Opinion: You Call It the Gig Economy, but California Calls It “Feudalism”

From today’s New York Times:

Labor leaders cheered in the balcony and lawmakers embraced on the floor of the California Senate on Tuesday as it passed a landmark measure that defines employees, a move that could increase wages and benefits for hundreds of thousands of struggling workers.

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But the bill is as much a starting point as an endgame: It will drive a national debate over how to reshape labor laws fashioned in the industrial era of the 1930s to fit a 21st-century service and knowledge economy.

With the measure, which Gov. Gavin Newsom says he will sign, California will lead in a shift that will likely redefine the roles of governments, unions and worker organizations. Just as federal labor laws were promulgated to help the country recover from the Depression, the imperative to extend basic guarantees like a minimum wage stems from the staggering income inequality in California, the state with the highest poverty rate in the country.

The new paradigms will need to fit not the relatively stable industrial work force of the last century but a gig economy in which workers are increasingly likely to hold multiple jobs or report to no workplace at all. California lawmakers took a major step in constructing the foundation of such a model with the new measure, which presumes workers are employees, entitled to all concomitant protections and benefits, unless they meet strict criteria as truly independent contractors.

Read the complete article here.

Sweeping bill rewriting California employment law sent to Gov. Newsom

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

California lawmakers rewrote the rules of employment across a wide swath of industries Wednesday in legislation that could grant hundreds of thousands of workers new job benefits and pay guarantees.

After vigorous debates over what occupations should be exempted, Assembly Bill 5, which curbs businesses’ use of independent contractors, gained final approval in the state Senate and the Assembly and was sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has pledged his support.

The 6,700-word bill is one of the most controversial of the year. It could upend the relationship between workers and bosses across businesses as varied as ride-hailing tech giantsconstruction, healthcare, truckingjanitorial servicesnail salonsadult entertainment, commercial fishing and newspapers.

The message of the legislation, said its author, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), is “we will not in good conscience allow free-riding businesses to continue to pass their own business costs on to taxpayers and workers. It’s our job to look out for working men and women, not Wall Street and their get-rich-quick IPOs.”

Contractors, including many in multibillion-dollar technology companies, are not covered by laws guaranteeing a minimum wage, overtime pay, sick leave, family leave, unemployment and disability insurance, workers’ compensation and protection against discrimination or sexual harassment. Nor do businesses pay into Social Security or Medicare for contractors.

After months of lobbying by the California Chamber of Commerce and a score of trade associations, AB 5 exempted a host of occupations — but not platform-based gig giants Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates and others that mounted a powerful push to avoid reclassifying their workers as employees with labor law protections.

Read the complete article here.

A California bill that would ban forced arbitration heads to Gov. Newsom

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

When companies in California tell job candidates they have to give up their right to sue the company for most disputes, a bill headed to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk would let the candidates decline without fear of losing their job offer.

The bill is the latest effort by state governments to limit private companies from imposing forced arbitration agreements, whose surge in popularity has contributed to the difficulty of workers suing their bosses for sexual harassment in the era of #MeToo.

Federal law and some U.S. Supreme Court decisions do not let state governments ban these arbitration agreements. Supporters argue that the bill in California would not ban arbitration agreements, but make them optional: Employees could sign them, but they may not be punished for declining to. The bill would not affect existing arbitration agreements and would apply only to people hired after Jan. 1, 2020.

Still, Republicans and the state’s business groups said the bill is illegal and would probably be challenged in court. The state Senate voted Thursday to approve the bill.

The Economic Policy Institute says more than 67% of all employers in California require workers to sign these arbitration agreements. Companies like these agreements because arbitration costs less than going to court and moves faster. Labor groups argue that arbitration puts employees at a disadvantage because the employees don’t have an attorney and are subject to the ruling of an arbitrator who is often selected and paid for by the company.

Read the complete article here.

We Talked to the Lawyer Fighting for the Right to Be Trans at Work

From today’s Vice Media:

At this point, many Americans are familiar with what happened to Aimee Stephens: For years, she was a valued employee at a funeral home. Then, in 2013, she came out as trans and began presenting as a woman for the first time. That’s when she was fired.

Stephens decided to sue her former employer, Michigan’s R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, for discrimination. In October, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear her case—creating the first opportunity for the justices to directly consider the rights of transgender people.

Those rights have only recently become a mainstream political issue, so many people are unaware that there are now decades of U.S. case law underpinning most of the policies that politicians are currently debating. When SCOTUS hears Stephens’ case in October, all of those lower-court decisions affirming the right of trans people to be included in sex-based nondiscrimination law will be under threat.

At the heart of the fight is a 1989 SCOTUS precedent, Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, a caseinvolving a butch woman who was denied promotions when she failed to conform to feminine beauty and personality stereotypes. Ultimately, the court ruled that employment decisions cannot be based on sex stereotypes. It’s been a key ruling not only for cisgender women throughout the U.S., but also for those of us in the trans community.

After successfully arguing Stephens’ case in front of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, John Knight of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project will present her argument to the highest court in the nation this fall. Over the years, he has been central to arguing key trans-related cases all over the midwest.

We asked Knight why this case is so important for not only transgender people, but everyone, and what to look out for this October.

Read the complete interview here.

State of the Unions: What happened to America’s labor movement?

From today’s New Yorker Magazine:

Do you have rights at work? Franklin Delano Roosevelt thought you did. In 1936, while trying to haul America’s economy out of the bog that the free market had driven it into, Roosevelt argued that workers needed to have a say, declaring it unjust that

a small group had concentrated into their own hands an almost complete control over other people’s property, other people’s money, other people’s labor—other people’s lives. For too many of us throughout the land, life was no longer free; liberty no longer real; men could no longer follow the pursuit of happiness.

For Roosevelt, a system in which bosses could unilaterally decide “the hours men and women worked, the wages they received, the conditions of their labor” amounted to “dictatorship.” He hoped that the New Deal would bring workers and managers together in a new form of workplace governance.

New Dealers drew on an idea known as industrial democracy, developed, in the late nineteenth century, by English socialist thinkers who saw workplace rights as analogous to civil rights such as due process and the freedoms of speech and assembly. Senator Robert Wagner, who wrote the National Labor Relations Act of 1935—also known as the Wagner Act—made the point explicitly: “Democracy in industry means fair participation by those who work in the decisions vitally affecting their lives and livelihood.” In their efforts to civilize the workplace, however, Roosevelt and his allies didn’t set up a new institution for workers to speak through. They relied on an existing one: the union.

Whenever the rate of unionization in America has risen in the past hundred years, the top one per cent’s portion of the national income has tended to shrink. After Roosevelt signed the Wagner Act and other pro-union legislation, a generation of workers shared deeply in the nation’s prosperity. Real wages doubled in the two decades following the Second World War, and, by 1959, Vice-President Richard Nixon was able to boast to Nikita Khrushchev that “the United States comes closest to the ideal of prosperity for all in a classless society.”

America’s unions and workers haven’t been faring quite as well lately. Where labor is concerned, recent decades strongly resemble the run-up to the Great Depression. Both periods were marked by extreme concentrations of personal wealth and corporate power. In both, the value created by workers decoupled from the pay they received: during the nineteen-twenties, productivity grew forty-three per cent while wages stagnated; between 1973 and 2016, productivity grew six times faster than compensation. And unions were in decline: between 1920 and 1930, the proportion of union members in the labor force dropped from 12.2 per cent to 7.5 per cent, and, between 1954 and 2018, it fell from thirty-five per cent to 10.5 per cent. In “Beaten Down, Worked Up” (Knopf), a compact, pointed new account of unions in America, Steven Greenhouse, a longtime labor reporter for the Times, writes that “the share of national income going to business profits has climbed to its highest level since World War II, while workers’ share of income (employee compensation, including benefits) has slid to its lowest level since the 1940s.”

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.

What to Do at Work When You Feel Uninspired

From today’s New York Times:

It’s an inevitable part of having a job: At some point we all feel a little uninspired. Maybe you’re not crazy about a new project, or you just can’t pump yourself up to finish something that’s been dragging on, but you know when the feeling hits, and it can feel like a block on your ability to get things done.

And that’s O.K.! It’s generally a solvable problem, and it’s rarely the end-of-the-world scenario it can sometimes feel like.

“Often people lose motivation because they no longer find their work meaningful, and that can take many forms,” said Liz Fosslien, co-author of “No Hard Feelings,” which looks at how emotions affect our work lives. “It could be that you’ve lost sight of the impact your work has on the broader world.”

Losing that spark can hit at any time, added Mollie West Duffy, the other co-author of “No Hard Feelings,” and sometimes you might not even realize you’re in that slump until it’s pointed out to you.

“I think it can be a slow progression,” Ms. West Duffy said. “It’s sort of like the boiling frog, it slowly starts getting more and more distracting to you, and you might not realize it.”

Feeling uninspired or unmotivated can sometimes — though not always — lead to burnout, and the overlap in symptoms is clear: It’s that “blah” feeling when you approach your job or a task, or the feeling of just being stuck in a rut. It can sometimes be hard to pinpoint or recognize that you’re in a slump, but it’s quite common among American workers: One study from 2018, found that one in five highly engaged employees is at risk of burnout.

Read the complete article here.

Yes, America Is Rigged Against Workers

From today’s New York Times:

The United States is the only advanced industrial nation that doesn’t have national laws guaranteeing paid maternity leave. It is also the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers any vacation, paid or unpaid, and the only highly developedcountry (other than South Korea) that doesn’t guarantee paid sick days. In contrast, the European Union’s 28 nations guarantee workers at least four weeks’ paid vacation.

Among the three dozen industrial countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States has the lowest minimum wage as a percentage of the median wage — just 34 percent of the typical wage, compared with 62 percent in France and 54 percent in Britain. It also has the second-highest percentage of low-wage workers among that group, exceeded only by Latvia.

All this means the United States suffers from what I call “anti-worker exceptionalism.”

Academics debate why American workers are in many ways worse off than their counterparts elsewhere, but there is overriding agreement on one reason: Labor unions are weaker in the United States than in other industrial nations. Just one in 16 private-sector American workers is in a union, largely because corporations are so adept and aggressive at beating back unionization. In no other industrial nation do corporations fight so hard to keep out unions.

The consequences are enormous, not only for wages and income inequality, but also for our politics and policymaking and for the many Americans who are mistreated at work.

Read the complete article here.

There is a national movement to decriminalize sex work, explained

From today’s Vox News Online:

“Everybody has sex,” says Tamika Spellman. “The only difference is that we charge for it.”

Spellman has been a sex worker in Washington, DC, for more than 30 years. In that time, she’s faced a stream of abusive behavior from police.

“I’ve had them call me names, tell me that I was stupid, that whatever happened to me out there, I deserved it for being out there,” she told Vox.

Officers have made comments like, “it would be all right if you were out here working, so long as I get lunch,” Spellman said, essentially forcing her to buy them a meal to avoid being arrested.

She’s also been sexually assaulted by officers, she told Vox. “This is something that you can find across the board with sex workers,” she said. Police “take advantage of us.”

Then there is the financial toll of criminalization. Repeated arrests and fines for doing sex work have driven Spellman further into poverty. She’s currently homeless.

Criminal penalties can take a toll on sex workers’ families too. Spellman’s children are grown now, with children of their own — she even has a great-grandchild. But when they were young, she said, “those arrests really took away from my babies.”

The solution, for Spellman and other sex workers’ rights advocates, is decriminalization: the removal of criminal penalties for selling and buying sex. Advocates say getting rid of those penalties is the only way to keep sex workers safe from police harassment and the damaging effects of arrests and fines — and to guarantee them full human rights as workers in America.

Read the complete article here.

Walls on Wheels and Movable Pods: ‘The Evolution of the Open Workplace’

From today’s New York Times:

In recent years, new office designs have encouraged employees to get moving. Cafes and lounges beckon workers when they need a break. Open staircases spur them to climb floors rather than take the elevator. Sit-stand desks offer them a chance to stretch while continuing to work.

Now, the offices themselves are on the move.

M Moser Associates, a design firm in New York, calls its office “a living lab.” Green walls of plants are set on casters and can be used to block off one end of the 6,000-square-foot open space for private meetings, or they can be pushed against other walls to make room for large gatherings. And custom birch-topped work tables have wheels on back legs so they can be tipped and easily rolled elsewhere.

M Moser continually tinkers with its office, seeking new ways to support its staff and offer a “proof of concept” to visiting clients, said Grant Christofely, a senior strategist and associate at M Moser, who led a recent tour of the firm’s office in the historic Woolworth Building in Lower Manhattan.

The desire to be able to switch things up at a moment’s notice has spread to companies in other fields, too. “Businesses are changing at a rate architects almost can’t keep up with,” Mr. Christofely said.

Read the complete article here.