Robert Reich: The Real Job Killers 1

Robert Reich: The Real Job Killers

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By Robert Reich

House Speaker John Boehner says raising the minimum wage is “bad policy” because it will cause job losses.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says a minimum wage increase would be a job killer. Republicans and the Chamber also say unions are job killers, workplace safety regulations are job killers, environmental regulations are job killers, and the Affordable Care Act is a job killer. The California Chamber of Commerce even publishes an annual list of “job killers,” including almost any measures that lift wages or protect workers and the environment.

Most of this is bunk.

When in 1996 I recommended the minimum wage be raised, Republicans and the Chamber screamed it would “kill jobs.” In fact, in the four years after it was raised, the U.S. economy created more jobs than were ever created in any four-year period.

For one thing, a higher minimum wage doesn’t necessarily increase business costs. It draws more job applicants into the labor market, giving employers more choice of whom to hire. As a result, employers often get more reliable workers who remain longer – thereby saving employers at least as much money as they spend on higher wages.

A higher wage can also help build employee morale, resulting in better performance. Gap, America’s largest clothing retailer, recently announced it would boost its hourly wage to $10. Wall Street approved. “You treat people well, they’ll treat your customers well,” said Dorothy Lakner, a Wall Street analyst. “Gap had a strong year last year compared to a lot of their peers. That sends a pretty strong message to employees that, ‘we had a good year, but you’re going to be rewarded too.’”

Even when raising the minimum wage — or bargaining for higher wages and better working conditions, or requiring businesses to provide safer workplaces or a cleaner environment — increases  the cost of business, this doesn’t necessarily kill jobs.

Most companies today can easily absorb such costs without reducing payrolls. Corporate profits now account for the largest percentage of the economy on record.  Large companies are sitting on more than $1.5 trillion in cash they don’t even know what to do with. Many are using their cash to buy back their own shares of stock – artificially increasing share value by reducing the number of shares traded on the market.

Walmart spent $7.6 billion last year buying back shares of its own stock — a move that papered over its falling profits. Had it used that money on wages instead, it could have given its workers a raise from around $9 an hour to almost $15. Arguably, that would have been a better use of the money over the long-term – not only improving worker loyalty and morale but also giving workers enough to buy more goods from Walmart (reminiscent of Henry Ford’s pay strategy a century ago).

There’s also a deeper issue here.  Even assuming some of these measures might cause some job losses, does that mean we shouldn’t proceed with them?

Americans need jobs, but we also need minimally decent jobs. The nation could create millions of jobs tomorrow if we eliminated the minimum wage altogether and allowed employers to pay workers $1 an hour or less. But do we really want to do that?

Likewise, America could create lots of jobs if all health and safety regulations were repealed, but that would subject millions of workers to severe illness and injury.

Lots of jobs could be added if all environmental rules were eliminated, but that would result in the kind of air and water pollution that many people in poor nations have to contend with daily.

If the Affordable Care Act were repealed, hundreds of thousands of Americans would have to go back to working at jobs they don’t want but feel compelled to do in order to get health insurance.

We’d create jobs, but not progress. Progress requires creating more jobs that pay well, are safe, sustain the environment, and provide a modicum of security. If seeking to achieve a minimum level of decency ends up “killing” some jobs, then maybe those aren’t the kind of jobs we ought to try to preserve in the first place.

Finally, it’s important to remember the real source of job creation. Businesses hire more workers only when they have more customers. When they have fewer customers, they lay off workers. So the real job creators are consumers with enough money to buy.

Even Walmart may be starting to understand this. The company is “looking at” whether to support a minimum wage increase. David Tovar, a Walmart spokesman, noted that such a move would increase the company’s payroll costs but would also put more money in the pockets of some of Walmart’s customers.

In other words, forget what you’re hearing from the Republicans and the Chamber of Commerce. The real job killers in America are lousy jobs at lousy wages.

A special thank you to Robert Reich for letting us repost this compelling piece, which originally appeared on his blog, www.robertreich.org

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, and On Demand.

International Women’s Day now means progress without equity

International Women’s Day now means progress without equity

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By Elizabeth Kristen

International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide this past weekend, started out as  “International Working Women’s Day” in 1911. One week later, the notorious Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911 broke out, killing over 140 workers – mostly women – who were trapped inside the factory. The horror of that fire and the working conditions imposed on the women locked inside the factory galvanized the labor movement and the women’s rights movement. Even though the name may have changed, this annual day honoring women is the perfect time to take account of the barriers working women still face today.

Working women in the United States confront challenges ranging from workplace discrimination and harassment to unequal pay and inadequate leaves of absences.  The 2014 Shriver Report:  A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back from the Brink collects essays that detail how these barriers impact not only working women, but their families, the economy and society as a whole.

Discrimination and harassment – Women continue to face unlawful discrimination and harassment on the job based on sex, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, national origin, disability, and many other characteristics.  The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that enforces our federal civil rights laws published its statistics for charges filed in Fiscal Year 2013.  Charges of sex discrimination constituted approximately 30% of the charges filed with the EEOC.  The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the state agency that enforces our state civil rights laws published its statistics for 2012. This data showed that sexual harassment charges were approximately 60% of the charges filed regarding sex discrimination and harassment.  These statistics demonstrate that employment discrimination and harassment continue as serious problems for working women.

On the legislative front of women’s rights issues at the federal level, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would strengthen the protections for working pregnant women.  We also need the protections of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity across the country.  But these laws must also be enforced, which means vigilant leadership and restoration of the funding cuts that have undermined the California and federal agencies charged with civil rights enforcement.

Gender-Based Wage Gap – Despite the fact that gender-based pay discrimination has been against the law for over 50 years, women in the United States still face a significant wage gap.  Recently, there has been little progress in closing the gap in wages between women and men.  As of 2012, women’s median earnings were 81% of men’s.  And the wage gap is worse for women of color.  Because women are breadwinners for their families, the impact of wage discrimination is felt across the board.  The Paycheck Fairness Act, pending in Congress, would help fight gender-based pay discrimination

Leaves of Absence – Women are still the primary caregivers in the U.S. and they also often must take time off work for pregnancy and childbirth.  Yet the U.S. lags behind nearly every other country in the industrialized world in terms of how much leave it provides for caregiving, pregnancy and childbirth.  The federal Family and Medical Leave Act provides for job-protected leaves of absence for caregiving as well as for pregnancy and bonding leave.  However, the FMLA is unpaid leave and many workers cannot afford to take unpaid leave.  The FMLA also provides no protection for those workers at companies with fewer than 50 employees at or near their worksite, those who have worked for the employer for less than a year, and many who work part-time. Additionally FMLA takes a narrow view of what it means to be a family member, drawing a tight boundary around the nuclear family– parent, child, and spouse.   Grandparents, siblings and other extended family are not included.

The California Paid Family Leave Law, the first of its kind in the country, provides partial wage replacement to workers who take time off to care for family members or bond with a new child.  As of July 2014, California workers will be able to take  paid family leave for a broader group of family members that will include grandparents and grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law.

Some federal legislators are already taking the cue from California with a pending bill in Congress to provide paid leave nationally.  They should keep up the momentum and improve the FMLA to extend coverage to more workers and to widen the circle of who is considered “family.”

The United Nations’ theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Equality for Women is Progress for All.”  The global gender gap index shows a strong correlation between a country’s gender gap and its economic competitiveness. Given the fact that women are at least half of the potential workforce, a nation’s economic competitiveness depends on how it treats women. Improving the lives of working women will enhance progress for all working families and our national economy.  When that happens, we will all be able to proclaim “Happy International Women’s Day”!

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

U.S. lags behind western democracies in enacting anti-workplace bullying laws despite growing problem 2

U.S. lags behind western democracies in enacting anti-workplace bullying laws despite growing problem

dreamstime_xs_29765084By Supreeta Sampath

According to the National Bullying Institute, one-third of Americans are bullied at work, and workplace bullying is on the rise.  Recently the issue of bullying made national headlines when Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, accused lineman Richie Incognito of physical and verbal abusive behavior.  The absence of state or federal legislation to address this troubling trend sends bullies the message that they can get away with such behavior as yelling, screaming, humiliating, and sabotaging an employee’s career.  The legal void also signals to employers that they can turn a blind eye to bullying without fear of legal repercussions.

Compared to other western democracies, including Britain, Canada, France and Australia (which have all enacted anti-bullying legislation) the United States is in the dark ages on this important mental health issue.  But at the state level, there are signs that this may be changing.

Suffolk University Law Professor David Yamada has drafted model anti-bullying legislation, known as The Healthy Workplace Bill.  The Healthy Workplace Campaign defines workplace bullying as “repeated, health-harming mistreatment” that involves verbal abuse, offensive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, intimidating or work sabotage.

Since 2003, anti-bullying legislation has been introduced in 25 states (including California). While none has been enacted into law, there are currently 11 states that have bills under active consideration.

This kind of legislation will undoubtedly ignite the business lobby with their well-worn opposition arguments.  Employer groups will continue to argue that anti-bullying legislation will open up the floodgates of litigation and clog our already overburdened courts because “overly sensitive” employees will run to file a lawsuit every time they have a bad day at work.

But this focus on the frivolous is a straw argument that trivializes the real cost of bullying to workers and businesses alike.  The concern about legislating workplace civility can be addressed by careful drafting.  Rather than fighting workplace bullying laws, employer lobby groups should put their energies into crafting a law that will prohibit abusive or humiliating treatment that no decent employer would sanction, while leaving supervisors free to constructively manage and discipline employees.

It would be nice if internal policies and company grievance procedures had put an end to the harm of workplace bullying.  But that has not happened.  What we know from past experience is that sometimes it takes a change in law to change behavior.

Before the passage of laws like Title VII and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, it was legally permissible to harass and discriminate against employees on the basis of their race, color, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age, and other now protected categories.  Once these laws were in place, U.S. companies began holding their managers and employees accountable to  eliminate discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace.

The good news is that, according to a survey by one human resources professional organization, 56% of U.S. companies already have some sort of anti-bullying policy.  Drawing on models from employers themselves, we should be able to frame a law that would eliminate frivolous claims by definition by requiring claimants to show not only of out-of-bounds conduct, but also documented harm.  While there may be some who still try to file unworthy suits, careful crafting of legislation will ensure that their suits are tossed out.  But throwing the baby away with the bath water is not the solution to a growing national problem.  It’s time for California and other states in the union to get serious about enacting anti-workplace bullying legislation.

Supreeta Sampath

About Supreeta Sampath

Supreeta Sampath is the founder of The Sampath Law Firm located in San Francisco, California. For over a decade, her legal career has been dedicated to serving the needs of those who have been denied justice. Ms. Sampath has extensive experience representing workers in employment discrimination cases on account of race, national origin, religion, gender, disability, age, sexual harassment, retaliation as well as cases involving labor code violations. From 2011-2014 she has been named a Rising Star in the field of Labor and Employment by Super Lawyers Magazine.

A reason for gratitude: We can care for loved ones when they need us most 1

A reason for gratitude: We can care for loved ones when they need us most

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By Ramit Mizrahi

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. While it’s true that all year I look forward to eating turkey, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, I love most what the holiday stands for. It is a day of gratitude, shared by Americans of all faiths and persuasions, that we set aside to spend with our families. As we reunite with our loved ones, we focus on what really matters and appreciate all that we have. The holiday has special significance for me as a plaintiff-side employment lawyer. One of my primary focuses is on family leave, and I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about how we can encourage and protect caregiving by workers, male and female. After all, what’s more important than family? So this year I am extra thankful: our paid family leave program is being expanded to allow workers to care for more family members.

Workers today face significant barriers when trying to take family leave, particularly those who are already struggling to make ends meet. Around three quarters of Americans live from paycheck-to-paycheck, with little in the way of savings, and 68% of Americans would find it difficult if their paychecks were delayed by even a week. It is no surprise, then, that a 2012 Department of Labor survey found that of those who reported that they needed family and medical leave but did not take it, 46% stated that inability to afford leave was the reason they did not take it. Of those who did take leave, nearly half cut their leave short because they could not afford more time off. Paid family leave is therefore critical as a safety net for workers to take the time they need to bond with their babies and to care for their relatives.

Since 2004, California has offered a Paid Family Leave (PFL) program that provides up to six weeks of paid benefits for workers to take time off to bond with a new child or care for seriously ill family members. It is fully funded by employees, and all employees who pay into the State Disability Insurance Fund are covered. However, until recently, its scope was limited to leave to care for a parent, child, spouse, or domestic partner, or to bond with a new child.

Earlier this year, Governor Brown signed SB 770 (Jackson) to expand PFL coverage to employees who take leave to care for seriously ill grandchildren, grandparents, siblings, or parents-in-law. By expanding PFL’s scope, we take into account changing demographics and allow more workers to provide care for family members in need. According to research cited by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, author of SB 770, California has the second-highest percentage of multi-generational households in the country, and the EDD rejected about 10% of PFL claims because the employee sought leave to care for a family member not previously covered.

We as a society only stand to gain from family members being able to provide each other with quality care. Research has shown that the effect on workers and their families has been overwhelmingly positive. For example, with respect to new parents, research found that 91% of those who used PFL said it had a positive effect on their ability to care for their new child, that fathers who used PFL took a leave twice as long as men who didn’t use PFL, and that PFL doubles the duration of breastfeeding for new moms who used it. Employers, too, have reason to celebrate the expansion of PFL as the vast majority of surveyed employers responded that PFL had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on business productivity (89%), profitability/performance (91%), turnover (96%), and employee morale (99%).

For next year, let’s aspire to expand paid family leave further, to cover more working Americans inside and outside of California.  Within the next few weeks, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT) will introduce the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (“FAMILY Act”), which would provide workers with up to 12 weeks of paid family leave at up to 66% of their earned wages. Within California, we can also help more workers take family leave by expanding PFL to cover public employees and by giving job protection to those who take PFL. By strengthening our paid family leave programs, the ability to take time to care for family members and bond with children will be within reach for so many more workers throughout the country.

This Thanksgiving, celebrate your time with family. Be grateful for the love and health you all have, and take comfort that if they need you, they can count on you to be there for them.

Ramit Mizrahi

About Ramit Mizrahi

Ramit Mizrahi, the founder of Mizrahi Law, APC, practices in the area of employment law, representing employees exclusively. Her work focuses on cases involving discrimination, harassment, retaliation, leave law issues, and wrongful termination. She is a graduate of Yale Law School, The London School of Economics, and UC-Berkeley.

New laws to advance workers’ rights in California: the 2013 legislative round up 2

New laws to advance workers' rights in California: the 2013 legislative round up

By Mariko Yoshihara

Now that the dust has settled after a flurry of action from the Governor’s office to meet this year’s bill signing deadline, it’s time to take stock of how workers fared during the 2013 legislative year.  Although there were some challenges and setbacks, on balance, the California Employment Lawyers Association (CELA) and its many allies made some great progress in advancing the rights of California workers.

To start, the Governor signed several significant bills this year to help boost and protect the earnings of low-wage and immigrant workers.  After years of stagnation and prior unsuccessful attempts, the state minimum wage will finally see an increase after the approval of AB 10 (Asm. Alejo).  Even the Chamber of Commerce’s ignoble “job killer” list did not stop the Governor from signing AB 10 into law.  The new law raises the $8 an hour minimum wage to $9 an hour, effective July 1, 2014, and from $9 an hour to $10 an hour, effective Jan. 1, 2016.

Domestic workers will also see a boost in wages after scoring a historic victory with AB 241 (Asm. Ammiano), known as the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.  After a disappointing veto last year on a similar bill, the Governor’s approval of AB 241 was a significant step forward for the Domestic Workers campaign, which has roots all across the nation.  This law mandates overtime compensation for domestic workers in California who work over 9 hours in a day and over 45 hours in a week.

Bills to protect wages were also a highlight of this year’s legislative session.  SB 496 (Sen. Monning), signed by the Governor this year, makes it easier for workers to pursue a claim for unpaid wages by eliminating the threat of potentially ruinous liability if they ultimately do not succeed on their claim.

Carwash workers cemented some much-needed protections by eliminating the sunset date on one of the most effective tools for combating wage theft in the car wash industry.  AB 1387 (Asm. Hernandez) now permanently requires car washes to register and obtain a bond to fund an account for car wash workers who cannot collect their wages.

The Fair Paycheck Act, which would have helped all workers collect their unpaid wages, unfortunately suffered a defeat this year due to heavy lobbying by special interest groups in big business and banking.  This bill would have authorized an employee to record and enforce a wage lien upon an employer’s property.  Though unsuccessful, the Fair Paycheck campaign, led by a broad coalition of low wage worker advocates, will continue to rebuild as sights are set on another legislative attempt next year.

Two major victories scored this year were the signings of AB 263 (Asm. Hernandez) and SB 666 (Sen. Steinberg), a pair of bills aiming to protect and promote the rights of immigrant workers who suffer from pervasive abuse in the workplace.  These bills help workers assert their rights by clarifying that retaliation protected under Labor Code 98.6 broadly includes any adverse actions (including threats of deportation).  Additionally, these bills clarify that workers do not have to go through the cumbersome process of filing administrative complaints unless the Labor Code expressly requires it.  Another immigrant workers’ rights bill signed this year, AB 524 (Asm. Mullin), makes it a crime for employers or their attorneys to use threats of deportation to exploit immigrant workers.

Whistleblowers also receive some added protection under SB 496 (Sen. Wright), which expands Labor Code 1102.5 to cover workers who are preemptively fired before they can report any wrongdoing and to cover a broader range of disclosures.

Proposals to strengthen the state’s family care laws met heavy opposition this year, with only one of three bills even making it to the Governor’s desk.  SB 404 (Sen. Jackson) and SB 761 (Sen. DeSaulnier) – both labeled “job killers” by the Chamber of Commerce – stalled in committees.  SB 404 would have prohibited discrimination against workers who care for their family members and SB 707 would have provided job protection for workers taking paid family leave.  Unless they are lucky enough to work for an employer that is covered by the California Family Rights Act, workers who take paid family leave are still at risk of being fired for taking the leave.

SB 770 (Sen. Jackson) was the lone family care bill signed by the Governor into law.  This bill expands the Paid Family Leave Program to provide wage replacement for workers taking care of seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law.

With the exception of one, the Governor signed several bills to help strengthen our workplace anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws.  The lone defeat was SB 655 (Sen. Wright), a bill backed by a broad coalition of civil rights organizations in response to a California Supreme Court decision that undercuts the remedies available to victims of discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).  SB 655 would have provided guidance in the enforcement of discrimination and retaliation claims under the FEHA and would have provided compensation for victims of discrimination and retaliation in certain kinds of cases.

The Governor did sign a couple of bills to expand workplace protections for veterans and those in the military, AB 556 (Asm. Salas), as well as for victims of domestic violence, SB 400 (Sen. Jackson).  Significantly, SB 400 not only prohibits discrimination against victims of domestic violence, it also requires employers to provide victims with reasonable accommodations.  The Governor also approved SB 292 (Sen. Corbett), which strengthens sexual harassment protections, particularly with same-sex harassment, by clarifying that harassing conduct need not be motivated by sexual desire.

Former offenders will also find some added protections and help securing employment with the approval of AB 218 (Asm. Dickinson).  As part of the nation-wide “ban the box” campaign, this bill has gone through many iterations and defeats in the past.  Years in the making, this new law prohibits state and local agencies from asking an applicant to disclose information regarding a criminal conviction until after the agency has first determined whether the applicant meets minimum qualifications for the position.

All of the bills signed this year will take effect January 1st of 2014.  And as we look at what new changes lie ahead, it’s clear to see that together we achieved considerable success on behalf of workers and working families in California.

Finally, overtime coverage for all domestic workers in California!

Finally, overtime coverage for all domestic workers in California!

BVHRFetCIAA_z1k.jpg-largeBy Hina Shah

After nearly 75 years of exclusion from federal and state labor protections, domestic workers have finally scored two important victories in their fight for equal treatment.  Late last week, Governor Brown signed AB 241, extending California overtime protections to domestic workers who spend a significant amount of time caring for children, elderly and people with disabilities.  One week earlier the federal Department of Labor finalized new rules that significantly extend federal minimum wage and overtime protections to domestic workers who care for the elderly and people with disabilities.  Together, these actions extend overtime coverage to all domestic workers in California.

These historic changes are a direct result of domestic workers organizing on the local, state, and national level.  Over the past eight years, the California Domestic Workers Coalition has built a grassroots, worker-led, statewide movement in California that includes allies from labor, faith groups and employers.  Similar efforts by domestic workers in New York and Hawaii have also resulted in legislative victories.

The struggle for equal treatment of domestic workers dates back to the beginning of the regulated workplace.  Domestic workers organized a massive letter writing campaign in the 1920s and 1930s. Highlighting slave-like working conditions, they petitioned President Franklin and Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, as well as Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins, to cover them under the Fair Labor Standards Act, to no avail.  Thirty-six years later, when Congress amended the FLSA to include most domestic workers in minimum wage protections and overtime pay, it exempted live-in domestic workers from overtime and excluded casual babysitters and companions for the elderly or people with disabilities entirely.

In California, a similar letter writing campaign was instituted to get the Wage Board to regulate employment in the home as early as the 1940s.  However, when California finally adopted a Wage Order for Household Occupations in 1976, it exempted domestic workers (called “personal attendants”) who spent a significant amount of time caring for children, elderly and people with disabilities.    Personal attendants finally gained minimum wage protection in 2001 and have only now gained the right to overtime.

These gains, while significant, are not secure.  Because the federal regulations do not take effect until 2015, there is fear that they may be reversed with a change in administration.  The California statute is set to expire in 2016, unless the legislature acts to extend it.

One reason for these time limitations is the fear that home care will become unaffordable for many modest to low-income recipients.  Available evidence is to the contrary.

Currently, fifteen states provide minimum wage and overtime protection to home care workers and twenty-one states provide minimum wage. According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute, institutionalization rates are not higher in states that provide home care workers with minimum wage and overtime.  Furthermore, there is significant cost to high turnover rates (estimated at between 44 and 65%) that is a direct result of low wages and poor working conditions.

While neither AB 241 nor the federal rules are a panacea, domestic workers in California have much to celebrate this month. Today’s home-care industry is staffed by trained professionals. These workers are their families’ breadwinners.  The removal of these historical exemptions at both the federal and state level is an important first step in valuing their labor as real work, and recognizing the dignity of those who care for our loved ones.

Hina Shah

About Hina Shah

Hina B. Shah is an Associate Professor of Law and Co-Director at the Women’s Employment Rights Clinic (WERC) of Golden Gate University School of Law, addressing employment and labor issues faced by low wage and immigrant workers.

Raising the minimum wage 1

Raising the minimum wage

By Elizabeth Kristen

Last night the California legislature approved Assembly Bill 10 (Luis Alejo (D-Salinas)) to raise the California minimum wage to $10 by 2016,  with Governor Brown indicating he will sign the bill.

When enacted, AB 10 will raise current California minimum wage from $8 to $9 on July 1, 2014 and then to $10 on January 1, 2016.

While California’s minimum wage at $8 per hour has been significantly higher than the federal rate of $7.25, the legislature had not increased California minimum wage since 2008.  To counter the effects of a stagnant state minimum wage, some cities like San Francisco and San Jose have passed on their own higher minimum wages (at $10.55 and $10), respectively.

This summer has seen significant activism to raise the minimum wage.  July 24th was the National Day of Action to Raise the Minimum Wage, marking the four-year anniversary since the federal minimum wage was raised to $7.25 per hour.  In the last 30 years, Congress has voted to raise the minimum wage just three times. The current value of minimum wage today is nearly a third lower than it was in 1968.  Meanwhile, chief executives at the nation’s top corporations have seen a median wage increase of 16 percent in the last year alone.

It is no surprise that income inequality has risen nationally, but few realize that California ranks third worst in the country when it comes to the income gap between rich and poor.

AB 10’s minimum wage increases would go a long way toward closing this gap.

Raising the minimum wage will benefit working families.  According to the Economic Policy Institute, women constitute 55% of the workers who benefit from raising the federal minimum wage.  In the restaurant industry, women make up 66% of the workers paid the federal sub-minimum wage.  More than 25% of those who would benefit are parents.  The burden of low wages also falls disproportionately on people of color who are 42% of minimum wage earners despite being only 32% of the total workforce.

In addition to improving the lives of workers, increased wages will increase consumer spending, benefitting the economy overall.

At the national level, pending legislation would raise the minimum wage to $9.80 in three phases and then index it to inflation.  The federal legislation would also raise the sub-minimum wage paid for tipped workers (which has not been raised since 1991) from $2.13 in 85 cent increments until it reaches 70% of the minimum wage.

Recent community actions have drawn greater attention to this issue of low wages. For example, workers at places such as McDonalds and Taco Bell have been staging one-day walkouts to protest their low wages.  The New York Times described a worker, Ana Salvador, whose job is at a fast food restaurant inside the Smithsonian Institution’s Air & Space Museum, did not pay enough to support her four children.  She had to rely on food stamps and Medicaid to help her family.

While AB 10 is great progress for California, federal lawmakers need to raise the minimum wage and at all levels policy makers must institute meaningful change to wage policies to ensure workers nationwide can support themselves, their families and the economy.

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

Filner went out with a bang 6

Filner went out with a bang

By Nicole Heeder

This is San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s last week in office.  For the last 2 months, we have endured ubiquitous news coverage after 18 courageous women came forth to tell their stories of humiliating sexual harassment, literally, at the hands of Bob Filner.  These accounts brought to light the Mayor’s affinity for subjecting his employees and female colleagues to his abusive conduct, including persistent verbal sexual assaults, unwanted kissing, and groping, and what has been coined the Filner Headlock. After 3 days of mediation, 1 week of intensive therapy, and no end in sight, the nation welcomed Filner’s resignation.

Everyone tuned in to witness Filner’s parting words, certain that he would sincerely apologize to the many women he had intimidated and disenfranchised throughout his short term of office. Instead, he denied sexually harassing anyone, stating that his intention was not to offend or violate but to “establish personal relationships.” As it turned out, amidst a barrage of self-serving “explanations,” the most authentic part of Filner’s resignation speech was the admission that his conduct was a “combination of awkwardness and hubris.”   In ancient Greece, hubris referred to actions that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure of the abuser. Even after his “rehabilitation,” Filner doesn’t know what sexual harassment is, but his comment about hubris was right on the money.

More often than not, sexual harassment is about abuse of power, not sexual desire. Last week, in a progressive step toward increasing protection for employees, Governor Jerry Brown signed off on SB 292, overturning Kelly v. The Conco Companies, clarifying that sexual harassment need not be motivated by sexual desire to be unlawful conduct under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

In Kelly v. The Conco Companies, a male employee was subjected to demeaning sexual comments and gestures by his male supervisor and then physically attacked and retaliated against when he complained. The  Kelly decision misconstrued the Fair Employment and Housing Act, when it held that sexual harassment must be motivated by sexual desire. By this logic, you could intimidate your co-worker with sexual innuendo and profanity day after day but if you did not desire to have sex with her, then you would not be guilty of sexual harassment.

SB 292 reaffirms existing California law, which recognizes that sexual harassment is not always about sex.  Indeed, it is frequently about the abuse of authority, dominance and self-gratification. Whenever people hear about women (or men) who have been continuously sexually harassed in the workplace, the first question asked is almost always, “why did she put up with it for so long?”  The answer, of course, is abuse of power. When a victim does not immediately come forward to complain, it doesn’t mean that the victim enjoyed what was happening or that the harassment was welcome. Perhaps they are ashamed.  Women harassment victims may feel the need to keep it to themselves to avoid the innuendo that it was somehow their fault.  Men harassment victims may be embarrassed of how others will react when hearing that he “let this happen.”  More often than not, it is the result of an intimidated victim in fear of getting fired and being unable to support themselves and their families.

When Filner came into office, I am certain that he wanted to set an example during his term. It just so happens that in his short reign, he did. Although unintended, the example worth learning is that the balance of power can shift. After his “inspiring” resignation speech, yet another woman, moved by the strength of the others, stepped forward to speak out against Filner. These 19 women were all subjected to harassment by a man who thought he was invincible. Thanks to them, he was wrong.  Now, with the signing of SB 292, the State of California has reaffirmed its commitment to protecting workers from sexual harassment, whatever the motivation of the perpetrator.

Nicole Heeder

About Nicole Heeder

Nicole Heeder owns and operates Law & [M]ocean, a plaintiffs’ employment law boutique in San Diego. She is focused on eradicating discrimination and harassment issues in the workplace.

ENDA: Is there an end to LGBT employment discrimination? 1

ENDA: Is there an end to LGBT employment discrimination?

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By Anne Richardson

At present, employers in 29 states are legally allowed to fire an employee for being lesbian, gay, or bisexual. In 33 states they can fire a transsexual employee based only on gender identity without fear of repercussion. At the same time, 37.7% of ‘out’ LGBT employees report being discriminated against at work, and 9% reported losing a job because of their orientation. Though federal laws forbid workplace discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age, national origin or disability, no such protections exist for LGBT workers nationwide.

The extent of discrimination against LGBT workers was chronicled in A Broken Bargain, a recent report from the Center for American Progress, Human Rights Campaign Fund and Movement Advancement Project.  These organizations, along with many others are calling for Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2013 (ENDA – SB 815).

This week, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee passed ENDA out of committee.  If it goes on to become law, ENDA will extend to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees the same workplace protections guaranteed to other groups. Specifically, it would forbid discrimination “because of such individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

A story on the blog Policymic titled 5 People Who Were Fired for Being Gay, and the 29 States Where That is Still Legal, profiles a lesbian soccer coach in Tennessee, a management analyst with the Library of Congress, and others who have faced employment discrimination because of their LGBT status.

Many feel the time has come for Congress to pass ENDA, including groups like the Human Rights Campaign Fund that are calling for public action.  Without ENDA, LGBT workers around the country will continue to endure workplace discrimination and be excluded from the promise of a free and fair workplace for all Americans.

Anne Richardson

About Anne Richardson

Anne Richardson is the Associate Director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law, a project aimed at eliminating economic injustice on behalf of underrepresented workers, students, and families throughout California and nationwide. Previously she was a partner at Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick representing plaintiffs in all varieties of employment discrimination and civil rights matters for over twenty years. A graduate of Stanford Law School, she has been named to the Top 100 Lawyers in Southern California and has received numerous honors for her work.

Senate Bill 292 would restore protection for hostile work environment sexual harassment

For victims of sexual harassment,  whether the harasser is motivated by lust or hostility, or a combination of both, makes no difference.  However, one California Appellate Court departed from that traditional wisdom and ruled that in order for conduct to be sexually harassing, it must be motivated by sexual desire.

In his recent article for the Los Angeles Daily Journal, CELA VOICE contributor James DeSimone explains how Senate Bill 292 would restore protection to California employees who experience hostile work environment sexual harassment.

Jean Hyams

About Jean Hyams

Jean K. Hyams is a founding partner of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, a Bay Area boutique law firm focused on representing employees in employment disputes. She left a career as a manager in high-tech companies to pursue her dream of becoming a civil rights lawyer. She has been named by Northern California Super Lawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Northern California for the past five years and her firm has been rated one of the Best Law Firms (Tier 1 – Employment Law) by U.S. News and World Report. After almost a quarter-century in practice, she now also serves as a court-appointed and private mediator of employment disputes. Jean is Co-Chair of the CELA VOICE.

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