Author Archives: afscme

Bribery, Kickbacks, and Self-Dealing: An Overview of Honest Services Fraud and Issues for Congress

Source: Michael A. Foster, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R45479, January 30, 2019

As the trials of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos illustrate, corruption among high-profile public officials continues to be a concern in the United States. Likewise, recent examples abound of powerful executives in the private sector abusing positions of trust for personal gain. Faced with this reality, Congress has shown consistent interest in policing public-and private-sector corruption, enacting a number of criminal provisions aimed at holding corrupt officials accountable for their actions under federal law. However, one of federal prosecutors’ most potent existing tools for combating such corruption— 18 U.S.C. §1346, which defines the crimes of mail and wire fraud as including so-called “honest services” fraud—has been a source of contention between the courts and Congress for years ….. Should Congress seek to alter the scope of honest services fraud, it will likely need to be attuned to the concerns that federal courts interpreting 18 U.S.C. § 1346 have voiced over the years. Chief among these have been the concerns that—as written—the statute has the potential to sweep too broadly and regulate ethically dubious conduct of state and local officials in a way that conflicts with the Constitution. ….

State and local government – US: Retiree benefits drive growth in fixed costs, posing greater challenges than debt

Source: Benjamin J VanMetre, Grayson Nichols, Thomas Aaron, Rachel Cortez, Alexandra S. Parker, Moody’s, Sector In-Depth, February 5, 2019
(subscription required)

Fixed costs — the combination of debt service, pension contributions and retiree healthcare— continue to rise for many US state and local governments. While retiree benefits (pensions and healthcare) will continue to drive this trend, the growth level is heavily dependent on unpredictable factors such as pension investment performance and workforce demographics. Debt service costs, on the other hand, are largely stable and unlikely to increase materially,continuing the trend of the last decade. Still, total fixed costs create budgetary challenges for some governments, potentially affecting their ability to deliver core services, a dynamic also known as “crowd-out” risk…..

How Black Activists Shaped the Labor Movement

Source: Kim Kelly, Teen Vogue, No Class, February 7, 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spent his final full day on earth advocating for the rights of workers in what’s now known as his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech. It was April 3, 1968, and King stood up at the Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, and spoke in support of the city’s 1,300 sanitation workers, who were then on strike fighting for better safety standards, union recognition, and a decent wage — a work stoppage that was inspired partly by the deaths of Echol Cole and Robert Walker, who had been crushed to death by a garbage truck.

“We’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end,” he told the assemblage. “Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point, in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.”,,,

Steward’s Corner: Where Do Good Organizers Come From?

Source: Ellen David Friedman, Labor Notes, February 4, 2019

We know good organizers when we meet them.

They’re accessible. They listen and show respect.

They react calmly to all kinds of people, take their time to size up a situation, and engage people on their own terms.

They brim with suggestions for action, but they’re open to new ideas. They’re not bossy. They always take workers’ side against employers—but among workers, they treat divisions with care and diligence.

They don’t act from fear, and they know how to help others lose their fear.

But few people are born organizers. Instead, we have to find and nurture people who show some interest and willingness to become organizers.

An experiment in Ithaca, New York, over the last two years has shown surprising results in helping workers become organizers, with a method easy to adapt and reproduce anywhere….

Trends in Pre-K Education Funding in 2017-18

Source: Bruce Atchison, Emily Parker, Jill Mullen, Tom Keily, Education Commission of the States, Policy Report, February 6, 2019

From the abstract:
This Policy Brief begins by reviewing the educational and societal impacts of quality pre-K programs before revealing legislative changes to state pre-K funding in 2017-18. The brief highlights four states and breaks down total pre-K funding for all states, including year-over-year changes.

Financial Literacy Programs for Local Government Employees

Source: Rivka Liss-Levinson, Joshua Franzel, Center for State and Local Government Excellence, January 2019

From the press release:
A new report provides an in-depth analysis of local government financial literacy programs across the U.S. The report finds that only about one in four local government employers offer financial literacy programs to their workforce, according to a new survey of human resources directors. ….

…. Key findings from the report include:
• Only 26 percent of local government employers offer financial literacy programs to their workforce. A lack of prioritization by leadership (45 percent), internal resources (30 percent), or financial resources (30 percent), are the main reasons that governments do not implement financial literacy programs.
• Of those governments that do offer financial literacy programs, more than three-quarters cover planning for retirement, budgeting and planning. More than half address debt and investments.
• However, efforts to address different populations – particularly those with limited formal education, those for whom English is not their primary language, or those in different age groups – are generally not widespread.
• Only three percent of programs use mobile technology, text messages and social media. No programs report ensuring that materials are culturally relevant to diverse communities. ….


The Resurrection of American Labor

Source: Janet Paskin, Bloomberg Businessweek, February 7, 2019

Traditional unions may be stymied, but workers are finding new ways to organize….

According to the official records, U.S. workers went on strike seven times during 2017. That’s a particular nadir in the long decline of organized labor: the second-fewest work stoppages recorded by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics since the agency started keeping track in the 1940s.

There was little reason to believe 2018 would be different, especially with the U.S. Supreme Court, in two decisions, making it harder for public employees unions to fund themselves and restricting workers’ rights to bring class actions. The power of employers appeared to be almost limitless. The unions were, if not busted, then certainly on the verge.

Aggrieved workers, however, took matters into their own hands, using social media and other tech tools to enhance their campaigns. From industry walkouts to wildcat teachers’ strikes, they made very public demands of their employers. The official number of major work stoppages recorded by the BLS in 2018 nearly tripled, to 20. Off the picket line, workers also won a wide range of concessions. Facing employee pressure, Google and McKinsey & Co. dropped contracts for government work employees found objectionable; thousands of dismissed Toys “R” Us workers got a severance fund; and Starbucks Corp. expanded parental and sick leave policies.

In many cases, workers and their advocates bypassed their employers entirely…..

ReDefined Contribution Plans: 2018 Defined Contribution Language Study

Source: Invesco, 2019
(subscription required)

From the executive summary:
Despite the great strides plan sponsors have made over the past 30 years in providing participants with in-depth education, guidance and tools, many are still challenged in their ability to engage, inform and motivate employees to save for retirement. Participant communications continues to be named a top-three “area of focus” in 2018,1 as plan sponsors of all sizes continually seek to refine their existing programs.

Based on more than 10 years of in-depth research, focused on the language used when communicating with investors, we believe a disconnect remains between what plan sponsors say and what participants hear. To that end, our 2018 ReDefined Contribution Plans defined contribution (DC) language study focused exclusively on the language of DC plans, specifically testing how participants reacted to various language as it related to their understanding of, and interest in, key aspects of DC plan design and investments.

Together with Maslansky + Partners, we conducted a national survey of more than 800 large-plan participants of various genders, income levels and ages (broken out by millennials, Generation X, and boomers).

We then reviewed our key findings within the construct of our four key principles of credible communication, designed to help plan sponsors communicate more effectively and build trust with participants.

Made for Next to Nothing. Worn by You?

Source: Elizabeth Paton, New York Times, February 6, 2019

A new report shows the depth of the fashion industry’s exploitation of female home workers in India. Ever since the Rana Plaza disaster in 2013, Western fashion brands have been under pressure to investigate and police their own supply chains. Now, a new report from the University of California, Berkeley, shows just how shadowy those supply lines are, as scores of labels rely not just on factories in India but also on exploited home workers…..

Tainted Garments: The Exploitation of Women and Girls in India’s Home-Based Garment Sector
Source: Siddharth Kara, University of California, Berkeley – Blum Center for Developing Economies, January 2019

This report offers the most wide-reaching and comprehensive investigation yet into the conditions of work for women and girls in India’s home-based garment sector. Women and girls tend to constitute a majority of home-based work across numerous informal sectors, along with the exploitative conditions that come with them, which in turn perpetuates the subordinated and oppressed status of women and girls. Due to the lack of transparency and the informal nature of home-based work, wages are almost always suppressed, conditions can be harsh and hazardous, and the worker has virtually no avenue to seek redress for abusive or unfair conditions. Power imbalances relating to gender further perpetuate the exploitation of female home-based workers, as their liaisons (i.e., labor subcontractors) are typically male and can often be verbally abusive or intimidating in order to secure compliance. The situation of the home-based workers is worsened by the fact that there is little to no regulation or enforcement from the state regarding their conditions of work. Indeed, the researchers found that home-based garment workers in India consist almost entirely of women and girls from historically oppressed ethnic communities who scarcely manage to earn $0.15 per hour…..