March 18, 2006
New Website: Know Your Pension
According to the Know Your Pension website's own description of its purpose:
This web site is designed to help you understand your pension plan, so you can ensure that your retirement nest egg is safe.
We all work very hard to have a financially secure retirement. Most of us are counting on our pension plans to be there when we finally get to kick off our boots for good. But too often today, pension plans are under funded. People retire, and the money they thought would be there for them simply isn´t.
So we created this web site for you. Think of it as a tool you can use to stay on top of your pension, and make sure that the money that is owed to you will be there when you retire. Take a look around, and don′t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or recommendations.
In these times of pension freezes and/or company bankruptcies involving the termination of pension plans seemingly every other day, I can't think of a more valuable resource for people to have at their disposal on the web.
A big welcome to the blogosphere to Know Your Pension!
Be a Productive Worker, Jump Into the Shower
From the article at CNNMoney.com (by Anne Fisher at Fortune):
But it's really, really hard, if not impossible, for the human brain to come up with fresh new ideas when its owner is overworked, overtired, and stressed out. And in today's wonderful world of nonstop work, 40% of American adults get less than seven hours of sleep on weeknights.
What scientists have only recently begun to realize is that people may do their best thinking when they are not concentrating on work at all. If you've ever had a great idea pop into your head while you were washing your car, walking your dog, or even napping, you already know what a team of Dutch psychologists revealed last month in the journal Science: The unconscious mind is a terrific solver of complex problems when the conscious mind is busy elsewhere or, perhaps better yet, not overtaxed at all.
Given that many American works more than 50 hours per week, this article provides a needed wake up call that creativity and other valued workplace attributes may only come about when we work less and relax more.
So get out there people and relax!
March 17, 2006
Stripper Workplace Rights
From Yahoo! News (through the AP), word from Down Under that Australian strippers and their union have won a significant labor victory.
According to the article:
The country's Industrial Relations Commission on Friday approved new workplace rules for members of the strippers' union, the Striptease Artists Australia.
"We've got rights to have public holiday pay now, which we've never had in our career before," said a union spokeswoman called Mystical Melody. "We've got rosters and set hours. We can't work more than 10 hours a shift."
The award also entitles unionized strippers to overtime, rest periods, meal breaks and maternity leave, she added.
I have to say that that is the best name for a union spokesperson ever.
Case Western Reserve President Resigns
Inside Higher Ed reports today that the president of Case Western Reserve University, Edward M. Hundert, has resigned, a couple of weeks after the faculty of the arts and sciences voted overwhelmingly no confidence in his leadership.
In his resignation letter, released yesterday, Hundert observed that the continuing tension between himself and the faculty was distracting from the business of the University. His resignation becomes effective September 1st.
According to the Inside Higher Ed piece:
Hundert, president at Case since 2002, has faced increasing criticism from professors over mounting deficits at the university and a management style that many faculty members said was secretive. Hundert has pushed for ambitious plans to improve undergraduate education, but fund raising has lagged, leading to numerous budget cuts that have angered professors. Many also said that Hundert had ignored their warnings about financial problems and moved ahead on academic initiatives without consulting them.
Hundert’s presidency is the second in a row that has failed at Case.
David Auston quit as president in 2001, not having lasted two years in office, amid reports of tensions with the board over an attempt to redefine the university’s relationship with its teaching hospital. Hundert became president in 2002, having previously served as dean of the medical school at the University of Rochester.
Employers Adopting More High-Deductible Health Plans, But Are Employees On Board?
PlanSponsor.com is reporting about a survey by Wyatt
Worldwide and the National Business Group on Health of
585 mid-sized and large companies about the current use
of high deductible health plans (HDHPs).
In that survey, companies were asked whether they were
now offering a (HDHP) with a health savings account (HSA)or
health reimbursement account (HRA). Of those responding, 29% indicated that
they are now offering such options as opposed to 13% a year ago. An
additional 33% except to offer such plans in 2007. So far, so good.
Although those numbers must be encouraging to those who champion these
consumer-driven health care plans (including the Bush Administration),
there is still much reason to believe that employees are finding
these plans either to be too expensive, too complicated to understand, or
some combination of both.
In the same survey, the median employee enrollment in such plans was
only 7%. Moreover, only a little more than half of the companies offering
such health care options (59%) find such plans effective at controlling
health care cost increases. So even employers seem somewhat skeptical.
In short, there is still a long way to go before HDHPs and HSAs are
accepted not only by the nation's employers as a viable alternative health
care delivery system, but more importantly, employees still appear unconvinced
that such plans are in their best interest.
March 16, 2006
Wagner Moot Court Finals to be Webcast Live
The final teams will argue (1) whether undocumented workers are precluded from back pay and other damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; and (2) whether an employee can bring a claim for employer retaliation under Title VII absent a tangible employment action. The U.S. Supreme Court has granted certiorari on the second issue. Judges will be Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit, Julia Smith Gibbons of the Sixth Circuit, Jane Roth of the Third Circuit, and Wilma Liebman of the National Labor Relations Board.
The Wagner Moot Court Competition fact pattern is available at http://www.nyls.edu/pages/4144.asp. The Final Round is viewable at www.nyls.edu/wagner. On the upper right corner of the Wagner Competition web page is a link to the live Webcast. In addition, the footage will be archived and will also be accessible online after the competition is over.
MSHA Announces Fines Against KY Mine Operator
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) yesterday announced proposed fines of $139,300 against a Kentucky mine operator for safety violations contributing to a methane ignition at J&R Coal Inc.’s No. 7 mine in Letcher County, Ky., Sept. 12, 2005. One miner suffered serious injuries in the ignition which occurred as he was drilling a borehole.
From the "Are You Kidding Me?" File
From the Associated Press:
When a dump truck backed into Curtis Gokey's car, he decided to sue the city for damages. Only thing is, he was the one driving the dump truck. But that minor detail didn't stop Gokey, a Lodi city employee, from filing a $3,600 claim for the December accident, even after admitting the crash was his fault.
After the city denied that claim because Gokey was, in essence, suing himself, he and his wife, Rhonda, decided to file a new claim under her name.
In fact, her claim, currently pending at Lodi City Hall, is for an even larger amount - $4,800.
"I'm not as nice as my husband is," she said.
But maybe as dumb.
But maybe as dumb.PS
Pension Problems Not Just An American Thing
A Stitch In Haste reports that there is about to be a massive strike by a number of public unions in the United Kingdom. Over what? What else but pensions.
Up to 1.5 million local authority workers are to stage a one-day strike in a bitter row over pensions which union leaders warned will close council services across the country.
The walk-out on March 28 will be the biggest bout of industrial unrest since the 1926 General Strike and will be the largest stoppage yet by women.
Members of nine unions, ranging from school dinner ladies and refuse collectors to architects and school assistants, voted overwhelmingly in favour of strikes in protest at planned changes to their pension scheme.
All going to show that the state of municipal pensions is not just an American issue (underfunded by about $279 billion at last count according to Kip), but part of a much large international crisis.
The United Kingdom and its American counterparts need to do some serious re-thinking about how to finance public pensions in the future (see this previous post on the daunting issues with public pensions in the US).
St. Patrick's Day and Work
PlanSponsor.com reports that there is much merriment to be had on St. Patrick's Day -- both on and off work. Here are the results of a St. Patty's Day work-related poll taken by CareerBuilder.com:
"NIP" TUG? One in 10 workers say they participate in
after-work happy hours on St. Patrick's Day, while another
one in 10 admit to having an alcoholic beverage on
company time, according to a CareerBuilder.com
survey of more than 2,050 workers representing multiple
backgrounds and industries.
Eleven percent of men say they've had an alcoholic beverage on
company time on St. Patrick's Day, compared to 8% of women.
IT and Government ranked highest in the area of workers
drinking during the workday on St. Patrick's Day, with respective
amounts of 15% and 10%, but Accounting/Finance led in the category
of workers who admit to drinking on company time during a regular
workday at 29%, trailed slightly by IT workers with 28%.
Read the rest of this jolly story here.
Erin Go Bragh!
(March) Madness at Work
Timely article in today's USA Today about March Madness' impact on the workplace. The impact on the workplace is dramatic and the financial hit that employers' finances will take may be even more impressive:
"Everybody is in office pools. The games are on until I leave," says Graham Atkinson, principal of HR Staffing Solutions in Fayetteville, N.Y. He watches games on TV in his office and checks scores online. "You can't reach clients. You can't reach anybody. Many people just take personal days (off), and there's no question as to why. ... It takes over."
Employers will lose $237 million in wages for every 13.5 minutes workers spend on the Internet tracking games, according to an estimate by outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas.
And all that does not even include the actual wagering which will occur which is estimated at "$4 billion to $5 billion . . . o[ver] the 63-game tournament this year — about a third on the Internet."
March 15, 2006
Senate Confirms Foulke as OSHA Director
The United States Senate today confirmed Edwin G. Foulke, Jr. of South Carolina as Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. Foulke was nominated for the post on September 15, 2005.
Prior to his nomination, Foulke was a partner with the law firm of Jackson Lewis LLP in Greenville, S.C., and chaired the firm’s OSHA practice group. He served on the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission from 1990 to 1995, chairing the commission from March 1990 through February 1994. A native of Perkasie, Pa., Foulke graduated from North Carolina State University in 1974. He received his law degree from Loyola University in 1978 and an LL.M. from Georgetown in 1993.
Fourth Circuit Finds “Manifest Disregard”; Vacates Arbitrator’s Dismissal of Employee’s Claim
In Patten v. Signator Insurance Agency, Inc., No. 05-1148 (4th Cir. March 13, 2006), an employee sought to arbitrate his discrimination, wrongful discharge, and contract claims against his employer. The employer filed a motion for summary judgment with the arbitrator, arguing that the employee’s claims were time-barred. The AAA arbitrator agreed, finding that the arbitration agreement contained an implied one-year limitations period (based on a provision in a previous agreement signed by the parties). The arbitrator therefore dismissed the employee’s claim without a hearing.
The employee filed in federal court a motion to vacate, which was denied. On appeal, he argued that his current arbitration agreement, which contained no limitations period, explicity superseded the previous agreement. Moreover, he argued, the employer had drafted both agreements, so ambiguities should be construed against the employer. The Fourth Circuit, agreed, holding that the arbitral award constituted a manifest disregard of the law, and failed to draw its essence from the agreement.
This is an important decision for three reasons. First, the legal standard for vacating an arbitration award – manifest disregard – is an extremely difficult standard to meet. The party seeking to vacate must essentially show that the arbitrator knew the law and consciously refused to apply it. This case, therefore, is an exceedingly rare example of a court finding that the standard has been met. Second, arbitrators (unlike federal courts) almost never grant summary judgment motions – arbitrators almost always take a case to hearing. This case may help re-affirm that trend. Third, the Fourth Circuit is notoriously hostile toward employees – this is a rare win for employees in that Circuit.
DOL Designates April "Alcohol Awareness Month"
The Department of Labor has designated April "Alcohol Awareness Month." For screening tools, educational materials, DOL-sponsored programs, and web links, see the DOL's website.
March 14, 2006
Book Annoucement: Dannin's Taking Back the Workers' Law
Ellen Dannin (Wayne State) sends word about her new book, Taking Back the Workers' Law: How to Fight the Assault on Labor Rights, which although being officially released on April 1st, started shipping yesterday. Former House Whip, David Bonior, has written a foreword to the book.
In this much anticipated book, Ellen proposes a NAACP-like litigation strategy to revitalize American labor law and to renew the promise labor law once had for American workers.
Here's how the Press Release from the Cornell University Press describes the book:
Prolabor critics often question the effectiveness of the National Labor Relations Board. Some go so far as to call the Board labor’s enemy number one. In a daring book that is sure to be controversial, Ellen Dannin argues that the blame actually lies with judicial decisions that have radically “rewritten” the National Labor Relations Act. But rather than simply bemoan this problem, Dannin offers concrete solutions for change.
Dannin calls for labor to borrow from the strategy mapped out by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the early 1930s to eradicate legalized racial discrimination. This book lays out a long-term litigation strategy designed to overturn the cases that have undermined the NLRA and frustrated its policies. As with the NAACP, this strategy must take place in a context of activism to promote the NLRA policies of social and industrial democracy, solidarity, justice, and worker empowerment. Dannin contends that only by promoting these core purposes of the NLRA can unions survive—and even thrive.
Gely and Bierman on Employee Blogs and Social Capital
Rafael Gely (Cincinnati) (left), the former Labor Prof himself, and Len Bierman (Texas A&M, Mays Business School) (right) have posted on SSRN: Employee Blogging and Social Capital: A Time for State Legislative Action.
From the abstract:
This Article addresses the issue of employee blogging and the interplay between such blogging and the asserted recent decline in American “social capital.” Relying on the recent work of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, we argue that blogging by employees can play an important role in helping reverse the decline in social capital but that current legal structures impede that goal. The Article proposes state legislative reforms to ameliorate this situation.
We begin Part I by developing the argument that there is an important relationship between employee blogging and American social capital. Part II presents a review of blogs and the blogging phenomena. Part III discusses blogs in the context of Professor Putnam’s path-breaking work, and examines the special place employment and the workplace have in the social capital story. Part IV more specifically analyzes the role blogs play as generators of social capital, particularly in the employment context. Part V looks at the protections afforded employee bloggers under the National Labor Relations Act. Part VI then examines the issue in the context of both state common and statutory law. In Part VII we review various options for legal reform in the area, and ultimately recommend as the best approach specific state legislative action, i.e., the amendment of state statutes protecting off-duty tobacco usage to also protect off-duty employee blogging. Part VIII concludes our work.
Just finished reading it and it is by far the best piece of scholarly work I've seen on the intersection between blogging and employment, Download it here while it's hot!
Silly Workers Comp Decisions
Miriam Cherry (Hofstra) writes to tell us about some absolutely hysterical workers compensation decisions highlighted in the Crain, Kim, & Selmi Worklaw casebook.
1. Carroll v. Workers' Comp Bd, 750 A.2d 938 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2000) (man surpresses sneeze during meeting, is injured, and may recover compensation).
2. Eckis v. Sea World Corp., 134 Cal. Rptr 183 (1976) (injury resulting from riding Shamu the whale).
Is Workers' Comp law a barrel of laughs or what?
Scary Employee of the Week
A middle school teacher was fired Tuesday after being accused of biting one of her students. Caroline Kolb also is facing an aggravated assault charge in Jefferson District Court, The Courier-Journal of Louisville reported Tuesday.
Kolb has pleaded not guilty to biting 14-year-old Garrick Hudson on the back during a classroom altercation at Stuart Middle School in January.
Garrick Hudsons mother, Cassandra Hicks, said the incident occurred Jan. 11 when her son disobeyed Kolbs order to spit out some candy. Kolb told him to stand in the hallway, but he returned to get his books, she said.
As Kolb and Garrick struggled over the books, he fell and hit his head and she "started biting him on his left upper shoulder."
Garrick was treated at Kosair Childrens Hospital for a bite wound, according to court records. He also had a small knot on his head.
Apparently, the student's story about the teacher biting him was corroborated by the teacher herself who "admitted that [she] found fabric in [her] mouth during the incident."
And I thought I just had to worry about my 2-year old biting, or being bitten by, other children. Geesh.
Hat Tip: Drudge Report
Delta Pilot Pension Termination Likely On The Way
As part of its bankruptcy proceedings, it is likely that Delta Airlines will terminate its pension plan for its pilots. CNNMoney.com reports in this regard: "Although there is no disclosed timetable for dropping the pilots' plan, it is clear that the airline believes it cannot be saved even if Congress approves pension reform legislation that includes special help for struggling airlines."
This news comes on the heels of a two-week arbitration that just started yesterday over whether Delta can void its contract with its pilots and force further pay cut concessions in order to emerge successfully from bankruptcy.
As reported before on this blog, the pilots have made clear that there is only so far they can be pushed on these issues, before they strike. It will be interesting to see at what point the pilot union believes it has been pushed too far.
Stay tuned, especially if you have a Delta flight in the near future. Here's hoping something can be worked out as was the case recently with Northwest Airlines and its pilots.
Court: Employer Must Give Employee Plan Document, Not Just SPD
The US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has
awarded a statutory penalty of $20 per day for 511 days to an
employee whose employer failed to respond to his request for a
copy of its severance plan document.
The court rejected LaSalle Bank Corp.'s argument that it had no obligation
to provide Medapati Reddy with a copy of the plan because it had satisfied
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) requirements by giving
Reddy a copy of the plan's summary plan description (SPD), BNA reports.
However, the court did deny Reddy’s request for the statutory maximum
penalty of $110 per day, saying there was no evidence that LaSalle
intentionally concealed the plan document from him.
Of course, the $10,00 or so that the defendant has to pay as a statutory penalty
is not the real financial hit the company will take here. Assuming that the
plaintiff's attorney is eligible for attorneys' fees, that is where the real big
money will change hands.