Progress

Happy to hear there’s an investigation!

As a lawsuit against a local McDonald’s franchise gains national attention, federal authorities are investigating the company’s practice of forcing employees to be paid only by debit cards that come with an assortment of fees.

Meanwhile, lawyers for the franchise owners say the lawsuit’s contention that employees incur fees on all transactions is wrong and there are several ways workers could access their money for free.

West Pittston-based attorney Michael Cefalo recently filed the class action lawsuit in Luzerne County Court on behalf of Natalie Gunshannon, a Dallas Twp. woman who quit her job at the McDonald’s in Shavertown after the company issued her a debit card as pay and refused to pay her by check or direct deposit.

Days after the suit was filed and garnered national media attention, Mr. Cefalo said an investigator with the U.S. Department of Labor called his law office.

“They called me and told me the U.S. attorney has shown a particular interest in the facts of this case,” Mr. Cefalo said. “They were looking to see if there are any violations of federal statutes.”

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania asked the Department of Labor to “look into it to determine if federal action is appropriate,” Heidi Havens, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said.

“At this point, it is too soon to tell what specific action, if any, there would be,” Ms. Havens said.

Lenore Uddyback-Fortson, a Department of Labor spokeswoman, said the department was aware of the McDonald’s case, but could not confirm or deny if there is an active investigation.

“The agency has seen more of the use of debit cards to pay employees within the past several years as it is growing in practice,” Ms. Uddyback-Fortson said. “As long as the fees do not cause wages to drop below $7.25 per hour, the federal minimum wage, the practice does not violate the Fair Labor Standards Act.”

Ms. Gunshannon, 27, believes she was paid $7.45 per hour, but wasn’t sure because she said the rate was not on a pay stub she received.

The J.P. Morgan Chase payroll cards issued to local McDonald’s employees carry fees for nearly every type of transaction, according to the lawsuit, including a $1.50 charge for ATM withdrawals, $5 for over-the-counter cash withdrawals, $1 to check the balance, 75 cents per online bill payment and $10 per month if the card is left inactive for more than three months.

What the lawsuit fails to mention is that there are options to obtain money from and use the card for free, said attorney Matthew Hank, a Philadelphia attorney who represents the defendants, Albert and Carol Mueller of Clark Summit.

What I did on my trip to California

You may be surprised to know that I was working on and advocating actual things while I was away.

1. A fairly effective strategy to ruin the hold the Tea Party has on the Republican party.
2. A program to help Progressive Caucus members be better on the issues.
3. A bargaining tactic to help the teachers unions and battle corruption.0
4. A tool to help poor parents stay more involved in their children’s education.

Once I get to the point where they’re ready to roll, I’ll tell you all about it.

Hero of the downtrodden

paulryan

Paul Ryan? Who knew?

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Monday that he’s focused primarily on addressing poverty, a week after he complained that the farm bill did not include enough cuts to the food stamp program.

“Look, I’m a conservative who believes that our constitutional principles, founding principles are the key principles for the day and they’re the best if applied to our problems to solve problems,” Ryan said during an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “And we need to have that kind of temperament. This is why I’m focused on poverty these days, this is why I’m focused on — we’ve got the 50th anniversary of the war on poverty coming up next year. We don’t have much to show for it.”

He argued that “there are better ideas that we can use to approach and attack the root causes of poverty” and that the right “should not cede the moral high ground on this issue.”

The Wisconsin Republican voted against the farm bill that failed in the House of Representatives last week. In a floor statement, Ryan lamented that the farm bill proposed only “modest changes” to the food stamp program, which he said had grown at an alarming rate. Ryan did, however, vote for an amendment to the farm bill authored by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) that would have applied federal work requirements to the food stamp program, a measure that cost the legislation Democratic votes.

Punt

The Supreme Court kicks back on affirmative action:

The Supreme Court finally ruled on one of the Big Three Monday, but the decision was a bit anticlimactic: In a 7-1 decision on the affirmative action case known as Fisher vs. University of Texas at Austin, the high court essentially passed on issuing a sweeping opinion and instead sent the issue back to a lower court.

Here’s Politico with the early analysis:

Writing for the court’s conservatives and two of its liberals in the 7-1 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the university did not demonstrate that the program was “narrowly tailored” to meets its goals. The ruling emphasized “strict scrutiny” for educational affirmative action programs, but didn’t exclude the possibility that UT or other schools would be able to show such programs to be both necessary and carefully managed.

And here’s SCOTUSBlog with the a little more analysis on whether the decision represents a “punt” by the high court or simply a compromise between conservatives and liberals on the bench:

[T]he word “compromise” seems most appropriate, and “punt” gets there in second place. The Court is clearly not deciding whether UT’s program is constitutional or not; it’s clearly not overruling Grutter; but it’s clearly also sending a signal that it’s serious about the “narrow tailoring” rule.

The main pull-quote form the decision seems to be: “The reviewing court must ultimately be satisfied that no workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.” As the Associated Press explains, the decision “leaves unsettled many of the basic questions about the continued use of race as a factor in college admissions.” Justice Ginsburg was the lone dissenter. Justice Kagan had recused herself.Here’s the majority opinion.

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