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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Give Thanks And Support To Labor Unions Before It's Too Late

The Supreme Court, hijacked by conservatives when they refused to allow President Obama to appoint a Justice during his term, has predictably put another knife in the back of labor unions. The Republican plan is to eliminate unions altogether. They may succeed. So I wanted to do a rerun of an article I wrote some time ago about why you should give thanks to labor unions and support them by joining, paying dues, and participating.

Anti-union sentiment has spread from state to state, and union busting has become popular under the banner of money savings. Before your billionaire CEO convinces you that labor unions are bad, please don't forget what life was like in the bad old days before unions.

Maybe you don't remember the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory from your American History classes. I'll remind you. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was a sweatshop. Women and children, mostly immigrants, worked for terrible wages in terrible conditions. When a fire broke out, they couldn't escape because the employer had locked them in. Wouldn't want employees to take breaks or anything, would you? The employer said it was to stop theft. The fire escapes had collapsed and the elevators stopped working in the 10-story building. One hundred forty six workers died that day in 1911, many as young as 14. It was, until 9/11, the worst tragedy in New York history.

In a speech about the tragedy, explaining what lessons workers needed to learn from it, Rose Schneiderman said:
I would be a traitor to these poor burned bodies if I came here to talk good fellowship. We have tried you good people of the public and we have found you wanting. 
The old Inquisition had its rack and its thumbscrews and its instruments of torture with iron teeth. We know what these things are today; the iron teeth are our necessities, the thumbscrews are the high-powered and swift machinery close to which we must work, and the rack is here in the firetrap structures that will destroy us the minute they catch on fire. 
This is not the first time girls have been burned alive in the city. Every week I must learn of the untimely death of one of my sister workers. Every year thousands of us are maimed. The life of men and women is so cheap and property is so sacred. There are so many of us for one job it matters little if 146 of us are burned to death. 
We have tried you citizens; we are trying you now, and you have a couple of dollars for the sorrowing mothers, brothers and sisters by way of a charity gift. But every time the workers come out in the only way they know to protest against conditions which are unbearable the strong hand of the law is allowed to press down heavily upon us. Public officials have only words of warning to us--warning that we must be intensely peaceable, and they have the workhouse just back of all their warnings. The strong hand of the law beats us back, when we rise, into the conditions that make life unbearable. 
I can't talk fellowship to you who are gathered here. Too much blood has been spilled. I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.

As a result of this terrible tragedy, New York strengthened its labor laws. An investigation showed 200 factories had equally dangerous conditions for workers.

Before the labor movement, it wasn't uncommon for sweatshops to engage in human trafficking. Workers in coal mines, factories, farms and many other workplaces were sometimes forced to work while getting further and further in debt. Many workers were paid in company "scrip" that they could use only at the company store. They could never save for their families and never hope for a better life. Children had to work starting very young, to help support their families, with no opportunity to go to school.

The next time you hear someone knock the labor movement and say unions aren't necessary, please remember that, without unions, our workers would not have these benefits we take for granted:
  • Minimum wage
  • Overtime pay
  • Safety standards/OSHA
  • Paid vacation
  • Sick days
  • Child labor laws
  • Weekends
  • 40-hour work week
  • Health benefits
  • Unemployment compensation
Now that your job (or old job) doesn't look half as bad anymore, make sure you thank union leaders for the rights you take for granted. Think they can't take away those rights? Then you aren't paying attention. Wake up, before it's too late.

I wrote this in 2011. Now they really are starting to take away those rights. What can you do? Join a union. Pay dues. Participate. Change your workplace for the better. Vote better. Vote in the mid-terms in November. Register some friends to vote.

Friday, June 15, 2018

How To Bring Back Unions? Give Unionized Companies A Tax Cut

If there is one thing that will make a huge difference in the fight for worker rights, it's unions. Yet unions are under attack. Employers try to bust unions and prevent unionization. They do everything they can to make sure their workforce is not unionized, and if it is, to discourage workers from joining the union.

So what if we could change that picture just a little? What if employers had an incentive to encourage or at least not prevent unionization? What if employers were motivated to have a unionized workforce?

But how, you ask?

Corporations just got a huge tax cut, and if Democrats manage to take back Congress, the corporate tax cuts will be one of the first things to be rolled back. But I would suggest offering corporations the opportunity to keep their tax cuts if their non-management workforce is 95% unionized.

Right now, the companies that got the tax cuts have pretty much taken their money and run. They have moved jobs overseas, cut jobs, given raises and bonuses to C-level employees, and have done little or nothing to help their workers. Unions have asked employers to show what they did with their tax cut money, but have been met with crickets.

If employers had a tax break for a 95% unionized workforce, then they would have an incentive to stop their anti-union activities. They would also have more of an incentive to keep jobs in the U.S.

Will this result in fair pay, better pro-employee policies, and better benefits for American workers? I think it would help slowly increase the unionization in the U.S., which will be good for workers. Maybe with a tax break, it will be good for employers too.

Maybe a tax break could help stop or slow the war on workers in this country.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Harvey Weinstein's Contract Is An Admission Of His Propensity To Sexually Harass

In the land of what-the-heck-were they thinking, I give you page 10 of Harvey Weinstein's contract, Paragraph i, which is basically an admission that the company's board and management were aware of his propensity to sexually harass. I can't believe they put this in, and I'll be shocked if a judge and/or jury doesn't slap them hard with punitive damages and some personal liability.

necessary to fulfill the Board's fiduciary duties. Failure to provide the Board within a reasonableperiod with such information regarding the business, operations, financial results, prospects andaffairs
the Company, including, without limitation, information relating to acquisitions,divestitures and any other potential or actual corporate transaction, that is (a) reasonablyrequested in writing to you by the Board and (b) accessible to you, will be considered a materialbreach
this Agreement.
Settlements. You acknowledge and agree that (i) the settlement
anypending or threatened litigation by the Company that would result in a liability to the Company
$1,000,000 or more may only be entered into with the prior written approval
a majority
the Board, and (ii) you will inform the Board promptly once you become aware that theCompany or any
its executives or employees are in discussions to enter into any suchsettlement. You further acknowledge and agree that you will report to the Board (at leastquarterly) the settlement
any pending or threatened litigation by the Company that wouldresult in a liability to the Company
than $1,000,000.
Conduct. You shall abide by the Company's Code
in effect on the date hereof (andany amended Code
Conduct, provided that you approve theamendment), which shall apply to all
the Company's employees and directors.
In the event that you violate the Company's Code
Conduct,other than a violation relating to business expenses, you shall, in addition to any consequencesset forth herein, be subject to the following.(a)
the Company is obligated to make a payment to satisfy aclaim that you have treated someone improperly in violation
the Company's Code
Conduct(an ObligatePayment ), you will be required to reimburse the Company for the entire amount
the Obligated Payment and the costs and expenses incurred by the Company in connectionwith such claim. For purposes
this provision, an Obligated Payment is either where thepayment is required by a fully litigated award or where the payment is made in settlement
theclaim and either the Company and you agree that it was a reasonable settlement, or, in theabsence
such agreement, the payment is determined to be a reasonable settlement in expeditedJAMS arbitration.
(b) You and the Company recognize that, in addition to beingindemnified for the amount
payments the Company is obligated to make
a result
yourmisconduct, such misconduct can cause significant damage to the Company which is difficult orimpossible to measure. Accordingly,
your misconduct results in the Company making anObligated Payment to a person damaged by such misconduct, in addition to the indemnificationset forth in subparagraph i.(a) above, you will pay the Company liquidated damages
250,000for the first such instance, 500,000, for the second such instance, 750,000 for the third suchinstance, and 1,000,000 foeach such additional instance.
As promptly as possible at the end
each calendar year, allexpenses paid by, on behalf of, and/or at your request shall be audited by the Company.
theaudit shows that you have personally paid more business expenses than the Company has paidyour personal expenses, the Company shall promptlyreimburseyou for the difference. To theextent the audit shows that the Company has paid more personal expenses than you have paidbusiness expenses, you shall promptly reimburse the Company the difference. You and theCompany recognize that
Company funds are used to pay for your personal expenses, theCompany can be damaged in an amount that is difficult or impossible to determine beyondreceiving the reimbursement provided for aboveAccordingly,
the audit provided for aboveshows that the Net Personal Expenses then owed by you to the Company for personal expenses
.e., the excess
personal expenses paid by the Company over business expenses paid by you)is greater than the amount the Company owes you for any reason, including for amounts loaned,advanced, or deposited, then in addition to reimbursing the company for the Net PersonalExpenses paid by the company, you will pay
liquidated damages the amount by which suchNet Personal Expenses exceeds the amount the company then owes to you.
In the event you suffer total mental or physical disability and cannotsubstantially perform your duties at any time during the Employment Term, the Board
Representatives may at any time after such disability has continued for ninety (90) consecutivedaysrequirethe Company
give you written notice that it intends, subject to applicable stateand federal law, to suspend this Agreement. Upon receipt
such notice, prior to any suspension

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Roseanne, the NFL, and Employee Free Speech at Work

There are two big stories in the headlines involving employee speech and the consequences thereof. If you haven't heard of both, welcome back from the coma. The most recent was Roseanne Barr's racist tweet rant, which resulted in the cancellation of her number 1 rated TV show, Roseanne. Then there has been the ongoing saga of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest over the extreme number of police killings of black people. The NFL recently decided to impose penalties on teams with players who kneel, but will allow them to stay in the locker room.

So, let's first address the elephant in the room. What about free speech? I have to keep saying this, and I shouldn't: there is no free speech in the workplace unless you work for government. Even working for government, your free speech is limited.

Do the NFL players and Roseanne have any rights in this situation? Maybe.

Roseanne is a well-known star. She has a contract with the network. If she had a good agent or lawyer, she likely has a clause protecting her in this situation. If I were negotiating, I might have demanded that the network agree not to cancel the show if ratings were over a certain number. Or that the network guarantee a certain number of shows. I don't know what her contract says. However, it may also have a clause allowing the network to cancel if the stars engaged in behavior that they deemed damaging to the network. Depending on the language of such a clause, a racist rant may well mean the network was within its rights.

Had there been no contract, the network could cancel for any reason or no reason at all, because employees in every state but Montana are at-will unless there is a contract saying otherwise.

The other issue is whether the network should have canceled the show. On that issue, I have to come down in the yes column. They are now on notice of her propensity to engage in race discrimination. Now that they are on notice, if they allow her to continue and she discriminates against cast or crew, they could be liable for punitive damages. I don't see that they had any choice here. There is also the issue of sponsors. If sponsors backed out in droves, that would similarly justify the cancellation.

Now, on to the NFL. The players have a union. This new requirement that they not kneel may well violate the NFL's obligation to collectively bargain regarding terms and conditions of employment. I suspect we'll hear more from the union on that issue.

Should the NFL have done this? On the one hand, some fans were freaking out about the kneeling. But they still keep concession stands open so nobody is freaking out about buying hot dogs during the anthem. These are players quietly and respectfully protesting discrimination. There is nothing about the protest that shows any propensity to engage in discrimination like Roseanne. I, personally, would not organize a protest in a way that allowed the opposition to question my patriotism, but this is how they chose to protest, and I think they should be allowed to do so as long as they do so respectfully, as they have done. I understand the NFL's wanting to end the controversy, but I think they just managed to step it up instead.

Overall, the lesson to those of us who aren't multi-millionaires with big contracts is that there is no free speech in the workplace in America.