In Focus: Business Leadership and Job Quality

Jan 12, 2017  |  PERMALINK »

CKE Workers Oppose their Boss’s Nomination as Secretary of Labor

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

Stolen wages. Sexual harassment. Unpaid overtime. Meal breaks denied. Workers at CKE Restaurants say they’ve endured these and other violations under CEO Andrew Puzder, the current nominee for secretary of labor. Two recent events on Capitol Hill made strong cases for why Puzder is the wrong choice to lead the department that protects workers’ rights.

At a briefing with Democrats from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC) shared findings from an investigation into labor practices at Puzder’s company. ROC surveyed over 500 CKE employees, including workers at fast-food chains such as Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. More than one in four respondents said they’ve been forced to work off the clock without pay. And because most CKE employees do not receive paid sick days, nearly four out of five respondents reported preparing or serving food while sick. At the event, Roberto Ramirez, an employee of Carl’s Jr. for 18 years, attested to working off the clock for the first 30 minutes of every shift, as well as having to clock out for meal breaks but work straight through them. Speaking through an interpreter, Ramirez said: “If Andrew Puzder is chosen [as Secretary of Labor], what happened to me will be multiplied to workers nationwide. We need to be valued at our workplace. We can’t let people like [Puzder] step all over us.”

The same afternoon, 17 Senators led by Elizabeth Warren and Patty Murray raised concerns at a public forum. Laura McDonald, a CKE employee for more than 20 years, testified there that she and other CKE general managers often worked for free to avoid being disciplined or fired for going over their allotted labor budget. The company also kept many workers involuntarily part time. “In order to avoid paying health care,” McDonald attested, “CKE puts a strict limit on the number of full-time workers we hire.” Moreover, full-time positions still don’t pay enough for workers to escape poverty. Lupe Guzman, a single mother who has been with the company for seven years, works full time during the graveyard shift for $8.75 per hour. She relies on Medicaid, SNAP (food stamps), and housing assistance just to avoid homelessness.

Workers deserve a secretary of labor who they know is on their side. That’s why it’s so concerning that Andrew Puzder rejects laws and regulations that the Department of Labor (DOL) is tasked with enforcing. He has opposed raising the minimum wage. He has opposed raising income for millions of workers by making them eligible for overtime pay. He has opposed the Affordable Care Act, particularly its requirement that employers offer full-time employees health care. Puzder has even spoken out against Medicaid, SNAP, and housing assistance, which essentially subsidize his low-wage company.

DOL’s mission is to “foster, promote, and develop the welfare of wage earners…improve working conditions…and assure work-related benefits and rights.” With Puzder at the helm, the department is unlikely to fulfill this promise. CKE has a record of running roughshod over its employees, and Andrew Puzder has a troubling history of opposing critical labor standards. We feel strongly that the Senate should deny his confirmation.

Dec 20, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

DC Passes Nation’s Most Progressive Paid Family and Medical Leave Law

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

“Sometimes life doesn’t go as you planned!” writes Lindsay, a Washington, DC resident who has been diagnosed with two autoimmune disorders and will someday need a liver transplant. “Every single day, I worry that I will financially ruin my family because of my health problems.” But with the passage of a new paid family and medical leave law in DC today, some of Lindsay’s fears can be relieved.

Thanks to the long-time support of Chairman Phil Mendelson and others, the Washington, DC council voted today to begin building the nation’s most progressive paid family and medical leave (PFML) insurance program. The DC Paid Family Leave Coalition hopes Mayor Muriel Bowser will take quick action to sign the bill. Under the new program, estimated to take effect in 2019, private-sector workers will be able to get paid while taking time to bond with a new child, care for an ill or injured loved one, or recover from a serious medical condition. The District of Columbia joins the states of California, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and New York in granting their workers this protection. While DC’s program adopts many of the features that have made the other states’ programs successful, it increases support for low-income families by providing a higher rate of wage replacement.

The wage replacement system to be implemented in DC will be the most responsive of any in the country to the needs of low-income workers. Those who earn less than about $47,000 per year will receive 90 percent of their regular pay while on leave. Those who earn more will receive wage replacement on a sliding scale, with the replacement capped at $1,000 per week. For example, someone who works full-time at $15 per hour, normally earning $600 per week, would receive $540 per week while on paid leave. This formula reflects growing understanding that low-income people will still forego paid leave if the wage replacement is too low to live on; such findings recently led California lawmakers to pass a law increasing the level of wage replacement from 55 percent to 70 percent for the state’s lower-income workers.  DC’s 90 percent wage replacement will be a lifesaver for low-income workers who might otherwise be unable to afford to take the paid leave guaranteed under the new law.

DC’s program, to be funded through an employer payroll tax of 0.62 percent, will be the nation’s first made-from-scratch medical leave program since 1969. The four states with family leave insurance all built their programs’ infrastructure onto decades-old state temporary disability insurance (TDI) programs (i.e., programs that provide paid medical leave but no family leave). Unlike DC, those states were able to use administrative agencies and processes already in place, expanding them to cover paid family leave. DC’s process in developing its own system can inform other states without TDI programs, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, where policymakers are currently considering paid family leave legislation.

Thanks to the leadership of Jews United for Justice, the DC Paid Family Leave Coalition, and countless workers and volunteers who stepped up to support the campaign, DC is leading on leave. The new paid family and medical leave program will help thousands of workers care for themselves and their family without sacrificing their income. The program will be a great source of support for low-income workers in our nation’s capital and will give some hope to patients like Lindsay. She says, “With [PFML], I hope that both I and my family can make it through the next few years intact.”

Dec 13, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Young Workers in Los Angeles Struggle with Volatile Schedules

By Liz Ben-Ishai

“I’m not getting enough hours. My shifts are cancelled at the last second. I have no input into my schedule—and almost no advance notice. When I take a sick day, they cut my hours.” If you’re a young worker in L.A. County’s service sector, these experiences are familiar.

A new report from CLASP and the UCLA Labor Center demonstrates the prevalence of volatile scheduling in L.A.’s retail, restaurant, and grocery sectors. Juggling Time: Young Workers and Scheduling Practices in the Los Angeles County Service Sector presents findings from a survey of young workers ages 18-29.  Nearly everyone surveyed (96 percent) has experienced at least one challenging scheduling practice, such as on-call work, fluctuating hours, and little notice of work schedules. Additionally, 93 percent report lacking a voice on the job when it comes to scheduling; they have no say about when, if, or how much they will work.

Unfortunately, young people’s working conditions are seldom scrutinized. Popular myth suggests young people are just working for extra spending money or biding their time in low-level jobs before starting their “real” careers. However, as UCLA Labor Center concluded in an earlier report, “young workers work to live, not to play.” Nearly half are contributing some of their income to support their families. Two-thirds use their earnings for rent and three-quarters for household expenses. More than one-third are students, and 43 percent spend some of their wages on tuition. But far too often, these realities are ignored.  Intent on nickel-and-diming low-wage workers, some employers and policymakers push the false claim that strong labor laws hurt young workers—a cynical pretense for excluding them from coverage.

In reality, young workers depend on their earnings to make ends meet. That’s why the stakes are so high in their struggles for enough work and for stable work. Sixty percent of young workers in our study are employed part time, and nearly 80 percent of these part-time workers say they want more hours than they are getting. Young workers have obligations to others and themselves; among many roles, they are students, family members, and caregivers. But for the 88 percent who receive less than two weeks’ notice of their schedules, as well as the 82 percent whose hours fluctuate week to week, fulfilling these obligations is a Herculean struggle.

While nearly all workers reported at least one difficult scheduling practice, nearly two in five (38 percent) reported three: on-call work, fluctuating hours, and lack of advanced notice of their schedules—a trifecta of scheduling chaos. Furthermore, we found that African American workers, students, workers aged 18-22, and those with the least tenure on the job were most likely to experience a heavy cumulative burden of unfair scheduling practices.

For young workers in L.A. County—the largest county in the U.S. —“business as usual” offers a dismal outlook. In the report, CLASP and UCLA Labor Center recommend a series of policy solutions, including advanced notice of schedules, access to more hours, and compensation for last-minute changes to the schedule. Fortunately, many of these policy recommendations are already becoming a reality.

In the past two years, cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Emeryville, and San Jose have passed fair scheduling laws that address some of the most significant challenges identified in the report. State legislatures and city councils across the country are considering fair scheduling proposals, with action likely in several places in 2017. Despite a host of challenges in the current political climate for workers’ rights, state and local governments are poised to pass laws that bring greater stability and economic security to all workers. In order to achieve the goals of fairness and equity in the workplace, these laws must include young workers, who depend on their jobs and desperately need labor protections that can give them a fair shot.

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