WBEZ | Labor http://www.wbez.org/news/labor Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Northwestern appeals NLRB ruling on athletes union http://www.wbez.org/news/northwestern-appeals-nlrb-ruling-athletes-union-109999 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/NU NLRB Kain Colter.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Northwestern University is asking the National Labor Relations Board to overturn a regional director&#39;s ruling that the school&#39;s football players are employees under federal law and thus entitled to unionize.</p><p>The university filed a formal appeal Wednesday.</p><p>Northwestern says that it had presented &quot;overwhelming evidence&quot; that its athletic program &quot;is fully integrated with its academic mission, and that it treats its athletes as students first.&quot;</p><p>The players are set to vote by secret ballot April 25 on whether to form a union.</p><p>Former Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and Ramogi Huma of the College Athletes Players Association met in Washington with members of Congress earlier this month to press their case for unionization.</p></p> Wed, 09 Apr 2014 16:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/northwestern-appeals-nlrb-ruling-athletes-union-109999 Mayor Emanuel’s pension plan headed to governor http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989 <p><p>Controversial legislation that would change the retirement benefits of some City of Chicago employees raced through the state legislature on Tuesday and is now headed for Gov. Pat Quinn&#39;s desk.</p><p>The plan, backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, cleared the State House of Representatives on a 73-41 vote. A few hours later, it passed through the State Senate on a 31-23 vote. Gov. Pat Quinn has not said whether he&#39;ll sign the plan, which is opposed by several powerful city workers&#39; unions because it scales back benefits for retirees.</p><p>The debate on the House floor largely centered around what would happen to the two pension funds for city laborers and municipal workers if they continued their current benefit structure. City officials had warned lawmakers the retirement funds could run out of money to pay retirees their benefits within 10 years.</p><p>&ldquo;The numbers alone would behoove us to take action and pass this bill,&rdquo; said Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who sponsored the bill for &nbsp;Emanuel.</p><p>Of the two pensions affected, the municipal pension is currently funded at 37 percent, while the laborers&rsquo; system is funded at 55 percent.</p><p>&ldquo;These plans will be out of money, insolvent, bankrupt, unable to pay any of their obligations in somewhere between 10 and 15 years,&rdquo; said State Rep. Elaine Nekritz, D-Buffalo Grove.</p><p>Most of the opposition came from members of the black caucus, who represent parts of Chicago, and suburban and downstate Republicans, who warned that the legislation depends on the city council to raise property taxes.</p><p>&ldquo;If&nbsp; you vote for this bill, you are voting for at least $2 billion of higher property taxes over the next 10 years,&rdquo; said Rep. David McSweeney, R-Cary.</p><p>An earlier version of the bill required Chicago&rsquo;s city council to approve a property tax increase, but Speaker Madigan removed that language after objections from several lawmakers.</p><p>The bill&rsquo;s main goal is to pump more money into the Chicago pension funds for city laborers and municipal workers, while scaling back benefits to cut costs. Under the proposal, the city would finally scratch the inadequate funding formula it has used for decades, which experts say is a big reason the city&rsquo;s retirement systems are now in such dire shape.</p><p>Much of that ramped up funding would come from Emanuel&rsquo;s proposal to raise Chicago property taxes by $50 million a year, ultimately netting the city $750 million more revenue over the next five years. For the owner of a $250,000 home, that would cost about $58 dollars more per year on their property tax bills, according to the mayor&rsquo;s office.</p><p>Lest City Hall try to wriggle out of its pension obligations during tough budget times, the bill also gives pension funds the power to sue the city if it fails to pay up. By 2018, the pension funds would also be able to garnish all state grant money headed for the Chicago if the city fails to meet its obligations.</p><p>City workers, meanwhile, would pay more money into the system but get less out of it. By 2019, they&rsquo;d be paying 11 percent of each paycheck toward their pension, compared with the current 8.5 percent. That contribution would drop back down to 9.75% once the pension funds are healthy, which could take decades.</p><p>The bill also does away with the annual, compounding 3 percent benefit increases that have been blamed for much of the strain on the laborers and municipal workers&rsquo; pension funds. Instead, workers would now see their pension checks increase each year by a flat 3 percent or half the rate of inflation, whichever is less. And most workers wouldn&rsquo;t receive any increases in 2017, 2019 and 2025.</p><p>Retirees who earn less than $22,000 would be guaranteed to see their benefits grow by at least 1% a year, and also would not be subject to the three years of skipped increases.</p></p> Tue, 08 Apr 2014 14:17:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/mayor-emanuel%E2%80%99s-pension-plan-headed-governor-109989 Madigan drops property tax mandate in pension bill http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/Pat-Quinn-AP-Seth-Perlman.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is removing a controversial provision from a Chicago pension bill that would have required the City Council to raise property taxes in order ease the city&rsquo;s nearly $20 billion pension crisis.</p><p>The move to strip the property-tax language in the bill came late Monday, just a few hours after Gov. Pat Quinn signalled he would not back a proposed property tax hike that Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing in order to bolster the ailing pension funds for Chicago laborers and municipal workers.</p><p>&ldquo;Working with legislative leaders, bill sponsors, the Governor, and our partners in labor, we have addressed their concerns and can now move forward to save the retirements of nearly 60,000 city workers and retirees in Chicago,&rdquo; Emanuel was quoted as saying in an emailed statement late Monday afternoon.</p><p>But the removal of the property tax language doesn&rsquo;t mean Emanuel&rsquo;s tax hike proposal is going away. That plan, which would bring the city $750 million in revenue over the next five years, still seems to be central to the mayor&rsquo;s plan to pump more money into the city&rsquo;s pensions.</p><p>The difference is that state legislators, who must approve changes to Illinois pension law, don&rsquo;t have to worry about being blamed for raising Chicago property taxes during an election year. The bill&rsquo;s original language mandated that the City Council raise property taxes to pay for pensions. The latest version allows the city to use &ldquo;any available funds&rdquo; to make its annual payments.</p><p>Speaking at an event Monday morning, Emanuel said he is not trying to hang a potential property tax hike around legislators&rsquo; necks.</p><p>&ldquo;It was never anybody&rsquo;s intention to have Springfield deal with that,&rdquo; Emanuel said. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s our responsibility. But I do believe to actually give the 61,000 retirees and workers the certainty they deserve, you need reform and revenue. And we&rsquo;ll deal with our responsibility.&rdquo;</p><p>Emanuel said he will continue to &ldquo;address people&rsquo;s concerns&rdquo; about the pension plan, though he would not speak directly to its fate in the City Council, which would also need to approve any property tax hike.</p><p>To placate public worker unions who had wanted a dedicated revenue stream, Madigan&rsquo;s changes also beef up the penalties if City Hall wriggles out of paying its pension contributions. The bill directs Illinois&rsquo; Comptroller to cut off state funding to the city indefinitely if it doesn&rsquo;t pay its pension tab, and it gives pension funds the right to sue City Hall in order to get their money.</p><p>The new bill would also guarantee that retirees who make $22,000 or less in annual benefits would get a cost-of-living increase of at least 1 percent each year. Prior proposals set the annual increases at the lesser of 3 percent or half the rate of inflation. Right now, city laborers and municipal workers get a guaranteed annual benefit increase of 3 percent, which builds on the previous years&rsquo; increases.</p><p>The changes to the mayor&rsquo;s proposed pension fix came just hours after Gov. Pat Quinn slammed Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;ve gotta come up with a much better comprehensive approach to deal with this issue,&rdquo; Quinn said at an unrelated press conference. &ldquo;But if they think they&rsquo;re just gonna gouge property taxpayers, no can do. We&rsquo;re not gonna go that way.&rdquo;</p><p>Quinn, a populist Democrat who is seeking re-election in November, has made property tax relief central to his 2015 state budget proposal. And while he shot down Emanuel&rsquo;s proposed property tax hike, the governor did not offer an alternative source of revenue for Chicago pensions.</p><p>&ldquo;I think they need to be a whole lot more creative than I&rsquo;ve seen so far,&rdquo; Quinn said.</p><p>State legislators could consider the new amendment as soon as Tuesday.</p></p> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 15:32:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/madigan-drops-property-tax-mandate-pension-bill-109983 Bigger than burgers and fries, franchising blamed for low wages http://www.wbez.org/news/bigger-burgers-and-fries-franchising-blamed-low-wages-109978 <p><p><iframe frameborder="0" height="310" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/playlists/29724231&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=true&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Franchising%201%20FINAL_sh.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 233px; width: 350px;" title="Hashim Syed, owner of a 7-Eleven in Chicago, says company rules make it hard for him to cut costs so he could pay employees more. (WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)" />When we asked what it is like to own a franchise of the world&rsquo;s largest convenience-store chain, Hashim Syed took us to a cramped back room of his store, a 7-Eleven on Chicago&rsquo;s North Side.</p><p>Sitting next to a wall of tubes filled with bright-colored syrup for the soda machine, Syed recalled a young man working the graveyard shift a few years back. This employee wanted to be with his father, who was gravely ill.</p><p>&ldquo;Where we come from,&rdquo; said Syed, 71, who was born in India, &ldquo;it&rsquo;s very important that you spend the final days with parents for the comfort.&rdquo;</p><p>But the worker could not afford to take unpaid leave. And Syed could not afford to replace him. &ldquo;I&rsquo;d have had to have somebody else do his work,&rdquo; Syed said, his voice becoming faint. &ldquo;I would have ended up paying two wages.&rdquo;</p><p>The employee kept most of his shifts and, to this day, Syed regrets it. &ldquo;I wish I would have given him some time off,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>In Syed&rsquo;s nearly quarter century as a 7-Eleven franchisee, he has worked brutally long hours, his profits have fallen far short of his expectations, and the Dallas-based chain has imposed tighter rules on how he runs the store.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="400" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/6fidL51oakg?list=UUkpMCLrDFxb1n74GOOw81-w" width="600"></iframe></p><p>Something else that steams Syed is his role as an employer. He says all of those 7-Eleven rules limit his ability to cut costs and free up resources to treat his workers better. &ldquo;When I lived in Bombay,&rdquo; Syed said, &ldquo;this is not what I thought they meant by the American Dream.&rdquo;</p><p>An array of signs suggests Syed is not the only one questioning the effects of franchising.</p><p>Franchisees are pushing several states to clamp down on allegedly predatory franchisor practices. Web sites such as <a href="http://www.bluemaumau.org/">Blue MauMau</a> and <a href="http://www.unhappyfranchisee.com/">Unhappy Franchisee</a> have sprung up to connect these small business owners and give them a voice.</p><p>In one industry, &ldquo;franchisees&rdquo; have won a string of class-action lawsuits claiming that they are really employees and that their employers are using the franchise model to skirt wage-and-hour laws.</p><p>Franchises, especially those serving fast food, have also become frequent protest sites for a movement demanding higher wages and benefits such as paid sick leave. Those protests have grown louder as some politicians, ranging from Illinois Governor Pat Quinn to President Barack Obama, call for raising the minimum wage.</p><p>And, while many economists and business groups praise franchising as efficient, the model is taking hits from some scholars, including an Obama nominee to head the U.S. Department of Labor&rsquo;s Wage and Hour Division. That nominee says franchising is part of something much bigger &mdash; something bad for the workplace.</p><p><strong>How Franchising Works</strong></p><p>Franchising dates back to the 19th century, when manufacturers such as the Singer Sewing Machines Company developed the model for sales representatives. By the 1960s, franchising was ubiquitous, thanks to fast-food chains such as McDonald&rsquo;s and Burger King. Today franchising takes place in a dizzying range of industries, from tax services to child care, from real estate to car repair.</p><p>The number of U.S. franchise jobs in recent years has grown, now totaling more than 8.1 million &mdash; about 7 percent of private-sector jobs, according to data from payroll processor ADP. Franchise employment growth has outpaced jobs growth in the economy as a whole for 12 consecutive months, the data show.</p><p>In Illinois, franchise employment totals almost 345,000, according to the<a href="http://www.franchise.org/"> International Franchise Association</a> Educational Foundation. As of January, 1,152 companies had active registrations to sell franchises in Illinois, the state attorney general&rsquo;s office says.</p><p>Here is how the model works. A company thinks it has a good thing going and decides to expand. But it may not be familiar with the new places and may be short on capital. It also does not want to employ the necessary workers. It would rather have someone else do that &mdash; someone with skin in the game.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Franchising%202%20FINAL_sh.png" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: left; height: 244px; width: 350px;" title="Amjad “AJ” Haj, who co-owns three Al’s Beef franchises in Chicago, praises the company’s support to run them. (WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)" />&ldquo;A franchisee will do the best job,&rdquo; said David Howey, who bought an old Chicago sandwich brand, <a href="http://alsbeef.com/">Al&rsquo;s Beef</a>, and stepped up the chain&rsquo;s franchising. &ldquo;Instead of a large company having a bunch of managers who are running the stores, a franchisee buys into the system and it becomes their business. It becomes their life. So the brand is represented properly by people who really care.&rdquo;</p><p>For the franchisees, the model allows them to run their own business and take advantage of company resources for things such as property, equipment, training and marketing.</p><p>The franchisees also pay an upfront sum known as the franchise fee, typically five figures. Once in business, they pay a specified royalty &mdash; often 5-10 percent of sales &mdash; and fees for things such as advertising, management and insurance.</p><p>Amjad &ldquo;AJ&rdquo; Haj, who owns three Al&rsquo;s Beef franchises with his brother, says he appreciates being able to focus on day-to-day tasks. &ldquo;You do not have to go test 20 different burgers to see which one you want to sell,&rdquo; Haj said. &ldquo;They&rsquo;ve already done that. They&rsquo;ve tested out all the different mayos for you.&rdquo;</p><p>Successful franchising depends on a good brand &mdash; which means, above all, consistency. At all 16 locations of Al&rsquo;s Beef, the sandwiches not only taste the same, they drip the same, thanks to a uniform recipe for their <em>jus</em>.</p><p>What protects the brand is the franchise agreement, which spells out franchisee rules on topics such as operating hours, dress codes, supply vendors and payroll processes.</p><p>Despite paying all the fees and following the rules, a franchisee has no guarantee the unit will flourish. Franchises go belly up about as often as independent businesses in their industry, according to the<a href="http://www.sba.gov/"> U.S. Small Business Administration</a>.</p><p>Many franchisees do hang on &mdash; some for decades, like Syed, the 7-Eleven operator. A third of franchisees run multiple units, usually two or three, according to Franchise Business Review.</p><p>&ldquo;We see that this is successful &mdash; businesses being franchised &mdash; simply by the fact that they exist all around us,&rdquo; said <a href="http://www.bus.umich.edu/FacultyBios/FacultyBio.asp?id=000119727">Francine LaFontaine</a>, a University of Michigan professor of business economics and public policy. &ldquo;And then consumers are voting with their feet by consuming the goods and services that are offered this way. That means we&rsquo;ve made that sector more efficient.&rdquo;</p><p>That efficiency can lower prices, said LaFontaine, a&nbsp;<a href="http://books.google.com/books/about/The_Economics_of_Franchising.html?id=HaZuDYzXLSYC">leading researcher</a>&nbsp;on franchise economics. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s good for consumers. It probably also means we consume a bit more of these things, which means there are more jobs in this sector than there would be otherwise.&rdquo;</p><p>But the model is fraught with tensions. When a franchise agreement expires, companies sometimes take the opportunity to increase the royalty or impose tighter rules. If the franchisee does not follow the rules, the company might take over that unit. Last summer, 7-Eleven ousted franchisees from several Chicago stores for alleged franchise-agreement violations.</p><p>The company, for its part, has reasons to establish rules &mdash; and enforce them. Making all franchises buy from the same supplier can help bring down costs. Higher fees can fund more advertising. Quality standards help keep franchisees from freeloading on the brand.</p><p>Other tensions stem from the wages and work conditions of franchise employees &mdash; the workers who flip the burgers or ring up the Slurpees.</p><p>Last June, federal <a href="http://www.justice.gov/usao/nye/pr/2013/2013jun17.html">authorities seized</a> fourteen 7-Eleven stores in New York and Virginia and arrested the franchisees for allegedly employing illegal immigrants, forcing them to work long overtime hours, paying them for just a fraction of their work and forcing them to live in substandard housing owned by the franchisees. After the arrests, the corporation said it planned to step up its franchisee monitoring.</p><p>This March, McDonald&rsquo;s workers in California, Michigan and New York <a href="https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0BwU-XxSsYz21eXluRzFpVFFzMFE&amp;usp=sharing">filed lawsuits</a> claiming that the Oak Brook-based corporation is responsible for alleged wage-and-hour violations, even at franchises. A company statement about the suits said McDonald&rsquo;s was committed &ldquo;to the well-being and fair treatment of all people who work in McDonald&rsquo;s restaurants&rdquo; and that it would investigate the allegations and &ldquo;take any necessary actions.&rdquo;</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/book cover.jpg" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 296px; width: 200px;" title="A Boston University economist likens franchising to outsourcing." />Economists disagree about what causes such work conditions. Some cite the low-skilled jobs in many heavily franchised industries. They point to cutthroat competition. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s more the industry that determines the working conditions of the employees than it is the way in which this is organized,&rdquo; said LaFontaine, the University of Michigan economist, defending the franchise model.</p><p>Other experts tie the low wages to the franchising. When a company franchises, they point out, it is adding extra owners and a new layer of competition. That means more people taking slices of the pie and more pressure to cut costs such as wages. &ldquo;Each different business is operating on a thinner margin,&rdquo; said David Weil, the Labor Department nominee, who is a business professor at Boston University.</p><p>Weil co-authored a study that found that fast-food restaurants operated by a franchisee are more likely to violate wage-and-hour laws than eateries the big corporation runs itself.</p><p>When workers earn less, a related argument goes, they also consume less &mdash; a drag on the economy.</p><p>In a <a href="http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674725447">new book</a>, Weil acknowledges the benefits of franchising for businesses that want to expand, but he also likens the model to&nbsp;various forms of outsourcing. He says they are all ways for big companies to shed employment responsibilities.</p><p><strong>The Slurpee Economy</strong></p><p>Syed says he bought his 7-Eleven franchise in 1990. &ldquo;I was very excited,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I could buy everything from where I wanted to.&rdquo;</p><p>After a while, however, Syed decided that being a franchisee was not all it was cracked up to be. It was not just the long hours. The company allowed another 7-Eleven to open just a few blocks away. Then it changed the terms of his franchise agreement.</p><p>Franchisees learned they had to buy 85 percent of supplies from approved vendors. &ldquo;Now everything will be controlled by 7-Eleven Company,&rdquo; Syed said. &ldquo;They will decide what to buy, where to buy.&rdquo;</p><p>Other franchisees complain that 7-Eleven goes as far as to remotely control the temperature in their stores, even the volume on their televisions.</p><p>Many of 7-Eleven&rsquo;s rules do help protect the brand. And the company has reasons to make franchisees purchase supplies from an approved vendor. For one, 7-Eleven can use the collective buying power to keep costs down, a company official said.</p><p>Something 7-Eleven does not control are employment decisions, including the amount Syed pays his workers. Syed said one of his half-dozen employees, the manager, makes $10.50 an hour. He said the rest earn less &mdash; in a state where the minimum is $8.25.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/banner-edited.jpg" title="Syed, the 7-Eleven franchisee in Chicago, calls himself a 'front man' for the Dallas-based corporation. (WBEZ/Shannon Heffernan)" /></div><p>Syed said he can hardly blame employees who are upset about the pay, but he insisted he is not getting rich either. Last year, his 23rd at the store, Syed took home $53,866, he said. That was one of his best years, he added.</p><p>To Syed, the whole franchise model feels like a setup. &ldquo;We are as much of a victim in it as the workers are,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We are nothing more than a glorified manager.&rdquo;</p><p>7-Eleven officials declined to get specific regarding the company&rsquo;s agreements with its approximately 6,200 franchises. But Jay Mitchell, a franchise-sales manager at the Dallas headquarters, said 7-Eleven was not going to take responsibility for wages or work conditions.</p><p>Franchisees are &ldquo;going to be independent operators so they are going to be responsible for employing people and determining what they pay those people as well,&rdquo; Mitchell said. &ldquo;While we will provide them guidance, it is completely up to [the franchisees] how they pay their employees.&rdquo;</p><p>Questioned about such employment policies, 7-Eleven spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said the company provides franchisees &ldquo;very comprehensive&rdquo; training and said the franchise agreement requires them to follow the law.</p><p>But Syed said the rest of the agreement makes it too hard for him to cut costs, leaving him little room to pay his employees more. &ldquo;That worker also thinks &mdash; and I know it for a fact &mdash; that I am just greedy and I want to keep all the money in my pocket instead of giving him fair wages,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>It might have been harder for Syed to run a convenience store without the 7-Eleven brand, said LaFontaine, the economist. &ldquo;Independent businesses or franchises fail all the time. That is just a reality of these kinds of small businesses.&rdquo;</p><p>Syed, who publishes a <a href="http://7-elevenfoac.com/data/newsletter/Final_FOAC_December_2012_Newsletter.pdf">newsletter</a> for Chicago-area 7-Eleven owners,&nbsp;says state and federal lawmakers should do more to protect franchises from the companies that own their brand.</p><p>To date, just 17 states have any laws governing franchisor-franchisee relations, according to Dean Heyl, who directs state government affairs for the <a href="http://www.franchise.org/">International Franchise Association</a>.</p><p>Those states include Illinois, which enacted its&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/ilcs3.asp?ActID=2381&amp;ChapterID=67">Franchise Disclosure Act</a>&nbsp;in 1987. That law regulates how franchisors treat prospective franchisees and requires franchisors to have &ldquo;good cause&rdquo; for terminating a franchise.</p><p>Last week, Maine&rsquo;s state Senate voted down a bill that would have, among other things, required franchisors to provide a franchisee a 60-day notice to resolve a problem before termination. The bill also would have allowed franchisees to leave their business to a spouse, partner or heir.</p><p>Heyl said such legislation, if enacted, would &ldquo;hurt franchisees who are playing by the rules.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>Franchising</strong>&rsquo;<strong>s New Frontier</strong></p><p>As franchising has spread, some industries have pushed the model to the extreme. In commercial-cleaning franchising, the customers that need the service usually come through the franchisor. They also make their payments to the franchisor. The franchisee gets just a portion of the payments in periodic checks from the franchisor &mdash; after deductions for insurance, royalties, management and so on.</p><p>In Chicago, the commercial-cleaning franchisees include hundreds of Mexican immigrants. One of them is a woman we will call Gloria Pérez. We agreed not to use her real name because she fears retribution from her franchisor. Pérez entered the commercial-cleaning business four years ago.</p><p>Back then, she and her husband were both unemployed, they had three kids at home and a mortgage, and they were burning through their savings. Pérez saw a newspaper ad placed by CleanNet of Illinois, part of<a href="http://www.cleannetusa.com/"> CleanNet USA</a>, based in McLean, Virginia.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Franchise%203_sh%20%28CM%20credit%29.JPG" style="margin: 4px 0px 0px 0px; float: right; height: 233px; width: 350px;" title="A CleanNet janitor works after hours in a Chicago-area car dealership. Treated like a franchisee, she says her pay amounts to less than Illinois’s minimum wage. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />The ad said she could have her &ldquo;own business.&rdquo; Pérez, interviewed by WBEZ in Spanish, said it seemed like &ldquo;a good opportunity because we did not have any other work.&rdquo;</p><p>Pérez went in for an appointment. CleanNet gave her more than 150 pages of legal disclosures &mdash; all in English, she said. She did not understand much except some numbers on a chart the company gave her. &ldquo;It said I could make $6,000 a month if I bought a franchise for $21,000,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>After a discount, Pérez said, she managed to put in $19,000. Since then, she said, she has never come close to earning the monthly $6,000. &ldquo;Every month they take out 20 percent of what I earn&rdquo; and CleanNet does not give her enough customers within range of her home, Pérez said.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s a scam,&rdquo; said Chicago attorney Christopher Williams, who filed a class-action lawsuit against the company in March on behalf of janitors such as Pérez. &ldquo;CleanNet is trying to say, &lsquo;We have no unemployment obligation to them. We have no workers-comp obligations to them. We do not pay payroll taxes. We are not their employer. And these are people who need public assistance because they&rsquo;re making so little money. They can&rsquo;t afford health care. If they get injured on the job, they have no workers compensation insurance.&rdquo;</p><p>If a customer falls behind on its payments, CleanNet warns it could deduct that money from paychecks too.</p><p>Another way CleanNet makes money off its janitors is by loaning them money when they cannot afford the franchise fee &mdash; the upfront payment from the workers. Paying off that loan means yet more paycheck deductions.</p><p>&ldquo;All they&rsquo;re left with after that agreement is debt,&rdquo; Williams said.</p><p>The suit against CleanNet, filed in federal court, claims hundreds of the company&rsquo;s Illinois janitors are not franchisees but employees. It accuses the company of violating state and federal laws regulating wages and work hours.</p><p>CleanNet officials did not respond to our requests for comment about the suit. When janitors in Massachusetts filed a similar claim against the company, CleanNet denied any liability or wrongdoing. It did settle with those janitors last November, agreeing to pay out $7.5 million.</p><p>In Illinois, CleanNet is among at least eight commercial-cleaning firms registered to offer franchises, according to the state attorney general&rsquo;s office. The biggest is Jani-King International, based in Addison, Texas.</p><p>Jani-King says it pioneered franchising in the commercial cleaning industry. Asked whether ducking wage-and-hour laws was a big factor in deciding to sell franchises to janitors instead of employing them, the company emailed a statement that did not directly answer the question.</p><p>&ldquo;Franchise owners, like all business owners, have control over their day-to-day operations as well as their profitability,&rdquo; the Jani-King statement said. &ldquo;They can solicit and bid their own business, and they can accept or decline the right to service accounts offered by Jani-King. They can hire employees to clean accounts, or they can clean themselves. They buy all of their own equipment and supplies. The franchise owners receive all revenue generated by their business (less Jani-King&rsquo;s fees).&rdquo;</p><p>But Weil, the Boston University business economist, said the franchise model enables the cleaning companies to shortchange the janitors. &ldquo;If you start doing the math, you realize that people are being paid way below the minimum wage or being denied overtime payment and are really being subjected to inappropriate expenses by another company for, essentially, being an employee of that company,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>In the cleaning industry, it is not just the &ldquo;franchisees&rdquo; who are vulnerable to wage-and-hour violations. Those workers often bring other people to help them with jobs. Pérez gets part-time help from her husband, a son and a neighborhood friend. &ldquo;I can&rsquo;t afford to pay them minimum wage,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Court rulings in Massachusetts have upended franchising by janitorial companies. &ldquo;Several have closed down or stopped operating the way they were operating,&rdquo; said attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan, who filed the key suits. Now the companies are either treating their janitors like employees or &ldquo;not charging workers upfront for a job,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>&ldquo;My hope is that some of the rulings that we&rsquo;ve gotten [in Massachusetts] will spread,&rdquo; Liss-Riordan said.</p><p>That prospect worries Heyl, the <a href="http://www.franchise.org/">International Franchise Association</a> lobbyist. If lawsuits drive franchised cleaning companies out of business, there will be less competition and increased prices, he warned.</p><p>Heyl also sees a threat to franchising in all industries. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re just coming out of a recession, and banks are very skittish and, if they start looking at a franchise system and open up the [newspaper] and say, &lsquo;Look, some of these franchisees are employees,&rsquo; and there&rsquo;s litigation to follow, there&rsquo;s numerous negative economic impacts.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Follow <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> at <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a>.&nbsp;Follow <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/shannon-0">Shannon Heffernan</a> at <a href="https://twitter.com/shannon_h">@shannon_h</a>.&nbsp;</em><em>This report, edited by <a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/djohn">Derek John</a>, is part of WBEZ</em>&rsquo;<em>s&nbsp;</em>&ldquo;<em>Front and Center</em>&rdquo;<em>&nbsp;series, funded by the Joyce Foundation,&nbsp;</em>&ldquo;<em>Improving the quality of life in the Great Lakes region and across the country.</em>&rdquo;</p></p> Mon, 07 Apr 2014 05:01:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/bigger-burgers-and-fries-franchising-blamed-low-wages-109978 Emanuel pension deal would raise property taxes, trim benefits http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-pension-deal-would-raise-property-taxes-trim-benefits-109948 <p><iframe width="100%" height="166" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/142758537&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_artwork=true"></iframe><p>Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel&#39;s plan for fixing part of the nation&#39;s worst municipal pension crisis is now in the hands of state lawmakers &mdash; and it&#39;s likely just the first of many from cities across the state seeking legislative help for their employee retirement funds.</p><p>The Democratic mayor&#39;s proposal comes just months after the General Assembly finally tackled a plan &mdash; challenged in court &mdash; to deal with its own $100 billion pension problem. But Emanuel hasn&#39;t yet addressed shortfalls in the city&#39;s fire and police pension programs, a problem that nearly every large city in Illinois faces.</p><p>Chicago has the worst-funded public pension system of any major U.S. city, a distinction that could threaten its attempts to position itself as a modern transportation hub and a place for high-tech development.</p><p>Emanuel announced he had reached a deal with several municipal and laborers unions to cut in half a $19.5 billion pension debt over 40 years in accounts that cover more than 50,000 employees and retirees. The agreement would raise property taxes by $50 million a year over the next five years, ultimately bringing in $750 million over that time. It would also require higher contributions from employees and reduce the annual benefits retirees receive.</p><p>Less than a year from facing the voters for re-election, Emanuel&#39;s plan is politically risky.</p><p>&quot;Voters did not elect me to think about my political future,&quot; Emanuel said in a statement Tuesday. &quot;They elected me to think about Chicago&#39;s future.&quot;</p><p>He suggested the effort with the unions could be a template for solving $10 billion in police and fire shortfalls, but didn&#39;t suggest specifics, including how the city can meet a required $600 million balloon payment to police and fire funds next year.</p><p>And despite Emanuel&#39;s claim of widespread union support, a coalition of labor groups representing firefighters, police officers, teachers, nurses and other city workers called We Are One Chicago all but promised a lawsuit if lawmakers OK the plan. A similar group has filed a lawsuit over the state plan.</p><p>In Springfield, Republicans were noncommittal, saying they wanted to see the details and who would have to pay for the plan before they signed on. Democrats, who control supermajorities in both legislative chambers, already begun drafting language for the necessary bills in the House.</p><p>Other cities wrestling with their own pension shortfalls are watching.</p><p>&quot;Chicago drives things throughout the state and it also gets the majority of funding from Springfield and Washington, D.C.,&quot; Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis said. &quot;A healthy Chicago means more scraps for the Peorias, Rockfords, Danvilles of the state.&quot;</p><p>Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat and House leader on pension issues, predicted lawmakers would deal with the current Emanuel plan by itself, but that when it comes to police and fire funds, Chicago and the state&#39;s other large cities will be coming to Springfield for help.</p><p>Aurora, the state&#39;s second-largest city, is among municipalities struggling with police and fire obligations, including state financial penalties to take effect in 2016 for cities that do not make sufficient contributions to those pension accounts. That amounts to an increase of more than $1 million annually for Aurora, which has reduced its operating expenses and laid off employees in recent years, Mayor Tom Weisner said.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s not sustainable. Without some reform, there&#39;s going to be cities that basically, I believe, will be going under,&quot; Weisner said. &quot;I&#39;d be hard-pressed to find a community whose leaders are not in favor of pension reform for public safety employees.&quot;</p><p>According to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, a legislative budget analyst, police and fire pension funds in cities outside Chicago have deteriorated significantly in the past two decades. Police funds, for example, were 75 percent funded in 1991, while they were only 54 percent funded &mdash; $4.4 billion short &mdash; in 2010.</p><p>The commission points out that assets in that time have tripled, but liabilities have increased even more. Springfield Mayor Michael Houston said police and fire funds were hit hard by the financial downturn of 2008 and, over the years, legislatively approved enhancements to pension benefits that did not come with money to pay for them.</p><p>&quot;While we can lobby for changes, it&#39;s up to the state Legislature to make changes,&quot; Houston said.</p><p>If the state approves Emanuel&#39;s plan, &quot;it has the potential to create a path for the mayor to address his police and fire pension fund, which will also need to be addressed by downstate police and fire funds,&quot; said Laurence Msall, president of the Chicago-based Civic Federation.</p><p>But he cautioned that the two systems are different. Chicago is unique for having a separate fund for municipal employees and laborers. In other cities, those jobs are covered by the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund, which is generally in good shape in cities across the state because of stricter contribution requirements and less-generous benefits.</p></p> Tue, 01 Apr 2014 08:35:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/emanuel-pension-deal-would-raise-property-taxes-trim-benefits-109948 In tougher market, taxi drivers sue Chicago cab companies http://www.wbez.org/news/tougher-market-taxi-drivers-sue-chicago-cab-companies-109921 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/taxis.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago cab drivers today added to the frenzy of litigation that has recently besieged the for-hire transportation industry, filing a federal lawsuit against the city&rsquo;s four largest cab companies. They&rsquo;ve enlisted the help of a Boston labor attorney who has had success in arguing that taxi drivers are inappropriately classified as &ldquo;independent contractors,&rdquo; rather than &ldquo;employees&rdquo; of cab companies. The Chicago drivers seek class-action status, and significant back pay.</p><p>&ldquo;You know, I had a guy pull a gun on me the other day,&rdquo; recounted Karen Chamberlain, a longtime Chicago taxi driver and a plaintiff in the case, &ldquo;and I looked at him, I&rsquo;m going, &lsquo;you better shoot me, because I&rsquo;m not in the mood.&rsquo; And he got out.&rdquo;</p><p>Chamberlain laughs at the incident now, but says it&rsquo;s harder to find the comic relief these days in a job that&rsquo;s always had its share of ups and downs.</p><p>&ldquo;I used to work 4-5 days a week, 8-10 hours a day. Now, to make the same amount of money &ndash; and I&rsquo;m not even making as much &ndash; I&rsquo;m working 7 days a week,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;I take three days off a year now. And I&rsquo;m not making the same amount of money. And I&rsquo;m working 10-12 hours a day.&rdquo;</p><p>Amid higher gas prices and a lingering recession, Chamberlain says business has been a struggle. Drivers have not seen an increase in taxi meter rates in eight years, and Chicago voters last week rejected a referendum on the primary ballot to raise fares. But Chamberlain says the city did the most harm when it allowed cab companies to raise lease rates on their vehicles two years ago.</p><p>&ldquo;In 2006 I was paying $450 a week for my taxi. Right now I am paying $752 a week for my cab,&rdquo; Chamberlain said. She also blames newly popular&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/news/cab-livery-companies-sue-city-over-rideshare-companies-109655" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0050-9da4-cf44-75a347e40a83">&ldquo;ride sharing&rdquo; companies</a>, such as uberX, Lyft and Sidecar, for taking business away from taxis. The companies make smartphone apps that help regular people use their cars for hire.</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m sitting there waiting for a fare and some guy with a pink mustache drives up and takes a fare,&rdquo; she said, referring to the fuzzy emblem that Lyft drivers mount on the front of their cars.</p><p>&ldquo;You see cab drivers out there,&rdquo; said Shannon Liss-Riordan, the Boston-based attorney who represents Chamberlain and the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re working around the clock, long, long, long hours for very, very, very little pay. And this system of the drivers being classified as independent contractors really contributes (to the problem).&rdquo;</p><p>Liss-Riordan is fighting a similar case on behalf of Boston taxi drivers, and has had some initial success. Last year she got a judge to freeze the assets of Boston&rsquo;s largest taxi fleet owner. The case isn&rsquo;t over yet, but the court said there&rsquo;s a &ldquo;reasonable likelihood&rdquo; that cab drivers were misclassified.</p><p>She says labor laws in Illinois are similar to those in Massachusetts, which is why she believes her plaintiffs here will have a chance. In the Chicago lawsuit, Liss-Riordan expects the question to come down to whether the cab companies can prove that taxi drivers perform their service outside the companies&rsquo; usual place of business.</p><p>&ldquo;The case law in the driving context establishes that the place of business, if you&rsquo;re a driver, is out on the road,&rdquo; said Liss-Riordan. She does not believe that cab companies will be able to prove that cab drivers perform their work anywhere else. The cab companies named in the lawsuit were not prepared to speak with WBEZ on Wednesday.</p><p>The outcome of the lawsuit is likely many years off, but if the drivers prevail, it could have significant repercussions throughout Chicago&rsquo;s taxi industry. For starters, cab companies would be required to pay back wages for thousands of cab drivers, dating back to ten years, if it&rsquo;s found that drivers earned less than the hourly minimum wage.</p><p>&ldquo;Tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake,&rdquo; said attorney James Zouras, who is working with Liss-Riordan to represent the drivers. It would also mean that cab drivers would be entitled to overtime pay, among other benefits. Zouras said if a court rules that cab drivers are &ldquo;employees,&rdquo; it would also allow them to unionize.</p><p>Gregory McGee, another plaintiff in the case, has tried to organize Chicago cab drivers for nearly twelve years, with little success. He said a win in the courts could finally give many the confidence to unite. Still, he said he laments the extent to which conditions in the industry have already deteriorated.</p><p>&ldquo;I am now 54 years old, I have no savings, and I have had no days off for practical purposes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;As a matter of fact, I probably have no more than 30 full calendar days off, where I did nothing cab-related, in the almost twelve years now.&rdquo;</p><p>The lawsuit now becomes the second in federal court, where Chicago cab drivers assert that they&rsquo;ve been misclassified. The other,&nbsp;<a href="http://www.wbez.org/cabbie%E2%80%99s-lawsuit-against-chicago-moves-forward-104355" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0050-f8e7-9a90-ac65802c6419">brought by taxi driver Melissa Callahan</a>, seeks to show that cab drivers should properly be classified as employees of the City of Chicago. Liss-Riordan said she is not concerned about having these two suits progressing simultaneously.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s possible for employees to have multiple employers,&rdquo; she said, &ldquo;So they&rsquo;re not mutually exclusive.&rdquo;</p><p>McGee said if anything, the two suits bolster taxi drivers&rsquo; argument that the industry needs to be restructured. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s how serious the situation is here, folks, that we have not just one class action (lawsuit) in the Northern District Federal Court here in the Seventh Circuit,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;we have two now, as of today.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Odette Yousef is WBEZ&rsquo;s North Side Bureau reporter. Follow her&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/oyousef" id="docs-internal-guid-a50f0055-0051-42cc-56fa-d64424314b8e">@oyousef</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 16:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/tougher-market-taxi-drivers-sue-chicago-cab-companies-109921 Northwestern athletes can unionize, federal agency says http://www.wbez.org/news/northwestern-athletes-can-unionize-federal-agency-says-109919 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/nu_0.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>In a stunning ruling that could revolutionize college sports, a federal agency said Wednesday that football players at Northwestern University can create the nation&#39;s first union of college athletes.</p><p>The decision by a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board answered the question at the heart of the debate over the unionization bid: Do football players who receive full scholarships to the Big Ten school qualify as employees under federal law and therefore can legally unionize?</p><p>Peter Sung Ohr, the NLRB regional director, said in a 24-page decision that the players &quot;fall squarely&quot; within the broad definition of employee.</p><p>Pro-union activists cheered as they learned of the ruling.</p><p>&quot;It&#39;s like preparing so long for a big game and then when you win &mdash; it is pure joy,&quot; said former UCLA linebacker Ramogi Huma, the designated president of Northwestern&#39;s would-be football players&#39; union.</p><p>An employee is regarded by law as someone who, among other things, receives compensation for a service and is under the strict, direct control of managers. In the case of the Northwestern players, coaches are the managers and scholarships are a form of compensation, Ohr concluded.</p><p>The Evanston, Ill., university argued that college athletes, as students, do not fit in the same category as factory workers, truck drivers and other unionized workers. The school announced plans to appeal to labor authorities in Washington, D.C.</p><p>Supporters of the union bid argued that the university ultimately treats football as more important than academics for scholarship players. Ohr sided with the players on that issue.</p><p>&quot;The record makes clear that the employer&#39;s scholarship players are identified and recruited in the first instance because of their football prowess and not because of their academic achievement in high school,&quot; Ohr wrote. He also noted that among the evidence presented by Northwestern, &quot;no examples were provided of scholarship players being permitted to miss entire practices and/or games to attend their studies.&quot;</p><p>The ruling also described how the life of a football player at Northwestern is far more regimented than that of a typical student, down to requirements about what they can and can&#39;t eat and whether they can live off campus or purchase a car. At times, players put 50 or 60 hours a week into football, he added.</p><p>Alan Cubbage, Northwestern&#39;s vice president for university relations, said in a statement that while the school respects &quot;the NLRB process and the regional director&#39;s opinion, we disagree with it.&quot;</p><p>The next step would be for scholarship players to vote on whether to formally authorize the College Athletes Players Association, or CAPA, to represent them, according to the NLRB decision.</p><p>The specific goals of CAPA include guaranteeing coverage of sports-related medical expenses for current and former players, reducing head injuries and potentially letting players pursue commercial sponsorships.</p><p>But critics have argued that giving college athletes employee status and allowing them to unionize could hurt college sports in numerous ways, including raising the prospect of strikes by disgruntled players or lockouts by athletic departments.</p><p>For now, the push is to unionize athletes at private schools, such as Northwestern, because the federal labor agency does not have jurisdiction over public universities.</p><p>Outgoing Wildcats quarterback Kain Colter took a leading role in establishing CAPA. The United Steelworkers union has been footing the legal bills.</p><p>Colter, who has entered the NFL draft, said nearly all of the 85 scholarship players on the Wildcats roster backed the union bid, though only he expressed his support publicly.</p><p>He said the No. 1 reason to unionize was to ensure injured players have their medical needs met.</p><p>&quot;With the sacrifices we make athletically, medically and with our bodies, we need to be taken care of,&quot; Colter told ESPN.</p><p>The NCAA has been under increasing scrutiny over its amateurism rules and is fighting a class-action federal lawsuit by former players seeking a cut of the billions of dollars earned from live broadcasts, memorabilia sales and video games. Other lawsuits allege the NCAA failed to protect players from debilitating head injuries.</p><p>NCAA President Mark Emmert has pushed for a $2,000-per-player stipend to help athletes defray some expenses. Critics say that is not nearly enough, considering players help bring in millions of dollars to their schools and conferences.</p><p>In a written statement, the NCAA said it disagreed with the notion that student-athletes are employees.</p><p>&quot;We frequently hear from student-athletes, across all sports, that they participate to enhance their overall college experience and for the love of their sport, not to be paid,&quot; the NCAA said.</p><p>The developments are coming to a head at a time when major college programs are awash in cash generated by new television deals that include separate networks for the big conferences. The NCAA tournament generates an average of $771 million a year in television rights itself, much of which is distributed back to member schools by the NCAA.</p><p>Attorneys for CAPA argued that college football is, for all practical purposes, a commercial enterprise that relies on players&#39; labor to generate billions of dollars in profits. The NLRB ruling noted that from 2003 to 2013 the Northwestern program generated $235 million in revenue &mdash; profits the university says went to subsidize other sports.</p><p>During the NLRB&#39;s five days of hearings in February, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald took the stand for union opponents, and his testimony sometimes was at odds with Colter&#39;s.</p><p>Colter told the hearing that players&#39; performance on the field was more important to Northwestern than their in-class performance, saying, &quot;You fulfill the football requirement and, if you can, you fit in academics.&quot; Asked why Northwestern gave him a scholarship of $75,000 a year, he responded: &quot;To play football. To perform an athletic service.&quot;</p><p>But Fitzgerald said he tells players academics come first, saying, &quot;We want them to be the best they can be ... to be a champion in life.&quot;</p></p> Wed, 26 Mar 2014 15:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/northwestern-athletes-can-unionize-federal-agency-says-109919 UIC faculty claim higher cause http://www.wbez.org/news/uic-faculty-claim-higher-cause-109732 <p><p>As University of Illinois at Chicago faculty members went on strike this week for the first time in school history, English Professor Walter Benn Michaels took a break from picketing to give a reporter a lesson about the academic pecking order.</p><p>Looking up at the school&rsquo;s tallest building &mdash; the 28-story University Hall &mdash; Michaels pointed out that the top floors are for UIC&rsquo;s senior administration. &ldquo;You got people up there making a lot of money,&rdquo; he said.<br /><br />The building&rsquo;s other floors are for various academic departments, including English, headed by Michaels, whose office is on the 20th. Among the tenured and tenure-track faculty, he said, &ldquo;there are some people like me who are well-paid.&rdquo;<br /><br />But go down one floor to the 19th and &ldquo;you have the exact opposite,&rdquo; Michaels said. &ldquo;You have the non-tenure-track English professors who are making mainly $30,000 a year. A few lucky ones &mdash; some of them have been here 15-20 years &mdash; are making $35,000.&rdquo;<br /><br />Most of these employees, Michaels pointed out, have doctoral degrees and teach full-time for UIC.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MichaelsSCALED.jpg" style="height: 417px; width: 300px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Walter Benn Michaels, a professor who heads the University of Illinois at Chicago’s English Department, works on the 20th floor of University Hall. He says he’s backing the strike to stand up for students and his department’s lowest-paid instructors, who work on the 19th floor. WBEZ/Chip Mitchell" /></div><p>Eighteen months since the Illinois Federation of Teachers won certification to represent 1,100 of the school&rsquo;s faculty members, they are still trying to get their first collective-bargaining agreement.</p><p>Their dispute has become a flashpoint in a nationwide battle over the fate of higher education. On many campuses, that battle pits socially driven professors against market-oriented administrators and trustees or, as Michaels describes them, &ldquo;neoliberal&rdquo; forces.<br /><br />The main unresolved UIC bargaining issues concern faculty compensation. The school&rsquo;s administrators say they cannot give the union all it wants. Over four years, according to UIC, the faculty&rsquo;s demands would hike costs by 23 percent for tenure-system faculty and 27 percent for the rest.<br /><br />But faculty members say the two-day work stoppage, which ends Wednesday, is about more than their pocketbooks. They say it is about their students.</p><p>&ldquo;We would like, for example, to have all the English majors to do senior theses,&rdquo; Michaels told me. &ldquo;But, when you have a tenure-track department faculty of 33 people, you can&rsquo;t be having hundreds of English majors doing senior theses.&rdquo;</p><p>The only way to properly advise all these students, Michaels said, would be to deploy the department&rsquo;s non-tenure-track faculty &mdash; the folks who get $30,000 or $35,000 a year.<br /><br />&ldquo;I can&rsquo;t turn to these people and say, &lsquo;I want to add some additional work, which is hard work and which requires a lot of personal hours with students,&rsquo; &rdquo; Michaels said. &ldquo;How can I ask them to do that when I can offer them nothing? I can&rsquo;t offer them a promotion. I can&rsquo;t offer them a better wage.&rdquo;<br /><br />Professors in fields ranging from art history to philosophy also claim that it has become harder to get approval for courses that may not attract hoards of students.<br /><br />When it comes to colleges and universities struggling to do right by their students, UIC is less the exception than the rule, according to Gary Rhoades, director of the University of Arizona&rsquo;s Center for the Study of Higher Education.<br /><br />At many schools, Rhoades said, professors are resisting &ldquo;administrative desires to narrow the range of fields in which education is provided, to concentrate resources on a few areas that [management] thinks are going to pay off &mdash; either in terms of bringing in research moneys [or] cutting off areas that are not seen to be so valuable in the marketplace for the student.&rdquo;<br /><br />The academic areas deemed valuable, Rhoades explained, are those that help students get jobs as soon as they graduate.<br /><br />Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy at the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, suggested that UIC emulate &ldquo;smart&rdquo; universities and colleges that have formed consortia and transitioned to interactive video. He said there may not be any other affordable way to provide low-enrollment programs ranging from classics to foreign languages.<br /><br />Poliakoff also echoed Harvard Business School management guru Clayton Christensen, who says on-the-job training is pushing aside the traditional U.S. higher-education model. &ldquo;Fifteen years from now, half of the colleges and universities in this nation are going to be in bankruptcy,&rdquo; Poliakoff warned.<br /><br />&ldquo;Universities can&rsquo;t be everything to everybody,&rdquo; Poliakoff said. &ldquo;If they try to do that &mdash; especially if you have faculty collective-bargaining agreements attempting to protect programs even when they&rsquo;re not financially viable &mdash; then the school is really headed for financial disaster.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;It is the business of an institution to ensure that it is cost-effective,&rdquo; Poliakoff said.<br /><br />The UIC faculty members call their strike an effort to ward off that sort of thinking. They insist they are standing up for their students.<br /><br />&ldquo;When I teach American literature,&rdquo; Michaels said, &ldquo;they&rsquo;re going to learn something about the value of literature &mdash; something that they&rsquo;ll take with them all the way through their lives. That&rsquo;s important to us. That&rsquo;s part of what a university is.&rdquo;<br /><br />When the sides resume bargaining this Friday, they will have to decide whether that value is something the school can still afford.<br />&nbsp;</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a> is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Wed, 19 Feb 2014 07:56:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/uic-faculty-claim-higher-cause-109732 Northwestern University football union hearings begin http://www.wbez.org/news/northwestern-university-football-union-hearings-begin-109693 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/main-images/nu.PNG" alt="" /><p><p>The National Labor Relations Board in Chicago held the first in a series of hearings Wednesday to consider whether college football players qualify as employees. Players from Northwestern University filed a union election petition with the board last month. If approved--and later elected to represent the interests of the team&rsquo;s scholarship players--the College Athletes Players Association would be the first labor union of its kind.</p><p>Unlike their professional counterparts, college athletes don&rsquo;t have contracts--they can&rsquo;t negotiate the terms of their tenure. And athletic scholarships are regulated by the NCAA. Studies show that athletes often spend up to 40 hours a week on their sport; they travel for their sport. Oftentimes, players are told when and where to be and what to eat. But Northwestern says it&rsquo;s all part of the overall academic experience.</p><p>University officials contend that students who participate in NCAA Division I sports, including those who receive athletic scholarships, are students, first and foremost.</p><p>Bob, Rowley, director of media relations for the university, spoke to reporters after Wednesday&rsquo;s brief preliminary hearing. He said scholarships are intended to provide for a student&rsquo;s educational experience, even if they&rsquo;re athletic. CAPA attorneys saw things differently.</p><p>Revenue generated by Division I FBS and men&rsquo;s basketball is estimated to be in the billions. CAPA said it is focused on those players because they believe they can make the case that the scholarships are, in essence, compensation.</p><p>&rdquo;If they don&rsquo;t play football, they don&rsquo;t receive the aid...the idea that somehow this is a gift to them, is untrue...if you don&rsquo;t play football, you don&rsquo;t get the scholarship,&rdquo; CAPA attorney John Adam explained.</p><p>Northwestern maintained that the university does not regard, and has never regarded, its football program as a commercial enterprise.</p><p>The key question went unanswered--but it will no doubt be taken up, picked apart and rehashed over three days of testimony before the board next week.</p><p><em>Katie O&rsquo;Brien is a WBEZ reporter. Follow her<a href="http://twitter.com/katieobez"> @katieobez</a></em></p></p> Wed, 12 Feb 2014 18:01:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/northwestern-university-football-union-hearings-begin-109693 $15 minimum wage in Chicago? Industry groups have mixed reactions http://www.wbez.org/news/15-minimum-wage-chicago-industry-groups-have-mixed-reactions-109611 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Lucha%20por%2015b.JPG" style="width: 620px;" title="Activists rally Thursday in downtown Chicago for the proposal, which would cover companies with annual revenue of more than $50 million. (WBEZ/Chip Mitchell)" />A ballot measure asking whether Chicago should require big companies to pay their workers at least $15 an hour is drawing mixed reactions from groups representing some of those employers.<br /><br />The Illinois Retail Merchants Association is sounding an alarm. &ldquo;This question really puts jobs in jeopardy,&rdquo; said Tanya Triche, the association&rsquo;s general counsel. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s the opposite direction that employers and employees want to go in the city.&rdquo;<br /><br />But the Illinois Restaurant Association did not criticize the proposal, which will appear as a nonbinding referendum March 18 in parts of the city.</p><p>&ldquo;The discussion around the minimum-wage increase is extremely important to the restaurant industry, which is just beginning to see recovery after a long and difficult recession,&rdquo; Sam Toia, the restaurant association&rsquo;s president and CEO, said in a written statement. &ldquo;We look forward to continued conversations with all stakeholders on the minimum-wage increase and its impact on businesses of all sizes.&rdquo;<br /><br />The proposed $15 minimum, backed by a group called the Raise Chicago Coalition, would apply only to companies with annual revenue of more than $50 million. The targets include franchises of restaurant chains such as McDonald&rsquo;s, not just the giant corporations themselves, according to Amisha Patel, a spokeswoman of the coalition.<br /><br />The referendum will take place in 103 of the city&rsquo;s 2,069 precincts &mdash; about 5 percent.<br /><br />On Thursday, 10 Chicago aldermen participated in a news conference to drum up support for the proposal.</p><p>&ldquo;You should not have to go to work and come home and still find yourself in poverty after putting in a hard day&rsquo;s work,&rdquo; Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) said. &ldquo;So I&rsquo;ll be encouraging all residents in my ward where this [question is on the ballot] to vote yes for the increase.&rdquo;<br /><br />The other aldermen at the news conference were John Arena (45th), Will Burns (4th), Bob Fioretti (2nd), Toni Foulkes (15th), Leslie Hairston (5th), Ricardo Muñoz (22nd), Roderick Sawyer (6th), Nick Sposato (36th) and Scott Waguespack (32nd).</p><p>Mayor Rahm Emanuel&rsquo;s office did not answer whether he supported the proposal but said he backed calls for hikes at the state and federal levels. &ldquo;The mayor has long advocated for an increase in the minimum wage and supports the efforts by President Obama and Governor Quinn to provide a wage that is fair to working families,&rdquo; spokeswoman Catherine Turco said in a written statement.<br /><br />Quinn on Wednesday called for a state minimum wage of at least $10 an hour. The Illinois minimum has been $8.25 since 2010.<br /><br />Obama is calling for a federal hourly minimum of $10.10, up from $7.25, the rate since 2009. The White House on Tuesday announced that the president would sign an executive order to raise the minimum wage for some federal contract workers to $10.10.<br /><br />In 2006, a planned Chicago minimum wage for big-box retailers led to Mayor Richard M. Daley&rsquo;s first veto.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/users/cmitchell-0">Chip Mitchell</a>&nbsp;is WBEZ&rsquo;s West Side bureau reporter. Follow him on Twitter&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/ChipMitchell1">@ChipMitchell1</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/WBEZoutloud">@WBEZoutloud</a>, and connect with him through <a href="https://www.facebook.com/chipmitchell1">Facebook</a>, <a href="https://plus.google.com/111079509307132701769" rel="me">Google+</a> and <a href="http://www.linkedin.com/in/ChipMitchell1">LinkedIn</a>.</em></p></p> Thu, 30 Jan 2014 19:06:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/news/15-minimum-wage-chicago-industry-groups-have-mixed-reactions-109611