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“It’s Not Your Imagination”: North Carolina Cracks Down On Local Anti-Discrimination Policies

North Carolina’s state legislature wasn’t supposed to be in session this week, but the Republican-led chambers rushed back to work for a special, taxpayer-financed session, focused solely on one key issue.

The issue, oddly enough, related to the use of public bathrooms.

North Carolina legislators decided to rein in local governments by approving a bill Wednesday that prevents cities and counties from passing their own anti-discrimination rules. Gov. Pat McCrory later signed the legislation, which dealt a blow to the LGBT movement after success with protections in cities across the country.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly took action after Charlotte city leaders last month approved a broad anti-discrimination measure. Critics focused on language in the ordinance that allowed transgender people to use the restroom aligned with their gender identity.

If steps like these seem to be happening with increasing frequency, it’s not your imagination. A variety of cities have approved higher minimum wages, only to have states pass laws to block municipalities from acting on their own. Some cities have tried to pass paid sick-leave for workers in their area, only to have states change the law to prohibit such steps.

And a month ago, the city of Charlotte banned discrimination against LGBT citizens, only to learn a month later that the state had not only scrapped the local measure, but also changed state law to prevent any city from expanding protections against discrimination.

As we discussed earlier this week, contemporary conservatism is generally committed to the idea that the government that’s closest to the people – literally, geographically – is best able to respond to the public’s needs. As much as possible, officials should try to shift power and resources away to local authorities.

Except, that is, when communities consider progressive measures Republicans don’t like, at which point those principles are quickly thrown out the window.

So, let this be a lesson to everyone: when officials in Washington tell states what to do, it’s an outrageous abuse and clear evidence of government overreach. When states tell cities what to do, it’s protecting conservative principles.

And in this case, the new North Carolina policy is a mess. The Associated Press’ report added:

Gay rights leaders and transgender people said the legislation demonizes the community and espouses bogus claims about increasing the risk of sexual assaults. They say the law will deny lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people essential protections needed to ensure they can get a hotel room, hail a taxi or dine at a restaurant without fear.

“McCrory’s reckless decision to sign this appalling legislation into law is a direct attack on the rights, well-being and dignity of hundreds of thousands of LGBT North Carolinians and visitors to the state,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said in a statement.

Vox’s report called the new North Carolina measure, signed into law last night, a legislative package that combines “some of the most anti-LGBTQ measures proposed in the US, codifying the legality of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity into law.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 24, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, North Carolina Legislature, Pat McCrory | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Where Employees Are Treated With Contempt”: Obama Blasts Staples, And Reveals Larger Partisan Divide Over Workplace

Another big interview with President Obama came out today, this one from Buzzfeed, and this section, in which Obama slammed Staples for limiting employee hours, supposedly in response to Obamacare, is creating a bit of buzz:

BEN SMITH: If I can move on to the Affordable Care Act. We reported yesterday that the office supply store Staples is — I’m sure this is an issue you’ve heard about before — is telling its workers that it will fire them if they work more than 25 hours a week. A manager had told a worker we talked to that “Obama’s responsible for this policy,” and they’re putting these notices on the wall of their break room saying that. I wonder what you’d say to the CEO of Staples, Ronald Sargent, about that policy?

OBAMA: What I would say is that millions of people are benefiting from the Affordable Care Act. Satisfaction is high. The typical premium is less than 100 bucks.

SMITH: But this is a specific consequence…

OBAMA: No, I’m gonna answer the question. And that there is no reason for an employer who is not currently providing health care to their workers to discourage them from either getting health insurance on the job or being able to avail themselves of the Affordable Care Act. I haven’t looked at Staples stock lately or what the compensation of the CEO is, but I suspect that they could well afford to treat their workers favorably and give them some basic financial security, and if they can’t, then they should be willing to allow those workers to get the Affordable Care Act without cutting wages.

This is the same argument that I’ve made with respect to something like paid sick leave. We have 43 million Americans who, if they get sick or their child gets sick, are looking at either losing their paycheck or going to the job sick or leaving their child at home sick. It’s one thing when you’ve got a mom-and-pop store who can’t afford to provide paid sick leave or health insurance or minimum wage to workers — even though a large percentage of those small businesses do it because they know it’s the right thing to do — but when I hear large corporations that make billions of dollars in profits trying to blame our interest in providing health insurance as an excuse for cutting back workers’ wages, shame on them.

Obama obviously didn’t know any details of the Staples situation when he was asked the question, but Buzzfeed reported Monday that the company is becoming particularly aggressive in making sure its part-time workers don’t work more than 25 hours a week, now that an Affordable Care Act provision mandating that large companies offer health insurance to employees working over 30 hours is in effect. Staples says that the policy is years old and has nothing to do with health insurance; the employees Buzzfeed talked to say it’s being enforced with renewed vigor.

Regardless of those details, this is another example of the fundamental difference between the approach to workplace issues Obama is trying to move Democrats toward, and the ways that Republicans are pushing back. As I argued a few weeks ago when Obama raised the issue of paid sick leave — which the United States is alone among highly developed countries in not mandating — Republicans essentially want to help people get to the employer’s door, while Democrats want to go inside with the worker and help make the workplace more humane.

The Staples story illustrates the environment of so many contemporary American workplaces, where employees are treated with contempt and suspicion while being told how much they’re loved. The original Buzzfeed story contains a Staples memo threatening part-time employees with discipline up to termination if they clock in for more than 25 hours in a week. The memo ends with, “I appreciate and value you.” I’m sure that warmed the workers’ hearts.

There may be some part-time workers who find that in response to the ACA’s insurance mandate, their employers try to limit their hours in the way Staples is doing. That’s why Republicans want to change the mandate’s definition of full-time employment from 30 to 40 hours. But we should be clear about what would happen if Republicans got their way. Some number of people like those at Staples might be able to work a few more hours (though if Staples is telling the truth, it wouldn’t matter for their part-timers, because they’re adamant about keeping them below 25 hours regardless). But a much larger group — full-time hourly workers — would then be in danger of losing their health coverage.

Right now if a large company (remember, this provision only applies to large companies) wanted to cut a full-time employee’s hours so they wouldn’t have to offer her health insurance, they’d have to cut her all the way down from 40 to 29 hours, which in most cases just isn’t practical. But if the law’s definition of full-time work was 40 hours, they could cut her from 40 to 39 and be able to take away her health coverage, which would be a lot easier. One hopes that few companies would want to do that, and indeed, over nine out of ten large companies were already offering insurance to full-time workers even before the Affordable Care Act. But some would, and the number of employees at risk of losing their coverage would be much higher than it is under the current 30-hour definition.

The populist stance Obama is taking here is undoubtedly good politics; Republicans will try to say that they’re the ones on the side of the part-time workers, but voters generally understand that they’re always in favor of giving employers the power to treat employers however they wish. In any case, this kind of dispute is just one more reason why we should try to move away from a system where most people get insurance through their employers. If we did that, people wouldn’t have to rely on the generosity of their bosses, and we wouldn’t have to argue about who’s part-time and who’s full-time. And neither party has a particular stake in, or ideological commitment to, the employer-based insurance system; it’s an artifact of history. Moving beyond it would be a major change, and we all know by now that when it comes to their health coverage, people fear change. But it would be better for everybody.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, February 11, 2015

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Corporations, Health Insurance, Wages | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Killing Germs, Not Jobs”: A New Report Confirms That Business Fears About Paid Sick Day Laws Are Unfounded

Every time the idea of implementing a paid sick days law – which requires that workers earn paid time off to use when they fall ill – gets  floated somewhere, the same thing occurs: Businesses and conservative lawmakers cry bloody murder about the effect the law will supposedly have on small businesses and job creators. Every mom and pop store will have to close, they say! Job creators will flee elsewhere to escape the job-killing mandate! Oh, the humanity! (Check out the Cry Wolf Project for some choice quotes.)

Reality, though, stubbornly refuses to conform to the script. For instance, when San Francisco adopted a paid sick days law in 2007, its job growth actually outperformed surrounding counties that did not have a similar law. (This isn’t to imply that having paid sick leave caused any job growth, just that it didn’t hurt either.) And a new report from the Center on Economic and Policy Research shows that Connecticut experienced much the same thing after becoming the first state to adopt a paid sick days law 18 months ago.

Gathered via both surveys and site visits, the Center’s data show businesses faced extremely modest costs – if any – due to the sick days law. As the Center’s Eileen Appelbaum, Ruth Milkman, Luke Elliott and Teresa Kroeger wrote:

Most employers reported a modest effect or no effect of the law on their costs or business operations; and they typically found that the administrative burden was minimal. … Despite strong business opposition to the law prior to its passage, a year and a half after its implementation, more than three-quarters of surveyed  employers expressed support for the  earned paid sick leave law.

Not only that, but the data show that “in the period since [Connecticut’s law] took effect, employment  levels rose in key sectors covered by the  law, such as hospitality and health services, while employment fell in manufacturing, which is exempt from the law.” Some job killer! Business warnings about employees abusing their sick leave also failed to come true.

On an economic level, this actually makes perfect sense. Sick employees coming to work and infecting others reduces productivity, as does the constant turnover if workers have to quit to recover from an illness or are fired for missing time while sick. In addition, most workers already have paid sick leave, so the disruptive power of applying it to the usually low-income, service sector workers who don’t is low. San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Jersey City and Washington, D.C. all have some form of paid sick leave requirement, and all of them continue to have functioning economies. Plus, paid sick day laws have the added benefit of cutting down on the transmission of diseases, including those of the decidedly deadly variety.

This report is actually the second knock this week to the notion that business regulation automatically increases costs and kills jobs. A Bloomberg News report yesterday noted that in the 15 years since Washington state voted to gradually increase its minimum wage, its job growth has outpaced the national average, with jobs even growing in the sectors thought particularly susceptible to a minimum wage hike, such as food services. Even the recent Congressional Budget Office report showing that a national minimum wage increase would cause some workers to drop out of the labor force or reduce their hours showed benefits that vastly outweigh any cost.

The moral of the story is this: The Econ 101 notion of more regulations or higher mandatory wages automatically translating into fewer jobs and higher business costs doesn’t actually hold true out in the real world. Paid sick days laws actually kill germs, not jobs.

By: Pat Garofalo, Washington Whispers, U. S. News and World Report, March 6, 2014

March 9, 2014 Posted by | Businesses, Jobs | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A New Meaning Of Volunteerism”: Wisconsin Lawmaker Wants To Take Away Workers’ Weekends

Wisconsin state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R) is pushing to undo the state’s law that employers have to provide their employees with at least one day off a week, the Huffington Post reports.

The Huffington Post obtained an email Grothman sent to other state lawmakers on Friday in which he proposes legislation that “would allow an employee to voluntarily choose to work without one day of rest in seven.” State Rep. Mark Born (R) is sponsoring the legislation in the state Assembly.

Wisconsin is somewhat unique in having the law on its books. “Right now in Wisconsin, you’re not supposed to work seven days in a row, which is a little ridiculous because all sorts of people want to work seven days a week,” Grothman told The Huffington Post. But workers don’t have to get a day off every seven days, as they could work for up to 12 in a row “if the days of rest fall on the first and last days of the 2 week period,” according to the law. Grothman called the law “goofy” and called undoing it a matter of “freedom.”

While he argues that the law would ease workers’ ability to work overtime, it’s possible that employers would force their employees to work the extra time, making it less than voluntary. “It’s a very hard thing to know whether something is truly voluntary or not,” Vice President of the Economic Policy Institute Ross Eisenbrey told the Huffington Post. “If the employer puts pressure on people and lets them know they will be unhappy if workers exercise their right to have a day off, that might be enough so that no worker ever does anything but volunteer to work seven days a week.”

In fact, the power usually lies with employers and instances of them abusing labor laws are already on the rise. In 2009, two-thirds of low-income workers said they had experienced a wage law violation in the previous week alone. Wage theft, where an employer illegally withholds overtime pay or makes its employees work off the clock, robs low-wage workers of more money than is stolen from banks, gas stations and convenience stores combined. Actions filed in federal court alleging wage and hour violations increased by 400 percent between 2000 and 2011.

And the law doesn’t always come to workers’ rescue. In California, workers recovered less than half of what was taken from them from 2008 to 2011, and, worse, 83 percent of those who actually proved a case of wage theft still never got what they were owed.

American workers already put in more hours and are guaranteed less time off than most other developed peers. We work more than in any other industrialized countries. Unlike in the United States, it’s illegal in six of the 10 most competitive countries in the world to make workers put in more than 48 hours a week. The United States also lacks laws guaranteeing that workers can take time off if they or their family members are sick, will get vacation or holiday time off, or can take paid time off for the arrival of a new child. Many other developed and competitive countries, on the other hand, do guarantee these things.

Grothman would also go further and take away the national holiday for government workers on Martin Luther King, Jr., day. He was a sponsor of the country’s first preemption bill that blocked cities and local communities from enacting paid sick days legislation in Wisconsin.

 

By: Bryce Covert, Think Progress, January 5, 2014

January 7, 2014 Posted by | Wages, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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