With Poor People’s Campaign, Rev. Barber evokes comparisons to MLK

From today’s Charlotte Observer:

When Democratic presidential candidates met for their final debate in Iowa, more than a hundred protesters gathered just outside on the snowy grounds of Drake University.

Their goal: to urge the candidates to debate poverty. Holding signs, they carried a coffin representing the tens of thousands of people they said die every year from its effects.

Leading them was Rev. William Barber, the North Carolina pastor who co-chairs the national Poor People’s Campaign. Coming days before the holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr., the rally was the latest in a series of events designed to carry King’s legacy into the 21st Century.

“I believe Dr. King would be right beside us,” Barber told the Observer. “He would say nothing would be more tragic than to turn back now.”

Barber, 56, is in the middle of a 25-state tour that will culminate in June with a mass march in Washington, where thousands are expected to call for an end to poverty and inequality and for greater access to health care and education.

Barber, who was born two days after King’s historic march on Washington, frequently invokes the civil rights leader in rallies and sermons even as he himself has invited comparisons with King.

“Brother William Barber is the closest thing we have to Martin Luther King Jr. in American culture,” said Cornel West, a Harvard professor and political activist.

Read the complete article here.

Worker Centers Primed to Test “We’re-Not-Unions” Stance in Court

From today’s Bloomberg Law Online:

An ongoing federal investigation in which regulators believe a Minneapolis nonprofit is a labor union rather than a worker center has created an existential crisis for similar groups across the country.

Some worker centers are changing their tactics to try to avoid government scrutiny. The broader worker center community is preparing for legal action if the Labor Department tries to force the targeted group to comply with federal laws for unions.

The DOL’s two-year probe into the status of Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, known as CTUL, led the department’s Office of Labor-Management Standards to determine it “has reason to believe” the group is a labor organization under a 1959 law meant to curb organized labor corruption by ensuring union transparency and democracy.

CTUL and other organizations have grown in influence in recent decades as an alternative to unions in providing low-income, vulnerable workers with training and other tools to improve workplace conditions. CTUL has successfully pressured Target Corp. and other retailers to contract with unionized janitors, part of a trend of company-focused actions that prompted the business community and political conservatives to increase pressure on the Labor Department to review certain worker centers’ operations. Critics believe some worker centers are essentially union fronts.

The stakes are extremely high for CTUL—and, by extension, all worker centers—because federal enforcement of a final determination that the group is a union would subject CTUL to onerous financial reporting and internal governance requirements. Labor organizers and attorneys at worker centers contend the groups are exempt from union-specific disclosure law because they don’t bargain directly with employers. For the business community and Republican lawmakers, the DOL probe represents a breakthrough in a decades-long push for the department to classify certain worker centers as unions.

“I would absolutely say that if the DOL moves ahead with it, the worker center movement is going to push back,” said the National Employment Law Project’s Charlotte Noss, who coordinates legal strategy for worker centers nationwide. She noted that DOL and the National Labor Relations Board have previously held that worker centers aren’t unions. “Any attempts by the DOL to exert coverage would be challenged in court,” she added.

Read the complete article here.

Fashion Nova’s Secret: Underpaid Workers in Los Angeles Factories

From today’s New York Times:

Fashion Nova has perfected fast fashion for the Instagram era. The mostly online retailer leans on a vast network of celebrities, influencers, and random selfie takers who post about the brand relentlessly on social media. It is built to satisfy a very online clientele, mass-producing cheap clothes that look expensive.

“They need to buy a lot of different styles and probably only wear them a couple times so their Instagram feeds can stay fresh,” Richard Saghian, Fashion Nova’s founder, said in an interview last year.

To enable that habit, he gives them a constant stream of new options that are priced to sell. The days of $200 jeans are over, if you ask Mr. Saghian. Fashion Nova’s skintight denim goes for $24.99. And, he said, the company can get its clothes made “in less than two weeks,” often by manufacturers in Los Angeles, a short drive from the company’s headquarters.

That model hints at an ugly secret behind the brand’s runaway success: The federal Labor Department has found that many Fashion Nova garments are stitched together by a work force in the United States that is paid illegally low wages. Los Angeles is filled with factories that pay workers off the books and as little as possible, battling overseas competitors that can pay even less. Many of the people behind the sewing machines are undocumented, and unlikely to challenge their bosses.

“It has all the advantages of a sweatshop system,” said David Weil, who led the United States Labor Department’s wage and hour division from 2014 to 2017.

Every year, the department investigates allegations of wage violations at sewing contractors in Los Angeles, showing up unannounced to review payroll data, interview employees and question the owners.

In investigations conducted from 2016 through this year, the department discovered Fashion Nova clothing being made in dozens of factories that owed $3.8 million in back wages to hundreds of workers, according to internal federal documents that summarized the findings and were reviewed by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.

Trump Appointee Gorsuch Plays Coy In LGBTQ Employment Rights Case

From today’s NPR News Online:

The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy loomed large over arguments at the court Tuesday in a set of cases testing whether employers are free to fire gay and transgender employees. Kennedy, a Reagan appointee, was the author of every major gay rights decision for more than two decades. His absence, and the presence of two new Trump appointees, could very well determine how these cases are decided, who wins, and who loses.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who replaced Kennedy, asked only one question during two hours of argument Tuesday. Instead, it was Justice Neil Gorsuch, the other Trump appointee, who was the focal point.

Gorsuch, an adamant advocate for reading the text of a statute literally, admitted to a bit of a conundrum. Addressing ACLU lawyer David Cole, he said, “Assume for the moment … I’m with you on the textual evidence,” but “it’s close … very close.” The words of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bar employment discrimination “because of sex,” or “based on sex.”

Gorsuch seemed to be agreeing that language would appear to cover gay and transgender employees. But, he then asked whether a justice should “take into consideration the massive social upheaval that would” ensue from such a decision. Wouldn’t it be better to let Congress do it?

Cole replied that federal courts have been finding it illegal to discriminate against transgender employees for 20 years, and “there’s been no upheaval.” Dress codes and sex-segregated restrooms “have not fallen,” he observed, adding there has been no tumult.

Read the complete article here.

Can Someone Be Fired for Being Gay? The Supreme Court Will Decide

From today’s New York Times:

The Supreme Court has delivered a remarkable series of victories to the gay rights movement over the last two decades, culminating in a ruling that established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But in more than half the states, someone can still be fired for being gay.

Early in its new term, on Oct. 8, the court will consider whether an existing federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, guarantees nationwide protection from workplace discrimination to gay and transgender people, even in states that offer no protections right now.

It will be the court’s first case on L.G.B.T. rights since the retirement last year of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinions in all four of the court’s major gay rights decisions. And without Justice Kennedy, who joined four liberals in the 5-to-4 ruling in the marriage case, the workers who sued their employers in the three cases before the court may face an uphill fight.

“Now that we don’t have Kennedy on the court, it would be a stretch to find a fifth vote in favor of any of these claims that are coming to the court,” said Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia and the author of “Wedlocked: The Perils of Marriage Equality.”

Read the complete article here.

99 Years After Women’s Suffrage, the Fight for the Vote Continues

From today’s Time Magazine:

The observance of Women’s Equality Day on Monday marks the 99th anniversary of the day the 19th Amendment, extending the vote to women, entered the Constitution in 1920. These days, as the centennial year gets underway, I keep a Votes For Women sash in my suitcase, ready to slip on if period attire is required.

That moment was the culmination of a long struggle, the themes of which are timely—voting rights, women’s rights, citizenship rights and, inevitably, racism. (For black women in the Jim Crow southern states, as for Asian and Native American women, the promise of the 19th Amendment could not be realized until much later.) Likewise, the lessons we can learn from the movement are especially valuable today.

Tennessee was the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment, on Aug. 18, 1920, and the state is gearing up to mark that moment. More than 40 organizations in the Nashville area are collaborating on projects, from museum exhibits to ballet performances, symposia to musical tributes. The Nashville Public Library is constructing a Votes for Women room within its majestic central building, and the library chose my recent book about that dramatic climax of the suffrage movement, The Woman’s Hour, for its city-wide summer book club; the theme was “Read.Remember.Vote”—with a voter registration button prominent on the book-club web page. So I traveled to the Nashville this month to take part in the centennial kick-off celebrations.

I love telling the story of the three generations of brave and clever grassroots activists who powered the woman suffrage movement through 900 campaigns over seven decades, and I try to present an honest exploration of the movement’s achievements, failings and contradictions. But I’m also disturbed by some bitter ironies I’ve noticed as I tour the country.

From the window of the Library building downtown where the Votes for Women room is being built, you can see the handsome limestone Tennessee statehouse, just two blocks away.

There, this summer, Gov. Bill Lee signed into law the latest Tennessee law that makes it harder to register citizens to vote. Even though Tennessee already has one of the worst voter participation rates in the nation, the new law imposes both civil and criminal penalties (steep fines and up to nearly a year in prison) for even minor mistakes or omissions in registration documents and processes; opponents say it will especially suppress the vote in minority communities. Groups that work to register eligible new voters—like the League of Women Voters, NAACP, and the local Equity Alliance—are among those suing in Federal court to stop the law from going into effect this fall, but it has already had a chilling effect upon voter-registration drives.

Read the complete article here.

Groups slam new Trump rule allowing federal contractors to bar LGBT workers

From today’s CBS News Online:

In its latest rollback of key safeguards for LGBTQ civil rights, the Trump administration intends to remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people by adding religious exemptions to an Obama-era 2014 executive order that prohibited discrimination in hiring on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity. Advocacy groups have decried the new rule as just the latest attack on the LGBTQ community, slamming it as “taxpayer-funded discrimination in the name of religion.”

The proposal, which goes public on Thursday at the direction of the U.S. Department of Labor, comes as a stark reversal in administration policy after President Trump vowed to maintain the Obama executive order during his first month in office. 

“President Donald J. Trump is determined to protect the rights of all Americans, including the LGBTQ community. President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights, just as he was throughout the election,” the White House said at the time. 

But the new rule appears to let government contractors terminate workers who are LGBTQ, based on the employers’ personal religious views. Under the Labor Department guidelines, any organization — be it a church, school or major corporation — could prove it serves a religious purpose by claiming it is “guided by faith,” according to the 46-page long draft of the rule. 

“The contractor must be organized for a religious purpose, meaning that it was conceived with a self-identified religious purpose. This need not be the contractor’s only purpose,” the document reads. 

The move is the latest in a string of policy reversals that impede on the rights of the LGBTQ community. Most recently, the Trump administration changed regulationsunder the Affordable Care Act to allow health care providers to refuse treatment to LGBTQ people on the basis of their religious beliefs. It’s also consistent with the administration’s controversial push over the past two years to include more federal protections in the name of “religious freedom.”

Read the complete article here.

How to Disclose a Disability to Your Employer (and Whether You Should)

From today’s New York Times:

If you, like thousands of others, live with a visible or invisible disability, here’s what you need to know if you want to tell your employer.

The invisible nature of my chronic illness protects me from a whole universe of discrimination and microaggressions, but it also insulates me from potential support.

Of course, I acknowledge that my position is a privileged one. Some disabilities announce themselves as soon as a job candidate enters an interview room, along with all of the misconceptions society places on anyone with any degree of difference. I wondered what we’d have to do to help people come out of it empowered and employed.

The issue is as complicated as people are. As with all forms of discrimination, there’s a world between what the law says and how we relate to one another that’s murky and difficult to navigate, even for legal professionals, disability-rights advocates and those long-practiced in explaining themselves to a world not built for them. But there are ways to make it easier, and difficult truths everyone should know.

Perhaps you’ve seen the little self-disclosure boxes on job application forms. Employers are prohibited from directly asking anything about your disability; that puts the onus on the employee or applicant to educate the employer, said Eve Hill, a disability rights attorney. You can request the accommodations you may need and explain how you can best perform the job, but that can be as much a burden as an opportunity, she said.

Read the complete article here.

Why Gay Rights Is a Republican Value

From today’s New York Times:

Conservatives support freedom, which is why they should oppose job discrimination against LGBTQ Americans.

This week, more than 2,000 signatories — members of Congress, women’s rights groups, businesses — submitted nearly 50 friend-of-the-court briefs to the Supreme Court in three pending cases involving L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

The cases, which the court is likely to take up next session, consider whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, prohibits discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people. The signers reflect what a broad cross section of Americans overwhelmingly believe: Such discrimination is wrong.

Polls consistently show a high percentage of Americans think that firing people or denying them jobs or promotions because they are L.G.B.T.Q. is wrong and that it should be prohibited under our nation’s civil rights laws. A full 92 percent said so in an April poll by Quinnipiac University. That’s in part because basic protections against job discrimination are fundamental to core American values of fairness.

This isn’t a new idea, or a partisan one. Abraham Lincoln wished for all workers to have an equal chance to acquire property and to gain wealth. “When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life,” he said, “free society is such that he knows he can better his condition.”

Read the complete article here.

The Supreme Court May Erode Decades of Wins for LGBT Worker Rights

From today’s Bloomberg Business Week:

For two decades, most of the LGBT movement’s highest-profile victories have come at the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2003 the justices issued a ruling legalizing gay sex that dissenting conservative Justice Antonin Scalia warned would set the stage for nationwide legalized gay marriage. Within 12 years, his prediction was realized. The court made marriage equality the law of the land—reflecting, and also accelerating, a sea change in straight Americans’ views and treatment of their LGBTQ family members and neighbors.

But next year the high court could deal LGBTQ people a painful blow: wiping out lower-court rulings that shield them from getting fired for who they are.

In a trio of cases this coming term—involving a child welfare worker, a skydiving instructor, and a funeral director—the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether it’s legal for bosses to discriminate against LGBT employees. Contrary to what many Americans now assume, no federal law explicitly prohibits firing workers simply for being gay or transgender. Nor do the laws of most states—including some populous ones such as Texas and Ohio. (Only 21 states and Washington, D.C., have laws that explicitly prohibit private companies from firing workers for being gay or trans; another one restricts anti-gay firing but not anti-trans dismissals.)

Read the complete article here.