Previously in this space, we covered the construction of the Frances Perkins Building, where the department is headquartered in Washington, D.C., What stood here before then? At least one of the structures that once occupied the department's grounds has a noteworthy place in American architecture. The Trinity Episcopal Church was built in 1850-1851 and designed by renowned architect James Renwick. The New York architect was a leading figure of the Gothic revival, with notable works that include St. Patrick's Cathedral and Grace Church in Manhattan, as well as the Smithsonian Castle. In fact, Renwick submitted two designs to the competition to build the Smithsonian in 1846 the one we see today and a design he modified slightly and repurposed for the church. During the Civil War, the church was used as a hospital for Union troops, and it is said that President Lincoln came to the site to visit wounded
soldiers. In 1936, the church was demolished to make way for a parking lot. (In a sense, that's an almost literal example of paving paradise.) In 1955, design proposals for the Center Leg Freeway now the I-395 tunnel began to be considered, leading to the engineering marvel that now rumbles beneath where the church once stood and where we now do our work.
Myth: Apprenticeships are good only for traditional trades such as construction careers.
Not true: Apprenticeships are a proud American tradition that have been instrumental to the nation's economic success for generations. But just as it has traditionally been used for trades such as construction or plumbing, the apprenticeship training model also works for new and emerging industries like health care, information technology and advanced manufacturing. Last year, more than 13,000 apprentices were employed in these industries. The fact is, apprenticeships are a tried-and-true workforce development strategy globally, but for too long they have been underutilized and undervalued in the United States. That's why President Obama's latest budget request calls for a $2 billion investment to double the number of Registered Apprenticeships over the next 5 years by working with employers in a variety of industries. The secret is getting out employers who use apprenticeship programs know that their workforce is more prepared, productive and better trained than their competition. It improves their bottom line and gives their company a competitive advantage.
• Climbing Trees... and Ladders of Opportunity: Secretary Perez, writing for the White House Council on Women and Girls' blog, carries on the legacy of Frances Perkins (the nation's first female Cabinet secretary) by promoting opportunity for working women.
• Funding Increase to Help More Veterans Nationwide: Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans' Employment and Training Keith Kelly looks ahead to fiscal year 2015 and the veterans employment services called for in President Obama's budget proposal.
March is Women's History Month, the perfect time to do exactly what the month is designed to encourage us to do: learn more about women's history. Women likely have made up half the population throughout history, so if we haven't got their side of the story, we haven't gotten the full story. Women's history is labor history. And labor history is women's history. So not surprisingly, a number of titles on the department's Books that Shaped Work in America list reinforce this. Among them: "The Feminine Mystique" by Betty Friedan, "The Feminine Mistake" by Leslie Bennetts, "This is How We Do It" by Carol Evans, "The Girls in the Balcony" by Nan Robertson, and "Triangle: The Fire that Changed America" by David von Drehle. For more, log on to the site and click on the "Books to Check Out During Women's History Month."
This week's phrase is the FLSA, which stands for Fair Labor Standards Act. This law protects more than 135 million full- and part-time workers across the United States. These protections include setting a floor for a minimum wage that states and municipalities are welcome to exceed; overtime payments of one-and-one-half times the regular rate of pay for hours worked beyond the 40-hour workweek; and child labor laws to ensure that when young people work, the jobs are safe and do not jeopardize their health, well-being or educational opportunities.
For members of AARP and the AARP Foundation, the seventh annual Bill Anderson lecture was built around a crucial theme the "impact of long-term unemployment on the 50+ population." Secretary Perez, speaking on March 11 to AARP members at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., discussed the president's initiatives that focus on improving retirement security, including MyRA, and a proposed Labor Department rule to reduce conflicts of interest in the retirement advice marketplace. He also highlighted the department's efforts to prepare and place Americans facing long-term unemployment into good jobs through Ready to Work Partnership grants and other programs. The secretary also recognized Bill Anderson's parents and widow, who were in attendance. Anderson was a strong advocate for the vulnerable, low income and the elderly, and Perez noted it was particularly fitting to honor Anderson by talking about the Labor Department and Obama administration priorities, because they embody the values to which Anderson dedicated his life and career.
In a homecoming, Secretary Perez returned to his alma mater on March 8 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the opening of Brown University. Founded in 1764, Brown, in Providence, R.I., is the seventh oldest college in the United States. Perez participated in a plenary panel, where he discussed his experience as an undergraduate, how it led him to public service, and his challenges and priorities at the department. Perez received his bachelor's degree from Brown in 1983.
President Obama appointed Latifa Lyles as the 17th director of the Women's Bureau, and she was officially sworn in on March 11. As director of the Women's Bureau, Lyles works to advance and improve policies and programs for women in the labor force. "The Women's Bureau has been working to level the playing field for more than 90 years," Lyles said. "It has been on the cutting edge of promoting policies that continue to help millions of working women, and I am excited to lead the agency during such a critical time."
With major changes to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act taking effect on March 24, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia Shiu met with nearly 300 employers to discuss the new rules. At the Equal Employment Advisory Council's annual meeting on March 12, Shiu said contractors should not focus only on the disability employment goal and the veteran hiring benchmark in the updates to the regulations. Rather, she said, they should focus on the steps that lead to a diverse workforce. "This is going to take a cultural change," Shiu said. "But we've done it before with women and minorities in the workplace and we will do it again with veterans and people with disabilities."
Construction and crane safety, combustible dust, fall protection, organizational change management and developing a safety culture were featured topics during this year's Downstate Illinois Occupational Safety and Health Day. More than 500 people attended the 23rd annual DIOSH Day on March 5 in Peoria. Co-sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, Illinois Department of Labor, industry and professional safety and health organizations, the yearly event is designed to help employers keep their workers safe and healthy while improving the bottom line for their businesses.
Women's Day in Boston
The Women's Bureau joined several prominent women's organizations and more than 140 enthusiastic participants for the 17th annual Boston-area International Women's Day Celebration on March 7 at Simmons College. Jacqueline Cooke, the bureau's Boston regional administrator, moderated a discussion about advancing women's wages locally and globally. In her opening remarks, Cooke discussed the Obama administration's progress on equal pay for women but noted that more work remains. "Occupational segregation, lack of family supports and low-wage jobs still prevent women from attaining equal pay," she said. Cooke also fielded queries on the challenges that working families face.
In celebration of International Women's Day, representatives from the Women's Bureau in San Francisco attended San Jose State University's 3rd Annual South Bay Women's Conference, "Deciphering the Code: Women in STEM Careers." Co-sponsored by the American Association of University Women, the March 8 conference helped attendees gain a better understanding of how far women have come in joining the ranks of science, technology, engineering and math careers. Still, women today make up just over a quarter of the overall STEM industry and, of the 26 percent of women who work in STEM, minority women comprise about 1 in 10 employed scientists and engineers. According to researchers, women who work in STEM earn 33 percent more on average than their counterparts in other fields. In another event commemorating International Women's Day, representatives from the Wage and Hour Division and Women's Bureau gathered at California State University in Los Angeles on March 10. The forum emphasized the need for enforcement of labor laws that require equal pay for equal work, fair pay for fair work and fair leave for working families.
Culinary arts students from the Philadelphia Job Corps Center served up delicious goodies and fine teas at this year's Philadelphia Flower Show. Visitors to the fan-favorite afternoon respite Garden Tea enjoyed chicken salad, tofu "cheese" spread, cream cheese icing, smoked salmon spread and minted pea soup all prepared by the aspiring chefs. The students were acknowledged by the show's coordinating chef, as well as visitors, for their professionalism, enthusiasm and eagerness. In its 185th year, the Philadelphia Flower Show is hailed as the world's longest-running and largest indoor flower show and took place March 1-9 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
March is Women's History Month. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, for the first time in history, nearly 27 million women have expanded access to health coverage and important preventive care. This means that women can now receive cervical cancer screenings, prenatal care, and regular well-baby and well-child visits without co-pays, coinsurance or a deductible. And 18.6 million uninsured women will have new opportunities for coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. There are four ways to apply: go online, fill out a paper application, visit a trained assistor in your community, or call 1-800-318-2596 to enroll over the phone.
The department reported that the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial Unemployment Insurance claims was 315,000 for the week ending March 8, a decrease of 9,000 from the previous week. The four-week moving average was 330,500, down 6,250 from the previous week's revised average.
Fulfilling the "opportunity agenda" in his State of the Union address, President Obama signed a memorandum on March 13 that begins the process of updating the Fair Labor Standards Act's overtime rules. "Overtime is a pretty simple idea," the president said at a White House signing ceremony. "If you have to work more, you should get paid more." He directed U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez to update the overtime rules and to consult with businesses and workers during the process. In some cases, the president said, the federal rule originally designed to limit overtime for highly paid employees now covers workers earning as little as $23,000 a year. "It doesn't make sense that in some cases this rule actually makes it possible for salaried workers to be paid less than the minimum wage," the president said. "It's not right when business owners who treat their employees fairly can be undercut by competitors who aren't treating their employees right. If you're working hard, you're barely making ends meet, you should be paid overtime. Period."
Give Low-Wage Workers Some Breathing Room, Perez Testifies
Citing lives filled with anxiety and struggle, Secretary Perez urged Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and give low-wage workers some much needed breathing room. During testimony on March 12 before a Senate committee considering a gradual increase in the wage to $10.10 per hour, Perez told lawmakers that it's past time to raise the wage, which has been set at $7.25 per hour for nearly five years. "The purchasing power of the minimum wage has eroded over time, undermining the economic security of families," Perez said. "Today the minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when President Reagan was in office." Perez also told lawmakers that low-wage workers are living in poverty, struggling daily with whether to buy a gallon of milk for the family or a gallon of gas for the car so they can get to their jobs. Perez cited studies showing that extremely low incomes are forcing those workers to rely on food stamps and other government assistance programs, costing taxpayers billions of dollars each year. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, said that lifting workers and their families above the poverty level with government assistance programs is not an appropriate policy. "No one who works full time in our society ought to live in poverty," he said. "The answer is just raising the minimum wage." A raise to $10.10 would benefit 28 million workers and lift about 2 million out of poverty.
Low-wage workers and their advocates aren't the only voices around the country calling for an increase in the minimum wage. At health and wellness store Cambridge Naturals outside of Boston, on March 13, Secretary Perez attended a gathering of small business owners who are weighing in on the need to raise the wage, saying that more money in the hands of workers is good for their bottom lines and the economy as a whole. A higher entry-level wage reduces turnover and improves workers' attitudes and performance, which results in happier customers and better business, they told the secretary. "Every dollar we can invest in somebody comes back to us because they learn about our products and feel invested in our business," said Elizabeth Stagl, co-owner of Cambridge Naturals. David Sandberg, owner of Porter Square Books, said he has always paid higher starting wages to his employees, but that it's time for a nationwide minimum wage increase to level the playing field for all businesses.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 1,000 people at the Building and Construction Trades National Legislative Conference on March 10 in Washington, D.C., Secretary Perez highlighted the department's enforcement work, in particular the attention to Davis-Bacon violators, so that construction workers and contractors receive the local prevailing wage. Perez also praised the Building Trades for its innovative leadership in the area of apprenticeships. "There is a bright future in America for people who work with their hands," he said. The Obama administration is dedicated to doubling the number of apprenticeships nationwide, Perez explained, and will look to the Building Trades' work as a model. One week earlier, Perez toured the Electrical Apprenticeship Training Facility of the San Francisco Joint Electrical Training Trust, a program run jointly by the IBEW Local 6 and the San Francisco Electrical Contractors Association. Perez saw workers receiving marketable skills and learned the program boasts a graduation rate of 93 percent and pays up to $56.92 per hour. One student said that he saw his apprenticeship as a "golden ticket to the middle class."
$44 Million in Grants Available to Help Youth Offenders Gain Job Skills
"Individuals should not have to face a lifetime of obstacles because of poor decisions made at a young age," said Secretary Perez during a March 13 announcement of a new grant competition to provide youth involved in the juvenile justice system employment and support services. Successful grantees will provide youth ages 14-24 with support services that include mentoring, occupational skills training and job placement services. Youth participants also will receive help in expunging their juvenile record so they don't have to face the stigma of having it impede future employment opportunities. The application period is open until May 2, 2014.
New Strategic Plan A Guide to Goals, and Opportunity
The department's 2014-2018 Strategic Plan has been published, the product of months of consultations and listening sessions with stakeholders, members of the public and Congress. It provides a guide to the department's programs and efforts whether it's providing job training that helps workers get the skills they need, securing worker health and safety, or protecting workplace benefits. In a message accompanying the plan, Secretary Perez writes, "I focus every day on creating more opportunity for more people." He notes, "The best way to promote and protect opportunity is through collaboration, consensus-building and pragmatic problem-solving that achieve common-sense solutions for American workers and their employers."
The department is requesting public comment on a proposed rule that would require pension plan service providers to furnish plan fiduciaries with a guide to assist them in navigating fee disclosure documents. The guide would help employers, especially small and medium-sized businesses, better understand the disclosure documents, particularly those that are lengthy or complicated.
Too many working Americans are struggling to make ends meet and respond to the competing demands of work and family. That's why President Obama announced that he will host a Summit on Working Families on June 23. The summit will explore how to strengthen workplaces to better support working families.The department and the Center for American Progress are teaming up with the White House to host the summit, which will be preceded by a series of regional summits leading up to the main event.
The department's minimum wage Web page is your one-stop shop for everything you need to know about the topic. You can learn about the history of the minimum wage, including hourly rates from 1938 to the present day, as well as efforts by President Obama and Secretary Perez to enact an increase to $10.10. Do you wonder what the hourly rate is for a tipped worker in your state? You'll find it here. You can watch videos of workers, small business owners and faith leaders as they lend their voices to the conversation about raising the wage. Plus, you'll find academic studies on the effects of wage increases, and the latest blogs and tweets from the department.
New Tools Available for Workforce Investment Boards
The Employment and Training Administration released a new set of resources on March 13 to give workforce investment boards around the country more tools to better serve workers. The resources include new research and guides on how to improve the administration and functioning of workforce investment boards, a compilation of best practices of high-performing boards, and tips on improving the delivery of employment and training services to workers. While the tools are intended for management and staff at workforce investment boards, the information also can benefit other professionals in the public workforce system as they strive to provide the best possible service at American Job Centers.
The Office of Disability Employment Policy and the National Council on Disability will host a virtual town hall dialogue, "Advancing Accessibility and Inclusion in Social Media The User Experience," beginning on March 17 through April 4. The goal is to identify and eliminate accessibility barriers of social media for individuals with disabilities, including workers and those seeking employment. "When social media is inaccessible to people with disabilities, it excludes a sizeable segment of our population. This online dialogue will help us pinpoint social media accessibility barriers, and discover new solutions for ensuring these digital services can be used and optimized by everyone," Assistant Secretary of Labor for Disability Employment Policy Kathy Martinez said.
The second meeting of the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee was held on March 11 at department headquarters in Washington, D.C. Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, was on hand to hear recommendations and progress reports from the committee's three work groups: the Transportation Industry Work Group, Best Practices and Corporate Culture Work Group, and the 11(c) Work Group. In addition, the committee heard from the Solicitors Office for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Federal Aviation Administration about their anti-retaliation programs. The committee is tasked with advising OSHA on ways to improve the fairness, efficiency and transparency of the agency's whistleblower investigations.
In a gathering at the Arlington, Va. headquarters of the Mine Safety and Health Administration, agency representatives met with members of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission on March 13 to discuss a host of issues relevant to member states. Among the discussion topics raised by Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health Joseph A. Main and members of his staff were miner certification, mine rescue contests, mine emergency response, state grants, impoundment safety and underground mine mapping digitization efforts. The IMCC is a multi-state governmental organization that represents the natural resource and related environmental protection interests of its member states.
DOL Working for You
Job Corps Student Continues Her Mother's Dream
Tamarashaun Overall's mother longed for a career in criminal justice, but an illness cut short that opportunity. So Overall took up her mother's quest by studying hard at the Treasure Island Job Corps Center in San Francisco. She excelled at security training, which included self-defense tactics and surveillance techniques. She also enjoyed math and English classes and earned her high school diploma when she graduated from Job Corps. During her time at the center, Overall was hired to work crowd security at San Francisco 49er home games, which helped "further my security knowledge," she said. She also worked for a time in the retail industry, focusing on shoplifter prevention. Upcoming plans include enrolling in community college to continue her studies and earn an advanced degree in security.
DOL in Action
New Members for ERISA Council
Five new members have been appointed to the 2014 ERISA Advisory Council, Secretary Perez announced on March 12. The 15-member council provides advice on issues affecting employee benefit plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Perez also announced the council's 2014 leadership: Chair Neal S. Schelberg and Vice Chair Paul M. Secunda. "The dedicated experts who volunteer to serve on the ERISA Advisory Council are a wonderful resource," he said. The council will hold its first meeting of the year on March 26 at the department's Washington, D.C., headquarters. It will introduce new members, provide an update on the Employee Benefits Security Administration and identify topics to be addressed in the coming year.
Goodwill Industries of Southern Arizona Inc. paid $17,501 in back wages to 39 workers with disabilities in Tucson after an investigation by the Wage and Hour Division. The investigation established that Goodwill failed to meet special minimum wage provisions under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Investigators found that Goodwill failed to pay the affected workers tasked primarily with packaging sleeping masks and baby dental wipes the correct, commensurate piece-rate wages. In addition, employees paid by the hour for shredding paper were not paid the proper, prevailing wage rate. According to Section 14(c) of the FLSA, employers are authorized to pay special minimum wages to workers who have disabilities.
New Jersey Company Faces Penalties for Fall Hazards
Paterson, N.J.-based F&G Sons Contractors Inc., doing business as F&G Stucco and Stone Contractors Inc., was cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for two repeat and two serious safety violations for failing to provide required protective equipment and protect workers from serious fall hazards. The company was working on a building in Totowa, N.J., at the time of the inspection. Proposed penalties total $66,400. OSHA previously cited this company in September 2009, August 2010 and in March 2013, resulting in $108,640 in proposed penalties. Prior to the current inspection, the company was placed in OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Workers Exposed to Amputation Hazards at Ohio Boiler Maker
Gaspar Inc., a boiler manufacturer, has been cited for two willful violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Proposed penalties total $112,000. OSHA's investigation found the Canton, Ohio, company was requiring employees to operate two press brakes and a horizontal boring machine where the machine guards had been removed. Machine guarding protects workers from lacerations, caught-in and amputation hazards. OSHA issued two willful citations for lack of machine guarding on a horizontal boring mill and two press brakes and has placed the company in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program.
Colorado Department of Labor and Employment Signs Agreement
The department's Civil Rights Center investigated and later determined that a complainant with a profound hearing loss was denied a qualified American Sign Language interpreter by Colorado's unemployment insurance program. Based on a review of state processes, the investigation found that the program violated the Workforce Investment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Consequently, Colorado Department of Labor and Employment entered into a conciliation agreement, demonstrating its commitment to equal opportunity for persons with disabilities.
Lead Paint Hazards Found in Viaduct Blasting Operation
Employees of Celtic Environmental Inc. were exposed to lead paint hazards while conducting abrasive blasting operations on a viaduct in Joliet, Ill., last October. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the company for 10 serious safety violations, carrying proposed penalties of $46,900. OSHA initiated a complaint inspection of the site under the National Emphasis Program for Lead Exposure in Construction. Eight of the violations involved failure to adhere to lead protection standards.
Atlanta-Based Frozen Food Facility and Others Fined $264,000
Schwan's Global Supply Chain Inc., Cimco Refrigeration Inc. and Adecco USA Inc., were cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for 56 serious safety and health violations following an inspection at the Schwan facility in Atlanta. Violations included failure to provide adequate training for employees to work safely with ammonia, follow the OSHA Process Safety Management Standard to protect workers from dangerous exposure to ammonia used in the refrigeration system, and train workers on controlling hazardous energy through standard lockout/tagout procedures during maintenance. Schwan manufactures frozen foods such as Red Baron pizza and Mrs. Smith's desserts. Cimco services the refrigeration systems and Adecco is a staffing service. OSHA initiated its inspection after a complaint and proposed penalties of $264,360.
Workers Found Digging Trench Without Cave-in Protective System
Reconstruction Experts Inc. and Chivas Contractors were cited with six safety violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after an inspection of an unsafe trenching work site in Aurora, Colo. Reconstruction Experts solicited help from framing subcontractor Chivas Contractors to locate a damaged water pipe for an apartment complex that was being renovated. Workers dug a trench that exceeded 11 feet in depth without the use of a cave-in protective system. "Employers continue to expose workers to trenching hazards that can end a life in a matter of seconds when a trench caves in. OSHA will not tolerate such disregard for worker safety," said David Nelson, OSHA's area director in Greenwood Village. Reconstruction Experts and Chivas Contractors were fined $73,800 and $7,600, respectively.
D.B. Hawaii, Inc., a Hawaii corporation doing business as Polynesian Hostel, has agreed to pay $110,000 in back wages for failing to pay 91 employees the current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. An additional $16,000 already was paid as compensation to a worker who was unlawfully terminated for filing a complaint, according to the Wage and Hour Division. Polynesian Hostel recruited foreign and domestic tourists to staff many of its hostel positions in exchange for compensation in lodging and food. "This 'barter' system provided an unfair competitive advantage in the hostel market industry through the underpayment of statutorily required minimum wages, while also locking out local workers from legitimate employment opportunities," said Terence Trotter, the division's district director in Hawaii. Polynesian Hostel provides single bedroom and dormitory-style accommodations for low-budget travelers in Waikiki.
Cleveland Plastics Facility Fined Nearly $52,000
New Wave Plastics has been cited for 13 safety violations after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found a lack of training and personal protective equipment at the Cleveland facility. Acting on a complaint filed last November, OSHA initiated an inspection of the recycler and plastic products supplier. The violations involved failure to train workers on wearing personal protective equipment, provide fire-retardant clothing, and develop a hearing conservation program. The presence of combustible dust also was found. Proposed penalties total $51,800.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs and Workforce Solutions Upper Rio Grande are sponsoring the Fort Bliss Replacement Hospital Symposium and Job Fair in El Paso, Texas, on March 19. The Army Corps of Engineers awarded Clark/McCarthy Healthcare Partners II a $648 million contract to build the Fort Bliss Replacement Hospital with an estimated completion date of November 2016. The symposium will be held at the Workforce Solutions Norman Haley Employment Center, 300 E. Main St., from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The job fair will be held at the El Paso County Coliseum, 4100 E. Paisano St., from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.