Dear David: Underpaid for Overtime

Question:

Hi, David. I work for a home health care franchise that enables seniors to continue living at home. I’ve been told that since my employers have a “temporary part-time” tax status, they do not have to pay overtime. I work 12 hours daily at least five days a week. Sometimes we have to pick up shifts when other staff “no-show, no-call.” We work in two-week pay periods 120-140 hours and do not get any overtime. We only make $9 per hour. I eagerly await your instructions concerning this matter. Thanks in advance.

— Underpaid for Overtime, Ohio

 

Answer:

Caring for seniors is important work, but it can also be challenging—especially when you’re at it for 12 hours a day! That sounds truly exhausting, and I’m sure it’s especially frustrating when you feel like you’re not getting paid what you deserve.

As I’m sure you know, $9 an hour isn’t a ton of money. It’s more than minimum wage, but if minimum wage had kept up with the cost of living over the past 40 years, it would be $10.52. You’re doing important work, and $9 an hour is tough to support yourself—or your family—on.

It’s not just the pay scale that’s tough to stomach here. You shouldn’t have to rely on working 60-70 hours per week because your employer doesn’t pay you enough, and you really shouldn’t be forced into working 60-70 hours because your employer is apparently unwilling to staff up properly. You’re right to question the status quo.

I’m not really sure what your employer means by “temporary part-time tax status” and how it would affect overtime. It might be good just to note that, although there are several types of exemptions, the Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirement applies to most workers, and you’ll probably want to look a little deeper into whether you are covered rather than just taking the employer’s word for it. (If you think you need professional legal advice on this question, one of the benefits of being a member of Working America is access to a free 30-minute consultation with an attorney. You can learn more here.)

Let’s take another approach to this, though. Let’s say that your employer does have some kind of exemption to overtime. That doesn’t mean you have to take it or leave it—you could take a page from other home care workers in a similar situation. I’m sure you’re not alone in being fed up, so one of your options is to get together with your co-workers and strategize ways you can get your employer to meet your interests. If enough of you share the same concerns and are fed up with low pay, long hours, short staffing or anything else—it may be time to get organized. You’ll have a lot more strength acting together than individually. You can start here: use FixMyJob.com to diagnose the problem and OrganizeWith.Us to make a plan.

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A Living Wage for Walmart Associates. Sound Crazy? It Could Happen in DC.

Take Action: Tell the DC City Council to pass the Large Retail Accountability Act.

Walmart is the nation’s largest private employer: 1.4 million Americans, or about 1 percent of the working population, are Walmart employees. Walmart also pays exceedingly low wages to those employees. But a bill in DC could set a nationwide precedent to drag Walmart employees out of poverty.

Even in the realm of big box retail stores, Walmart is winning the race to the bottom. A 2005 NYU study found that Walmart employees earn 28 percent less, on average, than workers at other large retailers. That puts downward pressure on their competitors: the same NYU study found that in 2000, retail workers would’ve taken home $4.5 billion more if Walmart wasn’t around.

If Walmart gave all of its workers even a small pay raise, the effect would be like an economic stimulus, with millions of workers able to purchase essentials with the extra cash in their pocket.

That’s why you better be watching the DC City Council, and that’s why you should know the letters LRAA: the Large Retail Accountability Act.

The bill would require DC businesses a.) with at least 75,000 square feet and b.) whose parent company has annual sales of at least $1 billion to pay their workers at least $12.50 an hour. In the District of Columbia, that ropes in Costco, Home Depot, and yes, Walmart.

Elissa Silverman of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute explains:

The bill comes at a time when the District is experiencing a population boom, and when development in many neighborhoods is attracting national retailers. A growing retail sector adds jobs to the District, but the hourly pay is often at or close to the city’s minimum wage, which is currently $8.25 an hour.  The median wage for cashiers in DC area is $10.38 an hour – meaning half earn less than this and half earn more – while the median wage for retail salespeople is $11.21 an hour.

If you think $12.50 is a wildly high hourly wage, consider this:

…As the committee noted, many of the city’s large retailers already have an average wage that meets or exceeds the living wage, which means the living wage requirement would affect their lowest-paid workers but not all.

Is this unfair to Walmart? Walmart certainly thinks so. But you don’t have to be a math major to find that Walmart could pay its workers much more than $12.50 an hour and still be making gangbusters: $400 billion in global sales last year, with more than $15 billion in profit. The company is owned by some of the richest people on the planet. Through social programs like SNAP and Medicaid, taxpayers subsidize Walmart to the tune of over $900,000 annually.

Councilman Vincent Orange put it this way: “Big business, come in, make your profit, make your sales. But if your company makes more than $1 billion a year, you must pay our citizens $12.50 an hour or more.”

The bill passed its first reading on Wednesday, with a vote of 8 to 5. If the bill passes the second vote in July, it goes to Mayor Gray for his signature or veto. This could set a nationwide precedent for other communities to ensure Walmart plays by their rules – not the other way around.

Take Action: Send a message to the DC City Council asking them to pass the Large Retail Accountability Act.

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Minimum Wage Hike Would Boost Kids and Workers Out of Poverty

Two new studies succinctly lay out the need for and the broad economic benefits of raising the federal minimum wage.

The Kids Count Data Book finds that the number of children living in poverty jumped by 3 million from 2005 to 2011—years marked by stagnant wages—and now 23% of the nation’s children live in poverty.

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation report on child poverty, 26% of kids younger than 3 are poor and the rate for African American children is 39%. Yet two-thirds of children living in poverty have at least one parent with a full-time, year-round job and many of those are minimum wage jobs. Read the full report here.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United shows that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as legislation in Congress would do, would boost more than half of the working poorin the United States out of poverty.

The ROC United report shows that some 6 million of the more than 10 million U.S. workers living below the federal poverty level would be raised out of that category by such an increase.

The working poor are defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as those who had jobs or were looking for a job for at least half of the year and still fell below the poverty line. The current national minimum wage is $7.25, but President Obama called for an increase and bills were introduced in both houses to increase the wage to $10 or more. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also proposed legislation to tie the minimum wage to prices in the economy.

Also of note are these graphics that show the inaccuracy of stereotypes about minimum wage workers: More than 70% of minimum wage earners have a high school diploma or higher and 75% of minimum wage earners are adults.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Half of Americans Now Considered Poor or Low-Income

The Huffington Post published 12 charts on rising inequality in America. They point out, among other things, that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, half of all Americans are now considered “poor” or “low-income.”

About 97.3 million Americans fall into a low-income category, commonly defined as those earning between 100 and 199 percent of the poverty level, based on a new supplemental measure by the Census Bureau that is designed to provide a fuller picture of poverty. Together with the 49.1 million who fall below the poverty line and are counted as poor, they number 146.4 million, or 48 percent of the U.S. population. That’s up by 4 million from 2009, the earliest numbers for the newly developed poverty measure.

Why? Lots of reasons. For one thing, wages have stagnated even as American workers get more productive. Between 1973 and 2011, productivity increased 80 percent while wages (median hourly compensation adjusted for inflation) increased only 10 percent.

From 2000 until today, we have become 23 percent more productive, while wages adjusted for inflation have stayed the same.

Not surprisingly, the stagnation of worker wages and the drop in median family income mirrors the decrease in workers represented by unions. When workers don’t have a way to advocate for better wages, more health benefits, and adequate time off to spend time with their families, employers have no reason to do anything but pay the least amount required. This is especially true of large companies with more than 100 workers, who employ 66 percent of low-wage workers.

These charts make you mad? Well, look at more of them.

After that, join Working America and become part of nation’s fastest growing organization for working families. It’s only with strength in numbers that we can create an economy that works for workers.

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Tell Us: How Can We Raise Awareness About the Need to Improve Wages and Working Conditions?

Join Saru Jayaraman on Wednesday, June 12, from 2–3 p.m. EDT for the sixth in the AFL-CIO series of live online discussions on how we build a movement for the future of working people. Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United—and the AFL-CIO—want to hear your ideas. She poses this question:

How can we create a culture shift and raise the consciousness of America’s public about the need to improve wages and working conditions?

You can go to our discussion page and give us your thoughts now and be sure to come back for the live chat.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Photo from Saru Jayaraman on Facebook

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Dear David: If We Took a Holiday

Question:

I have been an employee at a private nursing home for 24 years. I now work part-time for five days in a two-week period, 7.5 hours per day. When my scheduled day to work falls on a holiday, I do not get paid for that day. Therefore I lose a day’s work and only get four days in that pay period. Why must I lose a day’s work because it is a holiday? It just does not seem fair to me.

— Expensive Holiday, Ohio

 

Answer:

This is a pretty important issue—after all, you rely on having that consistent income, and getting a day without pay thrown at you is a big deal.

This is one of the problems with employers having all the say on what’s considered “fair.” Unless you have a contract or union agreement that says otherwise, it is probably legal. But “legal” doesn’t mean “fair.” While the federal government and most public employers recognize certain holidays and provide either paid time off or premium pay for their employers on those days, there is almost nothing required by statute for private sector employees with respect to holidays. Federal wage and hour law and the vast majority of state laws do not require private sector employers to treat holidays any differently than any other days. Unless you have an individual or union contract guaranteeing you a certain number of hours per week, or specifically requiring paid time off for holidays, you can be scheduled off without pay. Also, except in a small number of states (such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island), private sector employees are not entitled by statute to extra pay if they are required to work on a holiday.

So who gets to decide if you are going to be paid for a holiday, and who gets to decide what your schedule looks like? It’s not clear if you are working this schedule because it’s your preference or because that’s the only schedule your employer will offer you despite your long service.

Sometimes employers hold back holiday pay or other benefits as an incentive for working full-time or a certain number of hours. And too often employers are manipulating workers’ schedules so they don’t work enough hours to be eligible for those kinds of benefits. Even if that’s not what’s happening here, don’t you think 24 years working at the same place ought to come with some input into your working conditions? That might be a good question for you to take to some of your co-workers. While you’re at it, you might want to ask them if there’s anything else about their jobs they’d like to see get fixed. If enough of you end up on the same page, this might become an opportunity for you to address several issues at once—together.

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Walmart, Gap Refuse to Sign Bangladesh Safety Pact


Image via SumofUs on Facebook

Following the tragic building collapse that killed more than 1,300 Bangladeshi garment workers and recent fires that have claimed the lives of more than 400 Bangladeshi clothing workers, more than 40 clothing retailers have signed on to the Accord on Building and Fire Safety. But two of the major retailers that count on low-wage Bangladeshi workers to make the clothes they sell have refused.

Today, Walmart and Gap announced they would develop their own nonbinding safety code and turned their backs on the accord developed by international and Bangladeshi unions, retailers and other groups—groups with firsthand knowledge of what’s needed for worker safety and of the deadly consequences of inaction.

According to the fashion blog Fashionista, the Walmart-Gap plan:

probably won’t be of a legally-binding nature, since that’s what Gap objected to in the Bangladesh safety accord. While Gap and Walmart are no doubt trying to quell consumer backlash, it will likely backfire if this new plan doesn’t place enough legal responsibility on retailers’ shoulders.

In a joint statement, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, the two labor federations, said they are:

deeply concerned about Walmart and Gap’s plan to move forward with a corporate-controlled, nonbinding process for adopting building safety standards in Bangladesh….This is a matter of life or death. Quite simply, nonbinding is just not good enough.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, executive director of the corporate watchdog SumOfUs.org, told Fashionista:

There is a serious gap in Gap’s credibility if it says that it only wants to sign the agreement if it is not legally binding.

In an effort to lend an air of legitimacy to their plans to develop their own safety accord, Walmart and Gap have asked former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell and former Sen. Olympia Snowe to serve as “independent facilitators.” But, said the AFL-CIO and Change to Win:

While former Sens. George Mitchell and Olympia Snowe are both respected for their ability to forge compromises, we cannot afford to compromise the lives of Bangladeshi workers. We are determined to get this process right, and we will express our concerns to both former senators and ask that they not participate in undermining the ongoing and more productive process led by IndustriAll and UNI global labor federations.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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High-Tech’s Low-Wage Strategy

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

When Microsoft, Oracle, Facebook and the other big-time cyber giants say they need to import more foreign high-tech workers and then put on a full-scale lobbying assault to up the number of H-1B visas allowed in the immigration reform bill now under consideration, what are they really after? AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has the answer in an op-ed in today’s edition of USA Today.

This is about powerful companies pursuing lower wages.

The high-tech industry claims there is a shortage of qualified U.S. workers to fill their jobs. But, writes Trumka, in the fields of computer and information science and engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50% more students than there are new hires.

Clearly, high-tech is not looking to bring in H-1B visa holders for a few years at a time because there is a shortage of tech workers. They want a massive expansion of H-1B visa holders because they can pay them less.

Trumka makes clear that “America’s unions embrace immigrants and new citizens.”

But we need the right rules and policies in place to reach our potential. When foreign temporary workers get stuck in a revolving-door system that does not give them a realistic chance to stay and become citizens, then the ladder to the middle class is broken.

Read the full column in USA Today.

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Durazo: ‘Los Angeles…the Low-Wage Capital of the Nation’

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

Journalists are fixated on union members’ donations to the Los Angeles mayoral race to elect Wendy Greuel, Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, writes in a Los Angeles Times column. But one issue is being largely ignored: the working poor.

“But if the discussion about the role of unions in the campaign is going to focus almost exclusively on money, shouldn’t we talk about money in its entirety?” writes Durazo. “What motivates me and so many others in L.A. labor when it comes to money are the hundreds of thousands of our fellow workers in Los Angeles who don’t earn enough of it.”

Los Angeles is the low-wage capital of the nation, according to the U.S. Census Bureau‘s American Community Survey. L.A. has more workers who struggle to survive on poverty pay than any other metropolitan area in the country.

During 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 822,244 people working at full-time, year-round jobs earned less than $25,000 a year. That represented 28% of the labor force. These figures are for Los Angeles County.

Read the rest of Mayor’s Race: The Real Money Problem in L.A. in the Los Angeles Times.

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7 Things You Should Know About “Comp Time” and the Working Families Flexibility Act

Say what you will, but anti-worker politicians are good at giving deceptive names to things. “Right to work” takes away your rights at work. “Paycheck protection” puts your wages at risk. And who could forget Paul Ryan’s plan to “strengthen Medicare” which ends Medicare as we know it.

House Republicans are pushing the “Workplace Families Flexibility Act of 2013,” which they claim would allow busy working parents to spend more time with their kids. That’s bogus. The bill replaces the 40-hour work week with a “comp time” accrual system that would allow employers greater control over their hourly employee’s schedule.

What’s worse? The bill ends ”time-and-a-half” overtime pay for hourly and non-exempt workers as we know it, giving renewed incentive for businesses to work their employees as long as they want with near impunity.

In other words, the bill does the opposite of what House Republicans say it will.

Confused? That’s exactly what they want. So here are 8 things you should know:

“Comp time” undermines the 40-hour work week. Quick history review: in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) became law. We say it “established” the 40-hour work week, but really it just “encouraged” it, by telling employers that for any hours worked past 40, workers had to be time-and-a-half and receive it in their next pay period. The idea was you get eight hours at work, eight hours to sleep, and eight hours to do whatever you want. Another goal of time-and-a -half pay was to give employers a financial incentive to hire more workers when they have more work, instead of forcing workers already on the job to work beyond their scheduled hours.

With “comp time,” employers are encouraged to do the opposite. Making overtime less expensive to employers means more workers being scheduled for 50 or 60-hour shifts. Which means less time with your family – not more.

“Comp time” encourages mandatory overtime – and ends overtime pay as we know it. Instead of time-and-a-half pay for hours worked past 40, workers would get “comp time,” hours of time off to be taken later. Employers benefit because they don’t have to pay overtime, plus, they can have you use your comp time in a way that won’t cost them extra (during less busy periods, etc.).

According to the bill, individual employees have the “choice” between comp time or overtime pay. Since comp time saves the employer money, what is stopping them from inducing workers, subtly or not, into choosing comp time? They could give the “comp time” workers better shifts and better treatment, and they could even train workers not to take the overtime options – in the same way that Target and other stores train workers not to join unions.

Don’t be fooled: this is a pay cut. Again, having hours off “at some point” sounds nice. But overall, workers’ take home pay will go down, because that supplemental income you would’ve had from working overtime will disappear. Besides, depending on your schedule, you could get to December 31 without having the chance to use your accrued comp time, at which point you are left with no time off and no extra pay.

It has “flexibility” in the name, but provides less flexibility to workers… Employers already have the option to offer their workers more flexible schedules – most just choose not to. The only difference is that with “comp time,” workers don’t get the time-and-a-half pay they would with overtime. “Comp time” isn’t “paid leave” in the traditional sense, because now the employee is the one paying.

…and more flexibility to employers. Say you want to take your comp days off. You go to your boss and request an afternoon off to take care of a sick child, for instance. Under “comp time,” the boss can deny your request outright. Why? Because they can claim that your request “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer” or that the request was not made “within a reasonable period.”

So you’ve gone from a job with overtime pay to a job with unlimited shifts and no extra pay, and you can’t take days off when you want. And if you take the overtime option, your boss can treat you worse because of it. Thanks, Working Families Flexibility Act!

Kills jobs. People say this phrase all the time, “job-killing this,” “job-killing that.” But comp time sends the message to employers that it’s cheaper to work your current employees harder and longer than ever before rather than hire new people. When you take away the primary incentive to hire more people that literally, not figuratively, kills jobs.

There’s a better way. How about this: we don’t touch the 40-hour work week. Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, eight hours to do what you will – it’s a good system.

The problem remains, though, that many workers don’t even have right to earn paid leave to use when they get the flu, need to care for a sick child, experience a traumatic event, or even attend their kid’s school play.

That’s why Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours work – no one gets something for nothing. You can learn more about that bill here, and send a message to Congress to pass it here.

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