Pay Gap Not Just For 9-to-5’ers

So, The New York Times allegedly paid Jill Abramson, its ousted executive editor, less than her male counterparts over the course of her career.

Abramson, 60, is hardly representative of the average working woman but it would not be surprising if she has experienced a pay gap.

Women have made tremendous gains since the 1950s but still earn just 77 cents for every dollar men make. (Source: Department of Labor, Office of the Chief Economist, analysis of BLS’ Current Population Survey).  Even when controlling for factors such as experience, education, industry, and hours, among others, the gap persists. The DOL estimates the male/female pay gap costs women who work full-time almost $400,000 by the time they reach the age of  65.

Moreover, women  are disproportionately represented in the ranks of low wage workers. The DOL says women comprise more than half of the 28 million workers across the country who earn the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.  Of the 2.8 million working single parents who earn minimum wage, more than 80 percent are women.  And women  pay more for health care. In the aggregate, the DOL says, women spend an estimated $1 billion more than men for equivalent health coverage.

President Obama has called on Congress to raise the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour which, according to the DOL, would help a single mother pay for a year’s worth of groceries, or even 6 months of rent.

The Huffington Post reports that as executive editor Abramson’s starting salary in 2011 was $475,000, compared to the $559,000 salary of Bill Keller, her predecessor. Her salary was raised to $503,000, and—after she protested—was raised again to $525,000. Her salary as managing editor, $398,000, was allegedly less than that of the male managing editor for news operations, John Geddes, and her salary as Washington bureau chief was a hundred thousand dollars less than that of her successor in that position, Phil Taubman. The New York Times contends Abramson’s entire pay package was higher than Keller’s.

Owners of The Times claim Abramson was fired because she had poor management skills but she had been a manager at the paper for years.  A journalist with a healthy degree of skepticism would find it hard to believe that it was entirely coincidental that Abramson was terminated a couple of weeks after she hired a lawyer to look into why her paycheck was allegedly shortchanged over the years by America’s most prestigious news operations.

The first female executive editor of the Times,  Abramson achieved success in her profession that probably exceeded her wildest dreams when she graduated from college. The Times settled a sex discrimination lawsuit in the 1970s alleging that it refused to hire women as reporters except in the newspaper’s lifestyle section.  But many women in America  are still struggling, particularly single mothers who work full-time and yet are living in poverty with their children.


“Bullying” and Assertive Women

The New York Times paints a daunting picture of “volatile”  New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who is running for mayor.

 The Times describes an incident in which Ms. Quinn expressed her dismay to the city’s former Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum for what she deemed to be Gotbaum’s failure of leadership at a chaotic council meeting. The Times said Quinn slammed her hand on the table and said, “You were like Bambi in there!” (Ms. Quinn says she told the Public Advocate that she had an expression of “Bambi-like eyes.”) Gotbaum called it “unprofessional behavior.”

 Before bestowing the mantle of  Workplace Bully on Ms. Quinn, I think it is appropriate to  consider how much of Ms. Quinn’s notoriety is due to the fact that she is a woman running for mayor of New York City.

There is a serious dearth of women in leadership roles in our society. As noted in Forbes Magazine , men run roughly 97% of the nation’s  largest public companies, hold 84% of major corporate board positions and control 83% of Congress.  Sex discrimination is alive and well.

And the media have a long history of savaging assertive women. Think Eleanor Roosevelt, Hillary Clinton in the ‘90s, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, singer Madonna, Martha Stewart, … even one-time Tea Party diva Sarah Palin.   Woman who seek power often  are magnets for  barbs like the ones the Times story throws at Quinn – brash, angry,  controlling, temperamental, surprisingly volatile, retaliated, screaming, “hair trigger eruptions of unchecked, face-to-face wrath,” etc.?

Plus it is hard imagine any candidate  making gains  in the rough and tumble  of the New York City mayoral race without sharp elbows.

 “I don’t think being pushy or bitchy or tough, or however you want to characterize it, is a bad thing,” Quinn is quoted as stating. “New Yorkers want somebody who is going to get things done.”

There also is an interesting paradox in the Times article.   Workplace bullies often reveal themselves first to their staff and subordinates. The Times writes that members of Quinn’s staff are “strikingly loyal, with close advisers staying by her side for years.”   That says something about Ms. Quinn.

Quinn may be the bully who is portrayed in the Times article but for now  I’m reserving judgment.

Corporate Profits and Disappearing Pensions

cracked eggThe New York Times reported this week that corporate profits are at their highest point in recent history, while the portion of that profit that goes to employees is near its lowest point.

 Meanwhile, a recent nationwide public opinion poll by the non-profit National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) has found that an overwhelming majority of Americans (85 percent) are concerned about their retirement prospects, with more than half (55 percent) saying they are very concerned.  Concern was higher for women than men (90 and 80 percent, respectively).

 According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics,  only 18 percent of private industry employees were covered by defined benefit plans (pensions)  in 2011; compared to 35 percent in the early 1990s.   Only ten percent of private industry establishments offered a defined benefit pension  plan to their employees in 2011.  More than 80 percent of  employees who are offered traditional pensions work for unions or the state or local government.

The NIRS study found that 82 percent  of Americans believe that workers with pensions are more likely to have a secure retirement than workers who depend upon 401(k) plans and the volatile stock market.

The NIRS study found overwhelming support (90 percent) across generational lines for a new type of pension plan that is available to all Americans, is portable from job to job, and provides a monthly check throughout retirement for those who contribute. 

Americans do not appear to be optimistic that policymakers will act in response to their retirement concern. The NIRS study found that 87 percent of Americans do not believe the country’s policymakers understand how hard it is to save for retirement. 

 Note:  The Center for Responsive Politics estimated the median net worth of a U.S. senator stood at an average of $2.63 million in 2010. The median estimated net worth of a GOP House member was $834,250 in 2010, compared to a median net worth of $635,500 among House Democrats.

The New York Times reported that corporate profits, as a percentage of national income, stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to  employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966. 

Corporate earnings have risen at an annualized rate of 20.1 percent since the end of 2008, the Times reports,  while dispoable income inched ahead by 1.4 percent annually over the same period, adjusting for inflation. “There hasn’t been a period in the last 50 years where these trends have been so pronounced,” said Dean Maki, chief United States economist at Barclays.

Bystanders: Silence of the Lambs

Judge Amanda F. Williams, of Brunswick, GA, possibly the toughest drug court judge in America, has announced she will step down from the bench after 21 years on Jan. 2, 2012 in the wake of a complaint filed by the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Williams’ achieved national notoriety in March 2011 when she became the focus of an hour-long program by the American Public Radio show, This American Life, which questioned Williams’ punitive approach to drug offenders.

The radio show featured one case in which Williams sentenced a drug offender who had experienced his first relapse to 17 days in detention and added a year and a half to his time in the drug court program.  A spokesperson for National Association for Drug Court Professionals said the NADCP recommends no jail time at all for a first relapse.

In recent months, the Georgia judicial commission said it received several complaints from lawyers against Williams, who was the chief judge of the Superior Court of the Brunswick Judicial Circuit.

The commission finally brought a formal complaint against Williams on December 11, 2011, charging Williams violated judicial ethics when she gave special treatment to relatives of friends, allowed her relatives and her personal attorney to appear before her without recusing herself, and generally behaved in a “tyrannical” manner.

Perhaps the most controversial complaint facing Williams involved a girl who entered her drug court program in 2005 after pleading guilty to forging two of her parents’ checks.

In 2008, Lindsey Dills violated her “drug court contract.” Williams initially sentenced Dills to 28 days in jail but later modified her order to indefinite detention with no contact from anyone except her drug court counselor. The commission states that Dills remained in solitary confinement for 73 days, during which time she attempted suicide. Although Dills’ suicide attempt occurred on Dec. 9, 2008, the commission states that Dills was not transferred to an in-patient medical facility until Dec. 22, 2008.

The case raises the question? Why did it take so long to address what the commission refers to as Williams’ tyrannical behavior?  Why did it take a radio show to shine a spotlight on Williams’ antics?  Where were the court staff and the attorneys who dealt with Williams every day? It appears to be a case of the silence of the lambs –  people were afraid of what might happen to them if they complained.

The New York Times quotes one attorney as stating: “Judge Williams was a person you did not cross. She ruled by fear and intimidation. I’ve been in front of 50 judges in 34 years and I’ve never seen anything like her.”

Because Williams, 64, vowed not to seek another judgeship, the judicial commission said the complaints against her will be dropped. However, she could still face criminal charges related to her conduct.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April, she defended her behavior. “I didn’t just decide I was going to be mean to these people,” she said. “These people aren’t sitting in jail forever and ever and ever and ever. I’m fair. I’m consistent. I do care.”

No Perp Walk for Wisconsin Judge

Judge Won’t Face Criminal Charges

A difference of opinion.

That’s the conclusion of an investigation into a charge by  Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley that fellow Justice  David Prosser put a chokehold on her when she told him to leave her office after a heated discussion.

Therefore, Justice Prosser will not face criminal charges.

“I believe a complete review of the report suggests there is a difference of opinion,” said Patricia Barrett, the Republican district attorney who served as  special prosecutor in the case.

Touched her neck

Justice Walsh Bradley, a Democrat, accused Justice Prosser, a former Republican legislator, of choking her in June  during a heated discussion on a legal challenge to the Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious collective bargaining law, which strips most public workers of nearly all their union rights.  The incident occurred the night before the court released an opinion upholding the law.

The Milwaukee Sentinal reported that Justice Prosser acknowledged to detectives that he touched Justice Walsh Bradley’s neck – even feeling its warmth.

According to the  New York Times,  Justice Walsh Bradley issued a statement saying she was never focused on prosecuting her colleague and only wanted to address a “workplace safety issue.”

“I well understand the difficulty of gaining any criminal conviction,” she said. “The prosecution’s burden of proof is very heavy, as it should be. I also know that criminal charges alone would not have addressed our safety in the workplace and the special prosecutor’s decision not to file charges does not resolve the safety issue, either.”

Earlier, Justice Walsh Bradley told  The Milwaukee Sentinel: “The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold.”  Bradley said she  asked Prosser to leave after he made allegedly disparaging remarks about Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Justice Walsh Bradley is generally seen as part of the court’s three-justice liberal minority. Justice Prosser, a former Republican legislator, is considered part of the four-justice conservative majority.

Bradley said it was not the first time Prosser had flashes of extreme anger;  “It’s been going on for years off and on.”

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which oversees the state’s ethics code for judges, is separately investigating the case.

Wisconsin law protects judges

Interestingly, Wisconsin has a special criminal statute that relates to a battery or threat against a judge. It states:

940.203 Battery or threat to judge …
(2) Whoever intentionally causes bodily harm or threatens to
cause bodily harm to the person or family member of any judge
under all of the following circumstances is guilty of a Class H felony:
(a) At the time of the act or threat, the actor knows or should
have known that the victim is a judge or a member of his or her
(b) The judge is acting in an official capacity at the time of the
act or threat or the act or threat is in response to any action taken
in an official capacity.
(c) There is no consent by the person harmed or threatened.

“Bodily harm” means physical pain or injury, illness, or any impairment of physical condition.

The penalty for a  Class H felonyis a fine not to exceed $10,000 or imprisonment not to exceed 6 years, or both.

Other Approaches to Workplace Bullying?

So far, efforts to combat bullying in the American workplace largely have centered on a campaign spurred by the Workplace Bully Institute to pass anti-bullying legislation on a state-by-state basis.  To date, the effort has yet to yield a single success (defined as a state that has adopted such legislation).

What would happen if workplace anti-bully advocates took a different approach?

One idea might be federal legislation to amend Title VII, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to  permit any worker to sue if subjected to a hostile workplace environment.

Another idea is to approach the problem as an important public  health issue  –  which it is – and adopt health and safety regulations to protect employees on that basis. Finally, one might think local – push cities and towns to adopt legislation to protect employees from workplace abuse.

Advocates for anti-obesity measures took the local approach, with some initial success.  However, industry groups are now finding a way to halt local initiatives, using stealth tactics to erect statewide road blocks.

Public health advocates persuaded some progressive cities and counties around the nation to pass anti-obesity measures, such as requiring restaurants to list fat and calorie content on their menus or to prepare food without unhealthy trans-fats.  The New York Times reported June 30, 2011 that  industry groups are acting pro-actively to quash these anti-obesity efforts. and they are using stealth tactics.

The Times notes that Ohio’s 5,000-page state budget contained sweeping limitations on local government control over restaurants.  Florida  adopted similar limits, tucked into a bill that largely concerned amendments to state regulations on vacation rentals. Other states with limits include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, and Utah. Earlier this year, Arizona prohibited local governments from forbidding the marketing of fast food using “consumer incentives” like toys.

Not surprisingly, state restaurant groups are leading the charge for the preemptive state legislation.   State legislators who sponsored preemptive legislation in Florida and Alabama say they were contacted by their state’s restaurant associations, which expressed concern that California’s latest food rules would be adopted by their own local governments.

The Los Angeles City Council has banned fast food restaurants in South Los Angeles, where rates of poverty and obesity are high. In April, the Santa Clara County supervisors adopted a policy that forbids fast food restaurants from selling meals with toys, like those connected with movie promotions.

The Ohio law gives the state’s director of agriculture “sole and exclusive” authority to regulate the use of consumer incentives in food marketing and prohibits localities from requiring menu labeling and using incentives and laws to address “food-based health disparities.”  The statute may nullify a law passed by the Cleveland council in April that banned restaurants and food makers from using “industrially produced” trans fats in products.

One of the fundamental concepts of the U.S. Constitution involves the importance of state’s rights – the idea  is that real change and progress comes from experimentation among the states and not through a federal bureaucracy. It doesn’t take a PhD. to see that this concept also is relevant to states, which tend to  adopt progressive statewide legislation in response to local initiatives.   I’d rather be guided by the framers of our U.S. Constitution than self-interested industry groups. Wouldn’t you?

The state-by-state campaign to adopt workplace anti-bully legislation began in 2003 in California and has encountered steady opposition from business groups, who apparently are largely ignorant about the enormous toll bullying exacts on the employer’s bottom line.   This, despite the fact that the Workplace Bullying Institute is pushing a proposed Healthy Workplace Bill that is considerably weaker than legislation adopted in other industrialized countries around the world. American workers deserve strong protection from bullying in the workplace, which causes health problems and destroys lives and families.

* The new state laws limiting public health measures will have no effect on a federal law that requires menu labeling by chains with 20 or more restaurants by 2013. But more than half of the nation’s restaurants will not be required to meet the federal rules for listing calories and fat content.