Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Full Employment: The Recovery’s Missing Ingredient

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Image: Dean BakerBy Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein

Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen gave a speech a few weeks ago that was doubly unusual.

First, she provided a welcome and trenchant analysis of inequality, focusing on the stagnant income and wealth of middle- and low-income families relative to the top few percent. For the nation’s chief economist to elevate this issue is an important contribution in its own right.

Second, she declined to mention the critical role of slack labor markets in these outcomes. In what is a rare case for her, the word “unemployment” was not even mentioned in the speech. The omission was especially noticeable as Yellen, to her credit, has so consistently pointed out the extent of remaining slack in the U.S. job market.

Unemployment is down and gross domestic product is up, yet there isn’t much progress in real wages and incomes of most working families. While many reasons have been set forth to explain this unfortunate disconnect, including globalization and technological change as well as unmet skill demands and the Federal Reserve’s asset-buying program, our research suggests that the main factor behind both stagnant real wages and rising inequality is the absence of full employment. Truly tight labor markets — an unemployment rate closer to 4 percent than 6 percent — would not only boost real wages, but would give a larger lift to the lowest-paid workers and those with the least bargaining clout, pushing back on stagnation and inequality.

It’s true, as noted, that the unemployment rate has fallen quite sharply, from 10 percent in late 2009 to just below 6 percent now. This decline is partly due to job creation, but it’s also a function of people giving up looking for work and therefore not being counted as unemployed.

That’s important because it means there’s more slack in the labor market than we would usually associate with a 5.9 percent unemployment rate. And when there is lots of slack, most American workers lack the bargaining power they need to press for wage gains. With wages growing close to the rate of inflation — about 2 percent — since 2009, most workers have been stuck with stagnant real earnings.

By contrast, corporate profits have risen sharply in the recovery, with the profit share of national income hitting the highest level in many decades and the stock market also has hit new highs. Meanwhile, real median household income is still down 3 percent since the current expansion began in the second half of 2009.

To use a seasonal analogy, growth has been doing an end run around most households.
The impact of a falling unemployment rate on real wages at different points in the wage scale demonstrates why this relationship is so germane right now. Looking at a large data set with observations across all 50 states for more than 30 years, we find that a sustained 10 percent drop in the unemployment rate, say from 6 percent to 5.4 percent (10 percent, not 10 percentage points) does not have a uniform effect on real wages.

Instead, it leads to real wage gains of 10 percent for low-wage workers, 4 percent for middle-wage workers and does nothing for high-wage workers. That’s why full employment is such an important antidote to earnings inequality. By forcing employers to bid compensation up to get and keep the workers they need, it re-channels growth away from the top and back toward the bottom and middle of the pay scale.

But don’t both wage stagnation and inequality predate the recession? Does the fact that these are ongoing phenomena diminish the explanatory power of labor market slack?

Not at all, because a broad look over our history shows that the income stagnation period generally matches the slack period (we’re switching to income here because our wage data don’t go back far enough). From the late 1940s to the late 1970s, the job market was at full employment 70 percent of the time and incomes doubled for low, middle, and high-income families. Working families at all points in the income distribution shared in the gains of growth.

Since then, we’ve been at full employment only 30 percent of the time, and all that slack has been accompanied by periods of wage stagnation and rising inequality.

Of course, the absence of full employment is not the only difference between these periods of growing together and growing apart. For example, we engaged in much less and much more balanced global trade in the earlier period, a point we will return to in a moment.

So, let’s not make this any more complicated than it needs to be. We must plot a policy course back to full employment ASAP. Given Washington’s partisan fever, here are three ideas that might plausibly be enacted, even in these divided times.

1.) A deep dive into infrastructure investment is warranted to replenish our deteriorating stock of public goods and to absorb slack among the underemployed in production and building occupations. Historically, such investments have garnered bipartisan support.

2.) The trade deficit, a serious drag on employment growth in our factory sector, should be reduced by pushing back on competitors who deliberately keep down the value of their currencies to get a price advantage in global markets. Again, joining this fight is favored by both parties, although the White House tends to get squeamish on the issue.

3.) With fiscal stimulus sidelined by gridlock, the Fed is the only game in town. Yellen’s slack attack has been strong and consistent, but the central bank is facing pressures to tighten sooner rather than later. Given the striking absence of inflationary pressures and wide room for non-inflationary wage growth, Yellen and Co. should continue to tack toward full employment.

Economists tend to come up with all kinds of complexities when sometimes a shave with Occam’s razor is all that’s needed. The bargaining power of most American workers is at a historical low point. The best way to restore it is to get the economy back to full employment.

 

This blog originally appeared on CEPRE.net and on OurFuture.org. on November 3, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141103/full-employment-the-recoverys-missing-ingredient

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. 

Postal Unions Set Day of Action to Protest Service Cuts, Mail Delays

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Image: Mike HallThe nation’s four postal unions are mobilizing a National Day of Action on Nov. 14, to send a powerful message to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe and the United States Postal Service Board of Governor’s: Stop Delaying America’s Mail.

On Jan. 5, the USPS is poised to make devastating cuts in service to the American people – cuts so severe that they will forever damage the U.S. Postal Service, the union presidents said in an Oct. 16 letter to their members. According the unions:

  • The USPS is slated to lower “service standards” to virtually eliminate overnight delivery – including first-class mail from one address to another within the same city or town.
  • All mail – including medicine, online purchases, local newspapers, church bulletins, bill payments and sale notices – throughout the country will be delayed.
  • Beginning Jan. 5, 82 Mail Processing & Distribution Centers are scheduled to close or “consolidate operations.”

The service cuts, said the union leaders:

Will cause hardships for customers, drive away business, cause irreparable harm to the U.S. Postal Service, and lead to massive schedule changes and reassignments for employees. They are part of a flawed management strategy that has unnecessarily sacrificed service and failed to address the cause of the Postal Service’s manufactured financial crisis.

The four postal unions are the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), Letter Carriers (NALC), National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), Mail Handlers (NPMHU) and Rural Letter Carriers (NRLCA) .

This blog  originally appeared in AFL-CIO.org on October 29, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/Postal-Unions-Set-Day-of-Action-to-Protest-Service-Cuts-Mail-Delays.

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

Nov. 4: It’s All About Women

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Image: Liz Shuler

The other day I read a statistic that made me laugh a little. It said women’s issues are shaping up as the second-biggest issue among voters this year, behind only the economy.

Really? I don’t think so.

We are the economy.

Women’s issues, family issues are economic issues. And, as we know every single day, economic issues are women’s issues.

That’s why this election is so important to us. And why we’re so important in this election.

In a few days, we’ll have the opportunity to determine what kind of economy we will have—what kind of future—by electing leaders who will work for all of us.

In many cases, it’s women (especially unmarried women) who are putting these candidates on top in the polls.

But polls aren’t what shape our future. Elections are. And a big question today is: Will women turn out to vote?

The track record in midterm elections isn’t great. Let’s change that. There is a lot at stake:

  • We still make 77 cents for every $1 a man makes—that is a national shame, and it costs a typical women at least $400,000 over her lifetime. The shortfall doesn’t end when she is done working—it affects her income after retirement. It’s time to elect candidates who will enact equal pay laws.
  • We are nearly two-thirds of minimum-wage workers at $7.25 an hour, and two-thirds of tipped workers, who have a federal minimum wage of just $2.13 an hour. Even the full minimum wage leaves a woman and her two children thousands of dollars below the poverty line. Raising the minimum wage would improve life for millions of working women and families.
  • Many women in low-wage jobs also are crippled economically by work schedules they have no control over—shifts assigned just a day or two in advance or scheduled at the last minute is nothing unusual. We need to enact the Schedules That Work Act in Congress and similar state and local measures.
  • Women also have additional responsibilities for caregiving in our homes—yet employers rarely are required to provide earned leave for caregivers! Millions of women go to work sick or can’t care for a sick child without losing a day’s pay and potentially jeopardizing their jobs. Women can elect the leaders to change that.
  • When I was in Bangor, Maine, last week I spoke to a United Steelworkers union millwright and “Women of Steel” leader named Linda.  I asked her why she got active this election cycle and she put it quite plainly: “Somebody needs to step up” for what’s right.  Linda’s 51-year-old sister has a serious health condition but no health insurance.  Her governor had refused to extend health coverage to more low-income people under the Affordable Care Act, as 23 states have done. Linda’s next governor’s decisions on health care will make a real, personal difference for her family—and for many more low-income women.
  • And, finally, all of us have seen the outrageous attacks at every level on women’s access to a full range of health care services. It is amazingly hypocritical that the extremists who scream the loudest against ”government intrusion” also fight the hardest to intrude in health care decisions that belong between a woman and her doctor.

This is why I’m asking you to pull out all the stops to rev up voters for candidates who will deliver what women need—equal pay, a higher minimum wage, fair scheduling and earned sick leave, and protection of our right to make our own health care decisions.

This year’s elections are going to be very tight. Every vote will make a difference—the difference between progress and backsliding, between hope and fear. So every conversation you have with a potential woman voter is important.

We need women power if we want to win. And that means you!

This blog originally appeared in Momsrising.org and AFL-CIO.org. on October 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Political-Action-Legislation/Nov.-4-It-s-All-About-Women

About the Author: Liz Shuler was elected AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer in September 2009, the youngest person ever to become an officer of the AFL-CIO. Shuler previously was the highest-ranking woman in the Electrical Workers (IBEW) union, serving as the top assistant to the IBEW president since 2004. In 1993, she joined IBEW Local 125 in Portland, Ore., where she worked as an organizer and state legislative and political director. In 1998, she was part of the IBEW’s international staff in Washington, D.C., as a legislative and political representative.

 

Silicon Valley Firm’s Wage Theft: ‘Worse Than Sweatshops’

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

alex-lubben[1]“This is worse than anything I ever saw in any of those Los Angeles sweatshops,” said Michael Eastwood, a Los Angeles Department of Labor assistant district director, reflecting on a Silicon Valley firm’s failure to pay minimum wage to eight Indian employees.

The workers, who were flown in from the company’s Bangalore offices, worked up to 122 hours a week helping Electronics for Imaging, Inc. (EFI) move its headquarters from Foster City to Fremont, CA. They were granted no overtime for their work, and were paid the equivalent of $1.21 an hour—well below California’s $8 per hour minimum wage. While working in the U.S., they continued to be paid in rupees.

An anonymous tip led the Department of Labor to investigate. The result: EFI will pay more than $40,000 in back pay to the workers, as well as a $3,500 fine.

While not one of Silicon Valley’s high-profile giants, Electronics for Imaging certainly has the cash to pay everyone a fair wage. They brought in $728 million in revenue last year and offered their CEO, Guy Gecht, a pay package valued at around $6 million.

Beverly Rubin, EFI’s vice president of HR shared services, provided the following statement to CNBC:

“To help our local IT team with a complex move of our Bay Area facility and data center, we brought a few of our IT employees from India for a short assignment in the US. … During this assignment they continued to be paid their regular pay in India, as well as a special bonus for their efforts on this project. During this process we unintentionally overlooked laws that require even foreign employees to be paid based on local US standards. When this was brought to our attention, we cooperated fully with the Department of Labor, and did not hesitate to correct our mistake and to make our Indian colleagues whole based on US laws, including for all overtime worked. We have also taken steps to ensure that this type of administrative error does not reoccur.”

In other words, they didn’t realize that foreign employees had to be paid the minimum wage of the country in which they were temporarily working — a poor excuse that neither qualifies as an apology nor indicates that EFI has any intention to stop exploiting its outsourced labor.

Given the incredibly under-resourced government agencies tasked with monitoring employers who violate labor law, the likelihood that companies will be caught is fairly low. And even if they are caught, companies like EFI are only risking miniscule fines—in the case of these Indian workers, less than $500 per worker.

So why wouldn’t companies take a gamble on paying workers so far below the minimum wage?

The EFI story seems to be representative rather than exceptional. While profits for domestic tech workers continue to skyrocket (with the exception, of course, of those workers involved in the tech-service industry), the laborers that tech hires abroad are seeing neither the pay nor the cushy work environments that distinguish their U.S. counterparts.

Adrian Chen reported for WIRED last week on the content moderation industry, an invisible workforce of up to 100,000 that operates primarily in Southeast Asia. These workers are responsible for sifting through the Internet’s ugliest corners to ensure social media users don’t come across graphic content. They spend their days examining videos and images of everything from beheadings to bestiality.

“It’s like PTSD,” one of the workers told Chen. “How would you feel watching pornography for eight hours a day, every day? How long can you take that?”

This blog originally appeared on Inthesetimes.com on October 30, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17302/silicon_valley_wage_theft_worse_than_sweatshops.

About the author: Alex Lubben is the Deputy published of InTheseTimes.

What Working in Fast Food Could Be Like

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Kenneth QuinnellImagine you have a job where you get the full 40-hour workweek you want. You have affordable health care that meets your needs. You get five weeks paid vacation, paid maternity and paternity leave, a pension and overtime pay for working after 6 p.m. or on Sunday. You get your work schedule four weeks in advance so you can plan your life. And your employer can’t send you home early without pay because business is slow. You have a union that is well-organized and fights to make sure your rights are protected. After you pay your rent and bills, you can still put some money in your savings account, and you still have money left over to go out and have a nice evening. And you know that if times get tough, that savings you have been able to put away will help you through.

Now imagine that job is a fast-food job.

That’s the reality in Denmark, where fast-food employees are paid $20 an hour. And the country hasn’t fallen into anarchy, giant fast-food chains haven’t gone out of business and working families make enough money to live their lives without worrying about being one paycheck away from poverty.

Now imagine a bunch of rich people on TV and radio telling you that you can’t have that Danish scenario because Denmark is “different” and “smaller,” but with no explanation as to how it is different or how being a smaller country makes it possible to pay workers more.

That’s the reality in the United States where corporate interests fight against paying fast-food workers a living wage with vague excuses and warnings that never seem to pan out. They haven’t even really made the case that the fast-food companies in Denmark are less profitable. Everyone says they “assume” that Danish fast-food companies are less profitable, but no one shows the numbers. Certainly McDonald’s and Burger King know how much their locations in Denmark make in profits.  Why are they so mum on the topic?

“We see from Denmark that it’s possible to run a profitable fast-food business while paying workers these kinds of wages,” said John Schmitt, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The critics are right about one thing, fast food is more expensive in Denmark. A Big Mac, for instance, costs about 80 cents more. But when the person buying the Big Mac gets paid $12 more an hour (on average), they can afford that 80 cents. And health care. And child care. And clothes for their kids.

This blog originally appeared on AFL-CIO.org on November 1, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Corporate-Greed/What-Working-in-Fast-Food-Could-Be-Like

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

Court Orders Dominican Republic to Recognize Citizenship

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

0ba2540[1]The Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Dominican Republic to reform all national laws blocking the recognition of citizenship for children of undocumented parents born in the country.

The decision, dated Aug. 28, 2014, was made public on Oct. 22, 2014, according to a story today in El Dia, a national newspaper in the Dominican Republic. The sentence orders the country to adopt the necessary measures to ensure no laws or rules deny Dominican nationality to children born in the country to undocumented parents who migrated there.

The decision comes in a case in which 27 people were deported, five of them Haitian children residing in the Dominican Republic and 22 of whom were found to be Dominicans.

“The court found the existence, at least for a period of around one decade after 1990, a systematic pattern of expulsions, including through collective acts of Haitians and people of Haitian descent, which reflects a discriminatory conception,” according to El Dia, quoting the court statement. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights is part of the Organization of American States.

In September 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court issued a ruling that retroactively took away citizenship from individuals unable to prove their parents’ regular migration status.

The ruling would have barred such individuals from any activity that required official identification, including working in the formal sector, attending school, opening a bank account, paying into retirement or social security funds, accessing health services, getting married, traveling or voting, according to an AFL-CIO and Solidarity Center report.

Further, it disproportionately affected individuals of Haitian descent living and working in the Dominican Republic.

Hailing the court decision, Geoff Herzog, Solidarity Center Dominican Republic country program director, said, “the Solidarity Center joins with our union allies and with our allies in the migrant support community in defense of migrant worker rights.

“We support recognition of citizenship for Dominicans of Haitian descent who are blocked from citizenship and therefore, are denied their basic human and labor rights.”

This appeared in AFL-CIO.org on October 27, 2014, and is Originally from Solidarity Center Website. Reprinted with permission. http://www.solidaritycenter.org/content.asp?contentid=1955.

Victory for Missouri Home Care Workers!

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

seiuAfter almost a year of bargaining, Missouri home care workers have reached a historic agreement with the state’s Quality Home Care Council that will raise wages from an average of $8.58 per hour up to $10.15 per hour for many. Home care workers will also receive holiday pay for the first time.

This victory comes just a week after hundreds of home care workers met at the Home Care Workers Rising summit in St. Louis and rallied to demand Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon raise wages. More than a hundred home workers united in SEIU’s Home Care Fight for $15 – both union and nonunion – attended the summit.

The agreement allows consumers to determine the wages of their home care workers. Choosing from a “wage range” of $8.50 to $10.15, consumers will be directly involved with workers and the union. The Missouri Home Care Union bargaining team viewed this unique proposal as a way to strengthen the relationship between better jobs and quality care.

“Home care workers in Missouri have fought long and hard–more than six years now–to get the rights and dignity that come with this contract,” said Linda Carter, a home care attendant from St. Louis.

“Because of our fight, and through the help of the Quality Home Care Council and Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration in reaching this agreement, home care attendants and consumers will be better off here than they ever have been,” she said.

The agreement must now be ratified by the Missouri Quality Home Care Council and by the members of the Missouri Home Care Union. (More details here).

This blog originally appeared on SEIU.org on October 21, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.seiu.org/2014/10/victory-for-missouri-home-care-workers.php

President Obama’s Latest Manufacturing Push

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Dave JohnsonThe White House unveiled new executive actions on Monday
directing federal money toward new technologies, apprenticeship programs and competitions designed to assist small manufacturers. The idea is to make the U.S. a magnet for new jobs and investment.

 

The new executive action will:

  • Allow the Pentagon, NASA, and the Energy and Agriculture departments to spend $300 million to develop advanced materials and new technology for sensors and digital manufacturing.
  • Direct $100 million in Labor Department funds for apprenticeship programs aimed at advanced manufacturing.
  • Authorize the Commerce Department to spend $150 million over five years in 10 states to help manufacturers adopt and market new technologies.
  • Give manufacturers access to state-of-the-art facilities like those at national labs – to connect industry and universities on research and development and develop ‘technology testbeds’ where companies can design, prototype and test new products and processes.

President Obama began the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in June 2011. The administration so far has launched four manufacturing innovation institutes – “hubs” – and there are four more on the way. They have also invested nearly $1 billion for community colleges to train workers for advanced manufacturing jobs.

There is expanded investment in applied research for emerging manufacturing technologies, and a new initiative to get returning veterans into jobs in advanced manufacturing.

This blog originally appeared in Ourfuture.org on October 27, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://ourfuture.org/20141027/president-obamas-latest-manufacturing-push

About the Author: 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.

 

Flight Attendants Honored for Battle Against Workplace Sex Discrimination

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Image: Mike HallThe Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) was honored for its “pioneering role” in fighting sex discrimination in the workplace at a ceremony this week marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Chicago event was part of a yearlong series of events by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) celebrating the landmark civil rights law.

Shari Worrell, who began her flight attendant’s career as “stewardess” for United Airlines in 1968, told Burt Constable of the Arlington (Ill.) Daily Herald she had to step on the scale to prove she weighed between 105 and 118 pounds, undergo an inspection to make sure the seams in her stockings were straight and submit to a girdle check.

But armed by Title VII of the act, the AFA-CWA began challenging discriminatory policies based on gender, race, age, weight, pregnancy and marital status. Over the next decade, AFA-CWA defeated airline rules requiring mandatory resignation at ages 30-35, prohibiting employment of married and pregnant flight attendants and demanding equal pay.

Professor Mary Rose Strubbe, assistant director of the Institute for Law and the Workplace at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, which hosted the event said, “The flight attendants played an astonishing role in the development of Title VII.” She told Constable that the changes pushed by flight attendants:

“forced employers to look at the idea that you can’t have rules that address what woman can and can’t do in the workplace if you don’t have rules for men.”

Former AFA-CWA President Patricia Friend, who began flying in 1966 with United, spoke about her career and the union’s battle for gender equality. Said AFA-CWA President Sara Nelson:

“AFA has a long and proud history of beating back discrimination. Through persistent efforts, AFA has worked to ensure that women receive equal pay, domestic partners receive equal benefits, weight restrictions were removed, men could serve as Flight Attendants and all Flight Attendants have the right to marry and have children. Our union fought for decades and overcame discriminatory policies one by one and we are honored that this dedicated work is being recognized.”

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on October 25, 2014. Reprinted with permission. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Other-News/Flight-Attendants-Honored-for-Battle-Against-Workplace-Sex-Discrimination

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

Viewpoint from Honduras: CAFTA, Forced Immigration, Deportation Connections

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Larry CohenAt the deportation center in San Pedro Sula, planes land with more than 100 Hondurans a day, returned from our border prisons to their native land. They are mostly young men, with shackled hands and legs, who have harrowing tales of days in what they call the “ice box,” the U.S. detention centers on our borders that are so crowded they must stand up for hours, taking turns lying down to sleep. These were heartbreaking conversations, nearly hopeless tales through tears, of failed attempts to unify with families or find work.

At the same center, beautiful posters highlight jobs for English speakers in call centers to handle call center work for U.S. customers. Call center companies tout minimum wage call center jobs for deportees so they can pursue “the American dream” without leaving San Pedro Sula. One particular poster touted a call center company that received a big boost from T-Mobile two years ago after it laid off 3,000 in the U.S. and moved work to Honduras, the Philippines, and other locations. T-Mobile then denied that it had moved the services outside the U.S. and tried to prevent the fired employees from collecting trade adjustment assistance. Consistently, working families pay the cost of increased profits on every side of our disastrous trade policies.

We spoke to community, union, women’s and children’s groups, the Honduran government, and our embassy. Amazingly, all confirm a unified story—an economy in collapse, widespread violations of minimum wage and all social protection laws, small farmers forced from their land, subsistence farming replaced by African palm, and the jobs created in maquila zones dwarfed by the numbers forced to leave ancestral lands and travel to cities already jammed.

The subsistence farmers, or campesinos, describe how they are pushed from land where they grew beans or corn. Now it is corporate farms growing African palm for sale to the U.S. and other multinationals, while Honduras imports beans from the U.S. or even Ethiopia, and the campesinos line up for work at factories far from their homes. There are not enough jobs and 70 percent pay under the poverty level minimum wage while labor inspectors say they are outnumbered by the violations.

The unions confirmed constant violations of organizing rights in direct violation of CAFTA. These included everything from the murder of leaders to the collapse of bargaining rights where they once existed. But our AFL-CIO complaint has sat at the Labor Department for more than two years, just as the complaint of widespread abuse in Guatemala was held for six years before the U.S. Trade Representative finally raised it with the government there. Eighty-three human rights lawyers and 43 journalists have been murdered in recent years trying to enforce or report on the constant violations of everything decent.

So as we return, what can we do besides shout loudly, motivated by the pain of the Hondurans we met? First we need to look at the economic frame that has produced this 19th-century capitalism largely unregulated. Second, we need to look atour own immigration policy, concentrating enormous resources on deportation and nothing on resettlement. Third, we need to look at the trade deals, in this case, CAFTA, that accelerated the free market devastation. NAFTA, CAFTA, trade preferences for China, millions of lost jobs in the U.S., our wages depressed by global comparisons, and more than $10 trillion in total trade deficits have destroyed our industrial cities and created huge budget deficits nationally and in those same cities with cuts to social services.

We await the president’s action on immigration, not only on the potential easing of deportation for certain categories of immigrants, but also on a change in processing immigrants for deportation. We expect him to act boldly after deferring for months after waiting and waiting for House Republicans to act.

But just as importantly, we need to build the widest possible coalition against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Farming communities in Mexico and Central America already devastated by subsidized U.S. corporate farm imports will now see maquila factories close in droves as U.S. and other multinationals head for Vietnam,  which has 90 million people and a 27-cents-an-hour minimum wage. That minimum wage is about one-third of the minimum in Honduras. How long will Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, and other employers remain in Central America when competitors head to Vietnam with labor costs far lower and a government there that will agree to protect the profits from those lower wages?

Our president promised a different trade regime when he ran for election in 2008. The misery of 20 years of trade deals in the U.S. and the Americas needs to confront his Trade Ambassador. Multinationals and especially the financial sector have benefited tremendously. The rest of us, whether global north or south, are left only with some combination of hope and anger as motivation to fight for real change.

Let’s end Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) which allows multinationals to sue for lost future profits. This means that if Honduras passes new legislation to safeguard the environment from African palm or a higher minimum wage, multinationals that lose profits can sue the government for billions of dollars. Let’s kill TPP or any trade deal that benefits governments like Vietnam where human rights are an illusion. Let’s link together the campaigns for immigrant rights, environmental justice, and workers’ rights like never before. I met amazing freedom fighters in Honduras from labor and elected officials to women and community members who have not given up. We haven’t given up either. The voices from Honduras and our own communities will strengthen our determination to stand for justice.

This blog originally appeared in Huffington Post reposted on AFL-CIO Blog site. http://www.aflcio.org/Blog/Global-Action/Viewpoint-from-Honduras-CAFTA-Forced-Immigration-Deportation-Connections. October 27, 2014.

About the Author: Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Larry Cohen was in Honduras Oct. 12-15 for meetings with Honduran workers and union leaders, community and women’s activists, elected officials, and others to focus awareness on the immigration crisis affecting Central American families and the connection with CAFTA and similar bad trade deals. He was joined by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the leading Democratic member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, and other U.S. union leaders.

 

Your Rights Job Survival The Issues Features Resources About This Blog