Tuesday, August 16, 2016

We Have a New Office

We have a new office in the heart of Los Angeles' fianncial district, 550 S. Hope Street, the KPMG center. The new office is up on the 26th floor, suite #2655. And our new number is (323) 645-5198, but don't worry because the old number will still connect to us. We'd like to extend a thank you to all our clients for bearing with us during the move. Find us here:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

For the Working Poor, Postal Banks Offer a Leg Up

Donna Borak of the wall street journal recently published an article unpacking the tenets of the proposed party platform as the DNC opens in Philadelphia. Highlighted among these concerns is the unusual sounding prospect of Postal banking. 

The idea is this: the infrastructure available to the USPS can be used to provide basic financial services for low-income and struggling Americans. Without the pressure to generate profit, the post office may be able to provide savings, checking, and small loans at cost.

While it may sound strange to offer banking through the post office, the idea is popular throughout the rest of the world where 75% of global postal services also offer banking

It may interest you to know that, in fact, we used to have it in the states too. Signed in to law by none other than the obese ombudsman, W.H. Taft, all the way back in 1916. The bank was very popular as a secure alternative to commercial banks, at a time banks generally weren't insured. At its height in 1947, the bank held $3.4 billion in American savings, checking, and CDs.

But the service was slowly stepped down, and dismantled entirely by 1967. 
It was created at a time when there was little public trust in banks, and when poor and rural populations had a hard time finding branches where they lived.

By the 1950's, things had changed dramatically. Accounts were federally insured, and an increasingly urban population had better access to a range of financial services. Not to mention that many people took advantage of competitive interest rates offered by commercial banks.

In light of these developments, the system was deemed to be old fashioned and redundant. And thus was slowly taken apart.

But now we're again facing the problems that led to the creation of the postal bank. For one, public trust in banks is still low following the sub-prime mortgage bubble. For another, online tools and ATMs have banks closing down brick-and-mortar branches. Which again leaves poor and rural Americans without access to savings.

The American Postal Workers Union calls these areas "bank deserts, (specifically, zip codes containing only one or fewer banks branches counts as deserts) and they advocate that post offices will bring the rain. Couple this with the fact that interest rates for savings are nil, and what you get is a lot of people clamoring for an alternative.

The concern of many proponents is that, without some low-cost banking alternatives, it is impossible for the working poor to get ahead.

Without access to a bank, poor workers often turn to payday lenders for check cashing and short term credit. The problem here is that payday and title loans come with impossibly high interest, trapping people in a hellish cycle of debt.

A new postal bank would offer services at a minimal cost, giving the poor a better chance to hold on to what money they have.

Another set of discouragements for those living paycheck to paycheck are the fees. Account minimums and overdraft fees make it hard to hang on to a bank account; if you have to cash out your entire account to the pay the rent every month, then the fees make it cheaper to stash savings under the mattress.

The push to bring back the postal bank has gained support from the likes of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and now democrats are looking to make it part of their official platform.

Democrats have taken to the idea with verve, in part because it's a potential win-win-win scenario. democrats get to help out low income Americans, while supporting the struggling postal service, and do it all without a tax increase.

But whether or not the plan can work is a question for some debate. First off, it won't fix what's wrong with commercial banks. Nonexistent interest rates, arbitrary fees, and account minimums will still be there. 

And, arguably, with a cheaper option in place there will be little incentive for banks to get better. On top of that, and in spite of very recent memories of financial meltdown, the Republican controlled congress is trying its best to dismantle regulations and consumer protection. And will not revive the postal bank unless public opinion strongly favors it. 

Ultimately, having what is essentially a "public option" of banks might force commercial banks into being more competitive, but it might also do nothing. 

After all one of the reasons for discontinuing the old bank was how unnecessary it became.

Certainly, though, it will be interesting to see how this plays out, particularly if the delegates at the DNC vote this issue onto the party platform. But with gridlock as usual in congress, it will be where it goes from there. 

As always, thank you for reading. If you have an wage issue or workplace dispute, contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys today.

Originally published at Felahy Employment Lawyers

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Who (or What) are the Real Job Creators?

These must be them, right?

With all that went on under the big top in Cleveland, the concept of "job creators" is back in vogue. And since his status as a business owner and "job creator" is you-know-who's most important qualification, I think it's worth looking at what contributes to job growth.

So, what makes jobs? Is it business owners? Entrepreneurs? Consumer demand? Government stimulus and subsidy? Let's find out.

Spoiler alert: there is no easy answer. It's a combination of all the above, and more, that causes job growth and decline.

In fact, wanting an easy answer is part of the problem. When you say "I'm a job creator, I create jobs," that sounds good. It makes for a great sound bite. But what does it mean? Does it mean anything?

People want to believe that one person is in control and that one person can fix things. Every four years, with a totally straight face, we ask presidential candidates the same bad question "what are you going to do to fix the economy?

It's as though the president (no matter who it is) were sitting with one hand on a big lever named "The Economy;" push it one way, boom, jobs. Pull it the other way, bam, no job for you.
The notion that the economy or the job market can be "fixed," like a kitchen faucet, is ridiculous. But it's convenient and satisfying to believe so we go on believing it.

The truth is that the American economy is more like a two-year-old. One minute it's fine, the next minute it's raging away in the middle of the cereal aisle at Ralph's.

Some of the time it cooperates, sometimes you can motivate it into doing what you want, and sometimes it will listen to reason. But other times there's no reasoning, bribing, or cajoling it into doing what you want. At the end of the day nobody tells baby what to do, because baby doesn't care if it drives us off the cliff.

Economic growth is driven at least as much by intangibles like speculation, fear, and confidence as it is by production, wages, and employment.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter, for instance, theorized that entrepreneurship drives growth in a process of creative destruction.

He observed the industrial revolution tear down the agrarian mode of production, and replace it with industrial manufacture. In our era, we have seen huge growth in the tech and service sectors at steep costs to heavy industry.

And it's not always true that growth in GDP or profits will lead to more jobs. Companies can make a lot of money just from moving some out of it around in a process of computational black magic we call capital gains.

Growth for a company doesn't always mean growth for employees. Likewise, just because national GDP is increasing doesn't mean the average person has any more money to spend.

Adam Szetela, in a recent article, phrases it better than I can:

"The commodities that fill the spaces of small and large businesses in the US are not going to be purchased if the average American is worried about paying rent, day-care bills or an upcoming visit to the doctor. Lower tax rates on the bottom 95 percent, higher wages, universal health care, overtime, paid parental leave and other Keynesian interventions are what drive economies dependent on the constant production and sale of goods."

(he's referencing John Maynard Keynes, a contemporary of Joseph Schumpeter and a highly influential economist)

Thus, in a very real sense, the biggest factor in job creation is jobs. No jobs, no income, no spending, no demand for goods, resulting in a decreased demand for labor. And this cycle has a habit of repeating itself.

It's slightly more correct, then, to say that consumer demand is what creates jobs, but even that comes with its caveats. For instance, there's not much consumer demand for a B-2 or a HARM missile, but where would the engineers and skilled laborers of Northrop and Raytheon be without them?

Or a better, less shooty example: think of the untold effect that government funding of NASA in the 60s and 70s had on our still-booming tech industries.

The advances made by NASA during the space race weren't only in aerospace engineering. They made strides in computing, digital photography, remote control, communication, radio and video broadcast... you get the picture.

As I hope you've noticed by now, the process of creating jobs is an inexact and finicky science.
FDR, for another example, instituted massive infrastructure projects as part of a stimulus package that was supposed to get us out of the great depression. But it didn't do much until WWII rolled around, giving us a huge boost in manufacturing and exports.

So even well intended stimulus projects put forth by one of the greatest American leaders, with the intellectual backing of our friend John Maynard Keynes, don't always turn out like we expect them to.

What I'm getting at here is this: to say "I create jobs" or "he's a job creator"
should be seen as the height of arrogance. Better yet, of ignorance.

It's akin to saying "I am the economy" or thinking that the president sits in the oval office with his/her lever and just doesn't care to fix the economy and brew us up some jobs.

But there's no room for ambiguity, tough questions, and tougher answers, in popular economic discourse. We like to think we're asking tough questions of economic policy makers, but what we really do is ask terrible questions in a tough manner.

"How are you going to fix the economy?" "What are you gonna do to create jobs?" "What are you doing right now that will protect jobs from being outsourced?" These all sound like tough, incisive questions but they're actually stupid questions with impossible answers.

Which is why politicians dance around them, because there's no honest answer they can give in one or two sentences. The person who is giving us sound bite responses to tough questions has proven he'll say anything, without regard to reality or decency.

Everything has to be polemic. Every two years there seems to be less and less room in the gray area between extremes. You're either a corporate-fascist-plutocrat or a collectivist-socialist-communist, and ne'er the twain shall meet.

Which is a shame because democracy lives in the gray areas, it happens in the discussion, the debate, all the boring stuff on C-SPAN. The only way we move forward as a country is by inches. We require unsatisfying compromises to move towards a better goal, or else we get stuck in gridlock. Which, not coincidentally, is where we've been for quite some time.

Originally published at Felahy Employment Lawyers

Friday, July 22, 2016

Will this sexual harassment lawsuit hold Fox execs accountable?

[Update: since the original publication of this article, Roger Ailes has resigned his position at Fox News Channel following an internal investigation]

Vulpine wordplay notwithstanding, former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson has laid serious allegations against FNC chief executive and chairman Roger Ailes. 

In a complaint made in New Jersey superior court, available here, Carlson alleges a pattern of gender discrimination, retaliation, and sexual harassment. 

The Stanford graduate alleges consistent harassment from Ailes and others during her tenure at Fox News. Once famously quipping that "pants aren't allowed" on Fox & Friends, Carlson has long rankled at the painfully old fashioned attitudes of her coworkers. 
According to the complaint, Ailes regularly made sexual advances on Carlson during her employment.  He claimed to have slept with three other Misses America and, when she refused, said Carlson was "sexy, but too much work."

Ailes seems to have often resorted to name calling when he didn't get his way. Waffling between tongue-wagging insinuations, and when rebuffed, petty insults. Not unlike a sexually frustrated teenager.
In 2009, when Carlson made complaints about her co-host Steve Doocy, Ailes called her a "man-hater" and "killer," telling her to "get along with the boys;" despite that Doocy had done his best to belittle her both on and off the air, even mocking her during commercial breaks.

But Ailes' behavior isn't limited to his engagement in, and tolerance of, sexual harassment. It extends to retaliation against Carlson for having the nerve to speak out about it.

According to the complaint, Ailes sabotaged her career, assigning Carlson fluff pieces, moving her to worse time slots, and ultimately fired her from Fox & Friends in 2013.

All the while ensuring that things would be easier if she just played along. He liked to make it clear that he had the power to make or break or her career. Of course, if she would only have sex with him, he could make anything happen. "Sometimes problems are easier to solve that way," he reasoned.

The complaint quotes him saying "I think you and I should have had a sexual relationship a long time ago and then you'd be good and better and I'd be good and better." Roger Ailes was making it clear how he did business with female subordinates.    

And when Carlson spoke out against the harassment, Ailes fired back, trying to intimidate her into doing what he wanted. The bottom line is that despite Carlson's constant protestation Ailes, Doocy, and men like them refused to see her as anything but a blonde prop. 

After all, to a 76 year old executive, who has long been head of the least balanced news network on television, what good is a woman except for eye candy and sexual favors? To Ailes, Gretchen Carlson's years at Stanford and Oxford were just elaborate finishing school. 

Small wonder then that Carlson, a journalist as qualified as any of her colleagues, walked off stage during a show in 2012 following sexist remarks made by her co-hosts.
Her pretensions to equality and serious journalism did not fly at Fox News, and for years she was made to suffer for it. Now she's fighting back and it's Ailes' bosses feeling the heat. 

21st century Fox made a cautious response to these allegations. The company released a statement saying  they have  "full confidence in Mr. Ailes," but would "take these matters seriously" and launch an internal investigation.

Ailes recently released a more aggressive response, saying “this defamatory lawsuit is not only offensive, it is wholly without merit and will be defended vigorously.” 

This suggests two things about the exec, one, that he doesn't seem to realize how much trouble he's in. And two, that he probably thinks he didn't do anything wrong.

Even if the lawsuit never makes it to court, the damage has been done. Allegations of this kind have been brewing under the surface for years, and all it took was a big enough name to bring it to light.

While it's too late for Ailes it's not, on the other hand, too late for James and Lachlan Murdoch who have recently wrested some control over Ailes in a deal with their father.

There is some speculation that the younger generation of Murdochs will lead to a kinder, gentler Fox News. This has yet to be seen. At any rate, it's in their best interest to get their house in order.

Fox has long defended the antics and outbursts of its anchors, chalking all criticism up to "political correctness" and "feminism gone awry." It should be clear by now that these excuses no longer pass muster. And with the median age for FNC viewers in the 65+ range, something needs to change if the Murdochs want to sustain the channel's popularity.

Since Ailes' ascension to power in the 90's, Fox News has been a bastion of backward social conservatism in a time of social change. Its popularity has been sustained by a demographic that fears change. FNC has  been able to capitalize on those fears to create its own truth, one that serves them best. And now we're beginning to see the cracks in the little dome they've built between themselves and the world.

The last real-world enclave of these Mad Men antics may have, at long last, been outfoxed.     


Originally published at Felahy Employment Lawyers

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Long Beach and LA Ports See Union Protests

On Thursday, July 7th, operations at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles ceased for one hour ahead of negotiations between the ILWU (International Longshore Warehouse Union) and the Pacific Maritime Association— the former represents the dock workers running the port, and the latter employs them.

Union officials gave advance notice to the bosses of their plan to hold a one hour work cessation between 11 a.m. and noon yesterday. It serves as a reminder of the great potential in organized labor to effect change, even in a labor market that continues to undervalue individual workers. 

Specifically, this smaller protest hearkens back to the general strike that shut down the ports of LA and Long Beach in 2015. 

The largely symbolic move comes amid pressure on west coast unions to enter into long term agreements with PMA, who see early contract negotiation as important to avoiding slow down and stoppage at the two busiest ports in the country. 

The union wants to fend off pressure to accept disadvantageous labor agreements, and to voice concerns about safety following the recent fatality of a worker who was killed in a port of LA staging area.

According to the Long Beach Press-Telegram the ILWU local 13 president, Bobby Olvera Jr, called the event “almost spiritual because it is workers all around the world stopping. We were all standing down and making a statement.”

This action comes at a time when tensions between organized labor and employers is at a high, with the few remaining organized sectors lashing out against plays that are seen as attempts to curtail bargaining power. As in the recent controversybetween Boeing and Norwegian Air on the one side, and the aerospace workers union and pro-union politicians on the other.

Have a legal inquiry or want to schedule a consultation? Get in touch with an experienced employment lawyer today.

Originally published at Felahy Employment Lawyers