Archive for November, 2010


Here is another Whistleblower Story.  -GFS

 

From a reader:

USDA, & Vilsack fire another. This one is a US Farm Bill whistleblower.

Please read this article. I will use “hyperspectral data” to show this to the newspaper readers.

The mainstream media is not concerned about the $300 Billion 2008 US Farm Bill, and how the USDA steals your money.

Check out this link:
http://wcrecord.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=314

Front Page : Whistleblower reveals himself
on 11/10/2010 (349 reads)
Valvo accuses NRCS of betraying the public trust

(The following article is part two in a series of articles dealing with the investigation of the NRCS in Pembina County.)

REGION—In the first article it was introduced that the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s (NRCS) office in Cavalier is under investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in regards to allegations of fraud, waste and mismanagement.

These acts are violations of the public trust. They were first brought to the attention of the NRCS Cavalier Field Office and eventually to the OIG by Geo-Spatial Analyst Anthony (Tony) Valvo, who is currently employed as a soil conservationist with the NRCS and has a master’s degree from Purdue. He has been employed by the federal government for seven months in the Cavalier field office.

Valvo, is not a career bureaucrat, but carries his work experience from American industry. He is also a veteran of the U.S. Navy, where he served in the engineering department aboard a fleet ballistic missile submarine.

Valvo is not a disgruntled employee, but someone who tried to right wrongs that he considered violations of the public trust. The following is his story:

I am an example of the great opportunity afforded our citizenry, and a testament to why government is essential to the average American. None of my accomplishments were given to me, but our government made them available to me, and many others.

A few weeks ago I gave this newspaper (The Walsh County Record) permission to write a story concerning government corruption. The charges are currently under investigation by the USDA’s OIG. The original target of the investigation is the NRCS. I do not know the status of the investigation, and do not have the “need to know.” The case is under investigation and has been broken down into two components. One is criminal and ethical violations and the other is retaliation against me for reporting violations of the public trust.

I did report the people in this circle for unethical practices, fraud, waste and mismanagement. I did not expect the level of retaliation I received from the NRCS Cavalier Field Office, and its Area I Office Staff. The harassment has been unrelenting, sustained and cruel.

I am currently not allowed on any USDA property. On Oct. 8, I was removed from the office by the Cavalier Police Department. I was told that I had a disease and was not allowed on the property. That’s the last thing I remember. I awoke in the Pembina County Memorial Hospital in Cavalier. From there I was transported to the cardiology department at Altru Hospital in Grand Forks. Being a former resident of the State of Florida I had no friends and very few social contacts in the area, who could come and get me. Needless to say I had to call someone to make the 165 mile round trip back to Cavalier to come and pick me up after being released by the hospital. No one from NRCS office bothered to call or offer assistance.

Currently, I am still employed by the NRCS, but am on administrative leave and not allowed to be near USDA terminals or USDA property.

This privileged group of federal employees in Cavalier and Area I, don’t want you to know what they do with our money. When they stand accused of misappropriating taxpayer money, they become bullies that hide behind the inertia of a 100,000 person bureaucracy. This behavior is not in keeping with the traditions of the USDA, and the United States of America. These people do not own, and were not elected to run this vital federal agency.

That’s Valvo’s story. This is what happens to government employees for exposing fraud, waste and mismanagement. These actions are supposed to be protected by the No-Fear Act signed into law by President Bush. The No Fear Act requires that Federal agencies be more accountable for violations of anti-discrimination and whistleblower protection laws.

Valvo went to lower and middle management to get redress of these issues before filing an OIG report.

Paul Sweeney, state conservationist out of Bismarck was recently asked about the investigation and confirmed the reports of an OIG probe, but refused to comment on the subject.

Valvo has Type II Diabetes and Hepatitis C, which he got from his former wife who is a primary caregiver. The reasons given to keep him out of the office by NRCS officials are that he is armed and dangerous, that the NRCS couldn’t provide “reasonable accommodation” for his diabetes and that he has a blood born illness.

“I have asked the proper chain of command for help. Nothing so far,” he said. “I have used my best communication skills and best deportment to bring administrative change to these issues. I met with relentless retaliation.”

What’s at the core of these issues with the NRCS is it doesn’t do anything to expedite the process of the construction that is often needed to implement conservation plans and does very little to see if the plans are actually carried out or verified. This is an important point because oftentimes agri-businesses firms are paid before actual verifications are performed.

 

Link to original:   http://wcrecord.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=314

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This was sent in today by a reader.  Thank you Old Navy Man, again.  -GFS

 

G. Florence

Federal government agency officials are going to do everything they can to ensure that these Inspector General reports are marginalized, or that they never come to the attention of the taxpaying public.  More times than not, these cases involve the misconduct of federal officials, acts of retaliation against whistleblowers trying to do the right thing, and the fraud and the waste and the abuse of taxpayer dollars.  Cover up and minimization of Inspector General investigations within the Department of Defense is rampant.  But don’t take my word for it, check the case statistics! 

An Old Navy Man

 

Watch Blog

POGO: The Case of the Missing Inspector General Reports

Posted at 10:28 am, November 4th, 2010

By Michael Smallberg,  (cross-posted with the Project On Government Oversight)

Inspector General (IG) investigations expose some of the most egregious examples of misconduct by federal officials—everything from whistleblower retaliation to the abuse of taxpayer dollars—and the public has every right to see the (non-classified, non-redacted) results of these investigations. Yet in many cases, agencies have been known to over-redact, delay, or completely block the release of IG investigative reports. As we discussed in our 2008 report on IG independence, restricting public access to these reports undermines the important work performed by IGs, and creates a significant barrier to holding agency officials accountable.

A few weeks ago, Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) released letters from 13 IGs describing how their agencies have interfered with investigations. Among other things, the senators asked the IGs to provide “biannual reports on all closed investigations, evaluations, and audits conducted by your office that were not disclosed to the public.”

As the senators continue their review, we hope they take a close look at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which has a troubling history of withholding records from the public, including investigative reports issued by the IG.

On the SEC IG’s website, you won’t find any investigative reports issued prior to 2009, and there are only eight reports posted since then. Yet the IG’s semiannual reports to Congress describe dozens of investigative reports that have been issued to SEC management over the past two years.

To be fair, most of the SEC IG’s audit and evaluation reports dating back to 1994 have been posted online. But when it comes to investigative reports—in which the OIG’s Office of Investigations looks into “allegations of violations of statutes, rules and regulations, and other misconduct by Commission staff and contractors—very few have ever been released to the public.

After reviewing the IG’s semiannual reports, we’ve counted at least 27 investigative reports issued since 2009 that have not been posted online. These reports cover everything from insider trading by SEC employees to botched investigations of fraudulent companies. There are at least two reports—one on the SEC’s bungled investigation of Allied Capital, and one on allegations of whistleblower retaliation at the SEC’s Ft. Worth Regional Office—that have been redacted and released, but are nowhere to be found on the SEC or IG’s websites.

Even when the IG’s reports are released to the public, the SEC can still diminish their impact. In the case of the Allied report, for example, the SEC redacted the name of the official who became a registered lobbyist for Allied after he left the SEC and illegally attempted to access hedge fund manager David Einhorn’s telephone records, even though his name had already been disclosed in Einhorn’s book and various media reports.*

The SEC also has a troubling history of releasing IG reports on slow news days. As reported by the AP, the IG identified this problem in its latest report on the timing of the SEC’s charges filed against Goldman Sachs (the IG was investigating whether the timing was politically motivated or intended to overshadow the release of another IG report on the SEC’s botched investigation of the Stanford Ponzi scheme):

[SEC Office of General Counsel Attorney] sent an email to a personal friend on the day that the Goldman action was announced and the OIG Stanford Report was released, stating about these two matters, “What a coincidence that those two stories came out today. ”

…These suspicions were likely fueled by the recent history of the SEC releasing OIG reports that criticized the agency on “slow” news days… The SEC released the OIG’s 457-page Report of Investigation (“ROI”) concerning the failure of the SEC to uncover Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme after 5:00 p.m. on September 4, 2009, the Friday before a three-day holiday weekend….The SEC then released the hundreds of exhibits supporting the OIG’s ROI concerning Madoff late on Friday, October 30, 2009.

…In addition, the OIG ROI concerning the SEC’s failure to vigorously pursue Enforcement action against W. Holding Company, Inc., and Bear Sterns & Co., Inc., was made public on Friday, October 10, 2008….Consistent with this pattern, on the same Friday that the OIG Stanford Report was publicly released and the Goldman action was announced, April 16, 2010, the SEC also publicly released the OIG’s ROI concerning the SEC’s failure to timely investigate allegations of financial fraud at Metromedia International Group, Inc., which had been submitted to the SEC by the OIG almost two months earlier.

As the report suggests, it’s the agency—specifically, the Office of General Counsel—that’s in charge of redacting IG investigative reports, and the reports can only be released through a vote by the SEC commissioners. The IG elaborated on this issue at a September hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, stating that his office does not have the authority to make decisions on nonpublic information by itself, even though it has asked for such authority.

In recent testimony before the House Financial Services Committee, POGO’s Angela Canterbury recommended that “[d]eterminations of FOIA exemption applicability to OIG reports, particularly regarding investigations, should be independently reviewed by the FOIA office or a FOIA officer within the OIG, not by the Chair or OGC.”

We’re hopeful that the next Congress will be receptive to strengthening IG offices across the government.

– Michael Smallberg

 http://blog.niemanwatchdog.org/?p=1737

Some quotes from Benjamin F. Schafer, sent in to Whistleblower 411 (Yahoo)   Thank you!  -GF

The idea of the four groups nuance a subcategory of humanity, some people rise above and are outside these four groups. Below are examples of two people that I believe meet this criteria.    -Benjamin Schafer

“All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move. “

Benjamin Franklin

“I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man [woman] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him [her]. Will he [she] gain anything by it? Will it restore him [her] to a control over his [her] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.”

– One of the last notes left behind by Gandhi in 1948, expressing his deepest social thought.

A reader sent this in today.  Very interesting and troubling.  As those of you know who visit here often, forced overtime is not unusual in the government, (federal or state in some cases).  Increasing statistical demands and unethical management decisions to pressure employees to accomplish unrealistic work-loads and assignments in the 8 hour workday/40 hour work week have helped to create this mess.  And it doesn’t get straightened out because of broken oversight, arrogant and incompetent management, and fearful, intimidated employees who live in mortal fear of losing their jobs.   If any of you have stories to share, please contact me.   –GFS

 

G. Florence

It’s not just state fairs, wage theft is occurring within the federal government too.  I believe that the federal government should be the model for the rest of the country.  It is not.  But don’t take my word, check it out for yourself.  Ask some of your federal government sources.  Are they getting paid for all the hours that they work?  I believe their answers may surprise you.

An Old Navy Man

Shocking State Fair Scandal, Wage Theft Epidemic, Spur Nationwide Protests

Friday 12 November 2010by: Art Levine   |  In These Times | Report

Kim Bobo of Interfaith Worker Justice speaks at a rally. (Photo: carlosjwj)Activists in more than 30 cities, organized by Interfaith Workers Justice and backed by labor groups, are staging a National Day of Action Against Wage Theft on November 18. “As the crisis for working families in the economy has deepened, so too has the crisis of wage theft,” says Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) Executive Director Kim Bobo, perhaps the country’s leading reformer addressing the ongoing scandal.

As much as $19 billion is stolen from American workers annually in unpaid overtime and minimum wage violations and, in some cases, through the human trafficking of legal immigrant workers. The latest case to come to light involves alleged horrendous conditions for immigrant workers reportedly hoodwinked in Mexico by a food services contractor for the New York State Fair and kept in near-slavery conditions of $2 an hour.

Indeed, the scandal surfaced when some of these legal guest workers showed up several weeks ago at a Syracuse area clinic, severely dehydrated and malnourished after allegedly being kept in virtual imprisonment in a trailer at the fair and at other locations; they were reportedly being denied thousands of dollars in legal wages owed them while working about 100 hours a week at fairs for months, according to legal filings and Danny Postel, communications coordinator for Interfaith Worker Justice.

“It’s one of the most shocking cases of wage theft,” Postel says.

The contractor, Pantelis Karageorgis, is the target of a labor standards class-action lawsuit filed last month by Farmworker Legal Services and a Labor Department investigation. But criminal charges by the U.S. Attorney’s office have been dropped— “dismissed without prejudice”—and instead a modest settlement involving some back payment for the workers is being hammered out, knowledgeable sources say. In These Times spoke to the vendor’s attorney Thursday seeking comment, but didn’t hear back as of this writing.

While Obama’s Labor Department under Hilda Solis has been winning high marks for adding new inspectors and its tough rhetoric, as well promoting outreach to workers victimized by wage theft, the on-the-ground enforcement remains uneven. One reason: the under-funded, outgunned Wage and Hour Division has a spotty record for cooperating with local advocates and workers’ centers.

Kim Bobo says, in a tempered statement:

Interfaith Worker Justice is pleased with the new DOL leadership’s commitment to wage theft enforcement…Nonetheless, given the crisis of wage theft around the country, the partnerships between the Wage and Hour Division and local workers centers need to be strengthened, and a Wage and Hour Director should be nominated who can develop aggressive and creative approaches to stopping and deterring wage theft.

In fact, one activist notes in blunter terms “The Wage and Hour Divison is way behind OSHA in having a culture of aggressively targeted investigations.”

Today’s OSHA, of course, despite some new inspectors, is widely viewed as still failing to effectively protect workers. With just a thousand inspectors to oversee abuses and wage theft affecting over 20 million low-wage workers — the primary but not the sole victim of a crime affecting white-collar workers, too — the Wage and Hour Division hasn’t been able to turn around yet the willful flouting of labor laws essentially encouraged by the Bush Labor Department’s years of neglect. (The problem is only worsened by the grossly under-manned state labor agencies, which, a new study by Ohio Policy Matters finds, have less than 700 total investigators enforcing minimum wage and related labor laws in the over 40 states surveyed.)

Indeed, as Ted Smukler, IWJ’s policy director sums up, “Secretary Solis is using her bully pulpit and hired 250 additional investigators, but Obama needs to get a Wage and Hour administrator confirmed [there’s only an acting director] and they could be doing a lot more in enforcement.”

Whatever the Department of Labor is attempting to do in this arena, it’s clearly not had much of a deterrent effect. A new IWJ video underscores the scope of the continuing unstopped corporate crime wave (see above).

Cincinnati Workers Bilked Out of Overtime Pay?The failure to effectively enforce wage theft has allowed employers to underpay and stiff workers with impunity. For instance, one alleged scheme by owners of a Cincinnati animal hospital reportedly involved paying immigrant workers overtime, but then demanding the pay be returned to the owners in the form of cash kickbacks.

Daniel Sherman, the director of the Cincinnati Interfaith Workers Center, contends, “It’s one of the most egregious examples of wage theft”—but hardly unique in his area. He contends, “The law is not very strong and it is not pursued.”

As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported late last month:

Three undocumented workers say they were extorted into kicking back $24,000 in overtime pay to the owners of an animal hospital under the threat that if they didn’t come up with the money they’d be deported.

Those workers and advocates for immigrants say the practice is not uncommon in Greater Cincinnati and is a growing problem.

The former employees of the Hamilton Avenue Animal Hospital and Clinic in Pleasant Run and the Sycamore Animal Hospital in Symmes Township say veterinarians Michael Cable and his daughter, Stephanie Cable, first accepted their payments in personal checks but later required them to pay in cash.

Two of the workers placed a hidden camera in the Sycamore Animal Hospital on Montgomery Road and filmed themselves three different times giving cash to Stephanie Cable. One worker rented the apartment above the animal hospital and installed the camera from there.

Jose Aguilar and another worker, Salvador Martinez, 20, gave the Enquirer the video, pay stubs and a series of canceled checks that had been deposited into the animal hospital’s account at Huntington Bank…

The video provided by the workers shows three men paying Stephanie Cable cash.

“Hey, Steph – how much I need pay back for overtime this check?” asks Aguilar in the video.

“Uh, I think it’s in my car – I really need to start bringing my bag in,” Stephanie Cable says on the video.

In one scene, she takes the money from a man and quickly puts it in her back pocket….

But the attorney for the Cables, Steve Goodin, told In These Times, “The Cables have categorically denied that they were extorting or threatening to deport their employees.” Because of pending investigations, he says, he can only say about the alleged labor law violations: “We’re urging everyone not to rush to judgment,” noting that there was a bomb threat aimed at the owners after the Enquirer story appeared.

Yet it’s also clear the Cables are planning to mount an aggressive defense: they’ve already filed a criminal complaint with the county sheriff against the workers who arranged the filming for allegedly violating wiretapping and trespass laws, although Goodin concedes a criminal prosecution seems unlikely. They’re also planning a civil suit on similar grounds. Still, he says of the owners, “They were friendly with these guys.”

He also argues that an earlier 2007 settlement the Cables made with the Department of Labor for allegedly underpaying overtime to 19 former employees—in which they admitted no guilt but paid about $9,200—is completely unrelated to these latest violations.

Workers’ Advocates: Employers Act With Near ImpunityWhatever the merits of the new charges against these owners, advocates at these privately-funded workers’ centers often affiliated with IWJ, including Daniel Sherman in Cincinnati and Rebecca Fuentes in Syracuse, regularly field complaints from the victims of employers who routinely ignore labor laws with little fear of timely or effective punishment.

As one national activist told In These Times privately, the Department of Labor usually has to go to court to enforce its own regulations, and so “the smart [employers]” just wait for the interminable legal process to play itself out or get dropped altogether—assuming any enforcement efforts are even started.

As a result, Sherman and other advocates report, new abuses keep cropping up. In yet another case of labor trafficking, for example, he learned just last month about 12 immigrant laborers working about 120 hours a week for $1,000 a month each, housed at the warehouse where they worked—and who were essentially forced to sleep inside just four hours a night.

Sherman’s organization only discovered the abuse after one worker jumped out of a warehouse window and escaped to a church for help. “The church called us,” he says, and he in turn contacted the Department of Labor to pursue labor law violations– and the FBI, to investigate human trafficking. But he’s not confident that there will be any prosecutions for trafficking because the threatened and intimidated workers were theoretically free to leave.

But in another recent case, Sherman says, the employer just pulled a gun on two immigrant workers who complained about not getting paid. No criminal or legal actions have yet been pursued because the families of the workers are too scared, he observes.

‘Perfect Conditions’ for ‘Slave-Like Situations’ at New York State FairThe allegations made against the New York food vendor illustrate some of the ways employers can purportedly intimidate and abuse workers. In a startling affidavit filed by a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) agent that accompanied the arrest of Pantelis Karageorgis in September (again, the charges have been dropped at the request of the prosecutor), Special Agent Thomas Kirwin outlines some of the alleged tricks of the labor trafficking trade used against employees hungry for work. The agent’s affidavit and the original class-action lawsuit filed by Nathaniel Charny as the lead counsel of Farmworkers Legal Services on behalf of four named workers and others paint quite an ugly picture.

And the local workers’ rights advocate, Rebecca Fuentes, who helped discover and expose the alleged Syracuse worker abuse, points out, “The guest worker visa program is very flawed, and it ties workers to one employer. That creates perfect conditions for almost slave-like situations,” like those facing the apparently starving New York State Fair workers. (She also claims that, at least in her region, the federal Department of Labor is more responsive than the state labor department, which dawdles for months in the face of serious wage theft complaints – a pattern afflicting many weak state labor departments.)

The food-stand employees were recruited this past summer in Mexico with allegedly “fraudulent” promises of a relatively well-paying job, complete with written contracts, as legal guest workers under the H-2B visa program. They were hired as workers in the Karageorgis firm’s Greek food concession stands that accompanied some carnivals and fairs in the United States.

Starting in Buffalo in August, then moving to Syracuse, agent Kirwin reported, the workers arrived with no food or money, were allowed to get their meals solely by eating at the concessions stands only once or twice a day, and were housed in trailers on the fair sites, working 16 or more hours each day. “On the last day of the [Syracuse] fair, the employees worked 24 hours consecutively,” he noted about the state government-sponsored fair. “At the conclusion of the fair in Syracuse, the defendant paid each of the employees $260.”

Yet by some estimates, for the months of nonstop work at a promised $10.71 per hour and extra overtime pay, the workers actually should have each received closer to $30,000. But for approximately 280 hours of work in just a three-week period, each worker got a mere $360, Kirwin stated.

When the employees complained about not getting their full wages, Karageorgis allegedly made a variety of threats, including potentially firing them, cutting their pay even further, or having them deported—and barring them from ever working in the U.S. again. Kirwin added, “The defendant, who traveled with the Employees the entire time, routinely berated and sought to demean them, calling them, for example, `pussies’ if they complained about illness or injury.”

One of the sadder ironies of the entire case is that some of these victims, also cited in the civil suit, such as Adonai Vasquez, started working for the vendor, Peter’s Fine Greek Food, Inc., as far back as July, 2008. But they kept returning on different work trips for as little as $1 or $2 an hour—despite the previously broken promises of $10 to $12 per hour in wages. This is the reality of the “race to the bottom” in the Wild West-style globalized economy: Immigrants are literally starving to work in the United States.

The still-pending civil suit filed in October alleges, “For a period at least as far back as six years from the date of commencement of this action, there have been hundreds of Mexican national treated in the same violative fashion in regards to the payment of wages.”

At the same time, the lawsuit claims, “Upon information and belief, Defendants [Karageorgis and his firm], grossed more than $500,000 in the past fiscal year.”

Even though one of Karegeorgis’s lawyers, Dawn Cardi, was unable to comment as of this writing, the ICE agent’s affidavit recounts Karageorgis’s version of events. The Greek food entrepreneur explained his operation: his agents recruit workers in Mexico and he submits their legal paperwork to U.S. labor and immigration authorities. But he claimed to be surprised to learn that they were promised $10.71 an hour. He conceded to Kirwin he hadn’t yet paid his workers in full, but intended to do so—while somehow asserting that none of them ever worked in Buffalo for him and thus they weren’t owed money for that work. He also denied making any threats against his workers, except that he’d notify his attorney if they quit.

But the observant immigration agent also noticed that Karegeorgis wasn’t short of cash at the time of his arrest. “He had in his pants’ pockets three bulky wads of cash and also had a briefcase that he said contained money, the security of which he was concerned about,” Kirwin noted dryly. Despite the defendant’s claims, Kirwin added, the agent requested that the food merchant “be dealt with according to law.”

So far, though, he seems unlikely to face any criminal prosecution.

Activists to Demand Reform Around CountryIt’s small wonder, then, with employers apparently stealing wages with so much impunity, that a groundswell by activists is building to take action, even in a still-weakened regulatory climate. At a preview for next week’s events, for instance, hundreds of workers and allies marched in Minneapolis last Saturday demanding fair wages, an end to wage theft and safe working conditions for retail cleaning workers at major stores, including Supervalu and Target.

The worsening economy makes it even easier to rip off workers desperate for work, the protesters declared (hat tip to Workday Minnesota). “Corporations are responsible for pitting cleaning companies against each other which results in plummeting wages and increased workloads,” said Veronica Mendez, an organizer with Center for Workers United in Struggle, a IWJ-affiliated labor-faith coalition. “The only way to stop this is for these retail chains to meet with workers to establish fair standards. These poor working conditions affect everyone in our communities…”

Interfaith Worker Justice and its allies have ambitious plans for its nationwide local protests next Thursday:

Events on the National Day of Action Against Wage Theft will include protests at businesses guilty of wage theft to demand back wages for workers and events at which political leaders, workers, faith leaders, community groups, and labor unions will present new initiatives to end wage theft.

In Houston, a worker center will release a local report on wage theft and will send a “Justice Bus” around the city to call attention to local businesses that steal their workers’ wages. Other innovative local events include a text messaging campaign, a “Worst Employers” Awards ceremony, “Know Your Rights” workshops for workers, a jazz funeral for lost wages and a Thanksgiving-themed auction and a dramatization against wage theft in Memphis.

Yet the Republican take-over of the House and rising anti-union sentiment have already changed one of their primary legislative goals. The coalition’s call for action includes this sweeping reform priority:

On September 29, Congressman Phil Hare (D-IL) introduced the Wage Theft Prevention and Community Partnership Act (H.R. 6268), which would authorize the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to establish a competitive grant program to prevent wage theft. The bill would expand the efforts of enforcement agencies and community organizations to educate workers about their rights and the remedies available to them, while educating employers about their responsibilities under the law.

“That’s dead,” one knowledgeable activist admitted. “He lost the election.”

 http://www.truth-out.org/shocking-state-fair-scandal-wage-theft-epidemic-spur-nationwide-protests65115

A reader sent this in last week.  I post for all to consider.   -GFS

 

G Florence

More spin-off from government revolving doors and politics.  This is what happens when the politicians and the citizens of this country put their own personal interests and their greed ahead of the health and the security of this nation.

What we don’t want to understand; ultimately, we all lose.

An Old Navy Man

 

SUPER-SIZED PENSIONS, AND A DOOMSDAY SCENARIO

Posted: Friday, November 12 2010 at 06:00 am CT by Bob Sullivan

In New York, a 44-year-old firefighter retires with a $101,000 a year pension, for life.  Near Chicago, a parks commissioner quits and begins collecting a $166,000 pension – a sum sweetened by $50,000 thanks to a one-time retirement year windfall of $270,000. And in California, a former city manager pulls down $500,000 in retirement checks every year.

As outrageous as those sunset stipends may seem, they are merely the most visible piece of what critics of generous government pensions say is a ticking time bomb of debt that is threatening to bankrupt a number of states by the end of the decade.

While the federal debt of $13.7 trillion raises issues of devalued currency, higher borrowing costs for Washington, D.C., and loss of international bargaining power, state debt – much of it driven by exploding pension costs – poses a more immediate risk to the U.S. economy, according to many experts.

Wall Street analyst Meredith Whitney correctly predicted the need for a government bailout of banks three years ago, so people listened in September when she forecast who will be next to beg for a federal bailout: States like California, New Jersey and Ohio. State and local governments have effectively run up huge credit card bills, and soon won’t even be able to make the minimum payments on that debt.  What happens then?  Middle America, Whitney predicted in a report called “Tragedy of the Commons,” might revolt at the idea at bailing out coastal states for years of mismanagement and overspending.

Crushing debts racked up by these and other states are obvious almost every budget year, when state government shutdowns are threatened and tax increases loom.  But annual budget woes are a drop in the bucket compared to long-term obligations facing these states – particularly their promises to supply pensions and health care to millions of retired workers. Pension talk might not sound sexy, but it should: U.S. states already are short $1 trillion they should have set aside to pay retired workers, according to the Pew Center on the States. That hole could very well drive states to bankruptcy or federal bailout.

As documented in our continuing series on supersized government worker pay, granting supersized pensions seems irresponsible in light of this looming fiscal catastrophe. Yet, in California alone, nearly 10,000 retirees will get pension checks totaling at least $100,000 this year.

The economic struggles of the past decade lit the fuse for the pension fund time bomb. In 2000, half of the 50 states had enough money socked away to cover future pension costs, according to Pew.  By 2008, only four states — Florida, New York, Washington and Wisconsin — could make that claim. The other 46 are potentially on the road to insolvency.

Joshua Rauh

Joshua Rauh, associate professor of finance at Northwestern University, estimates that 20 states will run out of pension money by 2025.

The pension doomsday clocks in Illinois and New Jersey will strike even sooner, in 2018, he said.

What happens then?  In New Jersey, for example, the state is obligated to pay pensions out of the general fund when the pension fund runs dry. In 2018, the state will owe $14 billion in pension payouts, or one-third of the state’s annual tax receipts. To put that in perspective, to plug a budget hole like that this year, the state would have to cut all education spending. That bears repeating: It would have to eliminate spending on every elementary school, high school and college from its budget.

That’s why stories of $195,000 pensions, rampant double-dipping, workers collecting pensions on seven, eight or even nine government jobs, and other excesses seem so absurd.

And pension gamesmanship is routine around the country. For example, pension payments are often based on the employee’s salary in the final year on the job, or final three years.  That formula is easily abused, a process sometimes called “back-ending.”  A pension commission in New Jersey found one worker spent 24 years in public service earning less than $10,000, then one year as a prosecutor earning $141,000. That boosted his pension from $3,600 to $70,000 annually. The employee wasn’t named.

“There’s probably as many variations as you can imagine,” said Jack Dean, who runs the PensionTsunami.com website. “Just when I think that I’ve heard something amazing, I’ll hear something more amazing.  It goes on everywhere across the country. It’s human nature; if you can figure out a way to inflate your pension, you are going to do it. … People who make a career of it are making out like bandits.”

Another common pension abuse is “double-dipping” – a practice in which employees retire and start collecting their pension, then are rehired to perform their old job at their old salary. It’s a common practice for government workers around the country, despite many rules forbidding it.  Workers often argue that they have earned their pension and their right to retire, and if they decide to work during retirement, they’re entitled.  But the logic there is deeply flawed, said Dean.

“Pensions were designed to make sure government workers were allowed to grow old with dignity, not to make them rich,” he said.

The outrage, and the actuarial problem

In this series on super-sized government pay, we’ve already met Phoenix police chief/public safety manager Jack Harris, who’s become the nation’s poster child for “double-dipping.”  He retired as chief in 2007 and began collecting a $90,000 pension. Two weeks later, he was hired for essentially the same job, retitled “public safety manager,” and granted a salary of $193,000. Harris attracted nationwide attention after a lawsuit was filed by conservative interest group Judicial Watch. The lawsuit claims the public safety manager’s job was manufactured expressly to circumvent both pension rules and a state law aimed at curbing the practice.

Peter Tom is a municipal compensation specialist who’s worked in New Jersey’s complicated government worker environment for three decades.  New Jersey even has rules designed to enable double-dippers, he said. Yet, he’s seen all manner of pension-stuffing through the years.

“This would not be allowed in the private sector because pension committees are third party administrators who have fiduciary responsibilities,” Tom said.

While the outrage factor on six-figure pensions and lucrative loopholes is high, Tom also points to a more practical, actuarial problem: Pension recipients aren’t paying their fair share, creating unfunded liabilities. For example, he said, a worker who pays 5 percent of a $10,000 salary into the system for 24 years, then 5 percent of a $140,000 salary for one year, doesn’t cover the costs of a $70,000 pension.

“These loopholes create unfunded liabilities that have helped damage the pension pool.”,” he said. “Pensioners are never asked to make up the difference.”

A Ponzi scheme?

In truth, pension systems rely on what might be considered an accounting trick, not unlike the trick which keeps the Social Security system afloat for now.  While state workers contribute payments to the system – typically about 5 percent of their salary — and those payments are matched by government employers —  about 10 percent — those payments scarcely cover the eventual payouts.

“You can never pay enough to pay for your retirement,” Tom said.

In fact, “defined benefit” pension plans make no direct connection between the worker’s contributions and the benefits enjoyed later.  Pension systems hope for large investment gains during a worker’s career – in many states the calculations project an annual return of around 8 percent, a fantasy — but really rely on the payments of current workers to fund payouts to retired workers.

Just as pensions are a bit of an accounting trick (or a Ponzi scheme, some might argue), pension obligations do not appear on state balance sheets as debts.  If they did – if states actually had to write down what they owe retirees going forward, and assume a modest return on investments — the unfunded portion of the payments could be as high as $4.3 trillion, said Rauh, the Northwestern professor.  That’s nearly a third of the federal debt, which currently stands at $13.7 trillion. The federal government’s massive debt steals headlines, vaults politicians to office and has its own Times Square clock, but at least Washington, D.C., can print money.  Meanwhile, states are staring at a black mammoth black hole with seemingly no way to dig out.

While the contribution formulas have systematic flaws, their shortcomings are severely exacerbated by another simple math problem – life expectancy has jumped almost 10 years since 1960.

“Unions managed to lower or reduce the retirement age while increasing benefits in a period of history where people are living longer,” said Dean, the PensionTsunami.com webmaster. “So you begin seeing what the problem is.”

Dean’s website maintains a $100,000 club roster, listing pensioners who enjoy six-figure annual payouts. But life expectancy is forcing him to consider new list: the $1 million club, for retirees who will collect seven-figure pensions during their lifetime.

”We have a police chief who will pull in $5 million in California (before he dies),” he said. Defined contribution to the rescue?

Most pension reformers are calling for state governments to switch to a defined contribution system, similar to 401(k) plans many workers have.  That would mean workers would only get what they put into the system — combined with any employer cash contributions and supplemented by investment gains — when they retire.

But while that is fiscally responsible from the government’s point of view, a defined contribution plan is a meager replacement for a defined benefit plan. That’s why unions are putting up quite a fight against pension reform.

Here’s a simple rule-of-thumb comparison.

A 30-year government worker with a final salary of $80,000 could expect an annual pension of roughly $55,000, or about $4,600 per month for life, under the current scheme.

To earn that kind of guaranteed monthly income, a 401(k) saver would need $1 million in their retirement account, assuming $100,000 in savings can generate $400 in monthly income.

While it’s not impossible to grow a 401(k) to those lofty levels, it is rare.  In fact, 50 percent of Americans who have 401(k) accounts have less than $35,000 in them. Contrast that with our 30-year government workers who can all expect predictable pension checks.

So expect a furious battle as state governments attempt to reign in pension costs.

It’s about power

But in the end, pensions are about power. Elected officials from local and state governments maintain power by doling out favors and perks, and there is no perk like a pension.

Next week, Tom will be our guide as we delve more deeply into particularly egregious forms of pension loopholes, such as a county sheriff who retired in 1999 but still holds his six-figure-salaried office, the judge with 11 state jobs and the convicted mayor with the $125,000 pension and multiple other sources of state income.

We’ll also find out just how emotional the tale of government pensions can be, as we meet a New Jersey sheriff who stormed a college classroom and forced a professor to apologize for calling him a double dipper in class.

“This problem is really the result of years of the public just not paying close attention, especially over the last decade,” said Dean, of PensionTsunami.com.  “So now, this is a story that is going to keep on going and going.”

Have you been paying attention? Are there stories in your state of pension abuse? Share them below, or tell me privately at BobSullivan@feedback.msnbc.com

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http://redtape.msnbc.com/2010/11/in-new-york-a-44-year-old-firefighter-retired-with-a-101000-a-year-pension-for-life-near-chicago-a-parks-commissioner-q.html#posts

Attrition is high among new workers at many government agencies

By Joe Davidson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 4, 2010; 6:51 PM

As soon as Uncle Sam finds good employees, he loses a bunch of them.

Nearly a quarter of new federal government hires leave their jobs within two years, according to a report released Thursday.

“The government is losing too many new hires – the same talent it is working so hard to recruit and bring on board,” says the report, “Beneath the Surface:Understanding Attrition at Your Agency and Why it Matters.”

Overall, 24.2 percent of new hires left government from fiscal year 2006 to 2008, but at some agencies the situation was worse. More than a third of the new hires at the Departments of Treasury, Commerce and Homeland Security weren’t there two years later, according to the report prepared by the consulting firm of Booz, Allen, Hamilton and the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which has a content-sharing relationship with The Washington Post.

Commerce attributed its attrition rate to the turnover of part-time temporary workers in its field offices.

Treasury said approximately 80 percent of employees who stay at the department for three years, stay at Treasury for their full career.

A disturbing 72 percent of Homeland Security career executives left that agency between 2003 and 2007, Max Stier, the Partnership for Public Service’s president and chief executive, told federal officials gathered for release of the report.

“No one was paying attention to it,” Stier said.

It’s scary to think that an agency so important to the security of the United States was being run by so many people with so little experience. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that on the Partnership’s 2010 list of Best Places to Work, Homeland Security ranks 28th out of 32 agencies in its category.

Fortunately, other critical agencies do better.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission was the best agency at keeping new talent, with a recently hired attrition rate of 10.8 percent. NRC also ranks first in its category on the Best Places list. The State Department, the Office of Management and Budget, the Air Force and NASA also do relatively well, with rates ranging from 14.5 percent to 15.7 percent. The report did not have private sector newly-hired attrition rates for comparison.

Generally speaking, Sam does a good job of keeping his people on the job. Job security is a well-known attraction of government employment. The report says overall federal attrition rates were 7.6 in fiscal 2008 and 5.85 in 2009, compared with a private-sector rate of 9.2 in 2008.

The generally low government rates can mask deeper problems, according to Ron Sanders, a senior executive adviser with Booz Allen. Agencies should not “be lulled to sleep by an historically low attrition number,” he said.

Losing newly hired workers may point to more serious issues at the agency.

“For example, while attrition of recently hired employees means a loss of the considerable investment expended to bring them on board – literally money down the drain – it also can indicate weaknesses in the agency’s recruiting, hiring and on-boarding processes, as well as shortcomings in supervision,” the report says.

Following the release of the report, the Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen conducted a workshop for government officials designed to help them understand and prepare for attrition at their agencies.

One part of that is examining attrition related to positions that are critical to the mission of an agency. Government employees in transportation safety, including air traffic controllers and highway, railroad and aviation safety specialists, have an attrition rate of nearly 30 percent, for example. Federal nurses, Border Patrol agents, mine safety workers and those in several other critical occupations have attrition rates far above the government average.

The attrition rate for transportation security officers, the screeners at airports, “has always been high,” David Tumblin, a workforce analyst in the Transportation Security Administration, told the briefing.

The reasons are understandable. Screeners are on their feet all day, people get upset with them, and they don’t make a lot of money. Transportation security officers also are the focal point of attempts to secure collective bargaining rights by the American Federation of Government Employees and the National Treasury Employees Union.

Through “a sustained effort,” Tumblin said the attrition rate for TSA is now in the 8 percent range.

As the report notes, attrition can be good or bad.

People leaving makes space for new blood, new energy and new talent. Attrition allows workers who perform poorly to be replaced and provides promoti on opportunities for the young and ambitious.

But too much attrition can also mean the loss of experienced workers with institutional knowledge and may indicate employee dissatisfaction.

If officials focus only on an agency’s general attrition rate, Sanders said, “it’s very misleading.”

Link to original:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/04/AR2010110406799.html?wpisrc=nl_fed

From the Washington Post:

 

Federal workforce question of the week: How to repair employees’ image?

Thursday, November 4, 2010; 6:01 PM

Q.

The federal workforce became an issue in the midterm elections. Do you expect that debate to hurt future pay and benefits? What more can the Obama administration do to repair the image of federal workers?

What you said…

The comments of Ohio Congressman John Boehner, (Washington Post Federal Worker October 26, 2010) were particularly disturbing and incorrect. I am a Federal Annuitant and my annuity is not subsidized by taxpayers; during my federal career I contributed to the CS Retirement System, as do all federal employees, including members of Congress. I understand that the retirement system is solvent and will be available for all future federal retirees, including Congressman Boehner. Therefore, Congressman Boehner should be made aware of the facts when referring to the “fattened salaries and pensions of federal bureaucrats” being subsidized by taxpayers.

Jean Oberdick

Fairfax, VA

Civil Service Annuitant

The Obama administration should run a very simple ad on TV. List the various places where Federal employees are located in the U.S., (meaning the government worker is you or your neighbor). Then list the various agencies and what they do (meaning how government employees impact your life). I think I would like to see this information myself, even though I’ve worked for the government for more than 30 years.

Linda Stevens

NIH

As a retired Fed, I see the midterm elections simply as the latest chapter in Republicans bashing the important work by many dedicated staff in federal agencies. It’s easy to criticize when you don’t understand the importance of the work. I am hopeful that the agency leaders can educate the new Congress and resist “meat ax” attempts to downsize but that will be challenging. However, what puzzles me the most is why so many current and former federal employees continue to support the Republican Party, even though so many party members have a history of seeking to shrink the roles of government and undervaluing the work and people.

Tom Petska

Deale, MD

I am concerned for the federal employee, not only because I am one, but because I do believe they generally are a hardworking, dedicated group of people who want to serve the public.

It is my understanding that with the exception of the creation of TSA, the federal workforce has steadily decreased since the Ronald Reagan administration. What has increased both in personnel and dollars has been the number of contractors. In my opinion this is a sham put upon the public. Money is not saved by contracting. Many of those in contracting positions receive higher salaries, equal health benefits, and bonuses federal employees don’t see. Add to that the profit margin that a contracting firm must see. I don’t see at all how contracting is more cost effective.

Furthermore, in the IT area, many agencies have such a high and wide level of contracting that employees in IT positions don’t even have administrative rights on the servers, network components, or applications. Nearly all expertise and knowledge of systems is lost from a government perspective when all management and control is turned over to contractors.

Sincerely,

Michael R. Emery

Link to original:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/04/AR2010110406356.html?wpisrc=nl_fed

An anoymous source sent me this tonight.  I think this person is right.  So often it seems that whistleblowers, or those who are trying to ethically do their jobs are targeted for this kind of abuse.  This article is based on a new book, described below.   Thank you reader!  If anyone has any other material to contribute to this topic, personal experiences, other articles you’ve read, or books you’d recommend, please let me know.  GFS

Workplace bullies ruin lives

By Laura Casey

Contra Costa Times

Posted: 10/28/2010 04:07:18 PM PDT

Updated: 11/01/2010 11:07:53 AM PDT

Kim is being stalked in the halls by her supervisor. Her every move is scrutinized, judged. Every day, she is berated with personal insults suggesting that she’s just not good enough to work anywhere.

The yelling and unfair accusations do not simply make her hate coming to work. It has led to more serious health issues.

Kim, a 29-year-old medical office worker, who didn’t want her last name used, has fallen into a depression. She’s losing weight, having panic attacks and, two months ago, had to take a leave of absence from work. The Berkeley resident is hoping to transfer to another office, but in the meantime, she’s going to counseling to heal. She dreads returning to her workplace and her bully.

“It’s like I’m stuck,” she says. “I don’t know what to do. I am sick, and I can’t change this person. I don’t want to lose my job.”

Bullying is a growing concern across the country, yet workplace bullying is a life-altering threat that rarely gathers the attention that schoolyard bullying does. Still, workplace bullying can prompt feelings of stress, depression and anxiety, and some say it can cause heart attacks and even lead to suicide.

There are no laws on the books in any state against workplace bullying and no easy legal recourse to embark on when bullying ruins lives.

Psychologists and spouses Gary and Ruth Namie have heard thousands of stories as heartbreaking as Kim’s since 1997, when they developed an anti-workplace bullying organization in Benicia. Now called the Workplace Bullying Institute and headquartered in Bellingham, Wash., the center offers support and counseling to people who are victims of what the Namies call verbal violence in the workplace. They also commission studies to find out whom is being bullied at work and how bullying affects the workplace.

The Namies got into this business after Ruth Namie became a target for a bully at a Bay Area mental health center. Shortly after reporting to her job, she says she was screamed at in the halls, picked on by her boss and isolated from her co-workers.

“I felt I had done something wrong,” she says. “I did so well in my other jobs and never had a problem. I had a very good career. I just wanted to work. But I kept feeling like I was doing something wrong. I was ashamed, and I didn’t want to tell anybody.”

She was eventually put on administrative leave, and she and her husband made it their mission to fight workplace bullying.

“I am so worried about this,” says Gary Namie, visibly shaken during a recent seminar in South San Francisco where a young woman in tears shared that she had been bullied two years before. “You don’t typically read about the suicides that are related to this, the health problems. Yet we tell (victims of bullying) that if you don’t take care of your health, it will harm you in innumerable ways, and it could cost you your life.”

Workplace bullying can happen in any workplace, Namie says, and the targets are usually people who simply want to do their work undisturbed. The bully can be a boss, co-worker or supervisor. According to 2010 research by Zogby International, 35 percent of workers have experienced bullying firsthand, what amounts to 53 million people. The study says that 62 percent of bullies are men, while 58 percent of targets are women. Women target women 80 percent of time. Workplace bullies are usually jealous of the target’s accomplishments and drive, the Namies say.

“You’re sport,” Gary Namie says. “Targets are the salt of the Earth, and it gets you snookered.”

Peralta College District math professor William Lepowsky had been teaching at Laney College in Oakland for 32 years when bullies started targeting him in the early 2000s.

“It was something I was absolutely ignorant of until I experienced it,” he says. The bullying started after Lepowsky wrote and self-published a statistics textbook used at Laney. He was accused by an administrator of acting improperly and, even after being cleared of any wrongdoing, Lepowsky says he was threatened with the loss of his job.

“A good analogy to (workplace bullying) is that it’s like a mugging. You go to the theater and you’re walking home, and they steal your purse or something,” he says. “It’s obviously a huge violation, something no one is looking for. It comes out of the blue and prevents you from enjoying going out to the movie or whatever you were going to enjoy.”

Lepowsky fought back by gathering support from co-workers and won, eventually receiving a written apology from the then-Chancellor of the District for the “stress and strain” caused by actions of other administrators. A change in leadership at the college and District made him feel comfortable at work again.

Lepowsky talks openly about his experience because he wants to help others. He never sued the district nor got a settlement.

But if he had chosen to sue because of the bullying, he would have faced a daunting problem: The practice is not illegal in the workplace if it’s not based on discrimination and doesn’t fit the legal definition of harassment. Therefore, if a target chooses to take legal action they rarely win cases against their employers.

“They have no legal recourse because it’s not against the law,” says Michelle Smith, a Sacramento-based workplace advocate trying to gather support for the Healthy Workplace Bill. The bill, which has been introduced in several states and has died in committee in California, would define an “abusive work environment” and hold both the bully and the employer accountable for the harm workplace bullying causes.

So what can be done if you are a target of bullying?

The Namies assure targets that they are not alone, that they didn’t cause the bullying to happen.

“Bullying is domestic violence where the abuser is on the payroll,” Gary Namie says. And, like in cases of domestic violence, the victim is simply that, a victim.

In their book “The Bully At Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job,” (Sourcebooks, $16.99) the Namies suggest ways of taking care of your needs first. See a therapist or work with a Workplace Bullying Institute expert to develop strategies for coping with the bully. In some cases, asking an employer to fix the problem is appropriate — but it could backfire. According to Workplace Bullying Institute research, in some cases the complaints are either ignored or the bullying is intensified.

In a worst-case scenario, if your health is being severely harmed, they suggest taking time off work or looking for alternative workplaces.

“I think your health is much more important than working at a job that can potentially kill you,” Ruth Namie says.

·  Screaming Mimi: This bully isn’t afraid to yell at you. She controls through fear and intimidation, even throwing objects around the office.

·  Constant Critic: The critic is an extremely negative nit-picker and aims to destroy confidence in your competence. He makes unreasonable demands for work with impossible deadlines and expects perfection.

·  Two-Headed Snake: This bully is passive-aggressive, dishonest and indirect. He smiles to hide aggression.

·  Gatekeeper: She controls all the resources you need to succeed, including money, staffing and time. She keeps her target out of the loop and makes new rules on a whim.

— excerpt from “The Bully At Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job,” by Gary and Ruth Namie.

 http://www.contracostatimes.com/ci_16460359?nclick_check=1