In Cities Across the Country, Opportunity is Making a Comeback

Today’s post was shared by US Dept. of Labor and comes from social.dol.gov

New York City just became the most recent city in the nation to answer President Obama’s call to raise wages for working families.

Last Tuesday, alongside Labor Secretary Perez, I signed an executive order immediately raising our living wage to $13.13. Workers at companies receiving more than $1 million in City subsidy will benefit from the new living wage, building on the Fair Wages for New Yorkers Act passed into law by the City Council in 2012. And because we expanded the universe of workers affected by the law to include tenants at City-backed projects, some of our lowest paid New Yorkers—fast food workers and retail workers—will finally earn a wage that can support a family. All told, we estimate the provision will cover up to 18,000 workers over the next five years.

We came into office this past January with a mandate and an agenda to confront inequality. We pledged to expand paid sick leave for more New Yorkers—and working in partnership with the New York City Council we did, reaching a half million more people. We pledged an ambitious affordable housing plan, and after-school programs and full-day pre-K that give children opportunity and help parent work—and we’ve launched each of them successfully. Next year, I intend to work alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo to pass a $10.10 minimum wage for New York State, with a provision to allow cities like ours, where the cost of living is high, to raise the minimum wage even higher.

And when…

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Ports of Seattle and Tacoma Form Seaport Alliance

Unified management structure targets increased marine cargo, addresses competitive threats.

The Seattle and Tacoma port commissions plan to unify the management of the two ports’ marine cargo terminals and related functions under a single Seaport Alliance in order to strengthen the Puget Sound gateway and attract more marine cargo for the region.

The Seaport Alliance will manage marine cargo terminal investments and operations, planning and marketing, while the individual port commissions will retain their existing governance structures and ownership of assets.

This unprecedented level of cooperation between the state’s two largest container ports is a strategic response to the competitive pressures that are reshaping the global shipping industry.

Taken together, marine cargo operations at both ports support more than 48,000 jobs across the region and provide a critical gateway for the export of Washington state products to Asia.

“The ports of Seattle and Tacoma face fierce competition from ports throughout North America, as shipping lines form alliances, share space on ever-larger vessels and call at consolidated terminals at fewer ports,” said Port of Tacoma Commission President Clare Petrich. “Working together, we can better focus on financially sustainable business models that support customer success and ensure our ability to reinvest in terminal assets and infrastructure.”

“Where we were once rivals, we now intend to be partners,” said Stephanie Bowman, co-President of the Port of Seattle Commission. “Instead of competing against one another, we are combining our strengths to create the strongest maritime gateway in North America. The Seaport Alliance is the result of our shared commitment to maintaining the economic health of our region through a thriving maritime industry.”

The Seaport Alliance is the outgrowth of talks held under the sanction and guidance of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC), the independent federal agency responsible for regulating the U.S. international ocean transportation system.

Subject to further FMC review and approval, the two port commissions will enter into an Interlocal Agreement (ILA), which is intended to provide the ports with a framework for a period of due diligence to examine business objectives, strategic marine terminal investments, financial returns, performance metrics, organizational structure, communications and public engagement. Following the due diligence period, the two port commissions intend to submit a more detailed agreement for the Seaport Alliance to the FMC by the end of March 2015.

During the due diligence period, John Wolfe, Port of Tacoma CEO, and Kurt Beckett, Port of Seattle Deputy CEO, will co-lead the planning work and coordinate with both port commissions.

Commissioners from both ports expect to hold a public meeting next spring to hire Wolfe as the CEO of the Seaport Alliance following the FMC’s approval of the agreement.

The two commissions expect to formally adopt and move to submit the ILA to the FMC at a joint public meeting Oct. 14.

Citizen and stakeholder public review of this proposal will be undertaken throughout the due diligence period. Information about public meetings, how to submit written comments and other related news will be regularly updated on the Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle websites.
 

 Photo credit: Hollingsworth / Foter / CC BY-SA

 

Those Lazy Jobless

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.nytimes.com

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman!

It’s hardly the first time a prominent conservative has said something along these lines. Ever since a financial crisis plunged us into recession it has been a nonstop refrain on the right that the unemployed aren’t trying hard enough, that they are taking it easy thanks to generous unemployment benefits, which are constantly characterized as “paying people not to work.” And the urge to blame the victims of a depressed economy has proved impervious to logic and evidence.

But it’s still amazing — and revealing — to hear this line being repeated now. For the blame-the-victim crowd has gotten everything it wanted: Benefits, especially for the long-term unemployed, have been slashed or eliminated. So now we have rants against the bums on welfare when they aren’t bums — they never were — and there’s no welfare. Why?

First things first: I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved…

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Protecting Workers from being Destroyed by the Work Schedule

Senator Tom Harkin

Today’s post comes from guest author Paul J. McAndrew, Jr., from Paul McAndrew Law Firm.

I wrote the post below as an editorial in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Because The Scheudles That Work Act is of national importance I want to make sure this issue receives the attention that it deserves by promoting awareness of it as broadly as possible. I hope you’ll take the time to read my editorial and pass it along to concerned citizens in your area.

Workers deserve some certainty in their work schedules. Why? Because we all have need to plan for child care, time for school, transportation, or simply time to pay bills and manage the household. It’s basic fairness.

But don’t you, a friend or an acquaintance work a job with unpredictable and irregular work schedules? You’ve probably noticed that irregular and on-call scheduling are increasingly common. It’s especially common in the fastest-growing areas of our economy—- cleaning, janitorial, retail and restaurant work.

These scheduling practices can devastate the worker and her/his family. The practices demand the worker choose between his job or his family. They often lead to the worker being fired.

Vermont and San Francisco have already passed laws to help employers and workers avoid this devastation.

Senator Tom Harkin has now proposed The Schedules That Work Act to help workers balancework duties with family duties. The Act helps both workers and employers by:

  • Protecting all employees from retaliation for requesting a more flexible, predictable or stable schedule.
  • Creating a process under which an employer considers a worker’s schedule request in a way that’s sensitive to the needs of the worker and her/his family. For example, schedule requests based on caregiving duties, health conditions, pursuing education or the need to meet the demands of a second job, must be granted, unless the employer has a good business reason for denying it.
  • Compensating retail, food service, and cleaning workers for at least four hours of work if an employee reports to work when scheduled for at least four hours but is sent home early.
  • Providing that retail, food service, and cleaning employees receive work schedules at least two weeks in advance. Though schedules may later be changed, one hour’s worth of extra pay is required for schedules changed with less than twenty-four (24) hours’ notice.
  • Providing workers an extra hour of pay if scheduled to work split shifts or non-consecutive shifts, within a single day.

Kudos to Senator Harkin! Some politicians and billionaire-driven PACs parrot “Iowa values” as a campaign slogan. Senator Harkin, on the contrary, uses those values to create legislation like the ADA and The Schedules That Work Act.

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Are You Really an Independent Contractor?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

“Calling a dog’s tail a leg does not make it a leg.” Abraham Lincoln

FedEx drivers recently won two class-action lawsuits in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that FedEx wrongfully withheld overtime pay, Social Security, unemployment, Medicare and other benefits to drivers because they were misclassified as independent contractors rather than employees. The decisions were driven by the fact that FedEx exercised control over the appearance of drivers as well as what packages to deliver, on what days, and at what times.

Though the FedEx decision only applies to Oregon and California, it is very possible that a similar decision would have been made under Nebraska law. Under the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act as well as under the Employment Security Law, Neb. Rev. Stat. 48-601 et al., there is a five-part test as to whether a worker is an independent contractor or employee.

  1. Individual is free from control or direction under contract of hire
  2. Individual is free from control or direction as a matter of fact
  3. Service is outside the usual course of business for which service is performed
  4. Such service is performed outside of all the places of business of the enterprise which such service is performed
  5. Individual is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, business or profession.

Nebraska law creates a presumption of an employer-employee relationship. Tracy v. Tracy, 581 N.W. 2d 96, 7 Neb. App. 143 (Neb. Court of Appeals, 1998) In short, if you can answer most of those questions “no,” you are very likely an employee rather than an independent contractor. The mere fact that you may have signed a documents stating you are independent contractor does not necessarily mean you are an independent contractor.

In addition to protections under federal law, asking questions about your employment status is also a protected activity under Nebraska law. Being misclassified as an independent contractor could cost you thousands of dollars in wages and benefits. However, you have the ability to fight back if you are being misclassified.

Leap of Bad Faith: TPAs May Be Sued for Aiding Their Own Actions

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp News and comes from www.jdsupra.com

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TPAs May Be Sued for Aiding Their Own Actions

Insurers have a duty to process claims in good faith, but sometimes they farm the job out to third-party administrators (TPAs).  If the TPA fouls up, many states hold that the insurer is still liable—for its own breach of duty, even if a doctrine of vicarious liability does not apply.  The rule is summed up in the statement that the duty of good faith is not delegable; the insurer must either handle the claim in good faith or cause someone else to do so.

But what about the TPA?  If the insurer’s duty can’t be delegated, what duty can a dissatisfied insured claim that the TPA has breached?  In Temple v. Hartford Ins. Co. of Midwest, No. CV-12-2357 (D. Ariz. Aug. 26, 2014), a federal court in Arizona came up with a novel solution:  the TPA may be liable for aiding and abetting the acts that constituted the breach of duty—by committing those very acts.

The Facts

Brenda Temple, a customer service representative for Stanley Steemer, was walking to her duty station when she tripped and fell down the stairs.  The fall resulted in injuries to Temple’s knee, hip and back.  Temple consulted a nurse practitioner, who gave her a knee brace and issued a work restriction for twenty days.  The nurse practitioner found that, due to worsening pain, Temple was unable to sit at a desk, walk up stairs or stand for long periods.

The Hartford is Stanley Steemer’s workers’…

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A New Way Insurers are Shifting Costs to the Sick

Today’s post was shared by Gelman on Workplace Injuries and comes from www.propublica.org

This story was co-published with The New York Times’ The Upshot.

Health insurance companies are no longer allowed to turn away patients because of their pre-existing conditions or charge them more because of those conditions. But some health policy experts say insurers may be doing so in a more subtle way: by forcing people with a variety of illnesses — including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and epilepsy — to pay more for their drugs.

Insurers have long tried to steer their members away from more expensive brand name drugs, labeling them as "non-preferred" and charging higher co-payments. But according to an editorial published Wednesday in the American Journal of Managed Care, several prominent health plans have taken it a step further, applying that same concept even to generic drugs.

The Affordable Care Act bans insurance companies from discriminating against patients with health problems, but that hasn’t stopped them from seeking new and creative ways to shift costs to consumers. In the process, the plans effectively may be rendering a variety of ailments "non-preferred," according to the editorial.

"It is sometimes argued that patients should have ‘skin in the game’ to motivate them to become more prudent consumers," the editorial says. "One must ask, however, what sort of consumer behavior is encouraged when all generic medicines for particular diseases are ‘non-preferred’ and subject to higher co-pays."

I recently…

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Stoners on the job: Nearly 10% of Americans went to work high

Today’s post was shared by Workers Comp Brief and comes from www.cnbc.com

Showing up to work high? You’re not alone.

A new report has found nearly 1 in 10 Americans are showing up to work high on marijuana. Mashable.com conducted the survey in partnership with SurveyMonkey, and found 9.7 percent of Americans fessed up to smoking cannabis before showing up to the office.

The data analyzed the marijuana and prescription drug habits of 534 Americans. What’s more, nearly 81 percent said they scored their cannabis illegally, according to the survey.

Cannabis and the workplace seem quite linked lately. Entrepreneur and venture capitalist Peter Thiel recently chimed in on marijuana and work. While criticizing Twitter during an appearance on CNBC Wednesday, Thiel said Twitter is a "… horribly mismanaged company—probably a lot of pot smoking going on there."

According to separate data from Employers, a small-business insurance company, 10 percent of small businesses reported that employees showed up in 2013 under the influence of at least one controlled substance, with marijuana coming in at 5.1 percent.

Marijuana sales overall are taking off as recreational use of cannabis is legal in Colorado and Washington state, and pot can be purchased for medicinal use in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

So what’s an employer to do?

Companies have different strategies and opinions on testing. But the vast majority of U.S. employers aren’t required to test for drugs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, many state and local governments have…

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Rate Increase for 2015 WA Workers’ Compensation Premiums

L&I proposes 1.8 percent average rise in workers’ comp rates in 2015 — slightly less than wage inflation

TUMWATER – Tens of thousands of workers in our state are injured on the job every year, and our workers’ compensation system is there, ready to help them, their families and their employers. As both wages for workers and health care costs go up, the cost of providing this insurance goes up too.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) is proposing an average 1.8 percent rate increase for 2015 workers’ compensation premiums, which is just under the current rate of wage inflation. The increase comes out to about 1 cent per hour worked.

Employers and workers around Washington pay into the workers’ compensation system so they’re covered if someone gets hurt on the job or becomes ill from a workplace exposure. Last year, L&I covered more than 80,000 work-related injury and illness claims in Washington state.

The proposed premium increase will help cover wage and disability benefits, as well as medical costs for treatment of injuries and illnesses. It will also allow L&I to continue to build reserves to protect against the unexpected.

 

Cutting workers’ compensation costs

“This measured increase will help make sure we have a healthy workers’ compensation system that’s always ready to help workers when they need it,” said L&I Director Joel Sacks. “The proposal keeps with our long-term plan to keep rates steady and predictable, help injured workers heal and return to work, and reduce costs by improving operations.” 

L&I has several initiatives underway to improve its ability to get injured workers healed and back to work while reducing costs and improving service. To do this, the agency is focused on:

  • Promoting injury prevention.

  • Ensuring injured workers receive quality health care.

  • Providing services to support employers who want to keep injured workers on a job.

  • Improving the workers’ compensation claims process.

The Stay at Work Program is one example of agency work to help injured workers and employers, and save money. This fall, L&I launched a second campaign to promote the program. Through Stay at Work, the state reimburses employers for part of the cost of providing light-duty work to injured employees. The employees get to keep working and are more likely to recover faster.

 

Keeping the system healthy and rates steady

L&I is using wage inflation as a benchmark to keep workers’ compensation rates steady and predictable. Washington’s most recent wage inflation number is 2 percent. As wages climb, the cost of providing workers’ compensation coverage rises.

“Raising rates this small amount helps keep costs in check for businesses, helps our system keep up with inflation and assures we have a reserve available for the tough times. It makes good financial sense,” said Sacks.

 

Public hearings on the proposed rates will be held in: 

  • Bellingham, Oct. 22, 9 a.m., Whatcom Community College.

  • Spokane, Oct. 23, 9 a.m., CenterPlace Event Center.

  • Richland, Oct. 24, 9 a.m., Richland Community Center.

  • Tumwater, Oct. 27, 9 a.m., L&I Building.

  • Tukwila, Oct. 28, 9 a.m., L&I Office, Gateway Corporate Center.

  • Vancouver, Oct. 30, 9 a.m., Northwest Regional Training Center.

 

People can comment at the public hearings or in writing to Jo Anne Attwood, administrative regulations analyst, P. O. Box 41448, Olympia, WA 98504-4148; or email joanne.attwood@Lni.wa.gov. All comments must be received by 5 p.m., Nov. 3, 2014.

More information regarding the rates proposal is available at www.Rates.Lni.wa.gov. Final rates will be adopted by Dec. 1 and go into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

 

Workers’ Comp Facts:

  • L&I is the state’s primary workers’ compensation insurance provider, covering 2.4 million workers and more than 160,000 employers.

  • The proposed rate is an average. An individual employer’s actual rate change may be more or less depending on that employer’s industry and history of claims that result in wage replacement and/or disability benefits.

  • More than 80,000 claims are accepted each year through the Washington State Workers’ Compensation State Fund. 

Photo credit: Mostly Muppet / Foter / CC BY

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SOCIAL SECURITY DISABILITY: THE TRUTH BEHIND MISCHARACTERIZATIONS BY POLITICIANS AND THE MEDIA

A thought-provoking article about the Social Security Disability (SSD) program appeared in the August 25, 2014 edition of The Hill, a newspaper published for and about the U.S. Congress. The article was authored by Barbara Silverstone, Executive Director of NOSSCR, the National Organization of Social Security Claimant’s Representatives. Ms. Silverstone’s complete article can be accessed on the The Hill’s website.

Ms. Silverstone dispels with factual data some of the myths currently being peddled by certain members of Congress and media outlets. Ms. Silverstone points out the eligibility criteria for SSD are extremely strict, and the burden is on the person applying for benefits to prove, with medical records – not mere assertions, the severity of his or her disabling condition(s). Only about 40% of applications are approved, a fact that belies the claim there is a systematic bias toward approving applicants who are not actually disabled. The current approval rate is the lowest it has been in 40 years.

Ms. Silverstone notes that recent Congressional investigations into allegations of fraud have not identified any cases of fraud beyond those that the Social Security Administration itself has uncovered. She discusses, in particular, the 2012 investigation of Senator Coburn. His staff reviewed about 300 appeals decisions, but failed to identify a single individual who was approved for benefits that should have been denied. Congress complains that the Social Security Administration does not do enough to identify potential fraud in the program, but at the same time Congress has cut Social Security’s budget, providing about $1 billion less than requested over the past three years! As a result, Social Security has lost more than 11,000 employees since 2011. This inevitably has impacted the agency’s ability to serve the American people in many aspects of its operation.

Published by Causey Law Firm