Facebook settles federal lawsuit over allegations it favored foreign workers

From today’s NPR News Online:

Facebook is paying a $4.75 million fine and up to $9.5 million to eligible victims to resolve the Justice Department’s allegations that it discriminated against U.S. workers in favor of foreigners with special visas to fill high-paying jobs.

Facebook also agreed in the settlement announced Tuesday to train its employees in anti-discrimination rules and to conduct more widespread advertising and recruitment for job opportunities in its permanent labor certification program.

The department’s civil rights division said the social network giant “routinely refused” to recruit, consider or hire U.S. workers, a group that includes U.S. citizens and nationals, people granted asylum, refugees and lawful permanent residents, for positions it had reserved for temporary visa holders.

Facebook sponsored the visa holders for “green cards” authorizing them to work permanently. The so-called H-1B visas are a staple of Silicon Valley, widely used by software programmers and other employees of major U.S. technology companies.

Critics of the practice contend that the foreign nationals will work for lower wages than U.S. citizens. The tech companies maintain that’s not the case, that they turn to foreign nationals because they have trouble finding qualified programmers and other engineers who are U.S. citizens.

“In principle, Facebook is doing a good thing by applying for green cards for its workers, but it has also learned how to game the system to avoid hiring U.S. tech workers,” said Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “Facebook started lobbying to change the system more to its liking starting back in 2013 when the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate was being negotiated.”

The settlement terms announced Tuesday are the largest civil penalty and back-pay award ever recovered by the civil rights division in the 35-year history of enforcing anti-discrimination rules under the Immigration and Nationality Act, officials said. The back pay would be awarded to people deemed to have been unfairly denied employment.

Read the complete story here.

As Starbucks Workers Seek a Union, Company Officials Converge on Stores

From today’s New York Times:

During her decade-plus at Starbucks, Michelle Eisen says she has endured her share of workplace stress. She points to the company’s increased use of productivity goals, inadequate attention to training and periods of understaffing or high turnover.

But she had never encountered a change that the company made after workers at her store and two other Buffalo-area locations filed for a union election in late August: two additional “support managers” from out of state, who often work on the floor with the baristas and who, according to Ms. Eisen, have created unease.

“For a lot of newer baristas, it’s an imposing force,” Ms. Eisen said. “It is not an easy job. It should not be complicated further by feeling like you’re having everything you’re doing or saying watched and listened to.”

Workers and organizers involved in the unionization effort say the imported managers are part of a counteroffensive by the company intended to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.

Starbucks says the additional managers, along with an increase in the number of workers in stores and the arrival of a top corporate executive from out of town, are standard company practices. It says the changes, which also include temporarily shutting down stores in the area, are intended to help improve training and staffing — longstanding issues — and that they are a response not to the union campaign but to input the company solicited from employees.

“The listening sessions led to requests from partners that resulted in those actions,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman. “It’s not a decision where our leadership came in and said, ‘We’re going to do this and this.’ We listened, heard their concerns.”

None of the nearly 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the country are unionized. The prospect that workers there could form a union appears to reflect a recent increase in labor activism nationwide, including strikes across a variety of industries.

Read the complete story here.

A Surprise Billing Law May Have Unintended Effects on Health Care

From today’s NPR News Online:

Patients are months away from not having to worry about most surprise medical bills — those extra costs that can amount to hundreds or thousands of dollars when people are unknowingly treated by an out-of-network doctor or hospital.

The No Surprises Act — which takes effect Jan. 1 — generally forbids insurers from dropping such bills on patients and, instead, requires health care providers and insurers to work out a deal between themselves.

Some observers have speculated that the law will have the unintended consequence of shifting costs and leading to higher insurance premiums.

Many policy experts told KHN that, in fact, the opposite may happen: It may slightly slow premium growth.

The reason, said Katie Keith, a research faculty member at the Center on Health Insurance Reforms at Georgetown University, is that a new rule released Sept. 30 by the Biden administration appears to “put a thumb on the scale” to discourage settlements at amounts higher than most insurers generally pay for in-network care.

That rule, which provides more details on the way such out of network disputes will be settled under the No Surprises Act, drew immediate opposition from hospital and physician groups. The American Medical Association called it “an undeserved gift to the insurance industry,” while the American College of Radiology said it “does not reflect real-world payment rates” and warned that relying on it so heavily “will cause large imaging cuts and reduce patient access to care.”

Read the complete story here.

How Voting Rights Activists Navigate New Restrictions For 2022 elections

From today’s CNN Online:

When activist Tammye Pettyjohn Jones knocks on voters’ doors in her rural corner of Georgia this month, she’ll have a new tool in hand: a portable printer.

sweeping voting law Georgia enacted this year now requires voters who do not have a driver’s license or state ID to provide a copy of another form of identification with their absentee ballot application. So Pettyjohn Jones and other volunteers with Sisters in Service of Southwest Georgia plan to take photos of that identification and print them out on the spot for voters to submit along with their absentee ballot applications.

“You don’t have time to hem and haw about how hard it is” to vote, said PettyJohn Jones, who is working to turn out voters ahead of November’s municipal elections in places like Americus, Georgia. “You’ve got to go into a problem-solving mode.”

In states from Georgia to Montana, activists are scrambling to help voters navigate the new restrictions passed largely in Republican-controlled states after record turnout in 2020 helped elect President Joe Biden and flipped control of the US Senate to Democrats. In Florida, for example, some organizations have taken iPads into the field so voters could use the devices to register to vote on their own, said Brad Ashwell of All Voting is Local Florida.

That helps the organizations bypass a little-noticed provision of Florida’s new law — one that requires third-party groups registering voters to deliver a mandatory disclaimer that they “might not” deliver registration materials to election offices in time. Activists say that’s a misleading statement aimed at curbing voter registration drives.

In neighboring Georgia, meanwhile, the New Georgia Project plans to train a cadre of criminal and civil rights lawyers on the nuances of the state’s 98-page voting law so they can assist voters who encounter problems on Election Day.

The lawyers will be deployed to help next month in Atlanta, during the city’s high-profile mayoral election, and their work will serve as a pilot project for the 2022 midterms, said Aklima Khondoker, the group’s chief legal officer.

Georgia is one of 19 states that have passed 33 new laws this year to restrict voting, according to an updated tally by the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school. But some of the most extensive changes are clustered in just a handful. Four states — Iowa, Georgia, Florida and Texas — enacted sweeping revisions of their existing laws, bundled together in single omnibus bills.

Read the complete story here.

Ohio is Part of a Shameful Trend to Erect Barriers to Voting in America

From today’s Columbus Dispatch:

At the heart of our country’s political debates are questions about our values and perspectives on legislating our deeper beliefs about right and wrong, relationships and priorities.

As a pastor and a citizen, when I weigh in on our country’s political debates, I strive to apply the principles of loving our neighbors and honoring the dignity of every person.

As I look at the bills in Congress and at the Statehouse in Columbus right now that would make voting more difficult for US citizens and Ohioans, I see no dignity or honor.

That these bills specifically target Black voters is even worse.

Ohio’s House Bill 294, currently under consideration in the Statehouse, proposes to drastically cut back voters’ access to secure drop boxes for ballots, which were crucial to ensuring strong turnout during the pandemic.

This bill would also cut back early voting and make absentee voting more onerous. Not coincidentally, these safe and verified voting methods are used by many Black voters, and the bill contains no corresponding proposals that would disproportionately disenfranchise white voters.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but it should shock our conscience.

Ohio is part of a shameful trend. Eighteen state legislatures, all controlled by Republican politicians, have begun erecting new barriers to voting that target Black, Brown and Native American voters.

Read the complete story here.

Unions Fighting Vax Mandates Endanger Public Health & Economic Recovery

From today’s New York Times:

As New York pushes forward with some of the toughest and farthest-reaching vaccine mandates in the nation, thousands of health care workers in the state appear to be willing to be fired rather than get vaccinated.

So, too, do thousands of people who work in New York City’s public schools.

How sad that many of these vaccine holdouts are supported by their unions. Talk about a lack of solidarity.

For years, these unions defended the health and safety of their members. They fought for better wages and protected workers’ rights. They built the middle class. Now they are fighting state and city vaccine mandates aimed solely at keeping workers and communities safe and healthy. So much for the old union idea that an injury to one is an injury to all.

At least city and state government officials have the best interests of the public in mind, even if some in the labor movement have forgotten which side they’re on.

The state’s mandate, requiring vaccination of health care workers, went into effect at midnight on Monday. The city’s, which requires the same of all Department of Education employees, goes into effect at 5 p.m. on Friday. A court upheld the city mandate on Monday.

Some unions, like New York’s nurses’ union, took a reasonable approach, expeditiously negotiating over the vaccine mandate and fighting for other workplace safety measures related to the pandemic, like proper protective gear. Local 32BJ, a New York unit of the Service Employees International Union, which represents health care aides, janitors and many other lower-wage employees, has taken a similar approach and pushed hard to vaccinate its members.

But other New York unions have sought to stymie or delay the vaccine mandates. Some have argued that vaccination shouldn’t be a condition of employment at all.

Read the complete story here.

On National Voter Registration Day, We Must Fight Restrictions on Voting Rights

From today’s Scientific American:

This week marks the 10th time that Americans have commemorated National Voter Registration Day, an occasion designed to encourage the one in four adult citizens who are unregistered to become part of those who can participate in elections. So far this year at least 18 states have enacted laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote. And even when the right to vote is formally protected, the costs of doing so prevent many from making it to the polls, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students, who are less likely to vote.

We need to reengineer the voting process to make it easier for everyone. While the focus is on the unregistered—and justifiably so—it is crucial to also direct our attention on the U.S.’s more than 4,500 local election officials (LEOs), who “determine who can vote, where they can vote, and how they can vote,” as a 2014 report from the think tank Demos put it. They determine whether voter registration applications are valid, in accordance with state and federal law. Hence we should give a shout out today to LEOs, who, until quite recently, toiled anonymously behind the scenes to ensure that elections went off without a hitch. Nearly 60 percent of states fill these positions through partisan elections, which can affect how LEOs carry out their tasks, but there are also strong professional norms.

During the 2020 election, many local election officials scrambled to implement state-mandated changes, such as providing no-excuse absentee mail ballots to all registered voters, as a means of ensuring that people could vote without risking exposure to COVID. Oftentimes LEOs made these efforts without additional resources and did so while being accused malfeasance. For example, according to the New York Times, Scott County, Iowa’s auditor and commissioner of elections and her staff put in about 200 hours of overtime while running an election that generated a nearly 80 percent turnout rate. But that election also brought out angry and threatening voters and led to the resignation of that election official. According to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, by this past spring a third of surveyed election officials felt unsafe because of their job and nearly 20 percent were concerned about threats against their life.

By late December 2020, 21 election directors and deputy directors of more than a dozen of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties had either quit or were in the process of doing so. A Democracy Fund survey of roughly 850 local election officials reported that about one out of every six were planning to retire in the next three years. While retirements are a normal part of life, these numbers are higher than normal and indicative of the current partisan rancor. Of particular concern is the possibility that those leaving will be replaced by believers in former president Donald Trump’s “Big Lie.” In fall 2020, prior to the election, Steve Bannon encouraged Trump supporters to try to become local election officials, according to Forbes. At this time of unprecedented threats against electoral integrity, let us remember the local election officials, who are on the front lines of preserving our voting rights, and tell Congress that it is time to pass legislation to protect those who protect our democracy.

Read the complete article here.

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Families Harmed By SoCal Gas Methane Leak Reach $1.8 Billion Settlement

From today’s NPR News Online:

Thousands of families sickened and forced from their Los Angeles homes after the nation’s largest-known natural gas leak have reached a settlement of up to $1.8 billion with a utility, attorneys said Monday.

The settlement with Southern California Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, will compensate 35,000 plaintiffs from the 2015 blowout that took nearly four months to control.

The Aliso Canyon blowout led to the largest-known release of methane in U.S. history and was blamed for sickening thousands of residents who moved out of homes near the San Fernando Valley to escape a sulfurous stench and maladies including headaches, nausea and nose bleeds.

The plaintiffs alleged personal injury for their illnesses and property damage to their homes. SoCalGas spent more than $1 billion on the the blowout — with most going to temporarily relocate 8,000 families. The utility has faced more than 385 lawsuits on behalf of 48,000 people.

Plaintiffs alleged they suffered personal injury and property damage after a natural gas storage well failed and uncontrollably released nearly 100,000 tons of methane and other substances into the atmosphere over 118 days.

SoCalGas said it would record an after-tax charge of approximately $1.1 billion this month and expects total settlement payments of up to $1.85 billion. The agreement is subject to about 97% of plaintiffs accepting it and could be reduced if fewer agree.

Matt Pakucko, founder of Save Porter Ranch, issued a statement repeating his call for the permanent shutdown of the facility, where natural gas is stored beneath a mountain in vacant, old oil wells.

“You can’t put a price tag on human suffering,” he said. “SoCalGas’ devastating blowout will never be behind us until the Aliso Canyon storage facility is shut down and the danger it poses to the community is permanently eliminated. We are nowhere near a resolution.”

Read the complete story here.

How to Intervene When a Manager Is Gaslighting Their Employees

From today’s Harvard Business Review:

“We missed you at the leadership team meeting,” our executive vice president messaged me. “Your manager shared an excellent proposal. He said you weren’t available to present. Look forward to connecting soon.”

In our last one-on-one meeting, my manager had enthusiastically said that I, of course, should present the proposal I had labored over for weeks. I double-checked my inbox and texts for my requests to have that meeting invite sent to me. He had never responded. He went on to present the proposal without me.

Excluding me from meetings, keeping me off the list for company leadership programs, and telling me I was on track for a promotion — all while speaking negatively about my performance to his peers and senior leadership — were all red flags in my relationship with this manager. The gaslighting continued and intensified until the day I finally resigned.

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where an individual tries to gain power and control over you. They will lie to you and intentionally set you up to fail. They will say and do things and later deny they ever happened. They will undermine you, manipulate you, and convince you that you are the problem. As in my case, at work, the “they” is often a manager who will abuse their position of power to gaslight their employees.

Organizations of all sizes are racing to develop their leaders, spending over $370 billion a year globally on leadership training. Yet research shows that almost 30% of bosses are toxic. Leadership training is only part of the solution — we need leaders to act and hold the managers who report to them accountable when they see gaslighting in action. Here are five things leaders can do when they suspect their managers are gaslighting employees.

Read the complete story here.

Texas Sues Biden Administration Over Transgender Worker Rights

From today’s Forbes Online:

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration on Monday, seeking to block enforcement of guidance focused on transgender workers and employment discrimination, which was released by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year, arguing that it is “unlawful” and “increases the scope of liability for all employers.”

The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Texas against Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Chair Charlotte Burrows and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Paxton claims in the lawsuit that the EEOC violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which came under scrutiny in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year, Bostock v. Clayton County, in which the court found that Title VII protects employees against discrimination because they are gay or transgender, according to the Texas Tribune.

The EEOC guidance, released in June following that ruling, said that employers couldn’t stop employees from dressing according to their gender identity and transgender employees couldn’t be denied from entering bathrooms, locker rooms or showers that correspond with their gender identity, according to The Hill.

Paxton said in the lawsuit that the guidance “misstates the law, increasing the scope of liability for the State in its capacity as an employer” and “allows private individuals to sue their employers for violating EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII.”

Read the complete story here.