Sorting Out French Labor Law – What a Country!

Plaza in Grenoble

Plaza in Grenoble

Paris   Finishing up my hella-Euro-road trip as the heat hit the 90’s in Grenoble and Paris, I felt like I was catching the last train out of town before the whole country – and in fairness, most of Europe – shut down for the rest of the summer. You notice the small signs when almost every follow-up email is greeted with an auto-return saying, I’ll be back in mid-August or more likely August 29th. Meeting with the Alliance and ReAct staff before leaving Grenoble, my bags were packed, but so, seemingly were many of theirs. Hitting Paris in the attic loft where I stay I had four pages of instructions on how to make sure the house was closed tighter than a drum because they would be out for weeks. Every meeting, ended as we’ll follow up in September. Fascinating! After years of experience with the summer months as primetime for organizing, the notion that I had woken up somewhere between Christmas and New Year’s except it was hotter here! But, hey, viva la difference!

church in Brussels plaza

church in Brussels plaza

I used to write some “notes for my father” on things that he would have found fascinating from my trips abroad, but this time I felt I needed to write a note to myself after the head organizer of ACORN’s French affiliate gave me a short course of French labor law and how it caged organizing and field programs. All staff has a contract. The contracts can be short term for 6 or 12 months, but after several of these short stints, the law requires employees be made permanent or released. Or of course the Holy Grail for workers occurs when you might finally receive an open ended permanent contract. Annually, the head organizer has to do a formal evaluation with the staff members as part of the renegotiation of these contracts. Describing the process, it is definitely a negotiation. Where previously she might have negotiated full time hours from 35 which is the standard work week in France to 39 by paying the premium for those extra hours, staff can propose to go back to 35 and can even make proposals on the content of the work, which for organizers might even mean having to discuss nonnegotiable issues like time on the doors or the number of groups maintained by an organizer. It just takes your breath away! But, as I overheard an organizer in Paris say about the government’s attempts to modify some of these labor laws, “we can’t give away what our grandfathers fought for and won.” Well, you put it like that…

On the other hand, managers may have contracts but in exchange for the discretion and professionalism of their jobs, there is no restriction on their hours, and different than in the United States, this is regardless of the amount they are paid. At the ACORN affiliate everyone is on a minimum contract whether short term or open ended at this point, meaning they are paid a minimum wage as set by French law. The minimum wage in France is set at the after tax rate which is a good thing and is indexed to inflation and/or legislative action so goes up annually, which is also a good thing. Once you sort it all out it was about equivalent to what ACORN’s starting wage was for all staff about a decade ago, so not bad at all really in terms of a living wage.

church in Budapest

Danube in Dusseldorf

This minimum contract is not unusual and sometimes even includes a period where a new employee is paid by social benefits the first year and then in direct wages the second. I happened to meet the head of the ATD-Fourth World in France, which is their largest operation for the social services and organizing operation for the poor. All one-hundred of their fulltime staff, who they call volunteers, are paid on a minimum contract, which is interesting when we think about what it takes to build community organizations and unions of lower income and lower waged workers.

The package, as we call it in collective bargaining, is great in France as the country shuts down for the season over the coming weeks, but once you add it all up, backwards and forwards, it may be a maze to navigate, but there’s still a way to get there from here.

Country roads, take me home!

Danube in Dusseldorf

Church in Budapest

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On-Demand Uber and Lyft Fiction Going Down in the Courts

Uber ad against Lyft

Uber ad against Lyft

New Orleans               The simple standard for workers when asked the question “Who do you work for?” is clear. If a worker answers, myself, then maybe they are an independent contractor.  If they answer Uber or Lyft or any other company, then it’s pretty clear they are employees.

All indications are that it will not be California dreaming, but real worker reality since this continues to be the bright line test for the fictional “on-demand” outlaw taxi-chauffer employers like Uber and Lyft as district court judges hear their rationalizations in California for separate and special treatment.  All reports from the initial hearings indicate that the judges were very skeptical of the make-believe arguments from the companies and expressed the likelihood that they will allow class action suits in California to go forward establishing the employment status for the workers who are seeking reimbursement for their out-of-pocket costs like gas, car repairs, and car insurance in working for these outfits.

Lawyers for the workers put on evidence on rules and regulations they are required to follow to act as drivers for the company, along with the ways and means that they can be terminated for passenger ratings and other so-called offenses, just like other workers for other companies.   Lyft drivers seem to be required to fist-bump folks as they get in their cars.  Uber drivers can be terminated or “deactivated” in the company’s words if their passenger ratings fall below 4.5 on a 5 point scale.

Both companies, but particularly Uber, have quickly acquired a global reputation for arrogance and law breaking that has led a number of cities and even countries like Spain and France to bar them from operating in their jurisdictions.   They have flaunted local licensing procedures for drivers and been scofflaws about everything from local fees to assuming the liability for accidents on their insurance rather than the personal insurance of the drivers, creating an unfair competition with taxi companies and drivers forced to obey the rules of the road.

From what can be gathered about the Uber/Lyft company arguments in the labor cases, they stayed true to form and argued that the labor laws were “outdated” and shouldn’t apply to them.  God knows some of that’s probably true about needing some upgrade and update on labor laws, but not for the reasons they argued.  The heart of their position was really not the age of the labor laws but the fact that they just really don’t want the laws to apply to them at all.  Libertarianism gone wild!

They want to pretend they are tech outfits and simply “app” companies that license an app that allows customers to find drivers.  If that were really true then any of us who wanted to give rides to strangers could buy or license the app if we wanted to do so, just like a GPS system for a car and be done with the companies and go out on the streets merry as we could be.  In such a situation, these outfits would just be robot dispatchers rather the gruff voiced guys many of us can remember calling taxi companies.  They would be empowering us all to be people movers, and we would have to deal with the cities and the laws as we saw fit and face the consequences accordingly.

But, that’s not how they work at all or why the stock market has valued Uber at so many billions of dollars.  They have rules.  They effectively hire and fire.  And just like real employers everywhere, they scam and exploit their workers mercilessly while they laugh all the way to the bank, which is why we have labor laws, and why the rubber has to hit the road and puncture this on-demand myth for once and all.

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Please enjoy Diana Krall (featuring Michael Buble’) Alone Again (Naturally) from Krall’s new album Wallflower

and

A faster pace song, The Pink Flamingos Things I Never Said – All Thanks to Kabf.

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