Sharing economy workers seek their fair share

As the result of a grassroots campaign by Seattle ride-share  and taxi drivers, the Seattle City Council in December voted 8-0 to allow drivers who work for Uber and Lyft as well as taxi drivers to form unions and bargain collectively.

Ride-share and taxi drivers in Seattle are classified–some would say misclassified–as independent contractors, and as such, they do not have the same protected right to organize and bargain collectively that most workers have.

The Seattle ordinance gives them that protection.

Ride-share drivers aren’t the only unprotected workers. They are joined by a large contingent of workers who work in many fields.

These so-called independent contractors make up the bulk of labor in the new sharing economy, businesses that operate internet platforms that link customers to service providers by apps.

In California, state Representative Lorena Gonzalez has introduced the 1099 Self-Organizing Act, which if enacted would extend organizing and bargaining protections to workers in the sharing economy.

The sharing economy is a growing part of the US economy. About 20 percent of jobs created since the end of the Great Recession are in app-based companies like Uber and Lyft and temporary staffing agencies, both of which rely heavily on a precarious workforce, unprotected workers who work for low pay and receive few if any benefits.

Companies like Uber have been able to stay afloat and attract investors such as Goldman Sachs, which has $1.6 billion invested in Uber, by shifting much of their business costs and risks to their workers.

Uber drivers pay for their vehicles, pay for their insurance, don’t have any safety net benefits such as company-sponsored health care.

If they are hurt on the job, they won’t be able to collect workers compensation because the company doesn’t pay their workers compensation insurance premiums.

If the economy takes a downturn and drivers don’t work because there isn’t enough demand for Uber services, drivers can’t collect unemployment insurance because Uber doesn’t pay for it.

When Uber drivers are too old to work and must retire, they won’t collect Social Security because Uber doesn’t make Social Security contributions for its drivers.

The lack of protections and other reasons led some Uber drivers in Seattle to organize the App-based Drivers Association, which is affiliated with Teamsters Local 117.

“Since I started driving for Uber, Uber has cut our pay without notice, terminated drivers without giving a reason, and blocked our efforts to improve our working conditions. We’re looking for fairness and the ability to earn a living wage,” said Peter Kuel, a member of the App-based Drivers Association after the Seattle City Council passed its worker organizing ordinance.

The Seattle ordinance allows drivers for app-based companies and taxi companies to choose a non-profit organization to represent them.

The ordinance requires the city to share the names and contact information of app-based and taxi drivers registered with the city to any non-profit organization interested in helping the drivers form a union.

When a majority of drivers for a company express an interest in joining the non-profit organization, the company must recognize and bargain with the non-profit organization.

“This (ordinance) means a lot to us drivers,” said Fasil Teka of the App-based Drivers Association. “It can have a positive impact, not just for drivers in Seattle, but for independent contractors across the country.”

The bill introduced in the California General Assembly by Rep. Gonzalez seeks to accomplish the same thing for workers in the sharing economy but in a slightly different way.

The bill would allow independent contractors working for app-based companies to organize themselves and bargain collectively. The bargaining unit wouldn’t have to be affiliated with an established union.

“There are pitfalls and benefits to the (sharing) economy,” said Rep. Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Times, “We need laws that promote it and protect it, but also protect workers and ensure they don’t slip through the cracks.”

Gonzalez’s bill is far from being a sure thing to become law, but it does represent an acknowledgement among some policy makers that rights of independent contractors need to be redefined and expanded.

It’s not likely that companies like Uber will give up their ability to shift their business costs to their workers without a fight.

Uber has already indicated that it will challenge the Seattle ordinance in court.

Nevertheless, passage of the Seattle ordinance and the introduction of the California bill show that the fight to extend basic protections to independent contractors has begun and won’t be going away.

Day of Action at United Airlines

Flight attendants who belong to the Association of Flight Attendants-Communication Workers of America (AFA-CWA) on January 21 staged a day of action at airports around the world to protest United Airline’s collective bargaining stalling tactics

For the last three years since the merger of United and Continental airlines, the two sides have been trying to reach an agreement on a new contract that will replace the collective bargain agreements in place when the two airlines completed their merger in 2012.

According to the union, United is employing stalling tactics in hopes of forcing a concessionary contract on the flight attendants.

United’s concessionary proposals include new scheduling rules that, according to the union, would be “the worst in the industry.”

Scheduling rules not only affect when and where flight attendants work, they determine how much time they will have to rest, to spend with their families, and to enjoy their away-from-work life.

In a bargaining message to members, the union said that United wants to eliminate scheduling protections that flight attendants currently enjoy, so that the company can have “total discretion” in scheduling work..

The union also said that the company wants health care and retiree health care concessions.

The January 21 day of action included public picketing and meetings to discuss strike information at more than 20 locations.

“Flight attendants are done waiting for management to negotiate a (fair) contract,” said AFA presidents Ken Diaz (pre-merger United), Randy Hatfield (pre-merger Continental) and Kathleen Domondon (pre-merger Continental Micronesia). “We are serious about reaching an agreement flight attendants can be proud to ratify.  We are hopeful new leadership at United translates to efforts by management to conclude these negotiations and absent resolution we are preparing to exercise all of our legal options as necessary.”

One of those legal options is a contract bargaining strategy that AFA has successfully used since 1993 called CHAOS, or Create Havoc Around Our System.

Depending on the situation and the strengths and weaknesses of management, AFA employs the appropriate CHAOS tactic or tactics to give its members the maximum amount of bargaining leverage with the least amount of risk.

Some of the tactics used in past CHAOS campaigns include intermittent strikes, system wide strikes, a media campaign to warn potential customers of potential flight delays or cancellations, and actions that demonstrate union members’ solidarity and resolve.

In 1993, AFA was locked in a tough round of bargaining with Alaska Airlines. The company was looking to provoke a strike, so that it could use replacement workers to bust the union.

The union defeated the company’s anti-union strategy by creating CHAOS. In this particular case, the union used selective intermittent strikes, short strikes that end when workers agree to return to work unconditionally, to disrupt flights.

The tactics led to a new collective bargaining agreement that was strongly supported by the membership.

When United changed its leadership team in September, there was some optimism that the bargaining deadlock could be resolved without using CHAOS.

But optimism faded when United’s leadership continued using negotiators from the old leadership team and continued to insist on concessions at a time when United’s business is booming.

United recently reported $7.3 billion in net income for 2015, a 560 percent increase over 2014’s net income of $1.1 billion.

The company will use this surge in wealth to reward shareholders by buying back $3 billion worth of stock, which will also richly reward United executives who own stock in the company by increasing the price of their shares.

The huge increase in net income is primarily due to lower fuel costs. When fuel prices were rising, United and other airlines used the high cost of fuel to justify fare increases and new fees.

United has given no indication that it plans to lower fares or eliminate the fees, but it is returning some of its immense profits to passengers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, “starting in February, United . . . plans to bring back free snacks to passengers in economy seats.”

While passengers will be receiving their share of United’ profits in the form of peanuts, United flight attendants won’t be so lucky.

United still wants flight attendants to work longer and harder without adequately compensating them; moreover, the company wants more control over one of the workers’ most precious possessions, their own time.

The flight attendants on the other hand want a bigger piece of the profit pie. Part of this bigger piece should be in the form more worker control over their work schedules and the time that they spend away from work.

“We are standing up for our fair share of the profits we help create,” said Sara Nelson, AFA international president. “This isn’t just about United, it’s about setting the new standard for flight attendants across the industry.”

Europe inches toward implementing a Financial Transaction Tax

The finance ministers of ten European countries reached a tentative agreement in December on a plan for implementing a financial transaction tax (FTT), a small tax on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and other financial instruments.

Supporters of the tax say that even a tax as small as 0.01 percent on the trillions of euros worth of trades that take place in the 10 countries could generate billions of euros in public revenue that could be used to offset the austerity cuts to public services and public infrastructure.

A financial transaction tax would have the extra benefit of reducing the kind of market volatility and risk taking that led to the 2008 financial crisis.

The tentative agreement does not, however, mean that implementation of the financial transaction tax is a done deal. There are a number of details that need to be worked out and how these details are finally resolved will determine how much revenue the tax generates.

The finance ministers agreed to set a six-month deadline for working out the details of the final agreement.

Some supporters of the tax cheered the agreement.

Simon Chouffot, spokesperson for the Robin Hood Tax Campaign, which has been advocating for the tax, told Equal Times that the tentative agreement “is good news.”

“It was never an easy task to implement a new tax on the financial sector, but we are getting there,” said Chouffot to Equal Times. “And importantly, there seems to be an appetite for making the tax as broad as possible, so that it includes derivatives.”

Others were less sanguine.

The European Public Service Union (EPSU), a confederation of public sector unions whose member unions represent 8 million employees, expressed concern that as the ministers work out the details of the tax, they would grant exceptions that weaken it.

“The FTT is an opportunity to make the financial sector give something back to the societies from which it has taken so much over recent years,” said Jan Willem Goudriaan, general secretary of the EPSU. “The countries involved need to agree (to) a strong FTT, without loopholes. European governments have no problem coming to a decision on budget cuts, so they should be able to reach an agreement on the FTT.”

Discussions among European Union (EU) members about implementing a financial transaction tax began after the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, proposed that EU members coordinate their implementation of an FTT.

Progress toward implementation has come in fits and starts.

After failing to achieve a consensus of all 28 EU members, 11 nations–Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain–decided forge ahead with implementation.

Estonia didn’t agree with the terms of the tentative agreement and dropped out.

One of the details that needs to be worked out before a final agreement can be reached is who and what financial instruments will be subject to the tax.

Reuters reports that the tentative agreement stipulates that all share transactions would be taxed including derivatives.

France, however, has proposed exempting market makers, super large brokerage firms that keep markets liquid by buying and selling stocks that they own.

There also appears to be no agreement on the tax rate, and some worry that banks, which have opposed the FTT, will continue to lobby for more exemptions that would weaken the tax.

During the interim period, the finance ministers will also consider how the tax will affect large pension funds and sovereign debt markets.

Public support for a financial transaction tax is widespread in Europe. One poll found that 64 percent of the population in the countries considering implementation favor the tax.

Many of those who support the tax do so because their governments spent billions of euros bailing out banks that engaged in the risky financial speculation that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

The expense of saving the banks played a role in government decisions across Europe to implement austerity programs that resulted in reduced public investment in public infrastructure such as education, health care, transportation, and human services.

The FTT would allow governments to recoup some the bailout money and use it to invest in the public good.

The FTT would be “a much-needed boost for investment to tackle unemployment, generate growth, make Europe more competitive and deal with the refugee crisis,” said Julian Scola, head of communications at the European Trade Union Confederation to Equal Times.

It would also enable Europe “to invest in education and training, in infrastructure, in the shift to a low-carbon economy, in research and development, and in health, housing and social care,” added Scola.

CTU urges City Council to sue predatory lenders and demands mayor’s resignation

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) on January 12 urged Chicago’s City Council to take legal action against predatory lenders whose alleged illegal conduct could cost the city and its schools as much as $1.4 billion.

According to CTU and the Chicago Tribune, Bank of America and other financial institutions marketed risky derivative deals called interest rate swaps as safe insurance against potential interest rate increases on school bonds.

The Chicago Public School district is currently facing a budget deficit that could cause the layoff of 5000 teachers and other public school employees. CTU is negotiating with school district on a new collective bargaining agreement and is fighting the proposed layoffs.

The head of the school district was appointed by and reports to Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

A week earlier, CTU’s House of Delegates  overwhelmingly voted for a resolution calling for the resignation of Mayor Emanuel.

The resolution criticized Emanuel’s divestment in public education, which the resolution says “(has harmed) Chicago’s public schools and working-class neighborhoods” and his actions in trying to cover up the facts in the police shooting of Laquan McDonald, a 17 year-old African American high school student shot and killed by a white Chicago police officer as McDonald was walking away from the officer.

In calling on the City Council to take legal action against financial institutions that sold the questionable interest rate swaps, CTU President Karen Lewis said that the union had strong evidence showing that Bank of America and others broke the law.

The interest rate swaps were essentially bets on the volatility of the auction-rate bond market, where the school district sold some of its variable rate bonds.

If the market’s interest rates increased, the swaps would protect the school district from paying higher interest rates. If, however, interest rates declined, the school district would owe the swaps’ sellers hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties

CTU has obtained internal e-mails from 2007 showing that Bank of America had knowledge that the auction-rate market was about to crater causing interest rates to drop precipitously. The bank, however, did not share this information with the school district putting the district on the hook for $450 million in penalty payments.

Furthermore, according to the union, Bank of America and other banks “illegally (colluded) to manipulate the interest rates.”

“We should take legal action to cancel the deals, get out of penalties and claw back losses,” said CTU President Karen Lewis. “The standard industry practice was for banks to emphasize the potential upside of these deals, but downplay the risks. This is a violation of the ‘fair dealing’ rule that governs municipal finance.”

In addition to the $450 in swaps penalties, CTU wants $850 million in swap payments returned.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the swap deals “contributed to (the school district’s) ongoing financial troubles.”

In response to these financial troubles, Mayor Emanuel has closed 50 schools mostly in predominately African American and Latino neighborhoods despite the strenuous objections of parents and community members, laid off teachers and other school employees, which caused overcrowding in classrooms, and under funded wrap around services to students such as counseling, libraries, and psychological support.

The union in its resolution calling for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation said that Emanuel’s cuts to school wrap around services contributed to McDonald’s death.

While McDonald posed no threat to the officer who shot him, McDonald was a troubled young man.

He spent most of his life in foster care and suffered from severe psychological trauma.

According to CTU’s resolution, McDonald’s fate “may have been altered had his mental health needs been met both in and out of school.”

In addition to not adequately funding school counseling services, Emanuel also closed six of city’s 12 mental health clinics.

CTU’s call for Mayor Emanuel’s resignation and its call for legal action to recover more than $1 billion resulting from questionable swaps deals, comes at a time when the union is negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the school district.

CTU is aiming to stop the proposed layoffs, improve teaching and learning conditions in schools, and improve the district’s wrap around services, especially in low-income communities.

Union members took the first step toward improving Chicago public education when 88 percent of the membership voted in December to authorize a strike unless the new collective bargaining agreement allows for investment rather than divestment in Chicago’s public schools.

After the vote, CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey urged the mayor and his school CEO to “listen to what teachers and educators are trying to tell you: do not cut the schools anymore, do not make the layoffs that you have threatened; instead, respect educators and give us the tools we need to do our jobs.”

“Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike, but we do demand that you listen to us,” added Sharkey.

Flint, MI residents poisoned by austerity.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has finally acknowledged that a decision by emergency managers who he appointed to impose austerity measures on cash strapped cities resulted in the poisoning of the water supply of Flint, Michigan.

Gov. Snyder apologized to the residents of Flint, but his apology seems to be too little too late.

After Snyder’s emergency managers decided to switch the city’s source of water from Detroit to the Flint River, lead seeped into the water supply exposing many including Flint’s children to the threat of lead poisoning.

According to the World Health Organization, lead is highly toxic especially to children. Children with elevated levels of lead in their blood can “suffer profound and permanent adverse health effects, particularly affecting the development of the brain and nervous system.”

In September, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center, reported that in the last two years, the percentage of Flint’s children with elevated levels of lead in their blood has doubled. For children living in the poorer sections of the city, the percentage has tripled.

How did this public health disaster happen?

The events that led to the poisoning of Flint’s water supply began in 2011 with the passage of Public Act 4, which expanded the authority of emergency managers appointed by the governor to impose austerity measures on cities and other local government bodies under extreme financial stress. Gov. Snyder was a strong supporter of Public Act 4.

Flint like a number of cities in Michigan was under extreme financial stress because of the decline of the auto industry and cutbacks in state funding–$55 million over ten years.

Like almost all of the cities and other local governing bodies that had emergency managers appointed by Gov. Snyder, Flint is a majority African American community. Fifty-two percent of Flint’s residents are African American.

Gov. Snyder in 2011 appointed the first Flint emergency manager. He appointed three other Flint emergency managers one after another over the next four years.

Flint’s elected officials had no control over the decisions made by emergency managers, who fired workers, broke their collective bargaining contracts, cut retiree pensions and health care benefits, and reduced city services, so that Flint could continue to make timely debt payments to banks and other bondholders.

In 2013, the then emergency manager Ed Kratz, decided to save $5 million by switching the city’s source of water from the city of Detroit to the Flint River.

In 2014, another emergency manager Darnell Early declined an offer to reinstate Flint’s water supply contract with Detroit because doing so would cost too much.

Water from the Flint River began flowing into the city’s antiquated water pipes in April 2014.

By May, residents were complaining about the city’s water quality.

They wouldn’t know until later that the high concentration of salt in the Flint River was corroding the city’s old, lead-line water pipes leaching lead into the water.

E coli bacteria was also found in the water.

In June 2015, the US Environmental Protection Agency started inquiring about Flint’s water problems, but the state ignored resident’s complaints..

There was concern by some staff in the Michigan Environment Quality Department, but a spokesman for the department in July 2015 made a public statement that Flint’s water was safe and told residents to relax.

In August a team of researchers from Virginia Tech tested Flint’s water and found that it contained 900 times the recommended maximum amount of lead. One of the researchers likened Flint’s water to a contaminated waste dump.

In September, Dr. Hanna-Attisha announced her findings about the high incidence of lead in children’s blood. Instead of acting on this information, state officials tried to discredit her research.

A spokesperson for Gov. Snyder said that Hanna-Attisha’s data was unreliable because it was “spliced and diced.”

Gov. Snyder ended the emergency manager’s term in April 2015, and in October the city switched back to using Detroit as its source of water, but it was too late to undo the damage.

In December, Flint’s new mayor declared a state of emergency saying that lead in the city’s water had done irreparable harm.

People are drinking bottled water to avoid drinking the contaminated water.

Outrage about the emergency managers’ original decision and the attempt by state leaders to cover up the fallout from the decision has continued to grow.

The documentary filmmaker Michael Moore is circulating a petition calling for the arrest of Gov. Snyder for poisoning Flint’s water.

The racist implications of the original decision and the subsequent cover up can’t be ignored. “We are left to wonder: Would this happen in a majority-white city?” write Louise Seamster and Jessica Welburn in The Root.

T-Mobile worker rights violations bring attention to Deutsche Telekom

Two European investment management companies have expressed concern about the way that T-Mobile, the US’ third largest wireless carrier company, treats its US workers to Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile’s German owner.

Reuters reports that APG Asset Management, which manages the Dutch government’s pension assets, and Norges Bank Investment Manager, which manages the Norwegian Pension Fund Global, told Deutsche Telekom that they were concerned about recent rulings by two US judges who ruled that T-Mobile had broken US labor laws.

“Human capital management is very important to us,” said APG sustainability specialist Anna Pot to Reuters.  “It is an important indicator of the quality of management.”

APG also told Reuters that it is in the process of examining its investment in Deutsche Telekom, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies.

According to Reuters, APG and Norges are two of Deutsche Telecom’s major investors.

APG’s and Norges’ expressions of concern comes on the heels of another complaint about the way that T-Mobile treats its workers.

Fourteen members of the US Congress on December 18 sent a letter to their German counterparts urging German lawmakers to investigate why Deutsche Telekom allows its US subsidiary to continue to violate workers’ rights.

The German government owns a 30 percent share in Deutsche Telekom.

According to the letter T-Mobile’s record on workers’ rights violation is worse than Walmart’s.

The recent interest in workers’ rights at T-Mobile is the result of an organizing campaign by the Communication Workers of America (CWA) and its union of T-Mobile workers called T-Mobile Workers United.

T-Mobile Workers United has been waging a campaign for better pay and improved working conditions, but T-Mobile policies have made it difficult for workers to take collective action.

CWA and T-Mobile United filed charges about these policies with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and in March, an NLRB administrative judge ruled that T-Mobile was guilty of 11 counts of violating US labor laws.

Among other things, Judge Christine Dibble ruled that T-Mobile’s policy that subject workers to disciplinary actions including being fired for talking to each other about their wages or complaining to each other about working conditions is illegal.

According to Judge Dibble, T-Mobile’s policies “would chill employees in the exercise of their…rights” and restricts worker rights “to engage in protected concerted activities, including unionizing efforts.”

Despite the ruling, T-Mobile is still trying to control communications among its workers about wages and working conditions.

In July, a T-Mobile worker posted a petition on seeking to change in a new T-Mobile compensation policy that hurts call center workers’ pay.

After posting the petition, he used e-mail to inform other workers about the petition, which is his legal right to do.

Within 15 minutes of posting his e-mail, he posted another e-mail saying that he was taking down the petition in order to comply with company policy.

After his second e-mail, T-Mobile Executive Vice President John Freier informed employees by e-mail that the employee’s e-mail wasn’t “an appropriate way to solicit feedback,” suggesting that despite the judge’s ruling, the company would continue to restrict workers’ speech and their ability to take collective action.

During the night of the same day, Freier sent another e-mail clarifying his earlier e-mail. The clarification, which said that as required by law employees could communicate with each other about pay, was either made to cover his tracks for continuing to enforce an illegal company policy or because he had been unaware of the judge’s ruling.

In either case, the intended effect was accomplished–the petition was withdrawn and collective action was squelched.

In another case, a South Carolina female call center worker filed a sexual harassment complaint with the company’s human relations department against her supervisor.

She was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement and told that she could be fired if she discussed the complaint with anyone else. She was also told to report back to work under the same supervisor.

Because she couldn’t tolerate working under the supervisor who harassed her, she quit.

Later with the help of the union, she filed a charge with the NLRB, and in August, an administrative law judge ruled that T-Mobile’s non-disclosure agreement and threat of firing was illegal.

According to the US lawmakers’ letter, these judgments against T-Mobile demonstrate a willful pattern of unlawful activity against the rights of T-Mobile workers.

In their letter, the US lawmakers said that T-Mobile appears to treat its US workers “as exploitable,” which makes Deutsche Telekom a party to actions that wouldn’t be tolerated in Germany.

Deutsche Telekom’s “double standard is disturbing and unacceptable,” wrote the lawmakers.

Judge rules that TX fails its foster children; blames high worker caseloads for the failure

Before the Christmas holidays, a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas ruled that Texas’ foster care program has failed to protect children in its care and said that she would appoint a Special Master to oversee improvements to the program.

In her ruling, Judge Janis Jack blamed the state’s failure on the excessively high caseloads of the state’s foster care primary caseworkers, who according to Jack, are “tasked with ensuring the safety, permanency, and well being of foster care children” and “make life and death decisions every day.”

The high caseloads have “caused a substantial risk of serious harm to foster children,” wrote Jack.

In addition, “unmanageable caseloads” lead to a high turnover rate among caseworkers, which leads to diminished care and safety for foster children.

“Judge Jack’s decision echoes what we’ve been calling for many years. We need lower caseloads to better protect the state’s most vulnerable children,” said Myko Gedutis, assistant organizing coordinator for the Texas State Employees Union CWA Local 6186.

Judge Jack made her ruling after hearing testimony in a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of Texas’ foster children by Children’s Rights, a national children’s advocacy group.

The Children’s Rights’ suit asserts that Texas’ failure to protect its foster children violated the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution. Judge Jack agreed.

The Texas foster care program is operated by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). The agency investigates reports of child abuse.

If the investigation is substantiated, DFPS may remove the children from their homes and go to court to seek conservatorship of the children. While the children are in conservatorship, the State of Texas is responsible for their care and safety.

While in conservatorship, children may be placed in foster homes, group homes, which care for six to 12 children, or general residential homes, which care for 12 or more children.

During the trial, Judge Jack heard grim testimony from adults who had been foster care children in Texas.

In summing up their testimony, Judge Jack wrote:

Their experiences . . . paint a similar picture: children often enter foster care at the Basic service level, are assigned a carousel of overburdened caseworkers, suffer abuse and neglect that is rarely confirmed or treated, are shuttled between placements— often inappropriate for their needs—throughout the State, are migrated through schools at a rate that makes academic achievement impossible, are medicated with psychotropic drugs, and then age out of foster care at the Intense service level, damaged, institutionalized, and unable to succeed as adults.

Judge Jack also heard from experts who testified that the foster care case workers’ caseload is too high.

Dr. Viola Miller, who managed two state child welfare programs and has 40 years of experience in the field, testified that in order to keep children from falling through the cracks, caseworker caseload should range from 14 to 17 children at a time.

Judge Jack in her ruling also noted that the Child Welfare League of America, the nation’s oldest and largest child welfare organization, recommends a caseworker caseload of 12 to 15 children while the Council on Accreditation for Services to Children and Families recommends a caseload of 8 to 15 children.

But DFPS puts no limit on the size of caseloads.

In 2014, 43 percent of foster care caseworkers had caseloads of 21 children or higher.

Judge Jack wrote that caseloads were likely higher than reported because DFPS counts some workers who aren’t primary caseworkers as caseworkers.

High caseloads lead to a high caseworker turnover rate, which lead to a lack of continuity and institutional knowledge.

The turnover rate for Texas’ foster care caseworkers was 26.7 percent in 2014. Caseworker turnover in Kentucky and Tennessee for the same period was 14 percent to 15 percent and 10 percent to 12 percent respectively.

According to Judge Jack, DFPS has been aware of the problems caused by unmanageable caseloads and high turnover but has remained “deliberately indifferent.”

DFPS attempts to improve the program have been failures, wrote Jack.

One such effort, called Foster Care Redesign seeks to privatize much of the foster care case management work.

Judge Jack called Foster Care Redesign “an abject failure” and noted that “even though Foster Care Redesign may have been conceived with good intentions, it was defective and half-baked from the start.”

The judge also found that the state did not have enough staff to inspect group homes and residential care homes where most foster children live.

Judge Jack recommended changes that include among other things establishing reasonable caseloads for caseworkers and group home and residential care inspectors, hiring enough caseworkers and inspectors so that these workers can adequately perform their duties, and taking steps to lower the high turnover rate.

“Judge Jack’s ruling sends a clear message that the foster care status quo is unacceptable,” said Gedutis.

A Special Master will be appointed by January 16. The Special Master will work with DFPS on a plan to implement the judge’s recommendation and will oversee the implementation of the plan.

DFPS has 180 days after the appointment of the Special Master to present its implementation plan to the judge.

DFPS has not said whether it will appeal the judge’s ruling.

Bankruptcy judge rules against retired miners

A federal bankruptcy judge on December 28 ruled that Walter Energy can stop making pension and retiree health care contributions, leaving 2,800 retired coal miners and their dependents in peril.

Walter Energy, which operates coal mines near Birmingham, Alabama, filed for bankruptcy in July.

A group of Walter’s creditors led by some of the nation’s largest private equity firms such as Apollo Group Management, Blackstone, and KKR is negotiating to buy Walter.

The potential purchasers demanded that Walter cut wages and substantially reduce its pension and retiree health care contributions.

Federal bankruptcy judge Tamara Mitchell’s ruling allows Walter to terminate its collective bargaining agreement with the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), which in turn allows Walter to discontinue its pension and retiree health care contributions.

“The decision announced today by Judge Mitchell . . . rejecting our collective bargaining agreement with Walter Energy and wiping out Walter’s obligation to pay retiree health care and pension benefits is extremely disappointing but not surprising,” said Cecil Roberts, UMWA international president. “The law is stacked against workers in American bankruptcy courts. A lifetime of hard work and dedication means nothing to the courts.”

Walter Energy retirees, who made the coal company a thriving enterprise in its heyday, will now have to worry about the status of their pensions.

Because they receive their pension from a defined benefit pension fund established for all UMWA members, they will continue to receive their monthly pension for the time being.

But their pension fund will be weakened because Walter will no longer be making pension contributions.

To make matters worse, their pension fund is already in critical status because the number of union coal mines has been on the decline for two decades, which means that pension contributions have been declining as well.

While the judge ruled that Walter can stop making pension and retiree health care contributions, she also ruled that Walter can pay $2 million in retention bonuses to 26 executives and managers at Walter’s two Alabama coal mines.

“The life or death decisions vulnerable senior citizens will now be forced to make mean nothing to the courts,” said Roberts. “Apparently all that matters is that executives get bonuses and Wall Street raiders get paid. If this is justice in America, then something is very, very wrong.”

Walter, which produces metallurgical coal for steel and coke production, has been hit hard by the economic downturn in the steel industry.

It has failed to turn a profit since 2011.

Despite its poor performance Walter executives continued to receive performance bonuses during this period. reports that in 2014, three Walter executives received bonuses that amounted to 80 percent of their total compensation for 2013.

The president of Jim Walter Resources, Walter’s largest division, received a $400,000 bonus in 2014.

From 2011 to 2014, Walter CEO Walt Scheller saw his annual compensation increase by 140 percent to $6.3 million.

Roberts said that the judge’s ruling was “especially galling” in light of the fact that the interests of management and creditors have been protected while miners and retirees have “been stripped of everything.”

Despite the setback, Roberts said that the union is continuing to negotiate for a collective bargaining agreement that protects active and retired miners.

“I want to be very clear: This decision does nothing to slow our effort to maintain a union contract at Walter Energy operations nor does it end our fight to maintain retiree health care benefits,” said Roberts. ”

UMWA is continuing to negotiate with Walter management and its lenders who have offered to buy the company.

“I sincerely hope we can reach an agreement. We will advise our members regarding the progress of those talks as soon as we can,” said Roberts.