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Archive for March, 2011

Does Wal-Mart Discount Women Workers?

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The Supreme Court heard a hearing on Tuesday on what could become the biggest sex discrimination case in the history of the US against discount giant Wal-Mart.    Over ten years ago, Betty Dukes and five plaintiffs filed a sex discrimination case against Wal-Mart alleging that Wal-Mart discriminates against women by paying women less than men for the same position and  by overlooking  qualified women for promotion.  If the Supreme Court certifies a class action against Wal-Mart, the case could end up in the billions, if the Plaintiffs prevail.  It is estimated that anywhere from 500,000 to over a million women may be involved in the lawsuit.   The class action, if approved would include all past and present Wal-Mart women workers since 1998.   Class actions allow plaintiffs who share a similar complaint to proceed as a class without having individual trials.  It is not a perfect solution.

Certain legal requirements must be met to go forward as a class action. One or a few individuals may file a case, representing everyone who shares the same legal claim, if the whole group is so large that the courts could not handle such a crowd;   if the case raises the same questions of law and fact for all members meaning those representing the group raise claims typical of everyone’s; and the class representative must “fairly and adequately” protect everyone’s interests. In the Wal-Mart case, the individual named plaintiffs are asserting that all women past and present employees have the same legal claim with similar questions of law and fact on sexual discrimination.

The original and first lawsuit was filed by Betty Dukes, an African American woman working as a store greeeter. She was quickly joined by 5 other women alleging the same thing, being passed over for promotions and unequal pay.  Over 7 years ago, a previous judge certified a class action of all women employed by Wal-Mart.  Wal-Mart’s lawyers have been trying to undo the class action status ever since.  Through various legal maneuvers, the case on the class action has finally reached the Supreme Court.

Wal-Mart flatly denies any discrimination occurred.  And Wal-Mart further says the incidents alleged are isolated incidents and a result of bad employees and not a pattern and practice.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an expert on sex discrimination cases, did not appear persuaded  on Tuesday  by Wal-Mart’s argument.  The Supreme Court is almost evenly split among conservatives and more liberal leaning justices.  Since the class action tool was allowed by the court over 40 years ago, there has never been a case even close to the numbers involved in the Wal-Mart case.

It will be some time before the Supreme Court rules on whether to allow a class action. The case was filed in the court system over 10 years ago. And it hasn’t gotten close to a trial yet.  The wheels of justice turn very slowly.

Debbie Hines is a lawyer and political and legal commentator.  She is frequently seen in the media addressing issues on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School   and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Murkowski Supports Funding for Planned Parenthood

Monday, March 28th, 2011

The real Alaskan maverick is U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R. Alaska) who fought a well fought and won write in campaign to beat the GOP Tea Party candidate backed candidate. Now, she’s speaking out on her own and supporting Planned Parenthood’s need for federal funds. She is one of a few Republicans who publicly support Planned Parenthood.   At least, we know she stands for something for women. She says the loss of funds will affect many women in Alaska. Now, if only she could convince Republicans to support it.  To read more: See  Planned Parenthood Fights to Prevent Loss of Funds  from Anchorage Daily.

Why We Still Need Collective Bargaining Today

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

There’s a misguided move to end collective bargaining rights for unions for all the wrong reasons.  Those supporters who want to end collective bargaining see it as a cost saving measure. Those clamoring to end collective bargaining rights are looking to return to the past glory days without collective bargaining. Well, the past was not so glorified for many workers in the US.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the New York City Triangle Fire where on March 25, 1911, 146 garment workers died after a fire broke out at the Triangle Waist Company. The mostly girls and young women, who were killed, were locked in the factory to prevent them from taking breaks.  Many perished through the fire or jumped to their deaths from the 8th and 9th floors. At that time, there was no union or collective bargaining to protect their rights or require basic work place safety for the workers.

After the fire, the New York legislature passed laws requiring automatic sprinklers, unlocked doors during working hours, doors that swing outward for easy  exit access, to name a few .  Just like today’s dissenters of collective bargaining, the same rhetoric was heard 100 years ago. Sprinklers were called “cumbersome and costly”. Others warned the new laws for safety measures would drive business out of the city and state of New York.  Does this sound familiar today?

Everything always boils down to cost cutting over safety and saving lives.  If today’s House Republicans and Wisconsin Republicans were alive in 1911, they would call these basic fire safety measures “job killers”.  Big business and special interest groups have always fought against rights for the working people, as too costly or too expensive. Corporate interests argued against basic minimum wages, child labor laws, minimum work day hours and overtime pay, all at the cost to working people. Over the years, unions through collective bargaining have fought for the rights and safety for working Americans.

If we allow collective bargaining rights to be stripped, we will return to the days of yester year when workers were not safe.  By way of recent example today, the National Traffic Air Traffic Controllers Association has long requested that air traffic controllers not work alone on night shifts. Ever since 2006, the union has argued for 2 person late night shifts. And just this week, one lone air traffic controller at Regan National Airport allegedly fell asleep, resulting in 2 planes attempting to land without his assistance. Paul Rinaldi, the head of the union representing air traffic controllers, has long argued against single person late night shifts.  The cost to hire 2 air traffic controllers to work on night shifts far outweighs the costs to lives perished in an airplane crash, as the one occurred in 2006 in Kentucky, due to a lone traffic controller, at the helm.

There’s an old saying that says sometimes you need to learn the hard way. When it comes to lives and basic safety, I’d rather not learn the hard way. I’d rather continue with unions and their collective bargaining efforts fighting for safety. Unions are not perfect. But, the risk of loss of lives without them is too much to bear. Safety has a price. And lives are priceless.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and legal and political commentator. She is frequently seen in the media. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Affordable Health Care Law Celebrates its First Birthday

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

One year ago, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, helping millions of Americans by drastically improving their lives. Despite the Republican controlled Congress dripping comments that it has been repealed, it has not been repealed.  Republicans are working overtime to return to the good ole days when insurance companies could significantly raise premiums at the drop of a hat. But rest assured, President Obama promises to veto any bill coming across his desk to defund health care.

The Affordable Care Act, known as health care reform, has significantly made a positive impact on Americans and particularly, African Americans and minority communities, many of whom lack health insurance. One in 5 African Americans lack health insurance, more than any other group. The law provides African Americans the freedom to get the care they need without seeking primary care from the emergency room. Most importantly, the law provides vital protection for those with pre-existing conditions and provides continuing coverage. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D. MO) said on a recent conference call that he is not sure why so many fought against it, when so many people need it, including those who fought against it. Under the law, it is now illegal to deny health care to children based on pre-existing conditions. With jobs being lost daily and several hundred foreclosures an hour, the African American community should “embrace it with a vengeance” says Rep. Cleaver. 

The health care law goes beyond coverage and adds key investments like increasing jobs.  16,000 new primary health care providers, including nurses and physician assistants, will be added over the next 5 years as a result of the law. In addition, Medicare recipients will receive free preventive care, including colonoscopies, mammograms and annual physical x-rays, allowing many persons to get help before life threatening illnesses arise. Physicians who were skeptical about the law have come to understand its benefits. Dr.  Deneta Sells, a Georgia based pediatrician has benefited from the tax credits granted to small businesses by the Affordable Care Act. Many practicing physicians are small businesses.

Everyday Americans, who are often silent over the loud clanging of the opponents of Affordable Care, are beginning to speak out.  One such person is Renee Ford of Memphis, TN.  Renee, a mother of 5 and wife learned about the catastrophic nightmare of being uninsured when her husband needed a kidney transplant.  The family was on COBRA at the time at a cost of $1200 a month. Her husband now has to take rejection medicine for his kidney transplant at a monthly cost of $2400 for the rest of his life.  No insurance will cover him due to his pre-existing condition.   The only coverage her family could find would cost $2400 a month with a $25,000 deductible.  Presently,   she is “very excited about health care reform because there’s hope.”   And that hope comes from knowing that she and her family will be able to join the high risk pool health exchange and finally receive quality affordable care.  Ms. Ford says others like her may be silent but they’re out there.

The full impact of the law is unknown as many of the provisions have yet to go into effect. While children with pre-existing conditions and young adults from ages 18-26 have been helped to remain on their parents’ coverage, the vast majority of persons uninsured a year ago are still uninsured today, due to delayed provisions. With lawsuits flying over the constitutionality of the act, it is not known if the Affordable Care Act will survive. Courts are split on the issue of whether the law is constitutional.  27 states have joined in over 20 lawsuits arguing that the mandate requiring Americans to purchase insurance is unconstitutional.  Undoubtedly, the case will end up in the Supreme Court.   With 5 Republican appointed justices and 4 Democratic appointed justices, it will be a close call. Until then, affordable health care  is the law.

Debbie Hines is a lawyer and legal and political commentator. She is frequently seen in the media speaking on legal and political issues affecting women and African Americans. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of PA.

International Anti-Racism Day Should be Mandatory for America

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

International Anti-Racism day on March 21, established by the UN, should be a mandatory observance in America. Better yet, the US should start its own National Anti-Racism day.  We could use it to mark a day when no racism of any form is tolerated in America. It would be like a moment of silence only lasting for a full day.  Imagine, we outlaw racism and prevent any form of it from being practiced on just one day. But, first, we’d have to talk about racism and acknowledge that it still exists in America.

There are many persons who still believe that with the election of President Obama, racism ended.  They think that his election turned us into a post racial society. How silly of a notion to think that one event would eliminate hundreds of years of  institutionalized racism in America. Nothing is farther from the truth. If anything, the election of President Obama has proven to me that we are still a country that is full of racism.  His election was not about race but about change.  And his election and campaign for the presidency brought out a long suppressed racial rage among some, starting with those phone comments made by former President Bill Clinton during the campaign.  Remember when Bill Clinton turned inward to his true feelings and said in a conversation to Senator Ted Kennedy about Obama that “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.”   Although, Bill Clinton has apologized, it doesn’t take away the racist sting of the statement for blacks or the racial feelings behind it.

The Birthers and now Donald Trump picked up the racial banner left by Bill Clinton by saying they don’t believe President Obama was born in this country. Simply put, all the Birthers are saying is that it’s impossible to believe that an African American could have “legally” won the election to the White House.  Apparently, the votes didn’t lie so Obama must have cheated in some other way. That way must be his alleged illegal citizenship. Some say he was born in Kenya and others say it was Indonesia. The government of Hawaii has provided proof of President Obama’s birth place in the US. But, instead of dying, the birther argument is growing in steam and popularity with no further proof of life for its existence.

Then let’s not forget the Tea Party. There are many persons who do not believe the Tea Party has a racist bone in its words. Well, when the Tea Party decries they want to take their country back, to whom do you think they are referring?  And in wanting to turn the clock back to the way things were, that takes blacks back to a simpler time when blacks had few or no rights.  And as we have become a more intolerant country against acceptance of other non-Christian based religions and particularly Muslims, the labeling of President Obama as a Muslim, is yet, another way of spewing hatred. 

The United Nations proclaimed March 21 to be International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to increase efforts to eliminate all forms of racial intolerance and discrimination. It marks the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, when South African police opened fire on thousands of unarmed anti-apartheid demonstrators, killing 69 and injuring 180 persons, over 50 years ago.  In the US, we should mark the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, the day on March 7, 1965 when Alabama police brutally beat over 600 peaceful civil rights marchers, including now Congressman John Lewis.  And we could continue to mark the anniversary of that day as National Anti-Racism day until we truly become a post racial society.

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a lawyer and political and legal commentator. She is frequently seen in the media. She also writes for the Huffington Post. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania.

Why Are Black Women Invisible in Business?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Black women in business. Still invisible. Still undervalued.

Last week, a coalition of groups representing black women elected officials released a report which acknowledged the role that broadband adoption could play to empower female controlled households with vital online-based job training and search tools, telemedicine options, education and small business resources.   It also tasked the federal government when implementing the National Broadband Plan that was released last spring to do so in a manner that support telework options and small businesses, especially considering  the role women play as owners of 1/3 of all small businesses.

This quote from a call with reporters on the report’s release by Senator Sharon Weston Broome, president of the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women (NOBEL) who released the report in conjunction with  the National Foundation for Women Legislators (NFWL) stood out:

As we have advanced over the decades – into college classrooms, legislatures, and boardrooms – women are still at the center of most families in the United States. As a result, many women are often overburdened with a seemingly impossible set of responsibilities that encompass nearly every aspect of everyday life, from making financial decisions to caring for children and aging parents to contributing a growing share to overall household income.

In addition, there are significantly more single mothers in the U.S. than single fathers. In certain communities, fathers are all but absent, forcing young women to figure out how to balance the needs of their children with their own needs.

If properly harnessed, broadband could be a platform for not only making many of these family functions and responsibilities more efficient, it could also serve as a hub to bolster family connections.  To read more, see   Jeneba Speaks : Black Women Still Invisible, Still Undervalued