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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.]

In this month’s post, I return to the subject of engaging the business community in promoting worker’s rights.

Most corporate mission statements include a statement about enhancing the overall well-being of the communities they work in and sell to. Moreover, such statements often include items like assisting with economic development in traditionally depressed areas. Too often, however, these statements fail to match words with deeds.

There is a strong connection between this “economic and community involvement” and the issue of racism in the United States. In the Winter 2015 edition of The Crisis — the magazine of the national NAACP — the finance column article was entitled “Closing the Racial Wealth Gap Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do. It’s Good Economics.” The article quoted the alarming statistic that the median net worth of White families is 9.5 times that of Hispanic families and 12 times that of Black families, with just a miniscule improvement in the past 50 years.

Here are some additional alarming statistics:

  • The 2010 US Census declared that 15.1% (over 46 million people!) of Americans were living in poverty.
  • That Blacks and Hispanics were disproportionately represented in the poverty numbers (Over 28% of Blacks and 26% of Hispanics.)
  • The poverty rate for women single head of households was 5 times the poverty rate of families with two parents.

Why is this important in the workers’ rights discussion? Because it is most often these poorest families that are Black or Hispanic with the wage earners bringing in the lowest pay with the least amount of benefits. When an illness hits and a parent needs to take time off of work, or when a woman needs to take time off to have a baby, these families of color do not have the accumulated net worth and resources to fall back on to bridge the financial crisis. This will often result in losing homes, ending up on the street, getting more ill, etc. In the long run, this will cost the American country more in health care costs, crisis intervention and public assistance.

In other words: If companies do want to hold true to their pledges to better the communities they are in, more basic benefits must be made available to the lowest paid employees in the enterprise.

Commentary

Stan KimerHaving 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.

A few months ago I read and clipped out of the Raleigh News and Observer (originally printed in the New York Times) a provocative article titled “Do Churches Fail the Poor?” by Ross Douthat.  I saved it knowing I would write about it in this blog. I felt the title was indeed relevant since it is primarily workers living near the poverty level that ironically receive the fewest employments benefits and rights.

This fascinating article led with a quote from a Harvard University social scientist Robert Putnam who said, “Most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they have been using all their resources for …. not at all focused on issues of poverty.”

When sharing the stage at an event with Dr. Putnam, President Obama remarked, “Despite great caring and concern, when churches pick the defining issue that’s really going to capture the essence of who we are as Christians, fighting poverty is often seen merely as a ‘nice to have’ compared to ‘an issue like abortion.’”

The Douthat article went on to attempt to debunk this critique by pointing out that religious charities direct billions of dollars to important and helpful institutions like schools and hospitals. But no matter what side of this discussion you fall on, I do feel strongly that people of faith should increase their focus on advocating for better rights and benefits for the most vulnerable of working Americans. If you are involved in a place of worship, consider helping to start a committee to research and take action on this issue, starting with accessing resources available through the North Carolina Council of Churches and the North Carolina Justice Center. Here are some links that might prove helpful in such an endeavor:

The NC Justice Center’s Workers’ Rights Project,

The NC Council of Churches Lectionary on Living Wages and

the Council of Churches Grassroots Advocacy Toolkit.

Commentary

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

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.