Michelle Chen

Posted: June 6, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

 

The great labor reporter Michelle Chen has written a piece for The Nation that examines the use of temporary labor. She breaks out the various methods large companies use to pay less and not be responsible for worker safety issues or unemployment claims. Many contingent workers have experienced wage theft. In essence, these workers are meant to be replaceable at a moment’s notice. Chen gives a great overview of this disgusting system. I strongly recommend her article.

Posted: April 13, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

 

Common Dreams has posted an article by Michelle Chen that examines one reason for wage disparities between men and women. In many states, employers can fire employees who discuss their salaries with other employees. Last week the Senate failed to pass The Paycheck Fairness Act, a bill that would have prevented this practice (if the bill passed the House, which would not have happened). How serious is this issue? Chen cites a 2003 study claiming that 1/3 of employers have rules that prevent employees from discussing pay with co-workers.

 

Why isn’t this practice a violation of the First Amendment? Chen explains that employers claim that pay is similar to a “trade secret,” confidential information. She also reminds readers of Lilly Ledbetter’s story. Ledbetter was doing the same job as her male peers at Goodyear Tire, but did not know she was paid less. When she found out and sued, the court ruled that she had not acted in a timely manner even though she did not have the information because of the employer rules described above.

 

I recommend that you read Chen’s story to get the full sense of this story. Should employers have this right? I don’t think so. Yes, employees should not discuss proprietary information. Salary does not fall in this realm. Instead, employers are bullying employees to control them and keep them afraid. This is another reason why American workers should support stronger labor laws and unions.

Posted: March 23, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

Common Dreams has posted an article by the great labor writer Michelle Chen, who examines the growing practice of “on call” work schedules.  In this labor model, the employee works only when the employer offers hours.  There is no set schedule.  As Chen notes, there are several disadvantages to this model:  no set schedule, getting sent home early, being called in the same day to work, and having no control over free time since you can only work when it is available.  This model is becoming more common in retail stores and restaurants, industries where the minimum wage or tip wages are often the norm.

Chen ends her article:  “While it purports to optimize workplace efficiency, the Just-in-Time system exploits work-time as a commodity. A just schedule takes into account the true value of a worker’s time, on and off the clock, and it’s the only way to truly ensure a fair day’s pay.”  True words.  But in a world where so many working people have bought into the argument that business is always right, I’m afraid that on call schedules are going to be just one line on a long and growing list of workplace concerns that workers are going to have to fight to change.

Posted: February 7, 2014
By: Clay Cerny

Today saw a second straight disappointing month for job growth.  The number again is positive, but not strong enough.  Common Dreams has posted an article by Michelle Chen that looks beyond the monthly numbers.  Chen, a writer at In These Times, lays bare the mainstream media lie that workers are to blame for unemployment because they have the wrong skills.  Citing a study from the Economic Policy Institute, she finds that workers of all education levels are struggling in the current market.  Chen concludes that the real gap is one of understanding.  People who claim that skills are the problem do not know how the economy works.

I would add to Chen’s analysis by noting that many fields have been glutted by intense marketing from universities, colleges, and training programs.  Professions that once had easy entry know have more applicants than open positions, which lets employers drive down salary costs.  My simple take is that good jobs are hard to find and getting harder to find all the time.  Employers have the upper hand, and they know it, which means wages will continue to stay flat or go down until real job growth happens.  Given the attitude of both business and government, we might be in this negative cycle for a long time to come.

Posted: October 26, 2013
By: Clay Cerny

Michelle Chen of In These Times (reposted on Common Dreams) reports that workers at musical instrument retailer Guitar Center are striking a power chord for wage justice.  Workers at two of the chains +200 stores have unionized.  Now others are joining the fight.  Chen notes that these employees often are connected through interests outside of work, such as bands, which will give them even more reason to show solidarity when the going gets tough.

Expect the going to get tough – Bain has owned the business since 2007.  However, it’s important to note that the unionized stores organized during Bain’s ownership.  When workers hang together, they are impossible to stop.  Are you listening, McDonald’s?  Walmart?