Thursday, July 19, 2012

As U.S. wages rise, gender gaps remain

Article by: DEE DePASS, Star Tribune

The nation's weekly wages rose 2.4 percent in the second quarter from a year ago, but that didn't erase big income gaps between male and female factory workers and managers, according to a government report released Wednesday.
American wages and salaries rose to $771 per week during the quarter. But female plant workers made just $505 a week, compared with the $716 earned by men, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Wage disparities on the state level are not yet available.
The disparity in management wages for all industries were even broader, showing men earning $1,342 a week compared with women who earned $945 a week.
Across all sectors and occupations, the report found that "women who usually worked full time had median weekly earnings of $689 or 79.7 percent of the $865 median [wage] for men."
Upon learning the results, Oriane Casale, assistant director for Minnesota's Labor Market Information Office, said "Wow, that is a big jump," and noted that the gender wage gaps were large.
Some of the national gender gaps have to do with the recession, she said. While male factory workers lost ground early in the recession, manufacturing, especially of durable goods like washing machines and cars, is "coming back like gangbusters." That has benefited men.
By contrast, more women lost ground later in the recession when layoffs spread to sectors such as law firms, schools, and hospitals, Casale said.
But on the national front, the manufacturing industry provided a host of possible reasons for wage disparities. Casale noted that men and women often hold different jobs within specific manufacturing companies, and that can affect pay.
For example, metal manufacturers tend to require higher skills, pay more and are heavily represented by male workers. But chicken processing, canning and other food processing plants have a more balanced gender mix, lower skill requirements and many more female workers.
Another ingredient contributing to wage gaps has to do with age and experience, Casale said. "If you have an older, male workforce versus a younger, female workforce you could see some wage differences there" simply because more experienced workers tend to be paid more.
Other economists noted that Wednesday's report showed that wages were rising faster than inflation. Wages for all workers climbed 2.4 percent, compared with a 1.9 percent rise in the urban consumer price index.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Is taking work home overtime? In age of smartphones, remote access to PCs, hourly employees say they are due extra pay

From:  The Columbus Dispatch
By:  Kelly Yamanouchi, Atlantic-Journal Constitution, Monday, July 9, 2012

Those smartphones and BlackBerrys that enable work anytime, anywhere are increasingly blurring the lines between work life and personal life — and introducing the sticky issue of when overtime is owed to workers.

The always-connected worker and the pressures of the uncertain economy have led many to feel that they should always be working — because they can, thanks to the growing use of smartphones. That’s allowing work to bleed into evenings, weekends and even sleep, with some people taking their phones and BlackBerrys to bed with them.

And the situation becomes tricky for hourly employees, who qualify for overtime.

“We’ve gotten into a place in our culture where the more you work, the better it is, and the more you should be proud of it,” said attorney Amanda Farahany. “And so people don’t want to assert their overtime right.”

Overtime laws are abused by companies “on a daily basis,” she said.

But in some cases, that has led to lawsuits, seeking pay for what is sometimes called “ BlackBerry overtime” or “electronic overtime.”

For employers, “that’s an area of exposure, and it’s coming like a freight train,” said attorney David Long-Daniels. By giving hourly employees BlackBerrys or remote access to workplace computers through iConnect or Citrix, “you’ve implicitly told them to work,” he said.

Long-Daniels advises companies not to allow hourly employees and others who qualify for overtime to use BlackBerrys or remote access to their work computers unless the workers are told to record the times when they use the devices, and the company has a system in place to record the hours.

Among the lawsuits over electronic overtime is one filed last year in U.S. District Court in Atlanta against Amerisave Mortgage Corp. by former employees. In the case, which has been granted conditional class-action status, senior mortgage processors claim that they routinely worked more than 40 hours a week without getting overtime pay, and that Amerisave was aware that employees used their phones and other devices to answer calls and email but did not track the time.  Amerisave denies those allegations. The discovery period just ended in that case.

Jason Zulauf and his brother, Jeffrey, who are among the workers suing Amerisave, said they worked on commission and didn’t realize they could qualify for overtime.  Jason Zulauf said the computer system that Amerisave employees used to work from home would automatically clock them out after 40 hours, but they were told by managers to “back down” their hours — or adjust them downward — so they could work more hours to earn more in commissions.

An attorney representing Amerisave, Jeff Mokotoff, said the company has “clear, unequivocal written policies that require the employees to record all the time that they work.”

The Zulaufs said they worked as long as 16 hours a day, six days a week. “We had no life,” Jason Zulauf said. “It took a lot of time away from our families.”

Farahany, who is the  Zulaufs’ attorney, said that “most people don’t realize the rights they have under the overtime laws.”

The overtime law, part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, was enacted during the Great Depression to “make it more expensive for an employer to make one person work more than to simply hire another person,” Farahany said. “Over time, companies have simply eroded that law, and we’re back in a place now where employees are out of work.”

Companies call that increased productivity, a driver of economic growth.

Farahany contends that if companies follow the overtime law, “it will bring people back to work. It worked in the Great Depression.”

The Amerisave case follows similar cases in other parts of the country, including one filed against T-Mobile USA Inc. in 2009, in which employees and former employees alleged that they were given company BlackBerrys or smartphones and “required to review and respond to T-Mobile-related emails and text messages at all hours of the day, whether or not they were punched into T-Mobile’s computer-based timecard system.”

In a complaint filed against commercial real-estate firm CB Richard Ellis, an employee claimed that he and other employees were given BlackBerrys and other devices to access work-related emails.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Congress acts on federal employee bills

From:  The Washington Post 
Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 07/02/2012
Just before getting out of town for the Fourth of July holiday, both chambers of Congress and a Senate committee approved separate pieces of legislation Friday that would affect federal employees.
The House and Senate passed a transportation bill that includes a provision to allow phased retirement for federal employees. Employees would be able to work part-time after retirement, with their salaries and annuities pro-rated.

Proponents on both sides of the partisan divide expect the measure to save tax money while providing a way for experienced workers to transfer their skills and workplace knowledge to younger staff.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee gave final approval to bills that would update the Hatch Act, provide agencies with greater power to prevent government contractors from engaging in human trafficking and make it easier for veterans to obtain federal licenses.

The Hatch Act measure would provide a greater range of penalties for federal employees who violate the act. Termination generally is the penalty. The legislation would allow reprimands, demotions and suspensions.

The bill also would ease prohibitions on state and local government employees, whose positions receive federal funding, who run for partisan elective office.

Among other provisions, the End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act of 2012 would require companies with federal contracts worth at least $1 million to certify that they have procedures to prevent human trafficking. This has been an issue for contractors who supply foreign labor for U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Veterans Skills to Jobs Act would facilitate employment of veterans by allowing agencies to use the training that veterans received in the military to meet the requirements for federal licenses in certain cases.

The committee gave preliminary approval to the bills Wednesday, but the final vote was delayed until the panel had a quorum on Friday.