Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Last Chance to Make Corporations Come Clean on Tax Havens

July 22nd, 2016 | Isaiah J. Poole

Isaiah J. PoolePeople who want multi;national corporations to be held accountable for their tax-dodging tactics only have a few more hours Thursday to tell the Security and Exchange Commission to support a tough rule that would go a long way toward making that happen.

The SEC is soliciting comments until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on a new business and financial disclosure rule that would require corporations to make public more information about their overseas subsidiaries.

This rule would affect the estimated $2.4 trillion in profits that corporations ranging from Apple to Walmart have shunted offshore in order to avoid paying U.S. corporate taxes. Right now, the rules for disclosing corporate use of offshore tax havens is, as the tax code itself, riddled with loopholes.

For one thing, companies are not required to report their tax liabilities on a country-by-country basis, so the public – including investors in these companies – have no way to accurately judge how a company is lowering its tax liabilities or what would happen if a country decides to radically change its tax policies. Nor do companies routinely report the names and locations of their subsidiaries; no one knew, for example, that Walmart had 78 subsidiaries in overseas tax havens, with $76 billion in assets, before researchers for Americans for Tax Fairness ferreted out the information.

Another Americans for Tax Fairness report found that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer was holding twice as much of its offshore profits in overseas subsidiaries as it was reporting to the public.

This lack of transparency does harm to investors – who should know details of how the companies they invest in are funneling their profits and the risks associated with their tax-avoidance strategies – and harms the public as a whole, which is shortchanged every time corporations game the system to avoid paying the taxes they owe.

That is why it’s important for people to take a few minutes now to tell the SEC to require corporations to tell the truth about their overseas subsidiaries. After all, expecting a corporation to be honest about how and where it earns its profits should not be too much to ask.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on July 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Isaiah J. Poole worked at Campaign for America’s Future. He attended Pennsylvania State University and lives in Washington, DC.

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From New York to the Arab Gulf, Challenging Global Capitalism to Build Worker Power

July 21st, 2016 | Max Ajl

Over the past decade, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and other Gulf States have started buying up franchises—and not just McDonald’s. These days the Gulf States are purchasing branches of universities like NYU and museums like the Guggenheim in New York City, part of peppering their societies with the “obligatory landmarks for the global investor class,” in the words of NYU professor Andrew Ross. Ross is part of a network of artists and university professors trying to change the absurdly onerous labor conditions facing guest workers in the Gulf.

In Qatar, while exact figures are disputed, perhaps over a thousand workers, mostly South Asians, have died during construction for the World Cup. Employers hold onto passports of imported laborers and deport them if they get too restive, drawing on the massive human well created by the agricultural misery of South and Southeast Asia.

Such penury (rural South Asia holds nearly half the world’s poor) contrasts sharply with the opulence of the Gulf. In the desert cities of the peninsula, air conditioned skyscrapers contain ski slopes. Sand islands, built by European engineering firms, rise up from the sea. Meanwhile, the rights of those constructing these towers and islands are nearly nonexistent.

This maltreatment, and the attempts to resist it, are the topic of The Gulf: High Culture/Hard Labor, edited by Ross, a lustrously illustrated chronicle of the efforts by the Gulf Labor Coalition to throw sand in the machinery of the repression and exploitation confronting guest workers in the Gulf.

This coalition and its offshoot, the Global Ultra Luxury Faction, have spent the last five years working from their location as mostly New York City-based artists to disrupt the extremely unequal status quo in the UAE.

They have—mostly fruitlessly—been attempting to negotiate on workers’ behalf with those helming the various cultural institutions setting up shop in the UAE, nearly all of which rely on migrant labor for building their facilities. The coalition has demanded living wages for imported workers, the benefit of freedom of association as well as bonuses for the workers to compensate for outrageously high debt burdens that nibble away at their wages, preventing them from sending money back to their home villages.

Such demands have been made to the Guggenheim leadership through letters, conversations, and petitions which have gone largely ignored. The chief success of the coalition has been raising the visibility of Gulf labor malpractice, “exposing the role played by museums in showcasing, laundering, and magnifying wealth accumulation among the ultra-luxury class” that dominates the modern art-world, as Ross writes.

The Gulf is a mostly useful account how the coalition has raised this visibility, including actions such as occupying the façade of the Guggenheim with a projection calling it a museum of the one percent, and leafleting and bugling within the museum.

But in mainstreaming this knowledge of human rights abuses, the book is not without tensions.

The inclusion of an opening chapter by Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch (HRW) was a bad call. Whitson gushes over how the struggle of the artists and activists “has allowed us to find our own strength in globalization, where the interconnectedness of economies, businesses, and institutions has created opportunities for activists to press for accountability.”

Put to the side any general cynicism over HRW (it seems to exist largely to watch for human rights violations in countries the U.S. government is itching to invade, sanction, or let loose proxy armies against). Globalization has not precisely been a golden goose for South Asia, or at least its poorer segments. It was the globalization of U.S. agricultural expertise through the Green Revolution in South Asia which exacerbated the massive rural poverty which has led to workers migrating abroad. It seems, then, slightly worse than clueless of Whitson to praise such elite-driven interconnection of businesses and economies, since they are exactly what have produced the problems of economic dislocation in the first place.

Matters of class and power emerge far more forcefully in the excellent chapter by Paula Chakravartty and Nitasha Dhillon. The authors note that the Gulf is experiencing a metastatic capitalist growth amidst the post-2001 oil boom. But transnational capital and labor fluxes and flows are nothing new. As they show, in the 1970s and 1980s the Gulf countries were both very different and very similar to their current state. Newly awash in rivers of petrodollars from the quadrupling or more of oil prices throughout the 1970s, the countries began building booms.

They also began to bring in a lot of workers: Palestinians, Iraqis and Egyptians. These guest workers began mingling with the native Arab populations just as pan-Arab revolutionary nationalism was flourishing across the Gulf and westwards. A flurry of organizations emerged: the Popular Front for the Liberation of Bahrain, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arab Gulf. In Oman, cadre from these groups carried out a successful revolution in the 1960s and 70s.

Plainly, the Gulf States and their Western allies were not happy with this arrangement, and sought out a labor force sheared off linguistically and culturally from the Arab population. Enter the age of the South Asian guest worker. They flowed often from Kerala in India—a Communist stronghold in the country, where poor people have been far better off than in other regions. Other Indians from the country’s poorer regions, often those most devastated by the deteriorating national agricultural system, flowed to Kerala, filling the gap in the labor force left by expatriates working in the Gulf. Chakravartty and Dhillon speak with labor organizers in the region and elsewhere, showing the global nature of the system within which labor lurches from one country to another in search of better employment.

The authors in the chapter do an excellent—and vital—job of showing the United States’ centrality to Gulf capitalism. Such a perspective contrasts sharply with the rapidly growing mainstream literature, which lambasts the United States government for its relationship to Saudi Arabia but fails to note that this “special relationship” is not a U.S. error but a U.S. interest.

Saudi Arabia has supported U.S. proxies world-wide with money and arms. Ideology, finances and arms flows closely tie it to right-wing extremist groups from Pakistan to Palmyra. Since even the mainstream press is increasingly reporting on this phenomenon, many suggest that the U.S.-Saudi “special relationship” is a strategic error, the tomfoolery of the U.S. government acting against its own interests.

Chakravartty and Dhillon deftly avoid this dead-end. They show the absolute centrality of Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states to U.S. foreign policy. In the process, they not only provide an effective analysis within which to understand the work of the Gulf Labor Coalition, but also note the challenge of having a “clear understanding that we are complicit in the conditions that force a worker to leave his or her home.”

The book also shows great awareness of the risks and challenges inherent in building a coalition spanning continents, meant to simultaneously challenge high-flying cultural institutions and to better the lives of workers across the world. In a way similar to the cultural boycott of Israel—and it is probably not a coincidence that many of the contributors to the book are also linked in some way or another to the efforts to boycott Israel—the book importantly touches on the “class” elements of cultural boycotts.

For example, Doris Bittar writes about the capacity of artists not merely to view themselves as part-and-parcel of the luxury art world, but frustrated laborers, whose work, like that of all laborers, is exploited by those with more power. The piece calls for a connection to the “labor movement [to] influence legislation that concerns artists [to] set compensation standards with museums, and [to] leverage them to support the communities that artists create.”

Bittar calls on artists and other cultural producers to understand their location as not merely that of leveraging relative social privilege to assist those with less power in the world. Instead, she identifies herself as not merely morally on the side of the powerless, but among those who are, at least from one angle, powerless in the current system. This perspective is less about Check Your Privilege and more about entering a joint struggle from different locations. In this case, the shared interest of poor artists like Bittar and poor workers in Qatar in challenging the capitalist system which oppresses both.

At the level of day-to-day politics, the book is teeming with useful perspectives and introspection on the role of artists in challenging this system. One wishes, though, that the editors had woven in a more consistent focus on the fundamental role of the U.S. government in propping up the Gulf states. From literally building up their infrastructure, to arms sales, to Gulf Cooperation Council investments in U.S. bonds and U.S. securities, the ties that bind the U.S. to the peninsula in the wake of the phased 1970s-era British withdrawal are many and deep. Many of these countries have made sure to carry out U.S. policies, from containing Iran to containing their own population, from spreading reaction and oppression from Tunisia, to Egypt and onwards.

So perhaps it would have benefited more, too, from a more sustained focus on the U.S.—not merely as a crucial enabler and beneficiary of this entire system, but an eventual pressure point and target for U.S. activists.

This blog originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on July 20, 2016.  Reprinted with Permission.

Max Ajl is a doctoral student in development sociology at Cornell University and an editor at Jadaliyyah.

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Embracing the New Populist Moment

July 20th, 2016 | Robert Borosage

The Bernie Sanders campaign is the latest and largest wave of a rising populist tide, gaining force from the Occupy movement, the Dreamers, Black Lives Matter, the Fight for $15, the Wisconsin showdown, and more. The failure of the political establishment has been exposed, but the center still holds.

So what’s next? First, Sanders is right: Beating Donald Trump is vital to ensuring that bigotry and nativism do not poison and discredit the new populist moment. Once Trump has been defeated, the progressive movement should focus on defining issues and politics from the bottom up. The next movement waves—climate change, student debt, protests against systemic inequality and brutal policing—will continue to shake the establishment. Battles over these defining issues will deepen the understanding that there is an alternative. At the national level, this will start with a pitched battle over the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the lame-duck Congress, followed by challenges to the Wall Street–Washington revolving door in executive appointments, as well as skirmishes over real immigration reform, fair taxes, and rebuilding America.

In states and localities, the Sanders movement should join with insurgents in communities of color to drive real change—campaigns to establish a living wage; to save public schools; to make clean-energy, clean-water, and mass-transit investments, paid for by taxing the rich; and to enact sweeping criminal-justice reform. Those fights will set up insurgent candidates to challenge those standing in the way, from city councils to the statehouses to Congress.

Many flowers will blossom from the energy unleashed by the Sanders campaign. The Vermont senator would be well-advised to create a vehicle both to drive these defining-issue battles, and to identify and support Sanders Democrats up and down the ballot. Wherever possible, these Sanders Democrats should take control of state parties. Then we can begin to reshape how our democracy actually works.

This article originally appeared in The Nation as a part of its essay series, “We Still Need a Future to Believe In.”

 

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on July 19, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Robert Borosage is a board member of both the Blue Green Alliance and Working America.  He earned a BA in political science from Michigan State University in 1966, a master’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1968, and a JD from Yale Law School in 1971. Borosage then practiced law until 1974, at which time he founded the Center for National Security Studies.

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Financial Transactions/Wall Street Speculation Tax Picks Up Steam

July 19th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonThe idea of putting a small “Robin Hood” tax on financial transactions has been kicking around for a while, but in the last month the idea has picked up some real steam.

The Financial Transaction Tax (FTT), also called a “Wall Street Speculation Tax,” proposal asks for a small tax on financial transactions. Such a tax would slow down extreme speculation while raising money to pay for essential public services. The idea has been called a “Robin Hood Tax” because it takes from the rich. The FTT is a very tiny tax. Some proposals have suggested a tax of just three hundredths of a percent – a mere 30 cents on a $1,000 stock transaction.

This small tax would raise a lot of money, largely from automated “high-frequency trading.” This is an extreme practice of using computers to place extremely high volumes of stock orders at extremely high speeds, buying and selling the same shares sometimes in a fraction of a second. As much as half or more of all stock trading volume now comes from this high-speed trading. This practice makes extreme profits from a few traders but increases “volatility” (risk) in the market while doing nothing that benefits the economy.

A small FTT would make high-speed trading more costly, slowing it down while raising money for public services. For stocks, bonds and other financial transactions, the tax would be so small as to be practically unnoticed, while still raising significant sums because of the volume of trading.

An FTT has been endorsed by the 2016 Democratic Party Platform draft, which says:

“We support a financial transactions tax on Wall Street to curb excessive speculation and high-frequency trading, which has threatened financial markets. We acknowledge that there is room within our party for a diversity of views on a broader financial transactions tax.”

Hillary Clinton’s financial services reform proposal include a piece of the idea, applying it only to high-frequency trading:

Impose a tax on high-frequency trading. The growth of high-frequency trading has unnecessarily placed stress on our markets, created instability, and enabled unfair and abusive trading strategies. Hillary would impose a tax on harmful high-frequency trading and reform rules to make our stock markets fairer, more open, and transparent.

Bernie Sanders proposed an FTT on “high-speed trading and other forms of Wall Street speculation; proceeds would be used to provide debt-free public college education.” He hadalso supported previous FTT proposals, the 2011 and 2013 Harkin-DeFazio bills calling for a 0.03 percent tax on the sales of stocks and bonds.

A year ago Jared Bernstein explained the benefits in a New York Times op-ed, “The Case for a Tax on Financial Transactions,” writing:

An itty-bitty, one-basis-point transaction tax (a basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point, or 0.01 percent) would raise $185 billion over 10 years… That would be enough to finance an ambitious expansion of prekindergarten programs for 3- and 4-year-olds and restore funding of college assistance for low-income students.

What’s more, a financial transaction tax could significantly reduce the amount of high-frequency trading.

… A one-basis-point tax on $1,000 worth of stock would cost the stock trader a dime. A $100,000 trade would generate a tax of only $10.

[. . .] 75 percent of the liability from the tax would fall on the top fifth of taxpayers, and 40 percent on the top 1 percent. The tax would also fall more on high-volume traders than on long-term investors, of course.

New DeFazio FTT Bill Introduced

This week Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) introduced a FTT bill. His bill would raise $417 billion over 10 years, which could be used to fund national priorities like free higher education or job-creating infrastructure repair. At a news conference DeFazio said:

“Thanks to the reckless greed of Wall Street over the past few decades, the American economy is a grossly unbalanced playing field,” said Rep. DeFazio. “The only way we can level it is if we rein in reckless speculative financial trading and curb near-instantaneous high-volume trades that create instability in the stock market and our national economy. These financial practices have no intrinsic value, and exist to make a quick buck for already-wealthy speculators. If we want to give middle-class families a fair shot at a strong economy that works for all Americans, we need to put Main Street first.”

The legislation is supported by the Take On Wall Street Coalition. Learn more about the FTT/Wall Street Speculation Tax at the Take On Wall Street website.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on July 14, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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This week in the war on workers: Temps win back a labor right stripped by Bush administration

July 18th, 2016 | Laura Clawson

LauraClawsonUntil now, if temp workers wanted to unionize into the same bargaining units as permanent workers, both bosses—the one running the workplace, and the staffing agency “employing” the temps—had to agree. Which: Ha ha ha ha ha, yeah, no. That requirement dates back to the George W. Bush administration, of course, but now President Obama’s National Labor Relations Board has called for a return to an earlier standard:

In this new ruling from Miller & Anderson, Inc., the Board returns to a standard set in 2000, during the Clinton administration, in a case called M.B. Sturgis, Inc., which was overruled in Oakwood.

Under Sturgis, and now Miller & Anderson, permanent and jointly employed workers can negotiate in the same unit if they are employed by the same primary employer, and if they share a “community of interest.”

In a statement announcing the ruling, the NLRB said, “requiring employer consent to an otherwise appropriate bargaining unit desired by employees, Oakwood has … allowed employers to shape their ideal bargaining unit, which is precisely the opposite of what Congress intended.”

In short, this is undoing an obstacle in the way of workers organizing, taking a piece of power away from employers and giving it to workers. And it is, Erik Loomis writes, “why I have zero patience with anyone voting for Jill Stein.”

 

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on July 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011

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What Do Roger Ailes & Charlie Sheen Have in Common? Both Wanted to Hide Alleged Abuse of Women

July 15th, 2016 | Paul Bland

paulblandLast week, longtime Fox News anchor and host Gretchen Carlson filed a lawsuit against Roger Ailes, the chairman of Fox News, alleging that he sexually harassed her in the workplace. Within a day, Ailes and his lawyers asked a court to force the case into arbitration, under a special gag order that would block anyone from publicly disclosing any of the evidence in the case or the outcome of the arbitration.

The lawsuit alleges that Ailes sabotaged Carlson’s career after she “refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment.” Her complaint, which can be found here, alleges that her time at Fox News was riddled with Ailes’s inappropriate references to his own sexual history and marital issues and juxtaposed with a vocal interest in Carlson as a sexual partner. Ms. Carlson further alleges that Ailes used his power against her when she denied his advances, taking several steps that culminated in her being dismissed.

According to Fox News and Ailes, none of this is true. But instead of welcoming the chance to vindicate themselves in court, they want to move the case to a secret arbitrator.

Just Like Charlie?  Just after the news came out that Charlie Sheen was HIV positive, and he publicly admitted having unprotected sex with at least a couple of partners after his diagnosis, another revelation was widely reported: he’d been requiring visitors to his home to sign arbitration clauses with confidentiality provisions. And Sheen admitted on TV that he had paid “millions” to settle claims relating to his HIV status. These revelations created a very serious possibility:  that the secrecy of his arbitration clause made it possible for him to engage in risky behavior, then pay off injured women in secret proceedings, and then repeat the whole thing. When you look at the contracts guests to his home were required to sign it’s sort of bizarre, but the upshot of the arbitration ploy was pretty much the same as it is in the Roger Ailes case: it’s a way for a powerful man to impose a shroud of secrecy over allegations of serious mistreatment of women.

And these are not the only two cases involving this kind of allegation. Today’s New York Times reports how Ailes’ effort to force Ms. Carlson into arbitration is reminiscent of the actions of the infamous former head of American Apparel, Dov Charney, who was able to force a number of cases involving allegations of sexual harassment into secret arbitration.

Secrecy as the Driving Force. From the perspective of an employee, there’s a lot not to like about being forced to sign an arbitration clause as a condition of keeping your job, or applying for a job. For one thing, as the Washington Post reported, a substantial scholarly study of many thousands of arbitration cases (and a comparable pool of court cases) discovered that workers are less likely to win cases in arbitration than they would be in court, and that when workers do recover some kind of award in arbitration, that their recoveries tend to be pretty dramatically lower than they would have been in court.

But in the Ailes case, there’s something else afoot as well. While arbitration is always far more shadowy than the public court system (it’s generally incredibly hard for a journalist or member of the public to get copies of pleadings or evidence put before an arbitrator, for example, unless one of the parties to the case send the materials to them; arbitrators often don’t issue public opinions; etc.), the Fox News arbitration clause has a specific and broadly written gag order that goes far beyond the typical arbitration clause. And in Ailes’ pleadings in a New Jersey federal court, trying to force the case into arbitration, he and his lawyers specifically complain that Ms. Carlson’s allegations have become a matter of widespread public discussion. The conclusion of Mr. Ailes’ brief stresses that arbitration is necessary to make sure that the case cannot “sully his reputation in public,” apparently without respect to whether the actual facts would justify harm to his reputation. The point is not a search for the truth and exoneration; it’s to shut Ms. Carlson up.

Hypocrisy About Transparency:  As a news organization, Fox has repeatedly called for transparency with respect to all sorts of allegations against important public figures.  For example, Fox is very jacked up to try to break up an alleged “cover up” with respect to Secretary Clinton’s emails. And Fox was extremely interested in trying to make sure that every fact came out about allegations of problems at the World Bank.

But when it comes to allegations that relate to their own chairman, they seem to be awfully keen on making sure that the evidence of the case – in moving it to arbitration – be kept secret from the public.  If the case proceeded in the public court system, by contrast, then the actual truth – whether it’s good for Ailes and Fox or not – would come out.

So What Happens Now? It turns out, as the New York Times explained in some detail, that there’s a good chance that Ailes’ strategy won’t work.  Ms. Carlson has a number of good arguments against the enforcement of the arbitration clause, perhaps most notably that Mr. Ailes is not a party to the arbitration clause or named in it.

But if Ailes does succeed, then not only is Ms. Carlson less likely to win her case, but the American public and women in the workplace will be the losers. Because once again, a powerful man accused of mistreating women in the workplace will have been able to sweep all of the facts about the dispute under the big rug of forced arbitration. It’s easy to see why every significant civil rights organization or group that advocates for workers strongly opposes the use of forced arbitration in the work place, and they all keep urging the Congress to ban these clauses.

This piece was co-written with Kenda Tucker, Communications Intern at Public Justice.

This blog originally appeared on dailykos.com on July 14, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Paul Bland, Jr., Executive Director, has been a senior attorney at Public Justice since 1997. As Executive Director, Paul manages and leads a staff of nearly 30 attorneys and other staff, guiding the organization’s litigation docket and other advocacy. Follow him on Twitter: .

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Trumka: Passage of Strong Trade Amendment Marks Major Milestone

July 14th, 2016 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallAFL-CIO President Richard Trumka issued the following statement in reaction to the Democratic Platform Drafting Committee’s passage of a trade amendment during its Orlando, Florida, meeting:

Today marks a major milestone for everyone who believes in the high standard that trade should raise wages and create good jobs in America.

The Democratic Party’s adoption of strong, pro-worker trade positions is historic but didn’t happen by itself. The voices of working people put the brakes on TPP and forced a real, vibrant debate about ending corporate trade. Secretary Hillary Clinton has made clear that she opposes the TPP before or after the election and believes in a whole new approach to trade that shares our values. Now, the Democratic Party has listened to working families and responded in a powerful, positive way.

We don’t, however, have any illusions that the fight is over. The Democratic Party has taken a strong position, but the threat of unfair agreements, including TPP, remains. We will continue to point out TPP’s fundamental flaws and mobilize to defeat it and any trade deals that don’t work for working people.

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on July 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I 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.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

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San Francisco Looks To Tax Tax-Dodging Tech Companies

July 13th, 2016 | Dave Johnson

Dave JohnsonAll of us suffer consequences when corporations cheat. Silicon Valley’s tech companies make a lot of money, but many of them dodge paying taxes. San Francisco is going to try to do something about it. Three supervisors are proposing that the city tax tech companies to help pay the costs these companies impose on the city.

Silicon Valley housing costs have skyrocketed thanks to the high salaries and stock options tech companies pay to attract skilled workers. In San Francisco and much of the area, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is over $3,500. The median home sells for over $1 million. This has pushed many long-term residents to the edge of or even into, homelessness.

San Francisco is a mecca for young, affluent tech workers. In some areas of San Francisco the streets are lines with sidewalk restaurants, brewpubs, great shops, all the things that make an urban environment a fun place to be. In other parts of the city the streets are literally lined with homeless people, many pushed out by the lack of housing that people making only double or triple the national median income can afford.

The Tax

Three supervisors have proposed a ballot proposal to approve a 1.5 percent payroll tax on “tech companies” with more than one million dollars in gross revenue. This would raise around $115 million annually for the city, which would go to homelessness programs and affordable housing projects. Also in the proposal as many as 75,000 small businesses would have their business registration fee cut in half.

Thomas Fuller Reports in The New York Times, in “San Francisco Considers Tax on Tech Companies to Pay for Boom’s Downside“:

Eric Mar, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors, announced the proposal last week for a 1.5 percent payroll tax that would serve as a form of indemnification for what he described as the downside of the technology boom.

Tech companies have been “a tremendous benefit to the city in many ways,” Mr. Mar said. “But I don’t think they’ve been paying their fair share.”

The proposal for what has become known as the tech tax comes as officials struggle to fill growing gaps in the city budget. Money from the tech tax would go toward paying for programs for the homeless and the housing “affordability crisis,” Mr. Mar said.

Opponents say it is hard to define what a “tech company” is. But according to SFGate’s Emily Green:

The measure identifies tech companies by the type of tax code they use under the Internal Revenue Service’s North American Industry Classification System. Companies classify themselves. They may face penalties if a government audit finds they are misidentifying themselves.

Community Groups Back Tax

The community groups backing the tax include:

Causa Justa/Just Cause, “a multiracial, grassroots organization building community leadership to achieve justice for low-income San Francisco and Oakland residents. … [W]e are a force for justice and unity among Black and Brown communities. … We provide tenant rights advocacy and information to tenants through our Housing Committee/Tenants’ Rights Clinic. We build our membership through recruitment in the tenants’ rights clinics and through neighborhood door knocking and outreach. We fight grassroots campaigns to win immigrant rights and housing rights and work toward building a larger movement for social transformation.

San Francisco Rising, which organizes “in African-American, Latino and Asian/Pacific Islander communities in San Francisco. … [T]he members of SFR seek to build a new, community-based political infrastructure and to make lasting change on a broad set of issues impacting their communities.”

Jobs with Justice, which “believes that all workers should have collective bargaining rights, employment security and a decent standard of living within an economy that works for everyone. We bring together labor, community, student, and faith voices at the national and local levels to win improvements in people’s lives and shape the public discourse on workers’ rights and the economy.”

The Coalition on Homelessness “brings together homeless folks, front-line service providers, and their allies to build a San Francisco that everyone can call home. We are working every day to expand access to housing in one of the richest cities in the country, protect the rights of the poorest people on our streets, and to address the root causes of homelessness and poverty.”

Tax-Dodging And Extortion

Many of the giant tech companies use various schemes to dodge paying their taxes. Apple, for example, pretends that an Irish subsidiary owns the “intellectual property” behind the company’s products, and this subsidiary charges high fees, so Apple’s profits are in Ireland. This enables Apple to dodge paying U.S. taxes. Apple also pretends that it is based in a mailbox in Nevada to avoid paying corporate taxes in California. Google, for example, notoriously makes billions of dollars of profits in low-population Bermuda.

On top of tax dodging, tech (and other) companies often extort local tax breaks. Twitter, for example, extorted millions in tax breaks from San Francisco by threatening to leave the city. SFGate explains Twitter’s tax break, in “Companies avoid $34M in city taxes thanks to ‘Twitter tax break’,”

Businesses in San Francisco’s Mid-Market district skirted nearly $34 million in city payroll taxes last year thanks to a controversial incentive program known as the “Twitter tax break” intended to keep tech firms from fleeing for Silicon Valley.

That sum, published in a report released Monday by the San Francisco Controller’s Office, increased by about $30 million from 2013 and is five times greater than the amount of taxes companies avoided in the two previous years combined.

The aforementioned New York Times report explained what Twitter did to get this: “Twitter received the tax breaks after threatening to leave the city, creating resentment among tech companies in other parts of the city that did not get such incentives.”

Opponents are also using extortion to fight the proposed “tech tax,” calling it a “job-killer.” They say the small payroll tax will cause companies to pack up and leave the city so the city has to give in (a.k.a extortion). But the reality is these companies are desperate to bring in tech-skilled employees. So tech companies offer many perks to attract tech-trained employees. Aside from very high pay, employees get free lunches, snacks and beverages. At many companies even dinner is free. They get child care. They get stock options and generous benefit packages. Some even offer backrubs and yoga classes.

One of the biggest perks a tech company can offer is being located in San Francisco itself, instead of having to use their private bus network to bring employees from San Francisco.

Private bus networks? What? The February 2015 post, “Tax Scams, Google Buses Mean Silicon Valley Is #StuckInTraffic” explained:

The traffic in Silicon Valley is absolutely terrible. We the People sit in traffic, with few alternatives. The Caltrain line that runs between San Jose and San Francisco is standing room only during the hours people are trying to get to work. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system doesn’t go where it needs to go, and its parking lots are full where there are stations further north. Light rail is limited. The bus system is a few buses on a few of the main roads.

… But companies like Google, Facebook, Apple and others have built their own private bus lines. These are mostly shiny, white luxury buses that bring employees to work and take them home. Locally, we call them all “Google Buses.” There have even been protests because these buses bring affluent tech employees up to San Francisco neighborhoods, causing rents to soar.

There’s a relationship between those “Google Buses” and the rest of us sitting still, stuck in traffic.

Why can’t we afford to maintain our 1970s-level public transportation system? (Never mind bringing it into the 21st century.) Where did the money go? You’ve heard about companies like Apple using schemes and scams like the “Double-Irish With a Dutch Sandwich” to dodge paying taxes. Remember when an Apple executive said to The New York Times that these tax scams are just fine, because giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

Commuters sit in traffic jams because tax-dodging corporations are not helping pay for transportation options. Meanwhile those companies use their tax-dodger money for beautiful, modern private transportation “Google bus” systems for themselves. They extort tax breaks. They externalize problems onto communities and offer little help – because giant multinationals “don’t have an obligation to solve America’s problems.”

Warning Shot

This proposal needs six of the eleven members of the Board of Supervisors to get on the November ballot, which is unlikely. The measure singles out “tech” companies and not others, and only those based in San Francisco. Giant companies like Facebook, Google, Apple and others are not based in San Francisco, but they deliver their high-paid employees to San Francisco’s housing market in their private bus networks.

This modest, local tax is not likely to pass, but should serve as a warning shot to giant companies – whether defined as tech companies or not – that people and communities are more than fed up with their tax dodging and their ducking responsibility for their practices.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on July 11, 2016. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

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Three Huge Wins for Labor Show the Power of the Rank-and-File

July 12th, 2016 | Jane Slaughter

This post originally appeared at Labor Notes

Three big wins for workers in the last nine months arrived where you might least expect them: in the old, blue-collar economy. That’s the economy where unions are down to 6.7 percent, where wins are rare and workers are supposed to be on their way out.

Yet at Chrysler, Verizon, and a huge Teamster pension fund, thousands of union members mobilized to put a stick in management’s eye. Hundreds of thousands will see the benefit.

Victory #1: Last September 40,000 Chrysler workers turned down a two-tier contract by a vote of nearly 2 to 1. Despite earlier promises to bring a big chunk of Tier 2 workers up to Tier 1 wages, United Auto Workers bargainers had agreed to let the hated two-tier system continue indefinitely.

By that time Tier 2 represented 45 percent of the workforce, and UAW President Dennis Williams told local union officials, “Ending two-tier is bullshit.” But the vote forced union bargainers to return to the table and negotiate a path to standard wages for all Tier 2 members.

Victory #2: In May, retired Teamsters in 25 states saw the fruits of two years of organizing when the federal governmentrejected the Central States Pension Fund’s plan to slash benefits for current retirees by 50 to 60 percent. More than 400,000 Teamsters, retirees, and their families were granted a reprieve.

And Victory #3: On June 1, 39,000 Verizon workers ended a 45-day strike that forced the predatory company to back downfrom outsourcing call center jobs, forcing transfers to other states, and harassing and micromanaging technicians. The company raised wages and pensions and its execs were left scratching their heads, wondering what went wrong with their overreach.

What did go wrong with corporate plans to extract even more concessions? What enabled our side to kick some ass this year?

The three cases share one common characteristic: grassroots action by tens of thousands of rank-and-file members. Not clever PR campaigns, not pounding the bargaining table or lobbying, not photo ops, but getting in someone’s face, in numbers.

In each case, the wins were partial. The Chrysler contract includes ugly pitfalls, including more use of temps. The Teamster pension fund’s shortfalls are still there and need a federal bailout—a tall order. Verizon workers gave up a lot on health care costs.

Still, these workers can be proud of what they blocked and what they won—in two cases against the wishes of their national unions.

HOW’D THEY DO IT?

Let’s look at the factors that go into winning a labor fight:

  • the union’s leverage
  • its opponent’s ability and willingness to fight
  • management’s ability to meet the union’s demands
  • tactics and strategies
  • public support
  • unity within the union
  • degree of mobilization

These factors varied. At Chrysler and Verizon, the companies were making money and did not need concessions—a fact that certainly helped union bargainers. The Central States Pension Fund, on the other hand, is in serious financial trouble, owing to the 2008 economic crisis and the union’s decision to let giant UPS leave the fund.

What about union unity? In the UAW and the Teamsters, the rank and filers and retirees were defying their national unions. Teamster brass initially supported the pension cuts. They were dragged kicking and screaming to weigh in rhetorically on the workers’ side.

At Verizon, in contrast, the fight was organized by union leaders, including several Communications Workers (CWA) locals led by reformers. Clearly, the unions’ resources, from staff time to strike pay, made an enormous difference in rank and filers’ ability to wage a fight.

BIG MISMATCH

As to leverage: Teamster retirees had no leverage with their companies, since they had no labor to withhold. Their only sway over union officials was to make them look bad to active members who could still vote. (Top Teamster officers are elected by the rank and file.) They had to make their case to a single appointed government official, who had the power to push the cuts forward or turn them down.

Chrysler workers would have had leverage galore if leaders had been willing to strike—the company was pumping out vehicles and profits—but leaders were not willing. Workers had only the right to an informed vote, which had been established in previous rounds of negotiations by legions of other protesters.

Verizon workers had power against their immensely profitable employer and used it well. The company was not able to keep up the work with untrained scabs.

What the three fights had in common was a big mismatch between what workers had been promised—a secure pension, a decent wage, a lifelong career with survivable working conditions—and what they were now told was all they could get. Righteous indignation was a potent motivator—plus, for the Teamsters, fear of abject poverty.

At Verizon, where virtually all strikers had 15 years’ seniority and up, workers resented the company’s greed and its push to get rid of an experienced workforce. One Manhattan field tech said, “They’re saying, ‘You’re not worth what you were worth last contract.’”

POWER IN NUMBERS

Workers in all three fights turned out big numbers for whatever they did.

At Chrysler, that meant mobilizing quickly for a “no” vote. Fired-up rank and filers, many of them new to organizing, generated tactics, confidence, and excitement through Facebook discussion groups.

Members showed up at contract information meetings and badgered the officials sent to sell the deal. They made “No More Tiers” T-shirts and wore them into the plants. A few dozen workers who happen to work near the UAW’s International headquarters even held a vote-no rally there.

Workers studied the 456-page proposal and found concessions not mentioned in the union’s cheery “highlights” brochure. They publicized those to win big “no” votes among those destined for a new Tier 3.

Meanwhile, Teamster retirees formed local committees that met monthly and steadily grew. Alex Adams of Cleveland describes “a very depressing day” in Washington in 2013, listening to high-paid Pension Fund officials testify to Congress on the need for cuts.

When he and his four friends got home, he said, “we formed our committee, put the word out, went to the retiree clubs, and we had another meeting that was over 150 people—and it just started building from there.”

GREW AND GREW

“Committees to Protect Pensions” grew in 20 cities, along with 60 Facebook pages. Retirees found meeting space at diners, union halls, the local American Legion. They held letter-writing drives, visited congressional representatives—even picketed a newspaper to get a reporter’s attention.

Mass meetings of 300, 500, 800, 1,200 were held from Milwaukee to Kansas City. At some, the government’s “Special Master” got an earful about what the cuts would mean. Helping the work were Teamsters for a Democratic Union and the Pension Rights Center.

In April 2,000 from 20 states rallied in Washington. A Houston local sent a busload of retirees and their spouses 1,400 miles to attend. “There were people there with walkers, with canes, with oxygen bottles,” said North Carolina retiree Brad Colesworthy. “You have never seen such emotion, such brotherhood and togetherness.”

Verizon workers, too, turned out in big numbers: 500 and 800 greeted the CEO and CFO, respectively, when they appeared at conferences. The “Good Morning America” show hosted 250 strikers in their red T-shirts. Others were greeted as heroes at a Bernie Sanders rally.

STOP THE WORK

But the strikers also did the traditional thing a strike is supposed to do—stop work from getting done. Hurt profits.

Many strikes these days are “publicity strikes”—one day on the picket line. But the phone workers put up roving pickets: they harassed scabs and managers to make it hard or impossible for them to install and repair (which they were no good at in any case).

When Verizon boarded scabs at hotels that it used as dispatch centers, strikers organized wee-hours “wake-up calls” outside. To build solidarity and publicity, locals recruited other unions and community groups to adopt Verizon retail stores to picket.

Meanwhile CWA members, though not their fellow strikers in the Electrical Workers (IBEW), had a strike fund behind them, with benefits of $200-$300 a week and a promise to pay medical bills once the company cut off insurance.

As the strike wore on, analysts predicted hundreds of millions of dollars in lost profits. Verizon caved.

RIGHTEOUS ANGER

Most of the publicity unions get these days says existing members are dinosaurs, concessions are inevitable, and the labor movement is on its way out. Some say our best hope is to focus on those who barely have anything yet—fast-food workers and Uber drivers—though it’s not clear why they’d want to hop onto a sinking ship.

But these three battles show the raw material is still there for big fights led by labor’s traditional members. Too often, union leaders squander it. Or ignore it.

Still, the righteous indignation flares up when the bosses come after what took generations to win—the anger and the willingness to act on your own behalf.

Unions should use this power. That’s how you build the kind of movement that can inspire more workers to join.

Alexandra Bradbury and Dan DiMaggio contributed reporting to this article.

The Communications Workers of America are a sponsor of In These Times, and our editorial staff are represented by them. Fiscal sponsors play no role in editorial content.

This article originally appeared on inthesetimes.com on July 11, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Jane Slaughter is the author of Concessions and How To Beat Them and co-author, with Mike Parker, of Choosing Sides: Unions and the Team Concept and Working Smart: A Union Guide to Participation Programs and Reengineering. Her work has appeared in The Nation, The Progressive, In These Times, and Monthly Review, among others.

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As Temperatures Climb Across the Country, Workers Will Suffer

July 11th, 2016 | Elizabeth Grossman

elizabeth grossmanThe summer of 2016 is barely two weeks old, but this year is already on track to break high temperature records in the United States. On June 20, cities across the Southwest and into Nevada reached all-time triple-digit highs. Meanwhile, every single state experienced spring temperatures above average, with some in the Northwest reaching record highs. These temperatures have already proved deadly, killing five hikers in Arizona earlier this month. Triple-digit heat earlier that same week is also being blamed for the deaths of two construction workers, 49-year old Dale Heitman in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 15 and 55-year old Thomas F. “Tommy” Barnes on June 14 at the Monsanto campus in nearby Chesterfield, Missouri.

“I’ve been around since 1973 and we’ve never seen anything like this,” David Zimmermann, president and business manager of Sheet Metal Workers Local 36, told the St. Louis-Southern Illinois Labor Tribune. “With these new buildings, once they close them in, with the guys working in there, it’s like working in a big oven.”

While 100-degree heat in June may be unusual, serious illness and deaths caused by extreme heat at U.S. job sites is not. Last year, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) received more than 200 reports of workers hospitalized because of heat-related illness and at least eight deaths associated with heat exposure. According to OSHA, since 2003, heat has killed—on average—more than 30 workers a year. In 2014, 2,630 U.S. workers suffered from heat illness and 18 died on the job from heat stroke and related causes.

Of these deaths, nine occurred in the workers’ first three days on the job, four of them on the worker’s first day—and at workplaces where employers had no way of allowing new workers to acclimatize to the heat. These numbers have been even worse in the past. In 2011, heat killed 61 U.S. workers and sickened 4,420. OSHA has already begun investigating several heat-related on-the-job fatalities this year, including the two in Missouri.

“Heat can kill. And it is especially tragic when someone dies of heat exposure because they’re simply doing their job. We see cases like this every year and every one of them is preventable,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health, David Michaels on a June 27 call with reporters. “We also know that in this current heat wave workers are concerned about their safety. In fact we’ve received a record number of emails, comments and questions regarding heat and worker rights in recent weeks.”

Michaels spoke with reporters as part of OSHA’s launch of this year’s “water-rest-shade campaign,” the agency’s ongoing effort to prevent work-related heat illness.

As part of its campaign, OSHA is upping its efforts to educate employers and workers on the danger of heat. OSHA’s Atlanta region that covers eight southern states planned a one-hour safety “stand down” at construction sites and other workplaces. OSHA has also updated its “heat app” for smartphones and tablets. This uses National Weather Service data to calculate the heat index at worksites and advise when the risk level is high. The app, which is available in English and Spanish, also includes information about identifying and preventing heat illness. According to OSHA the app has already been downloaded more than 250,000 times.

No federal heat standards

California has a “heat illness prevention regulation” that applies to all outdoor workplaces. The state also requires employers in agriculture, construction, landscaping, transportation and oil and gas extraction to take special measures when temperatures hit 95ºF or higher. Washington state also has an “outdoor heat exposure rule” that includes specific temperatures that trigger protective action.

But there are no specific federal extreme heat standards—in other words, no set temperatures at which employers are required to pull workers off the job. But under federal law, and OSHA’s general workplace safety standards, employers are required to protect workers from excessive heat and heat illness at whatever temperature that might occur. And if workers are going to be exposed to high temperatures, their employer is supposed to have a heat illness prevention program. This includes providing workers with water, rest and shade. It should also allow workers to acclimatize to the heat, and train workers to monitor for and prevent extreme heat exposure and illness.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), seven of the ten warmest years on record for the 48 contiguous U.S. states have occurred since 1998, with 2012 the warmest in the U.S.—and 2014, the hottest worldwide—thus far. So extreme heat and unseasonably high temperatures are far from new. But workers continue to succumb.

A search of OSHA’s workplace inspections and safety violations database shows 70 investigations related to heat stress since 2006. These include at least 20 fatalities. Of these 70 investigations, more than 20—including at least five fatalities—occurred in a construction-related industry. Nine involved delivery service workers, among them two U.S. Postal Service workers who died of heat exposure. Eight incidents involved landscaping workers, eight of whom died. Farm work has proved similarly dangerous for heat exposure, with all four incidents investigated involving fatalities. But workers also fell to heat doing work in the energy extraction industry, doing warehouse work, handling waste and recycling, and performing vehicle repair work. But the OSHA record of heat stress violations also includes restaurant and nursing home work.

Perhaps not unexpectedly, most of these incidents occurred in the hot and humid South and Southeast, including Texas and Louisiana. The accounts, where they are available, are heartbreaking for the utter ordinariness of the workdays they describe:

  • A worker in West Virginia who’d been dragging tree limbs to a chipper truck for three hours on a late August day was sent to sit in a truck when he said he didn’t feel well. After a little while he left the job site to walk home, a distance of four blocks. Two hours later, an emergency service worker found him unconscious by the side of the street, his body temperature at 107.4º. He never regained consciousness and was pronounced dead of heatstroke.
  • A man pulling weeds in a fruit tree nursery on a July day dies of hyperthermia.
  • Men found slumped over their construction work, pronounced dead of heat exhaustion.
  • A migrant farm worker who’d completed three months in a tomato packing warehouse who volunteered to stay on after the harvest ended to remove stakes and strings from 300 to 400 acres of tomato fields. After his fourth day cutting and removing strings he went to a shaded area to take a break. He was found there, some time later by coworkers, unconscious. After a local hospital recorded his 108º body temperature he was airlifted to a major hospital where he died the following day.
Ongoing low OSHA penalties

As Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) policy analyst Katie Tracy notes, under current rules, OSHA is limited in what it can fine employers for violations of any kind—including those that keep workers on the job in dangerous heat. “The median penalty for a fatality is a little over $5,000,” says Tracy. And under OSHA’s process for working with employers on fixing hazards, employers can—and regularly do—negotiate lower penalty fees than OSHA initially assessed. In fact, during the time that a company is contesting these penalties the company isn’t legally required to correct the violations for which the employers was cited. In a new report examining this practice, CPR found that the median penalty employers have paid for a fatality during the Obama Administration is $5,800. This amount, says CPR, is “less than the cost of an average funeral.”

A look at the fines companies paid in the past 10 years when workers died on the job from heat exposure reflects what CPR found. While some fines were much higher, when a number of construction workers suffered heat-related deaths, many of their employers paid fines of $7,000. When farm and landscaping workers died, those fines were often lower, in two cases: $2,000 and $2,500. OSHA is now poised to increase its penalties for the first time since 1990.

But when it comes to heat, “We want this message to get out as widely as possible,” said Michael. That includes publicizing what some employers are doing to keep workers safely cool on the job—with easy access to shade, cool drinks, wet cloths and opportunity for rest breaks. It also means making sure everyone is aware of the dangers of heat and knows what the symptoms are so they can stop before it’s too late.

This blog originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on July 5, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Elizabeth Grossman is the author of Chasing Molecules: Poisonous Products, Human Health, and the Promise of Green Chemistry, High Tech Trash: Digital Devices, Hidden Toxics, and Human Health, and other books. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Yale e360, Environmental Health Perspectives, Mother Jones,Ensia, Time, Civil Eats, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Salon and The Nation.

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