Friday, December 12, 2014

SCOTUS Rules Workers Don’t Need To Be Paid for All Their Time Working

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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Dec 10, 2014, 1:30 pm 

SCOTUS Rules Workers Don’t Need To Be Paid for All Their Time Working


BY Moshe Z. Marvit

Yesterday's Supreme Court ruling against Amazon warehouse workers means bosses can require workers to work for periods of time and simply choose not to pay them for it. (Scott Lewis / Flickr)   

Stories of the horrid conditions for workers in Amazon warehouses have been trickling out for years: The temperatures at the warehouses vary wildly, with some workers having to work in sub-zero conditions, others passing out from days where the temperature soared above 100 degrees, workers crying from not being able to keep up the brutal pace demanded, and then being threatened with termination for crying. And we can now add another indignity to the list, coming yesterday at the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in a 9-0 decision that it is legal for Amazon warehouse workers not to be paid for a portion of their workday.

At the end of long, taxing shifts at warehouses, Amazon requires workers to go through security screenings to ensure that no one has stolen anything from the warehouse. Because Amazon does not hire enough security guards or stagger the quitting times of the workers, these screenings add an additional 25 minutes to each employee’s shift. These workers sued, arguing that under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the staffing company that hired them to work in Amazon warehouses was required to pay them for the time spent in these security checks.

Writing for a unanimous court in Integrity Staffing Solutions v. Busk, Justice Clarence Thomas disagreed. (Though the workers work at an Amazon warehouse, they are hired through the intermediary staffing company, Integrity Staffing Solutions.)

At issue was a provision that Congress placed in the Portal-to-Portal Act of 1947, which amended the FLSA by excluding “activities which are preliminary to or postliminary to said principal activity or activities.”  The courts have included in the definition of “principal activities” anything that is “integral and indispensable” to the principal activities. In other words, as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (which found in favor of the workers) stated, the test is whether the activity is necessary for the work being performed and done for the benefit of the employer.

Justice Thomas disagreed, turning to at least two dictionaries for clarity. Using the Oxford English Dictionary, Justice Thomas found that “integral” means “forming an intrinsic portion or element, as distinguished from an adjunct or appendage.” Using Webster’s New International Dictionary (2nd Ed.), Justice Thomas found that “indispensable” means “a duty that cannot be dispensed with, remitted, set aside, disregarded or neglected.” So, he concluded, an activity is a “principal activity” only when it includes one that “is an intrinsic element of those activities and one with which the employee cannot dispense if he is to perform his principal activities.”

Using this tidy definition, Justice Thomas explains that the workers are not eligible for pay for the time they spend in the security screenings. The screenings are not the principal activity of Amazon because they were not hired to go through screenings, and they are not integral and indispensable because Amazon could have easily eliminated the screenings. The Court’s argument, then, is that because it is unnecessary for Amazon to execute long security screenings to conduct its business, it need not pay these workers for the required time they spend in these screenings.

By its own logic, the Supreme Court’s decision fails. The Court discussed other cases where workers’ preliminary time was compensable and tried to distinguish them. In one case, the Court held that employers had to pay meatpackers who had to sharpen their knives, “because dull knives would slow down production on the assembly line, affect the appearance of the meat as well as the quality of the hides, cause waste and lead to accidents.”

Amazon’s warehouses work off of extreme efficiency and knowledge of where every one of millions of items are at any given time. For Amazon, the possibility of worker theft would be even more damaging to its business than most retailers because Amazon uses a system of “chaotic storage.” Under this system, items are not shelved in categories, but rather in a seemingly random manner based on empty shelve space.

If an item cannot be found using a scanner (as a result of a theft, for example), there is no simple workaround, and Amazon’s famed efficiency would suffer. Amazon is thus concerned about theft not only because of the monetary loss of the stolen product, but also because theft slows down their warehouse efficiency—a cornerstone of their business model. So if theft is as big of a concern as the retailer has alleged (and a big enough concern to hire security guards to screen workers at the end of every shift), it would seriously impair Amazon’s efficiency at least as much as dull knives would slow down meatpacking productions.

Perhaps the Supreme Court’s decision is unsurprising. In opposition to these Amazon warehouse workers, who may occupy some of the worst jobs in America, was an alliance of some of the nation’s largest corporations and trade groups, the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties and the United States Government.

This alliance of business and government has now opened up the door for increased worker abuses and wage theft.  There is nothing stopping Amazon and other retailers from trying to save more money by laying off security staff that conduct screenings and make the workers wait longer. Now, after a long day of backbreaking labor, these workers may have to wait in hour-long lines for a security screening—a screening that everyone from Justice Clarence Thomas on down has agreed is inessential.

Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation and the co-author (with Richard Kahlenberg) of the book Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.

The Ominous ‘Cromnibus,’ A Budget Bill That Should Have Died

The Ominous ‘Cromnibus,’ A Budget Bill That Should Have Died

Isaiah J. Poole
With all of the justifiable anger directed at what’s in the 2015 spending bill – the omnibus continuing resolution or “cromnibus” – that the House struggled to pass late Thursday, there is also a major story to be told about what’s not in the bill. It’s a story of missed opportunities that is as significant as the Wall Street giveaways, the kowtowing to fossil fuel interests and gratuitous swipes at conservative boogeymen that were written into this monstrosity.

Most conspicuous is the absence of any real effort to address the plight of millions of people who remain untouched by the so-called economic “recovery” of the past few years. They are represented by the 51 percent of respondents in a New York Times poll this week who rated the condition of the national economy as either “fairly bad” or “very bad.” In that same poll, only 30 percent saw the economy as getting better.

No wonder: The Bureau of Labor Statistics this week reported that 54 metropolitan areas around the country had unemployment rates in excess of 7 percent in October, even as the national unemployment rate was 5.8 percent. Meanwhile, those in the bottom 90 percent who are working have seen no real wage gains since 2000, as all of the gains and then some from economic growth over the past decade have accrued to the top 10 percent – and most disproportionately to the top 1 percent.

(The Economic Policy Institute on Thursday calculated what it called the “inequality tax” on the middle class, the average income a middle-class household lost by not reaping its share of the gains of economic growth since 1979. In 2011, that “tax” for an average middle-income family was $11,630.)
Given the acute need for jobs and rising incomes, what passes for “bolstering job creation” in a summary of the budget bill released by the House Appropriations Committee is scandalous. Incredibly, a provision that allows banks to engage in high-risk derivatives trading under the shield of federal insurance is listed as a measure to “bolster job creation.” So are several measures that roll back environmental protections or prevent policies that would combat climate change.

Meanwhile, “the bill has no major new investments in infrastructure, despite the need and the potential for job creation. For instance, the bill provides no funding for a proposed high-speed rail project,” said Lindsay Koshgarian of the National Priorities Project, which analyzes federal spending and taxation.

The explicit ban on high-speed rail funding is symbolic of Republican myopia on the economy. There is clear demand for high-speed rail in several high-density population corridors around the country, and the upgrading of our rail networks would create tens of thousands of jobs and revive whole industries in steel, rail cars and engine parts when coupled with a Made-In-America mandate. But on that kind of investment in the future, this is the Budget of No.

Another job-creating industry that would create millions of new jobs and lead the American economy toward a more sustainable future is in alternative energy. But the 2015 budget makes a point of cutting by 16 percent President Obama’s budget request for energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, while appropriating 20 percent more than the president requested on research and development of fossil fuels. That’s right: The budget would spend your tax dollars supporting already massively profitable oil, gas and coal companies perfectly capable of funding their own research, while starving the research and development needed to make the energy sources we need for the future to stave off climate change more viable.

In the Housing and Urban Development budget, Republicans made a point of noting that “no funding is included for any new, unauthorized ‘sustainable,’ ‘livable, or ‘green’ community development programs,” the quotes dripping with condescension.

There are a host of initiatives – key among them the Community Development Block Grant program – that could support economic development in those communities that are experiencing high unemployment. That would include communities like Ferguson, Mo., which not only needs to rebuild after the riots that followed the grand jury refusal to indict the police officer who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown, but to go further in addressing the economic deprivation that, when added to tensions with the police, became combustible. But these programs are being cut, not expanded. The Community Development Block Grant, which spent $4.3 billion in fiscal 2004, is being capped at just $3 billion in fiscal 2015.

“We’re not investing in people, or in the future,” Koshgarian said. For example, “this bill ignores the President’s Preschool for All request, even though investment in preschool has bipartisan support and is proven effective. Likewise, it includes a token increase in the value of a Pell grant to help low-income students pay for college, but at $5,830, a Pell grant still only pays for a fraction of the cost of a year at a public four-year college.”

Of the total budget, $1.1 trillion, 55 percent is devoted to military spending. “This squeezes out all other priorities, from education to health care to the environment,” Koshgarian pointed out. “We’re valuing business over people across the board: even the Pentagon, which is getting over half of the $1.1 trillion in appropriations, is increasing spending on equipment – funds that will go to defense contractors – while it provides troops with a measly 1 percent pay raise.”

This budget also does nothing to reform our tax code, which allows multinational corporations and wealthy individuals to engage in ever-more-brazen tactics to avoid paying taxes. Instead, it cuts Internal Revenue Service funding, hampering its ability to go after tax cheats. Nor does the budget do anything to give people more retirement security. (In that New York Times poll, 47 percent of respondents said they were “very concerned” about not having enough money for retirement.) In fact, one clause in the budget bill will allow private companies to actually lower pension payments to more than 1 million retirees.

A major reason so many Americans are experiencing economic stagnation is the wrongheaded focus on deficit reduction, when in fact increased government spending in specific areas was needed to ensure that economic growth was more robust and more broadly shared. That’s one more reason this budget’s passage in the House is a travesty, not a triumph.

In an ideal world, this budget would be voted down so that Congress could go back to the drawing board and get its priorities straight. It goes without saying we’re not in that world, and in fact we’ll be a bit further from it when Republicans take control of the Senate in January. What we can do in the meantime is call this budget what it is – a document that shirks the basics of making the economy work for working people while paying fealty to Wall Street and right-wing fetishes – and use it as a rallying cry for the progressive populist takeover of Congress that we must start working toward today.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Paul Krugman Reveals the Culprit Behind the GOP's Rabid Anti-Environment Stance


Breathing used to be a non-partisan issue. Here's what changed.


Photo Credit: via YouTube

Since when did breathing clean air become so politicized? It predates President Obama's recent attempts to install regulations to curb ozone emissions, but not by that much. Paul Krugman takes up the truly bizarre Republican opposition to even the most tepid attempts to protect the environment in Friday's column and digs deeper to find the root cause. Of course, polluters will defend their right to pollute, he points out, but why can they always depend on Republican support?

Some background from Krugman: 
It wasn’t always thus. The Clean Air Act of 1970,  the legal basis for the Obama administration’s environmental actions, passed the Senate on a bipartisan vote of 73 to 0, and was signed into law by Richard Nixon. (I’ve heard veterans of the E.P.A. describe the Nixon years as a golden age.) A major amendment of the law, which among other things made possible the cap-and-trade system that limits acid rain, was signed in 1990 by former President George H.W. Bush.

But that was then. Today’s Republican Party is putting a conspiracy theorist who views climate science as a “gigantic hoax” in charge of the Senate’s environment committee. And this isn’t an isolated case. Pollution has become a deeply divisive partisan issue.

The Republicans have moved to the right of Nixon and Bush. That's part of it, but, again, why? 

Money in politics is part of the answer, no doubt. Mega polluters like the Koch brothers pour mega doses of cash into politics, and while it used to flow to both parties, it goes "overwhelmingly in one direction" today. What changed? Rabid anti-government, pro-market ideology is part of the answer. Krugman peels the onion further to conclude that this pernicious ideology is just "a symptom of the underlying cause of the divide:  rising inequality."
The basic story of political polarization over the past few decades is that, as a wealthy minority has pulled away economically from the rest of the country, it has pulled one major party along with it. True, Democrats often cater to the interests of the 1 percent, but Republicans always do. Any policy that benefits lower- and middle-income Americans at the expense of the elite — like health reform, which guarantees insurance to all and pays for that guarantee in part with taxes on higher incomes — will face bitter Republican opposition.
Protecting the environment has become a class issue, in part. Everyone breathes, but only the super-wealthy own huge amount of stock in coal companies. Krugman concludes: 

In the case of the new ozone plan,  the E.P.A.’s analysis suggests that, for the average American, the benefits would be more than twice the costs. But that doesn’t necessarily matter to the nonaverage American driving one party’s prior

Working for Walmart Is Even Worse Than You Think


Victoria Alvarez explains why she and other Walmart workers nationwide are striking today, despite Walmart's attempts at silencing them. 

Victoria Alvarez (R) at a sit-in strike in a Los Angeles Walmart store on Nov. 13, 2014.

Photo Credit: Claudia Koerner/BuzzFeed

When I met Victoria Alvarez, 50, at a café after her shift at Walmart, I didn’t notice her knee brace. Instead I noticed her dark eyes and glittery nail polish, which in some ways is a great metaphor for Alvarez. She’s hurting, but her bold personality still dominates.

Within seconds of meeting her, you can tell she’s the type of person who's fun to be around; she talks with her hands, speaks her mind and doesn’t take anyone’s shit. Alvarez was born and raised in Mexico and immigrated to the United States more than 20 years ago. Her heavily accented voice is confident and captivating, and she had a lot to say.

She applied to work at Walmart during the 2009 recession. After a few months of work in Arizona, she transferred to a store in Fremont, CA, an hour from San Jose, where she lives with her husband in their mobile home. Alvarez works full-time and started at $9 an hour. After five years, she makes $11.  
“In the beginning, I almost lost my mobile home because I struggled,” Alvarez said. “My husband was sick and out of work. I had to borrow from friends, from family for a very long time.”

But there was more to the burden of working at Walmart than just low wages. Alvarez said as soon as she started working in Fremont, she noticed things weren't right. 

“A lot of people were punished for things they weren’t suppose to be, like not finishing their work on time,” she explained. “A lot of people were doing the work of three to four people. That’s what happened to me.”
Alvarez and her supervisor ran Walmart’s Tire & Lube Express department. She was servicing customers, making keys, dealing with tires, and carrying heavy merchandise.

“I was forced to skip meals,” she said, adding that many of her co-workers have to skip meals, too. Then the workers manipulate the punch-out clock to make it look like they took a break.

“They say, ‘If we find out you do it we’ll fire you,’” Alvarez said. “But then they show you how to do it.”

Eventually, Alvarez got carpal tunnel syndrome and showed managers a doctor’s note explaining that she needed modified work. But they wouldn’t recognize it. Alvarez had to call on California’s Labor Department, which finally wrote a letter to her Walmart store. Her managers then moved her to greeting customers and pushing carts.

“I had to push carts with the leg I have, with my bad knee,” she said.

When I asked Alvarez if she has healthcare, her face reddened.

“This is what happened with healthcare,” she began to explain, tears welling up. She pays $80 a month for Walmart’s lowest option for health insurance. This is all she can afford. While workers' compensation took care of her carpal tunnel surgery, an emergency room visit for appendicitis left her with a $22,000 bill.
“I said, ‘How am I going to pay this?’”

Alvarez applied for government financial aid, which fortunately took care of the bill. It’s estimated that Walmart benefits from $6.2 billion in taxpayer subsidies for healthcare, food stamps and subsidized housing.

“I’ve been through all this,” she said, closing her eyes. 

I asked Alvarez why she joined OUR Walmart—the Organization United for Respect at Walmart—and she smiled. She recalled the day she saw her co-worker walk into the store wearing a bunch of OUR Walmart bracelets two years ago. “I joked with him and said, ‘Oh I like your bracelets, can I have one?’” Alvarez said, laughing. He told her that the group was a communitiy of former and current workers fighting for better working conditions.

“He explained it to me, and I said, ‘Oh my god, this is what I need!’” she recounted. “I really wanted to join because I had a lot to say.”  

Alvarez has since participated in many actions, including strikes and rallies in front of Rob Walton’s house. I asked Alvarez what she wanted to see change at Walmart. She answered before I'd finished the question. 

“Retaliation is the most important thing I want to end,” she said. “That if you speak out about getting $15, about getting full-time, getting predictable scheduling, about the OUR Walmart organization or better health insurance, or workers comp or if you tell your manager, ‘Hey, I need people here to help me because the load that you’re giving me is for three people and I’m not going to be able to finish,’ they retaliate on you. And I want that to end.”

Alvarez began rattling off instances she felt she had been retaliated against. Once, she was called into the office and told she was disrespecting the dress code by wearing jeans. She was told either to go home or buy a pair of pants at Walmart. But Alvarez wasn’t wearing jeans. She was wearing black pants and fortunately saw a co-worker wearing the same pants in khaki. She pointed this out to her managers and told them, “If you’re sending me home, you have to apply the same rules to everyone.” They told her to forget the whole thing.
Another time, she was working apparel and needed to go to the restroom, so she called for backup. After waiting nearly an hour and calling for backup three times, she just went. When she got back, she was written up for her “irresponsible” act and for being “disrespectful” to management. Alvarez admits she was aggressive.   

“Of course, you’re going to get mad when someone comes and tells you that you’re irresponsible,” she said. “I held it for almost an hour. I was waiting for someone to come. I didn’t see anybody. When I came back somebody was already there—it was like they were waiting for me to come back.”

Most recently she faced retaliation after coming back from a strike in Los Angeles, where OUR Walmart members held their first store sit-in.

“When I came back from the strike, they sent me to work by myself at the men’s department for two days,” she said. “And then the managers called everyone in and said the schedules for the holiday week were ready and were designed based on people’s talents. And I was on for one day only. That was the first time in five years I was scheduled to work only one day. And I said to my manager, ‘Is this retaliation because I went on strike or am I not talented?’”

The manager ultimately gave Alvarez 40 hours. But she won’t be working all of it. She will be participating in OUR Walmart’s Black Friday strikes, expected to be the organization's largest ever, with actions happening at 1,600 stores. She also will be striking the day before on Thanksgiving, when Walmart’s Black Friday sale begins at 6pm. She told me that instead of her Walmart store giving employees bonuses for working on the holidays like they used to, they now only get a 25-percent-off coupon.

“How are we going to shop when we don’t have money to spend? It’s so ridiculous,” she said. “I really believe that by striking this Black Friday, we can change how things work. We really need to participate to change things. If we don’t participate, it will remain the same. We have come so far to not participate. We have started something that is very brave for everybody.”
I ask Alvarez if she ever feared standing up to Walmart.

“No, no, no, not at all,” she said. “Whatever sacrifice it takes to change things, I will do it. And I’m not doing it only for me; I’m also doing it for my co-workers. For all those who don’t have the courage. For all of those who are scared to speak out.”

After interviewing Alvarez for an hour and 40 minutes, I apologized for taking so much of her time and thanked her for meeting with me.

“You don’t have any more questions?” she asked, surprised.

I told her to tell me anything else she wanted, and she perked back up.

She told me that several of her co-workers get injured on the job but they're too scared to file for worker's compensation. One of her managers recently got fired for slapping a worker. A few of her co-workers are homeless and live on the couches of family, friends or co-workers.

“One of my co-workers, he’s older, he lives in his car,” she said. “He has the car parking there. He eats there, he sleeps there, he takes showers I don’t know where, but he’s always there.”

She told me that the way Walmart does evaluations is unfair because they are often done by random managers, who don’t really know the workers they assess so they only give a standard satisfactory mark. That lands you a 20-40 cent raise for the year. An excellent mark gets you a 60-cent raise, the highest Walmart gives.

“You’ll never excel,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how hard you work, how much work you do, how faithful you are to Walmart, get there on time every day, when they call you to come in. You never excel.”

She told me that seeing how some of her co-workers struggle breaks her heart. Another way she sees their struggle is when she’s working the register and rings up her co-workers’ lunches.

“One woman eats the same 59-cent can of soup every day,” she said. “It’s all she can afford.”

She told me she wishes more of her co-workers would stand up for themselves, and sometimes it’s very hard for her to understand why they don’t. She has tried many times to speak to that managers on behalf of workers who are too scared, but they won't let her. But it's not like she doesn't have her own concerns. 
“Well, I am in fear. Really I am in fear,” Alvarez said. “But if Walmart fires me I’m sure something better for me is waiting for me out there—that’s how I want to think. But the only thing that I would regret is not being there for my co-workers. And it doesn’t matter if they fire me, I’m going to continue fighting until the end by supporting my co-workers with my presence in every strike. When I start something, I like to finish.”

To find a OUR Walmart Black Friday protest near you visit

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal Obama and the GOP both love, explained

Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade deal Obama and the GOP both love, explained

These protesters in Japan aren't happy with the massive proposed trade deal. Getty Images
You're about to hear a lot about one major trade proposal the Obama administration has been negotiating for years. The Trans-Pacific Partnership has suddenly become one of the hottest topics in Washington, as it appears to be one of the few topics on which President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans might be able to reach any sort of agreement.

Of course, what you're going to read about as a "trade deal" has to do with so much more than trade — like most modern trade agreements, it's really a broad, sweeping economic agreement that deals in everything from patents to labor rights to geopolitics. Supporters say free trade will boost the economy and curb Chinese dominance. But critics say it's a massive corporate giveaway that caters to the interests of huge multinationals while killing US jobs.

The administration has hinted that a deal is close. Before that happens, read our guide to what it's all about.

1) What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?


The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a proposed free trade agreement between the US and 11 other countries in Asia and on the Pacific. The point of it is to open up trade between the US and these countries by getting rid of tariffs and other trade barriers. It's often compared to NAFTA, the 20-year-old massive free-trade agreement. (See a list of the US's stated objectives in the TPP.)

what you're going to read about as a "trade deal" is about so much more than trade

But sending goods from point A to B (and vice versa) is only one of a vast array of areas it deals in, many of which aren't directly related to the exchange of goods, like labor standards, international investment, telecommunications, and environmental issues. In fact, many of the 29 potential chapters as listed in this Congressional Research Service report deal in issues that are only peripherally trade-related.

And it's big — the US does nearly $2 trillion in trade with these countries each year, according to the US Trade Representative's office, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the US's trade. The 12 countries together also account for around 40 percent of global GDP. It's also a free trade agreement between two of the world's biggest economies, the US and Japan, which is itself a major milestone.

2) So wait. TPP isn't really about trade?


It is about trade, at least in part, but it's really about all sorts of different agendas being worked into one big agreement that's centered around trade agreements. There are chapters on labor rights and environmental practices, as well as financial regulation and government procurement.

So the new agreement could benefit US businesses even before any goods change hands. Leaked chapters on intellectual property have seemed to favor patent and copyright holders like pharmaceutical companies and Hollywood movie studios, as Tim Lee has written.

tpp is also about china, despite the fact that china isn't even involved in it
And this isn't just a feature of the TPP. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade deal being negotiated with European countries, likewise covers broad swaths of economic policy.

The reason for some of these broad-ranging agendas, according to US Trade Representative Michael Froman, is that there are non-tariff barriers that need to be broken down.

"Through successive rounds of trade negotiations, both bilateral and multilateral tariffs have come down a great deal over the last 50 years," he says. "but over the same period of time other obstacles to trade have emerged," like subsidies and regulations designed to keep out other exports.

TPP is also about China, which isn't even a party to the deal. China is growing in power and economic importance, with a huge and fast-growing consumer base. As it becomes a bigger force to be reckoned with in Asia, the US is in a race to make sure it has a good foothold in the region, according to one expert.

"They would like to lock up the rules on IT and investment before China becomes a bigger economic force. Hence the TPP excludes China, but it will be welcome to join in the future if it adheres to the roles set forth by others," writes Barry Bosworth, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, in an email. "Naturally, China is not very happy."

In part, TPP may be a way to try to pressure China into adopting more market-based economic policies, as Time's Michael Schuman wrote this week — in addition, of course, to being a way to open up non-Chinese markets in Asia to American companies.

3) Who's involved?


The countries in the TPP include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The below map from the Congressional Research Service shows trade flows between the 12 countries involved.

TPP countries

Of course, one huge Asian economy (China) is not involved. The US has said it's open to China's involvement, and China has said it was open to it as well.

But many people see TPP as a way to check Chinese influence in the region, as well as a way to try to get China to change its economic policies. Indeed, when the US has in the past pushed TPP, it has in the same breath criticized China, telling it to "play by the rules."

China, meanwhile, has its own free trade pact it's working on — the Free Trade Area of Asia and the Pacific. This agreement is seen as a rival to the TPP, with both countries fighting to be the major trading partner to countries in this region. At this week's APEC forum, China succeeded in pushing a study of the FTAAP.

Officially both countries are downplaying talk of a rivalry. US Trade Representative Michael Froman even went so far as to say that China's proposed free trade area is not, in fact, a new free trade area, but instead a "long-term aspiration." At the same time, it's clear the US government fears that if TPP doesn't get off the ground, Asian countries will be more likely to make commitments to China instead.

4) How did the midterms make this into a big deal?


Because trade appears to be one of the few areas on which the White House and a newly Republican-controlled Congress might agree in the coming legislative session.

After the midterm elections Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (now in line to be the majority leader in the next Congress) emphasized trade agreements as one area on which he thought a new majority-Republican Congress and Obama could agree.

"I've got a lot of members who believe that international trade agreements are a winner for America," McConnell said. "And the president and I discussed that right before I came over here, and I think he's interested in moving forward. I said, 'Send us trade agreements. We're anxious to take a look at them.'"
"republicans in Congress ... must vote to voluntarily give [Obama] large swaths of power"

That matters because Congress can give the president something called Trade Promotion Authority, which is often simply called fast-tracking. To help a president to more easily negotiate trade deals, Congress has to periodically grant this authority, which last expired in 2007.

The idea of fast track is that a president needs to be able to negotiate a treaty without the fear that Congress will amend it after he and a whole bunch of other countries come to agreement on a deal. When the president has TPA, he consults with Congress, but once a deal is reached, Congress can only vote it up or down — no amendments. Without that authority, it's not really feasible to reach a credible deal with foreign leaders.

The fact that Republicans seem favorable toward trade deals like the TPP creates something of a dilemma for them, as Public Citizen's Lori Wallach told Al Jazeera. "What would be required is for Republicans in Congress, who have attacked Obama as power-hungry, must vote to voluntarily give him large swaths of power," she said. "This is an interesting problem for them and their own political base."

5) So what exactly in the deal?


That's a great question. And the answer is that not a lot of people know the specifics.

This has upset a lot of people, including many congressional Democrats. This puts them in alignment with some Tea Party Republicans who say they won't grant Obama TPA because they haven't been consulted closely enough on what they call a "secret" deal covering such broad-ranging themes.

"as soon as you reveal your position ... then it's much more difficult to modify it and be flexible later."

TPP critic Elizabeth Warren said, "I actually have had supporters of the deal say to me, ‘They have to be secret, because if the American people knew what was actually in them, they would be opposed.'"

It's not that members of Congress have been kept entirely in the dark. Froman says he has had more than 1,500 meetings with members of Congress. The USTR office also provides Congress members with copies of the working text, though while they have input, members cannot directly change the deal.

While it's true that the average American (or Japanese or Vietnamese person) has no access to the talks, the secrecy surrounding TPP has a purpose. 
Negotiations would be far, far more difficult if undertaken in full public view.
"As soon as you reveal your position and put it in print, then it's much more difficult to modify it and be flexible later," explains Gary Hufbauer, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. "It's a negotiation, and everyone has to compromise to some extent."

Though the deals have been behind closed doors, some bits of the deal have come to light, thanks to WikiLeaks, which has obtained and published draft chapters from the deal on intellectual property and the environment. The Citizens' Trade Commission, which is also opposed to the TPP, has also published a leaked chapter on investment.

Those leaked chapters have upset some advocacy groups. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and ACLU have fought against some of the IP proposals, like longer copyright protections and making internet service providers liable for copyright infringement. Likewise, the Sierra Club objects to weaker language about countries' commitments to environmental agreements. As Mother Jones pointed out, the environmental stipulations in the leaked chapter are voluntary, not binding.

That said, Froman has insisted that there will be tough environmental rules in the deal: "Environmental stewardship is a core American value, and we will insist on a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter in the TPP or we will not come to agreement," he wrote in a January blog post.

6) Will TPP benefit the US economy?


Opening up new free-trade markets could really benefit the US economy. The TPP could particularly benefit American companies by giving US products, like cars and food, more customers — particularly in Japan. The Peterson Institute in 2012 estimated that it could add $78 billion to income for American companies, which is a lot of money, but not a game-changer in a $17 trillion economy.

That said, income for US companies doesn't necessarily mean new income for US workers, says Barry Bosworth, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
"There often is a conflict between the objectives of 'American' companies and workers," he writes. "For example, business groups are very interested in the expansion and enforcement of intellectual property and liberalization of access to foreign financial markets, but these create very few US jobs, even though they may create income through their effect on profits and stock values."
One expert says the tpp will lead to higher incomes for US companies but "probably a net loss of jobs"

In other words, a lot of those provisions that have little to do with goods trade could create lots of value for American companies without creating lots of jobs. Altogether, Bosworth says, he expects higher incomes for US companies but "probably a net loss of jobs."

The TPP could also become a political football again, come 2016 — as The Fix's Jaime Fuller noted earlier this year, a win on the TPP would be a belated win for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meaning she'd probably tout it in debates and campaign stops if she ran for the presidency.

Obama TPP leaders
Obama and his fellow world leaders prepare for a long discussion about tariffs. (Getty Images)

7) Why has the TPP taken so long?

The US joined TPP negotiations in 2008, and the first TPP deadline was in 2012. That and others have sailed by since then. And that's because of lots and lots of sticking points. Maybe the biggest one recently is between the US and Japan, regarding Japanese subsidies for its agricultural and auto sectors.

However, agreement is looking closer all the time — in a November 10 statement, the leaders of the 12 countries reported "significant progress in recent months ... that sets the stage to bring these landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to conclusion."

Yes, statements after TPP talks have claimed "significant progress" before. But this time, the leaders sound unusually optimistic. New Zealand's trade minister proclaimed that "the finish line is in sight" after this week's APEC meeting, and said it could be "a few months" before that line is crossed.

Updated. This post was updated to include comment from the USTR on the US's environmental goals in TPP.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Ideological Foundations of Mainstream Neoclassical Economics: Class Interests as “Economic Theory”


There is now a widespread consensus that mainstream/neoclassical economists failed miserably to either predict the coming of the 2008 financial implosion, or provide a reasonable explanation when it actually arrived. Not surprisingly, many critics have argued that neoclassical economics has created more confusion than clarification, more obfuscation than elucidation. Economic “science” has, indeed, become “an ideological construct which serves to camouflage and justify the New World Order” [1].

Also not surprisingly, an increasing number of students who take classes and/or major in economics are complaining about the abstract and irrelevant nature of the discipline. For example, a group of French graduate students in economics recently wrote an open letter, akin to a manifesto, critical of their academic education in economics as “autistic” and “pathologically distant from the problems of real markets and real people”:
“We wish to escape from imaginary worlds! Most of us have chosen to study economics so as to acquire a deep understanding of the economic phenomena with which the citizens of today are confronted. But the teaching that is offered . . . does not generally answer this expectation. . . . This gap in the teaching, this disregard for concrete realities, poses an enormous problem for those who would like to render themselves useful to economic and social actors” [2].
The word “autistic” may be offensive and politically incorrect, but it certainly provides an apt description of mainstream economics.

Interestingly, most economists do not deny the abstract and irrelevance feature or property of their discipline; but argue that the internal consistency of a theory—in the sense that the findings or conclusions of the theory follow logically from its premises or assumptions—is more important than its relevance (or irrelevance) to the real world. Nobel Laureate economist William Vickery, for example, maintains:
“Economic theory proper, indeed, is nothing more than a system of logical relations between certain sets of assumptions and the conclusions derived from them. . . . The validity of a theory proper does not depend on the correspondence or lack of it between the assumptions of the theory or its conclusions and observations in the real world. . . . In any pure theory, all propositions are essentially tautological, in the sense that the results are implicit in the assumptions made” [3].
Paul Samuelson, another Nobel Laureate in Economics, likewise writes, “In pointing out the consequences of a set of abstract assumptions, one need not be committed unduly as to the relation between reality and these assumptions.”
How or why did economics as a crucially important subject of inquiry into an understanding of social structures evolve in this fashion, that is, as an apparently rigorous and technically elaborate discipline without much usefulness in the way of understanding or solving economic problems?

Perhaps a logical way to answer this question is to look into the origins of the neoclassical economics, and how it supplanted the classical economics that prevailed from the early stages of capitalism until the second half of the 19th century—supplanted not as an extension or elaboration of that earlier school of economic thought but as a deviation from, or antithesis, to it.

Well-known classical economists like Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill and Karl Marx sought to understand capitalism in fundamental ways: they studied the substance of wages and prices beyond supply and demand; they also examined the foundations of economic growth and accumulation—that is, the sources of the “wealth of nations,” as Smith put it, or “the laws of motion of capitalist production,” as Marx put it. They further sought to understand the basis or logic of the distribution of economic surplus, that is, the origins of the various types of income: wages/salaries, interest income, rental income, and profits.

To this end, they distinguished two major types of work or economic activity: productive and unproductive, that is, productive labor and productive enterprise (manufacturing) versus unproductive labor and unproductive enterprises (buying and selling, or speculation). Accordingly, they saw the capitalist social structure as consisting of different classes of conflicting or antagonistic interests: capitalists, workers, landlords, tenants/renters, and the poor.

These classical economists wrote in an era that could still be considered a time of transition: transition from feudalism to capitalism. Although feudalism was in decline, the powerful interests vested in that older mode of production and social structure still fiercely resisted the rising new mode of production, the modern industrial capitalism, and its champions, called the “bourgeoisie.”

In the second half of the 18th and first half of 19th centuries, the conflicting interests of these two rival factions of the ruling elites served as powerful economic grounds for a fierce political/ideological struggle between the partisans of the two sides. Whereas the elites of the old system viewed the rising bourgeoisie as undermining their traditional rights and privileges, the modern capitalist elites viewed the old establishment as hindering rapid industrialization, “proletarianization” and urbanization.

In the ensuing ideological battle between the champions of the old and new orders, the writings of classical economists such as Smith, Ricardo and Mill proved quite helpful to the proponents or partisans of the new order. As influential intellectuals who were concerned that the hindering influences and extractive businesses of the old establishment may hamper a clean break from pre-capitalist modes of economic activity, they wrote passionately about what created real values and/or “wealth of nations,” and what was wasteful and a drain on economic resources. To this end, their writings included lengthy discussions of the labor theory of value—the theory that human labor constitutes the essence of value—and related notions of productive and unproductive activities.

Accordingly, they characterized the propertied classes that reaped income by virtue of controlling the assets (that the economy needed in order to function) as the “rentier,” “unproductive” or “parasitic” classes. Rentier classes collect their unearned proceeds from ownership “without working, risking, or economizing”, wrote John Stuart Mill of the landlords and money-lenders of his day, arguing that “they grow richer, as it were in their sleep” [4].

Unsurprisingly, during the early stages of industrial revolution, when the old establishment still posed serious challenges to the relatively new and evolving capitalist mode of production, the view of human labor as the source of real values, expounded by Karl Marx and other classical economists, provided a strong theoretical case for industrial expansion and/or capitalist development. “In its earliest formulations, the labor theory of value reflected the perspective of, and was serviceable in the fulfillment of the objective needs of, the industrial capitalist class” [5].

Although the rising capitalist class found the labor theory of value (and its logical implications for class conflicts) potentially “disconcerting,” that concern was temporarily pushed to the backburner, as the main threat at this stage of capitalist development came from the landowning/rentier classes, not the working class. Indeed, history shows that in nearly all the so-called “bourgeois-democratic” revolutions, signifying the historical transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist formations, the burgeoning working class, the newly proletarianized peasants, sided with the bourgeoisie against its pre-capitalist nemesis.

By the mid-19th century, however, this pattern of social structure and/or class alliances was drastically changed. Concentration of capital and the rise of corporation had by the last third of the 19th century gradually overshadowed the role of individual manufacturers as the drivers of the industrial development. In place of owners/managers, more and more “corporate managers were hired to direct and oversee industrial enterprises and to channel profits automatically as part of a perpetual accumulation process. . . . Increasingly, profits and interest came to be the result of passive ownership,” similar to absentee landownership of the feudal days [6].

Along with agricultural production on an increasingly capitalistic basis, these developments meant a radical reconfiguration of social and/or class alliances: the industrial bourgeoisie and the landowners were no longer adversaries, as they were all now capitalists and allies; and the working class, which had earlier supported the bourgeoisie against the landed aristocracy, was their class enemy. What added to the fears of the capitalist class of the growing and relatively militant working class was the spread of Marx’s theory of “labor as the essence of value and economic surplus,” which was by the mid- to late-19th century frequently discussed among the leading circles of industrial workers.

These changes in the actual social and economic developments, in turn, prompted changes in the ruling class’s preferences regarding theories of capitalist production and/or market mechanism. Industrial capitalists who had earlier used the labor theory of value to their advantage in their struggle against the old, pre-capitalist establishment were now quite fearful of and hostile to that theory. Instead, “the theoretical and ideological needs of the owners of industrial capital became identical with those of the landlords and merchant capitalists. They all needed a theory that sanctioned their ownership” [7]; a theory that obfuscated, instead of clarifying, the origins of real values and the sources of wealth and/or income—hence, the shift from classical to neoclassical economics.

The formal theoretical shift from classicism to neoclassicism was pioneered (in the last three decades of the 19th century) by three economists: William Stanley Jevons, Carl Menger and Leon Walras. A detailed discussion of these pioneers of neoclassical economics is beyond the purview of this essay. Suffice it to say that all three categorically shunned the labor theory of value in favor of utility theory of value, that is, “value depends entirely upon utility,” as Jevons put it.

At the heart of the theoretical/philosophical shift was, therefore, the move from labor to utility as the source of value: a commodity’s value no longer came from its labor content, as classical economists had argued, but from its utility to consumers. The new paradigm thus shifted the focus of economic inquiry from the factory and production to the market and circulation, or exchange.
By the same token as the new school of economic thought abandoned the classicals’ labor theory of value in favor of the utility theory of value, it also discarded the concept of value, which comes from human labor, in favor of price, which is formed (in the sphere of circulation or market) by supply and demand interactions. Henceforth, there was no difference between value and price; the two have since been used interchangeably or synonymously in the neoclassical economics.

Once the focus of inquiry was thus shifted from how commodities are produced to how they are bought and sold, the distinction between workers and capitalists, between producers and appropriators, became invisible. In the marketplace all people appear as essentially identical: they are all households, consumers or “economic agents” who derive utility from consuming commodities, and who pay for those commodities “according to the amount of the utility/pleasure they derive from their consumption.” They are also identical in the neoclassical sense that they are all “rational,” “calculating,” and utility “maximizing” market players.

An obvious implication (and a major advantage to the capitalist class) of this new perspective was that in the marketplace social harmony and “brotherhood,” not class conflict, was the prevailing mode of social structure. “The supposed conflict of labor with capital is a delusion,” Jevons asserted, arguing that
“We ought not look at such subjects from a class point of view,” because “in economics at any rate [we] should regard all men as brothers” [8].

It should be pointed out (in passing) that the utility theory of value did not start with Jevons. The theory had already been spelled out in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by earlier economists such as Jeremy Bentham, Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Malthus and Claude Frédéric Bastiat. However, Jevons and his utilitarian contemporaries of the second half of the 19th century added a new concept to the received theory: the concept of marginal utility or, more specifically, diminishing marginal utility. According to this concept, the utility derived from the use or consumption of a commodity diminishes with every additional unit consumed.

Despite the fact that Jevons’ addition of the concept of marginal utility to the received utility theory of value was conceptually very simple (indeed, the whole concept of utility and the so-called “law of diminishing marginal utility” are altogether banalities or truisms), it nonetheless proved to be instrumentally a very important notion in the neoclassical economics. For, the term “marginal” was soon extended to other economic categories such as marginal cost, marginal revenue, marginal propensity to consume, and the like; thereby paving the way for the application of differential calculus to economics. “By introducing the notion of marginalism into utilitarian economics, Jevons had found a way in which the utilitarian view of human beings as rational, calculating maximizers could be put into mathematical terms” [9].

Whereas the utilitarian views of the earlier economists had been firmly discredited in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by proponents of the labor theory of value as truisms that did not explain much of the real world economic developments, the math-coded utilitarianism of Jevons (and his fellow neoclassicals since then) has been shielded from such criticisms by a protective cover of mathematical veneer. Despite the fact that, aside from the mathematical mask, the new notion of utility represented no conceptual or theoretical advances over the earlier version, it was celebrated as a “revolution” in economic thought, the so-called “neoclassical revolution.” Presenting a body of largely axiomatic principles, or religious-like normative guidelines (such as how “rational” consumers should behave), by means of elaborate and mesmerizing mathematics is like covering weeds with Astroturf.

Despite its irrelevance and uselessness, neoclassical economics is neither uninteresting nor illogical. Within its own premises and presuppositions it is both logical and mathematically rigorous, which explains why it is packaged as a scientific discipline. But, again, it falls pitifully short of explaining how real world markets or economies work, or how economic crises, as inherent occurrences to a capitalist economy, take place; or what to do to counter such crises that would help not only the capitalist/financial elites but the society at large. Although most mainstream economists proudly characterize their discipline as scientific, adornment of the discipline by a façade of mathematics does not really make it scientific. In reality, the math superstructure simply masks the flawed or unreliable theoretical foundation of the discipline.

It follows from the discussion presented in this essay that a driving force behind the evolution of economics as a dismal and obscuring discipline is the role of influential vested interests and/or the dominant ruling ideology. In a critique of mainstream/neoclassical economists’ blatant disregard for actual developments in the real world, economics Professor Michael Hudson writes:
“Such disdain for empirical verification is not found in the physical sciences. Its popularity in the social sciences is sponsored by vested interests. There is always self-interest behind methodological madness. That is because [professional] success requires heavy subsidies from special interests who benefit from an erroneous, misleading or deceptive economic logic. Why promote unrealistic abstractions, after all, if not to distract attention from reforms aimed at creating rules that oblige people actually to earn their income rather than simply extracting it from the rest of the economy?” [10].
Why or how is it that most economists are either unaware or pretend to be unaware of the specious theoretical foundations of their discipline?
A charitable answer is that perhaps the majority of economists who teach their discipline or otherwise work as economic professionals are not necessarily guilty of obfuscation, or deliberately promoting a faulty paradigm. Many economists sincerely believe in the integrity of their discipline as they carry out highly specialized research or produce scholarly publications. Economists’ confidence or faith in their discipline, however, does not make it any less flawed. They simply teach or carry out elaborate scholarly research work within a faulty paradigm without questioning, or even detecting, some of the submerged defects that makes the discipline not only irrelevant and useless but indeed harmful, as it tends to create more confusion than illumination or understanding.

It can also be argued that since most economists are deeply wedded to their profession, and are dependent on it as the source of both intellectual and financial survival, they would most likely be in denial, and would continue working within the only academic tradition or professional path they know how to navigate, even if they suspected or realized the esoteric and irrelevant nature of their discipline.

Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics (Drake University). He is the author of Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (Routledge 2014), The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave–Macmillan 2007), and the Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser’s Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989). He is also a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press 2012).


[1] Michel Chossudovsky and Marshall, G.A. (eds.) The Great Global Economic Crisis, Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Center for Research on Globalization (2010, p. xviii).
[2] As quoted in Gordon Bigelow, “Let There Be Markets: The Evangelical Roots of Economics,” Harper’s, May issue:
[3] William Vickery, Microeconomics, New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1964, p. 5.
[4] As quoted in Michael Hudson and Dirk Bezemer, “Incorporating the Rentier Sectors into a Financial Model,” World Economic Review,
[5] E. K. Hunt, History of Economic Thought: A Critical Perspective, New York and London, M.E. Sharpe 2002, p. 282.
[6] Ibid., p. 283.
[7] Ibid.
[8] As quoted in ibid., p. 254.
[9] Ibid., p. 252.
[10] Michael Hudson, “Krugman’s Attack on my Review of Samuelson,”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Low wages & unpredictable schedules: A toxic combination for part time employees



Low wages & unpredictable schedules: A toxic combination for part time employees


By Charlotte Fishman

In a society that blurs the lines between corporations and people, perhaps it was inevitable that some employers would blur the lines between people and inanimate objects.  Even so, it is shocking to learn that in a growing number of low wage industries, employers  treat part time employees as fungible, disposable assets, instead of human beings worthy of  respect.

Part time workers who toil in retail, food service, and janitorial jobs often find that their time is treated like just another production cost to be sacrificed on the altar of “maximizing profitability.”  They may be kept “on-call” with no compensation, assigned shifts with short notice, or burdened with unpredictable, fluctuating hours.  Even if scheduled to work, they may be told “we don’t need you today,” and sent home empty-handed.

When the labor needs of a business increase, a part time employee’s request for increased hours or  full time work is often denied.  Why? It is more “cost effective” to hire an additional part time worker than to pay a current employee the statutorily mandated benefits that come with increased hours.  Job security is illusory.  Nothing stops an employer from firing a part time employee who refuses to come in on short notice, even if the cause is a sick child or inability to rearrange an established childcare schedule at the last moment.

In addition to being inhumane, these insecurity-inducing employment practices take a huge toll on the  nation’s economic and social health. Without a predictable schedule, how can a low skilled worker improve his or her employability through education? How can a working mother arrange for stable childcare? How can a low wage worker take on additional part time employment to raise the family income above poverty level?

Scheduling abuse of low wage part time workers is a serious social issue that is finally getting the attention it deserves.   On July 22, California Representative George Miller and Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced  H.S. 5159, “The Schedules that Work Act” in the House of Representatives.   A companion bill sponsored by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Tom Harkin will be taken up by the Senate.

“The Schedules that Work Act” is characterized by its proponents as a conversation starter about the devastating effect of unreasonable scheduling demands – a practice that has become commonplace in industries as diverse as Big Box stores, fast food chains and multi-national banks.  If enacted, it would prevent retaliation against employees who ask for schedule adjustments;  create an interactive process for employees to obtain accommodation for caregiving responsibilities, classes, second jobs, and other needs;  require employers to provide at least two weeks advance notice of work schedules; and provide at least some compensation for last minute schedule changes, split shifts and early dismissals.

Unfortunately, the bill’s provisions, modest as they are, may be too controversial to pass the gridlock in Congress.  While employer-side representatives loudly proclaim the benefit of flexible part time schedules for both employers and employees, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports  that roughly 7.5 million employees are working part time only because their hours were cut or they were unable to find full time work.

This is not to say that flexible part time scheduling can never be beneficial for employees.  A predictable flexible schedule — one that enables part time employees to take a second job, to enroll in a training course or to provide care for family members – would be highly desirable to many.

There are hopeful signs of change to come at the local level.  In San Francisco,  Supervisor Eric Mar is poised to introduce the aptly named “Retail Workers Bill of Rights” to the Board of Supervisors at its July 29 meeting.   The proposed ordinance targets “formula retail” businesses,  a designation that includes chain stores, fast food restaurants, and multi-national banks.   Among the rights granted to employees are the right to  four hours pay for “on call” time or shift cancellation on short notice and the right to be offered additional hours before  any new part time workers are hired. The bill is supported by Jobs with Justice, a broad coalition of labor, community and small business groups.

The families of part time low wage workers need and deserve help creating a path out of their current predicament.  The toxic combination of low wage employment and unpredictable schedules is a form of involuntary servitude that should have no place in 21st century America.

Charlotte Fishman


About Charlotte Fishman

Charlotte Fishman is a San Francisco attorney with over 30 years of experience handling employment discrimination cases on the plaintiff side. In 2005 she launched Pick Up the Pace, dedicated to overcoming barriers to women’s advancement in the workplace through legal advocacy and public education. She has authored amicus curiae briefs in major cases before the United States and California Supreme Court and writes and speaks to a wide audience on cutting edge employment issues affecting women.