Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fair Pay and Guantanamo

My fundamental problem with the Fair Pay Bill recently signed into law by the new President is this:

In forcing employers who are sued for pay discrimination to prove that a difference in pay was entirely job-related, it codifies a presumption of guilt instead of a presumption of innocence.

It is, though in a different arena, the same fundamental problem that existed at Guantanamo Bay: we will assume you are terrorists, and treat you as such (granted, in Guantanamo you were even less likely to get a chance to try to prove your innocence).

Discrimination is bad. Discrimination is hard to prove. And assuming that any difference in pay is due to intentional discrimination is offensive. Towards the end of my first full-time job, I was making $12.50 an hour in a position of significant responsibility. I admit to being a little miffed when I discovered that someone else who worked there was making $2.50 an hour more for less - from my perspective - work.

Was it discrimination? NO! I, simply, was not aggressive in asking for higher pay. But if the situation were reversed and the girl were to sue because she was making less money, the company would have to prove that one job was more valuable than the other, or they'd be held liable under this new law for discriminating.

I really don't like it when the government says "prove to me you're not discriminating, or you're going to be found guilty." The positive spin you will hear about the bill is "it makes it easier to win pay discrimination lawsuits." This is true, but it does that by legally abolishing the presumption of innocence, and that - to me - is wrong.

Edit: A belated note - this diatribe is based on a description of the bill that I read yesterday. I can't find anything today that describes the contents of the bill as anything more than a deadline-extension. That, in my book, is acceptable. I'm just noting that it's entirely possible that I'm completely off base here. It certainly wouldn't be the first time...

Monday, January 26, 2009

I agree with Jim Rogers

Normally, just about everything the Chancellor of the Nevada System of Higher Education rankles me, and I very rarely agree with it at all. But last Friday, he said this:

"The state of K-16 education in Nevada is where the public, that is you there, has allowed it to sink. Your only relationship with the education system is to ship your unprepared kids to school, not with the expectation of success, but with the demand that an education system – inadequately funded – develop and/or repair children that you as a parent did not prepare," he said. "It is the public – that means you – that has created this disaster of a public education system."

I don't agree with even this whole statement, as I think that calling it "K-16 education" continues an unhealthy obsession with sending kids to college, as he's lumping "higher" education in with "normal" education as though they are both basic needs.

I agree, however, that the expectation of many parents that it is the schools' job to educate and prepare their children - without any parental involvement - is the primary cause of the problems that schools face. The solution, however, in my mind is different from Jim's.

Jim would say "if you have this expectation, provide more money to the system." I would say "parents should get more involved, and we might well improve without any funding changes to the schools."

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Martian Sunset

For your viewing pleasure: a sunset, seen from Mars. It looks odd - besides the total abundance of any signs of life - but I couldn't put my finger on it for a while. Then I realized it...

The colors are backwards. The blue sky i s around the setting sun, while the red sky is up in the air.

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download  the highest resolution version available.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Gibbons & Pay Cuts

Since I'm a state employee and my sister is a teacher, I have a personal stake in Governor Gibbons' plan to try to cut all state employees' salaries by 6%. I'm not too fond of it, but I've expected a freeze, and a cut in the face of Nevada's budget issues is not particularly surprising.

What I don't like is the false alternative being presented: layoffs or pay cuts. There's another option, and its one being used in California - unpaid mandatory days off. If the Governor wants to cut labor costs, then it's fair to expect less services. A 6% pay cut equates to 15 unpaid days off in the year for me.

Why is it fair? It preserves pay rates which are comparable to the private sector. It spreads the burden around the whole state, as there's a 6% reduction in services to go along with the 6% reduction in pay. It doesn't amount to more work (as in our department, we're absolutely buried with work at the moment) for less pay, it is simply less hours being worked - a situation shared in the private sector by some 8 million Americans right now.

6% off the top is "tough luck." 6% unpaid time off at least trades cash for leisure. That there's fewer clerks at the DMV, or the welfare office, or working a a time in the NHP, or the like is a consequence. To save labor costs in the long run, you need to cut services - not just reduce pay.

Sick Day Poem

Evidently, there's a controversy brewing in the UK about the website for a cold remedy, which the UK Federation of Small Businesses calls "outrageous." Having been hit by both a brief bout of what felt like stomach flu last Friday and a head cold this last Wednesday, this feels particularly timely to me.

A gem from the "e-mails to let your coworkers know you're out sick" section of the Benylin website:

I’m sick and have gone away
To get into bed and TAKE A BENYLIN® DAY.
I’m sneezing and wheezing and blowing snot,
So an auto reply is what you’ve got!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Unions and Wages

Among industrialized countries, some are more unionized than others. What do you think the relationship is between % of qorkforce unionized and % of national income earned by labor?

Make a guess, and then check out this blog.

I found the results interesting.