Thursday, October 8

Jobless and Workers Getting Mixed Messages From Senate

With the benefits for Iowa's unemployed expiring, the US Senate continues to quibble over who should qualify for an extension of benefits. Here's a suggestion: everyone who is unemployed and actively seeking work or retraining.

The conflict over whether "high unemployment states" should be the only one's receiving Washington's largess, will be lost on every worker who is left out. The House didn't seem to have any problem seeing this logic, perhaps Senators need to get out more often.

At least one Senator seems to get it, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., is planning to introduce a measure that would extend jobless benefits in all 50 states by 17 weeks.
"Distinctions in state unemployment rates may make sense in Washington, ... and they don't make sense to the 15 million unemployed workers nationwide who are struggling to get by and get back to work," said Shaheen.

Meanwhile The U.. Supreme Court has made a ruling regarding older workers that is likely to make it easier for employers to discard or demote them. The court raised the burden of proof for demonstrating age discrimination, ruling last term that a "mixed motive" including age as a factor was not strong enough evidence. Senators Tom Harkin and Pat Leahy are working with Rep. George Miller to pass legislation that would require employees to only prove that age had been a "motivating factor" in their termination or demotion.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

the Senate also addressed the effects of the court's opinion in Circuit City v. Adams, a 2001 decision that enlarged the reach of employees who are required to address disputes through arbitration rather than through the courts. At the hearing, Jamie Leigh Jones, who had worked for a former subsidiary of Halliburton (HAL), argued that arbitration can prevent important information from entering the public record. Jones said she was drugged and raped while working in Iraq in 2005 and has spent the past four years trying to get her case heard in court rather than in the arbitration she agreed to when she was hired.

"It's very apparent to me that corporations adopt arbitration as a way to wipe clean the record of disputes that arise," she said.

Sen. Al Franken offered an amendment to a defense bill that would restrict funding to contractors that require their employees to go through arbitration to settle sexual assault claims. In April, Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced a broader bill seeking to invalidate many binding arbitration clauses and return consumer, employment and civil rights disputes to the courts.

When Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Council for Employment Law Equity, defended the use of arbitration as a faster and cheaper alternative to litigation, he faced sharp questioning from Franken.

"You said the net result of the use of arbitration is better workplaces," Franken said, cutting off de Bernardo's response. "She was drugged, she was raped, she had to have reconstructive surgery. If that's a better workplace, what was the workplace like before?"

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