Thursday, May 19, 2011

Green Career Training for Women

My name is Pamela Pigford, I am a 56-year-old African-American lesbian and my dream is to become an Electrician.

After working as a telecommunications technician for 20 years in LA, I moved back to my hometown of Denver knowing that these skills would soon be obsolete. With the goal of getting into the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 68, Denver Joint Electrical Apprentice and Training Committee Program, I applied, tested and interviewed with Local 68 to become an electrician in June 2010. I scored very successfully and have been on a waiting list for the Apprentice Training Program since.

While waiting for acceptance into the apprenticeship, I discovered that there is free career training available in green jobs through a grant with FRESC Good Jobs Strong Communities. Last summer, I successfully completed two courses, became a Certified Energy Auditor, and obtained my BPI certification.

Since I chose to quit my job in California to pursue career training, I have not been eligible for Unemployment Insurance (UI) in Colorado, and have been living off credit cards and family support. Had I been able to receive any UI benefits, I would not be as deep in debt as I am now.

Being underemployed has dramatically impacted my lifestyle and my ability to reach economic security in any real way. Last year I explored Denver, trying to learn my way around the city and took advantage of Free Day events. Now I only leave to house to job search, interview, drug test and work at temporary jobs. I continue to use free job search resources like the Workforce Center and the Public Library, and I am anxious to find something steady to support myself. My only hope is that once given the opportunity, I will prove my determination to become a valuable employee to a truly inclusive and equal opportunity organization, and succeed in my goal of becoming an Electrician or Technician in a Green Career.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Denver Paid Sick Days Initiative: Are the costs too high to offer paid sick days to all employees?

On Monday, May 9th Campaign for a Healthier Denver launched their campaign to win Paid Sick Days for Denverites. If you would like to stay up to date with this campaign check out their website, or if you have facebook "like" the page. We had great media coverage, here is one of the best articles explaining why Paid Sick Days is necessary. The original article can be seen by clicking here.

Yesterday, Campaign for a Healthy Denver launched what it's calling the 2011 Denver Paid Sick Days Initiative, which would mandate paid sick days for all non-governmental workers in Denver, be they full-time or part-time employees. But given the state of the economy, isn't this a terrible time to introduce such a measure? Hardly, says one backer.

"The economy is actually one of the reasons why it's the right time to be doing this," argues Erin Bennett, Colorado director of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, who spoke at a 16th Street Mall rally that launched the initiative drive. "We know working families have been especially hurt by the economy. To worry about losing a day's pay or not being able to make a month's rent just because you're sick is something working families can't afford."

paid sick days rally photo.JPG
Campaign for a Healthy Denver
​What about businesses already griping about additional financial obligations from federal health-care regulations?

"We have a number of business owners in our coalition," Bennett points out. "Yes, there is some administrative cost, and there's the cost of offering sick days for employees. But the benefits of not having sick workers on the job, of increased work-force productivity and decreased turnover from not having to replace employees far outweighs the cost. Any business owner who offers sick days will tell you that."

Such folks represent the majority here, but barely. The campaign estimates that nearly 40 percent of Denverites receive no paid sick days, and that number skyrockets for toilers in the restaurant industry. Approximately 72 percent of such workers in Denver don't get paid sick days, according to the campaign -- a little better than the national average of 80 percent, but still problematic considering the incentive for people handling food to punch the clock whether they're sick or not.

Not that Bennett expects every business organization to get behind the campaign's proposal. But she believes "most of the business organizations that oppose paid sick days are the ones that oppose any mandates on business whatsoever" -- and they can be won over by positive experiences. She references San Francisco, "where the policy has been in place the longest," she allows. "The restaurant association there was opposed to the initiative as it was moving forward, but since then, they've come out and said it wasn't a big deal -- that it wasn't hard to implement and it was good for public health and business."

The campaign portrays the initiative as quite modest. Paid sick leave would be capped at nine days per year for full-time workers and pro-rated for part-timers -- and businesses with fewer than ten employees would only have to offer five days of paid sick leave for full-time employees.

Bennett and her crew still have to go through the petition-gathering process in order to place the initiative on the ballot. But she's confident voters will back it. In San Francisco, the paid-sick-leave measure garnered 61 percent support, while a similar initiative passed in Milwaukee with 69 percent of the vote -- and that makes sense to Bennett. "In the long run," she says, "people realize this clearly pays off."

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Popular Milwaukee Law Continues to Serve as an Example for Paid Sick Day Legislation Nationwide

Madison, WI—In the latest attack on Wisconsin families, Governor Walker signed a bill today that seeks to undermine local control statewide and attempts to nullify the Milwaukee paid sick days law, approved by nearly 70% of city voters in 2008. Just a few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision to uphold the law.

“The override of the Milwaukee sick days aw is an assault on democracy, local control, and working families,” said Dana Schultz, Lead Organizer for 9to5, National Association of Working Women. “Voters can see that the Governor and State Legislature are more committed to paying back their corporate donors than creating good jobs for Wisconsin.

Despite the actions by Walker and state lawmakers, advocates pointed to the growing efforts to enact paid sick days bills in other cities and states, efforts that were inspired by the groundbreaking Milwaukee law. In Philadelphia, a paid sick days bill was passed out of a City Council committee a few weeks ago, and in Connecticut, the state legislature is moving forward on a bill with bipartisan support. Paid sick days legislation in New York City has 35 City Council sponsors, legislation is about to be introduced in Seattle, and more than a dozen states have coalitions advocating actively for paid sick days and paid family leave policies. San Francisco and Washington, DC have already implemented paid sick days laws.

“Across the country, cities and states are passing paid sick day laws to protect working people and public health and help strengthen local economies,” said Schultz. “We’re proud that Milwaukee’s win helped spur those campaigns. The anti-worker majority in Madison may try to stop Milwaukee’s victory, but they can’t stop this movement.”

Schultz also pointed to continued work by the coalition supporting national paid sick days legislation. And 9to5 is working with small businesses in Milwaukee to promote voluntary adoption of family-friendly policies.

The bill (AB41/SB 23) signed by Governor Walker is designed to steal the Milwaukee victory and preempt local governments and voters from enacting similar legislation. The bill passed the Assembly in a near party-line vote of 59 to 35; the state Senate passed it with no debate when the Democratic senators were still absent in early March.

“Wisconsinites need a government that works for the people that elected them, not for a narrow group of corporate interests,” said Sheila Cochran, Milwaukee Area Labor Council President. “The Governor and his associates have disregarded the will of the voters, the decision of the court and opened the door to reverse local control wherever they see fit.”

Wisconsin has a rich history of local governance, in which municipalities enact legislation that addresses the needs of their communities. In 2008, nearly 70% of Milwaukee voters approved a law to provide paid sick days for workers in the city. A few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision to uphold the law, which would provide 120,000 Milwaukee families who do not have paid sick days of the freedom to take care of ill family members without fear of losing their jobs or a paycheck.

As the Court of Appeals said in its ruling upholding the ordinance, “With respect to paid versus unpaid sick leave, it is reasonable to conclude that paid sick leave will induce more employees to take time off work when necessary for their health and the health of their families.”
New research on similar laws in other cities shows significant benefits for workers and minimal impact on businesses. A study last month of San Francisco’s paid sick days law shows business concerns about job loss were unfounded, with six in seven employers saying that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability and two-thirds of employers surveyed supporting the law. Other studies have shown that employees are healthier and more productive when they have access to paid sick days.

Proponents of AB 41 claim the bill provides a uniform statewide family and medical leave policy (FMLA), but sponsors made clear the measure was designed explicitly to overturn the Milwaukee paid sick day law. The state and federal FMLA laws that have been in effect since 1988 and 1993, respectively, provide a policy for longer-term sick leave, but do not cover time off for routine illness or medical needs related to diagnosis, preventative care, or to seek services to deal with the horror of domestic or sexual assault. FMLA also applies only to companies of 50 or more; half the workforce is not covered. And the time is unpaid.

The large and diverse Paid Sick Days Coalition, led by 9to5, includes labor groups, health groups, civil rights and faith organizations, advocates for children and jobs and an end to domestic violence.