Wanted: A Non-Commercial Company and Boss Guide for Workers

New Orleans  Talking to organizers in Europe in recent weeks, it was interesting to hear that prospects for new warehouse distribution center operations by Amazon have triggered waves of social media comment, protest, and, of course, interest in what the jobs mean, what they pay, and how to deal with the reputation of the company to its rank-and-file warehouse crew.  To organizers this is the scent in the air that could bring them running at the potential of organizing the workforce from the ground up.  Who knows.  Easier said and done, even across the pond.

After batting around various ideas about how to use social media in prospecting for organizing leads and identifying organizing targets, I ended up reading a long piece in The New Yorker that largely focused on a website and app operation called Glassdoor, based in the US but with a footprint in Europe as well.  Glassdoor and its different, but similar, competitors like Vault, JobVent, and F**kedCompany among others, allow people to comment on and evaluate their employers and bosses the same way that popular sites like Yelp allow restaurant customers to rate and rank restaurants and their dining experience.

The article and much about it praised the transparency that such sites allowed employees and in the spirit of the moment some advocates thought it could help expose situations involving sexual harassment and even abuse by offering such a forum.  The article wasn’t just a fan letter though, pointing out repeatedly the conflicts of interest commercial sites like Glassdoor have by essentially allowing companies for a pricey fee to take over their Glassdoor website and soften the critique.  The problem of company encouraged and sponsored reviews that poured sugar in the coffee to distort any criticism also poisoned the transparency and more high-minded mission statement of Glassdoor.  At same time they claimed that personnel departments paid attention to comments and often were asked to comment in job interviews about negative comments on Glassdoor.

All of which got me thinking that it would be wonderful if there were a “real” site that was noncommercial and worker-run and oriented, rather than commercial and corporate infected, so that workers could share information and find out the whole story on their companies, inside and out.  There’s still every evidence despite contradictory impacts that transparency in pay tends to resolve inequities.  The requirements for salary publications in the United Kingdom have certainly had impact, including the resignation of a noted BBC reporter when she found she was paid way less than her co-host.

We need something like a Wikipedia for Workers, if you follow my argument here.  Sure, this would help organizers, and I wish it would help unions, though I doubt that they would have the interest or capacity to alter their model sufficiently to take advantage of the information and interest.  The real beneficiaries would be workers gaining the information and the ability to use it to self-organize and stand up for themselves and each other in their workplaces and force competition and equity in their industries.

That’s my phone ringing.  Someone needs to answer the call!


Small Employers Switching to Health Exchanges over Affordability Issues

employeeMemphis   It was only a matter of time before some of the paradoxes embedded in the Affordable Care Act began to make too many employers, both good and bad, wonder if they couldn’t do better when they pay for health insurance.   We’ve talked about some of the problems before, especially the incongruities around the loopholes within the definition of affordable and therefore qualified health plans.

            The big issue for us with lower income workers has been that a low premium, exorbitantly high deductible plan offering essentially NO coverage past the minimum guarantees could be classified as affordable and qualified solely based on the fact that the monthly premium was under 9.5% of gross wages, regardless of the embedded barriers to actually using the health plan within your income if the deductibles were $3000, $4000, or $5000, all of which aren’t considered when it comes to affordability.  And, yes, that’s crazy!


The same thing is true for spouses and dependents.  If your employer provides you with qualified health insurance, then unless your children are eligible for Medicaid because of your lower income, they and your spouse are dependents on your policy.  There are no reasonable limits on the cost of dependent coverage.  They are not barred from purchasing separate insurance with the state or federal marketplace, but they are barred from receiving premium tax credits or cost sharing, which is what makes getting insurance attractive for millions.   I’ve heard conversations about separations and whether or not filing taxes separately would allow spouses to access the marketplace in such situations, but none of these schemes are allowable.

            Interestingly some smaller employers with less than 50 workers are starting to look at this in the way we knew would be inevitable.  There are no fines for them not offering coverage and indeed surveys indicate that such smaller enterprises are now only providing employee health coverage in 38% of such outfits compared to 47% only a decade ago.  With a blend of lower waged workers, they are realizing that they may be able to spend the same amount of money and actually help their workers and their workers family by adding their expenditure to pay envelopes or separate health purchase funds so that their employees can get better insurance for the whole family by purchasing on the exchange and benefiting from the subsidies and tax credits. 

            Are these loopholes or broken pieces that need to be fixed?   My view is these are things that should be fixed.  Unfortunately, as long as Congress is divided and the Republicans see Obamacare as something between the Alamo for the President or their own Waterloo, everyone is just pushing this thing down the road and hoping it will get there rather than trying to see how to make it work better for everyone.   Employers are critical to the success of the Affordable Care Act but there are too many bells and whistles they are hearing that are encouraging them to game the system rather than making it work.  Help!