Has the world finally discovered Frances Perkins? It seems she's been everywhere recently! Last month, in a stunning upset, she became the "Cinderella story" of Lent Madness, an online contest to pick the best saint in the Episcopal Church. The month-long competition was the creation of Timothy Schenck, rector of St. John the Evangelist, an Episcopal parish in Hingham, Mass. He called Perkins "an inspirational figure" who put her faith into practice. After five weeks of "brackets," Perkins beat out St. Luke with 57 percent of the vote. On the same day of her victory, she was the question to an answer on "Jeopardy," the popular television game show. Sadly, none of the contestants knew that the department's headquarters was named after her. But on Wednesday evening, on what would have been her 133rd birthday, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell paid homage to Perkins as the behind-the-scenes architect of Social Security.
"The man gets all the credit in popular history, but the woman did all the work," O'Donnell said. "Social Security was her idea. It would never have become law without her." As the secretary of labor for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Perkins had immense influence on his policy decisions. A chance meeting at a tea party with then-Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone provided Perkins with the legal framework for her initiative, setting into place certain present day laws. "The constitutionality of Social Security, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act are all based on Frances Perkins' novel use of the power to tax 78 years ago," O'Donnell said. "Frances Perkins was a self-made woman," O'Donnell added. "She did not advance her career by marriage. She didn't flinch at challenges that everyone else considered impossible. Frances Perkins changed the world the old-fashioned way with hard work, persistence and passion. Tonight, this country owes a happy birthday nod to a uniquely American hero."
Myth: The minimum wage stays the same if Congress doesn't change it.
False: While it is technically accurate to say that employers have been required to pay the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour since 2009, as the department's former chief economist, Betsey Stevenson, recently explained in The Washington Post, that wage isn't the same today as it was four years ago. "Congress sets the minimum wage in nominal dollars, so it doesn't keep pace with inflation. Because the cost of living is always rising, the value of a new minimum wage begins to fall from the moment it is set," she wrote. "In fact, today's minimum wage of $7.25 buys less than the minimum wage did through all of the 1960s, 1970s and much of the 1980s. Although the minimum wage has been raised 22 times since it was established, those increases are needed to restore its inflation-eroded value back to its earlier real level."
• Streamlining Services for Displaced Workers: After the release of President Obama's budget for fiscal year 2014, acting Secretary Harris explains how one of the budget's most innovative reform efforts the Universal Displaced Worker program can help achieve the goal of growing our economy from the middle class out. The program will modernize and accelerate the delivery of training and employment services to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. "UDW will enable more people to receive more intensive services and training than the current system allows, leading to faster re-employment and better economic outcomes," Harris writes.
• The Faith-based Argument for Raising the Minimum Wage: Phil Tom, the director of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, reports from a roundtable in Seattle on how the concepts of dignity and equity are strong arguments for raising the minimum wage. Drawing on his own experience, Tom writes that "it would certainly be in line with my background as a pastor and leader in the faith community to suggest that raising the minimum wage is simply the right thing to do for workers."
• Renewing Our Commitment to Promote Safe Mines: It has been three years since an explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia took the lives of 29 miners. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joe Main reflects on the actions taken by MSHA in the disaster's aftermath, writing that "the culture of mine safety and health had to change, and MSHA had to be part of it."
National Urban League Visit
Affiliate leaders of the National Urban League, visiting Washington, D.C., this week for the organization's 10th Annual Legislative Policy Conference, stopped by the department for a meeting with acting Secretary of Labor Harris and Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Jane Oates. At the April 11 meeting, Harris and Oates discussed the department's workforce training and employment resources available to complement the League's community development activities. Harris also expressed his appreciation for the League's work to promote the administration's effort to raise the minimum wage, sharing stories about his recent visits around the country with families struggling to survive on $7.25 an hour. The meeting also touched on important priorities in President Obama's fiscal year 2014 budget request released April 10, including partnerships with community colleges and investments in training and employment for young Americans and formerly incarcerated individuals.
People with disabilities are valuable workers who must be retained, Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, said at a Santa Clara, Calif., event on April 4. Martinez was the keynote speaker at the Silicon Valley Business Leadership Network's "Integrating Disability for Success" event. The program focused on helping employers find creative ways to retain their talent, including employees with disabilities. "We need to keep these valuable employees on the job as long as possible," noted Martinez. "And you as employers can do so successfully if you work with them to provide the productivity enhancements they may need." The event was hosted by Abbott Laboratories and included Qualcomm, Kaiser Permanente, Lowe's, PG&E, the California Department of Rehabilitation and the department's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. More than 60 representatives participated in this highly interactive program that marked the first year of the Silicon Valley Business Leadership Network.
Benefits of Workforce Training
For many low and moderate-income families, improving employment outcomes may benefit an individual on many levels. This week, Jane Oates, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, met with education and health organizations to discuss improving access to workforce training and how that training is linked to more healthy lives. While meeting with congressional staff and education leaders on Capitol Hill, Oates discussed proposals to expand Pell Grants to make job training more available to low-income workers and older adults returning to school. Oates then participated on a panel hosted by the National Healthy Start Association in Washington, D.C. She joined workforce training and public health professionals to discuss how improved access to training programs leads to lower poverty rates and better health outcomes and shared information on department resources that can improve the link between economic and community development to public health solutions.
Colorado Equal Pay Day
"Half a century since President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act, women are still fighting pay discrimination despite comprising nearly half of the workforce. This practice continues to shortchange the livelihood of women and their families," was the powerful message delivered at a Women's Bureau joint event at the Colorado State Capitol on April 9, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Equal Pay Act. The day's festivities included a rally and an evening event at the Forest Room Denver where advocates spoke of the importance of pursuing pay equality through initiatives like the Paycheck Fairness Act. Speakers included State Rep. Cherilyn Peniston; Louise Atkinson, executive director of the Colorado Women's Foundation; 9 to 5 Colorado state director Erin Bennett, and the Women's Bureau's Program Analyst Marzy Bedford-Billinghurst.
More than 30 Chicago-area organizations and the Women's Bureau joined on April 9 to hold Chicago's Equal Pay Day Rally. Attended by more than 100 people, the rally featured federal, state and local elected officials, including Rep. Jan Schakowsky; Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon; Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan; Laurel Bellows, president of the American Bar Association; and Ann Ladky, executive director of Women Employed. "We recognize that narrowing the wage gap is not only vital to working women, but also to their families and our nation's economic security as a whole," said Deborah Pascal, program analyst with the Women's Bureau Chicago office, who delivered welcoming remarks.
Lucia Bruce, regional administrator of the Philadelphia region's Women's Bureau, served as a speaker at the "Creating Pathways to a Diverse Green Workforce Conference" on April 11 in Philadelphia. Bruce discussed mobilizing people and resources to create partnerships with women's organizations and building trust among partner organizations for planning and program development. The purpose of the conference, hosted by Wider Opportunities for Women, was to teach grantees of the department's Green Jobs Innovation Fund how to build relationships for a more highly skilled and competitive workforce that reflects our communities.
Weekly UI Claims
The department reported the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial Unemployment Insurance claims was 346,000 for the week ending April 6, a decrease of 42,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average was 358,000, up 3,000 from the previous week's revised average.
The Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships will help lead an April l 17 symposium on efforts to getting Californians back-to-work at Bayside Church in Sacramento, Calif. Faith and community leaders, nonprofit organizations, and job seekers and employers are invited to attend, network, and learn about a range of efforts in the Sacramento area.
Investing in Job Creation and Workforce Innovation
Building the skills of American workers and putting the nation's veterans back to work are among the priorities in the Department of Labor's fiscal year 2014 budget request to the Congress. "The investments we make at the department will help create good jobs, upgrade workers' skills so that they can succeed in those jobs, and make sure Americans can support their families with a decent wage and secure benefits," acting Secretary of Labor Seth D. Harris said in announcing the budget request on April 10. The FY 2014 budget seeks $12.1 billion in discretionary funding for the department. To help the long-term unemployed get back to work, the department proposes two initiatives: Re-employment NOW, which incorporates Unemployment Insurance reforms, and Pathways Back to Work Fund, to make it easier for persons to remain connected to the workforce and gain new skills for long-term employment. The budget includes an innovative reform effort, the Universal Displaced Worker program, which will modernize and accelerate the delivery of training and employment services to workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. And the request also calls for significant investments in new funding to assist veterans, particularly those with disabilities, in finding employment.
From Coast to Coast, Speaking Up on the Minimum Wage
Workers in Maine and Los Angeles have sounded off on President Obama's call for raising the federal minimum wage, saying that a modest increase would make a huge difference in their lives. The president is calling on Congress to raise the minimum wage from its current rate of $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour by 2015, and indexing it to inflation thereafter. The workers spoke about the proposed increase with Mary Beth Maxwell, acting deputy administrator for the Wage and Hour Division, and Latifa Lyles, acting director for the Women's Bureau. In Los Angeles, department store clerk Marsha Armstrong told Maxwell on April 11 that while she's grateful for her job earning just above the federal minimum wage, it's still a challenge for her to afford the basics. "Because of the wage I make, I rent a room that I share with my daughter," she said. In Portland, Maine, on April 4, Tabatha Whalen, a single mother of two, told Lyles that she holds several part-time jobs and works more than 60 hours each week, yet still needs housing assistance. She also told Lyles that one of her employers claimed that her hours could be reduced if the minimum wage was increased, an argument Lyles called a "scare tactic" refuted by multiple academic studies. Department officials have met with workers across the country in nearly 20 forums since the president called for an increase during his State of the Union address.
The department is teaming up with the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Treasury to help spread the word on home foreclosure prevention efforts. A new unemployment forbearance will be included as part of the Home Affordable Modification Program, in an initiative known as HAMP-UP. This program will allow qualifying unemployed homeowners to reduce or suspend mortgage payments for 12 months or more, so they can focus on finding a job without the constant pressure of foreclosure. The department is working with governors around the country to spread information about this program through the American Job Center network, so that the unemployed can learn about this important program when applying for benefits.
Preliminary data for 2012, indicating the lowest fatality and injury rates in the history of U.S. mining, are now available on the Mine Safety and Health Administration's website. "MSHA at a Glance" contains updated information on the number of mine inspections, violations, mines and miners, as well as penalty assessments and yearly production totals. In 2012, the fatality rate was .0107 deaths per 200,000 hours worked, and the rate of reported injuries was 2.56 per 200,000 hours worked. "These preliminary numbers clearly show that actions undertaken by MSHA and the mining industry continue to move mine safety in the right direction," said Joseph Main, the assistant secretary of labor who heads MSHA.
President Obama's Fiscal Year 2014 budget invests in growing the economy and creating jobs while taking a balanced approach to reducing the deficit. Acting Secretary Harris takes three questions on the critical role that the department and its budget play in strengthening the middle class.
What does the budget say about the priorities of the department?Our budget supports the agenda the president first outlined in his State of the Union Address making America a magnet for jobs; equipping workers with the skills to succeed in those jobs; and ensuring that an honest day's work leads to a decent living. Specifically, our department budget emphasizes investments to strengthen skills development and job training programs for American workers, to turn our unemployment system into a re-employment system, and to protect workers and their benefits. The budget makes strong investments in our veterans, doing more to serve those who have served our country by helping them get middle-class jobs.
With approximately 1.5 million military servicemen and women leaving the armed forces over the next five years, how will the budget provide resources for our returning heroes?The budget increases by about $100 million our investment in veterans' employment, further positioning the department as the federal government leader in this important area. We have a $38 million increase to put more veterans' employment representatives at our American Job Centers around the country. We propose, in partnership with the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the Transition Goals Plans Success program, which will help service members transition to civilian life and capitalize on the skills they developed during military service. In addition, the Workforce Innovation Fund will set aside $50 million in competitive grants to find innovative intensive employment services for veterans.
What else can we expect from the department in FY 2014 to get America back to work?The budget includes a Universal Displaced Worker proposal to reform and streamline job training and employment services for those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Also in the budget are proposals to further reform the Unemployment Insurance system and strengthen its solvency.
Taking to the Web for a Dialogue on Child and Forced Labor
It wasn't your ordinary panel discussion. The department's Bureau of International Affairs created a collaborative webcast, its first, while hosting a discussion on child and forced labor. The discussion, broadcast over the Web from the department, reached business, academic and others on April 11. The panel, moderated by Marsha Dickson of the University of Delaware, included Eric Biel of ILAB, Meg Roggensack of Human Rights First, Jeff Morgan of Mars, Inc., and Bob Mitchell of Hewlett-Packard. Noting a new ILAB "Toolkit for Responsible Businesses" publication, Biel, acting associate deputy undersecretary at ILAB, told webcast viewers that "this is all about integrating practices of business and government. The toolkit is a start." More than 120 viewers logged on to the webcast.
Groundbreaking Labor Rights Agreement With Guatemala
The United States and Guatemala have agreed on a robust Enforcement Plan to resolve concerns raised in a labor case brought by the United States under the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement. In 2008, the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan worker organizations alleged that the Guatemalan government had violated its labor obligations by failing to effectively enforce its labor laws. After reviewing the submission, the department issued a report finding significant weaknesses in Guatemala's enforcement of its labor laws. It is the first labor case that the United States has brought to dispute settlement under a trade agreement.
The department supports H.R. 1305, a bill that would allow incarcerated veterans to be included in the agency's Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans' Employment and Training Keith Kelly, in testimony on April 10, said the department also supports the bill's provision on Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing, a Housing and Urban Development Department program in the HVRP. Kelly, appearing before the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, said the HVRP currently serves incarcerated veterans through demonstration project grants. But, he said, "inclusion of incarcerated veterans beyond the current demonstration projects and veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program will allow the department to be responsive to the service needs of these populations."
Kentucky's Chris Sexton followed in his father and older brother's footsteps becoming a coal miner right out of high school. During his 13 years in mining, Sexton found time to become certified as an emergency medical technician and firefighter, rising to volunteer fire chief at his local fire department. When Sexton was laid off in 2012 he decided to reinvent himself by pursuing a new, full-time career in emergency health-care services. Sexton turned to the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program's workforce system for financial assistance with tuition, books and other fees for paramedic training at a local community college. He enrolled in EKCEP's Hiring Our Miners Everyday initiative, funded through a $5.2 million National Emergency Grant to assist workers and their families impacted by layoffs in the coal industry. When he announced the grant on
March 4, acting Secretary Harris said it would "help prepare both displaced miners and their spouses for new employment in Eastern Kentucky's growing industries." Sexton echoed that sentiment. "It was time to get out of coal mining and the program was a saving grace," he said. Sexton is confident he will land a job when he graduates next year. EKCEP Executive Director Jeff Whitehead said the department-funded initiative "is pulling together services, resources, and people in our region to provide job clubs, career advising, training options, employment opportunities and connections" for laid off miners and spouses seeking to get back into the workforce.
DOL in Action
Laid Off California Workers Receive Employment Assistance
More than 4,700 workers affected by layoffs from private and public sector employers in Central and Southern California will continue to receive re-employment services and training under a $17,171,188 National Emergency Grant increment. The increment was awarded by the department on March 9 to the South Bay Workforce Investment Consortium Inc. "As our economy continues to recover, these workers still need help to find good jobs in a challenging market," said acting Secretary Harris.
Worker for Kansas Roofing Company Paralyzed From Fall
Ryan Roofing Inc., based in Salina, Kan., has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with three willful safety violations after a worker suffered a broken neck and was paralyzed when he fell 20 feet from the roof of a commercial building. The three willful violations include failing to ensure the integrity of a roof structure, to provide fall protection systems for a low-sloped roof and to provide training on fall protection to workers. OSHA has proposed fines of $115,500 and, because of the nature of the hazards and the violations cited, Ryan Roofing has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Additional Employment Assistance for Washington Workers
A National Emergency Grant increment of $285,804 was announced on March 9 to continue re-employment assistance for about 400 workers affected by layoffs from the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site in southeastern Washington state. Under the funding, these workers will continue to receive employment-related assistance, including support services and training to help them compete for jobs in growing areas of the economy. The workers were employed by CH2MHILL Plateau Remediation Co., Materials and Energy Corp., Mission Support Alliance and 13 other contractors engaged in cleanup activities at the Hanford Site.
Southwestern Pennsylvania coal mine operator Rox Coal Inc. was found in flagrant violation of a mandatory electrical hazard safety standard by an administrative law judge with the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. The ruling, resulting in an $110,000 penalty, upheld the assessment by the Mine Safety and Health Administration following an investigation into an accident at the operator's Geronimo Mine in Somerset County, Pa. A miner was shocked while changing the fuse on a high-voltage switch house. The mine's chief electrician intentionally had disabled the safety switch two days prior to sending the miner and a co-worker to change fuses, within inches of 7,200 live volts. The violation was "quintessentially flagrant," the administrative law judge said.
Wage Violations by Federal Contractor at Fort Sill in Oklahoma
HDR Environmental Operations and Construction Inc., doing business as HDR EOC Inc., has agreed to pay $37,134 in back wages to seven current and former bomb disposal technicians, heavy equipment operators and mechanics. An investigation by the Wage and Hour Division found prevailing wage violations of the McNamara-O'Hara Service Contract Act at the company's work site at the Fort Sill Army Reservation near Cache, Okla. The investigation was part of a multiyear enforcement initiative focused on strengthening labor law compliance among Oklahoma's major military installations.
Recurring Hazard Brings $40,000 Fine for CVS Pharmacy in New York
The lack of an emergency action plan for workers at a CVS pharmacy in Red Hook, N.Y., has resulted in a $40,000 proposed fine for the retailer and issuance of a repeat violation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Albany office found that the Red Hook store did not have a required plan to instruct employees on what to do in the event of a fire or other emergency. OSHA standards require emergency action plans for workplaces with more than 10 employees and where fire extinguishers are present. OSHA had previously cited CVS for similar hazards at stores in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
New Jersey Company Faulted for Worker Exposure to Chemical
Newark, N.J.-based Natural Flavors has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 12 workplace safety and health violations. OSHA initiated an inspection after receiving information that workers were potentially exposed to diacetyl, a chemical used in flavorings. In addition to the diacetyl exposure, other violations include the company's failure to adequately identify and evaluate respiratory hazards, and implement a site-specific respiratory program. Penalties of $60,400 have been proposed.
An investigation by the Employee Benefits Security Administration, Office of Inspector General, and Office of Labor-Management Standards has netted more than six years in prison for founder and former president of the National Association of Special Police and Security Officers. Caleb Gray-Burriss, of Washington, D.C., was convicted last December on six counts of mail fraud, seven counts of theft from a labor organization, one count each of obstruction of justice and criminal contempt, and three counts of union recordkeeping offenses. Gray-Burriss must also pay $252,000 in restitution to union and pension accounts. According to the evidence at trial, Gray-Burriss wrote more than $100,000 in checks to himself and others from the NASPSO pension plan checking account. He also stole more than $150,000 in union funds through cash withdrawals to himself, unauthorized salary increases and bonuses to himself and another person. NASPSO represents private security guards assigned to protect federal buildings in the metro Washington area.
Manufacturer Fails to Provide Hearing Conservation Program
Universal Industries LLC in Tomahawk, Wis., has been cited with eight safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, including a failure-to-abate violation. The company was issued a citation for failing to have a hearing conservation program in February 2011. The company reached a settlement agreement with OSHA, but failed to provide the required abatement documentation to show that it had implemented the hearing program. Fines of $61,600 have been proposed.
Michigan Concrete Company Denies Employees Prevailing Wages
BBC Foundation & Flatwork LLC has paid $137,705 in back wages to 31 employees of the Carleton, Mich.-based concrete company for work performed on a federal transit project in Toledo, Ohio. An investigation by the Wage and Hour Division found that the contractor violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, Davis-Bacon and Related Acts and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act. Investigators found the company paid employees less than the required prevailing wages and fringe benefits for work on a Federal Transit Administration project to build a new Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority facility.
New Jersey Masonry Contractor Cited for Scaffold Hazards
Becksted Masonry LLC was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration with three repeat and five serious safety violations at the company's Voorhees, N.J., work site. Repeat violations included a lack of fall protection, the use of scaffold cross braces to access the scaffold's walking and working surfaces, and missing toe boards. Failure to provide training on scaffolds and portable extension ladder setups resulted in the serious violations. The company faces $50,130 in proposed fines.
The officers of Fraternal Order of Police, Amtrak Police Lodge 189, a nationwide local union based in Manhattan, have agreed to hold an election for all officer positions under the supervision of the Office of Labor-Management Standards. This follows an OLMS investigation that found the union violated its bylaws and federal law when it failed to hold its regularly scheduled officer election in October 2012. The lodge's last officer election was in October 2009. The election will be completed by July 26.
Alabama Dry Paint Manufacturer Cited After Workers Injured
Ozark Materials LLC, a dry paint manufacturer in Mount Meigs, Ala., has been cited for serious safety and health violations. An inspection by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration took place at the company's facility after two workers were injured within a month of each other. Violations include exposing workers to unguarded equipment, failure to provide a lockout/tagout program and exposing employees to high levels of dust particles. The company faces $41,600 in proposed penalties.
Inspection of Roofing Contractor Finds Lack of Protection From Falls
Woodridge Enterprises Inc. in Lemont, Ill., has been cited for eight safety violations, including three repeat, for lack of protection from falls at a residential job site in Hinsdale, Ill. Initiated under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's fall protection program, the inspection resulted in proposed fines of $47,960. The inspection revealed three repeat violations involving lack of fall protection for workers as well as failing to extend ladders at least 3 feet above the landing surface. The company has been placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Salt Lake City Companies Sued for Violations on Overtime
A lawsuit filed by the department seeks to recover unpaid overtime compensation and damages for more than 800 current and former laborers. The case grew out of an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division that found willful violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime and record-keeping provisions. The department's lawsuit was filed against Universal Contracting LLC, CSG Workforce Partners LLC, Decorative Enterprises LLC, Mountain Builders Inc. and Cory Atkinson, Tracy Burnham and Ryan Pace. Universal Contracting and CSG Workforce Partners provided laborers to contractors Decorative Enterprises and Mountain Builders and charged the laborers and contractors a fee for their employment placement services.
Wisconsin Ceramic Plant Exposed Workers to Respiratory Hazards
Joy-Mark Inc. has been cited for six health violations, including two repeat, for exposing workers to airborne refractory ceramic fiber at a mold manufacturing facility in Cudahy, Wis. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration proposed penalties of $50,050 as a result of a follow-up inspection. Exposure to refractory ceramic fibers can result in adverse respiratory health effects, such as irritation and compromised pulmonary function, lung cancer and mesothelioma.