Saving jobs: the public weighs in

We’re seeing more emerging signs of a willingness to engage in shared sacrifice in the face of possible layoffs.  Boston Globe reporter Erin Ailworth writes:

As the economic downturn persists, specialists who follow workplace trends say more employees are trying to save colleagues’ jobs through voluntary pay cuts or freezes, furloughs, and donations.

. . . In a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll on the economy conducted last week, 62 percent of the employed people who participated said they would accept a pay cut to save a coworker’s job.

We’ve all had our fill of stories about executives lavishing themselves with undeserved bonuses — talk about reaffirming what we’ve already known about them!  By contrast, it’s encouraging to be reminded that others are willing to take home less pay to save jobs.

For the Globe article:

Green way towards good jobs?

Can the pressing needs to reduce unemployment, create good jobs, and develop a green economy and alternative energy sources come together?

Many are saying yes, including economist James K. Galbraith, who urges significant public investments in energy development that will, in turn, address unemployment.  Galbraith’s recommendation is one piece of his ambitious program for rescuing the economy, published in the current Washington Monthly:

Today the largest problems we face are energy security and climate change—massive issues because energy underpins everything we do, and because climate change threatens the survival of civilization. And here, obviously, we need a comprehensive national effort. Such a thing, if done right, combining planning and markets, could add 5 or even 10 percent of GDP to net investment. That’s not the scale of wartime mobilization. But it probably could return the country to full employment and keep it there, for years.

For the full article, “No Return to Normal”:

But “green” does not automatically equate with “good jobs,” as Philip Mattera of Good Jobs First notes in the current issue of the American Prospect:

Unfortunately, some of the production jobs being created in the new wind- and solar-energy-equipment plants have pay levels below the national manufacturing average. Research by Good Jobs First, the organization where I work, found that quite a few of those jobs are not even paying enough for a full-time, year-round worker to reach a basic family budget for a single parent with one child, according to area-specific estimates of family income needs prepared by the Economic Policy Institute. Almost none of them pay enough to achieve the basic budget for a family with two parents and two children.

Mattera says that green economic initiatives must be coupled with unionization and effective government contracting standards in order to ensure good jobs.

For the full article, “A Green Industrial Economy”:

Kind hearts, not angry ones, are needed now to help others

Yes, the public outrage towards the likes of AIG, Bernard Madoff, and certain corporate, governmental, and non-profit leaders is wholly understandable.  I have felt this way on many occasions as the financial meltdown has exploded around us.

But these expressions of anger are not helping friends and family who are struggling to keep afloat after job losses and other setbacks impacting their finances. Kind hearts, not angry ones, are needed now to help others.

It may mean investing yourself in helping someone who is unemployed, in ways that go beyond cheap advice or trite encouragement.  If you have the resources, it may mean a gift of money (not a loan, as people in financial need don’t need more loans) or even recurring gifts of money.  It also could mean helping out places like the local food bank with regular contributions of money or time.

Fortunately, we are now hearing appeals to what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”  For example:

Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary is asking people to share their abundance.

Writer and activist Chuck Collins, writing in Sojourners, is calling for the creation of “common security clubs” to serve a mutual support function for people during these hard times.

New York Times columnist Ron Lieber writes about how we can help those who need a hand, with many good comments posted after his fine article.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: Most of us are but one job loss away from difficult financial circumstances.  Extending our genuine support to others, without condescension or hidden obligation, does not guarantee that we will receive the same if and when we need it, but it will contribute to a culture of caring that benefits and enriches all of us.

I hope readers will forgive my sentiment, but this post is in memory of Betty Yamada, who passed away seven years ago today.  In addition to being a great mom to me and my brother Jeff, she taught kindergarten at a school in a low-income neighborhood, and after retiring she volunteered for Meals on Wheels and with the local hospice. Mom embodied “the better angels of our nature.”

Workplace Bullying: News from Down Under

Unfortunately, the U.S. is not the only country where workers must deal with workplace bullying and other forms of mistreatment on the job.  Here’s a recent Australian news article reporting on how the current economy is compelling the silence of many bullying and sexual harassment targets in order to keep their jobs and careers:

AUSTRALIAN workers are putting up with bullying and sexual harassment because they fear a complaint would mean “career death”.

Almost two thirds of Australian workers say they have been bullied at work, and nearly one third claim to have been sexually harassed, according to a survey by employment website

Here’s the link to the full article:,27753,25200938-5012426,00.html.

Workplace bullying bill introduced in Massachusetts

Massachusetts has joined the race to become the first state in the union to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill, legislation that provides targets of severe workplace bullying with a legal cause of action.

State Senator and Assistant Majority Leader Joan Menard (D-1st Bristol & Plymouth) has filed the Healthy Workplace Bill, titled “An Act addressing workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment, without regard to protected class status,” and designated as Senate Bill No. 699. 

In a nutshell, the bill creates a legal claim for bullying targets who can establish that they were subjected to malicious, health-harming behavior.  It also provides defenses for employers who act preventively and responsively with regard to bullying and includes provisions to discourage frivolous claims.

The Massachusetts 2009/10 session bills have just been posted to the Legislature’s website.  A pdf file containing Senate No. 699 can be downloaded from:

SEIU/NAGE Local 282 president Gregory Sorozan and lobbyist Ray McGrath played key roles in bringing this bill to the attention of the Legislature.

I drafted the first version of the Healthy Workplace Bill some seven years ago.  California was the first state to consider it in 2003, and since then variations have been filed in a dozen more states.  For an update on advocacy campaigns around the nation, go to:

Jan. 2010 update:

The dignity of delivering pizzas

If you haven’t caught this on the Web, here’s the story of Ken Karpman, a one-time CEO and stock trader, with annual earnings as high as $750,000, now delivering pizzas for $7.29/hour.  To some, it’s a horrific tale about the trap door of today’s economy.  For others, it’s about just desserts for someone who blew through the megabucks he made during an age of excess.  But if you read and watch this ABC News item about Karpman, you also may get a sense of a guy who finds more dignity and purpose in earning a little over the minimum wage than in sitting at home bemoaning his mistakes and his fate:

I don’t know if there’s a profound lesson in all of this, but it does reinforce my wish that we will emerge from this recession with a better sense of what our economy, work, and underlying values should be all about.

The Job Crunch: It’s Global

The job crunch that has become so much a part of everyday life is not limited to the United States.  Indeed, as The Economist writes in “When jobs disappear” (link below), unemployment rates are jumping around the world, and it is likely to get worse:

The next phase of the world’s economic downturn is taking shape: a global jobs crisis. Its contours are only just becoming clear, but the severity, breadth and likely length of the recession, together with changes in the structure of labour markets in both rich and emerging economies, suggest the world is about to undergo its biggest increase in unemployment for decades.

To compound the difficulties facing unemployed folks in America, we are not exactly generous when it comes to supporting those who have lost their jobs:

Benefits for the jobless are, if anything, skimpier than in the 1970s. Unemployment insurance is funded jointly by states and the federal government. The states set the eligibility criteria and in many cases have not kept up with changes in the composition of the workforce.

The Economist was prescient in forecasting the subprime mortgage meltdown at a time when so many others were still enamored of real estate, so this is not a publication to be taken lightly.

Here’s the link to the full article:

Our “graduation gift” to this year’s college grads

The costs of this recession are falling heavily upon those who are graduating from college.  Workforce Management ( reports that:

Employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer new graduates from the college class of 2009 than they hired from the class of 2008, according to a new study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Indeed, one of the outrages of the greed-driven frenzy that fueled this downturn is the impact on generations of younger folks who had little or nothing to do with creating the mess.  Yet they will bear the burdens for decades to come.

Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center as Employer: Contrasting Views

Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston is one of the area’s major health care institutions.  It is also, depending on whose opinion you happen to believe, one of Boston’s best or not-so-great employers.

Beth Israel CEO Paul Levy recently attracted kudos from Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen when he gathered his staff and urged them to work together to find ways to avoid layoffs of low-paid support staff:

“I want to run an idea by you that I think is important, and I’d like to get your reaction to it,” Levy began. “I’d like to do what we can to protect the lower-wage earners – the transporters, the housekeepers, the food service people. A lot of these people work really hard, and I don’t want to put an additional burden on them.

“Now, if we protect these workers, it means the rest of us will have to make a bigger sacrifice,” he continued. “It means that others will have to give up more of their salary or benefits.”

He had barely gotten the words out of his mouth when Sherman Auditorium erupted in applause. Thunderous, heartfelt, sustained applause.

Cullen’s story has been picked up by the national media, cited as an example of a CEO who empathizes with the rank-and-file worker and who wants to save jobs, even if it means that others take home lower pay.

However, a labor-backed website, “Eye on BI” ( has not regarded the employment practices of Levy and Beth Israel so charitably:

Beth Israel Deaconess CEO Paul Levy is the only hospital CEO in the Greater Boston Area who has publicly attacked the proposal for a code of conduct guaranteeing that hospital employees would be able to make up their own minds free of intimidation and coercion on the question of whether to join together as a Union.

Can these contrasting views co-exist?  As I’ve written several times on this blog, job preservation is one of the most socially responsible practices an employer can adopt during this recession.  On the other hand, as I’ve also said, unions are important sources of power and voice for workers.

Levy did the right thing by calling together his employees and asking them how they can save jobs.  But a good union also can help to safeguard workers from job losses when times are tough, and advocate for better wages and benefits when times are good, even when the CEO isn’t doing the right thing.  Indeed, a union can help to improve the wages of the very “lower-wage earners” that Levy sought to protect.

Levy appears to be the kind of CEO who welcomes input but who doesn’t like to share power.  This isn’t meant as a swipe at Levy personally — hey, many of us would prefer to operate that way if in charge —  but as our economy has tanked and scandal after scandal has been unearthed, we’ve seen how unchecked power is not a good thing.  I hope that more leaders will do what Levy did.  However, we should not rely upon the model of the “benevolent leader” to deliver accountability and fairness in our places of employment.

Fair & prompt response vs. swept under the rug

One sign of whether an employer embraces ethical employment practices and endeavors to avoid employment lawsuits (note: the two priorities are not necessarily the same thing!) is how it responds to allegations of unfair or wrongful conduct lodged by an employee.  Does it respond promptly, conducting a fair and thorough assessment of the situation?  Or does it sweep the matter under the rug, treating the complaint dismissively?

In “Defending the Digital Workplace,” employment attorney/blogger Jason Shinn recently looked at the question of investigations of employee misconduct from a management lawyer’s perspective.  The post offers a nice snapshot of the many legal pitfalls that face employers who bungle complaints of employee misconduct.

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