There has been some talk in the news lately about a strike involving unionized healthcare workers, specifically healthcare workers employed at state-run nursing and group homes. The reasons cited range from low wages, poor benefits, and working conditions to lack of adherence to coronavirus standards. The union states twenty-four employees have died due to the virus. Some of the union’s more disturbing claims relate to the lack of personal protective equipment, deficient testing programs, and staff shortages. While Governor Lamont has offered $280 million in federal funds, it is going to be interesting to see how this plays out.
I’m sure everyone has heard the term “strike” before and generally knows what it means. However, there are still some misnomers out there, and if you’ve never been involved in a strike before, you may not know how it actually works. Hopefully, this article will clear up any questions.
A union or labor strike occurs when unionized workers collectively agree to stop working in order to gain a concession from an employer. The key term in this definition is “collectively.” A strike and a related picket are both concerted activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act. In order for the strike to be protected, it has to be a “concerted activity,” meaning it has to be done collectively by a majority of the union members and be endorsed by the union. A single worker cannot decide to stay home from work for a week and call it a strike. That is not a collective activity and, therefore, is not protected - you will be fired for this.
Typically, strikes arise out of a breakdown in contract negotiations, grievances that are not addressed, or a unilateral change in working conditions. Strikes can also arise from allegations of unsafe working conditions or unfair labor practices that violate state and federal labor laws. As I said earlier, workers that strike are protected and generally will not be fired for going on strike. However, the company is not required to pay an employee while on strike, and striking employees are not eligible for unemployment.
A strike is a union tactic designed to force the company into meeting its demands. The idea is that the company cannot function without workers; thus, management is pressured to cave. Yet the union is not the only entity to have some leverage. The company can also engage in a protected, concerted activity called a “lockout.” This is where the company locks out or prevents the union workers from coming to work—without pay and benefits, of course—and hires replacement workers. This tactic is designed to get the union to cave and meet management’s demands. Again, this is also a protected, concerted activity that must be endorsed by the company management. A disgruntled company supervisor cannot lock out a certain employee or shift on their own. That would be illegal, and the supervisor would face discipline, and the company could be liable for damages.
With that said, public sector employees in Connecticut cannot strike. The Municipal Employees Relations Act, the Teachers Negotiations Act, and the State Employees Relations Act all prohibit public sector workers from striking.
In the end, strikes can be dicey. There are rules that need to be followed and contracts to be reviewed before a strike can be planned. Furthermore, the underlying dispute may not be resolved by striking. If you are in a private sector union and are thinking of striking, please consult with an attorney experienced in these matters. If you have questions on strikes or need some advice on whether a strike is right for your union, give us a call. We are here to help.
President Biden’s $2.5 trillion infrastructure plan has certainly caused some stir in the past few weeks. The plan is unprecedented in terms of spending and drastically expands the definition of infrastructure. That could be good or bad, depending on your political leanings.
However, I would like to talk about the expanded union protections built into the proposal. The most current version of the American Jobs Plan includes the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. According to the Administration, "President Biden is calling on Congress to update the social contract that provides workers with a fair shot to get ahead, overcome racial and other inequalities that have been barriers for too many Americans, expand the middle class and strengthen communities." Furthermore, "He is calling on Congress to ensure all workers have a free and fair choice to join a union by passing the [PRO] Act and guarantee union and bargaining right for service workers."
Expanded union protections include giving the National Labor Relations Board the power to fine employers who violate workers’ rights, increased protections for independent contractors, easing restrictions on strikes, and weakening “right to work” laws. Unions in general can help workers increase pay, increase benefits, and improve working conditions. Proponents of union rights are fawning over the bill, while opponents claim the bill could reduce jobs and harm workers who do not wish to pay unions dues.
The reality of it is that union membership has many benefits, including the right to bargain collectively. The process of collective bargaining, otherwise called contract negations, gives unionized workers more power to set and standardize salary, benefits, working conditions, disciplinary procedure, grievance procedures, and other protections, such as “just cause,” that would otherwise be unavailable to the individual worker. Overall, union membership is an advantage to workers all across the country. Yes, you have to pay dues to be a member. However, the benefits far outweigh the cost, making it a very good investment.
Unions have helped many industries, such as construction, manufacturing, transportation, and public safety, become some of the most sought-after jobs with high salaries, good benefits, and high levels of employee protection. According to the Nation Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 14.3 million unionized workers in the United States in 2020. While that number is somewhat lower than the number in 2019, it was greatly disproportionate to the number of non-unionized workers who lost their job due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unionized workers decreased by 2.2 percent from 2019-2020. Non-unionized workers decreased 6.6 percent from 2019-2020. That alone shows how powerful unionized workers can be and how being a member of a union can help keep you employed, even during a crisis. Moreover, if you are laid off as a union worker, there are protections in place to reduce the impact and rules that must be followed before a layoff can even happen. Non-unionized employees enjoy no such protections.
While some may not agree, union membership is good for most employees. President Biden’s infrastructure plan, if passed as is, will expand union rights for everyone. In my opinion, this is a good thing. If you are looking to unionize, please give us a call. We would be happy to help you get the process started, and we would love to represent you.
I want to touch on online privacy and doxxing protection for public sector employees. For those who don’t know, “doxxing” is when personal information like your address, phone number, email, are published online for nefarious reasons. It has happened to celebrities, politicians, teachers, police officers, and nurses. It’s a brutal tactic that can cause considerable trauma to a person and their family.
Public information accessibility laws put public service employees at increased risk of being doxxed, because their names (and sometimes salaries or other information) are required to be available to the public either through a search or a formal request. The new police accountability bill in Connecticut legally requires Police Officers to display their names at all times on their outer most garment.
The motives for doxxing someone vary widely. Sometimes the doxxer wants to harass an employee they don’t like. Anti-law enforcement activists routinely doxx officers and their families following notable incidents. Sometimes it just an internet person, who takes issue with a post or comment on social media. In all cases, the doxxers weaponize your name or other publicly available information about you in order to terrorize you in your own home.
How do they do this? By scouring the internet for “bread crumbs” of published information. The most prevalent sources of this are from large data broker websites like whitepages.com, fastpeoplesearch.com, spokeo.com, and many others. These data brokers aggregate publicly available data (voter records, home sales, department directories, etc.) and compile a database that allows users to search names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. On some sites the search is free, some sites charge a fee.
They do this without your permission, and the information is generally pretty accurate. The good news is you have the right to opt out and have your information kept private. The bad news is opting out is generally a total time-consuming pain in the neck. Most sites make it deliberately difficult to remove your information. And with over 30 popular sites, it can be an almost impossible task. Worse yet, the opt-out usually needs to be done annually.
So, what can we do about this? For one, we can start the conversation with employers about the true risk and dangers of doxxing. This absolutely is a labor issue, no different than any other condition of work matter which gets negotiated. It does require a collaborative approach to be most effective. If employers are required to expose employees’ names and information to the public, then they should also be willing to provide assistance in protecting those same employees from doxxing. On the employee’s side, they need to take practical measures like maxing out their privacy setting on social media platforms (or deleting them all together).
How do employers protect employees from doxxing? Either by providing the time and resources for employees to opt out from each data broker or by purchasing a service that will do the work on behalf of the employees. Services like deleteme.com or onerep.com will remove your information from all of the data broker websites. To be most effective, the opt-out service should include the employees’ spouse and immediate family. It also needs to be proactive, because it commonly takes 30-90 days to get some data brokers to remove information. Waiting until an employee has been threatened or been involved in a public incident is way too late. If you are interested in doing the leg work yourself, here is a DIY guide on how to remove your information and opt-out of data broker websites
Doxxing lives in a legal grey area, too, because much of what is published is gathered from public information. There are very few criminal legal protections against it. Most doxxing crimes would fall under harassment or stalking statutes. It can be very difficult to prosecute, and it does not seem to be going away anytime soon.
The end goal is for our employees to feel safe in their homes and enjoy the same privacy rights as other members of the workforce. If you’re concerned about your doxxing exposure, would like additional training or information, or would like to negotiate protective measures with your employer, please contact Nutmeg so we can help you achieve your goals.
I read an interesting article in the newspaper the other day. A Connecticut city firefighter was terminated after testing positive for marijuana. On its face, that may not seem all that unusual. What separates this case from others is the fact that this firefighter was legally prescribed medical marijuana for the treatment of certain medical conditions. In the end, that did not matter to the city. The city’s position was that, in policy, it followed federal law, and marijuana is still illegal. Any use is a violation of its policies and grounds for discipline.
Marijuana is classed as Schedule I controlled substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act. That means the feds looks at marijuana the same as heroin, cocaine, and other illicit drugs: there is no acceptable medical use for the substance, and there is a significant potential for abuse. As with many topics today, this is a highly charged political debate. There are some that feel marijuana has no place in society and has no legitimate medical use. There are others that feel it should be regulated and taxed, much like alcohol. And then there are some that feel marijuana should be widely accessible to the public with little to no regulation. With that said, Connecticut has legalized marijuana for medical use when prescribed by a health care professional.
Getting back to the firefighter. After his termination, the firefighter filed a lawsuit in Federal Court claiming he was discriminated against because he was using marijuana for medical purposes under the care of the licensed medical professional. The suit was dismissed by the Court with the Judge finding that marijuana was still illegal under federal law, thus cannot be a basis for discrimination.
The part I found interesting was that the Federal Judge suggested the case be refiled in State Court. Reason being, Connecticut has protections built into its palliative marijuana law protecting employees from discrimination based on medical marijuana use. Now, this is not a total guarantee that you cannot be fired if you have a prescription from a doctor; in fact, the law makes it very clear that an employee cannot use marijuana while at work and cannot be under the influence while at work.
If you are a medical marijuana user and have been terminated or disciplined at work, there may be some protections available to you. Furthermore, the underlying condition that you are using marijuana to treat may be a basis in itself for a discrimination claim. If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly at work because of your disabilities or the use of medical marijuana, please give us a call. We would be happy to talk through the issues and discuss your options.
According to a 2020 report by the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median tenure of an employee in the private sector was 3.7 years. The median tenure for an employee in the public sector is nearly double that at 6.5 years. When this number is highlighted against the soaring costs of employee turnover, which is estimated to be 33% of the workers annual salary, it becomes evident public sector employers should be jumping for joy. But many still feel there is a serious turn over problem in the public sector.
In this 2016 study, 30% of public safety employees changing careers cited “Lack of direction from upper management” as their number one reason for leaving.
What’s one simple way we can ensure employees have “direction” from upper management? The answer is a career roadmap: a clear laid out plan for your future within the organization. From day one an employee will know the direction their career is headed and the investment the organization is committed to making in them.
Career roadmaps are fairly simple to develop but can pay dividends in terms of employee satisfaction, organizational performance, and retention. In fact, organizations with defined professional development plans have employee retention rates 34% higher than those without.
Career road maps are good for the employer too. It allows the organization to more accurately plan their training costs, improves current performance, and ensure continuity of leadership in the future. It may also help eliminate nepotism and disputes as the career development paths are laid out for everyone to see.
My first career was in law enforcement, so it’s where I have the most familiarity and why I chose to use it as an example. But a career road map can be applied to any public sector job, and the milestones and events on the road map can be negotiated into collective bargaining agreements.
An example of a career roadmap in law enforcement might look something like this:
• Police Academy FTO, Probationary Period
• 1st Anniversary - Advanced DUI Course
• 2nd Anniversary - Advanced Traffic Investigations
• 3rd. Anniversary- Narcotics interdiction for the patrol officer
• 4th Anniversary - Interview and Interrogation
• 5th Anniversary - FTO Course
• 6th Anniversary - Advanced Crime Scene investigation
• 7th Anniversary- First Line Supervisors Course
• 8th Anniversary – Elective based on interest (Investigative track or administrative track)
This is just a hypothetical example; however, the point is to choose trainings and assignments that coincide with the normal growth and development of the position. Typically, new cops work midnights and handle lots of DUI’s and traffic accidents. As they gain experience, they build on more complicated skills like drug interdiction and detecting deception. At the 5-year mark, FTO course gives the first dose of leadership experience priming them for promotion while also pollinating new officers with experiences and knowledge.
At the seven-year mark, everyone goes to first line supervisors’ course, preparing them to be leaders before they ever put on any rank. This idea can be kind of controversial as some people feel only supervisors should be trained to be supervisors. That thinking is backward and sets new leaders up for failure. At the 8-year mark, employees get to choose from a few different career tracks. Some may favor investigative over administrative, or tactical over technical.
The road map will look different at each organization, and it may have a menu of options to select at each milestone on the map. The point is to always empower the employee to grow and build on their training and experience. The transparency of knowing that the organization has already committed to an employee’s future success will go a long way to improving performance, satisfactions, and employee retention.
If you think something like a career roadmap would help you and your organization, Nutmeg wants to know, and we want to be your partner in developing your future successes.
Social media is a both a curse and a gift. Many people use social media to keep up with the latest trends, keep in touch with family and friends (which has become extremely important during the pandemic), and keep up with the news. For many, this is a way to stay connected, to stay in the know, and to stay involved in the lives of the ones we love.
For others, social media is a place to stay updated on world events. Furthermore, some use social media to communicate with the world and post their views, feelings, and theories on current events and issues important to them. This is where the danger starts.
Many feel that they can post with anonymity by “hiding behind their keyboard.” Others simply don’t care if they offend someone or make themselves look bad. Posting opinions is one thing, but when that opinion leads to a negative view of the writer, or even worse, the writer’s employer, the results can be devastating. Yes, you can be disciplined or fired for what you post on your personal social media accounts.
In general, an employer can fire an employee for almost any lawful reason, including what you post on social media. If the post or the position you take in the post is seen as offensive and the employer feels it will damage their business’ reputation, you can be disciplined or fired.
However, there are some protections in place. Of course, there’s the free speech angle. The problem with free speech protections is they apply to government entities and not to private employers. So, if you are employed by the government, you may have a free speech right. A person working in the private sector may not have that same protection. Other laws in place apply to both public and private employers. These laws include anti-discrimination, anti-retaliation, and whistleblower laws. Connecticut also has a prohibition against discriminating against someone based on their political affiliation. While these laws could be double-edged swords, they may be a defense if you get fired for posting something your boss doesn’t agree with.
In the end though, protecting yourself, your job, and your reputation requires some forward thinking. Here are a few tips to help prevent you from having to use some of the protections we spoke about above.
One, don’t post while upset. If something is bothering you, don’t run right to your phone or computer and start typing. Wait until you calm down and can think rationally about what you’re writing. This may prevent you from posting something you will regret later.
Next, don’t post something you wouldn’t want your mother or grandmother to read. If you think your mother or grandmother will find your post offensive, chances are others will too.
Lastly, remember, everything you post will always be out there. Even if you remove a post down the line, there is a very good chance that someone has saved the post. These posts, even if acceptable now but not in the future, have come back to ruin people’s careers. Be mindful of the fact that once something goes out onto the web, you can never fully take it back. It’s out there forever, thus can follow you forever.
In closing, social media can be a gift when used properly, but can get you fired or worse, when you’re not careful about what you post. I don’t want to discourage the use of social media, but if you’re going to use it, use it responsibly.
If you’ve been disciplined or fired because of what you posted on social media or have concerns about past posts, please give us call so we can help you work through it.
I know this won’t come as earth shattering news, but employee recognition is a critical component to a successful working environment. Recognition can take many forms in the workplace from formal awards and bonuses to more personal methods like group praise or handwritten thank you notes.
This 2014 Boston Consulting Group study of more than 200,000 employees worldwide found that “Globally, the most important single job element for all people is appreciation for their work.” Salary was ranked 8th. Data has shown that when it comes to improving performance, nothing has a greater impact than genuine recognition and appreciation. One such study found 83% of employees said recognition was more fulfilling than any reward or gift. 88% of employees said praise from managers was extremely motivating, and 76% said peer recognition was extremely motivating
It seems like a no brainer that we should tell people they are doing a good job, their hard work and sacrifices are valued, and we should thank them frequently. But we are notoriously bad at doing so effectively. There can be many reasons for this, but researchers have deemed “Illusion of Transparency” as the likely cause. This is where managers overestimate their displays or recognition and displays and assume that employees knew how management felt about their work. One study found that 82% of managers prioritized recognition but 54% of employees said those same bosses could do more to recognize employees. Furthering this gap is a fear manager expressed that regular recognition would lose value or become “routinized.”
Data shows employees do not feel this way, with the majority asking for simple things, like kind words, more frequent feedback, or options for flexibility. A 2020 article from the Harvard Business Review advised managers to “Make it a Habit.” Appreciation is free and not time consuming, so a great recommendation is to spend the first 15 minutes of your week working on employee recognition. Thank you cards, group shout-outs, a quick chat, sometimes even a forwarded email is enough to boost an employees morale significantly.
Making it habitual also makes it contagious. Recognition does not just need to go from manager to employee. It can go peer to peer and even upward to leaders, especially in trying and stressful times. During the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis, I saw one Connecticut institution create a digital “Kudos Board” where they scanned and posted all of the positive letters, drawings, and notes they had received from the community.
From a labor union perspective, I think recognition is important to consider. Not only how we can better recognize the efforts of our members, but also how we can help their employers understand the value and necessity of genuine recognition. I also think how we can work collaboratively with our locals to improve recognition for their efforts in managing the many day to day challenges. If the evidence of the positive effects of recognition are so clear, why is it so rare that employers and employees collaborate on recognition programs?
If you have thoughts or ideas on how to improve recognition in the workplace, Nutmeg wants to hear from you and be your partner in improving the lives of all workers.
The right to unionize seems like a fundamental right that many take for granted, yet it was not always that way. The fight for unionization was a long war that often led to violence with workers, their families, and company representatives injured or killed.
The quest for unionization began soon after The Civil War ended. During that time, often referred to as “reconstruction,” the Industrial Revolution began. Railways were expanding, steel production was up, and the South was being rebuilt. This brought with it a boom in employment and unimaginable profits for industrialists like Andrew Carnegie and J.D. Rockefeller. The workers, on the other hand, were often forced to work long hours with little breaks in deplorable conditions for mere pennies.
Many workers decided to form unions. Most companies vigorously fought unionization. The companies felt they had the right to control their “private property” and manage their businesses and employees as they saw fit. This led to a number of violent encounters. The first significant labor riot was on December 4, 1874. A group of Irish miners, known as the Molly Maguires, attacked their company’s operators and foremen. In the end, twenty Molly Maguires were sentenced to death by hanging.
Violence between labor and management continued into the twentieth century. Most notably, on April 20, 1914, National Guard troops and security guards from the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company attacked a tent colony housing 1,200 striking coal miners. More than twenty people, including eleven women and two children, were killed. On May 19, 1921, hundreds of coal miners attacked the coal mines along the Tug River in West Virginia. This was known as the Three Day War. Of course, there are hundreds of other examples of violence between labor and management.
There have also been a number of incidents that did not involve violence but led to entire workforces being fired. As an example, on September 9, 1919, Boston Police Officers went on strike. The City fired all the strikers and hired a new police force. The fired officers had no recourse.
Conflicts between labor and management threatened to tear the county apart for a better part of fifty years; thus, the government finally decided to get involved. On March 23, 1932, President Herbert Hoover signed the Norris-LaGuardia Act into law. A year later, newly elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Industrial Recovery Act into law. These laws made it possible for workers to finally unionize without threats of retaliation. Furthermore, these two laws laid the groundwork for the National Labor Relations Act, signed into law by FDR on July 6, 1935.
The National Labor Relations Act, although updated over the years, gives labor unions the rights and privileges that we know today. The purpose of the act was “to protect the rights of employees and employers, to encourage collective bargaining, and to curtail certain private sector labor and management practices, which can harm the general welfare of workers, businesses, and the U.S. economy.”
Like many chapters in American History, labor unions were born from hard times, inconceivable working conditions, and offensively low wages. It was a hard fought battle, culminating in many deaths, but the rights of unionized employees are stronger than ever.
Before you take your union rights for granted, remember the history of the labor movement and those who sacrificed everything to get us to where we are today.
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”.
It’s likely that your new feeds, TV screens, and notifications this week are full of reminders that it’s been one year since Covid-19 took center stage in our lives. It’s been exactly one year since Connecticut saw its first patients. It’s been one year since the governor issued a stay-at-home order, and the schools and restaurants closed. It’s been one year since everything changed.
I don’t want this to be overly reflective of the negative; there will be enough of that in the mainstream media. I want to take this time to express my gratitude to every member of the Nutmeg family. I find great inspiration and admiration from the stories of perseverance amongst our local members. Despite fear, ambiguity, and physical danger, the workers represented by Nutmeg continued to get the job done. They ensured continuity of services to our local communities when those communities needed them most. It can’t be understated that your efforts are truly remarkable.
It also can’t be understated that this past year has brought previously unseen levels of stress and volatility. Stress and volatility from any emergency can have lasting effects, but the toll is especially high when compounded over an extended duration (like this past year). Those lasting effects will be different for everyone as we each move forward, recover, and heal in our own ways.
Whatever your process looks like, Nutmeg is here to support you.
Your commitment to service and indomitable spirit are a source of immense pride. Nutmeg is proud of you and your sacrifices. We care about your well-being now and your future successes. If you have unmet needs, we want to know.
“We’re in this together” has been a unifying slogan across the country, and the members of Nutmeg have certainly lived that motto for this past year. But I think we can improve on this, because we’re not just in this together. At Nutmeg, “We’re getting better together.”
Thank you for all that you do. If we can be of assistance in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Tax day is right around the corner. Every year, I hear the same questions from police union members regarding certain contractual benefits and how they effect taxation. The two biggest issues that seem to come up year after year are tuition reimbursement and take home cars. Everyone seems to have a different opinion as how these benefits are taxed, or if they are taxed at all. So, here are the facts right from the IRS guidance in Publication 15-B (2021).
We will start with tuition reimbursement. We know that educated officers are a great benefit to the communities they serve. Numerous studies have shown that police officers with college degrees are better communicators, have fewer citizen complaints, and use force less often. This keeps liability down, thus insurance costs down. As a way of incentivizing officers to go to college, many departments offer some level of tuition reimbursement. However, that benefit may be taxable.
Many departments offer partial tuition reimbursement, but some offer full reimbursement. Any tuition assistance police officers receive over $5,250 is taxable and must be included in your taxable wages calculation. As an example, for an officer whose department fully reimburses said officer for attending college at a cost of $20,000, the officer will have to pay taxes on $14,750. The first $5250 is tax free.
The second question involves take home cars. Many police departments provide take home cars to certain administrators, supervisors, and investigators. Many believe this is a taxable benefit, and in the private sector, that is absolutely true. A take home vehicle that you have full personal use of is a very lucrative benefit, thus taxable. Notwithstanding, there are two exceptions for police vehicles. The first exception involves marked vehicles that are not for personal use. The exception reads, “clearly marked, through painted insignia or words, police, fire, and public safety vehicles, provided that any personal use of the vehicle (other than commuting) is prohibited by the governmental unit.” The second exception involves unmarked vehicles where personal use is allowed. That exception reads, “unmarked vehicles used by law enforcement officers if the use is officially authorized. Any personal use must be authorized by the employer, and must be related to law-enforcement functions, such as being able to report directly from home to an emergency situation. Use of an unmarked vehicle for vacation or recreation trips can't qualify as an authorized use.” If a police officer’s take home car falls under one of the two exceptions, the car is not a taxable fringe benefit, thus, not included in tax calculations.
In the end, both a tuition reimbursement program and a take home car can lift large financial burdens. With or without tax implications, I believe both are worth having. Please contact your accountant or tax preparer to learn more about how your personal financial situation and how your benefits impact your state and federal income taxes.