The Minimum Wage & Women

Women 60 % of minimum wage earners

I was waiting at the supermarket for a short, overweight woman wearing tight blue pedal-pushers to self-bag a mountain of groceries.  

The cashier, a woman in her mid-30s with pulled back hair and dark eye makeup, could not ring up my groceries until there was room on the counter.

 “Why is it so busy?” I asked.

“It’s the first of the month. Food stamps,” said the cashier..

I noticed her eye makeup had migrated  below her eyes forming a shadow. She was tired.

 “Have you been going at this fevered pace all day?” I asked.

“Yeah and this is my second job,” she said. “I’ll put in sixteen hours today.”

Suddenly she brightened. “But I am looking forward to taking a week’s vacation in ten days –  from one job, anyway.  It’s the first vacation I’ve had in years. I’ll find out what it feels like to do nothing again.”

Nothing?

Since when is having only one job a vacation? 

 Minimum Wage

The U.S. Department of Labor is engaged in a “myth busting” informational campaign regarding increasing the federal minimum wage – which is now  $7.25 an hour.

Most people think that it is mostly teenagers who earn the mininim wage. That’s wrong.

 A cashier who works 16 hours a day and considers having just one job a “vacation” is more representative of the minimum wage worker than a high school student earning pocket change.

According to DOL, 60 percent of those earning the minimum wage are women – fewer than 20 percent  are teenagers. And minimum wage workers brought home 46 percent of their household’s wage and salary income in 2011.

The minimum wage has not increased since 2009 and it has declined by 7.3 percent in buying power.

Hardworking Americans earning the minimum wage cannot afford to buy basic necessities and support a family –  never mind  health benefits and a pension.  Many Americans are working multiple jobs just to keep out of poverty.

There is a lot of ignorance about the impact of raising the minimum wage. The DOL and the Economic Policy Institute say that raising the minimum wage does not hurt small business or economic growth. Check out the following DOL graphic:

 

MWRaise-graphic1 

Oregon Interns Get Harrassment/Discrimination Protection

InternsUnpaid interns are especially vulnerable to predatory behavior in the workplace because they are young and inexperienced.

However, many courts have ruled that unpaid interns are not protected by state and federal harassment and discrimination laws.

This week the Oregon legislature agreed to extend workplace protections against harassment and discrimination to unpaid interns.  These protections formerly were reserved only for employees.

The Oregon Senate unanimously passed HB 2669, sending it to Gov. John Kitzhaber for signature. The Oregon house unanimously passed the bill last month. Kitzhaber has indicated that he will sign the bill. 

The new law will give unpaid interns legal recourse against employers for workplace violations including sexual harassment; discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, marital status or age; and retaliation for whistleblowing, among other things.

With no protection in state law, you might think that unpaid interns could turn to federal law. You’d be wrong.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued  guidelines that provide coverage to volunteers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “if the volunteer work is required for regular employment or regularly leads to employment with the same entity.”  However, unpaid interns have been unable to bring sexual harassment or civil rights complaints under Title VII  because judges have not found them to be “employees”  to whom protections are explicitly afforded.

According to a  2010 study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), federal courts have consistently found that the question of whether an individual is compensated for his or her work by an employer is the first test for determining employee status. Accordingly, unpaid interns, or even interns paid by an entity other than an employer, do not receive workplace discrimination protection.

The EPI study reports that the leading precedent for the failure to protect unpaid interns is the case of O’Connor v. Davis,  126 F.3d 112 (2d Cir. 1997).  Bridget O’Connor was required to complete an internship for her college degree and chose to work at a local psychiatric center. There, O’Connor allegedly was subject to repeated sexual harassment by one of her supervisors, Dr. James Davis. The district court summarily dismissed O’Connor’s complaint because the plaintiff, as an unpaid intern, did not receive compensation from the center, and thus did not qualify as an employee protected under Title VII. The decision was upheld on appeal.

Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian told the Associated Press that interns had contacted his office looking for help in the past and “we had to tell them that the law did not protect them.”

Under the measure, an intern who alleges workplace harassment or discrimination, among other violations, can bring a lawsuit against the employer or file a formal complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

Avakian said the idea for the bill came from a legislative intern at the Bureau of Labor and Industries. He said the intern discovered the loophole and brought it to his attention.  In 2011, a similar bill failed to gain traction. This year, however, the bill passed with broad support from civil rights groups and a student advocacy group.

The Oregon law  does not create an employment relationship and does not affect wage or workers’ compensation laws.

 Photo by: John Amis

 

 

All Work and No Extra Pay?

Employers Overwork Staff Rather than Hire New

The magazine, Mother Jones, has an interesting article in its July/August 2011 issue on the “dirty secret of the jobless recovery.”

After a sharp dip in 2008 and 2009, U.S. economic output has recovered to near pre-recession levels.  The Economic Policy Institute reports that corporate profits are up 22 percent!  However, these gains reflect increases in worker “productivity” and not new hiring.

In other words, after downsizing as a result of the recession, employers  are now overworking their remaining employees rather than re-hiring the ones who were let go or creating new jobs. In a recent survey by Spherion Staffing, 53% of workers surveyed said they’ve taken on new roles at work, most of them without extra pay (just 7% got a raise or a bonus).

Not surprisingly, workers are suffering under the strain.

One part-time college teacher is quoted as stating:

“”I am exhausted … I can’t help my son with his homework because I am grading papers until late into the night. I get up very early during the week, skip lunch to save not money but time, and the workload never lets up. My employer uses and abuses full-time employees even more so than those of us that are hourly. My supervisor, for example, runs a large department. He was just promoted to a new, even more demanding position, but his position running the department will not be filled. He will now be doing what is a 60-to-70-hour job ‘on the side.’”

The magazine says Americans  put in an average of 122 hours more per year than the British and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely the result of longer hours—workers in most other countries have, at least on paper, a right to weekends off, paid vacation time and paid maternity leave. (The only countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland and the United States!)

Legislators should be concerned about the implications of this situation on the health and welfare of American workers and their families.  Stress is believed to play an important role in several types of chronic health problems-especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, and psychological disorders. Also, according to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress.