global HR Round-up: US focus

Shareholders say on pay

American lawmakers are working on legislation requiring public companies to give shareholders a say on executive compensation. The House Financial Services Committee approved the so-called ‘say on pay’ Bill, which forces boards to consider shareholder concern. Under the Bill, shareholders can cast non-binding no-confidence votes on executive plans. Politicians hope a shareholder review will help keep spiralling executive pay in check. A study of chief executive pay at large US firms by Mercer earlier this month found total direct compensation (salary, bonus and long-term incentives) rose 8.9% to $2.6m (£1.3m) in 2006. Critics of the Bill argue that CEOs would shun posts at publicly traded companies in favour of private-equity firms.

Sleep disorders cost £7bn

Insomnia among workers costs the US economy an estimated $14bn (£6.9bn) annually, according to a report. The National Academies and medical journal Sleep study found roughly 10% of Americans suffer from chronic insomnia. This costs employers an estimated 8.8 days of salary per untreated worker a year, through missed work and medical bills. One-third of workers are believed to get six hours of sleep a night or less. The report concluded it was more cost-effective for businesses to encourage employees to seek early treatment. Workers in all employment sectors are affected. Costs such as lost productivity, poor morale and absenteeism could bring the tally to $35bn (£17.4bn), the report suggested.

Starbucks in dock

The Starbucks coffee chain has been accused of union-busting tactics in its New York coffee shops. About 30 offences were cited by the National Labor Relations Board, including firing or threatening to sack union supporters and giving negative appraisals. Workers were also allegedly interrogated about union activity and prevented from discussing the union – the Industrial Workers of the World – on break time. Eleven supervisors were charged with illegal activities, which also included discrimination against pro-union employees by enforcement of dress and jewellery policy. The union wants increased hourly rates for coffee clerks – currently $8.75 (£4.40) – as well as guaranteed weekly minimum hours of work. If found guilty by an administrative judge, Starbucks may be forced to reinstate fired employees. Last year, the company agreed to reinstate workers and paid fines to employees following similar charges.

Discriminating tendencies

Anti-discrimination efforts in the US are coming alive following a massive upsurge in discrimination lawsuits. Almost 96,000 discrimination claims were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2005 – a 268% increase on 1991 figures, and rising nine times faster than any other kind of federal civil suit. Though most suits fail, employers still paid $271m (£135m) in settlements in discrimination cases in 2005, reports The Arizona Daily Star. President Bush recently announced the Eradicating Racism and Colorism from Employment initiative in an effort to fight what it called “unconscious discrimination”. One of the tools it created was the Affirmative Action Plan. This compels federal contractors with 50 or more workers to ensure their workforce mirrors the ethnic and gender make-up of the applicant pool they hire from.

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