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January 2017 Archive:

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.

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  • ChaptersSeveral people urged Council to amend or repeal Prop. 414 in order to protect jobs, businesses and nonprofit organizations that provide services to the disabled.Carl Jefferies said he is in favor of the state wage. He came to Flagstaff years ago and owned a fast food restaurant that employed mostly students. During the recession, he got a part-time job in order to make ends meet. Now, employees who will be hired under the new minimum wage will be making as much as he is making after nine years and that’s not fair.Armando Bernasconi, the CEO of Quality Connections, said his company cannot pursue its mission without the business community. Quality Connections provides job training and jobs for residents with disabilities. Businesses have helped lift 38 people out of poverty by hiring them from Quality Connections and purchasing products from the company.

“The Flagstaff business community is not the 1 percent,” he said.

Bernasconi said he believed if Council removed the $2 an hour extra required by the local initiative, a wage increase would be doable.

Former Councilmember Al White agreed with Bernasconi and said that he believed that Council could amend the law to remove the $2 increase. The $2 increase over the state wage was intended to be $2 over an $8.05 wage, not over a $10 wage, he said.

“I don’t believe the intent was to close any businesses. I think the intent of the voters was to help pull people out of poverty,” White said. Lengthening the timeline for the increase in the wage to $15 would also help.

Voters can propose and approve any initiative that repeals or amends the new law. Elevate Flagstaff, a group of local business owners, residents and nonprofits, has taken that route, collecting and turning in 8,845 signatures with the help of the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce last Thursday to put the issue back on the ballot. The group needed to collect 4,411 signatures. Those signatures have yet to be verified.

Elevate’s ballot initiative would align the local minimum wage with the new state wage and gradually increase the local wage to $12 an hour by 2020 for regular workers and $9 an hour for tipped workers. The local wage would then increase by 50 cents per hour, the tipped wage could be at a maximum of $3 below the non-tipped wage.

Greater Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce Government Affairs Director Stuart McDaniel pointed out that gathering that many signatures in three weeks showed an emerging consensus that a change in the law was needed.

"We're too small to be using this type of divisive language against one another," he said. He asked the public to consider and honor the opinion of those who signed the petition.

Read more from Arizona Daily Sun.

Starbucks Just Made Its Great Parental Leave Policy Even Better

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.