Dispute Over Carriage Horses: Do They Qualify for Labor Protections?

It’s a heated labor dispute, even though the “workers” can’t speak out on their own.

If you’ve ever been a tourist in Chicago, you’ve likely seen the horses that pull carriages through some city’s swankiest neighborhoods. The carriage operators claim that those animals are healthy and happy. But animal rights advocates claim the horses are treated like sweatshop labor.

We don’t find anything humane about it,” said Jodie Wiederkehr of Chicago Alliance for Animals.

While Black Friday shoppers were packed shoulder-to-shoulder along the Magnificent Mile over Thanksgiving weekend, animal activist Jodie Wiederkehr showed up for another reason. She was taking video of horse drawn carriages to show that the horses are overworked.

“The horses on Saturday were worked nine plus hours. Most over ten, one over nine, and at least one over eleven hours,” she said.

There are three licensed carriage companies in Chicago. According to city officials, they have been cited hundreds of times for numerous violations, including working their horses more than six hours per day.

The attorney who represents all three carriage companies claims that there’s been significant confusion about that six-hour rule for many years, and if it were strictly enforced the carriage companies would go out of business.

According to the city, a horse’s hours are counted “whether pulling or standing.” Tim Murphy, the carriage companies’ attorney, explains that this is not a reasonable interpretation, and the company’s carriage drivers agree.

“Each horse, maximum work, like six, maybe seven hours, this is max because between rides, stand resting,” said Omar Chinibkov of Antique Coach and Carriage.

Chinibkov says he’s a professional horse trainer who loves and cares for his horse like it were his family pet.

Wiederkehr, on the other hands, wants the city to revoke the companies’ licenses. The city says no such thing would happen until after the companies have their day in court.

Miserable at Work? Advice From a Happiness Expert

If you find yourself unhappy, stressed or miserable at your office, you are not alone.

More than 50% of American workers report that they don’t feel fulfilled at their jobs, according to Gallup’s 2017 State of the American Workplace. What’s worse, 16% say they are downright miserable.

Unfortunately, a person’s dissatisfaction at work can have a significant impact on their professional career and personal wellbeing.

“Our families and friends suffer when we are disengaged, dissatisfied and unfulfilled,” writes Fortune 500 company leadership advisor Annie McKee in her latest book, “How To Be Happy At Work.

McKee teaches masters and doctoral-level courses on leadership and emotional intelligence at the University of Pennsylvania, and has spent many years researching the ways that moods and actions affect people’s experience and success in the workplace.

On a person’s most stressful day at work, when they fear their manager or become upset with co-workers, they most likely shut down. The worker becomes resentful, cynical and loses their creative spark and energy.

“The situation is unacceptable. Most of us work more than eight hours a day,” McKee writes. “That means that if we are unhappy at work, we are miserable from more than a third of our lives.”

When someone is stuck in a work in an environment that perpetually creates these destructive emotions, they “interfere with reasoning, adaptability and resilience,” McKee says; this makes the worker distracted and ineffective.

Moreover, according to McKee, the longer such negative feeling goes unchecked, the more “we slip into a state where we can’t seem to find our way back to happiness and we’re not as effective as we once were.”

And even if they are not stating it explicitly, an employer also picks up on your unhappiness: Companies with happy and engaged employees outperform their competition by 20 percent, McKee writes.

As much as you may try to leave your feelings at the office, McKee points out that “emotions are contagious. Our feelings have an impact on how others feel and the extent to which their brains work,” she writes.

Yet even though the “low-grade” forms of persistent stress, anger and other negative emotions can “literally kill us,” as McKee maintains, there are several ways to improve you workplace satisfaction.

“When our work has meaning, when we see an enticing vision of the future and when we have strong, warm relationships, we are emotionally, intellectually and physically equipped to do our best,” McKee writes.

Here are the three primary strategies McKee puts forth to improve happiness and wellbeing at work.

1) Determine what happiness at work would look like for you

McKee defines happiness as “deep and abiding enjoyment of daily activities fueled by Passion for a meaningful purpose, a hopeful view of the future and true friendships.”

She adds that happiness isn’t just about good feeling in certain moments, but an ongoing sense of joy, hope, excitement, generosity and overall well-being, along with other positive attitudes and behaviors.

“I stand firmly in the belief that happiness is possible for everyone: happiness is a human right,” McKee writes.

2) Seek out a sense of purpose

Whether you believe your job is your true calling in life or whether it’s simply a way to make ends meet, establishing a sense of purpose carries many benefits.

“When we’re driven by a sense of purpose, when we feel optimistic and enjoy being with our colleagues, we’re better able to access our knowledge, experience and emotional intelligence,” McKee writes.

Our brain function is simply enhanced by feeling good, she notes. “We are more open to new ideas and can more easily tap into her intuition. We’re able to process information more quickly and more thoroughly, be creative and get along with people who are different from ourselves,” according to McKee.

3) Resist Pessimism

Being a downer at work not only compromises what you can achieve but also what your whole team can achieve as a group. “Just as optimism fuels the energy needed to accomplish goals, pessimism causes us to give up before we even try,” McKee writes.

To counteract any pessimism, McKee recommends pausing at the end of each day to reflect on what went well.

‘When you catch yourself thinking about all the things you didn’t get done or that didn’t go well thank instead about what you learned, the positive impact you had on others and something you’re proud of,” she says.

If your workday doesn’t seem to be going well, you can also reflect back to a different day or time when you did feel hopeful about the future.

“Think about strengths you use at work, reflect on aspects of your mind, body, heart and spirit that are the most important to you and think about how they have supported you get getting your goals,” McKee writes.

She adds: “Positive emotions and a state of mind characterized by hope and compassion create a resonant climate, an environment where everyone can be fulfilled and effective too.”

Paid Sick Leave Will be the Law Starting January 1st

Beginning January 1, 2018, Washington employers will be required to provide workers with paid sick leave. Initiative 1433, which was passed by voters in fall 2016, requires four primary changes to Washington State law:

  1. Employers required to provide paid sick leave to most employees effective January 1, 2018.
  2. Minimum wage increased over the next few years.
  3. Tips and service charges must be given to the appropriate staff
  4. Employees protected from retaliation when pursuing their rights under the Minimum Wage Requirements and Labor Standards Act.

Paid Sick Leave Requirements

Accrual

  • The majority of companies will be required to give paid sick leave to workers at a minimum rate of 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. This includes part-time and seasonal workers.
  • Paid sick leave also must be paid to employees at their normal hourly compensation rate.
  • Employees can use accrued paid sick leave starting on the 90th calendar day following the first day of employment.
  • Unused sick leave amounting to 40 hours or less will carry over to the next year.
  • Employers can provide their workers with more generous carry over and accrual policies, if they wish

Usage

Employees have the right to use paid sick leave for the following purposes:

  • Caring for themselves or their family members.
  • When the employees’ workplace or their child’s school is officially closed down for a health-related reason.
  • For absences that fall under the state’s Domestic Violence Leave Act.

Employers may permit employees to use paid sick leave for additional purposes, at their discretion.

Rulemaking for paid sick leave

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has developed rules to communicate and implement the new requirements.

These rules include:

  • Procedures for employers to notify employees.
  • Recordkeeping and reporting requirements related to paid sick leave.
  • Processes to protect employees from retaliation when they use of paid sick leave lawfully.

Notice: A public hearing (including an overview of the draft proposed rules) will take place at the following times and locations:

November 8 at 10 a.m.
Spokane Center Place Auditorium
2426 N Discovery Pl
Spokane Valley WA 99216

November 9 at 10 a.m.
L&I – Tumwater Auditorium
7273 Linderson Way SW
Tumwater WA 98501

A public hearing is a formal agency meeting where the public can participate in the rulemaking process by providing testimony on a proposed rule.

Paid family and medical leave

The Washington State Legislature passed the paid family and medical leave bill in the 2017 legislative session. This new law will be administered by the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Beginning in 2019, the program will be funded by premiums paid by employers and employees. In 2020, it will allow workers to apply for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for personal illness, pregnancy or illness of family members.

For more information, see Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) (www.esd.wa.gov).

 

Justice Served: Construction Firm Held Accountable for Risking Workers Lives

A Kirkland construction company has been hit with substantial fines for risking workers’ safety by operating a crane too close to high-voltage power lines without proper precautions. Every year workers are hurt and killed when cranes come in contact with power lines. Those accidents have become a major workplace safety issue, and very specific precautions are required.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited Compass General Construction for two willful violations, the most serious category of infraction. Compass General now faces fines up to $96,000.

The violations were noted last May, just two days after an L&I inspector surveyed the job site and reviewed the crane operation safety requirements with the site superintendent. During that time, a crane was located on site, but it was not situated next to the power lines.

A few days later, Seattle City Light notified L&I that the crane was working right next to the power line without the required safety precautions. L&I returned to the site and confirmed that the crane was indeed operating near the power lines without having installed a warning line (highly visible flagging or caution tape) to keep the crane a safe distance away. In addition, the construction company did not have a dedicated spotter to notify the operator if he or she came too close.

Consequently, Compass has been cited for one willful violation for failing to appoint a lift director to monitor the crane lifts and rigging crew. The company also received a second willful violation for failure to follow power-line safety requirements, including having an elevated warning line a safe distance away from power lines and a spotter. Both of those violations carry a $48,000 penalty.

The violations are regarded as “willful” since the L&I compliance officer went over the specific requirements with the site superintendent just three days earlier.

Cranes and power lines a known hazard

In September last year, two employees of Spartan Concrete, were severely injured — and nearly killed — while working near the very same West Seattle power line when a high-voltage jolt of electricity traveled down a crane’s hoist line to the men below. Electrocution is responsible for hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries on construction sites every year in the US.

The risks of cranes and overhead power lines are well known. There were ten deaths in Washington from cranes touching power lines between 1999 to 2012, including a double fatality in 2010.

L&I issued an alert (Lni.wa.gov/safety/hazardalerts/CranesAndPowerlines.pdf) in 2012 warning companies of the deadly hazard after it received notification of six power line contacts by cranes in just six months.

Company on severe violator list

Along with the two willful violations charged for the recent incident, Compass General Construction was also cited with a general violation for failing to document that the rigging supervisor had passed the required exams proving he was qualified.

As a consequence of the willful violations, Compass has been placed on the “severe violator” list and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions persist. The company has appealed the violations.

Penalties paid in connection with such citations are deposited in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, which aids workers and families of those who have been killed on the job.

Workers are Earning 13% Less Than They Could Be: One Common Mistake May be the Cause

  • A surprising number of American employees are paid significantly less than what they’re actually worth.
  • The pay disparity is often the result of skill-sets out-pacing supply in the current job market.
  • Many job applicants accept the initial salary offer without first negotiating, resulting in less pay.

Have you ever wondered if you could be earning more than what you make at your current job? According to new salary data from Glassdoor, you probably could. Based on information from the Know Your Worth™  salary estimator, Glassdoor determined that the average worker in the U.S. could be making $7,528, or 13.3%, more per year than their current annual base salary.

Why is this so? For one, “we’re in the best labor market we’ve seen in a generation,” according to Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor chief economist. “With the job market full of opportunities and the economy hitting full employment, the value of skilled workers has increased. We see this even more in industries like technology and healthcare, in which demand for competitive skill-sets outpaces supply.”

The challenge, however, is that too few employees are aware of their increased market value and are using that data to their advantage. In fact, Glassdoor found that 3 in 5 U.S. employees did not negotiate on their pay level when offered a job, and those rates are even lower among particular groups: for instance 68% of women accepted a salary offer without negotiating compared to 52% of men.

“The big takeaway for job seekers is that our Know Your Worth tool can shed light on your current market value, based in part on market conditions where you live, to help you decide whether it’s time to negotiate your pay,” Chamberlain said — so if you haven’t yet gotten your free, personal salary estimate, there’s no time like the present.

In addition to helping you assess your market value, Glassdoor has also made it easier for workers to earn what they deserve by introducing an improved, customized salaries experience. Workers can now research salary data for a particular position in a specific location and then filter the search by years of experience, industry, and company size.

While pay rate isn’t everything when it comes to job satisfaction (with some people prioritizing values, professional opportunities or trust in leadership) it is a major factor that anyone should negotiate when applying for a job. If you notice that your current pay is out of sync with the Know Your Worth estimate, you might consider initiating a salary discussion with your recruiter, supervisor, HR department, or whoever else determines compensation at your place of work. Who knows how much money you could be leaving on the table?

4 in 5 Americans Would Take a Pay Cut to Work for a More “Just” Company

Americans place one thing above all others when assessing whether an employer is a good corporate citizen: how they treat their workers.

That sentiment emerged from a November survey of 10,000 Americans by Just Capital, a nonprofit group founded by billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II that also ranks companies for how “just” or ethical they are in their business practices.

More Americans ranked treatment of workers above all other issues, including dealings with customers, products, the environment or the larger community — when it comes to evaluating a business’s stature. Conducted in partnership with the University of Chicago’s research institution, NORC, the survey determined that 85% of Democrats and 72% of Republicans feel that companies don’t share enough of their success with workers.

With unemployment currently standing at a 17-year low, and at a time when “we haven’t seen corporate profits this high and with equity markets at a record high, there’s still a substantial group of working Americans who just are not benefiting from that,” said Martin Whittaker, CEO of Just Capital. “It doesn’t surprise me that workers, and how a company treats its workers, is front and center.”

The survey likely reveals a missed opportunity for companies that want to promote social responsibility to entice consumers or employees who increasingly say they prefer to spend money with (or work for) businesses that reflect their values. In fact, according to the survey, 85% of Americans reported that they would pay more for a product associated with “just” business practices, while 79% claim they’d take a pay cut to work at such a firm.

Yet even though many companies boast about their environmental practices and commitments, their volunteer efforts within the community, or their customer service, the survey provides a helpful reminder that those firms need to think about doing more to promote higher wages and inclusive hiring practices to distinguish themselves. Too many companies, says William Lazonick, an economics professor at University of Massachusetts at Lowell, are “talking about a lot of issues that don’t cost them a lot to deal with and give them a good face. But the fundamentals of how you treat your workers are being neglected.”

The survey indicated that 25% of respondents ranked workers as the most important factor in assessing corporate behavior. Ten percent of the time, job creation was rated most important, making the workforce far and away the most important factor Americans use to evaluate a company’s actions. These two criteria were then followed by how businesses treat customers (19%), the quality of their products (17%), their environmental record (13%) and finally, their interactions with local communities (11%). In sum, the report gives an insightful glimpse into the specific business practices deemed most important by American consumers, such as efficient use of resources, truth in advertising or safe working conditions.

Some companies have make a name for themselves by paying better wages or offering more generous benefits to their employees. Costco’s relatively generous pay and benefit structure is often held out as an exemplar in the retail industry. But Whittaker suggests a growing transparency about worker pay through social media and sites like Glassdoor or PayScale could lead to a more strategic advantage for companies to promote.

“Worker pay, worker treatment, benefits and inclusion and diversity — all of those things have quite recently become lightning-rod issues,” he said. “Only recently have we been getting the data to know.”

Some companies have been increasingly boasting of competitive pay or generous benefits and health coverage in their public relations campaigns — yet when they do, they seem to be aiming for workers in a tight labor market rather than appealing to customers who might prefer to buy from worker-friendly companies. For example, a growing number of companies, particularly those seeking young workers with high-demand skills in fields like technology and financial services, have been publicizing their family leave benefits, and  retailers increasingly promote efforts to raise their own minimum wages above state or federal baselines.

Whittaker noted one thing that caught him by surprise with the survey data: thsi is, how similar the priorities were across different demographic groups.

“I expected to see wild swings on issues of greatest importance,” he said. “But whether it was political or economic or other cuts of the data, we really didn’t see that. People, for the most part, just want companies to treat people as a human being, whether as a worker or as a customer. That’s table stakes.”

Americans Report that More Sleep Would Help Them be Better Employees

 As we approach the shortest and darkest days of the year, it’s natural to feel more sleepy than usual. But let’s admit a bigger problem here: Americans are severely sleep-deprived, no matter the time of year.

Whether we’re pulling extra hours at work or staying up all night fretting about finances, losing sleep is detrimental to our health.  American workers’ problems with sleep deprivation are even estimated to cost the economy $411 billion in lost productivity.

Two-thirds of American workers say they’d be better employees if they got more sleep, according to a new survey by the career search and recruiting site Glassdoor.

Based on a survey of 1,077 full and part-time American workers, Glassdoor showed that a whopping 74% of respondents sleep less than eight hours on a typical work night. Eight hours may seem like a lofty ideal but according to the National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults should actually get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep if they want to be in prime shape for work.

On your average work night, 18-34 year old employees get 7.4 hours of sleep — and then it’s downhill from there as we age. For workers in the 45-64 age bracket, a typical night of sleep is only 6.5 hours.

“A person’s sleeping habits can directly impact not only their workplace performance but also their overall health and wellness,” Glassdoor community expert Sarah Stoddard tells CNBC Make It. “This survey highlights how employees aren’t getting enough rest to completely recharge and present their best selves at work.”

 

And American workers’ anxiety about being under-rested is hardly off-base. Studies indicate that even a single night of not getting proper sleep makes someone you feel hungrier than usual, increases the risks for accidents while driving and at work, lower your focus and heightens your vulnerability to to catching a cold, among other health effects.

When you crunch the numbers by gender, male employees report 7.1 hours of sleep on a typical work night, while female employees say they get 6.8 hours.

But for many, there is no such thing as a regular workday, Glassdoor reports.

“With technology allowing employees to work remotely and flexible work schedules on the rise, employees are empowered to step in and out of work to accommodate their personal and family lives,” writes Glassdoor chief human resources officer Carmel Galvin in a release. “But with this advancement, the lines of when work starts and ends can blur, potentially impacting the rest employees receive during the week to be at their best.”

Interestingly, these survey findings also suggest that demanding employers are not entirely to blame.

Nearly 3 in 4 workers said their managers encourage them to take time off if they need to focus on restoring their health. And 87 percent of employees felt that their employers support them in trying to balance work and personal commitments or needs.

Notwithstanding our lack of sleep, Americans also seem to struggle with taking vacation, sick days and time off, which only increases the risk for burnout. An earlier Glassdoor survey showed that even if people do manage to take a vacation, they take their work with them out of fear of falling behind or because of the perception that they shouldn’t ever be entirely disconnected, among other reasons. More than half of Americans workers also say that they would rather work while sick than use their paid time off or sick time on those days.

“There are several ways people can build better sleep habits in order be more productive at work and improve their overall wellness,” Stoddard says, “and it all comes down to designing a nighttime routine that lets you wind down.”

Here are some ways Stoddard recommends you ensure better sleep.

Unplug for the night

We’ve all hears this before, but few of us seem to follow the rule. So it bears repeating here: turn off electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. You might even consider leaving your phone in another room to charge overnight.  As Stoddard explains, “This will give your brain a break from the blue light emitted from your smartphone and allow yourself to truly disconnect before falling asleep.”

This is a habit that technolgy billionaire Mark Cuban now makes use of, and he says he is less attached to his devices as a result. “Before I go to bed, I can put my phone [down] and not worry about having to pick it up in the middle of the night and [I can] just get a good night’s sleep,” Cuban once said on Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global Podcast.

Relax and let go of busy thoughts

Unplugging has the added benefit of freeing up your time to decompress. This aids your mind in the transition away from the frenetic thoughts of the day, Stoddard points out.

Former Google executive Jonathan Rosenberg claimed  that despite his tech addiction, stowing his phone away during dinner and before bed allows him to genuinely relax after a busy day. “[Smartphones, tablets and laptops] are incredibly addictive in a good way,” Rosenberg says. “But it’s important to be able to turn them off periodically during the day and night.”

To help yourself wind down, “try taking a warm shower, sipping some tea, practicing light yoga or reading the book that’s been sitting on your bedside table,” Stoddard says.

 

 

 

Are American Workers More Optimistic Under Trump?

Many of the voters who put Donald Trump in office in November 2016 hoped his “outsider” status would boost job prospects and revive faltering industries. Now that we are one year into his presidency, how do American workers feel about the future of their jobs and industries?

BBC Capital commissioned pollsters SmithGeiger to survey 2,060 people across the US, asking if a year after the election they were now more or less optimistic about job prospects.

The poll revealed that nearly half of the adult population doesn’t feel any different about the future of their job compared to their views before last November’s election, with fairly equal numbers optimistic and pessimistic about their employment situation. Given a tumultuous year where the US economy flourished at the same time that Trump’s new  administration struggled to win over the American public, the stability of individual perceptions about their jobs and industries may seem unexpected.

Key economic factors like employment rates, wages and the stock market performance have had strong showings during President Trump’s first year in office. Unemployment now stands at a 17-year low rate of 4.1%, and hourly wages have risen by an average of 2.8% in the past year. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 is up 21% since the 2016 election. It’s certainly worth placing these figures in context: each of those indicators continue trends that were already in place under President Obama, where the stock market and wages steadily went up as unemployment fell.

Yet most polls tell a different story when the American public is asked about the direction of the nation as a whole. The majority gives a pessimistic response: in fact, a recent Economist/YouGov poll found 60% of Americans think the US is on the wrong track, compared to only 27% that feel America is headed in the right direction. The same poll at the end of January found 52% of Americans were pessimistic about the nation’s path, compared with 35% optimistic about the trajectory of the country. That 8 point bump in pessimism may be connected to President Trump’s disapproval ratings, which have risen by 10 points over the past year.

The disconnect between positive employment metrics and negative perceptions of our county’s future complicates expectations for how Americans evaluate prospects for their jobs and industries.

In fact, the biggest portion of Americans who don’t feel differently about the outlook for their careers since Trump’s victory may reflect the conflicting relationship between generally positive employment and economic performance and broader pessimism about the direction of the nation.

As is often the case, workers’ perceptions of their jobs and industries are affected by their personal characteristics. American men were twice as likely as their female counterparts (30% to 15%) to be more optimistic about the future of their jobs since Donald Trump’s election. The confluence of long-standing gender inequities such as a significant pay gap between women and men play a part, but significant tensions between many American women and the Trump administration could also be a factor in the low levels of optimism among women regarding their careers.

Similarly, white Americans express higher levels of optimism about the future of their careers than other racial groups. The heightened racial tensions during Trump’s first year in office and persistent wage gaps between different ethnic groups have likely contributed to that growing rate of pessimism among minority populations.

White Americans reported roughly equal percentages of feeling optimistic or pessimistic, but the trend swung more towards pessimism with other ethnic groups.

Interestingly, the most prominent swing towards pessimism exists among Asian-Americans, a group that has enjoyed fairly strong levels of economic success in recent years. The White House’s policy positions on trade and national security in relation to Asia may be exacerbating that general unease within this fast-growing cohort of Americans.

Donald Trump’s 2016 victory has been largely credited to his ability to energize rural voters with promises to restore jobs in small towns and rural areas of America, and he has commonly highlights announcements from companies that have expanded or relocated in rural regions.
However, the survey results show that rural Americans do not seem to be measurably more optimistic about the future of their jobs than urban or suburbs counterparts. That restrained optimism among rural voters may be a reflection of entrenched economic impediments in their communities. While President Trump has promised to revitalize these communities, the difficult realities of transforming their economies may be tempering optimism among rural Americans.

In contrast to many other aspects of life, age does not seem to be much of a factor in the present case of explaining people’s respective career outlooks. Variation across generations of Americans regarding the future of their jobs and industries is quite negligible. However, the survey did not include older workers (age 55 and above), and thus potential differences in this age group were not examined.

Trump was also popular among Americans with lower levels of education in his 2016 victory, winning a solid majority of voters with no more than a high school degree (and losing a majority of citizens with a university degree). The survey indicates that those less-educated Americans remain a bit more optimistic than those with a bachelors or graduate degree.

President Trump’s rhetorical focus on manufacturing and mining, which typically employ workers with lower levels of educational attainment, may explain the higher levels of optimism among this group. On the other hand, the Trump administration’s strained relationship with tech giants like Google, Apple, and Amazon could be elevating concern among more highly-educated Americans who work in those industries.

Overall, the positive macroeconomic performance measures of the U.S. economy of the past year do not appear to have translated into widespread optimism among Americans about the future of their jobs. While levels of pessimism aren’t particularly high, it doesn’t seem that our robust economic conditions are resonating with the public in the way one would expect.

Concerns about the broader direction of the U.S. and our relationship with other countries appear to be dampening the impact of strong economic performance on American perceptions about their jobs and industries in upcoming years.

 

 

Absence of Women in Leadership Positions is a National Emergency

Prominent business writer Emily Peck recently claimed: “Men run everything, and it’s enough already. Want to stop sexual harassment? Fix this now.” By “this,” she meant having more women leaders in the U.S. — from businesses to politics to education to media and entertainment.

There have been a flood of horrific stories about male predatory behavior in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal last month, but one comment has stood out above many others. In an incriminating memo about her boss, a Weinstein Co. employee named Lauren O’Connor succinctly explained how the Hollywood producer could get away with sexually harassing such a large number of women.

“The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10,” she reportedly wrote.

That one line summarizes more than the Weinstein situation, with the Hollywood mogul now accused of sexual harassing or assaulting over 50 women. The same power imbalance characterizes every aspect of our country, from the White House and Congress to the media, police departments, universities, large legal firms, and nearly every major corporate boardroom, corner office and C-suite.

“Weinstein is the embodiment of the power differential that plays out all over the workplace in the United States,” said Teresa Boyer, director of the Anne Welsh McNulty Institute for Women’s Leadership at Villanova University.

The power differential is extreme: Men occupy nearly 81% of Congressional seats. Three-quarters of state legislators are men. Men also make up the vast majority of mayors and governors. And 83% of elected prosecutors and 88% of police officers are guys.

Things are just as bad in the private sector: of the 500 chief executives at Fortune 500 companies, only 32 are women. Many know that conservative institutions like Fox News and the White House are overwhelmingly run by men, but so are more “liberal” industries and companies ― the entertainment world is largely ruled by men, as is the news media and the tech world.

Women do comprise the majority of school teachers and principals, but fewer than 25 percent of school superintendents are female. Who runs the banks? Men. Who flies the planes? Men.

Even when they have the best of intentions, male-dominated institutions are broadcasting a clear message: Men are leaders, and women, if they’re lucky, might get a seat or two at the table.

The consequences are pervasive, both harming women on an individual level and infecting our culture, politics and history. Just this last week, we learned that political journalist Mark Halperin, former New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier and the publisher of Artforum magazine, Knight Landesman, have sexually harassed and demeaned their female co-workers. More scandalous revelations about powerful men surface by the day.

But it’s not just about their individual transgressions. These men, like Harvey Weinstein, had powerful platforms from which they disseminated their views on culture and politics.

Halperin, in particular, authored one of the most authoritative books on the 2008 presidential election, the first time a woman came close to landing the nomination. “This guy, whose young female colleagues accuse of rubbing his dick against … shaped (& profited handsomely from) the story of Clinton,” Rebecca Traister, one of New York Magazine’s political columnists. tweeted Thursday. Halperin has also appeared on television to discuss accusations of sexual harassment against President Trump.

If men like this are responsible for scrutinizing the actions of other men accused of sexual transgressions, is it any surprise that Trump was elected? That women feel afraid to speak out? That known ass-grabbers ― a list which now includes a former president ― are dismissed as just boys being boys or as sad old men?

The consequences of male supremacy are ingrained in U.S. law and policy. Why is it so hard to prove rape or sexual harassment in a court of law? Well, men make and enforce the law. They’re more likely to sympathize with male offenders than female victims. This is suggested in the language common in such cases: Women are cast not as victims but as temptresses. They’ve dressed too seductively, so men run wild with desire. They can’t help themselves.

Yes, lots of men have been speaking up in recent days about the horror of what Weinstein did and of sexual assault and harassment. Of course, there are male allies. But, in Emily Peck’s view, generally speaking, men aren’t overhauling our institutions to correct the power imbalance.

Blame Technology for Inequality? Experts Say That Thinking is a Trap

The most popular explanation for the steep rise in inequality over the last four decades is developments in technology. As the story goes, technology increased demand for sophisticated skills while diminishing the need for manual labor.

This explanation has the advantage over competing views — like those blaming trade policy or labor market policy — since it can be boxed off as something that happened independent of policy. But if trade policy or labor market policy are behind the redistribution of wealth from ordinary workers to shareholders and the most highly skilled, then we must face the inevitability that inequality is policy driven — in short, the result of conscious decisions by those in power. Technology gets those power-players off the hook. If it’s the culprit, we may still feel bad about inequality, but it’s just something that happened, not something we did.

That view is certainly convenient to the beneficiaries of rising inequality. The problem is, it doesn’t make much sense. While the technological development may have its own logic to a certain extent, the distribution of benefits from technology is clearly determined by policy. Most importantly, who benefits from technology depends on a country’s policy on patents, copyrights, and other intellectual property matters.

To illustrate this point, consider how much money Bill Gates, the world’s richest person, would need if Windows and other Microsoft software didn’t have copyright protection. It would allow anyone anywhere in the world to install Microsoft’s software on their computers, and even make millions of copies, without paying a cent to Bill Gates. An intelligent and ambitious person from a wealthy family, Bill Gates still be doing just fine, but he most certainly would NOT be among the wealthiest people in the world. In fact, he’d probably still have a job like the rest of us.

The argument in favor of intellectual property is familiar. Governments grant individuals and corporations monopolies over a certain period of time, allowing them to charge well above the market rate for items with patent or copyright protection. This monopoly provides incentive to innovate and do creative work.

But of course this isn’t the only form of incentive. For instance, governments can and do fund a good deal of research directly. In the US, we spend over $30 billion a year on bio-medical research through the National Institutes of Health. Various government departments and agencies finance tens of billions of research every year across many areas. In fact, it was Defense Department research that developed the Internet and also Unix, the program that was the basis for Dos, Microsoft’s original operating system.

The government also directly or indirectly supports a large amount of creative and artistic work. The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities gets a lot of bad press from the right, but the fact is, significantly more work is supported through the tax deduction for charitable contributions, which cover 40 cents on the dollar that wealthy people donate to orchestras, theaters, art museums, and other non-profit institutions that support the arts.

It is reasonable to argue whether patents and copyrights are the most efficient mechanisms for supporting innovation and creative work. In Dean Baker’s book, Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer, he argues that in the 21st century they are very inefficient mechanisms for this purpose. But separate from the question of whether these are the best ways to achieve the goal, there isn’t much dispute that intellectual property redistributes money from the people who don’t own it to those who do. Very few folks with only high school degrees own patents or copyrights. In short, it’s a story of upward redistribution.

As Dean Baker argues: “Since intellectual property can be either longer and stronger or shorter and weaker, the decision about how much intellectual property we have is implicitly a decision about a trade-off between growth and inequality. (This assumes that longer and stronger IP rules lead to more growth, which is a debatable point, especially since productivity growth has slowed to a crawl in the last decade.) If we are concerned about the degree of inequality in society, one way to address it would be to shorten the duration of patents and copyrights or lessen their scope so that they are less valuable.”

Of course that would mean less money for the pharmaceutical industry, the medical equipment industry, the software industry, and a number of other sectors that disproportionately benefit from IP. Shareholders in these industries would suffer a hit to their income, as would top executives. The rest of the country, however, would experience a boost in their income as the price of a wide range of products would fall sharply (just think of the annual cost of prescription meds and healthcare).

There really is a tremendous amount of money at stake. We’re on track to spend over $450 billion this year on prescription drugs alone. If these drugs were sold in a free market without patents or other forms of protection, we would certainly pay less than $80 billion. (Imagine the next great cancer drug selling for a few hundred dollars instead of a few hundred thousand dollars.) The difference of $370 billion is almost 2 percent of GDP. It is roughly six times as much money as was at stake in debates to repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

As we increasingly hear projections about robots and artificial intelligence stealing jobs from a large number of workers, we should recognize that any redistribution from workers to “owners” of these technologies is a policy choice. If all the knowledge invested in those new technologies was part of the public domain, they would be cheap. Most all of us would be able to purchase the most advanced robots for little more than the cost of the materials they contained. Those robots could clean our houses, mow our lawns, and do our laundry. New life saving drugs would cost little more than aspirin and the most sophisticated medical scanning equipment would be available at the price of an old-fashioned X-Ray.

The people who developed this technology could still be fairly and handsomely rewarded for their work, but they wouldn’t end up in the stratospheric levels of Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. In fact, if we weakened patent and copyright protections enough, the technological geniuses of the future may do as well as their counterparts did fifty years ago; they’d be wealthy but not mega-rich.

There’s always the chance, as naysayers warn, that we’d pay a large price in terms of reduced innovation and productivity growth if we moved in this direction, but that remains a point that has to be demonstrated, not just asserted. Moreover, we would have to ask whether the benefits of greater equality would be important enough to justify the sacrifice of some growth.

Whatever the outcome, before we can answer such questions, we first have to ask them. First, we must recognize that technology itself does not produce inequality; it is policy on technology that leads to inequality. Once we acknowledge this basic fact, we can move on to a more serious debate over how best to structure technology policy in the years to come.