Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for March, 2011

Fired in real time: Never meet with your boss at 4 pm on Friday

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Image: Bob Rosner

My boss, and his henchman, arrived promptly for the meeting to discuss my sales update. It was 4 pm on Friday afternoon, approximately 48 hours ago. 

I knew something was up because my boss started speaking totally in sentence fragments. “I’ve made up my mind, things aren’t working out, I need people to get along, it’s time for a new direction, you can’t be having fun.” 

 Later I remembered that many termination specialists, like George Clooney in the movie “Up in the Air,” advise bosses when they fire someone to never pull a Donald Trump and say the “F” word. So it becomes a very weird game of firing euphemisms that fall on you drop-by-drop, like a painful kind of water torture.

 I said something, I honestly can’t remember what it was. This triggered my boss’s loop to start all over again, albeit in a slightly different order.  “Things aren’t working out, I need people to get along, you can’t be having fun, it’s time for a new direction, I’ve made up my mind.”

 I don’t know if he just screwed up the speech the second time, or if the termination gurus suggest that the firing sentence nuggets be shuffled like a deck of cards before being delivered each time. 

 Either way it was totally disorienting. Because he didn’t tell me directly that I was being fired, I  had to say the word inside my own head. So what happened is that I ended up firing myself. How sadistic is that?

 I do remember my next question, I asked why I was never given a chance to change my behavior before I was fired. The reply was quick, and clearly rehearsed, “Come on Bob, we’ve got lots of documentation.”

Documentation? Did anyone think to share it with me before I was fired? After? It would be nice to be consoled that there is a filing cabinet somewhere that answers the riddle of my firing, but clearly being fired by my company is a process that makes the selection of the Pope appear totally transparent. 

 Was the relationship between me and my boss flawed? You betcha. But it could have been humane to at least have one counseling session before the execution. Heck, even a kangaroo court would at least provide the illusion of concern and participation. 

 But alas it was not in the stars for me. My trial, sentencing and execution were neatly wrapped in one ten minute meeting.

 Believe it or not, I’m a best-selling business author. And yes, this greatly increases my embarrassment of being fired, but it also puts me in an interesting place to observe the process. I’m going to try to deal with the salt-in-the-wounds quality of writing about my own firing, partially as personal therapy, but mostly to increase the rate of healing for everyone else who’ll follow in my footsteps. And more of us, than we’d all like to admit, will undoubtedly go this route at some point.

Finally, I’m not going to mention the name of my former company anywhere in this blog. Because ultimately it’s not about them. It’s about my journey to regain my sanity and gainful employment. 

My a-ha: In the absence of embezzlement or a dead body, people should always get a chance to change their behavior before being fired.
 
 
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Attack on Middle-Class Jobs, Workers Is Nationwide

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Image: Mike HallThe incredible response and mobilizations against the coordinated attacks on workers’ rights and middle-class jobs in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana have grabbed most of the media spotlight during the past few weeks.

But there are other serious assaults under way in dozens of states, pushed by corporate CEOs and their Republican puppets. Perhaps flying lowest under the radar is one of the most drastic measures, one that even its own supporters blatantly call Michigan’s “financial martial law.”

The so-called emergency managers bill would allow Gov. Rick Snyder (R) to declare a “financial emergency” in a city or school district and appoint a manager with broad powers, including the ability to fire local elected officials, break contracts, seize and sell assets, eliminate services—and even eliminate whole cities or school districts without any public input, according to the Michigan Messenger.

Last week, more than 1,500 people jammed the Lansing Capitol building to protest the bill during the state Senate’s debate. Ken Bower, a United Steelworker (USW) Local 2-21 member from Escanaba, Mich., said:

I’m here to tell the governor that he has to stop this attack on working-class citizens. Removing the people that we put into office without any check or balance is completely undemocratic.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) warns that that the bill:

empowers this financial czar with the governor’s approval to force a municipality into bankruptcy, a power that will surely be used to extract further concessions from hardworking public-sector workers.

Different versions of the bill have passed the state Senate and House and final action is expected early this week.usw_photo_wp

In a related note from Michigan, if there is any question what side Snyder stands on—CEOs’ or working people’s—his budget and tax proposals show he is firmly camped out with his corporate friends. Pat Garofalo at Think Progress points out:

Snyder has proposed ending his state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, cutting a $600 per child tax credit, and reducing credits for seniors, while also cutting funding for school districts by eight to ten percent. At the same time, as the Michigan League for Human Services found, the state’s business taxes would be reduced by nearly $2 billion, or 86 percent.

Elsewhere:

  • So-called right to work bills have been introduced in more than a dozen states, including Indiana (temporarily off the table), Maine, Michigan and Pennsylvania with Republican legislatures and governors.
  • Paycheck deception bills that would silence workers’ voices in the election process have been or soon will be introduced in nearly two dozen states, including 15 where Republicans control the legislature and hold the governor’s office, including Florida where the bill was approved by a Senate committee this morning.
  • Prevailing wage laws protect communities and workers from unscrupulous contractors low-balling bids on taxpayer-funded construction projects by setting wage rates to the local or prevailing standard. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), with the support of construction industry CEOs, vows to eliminate Ohio’s prevailing wage law, and legislation has been or will soon be introduced in 19 states, including  nine with dual Republican control.
  • In 22 states—12 with Republican governors and legislatures—moves are under way to eliminate Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) that would hurt communities, workers and small businesses by lowering wages.
  • Public school teachers and employees are fighting back against assaults in more than a dozen states, including some so-called “education reform” proposals that are thinly veiled attacks on teachers’ rights and privatization schemes.
  • Bills attacking immigrant workers’ rights and immigrant children’s education, including many patterned after Arizona’s anti-immigrant law passed last year, have been or will soon be introduced in some 30 states, half of which are Republican controlled.

This blog originally appeared in blog.aflcio.org on March 14, 2011. 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 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. He has also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

Temporary Workers on the Auction Block? And the Complicated Economics of Immigration

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

kari-lydersenImmigration reform experts propose tying system to labor market, and creating govt.-run auction for temp workers…While also touting economic benefit of immigrants.

DALLAS, TEXAS—Do immigrant workers—specifically, undocumented workers—contribute value to the economy through their labor, taxes and Social Security contributions? Or are they a net drain on government services and a big depresser of wages?

As states consider anti-immigrant bills modeled on Arizona’s SB 1070, this question has been debated hotly by activists on both sides of the immigration reform debate and by economists and other academics. The need for federal immigration reform remains impossible to ignore.

At the Institute for Journalism and Justice’s “Immigration in the Heartland” conference in Dallas Thursday and Friday, experts tried to get beyond rhetoric and politics in ascertaining the concrete economic and fiscal impacts of immigrant workers on the U.S. economy. Among other things, they argued for a reformed immigration system that is strictly tailored to the current labor market, and a temporary worker system based on a government-run auction. They also stressed the importance of understanding the separate fiscal and economic impacts of immigration. The fiscal impact is the direct cost of services, while the economic impact includes the wide-ranging ripple effects of their roles as consumers and entrepreneurs.

Washington Post Writers Group pundit Ed Schumaker-Matos, a Cuban immigrant, cited World Bank, Social Security Administration and other figures while positing that immigrant workers mirror native-born workers in the fact that highly skilled and educated people contribute a net gain to the economy, while low-skilled immigrant workers cost more than they contribute on the fiscal level considering their use of social services, education and healthcare.

But he said the cost of low-skilled workers in using social services and in competing with native-born low-skilled workers must be considered in light of the fact that immigrants of all skill levels do much to grow the economy as a whole.

A migrant worker's teeth are inspected at a tobacco leaf farm on August 11, 2010, in Windsor, Conn. The University of Connecticut Migrant Farm Worker Clinics visit area farms to offer health screenings to migrant farm workers and their families. There are an estimated 3.5 million migrant and seasonal farm workers in the United States, and many of these workers lack access to health professionals due to language barriers and fears of deportation.   (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A migrant worker's teeth are inspected at a tobacco leaf farm on August 11, 2010, in Windsor, Conn. The University of Connecticut Migrant Farm Worker Clinics visit area farms to offer health screenings to migrant farm workers and their families. There are an estimated 3.5 million migrant and seasonal farm workers in the United States, and many of these workers lack access to health professionals due to language barriers and fears of deportation. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

And he said that as opposed to decades past where many native-born U.S. citizens were high school dropouts, today only a small fraction of the U.S. population qualifies as “unskilled” and hence in competition with unskilled immigrants for jobs. He noted that studies show immigrants are much more likely than native-born U.S. citizens to start businesses, and that their role as customers and the income they inject into the economy expands the economy and U.S. productivity as a whole.

And he noted that while low-skilled immigrant workers may be a financial drain on local or to a lesser extent state social services, as anti-immigrant critics often charge, their children are likely to obtain levels of education and skill that help compensate for their parents’ effect on the economy by contributing more in taxes than they cost the system.

He said:

Is it an investment in the future or a burden? You don’t say to the local white kids that they’re a burden – they are in fact – they cost more than they put in. But you think of it as an investment in the future.

He pointed out a similar double standard regarding the “stealing jobs” argument.

Just like with natural population growth, the more people you have the more the economy grows. But people don’t stop having children because they’re afraid they’ll steal jobs from their parents.

A recent report by the Dallas Federal Reserve, “From Brawn to Brains: How Immigration Works for America,” noted that only 11 percent of second generation immigrants lack a high school diploma, compared to 30 percent of first generation immigrants. The report says:

One silver lining is that these costs dissipate in the very long run as their descendants assimilate and “pay back” the costs imposed by their predecessors. Economic or educational assimilation is, therefore, a very important piece of the immigration calculation.

Shumaker-Matos added that a less-publicized part of the immigration debate involves (usually legal) high-skilled immigrants, especially in the sciences, who compete with highly educated citizens for those high-end jobs. He said that while high-skilled immigrants may drive down wages slightly in these jobs, the innovation and overall economic and technological growth they contribute expands overall economic efficiency and productivity.

Pia Orrenius—a senior economist with the Dallas Federal Reserve, co-author of the aforementioned report and former advisor on labor, health and immigration to the Bush administration—said that high-skilled immigrants are a boon to the U.S. economy while low-skilled immigrants are a drain, at least in the immediate sense.

In her recent book, Orrenius proposes an “employment-driven” immigration system that awards temporary work visas without a wait based on the immediate needs of the labor market; rather than the current legal immigration system that according to government figures awards 85 percent of green cards to family members and only 7 percent based on employment.

Orrenius said that the U.S. lags behind other developed countries including South Korea, her native Switzerland, Spain and Italy, which base their legal immigration system primarily on the needs of the labor market rather than family relationships and humanitarian concerns.

The Dallas Federal Reserve report said that:

Estimates from 1996—the most recent comprehensive estimates available—indicate that immigrants with less than a high school diploma cost $89,000 more than they contribute in taxes over their lifetimes, while immigrants with more than a high school education contribute $105,000 more in taxes than they use in public services.

In other words, low-skilled immigrants are a net fiscal drain, but overall, immigration need not be. High-skilled immigrants can offset the fiscal cost of low-skilled immigrants.

Orrenius, whose book was published by the pro-business, free market American Enterprise Institute, would like to see a system wherein the government would auction off permits for high-skilled, low-skilled and seasonal temporary workers, and employers willing to pay the most for the permits would legally hire workers. The permits would only be good for a year, with the number of visas constantly adjusted based on the labor market and economy.

She said that under her proposal, workers would be allowed to quit their jobs if they suffered exploitation or abuse of the type common under the U.S.’s current guest worker program. In that case workers would have to find a new employer who had also bought permits, Orrenius said, which she suggested would likely not be a problem in urban areas but could present problems in rural areas with fewer employers. She said immigrants could theoretically petition for green cards – with the numbers awarded also determined by the current labor market – after five or 10 years in the temporary worker program.

Though in theory this might protect immigrants from exploitation by employers, in reality such a system would likely be ripe for abuse, as many immigrants likely would be afraid of leaving their jobs for fear of endangering their visa. And employers unwilling or unable to pay for the permits would likely continue to employ undocumented workers.

Orrenius’ proposed system would allow reunification of spouses and minor children with no wait, but it would greatly reduce the number of other relatives of citizens or permanent residents – a move sure to be blasted by immigrants rights groups. She said:

With an employment-based system, legal immigration would act more like unauthorized immigration. It is demand-based, so it benefits native workers – you don’t want a lot of immigrants coming in when the labor market is doing poorly.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.

This blog originally appeared in In These Times on March 11, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

Is the Labor Department Dragging Its Feet On Promising Anti-Wage Theft Measure?

Monday, March 14th, 2011

photo_86504Advocates estimate that tens of billions dollars are stolen from workers every year through wage theft. A national survey of workers in the United States’ three largest cities – New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles – showed the startling finding that 26 percent of those surveyed in low-wage industries were paid less than the minimum wage in the last year and 75 percent were not paid overtime. The survey showed that 15 percent of the earnings of low-wage workers were stolen each year.

Part of the problem is that often workers don’t have the ability to prove that their wages were stolen. Pay stubs do not have uniform standards that clearly indicate overtime, wage per hour, exact days, and hours worked. Ten states do not even require employers to provide pay stubs for workers. The uneven standards and lack of uniformity and clarity in standards makes it very difficult for workers to prove that wages are stolen.

It would cost employers almost nothing to provide workers with such information. Already, employers are required to keep this information and give it to the IRS, state tax authorities, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), just not to the workers. So it’s not as if companies do not already collect this information—they simply don’t want to give it to workers. Earlier this year, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued a statement indicating it intended to make a rule making greater standards and transparency. The Department announced that

Wage and Hour Division [of the Department] intends to publish a proposed rule updating the recordkeeping regulation issued under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to assist employers in planning to protect workers’ entitlement to wages that they have earned and bring greater transparency and openness to the workplace.

The proposed rule would address notification of workers’ status as employees or some other status such as independent contractors, and whether that worker is entitled to the protections of the FLSA. The proposed rulemaking would also explore requiring employers to provide a wage statement each pay period to their employees.

But anti-wage theft activists are saying the rule is not taking effect quickly enough.

“We are encouraged that the DOL is proposing a regulation that would mandate pay stubs. But the devil is in the details,” says Ted Smukler, policy director at Interfaith Worker’s Justice Center, which has helped make the country’s wage theft crisis visible nationally. “The regulatory language has not been released, even while this has been on the DOL’s agenda since the fall of 2009. Meanwhile, tens of millions of workers are ripped off every week. Whether it’s through regulatory reform or passing national legislation mandating that businesses provide workers detailed pay records, something must be done.”

It goes without saying that struggling American workers need every dollar they earn in order to survive. But as the U.S. economy sputters back to life after the worst recession in 70 years, it’s worth pointing out that eliminating wage theft would not only be the just thing to do—it could prove an economic stimulus.

This blog originally appeared in www.inthesetimes.com on March 10, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times, Alternet, The Atlantic and The American Prospect. Mike Elk is a labor journalist and third-generation union organizer based in Washington, D.C. He has written for Harper’s Magazine, the American Prospect and In These Times.

UNITEHERE! Reaches Tentative Deals with Hilton Hotels

Friday, March 11th, 2011

Image: James Parks

After many months of bargaining, UNITEHERE! and Hilton Worldwide have reached tentative agreements at hotels in three major markets—Chicago, San Francisco and Honolulu. The tentative agreements cover nearly 4,000 workers.

While terms of the settlements vary in each city, the contracts include wage increases, improved job stability language and reduced workloads for housekeeping staff and others. Significantly, the new contracts also preserve low-cost, high-quality health care and pension benefits for Hilton workers and their families at a time when, nationwide, these employee benefits are being cut.

UNITEHERE! President John Wilhelm said in a statement:

We are pleased to have achieved a fair settlement for all sides—one that allows workers to move forward and share in the robust recovery that the hotel industry is experiencing.

The contracts for Hilton workers expired in Chicago and San Francisco in August 2009 and in Hawaii in June 2010. Bargaining continues for contracts at other hotel chains, affecting thousands more workers in those three cities and several other cities across North America.

Nationwide, the hotel industry is already rebounding faster and stronger than expected. PKF Hospitality projects that hotel revenues will rise an average of 8 percent annually from 2010 through 2014.

This blog originally appeared in blog.aflcio.org on March 7, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: James Parks first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and has worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

Mexican Grocery Chain Workers Sue for Unpaid Wages in Silicon Valley

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

R.M. ArrietaSAN FRANCISCO—More than 50 former workers at a now-defunct supermarket chain in Santa Clara County (aka Silicon Valley and San Jose) are suing their former employer for unpaid wages.

The two-store chain went bankrupt after being open less than three years and  receiving half a million dollars in assistance from the city’s economic development department. The announcement came from the Bay Area Justice for Mercado Workers Coalition and San Francisco-based Instituto Laboral de la Raza (ILR). (Mexican grocery stores are known as “mercados.”)

The workers are seeking more than $200,000 in unpaid wages and penalties. The former Su Vianda workers were fired last June. Marc L. TerBeek, general counsel for ILR, is representing the group.

TerBeek said in a prepared statement that they are suing the listed owner of the chain, Kimomex; the president, Al Lujan; the board of directors; the parent company, Pacific Community Ventures, along with its board of directors, because

…Kimomex’s efforts to evade responsibility for their claims by filing bankruptcy revealed that it was a shell organization that did not maintain any books or records, and which could not account for any revenues it had generated, including a $500,000 investment the City of San Jose made in 2008 with taxpayer funds.

mercado-250x188

The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign holds a press conference in San Jose, Calif., in December 2009. (Photo via People's World)

According to the complaint, Kimomex, doing business as Su Vianda, owned and operated a chain of ethnic-oriented supermarkets that catered to predominantly Latino customers.

The suit says the workers were denied rest periods, meal breaks and overtime pay, while Su Vianda/Kimomex deducted earnings for medical insurance that was never purchased and engaged in “the unlawful business practice of failing to pay final earned wages to employees it terminated.”

When the workers were fired in June 2010, Kimomex sought bankruptcy protection but then could not account for its liabilities or assets, nor were there corporate books or records.

The supermarket chain did not pay final earned wages to workers it terminated and deducted wages for medical insurance that was never obtained. The workers were told they were not entitled to rest period and meal breaks.

The workers are calling for a jury trial.

Calls to Kiromex’s San Jose headquarters were unanswered. TerBeek says the workes are owned at least $75,000 in unpaid wages and $150,000 in penalties for failure to pay them as promised.

The Coalition of Bay Area Mercado workers includes community, labor and faith-based groups who are looking at ethnic grocery stores, commonly called “mercados” to comply with state and federal laws for workers as well as to help them fight for their right to form a union.

Local 5 President Ron Lind remarked during a press conference in December,  “We have a broader mission in the labor movement and as a union. That is to advocate on behalf of all the workers in the industries we represent, including those in the mercados [Mexican markets]…”

About 30,000 Californians work in mercados throughout the state, many of them recent immigrants from Latin America and Asia.

The Justice for Mercado Workers Campaign, which consists of several community organizations and USCW Local 5, has developed a Code of Conduct to empower Latino and Asian mercado workers through labor organizing activities.

In the Bay Area, it is estimated there are some 12,000 mercados workers. Many are paid poverty wages, and their employers don’t observe labor law, which means they don’t get meals and rest breaks, and endure verbal, and sometimes physical, abuse.

This blog originally appeared on http://www.inthesetimes.com on March 3, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: R.M. Arrieta was born and raised in Los Angeles. She has worked at three daily newspapers and two television stations and is a former of the Bay Area’s independent community bilingual biweekly El Tecolote. She currently lives in San Francisco, where she is a freelance journalist writing for a variety of outlets. She can be reached at rmarrieta@inthesetimes.com.

International Women’s Day: U.S., South African Union Women Share Strategies

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Image: James ParksThe problems facing working women extend across national boundaries, and today, International Women’s Day, women organizers on opposite sides of the world shared ideas and inspiration. In a live teleconference, AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler and four young women organizers in the United States talked with a roomful of women organizers in Johannesburg, South Africa. Shuler began by saying:

With the global jobs crisis increasing unemployment…young workers, young women workers entering the workforce struggle to find decent work.  Given the challenges facing young women workers around the world, the AFL-CIO, ITUC [International Trade Union Confederation] and [the South African trade union federations] hope to use International Women’s Day as a way to shine a spotlight on the important role unions can play in the lives of young women workers.

Organizers in both countries spoke about rising unemployment and precarious work as key challenges to organizing women workers. Unemployment among women around the world is growing. In a special report, Living With Economic Insecurity: Women in Precarious Work,” the ITUC, found that while the initial impact of the crisis was equally detrimental to men and women, increasing numbers of women are now either losing their jobs or being forced into temporary and informal forms of work. To read the full report, click here.intl_womens_day_wp

During the teleconference, Jacquelyn Jones, an AFSCME organizer in Baltimore, said unions can play a major role in helping women find good jobs. But many young people don’t know about unions and it is important to educate them.

Although the workers in both countries face similar problems of discrimination, low pay and balancing work with family, the South African workers said they have a particular problem with sexual harassment. In many industries, such as textiles, women have to perform sexual favors often to get a job and get promotions.

The South African women included members from three union federations: Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Federation of Unions of South Africa (FEDUSA), and the National Council of Trade Unions (NACTU).

The South African women described how their labor laws protect their freedom to join a union on paper, employers often ignore the rules in practice. They fire workers who join unions.

Women in both countries said the teleconference energized and inspired them. Alista Hubbard and Karin Firoza, both AFSCME organizers, described how organizing has changed their lives. Nafisah Ula, a researcher in the AFL-CIO’s Center for Strategic Research, said her organizing experience showed her how much power working people can have when they come together.

Participants said they will continue to work to create change, despite the challenges. As Gertrude Mtsweni, COSATU’s gender coordinator, said:

Touch a woman, you touch a rock. If one woman gets weak, one comes to lift her up. Together we came and together we can do more.

Shuler added:

Though we are far apart in distance, we are together in courage.

This blog was originally posted on http://blog.aflcio.org on March 8, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: James Park’s first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and has worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

Football On The Brink

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

jonathan-tasiniI’ve been following this from a far–not because I like the sport (I don’t)–but it is a fight that is a tough one for the workers.

At the brink of an all-out labor war Thursday, the NFL players union weighed an 11th hour-proposal by National Football League owners designed to keep the two sides at the bargaining table. The sides were considering extending a midnight deadline for the expiration of the current collective-bargaining agreement.

At stake was the future of the world’s most successful professional-sports league, a $9 billion annual juggernaut now threatened by the sort of deep-seeded labor strife that has caused months-long work stoppages and billions of dollars in losses for professional baseball, hockey and basketball in the U.S.

During a 10th day of talks mediated by George Cohen, director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services, the two sides discussed extending the current CBA, a move that would prevent what could become a lengthy and ugly litigation. If the talks break down, the National Football League Players Association is expected to to decertify their union, a move that opens up the door for the players to file an antitrust suit against the owners if a lockout ensues.

It has always been even harder for sports figures compared to other workers (harder than it is for public workers too!) to generate a lot of sympathy among the public for a strike–but the truth is this a battle between big corporations and their workers. But, football players are slightly different:

The public tends to be sympathetic to the players. Most fans are well aware that football players — unlike many other well-paid athletes — put their health and safety at risk every time they step on the field. They know that NFL careers are short. That the contracts are, for the most part, not guaranteed. If the public chooses sides, it will likely be with the players.

I sure hope so. And the players will need everyone out there on the streets if the lock-out does take place.
This blog originally appeared on Working Life on March 3, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.
About the Author: Jonathan Tasini is the executive director of Labor Research Association. Tasini ran for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in New York. For the past 25 years, Jonathan has been a union leader and organizer, a social activist, and a commentator and writer on work, labor and the economy. From 1990 to April 2003, he served as president of the National Writers Union (United Auto Workers Local 1981).He was the lead plaintiff in Tasini vs. The New York Times, the landmark electronic rights case that took on the corporate media’s assault on the rights of thousands of freelance authors.

There Is No Crying In Business, Yet

Monday, March 7th, 2011
Image: Bob Rosner

Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner cries on “60 Minutes.” He cries during a swearing in ceremony. He cries in another interview. Will it be long before he cries over a lost parking spot?

In fact, enter the phrase “John Boehner cries” into Google and you’ll get 351,000 links.

Holy Tip O’Neill, what is going on here?

Then the Miami Heat, a.k.a. the Heatles, lose their fourth game in a row. Coach Erik Spoelstra observes in a post-game interview that a couple of players were crying in the locker room.

Sure, the coach said that to show that his players care. But crying? In the locker room?

Try as I may, I just can’t see former Boston Celtic Bill Russell cry. I can see him make other players cry as he blocked shot after shot, but not Bill himself.

Now I’m going to show my age. I remember in 1972 when Edmund Muskie choked up in a speech in New Hampshire, and it promptly ended his presidential campaign.

I can remember when Tom Hanks said, “There is no crying in baseball” in the movie “A League of Their Own.”

How did the very thing that used to end a career, or serve as a punch line, suddenly become the thing to do?

The crying game, clearly the game has changed. Crying appears to be the new high five. A way to bond with your audience, to show your emotional presence and to put a capital “E” for empathy on your forehead.

So business people, let’s tear up, the time has come for you to emote.

With employees, customers and vendors. Let them see that you care.

You don’t have to put it on your sleeve, it can run down directly onto your shirt. No worries.

Of course you can always go against the grain and keep your eyes dry. But why fight the sudden tsunami of tears?

Ironically, Boehner’s predecessor, Nancy Pelosi, did cry a time or two. Mostly she was savaged by opponents for not being genuine.

That’s the remarkable irony here, crying used to be owned by women, appears to now be a guy thing.

Ladies and gentlemen in the world of business, start your tear ducts. Crying is now officially in fashion.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

Wal-Mart Warehouse Workers File Class Action Wage Theft Lawsuit

Friday, March 4th, 2011

kari-lydersenCHICAGO—After three months of working in a Wal-Mart warehouse in the Chicago suburbs last fall, Robert Hines was fed up with getting paid much less than he had been promised by the company Reliable Staffing, which hired temporary workers to unload containers.

But the final straw came when he wasn’t paid at all for seven 10-12 hour days he’d worked shortly before Thanksgiving, he says. His calls to the agency weren’t returned, and when he went in person to demand his money, he said a manager claimed he and his work partner, Leo Williamson, had never worked those days at all.

So Hines and Williamson are among eight named plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed today in federal court charging Reliable Staffing, its owner Daniel Gallagher and Schneider Logistics, which runs the Wal-Mart warehouse in Elwood, Ill., with violating state and federal labor laws.

When former Reliable Staffing workers marched into the agency last Monday demanding pay and billing records (as is their right under the Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act), they were not given any records and, they say, were greeted with hostility by Gallagher.

Deathrice Jimerson and Demetrie Collins allege they were cheated out of hundreds of dollars in wages at a Wal-Mart warehouse.   (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Deathrice Jimerson and Demetrie Collins allege they were cheated out of hundreds of dollars in wages at a Wal-Mart warehouse. (Photo by Kari Lydersen)

Under the Illinois day labor act, considered one of the nation’s strongest such laws, the workers have the right to see what Reliable Staffing billed Schneider for their work, and what it paid them. If the hours and/or piece rates reported to Schneider and reported to the workers themselves don’t add up, it could show Reliable Staffing was intentionally not paying workers for their labor.

The plaintiffs think that was standard practice at the company.

“The lady looked me in the face and said I have no recollection of you working,” said Hines, 37. “I got vulgar comments, a snazzy attitude from them. And I was breaking my back for peanuts, or to not even be paid at all.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of the aforementioned Illinois Day and Temporary Labor Services Act, along with the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law and the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act. Allegations include unpaid overtime, failure to pay state and federal minimum wage and failure to pay at least four hours’ wages when workers were called in to work, as mandated by the day labor services act.

The lawsuit says that plaintiffs who worked for Reliable Staffing from 2006 on were promised $10 an hour, plus a piece rate for unloading trucks, including a higher “premium” piece rate for heavier goods. It alleges they were not paid the piece rate as promised, and that in fact workers were often paid less than state and federal minimum wage along with not being paying overtime.

Hines said that at the rate promised, his paychecks for working often from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. should have been at least $300 a week – not counting overtime, which he also should have been due. But he was usually paid $239.

The suit also alleges workers were not paid for mandatory waiting time, adding up to multiple hours per week. It says that when one defendant wrote his arrival time on a sign-in sheet, a supervisor actually tore the sheet up.

“Reliable Staffing actually did not keep track of people’s hours,” said attorney Chris Williams. “That’s illegal. Even if you are paying a piece rate, under federal law you need to show that adds up to at least minimum wage.”

And the suit alleges Reliable Staffing violated state laws by failing to provide workers with documentation of where and for which third party they would be working, the nature of the work and how much they would be paid. The suit basically alleges that workers were paid the $10 piece rate only – often divided between two or three workers, workers say – and then the employer simply made up the number of hours the worker supposedly worked by dividing the piece rate by 10.

“The check stub is a fiction—their check stub could show they worked 36 hours when they really worked 72 hours,” said Williams. That’s why, Williams said, it’s so important the workers are able to demand their billing records under the state day labor services act.

“The workers are supposed to be able to go into the office and get this information themselves,” Williams said. “But unfortunately the law isn’t working. That’s why we had to take this to federal court.”

The suit says:

In fact, Defendants Reliable and Gallagher provided Plaintiffs and similarly situated laborers with check stubs that contained false information, showing the final gross compensation to the laborer divided by $10.00, thereby showing a number of hours worked on the check stub that bears no relationship to the actual number of hours worked…

Rather than provide Plaintiffs and the Class with the actual hours worked, Defendants Reliable and Gallagher provided Plaintiffs and the Class with a fictional number of hours worked and a fictional pay rate as described in paragraph.

The lawsuit adds that failing to provide workers documentation of their employment terms makes it easier for employers to cheat workers, saying:

The Illinois legislature found that such at-risk workers are particularly vulnerable to abuse of their labor rights, including unpaid wages, failure to pay for all hours worked, minimum wage and overtime violations, and unlawful deduction from pay for meals, transportation, equipment and other items.

The workers’ want unpaid wages, going back up to three years. The lawsuit also asks for statutory damages on some counts, attorneys’ fees, and that the company be blocked from violating these laws in the future. The suit notes that under the day labor services act, third party companies like Schneider that hire staffing companies are liable and legally responsible for any unpaid wages by the staffing company.

Depending on how the law is interpreted, it’s possible Wal-Mart itself could be liable.

“Hopefully this lawsuit will trickle down and help not just us but other people,” said Hines. “Maybe they’ll wake up and see that they have to treat people fairly if they want to get more out of us. Now they’re sitting there high on the hog, eating nice food, while we’re on the dollar menu at McDonald’s.”

This blog originally was posted on http://www.inthesetimes.com/on February 28, 2011. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Kari Lydersen, an In These Times contributing editor, is a Chicago-based journalist whose works has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Reader and The Progressive, among other publications. Her most recent book is Revolt on Goose Island. In 2011, she was awarded a Studs Terkel Community Media Award for her work. She can be reached at kari.lydersen@gmail.com.


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