A Hidden COVID-19 Risk Factor: Your Employer Policy on Paid Sick Leave

From today’s Atlantic Magazine:

When the coronavirus first hit the United States, some politicians referred to it as the “great equalizer” because it supposedly didn’t discriminate. But very soon, that proved not to be true. People of color are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, for example, and low-paid essential workers have little choice but to show up for work and expose themselves. And if employees do get sick, whether they receive sufficient paid time off to recover is another pandemic disparity. Although many workers have found that their bosses are understanding about time off, others have struggled to get paid leave to heal or to care for their children.

In March, I wrote about a Walmart employee in Washington State who was fired because he had used up all his attendance “points” recovering from what he believed was COVID-19, a situation Walmart declined to comment on. In April, a grocery-store employee in Indiana claimed she was fired for staying at home with a potential case of COVID-19. (She sued, and the case was settled.) A 58-year-old nursing-home worker in St. Louis kept coming to work long after she developed symptoms of COVID-19, because she was told she wouldn’t be paid otherwise, her family told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She died a few weeks ago.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. In March, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, making it easier for many American workers to receive paid leave if they get COVID-19, or if they have to care for children who are out of school. For the remainder of the year, employees are eligible for two weeks of paid sick leave if they are quarantined or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and 12 weeks of leave paid at two-thirds of their salary if they are caring for a child whose school or child-care provider is closed.

But the law excludes all sorts of employees. Large companies aren’t included in the law, and small companies can claim an exemption. Employers can supplement what’s required under the law with more expansive leave policies, but some companies are already ending the more generous leave policies that they put in place immediately after the coronavirus outbreak.

Our pandemic approach to sick leave is a continuation of America’s jumbled leave laws, in which your time off largely depends on your employer, not your needs. Because of this patchwork system, Americans are some of the only workers in the Western world who risk getting fired if they don’t drag their sick selves into work. Before the pandemic, a quarter of private-sector workers didn’t have a single paid sick day.

The inconsistent way that America does sick leave will become an even bigger problem as more states open up and companies ask their employees to return to the office. In the coming months, employers will wield remarkable power in determining whether their employees will be at risk of catching COVID-19, and whether they can keep their jobs if they do. As unemployment remains high and companies have more workers to choose from, more people may find themselves losing their jobs if they get sick.

Read the complete article here.

Strikes erupt as US essential workers demand protection amid pandemic

From The Guardian Online:

Wildcat strikes, walkouts and protests over working conditions have erupted across the US throughout the coronavirus pandemic as “essential” workers have demanded better pay and safer working conditions. Labor leaders are hoping the protests can lead to permanent change.

Food delivery workers have become essential in New York after the city closed restaurants and bars to the public on 16 March.

Norma Kennedy, an employee at an American Apparel clothing plant is one of those people. Kennedy along with dozens of other workers walked off her job in Selma, Alabama, on 23 April after two workers tested positive for coronavirus. The plant has remained open during the pandemic to manufacture face masks for a US army contract.

“We left for our own protection,” said Kennedy. “Beforehand, management said if someone tested positive they would shut down and have the plant cleaned. When workers tested positive, they didn’t want to shut it down. They’re not really concerned about the workers.”

Working conditions, low pay and lack of safety protections have triggered protests throughout the pandemic as workers across various industries, including food service, meat processingretail, manufacturing, transportation and healthcare have come together to protest about issues, many of which were apparent before the coronavirus.

“There are no federal mandates or requirements to implement the social distancing guidance or anything else. It’s only guidance and employers can choose to implement them or not,” said Deborah Berkowitz, director of worker safety and health for the National Employment Law Project. “And that is why, in an unprecedented way, they are walking out to bring public attention to the fact that their companies are not protecting their safety and health.”

Read the complete article here.

Could the Pandemic Wind Up Fixing What’s Broken About Work in America?

From today’s New York Times:

Crises like pandemics, economic collapses and world wars have, at times throughout history, ended up reordering societies — shrinking the gap between the rich and the poor, or empowering the working class. The Black Death helped end feudalism. The Great Depression helped lead to the New Deal. Never has extreme economic inequality shrunk in a meaningful way, says the Stanford historian Walter Scheidel, without a major crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic, as of now, is not on the order of the plague, but it’s hitting the United States during a period of agitation about worsening inequality and waning power for workers. Already, it has made stark how precarious life is for many American workers, causing some to revolt. How employers and policymakers respond could improve work in the United States for the long term — or make the existing problems worse.

“Pandemics as a social shock do give workers more leverage to demand things,” said Patrick Wyman, a historian and host of the Tides of History podcast. “Crises like these reveal what is already broken or in the process of breaking.”

“They are attacks on a particular socioeconomic way of organizing your society,” he said. “The question is whether your institutions can make collective things happen.”

The United States is distinctive among rich countries in its lack of worker protections like nationwide paid sick leave, paid family leave and universal health insurance, and in its minimal labor union membership. For both high and low earners, many employers expect workers to be on call around the clock. Companies are typically beholden to shareholders first, above employees, customers and communities.

But the coronavirus pandemic has shown the flaw in that logic: Worker well-being is the foundation for everything else.

Read the complete article .

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.

MLK Day 2018, A Time to Reflect on Socio-Economic Injustice In All Forms

In honor of MLK Day, we post a short educational video here with excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin that draw the connection between racial injustice and economic inequality in the United States. Their insights are as true today as they were fifty years ago, showing just how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. If we want peace, we must work for justice in all its forms.

Strategies to Manage Your Career: From Networking to Balancing Work and Life

From the New York Times Business Section:

There is no shortage of books claiming to reveal the secret truth behind successful careers. Then there are all the podcasts, TED talks, late-night motivational speakers and your relatives’ sage advice. The bottom line of most of these advice-givers? A successful career requires managing the person in the mirror – overcoming your tendencies and habits that can undermine efforts to find happiness at work. Read on to see what professors and researchers suggest for managing different situations, whether you want to improve your situation at work, if you suspect changes are coming down, or if you are making a go of it in the gig economy.

Build a Strong Foundation

There are some key fundamentals of building a successful career that you should be aware of whether you are just starting out, or are closing in on retirement.

There are some key fundamentals of building a successful career, whether you are just starting out, or are closing in on retirement. And they apply to all walks of life – if you are a butcher, a baker or a computer systems analyst.

Fair warning, the following tried-and-true strategies will have little impact on what you do every day. They will not necessarily help you meet an assignment due by Friday morning, or complete a to-do list.

Instead, they are foundations that will give you a solid base on which to build a successful career that can withstand unexpected changes. These ideas will also help you put work and career in proper perspective, because there is a lot more to life beyond the daily grind.

The Value of Networking

There’s no getting around it: Networking has an awful reputation. It conjures up images of self-absorbed corporate ladder-climbers whose main interest is, “What’s in it for me?”

But there is almost unanimous agreement among researchers that building and nurturing relationships with people — current and former colleagues and people we respect in the business — provides a strong medium for a vibrant career and a cushion for when the unplanned happens.

Read the complete article here.

Robots Are Coming, and Sweden Is Fine

From New York Times:

From inside the control room carved into the rock more than half a mile underground, Mika Persson can see the robots on the march, supposedly coming for his job here at the New Boliden mine.

He’s fine with it.

Sweden’s famously generous social welfare system makes this a place not prone to fretting about automation — or much else, for that matter.

Mr. Persson, 35, sits in front of four computer screens, one displaying the loader he steers as it lifts freshly blasted rock containing silver, zinc and lead. If he were down in the mine shaft operating the loader manually, he would be inhaling dust and exhaust fumes. Instead, he reclines in an office chair while using a joystick to control the machine.

He is cognizant that robots are evolving by the day. Boliden is testing self-driving vehicles to replace truck drivers. But Mr. Persson assumes people will always be needed to keep the machines running. He has faith in the Swedish economic model and its protections against the torment of joblessness.

“I’m not really worried,” he says. “There are so many jobs in this mine that even if this job disappears, they will have another one. The company will take care of us.”

In much of the world, people whose livelihoods depend on paychecks are increasingly anxious about a potential wave of unemployment threatened by automation. As the frightening tale goes, globalization forced people in wealthier lands like North America and Europe to compete directly with cheaper laborers in Asia and Latin America, sowing joblessness. Now, the robots are coming to finish off the humans.

Read the complete article here.

Working During Holidays? Increasingly, More and More of Us Are Working Too

From National Public Radio:

It can be a drag but working on the holidays is inevitable for some jobs. A nurse, a cook and a ballet wardrobe supervisor share what it’s like to work during the most wonderful time of the year.

Not everybody gets a break on holidays. In some professions, including this one, working on Christmas or New Year’s Eve is just part of the territory. We asked our listeners who are working this holiday season to tell us about it.

“The Nutcracker” doesn’t take a vacation. Marlene Olson Hamm is an assistant wardrobe supervisor at the New York City Ballet, where they’ve put on 49 performances. Two of them will be on Christmas Eve.

MARLENE OLSON HAMM: It can feel like you’re missing out on the holiday season – time with your family, all the Christmas parties.

SIMON: Trudy Kemp from Owasso, Okla., not only works Christmas, she works overnight. But there are perks.

TRUDY KEMP: Because I’m a nurse, I work with mommies and babies.

SIMON: Thomas Hukriede cooks at a restaurant called The Laundry in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Wonder why it’s not called The Kitchen. Anyway, he’s pretty happy with holidays in the kitchen.

THOMAS HUKRIEDE: We love what we’re doing, and we’re happy to be working there. So the best Christmases that we have are together, loving what we do.

SIMON: Thomas says restaurants are warm and inviting places for people who may be far away from their families during the holidays.

HUKRIEDE: Restaurants are like a family. And if it’s slow, you’re just making a lonely holiday season lonelier. So don’t be afraid to come down for a drink or a meal. Let the restaurant be your friends and family during the holiday season.

SIMON: Even though nurse Trudy Kemp is at the hospital pretty late, she looks forward to having an ornament exchange and a potluck meal while on duty. And she especially enjoys singing Christmas carols to the newborn babies.

KEMP: At night sometimes, I will actually walk in the hall – and I have done this forever. But I will actually sing as I’m going up and down the hall. And I do add Christmas carols.

SIMON: Her favorite song goes…

KEMP: (Singing) It’s the best time of the year. Here’s a toast to Christmas cheer. We will eat and drink our fill until there’s nothing left in sight, for we’ll have a party tonight.

SIMON: Oh, what a wonderful way to be greeted into this world. To anybody working or not working – well those who are working, thanks very much. Happy holidays.

Listen the radio segment here.

Women and Power in the Workplace

From today’s New York Times:

“Revolution will come in a form we cannot yet imagine,” the critical theorists Fred Moten and Stefano Harney wrote in their 2013 essay “The Undercommons,” about the need to radically upend hierarchical institutions. I thought of their prophecy in October, when a private document listing allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by dozens of men in publishing and media surfaced online.

The list — a Google spreadsheet initially shared exclusively among women, who could anonymously add to it — was created in the immediate aftermath of reports about sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein. The atmosphere among female journalists was thick with the tension of watching the press expose the moral wrongs of Hollywood while neglecting to interrogate our own. The existence of the list suggested that things were worse than we even imagined, given all that it revealed. It was horrifying to see the names of colleagues and friends — people you had mingled with at parties and accepted drinks from — accused of heinous acts.

A few days after the list appeared, I was in a van with a half dozen other women of color, riding through the desert on our way to a writing retreat. All of us worked in media; most of us had not realized the extent to which harassment polluted our industry. Whisper networks, in which women share secret warnings via word of mouth, require women to tell others whom to avoid and whom to ignore. They are based on trust, and any social hierarchy is rife with the privilege of deciding who gets access to information. Perhaps we were perceived as outsiders, or maybe we weren’t seen as vulnerable. We hadn’t been invited to the happy hours or chats or email threads where such information is presumably shared. The list was F.T.B.T. — for them, by them — meaning, by white women about their experiences with the white men who made up a majority of the names on it. Despite my working in New York media for 10 years, it was my first “whisper” of any kind, a realization that felt almost as hurtful as reading the acts described on the list itself.

As a young business reporter, no one told me about the New York investor known for luring women out to meals under the guise of work. I found out the hard way. I realized he was a habitual boundary-crosser only after The New York Observer reported on him in 2010. Most recently, after I complained in a media chat room about a man who harassed a friend at a birthday party, everyone chimed in to say that he was a known creep. I was infuriated. That information never made its way to me, and worse, it was taken as a given. Was keeping that secret hidden worth the trauma it caused my friend?

The list’s flaws were immediately apparent. It felt too public, volatile and vulnerable to manipulation. But its recklessness was born out of desperation. It detonated the power and labor dynamics that whisper networks reinforce. Information, once privileged to a select few, became decentralized and accessible to all. And the problem of sexual harassment no longer belonged solely to women to filter and share.

Read the complete article here.

How To Make a Flexible Work Culture Work For All Employees in a Firm

From today’s Forbes:

Imagine a work culture in which team members can connect, regardless of where, when and how they work. The traditional workspace is rapidly changing, and today’s businesses need to modernize and evolve if they want to attract — and keep — the most talented among today’s workers.

At Dell Technologies, where I lead HR, we long ago recognized the need for a connected workforce. Dell’s vision for the future is founded in enabling its team members to be their best and do their best work, through a flexible approach to their work.

Results from early research we conducted show that more than 60% of employees work before or after standard business hours. Furthermore, roughly two-thirds of workers globally conduct at least some business from home on a regular basis, and the average employee spends at least two hours per week working from public places. In fact, research shows that more than 80% of millennials say workspace technology will influence the jobs they take. This aligns to research published by GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, which shows that more than 80% of the U.S. workforce say they would like to telework at least part-time.

Additionally, the firm’s report shows that many Fortune 1000 companies around the globe are entirely revamping their spaces around the fact that employees are already mobile. The report’s findings share that studies have repeatedly shown that employees are not at their desk more than half of the time.

As leading organizations evolve to meet the new cultural requirements of today’s workforce, what exactly are business leaders to do?

Read the complete article here.