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.

Trump won key union workers in 2016. Will Scalia as labor secretary change that for 2020?

From PBS Newshour Online:

To critics, the nomination of a labor secretary who built his career fighting unions underscores a President Donald Trump’s attacks against organized labor.

But for Trump, it seems appointing Eugene Scalia is a way to continue taking on unions through deregulation and business-centric policies without alienating rank and file union members in key states he’ll need to win reelection in 2020.

The president’s pick, which he announced on Twitter but has not officially submitted to the Senate, also shows Trump’s willingness to push the boundaries on who makes a suitable labor nominee, compared to past Republican administrations.

In the past, “Republicans tended to choose businessmen” to lead the Department of Labor, said Joseph McCartin, a labor historian at Georgetown University. “Often they were businessmen who had dealings with unions. But [they] were not anti-union.”

Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, appears to be a departure from that norm.

Scalia is a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Gibson Dunn, where he focuses on labor and employment issues. As an attorney, he has worked on behalf of Walmart, Ford, UPS and a host of other companies in lawsuits fighting against workers’ rights claims. He also served a brief stint as the Labor Department’s solicitor in 2002.

Some union leaders argued Scalia is also more extreme than Trump’s past appointments for the cabinet position. Scalia is Trump’s third pick for labor secretary. Businessman Andrew Puzder withdrew from consideration after it was reported that he had hired an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper. Former prosecutor Alex Acosta served as labor secretary for two years before resigning earlier this month after coming under scrutiny for his role in a 2008 plea deal for financier Jeffrey Epstein, who is facing charges of sex trafficking.

Read the complete article here.

Trump turning the Department of Labor into the Department of Employer Rights

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

No advocates for workers’ rights or labor were especially surprised last week when President Trump nominated Eugene Scalia for secretary of Labor, succeeding the utterly discredited Alex Acosta.

Scalia — son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — had made his reputation in Washington as a lawyer for big corporations resisting labor regulations, after all.

He had helped Walmart overturn a Maryland law mandating minimum contributions by big employers for workers’ healthcare, defended SeaWorld against workplace safety charges after a park trainer was killed by an Orca (he lost that case), and had written extensively against a federal regulation expanding ergonomic safety requirements.

But Scalia’s appointment is best seen not in the context of his own legal career, but in the context of Trump’s assault on worker rights and welfare. Despite his positioning himself during his presidential campaign as a flag carrier for the working class, Trump has rolled back numerous pro-worker regulations from the Obama era and before.

He talked a good game about bringing back manufacturing and coal jobs, but that hasn’t materialized. His steel tariffs are credited with saving some 12,000 steel manufacturing jobs, but at the enormous cost to the economy of an estimated $900,000 per job.

That’s paid by steel users, including automakers and other manufacturers. General Motors says it took a $1-billion hit in 2018from the tariffs. That contributed to its decision to shed 14,000 jobs globally and to shutter its assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio, costing 900 jobs. Although Trump attacked GM Chief Executive Mary Barra for the decision, he also turned his ire on UAW and AFL-CIO leaders, calling them “not honest people” and blaming high union dues for the Lordstown closing. (Union dues are paid by workers, not employers.)

Read the complete article here.

When the Law Says Using Marijuana Is O.K., but the Boss Disagrees

From today’s New York Times:

Smoking pot cost Kimberly Cue her job.

Ms. Cue, a 44-year-old chemical engineer from Silicon Valley, received an offer this year from a medical device manufacturer only to have it rescinded when the company found out that she smoked prescription marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder.

“My email was set up with the company,” she said. “My business cards were printed.” But after a pre-employment drug test came back positive for marijuana, a human resources representative told her the job was no longer hers.

“I’ve lost all confidence in the process,” said Ms. Cue, who ultimately took a different job, at 20 percent less pay. “I’m so frustrated and so irritated. I should be able to be upfront and honest with my employer.”

The relatively rapid acceptance of marijuana use in the United States has forced lawmakers and employers to grapple with how to adapt. Last month, Nevada passed a bill prohibiting the denial of employment based on a positive test for marijuana. In Maine, employers may not discriminate against people who have used cannabis, but state law does not specifically regulate drug testing. And under a bill overwhelmingly approved in April by the New York City Council and awaiting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature, employers would no longer be able to force job applicants to take drug tests for marijuana use.

Read the complete article here.

For Amazon workers in Minnesota, Prime Day means protest

From today’s Washington Post:

As a “rebinner” at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Minneapolis, Meg Brady says she is expected to handle 600 items per hour, constantly pivoting on her feet to grab one item and place it in a nearby chute.

Brady, 55, compared the job to an aerobics workout — one she says has left her with a stress fracture in her foot and on short-term disability for almost two months.

She’s been an Amazon employee for a year and seven months. And on Monday afternoon, she joined a small group of her fellow workers and dozens of other protesters outside the cavernous warehouse to demonstrate against the company’s working conditions, benefits and corporate culture. The protest took place on the first day of Prime Day, one of Amazon’s flagship shopping events that generates billions of dollars in sales for the retail giant.

“To actually get out and say [to Amazon], ‘You’re not doing a good job,’ that’s not an easy thing to say,” Brady said. “Because Amazon is so huge, you do feel like you’re this small person trying to fight a giant.”

Amazon has long defended how it compensates and treats workers, and the company argues that employees don’t need to form a union because Amazon already provides comprehensive benefits. Last year, Amazon raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour for all U.S. employees, and chief executive and founder Jeff Bezos has challenged his retail rivals to do the same. Last week, the company announced it would retrain one third of its U.S. workforce — a total of 100,000 employees — to prepare them for increasingly tech-centered jobs. (Bezos also owns The Washington Post.)

But Amazon has still come under increasing scrutiny from workers rights groups, lawmakers and politicians over issues ranging from corporate taxation to market competition. Amazon’s growing power has drawn particular attention on the 2020 campaign trail, with calls to break up the tech giant or more heavily regulate its vast empire. On Monday morning, presidential candidate and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted in support of the strikers, saying that “Their fight for safe and reliable jobs is another reminder that we must come together to hold big corporations accountable.”

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.

U.S. Women Won, Men Lost, and Equal Pay Fight Tied Them Together Again

From today’s New York Times:

For American soccer fans, the juxtaposition was hard to ignore: the United States women’s team winning a record fourth World Cup championship in France, its men’s counterpart falling to its bitter rival Mexico hours later in a regional championship in Chicago.

The two results Sunday were not a mere collision of games: they also highlighted a contentious battle about pay equality featuring the men’s teams and women’s teams, the different media and financial ecosystems in which they compete, and the often unequal rewards for success for male and female athletes. All of it was brought to the fore again by the women’s team’s latest world championship, and by the chants of “Equal Pay!” that serenaded the players after they won.

In recent years, that fight for pay equality has been the women’s team’s calling card. The players contend they are paid less by the United States Soccer Federation than the men — sometimes tens of thousands of dollars or more for top players in a given year — and that the situation has persisted for years even as the women’s team has collected more trophies and begun to produce more revenue than the men. U.S. Soccer has welcomed the team’s success — Sunday’s title was the team’s second in a row — even as it has challenged the players’ math, arguing that the situation is complicated by a compensation structure negotiated by each team that pays the men and women differently.

But the women’s players, who include some of the most prominent female athletes in the world, have pressed their argument in interviews and on social media and, most recently, in a gender discrimination federal court. On Sunday, bathing in the crowd’s adoration and set to cash in on bonuses of more than $250,000 each, one of their captains turned the screws again.

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.