Let’s drink to the hard working people 3

Let's drink to the hard working people

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I fell under the influence of the Rolling Stones as an early teenager and never left.  The other day I was listening to Keith Richards grinding out his raspy lyrics to the song “Salt of the Earth,” which begins with the guiding line, “Let’s drink to the hard working people.”  The Stones understood back in 1968 (and probably earlier) that workers should be appreciated and recognized, and it’s time the rest of us follow suit.

Workers, especially low wage workers, are much worse off today than they were 46 years ago when “Salt of the Earth” was released.  According to a recent study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, 40% of Americans now make less than the 1968 minimum wage.  Had the federal minimum wage kept pace with gains in the country’s productivity since 1968, it would be $16.54 per hour as opposed to its current abysmal rate of $7.25 per hour.  Put another way, the current federal minimum wage is 32% less in 2013 dollars than it was in 1968.

Corporate America’s concerted attack on unions coupled with anti-union legislation has also hurt workers.  On average, unionized employees earn roughly $200 more per week than non-union employees.  Today, unions represent a meager 7% of employees in corporate America, which is one-quarter the level in the 1960s.  In 2013, the union membership rate was 11.3% compared to 20.1% in 1983.  A 2011 study argues that the decline of organized labor accounts for about one-third of the rise in income inequality for men and one-fifth for women — even for people who never belonged to unions.

Our country’s historically high poverty rate, which currently exceeds 15% of the U.S. population, is due at least in part to the failure to recognize and support labor.  Four out of every five Americans will experience near-poverty, unemployment or reliance on welfare programs at some point in their lives.  In 2013, the poverty wage level for a single full-time worker with one child was $8.11, which is almost a dollar more than the current federal minimum wage.

I call on all of us to raise our glass to hard working people and take action to reverse these devastating trends.  An increase of the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour would raise the incomes for 17 million Americans.  Federal law should follow California’s lead by imposing significant penalties against employers who fail to pay the requisite minimum wage or who fail to pay wages at all.  Finally, unions should be lauded instead of vilified, especially in the burgeoning high tech industry which has always been hostile to unions.

Workers ARE the salt of the earth, and it’s time for the country to show them the respect and appreciation they deserve.

Scott Ames

About Scott Ames

Scott Ames has been litigating wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, family and medical leave, breach of contract, wage and hour violations, unfair competition and trade secret matters, and other employee rights cases for over two decades. Mr. Ames’ demonstrated record of success has resulted in him being named among the Top 100 Attorneys in Southern California in 2012 and 2013, a “Southern California Super Lawyer” by Los Angeles Magazine from 2007 through 2014, and a “Best Lawyer in America” from 2006 through 2014. Mr. Ames is also active in his community, and has served on a number of committees and boards of non-profit organizations which seek to improve the lives of the disenfranchised or working poor.

50 is not the new 30 when you need a job 5

By Scott R. Ames

I’m turning 50 on Saturday, and my wife and friends tell me that “50 is the new 30.”  There’s even a blog named after this phrase.

While gyms and trendy cafés are filled with these “50 are the new 30 year-olds,” the job market tells a much different and more sobering story.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, when older workers lose their jobs, the re-employment rate for individuals between 55 and 64 is 47 percent (dropping to 24 percent for those over 65), compared with a 62 percent re-employment rate for 20 to 54 year-olds.  The average length of unemployment for older workers is 46 weeks, compared with 20 weeks for younger workers.  When older workers find new employment, their median salary loss is 18 percent compared with a 6.7 percent drop for 20 to 24 year-olds.

This data doesn’t match the rosy picture my wife is painting about me turning 50.  And it gets worse.  In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 129 S.Ct. 2343 (2009), making it harder to win age discrimination claims brought under the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act than claims brought on race, sex, and other bases covered by Title VII.  Under California law, the standards are the same but some courts seem to require more evidence of age-related comments and age-bashing than they do for other forms of discrimination.

For example, in Sandell v. Taylor-Listug, Inc. 188 Cal.App.4th 297 (2010), a San Diego Superior Court judge dismissed 60-year old Robert Sandell’s age and disability discrimination lawsuit  before trial, despite being provided with evidence that Mr. Sandell was replaced by a younger employee, that the company’s President stated at meetings that he wanted to replace older workers with younger employees, that employees over 50 were being replaced with substantially younger new hires, and that the company’s founder told Mr. Sandell that he “is old” and is “getting up there.”  Fortunately, the Court of Appeals reversed the San Diego Superior Court’s decision and allowed Mr. Sandell’s case to go before a jury, but this case highlights the uphill battle employees face when bringing claims based on age discrimination.

Finally, the social, emotional and financial impact on older workers who lose their jobs can be  devastating.  People are living longer and are having children later in life, and many cannot afford to “retire” or be forced out of work in their 50s, 60s or even 70s.  In addition, an employee over 50 may have worked for the same employer for many years, so that losing a job results in the loss  of an integral social network.

As I approach 50, my professional commitment to advancing the rights of older workers has become a little more personal.  Jokes about “Having a senior moment” no longer sound so funny or hit a little too close to home, because in the job market 50 is definitely not the new 30.

Scott Ames

About Scott Ames

Scott Ames has been litigating wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, family and medical leave, breach of contract, wage and hour violations, unfair competition and trade secret matters, and other employee rights cases for over two decades. Mr. Ames’ demonstrated record of success has resulted in him being named among the Top 100 Attorneys in Southern California in 2012 and 2013, a “Southern California Super Lawyer” by Los Angeles Magazine from 2007 through 2014, and a “Best Lawyer in America” from 2006 through 2014. Mr. Ames is also active in his community, and has served on a number of committees and boards of non-profit organizations which seek to improve the lives of the disenfranchised or working poor.

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