Archive for the 'Employment' Category

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.

Nurses Need Better Protections from Workplace Injuries

According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nursing assistants are subject to more than 35,000 back-related injuries every year.

nursing injurySome injuries are so severe nurses are forced to stay home from work. In fact, the BLS collected data that proved nursing assistants are injured more often than any other occupation’s employees. This includes truckers, warehouse workers, and registered nurses. Why are so many nursing assistants receiving back-related injuries, and what is being done to protect them?

The number one cause for back injuries for nursing assistants is lifting and handling patients. Many nurses must help patients off a bed, out of a chair, etc. Without the help of a machine or colleagues, sometimes lifting a patient is an impossible task. Many patients can be 250 to 300 pounds, and with the increasing obesity problem in America, nurses continue to injure their backs when lifting such patients. Some nurses are forced to end their career early due to injuries.

If so many nurses are getting injured, shouldn’t something be done?

Suzanne Gordon, author of Nursing Against the Odds, explains that “Too many hospital administrators see nursing staff as second-class citizens,” and therefore don’t afford them the same priority as other employees. Many hospitals do not house the machinery necessary for a nurse to safely move a patient. Even four nurses cannot safely handle a 300 pound patient without strain on their backs. The Baptist Health System in Florida and various medical centers in the Department of Veteran Affairs have implemented machines in order to decrease work place injuries. Since the machines have been installed, back related injuries in nurses have decreased by 80%.

Some hospitals have established the use of machines for patient handling and lifting, but most still require nurses to lift patients themselves. Most of the time, other colleagues are not available to help fellow nurses, deeming it impossible to avoid injury when handling a larger patient. On January 1, 2012, California passed the Hospital Patient and Health Care Worker Injury Protection Act. Not too long after, nursing employees from the Walnut Creek Kaiser location started filing complaints.

This Kaiser hospital is currently under fire for failing to have “specific procedures in place to ensure that sufficient staff was available to perform patient handles tasks safely.” Administrative Law Judge, Mary Dryovage, issued this order after a state investigator from California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health was alerted by nursing employees at the Kaiser hospital. The nurses filed a complaint with the state, alleging that Kaiser violated the law by not taking the proper safety precautions to protect the hospitals employees.

Kaiser has made a plan to spend at least $40 million to install lifting machines into its older hospitals, including Walnut Creek. Hopefully with the new installments, less nurses will become injured every year.

Nursing assistants who are injured on the job are not allowed to sue their employer for negligence. All employees give up their right to sue an employer for these issues in exchange for payment through workers compensation if injured on the job. Employees can file a personal injury lawsuit, but only against someone who is responsible for your injury and is not your employer.

Hopefully overtime, more patient-lifting machines will be installed for nurses to use. The number of nursing assistants becoming injured each year is unacceptable, and it’s time for them to become a priority.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Should Restaurant Employees Be Required to Wash Their Hands?

Freshman Senator Thom Tillis has a novel idea: it shouldn’t be mandatory for restaurant employees to wash their hands after using the restroom. The catch would be that restaurants that don’t require employees to wash their hands have to post signs stating so.

Thom TillisMost reactions will be, “I’d never eat at a restaurant that doesn’t mandate employee hand washing!” That’s the Senator’s point: most businesses that posted signs telling customers their workers don’t have to wash their hands would go out of business. The free market is just as effective, if not more so, at regulating the economy than the government.

Critics have expanded Tillis’ reasoning to other issues. If restaurants simply have to post signs that their employees aren’t washing hands, then nuclear power plants can post signs explaining radiation is pouring out of the plant rather than shield the reactors.

Contrary to popular belief, there are many areas of law where disclosure is the rule rather than government mandate. Real estate sale laws are built on disclosures. Government doesn’t force houses off the market if they have problems; consumers are merely advised that the house they are looking at might be subject to landslides or infested with terminates. California, one of the most liberal states in the country, doesn’t require physicians or attorneys to purchase malpractice insurance. If these professions don’t purchase insurance, they merely have to disclose their lack of insurance to clients or patients.

We require disclosure instead of action in many areas of life. Disclosing lack of hand washing instead of requiring hand washing seems dangerous and it is. However, there are far more dangerous activities where the regulation merely requires disclosure.

The Type of Regulation Matters

Tillis’ opponents have also denounced his suggestion as more regulation. Requiring posting signs that employees don’t wash hands instead of a requiring that employees wash their hands is merely trading one regulation for another.

From a practical standpoint there could be a real difference. California doesn’t require professionals purchase insurance because insurance in the golden state is extremely expensive. If doctors or attorneys starting new firms or clinics were required to buy insurance, they might be pushed out business before they could even get started.

Of course, hand washing doesn’t have that practicality dimension. It’s not that expensive to turn on a faucet for a few minutes. No, Senator Tillis is basing his argument on pure principle. The role of government regulation in the market is to ensure that consumers have full and complete information. It is not the government’s role to determine how a company should work. The former is about advising the consumer while the latter is about controlling businesses.

Of course, disclosure laws aren’t perfect. Courts hear plenty of cases about whether real estate sellers or agents have to disclose that a house floods, has mold, or is haunted by a ghost. California deals with complaints that professionals without insurance bury disclosure forms in a mountain of other paperwork. If restaurants merely had to disclose that their employees don’t wash hands, there’s a good chance many of them would put the signs in obscure places.

It’s true that businesses sometimes break disclosure laws. But people break laws all the time, even when the law is mandatory. Ironically, Senator Tillis’ proposal would still require government oversight, but instead of the FDA, it would probably be from sick patients bringing lawsuits to courts.

Incoming search terms for the article:

Chinese Restaurant Pays $4 Million in a Settlement Due to Labor Violations

“I don’t get paid nearly enough for what I do.” This is a phrase many of us have heard or even uttered to our fellow coworkers. This sentiment was all too true for the employees of San Francisco’s well-known dim sum restaurant, Yank Sing.

YANKSING30_PH11In 2013, Yank Sing employees sought help from the Chinese Progressive Association and Asian Law Caucus when they confronted the Chan family, the owners of the restaurant, about their numerous labor violations. The list of issues includes:

The Chan family blamed the violations on poor record keeping. In late 2014, the Chan family and its employees were able to reach a settlement deal. Yank Sing agreed to pay $4 million to 280 former and current employees in order to cover the back pay, holiday pay, and other violations.

Julie Su, California Labor Commissioner, and the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement handled the investigation. Su stated that such labor violations are common because, “many (businesses) believe that it’s cheaper to break the law…and the costs of getting caught are minimal.”

Sadly, these kinds of labor violations are a common occurrence in Asian restaurants in San Francisco. Many of the employees are new immigrants and do not seek help due to language barriers and a lack of knowledge regarding their legal rights and resources.

Luckily, in this case, Yank Sing acknowledged that it was in the wrong and has even taken steps to improve its work environment. Yank Sing now provides employees with salaries higher than the minimum wage, full health care benefits, vacation days, and other work benefits.