Archive for the 'Employment' Category

NYC Nail Salon Scandal Highlights Larger Issues of Immigrant Exploitation

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered an emergency investigation into New York City’s nail salons following the revelation most workers are underpaid or not paid at all. The allegations also revealed the toxic chemicals nail salon workers are exposed to and the lack of basic rights employers are granting them.

nail salon new yorkIn addition to the investigation, salons must follow new rules to ensure the safety and competent pay to their workers.

A good portion of nail salon workers are immigrants, coming into the U.S. hoping for an opportunity to make more money. This means most of them do not speak any English and are not familiar with the rights workers in the U.S. have. Realizing the language barrier, Gov. Cuomo is also launching a six-language education campaign that informs the workers of their rights.

Many salon owners pay their workers under minimum wage or don’t pay them at all. Instead, workers must rely on tips from customers as their pay. Salons will also be required to pay back wages owed to workers, and if they refuse, the salon will be shut down. Salons are also now required to publicly post signs that inform workers of their rights; the sign will be in a half dozen languages.

As for the toxic chemicals workers are exposed to, this unfortunately is part of the job. But to combat illnesses as much as possible, workers will now be required to wear masks and gloves while working.

The investigation into NYC’s nail salons is a huge step for immigration worker reform. But it raises a bigger question. Just how many immigrant workers are being exploited for cheap pay?

The Larger Problem of Immigrant Exploitation

Right now, about 6.5 million immigrants work in the U.S. They are more susceptible to exploitation because employers can pay them “under the table” since they are undocumented. Most immigrant workers do not realize even if they are undocumented, they are protected under the same basic federal and state rights as documented workers. Immigrant workers are at risk of unpaid wages, dangerous conditions, uncompensated workplace injuries, and discrimination.

Most immigrant workers do not pursue their rights or fight against discrimination because they are illegal and are afraid they will be deported. For many immigrant workers, deportation means no hope for their families. A large portion of immigrant workers come to the U.S. to make money to send back to their families in their home countries. Without this income, even the little income they do make, immigrant families back home have very little chance of survival.

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Startups Face Legal Action for Treating Contractors Like W2 Employees

Lawsuits against companies for a lack of distinction between contractors and employees are rampant. Startups especially are currently under fire for treating 1099 contractors like W2 employees, but without the benefits.

employee or independent contractorCompanies (especially startups) prefer to hire contractors in order to save money. This distinction also releases companies from any legal liability for workers. For example, an Uber driver hit a passenger in the face with a hammer last year, but Uber refuted liability because the driver is technically a contractor.

Hiring 1099 contractors may help a company save money, but the practice is highly unfavorable to workers.

1099 Contractor vs. W2 Employees

The biggest difference between 1099 and W2 workers is W2 workers are told what to wear, how to look, or where to go. 1099 workers have full control over their work and their contract. 1099 workers can’t hold a contract for longer than six months, and they can break the contract at any time.

Some companies consider their 1099 contractors entrepreneurs. Workers who drive the mega buses full of Silicon Valley employees work under a third-party company, and therefore receive no benefits or wages. Companies under this mantra will also refuse overtime pay and compensation for gas.

Companies like Uber will even go as far as to declare their contractors “customers.” They consider drivers “independent business owners,” who use Uber’s app to make money, while Uber takes a cut.

In contrast, W2 employees receive job stability, salaries, benefits, overtime, and compensation if the job requires driving long distances. Most importantly, companies with W2 employees are legally responsible for their actions.

Misclassification Lawsuits

Startup companies Uber, Lyft, Handy, Homejoy, and Instacart have all been sued by workers claiming they treat them as employees, but are compensated as 1099 contractors. The workers claim the companies control their working lives as if they are W2 employees and so the workers demand the same type of compensation.

Attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan takes on companies like these with class action lawsuits. In the past, she went after strip clubs for classifying their dancers as contractors. They receive no wages, benefits, and are forced to hand over a portion of tips to bouncers. Dancers in the strip club King Arthur even charged them $35 per shift and took 30 percent of the money made from private dances.

This type of lawsuit is a misclassification suit: a contractor does the job as an employee, but does not receive the same benefits a W2 employee would.

If given the option between a 1099 or a W2 contract when entering a job, 1099 may seem more favorable. Sure you’ll receive a bigger paycheck, but you will owe higher taxes. In addition, technically being an employee means benefits, salary, and often a pension. You are also protected under nondiscrimination laws, unlike 1099 contractors.

San Francisco’s Police Texting Scandal Leads to Extensive Investigation

In San Francisco, 14 police officers are currently under investigation after racist and homophobic text messages have come to light. Seven officers and former Sargent Ian Furminger are currently suspended while the commission decides if they should be fired. Furminger has been convicted of public corruption charges.

SF Text ScandalThe text messages involve content of lynching African-Americans and burning crosses, along with extremely racist banter between the officers. Texts also include homophobic messages, which is especially surprising given that San Francisco is a city famous for its acceptance of the LGBT community.

An attorney for one of the officers claims they cannot be fired because the statute of limitations has passed. The attorney also claims the department knew about the text messages in 2012, but did not open an investigation until recently. The police chief disagrees with this claim.

Lawyers for the officers also claim the texts do not represent their views, and should be considered just a way of blowing off steam within their intensely stressful jobs.

Sargent Ian Furminger

The texts were discovered during an investigation against Sargent Ian Furminger, who sent many of the texts. Furminger was undergoing a federal corruption case. Convicted of stealing money and property from suspects, he was sentenced to 41 months in prison.

Racism and Homophobia Cannot Be Tolerated in a Police Department

Due to the hateful nature of the texts, the police department found it necessary to investigate cases involving officers dating back 10 years, to ensure no bias or unfair treatment was imposed on racial minorities or LBGT people. Currently, 1,000 cases are set to be reviewed.

Walmart Joins the Trend to Increase Minimum Wage

Minimum wage has always been a controversial topic. Proponents argue that minimum wage protects the working poor. Others feel that minimum wage slows job growth and discourages employers from hiring new employees. For most of America’s history, there was no minimum wage. While a first attempt at establishing a national minimum wage came in 1933, it wasn’t until United States v. Darby Lumber Co in 1944 that the Supreme Court held that Congress had the power under the Commerce Clause to regulate employment conditions.

minimum wage increase walmartIn November 2014, many states put the question of whether minimum wage should be raised to a vote. Voters in a number of those states have voiced overwhelming support in favor of higher minimum wage. Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, Delaware, Virginia, Rhode Island, Michigan, Minnesota, Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts have passed higher wages that have been implemented as of January 2015. Cities such as Seattle, Portland, Louisville, and San Francisco have implemented higher minimum wages to support and grow their local economies.

Most recently, Walmart made headlines when it announced that it planned to give its lowest paid employees a wage hike. By April, all employees would earn a minimum of $9 per hour. By February of 2016, the wage will be increased to $10 an hour. The wage hike will affect 500,000 workers.

Walmart can’t take credit for paving the road, however, as GAP and Ikea implemented higher minimum wages for employees last year. While the motive behind the move is mixed, there’s no denying that many other companies are likely to follow in the footsteps of the corporate giant. In fact, today Marshall’s and TJ Maxx announced that they plan to increase the wages of their employees to $9 an hour by June 2015.

Proponents of raising the minimum wage argue that it could have far reaching positive effects on the economy—both on local and national levels. Raising the minimum wage means that those workers are earning more and have more money to spend, thus stimulating the economy. The logic then follows that as people spend more, businesses grow and create an environment that requires more employees.

Additionally, supporters argue that if workers are surviving on higher minimum wage, they are not as likely to rely on social programs for support as they can now support themselves. As a result, there is less stress and expense placed on social programs. Additional positives noted are less turnover as employees with more earning potential are happier in their jobs and less likely to leave.

Needless to say, despite the positives, minimum wage increases has many worried. In fact, in San Francisco, Borderlands Books, a small science fiction, horror and fantasy, was set to close its doors on March 31st due to the wage hike. The wage hike was calculated to result in a 39% increase in wages for his employees in four years—a cost too high for the bookstore to maintain. (Note: Due to savvy business ideas, Borderland Books was able to keep its doors open—for 2015—through the implementation of membership programs and sale of bookstore memorabilia.)

Additional negatives that many believe are created by a minimum wage hike are layoffs, price increases, fewer hirings and increased competition. Smaller businesses simply cannot compensate the same number of employees at a higher wage and thus layoff many. In order to generate enough income to support the increased costs of wages, many business owners will raise the cost of their product. Small businesses also worry that they will not be able to increase their workforce because they won’t be able to afford to pay new employees.

No matter which side of the fence you stand, there is no doubt that minimum wage will be making headlines for the foreseeable future. The question is the impact it will have on the economy.

Women in Technology: When Will the Discrimination End?

It’s no secret that the tech industry is dominated by a “bro” culture that leaves almost no room for women. Google published a “diversity” report last May, determining that its workforce is 70% men. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Yahoo! have published similar reports, and share the same disparity in the ratio of men to women.

Ellen Pao, Chief executive of Reddit

Ellen Pao, Chief executive of Reddit

There is even an insider joke among Silicon Valley companies called the “Dave” rule. This rule says there needs to be the same number of women as there are men named “Dave” in the office in order to have “gender balance.” This doesn’t quite seem like the most accurate system. In general, less women are hired, offered promotions, or receive the same pay as men in the industry.

On average, women make about 99.7% of what men do. For example, a female software engineer at Facebook makes $117,391 per year, while a male in the same position makes $128,575. More importantly, however, women are constantly being subjected to sexual harassment. Due to the frat-like environment, men can fall into viewing women as sexual objects rather than professional coworkers. Sexual harassment lawsuits are rampant among the tech industry, and it’s deterring smart and capable women from pursuing a career in this field.

Chief executive of Reddit, Ellen Pao, is suing her former employer Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers for several grievances, including: ignoring the sexual harassment she received from male managers when she worked for them, punishing and eventually firing her for complaining, and excluding her and fellow women employees from meetings and promotions. Pao is asking for $16 million in damages for lost wages and other compensation, including to punitive damages. This lawsuit could have a huge impact on the tech industry, and it might force sexual harassment and discrimination to dwindle in these companies. The trial is expected to last four weeks.

In another sexual harassment lawsuit, Whitney Wolfe, who was vice-president of marketing for Tinder, has said Justin Mateen, chief marketing officer, called her a “whore”; her complaints to the CEO were completely ignored. These are just a few examples of the rampant sexual harassment that takes place in tech companies.