Employee Wellness Programs Yield Little Benefit, JAMA Study Shows

From today’s New York Times:

Companies have long embraced workplace wellness programs as a way to improve workers’ health and reduce overall medical spending, but a new study may prompt employers to rethink those efforts.

The study, published on Tuesday in JAMA, a medical journal, looked at the experience of 33,000 workers at BJ’s Wholesale Club, a retailer, over a year and a half.

While workers who enrolled in the wellness program reported that they learned to exercise more and watch their weight, the research found no significant differences in outcomes like lower blood pressure or sugar levels and other health measures. And it found no significant reduction in workers’ health care costs.

“These findings may temper expectations about the financial return on investment that wellness programs can deliver in the short term,” conclude the study’s authors, Dr. Zirui Song, a health policy researcher at Harvard Medical School, and Katherine Baicker, dean of the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Most employers — 82 percent of companies with more than 200 workers — offer some sort of wellness program like smoking cessation or weight management, according to the latest survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Companies often encourage participation in these programs by dangling some sort of financial carrot, ranging from a gift card if you track your steps to a significant discount off what you pay toward your health insurance.

Read the complete article here.

In Sacramento, CA teachers fight for “what’s right” with strike

From today’s CBS Evening News:

Teachers in Sacramento went on strike Thursday for the first time in 30 years. They’re accusing the school district of backtracking on promises of better pay and smaller classes.

In the past year, more than 400,000 teachers in nine states have gone on strike, affecting more than 5 million children.

Raising three boys on her own in costly California is a daily struggle for Victoria Carr, who has been teaching for 12 years.  

“It’s hard. It really is. Am I making a difference? Is it impacting people,” she said.

With teachers on the brink of a strike, Carr went to a school board meeting to confront the district superintendent.  
 
“I want them to see me fight for what’s right. I want my students to know that they’re important enough to me that I’ll fight for them and I’ll say what needs to be said as best I can,” said the seventh-grade teacher.

Nationwide, the average teacher salary has decreased by 4 percent in the past decade, when accounting for inflation. Eighteen months ago, the Sacramento School District avoided a strike by giving their teachers a raise. Thursday’s strike is solely about the students. The teachers say the district did not hold up the rest of that deal, which included smaller classroom sizes, more nurses, psychologists and after school programs.

Read the complete article here.

He Has Driven for Uber Since 2012 and He Makes About $40,000 a Year

From today’s New York Times:

Uber’s public stock offering next month will make a bunch of people remarkably rich. Peter Ashlock is not one of them, although he has toiled for the ride-hailing company almost since the beginning.

Mr. Ashlock, who will be 71 next week, has racked up more than 25,000 trips as an Uber driver since 2012. His Nissan Altima has 218,000 miles on it — nearly the distance to the moon. His passengers rate him 4.93 out of five stars. His favorite review: “Dude drove like a cabdriver.”

While he is an integral part of Uber’s success, Mr. Ashlock is barely getting by. His 2018 tax return will show an adjusted gross income in the neighborhood of $40,000, better than 2016 and 2017. But he has maxed out his $3,200 credit limit at the local Midas car-repair shop and needs to come up with $5,000 to pay his taxes. He has Social Security but no savings to buy a new car that will let him keep working.

Silicon Valley has always been a lottery where immense wealth is secured by a few while everyone else must hope for better luck some other time. Rarely, however, has the disparity been on such stark display as with Uber. Its stock market value is expected to be about $100 billion, which would make it one of the richest Silicon Valley public offerings of all time.

Among those with something to celebrate: Uber’s founders, the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, the elite venture capitalists Benchmark and Google’s GV, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and the mutual fund giant Fidelity. Some have already cashed in. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s co-founder and chief executive until he was forced out after a series of scandals, reaped $1.4 billion by selling fewer than a third of his shares to private investors in 2017.

As independent contractors, drivers are not eligible for employee benefits like paid vacations or stock options. Uber said Thursday that it would offer bonuses of $100 to $10,000 to long-serving drivers. Its chief competitor, Lyft, did the same when it went public in March.

Read the complete article here.

Lawmaker in Congressional hearing on bank CEOs’ pay: “It doesn’t look good”

From today’s CBS News Online:

Making their first appearance before Congress since the financial crisis a decade ago, the CEOs of America’s biggest banks told lawmakers their financial institutions are now smaller and are taking on less risk.

With Democrats in control of the U.S. House, banks and the men that lead them are facing renewed scrutiny over their practices and record profits.

Since the massive taxpayer-funded bank bailout in 2009, large U.S. banks have raked in $780 billion in profits — nearly five times the amount they paid in fines. “[N]o one has made out better than the CEOs,” Maxine Waters, D.-California, chair of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, said in starting the hearing. 

The financial giants represented at the gathering include seven of eight global “systemically important” banks, which paid a total of nearly $164 billion in fines during the last 10 years, according to a committee memorandum. Because their profits greatly exceed the penalties, Waters questioned whether banks view regulatory fines as simply the cost of doing business.

New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to a litany of what she described as bank misdeeds, from JPMorgan’s failure to oversee its trading practices in 2013 to last month’s $25 million fine against Citibank for violating the Fair Housing Act. “I have concerns about how much things have changed,” she told the bankers. 

Ocasio-Cortez also questioned the fairness of a legal system that fines banks for legal violations but imprisons low-income people for relatively minor offenses. Mentioning that Riker’s Island is part of her congressional district, the lawmaker said: “I represent kids who go to jail for jumping a turnstile because they couldn’t afford a metro card.” 

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon responded by saying he did not support prison for turnstile jumping. He drew praise from the freshman lawmaker for JPMorgan’s decision last month to halt financing of private operators of prisons and detention centers.

The last time the panel convened such a hearing, the country was in recession and the CEOs had to explain taking billions in taxpayer bailouts. Banks have since by-and-large repaid taxpayers and bounced back to record profits.

Read the complete article here.

The Gig 101: The Con of the Side Hustle

From today’s New York Times:

An attractive woman behind the wheel of a gray car says to the camera, “These days anyone can have a side hustle.” She then whisks off to the gym, for her other job as a personal trainer, beaming as she goes from one gig to another. This ad for the ride-share company Uber seeks to entice new drivers to join their ranks by using the “side hustle” come-on. The company isn’t alone.

Similarly laborious “side hustles” are celebrated in popular media and advertising, from self-help articles and other web content that exhort us to, say, work for a design studio part-time or sell CBD oil (great as a side hustle for moms, supposedly). Even pastors can use a side hustle, according to one evangelical blogger.

During tax season, you will also find filing suggestions for side hustlers. (Report all of your income! Deduct expenses!)

The truth is, working multiple gigs creates complications when you do your taxes. Compared with those with salaried jobs, who pay their taxes seamlessly through withholding, for side hustlers “the process will be a lot messier,” according to Steven Dean, the faculty director of the Graduate Tax Program at New York University Law School. You have to estimate and pay taxes on your own, he notes, and your expenses may not be reimbursed by your employer. In other words, paying quarterly tax estimates gives workers with side hustles yet another side hustle — being their own accountant, although this gig doesn’t even pay.

Nevertheless, this nouveau moonlighting continues to be exalted ­as cool, empowering or freeing. This mantra is false: Side hustles are not simply a new version of working as a “wage slave” so that we can do what we love in our off hours. Instead, far more often, people take on second or third side hustles because of wage stagnation or low pay at their full-time jobs.

Read the complete article here.

The $70,000-a-Year Minimum Wage

From today’s New York Times:

Staff members gasped four years ago when Dan Price gathered the 120 employees at Gravity Payments, the company he had founded with his brother, and told them he was raising everyone’s salary to a minimum of $70,000, partly by slashing his own $1.1 million pay to the same level.

The news went viral and provoked a national debate about whether efficient capitalism could have a heart. Some Americans lauded Price for treating employees with dignity. However, on Fox Business he was labeled the “lunatic of all lunatics,” and Rush Limbaugh declared, “I hope this company is a case study in M.B.A. programs on how socialism does not work, because it’s going to fail.”

So I came to Seattle to see what had unfolded: Did Gravity succeed or crash?

There were bumps, no doubt about it. A couple of important employees quit, apparently feeling less valued when new hires were close to them in pay. The publicity forced Gravity, which processes credit card payments for small businesses, to hire additional people to handle a deluge of inquiries. Worst of all, Price’s brother, who owned a stake in the company, sued and alleged that Price hadn’t consulted him on decisions.

For a while, it wasn’t clear that the gamble was going to pay off.

But eventually it did: Business has surged, and profits are higher than ever. Gravity last year processed $10.2 billion in payments, more than double the $3.8 billion in 2014, before the announcement. It has grown to 200 employees, all nonunion.

Read the complete article here.

Labor Department moves to ease franchise liability for wage violations

From today’s Reuters News:

The U.S. Department of Labor on Monday issued a proposal that would make it more difficult to prove companies are liable for the wage law violations of their contractors or franchisees, a top priority for business groups.

If adopted, the rule would likely help fast-food companies and other franchisors who have been sued by workers in recent years for wage-law violations by franchisees.

The department in 2017 had already repudiated legal guidance issued by the Obama administration that had expanded the circumstances in which a company could be considered a so-called joint employer under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in a statement said Monday’s proposal would reduce litigation under the FLSA and provide clarity to businesses and courts. The FLSA mandates that workers be paid the minimum wage and overtime, among other requirements.

Publication of the rule kicked off a 60-day public comment period.

Under the proposal, companies would be considered joint employers only if they hire, fire, and supervise employees, set their pay, and maintain employment records. That would likely exclude many franchisors and companies that hire contract labor.

Read the complete article here.

McDonald’s Announces It Will No Longer Lobby Against Minimum Wage Hikes

From today’s CNBC News Online:

McDonald’s will no longer take part in efforts to lobby against raising the minimum wage at the federal, state or local level, the fast-food giant told the National Restaurant Association Tuesday. 

Genna Gent, McDonald’s vice president of U.S. government relations, said in a letter to the association that the company believes wage increases “should be phased in and that all industries should be treated the same way.”

“The conversation about wages is an important one; it’s one we wish to advance, not impede,” Gent wrote. The fast-food chain also stated that outlets owned by the company have an average starting wage that exceeds $10 per hour while franchisees pay “likely similar” wages in their own restaurants.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman declined to comment further to CNBC. Politico was the first to report the news of the letter. 

The move from McDonald’s, one of the largest employers in the world, could boost House Democrats and their efforts to raise the minimum wage. Earlier this month, the House Committee on Education and Labor advanced a bill to raise the U.S. wage floor to $15 per hour by 2024. Currently, the minimum wage is $7.25.

Read the complete article here.

Six countries give women the same work rights as men, US not one of them

From today’s Washington Post:

A decade ago, no country in the world treated men and women equally under the law, according to a gender equality index from the World Bank. Today, only six countries do — and the United States isn’t one of them.

A new index released this week by the World Bank analyzes how each country’s laws affect women at every stage in their working lives — from applying for a job to having a child to receiving a pension — and the extent to which legal gender equality has progressed over time.

The study shows that over the past 10 years, the majority of the world moved closer to gender equality under the law, raising the global average score from 70.06 to 74.71 today.

By the index’s measures, six countries now have laws that protect men and women equally: Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden.

The United States, meanwhile, is far from the leading pack. Its 2018 score came in at 83.75, a score that has stayed flat for the past 10 years. The U.S. tied with Malawi, Kenya and The Bahamas. More than 60 other countries had better scores.

The study, titled “Women, Business and the Law 2019: A Decade of Reform,” calculated each country’s score using 35 different indicators, focusing on laws that affect women’s ability to live and work freely. Each of the data points were divided into eight categories: Going places, starting a job, getting paid, getting married, having children, running a business, managing assets and getting a pension.

Read the complete article here.

Rap Sheets Haunt Former Inmates. California May Change That.

From today’s New York Times:

After spending more than seven years in prison for robbery and auto theft, Jay Jordan tried to get work selling insurance, real estate and used cars, but was repeatedly turned away, he said.

People with a felony record are often barred from obtaining professional licenses, and an opportunity to be a barber at a friend’s shop fell through for the same reason. A nonprofit program he started ran into trouble when a school sought to prevent him from meeting with students because of his criminal past — a history that began when he stole a car at 18, almost 15 years ago.

Under a bill now making its way through the California State Legislature, millions of people in the state who have misdemeanor or lower-level felony records could be spared those problems: their criminal records would automatically be sealed from public view once they completed prison or jail sentences. The legislation would not apply to people convicted of committing the most serious crimes, like murder or rape.

“There are so many of us who just want to be better, but are constantly turned down, turned away,” said Mr. Jordan, who is now project director for Time Done, a program that is part of Californians for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit that advocates to make the criminal justice system less punitive.

In the United States, a record showing a criminal conviction or even an arrest that does not lead to a conviction can make it nearly impossiblefor someone to find jobs or apartments or to obtain professional licenses like those required in many states for barbers or real estate agents.

One in three Americans has a criminal record, according to the Justice Department, and a National Institute of Justice study found that having a criminal record reduced the chance of getting a job offer or a callback by 50 percent.

The legislation, introduced last week in the State Assembly, would make California — where an estimated eight million people have criminal records — the first state in the nation to automatically scrub the rap sheets of people whose records qualify. The law would apply retroactively, meaning that people arrested or convicted of various crimes dating back decades would have their records automatically sealed. The records would still be accessible to law enforcement agencies, but not to members of the general public, including potential landlords and employers.

Read the complete article here.