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Chambers of Commerce Discover Their Own Members Support Raising Minimum Wage

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From Forbes:

by Robb Mandelbaum

Skepticism comes easily when an advocacy group releases another poll showing that — contrary to popular impression — entrepreneurs support increasing the minimum wage. After all, these organizations are advocates for raising the minimum wage. But the most recent survey showing lopsided, even overwhelming, support amongbusiness owners and executives for a higher minimum wage can’t be so easily dismissed: it was commissioned by groups that almost never support a wage hike and conducted by a firm with deep ties to the Republican party.

LuntzGlobal, a communications firm founded by über-GOP pollster Frank Luntz surveyed 1,000 top executives (nearly half were owners) and found that they supported raising the minimum wage 79%-8%. By similar margins, they supported expanded parental leave, paid sick days, and paid leave to take care of relatives. They also supported legislation that would ban last-minute “on-call” scheduling.

LuntzGlobal delivered this news in a January webinar to the cohort of Americans perhaps least likely to welcome it: executives from state chambers of commerce. The news evidently took many of the participants by surprise. “When you were talking about raising the minimum wage to the surveyors, does that mean that they are worried about raising it, or do they actually want to see it raised?” asked Bill Kramer, policy director at the Council of State Chambers, on behalf of an official from the Ohio chamber. (Presumably he meant the respondents, not the surveyors.) The council is an umbrella group of state chambers; it hired LuntzGlobal to conduct the survey.

David Merritt, a managing director of LuntzGlobal, backed up to the slide showing the question. “That’s where it’s undeniable that they support the increase,” he responded. “Maybe some interpreted it as, we’re worried about it being raised, but my guess is they are actually looking at raising it as a priority than being concerned about it being raised.

“We’ve actually looked at this issue a number of different ways. We’ve done focus groups on it, as part of policy discussions, and this is universal. If you’re fighting against the minimum wage increase, you’re fighting an uphill battle, because most Americans, even most Republicans are okay with raising the minimum wage.”

Naturally, the only reason we know about this is because a participant in the webinar leaked it, along with the slide deck and the poll results, to the liberal group Center for Media and Democracy, which gleefully published the exposé earlier in April.

The disclosure put the Council of State Chambers in something of an awkward position, since so many of their members have taken positions of their own against all of these labor policies. Why do chambers oppose policies that their members would appear to support? When the Washington Post, one of the few media outlets tocover this bombshell in any depth, asked this question, the answer seemed to be that the views uncovered by the LuntzGlobal didn’t match the views of their own members, even though 63% of those who were interviewed are current members of one or another chamber. Officials of both the Pennsylvania and Minnesota chambers told the Post that their members oppose labor mandates on higher wages and leaves, including the bigger companies that offer them already.

Read more from Forbes.

GOP: It’s OK for Corporations to Kill Workers

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From Campaign For America's Future:

by Leo Gerard

Alan White couldn’t shout jubilation from the rooftop on March 25 when he heard that the U.S. Department of Labor, after decades of trying, had finally issued a stricter rule to limit exposure to potentially deadly silica dust in workplaces.

He was happy, all right. After all, he’d worked with the United Steelworkers (USW) to get the rule adopted. It’s just that he knew shouting would induce his silicosis coughing.

Within days, though, indignation replaced his jubilation. White, who’d been sickened by the debilitating, irreversible and often fatal disease at work in a foundry, watched in disgust as Republicans attempted to overturn the rule that the Labor Department said could save more than 600 lives and prevent more than 900 new cases of silicosis annually.

Last week, GOP House members conducted a hearing to further their case against saving those lives. They did that just days before Workers Memorial Day, April 28, when organized labor renews its solemn pledge to strive for workplace safety rules and formally commemorates those who have died on the job in the previous year.

The totals aren’t in for 2015 yet, but the year before, 4,679 workers died on the job. That’s nearly 90 a week, 13 a day, seven days a week. Twenty-eight members of my own union, the USW, died on the job since Workers Memorial Day 2015.

But the GOP position is clear. Republicans will do whatever it takes to ensure that corporations can sicken and kill workers with impunity. If the argument is that workers’ lives and lungs must be sacrificed to ensure that foundries and fracking operations and construction companies can make bigger profits by releasing silica particles under 40-year-old standards now considered dangerous, then the GOP will take the side of CEOs who value workers as trivial.

These politicians would leave workers like Alan White to be victims of this sneaky, silent killer. Silica, which is in sand and rocks, is released during industrial processes that involve cutting and blasting and cleaning silica-containing materials, such as concrete, tile and brick. About 2 million American workers inhale the tiny crystalline particles in levels high enough to threaten their health, almost always without knowing it. The dust causes workers’ lung tissue to swell and become inflamed. Over time, that causes scarring, and the lungs stiffen, making it hard to breathe.

That condition, called silicosis, increases the worker’s risk of bronchitis, tuberculosis and lung cancer. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calculated that the previous exposure limits, which were set more than 40 years ago, were so inadequate that thousands of workers died every year even though their employers were complying with the law.

Alan White’s doctors determined his impairment to be 66 percent three years ago. They described it as progressive massive fibrosis of the lungs. At the age of 51, it means his life is circumscribed. “I went waking around the park and got passed up by a group of elderly women, say in their 70s, like six of them, who were running and talking. I can walk. But I can’t really talk while I am walking. I am sitting still and talking on the phone and getting out of breath,” he told me.

He must be careful about simple chores, like removing lint from the dryer filter. “I can’t just swipe at it because it will make me cough for 10 minutes,” he explained. If he tries to carry a basket of laundry up the 28 stairs, he may be able to make it, he said, “but then I can’t breathe. It is like am breathing in as much as I can and I am not getting enough air.” Anyone who has suffered asthma or has been held under water too long knows the panic that induces.

This crept up on White. He began work in the foundry at what is now called Aurubis in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1995. He stayed in the foundry for 16 years, but with the amount of overtime he worked, averaging 60-hour work weeks and often more than that, he estimates that it was the equivalent of 20 years.

There is silica-containing brick in the foundry furnace. When workers like White cleaned it with air chisels and crowbars, silica would fly into their environment without their knowledge.

White said the employer fitted him for several types of respirators and masks when he was hired, but told him he would need only the dust mask in the smoky foundry area. He believes now, too late, that he should have been wearing a particulate filter.

A decade after White started the job, he noticed he was slowing down and was tired a lot. He attributed it to aging and tried to lose weight and eat better.

In December of 2008, he developed a cough. It lingered through the winter and early spring. In April, just after he turned 44, he went to a doctor who heard something when he listened to White’s lungs and sent him for an X-ray.

The technician looked at the pictures and said to him, “I will be right back. Don’t move.” She brought in the doctor. “You know it is serious when they bring the doctor right in,” White said.

That doctor gave him the name of an expert who ordered a CAT scan. “He put the film on the wall and turned on the light. He knew right away what it was. He said, ‘This is silicosis.’”

White’s daughter was 19. He wondered if he would live to see her marry, to meet his grandkids.

At Aurubis, White is a member of the USW, and one of his doctors knew a USW health and safety expert and linked up the two. That’s how White got involved in the USW campaign to strengthen the silica rule. White testified at hearings, seeking stronger standards to prevent other workers from suffering as he has. And he has met U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who cites White’s case as an example of why decreasing silica exposure is so important.

But U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., chairman of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, is intent on sending the silica standard back 40 years.

Walberg noted in a press release that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) concedes that 30 percent of the jobsites it tested did not comply with the previous silica standard.

So, Walberg said, the Labor Department’s first priority should be enforcing that old standard, not creating new, tougher standards that would protect workers better. “If OSHA is unable – or unwilling – to enforce the current limit for silica exposure, why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different?” he asked.

That, of course, disregards the 70 percent of workplaces that apparently did comply with the law and likely will obey the new regulations to protect their workers. It also deliberately ignores the fact that the Republican-controlled Congress has continuously cut funding for OSHA. Walberg condemns the safety police – OSHA – for failing to enforce the law after slashing the funding that would have enabled the safety police to enforce the law.

But Walberg also is contending that as long as one thing is broken, nothing can be fixed until that one thing is completely repaired. So, for example, as long as banks are being robbed by guys in ski masks, in Walberg’s world, the government should not outlaw cyber account theft. As he put it, “why should we expect the results under these new standards to be any different” when police haven’t stopped the ski mask thieves from breaking into vaults?

Alan White described the Republicans’ behavior as shameful. “It just shows the lack of understanding of what workers go through.”

Read more from Campaign For America's Future.

New York Times Finds Verizon Strike Beneath Notice

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Paul Weaver/Flickr

From The Intercept:

by David Dayen

The New York Times actually mentioned the ongoing strike against Verizon on Tuesday.

David Wacker, a service technician with Verizon who is one of around 39,000 landline and cable employees participating in the largest U.S. strike action in four years, was quoted in an article about Bernie Sanders supporters, which noted, in a subordinate clause, that he was on strike.

That brief reference was the first mention of the Verizon labor action on the news pages of the New York Times in a week.

The most recent references before that also had to do with Sanders, when he visited a Verizon picket line in midtown Manhattan on April 18. Outside of those Sanders-focused stories, the New York Times hasn’t run a story on this major labor battle since its second day of action, nearly two weeks ago.

A review of Times stories reveals two items from the day the strike began, April 13. Brian Chen wrote about “How the Verizon Strike Could Affect You,” and he joined Noam Scheiber for a news piece about the strike. In an April 14 piece for the technology-focused “Bits” section, Jim Kerstetter assured Times readers that most Verizon customers wouldn’t notice the strike. That was the last time the news pages mentioned the labor action, outside of fleeting references in Sanders stories.

Paul Krugman did lead a column about monopolies on April 18 with a discussion of Verizon’s lack of business investment in its FiOS high-speed broadband network, a primary complaint of striking workers. An April 21 Associated Press story on Verizon’s first-quarter earnings, reprinted on the Times website, also alluded to the strike.

The Verizon strike, now in its third week, has generated some headlines elsewhere. NBC News described it four days ago as “a fight for the future of labor.” The Philadelphia Inquirer recently discussed the central issue in the strike: Verizon out-sourcing call centers overseas in contrast to its rivals, who are in-sourcing those jobs. And several outlets pointed out that one of Verizon’s attorneys struck two union picketers with his Porsche.

Last year the New York Times’s longtime labor reporter, Steven Greenhouse, took a company buyout and left the paper. While he still writes freelance pieces for other outlets, only one major national newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, has a full-time dedicated labor reporter.

Read more from The Intercept

Fired by Wal-Mart, Ozark town’s favorite checker becomes a star

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Jennifer Moore Springfield News-Leader

From The Kansas City Star:

by Donald Bradley

A month ago, Frank Swanson was a checker, pretty much a lifer, at Wal-Mart in West Plains, Mo.

He’s 52, disabled and long known for smiles and hugs. Shoppers loved him. They would purposely get in his line because they wanted to visit with Frank.

But then came April 2, the day of the gallon jug of Red Diamond Sweet Tea and the end of Frank the checkout guy.

Turned out all those hugs and a keen memory for grocery prices made for a volatile cocktail. At least in the way the big-box corporate world played out in this small Ozarks town.

Frank got fired that day. Since then, 800 or so people have attended a rally for him in the store’s parking lot, his name has bounced around social media all over the world, somebody held up a sign with Frank’s name at an Atlanta Braves baseball game, and Jimmy Fallon gave him a shoutout on “The Tonight Show.”

Frank’s termination could be headed to court, and Wal-Mart had to issue a statement explaining to West Plains what happened to the town’s favorite checker.

All this because a woman in Frank’s line that day wanted to buy a gallon of the sweet tea. She told Frank a store in a neighboring town had a sale price that Wal-Mart was supposed to match.

She didn’t have the ad, as required, but she didn’t need it with Frank. He’d always made it a point to keep up with prices at other stores, so he let her have it at the sale price.

That got Frank called in and fired after nearly 20 years.

“The bosses said I made up an imaginary price,” he said Thursday.

Frank went to Willow Springs and got an issue of a local paper that showed he was right about the price of tea.

For the record, the other store had the tea on special for $1.98. Wal-Mart’s price: $2.78.

Frank has always had a knack for remembering things. Like the day as a boy when he fell out the back of his grandpa’s pickup after cutting a load of firewood. He suffered paralysis and brain damage.

“Sometimes grandpa would go slow, and sometimes he would go fast,” Frank said.

He said he had stopped hugging customers after he was told to do so. But then people asked if they could hug him.

Wal-Mart issued this statement about Frank:

“Letting an associate go is never easy. It is important to note that we have a progressive discipline policy where performance issues move an associate to the next step. For this associate, point-of-sale policies had not been followed in some instances. A recent violation of those policies moved the associate to the final step of our discipline process, resulting in his dismissal.”

That didn’t satisfy Frank’s fans. They started a Facebook page called “Hugs for Frank” that encouraged people to flood Wal-Mart headquarters in nearby Bentonville, Ark., with complaints.

Various accounts had people talking about how Frank cheered their days. One story told how Frank was known to reach into his own pocket to help somebody who came up short.

“They were lucky to have you, Frank,” a woman wrote. “More people should be like you, but sadly, it’s all about the almighty dollar instead of the people. I wish you the very best!! (( HUGS )))

Another: “Hugs for Frank and he needs his job back and the Walmart head bosses need to be fired. He needs his job back and Sam Walmart (Walton) wouldn’t of fired him.”

Frank didn’t want ugliness. He told people that the workers at Wal-Mart — bosses, too — were his friends, and he didn’t want to hear anything mean about them. He has even shopped there since.

So the town threw a party for him. Music, food and, of course, a lot of hugs. Frank signed T-shirts.

Read more from The Kansas City Star.

"Changes are possible if you have a union"

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center:

by Balmi Chisim

More than 1,100 garment workers died April 24, 2013, when the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh, a preventable disaster that injured thousands more workers in the world’s worst industrial accident in years.

Yet their lives likely would have been spared “if any of the factories (in the building) had a union,” says union leader Salma Akter Meem. Salma made her observation as she took part this month in a 10-week-long Solidarity Center fire safety training program, one of nearly a dozen such programs the Solidarity Center has held in the past two years.

Salma, 26, started working at age 14 in the garment industry. She says the Rana Plaza building collapse made her co-workers aware of safety issues, and they formed a union September 2013 so they could have a collective voice to create positive changes in their workplace, including making their factory safe.

Blocked from Factory for Trying to Form a Union
Forming a union was not easy, she says. The employer refused to recognize their union even after it received official government registration, which is required in Bangladesh. Employers retaliated against union members, especially against workers on the factory union’s executive committee, Salma says.

“I was harassed and my union members were banned from entering the factory while we raised our voices and brought attention to the Accord that there was excessive machinery load on the floor and safety issues,” says Salma, who now is general secretary of the factory union.

The Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord, a legally binding agreement in which nearly 200 corporate clothing brands paid for garment factory inspections, was set up after international outrage over the Rana Plaza and the Tazreen Fashions Ltd. tragedy five months earlier, in which more than 100 garment workers were killed when the factory burned down. Since the Tazreen fire, 34 garment workers have been killed in fire incidents and 1,023 workers injured, according to data compiled by the Solidarity Center staff in Bangladesh, according to data compiled by the Solidarity Center in Dhaka, the capital.

Following inspections mandated by the Accord, dozens of garment factories were closed for safety violations and pressing safety issues were addressed.

Standing Strong Together and Winning 
Even though some workers were not allowed to work after they formed a union, Salma and her co-workers did not give up in the face of such employer resistance. With assistance of the Solidarity Center and the Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation (BGIWF), to which their factory union is affiliated, workers got their jobs back with full compensation for the time they were prevented from working.

Read more from AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center.

Verizon ‘Invitation’ to Cross Picket Lines Gets Fiery Reception

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From IBEW Media Center:

Verizon sent a letter April 15 to all of its striking workers with instructions on how to scab.

Across social media, they responded with pictures and videos of letters in flames, in pieces, in compost bins and toilets and, in one case, lining a box of kitty litter. 

“I have worked for Verizon for 35 years and been through five strikes. I have never seen anything like this letter before,” said East Windsor, N.J., Local 827 Business Manager Bob Speer. “This letter is not the communication an employer has with an employee. This is not a company bargaining about pensions or money. This is a company telling our unions how to destroy itself and I take this very personally.”

More than 40,000 men and women are on strike, 30,000 from the Communication Workers of America and nearly 10,000 members of the IBEW, since April 13.

In past strikes, letters from the company contained information about when benefits would run out, how to pay for continued coverage under COBRA laws and similar work related topics.

The letter from Verizon’s human resources Vice President Karyn Stetz began arriving early this week, also came in an envelope labeled “Important Strike Information.” Inside, however, there was no employment related information, only a mock Q&A that answers questions like “What if I choose to work during the strike?” and “If I choose to resign my union membership, how do I do so?”

Rob Rovero has been with Verizon as a cable maintenance technician for 22 years, the last 15 as a steward. He said that everyone walking the picket line at the Riverdale, N.J., work center has received the letter.

“It is frustrating because we live here. Our parents raised us here. And all we are looking to do is provide a life so our kids can live here too,” Rovero said. “Then we get this letter –at our homes-- and it doesn’t say anything about negotiating. This speaks specifically and only about how to get around a picket line. This letter spits at union labor.”

Rovero’s letter still sits at home, but he is considering joining those that simply wrote “Return to Sender; no scabs here” on the envelope and slipping it back in the mail.

“This country was built on unions. Hard working middle class people built this company,” he said. “They think by sending a diagram about how you turn your back on the people you work with we will? It strengthens our resolve to stick together.”

Read more from IBEW Media Center.

I'm a Verizon employee. Here's why I'm on strike

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

From The Guardian:

by Jazmin Sypher

I’m a solutions specialist at a Verizon Wireless store in Brooklyn, New York. I help customers start their service, upgrade their phones and fix any problems they’re having.

Solving problems is my profession. So when my co-workers and I had problems at our store with low pay, few benefits and ever-expanding workloads, we didn’t throw up our hands – we found a solution.

In 2014, we joined together and formed a union. We saw how the union workers on Verizon’s wireline side – the employees who install Fios broadband and maintain the company’s copper lines – were able to maintain a decent standard of living for their families. We workers on the wireless side felt it was only fair to join with them and win improvements as well.

Verizon’s executives felt differently, and they’ve fought us ferociously. Two years after I and 100 other wireless workers voted to come together in the union, Verizon is still refusing to settle a fair first contract with us.

Even though we wireless workers are a small sliver of the nearly 40,000 workers on strike right now from Massachusetts to Virginia, our inability to win a first contract is one of the strike’s biggest issues — and one Verizon doesn’t want people to hear about.

Verizon’s executives are desperate to stop the tens of thousands of other wireless workers from joining together in our union. By denying most of us collective bargaining, they’ve been able to worsen our job conditions, and keep our pay low, while they pump up the company’s profits higher and higher.

We used to have technicians in our store to help customers needing tech support, but Verizon eliminated their jobs. Solutions specialists like me have had to fill their shoes. Because I also do sales – and depend on sales commissions to supplement my base pay of $13.48 an hour – having to spend that extra time on tech support has really cut into my earnings. Fixing that problem is just a basic matter of fairness.

And Verizon has the money to treat us fairly. The company has made $39bn in profits over the past three years. CEO Lowell McAdam got $18m in compensationlast year. That’s some 300 times more than the average Verizon Wireless worker.

Read more from The Guardian.

Uber Settles Cases With Concessions, but Drivers Stay Freelancers

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

From The New York Times:

by Mike Isaac and Noam Scheiber

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has long been embroiled in a debate over the status of its drivers: Should they be independent contractors or full-time employees?

Uber says that as independent contractors, its drivers get flexibility. Their freelancer status also lets the company sidestep the costs of full-time employees, including paying minimum wage and the employers’ share ofSocial Security. But labor groups and lawyers have argued that Uber drivers should be classified as employees to receive worker protections.

On Thursday, Uber moved a step closer to getting its way. The companyreached a settlement in a pair of class-action lawsuits in California and Massachusetts that will let it continue to categorize drivers in those states as independent contractors — a landmark agreement that could have lasting implications for the long-term viability of the ride-hailing service.

Under the settlement, filed in the United States District Court in the Northern District of California, Uber will pay as much as $100 million to the roughly 385,000 drivers represented in the cases. The company also agreed to several concessions to appease driver concerns, including giving more information on how and why drivers are barred from using the app, as well as aiding in creating new “drivers associations” in both states.

“Importantly, the case is being settled — not decided,” Shannon Liss-Riordan, the attorney representing the drivers in the suit, said in a statement.

“This case, however, with this significant payment of money, and attention that has been drawn to this issue, stands as a stern warning to companies who play fast and loose with classifying their work force as independent contractors,” Ms. Liss-Riordan said.

The settlement is a significant victory for Uber on the matter of its drivers’ status. By keeping its drivers as contractors, the San Francisco-based company can keep its costs low. And while the settlement applies only to two states and is nonbinding elsewhere, the agreement and the changes that Uber is adopting may influence regulators in other places where the issue has surfaced.

“Drivers value their independence — the freedom to push a button rather than punch a clock, to use Uber and Lyft simultaneously, to drive most of the week or for just a few hours,” Travis Kalanick, chief executive of Uber, said in a company blog post announcing the settlement.

“That said, as Uber has grown — over 450,000 drivers use the app each month here in the U.S. — we haven’t always done a good job working with drivers,” he wrote. “It’s time to change.”

The agreement, which is subject to approval by Judge Edward M. Chen, who is presiding over the cases, says Uber must pay $84 million to the plaintiffs represented in the case. Uber will dispense an additional $16 million if the company holds an initial public offering and the average valuation of Uber increases to one and a half times that of its last financing round. In December 2015, Uber was valued at $62.5 billion, making it the most valuable private technology company in the world.

The class actions that are being settled were originally filed in 2013 and became the biggest suits in terms of the number of drivers represented. Uber still faces litigation about driver status in other states, including similar lawsuits in Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania. Last June, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office said Barbara Ann Berwick, a former driver for Uber, should have been classified as an employee, not an independent contractor. That case, which does not apply to drivers other than Ms. Berwick, is being appealed by Uber.

The settlement’s changes are aimed at reducing points of contention for drivers. In the past, Uber has been able to boot drivers from its platform with little explanation, something that Uber said it would no longer be able to do. The company published a lengthy document detailing all the reasons a driver may be deactivated, from unsafe driving and carrying a firearm — which is prohibited — to using drugs and alcohol.

Uber said it would also provide drivers with more information about their ratings system — a measurement based upon individual scores from passengers — and how ratings were calculated. The company is exploring creating an appeals process for Uber drivers who have been deactivated because of a low rating.

Uber also agreed not to deactivate drivers who regularly decline to accept requests for rides from passengers, a practice that previously would contribute negatively to a driver’s overall standing with the company. Instead, drivers may be temporarily logged out of the app and unable to accept new requests if they are “consistently not accepting trip requests.”

“We know that sometimes things come up that prevent you from accepting every trip request, but not accepting dispatches causes delays and degrades the reliability of the system,” the company said in its newly published driver deactivation policy.

Uber penalizes drivers who accept trips from riders and then cancel them shortly thereafter. Each city will have a maximum cancellation rate based on the average cancellation rate of the drivers in the area, the company said. It could eventually deactivate those who persistently exceed the rate.

Uber said many of the changes were a part of its overall maturation process, as it has grown from a small start-up to a global organization in roughly six years.

Yet many of the policy changes Uber announced as part of its settlement — particularly changes to its protocol on deactivating drivers over their cancellation and acceptance rates — appear designed to defuse the plaintiffs’ arguments that Uber drivers should be classified as employees rather than independent contractors, as the company maintains.

“This is Uber relinquishing a small amount of control in two areas where critics have argued that the Uber-driver relationship looks like hiring and firing,” said Seth Harris, a former deputy labor secretary in the Obama administration and co-author of a recent paper arguing that Uber drivers occupy an ambiguous middle ground between contractor and employee.

“It’s a tweaking of the relationship to move the classification closer to the factors that define independent contractor and a little bit further away from factors that define employee.”

Other legal experts said that Uber drivers would appear to retain many of the characteristics of employees even under the company’s proposed changes.

For example, the fact that drivers whose acceptance rates are too low could be shut out of the app for short periods of time, and that those with unacceptably high cancellation rates could eventually be deactivated from the platform, may suggest a level of control that is normally reserved for employees rather than contractors.

“Ultimately this is a deterrent to drivers actually refusing to accept trips,” said Rachel Bien, an employment lawyer at Outten & Golden LLP who has litigated similar cases. “If it’s the kind of business that needs a driver to be at a certain place at a certain time regularly, it’s not a business that’s suitable for independent contractors, who should have the freedom to choose which jobs they want to do and when they want to do them.”

Ms. Bien also points out that unlike what is frequently the case with true contractors, Uber drivers will not be able to negotiate the price of the service they provide customers. They will also continue to be deactivated if their ratings from customers are low and don’t improve.

The proposal to create an association of drivers in California and Massachusetts that would meet with company officials quarterly to discuss issues of importance to drivers also raised eyebrows in some quarters.

Read more from The New York Times.

The Dark Side of Immigration Discretion

0 Comment(s) | Posted | by Ian Pajer-Rogers |

Annette Bernhardt/Flickr

From The New York Times:

The Supreme Court heard arguments this week over the Obama administration’s use of prosecutorial discretion to protect some unauthorized immigrants from deportation. It is a momentous debate about presidential power, and the lives of millions hang in the balance. Lost in the hubbub is a parallel struggle, taking place far from Washington, in places like Georgia and North Carolina. It involves the administration’s efforts to crack down on recent migrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Though their numbers are relatively small, the way they are being treated poses a critical moral test for the administration — a test it is failing.

Those three countries are among the most violent corners of our hemisphere. El Salvador is the world’s murder capital. Honduras and Guatemala are not far behind. All are plagued by an epidemic of killings of women and children — by gang and drug warfare and by political oppression. The United States remains a rich and stable neighbor, more than capable of helping to stabilize the region and of welcoming and protecting the desperate people who have fled by the thousands to the Texas border.

Instead, it offered Operation Border Guardian, a grossly misnamed immigration-enforcement surge that went after people this country did not need to guard against. It began in January and lasted a month, but its damage is still being felt. Among its tens of thousands of targets were more than 300 recent migrants from Central America, youths who crossed the border without their parents and turned 18 in the United States, thus losing some of the protections granted to unaccompanied minors. After they lost their cases to win asylum or other protection and were ordered deported by immigration courts, Immigration and Customs Enforcement hunted them down.

In a country that has been losing its bearings on immigration, this effort taints all who touch it, from the ICE director, Sarah Saldaña, to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, to President Obama himself.

Mr. Johnson defended the operation last month. “We must and we will enforce the law in accordance with our enforcement priorities,” he said. But human rights advocates have been pushing back, saying the administration is treating a humanitarian emergency like a border-security problem, and should be doing far more to protect those who have sought to escape horrific violence back home. Congress recently approved a $750 million Central American aid package to save lives in the region. But more arrivals are expected, even as those already here struggle to remain. The largely volunteer effort to help them navigate immigration court is a fragile patchwork, with too many cases, too few lawyers and too little justice.

While legal advocates have been scrambling, ICE has been running amok, raiding homes and public spaces in search of deportable youths. In North Carolina and Georgia, where organized advocacy is sparse, the dragnet has been unusually aggressive. Agents seized students at home and on their way to school. Appalled teachers, students and community leaders have been signing petitions and marching, pleading for justice and putting a human face on the victims of coldblooded policies: Wildin Acosta, still in detention, as his appeal proceeds. Kimberly Pineda-Chavez, arrested on her way to school. Yefri Sorto-Hernandez, arrested at his school bus stop. Jose Alfaro-Lainez, deported to El Salvador on April 13. Jaime Arceno-Hernandez, scheduled to be deported on April 27.

Students are being locked up while they appeal deportation orders, though they pose no threat of violence or flight. Ms. Saldaña has rebuffed pleas for mercy, saying the administration — which has flown more than 28,000 people back to Central America since October — needs “to send a message” that the borders are closed to illegal immigration. But pleading for refuge is not illegal. More than 100 members of Congress have denounced the raids. Both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have pledged not to deport children if they win the presidency.

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