On July 25, 2013, a high-ranking federal law enforcement officer took a public stand against malfeasance on Wall Street. Preet Bharara, then the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, held a news conference to announce one of the largest Wall Street criminal cases the American justice system had ever seen.
Mr. Bharara’s office had just indicted the multibillion-dollar hedge fund firm SAC Capital Advisors, charging it with wire fraud and insider trading. Standing before a row of television cameras, Mr. Bharara described the case in momentous terms, saying that it involved illegal trading that was “substantial, pervasive and on a scale without precedent in the history of hedge funds.” His legal action that day, he assured the public, would send a strong message to the financial industry that cheating was not acceptable and that prosecutors and regulators would take swift action when behavior crossed the line.
Steven A. Cohen, the founder of SAC and one of the world’s wealthiest men, was never criminally charged, but his company would end up paying $1.8 billion in civil and criminal fines, one of the largest settlements of its kind. He denied any culpability, but his reputation was still badly — some might argue irreparably — damaged. Eight of his former employees were charged by the government, and six pleaded guilty (a few later had their convictions or guilty pleas dismissed). Mr. Cohen was required to shut his fund down and was prohibited from managing outside investors’ money until 2018.
Now, with the prohibition having expired in December, Mr. Cohen has been raising money from investors and is set to start a new hedge fund. He’ll find himself in an environment very different from the one he last operated in. His resurrection arrives as Wall Street regulation is under assault and financiers are directing tax policy and other aspects of the economy — often to the benefit of their own industry. Mr. Cohen is a powerful symbol of Wall Street’s resurgence under President Trump.
As the stock market lurched through its stomach-turning swings over the past week, it was hard not to worry that Wall Street could once again torpedo an otherwise healthy economy and to think about how little Mr. Trump and his Congress have done to prepare for such a possibility. Stock market turbulence typically prompts calls for smart and stringent financial regulation, which is not part of the Trump agenda. One of Mr. Trump’s first acts as president was to fire Mr. Bharara, who made prosecuting Wall Street crime one of his priorities. Mr. Trump has also given many gifts to people like Mr. Cohen.
On a Thursday evening in mid-January, a group of top Wells Fargo executives sat down for dinner in an upscale surf-and-turf restaurant near the White House. At nearby tables, power brokers ate seafood on ice and sipped cocktails out of copper mugs.
The Wells Fargo executives — including the chief executive, Timothy J. Sloan, and the finance chief, John R. Shrewsberry — enjoyed their crab legs, but they were in Washington on unpleasant business. The Federal Reserve planned to impose tough sanctions on the San Francisco-based bank for years of misconduct and the shoddy governance that allowed it.
The executives’ mission, according to three people directly involved in the negotiations, was to avoid further shaking investor confidence in the bank and its management team.
Officials at the central bank had a different goal, according to people familiar with their thinking. They wanted to send a message to the Wells board that it would be held responsible for the company’s behavior.
After three weeks of frenzied negotiations, a deal was announced on Friday night that represented a milestone in the evolving relationship between regulators and banks. Wells Fargo, one of the country’s largest banks, was banned from getting bigger until it can convince regulators that it has cleaned up its act.
More large companies like Starbucks and Walmart are starting to see the value in paid leave and other benefits for parents, including hourly workers, though big disparities remain.
As the labor market tightens, employers have been competing for highly educated workers by trying to make it easier for them to do their jobs and also have families — benefits like egg freezing or reduced schedules for new parents.
Now, some employers are beginning to address the same challenge for lower-wage workers, starting with paid family leave.
On Wednesday, Starbucks announced raises and stock grants for all employees in the United States, along with new benefits aimed specifically at workers with family caregiving responsibilities: paid time off to care for sick family members and paid paternity leave for hourly employees.
It followed the announcement by Walmart this month that it was raising pay and adding family-friendly benefits. It gave full-time hourly workers the same paid parental leave as salaried ones and said it would help pay for adoptions, including for hourly workers.
It has been a confusing season for America’s working men, as the conversation around workplace harassment reveals it to be a nationwide epidemic — and many men wonder if they were involved or ignored the signs.
Consider Owen Cunningham, a director at San Francisco’s KBM-Hogue design firm. When he looks toward the annual corporate holiday party these days, he shudders.
“Cancel the holiday party,” said Mr. Cunningham, 37, adding that he means just until it has been figured out how men and women should interact. He said he considered himself progressive on gender issues but was thinking more about the behavior he had seen in the past: “What flirting is O.K.? Was I ever taking advantage of any meager power I had? You start to wonder.”
Across white-collar workplaces, rank-and-file men are awakening to the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault after high-profile cases including those of Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin and Louis C.K. Those cases helped inspire the #MeToo campaign, in which thousands of women have posted about their own harassment experiences on social media. Now many men who like to think they treat women as equals in the workplace are starting to look back at their own behavior and are wondering if they, too, have overstepped at work — in overt or subtle ways that would get them included in a #MeToo post.
“I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong,” said Nick Matthews, 42, who works at PwC, formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers, and lives in San Francisco. “But has anything I’ve done been interpreted another way?”
From today’s New York Times by Noam Scheiber:As National Football League team owners consider President Trump’s call to fire players who refuse to stand for the national anthem, they have stumbled into one of the most consequential debates in today’s workplace: How far can workers go in banding together to address problems related to their employment?
In principle, the answer in the N.F.L. and elsewhere may be: Quite far.
To the extent that most people think about the reach of federal labor law, they probably imagine a union context — like organizing workers, or bargaining as a group across the table from management.
As it happens, the law is much more expansive, protecting any “concerted activities” that employees engage in to support one another in the workplace, whether or not a union is involved. The National Labor Relations Board and the courts have defined such activity to include everything from airing complaints about one’s boss through social media to publicly supporting political causes that have some bearing on one’s work life.
The league’s operations manual says players must be on the sidelines during the anthem and should stand. While the law might not bear on whether an individual player can kneel during the anthem, many experts say it could protect players from repercussions for making such a gesture together — or taking other action — to show solidarity on the job.
And as unionization continues its decades-long decline, some believe that these alternative forms of taking collective action may be crucial to enabling workers to speak up.
From today’s New York Times “Opinion” Section by Anita Hill:
The recent leak of a Google engineer’s screed against the company’s diversity initiatives is a reminder that the notion of Silicon Valley as the seat of human progress is a myth — at least when it comes to way the women behind the latest in technology are treated.
The tech industry is stuck in the past, more closely resembling “Mad Men”-era Madison Avenue or 1980s Wall Street than a modern egalitarian society. It may take the force of our legal system to change that.
The leaked memo, titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” called on the company to abandon its efforts for gender diversity and replace them with a focus on “ideological diversity.” The author even claimed that biological differences make women poorly suited to engineering. While the document may be unusual in its explicit embrace of this kind of backward thinking, the attitudes that underlie it are nothing new in Silicon Valley. Google’s decision to fire the employee responsible for the memo neither dispels the notion that a systemic problem exists nor solves it.
Since a former Uber employee published her blog post detailing her experience with the ride-sharing company’s toxic, male-dominated culture, a stream of female coders, engineers and others have come forward to discuss their experiences with sexual harassment and hostile, discriminatory workplace cultures. Companies like Google, Tesla, Twitter, Microsoft and Oracle face allegations of sexism in the form of individual lawsuits and Labor Department inquiries.
Sadly, these types of cases represent only one element of the industrywide discrimination against women in tech. There’s also an alarming gap in pay and promotions, which has devastating effects on women’s careers.
Breitbart News is asking its readers to boycott Kellogg Co. after the cereal maker said it would no longer advertise on the conservative news website.
In a post on Breitbart News on Wednesday, the publication called on readers to sign a #DumpKelloggs petition against the manufacturer, whose brands include Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies and Cheez-It.
Kellogg on Tuesday said it would pull its ads from Breitbart News after consumers notified the manufacturer that its products were appearing on the site. A company spokesperson told the Associated Press, “We regularly work with our media buying partners to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company.”
Breitbart fought back hard. “Boycotting Breitbart News for presenting mainstream American ideas is an act of discrimination and intense prejudice,” Alexander Marlow, Breitbart News editor-in-chief, said in the Breitbart News article.
The anti-Kellogg petition accused Kellogg of trying to “placate left-wing totalitarians.”
In a statement, Kellogg said, “To be clear, our decision had nothing to do with politics.”
Breitbart News, a hard-right site know for scorched-earth populism, has been popular with the “alt right,” portraying immigration and multiculturalism as threats. The site’s critics say it has explicitly embraced white nationalism.
The site’s former chairman, Stephen Bannon, helped run Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and is now poised to become one of the president elect’s top advisers in the White House. Since the election and Mr. Bannon’s appointment, scrutiny of Breitbart has intensified.
We told you so, America. Trump voters have elected a billionaire business man, with a myriad of conflicts of interest between his private companies and his new public position, and who has deep ties to Wall Street and the wealthy and political elite of this country. There will be no change under Trump; only more of the same status quo economics that has hurt ordinary working Americans and enriched the wealthy even more. It almost belongs in a Charles Dickens novel. So sad!
In a campaign commercial that ran just before the election, Donald J. Trump’s voice boomed over a series of Wall Street images. He described “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations.”
The New York Stock Exchange, the hedge fund billionaire George Soros and the chief executive of the investment bank Goldman Sachs flashed across the screen.
Now Mr. Trump has named a former Goldman executive and co-investor with Mr. Soros to spearhead his economic policy.
With Wednesday’s nomination of Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman trader turned hedge fund manager and Hollywood financier, to be Treasury secretary, a new economic leadership is taking shape in Washington.
That two investors — Mr. Mnuchin and Mr. Ross — will occupy two major economic positions in the new administration is the most powerful signal yet that Mr. Trump plans to emphasize policies friendly to Wall Street, like tax cuts and a relaxation of regulation, in the early days of his administration.
While that approach has been cheered by investors (the stocks of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley have been on a tear since the election), it stands in stark contrast to the populist campaign that Mr. Trump ran and the support he received from working-class voters across the country.
From LA Times September 4 by Shal Li, Tina Susman, and Tony Perry.
Dozens of fast-food workers from Los Angeles to Manhattan were arrested as they escalated a fight for better pay Thursday with strikes, rallies and acts of civil disobedience.
Police took 10 people into custody after the protesters linked arms and sat down in front of a McDonald’s in downtown Los Angeles. The sit-in capped a midday march through the urban core by hundreds of workers and their supporters.
In San Diego, 11 marchers were arrested for blocking an intersection in the blue-collar neighborhood of City Heights. They were cited for unlawful assembly and released.
Ralllies and sit-ins occurred outside McDonald’s restaurants across the country, including Rockford, Ill.; Hartford, Conn.; Boston; Philadelphia; Atlanta; and Miami. Elsewhere, 19 fast-food workers were arrested in New York; 42 in Detroit; 23 in Chicago; 11 in Little Rock, Ark.; and 10 in Las Vegas.
In downtown Los Angeles, protesters seeking wages of $15 an hour staged a lunchtime march before converging in front of a McDonald’s on Broadway. To the sounds of a beating drum, they cycled through chants such as “We want 15 and a union!” and “Si se puede!”
After police warned the crowd to stop blocking traffic lanes, nine fast food workers and a minister remained seated. They were arrested and led away, their hands bound with plastic zip-ties behind their backs.
It was just one of several demonstrations that were planned in the Southland.
Before dawn, more than 100 workers converged on a McDonald’s in L.A.’s Exposition Park to join the nationwide protests. They went inside the store for 10 minutes as workers stood stone-faced behind the cash registers.
The protesters held up signs and chanted slogans like “Get up! Get down! Fast-food workers run this town!” near a scrum of media trucks outside the McDonald’s.
Fanny Velazquez, 36, said she was participating in the protest to fight for better wages to support her family. A single mother with three children, ages 11, 14 and 16, she said she struggles to make her $9.34-an-hour pay cover all the bills.
The South Los Angeles resident has been working at McDonald’s for eight years doing a variety of jobs, usually working 20 hours a week, she said. But lately, Velazquez said, the company has often cut her hours to 15 a week. She also qualifies for welfare and food assistance.
“It’s difficult, it’s not enough to pay my bills,” she said.
A series of protests funded in part by the Service Employees International Union and local activist groups have sought to spotlight the plight of low-wage workers and push for higher pay by staging protests and walkouts in more than 100 cities in the one-day demonstration.
From NYT “Business Day” August 31, 2014 by Steven Greenhouse:
Week after week, Guadalupe Rangel worked seven days straight, sometimes 11 hours a day, unloading dining room sets, trampolines, television stands and other imports from Asia that would soon be shipped to Walmart stores.
Even though he often clocked 70 hours a week at the Schneider warehouse here, he was never paid time-and-a-half overtime, he said. And now, having joined a lawsuit involving hundreds of warehouse workers, Mr. Rangel stands to receive more than $20,000 in back pay as part of a recent $21 million legal settlement with Schneider, a national trucking company.
“Sometimes I’d work 60, even 90 days in a row,” said Mr. Rangel, a soft-spoken immigrant from Mexico. “They never paid overtime.”
The lawsuit is part of a flood of recent cases — brought in California and across the nation — that accuse employers of violating minimum wage and overtime laws, erasing work hours and wrongfully taking employees’ tips. Worker advocates call these practices “wage theft,” insisting it has become far too prevalent.
Some federal and state officials agree. They assert that more companies are violating wage laws than ever before, pointing to the record number of enforcement actions they have pursued. They complain that more employers — perhaps motivated by fierce competition or a desire for higher profits — are flouting wage laws.
Many business groups counter that government officials have drummed up a flurry of wage enforcement actions, largely to score points with union allies. If anything, employers have become more scrupulous in complying with wage laws, the groups say, in response to the much publicized lawsuits about so-called off-the-clock work that were filed against Walmart and other large companies a decade ago.
Here in California, a federal appeals court ruled last week that FedEx had in effect committed wage theft by insisting that its drivers were independent contractors rather than employees. FedEx orders many drivers to work 10 hours a day, but does not pay them overtime, which is required only for employees. FedEx said it planned to appeal.
Julie Su, the state labor commissioner, recently ordered a janitorial company in Fremont to pay $332,675 in back pay and penalties to 41 workers who cleaned 17 supermarkets. She found that the company forced employees to sign blank time sheets, which it then used to record inaccurate, minimal hours of work.
David Weil, the director of the federal Labor Department’s wage and hour division, says wage theft is surging because of underlying changes in the nation’s business structure. The increased use of franchise operators, subcontractors and temp agencies leads to more employers being squeezed on costs and more cutting corners, he said. A result, he added, is that the companies on top can deny any knowledge of wage violations.
“We have a change in the structure of work that is then compounded by a falling level of what is viewed as acceptable in the workplace in terms of how you treat people and how you regard the law,” Mr. Weil said.
His agency has uncovered nearly $1 billion in illegally unpaid wages since 2010. He noted that the victimized workers were disproportionately immigrants.
Guadalupe Salazar, a cashier at a McDonald’s in Oakland, complained that her paychecks repeatedly missed a few hours of work time and overtime pay. Frustrated about this, she has joined one of seven lawsuits against McDonald’s and several of its franchise operators, asserting that workers were cheated out of overtime, had hours erased from timecards and had to work off the clock.
“Basically every time that I worked overtime, it didn’t show up in my paycheck,” Ms. Salazar said. “This is time that I would rather be with my family, and they just take it away.”
Business advocates see a hidden agenda in these lawsuits. For example, the lawsuit against Schneider — which owns a gigantic warehouse here that serves Walmart exclusively — coincides with unions pressuring Walmart to raise wages. The lawyers and labor groups behind the lawsuit have sought to hold Walmart jointly liable in the case.
Walmart says that it seeks to ensure that its contractors comply with all laws, and that it was not responsible for Schneider’s employment practices. Schneider said it “manages its operations with integrity,” noting that it had hired various subcontractors to oversee the loading and unloading crews.
Business groups note that the lawsuits against McDonald’s have been coordinated with the fast-food workers’ movement demanding a $15 wage. “This is a classic special-interest campaign by labor unions,” said Stephen J. Caldeira, president of the International Franchise Association. In legal papers, McDonald’s denied any liability in Ms. Salazar’s case, and the Oakland franchisee insisted that Ms. Salazar had failed to establish illegal actions by the restaurant.
Michael Rubin, one of the lawyers who sued Schneider, disagreed, saying there are many sound wage claims. “The reason there is so much wage theft is many employers think there is little chance of getting caught,” he said.
Commissioner Su of California said wage theft harmed not just low-wage workers. “My agency has found more wages being stolen from workers in California than any time in history,” she said. “This has spread to multiple industries across many sectors. It’s affected not just minimum-wage workers, but also middle-class workers.”
Many other states are seeing wage-theft cases. New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, has recovered $17 million in wage claims over the past three years. “I’m amazed at how petty and abusive some of these practices are,” he said. “Cutting corners is increasingly seen as a sign of libertarianism rather than the theft that it really is.”
In Nashville last February, nine housekeepers protested outside a DoubleTree hotel because the subcontractor that employed them had failed to pay a month’s wages. “The contractor said they didn’t have the money, that the hotel hadn’t paid them,” said Natalia Polvadera, a housekeeper. “We went to the hotel manager — he showed receipts that they had paid the contractor.”
Nonetheless, the protests persuaded DoubleTree to pay the $12,000 in wages owed.
Mr. Weil said some executives had urged him to increase enforcement because they dislike being underbid by unscrupulous employers.
His agency has begun cracking down on retaliation against workers who complain, suing a Texas company that fired a janitor when he refused to sign a statement that falsely said he had already received back wages due him from a Labor Department investigation.
“This is just not acceptable,” Mr. Weil said. “You can’t threaten people to lose their jobs because they are asserting rights that go back 75 years.”