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

Monday, July 18th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Trumka: Passage of Strong Trade Amendment Marks Major Milestone

Thursday, July 14th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Kenneth Quinnell: I am a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, I worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  My writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.  I am the proud father of three future progressive activists, an accomplished rapper and karaoke enthusiast.

San Francisco Looks To Tax Tax-Dodging Tech Companies

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

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

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

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

The Tax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Community Groups Back Tax

The community groups backing the tax include:

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

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

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

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

Tax-Dodging And Extortion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warning Shot

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

This post originally appeared at Labor Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Alexandra Bradbury and Dan DiMaggio contributed reporting to this article.

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

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

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

As Temperatures Climb Across the Country, Workers Will Suffer

Monday, July 11th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No federal heat standards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jobs Report: Change Still Needed

Friday, July 8th, 2016

The June jobs report – a cheery 287,000 new jobs, with unemployment ticking up to 4.9 percent – is cause for both relief and concern.

The relief is that jobs creation picked up after the slowdown of April (revised upward to 144,000) and May (revised downward to 11,000). Even subtracting the 35,000 jobs “created” by striking Verizon workers returning to work, the June report suggests an economy that is continuing to grow and generate jobs.

The continuing concern is the pace of that growth. Jobs creation is slowing, down from a monthly average of 229,000 last year, to 196,000 in the first quarter, and now to 147,000 in the second quarter. Yet over 15 million people are still in need of full-time work. The percentage of Americans of working age who are employed or looking for work is at 62.7 percent, still below pre-Great Recession levels. Average hourly wages ticked up by 2 cents in June, and wage growth remains slow – 2.6 percent over the past year – far below the levels associated with previous recoveries.

This is the last jobs report before the political conventions formally kick off the presidential campaign (which already feels like a recurring and unending nightmare). For Clinton and Democrats, the report provides some relief that the economy isn’t slowing dramatically. For Donald Trump and the Republicans, it provides continued evidence that the economy isn’t soaring. Working families are likely to continue to wonder when they will begin to share in the recovery.

For Democrat Hillary Clinton, these conditions pose particular perils. President Obama will want Democrats to tout his success – record months of private sector jobs growth, over 14 million jobs created since 2010, seven years of economic growth, unemployment down by more than half since the Great Recession he inherited, the strongest economy in the industrial world.

But most Americans aren’t sharing in the rewards. Median family incomes haven’t recovered to pre-recession levels. The wealthiest 1 percent captured a staggering 52 percent of the rewards of growth from 2009 to 2015. And now a weaker Europe post-Brexit and a stronger dollar suggest that our trade deficits will worsen, putting more pressure on jobs and wages.

Americans are looking for change, not for more of the same. Trump will be spouting that message, with a mix of bluster and preposterous policy to support it (build the wall, slash trillions in taxes, renegotiate the debt, and so on). Clinton and Democrats need to make a clear case on how they will change this economy to work for the many – generating more good jobs, higher wages, and a better deal for working people. More of the same offers no way out.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on July 8, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

Inequality’s Getting Worse. How Do We End This?

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

On July 1, at the start of the Independence Day weekend, we learned that income inequality in this country became even worse last year.

Economic inequality produces scars that last a lifetime – and even longer. That’s one reason why President Obama said in 2013 that “increasing inequality … challenges the very essence of who we are as a people.”

Well, that challenge just became even greater. Economist Emanuel Saez’s groundbreaking studies of inequality have helped reshape the political debate. In a July 1 publication, Saez found that the wealth gap between the top 1 percent and the remaining 99 percent became even worse in 2015. Earnings for the top 1 percent reached a “new high” that year. The 1 percent’s income increase of 7.7 percent was nearly twice everyone else’s.

Saez revisited several years of data and found that:

“(I)ncomes (adjusted for inflation) of the top 1 percent of families grew from $990,000 in 2009 to $1,360,000 in 2015, a growth of 37 percent … (while) the incomes of the bottom 99 percent of families grew only by 7.6 percent–from $45,300 in 2009 to $48,800 in 2015.”

Saez adds, “As a result, the top 1 percent of families captured 52 percent of total real income growth per family from 2009 to 2015.” He concludes:

“This uneven recovery is unfortunately on par with a long-term widening of inequality since 1980, when the top 1 percent of families began to capture a disproportionate share of economic growth.”

1980 was the year Ronald Reagan first took office, heralding a new era of economic conservatism in the United States. The message of these numbers couldn’t be clearer: it’s time for that era to end. Our 35-year experiment with conservative economics has failed.

Saez’ figures included a slight consolation prize for the 99 percent: Its average income rose by 3.9 percent last year, the biggest increase in 17 years. That’s an improvement, of course, but it’s not nearly enough. The 99 percent has endured decades of wage stagnation, and its income was essentially frozen in place between the 2008 financial crisis and 2013.

A society with such extreme and growing inequality can’t sustain itself forever. Inequality interferes with economic growth, robs people of opportunity (and with it, hope), dooms millions to poverty or near-impoverished conditions, and offends that part of the human spirit that constantly searches for fairness and equality. An overly unequal society like ours is inherently unstable, especially when its political system gives extremely wealthy individuals and corporations excessive control over the government – thereby perpetuating and amplifying their own wealth and power.

It will take years of work to repair the economic damage caused by these levels of inequality. And it’s important to remember that, while we measure many of our economic statistics on a quarterly or yearly basis, the human damage often lasts much longer than that.

Workers who suffer a period of unemployment or a drop in pay typically see their earnings decline for the rest of their working lives. This effect is particularly pronounced among recent college graduates, many of whom graduated into one of the worst job markets in history. Their income is likely to suffer through their entire careers as a result – while, at the same time, they have been saddled with the greatest student debt burden in human history.

Lower incomes are tied to higher infant mortality, shorter life spans, and poorer mental and physical health for parents and children alike.

Economic damage is often carried down the generations, through the children. Poverty can inflict lifelong damage on a child’s health and ability to earn. Economic mobility is very low in this country; parental income has an enormous influence on the earning power of children, and studies have consistently shown that Americans enjoy much less upward mobility that residents of Canada and most Western European nations.

What can we do to reduce inequality and heal some of its deep, long-lasting wounds? Here’s a partial list: We can increase funds for antipoverty programs that provide food, shelter, and other services directly to the poor. We can improve our educational system and provide tuition-free public college to all qualified students. We can address the systemic racial injustice that deprives communities of color of economic resources. We can raise the minimum wage, which has fallen far behind inflation (and even farther behind productivity) since 1968. ($15 an hour is a good number.)

We also need to strengthen the labor movement. A recent study by the International Monetary Fund found that a “decline in union density has been strongly associated with the rise of top income inequality” and that “unionization matters for income distribution.” We must provide health insurance for all, and ensure that all working Americans have access to the paid leave programs and other benefits found in other developed countries. We must expand initiatives for worker-owned businesses.

What’s more, we need to do these things quickly, before income inequality – and the loss of democracy that accompanies it – grows so great that it becomes irreversible.

The Fourth of July has come and gone. But the scars of inequality are still here, depriving millions of us of the freedom to choose, to grow, and even to live. Our work has just begun.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on July 6, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

A Sad And Shameful Day For Puerto Rico

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Isaiah J. Poole“You never let a serious crisis go to waste,” Rahm Emanuel infamously said when he was President Obama’s White House chief of staff. So it is with the legislation that President Obama signs into law Thursday that offers Puerto Rico a process for managing its crushing debt.

This bill is behing heralded as a rare moment of bipartisan cooperation to solve a serious crisis, in this case the default by Puerto Rico on more than $1 billion of general obligation bonds on July 1. The island’s government has already missed payment deadlines on other bonds.

But for Julio López Varona, a leader at Make the Road Connecticut and a member of Hedge Clippers, a coalition of grass roots organizations dedicated to exposing the damage to working people interests done by hedge funds, the legislation solidifies what he calls an “experiment in extreme capitalism” – one that is already having extreme consequences on the people who live on the island.

The legislation – which has the acronym PROMESA, Spanish for “promise” – imposes on the island’s approximately 3.5 million residents a financial control board that will determine how the government spends its money and how businesses on the island are regulated. That control board would have the power to slash government spending in order to ensure that Wall Street investors who purchased Puerto Rico bonds would be paid.

It also allows the federal minimum wage on the island to be lowered to $4.25 an hour for workers 24 and under. Plus, businesses in Puerto Rico would not have to comply with regulations that would increase the number of workers eligible for overtime pay that will go into effect December 1. That means workers earning as little as $24,000 a year could be asked to work 50, 60, 70 hours or more a week without earning an extra dime in pay.

The legislation sends an unmistakable message: If you are a financially struggling Puerto Rican – and that is most of the island’s residents – you will be expected to sacrifice more: fewer government services, lower wages and higher taxes. For the wealthy, it says, in so many words, “We got your back.”

López Varona has seen the toll that Puerto Rico’s financial troubles have had first hand. His family lives on the island, and he was just there a few weeks ago.

One of the first things López Varona noticed in San Juan, he said, is that “there’s not a lot of traffic.” Usually, San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, is a highly congested mix of island residents, government workers and tourists. But, he said, “there has been such a huge migration of people that you literally have space on the street to drive. That’s a little thing, but it shows how bad things are.”

But a lack of traffic is the least of the island’s problems. This past school year 100 schools have had to close, special needs teachers have gone without pay for months and hospitals have run out of electricity, López Varona said. The government has stopped funding pensions for government employees. The unemployment rate on the island is above 11 percent. “There is a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico,” he said.

But at the same time as middle class residents with the ability to move out of the island are doing so, CNN Money reported last year that millionaires are moving in – 250 people with a net worth of $1 million or more have moved into the island since 2012, according to CNN Money. “Puerto Rico is trying to lure wealth from the mainland U.S. with generous tax exemptions or cuts on corporate taxes, personal income, capital gains and other sources of profit,” the site says, adding that “some say the tax exemptions could make Puerto Rico the next Singapore – an extremely wealthy tax haven.”

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton supported this legislation, calling it “imperfect” but nonetheless joining a number of House and Senate Democrats who felt pressured by the July 1 default deadline to agree to many of the demands of conservative Republicans and Wall Street lobbyists.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, was among the Democrats who voted against the bill, calling it on the Senate floor “legislation smacking of the worst form of colonialism, in the sense that it takes away all of the important democratic rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico.”

The legislation also fits into a long and foul pattern of conservative and Wall Street interests locking arms in disregard of the needs and interests of citizens of municipalities that got into financial trouble often because of the conditions created by the conservatives who now use those conditions to strip people of their self-determination. The residents of the District of Columbia experienced this in the 1990s; the residents of Flint, Michigan saw this more recently with disastrous results. Few people believe it is coincidence that this happens most often, and with the most ferocity, to communities of color.

Puerto Rico would be in different financial shape if there was real, holistic economic development on the island. Instead, there was a conservative game of top-end tax breaks to lure businesses – in the early 2000s, it was notably pharmaceutical companies – who stayed a few years for the tax breaks and then left when they found an even better tax deal elsewhere. Add an obsession with giving tax breaks to the wealthy with the addictive drug of tax-free Wall Street debt, mix in the mysterious change that stripped from Puerto Rico the ability to declare a Chapter 9 bankruptcy, and you get the shame we see today – working-class American citizens stripped of economic opportunity, democratic rights and basic dignity, and told they have to bear with the “imperfect” while the fat cats finish their feasting. At least for them, this crisis has not been a waste at all.

This blog originally appeared at OurFuture.org on June 30, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

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

What's the reality behind Walmart's 'Made in America' claims?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

LauraClawsonWalmart is making its annual push to get credit for its self-proclaimed massive investment in U.S.-made products, which means it’s time for a reality check. The Alliance for American Manufacturing, which put together the infographic below, has the facts:

 When Walmart claims that its American-made goods initiative will create 1 million new American jobs, it fails to mention that Chinese-made goods entering the United States through Walmart totaled at least $49.1 billion in 2013 alone.

It also doesn’t mention that the combined effect of imports from and exports to China through Walmart accounted for about 15 percent of the growth of the overall American goods trade deficit with China between 2001 and 2013.

Or that the Walmart-based Chinese trade deficit eliminated 400,000 American jobs during that time.

Walmart’s rosy claims are on the left; the AAM’s reality check is on the right.

infographic highlighting distance between Walmart's claims about buying American and the reality.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June 28, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

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

Brexit and the New Global Rebellion

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

Things are changing. A major crack has appeared in the edifice of globalization, and the neoliberal order that has dominated the world’s economy since the end of World War II is now in danger.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by any means. But poisonous weeds are just as likely as green shoots to grow up through those cracks. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: Those who make constructive evolution impossible may be making destructive devolution inevitable.

We now know that Great Britain, itself an amalgam of older nations, is divided. England and Wales voted to leave Europe, while Scotland, Northern Ireland, and ethnically diverse London voted to remain.

This vote was a stunning rejection of Great Britain’s political establishment. “Leave” prevailed despite opposition from all three major political parties. Prime Minister David Cameron, who will now step down, called on voters to “Remain.” So did socialist Jeremy Corbin, the most left-wing Labor leader in a generation. Barack Obama crossed the Atlantic to stand beside Cameron and offer his support.

Voters rejected all of them.

The uprising has begun. The question now is, who will lead it going forward?

Globalism’s Shadow Self

The world’s financial and political elites must now face the fact that resistance to their economic order, which has shaped the world since the Bretton Woods conference of 1944, is a major phenomenon. These elites are apparently more out of touch with the citizens of the industrialized world than at any time in modern memory.

Make no mistake: The “Leave” vote was a rejection of globalization, at least as it’s currently structured. This was a revolt of working class Britons who have seen their postwar prosperity erode around them and their social contract eviscerated by the corporate and financial oligarchy.

But it was also the sign of a darker and more sinister worldwide phenomenon: the resurgence of global nativism and xenophobia. This worldwide turn toward fear of the Other is globalization’s shadow self.

Revolt of the Powerless

That’s not to say that there wasn’t a legitimate left-wing case to be made for leaving the European Union. The “Left Leave” movement, or #Lexit, had its own advocates. “Why cling to this reactionary institution?” asked one.

But this near-victory wasn’t won with leftist arguments about resisting the global oligarchy. The left was too divided to make that case clearly or forcefully. It was largely won by stirring up bigotry against immigrants, cloaked in flimsy arguments about excessive regulation. Legitimate economic grievances were channeled into nationalist hostility.

Many “Leave” voters felt powerless, that they no longer had much of a say in their own destinies. They weren’t wrong. The European Union was largely a creation of transnational financial forces driven by a self-serving neoliberal ideology of “free” markets, privatization, and corporate economic governance.

But ,even at its worst, the EU is a symptom and not a cause. Great Britain’s citizens haven’t been losing control over their fate to the EU. They’ve been losing it because their own country’s leaders – as well as those of most other Western democracies – are increasingly in thrall to corporate and financial interests.

The British people have lost more sovereignty to trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP then they could have ever surrendered to the European Union. Their democratic rights are trampled daily, not by faceless EU bureaucrats, but by the powerful financial interests that dominate their politics and their economy.

Low Information Voters

This vote won’t help the middle class. British workers will no longer be guaranteed the worker rights that come with EU membership. British corporations will be less regulated, which means more environmental damage and more mistreatment of employees and customers. They will not, in the words of William Blake, “build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.”

Most “Leave” voters probably don’t know that, because the media failed them too. Instead of being given a balanced understanding of EU membership’s advantages and disadvantages, the British people were fed a constant diet of terror fears and trivial anti-government anecdotes meant to reinforce the notion that EU was needlessly and absurdly bureaucratic.

As Martin Fletcher explains, Boris Johnson played a key role in degrading the performance of Britain’s corporate press back in his days as a journalist. Other outlets were all to eager to mimic his anti-government and anti-Europe stereotypes. And now? It’s as if Sean Hannity’sdeceptive sensationalism had made him a top presidential prospect.

Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage played the same role in the Leave campaign that Donald Trump is playing in US politics. Like Trump, they have used economic fears to stoke the anti-immigrant fear and hatred that is their real stock in trade. Their slogan might just as well have been “Make England Great Again.”

The campaign’s fearmongering and hate has already claimed a victim in Jo Cox, the Labor MP who was violently martyred by a white British racist. Tellingly, her murder was not described as an act of terrorism, which it clearly was. The decision to restrict the “terrorist” label to Muslims, in Great Britain as in the United States, feeds precisely the kind of hatred that fuels movements like these.

Great Britain’s immigrant population grew by 4.5 million under EU membership. But in a just economy, that would lead to growth for the existing middle class. Britain’s immigrants didn’t wound that country’s middle class. They’re scapegoats for rising inequality and the punishing austerity of the conservative regime.


What happens next? Markets are already reacting, retrenching in anticipation of new trade barriers and political uncertainty.

Before the voting, estimates of a Leave vote’s effect on Britain’s economy ranged from “negative” to outright “calamitous.” The outcome will probably fall somewhere between the two.

Will the reprehensible Mr. Johnson, who pushed aggressively for Brexit, now lead his party -perhaps even his country? How much will this boost UKIP? By rejecting the EU, will Great Britain soon experience even harsher economic austerity measures than Cameron’s?

Scotland may once again pursue independence so that it can rejoin Europe. Sinn Fein is calling again for the reunification of Ireland. Suddenly anything seems possible.

There are already calls for a similar referendum in France.

British workers are likely to be worse off without EU protections, especially if the far right prevails in future elections as the result of this vote.

Trade deals will need to be negotiated between Britain and the EU, along with the terms of separation. Judging by its behavior toward Greece, Germany prefers to punish any nation impertinent enough to try guiding its own economic destiny. These negotiations won’t be pleasant.

The New Resistance

The current order is unstable. The uprising has begun. But who will lead it?

All over the world there are Boris Johnsons and Nigel Farages poised to capitalize on the chaos. The US has Trump, who was quick to tie himself to the vote. Greece has Golden Dawn. Germany has the far-right, anti-immigrant AfD party. Scandinavia has the Sweden Democrat Party and the Danish People’s Party. Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, itself nationalistic and totalitarian by nature, is in danger of being outdone by the racist and anti-Semitic Jobbik party.

Hungary is already building a Trump-like wall, in fact, a barb-wired fence meant to keep Syrian refugees out of the country and Jobbik out of political power.

There is also also a growing democratic counterforce, poised to resist both the global elites and the nationalist bigots. It includes Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and the Corbin movement in Great Britain (although Corbin’s fate is unclear in the wake of this vote). In the US it has been seen in both the Occupy movement and, more recently, in the newly resurgent left inspired by Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

The global financial order is fracturing. But will it fall? It’s powerful and well organized. Even if it does, what will replace it: a more humane global order, or a world torn by nationalism and hate? Should these new progressive parties and factions form a transnational movement?

That’s the goal of economist Yanis Varoufakis, among others. Varoufakis confronted the EU’s economic leadership directly when he negotiated with them as Greece’s first Finance Minister under Syriza. They prevailed, and Varoufakis is now a private citizen.

The Greeks chose economic autonomy when they voted for Syriza. They didn’t get it. The British aren’t likely to get what they want from this vote either. No matter what happens, British citizens will still be in thrall to corporate financial forces – forces that can rewrite the rules they go along.

Greece’s fate has been a cautionary tale for the world, a powerful illustration of the need for worldwide coordinated resistance to today’s economic and political elites. We can vote. But without economic autonomy, we aren’t truly free. In the months and years to come, the people of Great Britain are likely to learn the truth: We are all Greece now.

The question is, where do we go from here?

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on June 24, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”

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