I.R.S. Enlists Debt Collectors to Recover Overdue Taxes

Source: Jessica Silver-Greenberg and Stacy Cowley, New York Times, April 20, 2017

The Internal Revenue Service is about to start using four private debt-collection companies to chase down overdue payments from hundreds of thousands of people who owe money to the federal government, a job it has handled in house for years.  Unlike I.R.S. agents, who are not usually allowed to call delinquent taxpayers by telephone, the outside debt-collection agencies will have free rein to do so. Consumer watchdogs are fearful that some of the nation’s most vulnerable taxpayers will be harassed and that criminals will take advantage of the system by phoning people and impersonating I.R.S. collectors. …

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IRS Debt Collection Program May Lead to Confusion, Help Scammers
Source: AJ Walker, NBC Connecticut, February 14, 2017

NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters caught up with officials from the IRS to find out more about their new debt collection program and how they’re going to protect taxpayers from getting scammed. This spring, debt collectors hired by the IRS will start making collection calls to go after money on old tax debts. This could lead to confusion as the fake IRS debt collection scam call is one of the number one scams in the country. In the past, the IRS has repeatedly said they will never call you collect money. Instead, they send a letter. This change could open the door to crooks who might see this as opportunity to reach out to more people using the IRS’s name. It’s too early to gauge how the ongoing phone scam will impact real IRS debt collection call efforts. But people targeted by the scheme say it will be confusing. … The collection program came about because a law called the FAST Act passed in 2015 requiring the Internal Revenue Service to use private debt collectors to go after tax money on older accounts. The money would help pay the FAST Act’s $305 billion price tag to fund transportation and infrastructure. … However, this isn’t the first time the agency has tried to use debt collectors. In 2006 the IRS hired Pioneer, CBE Group and a company called Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson to try to collect an additional $1.4 billion in past due taxes. It fired the debt collectors in 2009 saying it wasn’t cost effective to use private collectors and the “work is best done by IRS employees.” … However, one IRS debt collector has recently been accused of not acting in peoples best interest. Pioneer was mentioned in lawsuits filed by the Illinois Attorney General and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau accusing the business and its parent company Navient of taking advantage of borrowers. …

NTEU: Using IRS employees, not outsourcing for debt collection ‘smart and humane’
Source: Meredith Somers, Federal News Radio, September 27, 2016

The National Treasury Employees Union wants the Internal Revenue Service to retrain thousands of employees facing pink slips for outsourced tax-collection work. NTEU President Tony Reardon said his organization will push Congress for resources IRS needs to teach more than 7,000 employees how to track down late accounts. … A provision within a highway bill passed last year requires the IRS to pass on certain delinquent accounts to private collection agencies (PCAs). The employees who face layoffs work at one of three paper tax return processing sites in Covington, Kentucky; Fresno, California; and Austin, Texas. Their jobs would be phased out between 2019 and 2024. … In its fiscal 2017 objectives report to Congress, the Taxpayer Advocate Service warned that the private debt collection program “includes practices that will harm taxpayers and tax administration.” The program was discontinued in 2009 after TAS warned the program threatened taxpayer rights and raised doubts about its revenue projections. One of the concerns with the new law is that it does not take into account economic hardship, nor does it grant PCAs the power to work out a compromise with taxpayers based on their status. … About 1,800 employees work at the Convington site, while 3,000 and 2,400 work at the Fresno and Austin locations, respectively, and the phase-out of the jobs is just one thing that worries Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). During a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on federal vacant properties, Massie called the news of moving 2,000 jobs out of the city “devastating.” …

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Saugus School Committee supports privatizing cafeteria staff

Source: Neil Zolot, Wicked Local, April 19, 2017

The School Committee unanimously voted to send a proposal from food service provider Whitsons Culinary Group to the town Purchasing Department officer that includes provisions for privatizing the cafeteria staff.  Bids for a Request for Proposals were due back by March 13 from companies looking to  manage and operate the food service program from this July 1 to June 30, 2018. … After the vote, AFSCME Council 93 Assistant Director of Legislation, Political Action and Communications Molly Maloney told the School Committee members they showed “a complete lack of respect” to the employees and union members.  At the outset of the April 13 meeting, Maloney asked the School Committee to delay approval of the food service contract in order to be able to fully review and process information she provided.  “I have prepared a packet of information for all of you with stories where privatization of food services has failed,” Maloney said. “This is a large packet of information and because AFSCME has not been granted an opportunity to review the bid submission from Whitsons, I am requesting that you delay approval.” …

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Saugus school cafeteria workers concerned about possible privatization of food service program
Source: Mike Gaffney, Saugus Wicked Local, April 6, 2017

As the School Committee prepares to review a request for proposals for the management and operation of the Saugus Public Schools food service program, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is raising concerns over a potential move to privatize the school cafeteria workers.  Bids were due back by March 13 from companies looking to manage and operate the food service program from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. Whitsons Culinary Group, which currently manages the Saugus Public Schools food service program and oversees 18 cafeteria workers who are school system employees, was the only company to bid for the contract. … Jim Durkin, the director of legislation, political action and communication for AFSCME Council 93, said the union’s concern is that school officials appear to want a private company to take over the entire food service operation — including the workforce.

… Last summer the New England School Development Council completed a review of the district’s food service program that recommended cutting staff, replacing the food service director and instituting new menus as just a few of the strategies to combat waste and increase student participation. … Markland emphasized that nowhere in the report did NESDEC recommend privatizing the cafeteria workers. She also questioned the logic of awarding a bigger contract and more responsibility to a company, Whitsons, that was criticized by NESDEC. … Cafeteria workers in other school districts that privatized the food service program have seen their salaries slashed by as much as 30 percent, Durkin said. … Durkin questioned why the school lunch program is looked at from a profit/loss standpoint when it was established because research shows that students learn better when they have a healthy meal in their stomachs. …

After a two year fight, contract workers at National and Dulles airports win a pay increase

Source: Luz Lazo and Lori Aratani, Washington Post, April 19, 2017

… The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority’s board voted Wednesday to require companies that do business at the airports to pay contract workers a base hourly wage of $11.55 starting in January. In all, 4,500 workers — responsible for keeping terminals and plane cabins clean, moving bags, serving meals, and transporting people with disabilities — are expected to benefit from the pay increase. Many of the workers make as little as $7.25 an hour. The plan, approved on a 15 to 1 vote, also will boost pay for Dulles Toll Road workers. The expansion of the authority’s living wage program covers eight additional contracts, and will cost $750,000 to $850,000 annually, according to a report prepared for the board. The base hourly wage will increase to $11.55 on Jan. 1 of next year, $12.15 on Jan. 1, 2019, and $12.75 on Jan. 1, 2020. After that, increases will be tied to inflation.

… MWAA has a living wage policy in place that requires vendors who contract directly with the authority to pay workers $14.27 an hour. However the policy does not cover those who work for business who contract directly with the airlines or those who work for business that operate concessions. … While the policy raises the minimum wage for workers, it doesn’t address their push to require companies to pay for health benefits and submit to a labor peace agreement. …

N.J. Lottery Sales Fall Short Following Privatization

Source: SNJ Today, April 18, 2017

Those hoping to win big in the New Jersey State lottery are spending less on their dreams.  State lottery sales are down for the third year since being privatized.  Lottery operations management firm Northstar New Jersey promised a return of more than $1.4 billion over 15 years when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie moved the games to privatization in 2013.  Since then, Northstar has missed its income projections and spent $20 million in allowance funds to cover financial shortfalls. …

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Privatizing lottery isn’t lucrative deal for New Jersey
Source: Michael Catalini, Associated Press, January 9, 2016

New Jersey might get $1 billion less out of its state lottery as part of an amended 15-year deal with the private company that runs part of it, according to an Associated Press analysis. The deal, unveiled by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration on New Year’s Eve, also reduces the amount the company must generate to avoid penalties. The revenue targets that Northstar New Jersey has to meet have been lowered by about $76 million per year over the contract, which was struck in 2013. The total revenue projection was decreased from nearly $16 billion to about $15 billion. … The underperformance — including a $5 million drop in revenue in 2015 — has raised questions from Democrats about the privatization strategy championed by Christie, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate who promoted lottery outsourcing as a way to shrink the government’s payroll and bring in more cash. The lottery brought in $960 million in fiscal year 2015, down from initial expectations of a little more than $1 billion.

New Jersey Having Second Thoughts After Privatizing Lottery
Source: John Reitmeyer, NBC Philadelphia, October 8, 2015
Two years after New Jersey turned over some state lottery functions to a private venture under a controversial long-term deal, lawmakers are questioning why revenues have not met expectations and whether the privatization contract is worth it. The Senate Legislative Oversight Committee announced yesterday that it will hold a hearing on October 19 to review New Jersey’s deal with Northstar New Jersey to address concerns raised in recent weeks about fees Northstar is collecting even as it has failed to meet net-revenue targets. An Assembly committee is also scheduling a hearing on the deal. … Gordon, the Senate committee chairman, said the hearing on October 19 will also review the broader privatization issue, and whether the state is up to the task of monitoring such large contracts. He cited problems the state has had with private companies handling some of the recovery efforts in the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012 as another reason to broaden the scope of the hearing.

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State lawmaker’s plan for replacing Green Bay prison

Source: Aisha Morales, WBAY, April 17, 2017
 
Shutting down the Green Bay Correctional Institution and building a new one nearby is not a new conversation. But this week state Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard) says he’ll introduce his bill to the Legislature to turn the current facility into something that can make Brown County actual revenue. His remedy is to decommission the prison facility in Allouez and turn it into residential or retail space or a mix of the two, and have a new prison privately built in Brown County. … Although a location for a new prison has yet to be determined, Steffen wants it to be privately built and owned. The state would lease the space, and it would be run by state employees. …

Trump’s Davis-Bacon Quote Turns Construction Industry Heads

Source: Elliot T Dube, Bloomberg BNA, April 14, 2017
 
Construction industry stakeholders got a jolt when President Donald Trump recently approached what a U.S. Chamber of Commerce official called a “third rail issue” for building trades unions: changes to the Davis-Bacon Act. Trump said in a New York Times interview published April 5 that he was “going to make an announcement in two weeks” regarding Davis-Bacon. The law requires contractors on federally funded construction projects to pay prevailing wages for a given area. …

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Trump’s promised announcement on labor law unnerves unions
Source: Lindsay Wise, McClatchy, April 10, 2017
 
President Donald Trump shocked organized labor by saying he would soon have an announcement to make about a law that guarantees wage levels for workers on most federally funded construction projects. And since then, the White House has declined to reveal his position publicly.  But behind closed doors, the Trump team appears to be scrambling in recent days to calm nerves among the very unions whose workers helped power the president’s Election Day victory. After a meeting with White House staff on Monday, Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, said he was confident the president was misquoted or misspoke when he told The New York Times he would make an announcement about the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act. … Signed by President Herbert Hoover during the Great Depression, the Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors hired by the federal government for public works and building projects to pay certain classes of laborers and mechanics at prevailing wage rates. The Department of Labor calculates the rates by county, based on data it collects on similar projects in the area. Conservatives in Trump’s own Republican Party would be delighted if the president announced plans to repeal or replace the law. They say it artificially drives up costs for taxpayers and gives a competitive advantage to unions. Unions are anxious to protect Davis-Bacon, and ensure its wage protections are enshrined in Trump’s promised trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. Any move by the president that threatens the law could jeopardize their support for a Trump infrastructure bill, and thwart its prospects for winning votes from congressional Democrats, the unions’ traditional allies. …

Trump Says He May Use His $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan as a Political Incentive
Source: Reuters, April 5, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he was considering packaging a $1 trillion infrastructure plan with either health care or tax reform legislation as an incentive to get support from lawmakers, especially Democrats. Trump also said in an interview with the New York Times he may move up the unveiling of a plan to rebuild the country’s deteriorating roads, bridges and tunnels, which had been expected later this year. … Some of the infrastructure projects may be built through public-private partnerships, Trump said, declining to say how the total spending would split between public and private sources. But he also said that with interest rates low, the government may be better off financing the projects itself. … Trump said he would make an announcement in two weeks about whether he would seek changes to a wage law for federal projects blamed by conservative groups for inflating costs, though he declined to say what the announcement would be. Conservative groups have pressured the White House on the law, known as the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors on federal projects to pay local prevailing wages – a measure backed by labor unions and Democrats. …

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Obama’s Sick Leave Order Survives Under Trump, for Now

Source: Ben Penn, Bloomberg BNA, April 17, 2017

An Obama executive order mandating sick leave for federal contractor employees, once considered primed for reversal by the Trump administration, may be here to stay. The order requiring federal contractors to provide paid sick leave went into effect more than three months ago. The new conventional wisdom is that the paid leave mandate may no longer be a priority target for repeal and just might endure even after top Labor Department personnel are confirmed. … Trump administration officials discussed revising or repealing the paid sick leave order and the DOL’s implementing rules during earlier stages of the transition, sources familiar with the talks told Bloomberg BNA. But in recent weeks, the regulation has taken a back seat, as employer advocates and GOP lawmakers turned their attention to repealing the controversial overtime, fiduciary and “blacklisting” rules. …

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Federal contractors tell Obama: Stop picking on us
Source: Lydia Wheeler, The Hill, September 10, 2015

Federal contractors say they are being unfairly targeted as President Obama pushes an agenda that’s focused on raising wages and creating safer workplaces. Since 2009, the President has issued 13 executive orders that have led to 16 regulations applying to companies that do business with the government. … The latest order, signed by the president this week, would require contractors to offer paid sick leave. … Though the PSC backs some of the policies behind the executive orders, including the latest on paid leave, Chvotkin said contractors take issue with record keeping that’s required to prove compliance with the orders. … In a statement to The Hill, Jamal Brown, the White House Office of Management and Budget press secretary, said the federal government only does business with companies that comply with laws that protect workers’ safety, wages and civil rights.

Obama Signs Executive Order On Paid Sick Days
Source: Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, September 7, 2015

President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Labor Day requiring that federal contractors provide their employees with paid sick leave, the latest in a string of executive actions aimed at raising the bar in the U.S. workplace.  According to the White House, the order will give roughly 300,000 workers under federal contracts up to seven paid sick days per year. Workers will earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked. The rules will start with new federal contracts signed starting in 2017. … Although most U.S. workers do receive paid sick days through their jobs, roughly 39 percent of private-sector workers do not, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Gov. Scott Walker signs laws on unions, cannabis oil

Source: Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, April 17, 2017
 
Contractors won’t have to work with unions on taxpayer-funded building projects and parents will have an easier time getting an anti-seizure drug derived from marijuana, under legislation Gov. Scott Walker signed Monday.  The measure on labor agreements, which passed the Legislature on party-line votes, is the latest in a series of moves to roll back union power by Republican lawmakers in recent years. Walker signed the law at Amerilux International, a De Pere distributor of construction materials. …

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Walker to Sign Bill on Local Governments’ Labor Agreements
Source: Associated Press, April 14, 2017
 
Gov. Scott Walker will sign a bill Monday that blocks local governments from requiring collective bargaining agreements on public projects. … The Republican-controlled Legislature easily passed the legislation this session despite opposition from Democrats, who called it another attack on unions. …

In a bid to ease student debt, California considers a role in helping refinance private loans

Source: Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2017
 
State treasurer and gubernatorial hopeful John Chiang is wading into the increasingly high-profile debate over college affordability with a new push for California to play a role in alleviating the burden of high-interest private student loans.  Chiang is sponsoring legislation that would create a $25-million fund that would offer a degree of protection to student loan providers. With the state assuming some of the risk, the measure’s proponents say financial institutions will be more likely to offer lower interest rates to those carrying student debt. … The proposal, which is being carried in the Legislature by Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), is among a swell of measures introduced in the Legislature this year aimed at tackling the high cost of college. Allen and Chiang will unveil the legislation at a Capitol news conference Tuesday. …

Google ‘taken aback’ by inequality accusations, says it’s confident there’s no gender pay gap

Source: Karen Gilchrist, CNBC, April 11, 2017

Google has refuted claims that it systematically underpays female employees by reiterating its gender “blind” approach to remuneration calculations.  In a blogpost on Tuesday by Google’s vice-president of people operations, Eileen Naughton highlighted the technology giant’s commitment to “extremely scientific and robust” annual analyses to help calculate fair salaries. The model, first outlined last year, takes into account role, job level, job location and performance ratings, but is blind to gender – and, as of recently, race.  The comments come days after the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) alleges that the company allows “systematic compensation disparities against women”. In a court hearing held Friday, DOL Regional Director Janette Wipper said the agency had received “compelling evidence of very significant discrimination against women in the most common positions at Google headquarters.” …

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Google accused of ‘extreme’ gender pay discrimination by US labor department
Source: Sam Levin, The Guardian, April 7, 2017

Google has discriminated against its female employees, according to the US Department of Labor (DoL), which said it had evidence of “systemic compensation disparities”. As part of an ongoing DoL investigation, the government has collected information that suggests the internet search giant is violating federal employment laws with its salaries for women, agency officials said. … The explosive allegation against one of the largest and most powerful companies in Silicon Valley comes at a time when the male-dominated tech industry is facing increased scrutiny over gender discrimination, pay disparities and sexual harassment. Google is a federal contractor, which means it is required to allow the DoL to inspect and copy records and information about its its compliance with equal opportunity laws. Last year, the department’s office of federal contract compliance programs requested job and salary history for Google employees, along with names and contact information, as part of the compliance review. Google, however, repeatedly refused to hand over the data, which was a violation of its contractual obligations with the federal government, according to the DoL’s lawsuit.

… Google is not the first tech company to face legal action from the labor department over employment practices. In September, the DoL filed a lawsuit against Palantir, the Palo Alto data analytics company, alleging it systematically discriminated against Asian job applicants in its hiring process. … In January, the department sued Oracle, another large tech company, claiming it paid white men more than others, leading to pay discrimination against women and black and Asian employees. … In the Google case, the labor department’s lawyers have asked the court to cancel all of the company’s federal contracts and block any future business with the government if it continues to refuse to comply with the audit. …