Thursday, July 22, 2010

Businessweek, July 20, 2010, Tuesday


July 20, 2010, Tuesday


Startup Activity at Record Low: Challenger

Posted by: John Tozzi on July 20, 2010

The share of high-level job-seekers exiting an outplacement program who start their own businesses dropped in the first half of 2010 to the lowest two-quarter rate on record, according to data from the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas released July 19.

Challenger, which provides training and counseling to job seekers, says just 3.7 percent of job seekers leaving its outplacement program are going into business for themselves in the first half of 2010, compared to an average of 8.6 percent in the full-year 2009. The data is based on a quarterly survey of 3,000 people, including 75 percent to 80 percent former managers or executives, Challenger spokesman James Pedderson says in an email.

Scarce financing and improving job prospects are steering more of these workers away from entrepreneurship, says Daniel Cohen, a lecturer at Cornell University’s ILR School. “Whether you’re starting a small business or you want to make a more scalable business and raise venture funding, either way the capital is harder to come by,” Cohen says.

But the lower startup rate might be a good sign. The unemployment rate, at 9.7 percent, remains high, but job losses have abated and some companies resumed hiring in 2010. The private sector added 593,000 jobs in the first half of 2010, compared to a loss of 968,000 in the last half of 2009, according to seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “For those that were thinking of doing a startup as a last resort…there’s more opportunity now,” Cohen says.

Startup activity tends to drop at the beginning of a recession, spike at the end when unemployment is highest, and drop when hiring resumes, Challenger CEO John Challenger says in a statement. (See chart below.) “Right now, we are in the early stages of recovery when the fundamentals of the economy are still pretty shaky, but employers are just starting to add workers back to their payrolls,” he says. Startup activity increases again as the economy improves, he said.

The Challenger survey, which began in 1986, showed the highest rate of startups over two quarters in the first half of 1989, when the unemployment rate was under 5.5 percent. At that time, 21.5 percent of Challenger’s exiting job-seekers opted to start businesses, the group says.

HR Executive, July 15, 2010, Thursday

HR Executive

July 15, 2010, Thursday

HR Executive

What Predicts Executive Success?

It's long been a question hiring managers have asked: Do nice guys -- or gals -- finish first when it comes to company performance? New research based on assessments of high-level executives uncovers the answer. Niceness does work -- but also key are self-awareness and interpersonal skills.

By Michael O'Brien

Conventional thinking holds that a CEO with a hard-charging, take-no-prisoners style will more often positively impact an organization's bottom line than a "nice guy" would, but there's been little hard evidence to support such a theory.

"We know very little about what predicts executive success," says John Hausknecht, an assistant professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Until now, that is.

Hausknecht recently led a research team from the university's School of Industrial and Labor Relations that examined the assessments of 72 senior executives from 31 companies in an effort to define the sometimes indefinable qualities that will lead an executive to excel in his or her position.

The study consisted of two phases.

The first was an in-depth executive assessment in the form of a four-hour interview conducted between 2005 and 2008 by Denver-based organizational consulting firm Green Peak Partners, which probed the executives' backgrounds, including family, education, early-career and recent professional experiences. Those assessments led to a map of the executives' individual qualities, including leadership styles and technical competence.

The second phase consisted of interviews with the supervisors of those executives, between April and October 2009, to determine how well the executives performed on the jobs for which they were hired.

"It is extremely rare to gain access to detailed pre-hire candidate information and short- and long-term indicators of executive performance for this many individuals," Hausknecht says. "Much of what has been written about predictors of executive success is based on personal anecdotes or conventional wisdom, rather than scientific evidence."

Through statistical analyses, performance was simplified into two separate categories: the ability to drive results and the ability to manage talent, and when the findings came back -- in the form of the Green Peak Partners report " What Predicts Executive Success?" -- conventional wisdom took a hit.

"Our findings directly challenge the conventional view that 'drive for results at all costs' is the right approach," says J.P. Flaum, managing partner of Green Peak Partners. "The executives most likely to deliver good bottom-line results are actually self-aware leaders who are especially good at working with individuals and in teams."

The research found that an executive with strong interpersonal skills will drive more positive business results, while "arrogant, hard-driving, impatient and stubborn" leaders rated low on all performance dimensions of the study.

The research also reinforced the belief that an executive's experiences and leadership style are directly linked to performance.

Stephen Bruce, vice president of human resources for Waltham, Mass.-based PeopleclickAuthoria, says he's not surprised by the findings, but he says a current lack of "soft skills" in executives can be easily explained.

"The level of development and management experience has diminished over the last 10 to 15 years, primarily because of cost-cutting at companies," he says. "Part of that lack of experience is a lack of core competencies as a leader," including the development of interpersonal skills that could benefit an individual through his or her career.

"If you talk to anyone in talent management [who] does a lot of staffing, they would say they don't consider soft skills as important as other things," such as previous results at other organizations, he says.

"But while [bottom-line] results are important, just as important is assessing competencies beforehand."

Tres Roeder, founder and president of Roeder Consulting in Cleveland, says he agrees with the results of the survey, but cautions that there is a difference between an executive who is merely "nice" and one who has full command of his or her interpersonal skills.

"In the field of project management, there is an overwhelming body of knowledge correlating interpersonal skills to project success," he says. "I would say this is different, however, than being 'nice.' People with great interpersonal skills are 'nice' when appropriate. Other times, they need to be tough if the situation calls for that behavior.

"For example, we don't always want personal trainers and coaches who are nice to us," he says. "They need to push us to do that extra rep. They are helping us by being tough on us."

Robert Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at the Stanford Engineering School and author of the new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best and Learn from the Worst, says the best executives are willing to change tactics as appropriate.

"Good bosses are self-aware and the bad ones live in a fool's paradise," he says. "The good ones know what it feels like to work for them, are aware of their weaknesses and constantly make little adjustments in response to the moods and moves of the people around them, while the bad ones are remarkably clueless.

"As such, I was pleased to see in the study's findings that 'bully traits' and poor interpersonal skills were hallmarks of bad leaders, but I was even more interested to see their finding that leadership searches give short shrift to 'self-awareness,' which should actually be a top criterion."

Roeder also agrees on the overall importance of self-awareness in executives.

"Self-awareness is the prerequisite for critical leadership behaviors such as earning buy-in, communicating key concepts and building high-performance teams."

PeopleClick Authoria's Bruce says HR professionals understand the importance of such soft skills, "but they struggle with the ability to have a tool or process or methodology to impact change and development of those individuals" within an organization.

"Unless you have a solution to really address it, be it a process or partnership, [HR] lacks the ability to impact and drive change," he says.

Becky Winkler, principal at Green Peak, says "a key takeaway [from the research findings] is that soft values drive hard results -- and that companies ... need to put more effort in evaluating the interpersonal strengths of potential leaders. Evaluating technical competence alone isn't enough."

Copyright 2010© LRP Publications

R&D Magazine, July 15, 2010, Thursday

R&D Magazine

July 15, 2010, Thursday

R&D Magazine

Narcissists bring pluses, minuses to the workplace

You know the type: self-aggrandizing, self-indulgent and self-absorbed.

New research led by psychologist Jack Goncalo, assistant professor in the ILR School, shows how and why narcissists can influence creativity in groups and in the workplace. The findings will be published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

For starters, narcissists are not necessarily more creative than less narcissistic peers, but they think they are, and they are adept at convincing others to share their inflated view of themselves. Three studies led by Goncalo in 2007 and 2008 showed that narcissistic individuals asked to pitch creative ideas to a target person were judged by the targets as being more creative than others.


Narcissists convey more enthusiasm, confidence and charisma while they are selling their ideas to others.

"The danger is that the ideas suggested by narcissists might actually be implemented despite the fact that they are not necessarily very good," said Goncalo, of ILR's Department of Organizational Behavior. "A constant pattern of selecting style over substance may benefit the narcissist, but can drag down the team."

The research also shows that narcissists can contribute to a team's creative outcomes -- but not on their own. Goncalo explained, "There is a curvilinear effect -- having more narcissists is better for generating creative solutions, but having too many narcissists provides diminishing returns."

In the workplace, for example, "You want creative tension. Narcissists shake things up -- they stimulate competition and provoke controversy." But a work setting "that is conducive to creativity is not necessarily related to harmony" and might even lead to improved problem solving, he said. On a team with too many narcissists, however, "It starts to get chaotic."

The research team, which included Cornell Ph.D. student Sharon H. Kim and Stanford University Professor Francis J. Flynn, also found:

Ideas are viewed as highly creative when pitched with confidence and enthusiasm -- a style narcissists come by instinctively, but that others might learn to imitate.

Although most organizations try to select ideas that are objectively creative, the selection process might be contaminated by the style through which ideas are communicated. As a result, creative output might gradually decline as true creative talent is continuously traded for charisma and enthusiasm without substance.

To capitalize on narcissistic talent, colleagues should collaborate with narcissists and encourage them to collaborate with each other. Groups may turn a negative trait into a valuable source of creative tension. It sometimes works best to assign narcissists to pitching ideas, not creating them.

In the meantime, how does one survive obnoxious, know-it-all narcissists? Watch the way they work and learn from their style, Goncalo advises.

"Having a creative idea is not enough, unless you know how to sell it to others. Be confident. Be enthusiastic. Never be self-deprecating," he said. "While the rest of us are being modest and polite, the narcissists may be getting ahead."

The Tennessean, July 11, 2010, Sunday

Copyright 2010 The Tennessean

All Rights Reserved

The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee)

July 11, 2010 Sunday

The graduate who didn't graduate: Extreme case illustrates problems

BYLINE: By, Jaime Sarrio and Brad Schrade

Working on a factory line wasn't what Dominique Handley envisioned when she enrolled at Tennessee State University in 2004 with a dream of earning a psychology degree.

But that's where she ended up five years later.

The Michigan native experienced the thrill of wearing her cap and gown in August 2009. Proud family members traveled from Michigan, New Jersey, Texas and Illinois and watched as Handley carried the banner for her college during the ceremony - an honor earned because of her high grade point average.

Weeks later, she moved to Louisville, Ky., and began applying for jobs to help abused children. A potential employer ran a background check as a formality and called her.

"We can verify you left TSU in 2009, but we can't verify you have a degree," the caller said.

It turned out she didn't.

Handley's case is an extreme example of the dysfunctional services TSU students have been complaining about for decades. They're part of a critical breakdown that report after report has said undercuts the success of the university.

Among some upperclassmen at TSU, there is a palpable pride that comes with knowing how to work the system. Ask one, and he or she will say to keep copies of everything and figure out which employees can help get things done.

Who's to blame?

More than a dozen students, faculty and alumni interviewed cited problems with financial aid or enrollment, including:

· Concerns about the amount of time it takes for aid to be posted to a student's account after tuition is paid. Some reported it took weeks to be reimbursed and, as a result, students didn't have money to buy books or for other start-of-semester expenses.

· Complaints that counselors are hard to reach and that some employees are rude, unprofessional and unhelpful.

· Frustration that when one employee is out, others cannot step in to do the required task, causing some students to miss critical deadlines.

TSU officials say they have made strides to improve student services, including adding customer service training, streamlining the financial aid process and making the fall check-in process more efficient.

But they've long maintained that students are a major part of the problem. Some don't attend informational seminars, they say, and some wait until the last minute and expect the university to accommodate them instantly.

"I have almost 80 percent of my students who are on some kind of financial aid. You don't find that at Vanderbilt," TSU President Melvin Johnson said. "These students require more intensive handling. Sometimes they come to the table very late in terms of paperwork. Sometimes the paperwork isn't even completed. That puts a tremendous strain at an office that would not necessarily see that kind of workload at other institutions."

That's been senior John Woodward's take on the problems, too. The 30-year-old Nashville resident says he's never had an issue with student services or financial aid reimbursement because he holds up his end of the bargain.

"I don't hold anyone else accountable," the design major said. "I know what my responsibility is, and I fulfill my part of the responsibility."

A new study suggests that investing in student services also can improve graduation and retention rates, especially at schools like Tennessee State University where 80 percent of students arrive academically unprepared and 70 percent come from low-income families.

Ronald Ehrenberg, a professor of economics and director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, co-authored the new study, which looks at spending on admission and registrar departments, as well as tutoring, counseling and student organizations.

"In a sense what we found is obvious - for bright students coming from well-supported financial backgrounds, it's not going to matter that much," Ehrenberg said. "But for disadvantaged students, they don't have the support system or networks advantaged students have."

'I had no idea'

Handley wouldn't count herself among those students - her mother and siblings all went to college.

But she was no less devastated when she got the news that she wasn't actually a college graduate.

Over the phone, a university employee told her what academic advisers repeatedly failed to mention: Handley was two credits shy of a diploma because she took a developmental math class her freshman year. Those classes show up on transcripts but don't count toward a degree.

"I called my mom crying," she said. "I had no idea. If they would have told me, I would have taken an extra class that summer. I could have stayed in Nashville to finish."

TSU officials did not respond directly to Handley's case but say participation in graduation is not evidence a student has earned a diploma. The school's website also states that rule.

According to Handley, she was never told the developmental class's hours would not count toward her degree.

Her job opportunity fell through, and she was forced to take a series of temporary jobs, including one on a factory line, placing labels on cassette tapes. TSU agreed to a plan by which she'll earn her degree in August after taking one criminal justice class at a community college in Louisville.

But Handley's mother felt so strongly about the university's liability that she wrote the Tennessee Board of Regents in March, asking them to launch an internal review of problems at the school.

"No one wants to take responsibility for their actions," Gloria Handley said. "There's so much incompetence there. And people just figure that's the way it is."

LOAD-DATE: July 11, 2010, July 2010

July 2010

Montpelier debates union role in Champlain Bridge construction

With the construction industry hit harder than most by the Great Recession and its “jobless recovery,” issues surrounding the anticipated $75 million reconstruction of the Champlain Bridge linking Vermont with New York, have had interested parties scrapping like drought-stricken animals at a waterhole. Just this week, Douglas rejected New York State's plan for a PLA, citing factors that could hurt Vermont's mostly non-unionized construction companies. In response, other politicians and labor unions said that it could save the project millions.

Senator Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, Chair of the Senate Economic Development Committee said, “We should be exploring this opportunity, not just shutting the door without attempting to negotiate a resolution.” He, Senator Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and others said that the state could save $1.75 to $3 million. They have introduced a resolution today (see below) in the Senate to ask the governor to reconsider his decision. Vermont's congressional delegation also supported the PLA.

Meanwhile, representatives of construction companies see Douglas' rejection of the PLA as positive news for Vermont workers and taxpayers.

“Vermont Governor Douglas is standing up for workers and businesses by opposing this proposed union-favoring agreement for the Lake Champlain Bridge project. If a project labor agreement (PLA) is placed on this job, it will discourage, if not bar entirely, 9 out of 10 Vermont construction workers from competing. Our state needs job creation, not more unemployment,” said Mark Holden, president of the local Vermont chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.


To some degree this debate simply might have resulted because New York will manage the project, as it has managed maintenance, even though Vermont and New York will share the non-federal part of the cost (80 percent federal-10 percent Vermont-10 percent New York). A similar but opposite situation applies to the Rouse’s Point Bridge to the north: both sides pay, but Vermont manages.

The furor has arisen over whether non-union contractors, which prevail in Vermont, will be on the same footing as union contractors, which predominate in many parts of New York. Specifically, the controversy has focused on the likely use of a “Project Labor Agreement,” or PLA for short, to govern hiring, pay, conflict resolution and other matters during the construction of a new bridge.

PLAs have been around for about 60 years in the public sector, and longer in the private sector. Both Bush administrations rejected them, the Clinton administration supported them, and most recently, in February of 2009, they were reinstituted under the Obama administration. This alternation, between labor-friendly Democratic presidents and management-minded Republican presidents, gives some idea of where the conflict lies.

Both the Vermont and New York chapters of Associated General Contractors oppose the use of a PLA on the Champlain Bridge project, as do the two states’ chapters of the Associated Builders and Contractors (the former’s members typically are more involved in road and bridge construction, while the latter’s membership includes more residential and commercial contractors). Maintaining the contrary position on PLAs are unions, and backing them have been Vermont’s congressional delegation: Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Bernard Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch.

The three issued a joint statement on January 25 saying, “While it's up to the State of New York to decide whether it will pursue a Project Labor Agreement, we believe the Champlain Bridge must be completed on time, on budget, and with fair wages and benefits paid to workers. Project Labor Agreements have consistently been shown to provide stability, efficiency, and productivity while ensuring fair compensation to all. These agreements will not prevent any Vermont contractor from successfully bidding on this project. We stand committed to putting Vermonters to work at decent paying jobs."

But the contractors’ organizations say that what happens after making a successful bid is so slanted toward the unions and so unworkable in terms of normal construction practice that Vermont companies may very well decide not to bid at all.

Immediately following the Leahy-Sanders-Welch release, Brent Tewksbury, vice president of FR Lafayette, Inc in Essex, told the Burlington Free Press, “What really irked us is our congressional delegation went ahead and supported a project labor agreement and didn’t speak to any of us.”

The AGC and ABC are urging the State of Vermont to take a more active role in preparations for the bridge project, to make sure the state’s overwhelmingly non-union contractors (said to be 96 percent) do indeed get an equal chance. According to New York sources, a possible PLA was going back and forth between the New York State Department of Transportation (NYS-DOT) and the Federal Highway Administration as of mid-March, the terms of which had not been revealed.

So What Is A PLA?

PLA’s were re-instituted by President Obama, with input from the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council, through Executive Order 13502 on February 6, 2009. An introductory section of the order states that “it is the policy of the Federal Government to encourage executive agencies to consider requiring the use of project labor agreements in connection with large-scale construction projects ($25 million or more) in order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement.”

These pre-hire agreements require exact bidding (no overruns, no surprises), and prohibit strikes and lockouts and other work disruptions. They “set forth effective, prompt, and mutually binding procedures for resolving labor disputes arising during the project labor agreement,” and “provide other mechanisms for labor-management cooperation on matters of mutual interest and concern, including productivity, quality of work, safety, and health.”

Any PLA must “allow all contractors and subcontractors to compete for contracts and subcontracts without regard to whether they are otherwise parties to collective bargaining agreements;” as much as to say, it is indeed true that non-union companies can bid.

In its prefatory material, the Executive Order observes that on large projects involving many contractors, “A labor dispute involving one employer can delay the entire project. A lack of coordination among various employers, or uncertainty about the terms and conditions of employment of various groups of workers, can create frictions and disputes in the absence of an agreed-upon resolution mechanism.”

The other rationale would not seem to apply well in Vermont: “Construction employers typically do not have a permanent workforce, which makes it difficult for them to predict labor costs when bidding on contracts and to ensure a steady supply of labor on contracts being performed.” Vermont firms do have such workforces, plus in a recessionary environment they may have laid-off personnel they can call back. Beyond that, typically they have subcontractors with whom they have worked before, so that the effective size of a project workforce expands and contracts in a way that is both efficient and well-coordinated.

Having such subcontractor relationships, and having well-worked out supply chains and project management, are keys to making competitive but realistic bids. But on a PLA job, say the critics, all hiring must be done through the union hall. If employees temporarily become part of the union to find work, then they will pay union fees for retirement, training, lobbying, etc that they will have to leave behind when they drop their union memberships.

According to Fred B Kotler, associate director of the Construction Industry Program at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the all-union provision hasn’t been that strictly interpreted in practice.

“Hiring is conducted through union referral procedures,” he wrote, but “nonunion subcontractors are often permitted to retain a defined percentage [“core” group] of employees outside of referral procedures.”

The Executive Order describes a PLA as “a pre-hire collective bargaining agreement with one or more (emphasis added) labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project.” Conceivably, ongoing negotiations regarding the specific PLA for the Champlain Bridge may be trying to establish a middle ground along such lines.

At The Fight, A Hockey Game Broke Out

The conflict over the use of PLAs subdivides into specific issues, themselves much contested.

For non-union contractors, it may seem to defy common sense to say that PLAs help bring down the cost of major projects. (Note that the foregoing does not say “public projects;” PLAs have also been employed, so to speak, in the private sector, for instance by British Petroleum, General Motors, Toyota, and Disney, observes the NYS Building and Construction Trades Council.) Isn’t higher pay the main rationale for paying union dues? Isn’t it true that on union jobs, an idle worker can’t assist at another work site because of contract work rules?

The website, maintained by the ABC, asserts that “A 2006 study conducted by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University found that the use of PLAs on school construction projects in New York increased the cost of the projects by 20 percent.” A 2001 study by Ernst & Young commissioned by Erie County in New York found that “bidder participation was diminished because the county chose to utilize a PLA...the use of PLAs strongly inhibits participation in public bidding by non-union contractors and may result in those projects having artificially inflated costs.”

Jeff Potvin, president of the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council, countered in a newspaper commentary, “There are well over 20 studies by academia that show PLAs deliver responsible economic development and do not drive up costs.” And they can help local development by keeping hiring local: “Where was the AGC when the Richmond Bridge, Vermont's first American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project, was built by an out-of-state contractor who was under no obligation to use local workers?”

Cornell’s Kotler said, “PLA opponents argue that PLAs limit the pool of bidders and that this drives up costs. There is no evidence to support these assertions. While there are many reasons why contractors – both union and non-union – may choose not to bid on particular projects, there are no studies demonstrating that a PLA in the bid specifications is itself responsible for a decrease in the number or bidders; there is also no analysis showing that fewer bidders translates into higher actual project costs.”

Kotler took note of, but blasted, the aforementioned Beacon Hill study.

“One particularly vocal critic of PLAs is the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University [Massachusetts], a “free-market”-oriented think-tank founded in 1991 by Massachusetts millionaire and politician Ray Shamie. Beacon Hill published a study in 2006, Project Labor Agreements and Public Construction Cost in New York State, which analyzed 117 public school construction projects conducted in New York State since 1996. Of the 117 projects, 19 were conducted using PLAs.”

“Beacon Hill’s conclusions should be dismissed as not credible for these reasons: 1) the study focuses on bid costs not actual costs; and 2) it fails to segregate labor costs or account for various factors that influence project costs,” Kotler went on. Including bids that could have been rejected as unrealistic based on the bidder’s background, and failing to compare labor costs with those of other projects, slanted the conclusions, he said.

“The 14-page report is notable for what it does not include,” Kotler continued. “There are, for example, no data broken down by the 117 schools it claims to have sampled, no detail about the nature and size of each project, no comparison of similarly-situated projects performed with and without a PLA…Beacon Hill focused on the size of the project in square feet but did not account for such important determinants of cost as these: whether the work involved new construction or renovation, site preparation, laboratories, classrooms, kitchens, lunchrooms, gymnasiums, auditoriums, or audio/visual facilities…(T)he study didn’t account for the likelihood that many PLA projects will be more complex, involve more amenities, be larger and operate under time constraints that can impact costs and that these same considerations are at issue when PLAs are authorized in the first place.”

“What PLA opponents have consistently failed to demonstrate is that the PLA is itself responsible for a project’s increased costs,” Kotler concluded. That was also the case for a project in Beacon Hill’s back yard: the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel (“Big Dig”), then the largest public works project in American history, estimated at $2.3 billion in 1983 and pegged at $13.6 billion in 2000. “PLA opponents, including the Beacon Hill Institute, sought to pin the project’s mounting costs and overruns on the project’s PLA. This was not only simplistic. It is not true. The Massachusetts Transportation Authority conducted an extensive post-job analysis in 2007, a history of the project’s costs. At no point are labor costs or the PLA identified as responsible for the project’s increased costs. A US Department of Transportation fifty-page Task Force report in 2000, written in response to concerns about the project’s escalating costs, also found no correlation between the PLA and the cost increases.”

As an example of how PLAs save money, Kotler cited New York City’s Department of Education 2005-2009 $13.1 billion School Construction Authority Five Year Capital Program. Consultant Hill International determined that by the end, taxpayers had been saved more than $221 million.

Concerns over rights and fairness have also motivated opponents of PLAs. Statements by area construction executives may illustrate the tenor of the reaction.

Don Wells of DEW Construction in Williston has said, “People that run open shops take a lot of pride in what they do and the services and benefits they provide to their employees. Typically what happens in a Project Labor Agreement is you lose your right to negotiate with your own employees.”

Andrew Martin of Pizzagalli Construction in South Burlington has said that PLAs cost non-union workers when part of their pay goes to support union programs unrelated to the project.

“You’re going to have to pay as an open-shop contractor into those benefits set up in the PLA, but you’ll never see any of those benefits if you’re not in the union,” he said.

On the New York side, Ted Luck of the Luck Brothers highway contracting company in Plattsburgh predicted that “(l)ike the Global Foundries chipfab plant in Malta, a PLA on the Champlain Bridge project will guarantee that labor is imported from far away since there isn’t enough local union labor to meet the ambitious time schedule on the bridge. Why should my employees at Luck Brothers be denied the right to participate in this project just because they are nonunion?”

In a release from the Empire State Chapter of ABC, president Rebecca Meinking alleged that “Special interest PLAs result in increased costs and reduced competition. PLAs deny taxpayers the accountability in public works projects they deserve from government.”

“This area of New York State – Essex and Washington Counties – and the State of Vermont are largely served by nonunion contractors,” Meinking said. “More than 70 percent of the construction workforce in this area of New York and 95 percent of Vermont’s construction workers do not belong to a construction labor union, according to government data. The use of a PLA will actually mean that the majority of local labor will be shut out of the opportunity to work on this bridge replacement project in a time when the unemployment rate in the construction industry is 24.7 percent nationwide, and even higher in the areas where this bridge project is located.”

Mark Holden, president of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc, based in Concord, NH, said that he sees a larger pro-union agenda in the use of PLAs.

“Project labor agreements, established years ago to create harmony and reduce disruptions among construction trade unions on union-only projects, have today become politically motivated market recovery programs for the construction trade unions. In Vermont, statistics for 2009 show total construction trade employment at 13,987 with 625 or 4.5 percent being union members. A project labor agreement is authorized discrimination against nine out of 10 Vermont construction workers who choose not to join a union. Great news with construction employment at over 20 percent.”

Holden pointed out that a PLA is not necessary to govern wages on the Champlain Bridge project, because it would fall under the federal Davis-Bacon Act. Since the 1930s, that law has required that workers on federal projects be paid the prevailing wage in that county – which would probably be to Vermont’s advantage if the bridge project was deemed to be based in New York.

Critics of PLAs are likely to cite a study by John R McGowan, professor of accounting at St Louis University, titled, “The Discriminatory Impact of Union Fringe Benefit Requirements on Nonunion Workers Under Government-Mandated Labor Agreements.” (The title is somewhat misleading: PLAs are “encouraged,” not mandated, says Kotler – the word used in the Executive Order – and for one to be used in New York, “(t)he burden is on the New York public owner to demonstrate, typically through a consultant’s feasibility or due diligence report, that a PLA has a proper business purpose, that it will provide direct and indirect economic benefits to the public and promote the particular project’s timely completion.”)

In the executive summary to his 2009 report, McGowan said that, “The economic disadvantages faced by nonunion employees and employers related to a PLA’s fringe benefit requirements explains why many nonunion construction companies are discouraged from participating in the bidding process for government-mandated, union-only PLA projects.” The problems came in three areas, he said:

– Nonunion workers lost $184-$613 million in pay for all federal PLA projects, the figure depending on assumptions. Money sent to union pension funds, etc reduces take-home pay about 20 percent.

– Nonunion contractors pay extra costs, by a factor of 25 percent or more, to work under PLAs. Had the Executive Order been in effect during 2008, such losses would have amounted to $230-$767 million, again depending on assumptions.

– “Nonunion contractors will face increased and unnecessary exposure to pension fund liability if they perform work under PLAs, including possible withdrawal liability when the project is completed.”

VBM asked the offices of Vermont’s two Senators and Representative if there was someone on their staffs who could explain their support for PLAs and respond to anti-PLA assertions about them. The only such source was someone connected with Senator Bernard Sanders, but he does not go on record to make statements, and in any case he was out of the office and unavailable. The question was referred to Jeff Potvin, president of the Vermont Building and Construction Trades Council.

Potvin agreed that PLAs support unions, but said that was not a bad thing.

“They can look at it that way, I suppose,” he said, “but it could be a lot better than that. (Nonunion contractors) could just sign as unionized contractors and their employees would get all those benefits.”

In Potvin’s view, the higher labor costs said to exist on PLA contracts are the same as paying local workers living wages. Those workers are also members of the general public, and the money benefits people generally when it goes into local circulation and has an economic multiplier effect.

The higher cost argument can be turned around to say that nonunion workers are being exploited in non-PLA projects, he said. Were construction workers being exploited in Vermont? “In some cases, not in all cases,” Potvin said. The worst problem comes when, on non-PLA jobs, workers are brought in by out-of-state contractors and those in the region get paid nothing on that job, he said. He prefers the term “community workforce agreement,” under which “you have to hire from within the community.”

It’s wrong to think that Vermont’s trade union are working at cross purposes to the interest of contractors, Potvin said.

“I work hand-in-hand with my contractors,” he said (Potvin is the business manager of UA Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 693 and serves on the Vermont Apprenticeship Council, as well as heading the Building Trades Council). Notably, hourly pay includes 70 cents that goes toward union-run professional training for the workforce, he said.

“We’re just trying to do the right thing for our workers and for our contractors,” Potvin said. “They want to be able to hold their own on a level playing field.”

And VTrans?

“We are on record with New York as thinking that a PLA is not necessary,” said Secretary of Transportation David Dill. New York does think that if a PLA is justified, it must be managed so as not to be unfair to Vermont’s overwhelmingly nonunion companies, he said.

“I just don’t see a PLA as being a part of this process.” He added, “I may be wrong.”

Potvin may have spoken for many when he said, “I’m waiting to see what happens.” Holden, too, may have expressed the general feeling when he said, “The devil’s in the details.”

In any case, there may be plenty of non-PLA work to go around in the near future, at least if the Obama administration can persuade Congress to continue making infrastructure improvement the keystone of economic recovery. According to the VTrans 2009 annual report on structures, of 2,688 bridges in the state, 464 are “functionally obsolete,” 494 are “structurally deficient,” and 139 have posted restrictions due to structural problems.

Ed Barna is a freelance writer from Middlebury.

Senate Resolution

By Senator Shumlin,

Senate resolution urging the Douglas administration to reconsider its decision to reject the implementation of a Project Labor Agreement for the new Lake Champlain Bridge.

Whereas, the construction of the new $75 million Lake Champlain Bridge between Crown Point, New York and Chimney Point, Vermont is one of the largest transportation projects in Vermont in decades, and

Whereas, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) has proposed that the two states adopt a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) to ensure that work proceeds effectively and without conflicting labor contract provisions, and at the lowest possible cost, and

Whereas, a PLA is a negotiated, pre-hire, collective bargaining agreement with one or more labor organizations that establishes the terms and conditions of employment for a specific construction project, and pursuant to President Obama’s Executive Order 13502, federal agencies are encouraged to use PLAs in connection with large-scale, federally financed construction projects, and

Whereas, according to testimony before both the Senate Committees on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs and on Transportation, harmonizing conflicting labor agreements takes on added importance on the Lake Champlain Bridge project because many of the trades working on the project are expected to be union trades, each with its own collective bargaining agreement with terms that may conflict with agreements of the other trades, and

Whereas, before issuing the draft PLA, the NYSDOT commissioned Arace & Company Consulting, LLC, an outside expert firm with no financial stake in the project to conduct an analysis of the PLA’s impact, and the analysis concluded a PLA will harmonize conflicting contracts on this particular project, and save an estimated $1.75–$3.0 million, and

Whereas, the cost savings achieved with a PLA result when labor unions agree to forego overtime and other contract benefits in exchange for an opportunity to work on a project, and

Whereas, without a PLA, there is no guarantee that Vermonters and New Yorkers will be employed on the $75 million project, thus preventing qualified Vermonters who work in the building trades from benefiting from a major employment opportunity in this region, and

Whereas, PLAs have been used successfully in other states, and

Whereas, the Douglas administration has directed the Vermont Agency of Transportation not to negotiate a PLA, and

Whereas, this refusal is based on the mistaken premise that the PLA will prevent nonunion Vermont subcontractors from applying for work on the project, and

Whereas, some Vermont subcontractors have opposed the PLA on “philosophical grounds,” now therefore be it

Resolved by the Senate:

That based on available information, the proposed Project Labor Agreement will reduce the overall cost of the project and help to ensure Vermont and New York residents will obtain some of the work on the project, and be it further

Resolved: That the Senate of the State of Vermont urges the Douglas administration to reconsider its decision not to attempt to negotiate a Project Labor Agreement for the new Lake Champlain Bridge, and be it further

Resolved: That the Secretary of the Senate be directed to send a copy of this resolution to the Secretary of Administration.

Thursday, July 08, 2010, July 6, 2010, Tuesday

Copyright 2010
All Rights Reserved

July 6, 2010, Tuesday

Women still wary of helping each other at work

BYLINE: Eve Tahmincioglu, contributor

With women holding so few leadership positions in corporate America, you would think they would build each other up rather than tear each other down. Unfortunately, women still have a ways to go.

Women helping other women achieve their career goals just doesn't make for good TV.

During the "The Real Housewives of New York City" reunion show last month, two of the housewives, Alex McCord and Jill Zarin, were engaged in what can only be called bitchy behavior.

McCord: "Every time you feel threatened, whether it is by me or anyone else, any time we have something or get something you want or you feel wronged by us, you fight back and you fight back dirty, you go to the gossip columns, you back stab. We're talking about you calling me ugly."

Zarin: "I said that you were channeling the devil. I wasn't calling you ugly."

These two successful career women, beyond their "Real Housewives" fame - McCord works in design and retail operations and Zarin is marketing director for the family fabric business - seem hellbent on undermining each other. The cattier they get, the more the cameras zoom in on the two.

It's a very public and extreme display of behavior that has long played out between women at work, in friendships, and throughout their lives, said Joan Rosenberg, a psychologist and co-author of "Mean Girls, Meaner Women."

"What are they modeling? Women treating other women poorly as a way to solve problems," she said. "We are looking at something deeply embedded in women, psychologically, culturally and socially."

Indeed, a recent example of this is former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, the Republican Senate candidate in California who will face a tough battle against the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Barbara Boxer. During a TV interview, instead of attacking Boxer's political record, she went after the senator's hair.

"God, what is that hair? Soooo yesterday," she said, thinking her microphone was off.

Tearing each other down With women holding so few key political roles and leadership positions in corporate America, you would think they would build each other up rather than tear each other down. Unfortunately, many women say we still have a long way to go.

A 2007 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that37 percent of the U.S. workforce reported being bul-lied at work. Among those who mistreat their co-workers, women were more likely to target other women (71 percent), compared men who bully other men (54 percent.)

"It's a dirty little secret among women that we don't support one another," said Susan Shapiro Barash, who teaches gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College and is author of "Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry" and "Toxic Friends: The Antidote for Women Stuck in Complicated Friendships."

Barash believes that because we live in what is still a male-dominated society, women are apt to feel like there's not enough to go around for them, which feeds jealousy and resentment among women fighting for a smaller piece of the pie. "If you're the gender that yields the power, you don't have to feel that way," she said.

Based on her research, women are more apt to help other women if there is a larger difference in age because they feel less threatened. "I found that women would not befriend women who were eight or 10 years younger than them because of the competition. But someone who's 28, if they were 58, they wouldn't see that threat because they were going to be gone by the time that woman rose through the ranks."

New at mentoring

Male mentors seem to edge out female mentors when it comes to helping proteges climb the ladder of success, accord-ing to a study by the department of management at the Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies at Penn State University.

"We found male mentors do a better job providing career development than female mentors," said John Sosik, a management and organization professor at the university who co-authored the study.

Many women are still new at the mentoring game, said Mary Stutts, author of "The Missing Mentor: Women Ad-vising Women on Power, Progress and Priorities." "Many of them have never been mentored or had formal career de-velopment planning."

Women also often feel like they don't have enough power to be of any real assistance, she added. "Women often underestimate or give away their power. They take the approach of 'Just keep your head down and do a good job' and success and advancement will just happen for you. They don't negotiate for the work experiences and projects that will enable them to move up and achieve the success they desire."

But women appeared to do a better job than men when it came to role modeling, Sosik said. "When it comes to liv-ing up to company values and being admired for what they achieved, women come out higher."

It's also an issue of time.

Elura Nanos, an attorney and a managing partner of Morange, a educational firm for law students, has seen tons of women, including herself, not helping other women but doesn't think it's about being "bitchy."

"Many women are too busy to help each other," she said. "I own a business, work full time, I
have two small child-ren, do charity work, hobbies. I have a wonderful husband, but he doesn't do half the amount of things I do."

As an attorney, Nanos said she's constantly being asked to help others but finds herself being strategic about whom she helps and how it could help her in the long run. "I think that for men in the business world, it's really more implicit that if I do something for you, you will do something for me. But women don't operate that way."

Perceived undermining What causes so many women consternation is perceived backbiting and undermining, as is played out in front of a national audience in shows such as "Real Housewives." Not knowing how to manage anger feeds into this problem, said Rosenberg.

"We are not taught to manage those emotional experiences within our selves," she explained. "So as we age, cultu-rally our anger is not taken seriously, so we have two choices: We can turn anger against ourselves, and that's where we see eating disorders, self mutilation, any kind of addictive behavior like shopping or substance use. Or it turns outward with hostility, undermining, biting behavior towards other women."

Maybe it's stereotypes that get us thinking a women's reaction to anger is different from a man's because women are supposed to be "more communal and less aggressive," said Beth Livingston, assistant professor of human resources at Cornell University.

"This is a double-edged sword because the same behaviors that a man enacts, when enacted by a woman, are often more memorable and trigger a backlash of sorts against the 'offending' woman," she said. "Men and women can enact the exact same behaviors, but it's seen as more hostile coming from a woman, likely because of the stereotypes we already hold."

Naomi Moneypenny, vice president of research and technology for ManyWorlds Inc., a management advisory and software company, had a female mentor during her first job, which was in publishing.

"She had made it in a male-dominated world, everyone was scared of her, the term battle-ax was frequently defined by her," Moneypenny recalled. But, she added, "since I delivered the results she wanted, and after all, that's what matters in a business, she really took me under her wing and through her guidance I began to get more exposure to senior folks in the company to listen to my ideas."

Moneypenny believes the whole idea that women don't help women is an "old wives tale." She pointed to a quote she heard Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State, make when she was at a women's conference last year:

"There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

Based on the "Real Housewives" franchise alone, hell is probably getting a bit overcrowded right about now.

LOAD-DATE: July 7, 2010

R&D Magazine, July 6, 2010, Tuesday

R&D Magazine

July 6, 2010, Tuesday

R&D Magazine

Rawlings, Ehrenberg to examine research universities

Posted In: General Sciences

Cornell faculty members Hunter Rawlings and Ronald Ehrenberg have been appointed to a national committee of top corporate and academic leaders who will examine the state of U.S. research universities.

Rawlings, Cornell president emeritus and professor of classics, and Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics and director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute, will serve on the National Research Council's new Committee on Research Universities and participate in a yearlong review of how the federal government can ensure the long-term health of U.S. research universities.

The 21-member committee of corporate and academic leaders will tackle the question: What are the top 10 actions that Congress, the federal government, state governments, research universities and others could take to assure the ability of the American research university to maintain the excellence in research and doctoral education needed to help the United States compete, prosper and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment and security in the global community of the 21st century?

Bipartisan members of Congress requested that the study be undertaken. Universities have argued that due to cuts in state support, the federal government needs to play a greater role in financing science and research or risk endangering the status of American research universities. The committee's mandate may extend to immigration policies that affect international students' study at U.S. universities.

It is hoped that work by the committee will have an impact on Congressional spending. In 2007 the National Academies, of which the National Research Council is a part, issued a report that led Congress to push for doubling the spending on scientific research. Specifically, the committee will examine:

Research and doctoral programs carried out by research universities and associated medical centers;
Basic and applied research at research universities, along with collaborative research programs with other components of the research enterprise (e.g., national and federal laboratories, federally funded research and development centers, and corporate research laboratories);
Doctoral education and, to the extent necessary, the pathways to graduate education and research careers; and
Fields of study and research that are critical to helping the United States compete, prosper and achieve national goals for health, energy, the environment and security, with a focus on science, engineering and medicine.
The Committee on Research Universities will hold its first meeting in the fall and plans to issue a final report within a year that:

Describes and assesses the historical development, current status, trends and societal impact of research universities and the "ecosystem" of U.S. research institutions;
Assesses the organizational, financial and intellectual capacity of public and private research universities in the United States; and
Envisions the mission and organization of these institutions 10-20 years into the future and the steps needed to get there.

Washington Independent, June 28, 2010, Monday

Copyright 2010 Washington Independent

Washington Independent

June 28, 2010, Monday

In Wake of Arizona Law, Labor Unites Behind Immigration Reform

BYLINE: Sahil Kapur

Jun. 28, 2010 (Center for Independent Media delivered by Newstex) --

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka (EPA/

For most of their history, labor unions opposed attempts at loosening immigration laws and often threw their weight behind restrictionist measures. During the most recent overhaul effort in 2007, a schism among unions cracked an otherwise willing liberal coalition and helped defeat the reform bill. But now, in the wake of Arizonas strict and highly controversial new immigration law, labor has united to support immigration reform with unprecedented vigor.

Image by: Matt Mahurin
Share Richard Trumka, president of the 11.5-million-member AFL-CIO, gave a pivotal speech on June 18 at the City Club of Cleveland that crystallized labors shift in outlook. Trumka, the nations most powerful labor voice, made a moral and economic case for reform and pledged to oeface head-on our own contradictions, hypocrisy and history on immigration. AFL-CIO has joined forces with the 2.2-million-strong Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union to pour resources into the fight, and the three have written a joint letter to Congress detailing labors unified position and unfailing commitment to sweeping reform.

Labor leaders have come to view an immigration overhaul as an opportunity rather than a threat to their interests. A large population of unlawful immigrants undercuts both the working class and the influence of unions, while legalized immigrants could be tapped to expand union membership. Likewise, joining forces with the pro-reform and growing Hispanic community can help secure the movements future.

Labor unions share of the U.S. workforce has declined steadily since the 1950s, when the figure peaked at roughly one-third. Last year it was 12.3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Immigrant workers are the growth sector in today's labor movement, so they're a big part of its future, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University.

Mark Krikorian, executive director of the restrictionist, low-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, put it more bluntly. Unions obviously see immigration as their only chance at future growth, he said, since American workers have pretty much given up on them.

A January report by the liberal Center for American Progress and Immigration Policy Center noted that a large population of unauthorized immigrants " 10 to 12 million, per most estimates " depresses wages for low-skilled jobs. Unscrupulous employers can hire and underpay unlawful workers, who have no ability to unionize or push back politically. In other words, the larger the undocumented population, the smaller the clout of organized labor.

Legalizing unlawful immigrants and ensuring the rights of all workers, the CAP and IPC study concluded, would help American workers by raising the wage floor for the entire U.S. economy. Newly naturalized workers could also give unions a boost, particularly if they view them as allies early on.

We want a strong legalization program, and we want to legalize as many workers as fast as possible, said Ana Avendaño, director of immigration at AFL-CIO, adding that the AFL-CIO supports the creation of an independent commission to structure requirements for future immigration inflows based on the needs of the economy.

While these undercurrents have been brewing for years, the newly galvanizing force for labor is the Arizona crack-down on illegal immigration, which requires law enforcement officials to probe the residency status of suspect individuals during lawful encounters.

Right now, the big fire that's pushing the labor movement is whats happening in Arizona, said Bronfenbrenner. Its hurting workers all over the country. Trumka forcefully criticized the law in his Cleveland speech as part of a hate campaign against working people, one that's designed to make anyone who might look like an immigrant live in fear of the police.

Civil rights groups say the law will disproportionately target Latinos " the fastest-growing U.S. demographic, and one that strongly backs an immigration overhaul. Unions are already leveraging their pro-reform stance to reach out to Hispanics " an effort that, if successful, could substantially boost their membership prospects in the long run.

The battle over this issue is ongoing, as five states are currently developing similar laws to Arizonas, and 17 more have shown interest in it, according to the think tank NDN. oeWere very concerned that Arizona is going to become the model for the United States, Avendaño said.

A sticking point for labor continues to be the expansion of the current guest worker program, the primary reason for AFL-CIOs opposition in 2007. This business-backed clause comprises non-immigrant visas such as the H-1B, which grants skilled foreigners the temporary right to live and work in the United States. But because these short-term workers have limited job flexibility and are essentially unable to unionize, the provision has been a roadblock to labors goals of having a politically active workforce and protecting low-skilled domestic talent.

Trumka, who calls recipients of these visas vulnerable, indentured workers, reiterated his unions opposition to them in Cleveland. We will not support the return to outdated guest worker programs that give immigrants no security, no future here in the United States, no rights and no hope of being part of the American Dream, he said, demanding that all workers be able to assert their legal rights, including the right to organize, without fear of retaliation.

But Avendaño declined to say whether AFL-CIO and other unions might again seek to kill reform over this provision. Its really hard to picture how this will end up, she said, adding that labor wont support reform that puts working people in a bad position. During the 2007 effort, dissenting progressives such as Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) cited the bills expansion of this program as a prime reason for joining all but 12 Republicans to narrowly defeat it. Labor unity on the next effort could play an important role in swinging the votes of liberals.

With the midterm elections approaching, Democrats appear to have put off immigration reform until next Congress, but have intensified support for it since the Arizona laws enactment. They released a broad template on April 29 " less than a week after the Arizona bill was signed into law " proposing to beef up border security, create a pathway to citizenship and overhaul the systems for employment- and family-based immigration. After helping Democrats pass health care reform, unions are poised to flex their muscle on this new priority.

To Krikorian, labors embrace of immigration reform is part of a broader cultural shift. The U.S. labor movement has changed and become more like European unions " post-patriotic, culturally leftist " and the change in immigration policy is just part of that change, he said.

For Trumka, however, the case for immigrant rights isn't just about workers, politics or the economy " its also about the fabric of American society. Critiquing the Arizona law, he said, All of us should fear such a system. In the end, dont all of us who aren't Native Americans look like the immigrants and children of immigrants that we are?

Newstex ID: CFIM-0006-46500944

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LOAD-DATE: June 28, 2010, June 25, 2010, Friday

June 25, 2010, Friday

Is It Legal To Use Social Network Data When Hiring?
Posted by Howard Greenstein

Many start-ups use their Social Network contacts to find additional workers. Why not? Someone’s friend of a friend is probably that chef, programmer or administrative assistant you need, and they’re looking for work. (In fact, Inc. has a great guide to Using Social Media as a Recruiting Tool.)

But beware how you use that Social Network data you find. It could lead to discriminatory hiring practices. Most start-ups don't have an HR department to tell them that different restrictions take effect when you have 4 employees, 15 employees and as you grow past 20 and 50. The Federal Equal Employment Laws prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, and prohibit bias based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, age, as well as other considerations. State and Local laws may impose even stricter rules depending on where your business operates.

This data (a candidates race, national origin, pregnancy status, etc.) is considered “protected information” and you can’t ask it in an interview. If it is revealed to you, it is often best to keep it to yourself and not pass it along to other hiring managers.

But what happens when the candidate reveals protected information via their social profiles? A Facebook basic profile almost matches the list of things you can’t ask in an interview – race, religion, sexual orientation, relationship status - are all part of the standard questions many people fill in on their pages.

“Social Media is an issue in HR and Employment and Compliance law – the protected information on people’s profiles is free, easy and voluntary. It’s not as if the employer is asking “are you pregnant” in an interview,” said lawyer Nancy Schess, a partner at Klein Zelman Rothermel, a labor and employment boutique firm that represents management. “The questions to ask are is a)it legal and b) is it a best practice to go and look for this information in the context of your hiring practice.”

Schess continues “Yes, If you go on a search engine and you can find it, you are allowed to look at it. But once you have the information, legally, what can you do with it?”

Take the case of a start-up owner who needs new assistant. He asks his network or his HR person to get candidates. He interviews an outstanding woman candidate and practically offers her the position during the interview. Then he finds out via her Facebook status after the interview that she’s 3 months pregnant. The owner knows that 6 months from now when she’s out giving birth, it will be the busy season, when he can't afford to be without help. Legally he can’t act on this information.

I asked Schess, “How do you “un-know” this in your decision making process?” She replied “You can state you didn’t take it into account, but if you are sued for discrimination you have to prove that it wasn’t part of the decision making process. Now you’re in a risk area with a large liability.”

Is this kind of worrying really relevant to hard driving, fast-decision-making startups? “It’s my opinion in working with students and startups that they typically don’t care about this kind of information. They want qualified candidates,” says Dan Cohen, a Lecturer in Human Resource Studies at my alma mater, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Cohen was a 15-year entrepreneur who sold his own business and earned a PhD. in Management. He’s also the Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Cornell's Student Agency's eLab Incubator. “When start-ups need specialized talent they want the people that can do the job. The need for that talent is often blind to other personal characteristics.”

Schess cautions “If you’re going to use Social Media, and it is an appropriate approach, there’s a way to do it that protects you. Separate the information gathering, so the person who does the online search isn’t part of the hiring chain. Perhaps a screening agency, or a different employee. You have that person look at a candidate’s online profile for legitimate business issues, then ask them to brief you about their educational background and business experience. Make sure they don’t tell you about their protected information.”

Do you recruit candidates using Social Media? What’s been your experience?

Note: You should consult your own attorney before relying on these procedures - employment law varies by state and locality.