Posts by Paul Constant

Urban Outfitters Shuffles One Step Forward, Stumbles Two Steps Back on Employee Rights

Urban Outfitters Shuffles One Step Forward, Stumbles Two Steps Back on Employee Rights

Mary Beth Quirk at Consumerist reported on a little bit of good news for New York state low-wage workers yesterday: Following in the footsteps of retailers like Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works, Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap, Urban Outfitters says it will stop using on-call scheduling — but only in New York. This change comes after pressure from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, which has been probing various companies’ use of the system. On-call scheduling is a practice in which employers keep their employees waiting until the last minute to learn whether they’re going to work or not. Employees have no way of knowing how many hours they’ll work, and they have to be ready to drop everything and show up for a shift at a moments’ notice. It’s almost impossible for workers to hold second jobs if their primary jobs demand that they work on-call schedules. They don’t get to enjoy financial stability since they will never know how many hours of pay they’ll receive on any given week. This is an abysmal way to treat an employee. It’s great that New York state is leading the fight against on-call scheduling. When employers are forced to prove that they can get by without on-call scheduling in one state, it will hopefully be easier for other states to promote anti-on-call laws of their own. Urban Outfitters may not have eagerly agreed to this change, but at least they agreed to it. Gawker also called Urban Outfitters out for some especially egregious behavior yesterday. They published an internal e-mail from UO parent company URBN asking their salaried office workers to volunteer to work weekends in their shipping warehouses. Yes, for free. What are the benefits? Well, they’re offering free transportation to employees with no cars. And it’s a “team bulding” exercise. And employees will get to “experience our fulfillment
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People Magazine Leads the Public Conversation on Guns

People Magazine Leads the Public Conversation on Guns

If you asked me last week to predict which national magazine would lead the fight against gun violence, People would have most definitely not have appeared on my short list. But this is our world now, apparently : In this issue we pay tribute to the nine Oregon victims, as well as 22 other men, women and children who’ve lost their lives in mass shootings – incidents where a murderer has opened fire on a crowd – in the U.S. during the past 12 months. … We need to know that our representatives in Washington, D.C., are looking for solutions and not giving up, and they need to know if we agree or disagree with their strategies. Below, we’ve provided phone numbers, email addresses (provided by the Sunlight Foundation’s OpenCongress project) and Twitter handles (when available) for all 535 voting members of the House and Senate. Let’s make sure they know that from now on, “routine” responses just won’t cut it. That’s People editorial director Jess Cagle, leading the way on gun responsibility. In fact, Cagle even correctly identifies the number of people who have died due to gun violence in America this year by including suicide and domestic violence statistics in his tally*. (That number, in case you haven’t read Cagle’s editorial, is 10,006. That’s 10,006 people shot dead in America this year so far.) When even our celebrity gossip magazines can’t sit quietly by and allow this massacre to happen, you know we’ve reached a turning point. Everybody knows America has a gun problem. The only people who refuse to act are our representatives, and the only way to make them listen is by repeatedly bringing the conversation to them. I never thought I’d write this sentence, but: Good job, People magazine! Way to lead by example! * Why wouldn’t you include every person
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Ben Carson Keeps Establishing New Lows in the Gun Responsibility Debate

Ben Carson Keeps Establishing New Lows in the Gun Responsibility Debate

I must admit to feeling kindly toward Ben Carson. Unless he’s spreading nonsense about vaccines , Carson is an amusing standout among the Republican presidential candidates. His slow speaking style has been a refreshing change of pace during the Republican presidential debates, and his weird, dumb mistakes seem kind of amusing to me. He’s always struck me as harmless enough, especially since he’s never actually going to win the Republican nomination. But Carson has finally said too much. He’s no longer amusing. Last night, Carson wrote about the Oregon mass shooting on his Facebook page , and he said something unbelievably stupid: As a Doctor, I spent many a night pulling bullets out of bodies. There is no doubt that this senseless violence is breathtaking – but I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away. Today, Carson told USA Today that his solution for mass shootings in schools involves putting police on campuses, or arming kindergarten teachers: “If I had a little kid in kindergarten somewhere I would feel much more comfortable if I knew on that campus there was a police officer or somebody who was trained with a weapon,” he says. Including the teacher? “If the teacher was trained in the use of that weapon and had access to it, I would be much more comfortable if they had one than if they didn’t.” But probably the most breathtakingly dumb thing Carson has said so far is this morning’s comment to Fox & Friends on what he’d do if he were in a place where a mass shooting was happening: “Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me,” Carson, a presidential candidate who leads in several polls, said on national television. “I would say, ‘Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may
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Striking French Workers Tear the Shirts Off Air France Executives

Striking French Workers Tear the Shirts Off Air France Executives

I can’t stop thinking about this slideshow in The Atlantic showing angry crowds of union activists literally tearing the shirts off the backs of Air France executives. These are powerful images, especially toward the end of the slideshow, when you see middle-aged men wearing scraps of clothing—a tie, a cuff from a shirt—being helped over a fence to escape the angry mobs. It’s an astonishing piece of photojournalism, a dramatic and discomfiting representation of very real problems happening in France right now. Perhaps for obvious reasons, these photos keep swirling around in my head with the news that former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke admitted that “more corporate executives should have gone to jail for their misdeeds” in the Great Recession of 2008. Of course, this should not be a controversial statement, but given how intensely people agitated for prosecution in the case of corporate malfeasance at the time, and given how little action the government actually took, it’s actually fairly explosive. And the combination of these two stories popping up in the same twenty-four hour period has me thinking about Civic Ventures co-founder Nick Hanauer’s piece “ The Pitchforks Are Coming…for Us Plutocrats .” But the problem isn’t that we have inequality. Some inequality is intrinsic to any high-functioning capitalist economy. The problem is that inequality is at historically high levels and getting worse every day. Our country is rapidly becoming less a capitalist society and more a feudal society. Unless our policies change dramatically, the middle class will disappear, and we will be back to late 18th-century France. Before the revolution. And so I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last. If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society
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Jeb Bush on Oregon Shooting: “Stuff Happens.”

Jeb Bush on Oregon Shooting: “Stuff Happens.”

Earlier today in South Carolina, Jeb Bush actually used the phrase “stuff happens” to describe mass shootings. He was trying to explain why America doesn’t need any more gun responsibility laws, but it sure sounded callous: But everyone makes mistakes. Surely Bush didn’t mean what he said? Well, yes. Yes he did. In fact, he doubled down: Someone asked President Obama about Bush’s comment, and his response was perfect: Like everyone else in the entire world, I’ve been unimpressed with Jeb Bush as a campaigner. He’s testy, he’s inarticulate, he’s all stammer and no substance. But I think this might just be the beginning of the end for his campaign. Like President Obama , the American people are sick of hearing the same narrative drop every time a mass shooting happens. And Bush’s frankly bizarre choice to act blasé in the aftermath of a shooting rather than to propose any solution—any solution at all—is perfectly making Obama’s point.

Anybody Need a Job Making Pizza?

Anybody Need a Job Making Pizza?

Remember Z Pizza, the franchise that closed earlier this year ? Remember how its owner claimed it was closing due to Seattle’s minimum wage, and that she was “absolutely…terrified” for her employees, because “I have no idea where they’re going to find jobs, because if I’m cutting hours, I imagine everyone is across the board?” Well, nobody has to be terrified. The above sign has been posted in the windows of Big Mario’s Pizza, just five minutes’ walk from where Z Pizza used to be, for about the last week. If you can’t read through the glare of the window, it reads: NOW HIRING! Big Mario’s is hiring personnel for all kitchen positions: —Pizza Cooks —Prep Cooks —Counter —Delivery Drivers Our new location in Lower Queen Anne will be opening in October and we need staff members for both location. If you are interested please bring in your resume and ask for a manager or email it to jobs.bigmarios@gmail.com So if you know anyone who’s out of work—of course, with unemployment down to 3.15% in Seattle , you might not—send them over to Big Mario’s, which is doing so well that it’s opening a second location. Look, as Goldy pointed out , all this anecdotal evidence is just that: anecdotal. Big Mario’s hiring employees and opening another location is an anecdote, same as Z Pizza’s closure is an anecdote. The point we’re making by bringing up these anecdotes is twofold: 1) By mirroring the right-wing efforts to turn anecdotes into trends and explaining why they don’t work, we’re identifying the problem by example. and, more importantly: 2) We’re identifying the inherent flaws in media coverage on this topic. Back in April if you took Q13’s report on Z Pizza as guidance, a report that only used one source and treated it like news, you would expect to live in a very different Seattle right now. Q13 hinted that we
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You Really Should Watch President Obama Address the Nation After Today’s Shooting

You Really Should Watch President Obama Address the Nation After Today’s Shooting

I’ve seen President Obama speak probably hundreds of times in my life—sometimes in person, sometimes on TV, sometimes on the internet—and I’ve never seen him this angry and exasperated and disappointed. This is man who has stood in front of the country more than a dozen times after mass shootings. He knows exactly what he can do to stop this from happening. But he also knows he can’t do anything without the support of other lawmakers. So of course he’s angry and tired. I’m angry and tired. I bet you’re angry and tired, too. But Obama is the most powerful man in the world, and he has to go up in front of the nation every time this happens and admit that he’s helpless to do anything about it, and it’s likely to happen again. That’s got to be a terrible feeling.

Starbucks Demonstrates Why Corporate Self-Policing Is Not the Best Policy

Starbucks Demonstrates Why Corporate Self-Policing Is Not the Best Policy

Back in April, I wrote on this blog about the problem with clopening shifts , which are fast becoming a normal state of affairs with minimum wage workers. (Clopening shifts, if you were unaware, are when employees work a late-night shift and then an opening shift one after the other.) I noted with approval that “Under pressure from outside sources, Starbucks agreed to self-police their clopening problem.” But I warned that other businesses would need to have regulations imposed in order to ensure that they weren’t unfairly dominating their workers’ schedules. This month, the New York Times reports , Starbucks’s self-policing is not going well: Starbucks has fallen short on these promises, according to interviews with five current or recent workers at several locations across the country. Most complained that they often receive their schedules one week or less in advance, and that the schedules vary substantially every few weeks. Two said their stores still practiced clopenings. Do I think that Starbucks intentionally lied last year when they said they would instate their own schedule fairness? Absolutely not. But I also think the difference between a corporate promise and the day-to-day operations of a cafe is quite substantial. Without the threat of a financial penalty or legal actions, management likely either didn’t absorb the importance of the clopening ban or they sacrificed it as soon as scheduling got tight. Conservatives argue often and loudly against the idea of regulations, but this is a perfect counterexample to their arguments. We need regulations not because corporations are evil entities that need to be managed by government, it’s because the institutionalization of these laws better combat the creep of wishy-washiness that occurs through self-policing, and because penalties are often a more persuasive tool than praise. If the Starbucks stores in question were violating anti-clopening laws, those aggrieved employees would be eligible for compensation for the time that they put in. As
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Jeb Bush Says Black People Vote for Democrats Because They Get “Free Stuff”

Jeb Bush Says Black People Vote for Democrats Because They Get “Free Stuff”

At the East Cooper Republican Women’s Club annual shrimp dinner, Jeb Bush was asked how he thinks the Republican Party should reach out to African-Americans. His response is one that you’ll hear repeated a lot over the next few months: “Our message is one of hope and aspiration. It isn’t one of division and get in line and we’ll take care of you with free stuff. Our message is one that is uplifting — that says you can achieve earned success.” Huh. That statement is at once racist, classist, and disingenuous. At least Mitt Romney had the sense to make most of these kinds of statements behind closed doors , where he thought he wasn’t being recorded. First of all, let’s talk about the economic side of Bush’s argument. Look: nobody’s asking to be taken care of “with free stuff.” Nobody below the poverty line feels like the king of the world because they have to wait in line for hours to get food stamps. And if we didn’t provide assistance programs to people who need it, we’d be paying in lots of other, more unpleasant ways. If Bush had to live like a poor person for a week, he’d understand that this is not the Monopoly man tossing bags of cash around; poor people have to work to get and maintain benefits, and they do it because they have no other choice. On a racial level, what Bush said is even more idiotic. The statement is so beyond condescending—to reiterate, he just implied that an entire race of people has been addicted to free stuff and they need to be granted their dignity—that it has to be planned. The way I see it, Bush is doing one of two things here: he’s either dog-whistling to racist voters by playing to the unrealistic stereotype of African-Americans that
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Marco Rubio Tries to Lecture the Pope on Economics, and He’s Wrong on Every Count

Marco Rubio Tries to Lecture the Pope on Economics, and He’s Wrong on Every Count

Times are tough for Catholic Republican politicians, especially this week. They have to somehow justify their own political and religious views in response to Pope Francis, who clearly disagrees with them on many of their most closely held beliefs. What do you do when your spiritual leader speaks openly and passionately against unfettered capitalism and laws that promote poverty? Here’s Marco Rubio, trying to justify why the Pope thinks he’s wrong on a host of issues: Here’s Rubio’s explanation, via ThinkProgress : “On moral issues, [Pope Francis] speaks with incredible authority,” Rubio said. “He’s done so consistently on the value of life, on the sanctity of life, on the importance of marriage and on the family. [But] On economic issues, the pope is a person…We have the same goal — providing more prosperity and upward mobility, I just honestly believe free enterprise is a better way of doing it.” And on the environment: Rubio also said he “understands” Pope Francis’ call to fight climate change and be “stewards of the Earth,” but doesn’t believe in “big government mandates” to solve the problem of climate change. In fact, as Rubio often does , he argued that policies to fight climate change would actually harm the poor by killing jobs — something that is widely disputed, as the renewable energy sector is currently creating thousands of jobs . So in short, Rubio thinks Pope Francis is doing God’s work when Pope Francis’s agenda aligns with his own agenda. but when Pope Francis disagrees with Rubio, he’s just “a person.” One could argue that this means Rubio thinks he’s better-aligned with God than the Pope, but let’s not get too far down the rabbit-hole of Rubio’s self-regard. That road gets really ugly really quickly. Instead, let’s look at one point that Rubio makes in that first passage, because it’s an important one. Rubio has nothing
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