Archive for September, 2015
Tuesday, September 29th, 2015
Four in five Americans thinks companies should be required to “offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members.” So trust a Republican to come up with a paid family leave policy that doesn’t require anything and benefits business, not workers. Marco Rubio is the one Republican presidential candidate with any plan on this issue, and experts say it wouldn’t expand paid leave to many workers who don’t already have it.
Rubio would give tax credits to companies that offer paid leave. The problem is, such tax credits already exist for other things the government wants to encourage companies to do—and we know that it doesn’t work very well.
The government offers tax credits to encourage companies to do other things, like hiring veterans or people with disabilities and offering on-site child care. But there is little evidence that these credits significantly change employers’ behavior. Employer-sponsored child care is still extremely rare, for instance, and a subsidy for firms that hire various disadvantaged workers has been found to have little effect on their employment.
Rubio’s plan would be a nice reward for companies that are already doing the right thing by offering paid leave, but it’s unlikely to mean paid leave for workers who don’t already have it, and that means once again leaving low-income women in the dust. Hillary Clinton policy adviser Ann O’Leary writes that:
The companies that don’t offer [paid leave] tend to have large and mainly lower-skilled workforces. But that’s the rub?—?the people who need paid leave the most are the very people that Rubio’s plan ignores. While everyone should have access to paid family leave, it’s particularly vital for, say, a mother working at a low wage, because she’ll likely have less in savings. […]Consider this fact: In the early 1960s, just over 16 percent of women with less than a high school education had access to paid maternity leave after the birth of their first child. Today that number has not moved at all?—?still only 16 percent of our least educated workers have paid family leave.
But for women with a college degree or more, in the early 1960s, 14 percent had access to paid leave and today that number is over 64 percent. We have literally not moved the needle at all to help our least empowered workers have access to paid maternal leave.
We need policies that actually change this, expanding paid family leave to people who cannot afford to miss a week of pay, not policies that exist to get attention for Marco Rubio as the lone Republican talking about paid leave.
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
Sunday, September 27th, 2015
The Federal Reserve’s decision last week not to increase interest rates was preceded by a considerable amount of commentary that our economy, with a 5.1 percent overall unemployment rate, was close to “full employment.”
If an economy has reached “full employment” at a rate of about 5 percent unemployment, that’s the same as saying that what we have now is about as good as it will ever get. That suggests that unemployment rates among African Americans and Latinos are doomed to be up to twice that of white Americans, or that the 10 states plus the District of Columbia where unemployment rates exceeded 6 percent in August will never catch up unless it’s at another state or region’s expense.
But this is not as good as it can get, according to two policy analysts at the Atlanta Fed this week.
The paper by John Robertson and Ellyn Terry published this week suggests looking beyond the unemployment rate and the employment-to-population ratio to what they call the utilization-to-population ratio. That measure, which they call the “ZPOP,” is defined as “the share of the working-age population that is working full time, is voluntarily working part-time, or doesn’t want to work any hours.”
Currently, that is about 91 percent of the working-age population. The remainder, currently about 9 percent, “are a roughly even mixture of the unemployed, those not in the labor force but wanting to work, and those working part-time but wanting full-time hours.”
The ZPOP is “currently about 1.5 percentage points below its prerecession level” of around 93 percent. When the ZPOP was at that level, just before the 2008 market crash, the overall unemployment rate was hovering around 4.7 percent. As their chart shows, the ZPOP almost reached 94 percent before the 2001 recession, which ended a period of 4 percent unemployment.
There’s a lot of wonkery here, but their conclusion is simple: The economy is in a far better state than it was during the recession at fully utilizing its labor force, but there is still in their words “some way to go.”
Mark Thoma at CBS Moneywatch makes the point that even this measure falls short in measuring the true state of the job market. “Just because a worker is employed doesn’t mean he or she is doing what they’re best at or employed in their most productive occupation,” he writes. “If an unemployed engineer takes a job waiting tables to feed the family, that worker will be defined as fully employed, but that worker’s potential is hardly fully utilized.”
He goes on to write, “Measuring how well workers are matched to jobs is extremely difficult, but it’s a consideration worth thinking about when trying to figure out how close the economy is to its potential output.”
That’s why the best policy would be to ignore the economists and policymakers who look at 5 percent unemployment as a signal to declare that the job market is healthy. Full employment is nothing less than every person who wants a job being able to find a job – especially the kind of job for which they are suited at the wages they deserve. Anything less wastes the potential of millions of people who are on the economy’s sidelines – and that reality demands far more of our attention than conjured-up fears of inflation.
This blog was originally posted on Our Future on September 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
Saturday, September 26th, 2015
Last night, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in cities all over the world to stand in solidarity around global goals to alleviate poverty, economic inequality and climate change. Even though people were in separate continents, countries and cities, from Australia to South Korea to the United States, they all gathered “Under One Sky”
to come together for these common aspirations.
Lorraine Barcant, a member of AFSCME Local 375, AFL-CIO Next Up and the Young Worker Advisory Council, made the following speech at the Under One Sky rally in New York City last night:
Fifteen years ago, when the U.N. Global Development goals were made, a lot of us were just kids. As we grew up, the inequality around us deepened, dividing us, holding us back. We can’t wait another 15 years to fix the inequality and racial injustice that’s ripping this country apart. What will we tell our kids then? That we didn’t organize, that we didn’t demand action from our leaders? That we’ve only made a little bit of progress?
That’s not enough. It’s not enough to have opportunities, if those opportunities belong to only a few. It’s not enough to have jobs, if those jobs don’t provide security or dignity. It’s not enough to have freedom of speech, if your voice can be drowned out by money.
And that’s why the labor movement is here: To bring people together in solidarity, and demand change. The labor movement says loudly that a little bit of progress is not enough, not here in New York, not anywhere in the world.
Tonight, young workers across the globe demand a future where no one is left behind. We can’t wait, we won’t wait, and starting tonight, things are going to change. Thank you.
This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at the AFL-CIO.
Thursday, September 24th, 2015
Tens of millions of vulnerable Americans would lose their food stamps benefits if Republicans bent on defunding Planned Parenthood force the second government shutdown of the Obama era next week, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) warned on Tuesday.
Unlike the 2013 shutdown when cash reserves allowed Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to be disbursed as normal, “USDA will not have the funding necessary for SNAP benefits in October and will be forced to stop providing benefits within the first several days of October,” a spokeswoman told the Associated Press. The agency notified state SNAP administrators on Friday that they should not begin the process of doling out October’s food stamps dollars this week as they normally would.
Without a deal, funding for normal government operations will run out at the end of September. In response to the news that a shutdown would cut off food stamps to as many as 45 million people, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) issued a statement saying the way to avoid a shutdown is for Democrats to get on board with cutting off federal funding for women’s healthcare. “The best way to ensure SNAP recipients receive needed support is to vote for the [continuing resolution],” Roberts told the Huffington Post. “I’m prepared to do so, and if members are worried about SNAP funding, they should too.”
The funding measure Roberts referenced would zero out federal funds to Planned Parenthood, the national women’s health organization that’s been smeared by pro-life activists as improperly profiting off the sale of aborted fetal tissue. Many of Roberts’ House colleagues have pledged to shut down the government if the group doesn’t have its funding cut off. State lawmakers in some parts of the country have already moved to restrict the group’s ability to provide a wide range of health services to low-income women who depend on Planned Parenthood clinics. In a quarter of all the counties where the group has a presence, the clinics are the only source of affordable contraceptive services for women of little means.
The 2013 government shutdown caused disruptions in a variety of federal services including thejob training programs that unemployed people rely on to fulfill the eligibility requirements of SNAP. But the money for food itself was able to continue flowing because the USDA had sufficient cash in reserve to put the appropriate funds on peoples’ cards. That isn’t the case this time, lawmakers briefed by the agency say.
Cutting off SNAP would mean shooting the U.S. economy in the foot. The benefits more than pay for themselves, generating close to two dollars of economic activity for every dollar of benefits doled out by the USDA. Plugging up the flow of money from the federal government to low-income families to the grocery stores where they shop would have ripple effects on businesses and on tax revenue for public coffers.
The timing of the possible shutdown would exacerbate that natural chain of harmful knock-on effects. Most SNAP beneficiaries have already spent down their full monthly benefit by about midway through any given month. That cycle puts a crunch on grocery stores as well, distorting the hours they can sensibly schedule workers to be in the store and shifting how they stock their shelves. The USDA’s early warning about SNAP being cut off may have some political ramifications in the Congressional tussle over government funding, but it also serves as a more practical heads-up to the economic ecosystem surrounding the food stamps program.
This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on September 23, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015
The Pope’s visit to the USA this week comes just two months before pivotal UN climate talks that could lead to a global climate agreement. Climate change will be high on his agenda in planned addresses to the UN and Congress, and it is likely that one of his central concerns will be the economy. Pope Francis did not mince words in his recent encyclical on the theme of climate change and one of the main targets of his searing critique was our current economic system. He bemoaned that “the earth’s resources are … being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production.” He chastised the dominance of the speculative finance sector over the economy, and the folly of looking to market growth to solve all social ills.
His core message is that we are currently locked in an economic growth model based on the premise we have an inexhaustible planet. The way the global economy is currently run will not ensure our long-term physical survival. There are some glaring signals that it won’t ensure our economic survival either. For starters, the financial crisis of 2008 and evidence that patterns of growing inequality are stunting economic growth. Recent admissions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that economic trickle down theory doesn’t work have further cast doubt on the logic of the current system.
Alongside experts such as the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz and established economic institutions such as the IMF, the Pope is not alone in raising the alarm on “unbridled capitalism.” So in order to solve the greatest challenges of our time, climate change and inequality, we need an economic system that serves us better. However, it seems that beyond identifying and agreeing upon the problem, we often stop short at imagining solutions.
But there are signs that the seeds of a stronger and more responsible economy may already be taking root. Interest in existing models of enterprises, banks, cooperatives and networks that put social and environmental principles before profit is growing. These businesses have a strong emphasis on collective ownership, management and decision-making. Financial decisions are not left to the power of a few, whether government bureaucrats or corporate CEOs, but overseen more democratically by the main generators and beneficiaries of economic activity: the workers and customers.
This rich and diverse tapestry of economic activity witnessed around the world has been called a number of things: social economy, solidarity economy, local economy, new economy, the next system. Interest in the promise of these approaches has even spurred the UN to form a task force to investigate the potential of the social and solidarity economy in contributing to global development goals.
Sounds like a nice idea, but is this really economically viable? Surprisingly yes, and in many cases these enterprises are much more resilient and successful than current models that can result in job losses, bankruptcy and financial crashes. A recent UN report concluded that worker- and customer-owned banks made less risky decisions and outperformed investor owned banks during the recent global financial crisis. Research reveals that worker-owned cooperatives also have similar economic and social benefits that make them a better business model for communities and the economy as a whole.
One well-known example is that of Mondragon Cooperative Corporation, a highly successful worker-owned company of over 70,000 employees based in Spain. The company operates internationally and has a diverse portfolio, including the manufacture of industrial machinery. The 10th-largest company in Spain in terms of asset turnover, Mondragon had lower levels of unemployment compared to the rest of Spain during the 2008 recession and still remained globally competitive. Instead of firing staff during the economic downturn, employees voted to take pay cuts and top managers took their share of the burden. The Spanish cooperative is not alone. Over 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis, the combined turnover of the world’s 300 largest cooperatives was an impressive $1.6 trillion, comparable to the GDP of the ninth largest economy in the world.
Action to fight climate change could benefit from new economic approaches. Take the two sectors that contribute the most to global carbon emissions: energy and agriculture. In Germany, community-owned energy cooperatives are booming, supporting the rapid uptake of renewable energy without having to depend on the patronage of reluctant utility companies. The impressive success of wind power in Denmark is due largely to the rapid spread of community-owned wind turbines. In the United States, the move away from utility-scale power plants is also happening. Recent studies show that levels of solar power generation in the U.S. have been underestimated by as much as 50 percent. This is due to the exponential growth in rooftop solar, which is not yet systematically recorded. The opportunity to magnify the potential of small-scale energy producers could be immense.
With regards to agriculture, the UN advocates ecologically friendly methods based around small-scale farming, with more local production and consumption. This could lead to higher yields, better protect food systems from the impacts of climate change and reduce emissions from this sector. Agricultural cooperatives are critical to the success of smallholder farming, allowing independent farmers to remain competitive through collective purchasing and distribution networks. Climate action that supports agricultural cooperatives and low-emission, climate-proof farming methods could have positive economic, food security and climate outcomes.
Action on climate change could both support and benefit from a more stable and democratic economy. Climate finance and subsidies currently being swallowed by the fossil fuel industry could be redirected to promote locally owned and managed energy and farming, using socially responsible financial institutions to manage these funds. The result could be a stronger economy that works better for both people and the climate.
In his encyclical, the Pope entreated us to “seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress”. A framework for a more democratic, collectively owned and managed economy could be part of this. The re-imagination of the economy is already in motion. It’s time for the climate movement to get on board.
This Blog originally appeared on In These Times on September 23, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.
About the Author: Gaya Sriskanthan has over a decade of experience working on climate change, environmental protection, and sustainable development with a range of organizations including the United Nations and the UK Department for International Development. She currently focuses on indigenous peoples’ rights and civil society inclusion in climate change action. Follow her on Twitter: @gayasktn.
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) threw down the gauntlet for Congress and President Obama Tuesday morning, joining hundreds of low-wage contract workers from federal buildings who are striking in advance of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C.
Speaking to the assembled workers at a nearby Catholic Church, Sanders urged U.S. lawmakers to take seriously the pontiff’s message on “social and economic justice.” He also challenged President Obama to sign an executive order raising the wage for federal contractors to at least $15 an hour and allowing them to unionize.
“There is no justice in America when the largest low-wage employer is not McDonalds, it is not Burger King, it is not Wal-Mart, it is the United States government,” he told the cheering crowd. “The United States government has got to become a model employer.”
Sanders told The Hill that as “one of the great moral forces on earth today,” any statement by the Pope on the issue of wealth inequality during his trip to D.C. would be influential.
The rallied workers later marched to the steps of the Capitol, where they held a prayer service asking for lawmakers to listen to the Pope’s words. Some workers also organized a brief sit-in at the Senate cafes.
The strike, organized by Good Jobs Nation, had been planned as early as last week to coincide with the Pope’s visit, whose various statements on inequality, neoliberalism and economic justice have pegged him as an ally of the labor movement. Striking workers had written a letter to Pope Francis asking him to meet with them in addition to those in power.
“We may be invisible to the wealthy and powerful we serve everyday—but we know we are worthy of a more abundant life as children of God,” the letter reads.
Although President Obama granted federal contractors a wage increase to $10.10 in February 2014, the workers charge this is not enough in a city that, according to one study, requires a salary of $108,092 to live “comfortably” in. Reports abound of cleaners and cooks resorting to food stamps, working second jobs and even going homeless as a result. Critics charge that the federal government bears large responsibility for this by awarding hundreds of billions of dollars in contracts, grants, loans and more to companies that pay low wages and offer no benefits.
According to a report from Demos, nearly 2 million federal contractors currently make less than $12 an hour, far less than MIT’s calculated living wage for D.C. of $20.27. At the same time, according financial data analyzed by OpenSecrets.org, the median net worth of U.S. lawmakers climbed to over $1 million.
This Blog originally appeared on In These Times on September 22, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.
About the Author: Branko Marcetic is a Fall 2015 In These Times editorial intern.
Monday, September 21st, 2015
Corporate America has been tireless in trying to sharply limit, or simply eliminate, all class action lawsuits. When corporations break the law by doing things such as not paying workers for time they work, paying women less than men, or by violating privacy rights in willful ways, Corporate America knows that workers and consumers can band together in a class action. If that ability to organize is taken away, however, in a great many cases consumers and workers will not be able to fight illegal conduct at all.On too many occasions, corporations that don’t want to be hemmed in by consumer protection and civil rights laws have found a willing partner in battling those actions among the five conservative members of the U.S. Supreme Court. On several key occasions in recent years, the Court has invented new rules of federal law that have sharply limited when individuals can join together and enforce the law through class actions.
Things could get much worse, though. There are no less than three cases in the Court’s upcoming term that could be disastrous for consumers, workers and small businesses cheated by anti-competitive behavior that violates antitrust and other laws. In each of the three cases, the plaintiffs won in the trial court under laws that have been on the books for years and accepted by nearly all of the lower courts. In each case, Corporate America is asking the Supreme Court to invent a new federal law that would immunize them.
These are the three cases, and questions, the Court will tackle in the coming weeks.
Tyson v. Bouaphaekeo: Should Courts Ignore Statistical Evidence If It Proves a Corporation Broke the Law?
As part of their job, meat processing employees in an Iowa plant had to put on and take off certain protective clothes when they were working in an area using certain knives. Tyson Foods estimated it would take four minutes to do these tasks, and that’s all it paid them for. In fact, it takes a lot longer. That’s why a jury found that Tyson owed workers $5.8 million for underpaying its employees. (This is what we would call “wage theft.”)
One of the pieces of evidence the jury considered was a statistical sample of 744 observations of employees putting on and taking off the protective gear. That data clearly showed that it took far longer than the four minutes Tyson claimed. Tyson now says that using this statistical evidence was illegal, because it was a “trial by formula.” Tyson now says it should be able to have an individual trial for every single employee, and that using a sample of 744 observations is improper.
That’s a pretty staggering idea. Courts have allowed juries and judges to infer facts from statistical evidence for decades; the idea that no jury could consider statistical evidence without it being a supposedly illegal “trial by formula” is radical. Our military and intelligence services use statistical analyses in their national security strategies, and pharmaceutical and medical companies all rely upon statistical analyses of results and observations in their work, too. They do because it has been shown to be effective. Now, Tyson is arguing that when it comes to proving a corporation violated the law in a class action, courts should pretend that in that one context, statistical analyses of data is banned. This is pretty convenient for corporations engaged in wage theft, but it makes no sense at all as a matter of law.
Spokeo v. Robins: Should the Court Essentially Repeal Hundreds of Statutes that Let People Sue for Set Sums When a Company Breaks the Law?
Spokeo is a company that “scrapes” information from a variety of sources on the internet, and then sells it to people who want to find out about others. In this case, the plaintiff says Spokeo got a lot of facts wrong about him: his age, education, employment and marital status, and a number of other facts. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if an agency that gathers information about people sells false information about someone; and willfully uses lousy procedures that are likely to make substantial mistakes, they have to pay a set amount (up to $1,000) to any consumer about whom they made a false statement. The consumer doesn’t have to prove they lost money or suffered physical injury because of the false statement. Congress just presumed that it would bad for consumers to have corporations lying about them and wanted to discourage corporations from willfully doing so.
This idea of “statutory damages” is a very old one in American law, and is included in literally hundreds of statutes. That’s because, if someone lies about you, how can you put a number on how much it hurt you? So rather than bar victims of this kind of illegal act from receiving anything, legislatures give them a flat dollar figure, as sort of rough justice.
Now, Corporate America is asking the Supreme Court to say that if an individual can’t prove in what it calls a “concrete way” just how much they were harmed because of a lie, that the Constitution says they were not injured at all. In an extremely clever but very ugly feat of focus group politics, corporate advocates call this a “no injury” case, and say that the hundreds of statutes that Congress passed creating statutory damages for hard-to-measure injuries are all unconstitutional.
This would be a sweet deal for corporations that willfully create procedures through which they report false things about consumers, and if Spokeo wins, it will suddenly become much easier for corporations to violate Americans’ privacy. If the Supreme Court does invent this new rule of law, it will essentially strike down hundreds of existing laws (talk about activism!) by doing so.
Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez: Does the Constitution Authorize Corporations to Bribe Named Class Representatives to Sell Out Everybody Else?
The basic idea of a class action is that one or more people are going to come forward on behalf of everyone in a group who’s been treated a certain way. The people who bring the case are called the “named class representatives,” and they have an obligation to protect the interests and stick up for everyone whom they’re representing. The idea is not that someone files a case and says “I’m suing for a group of people who were all cheated the same way, but if you pay me off, I’ll toss them all under the bus and just take some money for myself.”
But in Campbell-Ewald, that is exactly the argument the defendant is making. The corporation wants to pay off the named class representative by offering the exact amount of money he is owed under the law, and then argues that the Constitution magically requires that every other person who has a claim disappear.
First, this argument runs exactly counter to the core idea that the named class representative is supposed to adequately represent everyone else in the class. As a system, we want the people who come forward on behalf of a class to take their obligations to the rest of the class seriously. We want people who know that it’s not all about them, but that it’s about protecting the rights of a group.
Second, the defendant’s repulsive argument here encourages the worst kind of game playing. Are you a corporation who’s been caught red-handed, cheating a crowd of people? Well, under this theory, you can just pay off the people who step forward to bring a case one by one. You’llnever have to pay off anywhere near all of the people you cheated. (If there’s no class action, no one will ever be able to find them all, explain to them what happened, and get them to come forward). So, corporations just have to individually pay off the people who step forward. The laws won’t be enforced, and the corporation will get to keep nearly all the money it took. Is that justice? Maybe it’s considered justice in the board rooms of corporations that break the law and cheat people, but nowhere else.
So What Will Happen?
It’s really hard to know. There is no doubt that the U.S. Supreme Court has five justices who have a very strong deregulatory impulse; they seem to feel that we have way too many laws protecting consumers and workers, and they don’t mind reining them in. On the other hand, even the five pro-corporate justices on this Court sometimes fail to get a full majority to support very radical changes in the law. When the Court was asked to basically eliminate nearly all class actions in cases involving securities fraud a few years ago, that was a bridge too far for the majority. The betting here is that Corporate America has asked for too much in each of these cases: they want rulings that are so radical, so counter to what the law has been for years, that there won’t be five votes to let them get away with such behavior. But if I’m wrong, we’re in fora lot of trouble.
This Blog originally appeared on Public Justice and was reprinted by Daily Kos on September 21, 2015. Reprinted here with permission.
About the Author: 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.
Saturday, September 19th, 2015
The new bill to strengthen penalties against employers who illegally fire workers for collective action that Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott introduced in Congress on Wednesday would do more than just deter those illegal firings, argue the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit: it would reframe union rights as civil rights.
The WAGE Act would give workers the same remedies as employees whose civil rights are violated: the ability not just to get their jobs and back pay, which is the rule now, but to win punitive damages, to engage in legal discovery that gives lawyers access to an employer’s internal files, and win attorneys’ fees when workers prevail. Employees also can get a preliminary injunction to get their jobs back right away.
By giving workers a fresh way to think about becoming part of a union – as a civil right, rather than just joining a special interest – the idea has a chance to re-awaken a conversation that has languished in American politics. The decimation of the American labor movement has been catastrophic for the middle class, keeping wages down and weakening the voice of middle-class citizens in the political process.
As Kahlenberg and Marvit suggest, “the time may be right” for this idea to come up in the presidential campaign:
Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have attacked inequality and offered good proposals, such as increasing the minimum wage, which will help move the poor into the working class. But only a strong organized labor movement – and new, alternative forms of worker representation — can help move large numbers of people from the working class to the middle class. The WAGE Act is a simple, concrete proposal for change that would help both traditional unions and new, emerging organizations that represent workers. The presidential candidates should make it a central plank in their campaigns.
What a good idea. Ball’s in your court, Secretary Clinton, Sen. Sanders …
This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.
Friday, September 18th, 2015
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for Legal Reform just released the latest version of the propaganda piece it started publishing in 2002. Entitled 2015 Lawsuit Climate Survey: Ranking the States, the report summarizes the answers of a “nationally representative sample of 1,203 in-house general counsel, senior litigators or attorneys, and other senior executives who are knowledgeable about litigation matters at companies with annual revenues over $100 million” who responded to what it calls a “survey.” The so-called “survey” does not, however, show what these people really think.
Everyone taking it knows that its purpose is – as it has been for the past 13 years – to give big business a basis to smear state court systems that aren’t pro-business enough as “judicial hellholes” and push all state courts to limit corporate liability for wrongdoing.
Even so, the answers provide some extraordinary information.
First, Corporate America’s representatives say that state courts are increasingly better for them. Consumer, worker, environmental, and civil rights advocates would agree. As the report says, in the 13 years since the so-called survey began, “there has been a general increase in the overall average score” given to state court systems by lawyers for big business – “and this trend continues with the 2015 survey.”
“From 2002-2006,” the report finds, “the overall score averaged approximately 52.9, whereas from 2007-2015, the score averaged approximately 59.6.” Chart 2 of the report gives the details and shows that the score given by big businesses’ lawyers to state court systems has gone up almost every year. In 2003, Corporate America’s lawyers gave the state courts a score of 50.7; in 2015, they gave them a score of 61.7.
Since this is supposed to be the views of one side in an adversarial system, wouldn’t a score close to 50 be ideal? The Chamber’s propaganda campaign (backed by corporate lobbying, campaign donations, and decisions like Citizens United) is plainly working. I understand that, in theory, a system perceived to be fair by all parties should get a score of 100 from everyone but, remember, this was a “survey” taken by specific people of specific people for a specific purpose: to push the state courts in the corporations’ favor. You could reasonably expect a court system that got a score of 100 from these participants to get a score of zero from lawyers trying to hold big businesses accountable for breaking the law.
Second, even in a “survey” designed and taken to show that the state courts are biased against big business, half of Corporate America’s lawyers say the state court liability systems overall are “excellent or pretty good.” Another 41% say the systems overall are “only fair.” I thought the goal was for them to all be “fair.” But perhaps that’s why I’m a public interest lawyer, not a lawyer for big business. Despite the reason for the “survey,” only 8% said the systems overall were “poor” (the last 1% was not sure or declined to answer).
In other words, despite what the “survey” is intended to show, it actually shows that the state court systems overall are viewed by Corporate America’s lawyers as significantly better for big businesses than they are for the people and companies suing them. Can you imagine the cries of bias we would hear if a survey showed legal services, consumer, and workers’ lawyers saying the courts were “excellent or pretty good” for them (much less “only fair”) in lawsuits against big business?
Third, Corporate America’s lawyers give grades between A and F to each of the state court systems and say where they do and don’t like to be sued. In a stunning and continuing display of arrogance, they actually include a map of the “Best to Worst Legal systems in America.” The map was apparently created in Bizarro World. They give As to 14% of the state courts, Bs to 38%, Cs to 27%, and Ds to 11%. In other words, even according to these “survey” respondents, 90% of the state court systems are passing. They give failing grades, Fs, to 5%. The other 5% were not sure or declined to answer. These answers, too, put the lie to Corporate America’s claims that state courts need to be more favorable to them. If anything, they show that many state courts are already far more favorable to big businesses than they are to those trying to hold big businesses accountable.
The “survey” respondents also took the time to tell us which states’ courts are the most, and least, favorable to Corporate America. The top five states, according to them, are Delaware (often called a subsidiary of DuPont), Vermont, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Hampshire. See any states in there with a lot of minorities and poor people who might not look kindly on big corporations abusing their power? The bottom five states, they say, are West Virginia, Louisiana, Illinois, California, and New Mexico. Ask yourself the same question. I question some of these rankings. Most plaintiffs’ lawyers would list the Texas state courts as one of the most pro-business in the nation. But maybe the state’s so big that they don’t want to admit that. The states they rank highest are all fairly small.
If you want to figure out which states have juries most likely to hold big corporations accountable, try reversing the order. These are the states the Chamber of Commerce regularly uses this “survey” to label “judicial hellholes.” In reality, however, a “hellhole” for corporations violating the law may be “heaven” for those seeking justice against businesses that cheat or injure consumers (for more on this, click here).
What we need in America are state and federal court systems that are fair – and biased in no one’s favor. Unfortunately, the Chamber of Commerce’s latest propaganda piece shows we are far from that goal and, for some time, things have been getting worse. Big businesses’ own lawyers say that state court systems have turned increasingly in Corporate America’s favor since the “survey” began.
This needs to stop. Our courts systems need to turn back to being even-handed. That’s the only way justice can be done.
This blog originally appeared on Public Justice on September 17, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Arthur H. Bryant, Chairman of Public Justice, has won major victories and established new precedents in several areas of the law, including constitutional law, toxic torts, civil rights, consumer protection, and mass torts. The National Law Journal has twice named him one of the 100 Most Influential Attorneys in America.
Wednesday, September 16th, 2015
NPR had a bizarre piece on the Labor Department’s new overtime rules which seemed intended to undermine support for them. These rules would increase from $23,660 to $50,440, the floor under which salaried workers would automatically qualify for overtime regardless of their work responsibilities.
While the piece does present the views on the new rules of Vicki Shabo, the vice-president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, the bulk of the piece is devoted to presenting the views of employers. No workers who will be affected by this rule were interviewed.
The discussion of the employers’ perspective begins with this little exercise in mind reading:
“But employers do not believe it would be a windfall for workers. They say they will be forced to cut costs in other ways if the proposed rules take effect as written — and that workers may not like those changes.”
Of course NPR reporters don’t know what employers “believe,” they know what they say. And it is understandable that they would tell a reporter that they don’t like the rules because they hurt workers, as opposed to the possibility that the new rules may hurt profits or force a cut in their own pay. Remarkably, two of the three employers whose views are presented in this piece work at non-profits, even though the vast majority of the workers affected are employed by for profit businesses.
The first employer is at the Michigan Health and Hospital Association which reportedly employs 107 workers.
“‘It only takes one bus accident, or one fire or something like the Ebola crisis,’ says Nancy McKeague, chief of human resources.
“She says her nonprofit can’t afford overtime, but it also can’t forgo having people work as needed.”
In effect, Ms. McKeague is saying that she is not paying workers for the time they work in an emergency, forcing them to work for free under such circumstances. This would be like having a lease with a landlord where the rent would be cut in half in the event of one bus accident or one fire or something like the Ebola crisis. No one would expect a landlord to agree to such a lease, but apparently Ms. McKeague believes that her workers should accept this sort of labor contract.
The piece also wrongly asserts:
“The rules will also require her to review tasks associated with every job to see whether the position qualifies for overtime.”
In fact, the opposite is true. She should have already been reviewing the tasks associated with every job to see whether the position qualifies for overtime. She apparently assumed that the positions in question did not qualify for overtime, but this actually requires an assessment of job duties to determine whether workers have enough supervisory responsibilities to be exempt from overtime requirements. Under the new rules no such review is necessary, if they earn less than the pay cutoff, workers qualify for overtime regardless of what tasks they perform.
Next we get Cecilia Boudreaux, the human resources director for the Regina Coeli Child Development Center, a Head Start program in Robert, La.The piece tells us:
“Under the new rules, Boudreaux says, 26 of her 35 salaried employees would qualify for overtime pay, in the event of a building emergency or if a parent is late for pickup. But increasing salaries would cost at least $74,000 extra a year — meaning she’d have to cut costs elsewhere.”
Actually, nothing about the new rules requires Ms. Boudreaux to increase salaries by a dime. She can simply rewrite contracts so that workers have a lower normal pay rate. Then if they work a normal amount of overtime they would end up with the same pay as they get now. If they work less than normal, they would get paid less and if they work more than normal they would get paid more. There is no reason that the change in rules would necessarily add to the center’s cost, it just removes the risk for workers that they would be forced to work unpaid overtime or risk losing their job.
Then we hear from Tony Murray, HR director for Diamond B Construction. According to the piece, Murray says many workers would consider going from salaried to hourly a demotion.
“‘”When I was younger, all I [wanted] to do was get to a salaried position just simply because you knew what was going to be coming in each week and you did have the flexibility,” he says, including the ability to go to soccer tournaments or work late to make up for doctor’s appointments. Murray says under the new rules, those converted back to hourly status wouldn’t be able to do that.
“‘Millennials take into account more than anything workplace flexibility,’ he says. ‘And of course who do you think is in that entry-level management … millennials more than anything.’”
It might have been helpful to talk to some of Mr. Murray’s workers to see if his assessment of their view of the new overtime rules is correct.
This blog originally appeared on CEPRE.net on September 15, 2014. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Dean Baker is an American economist whose books have been published by the University of Chicago Press, MIT Press, and Cambridge University Press.