NY Taxi union wins lost pay for Uber drivers; says that Uber owes much more

The New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA) has won a big victory over Uber, which will result in millions of dollars in lost wages being returned to drivers.

NYTWA says that Uber owes much more than the millions that it has agreed to return to drivers and that the taxi workers’ union will continue to fight to get all of the money owed by Uber to drivers.

“Uber is sending you back money it claims it took from you by mistake,” said an NYTWA message to Uber drivers. “Basically, we have Uber cornered so they are trying to pull a fast one and avoid the court and avoid paying drivers everything you are owed. Nice try, Uber. But the drivers are going to win this one!”

NYTWA on May 12 filed an amendment to an earlier suit against Uber. The original suit filed in July 2016 charges Uber with wage theft and misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

The amendment charges Uber with acting unlawfully when it makes drivers pay the sales taxes and black car surcharges that are included in fares charged to customers.

A week after the union filed its suit, Uber announced that it had miscalculated its portion of the fares taken in New York City and would be returning tens of millions of dollars to drivers.

According to Uber, it calculated its commission on the full amount of the fare including taxes and surcharges when it should have deducted the taxes and surcharges before calculating its commission.

But the union argues that Uber’s offer to reimburse workers for lost wages doesn’t compensate drivers for all the money that the company owes them because drivers will still be paying taxes that should be paid by the company.

“Uber drivers are owed back the entire tax and (black car) surcharge amount that Uber unlawfully stole from you!” reads the NYTWA message.

If the union’s suit prevails, Uber will owe much more to its drivers.

The New York Times reports that after examining relevant documents, it has concluded that the Uber’s current method for calculating its commission “could have cost drivers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

NYTWA urged Uber drivers not to sign anything that the company might use at a later date to get out of returning  more money that it owes its drivers.

“When they ask for your bank account information make sure you are not signing anything that says by accepting this money you are giving up any claims for other money owed to you,” said NYTWA’s message.

 

 

Unions support Haitian immigrants; demand long-term protected status

Bowing to public pressure, the Trump administration extended the temporary protected status (TPS) of 58,000 Haitian workers living in the US, but only for six months.

The extension means that thousands of Haitians living and working in the US won’t face the threat of immediate deportations.

But they are still living in a precarious state because in six months the administration could change its mind.

Unions supporting the Haitian workers were glad to hear that an extension had been granted but criticized the short-term reprieve and vowed to continue to fight for a long-term solution.

“Forcing refugees from a devastated country to live on edge for six months is unacceptable,” said Jeremy Cruz-Haicken president of UNITE HERE Local 737 in Central Florida, where many Haitian immigrants live.  “These hardworking, tax-paying refugees support Central Florida’s economy, and they deserve long-term certainty. We’ll take these six months to fight for a long-term solution.”

Rocio Saenz, SEIU executive vice president, said that the extension was good but too short.

“Doing so for only six months – instead of the 18 month extensions that have been granted in the past – leaves Haitians with TPS in limbo, unable to plan their lives,” said Saenz.

He added that “the fight for another extension must begin immediately.”

The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program allows the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to grant temporary protected status to immigrants from countries where conditions are unsafe for them to return–countries such as Haiti.

That protection was extended to Haitians living in the US in 2010 after an earthquake devastated their country and left millions homeless.

TPS allows Haitians to live and work in the US without fear of being deported.

Since coming to the US, many Haitians have found work in the food service, hospitality, health care, and tourist industries and some are members of unions including SEIU and UNITE HERE.

Their protected status was up for review, and DHS had to decide before July 22 whether to extend or deny TPS to Haitians.

Under the Obama administration, DHS had reviewed the protected status of Haitians three times and extended their TPS by 18 months each time.

But word had gotten out that the current DHS Secretary John Kelly was considering denying TPS to Haitians because he believed that conditions in Haiti are improving.

But that is hardly the case. After the earthquake, 1.5 million people were left homeless, and seven years after the earthquake tens of thousands remain homeless.

After the earthquake, the United Nations sent peacekeepers to Haiti to provide security, but the peacekeepers brought cholera, which caused an epidemic throughout the country sickening 800,000 and killing nearly 10,000. The epidemic continues unabated.

In 2016, a category 4 hurricane hit Haiti inflicting damages totaling $1.9 billion to a country that the World Bank calls the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world.

59 percent of Haitians live under the national poverty level, which is an income of $2.42 a day.

Lifting the protected status of Haitians would have meant that thousands of people living and working in the US would be deported to a land where they have neither homes nor jobs nor prospects.

That specter led to public protests and calls for the government to extend the protected status of Haitians.

A week before DHS announced its six month extension, 2000 people demonstrated at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Orlando, Florida where hundreds of Haitian workers are employed to demand that the Trump administration extend long-term protected status to Haitian refugees.

DHS also heard from humanitarian organizations, unions, business, and elected officials urging it to extend the protected status of Haitians.

The Haitian government told DHS that the current conditions in Haiti make it difficult for the country to absorb the return of so many people.

“The legal and policy case for extending TPS for Haitians was overwhelming,” said SEIU’s Saenz. “Haiti cannot safely handle so many returning deportees because it has not yet recovered from the devastating 2010 earthquake, last October’s hurricane, or a continuing deadly cholera epidemic that was first brought to the island by peacekeepers sent by the UN to help with earthquake reconstruction.”

After DHS announced that it was extending TPS to Haitians for another six months, there was some relief but there was also anxiety that in another six months they could find themselves deported to country where their safety is in peril.

The same holds true for other immigrants who have been granted TPS, which caused Saenz to call for a TPS extension for all who came from countries still recovering from natural disasters and wars.

Saenz also said that the US needs a more enlightened immigration policy.

“We call for a new level-headed approach to other decisions affecting immigrants,” said Saenz. “Stop wasting taxpayer resources to deport persons who have lived here for years who pose no danger to public safety. Restore America’s tradition as a place of refuge, and embrace the Constitution’s protection of religious minorities, including Muslims. And overall work to integrate immigrants to our nation instead of demonizing them and building walls.”

AT&T workers on strike!

A strike by 40,000 Communication Workers of America (CWA) members closed AT&T stores across the US.

Union members went on a three-day strike that began on Friday, May 19 to protest AT&T’s lack of respect for its workers.

Despite reporting hefty profits of nearly a $1 billion a month, said CWA District 1 Vice President Dennis Trainor, “AT&T continues to pinch its workers’ basic needs and stand in the way of high-quality service (that) its customers pay good money for.”

Trainor said that AT&T has been outsourcing what were once good-paying jobs to third party contractors who pay low wages and few benefits.

He also complained that AT&T wants to reduce worker health care benefits and is unwilling to give its union workers a pay raise that sufficiently rewards them for their contribution to the company’s success.

Striking workers belong to four different bargaining units that are negotiating four different contracts.

The AT&T Orange Mobility contract covers 21,000 call center and retail workers in 36 states; the AT&T West contract covers 15,000 workers in California and Nevada, the AT&T East contract covers 2000 workers in Connecticut, and the DirecTV contract covers 2000 workers in California and Nevada.

The AT&T West contract expired more than a year ago, and the AT&T Orange Mobility contract expired in February.

DirecTV workers, are negotiating their first collective bargaining agreement. AT&T acquired DirecTV in 2015.

One of the workers’ main concerns is that their new contracts protect their jobs against outsourcing.

AT&T has eliminated 12,000 call center jobs, or 30 percent of its call center workforce, in the US and shipped those jobs abroad to a network of 38 call centers in eight foreign countries.

According to a recent report by the CWA, contractors operating these call centers pay their workers “pennies on the dollar compared to US wages.”

AT&T is also outsourcing retail store jobs to third party contractors.

“AT&T has moved more than 60 percent of its wireless retail jobs to third-party dealers that create profit for the company but cause major headaches for workers and customers alike,” writes  Carissa Moore, a CWA member in the state of Washington, who audits customer accounts for AT&T.

Workers are losing good paying jobs and customers are getting poor service, continues Moore.

“AT&T’s third-party dealers are misleading and misinforming people of all ages and backgrounds in Seattle and across the country,” writes Moore. “I’ve seen customers get pushed to add products and services they don’t need, under the guise of being free, and receive unexpected charges and activation fees that weren’t disclosed that increase their monthly bills.”

The striking workers say that while the strike may inconvenience some customers in the short run, in the long run customers will benefit if more of the work is brought back in house and done by workers directly accountable to AT&T and their customers.

James Stiffey, an AT&T retail worker in Pittsburg, said that he was on strike because AT&T is disrespecting both its workers and its customers.

“Our strike is about demanding conditions that allow us to provide better service for customers too,” said Stiffey. “We are standing together to win a fair contract that protects customers, families and entire communities—and we’ll do whatever it takes to get it.”

CWA members spent much of the three-day strike picketing AT&T retail stores. Fortune reports that the strike closed AT&T retail stores from Montana, to Chicago, to Bangor, Maine.

“As a father, striking is not an easy decision for me,” said Mark Bautista, an AT&T wireline worker in California. “But to make sure I can give my kids the future they deserve, we must take a stand against any and all attempts to skimp on good jobs and financial security. And our fight for a fair contract is about more than just my co-workers and me—it’s about fighting a system that’s been rigged against us and way too many others for far too long. On the picket lines today, I’ll be chanting ‘No Contract, No Peace,’ until I lose my voice.”

Although the strike ended at 12:01 A.M. Monday morning, Bautista and other CWA members said that if AT&T doesn’t listen to its workers, they’re willing to strike again, and next time, it could be for more than just three days.

Teachers union: Wall Street puts the big squeeze on pension funds

A report by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) says that excessive fees charged by Wall Street fund managers are hurting public pensions funds.

Calling the fees an unfair transfer of wealth from working people to Wall Street, the report recommends that public pension funds renegotiate the fees that fund managers are charging and demand more fee transparency from the managers.

For many years, most public pension funds invested in traditional assets such as bonds and high quality stocks.

But during the last 15 years, pension funds have substantially increased their investments in alternative assets such as private equity funds, hedge funds, real estate, commodities, and derivatives.

The AFT report estimates that 25 percent of public pension investments are now in alternative assets.

Alternative assets have become an attractive investment because they offer higher rates of return.

The problem, according to the AFT report, is that the investment firms managing the alternative asset investments for pension funds charge high and hidden fees that substantially reduce the pension funds’ rate of return on investment.

The report, entitled The Big Squeeze, said Randi Weingarten, AFT’s president, “documents the harm to pension funds and state budgets” done by the oversized and hidden fees of alternative asset fund managers.

One of the oversized fees referred to by Weingarten is a 2 percent fee on managed assets called a performance fee. Fund managers get the fee whether the investment’s performance is good or bad. The other is a 20 percent share of gross profits that fund managers take off the top.

Weingarten said that AFT is working with pension funds to reduce the 2/20 fee structure. Doing so would save billions that could be used to make pension funds stronger.

The Big Squeeze examines 12 large public pension funds that have invested in alternative assets.

Alternative assets have become more popular because the companies that manage them have marketed them as high-return investments.

But the promised higher returns come at a price.

The companies that sell and manage alternative asset investments charge hefty fees for their services.

In addition to the typical 2/20 fee structure, fund managers also charge fees for administration, legal services, and transaction services.

We know that these additional fees mount up over time, but we don’t know by how much because fund managers won’t divulge the amount of the fees. That information, according to managers is proprietary information not for public disclosure.

These hidden fees, which can be substantial, deprive investors of information they need to know.

 

The Big Squeeze recommends that pension funds demand that asset managers fully disclose all their fees and that pension renegotiate the standard 2/20 fee structure.

The report recommends reducing the standard fee structure to 0.9 percent of funds under management and 9 percent of profits.

Had the 0.9/9 fee structure been in place, the 12 pension funds examined in The Big Squeeze would have saved $3.8 billion a year, or $19 billion over five years.

The savings and the return on investment that the savings would have generated would have gone a long way toward securing and fortifying the retirement security for millions of workers.

Some of the pension funds examined in The Big Squeeze are under funded. That is, their assets to liabilities ratio over a 31-year period is below 80 percent.

Right wing critics of defined benefit pensions have jumped on the under funding problem citing it as the main reason that pensions should be eliminated and replaced with less secure retirement savings accounts.

The Big Squeeze argues that reducing alternative asset fees and making them more transparent would return billions to pension funds and put them on a path toward full funding.

Weingarten said that there is evidence to show that cutting excessive fund management fees can help pension funds regain their financial footing.

“By calling out these pernicious practices and working closely with pension trustees and legislative allies, we’ve begun to see fees cut and fee structures for hedge fund and private equity managers exposed,” said Weingarten. “This is a win-win situation—revealing these practices means would-be fees are redirected back into retirement systems to address the so-called under funding of (pensions) and to ensure retirees can get the retirement security they’ve been promised.”

 

Flight attendant union to Wall Street: raises were fair, punishment wasn’t

The leader of the American Airlines flight attendants union hit back at Wall Street for punishing the airline for giving pay raises to its pilots and flight attendants.

“It seems Wall Street is putting pressure on the airline industry to squeeze out more revenue, but they could care less about passengers or front-line workers, ” said Bob Ross, national president of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Ross made his comments after a CitiGroup analyst named Kevin Crissey  criticized American for giving its pilots and flight attendants pay raises that brought their salaries up to the same level as their counterparts at Delta and United airlines.

In a note to investors, Crissey griped that the pay raises were “frustrating (because) labor is being paid first again (my emphasis). Shareholders get the leftovers.”

Crissey was not alone. Other Wall Street analyst downgraded their assessment of American causing the price of the airline’s stock to plummet.

In rebuttal, Ross wrote an opinion piece that appeared in Aviation Weekly setting the record straight.

First of all, American has been extremely generous to its shareholders.

Ross points out that between 2014 and 2016, American authorized stock buybacks worth $9 billion to investors, and during the same period, the company paid investors $600 million a year in dividends.

Combined, the stock buybacks and the dividends are substantially more than the $1 billion over three years that the employee raises will cost.

Ross goes on to describe the sacrifices that he and his fellow workers made to keep the company operating after the airline industry downturn following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on New York and Washington DC.

Workers gave American $6 billion worth of wage and benefit concessions during the decade that followed 2001.

Those concessions meant that some of his fellow union members lost their homes, cars, and savings.

Finally Ross criticized Wall Street for its short-term thinking. Ross called the employee raises an investment in frontline staff, which American needed to make to remain competitive.

“Underpaying key front-line employees leads to high turnover and low morale, which is not a recipe for quality service. Treating workers fairly is a better long-term strategy,” said Ross.

While Wall Street was punishing American for being too generous to its employees, it continued to support extravagant pay for CEOs.

According to the New York Times, “in advisory votes that S&P 500 companies held for their shareholders on executive pay last year, they received average support of 91 percent.”

Referring the an AFL-CIO Executive Pay Watch report, the Times goes on to report that in 2016, CEO pay raises averaged 6 percent and that the average CEO pay in 2016 was $13.1 million.

The AFL-CIO Executive Pay Watch report shows that the pay gap between CEO’s and workers continues to grow.

The average pay in 2016 for CEOs was 347 times greater than the average pay for workers,  that’s up from 335 times greater in 2015.

The fact that Wall Street considers pay increases for CEOs to be just the cost of doing business while it sees pay increases for workers as an aberration that must be contained explains why income equality continues to increase.

“Too often, corporations see workers as costs to be cut, rather than assets to be invested in,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “It’s shameful that CEOs can make tens of millions of dollars and still destroy the livelihoods of the hard-working people who make their companies profitable.”

Longshore workers support community effort to fight air pollution

International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 10 took a stand to support residents of Vallejo, California opposed to the construction of the Vallejo Marine Terminal and an adjacent cement production facility.

Residents are concerned that the proposed facility will increase air pollution, create more health risks, and lower their quality of life.

The people who will be most affected are those living in South Vallejo, a working class community where the majority of residents are Latino and African American.

At a recent media conference, Local 10 President Edwin Ferris explained why the union is opposing the project.

“ILWU Local 10 supports the citizens of Vallejo in their opposition to the proposed Vallejo Marine Terminal project,” said Ferris. “It would be quite irresponsible to support this proposed project at the expense of the health of the environment and the local community.”

Local 10 was joined at the media conference by local residents and environmental groups that are urging the Vallejo city council to reject the project. The city’s planning commission has already recommended that the project be rejected.

Orcem, an Irish company whose parent company is active in the European market making and selling cement made from ground granulated blast furnace slag, has proposed building the Vallejo project.

The company wants to construct a new marine terminal on the site of an abandoned grain mill, and a cement processing facility next to the terminal.

The terminal would receive ships from Mexico and Asia containing blast furnace slag, a rock-like waste left over from the iron- and steel making process.

The slag would be unloaded at the terminal and directed to the cement processing facility where it would be milled into a fine powder, which would then be turned into what the company calls “green cement.”

Orcem calls its finished product “green cement” because its production leaves a much lower carbon footprint than the production of traditional Portland cement.

The only problem is that the milling process, which turns the slag into a powder used to make cement, emits nitric oxide into the air. When nitric oxide combines with oxygen, it forms nitrogen dioxide.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nitrogen dioxide contributes to air pollution and can cause respiratory problems like asthma and other health problems.

Children and the elderly are especially at risk from the effects of nitrogen dioxide.

 

An Environmental Impact Report by city staff found that the Vallejo terminal project posed other threats to the community.

If the terminal and cement processing facility were to begin operating, 300 trucks a day would travel through the neighborhoods close to the terminal, generating more air pollution, traffic congestion, and noise.

The terminal would also depress property values in neighborhoods near the terminal.

Orcem was hoping that its promise of a green manufacturing plant and the new jobs that it would create would rally local support for the project.

The company estimates that the 15-month long construction project to build the terminal and cement plant would create 240,000 hours of union related construction work, which led the local labor council to support the project.

But the company has been more circumspect in predicting how many permanent jobs would remain after the construction work is done.

The terminal and the cement processing facility, both of which would operate 24 hours and day, seven days a week, would be highly automated; therefore, once construction is over, there is little likelihood of many permanent jobs remaining.

According to Fresh Air Vallejo, the environmental group leading the opposition to the project, there is a marine terminal and cement processing facility similar to the Vallejo project operating in Camden, New Jersey.

Owned and operated by the St. Lawrence Cement Company, it employs only 15 workers.

In return for these 15 jobs, the city of Camden receives 100 tons of air pollutants a year generated by the facility.

“We want something better than a toxic, 24/7 cement factory that will bring in shiploads of industrial waste to Vallejo’s waterfront,” said Peter Brooks with Fresh Air Vallejo.

Victory for Houston teachers in suit to protect their employment rights

US Magistrate Judge Stephen Smith on May 4 handed Houston public school teachers a victory when he allowed a suit against the local school district’s questionable teacher evaluation system to go to trial.

The judge said that the suit by seven teachers and their union, the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT), raises valid concerns about their employment rights.

HFT in 2014 filed the suit to stop the Houston Independent School District from using EVAAS, an automated system managed by a private contractor, to evaluate teacher performance.

The union filed the suit on behalf of seven high performing and award-winning teachers who received bad performance evaluations from EVAAS.

EVAAS is a value-added measure (VAM) software system marketed by its owner SAS as an analytical tool that measures the value that teachers add to their students’ education.

The software supposedly measures value added by using a secretive and proprietary algorithm that compares student standardized test scores over time.

The union’s suit describes EVAAS’ evaluation methodology as “complex and opaque.”

A 2014 study by education experts found that value-added measurement was not an effective way to evaluate teacher performance, but HISD as well as at least 30 states continued to use it.

HISD had sought a summary judgment to have the union’s suit dismissed, but Judge Smith on May 4 ruled against the district and allowed the suit to proceed.

“Houston developed an incomprehensible, unfair, and secret algorithm to evaluate teachers that had no rational meaning,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. “Judge Smith saw that it was seriously flawed and posed a threat to teachers’ employment rights; he rejected it. This is a huge victory for Houston teachers, their students, and educators’ deeply held contention that VAM is a sham.”

According to Audrey Amrein-Beardsley in her blog Vamboozled, VAM was developed by a statistician with the US Agriculture Department named William Sanders who thought that education achievement and teacher performance could best be evaluated by a statistical model similar to one he used to measure the development of animals.

He sold his VAM rights to SAS, a private company that sells software and data management consulting services to businesses and government agencies.

SAS used VAM to create EVAAS, which it then sold to school districts around the country that were trying to comply with the 2002 No Child Left Behind law that, among other things, encouraged states and school districts to use student standardized test scores to evaluate teacher performance.

At a cost of $500,000 a year, HISD in 2011 contracted with SAS to evaluate teacher performance by using EVAAS.

(Last year, the HISD Board of Education voted not to renew its evaluation contract with SAS.)

Judge Smith noted in his ruling that using a private contractor to evaluate teacher performance waiproblematic because SAS treats EVAAS as a trade secret and won’t divulge how the software evaluates teachers.

The union’s suit alleges that the secretive nature of EVAAS and VAM make it impossible for teachers who receive a poor EVAAS evaluation to challenge the evaluation, thus depriving them of due process.

“Due to a faulty, incomprehensible, and secret formula, good teachers are being labeled failures,” said Weingarten in 2014. “We have enough evidence to make clear that not only has VAM not worked, it has been really destructive and it in no way helps improve teaching and learning.”

At about the same time that the union filed its suit in 2014, Dr. Morgan Polikoff,  assistant professor of education at the Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, and Dr. Andrew Porter, dean and professor of education at the Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, published a paper questioning the effectiveness of VAM.

Polikoff said that there is little evidence to show that VAM is a reliable method for evaluating teacher performance.

“While value-added measures do provide some useful information, our findings show that they are not picking up things we think of as good teaching,” said Polikoff, whose research was funded by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation.

Given the extent to which VAM is being used, Polikoff said that his and Porter’s findings were “troubling.”

“Our results suggest that it’s going to be difficult to use (VAM-based) systems to improve teacher performance,” one of the selling points that SAS uses to market EVAAS.

Given the evidence against EVAAS and VAM and Judge Smith’s ruling, Zeph Capo, president of HFT, called on the school district to take immediate steps to right the wrong done by EVAAS.

“With (Judge Smith’s) decision, Houston should wipe clean the record of every teacher who was negatively evaluated,” said Capo. “From here on, teacher evaluation systems should be developed with educators to ensure that they are fair, transparent, and help inform instruction, not be used as a punitive tool.”