Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Alexander Acosta stepping down as Labor secretary

Friday, July 12th, 2019

Ian Kullgren March 9, 2018. (M. Scott Mahaskey/Politico)Eliana JohnsonAnita Kumar

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is stepping down from his post, just two days after he held a news conference to defend a plea deal that he brokered for wealthy sex offender Jeffrey Epstein while serving as a U.S. attorney in Florida more than a decade ago.

President Donald Trump alerted reporters this morning of Acosta’s departure. “This was him, not me,” said Trump as Acosta stood beside him.

Trump, who saw Acosta largely as a source of favorable monthly statistics about unemployment and job growth, called Acosta “a great labor secretary not a good one” and “a tremendous talent. He’s a Hispanic man, he went to Harvard, a great student.” Trump indicated that he was satisfied with Acosta’s explanation for the plea deal in Wednesday’s news conference, saying, “He explained it.”

But Acosta has had a rocky relationship in recent months with other White House officials, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, over the perceived slow pace of deregulation at the department. And one person familiar with the situation said that although Trump initially thought Acosta handled the Epstein controversy well, over the last couple of days the president saw the negative press and didn’t like it.

“POTUS is not a fan of bad press, especially when other people make him look bad,” this person said.

Acosta, a 50-year-old Harvard-educated lawyer, came newly under fire for the lenient 2008 plea deal after Epstein was re-arrested July 6 in New York City and charged with sex trafficking. Under the earlier plea agreement, Epstein served only 13 months of an 18-month term and was permitted daily furloughs to go to the office. Epstein also was required to register as a sex offender and to pay restitution to his underage victims.

At the White House this morning, Acosta told reporters: “Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of coverage of the department of labor. And what I have not seen is the incredible job creation that we’ve seen in this economy. more than 5 million jobs, I haven’t seen that…. I do not think it is right and fair for this administration’s labor department to have Epstein as the focus, rather than the incredible economy that we have today.”

It’s an ignominious end for a son of middle-class Cuban immigrants who climbed his way up and made a name for himself in conservative social circles. Acosta led his resignation letter with mention of his parents and their desire to secure “the best opportunities for their son and grandchildren.”

“He’s been careful for his whole life, going to the right schools and connecting to the right people,” said a former administration official. “And now he’s just going to be remembered for Jeffrey Epstein.”

Things began to unravel for Acosta in November, when the Miami Herald published a lengthy reexamination of the case, and accelerated in February, when a district court judge ruled that the 2008 plea deal violated the Crime Victims Rights Act because Acosta never revealed the terms of the deal to Epstein’s victims before it was finalized. Also in February, the Justice Department opened an investigation into whether Acosta’s prosecution team committed professional misconduct in its handling the Epstein case.

Key details of Acosta’s plea agreement with Epstein were known to senators at the time Acosta was confirmed as labor secretary, though initially these seemed minor compared to domestic abuse allegations against Trump’s first pick for labor secretary, Andy Puzder. Acosta defended his actions at a congressional hearing this past April, saying he entered the case only after a state grand jury recommended that only one charge be filed against Epstein — a course of action that would have resulted in no jail time for Epstein, no restitution to victims, and no registration as a sex offender.

“At the end of the day Mr. Epstein went to jail,” Acosta said. “Mr. Epstein was incarcerated, he registered as a sex offender, the world was put on notice that he was a sex offender, and the victims received restitution.“

Acosta has suggested that he and his attorneys were worn down by Epstein’s all-star legal team, which included Alan Dershowitz and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the 1990s. Among other tactics, the Epstein lawyers investigated the prosecutors looking for “personal pecadillos,” Acosta wrote in 2011 to journalist Conchita Sarnoff, whose 2016 book “TrafficKing” chronicled the Epstein prosecution. Acosta called these efforts “a year-long assault on the prosecution and the prosecutors.”

Acosta has also said that the full extent of Epstein’s alleged abuse wasn’t known at the time he struck the plea deal.

“Had these additional statements and evidence been known,” he wrote in a letter Sarnoff, “the outcome may have been different.”

Epstein aside, Acosta‘s relationships in the White House wore thin in recent months. Known for his careful demeanor, Acosta was privately accused by White House officials of slow-walking deregulatory efforts, such as business-friendly policies on overtime pay and shielding franchised companies from legal liabilities.

It took two years for DOL to issue a regulation outlining a program for privately led apprenticeships, a delay that irked the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump. A former DOL official told POLITICO in June that she was “fed up” with Acosta.

Mulvaney curtailed Acosta’s rule-making authority shortly after taking office in January, requiring three White House aides to sit in on all the agency’s regulatory meetings. Then in May, the White House took the unusual step of ordering Acosta to fire his chief of staff, Nick Geale, after an internal review concluded that Geale’s interactions with employees — including frequent profanity-laced tirades — were damaging morale inside the agency.

Even as White House aides abandoned Acosta, the president himself remained content, in large part because of the favorable monthly employment statistics typically reported by DOL. Acosta went out of his way to praise the strength of the economy on social media, often mentioning the president by name.

“I feel very badly, actually, for Secretary Acosta,“ Trump said July 9. “I’ve known him as somebody that works so hard and does such a good job. I feel very badly about that whole situation.”

This article was originally published by Politico on July 12, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Kullgren is a reporter on POLITICO’s employment and immigration team. Before joining POLITICO, he was a reporter for The Oregonian in Portland, Ore. and was part of a team that covered a 41-day standoff with armed militants at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Their efforts earned the Associated Press Media Editors grand prize for news reporting in 2017. His real beat was politics, though, and he spent most his time at the state capitol covering the governor and state legislature.

He is a native of the mitten state and graduated from Michigan State University, where he ditched most of his classes to work on The State News, the student newspaper. He’s a big fan of mountains, for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter.

About the Author: Eliana Johnson is a White House correspondent at POLITICO. She previously served as Washington editor of National Review, where she led the organization’s 2016 election coverage. She has worked as a producer at the Fox News Channel, as a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, and as a staff reporter for the New York Sun, where she covered higher education. She graduated from Yale College in 2006 with a degree in History.

About the Author: Anita Kumar serves as White House correspondent and associate editor, covering President Donald Trump and helping organize and guide coverage for POLITICO’s White House team.

Kumar joined POLITICO in 2019 after covering the White House for McClatchy’s chain of newspapers for six years. She reported on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president in 2016 and Barack Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012.

Prior to that, she worked at the Washington Post, writing about Virginia politics, and the Tampa Bay Times, writing about local, state and federal government both in Florida and Washington. She started her career at the News & Advance in Lynchburg, Va. and worked briefly at the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C.

A native Virginian, Kumar grew up in Charlottesville and attended the University of Virginia.

Kumar was elected to the White House Correspondents’ Association board in July 2018 for a three-year term. She appears regularly on television and radio.

Women’s national team escalates dispute with U.S. Soccer, filing gender discrimination lawsuit

Tuesday, March 12th, 2019

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team took a big step in its ongoing wage dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation on Friday — which, not coincidentally, was International Women’s Day — when it filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the organization.

“Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts,” the complaint, filed by all 28 members of the USWNT in United States District Court in Los Angeles, states.

“This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players — with the female players, in contrast to male players, becoming world champions.”

Indeed, the USWNT has won three World Cup titles, most recently in 2015, and is one of the favorites headed into the 2019 Women’s World Cup this summer in France. It is currently the top-ranked women’s soccer team in the world. The men’s team failed to even qualify for last year’s men’s World Cup

In the suit, which was first reported by the New York Times, the players are requesting back pay and damages, as they allege that “institutionalized gender discrimination” by USSF has impacted everything from their bank accounts to their living situations — including their health care, coaching, and even travel accommodations.

This is an escalation of a long-standing battle between the women and the federation that employs them. Three years ago, five USWNT players filed a wage-discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). However, there has been no movement on that lawsuit, which led the players to request and receive a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC last month. With this new lawsuit, the players are seeking class-action status, so they can represent any current or former USWNT player dating back to February 4, 2014. Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Carli Lloyd — four of the most talented and high-profile soccer players in the world — are the lead plaintiffs on the suit.

Two years ago, after a lengthy #EqualPlayEqualPay campaign, the USWNT and USSF ratified a new collective bargaining agreement that improved pay and travel accommodations, and provided the players’ union with more control over licensing and marketing rights. However, the new lawsuit makes clear that the new CBA did not go far enough to address inequities between the men’s and women’s teams.

In reality, the USSF has utterly failed to promote gender equality. It has stubbornly refused to treat its female employees who are members of the WNT equally to its male employees who are members of the MNT. The USSF, in fact, has admitted that it pays its female player employees than its male player employees and has gone so far as to claim that ‘market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.’ The USSF admits such purposeful gender discrimination even during times when the WNT earned more profit, played more games, won more games, earned more championships, and/or garnered higher television audiences.

According to the suit, from 2013 to 2016, a comparison of the WNT and MNT pay shows that if each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all 20 friendlies, female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000, or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320, or $13,166 per game.

Advertisement

It also goes into detail about the fact that not only are the female players earning far less than male players, despite having far more success, they’re actually playing more matches for the federation as well.

In light of the WNT’s on-field success, Plaintiffs often spend more time practicing for and playing in matches, more time in training camps, more time traveling and more time participating in media sessions, among other duties and responsibilities, than similarly situated MNT players. For example, from 2015 through 2018, the WNT played 19 more games than the MNT played over that same period of time. As the MNT averaged approximately 17 games per year in that time frame, the WNT played the equivalent of more than one additional MNT calendar year session from 2015 through 2018. The USSF, nevertheless, has paid and continues to play Plaintiffs less than similarly situated MNT players.

The timing of this suit does provide the USWNT with leverage — not only is it International Women’s Day, but the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France kicks off in three months. When the USWNT won the 2015 World Cup, 23 million people in the United States tuned in to watch the match, making it the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, surpassing all men’s matches.

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

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs is a sports reporter at ThinkProgress.

Time’s Up: Time to Reconsider the “Severe and Pervasive” Standard for Sexual Harassment

Friday, March 8th, 2019

“The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements constitute a revolution in women’s rights that is too powerful to be turned back,” said Roberta Kaplan, co-founder of the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund, in October 2018. But a recent Seventh Circuit decision (Swyear v. Fare Foods Corp.) dismissing an employee’s sexual harassment claim could jeopardize the momentum of the revolution.

On June 18, 2015, Fare Foods interviewed Amy Swyear for an outside sales representative position. During the interview, a hiring manager remarked that most of the other outside sales reps were men. He questioned Swyear about her ability to perform in a male-dominated field. The manager’s comments only hinted at what Fare Foods had in store for Swyear.

At the office, Swyear frequently overheard her new coworkers making crude sexual remarks and referring to female customers as “Cunty” and “Big Tittie.” Working in the field proved to be worse. In mid-July, Swyear and another sales representative, Russell Scott, attended an out-of-town overnight business trip. During a conversation with the client, Scott falsely implied that he and Swyear were sharing a hotel room.  At the hotel, Scott followed Swyear into her room and suggested that they have dinner together. Scott followed Swyear into her room without consent, got in her bed and said he wanted a “cuddle buddy.” He asked Swyear to go “skinny dipping” with him and put his hands on her lower back and arms. Scott eventually left Swyear’s hotel room, but he later returned. Swyear pretended to be in the shower and ignored Scott’s knocking. But Scott would not relent. He repeatedly called Swyear’s cell phone, demanding to enter her room.

Swyear reported Scott’s harassment during a performance meeting about one week later. Less than one month after the meeting, Fare Foods terminated Swyear’s employment.

The Seventh Circuit concluded that the harassment was not sufficiently severe and pervasive to constitute a hostile work environment and entered summary judgment for Fare Foods. The court forgave the “crude,” “immature,” and “vulgar” sexual comments because they were “off-hand” and not directed at Swyear. Similarly, Judge Bauer, writing for the court, excused Scott’s unwelcome sexual comments, advances, and touching because it occurred just once. The court’s decision indicates that, absent physical sexual assault, an employee cannot meet his/her burden to show a ‘severe and pervasive’ hostile work environment.

Essentially, the court’s decision gives employers a free pass for egregious sexual misconduct, as long as it only happens once. But one time is one too many. The #MeToo movement has helped thousands of sexual harassment victims get justice against their harassers. Unfortunately for Amy Swyear, the Seventh Circuit has yet to realize the effects of the movement. But worse, it may have set a dangerous precedent for future sexual harassment claims.

About the Author: Krista Wallace is an Associate Attorney at Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C. in Washington, D.C. Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., has partnered with the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund to represent private and public-sector workers in federal court proceedings and before administrative agencies.

When a Company Tries to Decertify Its Union

Monday, February 25th, 2019

Cable provider and mass media company Charter Communications, which offers its services under the Spectrum brand, is pushing to decertify the IBEW Local 3 union in New York City, whose workers have been on strike since March 28, 2017. Decertification votes are used by workers to get rid of a union or replace it with a different one, with the vote to get rid of IBEW Local 3 being pushed by replacement workers.

Roughly 1,800 workers represented by IBEW Local 3 went on strike over a contract dispute with Charter Communications, which bought out Time Warner Cable in May 2016. A majority of workers voted to authorize a strike in response to cuts to healthcare and pension benefits in the wake of the buy-out.

As the strike approaches two years, Charter Communications is advocating workers to vote to decertify the union with the National Labor Relations Board.

In an internal email from January 31, obtained by In These Times, Charter Communications Regional Vice President of New York City Operations, John Quigley, told workers, “In my opinion, Local 3 has not earned the right to represent you. Over the past several years they have mislead (sic.) their members, led them out on a strike without a clear plan, mishandled almost every aspect of the strike, made it very clear what they think of employees who are working with us today, and continue to make empty threats about harming our business.”

Quigley added, “we hope that you vote ‘no’ and give us a chance to continue to make Charter a great place to work-together.”

The email reveals that Spectrum encouraged its workers to get rid of the union. A Spectrum spokesperson told In These Times via email, “the vote is between our employees and IBEW Local 3. We have no further comment.”

“A standard tactic in a union-busting campaign is to be intransigent in bargaining and thereby provoke a strike, hire replacement workers who are eligible to vote, schedule a decertification election and hope the replacement workers vote in greater numbers than the strikers,” Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, told In These Times via email. “It illustrates the need for labor law reform that would permit workers to bargain and, if necessary, strike without losing their jobs and their rights to bargain collectively.”

The petition to decertify the union was filed with the National Labor Relations Board by Bruce Carberry, who the union alleges is a supervisor who transitioned to a survey technician role in order to file the petition and become a part of the bargaining unit represented by the union. Union members allege this individual was demoted for the purpose of undermining the union. Once a decertify petition is filed and approved with at least 30 percent of workers signing in favor, a vote is held where a majority determines the outcome. The vote went forward after negotiations to end the strike broke down in December 2018.

On his LinkedIn profile, Carberry lists his role as a supervisor until January 2018; the petition was initially filed in May 2018. Carberry began working for Charter Communications in May 2017, shortly after the union went on strike. Trump-appointed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director John Walsh approved Carberry’s petition to allow a decertification vote in June 2018 despite these allegations from the union that Carberry was ineligible to file the petition due to his supervisory position. The ruling explainedthe union did not prove Carberry was not in a supervisory role at the time of filing the petition, despite proving he served in a supervisory role prior to its filing.

If the vote passes to decertify the union, the outcome would essentially end the strike in Spectrum’s favor rather than continue to pressure Spectrum to make concessions in bargaining a new union contract. It’s unclear how many replacement workers, permanent and contracted employees have been hired by Spectrum during the strike. When the strike first began, Spectrum’s contingency plan included hiring contractors from out of state and the company has recently been scrutinized by city officials for not hiring enough local labor.

The attorney representing Carberry and his petition, Matthew Antonek, has previously represented union busting efforts at Verizon as the company’s Executive Director of Labor Relations.

“He’s a union buster,” said Tim Dubnau, an organizing coordinator for the Communications Workers of America which has led efforts to unionize Verizon employees, of the petitioner’s attorney. “The labor law is completely broken in this country. It’s amazing how coercive employers can be and are.”

Since the petition went through, a campaign that includes an anti-union blog surfaced to try to sway workers to vote in favor of decertifying the union. One blog post includes ten reasons to vote “No,” including claims the union hates current Spectrum employees, the union lies, and that workers would be better off without the union representing the workplace.

“Around the new year starting when the NLRB said the vote was going to go through, a charter tech blog showed up saying things like you can’t get anymore raises,” Chris Fasulo, a Spectrum worker on strike, told In These Times. “There are also a couple of Twitter accounts out there, all of a sudden they started trolling a lot of guys on strike like myself who are very outspoken on Twitter.” A Spectrum spokesperson denied the blog or accounts are affiliated with the company.

The NLRB sent out ballots to all eligible workers this month for the decertification election, which includes workers on strike and any hired before January 2019. Ballots were due February 22, and the outcome of the vote is not yet known.

“Even though none of these people are part of the union, the law seems to give them the ability to vote on whether or not a union should represent the workplace,” said Troy Walcott, a Spectrum worker on strike. “So while we’re out on strike all the people who are working in place of us who don’t have a union are now allowed to vote on whether a union gets to represent the workplace.”

He added a grassroots movement has started in the wake of the strike to create apublicly owned cable service in New York City. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and union leaders in New York have recently renewed calls to boycott Spectrum and its services over the company’s union busting. The company is currently in negotiations with the New York Public Service Commission to be able to continue providing cable services in New York State after the commission voted in July 2018 to revoke approval of Spectrum’s merger with Time Warner.

“The company is basically union busting in New York City, and they’ve come in, raised rates on people and set their own terms because they hold a monopoly right now and there’s really no one to stop them from doing what they’re doing,” added Walcott.

This article was originally published at In These Times on February 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Michael Sainato is a journalist based in Albany, NY. Follow him on Twitter @MSainat1

Calls Increase for Trump Labor Sec. Alexander Acosta To Resign

Friday, February 22nd, 2019

A U.S. District judge ruled Thursday that U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta committed a crime in 2007 when, as a U.S. prosecutor at the time, he secretly gave a lenient plea deal to a politically-connected billionaire accused of sex trafficking underage girls.

In a case brought by victims of billionaire and Trump associate Jeffrey Epstein, Judge Kenneth Marra found that Acosta and other federal prosecutors violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act by brokering a plea deal with Epstein, allowing him to serve only 13 months in a county jail for his crimes, and then sealing the agreement.

The ruling came nearly three months after the Miami Herald‘s explosive report on the plea deal, which prompted the Justice Department to begin an investigation into the prosecutors’ conduct.

Marra’s decision led to renewed calls for Acosta—who was appointed by President Donald Trump and who as head of the Labor Department is responsible for combating sex trafficking—to resign.

By sealing Epstein’s plea agreement, Acosta stole from more than 30 of Epstein’s victims—some of whom were as young as 13 when they were recruited by his paid employees and then coerced into sex acts by him—the chance to attend Epstein’s sentencing and demand a harsher punishment.

“While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein’s attorneys, scant information was shared with victims,” Marra found.

“The government-aligned themselves with Epstein, working against his victims, for 11 years,” Brad Edwards, the attorney representing the women who survived Epstein’s abuse, told the Herald. “Yes, this is a huge victory, but to make his victims suffer for 11 years, this should not have happened. Instead of admitting what they did, and doing the right thing, they spent 11 years fighting these girls.”

Epstein’s victims and the U.S. government now have 15 days to come to a resolution following Marra’s ruling.

This article was published in In These Times on February 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Julia Conley is a Maine-based staff writer for Common Dreams.

Thousands of Virginia teachers march to state capitol demanding more funding, better salaries

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Thousands of Virginia teachers left their classrooms and rallied in Richmond on Monday to demand more education funding and higher salaries. Teachers gathered in front of the state capitol building, just as their fellow educators did during strikes and rallies last year in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, and North Carolina.

Virginia Educators United (VEU), which organized Monday’s rally, wants schools to have adequate support staff, such as nurses and social workers, competitive wages for support staff, improved school infrastructure, and better recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers. VEU encouraged teachers to take a personal day to attend the rally.

“I just think it’s one of those things where we have been waiting patiently and we always say, the [Great Recession] this, the recession that. That was 2008; we don’t have time to wait anymore so we need to fund education now,” Kevin Hickerson, president of the Fairfax Education Association, told ThinkProgress. 

Hickerson said that in Fairfax, like many other school districts across the country, it’s common for teachers to be working two or three jobs in order to make ends meet. The district needs to take additional steps to ensure support personnel, such as custodians, bus drivers, and cafeteria workers, can afford to live in the communities in which they work.

In an analysis of states’ funding formulas by the Education Law Center and Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education, Virginia received a grade of “F” on its funding distribution. Virginia’s average teacher salary is slightly less than average at $56,861, compared to $58,353, but in the Richmond area, the average teacher salary is just $51,064, state data shows. According to the National Education Association, Virginia ranks 34th in the nation in average teacher pay.

Salaries aren’t the only reason teachers decided to protest; the schools themselves desperately need improvements, according to Hickerson.

“Our infrastructure needs a lot of upgrades and improvements. When you don’t take care of things now in terms of buildings, they just cost more later down the line. We need to upgrade our buildings and we need to get out of trailers,” he said. “We have close to a thousand trailers here in Fairfax County and I don’t want my daughter going into a trailer to learn and I don’t want other kids to also have that experience.”

Hickerson added that there are mold problems, heating issues, and leaks in trailers and on top of that, trailers may not be the safest place for students to learn.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) proposed a 5 percent pay increase for teachers and $268.7 million in new money for public schools in December. Republican leaders in the house of delegates have said they support a 5 percent pay raise. The Republican-controlled state senate has said it wants more flexibility for how local governments spend increased education funding.

When asked why Virginia teachers aren’t ready for a statewide strike like other states, Hickerson said that in addition to legal issues teachers may encounter due to public employee strikes being prohibited, the upcoming state elections present an opportunity to make change.

“I think we have a golden opportunity this election season with both our chambers up for bid in the house and the senate. I think we have a great opportunity to get public education-friendly candidates into those seats,” he said. “I think there is a good chance we can flip the house and the senate and bring public education to the forefront where we don’t necessarily need those strikes and collective action that makes us remove ourselves from our job. That doesn’t mean we stop lobbying or the momentum we started but at the same time that’s where we need to be putting our time and effort right now.”

Teachers unions haven’t dialed back their concerns about school funding after the 2018 statewide strikes. In Los Angeles, teachers went on strike for a week and won major concessions. Some of the improvements include a 50 percent reduction in standardized testing, turning 30 schools into community schools, and ensuring that schools have nurses working five days a week.

This month, Denver teachers voted to go on strike after more than a year of negotiations. Teachers there want to change their performance-based compensation system, which they say is confusing and limits opportunities for some teachers to improve their pay.

There are also ongoing discussions of work stoppages in West Virginia and Oakland, California. In West Virginia, the state senate advanced education legislation that embraces school choice, something teachers unions have opposed. West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the press, “everything is on the table” when asked if another teacher walkout would happen in response to the legislation.

In Oakland, Ismael Armendariz, vice president of the Oakland Education Association, said the L.A. strike has energized teachers, who have been working without a contract since 2017 and are asking for a 12 percent pay increase over three years.

“One thing that resonated with our members is that when you fight, you win,” Armendariz said.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 28, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits.

Longest government shutdown in history causes record number of TSA workers to stay home

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

As the longest government shutdown in U.S. history ticks on, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is slowly starting to crumble.

The absence rate for TSA employees this weekend increased to a record-breaking eight percent, compared to 7.5 percent last week and just three percent this time last year, according to the Washington Post. The absences particularly impacted large hubs in Chicago, New York, Atlanta and Miami. Baltimore Washington International Airport also suffered some sever staff shortages this weekend. On Sunday, the absences topped ten percent, as many TSA workers were unable to afford to continue working without pay.

In order to keep lines moving at airports, TSA has dipped into its National Deployment Force (NDF) pool, which is normally used to help out with major events such as the Superbowl.

TSA is also doing its utmost to ensure that the public does not know the true extent of how the shutdown is affecting the agency’s ability to perform its job. In an email sent Friday obtained by CNN, the agency’s deputy assistant administrator for public affairs Jim Gregory laid out a series of talking points on how to handle inquiries about the scale of the shutdown.

“Do not offer specific call out data at your airport,” the email reads. “You can say you have experienced higher numbers of call outs but in partnership with the airport and airlines you are able to manage people and resources to ensure effective security is always maintained.”

While TSA offers national data, it does not offer details for specific airports owing to “security concerns.” This means that there could be significant variation at airports that push some higher than the eight percent absence rate recorded nationwide.

The absences have, however, trickled down to travelers, who have been forced to wait in line for much longer than normal to get through security. TSA has consistently maintained that it is screening the vast majority of passengers in 30 minutes or less, but the ebbs and flows of airports during the shutdown has meant that some have been in scenarios where they’ve been severely understaffed.

Last week, for instance, multiple security lanes at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport were closed; wait times to pass through security lasted more than an hour and multiple flights were canceled. TSA is also expecting an influx of visitors into Atlanta for the Superbowl on February 3rd.

The continued lack of funding for TSA has also meant some workers have decided to simply quit outright, according to Hydrick Thomas, head of the American Federation of Government Employees’ TSA Council.

“Some of them have already quit and many are considering quitting the federal workforce because of this shutdown,” he said in a statement. “The loss of officers, while we’re already shorthanded, will create a massive security risk for American travelers since we don’t have enough trainees in the pipeline or the ability to process new hires.”

It’s not just TSA employees that have been struggling as the government shutdown enters its 30th day.

FBI field offices in Newark, Dallas, New Jersey and Washington are also establishing, or plan to establish, food banks for agents, who are also considered essential employees and must work through the shutdown. Because of security considerations FBI agents are usually prohibited from taking a second job, but according to CNN there has been a sharp surge in the number of agents and workers looking for additional employment.

Meanwhile, employees at federal prisons are also logging double shifts, and even in some cases using medical or maintenance employees to work as guards to help supplement low staffing numbers. According to the New York Times this led some inmates at New York’s Metropolitan Correction Center to go on hunger strike last week, as staffing shortages had forced the jail to cancel family visits for a second week.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, and Narratively.

Federal Employees Are Suing the Trump Administration for Forcing Them to Work for Free

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2019

Workers are suing the Trump administration, arguing that it’s illegal to compel federal employees to work with no pay. Filed by the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the lawsuit comes amid calls for federal workers to go on strike or stage a sick-out as the government shutdown enters its fifth week.

On December 31, the AFGE sued the Trump administration for denying pay to federal workers during the partial government shutdown, alleging that the action was a clear violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the 1938 law that created the right to a minimum wage and overtime pay. On January 9, the union filed an amended complaint in the lawsuit, charging that the government is in violation of minimum wage laws. 

Nearly half a million federal employees deemed “essential” have been ordered to continue working despite the fact that they do not know when they will ultimately be paid for their hours.

Heidi Burakiewicz, an attorney representing the plaintiffs as part of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, told In These Times that the amended complaint was initiated over the fact that 420,000 federal employees had gone a full two weeks without a paycheck by mid-January, which is a violation of minimum wage laws.

Burakiewicz says the plaintiffs are seeking back pay, plus liquidated damages to compensate for the financial decisions they’ve been forced to make during the shutdown. “People are running up late payment penalties and interest charges,” said Burakiewicz. “There’s so many people who live paycheck to paycheck, and we’ve heard about so many incredibly heartbreaking situations.”

Although there are just two plaintiffs so far, AFGE is setting up an electronic sign-up system for other workers to join the lawsuit, and Burakiewicz estimates that she’s already received about 7,000 emails from people inquiring about how to become part of it.

This isn’t the first time Burakiewicz has sued the federal government. After the 2013 government shutdown, Burakiewicz represented 25,000 essential federal employees who filed a lawsuit on similar grounds. The government tried to get the case dismissed by arguing that federal law prevented them from spending any money that had not been allocated by Congress.

A judge with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims disagreed with the government’s assessment and ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2014. In 2017, the court determined that the workers were actually entitled to double their back pay. Despite the victory, the workers are still waiting to receive their compensation.

Burakiewicz says that one of the reasons the litigation has been so slow is because the lawsuit was unprecedented and there were a number of legal issues that had to be ironed out. Since this terrain has now been covered, she thinks that this second lawsuit will proceed much quicker—and that it will be much easier to calculate damages for the workers.

As the shutdown continues, some are calling for strikes and work stoppages. On January 14, Barbara Ehrenreich and Gary Stevenson called on Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers to go on a strike in a New York Times op-ed. “The moral foundation for a strike is unquestionably firm,” reads the piece. “The federal government has broken its contract with its employees—locking some of them out of their workplaces and expecting others to work for the mere promise of eventual pay.”

Federal employees are legally prevented from going on strike, and in 1981 Ronald Reagan infamously fired almost 13,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) for participating in one. Many credit Reagan with dealing organized labor a blow that it has never entirely recovered from, as the private sector began imitating Reagan’s move and began replacing striking workers rather than negotiating with them.

However, there are signs that workers today are bringing the strike back. The year 2018 saw waves of teachers’ strikes and work stoppages that rocked a number of GOP-controlled states. All of these actions were led by the rank and file, and in many cases the teachers pushed the leadership of their unions towards more radical demands. Teachers’ strikes are illegal in West Virginia, yet that didn’t stop them from walking out nor did it impact their success.

In Slate, Henry Grabar spoke with historian Joseph McCartin about the many reasons that TSA workers shouldn’t fear the specter of PATCO if they end up striking. Reagan was popular during the time of the strike, while Trump’s approval rating continues to dip, and there probably isn’t a trained replacement workforce that could easily be implemented like there was in 1981. Additionally, there are tens of thousands more TSA employees than there were air-traffic controllers, and air travel is a much bigger part of the country’s economy, which would increase the potential leverage that a work stoppage could generate.

McCartin, who wrote the definitive book on the PATCO strike, published a piece in The American Prospect on January 14 calling on TSA workers to participate in a spontaneous sickout that would force the government to act. McCartin doesn’t believe that such an action would need to be nationwide to have an immediate impact. “This partial shutdown can continue only as long as hundreds of thousands of federal workers cooperate with it by working without pay, and often having to do more because many of their colleagues have been furloughed,” writes McMartin.

In addition to the AFGE lawsuit, the National Treasury Employees Union sued the govermnent in an attempt to excuse federal employees from working. On January 15, a Washington, D.C. judge ruled that government employees are still legally obligated to go to work even if they aren’t being paid.

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

This article was originally published at In These Times on January 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Union Man

Monday, January 21st, 2019

If Martin Luther King Jr. still lived, he’d probably tell people to join unions.

King understood racial equality was inextricably linked to economics. He asked, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?”

Those disadvantages have persisted. Today, for instance, the wealth of the average white family is more than 20 times that of a black one.

King’s solution was unionism.

Convergence of needs

In 1961, King spoke before the AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest and most powerful labor organization, to explain why he felt unions were essential to civil rights progress.

“Negroes are almost entirely a working people,” he said. “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs – decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

My new book, “Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area,” chronicles King’s relationship with a labor union that was, perhaps, the most racially progressive in the country. That was Local 10 of the International Longshoremen’s and Warehousemen’s Union, or ILWU.

ILWU Local 10 represented workers who loaded and unloaded cargo from ships throughout San Francisco Bay’s waterfront. Its members’ commitment to racial equality may be as surprising as it is unknown.

In 1967, the year before his murder, King visited ILWU Local 10 to see what interracial unionism looked like. King met with these unionists at their hall in a then-thriving, portside neighborhood – now a gentrifiedtourist area best known for Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39.

While King knew about this union, ILWU history isn’t widely known off the waterfront.

Civil rights on the waterfront

Dockworkers had suffered for decades from a hiring system compared to a “slave auction.” Once hired, they routinely worked 24 to 36 hour shifts, experienced among the highest rates of injury and death of any job, and endured abusive bosses. And they did so for incredibly low wages.

In 1934, San Francisco longshoremen – who were non-union since employers had crushed their union in 1919 – reorganized and led a coast-wide “Big Strike.”

In the throes of the Great Depression, these increasingly militant and radicalized dockworkers walked off the job. After 83 days on strike, they won a huge victory: wage increases, a coast-wide contract and union-controlled hiring halls.

Soon, these “wharf rats,” among the region’s poorest and most exploited workers, became “lords of the docks,” commanding the highest wages and best conditions of any blue-collar worker in the region.

At its inception, Local 10’s membership was 99 percent white. But Harry Bridges, the union’s charismatic leader, joined with fellow union radicals to commit to racial equality in its ranks.

Originally from Australia, Bridges started working on the San Francisco waterfront in the early 1920s. It was during the Big Strike that he emerged as a leader.

Bridges coordinated during the strike with C.L. Dellums, the leading black unionist in the Bay Area, and made sure the handful of black dockworkers would not cross picket lines as replacement workers. Bridges promised they would get a fair deal in the new union. One of the union’s first moves after the strike was integrating work gangs that previously had been segregated.

Local 10 overcame pervasive discrimination

Cleophas Williams, a black man originally from Arkansas, was among those who got into Local 10 in 1944. He belonged to a wave of African-Americans who, due to the massive labor shortage caused by World War II, fled the racism and discriminatory laws of the Jim Crow South for better lives – and better jobs – outside of it. Hundreds of thousands of blacks moved to the Bay Area, and tens of thousands found jobs in the booming shipbuilding industry.

Black workers in shipbuilding experienced pervasive discrimination. Employers shunted them off into less attractive jobs and paid them less. Similarly, the main shipbuilders’ union proved hostile to black workers who, when allowed in, were placed in segregated locals.

A few thousand black men, including Williams, were hired as longshoremen during the war. He later recalled to historian Harvey Schwartz: “When I first came on the waterfront, many black workers felt that Local 10 was a utopia.”

During the war, when white foremen and military officers hurled racist epithets at black longshoremen, this union defended them. Black members received equal pay and were dispatched the same as all others.

For Williams, this union was a revelation. Literally the first white people he ever met who opposed white supremacy belonged to Local 10. These longshoremen were not simply anti-racists, they were communists and socialists.

Leftist unions like the ILWU embraced black workers because, reflecting their ideology, they contended workers were stronger when united. They also knew that, countless times, employers had broken strikes and destroyed unions by playing workers of different ethnicities, genders, nationalities and races against each other. For instance, when 350,000 workers went out during the mammoth Steel Strike of 1919, employers brought in tens of thousands of African-Americans to work as replacements.

Some black dockworkers also were socialists. Paul Robeson, the globally famous singer, actor and left-wing activist had several friends, fellow socialists, in Local 10. Robeson was made an honorary ILWU member during WWII.

Martin Luther King, union member

In 1967, King walked in Robeson’s footsteps when he was inducted into Local 10 as an honorary member, the same year Williams became the first black person elected president of Local 10. By that year, roughly half of its members were African-American.

King addressed these dockworkers, declaring, “I don’t feel like a stranger here in the midst of the ILWU. We have been strengthened and energized by the support you have given to our struggles. … We’ve learned from labor the meaning of power.”

Many years later, Williams discussed King’s speech with me: “He talked about the economics of discrimination. … What he said is what Bridges had been saying all along,” about workers benefiting by attacking racism and forming interracial unions.

Eight months later, in Memphis to organize a union, King was assassinated.

The day after his death, longshoremen shut down the ports of San Francisco and Oakland, as they still do when one of their own dies on the job. Nine ILWU members attended King’s funeral in Atlanta, including Bridges and Williams, honoring the man who called unions “the first anti-poverty program.”

This article appeared at In These Times on January 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Peter Cole is a Professor of History at Western Illinois University. He is the author of Wobblies on the Waterfront: Interracial Unionism in Progressive Era Philadelphia and is currently at work on a book entitled Dockworker Power: Race and Activism in Durban and the San Francisco Bay Area. He is a Research Associate in the Society, Work and Development Program (SWOP) at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, and has published extensively on labor history and politics. He tweets from @ProfPeterCole.

New Jersey to get $15 minimum wage

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Since New Jersey shed itself of Chris Christie, things have been looking up. And now around a million of the state’s low-wage workers will be getting a raise. Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders reached an agreement on $15 minimum-wage legislation, something Christie had previously vetoed.

Under the plan, most workers would get a $15 minimum wage in 2024. The first raise will come July 1, to $10 from the current $8.85, then rise by a dollar a year until it reaches $15. Once it reaches $15, it will be adjusted for inflation annually. The tipped-worker minimum wage will rise gradually from $2.13 an hour to $5.13 an hour.

Exceptions to $15-in-2024 include workers at businesses with five or fewer employees and seasonal workers, who will take longer to reach $15, and farm workers, who will get to $12.50 in 2024 and then be at the mercy of state officials to decide whether they should eventually reach $15. Because … farm work isn’t hard enough to be worth $15 an hour? There sure are always people lined up to demand crappy concessions on worker-friendly bills. But one key attempt at undermining the policy was defeated, and teen workers will get the full $15 in 2024.

As is so often the case, it’s imperfect but a huge step forward. And coming the same week as congressional Democrats introduced a $15 minimum-wage plan, it reinforces that the country, if not the Republican Party, is on the right path on this issue.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on January 19, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

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

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog