TIME Civil Rights

New Guidelines Could Help Many Pregnant Workers

Jacqueline Berrien
Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Jacqueline Berrien speaks at a Middle Class Task Force event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the White House in Washington, in this Tuesday, July 20, 2010 file photo. Charles Dharapak—AP

Any form of workplace discrimination or harassment against pregnant workers by employers is now a form of illegal sex discrimination

(WASHINGTON) — New federal guidelines on job discrimination against pregnant workers could have a big impact on the workplace and in the courtroom.

The expanded rules adopted by the bipartisan Equal Employment Opportunity Commission make clear that any form of workplace discrimination or harassment against pregnant workers by employers is a form of sex discrimination — and illegal.

Updating its pregnancy discrimination guidelines for the first time in more than 30 years, the agency cited a “persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices.”

The guidelines spell out for the first time how the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to pregnant workers. And they emphasize that any discrimination against female workers based on past or prospective future pregnancies is also illegal.

Joan C. Williams, a law professor at the University of California’s Hastings School of Law in San Francisco, said the new guidelines issued this week can have two major impacts: steering EEOC investigators to be more sensitive to the sometimes special needs of pregnant workers and giving employment lawyers more ammunition in defending clients who were victims of such discrimination.

Williams, an expert in the field whose work is cited three times in the EEOC’s new 60-page “enforcement guidance” on pregnancy discrimination, called the toughened stance of the EEOC “a significant victory.”

Williams, who co-authored a 2011 study called “Pregnant, Poor and Fired,” said the main impact may by erecting “very, very, simple and very, very commonsense” guideposts for EEOC investigators, as well as providing strong ammunition for employment lawyers whose clients are victims of such discrimination.

“I think it will make a really big difference,” she said in an interview. “This is also the direction the courts have begun to go in, and that’s why the EEOC said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.'”

The guidelines were last updated in 1983. EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline A. Berrien suggested the update was needed and timely. “Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices,” she said in a statement.

The new guidelines prohibit employers from forcing pregnant workers to take leave and acknowledge that “employers may have to provide light duty for pregnant workers.” After childbirth, lactation is now covered as a pregnancy-related medical condition.

It’s not just women who will benefit.

The guidelines say that when it comes to parental leave, “similarly situated” men and women must be treated on the same terms.

The update comes two weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to consider a case involving the EEOC’s duty to try to settle charges of job discrimination before filing lawsuits against employers.

The issue has gained increasing attention — and vexed business groups — as the Obama administration ratchets up its enforcement of the nation’s anti-discrimination laws.

The latest EEOC data shows a 46 percent increase in pregnancy-related complaints to the EEOC from 1997 to 2011.

In its report, the agency cites specific, real-life examples of what it considers illegal discrimination. It used only first names and did not reveal locations, occupations or employers. Among them:

— Three months after “Maria” told her supervisor that she was pregnant, she was absent a few days due to an illness unrelated to her pregnancy. When she returned to work, “her supervisor said her body was trying to tell her something” and she was let go.

— Shortly after Teresa informed her supervisor of her pregnancy, “he met with her to discuss alleged performance problems.” Even though Teresa had consistently received outstanding performance reviews during her eight years of employment with the company, she was discharged.

— Birah, a woman from Nigeria, claimed that when she was visibly pregnant with her second child, “her supervisors increased her workload and shortened her deadlines so she could not complete her assignments, ostracized her, repeatedly excluded her from meetings to which she should have been invited, reprimanded her for failing to show up for work due to snow when others were not reprimanded, and subjected her to profanity.”

Protections for pregnant women vary widely around the globe — as does enforcement. Sweden bans discrimination because of pregnancy and requires companies employing more than 25 people to help both men and women combine work and parenting. Egyptian laws give pregnant women the right to work fewer hours and three months’ paid leave after birth — requirements women’s rights groups say prompt employers to hire men. And in Mexico, laws prohibit discrimination against pregnant women, but there is little enforcement by the government.

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the updated U.S. guidelines, which were approved Monday on a 3-2 partisan-line vote by the Democratic-led commission.

“Pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are qualified to perform, and it cannot be a basis for denying employment or treating women less favorably than co-workers,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

TIME China

Another SOS Note From China Has Been Found In a Piece of Store-Bought Merchandise

Chinese visitors watch inmates sewing clothes at a prison in Neihuang county, Anyang city, central Chinas Henan province, 25 June 2013. Imageinchina—AP

"We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs," reads the note, found in the pocket of a pair of pants bought in Northern Ireland

What purports to be a cry for help from Chinese prison inmates has been found inside a pair of trousers bought from a popular U.K. retailer.

Karen Wisinska, a Northern Ireland mother-of-two, says she bought the trousers from the Primark fashion chain in 2011 but never wore them. When clearing out her wardrobe recently, she found the note, written in Chinese, in the back pocket of the pants and had it translated.

“SOS! SOS! SOS!,” it began. “We are prisoners in the Xiang Nan Prison of the Hubei Province in China. Our job inside the prison is to produce fashion clothes for export. We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs. We work as hard as oxen in the field.”

Primark has cast doubts on the authenticity of the note. A Primark spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph that several inspections of the manufacturer had been carried out since the trousers were made. “To be clear, no prison or other forced labor of any kind was found during these inspections,” he said.

However, the discovery of the note — authentic or not — has brought into focus once again the issue of forced labor, which has long been used as a punishment in China, mainly at reform-through-labor camps known as lao gai. These detention centers hold people who have never faced trial, such as political activists, or followers of spiritual movements such as Falun Gong.

The U.S. keeps a list of goods produced by forced labor in China, including Christmas decorations, shoes and toys, and discoveries like Wisinska’s have been made before.

In June 2013, a mother-of-two in Oregon told the New York Times about a note she found inside a package of Halloween decorations bought at Kmart. The same month, a New Zealander who spent time at a prison in Dongguan told the Australian Financial Review that he and his fellow inmates had been making disposable headphones for Qantas, British Airways and Emirates. In December, an American college professor was released from a detention center in Guangzhou, where he was forced to make Christmas lights and plastic component parts.

In November, China said it had closed down all the country’s lao gai, but even if this were true, forced labor is carried out in conventional prisons and much of what is produced ends up in the West.

“Whether or not the products are produced for the West, it’s certain that a lot of them would end up there because of the way supply chains work,” Maya Wang, a China researcher with Human Rights Watch, told TIME.

She points out that China hasn’t signed the International Labor Organization’s convention on forced labor, so the practice is still legal in the country. “Without a strong legal framework, it’s really easy to evade responsibility,” she says.

Meanwhile, in response to Wisinska’s discovery, Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland program director Patrick Corrigan said “It’s very difficult to know whether it’s genuine, but the fear has to be that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

TIME Aviation

It Sounds So Last Century, but Cabin Crew Are Still Hassled by Sex Pests

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Getty Images

From Coffee, Tea or Me? to The Swinging Stewardesses to the Singapore Girl. For years, books, movies and marketing campaigns have sold us the story that flight attendants are sexy girls who serve, not working men and women. Years of organizing and activism has helped alter this perception and has dramatically improved working conditions in many parts of the world. But decades after Continental promised to “move our tails for you,” there are those who still feel free to return an attendant’s smile with a wink and a leer — or even a casual grope.

Thankfully, legislation is slowly changing that. Last week, Hong Kong became the latest jurisdiction to take action on the issue after officials proposed an amendment to the territory’s sexual-harassment laws that would make sexual harassment of service providers illegal, even if it happens outside the territory. Under the Sex Discrimination (Amendment) Bill 2014, airborne sex pests would face civil action in Hong Kong courts. “Some people think they can run away from their actions — well, maybe they can’t run away anymore,” says Dora Lai, who heads the flight attendants’ union for local flag carrier Cathay Pacific. It’s a far cry from the 1970s, when the airline used to market itself with a nudge-nudge play on its code: “Try CX. You’ll like it.”

Though all this may sound like an improbable 1960s throwback, in-flight harassment is an enduring, industry-wide problem. Global stats are hard to come by because such behavior often goes unreported, or may be logged as an in-flight “incident.” But veteran flight attendants with international experience say it is a semiregular occurrence and an unfortunate fact of the job. The new rules in Hong Kong, for instance, follow a survey by Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunity Commission, which found that 27% of Hong Kong flight attendants reported being sexually harassed in the past year.

Statutory protection is a step in the right direction, but is still limited in scope. In drafting their proposal, Hong Kong officials looked to existing laws in Canada, New Zealand and Australia — a small slice of the travel pie. Some markets still lack harassment laws, many the will to enforce them. And it is notoriously tough to pursue claims against someone who may live and work elsewhere.

Part of the problem is that in-flight offenders are emboldened by a perception that they will not be called out. Airlines are certainly not the only place where this happens — creeps and criminals are universal — but there is something about flying that seems to bring it out, says Kathleen M. Barry, author of Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants. “There has always been that sense that there is something distinctive about being on an airplane, it is a space apart, away from your family, removed from normal constraints of a service relationship.”

Airline marketing has not helped. In 1974’s Sex Objects in the Sky: A Personal Account of the Stewardess Rebellion, Paula Kane observed a link between the rise of sexy ad campaigns (“Fly me”), salacious depictions of stewardesses and real-life, one-the-job harassment. Her businessmen customers felt entitled to a “pinch or a pat.” Some still do.

Today, few would venture to grab a bank teller’s breast, or to casually show a shop assistant or receptionist part of their anatomy without expecting consequences. But both still happen in-flight, cabin crew say. One Chinese employee for a German airline told me in an email how the mere act of pouring a beverage — a humdrum part of the job — prompted one passenger to joke about ejaculating on her. (Fearing repercussions at work, she asked to withhold her name.)

Flight attendants have led the charge to change the industry. Bolstered by the civil rights movement and feminist activism, workers at U.S.-based airlines successfully campaigned for an end to things like age and weight limits and the requirement that stewardesses stay single. They also fought for better pay and benefits. In doing so, they helped changed the perception that working on an aircraft is somehow not real work at all.

Current conditions vary widely across regions and carriers. The International Transport Workers’ Federation last year called out the United Arab Emirates and Qatar for “flagrant abuses” of aviation-workers’ rights (including restrictions on marriage and pregnancy). Hong Kong–headquartered Cathay Pacific has a strong and vocal union, but flight attendants in mainland China cannot organize. Major Chinese airlines still have height and age requirements. At a 2011 recruitment pageant, prospective hires had to walk a runway in swimsuits and were evaluated on the shape of their legs.

Of course, it is not really about what recruits wear, or how they look, but about power. Flight attendants could wear potato sacks and still get hassled. Stopping would-be offenders means showing passengers and staff alike that abuse will not be tolerated, says Heather Poole, an industry veteran and the author of the bestseller Cruising Attitude: Tales of Crashpads, Crew Drama, and Crazy Passengers at 35,000 Feet. “There’s a reason foreign carriers like to keep their flight attendants young,” she says. In her experience, young people, who often have less job security, may be hesitant to speak up.

When, as a rookie, she was groped by a passenger in first class, she fled to the galley and did not report it. “I had just started flying, and I didn’t want to lose my job by causing a problem with an important passenger,” she recalled in an email. “I still don’t [know] who I’d go to for something like that. The union? Human resources? A 1-800 number?”

For Hong Kong–based crew, at least, the new rules may provide some help. And at least the issue is being discussed. But tackling the problem globally will require all jurisdictions, and airlines, to step up. Not to mention passengers. “I’d suggest that any person with a propensity to act out in this manner consider traveling as if their mother is sitting next to them,” Poole says. “An 18-year-old new hire may handle a situation differently than a flight attendant with 10 years’ seniority and a black belt in Taekwondo.”

Creeps: consider yourself warned.

TIME World Cup

Sao Paulo Subway Workers Declare Open-Ended Strike, Days From World Cup

Unionized subway workers in Sao Paulo Wednesday declared an open-ended strike starting Thursday, with just a week to go before the World Cup opens in Brazil.

Union leaders rejected an offer of an 8.7% pay raise from the state government, which operates the city’s subway system. They had earlier agreed to reduce their salary demand from a hike of almost 35% to 16.5%. Subway workers in Brazil make a starting salary of about $582 a month (meanwhile, the BBC reports that Sao Paolo is in the top 20 most expensive cities to live in, worldwide).

Civil unrest, from public demonstrations to strikes, has wreaked havoc across Brazil in recent weeks. Many protestors object to the country spending so much money on hosting the games in the face of widespread poverty, arguing that resources would be better allocated to help those in need.

The Sao Paulo subway strike will likely cause substantial chaos in the largest city in Brazil, where more than four million of the approximately 10 million-strong population use the subway system, The Wall Street Journal reports. The city is set to host six World Cup matches.

Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo said recently he’s “appalled” at the state of preparations for the tournament in Brazil.

TIME Japan

Japan Is Desperate to Rescue Its Economy from an Early Grave

General Images of Economy Ahead Of Nationwide Quarterly Land Price Data Release
Pedestrians cross an intersection in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, Japan, on Friday, Nov. 22, 2013. Kiyoshi Ota—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Any less than 100 million people would spell doom for the nation's economy, officials warned, while neglecting one glaringly easy fix

Japan’s battle against gray hairs took an unusual turn this week when the Ministry of Commerce set the very lowest acceptable bound for its aging population: 100 million people. Beyond this point, there lays a “crisis.”

Or so warned Akio Mimura, head of Japan’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Mimura urged the government to make 100 million the official population target, backed by policies that would promote childrearing. “If we don’t do anything, an extremely difficult future will be waiting for us,” Mimura said.

His concerns are well founded. Japan has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, with each woman bearing an average of 1.4 children. At that rate, demographers project a plunge from 127 million people today to 87 million by 2060, sapping the workforce of its vital young workers and putting an enormous strain on state finances.

The shrinkage has already begun. In 2013, Japan’s population declined by a record-breaking 244,000 people.

All of which has led to some rather creative policy proposals from the Chamber of Commerce, such as retaining 70-year-old’s in the workforce, doubling government expenditures on childcare and encouraging men to ask working women out on a date.

But once again, policymakers dodged the quickest fix, namely to import workers from abroad. The island nation has an outstandingly small number of immigrants. They form less than 2% of the population, compared with a wealthy country average of 11%. Japan could triple the number of foreigners and still not approach the norm among wealthy nations.

Migrants
Source: UN Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs

Of course there’s a reason for policymakers’ skittishness around the issue. Immigration reform consistently takes a beating at the polls. One recent survey by Asahi Shimbun newspaper asked respondents if they would accept more immigrants to preserve “economic vitality.” Even with the positive spin, 65% opposed.

Japan Immigration Bureau’s motto is, “internationalization in compliance with the rules.” A simple rule rewrite could alleviate Japan’s demographic fix. It certainly would be easier than prodding the nation’s families to have another 13 million babies. But judging from this week’s presentation from the Chamber of Commerce, it remains politically stillborn.

 

TIME Labor

Fast-Food Strike Progress Measured in Pennies, Not Dollars

Protests at fast-food restaurants in 150 cities across the U.S. and dozens of foreign countries have earned plenty of media attention, but the impact is yet to be felt by most low-wage workers, whose paychecks still don’t amount to a living wage

Fast-food workers once again walked out on their jobs Thursday in the latest effort to boost their base pay to $15 per hour, what they call a living wage, and earn the right to form a union.

A movement that began at a New York City McDonald’s in November 2012 has ballooned to include 150 U.S. cities and dozens of foreign countries, according to Fast Food Forward, the coordinating group for the protests. The strikes have effectively generated headlines nationwide each time they’ve been organized, and placed the real-life struggles of low-wage workers in front of millions of eyes. However, the measurable results of the campaign remain small for most workers.

In terms of persuading restaurant corporations to increase their wages, progress has been glacial at best. Kendall Fells, organizing director of Fast Food Forward, was able to point to about a half-dozen instances over the past year when a fast-food chain offered raises to employees. A McDonald’s in Detroit gave all workers a 10¢ raise after a December walkout. A Dunkin’ Donuts in Hartford, Conn., offered 50¢ raises to some workers. A single worker at a Detroit Wendy’s got a $1 raise last May, the largest figure that Fells cited. There have been other minor victories at individual locations, like a Burger King in Windsor Locks, Conn., where a worker won paid sick days, or a McDonald’s in New York City that lobbied for a new air conditioner after one worker fainted last summer.

The workers who have received these small concessions are not satisfied. Daisha Mims, a 24-year-old mother who works at a Memphis McDonald’s got a 25¢ raise after joining a one-day strike last August. She got a 10¢ raise earlier this year and says she recently received a check for $210 in back pay for being forced to work off the clock and without breaks. Mims believes she deserves more, though. “It’s helping me a little bit. I was able to afford a little bit bigger place to stay,” she says. “I still feel as though I need a second job.”

On the whole, the corporations the workers are railing against are not willingly boosting wages on a large scale. They all point to their franchisee model as a reason they can’t do much about workers’ pay. “It’s important to know approximately 80% of our global restaurants are independently owned and operated by small-business owners, who are independent employers that comply with local and federal laws,” McDonald’s spokeswoman Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem said in an emailed statement. “Wages are set by local market conditions, job requirements and the employee’s tenure and performance.” Burger King, Dunkin’ Donuts, Wendy’s and KFC owner Yum! Brands each issued similar statements.

Still, there are signs that the pressure of the protests is beginning to resonate in both corporate headquarters and state and city legislatures. In its annual financial report earlier this year, McDonald’s acknowledged for the first time that a long-term trend toward higher wages “may intensify with increasing public focus on matters of income inequality,” a clear nod to the strikes. Thirteen states increased their minimum wages at the start of the year by an average of 28¢, according to the National Employment Law Project. Seattle, one of the cities where the protests first erupted early last year, is planning to become the first major U.S. city with a $15-per-hour minimum wage. And President Barack Obama has directly referenced the plight of fast-food workers in his ongoing campaign to raise the federal minimum wage. “The fast-food workers have effectively been able to change the power dynamic in the industry,” says Fells. “You see the minimum wage being raised everywhere across the country.”

Labor experts have likened the one-day strikes to the organizing efforts used by everyday workers before unions came to power in the 20th century. Without the ability to unionize, fast-food workers are instead trying to get public opinion on their side. With the financial backing of the Service Employees International Union and an aggressive communications strategy devised by PR firm Berlin Rosen, fast-food employees have effectively gained awareness. The effort to gain significant raises, though, is still a work in progress. “It seems to have affected the national discourse more effectively than I thought it would,” Jeff Cowie, a professor of labor history at Cornell University, told TIME during the last set of large strikes in December. “People might be scoffing on Fox News about a $15 hourly wage for fast-food workers, but they’re talking about it.”

TIME Companies

JetBlue Pilots Vote to Unionize

After previously rejecting bids to unionize, the airline's pilots voted in favor of joining the Air Line Pilots Association, "so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers," co-chairs of JetBlue's organizing committee said

JetBlue Airways pilots overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), the union announced on Tuesday.

The majority of JetBlue’s roughly 2,600 pilots took part in the vote, and 71% voted in favor of joining the ALPA. The move comes after JetBlue pilots previously voted against unionization in 2009 and 2011, the New York Times reports.

The pilots are the first employees to unionize at JetBlue, which was founded in 1998. The ALPA is the world’s largest pilot union and represents nearly 50,000 pilots in the U.S. and Canada.

“Today, JetBlue pilots have voted for ALPA representation so that we have the ability to improve our professional careers,” captains Rocky Durham and Gustavo Rivera, co-chairs of the JetBlue Organizing Committee, said in a statement. “As committed as we are to our objectives, we also want to work with management to ensure we continue to contribute positively to JetBlue’s success. We believe in JetBlue and look forward to helping make this company one of the best in the industry.”

TIME

Here’s How You Help the Poor Without Soaking the Rich

AFGHANISTAN-SOCIETY-TULIPS
Afghan children Malik, 8, and Popal, 11, wait at a roadside with wild tulips for sale to potential customers driving through the Shamali plains, north of Kabul. SHAH MARAI—AFP/Getty Images

We have to clear our minds of a fallacy about poverty alleviation: Helping the poor does not mean welfare. This isn’t to say that we don’t need welfare. Ignoring the unfortunate who can’t put enough food on the table or afford proper education or healthcare is not just cruel, it’s bad economics. The impoverished make either good consumers or productive workers.

But government aid can only reduce the suffering of the poor; it usually can’t make them escape poverty permanently. We know that from watching what has happened in the developing world over the past half century. Those countries that have tried to use wide-scale state programs to alleviate poverty—such as India—have not achieved results as quickly as nations that did not, such as Singapore and South Korea. (See my recent piece on this subject.) Generally, the high-performance economies of East Asia didn’t fight poverty by playing Robin Hood—soaking the rich and handing out cash to the poor. There is no reason why we’d have to do that today.

Instead we have to give the downtrodden better jobs, more opportunities, more tools to improve their incomes and fairer treatment in economic policy.
That means we must improve the climate for investment. I’m pretty sure you didn’t expect me to write that when you started reading. There is a widespread assumption that what’s good for companies is bad for the little guy. But if Asia’s example teaches us anything, it’s that there are two ways to end poverty: (1) create jobs and (2) create more jobs. The only way to do that is to convince businessmen to invest more.

That’s why it is imperative to make investing easier. We should press ahead with free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to bring down barriers between countries and encourage exports and cross-border investment. Though CEOs complain far too much about regulation—the sub-prime mortgage disaster, the recent General Motors recall, or Beijing’s putrid air all show that we need to keep a close eye on business—we should also streamline regulatory procedures, standardize it across countries and thus make it less onerous to follow.

We also need to improve infrastructure like transportation systems to bring down the costs of doing business. I think it is a national embarrassment for the U.S. to allow the Highway Trust Fund to run out of money at a time when the country needs both jobs and better roads. The environment for investment shouldn’t just improve for Walmart and Apple, but also entrepreneurs and small companies. In many parts of the world—in certain European countries, for example, and China—there’s too much red tape involved in starting a company, and not enough finance available.

We also need to invest in the workforce. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, in an attack on a proposed minimum-wage hike, said that “I want people to make a lot more than $9—$9 is not enough.” He’s right, but that just won’t magically happen on its own. To get people’s paychecks up, workers have to possess better skills. We are simply not doing enough to improve schools, teachers and job training programs. We should also be doing more to make higher education more affordable.

While overall U.S. spending on education is among the highest in the world, it still lags in important ways. Take a look at this data comparing education spending across countries. U.S. public expenditure on education has remained more or less stable, at 5.1% of GDP in 2010, but that’s lower than a lot of other developed countries, from Sweden to New Zealand. What is also interesting is how the cost of education is pushed onto the private sector in the U.S. much more than in most other countries.

Spending is also heading in the wrong direction. The U.S. Census Bureau calculated that in fiscal 2011, expenditure per student dropped for the first time since statistics have been kept.

Clearly, the U.S. spends so much money on education already that we should be getting more bang for our buck. Reform is crucial to put all those billions to better use. But slicing spending isn’t the answer, either. The latest budget from U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan streamlines some U.S. education programs he considers wasteful and recommends measures that would add to the financial burden of going to college for some families. Meanwhile, he’s leaving the military budget generally unscathed. Do Ryan and his colleagues believe the Pentagon isn’t wasteful? Apparently not enough to put the military on a diet.

The fact is we have the money to do more for education. U.S. federal spending is about $3.5 trillion—roughly the size of the entire economy of Germany. The problem is how we choose to spend it.

We also must restore performance-based pay. The idea that people should benefit from their hard work is a cardinal belief of capitalism, but there is ample evidence that it hasn’t held true for quite a while. Productivity growth has far outpaced wage increases in the U.S. going back to the 1970s.

This appears to be a global phenomenon. The International Labor Organization (ILO) looked at 36 countries and figured that average labor productivity has increased more than twice as much as average wages since 1999. Some have disputed this argument, but we can’t deny that wages are going nowhere. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, real weekly earnings in the U.S. in March were a mere $1.82 higher than a year earlier. Generally, workers are losing ground to capital globally. The ILO has shown that wages’ share in GDP has decreased in recent decades, meaning that the regular worker isn’t benefiting as he should from economic growth.

There are many factors behind this trend, including the formation of an international labor market. But globalization itself isn’t the problem—it’s how the benefits are being allocated. Corporate management doesn’t seem to care so much about shareholder value when paying themselves. Professor Steven Kaplan noted that in 2010 the average CEO of a major U.S. company earned more than $10 million, or about 200 times more than the typical household.

Companies also have the money to raise wages: They just choose not to give it to their employees. Rating agency Moody’s recently reported that U.S. non-financial companies are sitting on $1.64 trillion in cash. Companies also spent $476 billion buying back their stock in 2013, 19% more than the year before.

The question is: How get management and shareholders to disgorge more corporate profits to their employees? There isn’t an easy answer. William Galston, former advisor to President Bill Clinton, once suggested tax rates should be linked to a company’s worker compensation strategy (though that strikes me as a bit too intrusive). The ILO recommends we support stronger collective bargaining to allow workers to fight for their fair share of corporate profits.

But the crux of the problem is the idea of shareholder value. How do we convince shareholders and management that higher wages are positive for the long-term prospects of their corporations? Maybe we should consider altering the way we tax capital gains. Rather than breaking them down into two main categories—short and long term—it might help to decrease the rate the longer the asset is held. That would encourage longer-term shareholding, and perhaps make owners more interested in the long-term outlook for the companies in which they hold shares. I also think we should rebalance tax rates between capital and labor. I understand the principle that low capital-gains taxes reward people for wise investments. But what about rewarding people who work hard at their jobs every day? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development noted in a report this month that the tax burden on wage earners has increased in most of its member states in recent years.

These are just suggestions, and I’m interested in hearing more of them. The basic point is that we have to take steps to improve both the outlook for corporations and the many ordinary employees who work for them. The game should be win-win, not zero-sum.

TIME Labor

McDonald’s Store Owner Will Pay Workers $500,000

McDonald's Profit Is Little Changed as U.S. Store Sales Drop
Pedestrians enter a McDonald's Corp restaurant in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

In a settlement, the owner of seven McDonald's franchises agreed to pay $500,000 for underpaying employees

More than 1,600 McDonald’s employees in New York City — most of whom earn minimum wage — will share a $500,000 settlement for back pay and damages, New York’s attorney general announce Tuesday. According to the settlement, franchise operator Richard Cisneros failed to pay the workers in full and did not compensate them at all for working extra hours.

“Our lowest wage workers deserve the same protections of the law as everyone else,” said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “It’s critical, for them and for their families as well as for our economy, that we remain vigilant so that no New Yorkers are cheated out of their hard won earnings.”

Employees at a number of fast food chains including Dunkin’ Donuts, Domino’s and McDonald’s have protested low wages and labor abuses, helping set off a national debate about income inequality and the minimum wage.

From 2007 to July 2013, Cisneros failed to pay legally-required laundry allowances, didn’t compensate workers for time on the clock, and some cashiers were required to use their own money to cover cash register shortages, , according to Schneiderman. Cisneros’ settlement includes damages and interest.

“I value my employees – and it is important to me that they be paid correctly,” Cisneros said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

TIME Labor

McDonald’s Workers File Multiple Lawsuits Over Low Wages

Workers from California, Michigan and New York filed class-action lawsuits this week alleging that McDonald's forced them to work off the clock, took time off their time cards and did not pay them overtime

McDonald’s workers from California, Michigan and New York filed class-action lawsuits this week alleging that McDonald’s forced them to work off the clock, took time off their time cards and did not pay them overtime.

In California, three suits were filed stating that McDonald’s failed to pay workers for all the regular time and overtime that they worked, and failed to give them adequate breaks and time to eat.

In Michigan, two suits filed against McDonald’s and two Detroit-area franchises alleges that workers were often told to wait up to an hour before clocking in, or to clock out for long breaks so that the company could reach its desired ratio of labor costs to revenues. The lawsuit claims they were not allowed to clock in until there were enough customers in the restaurant, and says workers were also forced to pay for their own uniforms. The New York case says McDonald’s failed to reimburse workers for the cost and time of cleaning their uniforms.

McDonald’s made about $5.6 billion in profits last year, and lawyers for the workers say the company can afford to pay and treat its workers better. The new cases follow a campaign that started in 2012 for better treatment and $15 the hour. The campaign connected workers with lawyers, and the lawsuits out this week are thought to be the first of many.

“The company continues to take advantage of me and my coworkers,” said Guadalupe Salazar, a McDonald’s worker and plaintiff in California, who claims to have earned about $480 for each 15-day pay period. “We can’t allow them to play by a different set of rules just because they’re big. They need to respect us and this suit will help them do that.”

A spokeswoman for McDonald’s released this statement to the New York Times: “McDonald’s and our independent owner-operators share a concern and commitment to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald’s restaurants. We are currently reviewing the allegations in the lawsuits. McDonald’s and our independent franchisees are committed to undertaking a comprehensive investigation of the allegations and will take any necessary actions as they apply to our respective organizations.”

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