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U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis visits San Francisco. Tuesday, July 24, 2012.  Photo by Jessica Brandi Lifland for the U.S. Department of Labor.U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis speaks at a labor rally at Union Square in downtown San Francisco. Ab
Outgoing Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis had a big job just turning things around from the anti-worker neglect of the Bush administration. As she tells The Nation,
This was, in essence, one of the agencies that really did not have sufficient support by the previous administration. In fact, I heard story upon story that when people would call in to make complaints that they weren’t being paid appropriately or were being terminated unlawfully they would not be acknowledged. They went in some file. Investigations weren’t being done. We changed that. Went out to work with different stakeholder groups, did it more strategically, looked across the board and began to systemically go after the most egregious violators. It sent a message. I’m happy, because as a result you see more people getting their back wages. We have a record for providing $280 million worth of collected back wages for more than 300,000 workers. And that’s just a beginning. It’s historic.
Solis will be missed; her experience is also an important reminder of ways presidents affect workers' lives that don't tend to register much in campaigns.

  • No, high unemployment isn't about workers not being good enough, it's about an incomplete recovery.
    Bar graph showing unemployment rates for different levels of education in 2007 and 2012. Unemployment goes down as education levels go up, but unemployment is significantly higher in 2012 than in 2007 at every level.
  • Work is going to be more likely to pay what it should in Chicago soon, as the City Council passed a new law cracking down on wage theft, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said he'll sign it. While wage theft—paying less than minimum wage, failing to pay overtime, or otherwise not paying workers money to which they're entitled—is already illegal, under the new law businesses could actually have their licenses revoked if they're found guilty. Josh Eidelson reports that:
    The major showdown over the new law occurred in committee hearings prior to Thursday’s vote. Adam Kader, the Workers Center Director for Arise Chicago, said supporters mobilized a “major show of force” from workers and community activists. Kader said opponents brought “a significant show of force by all of the major industry lobbyists in the state of Illinois.” But after agreeing to a change in the bill’s language, specifying that businesses could have their licenses revoked only after willful or egregious violations, labor was able to win over the council’s holdouts — though not the business lobbyists. (According to the Chicago Tribune, Alderwoman Emma Mitts, who chairs the relevant committee, last week said she was hearing from business leaders concerned that they would be unfairly punished for honest mistakes in how they calculated their workers’ pay.)
    The big question now is how aggressively the law will be enforced, but at least businesses know that there's a real danger to not paying workers money they've earned.
  • Examples of how austerity is imposed on those at the bottom while those at the top do very well thankyouverymuch don't come much clearer than this: at Gatehouse Newspapers,
    We will no longer be able to supply coffee service in our newsrooms. We will use up whatever supplies are currently on hand. I suggest you bring in a mug or your own disposable cups. We do have a drip coffee machine available, if you wish to collect for, buy supplies and brew by the pot. Please ask me or Diana for a machine. [...]

    We will not be replacing general office supplies in the short term. Please conserve use of paper for copy machines. There really is no need to print 10, 20 30 pages of materials which can be downloaded or aren’t vital to story reporting or page proofing. Please also consider absolute need before printing in color.

    But meanwhile, the company's CEO got an $800,000 bonus. That's quite a lot of coffee and office supplies.
  • The Wall Street Journal is super-concerned about poor single mothers making just $260,000 and what's happening to their taxes. It's horrible, people, just horrible!
  • The push to privatize public education is so strong in some states that state legislators have been kicked off of their legislatures' education committees in both Mississippi and Tennessee for opposing it.
  • Speaking of charter schools:
    A CREDO study on Michigan released this week found that 80 percent of charters perform below the 50th percentile of achievement in reading, and 84 percent perform below that threshold in math. On top of that, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 26 percent of Michigan charter schools fall into the bottom 15 percent of the state's schools on 8th grade math exams, and 21 percent in 8th grade reading.
  • Ugh, awful people:
    The Florida Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that one of its top legislative priorities this year would be blocking local governments from adopting paid sick-time measures such as the one pending in Orange County.
  • Oh, the ownership society. Where each of us is free to get rich on our own without any of that pesky security that comes from having a stable pension. Where we get to supplement our inadequate incomes by draining the accounts that are supposed to provide for us in our retirement:
    More than one in four American workers with 401(k) and other retirement savings accounts use them to pay current expenses, new data show. The withdrawals, cash-outs and loans drain nearly a quarter of the $293 billion that workers and employers deposit into the accounts each year, undermining already shaky retirement security for millions of Americans.
    Isn't it great?
  • How you get to a school that education officials rate highly even as it fails.
  • Cutting out the Starbucks run will not fatten your bank account like personal finance "experts" tell you.
  • Remember the Maine labor history mural that buffoon Gov. Paul LePage had removed from the state's Department of Labor? It's now back on public display, at the Maine State Museum.
  • A Washington, D.C., principal walked in on what appeared to be staff changing student answers on a test. She reported it to officials. It wasn't investigated.
  • I don't know what is the least stressful job in the country, but this CareerCast explanation of why college professor is supposedly the least stressful is ludicrous. CareerCast claims that there's ample demand for college professors, that they're highly paid, and that they have long vacations and short work hours. There may be a lot of demand for adjunct professors, but they're typically paid very little and have to teach a whole lot of classes to make a living. People with tenure-track jobs, meanwhile, may (or may not) spend less time in the classroom, but the less time they're in the classroom, the higher the expectations for their research. And if you think the time spent in the classroom is a meaningful fraction of the work hours a college professor puts in, you've got no business writing about careers. The Harvard professors cited for their high wages, meanwhile, represent a tiny fraction of the people in the profession. So basically, if you ever come across a claim from CareerCast, dismiss it.  

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 10:55 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and Daily Kos.

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