Overtime Rule is One Thing, Enforcement is Another

iStock_000015098858MediumSan Jose   It’s official now. Starting December 1st, a bit more than six months from now, salaried employees making less than about $47,000 per year or $913 a week will be eligible for overtime pay at time-and-one-half of their effective hourly rate. The last adjustment in 2004 was a bit over $23,000 or $455 per week. Importantly, embedded in the rule is a regular adjustment every three years, so in 2020 the Department of Labor estimates that overtime eligibility will be $51,000. Earlier estimates targeted the impact as potentially effecting more than 5 million workers. Restaurant and other trade associations have indicated continued opposition, but no matter the sound and fury, the impact of this new rule will be huge one way or another.

At the least the new rule mandates a much closer accounting of hours for workers that have been salaried in the range of an effective rate of between $12 per hour and $23 per hour, which will require an obvious adjustment for many employers. The reckoning will not just come in the area of the standard workweek. Any regular meetings, conventions, seminars, and other work-related events that had been automatic for salaried workers in that range will now potentially trigger overtime. And, if not, overtime adjustments in workers’ schedules or exclusion from such events. Travel time has always been a contentious issue for hourly workers, and we can expect a deluge of transitional controversies for such workers now.

Increases before 2004 were more minimal, allowing employers to potentially meet the overtime requirements by raising minimum salaries above the threshold, giving workers a nice raise and avoiding the problems. We can expect that a doubling of the rate will not be met by most employers with an across the board raise of ten or fifteen thousand a year, but some who are close might bump workers over.

Opponents insist that this will mean reduced hours for many salaried workers, and that sounds right, but that’s also fair. Reduced hours for salaried workers does not mean less income than they are receiving now, but at least it means less work for the same amount of money. Workers given fewer hours will either have more leisure or more opportunity to do other work rather than being tied to more hours at the same pay with their primary employer.

My bet though is that this transition will be hard and that the Department of Labor will be swamped with both questions from workers, newly eligible for overtime, and with complaints from many workers whose employers are hoping they can wink-and-nod rather than tightening hours or paying overtime. In city after city where minimum wage increases have been won, we have all found that often the key to whether or not workers actually benefit from the changes is whether or not there is real provision for enforcement. Enforcement means rules with teeth and personnel. There’s no indication that Congress has suddenly beefed up the Wage and Hours Division of the Department of Labor, and they are already lagging in enforcing the existing minimum wage and overtime rules.

For workers to get the benefits claimed by this new rule and actually see increases in real income, it will take a change in employer mindset and enforcement to make sure that employer hearts and minds are forced to change. That change will be harder to realize than the process of simply establishing a new rule. Until then the jury is out on whether or not real wages will increase for salaried workers at the level projected.


Is There any Silver Lining in Republican Class Divide?

10repubs-JP-01-ALT-master675New Orleans   The talking heads, the pollsters and pundits, and political reporters for the largest national newspapers, and one distinguished contributing editor after another have finally come to a consensus that this Donald Trump – Ted Cruz hater machine resonates with the red meat part of their base, and, worse, and these mad dogs want to be fed, rather than taken for granted by Wall Street, big donors, and the party establishment. They may not agree on what it takes to glue the pieces of their Humpty-Dumpty back together again or if that is even possible, but they at least agree that it’s broken, and there is now a class divide in their largely stale and pale base that they can’t just paper over and ignore.

Trump and Cruz and the fact that they are not fading away, even if they may have capped out on the growth of their base, spells trouble for all of the Republican establishment candidates and could put one of these mean boys in the final vote for President. A former Bush speechwriter and now senior writer for The Atlantic magazine in a recent issue makes the case that the establishment most critically misjudged the depth of antipathy the lower and moderate income part of their base, essential to their success in the West and South, feels about immigration reform. He argues that the megadomes in the wake of their defeat in 2012 thought all they needed to do was soften their hate speech around immigration reform and adopt the Jeb Bush “not soon, but someday” supporting immigrants and a path of legalization. Marco Rubio has recanted any role in immigration reform under the new calculus and Cruz and Trump want to go past security and engage in mass deportations. This is all very bad news and argues poorly for immigration reform in a Republican Congress, even if a Democrat is successful, and, friends and neighbors, not matter what you read, that’s never a sure thing!

On the other hand, the Trump base which is rebelling against the Republican establishment wants to protect Medicare, wants more guarantees that trade doesn’t mean the loss of good jobs, and wants to make more money from the jobs they have. None of this will make Wall Street, the donors, or the corporate chieftains and Old Guard of the GOP happy, but perhaps there is a silver lining that might bring some dividends to the rest of us for a change in a Congressional compromise.

More job protections for trade would win applause across both sides the aisle, if some of the elephants come heavy footing in our direction. There probably isn’t a groundswell for $15 per hour, but after more than an 8-year drought on raising the minimum wage, how can Republicans not deliver a real raise in 2017 for their base and ours? The rebels in their base are also clear that they aren’t crazy enough about their guns to want to fire them up on another war in the Middle East or anywhere else, and we can probably all agree on that as well. Protecting Social Security and Medicare are also issues where we could make progress, and for all of the storm and fury about Obamacare, the working class part of this radical, rebel horde is not willing to die hard without health care.

The radicals in the conservative’s working class base are being clear in the Republican primary finally and are saying they want theirs, too. Some of what they want meshes with some of what we want, and there might be some deals to be made on some issues, even if we have some mountains to climb on others in 2017.


“Ban the Box” and LinkedIn Prescreening Job Obstacles

Ban_BoxNew Orleans      Maybe there’s some hope for job applications from different sides of the fence in fighting the employment obstacles created by prescreening for job applicants in a coincidental conjoining of problems for former felons and professionals, white shoe job applicants where both get screwed and left on the curb and out of work.  Who would have imagined that former felons and fans of the professional social networking site, LinkedIn, used by many for job searches would have common cause, but employer abuse might provide just that.

            The National Employment Law Project (NELP) has been promoting a “ban the box” campaign for several years and now reports that 12 states along with 66 cities and counties around the country have eliminated the box on job applications about whether or not the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime.  Many of these jurisdictions have only banned the box when hiring in the public sector, but a recent NELP report finds that in some areas private sector employers and contractors have also been required to ban the box, including Buffalo and Rochester in New York, as well as Newark and Philadelphia.   The impact of such actions is to force employers to make decisions on hiring an applicant based on her qualifications, rather than their biases about their past.

            A lawsuit by a woman named Sweet in Suwanee, Georgia may topple prescreening utilizing LinkedIn on the white shoe side of the fence as well.  Ms. Sweet applied for a job with a hotel chain and didn’t get the gig.  She later found that the hotel company, like many other employers it seems, subscribed to LinkedIn’s so-called premium service which allowed them to search for connections between Sweet and others who claimed to have known her or worked with her, frequently in only the most random and coincidental ways.  Nonetheless, they could message these people directly for information and/or references on Sweet and in so doing block her from employment.  Sweet got a lawyer and sued under the Fair Credit Reporting Act saying this was prescreening.

            The reporter doing this story for the New York Times had a company do a search on her own LinkedIn account that produced forty connections claiming to have worked with her at the Times including two interns among others.  She only personally knew four of the forty, and was somewhat horrified that any of this random list might have been able to determine her future employment status.  I dare say.  I don’t use LinkedIn, but I have an account and routinely “accept” anyone who wants to link to me largely because doing so confuses data aggregating sites that specialize in profiling, but of course I’m not looking for a job, since I’m already overwhelmed by all I do now.

            Jobs are hard to find though, so anything that might link some of the bigger whoops with so many people in our communities that have been stigmatized by “broken window” policies of urban police forces that have tacked criminal records on vast numbers of people for minor and trivial pursuits, and put all potential jobs on a firmer footing and more level playing field would be a good thing.  Fair is fair, isn’t it?  Shouldn’t a prospective boss have to actually read your whole application, interview you seriously, and make the hard call about whether you might be just the worker for their business?  I should say so!




Marching for a Climate Change Turning Point

2014-09-21t181449z_242980738_gm1ea9m064l01_rtrmadp_3_usa-climatechange-march.jpg_1718483346New Orleans    The march in New York demanding action on climate change was hard to get a handle on from a distance.  The Associated Press called the number 100,000.  The New York Times studiously avoided ever giving a number in the aftermath of the march, simply saying there were tens of thousands.  Finally, a week later the Times’ editorial page tagged the number at 300,000.  Between police, press, promoters, and regular people, it’s very difficult to get a handle on facts when it comes to organizing, and when we are looking for the heartbeat of a movement, it’s actually not just a question of engineering, but a way to measure passion, so it is actually very important.  So many mainstream institutions and media are so punctilious about not seeming to support protest that it is virtually impossible to benchmark the truth as opposed to the promotion.

            Talking to Dean Hubbard, national director of the Labor Project for the Sierra Club, on Wade’s World on KABF recently, opened up a different perspective.  Dean said they were astounded by the numbers.   They had expected 100,000 in New York City, but instead they thought the numbers had topped 400,000.  We’ll never know.  He argued, perhaps more interestingly, that the wider footprint of the march could be found in the hundreds of cities throughout the USA that did something on that date and the thousands of cities, large and small, that stepped up to the mark globally.

            President Obama seemed to have used some of this energy to argue more aggressively for action, not only in the USA, which as the worst of the worst, has to be a leader here, but also to challenge China to join the fight as the largest bulk polluter even though we are the greatest per capita polluter.  India, the next in line, seems still unwilling to join the fray.

            It’s Dean’s job to argue that the fight between jobs and the environment is finally reaching détente, and he made the case as best he could, and there’s merit to his argument.  His weakest point might have been the fact that there were 10,000 marchers under union banners in New York City, led by some predictable unions like the Service Employees, but also importantly the giant Local 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electricians, a critical chink in the armor of the construction trades which have been stubbornly resistant to many environmental arguments with a “jobs are everything” and the devil take the hindmost attitude.  Mayor Bill de Blasio’s announcement that he supported retrofitting all of the buildings in New York City before he personally joined the march, was a key piece of leadership moving the NYC trades.

            Where Dean and the Sierra Club’s case improved was as he recited the increasing amount of alternative energy development that is replacing standard generation methods, and the number of jobs that are, and will be, produced by such construction, energy creation, and distribution.  It seems impossible to argue whether on the threat of climate change or the ticking time bomb of contemporary resource depletion that no matter the math now or the facts on the ground, that the tide of history is now flowing in the direction of Dean’s argument with the opponents cries simply being the gurgles of dinosaurs on their way to extinction, hopefully not bringing the rest of us with them.



Nine Years after Katrina

Lower 9th Ward before and after

Lower 9th Ward before and after, credit to Ted Jackson at nola.com

Little Rock       Perhaps the best news in the nine years since Katrina has been that we have not faced another devastating hurricane, as the city continues to struggle to rebuild.  We had a bit of problem a couple of years ago in 2012, but not so severe that it forced widespread evacuation or extensive damage.  Every year that we can get past Katrina is another gift.

            Surveying the changes over nine years isn’t easy.  Many of the positives come with big, fat “buts.”

            Like the fact that population in the metro area is now 93% of what it was before the storm, but in the city itself we are only 78% of where we were before Katrina.  The Census Bureau estimates New Orleans’ population at 378,715 compared to the 2000 Census population of 484,674.  That’s still 100 grand down, and that’s not good.

            We’re growing, yes, but people still can’t find their way home, especially African-Americans.

The Census Bureau estimated 99,650 fewer African Americans in 2013 compared to 2000, but also 11,494 fewer whites and 6,023 more Hispanics. African-Americans still represent the majority of the city’s population at 59 percent, down from 67 percent in 2000.

All of which means we are becoming more diverse, even while we have so many “missing New Orleans.”  We gained 44,281 Hispanics and 6,564 additional Asian residents. The Hispanic population in the metro spiked 76 percent between 2000 and 2013, a rate greater than the nation’s 53 percent growth.

            So the city fathers that wanted a “whiter” city, didn’t get their wishes, even though their policies barred return for so many.  They also didn’t get a richer city because of their continued programs.

            According to The Data Center’s figures:

While the poverty rate in the New Orleans metro declined from 18 percent in 1999 to 15 percent in 2007, it then increased to 19 percent in 2012, such that it is now statistically unchanged since 1999. In New Orleans itself, the 2012 poverty rate of 29 percent is also statistically the same as 1999 after falling to 21 percent in 2007.   Like the overall poverty rate, child poverty in Orleans Parish and the metro area dropped in 2007 but has since increased to its 1999 levels. In 2012, the child poverty rate was 41 percent in the city and 28 percent in the metropolitan area, both higher than the U.S. rate of 23 percent.

No small reason for the continued poverty and stalled return continues to rest on the problem of inadequate and unaffordable housing, because of the double whammy of first the storm and then the recession which rolled back credit availability and made home reconstruction unaffordable for many low-and-moderate income families.  Rents soared after the storm and continue to be sky high.  The Data Center finds that “36 percent of renters in the city paying more than 50 percent of their pre-tax income on rent and utilities in 2012, up from 24 percent of renters in 2004.”

The beat goes on like that.

We did better on jobs and jobs on recovery after the storm than many cities in the recession, but the jobs didn’t pay diddling, especially when so much of the income went for housing.  Higher education is lagging, especially for African-American men, and the charter school experiment has not moved the needle on failing schools.  New businesses are up, but so are sales tax revenues and other taxes servicing a smaller population, so many of these businesses are marginal.  We have more bike lanes and bike trails but can’t seem to fix the potholes in the streets.

Here’s the story in New Orleans.  We’re going to make it, but every day is still going to mean a struggle over a bumpy road.  We’re going to come back somehow and we’ll welcome all the new people, but we can’t escape the heartache for people we miss, who still can’t make it home.



Education Stuck in Class

Galveston, Texas, natives Melissa O’Neal, from left, Bianca Gonzalez and Angelica Gonzales took part in a college-prep program for low-income students, but found that school wasn’t a ticket to upward mobility. Michael Stravato New York Times News Service

Dauphine Island    “Life happens,” was a quote from one of the three young women from south Texas who believed so completely that education would change their lives, and perhaps more significantly, redirect their fate and future from the path of their parents to a brighter new world of opportunity.  The Times story was unfair to these three young women though.  “Life” actually happens to everyone.   Decisions are made.  Paths are taken or abandoned.  Choices abound at the crossroads.

Reading the story it became clear that any chance of education changing their lives in the radical way that they hoped it might when they were naïve young girls was only true in the margins or perhaps by even more random luck, because class had already created most of the limits and boundaries.  One faced the long shot odds of $40,000 in debt to Emory University in Atlanta because the university somewhat arbitrarily closed off her application without giving her financial assistance and got the money by almost implicitly agreeing to marry the high school boyfriend and work for his furniture store later.  Even with some college all three were all working hourly shifts in the service industry back in Texas five years later.  One was still trying and close to getting a degree in a local college, but I honestly would challenge anyone reading this piece to smugly argue that graduating or not graduating in her case is going to radically change her prospects.

There can’t be a crueler lie now in America than the notion that simply getting a college degree from any of the thousands of schools out there somehow put the young graduate on the path to a great job and a wonderful future.  She’s still going to be in South Texas, and that’s not a bad place to be, but the jobs are what are available there:  agriculture and its service, service in general, warehousing and distribution, and so forth.

To move out of “class” is not $40,000 but over $200,000 and more if one stumbles from South Texas or any lower income urban neighborhood into something approaching the Ivy League and its “gold card” of greater opportunity.  And, frankly, in this economy that’s no guarantee as well.  I listen and watch at the challenges faced by the young men and women who were my daughter’s classmates at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, which was an excellent institution that provided her a spectacular education.  I don’t mind writing the check every month for what is left on that debt, but I guarantee none of them jumped on the fast train out of Hampshire.  ACORN International has a brilliant volunteer that has done research for us whose mother I met speaking at Williams and who graduated from Hampshire a couple of years after my daughter.  She has gone through internships, interviews, and more to try and find a place to work and make a contribution.  My son with a degree from Rochester Institute of Technology:  same story, different verse.  Frankly, compared to the odds faced by these young women in Texas, both of them had it easy and have emerged smelling like roses.

Was it only last year or the year before when all of these colleges and universities used to talk about need based scholarships and special recruiting efforts to diversify their enrollment based on a fairer chance for lower income, working class students?  What happened to that?  Yes, I know:  life happened to them!  Now all we hear about is that they are raising their tuitions and struggling in the economy, blah, blah, blah.  The first hint of news I heard in this direction was some kind of sweetheart, side deal that some high priced school make recently with KIPP, the charter school operator.  That kind of deal might assuage the conscience of some well paid admissions officer somewhere, but that’s nothing but a sweetheart deal and a slap in the face at public schools and the places where education could be a key out of the class jail.

We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t when it comes to our sorry education systems.  The competition in a small job market means that too many want a college degree for $8, $9, and $10 per hour jobs, so some degree, any degree, is a bump over minimum wage, but $20,000 a year is not a break out of the rigidity of American society’s increasingly rigid class structure.  The sooner we stop pretending that we are solving any problems with either our higher education or “lower” education system, and start really talking about this and other scalable tools to break down class barriers all around us, the better. We’re going to lose more than a generation though by continuing to look backwards and not facing the reality of the mess we have today.