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NLRBA lot of people are engaged in nonstandard employment today.  Whether you call it contingent work, the gig economy, the “sharing” economy or outsourcing, they are all models in which the workers who perform labor do not have a recognized employer-employee relationship with the business or entity for whom they are performing labor.  These models have become more prevalent over the last thirty years or so.  The use of temporary staffing companies to supply labor, or “temps,” is just one example.  Temps used to be mostly used for white-collar secretarial work, but they have become increasingly common for blue-collar work such as manufacturing jobs, construction and janitorial work.

Our labor and employment laws have not kept up with this changing reality of work.  But in a 3-2 decision issued last week, the National Labor Relations Board has revised its joint employment standard to reflect the reality of these new employment relationships.  In a statement released last week by the NLRB, they explained:

“The revised standard is designed ‘to better effectuate the purposes of the Act in the current economic landscape.’  With more than 2.87 million of the nation’s workers employed through temporary agencies in August 2014, the Board held that its previous joint employer standard has failed to keep pace with changes in the workplace and economic circumstances.”

The decision addressed the question of who were the employers of temporary staffing company workers and concluded that both the staffing company and the staffing company’s client where the workers were placed had sufficient control over the employees to be considered joint employers.  This is a victory for the workers and union involved because it means that the workers have a protected right to bargain with the larger company that controls the terms of their employment and not just with the staffing company.

It is also a victory for workers more broadly.  The growth of contingent employment has reduced the ability of workers to collectively bargain because layers of intermediaries have separated workers from the company that actually has power over their working conditions.  This decision — if it is not overturned when it is inevitably appealed– removes one incentive for employers to use labor intermediaries in order to avoid liability and restores a little bit of power to the workers.

Commentary

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

Winsotn-Salem teach-inThe demonstration against the North Carolina legislature’s voter suppression law, organized by the NAACP and Moral Monday movement last Monday in Winston-Salem, was a stirring reminder that, fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, civil rights cannot be taken for granted in this country. But the organizers of the day’s event also called attention to another disturbing trend, one that is closely connected to civil rights: the war on poor people, particularly those who find themselves in the most precarious jobs of our economy’s service sector.

A teach-in on economic justice, facilitated by the NAACP, was held on Monday afternoon at Goler Memorial AME Zion Church. Ben Wilkins of Raise Up for 15 launched the discussion by emphasizing that voter suppression laws are aimed not only at minorities, but at poor people.

To emphasize this point, Wilkins quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech of March 25, 1965, in which Dr. King observed that “segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land…[T]he southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. … And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man.” Read More

Commentary

There’s been a great deal of justifiable  attention given over the last several months to the issue of “misclassification” — the wrongful treatment of employees by employers as “independent contractors.” As Raleigh’s News & Observer demonstrated in a damning series last year entitled “Contract to Cheat”:

“It’s a tactic that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Yet when it comes to public projects, government regulators have done nearly nothing about it, even when the proof is easy to get.

The workers don’t have protections. The companies don’t withhold taxes. The regulators don’t seem to care.”

This year, North Carolina legislators introduced legislation to attack the problem, but as Raleigh attorney Leonard Jernigan explained in a Progressive Voices essay for N.C. Policy Watch recently, the legislation has been watered down to the point at which it will have little real impact.

“The bills, for instance, do not provide for ‘stop work’ orders that would force companies to halt work on projects until they obtain insurance for their workers.

What’s more, cheating employers are not punished at all until they are caught the second time. And even then, the penalty is a paltry $1,000 fine per employee regardless of how big the business is, how long the cheating has gone on and how much harm may have been caused or the competitive advantage gained over honest employers.

Last and perhaps even more importantly, there is no criminal penalty attached to misclassification fraud. These companies are not confused about the status of their employees. The cheating is blatant and intentional. It’s simply outrageous that an out-of-state company can come in and cheat honest businesses and North Carolina taxpayers out of millions of dollars and no one is even threatened with jail.”

Today at 1:00 p.m., the House Judiciary II Committee will take up the misclassification legislation and, if things go well, consider some toughening amendments to put some actual teeth in it. Let’s hope that, at a minimum, committee members add the “stop work” provision and some real penalties — which at this point — are laughably inadequate.

Commentary
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 third installment in a series of posts he is authoring for The Progressive Pulse. You can read the previous installments by clicking here and here.] 

I started this series in April on the importance of engaging both the business community and the faith/religious community in promoting workers’ rights. I will alternate each month between the business community and faith community connection, and since I wrote my first business community piece last month, this month I introduce the faith perspective.

I write the faith perspective with a long history of leadership within the North Carolina Council of Churches, including serving as their President in 2011 and 2012. This strong and active organization within North Carolina includes 17 denominations and eight individual congregations that have over 6,200 congregations and about 1.5 million congregants.

The overall mission statement reads, “the Council enables denominations, congregations, and people of faith to individually and collectively impact our state on issues such as economic justice and development, human well-being, equality, compassion and peace, following the example and mission of Jesus Christ.

Wow!! Engaging people of faith to support fair treatment, compensation and benefits for all workers falls squarely in most of these individual elements. Let’s explore several of them one by one:

  • Economic Justice and Development. Even as we live in one of the richest nations of the world, the gap between the poor and wealthy continues to grow, and many people even with full time jobs struggle with living in poverty.
  • Human well-being. Typically those in the lower paying jobs struggle to barely survive, and often do not receive benefits higher wage earners commonly receive critical to human health and well-being. Lower wage earners often go without healthcare benefits, family leave to deal with illness, fair treatment during pregnancy and more.
  • Equality. It is only fair that all hard working people are compensated well enough to live and afford basic necessities.
  • Compassion. People of faith should always have a strong commitment to bettering the lives of all people, and true compassion means speaking out and advocating for those who are struggling to survive and may not have the time and energy to engage in this advocacy.

While the North Carolina Council of Churches is itself overtly Christian, many of the committees and task groups working on issues such as this (see for example the N.C. Families Care Coalition) are interfaith and include members from non-Christian faith communities as well as additional Christian denomination not a part of the Council. This underlines that promoting justice in our world is a strong common commitment across the universal faith and human community.

I now look forward to continuing this faith discussion in alternating months.