Is Donning and Doffing clothes for Work part of the Job?

Protective GearThere’s an absolutely fascinating case before the Supreme Court and the oral arguments brought out the best in our nine Justices.

The question before the court is whether employees should be paid for the time it takes to change into and out of clothes required for their jobs. In this case it is steel workers and we’re talking about heavy-duty protective equipment.

The fact that the federal government has gone back and forth on this issue a number of times hasn’t helped solve the problem. Believe it or not, the big question is over the definition of clothes. According to the existing statute things that are clothes don’t count but protective gear does. In other words if you have to put on protective gear to do your job then you should be paid for the time it takes to put it on and take it off.

The company says any wearable item is clothes while the union disagrees.

Justice Kagan suggested that the entire thing was really just a statute interpretation issue that should be left to the agency involved and wondered why the court had to make a ruling at all. Justice Scalia quickly quipped; “Too complicated is why”, generating much laughter. It seems simple but Justice Scalia is correct, it is quite complex. Justice Kagan was right as well, it doesn’t really belong in the courts, but no one else can come up with a satisfactory resolution.

For some jobs it takes half-an-hour or more to suit up and I think most people would agree that you shouldn’t have to arrive at work thirty-minutes early, change clothes, perform your job for eight hours, and then spend thirty more minutes on your own time changing back to your clothes. You would be working for nine hours and being paid for eight.

The other side of the coin is putting on an apron and non-scuff shoes for the grocery store which takes a couple of minutes. Calling the apron and shoes protective gear would mean that every employee at the store gets paid for that time, every day. That adds up. Basically they would clock in before donning the apron and clock out after.

The court appears to be trying to find a long-term solution that answers questions broadly rather than giving a ruling for this single case.

The problem of course is defining protective gear. Technically an apron is protective although not in the same way as safety goggles or a fireproof vest. The employer is always going to call it clothes and the employee or their union protective gear.

The court is going to have to find a litmus test solution. Personally I think it’s a matter of time. If you can put on your work clothes in less than five minutes then I don’t think they really qualify as protective gear although certainly a pair of safety glasses and a fireproof vest can be slipped on in that amount of time.

If it was me, and I’m no lawyer, I’d put some sort of time limit on dressing, say ten minutes. Some average amount of changing time must be calculated for each job. So, you arrive at work, change clothes, and punch in. You then punch out and change back to street clothes. If is determined your job requires fourteen minutes donning/doffing time then four minutes are added to your time card each day you work.

It’s certainly not a perfect solution but it’s a complex problem. And remember, it’s not just me that thinks so!

Do you have a better solution?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Phony Herbal Supplements

Phony Herbal SupplementsThere is an item making the rounds on the major news outlets that probably comes as a surprise to many people but is something about which I’ve been aware for many years. Those herbal supplements you’ve been taking … not what they purport to be.

Researchers tested products from twelve companies and found only two that were providing correct ingredients while the rest were selling “shoddy” product. These companies were putting in cheap and often toxic ingredients instead of the purported herbs in an attempt to increase their profit margin.

These herbal supplements are part of a $5 billion industry, an unregulated industry. People swear by them with the same fervor they swear that copper bracelets alleviate the pain of their arthritis and Power Bracelets boost athletic performance.

The Food and Drug Administration estimates that there are about 50,000 “adverse events” a year caused by herbal supplements although most are not reported.

The real reason for my blog post is not to lambaste those who believe herbal supplements are healthy but to address what is certain to become a call for the government to regulate this “out-of-control” industry. The FDA already oversees a great deal but because these herbal supplements don’t fit into either the food or the drug category they have thus far escaped supervision. With this new data there are sure to be calls for regulation.

I have no issue with holding companies to their word. If a supplement company claims that their product is Echinacea then it should be so. If it is not there are legal remedies available to consumers. Local, State, and Federal government can and should hand out fines. What I don’t see as being helpful is the government stepping in to tell supplement companies how to make their product.

Anyone who doesn’t realize there is a potential problem with the supplements they purchase simply hasn’t bothered to do the requisite research. Information is available and readily found on the internet.

I’d like to examine what I think would be the result of government regulation as opposed to vigilant consumer action. The supplement companies would spend money on various political campaign via contributions and lobbyist. The laws that eventually came down from Washington would be designed to benefit the largest of these companies while hindering the smallest.

If, on the other hand, consumers paid attention to the supplements they were putting in their body and only purchased from the two companies that actually did what they claimed they were doing, those two companies would thrive while the shoddy operations failed. That’s capitalism in action and that is good for consumers and business owners who operate ethically.

When the government gets involved we largely end up with the illusion of safety where little actually exists. Organic foods are not organic. They meet the government definition of organic but that has become largely meaningless thanks to lobbyists convincing politicians to pervert the laws.

We live in the burgeoning information age and with it comes the ability to change the world for the better. If you are putting supplements into your body and don’t know the readily available information about the reputation of the provider then I don’t have a lot of sympathy for you.

I don’t much like the way factory farms treat chickens and I buy eggs from sources that have “pastured” animals. That’s my decision to make. If enough people make it then the industry would change. Government regulation is unlikely to bring about such a change.

If the supplement article shocks you then you have recourse, your purchasing habits.

To paraphrase a pretty wise fellow; Don’t ask what the government can do for you, ask what you can do for you.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

Jerky Treats from China and Pet Illness

China Jerky TreatsThere has been a story in the news off and on over the last five years but it seems to be getting headlines again. There have been about 4,200 reported cases of pets getting sick after eating jerky treats made in China in the last five years. About 600 of those pets died.

I suspect what I’m about to write is not going to be popular and might infuriate a few people.

That works out to about 120 dead animals and 700 sick animals a year from a sampling of millions. Let go with two million as a sample size. As far as percentages go that amounts to about .035% of animals that eat the treats.

By contrast 1 million human beings in the United States are sickened by Salmonella each year, 19,000 are hospitalized, and 300 or more die.

I’m not saying it isn’t the treats but each year animals do get kidney disease and in the story a veterinarian who treated three cases is cited as having “far more” than should be seen. How can 3 be far more than anything?

Also, the article says the cases “plummeted” after Nestle Purina and Del Monte issued a voluntary recall but then reports that 1,500 new cases were reported right after the FDA released their latest statistics. Which is it?

I’m for the testing. We should find out what’s going on but if the testing doesn’t support a conclusion should we allow the government to put people out of business? Because that is what is being demanding. People want all jerky treats made in China pulled from the shelves. If the treats are causing the illnesses then I support that idea but if the evidence says otherwise, is it right for the government to make such decisions?

Millions of treats, very small number of illnesses. Passionate and heartfelt anecdotal evidence but so far not supported by medical science.

The passion that I read in comments in these stories is not dissimilar from those I saw during the vaccine scare where symptoms of autism coincidentally followed inoculations. It also reminds me of the Sudden Acceleration panic which I wrote about not long ago.

I’m merely suggesting we go where the scientific evidence takes us, not where our heart pulls us.

I’ve had pets my whole life, I love my pets.

Please be gentle with me!


I Hate the NFL Blackout Rule – But I hate the FCC More

NFL Blackout RulesI just read an interesting story about how the Federal Communication Commission thinks they need to be involved in deciding when the National Football League broadcasts its games.

The NFL has a series of rules in which if the home team does not sell a certain number of tickets then the game cannot be broadcast in the home team’s market. This blackout includes fans who paid for the NFL Season Package either through their cable provider or internet provider.

I’m of the opinion that the NFL policy is misguided because they should desire to expand their audience, not decrease it. Even when most games were not televised on multiple outlets I think the rule was a mistake. The idea of the blackouts are to promote ticket sales by forcing people to attend the game. In the modern age the NFL is essentially shutting out a large segment of potential viewers when they do this.

The NFL is coming around to my way of thinking and has reduced the sellout rule down to 85% sales of what are called non-premium seats. They also now allow the selling of blocks of tickets at discounted rates to avoid the blackout. These new rules have meant that not a single game in the NFL has been blacked out this season. This is capitalism at work.

So now the government is getting involved. A year ago Senator John McCain of the Grand Canyon state of Arizona originally proposed a bill to force the NFL to televise all games and now the FCC is getting involved. The FCC’s argument is that those who cannot afford tickets should not be punished. What, what, what?

Those who cannot afford tickets don’t attend games, that’s the law of economics. If the NFL wants to prevent people from watching the game on television then that’s their own, misguided, business decision to make.

If a person can’t afford to see a first run movie should the studio be forced to televise it? If I can’t afford to get HBO should the network be forced to show the program over the airwaves? This is government nonsense at its worst.

Don’t mistake me, I think the NFL is better off showcasing its game on as many outlets as possible. I think content providers should release their media as broadly as possible so as to have more people watch it. This builds a loyal fan base who will watch content, buy merchandise, and see advertisements. The only reason I know about Australian Rules Football, Archer, and 20/20 Cricket is because they were released on Hulu and ESPN3.

When content providers practice to limit their audience they hurt only themselves. That being said, it’s not the government’s job to prevent a company from making stupid business decisions. When the AFL pulled their games from ESPN3 they lost me as viewer. Likewise when FX pulled Archer from Hulu. That’s their decision to make.

We Libertarians often get criticized for hating government meanwhile happily enjoying roads, appreciating teachers, police officers, firemen, parks department employees, electricity, plumbing, and many of the other things governments provides.

We don’t hate government, we just want to see it limited to the areas of its purview. When it gets involved in things like this the end result is usually bad for everyone. This NFL Blackout/FCC story isn’t the most egregious of violations but it is typical of an overreaching government that tries to right all wrongs.

Maybe they’ve got better things to do?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne

The Myth of Brainstorming

Brainstorming DilbertA Dilbert cartoon that I spotted reminded of why I’ve always hated the concept of brainstorming. I went out and did some research and I’m happy to report that I am not alone in my disdain for this sort of problem solving.

There are a number of scientific studies out that show it actually produces worse results than do individuals working to solve a problem.

The concept of brainstorming got its start in the 1953 book Applied Imagination. The idea is that a group of people throwing out various ideas eventually creates better solutions than individuals working alone to try to solve issues. Brainstorming has evolved into meaning any sort of meeting in which people try to solve an issue working together, generally by suggesting various solutions to one another.

My hatred, and I’m not using the term lightly, of brainstorming sessions is not a result of any scientific study but simply my own experience. This means that it is completely invalid. Just because I’ve had bad luck with brainstorming sessions doesn’t mean the concept is a failure. It is easy to fall victim to our own personal experiences and assume that because something happened to us, it is the norm.

That’s why I was pleased to read the Dilbert comment and then to find there is research based and empirical evidence to back up my anecdotal evidence.

The arguments against brainstorming that resonated with me include: Blocking wherein one member of the session essentially dominates preventing anyone else from making suggestions, Social Matching in which the members of the group gravitate towards matching the productivity across the group limiting the higher producers, and Illusion of Productivity in which people think they’ve accomplished far more than they actually have.

Almost every brainstorming session in which I’ve taken part essentially devolved into a lot of back-patting generally around ideas that had almost no chance of being implemented because of logistical and financial limitations and the reality of people’s ability to perform.

That being said, I am curious about other people’s anecdotal experiences with brainstorming.

I’m not talking about the euphoric feeling immediately after the brainstorming in which everyone feels like they’ve solved problems but the reality of the solutions derived from those sessions. Were said solutions actually implemented or was it more likely an individual working alone who came up with the best plan?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Spear of the Hunt
Next Release: The Broken Throne