Category Archives: Department of Labor

H-1B: Disney Retreats; DOL Investigates

The Walt Disney Co.’s Disney ABC Television Group appears to be backing off from a layoff announcement two weeks ago, in which it had told a group of approximately 35 of its IT workers that their jobs were being outsourced to Cognizant Technology Solutions, a New Jersey-based company with large overseas operations. But now, reports Computerworld, those IT workers have been told that the layoff has been canceled.

Some of the IT workers who were to be laid off were told by Disney/ABC managers they would have to train their replacements before leaving, Computerworld reports. This is, of course, reminiscent of the move by Disney’s Parks and Resorts division to outsource 250 IT jobs to workers allegedly brought in under the H-1B visa program and have many of those employees train their replacements in order to receive severance. The furor this created when it was reported recently by mainstream publications such as the New York Times may have led Disney to cancel the latest layoffs, a source told Computerworld.

“They [Disney officials] want this to go away — right now,” said the source, a Disney/ABC IT employee who asked not to be named.

A source at Disney confirmed to Computerworld that the layoff had been rescinded. Although Cognizant is a major user of H-1B visas, it is unclear whether any of the workers in the Disney/ABC project had been brought in under the program.

Other companies besides Disney have come under fire for replacing their IT workers with H-1B visa holders, including Southern California Edison. The Department of Labor has announced it will investigate two outsourcing companies, Infosys and Tata Consultancy Services, for possible violations of rules for H-1B visa holders in conjunction with work they did for Southern California Edison. Those two companies, along with several others, are the biggest recipients of H-1B visa allotments each year. Sen. Bill Nelson, D.-Fla., has also called for an investigation of the H-1B program.

The fracas continues to focus more negative attention on the H-1B program. In a post on his blog, longtime tech observer and consultant Robert X. Cringely labels the  H-1B program “a scam” and says the argument that it’s necessary due to a shortage of technical talent here in the United States is false. He quotes an anonymous source, identified as a former chief technology officer at several companies, who said that — throughout his career — H-1B visa holders were routinely brought in by companies as a cheaper alternative to hiring more-expensive American tech workers: “The reason of course was $$$.  The H1B’s cost approx. 1/3rd or 1/4th the cost of the comparable American in the same job.”

More in the Coffer to Help Prisoners Find Jobs

It wasn’t that long ago (little more than a month) that I was blogging about an announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor that it was 126268666 -- prisoner workingcreating a $5 million funding opportunity to link inmates to jobs before they’re even released.

The idea there was to place American Job Centers inside local jails where soon-to-be-released prisoners would be able to access job-placement services and counseling to increase their chances of getting work without going through that uneasy “limbo” between living behind bars and earning a living.

Now, again from the DOL, comes significantly more, as this release announces: a whopping $27 million to fund its Training to Work-Adult Re-entry grant program to help, as its release says, “thousands of soon-to-be-released inmates become productive citizens.”

I wish I could tell you specifically how the two programs differ. Numerous calls and emails to the DOL went unanswered. But that doesn’t really matter. What does is the added help — significant help — ex-cons will be getting to rejoin the workforce and the world.

According to the announcement, the department expects to award about 20 grants with a maximum value of $1,360,000 each to provide training and employment services for men and women, ages 18 and older (including veterans), who participate in state or local work-release programs.

The approach is designed to link and coordinate education and training services for these people to get industry-recognized credentials. Those credentials will, in turn, help them find meaningful work (translated: not just assembly line and blue-collar) and give employers what they need to fill their gaps in growing sectors and industries.

Having personal experience with this — a relative who is now trying to re-enter society after paying his dues for some very bad life choices — I confess, what U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has to say about this latest move resonates with me:

“A good job gives a person a sense of dignity and purpose. It enables [him or her] to find a decent place to live and enjoy a hot meal at home. Good jobs are a pathway to the middle class. Those who have paid their debt to society deserve the opportunity to find and hold useful employment. It puts money in their pocket, most of which is pumped back into the economy. In the best America, everyone shares our prosperity. That’s what these grants can make possible.”

Of course, all the money in the world can’t buy a guarantee that all hiring managers will leave all bias at the door when they enter the interview room. Or follow all the steps of the interview process laid out by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its background-check guidelines, including when it’s appropriate to discuss an applicant’s past incarceration.

But it’s safe to say most employers would have to look favorably on an ex-prisoner’s initiative to get the education and credentialing he or she needs to succeed in that particular job in that particular organization in that particular industry.

If there are closed minds out there, this can only help to open them.

Hitting the Road to Promote Paid Leave

X-7Last week, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez told the Washington Post that “so much of what becomes law in Washington starts out as an experiment in different states.”

For the next month or so, Perez will be conducting his own state-to-state experiment of sorts; one that he hopes will result in workers nationwide being afforded greater flexibility in their jobs, including the right to paid leave.

As part of the Lead on Leave—Empowering Working Families Across America tour, Perez will meet with workers, state officials and employers in a handful of cities in an effort to “promote best practices and discuss how paid leave and other flexible workplace policies can help support working families and businesses,” according to a Department of Labor statement.

Perez will have company on the coast-to-coast jaunt, which kicks off today with a stop in Seattle. Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to the White House, and Tina Tchsen, assistant to President Barack Obama, will join him on the tour, which also includes scheduled visits to Minnesota, California, Oregon, Georgia, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

Currently, just three states—California, New Jersey and Rhode Island—offer paid family and medical leave, while only California and Massachusetts require private employers to provide paid sick leave. Meanwhile, Illinois, Ohio and Virginia provide paid parental leave to state employees, while cities such as Chicago, Austin, Texas and San Francisco do the same for municipal workers.

We may be a ways off, however, from federal legislation that obliges employers to provide paid sick leave. As a recent New York Times article points out, President Obama has urged Congress to pass a bill giving U.S. workers seven days of paid sick leave. But, garnering the necessary support in that same Congress to approve such a bill would be “a tough obstacle” to surmount, the Times article notes.

Some organizations, however, aren’t waiting on government action.

The aforementioned Times piece details Microsoft’s “unusual” method of overcoming the absence of a federal policy, noting the company’s March 26 announcement that it would require many of its 2,000 contractors and vendors to offer their employees who perform work for Microsoft 15 paid days off for sick days and vacation time.

“In some ways, it’s a uniquely American solution,” the article continues. “ … The biggest and wealthiest companies are performing the role of setting workplace policy for other businesses.”

While applauding Microsoft’s approach to providing paid leave, Ruth Milkman told the Times she doesn’t foresee other corporate heavyweights following its lead.

“It’s a moral model, but I don’t think there’s a high probability it’s going to become universal through business initiatives,” said Milkman, a professor and sociologist of labor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. “The public wants this. The resistance is all from employers. The only way is through public policy.”

We’ll see if the Lead on Leave tour takes us any closer to such policy becoming reality.

Obama’s New TechHire Initiative

President Obama has announced the Department of Labor’s  TechHire initiative as part a new campaign to work with communities to get more Americans rapidly trained for well-paying technology jobs.

According to the White House, TechHire is “a multi-sector initiative and call to action to empower Americans with the skills they need, through universities and community colleges” but also nontraditional approaches such as “coding boot camps,” and high-quality online courses that can rapidly train workers for a well-paying job, often in just a few months.

According to the White House memo:

Employers across the United States are in critical need of talent with these skills. Many of these roles do not require a four-year computer science degree. To give Americans the opportunity they deserve, and the skills they need to be competitive in a global economy, we are highlighting TechHire partnerships.

The initiative includes:

  • A $100 million H-1B grant competition by the Department of Labor to support innovative approaches to training and successfully employing low-skill individuals with barriers to training and employment including those with child care responsibilities, people with disabilities, disconnected youth, and limited English proficient workers, among others. This grant competition will support the scaling up of evidence-based strategies such as accelerated learning, work-based learning, and Registered Apprenticeships.
  • Expanded regional employer hiring and paid internships for IT jobs (e.g., coding, web development, project management, cybersecurity) sourced from accelerated training programs based on demonstrated competencies instead of only selecting candidate using standard HR ‘markers’;
  • Expand slots, upgrade quality, and diversify participants in accelerated training pipeline – expand local programs like coding boot camps, the best of which have 90 percent job placement rates – to enable more Americans to master the skills required to fill technology jobs and create a strong pipeline of technology talent that local employers demand and will hire that can be ready in months not years; and
  • Support from locally intermediaries – municipal leadership, workforce development programs and other local resources – that help connect people to jobs based on their skills and job readiness and help employers engage local talent trained in both alternative and traditional programs.

To kick off TechHire, 21 regions, with more than 120,000 open technology jobs and more than 300 employer partners in need of this workforce, are announcing plans to work together to new ways to recruit and place applicants based on their actual skills and to create more fast track tech training opportunities.

Examples of TechHire Community commitments include:

  • St. Louis, MO. A network of over 150 employers in St. Louis’ rapidly expanding innovation ecosystem will build on a successful Mastercard pilot to partner with local non-profit Launchcode, to build the skills of women and underrepresented minorities for tech jobs, and will also place 250 apprentices in jobs in 2015 at employers like Monsanto, CitiBank, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and Anheuser Busch.
  • New York City, NY. With employers including Microsoft, Verizon, Goldman Sachs, Google, and Facebook, the Tech Talent Pipeline is announcing new commitments to prepare college students in the City University of New York (CUNY) system for and connect them to paid internship opportunities at local tech companies. NYC will also expand successful models like the NYC Web Development Fellowship serving 18-26 year olds without a college degree in partnership with the Flatiron School.
  • State of Delaware. The new Delaware TechHire initiative is committing to training entry-level developers in a new accelerated coding bootcamp and Java and .Net accelerated community college programs giving financial institutions and healthcare employers, throughout the state, access to a new cohort of skilled software talent in a matter of months. Capital One, Bank of America, Christiana Care and others are committing to placing people trained in these programs this year.
  • Louisville, KY. Louisville has convened over 20 IT employers as part of the Code Louisville initiative to train and place new software developers, including Glowtouch, Appriss, Humana, ZirMed, and Indatus. Louisville will build on this work in support of the TechHire Initiative: the city will recruit a high-quality coding bootcamp to Louisville and establish a new partnership between Code Louisville and local degree granting institutions to further standardize employer recognition of software development skillsets.

With more than half a million unfilled jobs in information technology across all sectors of the economy, the initiative could be poised to help employers fill their high-tech talent gaps.

Second Stand-Down for Safety is Set

Citing even more compelling reasons this year than last for getting the construction-safety message out, the U.S. Department of 465986031 -- constructionLabor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced it will be holding its second annual National Fall Safety Stand-Down in May.

“With the economy on the rebound and housing starts on the rise, now is the time for all of us to renew our commitment to sending workers home safe every night,” says Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.

According to OSHA, falls are still the leading cause of death in the construction industry, as hundreds of workers die each year and thousands more suffer catastrophic, debilitating injuries. Yet, lack of proper fall protection remains the most frequently cited violation by the agency.

Building on last year’s widespread participation in the one-week event, which Staff Writer Mark McGraw wrote about in this blog post,  OSHA decided to expand it from one week to two weeks, now scheduled for May 4 through 15. During that time, the agency notes in its release, “employers and workers will pause during their workday for topic talks, demonstrations and training on how to use safety harnesses, guard rails and other means to protect workers from falls.” It adds:

“Underscoring the importance of this effort, industry and business leaders, including universities, labor organizations, and community and faith-based groups, have already begun scheduling 2015 stand-downs in all 50 states and around the world.”

The stand-down initiative is part of OSHA’s fall prevention campaign, launched three years ago with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, NIOSH’s National Occupational Research Agenda and The Center for Construction Research and Training, according to the announcement on Feb. 18. It cites numerous other partners for this year’s event as well.

“Given the tremendous response we’ve received, it’s clear that this is an important issue to a great number of people across this nation,” says Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Dr. David Michaels.

In the added words of NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard, “no child should lose a parent, no wife should lose a husband and no worker should lose [his or her] life in a preventable fall.”

I plan to follow this and perhaps report on this year’s participation to get an idea of just how committed the business community is to improving safety, and reducing these injuries and deaths. Stay tuned.

New Year Brings New Reporting Requirements

IND_023Throughout this past year, we’ve told you about some of the steps the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has been taking in its effort to improve workplace safety.

In June, for example, OSHA’s National Fall Safety Stand-Down saw thousands of employers join the organization in taking a timeout during the work day to focus on outlining the dangers of falls and improving fall-prevention efforts.

More recently, OSHA wrote a letter reminding some of the largest U.S. retailers of the potential hazards that accompany Black Friday sales events, and offering recommendations for keeping employees and consumers safe during the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

The organization’s latest step does more than offer recommendations, and takes effect in a matter of days.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2015, employers under the federal jurisdiction of OSHA will be required to report all work-related fatalities to the organization within eight hours, and must report all inpatient hospitalizations, amputations and losses of an eye within 24 hours of learning of the incident. In the past, employers were obligated to inform OSHA of all workplace fatalities and instances in which three or more workers were hospitalized as a result of the same event.

As Assistant Secretary of Labor and OSHA head David Michaels notes in a recent blog, employers will have three reporting options: calling or visiting their nearest area office during normal business hours, calling the 24-hour OSHA hotline at 800.321.OSHA or reporting online.

OSHA has also made available a handful of resources designed to detail the new requirements and what they mean for employers, including a dedicated web page, a list of FAQs, a fact sheet and a YouTube video.

“It is important to remember that these updated reporting requirements are not simply paperwork, but have a life-saving purpose,” wrote Michaels in the aforementioned blog. “They will help employers and workers prevent future injuries by identifying and eliminating the most serious workplace hazards.”

HRPA’s Take on Obama’s Executive Orders

The HR Policy Association just released a letter to U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez expressing its concerns over President Obama’s use of executive orders.

In the letter, the Washington-based HRPA states that it recognizes that the federal procurement law affords the President significant discretion to “prescribe policies and directives that the President considers necessary” to carry out the purpose of the Act, namely to “provide the Federal Government with an economical and efficient system” for contracting, among other activities.

However, the breadth of this discretion should not encompass using executive action to attempt to shape broader federal employment policy, including the modification of wage requirements for federal contract employees.

According to HRPA’s letter, signed by Dan Yager, the association’s president and general counsel, the legislation the President cites as his authority to issue Executive Order 13658, the Federal Property Administrative Services Act, was passed in 1949, long before federal contract employees constituted such a significant portion of the American workforce.

Today, more than one in five workers in the United States is employed by companies that have contracts with the federal government. Employment policy reforms targeting employees of federal contractors now have direct implications for the American economy as a whole. Even though Executive Order 13658 is limited to those employees connected to work on federal contracts, it is not uncommon for other executive orders to apply to the contractor’s entire workforce. Accordingly, we are concerned that the proposed rule is one in a series of steps toward the Administration’s larger goal of modifying without Congressional approval significant aspects of employment policy for the greater federal contractor workforce. Therefore, caution beyond the extraordinarily broad scope of the federal procurement act is warranted.

The letter ends with Yager expressing the association’s s workplace regulatory agenda.

The “economy” and “efficiency” that President Obama portends these regulations will bring to federal contracting would be best served by the legislative process. Congressional action imposes from the start a responsibility to provide an evidence-based rationale, helps shape and refine proposed policies, increases the democratic legitimacy of any changes to federal employment policy, and lessens the risk of causing financial and economic harm to the American people. We believe broad changes to federal employment policy deserve nothing less.

You can read the full letter here or the press release announcing it here.

Taking a Timeout for Safety

workplace safetyAs part of what U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez has described as an “unprecedented event,” employers across the country are expected to join the Occupational Safety and Health Administration this week as participants in the National Fall Safety Stand-Down.

Part of OSHA’s fall prevention campaign, the stand-down will include “tens of thousands of employers and hundreds of thousands of workers” taking a break from the job to focus on outlining the hazards of falls and improving fall prevention efforts, said Perez in a Department of Labor statement.

According to OSHA, falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, and lack of fall protection was the most frequently cited OSHA violation in 2013. Throughout this week, employers and workers in a variety of industries will examine how to change all of that.

For example, the University of Texas at Arlington has joined OSHA staff to kick off fall-prevention events throughout the state of Texas, while Clark Construction Group is hosting a stand-down at the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Today, NASCAR driver Greg Biffle is due to be on hand at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla., where he will demonstrate fall protection at the facility.

“Falls cause immense pain and suffering when they happen, and we must do everything we can to stop them,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor and OSHA head David Michaels, in the DOL statement.

“The good news is that they are preventable with three easy steps. The best protection is to plan ahead, ensure workers have the right equipment and train each worker to use it.”

More information on the National Fall Safety Stand-Down—including details on conducting a stand-down, accessing free education and training tools, fact sheets and other resources, and receiving a certificate of participation—is available at www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown.

Low-Wage Workers: Trapped in a Catch-22?

It’s no secret that employees are hungry for career development. In survey after survey, it almost always ranks near the tops of their lists of sought-after employer offerings. But as just-released research from the Center for Poverty Research at the University of California, Davis suggests, career development can often be elusive, especially if you’re trying to make ends meet in a low-wage job.

88257844Earlier today, the Center posted a policy brief on an ongoing study that finds low-wage workers are very much caught in a Catch-22. Written by UC Davis Professor of Sociology Victoria Smith and Graduate Student Brian Halpin, the brief reports that “low-wage workers know they have to enhance their skills to escape low-wage jobs, but long hours and multiple jobs make skill-building and education nearly impossible.”

Smith elaborates …

The very conditions of low-wage work necessitate that workers hold multiple jobs, and that they have to put in long hours if they can. People find themselves very caught up, just treading water. The fact that they often are supporting other people heightens their need to take extra hours when they can get them.

[The study] found that low-wage work limits opportunities to learn new skills needed for better jobs. To sustain their livelihoods, these workers keep the jobs they have while searching for additional opportunities through relatives, friends and work networks. They patch together multiple full- and part-time jobs to maximize their paid hours.”

Workers told Smith and Halpin that their employers often expect them to be on call and available—even for overtime—without advance notice.

As a result, the researchers found, these workers were left with little time to take advantage of education and training opportunities, which typically require scheduled attendance.

(Smith and Halpin arrived at their findings through in-depth interviews with 25 low-wage workers, all of whom are first-generation immigrants in the Napa/Sonoma area. Interviewees worked in several sectors, including food service, landscaping, domestic work, office cleaning and construction, with some of those interviewed working in multiple sectors.)

No doubt these findings will provide policymakers on the local, state and federal levels more data to chew on as they continue to rigorously debate various minimum-wage initiatives. But there’s little question they also provide employers, especially those employing low-wage workers, reason to pause and reflect on their own workplace policies and practices and whether they’re improving these conditions or standing in the way of progress.

Also worth reflection, of course, is the notion of self-direction and self-responsibility—even in the face of significant hindrances.

As Career Systems International Founder and Chairwoman Beverly Kaye said when I asked her for her thoughts on the study’s findings, many employers would go out of their way to respond were a low-wage worker to express an interest in advancing their careers. “If one of those workers in Napa were to ask if there was a way he or she could go about learning wine making,” she said, “I would think an employer would find a way to help.”

Simply put, Kaye raises a point that probably shouldn’t be overlooked: People need to be “self-empowered” about their own careers.

I guess so long as they have any time at all to do so.

Obama Tackles Overtime

Tammy McCutchen woke up to a bit of a shock yesterday morning: She learned the revised overtime regulations she helped rewrite in 2003 and 2004, as the Department of Labor’s wage-and-hour administrator under President George W. Bush, were about to be changed significantly by President Barack Obama. Under Bush, overtime regulations were changed so that employees who earn up to $455 per week can be classified as exempt and employers were given greater leeway in determining which employees could be exempt. Obama wants to significantly raise the pay threshold and to modify the “duties” test that employers use to determine exemption.

“This is going to be hugely controversial,” says McCutchen, who’s now a shareholder in Littler Mendelson’s Washington office. “It’s going to keep people like me very, very busy.”

Part of the reason why is the sheer number of employees potentially affected: at least several million fast-food managers, loan officers, computer technicians and others classified as “executive or professional,” according to a White House official who briefed the New York Times. Opponents of the 2004 rule, particularly organized labor, said it gave companies too much leeway to classify employees as exempt so they could avoid paying them overtime.

California recently announced changes to its overtime rules so that by 2016, no employee making less than $800 per week can be classified as exempt from overtime. Should President Obama choose a number close to that, says McCutchen, employers will need to state their case loudly and clearly that such a move will hurt them economically.

“That wage level may make sense in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco; it does not make sense in Waterloo, Iowa,” says McCutchen. In the rural Midwest and South, setting the exemption level that high will cover a vast number of employees, given the lower wage levels and lower cost of living in those areas, she says.

“When we worked on the revised rule in 2003 and 2004, we looked at Bureau of Labor Statistics data to analyze current salary levels and I hope the DOL does the same level of analysis rather than just picking a number out of thin air that happens to sound good to people who live in large cities,” she says.

Kevin Hyde, chair of Foley & Lardner’s labor and employment practice, says Obama’s move represents part of his effort to raise the minimum wage through indirect ways. He advises HR to carefully look at all the classifications of employees they currently have and determine what their status would be once the new rules are implemented, and budget accordingly.

There’s still some time left: Both McCutchen and Hyde anticipate that the rulemaking process — which will include time for the public (including employers) to comment on the proposal — will take at least 12 to 18 months. They both urge employers to make use of that time by making their voices heard.

“Get involved with your local Chamber of Commerce or send your comments directly to the DOL — talk candidly about the impact this will have on your business,” says Hyde. “Remember, the [National Labor Relations Board] has been trying for years to require employers to display posters on employees’ unionization rights and those rules still aren’t close to being implemented, thanks to the large number of negative comments about them.”

One potentially potent weapon for employers, says McCutchen, is commentary from workers who don’t wish to be non-exempt.

“President Obama may think most employees want to be non-exempt, but there are many employees who consider themselves professionals who have no desire to punch a time-clock,” she says. “There’s a trade-off for everything: If you’re exempt, you don’t get overtime but you also can’t be docked pay for working less than 40 hours a week, so you have more flexibility. There’s always two sides to every story, and the most compelling is testimony from an actual employee.”