January 22nd, 2015 | Jonathan Tasini
It’s pretty simple: you can’t advance a progressive agenda, or even one you call “liberal”, that claims to want to combat inequality AND go all out to ram through the Trans Pacific Partnership using the odious “Fast track” authority. Here are the contradictions.
Hat tip to Global Trade Watch for this comparison using the president’s words from the State of the Union:
The president on income inequality: “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?”
TPP Reality: An “economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well” is actually the projected outcome of the TPP. A recent study finds that the TPP would spell a pay cut for all but the richest 10 percent of U.S. workers by exacerbating U.S. income inequality, just as past trade deals have done.
The president on reviving manufacturing: “More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.”
TPP Reality: The TPP would give manufacturing firms a reason to offshore jobs to Vietnam, not bring them back from China. The TPP would expand NAFTA’s special protections for firms that offshore American manufacturing, including to Vietnam, where minimum wages are a fraction of those paid in China. Since NAFTA, we have endured a net loss of more than 57,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities and nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs.
The president on American jobs: “So no one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future. But we do know we want them here in America.”
TPP Reality: TPP rules would gut the popular Buy American preferences that require government-purchased goods to be made here in America, preventing us from recycling our tax dollars back into our economy to create U.S. jobs.
The president on Exports: “Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages.”
TPP Reality: Those who wish for more exports should wish for a different trade agenda. U.S. exports to countries that are part of TPP-like deals have actually grown slower than exports to the rest of the world, according to government data. Under the Korea deal that literally served as the template for the TPP, U.S. exports have actually fallen.
The president on small businesses: “21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas.”
TPP Reality: Small businesses have endured declining exports and export shares under pacts serving as the model for the TPP. Small businesses suffered a steeper downfall in exports than large firms under the Korea trade pact, and small businesses’ export share has declined under NAFTA.
The president on economic growth: “Maintaining the conditions for growth and competitiveness. This is where America needs to go.”
TPP Reality: An official U.S. government study finds that the economic growth we could expect from the TPP is precisely zero, while economists like Paul Krugman have scoffed at the deal’s economic significance.
The president on middle class wages: “Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages.”
TPP Reality: The TPP would put downward pressure on middle class wages, just as NAFTA has, by offshoring the jobs of decently-paid American manufacturing workers and forcing them to compete for lower-paying, non-offshoreable jobs.
The president on the legacy of past trade deals: “Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense.”
TPP Reality: Past trade deals have resulted in massive trade deficits and job loss not because the pacts’ rules have been broken, but because of the rules themselves. The TPP would double down on NAFTA’s rules – the opposite of Obama’s promise to renegotiate the unpopular pact – by expanding NAFTA’s offshoring incentives, limits on food safety standards, restrictions on financial regulation and other threats to American workers and consumers.
The president on affordable medicines: “…middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change. That means helping folks afford …health care…”
TPP Reality: The TPP would directly contradict Obama’s efforts to reduce U.S. healthcare costs by expanding monopoly patent protections that jack up medicine prices and by imposing restrictions on the U.S. government’s ability to negotiate or mandate lower drug prices for taxpayer-funded programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
The president on Wall Street regulation: “We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis…Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices…We can’t put the security of families at risk by…unraveling the new rules on Wall Street…”
TPP Reality: Senator Warren has warned that the TPP could help banks unravel the new rules on Wall Street by prohibiting bans on risky financial products and “too big to fail” safeguards while empowering foreign banks to “sue” the U.S. government over new financial regulations.
The president on Internet freedom: “I intend to protect a free and open internet…”
TPP Reality: The TPP includes rules that implicate net neutrality and that would require Internet service providers to police our Internet activity – rules similar to those in the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that was rejected as a threat to Internet freedom.
The president on the country’s national interests: “But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen?”
TPP Reality: With the TPP, multinational corporations want to write the rules that would put our workers at a disadvantage and undermine our national interests. TPP rules, written behind closed doors under the advisement of hundreds of official corporate advisers, would provide benefits for firms that offshore American jobs, help pharmaceutical corporations expand monopoly patent protections that drive up medicine prices, give banks new tools to roll back Wall Street regulations, and empower foreign firms to “sue” the U.S. government over health and environmental policies.
Rhetoric versus reality.
This article originally appeared in workinglife.org on January 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Jonathan Tasini on any given day, I think like a political-union organizer or a writer — or both. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays, with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995).
January 22nd, 2015 | Laura Clawson
Here’s California Republican Rep. Tom McClintock explaining why he wants to keep the minimum wage at a poverty level out of compassion and concern for workers:
“Only [raise the minimum wage] if you want to rip the first rung in the ladder of opportunity for teenagers, for minorities, for people who are trying to get into the job market for their first job.The minimum wage doesn’t support a family. We all know that. It’s not supposed to support a family. The minimum wage is that first job when you have no skills, no experience, no working history. That’s how you get into the job market, that’s how you develop that experience, develop that work record, get your first raise, then your next raise, then your promotion. That’s the first rung of opportunity.
If your labor as an unskilled person just entering the workforce is worth say $7 an hour at a job and the minimum wage is $10, you have just been made permanently unemployable. That first rung of the economic ladder has been ripped out and you can’t get on it. That is a tragedy.”
It’s mostly the same old Republican blah-blah-blah pretending that the workers making minimum wage and just above (but who would still get a raise if the minimum wage went up) are teenagers ascending some glorious ladder of opportunity. In reality, most industries that pay the minimum wage have one really, really wide rung of that ladder for people making the minimum wage, and incredibly narrow rungs at the “supporting a family” levels, and a lot of people with kids and families are stuck on that wide bottom rung that McClintock admits won’t support a family.
But there’s one fascinating difference in what McClintock said: “for teenagers, for minorities, for people who are trying to get into the job market for their first job.” You know, people who make the minimum wage—minorities and teenagers. People whose “labor as an unskilled person just entering the workforce is worth say $7 an hour at a job.” Seriously, he just swept “minorities” into the hopper with teenagers and people who’ve never had a job as people who cannot possibly expect to be paid enough to raise a family and would be rendered “permanently unemployable” if for some insane reason the government were to require companies to pay them family-supporting money. He just … kinda casually tossed that one in, like it wasn’t worth a second thought, any more than the reality that most minimum wage workers are not teenagers was worth a second thought. It’s stunning.
This article originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011
January 20th, 2015 | Veronica Mendez Moore
Today I will accompany U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, representing low-wage workers’ voices at President Barack Obama’s sixth State of the Union. While I am honored, I go with a conflicted heart.
Yesterday the radio was filled with speeches from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today I will stand beside the first African American to be elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota listening to a speech from the first African-American President of the United States. Clearly we live in changed times, demonstrating that through organizing we can win important change.
Yet in many respects times have not changed for the better. Nearly 50 years ago, Dr. King talked about the dangers of income inequality in the country, stating: “the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.” Since then there has in fact been a radical redistribution of economic power, but not in the direction imagined by Dr. King.
Today, the wealthiest 0.1% of the population in the United States controls as much of the wealth in this country as 90% of the population. Let those numbers sink in for a second. In 2013, the average CEO in the United States earned 331 times as much as the average worker, and 774 times as much as minimum wage workers. In half a day’s work, the CEO of McDonald’s Corporation receives more compensation than the workers who produce his wealth are paid in an entire year.
This division of wealth is also now more than ever reflected in the halls of political power: For the first time in history, more than half the members of the House and Senate are millionaires. And while the new Congress is the most diverse in history, four out of five members of Congress are white and four out of five are men.
Let’s move beyond statistics to understand what this means in real life. I work at the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), a low-wage worker led organization that is fighting for fair wages, fair working conditions, and a voice in the workplace for all workers in the Twin Cities metro area. Members of CTUL build and reconstruct the homes in our communities, yet cannot afford to put a roof over the heads of their own families. Members of CTUL work for fast food companies, surrounded by an overwhelming abundance of food, yet often cannot provide food for their own families. Members of CTUL work for contracted companies maintaining the sleek and clean images of large stores like Kohl’s and Home Depot, yet they cannot afford to shop in the very stores they clean.
Every day, millions of workers stress about how to cover basic needs for their families on wages that fall well below the poverty level. Every day, workers endure the arrogance and disrespect of companies that constantly increase workloads, lower wages, and threaten workers who complain. Every day, people drive home from work worrying that they will be pulled over simply for being a person of color. Every day, parents worry about a racist system that allows police to kill unarmed youth of color. And all of these combined days create a reality where the wealthiest, mostly white Minnesotans live on average eight years longer than the poorest Minnesotans, mostly people of color.
Despite all of this, I do not by any means feel defeated. Low-wage workers across the country are standing up, refusing to be relegated to the back of the bus of the U.S. economy. From retail janitors in the Twin Cities to farmworkers in Florida to fast food workers across the nation, low-wage workers are organizing and winning. Yesterday on MLK Day, and over the past month, hundreds of thousands of young people have marched in the streets, declaring #BlackLivesMatter.
Our voices are echoing through the halls of political and economic power structures. Target Corporation is now following the lead of retail janitors by implementing a Responsible Contractor Policy regarding the contracted cleaning of its stores. U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison is working tirelessly to amplify workers’ voices in Washington by calling for policies to achieve justice for low-wage workers across the country. President Barack Obama is now calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage and the right to guaranteed paid sick days for all workers.
While all of this is important, it’s not enough. As you read this, the city of Bloomington is threatening to sue organizers for declaring that Black Lives Matter in the sacred halls of American capitalism, Mall of America. Even if we win paid sick days and a $10.10 minimum wage, millions of workers will still live in poverty.
Today I will sit surrounded by the political and economic power structure of this country listening to the State of the Union. Tomorrow I will stand in the streets surrounded by those who have been pushed to the edges of the political and economic system, demanding a radical redistribution of political and economic power.
This article originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on January 20, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Veronica Mendez Moore is co-director of the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.
January 19th, 2015 | Kiley Kroh
On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled several new proposals, including a call to raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour in the city and $10.50 an hour for workers in the rest of the state.
“It’s too easy to say, ‘Get a job,’?” Cuomo said during a press conference in Manhattan. “You need to get a job, which means you need to have the training and the skills to get the job, which means the job has to exist, and when you get the job, it means the job has to pay enough so you can pay for rent and you can pay for food and it is a sustainable wage.”
The minimum wage in New York is currently $8.75 an hour, boosted from $7.25 in 2013, and is set to reach $9 an hour by 2016. Cuomo, noting that “the wage gap has continued to increase,” proposed that the $10.50 and $11.50 minimum wages go into effect at the end of 2016.
Some say that still isn’t enough to support a family in the state, however. “Eleven-fifty is almost $2 less than what he endorsed last spring,” Bill Lipton, director of the New York State Working Families Party, told the New York Times. “And the truth is it’s nearly impossible to raise a family in this state on even $12 or $13 an hour.”
Business Council CEO Heather Briccetti voiced a common argument in opposition to raising the minimum wage, saying “the end result will be fewer jobs created and potential job losses that will adversely impact both small businesses and entry-level workers.”
The big hurdle for Cuomo’s proposal will be winning the approval of the state legislature, namely the Republican-controlled state Senate. Cuomo told reporters on Sunday, however, that he believes the strength of the market makes the current conditions more favorable for reaching a deal than in the past.
States are increasingly raising their own wages ahead of the federal government. Fourteen states approved a minimum wage hike last year alone, including four ballot initiatives that won the approval of voters in November — even those in deep red states. With those votes, 26 states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wages than is stipulated by federal law.
Contrary to fears, the 13 states that raised the minimum wage at the beginning of 2014 saw higher employment growth through the first half of the year than those that kept theirs the same.
The federal minimum wage currently sits at $7.25. Democrats in Congress have introduced several bills that would raise that to $10.10, but the measures have been blocked by Republicans.
Not only has it been estimated that a $10.10 minimum wage could lift approximately 4.6 million people out of poverty immediately; there are several other short and long-term benefits, including a significant reduction in government spending on public programs. A report released in December by the Economic Policy Institute found that raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would give those workers enough of an income boost that they could be less reliant on public programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) or the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) — ultimately cutting government spending on those programs by $7.6 billion a year.
This blog appeared on thinkprogress.org on January 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Kiley Kroh is Co-Editor of Climate Progress. Prior to joining Think Progress, she worked on the Energy policy team at the Center for American Progress as the Associate Director for Ocean Communications. Previous employment includes serving as a media consultant and strategic adviser to Democratic candidates and committees at the federal, state, and municipal levels, working as a member of the executive production team for the 2008 Democratic National Convention and serving as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine from 2005 to 2007. Kiley is a Colorado native and graduate of Regis University in Denver.
January 19th, 2015 | Laura Clawson
The federal government is trying to do a better job tracking workplace injuries, which would make it easier for workers to show that they were injured on the job and get some compensation. But—of course—industry lobby groups are fighting hard to prevent accountability.
Currently, manufacturing companies are required to tell the government about injuries workers suffer on the job. But employers in other industries don’t have to report those injuries, which makes it easier for them to claim they’re not responsible. If workers can’t show that there’s a pattern of, say, tendinitis in a specific workplace, they’re more likely to lose injury claims against the boss. After all, any one person can get tendinitis for all sorts of reasons. But if there’s information on how many people have injuries in that workplace, workers might be able to point to patterns that would show that their own injuries aren’t random chance or due to something they did outside working hours.
Under a planned rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, companies with more than 250 workers and smaller companies in particularly dangerous industries:
“… would be required to submit data including the job title of the employee, the type of injury, where it occurred, what the worker was doing before the incident, and the number of workdays the employee had to miss as a result. With the information, OSHA and employers ‘will be better able to … abate workplace hazards,’ an OSHA spokeswoman said in an email.”
It’s information employers are already required to keep records of. All that would change would be that they would submit it to the government four times a year. Not a huge expense or effort, you’d think. But:
“The National Retail Federation—a group that represents Walmart, McDonald’s, and The Container Store—spent $2.4 million lobbying on this measure and other issues between January and September of last year. In a letter to OSHA last March, the group complained that the rule would require disclosure of confidential information, lay blame on employers for non-work-related injuries, be too costly, and empower unions. Last year, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, which counts Walmart, Target, and Home Depot among its more than 200 members, also urged the agency to kill the rule. The US Chamber of Commerce spent more than $28 million between July and September of last year on lobbying—including on this regulation, which the Chamber says is more burdensome on industry than OSHA will admit. And the Coalition for Workplace Safety, an association of trade groups that includes the Chamber, the NRF, and NILA, has asked OSHA to scrap the rule.”
“Require disclosure of confidential information”—that’s the same information that the manufacturing industry has long been required to disclose—”lay blame on employers for non-work-related injuries”—or, you know, keep employers from being able to lawyer their way out of being held responsible for work-related injuries—”be too costly”—sure, if the company had been escaping responsibility for a lot of work-related injuries that it’s suddenly held accountable for—”and empower unions”—by providing information about whether the employer is harming its workers. In other words, “it’s convenient and cheap for us to avoid accountability for workplace injuries, and we would like that to continue.” And to be fair, they probably do have something to fear. Even without this reporting requirement, for example, Walmart has faced serious fines for workplace safety violations. Imagine if that information was all in one place for the government, workers, and reporters to see.
This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on January 19, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Laura Clawson Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.
January 17th, 2015 | Liz Shuler
Free, high-quality public higher education. Expanded apprenticeship programs. Jobs that pay living wages. Workplaces that are free of discrimination. Strong union rights. Don’t those sound great?
These are what the members of the AFL-CIO’s Young Worker Advisory Council are asking for in their newly released Youth Economic Platform. This new generation of union leaders is tired of tone-deaf political conversation that completely misses the mark. They’re fed up with an economy that’s not working — especially for young people.
So they’re calling on President Obama to go big in his State of the Union next week. And they’re asking politicians everywhere to heed the call. The message is simple: Our government needs to invest in young people if we have any hope of reviving the American Dream.
Will millennials be the first American generation that ends up worse off than their parents? Many are struggling with an intimidating amount of student debt and lack of good employment options. They’re hampered by an economy that’s been held back by stagnant wages, weak worker bargaining power and declining union density. And youth unemployment remains too high — at 7.9 percent — especially for African Americans at 14.8 percent.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Economic challenges don’t just spring up. They’re the result of conscious political choices. Too many state legislatures have slashed funding for public education, causing college tuition to skyrocket. Congress has failed to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, perpetuating horrible injustices.
So let’s chart a new course. Let’s choose to provide every student with free, high-quality public higher education. Let’s build out union apprenticeships and technical training so students can learn while they earn. Let’s encourage more young people to go into modern manufacturing. And let’s make a pledge: No worker who is just starting out should have the deck stacked against him or her. No one beginning a career should have to borrow against the future or risk becoming a victim of an unscrupulous training program or a predatory for-profit college because they want to achieve the American Dream. And it must be easier for young — and seasoned — workers to organize in the workplace and make their voices heard at the bargaining table and in the political process.
Together, labor unions will carry this message across the country to young people and to politicians, especially in the early presidential primary states. Politicians need to realize that if they want young people to turn out at the polls, they need a jobs agenda focused on youth issues. Union members, allies and community partners who belong to AFL-CIO young worker groups also will use this platform as an agenda for action. They’ll join and launch local campaigns surrounding these principles. Labor will continue this conversation because we are determined to build a movement that raises wages for all.
I’m proud to join young people in the call for a better future. It will take all of us working together to make the difference.
This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post and on Aflcio.org on January 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.
January 13th, 2015 | Kenneth Quinnell
A series of recent reports from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) make clear the case for why wages have stagnated in the United States.
Before digging into the details, it’s important to note a few things. First off, wage stagnation is not a small problem, it’s something that affects 90% of all workers. As one of the authors of these reports, Lawrence Mishel, says: “Since the late 1970s, wages for the bottom 70 percent of earners have been essentially stagnant, and between 2009 and 2013, real wages fell for the entire bottom 90 percent of the wage distribution.” Second, while the Great Recession made things worse, the problem goes back 35 years. And third, and most importantly, wage stagnation is a matter of choice, not necessity.
Here are five real reasons why wages have stagnated in the United States.
1. The abandonment of full employment: For a variety of reasons, policy makers largely have focused on keeping inflation rates low, even if that meant high unemployment. A large pool of unemployed workers means companies are under less pressure to offer good wages or benefits in order to attract workers. Since the Great Recession, austerity measures at all levels of government have made this problem worse. EPI says excessive unemployment “has been a key cause of wage inequality, since research shows that high rates of unemployment dampen wage growth more for workers at the bottom of the wage ladder than at the middle, and more at the middle than at the top.”
2. Declining union density: As extreme pro-business interests have pushed policies that lower union membership, the wages of low- and middle-wage workers have stagnated. Higher unionization leads to higher wages, and the decrease in unionization has led to the opposite effect. The decline in the density of workers covered by collective bargaining agreements not only has weakened the ability of unionized workers to fight for their own wages and benefits, but also their ability to set higher standards for nonunion workers. EPI notes: “The decline of unions can explain about a third of the entire growth of wage inequality among men and around a fifth of the growth among women from 1973 to 2007.” Read much more about the connection between the decline of collective bargaining and wage stagnation.
3. Changes in labor market policies and business practices: EPI argues: “A range of changes in what we call labor market policies and business practices have weakened wage growth in recent decades.” Among the numerous changes they describe include: the lowering of the inflation-adjusted value of the federal minimum wage, the decrease in overtime eligibility for workers, increasing wage theft (particularly affecting immigrant workers), misclassification of workers as independent contractors, and declining budgets and staff for government agencies that enforce labor standards.
4. Deregulation of the finance industry and the unleashing of CEOs: The deregulation of finance has contributed to lower wages in several ways, including the shifting of compensation toward the upper end of the spectrum, the use of the financial sector’s political power to favor low inflation over low unemployment as a policy goal, and the deregulation of international capital flows, which has kept policy makers from addressing imbalances, such as the U.S. trade deficit. EPI adds: “Falling top tax rates, preferential tax treatment of stock options and bonuses, failures in corporate governance, and the deregulation of finance all combined to increase the incentive and the ability of well-placed economic actors to claim larger incomes over the past generation.”
5. Globalization policies: Decades spent in pursuit of policies that prioritized corporate interests over worker interests led to lowering of wages for middle- and lower-income workers in the United States. EPI concludes: “International trade has been a clear factor suppressing wages in the middle of the wage structure while providing a mild boost to the top, particularly since 1995.”
This blog originally appeared on aflcio.org on January 15, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Author’s name is Kenneth Quinnell. He is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars. Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History. His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.
January 13th, 2015 | Leo Gerard
The jobs report Friday set off cheering: a quarter million positions added in December; unemployment declining to 5.6 percent. This good news arrived amid a booming stock market and a third-quarter GDP report showing the strongest growth in 11 years.
It’s all so very jolly, except for one looming factor: wages. They’re not rising. In fact, they fell in December by 5 cents an hour, nearly erasing the 6-cent increase in November.
Hard-working Americans need a raise. Their wages are stuck, rising only 10.2 percent over the past 35 years. Workers are producing more. Corporations are highly profitable. CEOs, claiming all the credit for that as if they did all of the work themselves, made sure their pay rose 937 percent over those 35 years. That’s right: 937 percent!
It doesn’t add up for workers who struggle more every year. Something’s gotta change. The AFL-CIO is working on that. It launched a campaign last week to wrench worker wages out of the muck and push them up.
At a summit called Raising Wages held in Washington, D.C., last week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “We are tired of people talking about inequality as if nothing can be done. The answer is simple: raise the wages of the 90 percent of Americans whose wages are lower today than they were in 1997.”
“Families don’t need to hear more about income inequality,” he said; “They need more income.”
The meeting attended by 350 union representatives, community group officials, economic experts and religious leaders was the first of many that will be conducted across the country by the AFL-CIO to spotlight the pain and problems that wage stagnation causes. The AFL-CIO will begin these meetings in the first four presidential primary states – Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and North Carolina.
The idea is to ensure that candidates, Republican and Democrat, can’t squirm out of dealing with the issue. And Trumka said labor won’t tolerate sappy expressions of sympathy. The federation will demand concrete plans for resolution.
Also last week, the AFL-CIO launched Raising Wages campaigns with community partners in seven cities – Atlanta, Columbus, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Diego, St. Louis and Washington, D.C. In addition to seeking wage increases for all who labor, these coalitions will pursue associated issues such as fighting for paid sick leave and equal pay for equal work.
At the same time, the AFL-CIO and allies will push for federal legislation to seriously punish employers who illegally retaliate against workers and to provide real remedies for workers unjustly treated.
At the summit, workers told their stories alongside experts. Among them was Colby Harris, who suffered illegal retaliation. A member of OUR Walmart, he was fired last year after participating in strikes for better conditions.
“They are trying to silence people for saying we need better wages and benefits. The average Walmart worker makes less than $23,000 a year. These companies have no respect for their workers,” Harris told the group.
Another speaker, Lakia Wilson, said that workers can do everything right, work hard, follow all the rules and still lose out in this economy. The Detroit native earned a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s in counseling. While serving as a school counselor, she took a second job as an adjunct professor at a community college to make enough money to qualify for a home mortgage.
But then, in a cutback at the college, she was laid off. She lost the extra income, and the bank began foreclosure. It was, she said, a horrible, humiliating experience. She cashed out her retirement to save her home. Now her credit and retirement are shot. This happened to her, and to so many others, she said, even though they “did everything necessary to get a good job and get the American dream.”
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren talked to summit attendees about why the economy does not work for people like Wilson and Harris. Though this economy is splendid for those who own lots of stock, it’s not for the vast majority of workers who get their income from wages.
Sen. Warren pointed out that the economy didn’t always work this way. From the 1930s to the 1970s, she said, workers got raises. Ninety percent of workers received 70 percent of the income growth resulting from rising productivity. The 10 percent at the top took 30 percent.
Since 1980, however, that stopped. Ninety percent of workers got none of the gains from income growth. The top 10 percent took 100 percent. The average family is working harder but still struggling to survive with stagnant wages and growing costs.
“Many feel the game is rigged against them, and they are right. The game is rigged against them,” Sen. Warren said.
The rigging was adoption of Ronald Reagan’s voodoo trickle-down strategy. That economic plot puts massive corporations, Wall Street and the 1 percent first. Politicians bowed down to them, legislated for them, deregulated for them. In return, the wealthy were supposed to chuck a few measly crumbs down to workers.
They did not. Workers got nothing.
Despite that, workers still get last consideration. That, Sen. Warren said, must be reversed.
Accomplishing that, clearly, is a David vs. Goliath challenge. David won that contest, and workers can as well – with concerted action. Papa John’s worker Shantel Walker told the summit such a story – one of victory against a giant with collective action.
She discovered that a teenager at the New York franchise where she worked was putting in time that was not clocked. The restaurant was stealing wages.
Walker helped organize a protest at the restaurant. Between 80 and 100 people rallied for justice for the young worker. And they won. The restaurant paid the teen. “Now is the time to stop the poverty wages in America,” Walker said; “Raise the wage!”
Trumka said the AFL-CIO and its allies will demand that of lawmakers. He said they would insist that legislators “build an America where we, the people, share in the wealth we create.”
For that to occur, lawmakers must serve the vast majority first. They must stop functioning as handmaidens to the rich in an economic scheme that has failed the 99 percent from the very day the 1 percent got Ronald Reagan to buy it.
The AFL-CIO and its allies intend to help lawmakers see that they must prioritize the needs of America’s workers.
This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on January 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the author: Leo W. Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.
January 13th, 2015 | Bryce Covert
When Ellen Costello started out in the financial industry, she was often the only woman in the room. “Especially the times I was in the capital markets business, there were very few women,” she told ThinkProgress. When she served on BMO’s board for seven years, she was one of three women out of 15 seats.
That could be uncomfortable when she was in the early stages of her career. “Sure there were times… I have to think back to the early days, especially when I was really young in my career, when it was uncomfortable,” she said. “But you adapt to it, and people are good at…looking beyond your gender, at what you can contribute.”
She eventually became president and CEO of BMO Financial Corp. and was recently appointed to the board of DH Corporation. And she says times have changes. “I’m happy to say that over the years, that group of women [in finance] has grown.”
The latest numbers released today by the research group Catalyst show that women make up 19.2 percent of board positions on U.S. companies in the S&P 500. Perhaps more impressive is that 131 companies, or 26.2 percent of the S&P 500, have boards that are a quarter or more female. Just 18 companies, or 3.6 percent, have failed to appoint any women to their boards at all.
While Catalyst can’t judge progress because it has shifted this year from tracking numbers in the Fortune 500 to the S&P 500, so the previous eight years of stalled progress in raising women’s share of board seats aren’t comparable to current figures, Brande Stellings, vice president of Catalyst Corporate Board Services, thinks there’s reason to be optimistic. The number of companies without any women on their boards “is very low and indicative at least of a shift toward companies realizing it is no longer acceptable to have no women board directors in this day and age,” she said. And some companies are actually at or close to parity. Avon’s board is nearly two-thirds female, while Xerox is at exactly 50/50 and 10 companies are in the 40-plus percent range.
The challenge is getting all companies to gender equality. “The critical question is how we get past 19 percent for the S&P 500…to something more approaching critical mass,” Stellings said. “The thing we have to next pay attention to is to make sure companies don’t stop at one and see having one on their board as a safe harbor.”
That’s where the U.S. falls behind international peers. Catalyst found that Norway’s boards are 35.5 percent female, on average; Finland and France are just under 30 percent while Sweden clocks in at 28.8 percent; and the United Kingdom’s boards are 22.8 percent female. Even our northern neighbors beat us: Canada’s boards are 20.8 percent female.
What’s the difference? “When you look at the Europe numbers, you do see many of those tracking higher than the U.S. do have regulatory frameworks in place,” Stellings said. Norway instituted the world’s first gender quota in 2008, requiring boards to be at least 40 percent female, and a number of other European countries have since done the same. The United Kingdom hasn’t put a quota in place, but in 2011 it released the Davies Report that set a target of FTSE 100 boards being 25 percent female by the end of this year, and women’s representation has been at record-breaking levels ever since.
The chances of a quota in the U.S. are slim. But there are ways to prod progress along. Currently, the only requirement in regards to corporate diversity in this country is a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule that companies disclose whether they consider diversity when picking board members in their proxy statements and, if they do, how the policy is implemented. But the SEC doesn’t define diversity, so just half take it to mean gender or race. Most often, they define it as experience or viewpoint. And complying with the disclosure rule can simply mean a company saying it has no diversity policy on its books. Changing that rule to define diversity and to make it a “comply or explain” rule in which companies either report they have a policy or have to explain why they don’t could have more of an impact.
In the meantime, Costello has some ideas about how companies can increase board diversity on their own. They can “make sure the slates that come forward are representative of a diverse slate, women and people of color, so they can consider others rather than maybe the traditional, those who they know in their network,” she said. Part of that comes down to mentoring and sponsorship. Mentorship “has certainly helped me,” she noted. “The board I recently joined in October came about as a result of a network contact of mine who knew me pretty well and made an intro.” The appointment may not have happened without that connection.
It’s in companies’ best interest to move the numbers along. A huge number of studies have found that those with more women on their boards outperform companies without any women.
This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on January 13, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media
January 13th, 2015 | Charlie Fanning
Five years ago today an earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 200,000 people and leaving another 1.5 million homeless. The disaster was followed by a string of tropical storms and a cholera epidemic that killed at least 8,000 people. Haiti is slowly rebuilding, albeit unevenly. More than 85,000 displaced Haitians still live in tent camps. Despite billions of dollars in international aid and philanthropy going to Haiti, poor management of the funds and rampant subcontracting has hindered the recovery. Workers and unions have been on the front lines in the reconstructions efforts in Haiti providing direct assistance, with unions like AFT and the AFL-CIO’s Solidarity Center leading numerous aid and relief projects.
Moreover, Haiti’s workers continue to face obstacles to accessing decent work and a living wage. Nearly 60% of Haitians live in poverty, with 38% of the population living in extreme poverty. Employment offers little opportunity to escape poverty, as 60% of employed Haitians earn less than minimum wage, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
For Haitian workers to lift themselves out of poverty, support their families and help their country recover from the quake and its aftermath, fair wages and the right to form unions are essential.
In Haiti’s rapidly expanding textile industry—the industry has grown by 45% since the earthquake and accounts for 91% of Haiti’s national export earnings—workers receive poverty wages. Employers take advantage of a two-tiered wage system that allows them to pay a “piece rate” and often set unattainable quota to pay workers less than the required 300 Haitian gourde (HTG) per eight-hour day (about $6.96 in U.S. dollars). In recent discussions with export apparel workers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, the Solidarity Center found that workers may pay nearly half their daily wage on two daily meals. Sending a child to school can absorb most of their monthly pay.
Haitian unions have sought to secure improvements for workers through labor–employer discussions with the government on reforming the current labor code, boosting social protections and reviewing wage levels, according to the Solidarity Center. See the rest of the Solidarity Center’s post on Haiti here.
This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 12, 2015. Reprinted with permission
About the Author: Charlie Fanning is the Global Advocacy and Research coordinator for the AFL-CIO.