MONEY Minimum Wage

Unions Say It’s OK for Businesses to Sidestep the L.A. Minimum Wage

Labor leaders say that businesses with unionized workers should be exempt from the $15 minimum wage requirement.

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles City Council voted in favor a new law that would increase the city’s minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour by the year 2020. Yet the Los Angeles Times reports that labor officials, who until now have been strong supporters of the wage hike, are asking for a last-minute change that would allow unions the freedom to collectively bargain for wages that are lower than the minimum.

“With a collective bargaining agreement, a business owner and the employees negotiate an agreement that works for them both,” Rusty Hicks, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said in a statement. “This provision gives the parties the option, the freedom, to negotiate that agreement. And that is a good thing.”

Some business leaders suspect the sudden about face by the organization, which represents over 300 unions in the L.A. area, might be a tactic to increase membership and enhance the power of organized labor. Ruben Gonzalez, a senior vice president with the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the wage legislation, told the Times he believes labor leaders are hoping to use this exception to pressure companies into unionizing, thereby allowing them to avoid minimum wage rules.

The city council’s Economic Development Committee is scheduled this Friday to review an ordinance enacting the new minimum wage law.

TIME jeb bush

How Jeb Bush’s Union-Friendly Pension Law Could Haunt Him

Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to supporters at an early morning GOP breakfast event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on March 18, 2015.
Richard Ellis—ZUMA Press/Corbis Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to supporters at an early morning GOP breakfast event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Mar. 18, 2015.

Democratic lawmaker calls it "the most union friendly bill I've ever seen"

Shortly after he was sworn in as governor in 1999, Jeb Bush signed a union-backed bill that some argue led Florida’s cities to massively underfund their municipal pensions. As he squares off against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others in the Republican presidential primary, the law may come to haunt him.

“If you’re Governor Walker, you can say ‘I took on the unions, while he gave them what they wanted,’” said Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “It plays as something where he held the line, and Governor Bush didn’t.”

The law set a minimum standard for fire and police pension benefits and used state money to encourage cities to enhance pensions above those amounts. The goal was to increase pension benefits without letting cities simply pass their baseline obligations onto the state.

During the boom years of the early 2000s, the system worked well. But when the Florida economy crashed in 2008, the law prevented cities from getting help from the state to cover their pension losses. Instead, to avoid leaving state money on the table, cities ended up continuing to add extra benefits, leaving local taxpayers on the hook for the core of the pensions and increasing government spending overall.

“Now you have a hole in your underlying funding,” explains Mike Sittig, president of the Florida League of Cities. “That hole has to be filled, and in most cities that hole is filled with property taxes. It means that property taxes went up, or some other local priority was cut out of the budget.”

In the 16 years since the law was passed, pension spending has skyrocketed as some cities have tried to make up for pension fund losses in the market. A bill to reform the 1999 law passed the Florida legislature on April 24th — it ends the rule that state funds only be used for extra pension benefits, but incentivizes cities and unions to directly negotiate on the municipal level. That bill is awaiting Governor Rick Scott’s signature, but the damage may already be done. A 2014 report card of Florida municipal pensions conducted by the Leroy Collins Institute and Florida TaxWatch found that almost 50% of municipal pension plans got “D” or “F” grades.

Police and firefighter unions stood by the 1999 law as a way to ensure that first responders get their due, regardless of a city’s budget problems. “That’s not the police officer’s fault, that’s not the union’s fault, that’s the fault of city leaders who did not put in the money that they should have,” says John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association. But both unions also support the recently passed legislation.

Gov. Bush’s campaign team says the economic problems are the fault of the cities’ mismanagement, not the law itself. “The intent was always that these benefits be funded in a fiscally sound way,” says Kristy Campbell, a Bush spokeswoman. “Some cities did not.” She added that the candidate supports the recent reform, noting that it’s “consistent with the original purpose and intent of the 1999 law,” which she says was to ensure that funding for benefits was “fiscally sound.”

Opponents to the law have been trying to raise awareness about the $10 billion unfunded liability in Florida municipal pensions. Florida TaxWatch, a research institute and government watchdog, has even started a coalition called Taxpayers for Sustainable Pensions to explain the problem and encourage reform.

So far, the pension issue has not become a major rallying cry in the Sunshine State, and none of the other 2016 Republican hopefuls have picked it up as an attack line. But it could become a headache for Bush if the race narrows with Walker, who defeated public-sector unions in a high-profile fight that avoided any cuts to police or fire employee pensions in Wisconsin.

“You’ve got pension funding problems in almost every state in the country, so that’s something that can resonate with people,” Biggs says. “If you work out how generous public employee pensions are compared to what you or I are going to get in a 401(k) … it looks like a giveaway to a group that is already getting a better pension than you or me.”

The pension problem is ultimately the local government’s responsibility, though critics blame unions’ role in state politics for exacerbating it.

“Jeb Bush likely credited them for his victory in ’99, and this was the reward,” says state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Democrat who sponsored the recent reform bill. “It was the most union-friendly bill I’ve ever seen.”

The pension drama has the potential to cast a cloud on Bush’s claims that during his time in the governor’s mansion he was the “most conservative governor in the country.” While he cut billions in taxes and balanced the state’s budget, he did so at a time of strong economic growth. When the market collapsed a year after he left office, many of the gains under his tenure eroded. Critics contend Bush should have pursued policies that would have been more resilient during a downturn.

Many of the Floridians who opposed the bill in the 1990s say that the law has done exactly what they feared it would. Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox’s father was the first president of the Florida police union, but the younger Maddox fought against the bill when he was Tallahassee mayor in 1999. “It keeps adding to that benefit, even if it wasn’t asked for,” he says. “It makes no sense to me.”

“I’m for local control, and I’m for collective bargaining, and I’m fiscally conservative,”says Maddox, a Democrat who also served as President of the Florida League of Cities. “If you’re any of those three things, I don’t know how you can support that legislation.”

TIME Internet

New Google Doodle Celebrates International Labour Day

New Google Doodle Celebrates Labour Day
Google

The holiday has its origins in the 19th century labor movement

It may have a different date in the U.S., but many countries around the world will be taking a public holiday Friday to celebrate the international Labour Day, and Google is marking the event with a new Doodle

Labour Day, also called International Workers’ Day or May Day, has its origins in the late 19th century labor movement. One of the most significant contributors to Labour Day was the Haymarket Massacre.

On May 4, 1886, a Chicago, Ill., bombing killed seven police officers along with four civilians. The dynamite blast was a response to the killings of peaceful demonstrators by police the day before. After the bombing, eight anarchists were convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to death. The case created international headlines because the evidence suggested none of those eight men actually threw the bomb.

Three years later, a French socialist party created an international day to honor the labor movement and marked May 1 in commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre.

The Google Doodle honors the Labor Day origins with graphics showing traditional manual labor tools such as a wrench and tape measure.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 17

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?

By Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic

2. The divorce rate is falling. Here’s why that’s bad news for some Americans.

By Sharadha Bain in the Washington Post

3. Across the planet, cost and class determine who lives and who dies.

By Paul Farmer in the London Review of Books

4. The U.S. should consider joining — rather than containing — the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

By Elizabeth C. Economy in Asia Unbound

5. Trade unions in Cleveland will launch a “pre-apprentice” program to prepare high school kids for construction jobs.

By Patrick O’Donnell in the Cleveland Plain Dealer

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Labor

Burned McDonald’s Workers File Complaint Over Poor Working Conditions

Worker claims she was told to use mustard to treat a burn

McDonald’s employees in 19 cities have filed health and safety complaints against the fast food giant over lax standards that they say led workers to sustain severe burns on the job.

The complaints, which McDonald’s has said it is reviewing, allege that low staffing and pressure to work quickly led to employees getting injured. In at least one instance, a worker at a Chicago McDonald’s claims that after she suffered a severe burn from a hot grill, her boss told her to put mustard on it instead of immediately seeking medical treatment.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has opened a review into the complaints, according to the BBC.

The complaints are being publicized by Fast Food Forward, a union-backed group that has been organizing one-day strikes of fast food workers for more than two years, demanding a $15 per hour living wage and the right to unionize.

A McDonald’s spokeswoman told BBC that the company is “committed to providing safe working conditions for employees in the 14,000 McDonald’s Brand US restaurants.”

Read next: McDonald’s Wants to Replace the Drive-Thru with Drones

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

MONEY privacy

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Using Personal Email at Work

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
Jason DeCrow—AP Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Clinton is in trouble for mixing up her personal and business accounts—and you could get in trouble too.

Hillary Clinton has come under scrutiny for exclusively using her personal email account for all of her work communications when she was secretary of state, according to a report in the New York Times. That’s actually a huge problem. Under federal law, Clinton was required to preserve all of her communications.

But you don’t have to be a former secretary of state and favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination for your work emails to be preserved for posterity, and someone might be interested in their contents: your boss.

Here’s what you should know about the privacy of your work emails—namely, that you don’t have any.

1) Your employer can monitor pretty much anything you access on the company’s computer system, even your personal email account.

In most cases, courts have taken the position that employers have the right to monitor what employees do on the employer’s computer systems and equipment, says Catherine E. Reuben, employment lawyer at the firm Hirsch Roberts Weinstein LLP.

To start, that means your boss can see any messages you send using your work email. But that’s not all. “When you send an email from work, the company server doesn’t know or care whether this email is on your company email account or your personal Yahoo account—it monitors everything,” says Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute. And that’s completely legal.

One gray area: A recent National Labor Relations Board case ruling found that employees have a presumptive right to use their employer’s email system for union organizing, although labor laws restrict employers from surveillance of union organizing activities. That means the NLRB may eventually conclude that employers are not able to monitor emails related to union organizing, even if they are sent using the employer’s server or equipment. “That is an unsettled issue,” Reuben says.

2) Assume any email, text message, or other electronic communication you send on your employer’s system can be used against you.

“In my personal experience, employers will monitor email when there is a business reason to do so,” Reuben says. “For example, if an employee accuses another employee of sending sexually harassing emails, the employer would naturally want, as part of its investigation, to review all of the email communications between the two employees.”

Adverse consequences are not uncommon. In 2007, a survey by the American Management Association found that 28% of employers had fired employees over “e-mail misuse.” The most common kinds of misuse: violation of company policies, inappropriate language, excessive personal use, or breaking confidentiality. (“Internet misuse” was even more common; another 30% of employers said they had terminated employees for excessive personal use of the Internet at work, viewing inappropriate content at work, or other violations of the employer’s electronic use policy.)

And your emails could cause a problem long after you send them. “Remember that emails, text messages, other electronic documents can live on forever, even if you delete them,” Reuben says.

3) Beware of “George Carlin software.”

You probably assume your boss doesn’t have time to monitor every email you send. That’s true, Maltby says, but you’re forgetting about the IT department. “People in IT can look at anything, anytime they want to, for any reason they want to,” Maltby says. “They are agents of the employer, and it’s the employer’s system.”

One very common practice: Some employers have keyword software to detect sexual harassment. Maltby calls it “George Carlin software” (note: that link is NSFW) because it can flag certain inappropriate words. But the software can pick up false positives. “If a female employee sends an email with the word ‘breast’ to her oncologist through the company system, it’s going to be read,” Maltby says.

The simple solution: Send any sensitive, personal messages from your own device.

4) Emailing company documents to your personal account could get you in trouble.

You have more work to do, but you just want to go home—and accessing your employer’s email remotely is a huge hassle. So you just forward your files from your work email account to your personal account and finish your work at home.

The problem? That could later create the impression that you are trying to steal the company’s confidential information.

“Make sure you read and understand your employer’s policies, and don’t download company information without permission,” Reuben says. “Do your best to protect the company’s trade secrets, confidential information, and data.”

5) When you set up your company’s email on your personal phone, you often give your employer the right to delete all of your personal data.

Want to check your work email on your personal iPhone? Your employer probably asked you to sign a “bring-your-own-device” agreement. If you didn’t read it, do that now—you likely waived some of your rights.

There’s good reason for that: Companies need to secure their information systems. “What the policy is essentially saying is, if you want the privilege of accessing our proprietary, confidential systems and the convenience of accessing those systems on your personal device, you’ve got to waive your right to privacy,” Reuben says. “Many employers in such a policy will reserve the employer’s right to monitor the employee’s activities on the device and to remote-wipe the device if there is a security risk, for example, if the device is lost or stolen.”

You read that right: You probably gave your employer permission to delete all of your personal data. Your company might want to do that if your device could be compromised—or if you just no longer work there. “When you leave the company, the company will probably wipe your cell phone, and they’ll probably wipe everything,” Maltby says. “Pictures of your kids, bank records, and God knows what else have been erased forever.”

The takeaway: Actually read your employer’s electronic use and BYOD policies. And back up those photos somewhere else.

TIME politics

Elizabeth Warren and the AFL-CIO: A Match Made in History

Mar. 21, 1955, cover of TIME
Cover Credit: BORIS CHALIAPIN The Mar. 21, 1955, cover of TIME

Senator Warren will address an American labor movement seeking a renaissance

When Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts delivers a keynote address on Wednesday at the AFL-CIO’s National Summit on Wages, she will speak to an organization whose vision has long outgrown its influence. Membership in the AFL-CIO, the United States’ largest federation of labor unions, has waned over the years. And as collective bargaining has lost much of its clout, so has the biggest coalition that represents workers.

But when the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations joined its 15 million members into a super union coalition 60 years ago, they became one of the most powerful organizations in the United States. TIME dedicated its Mar. 21, 1955 cover to George Meany, the man minted president of the AFL-CIO that year. He was a cigar-smoking plumber who rose to prominence within the unions, carrying a $35,000 annual paycheck (over $300,000 today) and a taste for French wines. In the 1950s, a long history of union victories—the eight-hour workday, and old-age and illness protections—gave the AFL-CIO a prominence in American society that has mostly dissipated today.

Meany told TIME about a gathering of supporters of his father’s union, the plumbers’ local:

“I can remember little groups of people coming to our home on a Sunday afternoon,” George recalls. “There were no movies in those days and not many automobiles around, and people visited one another on Sunday, and practically all of the visitors who came to my home were officers and members of the union.

“I can remember these men talking about something known as ‘the organization,’ and I may say to you that they did not pronounce it that way, they called it the ‘organ-eye-zation.’ But I can remember the reverence in which they used the term, and inculcated into my mind at that time was the thought that whatever the organization was, it was something with these men almost on a par with religion. I grew up with faith in the trade-union movement.”

Labors’ political successes in the U.S. distinguished the movement in the western world. TIME recounted an exchange between Meany and a British counterpart:

George Meany summed up the American success a few years ago in Britain, when a British trade-unionist who was also a member of the Labor Party asked him: “When are you Yanks going to wake up and form a political party?” Meany floored him with a proud reply: “When collective bargaining yields as little for us as it does for you, we may have to form a political party.”

Despite the unions’ challenges today—and Meany’s forecast—the U.S. doesn’t have a labor party. But labor does have allies.

Enter Senator Warren. This week’s summit will focus on raising wages rather than collective bargaining, as a growing movement of fast-food workers have called for a minimum living wage of $15 per hour; 29 states, from Washington to Connecticut, have raised their minimum wages above the federal minimum. Senator Warren has been one of the loudest voices in favor. “Things are getting better, yes, but only for some,” Warren told TIME’s Rana Faroohar in an interview. “Families are working harder, but not doing better. And they feel the game is rigged against them–and guess what–it is!”

Though American labor doesn’t have a party in 2015, it does have growing political support—something George Meany would probably have approved of.

TIME Fast Food

Fast Food Workers Plan Another Strike in 150 Cities

Workers are planning another set of one-day walkouts on Thursday

Fast food workers around the country are planning another set of one-day walkouts this Thursday, according to Fast Food Forward, an organizing group for the protests. The strikes will take place in 150 cities at restaurants such as McDonald’s, Wendy’s and KFC. Fast-food workers have spent almost two years using such walkouts as part of an ongoing campaign to demand pay of $15 an hour—what they call a living wage—and the right to unionize. The average hourly wage for restaurant workers was $8.74 as of May 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The efforts began with 200 fast-food workers in New York City in November 2012 and have since become a regular occurrence across the country every three or four months. In their attempts to reach their stated goals, the workers’ efforts have so far yielded modest results. In May Daisha Mims, a McDonadl’s employee who has participated in walkouts, told TIME she’d received 35 cents in raises since the strikes began. “I still feel as though I need a second job,” she said at the time. Organizers pointed to similarly sized gains for a small number of individuals across the country.

But there have been larger shifts in the labor landscape that seem clearly influenced by the fast food workers’ actions. Thirteen states increased their minimum wages at the start of the year by an average of 28¢, according to the National Employment Law Project, and the city of Seattle has approved a $15 minimum wage. More recently, the National Labor Relations Board ruled in July that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for wage and labor violations that are enacted by its franchise owners. Previously, McDonald’s and other fast food corporations have argued that franchisees are solely responsible for determining the wages and working conditions for their restaurants. McDonald’s has said it will appeal the decision.

The strikes are largely being funded by the Service Employees International Union with a media strategy devised by the PR firm Berlin Rosen.

TIME White House

Biden Celebrates Labor Day With Call For ‘Fair Wage’

A job's about a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity, it's about your place in the community, it's about who you are."

Vice President Joe Biden celebrated Labor Day with a call for a “fair wage” at a union rally for workers in Detroit on Monday.

“Folks, the middle class is in real trouble now,” Biden said to an enthusiastic crowd. “A job’s about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity, it’s about your place in the community, it’s about who you are.”

Biden’s 20-minute speech employed a populist and personal tone as he took on everything from the estate tax to American corporations that have moved operations overseas.

Biden, who is known for his blue collar roots, referenced his family roots and his ties to labor.

“‘Joey, you’re labor from belt buckle to shoe sole,'” Biden said his uncle told him.

 

TIME Civil Rights

Here’s Why We Celebrate Labor Day

Labor Day Parade in New York, in 1995.
Susan Watts—NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images Labor Day Parade in New York, in 1995.

Here's what you need to know about one of America's most important holidays.

The first Monday of September means that white clothes are out, sales are in, summer holidays are over and classes begin. For many of us (but far from all of us), it’s a welcome day off of work or school, ahead of what is likely to be a busier month than the last.

But the Labor Day holiday has a storied past, one of violence and celebration, that’s embedded deep in the history of the American labor movement. And while it has spread around the world in different forms, Labor Day has distinctly American roots.

Here’s a quick primer on the meaning and history of the holiday.

When did Labor Day begin?

The modern holiday is widely traced back to an organized parade in New York City in 1882. Union leaders had called for what they had labelled a “monster labor festival” on Tuesday, Sept. 5, according to Linda Stinson, a former historian for the Department of Labor (the idea for a general labor festival may have originated in Canada, which today also celebrates “Labour Day” on the first Monday in September). Initially that morning, few people showed up, and organizers worried that workers had been reluctant to surrender a day’s pay to join the rally. But soon the crowds began flowing in from across the city, and by the end of the day some 10,000 people had marched in the parade and joined festivities afterward in what the press dubbed “a day of the people.”

When did it become an official holiday?

The practice of holding annual festivities to celebrate workers spread across the country, but Labor Day didn’t become a national holiday for more than a decade. Oregon became the first state to declare it a holiday in 1887, and states like New York, Massachusetts and Colorado soon followed suit. Under President Grover Cleveland, and amid growing awareness of the labor movement, the first Monday in September became a national holiday in 1896.

Why is it on the first Monday in September anyway?

Labor union leaders had pushed for a September date for the New York demonstration, which coincided with a conference in the city of the Knights of Labor, one of the largest and most influential of the unions. The first two New York City Labor Days took place on the 5th of September, but in 1884, the third annual New York City Labor Day holiday was scheduled for the first Monday in September, and that date stuck.

The September rally would soon clash with International Worker’s Day on May 1, which arose out of what is known as the Haymarket Affair. On May 4, 1886, protesters in Chicago gathered to demand an 8-hour workday. Toward the end of the day, a peaceful demonstration devolved into violence when a bomb was hurled toward the police, killing one officer instantly and injuring others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing a still undetermined number of people. The incident enraged labor activists but also fueled fears in America that the labor movement had become radicalized, prompting a crackdown on labors groups: the bomb thrower was never identified, but four people were hanged for their alleged involvement.

In the wake of the Haymarket Affair, Union leaders and socialists declared May 1 as International Workers’ Day, and the day was and continues to be unofficially observed in the U.S. It’s also that date that most other countries officially or unofficially observe as a holiday in honor of workers. But when President Grover Cleveland moved to create a national labor holiday, he chose to avoid the thorny history of that May date.

So what’s the difference between Labor Day and May Day (International Workers’ Day) in the U.S.?

Jonathan Cutler, associate professor of sociology at Wesleyan, described Labor Day as a “government alternative” to May Day in an informative interview with NPR about the Haymarket Affair. May Day may have helped promote the creation of a national holiday, but Labor Day is associated with a different significance. “May Day has always been linked to the demand for less work and more pay; Labor Day celebrates the ‘dignity’ of work,” Cutler said in the interview.

We have Monday off, but does the labor community still actually celebrate the holiday?

Yep. To this day there is still a major parade in New York City (and other cities across the country, large and small), and the #UnionStrong will probably make a big showing on Twitter. It’s true that union membership has been declining for years, but many of the challenges that faced workers more than a century ago are still being overcome today, whether by the growing movement for higher wages in the fast food industry or by overworked tech and finance employees calling for better hours.

“If there is anyone who needs to attend to the spirit of Haymarket, it is the American white-collar professional who works 10 hour days, including many weekends, and who has fewer paid vacation days than other white-collar professionals around the world,” Cutler said in the interview with NPR.

So, are white clothes really out?

Yes and no.

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