Archive for Labor

Dec
03

Bracing for Thursday

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This is getting to be a Buffalo Springfield kind of thing, ain’t it?

Fast food workers in at least 150 cities nationwide will walk off the job on Dec. 4, demanding an industry-wide base wage of $15 per hour and the right to form a union. Workers unanimously voted on the date for the new strike during a Nov. 25 conference call, held shortly before the second anniversary of the movement’s first strike.

The first of the recent fast food strikes took place on Nov. 29, 2012, in New York City. Two hundred workers from various fast food restaurants around the city participated in that strike, making it the largest work stoppage to ever hit the fast food industry. Since then, the size of the movement has ballooned several times over: With the backing of the powerful service sector labor union SEIU, the campaign has come to include thousands of workers in the U.S.

Laura Clawson for Daily Kos Labor:

The fast food strikes and other actions by low-wage workers have been a major source of momentum behind increasing the minimum wage. No one was talking about $15 an hour until fast food workers started fighting for it in late 2012. The Democratic proposal of a $10.10 federal minimum was generally portrayed in the media as a reach, the grounds for a compromise to something lower. $15 sounded impossible, yet now two major American cities—Seattle and San Francisco—are on their way there, while Chicago is about to pass a $13 an hour minimum wage, Oakland has approved a $12.25 wage, Washington, DC, and neighboring counties in Maryland are on their way to $11.50, and Massachusetts is going to $11. Doubtless some or all of these cities and states would have done something about the minimum wage without this level of worker organizing, but there’s no way we’d be seeing so many places going above $10.10.

Chicago passed its $13 an hour measure yesterday.

Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and Moral Mondays organizer, spoke on the conference call, saying, “The battle for fair wages is as critical as the battle that young people waged in the 1960s when they came into the sit-in movement.”

San Diego Free Press:

The particulars of these events are not as important as what they represent: a growing sense of frustration with economic and social conditions. These actions are symbolic, intended to break through the “everybody knows” noise generated by the mass media.

Philly.com:

Millions of people make $8 to $10 an hour working as cashiers or in restaurants, or providing elder or child care – a far cry from a living wage. Despite working hard, many of these people live in poverty or on the edge of poverty.

This isn’t what America is about, and it can’t be reconciled with political rhetoric that says if you work hard and play by the rules, you will succeed in the United States.

In a season when the western world empathizes with Bob Cratchit’s struggles – with no heat for his office – to feed his fictional family, real families working for miserly wages and hours must choose between buying food and heating their homes. Food banks are sorely taxed. With every succeeding year, Dickens’ morality tale looks more and more like a quintessentially American story.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Nov
28

Workers’ Lives Matter, Too

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Anat Shenker-Osorio (asocommunications.com, Don’t Buy It) is on a roll today. The left needs to get better at sound-bite and bumper sticker messaging:

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Traditional anti-consumerism boycotts of Black Friday have company this year.

In the wake of the grand jury decision not to charge Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, activists are encouraging black consumers to turn to economic activism and boycott the busiest shopping day of the year.

Under the title “No Justice, No Profit,” the boycott aims to capitalize on the purchasing power of the black community, which Al Jazeera points out is about $1 trillion, and prove, in a language businesses will understand—money—that injustice doesn’t come without consequence.

Dacia Polk of the Justice for Michael Brown Leadership Coalition explained the boycott to St. Louis Public Radio, saying:

“There will be no business as usual while those who are supposed to protect and serve us,” she said. “Until this nation begins to place value on black lives, there will be no value placed on this business because black lives matter.”

Protesters are urged to avoid large retailers and to support instead local, black-owned businesses. Hashtags: #BoycottBlackFriday, #BlackOutBlackFriday #HandsUpDontSpend, #NotOneDime, and #BrownFriday.

Walmart, the crown jewel of the low-wage economy, is still in the running for “worst corporation in the world.” Again this year, the home of low, low wages faces Thanksgiving and Black Friday protests from community activists and its own employees — I’m sorry Associates:

OUR Walmart first burst onto the scene two years ago, when it used Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, to launch an unprecedented, nationwide strike against Walmart. The group originally demanded that Walmart pay all employees a base salary of at least $25,000 per year, but has since joined with striking fast food workers in demanding at least $15 per hour.

[snip]

As with OUR Walmart’s first major action in 2012, this year’s Black Friday protests will not be a typical strike. Many of those picketing Walmart — perhaps even most — will be outside supporters of the OUR Walmart campaign, not store employees themselves. Those employees who do walk off the job will likely do so for just one day. Yet OUR Walmart has said that their prior work stoppages are legally protected strikes, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has agreed. Strikes over wages and working conditions, or over an alleged ULP (unfair labor practice), such as illegally retaliating against workers, are protected by federal law.

Besides fringe benefits like missing Thanksgiving and Christmas with families, Associates also miss meals:

This year’s protests by Walmart workers will kick off on Thanksgiving with a 24-hour fast by 12 protesters. The fast, which is protesting the hunger suffered by some Walmart workers who can’t afford food, will be staged outside a Los Angeles store.

One of the workers participating in the fast is Richard Reynoso, an overnight stocker at the Duarte, California store. Reynoso is one of those workers who cannot afford to purchase three meals a day. As a result, he only eats once a day on his lunch break.

“Sometimes all I have money for is a can of tuna and crackers,” he said.

But progressives need to be careful. Even as living wage advocates demand higher wages from big-box retailers, such protests can pit them against the very communities they hope to help. Those everyday low prices enable the Waltons’ clientele in poorer neighborhoods to stretch their limited incomes. Perhaps a new slogan?

Walmart: We make poor affordable

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Nov
26

Shift minions getting all uppity

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Photo via UFCW Local 770

So, what? Do these uppity, chronically stressed workers think The Economy exists to serve people instead of the other way around? Employees — I’m sorry, Associates — are supposed to genuflect and cross themselves at the sound of their master’s voice, and ask how high when Job Creators says jump. What are those Left Coast socialists smoking?

Politico:

Meet your new union reps: the statehouse and City Hall.

San Francisco’s new law, which its Board of Supervisors passed Tuesday by unanimous vote, will require any “formula retailer” (retail chain) with 20 or more locations worldwide that employs 20 or more people within the city to provide two weeks’ advance notice for any change in a worker’s schedule. An employer that alters working hours without two weeks’ notice — or fails to notify workers two weeks ahead of time that their schedules won’t change — will be required to provide additional “predictability pay.“ Property service contractors that provide janitorial or security services for these retailers will also need to abide by the new rule.

What’s worse, these subversive notions have a way of spreading east from the Left Coast like viruses. Call out the dragoons.

Speaking of predictability, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is predictably miffed about the “Retail Workers Bill of Rights.” For struggling hourly workers, taking classes, caring for families, and raising children (and managing day care logistics) is something The Economy expects you to fit in between work shifts at multiple, part-time, low-paying, no-benefits service jobs where shift schedules vary a lot. But that’s just the way it is and the way The Economy likes it. With labor unions weakened and workers disempowered, setting working conditions once governed by collective bargaining agreements now falls to local Democrats. That is, if you can find any that aren’t Republican lite.

And go figure, labor-friendly measures such as the Retail Workers Bill of Rights are popular. HuffPost:

With Congressional Republicans opposing a minimum wage hike and other legislation aimed at low-wage work, labor unions and their progressive allies have found much more success on the local level. Despite the drubbing that Democrats took in the midterm elections earlier this month, binding ballot initiatives on the minimum wage passed easily in four red states. A measure that will require many employers to provide their workers with paid sick days also passed in Massachusetts.

Politico continues:

Increased unpredictability in work schedules is driven by technology. When store foot traffic had to be measured manually and work schedules were typed out, employers found it cumbersome to alter work schedules too frequently. But just as computers created vast new producer efficiencies through just-in-time store inventories, so, too, did they create vast new staffing efficiencies through just-in-time work scheduling. Trouble is, getting moved around at the click of a mouse is more disruptive to human beings than it is to refrigerators and automobiles.

“Efficiency” is like “shareholder value” that way. When they start hearing it, flesh-and-blood consumable resources better update their resumes, stock up on antacid, and learn to get by with even less sleep.

Earlier this year, 32-year-old Maria Fernandes of Newark, NJ died of asphyxiation while catnapping in her car between shifts of her four part-time jobs. The Economy did not attend her funeral.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Nov
22

The other dispossessed

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This week the president presented his new immigration plan for undocumented immigrants. The right will hate it as much as the left will insist it is the decent and humane thing to do.

But Democrats might consider that, unless they widen their focus, doing the right thing for undocumented immigrants and other left-leaning voting groups will further alienate a neglected bloc of voters they very much need to pay more attention to: the white working class. Democrats lost them in 2014 by 30 points.

At PoliticsNC, Thomas Mills explains:

For workers, wages have been stagnant for more than a decade and for most of the past 30 years. For a while, easy credit gave a sense of improving lifestyles, but that illusion came crashing down in the recession. Working class families got hit the hardest and have yet to recover. They’ve also not seen much offered in assistance.
However, their neighbors, some who don’t work and some who are in the country illegally, keep getting help. They want something for themselves. Instead, they see affirmative action programs give minority families and businesses a hand up, or as they see it, an unfair advantage. They see the president offering residency and the benefits of this country to undocumented workers, while they’ve been hard-working, law-abiding citizens who aren’t sure they can offer their own children a better quality of life.

Republicans understand these reactions and have exploited them. Democrats, in contrast, make the case for why the policies are the right thing to do. In short, Republicans appeal to emotions while Democrats appeal to morality and reason. In politics, emotion wins almost every time.

Democrats are losing working-class whites faster than demographics and a younger base of voters can shift the balance in their favor, writes Mills. Plus, they hate welfare, as Kevin Drum says. So while the left’s focus on helping disadvantaged classes feels like (and is) a good and moral thing to do, the struggling white, middle-class worker — feeling pretty dispossessed himself — looks on and feels ignored. The GOP will at least give him a lip-service tax cut and somebody to blame: the undeserving poor and their benefactors, the Democrats.

Kevin Drum writes:

It’s pointless to argue that this perception is wrong. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. But it’s there. And although it’s bound up with plenty of other grievances—many of them frankly racial, but also cultural, religious, and geographic—at its core you have a group of people who are struggling and need help, but instead feel like they simply get taxed and taxed for the benefit of someone else. Always someone else. If this were you, you wouldn’t vote for Democrats either.

Complaining that polls show progressive policies are widely popular doesn’t win elections. Especially when a frustrated populace complains that there’s no difference between parties and Democrats in leadership go out of their way to reinforce it. The buzzword solution seems to be populism, but it’s one thing to say and another to communicate effectively when it’s virtually a dead language, and Democrats’ leading 2016 contender doesn’t speak it.

An old anecdote about George H.W. Bush comes to mind:

“Colleagues say that while Bush understands thoroughly the complexities of issues, he does not easily fit them into larger themes,” Ajemian wrote. “This has led to the charge that he lacks vision. It rankles him. Recently he asked a friend to help him identify some cutting issues for next year’s campaign. Instead, the friend suggested that Bush go alone to Camp David for a few days to figure out where he wanted to take the country. ‘Oh,’ said Bush in clear exasperation, ‘the vision thing.’ The friend’s advice did not impress him.”

Promising a laundry list of policies, however popular, will not impress a dispossessed white, working class failed by a rigged system unless they fit into a vision of a fairer economy and a more secure quality of life.

(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

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Sep
11

Failing at Thought

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Sigh.

Then she said she wanted the government to force McDonalds to pay more “so I won’t have to struggle.”

If you think it is the government’s job to force your employer, who is more likely than not paying you before he pays himself, to raise your wages, you’ve got a problem and it is not your employer’s problem and it is not my problem.

I don’t think that McDonalds needs to worry about making payroll.

Without struggle, there is no progress. Forcing your employer, via government action, to pay you more is not struggling.

They missed the part about me being a conservative and not libertarian and therefore supporting a social safety net for people who cannot take care of themselves.

Nice struggling straw man there. And your whole position seems to be that government should not force employers to raise wages which, without even raising the minimum wage from it’s paltry $7.25 an hour, it is already doing. Sounds like you would abolish the minimum wage. So definitely not libertarian.

And apparently it’s a conservative first principle to allow markets to race to the bottom and have everyone else pick up the tab for their failure. But I didn’t get the part about the safety net being for people who cannot take care of themselves. People who hold a full time job can’t take care of themselves? Anyway sounds a whole lot like redistributin’ the wealth.

Meanwhile another conservative has a different take on it:

“The bottom line is that the American government right now spends $250 billion a year on social welfare programs to benefit the working poor,” he said. “What we have right now is the classic case of businesses privatizing the benefits of the workers, but socializing the costs — shifting the burden to taxpayers and the rest of society. And I think businesses should stand on their own two feet and pay their own workers, rather than force the taxpayers to make up the difference.”

Standing on their own two feet also known as picking yourself up by your own bootstraps.

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Sep
01

Happy Labor Day

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Aug
18

Keeping Them In Their Places

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(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)

A report from the Guttmacher Institute shows how cutbacks to reproductive health services have particularly hurt poorer women. Even as the need has increased over the last decade-plus, the number of women actually receiving publicly funded assistance has fallen by 9 percent.

While public support for contraceptive services for poorer women dates back to 1970, that portion of the safety net has been failing, particularly in states that refuse to expand Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, and with increasing attacks on women’s health services, writes Tara Culp-Ressler.

The issue has recently been getting worse. In the period between 2010 and 2012 alone — when attacks on publicly-funded clinics intensified — the number of poor adult women in need of contraceptive services increased by 12 percent. In Texas, where lawmakers’ crusade against abortion has undermined the entire family planning landscape over the past two years, this health care crisis is coming into sharp focus. Advocates are holding up the state as a negative example of what happens without Title X.

Michael Hiltzik points out the folly in attacking Title X reproductive health services.

In more recent years, however, congressional conservatives have had their knives out for Title X. The program was openly made a target of the right wing’s attack on Planned Parenthood, for example. The religion-based attack on ACA-mandated contraceptive services–the Hobby Lobby effect–is more of the same.

Let’s be blunt here: There is no more witless public-health position than one that targets women’s reproductive health. Preventing unwanted pregnancies pays off in multiples by reducing the burden on healthcare institutions and improving women’s work and career prospects and the health of their families.

Yet ultimately these policies are neither about economics nor religion. Which makes it even more annoying when religious business people argue that it is their rights being infringed by being required to pay for employee health care plans that include coverage for contraception.

Employment is a form of contract in which employers agree to compensate employees for their labor with a package of cash and benefits. Once those services have been rendered, the employer has incurred an enforceable debt. The money passing through the employer’s account to purchase health insurance he had contracted to pay as compensation is no longer his, but the employee’s to spend as she/he chooses. But framing it that way treats employees as equal economic partners in the employer/employee relationship. And in the new neo-feudalism, “job creators” can’t have that.

In the end, the attacks on women’s reproductive health services — as well as on labor — are not just about religion or economics, but about power. About reaffirming who’s in charge and who isn’t. As I observed at my home blog,

In every economic argument these days, notice the unstated assumption, how among both top Republicans and Democrats that the concerns of the employer, the entrepreneur — his needs, his convenience, his profitability, his confidence, his incentives — are always front and center, the primary topic of debate and of legislation. And the needs and concerns of workers without whom nothing gets done are a secondary, even tertiary concern. Because all Americans are equal, but some are more equal than others. Once you tune your ear to listen for it, you hear it everywhere.

Welcome to Orwell’s Farm.

Categories : Labor, Women's Issues
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Before becoming Ronald Reagan’s vice-president, George H.W. Bush called trickle down theory voodoo economics. He was wrong about that. Zombie economics is more accurate. Trickle down won’t die and stay dead.

“Private wealth creation requires huge investments in commonwealth,” David Cay Johnston told Chris Hayes last night on “All In.” Tax cut after tax cut — primarily favoring the entrepreneurial class — were sold on the premise that they would spur investment and hiring by the entrepreneurial class and lift all boats, as it were. Those tax cuts have instead cut into public investments over the last decade-plus, costing the average family a lot of money, says Johnston.

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I have long been wary of the fetish among the business and political classes for efficiency. It’s a frequent rationale for bureaucratic decisions that seem to come at the expense of living, breathing people.

A Good Read

Thomas Frank (“What’s the Matter with Kansas?”) speaks with Barry Lynn at Salon on the reemergence of monopolies in America. Lynn describes how, rather than overturning laws on the books for decades, the Reagan administration changed the way the laws regulating monopolies were enforced.

Yes, that was what was so brilliant about what they did. The Department of Justice establishes guidelines that detail how regulators plan to interpret certain types of laws. So the Reagan people did not aim to change the antimonopoly laws themselves, because that would have sparked a real uproar. Instead they said they planned merely to change the guidelines that determine how the regulators and judiciary are supposed to interpret the law.

The Justice Dept. went from raising its eyebrows in the 1960s at mergers that concentrated a few percent of a market to waving though deals involving 80-90% of it.

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