Posted: August 13, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I started going up and down the radio dial, looking for something that might put me to sleep.  A conservative talker raged about the need for inner city youth to obey the police.  His point was simple:  No matter what the circumstance, we must respect the police.

Conservative leaders in Michigan must listen to other right wing radio talkers.  According to Laura Clawson in Daily Kos, police and firefighters in Detroit are not getting respect from the conservative governor Rick Snyder and his “Emergency Manager” Kevyn Orr.  Neither group is eligible for Social Security, and the city’s bankruptcy will make their pensions next to worthless.  Unlike pensions in the private sector there is no Federal system to backstop failed public pension funds.  Brave cops and firefighters who put their lives on the line to keep the people safe now face a very insecure retirement.

Even if public safety officers in Detroit received full pensions, they would only average $30,000, much less than peers in cities of a similar size.  How can people who say they respect the police (and I assume firefighters) treat them so poorly?  Clawson puts it best in the last words of her article:  “They kept their promises to the city of Detroit. It must keep its promises to them.”  Amen.

Posted: August 11, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature that looks beyond jobs and careers.]

Three Local News Heroes

Everyone I know picks on the Chicago Sun-Times.  “It’s so thin.”  “It’s all ads.”  “All they cover is sports.”  The paper is not as thick as it used to be. Some features have gone away or – as the paper will eventually – gone online.  That said, The Chicago Sun-Times provides reporting and commentary that the people of Chicago desperately need.

Today’s paper is a case in point.  Editorials by Carol Marin, Andy Shaw, and Rich Miller explore three stories that citizens and taxpayers should care about more than the results of the Bears’ first exhibition game.  Marin delves into the case of a young prosecutor who was hounded out of her job for not pursuing a high profile, “heater,” case.  The evidence would not support a conviction.  Marin notes that 75% of juvenile cases were not prosecuted because a similar lack of evidence.  When we hear scary stories about street crime and “thugs,” we need to think about how such crimes happen and what could be done to prevent them.  If three-quarters of investigations lead to nothing, a lot of time, money, and law enforcement resources are being wasted.

Andy Shaw’s editorial focuses on shady dealings practiced by high-paid doctors employed by Cook County.  Shaw, a long-time reporter, now heads The Better Government Association, which conducted an investigation that found county doctors at their private practices when they were supposed to be working for the county.  Where other employees are required to swipe in/out of their work place as a way to track time, doctors do not follow that protocol.  Shaw notes that the county is investigating this matter and has taken some action, including the termination of one doctor.  He concludes by challenging Toni Preckwinkle, President of the Cook County Board, to institute better oversight of doctors.

My favorite piece of today’s editorial troika is Rich Miller’s.  Author of the Capital Fax blog, Miller know Illinois politics.  He unveils a hidden aspect of the recent lowering of the state’s bond rating.  Ty Fahner, a prominent member of the Commercial Club of Chicago, gave a speech at the Union League Club in which he challenged ratings agencies to lower the state’s rating rather than being an “enabler” of its financial problems.  Miller documents ties between Fahner’s law firm and management of the state’s bonds, which would give Fahner an incentive to call for big cuts to state pension programs.  This story is important because there have been similar rating cuts for Chicago and Chicago Public Schools.  As in Detroit, it would seem that the banking and investment community will not be happy until it sees every public sector worker getting pennies on the dollar for their retirement income.

In addition to these three editorials, the paper had several articles on issues that impact the city, county, and state.  Nothing online covers these issues as well (nor does the Sun-Times’ competitor, despite offering more “content”).  Good newspapers provide an important public service.  Our democracy will be poorer if they cannot survive.

Posted: June 18, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Slavery is dead?  A story has come out over the last few days about worker exploitation at a leading convenience chain.*  The stores are franchised, and owners of 14 franchise locations in New York and Virginia have been arrested for worker exploitations.  Undocumented immigrants were forced to work as much as 100 hours per week and given only a fraction of the salary they earned.

However sickening this story is, it also demonstrates how low some people will sink to make money.  Unethical employers frequently mistreat low wage workers and undocumented workers.  We need strong laws to protect workers – including those who are undocumented – against such exploitation.

This story reminds me that some conservatives argue against the minimum wage.  Do they also advocate repealing the 13th Amendment?  Do they have any value for the work people do?

* I’m not mentioning the chain’s name because it doesn’t deserve negative publicity in this case.  Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m not a fan of big corporations. In this case, however, it is not responsible for the problem.  Going forward, I hope the corporation establishes some system to ensure that franchise owners treat employees properly – and pay them.

P.S.  According to Laura Clawson in Daily Kos, there may be as many as 40 stores involved in the investigation.  Clawson is less forgiving toward the corporation than I am.  Her story is worth your time.

Posted: June 14, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

As newspaper business sections have shrunk or disappeared, I’ve taken to reading the website 24/7 Wall Street for news about the economy.  Today the website features an interesting story on the top 10 states where people hate going to work.  It’s also a national problem.  The article cites a Gallup Poll which claims that less than a third of Americans are engaged in their work.  So it seems that most American are unhappy at work.

Many clients come to me because they feel disengaged and want to find a new job or change careers.  Being happy at work is usually not an accident.  People who are happy at work know what they want to do and find a place where they can do it.  This kind of job search takes time and patience.  Too many people scramble to find any job.  Then they are miserable.  Be fair to yourself.  Find a job that makes you happy.

Posted: June 12, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Meteor Blades of the Daily Kos digs into the issues of pay gaps between men and women.  And what he finds is very depressing.  While women still are still paid less on average than men, they are gaining.  That sounds good.  However, Blades points out the women’s pay is rising because men’s pay is falling.  Over the last ten years, the wages for both men and women have fallen.  Men’s wages are falling faster, harder.

We can talk about consecutive months of gains in private sector jobs.  We can watch the unemployment rate tick up and tick down.  Wages are the real story.  If working people and the middle class can’t spend, sooner or later our national economic house of card will fall. Brother and sister, can you spare a dime?

Posted: June 11, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

In the Grid section of today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Tom Moran of Addison Group gives some great advice about how employers evaluate candidates.  I urge you to read the article, but here are three quick tricks that you can use:

Prove you are organized: Moran will ask candidates to see their wallets as a test of organizational skills.  You can do the same thing by keeping your wallet (or purse) organized, and use it as an example at interviews.

Reliability: Be able to say why you stayed at jobs as well as why you left.  Moran doesn’t want to hear stories where the candidate blames someone else or is negative about why they left a company.  You can follow a similar path by identifying something you were not able to do at a previous employer that you will be able to do at your new job.  Again, keep the tone positive and forward looking.

Thank you and follow up: Moran tests candidates by giving them a business card at the end of each interview.  He expects thank you note by email within 5-7 hours of the interview.  You can ask for a card and follow up quickly, which will show your interest in the job.

Overall, I would sum up Tom Moran’s advice in these words.  Show that you can do the job, and show that you want it.

Posted: May 13, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

In the Grid feature of today’s Chicago Sun-Times, Francine Knowles profiles Anne Ladky, the Executive Director of Women Employed.  Ladky points out that too many women still work in low wage jobs.  She estimates that 17 million women work at jobs that pay less than $12 an hour.  Worse still, it’s not unusual for these jobs to schedule employees at less than 40 hours a week, which means no benefits, no security.

Ladky advocates improved education and better programs to assist low wage workers.  While I agree with her in these areas, which should be called common sense solutions, the trend on a national and local level seems to be flying in the other direction.  Few politicians support funding any kind of social program.  Instead, they call for cuts to any program that helps people (except for the very rich and corporations).  Several major cities, including Chicago, are closing schools, which means young women (and men) most likely to be low wage workers are being packed in larger and larger classes.  How will they be able to compete in an economy that requires greater knowledge and skills?  Is it possible to talk about meritocracy if so many have no chance to succeed?

Ladky and Women Employed are fighting the good fight.  May they stay strong and lead to a better world for all of us.

Posted: April 28, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

One of my good friends is an engineer.  For most of his career, his employer paid overtime to engineers who worked more than 40 hours.  That changed three years ago.  Now they are on a “comp time” model in which non-hourly employees are supposed to be able to take time off for working over 40 hours in a week.  However, given “lean” staffing, it’s impossible to use comp time.

Laura Clawson of Daily Kos discusses this problem and how the freedom-loving conservatives in Congress are trying to make it worse.  The Working Families Flexibility Act, a proposed bill in the House of Representatives, would enable employers to control their employees' time, working them hard during busy seasons,making them take comp time  without pay when production is slow.

Clawson calls out Eric Cantor as the leading supporter of this “reform.”  That’s not surprising.  The real challenge will be to see how many Senate Democrats fall in line if the bill passes the House.  Working people need to come together to support each other on this issue.  The Working Families Flexibility Act should be a rallying point.  Anyone (hourly or salary) working more than 40 hour should be paid overtime.  Keep it simple:  +40 = overtime pay.

Posted: April 21, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

We fret about unemployment in the U.S., but we seldom consider the problem in other countries.  Huffington Post linked to an article at that lists European countries with the highest unemployment.  Japan and the U.K. have slight higher unemployment.  Countries like Greece (26.4%) and Spain (26.3%) face much higher, rates which are similar to estimates for the U.S. in the Depression of 1930s.

What if the U.S. had 25% unemployment?  We would have a major problem.  Even at the current rate, many job seekers are having problems finding jobs.  Worse still, wages have flat and in some cases declined.  Like Paul Krugman, I believe the government should play some role as an employer of last resort.  It’s not a matter of the clichéd attack on Keynes that one worker fills a hole and another fills it.  There is work to be done:  infrastructure, public safety, education, and healthcare.  We need to invest to build good country where everyone has opportunity.  We have the wealth.  We need the will.

Posted: April 1, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Travis Waldron of Think Progress reports on a on a disturbing trend:  college graduates working low wage jobs.  The statistics are a bit confusing, but the bottom line is that even college grads are now having trouble finding jobs that pay well.  Waldron explains that most of the new jobs generated in the post-recession economy have been low wage, which means that will be all that is available for some college grads.  He also notes that these better educated workers will push less qualified candidates out of the job market.  This trend needs to be watched – and worried over.