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Breanna Stewart’s injury adds another layer of urgency to WNBA collective bargaining negotiations

Friday, April 19th, 2019

The 23rd season of the WNBA tips off in a little over a month, and it looks to be a momentous one for the leagues’s athletes. On court, the 12 teams and 144 players will be looking to capitalize on last year’s blockbuster season, which saw a healthy increase in ratings, a new franchise in Las Vegas get off to a promising start, and a level of league-wide talent and parity that produced an indelible array of can’t-miss match-ups on a night in, night out basis.

This year, there will be no small amount of drama off the court as well, as the players will be fighting to secure themselves a bigger piece of this expanding pie. Last October, they opted out of their current collective bargaining agreement, which will now expire at the end of the 2019 season. So they’re not just fighting for wins and titles; they’re literally fighting for better pay, better travel conditions, better marketing, and a better future for the league they love.

Unfortunately, they’re going to have to do all of this without their reigning Most Valuable Player (MVP), Breanna Stewart.

Last week, while playing in the EuroLeague Final Four championship game in Hungary with her team, the Russia-based Dynamo Kursk, Stewart ruptured her right Achilles tendon. It’s a terrible blow to a player whose last 11 months have been among the most accomplished in basketball history. During that time Stewart was recognized as the WNBA’s MVP, the WNBA Finals MVP, the FIBA World Cup MVP, and the FIBA EuroLeague Women regular season MVP. She took home a WNBA championship with the Seattle Storm and a FIBA World Cup championship with Team USA for good measure. Now, her injury will force her to sit out the entire 2019 WNBA season.

When Stewart collapsed to the ground in pain during the EuroLeague championship, her WNBA colleagues around the world stopped in their tracks. Imani McGee-Stafford, a center for the Atlanta Dream, gasped. McGee-Stafford’s Dream teammate, Elizabeth Williams, was watching the game live from Turkey when she saw Stewart fall. At the sight of Stewart’s injury, she screamed, “Nooo!” Elena Delle Donne, a forward for the Washington Mystics and good friend of Stewart’s, was simply heartbroken.

And for all of the WNBA’s players, coaches, and fans, Stewart’s devastating injury highlighted how absurd it is that the biggest stars in the WNBA still have to go overseas to play basketball during the WNBA offseason in order to earn their living, instead of spending the offseason recharging and recuperating. Stewart’s base salary this WNBA season is $64,538; overseas, elite players can sometimes earn $1 million or more per season. The current WNBA maximum salary for veterans is $117,500.

“This is harmful to our league. It effects the product on the floor. And we’ve got to find a solution to this,” said Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve.

The players are certainly trying. The executive committee of the WNBA Player’s Association (WNBPA) — which includes Delle Donne and Williams, along with Nneka Ogwumike, Layshia Clarendon, Chiney Ogwumike, Sue Bird, and Carolyn Swords — has been talking with WNBPA leadership regularly during the offseason to engineer a new path forward.

“Playing overseas should always be a choice, but not a necessity,” Delle Donne said. “There are so many reasons it makes sense for the NBA and WNBA to invest in us as players. Injury prevention is obviously a top reason.”

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A couple of weeks ago, the executive committee members who weren’t currently playing in overseas competition had their first official meeting with WNBA brass — including NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA deputy commissioner and interim WNBA president Mark Tatum, and several WNBA owners. The meeting was essentially a listening session, where the WNBPA laid out its priorities heading into negotiations: Salary and compensation, player experience, health and safety, and establishing a lasting business model for the league.

And while fostering the health and safety of players by limiting the need to seek employment opportunities overseas was already on the agenda, there’s little doubt that Stewart’s injury will add weight to to the conversation.

“This brings it more to the forefront and brings some urgency to the cause,” Williams said.

Injury prevention isn’t the only reason why its important to ensure that players have more opportunities to stay in the United States during the WNBA offseason. Going overseas for long stretches of time and playing competitive basketball without some sort of meaningful break contributes to mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion.

“We virtually put our lives on hold when we play overseas,” McGee-Stafford said. “We miss holidays, events, time with loved ones. But furthermore, we miss marketing moments and accessibility from our fans.”

Take Williams, for example. She has only had approximately three weeks of downtime since the Dream lost in the semifinals of last year’s WNBA playoffs in September. She’s currently in Turkey, competing in the first round of their playoffs. If her team makes it to the finals, she could be coming back more than a week into Dream training camp next month. And then the cycle would start again.

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Similarly, it’s an incredible frustration for WNBA coaches, who spend training camps unable to work with their full roster due to so many absences because of overseas play; then, when players finally return, they’re nowhere near refreshed or ready to go.

“When our players come back, we are constantly making concessions,” Reeve said. “We have to change how much time we can spend on the court with them, so you just lose the ability to have this individual improvement when there’s no offseason.”

Of course, the only way to solve this problem is money. And that’s where the conversation usually hits a roadblock. Silver has been outspoken about the fact that the WNBA is still a fledgling league, subsidized by the NBA. Partially because of those comments, there has been an erosion of trust between the WNBA players and WNBA leadership — a fact that isn’t helped by the fact that the WNBA still has not named its next president, six months after Lisa Borders resigned.

Silver has insisted that he’s committed to rebuilding that trust, but the only way to truly do it is by making a significant investment in the players during this collective bargaining session.

“I just think we have a unique opportunity, the NBA does, in that they’re seen as a progressive league, and they’re an iconic brand,” Reeve said. “The idea of being a leader in society, that would mean you’re the one putting your foot forward and saying, ‘Do this with us, treat women this way with us.’ You sort-of create a chain reaction by you stepping forward and saying, ‘You will do this, because it’s important.’ And I think when you see that opportunity, minds will change.”

Delle Donne agrees. It’s time for the chicken vs. egg fight with investment vs. success to stop. The WNBA is growing. The fans are watching. The players are getting better by leaps and bounds every generation. But the only way to continue this growth is if the best players in the world play in the WNBA. And they can’t do that if they’re getting injured playing for teams on other continents that pay them significantly more money.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest, especially the league’s and the owners’, to invest in us as players – our safety, our physical and mental well-being – to grow the game,” she said.

“Everything else, and especially the future growth of the game, hinges on the WNBA being the best and most elite place to play basketball.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 21, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.

It’s time for ending NCAA amateurism to become a 2020 campaign issue

Monday, April 8th, 2019

As the 2020 presidential campaign kicks off, a slew of issues have already come to the forefront, including immigration, income inequality, the future of health care, reparations, and climate change. But, as another March Madness wraps up, it’s time for the crowded field of candidates to add another issue to their platforms: Ending NCAA amateurism.

During this year’s men’s basketball tournament, the NCAA earned almost $800 million from television rights alone. Coaches, schools, and conferences received millions of additional dollars worth of bonuses. And the athletes that actually played in those games earned absolutely no money. This might sound like a niche problem that only impacts a handful of the most talented student-athletes in the world — student-athletes that one would assume have better-than-even chance of turning pro, and raking in the millions. But this is not the case.

Every year, there are more than 460,000 student-athletes competing in 24 NCAA-sanctioned sports. Thirty-six percent of all student-athletes are people-of-color, and in the major revenue-generating sports, the student-athletes are disproportionately black: football is 48 percent black, men’s basketball is 56 percent black, and women’s basketball is 47 percent black. As their predominately white and male coaches and administrators continue to get richer, these athletes are cut out from earning a fair share.

It is an issue of inequity, and at this point, political pressure is the only thing that is going to fix it.

One candidate is already out in front on this issue. Andrew Yang — yes, the candidate who is running on a platform of universal basic income — lists “NCAA should pay athletes” as one of the tenets of his platform.

“We should create a new type of college athlete—’Performer athlete’—who is entitled to market-based compensation,” Yang says on his website. “This would not affect the status of any other student-athletes nor the tax-exempt status of the university. However, each university with a ‘Performer athlete’ would be required to start an affiliated taxable for-profit entity through which both corporate sponsorships and Performer-athlete salaries would flow.”

But this isn’t just a fringe issue parroted by a long-shot presidential candidate. Currently, there is a bipartisan push in Congress to address this issue. Three weeks ago, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) introduced the Student-Athlete Equity Act, a bill that aims to modify the tax code to remove the current rule that prevents student-athletes from using or being compensated for the use of their name, image, and likeness.

“A lot of these student-athletes come from impoverished communities, and there is a lot of money made on the backs of these young men and women. And these students, they can fight in the war, but they can’t have any access to their image or likeness,” Walker told ThinkProgress.

“I say, if you see injustice and you don’t do something about it, I think, shame on you. It doesn’t mean there aren’t other battles to fight.”

A couple of weeks after Walker unveiled his bill in the House, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) released a report, which highlighted, among other things, the fact that in the last 15 years, the revenue for college athletics has more than tripled to a $14.1 billion high.

“Under the current system, students in big-time athletic programs are shortchanged on their education as the college sports machine demands more of their time and more pressure to win,” Murphy said. “Meanwhile, coaches, universities, broadcasters, and even shoe companies are raking in the cash and sending a relatively small percentage of the money to students in the form of scholarships. The NCAA needs to come up with a way to compensate student-athletes, at least in the sports that demand the most time and make the most money. It’s an issue of fairness. It’s an issue of civil rights.”

Murphy has not yet proposed his own bill, but he says he will continue to release reports that dig into the impact of amateurism, and will keep loudly calling for the NCAA to pay its athletes.

“Is there an easy solution? No. But the NCAA has created a complicated system of sponsorship and broadcast rights by which lots of adults get rich,” Murphy said. “They can figure out a way to get a percentage of that money to the students who are kept poor by a system that is designed to make lots of people rich except for the kids.”

Even as the end of amateurism gains momentum on the federal level, states have begun to take up this issue as well. In California, for example, state Senate majority whip Nancy Skinner (D) has put forth Senate Bill 206, also known as the Fair Pay to Play Act, which would allow student-athletes in California to earn money through corporate sponsorships, in a fashion similar to the amateur athletes who compete in the Olympic Games.

The truth is, ending amateurism isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s an increasingly popular position as well. It turns out, despite the NCAA claiming that if players were getting paid, nobody would want to watch college sports, this — shockingly! — is not the case. As SUNY Buffalo history professor Patrick F. McDevitt pointed out in HuffPost this time last year, the logic doesn’t track: “Surely, if people were put off by the idea of paying college athletes, then Division III schools (which do not offer scholarships, let alone give their players stipends) would have the largest fan bases and Division I schools caught funneling money to their star players would lose fans in the wake of pay-for-play scandals.”

Nothing’s changed in a year’s time. Last year, a big FBI investigation unveiled Adidas executives and agents helping facilitate payments to athletes if they agreed to go to certain Adidas-sponsored schools. This year, during March Madness, lawyer Michael Avenatti tried to make a big splash by claiming he had evidence that Nike paid families of top college basketball recruits. The news barely caused a ripple. And, despite all of this being public knowledge, ratings for March Madness have been just fine.

The public is ready for amateurism to end. The players are deserving of their due. The fans will cheer, no matter what. But unless the NCAA’s hand is forced, nothing about the current system is ever going to change. That’s why it’s crucial for the people who are running for the most powerful role in our nation to speak up and propose solutions to change the status quo.

Is this the most pressing problem facing society? Of course not. But, it is an injustice. And it can be fixed with just a little leadership.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Lindsay Gibbs covers sports for ThinkProgress.

Fast food workers declare victory after McDonald’s withdraws opposition to minimum wage hikes

Tuesday, March 26th, 2019

After six years of strikes, lawsuits, and damning public scrutiny of how the fast food business model relies on taxpayer-subsidized poverty wages, McDonald’s formally withdrew from efforts to block a federal minimum wage hike on Tuesday.

The chain will also stop working against minimum wage increases at state and local levels, its executives told lobbying partners at the National Restaurant Association in a letter.

Workers and organizers involved in the six-year campaign of walk-outs, demonstrations, and litigation, dubbed the “Fight for $15,” immediately celebrated the about-face and pressed their advantage.

“It’s also time the company respect our right to a union. Since day one, we’ve called for $15 and union rights and we’re not going to stop marching, speaking out, and striking until we win both,” Kansas City McDonald’s worker and prominent Fight for $15 leader Terrence Wise said in a statement. “McDonald’s decision to no longer use its power, influence and deep pockets to block minimum wage increases shows the power workers have when we join together, speak out, and go on strike.”

Wise’s mix of praise and warning reflects some murkiness attending the company’s decision. McDonald’s hasn’t renounced its membership in the “other NRA,” just forsworn corporate support for an ongoing lobbying effort funded in part through its own dues payments to the group. And it’s unclear if the company now welcomes the $15 wage floor workers have consistently sought since 2012, or if it merely accepts some smaller increase is inevitable.

The details of how minimum wage hike policies come together are always tricky, as business organizations fight to carve out certain sizes of business and to slow the phase-in period of a wage hike beyond what workers and progressive economists say is reasonable. The nation’s first $15 hourly wage floor deal was the product of months of vigorous negotiations where “everybody left… a little bit of blood on the floor,” as Seattle Hospitality Group leader Howard Wright told ThinkProgress after that city brokered the first low-wage labor peace of the conflict-oriented era workers like Wise created.

Despite Tuesday’s letter, McDonald’s is also continuing to fight a federal labor board’s finding that its franchise business model does not protect the corporate parent from liability for how its franchisees operate their stores. That dispute over whether or not “joint employer” legal doctrines apply to the franchise models common to the fast food industry likely presents a more fundamental threat to McDonald’s ability to funnel money to its shareholders and CEOs than do wage floors.

But if the war between McDonald’s and workers like Wise isn’t exactly over, it’s radically reshaped by Tuesday’s letter, which was first reported by Politico.

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Retail and service workers paid at or near the legal minimum have become a staple of the stock price-obsessed modern U.S. business world. Congress’ multi-generation failure to hike the federal minimum pay has meant that corporate reliance on low-wage work steadily eroded the traditional social contract in which having a job meant being able to afford a decent standard of living. Instead, as people who work substantial hours found themselves impoverished anyhow, government programs funded by taxpayers stepped into the gap — effectively subsidizing the profits McDonald’s and its peers reaped from their low-wage business models.

Stark partisanship within federal government coincided with the rapid, coast-to-coast spread of Fight for $15 strikes and protests, preventing legislative action in response to the mounting labor strife for years. A bill to gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 was among the first legislative proposals Democrats introduced after taking the House in last year’s midterm elections.

The same month, Chamber of Commerce officials announced they’d entertain some pay hike provided Democrats were willing to negotiate some flavor of concessions. Like the chamber’s announcement, Tuesday’s high-profile maneuver from McDonald’s carries major symbolic weight but leaves lingering unanswered questions about just how far major corporate interests that have taken publicly-subsidized wage serfdom for granted for decades are now willing to move in the name of economic justice.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Alan Pyke is a reporter for ThinkProgress covering poverty and the social safety net.

Amazon delivery drivers report wage theft and other abuses

Friday, September 14th, 2018

Amazon’s labor practices, from its warehouses to its corporate offices, are terrible—and of course its delivery workers don’t have it any better. Many of Amazon’s packages are delivered by third-party courier companies and drivers face a range of abuses, from wage theft to being pressured into risky behaviors to deliver packages on time, Business Insider reports based on interviews with 31 current or former drivers at 14 of the companies:

Four drivers across three companies said their employers misrepresented the job by promising health benefits without following through. One worker said that when he started his job, his employer promised that he would get health benefits within 90 days of employment. He said he was fired within days of qualifying.

Eight workers across four companies said drivers were denied overtime pay, despite working well over 40 hours a week. Thirteen workers across five companies complained about wages missing from paychecks.

Workers reported being pressured to be on the job on their days off, to work through injury, to ignore stop signs if they were running late, and being fired for challenging illegal practices.

Amazon, of course, says these are contractors and Amazon is trying to work with them to do the right thing, and so on and so forth. But plausible deniability is a key reason companies like Amazon do so much outsourcing of work, and the deniability is that much less plausible coming from a company with Amazon’s labor record in other areas of its business.

Generally speaking, if a giant corporation really really cares about something, its contractors get the message … and if it doesn’t care so much, well, this is what you get. There is one way Amazon can push back against coverage like this: by improving its practices and those of its contractors.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos Labor on September 15, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. 

Worker wages remain stagnant as wealthy executives are rolling in cash

Tuesday, July 31st, 2018

Congressional Republicans and President Trump continue to push their sole legislative accomplishment, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, as a game-changer for average working Americans — but the benefits of that bill appear to be going mostly to the people at the top.

Rather than delivering an “economic turnaround of historic proportions,” as Trump boasted last week, the bill will likely end up costing well over $1.4 trillion dollars and will instead provide corporations and the wealthiest Americans a giant hand-out.

A recent Politico review of Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings also revealed corporate executives, who often receive most of their compensation in stock, have been profiting enormously off the bill, which slashes the corporate tax rate to 21 percent.

Following the bill’s passage in December last year, Oracle Corp. CEO Safra Catz sold $250 million worth of shares in her company, the “largest executive payday this year,” according to Politico. The company’s president of Product Development,  Thomas Kurian, also sold $85 million worth of shares, directly after the company announced a $12 billion share repurchase.

Oracle isn’t the only company whose top brass have benefited from the tax bill: in May, Mastercard CEO Ajay Banga sold $44.4 million of stock. Only a few months earlier, the company had announced it would buy back $4 billion in shares. According to Reuters, Mastercard also announced that month it had “increased its quarterly cash dividend to 25 cents per share, a 14 percent increase over the previous dividend of 22 cents a share.”

Similarly, after Eastman Chemical announced in February it would purchase $2 billion of its own stock, its CEO, Mark Costa, sold 55,000 shares, raking in at least $5.4 million in the process.

Data from Americans For Tax Fairness found that powerful Fortune 500 companies have spent a total of over $238,244,348,330 in stock buybacks since December. The numbers showed few corporations have actually used their respective tax windfalls to benefit workers directly, as many pledged they would do.

Out of the over 1,500 companies from which Americans for Tax Fairness collected data, only 359 of them actually promised to increase wages for their employees. Of those that promised to bump wages, the majority only offered an increase up to $15 an hour in entry-level pay — which, by all accounts, should already be what companies pay entry-level employees in a tightening labor market.

Despite what Republicans in Washington have suggested, stock buybacks do absolutely nothing to help struggling middle America. Instead, they traditionally enrich both the company buying back shares and those who own corporate stock, which typically means the already-rich. The wealthiest 10 percent of American households own 84 percent of all shares, while the top 1 percent own 40 percent. Roughly one-half of American households don’t own stock at all.

The AFL-CIO’s annual Executive PayWatch database, released in May, also revealed just how stark income inequality is among CEOs and their workers. On average, data showed, CEOs are paid 333 times more than an average employee at their company.

The disparity between CEO and worker pay is consistent with income inequality on a wider scale. While average worker wages have been stagnant for decades, the top 1 percent of U.S. income earners have “more than doubled their share of the nation’s income” since the 1970s, the Institute for Policy Studies observed.

The Trump administration continues to tout the nation’s record low unemployment rate as a sign that the country’s economy is thriving. But as former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich detailed in a recent op-ed for The Guardian, 80 percent of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“The typical American worker now earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 40 years ago, adjusted for inflation,” Reich wrote. “When Republicans delivered their $1.5 trillion tax cut last December they predicted a big wage boost for American workers. Forget it. Wages actually dropped in the second quarter of this year.”

About the Author: Rebekah Entralgo is a reporter at ThinkProgress. Previously she was a news assistant on the NPR Business Desk. She has also worked for NPR member stations WFSU in Tallahassee and WLRN in Miami.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 30, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

Trump administration tip-stealing plan is getting hammered

Tuesday, February 6th, 2018

The Trump Labor Department’s proposal to let bosses steal workers’ tips—$5.8 billion of them—is under heavy fire. After news broke that the department hid the data showing how bad the plan would be for workers, House Democrats demanded that the Labor Department show its work:

Four House Democrats, in an oversight letter sent Feb. 2 to Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, asked the DOL to fork over copies of all analyses completed as part of the tip pool rulemaking process. […]

In addition to demands for the DOL to divulge its analyses, the Democrats want a copy of all communication between the DOL and White House Office of Management and Budget pertaining to the quantitative economic analysis.

And the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General said it was reviewing what happened and how. And 17 state attorneys general filed a letter opposing the rule change:

If implemented, the rescission would greatly harm millions of employees in the United States who depend on tips and would create the real potential for customers to be deceived as to whom will receive and benefit from their tips.

The tip-stealing proposal is also unpopular with the public: a poll conducted for the National Employment Law Project found 82 percent of people opposed.

None of this means that Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, is going to back down. But once again the Trump administration is making clear where it stands—definitely not with workers.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at DailyKos.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on February 6, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

Union to Southwest: $1,000 worker bonuses don’t make up for years of stagnant pay

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Southwest Airlines this week announced that it would be awarding its employees with a $1,000 bonus following the passage of the GOP tax bill, which the company’s board of directors said would “result in meaningful corporate income tax reform.”

Union leaders say it hardly makes up for years of unfair treatment.

“We applaud Congress and the President for taking this action to pass legislation, which will result in meaningful corporate income tax reform for the transportation sector in general, and for Southwest Airlines, in particular,” Southwest chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are excited about the savings and additional capital, which we intend to put to work in several forms — to reward our hard-working Employees, to reinvest in our business, to reward our Shareholders, and to keep our costs and fares low for our Customers.”

Kelly added that the company was prepared to donate “an incremental $5 million” to charity and increase business investments in Boeing.

Union bosses representing those employees, however, aren’t completely satisfied, saying that many of those same workers have gone without a raise for five years.

“The Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA) represents more than 2,700 Aircraft Maintenance Technicians (AMT) at Southwest Airlines (SWA). As of today, the Union has been in negotiations with SWA for more than five years (1,966 days), since the contract amendable date of August 16, 2012,” AMFA National Director Bret Oestreich told ThinkProgress in an email. “Although many members are appreciative of the Company’s recent $1000 bonus in response to the newly passed tax bill, this is a small token of appreciation for what the AMTs have endured over the last 1,966 days.”

While Southwest ratified a collective-bargaining agreement with AMFA-represented Facilities Maintenance Technicians (FMTs) in November last year, it still has yet to reach an agreement with its AMTs. Such an agreement would likely award aircraft technicians with protections and benefits similar to the ones awarded to the facility technicians, which currently include a “complete set of work rules, wage scale, ratification bonus, and job protections,” according to a Southwest news release.

“While the Company experienced record profits during this time, our members have not received increases in pay, enhancements to benefits or, most importantly, job security as they threaten to outsource even more work to 3rd party vendors,” Oestreich explained.

He added, however, that he was “optimistic” Southwest and AMFA would reach a “well-deserved, fair and equitable agreement” by the end of the next union negotiation session, which is set for January 18-19 in Washington, D.C.

Southwest spokespersons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Southwest is only the latest company to announce worker bonuses following passage of the Republican tax bill. In December, a handful of businesses — including Fifth Third Bancorp and AT&T — stated that they would be doling out one-time bonuses to their employees as a result of the bill, which carves out massive benefits for major U.S. companies by lowering the corporate tax rate to 21 percent. Many companies also announced that they would be “reinvesting” in their businesses, although, as ThinkProgress previously reported, a large portion of that money will likely be used for share buybacks.

Union leaders at the time were equally unimpressed by those announcements.

“Republican leaders have promised that households would receive, on average, a yearly $4,000 wage increase. They also claimed that the corporate tax plan would produce new jobs in the U.S. as companies return work from offshore,” a spokesperson for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), whose workers are employed by AT&T, told ThinkProgress in an email. “[The $1,000 bonus AT&T announced is] a drop in the bucket compared to what was promised.”

UPDATE: In an email to ThinkProgress on Wednesday evening, a Southwest spokesperson addressed the recent bonuses and related AMFA union concerns. “The bonus is to celebrate the tax reform legislation with all of our Employees. It is not in any way meant to address the contract negotiations with AMFA,” they stated. “We’ve had an industry-leading offer on the table that includes raises for some time now.”

They added, “[We] remain committed to negotiating an agreement that sufficiently rewards our Aircraft Maintenance Technicians, while at the same time preserving our competitive edge.”

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on January 3, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Melanie Schmitz is an associate editor at ThinkProgress.

Lifelong Wage Warrior Larry Mishel Takes On Trump’s Tax Scam

Tuesday, December 19th, 2017

Lawrence Mishel, the outgoing President of the Economic Policy Institute, is finally – after 30 years at the progressive economic research organization – seeing one of his wishes come true. Leaders in both major political parties are talking about wage stagnation, and how to address it.

“I’ve always wanted to elevate the concerns about people’s paychecks as the salient economic issue,” he said in an interview in his downtown Washington office.

The bad news is that the stagnant wages conversation is being co-opted by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to sell a tax cut bill that will primarily benefit corporations and the wealthy.

Even so, Mishel counts that as progress. When Mishel joined the then-embryonic EPI as its first research director in 1987, all of the major right-wing think tanks denied that wage stagnation among the working class was a problem, even though EPI was among the first to show the trend unfolding, using the federal government’s deep trove of economic data. Few Democrats recognized the issue, either, Mishel said.

Today, “what’s interesting is there is so much of a dedication on the Trump team to link everything they are going to do to good jobs and wages, something that Democrats have not always done, for mysterious reasons,” Mishel said, pointing as an example the administration promoting its tax bill as “a $4,000 pay raise to workers.”

“The polls show that not many people buy it, even among Republicans, but it’s interesting that this transformation has happened,” Mishel said.

A Lifelong Passion

Mishel has had a lifelong passion for the plight of workers, going at least as far back as his Philadelphia boyhood and days at Penn State University. At Penn State, he combined that passion with a passion for economics, and after receiving advanced economics degrees from American University and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he went to work as an economist for several unions, including the United Auto Workers; United Steelworkers; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; and the Industrial Union Department of the AFL-CIO.

When Mishel became president of EPI in 2002, the think tank was beginning to gain a reputation as being more than an advocate of pro-worker policies; it has a reputation for rigorous, fact-based scholarship and economic analysis that is relied on by a broad range of scholars, journalists and lawmakers. Its “State of Working America” reports have become a bible for people seeking to understand the economy from a Main Street point of view.

This month, Mishel hands over the reins of the EPI presidency to Thea Lee, who was previously deputy chief of staff for the AFL-CIO and a leading spokesperson for the union on issues like the impact of trade policy on workers.

But Mishel says he’s not going to disappear; he plans to continue to do research for EPI. “I want to tell the narrative about how wages were suppressed,” he said, particularly to make the point that four decades of stagnant wages for the working class is the result of, to borrow from the title of an EPI publication, “failure by design.”

An Economic Conundrum

The current state of the economy presents a classic economic conundrum. Economic textbooks say that with today’s national unemployment rate, 4.1 percent, we should see wage inflation caused by a tight labor market.

The last time the national unemployment rate averaged 4 percent, in 2000, wages rose on average about 5 percent a year, as shown in this wage tracker by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. In 2017, the wage tracker shows wage growth in 2017 hovering around 3.4 percent. EPI research further finds that this substandard wage growth has been even worse for people at the lower end of the income scale, whose wages in 2016 grew only about half as much as those of the top 20 percent.

“A true sign of a robust economy is rapid wage growth, and we don’t see wages growing that much faster than inflation, even with roughly 4 percent unemployment,” Mishel said.

Barring a last-minute surprise, passage of the Trump administration/Republican tax bill this week appears inevitable. Asked to what the American economy might look like a year after the tax bill is passed, Mishel predicted a continued stock market rise because companies, already flush with cash and finding themselves flooded with more, will continue to choose to use that cash to buy back their shares rather than invest in creating new jobs.

The big winners will be stockholders and corporate executives. Workers? Not so much. A boost in stock prices at best only benefits the third of American workers who have meaningful stock holdings, primarily retirement accounts. And even among that group of workers, the average retirement account stock portfolio is less than $100,000.

“The rising stock market is not a sign that the economy is doing well,” Mishel said. In fact, an overheated stock market, disconnected from the pulse of the Main Street economy, is prone to the kind of explosive bubble-burst that the nation saw in 2008.

What We Need Instead

What we need instead, Mishel said, is structural changes that will lead to real wage growth and improved working-class living standards. Those policies include:

• Raising the minimum wage, which Mishel said would have ripple effects beyond low-wage workers to boost the take-home pay of about 30 percent of the workforce.

• Targeting job creation in areas of high unemployment, which are disproportionately communities of color. Ultimately, government policy should be to ensure that every person who wants a job has access to a job, publicly funded if necessary. “You want a situation where employers are chasing after workers, and not workers chasing after employers. When employers are chasing after workers, wages go up,” Mishel said.

• Rebuilding the collective bargaining system. In 2016, only about one in 10 workers belonged to a labor union, a close to 50 percent decline from 1983. Nearly half of those work in the public sector. In private companies, fewer than one in 16 workers – less than 7 percent – belong to a union. If unions are stronger, Mishel said, “workers in non-union employers benefit as well, because their employers will follow the lead of the employers where collective bargaining is setting the standard. …I don’t think we will ever get robust middle-class wage growth or have the vibrant democracy that we need without reestablishing collective bargaining.”

• Assuring what Mishel calls “day-one fairness,” which would include eliminating such practices as misclassifying full-time workers so they are not eligible for health benefits or overtime, or forced arbitration and noncompete clauses that prevent workers from challenging bad worker policies or even leaving a bad employer to work for a competitor.

Having Their Moment

When Mishel is presented with the view that Donald Trump’s presidency and right-wing control of Congress has placed many of these policy goals further out of reach, he offers a contrarian view.

“The right is having its moment now,” he said, “but what has happened, though, is that the traditional stranglehold on the Democratic Party policy agenda by what you could call the corporate Democrats and their friends has been broken… The center-left policymakers have moved much closer to where the Economic Policy Institute has always been. So [with] the next wave of candidates and the next wave of legislation that comes if and when Democrats have electoral victories, we will do a lot better than we did during the Clinton era or the Obama era.”

Examples include the increased willingness of the Democratic Party mainstream to embrace universal health care, a $15 minimum wage by 2023, and support for collective bargaining for all public employees, Mishel said.

With this change, “you will see the Economic Policy Institute emerge as a much more important source of policy proposals,” Mishel predicted. “Our time will come again; there may be a Democratic House in 2019, and who knows about the Senate? Nothing is for sure, but it is not as grim as ‘the Democrats will never get back.’”

The People Can Win

In the meantime, Mishel advises people concerned about the state of the American worker to not think of the economy as “broken.”

“People walk around as if we have a bad economy,” Mishel said. “We don’t have a bad economy. It’s been built to do what it is doing, which is skimming the most for those at the top.”

That should be heartening, he went on to say, because changing the economy is “a matter of organizing and policy and mobilization.” That work won’t be easy, he said, but “the people can win.”

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on December 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Isaiah J. Poole is communications director of People’s Action, and has been the editor of OurFuture.org since 2007. Previously he worked for 25 years in mainstream media, most recently at Congressional Quarterly, where he covered congressional leadership and tracked major bills through Congress. Most of his journalism experience has been in Washington as both a reporter and an editor on topics ranging from presidential politics to pop culture. His work has put him at the front lines of ideological battles between progressives and conservatives. He also served as a founding member of the Washington Association of Black Journalists and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.

Wage gap between blacks and whites is larger today than it was 40 years ago

Monday, September 18th, 2017

It’s near impossible for black Americans to achieve parity with their white counterparts in the labor market, according to two new studies which show that they are underpaid and discriminated against throughout the hiring process.

Earlier in September, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco reported that the wage gap between black and white Americans is increasing, based on findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 1979, the average black American man made 80 cents on the dollar to what a white American man made; in 2016, he made just 70 cents on the dollar. There was a similar widening in wage gap for black and white women, who made 95 cents for every dollar an average white woman made in 1979, but only 82 cents in 2016.

“The findings point to persistent shortfalls in labor market outcomes for black men and women… that cannot be fully explained by differences in age, education, job type of location,” the report read. “Especially troubling is the growing unexplained portion of the divergence in earnings from blacks relative to whites.”

Economists are worried about the growing “unexplained portion of divergence,” which has grown from 8 percentage points in 1979 to 21 percentage points in 2016. The researchers note that factors such as “discrimination, differences in school quality, or differences in career opportunities – are likely to be playing a role in the persistence and widening of these gaps.”

But these wage disparities don’t even account for another major problem facing black Americans: getting a job in the first place. In another recent studyresearchers from Harvard, Northwestern University and the Institute for Social Research in Norway have found there has been no change in the level of hiring discrimination in more than 25 years.

The study sent out resumes with similar levels of education and experience, the only difference being the name – some resumes had stereotypically black and Latinx names while others had stereotypically white names. As a second part of the study, applicants with similar qualifications (but of different races) went in to apply for a job in person.

Researchers concluded that, on average, a white job applicant was 36 percent more likely to receive a callback for an opening than an equally qualified African-American candidate. White job seekers also received 24 percent more callbacks than equally qualified Latinx candidates. “These findings lead us to temper our optimism regarding racial progress in the United States,” the study read. “At one time it was assumed that the gradual fade-out of prejudiced beliefs, through cohort replacement and cultural change, would drive a steady reduction in discrimination treatment. At least in the case of hiring discrimination against African-Americans, this expectation does not appear to have been born out.”

These two studies come only a week after new Census Bureau data showed the grim inequality that persists in American society. While there was an overall increase in median wealth for Americans, African-American and Latinx families still lagged far behind. An average white families now earns around $65,041, compared with $47,675 for a Hispanic family and $39,490 for an African-American family.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luke Barnes is a reporter at ThinkProgress. He previously worked at MailOnline in the U.K., where he was sent to cover Belfast, Northern Ireland and Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated in 2015 from Columbia University with a degree in Political Science. He has also interned at Talking Points Memo, the Santa Cruz Sentinel and Narratively.

Racial Inequality Is Hollowing Out America’s Middle Class

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

America’s middle class is under assault. And as our country becomes more diverse, our racial wealth gap means it’s also becoming poorer.

Since 1983, national median wealth has declined by 20 percent, falling from $73,000 to $64,000 in 2013. And U.S. homeownership has been in a steady decline since 2005.

While we often hear about the struggles of the white working class, a driving force behind this trend is an accelerating decline in black and Latino household wealth.

Over those three decades, the wealth of median black and Latino households decreased by 75 percent and 50 percent, respectively, while median white household wealth actually rose a little. As of 2013, median whites had $116,800 in wealth — compared to just $2,000 for Latinos and $1,700 for blacks.

This wealth decline is a threat to the viability of the American middle class and the nation’s overall economic health. Families with more wealth can cover emergencies without going into debt and take advantage of economic opportunity, such as buying a home, saving for college, or starting a business.

A Growing Gap

We looked at the growing racial wealth gap in a new report for the Institute for Policy Studies and Prosperity Now.

We found that if these appalling trends continue, median black household wealth will hit zeroby 2053, even while median white wealth continues to climb. Latino net worth will hit zero two decades later, according to our projections.

It’s in everyone’s interest to reverse these trends. Growing racial wealth inequality is bringing down median American middle class wealth, and with it shrinking the middle class — especially as Americans of color make up an increasing share of the U.S. population.

The causes of this racial wealth divide have little to do with individual behavior. Instead, they’re the result of a range of systemic factors and policies.

These include past discriminatory housing policies that continue to fuel an enormous racial divide in homeownership rates, as well as an “upside down” tax system that helps the wealthiest households get wealthier while providing the lowest income families with almost nothing.

The American middle class was created by government policy, investment, and the hard work of its citizenry. Today Americans are working as hard as ever, but government policy is failing to invest in a sustainable and growing middle class.

To Do Better, Together

To do better, Congress must redirect subsidies to the already wealthy and invest in opportunities for poorer families to save and build wealth.

For example, people can currently write off part of their mortgage interest payments on their taxes. But this only benefits you if you already own a home — an opportunity long denied to millions of black and Latino families — and benefits you even more if you own an expensive home. It helps the already rich, at the expense of the poor.

Congress should reform that deduction and other tax expenditures to focus on those excluded from opportunity, not the already have-a-lots.

Other actions include protecting families from the wealth stripping practices common in many low-income communities, like “contract for deed” scams that can leave renters homeless even after they’ve fronted money for expensive repairs to their homes. That means strengthening institutions like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The nation has experienced 30 years of middle class decline. If we don’t want this to be a permanent trend, then government must respond with the boldness and ingenuity that expanded the middle class after World War Two — but this time with a racially inclusive frame to reflect our 21st century population.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad directs the Racial Wealth Divide Project at Prosperity Now. Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-edits Inequality.org. They’re co-authors of the new report, The Road to Zero Wealth.

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