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N.L.R.B. Ruling Holds McDonald’s, Not Just Franchisees, Liable for Worker Treatment

July 29, 2014 By: seeta Category: Civil Rights, Workers' Rights

From NYT:

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for workers at its franchisees’ restaurants, a decision that if upheld would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide.

Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said that of the 181 unfair labor practice complaints filed against McDonald’s and its franchisees over the last 20 months, he found that 43 had merit on such grounds as illegally firing or threatening workers for pro-union activities.

In those cases, Mr. Griffin said he would include McDonald’s as a joint employer, a classification that could hold the fast-food company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants. Roughly 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations.

McDonald’s said it would contest the decision, warning that the ruling would affect not only the fast-food industry but businesses like dry cleaners and car dealerships.

“McDonald’s can try to hide behind its franchisees, but today’s determination by the N.L.R.B. shows there’s no two ways about it: The Golden Arches is an employer, plain and simple,” said Micah Wissinger, a lawyer in New York who filed some of the cases against McDonald’s. “The reality is that McDonald’s requires franchisees to adhere to such regimented rules and regulations that there’s no doubt who’s really in charge.”

The next stages for the cases could involve Mr. Griffin’s trying to seek a settlement. But the cases more likely will be argued before an administrative law judge.

CI: Justice As Theft

June 11, 2014 By: nancy a heitzeg Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Corrupt Legislature, Criminal Injustice Series, Economic Terrorism, Education, Housing, Immigration, Intersectionality, LGBTQ, Poverty, Voting Rights, Workers' Rights

Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.

Justice As Theft: Into the Twilight Zone
by Kay Whitlock

In 2011, Tonya McDowell, a homeless woman from Bridgeport, Connecticut, was charged with first degree (felony) larceny  and conspiracy to commit larceny for enrolling her 6-year-old son in Brookside Elementary School in the community of Norwalk.  Because McDowell and her son did not legally reside in Norwalk, the rationale for the charges was theft of $15,686 in educational costs from the Norwalk public school system. She faced a possible sentence of 20 years in prison. Moreover, McDowell’s babysitter was evicted from public housing because she apparently assisted by providing  false documents necessary for enrolling the young boy.

McDowell and her son are black; the Norwalk public school system is predominantly white – and therefore better funded than the Bridgeport system, in which people of color predominate. Essentially, she was charged with “stealing” a good public education for her son, who is entitled to public education, but not, presumably, a good one.

This prosecution was outrageous, right?  Yes – by any reasonable standard of human decency, anyway. But we live in a societal Twilight Zone in which the often-subterranean currents of the dominant U.S. public imagination respond to virtually all claims to social and economic justice as some form of theft, with all of the dissonance, danger, anxiety, emotional vulnerability, defensiveness, and fury associated with its evocation.

(more…)

NYC, Largest City in Nation to Ensure Paid Sick Leave

April 06, 2014 By: seeta Category: Workers' Rights

New Law Effective April 1

From NYT:

The law went into effect on April 1. And despite the naysayers and the critics, the skies didn’t fall. Instead, without hoopla or hullabaloo, the city quietly became the largest in the nation to ensure that the vast majority of workers wouldn’t lose their jobs or a portion of their paychecks if they or their close relatives got sick.

For Mayor Bill de Blasio, who significantly expanded the law’s reach when he took office in January, it is a notable and welcome victory. He has been battered and bruised as his efforts to raise the city’s minimum wage and to tax the wealthy to pay for universal prekindergarten foundered in Albany.

But with the paid sick leave law, the mayor has clearly succeeded in making good on his promise “to lift up working families and raise the wage and benefit floor for all New Yorkers.”

As a result of the new law, about 1.2 million workers will have paid sick leave for the first time, according to Nancy Rankin, vice president for policy research at the Community Service Society of New York, a group that works on behalf of low-income New Yorkers. That’s about 240,000 more people than would have received the benefit if the mayor hadn’t expanded the scope of the policy.

Under the new law, companies with five or more employees will have to provide up to five paid days off to workers if they, or their close relatives, fall ill. (Employees accrue leave based on their hours worked.) A weaker version of the law, which passed last year, would have affected businesses with 15 or more workers and did not include the manufacturing sector.

In corporate conference rooms, such changes might be greeted with a yawn. After all, we professionals typically take paid sick leave for granted. But in today’s economy, where the fastest growing sectors are creating low-wage jobs, this change could not be more critical.

Securing Wages Earned Against Theft

February 26, 2014 By: seeta Category: Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Development, What People are Doing to Change the World, Workers' Rights

From NY Labor and Employer Lawyer Shirley Lin:

The article describes the key provisions of New York Assembly Bill 8045 (2013), legislation drafted by AALDEF, Chinese Staff & Workers’ Association, NMASS, Legal Aid, and UJC.

The anti-wage-theft proposal was designed based upon challenges advocates faced collecting from small businesses in particular. The bill:

  1. expands New York’s mechanic’s lien law to provide a “wage lien” for workers from any industry upon employer’s personal and real property;
  2. creates a new, more easily-attainable ground for attaching defendant employers’ assets pre-judgment in New York’s civil procedure law, in wage cases — a standard virtually identical to Connecticut’s more relaxed pre-judgment attachment standard;
  3. amends the Business Corporations Law to facilitate holding major corporate shareholders liable for unpaid wages; and
  4. creates a remedy similar to BCL Sec. 630 as applied to LLCs to hold members accountable for wage claims.

(h/t: Shirley Lin)

ObamaCare’s Employer Mandate is Delayed for Another Year Until 2016

February 19, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Civil Rights, Economic Development, Economic Terrorism, Tax Policy, Workers' Rights

From NYT:

The “employer mandate,” which was originally supposed to take effect last month, had already been delayed to Jan. 1, 2015, and now the administration says that employers with 50 to 99 employees will not have to comply until 2016 — allowing Democrats to placate business concerns and pushing the issue well beyond this year’s midterm elections.

In addition, the administration said the requirement would be put into effect gradually for employers with 100 or more employees. Employers in this category will need to offer coverage to 70 percent of full-time employees in 2015 and 95 percent in 2016 and later years, or they will be subject to tax penalties.

“Today’s final regulations phase in the standards to ensure that larger employers either offer quality affordable coverage or make an employer responsibility payment starting in 2015,” said Mark J. Mazur, the assistant Treasury secretary for tax policy. The purpose of the penalty, he said, is to help offset the cost to taxpayers of providing coverage or subsidies to people who cannot get affordable health insurance at work.

Under the law, employers with fewer than 50 full-time employees are generally exempt from the requirement to offer coverage.

The administration described the new policy as a form of “transition relief” to help employers adjust to requirements of the 2010 health care law.

What Really Happens When You Raise The Minimum Wage

February 18, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Economic Terrorism, Workers' Rights

From ThinkProgress:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a new report on Tuesday on the impacts of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour and $9 an hour. It found that a $10.10 minimum wage, implemented by 2016, would mean higher earnings for 16.5 million workers, resulting in $31 billion more in higher earnings. It would also lift nearly 1 million people out of poverty.

But it also found that an increase would reduce jobs slightly. “Once fully implemented in the second half of 2016, the $10.10 option would reduce total employment by about 500,000 workers, or 0.3 percent,” it projects. That figure takes into account what it says would be a decrease in jobs for low-wage workers as well as an increase of “a few tens of thousands of jobs” for others thanks to higher demand. “Once the increases and decreases in income for all workers are taken into account, overall real income would rise by $2 billion,” it says. The vast majority of people impacted, over 95 percent, will be impacted positively.

It attributes the job losses to employers increasing prices to deal with the higher wage, which would lower demand and therefore their need for more workers, as well as to some employers substituting machines or technology for workers due to the higher cost of wages.

But businesses may respond to a higher minimum wage in other ways. In a paper for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, John Schmitt argues that they can benefit from improved efficiency and lower turnover. A higher wage may lead employers to push employees to work harder, which can be preferable to cutting hours or workers. In fact, the majority of fast food restaurants in Georgia and Alabama said they would respond to a minimum wage increase with higher performance standards. A higher wage can also make it easier to recruit and retain workers, which can improve the bottom line. Dealing with turnover can be costly: replacing someone can cost as much as 20 percent of her salary.

When Culture Eclipses Class

February 17, 2014 By: seeta Category: Civil Rights, Workers' Rights

From American Prospect:

In fact, no institution played a larger role in the construction of postwar American liberalism than the UAW. Under Reuther’s leadership, the union provided funds to civil rights activists who conducted the Montgomery bus boycott, paid for the buses and sound system at the 1963 March on Washington, detailed staff and dollars to the efforts to build municipal employee unions and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers, donated resources to the fledgling efforts of Students for a Democratic Society and the National Organization for Women, and helped fund the first Earth Day. It lobbied for every liberal initiative on Capitol Hill and volunteered its considerable expertise to the development of many Great Society programs. It led the opposition within the AFL-CIO against the federation’s uber-hawkish Cold War policies. It campaigned, then and now, for Democratic candidates, which is the primary reason why Tennessee’s Republican pols opposed it so vehemently.

None of this was particularly helpful, however, in winning the vote in Chattanooga. Since its founding in 1936, many UAW members have been Appalachian whites come north to the factories of Midwestern cities. Some became union leaders and supporters while others co-existed uneasily with the growing numbers of African-Americans in the union’s ranks. During World War II, the union was stretched to the limits by its efforts to forestall nearly daily racial violence on factory floors. In the plants of Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, there was often a white backlash to the union’s aggressive promotion of civil rights, but it came from a minority of workers. This was the legacy that the union brought South, and it was this—not its fictitious reputation for thuggishness—that made the union so hard a sell to some of Chattanooga’s workers. The union’s more recent support for President Obama—hardly a popular figure in Eastern Tennessee—epitomized the politics that repelled a number of the union’s opponents. So did the UAW’s backing of Democratic candidates who, its opponents alleged, threatened to take away the workers’ guns (though the UAW, like most unions with blue-collar members, has largely steered clear of gun control issues).

By the same token, however, the UAW’s liberalism doubtless was one factor that helped it win a landmark representation election late last year among a very different group of workers—the grad student/teaching assistants at NYU. At first glance, this might not seem an election the UAW could win. Though the UAW had organized the university’s grad students more than a decade ago, the National Labor Relations Board during the George W. Bush administration (when Bush’s appointees comprised a majority on the board) ruled that grad students couldn’t form a union under the National Labor Relations Act, and the students’ contract with the university was nullified. Unlike Volkswagen management, the NYU administration then opposed the union’s and the students’ efforts to win representation outside the NLRB’s jurisdiction. For eight years, NYU refused to let the students vote, but the UAW continued to build support for a vote not only among the T.A.s but among the city’s Democratic elected officials, who were as predisposed to the effort as Tennessee’s Republicans were appalled at the thought of a UAW victory in their state. Last year, the university agreed to let the students vote and to stay neutral in the election. By a margin of 620 to 10, the students voted to have the UAW represent them.

Of the 390,000 or so UAW members, fully 45,000 are employed at universities (until the NYU election, all of them public universities, which are not subject to the NLRB’s jurisdiction). The union’s commitment not just to its workers but to progressive causes is a clear asset in organizing T.A.s and other university employees, just as it was a obstacle in organizing auto workers in the South.

Thus the UAW of 2014—able to win overwhelming support from Greenwich Village grad students, but unable to win a majority of Chattanooga auto workers, who rejected the union’s bid by a 712-to-626 margin. If America broke neatly along class lines, the UAW should have won Chattanooga in a romp and floundered at NYU. But as many unions have discovered, generally to their woe, the politics of race and culture often eclipse those of class in the United States. That’s one big part of American exceptionalism. That’s just—alas—the American way.

The Anti-Minimum-Wage Group Funding Those Minimum-Wage Studies

February 11, 2014 By: seeta Category: 2014 Mid-term Elections, 2016 Election, Anti-Racism, Economic Terrorism, Poverty, Workers' Rights


Michael Saltsman, the Employment Policies Institute’s research director, late last month.
Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

From The NYT:

The Employment Policies Institute, founded two decades ago, is led by the advertising and public relations executive Richard B. Berman, who has made millions of dollars in Washington by taking up the causes of corporate America. He has repeatedly created official-sounding nonprofit groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom that have challenged limits like the ban on indoor smoking and the push to restrict calorie counts in fast foods.

In recent months, Mr. Berman’s firm has taken out full-page advertisements in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal andplastered a Metro station near the Capitol with advertisements, including one featuring a giant photograph of Representative Nancy Pelosi, the California Democrat who is a proponent of the minimum wage increase, that read, “Teens Who Can’t Find a Job Should Blame Her.”

These messages, also promoted on websites operated by Mr. Berman’s firm, including minimumwage.com, instruct anyone skeptical about the arguments to consult the reports prepared by the Employment Policies Institute, most often described only as a “nonprofit research organization.”

But the dividing line between the institute and Mr. Berman’s firm was difficult to discern during two visits last week to the eighth-floor office at 1090 Vermont Avenue, a building near the White House that is the headquarters for both.

The sign at the entrance is for Berman and Company, as the Employment Policies Institute has no employees of its own. Mr. Berman’s for-profit advertising firm, instead, “bills” the nonprofit institute for the services his employees provide to the institute. This arrangement effectively means that the nonprofit is a moneymaking venture for Mr. Berman, whose advertising firm was paid $1.1 million by the institute in 2012, according to its tax returns, or 44 percent of its total budget, with most of the rest of the money used to buy advertisements.