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Archive for October, 2011

While Washington Dithers, Labor Brings Jobs and Equity Home

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Michelle ChenThe 2012 campaign trail is already littered with silver bullets and peppy slogans about boosting America out of its unemployment slump. But for the most part, the plans that politicians have trotted out–from Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 mantra to the GOP’s latest corporate welfare formulas, to Obama’s limp blend of free-trade policies and woefully inadequate stimulus–stick faithfully to the path of neoliberalism, paving the way for more outsized corporate profits.

So does anyone have a plan to steer industry toward the needs of communities? Researchers at Cornell University have located a few novel ideas, well outside the Beltway, that are blazing small trails in economic disaster zones. Their study focuses on project labor agreements that are designed to meet workers’ needs for decent wages and working conditions, while upholding principles of equity in local hiring practices.

Community workforce provisions in labor agreements have been used in various cities to help low-income and working-class people land solid jobs with opportunities for advancement, while building in corporate accountability, to prevent employers from exploiting local workers or undermining labor rights.

The Cornell report points to key policies established by pro-worker labor agreements:

  • Requirements or goals for hiring of local residents
  • Hiring and workforce development of economically disadvantaged and so called at-risk individuals, who are local residents
  • Hiring and workforce development of women and members of minority groups, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, and others
  • Hiring of veterans or Helmets-to-Hardhats Programs
  • Apprentice Utilization requirements, and requirements or goals for percent of employed apprentices that should be local residents
  • Utilization of women/minority-owned and local small businesses
  • Utilization of union-supported Pre-Apprenticeship Programs, as well as of community-based pre-apprenticeship programs
    Involvement of community-based Organizations in the recruitment and monitoring efforts
  • Development of an implementation and monitoring process or plan

To be sure, many project labor agreements fail to include all or even most of these principles. But the report’s basic thrust is that such elements can be successfully incorporated into broader jobs programs that leverage public resources for local development.

Take a look at a labor accord between the Cleveland University Hospital and the local construction trades union. The plan outlined goals for hiring graduates of a local vocational school’s pre-apprenticeship program, and emphasized creating ‘contracting opportunities for minority, female, and local-small business enterprises in Northeast Ohio.” The plan ran into various obstacles, including a trend of workers and small business fleeing the devastated area altogether. But in the end, according to the report, “The projects created more than 5,200 construction jobs and generated more than $500 million in wages and benefits,” while meeting guidelines for diversity and local hiring. Not bad for a city where economic decline over the past few years has driven people from their homes and deepened vast income inequalities.

In New York City, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, which represents about 100,000 local union workers, has entered into project labor agreements that promote hiring of veterans, women, public high school graduates and public housing residents, along with other “adults in need of economic opportunity.” The agreements studied, applied to public construction projects estimated to generate tens of thousands of jobs, have exceeded targets for inclusion of women, public high school graduates and new local apprentices (with most of them coming from communities of color). In one of the country’s most segregated urban landscapes (and ground zero of a new anti-corporate grassroots movement), any jobs program premised on social equity marks a modest step toward constructing a fairer economy.

A separate report by the National Employment Law Project outlines various state and local job-boosting initiatives that show how public funds can be leveraged to help raise labor standards, generate sustainable employment, and even streamline the state budget:

  • In Portland, an initiative to upgrade home energy efficiency using a federal grant is paying median wages of $18.00 per hour, drawing on firms that are 100 percent Oregon-based and nearly 30 percent minority- or women-owned. A similar statewide initiative is now underway to upgrade 6,000 homes over the next three years and create or retain 1,300 jobs….
  • More than 140 cities and one state—Maryland—have adopted living wage standards for businesses performing government contracts. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have set minimum wage rates above the federal level of $7.25 per hour, and 10 states increase their rates annually to keep pace with inflation.
  • Currently, 23 states have work-sharing programs, which, according to the Department of Labor, saved 265,000 jobs between 2009 and 2010.

These initiatives don’t offer the structural reforms that would be necessary to truly rebalance the country’s corrosive wealth imbalance. Nonetheless they demonstrate a more innovative approach to the jobs crisis than the low-hanging fruit of tax cuts and fiscal austerity that Washington bandies about every election cycle. If state and local policies that can create good jobs aren’t percolating up to the national debate, it’s not because results don’t speak for themselves, but because Washington just doesn’t want to listen.

This blog post originally appeared in In These Times on October 15, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Michelle Chen’s work has appeared in AirAmerica, Extra!, Colorlines and Alternet, along with her self-published zine, cain. She is a regular contributor to In These Times’ workers’ rights blog, Working In These Times, and is a member of the In These Times Board of Editors. She also blogs at Colorlines.com. She can be reached at michellechen @ inthesetimes.com.

America Wants to Work Week of Action Spotlights Rising Call for Jobs

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Image: Mike HallMike Matthews, president of the Kanawha Valley (W.Va.) Labor Council, knows why more and more people are taking to the streets and speaking out against Big Banks, Wall Street and congressional Republicans who are standing in the way of job creation.

Everybody’s frustrated, especially when you don’t have work.

Wednesday in Charleston, union and community activists marched and rallied as part of the AFL-CIO’s America Wants to Work National Week of Action to promote a real jobs agenda. See more from WSAZ-TV.

In Fort Collins, Colo., several dozen gathered to highlight one of the most effective and quick ways put Americans back to work—rebuilding the infrastructure, including the states’ 128 bridges that are rated in poor condition. Says Colorado AFL-CIO Executive Director Mike Cerbo:

America is still suffering from the worst job crisis since the Great Depression, yet our infrastructure is still crumbling—we can put people back to work tomorrow.

In Eau Claire, Wis., union members and student and community activists held a wake for the death of good jobs. They also expressed support for the Occupy Wall Street movement that is growing across the nation. Mark Slepica told the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram:

I just want to show solidarity for the movement that’s beginning all across the U.S. It’s not just a Wall Street thing. It’s not just a big cities thing. I hope that people see that their neighbors are part of this.

This afternoon in Boston, union members from the Greater Boston Labor Council are joining in solidarity with the Occupy Boston protesters in Dewey Square to demand that Congress act to create jobs and financial institutions invest some of the trillions they are sitting on into job creation.

In Baltimore tonight, hundreds of working families are expected to attend a townhall forum on joblessness and its devastating impact on the local economy and on communities of color.  The town hall is sponsored by the Metropolitan Baltimore Council of AFL-CIO Unions in coalition with the NAACP, BUILD and Ministerial Alliance.

The National Week of Action runs through Oct. 16. Click here to find an America Wants to Work action near you. You also can sign an America Wants to Work petition to Congress here. Follow the action on Twitter with the hashtag #want2work. Find an Occupy Wall Street event near you here. You can share Occupy Wall Street events on Facebook here.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on October 13, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.


The Other Occupation: How Wall Street Occupies Washington

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

jilani_zaid_bioAs ThinkProgress has previously noted, the 99 Percent Movement has been set off thanks to long-standing economic inequities and and a recession caused primarily by Wall Street’s misdeeds.

But Wall Street did not engage in reckless financial behavior — which plunged 64 million people worldwide into extreme poverty — in a vacuum.

In order to engage in these practices that brought the world’s economy to its knees, Wall Street had to make sure that the federal government based in Washington, DC would both de-regulate the financial industry (and provide lax oversight) and that Congress and the Federal Reserve would bail out banks with few strings attached if they were in danger of failing. The way the financial industry and big banks won this kid glove treatment from the federal government is by occupying Washington — flooding it with campaign contributions, lobbyists, and its own staffers and executives to occupy key positions of power. ThinkProgress has assembled a rundown of three ways Wall Street has occupied Washington:

1. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Massive Campaign Contributions: On Nov. 12, 1999 President Bill Clinton signed into law the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, a Depression-era law that created a firewall between commercial and investment banking. Repealing this law was one of the top legislative goals of the financial industry. In the 1998 election cycle, commercial banks spent $18 million on congressional campaign contributions, with 65 percent going to Republicans and 35 percent going to Democrats. Securities and investment firms donated over $40 million. The mega-bank Citibank spent $1,954,191 during that cycle, and it was soon able to merge with Travelers Group as a result of the repeal of banking regulations. Between 2008 and 2010, when new financial regulations were being written following the financial crisis, the finance, insurance, and real estate industries spent $317 million in federal campaign contributions, with $73 million of that coming from Political Action Committees (PACs). The hold of campaign contributions is starkly bipartisan. As Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) explained to Real Clear Politics in an interview last year, he couldn’t get a vote on a windfall profits tax on bonuses at bailed out banks due to campaign contributors. “I couldn’t even get a vote,” Webb explained. “And it wasn’t because of the Republicans. I mean they obviously weren’t going to vote for it. But I got so much froth from Democrats saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fundraising.”

2. Wall Street Occupies Washington With Its Lobbyists: One way to control what Washington lawmakers do is to give them access to exclusive funding streams that allow them to finance their campaigns. But yet another is to control the stream of information. From the deregulatory period of 1998 to 2009, the financial sector spent $3.3 billion on lobbyists. In 2007, the financial industry employed 2,996 separate lobbyists, five for every member of Congress. During the debate over financial reform last year, the industry flooded the nation’s capital with its own lobbyists. On just one issue — regulating derivatives — financial industry lobbyists outnumbered consumer group lobbyists and other pro-reform advocates by 11 to 1. In fact, by 2010, the industry had hired awhopping 1,600 former federal employees as lobbyists. Included among these lobbyists were high-ranking former public leaders like former Democratic House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (MO) and Kenneth Duberstein, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff. Much of this lobbying is done through elite K Street firms that specialize in hiring government insiders. Yet there are also bank-funded front groups like the Chamber of Commerce that deploy lobbyists on behalf of the big banks.

3. Wall Street Literally Occupies Washington By Placing Its Staff In Government Positions: Shortly after Clinton signed into law the repeal of the firewall between commercial and investment banking, his Treasury Secretary and Goldman Sachs alumni Robert Rubin left the government to work for newly-formed Citigroup — whose merger was only possible thanks to the policies Rubin championed and enacted. His compensation at Citigroup topped $15 million, not including stock options. Goldman’s alumni are found across the government, including bailout architect and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, Paulson’s bailout chiefNeil Kashkari, and Commodity Futures Trading Commission chairman Gary Gensler. The revolving door, of course, works both ways. Obama budget director Peter Orszag joined Citigroup shortly after leaving the government. This is just a small sampling of Wall Street’s staffers who found their way into government.

These three facets of lobbying do not include how these financial interests fan their funding out among nonprofits and think tanks, and how they fund media campaigns and public relations efforts within the parameters of the geographic territory of the District of Columbia. The amount of money spent on these tasks is likely formidable but is difficult to track.

There are reforms that can be enacted to combat this Wall Street infiltration of Washington. Ranging from public financing of federal campaigns to new disclosure laws to placing restrictionson lobbying from federal public officials, these reforms would blunt the impact of big money on federal policymaking. Yet only vigilance from the American public can get such reforms enacted.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on October 12, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zaid Jilani is a Senior Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Zaid grew up in Kennesaw, GA, and holds a B.A. in International Affairs with a minor in Arabic from the University of Georgia. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zaid interned for Just Foreign Policy and was a weekly columnist at The Red & Black, the University of Georgia’s official student newspaper. He is a co-editor at the Georgia-based blog Georgia Liberal and a regular on RT America’s The Alyona Show and The Thom Hartmann Show and has been a guest host on Al Jazeera English’s The Stream. He is also an occassional contributor to the op-ed pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His Twitter handle is @zaidjilani.

Creating Jobs the First Step to Ending Inequality in America

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

adele_stan_140x140In Washington, D.C., as in dozens of other U.S. cities, the 99 percent movement is inescapable, even in the politest of venues, as demonstrated today at a forum titled “Jobs, Inequality, and the Role of  Government,” sponsored at the Georgetown Law School. The movement’s  chant, “We are the 99 percent,” is meant to draw the distinction between the average American and the top 1 percent who possess 42 percent of the nation’s  wealth.

Sponsored by the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), the forum brought together economists and academics with representatives of labor, the financial community and the Obama administration. The 99 percent movement, as represented by young people working with Occupy D.C. and the October 2011 protests, made its presence felt in  the question-and-answer session that followed opening remarks by  CWA President Larry Cohen, Goldman Sachs Senior Investment Strategist Abby Joseph, Cohen and Jason Furman, White House adviser and deputy director of the National Economic Council.

Cohen presented a series of slides that told a grim tale of the economic fate of the average American who, according to a analysis by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has suffered virtually stagnant wages
while generating a nearly 200-percent growth in productivity. Cohen’s final chart suggested a major reason for the productivity/compensation disparity: compared with other major democracies, the U.S. lags far behind in collective bargaining coverage. Indeed, in a chart showing 10 major democracies – Germany,  Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the U.K. — the U.S. ranked dead last.

As the representative of  Goldman Sachs, which has become the poster child for corporate greed on both
the left and the right, Abby Joseph Cohen faced a polite, if skeptical, room.  Nonetheless, she made a
strong case for government investment in education, as well as research and development, and suggested that politicians design some new scheme for enticing corporations to bring back to the U.S. the $1.2 trillion in profits they’re holding overseas. She did concede, however, that the last time this was tried, via a tax holiday,  “it didn’t work out very well.”

The Goldman Sachs strategist expressed special concern for the drop in enrollment in science majors by U.S. college students, and suggested that the government had a role in preparing students  to enter those fields, which field the creation of jobs in manufacturing as  well as the service sectors.

As Jason Furman, one of the president’s economic advisers spoke, the Senate, he said, was scheduled to take up a vote  on the jobs bill proposed by President Barack Obama. The administration, he  said, was “hopeful” that the bill would pass, even as the consensus among political pulse-takers was that the bill would likely not make it out of the Senate.

If you want to do something about inequality, the first thing you want to something about is jobs.

Inequality is a pernicious ill, Furman implied, as it becomes a drag on economic growth and depresses participatory democracy. Even Alan Greenspan, he said, concedes that democratic capitalism is imperiled by
inequality.

Furman suggested that although there are aspects of inequality that cannot be addressed immediately, there are others that can.  Among those things that government should address, he said, were the decline in unionization, allowing the expiration of tax cuts for the wealthy,and implementing the “Buffett rule” — that no one make $1 million or more should pay a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans.

Then came the audience’s turn. Sam Marrero, a young man who identified himself only as the winner of a Boren Fellowship, expressed surprise that no one on the panel had mentioned the Occupy Wall Street
movement, which is part of the 99 percent movement and is present in its Occupy K Street (or Occupy D.C.) at an encampment in McPherson Square Park, just blocks from the White House.
Marrero asked for the comments of Goldman Sachs’ Abby Joseph Cohen, who said all  she knew of
the movement was what she read in the newspapers, and suggested he speak with movement organizers.
Sam was followed at the mic by Allison Johnson, who counts herself as part of the Occupy D.C. movement and works directly with the anti-war October2011 protest, who asked how change could take place with the
Senate hopelessly deadlocked via rules that allow a minority to stop legislation in its tracks.

Cohen didn’t hesitate to take up the challenges issued by the 99-percenters. “It almost takes a new democracy movement” to rectify inequality, he said, adding that  his union is working with members of the Occupy Wall Street  movement.

After the session, Larry Cohen explained why he thought a mass ”new democracy” political movement, as represented by the 99-percenters, was critical to solving the inequality puzzle.

There’s almost no other direction for people to move in. I think we’re blocked [from enacting] any kind of federal legislation, with campaign finance, Senate rules and voter suppression. There’s almost no other direction for people to move in, you know?

He showed me a chart that was distributed  at the most recent CWA board meeting that called for a mass movement of 50 million Americans — enough to represent a majority of the electorate.

That’s what it’sgoing to take.

Both Marrero, whose Boren Fellowship took him to Egypt to study the labor movement there, and Allison
Johnson, who described herself as a Harvard-trained international political economist, are unemployed. Said Johnson:

There are unemployed Ivy League graduates all over this country, as well as unemployed working people. If you don’t have a job, it doesn’t matter that you went to Harvard University or Yale University or you didn’t finish high school…We’re all in the same boat.

This blog post originally appeared in AFL-CIO Now Blog on October 11, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Adele Stan is a journalist and lifelong member of the labor movement, reports on a timely forum on inequality and jobs at Georgetown University today.

Seven Snappy Comebacks for Those Lame Anti- 'Occupy' Talking Points

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Richard EskowLame, pat, pre-packaged putdowns of Occupy Wall Street: We all deal with ’em, whether we’re arguing with a neighbor, appearing on Fox, or answering the jeers of relatives who’ve just received a chain email that “really puts the protesters in their place.”

Here are a few easy comebacks for your next argument. They cover everything from the supposed “hypocrisy” of demonstrators who buy cardboard (really!) to snarky comments about scruffy-looking anticapitalists with beards.

1. They say “Oh, look. The demonstrators buy stuff from corporations!” You say “Whaddya expect? Corporate lackeys in government have forced everybody else out of business!”

I don’t know who came up with this lame picture, but it’s making the rounds on Wall Street – and with all the other Americans co-opted by its propaganda:

2011-10-11-lameputdownofprotestors

Hey, bankers! Is that the best you’ve got? Really? Because this picture is so lame that it actually gave us several of our talking points. We’ll start with this one:

Corporations get generous tax breaks for not hiring people and shipping jobs overseas instead. They make money from those free trade agreements pushed through by their functionaries in the government. And Wall Street’s making billions for not lending to smaller businesses that might compete with some of those mega-corporations.

Now you’re calling the demonstrators hypocrites for buying stuff from corporations. Who else are they going to buy it from? Everyone else was driven out of business!

In a very real sense, that’s why they’re protesting.

2. They say “They hate businesses!” You say “No, they hate parasiticalbusinesses.”

Want to know something ironic? If the demonstrators had their way, most businesses in this country would actually do better. Why? Because the banks aren’t lending to anybody but the mega-corporations who are already sitting on a ton of cash.

If the system was reformed, banks would lend to those smaller and medium-sized businesses that actually hire people. What’s more, debt relief for the American consumer would unleash a buying wave that would spur widespread economic growth.

These “anti-business” protesters would be great for businesses – all, that is, except for the dishonest and socially useless ones. You know, like the ones that underwrite politicians, think tanks, and television networks – who then proceed to make fun of demonstrations, as they’re paid to do.

And you wonder why they’re protesting?

3. They say “But it’s hypocritical to buy corporate products and then protest corporations!” You say “You sound like a Communist.”

That’s right – like a Communist. I spent a lot of time in Eastern Europe as protests very much like these were overthrowing the Soviet empire. You know what the old-timers in those countries said back then? They said “These people are protesting the State, but they’re wearing clothes made at state-run factories and waving signs made with state resources! What hypocrites!”

(Well, they said it in Hungarian, or Czech, or Polish. But the meaning was the same.)

Tell your debate opponents they sound just like old Commies as they defend the uncompetitive, inflexible, and totalitariansystem the corporations now run. Don’t blame the demonstrators. They can’t operate within the new system until we’ve reformed the old one.

That’s why they’re protesting.

4. They say “Did you know they paid all the TARP money back? They weren’t bailed out.” You say “Fine! Give every consumer in the country an interest-free loan!”

This is one of the inept moves that CNN’s Erin Burnett tried on a protester. She, and everybody else using this line, must be either confused or financially illiterate.

Here’s how the real world works: If you (we, actually) lend the banks a trillion dollars at 3% below the usual rates, that’s the same as giving them a cash gift of $30 billion — even if they pay all the money back!

And when you count the Federal Reserve’s actions, like purchasing the banks’ toxic assets through the “Maiden Lane” dummy corporation, the bankers have gotten billions more in additional bailout money. The demonstrators are right:A few mega-banks destroyed the economy, and we bailed them out.

This argument’s as hollow as a mega-bank’s promise. And that’s why they’re protesting.

5. They say “But still, they buy corporate stuff!” You say “They’re called Occupy Wall Street, not Occupy Main Street. Anybody in that picture using an ATM?”

They keep coming back to this one, for some reason. That’s why the picture says things like “hat by J. Crew.” Oh, snap! Oh, wait — what’s your point again?

They’re protesting banks, for crying out loud, not hat companies!

As we were saying: Lame.

6. They say “These protesters don’t understand the free market.” You say “What free market?”

Economic theory says that one of the basic elements of a free market is transparency. Yet as of this writing Wall Street’s fighting tooth and nail against a process that would allow more transparency in the derivatives market. They don’t want transparency – and that means they don’t want a free market.

We haven’t had a free market for decades. We’ve had a lootocracy that makes money through deception, confusion, and obfuscation.

People should conduct their business in the light of day – and gambling with other people’s money should be illegal. The words “free market” and the phrase “Wall Street” don’t belong in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence.

That’s why they’re protesting.

7. They say “Ha ha! Look at that bearded guy in the sandals!” You say “Hmmm … A bearded guy in sandals protesting the moneylenders. Where have we seen that before?”

They love making fun of the demonstrators’ looks, but it’s pretty difficult to step outside the system and live outdoors without looking a little rough in the eyes of the moneyed classes. Jesus and his disciples probably looked pretty rough to some people, too. I’m sure the rich people looked down their noses at Him after He overturned those tables. That’s not done in polite company.

Think about it: A guy rides into town on a donkey. Then he says the moneyed interests are exerting too much influence on the government – and on some of the religious elite, too. And what was that about the wealthy? Oh, yeah – “It’s easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter heaven.”

3,000 years of moral law condemns people who make excess profits from money without contributing to society. Every single prophet to make those arguments – which is to say, all of them – was condemned by the plutocracy of the day.

No matter what you believe or don’t believe spiritually, it’s clear that oligarchic wealth has corrupted our politics, polluted our culture, and debased our basic sense of morality.

And that’s why they’re we’re protesting. I’ve been to New York’s demonstration, and Washington’s. Next stop is LA. But they’re all over the country.

IIf you haven’t been to one yet, why not stop by? ‘m not an organizer, just an admirer, but consider this an official invitation: Your presence is requested as democracy – and history – unfold before us.

Dress is casual. If you’re part of the 99%, come as your are. (Sandals optional.)

This post originally appeared on OurFuture.org on October 10, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Richard (RJ) Eskow is a well-known blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, an experienced consultant, and a former musician.Richard had senior executive positions at several Forture 500 firms and was CEO of two medical management companies before forming HKS. He also served as a senior consultant to the World Bank, the U.S. State Dept/USAID, and government and private entities in over 20 foreign countries. Areas of expertise included health policy, healthcare investment, operations, marketing, and strategic planning

Auto Workers Use Social Media to Increase Transparency in Contract Talks

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Laura ClawsonUnion contracts are voted on by the members who will work under them. Contracts, though, are complicated documents and what you know about them can greatly influence how they look. Additionally, most union members are not in the room where contracts are negotiated and can only go on the judgment of their representatives about whether the company might have been willing to bargain a better deal or was really immovable.

The New York Times‘ Nick Bunkley describes how the internet and social media are changing the information about new contracts to which union members have access, and are offering a place for them to talk, and talk back. Bunkley describes an array of new ways auto workers have had access to information as the UAW has bargained with GM and Ford: When tentative deals have been reached, workers have been able to download copies of the contract rather than relying on in-person briefings; workers have gotten email updates through the negotiation process and union staff have maintained Facebook and Twitter feeds with more limited public information.

Unions have been able to “rebut rumors […] rather than allowing them to spread unchallenged”:

Shortly after a Detroit television station reported that workers would get a signing bonus of $7,500, a message posted on Facebook from Jimmy Settles, the union’s vice president in charge of Ford negotiations, described the report as inaccurate and “designed to intentionally create false expectations.” The finished deal included a bonus of $6,000 for most workers, some of whom had begun posting on Facebook that they would vote against any contract with a bonus of less than $15,000.

“It allowed us to get to the membership quickly,” Mr. Settles said in an interview. “The one thing we always had to combat was the expectations of our members. Historically, we didn’t have the apparatus to get that information out.”

Workers and retirees have also used social media to talk to each other and to push back against what they see as problem areas in the contracts, albeit with limited success this time around. Transparency increased somewhat, but workers’ concerns seem to have been seen as something to be managed, not taken as an added voice in the negotiations. The long-term question is, will social media be another channel of top-down communication in which unions and employers are able to monitor and respond to rumors and set expectations, or will it be a way workers can actually push for more transparency and responsiveness and themselves alter the terms of negotiations?

This post originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on October 10, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Trumka: AFL-CIO Will Support Occupy Wall St. Protest "In Every Way' it Can

Friday, October 7th, 2011

David MobergFinally, anger at the abuses of the rich against the other 99 percent of Americans is bubbling up, giving energy to the Occupy Wall Street protests and their progeny around the country and fueling other actions.  And just as unions are throwing their support behind those demonstrations, they hope the populist upsurge on the left will energize their own planned public demonstrations demanding jobs, many of them starting next week.

Minnesotan Kim Watkins, 40, single mother of a 16-year old daughter, is one of those who wants to see action on jobs. A member of the AFL-CIO community affiliate, Working America, she has worked since she was 15. Now she is employed only part-time at a local Walgreen’s, going to school to help her job-hunting prospects, and “really struggling.“

“I feel very much under attack,” she says. “I see people being fired, wages being reduced, instead of doing things that are really common sense, like creating jobs by building infrastructure. While the top 1 percent are getting all the gains, the 99 percent of us are really suffering, and there aren’t any jobs being created.”  Next week she plans to join a tongue-in-cheek “fundraiser for the struggling rich” featuring nickel hot dogs.

Joblessness continues to be “devastating” to over 16 percent of the workforce and many communities and is “absolutely brutal” to people of color, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said Wednesday as he announced the kick-off next Monday of hundreds of events for the federation’s America Wants to Work campaign.

But on Wall Street, he said, “the bonuses keep flowing,” CEO pay was up 23 percent last year, and business as usual prevails—except that corporations and banks are sitting on more than $3 trillion in cash they won’t invest to put Americans back to work and rejuvenate the ailing economy.

The labor actions will push Congress to pass job-creating legislation—especially Obama’s American Jobs Act–and other economic reforms, many of which aim to better regulate the financial sector and make it pay for the damage it inflicted on the real economy and for creation of new jobs.

Trumka also endorsed the Occupy Wall Street protests, as the federation’s executive council did on a Wednesday conference call.  Many local unions in New York had already joined the protests or offered support, but more national unions have issued statements of enthusiastic support, including the Service Employees (which has long had a campaign focused on the financial sector), the Teamsters, the Bakery Workers and others.

“We will support them in every way we can,” Trumka says, noting that unions had mobilized 15,000 marchers on Wall Street a year and a half ago. “We believe as they do that the economy is shutting out 99 percent of the people. It works for the top 1 percent marvelously…But the rest of us with stagnant wages, lost jobs, home foreclosures, kids that can’t go to school, lost health care, pensions taken away and retirement security destroyed, we think there’s a different and better way….We aren’t going to try to usurp them in any way but support them. And we certainly hope they support us on our America Wants to Work campaign.”

Organized labor has three demands that are shared by most Wall Street occupiers, Trumka says. First, corporations and banks should invest their cash in America, creating good jobs. Second, banks and other holders of the 14 million foreclosed or “under water” mortgages and then ten million more expected to go sour should be forced to write down the mortgages to reflect the real, post-bubble value. Finally, the government should impose a “speculation tax,” or financial transactions tax, of one-tenth of one percent. Researchers in Europe figure a similar tax would generate $78 billion a year, and with its larger financial markets, the U.S. could gain as much or more.

A similar campaign by a labor-community coalition, Stand Up, Chicago, will direct actions towards two major financial sector conventions being held next week in Chicago—one of mortgage bankers, the other futures traders—and towards local institutions.  Spearheaded by the Service Employees Union and involving only the Teachers union from the AFL-CIO, the actions nevertheless parallel the AFL-CIO protests.

A study prepared by the Chicago Political Economy Group and released prior to the protests by Stand Up, Chicago, concluded that a twenty-five cent speculation fee paid by both buyer and seller of futures contracts would generate $1.4 billion that could fund creation of 40,000 new jobs. The report proposes a variety of public service jobs, including a community schools corps (rehiring laid-off teachers and other workers, refurbishing and increasing energy efficiency of schools, and making other upgrades) and other worker corps focused on community health, child care, jobs for youth, and neighborhood improvement.

“There’s anger and outrage,” Trumka says, although so far the anger from the right has been better organized along Tea Party lines. “We want to put that outrage to work to create jobs and restore balance to our economy.”

This post originally appeared in Working in These Times on October 6, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: David Moberg, a senior editor of In These Times, has been on the staff of the magazine since it began publishing in 1976. Before joining In These Times, he completed his work for a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and worked for Newsweek. He has received fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Nation Institute for research on the new global economy. He can be reached at davidmoberg@inthesetimes.com.

Delays Mount on Life-Saving Workplace Regulations

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Laura ClawsonHa ha ha. Remember the joke the Republicans like to tell about how the Obama administration is passing an intolerable number of regulations and the economy just can’t take that kind of regulation-passing?

OSHA regs by administration

Granted, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration isn’t the only government agency responsible for regulation, but a new report from Public Citizen (PDF) demonstrates the barriers to workplace health and safety regulation that have been increasing for decades, driving OSHA’s ability to pass new regulations down into the basement. How bad is the situation? “While OSHA has only regulated two chemicals since 1997, industry develops two new chemicals every day.”

The delays, which are created by a combination of legislative, executive, and judicial pressures, have real consequences:

Five pending OSHA standards have been subject to delays ranging from 4 to 31 years. Analyzing OSHA’s risk assessment data, we found that eliminating the delays would have prevented more than 100,000 serious injuries, more than 10,000 cases of occupational illness and hundreds of worker fatalities.

For instance, remember diacetyl? That’s the butter flavoring chemical found in microwave popcorn. It was identified by the CDC as a hazard in 2002. It made headlines in 2007,ConAgra stopped using it, and that September, the House even passed a bill calling for OSHA to declare it a hazard. But, the Public Citizen report says, “OSHA took no further action on diacetyl during the remainder of the Bush administration.” In early 2009, OSHA started moving forward on a regulation. But between requirements that “small business” (where small = up to 500 employees) be consulted and requirements for intense cost-benefit analysis, they still may be “years away” from regulating diacetyl.

That’s how oppressive the burden of safety and health regulation is on business—businesses have to worry that someday, after they’ve had extensive input, their use of a butter-flavored chemical that kills people may be regulated.

This post originally appeared in Daily Kos Labor on October 5, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. She has a PhD in sociology from Princeton University and has taught at Dartmouth College. From 2008 to 2011, she was senior writer at Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

Only Up From Here, Right?

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

n6234374_38932211_9560_reasonably_smallLast week, I had the pleasure of attending via conference call (thank you, Google Phone), the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) Roundtable on Women & the Economy. The purpose of the Roundtable was to formally present two very significant research studies put together by the IWPR and the Rockefeller Foundation, Women and Men Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession and Retirement on the Edge: Economic Insecurity After the Great Recession. The two studies provide a number of qualified statistics about Americans’ perceptions about their economic security following what is dubbed the “Great Recession,” that occurred in the United States during 2007 and 2009. 2,746 adults among the ages of eighteen and older participated in the survey, which was administered between September and November of 2010.

The findings of the IWPR/Rockefeller Survey of Economic Security are quite astounding, but mostly in the sense that I am astounded by how negatively the Recession is impacting the lives of many Americans.  Generally, most Americans feel less confident about their economic security today than they did three years ago. In 2007, 38% of women and 33% of men felt they had little economic security and when asked again in 2010, the numbers skyrocketed to 77% of women and 71% of men.

Considering the news headlines of the past year, I am sure you can assume why most Americans are disheartened. Health care is in shambles, Social Security is a nightmare, the housing market is a mess, and the job market- well, we might just call that a catastrophe. The study is very comprehensive in confronting all of these issues and the responses show that many Americans are making big sacrifices in their quality of life. Americans are having difficulty paying for food (26 million women, 15 million men), health care (46 million women, and 34 million men), rent or mortgage (32 million women, 25 million men) and are not saving or saving much less for retirement (65 million women, 53 million men).

What these numbers also show is that women are having a much harder time than men recovering from the adverse effects of the ’07-’09 recession. It is no wonder that the IWPR/Rockefeller report calls this phase of economic recovery the “Mencession.” The studies tell that while men’s job losses were more than twice as large as women’s, women’s economic vulnerability has increased much more than the men. 61% of male participants indicated that they have enough savings to support themselves for two months, while only 43% of women could say the same. Although most people in our country are suffering, women have the short stick on this one simply because they, generally, make lower earnings and have a greater likelihood of raising children on their own. As a result, the study observes that more women are going hungry (16% of single mothers and 9% of married mothers) and are unable to provide for their children (43% of single moms and 42 % of married moms have not bought something their child has needed). The statistics increase among women in minority groups as well.

The Roundtable did a great job of not only highlighting the research findings of the effects of the Recession, but also shining a light on how many Americans hope to proceed in the future considering these tough times. Many Americans are ill-prepared for retirement, whether they have not saved, stopped saving or are saving very little. Also, many people expect that they will retire by the age of 70 or perhaps never at all. Because “recovery” has yet to reach many Americans, they are relying on government programs such as Social Security and Medicare for the future. With that said, the Roundtable turned to a discussion of what government and our politicians could do (or should do) based on these findings. Pretty obviously, Americans are expecting that our government will handle the economic situation and improve conditions for Americans sooner than later.

After I ended my Google Phone session with the IWPR Roundtable on Women & the Economy, I felt a little disheartened. Actually, very disheartened. I’m a law student racking up some serious debt; I am searching for jobs in a dismal job market; and while I thought the 1960s and Civil Rights helped get females to equal status as their male counterparts, being a young lady in a “mancession,” is not looking too good either. However, what I did take out of the event was that I am not alone. All Americans are suffering in one way or another and we can really benefit from this understanding. Together, we can hope that it’s only up from here.

About this Author: Maria Saab is a law student intern at Workplace Fairness. Her Bachelor of Arts in International Studies combined with her career experiences working on Capitol Hill and with then-Senator Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008 encouraged her to pursue law school. As a hopeful lawyer, she plans on specializing in regulatory law and hopes to one day concentrate her work efforts towards policy development.

Business Owners, Investors Say Tax Changes Make ‘Zero Difference’ In Hiring: ‘I’m Not Sure What The Connection Is’

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Tanya SomanaderWrapping the wealthy in the term “job creator,” Republican lawmakers are hammering President Obama over the “Buffett rule,” a tax reform policy based on the simple and popular notion that millionaires should pay their fair share in taxes. To the GOP, this is a surefire way to ensure millionaires or “job creators” do not invest in the economy. “The reason we tax cigarettes in this country is to get people to stop smoking,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI). “If you tax capital more, you get less capital. If you tax job creators more, you get fewer jobs.”

But a surprising group of people find that to be entirely untrue: the “job creators” themselves. As the billionaire behind the Buffett Rule, Warren Buffett, explained, “I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off.”

Indeed, 200 millionaires created a group known as the Patriotic Millionaires to make this exact case. In a direct rebuttal of the GOP, members of the group like Ask.com founder Garrett Gruener noted that a higher tax rate makes “zero difference” in how he invests:

Ask.com founder and Oakland venture capitalist Garrett Gruener said that changes in the marginal tax rates make “zero difference” about where he is going to invest.

“The kind of investing I’ve done for the last 25 years isn’t based on how a few points of the income tax rates change,” said Gruener, a Democrat and member of the Patriotic Millionaires. But “somehow, the Republicans have managed to convince 98 percent of the people that they are affected by how 2 percent of the population is taxed.”[…]

Business owners also dismantled the other Republican talking point that higher tax rates will harm small businesses. “I’m not sure what the connection is” between raising tax rates and hiring, said Anchor Brewing CEO Keith Greggor. Anchor has added 26 full-time and 10 part-time employees since last year. Not a lot of “small-business owners I know are millionaires,” Greggor added. SF Made, an organization that represents 230 San Francisco manufacturers with 100 or fewer employees, said if there is a connection between raising taxes and inhibiting small-business investment, “we haven’t seen it.”

Patriotic Millionaires launched a video last month challenging Republican millionaires in Congress for their opposition to the Buffett Rule, stating that millionaire lawmakers’ “continued support of policies that advance their own economic self-interests is un-American.” But if Republican lawmakers are unwilling to listen to the “job creators” they say they speak for, then perhaps they will heed the advice of their figurehead President Ronald Reagan. After all, the Buffett rule is practically his idea.

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions of this post are the author’s alone and do not represent those of Workplace Fairness.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on October 3, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Tanya Somanader is a reporter/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tanya grew up in Pepper Pike, Ohio and holds a B.A. in international relations and history from Brown University. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Tanya was a staff member in the Office of Senator Sherrod Brown, working on issues ranging from foreign policy and defense to civil rights and social policy.

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