Archive

June

Tyson Foods adding video cameras to poultry operations



Earl Dotter/Oxfam America

From CBS MoneyWatch:

Tyson Foods is relying on video cameras to audit its operations, which it says isn't in response to previous "gotcha" moments but under a corporate philosophy that notes its role as a steward for millions of chickens.

The Springfield, Arkansas-based meat producer last month hired its first chief sustainability officer and on Wednesday will announce a series of animal well-being initiatives. It's also considering new ways of slaughtering birds. In an interview Tuesday, Justin Whitmore said that while abuses at myriad companies have been exposed through secretly recorded video, taking action now prevents having to react later.

"We want to learn from the opportunities and the challenges we face," he said, seven weeks after taking his post. "If we see something come up in our system, we'll look to have the appropriate measures in place to ensure they don't recur."

Tyson (TSN) last August fired 10 workers after secretly recorded video compiled by an animal rights group showed chickens being crushed or swung by their legs and wings. Tyson terminated a contract with a farmer a year earlier after another group released video showing workers standing on birds' heads to break their necks. Over the past year, Hormel Foods has hired third-party auditors to review hog farms after video showed some animals in very tight quarters and another animal being slammed to the floor.

Lora Wright, Tyson's director of animal well-being, said Tuesday that over the past year, Tyson has installed the industry's largest third-party monitoring system — with off-site auditors reviewing operations at Tyson's 33 poultry processing plants across the U.S. and concentrating on areas where workers handle live animals. The company also has trained nearly five dozen animal well-being specialists like Stacy Barton, who grew up on a poultry farm.

"We're making sure the birds are being handled properly and treated with respect and care in every step of the process," he said Tuesday outside a 120,000-bird operation near Plumerville. The well-being officers are also trained on how cattle and hogs should be handled. Some of their visits are announced; others are not.

Poultry workers have also alleged mistreatment at the hands of meat producers like Tyson's. A report from Oxfam America found the nation's roughly 250,000 poultry workers are routinely denied bathroom breaks, leading some to wear diapers and others to not drink liquids.

The U.S. arm of the U.K.-based global development group called on Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's Pride (PPC), Perdue Farms and Sanderson Farms, which together control nearly 60 percent of America's poultry market, to improve workers' conditions.

"It's just basic human dignity, the right to be able to use the bathroom when you need to, as opposed to having to hold it for two hours until the next break, or worse, having to wear diapers or urinating or defecating on yourself," Hunter Ogletree, an organizer at the Western North Carolina Workers' Center, told CBS MoneyWatch last year. 

Read more from CBS MoneyWatch.

“Filipineza” doesn’t mean “servant”: Notes of witness from an immigrant daughter

Photo credit: Jonna Baldre

From Salon:

by Melissa R. Sipin

One family, two mail order brides

When I first met my beloved stepmother, it was on a computer screen. Her tinged-brown face was shrouded by the limelight’s glow. We stood in my family’s old blue house on Neptune Avenue, the one that was inevitably foreclosed in 2009 and sat on the southern edges of Los Angeles, near the streets of Compton. Carson, for all that I have known it, has always been a Filipinotown, and my father, an immigrant, an ex-meth addict, son of a war hero, a stricken gambler, but also the parent-who-never-left, hovered above me, with that bright smile filled with dentured teeth. This is my anak, my father said. A surging hello followed. There, my future stepmother stood before me, boxed in the laptop’s glaring glow. A baby was in her arms, waving. I said hello back, warmly. This is your girlfriend, daddy? I said. He nodded back. Proud. His fading hair shimmering in the sunlight that knifed in through the window. His wrinkled face, his whitened skin bleached by papaya soap products from Manila, all beaming, bursting, with love.

That blue house on Neptune Avenue was the only house my father ever tried to buy. My paternal grandmother and adoptive mother, Pacita, whom I called Mama, Lola, mine, sold the very first house she bought in America on Javelin Street to bail my father out of jail. The house was bought with a mortgage by my aunt, my uncle’s third wife and a hard-working nurse who arrived from the Philippines when I was around nine years old. Even back then, it was rumored that my uncle, a jolly-faced man who wore “FBI” shirts — Female Body Inspector — and only adored action films because all other films with too much talking in them were what he called “chick flicks,” had bought my aunt on the internet. That he had agreed to marry another Filipina, seas away from her, but at the end of it all, she got cold feet. So, whatever dating service my uncle had used sent him another one, a Filipina he did not love. But they married, in the heat of Vegas, anyway. And she became one with our family, us calling her “tita,” our aunt, an addition to our ever-growing, huge, big, fat Filipino family.

The arrangement was that my aunt would buy the house with a mortgage, because my father couldn’t get one due his shitty credit, and that my father would use those mortgage payments as rent. Eventually, after the mortgage would be paid in full, my aunt and uncle would give us this powdered-blue house on Neptune Avenue. My uncle would joke: anak, you’re so beautiful! I’m your favorite uncle, right? What street do you live on again? Ah-ha, I knew you were from out of space! It was his ironic way of showing love, this uncle who was my second father, who called me anak though I was not his child.

My aunt, just like my stepmother who would enter our lives years later, was a mail order bride. She was not a slave, but she was trafficked. She was hardworking. She did the housework impeccably and without fail and she cooked and cleaned and worked without complaining. She wanted to come to America and take the hard-earned money she gained from working overtime and late-night shifts and send it all back home, to her familia, to her beloveds.

In the end, my aunt banked my father’s monthly rent payments. She never paid the mortgage. She took that money and ran away to the other side of town, which wasn’t very far. She divorced my uncle, who had a penchant for other women, just like my grandfather. We got the notice that the home we were living in, with its white carpeted floors, the pictures of us as children on the walls and arrayed in the china cabinet, the hospital bed that could rise up and down my grandmother owned, and the kitchen stove — the first stove I learned how to really cook on — would be foreclosed in a week. During that time, I was finishing my last semester in college, the first one in my family to do so, and the news took me by surprise, shook me with fear and shock, made me afraid that my father, half-brother and I might end up homeless. It made me feel stupid and foolish for thinking I was like those other colleges kids, who always had a home to return to, a house and a room to hold all their childhood things, their first pictures and drawings and clothes and shoes and all the things loved and held dear.

Our home was lost because my aunt needed to escape, needed to run away. This is the irony of Filipino families: the way we construct them allows us to abuse and maltreat each other, and even allows us to enslave our own blood.

Despite this, in spite of losing the first house I allowed to feel like home, I thought: but who could blame her? Chastise her for leaving, for stealing my father’s money, for doing what she needed to do to survive — just like my birthmother? No one can.

I think of my stepmother, whom I call nanay, my mother, a name I never called my own birthmother, and I feel the same contentious emotions. The difference is that my nanay loves my father. They joke. They laugh. They chase each other around their small apartment and fall down tickling each other. They kiss, they make love, they hold hands while walking down the street, he takes her on dates, she cooks dinner, and they watch “Bones” together religiously, crying and laughing whenever the characters they love fail or succeed. My nanay is not like my aunt, not like Lola Eudocia “Cosiang” Pulido, the grandmother who was enslaved by the Tizon family for 56 years.

But the same racist socioeconomic, imperialist and classist forces that led to Lola Eudocia’s enslavement also pushed both my aunt and nanay to marry my uncle and father as mail order brides.

I am not here to absolve Alex Tizon, his family, mother, father, or great-grandfather, the upper and middles classes of the Philippines, or even my father. They and Tizon cannot be absolved: He was complicit, they are complicit, we are complicit by virtue of living and paying taxes in America that fuel the neoliberal and foreign policies that create these industries of modern-day slavery. This is why the industries of memory have lauded Tizon’s piece in The Atlantic, and it is lauded because of the very reasons that gave critics of his essay their knee-jerked and triggered reactions: his essay, by virtue of The Atlantic’s power and reach, conforms the single story of the Filipino as victim (and only victim) and as oppressor of his own people.

“Filipineza”: Maid, servant, caregiver, domestic help

In the 1990s, a dictionary in Greece defined the word “Filipineza,” the Greek word for Filipina, as “domestic worker from the Philippines or a person who performs non-essential auxiliary tasks.” In 2014, a textbook for elementary students in Hong Kong named an activity “Racial Harmony,” where they drew cute pictures of different ethnicities which prompted the students to fill in the blanks.

A picture of a blond-haired man with blue eyes had a thought bubble next to him: “I am _______. I am an English teacher.”

A picture of a woman with black hair and a kimono said: “I am _______. I have a sushi restaurant in Hong Kong.”

A picture of another woman with black hair dressed in a red cheongsam said: “I am _______. Shanghai is my hometown.”

Finally, another image of a woman, also with black hair but dressed in a simple yellow shirt, said: “I am _______. I am a domestic helper in Hong Kong.”

Across the globe, the Filipina is translated as maid. As servant. As caregiver. As domestic help. This comes from the industries of memory and how the Filipino is erased, without measure, constantly. It is why we are known as the Forgotten Minority.

This is why, I believe, I have heard Filipino Americans demanding to sue the Tizon family and to disown any Tizon sympathizer; why I have heard Filipino Americans and Asian Americans from upper and middle classes criticize non-Filipino Americans for tying threads between Eudocia’s honorific, “lola,” and the term, “mammy,” a word given to enslaved domestic caretakers by their white masters. There are many parallels, many intersections, and we ought and need to see these connections, honor and mourn them. But we must also be acute and specific in these comparisons, for we cannot equate “lola” to “mammy.” To equate how Philippine feudalistic slavery operates — which has been rooted in and perpetuated by U.S. imperialism — with the devastating mass genocide of American chattel slavery is to do a disservice to those who have suffered from these cycles of oppression, massacres and enslavement. We must give each their own degree of mourning and resistance.

We cannot talk about the Philippine society without the acknowledgement of the Philippine-American War (which by its very name causes a mistranslation; it was an insurrection, a fight for freedom against an invading army) and our own genocide. We cannot talk about Philippine enslavement without first recognizing that to categorize it within an American framework is imperialist: It is reductive to say all slavery is the same (i.e., “all slavery operates the same,” rather than “slavery, objectively, in all cultures, is morally wrong”), and that reductive thinking is based on Westernized Enlightenment thought.

The reason that “lola” could hypothetically be used for an enslaved person in a Philippine family is because the construction of that family is based on the psychological terms of kapwa (sense of togetherness, the need to be one, the need to be the same), awa (pity), utang na loob (reciprocal indebtedness) and hiya (shame). These words can’t translate properly into English, but I feel them in my body, I know them every time I kiss a relative “hello” or “good-bye.” These constructions of family are based in indigenous thought, not Westernized thought. It is just as cruel to label your slave with an honorific such as “lola” as the condescension of “mammy.” Lola — like anak, which roughly translates to “my child” — means “my grandmother,” and these psychological terms express how the Filipino family operates in a framework of hierarchal possession. It is similar to what my birthmother once said to me, after she threw a flurry of insults at me and my sister on a Facebook message, disowned me for the x-nth time, and confessed that she didn’t know how to be a mother when her own mother sold her when she was only 15 years old: If I gave you life, carried you in my womb for nine months, then I can give you death.

Sometimes I don’t know how my body holds onto so much grief. It is like I am in a perpetual state of grieving.

The rapes of our grandmothers

Here is a fact:

The Philippines is one of the largest labor exporters in the world with 6,000 Filipinos — 60% women — leaving the country every single day to work, because of rampant poverty, joblessness, and landlessness. Lured to apply for positions that do not exist, promised legal status and wages, and instead becoming undocumented, drowning in debt, and isolated in a foreign country — thousands of OFWs end up working in virtual slavery. Recruiters and employment agencies take advantage of their workers, by charging exorbitant fees and loans and threatening their workers with deportation or physical violence to the workers and their families. Living in fear and with no place to go, many OFWs endure the discrimination, abuse, and exploitation in order to survive. — Gabriela USA

Here is another one:

When I search Google for the term “Lila Pilipina (League for Filipino Grandmothers)” I come up with a slew of articles. They portray the fight for redress for the Filipina Comfort Women — the lolas who were captured during the WWII and raped repeatedly, instituted in sexual slavery. They were mostly girls, 13, 14, 15 years old. They were raped more than 20 times a night. Their families were massacred in front of them. Beaten by the butt of the gun. Slashed open with the bayonet. They were girls. They were women. They were as young as 12 years old. Now they are lolas, grandmothers, who are fighting for recognition, for an official, government-sanctioned apology, proof that what they suffered was not erased, was not forgotten. Japan refuses. They instead issue a blanket apology and give reparations to the Philippine government, funds the grandmothers have still not received.

Funds that my own grandmother did not receive.

She was a hostage, a prisoner of war, because my grandfather, Major Diego Sipin, was a wanted guerrilla fighter and one of the heroes of the Battle of Bessang Pass. She was held in a garrison in Agoo, La Union, Philippines, a seaside town on the Lingayen Gulf hit right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, for more than six months during the war. She gave birth in captivity. This is a cemented truth, something no one can counter or erase. My eldest aunt, to the silence of my familia, is the only sibling out of 11 who did not inherit my grandfather’s looks.

Out of the 200 Filipino Comfort Women who came forward after 50 years of silence, none had a child of the “enemy’s.” Most of them, estimated to be more than 1,000, perished in the “comfort” stations, these militarized and forced brothels. In my own contours, I estimate more — because our islands were enemy territory and the Imperial Army retaliated with brutal ferocity, especially those who were part of or supported the guerrillas. According to the Asian Women’s Fund, a quasi-public organization established by the Japanese government with state and privatized donations created as redress, but only if the lolas accepted an ambiguous apology, the Imperial Army did not only have official “comfort” stations in the Philippines; they had countless of makeshift garrisons turned into rooms of mass rape, ones that were not organized into “militarized brothels” and were not visited by Japanese doctors. The systematic mass rape the Filipino women suffered was an instrument of warfare and scorched-earth policy, much like the Bosnian mass rapes that grabbed international attention in the 1990s.

Was my grandmother a Comfort Woman? It is possible. The Imperial Army was mercilessly brutal to any person who was suspected to be connected to the guerrillas. It is also possible that she was the sole woman to give birth in this captivity whose baby survived.

I can only imagine, only witness the bottomless cavern within my own body; I want to stop the grieving, I want to stop the erasure, I want to remember. I want to witness and speak. I need to remember.

And yet.

Something impedes me, a gate, a lock, like the one my grandmother once placed on the outside of my girlhood room that I shared with my sister.

I wonder what will happen if I let it slip. Let that golden key dangle. I wonder how much I would fall. I’ve done it many times before; have seen the brink, the edge, of my grief. Psychologists call it dissociation, dysphoria. Suicidal ideation. I need to go slow; I want to stop the triggers, the voices shouting over mine. Over my nanay’s, my birthmother’s, my lola’s, my family’s. And yet. All I hear is that cacophony, that mixture of missionary complexes and erasure.

Tomorrow, I wonder if Lola Eudocia will be remembered. Tomorrow, I wonder if my own grandmother, a woman who must have suffered the most one can suffer and lived, would be remembered, too. 

The colonized become their colonizers 

I ask myself now: What does it mean to become family? Familia? Pamilya? What are these terms but a representation of the bonds we hold with one another? They are lies. They are true. They are what we are left with, what we have. Should I call my birthmother Mother? My mother? Nanay? That is what nanay means. What lola means: my grandmother.

Here is a truth: Lola Eudocia unfortunately did become part of Alex Tizon’s family, because despite her lower class, she was still considered a Filipino citizen in their eyes. In contrast, chattel slavery never allowed the enslaved to become one with the family, because those who were enslaved were considered less than human. It is here where the difference lies, and it is imperative to point this out.

The white supremacy that fueled chattel slavery is also what fueled America to conquer the Pacific, to massacre over 1.4 million Filipinos and make the Philippines theirs:

“There was nothing wrong that profit motive and gain should be the only reason for American expansion into the Pacific.” — Theodore Roosevelt, June 24, 1900

“We make no hypocritical pretense of being interested in the Philippines solely on account of others. While we regard the welfare of these people as a sacred trust, we regard the welfare of the American people first. We see our duty to ourselves as well as to others. We believe in the trade expansion.” — Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, June 1900

“It has been charged that our conduct of the war has been cruel. Senators, it has been the reverse. […] Senators must remember that we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals. We are dealing with Orientals who are Malays. We are dealing with Malays instructed in Spanish methods. They mistake kindness for weakness, forbearance for fear. It could not be otherwise unless you could erase hundreds of years of savagery…” — Albert J. Beveridge, January 9, 1900

The difference is stark: Filipinos have become the embodiment of their colonizer by enslaving their own people; white Americans, through their racist mythos of manifest destiny, enslaved and conquered and massacred those they believed were not human. We must find the parallels, we must find the intersections, but we must not allow Westernized, reductive thought to conflate these two systems of oppression — to do so is another erasure, and erasure is the crux of trauma for Filipinos.  It is what catalyzed our migrations, both forced and voluntary.

This erasure is important to say aloud. It is because of the Philippine Insurrection, because of the over 300 years of subjugation by the Spanish, that the feudalistic and racist system of domestic servitude, katulongs and kasambahays continues to exist and thrive; it is this forgetting, this un-memory, this erasure that allows the Philippine populace to shroud their past and embody the colonizer that has colonized them. Simply put: The novelist Bob Shacochis once said the identity of war is “the genesis of a nation’s soul.” Even the name of our genocide is written in mistranslation — the Philippine-American War — as if these two countries were on equal footing. Let me repeat: It was an insurrection against an invading army. And it was an invasion that eventually succeeded because General Aguinaldo and the ilustrados wound up conspiring with the Americans to gain privileges and control during the U.S.’s rule, just as their ancestors conspired with the Spanish. The Philippines is a nation defined by its oppression, by its corroboration for complicity.

Through this erasure, this anti-memory, our old dictator Ferdinand Marcos and our new dictator in-the-making Rodrigo Duterte, who has just declared martial law in Mindanao and has threatened to extend it to the Visayas and Luzon, were created. They promised us they would be the strong-man we needed against all oppressors, and yet. Their promises were and are masked and wrapped up by their collusion with the United States, so that they could maintain their power and control. Marcos was supported by Reagan and Nixon. Duterte is supported by Trump. This is not by coincidence. This is because this is how oppression operates, according to Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” — through conquest, divide and rule, manipulation and cultural invasion.

This is our erasure: Our fight for freedom, our insurrection against the invading American army, is not taught either in American schools or Philippine schools; 1.4 million Filipinos died as a result of this invasion through water torture, concentration camps, famine, diseases and public massacres. And yet. The colonizer has us believe that America is the land of the free and the bounty. The colonizer has us believe that our island’s resources are theirs to conquer and keep — for the sake of expansion. The colonizer has us believe that the way they enslave is exactly how we enslave, and thus who are we to complain of our sufferings, our traumas, our complicity, when we are just like them?

Intergenerational trauma

I will end with this: This past weekend, one of the Dulay matriarchs, my great-aunt, who became a surrogate mother to me after my own grandmother passed and knew and remembered so much about the war (she was 15 years old when the Japanese Imperial Army bombed the Island of Corregidor), was laid into the earth near her sister.

Ever since Alex Tizon’s essay came out, I’ve finally come to understand the intense class, hierarchal, and often racist class dynamics that my own family operates in, and especially the intense class anxiety I grew up with and still often feel, especially around the rich side of my family. Just because my nails were not painted, I felt poor. Just because my teeth never had braces and aren’t straight, I felt poor. Lesser, of no value. My familia reaches over 300 in Los Angeles, and the main matriarch, my other grand aunt, married a white real estate tycoon and took over his company while employing most of my family members scattered between the freeways. The wealth disparity in my family is vast — my great-aunt, to give you a sense of her wealth, donated $13.5 million to the hospital I was born in, where many of my relatives were. My side and those who work for her and/or live in her apartment complexes, like my father, are regulated to the “help” side of the familia; it’s the katulong system working within America’s capitalism. We are not slaves, but we answer the beck-and-call of my great-aunt and of her son.

You want to tell me that slavery is slavery. You want to tell me that slavery is the same everywhere. But this is what I believe you are saying: Slavery, morally, is and will always be, no matter what, wrong. It is objectively evil in all cultures, like rape. How it exists is objectively and will always be evil and based upon the superiority complexes of the oppressor class — and therein lies the intersections, the parallels, the ravaged truth: The master’s egotism is rooted in his enslavement of the oppressed.

But I also believe this is a truth: How slavery operates, by culture, country, and nation-state, is different. It bleeds and finds its way into our lives and cuts the very core of our bonds and our ability to love and see each other. The consequences, the devastating ruptures of familial bonds and love, are the same: they are knifed by the trauma, by the intergenerational trauma. They mirror the other.

My inay is not a slave, is not an indentured servant, but she was trafficked. My aunt is not a slave, is not an indentured servant, but she was trafficked. My birthmother, who abandoned me the day after I was born, is not a slave, is not an indentured servant, but she was sold — by her own mother. Modern-day slavery is filtered through this system of human trafficking.

And yet.

When I am near her, my inay, my stepmother, she fixes my dress, my hair, my messed-up lipstick with her fingers, like she were my real mother. I ask her if she misses her family back home, if they, too, want to come here, and she tells me, It is okay anak. Here, I can help them more. But they want to stay there, and I want to be with your father.

My father, through the hard work of my familia, is finally a citizen. My inay, who migrated here legally, will soon, too, become a U.S. citizen.

Her children are my age. I meet them, too, on the computer screen. Next year, my husband and I will make a pilgrimage to Metro Manila to meet my stepsiblings for the very first time. Though we are thousands of miles and oceans away from each other, we laugh and talk and smile as if we were familia.

I know there are many nonprofit orgs fighting for the rights of my titas, my lolas, those from families like mine. Damayan Migrant Workers Association, Gabriela USA, Lila Pilipina, and so many more — they are on the frontlines, like Gabriela Silang, and they are fighting to dispel modern-day slavery in its most current, most vicious institutionalized form. I know this is not enough. I know my familia is lucky; that not all families are like mine, not all are kind, that they do not operate in the same clannish, overly protective way the matriarchs in my family do.

Read more from Salon

City mulls taxi rule changes in era of Uber, Lyft



From the Indianapolis Business Journal:

by Susan Orr

Before Uber and Lyft came to town in 2013, Yared Zeleke made a pretty good living as an independent franchisee driving for Baba Cab.

It was enough that he could drive just a couple of days a week, freeing him up to take classes at Ivy Tech Community College in pursuit of his real career goal: becoming an X-ray technician.

But today, as more people choose to connect to rides through apps such as Uber Technologies Inc., Zeleke’s business has dropped off so much that he might make as little as $40 a day. A busy day might earn him as much as $150 to $200, but those days are increasingly rare.

“That’s just a miracle. It’s not every day,” said Zeleke, who can no longer afford the time or the money to be in school. As he spoke at a Washington Street taxi stand, two Uber vehicles slipped into line behind the cabs. “It’s just hard.”

Zeleke’s experience is not unusual and it’s led to a drop in the number of taxis and taxi drivers in the city—enough to grab the attention of the City-County Council, which last year launched a commission to explore the issue and determine what, if anything, government should do to address the changing industry.

When the ride-connecting companies came to town, Indianapolis had 917 licensed taxi drivers. That number has fallen every year since then, dropping to 632 in 2016. (Complete 2017 numbers aren’t yet available because drivers have until June 30 to renew their licenses.)

The number of licensed taxis has also fallen, from 866 in 2013 to 582 so far this fiscal year.

The commission met three times last month to discuss overhauling the city’s taxi regulations—which dictate not only how much cabs can charge but even how drivers dress and how big a company’s fleet must be. Commission members are focusing on two areas for reform: deregulation and technology.

“Technology has transformed so much of how we navigate many of our most basic actions. This just puts it in a bold light. Technology is here. How do we adapt to it?” asked City-County Counsilor Vop Osili, who is spearheading the city’s efforts. “The big picture is, how much do we regulate and how much do we rely on new technology to fill some of the gaps that traditionally legislation and regulation have filled?”

The group’s mission is not only altruistic: Members are worrying about more than the struggling taxi drivers.

As the number of taxis has fallen, so has the revenue the city collects from licensing fees. The city collected $229,453 in fees in 2013, and by 2016 that number had dropped to $167,556.

Meanwhile, the city’s costs to run the taxi program—about $250,000 a year—remain steady, said Jason Larrison, director of the city’s Department of Business and Neighborhood Services. He told the taxi study commission recently that his 200-person department uses the equivalent of four full-time employees to handle the licensing, inspections and other aspects of the city’s taxi program.

The department doesn’t regulate Uber, Lyft Inc. or other technology companies that use apps to connect riders directly with drivers. In fact, state law specifically prohibits local governments from regulating those services, which creates a two-tier system that taxi drivers say is unfair.

Instead, state law sets minimal rules regarding insurance, driver qualifications and consumer protections for the app-based companies but otherwise allows the market to dictate their operations.

However, taxi companies operating in Indianapolis must comply with a host of regulations governing everything from the color schemes of vehicles to how much drivers can charge and where they can live.

The disparity in how the two groups are regulated is what the city is hoping to address.

“We have made it hard for them to operate,” Councilor Jeff Miller, another member of the study commission, said about taxi drivers and companies. “If anything else, we have a responsibility to lift laws that don’t make sense.”

For example, taxis must be registered in Marion County, and cab drivers are limited by fare caps that have been in place since 1996, no matter how much they are in demand. But drivers for app-based services aren’t bound by either geographic or fare restraints.

So when Indianapolis hosts a big convention or NFL game, Zeleke and the other drivers said, they have the potential to make good money. But those events also attract a flood of Uber and Lyft drivers, some of whom arrive from out of state.

“Even if the convention comes, a lot of people take Uber,” said Amadou Diallo, a driver for Gold Cab. “Cab drivers need help from the city.”

When contacted by IBJ to comment on disparities in regulation, Uber cited a 2016 ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. In that case, the court ruled that Uber is different from traditional taxi companies and does not have to abide by the same set of regulations.

“In just five years ridesharing has created flexible earning opportunities for thousands of drivers in neighborhoods across Indianapolis and helped hundreds of thousands of riders get from A to B,” Uber said. “We agree with the 7th Circuit Court’s ruling late last year that ridesharing provides a different transportation option than taxis and we are pleased to serve every corner of the city.”

Lyft did not respond to IBJ’s e-mailed requests for comment.

The taxi reform commission’s meetings have included far-ranging discussions—and lots of questions— but no conclusions yet as to what path the city should pursue. The 13-member commission includes representatives from the city, law enforcement, the taxi industry, the hospitality industry and others.

Commission members say the topic is broad and complex and that technology will likely be part of the solution.

“We’re going to have to look at how [taxi companies] catch up, and I think technology’s going to be a huge part of it, and what role the city is willing to take in that,” said committee member Elise Shrock, director of operations at the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association. “I think we’re really still trying to get into the meat of what that means.”

Lynette Taylor, a community organizer with the Indianapolis Worker Justice Center, is a commission member representing the views of the local taxi industry. She said without a centralized app to connect customers to cabs, “taxis are handicapped.”

But 18 of the 31 taxi companies registered with the city have five vehicles or fewer. It’s unrealistic to think that these small businesses will have the means to develop and maintain an app—or that customers would know how to find them.

In a letter that Taylor delivered to the committee, taxi drivers asked the city to help them “develop an app that benefits everyone involved.”

Taylor agrees the city should have some involvement in creating or operating a taxi app, “but what that way is, has yet to be determined.”

Read more from the Indianapolis Business Journal.

Latinx Anti-Blackness Killed Philando Castile

From Mijente:

As news broke that a court acquitted Officer Yanez, the 29 year old Latino police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile while he wore his seatbelt and his girlfriend livestreamed from the passenger side of his car last summer, reactions of outrage and disbelief poured throughout the country.

Castile’s mother took to facebook telling people to understand the license to kill this decision grants police officers.

Groups dedicated to racial justice called on others in the self-described resistance that rose after the fall election to prioritize responding to this case and to incorporate work against state violence and racism into their program.

For Latinxs, the case demands a specific conversation. Marisa Franco, Director of Mijente issued the following reaction:

We condemn the murder of Philando Castile and the routine miscarriage of any justice in Officer Yanez’ acquittal. Latinxs have to stand against racism and police violence tonight.

The fear that Officer Yanez had of Philando Castile in his passenger seat is one that is taught to us and one that is prevalent in our communities. We cannot denounce him without also actively confronting Latinx anti-Blackness. It must be undone.

At a time when the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is encouraging our community’s cooperation with the Trump regime and as non-Black Latinxs are courted into the project of white supremacy in this country, Philando Castile’s murder is a tear in that fabric that calls for us to resist.

For some of us this is an act of solidarity, for others it is an act of self-preservation. Non-Black Latinxs need to show up for the movement for Black Lives including the Afro-Latinxs who are often erased in these conversations.

Tonight we mourn with those who loved Mr. Castile. Tonight we share the outrage with those who are still waiting for justice to be made real in this country. Now, tomorrow, and onward we commit ourselves to a fight against criminalization, against state violence, and for racial justice for all of us, a justice that begins by making Black lives matter.

Stephanie Gasca, Communications Director for Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha in Minneapolis, responded:

As a woman who identifies as Latinx and a mother of Black children, now is the time for us to stand with our Black sisters and brothers like never before. Our struggles against systemic oppression and the criminalization of Black and Brown folks in our state and in our country are not two separate battles. In the Twin Cities, Black and Brown communities have carried the weight of this painful oppression and the real impacts it has on our daily lives in two separate lanes for far too long. Now is the time for us to carry this weight together and fight together against the systems that were built to destroy us.

Read more from Mijente

Immigration Activists Demand Vote for Los Angeles Justice Fund



From Balitang America:

by Steve Angeles

Los Angeles is believed to be home of one of the largest populations of undocumented immigrants. Despite some promises to protect them, some activists say they haven’t seen any substantial actions from elected officials.

Immigrant rights activists took to the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, and then the council chambers., demanding that city officials make good on several promises backing the LA Justice Fund.

“We are asking for strong sanctuary policies from the city,” said Rabeya Sen, from Esperanza Community Housing Corp.

“I’m here to support representation vs deportation,” said Lee Plaza from Pilipino Workers Center.

The Justice Fund, which would be used to help undocumented immigrants legal expenses, as well as an executive order that bans city employees and public safety personnel from cooperating with immigration officials, was announced by Mayor Eric Garcetti last March.

However, activists say that city council is yet to take concrete steps.

“It hasn’t put what they promise is a budget for the LA Justice Fund; they haven’t voted on it,” said Myrla Baldonado. “Not a single cent went to that so we’re here right now to push for that, that there will be representation.”

This action comes as several Latino families are going through deportation orders.

The Pilipino Workers Center says they’ve seen more undocumented Filipinos reach out to them for services.

“Pag may na huli Pinoy, the Pinoy will be in jail kasi wala sya pera, and which is more likely we are composed of mostly low income immigrants na walang saving,” said Baldonado. “Where do you get money to get representation for an immigration attorney?”

The city council is expected to bring up the issues next week.

While they have adopted a budget that sets aside a million dollars for the $10 million fund, they are also considering restrictions on if the Justice Funds should be available to undocumented immigrants with prior criminal records.

Activists say the funds should be universal.

Read more from Balitang America

Farmworkers Confront Wendy's in Fight for Fair Wages

From Truthout:

by Pranav Jani

"He sido un trabajador agrícola desde que tenía 17 años." ("I have been a farmworker since I was 17 years old.")

The voice of Lucas Benitez, a co-founder of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), is always powerful to hear, no matter what the setting.

But on May 23, Benitez's voice rang out in a place that has been hostile to farmworkers' rights -- the annual shareholders meeting for Wendy's, held at the fast-food giant's headquarters in Dublin, Ohio.

As the Alliance for Fair Food (AFF) reported, Benitez and 26 other supporters, including myself, went into the meeting to confront Wendy's corporate leadership about its refusal to join the Fair Food Program (FFP) established by the CIW and allies as a monitoring program to prevent abuse of farmworkers by the fast-food industry.

More than 60 protesters led a vigorous picket in support outside the meeting, urging people to boycott Wendy's, support the farmworkers and fight for immigrant justice. Their actions forced Wendy's Director of Corporate Communications Heidi Schauer to come out and speak with CIW members and their allies, suggesting that Wendy's is entering damage-control mode.

The CIW is calling on Wendy's to follow the example of other fast-food giants and agree to pay an extra penny per pound for tomatoes to raise workers' wages and only buy from fields where workers' rights are respected. Wendy's has defied this simple call for justice and instead tried to weather the storm of criticism by releasing a new "Wendy's Supplier Code of Conduct" that has no effective enforcement mechanism.

On May 23, the farmworkers movement gained from the actions outside and inside Wendy's headquarters in three ways.

We forced corporate officials to more specifically articulate the content of supplier code of conduct" so that we can investigate it further and sharpen our critique of it. We learned how organized we can be, mobilizing and uniting a diverse group of people to take bold action around a specific goal. And we gained more insight into what drives Wendy's and other corporations to take such a firm stand against workers' movements, and the challenges this poses for us.

***

The size and diversity of the direct actions organized this year show the powerful unity that has been forged over the course of the CIW's campaign.

The protesters inside and outside the shareholders meeting represented national and local Protestant, Catholic and Jewish institutions, community and social justice groups, and the "Boot the Braids" campus campaigns at the Ohio State University, University of Michigan and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

I was asked to participate as a faculty supporter of the campaign at Ohio State led by Student Farmworker Alliance (SFA) and Real Food OSU -- a growing movement that includes student members of the International Socialist Organization (ISO).

The planning of the action was superb and our execution flawless -- as it needed to be to challenge Wendy's bosses in their own house. The 27 of us went in separately and incognito, wearing business-friendly dress and entering as proxy representatives of supportive Wendy's shareholders.

When I went into the conference center, a cop at the door joked to me and a shareholder that Wendy's had ordered "entertainment" -- referring to the sounds of the protesters chanting outside. They had no idea of the real "entertainment" that was coming up, I thought.

CIW supporters have been entering these annual meetings for a few years, and Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito opened her "Corporate Social Responsibility" update saying, "We know you are here." But it was clear they had no idea of the scale of this action.

During the question-and-answer period, our well-prepared speakers came to the mic and hammered away at Wendy's narrative of "corporate social responsibility," exposing the Wendy's Supplier Code of Conduct for its lack of independence and transparency.

Board Chair Nelson Peltz finally shut down the meeting after our 11th speaker, and then all 27 of us held up "Boycott Wendy's" placards, met at the back of the hall and marched out together to join our comrades.

***

As activists and organizers, we have many experiences protesting the policies of the 1 Percent. We sometimes even get a chance to speak directly to their political representatives in the form of local and national Republican and Democratic Party politicians.

But it's rare that we get to tell the capitalist class, face to face, what we think of their unjust and exploitative policies.

Those lined up against us on the stage at Wendy's headquarters included: Todd A. Penegor, president and CEO, with total compensation of $5,117,784 in 2016; Gunther Plosch, CFO, with total compensation of $2,265,264 in 2016; and Nelson Peltz, chairman of the board, with a net worth of $1.53 billion that puts him among the richest people in the US

These aren't people who are interested in listening to farmworkers, Wendy's employees or solidarity activists. But because we were well-prepared and flexible enough to ask relevant follow-up questions and make comments, we created an environment in which they couldn't simply ignore us.

And sometimes we even got them to crack and show their cards.

I focused on the ways in which the FFP's monitoring process is superior to Wendy's Code of Conduct: the code is mandatory for all growers, and farmworkers themselves participate actively in shaping the code.

You can find out more by reading law professor James J. Brudney's April letter to OSU's Lantern newspaper and the CIW's critique of the Wendy's Code.

Chief Communications Officer Liliana Esposito claimed that Wendy's was already a defender of workers' rights, and, repeating an argument she has made since October 2016, falsely suggested that Fair Food Program fees would go into the coffers of the CIW, a claim that the AFF's Patricia Cipollitti easily refuted.

When we asked whether Wendy's could identify third-party independent monitors that made their Code of Conduct enforceable, as they claimed, they refused to name any -- raising basic questions about their transparency and credibility.

Peltz tried a number of times to quiet our side, saying snarkily, "Please, please, don't make [your questions] about this Fair Food stuff. We've heard this over and over again, ad nauseum." Refusing to meet with members of the human rights group T'ruah, which represents 1,000 rabbis, Peltz rudely told their representative, "I have plenty of rabbis in my life."

By the end of the meeting, the corporate doublespeak was plain to all. Penegor brushed off the question of whether the boycott was hurting Wendy's bottom line, resorting to wartime language: Wendy's would continue to win the "hearts and minds of people."

Apparently forgetting Wendy's fuzzy p.r. image of "food, family and community" that he repeated during his presentation, Penegor said people were free to make fast-food choices. After all, "[t]here's a huge share of stomachs" out there, and Wendy's did not need to appeal to everyone.

A larger "share of stomachs" -- the beloved consumer reduced to nothing but a body organ for fast-food companies to fight over. A Marxist couldn't have made a better argument for what drives Wendy's and the 1 Percent -- and the disdain they have for workers, as both producers and consumers.

***

During the course of the meeting, Wendy's executives revealed the many problems with the company's Supplier Code of Conduct.

The research we do on how the Wendy's code works in practice will be crucial, because universities that claim to stand by human rights will decide whether to renew the company's contracts based on the code.

For instance, Ohio State University sent an e-mail a few days ago to Amanda Ferguson, an SFA leader and ISO organizer, telling her that OSU will extend its contract with Wendy's for three years because they are satisfied with Wendy's claims that "that workers picking tomatoes [for Wendy's suppliers] are doing so under safe and appropriate conditions."

As Rachel Rieser pointed out in a recent Socialist Worker article on the "Boot the Braids" campaign at OSU, campus campaigns were central to getting Taco Bell to join the FFP in 2005.

The OSU contract renewal, representing yet another betrayal of the administration in relation to student and worker voices, is a crucial obstacle to overcome. A sharper critique of Wendy's Code of Conduct will be a key weapon in this struggle.

The direct action at Wendy's headquarters also gave us experience in uniting many organizations behind this fight. We can't overestimate the importance of activists coming together and forging the links that will serve us well in CIW solidarity work, but also the broader struggles against racism, for workers rights, and for immigrant justice.

Socialists should support the CIW campaign all over the country, joining rallies and marches, connecting the CIW struggle with the campaign of low-wage workers in the Fight for 15, and linking the farmworkers' struggle with all immigrant rights, anti-racist and labor organizing.

The CIW is focused on farmworkers' rights, and the FFP has reduced the most oppressive conditions of sexual and economic abuse in an industry that continued to be unregulated.

This abuse isn't only in Mexico and other countries, but right here in the US, where the Fair Labor Standards Act continues to exclude farmworkers in significant ways. This is important to emphasize, because sometimes it can be easier for activists to criticize companies for taking work to Mexico, when workers' rights and safety on the job are also unregulated here in the US.

***

The CIW's demands might not seem all that radical. It's important, however, to consider the impact if farmworkers pressured Wendy's to join the FPP, as other fast-food giants such as Taco Bell, McDonald's and Burger King already have.

Wendy's corporate leadership would no doubt use such a concession to polish its image of "corporate social responsibility" -- even as Wendy's restaurant workers continued to get the minimum wage or less, as is the case at other fast-food chains that have joined the FFP.

The pious shrines to Wendy's founder Dave Thomas in the halls of the corporate headquarters -- describing his "humble beginnings," praising him as a "folk hero" and continuing the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" mythology -- would remain. So would "white savior" image of Thomas -- reflected neatly in Penegor's and Esposito's presentations. Apparently, people of color exist in Wendy's propaganda only when they are being helped by Wendy's charities, depicted as Wendy's workers, or being turned into franchise owners by the corporation's good graces.

Read more from Truthout.

Researchers discuss treatment of immigrant dairy farmworkers in the state



From WSYR-TV:

This week on Newsmakers, Dan talks with the authors of a new study, entitled "Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State.”

The researchers found these undocumented Mexican and Central Americans work extremely long hours for very low pay in often dangerous and unhealthy conditions. 

The guests are Gretchen Purser, an assistant professor of sociology at Syracuse University's Maxwell School, and Rebecca Fuentes, a lead organizer with the workers' center of Central New York.

Click here to watch the video from WSYR-TV.

Gimme! Coffee Baristas Vote to Organize Union



Photo credit: Konstantin Sergeyev

From The Lansing Star:

by Tompkins County Workers' Center

17 Gimme! Coffee baristas voted today, concluding at 9 p.m., by a vote of 16 to 1 in a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) election in favor of organizing a union to negotiate a contract in their workplaces. The election was for non-managerial baristas at the W. State/MLK Street location; the N. Cayuga Street location; the Gates Hall location at Cornell U.; and the Trumansburg location. They are now members of Workers United Local 2833.

The next step in the unionizing process is for the Baristas to elect a Bargaining Committee and then establish communications with the Management of Gimme! Coffee to begin contract negotiations. They'll create agreements on how such negotiations will proceed as both sides work through what they would like to accomplish through their new contract.

Samantha Mason, a barista at the Cayuga Street Gimme! Coffee location and a member of the Workers United Organizing Committee, says: "Worker's power is real. This union is a crucial step in moving forward with improving the lives and workplaces of hospitality workers in Tompkins County. Our next step at Gimme! is negotiating a contract. The struggle continues".

Says Korbin Richards, a barista at the Gates Hall location, says "Now is the exciting part; everything is on the table for bargaining, and we're committed to making this process as imaginative as possible. It's the best type of challenge - to push your creativity and create a fair and innovative contract."

Leading into the election, owner and founder of Gimme! Coffee, Kevin Cuddeback, chose to be neutral and said: "We respect employees' right to decide whether to unionize, and we'll continue working with all our employees to make Gimme the best place it can be for our employees, customers, and coffee suppliers."

Pete Meyers, Coordinator of the Tompkins County Workers' Center (TCWC), says: "We at the TCWC are ecstatic that the Baristas at Gimme! Coffee have decided to organize a union; as we are uplifted by the amazing energy of the Baristas. We are very appreciative of Gimme! owner Kevin Cuddeback's position of 'neutrality' towards the unionizing effort in his stores. It is especially inspiring to us at the TCWC how these workers are especially interested in building a union movement in Tompkins County to raise working conditions of hospitality workers throughout our community."

Rob Brown, TCWC Organizer says, "The food service subset of the hospitality industry alone accounts for 1/3 of workers' rights cases that the TCWC handles through our 15-year-old Workers' Rights Hotline. Our partnership with the Gimme! baristas and Workers United is a part of our continual work to educate the public about common exploitative conditions in this industry; seek positive transformation of working conditions with workers; and highlight workers' right to engage in concerted actions and collective bargaining to manifest positive mutually beneficial changes in the workplace. Workers' voices make businesses better."

Gary Bonadonna, Manager of Workers United/Rochester Regional Joint Board, and the union that is organizing with the Gimme! Coffee baristas had this to say: "We are honored to be working with Gimme! Coffee workers. They are a dedicated, creative and inspirational group. Unions to be relevant in today's workforce must assist workers to organize in the growing but low wage service sector economy. Deunionization of our society led by the Walmarts of this world is not a healthy thing. I also want to praise the enlightened management of Gimme! Coffee. Too often employers wage war against their workers who want to organize. Gimme! Coffee management, led by CEO Kevin Cuddeback, brews justice with their great coffee."

Read more from The Lansing Star.

Activistas de Wisconsin denuncian nueva ley antiinmigrante



From El Tiempo:

Activistas proinmigrantes de Wisconsin anunciaron hoy una nueva campaña de resistencia contra leyes consideradas “anti-santuario” y presentadas por legisladores republicanos en la Asamblea legislativa estatal.

“Haremos lo que sea necesario para detener los intentos republicanos de imponer en nuestro estado la campaña de terror del presidente (Donald) Trump contra los inmigrantes”, declaró a Efe la directora ejecutiva de Voces de la Frontera, Christine Neumann-Ortiz.

Los activistas reaccionaron contra un proyecto de ley presentado hoy en el Senado, que sigue la línea de la AB190 que se tramita en la Cámara de Representantes.

Las iniciativas buscan prohibir a ciudades, villas, pueblos o condados de Wisconsin la aprobación de cualquier tipo de ordenanza, resolución o política local que impida la colaboración con la Oficina de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE).

“Vuelven a la carga y quieren acelerar una ley que impondría el perfil racial y la discriminación, como ocurre en Arizona, y que ya supimos rechazar el año pasado”, dijo Neumann-Ortiz.

Según destacó, los empleados municipales, agentes policiales, funcionarios de las cortes e inclusive maestros podrían ser obligados a colaborar con inmigración y convertirse en “agentes de deportación” de indocumentados.

Voces de la Frontera exigió en un comunicado al gobernador de Wisconsin, Scott Walker, y al líder de la mayoría en el Senado, Scott Fitzgerald, ambos republicanos, que archiven el proyecto de ley.

De lo contrario, los activistas encararían movilizaciones masivas de protesta, que estiman, serían de mayor envergadura que el exitoso Día sin Latinos que realizaron en Madison, la capital del estado, el 17 de febrero de 2016.

“Nuestra comunidad está dispuesta a luchar fuerte, y podríamos llegar a un paro general de varios días”, dijo Neumann-Ortiz, quien ya prepara una movilización previa para el 28 de junio en el Capitolio estatal.

Read more from El Tiempo.

Upstate immigrant dairy farm workers report injuries and intimidation

Photo credit: Patrick Lohmann/Syracuse.com

From Syracuse.com:

by Patrick Lohmann

Immigrant dairy farm workers who spoke to researchers in Upstate New York reported hazardous working conditions, wage theft and intimidation, according to findings published in a report by workers' rights groups and Syracuse University professors.

Researchers interviewed 88 immigrant workers at 53 Upstate dairy farms in 2014 and 2015. They did so without the farm owners' knowledge and granted the workers, most of whom came to the country illegally, anonymity for fear of being deported, the authors said.

Nearly half of the workers said they were bullied or intimidated by their bosses, and two-thirds said they'd suffered at least one injury. 

The authors announced their findings in a news conference Thursday at the Workers' Center of Central New York in Syracuse. They did so as a lawsuit and state legislation are pending that would give farmworkers the right to unionize in New York.

The report also comes as Upstate undergoes a dairy boom. The state's dairy farms produced nearly 15 billion pounds of milk in 2016, up about 1 billion pounds from the year before, according to federal statistics. 

That boom is coming at the expense of immigrant workers hired to staff the "semi-automated, fast-paced, stressful, and exhausting" positions created to support the industry, the authors wrote. 

"The study brings to life the voices of a rarely heard population that is vital but invisible to most New Yorkers," said Gretchen Purser, one of the study's authors and sociology professor at Syracuse University. "Like all agriculture workers in New York state, dairy farmers are excluded from many of the basic rights and protections that most of us take for granted, including the right to organize, the right to a day of rest and the right to overtime pay." 

Four out of five workers interviewed worked on a farm with fewer than 11 employees who are not relatives of the owners. As a result, the farm was not big enough to be subject to inspections of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, even if a worker is injured or killed, according to the authors. 

Of the 88 surveyed, 93 percent came to the United States illegally. Most came from Mexico and the second-biggest group from Honduras. Farm owners operate on a "don't ask, don't tell" basis regarding their immigration status with their employees, said co-author Carly Fox.

The interviews happened at 13 Central New York farms, three Eastern New York farms, 30 Western New York farms and seven Northern New York farms. 

In addition to the reports of danger and harassment, the study -- called "Milked: Immigrant Dairy Farmworkers in New York State" -- found the following:

  • Twenty-eight percent reported going without wages they deserved or paying for their own personal protective equipment, which authors described as "wage theft"
  • Sixty-two percent said they felt American workers were treated better than they were
  • Fifty-eight percent reported bug infestations in the homes provided by employers
  • Sixty-two percent felt isolated from their communities. The study's authors, as a result, repeated calls for allowing the issuance of driver's licenses for those who came to America illegally.
  • Workers said they earned $9 an hour, which was a dollar above the minimum wage at the time. Workers' wages will continue to rise along with those in the rest of the state, thanks to the state's newly passed minimum wage increase.

Read more from Syracuse.com.

May

Trumpcare 2.0 Is a Death Bill -- It's Time to Fight for the System We Want

From Truthout:

by Meaghan LaSala

New figures from the Congressional Budget Office show that, if passed into law, the so-called "Trumpcare" bill would spike the number of people without health insurance by 23 million in 2026. While the GOP pushes deadly health care rollbacks in Washington, communities from Pennsylvania to Maine are ramping up their organizing for universal health care at the state level. New York and California are celebrating major progress in their campaigns for state-based, single-payer systems, setting the tone for grassroots campaigns sweeping the country.

The Healthy California Act and the New York Health Act would establish improved Medicare-for-all-style systems in each state, eliminating out-of-pocket costs and guaranteeing comprehensive care to all residents. The California bill won approval from the Senate Health Committee in late April, and the Appropriations Committee is expected to vote on Thursday. Meanwhile, the New York Health Act has sailed through the Assembly and now awaits action in the Senate.

According to Ursula Rozum, upstate campaign coordinator for the Campaign for New York Health, the list of endorsing state senators has jumped from 20 to 31 since the start of the legislative session, bringing it just one vote shy of a majority. Rozum told In these Times that the bill's success this session is at least partly a response to Trump's regressive policies, explaining that "in this time of attacks on federal level, I think it helps to say look, we have something viable that could protect New Yorkers from the harms of the federal cuts to health care funding."

These victories constitute a positive sign that state-based campaigns for universal health care ramping up across the country -- and not just in states with progressive legislatures. In Maine, where Republicans maintain control of the Senate and voters have twice elected the far-right, proto-Trump governor Paul LePage, organizers are demonstrating non-partisan, grassroots political unity on the issue of health care.

Such a system appears to have buy-in from ordinary Mainers. The Southern Maine Workers' Center (SMWC), a member-based grassroots organization, recently released a report entitled "Enough for All: A People's Report on Health Care," which shows that the vast majority of people surveyed between February 2013 and March 2016 believe health care is a human right, and that it's the job of the government to protect that right. "Committed to building a movement of working class and poor people," the report states, "SMWC sought out people most directly impacted by our system's profit-driven model."

Over 70 percent of those surveyed reported that their right to health care is not currently protected. Maine is one of the 19 states that rejected Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Maine is also the only state in the nation that has not seen a rise in the number of residents with insurance since the implementation of the ACA.

The SMWC's report points out that the gap of coverage in states that rejected Medicaid expansion disproportionately impacts people of color, deepening racial disparities across the healthcare system. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, black people are twice as likely as white people to fall into that coverage gap. Nationally, more than half of all nonelderly uninsured are people of color. For the SMWC, a universal health system based in human rights would be one where all health disparities are "actively and systematically addressed."

And while the current system creates and exacerbates many health disparities, the SMWC points out that it is also not working for the vast majority of people. For organizations rallying around the human right to health care, both the failures of the current system, and the attacks on health care coming from the right, constitute opportunities to help people imagine a system that meets their needs. Rozum explains, "if you want to resist Trump, we need to organize around universal social programs that take care of everyone, that unite people as opposed to being means tested."

This strategy is reflected in the SMWC's approach to organizing. In a recent interview, SMWC member Cait Vaughan explained the process of surveying people for their report. "What we were trying to do was engage people wherever they were at, whether they had lost their Medicaid… were still on Medicaid, whether they got insurance with the ACA… had no insurance at all, or even employer based insurance. We were trying to engage all these folks to figure out, 'What are the real roots of the problem?'"

The SMWC is just one organization in a multi-state collaborative of grassroots groups also hailing from Vermont, Maryland, and Pennsylvania that are using the language of human rights to build a base of grassroots support for universal health care. Nijmie Dzurinko organizes with Put People First Pennsylvania (PPF), another member organization of the Health Care is a Human Right (HCHR) Collaborative. Dzurinko told In These Times that "it's important to be working at a scale we can influence." Dzurinko agrees with Rozum that "state-based efforts are gaining traction precisely because we're going backward in Washington. We have a strategic opportunity to push for a kind of healthcare sanctuary at the state level that insulates our people from the attacks and rollbacks of care at the federal level."

The Vermont Workers' Center (VWC), another member of the HCHR collaborative, won a historic victory in 2011 with the passage of Act 48, establishing a path to publicly-funded, universal health care in the state -- the first of its kind in the country. While still on the books, the act has yet to be fully implemented, in part because of former governor Peter Shumlin put up roadblocks around equitable financing. The VWC continues to organize for full implementation of the law, while pushing back against the harmful impacts of the insurance-based system kept in place by the ACA. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont has recently requested a 12.7 percent premium increase on exchange plans.

VWC member Ellen Schwartz explains, "we'll be testifying in July about how these rate increases affect us and our families and call for the full implementation of Act 48 as the solution. This is important because the rate hikes are a symptom of a sick healthcare system, and it's that system that we are challenging and proposing to transform."

The 2011 victory of the Vermont Workers' Center inspired similar campaigns, like that of the SMWC, to view healthcare organizing as a winnable strategy and unite people around human rights. Viewing state-based organizing as connected to the fight over federal policies, Dzurinko points to the fact that "single payer system in Canada started in the province of Saskatchewan before it was national policy."

With successes like those in California and New York thrown into the mix, single-payer supporters elsewhere in the country may be spurred towards state-based campaigns. Approaching these campaigns with an eye towards building broad bases of support for human rights has the potential to sow resistance against the larger trends of privatization and deregulation, as well as racism and xenophobia, that mark the Trump administration.

Read more from Truthout

Pro-Immigrant Rally At Liberty State Park Draws Hundreds



From the Hoboken Patch:

by Eric Kiefer

“We’re here to stay.” That was the message that hundreds of immigrants and supporters proclaimed during a large May Day rally at Liberty State Park in Jersey City earlier this month.

According to a news release from organizers, the event was held in response to “a wave of anti-immigrant policies the Trump administration has been pushing in an attempt to criminalize immigrants, separate families and strike fear in communities.”

The rally steering committee included: 32BJ SEIU, New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, ACLU– NJ, BlueWave NJ, CAIR-NJ, Working Families Alliance, Latino Action Network, New Labor, Make the Road NJ, Wind of the Spirit, Faith in New Jersey, Northeast Regional Council of Carpenters, New Jersey Alliance for Muslim Communities, National Lawyers Guild and the CWA.

“We will not remain silent while our immigrant friends and neighbors are vilified and frightened to leave their homes because of reports of ICE raids, illegal stops and expedited deportations,” said Johanna Calle, Program Coordinator for the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice. “These policies are not only an assault on the civil rights of communities of color but a dangerous path that is already having dramatic consequences in communities across the country.”

“Liberty State Park, where the Statue of Liberty - which has welcomed generations of immigrants - sits just off the shore, is a fitting location for us to stand in solidarity today and tell the world that we will fight together to ensure America lives up to its promise to continue to be the land of opportunity for all,” said Kevin Brown, 32BJ Vice President and NJ State Director.

Read more from the Hoboken Patch.

Outrage Abounds as 'Unconscionable' Wisconsin Sheriff Takes DHS Job

From Common Dreams:

by Nadia Prupis

Controversial Wisconsin Sheriff David Clarke confirmed on Wednesday that he would be joining the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), prompting a chorus of outrage from those who say the cop who once compared Black Lives Matter to the KKK is unfit for the job.

Clarke told a Milwaukee radio show that he would be appointed as assistant secretary in the Office of Partnership and Engagement, where he will pressure local police departments to enforce President Donald Trump's tough immigration rules. The post does not require Senate confirmation.

His announcement comes just a month after a grand jury recommended charges against several staff members at one of Clarke's Milwaukee jails, where an inmate with bipolar disorder died after he was deprived of water for a week.

Clarke has also been slammed for controversial statements about racial justice activists, in one instance saying Black Lives Matter and the Islamic State (ISIS) were teaming up in a plot to destroy America. He also signed on to a controversial federal program, 287(g), which allows his deputies in Milwaukee County to act as Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents, conducting raids and deportations.

In August of last year, he responded to a fatal police shooting in Milwaukee by saying impoverished communities of color were responsible for the victim's death.

The Wisconsin-based immigration reform advocacy group Voces de la Frontera said Wednesday that Clarke was "unfit for any office."

"Trump's appointment of Clarke shows this administration's disregard for human rights," said the organization's executive director Christine Neumann-Ortiz.

She called for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to replace Clarke with a sheriff who will "withdraw from 287g, end collaboration with Trump's campaign of mass deportation and terror against immigrant families, and support reforms to prevent deaths and abuses at the Milwaukee County Jail."

Read more from Common Dreams

LA City Attorney sues firm with many Filipino caregivers for wage theft

From Inquirer.net:

In a precedent-setting case to enforce minimum wage and overtime pay for domestic workers and protect immigrant workers against wage theft, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed a lawsuit against Canoga Park-based homecare provider Emelyn Nishi and her companies Health Alliance Nurses Corp. and Hand Homecare Provider, Inc.

This lawsuit could result in millions of dollars in restitution and back-wages to approximately 200 primarily Filipino caregivers because of alleged wage theft over the past four years.

Caregivers with the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC) had launched a public campaign against this employer have since assisted the California Labor Commissioner’s office to start an investigation that is still on-going.

The workers then brought the case to the City Attorney’s office to enforce their rights as domestic workers and send a message to the homecare industry to end wage theft.

“We felt vindicated that the city attorney found that there were lots of violations in terms of our wages. We were not paid overtime. We hope that the case will be decided in favor of the caregivers who are fighting for dignity and the right to be paid what they are owed,” said Rufina Tubo, a former caregiver of Health Alliance and member of PWC.

The suit alleges that Emelyn Nishi and her companies Health Alliance Nurses Corp., and Hand Homecare Provider, Inc., charged between $170 and $250 per day for 24-hour in-home domestic care to families. However, these employees allegedly were paid only $100 to $125 per shift, equating to as little as $5.50 per hour or less.

According to the lawsuit, defendants allegedly pressured their caregivers to falsify time records to avoid overtime payments, and routinely threatened them with termination or blacklisting within the industry.

Pilipino Workers Center Executive Director Aquilina Soriano Versoza explained that “[In 2016] the overtime provision of the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights was made permanent in Sacramento (SB1015- Leyva), ending finally and for good, over 75 years of exclusion from overtime protections for nannies and caregivers. Today, with this case, we are seeing our rights becoming a reality. Today we see the dignity of homecare workers being upheld and uplifted.”

The lawsuit seeks an injunction against further unlawful, unfair and fraudulent business acts as well as restitution to all current and former employees who were not paid minimum wages or overtime. In addition, defendants could face civil penalties up to $2,500 for each violation.

Read more from Inquirer.net.

Trump's slash to Labor Department budget could jeopardize workplace safety enforcement

From the New York Daily News:

by Ginger Adams Otis

The U.S. has 8 million worksites to inspect and 1,838 state and federal inspectors to do it — enough to visit each place about once every 98 years.

But don’t worry, President Trump has a plan — to make it worse.

President Trump has proposed a 21% budget cut to the Department of Labor — a move many worker advocates say could wipe out some of the agency’s key programs to improve job site safety and enforce existing labor laws.

The potential funding slash was revealed March 16, when Trump outlined his proposed spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year.

The White House gave few details on what would have to be whacked if the Labor Department lost a fifth of its budget.

But there’s at least one program already believed to be on the chopping block — and it’s dedicated to worker safety, said Jordan Barab, the Labor Department’s former deputy assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“The Susan Harwood grant program, started in the 1980s, provides $10 million a year for safety training for workers,” Barab said.

Under the Obama administration, the grant program — which doles out funds to non-profit groups, unions and other organizations to provide worker safety training — focused on those considered vulnerable to job exploitation, Barab said.

“We tried to address concerns of workers like day laborers, or non- or limited-English speaking workers — basically those that OSHA had a hard time reaching and who don’t have the same access to information about their rights as other workers,” he said.

It’s the last issue in particular that keeps him up at night, he said.

“It’s not just about providing training on how to stay safe — it’s training to make sure workers know they have rights that protect them,” Barab said.

When it came to safety issues, OSHA often focuses on “high-hazard” industries.

According to the latest available data, this means the construction, transportation and agriculture industries — the three sectors with the highest rates of injury.

In 2015, 937 construction workers died on the job, along with 765 transportation workers and 570 workers in fishing and forestry.

Those three industries far exceeded the 26 deaths in mining and the 89 in oil and gas extraction, according to the AFL-CIO’s annual report, “Death on the Job” released in late April.

The Harwood grants have been in the crosshairs of conservative Republicans for decades, and it’s one of the first programs that will disappear if the department’s funding dries up, Barab said.

The training Harwood grants provide is vital in part because OSHA is so small to begin with: 1,838 inspectors to check 8 million worksites across the U.S., according to the AFL-CIO.

That’s one inspector for every 76,402 workers, the union said.

Trump’s proposed budget cuts also raise real concerns about enforcing laws, Barab said.

“Any cut in enforcement means more workers sick, more workers injured and more who will die at the workplace,” Barab added.

The potential for an “enforcement vacuum” is bigger than many realize, added Terri Gerstein, former labor bureau chief for New York’s Attorney General’s Office and former deputy commissioner for the state Department of Labor.

Some states are prohibited from enforcing OSHA regulations in the private sector — meaning they can’t step in to protect workers if the federal government isn’t doing its job.

“The budget cuts might affect the state enforcement agencies, since the federal government is retreating from aggressively protecting workers,” Gerstein said. “There’s an even greater concern .... about how to ensure that there is some governmental presence in places where state authorities are not looking to protect workers’ rights,” she said.

Gerstein also noted that enforcement of Labor Department wage and overtime protections could suffer because of Trump’s hardline stance on deporting undocumented immigrants — many of whom are exploited at the workplace but are too afraid to talk to authorities.

“Even in the best of circumstances it’s hard to get undocumented workers to talk to government … The whole situation greatly exacerbates what was already very challenging for labor law enforcement,” Gerstein said.

Within the Labor Department, the “chilling effect” of Trump’s policies is already being felt — and the worries about what actual programs will be cut are under constant discussion, said Ian Pajer-Rogers of Interfaith Worker Justice, a Chicago-based non-profit that deals with some 60 worker centers across the country.

His organization coordinates with grassroots community groups to form a bridge between undocumented and other vulnerable workers and the government agencies tasked with protecting them, he said.

In recent years IWJ collaborated closely with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division — the enforcement arm that investigates allegations of pay theft and overtime abuses.

IWJ operated in tandem with CORPS — Community Outreach and Resource Planning Specialists — to investigate possible violations without costing workers their jobs or putting them in jeopardy of deportation.

Since Trump’s proposed budget cuts were announced, Pajer-Rogers said, he’s already been told by Labor Department workers that most enforcement efforts will go away.

“I’ve been told, directly, that when the agency has moments like this when work is defunded and deprioritized, they have to revert to ‘engagement’ efforts,” he said. “So it’s going out to educate companies about how not to commit wage theft as opposed to going out to enforce laws to punish those committing wage theft.”

While there’s still hope that state agencies can pick up some of the slack around pay and overtime violations, Pajer-Rogers fears a far more apathetic Labor Department under Trump and his Labor Secretary, Alexander Acosta.

“Without the resources there ... well, laws are good only as long as you have enforcement around them,” he said.

Read more from the New York Daily News.

Sanctuary Cities Ban Would Be 'Disastrous' for Workers, Critics Say

On May 1, 2007, about 175 people marched in support of immigrant rights in Kennett Square, PA.

Photo Credit: Ivan Boothe/Flickr

From Dallas News:

By James Barragán

It's becoming a common emotion among  the unauthorized workers Jose P. Garza works with across Texas: fear.

There was the man who tried to rally co-workers to report wage theft on a construction site where employers refused to pay overtime. His employer threatened to have them all deported.

Another man broke his arm on the job. His boss dropped him at an emergency clinic and told him not to tell doctors how he’d gotten hurt or he'd turn him over to immigration authorities.

As the debate over banning sanctuary cities — local governments that provide safe harbor for unauthorized immigrants — heats up in the Texas Legislature, advocates and lawmakers who oppose a proposed ban say it would be bad for businesses.

Proponents of the ban argue that it's a matter of keeping unauthorized criminals out  of the country. Critics worry it will make communities less safe because it will incite fear of authorities among unauthorized immigrants. But it's not only the immigrants who will suffer, they say, but native workers on construction sites and in other jobs could see their wages plummet too as unscrupulous employers capitalize on a vulnerable workforce to pay less in wages.

Senate Bill 4 would ban universities, cities and counties from creating policies that prevent local law enforcement agencies from asking about a person's immigration status or enforcing immigration law.

Critics say the ban would spark fear among immigrants, who would be afraid to report crimes, including wage theft. And when employers can get away with paying little or nothing to unauthorized workers, they say, it drives down wages for all workers.

“When people are afraid to interact with law enforcement, they’re not reporting crimes, abuse — things they’ve been witness to. The same goes for people that are victims of wage theft, unsafe working conditions or other abuses on the job,” said Ian Pajer Rogers, a spokesman for Interfaith Workers Justice, a Chicago-based workers advocacy group. “If they feel like they’re going to be deported, they’re not going to report abuses.”

Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, said his sanctuary city ban has provisions designed to protect victims and witnesses of crimes from being asked about immigration status. 

“Banning sanctuary cities is about keeping our communities safe by ensuring those who engage in criminal activity are not automatically released back into our communities,” Perry said in a written statement. 

But opponents argue those safeguards aren't enough. 

“The real impact is pushing these communities who already feel marginalized deeper into the shadows,” said Elissa Steglich, an immigration law professor at the University of Texas. 

'Disastrous' for all workers

Unauthorized immigrants are more likely than the general population to be victims of labor abuse. A 2009 study on labor law violations in U.S. cities found that 37 percent of unauthorized immigrant workers were victims of minimum wage law violations and 85 percent were not paid for overtime. That’s compared with 16 percent and 64 percent, respectively, for American workers.

That would mean thousands of people in Texas could have been subject to wage theft because the state's approximately 1.5 million unauthorized immigrants make up significant portions of low-wage industries that drive the state’s economy. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that unauthorized immigrants make up 23 percent of Texas' labor force in the construction industry, 17 percent in the service sector and 10 percent in manufacturing.

Between a crackdown on immigration at the federal level and attempts to ban sanctuary policies at the state level, advocates said fear of authorities is already spreading through immigrant communities.

Some immigrants have stopped coming to work or going out in public when they hear immigration authorities are conducting raids in areas such as Austin that have been scapegoated during the sanctuary cities debate, Garza said.  

Any worker, regardless of immigration status, can report labor abuse. Such complaints can be filed with the Texas Workforce Commission and the Department of Labor, but immigrants, who frequently don't know how to report these issues, most often turn to local police departments who then refer them to lawyers who can take their cases to court. 

But recent high-profile arrests of unauthorized immigrants at courthouses in El Paso and Austin, and talks of the state allowing local police to enforce immigration laws have made immigrants wary of authorities and scared to exercise their rights, advocates say. 

Bill Beardall, executive director of the Equal Justice Center which works with low-income workers who are victims of labor abuse, said he has noticed increased fear in his clients. They are less likely to report labor abuse even after being told their rights by lawyers and of claiming their wages after they have won in court, he said. 

"I can't recall a time when unauthorized immigrants have been made more afraid of the justice system than now," said Beardall, who has worked on labor abuse issues for 39 years.

Nationally, officials in the Department of Labor say some immigrants are declining to claim back pay they've won for fear of being deported.

"Immigrants are in a state of fear," said Carlos González Gutiérrez, the consul general of Mexico in Austin, whose office helps Mexican immigrants who report labor abuse. "The first and foremost result has been that they have been pushed further underground."

Lower wages for citizens?

And immigrants may not be the only ones affected. If unauthorized workers are too scared to report labor abuses, they will often settle for jobs with unsafe working conditions that pay below the minimum wage. That suppresses wages and job opportunities for all workers — not just immigrants, Beardall said.

“Anything that makes it worse will be disastrous not just for unauthorized immigrant workers but also for the U.S. workers in similar low-wage occupations, since they’ll have to compete with vulnerable workers who in practice have no rights,” said Daniel Costa, the director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute.

Beardall said the "crowning irony" of the bill may be that instead of deterring employers from hiring more unauthorized immigrants and opening up those jobs to U.S. workers, it may have the opposite effect. Employers could see an advantage in continuing to hire unauthorized immigrants who they can exploit, rather than legal workers who could more easily enforce their rights. 

Read more from Dallas News.

April

Your Legal Rights as a Freelancer or Contract Worker: 5 Crucial Things to Know

A freelancer working from their laptop.

From Mic:

By Christy Rakoczy

A series of recent lawsuits brought against the ride-sharing company Uber centered on one key question: are Uber drivers "independent contractors" or employees? Uber argued drivers were contractors. A big legal settlement and most court cases ended with Uber's position prevailing.

Why does this matter, and why were so many lawsuits filed by drivers who wanted to be viewed as employees? One big reason: employees get way more and better workplace protections than contractors.

Unfortunately, a growing number of people are being hired as independent contractors — which is leaving them out in the cold when it comes to certain worker benefits and protections. But there are other rights they retain.

If you're hired as an independent contractor, here's what you need to know about your rights — and how to protect yourself from employers that might otherwise take advantage of you.

1. You might not actually be an independent contractor in the government's eyes

Employers may prefer to hire workers as independent contractors because it's much less expensive. A company could save anywhere from 20% to 40% on labor costs for an independent contractor versus an employee, according to the AFL-CIO.

The problem is, employers looking for cost savings sometimes call a worker an independent contractor when the worker isn't actually one, based on how the law defines it. When a worker should be an employee but an employer treats them as a contractor, this is called "misclassification."

"Misclassification of employees as independent contractors presents one of the most serious problems facing affected workers, employers and the entire economy," according to the Department of Labor.

The IRS and the Department of Labor each have their own tests determining if a worker is an independent contractor. The Department of Labor's economic reality test focuses on issues like whether the contractor's work is a key part of an employer's business, the permanency of the employer/worker relationship and extent of worker autonomy. The IRS looks at a worker's level of control over payments and performance and whether the employee is provided with supplies or benefits.

If you don't count as an independent contractor based on the IRS or DOL tests, you aren't one legally. It doesn't matter what your employer says or what any written contract says. If you think you may be misclassified, talk to your employer. You can also submit Form SS-8 to have the IRS review your status and you "have the right to ask a state or federal agency to review your employment status," according to Communications Workers of America.

2. You may have to pay your own taxes

"The largest incentive for misclassifying workers is that employers are not required to pay Social Security and unemployment insurance (UI) taxes for independent contractors," according to the AFL-CIO.

Each worker must pay a 12.4% tax for Social Security on income up to $127,200. Workers also must pay a 2.9% Medicare tax on all wages. When a worker is an employee, an employer pays half of both of these taxes — 6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare. By classifying a worker as an independent contractor instead of an employee, the company avoids all of these taxes, as well as unemployment tax.

Instead, the worker must pay his entire Social Security and Medicare tax himself. If you're an independent contractor, be aware you'll be paying a lot more. You also won't have an employer to withhold tax for you and send payments into the IRS. While employers normally deduct money from your paychecks so you can comply with the IRS pay-as-you go rules, this won't happen if you're paid as a contractor.

Not only do you have to pay more in tax, but you're also responsible for complying with IRS rules by sending in enough tax money — in the form of quarterly tax payments throughout the year — to avoid a penalty.

3. You've got the right to control your work

One of the few big benefits to being an independent contractor is independence: If your employer tries to control too much of what you do, you're no longer an independent contractor.

It should be up to you where and when you work, and what rates you set for the work you do. Your employer shouldn't require you to be present onsite at certain times or stipulate your exact hours, according to the Freelancer's Union. Your employer also can't generally stop you from subcontracting out some of the work you do, or restrict what other clients you take on.

You also own the rights to at least some of the work product you create. "Under the Copyright Act of 1976, an independent contractor who has created a work for an employer owns the rights to that work, except in limited circumstances," according to Communications Workers of America.


Unless you sign a written agreement giving your employer intellectual property rights and unless the work you do qualifies as a work made for hire, your work product is your own.

4. You aren't protected by wage and hour laws — so a good contract is essential

While independent contractors have more freedom, they have far fewer workplace protections. The Fair Labor Standards, Title VII, the Family Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and state workers' comp laws are just a few of the many worker protection laws you won't be protected by, according to Communications Workers of America.

That's right. An employer can more easily get away with discriminating against you on the basis of your race, gender and national origin. Your employer could also refuse to accommodate your religious needs or your disability, pay you less than minimum wage and not pay you overtime.

Virtually the only worker protections you'll have are the ones you negotiate yourself. So you should ensure you have a detailed written contract specifying what you'll be paid and how you'll be paid. If your employer breaks the agreement, you'll have to sue for breach of contact instead of asking for help from the Department of Labor, but at least you'll have some legal recourse to try to get money owed.

5. You're responsible for your own benefits

As an independent contractor, you will not have access to employee health insurance, a 401(k), unemployment insurance or any other benefits employers provide to employees.

You'll need to shop for health insurance to comply with the Affordable Care Act's mandate that you maintain insurance coverage. There are options for independent contractors to save independently for retirement, including opening a traditional or Roth IRA. And, you'll want a hefty emergency fund to cover you in case of unemployment.

One other big benefit you aren't eligible for: workers' compensation insurance. This insurance pays for an employee's medical care and provides income if an employee becomes disabled due to a work injury.

Since there is no employer to buy workers' comp for you, you may wish to buy your own disability insurance. You don't want to be left with no income if you get hurt and cannot work for a living.

Read more from Mic.

Home-Care Industry Wants Wage Rule Reversed by Trump Labor Chief

Home-care workers and an elderly patient.

CQC Press Office/Flickr

From Bloomberg BNA:

By Ben Penn

Industry advocates will urge the next labor secretary to reverse an Obama-era rule that extended minimum wage and overtime coverage to some 2 million home-care employees, a trade group’s top attorney told Bloomberg BNA.

“We will be seeking the reinstatement of the original rules on the companionship services and live-in domestic services exemptions once the new Secretary is confirmed,” William Dombi, vice president for law at the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, said in an April 11 email. NAHC will ask for an in-person meeting to make this request, he said.

He would prefer the department to issue a new proposed rule that would restore the DOL’s earlier interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act for his industry’s workforce, Dombi added. The Obama administration said in 2013 that an exemption for employees providing “companionship services” and “in-home” domestic services only covers those who work directly for a client, rather than through a third-party agency or other business.

NAHC was part of a coalition that unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to review and invalidate the Labor Department’s regulation, which took effect in late 2015. When the high court denied review in June, Dombi said the legal battle was over for the time being.

But a Republican administration keen on easing employers’ regulatory burdens could signal a new opportunity for NAHC and allies to make their pitch to undo the rules.

The rule applies the federal minimum wage and time-and-a-half overtime pay—including time spent driving between consumers—to all home-care workers, regardless of their job duties.

Acosta Awaits Senate Vote

Labor secretary nominee Alexander Acosta is still waiting to be confirmed by the Senate, which could happen as soon as late April.

Acosta hasn’t expressed views on the rule, nor did the issue arise during his March 22 confirmation hearing before the Senate’s labor committee. Controversy over the regulation has taken a back seat to discussion of other rules finalized by the DOL in 2016.

Previous Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, along with worker advocates and unions, strongly support the regulation. They’ve said it’s an important step toward improving wages in a booming workforce and ensuring that providers retain the talent to meet the needs of the elderly and people with disabilities.

If the administration considers a new rulemaking to undo the regulation, it would take time and may face legal challenges.

“These protections are in place and they’ve been in place since 2015. The Department of Labor would need to issue an entire new notice, have an entire new comment period and they would have to argue that things have changed since the new rule went into effect,” Caitlin Connolly, who directs the National Employment Law Project’s “Home Care Fair Pay” campaign, told Bloomberg BNA April 11. “We don’t feel that anything has changed since that analysis.”

A DOL spokeswoman told Bloomberg BNA that it would be premature to speculate on this topic before a new secretary is sworn in.

Debate Continues

During the early stages of the rule’s implementation, some states have been challenged to secure state Medicaid funding to afford compensation raises for the workers. Advocates for people with disabilities have cautioned that unless carefully implemented, the regulation could lead to fewer caregivers and more people forced out of their homes and into nursing homes.

Dombi said he’s hearing from members out in the field that the first 18 months of implementation further prove the rule’s ineffectiveness.

“The new rules have not benefited workers,” Dombi said. “Instead, the new rules have triggered reduced incomes because of work hour limitations that are needed to avoid overtime costs that are not reimbursed by Medicaid and other home care benefit programs.”

Read more from Bloomberg BNA.

Stakes Are High for Workers, Businesses as Illinois Considers Minimum Wage Hike

Dairy Queen location with an older aesthetic.

Kara Brugman/Flickr

From the Chicago Tribune:

By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

Business was slow one brisk spring morning at the Dairy Queen in suburban Northbrook. Bernadette Simpson, manning the Blizzard machine, churned an ice cream treat and then made a show of holding it upside-down to demonstrate its gravity-defying thickness, as company policy requires her to do.

Simpson, 48, started working at Dairy Queen two years ago for $8.50 an hour, a quarter more than the state's minimum wage, and now earns $10.25.

She enjoys the job — "How can you not be happy working with ice cream?" she said — but scrapes by.

"I clip coupons, we look for sales, we keep things very low-key and we try to save as much as we can," said Simpson, a single mom of two who lives with her teenage daughter in Buffalo Grove.

"All change goes into a jar that's not touched, and come the end of year we take it to the bank and trade it for cash for the holidays."

Scraping by was not part of Simpson's original plan. She went to nursing school and worked in health care before she left to raise her kids and care for her ailing grandmother. But when she tried to go back to work 15 years later, after her grandmother died, employers wouldn't hire her because she'd been out of the workforce so long, she said.

So Simpson joined the swelling ranks of low-wage service workers, who increasingly look more like her: older, raising families, without many other options.

As Illinois considers raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, up from the current $8.25, advocates say the changing face of the low-wage worker is a reason why the minimum wage must be a living wage.

But some businesses insist a hike could kill them, causing more harm to workers and communities than good.

Ed Schubert, whose family owns the Dairy Queen franchise where Simpson works, said he can't imagine how he'd keep his shop afloat with a $15 minimum wage, a rate he thinks shouldn't apply to his largely teenage staff.

"I'd give us five years and we'd be out of here," said Schubert, 66, who bought the shop nearly 44 years ago. "Whether we sell it to somebody or just be done, I don't know."

Even Simpson is on the fence about supporting a statewide hike, uncomfortable with the notion that her 16-year-old would make that much out of the gate.

Still, she said, for herself a bigger paycheck "would be fabulous."

Illinois legislators are considering a bill introduced by House Democrats to slowly raise the state's minimum wage to hit $15 by 2022, following the example of California, New York and Washington, D.C., as well as several cities. The first increase, to $9, would go into effect Jan. 1. Small business owners — but not franchisees — would get tax credits at first to help.

The bill recently cleared a House committee and will go for a vote before the full House possibly this month, though even if it passes in the House and Senate it could face a veto by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. Rauner has said that he supports a smaller increase in the minimum wage as part of a larger effort to reduce regulations on businesses.

One survey found Illinoisans to be skeptical. TSheets, a time-tracking software, polled 500 Illinois residents and found two-thirds said they believed the $15 proposal would fail and nearly half said they did not support it; another 20 percent were indifferent. But they didn't support the status quo, either. Only 6.5 percent of those surveyed believed the minimum wage should stay at $8.25. A raise to $12 was the most popular choice.

Workers, on one side of the debate, and businesses, on the other, both say it's a matter of survival.

To Tanya Moses of south suburban Harvey, who earns $10.50 an hour working as a home health aide, it's also about respect.

"For people to think that this isn't an important job, something's wrong," Moses, 58, said. "We don't want to pay the people to take care of the people."

While fast-food and retail workers often are the face of minimum wage, low-wage work is widespread in health care, and home health aides are among the fastest growing segments of the labor market.

The number of home care workers in the U.S. has doubled in the past 10 years, to about 2.2 million, and the field is projected to add another 634,000 jobs by 2024, according to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute. But they are paid little and have inconsistent hours.

Last year, cobbling together 21 hours of work a week with three clients, Moses went two months without lights in her home because she chose to pay the gas bill instead of the electricity bill. She didn't tell the neighbors, embarrassed to be without lights at her age, and filled her house with thick candles.

"The house smelled good all the time," Moses chuckled.

Moses works for Addus HomeCare, which serves 33,000 customers weekly in 24 states. More than half of its $401 million in service revenues last year came from Illinois, paid mostly by the state's Department of Aging, according to its annual report.

President and CEO Dirk Allison said in an emailed statement that "Addus supports higher pay rates for the hardworking and dedicated team that provides such valuable services to our aging adult population."

He added: "It is also important that wage increases be funded through adequate rates of reimbursement by the state."

Moses, who speaks with don't-mess-with-me urgency, said $15 hourly pay might allow her to pay both the gas and electric bills, perhaps get her off of public assistance.

She spoke as she swept the kitchen floor of her client Lee Williams, an 84-year-old widower whom she calls "Mr. Lee." Williams lives in an apartment in the Chatham neighborhood on Chicago's South Side that he shared with his wife of 54 years. Since she died three years ago, Williams said he needs help cleaning, cooking and paying bills.

Moses grew up nearby. She shimmied a bit as she recalled the dance lessons she took in Tuley Park, then described a rough adolescence. Turned out of the house by an abusive stepfather when she was 13, she slept on the streets and worked at McDonald's earning $1.90 an hour, she said.

The experience gave her sympathy for other people's struggles. A few years ago she took in a pregnant young woman who was living in a condemned home. Moses now lives with her and her two kids, aged 2 years and 9 months, relying on the young woman's Link card for food.

The young woman makes minimum wage at a pizza restaurant but her hours are unreliable, Moses said, so she's training to become a home health aide as well.

Moses spent that morning making Williams breakfast, washing the shiny buildup off the bathroom walls and scrubbing the oven, but the job is about more than that, she said.

Williams hadn't received his diabetes medication so they called the pharmacy to make sure it came the next day, Moses said. And a broken smoke alarm had been beeping for a week when she arrived.

Moses has little patience for what she sees as broad disregard for people, whom she is committed to helping.

She said she was sickly when she was young and spent time in hospitals, which shaped her view.

"The way doctors and nurses was then, they was nasty," Moses said. "So my thing was, I'm going to grow up and be a nurse and take care of people, because they don't have no care for nobody, no compassion. So that has been my goal."

Moses worked as a certified nursing assistant and ran an assisted living facility, but her goal to become a nurse got waylaid — "marriage and kids and life," she explained. She stopped working to take care of her mother, who died in December, and now has to retake the certified nursing assistant test if she wants to practice again.

Moses, a union activist with SEIU Healthcare Illinois, which represents about 50,000 of the state's home health care and child care workers, said she is focusing her energy now on the wage fight. She has scaled back work to one day a week while she undertakes an internship with the union, which pays her $15 an hour to sign up new members and organize existing ones.

It isn't easy, she said. Many workers resent the 3.3 percent taken out of their paychecks for union dues.

"If I don't go out there and speak for these people to get this money, they're not going to get it," Moses said.

Across town at the Northbrook Dairy Queen, other concerns weighed on Ed Schubert.

He's been trying to retire, and last year he transferred management to his daughter, Jennifer Spencer.

Spencer, 44, has worked at the Dairy Queen since she was 14, and though she left for a time to work on a factory assembly line, she found her way back. She got married at the Dairy Queen, saying her vows in front of the cash registers. Her son works there too.

"There's too many memories, I couldn't give it up," Spencer said.

But Schubert doesn't see how the math will work with a $15 minimum wage.

He aims to spend 20 to 25 percent of his revenues on payroll, with the rest of his budget consumed by rent, operating costs and corporate fees. During a typical year he is left with a modest profit of 3 to 4 percent, which ranges from $30,000 to $60,000.

Schubert doesn't think he could boost revenue enough to absorb a big rise in payroll costs. He calculates that if he has 10 people working for him on a busy summer Saturday, he would have to do $400 in sales each hour. Now, he's "not even close."

Raising prices is a possibility. But Schubert estimates he'd have to increase prices by 10 to 20 percent, and he worries that such a hike would hurt sales.

Schubert, who hires many teens during the summer, advocates for a "three-tier minimum wage," which takes age into account. His suggested breakdown: Teens 14 to 17 earn at least $7 or $7.50 an hour, 18- to 23-year-olds earn a minimum of $10, and adults 24 and up have a minimum of $13 an hour, which is the minimum approved by Chicago and Cook County. (Chicago is slowly stepping up its minimum wage to $13 by 2019 and Cook County will reach $13 by 2020, though several towns have opted out of the county law.)

With that mix, Schubert said he could make it work. Without it, teens could find themselves out of a job because they can't compete with more experienced workers, he said.

Read more from the Chicago Tribune.

Rally Highlights Connection Between Tips and Wage Theft

Wage theft rally in Minnesota.

Photo courtesy of 15Now Minnesota

From Workday Minnesota:

Community members rallied outside a Minneapolis restaurant Monday to protest proposals to pay tipped workers less than the minimum wage. That practice, they said, can lead to workers being robbed of wages they have earned.

“U.S. Department of Labor data shows that 84 percent of restaurants nationwide fail to make up the difference when there’s a tip penalty,” said Serena Thomas, a server in Minneapolis.” I don’t want to open the door to extreme wage theft in Minneapolis.”

The rally was organized by 15Now Minnesota(link is external) and other organizations who advocate a $15 minimum wage. A majority of the Minneapolis City Council has voiced support for the $15 wage, but faces pressure from the restaurant industry, which wants to pay tipped employees less.

Monday’s rally was outside a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant near the University of Minnesota. Buffalo Wild Wings is facing a class-action, wage theft lawsuit by 58,000 current and former employees across the country for paying below the minimum wage – as little as $2.13 an hour in some states – during times when workers were unable to earn tips, such as cleaning, food prep, and opening and closing the restaurant.

Minnesota is one of only seven states that bans employers from deducting tips from workers’ wages.

“Every server deserves the stability that $15 plus tips would provide,” said Tony Korum, a server at Perkins.

Monday’s rally was accompanied by a counter-demonstration by “Pathway to $15,” a group formed by the Minnesota Restaurant Association to lobby for a tip penalty. They held signs and attempted to shout down speakers at the rally.

Read more from Workday Minnesota.

Workers Find Winning a Wage Judgment Can Be an Empty Victory

LAANE Wage Theft Press Conference.

From The New York Times:

By Sarah Maslin Nir

The sign above Soft Touch Car Wash on Broadway in the Inwood neighborhood of Manhattan declares, “Open 24 hours,” but last month the bustling carwash suddenly closed. It was the same at the four other carwashes owned by the same family in New York City and the surrounding area: the phone lines disconnected, the hoses and wash mops idle and dry.

The operators of the small chain, José and Andrés Vázquez, agreed to pay $1.65 million to 18 employees to settle a federal lawsuit over stolen wages, a significant victory in the battles against wage theft in the city’s low-paying industries.

But the suddenly shuttered carwashes illustrate a persistent problem confronting many low-wage workers not just in New York but across the country: Winning in court is no guarantee that they will ever see much, if any, compensation.

The workers who toiled at the Vázquez carwashes battled for nearly six years before receiving the money they were due, their efforts hampered by the owners having filed for bankruptcy — a well-worn tactic used to avoid paying exploited workers, according to labor advocates. The owners could not be reached for comment.

Now, some New York State lawmakers are renewing a push for legislation that would put in place a type of insurance against this tactic, which crops up in industries from nail salons to restaurants. The measure would essentially enable employees who accuse an employer of wage theft to have a lien placed on the employer’s assets while the outcome is being determined.

“We are improving the lot of low-paid service workers; however, we haven’t attacked this fundamental problem of them giving their work, giving their time, and not getting compensated for it,” said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, a Democrat who represents parts of Manhattan. “And it’s just not something we can tolerate anymore.”

In a setback for workers and their advocates, the measure was dropped from the budget agreement that state lawmakers reached. But a bill with the same measure, introduced this year by Ms. Rosenthal, is poised for a vote this spring in the Assembly.

Selling off houses and businesses — sometimes for a nominal sum, and frequently to a relative — and declaring bankruptcy is a move that experts say business owners often use to avoid paying back wages, overtime or damages, usually as a result of a court order. Under Ms. Rosenthal’s proposal, businesses would not be permitted to sell their assets while a wage dispute was underway.

“We know their tricks,” she said, referring to unscrupulous business owners. “This is an attempt to jump in front of their tricks.”

A 2015 report written by several worker advocacy organizations calculated that between 2003 and 2013, the New York State Department of Labor was unable to collect over $101 million that employers owed workers.

“It’s not surprising that people who are willing to cheat their workers are willing to transfer their assets to prevent their workers from getting what they are rightfully owed,” said Richard Blum, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society who works in the employment law division.

Small-business groups have opposed Ms. Rosenthal’s measure, saying it is an unnecessary and unfair burden on employers.

“It’s based on an accusation, not on proof,” said Denise M. Richardson, the executive director of the General Contractors Association. “An employee who feels aggrieved should not be able to tie up a business’s finances absent any proof that in fact they have been subject to wage theft.”

But workers say they need more powerful tools to battle employers who mistreat them.

“Right now, it is very easy for these sweatshop bosses to steal workers’ wages,” said Jin Ming Cao, who has yet to see any of the over $100,000 a judge ordered his former employer, a restaurant in Manhattan, to pay him in 2010, part of $1.5 million settlement involving a group of workers. “Even when they’re found out by a court, they just change names, it’s so easy.”

Laws allowing liens against business owners involved in wage disputes exist in half a dozen states — Alaska, Idaho, New Hampshire, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin — but only Wisconsin permits liens solely based on an allegation of wage theft, according to the National Employment Law Project. In the other states, a lien is allowed only after wage theft has been proved as a result of a lawsuit or an agency investigation, for example.

In New York, rules are already in place to protect workers in a few select industries where wage theft has been a widespread problem. In 2015, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo imposed a requirement that nail salons carry wage bonds, a type of liability insurance designed to prevent the nonpayment of workers.

Nail salon owners have campaigned against the requirement, arguing that the price of carrying such insurance is too burdensome for small businesses like theirs. The cost varies depending on the coverage; carrying a $25,000 bond, for example, would cost an employer between $550 and $700 a year, according to providers.

Last week, lawmakers in West Virginia voted to remove, on similar grounds, a wage bond requirement that had long been in place for construction and mining industries.

On a sidewalk outside Manhattan Valley, an Indian restaurant on the Upper West Side, about 100 workers gathered recently to pass out fliers and chant that the proposed state measure, commonly known as Sweat — securing wages earned against theft — needed to become law.

When the restaurant was known as Indus Valley, a group of 10 workers sued and were awarded $700,000 in back wages by a federal judge in 2014. They still have not been paid. The owners have told the court that they sold the restaurant and that Manhattan Valley is a new restaurant with different owners. Workers and advocates claim that is a ruse to avoid payment and that the same owners still run the restaurant.

Read more from The New York Times.

The Human Cost of Trump's Rollback on Regulations

A sandblaster working in St. Charles, IL.

City of St Charles, IL/Flickr

From The Huffington Post:

By Dave Jamieson 

If Tom Ward had to die from his work, he’d rather fall off a scaffold than endure the slow death his father did from the debilitating lung disease silicosis.

“I would choose to go much quicker,” he said, “rather than to have my family watch me suffer.”

Ward fears that other workers will face the same suffocating illness as his father, thanks to the regulatory rollback underway by the Trump administration.

Ward’s father spent several years working as a sandblaster in Michigan. It was most likely on that job that he breathed a lethal amount of crystalline silica, a carcinogenic dust that comes from sand and granite. Excessive silica has been ruining workers’ lungs for as long as rock and concrete have been cut. Frances Perkins, U.S. labor secretary under Franklin D. Roosevelt, spoke publicly of the dangers of silica back in the late 1930s.

After numerous efforts under other presidents failed, the Obama administration finally tightened the regulations covering silica last year, further restricting the amount of dust that employers can legally expose workers to. The tougher standards were 45 years in the making, the subject of in-depth scientific research and intense lobbying by business groups and safety experts. When the rules were finalized in March 2016, occupational health experts hailed them as a life-saving milestone.

But now the enforcement of the rules has been delayed ― and the rules themselves could be in jeopardy.

Last week, the Trump administration announced that it was pushing back the implementation of the new silica regulations. For now, the delay is just three months ― from late June to late September, since “additional guidance is necessary due to the unique nature of the requirements,” as the Labor Department put it. A spokeswoman said the agency wouldn’t comment beyond that.

But to occupational health experts who’ve waited years for the tighter rules, the new delay casts a cloud of uncertainty over their future. The leading home-building trade group and other business lobbying groups have sued to halt the regulations, saying they are too costly for employers. Defending the silica rule would now be the responsibility of the Trump administration, which has eagerly dismantled one Obama-era regulation after another at the urging of corporations. (The rule could also be subject to an appropriations rider by the GOP-controlled Congress.)

While the administration has not signaled that it intends to reverse the silica rule, it has issued an executive order directing all agencies to review the regulations currently on their books, presumably for potential watering down or scrapping. Trump’s own labor nominee, Alexander Acosta, cited that order during his confirmation hearing as one reason he would not yet commit to enforcing the silica rule if he becomes labor secretary.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) noted the huge public health implications at stake. “You can’t tell me whether or not, high on your list of priorities, would be to protect a rule that keeps people from being poisoned,” she told Acosta.

The delay of the new silica regulations was not a surprise to Ward, given the Trump administration’s promises to deregulate businesses in order to boost hiring. But it was nevertheless painful to see. Ward now leads training at the Michigan Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union, a personal mission given that his father died at age 39 after “an awful few years” of suffering from silicosis.

“Knowing it was 100 percent preventable is the part that really hurts,” he said.

Silica has been called the “silent killer.” It’s not visible to the naked eye ― particles can be one hundred times smaller than a grain of sand ― and the effects on the lungs are cumulative. But there are clear ways to curb exposure to silica, like wetting down rock that’s being cut, installing ventilation or dust-collecting equipment on the worksite, and wearing respiratory equipment designed to filter out the dust.

When the proper precautions aren’t taken, the results can be debilitating. Railroad worker Leonard Serafin shared the story of his own battle with silicosis in a letter his family provided to The Huffington Post in 2012.

At the time, the Obama White House was sitting on the silica rule, and advocates worried that the reforms might not be finished before Obama left office. Serafin had worked as a trackman on a railroad for 32 years, laying out the crushed rock and gravel in which the tracks were laid. He said the work led to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a litany of other lung maladies.

“I never dreamed I would have to spend my retirement years in this debilitating manner,” Serafin wrote. “I find it difficult to attend social events such as concerts and plays with my family because of my chronic cough. Even coughing while standing at a cash register line at a retail store causes people to distance themselves from me. ... When I exert myself, my daily coughing becomes a spastic type of cough, which leaves me exhausted, breathless with chest pain.”

Although U.S. regulators had been aware of silica’s dangers for decades, it wasn’t until 1971 that the federal government imposed legal limits on workers’ exposure to it: 100 micrograms per cubic meter for laborers in most industries, and 250 micrograms for those working in construction and shipyards. Many experts believed those limits were too meager, however. The caps weren’t lowered to the 50 micrograms recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until Obama’s presidency.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has estimated that the new rules would cut down silica exposure for roughly 2.3 million workers, preventing an estimated 600 deaths annually. Extrapolating on that data, the AFL-CIO labor federation says even the three-month delay in enforcement “will lead to an additional 160 worker deaths.”

David Michaels, the head of OSHA under Obama, called the reform “the most important health standard OSHA has issued in decades.”

But in the eyes of the construction industry, it’s one of the most expensive. OSHA says that instituting the new controls would cost businesses an estimated $511 million annually. Meanwhile, industry lobbies say the real cost to them would be in the billions each year ― most of it due to additional equipment and labor.

While praising the Trump administration’s decision, a consortium of construction industry trade groups urged Trump to extend the delay well beyond the original three months, saying it “remains concerned about the overall feasibility of the standard in construction and has requested that the agency delay enforcement for a year.”

Supporters of the rule note that those upfront costs don’t take into account the long-term financial benefits to workers and society. Preventing disability and death saves money, after all.

OSHA estimated that the reforms would have a net benefit of $7.7 billion each year, largely due to savings on health care and lost productivity. The Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, calls the silica rule a “case study” in how seemingly expensive safety regulations can have economic benefits over the long term.

Read more from The Huffington Post.

Union Narrowly Wins Vote in Nestle Center; Contract Talks Coming

Nestlé USA milk factory in Modesto, California, USA

Nestlé/Flickr

From AJC:

By Michael E. Kanell

By a three-vote margin, a national union has won the right to represent workers at a Nestlé’s facility in McDonough.

The 49-46 vote earlier this month authorized the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union to negotiate on behalf of the 102 eligible workers at the logistics and shipping center.

The union was happy to win, despite the razor-thin margin, said Chelsea Connor, a spokeswoman for the union. “We don’t anticipate winning with landslide votes in this era of union-busting.”

The private sector is overwhelmingly non-union, especially in Georgia.
Most of the workers in the Nestlé’s facility make between $16 and $22 an hour, she said. Negotiations for a contract should begin within the next several weeks, according to Connor.

Workers at Nestlé package and ship products, mostly chocolate milk powder.

While no similar organizing campaign is underway, the union sees a possibility in the many distribution centers ringing Atlanta, Connor said.

Although many distribution and “fulfillment” centers are filling orders via the Internet and the centers themselves use a great deal of technology, some human involvement is needed too, she said. “No matter how the products are bought, online or whatever, they have to be physically shipped.”

The union has 100,000 members nationally, including 5,000 workers in Georgia, according to Connor.

Most of the members in Georgia are in the state’s poultry processing sector, she said.

Nestlé is based in Switzerland and has recently announced plans to move U.S. headquarters from Connecticut to a Washington, D.C. suburb in Virginia. The company has 51,000 employees in the United States.

Read more from AJC.

Female Ironworkers' Paid Leave Policy Is A Win For Women In A Male-Dominated Workforce

An iron worker with High Ball Erectors of Erie, welds tubing together that will form a fourth floor window opening at a new residential and commercial development in downtown Boulder, January 11, 2007

From Romper:

By Katherine Don

The ironworking industry isn't exactly known for its feminine side, but a recent announcement from a major union shows that the industry certainly appreciates its female employees. According to industry sources, beginning this year, members of the Iron Workers union will be given six months of paid maternity leave. This female ironworkers' paid maternity leave policy is an important win for women in the workforce, especially since this is occurring in such a male-dominated industry.

The policy, spearheaded jointly by the Iron Workers union and Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust, offers six months of paid leave before childbirth, and six to eight weeks of leave after delivery. According to reporting about the new policy at BuzzFeed News, the decision was influenced by a recent all-female panel of iron workers, which spoke about the difficulties that women in the industry face. One woman in particular spoke about suffering a miscarriage after choosing to work while pregnant in order to maintain her paychecks and her health insurance.

"It was a heartfelt moment in the room," Eric Dean, the president of Iron Workers General, said of the woman's speech. "Everyone's stomach dropped, like someone had gut-punched you." Dean, along with Bill Brown, CEO of Ben Hur Construction Co., serve as co-chairs of the Iron Workers labor-management working group, and together they set to work, calculating the perks of offering maternity benefits to women in the industry. According to Modern Steel Construction magazine, the new policy was first announced in March, at the 2017 Iron Workers/IMPACT Conference in San Diego.

Brown and Dean, speaking with BuzzFeed News, revealed the calculations that went into the decision. According to Brown, training a new iron worker is a $32,000 investment. When a company loses a female employee during or after a pregnancy, this is a loss of $64,000 — taking into account the employee's own training, and the training that will be required to replace her.

"To protect our investment, if we wanted women to stay in our industry, we had to do something," Brown said.

In the larger context of parental leave policy in the United States, the new steelworker's maternity leave policy is extremely progressive, and that goes to show how extraordinarily low the bar is. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that doesn't offer some form of government-mandated paid parental leave. The only federal law in place is the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act, which requires certain categories of employer to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Many employees don't qualify for even this skimpy protection because it only applies to workers who have been with the company for at least a year, and only if the company employs at least 50 people.

In the absence of federal guidance, some companies have decided to offer paid leave on their own. According to Forbes, companies to extend new parental leave benefits in 2015 and 2016 included Netflix, Microsoft, Amazon, Twitter, IKEA, and Chobani. Last year, Etsy, the Brooklyn-based online marketplace, extended one of the most generous policies in the country, offering six months of paid leave regardless of the employee's gender.

Despite these steps forward, the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that only 13 percent of private sector employees had access to paid leave in 2016. That's up only one percentage point from 2015.

Read more from Romper.

Obama’s Sick Leave Order Survives Under Trump, for Now

President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the economy at Rhode Island College in Providence, R.I.

From Bloomberg BNA:

By Ben Penn 

An Obama executive order mandating sick leave for federal contractor employees, once considered primed for reversal by the Trump administration, may be here to stay.

The order requiring federal contractors to provide paid sick leave went into effect more than three months ago. The new conventional wisdom is that the paid leave mandate may no longer be a priority target for repeal and just might endure even after top Labor Department personnel are confirmed.

That the president’s daughter champions paid parental leave has further complicated the situation.

“With all of the things the new administration is trying to accomplish, these regulations may be the equivalent of eating dessert after a big meal: it may come much later or one’s plate may be too full to have the appetite to get it at all,” Eric Crusius, who represents government contractors as a senior counsel at Holland & Knight in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA.

The DOL’s 2016 rule implementing the executive order mandated that companies bidding on service and construction contracts must offer employees at least 56 hours of paid leave per year for a personal illness or to care for a family member.

Trump administration officials discussed revising or repealing the paid sick leave order and the DOL’s implementing rules during earlier stages of the transition, sources familiar with the talks told Bloomberg BNA. But in recent weeks, the regulation has taken a back seat, as employer advocates and GOP lawmakers turned their attention to repealing the controversial overtime, fiduciary and “blacklisting” rules.

Administration: ‘Look at What We’ve Done Already’

Ever since the election, one leading contracting advocate has continued to alert various administration and congressional leaders about the need to reconsider the paid sick leave order.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, said his outreach to the DOL, the Office of Management and Budget and Congress has thus far yielded a consistent reply.

“All of them acknowledged that [sick leave] is among the more burdensome procurement rules and labor policy rules that the Obama administration had imposed, but they’ve also acknowledged that, ‘look at what we’ve done already,’” to rollback other workplace rules, Chvotkin told Bloomberg BNA. “So the sort of response is, ‘give us a little time.‘ And I said, ‘got it, but don’t take too much time.’”

Chvotkin recalled discussing the matter with a Labor Department official within the last month, but declined to specify whether it was a career executive or one of the temporary political appointees, or “beachhead” members, in place beginning Jan. 20.

A DOL spokeswoman said it’s premature to discuss the rules without a labor secretary in place. A White House spokesman told Bloomberg BNA there are no updates as of now on the sick leave EO.

Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee opted not to introduce a Congressional Review Act motion of disapproval to block the paid leave order. They instead prioritized the removal of Obama’s Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces—or “blacklisting"—order. President Donald Trump signed a measure to invalidate the regulation requiring contractors to disclose their labor violation history.

“We’ll continue to work with the administration to roll back harmful regulations while advancing positive reforms, including improving workplace flexibility for families,” Bethany Aronhalt, a spokeswoman for the workforce committee’s GOP office, told Bloomberg BNA in an email.

Wage and Hour Prepares Compliance Aid

The Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, which is responsible for enforcing the sick leave regulation, hasn't publicized technical assistance since the inauguration.

In another indication that the rule is more likely to remain in place under the new administration, the WHD told Bloomberg BNA that the agency is in the midst of responding to employer questions.

“Because it is so soon after January 1, 2017, few contracts have been awarded that are covered by the EO,” Edwin Nieves, a DOL spokesman, told Bloomberg BNA via email. “WHD has received a number of questions regarding interpretation of certain provisions and implementation of the Final Rule. WHD is preparing responses to those questions, and is also updating training materials to provide further clarification. We anticipate that those materials will be available online later this summer.”

Thomas Perez, Obama’s labor secretary, hailed the sick leave regulation as the administration’s latest use of procurement authority to advance critical worker protections that aren’t moving in Congress. Some 600,000 workers without paid leave last year were projected to become eligible for the new benefits.

“We were glad to see that it’s still in place, and we would hope that if and when Acosta is confirmed he will continue to maintain and enforce the executive order and won’t advocate for rescission,” Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, told Bloomberg BNA.

The Partnership was perhaps the most vocal group calling for the executive order. Shabo said she plans on urging Alexander Acosta to enforce it at a meeting after his confirmation, which is expected as soon as late April. The nominee did not discuss the regulation—nor was he asked about it—at his March 22 Senate hearing.

Compliance Begins

Amid the uncertainty, employers wishing to do business with the government are plodding forward.

“Inauguration day came and no changes materialized. In the interim, new contracts have gotten awarded covered by the sick leave obligations,” James Murphy, a former labor and employment counsel for federal contracting heavy-hitters General Dynamics Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., told Bloomberg BNA. “We’ve had total radio silence on the issue from the White House and Alex Acosta isn’t yet confirmed, so we’ve had no policy direction from the Department of Labor.”

Murphy now represents government contractor clients for Ogletree Deakins in Washington.

Many companies incorporating a new sick leave clause into contract solicitations previously provided some form of leave benefits but have still been challenged to comply with the EO’s recordkeeping requirements, said Michael Eastman, who advises contractors as a managing counsel at NT Lakis in Washington.

“We have companies with very generous leave policies, some of whom even have unlimited sick leave, who will now need to create processes to track accrual of leave,” Eastman said.

Large, multistate contractors are also wrestling with the scenario in which only a segment of their workforce is covered by the rule.

“The unspoken subtext here with the regulation is that it becomes so difficult to overlay onto existing policies, or to apply precisely, that many contractors throw up their hands and do more than technically they need to,” Murphy said.

Advocacy Continues

As more contracts begin to get awarded with the new requirements in place, the number of employers who would find relief from any presidential repeal will dwindle. But that won’t stop Chvotkin and the PSC from asking for revisions.

“We’re continuing to talk to government officials,” Chvotkin said. “As more officials are designated and take office, the higher I think this will rise” as a priority.

One obstacle Chvotkin and other business groups may face is the need to convince the administration that the sick leave order is unique from the paid family leave plan pushed by influential White House adviser, and President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.

As weeks of silence on the matter continue inside the government, the realization is settling in among some contractors that the paid sick leave requirements will become entrenched.

Read more from Bloomberg BNA.

A Race to the Bottom for Auto Parts Workers

An auto parts worker and a tire.

From OurFuture:

By Dave Johnson

Some states have cut worker safety protections and made it difficult for unions to do their job. They say they do this to attract jobs and businesses. What they are really doing is hurting human beings in their race to the bottom, and the nation is following their lead.

Lowering Wage And Safety Standards

What happens when a state lowers wage and safety standards and keeps unions out to attract jobs? Peter Waldman at Bloomberg BusinessWeek took a look at Alabama, where auto parts makers like Ajin USA and the Matcor-Matsu Group Inc. have set up shop to service the automakers like Kia and Hyundai in the state. The results are are even worse than you might imagine.

Waldman profiles workers like 20-year-old Regina Elsea, who worked 12-hour shifts for Ajin at $8.75 an hour, seven days a week, in the hopes of moving from temporary to full time status. What happened instead? She was pinned against a steel dashboard frame by an out-of-control robot, and killed.

He also profiles Cordney Crutcher, who lost his left pinkie when a hole puncher misfired and caught him off guard at the end of a 12-hour shift.

He was put on a press that had been acting up all day. It worked fine until he was 10 parts away from finishing, and then a cast-iron hole puncher failed to deploy. Crutcher didn’t realize it. Suddenly the puncher fired and snapped on his finger. “I saw my meat sticking out of the bottom of my glove,” he says.

Why do workers face such dangerous conditions? Waldman explains.

Parts suppliers in the American South compete for low-margin orders against suppliers in Mexico and Asia. They promise delivery schedules they can’t possibly meet and face ruinous penalties if they fall short. Employees work ungodly hours, six or seven days a week, for months on end. Pay is low, turnover is high, training is scant, and of course, if the injured can find a lawyer in a state where “tort reform” has limited access to the courts, how much good does a bit of money do? ‘I’d rather have my arm back any day,’ Allen says.

You get the idea. When governments remove regulations and protections to be “pro business” the result is that the people the government is supposed to be watching out for are endangered, and they take more risks in exchange for lower pay. This is what happens when a government becomes corrupted and no longer operates as the agent of the people, and instead operates to facilitate profit for a few.

Note that the Trump administration is working to cut protections and regulations nationally, including cutting out the OSHA record-keeping rule. Interfaith Worker Justice warns that the Labor Department is cutting job and safety training programs “that will affect the most vulnerable Americans.”

Who Really Benefits?

When states become corrupted and cut protections and regulations the regular people in those states certainly do not benefit. They end up with low-pay crap jobs and the state uses its power to fight their ability to band together in unions.

When states throw in tax cuts it means the people in the states don’t get good schools, infrastructure, services, either.

But wait, there’s more. When a company moves to such states the working people where the companies and jobs moved from lose their jobs, and everyone else in those states faces wage pressure as a result. And those communities lose their revenue base so their schools, infrastructure, services suffer as well.

And who is to say that yet another state won’t offer even lower pay and fewer protections to ‘compete” for the businesses? It is a race to the bottom.

If you look at our country as a whole instead of as competing states, we all end up poorer in aggregate, with lower pay, worse schools, etc. If the first state had jobs at $20 an hour, but now the second state has those jobs at $10 an hour, that’s a loss of $10 an hour to the working people of the country. The people who get the jobs are poorer because they are paid less, and the people where the jobs were are poorer, too.

As the tax base declines, and schools, infrastructure and the rest suffer the longer-term ability for business to prosper goes away. In other words, after we eat the seed corn of our prosperity, we starve.

Or, to put it another way, look at what has happened to our country in the years since the late 1970s deregulation and “tax revolution.”

“I’ll Be Gone, You’ll Be Gone”

Who benefits? Who actually gets the money that is cut from budgets and wages and protections as states compete for businesses and jobs? Who gets that $10 an hour difference from the above example?

People say, if a business (or state in this example) harms its ability to do well in the future, that’s not very smart. This is because they look at the business as some kind of sentient entity that makes decisions.

But people make decisions, not companies. And people might not be making decisions to benefit their companies, they might be making decisions to benefit themselves.

“IBGYBG,” or “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” is an actual thing. I’ve gotten my profit, commission, payoff, whatever, and it doesn’t matter what follows.

The money from selling out our future (and corrupting governments by paying off politicians to sell out our future) has gone to the executives and investors in those businesses at the time. These individuals sell out everyone else for cash they pocket today. They sell out the future of the companies they are fleecing and the communities they drain, so they can pocket the assets and seed corn for themselves today.

What To Do?

The first thing to do is understand that arguments for cutting regulations, taxes, and protections are self-serving arguments designed to enrich a few people at the time, at the expense of the rest of us and our future. After they get rich they’ll be gone and the rest of us are left to try to pick up the pieces. Or, to put it another way, look around and see what has happened to us.

The next thing to do is refresh our understanding of democracy and government. We the People are supposed to be in charge here and our government is supposed to exist to make our lives better. Government is us, decision-making by We the People. People who want “smaller” or less government” are really saying they want less decision-making by We the People. When they say government is “burdensome” or “inefficient” or “government gets in the way” they are saying democracy and decision-making by We the People is hindering their ability to get more for themselves.

Finally, once you understand these things, get active and demand that taxes and regulations and protections and government be restored so we can all share together in the prosperity that democracy brings us – all of us together, collectively – over the longer term. We have to stop the ability of a few wealthy people and their corporations to pay governments to do things that benefit them at the expense of the rest of us.

This includes calling your representative and senators and telling them you demand a restoration of democracy. What will restore democracy? As unpopular as it may sound, it’s taxes, regulations and protections. Because these provide the oversight, transparency and accountability that keep our workplaces safe, and our democratic government alive.

Read more from OurFuture.

More government oversight could have averted tragedy

Photo credit: KMOV via AP

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

by Laura Barrett, Executive Director of Interfaith Worker Justice

Dozens of friends and relatives are mourning the death of four workers who suffered and died from the explosion at Loy-Lange Box Co. last week.

It’s worth noting that the Post-Dispatch reports (April 5) “The city of St. Louis is exempt from the Missouri law requiring regular inspections of high-pressure boilers by either a state inspector or insurance company.”

Those who bemoan allegedly intrusive government regulations should understand that this tragedy could have been averted with more — not less — independent oversight. Too often, employers are tempted by greed to cut corners and endanger or exploit workers.

Employees need and deserve protection from unscrupulous, profit-driven bosses. Unions usually do a terrific job of this. But enforcement of vigorous safety laws by all levels of government is needed too.

Read more from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

35 demonstrators, including clergy, arrested during ICE protest in downtown L.A.

Photo credit: Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice

From the Los Angeles Times:

by Veronica Rocha

Police arrested 35 demonstrators Thursday in downtown Los Angeles during a protest over recent actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, officials said.

The demonstrators were cited for refusing to comply with police commands after blocking the entry into the Metropolitan Detention Center at 535 Alameda St., said Officer Irma Mota, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department. They were later released.

Clergy members and civil rights activists were among those arrested in the march, according to Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, an interfaith and workers’ rights organization.

Organizers called the protest “An Interfaith Day of Prophetic Action” and said it was inspired by religious events this Holy Week and enforcement actions by federal authorities.

“ICE is an active danger to members of our community — both our community at All Saints Church and our wider communities of Los Angeles, California and the nation,” the Rev. Mike Kinman, who was arrested, said in a statement. “Its targeting of people for deportation is based on race and class. It splits up families, has communities living in fear and exacerbates the already shrinking trust between communities of color and police and government authorities.”

The demonstration started Thursday morning at La Plaza United Methodist Church at La Placita Olvera.

From there, protesters marched along Los Angeles Street, holding signs and chanting, “Immigrants are welcomed here.”

They called for the release of Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez, who was arrested in February by ICE after dropping his daughter off at her Lincoln Heights school. ICE officials said the arrest was routine, citing a 2014 order for Avelica-Gonzalez’s deportation.

As clergy members sang and strummed on guitars, demonstrators sat in a circle in the street. They were eventually lifted up by officers and placed into a detention van.

Later, clergy members released statements about their arrests.

“I know that I will be released soon after my arrest. Romulo Avelica-Gonzalez’s fate is not the same as mine: he is still being detained and his future is uncertain,” David Bocarsly, who was one of those arrested, said in a statement. “I chose to get arrested while observing the Passover rituals to serve as a reminder that, until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Read more from the Los Angeles Times

In Budget Proposal, Wolf Looks To Raise Pennsylvania Minimum Wage To $12

Governor Tom Wolf Signs Revenue Package to Complete the 2016-17 Budget

Governor Tom Wolf/Flickr

From 90.5 WESA:

By Katie Meyer

One of the more contentious parts of Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal is a bid to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $12 an hour.

It’s currently $7.25—the lowest the federal government allows.

Republicans have repeatedly rebuffed Wolf’s attempts to change it. And now, the Independent Fiscal Office’s latest report on the implications of Wolf’s plan has given them some ammunition.

The governor has said a wage increase would boost the economy, and net $100 million a year in new revenue.

The IFO’s report shows the number probably wouldn’t be that high. Director Matthew Knittel said $40 million in new revenue is a more likely estimate.

But he notes, that’s not actually a huge discrepancy when compared with the commonwealth’s $3 billion deficit.

“In a bigger picture, the $60 million difference—when we’re talking about size of the projected deficit—is rather small,” he said.

The report also says the higher wage would lose the commonwealth about 54,000 jobs. That’s about 4 percent of the total number of positions that would be affected by the hike.

Knittel noted, that number sounds more extreme than it actually is—and it wouldn’t happen all at once.

“You might have staff who retire, and then those positions wouldn’t be filled,” he said. “You might have some unfilled positions that you would eliminate. You may have created some jobs in the future, and due to a higher rate a firm may not do that.”

A spokesman for the governor pushed back against the IFO’s findings, saying that “every state surrounding Pennsylvania has raised their minimum wage and there is no evidence that those increases led to a loss of employment.”

Read more from 90.5 WESA.

DoorDash Will Pay $5 Million to Settle Class-Action Lawsuit Over Independent Contractors

Co-founder and CEO of DoorDash Tony Xu speaks onstage during TechCrunch Disrupt NY 2016 at Brooklyn Cruise Terminal on May 11, 2016 in New York City.

From TechCrunch:

By Megan Rose Dickey

On-demand food delivery startup DoorDash has reached an agreement with workers’ rights lawyer Shannon Liss-Riordan regarding a class-action lawsuit that alleged DoorDash misclassified its delivery workers as independent contractors.

As part of the settlement, DoorDash will pay class members of the suit $3.5 million, following the court’s approval. The company has also agreed to pay an additional $1.5 million in four years or when one of three things happen: DoorDash goes public, the company is profitable for a full year or some other company acquires DoorDash at double its current valuation.

In September 2015, Cynthia Marciano and Evan Kissner both separately filed lawsuits against DoorDash, alleging that DoorDash misclassified them and other delivery workers as independent contractors, and therefore violated certain provisions of the labor code.

The named plaintiffs, Marciano and Kissner, will receive $7,500 each and Liss-Riordan will get up to $1.25 million, according to the settlement. The approximately 33,744 class members, which entail all those who worked for DoorDash as independent contractors at some point between September 23, 2011 through August 29, 2016, and completed at least one delivery, will receive payment as part of the settlement.

Those who “were most active” on DoorDash will “receive proportionally higher payments,” the settlement states. DoorDash has also updated its deactivation policy to ensure that all its delivery people retain access to the platform unless they violate the rules of engagement. Before, there was no single source of truth when it came to deactivating people from the platform. Another change is that DoorDash delivery workers will be able to appeal a deactivation if they feel they should not have been deactivated from the platform.

This settlement, however, does not prevent other people from suing DoorDash over this exact same reason in the future. But given that DoorDash worked with Liss-Riordan, the lawyer whose name often shows up on these cases against Uber, Lyft and other on-demand companies, there’s reason to believe that this type of case might be less attractive for complaints in the future. That’s because the resolution they agreed on was not to change independent contractors to employee status, but rather change some policies to improve clarity and ensure more rights for the workers.

Read more from TechCrunch.

Google Accused of 'Extreme' Gender Pay Discrimination by US Labor Department

Google headquarters (Palo Alto)

Jon Montiel/Flickr

From The Guardian:

By Sam Levin

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”.

As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said.

“We found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce,” Janette Wipper, a DoL regional director, testified in court in San Francisco on Friday.

Reached for comment Friday afternoon, Janet Herold, regional solicitor for the DoL, said: “The investigation is not complete, but at this point the department has received compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.”

Herold added: “The government’s analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry.”

Google strongly denied the accusations of inequities, claiming it did not have a gender pay gap.

The explosive allegation against one of the largest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley comes at a time when the male-dominated tech industry is facing increased scrutiny over gender discrimination, pay disparities and sexual harassment.

The allegations emerged at a hearing in federal court as part of a lawsuit the DoL filed against Google in January, seeking to compel the company to provide salary data and documents to the government.

Google is a federal contractor, which means it is required to allow the DoL to inspect and copy records and information about its its compliance with equal opportunity laws. Last year, the department’s office of federal contract compliance programs requested job and salary history for Google employees, along with names and contact information, as part of the compliance review.

Google, however, repeatedly refused to hand over the data, which was a violation of its contractual obligations with the federal government, according to the DoL’s lawsuit. After the suit was originally filed, a company spokesperson claimed that Google had provided “hundreds of thousands of records” to the government and that the requests outlined in the complaint were “overbroad”, revealed confidential information, or violated employees’ privacy.

Labor officials detailed the government’s discrimination claims against Google at the Friday hearing while making the case for why the company should be forced to comply with the DoL’s requests for documents. Wipper said the department found pay disparities in a 2015 snapshot of salaries and said officials needed earlier compensation data to evaluate the root of the problem and needed to be able to confidentially interview employees.

“We want to understand what’s causing the disparity,” she said.

Lisa Barnett Sween, one of Google’s attorneys, testified in opening remarks that the DoL’s request constituted a “fishing expedition that has absolutely no relevance to the compliance review”. She said the request was an unconstitutional violation of the company’s fourth amendment right to protection from unreasonable searches.

Marc Pilotin, a DoL attorney, said: “For some reason or another, Google wants to hide the pay-related information.”

In a statement to the Guardian, Google said: “We vehemently disagree with [Wipper’s] claim. Every year, we do a comprehensive and robust analysis of pay across genders and we have found no gender pay gap. Other than making an unfounded statement which we heard for the first time in court, the DoL hasn’t provided any data, or shared its methodology.”

The company has recently claimed that it has closed its gender pay gap globally and provides equal pay across races in the US.

Herold told the Guardian that the department “seeks additional information to ensure the accuracy of the department’s findings, because if the findings are confirmed, this is a troubling situation”.

Google is not the first tech company to face legal action from the labor department over employment practices. In September, the DoL filed a lawsuit against Palantir, the Palo Alto data analytics company, alleging it systematically discriminated against Asian job applicants in its hiring process. Palantir has argued that the DoL’s analysis was flawed and the company has denied the accusations.

In January, the department sued Oracle, another large tech company, claiming it paid white men more than others, leading to pay discrimination against women and black and Asian employees. Oracle claimed the case was “politically motivated” and said its employment decisions were based on merit and experience.

In recent months, there has been uncertainty about the future of these kinds of aggressive DoL enforcement efforts under Donald Trump. The president has rolled back Obama-era protections for female workers, and some DoL staffers have raised concerns that the new administration will not embrace the agency’s core mission of supporting workers’ rights. An Oracle executive also joined Trump’s transition team, and the president’s close adviser Peter Thiel co-founded Palantir.

Read more from The Guardian

New Report Details Exploitation of Hotel Industry Workers

Catwalk performed by waitress in Samjiyon Pegaebong hotel.

Roman Harak/Flickr

From The New York Times:

By Karen Schwartz

Relaxing vacations mean little work for travelers, thanks to the host of people who work as housekeepers, bellhops and cooks. But a new analysis has found that the largely invisible nature of these jobs means workers can sometimes be exploited by those who market in human trafficking, even within the United States.

To help identify where human trafficking occurs in the United States, Polaris, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating modern slavery, reviewed calls made to its National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888) between December 2007 and December 2016. In non-sex-related cases involving workers in hotels, motels, resorts and casinos, 124 pertained to human trafficking, in which force, fraud or coercion were allegedly used to compel the victim to stay in their situation; and 510 cases involved workplace exploitation, including abuse and labor violations, according to its report, released last month.

The calls specific to the hospitality industry were culled from a total of 32,208 reports of potential human trafficking and 10,085 cases of possible labor exploitation made to the hotline during those nine years. The analysis of the calls also identified two dozen other segments, some of which included health and beauty (spas, hair and nail salons), recreation (golf courses, swimming pools and amusement parks), landscaping (public and private grounds and gardens), restaurants and food service, and carnivals.

“Because human trafficking is so diverse and heterogeneous and dynamic, you can’t fight it all at once. You have to break it into its distinct types and actually fight it type by type,” said Bradley Myles, the chief executive officer of Polaris, which worked with lawmakers in 2005 on the reauthorization of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

In the hospitality industry, for instance, there is a balance between fighting sex trafficking where a hotel might be the venue, and labor trafficking, where victimized women and men work as front desk attendants, bell staff and, most frequently, housekeepers, according to Mr. Myles and the report. Polaris has partnered in the past with the hotel brands Carlson, Wyndham and Marriott to fight trafficking and assist victims.

While labor trafficking accounted for only 16 percent of the hotline calls, Polaris maintains that it is chronically underreported, in part because many of those being manipulated are unaware that they are victims of a crime. Of the other calls to the hotline, some were sex trafficking, some were sex- and labor-related, and some were unidentified, according to Jennifer Penrose, the director of Polaris’s data analysis program.

Having an understanding of who is being trafficked and how is a “game-changer,” said Janet Drake, a senior assistant attorney general in Colorado. “If we can’t identify who is being trafficked and what those circumstances are, we can’t allocate our limited resources in a meaningful way,” she said.

Last year, federal officials arrested nearly 2,000 people for human trafficking in various commercial enterprises. From those cases, over 400 trafficking victims were identified, according to Homeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That number is also likely low, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office released last June. Some of the prosecutors and law enforcement officials interviewed by the G.A.O. said that it was particularly challenging to identify labor trafficking because it “often occurs behind closed doors,” while the services offered by those forced into prostitution are frequently advertised online.

Privacy policies prevent Polaris from sharing the names of those who called the organization’s hotline. Sally Agaton did not call the hotline and isn’t affiliated with Polaris, but her story, shared in a telephone interview from her home in Queens, is similar to some scenarios described in the Polaris report. Ms. Agaton, 53, is on the board of an organization that assists Filipino domestic workers in New York and New Jersey, the Damayan Migrant Worker Association. Damayan is an affiliate of the nonprofit National Domestic Workers Alliance, which arranged for her interview.

Ms. Agaton’s ordeal began while trying to provide for her family — her husband was incapacitated after a stroke and the youngest of their three children has special needs. She applied to work in the United States through a labor recruitment agency in Manila. By the time she arrived in Portland, Ore., in 2008 with a dozen other hopeful Filipino workers, she owed $3,000 for her H-2B visa, airfare and interest on money that she had borrowed from a lending agency recommended by the recruiter.

Although Ms. Agaton’s contract specified that she would work 40 hours per week at $8.50 an hour as a housekeeper, she said none of the jobs she worked in hotels in Scottsdale, Ariz., Mackinac Island, Mich., and Bossier Parish, La., gave her those wages, and they seldom gave her that many hours.

“The agency tricked us,” she said. “I was treated as a slave.”

The usual deductions, the cost of a bus pass and an inflated amount for rent were withheld from her paycheck, Ms. Agaton said, recalling that she was sometimes left with as little as $50 a week for food, loan repayment and support for her children, who were 19, 18 and 8 years old when she last saw them nine years ago.

“I am working only three to four hours and three days only, so I can’t survive,” Ms. Agaton said, speaking in the present tense as she remembered events that happened years ago. “There is a time that I am going to the manager to beg for some hours to work so I can send money to my family in the Philippines. They said, ‘No. We cannot give you more hours.’”

And, since the H-2B visa is job-specific, Ms. Agaton couldn’t legally work at a different hotel without a new visa. Her debt continued to accrue with each renewal. She explained that the broker charged her $750 to apply for her second visa, and $1,600 to apply for her third, which also involved a transfer to a new staffing agency.

Because of the fees and the potential for servitude, “We’re very concerned about any time any industry uses subcontracted labor brokers,” Mr. Myles of Polaris said.

Economic abuse, including debt bondage and withholding or confiscating payments, was the most common type of control reported in hotline cases, according to the Polaris report.

Ms. Agaton said that her third visa request was denied, but that her employer told her she could work for 240 days while appealing, something she said she now knows was a “trick.”

She was put to work for $7.50 an hour in the kitchen of a Louisiana casino, she said, and when she later inquired about her visa status, the broker threatened to have her deported.

Ms. Agaton said that she lived with five others in a remote two-bedroom apartment that the broker had arranged. They each had $300 a month deducted from their paychecks for rent, but learned from an eviction notice that the actual rent on the apartment was $630 a month, not the $1,800 they paid, she said.

For days at a time “the electricity was cut,” Ms. Agaton said. “We cannot cook, we had no lights, and we had no water.”

Eventually, new workers from overseas arrived, she said. That corresponds with a finding in the Polaris report, which said that 81 percent of the calls to the hotline were from foreign workers, largely Jamaicans, Indians and Filipinos. Ms. Agaton flew to New York, where she sought legal assistance and obtained a T visa for victims of human trafficking, she said.

As advocacy groups continue to draw attention to human trafficking, more states are getting involved in efforts to combat it. Lawmakers in New York and California are considering measures similar to one that took effect last year in Connecticut that requires lodging operators to train every employee to recognize potential victims of human trafficking.

The American Hotel and Lodging Association began addressing human trafficking in 2011, when it focused on working with hotel security guards. Over time, it expanded its education effort to preventing child trafficking and, in December, to a broader training program that includes information on watching for the human trafficking of children and adults for both sex and labor.

“Some of our bigger brands adopted it for training for all their employees,” said Craig Kalkut, the organization’s vice president of government affairs.

At a White House listening session on human trafficking in February, President Trump called it a “dire” problem. “Solving the human trafficking epidemic, which is what it is, is a priority for my administration. We’re going to help out a lot. ‘Solve’ is a wonderful word, a beautiful word, but I can tell you, we’re going to help a lot.”

There have been some past successes at prosecution. In 2009, 12 people were charged with forced labor trafficking and other violations for their roles in contracting hundreds of employees to hotel, resort, casino and construction companies in 14 states. Nine people were convicted.

Ms. Agaton said she doesn’t believe anyone involved in her experience was arrested. According to the T visa application she provided to a reporter for review, her visa and work were coordinated by Northwest Placement Agency, DHI LLC., and Hospitality Catering Management Services.

Without being named as defendants, both Northwest and DHI were mentioned as allegedly brokering employees in a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of approximately 100 other housekeepers from the Philippines who claimed they were subjected to low wages and inflated rent while working at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando, Fla.

In 2009, without admitting wrongdoing, Hyatt Corp., agreed to pay $5,000 to the primary plaintiff and $1,000 per employee in the class action.

A similar lawsuit was brought by other plaintiffs against Orange Lake Country Club, headquartered in Osceola County, Fla., and it too alleged that Northwest Placement and DHI had recruited them. While the club maintained it did nothing wrong, it agreed to settle with the 75 workers represented in the case. Ms. Agaton didn’t work for either hotel and was not involved in either lawsuit.

A company identified as Northwest Placement had its license to operate in the Philippines canceled and its recruitment agency office in Manila padlocked by that government in 2012 for charging applicants excessive fees. A branch of that company, Northwest Placement USA, remains licensed in Montana, and maintains a website that says it places seasonal employees in the hotel industry. It continues to advertise that it “is duly licensed by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration.” A message left on the company answering machine was not returned.

Read more from The New York Times.

New York State's Paid Family Leave Benefit Begins in 2018

Father and baby at home.

From Newsday:

By Beth Whitehouse

Trying to get pregnant? Perfect timing — you could be among the first people in New York State to benefit from a law going into effect Jan. 1, 2018, that will provide a percentage of paid time off for new parents in the private sector.

“We’re in the nine-month countdown to paid family leave,” says Eric Williams, campaign director with the New York Paid Leave Coalition.

The plan will phase in over four years. In 2018, new parents will be eligible for eight weeks of leave at 50 percent pay up to a cap of 50 percent of the statewide average weekly pay, Williams says. For instance, the statewide average in 2016 was approximately $1,306 a week, so parents would be eligible for up to $653. Earn $1,000 a week? You’d get $500. Earn $1,500 a week? You’d get the $653 cap. Exact amounts for 2018 are still being determined, Williams says.

In 2019 and 2020, new parents will be eligible for 10 weeks, and in 2021 the plan will be in full force at 12 weeks. By 2021, new parents will receive two-thirds of their weekly wage, Williams says. Both parents are eligible for the leave. Leave will also be available for people caring for seriously ill family members. “At the moment we’re trying to focus on the parental leave component,” Williams says.

The plan will be funded by mandatory contributions from all private sector employees in the ballpark of $1.50 a week taken out of their paychecks, Williams says. Public sector unions can also opt into the program, he says.

Read more from Newsday.

She was pregnant and broke. She signed up for Uber — and fell into debt.

From The Washington Post:

by Danielle Paquette

Maya Warren sat in a hospital bed, clutching her stomach. Through the contractions, she tried to focus on the baby. But she thought instead of her bank account.

“Hand me my backpack,” Warren told her mother, crouched at her bedside. Earlier that November day, she had paid a dollar for a scratch-off card, worth up to $777. Now she scraped away the silver.

“Oh, damn it,” Warren said, wiping sweat from her forehead. “I didn’t win.”

“How you gonna be in labor and scratch on a scratch-off?” her mother teased.

Warren laughed, blinking back tears.

She wasn’t supposed to give birth to her first child with no money. She had held the same full-time job in Washington for five years, living paycheck to paycheck. She’d wanted to stash away some financial cushion, and now . . .

“We needed that,” she said, flinging away the worthless card. “We needed that.”

Like an estimated quarter of working mothers in the United States, Warren will return to work less than two weeks after childbirth, whether she’s ready or not.

That’s partly because the United States is the only industrialized nation not to guarantee any paid time off to new parents.

For years, Democrats have championed a stronger safety net, one that would replace lost wages as life’s expenses surge. Republicans have called such a federal mandate a “job killer” that would burden businesses.

During the campaign, however, Donald Trump became the first Republican presidential nominee to pitch a national paid family leave program, proposing new mothers could apply for the benefit through the country’s un­employment insurance system. Now his older daughter Ivanka, recently installed as a West Wing adviser, is tasked with aiding the administration’s push to turn the idea into law.

Meanwhile, low-income women are exploring their own alternatives to paid maternity leave, with some turning to the gig economy.

But for Warren, a lottery ticket still seems a better bet.

$20,000 a year

Maya Warren, who turned 32 last week, is a home health aide for Maxim Healthcare Services, a medical staffing company in Washington.

She gives elderly patients baths and reminds them to take their pills. She monitors their comfort, fluffing pillows and pouring glasses of water. As an hourly worker, she usually earns about $300 a week. Even with overtime, her annual pay of about $20,000 last year ranks her among America’s working poor.

Warren accepted the job because she sees herself as a natural caretaker. After high school, she took general education classes at a community college before landing at an air force base, watching kids at a day-care center.

She quit to tend to her cancer-stricken grandfather — “my favorite person,” she called him. She stayed with him until he landed in hospice. For those two years, to make ends meet, she worked at a nightclub in Maryland.

In 2010, Warren googled “home health aide jobs,” found Maxim and scored an interview. She didn’t think to ask about benefits. She prioritized a regular schedule.

She can’t rely on much help from her baby’s father, who she said lacks steady income. She sees herself as a single mother.

The country provides one protection to bread-winning parents, and it comes with caveats. The Family Medical Leave Act, enacted in 1993, ensures workers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after a birth, as long as they’ve logged at least a year at a company that employs more than 50 people.

Some businesses cover the gap: As of 2016, 58 percent of firms replace at least some wages during maternity leave, and 12 percent do the same for paternity leave.

Moms and dads who lack paid family leave typically rely on savings or loans or credit cards to get by. An estimated 30 percent of workers who take leave slip into debt, according to a 2012 federal survey.

Myra Strober, a labor economist at Stanford University, says low-income parents are the least likely to have any paid leave — and the most likely to encounter financial hardship as their family grows.

“They’re easier to replace,” Strober said. “The employer hasn’t had to invest much in training that worker.”

According to the Labor Department’s latest breakdown, construction workers are the least likely to receive paid family leave (5 percent can get it), followed by hospitality workers (6 percent), utility laborers (7 percent) and those in the service industry (8 percent). In education and health services — the category into which Warren’s job falls — 19 percent of such laborers have the benefit.

Maxim, her employer, has roughly 60,000 workers across the country and doesn’t provide paid family leave to home health aides, a profession with a median annual wage of $21,920.

Maxim declined to comment on Warren’s situation or why it does not provide paid family leave. The company said, “Maxim follows strong and appropriate policies to ensure that all employees — including pregnant employees — are treated fairly and protected from discrimination.”

The company gives workers the chance to buy temporary disability insurance, a spokesperson said, and the cost “depends on the amount of coverage selected.” For Warren, that would have been $300 monthly. She felt she couldn’t afford it.

She was at work when pain gripped her lower belly. She blamed the fibroids, the tumor-like masses that crowded her uterus. She had dealt with them for seven years.

This time, though, the discomfort led her to the emergency room, a visit her Medicaid insurance would cover.

She told the doctor about the fibroids.

The doctor told her the baby was fine.

The baby?

She didn’t think she could get pregnant. Her condition made it tough to conceive and carry a child, according to her googling.

Disbelief gave way to joy. This was it: her chance to become a mother.

All at once, the scramble to save money began.

A campaign promise

Two months before Election Day, before a suburban Philadelphia crowd, Trump unveiled his plan for paid maternity leave. He credited Ivanka Trump, a mother of three, with inspiring the idea. He also was polling poorly among female voters (and ended up losing among women to Hillary Clinton by 12 percentage points).

As president, Trump said, he would open the unemployment insurance system to new mothers. Currently, the state-run programs float cash only to laid-off workers.

Under his policy, the average weekly maternity benefit, per his campaign, would be roughly $300 for up to six weeks — enough to replace Warren’s lost wages. She could apply for the aid with a recent pay stub.

Adoptive parents and fathers, according to Trump’s blueprint, wouldn’t qualify.

Democrats slammed his proposal as too narrow. Republicans, for their part, generally don’t support expanding entitlements, saying it is costly to taxpayers and likely to add to the national debt.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), for example, has voted against paid leave programs, ­instead supporting measures that would allow workers to accumulate time off in lieu of overtime pay.

“I don’t think that sticking up for being a person with balance in your life, for wanting to spend your weekends in your home with your family . . . I don’t think that means signing up for some new unfunded mandate,” Ryan told CNN in a 2015 interview. (He hasn’t commented on Trump’s plan.)

Some business leaders, especially at small firms, would rather not absorb the cost. But others see the value in offering the benefit, since research has shown it can increase worker loyalty and reduce turnover.

Trump said the plan wouldn’t cost an extra penny, that he would fund it by quashing fraud in the unemployment insurance system, which government estimates put at $3.2 billion in 2015. That, Trump said, would be more than enough to support his program, priced at $2.5 billion.

However, no more than $900 million of the overpayments — benefits sent to deceased or employed folks, for example — were clawed back in 2015.

The president hasn’t mentioned his paid maternity leave plan since taking office, but Ivanka Trump has been hosting Republican lawmakers at the White House in an attempt to drum up support for it.

As of now, enthusiasm appears to be scarce.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), the left’s de facto leader on paid family leave, has introduced a bill on Capitol Hill that would give new parents, regardless of gender, 12 weeks of paid time off at two-thirds of their pay. To fund the program, workers would give up 0.2 percent of their salary, and employers would match that — an average contribution of $2 a week, she said.

The paid leave movement is spreading. California, New Jersey and Rhode Island all cover wage loss for new parents, and San Francisco, New York and the District have approved similar measures.

New parents without the public benefits rely on employer generosity or family members or luck. Warren threw herself into work.

Before Warren’s pregnancy started to show, she said, her home health aide shifts began dwindling — from five a week to three, sometimes two.

Maxim said that, in general, hours depend on demand. “Because they are paid by the hour, full- or part-time employment status is driven by a combination of client need and employee preference,” the company said.

Warren’s weekly pay shrank to $150.

The expenses — for food, gas, her $400 monthly rent, clothes for her growing body, baby wipes, the occasional manicure when life felt heavy — piled up even as she tried to save.

She needed a side hustle.

Warren knew people who drove for Uber and enjoyed the extra cash, so she pawned a gold ring to rent a car through the ride-sharing service.

For one payment of $350, she could drive away in a Nissan Altima. Then $215 would be deducted each week from her Uber paycheck. If she didn’t drive enough to cover the payments, Uber’s partner in the deal, Enterprise, would charge her card on file.

In Washington, Uber drivers pull about $15 an hour, on average, according to Glassdoor salary data. Because they’re contractors, though, the money arrives pretax, so Warren would have to remember to set aside some earnings for Uncle Sam.

She signed the contract.

By October, Warren planned to care for her patients by day and morph into a chauffeur at night. She aimed for 75 rides each week.

Hours — and money — dry up

She still owed about $5,000 in student loans, $500 from old hospital visits and $300 in overdue cellphone bills.

Debt had trailed her for years, and interest swelled over time. She wanted to pay it all off before the baby came. Banish the collectors, the stress.

But the week before Warren went into labor, a cashier at Chick-fil-A said her debit card had been declined. She prayed it was a mistake, but deep down, she knew: The cash was gone. She couldn’t even buy a chicken sandwich.

Warren went into labor at the end of November, right after she had moved back in with her mother in Southeast Washington.

The baby didn’t budge for two nights, so the doctor advised a Caesarean section. Some 90 minutes later, he eased into her arms. She cupped his tiny feet. She kissed his nose. She named him Kortez Isaiah.

It was a major surgery. The doctor recommended 12 weeks of rest — four more than usual because of her fibroids.

Again, Warren thought of money.

She had a car seat from a Capitol Hill charity, a breast pump from her neighbor, a bassinet from her mom, and food stamps.

She had been driving for Uber as much as she thought she could. From Oct. 10 to Nov. 21, according to her pay statements, she had banked $1,458 — an average weekly wage of $243. That barely covered the rental cost. Not to mention the gas.

Back to work

Six days after leaving the hospital, Warren sat at her mother’s kitchen table, staring at her car keys. Kortez slept nearby in his bassinet.

Home health aide shifts — eight-hour days on her feet — were out of the question. Her boss had told her to come back after six weeks.

Driving, Warren thought, was probably a better option — though the doctor had told her not to slide behind the wheel for two weeks. She would not take any pills for the pain.

Her mom, she thought, had been so generous. Without her, Warren figured she would be homeless.

She was breast-feeding Kortez, so baby food came free. Soon, though, they would run out of diapers.

She wanted to be the one to buy more. She hadn’t gotten her mom’s ring back, either. She wondered if it was still at the pawnshop.

Warren stood up. Her swollen stomach burned. Every step brought a new jolt. “Ow,” she would say to no one.

She put on her black jacket with a faux-fur hood. She shuffled to her mother’s driveway. She opened the car door (“ow”), eased into the driver’s seat (“ow”) and started the engine (“ow”).

Warren picked up a woman with a suitcase who wanted to go to a house in Temple Hills, Md. — a 15-minute ride. That would net her $7.03.

She willed herself to ignore the bumps in the road. She hoped the passenger didn’t expect her to pop the trunk and hoist out the luggage.

Read more from The Washington Post

New Report Details Exploitation of Hotel Industry Workers

Robert Wright/The New York Times

From The New York Times:

by Karen Schwartz

Relaxing vacations mean little work for travelers, thanks to the host of people who work as housekeepers, bellhops and cooks. But a new analysis has found that the largely invisible nature of these jobs means workers can sometimes be exploited by those who market in human trafficking, even within the United States.

To help identify where human trafficking occurs in the United States, Polaris, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating modern slavery, reviewed calls made to its National Human Trafficking Hotline (888-373-7888) between December 2007 and December 2016. In non-sex-related cases involving workers in hotels, motels, resorts and casinos, 124 pertained to human trafficking, in which force, fraud or coercion were allegedly used to compel the victim to stay in their situation; and 510 cases involved workplace exploitation, including abuse and labor violations, according to its report, released last month.

The calls specific to the hospitality industry were culled from a total of 32,208 reports of potential human trafficking and 10,085 cases of possible labor exploitation made to the hotline during those nine years. The analysis of the calls also identified two dozen other segments, some of which included health and beauty (spas, hair and nail salons), recreation (golf courses, swimming pools and amusement parks), landscaping (public and private grounds and gardens), restaurants and food service, and carnivals.

“Because human trafficking is so diverse and heterogeneous and dynamic, you can’t fight it all at once. You have to break it into its distinct types and actually fight it type by type,” said Bradley Myles, the chief executive officer of Polaris, which worked with lawmakers in 2005 on the reauthorization of the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

Continue reading the main story

In the hospitality industry, for instance, there is a balance between fighting sex trafficking where a hotel might be the venue, and labor trafficking, where victimized women and men work as front desk attendants, bell staff and, most frequently, housekeepers, according to Mr. Myles and the report. Polaris has partnered in the past with the hotel brands Carlson, Wyndham and Marriott to fight trafficking and assist victims.

While labor trafficking accounted for only 16 percent of the hotline calls, Polaris maintains that it is chronically underreported, in part because many of those being manipulated are unaware that they are victims of a crime. Of the other calls to the hotline, some were sex trafficking, some were sex- and labor-related, and some were unidentified, according to Jennifer Penrose, the director of Polaris’s data analysis program.

Having an understanding of who is being trafficked and how is a “game-changer,” said Janet Drake, a senior assistant attorney general in Colorado. “If we can’t identify who is being trafficked and what those circumstances are, we can’t allocate our limited resources in a meaningful way,” she said.

Last year, federal officials arrested nearly 2,000 people for human trafficking in various commercial enterprises. From those cases, over 400 trafficking victims were identified, according to Homeland Security Investigations, a division of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

That number is also likely low, according to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office released last June. Some of the prosecutors and law enforcement officials interviewed by the G.A.O. said that it was particularly challenging to identify labor trafficking because it “often occurs behind closed doors,” while the services offered by those forced into prostitution are frequently advertised online.

Privacy policies prevent Polaris from sharing the names of those who called the organization’s hotline. Sally Agaton did not call the hotline and isn’t affiliated with Polaris, but her story, shared in a telephone interview from her home in Queens, is similar to some scenarios described in the Polaris report. Ms. Agaton, 53, is on the board of an organization that assists Filipino domestic workers in New York and New Jersey, the Damayan Migrant Worker Association. Damayan is an affiliate of the nonprofit National Domestic Workers Alliance, which arranged for her interview.

Ms. Agaton’s ordeal began while trying to provide for her family — her husband was incapacitated after a stroke and the youngest of their three children has special needs. She applied to work in the United States through a labor recruitment agency in Manila. By the time she arrived in Portland, Ore., in 2008 with a dozen other hopeful Filipino workers, she owed $3,000 for her H-2B visa, airfare and interest on money that she had borrowed from a lending agency recommended by the recruiter.

Although Ms. Agaton’s contract specified that she would work 40 hours per week at $8.50 an hour as a housekeeper, she said none of the jobs she worked in hotels in Scottsdale, Ariz., Mackinac Island, Mich., and Bossier Parish, La., gave her those wages, and they seldom gave her that many hours.

“The agency tricked us,” she said. “I was treated as a slave.”

The usual deductions, the cost of a bus pass and an inflated amount for rent were withheld from her paycheck, Ms. Agaton said, recalling that she was sometimes left with as little as $50 a week for food, loan repayment and support for her children, who were 19, 18 and 8 years old when she last saw them nine years ago.

“I am working only three to four hours and three days only, so I can’t survive,” Ms. Agaton said, speaking in the present tense as she remembered events that happened years ago. “There is a time that I am going to the manager to beg for some hours to work so I can send money to my family in the Philippines. They said, ‘No. We cannot give you more hours.’”

And, since the H-2B visa is job-specific, Ms. Agaton couldn’t legally work at a different hotel without a new visa. Her debt continued to accrue with each renewal. She explained that the broker charged her $750 to apply for her second visa, and $1,600 to apply for her third, which also involved a transfer to a new staffing agency.

Because of the fees and the potential for servitude, “We’re very concerned about any time any industry uses subcontracted labor brokers,” Mr. Myles of Polaris said.

Economic abuse, including debt bondage and withholding or confiscating payments, was the most common type of control reported in hotline cases, according to the Polaris report.

Ms. Agaton said that her third visa request was denied, but that her employer told her she could work for 240 days while appealing, something she said she now knows was a “trick.”

She was put to work for $7.50 an hour in the kitchen of a Louisiana casino, she said, and when she later inquired about her visa status, the broker threatened to have her deported.

Ms. Agaton said that she lived with five others in a remote two-bedroom apartment that the broker had arranged. They each had $300 a month deducted from their paychecks for rent, but learned from an eviction notice that the actual rent on the apartment was $630 a month, not the $1,800 they paid, she said.

For days at a time “the electricity was cut,” Ms. Agaton said. “We cannot cook, we had no lights, and we had no water.”

Eventually, new workers from overseas arrived, she said. That corresponds with a finding in the Polaris report, which said that 81 percent of the calls to the hotline were from foreign workers, largely Jamaicans, Indians and Filipinos. Ms. Agaton flew to New York, where she sought legal assistance and obtained a T visa for victims of human trafficking, she said.

As advocacy groups continue to draw attention to human trafficking, more states are getting involved in efforts to combat it. Lawmakers in New York and California are considering measures similar to one that took effect last year in Connecticut that requires lodging operators to train every employee to recognize potential victims of human trafficking.

Read more from The New York Times

Port Chester Restaurant Owner Could Be Jailed for $47K Wage Theft

Elisa Parto, the restaurant owner.

From lohud:

By Matt Spillane

A Port Chester restaurant owner will head to jail at the end of the spring unless she pays back the wages she stole from her employees, officials said.

After skipping her original sentencing last year, Elisa Parto, owner of Elisa's Food & Plus, has been sentenced to six months in jail for cheating six former employees out of $47,000, the state Attorney General's Office announced today.

Parto has paid back $21,000 of that sum but has ignored several court warnings over the past eight months and failed to pay the balance of the restitution, officials said.

She is not in custody at the moment and can avoid jail time if she pays back the remaining $26,000 by June 5. Otherwise she will have to surrender to begin serving her sentence.

Parto pleaded guilty in December 2015 to failing to pay six of her employees minimum wage and overtime at her restaurant at 73 Poningo St. She cheated those employees between 2012 and 2014, a period in which one employee described frequently working nearly 70 hours per week, officials said.

The plea agreement required her to pay back those wages. She was originally scheduled to be sentenced on March 10, 2016, but did not show up and was later arrested. She then failed to appear in court again in April 2016 and spent one week in jail for violating her bail conditions, officials said.

Read more from lohud.

Who Moved My Teachers?

Teacher and children.

U.S Department of Education/Flickr

From Mother Jones:

By Patrick Caldwell

The school of education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison never used to have trouble attracting applicants with dreams of becoming teachers. Its graduate program is ranked fourth in the country by U.S. News & World Report, and until recently, its undergraduate program in elementary education typically received between 300 and 400 applications for its 125 spots. Now, says Michael Apple, a professor in the program, it only gets about one applicant per opening.

What happened? Scott Walker became Wisconsin's governor in 2011 and promptly enacted a wide-scale rollback of unionization rights for state employees. That law, Act 10, effectively wiped out the ability of teachers and other public-sector workers to bargain collectively over salary and benefits.

Walker's assault on unions has had well-publicized effects, including an unsuccessful recall election against him, a sharp reduction in union membership, and a proliferation of anti-union legislation in other states. Unions' diminished organizing power for Democrats helped Donald Trump become the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin in more than 30 years. But less visible consequences have colored nearly every facet of Wisconsin society. One is a sudden and drastic teacher shortage. "The attack on teacher unions has an echo that is often invisible," Apple says. "That invisibility is many fewer teachers."

Wisconsin teachers now earn less total compensation than they did seven years ago, thanks to cuts in benefits. They face larger classes and less job security, and in some districts they've been asked to teach extra sections. Fewer people are applying to teacher education programs. One Wisconsin education student, who asked not to be named to avoid hurting his job prospects, warns that "better conditions and job security will lead some of us elsewhere."

The downturn for Wisconsin teachers is so bad that when a Minnesota public school district sent representatives to a job fair at UW-Madison's education school last fall, they made a point of boasting about the benefits their state still offered. "I actually heard them promote having unions as a sales pitch, which I found interesting coming from administrators," says the student.

That Wisconsin is the front of the war on unions is particularly poignant. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which represents public workers at all levels of government, began as an association of local workers in Madison in 1932. Twenty-seven years later, Wisconsin became the first state to recognize state government employee unions. But when Walker signed Act 10 on March 11, 2011, that long chapter of progressivism came to an end and the state became a radical experiment in the opposite direction.

The battle over the law was as dramatic as its effects: The entire 14-person Democratic caucus in the state Senate fled to Illinois in a bid to prevent it from passing, and about 100,000 union advocates demonstrated, with some camping in the hallways of the Capitol and singing union anthems. Teachers protested by calling in sick, and schools were forced to close.

In the end, it wasn't enough. Act 10 prevailed and other conservative state governments soon followed with their own anti-union legislation. It attacked public-sector unions from a variety of angles. Wisconsin workers can no longer negotiate to improve their health or retirement benefits. Raises can't exceed the rate of inflation. Job-security measures like tenure were tossed aside, and managers were given the freedom to fire employees at will. Dues are no longer deducted directly from paychecks, forcing public-sector unions to track down members individually to raise funds.

At the time, Walker sold Act 10 as a way to close a $3.6 billion budget gap. But there was never much question that the real motivation was to hobble liberal causes. A video later surfaced showing Walker hobnobbing with billionaire donor Diane Hendricks, founder and chairwoman of Wisconsin-based ABC Supply, two weeks after taking office. "Any chance we'll ever get to be a completely red state and work on these unions and become a right-to-work?" she asked. (So-called right-to-work laws slash union revenue by prohibiting unions from compelling employees to pay dues, allowing employees to benefit from a union's efforts without contributing their share.) Walker replied, "The first step is, we're going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions, because you use divide and conquer."

That strategy could soon become national policy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump adviser, has pointed to Walker's anti-union crusade as a model for how the new administration could target public-­sector unions at the federal level. Trump's pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, chaired a group called the American Federation for Children, which claims it has spent more than $4.2 million on Wisconsin races since 2010. The AFC tapped Walker as its keynote speaker at the group's 2015 policy summit.

Six years after the passage of Act 10, a small band of retirees still gathers in the Capitol rotunda every weekday at noon for a pro-union Solidarity Sing-Along. But it barely draws the attention of passing school groups, let alone lawmakers. State labor organizations, struggling to maintain their membership rolls, have little time or money to press legislators for policy changes. One AFSCME council saw its budget drop from $5 million before Act 10 to $1.5 million in 2013.

Before Walker's crusade, 14.2 percent of Wisconsin's workforce belonged to a union. By 2015, that figure had dropped to 8.3 percent, significantly below the national average for the first time. That year, Walker and the Legislature passed a law that extended the right-to-work provisions to private-sector unions as well. That law's central provision is still on hold pending legal challenges.

It's no coincidence that 2016 was the first election in which the state voted Republican for president since Ronald Reagan. According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton won union households in the state by 10 percentage points. But 79 percent of voters didn't belong to a union household, and they went in Trump's favor by 8 points—enough to deliver him a surprise victory in Wisconsin. "Scott Walker just won the presidential race in 2016 by passing Act 10 five years ago," anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist tweeted on election night.

Teachers' unions have been hit hardest. Prior to the law, the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC)—the state's largest association of local teachers' unions and an affiliate of the National Education Association—counted about 98,000 members. Now it has fewer than 40,000. The WEAC spent $93,481 on lobbying in 2015, compared with more than $2.2 million in 2011. The union recently put its Madison headquarters up for sale to shore up its finances.

As unions have lost their sway, teaching has become a less attractive profession. School districts have struggled to hire and retain teachers. A study from the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum found that between the 2008-09 and 2013-14 school years, the number of people entering Wisconsin teacher-training programs declined by 28 percent and the number of teachers in the state dropped by 2.4 percent, even as the number of students remained nearly constant. In 2013, schools attracted an average of 4.9 applicants per open teaching position, according to data from the Wisconsin Education Career Access Network. By 2015, that average had dipped to 3.3 applicants. Last August, with the start of the school year weeks away, state Superintendent Tony Evers was forced to offer more emergency one-year teaching licenses in order to expand the pool of applicants.

Act 10 has thinned the ranks of both veteran teachers and younger ones. Thanks to the old collective bargaining agreements, Wisconsin teachers used to enjoy generous benefits that allowed people to retire at age 55 and receive a full pension, though many teachers continued teaching into their 60s. But Act 10 threatened to strip away those benefits once the agreements expired, leading many teachers who were eligible for retirement to make their exit years earlier than planned. "We lost a lot of people who developed the expertise over the years to reach kids at their various learning styles," says John Matthews, who led Madison's teachers' union for 48 years. "Those people were leaving en masse."

The teachers who remain, meanwhile, have been forced to take on extra work to make up for the shortage. The La Crosse school district, for example, tried to solve budget problems by saddling its newest high school teachers with an additional class, at the expense of time spent developing a curriculum and grading papers. John Havlicek, a Spanish teacher in his 21st year and a union representative, says he's never seen so few teachers take on secondary roles as coaches—they simply don't have the time for sports. "Within two years, you had teachers leaving because they just couldn't keep up," Havlicek says. "It doesn't seem like it, but 30 more kids and one less period in which to help kids who come in for help was a double whammy." (The school district is rolling back the change after pressure from teachers and parents.)

In 2011, Walker signed legislation that cut the state's K-12 education funding by $792 million over two years. If districts want to increase taxes for school funding, they're required to hold referendums. Last November, 67 such measures were on ballots across the state, with 55 passing. Schools are also getting crunched by state Republicans' zeal for voucher programs that use public funds to send students to religious and other private schools. Walker has called vouchers a "moral imperative" and expanded their use in 2015, lifting income caps for families to qualify. That year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction warned that school districts would receive less funding because of the voucher program. In the two years since, those schools have lost $41.4 million.

"The shortage of money is causing class sizes to be larger than they should be," Matthews says. "It's causing teachers not to have the resources like new textbooks, workbooks. Those resources just aren't there. And there's been a cutback in assistance work in the classrooms, a cutback in music, art, and phys-ed teachers. It's hit the quality of education."

With unions diminished at the state level, conservatives have shifted their attention to weakening them and their influence in liberal cities where they remain relatively strong. In the old manufacturing city of Kenosha, the school board continued to negotiate with the local teachers' union, although it didn't have to under Act 10. So in a 2014 election, Americans for Prosperity—­the main political arm of the Koch brothers—got involved in the school board race, in which two seats held by vocally pro-union members were up for grabs. The group set up phone banks and sent people campaigning door to door. The incumbents were replaced with anti-union candidates.

Act 10 requires annual recertification elections in which at least 51 percent of all eligible members—including those who don't show up—must vote in favor of a union to keep the chapter alive. Bob Peterson, the head of the Milwaukee teachers' union from 2011 to 2015, says these annual elections can cost thousands of dollars and force unions to run full-scale phone-banking operations. Last year, 11 WEAC affiliates lost recertification votes. In the small eastern Wisconsin town of New Holstein, all 42 teachers who voted backed recertification, but there were another 42 members who didn't vote, so the local union disappeared.

Read more from Mother Jones.

These Income Inequality Racial Statistics Should Enrage You

Income inequality poster on street.

mSeattle/Flickr

From Black Enterprise:

By Samara Lynn

Job monitoring site Comparably has a mission to make salary and other compensation data completely transparent. The site collects thousands of salary records and segments the data by gender, location, industry, ethnicity, and more. Some of the analysis on racial income inequality is truly eye-opening and quite maddening.

It may come as no surprise that Comparably found that African Americans are paid the least in every major tech hub in the U.S. The cities with the hugest pay disparities for blacks are Phoenix, Seattle, Boston, and Chicago.

There’s more grim news and most of it is also about wages within the tech sector. The largest pay gaps in tech are between white and black workers. Even looking at specific jobs in tech such as design and product engineering, African Americans are at a disadvantage. For instance, blacks in design in the tech space earn an average of $85, 078 while whites earn $108, 685. Asians earn the most in this field; an average of $111,718.

The site lets you see what others make in your field. It offers detailed data on tech positions including VP of engineering, product managers, and marketing directors. Comparably also features a host of infographics that are displayed by performing a search. A query on “how often do you get a raise?” pulls up data on how often workers are given raises by race, gender, and other factors. 60% of Caucasians receive a raise every year while only 47% of African Americans do.

Black women fare the worse when it comes to income inequality. In a recent interview with Jasmine Gill of Gyal’s Network, an online platform connecting diverse women and addressing intersectional issues, it was revealed that a black woman will lose an average of $877,480 over her 40-year career, relative to a white man.

Read more from Black Enterprise.

How Uber Uses Psychological Tricks to Push Its Drivers’ Buttons

Uber app on smrtphone.

From The New York Times:

By Noam Scheiber

The secretive ride-hailing giant Uber rarely discusses internal matters in public. But in March, facing crises on multiple fronts, top officials convened a call for reporters to insist that Uber was changing its culture and would no longer tolerate “brilliant jerks.”

Notably, the company also announced that it would fix its troubled relationship with drivers, who have complained for years about falling pay and arbitrary treatment.

“We’ve underinvested in the driver experience,” a senior official said. “We are now re-examining everything we do in order to rebuild that love.”

And yet even as Uber talks up its determination to treat drivers more humanely, it is engaged in an extraordinary behind-the-scenes experiment in behavioral science to manipulate them in the service of its corporate growth — an effort whose dimensions became evident in interviews with several dozen current and former Uber officials, drivers and social scientists, as well as a review of behavioral research.

Uber’s innovations reflect the changing ways companies are managing workers amid the rise of the freelance-based “gig economy.” Its drivers are officially independent business owners rather than traditional employees with set schedules. This allows Uber to minimize labor costs, but means it cannot compel drivers to show up at a specific place and time. And this lack of control can wreak havoc on a service whose goal is to seamlessly transport passengers whenever and wherever they want.

Uber helps solve this fundamental problem by using psychological inducements and other techniques unearthed by social science to influence when, where and how long drivers work. It’s a quest for a perfectly efficient system: a balance between rider demand and driver supply at the lowest cost to passengers and the company.

Employing hundreds of social scientists and data scientists, Uber has experimented with video game techniques, graphics and noncash rewards of little value that can prod drivers into working longer and harder — and sometimes at hours and locations that are less lucrative for them.

To keep drivers on the road, the company has exploited some people’s tendency to set earnings goals — alerting them that they are ever so close to hitting a precious target when they try to log off. It has even concocted an algorithm similar to a Netflix feature that automatically loads the next program, which many experts believe encourages binge-watching. In Uber’s case, this means sending drivers their next fare opportunity before their current ride is even over.

And most of this happens without giving off a whiff of coercion.

“We show drivers areas of high demand or incentivize them to drive more,” said Michael Amodeo, an Uber spokesman. “But any driver can stop work literally at the tap of a button — the decision whether or not to drive is 100 percent theirs.”

Uber’s recent emphasis on drivers is no accident. As problems have mounted at the company, from an allegation of sexual harassment in its offices to revelations that it created a tool to deliberately evade regulatory scrutiny, Uber has made softening its posture toward drivers a litmus test of its ability to become a better corporate citizen. The tension was particularly evident after its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, engaged in a heated argument with a driver that was captured in a viral video obtained by Bloomberg and that prompted an abject apology.

But an examination by The New York Times found that Uber is continuing apace in its struggle to wield the upper hand with drivers. And as so-called platform-mediated work like driving for Uber increasingly becomes the way people make a living, the company’s example illustrates that pulling psychological levers may eventually become the reigning approach to managing the American worker.

While Uber is arguably the biggest and most sophisticated player in inducing workers to serve its corporate goals, other “gig economy” platforms are also involved. Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, and popular delivery services like Postmates rely on similar approaches. So do companies and individuals posting assignments on crowdsourcing sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk, where hundreds of thousands of workers earn piece-rate wages by completing discrete tasks.

Of course, many companies try to nudge consumers into buying their products and services using psychological tricks. But extending these efforts to the work force is potentially transformative.

Though employers have long borrowed insights from social science to get more out of their workers — tech companies like Google have calculated that employees interact more with unfamiliar colleagues when they can graze together at snack bars — they are constrained in doing so. A large body of law and custom in the United States holds that because employers have far more power over their employees than businesses do over their customers, they must provide them with far greater protections — not least, a minimum wage and overtime pay.

Uber exists in a kind of legal and ethical purgatory, however. Because its drivers are independent contractors, they lack most of the protections associated with employment. By mastering their workers’ mental circuitry, Uber and the like may be taking the economy back toward a pre-New Deal era when businesses had enormous power over workers and few checks on their ability to exploit it.

“We’re talking about this kind of manipulation that literally affects people’s income,” said Ryan Calo, a law professor at the University of Washington who with Alex Rosenblat has written a paper on the way companies use data and algorithms to exploit psychological weaknesses. Uber officials, he said, are “using what they know about drivers, their control over the interface and the terms of transaction to channel the behavior of the driver in the direction they want it to go.”

An Empathy Question

In early 2016, a group of roughly 100 Uber employees responsible for signing up drivers and getting them to drive more voted to change its name — from “supply growth” to “driver growth.”

The vote was not unprompted. For much of the previous year, Uber executives had agonized over how to lower the rate at which drivers were deserting the platform.

Alongside Uber’s already daunting targets for expanding its pool of drivers to meet mounting demand, the high turnover threatened to cap the company’s growth and throw it into crisis.

Uber conducted interviews and focus groups while executives peppered employees with questions like, “What are we doing to have more empathy for the driver side of the equation?”

Underlying the tension was the fact that Uber’s interests and those of drivers are at odds on some level. Drivers, who typically keep what’s left of their gross fare after Uber takes a roughly 25 percent commission, prefer some scarcity in their ranks to keep them busier and push up earnings. For its part, Uber is desperate to avoid shortages, seeking instead to serve every customer quickly, ideally in five minutes or less.

This is particularly true of shortages so pronounced as to create a “surge” — that is, a higher fare than normal. While surges do mitigate shortages, they do so in part by repelling passengers, something directly at odds with Uber’s long-term goal of dominating the industry. “For us, it’s better not to surge,” said Daniel Graf, Uber’s vice president of product. “If we don’t surge, we can produce more rides.”

As a result, much of Uber’s communication with drivers over the years has aimed at combating shortages by advising drivers to move to areas where they exist, or where they might arise. Uber encouraged its local managers to experiment with ways of achieving this.

“It was all day long, every day — texts, emails, pop-ups: ‘Hey, the morning rush has started. Get to this area, that’s where demand is biggest,’” said Ed Frantzen, a veteran Uber driver in the Chicago area. “It was always, constantly, trying to get you into a certain direction.”

Some local managers who were men went so far as to adopt a female persona for texting drivers, having found that the uptake was higher when they did.

“‘Laura’ would tell drivers: ‘Hey, the concert’s about to let out. You should head over there,’” said John P. Parker, a manager in Uber’s Dallas office in 2014 and 2015, referring to one of the personas. “We have an overwhelmingly male driver population.”

Uber acknowledged that it had experimented with female personas to increase engagement with drivers.

The friction over meeting demand was compounded by complaints about arrangements like aggressive car leases that required many drivers to work upward of 50 or 60 hours each week to eke out a profit. Uber officials began to worry that a driver backlash was putting them at a strategic disadvantage in their competition with Lyft, which had cultivated a reputation for being more driver-friendly.

Uber had long been a reflection of Mr. Kalanick, its charismatic and hard-charging chief, who has often involved himself in corporate minutiae. According to an article in The Information, Mr. Kalanick had complained to subordinates that he was not informed sooner about a glitch with the company’s push notifications and had personally weighed in on the time at which employees could receive free dinner.

Now Uber began a process of, in effect, becoming a little less like Mr. Kalanick, and a little more like Lyft.

It rethought a lease program, softened the hectoring tone of its messages and limited their volume. At times it became positively cheery.

During roughly the same period, Uber was increasingly concerned that many new drivers were leaving the platform before completing the 25 rides that would earn them a signing bonus. To stem that tide, Uber officials in some cities began experimenting with simple encouragement: You’re almost halfway there, congratulations!

While the experiment seemed warm and innocuous, it had in fact been exquisitely calibrated. The company’s data scientists had previously discovered that once drivers reached the 25-ride threshold, their rate of attrition fell sharply.

And psychologists and video game designers have long known that encouragement toward a concrete goal can motivate people to complete a task.

“It’s getting you to internalize the company’s goals,” said Chelsea Howe, a prominent video game designer who has spoken out against coercive psychological techniques deployed in games. “Internalized motivation is the most powerful kind.”

Mr. Amodeo, the Uber spokesman, defended the practice. “We try to make the early experience as good as possible, but also as realistic as possible,” he said. “We want people to decide for themselves if driving is right for them.”

That making drivers feel good could be compatible with treating them as lab subjects was no surprise. None other than Lyft itself had shown as much several years earlier.

In 2013, the company hired a consulting firm to figure out how to encourage more driving during the platform’s busiest hours.

At the time, Lyft drivers could voluntarily sign up in advance for shifts. The consultants devised an experiment in which the company showed one group of inexperienced drivers how much more they would make by moving from a slow period like Tuesday morning to a busy time like Friday night — about $15 more per hour.

For another group, Lyft reversed the calculation, displaying how much drivers were losing by sticking with Tuesdays.

The latter had a more significant effect on increasing the hours drivers scheduled during busy periods.

Kristen Berman, one of the consultants, explained at a presentation in 2014 that the experiment had roots in the field of behavioral economics, which studies the cognitive hang-ups that frequently skew decision-making. Its central finding derived from a concept known as loss aversion, which holds that people “dislike losing more than they like gaining,” Ms. Berman said.

Still, Ms. Berman disclosed in an interview, Lyft eventually decided against using the loss-aversion approach, suggesting that the company has drawn brighter lines when it comes to potential manipulation.

Almost There

As he tried to log off at 7:13 a.m. on New Year’s Day last year, Josh Streeter, then an Uber driver in the Tampa, Fla., area, received a message on the company’s driver app with the headline “Make it to $330.” The text then explained: “You’re $10 away from making $330 in net earnings. Are you sure you want to go offline?” Below were two prompts: “Go offline” and “Keep driving.” The latter was already highlighted.

“I’ve got screen shots with dozens of these messages,” said Mr. Streeter, who began driving full time for Lyft and then Uber in 2014 but quit last year to invest in real estate.

Mr. Streeter was not alone. For months, when drivers tried to log out, the app would frequently tell them they were only a certain amount away from making a seemingly arbitrary sum for the day, or from matching their earnings from that point one week earlier.

The messages were intended to exploit another relatively widespread behavioral tic — people’s preoccupation with goals — to nudge them into driving longer.

Over the past 20 years, behavioral economists have found evidence for a phenomenon known as income targeting, in which workers who can decide how long to work each day, like cabdrivers, do so with a goal in mind — say, $100 — much the way marathon runners try to get their time below four hours or three hours.

While there is debate among economists as to how widespread the practice is and how strictly cabdrivers follow such targets, top officials at Uber and Lyft have certainly concluded that many of their drivers set income goals. “Others are motivated by an income target for sure,” said Brian Hsu, the Lyft vice president in charge of supply. “You hear stories about people who want to buy that next thing.” He added, “We’ve started to allow drivers to set up those goals as well in the app.”

Uber even published a study last year, using its vast pile of data on drivers’ rides and hours, finding that a “substantial, although not most, fraction of partners” practice an extreme form of income targeting when they start on the platform, though they abandon it as they gain more experience. Strict income targeting is highly inefficient because it leads drivers to work long hours on days when business is slow and their hourly take is low, and to knock off early on days when business is brisk.

The beauty of the messages that Uber sent Mr. Streeter and his fellow drivers is that the drivers need not have even had a specific income goal in mind in order for the messages to work. Some of the most addictive games ever made, like the 1980s and ’90s hit Tetris, rely on a feeling of progress toward a goal that is always just beyond the player’s grasp. As the psychologist Adam Alter writes in his book “Irresistible,” this mental state has a name: the “ludic loop.” (The term was coined by the anthropologist and slot machine expert Natasha Schüll.)

Uber, for its part, appears to be aware of the ludic loop. In its messages to drivers, it included a graphic of an engine gauge with a needle that came tantalizingly close to, but was still short of, a dollar sign.

And the ludic loop is far from the only video game feature that Uber has adapted as a way of keeping drivers on the road.

At any moment, the app shows drivers how many trips they have taken in the current week, how much money they have made, how much time they have spent logged on and what their overall rating from passengers is. All of these metrics can stimulate the competitive juices that drive compulsive game-playing.

“The whole thing is like a video game,” said Eli Solomon, a veteran Uber and Lyft driver in the Chicago area, who said he sometimes had to fight the urge to work more after glancing at his data.

Sometimes the so-called gamification is quite literal. Like players on video game platforms such as Xbox, PlayStation and Pogo, Uber drivers can earn badges for achievements like Above and Beyond (denoted on the app by a cartoon of a rocket blasting off), Excellent Service (marked by a picture of a sparkling diamond) and Entertaining Drive (a pair of Groucho Marx glasses with nose and eyebrows).

Of course, managers have been borrowing from the logic of games for generations, as when they set up contests and competition among workers. More overt forms of gamification have proliferated during the past decade. For example, Microsoft has used the approach to entice workers to perform the otherwise sleep-inducing task of software debugging.

But Uber can go much further. Because it mediates its drivers’ entire work experience through an app, there are few limits to the elements it can gamify. Uber collects staggering amounts of data that allow it to discard game features that do not work and refine those that do. And because its workers are contractors, the gamification strategies are not hemmed in by employment law.

Kevin Werbach, a business professor who has written extensively on the subject, said that while gamification could be a force for good in the gig economy — for example, by creating bonds among workers who do not share a physical space — there was a danger of abuse. “If what you’re doing is basically saying, ‘We’ve found a cheap way to get you to do work without paying you for it, we’ll pay you in badges that don’t cost anything,’ that’s a manipulative way to go about it,” he said.

For some drivers, that is precisely the effect. Scott Weber said he drove full time most weeks last year, picking up passengers in the Tampa area for both Uber and Lyft, yet made less than $20,000 before expenses like gas and maintenance. “I was a business that had a loss,” said Mr. Weber, who is looking for another job. “I’m using payday loans.”

Still, when asked about the badges he earns while driving for Uber, Mr. Weber practically gushed. “I’ve got currently 12 excellent-service and nine great-conversation badges,” he said in an interview in early March. “It tells me where I’m at.”

‘Constantly Busy’

When asked whether Uber’s product managers and data scientists were akin to developers at a social gaming company like Zynga, Jonathan Hall, Uber’s head of economic and policy research, accepted the analogy but rejected the implication.

“I think there’s something to that, but ultimately Zynga should worry mostly about how fun its games are rather than trying to get you to play a little bit more by some trick,” he said. He argued that exploiting people’s psychological tics was unlikely to have more than a marginal effect on how long they played Zynga’s games or drove for Uber. It is “icing on the cake,” he said.

Mr. Hall is clearly right about the effects of certain techniques, like those pitched at drivers’ tendency to set income targets or to focus more on losses than gains. On the other hand, even features that produce relatively small changes in driving patterns can become quite important to a company like Uber.

According to Mr. Parker, the former Uber manager in Dallas, increasing the number of drivers on the road by 20 percent at certain hours of the day, or in a busy part of town, can rein in a large fare surge.

More important, some of the psychological levers that Uber pulls to increase the supply of drivers have quite powerful effects.

Consider an algorithm called forward dispatch — Lyft has a similar one — that dispatches a new ride to a driver before the current one ends. Forward dispatch shortens waiting times for passengers, who may no longer have to wait for a driver 10 minutes away when a second driver is dropping off a passenger two minutes away.

Perhaps no less important, forward dispatch causes drivers to stay on the road substantially longer during busy periods — a key goal for both companies.

Uber and Lyft explain this in essentially the same way. “Drivers keep telling us the worst thing is when they’re idle for a long time,” said Kevin Fan, the director of product at Lyft. “If it’s slow, they’re going to go sign off. We want to make sure they’re constantly busy.”

While this is unquestionably true, there is another way to think of the logic of forward dispatch: It overrides self-control.

Perhaps the most prominent example is that such automatic queuing appears to have fostered the rise of binge-watching on Netflix. “When one program is nearing the end of its running time, Netflix will automatically cue up the next episode in that series for you,” wrote the scholars Matthew Pittman and Kim Sheehan in a 2015 study of the phenomenon. “It requires very little effort to binge on Netflix; in fact, it takes more effort to stop than to keep going.”

As with viewers and binge-watching, many drivers appear to enjoy the forward-dispatch feature, which can increase earnings by keeping them busier. But it can also work against their interests by increasing the number of drivers on the road and defusing fare surges. And whether they enjoy it is separate from the question of agency — whether they have it, or whether the company does.

Uber officials say the feature initially produced so many rides at times that drivers began to experience a chronic Netflix ailment — the inability to stop for a bathroom break. Amid the uproar, Uber introduced a pause button.

“Drivers were saying: ‘I can never go offline. I’m on just continuous trips. This is a problem.’ So we redesigned it,” said Maya Choksi, a senior Uber official in charge of building products that help drivers. “In the middle of the trip, you can say, ‘Stop giving me requests.’ So you can have more control over when you want to stop driving.”

It is true that drivers can pause the services’ automatic queuing feature if they need to refill their tanks, or empty them, as the case may be. Yet once they log back in and accept their next ride, the feature kicks in again. To disable it, they would have to pause it every time they picked up a new passenger. By contrast, even Netflix allows users to permanently turn off its automatic queuing feature, known as Post-Play.

This pre-emptive hard-wiring can have a huge influence on behavior, said David Laibson, the chairman of the economics department at Harvard and a leading behavioral economist. Perhaps most notably, as Ms. Rosenblat and Luke Stark observed in an influential paper on these practices, Uber’s app does not let drivers see where a passenger is going before accepting the ride, making it hard to judge how profitable a trip will be.

Sometimes all that is necessary is the mere setting of a so-called default. Because humans tend to be governed by inertia, automatically enrolling them in retirement savings plans and then allowing them to opt out results in far higher participation than letting them opt in. Making Post-Play the default can have the same effect.

“If done right, these things can be socially beneficial,” Mr. Laibson said. “But you can think of all sorts of choice architecture that are quite contrary to human well-being.”

Even Mr. Hall, the Uber research director who downplayed the importance of behavioral economics to the company, did make at least one concession. “The optimal default we set is that we want you to do as much work as there is to do,” he said of the company’s app. “You’re not required to by any means. But that’s the default.”

Imagining the Future

There are aspects of the platforms that genuinely do increase drivers’ control over their work lives, as Uber frequently points out. Unlike most workers, an Uber driver can put in a few hours each day between dropping children off at school and picking them up in the afternoon.

Uber is even in the process of developing a feature that allows drivers to tell the app in advance that they need to arrive at a given location at a given time. “If you need to pick up your kids at soccer practice at 6 p.m.,” said Nundu Janakiram, the Uber official in charge of products that improve drivers’ experiences, “it will start to give you trips to take you in the general direction to get to a specific place in time.”

There is also the possibility that as the online gig economy matures, companies like Uber may adopt a set of norms that limit their ability to manipulate workers through cleverly designed apps.

Kelly Peters, chief executive of BEworks, a management consulting firm specializing in behavioral science, argued that the same data that makes it easier for Uber to nudge drivers into working an additional 30 or 60 minutes also makes it hard to escape the obligation to look after them.

For example, the company has access to a variety of metrics, like braking and acceleration speed, that indicate whether someone is driving erratically and may need to rest. “The next step may be individualized targeting and nudging in the moment,” Ms. Peters said. “‘Hey, you just got three passengers in a row who said they felt unsafe. Go home.’” Uber has already rolled out efforts in this vein in numerous cities.

That moment of maturity does not appear to have arrived yet, however. Consider a prompt that Uber rolled out this year, inviting drivers to press a large box if they want the app to navigate them to an area where they have a “higher chance” of finding passengers. The accompanying graphic resembles the one that indicates that an area’s fares are “surging,” except in this case fares are not necessarily higher.

Some drivers believe that the intent is to trick them into driving where Uber wants them to go, rather than where driving would be most profitable, by implying that they will find a surge there. “They’re trying to move people where they want them,” said Mr. Weber, the Tampa-area driver. “But you get there and it’s nothing. It happens all the time.” Mr. Weber noted that the design of the graphic makes the prompt much easier to accept than decline, which requires pressing a small rectangle in the top left corner.

Uber said that the feature was an experiment intended primarily to help new drivers who frequently say they do not know where to find passengers, and that it could be changed if drivers were dissatisfied.

Individual features aside, the broader question of how much Uber seeks to influence drivers through behavioral science may come down to how much its business model requires it.

While the company has made no secret of its investment in self-driving cars, it could be a decade or more before they completely replace human drivers. In the meantime, as long as Uber continues to set growth and passenger volume as critical goals, it will have an incentive to make wringing more hours out of drivers a higher priority than the drivers’ bottom line whenever it faces a close call between the two.

It will also have an incentive to obtain these hours as cheaply as possible. And there is simply no cheaper way than hiring contractors and nudging them to drive when and where they are needed. Industry insiders estimate that relying on independent contractors rather than employees can lower direct costs by roughly 25 percent.

Moreover, the contractor model itself provides a strong impetus for companies like Uber to grow. Many companies in the gig economy simply do not have enough workers, or rich enough data about their workers’ behavior, to navigate busy periods using nudges and the like. To avoid chronic understaffing, they have switched to an employee model that allows them to compel workers to log in when the companies most need them.

Once companies achieve a certain scale, on the other hand, they enter a virtuous cycle: The risk of understaffing drops with a big enough pool of workers, and the cost savings of using contractors begins to outweigh the inefficiencies. This in turn frees up money to enter new markets and acquire new customers, which makes the contractor model still more efficient, and throws off still more savings.

It is, as a result, not too hard to imagine a future in which massive digital platforms like Uber have an appetite for tens of millions of workers — not only for ferrying people, but also for delivering food and retail goods. Nor is it hard to imagine workers’ obliging them, perhaps because their skills do not match the needs of more traditional employers, or because they need to supplement their wages.

Read more from The New York Times.

Honor the Women Who Struggled and Died for Labor Rights By Continuing Their Fight

From Jezebel:

by Rep. Keith Ellison

When a fire broke out on the ninth floor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York in 1911, 146 garment workers died—123 of whom were women. In the wake of one of the deadliest workplace tragedies in American history, it was the women of the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) who worked on the front lines to help mold our modern day workplace. It is also a little-known fact that a woman—Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins—shaped the New Deal and supported the 40-hour work week, a minimum wage, and workers compensation.

Women have been at the front of the labor rights movement since the very beginning. Eva Valesh was a journalist in Minnesota and labor rights activist. She helped organize other Minnesota women who worked in the garment industry, and eventually reported on the working conditions of Minnesota garment workers. In 1888, Eva published an exposé in the St. Paul Globe about how terribly women were being treated in garment factories in the Twin Cities. This piece, along with her activism, helped Minnesotan garment workers win better working conditions, higher pay, and better safety regulations.

And women today are still shaping and invigorating the fight for working people.

Take Saru Jayaraman, mother of two and co-founder of Restaurant Opportunity Centers (ROC) United, a group organizing restaurant workers across the country. Saru’s priorities for restaurant workers are the same as those she holds for herself—achieving a work-life balance, for example. This means the ability to work, make enough money to support your children, and also get the flexibility and time you need to be with them when they are sick. That’s why two of ROC’s priorities are paid sick leave and establishing one fair minimum wage (this means eliminating the tipped minimum wage, which currently sits at just $2.13 nationally). In fact, 70 percent of tipped workers in America are women who work at chain restaurants like Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and IHOP.

Or take Naquasia LeGrand, who helped launch the first fast-food worker’s strike in 2012. With Naquasia’s help, the campaign became known as the “Fight for $15,” and swept the nation with its “take it to the streets” mentality. So far, New York City, Seattle, Baltimore, Washington, DC, and several other cities have increased the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But the Fight for $15 won’t stop there, as thousands of workers are continuing to organize in hundreds of cities.

And finally, there’s the women janitors leading the ¡Ya Basta! (“Enough!”) Movement in California in order to fight sexual harassment and rape in the workplace. These brave women have come forward to share their stories of assault on the job and lead the fight to protect their fellow workers from this kind of violence. Other strong women are joining their cause. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez has introduced Assembly Bill 1978, which would establish janitorial workforce protections against sexual assault. And working with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), these women have also made sexual assault and rape prevention a centerpiece of contract negotiations now taking place across California. SEIU is headed up nationally by—you guessed it—a woman. Mary Kay Henry became the first women elected to run this national union in 2010.

In fact, women leadership at major labor organizations has gone up in recent decades. Women have leading roles at major unions like the American Federation of Teachers and AFL-CIO, in addition to SEIU. And they are expanding the boundaries of the labor movement by leading powerful alternative labor organizations like ROC United, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Jobs With Justice, and LAANE.

The percent of female union membership has risen as well. In 2014, more than 45 percent of all union members were women, a share that jumped from just one-third in 1984, according to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. We often talk about the union difference for women—specifically, that women in unions are more likely to remain in their occupation, receive higher wages, and have access to better health care and pension plans. Additionally, the gap in pay between men and women is smaller in unions than it is for those in non-union workplaces. But women are also making a difference for unions and labor generally as they take us forward with new perspective on what it means to fight for working families and bring new energy to that fight. Given this, one thing is clear. In the fight to protect working families and raise up workers’ voices, we need to cultivate more women leaders and make sure we give them the credit they are due.

Read more from Jezebel.

March

'Religious left' emerging as U.S. political force in Trump era

From Reuters:

by Scott Malone

Since President Donald Trump's election, monthly lectures on social justice at the 600-seat Gothic chapel of New York's Union Theological Seminary have been filled to capacity with crowds three times what they usually draw.

In January, the 181-year-old Upper Manhattan graduate school, whose architecture evokes London's Westminster Abbey, turned away about 1,000 people from a lecture on mass incarceration. In the nine years that Reverend Serene Jones has served as its president, she has never seen such crowds.

"The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action," she said.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the "religious left" is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.

This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump's policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

"It's one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn't done a good job of organizing," said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York.

"It has taken a crisis, or perceived crisis, like Trump's election to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square," Hornbeck said.

Religious progressive activism has been part of American history. Religious leaders and their followers played key roles in campaigns to abolish slavery, promote civil rights and end the Vietnam War, among others. The latest upwelling of left-leaning religious activism has accompanied the dawn of the Trump presidency.

Some in the religious left are inspired by Pope Francis, the Roman Catholic leader who has been an outspoken critic of anti-immigrant policies and a champion of helping the needy.

Although support for the religious left is difficult to measure, leaders point to several examples, such as a surge of congregations offering to provide sanctuary to immigrants seeking asylum, churches urging Republicans to reconsider repealing the Obamacare health law and calls to preserve federal spending on foreign aid.

The number of churches volunteering to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers doubled to 800 in 45 of the 50 U.S. states after the election, said the Elkhart, Indiana-based Church World Service, a coalition of Christian denominations which helps refugees settle in the United States - and the number of new churches offering help has grown so quickly that the group has lost count.

"The religious community, the religious left is getting out, hitting the streets, taking action, raising their voices," said Reverend Noel Anderson, its national grassroots coordinator.

In one well-publicized case, a Quaker church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 14 took in a Honduran woman who has been living illegally in the United States for 25 years and feared she would be targeted for deportation.

'NEVER SEEN' THIS

Leaders of Faith in Public Life, a progressive policy group, were astounded when 300 clergy members turned out at a January rally at the U.S. Senate attempting to block confirmation of Trump's attorney general nominee, Jeff Sessions, because of his history of controversial statements on race.

"I've never seen hundreds of clergy turning up like that to oppose a Cabinet nominee," said Reverend Jennifer Butler, the group's chief executive.

The group on Wednesday convened a Capitol Hill rally of hundreds of pastors from as far away as Ohio, North Carolina and Texas to urge Congress to ensure that no people lose their health insurance as a result of a vote to repeal Obamacare.

Financial support is also picking up. Donations to the Christian activist group Sojourners have picked up by 30 percent since Trump's election, the group said.

But some observers were skeptical that the religious left could equal the religious right politically any time soon.

"It really took decades of activism for the religious right to become the force that it is today," said Peter Ubertaccio, chairman of the political science department at Stonehill College, a Catholic school outside Boston.

But the power potential of the "religious left" is not negligible. The "Moral Mondays" movement, launched in 2013 by the North Carolina NAACP's Reverend William Barber, is credited with contributing to last year's election defeat of Republican Governor Pat McCrory by Democrat Roy Cooper.

The new political climate is also spurring new alliances, with churches, synagogues and mosques speaking out against the recent spike in bias incidents, including threats against mosques and Jewish community centers.

The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, which encourages alliances between Jewish and Muslim women, has tripled its number of U.S. chapters to nearly 170 since November, said founder Sheryl Olitzky.

Read more from Reuters

Mexican Archdiocese calls businesses who invest in Trump's wall 'traitors'

From Politico:

by Madeline Conway

The Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico charged Sunday that it would be immoral, and even treacherous, for Mexican companies to invest in President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

“Any company intending to invest in the wall of the fanatic Trump would be immoral, but above all, its shareholders and owners should be considered traitors to the homeland,” the archdiocese wrote in Desde la fe, its weekly publication, according to Reuters.

Reuters reported that the archdiocese’s spokesperson, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, confirmed that the editorial stands for the archdiocese’s official view.

Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, part of his hard-line immigration platform, has contributed to growing tensions between him and the Mexican government. He repeatedly claimed during the presidential campaign that Mexico would pay to build a wall between the two countries, and the president has not retracted that claim, even though leaders of Mexico have repeatedly said they have no intention of doing so.

Read more from Politico.

Will the Labor Secretary Help Labor?

Photo credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

From The New York Times:

by The Editorial Board

R. Alexander Acosta had an advantage last week when he appeared before the Senate committee overseeing his nomination by President Trump to be secretary of labor: He was not Andrew Puzder, the unqualified fast-food executive and Mr. Trump’s first choice, who had to withdraw in the face of public and senatorial opposition to his appointment.

Unlike Mr. Puzder, Mr. Acosta, the dean of the law school at Florida International University, has a record of government service, having been a member of the National Labor Relations Board, the chief of the Justice Department’s civil rights division and the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Still, his testimony suggests that as labor secretary his primary goal would not be to look out for workers by promoting fair pay and workplace safety. Instead, he seems more interested in shielding employers from having to address those concerns.

For example, when asked whether he would appeal a recent court ruling that blocked an Obama administration regulation to expand eligibility for overtime pay, Mr. Acosta declined to answer, saying he would need to consult with Labor Department lawyers. But then he went on about what he saw as the regulation’s drawbacks for employers. He also echoed the court’s contorted argument, saying that the Labor Department may not have the authority to update the overtime rules, as it did during the Obama administration.

The disturbing takeaway was that Mr. Acosta would not defend the new overtime standards, which are desperately needed. By government estimates, 4.2 million workers earning salaries between $455 and $913 a week would become newly eligible for overtime if the regulation took effect. By more liberal estimates, another roughly eight million workers who are currently denied overtime on the basis of their job duties would have a stronger claim to it under the new rule’s clear and updated standards, including millions who live in states that went for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Acosta’s answers to questions about other worker protections were also troubling. He would not commit to upholding a Labor Department rule, set to take effect in April, that would require financial advisers to put clients’ interests first when giving advice or selling investments for 401(k) rollovers or other retirement-related transactions. Nor would he commit to enforcing a rule to protect construction workers from carcinogenic dust.

Mr. Acosta tried to justify his evasions by citing directives from Mr. Trump to review and possibly roll back pending rules before moving forward with them. But that dodges the issue. It is important to know what he thinks, because it would be his job to educate and influence the president on labor-policy matters. His reticence at the hearing suggests he will — or already does — embrace the Trump administration’s demolition approach to sensible regulation.

Read more from The New York Times

How to Make Employment Fair in an Age of Contracting and Temp Work

From Harvard Business Review:

by David Weil

Every day, many of us eat at restaurants, stay at hotels, receive packages, and use our digital devices with the assumption that the company we pay for these services — Hilton, Amazon, Apple, etc. — also employs the people who deliver them. This assumption is increasingly incorrect: Our deliveries are often made by contractors and our hotel rooms are cleaned by temporary employees from staffing agencies.

This phenomenon is what I call the fissured workplace, the cracks upon which today’s economy largely rest, and it leaves so many without fair wages, a career path, or a safe work environment. And while it’s true that low wage workers — an estimated 29 million people in just 10 industries, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of the Chief Economist — have been hard hit by the consequences of fissuring for some time, those with college and graduate educations, even in professions once regarded as protected from the ups and downs of churning labor markets, are being affected as well.

My exposure to this seismic shift in our economy is not just via my research as an academic. I saw its negative consequences first-hand as President Obama’s head of the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, the agency responsible for enforcing our nation’s most basic labor standards (minimum wage, overtime, child labor, etc.). What I’ve learned can help both policymakers and business leaders understand why and how this is happening — and what steps we must all take to make work a fair deal for all.

First, a quick look at how we got here. Over the past few decades, major companies throughout the economy have faced intense pressure to improve financial performance for private and public investors. They responded by focusing their businesses on core competencies — that is, activities that provide the greatest value to their consumers and investors— and by shedding less essentially activities.

Firms typically started outsourcing activities like payroll, publications, accounting, and human resources. But over time, this spread to activities like janitorial work, facilities maintenance, and security. In many cases it went even deeper, spreading into employment activities that could be regarded as core to the company: housekeeping in hotels; cooking in restaurants; loading and unloading in retail distribution centers; even basic legal research in law firms.

Like a fissure in a once-solid rock that deepens and spreads, once an activity like janitorial services or housekeeping is shed, the secondary businesses doing that work are affected, often shifting those activities to still other businesses. A common practice in janitorial work, for instance, is for companies in the hotel or grocery industries to outsource that work to cleaning companies. Those companies, in turn, often hire smaller businesses to provide workers for specific facilities or shifts.

Because each level of a fissured workplace structure requires a financial return for their work, the further down one goes, the slimmer are the remaining profit margins. At the same time, as you move downward, labor typically represents a larger share of overall costs — and one of the only costs in direct control for satellite players further from the mothership, so to speak. That means the incentives to cut corners rise — leading to violations of our fundamental labor standards. At my former agency, we saw violations related to fissuring in the form of failure to pay janitors, cable installers, carpenters, housekeepers, home care workers, or distribution workers the wages and overtime they had rightly earned — losses typically equivalent to losing three to four weeks of earnings. For a family struggling to get by, that translates to more than five weeks of groceries, a month of rent, or five weeks of child care.

Being split off from the main firm doesn’t only affect labor standards compliance, however. It can lower wages and access to benefits. When you work as an employee for a major business, decades of research shows your wages and benefits tend to increase over time, regardless of whether that large employer is a union shop or not. But earnings fall significantly when a job is contracted out —even for identical kinds of work and workers. Opportunities for “climbing the ladder” fade because the person in the mail room (or, more likely, at the IT service desk) is now a subcontractor without a pathway. That not only means lower wage growth and reduced access to benefits, but also diminished opportunities for on-the-job training, protections from social safety nets like unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation, access to valuable social networks, and other pathways to upward advancement. Taken together, the fissured workplace contributes to growing earnings inequality.

However, there remains a critical paradox for the companies that shed so many activities to other organizations. If the mothership provides the satellite businesses upon which they depend exquisite detail in the timing, specifications, quality, and of course price for their contracted services — and my research and experience say they do — shouldn’t the company have some responsibility for compliance with laws? Shouldn’t they provide opportunities for advancement for “temporary workers” who may work within their company on a full-time basis, often for years? At the Wage and Hour Division, our view was yes, they should. You can’t shirk your responsibility for employees within your establishment if you also dictate how that work is undertaken at the same time. As a result, we focused our efforts — drawing on the laws we enforced and subsequent court rulings on them — to address the impacts of fissuring using multiple approaches.

We sought to make sure that independent contractors were truly that and not simply misclassified employees. We conducted investigations of businesses that sought competitive advantage through misclassification, often taking them to court and negotiating major settlements insuring that they would correctly classify employees in the future. We worked with state agencies (in both red and blue states) in charge of workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and tax revenue to fight misclassification by sharing information on problematic employers and industries, and coordinating enforcement on companies that misclassified workers.

We also aimed to make sure that all parties affected by the fissured workplace understood their roles in assuring compliance. In many circumstances, for example, we used the law and well-established court opinion to assert joint employment, ensuring that both motherships and satellites had responsibilities for their workers. We did so with staffing agencies and the companies that hired them, and in rapidly growing industries like fracking where — in keeping with its name — fissuring practices quickly spread. In these and many other industries we sought to get the businesses that determined much of the working relationship (e.g. shipbuilders hiring staffing agencies, retailers using logistics companies to run their distribution centers) to play their role in compliance.

We also observed that many highly successful businesses were embracing their responsibilities. They chose partners in their supply chains, contracting networks, and franchise systems that complied with the law, and often exceed legal requirements. These firms may benefit from the flexibility afforded by fissured relationships, but they also understand their responsibilities as the center of gravity within those relationships.  The Wage and Hour Division had numerous partnerships with major companies who stood up and accepted their important roles in setting the table for all that happens around them, providing compliance assistance, providing training opportunities, and setting business relationships that allow all parties to do well — and do right by workers.

Take the case of Subway. In an industry characterized by low-wage work and widespread non-compliance, Subway entered into a voluntary agreement with the Wage and Hour Division to raise compliance among its system of 27,000 franchisees.  The agreement involves a combination of training, outreach, information sharing, and joint problem solving to let new franchisees understand their responsibilities — and workers their rights under the law. It also provides both parties with information to identify and address continuing compliance issues, particularly among franchisees with significant and persistent problems. We also worked with companies in the agricultural sector, sometimes arising out of enforcement actions and litigation, to find and keep supply chain business partners who obeyed the law.

Read more from Harvard Business Review

The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself To Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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'

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



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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

February

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

 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

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

-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

 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

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

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

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.

Advertisement
Pause
Current Time 0:00
/
Duration Time 0:00
Remaining Time -0:00
Stream TypeLIVE
Loaded: 0%
Progress: 0%
0:00
Fullscreen
00:00
Mute
Playback Rate
1
Subtitles
  • subtitles off
Captions
  • captions off
Chapters
  • 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

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

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'

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

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

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?

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

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.” 

Read more from The Washington Post.