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The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death

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From The New Yorker:

by Jia Tolentino

Last September, a very twenty-first-century type of story appeared on the company blog of the ride-sharing app Lyft. “Long-time Lyft driver and mentor, Mary, was nine months pregnant when she picked up a passenger the night of July 21st,” the post began. “About a week away from her due date, Mary decided to drive for a few hours after a day of mentoring.” You can guess what happened next.

Mary, who was driving in Chicago, picked up a few riders, and then started having contractions. “Since she was still a week away from her due date,” wrote Lyft, “she assumed they were simply a false alarm and continued driving.” As the contractions continued, Mary decided to drive to the hospital. “Since she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet,” Lyft went on, “she stayed in driver mode, and sure enough—ping!— she received a ride request en route to the hospital.”

“Luckily,” as Lyft put it, the passenger requested a short trip. After completing it, Mary went to the hospital, where she was informed that she was in labor. She gave birth to a daughter, whose picture appears in the post. (She’s wearing a “Little Miss Lyft” onesie.) The post concludes with a call for similar stories: “Do you have an exciting Lyft story you’d love to share? Tweet us your story at @lyft_CHI!”

Mary’s story looks different to different people. Within the ghoulishly cheerful Lyft public-relations machinery, Mary is an exemplar of hard work and dedication—the latter being, perhaps, hard to come by in a company that refuses to classify its drivers as employees. Mary’s entrepreneurial spirit—taking ride requests while she was in labor!—is an “exciting” example of how seamless and flexible app-based employment can be. Look at that hustle! You can make a quick buck with Lyft anytime, even when your cervix is dilating.

Lyft does not provide its drivers paid maternity leave or health insurance. (It offers to connect drivers with an insurance broker, and helpfully notes that “the Affordable Care Act offers many choices to make sure you’re covered.”) A third-party platform called SherpaShare, which some drivers use to track their earnings, found, in 2015, that Lyft drivers in Chicago net about eleven dollars per trip. Perhaps, as Lyft suggests, Mary kept accepting riders while experiencing contractions because “she was still a week away from her due date,” or “she didn’t believe she was going into labor yet.” Or maybe Mary kept accepting riders because the gig economy has further normalized the circumstances in which earning an extra eleven dollars can feel more important than seeking out the urgent medical care that these quasi-employers do not sponsor. In the other version of Mary’s story, she’s an unprotected worker in precarious circumstances. “I can’t pretend to know Mary’s economic situation,” wrote Bryan Menegus at Gizmodo, when the story first appeared. “Maybe she’s an heiress who happens to love the freedom of chauffeuring strangers from place to place on her own schedule. But that Lyft, for some reason, thought that this would reflect kindly on them is perhaps the most horrifying part.”

It does require a fairly dystopian strain of doublethink for a company to celebrate how hard and how constantly its employees must work to make a living, given that these companies are themselves setting the terms. And yet this type of faux-inspirational tale has been appearing more lately, both in corporate advertising and in the news. Fiverr, an online freelance marketplace that promotes itself as being for “the lean entrepreneur”—as its name suggests, services advertised on Fiverr can be purchased for as low as five dollars—recently attracted ire for an ad campaign called “In Doers We Trust.” One ad, prominently displayed on some New York City subway cars, features a woman staring at the camera with a look of blank determination. “You eat a coffee for lunch,” the ad proclaims. “You follow through on your follow through. Sleep deprivation is your drug of choice. You might be a doer.”

Fiverr, which had raised a hundred and ten million dollars in venture capital by November, 2015, has more about the “In Doers We Trust” campaign on its Web site. In one video, a peppy female voice-over urges “doers” to “always be available,” to think about beating “the trust-fund kids,” and to pitch themselves to everyone they see, including their dentist. A Fiverr press release about “In Doers We Trust” states, “The campaign positions Fiverr to seize today’s emerging zeitgeist of entrepreneurial flexibility, rapid experimentation, and doing more with less. It pushes against bureaucratic overthinking, analysis-paralysis, and excessive whiteboarding.” This is the jargon through which the essentially cannibalistic nature of the gig economy is dressed up as an aesthetic. No one wants to eat coffee for lunch or go on a bender of sleep deprivation—or answer a call from a client while having sex, as recommended in the video. It’s a stretch to feel cheerful at all about the Fiverr marketplace, perusing the thousands of listings of people who will record any song, make any happy-birthday video, or design any book cover for five dollars. I’d guess that plenty of the people who advertise services on Fiverr would accept some “whiteboarding” in exchange for employer-sponsored health insurance.

At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear. Human-interest stories about the beauty of some person standing up to the punishments of late capitalism are regular features in the news, too. I’ve come to detest the local-news set piece about the man who walks ten or eleven or twelve miles to work—a story that’s been filed from Oxford, Alabama; from Detroit, Michigan; from Plano, Texas. The story is always written as a tearjerker, with praise for the person’s uncomplaining attitude; a car is usually donated to the subject in the end. Never mentioned or even implied is the shamefulness of a job that doesn’t permit a worker to afford his own commute.

There’s a painful distance between the chipper narratives surrounding labor and success in America and the lived experience of workers. 

Read more from The New Yorker

Trump's immoral budget

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From National Catholic Reporter:

by Michael Sean Winters 

In a federal budget document, the words "social justice" do not appear. In fact, the most basic terms by which we discuss morality, "right" and "wrong," do not appear either. Yet, a government's budget is a profoundly moral document, containing as it must the priorities being put forward on behalf of we the people, evidencing the values we are trying to advance and what common efforts we think are worth funding.

The Trump administration's budget proposal is profoundly immoral.

The dominant fact of the budget is that the White House wants to vastly increase military spending and to achieve that goal it is calling for cuts of equal size in the rest of the budget. Pentagon budgets have been on a bit of a roller coaster in the past fifty years. After declining in the 1970s from Vietnam-era levels, Ronald Reagan increased military spending in the 1980s when it reached 6.8 percent of Gross Domestic Product. It came down throughout the 1990s after the Communist empire collapsed. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, spending rose again reaching 5.7 percent in 2011, after which it has declined steadily due in large part to the government sequester legislation passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.

The United States spends vastly more on its military than any other country. In fact, we spend more on the military than the next seven countries combined. We are not currently engaged in a major ground war. Certain weapons systems need updating, to be sure, and there are always cost savings to be had if you shake the Pentagon procurement tree. Adding $54 billion in defense spending makes no sense, it meets no need except Trump’s rhetorical complaint during the campaign that Obama had hollowed out the military. That claim, like so many others, was false. There is a deeper discussion about the morality of military spending, to be sure. I am probably more hawkish than most of my colleagues here at NCR. I am not opposed to maintaining a robust military posture, but sanity demands that we recognize we probably spend too much, not too little, on the military already.

To afford this windfall, President Trump has taken aim at a variety of programs, some more worthy of maintenance than others. Anyone genuinely concerned about U.S. leadership in the world would recognize the foolishness of cutting the State Department budget by 29 percent. Mr. Trump should especially understand the value of soft power: During the campaign, we were repeatedly told by political experts that he lacked the organization to win certain states, but he knew that his Twitter account was more powerful than a slew of field offices. The U.S., to say nothing of the world, gets its return on the dollar for every dime spent on public diplomacy.

I shall offer one controversial observation here: I almost hope they really do eliminate all foreign aid. For years, Americans have been fed a lie by conservative populist politicians who complain about the amount of money the nation dedicates to foreign aid. In 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey that asked people how much they thought we spent and the average of the guesses was 26 percent. The actual figure is about 1 percent, and that money is divided about equally between security assistance and humanitarian and economic aid. So, let's get rid of it all for a couple of years and take away the big lie for good. Of course, I can't really mean that because that pittance we spend is critical in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases, keeps the Peace Corps up and running, and helps a variety of anti-poverty programs that save people's lives at very little expense.

The cuts to the Department of Labor are equally troubling: The Trump budgets plans to cut their budget by a total of 21 percent, and the programs they are targeting are especially important. "Even a cursory review of which Department of Labor programs the Administration intends to cut or eliminate shows its true intentions to sell out the nation's working people to the same old special interest parasites that have been feasting on the fruits of labor for decades," said Laura Barrett, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice in a statement. "Proposed cuts to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) — the agency charged with ensuring workplaces are in compliance with safety regulations — are particularly galling." Galling and a bit surprising. Does Mr. Trump think that all those blue collar voters who went to the polls for him want to work in an unsafe environment? Does he think they have the wherewithal to fight lawsuits on their own behalf without the benefit of unions his Republican friends are trying to kneecap or the Department of Labor and its oversight capacity?

Read more from the National Catholic Reporter.

Labor Nominee Says He Won't Let Politics Influence Hiring

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From CNBC:

President Donald Trump's nominee to lead the Labor Department said Wednesday he won't allow potential political pressure from the administration to influence his hiring decisions and regrets he let that happen on his watch at the Justice Department.

But Alexander Acosta, testifying before the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said little about what he would do about overtime pay and other issues if confirmed for the job. He would be the first Hispanic member of Trump's Cabinet and is Trump's second choice for the post, after fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name.

Ultimately, Acosta said, the president would be his "boss."

Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, said that's what concerns her.

The Florida International University law school dean, whose career was touched by a political hiring scandal while he led the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush, said he's "very aware" that the department's internal watchdog criticized him for insufficiently supervising a subordinate.

"I deeply regret it," said Acosta.

Murray asked whether Acosta would stand up to any political pressure from Trump. Acosta's reply: "Political views on the hiring of career attorneys for staff should not be used. If I am asked to do that I will not allow it."

Acosta declined to outline many policies he would pursue, though he did speak in favor of the youth training program Job Corps. For example, he would not say whether he would defend the rule extending overtime pay to some 4 million more people that had been blocked last year by a federal court in Texas. Nor would he say which other rules and regulations he would pull back, noting that Trump ordered Cabinet secretaries to review them.

"I think it's important that we eliminate regulations that are not serving a useful purpose," he said under questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

The committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., made clear he wants dozens of Obama-era rules overturned, including the prospect of overtime that he said would burden businesses.

"One rule after another has stacked a big, wet blanket of costs and time-consuming mandates on job creators, causing them to create fewer jobs," Alexander said.

Introducing Acosta were two 2016 presidential nominees, both Hispanic, were lost to Trump. GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas said Acosta was qualified to head the Labor Department.

Acosta, the 48-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate three times — to the National Labor Relations Board, to lead the Justice Department's civil rights division and to become South Florida's federal prosecutor.

That means nominee has received some screening, a fact Trump and Senate Republicans have cited.

At the hearing, Democrats furnished reminders of Puzder's doomed nomination. He withdrew from consideration on the eve of his confirmation hearing after questions about his hiring of a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and about other issues. Puzder could not get enough Republican support to be confirmed.

Read more from CNBC.

60 Congregations in the D.C. Metro Pledge to Provide Sanctuary

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A group of marchers moves from the US Capitol towards the Lincoln Memorial grounds for the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, DC

ep_jhu/Flickr

From Sojourners:

By  Catherine Woodiwiss

Nearly 50 ministers, priests, and leaders of faith marched through the streets of Washington, D.C., today, declaring their pledge to provide sanctuary to immigrants in the community.

The march signified the launch of a network of more than 60 congregations from 17 religious traditions — Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and more — in the D.C-Maryland-Virginia area, Sanctuary DMV, that will work to provide support to those in their communities and pews who fear being profiled, detained, or deported. “Our faith will not let us permit the criminalization and scapegoating of immigrants and people of color,” the Facebook event, "Sanctuary for All, Safety for All," announced. The congregations have also committed to receiving and providing trainings for their congregants, including briefings on federal policy, "know your rights" fact sheets, rapid response, and accompaniment for immigrants going to ICE appointments. 

This sanctuary launch comes in the context of rising concern over President Trump’s statements on immigration and a rise in raids by Immigration Customs Enforcement, some seeming to infringe upon directives outlined in an Obama-era Sensitive Locations Memo, which prohibits targeting schools, hospitals, sites of funerals, sites of public demonstration, and places of worship except under extenuating and urgent circumstances.

A recent ICE raid outside a Virginia church's hypothermia shelter sparked outrage that the memo was being disregarded. And last week, California's chief justice asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to stop ICE agents from "stalking" courthouses to make arrests. 

ICE says it removed or returned 240,255 individuals in fiscal year 2016, nearly 5,000 more deportations than in 2015. In January, officials arrested hundreds of immigrants in coordinated raids across six states, in what marked "the first large-scale enforcement of President Trump’s Jan. 25 order to crack down on the estimated 11 million immigrants living here illegally," according to the Washington Post.

Pastor Chaim "C.J" Abramowitz Rodriguez, pastor of the Latino-Hispanic congregation at the National City Christian Church, says concerns about detainment and deportation run high in his flock.

"Many of our congregants have been directly affected by these measures from this administration," he told Sojourners. "Many are scared. Many are worried. Many know people who are undocumented. There's a general fear and they want to know that the church is a safe space where they can take refuge." 

Other pastors highlighted the intersectional realities of rising detentions and deportations. Rev. William H. Lamar IV, pastor Metropolitan AME, explained his involvement:

"People have asked, 'Why do you stand with these people?' Because black bodies have been assaulted since we first came to this state. And they are continuously assaulted. What we know is, if we are silent when brown bodies are assaulted, when gay bodies are assaulted, when trans bodies are assaulted, when female bodies are assaulted, then all of us remain in prison and in bondage."

One immigrant at the march, a woman named Veronica, faces possible deportation on April 4. Veronica came to the U.S. from Mexico 17 years ago, seeking medical surgery for her young son Juan, who was born with a heart defect. She is married to a U.S. vet. Her story mirrors thousands of others, said Richard Morales of PICO National Network.  

"There's one reason this is happening, and that's because our families are being torn apart. We as a faith community have a moral obligation to stand up against unjust laws," he said. 

There is now concern that ICE raids may target self-declared “sanctuary cities.” Just yesterday, a judge in Austin revealed that an ICE sting in January was “retribution for a new policy by Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez that dramatically limited her cooperation with them,” according to the Austin American-Statesman.

While the term sanctuary is widely understood to mean offering physcial sanctuary, Sanctuary DMV participating congregations are pledging to offer a variety of support to immigrants and communities targeted by the Trump administration. The New York City New Sanctuary Coalition defines "sanctuary" as moral, spiritual, financial, legal, and sometimes physical support to prevent deportation. Churches participating in the sanctuary movement may offer accompaniment to ICE check-ins, legal advice during proceedings, financial aid in securing representation or childcare, or simply the spiritual and emotional support of a congregation that values each member of the body.

Read more from Sojourners

Latinos Are Reporting Fewer Sexual Assaults Amid a Climate of Fear in Immigrant Communities, LAPD Says

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Members of the South Central Farm attending the immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles California on May Day, 2006. The banner, in Spanish, reads "No human being is illegal".

From the Los Angeles Times:

By James Queally 

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday that reports of sexual assault and domestic violence made by the city’s Latino residents have plummeted this year amid concerns that immigrants in the country illegally could risk deportation by interacting with police or testifying in court.

Beck said reports of sexual assault have dropped 25% among the city’s Latino population since the beginning of 2017 compared with the same period last year, adding that reports of domestic violence have fallen by 10%. Similar decreases were not seen in reports of those crimes by other ethnic groups, Beck said.

“Imagine, a young woman, imagine your daughter, your sister, your mother … not reporting a sexual assault, because they are afraid that their family will be torn apart,” Beck said.

Beck’s comments — which drew criticism from immigration enforcement advocates — came during an event in East Los Angeles in which Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an executive directive expanding the LAPD’s policy of not stopping people solely to question them about their immigration status to three other city agencies: the Fire Department, Airport Police and Port Police. The LAPD stopped initiating contacts with people in order to determine their immigration status in 1979. In 2014, the city ceased honoring requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hold people in custody for possible deportation.

“We want to focus on serious crime, but we also want to focus on making more citizens, not more criminals,” Garcetti said.

For months, law enforcement leaders across the U.S. have expressed fear that aggressive immigration enforcement promised by President Trump’s administration would weaken the already shaky bond between minority communities and police. In recent weeks, reports that ICE agents have identified themselves as police officers during raids and made arrests in courthouses have caused some to wonder whether immigrants in the country illegally will refuse to cooperate with police as a result.

In a statement released late Tuesday, ICE spokeswoman Virginia C. Kice dismissed Beck’s comments as speculative, pointing out that crime victims and witnesses who are in the country illegally are sometimes offered special visas. Federal officials also take a person’s status as a crime victim into consideration when debating whether to pursue deportation proceedings, she said.

“The inference by Los Angeles officials that the agency’s execution of its mission is undermining public safety is outrageous and wrongheaded,” Kice said. “In fact, the greater threat to public safety is local law enforcement’s continuing unwillingness to honor immigration detainers. Rather than transferring convicted criminal aliens to ICE custody as requested, agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, are routinely releasing these offenders back onto the street to potentially reoffend, and their victims are often other members of the immigrant community.”

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates for immigration restrictions, said she was concerned that Beck had rushed to conflate immigration enforcement with a local crime issue. It would be very difficult, she said, to argue that the decrease in reports from the Latino community is not simply the result of fewer assaults being committed.

“It’s highly premature to conclude that this decline in reports has anything at all to do with immigration,” Vaughan said.

Beck stopped short of blaming the dip in crime reporting solely on Trump’s immigration policies but said there was a “strong correlation” between the timing of the decrease and the panic among the city’s immigrant population. He expressed concern that ICE’s actions might deter crime victims who are in the country illegally from coming forward.

Latino victims reported 123 sexual assaults between Jan. 1 and March 18 compared with 164 in the same time frame last year, according to crime statistics released by the LAPD. By comparison, sexual assaults reported by non-Latino victims dropped from 228 to 221, a decrease of roughly 3%.

The number of spousal abuse complaints made by Latinos fell from 1,210 last year to 1,092 in that same time frame this year, according to the LAPD data. Reports of spousal abuse among non-Latinos slid from 1,217 to 1,165, a decline of about 4%.

Jennie Pasquarella, director of immigrants’ rights for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the decline in reporting is an obvious consequence of Trump’s tough talk on immigration and the increasingly aggressive stance taken by ICE and other immigration enforcement agencies.

“I think that these two sets of crimes are very good measures of the impact that the current climate is having on people’s ability to come out of the shadows and report crimes, particularly for these kinds of crimes, which already are underreported,” she said.

It was not clear if other cities in California were seeing similar declines. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was not immediately able to provide comparable statistics. Police officials in Long Beach and Anaheim said their agencies do not track crimes by the ethnicity of the reporting victim.

Oakland police said the number of sexual assaults reported in the city this year has remained almost identical compared with 2016, but the agency could not provide ethnic data on victims. Cpl. Anthony Bertagna, a Santa Ana police spokesman, said the number of sexual assaults and domestic violence cases reported in the majority-Latino city has remained static so far in 2017.

Still, officials in other areas of the country have said that ICE’s tactics have deterred some crime victims from coming forward. In the last few weeks, city officials in Denver and El Paso, Texas, have said several women in the country illegally who were seeking restraining orders against alleged abusers withdrew those requests for fear they would be arrested at the courthouse by ICE agents.

Read more from the Los Angeles Times.

What to Expect When You're Expecting Acosta as Labor Secretary

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From Bloomberg:

by Josh Eidelson

By the time President Donald Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary withdrew from consideration, there was little doubt where he stood on the big issues facing the department.

In contrast, his replacement, Alexander Acosta, heads into his hearing Wednesday with far more experience in government, but comparatively opaque views on key matters he’ll face at the Labor Department -- including choices that could reshape conditions for millions of U.S. workers and stoke conflicts within Trump’s base.

Now the dean of Florida International University’s law school, Acosta served under George W. Bush as a member of the National Labor Relations Board before moving to the Justice Department. During his eight months at the labor board, Acosta sided frequently with management, including in a controversial 2003 decision that found it was legal for a clinic to fire nurses because they started a strike four hours later than they had said they would. But he hasn’t weighed in publicly on recent policy moves, such as overtime expansion, which Trump’s withdrawn nominee, CKE Restaurants Inc.Chief Executive Officer Andrew Puzder, inveighed against in op-eds and on television.

“I think the jury is out on who he is,” former Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu, who was appointed by Barack Obama, said of Acosta.

Lu is one of 20 former Labor Department officials who discussed Acosta, nearly all of whom said they expect him to bring a conservative approach more in line with Bush’s Labor chief Elaine Chao than her Obama-appointed successors. But none are certain what he’ll prioritize, or how he’ll navigate some thorny issues awaiting him at the Labor Department.

“Acosta, who is as traditional a conservative Republican as there is, will be caught in this back-and-forth between the populist Trump and the anti-regulatory, business-friendly Trump,” said former acting labor secretary Seth Harris, who served under Obama.

Jettisoning Obama

If Acosta is confirmed, among his most immediate decisions will be how to handle the Obama regulations that business groups have sued to stop, from stricter Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards for cancer-causing silica dust to expanded disclosure requirements for “union-busting” consultants. Republicans are also trying to undo recent Obama regulations, including a requirement that federal contractors disclose alleged labor law violations, via the Congressional Review Act

“Most members of the employer community cannot wait for the Department of Labor to jettison everything that happened in the last eight years,” said Paul DeCamp, a management attorney who ran the agency’s Wage and Hour Division under Bush.

Acosta was a management-side attorney and a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito before being tapped by Bush for the labor board.

Trump’s Labor Department has already released a proposed rule delaying Obama’s “fiduciary rule” requiring financial advisers to act in their clients’ best interests, which was slated to be implemented April 10. That delay, a potential prelude to repeal, was blasted by Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren, a member of the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions committee that is questioning Acosta on Wednesday.

Read more: Trump’s Second Pick for Labor Differs More in Style Than Policy

Acosta’s most challenging and revealing early decision, former Labor officials say, may be how he approaches Obama’s new overtime rule, which would extend coverage to millions of additional white-collar workers by doubling the salary threshold under which even employees designated as managers are owed time-and-a-half pay. Business groups have sued to stop the rule, and candidate Trump cited it as an example of burdensome regulation.

In Trump’s first week in office, the Justice Department asked an appeals court for additional time to consider its position on the rule, which is currently blocked by a preliminary injunction issued in November by a federal judge in Texas.

While the Trump Administration could simply cease defending the rule, that might not resolve the case because the court can grant the Texas AFL-CIO’s request to argue for the rule itself. Also, the language of the district court ruling goes so far that, unless it’s overruled, some management attorneys say the legality of the Bush Administration’s overtime rules could also be called into question.

Exempt Employees

A satisfactory resolution for the Trump Administration is likely to ultimately require a new round of formal rule-making, during which Acosta will get competing advice from fellow Republicans. Some will urge him to lower the salary threshold and also shift the rules in a more pro-management direction by re-writing the definitions of exempt employees’ duties; others, to simply rescind Obama’s changes and go back to the existing rules set in 2004; others, to place the salary threshold at some intermediate point in between Bush’s old salary threshold and Obama’s.

A new rule lowering the overtime threshold would itself be vulnerable to legal challenge, said former Obama Wage and Hour Division administrator David Weil, and politically volatile with Trump’s working class supporters. “This is a direct test of how serious are you about really remembering those folks who’ve been forgotten by the labor market,” said Weil, a Boston University business school professor who spearheaded the new rule at the Labor Department.

Enforcement Shifts

Along with overtime, said Harris, tensions between Trump’s populist rhetoric and pro-business side will play out over the guest worker programs that the Labor Department jointly administers, and is tasked with preventing from undermining wage standards. Acosta has taken a very different tone in the past than Trump, decrying the abuses he saw some undocumented immigrants experience when he was a federal prosecutor, and calling for comprehensive immigration reform.

Labor Department veterans expect that under Acosta, as in past Republican administrations, enforcement agencies will take a less punitive approach to companies, with a shift in emphasis towards working cooperatively. “They’ll definitely be moving more to compliance assistance, helping employers be safe, helping employers be successful,” said Ed Foulke, who ran the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under Bush and now represents companies as an attorney. “I don’t think you’ll see the really nasty press releases.”

Opinion Letter

Among the consequential, under-the-radar changes Acosta could make in enforcement would be reviving the “opinion letter” program, which provided companies individualized legal advice that they could use in court to defend themselves against subsequent lawsuits.

Republicans say the program provided clarity that helped improve compliance and avoid litigation; Obama officials, who ended the program in his first term, say it amounted to “Get out of jail free” cards. Acosta is also widely expected to quickly revoke or rewrite the Obama-era “Administrator’s Interpretation” letters that proffered a more progressive view of when workers count as employees rather than contractors, and when companies count as “joint employers” of sub-contracted staff.

Whatever Acosta wants to do will be complicated by Trump’s proposal for massive budget cuts, including a $2.6 billion reduction at Labor. "Being secretary of a department that is 21 percent less funded is a pretty significant change in his job description, and I would want to know what assurances he has about his ability to influence what that budget is going to look like," said Sharon Block, who served in the department under Obama.

One area where Republicans have historically focused more of the department’s enforcement resources is at the Office of Labor-Management Standards, which oversees the extensive reporting and disclosure requirements covering unions’ finances and operations. Congressional Republicans in recent years have also urged OLMS to start subjecting to review more non-traditional labor activist groups that aren’t bargaining collectively, like the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

Read more from Bloomberg.

Trump's immigration policy affects Hispanic church attendance

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From Christian Daily:

by Lorraine Caballero

U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial immigration policies are now affecting Hispanic churches in America, as some congregants have been opting to stay home rather than face the risk of being arrested while en route to church.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security announced Trump's new immigration plan which could get more undocumented workers arrested, detained or deported. Weekly attendance in some Hispanic churches in America has gone down in the wake of the implementation of the immigration measures, with many fearing that they could be separated from their family any time, Christianity Today relays.

Felix Cabrera, who leads the Iglesia Bautista Central in Oklahoma City, is one of the pastors in the U.S. who are now complaining about the effects of Trump's immigration policies on the church. He said being a pastor at this time has become more difficult than ever.

Based on a Pew Research Center study, half of Latino Christians in the U.S. are living in fear that they or a loved one would be deported. The findings also reflect that green card holders have the highest (71 percent) level of worry over deportation.

"The anxiety in Christian conservative, evangelical churches has grown exponentially, because many of our worshipers, many of the families we serve, many of the families in our pews, may very well lack the appropriate documentation, even though we have a don't ask don't tell policy," National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference president Samuel Rodriguez said in a press release.

When the new immigration policies were announced last month, Latino Victory Project president Cristobal Alex accused Trump of planning to "break up families" and take back their civil rights protection. In light of the situation, he vowed to come up with strategies to fight back against Trump's immigration measures, The New York Times reports.

In addition, Alex said Trump started his first day as president by targeting the Hispanic community with his new policies. Part of their plan to fight back is the establishment of sanctuary cities that will refuse to fully cooperate with authorities that might detain illegal immigrants.

Read more from Christian Daily

Trump’s Budget Endangers American Workers

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From The Huffington Post:

by Leo W. Gerard

After the president issued a budget last week slashing and burning environmental, labor and educational programs, the guy responsible for the thing, Mick Mulvaney, contended those financial massacres are the heart’s desire of the “steelworker in Ohio, the coal-mining family in West Virginia, the mother of two in Detroit.”

Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, asserted that members of my union, the United Steelworkers (USW), coal miners and urban parents are eager to kill off Public Broadcasting’s Big Bird, to drink lead-laden water, to breathe cough-inducing air and to work among life-threatening dangers.

This illustrates a complete lack of knowledge of the working and living conditions of huge swaths of Americans. Big Bird and Mr. Rogers are way more popular than Congress. Americans would much rather pay their freight than the wages of politicians. Americans are horrified by the poisoned water in Flint, Mich., and are willing to invest in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that would prevent such health hazards. And steelworkers and coal miners have seen dismemberment and death on the job and don’t want the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) eliminated or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) decimated.

Americans balk at a budget that renders them less safe in their homes and workplaces.

The entire function of the CSB, which Mulvaney claimsAmericanswantabolished,isworkerandpublic safety. It investigates catastrophic incidents and recommends changes to prevent recurrence. It doesn’t fine corporationsorrevokelicenses. It advocates for safety. Its annual budget is $11 million. Not billion, $11 million.

Many incidents the CSB investigates are calamities. In 2005, a Texas City refinery, then owned by BP, exploded. The blast killed 15 workers and injured 180. Many of those killed were receiving training in trailers located near the unit that detonated. The CSB recommended refiners conduct instruction as far as possible away from dangerous processes, and the industry has largely complied.

It’s not just workers injured in these incidents. More than 15,000 Richmond, Calif., residents sought medical treatment for breathing problems, chest pain, sore throats and headaches after an Aug. 6, 2012 fire at a Chevron refinery sent toxic smoke billowing for 10 miles. Residents sheltered in place, but the smoke still seeped into buildings. Among the many recommendations CSB made after investigating this incident was that refineries replace pipes made of a material susceptible to corrosion, which again, the industry has tried to do.

After a 2015 explosion at an ExxonMobil Corp. refinery in Torrance, Calif., that injured two workers, the CSB found a much deadlier incident had been narrowly averted. Large pieces of debris from the blast that had the force of a 1.7 magnitude earthquake had nearly struck a tank containing thousands of pounds of deadly hydrofluoric acid. The explosion rained chemical ash around the plant for two miles. Release of the acid into the atmosphere could have chemically burned or killed everything living in that area.

The residents of Texas City, Torrance and Richmond don’t want the administration to evaporate the CSB. Nor do workers at refineries and chemical plants. And neither do refinery owners.

“I don’t think anyone in the industry wants to see the Chemical Safety Board be abolished,” Stephen Brown, a vice president with Tesoro Corp., told Bloomberg.

This endorsement of the CSB came from an executive of a corporation that the agency concluded in 2014 conducted deficient oversight of its Anacortes, Wash., refinery, continuing to operate it with severely cracked and degraded equipment to the point where an explosion occurred on April 2, 2010, killing seven workers.

The cost of an incident like the one at Anacortes could be more than $100 million, by the time the corporation pays fines, victim compensation and reconstruction fees. That’s more than nine times the annual budget of the CSB. And the money doesn’t erase victims’ pain.

Mike Wright, director of the USW’s Health, Safety and Environment Department, explained how crucial the CSB is to workers and community members:

“Its recommendations have certainly made the industry safer and helped prevent major chemical accidents. The CSB’s work has saved the lives of workers in chemical plants and oil refineries, residents who could be caught in a toxic cloud, even students in high school chemistry labs.”

The CSB was created in 1990 as part of the Clean Air Act, and that might be its Achilles heel. The agency suffering the hugest hack in the Mulvaney budget is the EPA. It would lose nearly a third of its funding.

A big reason for that is the administration’s rejection of science showing the human impact on climate change.

“Regarding the question as to climate change, I think the president was fairly straightforward – we’re not spending money on that anymore. We consider that to be a waste of your money to go out and do that,” Mulvaney said.

Read more from The Huffington Post

The Federal Budget: What It Could Mean for Occupational Safety, Health and the Environment

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Photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais

From EHS Today:

by Sandy Smith

White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney calls “FY 2018 America First - A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” – President Donald Trump’s first budget – “fairly compassionate.” But with a number of federal programs aimed at the elderly, children, workers and the environment facing deep cuts or complete elimination, environment, health and safety (EHS) professionals and others are concerned, particularly when combined with several Executive Orders signed since Trump took office.

When questioned by CNN’s Jim Acosta, Mulvaney said the budget “simply reallocates and reprioritizes spending as any family or business would do,” adding that the budget reflects Trump’s campaign promises to prioritize national defense and homeland security, including immigration reform.

But with deep cuts and even elimination proposed for a number of programs, including EPA, the Department of Labor, the Department of Transportation, Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health and the Chemical Safety Board, the proposed Trump budget makes a statement about the administration’s priorities.

The Department of Labor is facing a budget cut of $2.5 billion, nearly 21 percent of its total budget. If approved, this will result in cuts to:

  • Job training/employment/re-employment services.
  • Senior Community Service Employment Program (eliminated)
  • Job Corps
  • Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) grants (eliminated)
  • OSHA’s Susan Harwood Training Grant Program (eliminated)

“Working people in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin didn’t vote for a budget that slashes workforce training and fails to invest in our nation’s infrastructure,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “President Trump’s proposed budget attempts to balance the budget on the backs of working families. The $54 billion cut to programs that benefit working families is dangerous and destructive. Huge cuts to the departments of Labor, Education and Transportation will make workplaces less safe, put more children at risk and make improving our failing infrastructure much more difficult. The administration can and should do better.”

Laura Barrett, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice, called the proposed budget “a sellout of working people,” and took particular issue with cuts to the OSHA budget.

“Proposed cuts to (OSHA) – the agency charged with ensuring workplaces are in compliance with safety regulations – are particularly galling,” said Barrett. “Currently, there is only one OSHA inspector for every 59,000 working people in the nation, making it impossible for OSHA to inspect each and every workplace in the country. Instead, the most cost-effective way to prevent workplace injuries or death is to have a workforce educated in health and safety on the job.”

She noted that since its inception in 1978, more than 2.1 million working people have completed health and safety training under OSHA’s Susan Harwood Grant Program. “In the past five years, Interfaith Worker Justice and its affiliates have trained thousands of difficult-to-reach and often vulnerable working people on occupational health and safety issues. These trainings have saved lives and prevented serious workplace injuries and illnesses,” she added. “Cutting this relatively low-cost program from OSHA’s budget will put working people across the nation at risk of serious injury or death on the job.”

Read more from EHS Today.

Hundreds Of Thousands Of Workers Will Strike May 1, Organizers Say

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May Day March, Chicago 2016

From BuzzFeed News:

by Cora Lewis

Almost 350,000 service workers plan to strike on May 1, a traditional day for labor activism across the world, in the most direct attempt yet by organized labor to capture the energy from a resurgent wave of activism across the country since the election of Donald Trump.

Tens of thousands of members of a powerful California branch of the Service Employees International Union will participate in the strike, according to David Huerta, the president of the chapter.

“We understand that there’s risk involved in that,” Huerta told BuzzFeed News, “but we’re willing to take that risk in order to be able to move forward in this moment, while the most marginalized are in the crosshairs of this administration.”

Since Donald Trump’s election, there has been no shortage of wildcat strikes by groups disproportionately affected by his administration’s policies. But this time around, organized labor is driving the effort. According to a coalition of groups leading the strike, more than 300,000 food chain workers and 40,000 unionized service workers have said they will walk off the job so far.

Huerta’s union chapter represents tens of thousands of workers, including janitors, security officers and airport staff, while the Food Chain Workers Alliance, which represents workers throughout the food industry, says hundreds of thousands of its non-unionized members have committed to striking.

Best known for its creative and militant organizing, Huerta’s SEIU United Service Workers West local was one of the forces behind the successful campaign to unionize janitors in the 1990’s, which many see as the model for today’s wave of fast-food organizing. The Food Chain Workers Alliance, for its part, has built a nationwide network of workers across the food system, from farm fields to restaurant kitchens.

“We are a workforce made up mostly of immigrants, women, African Americans, and indigenous people,” wrote the alliance in a statement announcing the strike, provided to BuzzFeed News. “Without workers, who does Trump think will harvest the crops, craft the food, transport it to market, stock the shelves, cook in kitchens, and serve the meals?”

Speaking by phone from Milan, Missouri, organizer Axel Fuentes, of the Rural Community Workers Alliance, told BuzzFeed News that a thousand workers at a pork plant in the town will be striking May 1. Fuentes provides services to meat-processing workers in three towns in the northern part of Missouri, most of whom are immigrants and refugees.

“There are workers in this area that voted for Donald Trump,” Fuentes said, citing abortion as the decisive issue for many. “But what they are seeing is not what they were expecting to happen with this administration. They’re seeing freedom of religion under threat, immigration under threat, and they’ve expressed regret for voting for him.”

Fuentes said he has never seen workers express a desire to go on strike in his ten years of organizing, but on May Day, the majority of workers at the local Smithfield meat processing plant have pledged not to go into work, shutting down operations. They also plan to keep their children home from school and not to shop, he said.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) United, a food industry worker advocacy group, will also be participating in the strike, according to Saru Jayaraman, its co-director. ROC United and its network of restaurant owners and workers were instrumental in organizing the recent Day Without Immigrants protest, which shuttered hundreds of restaurants in cities across the country.

America’s last major general strike was the first such Day Without Immigrants, in 2006, in which more than a million workers struck.

“That was the largest national rising in many, many decades,” said Daniel Gross, founder and executive director of Brandworkers, which organizes food manufacturing workers. “For those of us who were fortunate enough to be involved, we’ll tell you, it was a strike. That 2006 momentum has not yet been duplicated on May 1 to date.”

Read more from BuzzFeed News.

Trump Budget Would Slash Worker Training And Safety

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A March 2017 Interfaith Worker Justice Health and Safety Training funded by an OSHA Harwood grant.

From The Huffington Post:

by Dave Jamieson

The austere budget proposed by President Donald Trump on Thursday would take an axe to worker training and safety programs, prompting Democrats to accuse the White House of reneging on its promises to workers.

The Labor Department would be one of the top victims under the White House blueprint. The president is looking to slash the agency’s budget by 21 percent, from $12.2 billion this year to $9.6 billion next year. Only the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department would see greater cuts if Congress approved Trump’s plan.

Program cutbacks and closures would account for some of the $2.5 billion in lost funding. For example, the administration wants to eliminate a job training program for low-income senior citizens, calling it ineffective. It would also shut down youth training centers under the long-running Job Corps program.

The proposal would cut what are known as Harwood grants, which are doled out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The grants fund non-profits to train workers in dangerous jobs. Backers say the grants help save money by reducing costly on-the-job injuries and deaths.

The plan also eliminates grants that go toward training for workers with disabilities, a proposal that Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said was particularly cruel.

“Not only is this an especially heartless component of this deeply ill-conceived budget,” Murray said in a statement, “but it is yet another clear example of President Trump breaking his campaign promise to stand with workers and create jobs.” 

But the savings specified in the Trump blueprint from training cuts accounts for not even half of the proposed funding drop. So if the budget were enacted as is, it’s possible it would cut into other core missions as well ― inspecting workplaces for hazards, looking into allegations of wage theft and holding unscrupulous employers accountable when they endanger or cheat workers.

Jordan Barab, a former deputy director of OSHA under President Obama, said it’s hard to tell under the proposal how OSHA would be impacted. Its funding is relatively small compared to worker training, meaning it could be spared the brunt of the cuts. “That being said,” he added, “relatively small budget cuts can have a huge impact on the small agencies.”

On the whole, Trump’s budget would divert money away from basic government functions like those, steering it toward the military and a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Many of the cuts would fall on the backs of poor people. If anything like it is approved by the Republican-controlled Congress, it would mark a historic shrinking of the federal government.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee and former labor secretary under Obama, said the Trump budget would “devastate” working families.

“Trump built his campaign on a mountain of populist promises, then he brought a swamp to Washington with an administration full of Goldman Sachs bankers,” Perez said in a statement to The Huffington Post. “Now he’s cutting after-school programs and college financial aid, gutting help for American manufacturing and slashing infrastructure investments that could create jobs in rural communities.”

Cuts at the EPA would be even more drastic than the Labor Department. The 31 percent proposed drop at the agency would leave less money to combat global warming, reduce pollution and enforce the country’s environmental laws. Meanwhile, entire programs in the arts and media would be eliminated wholesale, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, suggested Thursday that much of the non-defense spending was somehow a burden on poor and working-class people. “When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no,” he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Thursday. “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

The National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers, said that Trump’s budget is “virtually a complete breach of faith with America’s workers,” violating his own campaign pledge to create good jobs and boost wages.

“It would walk us back decades on worker safety and health, including eliminating critical grant training programs to workers in the most dangerous jobs, leading to more injury, illness and death,” the group said.

Read more from The Huffington Post.

A day in the life of a poor American under Trump’s proposed budget

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Photo credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

From The Washington Post:

by Philip Bump

The first thing you notice when you wake up is that it’s cold.

It’s unseasonably cold for March, sure, but it’s also colder in the house than it should be. The winter was long and heating oil is expensive — and although the government used to provide assistance with the heating bills, that support ended when the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program was cut. The house could use better insulation, too, to hold in the heat, but an upgrade like that is expensive, and the government program to assist with weatherization was cut, too. You’d happily move, but affordable housing is in short supply and cuts to a federal affordable-housing program means that you’re not moving up the Habitat for Humanity wait list anytime soon.

Breakfast. Luckily, cuts to WIC’s nutrition assistance program haven’t affected your family. But you still need to be judicious about what food is in the house, now that the Meals on Wheels program that helped your father has been cut, as a result of the elimination of federal Community Development Block Grants. Something small, then. You still get the same supplemental nutrition assistance as before, but it never went very far. Your younger son’s asthma is acting up. The county’s efforts to cut down on the air pollution that exacerbates it were slowed when the Environmental Protection Agency’s grant program was axed.

For now, the kids are off to school — one of the new charter schools near town. Three years ago, your older son’s class visited Friendship Hill National Historic Site about this time of year, but it, along with 48 other historic sites, closed after funding was stopped. No field trip for your younger son, then. And no reading assistance from members of City Year, either. The elimination of AmeriCorps meant the end of such service-oriented programs. Once upon a time, your father may have been able to step in, thanks to the Senior Community Service Employment Program, but that has been cut, too.

You head to work. You’d been hoping to start your own business for some time, but a business incubator that had been planned in your area was canceled after the Appalachian Regional Commission was shut down. Besides, you’ve been having a hard time getting a loan from a bank, something that would probably have been easier if Community Development Financial Institutions hadn’t been eliminated. So back to the same old service-sector job and the same old hourly wage.

Your father stays home; the senior center lost its block grant, too. He calls you around lunch time to let you know that you just received a foreclosure notice from your landlord. You know they can’t do that under the terms of your lease, but a lawyer is expensive and the pro bono firm you’ve used in the past can’t help you anymore, after it lost funding from the Legal Services Corporation.

Before your workday is done, the kids are back home. There used to be a latchkey program that your younger son went to, but: budget cuts. Same with the local library, where your older son used to attend a reading group twice a week. Cuts to the Institute of Museum and Library Services meant losing the staff member who ran the program, and that ended that. Instead, you know the boys are on the couch flipping through channels. No “Sesame Street,” of course, as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting lost its funding, crippling the organization. They’ll have to make do.

Your shift over, you start the long trip home. A planned bus route that would have sliced your commute in half was shelved after a TIGER grant from the federal government was canceled, meaning that the county couldn’t afford more buses. While you’re waiting for your transfer, the weather takes a sharp turn for the worse. No snow was expected, but forecasts have been shaky recently. You know what this means, though: melting snow backing up the storm drains near your house, because you could never afford to have them fixed, and the Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program was canceled before you could apply.

You finally make it home after a long day. Dinner. Your older son is starting to think about colleges, but the end of Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants means that you need to be honest with him about what you can and can’t afford. That’s a problem for another day. Like tomorrow. Tomorrow it all starts over again, and you know that it will start the same way.

Cold.

Read more from The Washington Post

Trump seeks to axe Appalachia social programs, causing worry in coal country

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Photo credit: Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

From Reuters:

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating funding for social programs supporting laid-off coal miners and others in Appalachia, stirring fears in a region that supported him of another letdown on the heels of the coal industry’s collapse.

The 2018 budget proposal submitted to Congress by the White House on Thursday would cut funds to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. The Washington-based organizations are charged with diversifying the economies of states like West Virginia and Kentucky to help them recover from coal’s decline.

The proposed cuts would save the federal government $340 million and come as the Republican president seeks to slash a wide array of federal programs and regulations to make way for increased military spending.

But they are perceived by some in Appalachia as a betrayal of his promises to help coal miners.

“Folks that live in Appalachia believe that the ARC belongs to them,” said federal ARC Co-Chair Earl Gohl, bemoaning the proposed cut. “It’s really their organization.”

Republican Congressman Hal Rogers, who represents eastern Kentucky’s coal counties, said he would fight to restore the funding when Congress negotiates the budget later this year.

“It’s true that the president won his election in rural country. I would really like to see him climb aboard the ARC vehicle as a way to help us help ourselves,” Rogers said.

Four hundred of the 420 counties ARC operates in voted for Trump in November’s election.

The 52-year old agency has run more than 650 projects in Appalachia’s 13 states between 2011 and 2015 costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Its programs, some launched under Democratic former President Barack Obama, are expected to create or retain more than 23,670 jobs and train and educate over 49,000 students and workers, the organization said.

Trump vowed during his campaign that the White House would put American coal miners back to work, in part by cutting environmental regulations ushered in by Obama, mainly aimed at curbing climate change but characterized by Trump as hampering the industry.

However, many industry experts and coal miners doubt that rolling back regulation alone can revive the coal mining industry, which faces stiff competition from abundant and cheap natural gas in fueling U.S. power generation.

TECHNOLOGY FUTURE?

Rigel Preston, a 38-year old former surface miner, said ARC programs helped him land a job as a paid intern at technology company Interapt after he lost his benefits.

He said that, while he and many members of his family in eastern Kentucky hope Trump will deliver on his promise to revive the coal industry, he believed the region’s future lay elsewhere.

“From my experience from the coalfield, I know that that is a finite job and coal will run out eventually,” Preston said.

Preston was among several former miners and other east Kentuckians at an event in Paintsville this week held by Interapt and ARC to announce Interapt’s plan to hire another hundred people from the region this summer.

Interapt last year launched a program called TechHire Eastern Kentucky, supported by ARC, which provides 36 weeks of paid training in code and paid internships.

Interapt Chief Executive Ankur Gopal, a 37-year-old tech entrepreneur, expanded his Louisville-based company out to eastern Kentucky with the vision of lifting that part of his home state out of economic stagnation.

“There is a skilled workforce and opportunity that can be found here in eastern Kentucky,” Kapur said. “This is not just a bunch of people that are waiting for coal mines to reopen.”

Read more from Reuters.

Irish archbishop: St. Patrick was an 'undocumented migrant'

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From Catholic News Service:

The leader of the Catholic Church in Ireland has urged Irish people and those of Irish descent celebrating St. Patrick's Day to remember the plight of migrants.

Archbishop Eamon Martin -- St. Patrick's modern-day successor as archbishop of Armagh -- used his message for the March 17 feast to recall that St. Patrick was first brought to Ireland as a slave by traffickers.

The archbishop said that "as Irish people, we cannot think of Patrick without acknowledging the enormous humanitarian and pastoral challenges facing growing numbers of people who find themselves displaced and without status in our world."

"This is so shockingly exemplified by the refugee crisis here in Europe," he said.

"Prompted by the situation of thousands of displaced people around the world, let us think about Patrick the 'unlearned refugee' (as he once described himself), the slave in exile, Patrick the undocumented migrant," Archbishop Martin said.

Referring to, among others, the estimated 50,000 Irish people living illegally in the United States, the archbishop -- who is also president of the Irish bishops' conference -- pointed out that "many of our compatriots remain undocumented in various countries around the world and, in some cases, feel vulnerable and treated with suspicion."

The archbishop pointed out that "St. Patrick's experience of isolation and captivity as a teenager transformed and shaped his whole life and his relationship with God. His lonely time as a slave on the hills of Ireland became a transforming experience, where he felt embraced by the fatherly love of God.

"I invite you to pray for refugees and for all displaced families at this time and, wherever you are, to encourage the hospitality and welcome for which we, Irish, are famous the world over," the archbishop said.

Read more from Catholic News Service.

Trump’s Big Department of Labor Cuts Will Affect the Most Vulnerable Americans

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From The Century Foundation:

by Andrew Stettner

President Trump is out with his FY 2018 budget blueprint. The first “skinny” budget is remarkably scant on the details, even for a first-term president.

What’s clear is that Trump has proposed historic cuts to domestic spending priorities to fund his $54 billion expansions to defense and security related spending, with double digit percentage cuts to the budgets of the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development. The budget takes square aim at the heart of anti-poverty programs, eliminating the community services block grantand community development block grants and zeroing out the Low Income Heating Assistance Program.

While it has not been the focus of pre-budget attention, the Department of Labor (DOL) is slated for one of the largest cuts of any agency. The budget would be slashed by 20.7 percent, second among domestic agencies to the Environmental Protection Agency (cut by 31.4 percent) and on par with the Department of Agriculture (cut by 20.7 percent).

The budget blueprint for DOL is short on details about how the administration proposes to shrink the budget by $2.5 billion dollars. Its largest targets are the employment and training programs of the Department of Labor, with the administration proposing a budget that “decreases federal support for job training and employment service formula grants, shifting more responsibility for funding these services to states, localities, and employers.” The budget also cuts programs that are smaller in scale.

The Largest Labor Cuts of Trump’s Budget

  • The budget slashes education and jobs/skills training, which the nation’s commitment overall has already wavered on, with cuts of $1 billion since 2010. The bipartisan Omnibus budget passed in FY 2016 increased funding for Workforce Innovation Act formula grants by $100 million—but still well below the authorized level of $3 billion authorized when these signature DOL programs was reauthorized in 2016. These grants provide short- and medium-term training for workers who have been downsized from their jobs (dislocated workers), low-income adults struggling to gain living wage employment and opportunity youth left behind by our nation’s educational system, as well as tools for individuals to search for and be matched to jobs. All told, these programs serve more than 6.5 million Americans per year.While Trump’s budget document includes a welcome recognition of apprenticeship programs, any increase in apprenticeship is likely to pale in comparison to cuts to formula grants.
  • The budget also targets job search assistance and job matching employment service grants (like Wagner-Peyser). Despite evidence of their effectiveness at shortening duration of unemployment benefits and thus saving government funds, these programs have long been targeted for significant reductions. This core infrastructure has been cut from $1 billion in 2001 to $680 million in FY 2016, and appear headed toward deeper reduction. Trump’s blueprint discusses increases to “Reemployment and Eligibility Assessments,” a smaller special program targeting unemployment insurance claimants profiled as likely to exhaust benefits, but this will likely be unable to fill the hole left by further employment service cuts.

Smaller Labor Programs Impacted by the Budget Cuts

  • The budget eliminates the $434 million Senior Citizen Community Services Employment Program, which provides short-term subsidized employment to low-income seniors (55+) who are much more likely than younger workers to suffer from long-term unemployment, often due to age discrimination in the workforce.
  • It also reduces the the number of sites of the $1.6 billion Job Corps program, a popular program that provides intensive work experience, life skills, and training to 50,000 out-of-school youth in residential and non-residential settings.
  • Other parts of the DOL budget are even less clear. The blueprint singles out $11 million Occupational Safety and Health Administration Susan Harwood training grants, which assist organizations serving workers in industries with the highest risk of industries. These grants have served as a unique model of community-government collaboration worthy of replication in other area; it’s the type of program that can save lives and save money by reducing workplace injuries and workers compensation claims. Furthermore, it would be unsurprising if the final budget amount does not include a reduction in funding for core areas of enforcement, like wage and hour, which had been modestly boosted by President Obama. Finally, the budget says nothing about unemployment insurance programs, for example, which depend on the Department of Labor budget for $2.7 billion for operations and prompt payment of benefits, and are unlikely to be spared for further reductions.

The sum of these reductions is to scale back the nation’s commitment to those Americans currently marginalized in the economy. These programs can have a particularly high impact in today’s growing economy, helping employers more willing to take a risk on less experienced and recently trained workers to meet their demands in a tightening labor market.

Read more from The Century Foundation.

Obtaining Land for Trump’s Border Wall a Daunting Task, Experts Say

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From The Wall Street Journal:

by Joe Palazzolo

President Donald Trump wants to hire 20 lawyers to work on obtaining the land needed to build a wall along the Southwest border. He may need more.

The project will require a staggering amount of paperwork and research, eminent domain lawyers said. Moreover, uncooperative landowners could make the job difficult for government attorneys, slowing the president’s signature project, they said.

Mr. Trump’s 2018 budget request to Congress asks for the 20 additional Justice Department attorneys to “pursue federal efforts to obtain land and holdings necessary to secure the Southwest border.”

About 67% of the 2,000 miles of the U.S. border with Mexico represent private or state-owned land, most of it in Texas, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The federal government may take private land for public uses, but the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution mandates that property owners receive “just compensation.” Eminent domain lawyers said the federal government would have little trouble demonstrating public use in this case, but that is only one step in a process that can take years. 

“Governments using eminent domain consistently underestimate how difficult it is to condemn property,” said Robert McNamara, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, a libertarian group that represents property owners in eminent-domain cases.

Usually, the government negotiates with property owners before filing a case for their land. It could take months or even years for the Trump administration to bargain individually with the hundreds of private landowners along the border. Government lawyers sometimes have to go to court just to gain access to such property for appraisals, said Mr. McNamara.

The border fence authorized by Congress a decade ago was delayed because of problems acquiring land, the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security said in a 2009 report. One landowner in New Mexico refused to give up his property, leaving a 1.2 mile gap in the fence for a time, though the agency later acquired the land through a settlement, the report said.

“Acquiring real property from non-federal owners is a costly, time-consuming process,” the report said. 

When the government files an action in court seeking private property for public uses, it must notify anyone with an interest in that property, including banks or others with a lien against the property as well as easement holders. The Trump administration will have to identify and serve thousands of people with legal notices and enlist experts to estimate the value of each parcel, said Alan Ackerman, an eminent-domain lawyer in Michigan who represents landowners. 

“It’s gonna take a force to get this done for all the paperwork they’ve got to file,” he said.

Property owners can file their own appraisals if they disagree with the government’s estimate, but they have to pay their own legal and expert fees. In such situations they often band together to oppose the government’s plans and to pool the fees. 

Property owners along the border who resist could find allies in their state governments. 

Democratic state lawmakers in New Mexico have proposed legislation that would bar the federal government from acquiring land to build the border wall. In California, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, has discussed using state and federal environmental laws to fight the wall’s construction in his state.

Read more from The Wall Street Journal.

Boston teachers’ union calls for protest as contract talks stall

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Photo credit: Boston Teachers' Union

From the Boston Herald:

by Kathleen McKiernan

The Boston Teachers Union is calling on its members to protest stalled contract talks after it says Boston Public Schools officials have “barely budged” on key issues, including pay equity for staffers at autonomous schools, paid maternity leave and supporting inclusion classes.

BTU President Richard Stutman blasted the district in his weekly newsletter, writing: “With no small dose of hypocrisy, Boston Public Schools released a slick video last week describing how much the district ‘values’ our teaching force. Sorry, but we’re not buying that.” 

Stutman called on teachers to attend the March 22 school committee meeting in the hopes of pressuring the district to act on the contract that expired last August. The union is calling for smaller class sizes, paraprofessionals for inclusion classes, equal pay for staffers at innovation, pilot and other autonomous schools, and paid parental leave for provisional teachers, or those on the job less than three years.

But BPS refuted the union’s claims, pointing to a proposal that would have teachers without permanent positions and who can’t find a new teaching job within two years transferred into a paraprofessional role that carries a $40,000-a-year salary. The union believes the excess teachers should still get the $100,000-a-year teaching salary.

Read more from the Boston Herald

Chicago Teachers Are Trying to Organize the Biggest Charter School Union in the U.S.

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Photo credit: Kim Bellware/Huffington Post

From In These Times:

by Jeff Schuhrke

As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos calls for expanding charter schools and voucher programs in the name of “choice,” teachers at Chicago's largest charter school have declared their choice to form a union.

Announcing the creation of the Union of Noble Educators last Friday, workers from Noble Network’s 17 charter high schools hope to follow in the footsteps of teachers and staff from 32 other Chicago charter schools who have already unionized with the help of the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers and Staff (Chicago ACTS), Local 4343 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

If successful, the 800 or so educators and staff at Noble would comprise the largest unionized charter school network in the country.

Noble, which boasts that more than 90 percent of its graduating students enroll in college, is financially and politically supported by Chicago’s business elite, including Gov. Bruce Rauner and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. Each have Noble campuses named in their honor. But teachers say their voices often go unheard by the Noble administration, leading to a high turnover rate that is detrimental to students.

“I’ve seen a lot of really great teachers come and go, because Noble hasn’t been the most sustainable place for people to work,” Mariel Race, who has taught Spanish at Noble’s Golder College Prep for six years, told In These Times. She added that for administrators, teacher recruitment appears to be a bigger priority than teacher retention.

“Retaining teachers is incredibly important for student success,” Mary Sweeney, an English teacher at Noble’s Pritzker College Prep, said at a press conference this week. “This union will serve classrooms, build better relationships with students, retain teachers and foster trust.”

Ivy McDaniel, a biology teacher at Golder, agreed: “As long the staff are not empowered to sit with administrators at the table to advocate for our students, our schools are losing.”

Race, who has seen the number of Noble schools nearly double since she was hired, believes that forming a union would “unite staff across the network” and “help us maintain some consistency with best practices across the network” in order to “really walk the walk when we say we are one Noble school.”

Launched in 2009, Chicago ACTS is at the forefront of the movement to organize charter schools. Its members are not only winning union recognition across the city, but also showing a willingness to withhold their labor to win fair contracts, much like their counterparts in the Chicago Teachers Union.

Teachers with A Council of Educators, the Chicago ACTS affiliate at ASPIRA charter school, recently voted to strike over stalled contract negotiations and could walk off the job as soon as March 17. Last October, a planned strike by unionized teachers at UNO Charter Network Schools was only narrowly averted by a last-minute agreement.

Nationally, AFT has made organizing teachers at charter schools a priority since 2007, supporting educators in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New Orleans. According to the Center for Education Reform, 10 percent of charter schools in the United States are now unionized, up from 7 percent just five years ago.

Last month, Washington, D.C. became the newest city to join this growing movement, with workers at Paul Public Charter School announcing their intention to form a union. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, educators at the 28-campus Alliance College-Ready Public Schools charter network are continuing their fight to organize despite a union-busting campaign by their employer.

At this week’s press conference in Chicago, activists from the Union of Noble Educators were joined by about a dozen local elected officials who expressed support and called on Noble’s board of directors to remain neutral during the unionization effort. Among those on hand were Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers and State Rep. Theresa Mah.

“The Noble board is confronted with the easiest decision imaginable,” said State Sen. Daniel Biss. “They get to choose between, on the one hand, educating children in the best way possible, or on the other hand, advancing a program of union-busting.”

“The children of schools in Chicago need teachers who are going to be there for the long haul,” noted Cook County Commissioner and former mayoral candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who emphasized increasing teacher retention through collective bargaining. “[Teachers] ought to be able to have the opportunity to see generations of students graduating from their schools and coming back to their communities to be productive.”

Read more from In These Times

Uber has produced 18 episodes of a podcast warning drivers about the dangers of joining a union

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Photo credit: Getty Images via Bloomberg

From Quartz:

by Sarah Kessler

By the time the Teamsters starts organizing Uber drivers in Seattle next month, the ride-sharing company will have already spent a year fighting the effort.

The company has run advertisements against unionization in its app and on television, hosted meetings, and sent emails and phone calls to drivers. Its podcast for Seattle drivers, in which it hashes out arguments against joining a union, is already on its 18th episode.

“As I’m sure you know,” says Brooke Steger, the general manager for Uber in the Pacific Northwest, in episode 18 of Uber’s podcasts, “We at Uber do not believe the Teamsters can serve as a fair and effective representative for drivers.”

“Brooke, I agree,” responds a driver who is identified only as “Frederick” and uses the flat, steady tone of someone who is reading a script. “As a small business owner…I don’t want to hand over my flexibility and freedom to anybody, especially an organization that has fought so hard to keep Uber driver partners off the streets of Seattle.”

Steger has throughout the podcast’s run called the prospect of a union “very, very scary,” “super scary,” and “really, really scary.”

Anti-trust laws generally prohibit unions from organizing independent contractors, but Seattle passed a first-of-its-kind ordinance in late 2015 allowing collective bargaining of Uber and Lyft drivers. Teamsters local 117 got final approval March 3 to organize independent drivers who work for apps or taxi companies. Uber will now be required to hand over contact information for its drivers to the organizers, who have 120 days to gather support from those who joined the platform before Oct. 20, 2016, and have taken at least 52 rides within a three-month period.

“Companies are using the same old tricks,” says Dawn Gearhart, who works as a coordinator with the Seattle Teamsters chapter, but with Uber, privately valued at $68 billion, it’s “to a $70 billion extent.” Uber’s spending to fight the Teamsters, while unknown, appears large. The company even ran a television commercial during a Seattle Seahawks game warning against unionization. “I’ve never seen an anti-union podcast before. I’ve never seen anything about the Teamsters during a national football game,” Gearhart says.

Uber’s effort vastly outguns that of the union. “We have three staff people max, including myself, who are working on this,” says Gearhart.

Uber spokesperson Caleb Weaver says that the unusually high-profile campaign is necessary because drivers are independent contractors. “We, as Uber, don’t tell drivers when, where, and how they are going to drive,” he says, “Much less tell them that they need to show up and be in a room so we can provide them with information.”

The business model for Uber and Lyft depends on treating drivers as independent contractors, which allows the companies to pay exactly the number of drivers needed to handle passengers at any given moment without paying those waiting around for rides. Independent contractors are not protected by most labor laws, such as the minimum wage.

During Steger’s two-and-a-half hours of podcasts, she argues that unionizing would take away drivers’ right to represent themselves to Uber, that the union will collect dues from drivers regardless of whether they support union, and that the union just wants drivers’ money. It warns drivers that union officials may stalk them or deceive them into giving their signatures in support of the organization effort.

The ordinance requires that companies discuss certain topics in negotiations with unions, including minimum hours of work. This, argues Steger during the podcast, means that drivers’ “flexibility” is in jeopardy, which surveys suggest is one of the aspects of the “gig economy” that workers like most. She says drivers wouldn’t be able to vote on such provisions in a union contract. Uber’s Weaver maintains that if Uber and the Teamsters don’t reach agreement within 90 days, negotiations go to arbitration and drivers wouldn’t have the option to vote on a contract.

Though the ordinance rules do not mandate that drivers vote on a contract reached with Uber or another platform, Gearhart says that such a voting process is written into the constitution of the Teamsters. “Drivers get to vote on the agreement before it goes into effect,” she says. “If they look at it and determine that it violates flexibility, they would vote no.” In more than 200 contracts the Teamsters has negotiated with companies, she says, workers have voted on the contracts.

Read more from Quartz

Money Worries for Retired Women

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Retired woman.

From The New York Times:

By Kerry Hannon

Many women find it an uphill battle to save for retirement.

Across all age groups, women have considerably less income in retirement than men, according to a report from the National Institute on Retirement Security. For women age 65 and older, their income is typically 25 percent lower than that of men. As men and women age, the gap widens to 44 percent by age 80.

As a result, women were 80 percent more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 and older, while women age 75 to 79 were three times more likely to fall below the poverty level than men the same age.

To understand why, consider this: Working women, on average, earn less than their male counterparts, so they have less money to save for retirement. Their median wage is 80 percent of men’s, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group.

Many women take time off to raise children or care for an aging relative, which gives them fewer years to contribute to a retirement plan. Moreover, because employers will often match — up to a set amount — the money an employee sets aside in a workplace retirement account, like a 401(k) or 403(b), those matching dollars are sacrificed.

“Financial problems in retirement and senior debt arise with insufficient income as a result of lower lifetime earnings and less in savings, costs of family caregiving and divorce,” said Cindy Hounsell, the founder and president of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, known as Wiser, a nonprofit organization dedicated to women’s financial education and advocacy.

Moreover, “women often put their own needs last,” Ms. Hounsell said. They often choose to save for a child’s education over their own retirement, for example, or work in a family business for no pay.

Women also live longer than men (81.2 years versus 76.4 years), according to statistics from the United States Department of Health and Human Services. “Living longer and needing more money for the extra years for health care, medical expenses and long-term care needs creates serious problems for women,” Ms. Hounsell said.

Women increasingly report being the C.F.O. of the household, yet running out of money in retirement and managing the rising costs of health insurance remain the top worries for women, according to a new study, “Women, Money and Power,” from the Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.

And they are right to worry. The projected cost of health care is particularly striking. When it comes to saving for health care costs in retirement, women need to set aside much more (almost 20 percent more than men, on average) to cover their medical bills in the final years of their lives, according to a report, “The High Cost of Living Longer: Women & Retirement Health Care,” from HealthView Services, a company in Danvers, Mass., that provides retirement health care data and tools to financial advisers.

The reason for the gap is simple: longevity. The report found that a healthy 65-year-old woman who retired in 2016 and will live to age 89 will have expected health care outlays of more than $300,000 on Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs for hearing, dental and vision care. For men, the projected cost is about $260,000. (These projections do not take into account the cost of medical care for those with annual incomes exceeding $85,000 for singles or $170,000 for couples, who can expect to pay surcharges on premiums for Medicare Parts B and D. The figure also does not include projections for any nursing or long-term care costs.)

For Cindy Jordan, 66, a resident of Brooklyn Park, Minn., the future cost of health care is unnerving. She is still on the job, at least for now. Last year, Ms. Jordan retired from her position as an executive administrative assistant at G & K Services, a uniform-rental company based in Minnetonka, Minn. But when her replacement quit, her boss called to see if she would be willing to come back full time, at least temporarily.

She agreed, but not for the money. She and her husband, who is already retired, are comfortable with their combination of employer-provided pensions, 401(k) plans and Social Security checks.

Even so, she is troubled. “I’m concerned about the health piece of it in case something would happen to myself or my husband, who is 14 years older than me,” she said. “I worry that all I have built up will get eaten up by health costs.” She added, “It takes a second for something to happen.”

Driven by health care inflation, which is expected to rise an average of 6 percent a year, costs in the last years of life will be the most expensive, according to the HealthView Services report. These expenses could come at a time when savings have been whittled away by end-of-life care bills for a spouse.

Ramping up financial security is one way women can turn the tide. The Allianz study found that many women reported uncertainty about their financial decisions. Sixty-one percent of women wished they had more confidence in their financial decision making, and 63 percent wished they knew more about financial planning and investing.

Women are 14 percent more likely than men to participate in their workplace savings plan and, once enrolled, save at higher rates than men at all income levels, according to a report by the Vanguard Group, a mutual fund company. Despite a frequently held view that women are more risk-averse than men, the findings showed that equity allocations for women and men were similar in their plan accounts.

Yet a Wells Fargo survey of over 1,000 millennials ages 22 to 35 found that the majority of women (61 percent) said their finances were “stretched too thin to save for retirement.” In fact, about 54 percent of women said they were living from paycheck to paycheck. Those saving for retirement are only putting aside an average of 5.7 percent of their salary, as compared with 7.3 percent for their male counterparts.

For older women, the good news in terms of financial well-being is that a large fraction of women are working in full-time jobs past their 60s and even into their 70s, according to a study, “Women Working Longer: Facts and Some Explanations,” by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, Harvard University economists. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by the end of this decade, about 20 percent of women over 65 will be in the labor force.

Read more from The New York Times.

Nordstrom Expands Parental Leave Benefits

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One of Nordstrom's latest stores in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

From The Seattle Times:

By Janet I. Tu

Nordstrom has joined the list of companies expanding their parental leave benefits.

As of May 1, the Seattle-based retailer will offer up to 12 weeks of fully paid leave to birth mothers, and up to six weeks of fully paid leave to other new parents.

It breaks down like this, according to the company:

  • Eligible birth mothers can receive up to 12 weeks paid at 100 percent (with up to six weeks enhanced maternity disability pay and up to six weeks paid bonding leave).
  • All other eligible parents (including non-birth, adoptive or foster parents) are able to receive up to six weeks bonding leave, paid at 100 percent.

To be eligible, employees must have worked at Nordstrom at least 180 days prior to the date of the date of birth or placement (in cases of adoption or foster care) of the child.

Nordstrom’s current maternity leave policy is six weeks of disability paid at 60 percent (or 100 percent for company leaders) for birth mothers; bonding leave is unpaid.

Nordstrom said it’s making these changes based on feedback from employees. The new policies “will enable us to better support them and their families during a very special and important time in their lives.” It also cited a determination to “attract the best talent in this competitive business environment.”

Read more from The Seattle Times.

Advocates for a Higher Minimum Wage Dominate Statehouse Hearing

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Protester at statehouse hearing on bill to rescind higher minimum wage ordinances in four Iowa counties.

Joyce Russell/IPR

From Iowa Public Radio:

By Joyce Russell

Opponents of a bill banning a higher minimum wage which is working its way through the Iowa House far outnumbered supporters at a public hearing at the statehouse last night.    

The bill would rescind minimum wages approved in Polk, Linn, Johnson, and Wapello Counties that are higher than the statewide wage of $7.25 an hour.

Low-income Iowans and their advocates, religious groups, child advocacy groups, and students all spoke out against the bill and in favor of a higher minimum wage.

Pat Bowen is an activist in Johnson County where the minimum wage is now $10.10 an hour.

“And thus far I know of no businesses that have gone out of business because of it,” Bowen said to members of the House Local Government Committee in a packed committee room.  “If businesses would pay a living wage we taxpayers who you represent would not have to subsidize people using food stamps and other government assistance.”

But business groups argued against what they call the uneven landscape of varying wage laws.

“We want to have a statewide universal policy that is predictable that we can market, to say this is what the wage is for the state of Iowa,” said John Stineman, Executive Director of the Iowa Chamber Alliance.

“Our industry feels the pain more than many when wages are recklessly raised,” said John Maines, Legal Affairs Specialist with the Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa.

In addition to the four counties that have already raised the minimum wage, higher wages are under consideration in Lee and Blackhawk Counties.

Read more from Iowa Public Radio

Chicago Teachers May Launch Nation’s Largest Charter School Union

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Chicago Teachers Strike, September 2012.

From The American Prospect:

By Rachel M. Cohen

Teachers at Chicago’s biggest and best-regarded charter school network have set out to form a union, a move that if successful would create the largest charter school union in the nation.

In an open letter to administrators and school board members, teachers at the Noble Network of Charter Schools requested permission to organize a union without interference or fear of retaliation. Founded in 1999, Noble operates 17 campuses across the city, educating more than 12,000 students.

“Under current local and national conditions, educators labor to remain in their classrooms while our value is diminished, our capacity drained, and our power constrained,” read the letter, which was delivered on March 3. “Both students and educators struggle to thrive in climates that prioritize test scores and compliance over creativity and personhood. Our students’ learning conditions are our working conditions.”

As of Friday morning, 131 of the roughly 800 Noble teachers and staff across city had signed on in support of the union. Union organizers told The American Prospect on Monday that they have received many more signatures since then, but could not say exactly how many because online signatures are still being tallied.

Known for “high expectations,” as its website says, Noble Network has earned a reputation as one of the most high-performing charter networks in the country. Last year, 90 percent of Noble high school seniors went on to college. In 2015, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation awarded Noble a $250,000 prize for being among the nation’s top charter networks.

On Monday, Noble teachers held a press conference in advance of a Noble school board meeting, reiterating their request to management for a fair and neutral process.

The response they have received from network CEO Michael Milkie has been skeptical.

“We respect the rights of individuals to organize or not organize, and we will continue to address concerns of teachers, staff, parents, and all members of the Noble community,” said Milkie in an emailed statement. “In my experience as a former CPS teacher, I believe a restrictive union contract could eliminate the curriculum and flexibility we have to best serve our students’ needs.”

In most cases, charter teachers have waited until they secured a solid majority in support of their union efforts before going public with their organizing. However, in cases where the size of the unit was considered too large to possibly conduct effective organizing in secret and still maintain job security, workers have sometimes opted to launch public campaigns.

This is the strategy being pursued by charter teachers organizing a union at Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter chain in Los Angeles. They have been organizing publicly since the spring of 2015. Several months after LA teachers launched their union drive, California’s state labor board announced that it would be issuing an injunction to block Alliance administrators from interfering with their staff’s organizing. Two weeks ago, Dolores Huerta, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, also called on Alliance to stop interfering in their teachers’ union drive.

One issue Noble teachers hope to address with a union is high teacher turnover. Last year Melissa Sanchez, a Chicago-based education journalist, reported that state data on certified teachers showed that annual retention averaged 75 percent in recent years across the Noble network, compared with 79 percent at traditional public schools, and 83 percent when in-district transfers were taken into account.

Mariel Race, a Noble teacher involved in the organizing efforts, says her charter network has long focused on expansion, but now operates so many schools that it’s time to shift gears towards retaining strong teachers. “We’ve given our feedback on teacher retention for many, many years, and I don’t feel like it’s really being heard,” she told The American Prospect. “There’s not a whole lot that’s being done about it. I think that having a teacher perspective at 
the table is a huge piece, and I think in order to be heard, with legal backing, and collective backing, it needs to be a union.”

“We need to keep teachers around,” adds James Kerr, a high school English teacher at Noble. “I can go back to my own high school and I’ll see the same teachers who taught when I was there. That’s what I want for our kids.”

Another issue teachers hope to address is salaries—Noble has no pay-scale, leading sometimes to substantial variation among staff wages. Exit interviews revealed that 39 percent of teachers departing Noble—especially female staff—did not feel they were paid fairly. Through an open records request, Sanchez also found that on average, Noble Street teachers earn about $52,000 a year in salaries, and can earn $5,500 in performance bonuses and $2,000 extra in stipends. An average school teacher in a traditional Chicago public school earns roughly $15,000 more than that.

Chicago already has an unusually large number of charter unions. Thirty-two schools, or a quarter of the city’s charter schools, are currently organized with the Chicago Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. In an AFT press release, Chris Baehrend, the president of Chicago ACTS said that Noble educators are “asking for management to be fair and neutral in this process. After they have succeeded, nearly half of the charter educators in Chicago will have the power of a union behind them in advocating for the schools their students deserve."

Read more from The American Prospect

New Wage Theft Rules Approved to Help Workers

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Protesters holding 'end wage theft' sign.

Torbakhopper/Flickr

From NBC Miami:

By Myriam Masihy

Employers in Miami-Dade who don’t pay their employees for the hours they’ve worked will now face stiffer penalties.

County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to amend the county's wage theft ordinance. The amendment increases the penalties to employers who refuse to pay even after being ordered to. Those employers would also have to pay the employees' attorney fees if the worker has to go to court to collect.

Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz sponsored the amendment in response to the NBC 6 Investigators' stories about employees who still couldn't collect money.

The aim is to help people like chef Alexander Hernandez. His former employer has refused to pay him what he’s owed. He filed a complaint and won his case before a hearing officer. But his former employer still didn't pay.

“I couldn’t pay my rent," Hernandez said. "I had to borrow money from my father-in-law and it was a lot for me and my family." 

When we confronted the business owner last February, she said she would pay Alexander and at least three other co-workers who won their wage theft cases. The original restaurant where Alexander worked closed, but the owners were able to open a new one.

“I don’t know how the state allows them to do that when they close one restaurant and they open another one with the same corporation," Hernandez said. "They close the restaurant and they didn’t pay the staff.” 

“We have to work with our legislators to try to find a way where these people cannot just open other companies when they have something like this on their record,” said Miami-Dade commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz who sponsored the new county rules.
The county's Office of Consumer Protection gets hundreds of complaints of wage theft every year. But with no way to force employers to pay, the only alternative for workers is to take their former business to court. Forcing an employer to pay attorney fees would make it an easier option for an employee to pursue.

“By having the attorney’s fees they’ve got someone who understands the system, who understands collections and can go about getting what they’ve been awarded,” said Holly Beth Billington a county consumer advocate.

Read more from NBC Miami

"#DayWithoutAWoman": For Domestic and Low-Wage Working Women, the Stakes Are Higher Than Ever

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Portrait of domestic worker Hellina Desta.

U.N Women/Flickr

From Glamour:

 By Ai-Jen Poo

I sometimes ask domestic workers to imagine what would happen if every nanny, house cleaner, and home care worker in the country decided to go on strike for one day. I ask them to reflect on all the children, seniors, and families who would be touched, and then to think about how those families’ workplaces would be affected—the business people, lawyers, and doctors, all the people who couldn’t work because no one was there to support their needs. The response to this question is often quiet concern for the people they work for, followed by animated banter as they imagine chaos in all the households trying to manage without them. Though society doesn’t value care and cleaning in the home as “real” work, the workers themselves know that their daily work is important, even fundamental. 

Until now, I haven’t posed the question of "a day without domestic workers" in preparation for an actual strike. I’ve asked because it’s rare that we as women, particularly women whose wages are never quite enough to pay the bills, ever think about our collective power in the economy, much less what we could achieve if we directed that power collectively. But in this new political era, it’s time that women do more than simply recognize our power—we must organize it.

On March 8 women from every part of the country and the economy will rise together to participate in #DayWithoutAWoman, also known as the Women’s Strike. A follow-up to the historic Women’s March on January 21, #DayWithoutAWoman will fall on International Women’s Day, which honors the social, political, and economic contributions of women globally. Originally named International Working Women’s Day back in 1909, March 8 highlights how women’s work—paid and unpaid—drives the economy worldwide. There is a long, yet little-known, history of global women’s activism on this day. For example, on March 8, 1975, the Icelandic women’s strike set the stage for the election of the first woman president in the world, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir.

At its heart, a strike is an action that workers take to disrupt "business as usual." Strikes both shine a light on injustice and demonstrate—to the strikers and to everyone else—the collective power to change the status quo. If ever there were a time for women to throw a wrench in things, it’s now. We are nearly half of the entire workforce. And we still provide more than 70 percent of the unpaid family care in the United States. We are also a majority of the consumer base (over 70 percent) in this country. It’s our work and our dollars that create wealth for the winners in this economy—from Uber to Walmart.

As much as some of us may like our jobs, we still face pay inequity, lack of respect, discrimination, and harassment, and lack of access to opportunity for advancement and security. At a time when we should be making progress at light speed on all of these issues, we face powerful opposition, from the government to society at large.

For women in low-wage jobs like domestic work, the stakes are higher than ever. Women make up two-thirds of the nearly 20 million workers in low-wage jobs—defined as jobs that typically pay $10.10 per hour or less, according to a report from the National Women's Law Center. Women of color are disproportionately concentrated in low-wage jobs; nearly half of all women in the low-wage workforce are women of color. Home care jobs, for example, are the fastest growing occupation in the economy today, and are overwhelmingly dominated by women, disproportionately women of color and immigrants. Their median annual income? $13,000 per year.

It’s time for #DayWithoutAWoman. Women from all walks of life will be participating—and there are many ways to participate. Organizers are calling on us to choose among three options: Don’t work, don’t buy things, and wear red. Domestic workers will be participating by wearing red to work. As is the case with many low-wage workers who lack job security, most domestic workers cannot afford to take a day off, or they could risk losing their jobs if they do.

Those who can take the day off will join restaurant workers, retail workers, and others for the Women Workers Rising solidarity rally at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C. They will call for fairness in our economy, beginning with the most vulnerable (and increasingly targeted) among us, including poor women, transgender women, women with disabilities, and Black, Muslim and immigrant women. They will be joined by women in more than 40 countries worldwide.

Read more from Glamour

February

Obama’s fair-pay order for contractors under attack in Congress

0 Comment(s) | Posted |

From The Washington Post:

by Joe Davidson

Who could be against fair pay and safe workplaces?

Nobody.

Yet Capitol Hill Republicans and federal contracting firms are working to rescind President Barack Obama’s executive order, named after that notion, with decisive action. That would be in step with the call by Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist, for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Earlier this month, the House approved a measure to stop implementation of Obama’s 2014 “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” order, which was designed to ensure that contractors “understand and comply with labor laws.” Senate action is expected soon. The order had been stalled, if not killed by, a federal court ruling in Texas.

If repeal efforts are successful, it would be “the start of what we fear will be a sustained assault on America’s working families,” Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said in a statement.

Under the executive order, contractors would be required to report workplace violations for the previous three years. Agency contracting officers then would use that information to determine if the business “is a responsible source that has a satisfactory record of integrity and business ethics.”

In other words, a firm’s prior violations of fair-pay and safe workplace standards could be used to prevent that company from getting future contracts, among other options.

Sounds reasonable enough. But contractor organizations have hyperbolically demeaned the order as “blacklisting,” though it does not require barring companies from government work.

In a Feb. 1 letter to Congress, 19 organizations criticized the executive order as “Obama administration’s costly and flawed ‘blacklisting’ regulation [that] circumvents congressional authority, harms the economy and efficiency of the federal acquisition system and disrupts fair and open competition in federal contracting.”

The next day, the House followed business lobby recommendations and voted to block Obama’s order.

One of the organizations was the Professional Services Council (PSC), which represents technology and professional service companies. “This blacklisting rule fails to provide companies with basic due process, imposes significant new and non-value added reporting requirements, and risks denying federal buyers access to the best private-sector providers to meet government needs,” PSC President and CEO David Berteau said in a statement. “With the disapproval of this rule by the House, and we hope with prompt action by the Senate and then signature by the President, a significant overhang will be removed from the acquisition process.”

The legislative moves employ the Congressional Review Act, which was little used until President Trump took office. It allows Congress to participate in administrative deconstruction by killing regulations with expedited procedures. “As a result, hundreds of health, safety, pocketbook and environmental protections are in danger of being repealed, and we won’t be able to get them back any time soon,” said Rules At Risk, a coalition of progressive groups that says regulatory protection “secures our quality of life.”

Congressional action against the fair-pay executive order would be an early and blunt blow demonstrating that “big business and its lobbyists — and not the interests of workers — will drive the administration’s agenda,” said Owens.

Obama’s order “was designed to protect workers and safeguard taxpayer dollars,” she added. “The idea was that before federal agencies award contracts of more than $500,000 to a contractor, they should check whether the company has complied with labor laws. The rule simply required that contractors disclose any violations of worker protection laws — the same way they have to disclose violations of other laws when bidding for a contract.”

Read more from The Washington Post

Former Bow Truss employees suing coffee chain, alleging wage theft

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From the Chicago Tribune:

by Meg Graham

Former employees of Chicago-based coffee roaster and cafe chain Bow Truss said they have filed a wage theft lawsuit against the company and its management.

The suit, which the group’s attorney said was filed Monday morning in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges the company’s incomplete or late payment of regular and overtime wages. The 10 employees also allege Bow Truss made deductions from wages for tax withholdings and benefits programs — including health and dental insurance and a retirement savings plan — but said those deductions were not put toward those purposes.

The lawsuit names Bow Truss and its founder Phil Tadros. It also names Darren Marshall, Tadros’ business partner, and their digital agency Doejo.

In mid-January, all local locations of Bow Truss shut down as the business struggled to pay employees and rent. The company’s employees said at the time they closed stores and refused to return after many had paychecks bounce. All but two locations — one in the Loop and another in River North — have remained closed.

Two former employees announced the lawsuit Monday morning at a press conference outside Bow Truss’ 406 N. Wells St. location.

“We have friends still who have not been paid, even though the company closed most of its shops a month and a half ago,” former employee Benjamin Creech said.

State Sen. Daniel Biss, Ald. Scott Waguespack, Ald. Ricardo Muñoz and Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia also spoke in support of the Bow Truss employees at the conference.

“We have legislation on the state level to put more teeth in the law, and the process starts when workers are willing to stand up for their rights and fight, the way these workers are doing,” Biss said. “This is an important step to send a message to businesses, to employers, across our region to let them know, they might think that in the past they could get away with behavior like this but that’s not going to happen anymore.”

Read more from the Chicago Tribune.

Lawyers: ICE detainee with brain tumor removed from hospital

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From The Hill:

by Rafael Bernal

An undocumented immigrant diagnosed with a brain tumor while under Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody was returned to a detention center from a Texas hospital, her lawyers said.

The woman, a Salvadoran national identified only as Sara, was released from Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, and taken to Prairieland Detention Center against her will, according to her lawyers.

"She told us they tied her hands and ankles in her condition," Melissa Zuniga, a member of Sara's legal team, told The Hill. "She's complaining of a lot of pain."

Zuniga said Sara, 26, was cut off from communication with her family and lawyers, even after the hospital and ICE had cleared Sara's mother for unrestricted phone access.

"Requests by family members to visit detainees who have been hospitalized are permitted but must be approved in advance with ICE and the appropriate consulate. ICE reached out to the family to explain the process," said Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman.

Zuniga also said the Salvadoran consulate had been unresponsive, and a team of volunteers was heading to the detention center to demand Sara's immediate release.

Sara's exact condition wasn't immediately available, but according to previous reports she was transferred from Prairieland to Huguley after complaining of severe headaches and collapsing on Feb. 10.

Doctors at the hospital diagnosed Sara with a tumor and told the Daily Beast they would soon perform surgery.

Zuniga said Sara complained of profuse nosebleeds and of long-term memory loss, while not receiving treatment at the hospital.

"Huguley no longer wants to be in charge of her case because they’re getting hounded by calls and a potential lawsuit," said Zuniga.

Sara's family is threatening to sue the hospital because they claim her condition deteriorated in the 12 days she spent there.

Sara's sister and legal team, all based in New Jersey, were flying to Texas Wednesday night to make the case for her release.

Sara told Zuniga she was given a CD with her medical records at the hospital, and instructed by doctors not to turn them over to ICE. The CD was taken from Sara upon her return to the detention center, Zuniga said.

In the first month of the Trump administration, several cases of immigration detention have drawn national attention, as pro-immigration activists decry what they consider heavy-handed tactics by immigration enforcement agents.

Read more from The Hill.

Employees Across U.S. Fired After Joining 'Day Without Immigrants' Protest

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A day without immigrants, May 1, 2006.

From NBC News:

By Avalon Zoppo

More than 100 protesters across the country were fired from their jobs after skipping work to take part in last week's "Day Without Immigrants" demonstration.

Restaurants and day cares were among the businesses in states like Florida, Tennessee, Oklahoma and New York where bosses fired workers after they didn't show up for work in order to protest.

In Nolensville, Tennessee, nearly 20 employees at Bradley Coatings, Incorporated — a commercial painting company — were laid off after participating in the nationwide strike on Thursday, NBC4 reported.

The company's attorney, Robert Peal, said in a statement obtained by the news station that all employees were told they risked termination if they skipped work on Thursday, but 18 did so anyway.

The attorney wrote: "Regretfully, and consistent with its prior communication to all its employees, BCI had no choice but to terminate these individuals. The reason these employees missed work — to engage in peaceful demonstrations — had nothing to do with BCI's decision to terminate them."

That same day in Florida, several staff members at Grace Community School in Bonita Springs told NBC2 they planned participate in Thursday's protest. Two employees claimed they were fired as a result, though the head of the school insists no one was terminated.

Asked by a reporter why the cause was important, Brenda Botello, who quit on Friday because she was afraid of being fired, said: "Because we are Mexicans... We need to find another job."

At Ben's Kosher Delicatessen Restaurant & Caterers in Long Island, New York, 25 workers were fired Friday when they returned to work, according to Telemundo 47. Police escorted the workers from the restaurant — most of whom were undocumented and have worked there for years.

Some social media users are calling on others to boycott the small businesses and restaurants that fired immigrant workers.

Local news outlets also reported that 21 employees were fired at a boat manufacturing company in South Carolina, 12 workers at an Oklahoma restaurant and 30 masonry workers in Denver. The Oklahoma restaurant I Don't Care Bar and Grill has already published a job posting looking to replace the fired cooks, NBC12 reported.

Last week's nationwide "Day Without Immigrants" protests were aimed at showcasing the impact immigrants have on the U.S. economy.

Read more from NBC News.

Bank Workers Will Protest to Form Their First US Union — and the Whole World Is Watching

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Photo of the exterior of the Santander bank branch at Piccadilly Gardens. Santander is also one of the banks caught up in the PPI mis-selling scandal.

Money Bright/Flickr

From Policy.Mic:

By Jack Smith IV

Behind the pristine business attire and impeccable offices, banks in the United States have a secret: Their public faces — tellers and salespeople — are harried working-class people. These bank employees don wide smiles and deliver well-rehearsed pitches in their daily dealings with customers, but they earn low wages, face job instability and contend with demands that make them choose between ethical practices and keeping their jobs.

Now, bank tellers in the United States will ask for the same protections enjoyed by workers across the world: a union — and they're fighting not only to take care of themselves, but also to take care of their customers.

On Tuesday, over 15,000 U.S. bank workers with the Spain-based bank Santander will declare their intent to establish this country's first bank workers' union. They'll deliver petitions, take over corporate lobbies and begin the long struggle to bring collective bargaining to an industry with predatory practices and lots of low-wage workers. And across the world, in European and South American countries with strong banking unions, hundreds of thousands of bank employees are expected to demonstrate in solidarity.

"In every other developed economy in the world, bank worker unions are the backbone of the labor movement," Teresa Casertano, the global campaigns manager for the Committee for Better Banks, which was instrumental in developing the union effort, said in an interview. "They're strong unions with highest union density, and they usual have broad sectoral bargaining so that every bank worker is covered."

The U.S. bank workers have three demands. The first is greater wages and greater share of the profits, and the second is stable, full-time jobs. Crisp uniforms and polished storefronts aside, bank tellers are solidly low-wage employees — and wages have only taken a downturn over the past decade; as of May 2015, the median annual wage for a bank teller was $26,410.

The third demand isn't just about protecting workers or shoring up their jobs — it's about stopping predatory banking practices that pit bank workers against their own communities.

When it comes to consumer banking's more devious practices, like hawking off high-interest loans or subprime auto loans, it's the salespeople and tellers who end up convincing hapless customers to sign on. The pressure on bank salespeople comes in the form of overbearing quotas and benchmarks that they have to meet for fear of losing their jobs. Santander workers wishing to remain anonymous told Mic that this can even mean hourly quotas that don't give salespeople adequate time to explain the fundamental terms of the loans. The victims are often people of color and neighbors in their communities.

So that third demand for the bank workers is an end to the overbearing quotas that perpetuate these exploitative tactics.

"These workers are caught between doing what's good for the customers and being able to provide for their families," said Arnise Porter, an organizer with the Communications Workers of America.

Porter has spent the past year working with Santander Consumer USA workers in Dallas, where many of the subprime auto loans are sold. Workers tell Porter that the office has a nepotism problem, with family members being hired or promoted over the qualified or experienced. On Tuesday, she'll join a group of nearly 50 Santander employees in a lobby takeover of the Santander Consumer USA offices.

The Dallas contingent will also deliver so-called neutrality letters asking the bank to respect a fair election for union formation, as delegations of bank workers in New York City and Boston deliver signed petitions making their demands.

The American banker workers won't be alone in their demonstrations.

In other countries like Brazil, banker worker unions are a staple of collective bargaining power and the labor movement. Contraf-Cut, the Brazilian bank workers union that has gone on strike every year since 2004, ended their longest strike ever — of 31 days — in October, winning an annual 8% wage increase and raises in food and childcare allowances.

And so, the low-wage bank workers of the world will stand in solidarity with Santander employees as they begin their fight Tuesday. In Brazil, over 130,000 bank employees will open their bank branches an hour late, spending that time briefing the nation's bank workers on the American initiative while a rally is held at Santander's corporate headquarters in Brazil.

In Argentina, there will be rolling strikes throughout the banking sector, where different banks will close for a day throughout the week — they'll present similar demands as American workers, and hold marches and rallies. In Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany, delegations of Santander bank workers will deliver letters of support to European banking officials.

The international support isn't just symbolic. The CBB initially kicked off the union drive at the urging of organizers in São Paulo and other foreign banking unions like UNI Global. The logic is that when international banks are introduced to the U.S. labor force — where labor has been systematically weakened — they want to spread those practices to workers in other countries where those banks do business, the CBB's Casertano said.

Read more from Policy.Mic.

House Panel OKs Making Wage-Theft Findings Open To Public

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Striking Philadelphia Restaurant Workers Win Back Wages from Sushi Restaurant.

From CBS Denver:

By James Anderson

DENVER (AP) — For about a century, any finding by Colorado labor officials that an employer cheated his or her workers on wages has been considered a trade secret that’s off-limits to the public.

That may change this year after a House panel unanimously approved a bill Thursday to include those findings under Colorado’s Open Records Act.

Sponsored by Democratic Rep. Jesse Danielson, the bill would allow citizens to know if they are patronizing or considering employment with an offender — and level the playing field for the vast majority of employers who abide by wage, overtime and other pay laws or contracts.

It would make that information subject to records requests after an employer has exhausted all appeals.

“Most companies across the state of Colorado value their workers,” Danielson told the House Judiciary Committee. “However, in some cases wage theft does occur. Employees are asked to work off the clock, or don’t get overtime pay.”

In 2016, there were 274 wage claim violations, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. Because those cases are kept secret under state law, “these bad actors are shielded and are less likely to value their employees,” Danielson said.

A similar bill failed last year in the Republican-led Senate.

Since then, Danielson worked with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Plaintiff Employment Lawyers Association and other groups to specify that only final determinations of a wage violation — after appeals — would be subject to open records requests.

Patrick Teagarden, director of policy and legislation for the Department of Labor and Employment, called it “a common sense application of open records.”

Read more from CBS Denver.

N.J. Company Named Among Worst for Wage Theft Fined $3.2 Million

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2 men on construction site during daytime.

From NJ.com:

By Paul Milo 

NEW YORK-- The New York City Comptroller levied a huge fine on a Parsippany company that cheated dozens of workers, mostly immigrant laborers, out of millions of dollars in wages for work on city projects.

K.S. Contracting, owned by Paresh Shah, was ordered to pay $3.2 million and will also be barred from receiving state contracts for five years.  

In its statement the comptroller's office did not identify the headquarters of Shah's company, but an Internet search turned up multiple Parsippany addresses for the business. State records tie Shah to at least one of those addresses, The Daily Record reported.

The company, named in  2015 as one of the worst wage theft violators in the city by the Center for Popular Democracy, was awarded more than $21 million in contracts between 2007 and 2010.  

K.S. Contracting came under investigation in May 2010, when an employee filed a complaint. An investigation over the next several years uncovered a kickback scheme targeting immigrant employees, Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said.

Following a four-day administrative trial in May 2016, Stringer's office learned that checks were regularly issued to just half the workforce, which was ordered to cash them and return the money to supervisors. The cash was then given to all the workers at a rate significantly below the prevailing wage.

At least 36 workers were cheated out of $1.7 million in wages between 2008 and 2011, with some workers who were to be paid a combined wage and benefits package of $50 an hour receiving just $90 a day in cash. Most of the victims were workers of Latino, West Indian or South Asian descent, Stringer said.

Read more from NJ.com.

This McDonald’s Cook Helped Raise The Minimum Wage. Now He Wonders if Trump Will Lower It.

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n April 14, fast food workers around the USA walked out on strike. Protesters gathered outside the McDonald's restaurant at Lake Street and 3rd Avenue in Minneapolis. They called for a $15 per hour minimum wage, paid sick days, and union rights. Within the last year, the cities of Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York have raised the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

From The Huffington Post:

By Dave Jamieson

WASHINGTON ― The first time Luis Chiliquinga went on strike, he joined fellow fast-food workers and marched into his McDonald’s inside the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. He wasn’t satisfied with his $8.25-per-hour wage, and he was tired of burning his hands on hot grease. As the strikers chanted, Chiliquinga walked right up to his manager and held up a protest sign.

“I wasn’t scared,” Chiliquinga says of that first walkout, in 2013. If anyone seemed nervous, the 67-year-old says with a smile, it was management: “They were scared.”

Chiliquinga has taken part in more than a dozen strikes and protests since then, all of them pillorying federal contractors for paying low wages and opposing unionization among their workers. The rabble-rousing has led to concrete gains. Chiliquinga now earns $12.77 per hour and gets paid time off. He doesn’t believe he’d have either if not for the pressure fast-food workers like himself brought to bear on employers and politicians.

Yet Chiliquinga and his striking colleagues accomplished much more than that. They helped shape federal policy in a way that affects hundreds of thousands of other workers. Several of President Barack Obama’s executive orders may not have been issued at all if not for the courage of low-wage contract workers in Washington. Chiliquinga should know: He was invited to stand at Obama’s side in the White House when one of them was signed.

Under President Donald Trump, those gains may not be permanent. While on the campaign trail, Trump promised to unwind Obama’s executive orders, and he has already started to make good on that pledge. Chiliquinga wonders if some of the progress he and his co-workers made could be vacated with the stroke of a pen ― even though Trump vowed to bring back good jobs and raise wages for struggling workers like him.

“We fought very hard,” says Chiliquinga, a father of three. “We expect a living wage, not a minimum wage. It’s dignity. That’s why we pursued it.”

Chiliquinga, who immigrated from Ecuador in 1996, lives in a group house with family in suburban Maryland, about 40 miles from the Air and Space Museum. The commute alone costs him more than an hour’s pay each day. In 2013, he joined a new, union-backed worker group called Good Jobs Nation, made up of D.C.-area fast food workers, janitors and cooks, all of them employed on federal properties. They wanted to call attention to the fact that the federal government underwrites a lot of poverty jobs.

If the labor of people like Chiliquinga is funded by taxpayers, they argued, then their employers should be held to a higher standard. They called upon the Obama administration to use the federal government’s contracting power to improve pay and working conditions on federal properties around the country.

The workers found allies in prominent liberal members of Congress, like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). They held rallies, filed complaints against their employers, and appealed directly to the White House.

Soon, the president got the message.

In 2014, Obama announced that he would set a minimum wage of $10.10 for all workers employed under federal contracts, including people in fast-food joints at government buildings. Democrats wanted to set a nationwide minimum wage at the same level, but Republicans would not give that proposal a vote. Through his executive order, Obama made sure at least some workers would be paid a higher wage.

A few months later, the Obama administration issued another executive order, this one creating a new rule punishing contractors with a history of labor law violations. The rule was crafted with input from Chiliquinga’s group. If a firm had a record of ripping off workers or putting them in danger, then the rule would make it harder for them to secure contracts with the government. The idea was to encourage contractors to treat their workers decently if they want to benefit from taxpayer money.

Then Obama signed a third executive order related to federal contracts, this one guaranteeing paid sick days for workers. Democrats sought a nationwide paid leave law, but Republicans blocked that proposal just like the minimum wage. The White House estimated the executive order would bring roughly 300,000 workers up to seven sick days per year.

Taken together, the executive actions represent a stunning success for the workers’ campaign. Powerful labor groups like the Service Employees International Union lobbied the White House for the reforms, but it was people like Chiliquinga walking off the job that created the public pressure for them. Just as the broader Fight for $15 spurred minimum-wage hikes coast to coast, it was the sight of federal contract workers taking to the streets that gave Obama the mandate to take unilateral action.

“It was a consequence of our struggle. If we don’t do strikes, that might never happen,” Chiliquinga explains. “The government needs pressure. They are always under the pressure of the companies. If workers don’t make pressure, then they don’t move.”

Already, some of that success has started to unravel since Obama left office. Earlier this month, House Republicans used an arcane procedural maneuver in an effort to undo the new rule barring companies that had committed wage theft from getting new contracts. Chiliquinga and his colleagues showed up at the Capitol to protest the vote, chasing after Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) in an effort to confront her over gutting the new worker protections. 

If the Senate follows suit, the Labor Department will be forbidden from moving forward with Obama’s executive order, known as the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule. (It is already tied up in court, blocked by a temporary injunction.) By using the Congressional Review Act to kill it, Republicans would assure that the same rule cannot be revived in the future.

Trump could reverse the minimum-wage and paid-leave measures, too, by writing his own executive orders vacating them. But doing so may not be worth the political costs. The minimum wage for contractors has become less relevant as more states and the District of Columbia raise their own minimum wages. Meanwhile, Americans overwhelmingly like the idea of hiking the wage floor and requiring employers to provide paid leave. If Trump wanted to abolish Obama’s rules and lower the minimum wage for cont, he would be taking positions out of step with most voters.

Read more from The Huffington Post.

Wrangling continues on raising New Mexico minimum wage

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REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

From The New Mexican:

by Andrew Oxford

A proposal to raise New Mexico’s minimum wage drew opposition from business organizations and workers rights groups alike on Monday.

Co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, House Bill 442 would appear to be a compromise that boosts the statewide minimum hourly wage to $9.25 from $7.50, less of an increase than some Democrats have proposed.

But a section of the bill that would strip local governments of the power to adopt certain labor regulations, such as the Work Week Act previously proposed in Albuquerque, drew sharp criticism from workers rights advocates.

And business groups as well as some Republicans argued that $9.25-an-hour would still be too high. The bill would also raise the hourly minimum wage for tipped employees such as waitresses to $3.70 from $2.13.

Disagreements surrounding the bill demonstrated the messy process of making good on what was a major part of the Democrats’ political agenda in last year’s elections but also seemed to help the prospects of a compromise bill emerging from the 60-day session.

The House Labor and Economic Development Committee voted 6-5 along party lines to advance the bill, sending it to the House Judiciary Committee.

Some Democrats on the committee expressed reservations, however, about the section that would prohibit cities, towns and counties from regulating how businesses schedule employees.

The section could stop local governments from adopting policies that would curb flexible scheduling by employers, a practice workers rights advocates argue leaves low-wage laborers with uncertainty about the number of hours they might work in a week.

“How do you make and keep to a family budget when you don’t know how many hours you will work?” Holly Beaumont, director of Interfaith Worker Justice New Mexico, asked the committee.

And some lawmakers raised concerns that the section would block local governments from requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave for employees.

Members of the Albuquerque city council have proposed such ordinances in the past and similar policies have become major causes for workers rights groups around the country that see local governments as holding the best hope for improving the pay and benefits of low-wage laborers.

Chairman Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, warned Democrats on the committee against opposing an increase in the minimum wage, even if it is through a bill that workers rights groups consider less than ideal.

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” McCamley said. “To not give a 23 percent increase to our lowest paid employees would be tragic.”

Raising the minimum wage was a central campaign theme for Democratic candidates for the Legislature last year and this is just one of several such bills wending through the Legislature during this 60-day session. On the lower end, Senate Bill 321 would raise the statewide minimum wage to $9 per hour but would allow employers to pay staff in training $8 per hour for up to 60 days from the date they are hired. On the high end, House Bill 27, would hike the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Read more from The New Mexican.

Pope Francis to activists: Stand with migrants, do not deny climate science, there is no such thing as ‘Islamic terrorism’

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L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP

From America Magazine:

by Michael O'Loughlin

In a letter written to a leaders of grassroots organizations and social movements meeting this week in California, Pope Francis said Christians must resist the temptation to demonize others, protect the earth and fight against “the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.”

Writing that the world is in the midst of an “historic turning point,” Francis said the “worsening crisis” presents both danger and opportunity, using language sure to recall tensions between some Catholic leaders and the fledgling Trump administration.

“The grave danger is to disown our neighbors. When we do so, we deny their humanity and our own humanity without realizing it; we deny ourselves, and we deny the most important Commandments of Jesus,” Francis wrote in the letter, which was dated Feb. 10 and published in Spanish.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, head of the Vatican’s department for Integral Human Development, read the pope’s letter on Feb. 16 to participants at the opening of the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements meeting in Modesto, a new event based on similar international meetings previously held in Rome and in Bolivia. The California gathering includes participants from a dozen countries.

“I know that you have committed yourselves to fight for social justice, to defend our Sister Mother Earth and to stand alongside migrants. I want to reaffirm your choice,” the pope’s letter read.

In his letter, Francis condemned what he dubbed a global “hypocritical attitude” toward suffering and he called for more action to address a range of social ills.

“Sooner or later, the moral blindness of this indifference comes to light, like when a mirage dissipates,” he wrote. “The wounds are there, they are a reality. The unemployment is real, the violence is real, the corruption is real, the identity crisis is real, the gutting of democracies is real.”

Francis condemned leaders who rely on “fear, insecurity, quarrels, and even people’s justified indignation, in order to shift the responsibility for all these ills onto a ‘non-neighbor.’”

Though he wrote in the letter that he was not speaking about any particular leaders but of “a social and political process that flourishes in many parts of the world” that “poses a grave danger for humanity,” the letter, delivered in a border state with a large Hispanic population, is sure to suggest tensions between church leaders and U.S. President Donald J. Trump.

Last year, the pope said political leaders who propose building border walls were not Christian, a statement interpreted by the Trump campaign as a slight against the candidate.

More recently, Catholic bishops in the United States have condemned several executive orders signed by Mr. Trump placing restrictions on immigration and refugee resettlement, including an executive order to move forward with plans to build a border wall.

Rather than looking to political leaders as models to solve the world’s various crises, the pope said in his letter that “Jesus teaches us a different path.”

“Do not classify others in order to see who is a neighbor and who is not,” he wrote. “You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need, and you will do so if you have compassion in your heart.”

Francis also repeated his warning against describing terrorism as Islamic, another major theme of Mr. Trump’s campaign.

“Christian terrorism does not exist, Jewish terrorism does not exist, and Muslim terrorism does not exist. They do not exist,” Francis wrote.

“There are fundamentalist and violent individuals in all peoples and religions—and with intolerant generalizations they become stronger because they feed on hate and xenophobia,” he continued.

Mr. Trump repeatedly criticized his predecessor for refusing to label acts of terror committed by Muslims “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase he has used often since his election.

“By confronting terror with love, we work for peace,” the pope wrote.

Read more from America Magazine.

Workers, Businesses Back Proposal to Stop Wage Theft

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Photo by Michael Moore, Union Advocate

From Portside:

by Barb Kucera

Workers and communities suffer – and businesses face unfair competition – when companies cheat their employees through wage theft, advocates said Wednesday at the state Capitol. They called on the Legislature to pass measures that would strengthen enforcement against this widespread problem.

“If you work for a living, you should get paid!” said Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul, one of the authors of the anti-wage theft legislation. Several legislators, Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith and state Department of Labor and Industry Commissioner Ken Peterson listened as workers described how their paychecks have been stolen by unscrupulous employers.

One of the most egregious current examples is Lakeville Motor Express, a trucking company that allegedly changed its name and location to avoid paying thousands of dollars to its employees. The workers’ union, Teamsters Local 120, is leading an effort to recoup what was lost.

"We are union strong and we are here to fight for our rights!" said Samuel Nunn, one of the 95 affected workers.

The Department of Labor and Industry has filed suit against Lakeville Motor Express for more than a half million dollars in unpaid wages. But the department lacks the resources to investigate half of the complaints it receives, Commissioner Peterson said.

An investigation by Workday Minnesota has found wage theft in Minnesota is larger and more widespread than most people realize – and the problem is growing. The department estimates that 39,000 Minnesota workers suffer from wage theft each year, resulting in $11.9 million in wages owed, and that's only what goes reported. Wage theft occurs when:

  • Employers refuse to pay their employees for work performed
  • Employers violate minimum wage, prevailing wage, and overtime protections
  • Employers make unlawful paycheck deductions
  • Employers coerce employees to work off the clock
  • Employers misclassify employees as an independent contractors to avoid paying workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance

Businesses that follow the law face unfair competition from those that are cheating, said Shawn Larson of RTL Construction in Shakopee.

“They skirt laws in order to improve their bottom line,” Larson said. “It’s obviously bad for workers but it’s also bad for businesses and it’s bad for the state of Minnesota.”

The Wage Theft Initiative proposes policy changes to give the Department of Labor and Industry more enforcement tools and an increased budget to hire four additional wage and hour investigators to do proactive outreach across the state. It would empower workers with more information and impose stiffer penalties for violators.

“I had to live out of my car and then a friend’s house for several weeks because of the wage theft and the problems it created for me,” said Gloria Rojo, a janitor who experienced wage theft while cleaning car dealerships and other buildings for a subcontractor of ROC Commercial Cleaning. Since then, she has become a leader in CTUL, a Minneapolis-based worker center that is challenging wage theft.

Read more from Portside.

U.S. accelerates deportation of Haitian migrants

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From The Arizona Republic:

by Daniel Gonzalez

A detention officer handed Lemoine Denera a cardboard lunch tray. The 32-year-old migrant from Haiti took a look at the food and slid the tray away.

He hasn't felt like eating since being locked up in a federal immigration detention center in the desert near Eloy, an hour's drive south of Phoenix.

Because of his stomach problems, medical staff have placed him on a low-sodium, low-fat, high-fiber diet, which Denera finds unappetizing. That day he was served a slice of ham and American cheese between a hamburger bun, along with green beans, apple sauce and coleslaw. 

He also suffers from a hernia, hypertension and a faulty heart valve. But he said the main reason he's not hungry is because his detention by federal immigration authorities has separated him from his wife and infant daughter.

The family of three arrived together at the Nogales border crossing in December after traveling through Mexico seeking refuge in the U.S. They are part of a surge of Haitian migrants arriving at ports along the southern border after fleeing from Haiti to Brazil following the 2010 Haitian earthquake. After four days, his wife and daughter were released; Denera, meanwhile, was transferred to Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody and locked up.

His wife and daughter are now living with an aunt in the New York City area. It has been more than two months since he has seen them. Their only communication is by phone once or twice a week.

"I am suffering. I miss them," Denera said, during a recent interview conducted in a conference room at the Eloy Detention Center. "Sometimes I try to talk, but when I hear my daughter crying, it’s not easy for me."

Denera is one of about 4,000 Haitian migrants being held in immigration detention centers in Arizona and other states. Now he faces being quickly deported back to Haiti, while his wife and daughter remain in the U.S.

While the majority of Haitian migrants who have arrived along the southern border are men, there are many cases like Denera's involving families that have been separated, said Guerline Josef, director of the Haitian Bridge Alliance in San Diego, an advocacy group.

"That is one of the main issues that we are having is the fact that a lot of the women and children that were released, their husbands and fathers were sent home or are still in detention," she said. "So basically the family units are being broken, so it becomes really hard for them to survive. They don’t have that partner with them. They don’t have the father to help out."

The possibility Denera will be deported is real.

Since November, the number of people deported to Haiti has risen rapidly, according to ICE data. The deportations reversed a longstanding policy of not sending Haitians without permission to be in the U.S., except criminals, back to Haiti while the country is still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake.

The deportations resumed under former President Barack Obama's administration. But immigrant advocates are concerned they will increase even more rapidly under President Donald Trump's new executive orders on immigration, which call for expanding priorities for who can be detained and deported.

Through the end of January, ICE had deported 2,186 people to Haiti, according to data provided by ICE to The Arizona Republic. The number includes 204 individuals with criminal records, ICE said, or about 9 percent of the total.

In comparison, ICE deported 310 individuals to Haiti in all of fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30. The vast majority of the 2016 deportees, 267, were people with criminal records, or about 86 percent of the total.

The deportations to Haiti have alarmed immigrant rights advocates. They fear Haitians are being sent back to one of the most impoverished countries in the Western Hemisphere at a time when Haiti is still recovering from a string of calamities, and in the process separating families such as Denera's. In addition to the 2010 earthquake, Haiti was struck by a major hurricane in October. The country is also struggling to control an ongoing cholera outbreak that has killed more than 10,000 people.

"It's obscene," said Steven Forester, the Miami-based immigration policy coordinator at the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, an advocacy group.

"The reason it’s obscene is that Hurricane Matthew just devastated a large part of Haiti," Forester said, pointing out that Haiti was "already suffering" from the after-effects of the earthquake, and the cholera epidemic when Hurricane Matthew hit. The destruction is "as if a quarter of the United States had been leveled. It’s not safe to deport anyone to Haiti and it hasn’t been."

What's more, Forester said, many Creole-speaking Haitians currently being detained may qualify for asylum in the U.S. because of ongoing political turmoil in Haiti. But many of the detained Haitians may be unaware of their rights or have difficulty communicating their fear of persecution because of a lack of Creole-speaking interpreters and legal counsel in detention centers, he said.

"There has been a lot of repression and persecution in Haiti which caused many people to flee. The rule of law in Haiti is extremely weak," Forester said.

In December, the Catholic Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Miami dispatched two Creole-speaking attorneys to the federal detention centers in Eloy and Florence, said Randolph McGorty, the group's executive director.

The two lawyers held meetings over a week with about 400 Haitian detainees to inform them of their rights and determine if they might qualify for asylum, McGorty said.

To qualify, asylum seekers must first pass a hearing with an asylum officer who determines whether they have a "credible" fear of persecution if returned to their home country.

While a Creole-speaking interpreter is provided by phone for the hearings, migrants may be unaware of the process for requesting a hearing because of language barriers, he said.

"This is a very unsophisticated group," McGorty said.

Deportations under Obama administration

When the U.S. suspended deportations to Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, officials were concerned sending the immigrants back would put their lives at risk and could further destabilize the country.

But in September, the Obama administration announced the government would resume deportations in response to a sudden surge of Haitian migrants arriving at border crossings in Tijuana and other cities along the southern border, including Nogales, seeking refuge in the U.S.

A total of 6,426 Haitian migrants arrived at ports along the southern border in fiscal year 2016, according to Customs and Border Protection data. Another 7,129 have arrived since the start of fiscal year 2017 on Oct. 1, according to CBP.

Before the U.S. resumed deportations, a majority of Haitian migrants were detained for several days and then allowed to stay in the U.S. on what is called humanitarian parole pending the outcome of their immigration cases, said McGorty.

The Obama administration suspended the deportations again in October after Hurricane Matthew slammed into Haiti, causing more devastation. But in November, the Obama administration announced that deportations to Haiti had resumed once again, despite the country's ongoing recovering from the hurricane, the cholera outbreak and the 2010 earthquake.

Read more from The Arizona Republic.

Republican Health Proposal Would Redirect Money From Poor to Rich

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From The New York Times:

by Margot Sanger-Katz

Republicans in Congress have been saying for months that they are working on a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare in the Trump era. Now we have the outline of that plan, and it looks as if it would redirect federal support away from poorer Americans and toward people who are wealthier.

A white paper drafted by House leadership and the staff of the House and Senate committees that oversee health policy details a structure that could replace large sections of the Affordable Care Act. Crucially, the proposal largely contains provisions that could be passed through a special budget process that requires only 50 Senate votes, and fulfills President Trump’s promise that the repeal and replacement of the law would take place “simultaneously.”

The plan would make major changes in how health care is financed for Americans who don’t get coverage from work. It would greatly expand the number of Americans who could benefit from federal help in buying health insurance, but it would change who benefits most from that support.

Obamacare, as the A.C.A. is known, extended health coverage to 20 million Americans through two main mechanisms. It expanded Medicaid coverage to Americans below or just above the poverty line in states that participated, and it offered income-based tax credits for middle-income people to buy their own insurance. Obamacare was a redistributive law, transferring money from rich to poor.

The Republican plan would alter both of those programs, changing the winners and losers. It would substantially cut funding for states in providing free insurance to low-income adults through Medicaid. And it would change how tax credits are distributed by giving all Americans not covered through work a flat credit by age, regardless of income.

That means that the biggest financial benefits would go to older Americans, like, say, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. If he didn’t have a job in the Trump cabinet and access to government coverage, a 64-year-old multimillionaire like him would get the same amount of financial assistance as someone his age, living in poverty, and he would get substantially more money than a poor, young person.

The idea of matching tax credits to age makes some sense. Older people tend to have higher medical bills, and insurers, even under Affordable Care Act rules, charge them substantially higher prices. The new plan would also simplify the current system, which requires verifying every applicant’s income and then giving just the right amount of financial assistance. It would also eliminate incentives for low-income people to avoid earning more (higher earners can face a reduction in benefits).

But the current system is set up to ensure that low and middle-income Americans can afford the cost of their premiums. The Republican plan would not do that, and would result in many more low-income people losing out on coverage if they couldn’t find the money to pay the gap between their fixed tax credit and the cost of a health plan.

Older people without employer-based insurance typically earn more than young people, who tend to be starting out in their careers. It’s hard to know precisely how many people would lose coverage under this proposal because it’s missing some numbers. But similar tax credit plans from House Speaker Paul Ryan and Tom Price, the new secretary of health and human services, would result in millions losing coverage, according to independent estimates. (Mr. Ryan said Thursday in a news conference that the Congressional Budget Office was evaluating the new proposal, which means that we may see firm coverage estimates in the coming weeks.)

The plan includes additional features that redistribute resources from the poor to the rich. It would allow Americans to sock more money away for health spending in special tax-free health savings accounts. The benefits of such accounts fall largely to higher income-people who pay more in taxes, and a recent analysis of current health savings accounts found that they are held disproportionately by families with high earnings. (The white paper is silent on two Obamacare taxes that target wealthier Americans, but other Republican plans have proposed eliminating them. It does eliminate a number of taxes on the health care industry.)

What the plan doesn’t do, currently, is change any of the Obamacare regulations on health insurance that Republicans say drive up the cost. Those rules, including requirements that every plan cover a standard package of benefits, and those requiring companies to charge the same prices to healthy and sick Americans, would stay on the books, because they can’t be easily changed through the budget process.

Changing those rules could make insurance cheaper but would rankle many consumer advocates — and would require separate legislation, with 60 Senate votes. Under this proposal, the health plans would look largely the same, but the way the government helps people pay for them would change.

Read more from The New York Times.

Five things you should know about Alexander Acosta, Trump’s new pick for labor secretary

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Associated Press

From The Washington Post:

by Jonnelle Marte

Labor groups, unions and lawmakers in both political parties are still getting to know Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s latest pick for labor secretary.

Acosta, 48, is the dean of Florida International University’s law school and was a member of the National Labor Relations Board from 2002 to 2003. He also worked as an assistant attorney general for the civil rights division of the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. After building a career in Washington, Acosta returned home to Miami as a U.S. attorney.

Acosta has been confirmed by the Senate for three positions, which may help him have a smooth vetting process.

Here is a look at some other aspects of Acosta’s record:

1. He is a conservative Republican.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Acosta clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., then a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. He served as a fellow for the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative Washington-based think tank, between 1998 and 2000. Acosta is also a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

His conservative views came under scrutiny while he was heading the civil rights division. A 2008 report from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General found that Acosta “did not sufficiently supervise” the hiring patterns of a former senior division official who favored people with “conservative political or ideological affiliations” over those with more human rights or civil rights experience.

2. At the Justice Department, he wrote a controversial letter supporting poll watchers. 

When Acosta was at the Justice Department, he took what some say was an unusual step of writing a letter to an Ohio judge four days before the 2004 election. The judge was hearing a lawsuit challenging Republican plans to place poll monitors in predominantly black neighborhoods, which critics claimed was a violation of the Voting Rights Act. Acosta, who was an assistant attorney general at the time, said in the letter that there was “nothing in the Voting Rights Act” that condemns the use of poll monitors, which supporters said would help eliminate voter fraud but which critics viewed as voter intimidation.

It was considered unusual for someone from the Justice Department’s civil rights division to write a letter to a judge without asking to intervene in the case, said Kristen Clarke, an attorney who worked at the division at the time. The move was considered “problematic” by a team vetting Acosta when he was being considered for the role of dean at the University of Florida’s law school in 2014, and contributed to him not getting the job, according to the Miami Herald. The letter made it appear as if the Justice Department was “putting political pressure on the judge,” University of Florida law professor Michelle Jacobs told the Herald.

3. Acosta has defended civil rights for Muslim Americans.

There are at least two notable cases in which Acosta has defended the civil rights of Muslim Americans. One is a case from 2004 when Acosta, who was then with the civil rights division, intervened to help defend an 11-year-old student who had sued her Oklahoma school district for requiring her to remove her hijab because it violated the school’s dress code. “No student should be forced to choose between following her faith and enjoying the benefits of a public education,” Acosta said in a statement at the time, according to a report from CNN. The school district settled with the Justice Department and changed its dress code.

In 2011, as dean of the law school at Florida International University, Acosta testified before Congress in support of protecting Muslim Americans’ civil rights. He told the story of the 11-year-old he helped to defend years before. and he also shared the anecdote of a Muslim American college student who had served in the National Guard and the U.S. Army. He closed by saying that even though “emotions remained charged” 10 years after 9/11, it was a good time for Americans  to remember “that no community has a monopoly on any particular type of crime.”

The comments and work are relevant now because Acosta would be tasked with enforcing anti-discrimination laws if confirmed as labor secretary.

4. He worked on some high-profile cases as U.S. attorney.

As a top federal prosecutor in Miami, Acosta led the case against Washington GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was charged with five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy related to the purchase of gambling boats. Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax charges in 2006. Acosta was also involved in the prosecution of accused terrorist Jose Padilla, who was allegedly part of an al-Qaeda support cell in South Florida that was raising money for terrorists.

Acosta achieved convictions against Colombian drug cartel members Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela. He led the case against Charles “Chuckie” Taylor Jr., who was convicted of torturing people who opposed his father, a former Liberian president. He also oversaw the case against Jeffrey Epstein, the wealthy financier accused of running a sex ring with underage girls. Epstein avoided federal charges when he pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting prostitution, an agreement that was criticized by some of the alleged victims.

5. Acosta is the chairman of a community bank.

In addition to his role at the law school, Acosta is chairman of U.S. Century Bank, a community bank in South Florida. Acosta, who joined the bank in 2013, was credited by colleagues with helping to turn the bank around, according to Bloomberg News. Under his leadership, the bank diversified its loan portfolio to rely less on commercial real estate and had a profitable year in 2016.

Read more from The Washington Post

Right to work fails in New Hampshire House

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From the Concord Monitor:

by Allie Morris

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu says he is “deeply disappointed” the House voted to kill a proposed right-to-work bill.

Sununu set the policy as a priority of his first term and met with representatives before the vote to try and ensure its passage. 

“While it is clear that some House members did not understand this opportunity to unleash the untapped potential of our economy, I know that we can continue to work collaboratively on initiatives that will drive new business into the state,” he said in a statement. 

Other Republican leaders might not be happy with the outcome, but are relieved the fight is over. 

“To put it behind us and move forward is what’s best for the Republican caucus,” said House Speaker Shawn Jasper. He had backed the bill, but warned on Wednesday it could fail due to the opposition of some Republican members.  “We have to start moving forward, there has got to be some healing.” 

Top state Republicans had spent the days before the vote trying to sway opinions toward right-to-work. On Wednesday, leaders at the GOP state party suggested they may not help Republicans who oppose the bill in the next election cycle. 

The last-minute lobbying, however, proved fruitless.

“It’s a good day for New Hampshire,” said Rich Gulla, who heads the largest union of state employees. “We’re ready to get down to business now that this is behind us.” 

Read more from the Concord Monitor.

N.Y. Labor Groups Join Forces to Attack President Trump's Anti-Worker Policies

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SEIU Janitors Protest Firing by JPMorgan Chase

SEIU/Flickr

From NY Daily News:

By Chauncey Alcorn

Some of New York’s largest labor organizations announced Friday they are joining forces in an early attack on what they say are President Trump’s anti-worker policies.

The gathering — which included community activists and leaders — specifically targeted some of Trump’s corporate allies, who are “trying to take advantage of the political moment to decimate workers’ rights,” the coalition said.

Hector Figueroa, president of 32BJ SEIU, a union that was a driving force in New York’s successful Fight for $15 campaign, said labor is pushing for a more progressive agenda — first in the White House, but also in Albany.

“We are witnessing not only an administration populated by billionaires (who don’t) have workers’ interest at heart — we are beginning to see the consolidation and expansion of workers’ exploitation that we thought were gone,” the labor leader said.

He stood with Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance and several other groups as they criticized the influence of so-called “gig” tech companies in Albany.

The corporations are banding together to push for legislation that favors them, the group said.

“For a long time, Uber has cloaked itself in a lot of liberal rhetoric as if to say, ‘We are the progressive voice in our industry,’” Desai said at the meeting Friday.

“(But) it’s the drivers that are the progressive force in this movement, not the $64 billion Wall Street darling,” she added.

Saru Jayaraman, executive director of a coalition of New York restaurant workers, said they’re not covered by the state’s new $15 minimum wage law — and they’re being left behind economically as a result.

“Four hundred thousand restaurant workers saw their wages decline when everybody else’s wages went up,” she said.

Read more from NY Daily News.

Chicago’s lax enforcement of minimum wage hike leaves workers in the lurch

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Scott Olson/Getty Images

From The Chicago Reporter:

by Melissa Sanchez

Sabrina Jackson looked forward to a raise last summer at her job as a crossing guard near her children’s Englewood school.

Chicago’s minimum wage was slated to increase from $10 to $10.50 per hour under a city ordinance, providing a small but welcome boost to Jackson’s paycheck.

But when the new school year rolled around, Jackson discovered, “I didn’t get a raise.” Chicago Public Schools refused to pay the higher wage for the 1,300 crossing guards, telling nonprofit groups that run the program that the district had budget problems and claiming the workers were exempt. The district never explained why it considered the workers an exception.

The underpayment of Safe Passage workers is just one example of how the city’s minimum wage ordinance has fallen short since it took effect in July 2015. A Reporter analysis estimates that thousands of workers have been left behind because of exceptions in the law, which will raise the city’s minimum hourly wage to $13 by 2019.

Meanwhile, the city department responsible for enforcement has investigated just a quarter of 454 wage complaints, recovered lost pay for only a few dozen people and has yet to fine a single company for violating the ordinance. Following repeated questioning by The Chicago Reporter about the department’s lax enforcement, city officials now say they will levy fines. Also following the Reporter’s inquiries, CPS reversed course and said it would cover the wage increase, as well as back pay, to its crossing guards. “CPS is committed to meeting the city’s minimum wage ordinance, and we have begun the process of guaranteeing that all Safe Passage workers will be properly compensated this year,” said district spokesman Michael Passman in a statement in late January.

Other cities that have passed higher minimum wage laws, like San Francisco and Seattle, have had much greater success with more rigorous enforcement.

Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th Ward) agreed that Chicago needs to consider ramping up its oversight of the law. He recalled intervening last year to resolve a wage dispute in his ward between the owner of an Albany Park warehouse and a worker, who was undocumented.

“I’m happy to use that leverage,” Ramirez-Rosa said. “But ultimately we need to make sure there are better enforcement opportunities. It’s extremely important that the City of Chicago put teeth behind its existing ordinances. And if what we’re doing is inadequate, we need to get serious about having the right resources and enforcement mechanisms in place.”

For Jackson, who continues to look for higher-paying work and depends on food stamps and a public housing subsidy to support her four children, even a small pay increase is significant.

“It will help out a lot. That 50 cents does add up,” she said. “Maybe it’ll be an extra bill that you don’t have to worry about, extra things I can now get for my kids.”

How Chicago raised pay—for some workers

In the months leading up to his re-election campaign in 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel formed a task force to look at raising the city’s minimum wage. Community groups, including those involved in the national Fight for $15 fast food workers’ wage campaign, lobbied for $15 an hour. Business groups pushed back, warning that small businesses would close down or cut workers.

While cities such as Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles adopted a $15 minimum, Chicago City Council approved a $13 minimum in December 2014. The task force acknowledged that $13 fell far short of a living wage, given the city’s high housing costs. (The Living Wage Calculator, a project developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, sets the amount at $24.91 per hour for a single adult with one child in Cook County.)

Still, Emanuel touted the increase as a way to lift working families out of poverty, and supporters viewed it as just a first step. “It’s a big part of the puzzle for people to be upwardly mobile, to start getting paid fairly and have a better way to make ends meet,” said John Bouman, president of the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, who co-chaired the task force. (Since Chicago’s ordinance, Cook County passed a $13 minimum wage in 2016. State legislators are considering a proposal to raise the Illinois minimum to $11 an hour.)

City officials estimate that more than 270,000 low-wage workers have benefited from the increase. Yet the Reporter’s analysis found that more than 20,000 workers are exempt, in part because the ordinance incorporated a number of exceptions in state law. The list of exemptions includes certain younger workers, such as those in the city’s One Summer Chicago program, other teens under 18, and student workers at public colleges and universities; disabled workers; workers in transitional employment programs, such as those for the homeless and former-inmates; new employees in their first 90 days on the job; workers for certain small businesses and other groups.

Bouman called that a “tactical decision” to avoid a bigger battle over the ordinance itself. Neither the city nor the task force came up with its own estimates of exempt workers. “The idea was it was going to be hard enough to get a substantial increase in the minimum wage, that it would fracture and get more and more complicated the more of the exemptions and sub-provisions were included in the debate,” Bouman said.

Yet advocates for several groups called on the city to use the ordinance as a chance to level the playing field for all workers.

The exemptions make it “more difficult for people with disabilities to contribute to the workforce and live independently,” said Gary Arnold, spokesman for Access Living, a disability rights group.

Other groups, including those that help place youth in the One Summer Chicago program, were surprised to learn of the exemptions after the ordinance took effect.

“They should be getting paid the minimum, especially those youth who were placed in businesses where there are other employees getting the minimum wage,” said Juliet de Jesus Alejandre, youth program director for the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “It was a disproportionate number of young people of color, who applied to many different places and this opportunity was the only one that called them back.”

Alejandre sees this as an issue of equity, as white youth from higher-income families tend to have more connections and job opportunities in their neighborhoods. In fact, she recalled that one of the few white participants in the program last summer ultimately turned down a slot after her mother helped her find a higher-paying internship elsewhere.

Once the ordinance passed, the mayor formed a Working Families Task Force to analyze other issues, including sick leave policies and worker scheduling practices. That group heard from fast food workers whose hours were cut as their hourly pay rose. They were workers like Aiesha Meadows McLaurin, who works at three Burger King restaurants to make ends meet. “They cut back on a lot of our workers’ hours,” she said. “Now I’m running between three jobs and still relying on public assistance.”

The city’s 2016 ordinance mandating paid sick leave for workers was recommended by the Working Families group. But the task force decided to table recommendations to improve scheduling, citing the need for more study.

“You can get a huge increase in your hourly rate, but what happens if the hours you work get cut?” said Robert Bruno, director of the labor education program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a task force member. “The honest answer is nobody knows what the impact of the higher minimum wage has been. Nobody has done a good, statistically comprehensive assessment.”

The university’s Project for Middle Class Renewal will analyze the impact of the higher wage on working hours, scheduling and earnings as part of a larger study on low-wage work.

Chicago enforcement spotty

As more cities enact measures to raise the local minimum wage or guarantee sick pay, some have created specialized departments to police the new labor laws. Chicago has not. Instead, the city dumped oversight of three labor ordinances — minimum wage, paid sick leave and a 2014 measure that guards against wage theft — onto the Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection without hiring additional employees.

“The scope of this department has changed and expanded, and yet the resourcing and supports and restructuring of that agency that will be necessary has not happened,” said Adam Kader, who directs the worker center at the nonprofit Arise Chicago. Wary of the city department’s capacity, labor activists like Kader often encourage aggrieved workers to consider negotiating with employers or taking other action to resolve pay issues, or even to file lawsuits in particularly egregious cases.

The department declined to provide copies of the minimum wage complaints or files from its investigations, or to allow the Reporter to inspect the documents, which would provide more details and identify the businesses involved. The department claimed this would be “unduly burdensome” and that all files are kept on paper, scattered across different departments.

But data obtained by the Reporter through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the department received 454 complaints from July 2015 (when the ordinance took effect) to December 2016.  So far, only 112 complaints, or about 1 in 4, have led to investigations, mostly because workers don’t submit the required affidavits.

Yet the department’s procedures appear to discourage workers from doing so. The department sends employers a copy of the affidavit, which activists say creates a fear of retaliation among workers (especially undocumented immigrants). Other cities, like San Francisco and Seattle, keep worker affidavits confidential and allow employees to give information over the phone without having to fill out the paperwork.

Department spokesperson Angel Hawthorne said the city doesn’t hesitate to take action. “When we receive complaints we fully investigate them and take action when necessary,” she said in a statement. “We have recovered tens of thousands of dollars in wages owed to workers and stand ready to shut down any business found to be violating wage theft laws.”

City officials told the Reporter that the department recovered wages for 51 workers. The total amount recovered: $82,000.

However, the city has not issued a single fine to or revoked the license of any of the companies found in violation of the ordinance, which states that businesses “shall be subject to fines of $500 to $1,000 per day.

Read more from The Chicago Reporter.

Fort Smith Sen. Jake Files' construction company avoiding $10,000 payment to subcontractor

1 Comment(s) | Posted |

From the Arkansas Times:

by David Koon

The Northwest Arkansas Worker's Justice Center, which is representing a subcontractor from Northwest Arkansas, claims that Arkansas Sen. Jake Files (R- Fort Smith) owes the subcontractor they represent almost $10,000 for roofing work done for Files' construction company, FFH Construction. After many attempts to reach Files, they say, he still hasn't paid. 

Files is the chairman of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, and has been in the Senate since 2011. 

Alex Canales, who owns roofing and construction company RG Construction, claims to have subcontracted with FFH to roof a building. Canales claims that himself and a crew of four workers spent roughly a month on the job, using materials purchased by FFH. Canales claims Files did pay him $2,090 for the job in the last week of November, but says FFH still owes him around $10,000. Canales said he's been trying to reach Files since November, and that Files has stopped taking his calls. 

The Northwest Arkansas Worker's Justice Center, a Springdale-based non-profit which lobbies and provides assistance on behalf of low-income and immigrant workers, reached out Files to see if they could help resolve the issue. When that didn't produce results, the group came to the Arkansas State Capitol with Canales in tow a few weeks back to see if they could locate and speak to Files during the session. 

Fernando Garcia, a caseworker with the Worker's Justice Center. said that during that trip to the Capitol, they tried to have Files paged in the Senate and sent notes for Files into the Senate chamber twice, but he never came out to speak with them. When they checked back later, Garcia said, they were told that Files had left for the day. 

Garcia said they had previously sent a letter to FFH Construction, and had been in touch with a person who identified himself as a general manager with the company. As of Friday, Feb. 3, Garcia said Canales hadn't received payment or been contacted by either Files or a representative of FFH to talk about the issue. 

Contacted by Arkansas Times, Files said he didn't know anyone named Alex Canales, and didn't recall receiving notes from anyone by that name during the session. Files said he has a subcontractor who has hired roofing crews for FFH jobs in the past. 

"It's a little strange," Files said. "I don't even know. It sounds like a misunderstanding and I don't know that it's newsworthy. I get that you've got things to print but I don't know anything about it. So I'll do some digging to see what I can find out." 

A short while later, Files called back to say that an employee he worked with had hired roofing crews in the past. though Files himself "didn't even interface with them." Files said the subcontractor he contacted had "used a guy named Alex before, but he didn't know his last name and I've never seen the name. So I don't know what the end of it is. I'll try to get a number and try to get in touch with him and go from there. As far as I know, I don't owe him any money." 

"I may have written checks to some but a lot of them I wrote to [the FFH subcontractor] and he paid them on from there," Files said. "I have heard the name RG Construction but I didn't know who it is associated with and I didn't know that we possibly owed them any money." 

Garcia said that number one issue the NWA Worker's Justice Center receives complaints about is wage theft.  "In the construction industry, it's very common," he said. "I think it's because there's a lot of confusion between the General Contractor, who can hire a subcontractor, who might hire another subcontractor along the way as well. What we've heard is: 'Well, I can't pay because I haven't been paid by the person who hired me.' Then we talk to them, and it's: 'I already paid them. I don't know why they're not paying you.' It can get a little confusing when there's a lot of subcontracting going on." 

Asked if he believes Files is actively dodging Canales to avoid paying him, Garcia said: "I'm sure his general manager told him what was going on. We've sent a letter to the company and we've had a little contact with the general manager. It wouldn't surprise me if he passed on the info to the Senator." 

Read more from the Arkansas Times.

State Investigates Wage Theft Claim at Luxury Downtown Apartment Project

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Edward Gonzalez found out he was getting paid about half as much per hour as his co-workers.

From WCPO Cincinnati:

By Lucy May, Dan Monk, Craig Cheatham 

CINCINNATI -- Edward Gonzalez felt fortunate to be earning the best wages of his life when R & R Steel hired him to work on the 8th and Sycamore development Downtown.

But his attitude changed when, six months into the job, Gonzalez found out he was getting paid about half as much per hour as his co-workers.

Gonzalez and two other Hispanic ironworkers -- all of whom are entitled to protections under state and federal labor laws -- claim R & R underpaid them by thousands of dollars and took advantage of Hispanic workers.

Their complaints have prompted investigations of the company by the city of Cincinnati, the Ohio Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The 8th and Sycamore development is a "prevailing wage" project where non-union construction workers are required to be paid the same rate as union workers.

As a ironworker, Gonzalez learned, he was supposed to be earning $46 per hour. Instead, R & R Steel hired him at a wage of $19 an hour. He got a raise that took him up to $26.80 before he found out what he was supposed to be making.

"I was angry," said Gonzalez, the father of four young children. "I do the hardest work out there. How is that guy making more than me?"

He began asking questions and said he believes he got fewer hours of work as a result. He left the job in June and sought help from the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center.

R & R Steel's president maintains the problems with pay were a misunderstanding that he has rectified.

Read more from WCPO Cincinnati.

Right to Work is Wrong for Your Family - Whether You are Union or Not. Here’s Why

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Anti-right-to-work sign being held by worker.

From Medium:

By Jesse Isbell

I spent 36 years working at the Bridgestone Tire Plant in Oklahoma City. The work was hard but rewarding, it afforded me the opportunity to provide for my family, always ensure there was enough food at the table and that my kids were afforded every modest opportunity to grow up in a household that was stable, secure and free from worry. That all changed suddenly in 2006, five years after Oklahoma passed a so-called “right to work” law that was billed by politicians as a job-creator. For the 1,400 men and women who worked at the plant, Right to Work didn’t work as advertised. Not only did the plant close, but the effects of the closing and the chilling effect that Right to Work has on a state’s economy were felt by everyone.

What is Right to Work anyway?

“Right to Work” is a dangerous and divisive bill that politicians use to intervene in the rights of people like you and me to negotiate with our bosses as we see fit. The bill is championed by big companies, the same ones that ship jobs overseas, by taking away our rights to organize and negotiate for fair paychecks and safety standards on the job. These companies argue that this will make states more competitive and attract jobs, but, in reality, that doesn’t happen.

So then, what does happen?

All evidence, actual facts, from non-partisan sources show that “Right to Work” doesn’t create jobs and actually has a negative effect on state’s economies. We saw this in Oklahoma. In the wake of Right to Work, the number of new companies relocating to our state has decreased by one-third and the number of manufacturing jobs has also fallen by a third. That’s according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics. That same thing is happening in other right to work states as well, seven of the top ten states with the highest unemployment are “Right to Work” states. Worse, the jobs that stay in “Right to Work” states are lower paid. On average, workers in “Right to Work” states make about $5,000 less a year than in other states.
That means that everyone has less money to spend in the community.
That’s the thing that supporters of this bill don’t want you to know. This law takes money out of EVERYONE’s pockets. It means that you will be paid less, that you will have less to spend on groceries, in pharmacies, on going out to dinner or to the movies, on your hobbies and home improvement projects. It means that everyone that you PERSONALLY interact with on a daily basis has less to spend, spends less and then can’t spend on other things…it’s a vicious cycle.

WORSE, Right to Work means that our communities will be less safe.

Another thing that supporters of “Right to Work” don’t tell you is that Nurses, Teachers, Firefighters and Police Officers come together collectively to negotiate with politicians over the critical equipment they need to keep our communities safe. Nurses negotiate to ensure there are enough on staff working humane hours to respond when our life is in danger in a hospital emergency rooms. Firefighters negotiate for the equipment they need to safely and quickly put out fires. Police Officers negotiate for new equipment to respond to violent emergencies. Teachers negotiate over class sizes. All of these critical negotiations by folks who know how to keep our community safe get threatened by the consequences of this bill.

Read more from Medium.

Gov. Eric Greitens Signs Missouri Right-To-Work Bill, but Unions File to Overturn It

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Gov. Eric Greitens held multiple signing ceremonies Monday for right-to-work legislation, the last inside the Capitol in Jefferson City.

From The Kansas City Star:

By Jason Hancock

 In an abandoned warehouse in Springfield, Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday signed legislation making Missouri the country’s 28th right-to-work state.

Hours later, organized labor struck back by filing a rarely used referendum petition seeking to freeze the law and put it before voters in 2018.

Greitens’ signature was thought to be the final step in a decades-long push by Republicans and business groups to enact a right-to-work law in Missouri. But if the law’s opponents gather enough signatures, the battle will carry on.

In right-to-work states, such as Kansas, employees in unionized workplaces can opt out of paying unions for the cost of being represented.

Proponents of right-to-work argue it will bolster Missouri’s economy by making the state more hospitable to businesses.

Unions vehemently oppose right-to-work laws, arguing that the real motivation is political: Republicans want to weaken a political nemesis by allowing some workers to benefit from the contracts labor unions negotiate without having to contribute to covering the costs of those negotiations.

By signing the bill, Greitens fulfilled one of his major campaign pledges. Labor unions spent heavily to defeat Greitens last year based largely on his promise to enact right-to-work legislation. He also mentioned the idea in his State of the State address last month, saying that “Missouri has to become a right-to-work state.” 

Greitens held multiple signing ceremonies for the bill Monday, the first being held in Springfield at an abandoned warehouse that Parker Briden, the governor’s press secretary, called in a press release “a far too familiar sight for many towns across Missouri.”

The owner of the warehouse, Gary Newkirk, told the Springfield News-Leader that his company went out of business five months ago, but that lack of a right-to-work law wasn’t to blame. While Newkirk said he supports the legislation, he told the newspaper that offshore competition was the real culprit.

Monday afternoon, Missouri AFL-CIO President Mike Louis and Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel filed a petition for referendum with the secretary of state’s office. They have until Aug. 28 — the day the right-to-work measure is scheduled to go into effect — to collect enough signatures to place the law on the ballot. If they succeed, right to work won’t take effect until Missourians get the chance to have their say in 2018.

A “yes” vote would mean right to work becomes law, while a “no” means it doesn’t.

Citizens may call a referendum on a measure approved by the General Assembly and not vetoed by the governor as long as they collect signatures totaling 5 percent of the voters from two-thirds of the state’s congressional districts. That would appear to be roughly 90,000 signatures.

Although the referendum petition was regularly used in Missouri during the early 20th century, the last time it was used was 1982.

Of the 26 times a referendum has been placed on the ballot, voters have rejected actions by the General Assembly all but twice.

Read more from The Kansas City Star.

California Unions Playing Defense as Trump Presidency Begins

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SEIU Protest.

LCCR & LCCREF/Flickr

From KQED News:

By Katie Orr

Labor unions in California helped push successful efforts for increasing the minimum wage, mandatory paid sick leave and expanding overtime rules for farmworkers in the state. But the Trump administration has unions playing defense, even in labor-friendly California.

The new administration worries Belinda Beeks-Malone. She’s a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). She says her biggest concern is actually very basic.

“One is if we’re even going to have a union,” she says. “Is it going to be a right-to-work-state here in California? So that’s one of the things I’m concerned about is our collective bargaining rights.”

In California, union representation continues to grow. But nationally it’s on the decline. Over half the states in the country are right-to-work states. That means employees cannot be compelled to join unions. Sylvia Allegretto is a labor economist with the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at UC Berkeley. She says it will be telling to see how the federal Department of Labor will act on workplace policies under Trump.

“Do they believe in expanding paid leave? Instituting better scheduling practices, especially for part-time workers?” she asks. “What will they do with the overtime the Obama administration wanted to expand and pass?”

Allegretto says early signs indicate the administration won’t be very helpful to union workers. She points to Trump’s pick of Andy Puzder to be labor secretary. Puzder is chief executive of a company that franchises fast food restaurants. He has criticized minimum wage increases and paid sick leave. And Allegretto says the U.S. Supreme Court will likely revisit a case that could expand those right-to-work laws, which many regard as anti-union.

Still, California labor groups are trying to stay positive. Laphonza Butler, president of California’s Service Employees International Union (SEIU) State Council, says many of Trump’s campaign promises actually align with union goals.

“Trump has said to the American people that he was going to be a jobs creator,” she says. “He was going to bring manufacturing back. And he was going to keep auto plants thriving in our nation. And those are union jobs.”

Butler says SEIU wants to focus on protecting the Affordable Care Act and protecting immigrants. But she doesn’t believe California’s strong labor laws can shield unions from changing federal policies.

Steve Smith is with the California Labor Federation. He acknowledges unions are under siege.

“But we also look at this as an unprecedented opportunity to organize, to talk to workers about the value of having a union, to talk to workers about being able to stand together to demand fair treatment from their employers,” he says. “We don’t want to just play defense for four years, we want to go on offense.”

Read more from KQED News.

Andy Puzder Is an Indefensible Nominee Who Can and Must Be Stopped

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Andrew Puzder speaking at an event in Las Vegas, Nevada.

From The Nation:

By John Nichols

 Donald Trump’s cabinet picks are greedheads and grifters, blank-stare ideologues and full-on neocons, Koch brothers mandarins and campaign donors who have bought their way into the White House. But the rigid partisanship of Republican senators and the wobbly responses of some Senate Democrats have moved nominee after nominee into positions of immense authority.

 They are stepping into those positions with insufficient scrutiny and in the face of scandals that should disqualify them. Yet a collapse of the system of checks and balances holds out the prospect that most will be approved—as became all too evident last week, when Republican-controlled Senate committees endorsed inadequately scrutinized and scandal-plagued nominees such as attorney-general pick Jeff Sessions, Treasury-secretary pick Steve Mnuchin, and Department of Health and Human Services secretary pick Tom Price. Even Betsy DeVos, the administration’s shockingly inept nominee for secretary of education, won committee approval and—despite the principled objections of two Republican senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski—was being propped up by rubber-stamp Republicans in the Senate and Vice President Mike Pence.

With Republican committee chairs ripping up the rules (and holding votes without Democratic senators present), with partisan lines being drawn ever more deeply in the sand, can any of Trump’s nominee be stopped? Yes. 

 The confirmation process should continue to be a focus of Americans who object to Trump’s assembling of a wrecking-crew cabinet—even as the resistance focuses energy on the fight over the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the US Supreme Court seat that Republicans denied Judge Merrick Garland. That focus should target the worst of the nominees, including the atrocious Andy Puzder—Trump’s pick for secretary of labor.

The Department of Labor is powerful, with a budget in excess of $12 billion, more than 17,000 employees, and a charge to protect the rights of more than 125 million workers and to assure than 10 million employers respect those rights. And it is a defining agency that sets not just the specific standards of regulations and mandates but a societal standard that is, at best, an extension of the vision former labor secretary Frances Perkins outlined when she said, “The people are what matter to government [and] a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

“Being Secretary of Labor is about making sure working men and women of this country are treated with decency,” says Congressman Mark Pocan, the Wisconsin Democrat who is a key player on labor issues in the House: 

The nomination of Andy Puzder is another broken promise to the American people. President Trump likes to talk and tweet about putting hard-working Americans first, but at the end of the day, he wants to make sure only big business and special interests have seats at the table.

 Pocan’s comments highlight why the fight against Puzder is vital. 

 It is also winnable. 

 Puzder’s nomination is on shaky ground. On Monday night, the wealthy businessman acknowledged that he had for many years employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper — admitting to engaging in the sort of wrongdoing that derailed the nomination of George W. Bush’s pick for Labor Secretary, along with the nomination of Bill Clinton’s choice to serve as Attorney General.

Last week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Puzder’s nomination was delayed for a fourth time, with a committee aide telling The Washington Post that a new hearing will not be set until the fast-food company CEO provides the Senate with necessary paperwork—including Puzder’s financial disclosures and his plan for avoiding conflicts of interest.

“There are also reports that Puzder is considering dropping out of the running for the position,” notes AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, who says, “The pressure we’re putting on our senators is working, but we need to keep it up. They need to hear us loud and clear: Puzder would be a disaster for working families.” 

 Trumka says that Puzder’s anti-worker record could fill a book: 

He’s railed against increasing the minimum wage and expanding overtime. He’s shortchanged workers at his Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants and even refused to pay managers overtime they earned. He’s talked about replacing working people with machines.

 Trumka has plenty of company in opposing the Puzder pick. This week, 105 farm and food-safety groups, including Friends of the Earth to Food & Agriculture Watch, Organic Consumers Association, and National Family Farm Coalition, wrote senators to argue that the Puzder nomination “betrays [Trump’s] promise to improve the lives of working people.”

Arguing that the fast-food CEO’s record proves he would be miserable Labor Secretary for fast-food workers, the groups explained in their letter opposing the Puzder nomination that, 

Contrary to what Puzder and other corporate leaders at the National Restaurant Association say about good working conditions in the restaurant sector, the majority of restaurant workers are women and people of color, making as little as $2.13 per hour and rely on tips to survive. These workers face disproportionate rates of poverty, discrimination, and sexual harassment and deserve a Labor Secretary who believes that, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “All labor has dignity.” Instead, with the National Restaurant Association’s champion heading the Department of Labor, workers will have to rely on vocal opponents of labor regulations to protect their basic workplace rights.

Read more from The Nation

Exploiting Black Labor After the Abolition of Slavery

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African-American, Slavery, Man, Woman, Black, Family, America

From The Conversation:

By  Kathy Roberts Forde and Bryan Bowman

The U.S. criminal justice system is riven by racial disparity.

The Obama administration pursued a plan to reform it. An entire news organization, The Marshall Project, was launched in late 2014 to cover it. Organizations like Black Lives Matter and The Sentencing Project are dedicated to unmaking a system that unjustly targets people of color.

But how did we get this system in the first place? Our ongoing historical research project investigates the relationship between the press and convict labor. While that story is still unfolding, we have learned what few Americans, especially white Americans, know: the dark history that produced our current criminal justice system.

If anything is to change – if we are ever to "end this racial nightmare, and achieve our country," as James Baldwin put it – we must confront this system and the blighted history that created it. 

During Reconstruction, the 12 years following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, former slaves made meaningful political, social and economic gains. Black men voted and even held public office across the South. Biracial experiments in governance flowered. Black literacy surged, surpassing those of whites in some cities. Black schools, churches and social institutions thrived.

As the prominent historian Eric Foner writes in his masterwork on Reconstruction, "Black participation in Southern public life after 1867 was the most radical development of the Reconstruction years, a massive experiment in interracial democracy without precedent in the history of this or any other country that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century."

But this moment was short-lived.

As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, the "slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery."

History is made by human actors and the choices they make.

According to Douglas Blackmon, author of "Slavery by Another Name," the choices made by Southern white supremacists after abolition, and the rest of the country's accommodation, "explain more about the current state of American life, black and white, than the antebellum slavery that preceded."

Designed to reverse black advances, Redemption was an organized effort by white merchants, planters, businessmen and politicians that followed Reconstruction. "Redeemers" employed vicious racial violence and state legislation as tools to prevent black citizenship and equality promised under the 14th and 15th amendments.

By the early 1900s, nearly every southern state had barred black citizens not only from voting but also from serving in public office, on juries and in the administration of the justice system.

The South's new racial caste system was not merely political and social. It was thoroughly economic. Slavery had made the South's agriculture-based economy the most powerful force in the global cotton market, but the Civil War devastated this economy.

How to build a new one?

Ironically, white leaders found a solution in the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery in the United States in 1865. By exploiting the provision allowing "slavery" and "involuntary servitude" to continue as "a punishment for crime," they took advantage of a penal system predating the Civil War and used even during Reconstruction.

A New Form of Control

With the help of profiteering industrialists they found yet a new way to build wealth on the bound labor of black Americans: the convict lease system.

Here's how it worked. Black men – and sometimes women and children – were arrested and convicted for crimes enumerated in the Black Codes, state laws criminalizing petty offenses and aimed at keeping freed people tied to their former owners' plantations and farms. The most sinister crime was vagrancy – the "crime" of being unemployed – which brought a large fine that few blacks could afford to pay.

Black convicts were leased to private companies, typically industries profiteering from the region's untapped natural resources. As many as 200,000 black Americans were forced into back-breaking labor in coal mines, turpentine factories and lumber camps. They lived in squalid conditions, chained, starved, beaten, flogged and sexually violated. They died by the thousands from injury, disease and torture.

For both the state and private corporations, the opportunities for profit were enormous. For the state, convict lease generated revenue and provided a powerful tool to subjugate African-Americans and intimidate them into behaving in accordance with the new social order. It also greatly reduced state expenses in housing and caring for convicts. For the corporations, convict lease provided droves of cheap, disposable laborers who could be worked to the extremes of human cruelty.

Every southern state leased convicts, and at least nine-tenths of all leased convicts were black. In reports of the period, the terms "convicts" and "negroes" are used interchangeably.

Of those black Americans caught in the convict lease system, a few were men like Henry Nisbet, who murdered nine other black men in Georgia. But the vast majority were like Green Cottenham, the central figure in Blackmon's book, who was snatched into the system after being charged with vagrancy.

A principal difference between antebellum slavery and convict leasing was that, in the latter, the laborers were only the temporary property of their "masters." On one hand, this meant that after their fines had been paid off, they would potentially be let free. On the other, it meant the companies leasing convicts often absolved themselves of concerns about workers' longevity. Such convicts were viewed as disposable and frequently worked beyond human endurance.

The living conditions of leased convicts are documented in dozens of detailed, firsthand reports spanning decades and covering many states. In 1883, Blackmon writes, Alabama prison inspector Reginald Dawson described leased convicts in one mine being held on trivial charges, in "desperate," "miserable" conditions, poorly fed, clothed, and "unnecessarily chained and shackled." He described the "appalling number of deaths" and "appalling numbers of maimed and disabled men" held by various forced-labor entrepreneurs spanning the entire state.

Dawson's reports had no perceptible impact on Alabama's convict leasing system.

The exploitation of black convict labor by the penal system and industrialists was central to southern politics and economics of the era. It was a carefully crafted answer to black progress during Reconstruction – highly visible and widely known. The system benefited the national economy, too. The federal government passed up one opportunity after another to intervene.

Convict lease ended at different times across the early 20th century, only to be replaced in many states by another racialized and brutal method of convict labor: the chain gang.

Convict labor, debt peonage, lynching – and the white supremacist ideologies of Jim Crow that supported them all – produced a bleak social landscape across the South for African-Americans.

Black Americans developed multiple resistance strategies and gained major victories through the civil rights movement, including Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. Jim Crow fell, and America moved closer than ever to fulfilling its democratic promise of equality and opportunity for all.

But in the decades that followed, a "tough on crime" politics with racist undertones produced, among other things, harsh drug and mandatory minimum sentencing laws that were applied in racially disparate ways. The mass incarceration system exploded, with the rate of imprisonment quadrupling between the 1970s and today.

Michelle Alexander famously calls it "The New Jim Crow" in her book of the same name.

Read more from The Conversation

January

The American Civil Liberties Union Raised Six Times as Much Online This Weekend as It Normally Gets in a Year

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American Civil Libertiies Union sign.

From Quartz:

By Cassie Werber

Americans are pouring money into the protection of human rights after US president Donald Trump imposed a travel ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries trying to enter the US.

The American Civil Liberties Union, a non-governmental organization that sued the administration over the ban, said people donated $24.2 million online to the organization over the weekend. That’s six times more than the group normally raises online in an entire year. Donations online normally total around $4 million a year. According to its 2015 annual report, the ACLU got total support of $136.7 million from grants, contributions, donated legal support and bequests that year.

Several celebrities and well-known investors helped boost donations by asking followers to give money, and by offering to match funds. Chris Sacca, founder of venture fund Lowercase Capital, and Fred Wilson, co-founder of venture firm Union Square Ventures, pledged to match chunks of money donated like-for-like. Other tech CEOs and investors matched them.

An ACLU spokesman gave CNN Money a one-word reaction on Sunday after all the donations had been added up: “Wow.”

The group and other human rights NGOs challenged the ban, announced Jan. 27, and on Sunday a federal judge issued an executive order temporarily preventing deportations. The detention of people sparked widespread protests at US airports as well as international condemnation.

Read more from Quartz

Workers Seek to Bring Union to Nissan's U.S. Plants

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Nissan global headquarters in Yokohama, Japan

From USA Today:

By Lizzie Alfs 

Ernest Whitfield, a 13-year employee at a Nissan assembly plant in Canton, Miss., wants the Japanese automaker to treat its employees with dignity and allow workers to unionize.

Whitfield, a press operator, stood alongside roughly 70 protesters at Nashville’s Coleman Park last week, just across the street from the Action Nissan dealership on Thompson Lane in Nashville and 15 miles north of the company’s North American headquarters in Franklin, Tenn.

Protesters held signs that read, "Workers’ rights are civil rights" and "Hey Nissan. Stop threatening your workers in Mississippi." Passing cars on Thompson Lane honked in support of the protest.

“Workers are mistreated inside the (Canton) plant. We’re spoken to disrespectfully by management,” Whitfield said. “As far as the safety conditions, they aren’t up to par. … It’s just a lack of dignity we’re having to deal with, and we’re told we’re ungrateful when we say we want to unionize.”

Nissan, in response, issued a statement saying it respects workers.

“Nissan's history reflects that we truly value our employees and respect their right to decide who should represent them. Nissan Canton and Smyrna employees enjoy good, stable, safe jobs with some of the highest wages and strongest benefits in Mississippi and Tennessee. The allegations being made by the union against Nissan are completely unfounded,” the statement said.

The Nashville protest comes after years of efforts by the United Auto Workers to unionize workers at the Canton plant, which opened in 2003 and employs roughly 5,000 workers. The plant produces eight vehicle models with a capacity of 450,000 vehicles per year.

The Canton plant has faced longstanding criticisms from the UAW about worker safety, the practice of hiring temporary instead of full-time workers at lower wages, and threats by management to prevent workers from unionizing.

Last year theU.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administrationcited the plant for two violations.

Whitfield said Nissan workers around the world are represented by unions except for those in the southern states of the U.S. There is no union at the company’s Smyrna plant, which employs 8,400 people and is the busiest car manufacturing facility in North America.

Read more from USA Today.

Teachers Union Battle Escalates at KIPP Charter School

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Mike Feinberg founded KIPP in a single classroom in Houston 20 years ago. It's now grown into a national network with more than 50,000.

From The American Prospect:

By Rachel M. Cohen

Public school advocates and labor unions have been pressuring members on the Senate education committee to vote Tuesday against Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s controversial pick to head the federal education department. Pointing to the Republican billionaire’s track record in politics, advocacy, and philanthropy, critics argue that she represents an existential threat to public schooling.

Flying under the radar of this high-profile fight is a little-known labor battle escalating at one of the nation’s most well-regarded and politically powerful charter school networks. With 200 schools across the country, the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, is known for boosting student achievement among low-income students, and elevating the “no excuses” style of teaching to the national stage.

In late June, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), New York City’s teachers union, filed a grievance on behalf of staff at the Bronx-based KIPP Academy Charter School, which became the first KIPP school in the city when it opened 16 years ago. (Eleven operate in New York City today, making KIPP one of the largest charter chains in the city.) The union accused KIPP Academy of failing to provide its employees with a host of basic labor rights they’re entitled to under the citywide collective-bargaining agreement. Specific grievances included a failure to provide teachers with summer vacation pay, an appropriate number of sick days, and sufficient rest periods on the job.

The battle has since metastasized into a wider legal fight, when KIPP Academy launched an ostensibly unrelated effort to encourage its employees to decertify their union.

KIPP’s academic model, defined by longer school days and school years, is also known for its high teacher turnover—fueling criticism that it’s an unsustainable model for school reform. A 2013 study published by the policy think tank Mathematica found KIPP teacher turnover was 21 percent during the 2010-2011 school year, compared with about 15 percent nationally for public schools. The study also found 86 percent of KIPP principals said teacher vacancies were hard to fill.

While most charter schools are staffed by non-union teachers, KIPP Academy is one of four so-called “conversion charters” in New York City, meaning it was formed by converting an existing public school into a charter. David Levin, co-founder of the KIPP Foundation, had launched KIPP as a program within P.S. 156 in 1995, and in the spring of 2000, he applied to expand it from a program into the entire school. As part of his application filed to the New York City Schools chancellor, Levin submitted a copy of an agreement between the UFT and the school district that said any conversion charter school “shall be subject to collective bargaining agreements for like titles or positions … including but not limited to salary, medical, pension and welfare benefits and applicable due process procedures.” The agreement also said the charter’s board of trustees could negotiate changes to the collective-bargaining agreement.

When KIPP Academy Charter School launched in September 2000, all of its initial employees had been previously employed by New York City Public Schools, all had worked in the P.S. 156 KIPP program, and all had been represented by the teachers union. KIPP Academy’s original students were all also former P.S. 156 students.

Last spring, 16 years later, about 20 staff members approached the UFT to raise concerns about their working conditions.

“Our day runs from 7:20 in the morning to 5:15 in the afternoon, so we’re there for nine hours and 55 minutes a day, and most of the time there are no breaks,” says Fatima Wilson, a fourth grade science teacher at KIPP Academy, and one of the teachers to approach the union. Even going to the bathroom becomes an ordeal, Wilson says, as teachers must inform the entire staff if they need to relieve themselves. “We often have to hold it in, and risk urinary tract infections, kidney infections. This is life as we know it,” she said in an interview with The American Prospect. “It winds up being a long day, an unsustainable day, but you know we still come to work because we love our kids.”

Wilson, who is in her second year at KIPP and her ninth year as a classroom teacher, wants to work at KIPP until she retires. She’s “embarrassed” by how terrible the staff turnover is, and says it’s because of the labor conditions.

The UFT filed its grievance on behalf of KIPP Academy teachers on June 28, 2016; when KIPP did not respond, the union sent a letter in late October announcing its intent to move forward with arbitration—a process of settling legal disputes outside of court. UFT filed for arbitration on November 7.

Shortly thereafter, KIPP representatives began talking with staff about decertifying the union—a process to revoke UFT’s legal representation.

Some KIPP Academy teachers had actually tried to do this once before. In 2009, employees filed a petition for union decertification, but under the law at the time, KIPP teachers would have needed to garner a third of the entire citywide public school bargaining unit—then 75,780 employees—to hold an election. In a 2010 hearing before the New York Public Employees Relations Board, an administrative law judge rejected the teachers’ petition as being “numerically insufficient.” KIPP Academy officials also tried to argue that the UFT didn’t even represent its staff since KIPP began as a program, not a school, meaning the charter shouldn’t be considered a real “conversion charter.”

New York’s PERB didn’t buy it. “Contrary to … KIPP Academy’s argument, the fact that one of numerous letters submitted with the charter application refer[s] to KIPP [as] a program, rather than a school, does not change the fact that the charter application specifically sought charter status based on the conversion of a public school,” the judge concluded in December 2010.

After the teachers union filed for arbitration this past November, KIPP filed for an injunction. In a district court hearing held on November 29, KIPP’s lawyer, Jeffrey A. Kehl, argued that UFT does not have representation status to file grievances on behalf of KIPP Academy teachers, pointing out that the union has not bargained any agreement, processed any grievance, or attended any meetings for KIPP teachers since the charter opened in 2000.

The judge, Carol Edmead, responded that none of what Kehl said alters the fact that the UFT has “been deemed and not overruled” as the teachers’ bargaining agent. She denied KIPP’s petition to thwart arbitration.

Since then, KIPP officials have held several meetings with their staff (what the union calls “captive audience meetings”) to discuss decertification, prompting the UFT to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board on January 19. The union’s complaint accuses the school of violating federal labor law, alleging, among other things, that KIPP encouraged teachers to end their relationship with the union, and threatened teachers with termination if they did not do so.

In response, school superintendent Jim Manley sent an email to staff at all 11 KIPP schools across the city, saying the NLRB complaint, along with the union’s subsequent press release and its demand for arbitration, “highlights our concern that engaging with the UFT will fundamentally alter the way in which we have worked together over the last 22 years to keep our promises to our kids and their families.” Going further, Manley said KIPP does not believe the academic success it has achieved would have been possible under a UFT collective-bargaining agreement.

Manley also said KIPP “disagrees” that the union represents its staff. He gave no mention to the PERB decision in 2010, or to the district judge’s recent decision in November. “We disagree both because of how we have operated since our chartering and because of recent changes to the law,” Manley said, referring to an NLRB decision issued last summer that says charter school teachers should be considered private employees. (If KIPP teachers are private employees, then the number of petition signers needed for UFT decertification may no longer be a third of the entire UFT bargaining unit, as it was in 2010. This question is unsettled and would likely need to be resolved by the federal labor board.)

KIPP NYC declined The American Prospect’s request for further comment. 

One KIPP Academy teacher I spoke to, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, said that teachers became interested in the union after seeing how KIPP responded to the filed grievance. This teacher was not one of the educators to approach the union last spring, but joined on this fall after seeing the administration’s reaction. “They didn’t want to work with the union, they didn’t want to hear what teachers were saying, and that made me passionate about joining the effort,” the teacher told me. “We felt disrespected.”

That feeling informed Wilson’s reaction to her superintendent’s suggestion that KIPP Academy might not be able to do as much for its students if teachers worked under a UFT contract.

“The only way we would sign on to work long days is because we believe in the mission, the vision, and we believe in the kids and families and each other,” she said. “Our success has nothing to do with the fact that [KIPP] is breaking laws by not giving us our right to duty-free lunch, our right to uninterrupted prep periods, the right apportion of sick days. Despite everything, despite the laws KIPP is breaking, we’re still persevering because we love our kids.”

The teacher who spoke anonymously echoed Wilson’s sentiments. “We love our school and students," she said, but “it just feels terrible to be silenced about things like your mental health and your daily life. The idea of having a real collective voice, to be part of the decision-making process—that’s what people are most interested in.”

The NLRB will now conduct an investigation into what happened at KIPP Academy, and if the federal labor board decides to issue a complaint, an administrative law judge will conduct a hearing to determine whether KIPP violated federal law.

On January 25, some of the school’s teachers filed a new union decertification petition with the NLRB. At least 30 percent had to sign on to file for an election, though it’s unclear at this time if all the signatories were employees represented by the UFT. A hearing is typically set before an election to address those concerns.

The UFT maintains that any decertification election should be seen as illegitimate, since it alleges that KIPP has already illegally encouraged, cajoled, and threatened their employees into voting against union representation.

Read more from The American Prospect.

Paid Family Leave Policies Are Expanding — but Are New Mothers Actually Taking Time Off?

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mother and baby

From The Conversation:

By Jay L. Zagorsky

The recent presidential campaign reminded us that the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries that doesn’t require companies to provide paid maternity leave.

Maternity leave is important. One of the key reasons is because medical researchers have shown overwhelmingly positive effects when parents are able to spend time with their newborn children.

Fortunately, in the past year a number of major companies announced amazing improvements in maternity and paternity leave policy. Chobani, the yogurt company, began giving six weeks of paid leave to all employees, including those working on the factory floor. Then Ikea, the large furniture seller, announced all staff were eligible for four months of paid leave when a baby is born. American Express announced an even more generous plan, offering 20 weeks at full pay for all workers. Even President Donald Trump jumped on the bandwagon and announced his support for six weeks of paid maternity leave.

For expectant parents working at companies with newly expanded leave policies, this is great news. However, not all people work for companies with generous maternity or paternity leave programs. Government figures suggest only 12 percent of workers at private companies have access to paid parental leave.

More importantly, just because a company offers a benefit doesn’t mean workers use it. For example, roughly half of all people in the U.S. don’t use all their vacation days.

While knowing figures on access to paid leave is useful, more useful is knowing the number of workers who actually take maternity leave. While maternity leave sounds like a great benefit, if it means a cut in pay or a chance of losing a particular job, some women might not take advantage of the benefit.

Recently, I published research that looks at how many working women today are taking maternity leave compared with a few decades ago. The results are not encouraging.

Current state of affairs

The United States is one of only a few countries in the world that does not offer guaranteed paid leave for women after childbirth. Some of the others that don’t offer paid leave are places like Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland. Moreover, the United Nations calls for all countries to provide a minimum of 14 weeks of paid leave for new mothers.

What does the U.S. provide? Since 1993 most workers are covered by the government’s Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law gives eligible workers 12 weeks of unpaid time off to care for a newborn.

However, just because FMLA has been enacted doesn’t mean a new parent takes maternity or paternity leave. Some new parents cannot afford to take leave because they need to pay bills.

Others don’t take leave because they are worried their job might not be available when they want to come back to work. FMLA states employees taking leave do not have to be given their same job back. Instead, they have to be given an “equivalent” job. Companies and workers might not agree on what is “equivalent.”

There wasn’t any information on actual usage of maternity leave, so I set out to calculate the numbers.

My expectations

Before doing any calculations, I expected to see an increasing number of women taking maternity leave for two reasons. First, the U.S. economy has greatly expanded since the early 1990s. GDP, which measures what the country produces, has grown about 66 percent since 1994, after adjusting for inflation. The richer the country, the easier it is to pay for improved benefits for workers.

Second, starting in 2004 a few states decided to enact paid maternity leave. California was first, and it began giving women up to six weeks of paid time off for newborn care as part of its state disability program. A few years later, the states of New Jersey and Rhode Island also enacted paid maternity leave programs. Soon New York will become the fourth state offering paid leave.

I was able to calculate maternity leave information using the Current Population Survey. This is the survey the government uses to determine the nation’s unemployment rate. Each month the survey contacts about 60,000 households across all 50 states. It records detailed information about everyone in the family. Since 1994 it has identified all people on maternity and paternity leave, regardless of whether it was paid.

What the data show

The results are striking.

The data show that maternity leave figures are essentially unchanged since 1994. For example, the number of women on leave in both 1995 and 2014 was almost the same absolute number and the same rate per 10,000 births.

During the average month, about 336,000 babies were born and slightly more than 273,000 women were on maternity leave at the time the survey was taken. Since the survey does not ask parents exactly when the baby was born, it is impossible to know for sure exactly how many of those births resulted in a mother actually taking leave. Nevertheless, if the U.N. guidelines of 14 weeks were being followed in the U.S., we should be seeing almost a million women on leave at any given time rather than the quarter of a million we are seeing.

To me, it’s startling that the number of women on maternity leave has barely budged even after California and other states have passed paid leave laws. There is no trend after adjusting for these new laws or for the number of births, unemployment rates and recessions.

As for paternity leave, the data show the number of men who have taken it has more than tripled since 1994, to a monthly average of about 22,000 in 2015. Given a third of a million babies are born each month, the figures still mean relatively few men take time off from work to care for a newborn child.

Paid versus unpaid

My research also looked at changes in paid versus unpaid maternity leave. There the news is slightly better.

Approximately half of all women on maternity leave were paid. This figure is climbing slowly over time. In 1994 about 45 percent of women on maternity leave were paid. In 2015, more than two decades later, the figure was slightly above half. At this rate all women on maternity leave will get paid during their time off in about 200 more years, which is slightly less than how long the U.S. has been in existence.

The Current Population Survey does not include questions on why people take or forgo parental leave after a baby is born. This means I am not sure what the reasons are behind the lack of change in the number of women on maternity leave, even though the economy has grown dramatically and three states have set up paid leave programs.

Read more from The Conversation.

Even by GOP standards, Puzder is a radical choice for secretary of Labor

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From The Hill:

by Andrew Stettner

The social justice we seek for our country’s workers must not be at the expense of our national economic health: rather it represents the means for maintaining that healthy prosperity.”

Those sound like the kind of words you might hear from the outgoing Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. But in fact these prescient remarks were made by William Brock III, President Reagan’s second Secretary of Labor during his opening statement at his confirmation hearing in 1985. 

Brock wasn’t the only GOP appointed secretary of labor who recognized the unique role of the Labor Department. In fact, the Labor Department was split off from the Department of Commerce in 1913 precisely because a progressive Republican, William Taft, recognized the need for a Cabinet level department that would put the needs of workers ahead of business.

In the words of President Bush’s Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, “My parents were workers and I will always remember that the Labor Department is their department.”

While we have to wait until the week of Feb. 6 to hear President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor Andrew Puzder state his views on the record, both his background and prior statements continue to cause grave anxiety among ardent supporters of the Labor Department.

Puzder is the fast food CEO of CKE enterprises, and 60 percent of his Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurant locations investigated by U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) had labor violations across the nation from California to North Carolina. Puzder literally wrote the book on curtailing government regulation stating succinctly that “more government is not the solution to every problem, it’s the problem to every solution.”

Puzder stridently objected to new rules to expand access to overtime pay saying it would add to “add to the extensive regulatory maze the Obama Administration has imposed on employers.” He stated that he was slowing expansion in California due to new laws like the requirement of 30 minute breaks every five hours.

How will Puzder lead an agency whose primary job is to enforce 180 laws enacted by Congress to protect worker’s wages, health and safety, retirement, equal treatment, and much more? Secretary Ann Mclaughlin, another Reagan choice, understood the gravity of this task declaring “central of importance to me is my duty as the Secretary of Labor to enforce the law,” and committing to “investigating alleged violations thoroughly and assessing substantial penalties quickly where violations are found.”

Similar commitments made by Elizabeth Dole, Elaine Chao, Lynn Martin and Raymond Donovan. These prior leaders understood that commitment to fair and prompt enforcement of existing laws is a minimum requirement of any Secretary of Labor, and one Andy Puzder will have to uphold.

Most prior GOP appointed secretaries of labor came to the job with deep experience with the responsibilities of public service. Raymond Donovan, the only other recent businessman chosen to the lead the worker’s department, sought to convince the committee of his allegiance to the Department’s mission.

Asked by Senator Hatch about his experience with the rules of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Secretary Donovan declared that “Any good manager, regardless of the law, has to concern himself with safety.” Health and safety is just one example of a minimum labor standard that is in fact good for business. Family and medical leave is another, and the most successful U.S. companies are going beyond the current limited Family and Medical Leave Act.

As a businessman and a Republican, Andy Puzder could be in a unique position to champion the role of a basic floor of regulations in securing a level playing field for businesses that want to provide the good jobs President Trump promised Americans during his inaugural address. But, unlike other previous hearings, it’s hard to know what to expect similar pledges from a nominee who appears so predisposed against the core commitments of the agency he has been chosen to lead.

Read more from The Hill.

Christian Leaders Denounce Trump’s Plan to Favor Christian Refugees

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Geoff Livingston/Flickr

From The New York Times:

by Laurie Goodstein

Over the past decade, Christians in the United States have grown increasingly alarmed about the persecution of other Christians overseas, especially in the Middle East. With each priest kidnapped in Syria, each Christian family attacked in Iraq or each Coptic church bombed in Egypt, the clamor for action rose.

During the campaign, Donald J. Trump picked up on these fears, speaking frequently of Christians who were refused entry to the United States and beheaded by terrorists of the Islamic State: “If you’re a Christian, you have no chance,” he said in Ohio in November.

Now, President Trump has followed through on his campaign promise to rescue Christians who are suffering.

The executive order he signed on Friday gives preference to refugees who belong to a religious minority in their country, and have been persecuted for their religion.

The president detailed his intentions during an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network on Friday, saying his administration is giving priority to Christians because they had suffered more so than others, so we are going to help them.

But if Mr. Trump had hoped for Christian leaders to break out in cheers, that is, for the most part, not what he has heard so far.

A broad array of clergy members has strongly denounced Mr. Trump’s order as discriminatory, misguided and inhumane. Outrage has also come from some of the evangelical, Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant leaders who represent the churches most active in trying to aid persecuted Christians.

By giving preference to Christians over Muslims, religious leaders have said the executive order pits one faith against another. By barring any refugees from entering the United States for nearly four months, it leaves people to suffer longer in camps, and prevents families from reuniting.

Also, many religious leaders have said that putting an indefinite freeze on refugees from Syria, and cutting the total number of refugees admitted this year by 60,000, shuts the door to those most in need.

“We believe in assisting all, regardless of their religious beliefs,” said Bishop Joe S. Vásquez, the chairman of the committee on migration for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Jen Smyers, the director of policy and advocacy for the immigration and refugee program of Church World Service, a ministry affiliated with dozens of Christian denominations, called Friday a “shameful day” in United States history.

It remains to be seen whether Mr. Trump’s executive order will find more support in the pews.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump successfully mined many voters’ concern about national security and fear of Muslims. He earned the votes of four out of every five white evangelical Christians, and a majority of white Catholics, exit polls showed.

In interviews on Sunday, churchgoers in several cities were sharply divided on the issue, including on whether Christian teachings supported giving priority to Christians.

“Love thy neighbor” was cited more than once, and by both sides: It was seen as both a commandment to embrace all peoples and to defend one’s actual neighbors from harm.

“You look at a city like Mosul, which is one of the oldest Christian populations in the world,” said Mark Tanner, 52, a worshiper at Buckhead Church, an evangelical church in Atlanta, referring to the besieged Iraqi city. “There’s a remnant there that want to stay there to be a Christian witness.”

“So yeah,” he continued. “We should reach out to everyone, but we have to be real about it and as far as who you let come into the country.”

Nmachi Abengowe, 62, a native of Nigeria who attends Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, cited Muslim-on-Christian violence in Africa in defending Mr. Trump’s preference for Christian refugees.

“They believe in jihad,” he said of Muslims. “They don’t have peace. Peace comes from Jesus Christ.”

That was not the view of Makeisha Robey, 39, who was at the Atlanta church. “I think that is just completely opposite what it means to be a Christian,” she said. “God’s love was not for you specifically. It’s actually for everyone, and it’s our job as Christians to kind of enforce that on this planet, to bring God’s love to everyone.”

John and Noreen Yarwood, who attended Mass at the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph, a Catholic church in Brooklyn, said they feared that a policy of preference for Christians could in practice become a preference for certain denominations of Christianity over others.

“What does this administration mean by Christian?” Mr. Yarwood, 37, asked. He said that refugees are deserving of help and mercy “because of desperation and poverty,” not because of their religion.

“This is not grace,” he said of the president’s order. “It doesn’t follow Christian teachings.”

Christian leaders who defended Mr. Trump’s executive order were rare this weekend.

One of the few was the Rev. Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham and the president of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical aid organization.

Mr. Graham has long denounced Islam as “evil,” and in July 2015 proposed a ban on Muslims entering the United States as a solution to domestic terrorism, months before Mr. Trump made his first call for the same.

In a statement on Saturday, Mr. Graham said of refugees, “We need to be sure their philosophies related to freedom and liberty are in line with ours.”

He added that those who followed Sharia law — a set of beliefs at the core of Islam — hold notions “ultimately incompatible with the Constitution of this nation.”

Jim Jacobson, the president of Christian Freedom International, which advocates for persecuted Christians, applauded the executive order and said, “The Trump administration has given hope to persecuted Christians that their cases will finally be considered.”

Among the claims Mr. Trump made at his campaign rallies was that the Obama administration had denied refugee status to Christians, and had given preference to Muslims.

“How unfair is that? How bad is that?” he told supporters at a rally in St. Clairsville, Ohio, interlaced with boasts about his “tremendous evangelical support.”

The contention was consistent with the conspiracy theories held by some conservative Christians that Mr. Obama was secretly a Muslim, and that he was turning a blind eye to the suffering of Christians while using the reins of government to increase the Muslim population of the United States.

But the claim is simply untrue. In 2016, the United States admitted almost as many Christian refugees (37,521) as Muslim refugees (38,901), according to the Pew Research Center.

While only about one percent of the refugees from Syria resettled in the United States last year were Christian, the population of that country is 93 percent Muslim and only 5 percent Christian, according to Pew.

And leaders of several refugee resettlement organizations said during interviews that it took 18 months to three years for most refugees to go through the vetting process to get into the United States.

Many Syrian Christians got into the pipeline more recently.

“We have no evidence that would support a belief that the Obama administration was discriminating against Christian populations,” said the Rev. Scott Arbeiter, the president of World Relief, the humanitarian arm of National Association of Evangelicals.

His organization has resettled thousands of Muslim refugees, with the help of a network of 1,200 evangelical churches.

Mr. Arbeiter said that World Relief is opposed to “any measure that would discriminate against the most vulnerable people in the world based on ethnicity, country of origin, religion, gender or gender identity. Our commitment is to serve vulnerable people without regard to those factors, or any others.”

Read more from The New York Times

State Rep. Patty Kim Renews Push for Minimum Wage Increase in Pa.

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State Rep. Patty Kim.

From Penn Live:

By Teresa Bonner

A Dauphin County lawmaker is renewing her push to increase the minimum wage in Pennsylvania.

The proposal by state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, unveiled Tuesday, calls for increasing gradually. The initial increase, to $12 an hour, would be followed by six more scheduled 50-cent increases to bring the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2023.

The proposal will be the subject of a public hearing at 2 p.m. Monday at the YWCA, Highmark Room, 1101 Market St. 

"In the budget negotiations, minimum wage should be a top priority," Kim said. "Opponents will say we can't afford to increase the minimum wage, but I must maintain, as we begin the 2017 legislative session, that this is something we simply cannot afford not to do."

Kim in 2015 offered a bill that would have raised the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. The bill didn't make it out of committee.

Read more from Penn Live

AT&T Union Workers Plan Protest To Jump Start Talks

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New AT&T logo in Dallas, TX

From Fortune:

By Aaron Pressman

AT&T's four-year run of unbroken labor peace will be tested in 2017 amid preparations by the carrier's main union to ramp up the pressure in two ongoing contract negotiations.

Some 17,000 workers in AT&T's traditional wired phone business in Nevada and California have been working without a contract since April, while a contract covering another 21,000 employees in the wireless unit is set to expire early next month. There has been little progress in the negotiations on sticking points like the outsourcing of call center jobs overseas, stagnant pay, rising health care costs, and greater reliance on wireless retail stores not owned by AT&T, officials at the Communications Workers of America union say.

"There's huge concern about the preservation of good jobs," Bob Master, legislative director for CWA's District One, tells Fortune. AT&T has moved call center jobs to Mexico and the Philippines, while selling more phones and wireless service via third-party retail chains whose workers aren't in a union and get paid far less, Master says.

Over 95% of the wireline workers have voted to approve a strike if needed, the union says. On Wednesday, wireless workers will rally outside an AT&T store in New York City, the first public move related to the expiring wireless contract. A "town hall" conference call for the wireless workers is slated for Feb. 2, with union reps saying in Facebook posts promoting the call that they are "gearing up for a real fight now."

Unlike competitor Verizon, which was hit with a bitter seven-week strike last year, AT&T has seen a lengthy period of constructive dealings with the CWA and other unions. Last month, the company extended its run of successful labor negotiations, announcing agreement on a new contract to give raises to 2,000 workers at five DirecTV call centers that the company acquired last year. That marked 25 consecutive deals covering 102,000 workers ratified in 2016 and 2015, AT&T says. One contract was rejected last year, signaling that workers may be getting more confrontational, but a modified deal was quickly negotiated and approved weeks later.

AT&T officials say the company has offered the landline workers in the latest negotiations annual wage and pension benefit increases and healthcare plans "similar to what other employees across the country have ratified and received in other contracts." A spokesman described the package as "very generous." Like much of the rest of the telecom industry, AT&T is under pressure by Wall Street to cut costs amid slowing sales for wired and wireless phone service.

"For both contracts, our objective is to reach a fair agreement that will allow us to continue to provide our employees with solid union-represented careers with great wages and benefits," AT&T's spokesman tells Fortune.

Master argues that the ground is shifting and that AT&T workers are growing angrier. Talks have been intermittent on the landline contract and not yet begun for the wireless workers. "No progress was being made," he said. "We are entering a new period."

Outsourcing jobs has become a higher profile issue since the election of President Donald Trump. And that's after a confrontation between Verizon union workers and security guards for the company near a call center in the Philippines during last year's strike ended up attracting Obama administration intervention. Union organizers also have been meeting to discuss how best to slow the move by the carriers to shift jobs either overseas or to non-union, third-party retail chains.

Read more from Fortune.

Bill Would Block Local Requirements for Labor Agreements

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Labor Protests in Milwaukee, 2.18.11-15

A.Michael Simms/Flickr

From Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

By Jason Stein

Local governments in Wisconsin could no longer require contractors to reach agreements with labor unions to work on taxpayer-funded projects such as bridges or stadiums, under a bill that came before an Assembly committee Tuesday.

If approved, the bill would continue a six-year trend in which Republicans in the Capitol have reduced or limited the power of unions in the state. The bill's lead sponsor, Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), told the Assembly Labor Committee that he wanted construction firms and other businesses to be able to bid on taxpayer-funded projects even if the companies haven't reached project labor agreements with unions.

"Requiring PLAs, however, discourages many contractors from participating in public (projects)," Hutton said. "This is a free-market issue."

These agreements drew scrutiny from conservatives when the Milwaukee Bucks and firms involved in building the team's new arena reached labor agreements last year setting wages and other conditions with unions and community groups. State and local taxpayers are covering half the cost of the $500 million arena.

Republicans who back Assembly Bill 24 say it protects taxpayers by ensuring that companies doing acceptable work at a good price can compete for public projects such as a road or government building.

Democrats said the bill was another example of state GOP lawmakers seeking to limit the power of local governments in Wisconsin while they at the same time ask the Republican Congress and President Donald Trump to give more local control to state governments.

Stephanie Bloomingdale, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, said that taxpayers get the best value when construction firms use skilled union workers making good wages. She said construction projects had been built using these agreements around the country including Disney World, Hoover Dam and the Marquette Interchange project in Milwaukee

"Make no mistake, PLAs have built our country," Bloomingdale told the committee. "Why would anyone want to see local governments restrained from using an important tool that leads to projects being done on time, on budget and local people being put to work?"

These labor agreements can include a range of provisions, including minimum wages for workers, overtime rules, protections against work stoppages and a requirement that the construction company or business use workers represented by a union.

John Mielke, president of the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, a trade group representing nonunion construction firms, said that local governments could still require many of the same standards now found in project labor agreements through other means.

Read more from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Don't Let Trump Roll Back Gains for Workers

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Donald Trump speaking at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr

From The Hill:

By Richard Trumka

Much has been made of President Trump’s sweeping comments and random tweets. But now that he’s been officially sworn in, the consequences for American workers are much more tangible.

Donald Trump will soon decide whether or not to repeal a number of pro-worker regulations that make a real difference in the lives of working people.

Regulations make sure our food is inspected, and stop Wall Street firms from bleeding our retirement funds. They help us stay safe on the job, and to prevent airplanes from falling apart in the sky.

The push for removing regulations has always come from those in the millionaire and billionaire class, who want to line their pockets at the expense of everyday Americans. They prefer rules that maximize their wealth — a trickle-down approach that has failed our nation time and time again.

Overtime pay is one example. If you make $47,476 or less, a new rule says your employer must pay you fairly if you work more than 40 hours a week. This is a necessary step to restore overtime protections that have been eroding for decades.

But now a U.S. district court in Texas has halted the rule, and the man Trump has tapped to lead the Labor Department is openly hostile to it.  

Abandoning the overtime rule would amount to a pay cut for workers like Lora McCrary, who manages a profitable national auto supply chain where the demands of her job require approximately 70 hours a week. Even though she makes a little over $24,000 a year, like many other modestly paid “managers,” she doesn’t get a cent in overtime.

Overtime pay is one example. If you make $47,476 or less, a new rule says your employer must pay you fairly if you work more than 40 hours a week. This is a necessary step to restore overtime protections that have been eroding for decades.

But now a U.S. district court in Texas has halted the rule, and the man Trump has tapped to lead the Labor Department is openly hostile to it.  

Abandoning the overtime rule would amount to a pay cut for workers like Lora McCrary, who manages a profitable national auto supply chain where the demands of her job require approximately 70 hours a week. Even though she makes a little over $24,000 a year, like many other modestly paid “managers,” she doesn’t get a cent in overtime.

Trump could also dismantle an executive order that ensures federal contracts go to employers that respect workers’ rights and obey wage and workplace safety laws, resuming the flow of taxpayer dollars to corporations that exploit and marginalize working people. This essentially rewards bad actors. Working people are rightly concerned about what lies ahead. 

The debate over regulations is more than talk show chatter. Government rules and standards help shape our daily lives. Over the last eight years, the Obama administration has taken numerous important, commonsense actions with the aim of building an economy that is fairer for working people. President Trump should not spend his first days in office dismantling this progress. The result would be an all-out assault on our paychecks, safety and economic security. 

Read more from The Hill

SEIU President on Donald Trump and the 'Fight for $15' Movement

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Mary Kay Henry, Vice President of Service Employees International Union (SEIU), calls for Judge Sotomayor's speedy confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

LCCR/Flickr

From Newsweek:

By Emily Cadei

President Donald Trump hosted a “listening session” with American labor union leaders Monday, but some central players in the labor movement didn’t get the invite. In a sign of how Trump may seek to split organized labor as president, he limited the gathering to representatives of the construction and building trades unions, organizations that represent the type of blue-collar, manufacturing sector workers he championed in his campaign. Left out were the public sector and service industry unions that have been some of the most powerful supporters of Democrats in recent elections.

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU)—the nation’s second largest—was one of those excluded from Monday’s meeting. But even before that, the union was girding for war. “We are battening down the hatches,” President Mary Kay Henry said in an interview.

Henry spoke to Newsweek shortly before Trump was inaugurated last week, and she acknowledged the challenges his election presents to her union, which represents 2 million health care workers, public sector employees, food and hotel workers and others. But she insisted that the threats from a Trump White House are “not existential from our perspective.” And the SEIU is preparing to fight for those same blue-collar voters Trump successfully wooed in 2016. It’s a brewing political battle that could define the midterm elections in 2018 and the president’s re-election effort in just under four years.

Henry tacitly acknowledged the union’s need to expand its reach, promising to broaden the “Fight for $15” movement, one of its signature successes in recent years. The campaign to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour has notched some major victories—19 states and cities are now on track to have that as the minimum wage, more than double the $7.25 federal minimum wage, including California and New York. Many private companies have also raised their wages unilaterally as public pressure has increased.

Most of the activism, however, has focused on the fast-food industry, the health care sector and other service industry jobs, not the struggling manufacturing sector, whose decline was a central narrative in Trump’s campaign. And the labor campaign has had its biggest impact in the country’s urban centers, far removed from many of the small-town, predominantly white voters who fueled Trump’s 2016 upset victory.

Henry said the SEIU and “Fight for $15” organizers plan to target sectors that include autoworkers—a key Rust Belt constituency—and truck drivers in 2017. “And we want to get into white urban and exurban and rural areas and figure out how to mount a fight to get good jobs back in their communities,” she added. At the same time, the SEIU plans to make clear to workers that Trump is not the populist ally he styled himself as on the campaign trail. “Our key job is to keep exposing the contradictions in his actions and words,” Henry said, pointing to Trump’s nomination of Andy Puzder, an opponent of minimum wage increases, as secretary of labor, and his promises to revoke Obamacare. “And then organize.”

They’re going to have to do so on a smaller budget. Bloomberg reported in late December that the SEIU was preparing to slash its budget by 30 percent over the next year, including a 10 percent cut effective January 1. Henry said the spending decision was the result of a “threat assessment” related to Trump. One of the biggest of those threats: that the new president’s pick to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat could swing the court against unions in future labor-organizing challenges, causing them to lose members and the dues they bring in. Henry noted the SEIU made a similar budget decision after the Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that government-funded home health workers could not be required to pay union dues.

There’s been a “systemic attack on unions for the last 40 years,” Henry said, and she believes this helped pave the way for Trump’s victory. “When unions formed in the last century, auto, steel and rubber jobs became good jobs.... That essential, basic bargain—that when you work hard for a living, you can help your family get ahead—has been broken.” And Trump, she said, tapped into the angst that has come out of that development.

Henry was actually one of the few people in Washington taking his chances seriously as far back as January 2016, before the primary races had even kicked off. In a podcast interview with former Barack Obama adviser David Axelrod, the SEIU president warned that Trump was speaking to the “terrible anxiety” America’s working families felt about the future. At the time, Henry said the SEIU was reaching out to “every one of our members” about Trump and the stakes in the 2016 election. It didn’t stop the billionaire businessman from winning historically high numbers of voters from union households—the most since 1984, The Washington Post pointed out. Trump’s early steps to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement negotiations and bully American companies into not moving jobs abroad are just the sorts of moves that will affirm their support.

Trump, however, also faces pressure from Republicans in Congress and some of his own advisers to move away from his promises on health care reform and entitlement cuts. His tax proposal is set to benefit the wealthy far more than the working class. And his promise to roll back Obama-era regulations could mean curbing worker rights and benefits. The SEIU and other labor organizers plan to highlight these types of policies to paint the new president as a hypocrite, someone who’s not living up to the hopes his working-class supporters have pinned on him. 

Read more from Newsweek

Leggett vetoes $15 minimum wage in Montgomery County

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 Montgomery County MD County Executive Ike Leggett speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Bethesda Green in Bethesda, MD

From The Washington Post:

By Bill Turque

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett on Monday vetoed legislation that would have made the wealthy county the first jurisdiction in Maryland to require a $15 minimum wage.

Leggett (D) said boosting the wage to the level embraced by national progressive activists, including former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), would harm Montgomery’s economy and its ability to compete for jobs in the Washington region.

The only locality that has adopted a $15 minimum is the District of Columbia, which will require employers to pay that wage by 2020.

“I remain concerned . . . about the competitive disadvantage [the bill] would put the County in compared to our neighboring jurisdictions,” Leggett said in a letter to Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda).

Leggett left the door open to considering a revised bill, contingent on a study of the economic impact of a $15 minimum wage on the county’s public, private, and nonprofit sectors. His other conditions for signing a revised bill include extending the wage hike’s phase-in to 2022 — two years after the District will begin requiring a minimum of $15 an hour — and including an exemption for small business and youth workers.

Virginia uses the federal minimum wage, currently $7.25 an hour. Maryland requires $8.75 an hour, which will rise to $9.25 in July and $10.10 in July 2018.

In 2013, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties joined with the District in an unusual regional action to raise the wage to $11.50 by 2017. But Prince George’s officials indicated last year that they would not pursue a $15 minimum.

Leggett’s decision to nullify the bill sparked strong criticism from labor and progressive groups that pushed hard to enlist the county in the national “Fight for $15” campaign. New York state and city, California and Seattle have all passed legislation putting their jurisdictions on the path to a $15 minimum.

“Working families who fear life under the Trump presidency need not wait for the White House to make their lives harder — their own local leaders have already started,” the MD/DC Fight for $15 Coalition said in a statement Monday evening. 

The group — which includes Service Employees International, CASA, Jews United for Justice, Progressive Maryland and the Metro Washington Central Labor Council — added that “businesses will almost assuredly continue to thrive in the nation’s eighth-richest county.”

Leggett said that unlike Seattle, New York and other metropolises, Montgomery is not “a ‘destination city’ that draws great numbers of business travelers or tourists” to support businesses that charge more in order to pay a higher wage.

Instead, he said, “our residents will essentially shoulder the bulk of the cost” if a $15 minimum wage is put into place in the county but nowhere else in the state.

Leggett, who had until Jan. 30 to decide whether to sign or veto the bill, had strongly signaled his opposition before the measure passed a divided County Council last week.

The all-Democratic panel approved the bill, which mandated a $15-per-hour base pay by 2020, by a 5-to-4 margin — one vote short of the majority needed to override a veto.

The bill’s chief sponsor, council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) tried to win Leggett over with an amendment to give businesses with fewer than 25 employees until 2022 to adapt to the higher wage. But Leggett wanted to extend the longer phase-in to all companies. 

“I disagree with him fundamentally about [a deadline of ] 2022 for everybody,” Elrich said. He questioned the validity of a study of the bill’s future impact, an idea that council members who voted against the legislation have said they support.

“You can’t do an examination of what’s going to happen in the private sector,” Elrich said. “You can study what has happened, but you can’t tell what will happen going forward.”

Read more from The Washington Post

The Debate Over Paid Sick Leave In Maryland

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On February 18, 2014, the United Workers and the Working Matters coalition testified in support of Paid Sick Leave Legislation in the Maryland state House of Delegates.

United Workers/Flickr

From CBS Baltimore

By George Solis

Your wallet or well-being? Once again the question is at the center of debate in Annapolis as Marylanders rally for and against paid sick leave on Monday night.

The fifth time could be the charm. Last year, a measure to make paid sick leave a reality got close to passing but failed at the last minute. This year, there are two options on the table, but only time will tell if either makes the cut.

For millions of working Americans, taking a “sick day” may seem like no big deal. But, right now for many Marylanders, it’s the choice between either having to work while ill or risk losing their jobs.

“Cause if you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid,” says Darlene Butler.

Butler, who’s a widow trying to raise her children and is for paid sick leave, says no matter how she was feeling, losing money was never an option.

Monday night Butler joined hundreds in Annapolis in a rallying cry to fight for a paid sick time bill that would eliminate making that hard choice.

Those pushing for the bill tell WJZ with support growing for the cause, they’re optimistic this is the year paid sick leave will become a reality.

“We think after 4 years, this is the year we’re going to build off the strength of last year,” says Elisabeth Sachs with the Job Opportunities Task Force.

Opponents argue many companies won’t be able to afford it.

The Maryland Retailers Association says paying for it may prove costly in other ways.

“That means that we will have to eliminate jobs, we’ll have to cut hours, we’ll have to cut benefits or increase consumer costs,” says Cailey Locklair Tolle, with the Maryland Retailers Association.

Most advocates are backing a version that has companies with 15 or more workers earning one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, while companies with fewer than 15 employees would have to allow unpaid time off.

The governor’s proposal would apply to companies with 50 or more workers earning up to five sick days. And employers with fewer than 50 workers would be eligible for tax deductions in exchange for sick time for employees.

Many say a compromise may be the best solution.

Read more from CBS Baltimore.

Proposed Fix to Get Business Owners to Pay Unpaid Wages

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-wage-theft-survey-fast-food-20140331-001.jpg

From NBC 6 Miami:

By Myriam Masihy

A proposed ordinance could help strengthen Miami-Dade County’s existing wage theft ordinance.

Commissioner Pepe Diaz introduced the plan that would add attorney fees to the amount a business owes an employee who takes them to court over unpaid wages.

“They can try to ignore it but it’s going to be a lot harder,” Diaz said.

The county has a wage theft ordinance that allows a worker to take a former employer to a hearing over unpaid money. A hearing officer can rule that a business owner has to pay. But the NBC 6 Investigators found business owners still not paying workers even after the deadline passes.

The new plan would require a business to pay attorney fees and costs that a worker takes on trying to get the money. An attorney is not required in the initial hearing portion of a wage theft hearing but could be needed to pursue a business that doesn’t pay.

“We’re going to continue to do things so hopefully, hopefully this will be a thing of the past in Miami-Dade County,” Diaz said.

Last winter, the NBC 6 Investigators reported the stories of several workers who claimed employers hadn’t paid them for work that had been done, including Alexander Hernandez.

The chef has been waiting more than a year for three weeks of pay from the former District Restaurant in Miami. The business closed and he says he didn’t get his final pay.

Hernandez filed a wage theft complaint in Miami-Dade County and won.

A hearing officer ordered the owners of the former restaurant, Maria Gonzalez and Esther Diaz , to pay Hernandez three times more than what he was owed, a total of $6,204 within 45 days.

In March, Diaz wouldn’t commit on when she would pay Hernandez.

“I’m working on it,” she told NBC 6 Investigator Myriam Masihy.

Diaz didn’t return a phone call and wasn’t at her new restaurant when NBC 6 Investigators tried to reach her this week.

Read more from NBC 6 Miami

Oracle Sued by Labor Department for Paying White Men More

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 Oracle sign at Oracle Corporation headquarters in Redwood Shores, Redwood City, California.

From USA Today:

By Jessica Guynn

Oracle is being sued by the Labor Department for allegedly paying white men more than their counterparts and for favoring Asian workers when recruiting and hiring for technical roles.

The administrative lawsuit is the latest from the Labor Department to take aim at the human resources practices of major technology companies.

The Labor Department warned the lawsuit could cost Oracle hundreds of millions in federal contracts. Oracle makes software and hardware used by the federal government.

“The complaint is politically motivated, based on false allegations, and wholly without merit," Oracle spokesman Deborah Hellinger said in a statement. "Oracle values diversity and inclusion, and is a responsible equal opportunity and affirmative action employer. Our hiring and pay decisions are non-discriminatory and made based on legitimate business factors including experience and merit."

The lawsuit is the result of an Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs review of Oracle's equal employment opportunity practices, the Labor Department said. According to the lawsuit, Oracle America paid white male workers more, leading to pay discrimination against women, African American and Asian employees. The Labor Department also accused Oracle of favoring Asians for product development and other technical roles, resulting in discrimination against non-Asian applicants.

Oracle refused to comply with the Labor Department's investigation, which began in 2014, such as refusing to provide compensation data for all employees, complete hiring data for certain business lines and employee complaints of discrimination, according to the federal agency.

The lawsuit comes as Silicon Valley faces growing pressure to increase diversity across the tech industry, which is dominated by white and Asian men. In recent years, major technology companies have begun to make public commitments to hire more women and minorities but progress has been slow.

As a federal contractor, Oracle is barred from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, disability or against military veterans. And Oracle, like any federal contractor, must allow the federal government to review records and information relevant to the company's compliance with equal employment laws administered by OFCCP, according to the Labor Department.

In recent months the Labor Department has become more aggressive in enforcement of Silicon Valley tech companies. In September, it filed an administrative lawsuit alleging a pattern of discrimination against Asian job applicants at Palantir, a data mining company valued at $20 billion and co-founded by technology investor and Trump adviser Peter Thiel. Palantir denied the discrimination allegation.

Read more from USA Today

Stardust Diner Fires 15 More Employees; Owners Hit With Wage Theft Suit

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Ellen's Stardust Diner.

From Playbill:

By Michael Gioia

Management at Ellen’s Stardust Diner, the singing food joint that has become a Times Square staple among tourists and theatre fans, fired 15 more long-term employees, bringing the total number of singing servers fired since August 2016 to 31. According to a press release from the Stardust Family United union, employees received their notice via email, some while working their shift.

As previously reported by Playbill.com, the singing wait staff at Ellen’s unionized with Industrial Workers of the World in August 2016, citing unfair and sometimes unsafe working conditions. As tension escalated between staff and management, ten longtime employees were fired September 13 and 14 following the formation of Stardust Family United (SFU).

Owner Ken Sturm continues to terminate employees—on the heels of continued union organizing, including “many successful actions in the workplace,” according to the Stardusters—and SFU has called for a boycott until they are rehired and their concerns are addressed.

According to Stardust Family United, during the holiday season, management instituted new policies restricting song choices and forced staff to learn and rehearse new material on their own time without providing compensation. In response, SFU delivered a letter to management stating that servers would not learn the material without proper rehearsal time and pay. Management conceded and told employees they would not be disciplined for this action.

However, the lead organizer of this action was among those terminated.

In addition, owners Ellen and Ken Sturm were served with a class-action lawsuit targeting wage theft practices in the restaurant. Over 50 employees have signed onto the suit thus far, which addresses the manipulation of time cards to avoid paying overtime, illegal “tip out” requirements, and unlawfully withholding gratuities collected from large parties.

The release states that Sturm has called employees into his office, “trying to coerce statements by offering ‘amnesty’ in exchange for false testimony to impugn terminated employees, and threatening termination and arrest. Employees and their families have been harassed and threatened in anonymous text messages, and by strangers visiting them at home.”

In an email statement to Playbill.com, Sturm said, “This past week Ellen’s discontinued some employees for good business reasons. Any suggestion that anything about that decision was improperly motivated or not for good reasons is not true.

“Ellen’s respects the rights of its employees to engage in any legally protected activity.

“Despite some recent employee complaints about there being improper discharges or interference with the opportunity for employees to organize a union, there has never been a such a finding. In fact, the company has sought for four months to have the government hold an election to permit its employees to have their say on whether they want a union. But those complaining and claiming to speak for our employees have opposed any election, thereby both making their claims against Ellen’s not credible and denying the right of employees to choose. We think that is wrong.

“Ellen’s deeply respects its employees and provides fair treatment.”

Sturm has not responded to Playbill.com’s request for comment regarding the wage theft suit filed by the Stardust team.

On January 28 Stardust Family United will hold a large-scale, family-friendly musical protest from 4:30–7:30 PM, in which members and supporters of SFU will be outside singing songs and sharing information about their struggle for fairness.

SFU has been endorsed by George Miranda, president of Joint council 16 of the Teamsters, the Actor’s Equity Association, the Associated Musicians of Greater New York (Local 802 AFM), and the Office and Professional Employees International Union (Local 153), among others. 

Read more from Playbill.

Homestead Labor Subcontractor Charged With Slavery

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Migrant worker in field.

From the Miami Herald:

 By David J. Neal

A Homestead labor subcontractor has been sentenced to federal prison after pleading guilty to slavery.

The full legal term for the charge for which Agustin Mendez-Vazquez got six years is “conspiracy to provide and maintain forced labor.” Mendez-Vazquez, 44, used violence, threats of violence and white collar schemes to keep his workers under his control.

He committed the offense while providing migrant worker labor to crews and farms as a nicolero, so termed for the nickel commission most labor subcontractors get for each bucket of produce picked by the workers he provides.

Helping keep his father’s sometimes-illegal field help in line, the 24-year-old Ever Mendez-Perez committed conspiracy to encourage and induce illegal aliens to reside in the United States, according to the plea. He’ll do a year in federal prison.

“Forced labor equates to modern-day slavery and the United States Attorney’s Office, together with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners stand ready to prosecute those individuals who facilitate these illegal practices,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Wifredo A. Ferrer said in a Department of Justice release. Mendez-Vazquez pleaded guilty on Friday.

The enforcement of the slavery took several forms.

Sometimes, instead of paying the migrant workers directly, the farms give their wages to the nicolero to distribute the funds owed his workers. That is illegal because it gives vast power of the purse to the nicolero. The complaint against Mendez-Vazquez says a farm industry regulatory organizations received an allegation as far back as 2013 that he withheld payment from his workers.

The complaint also lays out this incident from May 2015:

“Witness A was attempting to assist a worker who wanted to leave Mendez's employment, but Agustin Mendez prevented the worker from leaving. Agustin Mendez physically blocked the worker from leaving, made statements regarding pay arrangements, threatened Witness A with violence and smashed the windshield of Witness A’s vehicle. Later, Ever Mendez, Agustin’s son, communicated a threat to Witness A over the phone. Witness A filed a police report in Palmetto, Florida.”

Mendez-Vazquez’s legal statement admits he and others “intimidated and physically assaulted a manual farm worker who had recently arrived from Mexico. The Defendant did this in an attempt to make sure that the manual farm worker ... would work only for him. Additionally, the Defendant threatened to report the recently arrived worker to law enforcement.”

Read more from the Miami Herald.

Rift Between Minimum Wage Sides Grows at Flagstaff City Council

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Flagstaff City Council meeting.

From Arizona Daily Sun:

By Suzanne Adams-Ockrassa

Flagstaff City Council took no action after more than two and a half hours of divisive comments from the public on the effects of Prop. 414, the local $15-an-hour minimum wage law.

"I think we understand the level of fear that's coming from all sides of the issue," said Mayor Coral Evans.

Councilmember Jim McCarthy said he believed that the city did need an increase in the local minimum wage and putting the issue back on the ballot was a good idea.

However, he didn't think it was appropriate to put Elevate Flagstaff's initiative to gut the $15 wage on the May ballot. Voters need more than one option on the ballot.

He also didn't think that waiting until November 2018 was  inappropriate. Council and the public needed more time to work the problem and possible solutions out, he said.

Councilmember Charlie Odegaard disagreed, saying it wouldn't be fair to those who signed the Elevate ballot petition to wait two years.

"It's unfortunate that we couldn't have had this discussion six months ago," he said.

"We have a lot to ponder," said Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan. "It's going to take some time. We've just got to figure out how to do it."

Councilmember Scott Overton said he would defer comment on the topic until the Council took action on the initiative proposed by Elevate Flagstaff. The group, which is looking to peg any Flagstaff minimum wage to the state minimum, has turned in their petition and is awaiting signature checks by the county recorder. That process takes two or three weeks.

Maria Becerra was one of the many residents at Tuesday's meeting. She spoke through a Spanish translator and said she has worked cleaning and serving in restaurants and hotels in Flagstaff for 14 years while raising a family.

“I started working 10 years ago for $4.50 plus tips,” she said. “In the last five years my wages have risen 55 cents.”

“We can’t even dream of taking a vacation. I don’t even dream of a raise, which is what they’re trying to take away from us,” she said. “We’re not asking for a favor. Would you have what you do without us?”

Kim Yule, a small business owner, said she was appalled at the attempt to repeal Prop. 414. Elevate Flagstaff hired petition signature gatherers to collect enough signatures to repeal what the voters requested. It shows, she said, that if you have the money you can buy an election.

There are ways for businesses to adjust to the increase in wages, she said. Yule said she worked with one business that has successfully been able to adjust by tripling its online sales and selling out of holiday merchandise two weeks early.

A couple of Northern Arizona University students also pleaded with Council to speak with University President Rita Cheng and encourage her to increase student workers’ wages. State employees are exempt from the wage increase and students will still be making around $8.05 as local wages increase and the prices of food and rent increase.

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  • ChaptersSeveral people urged Council to amend or repeal Prop. 414 in order to protect jobs, businesses and nonprofit organizations that provide services to the disabled.Carl Jefferies said he is in favor of the state wage. He came to Flagstaff years ago and owned a fast food restaurant that employed mostly students. During the recession, he got a part-time job in order to make ends meet. Now, employees who will be hired under the new minimum wage will be making as much as he is making after nine years and that’s not fair.Armando Bernasconi, the CEO of Quality Connections, said his company cannot pursue its mission without the business community. Quality Connections provides job training and jobs for residents with disabilities. Businesses have helped lift 38 people out of poverty by hiring them from Quality Connections and purchasing products from the company.

“The Flagstaff business community is not the 1 percent,” he said.

Bernasconi said he believed if Council removed the $2 an hour extra required by the local initiative, a wage increase would be doable.

Former Councilmember Al White agreed with Bernasconi and said that he believed that Council could amend the law to remove the $2 increase. The $2 increase over the state wage was intended to be $2 over an $8.05 wage, not over a $10 wage, he said.

“I don’t believe the intent was to close any businesses. I think the intent of the voters was to help pull people out of poverty,” White said. Lengthening the timeline for the increase in the wage to $15 would also help.

Voters can propose and approve any initiative that repeals or amends the new law. Elevate Flagstaff, a group of local business owners, residents and nonprofits, has taken that route, collecting and turning in 8,845 signatures with the help of the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce last Thursday to put the issue back on the ballot. The group needed to collect 4,411 signatures. Those signatures have yet to be verified.

Elevate’s ballot initiative would align the local minimum wage with the new state wage and gradually increase the local wage to $12 an hour by 2020 for regular workers and $9 an hour for tipped workers. The local wage would then increase by 50 cents per hour, the tipped wage could be at a maximum of $3 below the non-tipped wage.

Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Director Stuart McDaniel pointed out that gathering that many signatures in three weeks showed an emerging consensus that a change in the law was needed.

"We're too small to be using this type of divisive language against one another," he said. He asked the public to consider and honor the opinion of those who signed the petition.

Read more from Arizona Daily Sun.

Starbucks Just Made Its Great Parental Leave Policy Even Better

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Employees work inside the Starbucks at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel in south Mumbai, India.

From Glamour:

By Erin Reimel 

Parental leave was a hot topic this campaign season: After all, America is one of two industrialized countries with no paid maternity leave (the other is Papua New Guinea). Instead, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires only 12 weeks of unpaid leave with the birth, fostering, or adoption of a child, and only for workers who qualify. But Starbucks is among the companies leading the way for paid leave for workers.

Historically it has offered some pretty good parental (not just maternity) leave benefits for employees working 20 or more hours a week but who still might not meet FMLA's standard (1,250 hours worked in the past year, or about 24 per week, and employed at the company for one year). Now the company has upgraded its policy from a grande to a venti.

At the moment, benefits-eligible employees who are giving birth are given six weeks of paid leave at 67 percent of average pay, but as of October 1, those benefits will be expanded. Starbucks announced the new policy this week, and once it's in place, birth mothers will be given six weeks at 100 percent of their average pay and followed by the federal standard of 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Yep—full pay for an extra six weeks.

But that's just for employees who work in the stores: Moms who give birth and who work out of the store (say, as district managers) will be offered the same18 weeks, with all of it at full pay. And the policy gets sweeter than before for parents in that employment category who didn't physically give birth; they'll receive full pay for their 12 weeks.

Read more from Glamour.

When Their Shifts End, Uber Drivers Set up Camp in Parking Lots

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Uber driver at night.

Jason Tester/Flickr

From the Chicago Tribune:

 By 

"That's the sacrifice," he said in May, smoking a cigarette beside his Toyota Prius parked at the Safeway at 1 a.m., the boats in the bay bobbing gently in the background. "My goal is to get a house somewhere closer, so that I don't have to do this every day."

The vast majority of Uber's full-time drivers return home to their beds at the end of a day's work. But all over the country, there are many who don't. These drivers live near, but not in, expensive cities where they can tap higher fares, ferrying wealthier, white-collar workers to their jobs and out to dinner — but where they can't make enough money to get by, even with longer hours. To maximize their time, drivers find supermarket parking lots, airports and hostels where they catch several hours of sleep after taking riders home from bars and before starting the morning commute.

In a sense, drivers sleeping in their cars typifies, in an extreme way, what Uber said it does best: offer drivers flexibility. "With Uber, people make their own decisions about when, where and how long to drive," the company said in an emailed statement. "We're focused on making sure that driving with Uber is a rewarding experience, however you choose to work."

Uber drivers across the country swap tips for finding sleeping spots, like: which stores have the most forgiving security guards and where to find free Wi-Fi. In Chicago, drivers call the 7-Eleven at the intersection of Wrightwood & North Lincoln avenues the "Uber Terminal." In Columbus, Ohio, drivers prefer the Walmart off the Jack Nicklaus Freeway. In Queens, New York, drivers are known to frequent the 7-Eleven off JFK Expressway. Drivers on the online forum Uberpeople.net joke that there is money to be made in a motel chain serving the large number of Uber drivers sleeping in their cars in New Jersey.

In Chicago, Walter Laquian Howard sleeps most nights at the "Uber Terminal." "I left my job thinking this would work, and it's getting harder and harder," Howard said. "They have to understand that some of us have decided to make this a full-time career."

Howard has been parking and sleeping at the 7-Eleven four to five nights a week since March 2015, when he began leasing a car from Uber and needed to work more hours to make his minimum payments. Now that it's gotten cold, he wakes up every three hours to turn on the heater. He's rarely alone. Most nights, two to three other ride-hailing drivers sleep in cars parked next to his. It's safe, he said, and the employees let the drivers use the restroom. Howard has gotten to know the convenience store's staff-Daddy-O and Uncle Mike-over the past two years while driving for this global ride-hailing gargantuan, valued at $69 billion.

"These guys have become my extended family," said Howard, 53. "It's my second home. We have this joke that I'm the resident. I keep asking them: 'Hey, did my mail come in yet?'"

Howard's real home is 40 miles away in Griffith, Indiana. He lives alone in a basement apartment that he began renting when he and his wife split. Before working as an Uber driver, Howard was a nurse's assistant. In 2014, he started driving for Uber on the weekends to make some extra cash. The surge pricing and new driver promotions convinced him that he'd hit the jackpot. "It was great. I made $40 an hour, no problem. Of course, I left my job to become a full-time driver," he said. In the fall of 2015, Howard said everything changed when Uber began offering a group-ride service called UberPool and giving drivers a lower cut of their fares. He said he now makes $12.50 an hour. Uber said it's working on improving the UberPool experience for drivers.

Mark Lewandoske, 51, has been driving for Uber since July. He owns a home in the unincorporated town of Sage, California. It's 77 miles from San Diego International Airport, where he gets the best fares and does some of his driving. He'll drive late into the night, usually until the bars close. Then he'll find somewhere quiet to park and sleep. Some days it's on a residential street. To avoid the police and keep warm, he puts up reflective sunshields in his Prius. He tries to work five days in a row before heading home to his partner and dogs.

Lewandoske served in the Navy for 20 years as a hospital corpsman, and one perk of being a veteran is that he has access to Camp Pendleton, the Naval base. No one questions him there. Sometimes he'll park his car for the night, and in the morning, he can shower in the base's gym. "Base police have never done anything to me there," he said. "They know if you're on base, you hold an ID card; you're not going to cause a problem."

It's Lewandoske's military pension that helps him stay afloat; Uber wages are not enough. He likes driving, but, he said, "They need to stop lowering their rates." Lewandoske tries to earn $125 a day no matter how many hours it takes. Sometimes that means he drives 6 hours, other days 18.

At the Travelodge by San Francisco International Airport, drivers occupy about a third of the rooms, a worker at the front desk estimated. Some rooms are shared by several drivers.

In January, Andre Williams booked 11 nights at the motel, so he wouldn't have to commute daily from his home in Sacramento. His tab added up to $980, but he said it's worth it because he'll make up to four times that in a week, working 14 hours a day. Uber regularly rewards drivers who complete 120 trips in a week with cash bonuses of up to $500.

Williams, 40, used to sleep at the Marina Safeway, but his leg started to swell from sitting for too long and never laying down, he said. "I started having some health issues. Usually I stay in a parking lot when I run out of money, but for now I'm treating myself to the Travelodge," Williams said.

Other drivers sleep at hostels, which can be even cheaper. At the Marin Headlands Hostel in Sausalito, Calif., where guests pay $31 for a bunk bed and shower access, Michaela Hogan, a front desk clerk at the hostel for the past year, said Uber drivers had been coming there at least as long as she's worked there. The hostel limits stays to 14 nights, though, preventing drivers or anyone else from living there full-time. "It's sad because Uber should pay them more," Hogan said. "But the drivers don't seem that sad, to be honest. They do seem tired, though."

In one recent TV commercial, a smiling actor playing a sometimes-driver quips, "These days, everyone needs a side hustle, and driving with Uber lets you go from earning to working to chilling at the push of a button." The sound of a cash register chimes in the background.

What Uber has never said publicly is that half of the driving gets done by people who work more than 35 hours a week. Those workers generate about half of Uber's revenue and are responsible for about half of Uber's trips, Uber confirmed after Bloomberg analyzed a study of its drivers conducted by the company. A small number of those drivers will go to extremes, like sleeping in parking lots, to make a living.

For the past few years, Uber has dropped fares across the U.S. at the start of each year. Drivers have seen their earnings fall as a result, though Uber said that over the long-run, hourly pay has remained basically unchanged. This year, Uber has said that it won't decrease fares, but many drivers said they couldn't go much lower.

Last week, Uber agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission claims that it misled drivers about how much they could expect to earn each hour. In Boston, a Craigslist ad said drivers could get $25 an hour; however, fewer than 10 percent of drivers were paid that much, according to the FTC's investigation. Uber said that didn't account for driver bonuses. "We're pleased to have reached an agreement with the FTC," Matt Kallman, an Uber spokesman, wrote in an email. "We've made many improvements to the driver experience over the last year and will continue to focus on ensuring that Uber is the best option for anyone looking to earn money on their own schedule."

Uber is by far the biggest employer in the gig economy, but others have also faced complaints about worker misclassification and falling wages. The food delivery company Instacart recently announced that it was cutting pay for many of its workers. And while U.S. rival Lyft allows riders to tip drivers within the mobile application, fares haven't proved to be much higher. Some Uber drivers who sleep in their cars also work for Lyft, but the more than a dozen drivers Bloomberg interviewed said they did the majority of their driving for Uber. Lyft, unlike Uber, restricts how many hours drivers can work in a row: After 14 hours, the app makes the driver take a six-hour break.

In an email, Lyft spokesman Adrian Durbin said: "Our drivers tell us that the flexibility to work when and where they want is the most appealing aspect of driving with Lyft. Peak earning hours are often late at night and early in the morning. In order to maximize earnings, a very small fraction of drivers have told us they choose to rest in their cars in between these peak times."

"I personally haven't spoken to a driver that's slept in their car," said Nundu Janakiram, Uber's head of driver experience. "From my perspective, I think we have such a wide range of drivers, people on our platform, almost nothing I learn about any individual surprises me anymore."

Uber has declared 2017 "the year of the driver" and said that it will focus much of its energy on building tools for drivers and improving communication. "I take a lot of personal responsibility in making sure our drivers feel heard and recognized and have been given good feedback," Janakiram said. "I also fully acknowledged and realized that we are many, many steps away."

"People who work at times when other people don't want to work are paid more both on the Uber platform and by the labor economy as a whole," said Uber's head of economic research Jonathan Hall. "The people who are willing to be inconvenienced can earn higher amounts."

Paul Oyer, a professor of economics at Stanford Graduate School of Business, sees it as a new version of an old story: low-wage earners traveling from affordable places to work in richer ones. "These are essentially immigrants searching for better wages that they then take home to their local economies," he said, not meaning "immigrants" literally. "It's not always pretty. These 'immigrants' are creating more supply, which is good for consumers, but it's not good for the workers."

Others believe that sleeping in parking lots is a direct consequence of Uber's refusal to classify workers as employees and give them the benefits and protections that go along with that. "If these drivers were considered full-time — and therefore paid a decent and consistent wage — you would not see them sleeping in their cars," said Erica Smiley, the organizing director at the labor advocacy group Jobs With Justice. "A steady wage allows the worker the confidence to take time to rest. An on-demand wage creates great uncertainty for the workers and their families."

Another theory is that there are just too many drivers chasing too few rides. "Reasonable regulation — intended to benefit the public — limits the number of for-hire vehicles on the road. Camps flourish when states or cities deregulate and open entry," said Dave Sutton, a spokesman for a group that represents the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association.

In a survey of 1,150 drivers, Harry Campbell, who runs a blog for ride-hailing drivers, found that more than half said pay was the most important thing to them, followed by more than a third who picked flexibility. The study found that hourly pay for Uber drivers averaged $15.58 before expenses like gas and maintenance. In study co-authored by Hall, Uber's economist, the average hourly pay for a driver in October 2015 was $19.35.

Tugas, the driver from the Social Safeway parking lot, said that he was sleeping there because he wants to. And he doesn't hold Uber responsible for his decision to work 14 hour days. In January, eight months after first talking about his life, Tugas is still working his punishing schedule — but he had to find a new sleeping spot. In May, Safeway became less hospitable, hiring a security guard who hassled the drivers, he and Williams said. (Safeway declined to comment.) Some of his fellow drivers moved to a darkened street nearby, but Tugas now sleeps in his car in the parking lot at the McDonald's by San Francisco International Airport.

Read more from the Chicago Tribune.

Trump labor pick in 2011 on his fast-food workers: We hire 'the best of the worst'

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Mike Blake/Reuters

From CNN Money:

by Andrew Kacynski

In two speeches in 2011, Donald Trump's nominee for secretary of labor, fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, described the employees hired at his restaurants as the "best of the worst" available in the employment pool.

Puzder, who is the CEO of CKE Restaurants, the company that operates the fast-food chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr., is scheduled to appear before a Senate committee on Feb. 2 for his confirmation hearing. Puzder has drawn criticism from Democrats and organized labor for his opposition to several of their key policy priorities, including a $15 federal minimum wage and the Labor department's overtime rule.

Speaking to a students of Westmont College in February 2011, Puzder discussed the changes he made at CKE when he initially took over as its chief executive.

"Our turnover was about 300% a year. Which means everybody quit. There were some people that stayed that were lifers at Hardee's," Puzder can be heard saying in an audio recording of the speech archived on iTunes and reviewed by CNN's KFile. "But most people were coming and working three months and then going somewhere else. It's not like if you run a fast food company you're hiring graduates of MIT or people that were gonna go work for Microsoft, you know.

"In the employment pool, you're hiring the best of the worst. You know, it's kind of the bottom of the pool. And at Hardee's it was so bad, we were hiring the worst of the worst and hoping they would stay."

Puzder echoed these comments later that year in a speech to California State University, a recording of which is available on UStream.

"In fast food, you sort of compete for the best of the worst," Puzder said. "In other words, you're not getting the Microsoft guys. At Hardee's we were getting the worst of the worst. Nobody wanted to work at Hardee's. It was complicated to work there, we had to change our network systems, our menu was too complicated we had to simplify it."

Read more from CNN Money.

Civil Rights Suits Plague Corporation Run by Labor Pick Puzder

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Christian Gooden/AP

From Newsweek:

by Robin Urevich

Last month, when President-elect Donald Trump named fast-food CEO Andrew Puzder to head the U.S. Department of Labor, many observers were left scratching their heads. Some questioned whether a man who’d argued strongly against government regulation could become the chief enforcer of some of the same overtime and paid sick day laws he’d publicly opposed. Less than a year ago, Puzder said he favored replacing some employees with robots, in part because robots don’t file age, sex or race discrimination lawsuits.

Puzder, who heads CKE Restaurants, the parent company of Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s burger joints, along with Red Burrito and Green Burrito shops, has also loudly proclaimed his opposition to Obamacare, as well as his enthusiasm for using sex to sell fast food. Carl’s Jr. ads routinely feature bikini-clad models lustfully gobbling thousand-calorie burgers. “We believe in putting hot models in our commercials, because ugly ones don’t sell burgers,” reads a 2011 company press release.

What is less well known is the company’s contentious record on civil rights. As Puzder, who is an attorney, may have inadvertently suggested in touting robots to replace workers, the company has a problem with racial discrimination and sexual harassment.

Dozens of Discrimination Cases

Capital & Main investigation has found that since Puzder became CEO of CKE in 2000, Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s have been hit with more federal employment discrimination lawsuits than any other major U.S. hamburger chain. As a defendant in such cases, it is number one among burger chains with $1 billion or more in annual sales, with a higher percentage of racial discrimination and sexual harassment lawsuits filed by employees than McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and five other competitors. Only Sonic Drive In had a higher percentage of U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) cases among burger restaurants with more than $1 billion in annual sales.

Racial discrimination and sexual harassment claims filed in federal court against the company and its franchisees read like stories from the 1940s or ‘50s, before civil rights laws were ever enacted.

In 2000, Michal Harris-Galloway, who was a teenager at the time, began flipping burgers at a Carl’s Jr. in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, California. Two years later, work had become a nightmare for Harris-Galloway, who is African-American, when a company supervisor regularly used the N-word and spewed hate speech at work, according to an EEOC summary of  her federal complaint. The EEOC  summary of the charges against CKE claimed the boss shared his view that white people were superior to those of other races. He boasted about the Confederate flag that he said flew over his home, and displayed a swastika and other white-power tattoos, and said he planned to ink another on his forehead depicting a black lynching victim.

When Harris-Galloway and a group of co-workers protested to a manager, the manager said that he himself was something of a racist, and did nothing, Harris-Galloway’s attorney, Michael Nkosi, told Capital & Main. After she complained, he said, Harris-Galloway received threatening phone messages and was finally fired. “When you complain to management, you get terminated,” Nkosi said. “What kind of a world are we living in where there’s no recourse, no punishment?”

Tens of thousands of workers file complaints with the EEOC each year, but it files lawsuits on behalf of less than 1 percent of them. Commission attorney Marcia Mitchell, who represented Harris-Galloway, said the agency took her case both because the allegations were serious and the victims were so young.

As in many of the dozens of CKE discrimination cases that Capital & Main reviewed, the company didn’t go to trial and instead settled the case in 2005. CKE signed a federal consent decree that provided for a $255,000 payment to Harris-Galloway and her co-workers. Under the terms of the agreement, the company agreed to a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination and retaliation, a complaint procedure and anti-harassment training for all workers within the company district that included the Elk Grove restaurant.

“Their job was to pay as little as possible and get out of the game without being in the press too much,” Nkosi said.

In an email, CKE spokesman George Thompson did not comment on sexual harassment or race discrimination lawsuits against the company, although he argued that Puzder didn’t actually say, in an oft-quoted interview, that he wanted robots to take over from humans, and claimed the quote was part of a longer exchange, part of which went unreported.

Settling Racial Discrimination Suits

Official company policy at CKE prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, national origin or disability, but in discrimination lawsuits against the company, workers have contended that CKE bosses, from line supervisors to general managers to district managers, have failed to honor it.

For instance, in 2010 at a Hardee’s in Knoxville, Tennessee, Johnny Page, Sr., an African-American man in his 20s at the time, claimed he was subjected to a torrent of racial slurs and discrimination from his supervisor. Page alleged in court documents that his immediate boss called him “nigger,” “blackie” and “coon,” and once said, “Get your black ass back to work.” On another occasion, as the restaurant’s general manager looked on, the supervisor allegedly said, “Nigger you need to get back to work.” After that, the general manager herself sent Page a picture of what appeared to be a Ku Klux Klan lynching via text message. In it, a black man was running from people dressed in white robes and hoods as a cross burned in the background.

Page didn’t return phone calls, but his stepfather, Paul Johnson, said Page stayed on the job because he was in a bind.

“He had to have a job to pay child support,” Johnson said. “Which would you rather do—get abused or go to jail?”

In court papers, Hardee’s denied charges of racial discrimination against Page. Attorneys for the company further argued that Page himself asked his manager to send the offensive text message. Still, the two parties reached a settlement, the terms of which are not public.

While Page said the managers failed to stop racial harassment against him, another Hardee’s manager named Alice Leeth, who’d worked for the company 21 years, said her district manager ordered her to practice discrimination. Leeth, who is African-American, filed a federal lawsuit against a company franchisee who directed her to hire 90 percent white employees at a Jasper, Alabama, restaurant because most of the eatery’s clientele were white. She refused, saying that it would be illegal to do so, and alleged in court papers that as payback, she was removed from her position and sent to manage another Hardee’s some 50 miles from her home.

“I was shocked,” Leeth told Capital & Main, “because the guy that told me that was a black guy. I don’t think it was coming from him. I think it was coming from upper management.” Leeth said she was later fired. She settled her case, court filings show, but the settlement hasn’t been publicly disclosed.

And in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Charlotte King, a black woman, said she managed a Hardee’s franchise for eight years until a new owner informed her that a white man with far less experience would begin making decisions at her store.

The new owner told her that because most of the store’s clients were white, he needed a white manager. King alleged that she was fired after she objected to that and the store’s new practice of hiring white applicants while filing away the applications of African-Americans. King’s attorney said neither he nor his client could discuss the case because they’d reached a confidential settlement with the company.

While franchisees are nominally independent, a 2015 National Labor Relations Board ruling held corporate parent companies responsible for their labor practices, because they generally have at least indirect control over their labor policies. The Obama administration has also supported the so-called joint-employer rule, said George Washington University Law School Professor Michael Selmi, who teaches employment law and employment discrimination. Still, the issue is far from settled in the courts, Selmi said.

Settling Sex Discrimination Suits

If racial discrimination is alleged to be blatant at CKE restaurants, gender bias is equally flagrant, say some of the women who have filed sexual harassment claims against the company.

Maya Raghu, director of workplace equality at the National Women’s Law Center, which opposes Puzder’s confirmation, argued that there is a pattern of women alleging egregious facts in such cases during his tenure. “When they complain, complaints are ignored and managers don’t respond.”

Written policies alone don’t combat sexual harassment, Raghu said. Instead, she contended that a company must create a culture where it is unacceptable and workers feel comfortable either intervening to stop it or reporting it. “That communication starts from the top,” Raghu said.

In 2009, EEOC attorneys won a $75,000 settlement for Alexious Cooper and other women at a Hardee’s store in Livingston, Tennessee, calling the harassment they suffered “severe and pervasive.” In court papers, attorneys alleged that male crew members rubbed or touched the women’s buttocks or breasts at work. One co-worker threw hot food on a female employee, and physically assaulted female workers with food and kitchen equipment. Lawyers for the EEOC also alleged that when Cooper complained to her supervisors, they did nothing to stop the abuse, and instead cut Cooper’s work hours in retaliation, which Hardee’s also denied. Cooper said in an email that she couldn’t talk about the case, as it had already been settled.

Hardee’s also settled a 2010 sexual harassment and disability discrimination lawsuit with Cynthia Schweik, a Tennessee woman who had claimed that a general manager repeatedly taunted her with unwanted sexually explicit comments. Schweik, who suffers from an anxiety disorder, said that the manager would deliberately harass her to bring on a panic attack so he could mock her in front of the other workers. The manager allegedly called her dumb and stupid, ridiculing her for her appearance and encouraging other workers to join in the abuse. Schweik alleged that the manager denied her work breaks so that she could take her medicine with food, and even denied her a break to get control of her breathing while she suffered a panic attack on the job.

In court papers, Schweik said she attempted to report the abuse to a district manager and said she even brought her concerns to the human resources director at a corporate seminar on sexual harassment. The district manager responded to those concerns by saying Schweik was oversensitive and said the general manager had been “having a bad day.”

Read more from Newsweek.

States Will Have to Take Up the Mantle of Worker Protection

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Working people protesting wage theft.

From The Atlantic:

By Bourree Lam

Since November’s election, labor advocates have been bracing themselves for an administration they fear will be kinder to owners than to workers. One of the clearest signs that the Department of Labor is set to switch gears: Andy Puzder, the CEO of fast-food company CKE Restaurants, was nominated as secretary of the Labor Department. Puzder has been an outspoken critic of some of the changes labor advocates are currently trying to implement such as minimum-wage increases and expanded overtime pay, arguing that such regulations hinder businesses and lead them to hire less. But some are hopeful that there’s another way to protect employees, even without the federal government’s help: Instead, they’re looking to the states.

One of the leaders on this at the state level will Eric Schneiderman, the Democratic attorney general of New York, who has been active in pushing for increased worker protections in his state. He has helped end on-call scheduling—the practice in which shift workers are called in on short notice, or prevented from working scheduled shifts on slow days—at major retailers, including J.Crew, Disney, and Aeropostale. Schneiderman has been credited for rallying attorneys general in other states in joint actions on labor and employment issues. In the case of on-call scheduling, the investigation involved attorney general offices in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, and Rhode Island, and D.C.

“The Constitution preserves lots of power at the state level … so we do have this federalist system that enables us to provide protections at the state level when the federal government falls down on the job,” said Schneiderman in an interview.

Now, in light of the changes coming to the federal government, Schneiderman believes that the role of states will be all the more critical for workplace issues and regulations. “It's clear that we're going to have a vigorous national debate about some stuff that I would have thought would have been settled a while ago but apparently open for discussion again regarding wages and overtime,” said Schneiderman. “Our labor bureau has been very successful in all of these areas, and we're set up to enforce the law and protect New Yorkers and take on the debate if the incoming Labor Secretary really does want to follow through on what I think are some harmful public policies to try to reduce wages, overtime, and worker protections.”

States that have the manpower can be very effective in helping workers recover lost wages. One area where state action may prove effective is wage theft, which affects both white-collar and low-wage workers. Workers lose out on wages for work they’ve done in a variety of ways, such as when employers don’t pay overtime to those legally entitled to it, or force workers to work off the clock, or collude to keep pay down. On the part of attorneys general, the shift of enforcement power from the federal government to the states could require their offices to more regularly initiate investigations, file lawsuits, and bring employers to the table for dispute settlement. “If they're actually going to be attacking vulnerable populations such as low wage workers, we stand ready to defend them. And if they are going to violate any of their statutory or constitutional duties, we're prepared to challenge them in court,” said Schneiderman.

States have found themselves in this position before. “Under the Bush administration the Department of Labor also did not focus on fierce and aggressive protection of workers,” said Terri Gerstein, an incoming fellow of the Open Society Foundation and the former labor bureau chief in the New York State Attorney General’s Office. “There was much more of a focus on education of employers and compliance assistance. In enforcement, there's always a series of decisions to be made ... if decisions are made in favor of weak enforcement, that's a situation that we've seen before.”

But it’s not as though states took a backseat during the Obama administration. Some states took on an increased role in handling wage and labor practices, with a growing number of have passed their own minimum wage and paid-leave laws. Seven states—California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, and most recently Arizona and Washington—now have laws requiring paid sick leave. Minimum wage went up in 21 states and 22 cities at the start of this year.

For labor advocates, the concern about this approach is what happens to people in states that are less adamant about enforcement. While workers in states that have been active on these issues in the past—such as California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Massachusetts to name a few—will likely continue to be protected by their state agencies, states without established resources in place will have a harder time stepping up in the same way. In Georgia, for example, there is no state-level enforcement process, and wage claims are filed directly to the Department of Labor.

“It’s far from ideal, if this ends up happening,” says Tsedeye Gebreselassie, an attorney at the National Employment Law Project. “The way that this should be done is that the federal Department of Labor remains an effective recourse for workers whose rights have been violated, not just on minimum wage but all the federal laws that the Department of Labor enforces. But then you also have states there too as another avenue through which workers can recover their unpaid wages.”

Additionally, though states can play a key role on some employment issues, there are workplace issues that require federal enforcement. "States can play a tremendously important role in combating wage theft, but in other critical areas, like workplace safety and health or workers' right to organize, states may have a harder time filling in the gap because they are often preempted by federal law from directly enforcing these laws," says Gerstein.

Read more from The Atlantic.

 

Labor Unions: What's Their Future Under Trump?

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Donald Trump speaks to supporters.

From FOX Business:

By Deborah Abrams Kaplan 

Many sectors in the U.S. are wondering what changes will be made since the country elected a Republican president and majority in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

 Of the 99 state Houses and Senates in the country, 68 are also now a Republican-majority, and in 32 states, Republicans control both chambers. In the governor's office, 33 states are headed by a Republican, with 25 of these states totally controlled by Republicans.

The net effect has labor unions on alert.

"It's going to be the most challenging period for organized labor since the 1930s," says Susan J. Schurman, a labor studies and employment relations professor at Rutgers University and former labor union leader. "It's clear to everyone at this point that if conservatives had their way, we'd not have unions."

 Labor union members made up 11.1 percent of American workers in 2015, the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union membership for public sector workers was 35.2 percent, compared to 6.7 percent of private sector workers in unions.

Union leaders have expressed concern about some of President-Elect Trump's statements.

Is the Minimum Wage at Risk?

Trump said he'd support a $10 federal minimum wage, but also that U.S. wages were too high to compete with other countries. He has attacked United Steelworkers 1999 and its president Chuck Jones on Twitter, blaming them for driving jobs from the U.S.

"We saw that our president-elect is more than willing to attack a local union leader who merely pointed out a fact," Schurman says.

Trump's cabinet selections also are causing unions concern. His choice for secretary of labor choice, Andrew Puzder, is a prime example. As CEO of CKE Restaurants, "Puzder outsourced key jobs overseas, planned to replace workers with machines to avoid paying benefits, repeatedly and loudly opposed raising the minimum wage, paid union-busting firms to stop his own workers from forming a union and opposes the Affordable Care Act because it requires that he provide high-quality health care for his employees ," says Randi Weingarten, president of American Federation of Teachers in a statement.

The incoming administration also will appoint new members to the National Labor Relations Board, which may quickly reverse decisions like whether graduate students are eligible to unionize, Rutgers' Schurman says.

What's at Stake?

With the Republican majorities, unions face threats to their existence and their purpose. Here are some issues that may be contested in the upcoming administration:

Collective bargaining:"That's the target. Everything else is secondary," Schurman says. Collective bargaining is the basis of the labor relations framework. She worries about states changing legislation to contravene the Federal Labor Relations Act, preventing or changing public employees' rights to collective bargaining.

"Republican governors, where they can, remove bargaining rights and seek to pass right-to-work legislation," she says.

Right to work: Right-to-work laws exist in 26 states, allowing employees to decide whether to join a union or pay dues. This results in workers not having to pay an agency fee in union-represented workplaces, but the union still represents them.

"The net effect is it's making it much more difficult to collect union dues, which is what they use to perform their collective bargaining," Schurman says. 

Should the right-to-work issue stay at a state level or move to federal law, asks John Raudabaugh, a labor law professor at Ave Maria School of Law in Florida, and a former management-side labor attorney. Raudabaugh also served as one of five NLRB members appointed by President George H. W. Bush.

"If it's still at the state level, what do we do about the current and emerging debate about allowing local governments to create their own law on right to work apart from state law?" Raudabaugh says.

Friedrich versus California Teachers Association: "At the federal level, unions need to worry about the Friedrichs' case," Schurman says.

"Had (Supreme Court Justice) Scalia not died, the bets were that the plaintiffs would prevail," she says, which means that workers who don't want to join the union or pay agency fees would still be entitled to representation in collective bargaining.

Joint employers: Under rulings made during the Obama administration, companies are held jointly liable for unfair labor practices committed by their contractors or franchisees.

"Unions should expect a new (NLRB) board to re-evaluate many of the current issues, with joint employers near the top of the list," says labor law professor Raudabaugh.

Occupation and health administration: Schurman anticipates a very different approach to enforcement, as conservatives tend to favor little to no regulation.

"The underlying theory is that the market will take care of wages. You'll get the wages you deserve because the market will determine that," she says.

It's the same theory with regulation. "Those of us in the field of labor studies don't believe there's any factual basis to that view. Certainly, unions will be struggling to prevent that," Schurman says.

State-specific union issues: "I suspect that unions are going to find themselves facing huge uphill battles everywhere in the country where Republicans control the governor's office and legislature," she says.

For example in Wisconsin, union membership has declined since 2011, when the state curtailed public employee bargaining.

What Should Unions Do?

Unions continue to speak out on issues of interest, commenting on incoming presidential policies and appointments. Schurman recommends two strategic directions that unions should pursue.

The first is for unions to reconnect with their members in a more robust way. Unions successfully doing this are growing, including service employee and teacher unions.

Unions need to persuade workers of the value of membership. "That's hard to do when they can get the collective bargaining benefits without paying for it," as well as those who don't have union dues automatically collected through the employer's paycheck, Schurman says.

The second suggestion is for unions is to organize more workers outside of the traditional employer/employee work model. The current labor relations framework says that relationships should be between workers, their representatives and an employer.

Represent Workers Politically

"The growing share of our economy are workers who don't have an employer as we know it in the 20th century. Corporations have devolved," Schurman says.

That includes outsourcing and hiring casual laborers not eligible for collect bargaining representation. "However, they are eligible to become union members," she says.

Unions have to convince existing members that there's a huge block of workers with a different employment relationship, and these workers need representation in the political sphere to advocate for their rights, not for collective bargaining. The role is similar to what unions did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as mutual aid societies, before collective bargaining became the basis of the industrial relations framework, Schurman says.

Overhaul Labor Laws

Raudabaugh suggests that the federal government take a look at existing labor laws. "In the long term, Congress has to step in and evaluate our 1935 National Labor Relations Act," he says. "We're dealing with quite an ancient statutory structure which needs to be reevaluated because the nature of work has changed."

He questions whether unions are necessary to maximize employee rights and interests in the workplace, and whether there might be a better model.

Work councils in Europe are one option, where employees talk directly with employers on topics of concern.

"Why is there a need for an outside entity to come in and do the talking for them? They have brains. Why do they have to pay money to do that? What if the union is doing similar work for a competing company? These are all issues," Raudabaugh says.

Read more from FOX Business.

Montgomery County Passes $15 Minimum Wage for Most Businesses

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Fast food workers on strike for higher minimum wage and better benefits.

Fibonacci Blue/Flickr

From The Washington Post:

By Patricia Sullivan

Legislation to raise Montgomery County’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 passed the County Council on a 5-to-4 vote Tuesday, but it is unclear whether County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) will allow the measure to become law.

The affluent county of about 1 million would be the first jurisdiction in Maryland — and the second in the Washington area after the District — to adopt a $15 hourly minimum wage.

Leggett said last week that he was worried that the increase would put Montgomery at a competitive disadvantage in terms of attracting businesses, and that it could put too great a burden on employers.

The Montgomery legislation would go into effect by 2020 for most businesses and in 2022 for businesses with fewer than 25 employees, a change made in an effort to address Leggett’s concerns, said chief sponsor Marc Elrich (D-At Large).

But county government spokesman Patrick Lacefield said Leggett wanted to delay implementation for all businesses, not just small ones, until 2022.

 Leggett will study the issue further before deciding whether to sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature, Lacefield said. The council would need six votes to override a veto by Leggett, which is one vote more than the legislation received on Tuesday. 

As the vote was tallied, the packed council chamber erupted in cheers from supporters of the “Fight for 15” campaign, which is spearheaded by organized labor and has secured laws requiring a $15 minimum wage in Seattle, California and New York, in addition to the District.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) pushed for a national $15 minimum wage during his unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. The quest became part of the party platform and was embraced by nominee Hillary Clinton.

But efforts to approve a $15 minimum wage failed this past summer in Baltimore, and some Montgomery council members were wary of becoming the first jurisdiction in Maryland to pass such a wage hike.

Sidney Katz (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), who voted no — along with Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) and Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) — argued that a minimum-wage hike should not take effect until Montgomery begins and completes an economic impact study that would spell out the effects that such a change would have on the county, its employers and low-wage workers.

“This is not a delay tactic,” Katz said. “We are about to put massive operational constraints on small-business owners.”

One of the business owners who attended the hearing, Boris Lander, said he would probably have to cut jobs at the 14 Dunkin’ Donuts franchises he owns in the county and shut down a production facility in Gaithersburg if the wage increase takes effect. 

Lander, in a letter to the council, noted increases in the minimum wage that the council launched beginning in 2014, from $7.25 to $10.75 an hour. Another increase, to $11.50 an hour, is scheduled for July. Those hikes cost 70 to 100 full-time jobs, Landers wrote. A $15 minimum wage would mean that an additional 38 jobs would be cut and that 84 new jobs would not be filled.

Proponents of the minimum-wage increase argue that businesses adjust to rising costs all the time and publicly object only when labor costs go up.

“It’s hard to adjust to being poor, too,” Elrich said. “When you don’t have money, there’s only one adjustment — you don’t spend, you don’t buy.”

Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, which assists low-income immigrants, issued a statement after the vote urging Leggett to approve the bill. “It could become one of the most enduring achievements of his leadership,” the statement said. “Signing into law a $15 minimum wage will cap Ike’s legacy of putting working families in Montgomery County first.”

 Council member George L. Leventhal (D-At Large), who voted in favor of the bill along with Elrich, Hans Riemer (D-At Large), Tom Hucker (D-Eastern County) and Nancy Navarro (D-Mid-County), said that 143,000 Montgomery workers make less than $13.59 an hour.

A family of four needs its breadwinner to make $22 an hour to be self-sufficient in the county, Hucker said.

Other council members said they supported the idea of a $15 minimum wage but felt that it was folly to require it in Montgomery when employers in the rest of Maryland and in Northern Virginia can pay less.

“The last time we took this up, we at least had Prince George’s County with us,” Floreen said, referring to the earlier wage hikes. “This crowd should be in Annapolis to push the state forward on these issues.” 

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