmental-protection countries. The result will be a huge shift of jobs and business away from American, Mexican and Canadian auto and parts makers.

Now we know the actual terms. Canada’s Globe and Mail reports, in “Canadian auto sector alarmed by concessions revealed in full TPP text ,” that

Canada’s auto parts makers, who employ 81,000, say the text of the agreement shows the local-content protections for vehicle components are significantly skimpier than the former Conservative government had advertised. Former prime minister Stephen Harper had said local-content requirements for important vehicle components would be between 40 per cent and 45 per cent.

… Engine parts and such body stampings as truck frames and metal roof panels will only be required to have TPP content of 35 per cent.

Basically when we are talking about “non-TPP countries” getting some percent of the business, we are really just talking about China. So says tariffs do not apply if 35 percent to 45 percent of the car and parts are made in TPP countries. This means that 55 percent to 65 percent of the car and parts can be made in China and still be tariff-free. This is much worse than even NAFTA, which, as we know, destroyed American auto and parts manufacturing jobs and entire regions of our country.

Kevin L. Kearns, President of the U.S. Business and Industry Council, in the post “Domestic Manufacturers Call Full Text of Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement a ‘Very Bad Deal for America.’” says of this,

“Apparently, one of America’s biggest economic problems is that Toyota does not sell enough cars and trucks here, and thus does not displace enough American jobs. The TPP deal allows Toyota and other Japanese automakers a special concession to keep their global supply chains intact.”

So the president’s singling out of auto workers as benefiting from TPP was unfortunate. They do not, and American auto workers will be hit hard as production moves to China.

In the release statement Obama also wrote, “If you’re a worker in Oregon, you’re forced to compete against workers in other countries that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs.”

Does TPP stop the competition of Oregon’s workers “against workers in other countries that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs” as the president promises here?

The athletic apparel maker Nike is based in Oregon. The workers who actually make Nike’s shoes are already all outsourced, already located in countries “that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs,” including TPP signatories Vietnam (where it employs 345,000 workers), Mexico and Malaysia. TPP will remove tariffs already charged on those shoes and garments as they come into the U.S., making it even more attractive to outsource production to countries “that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs.” Nike will be rewarded by that tariff cut with greater profits from their choice to outsource.

Meanwhile Nike competitor New Balance has been trying to continue to make shoes in the U.S., and this removal of tariffs is likely to force them to give up. TPP lowers the cost of moving production to countries “that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs.”

So the president cited autos and Oregon, but a close look reveals these to be unfortunate choices. In both cases American workers are put first – first in line to be laid off as even more production shifts out of the country.

Does TPP Put American Steelworkers First

If TPP truly puts “American workers first” you’d think that American workers would be happy about TPP. They aren’t. The United Steelworkers said of the TPP text:

“It’s a dagger twisting in the heart of American manufacturing,” the USW said in a Nov. 5 statement. “Even the Wall Street Journal predicted the deal would cause a massive trade deficit in manufacturing, which would result in hundreds of thousands of job losses.”

The TPP, the union said, provides incentives for U.S. companies to outsource production and send jobs overseas. It would cause dramatic job losses in the U.S. manufacturing sector, and its rules of origin for automobiles and auto parts would allow China to provide the majority of a vehicle’s content, it said.

The TPP also would allow currency manipulation to continue, do nothing to prevent state-owned enterprises from receiving state support and protection, and allow foreign workers to continue to suffer violations of their rights, the USW said.

So it looks like TPP does anything but “putting American workers first.” It puts them first in line to be laid off.

Economic Theory

So why the big push for TPP?

Here’s the thing. By moving production to low-wage countries with poor environmental and safety (and other) regulations that protect people, American companies can lower the cost of production. Economic theory says this “frees up resources” in our own economy to be put to “more productive uses.” Economists say the workers can thereby move into higher-paying jobs, doing things that can’t be done in Vietnam.

But of course this is not what has been happening since the country’s elites were sold on the “free trade” agenda decades ago. We have seen the financial sector (and its associated value system) increase as the manufacturing sector (and its associated value system) declines. We have seen a dramatic increase in inequality as the “investor class” pockets the wage and other cost differential from moving production out of the country. We have seen entire regions of the country literally devastated (see Detroit and the “Rust Belt”) because the resources released by outsourcing America’s production have not been reinvested in the U.S. They have instead found their way to foreign tax shelters. We have seen the country lose entire industries, and the supply chains, “know-how” and other elements of a manufacturing ecosystem that might enable us to rebuild someday.

Now that we can actually read it we can see that TPP is just one more “NAFTA-style” power-grab elevating the “investor class” above the rest of us and our ability to run our own government in ways that make our lives better. TPP is about taking from We the People and giving to A Few People. It is a bad deal and it must be stopped.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on November 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

D.C. Councilmembers To Introduce Bill Guaranteeing 16 Weeks Of Paid Family Leave

Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Bryce CovertOn Tuesday, seven city councilmembers in the District of Columbia will introduce a paid family leave bill that would create the most progressive system in the country and serve as a model for other cities that might be interested in paid leave. If it eventually gets passed and signed into law, it would be the first city-level program in the country.

The bill, spearheaded by Councilmembers David Grosso (I) and Elissa Silverman (I), would pay out 16 weeks of wages during a leave for a new baby or to care for a sick family member for those who both live in the District as well as those who live elsewhere but work there. That’s in line with the district’s current 16 weeks of unpaid but job guaranteed leave, but more generous than the 12 weeks in Congressional Democrats’ paid family leave bill and what’s offered in the three states that have implemented paid leave programs, which range from six to eight weeks.

Workers would also be able to avail themselves of a generous benefit. They would get fully reimbursed for the first $1,000 of their weekly pay, and then if they make more than that would get 50 percent of the next $1,000. The federal leave bill that’s been introduced by Democratic lawmakers, for instance, only replaces two-thirds of workers’ income, capped at $1,000 a week, and the three states that have implemented paid family leave have similar policies. “For the lowest-wage workers and even those in the middle class, especially in jurisdictions with a very high cost of living like Washington, D.C., it’s very difficult to make ends meet on a salary, and it’s impossible to make ends meet on half of a salary,” explained Kitty Richards, who works on Councilmember Silverman’s staff and was involved with the paid family leave bill. “We’ve seen that low-wage workers really struggle to take leave that’s paid out at a low rate.”

The funding structure for the program would also look slightly different given some of the unique circumstances in D.C. The district can’t mandate what the federal government offers its employees, so workers who either reside outside of the District or those who work for the federal government will have to pay into the fund through a payroll tax. But all other employers within the district will also pay a small tax — probably around 1 percent — into the fund.

D.C. has already passed some policies near and dear to progressives’ hearts: it raised its minimum wage to $11.50 by 2016, passed paid sick leave in 2008 and then strengthened it in 2014, and guaranteed eight weeks of paid family leave for city government employees late last year. (Tuesday’s paid family leave bill will also propose extending city employees’ paid family leave to 16 weeks to match all other employees’.)

Those efforts, particularly paid leave for city employees, inspired Grosso to find a way to implement paid family leave for all workers in the area. “Always in the back of my mind was, ‘How can we extend this to the private sector as well?’” he said.

His quest got a boost last year when the Department of Labor awarded the district with a $96,000 grant to study implementing paid family leave. That money allowed D.C. to get an accurate read of the costs and benefits of implementing a program. It also helped propel the effort forward. “Grants from the federal government are creating momentum and excitement and policy expertise around the issue,” noted Richards.

They’ll need that momentum moving forward to make sure the bill becomes reality. After its introduction Tuesday morning, it will get referred to committee and then will come hearings and input before it actually gets a vote. At least four councilmembers have already signed onto the bill with Grosso and Silverman, but they’ll have to work to get everyone on board. “It’s definitely a marathon, not a sprint,” Silverman noted. “Getting to the introduction is kind of like getting to the half marathon mark.”

“The main issue is to make sure that what moves forward is a really strong bill, that we don’t just pass something but pass something that’s really strong,” said Rebecca Ennen, development and communications director at Jews United for Justice, a group that has been deeply involved in pushing the bill forward.

Then Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) would have to sign it — she’s believed to be supportive — and the fund would have to be set up and fully funded before any District residents can actually take paid leave. If things go quickly and smoothly, Grosso estimates that the bill could be on the mayor’s desk within six months and, if it were signed, residents could start taking leave a year later.

Success won’t just mean guaranteeing benefits for D.C. residents. Those involved hope that the bill and the program design can be replicated elsewhere. While three states have paid family leave, the U.S. is an outlier among nearly the entire world for not guaranteeing paid maternity leave and among developed countries for not guaranteeing paid paternity leave. “I think we have the opportunity to set a standard here in the District and be a model,” Silverman said.

Grosso agrees. “We’re hoping to bring national attention to this so we can be a model for other jurisdictions getting this done at the local level,” he noted. While the vast majority of paid sick leave bills have passed at the city level, all paid family leave programs have been statewide. But D.C.’s effort might inspire other cities to take it up.


This blog originally appeared at ThinkProgress.org on October 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.


This week in the war on workers: UAW workers reject contract with Chrysler

Sunday, October 4th, 2015
Laura ClawsonAfter years of concessions, auto workers at Fiat Chrysler have had enough. They’ve voted to reject a contract recommended by UAW leadership that would have offered raises, but left in place the tier system in which some workers make significantly more than others. The Detroit Free Press reports that this is the first time since 1982 that UAW workers have voted down a national agreement. It wasn’t close either: 65 percent of workers voted against the contract. Alexandra Bradbury writes at Labor Notes that:

Probably the top reason workers voted no was indignation that the agreement broke the union’s longstanding promise to cap the lower-paid tier at 25 percent of the workforce this fall. Since 45 percent of Chrysler workers are in Tier 2, many expected a raise to $28 an hour. With no cap, it’s only a matter of time before there’s no first tier left.

Amplifying the anger were Chrysler’s high profits and the revelation that the company plans to move car production to Mexico.

UAW president Dennis Williams said the union would seek further discussion with Chrysler.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on October 3, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

The Upsurge in Uncertain Work

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Robert ReichAs Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don’t know how much they’ll be earning next week or even tomorrow.

This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

On demand and on call – in the “share” economy, the “gig” economy, or, more prosaically, the “irregular” economy – the result is the same: no predictable earnings or hours.

It’s the biggest change in the American workforce in over a century, and it’s happening at lightening speed. It’s estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will have uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.

Increasingly, businesses need only a relatively small pool of “talent” anchored in the enterprise –  innovators and strategists responsible for the firm’s unique competitive strength.

Everyone else is becoming fungible, sought only for their reliability and low cost.

Complex algorithms can now determine who’s needed to do what and when, and then measure the quality of what’s produced. Reliability can be measured in experience ratings. Software can seamlessly handle all transactions – contracts, billing, payments, taxes.

All this allows businesses to be highly nimble – immediately responsive to changes in consumer preferences, overall demand, and technologies.

While shifting all the risks of such changes to workers.

Whether we’re software programmers, journalists, Uber drivers, stenographers, child care workers, TaskRabbits, beauticians, plumbers, Airbnb’rs, adjunct professors, or contract nurses – increasingly, we’re on our own.

And what we’re paid, here and now, depends on what we’re worth here and now – in a spot-auction market that’s rapidly substituting for the old labor market where people held jobs that paid regular salaries and wages.

Even giant corporations are devolving into spot-auction networks. Amazon’s algorithms evaluate and pay workers for exactly what they contribute.

Apple directly employs fewer than 10 percent of the 1 million workers who design, make and sell iMacs and iPhones.

This giant risk-shift doesn’t necessarily mean lower pay. Contract workers typically make around $18 an hour, comparable to what they earned as “employees.”

Uber and other ride-share drivers earn around $25 per hour, more than double what the typical taxi driver takes home.

The problem is workers don’t know when they’ll earn it. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.

So they have to take whatever they can get, now: ride-shares in mornings and evenings, temp jobs on weekdays, freelance projects on weekends, Mechanical Turk or TaskRabbit tasks in between.

Which partly explains why Americans are putting in such long work hours – longer than in any other advanced economy.

And why we’re so stressed. According to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won’t be earning enough in the future. That’s up from 15 percent a decade ago.

Irregular hours can also take a mental toll. Studies show people who do irregular work for a decade suffer an average cognitive decline of 6.5 years relative people with regular hours.

Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.

For all these reasons, the upsurge in uncertain work makes the old economic measures – unemployment and income – look far better than Americans actually feel.

It also renders irrelevant many labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime – because there’s no clear “employer.”

And for the same reason eliminates employer-financed insurance – Social Security, workers compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

What to do?  Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified “employees” as “independent contractors,” resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.

We should aim instead for simplicity: Whatever party – contractor, client, customer, agent, or intermediary – pays more than half of someone’s income, or provides more than half their working hours, should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.

Presumably that party will share those costs and risks with its own clients, customers, owners, and investors. Which is the real point – to take these risks off the backs of individuals and spread them as widely as possible.

In addition, to restore some certainty to peoples’ lives, we’ll need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.

Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you’ve received from all the jobs you’ve taken over the preceding five years. Under one form of income insurance, you’d automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.

But that’s not all. Ultimately, we’ll need a guaranteed minimum basic income. But I’ll save this for another column.

This post appeared in Our Future on August 24, 2015. Originally posted at RobertReich.org. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Robert B. Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

Vocational Education Should Be For Everyone

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Casey_200x200The term “vocational education,” which means preparing students for a certain trade, such as auto repair or beauty school, initially began in 1917 to reduce unemployment and improve wages, and in the 1940s and 1950s, vocational education expanded to other subjects beyond agriculture and industrial work such as science, math and foreign language education.

At some point, however, vocational education earned a reputation as something reserved for “those students,” experts say. From 1982 to 1994, there was a decline in enrollment in vocational education for most groups of students, but the portion of black, non-Hispanic students and Asian/Pacific Islander students stayed about the same while the percentage of students with disabilities increased, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Since 1990, students enrolled in vocational education has declined from an average 4.2 credits to 3.6 credits in 2009, according to NCES data analyzed by the National Education Association. Meanwhile, enrollment in academic credits increased from 23.5 to 26.9 during the same period.

Hillary Clinton said it is necessary to change attitudes about how we see vocational education and that it is critical to support and develop the nation’s community colleges “and get back to really respecting vocational and technical work.” She also supported the idea of apprentice work, saying at a campaign event in South Carolina last month that there should be a tax credit for businesses that hire and train apprentices.

Vocational education is changing, but many still see it as something only low-income, mostly minority students are pushed into and an option that upper class students and white students wouldn’t be encouraged to take. As academics and authors on national education trends point out, when our society devalues anything that isn’t academic prep work and a pathway to a four-year university, it’s easy to see why people are suspicious of vocational education, which encourages students to gain practical, hands-on skills in a certain industry, versus learning about economic theories in a lecture format.

In many cases, there is good reason for that suspicion. Anthony Greene, assistant professor with the African American studies program at the College of Charleston found that racial-ethnic minority students are disproportionately placed into lower-level academic courses, and subsequently enroll in vocational courses. Even within vocational education, students of color, especially women of color, aren’t tracked into professions that earn as much money over time. Greene wrote a 2014 paper on racial trends in vocational education in the International Journal of Educational Studies.

“Think for a second on the ‘workers’ at colleges and universities across the country. In the vast majority of cases, women, particularly black and Latino, often are regulated to cook and cleaning staffs. Latino men are often regulated to grounds keeping, but white males tend to be in maintenance and heating and lighting and electrical,” Greene said. “Each one of these jobs come with a level of prestige accompanied by a variation of pay. I argue that these pathways in occupations begin in high school vocational programs.”

Jose Vilson, a middle school math educator in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood and author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, said he says similar patterns at his school.

“Usually the language is kind of coded like, ‘This kid isn’t really into academics,’ or ‘This kid doesn’t come to class a lot,’ or ‘Based on the way they volunteer, they seem to be very good with their hands,” Vilson said. “Who are we to say they aren’t good with academics? Maybe we haven’t given them the proper environment for them to succeed in an academic setting, and this isn’t just from white teachers. This comes from people who look like the kid.”

Vilson doesn’t oppose vocational training but would rather see more of an effort from educators to make sure they are encouraging students to follow their actual interests and make an informed choice on whether or not they want to take vocational education classes. Part of the problem, Vilson said, is that the professions we associate with vocational training, such as becoming an electrician or a plumber, are often devalued even though they make good money and are perfectly legitimate career options.

“I find there’s another element there too, in terms of what do we see as a professional job. You look at a plumber, for example, and they could be making money hand over fist, and people can denigrate the plumbing profession and make it into something that isn’t a profession in of itself. There just needs to be a certain set of skills that every American is entitled to,” Vilson said. “For the last 13 years, there has been a decline in having those types of skills in academic courses, like home economics and workshop. My focus is always going to be on students and allowing them to make a choice.”

Vocational training may typically lead people to envision beauty school and carpentry, but vocational programs are expanding to new subjects, and some programs, such as Denver Public Schools’ vocational education program, are much more modern. The district offers an engineering and energy pathway, biomedicine, engineering, and advanced manufacturing, said Laurent Trent, manager of strategic partnerships at Denver Public Schools at the school’s office of college and career readiness.

“Often, a student doesn’t realize they’re in a career and technical education class until they get in it and really like it and say, ‘Oh I’m going to take the next one.’ They don’t hold a lot of the stigma that their parents and other adults hold,” Trent said. “So, business partners and parents — in the best-case scenario, they don’t know — and in the worst, they do know and they associate it with vocational education of decades past, so we definitely wanted to signal that this is a new day.”

They’re also trying to reenvision some of the more traditional kinds of vocations, such as automotive work, to be more compatible with the modern workforce, Trent said.

“We’re thinking about that now, to take more old school programs and reimagine them into career pathways, so we’re thinking about how you take traditional construction and woodworking classes and change the structure so it aligns with a high-demand advanced manufacturing pathway. Certainly many of our investments are in other areas. Auto – for instance – does auto have a place in the engineering pathway? We’re still thinking through how that works,” she said.

To decide which programs reflect relevant growing industries, the school partners with the Office of Economic Development in Denver, to analyze data on which fields are developing rapidly. The school also received a “Youth CareerConnect” grant. Students are also doing job shadows and getting connected with mentors in their fields. Trent said the district is currently working with three universities on a preferential admissions agreement for students in the vocational education classes.

Philip Zelikow, co-author of America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age, and White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia, said the best way to provide vocational education would be to integrate elements of vocational education into the rest of the academic curricula. He pointed to Camden County High School where you learn the theory in order to use the skills, such as learning how to investigate a crime scene and using instruments and writing up reports for actual hands-on skills.

“You unite theory and practice, which is actually a very interesting way to learn the theory and makes it much more accessible.” Zelikow said.

He argued that a child choosing one vocation early on in their high school career may be too rigid, since students often change their minds sometime in high school, if not college.

“They say, ‘We don’t expect these kids to get these academic subjects,’ and in effect, they’re tracking them since they’re 15. They’ve ended up spending their whole high school career to prepare to be an aircraft repairperson, but that may be too rigid and confining,” Zelikow said. “One of the advantages of the mainstreaming approach is that it builds up soft skills, basic literacy and numeracy, and the context in which you build up that literacy and numeracy isn’t all that important.”

When you separate vocational education from academic work, you emphasize class differences, Zelikow said, instead of helping all students build skills they will need in the future.

“You reinforce the problem of two Americas with this kind of educational system, which is duplicating the kind of class educational system you would have encountered in America in the 1850s, where a small number of students of a particular class would go to certain schools and everyone else was assumed to be good for nothing but farmwork,” Zelikow said. “In the period between 1880 and 1940, there was the universal high school movement and radical changes in college. These changes now look anachronistic, but they were a major overhaul of the system. It’s time for another overhaul.”

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on July 21, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Casey Quinlan. Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.

Democrats push to limit abusive work scheduling practices like split shifts

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Laura ClawsonLow hourly wages aren’t the only thing that keep workers in the fast food and retail industries struggling. Scheduling matters, too. These days it’s common for workers to not know their schedules more than a week ahead; to be on call, ready to go to work with no notice, but not guaranteed any pay; for their hours (and therefore their paychecks) to vary enormously month to month; or to be forced to work split shifts, with a few hours of work in the morning and a few hours at the end of the day. All of this doesn’t just affect paychecks, it makes it difficult for workers to raise their incomes by getting a second job, and it costs them as they try to line up child care for unpredictable schedules. Democrats, led by Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, and Chris Murphy and Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Bobby Scott, have a bill to fix that, or at least start to fix it: the Schedules That Work Act.

The bill:

Protects Workers who Ask for Schedule Changes
All employees of companies with more than 15 workers will have the right to request changes in their schedules without fear of retaliation. Employers would be required to consider and respond to all schedule requests, and, when a worker’s request is made because of a health condition, child or elder care, a second job, continued education, or job training, the employer would be required to grant the request unless a legitimate business reason precludes it.Incentivizes Predictable and Stable Schedules in Occupations with Known Scheduling Abuses
Employees in food service, cleaning, and retail occupations—as well as additional occupations with documented scheduling abuses designated by the Secretary of Labor—will now get their work schedules two weeks in advance and will receive additional pay when they are put “on-call” without any guarantee that work will be available; report to work only to be sent home early; are scheduled for a “split shift;” or receive changes to their schedule with less than 24 hours notice.

There are two things to note about this: First, it’s the kind of bill Democrats wouldn’t be proposing without worker activism drawing attention to the problem. Second, it’s the kind of bill Republicans will never pass, so for workers to have these protections, we need to elect Democrats.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on July 16, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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

Rep. Keith Ellison’s Low-wage Worker Organizer SOTU Guest: “I go with a conflicted heart”

Tuesday, January 20th, 2015

in these timesToday I will accompany U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, representing low-wage workers’ voices at President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union. While I am honored, I go with a conflicted heart.

Yesterday the radio was filled with speeches from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today I will stand beside the first African American to be elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota listening to a speech from the first African-American President of the United States. Clearly we live in changed times, demonstrating that through organizing we can win important change.

Yet in many respects times have not changed for the better. Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. King talked about the dangers of income inequality in the country, stating: “the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.” Since then there has in fact been a radical redistribution of economic power, but not in the direction imagined by Dr. King.

Today, the wealthiest 0.1% of the population in the United States controls as much of the wealth in this country as 90% of the population. Let those numbers sink in for a second. In 2013, the average CEO in the United States earned 331 times as much as the average worker, and 774 times as much as minimum wage workers. In half a day’s work, the CEO of McDonald’s Corporation receives more compensation than the workers who produce his wealth are paid in an entire year.

This division of wealth is also now more than ever reflected in the halls of political power: For the first time in history, more than half the members of the House and Senate are millionaires. And while the new Congress is the most diverse in history, four out of five members of Congress are white and four out of five are men.

Let’s move beyond statistics to understand what this means in real life. I work at the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), a low-wage worker led organization that is fighting for fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace for all workers in the Twin Cities metro area. Members of CTUL build and reconstruct the homes in our communities, yet cannot afford to put a roof over the heads of their own families. Members of CTUL work for fast food companies, surrounded by an overwhelming abundance of food, yet often cannot provide food for their own families. Members of CTUL work for contracted companies maintaining the sleek and clean images of large stores like Kohl’s and Home Depot, yet they cannot afford to shop in the very stores they clean.

Every day, millions of workers stress about how to cover basic needs for their families on wages that fall well below the poverty level. Every day, workers endure the arrogance and disrespect of companies that constantly increase workloads, lower wages, and threaten workers who complain.  Every day, people drive home from work worrying that they will be pulled over simply for being a person of color. Every day, parents worry about a racist system that allows police to kill unarmed youth of color. And all of these combined days create a reality where the wealthiest, mostly white Minnesotans live on average eight years longer than the poorest Minnesotans, mostly people of color.

Despite all of this, I do not by any means feel defeated. Low-wage workers across the country are standing up, refusing to be relegated to the back of the bus of the U.S. economy. From retail janitors in the Twin Cities to farmworkers in Florida to fast food workers across the nation, low-wage workers are organizing and winning. Yesterday on MLK Day, and over the past month, hundreds of thousands of young people have marched in the streets, declaring #BlackLivesMatter.

Our voices are echoing through the halls of political and economic power structures. Target Corporation is now following the lead of retail janitors by implementing a Responsible Contractor Policy regarding the contracted cleaning of its stores. U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison is working tirelessly to amplify workers’ voices in Washington by calling for policies to achieve justice for low-wage workers across the country. President Barack Obama is now calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage and the right to guaranteed paid sick days for all workers.

While all of this is important, it’s not enough. As you read this, the city of Bloomington is threatening to sue organizers for declaring that Black Lives Matter in the sacred halls of American capitalism, Mall of America. Even if we win paid sick days and a $10.10 minimum wage, millions of workers will still live in poverty.

Today I will sit surrounded by the political and economic power structure of this country listening to the State of the Union. Tomorrow I will stand in the streets surrounded by those who have been pushed to the edges of the political and economic system, demanding a radical redistribution of political and economic power.

This article originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on January 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Veronica Mendez Moore is co-director of the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

A Bright Spot in Tuesday’s Bloodbath: Massachusetts Voters Passed a Strong Paid Sick Leave Bill

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

in these timesOn Tuesday night, Massachusetts became the first state to give workers 40 hours of sick leave a year. California and Connecticut have both recently adopted statewide sick leave policies, but Massachusetts now possesses the most ambitious and comprehensive system in the nation.

As a result of the initiative, employees of businesses with more than 10 people will earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. Employees who work for companies with 10 or less people will accrue sick time at the same rate, although their employers aren’t required to pay them for the time away.

Sixty percent of voters supported the measure, Question 4 on the state’s ballot. About 900,000 workers in Massachusetts lacked paid sick days.

Although frequently defined by its many higher education, tech, and science jobs, Massachusetts is also fueled by a service sector of almost 300,000. Fifty-two percent of those employees lacked paid sick time. For maintenance and construction workers, it was 43 percent. Fifty-five percent of the state’s workers who make less than $15,000 were without sick time; 46 percent of Hispanic workers in the state were unable to take a paid sick day. Without paid sick days, workers not only were unable to take time off for their own ailments, but were also unable to take time off to care for a sick child or parent.

While some in the business community predictably suggest that such legislation would hurt the economy— Bob Luz, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, claimed that the law would be a “job-killing mandate”—a study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research concluded the opposite is, in fact, true. Question 4 should reduce worker turnover and drastically cut back on diseases spreading throughout the state’s workplaces, according to the study’s authors, in addition to improving the overall health and economic well-being of the community: “Comparing costs to employers and anticipated benefits for employers, an annual net benefit for Massachusetts employers of $26 million is expected”

The Drum Major Institute studied the impact of San Francisco’s paid sick leave policy and reached similar conclusions. Not only did they discover the legislation hadn’t negatively impacted San Francisco businesses, but “since San Francisco’s paid sick leave law was enacted, both job growth and business growth in San Francisco have consistently been greater than in the five neighboring counties of the Bay Area, none of which have enacted paid sick leave.”

While Question 4 will certainly alleviate a massive burden for the state’s most vulnerable workers, Andrew Farnitano, a spokesperson for Raise Up Massachusetts, a local coalition of organizers who worked on the initiative, says he was impressed with how the movement had found support throughout the state regardless of the area’s economic position or racial demographic.

“It’s an issue that cuts through a lot of lines,” Farnitano said. A long list of community organizations, economists, local politicians and faith groups publicly endorsed the measure. “We believe that requiring earned sick time contributes to the dignity of every worker,” read a statement signed by the four Catholic Bishops of Massachusetts.

While the movement for paid sick time moves throughout the US, an alternative movement of “preemption bills aiming to block the possibility of expanded sick time have also worked their way throughout the country. Last year, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed an ALEC-affiliated bill that would obstruct local governments from enacting sick time legislation; the bill was backed by Disney World, Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

But if Massachusetts’ successful Question 4 campaign is any indication, many voters around the country are willing to back measures that bolster basic human rights in their community like paid sick leave.

This blog originally appeared in IntheseTime.com on November 6, 2016 Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17327/massachusetts_paid_sick_leave.

About the author: Michael Arria is a journalist living in NYC. He is the author of Medium Blue: The Politics of MSNBC.

Walmart Wouldn't Make a Dime Without Its Workers

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Jackie TortoraA group of Walmart associates marched today from the AFL-CIO to the Washington, D.C., Walton Family Foundation’s offices to deliver more than 15,000 signatures from workers asking Walmart to pay $15 an hour and provide full-time hours.

Shouts of “We’re fired up! Can’t take it no more!” rang out as the workers and hundreds of supporters and allies marched down I Street and made their way to the foundation offices. Before the workers attempted to deliver the petitions, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka reminded everyone that Walmart, which rakes in billions every year, wouldn’t make a dime without its workers, yet pays wages so low that many of its workers need to rely on public assistance and food stamps to get by.

One Walmart associate, Isaiah, shared heartbreaking stories of seeing co-workers cry in the Walmart break room when they found out their hours had been cut, making it impossible to provide for their families.

When the workers got inside the office, the building manager claimed no one from the Walton Family Foundation was working today (um, OK) and said they couldn’t call the office because they didn’t know the number. “We’ll be back,” shouted the determined workers, including Bene’t Holmes who was leading some of the chants. Holmes said they weren’t going to leave the petition with the front desk and promised this is not the last time they would attempt to hand deliver those signatures.

Following the demonstration outside the office, 15 Walmart strikers and supporters sat down in a cross section of the street in front of Walmart heir Alice Walton’s condo and took arrest. See some aerial views from the action below:




The associates were accompanied by union members and allies from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), AFSCME, AFT, Jobs with Justice, UNITE HERE, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), UAW, United Steelworkers (USW), the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and many others.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 16, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Organizing-Bargaining/Walmart-Wouldn-t-Make-a-Dime-Without-Its-Workers.

About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.

Would raising the minimum wage help Walmart?

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Laura ClawsonWould a higher minimum wage be good for business at Walmart? Many experts say so—after all, a higher minimum wage would give many Walmart customers a little more disposable incometo spend at the store:

David Cooper, an economic analyst with the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute, agrees with Demos’s Ruetschlin that the sluggish economic recovery means a boost in the minimum wage could push low-income workers to spend more, and in many cases they’d spend that money at low-priced outlets like Walmart.“If suddenly all these low-wage workers have more income, they are likely to spend that money right away,” Cooper said. “If these retailers want strong, stable sustainable growth in the U.S. economy, then they should also want strong, stable increases in wages to their employees.” […]

The data linking an increase in wages to a rise in consumer spending — particularly at a specific retail outlet — is a bit thin, but there’s “very strong anecdotal evidence in support of that claim,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and a former economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden.

Walmart definitely knows that when its customers don’t have money, business suffers; the company’s chief financial officer recently said, to explain a drop in U.S. sales, that “The consumer doesn’t quite have the discretionary income, or they’re hesitant to spend what they do have.” And in fact, in the past, when the minimum wage has gotten too far below the poverty line, a Walmart CEO has explicitly said that was a problem: “The U.S. minimum wage of $5.15 an hour has not been raised in nearly a decade, and we believe it is out of date with the times … Our customers simply don’t have the money to buy basic necessities between paychecks.”

A yacht store is unlikely to see much of a boost from an increase in the minimum wage, in other words, but Walmart, where people go for cheap, basic necessities, will do better. Walmart’s opposition to paying an actual living wage, one that doesn’t force workers to rely on food stamps and Medicaid, is well known. But if Congress doesn’t act and raise the minimum wage, we might get back to a point where Walmart admits it would benefit from an increase. Which would, more than anything, be a sign of how embarrassingly bad Congress is—can you imagine lagging behind Walmart on wage issues?

Join Making Change at Walmart and Daily Kos in telling Walmart and the Waltons to respect their employees and pay a real wage.

This article originally appeared on Daily Kos Labor on September 4, 2013.  Reprinted with permission. 

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

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog