Commentary

A Christmas meditation on workers’ rights

Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the latest installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse on engaging the faith and business communities on the issue of workers’ rights. You can read his most recent previous installments by clicking here and here.]

We are now at the Advent Season, where Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as Savior. During this special time, Christians proclaim the “Good News” that was shared about Jesus in the Biblical Scripture. Often verses are quoted on holiday cards sent to friends and family far and wide.

Let us mediate on one of the verses we often hear at this time about Jesus’ mission in coming to the earth. It’s Luke 4:18, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…”

Are not people of faith who often talk about “Jesus being the reason for the season” then called to assist Christ in His proclaimed mission?

Who are the poor? More than likely many are single parent family heads working at near minimum wage with little or no benefits struggling to provide basic food, clothing and shelter for their families.

Who are the prisoners? Read more

Commentary

President Obama helps the workers he can; millions more wait for fair treatment

President Obama 4It’s hard to believe that workers are still fighting for such a basic human right in 2015, but yesterday marked an important bit of progress in the age old battle to secure fair treatment for American workers. In a move that is expected to help 300,000 workers, President Obama issued a Labor Day executive order requiring federal contractors to allow their employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick days per year.

This is from a fact sheet distributed yesterday by the White House:

“In most families today, both parents work and have responsibilities caring for their children, aging parents, or family members with disabilities.  Yet the fundamental structure of work has not kept pace with the changing American family, and many families are struggling to balance obligations at home and on the job. As a result, too many workers are unable to take the time they need to recover from an illness. Many workers will go to work sick, putting their coworkers and customers at risk of illness. Many parents are forced to choose between taking an unpaid day off work—losing much needed income and potentially threatening their jobs—and sending a sick child who should be home in bed to school.

Today, the President will sign an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to offer their employees up to seven days of paid sick leave per year.  He will travel to Boston to renew his call on Congress to pass legislation expanding paid sick and family leave, and announce new Department of Labor rules giving federal contract workers new tools to demand equal pay.”

Though a welcome and absurdly overdue step, President Obama’s order is — like so many of actions of late — badly hamstrung by the failure of Congress to act on the issue. The sad and simple truth, of course, is that the United States is the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t make paid sick days a basic guarantee for all workers. Thanks to the power of business lobbyists, millions of American workers and their families suffer each year as sick people troop unnecessarily (and at great risk to public health) to work and school. As Chris Fitzsimon points out in this morning’s “Numbers” column, more than a million of these workers are right here in North Carolina.

So, the bottom line: Thank you, President Obama, for again doing what you can to nudge the nation forward. Too bad the rest of the powers that be in the nation’s capital remain happily mired in the ideology and policies of the 19th Century.

Learn more about the fight for paid sick days in North Carolina by clicking here.

Commentary

Paid sick leave: Good for workers, good for business, good for customers

Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the fourth installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse on engaging the faith and business communities on the issue of workers’ rights. You can read the previous installments by clicking here, here and here.]

Having started this series in late April on the importance of engaging both the business and the faith/religious communities in promoting workers’ rights, I am now alternating each post between the business community and faith community connection. This month I write about one of the key workers’ rights that businesses ought to support: paid sick leave.

First, a personal story. A few years ago, when I took a weekend trip out of town, I enjoyed a large breakfast in the hotel restaurant. My server was sniffling and sneezing, obviously not feeling very well. I engaged her in conversation and she shared that as a single mother, she could not take the time off despite her cold. She had a choice between working sick (which admittedly is not good for her customers who could catch her cold) or not having the cash to pay that month’s rent and buy food. What a sad situation for a hard working American to be placed in!

Here are some startling facts published by the North Carolina Justice Center:

  • Though almost everyone gets sick a few times per year, 1.2 million or almost 40% of North Carolina workers have no earned paid sick leave.
  • And those who need it most, low wage earners, disproportionately do not have paid sick leave. 60% of those earning below $20,000 per year do not have access to paid sick leave.
  • Children with parents who have paid sick leave to stay home with them recover quicker from their illnesses and return to school faster.

The financial case is also strong for businesses. A recent study from the National Partnership for Women and Families showed that companies that provide paid sick leave reported fewer occupational injuries, which more than offset the $255 cost per year per employee of providing the paid leave. And when employers provide paid sick leave, this earns higher employee engagement and commitment, resulting in less turnover. As a career development consultant, I often present that the cost of recruiting and “onboarding” a new employee can run from 75% – 125% of one year’s salary, so providing a key benefit to prevent employee departure is an excellent business investment.

So as with other workers benefits that I will write about in upcoming blogs, providing employees with earned paid sick leave is a win-win-win: good for the business, good for the employee and good for the customers.

And to conclude my story, despite her being under the weather, my breakfast server that morning in addition to bringing this key issue to my attention, did provide great service, and I tipped her about double the going rate since I knew it could make a difference in her life.

Commentary

Engaged employees who are treated right deliver better business results

Stan Kimer[Editor’s note: Stan C. Kimer is a retired IBM executive and former President of the North Carolina Council of Churches. He now runs a firm which offers consulting services around diversity management and training, and talent/career development. This is the second installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse].

Last month I announced that I would be writing a monthly series focused on the importance of engaging both the business community and the faith / religious community in promoting worker’s rights. I will continue this series alternating each month between the business community and faith community connection.

This month I would like to address a key value proposition for the business community to treat its employees properly and respectfully which includes providing key benefits critical to the employees’ well-being. Benefits such as paid sick days, extended family medical leave and child care assistance and family flex time are key items that low-income and single-parent families particularly need.

But how can business leaders be engaged in discussing providing these benefits? They may feel that it costs a significant amount of money and will drain profit from their own pockets. The investment return key is “employee engagement.”

What is engagement? Engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and it goals, often resulting in willingness to volunteer discretionary effort. When employees are compensated fairly including key benefits, they are indeed more engaged and committed to doing a great job for their employer.

Consulting firm EXTRAordinary! Inc. performed a study on employee engagement and the results showed:

  • Engaged employees average 27% less absenteeism than those who are disengaged.
  • Workgroups with lower engagement average 62% more accidents.
  • Higher levels of team engagement equate to 12% higher customer satisfaction score.
  • Engaged teams average 18% higher productivity and 12% higher profitability.

So before concluding that providing a living wage and offering additional benefits is spending money unnecessarily, I urge all business owners and leaders to consider these employee engagement statistics and benefits and do a realistic evaluation on the positive business results that treating employees well will bring.

Commentary

Going, going gone: quality jobs vanishing from North Carolina

PW 47-2 quality jobs

Six years after the end of the Great Recession, jobs are finally becoming more plentiful in North Carolina, but the overwhelming majority of those jobs don’t pay enough to make ends meet, provide necessary benefits to help families get by, or create sustainable pathways into middle-class prosperity. In short, North Carolina is not creating enough quality jobs—employment opportunities that pay workers enough maintain basic spending on necessities like food and doctor visits, ensure retirement security, and provide paid time off when they or family members are sick. And without enough quality jobs, the middle class will shrink, consumer spending will drop, local business sales will suffer, and the overall economy will contract.

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